Ring(s) of Fire

On Netflix the other night, I saw and then demanded that we watch and then watched the documentary Ring of Fire. Chris asked if it was about Johnny Cash, which was a good question but made me laugh.

Watching this documentary was an exercise in nostalgia for me, as I recall seeing this film in an IMAX theater decades ago. I enjoyed the dated computer graphics  and the images of volcanoes and eruptions and earthquakes and lava around the Pacific Rim, the so-called “Ring of Fire.”  In my childhood I wanted to be a seismologist; I thought being a volcanologist might be too dangerous (and after seeing another Netflix documentary, Volcano: Nature’s Inferno, in which several volcanologists and volcanic photographers are killed, I feel completely validated in this decision). I shied away from seismology once I realized how much math is involved, but I’m still fascinated by earthquakes, by the stunning realization that the solid earth we walk on is a flimsy and easily re-configured crust on a radioactive sea.

I always find the footage of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989 especially compelling. It seems so meant to be that this would happen on the day of a World Series between two Bay Area teams, as though the collective excitement of the nation and the populace channeled into this beautiful and dangerous city had precipitated a disaster. And yet that quake only released about 1/16th of the energy of the big, bad 1906 quake. (A quake I was fascinated by after reading historical fiction novel Earthquake at Dawn, which includes a cameo by Jack London and some impressive photos).

Naturally, after we finished the movie, I had the Johnny Cash song stuck in my head. No, the song is not in the documentary, it was simple association. “I fell into a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down and the flames went higher, And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire, The ring of fire.” There is some debate about who wrote this classic (Johnny Cash or June Carter) and what exactly it is about, besides the wonderful and sometimes painful course of love. Supposedly June Carter was inspired to co-write this song after reading a lyric about love as a ring of fire in a book of Elizabethan poetry, but as far as I can tell nobody has found said lyric. English majors, any hints?

So, singing this song to myself, I walked around for a couple days and started thinking “why didn’t Tolkien include a ring of fire? It sounds like something he would do.” One Ring to Rule Them All. The Ring of Fire. So I looked it up… and he did make up such a thing!!!

Yes, Narya, the Ring of Fire, was one of three rings of power crafted in secret by an elf silversmith in Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. Tricked by Sauron (aka the devil) in disguise, this fellow also made the seven rings for dwarf kings and the nine rings for men, all of which were eventually controlled by the One Ring that Sauron had secretly made at a volcano called Mt. Doom. His control turned the dwarf and human owners into bad guys.

The three rings, on the other hand, were  powerful and were used as forces for good. Blond Galadriel (cue Enya music) had one, Elrond (aka Agent Smith) had another, and guess who had the third, Narya, the Ring of Fire… our favorite wizard Gandalf!

In the words of Cirdan the shipwright, who gave the ring to Gandalf, “Take now this Ring… for thy labours and thy cares will be heavy, but in all it will support thee and defend thee from weariness. For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill.”

Like us, carrying the love of God to rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.

The three elf rings oppose the One Ring, which is destroyed by Frodo in the fires of Mt. Doom (aka Orodruin) after three exciting books. I don’t know about you, but my image of Mt. Doom is inspired by the Lord of the Rings movies which used New Zealand volcanoes Mount Ngauruhoe and Mount Ruapehu in the cinematography.

And thus our post comes full circle – literally! Because those New Zealand volcanoes are a fiery gem on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

…and it burns, burns, burns, that Ring of Fire… 

White Culture and the Farm

In modern white middle-class America, it’s easy to forget we have roots. When I was growing up in Texas, I often envied my friends whose relatives were more recent immigrants. I love my family and my life, but in some ways I missed the cameraderie of being part of a cultural group.

I am equal parts English, German, Slovak, and Swedish, with a dash of Scottish and a pinch of “unknown” mixed in. I love being all American, but my mix of Caucasian backgrounds makes identifying with one culture difficult. My dad recalled with fondness some of the traditional Slovak foods he ate growing up, and we did eat sausage and saurkraut throughout my childhood, but I never felt a warm identification with a motherland besides the U.S. I attended a great family reunion but it was marked more by pleasant strangers, group pictures and hot dishes than any Swedish connection. I was never swept up in huge idiosyncratic gatherings like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I remember an Indian classmate talking about the phenomenon of Indian weddings and how transcendently awesome they were and feeling a teensy bit… jealous.

So growing up in the majority culture, in a culture that does not celebrate itself as a distinct culture, I naturally decided to study anthropology – the study of cultures –  in college. I enjoyed learning about different cultures and alternative ways of viewing the universe and approaching life. I enjoyed learning about the different cultures within my community.

When my husband and I decided to move to Minnesota, part of the attraction for me was being closer to family and to my Swedish immigrant roots. And while I have enjoyed being able to go to the farm at least twice a year, I haven’t really explored those roots except for meatballs at Ikea.

But last weekend, my family came out and we headed up to the farm for a real, honest-to-goodness cultural experience. Now my uncles would describe themselves as “rednecks” (and an exploration of “redneck” Minnesota deserves its own blog entry, if not article).  But what we found there wasn’t backwards or ridiculous, as some people choose to stereotype “redneck.”

It’s a 21st-century interpretation of our culture. The farming culture of Europe transplanted to the Americas and revised, rewritten and adapted to modern mores.

And it was fun and natural and cool. We headed back to the land. Exploring the woods. Walking through the mud. Surveying the fields ready to be planted, the trees that my uncle taps for syrup in good years. Riding around on ATV’s and snowmobiles. Shooting potato guns with deadly precision as a decapitated buck looks on from an old red tractor.

No, it wasn’t exactly a Swedish celebration with meatballs and lingonberries. Instead we were treasuring a mixture of heritages; we ate chicken enchiladas, guacamole and brownies, and drank beer and wine. We celebrated the end of winter, the first inklings of spring. Most of all, we enjoyed being with family. We renewed those intangible bonds that draw us closer together. Our culture.

Attitude and Gratitude

Have you ever had an “attitude attack?” I sure have. Those mornings when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and just feel negative all day. When everything sets me  off. When  nobody can do anything right. When the world just seems bound and determined to upset me. I think I’m a pretty easy going person, but some days I’m just downright irritable. I try not to snap at people – my behavior should be within my control even if my emotions aren’t – but I’m not always successful. My emotions are like the weather, somewhat predictable but not entirely controllable. Circumstances, hormones, cloudy skies… everything contributes to a bad attitude.

But today I’m having a “gratitude attack.” Everything is making me feel grateful. And believe me it’s not the beautiful weather we’re having because… it’s not beautiful. It’s drippy and rainy and gray. OK, so I’m not grateful for the weather, but here are some things I’m grateful for:

1) My amazing husband who in addition to all the other wonderful things he does, like buying me cute clothes and cooking delicious lemon meringue pies, CLEANED the toilets. Yes, you read that right, he took the chore I most dislike (tied with ironing which I never do… but that’s another post) and he volunteered to do it and did it! To paraphrase Proverbs “a good and capable spouse who can find? He is more valuable than rubies!”

2) My family, as previously mentioned, is awesome and I’m really looking forward to seeing them in the next week (and then again in May and June!) I am thankful for them and for their kindness to us and their willingness to visit. And our family of friends, who hang out with us at all hours and are loving and involved and help us become better people.

3) Rochester. Yes, as I ran my errands today in what has become a dear and familiar town, I thought about what a great place this is. (See? God made me grateful for something I was questioning earlier!) Rochester is a wonderful place and deserves its own blog post.

4)  My car (which just got a clean bill of health from the dealer). I must confess I’ve never named my white soft-top Toyota RAV4 – no offense but I just don’t get the naming of inanimate objects. I don’t think my parents feel the need either, after all they debated nicknaming their white Toyota Previa “the beluga” or “the jelly bean!”  But my RAV nonetheless has a personality for me. It’s a bare bones, hard working, tough, reliable, scrappy (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) little thing. Despite being rear ended a couple times and having the hood fly up on the highway, we’ve done pretty good. I’ve had this car for 3/7 of my life and I’m thankful to have such a good car. It’s not the prettiest thing on the lot, but it’s solid.

5) My job. I really like where I work, and the different people I work with, and the job I do. I even enjoy the (occasionally crazy) pace.

Well those are a few of the things I am feeling blessed by, and next time I have an “attitude attack” hopefully I will have the sense to look at this list.

Closing Doors

Last night a friend and I were discussing how difficult it is to finish a creative work. As the end approaches, we come up with more reasons to procrastinate. We have to fill this in, or read another book in order to really elaborate that chapter. Continuing to live in the same work is a strong temptation. Perhaps if we don’t finish, the fun or the routine of the writing process will never end. We can continue to enjoy this story, these characters, this world, and not go back to the prosaic business of Real Life or Publishing or, worst of all, Editing…  

But that’s not how these things work. Time moves forward. We have to end things in order to begin others. We have to choose to finish. Lent is over, now we are in the liturgical season of  “Easter.” Winter is ending, now it will be spring. (We have our doubts about that one.)

I was watching a documentary last night, First Position, and a ballet mom’s son decided not to do ballet anymore. He didn’t enjoy it. Yet his mother burst into tears thinking about how that phase of his life was over, how she wouldn’t see him dancing in his cute little outfits anymore. OK, so I chuckled a little, but I could relate.

I was cleaning out our spare room yesterday. Our spare room is where we keep our vast collection of papers – bills, catalogues, everything finds its way there to someday be sorted. Yesterday I was getting rid of all of Chris’s paraphernalia from other residency programs. And it upset me! I felt sad as I looked through them for keepers and potentially valuable things (Virginia bumper sticker, anybody?) and then threw them away. That season of courtship and exploration is over.  I was mourning the end of possibilities. We are getting a house and a dog and staying in Rochester; we are not gallivanting about the beautiful places in these folders and brochures.

In the clear light of day, I know that it’s silly to be sad about such things. Of course I’d rather stay in Rochester! We will be in a town that we know and appreciate, in a community that’s very supportive through the insanity of residency, with people that we enjoy spending time with, and I get to keep the job I love. But I was still sad.

After praying about it, though, I realized two things. No matter where we went, we would have to shut the door to somewhere. We had to choose and we followed God’s call to stay. If God had called us to one of those other places, I would be sad about leaving Minnesota. And I would probably be sad about not choosing the other places, with their wineries and ski resorts and lakes and beaches.

Secondly, by closing doors, we allow ourselves to find new ones. Who knows what adventures God is calling us to right here in Rochester? By staying, we are becoming even more richly invested in the community. I have no doubt we’ll get a good dividend. 🙂  

Midnight Munchies

I love nursing but it can be a tough job. Multiple patients, multiple halls. All a manner of needs and issues. Calls to be made, forms to be filled out. Before I know which end is up, five hours have passed without a bathroom break, a drink… Or a snack!

Often I will stagger home at midnight ravenous, even though I ate a perfectly good supper six hours earlier. I will peruse the cupboards, starving for something – I don’t know what – something sweet yet packed with protein and carbs. Something to substitute for dinner with my husband. Something more satisfying than yet lighter than a steak dinner.

Generally although I know it’s not good for me I have craved fat – brownies, cake, cookies. For a long time all I could think about was creme brûlée (not that we ever have that in the house!) Buttercream frosting. Guacamole.

I will eat just about anything. Lean cuisines, leftovers, anything frozen and reheated.

But recently I have discovered the best
midnight snack ever. Reheated frozen fruit, Greek yogurt and honey. Mmmm. Sweet, creamy, delicious – with lots of protein and no fat. (Although I think Greek yogurt may be a scam. That stuff has to be sour cream!)

Discussion with other nurses has revealed that I am not the only nurse with this problem. In fact, floor nursing can be very dangerous to the waistline. The temptation towards high fat and high sugar foods, combined with work that, while exhausting and stressful, isn’t exercise, results in unhealthy eating patterns.

I am still looking for other perfect late night meals so if anyone has tips let me know 🙂

Hurry Up and Wait!

My husband and I escaped to California this weekend and it was delightful – once we got there. As we landed in San Francisco I thought this is amazing! The green hillsides, some overrun with houses, the abundance of flowers and plants, and the mist burning off to reveal blue sky.

After two wonderful days of food and wineries (and meetings for Chris, and long fun drives for Ariel) we returned to sunny beautiful rainy gray Minnesota where we have come to find out that we will be getting SNOW. Not only is it cold and dreary but allergy season has set in with a vengeance. How can we have allergies without spring? It seems so unfair!

Everyone is ready for winter to be gone. But the “snain” just keeps falling, the temperature hovers just above freezing, and chunks of black snow linger in the brown grass. As far as spring goes, this year we have to “hurry up and wait.”


Because patience is a virtue

Because the sun will always rise

Because the best things are worth waiting for


On our way to California we had to sit on the tarmac for two hours, supposedly because of weather in San Francisco. Come on, weather? A little fog? In San Francisco? They tried to placate us with free TV but we were disconsolate. Of course we could get off the plane – but as they warned us repeatedly, the plane might leave at any time.

After the airports, the luggage, the waiting and the waiting, I am confident that “journey not the destination” quote was NOT talking about airplanes!

But in the end, the destination was worth it. As we drove across the gray water and through the green hills, the stress of traveling melted away, replaced by the delight of exploring the unknown. Escaping winter, we found ourselves in the glory of a California spring weekend.

Worth the winter. Worth the wait.


Easter Feast!

Easter was great. I worked 12.5 hours on two different floors and STILL thought it was great. That just shows what a wonderful holiday this is.

Even though, officially, it’s not always a holiday. I feel like to Christians Easter should be THE holiday. Jesus being born was important, but Jesus dying and saving us from eternal damnation is even more important – right? But I guess because it’s on a Sunday and it’s a “Hallmark Holiday” rather than a Federal one, many employers don’t recognize it.

I can understand it from their point of view. I mean, it creates enough of a scheduling mess trying to work with the 6 federal holidays!

But I digress from the point of my post. Easter is one of my favorite holidays. “He is risen.” “He is risen indeed!” Words of hope combined with all the joyful celebratory rites of spring. Dyeing and decorating Easter eggs. Easter egg hunts and piles of candy. Bunnies and chicks and pastels. Beginnings.

In the hospital, everyone knew it was Easter – although, understandably, most of my patients didn’t want to dwell on the fact that they were in the hospital on a holiday when customarily they would gather with friends and family to celebrate.

In the break rooms, there was an abundance of food, even from people who don’t celebrate Easter. Cinnamon rolls and fruit with cream cheese dip and milk and juice and chocolate muffins. Mmmm.

I had a good shift but when I was done I was exhausted. I limped to our friend’s house for an Easter feast… and was not disappointed. We had a delicious variety of deviled eggs and salad and homemade butternut squash ravioli with a brown butter sage sauce. (Mmm you are not a gourmand until you have tasted delicate crispy sage leaves fried in butter.)  And for dessert, a chocolate lava cake (or as they prefer to call it, a “self saucing” cake) with fresh fruit. My mouth is watering just writing about it. Maybe I should have some more lunch.

As we feasted we joked about our lipid consumption – which was admittedly overboard. But we justified it because – it’s Easter!! It’s a Feast Day! And what better way to celebrate than good food, wine, friends, and talking to family.

Celebrating the fact that Jesus came to earth to suffer and die for our sins. And after being buried, he conquered death and rose again. Victory over death!!

That is our birthright. That’s what we claim on Easter, and celebrate. Cheers!