Thursday, January 5, 2017

Harpo Marx, Gookies, and Papa’s Cookies


Harpo (Adolf/Arthur) Marx is not a saint and not so much saint worthy either. If he read that line over my shoulder, he would nod in agreement and laugh out loud. 

Harpo was born in 1888 in Manhattan, New York. He performed in vaudeville with his brothers, Groucho, Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo for years before hitting it big on Broadway and later in motion pictures. He was also a self-taught harpist, close friends with theater critic, Alexander Woollcott, a member of the Algonquin Round Table (a NYC group of writers, critiques, actors, and comedians that met regularly from 1919 to 1929), a good-will ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1933, a croquet fanatic, son to Minnie and Frenchie, husband to Susan Fleming, and father to Bill, Alex, Jimmie, and Minnie. In his later years, Harpo suffered from a heart condition and died in Los Angeles, CA, on September 28, 1964. His humor, wit, and music continues to ripple joy throughout generations.

His autobiography, HARPO SPEAKS! was published in 1962 and is still in print. Considering the book is filled with references to people long dead and forgotten, that’s an amazing feat. One which was probably not his goal. He simply had a lot to say about his life, and he wanted to be heard.


I read this book over the holiday break because it’s one of my son’s favorite books. We should read the favorite books of people who are important to us as it helps us understand what makes them tick. Also, sometimes they’ve simply discovered a good book, and we should get in on it!

I also believed before opening the first page that somehow, Harpo Marx would be a good “saint” to connect to my father-in-law, Don Ross, Sr. However, I learned that they shared few characteristics. But Papa loved to laugh, and we have a few “Harpos” in the family. So more on that later.

I highly recommend HARPO SPEAKS! But first, ya gotta see the Marx Brothers movies. When I was a child during the late 70’s, these movies were on TV all the time. I’d watch them with my brothers who took the musical interludes as a signal to continue their ongoing “King Kong versus Godzilla” battle in the living room. My husband, Stuart, also enjoyed watching these movies during his childhood.

Zooming ahead a couple of decades, we were getting a family haircut and a Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup, was on the TV above the chair. Our son, Donny, was mesmerized and that’s all it took for us to launch boldly into our family’s Marx Brothers phase.

Donny says the best movies are Night at the Opera  and A Day at the Races. I also like Room Service because Lucille Ball co-stars, and it has a good plot.

I love the musical number, Sing While You Sell, in The Big Store but the plot lacks. Luckily, you can purchase an album called “Marx Brothers: Riding the Range” which has many of their best songs.

HARPO SPEAKS! is almost 500 pages and filled with wonderfully descriptive memories. It’s a right good read covering his perception of American life from the turn of the 20th century through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the war years, and the prosperous fifties.

Instead of summarizing it, I’ll focus on those bits of spirituality and recipes for saintly living I discovered within the text.

Harpo dropped out of school during his second attempt at second grade due to bullying and an unsympathetic teacher. His mother, Minnie, was too busy managing his Uncle Al Shean’s music career, and his father was too busy working as a tailor and as the family cook to be concerned. 

Harpo eventually taught himself to read and became a beloved member of a famous literary club where he was a great listener. He also never spoke while performing. So he had plenty to say when it was time to dictate his notes for his autobiography's co-author, Rowland Barber. 

Harpo and his immediate family were non-practicing Jews. Although his grandfather tried to teach him the Torah, it was too much like school work for Harpo to stick with it. Yet, he did achieve his Bar Mitzvah and could still recite his speech 50 years later.

Here’s what Harpo said about his street education during those hungry years of his early childhood:

It was all part of the endless fight for recognition of foreigners in the process of becoming Americans. Every Irish kid who made a Jewish kid knuckle under was made to say “Uncle” by an Italian, who got his lumps from a German kid, who got his insides kicked out by his old man for street fighting and then went out and beat up an Irish kid to heal his wounds. Page 36

Once his Uncle Al made it big, Minnie turned her attention to getting her boys’ careers up and running. Simply put, without Minnie Marx’s inexhaustible efforts, her sons would never have become The Marx’s Brothers, nor would Harpo have ever played the harp. 

By the way, all the brothers received their stage names from a friend one day during a poker game and they stuck but good.

The path to Broadway was anything but easy. Once in 1917, things got so bad on the road, they were ready to split up the act and pursue solo careers and occupations. Harpo went for a long walk and brooded:

I was a man of nearly thirty years and here I was stranded in a strange city with seven cents in my pocket and no good way of earning cent number eight. It was the only time I had ever felt sorry for myself.

I came out of my daze. I was startled to find I was standing watching an auction sale. The inventory of a little general store in the suburbs—groceries, notions and dry goods—was being auctioned off. There were about twenty people there. They must have been jobbers, mostly, because the auctioneer was knocking down the stock in big lots. I was careful to keep my hands in my pockets, so I could resist any crazy impulse to make a bid, and blow my entire capital of seven cents.

The shelves were nearly emptied out and most of the crowd had left, but I still hung around, having nothing better to do with myself. Finally everything was gone except one scrub brush, the former owner, hovering in the background, the auctioneer, myself, and an elderly Italian couple. The elderly couple had been there all the time. Either they had no money or they were too timid to make a bid on anything. Whichever it was, they exchanged sad looks now that the auction was winding up.

The auctioneer was tired. “All right,” he said. “Let’s get it over with and not horse around. I have left here one last desirable item. One cleansing brush in A-number-one, brand-new condition, guaranteed to give you floors so clean you can eat off them. What am I offered?”

The old Italian guy and his wife looked at each other, searching for the key to the right thing to say. The auctioneer glared at them. “All right!” he yelled. “It’s only a goddam scrub brush!” They held on to each other like they had done something wrong.

I said, quickly, “One cent.”

The auctioneer whacked his gavel. He sighed and said, “Sold-thank-God-to-the-young-American-gentleman-for-one-cent.”

I picked up my brush and handed it to the old lady. She was as touched as if I had given her the entire contents of the store. The old man grabbed my hand and pumped it. They both grinned at me and poured out a river of Italian that I couldn’t understand. “Think nothing of it,” I said, and added, “Ciao, eh?”—which was the only Italian I could remember from 93rd Street.

They thought this was pretty funny, the way I said it, and they walked away laughing. I walked away laughing too. A day that had started out like a nothing day, going nowhere except down, had turned into a something day, with a climax and a laugh for a finish. I couldn’t explain it, but I hadn’t felt so good in years. A lousy penny scrub brush had changed the whole complexion of life.

When I got back to the hotel, the money had arrived from Uncle Al. Just as I anticipated, it had been decided that Groucho should audition as a single, Zeppo return to Chicago with Minnie, and Chico hire out as a piano player.

To all of these decisions I said: “Nuts.”

This was the longest serious speech I had ever made in front of the family, and everybody listened. Then everybody started talking. We talked ourselves out, until all our self-pity was gone. What had happened to us was our fault, not the Shuberts’ or anybody else’s. And what was going to happen to us would also be our own doing, not the Shuberts’ or anybody else’s.

Aboard the east-bound Pennsey, the other passengers on the coach kept complaining, so we bribed a porter a quarter and spent the night in the men’s room of the nearest Pullman car. I tootled on the clarinet and played pinochle with Chico. Groucho smoked on his pipe and read a book. Zeppo did deep knee-bends. At the same time, we were all working, throwing ideas into the kitty and putting together a show we could do back in New York. None of us stopped to think how idiotic and deluded we were. What show? For whom? We were not only exiled by the moguls, but now even the scavengers wouldn’t touch us.

Absolutely idiotic. And thank God we were. The train ride from Indianapolis to New York, clacking through the blackness from the end of the line to what looked like the beginning of nothing, was the most momentous jump we ever made. For me, it was the prologue to a new kind of life in a new kind of world. Page 161

I love everything about this section that ends chapter 10 and begins the rest of the story – it could be subtitled, Harpo Finds his Calling.

His calling is not what one would call spiritual on the surface. And yet, his legacy is one of goodness and laughter.

In fact, he didn’t consider himself a spiritual fellow at all, but he believed. In 1936 shortly after their marriage, he and Susan planned to adopt their children:

It wasn’t easy. Susan and I shared a deep love—for each other, for life, for all living things. We shared a faith in the same Divine Power, even if we had no handy stage name to call Him by. Yet on the records, we were incompatible. I was Jewish and she was Christian. Adoption agencies were sympathetic, but they warned us that because of our religious difference, the adoption procedures might be unusually long and involved. Page 407



It took time and lots of emphatic references from their celebrity friends before they could bring home little Billy. And later, Alex, Jimmie, and Minnie.


Harpo’s family was the light of his life. So much so that at age 75, he undertook a risky heart operation with the hope of increasing his years on earth.

Alas, this time, the odds were against him. He died the next day in the hospital on September 28, 1964, his and Susan’s 28th wedding anniversary.

People said Harpo played the harp like an angel. Check out this Youtube video and see if you agree.

Later, lyrics were added to his music to create this beautiful song, Guardian Angels.

Guardian Angels popped up for me during a time of recent grief and loss. It spoke to me so much I wanted to share it on social media. That’s when I learned that Harpo composed the music! 

Although, they shared much of the same American history, nothing special really connects Harpo Marx to my father-in-law, Don Horton Ross, Sr., a.k.a. Papa, except they were both hard working, good fathers who loved to laugh with their kids. I’m pretty sure that Papa was a fan of the Marx Brothers mostly because I don’t know anyone who isn’t.

I mean, how can you not laugh at a line like this?: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” – Groucho Marx

It’s the laughter that connects them here in this post. It’s the laughter that connects Harpo to Groucho and the rest of his family, and it’s the laughter that connects Papa to the Marx Brothers and to his children, grandchildren, and the rest of our family.

There’s a Ross silliness that only a few of the Ross’s display – my husband has it, my late nephew, Phillip had it, my son Donny has it. Papa loved to laugh at these fools, because it connected them to the quiet silliness inside himself.

Harpo added a face to his act he called a “Gookie” after the cigar roller who made this face while he worked. Harpo was always “throwing a Gookie:”



Here’s Donny throwing a Gookie to his cousin:




Papa loved to laugh at Stuart and Phil with their Harpo musical performances:



And at Stuart and Donny when they clowned around.


Papa laughed and laughed, but was much too dignified to join in on the antics. On the other hand, perhaps he was more like Harpo than I had originally thought.

Harpo and Papa both played croquet.



And loved a good shot in pool.



And if this isn’t a Harpo face with D2 & D3, I don’t know what is:


In the evening on the day Papa passed peacefully away, he sent me a sign that he made it to heaven – the aroma and taste of chocolate cookies.

I’m further interpreting his sign as an assignment to share this recipe here in honor of Papa’s memory and delight in desserts and in Harpo’s memory of all things yummy and sweet.

CHOCOLATE BROWNIE COOKIES



(More photos below.)

Ingredients

16 ounces semisweet chocolate chopped
4 tablespoons butter
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. In glass bowl, microwave chopped chocolate and butter, in 30 second intervals, about three times. Stir between each time. Be careful not to scorch.
2. Using electric mixer, beat eggs with sugar at medium speed about five minutes until thick.
3. Beat in vanilla.
4. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, mix in melted chocolate.
5. In a separate bowl, combine salt, flour, and baking powder. Add and mix into batter.
6. Stir in chocolate chips.
7. Pour into a shallow baking dish, cover and freeze for about 1 hour.
8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Drop 2-tablespoons worth of dough onto baking sheets with parchment paper (or reusable silicone sheets), space about two inches apart.
9. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies are crisp around the edges and cracked on top. Cool on cookie sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to rack to finish cooling.

Makes about four dozen cookies.







Monday, December 26, 2016

St. Isaac the Syrian and Breakfast Bread


St. Isaac the Syrian of Nineveh was born c. 613 in Beth Quatraye, near the Persian Gulf. He was a learned theologian, spiritual writer, and ascetic monk who served briefly as the Bishop of Nineveh. He died c. 700 in Nineveh, located in the ancient Assyrian Empire, now part of Iraq. He is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Church of the East, Eastern Catholic Church, as well as in Oriental Orthodoxy (including the Syrian Church) on January 28. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates his feast on September 28.

Although his feast day is not listed on Western Church calendars, many churches and individuals honor St. Isaac the Syrian. For example, St. Isaac's Retreat House in New Zealand is run by both Anglicans and Catholics. Here's what's known of his life story:

Isaac entered a monastery at a young age, spent most of his time studying in the attached library, and became a widely-respected theologian.

Years later, he was chosen to be ordained the Bishop of Nineveh. Either because the people were not happy with a bishop that was constantly referring to scripture or he didn’t like the administrative duties, he abdicated after only five months of service.

Isaac then became a solitary ascetic near Mount Matout, a refuge for anchorites. He lived on his own in the wilderness for many years, eating only small portions of raw vegetables and plain bread.

Old age and blindness caused him to retire to the Assyrian Monastery of Shabar in Mesopotamia where he died a peaceful death and was buried around the year 700.

It seems to me that his blindness was caused by lack of nutrients in his diet, but many believe it was his intense theological study and writing that eventually caused his blindness. Either way, Isaac left behind a treasury of divine expressions.

Isaac’s writings were guidelines for monks living the ascetic life. It's amazing, however, how much of his interpretations and advice can be applied to everyone, including laity. 

I read THE SPIRITUAL WORLD OF ISAAC THE SYRIAN, by Hilarion Alfeyev. 


I recommend it for anyone wanting to dig deeper into St. Isaac teachings. However, it didn't flow easily because the author grouped Isaac's ideas into categories and the text had typos, so I wonder about the copyediting. If I were to do it over again, maybe I'd read a simple translation of Isaac's books. On the other hand, I probably needed Mr. Alfeyev more than I realized to help me understand Isaac's perspective.

Isaac’s writings are considered Gnostic as they focus on esoteric mystical knowledge of God. I first learned about the mystical aspect of Christianity when I studied St. Mary Magdalene. Other Christian mystics I’ve posted about are Margery Kempe, Dame Julian of Norwich, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Joan of Arc. Visions and messages from God are right fascinating. But they don’t just happen. We have to pray our way to them, like learning the ways of yeast before we can make a decent loaf of bread.

You know what? I’m going to go ahead and write his advice as if it were a recipe:
Eternal Love

Ingredients:

Faith

Instructions:


 1. Understand that God is Love. He loves everyone all the time. Heaven is oneness with Love. Hell is bitter regret of having hurt Love or choosing to ignore or hide from Love. If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful, for He cannot deny himself. Page 43

 2. Understand that Angels are invisible beings whose task it is to be stirred by praises of God in that great stillness which is spread over their world. Angels are fiery in their movements, acute in intellect, wondrous in knowledge, and resembling God insofar as that is possible. Page 45

 3. Understand that God sent Himself to us in Jesus so we could understand Him and His compassion for us. And by the death of His only-begotten son He made us near to Himself. Because of His great love for us it was His pleasure not to do violence to our freedom, although He is able to do so, but He chose that we should draw near to Him by the love of our understanding. Page 49

 4. Take care of your own spiritual and physical needs as a mark of faith. Instead of audible words, let his excellent manner of life serve as an education, and instead of the sounds of his mouth let his deeds teach others, and when he keeps his soul healthy, let him profit others and heal them by his own good health. Page 70

 5. Embark on a spiritual journey that never ends. The limit of this journey is so truly unattainable that even the saints are found wanting with respect to the perfection of wisdom, because there is no end to wisdom’s journey. Wisdom ascends even till this: until she unites with God who follows after her. And this is the sign that the insights of wisdom have no limit; that wisdom is God himself. Page 82

 6. Prepare for temptations and challenges along with way. For God’s marvelous Love of man is made know to him when he is in the midst of circumstances that cut off his hope; herein God shows his power by saving him. Page 94

 7. Be humble. Blessed in the man who knows his own weakness, for this knowledge becomes for him the foundation, the root, the beginning of all goodness. When a man knows that he is in need of divine help, he offers up many prayers. And by as much as he multiplies them to his heart humbled, for there is no man who will not be humbled when he is offering supplication and entreaty. Any heart that is broken and humbled, God will not despise. Page 122

 8. Ask for forgiveness. Repentance is given to man as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration of God. That of which we have received in earnest baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance. Repentance is the door of mercy, open to those who seek it. By this door, we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance, we shall not find mercy. Repentance is the second grace. Page 132

 9. Release your tears. For tears are established for the mind as a kind of boundary between what is physical and what is spiritual and between passionateness and purity. Until a man receives this gift, the activity of his work is still in the outer man and he has not yet perceived at all the activity of the hidden things of the spiritual man. Page 136 

No one, therefore, accurately knows the help that comes of weeping, save only those who have surrendered their souls to the work. All the saints strive to reach this entryway, because by means of tears the door is opened for them to enter the land of consolation, where the footsteps of the love of God are imprinted through revelations. Page 139

10. Pray with full attention, humility, and focus upon God. Pray as if every recited, memorized prayer are your own words. Pray with trust, faith, deep affection, and tears. Prayer is the mind’s freedom and rest from everything of this world and a heart that has completely turned its gaze toward the fervent desire belonging to the hope of future things. Page 145

So also at the time of Prayer were all visions and revelations made manifest to the saints. For what other time is so holy, and by its sanctity so apt for the reception of gifts, as the time of prayer, wherein a man converses with God. Page 145

Tears during prayer is a sign that the soul has been deemed worthy of God’s mercy in her repentance, and that her repentance has been accepted. Page 147

11. Pray all the time and everywhere. A person can be occupied at this while standing up or sitting down, while working or while walking, while he is going to sleep, until the point when sleep takes over, while he is indoors or while he is traveling on a journey, secretly occupying himself with them within his heart; likewise, while he is constantly kneeling on the ground, or whenever he happens to be standing, even if it is not in front of the cross. Page 162

12. Pray like this: May those who suffer from dire and grievous illness of the body also be remembered before you; send to them an angel of compassion and assuage their souls, which are grievously tormented by their bodies’ terrible afflictions. Have pity, too, Lord, on those who are subjected to the hands of evil, wicked, and godless men; send to them speedily an angel of compassion, and save them from their plight! Oh, my Lord and my God, send comfort to all those who are constrained by whatever kind of hardship. Page 205

13. Read scripture and the writings of great teachers in the church. These two kinds of reading are useful for the man of spirit. Without reading, the intellect has no means of drawing near to God: Scripture draws the mind up and sets it at every moment in the direction of God; it baptizes it from the corporeal world with its insights and causes it to be above the body continually. There is no other toil by which someone can make better progress. Page 175

And by remembering the lives of the saints which his intellect conceives through recalling their histories, and by musing upon them, his despondency forthwith vanishes, sloth is put to flight, his limbs are strengthened, sleep is driven from his eyelids, and ineffable joy arises in the soul. Page 191

Check!

14. Understand that ardent prayer will lead to contemplation and visions of God. When by the in-working of divine grace there suddenly arises within us great thought and astonishment at the intellect’s contemplations, which are more lofty than nature, and when, as Saint Evagrius says, the holy angels draw nigh to us, filling us with spiritual vision, then all things that appose us retreat and there is peace and ineffable tranquility for as long a time as we remain in these things. Page 227

While he is fully in the mode of life of the soul, every now and then it happens that some stirrings of the spirit arise indistinctly in him, and he begins to perceive in his soul a hidden joy and consolation: like flashes of lightning particular mystical insights arise and are set in motion in his mind. But even though insights into mysteries momentarily passes through his mind and then departs, nevertheless the outburst of joy at the experience lasts a long time, and then after it goes, serenity resulting from it is poured over the mind for a considerable period. Page 234

15. Relax into God’s Love. Love of God cannot be stirred up in someone solely as a result of knowledge of the scripture; nor can anyone love God by forcing himself. What is possible is for the mind to receive from the reading and recounting of scripture and knowledge of it, a sense of reverence which stems from a recollection of the majesty of God. Not even as a result of the law, or commandment which he gives concerning love, is it possible to love God; from the law, there comes a sense of awe, but not one of desire. For until a person receives the spirit of revelation and his soul, with its impulses, is united to that wisdom which is above the world and he becomes aware in his own person of God’s lofty attributes, it is not possible for him to come close to this glorious savior of love. Page 249

16. Rejoice! When we find love, we partake of heavenly bread and are made strong without labor or toil. The heavenly bread is Christ who came down from heaven and gave life to the world. This is the nourishment of the angels. Page 255

And so, to honor St. Isaac of Syria and the people of his homeland, let’s bake:
SYRIAN BREAKFAST BREAD


(More photos below.)

INGREDIENTS

Dough                                                                                  

½ cup hot water, between 100-110 degrees F      
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast                          
1 teaspoon sugar                                                               
½ cup room-temperature water                            
3 tablespoons olive oil                                         
3 cups all-purpose flour                                        
1 ½ teaspoons salt                                                 
Extra olive oil and flour for shaping                     
                                                                                
Topping

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons marjoram
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups crumbled feta cheese
1 medium sweet onion, grated

 1. Heat water until it reaches 100 to 110 degrees F. Pour into liquid measuring cup.
 2. Stir in yeast and sugar. Wait 10 minutes for thick foam to develop on top.
 3. Add ½ cup room-temperature water and olive oil.
 4. Combine flour and salt in large bowl. Pour in yeast mixture.
 5. Using clean hands, mix gradually until all the liquid is absorbed. Wash and dry hands.
 6. Sprinkle flour onto a clean, flat surface and the sticky ball of dough.
 7. Knead dough for 7 minutes, then shape into a ball.
 8. Place dough ball in a large glass or oven-safe bowl coated with olive oil. Roll ball around to coat. Cover bowl with damp towel.
 9. Heat oven to “warm,” place bowl in oven, then TURN OVEN OFF. Proof until dough has doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours.
10. “Wash” hands in olive oil, then gently punch dough down to remove air.
11. Shape dough into 12 balls and place on clean and floured tray or counter.
12. Cover dough balls with a piece of lightly-oiled plastic wrap and let rest for ½ hour.
13. “Wash” hands in flour and lightly sprinkle flour onto work surface. Shape each dough ball into a flat round disk about 1/8-inch thick. Place on parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. With fingers, create a higher outer edge by flattening the center.
14. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
15. Combine topping ingredients.
16. Spread topping mixture evenly over flattened center of each disk.
17. Bake for 15 minutes or until edges turn light brown. Serve hot.










Bonus Material:
A Way to Help Syrian Refugees



I first met Dana Sachs at my son’s preschool. We spent many hours together as we both had two children attend the school. It was a parent co-op, so we had plenty of time to get to know each other with one hand holding the hip baby and the other hand pushing the preschooler on the swing.

Dana is the author of:

THE SECRET OF NIGHTGALE PALACE
IF YOU LIVED HERE
THE LIFE WE WERE GIVEN: OPERATION BABYLIFT, INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION, AND THE CHILDREN OF WAR IN VIETNAM
THE HOUSE ON DREAM STREET: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN WOMAN IN VIETNAM

More information about Dana and her books can be found on her author website.

As our children attended different elementary schools, we had lost touch over the years. But now, with our children in college and high school, we had reconnected through our gun safety activism. That’s when I learned about her volunteer efforts with Syrian and other refugees in Greece. Dana agreed to an interview so we can let you know about the boots-the-ground operations she supports.

How did you get started?

My friend, Kathryn Winogura, who works with refugees in California, told me that she was going to Greece to volunteer with the relief movement. Once I heard her describe the situation, I decided to go with her so that I could better understand it for myself. After that first trip, in April 2016, I returned in July and will return in early January.

Who you are working with?

We work with small-scale volunteer groups, both as volunteers on the ground and by providing funds so that they can do their work. Some of the groups we’ve either volunteered with or supported financially include the Norwegian group, Drop in the Ocean, a meal distribution team called Hot Food Idomeni, and an education team called the Schoolbox Project.

How did your previous trips go?

They’ve gone extremely well. On each trip, I’ve learned more about the crisis and increased our fundraising. We contributed in a lot of ways -- funded a model bike-sharing project for refugees in a camp in Northern Greece, bought kitchen appliances for the community of 400 refugees living in an abandoned school building in Athens, helped fund a community center in a camp in Athens, and supported many other projects.

What were your biggest impressions?

Governments and large-aid organizations have a mixed record in their ability to address the humanitarian needs of this crisis. Small independent groups, often run on a shoestring, have stepped in to help in varied and meaningful ways. Seeing their success inspires me, but I’m disappointed that the European Union and large-aid organizations aren’t doing a better job.

Do the refugees in Greece have enough to eat?

At this point, most refugees have access to basic food, but the meals they receive are often insubstantial, tasteless, and of poor nutritional quality. The system is working poorly.

How can we help?

By donating at to our fundraiser Humanity Now: Direct Refugee Relief.

Here’s more information from my latest update to our contributors:

As winter arrives and refugees in Greece try to stay warm and dry, our group, is planning to return to Athens in January. Five of us are making this journey, and we will join the volunteer team at Schoolbox Project, which offers trauma-informed education and support to children in the refugee camps. We will be working in Athens at Elliniko Camp, where hundreds of refugees are living in an abandoned airport terminal.

As on earlier visits, I continue to collect funds to help support efforts on the ground throughout Greece. All volunteers in our group pay all their own travel expenses, so every dollar we raise goes directly toward supporting refugees in need. 

While governments debate how to address the world's growing migrant and refugee problem, these displaced people continue to suffer. If you would like to send money to help, I promise to do my very best to spend it wisely and efficiently, collaborating on the ground with experienced volunteers who have been working productively for months.

If you have any questions, please contact me at danasachs@gmail.com. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Angels and Epiphanies Galore!


Um, so the Lord sent me a batch of epiphanies during second breakfast last Sunday. I spent the rest of the day emotionally overwhelmed a.k.a. fa-reeked out.

Then the angels instructed me to spend Monday decorating the Christmas tree and watching Forrest Gump. They did not instruct me to run errands during a severe thunderstorm with tornado warnings, but it wasn’t raining when I left the house.

Lessons learned on Monday:

1 . Make checking the weather forecast an every-day habit.

2. Kittens grow out of their desire to mess with the Christmas tree.

3. “Miracles happen every day. Some people don’t think so, but they do.”

4. “You’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.”

Before I share my epiphanies, I want to explain that they didn’t come to me out of the blue. These were answers to questions that I had been seeking for quite some time. They came to me out of my spiritual journey, my saintly research, and my recent wholehearted acceptance that the messages I’ve been receiving for about a year now are real messages from God delivered to me upon the intercession of the saints and through the intervention of the angels. 

They came to me also through some recent losses. Which I haven’t yet shared here, but I will now, because it all ties in:

I lost a somewhat-regular paid writing gig because I could no longer write small enough for them.

I, briefly, lost my hope for the future of my country. Reality smacked me hard in the face with the many and varied forms of hatred that are showing themselves because now some people feel they have permission. God’s stirring up our melting pot. He’s reminding us of free will, and He showing us the darkness. He’s mixing us up now so that we can see each other, have a conversation, stand up, and shine God’s healing light on all that darkness together. It takes courage, but we can do this.

I lost my father-in-law. He died on December 1 at the age of 95. I love him. His name is Don, but I call him Papa.

I think Papa is sending me courage from heaven. I’ve had to do some things recently that I wasn’t able to do before. One thing is to allow my friendships to be sorted into authentic and inauthentic. One friend who previously couldn’t be authentic with me, became so. I saw it after the election over coffee. I felt it when she called me with her condolences, and we had a right good conversation. She doesn’t know it yet, but I gave her back my heart.

Meanwhile, I had been working on two saintly posts, one was St. Catherine of Siena which was a sort of milestone post for me because it was the post I couldn’t write about 1 year and a half ago. I realized then that I needed to take a sabbatical from writing so I could attend to my spiritual journey. I’m so happy to be back and in the thick of saintly research and writing!

And then there was my recent post on Margery Kempe. It’s long and I included a lot of quotes from her book. I mean, a lot of quotes. I kept trying to edit them down, but they all seemed to matter. I read my posts many times as I search for typos. During that process, I realized I had included all those quotes for me. I was the one that needed to hear God’s messages. I needed to hear how God and the saints and angels were right pleased with Margery and her good words because I’m a spiritual writer, too.

Speaking of angels, this weekend I was moved to read another Doreen Virtue book as research into the possibility of pursuing Spiritual Healing as a new occupation either in the form of Reiki or Angel Therapy. It’s called THE ANGEL THERAPY HANDBOOK. It’s good. If you are draw to that topic, I recommend it. Doreen Virtue has a lot of books, I recommend you check out her website or her books on Amazon or Goodreads to discover the book that fits your current angelic interests.

Anyhow, here’s what I learned specifically about myself from reading this book:

I learned that my guardian angel’s name is Minerva. That’s why that name keeps popping up in my life -- in my new feral, laundry-room cat, in a statue on a college tour, in the name of ancient temple ruins upon which St. Catherine’s body is enshrined. Minerva’s been trying to tell me her name for a while now.

I learned that the angels communicate to me mostly through claircognizance, clear thinking. Which makes sense considering what I write. As in there’s no way that I’m writing some of this by myself.

Speaking of which, I learned that the ‘hurry up, I’ve got to get this done” feeling I get sometimes is an indication that what I’m doing is a mission from God. Writing about silly ol’ Margery was a mission from God. Believe it or not. Or believe it, because it was. In this case, a mission God wanted me to do for myself to aid in my understanding of Him and His feelings for me.

I learned that I’m not to pursue renewing my Reiki Practice or becoming an Angel Therapist because that type of work doesn’t draw me.

Again, the above is what I learned as I was reading the book on Saturday. Then I went to bed, woke up, checked Facebook, did some social-media activism, got ready for church, and then as I was standing in the kitchen eating a quick bite of second breakfast, boom, these epiphanies occurred to me one after the other:

My true calling is that which I’m already doing. Saintly research and writing is my true calling!

My volunteer work is not my identity. If my efforts aren’t desired nor needed, c’est la vie. (Took me way too long to get to this place, but, you know, journeys sometimes take longer than anticipated.)

The biggest, most appreciative audience of my blog are the saints and angels. They love that I’m getting their words out to you.

Saints and angels go together like peanut butter and jelly because they work as a team in heaven to aid and encourage us.

I need no mentor nor confessor because I have books from which to learn, and I’m surrounded by saints and angels whom guide me, ever so faithfully, in carrying out the works of and comprehending the Love of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

My perspective and writing is too broad for the Episcopal Church. I foresee a future in which denominations eventually reform to recreate one Church.

I wrote all this down quickly and then raced off to church to leap in front of the Procession to a seat saved for me by a new friend. And then I participated in the service and noticed the following:

In the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

In the Prayers of the People: “Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church: That we all may be one.”

In the Great Thanksgiving: Eucharistic Prayer B: “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who forever sing this hymn . . . “

Whoa. I was corrected. My perspective is not too broad for the Episcopal Church in whose liturgy we seek reconciliation in the recreating of one Church and whose liturgy, not only honors the existence of Angels and Archangels, but joins our voices with theirs.

My perspective is only too broad for certain pockets of people who follow to a strict policy of patriarchal, overly-defensive adherence to mediocrity.

Then the saints and angels communicated to me the following over the course of the last two days, (I can’t pinpoint exactly when):

The people problems in the Episcopal Church are not my problems to solve. I’m free of it. It’s not my responsibility.

I am NOT to write a book about my spiritual journey. My journey had to take place to get me where I am now so that I can continue onward, not so I could go back and write about it. (I'm on my knees in gratitude. Thank you, Jesus, for releasing me from this one. Thank you.)

I am to write a non-fiction, spiritual book about the saints. My muse gave me the hook which I’ll keep to myself for now so as not to spill creative energy. I now have a specific focus. I’m so grateful, excited, and ready to get back to work on ignoring my pile of Nat Geo’s in the closet while I continue my deep study of the saints.

And in my gratitude, I’m sharing with you, my dearworthy readers, something that I had been saving for print publication -- my grandma’s recipe for my favorite cookies. They’re my favorite cookies because they’re my grandma’s. You see how this works. My grandmother, Antoinetta Nolletti, is my personal saint in heaven, who, along with my nephew, Phil, has encourage me in all my Saints and Recipes endeavors.

I’m gifting this secret - but not really secret because it’s an Italian traditional cookie that everyone’s Italian grandma knows how to bake – recipe to you to honor my letting go of the past, and to clearly communicate that the food recipes have always been the bonus, not focus, of Saints and Recipes.

Nettie’s Ciambelle


(Ciambelle translates into "ring-shaped cookies," but many grandmas make them as drop cookies, or even in a big loaf that they slice after cooling.)

Ingredients:

½ cup (1 stick) softened butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
½ cup milk
3 eggs
3½ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons baking powder

Icing

2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 or 2 tablespoons hot water
Sprinkles or colored sugar

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, blend butter and sugar. Add lemon juice, vanilla, milk, and eggs. Mix together. In another bowl, stir together flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add dry mix to liquid mixture to form sticky dough. Place in refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes while making icing.

Icing: Combine powdered sugar, lemon juice, milk and vanilla. Beat, adding drops of hot water until smooth. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Drop small spoonfuls of dough onto parchment paper on cookie sheets.

Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges start to turn golden brown.

Quickly spread icing while ciambelle are still hot so that it melts down each one. Shake sprinkles quickly and carefully onto the melting icing before icing hardens.

Remove from cookie tray when cool.

Makes about 50 cookies.

Bonus Material:

Speaking of recipes, please don’t steal mine. I mean, here they are on the internet. So yes, use them in the kitchen! But don’t publish them under your own name. I mean, I’m trusting you here.

My next post will include a cool saint whom I know practically nothing about yet, the yummiest of food recipes, some activism you can join in on, and an author interview! You might want to sign up for email notifications so you don’t miss it. Hint. Hint.

Also, I need lots o' followers on Saints and Recipes before I can sell the book I haven’t written yet to a main-stream publisher. Plenty of time for you to hit those buttons to make it so. Thanks!