Sunday, April 29, 2007

And In Other Local News...

In between all the personal drama around here...we dedicated the new sanctuary of our church last week. It's not nearly done -- we had to put up folding chairs on the bare cement of the floor -- but it was still very exciting to worship in this new space.

I especially love the fieldstone, which I think captures some of the flavor of our community; if you've been around farm country for any length of time you know all about the ubiquitous stone piles dotting the landscape; a reminder of the toil of the first settlers who cleared the land, that also become small islands of wilderness and new life in the midst of neatly cultivated fields.

Back when this project was a glint in the congregational eye, someone suggested that we save building costs by hiring the Amish. Our pastor noted, "I think we have to be the Amish." And, indeed, the bulk of labor in this endeavor has been homegrown; members of the congregation, and neighbors in the community, who've helped with everything from excavation to putting up drywall to carpentry work. We've even gotten contributions of money and labor from other churches of other denominations.

It's a pretty cool thing, this new sanctuary.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

It's a Long Story...

Well, Fellow Traveler, tired and sore but happy to be home, is esconced on a living room sofa. I am on another sofa.

My car is sitting in my semi-sister-in-law's driveway in Bay City.

It's a long story.

Earlier in the week I'd taken my car in to one of those 15-minute oil change places; there the mechanics said that I was leaking oil and coolant. Yipes.

I went next door to an auto-parts store and asked to see the coolant. The clerk went out to my car and looked under the hood -- it was too hot to open the coolant tank, but we couldn't even see any coolant through the plastic.

I went home and put a couple of pints of coolant and water in the tank. It seemed awfully full, yet from the outside I still couldn't see any coolant at the fill line.

Friday I drove all over the place for work; no problem. I then drove to Bay City; no problem. Until I got to Sister-in-Law's house -- where, and I'm not making this up, as I pulled up to the curb steam started pouring out from under the hood. "Oh, crap," I said, or words to that effect.

So...anyway...Sister-in-Law drove us both back home -- which, in retrospect, was probably a lot easier on Fellow Traveler, not having to schlep into another car.

But my car is 40 minutes away. And -- and this makes the day even more interesting -- so is my wallet, which I evidently left in my car, in Bay City.

Other than that, we're having a swell morning. We really are. It's good to have FT home.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Five: Whatcha Doin'?

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five asks, what are you:

Wearing? (Ever get a phone call like this?) Right at this moment I am wearing L.L. Bean khakis, L.L. Bean suede heeled clogs, a woolen turtleneck shell and a black/brown/tan argyle sweater. Because spring in Michigan doesn't mean a whole lot -- from day to day we have either extended winter or 80 degrees. I don't pack away my cold-weather clothes until June (and as I recall, last year I had to go back for them anyway). For the past few days it's been damp and chilly, so I am dressing accordingly.

Pondering? Let's see...I am pondering whether to drive to Bay City today via the freeway (I hate freeways), or via what is for me the less stress-inducing "scenic route" through Tri-Cities farm country. I am pondering my old vehicle's current leakage ailments, whether I put too much coolant in my car, and how much the latest trip to the mechanic is going to cost next week. I am pondering today's relay trip with FT's sister to pick her up in Ann Arbor, transfer to my car and then drive her back home. I am pondering the latest episode of what started out as a fairly mundane work project jobbed out to a usually reliable area printer that has been one headache, and one unacceptable proof, after another -- it's like the cat that came back, over and over and over again. I am pondering my need for a haircut.

Reading? At this moment I am reading my collected mail of the past couple of days, including an overdue notice for a safe deposit box (oops!). As far as real reading, I am still slowly going through Margaret Guenther's A Place in the World: A Rule of Life For the Rest of Us. It's a great book, and not a slow-goer; I just haven't had a lot of opportunity for recreational reading lately.

Dreaming? I'm going to interpret this literally. I had an interesting dream right before I woke up. I was in college, again, and trying to enroll in a series of classes -- even though I didn't know what my major was, or how many credits I needed to graduate, or how I'd gotten back to school, or where I was living, or how I was going to pay for the semester. (I have this dream, by the way, quite frequently.) Anyway, in the midst of my confused Sturm und Drang in the building where enrollment was going on, it suddenly occurred to me: You've already graduated. You don't need any more classes. So I left, and was taking a leisurely walk up one of the main thoroughfares of my old alma mater, noting all the changes on the campus and in the surrounding neighborhood, when I awoke. I actually think this dream means something significant other than eating spicy Italian food too late in the evening...but I can't quite put my finger on it.

Eating? I am ashamed to say that this morning my breakfast consisted of orange juice; a couple of mouthfuls of leftover spaghetti sauce; and, just a few minutes ago here at my desk, a Take 5 candy bar. A foodie gone bad.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Modest Proposal

I tend to be a cynic when it comes to politics, so I was pleasantly surprised to read this article about the Governor of Oregon taking a shopping expedition with a food stamp recipient and attempting to budget a week's worth of groceries on his own with $21 worth of food stamps.

As the article indicates, the gov was kind of clueless in this endeavor. And this is probably normal. Because when I think of politically active people in my own community, they tend to fall into one of two categories: the Docker-and-Izod "comfortably appointed" set, or relatively affluent and politically savvy blue-collar union retirees. These are the "concerned citizens" who have our elected officials' ears; when politicians think of the Average Joe or Jane in their own districts, these are probably the people who come to mind, because they're the folks they see and hear and get regular feedback -- and contributions -- from.

Sure, this excursion into a day in the life of the economic underclass may have been a bit of sound-bitey populist political theater. But I really wouldn't mind more of our politicians regularly taking a day to slum with the people they normally don't see or hear.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I have to's very odd stepping into someone's home when she's away.

I'm pretty well acquainted with Fellow Traveler's house, but there's a big difference between staying there as a guest and moving in, in her absence, to take care of the beasts and keep an eye on things.

First and foremost, I have to contend with two dogs and a cat who like me, a lot -- but who are missing their real mama and can't understand why, when I come home, she's not with me. The two golden retrievers, Katie and Cassie, greet me with enthusiasm, but then look behind me...and when they don't see FT, they sigh, or even emit a sad little yodel of disappointment. They're also used to human company all day long, so leaving for work in the morning elicits the same sad eyes and sighs.

And then there are the appliances. I'm reluctant to fiddle with things like the washing machine (which has a console like a vehicle) and the television remote control, which requires an engineering degree to operate properly. I know, for instance, that there's a way to get Sirius radio on it, but for the life of me I can't remember how; and it was only by dumb luck that I actually stumbled upon the combination of controls (which I promptly forgot) that allow me to change channels at all. Today I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out the answering machine, which has explicitly marked buttons for everything except Play or Listen or Get Messages. It's like being in a multidimensional IQ exam, and flunking. just feels odd stepping into someone else's living space -- even a someone I know very well, and with whose living space I have more than a passing acquaintance. There is something other about it that makes me feel like an invader.

I knew someone in college, a pastoral intern, who spent an entire academic year house-sitting for professors from our parish who'd gone on sabbatical. I imagine she felt that same odd sense of discomfort using their dishware and twiddling the dials on their home electronics and lounging on their furniture.


Hey! Fellow Traveler came through her surgery okay. The doctors think that they'll keep her in the hospital until Friday. She's very tired, and hurts a lot, but sounded good on the phone.

Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and prayers. We appreciate them so much.

Surreal Life

I'm sitting here with my display table at a community "expo" event...while someone I love is at the opposite end of the state, having surgery even as I type.

It's an incredibly surreal and frustrating feeling; and more so because I can't talk to anyone at work about it, the way that people talk freely about their spouses.

This morning one of my coworkers came in late, explaining that her husband had been admitted to the hospital. I said, "You must have a lot on your mind right now," and mentioned that I had a friend in the hospital today as well. And that's it.

That's how it is here. That's what it's like not to be able to talk about important things in your life, because you're afraid, and to not have your life partnership recognized as real, and thus worthy of the benefits given to other couples. The "stop whining" people just don't get this; how hard it is.

My pastor has been a Godsend. He's actually at the downstate VA hospital now; he arranged his schedule to be there when Fellow Traveler arrived, so she'd be able to be with someone she knew before surgery. FT spent the night with her sister, in a halfway city; but her sister had to work today, too, so she had to leave her at the VA busstop at another VA hospital. I felt terrible about all of this; but we had no time to adjust schedules and get family members here.

So, anyway, I'm sitting here tapping into the free wi-fi, being the good PR do-bee, waiting for a phone call.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Where Have I Been?

Cold Comfort Cottage and its counterpart down the road have been whirlwinds of activity this week...Fellow Traveler got the startling news that her anticipated surgery was being scheduled for next week, not next month, so after dismantling our initial plans for this event we have been busy trying to get things ready for her imminent trip to the hospital and recovery back home; the last we've heard is that she will be in the hospital for only about three days, including pre-op time. (And to make things worse, I have a mandatory workplace commitment I have to keep one the day of surgery -- that, and The Way Things Are Around Here, have meant that this tumultuous thing is going on in my life, and I have hardly anyone to talk to about it; I'm having to put on a brave face and soldier on.)

So I haven't been blogging, or reading blogs; it's easier and faster to feed my need for online communication via the "drive-by" discussion forum method, when I have a moment.

And this Sunday we're having our new addition dedication, with the synodical bishop in attendance; I am on deck as assisting minister, and am trying to compose a set of worthy Prayers of the Church while waiting for choreography directions from my pastor, who is in his own whirlwind this week.

Don't be surprised if the posts here are sparse...or, on the other hand, if I decide to discharge my anxiety by blabbing about it here.

Friday Poetry Blogging

I am someone who cannot throw out a plant; not as long as there is one green fiber hanging on to life in its wizened stem. The philodendron currently cascading down the end table in my living room is, in fact, a refugee from the basement where my mother had intended to euthanize it; one day while fetching something from the freezer I noticed one sad little yellowed nubbin emerging from the dead vine, then brought the pot upstairs, watered the potbound dirt and waited to see what would happen. And the plant came back; a small resurrection that I found cheering.

This fall I overwintered my fancy-leaved geraniums -- let the frost nip the leaves, then cut the plants down almost to the soil, then let them sprout new growth over the winter in my sunny kitchen window. Right now they're pale and spindly, and look like they won't amount to anything, but I know that they will when it gets warm enough around here to put them back outside.

Here is the story of another rescued geranium.

Friday Five: Suprised By Joy

RevGal Songbird, in posting this week's Friday Five, writes:

This week I've been watching parents of the young people slain at Virgina Tech trying to make meaning out of the lives of their lost children, and each one seems to begin by focusing on something joyful about that child. It's a gift that most humans have brains wired to respond in that way. For some of us it can be harder to work our way out of dark places, but I believe joy remains the key. It is the spirit of resurrection.

Tell us about five people, places, or things that have brought surprising, healing joy into your life.

1. Of course, Fellow Traveler comes to mind first and foremost; and she came into my life during a dark time indeed. I had more or less resigned myself to the probability of being alone for the rest of my life when, on that fateful Mother's Day last year, I got invited to a restaurant for a meetup of online acquaintances needing a mutual cheer-up, got a flat tire and needed a lift...and the rest is history.

2. Animals. They are honest; forgiving; fascinating; funny, both intentionally and unintentionally (I am convinced that dogs and cats have a sense of humor). And they definitely have personalities; wild animals as well as companion animals. And while they're like us in so many ways, they are also mysteriously "other." To share a moment of mutual communication with an animal, to realize that both of you have figured out what the other is trying to convey...that's magic.

3. Music. Music can bring me joy...even the low-down, belly-draggin' blues.

4. Hospitality: This is a new discovery for me, since as I've mentioned in previous posts my home has never tended to be Party Central. Even though there's hard work and a certain amount of anxiety involved...when you can get people together for good food and conversation, that moment when it all comes together -- when there is what the Celtic folks would call "crack" -- that's pretty cool.

5. Nature. There is something about being a very small sentient being confronted by something something big and awesome -- a sunrise, a thunderstorm, a mountain, a jewel-toned body of water, the velvety blackness of a starry night -- that can bring joy, and peace.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Poetry Bloggery

I am sitting here absolutely wallowing in remorse.

We have a new minor league baseball team in our area, the LA Dodgers-related Great Lakes Loons . The Loons' arrival here, and the building of the wonderful new Dow Diamond stadium to accomodate them, has been a rare bright spot in eastern Michigan's otherwise moribund economy and generally gloomy collective state of mind.

We have tickets for several Loons games. But a couple of nights ago Fellow Traveler called me to tell me that we had a last-minute opportunity to score some handicap-section tickets for the inaugural game at the Dow Diamond -- a totally big deal. Thing is, we'd just dug out of a late-season blizzard, with frigid temperatures forecast all weekend long.

I said, "Would you like to go?"

She said, "That's not what I asked. Do you want to go?"

Frankly, the thought of shivering in 30-degree weather for several hours didn't sound like a lot of fun to me, especially considering the thought of post-game arthritis misery, sinus headaches and the other consequences of two creaky middle-aged broads pursuing this type of recreation. I said:

"If you want to go, then I'm fine with going too."

We wound up not getting the tickets.

Today -- the game starts at 7:00 tonight -- the sun came out. The temperature must be a good 15 degrees above the projected forecast. Torrents of melting snow are flowing out of eavestroughs and into storm drains. It's a lovely spring day.

D'oh! D'oh! D'oh!

So -- here's a poem about baseball. It's the least I can do.

A Confession

I have not been responding to reader posts -- and I am so tickled to get posts on my blog, especially from old friends -- nor have I been visiting friends' blogs, the way I usually do. It is not because I don't want to; I'm just having a somewhat hairy month. I promise to be more hospitable in the future!

A Minty-Fresh Friday Five

I went to the dentist this week for teeth-cleaning. This is usually a day of affirmation for me -- I tend to be a little OCD when it comes to dental hygiene, so my dentist usually gives me a verbal high-five for my good work -- but this time the frowny face appeared: "Do you use whiteners on your teeth?" "Um -- just whitening toothpaste." "Well, stop it -- you're wearing off your enamel." Yikers bikers. I am indeed a middle-aged woman falling apart at the seams. Anyway: no more baking soda toothpaste; no more pop; no more indulgences involving super-acidy foods, like sucking on a lemon wedge.


So how appropriate is it that this week's Friday Five is all about dentistry?

1. Are you a regular patron of dentists' offices? Or, do you go
a) faithfully, as long as you have insurance, or
b) every few years or so, whether you need it or not, or
c) dentist? what is this "dentist" thing you speak of?

My blue-collar family was of the generation and socioeconomic category whose dental philosophy was, "Use 'em until they fall out or you have to pull 'em out, and then get false teeth." So my formal dental health regimen was pretty hit-or-miss until I was an economically independent adult, and I didn't get needed orthodontics until I was in my 30's. Fortunately, I think because of my growing up on a farm and a my love of milk and dairy products as a tiny child, until recently my teeth were in great shape structurally; never had a cavity until I was in my mid-30's. But, nonetheless, I appreciate access to dental services and take advantage of them.

2. Whatever became of your wisdom teeth?
Interestingly, they never erupted until I was in my mid-30's and was wearing braces; as my teeth moved, they moved up. Unfortunately, by this time they were impacted in quite a bizarre fashion, so they needed to be reamed out of my gums by an oral surgeon. This experience introduced me to the killer combination of Versed and Demerol -- man, were those some good drugs. I understand that my surgery took twice as long as normal because of surgical complications from the impactions, but all I remember is sitting comfortably in the chair listening to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing Sherrrrrrrrrrry, Sherry Sherry bay-ay-bee -- I am not making that up. A friend who took me home afterward said that I was quite hilarious in my altered state -- laughing and joking even as blood was dripping gorily down my chin. It really wasn't that bad of a procedure. I'm not sure if the dental surgeon would agree, though.

Favorite thing to eat that's BAAAAAD for your teeth.
Chocolate. Coffee.

Ever had oral surgery? Commiserate with me.
My second oral surgery experience was last year, when my dentist discovered a hidden cavity deep in my very back molar, one that was too far gone to make a root canal feasible. This really depressed me -- because of my history, and of my numerous relatives who'd been wearing dentures since their 20's, it has been very important for me to keep my teeth intact, and the thought of losing one as an adult due to something other than an accident made me feel like a failure. Anyway, the extraction itself was so painless that I didn't even realize when it was over; but I was still a glum chum for the rest of the day. And it still makes me mad.

"I'd rather have a root canal than _________________."
Drive in big-city traffic. And that's the tooth -- I mean truth.

Bonus: Does your dentist recommend Trident?
Not to me, anymore. And he is a real foe of all whitening agents because of the way they deterioriate tooth enamel. He describes his own philosophy thusly: "I'm a coffee drinker. I love coffee. Coffee drinkers have stained teeth. Get used to it."

Monday, April 09, 2007


This morning I saw the following online headline referencing Don Imus' recent foot-in-mouth incident involving racial and sexist slurs against the Rutgers women's basketball team:

Imus Contrite: I Am a Good Person

Excuse me, but isn't trying to justify one's bad behavior by pointing to one's perceived relative goodness kind of the opposite of contrition?

Easter Feaster

It’s interesting that, the older I get, the more I have come to appreciate the ministry of hospitality.

I’ve always been a Mary to someone’s Martha; much more interested in talk and thought than in the logistics of entertaining. And I grew up in a household with socially anxious parents who really didn’t care to have guests over very often; one of my more unfortunate memories is of my high school graduation party, when my mother, unnerved by the thought of her in-laws descending upon our house, spent most of the day being sick in the bathroom. So I’ve had to spend the past two or so decades unlearning that awful twisty feeling in my insides at the thought of opening my household to others or organizing a group outing.

In the last year Fellow Traveler and I have tried to organize get-togethers, either at her house or at some midway point in the state, because we think it’s a good thing, and because the people who show up really seem to appreciate it. And we’ve been beneficiaries of similar hospitality by others, and appreciate that; being able to be ourselves and relax in good company.

All of which is the scenic-drive way of getting to my tale of Easter dinner, which this year consisted of Fellow Traveler, her empty-nest sister and myself. After considering our thematic possibilities, including the $40 premade giganto-mart spiral ham dinner special, we decided to do something completely different, because we could: roast leg of lamb. And because my own fussily equivocal enjoyment of lamb makes me lean toward seasoning it Mediterranean style – lots of garlic and herbs -- my suggestion was to serve it with Greek/Middle Eastern side dishes. This plan violated one of my mother’s major culinary rules, namely, don’t experiment with untried recipes on guests. (When FT asked me the last time I made a whole leg of lamb, I said, “Never.” She responded, “Oh…okay…” in the sort of tentative way you might respond to a friend informing you, as she whipped around a banked section of unfamiliar urban multilane, that she’d never actually driven on a freeway before. I didn’t tell FT that, except for tabbouli, I’d never made any of the proposed side dishes either.) But sometimes you have to set your sights toward the unknown, even if it’s just down the hall in the kitchen.

So yesterday, after church, I cooked. The lamb, pre-rubbed with lemon, olive oil, kosher salt and pepper and studded with garlic slivers and rosemary sprigs from my little overwintering rosemary shrub, was placed in a 450 degree oven, then the temperature immediately turned down to 325 degrees. I then prepared roasted baby red potatoes Greek style Рpeeled mid-tater, rolled in kosher salt, pepper and oregano, then placed in a pan with olive oil, lemon juice, a bit of chicken broth, Greek oregano and peeled garlic cloves and cooked uncovered next to the meat (the potatoes absorb much of the oil and liquid, and get nice and roasty on the outside, soft on the inside). I made a simple beet salad with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, onion and garlic. And, just before dinner, I steamed a big batch of spinach, mixed it with green onions and garlic saut̩ed in olive oil and added fresh dillweed and feta cheese Рsort of like spanakopita innards without the phyllo dough around them. And then there was the homemade tabbouli, made the evening before, and some mixed marinated olives.

The experiment worked very well. We ate lots – lots – supplemented by some very nice bakery rolls (great for sopping up the residual Greek potato marinade) and an Amish raspberry pie. Greek-Amish fusion; whoddathunkit.

Of course, I suspect this means that I have now inherited the responsibility for future Easter dinners. I wonder what world cuisine will show up on the table next year.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

This Joyful Eastertide

This joyful Easter-tide,
Away with care and sorrow!
My Love, the Crucified,
Hath sprung to life this morrow.

Had Christ, that once was slain,
Ne’er burst His three day prison,
Our faith had been in vain;
But now hath Christ arisen,
Arisen, arisen, arisen!
My flesh in hope shall rest,
And for a season slumber;
Till trump from east to west,
Shall wake the dead in number.
Had Christ, that once was slain,
Ne’er burst His three day prison,
Our faith had been in vain;
But now hath Christ arisen,
Arisen, arisen, arisen!
Death’s flood hath lost his chill,
Since Jesus crossed the river:
Lover of souls, from ill
My passing soul deliver.

Had Christ, that once was slain
Ne'er burst His three day prison,
Our faith had been in vain;
But now hath Christ arisen,
Arisen, arisen, arisen!
Have a bright, happy and blessed Easter, everyone!
Artwork: "Et Resurrexit," Gisele Bauch

Saturday, April 07, 2007

My Maundy Thursday Adventure

I have nothing to say about my last-minute, no-script Good Friday gig other than to observe that liturgies are a good gift of God -- a gift that keeps worship from dissolving into chaos and lets everyone participate in an easily understandable way, instead of people, including worship leaders, standing around going D'oh. And that I don't do spontaneity well.

Anyway...on Maundy Thursday, Fellow Traveler and I decided to forego our own church's agape meal service, due to her dietary considerations and also because neither of us really wanted to have to go through the small-group performances at our table that that service entails; we wanted a more traditional service, from a vantage point in a back pew, where we could melt into the crowd and worship without having to role-play or read aloud individually.

So we went to a combined ELCA/Episcopal Maundy Thursday service in our area, in a tiny Episcopal church that I've worshipped in before. We sat in our car and waited until a decent number of people had entered, and then walked in.

We met a friendly gauntlet of laypeople from the host church, who greeted us warmly. We took our places at the back and enjoyed the Abendsonnenschein casting an otherworldly glow upon the venerable stained glass windows.

It was a very calming, meaningful service. And, actually, service was the theme of the evening -- in lieu of foot-washing, we all processed up to the front after the sermon, and the presiding clergypeople anointed the palms of our hands; it was a gentle and moving act. We sang "The Servant Song" and "I, The Lord of Sea and Sky," as well as some of the traditional Passion Week hymns that I in my middle age miss singing. (It's hard, these days of studied perkiness, to belong to the Society For the Preservation of Minor Chords.) After the Eucharist, women I assumed were from the Altar Guild slowly and solemnly stripped the altar and removed the reserved sacrament from the sanctuary; the lights slowly dimmed; and we left in silence.

Because I overthink everything, I came to the service with a certain feeling of unease as a kind of ecclesiatical tourist -- especially on this evening, when one might assume that one would want to be in an intimate gathering with one's own church family. But it was a good thing, I think, that we went.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Hello, I Must Be Going

I have been tapped to lead a meditation on one of the "seven last words of Christ" today at our church's Good Friday service. Not having been to one of our midday services before, I have no idea what I'm doing, and when I asked my pastor his direction was, "Oh, do whatever you want" -- but I have about two more hours to pull the "whatever I want" together.

Let's see what happens.

I'd like to tell you about my church-tourist experience last night...maybe later.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Stuck in a Moment

My mother died one year ago today.

I honestly didn't think that I would be affected so by this anniversary...but I find myself very down. Flat affect, as they say. I usually enjoy, if that is the correct word, Holy Week...but this year I just don't care; I don't feel anything. I'm not blogging because I have nothing to say.

We wound up not going to Palm Sunday services, muchly because the thought of contending with loud, misbehaving children fencing with cardboard palm fronds and otherwise coopting the worship was a little more than I could handle. I'm going back and forth about our Maundy Thursday service, which involves a stew-and-bread meal incorporating the Eucharist -- partly because there are some dietary issues in our household that will make the menu problematic for us, but partly because...well...novelty isn't something that makes me feel comfortable this week. I don't want to be a part of a performance art installation or small-group experience. I want to be an anonymous worshipper in the back of a church, in a by-the-book service where I don't have to be "on" in any way.

I just don't feel very good. And as I'm not feeling good I'm bracing for the online criticism that Holy Week isn't about me, it's not about feeling good, do I think it was a picnic for Jesus, what is the matter with me anyway, stop whining and get with the program.

Yeah, well.