Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wasn't That Fun?

That's what my pastor asked me this past Sunday after I, the assisting minister, pronounced, "Go in peace; proclaim the Resurrection! Alleluia! Alleluia!"

I think I've finally hit my groove as an AM. I no longer get the heebie-jeebies beforehand, and in fact can pretty much get out of my own way and actually lead worship.

And -- yes -- it's fun.

Going Green

Despite recent cold weather, including two successive nights of hard frost...I feel my thumb greening quickly.

My major project this weekend will be to put in an herb garden in the small triangular bed next to my back steps. For many years I've planted a mixture of coleus and multicolored salvia here; but it's time for a change. I wanted to plant something both practical and needing minimal care, especially since we're a traveling household. And this space, while in the shadow of the back porch, gets a great deal of afternoon light and heat, especially since it's next to the driveway; a good place for herbs.

I want to plant tarragon and dill; lavender; chives; plain, purple and tricolor sage; savory and marjoram; basil; and a couple of different thymes. I also have a rosemary plant in a pot that I'll probably place somewhere in the vicinity. And I may decide to put the annual herbs in a hanging basket rather than in the bed.

Meanwhile, I'm contemplating the strip of soil behind this bed, along the west side of my house. My plow guy -- make that my former plow guy -- destroyed what little grass actually grew here; seeing as how wild strawberries had been colonizing this particular patch of ground, I may go ahead and plant Alpine strawberries to fill the bare patches; maybe some creeping thyme as well.

Coming up next: Potatoes. But let's not talk about those yet.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Don't Know About You...

Was I the only person in church this morning who, every time I heard the word Areopagus, thought of Snuffleupagus?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cheesy Wining Again

The world may be going to hell in a handbasket...but as long as we can score a few cheese ends from the deli and bottles of wine from the remainder shelf, it ain't all bad. Here are a few new finds we've enjoyed recently:

Simon Hackett 2005 Old Vines Grenache: This very modestly priced red wine, which FT found at the Ann Arbor Whole Foods last week while in town, is absolutely wonderful -- elegant, but berry-fruity and light, and very food friendly; we had it with burgers.

Boskydel 2002 Soleil Blanc: This dry white is from a quirky little vineyard in Lake Leelanau, Michigan. (Check out the curmudgeonly vintner at It's like biting into a crisp, tart Granny Smith apple. We drank it sans meal, but I'm thinking it would be a great accompaniment for poultry or fish.

Kingfish 2004 California Shiraz: I retrieved this $3.99 bottle from the bottom of a last-chance cart in a local supermarket. It's a rich, somewhat raisiny Shiraz that doesn't have that sweet, soda-pop cheap-wine quality at all. We had ours with a variety of cheese end-bits-and-pieces from the Whole Foods cheese case -- parmesan reggiano, manchego, Appenzeller, St. Nectaire, buttermilk blue, feta and sheep's-milk Brie; what fun. We liked the manchego/shiraz, parmesan/shiraz and Appenzeller/shiraz combinations the best. And here's a tip for a Shiraz-and-cheese-evening "dessert": Drizzle some honey over feta chunks and snack on them in between sips.

Our First CSA Bouquet

This past Valentine's Day I got Fellow Traveler shares in a CSA, over in a neighboring county, that provides a bouquet per week during the growing season. This weekend we got our first arrangement.

And therein lies a tale...

For reasons we don't quite understand, FT recently won a free stay at a large regional casino/resort -- she was going through the mail, about to throw the postcard away, when she re-read it and thought, "Hmmmmm." So we decided we'd use this opportunity for a little getaway weekend. I took a day off. Our friend L, who loves our dogs, agreed to keep them overnight.

Somewhere between the delicious small-dishes repast at our favorite restaurant ( The Brass Cafe' ), the dogless king-size bed and my hour massage, I remembered that our first CSA bouquet was on its way to my satellite office...where I wasn't. I called; our part-time receptionist told me that my coworkers, who are usually in and out all day, were both gone for the entire day as well. Darn. Then the CSA flower gardener called. As I explained my predicament, it occurred to me: FT and I were headed to the food coop on our way home, so why couldn't Flower Lady, a fellow cooper, drop off our bouquet at the coop?

FT and I spent Friday afternoon at the reservation art gallery down the road from the resort; then we headed downtown to the food coop. En route I saw a beat-up hippie van, back seat filled with branches, passing us; I joked that that was perhaps our Flower Lady. We did our shopping at the coop, then sat outside and waited...and waited...and waited (albeit not impatiently; people-watching in a university town is always interesting). Suddenly a van came around the corner...the beat-up hippie van. It parked in front of the coop. An Indian-gauze-dress woman and numerous children spilled out of the vehicle. One of the kids was carrying a bouquet.

One of the kiddos was actually the designer of record of our bouquet. I think she did a splendid job. We are looking forward to similar creations all season long.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gertie: One Week Post-Op

After one uterus-free week, our Gertie has:

Jumped up and down the beds and furniture -- oh, thousands of times. We stopped trying to prevent her from doing this around Time Number 542.

Marinated herself in the mucky springtime lake shoreline not once but twice -- despite our best efforts to keep her on a leash or on a tether whenever she's outside. She has a Gumby-like flexibility that allows her to snake outside the smallest of door openings despite our best efforts to block her exit until we get her hooked up to her leash.

Rolled in deer doody at least once.

Despite all of this, her incision is clean and non-swollen; scarcely noticeable.

They say that God watches over idiots and children. Evidently this special dispensation also extends to idiot-children dogs.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bread(cast) For the World

Looking up some information about the current world food crisis, who should I find on the Bread For the World website but affable "travel partner" and fellow Lootern Rick Steves. Listen to what he has to say about faith and justice issues on Bread For the World's "Breadcast" podcast.

Mean-Spirited Church Rant

I know I probably shouldn't be blogging this, at least on a Sunday, at least on a sunny Sunday afternoon when the woodland birds are chirping sweetly through my screen door...but I just have to rant here, folks
Rant #1: This one's been building up for a long time. It concerns the front lawn of a church I pass by every day on my way to work -- a church that shall remain nameless, but one of the larger churches in Outer Podunk. (I'd love to post a photo of what I'm about to describe, so you can get the full aesthetic effect, but it's probably not a good idea for me to be leaning out of my car snapping photos during rush hour.) Directly in front of the church, facing the highway, is a large wrought-iron archway, flanked on one side by the American flag and on the other by the so-called "Christian" flag. The archway reads: "GATEWAY TO CHRIST." On the other side of the arch are two church bells, which I assume are mementos from two congregations that merged to form this one -- faintly reminiscent of two Liberty Bells -- surrounded by evergreen shrubs.

What does this mean? I'm serious. What in the hell does any of this mean? Symbolically speaking, it's a theological trainwreck. I can only hope that it really doesn't mean anything other than some unfortunate member bequest to the church. As in, "Dear God in heaven, please don't let Mrs. Sunderquist donate her tatted Precious Moments tapestries to the church sanctuary."

Rant #2: Good news: We hear from Mama Wolf of the Children Raised By Wolves, who'd been evicted, and moved to a trailer park in the next county. More good news, or so we think: The children are going to church now. "What church is that?" asks Fellow Traveler. "I dunno," quoth Mama. "Somebody came around with a bus and asked if they could take the kids to church. And I said yes, because I could use a few hours to myself." Fellow Traveler: "How could you just send your kids onto some strange church bus when you don't even know what kind of church it is?" Mama: "I dunno. They, like, brought the kids back." (True quote.)

Fast-forward a week. Fellow Traveler gets another call from Mama Wolf. First Mama, unsurprisingly, asks for money; could we lend her some cash, if she gave us some of her food stamps to "hold" until the first of the month? Or could she borrow our Paypal account information so that her husband can buy some model cars (not for the kids -- for himself) off the Internet? After receiving a resounding NO on both counts, as well as a warning that FT lives with a mandated reporter, Mama asks us if we'll go to church with the oldest son -- because the church he attends (whatever church that is -- the one with the bus that brings him back) has the kids in a contest to see how many other people they can bring to church with them. Other children are worth two points; adults are worth five points. The kid who earns the most points wins a paintball gun. Mama Wolf and her husband will not go with the son, because "We don't believe in religion."

The entire issue of Mama and Papa Wolf aside...what the hell -- what the ******* hell -- kind of church would involve kids in this kind of contest, with this kind of reward?

Probably the kind that doesn't want Fellow Traveler and me adulterating its "family values" with our presence.

I feel better now. My molar enamel has worn off a little, but I feel better.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon...

...which is why our beloved Gertie went under the knife yesterday at the veterinary hospital.

The spaying went very smoothly, and the staff kept commenting on what a sweet, good-natured dog Gertie is; they couldn't believe she'd been a rescue pup. They were also chuckling over the helicopter mamas' concerns about Gertie being alone in the dark -- Gert has a phobia about this -- and our care package of a favorite quilt (with Gertie's full Christian name in Sharpie on the border) and her favorite squeaky toy.

Cassie was down in the dumps all day yesterday after FT took Gert to the vet's; this morning around 4:00-ish Cassie woke me up to go out, but instead of taking her morning constitutional in the woods she lay on the back steps and whined. A pensive Mollie the cat retreated to her hideaway in the "alligator room."

This morning while I was on my way to work FT went to fetch Gertie. Cassie was delighted, in her own supercool-Snoopy way, to see her dog-sister again. When the trio got home Mollie emerged from her lair at The Cottage and -- to FT's surprise -- made much over her puppy friend, with numerous kitty kisses and wubbins. (This is the cat who is usually either fleeing Gertie's goofy advances at full speed or smacking her canine antagonist in the face with a disciplinary paw, sending Gertie back on her fanny.)

The doc says no jumping or horsing around on Gertie's part for the next five days, the prevention of which is going to be a major feat. The rest of us should be so chipper after a GYN procedure.

Photo: Gertie pre-op, with friends Slipper, Ball, Tweety 1 and 2, Ducky Bubba and Stinky Squirrel.

A (Different) Day in the Life Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five:

If you could dramatically change your physical appearance for 24 hours, what would you do?
Lose about 50 pounds and improve my posture from its usual bent-over bookworm form.

If you could live in another place for 24 hours where would you go?
Even though 24 hours isn't nearly enough...Empire, Michigan, in lovely Leelanau County.

You get to do somebody else's job for a day...
I'd like to be one of those professional gardeners who plant flower beds, flower boxes and such for commercial clients. Or -- I'd like to be a naturalist taking groups of enthused but clueless people on hikes in a natural area and opening their eyes to all the wonderful plants and animals there.

Spend the day with another person from anywhere in time and space...
This is a hard question to answer. I'd maybe pick my maternal grandmother and her sisters back in the 'teens, when they were living together and working as domestics in the Detroit area. They'd been more or less thrown out of their home and left to fend for themselves at very young ages by a stereotypical Evil Stepmother, but managed to live as independent young women for a few years. From old photos I've seen of them, they were a fun bunch.

BONUS ANSWER UPDATE! Since checking in this morning, I got to thinking about it, and -- how could I have forgotten this, after watching several marathon days of The Deadliest Catch? -- I'd like to hang out with Cap'n Sig of the Northwestern for a day. He's one cool customer. But I'd tell him he really needs to quit smoking.

A magical power is yours. Which one would you pick?
A great cocktail-party question. I have to pick invisibility. At the risk of sounding a little megalomaniacal, it might be fun, as a superhero, to be an invisible investigator/ righter of wrongs. And as a bonus, think of all the free event admissions and free flights!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Feels Like Home To Me

I find it rather ironic that Barack Obama is getting his fanny handed to him on a plate by his critics and by the press for suggesting that blue-collar Americans in economically depressed areas like rural Pennsylvania are bitter about their lot and turn to things like religion or gun-totin' xenophobia as a refuge from their troubles.

What he describes looks and sounds a lot like Outer Podunk and surrounds. Perhaps the people offended by what Obama said need to take a "listening tour" of the neighborhood around my church, which is also home to a virulent white supremacist organization that, I'm told, not so long ago used to throw barricades across local roads and dare various unwanted varieties of people to cross them and get killed.

Anxiety and hopelessness make people think and do crazy things, particularly when they already have the deck stacked against them in terms of education, skills and local job opportunities. This isn't exactly news, folks...and it doesn't matter who says it.

Easy and Fast Eats

At Cold Comfort Cottage we are slowly eating our way through the remains of our Sunday dinner. This is about the easiest recipe ever, and tastes great, and makes a lot...what's not to like?

Cranberry Turkey Breast
1 turkey breast (7-8 pounds)
2 cans whole-berry cranberry sauce
2 packages dry onion soup (or onion-mushroom soup) mix
water as needed

The evening before your meal: Place the turkey breast in a crockpot. Pour cranberry sauce over the turkey. Sprinkle soup mix over the cranberry sauce. Maybe add a cup or two of water to the bottom of the crock. Set crockpot on High until you have some warmth and a little bubbling action going, then turn the crockpot down to Low and let the turkey cook about 10 hours, or until the meat is thoroughly cooked.

We ate this with buttermilk mashed potatoes. Yum. And yesterday FT made turkey enchiladas with some of the leftover turkey. Double yum.

If this recipe looks familiar, by the way, it's because we've also used it with pork and beef roast -- just dial back the ingredients to one can of cranberry sauce and one packet of soup mix. It's all good.

A Driveway Moment

Heard on "Morning Edition" on my way to work:

"A crisis is a terrible thing to waste."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Five: Movin' On Edition

This week's Friday Five is about making a move -- literally.

1.How many times have you moved? When was the last time?
My parents were farmers, living on the old family farmstead, so I never moved as a child -- going away to school was my first experiencing of packing up and going somewhere else to live. Since then, and including my university days, I think I've moved...lessee...about a dozen times.

Although, come to think of it...we manage our dual-home household by alternating houses every couple-three weeks; we pack up some clothes and amusements and the four-leggeds, and take the caravan to the other homestead. Our friends think we're gonzo insane, but it works for us; more so than those hurried let's-go-to-the-cottage weekends where we've barely gotten unpacked and it's time to go home again. Really, the worst part of it, other than paying double utilities costs for a single household, is occasionally forgetting perishable foods in one fridge, then discovering them mutating in the crisper two weeks later. But since we flit back and forth between our houses (which are only about 10 miles away) even as we're bivouaced in one, that doesn't happen very least, not after we got the hang of alternating homes.

2. What do you love and hate about moving?
Well, there's always a sense of new beginnings; of novelty; of learning to live in a new space. What I hate about moving is packing and unpacking, and almost always losing something in the process.

3. Do you do it yourself or hire movers?
Up to this point in my life I've always done my own moving (give or take a few helpers working for beer).

4. Advice for surviving and thriving during a move?
Unpack as soon as possible. Do not live out of boxes, or it will drive you crazy. If you're moving to a new community, take a drive around very early Saturday or Sunday, when there's no traffic, and orient yourself to the place.

5. Are you in the middle of any inner moves, if not outer ones?
I am trying to move -- trying, trying, trying -- to a more self-care-conscious place, mentally and spiritually, instead of letting myself become distracted from these tasks. It's very, very hard for me.

Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what moving means to you.
While I tend to be a homebody, I also tend to have a flexible attitude toward what "home" means; I don't get too terribly sentimentally attached to any one place. My old friend G sang a Tom Paxton song to his beloved at their wedding called "Home is Anywhere You Are" -- I can't remember all the words, but that's pretty much my attitude about moving; as long as it's with my partner, anywhere is "home" to me.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Men Keeping Silent in Church

At our church we're never short of laypeople willing to participate in worship leadership as lectors.

That's the good news.

The bad news: They're mostly women. I think we have maybe two fellas who feel comfortable reading the lessons before the congregation.

As we are wont to say around here: What does this mean?

If you're one of those fundie complementarian types with whom I frequently joust on Beliefnet, they'll tell you that this all has to do with women usurping the male leadership role -- take away gender exclusivity when it comes to assisting in worship, and the men are going to get sore about it and refuse to participate: If I can't be team captain, I'm taking my ball and going home.

My observation tells me something entirely different. This isn't about gender; it's about class.

The two guys who brave the lectern at my church both happen to be college-educated white-collar professionals. Most of the men in my congregation, by contrast, are blue-collar workers with a high school education at best. These men are able to move mountains (or at least the hill next to our church, to build our new sanctuary); if you have a hands-on project to get done, they're your go-to people. But I suspect that they would literally rather take a gut-check from a professional heavyweight than read aloud in front of a group. I suspect that in their households it's the womenfolk who take care of the family paperwork and phone calls and other wordy tasks.

Our church women tend to have either office jobs or jobs that keep them in contact with the public. They're used to presenting information. Lectoring isn't as much of a challenge for them.

Am I totally off here? How does it work at your place? And in more general terms: How do education and social class affect how things go in your church?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

LC Attempts Bible Study

In the spirit of the ELCA's new five-year program to promote serious Bible study among the laity, my pastor and I have been casually discussing my leading a church Bible study in the future. My suggestion was to tackle the Gospels sometime during the season of Pentecost, using the excellent, lay-friendly Fortress Introduction to the Gospels as a resource.

I'm trying to think of a punchy course name for such an endeavor. How about "The Gospels: A Bible Study For the Timid, Terrified and Totally Confused"?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Yes, God Is Real

I found this Michelle Shocked video while goofing around on YouTube looking for music for our church blog -- wowsers:

Friday, April 04, 2008

Simul Iustus Et Peccator

Our maintenance man had a good laugh at my expense yesterday.

On the desk: my copy of Eating Well magazine.

Upon my copy of Eating Well magazine: my half-eaten Three Musketeers bar.

A Revelatory Friday Five

In the spirit of this Sunday's Gospel lesson, where the disciples on the road to Emmeaus encounter a friendly and wise stranger who, it turns out, is the resurrected Christ -- this week's Friday Five asks us to list how God has made Godsself known to us though the following:

1.Book: For some reason, one of the books that, over the years, has given me a profound "Aha!" moment was Lewis Thomas' Lives of a Cell...which underscored the awe and gratitude with which we should ponder our own enfleshed existence, "fearfully and wonderfully made."

2.Film: Where to start? unlikely conveyance of God's grace is one of my favorite comedies, Cold Comfort Farm, where a London society girl suddenly down on her luck winds up living with her highly eccentric rural relatives and their equally eccentric neighbors...and proceeds to change their lives by her cheerfully reforming presence. It's a bit like the Joseph story, to me; how we can find ourselves agents of God's redemptive work.

3. Song: This morning I was listening to the Jane Siberry song "The Valley," and it reminded me of the 23rd Psalm only from the sheepherder's point of view: Who shepherds the shepherd?

4. Another person: I've told this story before here, but...someone asked: I was racing through the supermarket one evening after work, trying to find some forgotten grocery, when I turned down a new aisle to find a dirty, disheveled street person (who also dwell here in rural America)muttering to herself as she examined a shelf of goods. My gut, curvatus in se reaction: Turn around. Now. Go. Do not make eye contact. But then the woman turned
to me and smiled. "I have a message from the Holy Spirit for you!" she beamed. Would you like to hear it?" What do I do?
"Okay," I responded weakly. At which point she clapped a grimy hand to my forehead, there in the store, and slowly rocked on her heels. Please, dear God, do NOT let anyone else come down this aisle.
"God says he loves you very much," she finally said. And then she removed her hand from my head and shuffled away.
I still think about that encounter.

5. Creation: I was just telling FT this story the other day, as we were going through a chapter of Kelly Fryer's Dancing Down the Hallway: I spent a week one summer, many years ago, at a women's retreat center outside the village of Leroy, Michigan. It's way out in the toolie-weeds, back in the woods. Anyway, I had chosen to stay in a little hermit-y hut called a poustinia, on a hill surrounded by trees. My first morning there I got up very early, while it was still cool and misty, and wandered through the woods. As I was enjoying myself in a little clearing amid the coolness and earthy aroma of damp forest earth, a large object suddenly shot past me, level with my head, so close that I could feel and hear the "whoosh": it was a hawk, a sleek accipiter type that's able to dart in and out of the trees in woodland habitats. My heart nearly stopped from initial shock, but afterward I was amazed to have gotten this close to a bird of prey. Then, as I was still processing the wonder of this encounter, I looked ahead of me and saw the largest tree I've ever seen. It was a maple tree with a trunk so huge that it would have been a struggle to get my arms around half of it, had I dared to do so; because it was one of those natural scenes that inspires real awe; it sent sparks up my spine to see this gigantic old tree so wide and so tall. How many years had it grown here? This was at a point in my life when I was losing faith, not gaining it; but at that moment it was truly a numinous encounter.

Bonus answer: your choice- share something encouraging/ amazing/ humbling that has happened to you recently!
Nothing terribly dramatic; but this week, while stopping at Cold Comfort Cottage during my lunch break I found myself listening to the birds, smelling the wet woods, feeling a hint of extra sun on my skin, noting the subtle recoloring of the tree branches promising greenness and growth; and after a long, difficult winter, it was a real blessing to spend some time in that moment.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Got That Right

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

I've had quite an adventurous past 24 hours.

I was at a committee meeting at church (which is to say, a joint meeting of all our committees) last night -- a dark and stormy night, as they say, pouring down rain. When I left, a little early, down the very wet and newish unpaved driveway leading to our new parking lot, I got stuck in the mud. I mean, stuck. And an Intrepid is a low-riding car anyway, so...did I tell you I got stuck?

This bit of driveway drama provided a good excuse to end the meeting formally, and soon a collection of guys, including my pastor, was standing behind my car, observing and shouting helpful directions, trying some pushing, and engaging in intimate Guys-Solving-A-Problem consultation. (I always used to feel somewhat inadequate, as a self-conscious as well as mechanically untrained person, in situations like this, until I experienced enough gaggles of Guys Solving A Problem to realize...they don't know what the hell they're doing either.)

Their joint conclusion: I was stuck. Too stuck to get out without professional help.

My pastor drove me home. Which was a good thing, because at that point I needed some pastoral care, even if it was just a kind of stream-of-consciousness patter ranging from every topic from the evening's meeting to church politics to the white supremacist paranoic nut clusters who live in our parish neighborhood and regularly harrass the padre.

This morning I borrowed FT's Jeep to get to work. Upon turning the key, the windshield wipers came on, there in the garage...and the blade of one somehow hooked onto the blade of the other, ripping it off the arm. What the hell? I exclaimed, aloud. Shit! [Other body-function word]! Omigod! Omigod! I quickly turned the wipers off, but not before the empty arm on the one side passed over the glass. Shit! [Other body-function word]!

Meanwhile this morning, after new but equally unsuccessful attempts to push/pull my vehicle out of the mud, the fellows down at the church called in the tow guy to help. He finally got it unstuck, and my pastor and our friend Turkey drove back to the Big House to drop it off. Then FT, who is having big-time asthma issues and was advised to stay in the house, drove it to my work parking lot...only to find that I'd walked downtown to lunch. I just happened to see her sitting there in my car as I returned.

At this moment I am trying hard to avoid touching any mechanical appliance, and also compiling a mental list of my good qualities, partly to remind myself that I have some, and partly in case I need it at the ready when I get home tonight.

The one extenuating circumstance in all this: Tomorrow we are having a big funeral at our church. As FT pointed out last night, better to have me get stuck in this particular part of our lot than some mourner -- or, worse yet, the hearse -- on the day of the funeral.

As someone once noted, everybody has a job in this life, even if it's to serve as a bad example.