Thoughts on Immigrants Then and Now, Thanks to Rags: An American Musical

I encourage you to go quickly to see Rags: An American Musical (by Joseph Stein-book, Charles Strouse-music, Stephen Schwartz-lyrics, and David Thompson (revised book) now playing at the Goodspeed Opera House. There are only a few days left, but it is worth shuffling your schedule around to experience this timely story about immigrants coming to America. Though it is set in 1910 on the Lower East Side, one can see how it applies with immigration issues today.  I sincerely hope “Rags” runs at other venues because it is one of those shows that every American needs to see!

The “melting pot” of characters–especially leads Samantha Massell, (Rebecca),Sean MacLaughlin (Sal), Adam Heller (Avram), and Sad Kapner (Bella)— show us their struggles, their tenacity, their cultural assimilation, their traditions. How they had to deal with prejudices of earlier waves of immigrants and the “elite” in society.  They were so brave!

I won’t tell too much more as I don’t want to spoil it for you, but the plot, the score, and the stage designs will make you stand-up and cheer for your own immigrant ancestors no matter what time period they came to America. Thank you, Buzzi and Ossola family from Italy, Sammuelson and Granat family from Sweden. Thank you, Richards, Way, Knight, and Morse families from England!

I want to share this quote that was in the playbook by one of the authors, David Thompson who shared a passage he read in one of the guidebooks immigrants were given at Ellis Island:

“Holdfast, this is most necessary in America, forget your customs and your ideals. Select a goal and pursue it with all your might…You will experience a bad time, but sooner or later you will achieve your goal. If you are neglectful, beware the wheel for fortune turns fast. You will lose your grip and be lost. A bit of advice for you: Do not take a moment’s rest. Run, do, work and keep your own good in mind. A final virtue is needed in America—called cheek.  Do not say, ‘I cannot, I do not know.'”

I wonder if any of my relatives or yours read this pamphlet? From what I’ve researched and hear through family stories, many of the self-made could have indeed read this and taken this advice to heart.

Thank you— authors, producers and cast of Rags for this truly timeless production. The ending especially made me stand up and cheer for immigrant folks coming into the United States today! They face the same hopes, fears, prejudices as did our ancestors. Maybe even more so with talks of building walls and deportation.

Whether or not you get to see Rags: An American Musical, what more can we do as individuals and as a society to be more welcoming and helpful to those coming in?

 

Sometimes, All I Need is My DQ: What is it that You Need?

As a rule, I am not a brand maven preferring names like Campbell’s over store brand labels for soups, or Birds Eye over Stop & Shop brand for string beans. I am, however, an absolute snob when it comes to soft serve chocolate-dipped-in-chocolate cones. There is positively NO substitute for Dairy Queen. I should know. I had my fill working at a DQ in my late teens and have sampled hundreds of poor substitutes elsewhere in my life ever since. Though the menu of treats at today’s DQ has ballooned since the early 80s, I find myself going back to my tried and true treat.

There is just no better food (except perhaps peanut M&Ms) than a DQ chocolate-dipped-in-chocolate. It’s perfect hard shell is unmatched in taste, texture, and chippity-crunch. I may be giving away a trade secret, but if memory serves, there is just a hint of wax—yes, wax in the dip. I’ve read the back of the can and though may have been a little startled at first, it never kept me away from my devotion to DQ dip.

Since I’ve not found its equal, I won’t bother make any comparison with far trailing runners up here. Beneath the signature DQ curl, which only true DQ employees can make because of specific, franchise ingredients and top-secret training, is the softest, perfectly blended cool chocolaty, creamy sweetness. So what if it’s not actually ice cream? Who cares if it comes from a mysterious plastic bag and flows through a Wonka-esque machine with a huge shaft thingy, gears and oh-rings? Whatever is in it and however it gets from liquid to lusciousness in my wafer cone is absolutely no-never-mind to me.

I admit I can get a little moony when I settle in to nibbling deftly to avoid dripping and to make sure I get every lick. Cool, silky smoothness floods my every taste bud with unrelenting creamy chocolate, stealing my breath away. My eyes glaze over in pure ecstasy and I’ve been known to coo softly.

On occasion, a line from The Hollie’s song overtakes me,  “Sometimes, I all I need is the air that I breathe…and my DQ.”

What’s your treat you just can’t do without?

Click on this for some Hollies:

“Buddy Jesus” Meme Gets Personal

Just for fun this weekend, I searched my name in meme using Google Image and my oddly spelled T-A-N-J-A. I thought “Tanja with a “J” would never come up. Lo, I found this among other “Tanja” memes, a good number in German. At first glance I thought this rather duded-out rendition of Jesus could be a bit irreverent, but I have come to know that divine messages are delivered in all shapes and forms.

My husband who is far hipper on-line than me is well-versed in memes and explained that this is the “Buddy Jesus” meme. I realize that someone  generated this meme for another “Tanja” somewhere out there, but since we share the same spelling, I hope she won’t mind if I claim this meme as a personalized message for me today.  It rather reflects on my current faith journey status: I am seeing Jesus not only my Savior, but as “my bud” who gets my back as a Heavenly bro. God uses the world wide web as well as burning bushes to get our attention. Can a I get a witness?

Divine Depositor Revealed: Culprit Close to Heart and Home

“I have something kind of awkward to tell you,” our 23-year-old daughter Erin said on speaker phone from Vermont last week. My husband Sean and I held our breath. In a nano-second, my maternal mental Rolodex spun with at least seven or eight “awkward” scenarios she might break to us. Thankfully she came right to the point. “It was me who wrote on that twenty-dollar bill.”

Relieved it wasn’t something grave, I was just flabbergasted. “It was you? Really? Why?” I had tears in my eyes and a smile a mile wide that she couldn’t see.

“When did you do it?”

A few years ago, she said, but she had forgotten that she had done it at all until she was reminded by my previous post.

Back in 2011, sometime between her junior-year college breaks Erin had gone to our former church with us and was intrigued by this “reverse offering” idea. I recall now that it was a project loosely based on the Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30. A woman challenged parishioners to take a sum of money and to go out and invest it so it might yield more money for the church. I remember one woman used her “talents” to buy beads and wire and then made and sold jewelry with the proceeds going to the church.

From what I gather, Erin’s take on this project was to use her own (hard-earned) $20 from her part-time job and sort of invest it in us, her parents! “You and Dad are always doing so much and model devotion, love and perseverance. I just wanted to give this to you.” She explained that the message she wrote back then just flowed and “fit perfectly around the bill.”

IMG_0014

When I discovered this money popping out of my bible bag last week, I hadn’t recognize her handwriting.  I think I was thrown off because she had written, “Dear Sean and Tan,” and not, “Dear Dad and Mom.” Instead I’d asked a few female friends if they had made this divine deposit. Erin never crossed my mind.

There is only one other time in her life when Erin referred to me as “Tan” and not “mom.” When she was about 2 1/2 I had asked her to pick up her toys or something and she just gave me a look and said, “I don’t think so, Tan.” Needless to say I couldn’t keep a straight face and all parental resolve went out the window.

“I hope you aren’t disappointed,” Erin said.

“Why would I be? Because it was you or that you wrote on money?” I joked. I wasn’t even a little disappointed that the mystery was solved.  I was delighted, not disappointed. I explained to her a few reasons why:

First, finding this twenty-dollar bill with the message from “The Holy Spirit” brought me a profound sense of mystery and excitement (just like the still anonymous Valentine’s card from 2013). Who would take the time and thought to write such a lovely, spirit-filled message and give this generous gift of $20? I felt blessed to have such a grand list of possible friends/suspects to wonder about!

Then, there was the reminder of how God still speaks to us and gives us signs and words of encouragement especially at times in our lives when we feel burdened and weary.

Plus, posting about this mystery stimulated many readers to think and share about mysteries in their own lives! It started conversations about miracles, mercies and unexplained circumstances.

I told Erin that my heart was full of joy because I believe that the Holy Spirit in her moved her to write that encouraging message on that $20 three-plus years ago. That it was meant to be found now as words of encouragement to keep us on track. Think about it, three years ago Erin was a “broke college kid”and twenty bucks was no small amount for her to part with!

All in all, I feel so blessed that I have a daughter (and son) who even when they naturally and appropriately question the basics of what they’ve learned in Sunday School (who hasn’t or doesn’t?), that they are, in my heart and understanding living their lives guided consciously or unknowingly by the Holy Spirit. Finding this message, nearly four years after it was planted in my often-used Bible bag was yet another gift of God’s good and perfect timing. Even though it was written in my own daughter’s hand a few years ago, I feel the Holy Spirit was all over it then…and now!

Getting “Unstuck” This New Year: Changes That Heal

Raw emotions had inconveniently bubbled to the surface in early December threatening to ruin this holiday season. In spite of lots of hard work to try to heal after I left my church of 46 years in April, I just couldn’t keep a lid on it.

I was stunned at the intensity of this sadness and anger that demanded to be dealt with. I so badly wanted “drive thru” healing, to be completely done with negative feelings by now.

In reality, I had not dealt with feelings of huge disappointment in the way things went down at my former church. It wasn’t so much about the leaders of the church, it was more about family who still attended there, who in my estimation, didn’t “get my back” for one reason or another. I was also mourning the fact that I would not be attending Christmas Eve service there this year. In spite of it all, that church did offer a beautiful Christmas eve service that meant so much to me and my family.

It all just came to a head in early December. Facing the holidays, how was I supposed to just paint a smile on and conduct “Christmas-extended-family-business as usual”?

I confessed to my new pastor and to my former therapist (she called me “out of the blue” in early December to check in), that I was struggling this particular holiday season. They understood my unresolved, raw emotions, and gave me permission to be a little ripped, and to give myself some more time. It had only been 8 months.

I immersed myself in a women’s Bible study group this fall in the new church to establish new relationships and try to see God, Jesus and Church (not religion) in new ways. One woman pointed me to a Christian psychologist and author, Dr. Henry Cloud. I picked up his book, “Changes That Heal: How to Understand Your Past to Ensure a Healthier Future.”

What I had read and been counseled struck chords deep in my soul. I began applying Cloud’s suggestions to make changes that heal by navigating with Truth and Grace and allowing for Time to pass. In the meantime, I needed to stop blaming others, take responsibility for my actions, create new paths and draw healthier boundaries. I was honest about the way I felt with the people I love. It was a little messy at first, but enveloped in God’s mercy and grace, I was able to see them in a new and healthier light. I felt myself grow up. Things still aren’t perfect, but at least they are honest.

I want to share some of the highlights which turned out to be wonderful and merciful gifts I’ve received this Christmas season:

Getting a handle on bitterness. As I continue to harbor bitterness towards someone it will only stunt and make me ill. I will be estranged and/or only fake being “nice” and “loving” to that person, but the ugliness will eek out or spring forth eventually if I don’t deal with it truthfully. I have learned that sometimes the only way to start dealing truthfully is to confess to God, “I really suck at being loving and forgiving towards ________right now. I just don’t feel it.” God knows our hearts anyway, so we don’t have to fake “being good” when we’re just not there. When we admit we are weak that is when God makes us stronger, shows us the way.

Expectations. I need to stop expecting others to behave or “be” a certain way for me to accept them. I have been guilty of expecting more out of others (and myself). This doesn’t mean I have to be a “doormat,” accepting unacceptable behaviors. It means setting respectful boundaries. I can hope for “the ideal relationship” by modeling how I want my relationships to be.

Forgiveness. I recognize my need to forgive (and be forgiven) to eradicate the bitterness I have towards others. Sometimes forgiveness seems a tall or impossible order. In such cases, I need to give that person or relationship over to God. Let it be “between them and God.” That way, I can be “unstuck” to grow and be who I am supposed to be! Happy and blessed New Year!

Enjoy the lyrics of I Am,by Crowder.

Can You Be Trusted? On Your Honor In the Ring

Can you imagine in this day of passwords, locks, and alarms to protect our most precious valuables, lifesavers (literally) like this one on the remote Ring of Kerry stay posted, unguarded? Talk about the “the honor system”! We saw a few of them on the western part of our recent trip in Ireland. They were not in plain sight, but around corners at the bottom of steep cobblestone and patch-work accesses of small beaches or old, hazardous boat launches. All the easier to snatch off the post and pop into one’s car if one was so inclined.
Yet the well-chosen, philosophical and theological one-liner, “A Stolen Ringbuoy— a Stolen Life” appealed straight to one’s conscience. Would you dare remove the buoy for any other reason than, God-forbid, its intended purpose to save someone drowning in the nearby sea? Would you dare risk eternal consequences?
I know I wouldn’t, but then I had a cynical thought. What if a person was so full of wickedness or didn’t believe in eternal consequences? What if they didn’t care about their fellow human being? Could they be so caviler to vandalize? Remove the ring and toss it into some ditch?
Then I scanned the tawny, brush-topped cliffs sloping into the foaming surf, hemmed in by the mystical turquoise sea. Behind me were the endless rolling verdant hills dotted with sheep, rocks and old church foundations. How could one not feel closer to Heaven, or at least an unwavering, deep and reverent calm? An unquestioning obedience to that sign?
Cliffs and sea on the Ring of Kerry Cliffs and sea on the Ring of Kerry

It isn’t often you witness “the honor system” today. I did notice an unmanned stand at Dublin airport that allowed you to take liter of water trusting you’d toss one euro into a box. Come to think of it, two years ago at a national campground in New Hampshire we were on our honor to deposit the right fee in the tube as we exited. What other “honor system” situations are out there? Please share.

Boo to The Who! They Blew Us Off: But We’ve Met Other Stars Along Our Way!

What happened to the fecking Who? The iconic rock band, launching their 50th Anniversary tour blew off Ireland! They were supposed to play in Belfast and last night here (26 Nov.) in Dublin, but we learned a few days ago they cancelled both shows for "logistical difficulties"! What? Apparently they had an unexpected? offer to play in Abu Dhabi on the 23rd and are claiming they couldn’t get to
Ireland? The UAE is not THAT faraway from Ireland, guys! I am thinking they got a better deal to party with the royalty and to heck with Ireland! Was there no way for them in this day and age to get back in time for “our” Nov. 26th show here in Dublin? Yes, I know this is such a first world rant but bear with me a bit.

Back in July Sean noticed The Who would be playing in Dublin at the beginning of their 50th anniversary tour in November. He asked if I wanted to go. I eagerly said yes knowing that he LOVES Ireland and The Who! Both in one place would be mind-blowing! But more that that, I was all for him going to one of his happiest of happy places—Ireland—to “get off grid” from his many stresses in the States.

We weren’t fully thinking in July that we’d be away for Thanksgiving so he bought The Who tickets that day. That kinda made us pregnant to take the trip!

I had a few misgivings about missing Thanksgiving, but also relished the idea of taking a break from 15 years in a row of hosting at our house. I’d miss our kids the most–and watching the parade in the morning, but our grown-up kids encouraged us to fly!

Even though we didn’t get to see The Who on this trip, we’ve had a great experiences already and have been privileged to meet some great people along the way–rock stars in their own right! Take a bow Brian and Helen, funky, classy hardworking hosts of the luxurious but comfortable Castlewood House B&B out in Dingle.

Thank you, thank you! to the very encouraging and hip Father David Gunn for welcoming us to your parish home at Port Magee for the tea and allowing us to pour over pages of hundred year old handwritten marriage and baptismal records as we trace more of Sean’s Irish heritage in the Ring of Kerry! We were welcomed right into the house and life “don’t mind the toys!” of a very cool cousin Sheila who introduced us to her wee ones, Shoon,3, Seamus,2. She made a phone call for Sean to see his cousins Mary and Tessie Cremens who lived up the road and across the street.

We were reunited with Tomas who spoils us at Kate Kearney’s Cottage in Killarney and now has his own photography business. It was so good to see John and Nora in at their lovely Ferris Wheel B&B at the Gap of Dunloe. We spoke at length to a very decent and bright woman at a woolen shop in Cashel— (Knitted) Hats off to Inga!

We anticipate meeting a few more “celebrities” as we spend the next few days here. Tonight, about the time you all back home will be enjoying your beautiful turkey dinners, (we’re 5 hours ahead), Sean and I will be taking a Literary Pub Crawl learning where Irish writers—Yeats, Joyce, Wilde, etc. hung out to discuss life, politics, their stories, and where they put down a few pints. Who knows who else we’ll encounter? Sean met Conan O’Brien on Grafton Street in 2012!

Happy Thanksgiving to our American family and friends. And Thank You, friends and relatives we’ve met on this trip! God Bless, Salente, Cheers!

Somethin’s Brewing: New Coffee House Starting to Perk

The outreach team and in-house band at the new church we’ve been attending wanted to pick our brains on how to run a coffee-house of all things! About a month ago, a new “sister” there stopped to chat with me to say the church had been talking about having a coffee-house for two years, but they weren’t sure what exactly to do. My heart raced and my throat tightened as I blinked back tears.

We (my husband, niece and I) had left my old, life-long church this past April after being the principle facilitators of Soup and Song open mic coffee house—for EXACTLY two years!

Before things came crashing down with the administration there, the coffee-house was drawing in an average of 55 participants on the Saturday nights it was held since 2012.  April 5th was the two-year anniversary. The coffee-house was a success at the tiny church not because of me, but because it was always God’s coffee-house. Tons of prayer went into each one. I never knew how many pots of soup or chili would be donated or how many trays of cookies or brownies would grace the table. I never knew who or how many were coming to perform, to help set up and take down. Lo, there was always enough. It was the fishes and loaves thing that kept me flying by the seat of my spiritual pants, that gave me hope at my long-time, fledgling church.

It kept me humble and it kept me in the moment! Oh, we had many a great moments. I can look back and see God all over it.

I understand it is still going on now. After of ton of God’s grace and mercy, time and healing  I can say “God bless it” and mean it.  It is still attracting people to fellowship, share music. That is the point.

Yes, it has been a painful transition to be called away from a place you’ve known, good and bad, had so much hope for, had vested so many years in, but I honestly believe it was God’s call. I wandered heart-broken and bewildered for a while, but God’s been faithful. My family has a been beyond welcomed, more like enveloped, into a healthy place of worship. Encouraged, included, and now invited. 

While the new coffee-house is just heating up and will likely be a blend of what worked well in Higganum, I know it will be God’s coffee-house because it is being brewed in prayer. I am confident it will be welcoming place where people of all ages, churched and non-churched, can come in, share talent, encourage others, and have some great food!

Stay tuned for details. Coffee will be on early in the new year, God willing!

Click on this great song! “Thrive” from WOW Hits 2015 (Deluxe Version) by Casting Crowns. Released: 2014.

Finding Evidence There’s Still Hope for The World

After ranting about mating macaroni boxes and x-rated jean commercials last week, my hope for the world has been restored a bit.
I see that Hasbro, the toy company giant, has decided to help Operation game creator John Spinello’s meet some of his post medical expenses. Spinello, who invented Operation in 1964 and sold the rights for only $500, didn’t have the means to pay for oral surgery he needs that will cost $25,000. Hasbro has offered to buy Spinello’s prototype of the popular game for their toy museum. What’s really touching is that even before Hasbro stepped up, friends and fans set up a page on crowdrise and have amassed over $25,000 for Spinello!

McDonalds is working on a “Love Beats Hatin'” tag line in addition to their “I’m Lovin’It” campaign. I think it is a thought-provoking idea, even if some consumers think it’s lame.

Yesterday I saw a Jeep with a bright, yellow, happy face hippy on the wheel cover as we drove down the highway. It made me grin. Might we have more mirth as motorists if we saw more smiley faces and uplifting bumper stickers on our daily commute? What’s the best bumper sticker you’ve ever seen?

What have you heard lately that makes you think, “Hey, humankind is alright after all”? Just this morning something on the radio made me well up in gratitude. A DJ broadcasting from northern California on K-LOVE, a national Christian radio station with millions of listeners nationwide, said she had just driven past a police memorial set up for a fallen officer. With heartfelt reverence, she expressed her condolences and then her appreciation “for all police officers and sheriffs out there.” She acknowledged how they put their lives on the line everyday for all of us. “Because of you, we can go about our lives feeling safer, in comfort.” K-LOVE is praying for law enforcement officers, she said.

Thank you, sister DJ at K-LOVE for lifting up our men and women in blue. Policemen or women (and their loved ones) needed to hear your words today. Their calling/career can seem thankless, dangerous and overly criticized.

Shameless plug: To get a steady stream of “Positive and Encouraging” music and messages 24-7, you can tune in to K-LOVE in Connecticut at 106.9 FM or anywhere on-line.

Please share the good stuff you’ve witnessed in the world this week, or lately. As Toby Mac says in his song here, Speak Life.

A Slice of Swiss and “God’s Baby Girl”

Tanja, around 10, 1975.

I started going to a women’s Bible study group at the Wethersfield United Methodist Church to be open for what God has planned for me. The group, as well as the whole church, is very welcoming. We have embarked on a nine-week Beth Moore study, “Children of the Day: 1 & 2 Thessalonians.” I didn’t know what to expect, content-wise, but so far, it’s good stuff!

I am learning about the importance of (and am experiencing) a healthy spiritual community. I am gaining strength to get up again after being “knocked down for the count.”
Today’s biggie, to see God/Jesus as my Parent. To be a secure Child of God, I need to embrace and be embraced by God’s paternal and maternal attributes. “To be nurtured, affectionately desired (not just tolerated), exhorted (instructed), encouraged (inspired), and “charged to walk worthy” (get up and do what God charges us to do).

I’ve heard the phrase “Child of God” a thousand times. I just hadn’t wrapped my head around how it applied to me. I have biological parents and God had been more of a go-to “big guy” for mercy, relief, answers, grace and gratitude. I also never quite understood how God can have both female and male characteristics. I’ve struggled with God—the Father in defiance with previously unresolved Daddy issues. I never saw myself as  “God’s Baby Girl,” as Beth Moore suggested.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to be a serious, big girl, big-sister, parent-partner to my newly divorced mother in the late 70s. My “childhood” lasted until I was in first or second grade before I was really aware and worried about the dysfunction at home.

For years, I could and did place blame, was a victim, made excuses… but that hasn’t served me too well.

During the video portion of the study, Beth Moore said something that helped bring things into even greater perspective. She compared earthly parents to various kinds of cheeses. Yes, cheeses, but she wasn’t trying to be funny.  She pointed out that we’re all human and imperfect. We can be swiss—though we try to be solid for our kids—we might have holes that leave them wanting. We can be bleu, sad parents. Feta, parents that crumble. Cheddar, too sharp or too mild.

Great analogy, Beth! Of course I thought of my earthly parents and what kind of cheese categories they might fit into.

To be fair,  I know as a parent myself, that I’ve fallen into various cheese categories, too.  I’m sure I’ve left some holes, been too sharp, etc.  Though I tried to be a more stable parent in a less chaotic home environment, I know there were times I’ve fallen short.

It seems to me that each of us feel holes left from childhood in some way or another. Nobody has perfect parents or are perfect parents, themselves.

I agree with Beth Moore, that we all could use to connect with God in a parent/child role, to be filled. As she said, “If we have a missing piece, we are missing peace.”

Many of us, especially women, are consummate care-givers to our children, our spouses, our aging parents. I’ve had to assume this role at an early age and later as a conservator.

Even though we may have great life partners we can lean on, they too, are merely human and cannot be there for us 100% of the time. They can let us down, surely as we let them down. But God doesn’t let us down. Anytime we call out, Jesus is there.

As part of trying to see God in a new way, I’m going try to see God as a Parent. To fill the holes that even after years of therapy, still can feel rather sizable. To rub my shoulders, soothe my brow, wipe my tears. Pick me up, dust me off, and put me gently back on the path with a gentle prod.