Archive | March 2012

Asparagus Story

Lonely asparagus stalk

The first edible sign of spring has arrived – asparagus. I discovered the first lonely stalk standing proud, about 8 inches tall, yesterday. Nearby were a few shorter stubs. There wasn’t quite enough for a meal, so the little clump is still standing.

Asparagus was my mom’s favorite vegetable. She started a couple patches growing on the edge of the lawn before I was born – sometime in the 1940’s. The asparagus I saw yesterday represents the direct descendants of these roots.

Early in the spring, my mom and I would go searching for the first asparagus shoots peeking above the grass. My mom held the paring knife and I held the empty plastic bread bag. As soon as I saw a tiny shoot, I’d shout “Here’s one!” My mom would bend over, cut it with the knife, right next to the ground, and hand the shoot to me to put in the bag. We didn’t bother to let the shoots grow tall. The shorter they were, the tenderer they were. Anyway, my mom was too eager to get some to eat. By May, when the weather was warmer, the asparagus grew so fast that we’d get plenty of tall stalks, enough to freeze packages to have throughout the year.  Depending on how warm it was, we’d repeat our asparagus search every two or three days.

Asparagus stubs

You would think that with the excitement of picking the asparagus, and my mom’s love of the vegetable, that I would like to eat it, too. No way. I hated the stuff. The flavor was too strong for me. My mom would make me eat one bite – not one stalk – one inch-long bite every meal she served it.

It wasn’t until I was an adult living in Chicago that I began to appreciate its flavor and texture. When we moved back to Wisconsin, about 20 years ago, we discovered an easy recipe for appetizers that made me love asparagus almost as much as my mom had loved it. Basically, you flatten a slice of bread with a rolling pin. (Optional, you may want to cut off the crusts first – we usually don’t bother, but it makes the appetizer look prettier.) Spread cream cheese with chives on one side of the bread. Place three or four stalks of asparagus together in the middle of the bread, and fold the sides of the bread over the asparagus. Place the asparagus-bread roll, seam-side down, on a cookie sheet. Spread butter on the top of the roll and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees about 10 minutes. Just thinking about these appetizers makes me want to go out right now and pick the asparagus shoots I saw yesterday.

Asparagus Appetizer

In a typical spring (who knows about this year!), by late April, we have so much asparagus we eat it every way we can think of – quiche, strata, soup – and we give it away to whoever will take some. We also freeze a lot, just as my mom did. By June, we let it go to seed so that we can enjoy it again next year. The cycle of life for our two asparagus patches has probably been repeated about 70 years so far.

Isn’t it amazing how God designed all of nature!

After I checked out the asparagus yesterday, I walked around the grounds of Whispering Winds – listening to the birds singing, smelling the hyacinths, and taking pictures of the daffodils, budding lilacs, the redbud tree, the forsythia, the bleeding heart… I even had a short conversation with Gary Gopher again.

I plan to add some of the pictures to the Whispering Winds FaceBook page and the website later today or tomorrow. You may want to check them out. Or, better yet, come to Whispering Winds to see, hear, and smell spring for yourself.

Forsythia and Redbud outside the Sun Room

The Repetition of “Firsts”

Yesterday I picked our first bouquet of fresh flowers from the beds that surround Whispering Winds – an 18″ sprig of bright yellow forsythia standing tall above seven pale yellow daffodils. The fresh bouquet was the centerpiece in the living room for our hymn sing yesterday.

The day before, the daffodils weren’t open yet. The first stars of the landscape were the crocuses in full bloom.

Last week we grilled our first hamburgers and hotdogs of the season.

The week before, we saw our first robins return. Then I saw my favorite birds return – goldfinches.

The very first sign of spring was the return of the geese to our pond – when there was still a little ice on the pond.

All these firsts. They’re the same firsts we excitedly looked for last year, and I expect we’ll be just as excited next year then these firsts will appear for us again.

Why are we so excited to see exactly the same things again this year that we saw last year – and that we’ll see again next year? Crocuses. Daffodils. Pretty soon we’ll see the first tulips and lilacs. This week I’ll probably grill our first salmon burgers of the season.

Daffodils remind me of how much fun it is to have fresh-cut flowers in the house. Once the daffodils arrive, the process of cutting flowers should continue until the last roses of summer.

Robins and goldfinches remind me of long walks along country roads and listening to the joyful songs of the bird choruses.

The geese remind me of sitting out on the deck on a lazy summer afternoon and watching them peacefully float around the pond. I especially love to watch them while I’m waiting to flip the burgers on the grill out on the deck.

The annual repetition of all of nature’s seasonal firsts brings back such pleasant memories. These memories rekindle in us the anticipation of so many more of God’s blessings to come…

As I was thinking about all these springtime firsts this year, I thought of the hymn “For the Beauty of the Earth.” I entered those words into the search box on YouTube.com and discovered a beautiful new tune written by John Rutter for this hymn. Here’s the link to Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Primary) choir singing it with beautiful images of nature to illustrate it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHIfRLNYUGw. “For the beauty of the earth … this our hymn of grateful praise.”

What are your favorite firsts of spring, or other firsts that are repeated annually. (Perhaps the first snowfall???) And, what do these firsts really signify for you?

More from the Goose Family

Gilbert and Gloria Goose

The Goose family has been faithfully practicing over the past few weeks for the hymn sing coming up this Sunday. Yesterday was such a beautiful day that I decided to walk out to the pond to talk with them. There were robins and finches in the trees around the pond, so the gospel quartet of geese had grown to a full choir. The beautiful sounds of spring!

As soon as the geese saw me they stopped singing and swam over to me – all four of them, Gregory and Grace, Gilbert and Gloria. Gilbert asked me, “Who is that woman staying at Whispering Winds? She’s been watching us a lot, and she seems to be enjoying our singing.”

“Oh, that’s Lynn,” I said. “She’s a writer who comes here several times a year for three or four days at a time to write. This time she’s taking advantage of our $149 Lenten Special. She really likes to go for peaceful walks to take breaks from her writing. She’s probably gone down the road to watch your cousins, too, at CamRock Park.”

“She seems to enjoy the peacefulness here as much as we do,” Gilbert added. “I’m glad.”

Gregory Goose changed the subject. “How’s the songbook coming along for the hymn sing? It’s this Sunday, you know.”

“Oh, I know,” I replied. “It is so hard to narrow down the selections to a reasonable number. There are so many great songs about God’s love.”

“That’s for sure,” chimed in Gloria. Our ‘practicing’ can hardly be called ‘practicing.’ We keep thinking of different songs to sing, so we go from one to the next without perfecting the parts on any of them.”

“But that’s so much fun,” interjected Grace. “I just love remembering all the songs about God’s love.”

“That’s what my problem is. I have almost a hundred songs in the table of contents of the songbook, and I think that’s too many. I’m going to have to cut out some. This is even worse than when I compiled a songbook for Advent and Christmas.”

“I don’t envy you that task,” sympathized Gloria. “I’m sure whatever songs are left after the final cuts will form a wonderful collection.”

I explained the process I’m using. “To help me choose the best mix of songs, I’ve organized the songbook into seven sections:

  1. A call to a time of reflection
  2. The suffering of Christ
  3. Our Prayers – What do we really want to say to God?
  4. The Love of God
  5. A call to action – Invitation and Commitment
  6. Our Testimony
  7. Let’s just praise God

“And I’ve tried to select songs in each of five styles:

  1. Classical Hymns
  2. Gospel Songs
  3. Spirituals
  4. Black Gospel
  5. Contemporary Praise Songs

“Then I try to be sure I have at least one or two or more favorites for each theme and style combination. You can see why the selections have grown to nearly a hundred songs in my compilation.”

Gregory didn’t hesitate to tell me, “You’re trying too hard. I can tell you my favorites, and that will be enough.”

Grace Goose

“Oh, Gregory, you’re so self-centered,” chided Grace. “What about everyone else? What about their favorites?”

Gilbert quickly changed the subject to avoid an extended argument. “Are you going to have any food? You know, singing can work up quite an appetite.”

“I always have food,” I said with a big smile. “I’m thinking of having ham sandwiches, chips, green pistachio fluff (it will be the day after St. Patrick’s Day), green sugar cookies, and  chocolate brownies. Do you approve?”

“Why don’t you have corned beef instead of ham?” Gregory asked.

“Because I don’t like corned beef,” I said, “and I love ham.”

“It sounds like a lovely supper to offer,” said Grace. “How will you know how much to prepare?”

“Good question,” I responded. “That’s why I’d like everyone to call me (608-212-6197) to say they’re coming. I’ll fix some extra for those who just decide to come at the last minute. I want everyone to feel welcome to join us, whether they call me, or not. If I have too much food, I’ll either eat ham sandwiches and pistachio fluff for several days, or freeze the leftovers.”

“It sounds like you have a lot of work to do this week,” said Gloria, “between preparing the food and finalizing the songbook.”

“I guess I do. I’d better get back to work.”

Gregory Goose

“And we’d better get back to practicing,” ordered Gregory. “I’ve been trying to think of any songs we know that are Black Gospel. Then it came to me – Precious Lord, Take My Hand. But it’s hard for me to identify with that song. I guess we should practice it anyway. Then let’s sing, Lead Me, Guide Me. That’s a Black Gospel song I really understand.”

————————-

The hymn sing will be at 3:00 Sunday afternoon (March 18) at Whispering Winds. Everyone is welcome. Free will offering to cover our costs. Call 608-212-6197 to let us know you’re coming, if you can. Otherwise, just show up. Hope to see you Sunday!

Reflection on a Good Old Hymn

Over the past few weeks I’ve been writing reflections on Lenten hymns for our e-retreat entitled “The Scandal of Lent.”  Throughout Lent I plan to write a total of nine reflections about Lenten music, and Pastor Joan will write the same number of reflections about themes presented in the book The Scandal of Lent by Robert Kysar (Augsburg Publishing House, 1982). (For more information about the e-retreat, click here.)

One of the hardest parts of my assignment is to select which Lenten hymns to write about from all the beautiful music that is particularly meaningful during Lent. For today’s blog, I decided to write a reflection on one of the songs that I really wanted to include in the e-retreat, but there just weren’t enough sessions to squeeze it in.

Fanny Crosby

“Near the Cross”

Fanny Crosby (1820 – 1915) was one of the most prolific hymn writers ever. She wrote more than 8,000 hymns. She’s been referred to as “the Queen of Gospel Song Writers” and “the Mother of modern congregational singing in America.” In 1975 she was belatedly inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. Two of her best known songs are “Blessed Assurance” and “To God Be the Glory.”

When she was only six weeks old, she had an eye infection. Unfortunately, the primitive medical treatment she received caused her to go blind. As she grew into childhood, her grandmother took a special interest in helping her memorize Bible verses. By the time she reached adulthood, she had memorized the four Gospels, Psalms, Proverbs, and several other books of the Bible. This knowledge was a tremendous resource for her to draw upon as she wrote hymns and gospel songs.

The circumstances surrounding her writing “Near the Cross” were quite typical of how she wrote her songs. A friend of hers, Howard Doane, came to her with a new melody he had composed. He played the music for her. She listened and then said she felt that the tune said, “Jesus, keep me near the cross,” and she promptly wrote the words.

Jesus, keep me near the cross;
There a precious fountain;
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

Refrain:
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory every,
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the bright and Morning Star
Shed its beams around me.
Refrain.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.
Refrain.

Near the cross I’ll watch and wait,
Hoping, trusting ever,
‘Til I reach the golden strand
Just beyond the river.
Refrain.

Neville Peter

Neville Peter (b. 1972) is blind pianist and vocalist who has a special appreciation for the songs of Fanny Crosby. Click this link to a YouTube video where he sings “Near the Cross.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5g1EWML1tNo

PERSONAL REFLECTION:

When Fanny Crosby was asked about her blindness, she responded with this statement:

It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me. [quoted from www.cyberhymnal.org]

Think about what challenges you personally have faced, or are currently facing in life. Can you imagine any positive result from these challenges? If you were asked to share your perspective on your own personal hardships, what would you say?