Book Review: “Miracle Motors—A Pert Near True Story"

Some people go to the woods or the mountains to encounter the Divine. They seek the quiet to listen for the “still, small voice.” Peggy Senger Morrison, though, has some of her best conversations with God while driving a Kawasaki motorcycle named Rosie. She writes about them and other adventures in her new book, Miracle Motors – A Pert Near True Story.
This is a story of an unmediated relationship with God, writes Peggy, a Quaker preacher, teacher, and trauma healer. She’s also a storyteller who took some cues from a Cowboy Poet who spoke in Quaker meeting from time to time.
When he spoke, he stuck to the point and spoke what God put on his heart, and then sat down. He did tell stories—good ones. One time, after meeting, I asked him if the rather fantastical story he had told was true. His answer was, “Pert near.” I laughed and asked him to explain…
“Pert near true is a story that has so much truth to it, that it doesn’t really matter whether it happened or not.”
The Cowboy Poet’s philosophy helped Peggy see the “Quaker thing about truthfulness” in a new way, and …solved so many problems for her as a storyteller.
Miracle Motors started as a motorcycle travelogue nearly fifteen years ago; now it’s a collection of stories loaded with truth.  Peggy writes: It may be disguised as a memoir, but it is really a post-modern narrative theology. It is everything that I know by direct experience with God.  It has more in common with the journals of the first Quakers and the confessions of old Catholics than it does with the systematic theologies of modern scholars. It also has more motorcycles.
You feel like you’re winding along highways and back roads in Oregon and California with Peggy (and Rosie) as she unfolds story after story of her childhood in Chicago, earning a degree in counseling with a minor in pastoral ministry, her trip to a Holiness Women’s Clergy convention in Texas, and her early years as a Quaker minister. Peggy also writes plenty about Quakerism, the Bible, Jesus, and how all of these inform her actions.
But while Peggy is a preacher, I never felt “preached at.” Rather, her stories—like this one about her conversation with a truck-driver—made me think, and smile.
“So, watcha do when you aren’t ridin?”
“I’m a Quaker preacher.” This always stops them for a moment…
“So, what are y’all about?”
“Oh, you know, the standard Jesus stuff—being good to folks even when they aren’t good to you, taking care of the poor, keeping it simple, telling it like it is, not letting anything get between you and God.”
That has to be one of the most succinct descriptions of the Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, and equality.
Peggy’s adventures on the open road are rich in metaphors for life’s unexpected turns. One of those for her came with her first meeting of an African Quaker named David Niyonzima, a trauma healer in the Central African nation of Burundi.
While we were talking, I had a bit of a God moment, a clear but quiet voice ringing up from down inside me someplace… Quakers call this voice The Present Christ. It’s okay with me if you think we are delusional.  So the Voice said, “Do whatever this man asks of you.”
What David asked of Peggy was to teach him about trauma healing… and ultimately to travel to Burundi to help with his work there to train others in this approach. In 2003, Peggy left for the first of three trips to Central Africa, and the second half of the book includes stories of her experiences there.  More than a few involve motorcycles.
It will be no surprise to readers that Peggy returned from Africa, with, as she says, fresh eyes.
I came back with a passion for healing and for finding ways of escape through the barriers, obstacle courses, and mine fields that we use to keep people apart.
Those fresh eyes looked deeply at the schisms within Quakerism and the vision she and her partner, Alivia, shared for this faith:  something truly Quaker, and truly inclusive, and deeply Christ-centered. An oasis community where people could rest and recharge for whatever good work they did the rest of the time. Maybe even a church, not one that existed for its own sake, but one whose only purpose was to make some room for Mercy and Goodness.”
The closing chapters of Peggy’s memoir wind back and forth between another trip to Africa in 2010 and bike rides in the Western U.S., including a few stories about Freedom Friends Church that she and Alivia started in Salem, OR. Peggy finds parallels between group motorcycle rides and pastoral leadership.
Quaker pastors tend to ride sweep. The group itself sets the pace, the pastor watches and listens, to lend aid to anyone who falls or breaks down. A pastor should carry a tool kit.
Whether you’re a Quaker in the unprogrammed or the pastoral tradition, or someone seeking in other ways, Peggy’s “pert near true” stories will take you along on her spiritual journey. They’re also good ones to keep in your spiritual tool kit.
Miracle Motors is available through independent booksellers or online at

Move Over, Julie and Julia

Two years of living in Stehekin, Washington trained me in menu planning, shopping for a month at a time, and improvising. You see, there’s no grocery store in this remote village nestled in the North Cascades at the end of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan. There’s also no phone service, and no road to the Safeway in the closest town at the other end of the lake. There, once a month, I’d sketch out menus and compose a grocery list, then slide the list and a blank check into an envelope addressed to that Safeway store. A few days later, my groceries and a receipt would arrive on The Lady of the Lake, the passenger-only boat that travels daily in the summer (less often in the winter) to link Stehekin with the “downlake” world.
Now, although I live in another small, remote community—this one on an island in Puget Sound—I’m just a 15-minute bike ride away from a natural foods store and a full-service grocery store. And just a short drive away, farm stands sell local produce and organic meats, and there’s a U-pick berry farm and an organic vineyard and winery. You’d think with all this near-at-hand abundance I’d produce culinary feasts with ease and pleasure.
Instead, for many months I’ve turned to quick, easy meals like roasted chicken, pesto pasta, and tostados. My cookbook shelves sag under the weight of volumes of recipes, so it’s not as though I’m not surrounded by inspiration. I could blame my lack of creativity on juggling graduate school, work as a school nurse, and writing a book. Whatever the reasons, I’ve become bogged in a rut when it comes to food shopping, menu-planning, and cooking. Until inspiration arrived in an envelope that my daughter, Rachel, sent me for Mother’s Day. Here’s what was inside:

The Forest Feast by Erin Gleeson is unique because it’s part art book, part cookbook. The recipes (most use fewer than five ingredients) are displayed visually without a lot of text to read through, and Erin’s own handwriting, photography and watercolor illustrations guide you through the simple steps. 

salad photos courtesy
Better Homes & Gardens blog

I turned to the section labeled “salads” and
knew I had to try the recipe at the top of the list.

Polenta croutons on top of the salad – brilliant!

After flipping through a few more pages of the book, I slipped back into Stehekin menu-planning mode and developed a grocery list of ingredients for the dishes I wanted to try in the coming week.  As the days went by and the list of recipes I’d attempted grew, I began to feel like author Julie Powell. When Powell became disillusioned with work and life, she decided to replicate in 365 days the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. Powell’s blog posts about her effort eventually became the book, Julie and Julia – My Year of Cooking Dangerously, and a movie, Julie and Julia.
While Gleeson’s cookbook is loaded with meatless recipes—18 appetizers; 10 cocktails; 17 salads + 5 dressings, 2 dips and 1 sauce; 18 vegetable dishes; and 15 sweets—not a single one involves complicated techniques or ingredients only taught at Le Cordon Bleu. 
So far, I’ve made the Carrot Slaw twice (once for a potluck where the host asked for the recipe), Potato-Green Bean Salad, and Beet Salad with Pink Eggs; those served as delicious sides with grilled chicken.

Gleeson’s tone is easy-going and practical (how many cookbooks say “peeling is optional?”) and invites creativity.   Though I’d never made her Butternut Caprese, I felt encouraged to modify it with one of our last golden acorn squashes left from the fall harvest; when I couldn’t find smoked mozzarella on the island, I substitute smoked goat cheese.  It worked!

Although I don’t have the 3-inch round ramekins Gleeson suggests for the Baked Kale Egg Cups, they tasted delicious in my oblong ramekins alongside a rhubarb scone from our local Barn Owl Bakery (see my November post, Saturday Bread).  Oh, and I did crumble a little bacon on top.

So.  Move over, Julie and Julia. I’m well on my way to cooking and eating my way through The Forest Feast. I encourage you to buy a copy for yourself and to join me on the journey. Bon apetit!

Friendly Water

This morning when I filled my electric teakettle with tap water, I didn’t think of that liquid as anything but friendly.  I know, though, that in many places, what pours from faucets, sits in reservoirs, or pools in streams is full of harmful organisms; for 900 million people around the world, the water they drink, cook, and wash with is unfriendly.  A few Quakers from Olympia, WA, are trying to change that through an organization called Friendly Water for the World.
The nonprofit’s mission is straightforward: to expand access to low-cost clean water technologies and information about health and sanitation to people in need of them. The organization grew out of collaboration between theologically diverse Quaker congregations in two Washington communities—Olympic View Friends Church in Tacoma and Olympia Friends Meeting, Olympia. Although Friendly Water for the World is committed to Quaker testimonies of simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality, it is non-denominational and welcomes individuals from other faiths and traditions. Its approach involves partnerships among individuals and communities, working and learning together.
And work and learn they do, in Kenya, Burundi, India, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Uganda, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Honduras, and Haiti.  The learning begins in North America, with week-long workshops teaching volunteers how to build and teach others construction techniques for BioSand Water Filters.  This simple, affordable technology uses local sand and gravel in a small container suitable for people’s homes. For about $50, a household can have a system that lasts 30 years.
Courtesy – Center for
Affordable Water and
Sanitation Technology
Here’s how it works. Contaminated water (from any source, including rivers, wells, and rainwater) is poured into the top of the biosand filter at least once daily. Water slowly drips through a diffuser and flows down through the sand and gravel. Treated water flows by gravity out of the outlet tube. Disease-causing organisms (95-99% of them) are removed through biological and physical processes that take place in the sand, resulting in 12-18 liters of filtered drinking water per hour.  To add to the filter’s effectiveness, Friendly Water also works with local leaders to promote personal and community sanitation practices to assure filtered water isn’t contaminated before use.
As I pour water over my freshly ground coffee, I’m aware of how privileged I am to do so with such ease. I’m grateful to all the folks helping to make this a more friendly process in many places around the world. 

Four-Letter Words

Growing up in the Midwest, four-letter words were forbidden in my household, at least by kids.  My mom warned that if I said them, she’d wash my mouth out with soap.  I believed her, because she did it one time, not for uttering a four-letter word, but as punishment for “talking back.”
Four-letter words get a bad rap. Here’s how the American Heritage Dictionary defines them:
                  four-let·ter word (fôr ˈletər wərd)
                           n.  Any of several short
                           English words
                           generally regarded
                           as vulgar or obscene.
Sure, there are some nasty ones that I wouldn’t mind having washed away:
                        hate   rape   pain  rude  liar   feud   
                        fake  jail   hurt  sick  fear   kill.
And some are even more obscene with just three letters: 
There’s a simplicity and honesty about short words, though, that I value. Here are a few that I plan to keep in my vocabulary:
        read    book   sing    song   noun  verb  cook  fork  food  bake  cake  feed  note
        card   foot  toes   moon   rain (well, maybe not after weeks of it in the winter)  sail 
        pail   hike  bike  toot   vote   coat   look   like   love  seed   dirt   wool   silk   dock   
        sock  work   soon   tune  bowl   hair   care  fair   pear   milk   kilt   cove  need  help  
        fire  bird  sari  pair  tool  word  work  grin   talk   walk   duck   bead  plum  chum 
        soap   hope   boot   hoot   goat   boat   deer  dear   head  play   pray.
What four-letter words are you happy to use?