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Issue 8-12

Don't Wait Until I Die

Why is it we don’t really know about people until they die?

For instance, after work last Friday, David and I and Carla Boelkens took in the recently released film Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. (Oh, a chick-flick, I can hear some thinking—but my husband loved it, pronouncing it “one of the best films I’ve seen recently.”)

Directed by Norah Ephron, the narrative line melds the stories of Julia Child in 1950s France at the start of her cooking initiatives with that of modern-day writer Julie Powell, who is trying to “find herself” in New York City. The contemporary Julie, disappointed in life and overwhelmed with the success of her college classmates, finds comfort in cooking. On a whim, encouraged by her husband, she decides to take up the self-appointed challenge of preparing all 524 recipes from Child’s successful classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, blogging about it as she goes. The film is a delightful character study of the emerging identity of two women struggling to find a central calling. I loved it!

Streep is in her artistic element. She inhabits Julia Child’s quirky and expansive personality without making a caricature out of her. David loved that both husbands, particularly the urbane, intellectual and artistic Paul Child, interpreted sympathetically by Stanley Tucci, were portrayed as fully developed and supportive personalities—Child, particularly, ahead of his time.

This film, of course, is inspiring cooking orgies in kitchens across the country. It certainly did in mine. I spent one hot weekend making melon soup and attempting to master the mysteries of vert-vert (green cake) from the book Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet. (Due, I’m sure, to my deficiencies as a baker, it was a disaster from start to finish—but I tried…)

Baking challenges aside, the best aftereffect of the film was that on a foray with David to Borders Books (he had birthday gift-cards totaling $35 and shared it with me; he bought a 700-page book on the Holocaust), I picked up Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by NoŽl Riley Fitch. Oh my goodness!—all the things we don’t know about celebrities’ lives. Julia Child was a remarkable woman. Some of her bios indicate she met her husband, Paul Child, when she was a file clerk working in the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) office in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in India during World War II. Indeed, Julia often said she was a “file clerk” when she met the cosmopolitan man who was to become her future husband and who introduced her, according to back-page copy, to the “glories of art, fine French cuisine and love.”

The truth is that when most of her Smith College friends were getting married, Julia volunteered to work with the OSS and ran the Office of Information, using her considerable organizational skills to code, catalogue and transmit the highly secretive war correspondence. At first, she served in India in the office of Lord Mountbatten, then was transferred to the interior of China, to Chungking on the Yangtze River. War swirled around her office and coworkers, the revolutionary troops of Mao Tse-tung battled with the followers of Chiang Kai-shek. The Japanese army advanced. Military planes flew overhead. Plagues raged; typhoid took its toll. But despite her “file clerk” disclaimers, Julia and her ten assistants were “privy to all messages, both incoming from the field, or Washington, etc., and outgoing to our agents and operatives all over China-Burma-India,” Paul Child once wrote. According to one expert, the OSS “amassed an incredible amount of information about practically every nation in the world,” data that would be used for years to come in every branch of the military.

Due to the Childs’ war duty, due to Paul’s later posting, after their marriage, with the State Department as a Foreign Service officer in Paris, due to Julia’s wealthy family and her education at Smith College, the Childs knew practically everyone who was anyone during those years. Theodore White was a friend who was originally a war journalist. Their diaries are cluttered with names of close friends who they seemed to keep for their entire lives—people who became important in arts, politics, literature and government. It was quite a life. The two of them were partners in labor and maintained a love affair in marriage that is remarkable to read about.

In addition, Julia was charming, winning, able to approach people from different cultures and befriend and appreciate them. With a positive disposition, she was above engaging in backbiting or petty jealousies, and with Paul, she bit off life in a way that was exceptional and inspirational—to me, certainly—but to her friends and family as well. She didn’t have enemies. How amazing!—and all this without a religious focus. Her high value was relationships. She lived that value out in her life: She had people in her homes as guests, held dinner parties, tested new recipes on embassy acquaintances, established working friendships with cooking, publishing and NPR television-broadcasting colleagues. All I can conclude was that the woman was not contemplative and certainly no introvert—but she was admirable and loved by her loyal associates, colleagues, friends and family; certainly loved by her husband.

I have thought recently that it is tragic how little we know about people until they die. They are often so much in the news, the temptation is to assume we know who they are. However, I’ve found myself thinking after the death of some public figure, I didn’t realize that. Why didn’t I know that! Why doesn’t the press emphasize these remarkable accomplishments when these people are alive? Why do we have to wait until death comes to appreciate the victories and successes (often successes that come after failures) of people we think we know.

Were you aware, for instance, that the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver graduated from Stanford University with a B.A. in sociology? Did you know that she worked for the State Department in the Special War Problems Division, emphasizing care for veterans with emotional trauma after returning from war? Did you know that she was a social worker at the Penitentiary for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, or that she moved to Chicago as an employee of the House of the Good Shepherd and Chicago Juvenile Court?

Most of us know that Eunice Shriver (President Kennedy’s sister, for those younger than my generation—all of us were “Kennedy family-saturated” in our earlier adult years) was the prime mover behind the Special Olympics, but did anyone also know that the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, which she led, exists to establish programs, committees and institutes in order to achieve the prevention of mental retardation by educating and improving the means by which the larger society deals with its citizens who have mental retardation. According to the Shriver Center biography on Eunice Shriver, initiatives implemented under her guidance “include the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (1962), changes in Civil Service regulations that allow persons with mental retardation to be hired on the basis of ability rather than test scores (1964), the Special Olympics (1968), major centers for the study of medical ethics at Harvard and Georgetown Universities (1971), and the ‘Community of Caring’ programs to reduce mental retardation among babies of teenagers (1981-1997).”

If you want to spend 45 minutes that will bring tears to your eyes, lift your spirit and make you vow to be a better person, go to the Special Olympics Web site. Click on Eunice Shriver’s 1962 Saturday Evening Post article about her sister, Rosemary. The article is a manifesto on how a nation should regard its mentally challenged citizens. It is wonderful! Then click on the section that shows several clips of a classic Irish wake. You will howl as nephews (all claiming to be Aunt Eunice’s favorite) tell outrageous stories of this most liberated of women (whom Robert Kennedy, Jr. repeatedly deems “pious”). Ted Kennedy, Jr. (a civil-rights lawyer for the disabled) tells one story of a sailing race off Hyannis Port with Aunt Eunice and his father, Senator Ted Kennedy. Their boat was in the lead, heading toward the point where the racers turned and sailed back to the finish. While tacking, Eunice leaned back too far, fell overboard and called out, “Go on! Go on! You’ll lose the race. Pick me up on the way back.” So they did. She treaded water for 20 minutes, their boat turned around the point, picked her back on the last leg, and they won the race. Don’t overlook clips of the funeral with grandchildren reading the Scriptures, leading the prayers of the people—a homespun, grand Catholic liturgical funeral in the beautiful Hyannis church of St. Xavier.

What did these two women have in common? They lived life completely, exuberantly, jammed with friends and family and colleagues who all adored them. They lived richly, wealthy in fullness, loving and being loved. Age did not daunt them.

What do these biographies after death say to me? Two things.

First, I want to do the end of my days better than I have done the middle. I want to laugh with friends, be outrageous, care deeply about the needy, make my passions count. I want to know about people now, not just after they have died. Indeed, I want to know and be known. I want to love and be loved. I want to participate deeply in the moments (like holding a Peach Day in my kitchen, canning; one friend has already signed onto the labor staff—we agree a day like this is a day of creating art, of capturing summer’s beauty.)

The second thing these biographies (and many others) say to me is that God seems to have the peculiar aspect in His nature of looking only on our godly accomplishments. What an amazing thought: With all the flaws, foibles, idiosyncrasies, failings, sins, denials and truancies of the human lives recorded in Scripture, Hebrews 11 seems to indicate that when we die, all God remembers is whether we have been faithful. By faith Abel … by faith Enoch … by faith Noah … by faith Abraham …by faith Isaac … by faith Jacob … by faith Joseph … by faith Moses …

(We will overlook the apparent chauvinism of this passage and remind ourselves that most great men are great because great and faithful women stand beside them!)

So here’s to Julia, to Eunice—to the unnamed women of faith. Here’s to taking the time to really know the people in my life. Here’s to living the life large that God has given. Here’s to aging outrageously. Here’s to shouting out to our racing companions, “Press on! Press on! Pick me up on the way back!” Here’s to treading water. Here’s to keeping the purpose of life in mind. Here’s to winning the race. Here’s to being faithful. Long live fidelity!

Karen Mains

Sign Up Soon!

Here’s a thought—several men have inquired if men can come to the retreat. Our annual 24-Hour Retreat of Silence is only so because by default the Hungry Souls lists are mostly women. Because we are conducting a back-to-back retreat this December (for the first time), we could easily make the weekend (Friday-Saturday) retreat inclusive—for men and women. BUT—we don’t want five men to sign up and be overwhelmed by 24 to 30 women attendees. So if men are expressing envy about their wives or women friends attending Retreats of Silence, please let Melodee Cook know at . She acts as our volunteer registrar. If enough men indicate interest, we will make sure that planning will be gender-inclusive.

In 2009, the first retreat will run from Wednesday, beginning with dinner, December 2 through Thursday, ending by 4:00 in the afternoon, December 3. The second retreat will run from Friday, beginning with dinner, December 4 through Saturday, ending by 4:00 in the afternoon, December 5.

This will make room for those who work during the days and don’t feel as though they can take time off during the week.

Our fees will be $120 for a single room with private bath. However, if you register early, by October 15, your fee will be $100. If you bring someone who has NEVER attended a Hungry Souls Advent Retreat of Silence, the welcome fee for any new attendees (and for you) will be $90. (The weekend retreat costs us $5 more. Add that amount to the fees -- $125, $105 or $95.) The cutoff date for registrations is November 25. Since we must give a firm number to the Bishop Lane Retreat Center in Rockford, IL and pay for that number, we cannot return payments after the cutoff date.

Valerie Bell, Karen Mains and Sybil Towner will lead these two retreats again this year. This Hungry Souls Retreat of Silence is a guided retreat. We begin silence at 9:00 the first evening. If you are interested, contact our volunteer registrar Melodee Cook at .

If you are outside of the Chicagoland area and would like to fly in for any of our retreats, our staff or volunteers will be happy to meet you at the airport and facilitate any sleeping arrangements that might need to be made for our silent retreats.


We now have 300 African-made kanga-cloth bags in the Global Bag Project office. Carla Boelkens and I will gladly hold home-based bag parties in the Chicagoland area. Just sign up at and we will get in touch with you. Carla and Doug Timberlake fly to Nairobi September 4. David Mains is using frequent flyer mileage and will have to transit alone via Turkish Airlines through Istanbul, then down to Nairobi. Pray for him; he is 73. They will be organizing personnel and systems to purchase fabric, train bag-makers, ship bags overseas, and filming, hopefully, three more bag-maker stories (every bag has a story). To see the first such story, of Mary Nduta, watch it on YouTube at

For contributions of $30 (+$6.95 shipping/handling), we can provide you with a kanga-cloth, artisan reusable shopping bag. Shipping and handling are extra. Jim Whitmer and his wife, Mary, photographers par excellence, have put together a YouTube “Dancing Bag” clip. That link is HERE and will show just a sample of the kanga-cloth patterns that are available. The bags are cotton; the fabric is made in East Africa. The bags’ bottoms have a firm lining, and the straps are reinforced. Proceeds go directly to the Global Bag Project and are helping to sustain the living of Christian sisters and their families. Some of the HIV/AIDS widows we work with are struggling with health issues. There are 30 or more children involved with these mothers. Pray for renewed health for our African friends. Make out a check for $36.95 to The Global Bag Project, and send to P.O. Box 30, Wheaton, IL 60187.

Please pray for safety and strength for David, Doug and Carla. We also need financial donations to underwrite some of the expenses. David and Karen are taking out a home equity loan to provide liquidity when needed, but in this economy and at the end of a summer without many gifts, your contributions toward the project will be greatly appreciated.


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"I want to do the end of my days better than I have done the middle. I want to laugh with friends, be outrageous, care deeply about the needy, make my passions count.
I want to know about people now, not just after they have died."

Book Corner

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child

Appetite for Life:
The Biography of Julia Child

By NoŽl Riley Fitch

Makes you want to cook, and live and invite friends over for dinner.

Some great videos I’ve watched recently might also lift your spirits. They were exceptionally moving to me.

Taking Chance, an HBO presentation starring Kevin Bacon, tells the story of how one Marine, killed in Iraq, is accompanied all the way home by military personnel. Truly a moving slice of society.

The Soloist starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jamie Foxx tells the story of a Los Angeles Times reporter who befriends a gifted musician who is also schizophrenic and homeless. Through this moving and challenging story, the viewer is introduced to the plight of the homeless in this western city (more than all the major cities of the States combined) and to the people who work among them. Be sure to view the Special Features on the DVD.

Mark Twain, a documentary on his life by Ken Burns. Karen and David traveled to Hannibal last summer with grandkids and made a note to pick up this series. Well, it’s being watched this summer. But half of Twain’s book, Life on the Mississippi, has been read so far. Both the DVD and this book are a rich reintroduction to America in the 1900s. Twain scholars and biographers in the documentary beautifully explain Samuel Clemens’ (alias Mark Twain) contribution to American life and literature. We really understand the role of Huckleberry Finn (the first novel giving the viewpoint of a black male portraying his feelings and desires as a human being). All considered, it was, and still is, a stunning accomplishment. The book was banned, when it was released, because the vernacular writing was considered indecent. Twain is quoted as rejoicing over that fact, seeing that the banning would probably sell 25,000 more copies!

Buy From Ľ

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