Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Five: Gifts and Talents

Astoudingly, we were talking about a lot of this stuff at my lay ministry pow-wow last night; so imagine my surprise to see the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five this morning:

1.Personality tests; love them or hate them?
Oh, I loooooove them. If I see one in a magazine, I am compelled to take it. Whether I actually learn anything useful from them, or if it's just an exercise in narcissism, is another question.

2. Would you describe yourself as practical, creative, intellectual or a mixture ?
Yes. But probably less practical than the others. Which I suspect makes life a little harder for me and the ones around me. ("Ground Control to Major Tom....")

3. It is said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame; have you had your yet? If so what was it, if not dream away what would you like it to be?
Because I work in public relations on a local level I have a certain degree of extremely localized "fame" -- get a byline in the local papers every now and then and do a regular 1-minute radio PSA on a local station. This is probably as good as it gets; but if I dared to dream, I might dream of becoming a regularly published essayist.

4. If you were given a 2 year sabatical ( oh the dream of it) to create something would it be music, literature, art.....something completely different...share your dream with us...
Oh, literature, definitely. Those essays. About all kinds of things.

5. Describe a talent you would like to develop, but that seems completely beyond you.
Is life organization a talent? I think probably so. That'd be it. Not living in physical and mental chaos. Oh, and swimming...which is less a matter of feeling that it's beyond me and more a lack of opportunity for adult "Swimming For Dummies" lessons where I live. (Ironically, here in the lake-studded northwoods there are almost no formal swimming classes for anyone over the age of about 12.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I Am a Camera...

I have to be, because my camera is broken, again, with the same disk-error problem it developed last year during our UP vacation.

This means that there is a new camera in my future (one that is not a Canon PowerShot A80, in case you're wondering).

But in the meantime, I'll tell you about my perennial garden, the one I began from scratch last spring. My nigra hollyhocks, a velvety purple-black, are blooming profusely; I have a mauve foxglove with multiple flower stalks; my purple hourglass flowers have been blooming to beat the band, as have my pinks and volunteer "Jolly Joker" violas, with their surprising plum-and-orange two-tone petals; a beautiful purple Japanese iris just opened yesterday. I can see now where I made some poor choices in positioning certain plants -- a lavender aster is trying valiantly to squeeze into the light between a sprawling butterfly bush and a coneflower -- but moving stuff around is part of the gardening game, isn't it.

Can't wait to get a new camera, though, so you can actually see all of this.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Notes From Depressionville

My shrink tells me that I need to "accentuate the positive" and -- he was inspired by listening to Madeleine Peyroux in concert -- "smile though your heart is breaking." If this were so freakin' easy, then why would I need to see a shrink in the first place?

If you're depressed, do not read the story of Saul.

On a brighter note: Having lost much of my appetite, I find myself losing some weight. "Make depression work for you." But what happens when the positive reinforcement of seeing a buffer me in the mirror gets my tastebuds rebooted for Buffalo wings and Ben & Jerry's?

Believe it or not, one of the things that has shored up my lagging feelings of personal competency This weekend, for the very first time, I picked up some golf clubs and batted some whiffle balls around. And -- I can scarcely believe this -- I was fairly good at it. I did what FT told me to do with the club and with my feet, and the ball went in the direction I wanted it to go. At home, I tried my hand at putting, and actually sent the ball into a styrofoam cup. Who knew that I might be good at a sport? (A caution to others who might be inspired by my story: It is not a good idea to learn golf in the presence of three dogs. Cody found knocking the whiffle balls off the tee with his nose to be great fun, while the two big dogs felt compelled to stand within inches of me and my swinging golf club: We love you. Whatever it is you're doing, we're with you 100 percent. Let's stand even closer to you. Because we love you. Keep whacking the metal thing; we'll just duck. Maybe.

Another way to bolster weak self-esteem: Go on a job interview. Just for kicks and giggles; even if you're not serious about it. I've been out of practice for about seven years; it felt good to get back in the saddle.

It's a blessing to have a loved one who understands depression and knows that my feeling down is not a reflection on her or on our relationship. Even when we go through our weekly Kelly Fryer devotional and my responses sound like something out of Hamlet.

A Great Cucumber Salad

It's been wicked hot here in Michigan -- unnaturally so, when you consider that it isn't even July yet -- so we have been living on our respective porch and patio much of the week, and grilling our meals; we invested in a nice little portable charcoal grill for my place, and I've lent Fellow Traveler my mack-daddy George Foreman electric kettle grill for her patio.

This weekend I made chicken satay with bottled peanut sauce...while looking for suitable go-alongs on the Internet I came upon this recipe. It is so good...I am not usually thrilled about traditional cucumber salad, but this kicks things up a notch.

Indonesian Cucumber Salad For Two

1 large cucumber, peeled/seeded/sliced thin
the juice of half a lime
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp. sweet chile paste
maybe three sliced green onions
a tiny splat of fish sauce or oyster sauce or soy sauce

First of all: These measurements are highly arbitrary starting points; taste and refine. (You'll want to add a lot more chili paste, I found, and you might want more lime juice as well.) Refrigerate at least an hour. Enjoy. This rocks; and I think the flavors improve the next day.

Stuff Happenin' at Church

Our lay ministry training program may be in a moribund state these days -- our facilitators communicate solely via notes on their website -- but lay ministry is being kicked up into a new gear at my congregation this summer. This week we assisting ministers will be meeting with the pastor to talk about how we can expand the parameters of our duties in our congregation.

My pastor is looking ahead to the day when he retires. He really wants to create a congregational culture in which "Herr Pastor" is not the be-all and end-all of ministry. With trained lay ministers on deck, and with the congregation about to move into a new worship space, it seems to be a good time to retool around here.

Especially in the context of my own paid-job malaise...I'm looking forward to this discussion. Maybe I'll finally discover what I want to do when I grow up.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Five: Summertime

This week's five from the RevGalBlogPals:

1.Favorite summer food(s) and beverage(s)
Ah, where to start...asparagus; strawberries; raspberries; sweet corn; summer squash and zucchini; fresh, non-store-bought tomatoes; anything grilled over charcoal. Iced tea; Grand Traverse Select semi-dry Reisling, a very light and almost effervescent regional wine that goes really well with grilled chicken and other lighter summer foods.

2. Song that "says" summer to you. (Need not be about summer explicitly.)
Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" -- but only if I'm in the car with the windows open and the radio really loud.

3. A childhood summer memory.
I was just reminiscing about this the other day. In the summertime, after long days spent haying, canning or engaged in other summer activities, my mom, dad and I would sit behind our farmhouse -- years before my grandfather had salvaged an old church pew from somewhere, painted it and placed it against the south wall -- and watch the sun go down. There in the twilight you could listen to killdeer, bobwhite and jacksnipe...smell clover and curing the changing colors of the evening...see flittering bats overhead...feel the dark slowly envelope the farm. It was one of our few family bonding moments.

4. An adult summer memory.
I have amassed so many delightful recent summer's hard to pick one. Driving around the coast of Lake Superior last year and eating a pasty in Paradise was a great memory, as was hanging out in the wonderful little Upper Peninsula village of Hessel. It wasn't quite summer yet, as I recall, but Fellow Traveler and I also had a great time driving around the Sleeping Bear Dunes last year. This year some of our pleasantest times have been right out on my front porch, sitting in our stadium chairs and "chilling." Let's see...back in my solo days, one memorable Saturday afternoon was spent in Benzonia, Michigan, in what used to be its cheerfully bohemian natural-foods restaurant, drinking cherry cider and quietly grooving to Van Morrison's "Moondance" while watching the parade of Interesting People that such venues tend to draw.

5. Describe a wonderful summer day you'd like to have in the near future. (weather, location, activities)
In two weeks I am going to be 1)doing the Ann Arbor culture crawl; 2)going to a Tigers game; and 3)going back up to the Leelanau Peninsula. I hope that all these days will be wonderful in their own ways.

Optional: Does your place of worship do anything differently in the summer? (Fewer services, casual dress, etc.)
Well, about a third of our congregation disappears, for various reasons, between Memorial Day and Labor Day; so our already low formality quotient ratchets down several more notches. It's actually a great time to assist or lay-preach.


I haven't dropped off the face of the earth...just regrouping. Please check back! And I know I owe at least two of you memes.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Virtual Congregation

Over at our place we're talking about setting up a congregational website, or even a blog, where our geographically scattered parishoners and supporters can keep in touch with what's going on.

I think this is a great idea, and one that has potential for reaching out to far more people than those connected to our congregation.

Here's a question for you, readers: If you could design an online presence for your congregation, what are some things you'd like that presence to do? Do you envision it primarily as a meeting place for members of your church, or something with a broader outreach and appeal? Discuss amongst yourselves.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Poetry Blogging

Fellow "blue highways" travelers know those feelings of mingled curiosity and melancholy elicited by an abandoned village along the roadside -- abandoned houses, sometimes reduced to just the chimneys; an empty, windowless false-front store or two; streets laid out with deliberation, but going nowhere, with perhaps just one or two extant households still hanging on.

Here is a poem about such places.

Friday Five: Fantasy Island

This week's questions from the RevGalBlogPals ask us to design our own "fantasy island" vacation:

1)What book(s) will you bring?
Light reading with lots of pictures -- cookbooks, bird books, etc. You probably thought I was going to get all theological here. My experience is that "heavy" reading and vacations don't mix well.

2) What music accompanies you?
An eclectic mix of jazz, blues, folk, with some world music and classic beach-bum tunes thrown in.

3) What essentials of everyday living must you take (as in the health and beauty aids aisle variety)?
Soap. Toothpaste. Deodorant. Non-DEET bug dope. (My fantasy island is here in the Upper Midwest, where that's a necessity.) That's about it.

4a) What technological gadgets if any, will you take with you or do you leave it all behind?
Oh, I'd take my iPod. And it'd be swell if this quiet, stress-free island miraculously had wi-fi.

4b) What level of technology would you insist be present on the island?
Flush toilets. I will pump my own water and even heat it up on a woodstove, but the romance of scurrying outside to some odiferous and vermin-filled outhouse has lost whatever marginal thrill it may have ever held for me.

5) What culinary delights will you partake in while there?
Pancakes and maple syrup. Gotta have pancakes and maple syrup while staying in a vacation cottage.

As a bonus question, what makes for a perfect day on vacation for you?
The ability to live completely in the moment -- to have not a care in the world except what I might be doing at any given time.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Love My Job; Hate My job

I love my job. I love the fact that I work for an agency that can make a real difference in individuals' quality of life. I love being able to write, to create, to educate. I love the feeling that what I do matters in my community.

I hate my job. I hate the fact that it is a public-sector job, and subject to the sort of niggling, soul-killing, bean-counting federal and state regulations that squelch improvement and innovation, and that really have nothing to do with the quality of the front-line services our agency provides. I hate the fact that I have multiple bosses -- depending on what day it is, it ranges from one to four. I hate the feeling of being trapped because I'm too timid to explore other options. I hate the economic malaise of my state; the lack of vision.

This is where I am right now. I feel like that Flannery O'Connor character who had LOVE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles. I don't know what to do; I don't know where to go. But I know, now, that here is not the place I need to be. This week we're working through the themes of "lost" and "found" in Dancing Down the Hallway; and right now, vocationally, I am feeling very lost.

Creature Comforts

For those of you who have given up on network TV...right now we are both absolutely cracking up over Creature Comforts on CBS. This show, created by the Wallace and Grommit people, superimposes "slice o' life" interviews of just folks upon Claymation animals. It is too funny...literally, it's too funny to have a snowball's chance on mass-market television. But we're enjoying it right now.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

We've All Had Days Like This...

Hat tip to Going Jesus , a great website to visit if you need a laugh.

The Deal of the Meal

Our search for a healthier lifestyle got kicked up a notch last week when Fellow Traveler received notice from her doctor that her cholesterol levels were waaaaay too high, and that she was headed for bypass country in another decade or so if things didn't change.

Because our dietary needs are sometimes so different -- I need lots of fiber; she can't eat very much of it; I like lots of vegetables and fruits; she can't always eat them comfortably -- trying to work up menus for the two of us can constitute a culinary minefield. But we both have family and personal medical histories that are moving us in a more vegetarian direction, even though it's a real challenge.

I'm generally not a real fan of meat analogues -- in my experience, the more that a product tries to replicate meat, the worse it tastes -- but today we had BLT's with Morningstar Farms fake bacon and some sliced avocado, on Amish dill bread, and they were very good. Even though the bakn, or ba-con, or whatever it calls itself, looks damned scary in the package, like something a little kid extruded through a Play-Doh machine -- keep an open mind, and you'll find it surprisingly edible, even if you're like me and prefer your bacon on the chewy, not crispy, side. I think it would be good to add to dishes that generally have a smoked meat in them, like pea soup or red beans and rice, to add a familiar smoky flavor.

We also got out the charcoal grill last night and made grilled Mediterranean pizzas -- the little Bobolis with herbed soy feta, baby spinach, marinated fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and olives; grilled zucchini and eggplant that had first been marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Greek herb mix; and grilled peaches for dessert. Apart from the complicating factor of a vigorous thunderstorm rolling through the area just as the pizzas were ready to go in the grill -- this was a great meal. We used a wood-chip pan in the grill, so the food absorbed a nice, smoky but not overpowering flavor. And we learned that it is worth the fuss of preparing the charcoal to grill vegetables and vegetable entrees.

Of course, as I'm typing this, I have the hugest craving for a big ol' half a barbecued chicken, or a steak, or Greek shish kabobs...but we're serious about eating lower on the food chain, so we figure if we have to do it we're going to do it with a little ingenuity and panache. It's the best revenge.

Booking It

Since my humble blog was recently visited by no less a Lutheran celebrity than Kelly Fryer (I am not worthy!), this is probably a good time to put a plug in for the devotional book Dancing Down the Hallway: Spiritual Reflections For the Every Day, cowritten by Fryer and Rimothy J. Ressmeyer, which was just delivered to our house.

Fellow Traveler was looking for a user-friendly devotional book with Scripture readings and meditations. Dancing Down the Hallway is divided into 52 chapters, one for each week of the year; each week features a Scripture reading, a kind of minimalist meditation based on the reading, a series of questions for reflection for the coming week, and space for journaling. We spent about an hour discussing the first chapter, and we found this so insightful and enjoyable that we think we're going to make this a household "family night" ritual, then do our own private reflection and journaling as well. It's a simple, but not simpleminded, book; and keeping it simple around here is what we nant to do in the weeks to come.


There's a young woman who goes to our church -- she's maybe late 20's or early 30's -- who won't sit with us in the pew.

It happened again today. Fellow Traveler was ahead of me, going down the main aisle to find a seat; she picked out our favorite row (as one of our seniors remarked to me once, "We're all like cows in the barn, heading for our favorite stanchions"), said, "Excuse me," and then proceeded down the pew to the other end, next to the window. As we sat down, the woman got up and left for another seat. But when the pastor's wife sat next to us a few minutes later, the woman changed her seat again, and resumed her previous position at the aisle end of that row, as if the pastor's wife had created a kind of physical boundary that made it okay to to sit in our pew.

Initially, when this phenomenon began, I thought that the woman simply didn't want to have any company in the pew; and the front rows of our church, like that of other Lutheran churches, tend to be a no-man's-land, so solitary folks who can nonetheless tolerate being that front and center pretty much have their pick of wide open spaces. But we've observed this flight behavior enough to conclude that something is up; that for whatever reason, this woman doesn't want to sit in the same pew as us, even at the far end.

We shower every morning; we don't smell bad, at least as far as I can tell. We do not have communicable diseases. We don't have screaming, hooliganesque small children in tow. We don't mumble to our imaginary friends during the service. We just sit and stand; stand and sit; make the sign of the cross a few times; murmur "And also with you" at the appropriate points in the liturgy; pass the peace. (This individual, by the way, does not care to engage in this ritual with us either.)

I remember back in about first grade, when Cootie was the rage in my class. If you were "it," the other kids would shriek in mock horror and run away from you; sometimes "cootie" status would follow you from the playground back into the classroom, where you'd find yourself in a state of pariahhood for the rest of the day.

I can see six-year-olds, savages that they are, getting some sort of psychic payoff from indulging in Cootie. Twenty- or thirty-somethings...not so much. I just don't get it.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Friday Poetry Bloggery

Last Monday Fellow Traveler -- who has been my nursemaid, activity director and amateur therapist during my recent time of trial -- persuaded me to go for a ride around the countryside. We drove around my old neighborhood, past the 40 acres of pasture and hayfield, a few miles down the road from my childhood home, that my family used to own. I pointed out the pair of gnarled, half-dead snow apple trees out in the middle of the hayfield, and noted that my grandparents had planted them sometime back in the 'teens.

I've always liked being around apple trees...enjoying their motherly silhouettes against back yards and farm fields, sitting under them on a hot summer day, climbing the low-hanging limbs, watching the everchanging assortment of birds that like them too.

Here is a poem by Wendell Berry, about apple trees.

Friday Five: Hopes, Visions and Dreams

1. Think back to the time you left high school: What were your hopes, visions and dreams for your life/for the world?
Oh, this one is easy. I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore, tossing my beret in the air on the way to some exciting, creative job in the big city, then going home to a well-appointed career-gal apartment in a folkloric/historic old house.

2. Have those hopes, visions and dreams changed a lot, or are some of them still alive and kicking? (Share one if you can.)
Right now my major hope/dream/vision is feeling better. A new beret would be nice too, though.

3. Hebrews 11:1: " Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. " Comforting, challenging or frustrating?
I'm reminded of the line in Baptized We Live that talks about clinging to faith even when there's no evidence that God exists or cares. A friend of mine noted, in response, "God, you Lutherans are a depressing people."

4. If resources were unlimited, and you had free rein to pursue a vision, what would it be?
I would love to find a way to earn a living in northwest Michigan, Fellow Traveler's and my favorite place in the state; find a nice, low-maintenance, un-fancy house with enough room for the four-legged children; and settle into a laid-back, crunchy-granola lifestyle.

5. Finally, with summer upon us- and not to make this too heavy- share your dream holiday....where, when and who with...
FT and I have talked about someday talking the the grand tour through New England and the Maritime Provinces. Might Vermont become the new Benzie County in our household consciousness? Hmmm.

Checked Out

I checked out last week.

A combination of life stressors, chronic and acute, as well as a latent tendency toward depression that I think runs on both sides of my family and that I have been laboring under my whole life, even before I had a name for what it was, came to a head on Friday. I found myself in the midst of a full-blown panic attack. I couldn't think sequentially; I couldn't make simple decisions; I got lost driving a route I've driven for ages; I was crying, and sweating, and felt like I was dying. I'd had to attend a late-afternoon community meeting for my job that was fortuitously close to the local Community Mental Health office; so a concerned Fellow Traveler met me in the parking lot, and we went in, and I dissolved into a warm puddle of meltdown.

I'm not going to talk a lot about what happened next, although I will say that if you don't feel suicidal or homicidal before walking into a CMH, you will a half-hour later when the staff is still interrogating you about your damn proofs of income and health insurance.

Anyhow...I got fast-tracked to a therapy appointment the following week. And in the interim I spent Memorial Day weekend alternating between the sofa and the bed, cowered under a comforter, wishing I could enter a kind of hibernation state and remain there until...whenever. I only spoke or ate under duress. And I cried, a lot.

This week I was able to muddle my way through the workday, and also had my first therapy session. I am waiting to see a doctor to get a prescription for some antidepressants; I've always resisted mood-altering pharmaceuticals, just because I didn't want to wind up on another maintenance drug, and because I was afraid of some of the side effects I saw in friends and coworkers who were on "happy pills"...but I'm tired of feeling tired and overwhelmed and befuddled and anxious. No mas.

So...I'm back. Maybe not every day. But I'm here.