Sunday, April 29, 2012

Goodbye, Dad

For the past week on the phone, via email, in condolence cards, and in person at the memorial visitation and funeral service people have been telling me what an amazing man my dad was. He really, really was. I understand the tendency for girls to idolize their fathers, and of people to canonize the recently departed, but my eyes are at least partway open; I recognize at least some of my dad's flaws and shortcomings.

But he touched so many people so deeply in so many ways; he really was something very special. My dad was wise and compassionate and competent. He had a way of being that was just so . . . spirit-filled and mature and welcoming.

I will miss my father unbearably. I already do. But even worse, for me, is the knowledge that my young children and my nieces and nephew will have only vague (if any) memories of their grandfather. They all have wonderful fathers, but my dad was a unique model for a way to be a man. I wish they all had him around both personally and as a role model as they grow to adulthood and decide both who they want to be and the people with whom they choose to surround themselves.

Below are some thoughts I shared at the luncheon following the funeral, and following the break are his obituary and a bulletin insert that goes into a bit more detail about his life.

For a long ago funeral, my father wrote,We are created for life together and we know ourselves as we are known. It is in relationship that we become more than creature – where we become person.
A big part of the way I have always defined myself is as my father’s daughter: Ted’s daughter, the preacher’s daughter, the daughter of the man who meant so much to so many people.

I don’t know how to contain this. I don’t know how to process it. And it occurs to me that I’d like to call my dad to talk to him about this painful experience I’m going through.

My dad was a compassionate man. And he was so very wise. He was also competent and interesting and funny and sometimes painfully embarrassing.

When my sisters and I were teenagers and boys started calling, he’d sit in his recliner with the phone on his stomach, his finger on the “answer” button. He had incredibly fast reaction time. As soon as the phone started to ring he’d hit the button, whip the phone up to his ear, and bellow, “HELLO” in his preacher voice.  I can’t imagine having a better dad. In fact, I’ve never met anyone like my father.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding or a funeral at which my dad officiated, you know that he had the gift of making each ceremony special and unique. And whenever dad baptized a baby, the baby never cried. They just relaxed and stared up at him, mesmerized and comfortable.
Dad projected a sense that: No matter what you tell him, you will not shock him. No matter what you tell him, he will not judge you. No matter what you tell him, he will hold your problems in his heart. And you will not be alone.


My dad spent a week at a conference at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian retreat center in New Mexico. We went to Ghost Ranch as a family when my sisters and I were young, and hoped to go back again one day as a family reunion. By all accounts, my dad had a wonderful week. 

Last Sunday, he boarded a plane for the return flight from Albuquerque to Chicago: headed home. He sat across the aisle from a minister friend and colleague, and they were laughing as chatting as the plane taxied to the runway. My dad's head tipped back and he began to snore. His friend hit him and called his name. He did not respond. 

The young woman sitting on the other side of my father asked if he suffered from a seizure disorder then unbuckled herself, jumped into his lap, felt for a pulse, and began chest compressions. (She was a medical resident.) There was a defibrillator on-board the aircraft. The plane returned to the gate, where it was met by medics who worked on my dad for 40 minutes. He never regained consciousness. It was fast, it was probably painless, and it will always be a mystery. (My dad was overweight and 68 but was otherwise in good health with no personal or family history of heart problems. It might very well have been a sudden, catastrophic heart attack that killed him, but we'll never know for sure.) The whole time the medics worked on him, my dad's friend held his hand. He was not alone.


Lester, Rev. Dr. Ted Allen 68, of Valparaiso, formerly of Kansas, passed away suddenly Sunday, April 22, 2012 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was born February 8, 1944 in Evansville, IN to Furman and Florice (Peyton) Lester. He received a B.A. from Hanover College in 1966, Master of Divinity from McCormick Divinity School in 1969, Doctor of Ministry from McCormick School of Divinity in 1986 and his Psychology Doctorate from Graduate Theological Foundation in 2001. 

Ted had served as a Presbyterian minister since 1969 which included churches in Kansas City, MO, Independence, MO, Indianapolis, IN, Albuquerque, NM, Junction City, KS, Valparaiso, IN and South Bend, IN. 

Since 1999 he also served as a Pastoral Psychotherapist with Counseling Ministries in Valparaiso and Chicago. Ted will be remembered by many in the communities he had served as an activist for social justice, advocating for those without a voice. Survivors include his wife, Carolynn, whom he married on August 9, 1969 in New Hampshire; daughters, Sarahlynn Lester (Paul Boal) of St. Louis, MO, Jessica (Ivan) Hay of Kalamazoo, MI, Grace Lester (Benjamin Jett) of Louisville, KY, brother, Harry N. (Sarah) Lester of Hot Springs Village, AR and grandchildren, Eleanor, Adelaide and Theodore Lester-Boal, Arria, Evelyn and Clara Hay and Lilith and Samuel Jett. Ted was preceded in death by his parents and one brother, William Lester. 

Following cremation a memorial visitation will be held Wednesday from 4:00 - 7:00 pm at Moeller Funeral Home, 104 Roosevelt Rd., Valparaiso. A memorial service will be held Thursday, 10:00 am at Trinity Lutheran Church, 201 Washington St., Valparaiso, The Rev. Dr. Frank Vardeman and The Rev. Dr. John J. Santoro officiating. In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to Church World Service or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

Pew bulletin insert from funeral:

By the time Ted A. Lester was 8 years old, in Evansville, Indiana, he knew he wanted to be a minister. He frequently accompanied his pastor, Charlie Zapp, on pastoral visits. This is not to suggest that Ted was a goody-two-shoes, mind you. He spent much of kindergarten in the corner, took a little too much initiative as a crossing guard, and was frequently sent to the library to read when his teachers didn’t know what to do with him.

Ted’s parents were both from Western Kentucky, and they sent him back to the family farm during the summers when he was young. He was very close to his cousins. Ted was active in scouting and indeed became an Eagle Scout.  He took groups of boy scouts spelunking, even once he’d gone away to Hanover College across the state. 

In 1967 Ted moved to his favorite city in the world, Chicago, Illinois. He worked as a community organizer and was particularly interested in the civil rights movement, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Mississippi – twice.  After seminary, he even attended a year of law school to help further his interest in community action. And he spent a year as a director of a group home for boys who were wards of the court.

Ted was ordained a Cumberland Presbyterian minister in June of 1967, and he quickly became very active within the larger church. He worked on the merger joining together two different denominations within the Presbyterian family. He served on the Committee on Ministry for his Presbyteries, assisting churches and pastors in need. He Moderated the Synod of Mid-America, and wrote quite a bit of curriculum and other training materials. Every three years at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium he served in the background as the hospital dean, caring for participants with health crises. Throughout his career, Ted was very interested in ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue. Ted was also very active in the communities in which he served. In Junction City, Kansas, he helped found the Open Door Community House for homeless individuals. He also took groups of youth on summer work camps.

Later in his career, Ted completed a doctorate in psychology and began a full-time pastoral counseling practice. He worked in both Valparaiso, Indiana and Chicago and was very interested in brain research and neuro-feedback.

Last year, Ted Lester “retired,” although he maintained both of his counseling offices (and some clients) as well as a part-time church in South Bend, Indiana. In his “retirement,” Ted developed new passions for gardening and cooking elaborate and gourmet meals.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

If you won a lottery, would you quit your job?

That was a newspaper headline this morning, a variation on the other lottery-themed headlines I've been watching for the past couple of weeks. I don't gamble. The lottery is gambling. Therefore, no lottery for me. But I really love the If I Won the Lottery game and I'm not sure my principles are up for the challenge.

I already don't "work." But there's lots of other stuff I'd do if I won the lottery . . .
  1. Pay off everything. Loans, house, that pesky credit card, everything.
  2. Go see our finance guy and set up everything we need to set up (including revised budgets).
  3. Church (organ fund, mission fund, new parking lot, etc.).
  4. Donations to our college, NPR, PBS, and local places we love like The Magic House, St. Louis Science Center, etc.

    Here's where the list really gets fun. This is where I usually start fantasizing:
  5. Pay off this sibling's outstanding debts.
  6. Pay off this other sibling's mortgages/student loans
  7. Buy a new house for yet another sibling.
  8. Buy my mother-in-law a red Mustang convertible.
  9. Remodel my parents' house.
  10. Encourage Paul to go back to school.
  11. When the kids are all in school all day, go back to school, myself.

    And then there's the stuff for us that's fun to imagine:
  12. Remodel this house.
  13. Buy or build our dream house in our dream neighborhood (only about 3 miles from here).
  14. Dress my children in the sorts of clothing I imagined they'd wear, before I had children and experienced the allure of inexpensive sweat-shop produced cheap clothes. And additional pairs of good shoes.
  15. When I'm feeling decadent, I imagine all sorts of things for myself, too. A personal trainer. Babysitter. Hair cuts. Pedicures. Nice clothes. (I am very cheap when it comes to spending money on myself for anything other than food.)
  16. Thinking of food - a personal chef to make nutritious, delicious meals a few nights a week would be awesome! Or even just someone to do the grocery shopping from time to time. But all this other stuff is second tier. At this point, I usually reload the fantasy and start again with imagining making my siblings' lives easier or just saying "yes" the next time a worthy cause calls to ask for money.

This pastime is one of my guilty pleasures. I don't find the game particularly constructive. It's fun. It helps me identify my priorities. But eventually I just end up wanting. And I'm not sure that's such a good thing.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Zametkin Hobson

Have you read Gentleman's Agreement by Laura Zametkin Hobson No? Well, you should read it! Everyone should read it! Once upon a time, lots of people did - it spent five months at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List after it published in 1947 - but it has since fallen out of favor. I'd never heard of it until a friend picked it for our book club's February selection, spurring probably the best discussion we've ever had.

The novel's current lack of visibility might be due in part to its Amazon blurb: The plot of GENTLEMAN'S AGREEMENT concerns the experiences of a young Gentile writer who poses as a Jew in order to secure material on anti-Semitism for a series of magazine articles. A thesis novel concerning the social and economic aspects of anti-Semitism in American life.

No, really, it's good! I wrote all over my copy of the book, and then typed up my notes. And, yet, it was fun.

It's a quick read, easy, but not shallow (except a little right at the end). And it's non-threatening, too, for a book with such a point. The main character is an ally (not prone to some of the major prejudices of his day) which casts the reader into the same role and allows us to hear hard truths and appreciate them while thinking ourselves exempt or hidden.

This is one of those books that has stuck with me and I find myself using some of its figures of speech in my everyday life weeks after completing the read. Flick, tap.

The novel is about a California-based widower and writer who gets a job with a major weekly magazine in New York City and relocates his family. The first people he meets are his new editor - who gives him the assignment of writing a series on antisemitism - and the editor's niece - who inspired the idea for the assignment and becomes the love interest/second main character. The writer gets the idea that in order to write convincingly and interestingly about antisemitism, he must experience it first-hand. So he introduces himself to everyone he meets as a Jew and undergoes a rapid transformation.

The novel deals not only with antisemitism but also with other forms of prejudice, including racism and sexism. I especially enjoyed some of the nascent feminism, as the author gently drew us along with contemporary lines like, "I'm having people over tonight. A couple of girls and people." How great is that? The role of women's work in the running of a household provides an interesting background, as do the the characters' remarks about "womanish softness" of thought and "a vague resentment that it's a man's world."

But the parts that really stuck with me were about antisemitism and are equally relevant today, with our own various -isms. Prejudice comes in little "flicks" and "taps." “Rarely was the circumstance so arranged that you could fight back.” "They gave you at once the wound and the burden of proper behavior toward it.” There's a lot of discussion about “the complacence of essentially decent people about prejudice” and the question of whether it's gauche or required to make a scene and speak out against prejudice whenever you encounter it (even if it's at a formal dinner party with an important client).

All this unfolds as part of a love story between the writer and his editor's niece. She inspired the assignment and is passionately antisemitic . . . but perhaps she
has a different understanding of what antisemitism is and means and how best to respond. What brought the couple together eventually drives a wedge between them.

If you read - or have read - this one, please let me know; I'd love to discuss it with you! And if it doesn't sound like something you're willing to read, the novel inspired a movie by the same name, starring Gregory Peck.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Ellie just read a Dr. Seuss book to me! It took forever and she missed several of the words. But. She! Read! A! Real! Book! To! Me! I am overjoyed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Party Planner

One month ago, Ada's birthday party was easy: she'd have an exact replica of her older sister's fifth birthday party. Oops: our favorite clown is in Hawaii this week. But that's OK, she had another idea, anyway. "I want an Alton Brown party!" Oops: this TV celebrity doesn't know you as well as you know him. But two weeks ago, Ada's birthday party was still easy: we'd go to Whole Foods for one of their cooking parties and I wouldn't even have to clean my house. Oops: Whole Foods had a massive kids' event last Saturday and no birthday parties were held all weekend. This is when things got a little complicated.

Alton Brown hosts a science-themed cooking show on The Food Network called Good Eats. He's also the host/food historian/scientist/commentator for Iron Chef America, but Ada doesn't watch that show. (Good Eats is a show we occasionally watch together while I nurse her baby brother.) It turns out that not only does Alton Brown not regularly perform at children's birthday parties halfway across the country, but also he's not a popular children's party theme. There are no canned party-in-a-box options to purchase. There aren't even Alton Brown-themed party hats. What to do? Here's Ada's 5th Birthday Alton Brown Party, for your amusement.

We decided on a Saturday morning party from 9-11, at which guests could wear pajamas (so that Ada could wear her favorite footie pjs). First came the homemade invitations (since I couldn't exactly order Good Eats invites):

Could you tell that's supposed to be an egg with bacon?

Ada was turning 5, so allowed 5 guests plus herself and her sister (4 guests came, for a total of 6 little girls). As they arrived, we greeted them with homemade name tags so that all the adults would know the children's names - the girls are now old enough that not all the parents needed to stay! A first. The girls went into the dining room and began decorating colorful aprons that would also serve as party favors.

When they'd finished their aprons they washed hands and divided themselves into two groups (by the color of their nametags). The Red Team stood on stools at the kitchen counter with Paul, making vanilla cupcakes. The Purple Team sat at the dining room table with me, making monkey bread.

As the projects baked, Ada opened her presents. Then all the girls sat in the family room to watch me standing behind the kitchen counter making a fool of myself demonstrating yeast and gluten while baking bread. (Thanks to Kristy for taking pictures. Thanks to my sister-in-law for the loaner lab coat and glasses!)

We secretly had three loaves of bread going so that the girls could see the mixing/kneading stage, the risen stage, and the baked stage in short order. After scraping dough from their hands, the girls divided back into their baking teams. The purple team decorated freshly baked cupcakes at the kitchen table while the red team made fruit kabobs in the dining room. The teams then switched stations, and when everyone was done the kids sat down together to eat at the dining room table.

Between activities there was time for free play in Ada and Ellie's room or taking turns flying Paul's remote controlled helicopter. I think it all went remarkably well! THANKS to Paul for co-leading and for making so many of my ideas come to life (including the cupcake toppers and laundry basket of gluten). Many, many thanks to my parents for making the 300 mile drives (separately!) through ice and white-out conditions to be here and to take care of Teddy during the party.

Today was Ada's birthday proper and she got to pick all the food: doughnuts for breakfast, mac and cheese for lunch, and tacos with re-fried beans for supper. Then more presents and it's all over for another 364 days! (Here she's opening a cookbook from her sister.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Embarrassing

Tonight's dinner: Cod en Papillote, Brussells sprouts with bacon.

Between last week's MASSIVE trip to Whole Foods and this week's trip, I took a cheater trip to our local chain grocery, Schnucks, for Diet Coke, cupcake decorating supplies, etc.

But Whole Paycheck drew me right back in this week with its promise of organic, sustainably, ethically farmed everything. Well, that and the story time with a guy from the local Little Gym that got the kids involved and active. Since I was already in the store . . . might as well shop! And I did so well this trip! Almost everything I purchased was from the outer rim of the market: produce and cooler sections. I only needed three items from the aisles: oatmeal, couscous, and chickpeas. (See above re: cheater trip to Schnucks.) I was also shopping for fewer meals since we'll be eating out a couple times this week. But I "only" spent $206 this time, so: win.

Back to that trip to Schnucks for a moment. I went with Teddy and Ellie on a Saturday afternoon and the place was hopping. As I entertained my kids and tried to help load my cart, the cashier next to "my" cashier called over with a question.

"Hey, this lady can't buy HER ALCOHOL with her FOOD STAMPS, can she? No, I didn't think so. I'd better look that up!" And she proceeded to make her whole line wait while she pulled out a three ring binder and perused it for a while.

I busied myself with my children, not looking up, horrified. At first I thought it had to be a joke. No way the (familiar, long-time) cashier could possibly have been so rude, callous, horrible? Oh, but yes, she certainly could. My jaw literally hung open for a while.

As I walked out of the store a few minutes later, I passed a woman talking to the manager. The woman was nicely dressed and looked like she might have just come from work with her black slacks and black-and-white blouse. She was about my age, had no children with her, and defied just about every stereotype you might have heard about people on food stamps (which incidentally, is supposed to be a relatively private matter. as I understand it, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP - is now administered via a debit-like card, so other customers need never know who's receiving benefits and who is not).

I was very glad to hear her explaining the situation to the manager and how she'd never felt so degraded, so humiliated in her life. I marveled at her composure. I'd have been a red-faced, shaking-voiced, emotional wreck. I hope some good (and, at the very least, staff retraining) came from such a painful experience.

All this threw my nutrition-rich but COSTLY trips to Whole Foods into sharper relief.

15 Years Ago Tonight...

Fifteen years is a long time, especially when you're still a "young adult," like me. (I wonder if I will ever begin to feel like a "real" grown-up? Perhaps when I learn to consistently do my dishes immediately instead of leaving them on the counter to cure for a while first. Surely that's a sign of adulthood.)

Heck, five years is a long time!

But 15 years ago, Paul and I were 19 and 22 and we had our first date. It didn't go very well, but it went well enough. We knew immediately that we'd never date casually, and we didn't. After that first night - where we had a dinner we didn't enjoy followed by bowling with friends who didn't think we should be together and ending with one of us physically bolting out the door, shoes in hand - it was just the two of us forevermore.

Life is good.  And I'm not just saying that because something happened to our Wii Fit Balance Board so that it registered me as losing 10 pounds since last week. (I'm doing well but not *that* well!)

Tonight we did not celebrate with Chinese food, bowling and ER (the TV show, not a catastrophic hospital visit). Tonight we went out for steak with our three fabulous children, came home and made homemade peanut butter all together, got the kids to bed, and cuddled on the couch like, well, like young adults.

I'm looking forward to the next 15.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

They're Just Lazy Gluttons!

I want to be sure I'm feeding my family healthful foods and not dosing them with massive quantities of pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics. So I went to Whole Foods.

I stuck carefully to my prepared shopping list, which corresponded to my menu for this week:

Breakfast: old-fashioned oatmeal, cutie
Snack: cheese stick
Lunch: Mediterranean Chicken Salad
Snack: hard-boiled egg
Dinner: Spinach-stuffed Salmon Filet, vegetable medley, salad  
Snack: a glass of wine
Breakfast: Berry smoothie
Snack: hard-boiled egg
Lunch: Lemon-couscous chicken
Snack: yogurt
Dinner: Turkey/Oatmeal meatloaf, steamed asparagus, mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, salad
Snack: fruit and unsweetened peanut butter
Breakfast: cereal, berries
Snack: apple and peanut butter
Lunch: Greek salad
Snack: yogurt
Dinner: Logos/leftovers
Snack: pear & peanut butter
Breakfast: scrambled eggs, cheese, spicy fresh salsa
Snack: celery & laughing cow cheese
Lunch: Chef’s salad
Snack: yogurt
Dinner: Herb-marinated chicken, salad, steamed vegetables
Snack: yogurt shake
Breakfast: berry smoothie or half grapefruit
Snack: hard-boiled egg
Lunch: open-face roast beef sandwiches
Snack: yogurt
Dinner: Pizza and salad
Snack: baked apple crisp
Breakfast: egg "muffins"
Snack: yogurt
Lunch: leftovers
Snack: veg and hummus
Dinner: Beef Burrito Bowls
Snack: pudding
Breakfast: fruit/toast/cheese
Snack: cheese stick
Lunch: tomato stuffed with tuna salad
Snack: cheese & tomato
Dinner: out!
Snack: a glass of wine

I spent $335.

And I've spent a lot of time in the kitchen over the past couple of days.

And my children - while they get the added benefit of carbs (a side of bread or pasta for dinner, pretzels for a snack, etc.) are not exactly excited about most of this food.

Contrast this with a dinner at the pizza buffet place, which costs $4.99 for adults, $3.99 for kids, and makes everyone happy (if not healthy). No wait, no prep time, no baby crying in his high chair while Mommy chops veg for salad.

So, yeah, it's easy to see why everyone doesn't eat this way all the time.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits by Jack Murnighan

It took me more than two years to read this book, but don't let that scare you away. I think you should read it, too!

I loved this book. I didn't agree with the author about everything, but I did agree with him about a lot of things and I loved his passion for literature alongside his irreverent take towards it. This month, for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club, I'm discussing Beowulf on the Beach: What to Love and What to Skip in Literature's 50 Greatest Hits by Jack Murnighan.

Murnighan "has a Ph.D. in medieval and renaissance literature from Duke University. He is the author of The Naughty Bits and Classic Nasty and has written for Esquire, Glamour, and Nerve. He lives in New York City and teaches creative nonfiction at the University of the Arts."

I don't hold all that against him, though. He writes like a hip professor who really really wants to pass along not the IMPORTANT SYMBOLISM or CRITICAL HISTORICAL CONTEXT of classic literature but rather a love of reading great books along with an understanding of how to read "tough" books and why the effort is worthwhile.

The publisher's blurb:
Did anyone tell you that Anna Karenina is a beach read, that Dickens is hilarious, that the Iliad’s battle scenes rival Hollywood’s for gore, or that Joyce is at his best when he’s talking about booze, sex, or organ meats?

Writer and professor Jack Murnighan says it’s time to give literature another look, but this time you’ll enjoy yourself. With a little help, you’ll see just how great the great books are: how they can make you laugh, moisten your eyes, turn you on, and leave you awestruck and deeply moved. Beowulf on the Beach is your field guide–erudite, witty, and fun-loving–for helping you read and relish fifty of the biggest (and most skipped) classics of all time. For each book, Murnighan reveals how to get the most out of your reading and provides a crib sheet that includes the Buzz, the Best Line, What’s Sexy, and What to Skip.

I found that if I tried to read the book straight through, the chapters and various classics began to bleed together. So I used it as my palate cleanser, reading a chapter or two between other books as I finished them.

And now I intend to start all over, using Beowulf on the Beach as a to-do list to fill in the gaps in my reading of the classics. I'm especially loving the "what to skip" bits, some of which confirm that a book that's supposed to be "great" but I have no interest in might not actually be so wonderful after all. (Murnighan has a theory that people like sets of three and sometimes an author or books is tossed in with two other, far greater works to make a complete set.)

My favorite part of the book is that Murnighan is so completely un-snobby about literature. He tells you everything you need to know about each book in order not to embarrass yourself at a literary cocktail party. And he also tells you what questions to ask to poke holes in the blowhard who quotes famous lines from books he probably hasn't read.

(Fourth Monday Book Club, this book is why we're reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude this month. I hear it's "the greatest novel of our era." And who can resist that?)

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