Who do?

Who Do? Voodoo!
Advent 13
Haitian Holiday Hash

You might be thinking: “Voodoo? In a series about world religions?” The answer is a resounding YES! We began this series discussing Yoruba, a religion from Africa whose beginnings were from Odun and his sixteen sons. Those sons went on to have their own kingdoms and their faith spread. Voodoo, also known as Vodun, comes from the Yoruba spirituality. Based also on Catholic beliefs, Voodoo is a Fon-Ewe word meaning “spirit”.

As with the more recently discussed Eastern spiritualities that valued their ancestors, Voodoo is a religion that honors the spirits of both the living and those of passed ancestors. With the use of music and drums, Voodoo rituals celebrate the spirit in all and pray that spirits of the deceased will return and inhabit one’s living body. These spirits are thought to be full of wisdom and healing powers..

Known as Vodu in Africa, the religion migrated with its believers to Haiti. As with any translocation of peoples and beliefs, some things were left behind and other things evolved into different rituals. The animal sacrifices common in Africa were not practiced in Haiti and the more prevalent Catholic rituals from the Spianish explorers were incorporated.

A war for independence in Haiti led the people to believe Voodoo had helped them defeat the French. It was in Haiti that the bokor, or religious policeman/sorcerer came into being. The bokor would sentence those seen as being evil and deny them the right to have a soul. These people, living without the benefit of the belief’s spirits to inhabit them, became known as the walking dead or zombies. Because the Voodoo culture considered someone who did not have the benefit of an ancestor’s soul to be dead, these people were seen as being condemned to wander aimlessly throughout eternity.

As the Port of New Orleans became an international port, immigrants from both Africa and Haiti arrived in Louisiana and brought with them their Voodoo faith. Marie LaVeau was one such practitioner who was allowed by the Roman Catholic Church in Louisiana to practice the culture within the Church. Many continued the practice of Voodoo as a way to regain and maintain the culture of their heritage.

The most commonly known aspect of Voodoo is the zombie. However, what you might have learned from pop culture is largely incorrect. The original word from which zombie has come is “nbzambi”. This refers to the primary spirit of a person. Voodoo has four types of zombie, none of which results from the bite of another. Hollywood made that up and today it is a public relations theme that many believe.

The Four types of Voodoo zombies are the Great Spirit, the Spiritual Soul, the Herbal Zombie, and the Bargained Zombie. While the names have been used in negative or scary connotations, it is really important to remember the beginnings and story of the Yoruba faith and the purpose of calling on the wisdom of one’s ancestors when studying Voodoo. It was a belief in the healing powers of the elders that drives this faith.

One cannot ignore, however, the prevalence of misconceptions that surround Voodoo. Most are the result of its popularity in popular culture and the ease with which the entertainment industry both used and abused it. From the concluding joke in the Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, and Shirley Temple movie “The Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer” to the David Bowie song “Magic Dance”, the mystical powers of Voodoo have been immortalized. “You remind me of the babe [man]. (What babe? [man]) The babe [man] with the power. (What power?) The Power of voodoo. (Who do?) You do. (Do what?) Remind me of the babe.”

At the turn of the twentieth century, the African and Haitian immigrants in New Orleans, found themselves with new musical instruments to play and a new type of music was heard. These followers of their African heritage and cultural faith in Voodoo soon had people snapping their fingers and moving their feet to new rhythms. For audiences accustomed to the regality of classical music, this new art form called jazz seemed to possess people. Soon people like Jelly Roll Morton were said to play music that reached into one’s soul and his music was accused of eliciting wicked desires.

The intent of the Voodoo religion, much like Odun’s request to his son’s to seek out the salt water that would heal his eyes, was for healing and spiritual fortitude. While many may know the word and delight in pretending to play with certain mistaken aspects, Voodoo should be remembered for the belief system it is – a belief system based upon honoring one’s ancestors and the intent to lead the best life one can. The Hollywood aspects, however, will not fade any time soon. Hopefully, though, neither will the jazz that its children gave the world. Rather than being possessed, jazz opens the soul and lets us smile, move, and celebrate life – the real intentions of the ancient beliefs of Vodu.

Haitian Holiday Hash
In case you think I have forgotten that not everyone in a vegetarian, you will be happy to learn that meat is permissible in the Voodoo culture. Usually chickens were eaten but that was more a matter of practicality than religious edict. Chickens are easy to maintain on an island and were less likely to die en route from larger continents. They would also provide eggs as well and thus were a double source of protein. This recipe calls for ground beef but chopped grilled or broiled chicken can be used as well. In fact, for a quick evening meal, stop by a grocery store and pick up a rotisserie chicken and half the cooking will already be done for you! You can also use black beans in place of the meat for a great vegetarian meal.
½ lb cooked ground beef or diced chicken; 1 can of black beans drained as meat substitute
1 Tblsp cooking oil
½ cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup diced tomatoes
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup dried bread crumbs
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 clove or ¼ tsp minced garlic
1 can artichoke hearts, drained
1 tsp each of rosemary, thyme, marjoram – chopped finely or dried (To taste)
3 egg whites
Heat oil over medium heat and add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic. Cook for about 8 minutes or until tender. Turn heat off or remove to a large bowl. Add the meat or beans, artichokes, tomatoes, cheese, herbs, and bread crumbs. Beat egg whites with mixture until stiff peaks form and fold into your meat/vegetable mixture. Pour into a casserole dish and bake for twenty minutes at 350-degree Fahrenheit.
For a more colorful casserole, feel free to add creamed corn and ½ cup of red and green bell peppers.

Yoruba: Inspiration & Energy!

Yoruba: Inspiration and Energy
Advent 2 – 2014
Sixteen Sons’ Stew

Religions are not mere institutions, corporations, hospitals for the emotionally seeking or sinfully depressed. Neither do they serve as palaces of political power. They are living organisms, communities of believers who practice what they believe by their living, their speaking, their caring, and even their dying. We begin our Advent study of various religions, spiritualities, and faiths around the world with one of the oldest from Africa. Like most belief systems, it has a story of its beginning.

He had been faithful and a good leader but now he was getting old and was already blind. Odua gathered around him his sixteen sons and told them to go to the ocean and collect salt water for him. He instructed them to bring the salt water back for, if he bathed his eyes in it, he would then be healed. Only the youngest of the sixteen, Obokun, did as his father requested. Odua immediately washed his eyes and he was indeed healed. Having regained his sight, Odua was now able to see that his other sons had stolen his lands and all his crowns except the one on his head. Odua gave his faithful and loving son a sword and with it, Obokun went to the land of Ilesa and became king of a large kingdom. His fifteen brothers also built large kingdoms. Followers of Yoruba believe that all kings are descended from Odua and his sixteen sons in the land of Nigeria and Benin and today rule the Yoruba regions of the world by following the ancient teachings of Odua.

Yoruba is an indigenous religious tradition which originated in Africa. Due to the migration of its believers, it is now found in other parts of the world. Elements of Yoruba can be found in the Santeria religion of the Caribbean. Its followers have also incorporated their ancient beliefs with modern technology and borrowed from other faiths.

Basically believers and followers of Yoruba seek to fulfill their lives by drawing strength from their ancestors and deities. Many in Yoruba believe in Olodumare, the “high God”. Olodumare is a Creator who created the world but does not govern it. Those responsibilities fall to the orishas such as Shango, the lesser deity connected to electricity and lightning.

Social media may be the trend of the twenty-first century but a similar social connection of relationships existed in Yoruba. Rather than the Internet, Yoruba’s creative connection was an energy flow known as “ashe”. Yoruba followers have many celebratory practices, rituals, and gatherings. They believe these energize their faith and give them strength to live it. The “ashe” connects them, energizes them, and inspires their beliefs. By the sharing of ancient stories, traditional practices, and the dramatic representation of their beliefs which often includes both drums and the wearing of masks, the Yoruba faithful honor their past, live their present through the practice of their faith, and evangelize for the future.

In 1852, the British colonized Yorubaland and in 1893 it became part of a larger colony known as Nigeria. Over one hundred years later, the area gained its independence. Known as master craftsmen in woodcarving, weaving, leather workings, and blacksmiths, Yoruba art is highly respected and valued today.

Yams are the main food staple and most important food in the region once known as Yorubaland. They are also a very misunderstood vegetable in the United States. The USA has the common sweet potato which is often mislabeled, misidentified, and misnamed a yam. The sweet potato originated in the tropics of the Americas, places like Peru and Ecuador. The yam is native to West Africa and some varieties even originated in Asia. The sweet potato is a member of the Morning glory plant family while the yam is from the…wait for it …yam family! The sweet potato is a monoecious plant, meaning that it has both male and female parts. The yam is a dioecious plant, meaning there are separate male and female plants. The yam has only twenty chromosomes compared to the ninety that the sweet potato has, The smooth skinned sweet potato dates back to prehistoric times but the rough, scaly yam goes back fifty thousand years BCE. Most different is the part of the plant we eat. The edible sweet potato is the storage root of the plant while the yam is a tuber. Sweet to the taste, a sweet potato is moist while the yam’s starchiness often leaves one’s mouth dry.

The nutritional values of the two plants are where there real individual identities become evident. The two vegetables are quite similar in the following nutritional items: magnesium, vitamin B6, iron, protein, and dietary fiber. However, the yam has 28% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C while the sweet potato has only 4%. In an interesting turn-around, the yam has only 2% of the RDA for vitamin A while the sweet potato has 283%! The yam has 23% of the RDA for potassium compared to the sweet potato’s 9%.

Sixteen Sons’ Stew: (16 ingredients but easy to make!)
• 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) margarine or butter
• 6 cups 1/4-inch-thick rounds peeled carrots (about 7 large)
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 1 cup chopped celery
• 1/2 diced mushrooms
• 3/4 cup diced peeled tan-skinned yams or sweet potatoes
• 3/4 cup white potatoes
• 3 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
• 2 teaspoons paprika
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 2 pinches of ground cinnamon
• 1 pinch nutmeg
• 1 pinch tumeric
• 9 cups (about) vegetable or chicken broth
• 1/4 teaspoon parsley
• Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot or soup pot, melt the butter or margarine over a medium heat. Add the first seven ingredients, raising the heat to medium high, and sauté for about ten minutes, until the onions are translucent or clear. Then add the spice ingredients 9-13. Add all but ½ teaspoon of the cumi and stir. Once everything is combined, add 8 cups of broth, reserving one cup for later. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about thirty to forty-five minutes. Once the vegetables are tender, remove from the heat. Carefully puree the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to your soup or cooking pot, add the rest of the cumin and thin to desired consistency with the remaining cup of broth. This soup can be refrigerated for up to three days and reheated as needed. You can also add bits of chicken if not a vegetarian or even dumplings. It is really great to make on a weekend and then reheat during the busy week.

Pentecost 38

Goofs & Gifts; Recipe

Like most people, when the New Year 2014 struck at 12:00:01 AM, I hoped that it would be a better year than those previous. However, I am grateful for all those times in past years that life was a big “OOPS!” Those were the times that tested me, challenged me, and offered me the greatest opportunity for growth, learning, recognition of friends, a sense of accomplishment.

We are now halfway through the year and I admit to wondering if we have really done it justice. Almost three hundred school girls have been kidnapped this year and most are still being held captive. Renewed fighting has broken out in the Gaza Strip with hundreds of casualties, many of which are children. Has 2014 so far been a big “Oops!”?

When a science experiment goes according to plans, all that does it confirm for the scientist that what he/she thought he/she knew was correct. It is when the experiment does NOT go according to plans that science occurs. That is when real learning happens. Why did the elements not react as expected? Why was the result different? What caused those changes? Can we replicate them and if so, how?

In finding the answers, we realize a new part of science. We gain from the unexpected – those “OOPS!” Life is so nice and calm when there is no build-up of static electricity that causes a light bulb to blow when I turn it on. However, until I go to replace that blown bulb, I don’t realize I need to go buy some more bulbs. Every morning I arise and without much thought, get ready, completely taking for granted the plumbing, the water coming through the taps, the electricity used to make my breakfast. Let there be a power outage or a water contamination, though, and all of a sudden I value my creature comforts like never before!

The past year had its challenges and I am grateful for not only having survived them but for the friendships that supported me through them. I am blessed to be able to say lessons were learned. When a child is killed, it is very difficult to look past our grief for any lessons that might be learned. When people continue to demean and dehumanize women and claim their justification for doing so is their faith, it is difficult to respect that faith.

The primary lesson in life is to embrace all of it – the good and the bad. Draw strength from your own spirit and wisdom from your base of faith on how to move forward. May we all make the rest of 2014 a time of peace, enlightenment, love, health, and joy as we move from goof to gift!

Recipe –
Shortbread Cookies/Cobbler Topping

2 cups flour
1 cup chilled butter cut into small cubes
½ cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla

Combine the dry ingredients, working the butter into the dry mixture until its consistency is like corn meal. Add the vanilla and continue to mix. Spread over a cookie sheet and bake at 350-degree-F oven for 15-20 minutes. If referred, you can roll the dough into a log and chill for two hours then slice and bake. Additionally, you can chill the dough and then roll out and use a cookie cutter to make shaped cookies. You can also add chocolate chips if desired to the dough.

This also makes a delicious and easy cobbler topping when the butter is melted. Use melted butter for the basic recipe and spread on a cookie sheet, baking per usual. The cookies will be crumbly since melted butter was used. Pour a prepared fruit mixture (canned pie filling is the easiest) or use your own. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray and then pour in the fruit mixture. Crumble the shortbread over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350-degree-F oven.

My Psalm 38

O God, what did I do to deserve this?
The nights are so long and the pain is so deep.
Deliver me, O Savior, from this agony.

You know me, O Lord.
You were at my birthing and each step since.
You know my life and my pain.

Heal me, dear Father.
I feel so alone in this.
My heart cries out to you for salvation.

May your balm encompass me.
May your love soothe me.
I pray my faith will guide me.

I am on the edge, Lord.
Do not forsake me but answer my pleas.
I need you, O God.

Pentecost 23

Pentecost 23
My Psalm 23

June 30, 2014
Ramadan; Recipe

He was a college graduate, soft-spoken, well-dressed, and very professional in his work. Cordial but not over-friendly, my new coworker seemed as out of place to the others in the office and I felt. Very kindly he showed me where the office supplies were kept, and then offered to answer any questions I might have. Not the most auspicious beginning of a deep friendship but it was enough. To my surprise, the only thing people held against him was his faithfulness to his religion.

Most of us have a holy time in our spiritual walk. For some it is a meditative time; for some, the season of Advent; for others, the penitential season of Lent; for some Hanukkah. No one laughed when another coworker who attended the same church I did and I moaned about giving up something for Lent. Everyone loved the Advent calendar someone put on each desk and the daily bit of candy received when the calendar window for that day was opened. So why get bothered by a man who came in early, left ten of fifteen minutes late every day and always had his work done? The same people that took two morning and two afternoon smoke breaks felt it improper that this man took two or three prayer breaks. He was Muslim and so, during the day, would pause for his daily prayers.

“Do unto others” often means something we are not prepared to do, even though most of us would agree it is a great rule to try to follow. However, when it gets right down to it, we somehow never see the other person’s perspective. The Islamic coworker had his own office when I started in the department but soon reshuffling took place and he was put out into a larger room, his desk at the back of the grouping. He would quietly roll out his prayer rug and kneel beside his desk but still, people would not resist trying to engage him while he was in prayer. I had a private office and so, after a week, stopped him one morning as he picked up his prayer rug and took it from him. “It goes in here,” I told him, walking back to my office. He followed, puzzled. I gave him back to him and told him, if he didn’t bother me sitting at my desk while he prayed, I’d be honored if he used my office whenever he liked.

We became even closer and shared religious opinions, debated, and respected our own faith and the other’s beliefs. He gave me a copy of the Koran in English to read, explaining that one really had to read it in Arabic to really “get it” but reading it in English should prove interesting. Whenever I cooked food and took to the office, usually a breakfast treat for an early morning meeting, I made sure it complied with his religious tenets since no one else had culinary restraints due to their faith or diet. In short, we treated each other as we would have liked to be treated…..and were. We were two people with two strong beliefs in two Abrahamic religions. I think Father Abraham would have been pleased.

We are now in the season of Ramadan for our Islamic brethren. From sun rise to sunset, they do not eat, paying penance and giving deep meditation to their faith. From June 28th to July 28th, they will partake of this ancient tradition, marking their devotion and engaging in the introspective, peace-finding beliefs that mark Islam. There will be no big parade or brightly decorated windows. They will be respectful, peaceful (if they are truly faithful), and they will experience their faith at its most individual and deepest level. I hope you will honor those you know who are Islamic as they go through Ramadan. It is, after all, what Jesus of Nazareth commanded us to do – for all people, for all times.

Recipe –Savory Squares
This recipe can be made with sausage or, if you are feeding an Islamic friend (Muslims do not eat pork.), ground beef or perhaps turkey. I should note that I deliberately waited until after sundown to post today’s blog in respect for our Islamic friend. Enjoy, please! [Remember that Jewish friends that eat “kosher” do not combine dairy and meat. However, this is great when using only vegetables and/or vegetable burgers!]

1 cup biscuit mix: either dry biscuit ingredients according to your favorite recipe or a prepackaged biscuit mix
1 cup milk
3 eggs
12 oz (1 ½ cups) grilled or sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms, sliced squash – your choice!
1 pound browned meat: sausage, ground beef*, ground turkey*
1/8 tsp Worcestershire sauce
8 oz grated cheddar cheese
*season beef and turkey to taste – salt, pepper, etc.

Prepare: Brown the meat and sauté or grill the vegetables. Drain both very well. Let meat and vegetables cool for five minutes and then add 6 oz of the grated cheese and stir well. Beat eggs and add milk. Add dry biscuit ingredients to eggs and milk and mix well. Pour the biscuit/egg mixture in the bottom of a baking dish. Combine the meat/vegetables/cheese mixture and pour into the baking dish. Cover with the remaining 2 oz of cheese and bake in a 375-f-degree oven for approximately thirty minutes or until cooked. Cut into squares and serve with fresh fruit or a green salad. Bon Appétit!

My Psalm 23

My Lord is a great God.
There is nothing I will ever face
That He cannot defeat.
He will protect me and comfort me.
I may be lost in a jungle of hatred;
I may fear for my life.
God will be there with me.
He is my refuge.
He is my protector.
He is my God and I am never alone.

Easter Forty – Five

Easter Forty-Five
June 3, 2014

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Recipe included – It’s Tuesday!

[This is a guest article I wrote for Episcopal Café, originally published May 26, 2014. I would love to have you comment!]

Throughout history, people intermingled in the marketplace. Such a marketplace was even the setting for one of Jesus’ parables (Matthew 11:16-19). Mankind has seldom lived in isolation but rather in a communal, mixed gathering, dependent upon his fellow man for life’s necessities. One fear of man is based upon his need to see himself in others. Man’s greatest downfall is in not seeing the image in the mirror clearly, not recognizing the marketplace reflection. This continues today.

The drum circle was open to the public, meeting every Sunday afternoon. All ages, all stages of musical ability, all types of apparel, and all types of ethnicities followed the rhythm of their souls. Some invented melodies and others accompanied on quiet stringed instruments. Tribal drums harmonized with marching snare-less drums as children ran back and forth and pets lay in the shade. The timbre of different drum skins echoed throughout the park as others left and more came. It was a market place of music, reflecting the heartbeats of centuries of gatherings of people, different and yet united in spirit.

Then one day someone brought a different drum. Instead of a skin or plastic head across the top, it was a wooden box with a hole in it. The player sat as usual and began to drum quietly, picking up the beat of the others. Slowly, one by one, they stopped and the self-appointed leader strolled over. “Where is your other drum?” he asked. “You need to either bring a drum with a head on it or stay home.” The player began to explain that, just as the others were vibrating the skin of an animal (or modern-day facsimile), the tree from which his drum had been made also represented life. He was asked to leave.

They had been talking, “mingling” for over an hour, easily conversing and comparing pet stories. Then one reached for a cup of tea and the cross around her neck became evident. Her companion quickly left, remarking that she was unaware the woman was “one of those crazy Christians”. Although they had been discussing Plato and the development of cultures based upon morals, she had no wish to discuss morals with someone who wore a sign of a religion around her neck, apparently feeling her sari to represent something other than her Brahma Kumaris spiritual heritage.

The marketplaces of today may look different than those of ancient times but the cultural diversity still exists. We are still one community dependent upon each other. The djembe drum, the tribal drum most often found in drum circles, was used throughout African cultures as a song of peace. The playing of the djembe is a celebration of life and a way for people, all people, to come together. The cajon, the wooden box drum, originated in Peru as the instrument of African slaves forbidden to have any expression publicly. Separated from their culture and djembes, the slaves used what they could to express themselves. The union of the djembe and cajon that day in the drum circle was a reunion of culture, recognition of the joy of the human soul that could not be suppressed and yet, no one saw the reflection.

The young woman at the community function did indeed wear a cross. On it was inscribed “mind, body, soul”, recognition of how she wanted to live her faith. The Raja Yoga meditation of Brahma Kumaris, a form of meditative spirituality that teaches the soul is good, redefines the self as a soul and enables a direct connection and relationship with the Supreme Source of purest energy and highest consciousness. They had so much in common yet fear fogged their vision.

The drummer did return to the drum circle and the cajon was accepted. The drum circle’s purpose was the celebration of life and slowly, harmony reigned. The two women found themselves again together at the buffet, joined by an older woman. The Christian asked about the spirituality and applauded its beginnings as a feminist movement. The other girl listened, realizing there was only respect, not absolutism.

“My country is the world and my religion is to do good.” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. We should live so that others see our religion in us. Everyone we encounter is a doubting Thomas. We all make instant impressions of those we pass or with whom we converse. We need to let them see our faith just as Thomas saw the scars of Jesus.

One day our mirror will see not preconceptions but the reality of the marketplace. We are one in the spirit of life. We are one in life. Just as the drum cannot play without the player, we cannot exist without the marketplace community, united in the spirit of mind, body, and soul.

Lazy Lasagna:
One box radiatori or ricchioli pasta or your favorite textured pasta
1 jar, large size, of your favorite prepared spaghetti sauce*
1 container ricotta cheese
Grated parmesan cheese
*I make my own and freeze. Recipe will follow on another day.

Prepare the pasta and drain. Layer the pasta, cheese, and sauce in that order in a casserole dish, topping with the parmesan cheese, and bake at 350 degrees-F for thirty minutes.
Great with a green salad!

Easter Thirty-Eight

Easter Thirty-Eight
May 27, 2014

Footprints: a veggie, a fruit, a game and a recipe!

It has both male and female. The offspring of one of the world’s oldest things, it is considered a vegetable although botanists classify it as a pepo or berry. It can be as small as 1.6 inches or 4 centimeters and as large as 911.2 kilograms or 2009 pounds. The present-day genus is found only in the New World, appearing in the Americas before humans did and its domestication dates back eight thousand to ten thousand years ago. They come in varying colors and some are round while others are straight and long. There are some with varying colors, good only for decoration, and some have crooked necks. Some seeds were carried on ocean currents to Asia and became water containers, their use becoming popular in the Middle Eastern desert climates. Some even speculate that these seeds did not originate in the Western Hemisphere but traveled to the New World at the end of the ice age by travelers that would become known as American Indians.

So what is this thing of many types, many colors, many purposes, many lands that still stumps historians and biologists? It is the happy or scary decoration placed on a front porch in the autumn. It is the musical holder of seeds known as the maracas. In India, one form is strung with gut and played as a guitar. In some Carribean countries, one version is worked, painted, and carried as a purse and in other countries, it is used as a float when teaching swimming. It is a food source of many vitamins and other nutrients and found in dishes all over the world. In early 2014, it was decided that perhaps its origin was from Africa, from a region known to theologians as the supposed home of the Garden of Eden.

Although the scientific name is Cucurbita, we all know this item of many forms and uses by the Narragansett Indians’ name – squash. Technically, the Rhode Island tribe called askútasquash, but the noted Roger Williams found the later syllable more pleasing to the colonists’ language.
Of particular interest is that the squash has both summer and winter forms. It has adapted well to its environment with some forms needing very little water while others are the typical garden variety that likes a weekly watering. The squash has uses for most every country and every aspect of life – health, medicinal, decoration, clothing, and the arts. It relies heavily on the insect world for pollination but can survive without it. It is hot and cold, social and independent, practical and aesthetic, varied in color, healthy and, in some forms, toxic.

Man has a great deal in common with the lowly squash. First of all, its medicinal properties and health benefits aid greatly in our quality of life. Used as the basis for some cocktails and energy drinks, it lends itself well to casseroles, features quite prominently when used as filler for things such as lasagna and meat pies and when fried the quash can be an appetizer. In each case, it adds to the nutritional value of the meal or dish in which it is featured or is used as a compliment. People in the southern Americas have used the gourd form of the Cucurbita and turned it into an art form as well as the basis for many Latin instruments used in music. Additionally, Hindu and other eastern religions and spiritualities incorporate the gourd into their services and meditations. Shoes have been made from gourds as well as handbags and carrying cases. While its presence goes largely unnoticed, the Cucurbita has been a major influence in the world and in man’s survival. And yet, most of us take it for granted.

What color eyes does your mail carrier have? How about the bank teller that cashed your paycheck? When did you last pay respect to the fast food worker that gave you your order as you hurried to work to the train or public transportation worker that ensured your safety as you hurried to your next appointment? They, like the squash, come in all types, sizes, shapes, and colors. They each have qualities that enhance and ensure our livelihood and yet, we often take them for granted, assume that because they earn a salary, that is the only thanks they need.

No Cucurbita plant grows alone. It needs a host environment, pollination, water, sunshine or light, and the chance to grow. Mainly it needs the chance to grow. Yesterday we honored those who had sacrificed their lives for the cause of our lives. Yesterday, in the town where I live, someone died. Most towns experienced someone dying since dying is also a part of the cycle of life and yes, even for the squash. The squash is not a perennial plant; it dies when the temperature reaches freezing. However, it does produce seeds that can be saved and planted for the next growing season. So while it’s cycle of life is for one growing season, it leaves behind the chance for new life.

People leave their footprints on our souls when they pass through our lives. Many times, whether that footprint is positive or negative will depend on us, not them. When we give them a chance to grow, when we respect them, they will enhance our lives. Life is a lot like the game of squash, a game played by two or four on a racquet in which players take turn hitting a ball. The key thing is that the players take turns and the best attribute for playing squash is agility.

Life requires agility as well as respect. When we stop putting people into specific categories, we give them the chance to become agile, to grow. Usually we think of squashing someone as limiting them but maybe we need to start thinking in terms of the squash – a multi-faceted plant that has grown in usage and location….and survived. When we treat each other with respect and let each other grow, then mankind will survive. We can make a difference with out footprints!

Recipe: Pasta Cucurbita – Hot or Cold!

1 ½ cups sliced red onion 1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, crushed ¼ cup chopped cilantro
2 cups of sliced summer squash 2 cups of sliced winter squash
1 ½ cup sliced tomatoes 3 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter ½ cup lemon juice or the juice of one large lemon.
2 cups cooked angel hair pasta or cappellini

Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet on medium-high heat and add onions, mushrooms. Stir for three to five minutes over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add squash, garlic, and tomatoes, stirring occasionally for five minutes. Add cilantro and remove from heat and cover. Combine with drained pasta and return to heat for three minutes. Serve warm, adding grated parmesan cheese if desired. This also works as a cold salad when used as a left-over.

Easter Thirty-One

Easter Thirty-One
May 20, 2014

Beacon of Faith

I adore lighthouses. I collect them and have close to a hundred, not really caring if the ones in my collection are from the dollar store or if they are historical replicas of some value. I have a lighthouse jacket, tote bag, wall plaques, pillows, tea bag box, and once bought a Bible just because it had a lighthouse on it (It really is a nice study Bible!). I simply love lighthouses. I especially like to sit and look at them, marveling at all who passed by it, survived because of it, or simply have gone past it without even noticing it. Lighthouses to me are a beacon of humanity and hope.

The first lighthouse on record was built on the island of Pharos. Later designated one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, it was the only structure among these seven built for a practical purpose: guiding sailors safely into the harbor at Alexandria, Egypt. Alexander the Great founded this port city on the Mediterranean Sea in 332 B.C., and located it on the western edge of the Nile River delta to avoid the heavy silt and sediment loads deposited annually by the great river.

Ptolemy, ruler of Egypt after Alexander’s death, authorized the building of the Pharos light in 290 B.C. Alexandria served ships carrying Egyptian grain and armies to ports around the Mediterranean, and proved important to the extension and maintenance of the Roman Empire. The Pharos lighthouse was memorialized on Roman coins, and its name is the base for the word “lighthouse” in Spanish and Italian (faro), Portuguese (farol), and French (phare). Even in Britain before 1600, a lighthouse was called a pharos.

The first “lighthouses” in the Americas probably consisted of small fires on hilltops or lanterns displayed from the windows of houses overlooking harbors. In the territory that eventually became the United States, the Boston Light was the first structure generally accepted to be a true lighthouse. It was built in 1715 on Little Brewster Island in Boston Harbor and lighted for the first time in 1716. The British destroyed the lighthouse in 1776. It was rebuilt in 1783 and is still functioning today. Although the Boston Light is considered the nation’s oldest lighthouse, the tower itself is only the second oldest. The oldest tower in the United States is the Sandy Hook Light at the entrance to New York Harbor, built in 1764.

The appeal of lighthouses to me, though, isn’t their history or even the rocky coastlines they adorn. What they represent to me is the very best of humanity. They exist because of the efforts of a collective group of people to assist a group of strangers. After all, those familiar with the coast would know of its perils, tidal flows, hidden rock formations posing dangers to the hulls of incoming boats, etc. The strangers coming to the shore are the ones who benefit from the light, the strangers and those in need of a helping hand. The lights were to warn but also to inform of available resources that could be found near the area of the lighthouse. Often, the lighthouse keeper was called upon to shelter travelers from the storm or to give a hungry sailor a bowl of hot stew or dry clothes.

Lighthouses existed to warn but also to guide, much like the stories, traditions, and scriptures we have passed on to us. It is also much like the purpose of our corporate worship and collective prayers. We used to live within eighty miles of six lighthouses and I’d drive out of my way or make an unscheduled rest stop, often delaying my arrival home, to pass by one and embrace the sense that they give me. IT is easy to ignore one, though, if it on your regular route home.

The tenets of our faiths are like that, also. We become so used to them that we forget them, forget to study them, and neglect to use them. We have to allow the light of our beliefs to shine through us and we do that by living them their humanity and hope.

And now for Tuesday’s “light or not” recipe: Banana Bread
½ cup shortening (Crisco sticks work well) 2 cups sifted flour**
¾ cup agave or 1 cup sugar* 3 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs ½ teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas 1 cup nut meats, chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Cream shortening and agave or sugar together. Beat eggs until light and add to mixture of shortening and sweet. Press bananas through a sieve and add lemon juice. Combine with creamed mixture. Sift remaining dry ingredients and mix quickly with bananas creamed batter. Add nuts and mix gently. Bake in greased loaf pan at 375-degree-f oven for approximately one hour or until fork comes out clean.
*sugar substitute may also be used.
**gluten free flour may be used but xanthum gum should be added per instructions on GF flour.