The Percival Moment

Fancy Percival

Last night, Paul and I were dropping off a Home Depot bucket full of cleaning products at our priest’s house, and Mother Leslie was thanking us for contributing. A couple of other parishioners are driving a truck, stuffed with cleaning supplies, de-humidifiers, and fans, down to Houston today.  I told her no worries, we always hope someone will be here for us if we need them. It’s a privilege to be in a position to help, if only in a small way.  I mean that, even if it took me an awful long time to learn it, and it reminded me of my Percival* Moment many years ago.


I was basically an un-churched child. Baptized at Our Lady of Las Vegas (Seriously! It’s a real place) and raised nominally Roman Catholic by my divorced, and thus excommunicated, mother. After she married my wonderful, Jewish step-father, we just didn’t go to church a lot.

For me, church was a beautiful, candle-lit place, with patient-looking Madonnas and stained glass, where I got to wear my best, white, Mary Jane shoes, and a white lace doily on my head, dreaming of the day I was old enough to wear the long lace mantillas like my mother did. For me, churches were something eternal, always there, and it never occurred to me they were built, operated, and funded by actual humans. Because=God & Miracles.

Years pass, I became a mother and felt the tug at my heart, calling me to be something more than “spiritual”. I also wanted give my daughter all the things I hadn’t had and that included a proper religious education. But where to get one? As an American, I did the logical thing:  went shopping.

Over a few months, I attended services at the local parish of every mainline branch of Christianity, looking for a spiritual home for Charlotte and me.  I really liked the energy of the large, local Methodist parish, right until the young pastor began encouraging us to pray for our homosexual brothers and sisters to be healed. According to him we could, apparently, pray away their gay.  That wasn’t the parish for me.

It happened to be Easter Sunday when I visited the local Episcopal Church, where I saw a woman celebrate the Eucharist for the first time in my life.  Here was the place to raise a daughter as a first class citizen. I was home.

We attended faithfully and I dropped my check in the collection plate every week, saw  Charlotte to the door of her Sunday school class, then beat feet for Starbuck’s on Main Street, and a mercifully quiet cup of coffee, confident I was doing my bit by tossing in that check each week.

(Wo)man plans, God laughs. One day, just as I was making my escape, the Junior Warden caught me, asking where I was going. Oh, just grabbing a cup of coffee while the kiddo learns about Jesus. 

“We have coffee in the Parish Hall! Let me buy you a cup!” He was holding the door open, and bearing a wide grin. It was a trap, I knew it was a trap, but my momma didn’t raise me to be rude, and so I walked right in to the Ministry Faire. (I always add the ‘e’ to make it seem more like a Renaissance Faire, and less like we’re asking people to you know, work. I prefer conjuring images of turkey legs rather than empty wallets or blisters.)

Oh God there was a whole Parish Hall full of smiling people beckoning me come join them in their noble pursuits. I had no idea what they were talking about; apparently, besides the check each week there was some expectation that I, personally, like myself, Do Things. Having no idea what to do with this, but with cultural politeness literally beaten into me as a child, I found the one thing (I thought) which would consume the least amount of my time: Lay Reader. I liked to read, was there anyway, it would cost me nothing. Ha! I showed them.

And God laughed and laughed.

Reading the lesson required standing up in front of People, and even though I am a good reader the Bible is full of weird people and place names.  St. Paul especially writes in circles, so I found it far less personally embarrassing if I prepared during the week prior to my assigned readings.  It also required me to be there a wee bit early, to check in with the Verger, and here I made remarkable discoveries: there was an entire room behind the wall on one side of the Altar, into which I had seen people disappear each week. Within the room were Vestments, and people who tend them; votive candles and their glasses, and Miss Pauline who could give you a thorough education on their proper cleaning; a Vestry person and an Usher, sealing up collection envelopes; Acolytes shedding their hot albs and storing their candles; and much, much more. Who knew?

Then I learned they took the show on the road, painting maps on playgrounds, literally feeding the hungry – they dished food on a plate and handed it to hungry people at a Homeless shelter! Delivered water, cleaning supplies and fans in the wake of hurricane Katrina, Vacation Bible School to the Navajos, and cooked meals for one another when someone was ill or had a new baby. Clearly, I had a lot to learn about the way of Christians.

One day, perhaps a year or two later because I can be a slow learner when it’s made too obvious, I had the Percival Moment: the Church is the People/the People are the Church.

Keanu Whoa

So…. it isn’t God doing things, of course it is, but not in a woo-woo, parting-of-the-clouds way, it is through us – kind of like an Agency Agreement, which is something I do understand. God grants us agency to do the nuts and bolts of The Work for Him (Her). Having bigger fish to fry, when cookies need baking for a bake sale, God delegates the baking of cookies to me, or teaching a Sunday school class, or filling a Home Depot bucket with cleaning supplies.  He relies on others to swing hammers, cut grass, and right now, drive those cleaning supplies to Houston.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t times when I am confronted with some task, or person, clearly set before me by God – God waiving that Agency Agreement between The Supreme Diety and this Christian – and I think, Really? I can’t get a pass this time? Sometimes I shirk, maybe less often now than once but surely not as less often as I should. But I know now that the church, churches, do not spring forth whole and entire, like Aphrodite from the head of Zeus; the Church is the People/the People are the Church, to the glory of God. And maybe one day, if I need a bucket of cleaning supplies, God will invoke His Agency Agreement with another Christian, or maybe a Muslim, a Jew, someone, and she will have a Percival Moment of her own, and fill a bucket for me.

*Spoiler Alert! Percival, in Arthurian legend, is the Knight who discovers it’s not only the Holy Grail he needs to cure King Arthur of his deadly malaise, but also the knowledge which comes with it: the King and the Land are one, neither can thrive while the other ails..

The Chasm Between Us

Reblogging this from my friend, Fr. Mark Abdelnour, who teaches here about the chasms between people. Wherever you are, consider crossing the chasm, whatever that means to you, between you and someone(s) on “the other side”. You might actually need only go half way – people will often meet us half way. At least that’s been my experience – when I’ve been open to instruction, truly listening, folks are often patient and kind.
This year has seemed a very divisive one, to me. Such a lot of yelling. Not a lot of listening. The man-made chasms stretch out between God’s people. So I commend to you these wise words of a good man.

– Carole

Irmo Rector

a sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 21C)

When the rich man died, he begged Father Abraham to send Lazarus down to comfort him.  But a great chasm separated them.  But where did it come from and could anyone ever get across?

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Weekend Coffeeshare: Simplicity

IMG_8999 (2)If we were having coffee I would ask if you have found, as you mature, that it is the simplest things which make life most beautiful? Were you as foolish as I when very young, and dreamed of all manner of opulence and glory, and thought they made life worth living? No, I imagine you were probably much more sensible than I.

Because I can be willfully stubborn, sometimes God sends me cosmic two-by-fours when He thinks I need a lesson. However, the older I get, the less frequent they’ve been, and I think it is because I’m more willing to see the small, gentle hints and nudges He sends, and more willing to revel in the simple pleasures of life: sleeping in, the cat sitting on my lap, a walk through Farmer’s Market.

Because I’ve had a bit of a funk going this week, I might wonder if you agree with me that it might not be strictly coincidental today’s WordPress prompt is Simplicity, or that the first thing I read was this lovely, grateful, simple post by one of the RevGals. It may be called Lucky, but I think it speaks to the simple things in life, the everyday wonders that keep us going and, if we’re observant, in wonder at the beauty of Life.

Like, coffee. It is simple, warm, comforting and gives me a vital kick in the butt in the morning. Oh, I can get up without it (how about you? Can you?) but why would I want to?

Pizza. I make my own pizza dough, because it’s so simple to do and so worthwhile: flour, water, yeast, salt, and a bit of olive oil. Let rise. Roll out and top with anything you want. Last week it was pesto sauce, mozzarella, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. This week was a classic pepperoni. Almost every Friday night, Paul and I eat it sitting in front of the TV watching whatever series we’re currently involved with, right now, it’s Vikings.

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The Classic Pepperoni Pizza

Movies. It’s one of the things that bonded Paul and I, our mutual love of movies. Today we’ll go see Now You See Me 2, which we doubt will win any awards but will entertain us. Also, Previews. We are united in our love of movie previews, and always get to the theater in time to see them. Yes, we are nerds. Yes, we are unashamed.

Nature, as seen through a macro attachment to my camera. Simple it is not, at close range but I think it qualifies because it is all around us, and all around the grocery store at which I bought these flowers:

It reminds me a bit of looking through a microscope in college biology, which I passed by the skin of my teeth, and wondering at the beauty of cells. So complex and wonderful and only visible through a high-powered lens. Why would they be beautiful? Maybe the better question is, why not?

IMG_8931 (2)More nature, sitting on my back patio with my camera, and catching this guy on the branch sporting the Tenacious Pine Cone, as Paul and I call it. Through powerful winds and storms, this solitary pine cone hangs on. One day we’ll look up and it will be gone and we will mourn its passing, comforted in the knowledge that its fall will propagate more such stouthearted cones. I wonder if this mockingbird has the same flights of fancy as we about the Tenacious Pine Cone or, being a much more practical creature, was simply posing for me? He gave me quite a look, just before he struck this pose, as though to say, “Catch my good side, please”.

What are some of the simple things you appreciate in Life? I’d love to hear them over a good cup of coffee, maybe in the backyard where we can watch the mockingbirds, cardinals, and bluebirds.





Weekly Coffee Share: Breakfast Burrito Edition

Good Morning! Grab a cup and settle in. I hope you like breakfast burritos. They started out as breakfast tacos, but these are a little larger and so we roll ’em up burrito style. A good strong cup of coffee is just right with them, along with a cool glass of milk.

IMG_8267 (2)First I fry the chorizo with diced potatoes. Chorizo is a spicy Mexican sausage and, as is true of all sausages, just don’t ask what’s in it. Just eat it and adore it, as Paul and I do. This is the first layer placed on the foundation of flour tortilla. If you have a gas stove, the best way to warm a tortilla is straight over the gas flame.

Back home in Texas, one can get breakfast tacos with barbecued brisket and they are heavenly. But I haven’t done a brisket since I got to South Carolina; this is a matter I must rectify, and soon. But I digress…

IMG_8278 (2)Next comes fluffy scrambled eggs. I appreciate  your tact in not asking why I don’t use one of the four wire whips of varying sizes I own, or the immersion blender to scramble the eggs instead of the humble fork. The habits of childhood never leave one.

Now, a generous sprinkling of cheese. Today is just cheddar, though I am also fond of pepperjack on a breakfast taco or burrito.

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Hot sauce, because in California we are weened on it. Better is if I’ve made fresh salsa but alas, only hot sauce today. I buy it online by the case, from California.

Paul and I are both fond of diced green onions. Ok, I am more than fond of green onions, I adore them. If there is a tablespoon of left-over diced green onions, I will save those onions and find something to put them in or on.

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The Finished Product: Ready to roll

I would wait until we are done eating before telling you the most exciting thing that happened this week: I became Carole, Slayer of Snakes, the First of Her Name. Let me pour you another cup and explain: I was alerted by Blanca’s barking. Blanca is a very vocal dog, but most of her vocalizations are not standard-issue barking. She grumps and whines and whisper-barks, fusses and yelps at Ivan, when there is a Ballmergency, or she wants attention. So genuine barking, like watch-dog barking, is so rare it brings me running.

Flying out the side door, I find Blanca barking, and Ivan hissing, and the two of them have cornered a black snake! Said snake was not happy and was striking at both animals in turn, and then at me, trying to get the animals back because I had no idea if this was a Good Snake or a Bad Snake. I don’t remember the little rhyme about yellow on red or black or whatever, and except when a rattle is present, I am snake-clueless.

Back through the house and into the garage  for my weapon of choice: the flat-headed shovel. Blanca and Ivan, still working as a team, have held the snake at bay and with two wallopings of my shovel, it was dead. So very dead.  A little bit of guts-leaking-out-one-side-dead. I was sorry it took two swings as I wanted to be merciful, but I am no Ned Stark, although a case could be made that in this situation, I was certainly Jon Snow, who Knows Nothing.

post-mortum snake

Paul came home just as I was putting Dead Snake into a plastic grocery bag for burial. He offered to take a picture of me brandishing it, but I have no real need for fame. Plus I didn’t have makeup on.

It turns out it was a harmless snake, a black Rat Snake, who eats, predictably, rats and other rodents. But I am told it will bite and though not poisonous, it can lead to infection.


So I murdered a potentially good snake.





My other exciting news is that soon, when you visit we’ll have fresh tomatoes, as my lesson in macro photography shows. (Of course I’m about as good with plants as with snakes, so maybe don’t hold your breath on those tomatoes.)

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They wanna be tomatoes when they grow up.




How was your week? Did anything unexpected wander into your life? I hope you didn’t kill it.



Many years ago, my ex-husband’s job took us from our native California to Texas, which is not the South but rather the Southwest, and there are large differences, many of which I am still discovering; but at that time, Texas was South to us.

OhmyGod we were soooo obnoxious! We were every elitist, snobbish, stupidly Californian thing one can imagine. Sneering at Tex-Mex as inauthentic Mexican food, we spent a couple of years ignoring that it wasn’t trying for Mexican (or more importantly, what we thought of as Mexican food); it was a whole new and wonderful, regional cuisine. We gave a begrudging pass to the barbecue, because it was spicy and we liked spicy. We mocked the strongly-accented PTA moms who shunned me, a working mom, refusing to admit their efforts and energy contributed greatly to the success of the excellent schools our daughter attended. Feeling left out and rejected by them, I refused to see that my habit of beginning every sentence with, “In California….” might be off-putting to a Texan.

Time passes and even West Coast idiots grow up and settle in. I began admitting to myself certain facts, like the small, snug house in a fine suburb would have been unattainable in California; that it wasn’t the same as a smog-or-fire induced Tequila Sunrise colored, ocean-horizoned sunset but, a short walk from my front door I could watch the soft apricot and lemon-colored Eastern sky over Lake Lewisville turn into the brilliant, Wedgewood blue of a Texas morning and find it a mighty fine substitute; the Kimbell, Amon Carter, and Natural History museums of Fort Worth are easily the match of any in California. In short, I learned the lesson that things don’t have to be the same to be equal, there is beauty found in greatly differing things, and perhaps most importantly, that continuing to look backwards is a good way to get smacked in the face.

I decided to grow where I got planted.

Our daughter grew up and went to one of the finest colleges in the world, the University of Texas at Austin;  my husband and I grew apart. Supported by the friends I made in Texas, I survived the single most painful episode of my life, there in Texas, which is not the South but rather the Southwest, but I still didn’t know the difference. And there in Texas I met a good man, as perfect a match for me as I could hope, and last year his job brought us to the real South.

I am learning it is very different than the Southwest: the accent, the food, the terrain, and the weather, to name only a few of the differences. I try very hard not to start every sentence with, “In Texas….” and I am open to trying all local cuisine, and let it stand without comparison to anything else thus, I assure you, you cannot go wrong with the shrimp & grits.

One day my daughter and I were talking and I wondered aloud why the expression of something “going south” indicates it’s gone bad? The South is a beautiful place, rich in history, amazing characters, and wonderful, varied cuisines. Ever wise beyond her years, Charlotte opined that rivers run North to South and when humans settled along them, wealthier citizens generally lived to the North, where the clean water is, while the poorer lived downstream. Modern conveniences and water treatment facilities may have clarified the water, but the demographics largely remain in the bigger cities; perhaps that will change in time. And now I think of it, I can’t recall any Southerner using that expression; perhaps it’s more West Coast snobbery unintentionally leaking out my pores.

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Blue Heron along the Saluda River

Here we are, Paul and I, in the real South. Spanish moss, magnolia trees, and the humidity that make both possible are facts of our life, as are graveyards and a few churches dating back to the early 1700s, something unique to the East coast of our relatively youthful nation. Here exists an abundance of pit-barbecue, genteel Southern Ladies, and raconteurs who spin florid, Southern tales differently, but no less amusingly, than do their brothers in Texas. Instead of open roads where one can sometimes see the curvature of the horizon, highways lined with tall pines and flowering jessamine propel us to places like Spartanburg, Florence, or Charleston. It is a beautiful place, and rich in history we hope to explore while we’re here.

And yet…. it still doesn’t quite feel like home. For me it feels similar to the apartment I lived in after my divorce; for months, I still had unpacked boxes of books, a coffee table bought but left boxed for weeks after. Despite eventually putting everything away, it always felt a little like a hotel, and temporary. Maybe it’s as Margaret Mitchell had it in Gone with the Wind, describing people who married into Southern families: while I’m living in the South I am not of the South, and never will be.

We may not retire here for the simple reason most of our collective children and grandchildren are in Texas and watching how their stories unfold, from the good seats, is something we desire. But in the interim, there are Civil War battlefields, antebellum houses, old seaports and smugglers’ coves, and all the various styles of she-crab soup to explore. Age has taught the lesson of approaching new places with curiosity rather than prejudice, and I believe the South has already taught us things about ourselves and each other, and we’ve been here just shy of a year. Armed with our “must see” list, we’ll lace up the walking shoes, charge up my camera batteries, and continue our lessons in and of the South.spillway


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Photos: The Many Faces of Ivan the (recently) Terrible

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On Alert
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In touch with the inner Saber-Toothed Tiger
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I know… my beauty is almost too much for you.


If We Were Having Coffee…


If we were having coffee….

if we had coffeeI would probably struggle at not sounding like Debbie Downer; it’s not been the best week.

Which isn’t to say it hasn’t had moments of light, but it’s been a week of homesickness, honestly, and missing the friends and family who understand me and love me anyway.

Wednesday we had our taxes done and may I just say, South Carolina has cornered the market on things taxable. It’s been an awakening. I sure hope they use some of our tax dollars on luring a decent Mexican restaurant chain here with fat tax incentives. I would settle for a Rosa’s or Torchy’s at this point, but if they’re going to tax us for turning around on a Friday, we need comfort food to drown our sorrows in.

We had a complicated tax year, so thought it better for a professional to handle our return. We were promptly greeted at Big Box Tax Prep Place by a tiny, birdlike woman around our age with short, thin, purple hair blown standing straight up all over her head. Taking comfort in her age, so near our own, I hoped it hinted at a long career in accountancy and not content with this fantasy, I took it further in guessing the eccentricity of purple hair indicative of someone nerdy enough to be capable of enjoying both math and tax preparation.

It is amazing how very, very wrong my flights of fancy can be.

The first sign of trouble was the blank stare, then terrified widening of her bright blue eyes as Paul produced one document after another from our carefully organized file folder. Relocation, home purchase, savings bonds, dividends, the health savings account; with every new piece of paper, it’s title given in Paul’s deep, clear voice her eyes got a little wider, a little more frightened. One more wrinkle and she’ll go tharn, I thought, just as he reached the end.

She was not having a good day. Sighing and talking to her computer screen for the bulk of the input, she eventually explained that a friend had just died and she was struggling with “new” software. I wanted to believe these things accounted for her lack of any obvious organizational skills, anti-methodical data input style, and basic ignorance of mathematics, such as when the first review of our return showed twice the amount of our health savings account.

“It’s the health savings account. You entered it on the wrong line, so it doubled it. Just go back and change that,” my old bank teller skills were coming in handy and she sighed with relief when it worked. Paul was vibrating with the effort of self-control, so I kept my voice light and calm. We had reached the point it was dangerous if he interacted much with her.

At first blush, it looked like we were getting a small return – hurray! – but we didn’t have the checkbook. In the time it took me to go directly across the street to our bank and get the routing number, say, five minutes, we suddenly owed several thousand dollars. I thought it best if I didn’t leave again.

Eventually we worked through it, I rubbing Paul’s back and feeding him Advil, talking soothingly to our tax prep lady, Paul and I answering “YES!” in enthusiastic unison to the purchase of an insurance package covering us in the event of an audit. We signed and walked out at the break-even point, with our poor sweet tax-bird’s request we please rate her highly should we receive a survey call, chirping in our ear. Gosh I hope we don’t get the survey call.

We stopped for coffee, then went for a long walk through Saluda Shoals Park; it was a spectacularly beautiful day with dogwoods blooming and sunlight bouncing off the water. Just what the doctor ordered after tax prep hell.

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Tanning Turtles

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Three of five adult children have Worrisome Things going on in their lives. We try not to obsess, we really do but, it is hard.

Yesterday, storms ripped through and toppled over my tiny greenhouse, destroying all my kitchen herb seedlings. It’s early enough in Spring to begin again, but disheartening. I’ve always been crap with plants and it feels like God telling me, “Gardening isn’t one of the gifts I gave you. You know this. It’s why you were born after I invented production farming and grocery stores. It’s not as if I didn’t think it through.”

But one of my gifts is stubbornness, another a sometimes unreasonable optimism, so after this next cup of coffee I will get more parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme seeds and begin again. It’s what I do.



Friday Five: Sick Edition

The RevGals ask, “For this week’s Friday Five, name five things that make you feel better when you’re sick – from foods to liquids and any other comfort item.”

I’m whispering this because I don’t want the germs to hear: I haven’t been sick this winter, at least not much. A couple days of feeling meh, and a week of lower back pain which is different entirely, but the flu hasn’t caught me. Yet.

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It seems nearly all of my Facebook friends have some form of crud, or their kids do which means they’re lovingly nursing their offspring while staring down the gaping maw of inevitable impending illness. And I feel for them, I truly do, and I am so, so happy it isn’t me.

Here are my things that help, in no particular order: chicken soup. There is now science to prove its efficacy but I always knew, about this anyway, my Jewish Aunt Betty was right. She was a tiny, round, tyrant of a woman, always in a dress and stockings and always busy, clattering through the house, her plump feet shoved into too-small, high-heeled shoes.Forty years in California couldn’t soften the Brooklyn of her accent, and whenever I watch Fiddler on the Roof it’s not Yenta the Matchmaker I see, it’s Aunt Betty. Along with applesauce heavy with cinnamon which she made every week and her famous Harvey Wall-banger cake, I associate all forms of chicken soup, but most especially matzo-ball soup with her. I’m sure it could cure anything and whenever someone in the family got sick, a large container would be delivered. I never learned any of her recipes so I nurse my Lipton Noodle Soup from a mug, breathing in the steam and wishing I’d paid more attention to that high, shrill, Flatbush Avenue voice.

Mucinex, Aspirin, and wonder of wonders, Traditional Medicinals’ Breathe Easy Tea. I have passed so many packets of the tea to coworkers I think Traditional Medicinals should give me stock in the company. It truly works. I always have it in the house, because it’s good for allergies, too. When the Zombie Apocalypse occurs, one of the first things I will do during the Restoration will be to plant a garden of herbal remedies, with the ingredient list of Breathe Easy Tea at the top of the list.

Sloppy joes. Really. Paul makes them. He doesn’t much cook, but sloppy joes he can do, and when I’m down for the count he relegates me to the couch with my blanket and the remote control and he whips up a batch of Manwich sloppy joes. The Bold style is particularly good, in the way that good hot salsa opens up the sinuses. But I think the most curative value comes in the love which has him shooing me from the kitchen, and delivering a plate of hot, spicy sloppy joes to his pathetic, couch-bound invalid.


Dam Hearts

Our house is a five-minute drive from the largest man-made lake in South Carolina, Lake Murray, a reservoir fed by the Saluda River and across which is the Saluda Dam/Dreher Shoals Dam. A dream since the turn of the last century, the lake is named for the engineer, William S. Murray, who made it come true.

IMG_2358It’s a beautiful lake, surrounded by the ubiquitous pines of the region and it provides ample recreation for the locals and summer visitors.

For two people who grew up by the coast and are thus intimately acquainted with big water, it is somehow comforting to have the lake so near.


IMG_2325The dam has a footpath across the mile and a half expanse and it is busy on all but the worst weather days with folks seeking some exercise, a nice breeze, a look at the sailboats tacking across: flirty young couples and hipsters with babies strapped to their chests, strolling; mums with strollers power-walking off baby-weight; athletes with earbuds calling out, “Excuse me!” and sprinting past old farts like me and Paul, testing out my new camera lens.

The dam has also become a Love Lock place, if not on the grand scale of the one in Paris, it is perhaps aspirational. I have hopes for it, anyway.

For Paul and me, this is our first home together. There was my tiny, lonely apartment, witness to many tears and finally, healing; Paul’s house, with the sadness of his first wife’s illness and death and the detritus of a child’s addictive issues lurking behind every battered cupboard door; the two generic, temporary apartments we had together on our way here, though exactly where here was, was a mystery at the time.

But now, finally, we are here: signed on the dotted line, sans storage units, all our stuff in one place. Locked in, pray God, for a long time to come.IMG_2373 (3)