Adventures With Paradise


It was supposed to be a quiet evening dinner – just me, myself and I – Epicurious at a local food trough. But, the gods of Saturn had other plans for this mortal this Saturday.

Living alone I typically stay home at night. I make my own dinner and eat by myself, dribbling on clothes I know are predestined for the laundry.  But yesterday, a beautiful sun bathed Saturday, I decided to head out of the house for a meal in early evening.  This restaurant visit would be the first time I would have a dinner meal out in well over two years. Saturday breakfast at the Copper Fox is usually my big meal out.

At the Fox I down a repast big enough to choke a horse – eggs over easy, sausage, potatoes and multi-grain toast all drowned in black coffee. At that point having been sated for the rest of the week I then just eat simple throw-together meals.  But last night was different.  I was twitching to get out of the house.  I wanted to cool my ever-burning jets and pay for someone else to make me a meal. And, my serendipity was showing.

So I gussied up.  With some Ann Taylor hugging my bones and a smacking smudge of lipstick I headed out my apartment door and to my car.  Pulling out of the driveway the sun, heading in the opposite direction, shot a ray of reflected light onto my face from the rear view mirror.  I winced and thought, “This will have to do.  I can’t grow another.” I drove over to the next town.  There I knew I would find some restaurants that still served something beyond over-sized plates of Tex-mex carbohydrates with giant big gulps to wash it all down.

Once downtown I parked my car near the hundred-twenty year old county court-house and began to stroll down the makeshift-quaint First Avenue.  As I had learned this suburban hamlet became historic in one day.  All this happened when the city council decided it was time for their town to clone an Immigrant History.  This is verifiable.  The false histrionics I mean.

I once met the town’s historian (a full-time position in this small town!) at a bar about five years ago. While drinking down his bitters, gin and sweet vermouth he told me the whole spiel – the town wanted to appear folksy so it came up with an embellished history – two actual immigrant families who arrived in America from Sweden and who made their home in this town many years ago would come to define the town’s heritage.  With this little tinge of history the town councilmen whitewashed the town hoping to attract crowds to its festivals, art shows and local businesses. Voila!  A smorgasbord of fantasy folklore was created to charm the out-of-towners.

I was reminded of this as I walked past the town’s ‘historical’ center.  I continued to walk along the brick-paved street past the faux-historical showcase of facades.  Everywhere I looked there were gaggles of doe-eyed arm-in-arm couples taking advantage of the romantic spectacle that is this revisionist-town.

I walked by several restaurants, none of them appealing to my appetite, none of them worthy of my ‘thrill-of-the-moment’ twenty-bucks.

I walked on past the New-Age Gem store and its wafting cloud of incense. I passed Mama’s Gratto, a patio padded with doting couples – men doting their Miller Lites and women doting their chilled chards, both poking at a plate of shared antipasto.

I skimmed past the darkened window of Kwasimodo Sushi. Silhouettes stood out above the counter.  I passed the ever-strumming ever-piped mariachi music of the Mexican restaurant and crossed the street looking both ways for food, my stomach now on high alert.

There it was directly across the street – a new restaurant right on the corner.  An Italian wood-burning oven restaurant.  I walked over to the front door .  The menu was posted on a side window.  Inside the doorway stood a sidewalk sign offering “Special – Baked Oysters.”  This caught my attention.  The last time I had baked oysters was during a New Orleans Madri-Gras week that should never be remembered. ‘Nawlins food though, my palette can never forget, is delectable.  So in a trance-like state I ventured inside hoping to create a little culinary heaven for about one hour. Instead what I received was purgatory, a purgatory inducing purge-atory.

(Did I mention I live alone?  There is a reason for that.  I remain single because of George Bush. I went through a divorce while he was president. This is why I eat alone every night.  This is why I never hear Dream Weaver while I’m showering. This is why I don’t eat my Italian Wedding soup looking at some dreamy-eyed Spaniard whose thirst for life is matched only by his roaring appetite for friends to enable him. And besides this, there aren’t many real men anymore.  I don’t mean macho. I mean real as in solid stainless steel, not Formica veneer.  We have Formica veneer in the White House right now but I live alone because of George Bush.)

As I entered the restaurant I saw a throng of waitresses standing at the end of the bar.  Dressed in black from head to toe the girls were all in their early twenties.  The manager appeared to be giving them their instructions for the evening.  I waited at the door but there was no response from the crew so I sought a small table along a wall. I sat down on the long bench that ran the length of that wall. I sat facing the room.  From there I could see that there were only three patrons in the restaurant, myself and two young women.  A handful of diners were outside on the patio. It was just after five o’clock in the afternoon.

A waitress broke free from the meeting.  She welcomed me as she handed me a menu.  I ordered a Stella. When she came back with the drink I ordered the baked oysters.

I sat in the extremely chilled room and watched the crew scurry around the bar and in and out of the patio door. I wondered if flies would take advantage of the open invite. After a short while an older couple, a grandfather and grandmother, came in with three of their very young grandkids. They were shown a table along the wall, one table away from me. I sipped my cold beer trying to warm up.

Soon a young couple entered the restaurant.  They had brought with them their four daughters.  The daughters looked to be all under the age of ten.  This family was seated right next to me along the wall – the four girls sat on the same bench seat.  I soon learned that the youngest girl did not want to be there. She was adamant in her disapproval.

“Muh-maaaaa.”  Muh-maaaaa.” The youngest one whined repeatedly, “I don’t want to be here.  I don’t want to be here.” as she crawled from the bench to her father and then to her mother and then back to the bench. I was hoping my food would arrive soon.  I was quickly becoming de-romanticized about my evening out.  The Minestrone Moderne had morphed into Kinder-Kare.

With four children of my own, all now grown, I had brought my own kids to a restaurant early in the evening just like these parents had so as to not disturb the other patrons. But that was years ago and I had forgotten about the family hours.

My baked oysters arrived after thirty minutes.  They must have been fresh.  The half-dozen looked just dandy sprinkled with bread crumbs, Asiago cheese and some chopped herbs and shallots.  But as you know oysters are not eaten in the most delicate of ways.  So right then I wanted to be home – alone with the mollusks and far from the madding crowd

After downing the first oyster in the door walks another young couple with kids.  Guess where they were seated.  Yep.  On my left side.

To my left and to my right were antsy children, antsy children all wanting to go home or to go to MacDonald’s for supper.  Both sets of parents and the grandparents eager for a Saturday night on the town ordered wine.  Ah, the memories of wine’s sedative affects amidst the wails of youth’s discontent.

It certainly seemed odd to me that the three families with children were seated alongside me as the whole restaurant lay open.  But then it clicked.  I would naturally sit where parents of young children would sit on an early Saturday night. A lot of wine had passed under the bridge.

I finished my dinner, gulping down oysters five and six as fast I could with swigs of Stella.  When I was through I pushed the plate of disgorged oyster shells forward and almost off the edge of the table. I was hoping to get the waitress’ attention.  No such luck.  It would be another fifteen minutes before she would make her appearance at the kitchen doorway.  By now my stomach and head were both reeling from parenting’s noble strife.

When the waitress finally arrived she asked me if there was anything else I needed. I shook my head “No.”  I didn’t think they would have ear plugs on the desert menu and I didn’t want to ask for a bucket, either.

The check arrived after another curious disappearance.  I pulled out a wad of dollar bills hoping for enough cash so that I didn’t have to wait on her again.  I was in luck.

I set the bill folder down with the cash tucked inside. I looked around for my waitress but she was nowhere to be found again.  I grabbed my purse and headed out the door.  Ah. I heaved a sigh of relief as the warm summer air decompressed my thoughts.

Retracing my steps through Ersatz village I found my car and drove home.  Thinking that my parenthood had lost large quantities of its patience along the way I vowed that I would never go out for dinner again at night when the young and the restless were about. At least not until I become a grandparent and retrace my steps while sipping wine.

© Sally Paradise, 2012, All Rights Reserved


Below are some excerpts from a brief article about education, books vs. TV, imagination, home schooling and preserving what’s good in a civilization.  The article provides a great prescription for a child’s education.   Two of my children were home schooled for several years, so I know from experience the author’s point of view.

The article begins with the author asking “Are you ever afraid that home schooling your kids will make them, um, oddballs?” As parents we asked ourselves the same question and we found the answer to be a resounding “No.”

 I have heard people tell me that children who are home schooled lack social interaction. That is absolute nonsense. What you do as a home schooler is to find other parents who are doing the same thing and then just let the kids relate. You go on field trips and do a lot of fun learning activities which include science, music, sports and drama.  And, there is plenty of support out there for anyone who wants to home school their child.

 From Touchstone Magazine:


Education Normal

Mark T. Mitchell on the Oddity of Giving Children a Moral Imagination


Will your kids be raised primarily on books or on television? To put it another way: Will your children be educated in a logocentric environment, where the written and spoken word is the primary conveyer of meaning, or will they ingest most of their information through electronically generated images?

Now, of course, emphasizing books over television is not the entire story, for books vary in quality and there are plenty of books that cultivate misshapen virtues and a cynical view of life. But I think it is safe to say that parents who make the effort to emphasize books as a way of life will generally be those who have been powerfully moved by books themselves. They have experienced the wonder and joy and goodness of certain books and will introduce these to their children even as one introduces a family member to a much-loved friend.

But setting the content of the books aside (for only a moment), those whose minds are shaped by an ongoing encounter with language will develop mental habits that include patience, perseverance, the ability to think abstractly, and an imagination that does not require the constant stimulation of external images. The imagination of the reader (guided by the author) creates the images, whereas the child raised on television merely imbibes what has already been fully rendered by the camera.

 More than Rules

There are two facets to educating a child well. The first is to recognize that education is not merely the accumulation of facts, but that it has an unavoidably moral aspect. A suitable education must do more, therefore, than simply teach facts, even moral facts. Education must seek to cultivate the moral imagination of the child, for reducing moral education to a list of rules is bound to fail…

But if our children are raised primarily on visual images, if they do not cultivate the mental disciplines necessary to access truth via language, then the Holy Scriptures will remain opaque, the creeds and confessions of faith will be meaningless recitations, and hymn lyrics will be merely pleasant-sounding rhymes to accompany occasionally pleasant-sounding music.

While the ultimate aim of education is to cultivate the souls of children toward godly virtue, a secondary but related end is the preservation of civilization

stewards of our civilization must possess well-cultivated language faculties capable of grasping complex and abstract ideas and concepts.

 Normal Children Needed

If a proper education is to accomplish or at least to seek to accomplish these tasks, then a normal child is one whose moral imagination is well formed, whose soul is oriented toward a love of logos and the Logos, and who knows and loves the best of his own civilization. Such a child will, perhaps unwittingly, become a steward of the good, the true, and the beautiful. In a world where normal is considered odd, such children are desperately needed.

Mark T. Mitchell teaches political theory at Patrick Henry College in Virginia. He is the co-founder of Front Porch Republic.
Read more:

The Tie that Binds Us

Her name is Magda. I sit next to here on the train many nights while traveling home from work. I’ve known her for three years.  She has worked on the same floor of the same engineering company that I do.  Not long ago, though, our CEO moved the financial dept. to the 35th floor.  Magda, part of the financial group moved upstairs and I remained with the engineers. We were no longer able to pass each other in the hallway and talk.

We do however talk on the way home from work.  Over the past three years and many miles of track Magda has told me about her life. In turn she has asked me about my life.  She is usually reserved and business-like in her conversation.   She will ask me direct questions about my kids and my family. I will answer them and then I will ask about her family. There is parity to our conversation: with each question’s answer we become equally knowledgeable about the other. Lately, though, she has asked more probing questions, specific questions regarding my grandparents and their end-of-life care. The reason for this, I believe is that her mother, who recently turned one-hundred, is in need of continual care.

 Magda moved her mother to a senior’s home this past summer.  Prior to this, her mother lived on her own in a condo out east. Magda’s brother, who lived locally, would check in on her regularly. During the time the mother lived alone the mother’s growing frailty combined with regular falls gave the family reason enough to move her to a place where she could be monitored and cared for daily. Their mother now lives not far from our train station and not far from Magda’s home.

 Magda has confided in me about her mother.  She told me that her mother is very cognizant of her surroundings and is able to move about but she continues to fall almost daily.  Each fall is more deeply injurious and the healing process becomes longer. Her circulation is faulty.  Her drawn skin, now blotched purple, bears the bruises of everyday life. A while back the toes on one her feet had to be amputated because there was no longer any circulation to the extremities of her foot. Her mother hadn’t noticed the problem and no one knew until too late.

 Magda is married. Her husband is a retired orthopedic surgeon/medical school professor who likes to winter in Florida at one of their vacation homes.  Magda, when on vacation from work, flies down to be with him.  Right now, though, Magda has been in town helping her mother convalesce until her brother comes to town to replace her for a spell. Every night she drives the couple’s Jaguar over to the senior care home.

 We rode the train together again last night.  Magda, sitting in the seat in front of me, turned around to me as she has the past several weeks to talk. Magda was wondering how others deal people have dealt with someone who is advanced in age, still independent in mind and spirit and yet too fragile to take care of themselves.  She asked about my grandparents.

 I told her that one set of grandparents died early in my life.  My mother’s father, Simon, died before I could meet him. There is a picture of him, my mother, my father and me.  I know him through the lens of someone else’s eyes.  My mother’s mother came to live with us when I was about eight years old.  Svea was eighty-five years old and becoming more feeble every day.  Because she was from Sweden she was not always easy for us as kids to understand – her talk and her ways were strange to us.  My parent’s cared for her until she became too ill.  She was then moved to a hospital where she died not long afterward.  I remember this first great sadness and loss in my life.  Grandma was living with us and now she was gone forever.  I missed her greatly when she died.  Her bedroom was empty, her spirit gone. What remained throughout our house were the delicate lace doilies she had created.

 My father’s parents lived well into their eighties.  They sold their single family home and moved into a senior’s condo residence.  There, safe in an easy to move about environment, they knew friends who had made the same move. It was a small community of elderly people, Dutch people, who regularly met in the cafeteria to talk about their kids, their grandkids and their great-grand kids.

 My grandmother, Zena, was the first of these grandparents to die.  My grandfather was never quite the same after that.  He couldn’t function without Zena.  They had been married for over sixty five years.  Eventually, my grandfather was moved to a smaller condo in the same group of buildings. There, he deteriorated rapidly.

 By this time in his life, much of my grandfather’s family was out of state.  From what I could tell, my father was the most caring of his children.  He went out of his way to care for my grandfather.  My dad, who lived out of state with my mother, asked me to look in on my grandfather. Because I still lived in the area I would visit him on a regular basis. I would sit and talk with him.  When I left him I brought his laundry home with me to wash and then returned it on my next visit. With each reoccurring visit, though, there seemed to be less of my grandfather. In conversation, his mind fumbled for words.  In the interludes of silence, his spirit was with my grandmother.

My grandfather died about a year after my grandmother.  They found him on the floor of his condo. The cords of death loosely wrapped around him, tripping him up.

 I shared all of this with Magda.

 The difficulties of caring for an elderly parent who is rapidly deteriorating can grow exponentially.  Each detail of the elderly person’s life becomes a major life issue:  simple movement, daily exercise, eating proper food, taking medications, the continuous care funding, the provision of emotional support and so much more.  The life support system of a concerned family becomes critical to the care of the person facing their mortality.

 Last night, Magda related to me all of the things involved with her mother on a daily basis. Magda visits her mom once a day.  She drives over after work and spends time with her, walking her through the hallways. There was a night recently, Magda told me, that there was small church service going on the community room of the care center.  Magda asked her mother if she wanted to go to the service but her mother refused, saying, “It’s only a church service.”

At this point in our conversation, we were both standing and waiting for the train to pull into our station.  The hour long sometimes jolting ride is hard on the legs and back.  Neither of us can sit that long. After talking briefly about the church service, Magda changed the subject and asked me about the books that I had been reading.  She said it looked as though I was studying for something.

 I pulled the book back out of my bag:  The Rage Against God by Peter Hitchens.  I explained that Peter is the brother of well known atheist Christopher Hitchens. Christopher is an English-American journalist, author and columnist.  His writing can be found in Vanity Fair, The Atlantic and other publications.  Peter, his brother, is a British journalist and author as well.  Peter is a Christian.  The recently published The Rage Against God describes his return to faith in Jesus Christ.

 I explained further that I was reading this book and the other book I carried with me because I wanted to give these books to my two elder sons.  I wanted to know what Peter gave as his reasons to return to faith. The other book I carried and read was Nancy Pearcey’s Saving Leonardo:  A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals & Meaning.

 I told Magda that my eldest son describes himself as an atheist.  He told me this one day in the car.  He did not want to be baptized. He did not want anything to do with the church or Jesus.  He was almost eighteen at the time.

 I made it clear to Magda that I wanted to lead my sons to Jesus Christ.  With a puzzled look she said, “That will be hard.” Then she asked, “Do you think people still believe such things?” I asked her, “You mean, believe in atheism?” “No, “she answered, “do you think people still believe that Jesus saves people from theirs sins and all that?” I told her, “I absolutely believe that to be true. There is no doubt in my mind.”

 The mention of the senior’s church service by Magda was the first time in three years that she has said anything close to matters of faith. I understood from our many conversations that Magda was a self-made independent woman who reads the New York Times.  Her worldview was completely secular.  She told me that she hadn’t been to church in years. I quietly realized that the book I was reading about Peter Hitchen’s life prior to faith in Christ was parallel to much of the secular worldview Magda espoused.

 Our conversation continued as we walked out of the train towards the parking lot.  She told me that she thought it was funny that a young person would be leading a church service at an old folk’s home and that he was excitedly talking about people being saved from their sins.  It seemed completely absurd to her.

 All I could do at this point was smile and tell her that as a teenager I also went to these senior homes with a man from our church every other Saturday morning.  The man, elderly himself, would speak for a short time about Jesus Christ and I would play hymns on my trumpet. I told Magda that trumpets were good instruments for the elderly.  They had no problem hearing me play. This made her smile.

 As we began to part ways looking for our cars she said, “Well, have a nice weekend.” 

 I reached over, touched her arm and said, “Have a Merry Christmas, Magda.” 

 We would see each other again next year. God willing.