Sunday, November 30, 2008

Random Impressions of a Hick in the City

Ah...home again, home again.

The house is redolent with the aromas of pot roast and warm bread. We are curled up in the living room in our comfy clothes, our pets at our feet. (Well, actually Molly is on her favorite perch atop the satellite box, while the dogs are out frolicking in pre-blizzard snow.)

There's no place like home.

There's also no place like New York City, for a visit. Here are some random thoughts gleaned from the past week.

Smells like NYC: I had been forewarned that the city had an odor all its own. And it does -- burning rubber and bus exhaust, with occasional whiffs of sewer gas. But it wasn't nearly as objectionable as I had been led to believe. Although it was with some relief that, emerging from the plane in Chicago for a layover on the way home, the smell had finally left my nostrils.

Let's get small: I don't think that we in rural America truly appreciate the spaciousness of our homes and yards and landscapes. In the city, I felt constantly hemmed in -- by other people's bodies; by our tiny hotel room; by tall buildings. Semi-Daughter-in-Law, a successful professional, lives in a studio apartment not much larger than a dorm suite. I'd been attributing the relative slenderness of New Yorkers to vanity and the forced exercise of walking everywhere, but I think lack of space is a real incentive to slimness.

Rude New Yorkers: I have to say that the vast majority of people we encountered defied the stereotype. Most of the sane people, and even most of the crazy ones, were friendly and polite, and even took the initiative to be helpful. The worst behaviors we encountered involved mothers who used their baby strollers as offensive weaponry, especially at the Macy's balloon-blowup extravanza next to Central Park Wednesday evening.

Crazy New Yorkers: I'm sure that the greater city is teeming with bag people, but they seemed to be few and far between in our travels; just a couple of truly sad looking babushkaed old ladies. One exception was a large woman aggressively panhandling outside the Staten Island Ferry building Friday evening. She was just studied enough, and just scary enough, to put the normally empathetic threesome of Fellow Traveler, Son #2 and myself into don't-make-eye-contact mode as we hurried past. She yelled after us. "Hey! Whattsamatta wid youse? I bet youse had a Thanksgiving turkey! Nonna youse look like you missed a meal lately, motherfuckers!" When I looked back she was engaging with a couple of Asian tourists who were handing her money; their expressions were less of pity than of an audience taking in an interesting sidewalk performance piece. Son #2 related how he used to save half his restaurant lunch once a week to share with a man who begged on the sidewalk outside the establishment. One day while Son #2 was handing over his takeout box, filled with most of a roasted chicken and sides, the street person erupted, "When the hell you gonna bring me some decent silverware and napkins?"

More amusing was Fellow Traveler's encounter with a stranger as we were stopped at a bank ATM in the financial district, on our way to the new American Museum of Sports -- we're not sure if this woman was crazy or just deeply moved. "Can you believe how the teachers' union screwed us over?" she asked FT as we emerged from the bank lobby. "I saw you at the meeting. You heard 'em too." Not missing a beat, FT responded, "I know. It's just terrible. But whatcha gonna do." The woman, encouraged, continued. "I'm gonna take my pension money all out and roll it over." "That's right," said FT. "You may as well hide it under the mattress." "Yeah. That's what I'm gonna do. I can't believe how the union sold us out." This conversation continued for a full minute, and even when we finally broke away the unhappy teacher was still cursing the sellout union bargaining team to anyone within earshot.

Taxi drivers: Our taxi and car service drivers were the best. Our favorite was a cabbie from Senegal; after we got into the taxi Fellow Traveler quipped that we were tourists hoping to get into the Cash Cab, to which the driver grinned and said, "I can play Cash Cab! I ask you a question, then you ask me a question!" So we did this for several miles. Whenever one of us got a correct answer we flashed the taxi light.

Crime: We did not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear of crime. And we're pretty street savvy -- especially Fellow Traveler, who in addition to her military experience has also worked in some of the more badass neighborhoods of Detroit. I'm not going to say that riding the subway home from Brooklyn at 11:30 on a Friday night with a gaggle of gang members sporting their colors wasn't a somewhat, um, anxiety-provoking experience, even with the buffer of other passengers. But during the week I was actually more worried about Islamic terrorists. I felt vulnerable in places like Grand Central Station -- even with all the heightened holiday security present. My crude but nonetheless effective mantra in all the crowded public areas of the city: Don't be afraid and let the bastards win.

Losin' my religion: It would be very easy to become irreligious in New York City. Oh, there are oases of spirituality -- I actually found St. Malachy's, across from our hotel, to be a welcome haven of quiet piety in the middle of Times Square noise and bling, and I was also amazed at how quiet and peaceful Central Park could be just a block away from the street -- but I had a very Lutherish experience at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which looked and felt like a gaudy circus of irreverant tourists, omnipresent institutional entreaties for money and a general lack of Christocentric focus. The terrorist seige in Mumbai, and the transit terror threat this week, have made me rather ill-disposed toward religious zealots of any kind, even the relatively benign group we saw in Grand Central Station urging passers-by to repent or else. Just shut up and leave us the **** alone, you freaks, I thought grumpily, mentally conflating their cautionary placards with TV footage of wild-eyed Islamist militants and screaming mullahs, and politically ambitious LDS homophobes and our own Bible-banging Outer Podunkian sidewalk irritants, and cross-waving backwoods white supremacists. On the other hand, I was witness to many random acts of kindness on the streets of New York that, as far as the eye could tell, had nothing to do with religion at all, except maybe per the prophets' generous and non-sectarian definition. Some days Buddhism looks awfully attractive.

My surprising favorite semi-fancy eatin' place: Fraunces Tavern, somewhat kitty-corner from Battery Park. I just loved this place. So did George Washington, evidently -- it's where he took his posse for drinks after his inaugural address. It has character. It's not that expensive. And it's fun; like Cheers with a more impressive pedigree. We also enjoyed ourselves muchly at Ruby Foo's, right down the street from our hotel, where we enjoyed our one fancy-dress-up meal with Son #2 and Semi-Daughter-in-Law; we had an absolutely delicious meal there, and also amused ourselves people-watching. Ditto our mornings at the Food Emporium, on the corner of our block; imagine a mini Whole Foods crossed with a specialty grocery crossed with a cafeteria. Every morning we'd get our bagels with schmeer, and fruit and coffee, situate ourselves at the streetside bar and just watch the pedestrians. This is much more interesting and entertaining than the current television season.

Law enforcement:I can now say that I was scolded by a New York City police officer -- not once, but twice; both on Wednesday night as our party struggled to maneuver through the madness surrounding the Macy's parade preparations and find Son #1 and his partner, who were working there. The first time I was simply trying to keep within sight of Fellow Traveler as we both straggled behind our younger and more agile extended family members, getting jostled by aggressive parents and rammed by strollers. "Slow down!" commanded an irritated officer. Later, when we found our way to Son #1 and Semi-Son-in-Law blocked, we tried to walk against the foot traffic and take a shortcut through a corner of Central Park. I somehow found myself at the front of the pack, where I was confronted by a young officer straight from Central Casting. "Yer goin' the wrong way," he informed me. At this point Semi-Daughter-in-Law -- a Brooklynite transplanted from Fellow Traveler's old stomping grounds in Ypsi/Ann Arbor, a young woman of elfin size and appearance -- stepped up beside me and began back-sassing the cop in true New Yorker fashion: "Well, the other officer over there told us we couldn't cross that street." "Well, you can't cross this street either." "Those people are walking up the sidewalk from somewhere. If they can't be on that street, then where did they come from?" "But you can't walk there." "Look -- there's people in the park. How'd they get in the park if you can't go across the street? Let us cross the street and go into the park." After several minutes of tough in-your-face negotiations, the worn-down officer, rolling his eyes heavenward and muttering, "Why do you people make my job more difficult?" shrugged and said, "Okay. You people can cross the street. Just don't move my barricade." We never did make it to our kids' workplace. Although I can now say I've walked through (a very tiny corner of) Central Park at night and survived. Fellow Traveler's very understated comment of the evening: "This has stopped being fun."

Coolest places: I enjoyed our museum trips. I loved the New York Historical Museum, which I think is somewhat undervisited and underappreciated. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was fantastic, even though the crowds were unbelievable, and even though we only had time to sample about a half-dozen exhibits. I'm not the biggest sports aficionado in the world, but I have to say that the new Sports Museum of America is very well done, and the exhibits and interactive features hold the interest of even a fairly sports-indifferent person like me. I especially appreciated the matter-of-fact gender equity of the exhibits, and the aesthetics of each room. I also enjoyed our trip to the United Nations, even though the idealism, like the building aesthetic and artwork, seems sadly dated; stuck in the 1960's. I found myself being guided through the tour, hearing all the rhetoric about international cooperation and aid, thinking, "I want to believe," but not really believing; I felt like an atheist sitting in church at Easter.

And -- count me among the easily amused -- I very much enjoyed the subway mosaics in the cleaner, more tourist-friendly subway stations.

Most overrated places I visited: I hate to say this, but -- after my first evening wandering around Broadway, I was pretty much over the showbiz and retail bling-bling. Shopping failed to impress -- other than the street vendors' cheap pashmina scarves I had no interest in any other wares the city had to offer. I also hate to say it, but I was less than impressed by Son #1 and Semi-Son-in-Law's favorite local eatery, a little hole-in-the-wall at the edge of the Village called Say Cheese that specializes in...toasted cheese sandwiches. I mean -- it's toasted cheese. We have toasted cheese sandwiches in Outer Podunk. I was far more intrigued by the tiny Indonesian satay place next door. Fellow Traveler's and my goal to eat boldly was pretty much thwarted both by our frenetic schedule and by our chaparones' preferences.

Where I'd go on my next New York vacation: We think we'd like to do more exploring in the Village -- we simply didn't have time last week. I might like to go to Ellis Island, if only as a small homage to my forebears. I'd like to visit more of old New York, whether the remnants of its colonial past or the vintage restaurants like Morton's in Times Square. We want to go to the Museum of Natural History, another destination that we simply didn't have time to visit. We'd like to go to a show someday when the plays and musicals are interesting and innovative again. (Ironically, even though we were literally surrounded by theaters, nothing playing there registered at all on our entertainment meters; the revivals were all "Been there done that"; ditto the Hollywood-to-Broadway stuff -- I mean, they're doing a Shrek musical, for God's sake.)

Well, that's what we did, what we didn't do and what we might one day do on our New York vacation. It was fun. But we're glad we're home. And reality truly sets in tomorrow.

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

We're still trying to compile our collective photos. Meanwhile, this is just a sampling of my off-the-cuff cellphone pix:
"They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway..."
The Mayfair Hotel, our home away from home

Central Park
Constitution Hall (I don't know who the guy is next to the Washington statue -- hey, dude, you're on the Internet now!)
Christmas tree atop the Radio City Music Hall marquee
The naturalistic tree-trunk chandelier in the Grand Central Station market
Organ in St. Patrick's Cathedral
Kermit the Frog, Thanksgiving Day eve
The Lady in the Harbor, taken in Battery Park at dusk
"It's Christmastime in the city..."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Off to the Fiesta

After a day of serious tourism that began with the United Nations and through Rockafeller Plaza and ended with the Macy's balloon blowup extravaganza next to Central Park -- and our walking what seemed like miles in between subway rides -- we went to bed early (like, 7:00 p.m. -- I don't think the kids really understand how middle-aged we are), we are off to breakfast and then our Thanksgiving Mexicana in Brooklyn.

I don't have a lot to talk about...just scores of moving images in my head. Maybe later.

Time for coffee.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Greetings From the Big Apple

This was our evening last night -- just wandering around the general neighborhood of our hotel and taking in the sights and sounds (and occasionally smells) of New York City.

We are esconced at the vintage Mayfair Hotel, in the theater district. I've been describing it as an urban version of Fawlty Towers -- charmingly eccentric, with a friendly staff that truly seems to like one another and to enjoy working here. The rooms are tiny, about the size of a dorm single for a double occupancy, but are clean and tidy, with cheery toile furnishings. It's not the sort of hotel for people looking for Holiday Inn conformity. It's quirky. Like us. We like it.

We are right across the street from St. Malachy's, the "Actors' Chapel" beloved of numerous celebrities over the years, and kitty-corner from The Food Emporium, a kind of mid-town Whole Foodsy place where we just had breakfast. We are about a block down the street from Ruby Foo's, a funky Asian restaurant where we had a meet-up with Son #2 and Semi-Daughter-in-Law last night. The food was outstanding, and not at all expensive. One of the things we're finding interesting is that, while transportation and lodging costs are certainly higher here, the price of a decent meal out really isn't, if you know where to go.

Today we are meeting up with Son #2 on this drizzly day for lunch and some museum hopping. The Kids are falling over one another trying to squire us around, even though we are fine just poking around ourselves, so we've pretty much let them develop our itinerary. ("I like to think it's a damned fine itinerary," notes Semi-Daughter-in-Law.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why We Need To Get Out of Outer Podunk

Fellow Traveler visited the local UPS store yesterday to mail our homemade salsa and our household stash of Dona Maria mole' to Semi-Daughter-in-Law in Brooklyn for our Thanksgiving Day feast.

The store owner picked up a jar of mole' and examined it critically. "What's this 'mole' stuff?" she asked, with some disapproval. "Why would you want to eat that? Is it, like, gravy for rats? Because when I think 'mole' I think rats and mice."

FT attempted humor: "Well, we are sending it to New York -- lots of rats there."

UPS Woman didn't get it.

So FT patiently explained what mole' was.

"Well, why would you be sending that?"

FT patiently explained our Thanksgiving dinner plans.

"Why don't you just have turkey for Thanksgiving, like Sarah Palin? Wasn't that a cute video of her pardoning the turkey? You know, people just don't give Sarah a chance." (Actual quote.)

FT, after squelching the urge to vomit all over the counter, patiently explained that, first of all, everyone in our extended family likes Mexican food, and that, secondly, when feeding a bunch of people in a borrowed galley kitchen without several days' preparation, Mexican food is a lot easier to cook and assemble.

"Well, we had a Mexican at our house once, and he ate American food." (Actual quote.)

The woman went on to express her general distaste for Mexican food. "It's all the same. That's why that Mexican restaurant down the street went out of business. No one here likes Mexican food."

FT patiently explained that Mexican cuisine is actually very regionally diverse; and that the restaurant down the street closed, not because the food was Mexican but because the food was bad, and overpriced.

Did I mention that FT was here simply to mail a package?

UPS Woman redirected her attention to our homemade salsa. "What's that?"

"It's homemade salsa."

"Well, it doesn't look like [local supermarket chain's] salsa." (Actual quote.)

This went on for several more minutes, before FT's inquisitor finally finished packaging and processing our package.

This is the kind of interrogation I go through every day that I bring my own lunch to work ("Oooh...what's that?" "Um -- curry." "Eeeeuw...I don't think I'd like that...") It's why we need to get out of Outer Podunk -- this week definitely, but eventually forever. It's not just the ignorance, but the wilful, arrogant embrace of ignorant, small-minded hickdom around here, that drives us both fruitbat crazy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

We're having quite the early cold snap here in mid-Michigan...snow squalls, sharp winds, icy roads.

Here's a possible reason: Hell has frozen over.

To wit: Bob Jones University Apologizes For Racism.

"Mix and Stir" Friday Five

It sounds like at least one RevGal/Pal is headed for the kitchen this coming week of Thanksgiving. So we are appliances.

1) Do you have a food processor? Can you recommend it? Which is to say, do you actually use it?
I do have a food processor. It is at least 10 years old. I think it's a Hamilton Beach -- not the cheapest but not the fanciest by far. As to whether I actually use it...probably once a year. Although one year I got a bee in my bonnet about grinding my own ground round and pulled it out of its cupboard lair a few times for that purpose. My big issue with this thing is the lid, which requires a graduate engineering degree to get on and off. By the time I've figured out either action, I could have chopped my food by hand.

2) And if so, do you use the fancy things on it? (Mine came with a mini-blender (used a lot and long ago broken) and these scary disks you used to julienne things (used once).)
I do have a disk capable of slicing or julienning. It's lethal -- not only the specialty blades, but the sharp edges of the disk. I've drawn blood numerous times, which is another reason my food processor tends to stay in a dark recess of the cupboard, gathering dust.

3) Do you use a standing mixer? Or one of the hand-held varieties?
I have a mondo cheapo plastic handheld which I very rarely use. My mother, by contrast, had a wonderful, sturdy stainless steel standing mixer that she got for her wedding, which was a good and faithful kitchen servant for about 40 years before the engine finally went kaput. I used to be the family (box)cake maker, so I got out that mixer at least once a week for that task during my 'tween and teen years; on special occasions I also made my mother's very delicious cooked icing, which started out as kind of a roux in a saucepan, then wound up getting whipped into fluffy, caloric goodness. (Where is that recipe, come to think of it?) I am also old enough to remember Whip-n-Chill and Jello 1-2-3 dessert -- it magically made three layers right in the serving dishes -- and used to get a kick making that.

4) How about a blender? Do you have one? Use it much?
We just bought a blender. We've not done much with it; used it for smoothies a couple of times.

5) Finally, what old-fashioned, non-electric kitchen tool do you enjoy using the most?'s got to be my vintage potato masher. No, I don't whip potatoes with a mixer; please.

Bonus: Is there a kitchen appliance or utensil you ONLY use at Thanksgiving or some other holiday? If so, what is it?

Another legacy kitchen utensil of mine is a 50's-era nut chopper with a spring-loaded top and heavy glass bottom. It works like a charm, and I wouldn't trade it for anything, especially making nut-intensive cookies like Russian tea cakes. That device pretty much only comes out for the Christmas baking season.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Eye of Sauron

I think it's a warning sign that you're ready for a new job when you walk into work every day feeling as if the Eye of Sauron is ready to fall on you; when you want to get really, really small so that you escape its notice.

Crashing and Burning

Here in Michigan, on TV, it's all about the proposed Big Three bailout, or lack thereof. The story dominates the local television affiliates; car dealers have stepped up ads urging viewers to "Buy American" and "Stop Sending Jobs to China." Here in the northwoods, where well-heeled union retirees have helped support the local economy for years, and where a good portion of the businesses that populate modest small-town industrial parks are suppliers to the auto industry, the news is especially grim.

So it's hard for me to say this. But I want to say it.

It's about time. It's about time that this bloated, unsustainable, increasingly obsolete and arrogant system crashes and burns.

Don't get me wrong. The auto industry has been good to my extended family. My uncles -- farm boys with a minimal education and few career prospects -- enjoyed an incredible standard of living thanks to the Big Three. The auto industry has been good to education and the arts in Michigan. Union members have been generous with money and time donated to good causes in this part of the state.

But the auto industry has been an industrial bully in this country for decades -- squelching development of a comprehensive public transit system; killing passenger rail travel; fighting environmental legislation; going so far as to sabotage their own alternative-fuel vehicle programs in an effort to maintain their status quo. The auto execs' infamous $20,000 private jet trips to D.C. this week is just the latest example of the Big Three's arrogance and cluelessness.

And the corporate greed of the automobile companies has only been matched by that of autoworkers. For years not only autoworkers but autoworker retirees have made more money than either blue-collar workers or many white-collar professionals in this part of the state. It wasn't a tenable system; and the union leadership's "Yeah, but look at how greedy management is" response is just so much schoolyard I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I posturing by equally irresponsible people.

This is just a big, unholy mess. And I don't see how bailing the players out for another few months, until the next financial crisis in Detroit, is going to de-mess the situation.

I feel sorry for retirees in danger of losing pensions and benefits. I feel sorry for the employees of the little non-union shops up here in rural Michigan and elsewhere.

But not sorry enough to support a bailout. In a world of "change or die," the Big Three, as well as their union employees, have refused to change.

Join the Advent Conspiracy

Hat tip to RevGalBlogPal Lorna for this:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"A" is For Anarchist...

...and "A" is also for "asshole":

Gay Anarchist Group Crashes Worship Service

When I lived in East Lansing, Mt. Hope Church was the sort of church very into demonology and "deliverance ministry" -- looking for Satan under every rock and behind every curtain. So the geniuses behind this bit of guerilla theater happened to pick not only a homophobic church, but a generally paranoid, everyone's-against-us church, for their action. Way to go, kids.

Here's a thought: Perhaps the fight for marriage equity needs to be fought by persons with the maturity to take it seriously, instead of long-term adolescents with oppositional behavior issues.

Just What I Need...More Time Online!

I signed up for Facebook, under my real name.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Family Matters

I'm dealing with some sad news right now.

My aunt M, who has lived in the local nursing home for many years, has been diagnosed with a dilated bowel. This is a life-threatening condition, and without surgical intervention the prognosis is pretty grim. On the other hand, intestinal surgery on a frail, bedbound elder doesn't have a very promising best outcome either. And my aunt -- always independent -- has made it quite clear that she wants no surgery or other heroic life-saving measures.

When we visited her yesterday, she was pale and quiet, curled up in her bed like a sick little bird. When she talked to me she looked past me in that way that those of us with sickbed experience find ominous; the thousand-mile stare. I mentally contrasted that picture with the aunt I remember from my childhood, a robust farm woman slinging hay bales onto a wagon and walking the perimeter of her property with me every day.

I visited her this morning during lunch. I had steeled myself for whatever I might encounter there today -- and found her in the cafeteria with her lunchmates, sipping coffee, looking fine, in a cheerful mood.

She may be well for a day, or two weeks, or a month or more. I may get "the call" tonight. It's one of those things.

Because I'm Aunt M's guardian, and because I've been through more than one health scare with her before, I've rehearsed funeral arrangements in my mind countless times. My mother's family has dwindled to almost no one, just a few octogenarian second cousins downstate, so when the time comes it's going to be pretty much just a few old family friends, Fellow Traveler, our pastor and me, at the funeral home. I'm pretty sure of the "what" and the "how"; it's the "when" that's unnerving.

Pray for us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Food Snobbery Cuts Both Ways

Today I was reading a critique of locovorious grocery shopping -- the idea that it's more environmentally sound, as well as healthier, to eat locally grown, seasonal foods. The argument was that transportation costs associated with food are not all that significant in the grand scheme of things; and that it's often more cost- and resource-effective to import food from other places.

To which I respond...well, duh.

Most people I know who support local/sustainable agriculture understand this. And most other locovores I know -- all of them, in fact -- do not have a knee-jerk aversion to either "foreign" or mass-produced/marketed food per se. Our chicken chili today may have locally grown beans in it, but it also contains regular supermarket chicken thighs, tomatillo salsa from Mexico, a bottle of Molson's from our neighbor to the north and seasonings with variously exotic origins. We're eating it with brand-name fat-free sour cream.

Got a problem with that? I don't.

Locovorious/wholefoods/organic foodies are often labeled as elitists who are trying to deprive ordinary working folks of inexpensive mass-market food. Hey -- wait a minute. I'm an ordinary working folk. I make less money at my full-time public sector job than a teacher or a secretary or any number of other jobs. I drive a seven-year-old car.

Nonetheless, I care about what I eat. I care about nutrition. I care about ingesting pollutants. I care about the welfare of my farming neighbors. I care about the planet. thinking and reading and making purchasing decisions independent of marketers make me an "elitist"?

Does it make me more of an elitist than persons who, having attained a certain food sophistication by virtue of their background, education and experience in life, and who most probably make many of the same food choices I do, seem to assume that unmindful shopping and eating is good enough for those other people over there? You know: "My children's school is participating in a wonderful garden-to-cafeteria program. But I'm sure your kid's bologna sandwich is just fine too."

I'm perhaps naive enough to want to live in a society where fresh local foods are available to as many people as possible, at reasonable prices; a society where we can all interact directly with the people who grow some of our food, and where small farmers and market gardeners can make a living wage by developing local customer bases.

That doesn't sound terribly elitist to me.

And the Irony Award Goes To...

Next thing you know, Ted Nugent is going to convene a world conference on veganism:

Saudis Hold Conference on Interfaith Dialogue

Live Blogging on the 15th: Our Normal, Boring Gay Lives

7:49 a.m. Up betimes -- except for the dogs, who after waking us and getting us in the living room, went promptly back to sleep -- and ready for an indoor day of cooking and website management. Outdoors it's the first day of firearm deer season in Michigan -- another good reason to hunker down.

Fellow Traveler, who got up first, helped me get a head start on dinner -- white chicken chili, featuring locally grown navy beans from our friend Farmer Ken and homegrown hardneck garlic from Pleva's in Cedar. As soon as I get enough caffeine in my bloodstream I am going to make us a warming farmhouse breakfast with fried potatoes and ham steak.

I hear the kitchen calling.

10:28 a.m. We had a glorious breakfast...I made our fried potatoes with multi-colored fingerlings we'd found at Gallagher's Market in Traverse City during our last venture up north, so our taters were a crazy quilt of calico colors -- yellow, purple, pink. And now the house smells like my Aunt M's farmhouse kitchen; homey and cozy.

We are trying to get a good photo of the backyard squirrel pilfering suet from our bird feeder. So far our resident rodent has not solved the problem of our squirrel-proof feeder, but I don't hold out a lot of hope that it won't figure out some way to monkeywrench the mechanics.

This morning we're working on our church website -- we're co-webmeisters of this project -- and on the website of our local gym, which we're managing in exchange for free memberships. I love bartering. I'm trying to find some area farmer who sells directly to consumers, who'd be willing to trade meat or veg for our web services: Will compute for food!

1:59 After discovering that we're all out of cumin -- not acceptable on chili-making day -- I had to make a short field trip to the local supermarket. I brought along The Girls, who've been getting stir-crazy at home (taking a fawn-colored dog to the local recreational area for a run is not a good plan today, when the fields and woods are filled with hunters of varying degrees of expertise, in various stages of sobriety); when I pulled into the supermarket parking lot they looked at me in dismay, as if to say, You called us into the Jeep for this? So for a consolation prize I drove through town and over to the Mast farm, where I bought some onions from their roadside farmstand (commerce done on the honor system, an old margarine tub with a slotted lid filling in as cash register) and The Girls got a thrill barking at the Masts' sheepdog. Two small barefooted children watched us from the farmhouse doorway.

We watched Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood on TV. We wanted to follow with the Michigan game at noon; instead we find we're watching Ohio State. We're waiting for the MSU game at 3:00 p.m. (We live in a house divided, but over the past three years I have helped ease my partner into a marginal tolerance for Michigan State football.) Fellow Traveler is updating our church website; I'm providing editorial assistance from the other sofa. At some point I need to rouse myself and collect a washload of socks. Maybe in awhile.

4:54 pm. An MSU blackout; drat. So we're working on our websites and sipping wine. The socks are still on the closet floor. The four-leggeds are outside terrorizing the local squirrel population. I love our cozy, quiet Saturdays together.

8:35 pm. FT is still putting finishing touches on the church website. The trouble is, our pets keep interfering in the process; Mollie the cat just jumped on the sofa, walked on the laptop keyboard and turned the computer off.

I've been reading accounts of today's demonstrations in support of marriage equality, on Andrew Sullivan's blog and elsewhere, and it's very encouraging...even if the mainstream media, judging from websites, were trying to find instances of confrontation and bad behavior. To our community's credit, most of the day's events were peaceful, civil and devoid of acting out. Pride indeed.

So, you have seen, we lead very mundane lives here. But we live them together, in a spirit of love, respect, service and fidelity.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fighting the "H8"

A grassroots movement to protest California's Proposition 8 has generated some major momentum, and is calling for demonstrations against Prop 8 tomorrow.

It feels a little ironic for me, as a Michiganian -- where, thanks to ueberconservative deep pockets in the western Michigan Bible Belt and a legislature that can't find its fanny with both hands on any other issue of importance, we in committed partnerships can scarcely hope for civil unions or shared benefits/legal protections of any kind, let alone marriage -- to show support for our community and others of goodwill in California. But I'm going to anyway.

Since in my experience much of what we tend to label as "H8" is actually enculturated, comfortable ignorance, I think that my modest contribution to the "impact" tomorrow is to live-blog a day in the life of our family. The weather here is going to be nasty, and it's the first day of firearm deer season as well -- it's a good day to stay inside and do householdy things. And that is what we're going to do. And you are going to read about them. I invite you to share a link to my blog to friends and acquaintances who think that FT and I are a weird, scary subspecies whose existence, and relationship, somehow threaten their own families...or, for that matter, share a link with folks you know who need some affirmation.

Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish will be sharing photos, stories and blog links tomorrow. Pay him a visit as well.

Friday Five: Remembrance Edition

This week's Friday Five touches on both sacred and secular days of remembrance that we've been observing in recent weeks.

1.Did your church have any special celebrations for All Saints/All Soul's Day?

We of course used All Saints' Day lessons and prayers. We have also, this month, been including the names of our beloved dead in our Prayers of the Church each Sunday.

2. How about Veterans' Day?
We don't have a specific Veterans' Day commemoration, but our church participates with other area churches in Memorial Day observances -- prayers and choral music -- at our local cemeteries.

3. Did you and your family have a holiday for Veterans' Day/Remembrance Day? If so, how did you take advantage of the break?

4. Is there a veteran in your life, living or dead, whose dedication you remember and celebrate? Or perhaps a loved one presently serving in the armed forces?
Constant Readers may remember that Fellow Traveler is a veteran -- U.S. Air Force, where she served as an air traffic controller. Our nephew, who's been in the Army for several tours of duty, was just re-deployed to Iraq. Looking back through my own biological family tree...I had a maternal great-grandfather who served in the Civil War -- he pretty much jumped right off the boat from Germany and into a Union uniform -- and my mother's father was a medic in France, in "the war to end all wars." On my dad's side of the family, three of my uncles served in World War II -- two of them seeing action in both Europe and the South Pacific. Growing up, I used to have a small seashell collection from one of those uncles, from his time in the Solomon Islands.

5. Do you have any personal rituals which help you remember and connect with loved ones who have passed on?
Well -- some of you know of FT's experiences with "Hank" in the Cold Comfort Cottage garage. (We are in negotiations with "Hank" to move his presence over to The Big House garage.) Other than that...I try to be a dutiful loved one and keep the family graves tended, but I have to say that I don't find a special connection with them at cemeteries; I enjoy the stillness and the natural flowers and the wildlife that seems to flourish there, but I don't feel as if I'm communing with the spirits. Actually, the things that make me feel closest to my mom are her kitchen utensils, which I use all the time. I remember just breaking into sobs when I accidently broke the green Fiestaware mixing bowl that was probably the most used bowl in our family, holding everything from leftovers to Christmas cookie dough.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We Shopped 'Til We Dropped

I spent the whole of yesterday -- I had X'd out a vacation day several weeks ago for this adventure -- on a girls' day out, helping shepherd two elderly aunts-in-law through Cabela's ginormous Dundee sporting-goods/lifestyle store so they could go Christmas shopping for their kids and grandkids. Think Driving Miss Daisy squared.

And these ladies, ages 87 and 90, are pistols. The homebound husband of the younger aunt had not only mapped out a detailed diagram of the Cabela's store, but also created an itinerary of which departments his wife was to visit, and when. The two sisters thought this was hilarious. "Maybe I'll go where I want to when I want to," declared Aunt H defiantly. When I explained that we would probably have lunch first, and noted, "Well, there goes the master plan," she beamed in triumph.

The sisters spent some time discussing, with great passion, both current events and various extended-family issues. When the topic of a serially dysfunctional great-niece's latest life drama came up, Aunt A suggested, "That girl needs to be professionally studied."

We began our adventure with lunch in the Cabela's cafeteria (barbecued elk, anyone?)...and then FT and I were summarily dismissed: "You two go where you want to go, and we'll meet you at the front of the store."

So for the rest of the day we surreptitiously tracked them -- ironic considering the venue -- occasionally dropping in to make sure they were all right.

At one point the 90-year-old whispered conspiratorially in my ear: "It's hard shopping with [her 87-year-old sister]. She's a little...high maintenance."

The aunts had a great time. We delivered them to their respective residences in respetctive cities, got home and promptly collapsed into incoherent puddles of fatigue.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Let Us Widget...

Those of us who 1)by choice or circumstance spend most of the day with our noses to the computer screen and 2)always have a reason for not maintaining a daily spiritual discipline now have no excuse. Meet the Daily Office widget. We still have to supply the liturgical bits, but the daily lectionary readings are instantly accessible. Thank God for church-geeky computer nerds.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Funeral Sermon From Hell

Fellow Traveler was downstate today, to attend the funeral of her childhood-best-friend's mom. Back when FT was a mischievous young beanpole growing up in the baby-boom Detroit suburbs, Mrs. W was a "Kool-Aid mom" -- the kind of no-nonsense but child-friendly mother whose home was a frequent gathering place for neighborhood kids.

Mrs. W had spent the last couple of years in the twilight world of dementia. In recent weeks she'd stopped eating; was getting IV nourishment and palliative care, but beginning to slip away.

FT went to visit Mrs. W not too long ago. She'd expected to spend some quiet time saying goodbye to someone unconscious and unresponsive in a hospital bed. She was shocked to find Mrs. W in a chair, in the cafeteria -- not eating, but seeming to enjoy the activity around her.

"Well," noted Mrs. W as she gave FT a head-to-toe, "you're certainly a lot meatier than you used to be."

So it was important for FT to attend this funeral -- for her friend, and for the memory of Mrs. W.

I got a call from FT midday: "You would not believe the funeral I've just had to sit through," she exclaimed. "It was awful. And the pastor was Lutheran."

Oh, geez, I thought. I've been to my share of awful Lutheran church services over the years, but I hate it when my partner the newbie experiences Lutherans Gone Wild. It's like having to explain crazy Uncle Al at the family Thanksgiving dinner.

"He didn't say 'Jesus'," FT continued. "He said 'JAY-SUS!!!' He was yelling. He said that anyone who wasn't baptized was going to hell -- that Mrs. W was saved because she was baptized, but the rest of us would be going to hell if we weren't baptized. He was pounding his fists on the pulpit. And we was going on and on about JAY-SUS and Lazarus and 'I AM'...he was out of control. And he had nothing to say about Mrs. W; nothing about her life. My friend said she wished you could have been there and officiated instead."


I'm trying to be charitable here. I'm trying to think about the pastor -- someone who'd only met the deceased a couple of times before her death; someone speaking to an unknown assortment of mourners with widely varying Christian backgrounds, trying to frame this experience in a meaningful way for them.

Nope; can't do it; can't be charitable. What in hell was this guy thinking?

A funeral is not a time to rhetorically dope-slap mourners into what we deem correct theology or praxis. It's not a time to aim a theological Uzi at a captive audience and frag them.

What it is, in my own humble layperson's opinion, is a pastor's opportunity, and privilege, to communicate both the depth and breadth of God's grace and an invitation to hope. And it's a special opportunity and privilege in a context where mourners are not high-commitment "church people"; how cool is it to be able to preach the Gospel to people for whom it's not a kind of comforting white noise of familiar Scripture verses and pious platitudes, but who might actually be startled to hear that God loves us, means us well and sticks by us no matter what, not because of who we are but because of who God is, and that this departed sister of Christ has not reached an end, but rather a beginning of "the life that is life"?

I'm just sayin'.

They Don't Have To Live Like Refugees

Today bloggers around the globe are joining to educate readers and advocate on behalf of the world's refugees.

According to Amnesty International, there are approximately 14.2 million refugees worldwide, and an additional 24.5 displaced persons. Most refugees are in African and Asian countries.

What can you do? Organizations like Amnesty work to pressure governments into abiding by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, to fight the factors that create refugees in the first place and to ensure that refugees are treated with decency and dignity. You can read about Amnesty's work with refugees here . You can also support denominational aid agencies and other aid agencies that help refugees -- to see what Lutherans are doing in this regard, go to the Lutheran Immigration Relief Service website.

And, of course, bloggers out there can do what we love to do -- blog. Feel free to borrow my graphic.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

And the Question of the Day Is...

Yoga or tai chi?

Consider the potential practitioner: A fitness-challenged, ungraceful middle-aged person without access to a flesh-and-blood teacher, who will be dependent upon DVDs for guidance.

My thoughts:

Yoga: Pros: A vast array of instruction materials; recommendations from friends and coworkers; the relaxation angle. Cons: I'm fat and inflexible.

Tai chi: Pros: Seems at face value to be a more accessible discipline; don't have to do floor exercises; looks cool. Cons: There don't seem to be as many instructional resources; when I attempted to teach myself tai chi using a DVD for older adults, it was still too fast for me to keep up -- which tells you something about my kinetic aptitude.

Those of you with experience in either or both practices -- what do you recommend?

The Oil in Our Lamps

Like many of you, this morning at church we listened to a sermon based on the Gospel of Matthew's parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids .

My pastor noted that, for him, the most interesting question raised by this story is: What is the oil that keeps the light on in our lives, that keeps us ready, until "the day of the Lord"?

His conclusion? Compassion. Self-giving love and concern for others. In a world fueled by fear, compassion is the Reign of God's response to the anxiety, anger and confusion around us. It's the way that Reign is going to break through the way the world usually works.

It was a great, thought-provoking sermon that's going to make me reevaluate my own responses to the world around me these days.

What's Cookin'

I feel a little sad relegating my cooking adventures to a separate blog (if you read the blogroll you'll find a new link to my food blog ). For those of you wondering what's been happening in our kitchen lately, check out the other blog to read about chickens (as in lots of chickens, raised by local farmers, filling up our new freezer), eggs (as in pickled), soup (as in chicken soup), and bread. If I may say so myself -- the buttermilk potato bread in the photo is one of the best bread machine recipes I've attempted. It's feather light, and has just the merest tang of buttermilk flavor. I do not have a chicken soup recipe per se, but I have found that a mixture of onions, garlic, celery, carrot, parsley and just a handful of parsnip and turnip make a most delicious stock. (I actually like to keep containers of these two vegetables, diced and then steamed, in the freezer for convenience.) And in the spirit of the Native American hunters who used to pray an apology/thank-you to the game they were about to kill, we just want to extend our gratitude to the anonymous farm-fresh roaster who gave his life for our soup.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Folk Medicine That Works

As Constant Readers know, Fellow Traveler has been struggling for the past few weeks with walking pneumonia. One of the miseries of this ailment is uncontrollable coughing jags that have left FT's throat sore and kept her awake much of the night.

One of our friends just sent us an e-mail -- one of those spammy e-mails that make the rounds -- about a cure for nighttime coughing. I was skeptical -- but now I'm not. This trick works. FT had her first cough-free night in weeks after trying it.

You will need a jar of Vicks or other mentholated rub, and a pair of clean cotton socks.

Just before retiring for the evening, slather a healthy amount of Vicks onto the soles of your feet. Put on the socks. Go to bed.

I'm here to tell you -- this stops the coughing. I don't know how it does, but it does.

It also keeps the dogs from stealing your socks.

Here's the Church...Here's the Steeple...Here's the Glock

This is absolutely batshit crazy:

More Churches Employ Armed Guards

I wonder what the "white-robed martyrs" would say about the cluster-canoodle of bellicosity, cowardice and poor-me melodrama afflicting today's churches?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Quotable Quote

Andrew Sullivan, urging patience in the struggle for marriage equality:

And we need patience and relentlessness in explaining our lives.

I think that is especially true in the faith community.

Making the Band

Several RevGalBlogPals have shared this meme. It's pretty cool.

1. First, pick a band name from a random Wikipedia link.

2. Next, find a name for your latest album. (Go to the Random Quotations website and use the last four words of the first quotation.)

3. Finally, select art for your album cover. (Find an interesting photo on Flickr.

Here's my band:

Band Name: Finite Group Presentation.

Our Latest Album: Better Than the Best Memory. (Okay...I used five words. But "the" shouldn't count anyway.)

Our Album's Cover Art:

I'm thinking this album goes over in the ambient-music section in Barnes and Noble, and people listen to it while they're doing yoga or getting a massage.

Of course, the very coolest thing of all would be if a group of musical friends got together, did the meme...and then actually recorded an album for the Internet. This could be done.

Friday Five: Comic(s) Relief Edition

This week's Friday Five is all about the comics:

1.What was your favorite comic strip as a child?
Definitely Peanuts, because I identified so totally with good ol' Charlie Brown.

2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone? of them. Even into my thirties I used to turn to the comics section of newspapers first -- before the editorial pages, even -- but I honestly can't tell you the last time I looked at the funny pages. I wonder what the demise of paper-in-hand newspaper reading will do to the cartoon industry.

3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?
See Question 1. I am Charlie Brown.

4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?
Not anymore; perhaps in the days of Peanuts, Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes. Now I think the lucky few bloggers-for-pay have stepped into that role.

5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?
I think there's a certain comfort in turning to the funnies and seeing familiar faces there. The other day I picked up a Detroit Free Press -- a newspaper I've been reading online for a couple of years now -- to read with my lunch, and I was startled to turn to the comics section and find row after row of unfamiliar characters. And as far as serial comic strips...I've certainly gotten caught up in the plot lines of cartoons like For Better or For Worse and even, God help me, Brenda Starr.

Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?
Well, for humor I'd have to say Bloom County, back when it was at its funny and insightful peak. And "The Far Side." And I miss Bill the Cat ("Ack!") But for style points, my vote goes to:

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What Century Is This, Anyway?

In the wake of Reformation Day, perhaps it's worth noting that, in this election cycle, we have had to deal with both a few Roman Catholic bishops and a few exciteable Evangelicals warning voters that they were imperiling their immortal souls by voting for Barak Obama.

What century are we in, again?

I don't think that the increasing irreligiosity of society -- and persons identifying not only with no Christian denomination, but with no belief system in particular, is the fastest growing religious demographic in this country -- is much helped by paternalistic religious blowhards who treat their constituencies like errant children who can be scared into desired political behavior by bogus claims of divine authority and spurious threats of damnation. Thinking adults in contemporary society don't put up with this kind of crap. Come to think of it, they didn't put up with it during the Reformation, either.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Palin Out of the Closet!

Looks like Sarah Thrift Shop has somewhat more refined sartorial tastes than she's willing to admit publicly. And that credit-card thing...uh-oh!

The Morning After

One of our fine upstanding area citizens reacts to the President-Elect.

Closer to home -- which is to say, the office -- it was not a happy morning for my coworkers, grousing about "black people voting for Obama just because he's black...that's no reason to vote for someone!"; of course, when Sarah Palin joined the McCain ticket, these same people were waxing ecstatic about "a real small-town working mom just like us" in the race for high office.


On the other hand...another co-worker, whose high-school-aged daughter has been working hard for the local Democratic Party office this fall, and who knows my own political sympathies, greeted me this morning with a bear hug.

"My grandfather was a Southern racist," she said, her eyes welling with tears. "Once my grandfather hit my grandmother after she stepped off the sidewalk to make room for a black man to pass. And now -- now I've lived to see the day when a black man could be elected President in this country. Thank God!"

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Now Serving Boor and Whine

How sad, but unsurprising, that John McCain's gracious concession speech was marred by the bad behavior of his audience.

And From the Sanctimonious Sour Grapes Department....

A respondent's comment from Rod Dreher's blog, in the wake of Obama's victory:

Things can go well for Christians even under nations with "wicked" rulers.

Oh, for Christ's sake get over yourselves.

It's Official...

President Obama.

I'm smiling as I'm saying it.

The Voice of "Yes on 8"

From the comments section of the LA Times (original spelling intact):

YES on Prop 8!! We need to ban quiere marrige. Is is unconstitutional. The DOMA act signed your very own Bill Clinton defines marrige between a man and a woman! I'm sick of this paper taking the Liberal side on everything. I think this state is politically retarded! Go McCain Go Prop 8!!
Submitted by: Michael (Moscow,ID)

Yeah -- you go, Sparky.

Which reminds me...I would like to express my appreciation to the McCain-Palin campaign, especially the latter half of of that equation, for helping me again appreciate and embrace the good gift of a university education; and for strengthening my resolve to re-read Classical (and I do mean Classical) authors, learn another language, take some classes, pay more attention to world affairs and otherwise distinguish myself from what appears to be the preferred Republican constituent. So thank you, GOP -- you betcha! -- for sending me on the road to intellectual self-improvement.

My Election Day

On this foggy, unseasonably warm morning I arrived at my township hall about a minute after 7:00 a.m. It was difficult to find a spot for my vehicle; and a significant line already snaked down the main hallway, out the door and into the parking lot.

I got in line, and was quickly followed by others. My township is heavily skewed toward retirees, and usually on election days I'm one of the few people present discernably under 70. But this morning a good proportion of voters were younger people; I saw many younger men in work jackets embroidered with their names. A couple of teenagers were nervously shifting from foot to foot in the queue.

The man behind me started talking to me. "I got two guys at work who are always complaining about 'the government' this and 'the government' that. I tell them, 'If you can't bother to vote, then you can't complain.'" He paused for effect. "And I don't see them here this morning."

The conversation in line was quiet; mostly non-political; talk about going to work or going out for breakfast when we were done.

And we waited. And waited. And waited.

As the line slowly crept inside the hall, I started feeling uncharitable toward the voters up ahead, already at the machines. What is taking you so long? I thought as one guy in Carhartts lingered in his station for a full 15 minutes, head in hand. Have you not thought about how you were going to vote until now? What could you possibly still be deciding?

It was 7:40 when I finally got a ballot in my hand.

I voted.

I hope you did, or do, too.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Ground Game in Outer Podunk

Fellow Traveler decided to spend a few hours this morning helping out at our beleagured county Democratic Party headquarters.

She was assigned the task of calling registered voters and encouraging them to vote for the Democratic Party ticket.

Direct quote from one of the callees: "I ain't votin' for no nigger."

Sadly, I'm not terribly surprised.

"I Can't Stand It!"

I'm sitting here at work reading one of the area senior newsletter that pass across my desk each month. On the front page is the sort of badly rhyming doggerel about old-age decreptitude that is in very nearly every issue of every newsletter. I'm reasonably sure that if I actually open the newsletter I will find an account of yet another scam aimed at gullible seniors...more half-hearted pleas to visit this or that senior center and see dancing chihuahuas or play Canned Fruit Bingo or learn "Facts About Fiber"...ain't-it-awful editorializing by someone who probably should be reading about fiber...

In the words of Charlie Brown: I can't stand it!

If I have to take much more of "the senior network," I am going to be reduced to babbling disassociation, in full fetal position under the desk.

There must be more to working life than this.

Daily Bread

I finally upgraded my battered old bread machine for a snazzy Breadman Ultimate Plus, and last night I made my first loaf of bread in it. You can find a photo of my maiden effort, plus the recipe, on my food blog .

More Gertie!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

For All the Saints

For your listening pleasure:

Meet the Family

Just because we haven't posted many pet pictures lately:

This is Cassie, who has a hard time relaxing. (The quilt underneath her, by the way, is the work of our church quilt ladies.)

Here's Gertie. Gertie loves her sissie, and Mamas, and her sister Mollie.

For awhile we feared that Gertie was the canine equivalent of those Eastern European orphans with attachment disorder -- that her appalling upbringing had left her incapable of bonding with us or with Cassie. But Gertie has grown to be an incredibly loving dog -- every morning she explodes into our faces with kisses and doggie "petting" with her paws. Our vet and groomer both say she has one of the sweetest dispositions of any dog they've ever dealt with. Now -- if we can only wean her from her love of chewing shoes and electronics.

And finally...below you will see Miss Mollie, also known as The Mollinator. Fellow Traveler has shared a life with Mollie for at least a decade. When I first met Mollie, she was a quiet, stealthy little ghost of a cat who very rarely made public appearances in the common rooms of our home. Now she hangs with us whenever we're together. She has also discovered her voice; formerly silent, she now converses with us in a variety of chirps and meows. Gertie, especially, loves Mollie; in unguarded moments we wil find them sharing a nose-smooch.

We love our girls. They bring so much joy, and humor, and affection to our lives -- and to one another's. We are blessed to have them in our lives.

A Fall Feast

Just because I'm too lazy to about our fabulous Sunday dinner here .

Saturday, November 01, 2008

"No Reading, Please -- We're Republican"

While reading The Daily Beast tonight, I came upon Paul Theroux's account of his rather Palinesque encounter with Hawaiian governor Linda Lingle:

I was introduced to Gov. Lingle at a political event not long after her reelection by a friend who insistently repeated my name. When the governor looked blank, my friend said, “The writer! He writes books!” She said, “I don’t have a lot of free time for reading,” and moved on.

Is this a new plank of the Republican platform -- that books are bad, and you shouldn't read them? That, in fact, you should be proud of the fact that you don't read books, and because of this don't recognize the names of famous authors?

Two-and-a-half hours from Canada...that's what I keep telling myself...two-and-a-half hours from Canada...