Friday, December 28, 2007

An "Auld Lang Syne" Friday Five

This week the RevGalBlogPals ask members to name their five most memorable moments of 2007.

As I mentioned on that blog, I feel I've done an awful lot of living in the past year -- too much to distill the experience into five memorable moments, much less explain why these were memorable. But here are some highlights of my year that was:

Happiest: I'd have to say that Fellow Traveler's and my quiet, peaceful Christmas Eve was my best Christmas ever -- the closest to that elusive Christmas-card-ideal-Christmas-scene holiday in my head. (Our trip up north comes in a close second, despite our both being so terribly sick during most of it.)

Saddest: As regular readers know, it's been a hard year for our household petwise, with two of our beloved companions passing away. But Katie the golden retriever's death was much sadder than Cody's because her final illness came so suddenly, and because she was so sick and seizuring and disoriented toward the end. She was such a sweet, loving dog-friend; it saddens me to think of her last days.

Scariest: Fellow Traveler's health scares earlier this year were frightening indeed. Waiting for the post-op phone call...waiting in the Ann Arbor VA waiting room...not my favorite memories of 2007.

Strangest: Wondering, along with one of my fellow lay ministry students, why we were taking some of the same courses in our three-year program over again...asking about it at a retreat...and being told, "Oh...oops...well,it looks like you've graduated." It wasn't as if we were expecting "Pomp and Circumstance" with champagne toasts, mind you, but it would have been nice to have been informed of this educational milestone somewhat in advance.

Silliest: "Laverne and Shirley Go Canoeing." I don't think either one of us has recovered from that escapade yet. (Methinks the 2008 version will be my Adventures in Golf.)

Bonus Points: Quizmaster Singing Owl asked us if we had any "God moments" this year. I can't point to anything numinous or otherwise dramatic...but during our retreat in early November Fellow Traveler and I identified taking better care of ourselves physically, as gratitude for God's gift of our enfleshed existence and so that we can continue to be active, productive people was something we really wanted to do as a household in the next year. After that, it seemed that a convergence of things we were reading and hearing about and doing was also pointing in that direction -- to paraphrase Matthew Fox, it seemed as if the Universe were in on the plan and conspiring to get and keep us motivated. We have taken baby steps in a healthier direction, and come the first of the year we are focusing on this project in a much bigger way. Again, not a very dramatic "aha!" moment, but an "aha!" nonetheless.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Feed People, Get Smart

What a great website, courtesy of ADIL (Almost-Daughter-in-Law): Free Rice . Play the vocabulary game, and for each correct word you select you contribute a small amount of rice to the United Nations food program. This is the real deal; the advertisers whose banners appear at the bottom of the page pay for the rice. Do you know your weir from your weald? Check it out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It's 9:30 our time; we are experiencing post-Christmas-Eve, post-Christmas morning mellow (enhanced by breakfast cinnamon rolls). So I'm not too eloquent right now. So until I get my writing voice back...Fellow Traveler and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas; and here are some photos of our celebration to date:
Here's the stylin' Santa who showed up at my aunt's nursing home earlier this month.

A weeping specimen tree all decked out for the holidays -- one of the visual delights of the Dow Gardens Christmas walk this year. For any readers in Michigan, this is a great holiday excursion; we estimated we walked about a mile and a half, enjoying an assortment of lighted garden features and musicians from local musical groups and churches stationed along the way. The path wends through the extensive gardens, into the Conservatory and winds up in a barn turned into a cozy warming house with cocoa.

A glimpse of our beautiful tree at Cold Comfort Cottage. I have very nearly, but not quite, reached the load limit of ornaments.

Just two items from my enormous pile of swag. Very appropriate, I think.

The LutheranChik family creche -- down to one original sheep, but otherwise still going strong after 50 years.

Cassie lapsed into a Christmas coma after getting all her new toys. (Mollie spent the night goofing on catnip, then retired shortly after the rest of us got up.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Coffee: The Third Sacrament

Hey -- ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson made it into a Newsweek special photo section, "Faces of Faith." As did his Rev-Run-worthy scapular. And as did his stainless steel coffee mug.

Coffee truly is our third sacrament.

(Hint to the PB: Try Fair Trade Ethiopian Yirgicheffe -- it's positively heavenly.)

Update: I forgot the link -- click on it now to see Bishop Hanson et al.

A Happy Solstice to You!

I don't know about you, but I for one -- someone who tends to be emotionally and physically worn down by the short, dark days of late fall -- am most happy and grateful that the days are now growing longer; and the metaphor of darkness and negativity being eventually overcome by light and life isn't lost on me either. I understand my northern European ancestors' desire to observe this time of year. And I don't see a conflict between being a citizen of the Reign of God and a citizen of this planet, subject to its circular rhythms and seasonal touchstones; I don't understand contemporary Puritan jihadists' contempt for the natural world and for the human impulse to celebrate significant points on the circle of the year.

So I wish my fellow citizens of Planet Earth a happy Winter Solstice, and more light of all kinds in the year to come.

Friday, December 21, 2007

See Our Tax Dollars at Work!

Read this.

Would someone please tell these people that they don't constitute the state church of the United States? What is it with them? Good grief.

Great Story

Check out The Bike Man .

Taking Christmas Out of Christ

I work with seniors, and one of the things that has them lathered up right now is the increasing use of the generic "Happy Holidays" greeting during the Christmas season. Lately much of their 'round-the-coffeepot discussions are frowny-faced allusions to people who, in their minds, are "trying to take Christ out of Christmas."

At the risk of disrespecxting my own personal experience living in the world is that not all that many folks really want to take Christ out of Christmas. But there are, it seems, plenty of Christians hell-bent on taking the Christmas out of Christ. I run into them all the time -- latter-day Puritans assaulting all things Christmas as "pagan"; in one case even calling into question the morality of church Christmas pageants, since these plays "use words that aren't in the Bible."

Oh, for God's sake, get over it! I want to scream.

If we really believe that Christ is the Redeemer of the world, then why is it such a stretch to believe that Christ has redeemed not only individual souls but the whole creation, as Paul points out, and with that both the natural world whose cycle we also acknowledge this time of year, and the Ur-memories of our pre-Christian heritage -- the beliefs and rituals of which so often foreshadow the Christian story?

I am so over Christian conservatives and their sour-souled jihad against not only secularism but against the cherished traditions and rituals of their fellow Christians. I don't even feel as if we are a part of the same belief system -- a feeling with which I'm sure they concur.

As someone once noted, If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution. Or in the words of Teresa of Avila, Lord deliver us from sour saints.

My Last Michiganian Jeremiad, and Then I'll Quit, I Promise

The other day I read an editorial in a regional paper decrying as "pork" government spending on specialty agriculture -- getting small farmers hooked up with trying new crops, particularly for the consumer and tourism markets.

I suppose that for someone in the city who doesn't understand farming, or for someone working as an office drone for a company that isn't getting a government subsidy for diversifying its product line, giving Farmer Brown the educational or tools to switch from raising dairy cattle to salad vegetables or running a petting farm for "agritourists" sounds pretty foolish.

But here's the thing: The lovely bucolic small farms of the average American's imagination can no longer survive growing the crops and livestock they've always grown; the economy of scale won't allow it. So small farmers, depending on where they live, are faced with not-very-appealing options like quitting agriculture altogether (to do what, exactly?), or becoming what amounts to corporate serfs of agribusiness factory farms. Diversification and specialty marketing can make a difference between a farm family staying on the land they've farmed for perhaps generations and being forced off. And preserving farmland is not only good for small farmers and their local economies, but the environment as well; one of the most insidious losses of wildlife habitat is due to the "subdivisionication" of farmland, which when it doesn't destroy ecosystems outright fragments them to the point of non-sustainability.

So what's not to like about agricultural diversification? Wouldn't it be great if, for instance, Fellow Traveler and I had the privilege of investing in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm where, for maybe $150 or so a year, we could enjoy whatever farm products were grown -- where we would share the farmer's risks each year but also be able to share in the harvest? Wouldn't it be great if farms in mid-Michigan could cater to other niche consumer markets?

But thinking like that takes vision. And that's something that Michigan has precious little of, in any area, from the grassroots to boardrooms, union headquarters and legislative offices.

I've been interested in politics since I was a little kid debating the Nixon-Humphrey election with my dad...and I have to say that our current Legislature is the most dysfunctional, do-nothing assortment of bi-partisan deadwood ever to descend upon Lansing. To paraphrase late Detroit mayor Coleman Young, the only thing Michigan politicians seem to be able to run is their mouths. Oh -- if you want the Ten Commandments displayed in marble on your courthouse lawn, or if you want punitive legislation passed against families that don't look like Ozzie and Harriet's, or if you want some critter named Michigan's state invertebrate, by God they're on that. But when it comes to anything that actually matters, I think that an average high school civics class could get more accomplished in this state; lock 'em in chambers with some Mountain Dew and a deadline and let them at it.

In a post awhile back I lamented the dismal lifestyle habits of Michiganians; we're always at the bottom of national health surveys on such matters. (Not too long ago I witnessed a multigenerational convoy of grossly obese people, some sporting oxygen tanks and cigarettes, wheezingly making their way in their motorized scooters down a local sidewalk, and thought to myself that that would make a sadly accurate addition to one of those "Day in the Life of Michigan" photo anthologies.) We're not getting it together at the level of individual action and responsibility. And we're not getting it together collectively either. We are in a mess -- a mess caused by inertia and complacency and lack of common sense; and a lack of vision for the future, both our own and future generations'.

And "Without a vision the people perish."

For those of you praying the venerable O Antiphons before Christmas, today's beseeches, "O Dawn of the East, brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of Justice: Come, and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." Today, in my pensive state of mind, it occurred to me that that would make an excellent prayer for Michigan right now.

A Pre-Christmas Friday Five

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...which brings us to this week's RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five:

What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave?
I think I was more young teen than outright child when I gave it, Christmas I bought my parents a Hallmark ornament -- they were much less blingy back in the day -- a ceramic Snoopy and Woodstock on Snoopy's doghouse. It didn't exactly fit the Old World esprit de ornaments of our family tree, but it was one of those first Christmases when I started thinking beyond myself and what I wanted, to our family celebration as a whole. If that makes any sense.

What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.
One of my faves is my mom's honey spice drop recipe, which she cut out of a 1965 wall calendar. They are pleasantly chewy, with a subtly exotic mixture of flavors that please and intrigue people who've tried them. And I'd love to share the recipe, except that I'm at work where I don't have it on hand. But when I do I'll post it.

What is a tradition that your family can't do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.)
I have to have the tree, and I have to open at least some of the presents on Christmas Eve. It's a German thing.

Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the "work" of the holidays. What happens at your place?
I can't speak for my pastor...but in these increasingly secularized times it's often hard to explain to friends that we can't just up and run over to their homes for impromptu get-togethers during the holidays because we're doing church. They seem befuddled by the concept that our church is a community, one that we commit ourselves to, and not a series of discrete worship events that we approach with an easy-come, easy-go attitude.

If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected... what would it be?
I've never spent a Christmas away from home. Christmas in a cozy cabin up north, enjoying a crackling wood fire while the snow gently falls outside...hmmmm...that might be an enjoyable experience one of these years. But this year we're spending it at Cold Comfort Cottage, sans crackling fire (please, dear God!) but with any luck cozy in its own way.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Paying it Forward

Here's a wonderful, anti-Scrooge article to make you feel a little bit better about your fellow human beings and about the corporate world.

If your employer gave you $1,000 with the proviso that it be spent on behalf of others, what would you do with it?

A New State Motto

On the way to work this morning I heard a depressing bit of news on our local public radio station: Michigan's governor desperately wants the state to become a leader in alternative energy technologies and supportive industries, but until there is actually a regional demand for such technologies, Michigan is likely to fall behind states with proactive, mandated alternative energy initiatives. Unsurprisingly, progress in this area is being blocked by a variety of special interests who like things just fine the way they are and who don't want to be forced to invest in future technology.

When I ponder this corporate attitude, plus the fact that Michigan is constantly at or falling toward the bottom of numerous citizen health lifestyle and quality of life indices, I wonder if we shouldn't change our state motto from "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you" to "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

I know it's been very quiet here lately. Lots of work stress...I'll leave it at up-north coffee barista fantasy is looking so good right now...catch you later.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

East is East and West is West

Fellow Traveler and I -- who've been making an effort to eat more scratch meals these days -- decided to have dinner out on Friday. We didn't want to drive very far, so we headed for a local tavern that features very good Mexican food.

It was freezing, with the constantly opening door chilling the non-smoking section, so we found ourselves on the opposite end of the establishment. Bad choice; we soon found ourselves enveloped in thick smoke -- largely due to one party sitting opposite us. One of the women at that table went through three cigarettes during our meal, and never set one of them down, not even to eat. We went home wheezing, with tar-besooted clothing and lungs.

There is a very interesting cultural divide between the western and eastern sides of this state. People in west Michigan tend to be health-conscious in a California kind of way. I always feel dumpy and lumpy traveling amid these buff Michiganians; and when I lived in western Michigan, my neighbors' healthy lifestyles spurred me to exercise more and eat better.

Eastern Michigan is the working-class, fried-bologna belt of the state. People here eat, drink and smoke to excess, and resent any attempts to either coax or legislate them into self-improvement. "Ain't nobody gonna tell me what to do" is the regional mantra. (Or, as my late father used to say, "If I want to kill myself smoking, that's my business." Which is pretty much what happened, come to think of it.)

Recent attempts to strengthen anti-smoking legislation in Michigan have stalled, and I suspect always will. Until then, the best way to get away from the smoke is to go west, young men and women, to restaurants and other businesses that have voluntarily gone smoke-free because the public appreciates it.

And So This is Christmas...

My online friend PXSeeker pointed me to this excellent CBS Sunday Morning video essay by Ben Stein, someone I love even though I suspect he lies at the opposite end of the political spectrum and that we cancel out one another's votes every four years. (I think his book How To Ruin Your Life should be required pre-graduation reading for America's schoolchildren.) Stein shares some wise thoughts here as well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Worst of Times; The Best of Times

An interesting juxtaposition this morning: I was watching Good Morning America; one feature was all about tipping one's service people during the holidays, approaching the topic with a kind of eye-rolling, resigned, "Oh, my God, how many people have their hands out this year?" attitude -- as well as with an assumption that viewers were all upper middle-class suburbanites. The very next feature was about donating goods in kind to organizations like World Vision, and spotlighted a family who, once a week all year, eat a simple/inexpensive meal and put the money they've saved on food that day in a special jar that, at Christmastime, they empty out and use to buy livestock, school supplies and other needed things for needy people around the world. I hope that I'm not the only person who had an attitude-adjustment experience watching these two stories in tandem.

In our household we are donating our collective loose change -- and it's amazing how this collects during the year -- to The Heifer Project , which provides people around the world (including households in North America) with livestock or trees, with training and support to help them leverage these gifts into needed family sustenance and income. The families are then obligated to share the offspring of their original gifts with other people in their community -- so the gift continues to give. We love doing this. And we bet you will too.

Friday Five: Just You Wait

This week the RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five asks us where we find the joy in the following. (And in the spirit of the question, I've waited a day to respond.)

1. Waiting?
I'll admit it -- I'm a bad, impatient waiter. On the other hand, I'm also a procrastinator, which makes me a hypocrite as well. So it's hard for me to find actual ajoy in waiting, for a number of reasons. But that impatience in waiting can be a useful spur to getting things done; as one of our local churches' signboards notes, "The King is Coming -- Look Busy!"

2. Darkness?
I love the quietness of darkness...the texture of darkness (if you've ever sat outside stargazing at night you know what I mean)...the space it makes for prayer, for rest, for meaningful thought not cluttered by daytime "monkey mind."

3. Winter?
Again, there's a quietness and peace (especially after the holidays) in winter that I find appealing. One of my favorite things is a snowed-in weekend at home; there's a restfulness, over and above the initial getting-away-with-something titillation, that I love.

4. Advent?
For me Advent is a needed corrective to pop-culture Christmas craziness. It's a reminder that, no matter what the dominant culture may be saying or doing, the season isn't about commerce, isn't about social payback, isn't about amassing stuff. And it's also a reminder that the Christian story doesn't begin and end with Christmas.

5. Jesus' coming?
I know that many people, especially people new to liturgical worship based upon the Church Year, have a hard time understanding the eschatological element of Advent; they're focused on expectant Mary and Baby Jesus, and here we are talking about the end of all things. But to me there is a joy, albeit muted, in holding on to the hope that life as we know it, collectively and individually, is not the end of the story; that there is a "new thing" coming, and that our Elder Brother Jesus is leading us there.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dead Serious

I’ve been thinking about the afterlife these days.

It’s frankly not a subject high on my radar most of the time – it’s hard enough for me to be grounded in the present without woolgathering about the future. But recent discussions on Beliefnet, a couple of recent dreams involving my dead parents (in one rather humorous dream I’m trying to break the news to my mother that Cody, our Maltese, has finally passed on; she responds that she knows he has; when I ask her how she could possibly know that, she responds -- with some impatience -- “Because I’m dead! ”)and a recent afternoon half-listening to an A&E program about folks who claim to see dead people got me to thinking about the Great Beyond.

It’s fashionable in mainline circles these days to note that belief in an immortal soul is a Greek, not a Hebraic, concept; that in the Hebrew way of thinking about death, once you’re dead you’re dead – reduced to nothingness – until/unless God remembers you back into existence at the resurrection.

While there is something poetic and evocative about this image of ceasing to exist altogether, then being remembered back to life, it’s also pretty damned frightening, at least to someone who has, throughout her life, been variously forgotten – left on a schoolbus as a small child; left waiting for rides that failed to show up; left without an official office plaque like my coworkers, presumably because I was such a faceless office drone that no one remembered I was there. I’d like to think that God has better recall than my kindergarten bus driver or my former supervisor; and could I dare imagine that God might actually want to remember me?

And I’ve known people – sane, smart people – who’ve had memorable encounters with what they were certain were the dead. JB Philips, the Bible scholar, author and pal of C.S. Lewis, recounted in his memoirs what he believed to be a genuine visit from his deceased friend, at a time when Philips was despondent and contemplating suicide, offering needed comfort and advice.

So I have mixed feelings about my religious confreres getting all fundie and literal about the “biblical” view of death and the afterlife. To me there’s a hint of practical atheism in latching on to the “remembering” metaphor, as in, “Yeah – that’d be nice. But, anyway…” On the other hand, it's hard to harmonize popular concepts of the afterlife with Christian doctrines like the resurrection and judgment without mentally navigating through the space-time continuum until you accidently hit a curb or burn your last batch of cookies or otherwise get disengaged from present reality.

I guess I prefer the view that there are more things in heaven (also an “imported” idea, by the way – and this is a bad thing because?...) and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. And I need to get back to work.

Another Shameless Commercial Plug

I'm sitting here at my desk at work sipping on the absolute best tea I've ever tasted. It's the Republic of Tea's Asian Jasmine White Tea. Now, keep in mind that tea is not usually my drink of choice -- I generally do not enjoy black tea at all unless it has milk in it or it's iced, and I've never gotten my home-brewed green tea to taste as good as the tea you get in Chinese restaurants. This particular tea, however, is practically sending me into a moment, it's so good. And white tea is supposed to have even greater health benefits than green tea -- more antioxidants, less caffeine. (Just anecdotally, this tea seems to possess, like ketchup, special mellowing agents that make me less squirrely in the office...which takes some doing.)

So if you know a tea aficionado, slip a can of Asian Jasmine White into their Christmas stocking. They will thank you.

How's That Advent Thing Workin' For You?

We try...we really our house. But between my nightly cookie production line, trying to keep Mollie the cat from setting herself on fire with our Advent wreath and numerous other life distractions, it's hard to keep any kind of consistent Advent discipline around here. (Other than my ex-Marine buddy's favorite motto: Persevere!)

If your house is like mine -- if you feel like you're on a giant holiday gerbil wheel (albeit in a good way) -- there's still one Advent discipline you can follow. It's just a tiny one. But you can do it.

Go to The Hunger Site . Click on the little button there. Then go up to the other tabs at the top of the webpage, click on them, and click on the little buttons on those affiliated pages. That's all you have to do. And thanks to the kind advertisers on those websites, every click provides a small donation to organizations that feed people, care for sick kids, fight breast cancer, preserve the environment and take care of abandoned pets.

And -- shameless commercial plug here -- if you're still in search of some last-minute Christmas gifts, check out the merchandise on these pages. Much of it is handcrafted and/or Fair Trade. Cool stuff.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Things You Find On YouTube...

Check this out -- an interesting version of Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen. I've never heard of the Kelly Family before; they seem to be like the Von Trapp Family relocated to Middle Earth.

Nice and Spicy

By popular demand...well, by one's a great cookie recipe I found by happenstance while idly Googling.

Extra Spicy Gingersnaps
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 cup dark brown sugar - (firmly packed)
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Mix flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, mustard, pepper, cardamom, cloves, and salt.

In a large bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat 3/4 cup butter with brown sugar until well blended. Add egg and molasses; beat until fluffy.

Add flour mixture. Beat on low speed to blend, then on medium speed until well mixed.

Divide dough in half, shape each half into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and pat into a flat cake. Freeze about 20 minutes, or chill 1 to 2 hours until firm.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll to coat with granulated sugar, and set at least 2 inches apart on buttered baking sheets.

Bake cookies in a 350 degree oven until slightly darker brown on the bottom, about 10 minutes (if using 1 oven, switch pan positions after 5 min.).

Cool on pan about 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool. Serve, or store airtight.

These are really, really, really good...I've had to fend off both two-legged and four-legged cookie snatchers, and you probably will as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cookie Mania

I'm baking as fast as I can!

It seems that my cookie boxes last year made a big hit with the in-laws, so I'm busy reprising my success. I will include stand-bys like nutmeg-scented soft cutout sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, raspberry bars and Russian teacakes, but will also be including new discoveries like super-spicy gingersnaps that include white pepper, cardamom and dry mustard, and a chocolate-intensive recipe called Fudge Ecstacies whose batter, at least, lives up to the name.

I had started out with a formula for cookie types similar to a Whitman's sampler -- three fruit cookies, three spice cookies, three chocolate cookies, three nut cookies and the cutouts -- but this attempt at order and restraint fell apart right from the git-go. Do hermits fall under "fruit" or "spice"? Is walnut-studded Toll House cookie brittle a chocolate cookie or a nut cookie?

My new plan is to bake cookies basically until I run out of ingredients, and not be anal-retentive about making sure that each box has exactly the same mix of cookies in it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves

A great story of Christians being Christ for one another despite Church, Inc.: Episcopal Order Takes in Evicted Roman Catholic Nuns .

Sleepers, Awake


Friday Five: Preparedness Edition

This week's Friday Five is all about being prepared:

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?
Good meds and my anti-anxiety exercises.

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?
Having grown up with parents who lived through the Depression and subsequently lived with residual angst about scarcity, I am used to having pantries and freezers filled to bursting with food...because you just never know what's going to happen. So unexpected guests would not be a problem at Cold Comfort Cottage. Pasta, stir-fry, soup, meat-and-taters -- you want it, I can whip it up.

Three discussion topics:

3. Thinking along the lines of this weeks advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of Advent preparations.....

I think Advent preparations themselves are neglected these days, even in liturgical churches. We just don't teach people the value of following the cycle of the Church seasons in corporate worship and in personal practice. I honestly don't think that most of the new folks in my congregation have any meaningful concept of Advent other than it's when we change the parament colors and light a wreath, even after sermons and prayers and worship narration attempting to explain it. But anyway -- I think that, among other things, we in the Church need to recover the idea of repentance as a proactive Godward turning instead of a cowering response to some wagging-fingered "Stop doing that!" directive from Religious Authority Figures. (Although I find my cynical self saying, "Yeah -- good luck with that.")

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....
I find myself "flowing" more smoothly this year -- again, partly due to medication that works, but also I think simply adjusting to a new phase in my life where I'm learning to roll with the changes.

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...
...unless you have just enough OCD to become preoccupied and downright mesmerized with the small things, to the point where you lose sight of the biggger picture.

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?
Giftwise, in great shape; pretty much done, in fact. Cookie-baking-wise, losing some ground but planning on surging ahead this weekend. Spirituality-wise, I've also lost some ground this week simply because it's been so darned busy around here, and because I am so disheartened by the increasingly Balkanized religious atmosphere in this country -- I'm starting to hope that the Premilennialists are right and the self-perceived Holy Folks suddenly get raptured away so the rest of us don't have to endure their political nattering and meddling anymore -- but am hoping to find quiet spaces in the days to come for reflection and attitude adjustment.

Freak Show

After several weeks of watching political candidates of both parties falling over one other in attempts to toady to conservative Evangelical voters, all I can say is...thanks to all you con-evs out there for making me want to become Canadian.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Continuing Education

I can't remember where I saw this meme, but it asks, "If you could enroll in six classes that you think would improve your life, what classes would they be?"

Now, I love continuing education, and I have a lot of things that I'd like to learn more about just for fun. But as far as classes to improve my life in more than a recreational way...well, here's my list:

1. Swimming class. Ironic, isn't it, that a lot of farm kids in the Water Winter Wonderland never learn to swim, at least in a formal class? Well, that's me. I want to learn both for safety's sake -- my partner getting me into canoes and kayaks and all, with only my Cabela's lifevest keeping me from sinking down to Davey Jones' Locker -- and for the exercise benefits of swimming. Somewhere. (Lack of access to actual indoor swimming pools is an issue here in the toolies, although a couple of local motels are getting into that game.)

2. Canoeing and kayaking class. I think, like driving, this is better taught by an impartial but supportive stranger than by a partner. I'm pretty sure FT agrees with me.

3. Driving class. As long as we're talking driving...I really hate most driving -- city driving, freeway driving, nightttime driving -- possibly because I was badly mentored as a teenager, by lackadaisical school instruction and by parents who also despised driving -- so I think I'm past the point of no return here. But maybe a class would help. Although I think both the instructor and myself would have to co-enroll in 4. Anxiety management class.

5. Spanish class. I'm really good at picking up languages, I can understand "Spanglish" pretty well already...and I think it's pretty smart this day and age to learn Spanish.

Extra credit: Algebra/calculus class. The benefit I'd derive from revisiting this neglected area of my education is purely psychological. I grew up at a time when girls were told, even by math teachers, that they were inherently inferior in math comprehension. And no matter how smart you may be -- you internalize this negativity. I know I did. So taking a refresher math course would, I think, give me a needed self-confidence boost, and also be a proactive, non-antisocial way of finally saying, "**** you!" to my eighth-grade math teacher and all the other nattering nabobs of negativity in my young life.


I can't help but feel a little glee over the recent Congressional investigation of financial misdeeds by televangelists.

When I think of all the real pastors I know -- you know, folks who actually preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments and provide pastoral care; pastors who drive cars held together with Bondo and bumper stickers, live in homes that do not feature marble commodes or gold-plated bathroom fixtures and live on the financial edge because they give back sacrificially to their parish and their community -- and when I think of all the real congrgations who conduct their financial dealings with standard-practice transparency and accountability -- all I can say to Senator Grassley is, "Go git 'em." And all I can say to people who support televangelists is, "Get a clue."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cleaning House

Advent may be a time to clean house spiritually, but for me it's becoming a time to clean it literally -- to wit, tackling (with fear and trembling) the middle bedroom, otherwise known as the Alligator Room, of Cold Comfort Cottage.

This room is furnished with a most unlovely, and very cheap, late-60's-era bedroom set that holds neither monetary or sentimental value. My m.o. is to, each night that I can, empty one drawer of one dresser, sort through the stuff therein, and pitch both the junk and the drawer itself. (The ratio of junk versus salvage-worthy items being about 99 to one so far.)

So far I've found a ratty old set of cotton sheets that will nonetheless make great window-washing antique bone crochet hook and wooden darning egg of my grandmother's...some of my counted-cross-stitch samplers from a past needlework phase that are actually quite nice and that we're going to have professionally framed. (I've found myself having to resist the impulse to start this hobby up again: This is about simplifying your life, stupid.) And,of course, I've slogged through lots and lots of crap.

It's been an interesting exercise. If I can skeletonize the dressers and haul them out to the curb by the beginning of the new year, I'll feel as if I've accomplished something.

Take Me Home...Please

I survived another annual office holiday party.

Our organization isn't as doctrinaire about this event as the business where I used to work, which actually kept what amounted to "naughty" and "nice" lists of employees who did and didn't attend the company Christmas party each year -- but it still has that contractual-obligation feel about it. I know I couldn't help feeling cheated out of a real home-cooked dinner with my loved one, and out of time I could have spent on my Christmas cookie-baking. But I had pleasant company at my table, and was able to get through the evening, even the mind-numbingly tedious door-prize drawings.

Fellow Traveler, who'd offered to drop me off at the party venue, then pick me up after running some household errands, was sitting waiting for me in the parking lot, and reports chuckling at the rush of partygoers fleeing the scene all at once, like kids on the last day of school.

Oh, could have been worse.

There's No Place Like Home...

I have a new Advent wreath on the dining room table -- actually it's the old wreath, with a new candleholder I salvaged from a drugtore post-Easter closeout sale and repainted Advent gold -- I'll have to post the photo when we replace our camera battery.

Anyway, we lit it at the beginning of the week, after dinner; I quoted the passage in Romans about casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light, and we watched the flicker of candle flame for awhile.

I have always envied our Jewish sisters and brothers for their home-based spirituality; their rituals for remembering who they are. I wonder how we Christians diminish the experience of our own spirituality by so often confining our ritual practice to the interior of churches.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Putting On Shalom

We didn't get to church today -- a snow and ice storm struck our area over the night, and when we got up we found ourselves in a meteorological mess. This was too bad; not only because the First Sunday of Advent is a kind of new beginning, a New Year's Day of the liturgical year, not only because I'd been scheduled to be on deck assisting this morning; but because the day's lessons are so meaty and worth pondering in community.

This week I found especially resonant the line in Romans 13 about laying aside the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light -- a passage that I think can be read, incorrectly, as a waggy-fingered morality lecture, but speaks to a much broader picture of a life lived in honesty, integrity and wholeness.

Today I've been reading the current issue of The Lutheran . I'll be honest with you; I tend to bypass this magazine just because I am so sick of The ELCA Troubles and other churchy polity issues. But on a whim I visited the magazine website today, and was struck by the current issue's emphasis on shalom; on that concept of all-encompassing wholeness.

At our house we're becoming ever more serious about nurturing wholeness -- physical, emotional and spiritual. We've gone beyond the talking-about stage to actually setting goals and holding ourselves and one another accountable for working toward them. This isn't just about personal quests for better overall health and the positive outcomes that can have for us as individuals and as a household; it's also about wanting our partnership to be the best and healthiest it can be in looking and moving outward, on behalf of other people. We don't want to be stuck in the dark, so to speak, of habits and attitudes that keep us unwell, that keep us from experiencing shalom -- not only for our own sakes, but for others' as well.

I felt a "God" moment, reading the articles in The Lutheran in light of what we've been thinking and talking about and doing at our house. I think that God plants a longing for shalom in each of us; but we need to be periodically reminded that it's an active, not a passive, state of being. And isn't Advent an appropriate time to respond to that call to wholeness?

Friday, November 30, 2007

It Was the Best of Wines...It Was the Worst of Wines

Two quickie wine reviews from Cold Comfort Cottage:

The Black Chook, Shiraz and Viognier blend, 2005: I first read about this Australian wine while Googling "Viognier," a few weeks ago when I'd just discovered that particular wine grape. Then I saw a bottle at one of our favorite stores, and -- well, I have a farm-girl affinity for chickens ("chook" is Aussie slang for a chicken), and I really liked the charming picture of the eponymous black chook on the label. (Like I've said before, we don't claim to be professional critics.) Anyway, even though the bottle was a coupla dollars over the standard $10 limit, the chicken won me over, and I bought it. It's a very nice shiraz, maybe a bit drier than what shiraz fans are used to and somewhat lighter in feel. It's a nice wine for a special meal.

On the other end of the taste spectrum, we recently encountered our very first wine that was so bad we poured it down the sink. No kidding. And, much to my surprise, it was from Leelanau Cellars, a regional winery whose wines we tend to like. This particular red table wine is named -- erroneously, we found out -- Autumn Harvest. In this case the label -- an abstract in pretty autumn hues -- was the only thing pleasant about the wine. It was actually vinegary, with a bitter green-pepper off-flavor, and we both literally spit it back out into our glasses in shock and dismay.

Fruitcake Season

Is it just me, or are you also starting to feel the need for, to paraphrase Bonhoeffer, religionless religion?

Of course there is the horrendous case of fundamentalist blame-the-rape-victim currently playing out in Saudi Arabia.

And now we have true believers in the Sudan slavering for blood in the case of Gillian Gibbons, the English "teddy bear teacher" whose heinous crime was allowing her class of young schoolchildren to name a class stuffed animal "Mohammed."

And, certainly less outrageous but equally irrational, we have the recent participation of a "Bible-believing" Christian during the Republican presidential-candidate debate this week. I mean -- what sort of wacky-ass question is that to ask of a presidential candidate? (Except perhaps for some of the Handmaid's-Tale Christian Dominionist types beloved of D. James Kennedy, et al -- I guess I'd want to know if a future President favored capital punishment for infractions of the Mosaic law.)

Something scary happens when religious people detach their rational brains from their lizard brains. And it's even scarier when a bunch of these folks get together. As the bumper sticker notes, Never Underestimate the Power of Stupid People in Groups.

I would much rather be friends with, be colleagues with, be ruled by, competent, thoughtful, ethical atheists than have to deal with religious fruitcakes (of any flavor), and that's the truth.

Friday Five: "Bah, Humbug!" Edition

This week's RevGal's challenge:

Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....

1) dessert/cookie/family food

Stollen. I'm sorry, but I don't do candied fruit, especially -- shudder -- citron.

2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...)
Minty drinks -- mint mochas, mint cocoa, etc. Mint belongs in gum, frozen Peppermint Patties and mint-chip ice cream, not in beverages.

3) tradition (church, family, other)
Actually, my Scroogish complaint is not with traditions, but with lack of tradition -- familiar, comforting liturgies and hymns of the Christmas Eve service getting jettisoned in favor of weird stuff that confuses the regulars and scares visitors. Save the innovation for a really memorable kick-fanny, "aha!"-moment sermon.

4) decoration
Sorry if I hurt anyone's feelings...but I am so over inflatable Christmas yard ornaments. They make people's front lawns look like used-car lots.

5) gift (received or given)
The meaningless, contractual-obligation office Christmas gift -- right up there with the meaningless, contractual-obligation office Christmas party.

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it. Grinchy trifecta includes "Jingle Bell Rock" and "Feliz Navidad" -- these first two not because of any objection to the music or lyrics, but rather to their sheer ubiquity on radio and canned-music playlists -- and "Do You Hear What I Hear?," a song that combines faux-spirituality/highmindedness with Vegas-lounge-lizard smarm: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, a song that I hope means as much to you -- [insincere catch in throat; daub at eyes] -- as it does to me. Hit it!"

Whew! That was kind of cathartic. I feel almost...cheery.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

You Know It's Time For a New Job When...

You wake up thinking, "Good God -- morning," instead of, "Good morning, God."

You have identified your various bosses' footsteps, and start cringing whenever you hear a signature tap-tap-tap on the carpet behind you.

None of what really inspires, excites or pleases you has a thing to do with your paid job.

You start having fantasies, not about a dream career, but about the lowest-status job you'd be willing to accept. ("I could be a coffee barista..." "I could be a stock clerk down at the Food-o-rama...")

Domestic drudgery starts looking like an attractive alternative to your day job.

You surreptitiously clock-watch: "Three hours and I can go home...two hours and I can go home...half-hour and I can go home..."

Just sayin'.

Veggie Tales

We're trying to eat at least one vegetarian supper per week. I volunteered to make last night's supper, with a dish in mind I remembered from one of my old college-era hippie-dippy cookbooks. I found it, or a reasonable facsimile, on the Internet (Google rocks). Here it is.

Monastery Lentils

2 onions, chopped
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
olive oil
1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 cups broth (I just used water with some tamari soy sauce thrown in)
1 cup diced tomatoes (I only had Italian-seasoned 'maters, but these worked out fine)
1/2 tsp. thyme; 1/2 tsp marjoram
salt and pepper
1/4 cup sherry
cheese of your choosing

Saute onions, garlic and carrot in olive oil until onions are soft and translucent. Add broth, seasonings and lentils; cover, bring to boil, turn heat to low and then simmer until lentils are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. (I like my lentils less soupy, so at some point I like to take the cover off the pot and let the liquid evaporate.) Add tomatoes and seasonings and simmer until warmed through, adjusting the seasonings to your taste. Add sherry; simmer for a few more minutes. Serve with your favorite cheese atop the lentils. (I used our leftover up-north raclette.)

Speaking as official intermittent taste-tester...this dish is great even without the sherry or cheese. We enjoyed it muchly last night; I had mine with a slice of Amish garlic-dill bread...mmmm.

Monday, November 26, 2007


My Teutonic ancestors are probably spinning in their graves right now...but Blogthings quizzes are never wrong, are they?

Your Inner European is Swedish!

Relaxed and peaceful.
You like to kick back and enjoy life.

Game ON!

It's Day One of our six-month Household Healthy Lifestyle Competition...and -- oh, yes -- it is a competition, complete with a monetary incentive to lose weight from week to week.

Coincidentally today was the day of my annual exam, a date that usually leaves me feeling cranky and old and in need of reinvention; another spur to self-improvement. So that was a fitting inauguration.

We are both keeping food journals and both trying to get in at least 15 minutes of daily exercise, for starters. We have an elliptical trainer at The Big House and a Cardioglide at Cold Comfort Cottage, and are checking out going to the local community center to walk when the weather is bad.

I think this will be an enjoyable competition...even though I know I'm going to win.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


A couple of weeks ago my Yahoo! homepage featured a link to an op-ed piece making fun of shoppers paying extra money this season for small-farm-raised "heritage turkeys." The writer of the article contrasted these snobby, decadent elitists with the sort of "average Americans" who shop at Notoriously Ubiquitous Big-Box Store. (In fact, the author dropped the name of Notoriously Ubiquitous Big-Box Store so many times, and with such fawning obsequiousness, that I began to expect that she wrote her essay, not on the kitchen table, but at the corporate offices of said Notoriously Ubiquitous Big Box Store. I also suspected that that's maybe why the Yahoo! link suddenly disappeared.)

But this populist, "Get a load of the crazy rich people" paen to the Common Person contained a more insidious subtext: If you consume more mindfully, you are not being a Real American. You are not contributing properly to the march of economic progress. You are putting your neighbors out of work. You are using money you could be spending on charity to satisfy your own elitist pretensions to healthful eating and "small-is beautiful" economics. You think you're better than the rest of us. So you'd better get with the program if you want to be a Real American.

It's always interesting to see the sociopolitical right wing play the same class card they accuse progressives of playing -- NASCAR dads versus soccer moms; owl-loving, Chardonnay-sipping backpackers versus honest, hardworking lumberjacks and blue-collar good ol' boys who just want to run their quads through the woods.

Here's the scoop, from Outer Podunk. I'm not a rich person. But I want to steward the money I have in a way that's good for me, good for my neighbors and good for the earth. The money I spend on locally raised meat and eggs goes to a local farmer and (very) small businessperson, in one of the most depressed counties of my state. And -- guess what -- he has a hard time keeping meat and eggs in stock because of demand from other "just folks." Some of my other food spending goes to my Amish friends --Lydia and the Troyer family and others who just scrape by as farmers and artisans. The money I spend on Fair Trade goods helps coffee growers and crafters around the world. I get a superior product; the producers get a decent price that allows them to improve their livelihoods. (And -- um -- aren't these folks entrepreneurs? Aren't entrepreneurs people conservatives are supposed to like and support?)

How do I afford all this "righteous" largesse? Because I don't buy a lot of "stuff." I don't hang out at malls. I don't buy this year's fashions. I drive an old car. I live in an old house that will never make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. I am not emotionally invested in how the externals of living look to other people.

If this makes me unpatriotic -- well, fine. Because who wants to be a patriot of a country whose national shrine is Notoriously Ubiquitous Big Box Store, whose prime value is mindless consumption in service to what Walter Wink calls the powers and principalities and whose motto is "Whoever dies with the most cheap crap wins"?

A Somewhat Colder Comfort Cottage

We made our regular every-other-week transition from The Big House to Cold Comfort Cottage yesterday.

How odd not to have Cody strutting around here on his home turf, managing the household schedule.

We're noticing that Cassie -- a dog who, when I first met her, had a kind of Snoopy-like disdain for human company most of the time -- has become much more snuggly and affectionate. And Mollie, the cat who used to silently flit from room to room like a little furry phantom, now hangs out with the family much more. And she's more vocal. She used to meow only when she wanted food or a trip outside, but now she'll jump up next to me and "talk" in a casual manner: Frit? Frit? Brrrrt?

We're all missing Little Man in our own ways.

A Wine-y, Cheesy Post

Monday marks the start of Fellow Traveler's and my new diet and exercise regimen, something we discussed at our recent retreat. We will be engaging in a friendly competition/mutual accountability plan as an incentive.

So last night we had a kind of last hurrah for holiday indulgence -- a wine and cheese supper. The wine was Gill's Pier Cheerio Cherry. Now, before you go "Eeuw..." -- if fruit wines make you think of teenage indiscretions involving Boone's Farm, or scary homemade concoctions that your elderly relatives used to pull out of the root cellar, be assured that this is delicious, sophisticated stuff. The Cheerio Cherry is mildly sweet but not syrupy; it has a smooth mouth feel comparable to a shiraz or merlot. It tastes like fresh sweet cherries, but with a bit of a tart cherry tang; and indeed, it's made with a mixture of both cherry varieties. It goes well with turkey, ham and pork...and chocolate...and, it turns out, with certain cheeses.

I made a cheese board with little dibs and dabs of cheeses we had on hand, plus a couple of samples we recently bought at Eastman Party Store in Midland: some Michigan-made raclette from our trip up north; some Tilamook cheddar; blue Stilton; and a bit of Carr Valley cranberry chipotle white cheddar -- one of those oddball artisan cheeses that we saw in the Eastman cheese case and thought, "Well, why not?"

Our conclusion: The best-tasting cheese accompaniments for cherry wine were the raclette (surprisingly, I thought); the Stilton; and -- real surprise -- the cranberry chipotle cheddar. It's hard to describe this cheese; it starts out mild and smoky, and then the heat kicks in -- not a mouth-blistering heat, but enough capsicum to make your scalp tingle -- and then a finish of cranberry tart-sweetness.

So, anyway -- that's our final foodie splurge until Christmas. It was a pretty good supper, overall.

Christ the King?

I'm feeling a bit introspective, in a "What does this mean?" way, on this Christ the King Sunday.

What does it mean to affirm that Christ is our King? Well, if you listen to some of the fundamentalists I encounter online, their Messianic hope is in a Christ who looks an awful lot like Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger -- a Christ who hates all the same people that these folks hate, who's ready to kick butts and take names in some soon-to-arrive apocalyptic frenzy of divine whoop-ass.

Now, we mainliners can roll our eyes at bellicose revenge fantasies like this...but is our "Christ the King" any better? Sometimes I think we prefer our Christ to be His Highness of Antinomianism -- a disempowered figurehead monarch who periodically arrives on the scene to shake hands, kiss babies, entertain us with a little pomp and circumstance, comfort us with cherished traditions and pieties and assure us that God's in heaven and all's right with the world.

How does either image line up to the one we find in today's Gospel lesson -- a King whose reign stretches into the cosmos, into the life to come, but who willingly joins us in our weakness, defeat and pain? A King who asks us, not for blind allegiance, but for an openness to be touched and transformed by the Divine? A King who rules, not by intimidation, but by invitation? A King who doesn't promise to conquer the world by force, but who promises to conquer the world in us?

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Little Thanksgiving Music

Black Friday

May I rant, just a little?

What is the matter with people?

Just asking, after the local news reported a Black Friday casualty -- a woman getting run over this morning during the mad rush to get into one of the big box stores.

And, as long as I'm ranting...what's up with advertisers using sacred Christmas music for their television commercials? The other day I heard some tacky advertising shill set to the tune of "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" -- bleah! Enough!

Post T-Day Friday Five

Today's RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five:

Did you go elsewhere for the day, or did you have visitors at your place instead? How was it?

As Constant Readers know, we put out a group invite to our place for Thanksgiving. We got 11 RSVP's, but wound up with eight guests -- which turned out to be a good thing, despite our disappointment over more of our friends not being able to attend, because our seating arrangements would have gone from cozy to chaotic with too many more guests. Our non-family attendees were more acquaintances than friends -- we were rather surprised that they RSVP'd, and equally surprised when they e-mailed back to say that they were bringing their teenage sons. But we had a good time, and sent all our guests home with cartons of leftovers. After spending the first 18 or so years of my life attending tension-filled holiday gatherings of relatives who often didn't like each other very well -- those types of dinners where you sit bruxing your teeth waiting for some rhetorical bomb to be lobbed onto the table -- I'm kind of liking our alternative household tradition of inviting relative strangers; there's still occasion for anxiety, but it's a different and more manageable kind.

But -- gosh -- we missed The Codeman. Thanksgiving was one of his favorite days.

Main course: If it was the turkey, the whole turkey, and nothing but the turkey, was it prepared in an unusual way? Or did you throw tradition to the winds and do something different?

Fellow Traveler was in charge of the turkey, which was fairly traditionally seasoned except for some tamari she told me she rubbed into the skin to improve the color. And our dressing -- a magnificent herbed-apple dressing -- included a big dollop of homemade applesauce.

My tomatoes au gratin were something new -- I saw the recipe online in a collection of old-fashioned recipes and thought it might be good. My variation: I diced up some onion, celery and garlic, and sauteed the mixture in butter until the vegetables were soft. I then added a cup and a half of Pepperidge Farm loose stuffing and tossed the mixture together in the skillet. (The original recipe called for dry toast...but that sounded a little boring and Victorian-sickroom-tray to me.) Then I added a big can of minced tomatoes. I placed this mixture in a buttered casserole, topped it generously with shredded colby cheese and baked it just long enough to heat it through and melt the cheese. It tasted pretty good; in retrospect, I think the only thing I might do differently next time -- and there will be a next time -- is add a few tablespoons of tomato paste, just to enhance the flavor.

Other than the meal, do you have any Thanksgiving customs that you observe every year?

Well, again we're developing our own customs. One of them is using very lovely autumnal-hued linen tablecloth and napkins that I found, never used, in my mother's chest of drawers; I assume it was some shower or wedding present that she didn't really care for but nonetheless kept. We've also been using my inherited china -- it's Steubenville, with a Queen Anne's lace design on it. It's such a shame to just let it sit unused in the kitchen cupboard; I enjoy bringing it out once or twice a year.

The day after Thanksgiving is considered a major Christmas shopping day by most US retailers. Do you go out bargain hunting and shop ‘till you drop, or do you stay indoors with the blinds closed? Or something in between?

Wild horses couldn't drag me shopping today. We are in for the day.

Let the HOLIDAY SEASON commence! When will your Christmas decorations go up?

As late as possible. My grandparents never put their tree up until Christmas Eve. I'm not quite that doctrinaire, but I refuse to put the tree up more than a few days before Christmas. Which also means that, while my neighbors have their trees kicked to the curb the evening of Christmas Day, I have my tree up until Epiphany. Call me an old-fashioned girl. On the other hand, I'm a big fan of Advent as a counterbalance to Christmas madness, so I'm getting ready to put up my Advent wreath.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Groaning Board

Here is our Thanksgiving menu, thus far:

fresh locally grown turkey with herb/apple stuffing
homemade cranberry sauce
relishes -- homemade beet relish with horseradish, mixed olives, sweet pickles
mashed potatoes
roasted autumn vegetables
German sweet-sour green beans with bacon
scalloped tomatoes au gratin
bakery rolls
homemade sweet potato-pecan pie
Amish pies

We're either inspired or insane. I guess I'll know by tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

He Was a Good Dog

It's been a sad, sad day: Cody died in his sleep, in Fellow Traveler's arms, this afternoon while I was at work. We'd known that this day was coming sooner rather than later, and I had prepared myself for it more than once; but it was still a shock.

He hadn't been sick. But he had seemed more groggy than usual this morning, and FT called me after lunchtime to say that he'd wanted to cuddle in her lap, in one of his favorite blankets, and that his breathing seemed to be getting slower and slower. Then she called back and said, "He's gone." (At which point I in my befuddlement thought, "Gone? Gone where?")

I remember praying, during one of his previous bouts with illness, that when it was his time to go it would be peacefully, in his sleep, not suffering and not afraid. And that is exactly what happened.

Here's a picture of Cody up in Empire, exploring an old homestead in the Oneida preservation area. He was a good dog, a dog with heart, a dog who loved his life very much -- loved his human and animal friends, loved his burgers and chicken, loved his trips in the car. His 17 years on this earth were a gift, to him and to us, and we miss him very much.

For the Birds

I love Fellow Traveler's 80-something aunt and uncle, who live in a community not too far from us. They seem to return the favor, too. Since my own biological family is dwindling precariously, it's kind of fun to have a new, adoptive family.

Anyway, my uncle-in-law, knowing that we like birds, has been busy contructing PVC birdfeeding stations for The Big House and Cold Comfort Cottage; they look like clothespoles, with several hangers for birdfeeders plus a squirrel-proofing contraption made from coffee cans and wires. Since my squirrels have actually managed to disable my heretofore reliably squirrel-proof tube sunflower feeder, I am willing to try anything this year to thwart them.

Meanwhile...I just got my Winter Bird Feeder Survey in the mail. This is a great program, jointly run by the Kalamazoo Nature Center and the Michigan Audubon Society, that enlists "just folks" as naturalists in keeping regular track of the species and numbers of birds at their bird feeders through the winter months. Each month you note the number of bird species that visit your feeders; one day per month you do a more detailed count of individual birds as well as species.

If you're a Michiganian reading this, you can get hooked up with the program by visiting If you live in another state -- contact your state's Audubon Society and see what similar bird-count programs are going on where you live. It's fun, and your data provides important information about the birds in your area.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Knot

Around here we've been talking about marriage -- about the "What does this mean?" (Fellow Traveler is picking up on this Lutheran stuff.)

To me, like my other theological kinfolk, marriage isn't a state of being that's magickally conferred by the Church upon a couple, but rather a life partnership that the couple enters into; the Church's role is simply to affirm, in Christ's name and on behalf of the faith community, the goodness of the partnership that's already there.

Well, of course, for couples like us a complicating factor in this scenario is the fact that a good percentage of the Christian faith community, as evidenced by the Sturm und Drang in our denomination and our experience in our own congregation, doesn't think that our partnership is good or right; to the contrary,they think it's something evil and horrible, that somehow threatens the integrity of their own committed relationships. Well.

How does a couple react to this? Say, "Well, we don't need you either," and just exchange rings in our living room, sans witnesses from the wider world? Or do we find a sympathetic clergyperson who can be the Church for us as we exchange our vows?

We are actually having something of a difference of opinion. We both feel that we are already in a committed life relationship; that it's "all over but the shouting." For Fellow Traveler, this is enough; we speak our vows to one another at home some quiet, special day, and that's it. Maybe it's just my church geek background, but to me it's important that someone -- someone -- else from the Body of Christ be present to hear these vows.

To me there is more than a little irony in the fact that popular culture -- everything and everyone from Britney Spears to The Bachelor to the wedding-bling industry -- trivializes heterosexual marriage to the point of absurdity, while couples like us, people who get it, who understand what a committed relationship is and are willing to enter into this endeavor publically with God's help, find it so difficult to do so; it becomes a worrisome, exhausting thing instead of the happy celebration it should be.

Cheap Wine Finds

Keeping in mind our household shopping motto, "Retail is for suckers" -- here are a couple of cheap wines we recently enjoyed:

2003 Casirello del Diablo Chardonnay: I found this Chilean wine languishing on the closeout shelf of a local party store. Since we're kind of doing an around-the-world thing with wine, and hadn't yet hit South America, I figured I'd give this poor bottle a try. Despite an initial predicament of dry cork that finally necessitated digging it out with a nut pick -- this was a very light, refreshing chardonnay with an initial taste of honey, perhaps with a touch of vanilla and citrus. I'm hoping the party store in question will find another dusty bottle to add to its closeout special shelf.

Leelanau Cellars Renaissance: I bought a bottle of this made-in-Michigan semi-dry table wine for a whopping six bucks at a local supermarket. I like my wine dry, so I'm always a bit hesitant to go the other way on the sugar continuum, but this blend has just a bit of sweetness. The flavor is quite wonderful -- it starts out with a hint of sparkling apple cider, then moves to apricot; drinking it is liking walking through an apricot orchard and enjoying the aroma of ripening fruit.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another Reason to Buy Just Coffee

As some of you know, Fellow Traveler and I just love Just Coffee Ethiopian coffee; we trek about 40 miles out of our way once a month to stock up at the nearest food cooperative.

If our endorsement isn't good enough for you, here's another reason to support this company: They sponsor a program in East Timor that's helping people grow gardens for personal use and for extra household income, using garden seeds and techniques that respect the integrity of that ecosystem and culture. For $37 you can purchase a starter kit of garden seeds for a family in East Timor, and receive 12 ounces of Just Coffee. Such a deal!

I know at least one hard-to-buy-for/has-verything/doesn't-want-stuff couple on my Christmas list who'd be tickled to help a family in East Timor achieve food self-sufficiency in a way that's gentle on the land. Maybe you do too.

Just Coffee .

Just Coffee Seed Project .

LC's Pre-Holiday Shameless Commerce Division

One of my Constant Readers recently suggested that I write a post listing my picks for favorite regional food manufacturers. Because I am a shameless promoter of Michigan -- a state that needs all the help it can get these days -- and of supporting small-scale/home-based businesses that use locally grown, preferably organic, products, I am happy to oblige. So whether northern Michigan is a frequent destination for you, a place of fond memories of times past or some exotic destination you can't quite imagine apart from what descriptions and photos you find, in no particular order, are some ways to literally enjoy a taste of God's Country, Michigan Sector:

For a literal culinary trip to God's Country, check out the website of The Jampot, a bakery and preserve shop run by Eastern Orthodox monks in the Upper Peninsula village of Eagle River. Thimbleberries, a wild berry that's like a cross between a blackberry and raspberry, is a Yooper food specialty; check out the thimbleberry jam.

One of my favorite foodie destinations in the village of Leland is Stone House Bread , which offers a variety of artisan breads and other baked goods, including some really good granola. (If you ever physically visit Leland, the bakery is also a fab place to eat lunch -- their homemade soups are great.)

Forget the ubiquitous tourist fudge -- for a real chocolate indulgence, check out the website of Grocer's Daughter Chocolates . This is a tiny establishment in the village of Empire that makes the most amazing truffles and other chocolate specialities. If you have a very, very special chocoholic friend, these would make a luxurious gift; especially the more unusual flavors.

As I noted earlier here, Cherry Republic is a real delight. Do not be afraid of some of the more unusual cherry products, like cherry barbecue sauces and salsas; keep an open mind and enjoy.

For wine aficionados interested in up-and-coming wine regions, check out Michigan Wines for an overview of our regional wine industry. Fellow Traveler's and my personal favorites so far, based on our taste tests and the hosts' all-around niceness, are Blackstar Farms, Chateau Fontaine and Longview Winery -- the latter are tiny wineries, but keep in mind that good things are often found in small packages.

American Spoon Foods is another northern Michigan company that makes use of Michigan produce in its products...but for, I think, more interesting and unusual specialty foods, check out Food For Thought . Their wildcrafted foods, like wild leek relish and wild fruit jams, deserve a taste.

(Note: Speaking as a person of modest means myself...when I ask myself if pricey regional foods are really worth it, I consider that sometimes it's the seasonings and condiments that make a meal; so at our house it's often our investments in specialty foods that amp up the flavor of everyday dishes like chicken breast or pork chops or breakfast toast. And they tend to last a long time.)

And for fans of honey... Sleeping Bear Farms' Star Thistle Honey may become your very favorite honey...light and delicate and altogether yummy. (Star thistles, by the way, are those lavender-flowered weeds that grace roadsides and medians 'round about late August and September.) Sleeping Bear's sister company, Bedazzled, sells a variety of wonderful soaps made with bee products and herbs -- I can personally vouch for the peppermint soap as a great, bracing morning waker-upper.

For folks interested in wine...consider the up-and-coming wine region of northwest Michigan. The Michigan Wine website will give you an overview of our state's wine industry. (If you're looking for personal recommendations...Fellow Traveler and I had the best experiences, both in terms of wine tasting and in general hospitality, at Blackstar Farms, Chateau Fontaine and Longview Winery.)

Finally...if your interest in northern Michigan runs more toward the artistic than the culinary, do visit Presscraft Papers , legacy of northern Michigan artist and iconoclast the late Gwen Frostic. Her art captured the spirit of the wild places in northwest Michigan, and is very frameable (even the stationery).

I hope you have fun visiting these websites, and perhaps even patronizing/matronizing these businesses.

My Saturday Friday Five: "Think On These Things"

From the RevGalBlogPals this week:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, NRSV)

Friends, it's nearly Thanksgiving in the U.S. and it's the time of year when we are pressed to name things for which we are thankful. I want to offer a twist on the usual lists and use Paul's letter to the church at Philippi as a model. Name five things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise. These could be people, organizations, acts, ideas, works of art, pieces of music--whatever comes to mind for you.

1. The animal members of our household. For all the extra work they make and extra worry they sometimes cause us -- they are loving and honest and funny (sometimes intentionally, I'm convinced), and very often joyful, in a way that rubs off on their human companions.

2. The phenomenon of a social problem being embodied in one individual or family in a way that moves and rallies neighbors into compassionate action. I was privileged this week to be one of the anonymous agents in such a project; it's also an occasion for joy, to be a helper in this type of endeavor.

3. Good music -- sacred or secular. When I was depressed, one of the the things I noticed was how I tended to be mean to myself by not listening to music.

4. The sense of place that we experienced when we traveled "up north." It was so refreshing, and inspiring, to be somewhere whose residents were so grateful to live where they did and so mindful of supporting businesses and organizations and personal practices that help preserve the quality of life there. I want to live in a place where home-based businesses with roadside stands can count on the honor system to get paid for their products. I want to live in a place where every hamlet, it seems, has a busy recycling center. I want to live in a place where people buy and use local resources whenever they can. I want to live in a place where people of vision get together to plan for sustainable growth and conservation in their region. I want to live in a place where amassing "stuff" -- whether it's a subsistence-level household nonetheless in thrall to the materialism its members see on TV and the rest of popular culture, or the wealthy mansion-owner on the hill -- isn't a prevailing family value.

5. Art. It always amazes me that, wherever I go, there are local people who create amazing art -- photography, watercolors, sculpture, pottery, textiles. I wish my home were filled with crafted items -- items that speak to the skill and vision of their creators.

Meme Time

I'm still pondering my Friday Five -- I was overprogrammed and a little slow on the uptake yesterday -- so in the meantime, with a hat tip to the Rev. Scott of Nachfolge :

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? I was named after my mother's nurse in the hospital.

2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? The last time I watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. (Please don't laugh.)

3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? I've been told that it's awfully tiny and physician-like...but it works for me.

4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? Roast beef or tavern ham.

5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? Just the furry kind.


7. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT? No; I'm rolling my eyes because I have a tic.

8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS ? I thought I had my tonsils and adenoids out when I was five -- I remember the hospital visit, the scary trip to the operating room, the post-op sore throat and ice cream/ginger ale float -- but later on in my medical career a doctor informed me that my tonsils were still there. Hmmm.

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Oh, heavens no.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Maple-brown sugar oatmeal.


12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? I used to be back in my farm-girl days; now, I think not so much; although I haven't had to toss hay bales for a couple of decades.

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Ben and Jerry's Phish Food.

14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? Whether or not they're smiling.

15. RED OR PINK? Red.

16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? My teeth. Even after adult orthodontia. The only thing keeping me from caps is the scary memory of my friend's exposed tooth nubbin when hers fell off. You have to have a certain amount of courage, or vanity, or both, to let a dentist do that to a perfectly healthy tooth.

17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? My parents. I think they might be happy that I've finally grown up, mostly.


19. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? Battered blue denim jeans; no shoes.

20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? Bacon, fried potatoes and an over-easy egg. (We felt like eating a hearty breakfast before the U of M - Ohio State game.)


22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Burnt Sienna. (I know they don't make this color anymore...but I just like the name.)

23. FAVORITE SMELLS? The aroma of frying bacon, potatoes and onions this morning was pretty darn pleasin'.


25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS? I like all my online Lutheran buds.

26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Basketball, baseball and freestyle skiing.

27. HAIR COLOR? Let's call it maturing brown tweed.

28. EYE COLOR? Brown.


30. FAVORITE FOOD? Today it's bacon, fried potatoes and an over-easy egg.

31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy endings; although a good psychological scare once in awhile can be fun.


33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? A slate blue sweatshirt with white humpbacked whales on it.


35. HUGS OR KISSES? Depends who we're talking about...but kisses are nice...

36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Dark chocolate; pumpkin or lemon meringue pie.

37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? I think most of my Constant Readers are up for a good meme.

38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod LGBT Awareness Committee.

39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW? The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns.

40. What's ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? What decade is this?

41. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON T.V. LAST NIGHT? God help us, while unsuccessfully channel-surfing for good Friday night programming we wound up watching something called Keeping Up With the Kardasians -- it seems to be about blingy spoiled rich girls throwing tantrums and then everyone crying and hugging at the end of the episode. Where's Diners, Drive-Throughs and Dives when you need it?

42. FAVORITE SOUND? This morning, the sound of frying bacon, potatoes and eggs.

43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? Beatles; but the Stones get a B+ for their homages to the blues.


45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I can imitate the purring-cackling sounds of a happy chicken with startling realism.

46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Outer Podunk, Michigan.

47. WHOSE ANSWERS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING BACK? Random facts about others are always interesting.


If you're reading this -- tag! -- you're it. Have fun.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

It's Fun to Be an Angel...

After kvetching about the ever-earlier Christmas "shopocalypse" -- what did I do today but enter the local Pamida, Outer Podunk's big-box store, and take a name off the community Angel Tree, where citizens can pick the name of a needy child or vulnerable adult and buy them a desired Christmas gift.

But I love doing's really one of my favorite holiday activities.

Every year one name in particular seems to jump out at me and say, Hey! Pick me! This year it was an 8-year-old girl whose only wish was for science books. My inner child -- the one who always longed for, but never got, a kiddie microscope and science kit -- gave me a high-five.

I just got done placing my Amazon book order. Oh, yes -- this is fun.

What a Surprise...

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Luther

You are Martin Luther. You'll stick with the words of Scripture, and defend this with earthy expressions. You believe this is a necessary consequence of an orthodox Christology. You believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, but aren't too sure about where he goes after the meal, and so you don't accept reservation of the Blessed Sacrament or Eucharistic devotions.













Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lectionary Blogging -- I'm Lovin' It

It's been a couple of weeks now since I've been blogging on the Daily Office daily Gospel readings and RCL Sunday Gospel readings over on Beliefnet .

This is, as I've mentioned, turning out to be a most interesting experience because it continually pushes me out of my comfort zone...which, when dealing with Scripture, usually involves delving into commentaries and helps of all kinds before daring to offer my two cents.

A friend of mine, a fellow graduate of my lay ministry program who is going on to SAM (Synodically Authorized Minister) training, inspired me by telling me of a recent preaching retreat he attended where, at the end of the three days, the "final exam" consisted of a round-robin devotional: After the lesson of the day was read and the leader began a homily on it, each participant had to jump in and add to the devotional extemporaneously -- an exercise most Lutherans and especially layfolk would consider, I think, cruel and unusual punishment. But my pal gamely participated, and came away with more confidence in his ability to preach.

Using his example, I'm spending very little time academically spelunking the text. (Especially since I usually write these in the wee of the morning before I go to work.) The challenge for me is usually to, in this very quick-paced medium, find one idea in texts usually loaded with jumping-off points, and take it from there.

This is fun for me. And good practice for...well, for whatever.

It's a World Gone Mad

It all started when I saw municipal workers in a neighboring town putting up Christmas decorations the week after Halloween. It continued when, soon after, our local McDonald’s placed a lighted Christmas tree and reindeer display on its front lawn. Then, the weekend we went up north, we found to our shock a radio station that had already switched over to an “All Christmas Music, All the Time” format. And then came the Christmas television and radio commercials. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving is two weeks away.

Will you join me? One…two…three…


Thank you. I feel better now.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"Here Comes Jesus Christ, Right Down Jesus Christ Lane..."

Comment by a three-year-old to his grandmother during the Eucharist today, while she was whispering an explanation of what was going on: "Why doesn't Jesus come to our house like Santa Claus?"

The Story Continues

Fellow Traveler and I spent much of last evening at a church fundraiser for our friends, a financially struggling family whose dad was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma and whose prognosis is pretty bleak. We held the event at the township hall down the road from our church: a spaghetti dinner, cake walk and other games of chance, and auction. Almost all our active members lent a hand in some way. We contributed two cakes and several auction items.

Our teenage friend was there with her family. She defied parental instructions by periodically coming around and talking to us until a sister or parent called her away. At one point she slipped us a piece of paper with her MySpace address.

Meanwhile, we made an effort to be friendly with the parents. At one point the mom actually took the initiative to make small talk with us.

I'd like to think that shared concern about a beloved member of our church family was able to overcome this thing between our households, at least for an evening. But I don't want to keep going back; keep starting over. I wish I could ask the adults in the family, Why?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bigotry Hits Home

I think I've talked here before of the low-level anxiety I always feel at church, as inclusive as our congregation is; that I'm always waiting for the shoe to drop regarding the issue of sexual orientation.

Well...I guess that's happened.

We've always had an especially friendly relationship with one of the teenagers in our congregation; she's an animal lover who likes our dogs and hangs out by the Jeep when they're with us, and we've also worked with her on various church projects. We've encouraged her in her academics and sports activities.

In the past few weeks she's grown more distant. I had chalked this up to the sort of anti-adult adolescent sulks that I used to have at that age, when Fellow Traveler told me that the girl had finally told her that she had been instructed by her mother not to talk to FT anymore because FT was "a queer." (I didn't seem to be included in this assessment; I'm not sure if Mom simply hasn't done the math yet, or can't believe that a good Lutheran girl can also be "a queer," or if I'm bundled into the prohibition as well.)

I could be angry. I guess I'm more disappointed, and frustrated. This is a family who worships with us each week; with and for whom we've prayed, to whom I've preached and whom I've helped commune; who's been involved with us in any number of church projects; whose kids' summer camp tuition and other youth ministry activities FT and I have consistently financially supported. What is so awful about us that a parent would ban her kids from interacting with us? What is she afraid of?

I know that the best antidote for this kind of thinking is to simply keep showing up, being who we've always been and doing what we've always done. And of course that's what we're going to do. But I wish this individual would understand how hurtful her behavior is, and how foolish it is for her to bar her daughter, at such an important and vulnerable age, from interacting with other caring, supportive adults.