Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hey, There -- You With the Stars in Your Eyes

Your Brain's Pattern

You have a dreamy mind, full of fancy and fantasy.
You have the ability to stay forever entertained with your thoughts.
People may say you're hard to read, but that's because you're so internally focused.
But when you do share what you're thinking, people are impressed with your imagination.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Un-Yucky Veggie Burgers

This weekend Fellow Traveler and I threw a party -- invited a bunch of people to a professional fast-pitch softball game in a nearby city, then treated guests to grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the patio of the City Home. We had been under the impression that at least a couple of the party-goers were vegetarian, so I poured over Google entries for veggie burger recipes until I found one that looked promising, and whipped up a small batch just to keep everyone happy.

But interestingly, when we offered our diners the option of a vegetarian burger, we got pretty much the same reaction from the crowd as if we'd polled a kindergarten class on their enjoyment of canned spinach. And that's too bad, because our leftover veggie burgers were really, really good; I think better than most of the ready-made brands I've had.

Tofu Burgers
1 package (14 oz. or so) firm tofu, very well drained and pressed (I pressed it between layers of paper towels, using a heavy piece of kitchen equipment, for about a half hour, changing the towels as necessary)
3 green onions, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup or so shredded carrots
2 TBS or so red bell pepper, diced fine
1/4 cup mushrooms, diced (optional)
1/4 cup or so mashed potato flakes
2 TBS tamari or other soy sauce
2 tsp sweet chili sauce, or a moderate shake of red pepper flakes, or a dash of Tabasco
several generous shakes of Montreal Steak seasoning, or seasoned salt and freshly ground pepper

Crumble tofu in bowl. Saute onions, garlic, pepper and mushrooms in a small bit of oil until veggies are limp and transparent but not brown; add to tofu along with carrots, potatoes, tamari and seasonings.

Form into six patties (which will be on the soft side); fry or contact-grill until browned on both sides.

The measurements are approximations, and you can certainly add or subtract ingredients as you choose. I'm thinkin', for instance, that a tablespoon of miso or mushroom concentrate or other savory/salty flavoring would be a great addition. So go have fun with it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Better Living Through Chemistry

I write you today under the influence.

Of Lexapro, that is.

After my Memorial Day weekend emotional meltdown it became clear I needed to do something about my depression and anxiety before it eroded my quality of life any more. So for the past couple of months I've been in talk therapy with a cognitive psychologist. This has been going well, but he suggested that I might want to look into drug therapy too, so last week after a trip to my primary care doctor I came home with a month of Lexapro samples.


Last week, at this time, I was in the throes of medicine head -- if I sat down or stood up too fast the room started spinning, and in between I felt as if I were in a kind of suspended mental animation; uncomfortably numb. I didn't much like it. Depression actually felt better.

I later found out that antidepressants and antihypertensive drugs tend to amplify one another's side effects, hence the spaciness, and that taking one pill in the morning and one in the evening can help minimize the lightheadedness and lethargy.

So I'm a bit nearer to normal now, just in terms of getting through the day without feeling eight miles high. And it remains to be seen whether or not the Lexapro will keep depressive episodes and anxiety attacks at bay. But I still feel equivocal about taking these pills -- despite understanding the organic and oftentimes hereditary underpinnings of depression, and despite learning that nearly everyone I come into contact with on a daily basis is on some sort of "happy pill." The Stoic in me tells me that I should be able to fix myself by myself. Which is silly -- I mean, I wouldn't take that approach with, say, a broken arm or a clogged artery.

The talk therapy is going well; just about the time I thought it was a huge and expensive waste of time we actually started working on specific issues and goals, and I can actually see a bit of progress in changing my thought patterns...which, it turns out, tend to lean heavily in the beating-myself-up-for-being-normal reason. Again, at times I'll walk out of a session thinking, "This is so elementary, and on some level I already know it -- why do I need to pay someone to tell me what I already know?" But I think the element of human interaction, instead of living my dramas all in my head, and the element of accountability, make a difference. (Which, come to think of it, are also points applicable to being part of a faith community, instead of trying to "freelance" one's Christianity.)

So...anyway...I want to think that, one way or the other, I'm moving "closer to fine," as the song says.

Friday Poetry Bloggery

There is something about a rag rug that brings to mind memories of summer cottages, sunny kitchens, squeaky wooden floors. I like rag rugs. Here is a poem about a rag rug.

A "Love Your Mother" Friday Five

This week's Friday Five was inspired by the extreme weather events happening...well, just about everywhere around the globe.

1. Have you experienced living through an extreme weather event- what was it and how did you cope?

When I was about junior-high-school age our area experienced a three-day blizzard/ice storm that knocked out our power. I remember my parents burying food from the freezer in the snow outside...eating by candlelight...shivering in the cold, despite our back-up wood stove, and cooking on same...snow banks that soared above the roads, once the county plows were finally able to get out. At the time it was more exciting than frightening, although now as a Responsible Adult I'd be in an uproar over impassible roads and frozen pipes and spoiling food and dying tropical foliage in my home.

I've also been in the immediate area of a tornado. This was when I was in school. One afternoon, in the wake of a strong thunderstorm, the sky grew eerily green and quiet, with woolly black clouds dangling ominously overhead, and suddenly an emergency siren sounded across campus. My dormmates and I were evacuated to the basement, where we had to sit along the hallways and "assume the position" -- knees up, head down -- until the all-clear was given. (A pizza delivery kid who'd been in the building at the time was also there with us, which provided a small bit of comic relief as we wondered what was going on outside.)

2. How important is it that we wake up to issues such as global warming?
I think it's very important; which isn't to say that people will actually do it, until it affects them personally in a dramatic way. And even then you will find people wanting to ideologize the science of it in ways that make me want to bite a chunk out of my desk.

3. The Christian message needs to include stewardship of the earths resources agree/ disagree?
I very much agree. But I think the discussion needs to become serious, and not devolve into the sort of superficial, ribbon-wearing "awareness" campaigns and minimal-commitment gestures that -- ahem -- some of us mainliners are inclined to fall into. Good stewardship is going to, in the end, hurt. It's going to make us uncomfortable, and inconvenience us, and keep us from owning all the toys we want. Are we truly willing to step up to that? And I'm asking myself this same question, as I look at my own piddling efforts to reduce my carbon footprint.

And because it is summer- on a brighter note....

4. What is your favourite season and why?

Oh, definitely autumn -- mild sweater-weather, temperatures, beautiful colors, those misty fall mornings...delightful. The best time for hikes and picnics, in my humble opinion.

5. Describe your perfect vacation weather....
See above. Or pre-summer -- like, the first couple weeks of June, when everything is still freshly green and it isn't stiflingly hot.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Poetry Bloggery

The Peace of Wild Things .

Ministerially Speaking Friday Five

Share a moment/ time of real encouragement in your journey of faith.
It happened a couple of weeks ago, when our assisting-minister team pow-wowed with our pastor at his home for a couple of hours, just talking about how we might take lay ministry to the next level in our community. Frankly, I have been so frustrated with my formal lay ministry program, so fuzzy about what the point of it all actually is and so distracted by other issues that I'd kind of put this sector of my life on a back burner -- way back. Being able to talk freely and being challenged to think ahead instead of ruminate on the present was very helpful.

Do you have a current vision / dream for your work/ family/ministry?
Well, I'll talk about ministry, since that's the general direction these questions seem to be headed. And you know, as far as ministry, I really don't have a specific vision. I mean, my pastor and I are talking about the Internet as a way to open up the walls of our church, so to speak, far beyond the boundaries of geography or even church affiliation, and that would be kind of fun to pursue. I enjoy doing what I'm doing now, as an assisting minister; would maybe like to do more of it. I did tell my pastor that what excites me is being able to do Christianity "at the margins," with people who have been alienated from Christianity by their past Christian experience. Maybe I could be...kind of an undercover pastor. A pastor without portfolio. A Friar Tuck to the religiously disaffected people whose paths cross mine. Somefin' like that.

Money is no object and so you will.....
Quit working for money and become a jack-of-all-trades church rat at my parish/professional volunteer elsewhere, doing things that interest me.

How do you see your way through the disappointments? What keeps you going?
I think that one of the big things that keeps me going is, interestingly, my experience of communal worship. I can be feeling very discouraged, ready to pack it all in, but then when I worship with others, pray with them, share the Eucharist with them -- it recharges my spiritual batteries. It may be the reminder that this isn't a solitary trip; that we're all in this thing together.

How important are your roots?
The other day I was thinking about my first experience of church: being a tiny little child, happy to be in church because it was such an interesting place, swinging my patent-leather-clad feet contentedly back and forth in the pew and -- much to the consternation of my parents -- applauding after each portion of the liturgy. An early warning sign, perhaps, of my future as a Church Lady, or unique permutation thereof. (And I know that this response really doesn't answer the question...but it's a good story. And it's true.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Trouble in Paradise

This weekend we went up to Houghton Lake (right hand -- locate spot on upper palm right under middle finger) to go to a large arts-and-crafts store there, and just to sightsee) -- in many ways the experience was similar to our trip to downtown Detroit. There were dozens and dozens of boarded-up, out-of-businesses stores; countless "For Sale" signs in residential areas. Several of the still-extant stores were holding going-out-of-business sales. Once popular, if kitschy, "up north" recreational venues -- putt-putt golf courses, miniature midways, go-cart tracks and such -- were either closed or devoid of customers.

Houghton Lake was always a popular blue-collar resort area. If you lived in southeastern Michigan and worked for the Big Three, you could afford a weekend cottage there; with any luck you could one day retire there.

I fear that those days are gone forever.

I'm really not sure that people from other states understand how badly our state is hurting. And evidently neither do our legislators, many of whom seem to spend most of their time shilling for social-morality legislation safeguarding "traditional marriage" and Ten Commandments statuary while our economy continues to swirl the drain, and our residents continue to flee. A recent poll showed that most new college graduates intend to leave Michigan.

It's a sad state of affairs.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

They Get No Respect

Maybe I'm in a perverse mood, but this online conversation just cracked me up. (And for an extra laff, read the "Bible and Science" thread in the same forum.)

If I bite my tongue any more I'll need surgery to reattach it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Friday Five Potpourri

Well, since I am presently not initiated into the world of Harry Potter -- yes, that's right; haven't even read the first book -- I will tackle the alternative (and eclectic) RevGalBlogPals Friday Five:

Former U.S. First Lady "Lady Bird" Johnson died this week. In honor of her love of the land and the environment, share your favorite flower or wildflower.
Part of me wants to say old roses -- the rambling heirloom-variety rosebushes one finds next to abandoned houses and in old cemeteries. Another part of me wants to say native Michigan orchids, because they're so endangered, and such a treat to find out in the wild: pink lady's slippers are beautiful, and rattlesnake plantains -- the name comes from the checkerboard/scale pattern on the leaves -- that I will very occasionally find in my woods.

A man flew almost 200 miles in a lawn chair, held aloft by helium balloons. Share something zany you'd like to try someday.
I occasionally harbor fantasies of chucking my job and moving up to Benzie County to work as a barista in a cafe. That's pretty zany for me.

Do you have an iPhone? If not, would you want one?
No and no. I have an iPod Nano that I am just barely able to operate, if that tells you anything about my ability to adapt to new technology.

Speaking of which, Blendtec Blenders put an iPhone in one of their super-duper blenders as part of their "Will It Blend?" series. What would YOU like to see ground up, whizzed up or otherwise pulverized in a blender?
Why am I conjuring up sentimental images of Saturday Night Live's "Bassomatic"? (My father used to make bluegill burgers -- they're actually very tasty -- using an old-fashioned meat grinder -- hmmmm....)

According to News of the Weird, a jury in Weld County, Colo., declined to hold Kathleen Ensz accountable for leaving a flier containing her dog's droppings on the doorstep of U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, apparently agreeing with Ensz that she was merely exercising free speech. What do you think? Is doggy doo-doo protected by the First Amendment?

I will let my dog, Cody, respond to this question: "Dog doo should absolutely be protected by the First Amendment...along with pee, barking and my remaining three teeth. That's all I have, dammit!"

Monday, July 09, 2007

Motown and Surrounds

Well, I'm back from my trip to the opposite end of the state. Had a great time -- especially at Comerica Park, watching the Tigers beat the Red Sox. (Curtis Granderson rocks the house -- what an outstanding ballplayer.) The next day, Saturday, Fellow Traveler and I spent a marathon day at Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn -- at the latter we sat in the back seats of the same bus where Rosa Parks made a stand, or actually a sit, for civil rights. (You may not know this, but the Henry Ford isn't connected with the Ford Motor Company -- it's run by a nonprofit corporation -- and the museum isn't just about automobiles, although obviously the auto industry and American automobile culture are predominant themes of exhibits. Oh -- and this museum complex is also home to a charter school whose students, all from Wayne County, are chosen by lottery; the classrooms are right on premises for full-immersion, hands-on learning. How cool would it be to go to high school here?
On Saturday evening we went to dinner in Greektown -- had absolutely fabulous stuffed grape leaves, hummus and lemon chicken soup. On Sunday we headed into Ann Arbor for our periodic visit to Whole Foods Market, where we provision for those hard months back up in the boonies where hell will freeze over before a Whole Foods ever opens for business.

I've been to Detroit before, as a much younger person, but this was the first time I spent any significant time right in the city. It's a bittersweet experience -- Comerica Park, for instance, is an incredible ballpark, from the tiger statuary at the entrance to the "walk of fame" inside the stadium featuring statues of famous Tigers ranging from Ty Cobb to Hank Greenburg to Al Kaline. Greektown is fun -- the kitsch factor aside (using faux Greek lettering on a store sign does not guarantee actual Greek food or merchandise inside), it's nice to see a lively, prosperous area in town. But seeing the slow, sad demise of all the wonderful architecture of old Detroit -- all the buildings familiar to my mother when she worked downtown at the old Michigan Consolidated Gas Company -- is extremely depressing. It's a shame of epic proportions. We drove past one venerable building, empty except for the ground floor, that housed a preschool -- door and windows heavily barred, like a jail. What's it like to drop your kid off there in the morning on the way to work, or to work there, or to be a child looking out of the barred windows at the ravaged downtown? Terribly, terribly sad. On the other hand -- some institutions, Detroit-tough, maintain; the beautiful old Episcopal church next to Comerica Park sported a large banner on its side advising, "This Is the Place To Pray For the Tigers and the Lions."

It was, overall, a good vacation -- recreational, educational, social, relaxing, stimulating; everything a vacation should be. And a reminder of how much I need to be out of my current job and into some endeavor that can help me feel as if I'm not looking out through barred windows at the world.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Chop Talk

I know...too much foodology and too little theology. (Blame my lay ministry program...I have no idea what in hell is going on with that; I feel like the ugly stepchild languishing in a cindery corner of that endeavor. Not that I'm bitter or anything.) But this is a great recipe:

You need two cups of Guinness Stout -- which I've conveniently had gathering dust in a corner of the pantry since St. Patrick's Day. You need two cups of water. One finely chopped onion and one or two minced garlic cloves. A quarter cup of brown sugar, a quarter cup of molasses and a quarter cup of kosher (NO substitutes) salt.

You throw some pork chops in this brine; I used boneless loin chops. You let them marinate for at least half a day. Then you charcoal-grill them. Better yet, toss some soaked applewood chips on the hot coals just before you put the chops on the grill.

The chops are incredibly tender; have a very intriguing and nuanced flavor courtesy of the marinade; and develop a golden self-glaze from same.

These chops are so good that you may not want to make them for guests; you may want to keep this recipe as a proprietary treat for your closest loved ones, on a nice summer day when you want to spend quality time on the porch.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Nowhere Land

Traveling down to Motown one day, then up north to The Leelanau the next -- two areas of Michigan with a distinct feel and attitude -- has been a rather sad and frustrating reminder to me that mid-Michigan, home of Outer Podunk, has no regional character whatsoever.

I shouldn't say that, exactly. But for some unfathomable reason, instead of embracing any kind of regional pride of place, folks around here -- including people with my own pedigree, whose babushka'd great-grandmothers from Hamburg or Odessa or Danzig hung on the rails of steamers headed for Ellis Island, staring uncomprehendingly at Lady Liberty -- have appropriated a certain sort of off-the-rack faux Southern culture as their own; country music, pickup trucks, Walmart and NASCAR, with a chaw of Skoal in your cheek for good measure.

(And I just need to add, because I must vent, that if I had to listen to my local country music station all day -- jingoistic songs and news reports that sound like they've been vetted through the GOP propaganda department and Focus on the Family [which I guess is the same thing], plus vomitrocious fundamentalist cant -- I'd either ask to be sponsored by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, or beg for someone to hold a nail gun to my temple and put me out of my misery.)

What the hell?

I mean, if you're going to borrow someone else's regional character, why not borrow it from a region that makes more sense? I make fun of my neighbor's extremely WASPy kid swaggering around in ghetto wear and listing to rap music...but at least it's a kind of paen to the south side of Nine Mile, here in our own state. Now, I find The Red Green Show so much like my own neighborhood -- especially the ubiquitous chainsaw in the background -- cottage culture here is very much like that across the border, or even over the Bridge. But the pseudo-Dixie psychic connection, I just don't get. Why?

Good Eats Up North

Well, I'm into the third day of my vacation, and I have literally traveled from one end of the state to the other: On Saturday Fellow Traveler and I drove to Detroit to pick up her son, who's visiting from New York City, and then yesterday we drove all the way up to Leelanau County to see the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

We couldn't have had a nicer driving day yesterday -- temps barely pushing 70 and the bluest of blue skies. After taking some good-natured ribbing for navigating my citified companions into a whole lot of nowhere we reached the charming, historic and artsy village of Empire right next to the dunes, and had lunch at Joe's Friendly Tavern , at the end of Front Street, the village's main drag.

Joe's Tavern is a village fixture, comfortably "up north" without being precious, and attracts everyone from locals out for Sunday dinner to the large numbers of kayakers, cyclists and other outdoorsy folks who hang out in this area, to garden-variety fudgies like ourselves. Their menu is great -- they're locally famous for their hamburgers, and have a long list of specialty burgers, and they also carry a number of menu items with interesting regional twists.

We started out our meal with a basket of paper-thin sweet potato chips and a bowl of black cherry salsa -- for you non-Michiganians out there, you need to understand that, in this cherry-growing region of the state, if cooks can add cherries or cherry products to anything, no matter how improbable, they will do so -- that were excellent; the slow-burning, sweet heat of the salsa was great with the crispy brown chips. (The bar also serves a sweet potato nachos dish that includes more of the salsa, plus bleu cheese.) FT's son ordered a barbecued buffalo brisket sandwich that was mighty tasty, while FT and I split two appetizers -- whitefish strips and "Joe wings." The whitefish -- another regional speciality, and so fresh it tasted like it had just come in off the docks down the road -- was cut into strips, breaded with flour and cornmeal and deep-fried; like fish sticks for discerning grownups. The chicken wings are coated generously with the bar's own wing sauce recipe, which -- surprise! -- includes cherries; assertively nippy without being overpoweringly hot, but with a hint of sweetness. All of which is to say...we enjoyed our meal a great deal, and were so full afterward that we eschewed all our other favorite snack-attack destinations the rest of the day...not even the Phoenix Cafe in Beulah, which makes the ginger scones that I need at least one of each year to call it a summer.

After crawling around in the dune sand a bit, we headed up to Leland, just to give The Kid a quick tour of Fishtown, and to stop in at the Good Harbor Vineyard winery, where we toured the facilities and then engaged in some wine tasting. (Fellow Traveler and I love the Fishtown white table wine, which lends itself to a lot of foods and is also pretty inexpensive.) I picked up a dry Riesling and a chardonnay -- the stores around here sell a very limited selection of Good Harbor wines, and none of the varietals, so it was interesting to see some of their other wines. In the village of Leland we ran into the local grocery store, where I was pleasantly surprised to find some of the local Leelanau Cheese Company raclette (which makes the best top-drawer grilled cheese sandwiches), and fresh hummus from a local organic-foods restaurant. (We did not, however, stop in at The Cove, a popular restaurant next to Fishtown, whose signature cocktail is a "Chubby Mary" -- a Bloody Mary sporting a hollow-eyed smoked chub from the fish smokery next door, instead of a celery stick.)

It was a fun day. Long but fun.