Saturday, September 30, 2006

Autumn Road Trip

Oh! Oh! Oh!

It was a dreary, drizzly day today, but we had an absolute blast traveling around the Midland area. We went to Moore Orchards, just south of Midland, which grows over 30 kinds of apples, including several interesting heirloom varieties. Our mission was to pick up a half-bushel of Fameuse, or snow apples, an old variety that we used to grow on the LutheranChik family farm. We wound up with an additional half-peck sampler of other heirlooms like Holstein, Cox Pippin and an extremely tasty little green-russet apple, plus delicious fresh caramel apples and homemade donuts for the doggies. What fun. On the way home we stopped at the Eastman Party Store, one of our new favorite hangouts, where we picked up snacks to nosh on during the U of M game tonight, including fresh mozarella and an incredible lemon Stilton cheese -- this has tiny pieces of candied lemon peel in it and tastes exactly like lemon cheesecake. Some dibs of sausage, cheese, water crackers and apples...a supper fit for royalty. It's good to be Queen.

Calling All Angels

Do you think a lot about angels?

I have to admit that I don't; not really. Perhaps because I don't really understand the taxonomy and natural history, if you will, of angels; how they fit into the divine scheme of things. I remember, growing up, the ubiquitous Teutonic-kitschy picture of the guardian angel guarding the little children on the rickety bridge, beloved of Lutheran Sunday-school rooms everywhere. I cherish the old family treetop angel that I now hang from my own Christmas tree. I narrowly escaped grave injury more than once in my childhood, in a variety of misadventures -- most famously, my climbing up our farm elevator and falling down into our corncrib back when I was about three -- happy endings that my family attributed to my guardian angels watching over me.

But when I try to understand, or even believe in, an angelic presence in this world, I can't wrap my head around the concept. Why is it that my guardian angel eased me into a soft landing on a pile of corncobs instead of letting me fall to my death on a cement corncrib floor, but other guardian angels don't similarly save other little children from dangerous situations? If every blade of grass has its angel standing next to it telling it, "Grow! Grow" -- what about the grss that withers and dies? And the whole traditional understanding of the fall of Satan -- Satan's vanity and desire for equality of God -- how does that square with the idea of angels as beings with superior intelligence but without human emotion?

So I tend to be an angel agnostic. Whether they're real entities or wish-dreams or metaphors...I just don't know. But the other evening, this week when much of Christendom celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, as I rode in a car in the rain on a busy freeway at night, I found myself thinking about my guardian angel, if there is one, and about Fellow Traveler's guardian angel, if there is one, and offering up -- not exactly a prayer, but a thought that, if they are with us, we're glad they are.

(Artwork: "The Mighty Angel," Sulamith Wulfing)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

It's been one of those good/bad, yin/yang days. Bad: My engine began overheating halfway to work, at my relatively distant satellite office, necessitating a trip to a local garage where they couldn't really fix my problem but filled up my radiator so I could get home again. Good: I got a really fabulous haircut from my new favorite stylist, an exciteable magenta-haired young woman with a Valley-Girl-Comes-To-Upper-Midwest demeanor("I, like, so want to run my hands through your hair! Your hair is, like, totally fun to cut! I am, like, stoked to razor-cut the back! Kewl!"). Good: After a slow start, the leaves are really starting to color up nicely around greater Outer Podunk, especially outside my office -- lovely reds and oranges and yellows, all on one tree. Good: I'm going out for chicken wings tonight. Bad: I have a raging headache. Bad: I still have to drive home in the Vehicle of Doom. Good: I don't have to drive for the rest of the weekend.

My day is like the autumn weather: Successions of sun and cloud, cold and warmth, showers and clearings.

Anyhow, a poem: "Neighbors in October," by David Baker .

Friday Five: Group Therapy

The RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five:

Tell us about any group(s) you currently belong to. (e.g. book club, knitting circle, walking buddies, etc.)
My friend and I are in the process of creating a kind of every-other-month potluck/barbecue/theme party group with other women in the general mid-Michigan area. We've already had a couple of meetups, and are planning a "harvest" party for sometime in the coming month. Other than that...I'm an introvert; not much of a joiner. My pre-party planning for socially enforced get-togethers tends to resemble the scene in All That Jazz where Roy Scheider is looking in the mirror, putting on a game face and proclaiming, "It's showtime!"

Do you feel energized or drained by being in a group situation? If the answer is "it depends," on what does it depend?
I am sometimes energized; very often drained. The less I have in common with others in the group and the more I have to do the heavy lifting in conversations, the more drained I feel.

Is there a role you naturally find yourself playing in group situations? That is, do you naturally fall into the leader role, or the one who always makes sure the new person feels welcome, or the quiet one who sits back and lets others shine, or the host?
Oh, I'm definitely the helper. I'm the one refilling trays in the kitchen, or showing people around. If you're not a natural "groupie" these things give you something useful to do so you don't sit around thinking, "What am I going to say next?" or sitting in a corner spacing out. Give me a job to do.

Handshakes vs. hugs: discuss.
I don't care to hug people I don't know. I'm not a fan of fake familiarity. So if I do hug you spontaneously, know that it actually means something.

Ice breakers: a playful way to build community in a lighthearted manner, or a complete and utter hell of forced fun and awkwardness?
That definitely depends on the group. I'd put any work-related-shindig icebreakers in the latter category. I've enjoyed retreat-connected icebreakers, though.

Bonus: If you answered "playful and lighthearted," share your favorite ice breaker.
I once went to a retreat where each of us had a piece of paper taped to our backs with the name of an historical or current-events figure on it. We didn't know who we were. We had to go around and ask for clues from the other retreatants, and vice versa. I know...icebreakers for geeks. Say -- want me to go in the kitchen and refill the chip-and-dip trays for you?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


LC's two-word review of this new television series: Blows chunks.

She Cooks, Too

One of the swell things about Fellow Traveler is that she too likes to cook. Our weekends can be like a friendly version of Iron Chef.

Here's one of her recipes. We tasted it at someone's open house, and liked it, and she got the recipe. She made it for our last church potluck, where it was a great success. It's also amenable to additions and substitutions.

Crockpot Sauerkraut, Kielbasa and Beans

a pound of kielbasa
a jar of sauerkraut, well rinsed and drained
a can of navy or great northern beans, with liquid
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 TBS ketchup

Put this in a crockpot, stir it all together and let it simmer all day. That's it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Gee, It's Quiet in Here

It's because I have a Stressful Work-Related Event coming up today.

It involves about 150 volunteers, which as I told one of my coworkers is like herding a roomful of cats.

Things will be better after about 4:00 pm today.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Poetry Blogging

"Autumn Psalm" by Jacqueline Osherow , courtesy of The Poetry Foundation .

A Black-and-Blue Friday Five

The RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five is all about "owies":

Are you a baby about small injuries?
No, I tend to be pretty stoic; although profuse bleeding makes me go a little shpilcus.

What's the silliest way you have ever hurt yourself?
See the last question.

Who took care of your boo-boos when you were a child?
My mother was definitely the boo-boo healer. My dad, who hated whining, was more of a "Buck up and take it like a grown-up" attitude adjustor.

Are you a good nurse when others have boo-boos?
My mother said no; other people have said yes.

What's the worst accidental injury you've suffered? Did it require a trip to the Emergency Room?
A couple of years ago I was taking down my garden fence when somehow the sharp end of a fence wire snapped back and then caught me inside my ear, slashing an L-cut. I saw stars for a second or two; blood started gushing out of the laceration. I drove myself to the local ER, driving one-handed while the other attempted to staunch the bleeding with a large wad of paper towel, and provided a couple of hours of challenge and entertainment for the ER staff as the young doctor on call tried to sew stiches in this most unusual place. My male friends were all mightily impressed by my L-shaped, stitched-up scar -- sort of the horticultural version of the other kind of fencing wound. And I also wound up finally getting my long-overdue tetanus booster updated.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Letter From Cody

Dear Bloggers:

Wow! I didn't know I had so many friends! I mean, there's my two lady human friends, and my boy crushes B and B, and Katie and Cassie and Molly, and Charlie the neighbor dog...but...gosh. It's good to be King.

I was very sick this sick and weak that all I could do was lie on FT's lap. She and LC talked about me -- this irritates me when I'm well; Hello! I'm sitting right here! -- but now they were speaking in quiet, sickroom voices. LC started to cry, and then she went away and came back rubbing her eyes and was using that fake-happy voice she uses when she's about to do something I won't like, like take me to the vet. I knew something was very wrong.

And they kept saying that V word: And looking very serious and sad. Even the big dogs, Katie and Cassie, who are usually kind of wild and silly at my house, were quiet. Cassie tried to cheer me up with her stuffed puppy, and when that didn't work she brought me a kibble. Then she just put her chin down on the sofa cushion and stayed with me for awhile. Katie is like a mom, even though I'm older than she is, and I knew she was looking out for me too.

Then...the ladies fed me some chicken soup. LC put some in the syringe she uses to feed me my yucky pink medicine, and shot it down my throat. I tasted it...and it helped me remember how much I like chicken. I love chicken. I let her do that a few more times. And then I slowly started eating more...a bit of hamburger here, a bit of sausage there. I felt stronger. The next day, when LC came home from work, I was even able to greet her the way I usually do, "Ah-wah! Ah-wah-wah!", which is Dog for her name. I ate some of FT's beef-lentil soup; it was really good, so good that I ate the lentils too and not just the beef. When I took my time eating, Katie came over and tried to share my beef (she may be like a mom, but she also loves her food); I let her know that I may be down, but I'm not out. The ladies laughed, and said, "He's back!"

Today I am feeling a lot better...a lot better. LC gave me a wash-up and I ran around the house at breakneck speed, the way I always do when I get a bath. And I had some kielbasa and round steak, and watched some TV. (What's up with that Katie Couric? Where's Bob Schieffer?)

Anyway...thanks to all of you for thinking about me. I'm lying here next to LC, but not in a sick way; I'm just waiting for her to get off the darn computer and go to bed. I wonder what I'll get to eat tomorrow -- maybe some more kielbasa. Good grub, a warm bed, two-legged and four-legged I say, it's good to be King.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Prayers, Please, For the Pup

Constant Readers will be sad to learn that The Codeman, my cute-but-irascable Maltese, is sick...severe intestinal problems and lethargy; won't eat. He isn't in pain, though, and has short bursts of energy, and when one of his big blonde girlfriends tried to cheer him up, first by waving a stuffed toy in his face and then by presenting him with a kibble, his response was true to form -- growling at her. He has been spending much of the last three days cuddling on Fellow Traveler's lap or sleeping on his own bundle of favorite blankets. Yesterday, with much encouragement, he ate about a tablespoon of McDonald's hamburger (a favorite treat) and sausage, and some chicken soup. Today he's not eaten anything yet. The God I believe in is a God who cares even about elderly little dogs; please keep him in your prayers, that whatever the outcome for this is the best one for him.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Oh, the Things You Can Do If You Step Away From the 'Puter

1. Get up in the dark of morning to drive to a farmers' market 35 miles away. (Is this the best time of year to hit farmers' markets or what?) Spend another half hour trying to find a church out in the suburbs that's been recommended as a good place to visit every so often. Get lost, despite confident directions from two locals. Give up. Come home. Assemble veggies for the Saturday-evening version of a Sunday dinner.

2. Come back home; make lunch; chop up veggies to roast. Remove several months' embarrassing accumulated detritus from inside of my car.

3. While Close Personal Friend is, for reasons I don't quite understand but very much appreciate, cleaning and waxing and buffing my car, transplant flowers; plant bulbs; prune shrubs; cut down sickly and annoying Persian lilac; paint Bilco door with primer. Periodically run inside to roast vegetables, ready chicken; put chicken in the oven and baste chicken.

4. Serve dinner. Ponder one's Prayer of the Church while Close Personal Friend asks, eyebrow raised, "Have you written your prayer yet?" Check e-mail, finally.

Who knew you could pack so much into one day and still think of it as a weekend respite.

Real life: What a concept.

Bonus: What We Et

Cider-Brined Chicken
A day before you're ready to make the chicken, create a brine in a large pot, using 8 cups apple cider; 2/3 cup kosher salt; 2/3 cup sugar; 2 tsp. peppercorns; a bay leaf if you wish; 1 cup chopped onion; 1 cup chopped carrot. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Simmer for, like, 10 or 20 minutes, then remove from heat. Add 4 cups of cold water; cool mixture to room temperature. Add 1 roasting chicken (I had a 5 1/2 pound roaster from my buddy Farmer Ken.) Make sure that brine enters into chicken cavity. Place in refrigerator for a day, turning over the chicken (is that the same as flipping the bird?) occasionally.

The next day, drain the chicken; rub with olive oil or butter inside and out; fill the cavity with apple and onion quarters and savory herbs and veggies of your choice (I used celery odds and ends, a skinny little carrot, a garlic clove, homegrown sage and thyme and rosemary.) Roast at 375 degrees, about 30 minutes per pound, basting frequently with a mixture of apple cider, olive oil and some of the herbs you stuffed inside the chicken. You may need to turn down the heat or place some aluminum foil over the chicken so it doesn't overbrown; but the cider basting mixture will give your chicken a lovely mahogany color and shiny glaze. (I used my stand-up chicken roaster -- it's like a round, deep cake pan with a central well and chimney to hold your infusing ingredients; the chicken goes over top, so that when it goes in the oven it appears to be sitting upright in the pan, waving goodbye. I placed a little bit of cider in the well and added the other savory goodies; it looked almost like a table arrangement before I pushed the chicken's butt down over it. This gizmo, unlike many kitchen gizmos, actually seems to work, and cut down on the cooking time too.)

Autumn Roasted Veggies
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Assemble an assortment of autumnal vegetables to your liking, cut into bite-sized pieces -- a quantity that can be laid out on a cookie sheet one layer deep. (My choices today: red potato; rutabaga; butternut squash; celery; carrot; halved Brussels sprouts; red onion; red sweet pepper. I've also seen recipes using cauliflower, yams, parsnips...even radishes.) Toss with about a quarter cup of good-quality olive oil, kosher salt and cracked pepper. Roast for a half hour, gently stirring veggies halfway through. At the half-hour point, add three or four slivered garlic cloves.

Baked Pears
Halved, seeded pears (semi-ripe is best, I think -- neither too hard nor too soft)topped with butter and brown sugar and baked or microwaved.

The Gospel in the Gospel

Those of you who read my previous post on tomorrow's Gospel lesson know that my friend Tom in Ontario posited the question: Where is the Gospel here? 'Cause all that taking-up-your-cross stuff doesn't sound like especially good news.

Well, over on Beliefnet, in reference to something else entirely, my friend prjp offered a quote from Francis of Assisi that may just define the Gospel behind the Gospel lesson. Francis said, and I'm paraphrasing, that once we realize that in Holy Baptism we died the only death that really matters, we become able to risk other kinds of death for Christ's sake.

Think that's it?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Touch Me, Fall

What a glorious day here in mid-Michigan. Oh, it started out swathed in pea-soup fog, but now the sun is out, after several days of gloom, shining on the beginnings of our fall color season…small but significant splashes of crimson and orange and smoky aubergine beginning to appear on the maples, the sumac, the ashes. Sprays of wild asters and goldenrod nod along the roadside. I’m going to a farmer’s market tomorrow, where I’m sure I will be so entranced by the seasonal colors and aromas that I’ll have to be physically dragged back home. And it’s just about time for my second annual Volunteer Apple Taste-a-Thon, where I travel the back roads of Outer Podunk and surrounds, looking for sample windfall apples along the fencerows to taste-test. I took my mother on such an outing last year, and she loved it.

I love autumn. It’s something of a guilty pleasure, since I know a lot of people who find this time of year depressing. But to me it’s a great psychological boost after the long, muggy, insect-eaten wind-down of summer. My internal timeclock seems to run on the academic year instead of the calendar year anyway. And this year especially, after the shock of bereavement and, closely following, the surprise of new love, it feels like a right time both for some personal stock-taking and for some reinvention.

I feel energized, and percolating with ideas, and more than a little feisty. I know…last weekend I was in the pit of despair. Well, t’hell with that. There’s no time for that. I’ve got places to go and people to see and words to write and apples to pick and winterizing chores to accomplish before the bare-branched, gun-metal days of November.

I remind myself of a bear, readying for winter, grasping at every shiny late-season berry in the brambles: Just one more bite. Just one more.

P.S. I'm still camera-less -- alas, no botanical blogging today -- but I can direct you to The Leland Report , from up in one of my favorite parts of the state. Enjoy the view.

Friday Poetry Blogging

September, 1918

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.
-- by Amy Lowell

Almost-Famous Friday Five

Tell us about a time you met someone famous.
I once came within touching distance of humorist Dave Barry, at a writer's conference. I did not touch him.

Tell us about a celebrity you'd like to meet.
You know, honestly, I'm not terribly interested in meeting celebrities, unless it would be to help them find a pleasant hideaway somewhere in outstate Michigan where noone will recognize them and they can rest and recreate in peace...unless of course they're country singers or NASCAR drivers. (If you're a non-country, non-NASCAR celebrity reading this...I know places. E-mail me.)

Tell us about someone great who's *not* famous that you think everyone oughta have a chance to meet.
My pastor is pretty cool. And he has great stories.

Do you have any autographs of famous people?
I used to have a fake autograph of George Harrison, back when I was in junior high school and thought that George was the coolest Beatle.

If you were to become famous, what would you want to become famous for?
Writing something very, very good.

Bonus: Whose 15 minutes of fame was up long, long ago?
Anyone featured on Access Hollywood.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Taking Up Our Cross

"Take up your cross."

It's an image that has fallen casualty to overuse, overfamiliarity and over-spiritualization. When we talk about our own "crosses to bear," the crosses we perceive ourselves as carrying tend to be the usual discomforts of human life -- illness; interpersonal friction; financial misfortune. Or perhaps we associate a cross with some form of voluntary asceticism.

But I wonder if Jesus' original hearers, and the original hearers of Mark's Gospel, had the same tamed and mundane crosses in mind.

Because crucifixion was a unique, purposeful means of execution. The process -- from the scourging and stripping, to the awful journey toward the execution site, to the extended psychological as well as physical torment of being nailed to a crossbeam and left to slowly die, naked and incontinent, was designed to maximize the humiliation of the condemned, and in doing so to send a message from the powers that be to the rest of society: Challenge our authority, and this is what will happen to you.

When Jesus challenged his listeners to take up their crosses, I suspect that what came to their minds was something other than the rigors of daily life or self-imposed spiritual discipline. I think that they recognized in a way that we don't, the danger implicit in taking Christ seriously, in living into a Reign of God whose values and priorities diverge from those of the dominant culture -- including the dominant religious culture -- and the "powers and principalities" that run it.

So what does it really mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus? What does it mean to "lose our lives" in terms of the claims that our dominant culture places on them?

Station 7: Christ Falls a Second Time, Chris Woods  Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 11, 2006

Monday Five

I was out of town and generally out of the range of the Internet this past Friday, so I didn’t have an opportunity to play the RevGalBlogPals’ Friday Five until today. Our topic: Name five things you’ve enjoyed in the past week. In order to be consistent with my fellow bloggers, I am going to use the time frame beginning the previous Saturday and ending this past Saturday.

Five Things I’ve Enjoyed in the Past Week (in no particular order)
1. Making and eating a humongous crockpot of beef vegetable soup using the tail end of all that great late-summer farmers’ market produce – green beans, zucchini and cookneck squash, cauliflower and dead-ripe tomatoes. I honestly could eat homemade soup every day.

2. The first turning leaves. Saturday afternoon, driving home from my retreat, I couldn’t help but notice how quickly the leaves are changing around here – maples and sumacs seem to be leading the way. And I enjoy the asters and goldenrod along the roadside, and the geese-arrows overhead Fall is my favorite season, so I’m always happy when the shopworn late-summer landscape begins its autumnal transformation.

3. The creative process involved in writing a closing devotional for my retreat…because I never know exactly what I’m going to wind up with when I plan worship. It’s a lot like cooking or gardening that way. This time around I’d begun with the assumption that I’d keep things fairly straightforward and liturgical – some truncated version of the Service of the Word, maybe. Instead I showed up with a farmer’s market peck basket; a pertinent reading from John’s Gospel about bearing fruit; a short extemporaneous chat about taking stock of harvests – I talked about the success of my herb dish garden, the failure of my tomato crop, the pleasant surprise of colorful “volunteer” Johnny-jump-ups in my lawn that wound up filling a space in my perennial bed, and my planting bulbs this fall in the hopes of new life and growth in the spring. I then invited the others in my class to write down a sentence or word describing the yield they’ve received or at least striven for in their spiritual and congregational lives in the past year, as well as a description of the “seeds” they want to nurture in the long term, and place them in my basket. I offered these things up to God in our prayers, and invited the group to add their own prayers for these things and for other occasions for thanksgiving or concern. I’m not sure how much the rest of the group got out of this, but in the context of my own anger and sadness and frustration this past weekend it was both a pleasure and a relief to get out of myself and my feelings long enough to let the Spirit play with images and words and themes from our weekend together and from nature and braid them into at least a semi-coherent ritual of gathering and sending.

4. The story of the Birthday Corn Cob, as related in a prior post. Being a (day after) Christmas baby, my own birthday stories pretty much went downhill after the initial one, so it was fun to be at least a supporting character in someone else’s big day.

5. Turning into my driveway late on a dark, drizzly Saturday afternoon, feeling weepy and despondent, to find FT sitting on my back stairs, soup simmering in my kitchen and our respective dogs dancing and chortling in greeting. However "incompetent" this interpersonal scenario seems to appear to some, in the words of the Dixie Chicks, "It feels like home to me."

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Shoe Drops

Well, this weekend at my lay ministry we learned that our synod is working on a version of ELCA's Visions and Expectations for lay ministers. We were supposed to discuss their draft during our breakout time. I sat and stewed; because frankly I don't feel safe enough to express my feelings in my group.

Three observations:

I wonder how the draft's verbiage that our vocations in lay ministry are a "privilege and not a right" square with the idea, expressed elsewhere in the document, that our vocations are a calling from God? With whom, exactly, does the church think the ultimate authority rests in granting the privilege of ministering to Christ's people? Wouldn't that be...Christ?

I found it interesting that in one breath our V&E draft talks about lay ministers needing to demonstrate "competency in interpersonal relationships," and in the next breath denies lay ministers who happen to be gay or lesbian from having the kind of competent interpersonal relationships that others take for granted.

And, irony of ironies, after spending part of the day reading a document that would effectively deny gay and lesbian Lutherans in committed partnerships from ministering in an official capacity, we spent a few hours not only talking about evangelism and listening to handwringing warnings that the ELCA is going to disappear as a denomination if we don't improve our outreach to the rest of society and to our own disaffected former members, but also having cited as a "transformational" expert in evangelism Kelly Fryer, former pastor, who had to resign from the ordained ministry due to the parameters of Visions and Expectations.

I spent Saturday night in tears, IM-ing Fellow Traveler about my retreat. (Oh, and I'd like to thank the church for its witness of love and acceptance and message that "Everyone is welcome," as experienced by my formerly non-churchgoing friend, who is finding out firsthand how our denomination really feels about our presence in it. Good work.)

I spent today in a hayfield filled with hippies, which frankly was both more spiritual and more enjoyable than my last day-and-a-half with my Lutheran "sisters and brothers in Christ."

Greetings From Wheatland Music Festival

Happy Wheatland!

The Main Stage at Wheatland Music Festival Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 08, 2006

Friday Bloom Blogging

I'll tell you, it stinks not having a camera. But here's a photo of one of my pal's Rose of Sharon bushes from back in August. Her hedge is pretty well bloomed off now; we're moving into mum and aster season here in greater Outer Podunk. Which is actually my very favorite time of with any luck I'll soon be able to share some images of that again.

A bloom on my friend's Rose of Sharon bush  Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Happy Wheatland!

It's the second weekend in September, and I am headed for the Wheatland Music Festival in Remus, Michigan. Actully, first I'm headed for my fall lay ministry training event, then to Wheatland. They're each a kind of alternative universe to the one I live in most of the time, and are both great fun.

In case any of my readers (how many are we up to now? Eight?) live in Michigan and are within reasonable driving distance from Remus -- if you hold up your hand, Remus is about an inch and a half down from the junction of your middle and ring fingers, halfway between Mt. Pleasant and Big Rapids -- tickets are still available. Enjoy some great music, at one of three stages or out amongst the campers; dance; walk the juried art fair; hang out at the music workshops; people-watch; eat; catch some late-summer rays. I'll be the one in the technicolor tie-dye shirt; you can't miss me.

Corn, Crows and Karma

My camera is still in the shop. But if it weren’t, what you’d be seeing right now is a giant wooden cob of corn, with three wooden crows sitting atop it.

This folksy objet d’art is on my TV cabinet right now; not permanently, just until it finds its perfect spot with its rightful owner. But her obtaining it is a great story.

It was Fellow Traveler’s birthday this week. We’re foodies, and while this usually manifests itself in things like competitive home cooking or systematically working our way through the sauce menu at Buffalo Wild Wings, I thought I’d take her out to the swankiest restaurant I could think of in our corner of the world – a venerable white-linen-tablecloth establishment across the street from a regional state university.

We had a generally swell time. FT had wheedled our destination out of me earlier; in studying the menu beforehand, we thought it would be most fun to order a series of intriguing appetizers and dessert, so that’s what we did, I think much to the interest and amusement of our attentive waitstaff – little dishes like a buttery snail tart and puff-pastry-wrapped goat cheese surrounded by an engagingly sweet-salty mixture of roasted Mediterranean vegetables; each tidbit presented to our appreciative oohs and ahhs. Business was a little slow that evening – a table of doctors and pharmaceutical reps on one side; a set of visiting ‘rents taking their college-age kids out to dinner over in the corner; a morose older couple who picked at their plates while glaring at us so steadily and intensely and disapprovingly – that don’t-make-us-integrate-the-lunch-counter kind of glare -- that I felt like walking over and saying, “Doing that is not going to make us leave, so why don’t you just eat your salad and mind your own business.” Later on a casually dressed couple, folks who looked like farmers having a night out on the town, were ushered to a table on our other side, briefly deflecting the hot-dagger stare of Mr. and Mrs. Congeniality. (“We’re going to have to eat at the country club from now on, Muffy…there are altogether too many unacceptable people here.”)

FT has a fondness for baked Alaska, so that’s what we ordered – little knowing that the purported “dessert for two” was going to be the size of a large cinderblock. How were we going to eat all this? we wondered as one of the waitresses lit it tableside, the other diners around us (except, of course, for Mr. and Mrs. Congeniality) watching with delight. We asked if anyone wanted to share half; our neighbors demurred, so we asked the waitresses if they’d like to take half of it back to the kitchen and share it with the other staff. They were thrilled – “Oh! I finally get to taste it!”

In the course of the baked Alaska presentation we’d told the staff about it being FT’s birthday; that prompted the couple next to us to introduce themselves. Turns out they were farmers, from a small town right around the palm of the Lower Peninsulan mitten; they’d been up in Marquette, and had spent the entire day driving back downstate. We talked about the weather, and farming, what we did for a living, and the restaurant. Suddenly the man excused himself: “I need to get you something.” Several minutes later he returned with the wooden cob of corn. He carved these and sold them at craft shows, he said. His mother used to paint them for him; she’d died recently, and this was one of the last ones she’d painted.

“Here -- I want you to have this,” he told FT. “Happy Birthday!”

We love the cob of corn, and the crows on the corn, and the story behind it. Thank you, neighbors.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Yard Sale Economic Barometer

This weekend our church held its annual yard sale -- our Mack daddy, full-tilt-boogie annual fundraiser -- on the front lawn of one of our parishoners' family farmsteads.

Fellow Traveler and I took our turn staffing the enterprise. (And FT went above and beyond by helping set up earlier in the week, a task that was a lot more arduous than sitting behind the cashier's table.) We had a lot of fun, shilling among the shoppers ("A buck a bag! Fill a bag for a buck!") and pawing through the merchandise and eating a lot (one of the perks of working our yard sale is the grub -- sloppy joes made by our youth group and various baked goodies).

But as amusing as the weekend was, it was also sobering to see the level of need in our community. I'm a veteran of about six of these sales, and I think the desperation quotient of the bargain hunters was as high as I've ever seen it. People are hurting financially in my part of the world, big time.

Someone had donated a pair of wobbly old end tables to our sale. They'd sat languishing for the first day of the sale. Then a woman showed up, young kids in tow; she was a grandmother, she told one of our workers, raising her grandkids because her own adult child's life was in chaos. This woman bought several bags of kids' clothing. Then she asked about the end tables, which had a "make an offer" sign on them.

"Well," our colleague said cheerfully, "the sign says make an offer."

"I can give you a dollar," the woman murmured. Then she began to cry.

She got the end tables. And we threw in an old television.

This is what life looks like in rural America these days.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Drivetime Friday Five

Our weekly poll from the RevGalBlogPals :

Driving: an enjoyable way to clear the mind? a means to an end? a chance to be quiet with one's thoughts? a necessary evil? the downfall of our planet and its fossil fuels? Discuss.
For me, a necessary evil unless I'm on a leisurely recreational drive up north.

Do you drive the speed limit? A little faster? Slower? Have you ever gotten a ticket?
I generally drive about five mph over the limit, although I've had my moments...the most embarrassing of which was getting ticketed for going 60 through a rural 25 mph speed trip en route home from church. Oops...

Do you take public transportation? When? What's your opinion of the experience?
Living in rural America, "public transportation" consists of on-demand minibus travel. This means that, after calling the transit office and telling them where you are and where you need to be, your bus might arrive in 15 minutes. Or 45 minutes. Or an hour and 15 minutes. It just depends. I've used public transit when my car's been in the shop; sometimes it's a fairly straight shot from A to B, and other times it's a meandering adventure. If you need to get somewhere on time, like a job or an appointment, it can be incredibly frustrating. If you don't need to be anywhere in particular, it's a good way to discover the local "roads less traveled."

Complete this sentence: _____________ has the worst drivers I've ever experienced.
Oh -- a two-fer: Resort-town Michigan and southeastern Michigan. (A statement that might get me in trouble because I am the Close Personal Friend of a southeast- Michigan native.) The former is true because residents of the latter are the ones driving like maniacs up here. And I'll add that they make not only scary drivers but scary pedestrians; one of my most amusing (although not at the time) memories of living even farther up north in Up North Michigan was having to stop, one morning during my to-work commute, for a sleepily inattentive camper from the local state park wandering across the busy multi-lane highway, brushing his teeth.

According to the Census Bureau, reverendmother's fair city has the 6th longest average commute in the United States at 29 minutes each way. How does your personal commute rate?
I'm very lucky; I live "in the country," but can make it to work in under 10 minutes (and usually do). That's except for Fridays, when I have a fairly pleasant blue-highways commute of about 45 minutes into the next county.

Friday Poetry Blogging

I'd wanted to repost a particular poem I'd heard on Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac the other Friday during my morning commute...but when I read through that particular page of archived poems I decided you should read 'em all. Which you can do right here .

(Cameraless) Friday Bloom Blogging

I miss my camera.

If I did have my camera, I'd send you a picture of my friend's lavender and blue Rose of Sharon shrubs...the Queen Anne's lace and goldenrod along my road...the mums and end-of-season-clearance roses down at the local greenhouse...the wild asters in my woods.