Saturday, September 26, 2009


Monday evenings have become a kind of Dysfunction Junction at our house, as we curl up in front of the TV and watch A&E's prime-time offerings, Intervention and Hoarders.

We find Intervention compelling in part because we've dealt with addiction in Fellow Traveler's family and in our broad circle of friends. We recognize the behaviors, the rationalizations, the resistance to help. And we're also cheered by the success stories of this series. When we see the show postscripts that announce a participant has been sober for months or years, we cheer.

Hoarders is a different matter.

I've seen this behavior firsthand. My aunt M, in the later years of her life, could have been a subject for this show. Her hoarding literally drove her out of her own home. After she was hospitalized, I remember spending a day with my mother trying to sift through her mountain of collected trash, looking for family papers and keepsakes, and finally giving up when the job became too hopeless.

I also detect seeds of this disorder in myself. In my life my out-of-control accumulation of stuff has been, thankfully, confined to discrete areas -- to the infamous Alligator Room of The Cottage; to the trunk of my old car. And unlike my aunt, and most of the subjects of Hoarders, my struggles with material chaos have been less a matter of attachment to things -- I actually find a sense of happiness and relief in giving other people things I no longer need -- than a sense of being overwhelmed by the stuff of life to the point of paralysis...and more than a touch of perfectionism; wanting to come up with a system, a "right" way of wresting order out of disorder, before actually doing anything.

So Hoarders strikes home for me in the same way that Intervention strikes a note of fear in the heart of someone whose family is predisposed to addiction.

And what's especially troubling is the lack of success in helping the Hoarders subjects, who are picked on the basis of crises related to their behavior.  I visited the Hoarders website and was rather disheartened to see that almost none of the participants have made substantial progress in getting well. The producers admit that the short time frame in which the participants are compelled to clean up their homes is part of this poor track record -- the professional organizers and therapists assigned to each project may be able to help the individuals achieve some degree of order and cleanliness in their living spaces, but there's not enough time to adequately address the underlying behaviors. And...sadly...hoarding is a compulsion with a poor prognosis; there's no pharmaceutical or other therapeutic magic bullet.

Since I've been watching this show I find I've been paying more attention to housework; been trying to come up with a basic, not-too-rigid schedule for cleaning and tidying that cuts down my anxiety level and, on some level, reassures me that I am not in danger of turning into my aunt.

A Fall-ish Friday Five (on Saturday)

Sweet irony -- we were so busy yesterday enjoying the beginnings of autumn that I never got around to writing my fall-themed Friday Five! (The photo above, by the way, is from last autumn, up in the Lake Leelanau area.)

1. Share a Fall memory.
One of my fondest recent fall memories is of two autumns ago when we took Cody, my irascible, irreplaceable 16-year-old Maltese, up to the Leelanau for the better part of a week. The Codeman was half-blinded by cataracts, largely deaf and stiff with arthritis...but he had the time of his life. We devoted one day to exploring the old farmsteads of the Port Oneida Historical Area, and I can still remember him running -- running -- with glee through the old orchards and fields. He died that Thanksgiving, and I remember my grief being blunted by the knowledge that he had literally had the time of his life just a few weeks earlier. Whenever I hear Sting's "Fields of Gold" I think of my little white dog prancing through the autumn grasses.

2. Your favorite Fall clothes--(past or present)?
I love fall colors, first of all -- browns and golds and rusts and scarlets. I love big baggy sweaters and hoodies. I love the smell of fall outerwear, which reminds me of my dad's old buffalo-plaid hunting jacket.

3. Share a campfire story, song, experience...etc.
My family was not so much into bonfires and such -- I don't think I ever experienced a fall campfire until I was in college, on a Lutheran Student Movement retreat out in rural Ohio-diana (can't remember which state). I do recall, during one such fall event, having some emotionally touched co-camper put his arm around my waist and my thinking, "Please don't put your hand there." I was so polite then.

4. What is your favorite thing about this time of year?
For me fall feels more like a new year than New Year's Day. It seems like a natural time to take stock of the previous year, to celebrate one's literal and figurative harvests, to start over again.

5. What changes are you anticipating in your life, your church, the season changes and winter approaches?
A major change in our family is impending grandmotherhood...which is especially interesting since I missed that whole motherhood step. (This seems to be a trend in my family, by the way -- several of my cousins also got paired up later in life and became instant grandparents.) I'm feeling some trepidation about assuming some of the usual tasks of grandparenthood -- for instance, while I'm well acquainted with pet poopiness in all its manifestations, changing a diaper is a mystery to me -- but feeling pretty good about others: storytelling; transmitting family memories; nature hikes and kitchen projects and other fun stuff when the chitlin gets bigger. At church, I find that my ministry activities are spreading out into different directions; I care a lot about worship, and assisting is a primary responsibility as a lay minister in our congregation, but in the last month I've also expanded our church's online presence about threefold, and find myself in an increasing role as an educator as I create content for our various online projects. As far as other vocation -- well, who knows where I'll be in the next year; but I'm finding myself increasingly happy and satisfied in the realm of domesticity. I think my relationship with paid employment has changed forever, in a positive direction, in that I have finally smashed the idol of seating my identity and worth in a paying job. It's a liberating feeling. I know that the next paid employment I have will not swallow my life and loyalties the way my past jobs have, because I've tasted the fullness of life as a free agent, and it's a sweet thing. So the only constant in my life this fall seems to be change. And I'm okay with that.

Bonus question: What is a favorite fall food? Apples and squash. We are gearing up, at our house, for a major applesauce canning extravaganza in a couple of weeks. I also have a fondness for heirloom apples, and next weekend we are going to a local orchard that advertises 100 different varieties...when we go up to the Leelanau later in the fall we'll probably visit Christmas Cove Orchard, which has many more varieties; an entire pole barn filled with tantalizing crates of multicolored, multi-shaped, multi-sized apples with evocative names like Blue Sheepnose and Cox's Orange Pippin and Fameuse. I am a latecomer to the charms of winter squash -- I was in my 20's before I could easily eat a hunk of baked butternut -- but I'm now a fan; and my goal this fall is to try "one of everything" offered by our local growers. (I'm a little scared of trying to hack open the Hubbards, but I guess where there's a will there's a way.)  Recipe hint: While I do like baking squash my mom's way, with generous dollops of butter and brown sugar, I've also made it with savory seasonings -- carmelized onion, sage, some Parmesan cheese -- and have enjoyed that as well. And -- for you grillers out there -- butternut squash necks cut lengthwise into strips about a quarter inch thick, then brushed with olive oil and seasonings of choice, work well on the grill; are a great accompaniment to grilled pork.

Bonus: What food says "AUTUMN" at your house?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Wrong Pie

Reading this Sunday's lectionary texts, specifically the Numbers text and the Gospel lesson, I found myself, for some reason, remembering the church potlucks of my childhood and the way that I would refuse to eat any pie except my mom's. Because my mother's pie was fabulous. The sweet-tart ratio, the mix of spices, the flakiness factor of the crust, were always just right. Other people's moms' pies -- well, you just didn't know. They cut up the apples differently. They topped their pies differently -- with a crust instead of my mom's delicious streusel; or, worse yet, no topping at all, just bare chunks of apple. The other pies looked suspicious; all of them.

"Try a different pie," my mother would instruct, sotto voce, at the dessert table.  "Let other people have our pie."

"No," I'd whine. "I want your pie. I don't like the way their pies look."

I wonder how much spiritual nourishment, not to mention enjoyment, I miss out on because it's in the wrong pie.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Five: Halfway Down the Stairs Edition

Halfway down the stairs

Is a stair

Where I sit.

There isn't any

Other stair

Quite like


I'm not at the bottom,

I'm not at the top;

So this is the stair


I always


Halfway up the stairs

Isn't up,

And isn't down.

it isn't in the nursery,

it isn't in the town.

And all sorts of funny thoughts

Run round my head:

"It isn't really


It's somewhere else


— A. A. Milne

“Halfway Down,” When We Were Very Young

Thinking of your childhood as a stairway, when did you feel (and how did you feel then)

1. at the bottom?
For me that was my kindergarten year of school. I walked into class happy, confident, a little intellectually cocky...and by the end of the day I had been bullied, scolded, rejected on the playground...and to top things off I got on the wrong bus home and had to be retrieved, sobbing, from the bus garage by my parents. That was pretty much how the whole year went, including three hospitalizations for pneumonia. (Don't think there's not a mind-body connection, either.) The "K" word still gives me the shivers. I was definitely on the bottom of the stairs then.

2. at the top?
Fourth grade. I had a teacher who liked me, knew I needed some extra challenge and let me run with the ball -- extra credit, mentoring my classmates and so on. I was also developing my own little posse of friends. I started to get my confidence back. Good times.

3. halfway?
Sixth grade -- not a little kid anymore but not quite a teen. I remember aspiring to teenhood by reading Teen magazine and some well-worn paperback I'd ordered from Scholastic called Teen Scene or some such thing -- it had a trippy cover with a psychadelic graphic on it and all manner of advice about makeup and hygiene, style, boys (?) and parental relations, written in a light and "groovy" style. I didn't quite get it, but I wanted the time.

4. At this point in your life, where would you place yourself on your own stairway?
As a very busy, happy, but currently non-gainfully-employed (by choice) person, I'm definitely halfway up the stairs; neither here nor there. I balk when people kid me about being retired -- oh, please -- but in a way I think I am retired, namely from a particular mindset, one encouraged by the dominant culture, about seating my identity as a person primarily in my career. Been there; done that; over it. At this stage of the game I'm much more interested in vocation: Where's God calling me to be and to do, right now?

5. Identify a place for you that "isn't really anywhere" but "somewhere else instead."
I'm feeling that way right now about my monthly spiritual direction appointment. It's not quite like a therapy session...not quite like a church-office chat with my pastor...there's not a lot of graspable "there" there, at least at this point, but yet it makes me happy to go there, and I always feel happy and affirmed when I leave.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


For the past two weeks I've been engaged in a labor of love to benefit my congregation -- expanding our online presence, which up to now has been a rather basic webpage, to include a Facebook page and blog. I've also been setting up a posting schedule for the latter (pretty funny, considering the hit-or-miss posting schedule on my own blog), with theme days a la the RevGalBlogPals.

I began to get discouraged early on simply because so few people in our congregation (and this, sadly, encompasses all age ranges) know how to use a computer. But when I started getting feedback from members and friends who are online -- including someone serving in Iraq -- I knew it was worthwhile.

My goal, as de facto webmeister of these two online presences, is to keep them fresh with daily posts, even if they're only links to somewhere else. And this seems to be working in terms of how many hits our Facebook page gets per day.  I have added to the blog a long list of links to places of interest (one hopes) elsewhere on the Web, and widgets ranging from the Old Lutheran Tidbit of the Day to a self-updating church calendar.

Our pastor suggested that I take interested members on an after-church virtual tour of our online properties, using the church-office computer. I think this is a swell idea, and will follow up in a couple weeks when there's more "there" there.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield  fresh. -- from the Epistle of James

I'm still chewing on our epistle lesson from last Sunday.

Maybe that's because, as if on cue,  current events have been filled with stories of intemperate people -- Joe Wilson, Kanye West, Serena Williams, Glenn Beck, et al -- shooting off their mouths in public. Granted, James is speaking to the Christian community, not the world at large; but it's the same problem, with the same consequences.

But I've also been thinking about other examples of people, particularly people with spiritual or social gravitas, using words in a destructive way.

I regularly read an opinion column by a political writer who constantly writes hand-wringing jeremiads about The End of the World As We Know It. Multiply him by every other influence in the media and the world of letters for whom every change in demographics, in politics, in the environment, in society, is a catastrophe. Yes, sometimes change is unfortunate; yes, it's natural to mourn the loss of the familiar and feel anxiety about the new. But a constant drumbeat of "The sky is falling" -- does that not have the power to send others, especially anxious others, into despair? Or -- when the sky does not in fact fall -- cynicism? How does one balance the need to talk about perceived "bad news" with the need to keep people's hope alive? "Without a vision the people perish."

Likewise, I've been thinking about a tendency that I find in myself; an impatience with biblical literalists that gives me almost a kind of impious pleasure in kicking over their right strawy cradles of simpleminded interpretation. Getting into pissing matches with aggressive Bible bangers is one thing -- but is it really so important to overwhelm the doe-eyed newbie in Bible study with historical-critical analysis in response to one of her innocent comments about a text? What is the desired outcome here? What's the more likely outcome? Am I really concerned about learning happening? Is there a better way to respond -- one with less risk of knocking over a spiritually vulnerable person's applecart of faith?

See, folks -- the lectionary does work. If presented well, the texts keep percolating in your brain long after Sunday.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Recovering From Work

I had a dream the other night -- actually, a full-tilt-boogie nightmare -- about my previous job. I woke myself up shouting out at some critical point in the dream; my pulse was racing, and my molars hurt, apparently from their grinding together in my sleep.

I can honestly say that I have never hated a job so much before -- and that includes my disastrous term as a secretary in a college office, whose voluntary leaving I celebrated by burning my job paperwork.  And it had nothing to do with my work tasks per se, which I often found enjoyable -- in the end it was all about the people.

It's taken me almost seven months to even begin to feel "normal" again -- to feel smart and competent and happy to wake up in the morning. It's also taken me almost seven months to reconnect with a couple of friendly coworkers; before that, I just didn't want to be that close to the job.

A sobering thought for me, though, many stories of quiet desperation are never told? How many of the people living those stories do not, like me, have the opportunity to opt out, at least for a time, and regroup?

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Flannel Friday Five

Ah...a warm, snuggly Friday Five from the RevGalBlogPals!

1. What was your favorite sleeping attire as a child? And did you call them pjs, pajamas (to rhyme with llamas), pajamas (to sort of rhyme with bananas), jammies, or ???

My favorite pajamas (which we pronounced with the broad Midwestern "a") were flannel footies. Alas, my mother decided that the footies were too hard to keep clean, so at some point I transitioned to standard flannel pj's.

2. Favorite sleepwear put on your own little ones, or perhaps those you babysat? (Bonus points if you made it).

Not applicable. Although I do recall trying to fit our cat into an old onesie from my babyhood. (The cat did not approve.)

3. How about today-do you prefer nightgown, pajamas, undies, or au naturel?

In the warm months I prefer sleepshirts -- not too long, not too short. In the wintertime I switch to either a classic granny nightgown or flannel lounge pants with a long-sleeved T-shirt.

4. Silky smooth or flannel-y cozy?

Flannel all the way. I crave womblike warmth and security in bed, and flannel does the job. Victoria's Secret is for sissies.

5. Socks or bare feet?

In the dead of winter I often find myself wearing slipper-socks to bed; they also come in handy when one of the animals insists on a late-night potty outing.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Irony Alert

Encountered while attempting to find some appropriate artwork for this week's RevGalBLogPals Lectionary Leanings: "You do not have permission to access/saints..."

My bad!