Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sitting Down to Wine

Earlier this week we had, on successive days, two great wines that went very well with the charcoal-grilled chicken breasts we cooked on the front porch. I suspect this is the last week we'll be able to sit outside in shirtsleeves (although not the last week we'll be charcoal grilling on the front porch), and a glass of chilled, dry white wine hit the spot.

I picked up a bottle of Michigan-made Bowers Harbor Unwooded Chardonnay -- I think 2005 vintage -- at an area wine store having a major clearance sale. This brought the price down to my cheapskate, under-12-bucks limit, but was still something of a splurge. I was glad I found it though -- very light and crisp, with a taste something akin to walking past an orchard in late summer and smelling the aroma of ripening fruit from afar.

Our second find was Monkey Bay Chardonnay from New Zealand, on sale at a local drugstore. This was very special -- so light it was almost like a Riesling, with a distinct note of honey...but crisp, not sweet, and without that somewhat heavy aftertaste that chardonnay can sometimes have. It was very, very good.

(You'll note that we're just two gals in the northwoods with no pretensions to wine snobbery, which is why our wine reviews don't quite sound like the ones in glossy lifestyle magazines.)

And just a reiteration that grilling with lump charcoal has been one of our best foodie discoveries of the summer -- it imparts a wonderful flavor to foods, isn't loaded with chemicals, and contrary to our assumptions burns quickly. We'll never go back to briquets. And best of all, we have locally produced lump charcoal right here in Outer Podunk. This, our rediscovery of charcoal grilling and our consumption of real brewed iced tea poured right from Mom's china teapot over ice have provided a trifecta of front-porch pleasure this summer.

Monday, September 24, 2007

She Got Game

My game-challenged-lifestyle update:

This weekend we ushered in our inaugural Family Game Night. The game was dominoes.

I won.

Not that I am gloating.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hank's Place

Let me start out by saying that I'm a ghost agnostic. Ghosts don't fit easily into my theology; while I don't question the veracity of people who report experiencing ghostly phenomena, my impulse is to find non-supernatural explanations.

Now, having said that... garage may be haunted. By my dad. Or a reasonable facsimile.

Fellow Traveler, who's spent some quality time in my garage, reports an ongoing eerie sensation of sharing this space with...well, someone. She says it feels like a benign someone; a curious someone; a paternal someone.

When FT first shared this with me, my skepticism meter went on the uptick. Maybe this entity was one of the beady-eyed, furry, entirely corporeal critters that inhabit the garage rafters. Maybe my stories of my dad spending hours in the garage doorway, smoking stogies that he was forbidden to smoke in the house, had fired her imagination. And frankly I'd never felt anything even vaguely supernatural about this building.

But then FT told me that, one day while she was working in the garage, listening to the local oldies station on the radio, the signal suddenly turned to static...then she found herself listening to Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh was my father's hero. He never missed listening to Rush's radio show.

That made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I can't bring myself to call this whatever-it-is "Dad." So I call him "Hank" -- my father's nickname. FT says she sometimes finds herself talking to Hank -- saying hello; sharing what she's doing; telling him to back off when he's a little too there.

I suggested that maybe Hank hangs out with her because she's the child-in-law he never had in his lifetime.

One imaginative but non-supernatural explanation for ghosts is that it may be possible for time to periodically fold in on itself, so that two separate times may collide, so to speak, in one place, and people in one time experience phenomena related to the other time. If you think about it this way...maybe all those hours when my father was sitting in the garage, he was feeling a strange but not unpleasant presence there with him...a middle-aged woman who was interested in his car and his tools and his fishing equipment. Maybe he talked to her, even.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friday Five: Fall Cleanup Edition

1. Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?
I am a hoarder who wishes I were a minimalist.

2. Name one important object ( could be an heirloom) that you will never part with.
My mother's lifesize Westmoreland milk glass hen on nest, which used to live on the shelf above our stove in our old farmhouse. It's not only an heirloom which brings back fond memories, but it's really the object that helped me develop an interest in art glass and antiques in general.

3. What is the oldest item in your closet? Does it still fit???
Let's see...I have a red shaker sweater from my college days that hasn't made its way into the mission bag yet even though I'm currently a little... overly voluptuous to wear it, at least in public.

4.Yard sales- love 'em or hate 'em ?
It depends. I hate yard sales that are all clothes, or that try to sell broken/hopelessly worn items: Just throw the damn thing out! I like poking around yard sales with good useable items (right now I'm looking for a gently used mountain bike) and real collectables. This spring Fellow Traveler and I visited a really nice yard sale at a farmhouse -- I wound up with a charming, apparently handmade squirrel nutcracker that now sits on my end table, and she wound up with some eBayable knick-knacks.

5. Name a recycling habit you really want to get into.
Once upon a time Outer Podunk had its own recycling center. This was great -- my mother and I faithfully sorted and bundled all our throwaways every month, drove them to the center and felt good about it. The center closed when it became economically unprofitable for the owners; a citizens' group is trying to revive county-wide recycling here, but it just can't seem to get the ball rolling. This is really too bad, since the next closest recycle center is about 20 miles away. One of the things that impresses me about Benzie and Leelanau Counties is their commitment to recycling -- they have community recycling centers all over the place. There's just a different spirit and set of social priorities up there, that I wish would migrate south.

And for a bonus- well anything you want to add....
I admit that I have an addiction to collecting paper -- paper of all kinds -- that I am powerless to overcome. Paper is overtaking my file spare vehicle. HELP!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Honey, We Need to Talk"

Fellow Traveler and I had just come home from dinner with her aunt and uncle and some household-necessaries shopping out of town. I was in the bathroom when I heard Fellow Traveler say, with feeling, "Honey -- we need to talk."

Omigod, I think. We need to talk? What did I do wrong? Did I say something? Did I do something? Did I not say or do something? Did I leave the peanut-butter knife in the kitchen sink without washing it off again? What? What?

Inwardly cringing, I slowly made my way down the hall to the next room and tentatively poked my head through the doorway.

Fellow Traveler was talking to Cassie, the dog.

I think my therapist will enjoy this story.

The Ten Commandments -- With Pirattitude

Hail, me hearties! The peace o' the Lord be wi' ye!
An' also wi' ye!

Ahoy, mates! Yes, it's time once again for Talk Like a Pirate Day. Interesting how anything, even The Law, becomes more fun if you read it pirate-style. So without further ado:

The Pirate Ten Commandments

1. Avast on all other gods, an' avast on them graven images too.

2. Don't be usin' My name unless ye mean it, or I'll 'ave ye walk the plank.

3. Remember who provides yer swag and booty and show yer gratitude every week.

4. Don't be disrespecting yer Mum and Da, ye mutinous whelps.

5. Avast on killin', ye scurvy knaves.

6. Stow yer oar where it belongs, if ye get my meanin'.

7. Keep yer grubby mitts off of swag that ain't yers.

8. Tell the truth or I'll 'ave ye keelhauled.

9. Don't be wantin' to moor to someone else's berth.

10. Don't be wantin' someone else's lad or wench or booty.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

How've You Bean?

You Are an Espresso

At your best, you are: straight shooting, ambitious, and energetic

At your worst, you are: anxious and high strung

You drink coffee when: anytime you're not sleeping

Your caffeine addiction level: high

My Admittedly Un-Christian, Un-PC Warren Jeffs Fantasy

After following the trial of Warren Jeffs, self-appointed "prophet" of the polygamist FLDS cult which engages in forced marriages of underage girls and various other bizarre shenanigans, this is my admittedly uncharitable, if karmically appropriate, wish for Mr. Jeffs: I can't help hoping that he winds up sharing a prison cell with a very large, very lonely convict named Moose. Perhaps that would give him a taste of what it's like to be a female in his community.

I know that both my sexual orientation and non-fertility put me at the very bottom of the pecking order in Jeff's cosmology. But I'd rather spend an eternity in his hell than a nanosecond in his present or in his "exalted" afterlife.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

O, The Times

Ever think you'd live to hear Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" used to sell toilet paper and the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" used to sell diapers?

I think I want to take my university diploma -- BA in Advertising -- and use that as toilet paper. Feh.

Games People Play

I have a confession: I don't know how to play.

It doesn't matter what. I don't know how to play.

I grew up under the double burden of being an only child and of living in a household where, thanks to my father and his own upbringing in an ueber-Pietist family, playing games was considered evidence of sloth and general faulty character. My grandparents, "the old folks," would get together with neighbors for penuchle, but their children were rarely allowed the same privileges. As an adult, my father would watch Tigers ballgames with his uncles, but he would never actively play games of any kind.

My mother's side of the family was entirely different; they grew up playing board games and Victorian parlor games like Truth or Consequences. But my mom never felt comfortable playing games with me; she always seemed to be looking over her shoulder, waiting for spousal criticism, and I absorbed that anxiety.

Fellow Traveler loves to play games of all kinds. So the past year and a half I have been on a learning curve as far as learning how to relax and enjoy games. It's hard for me. It's hard for me to learn games that everyone else, it seems, has been playing from early childhood. It makes me feel alien and stupid. My palms actually break out into a sweat while I'm playing.

But I am persevering. We want to try Family Game Night as it grows colder and darker; dominoes and Skip-Bo and whatever else strikes our fancy. I really think this is an important part of my therapy. I want to play.

Fruits of Kindness

Today Fellow Traveler and I decided to go scouting for apples, to eat fresh and to can as applesauce.

Our first stop was a regionally well-known apple emporium in Freeland that FT frequently passes and occasionally stops in on her way to doctors' appointments. The store is like a combination bakery/cider mill/Cracker Barrel gift shop. And today it was a madhouse of families with tiny children and senior citizens on a Sunday jaunt; pushing our way through the aisles I felt like a bovine headed up a chute into a cattle car. We spent maybe five minutes looking around at fall-themed household items and incredibly expensive apples and apple products...and decided to get the heck out of Dodge.

Plan B was an orchard that I blogged about last year, just outside Midland, that we loved; it sold a variety heirloom as well as contemporary apple varieties and delicious donuts, hot and cold cider and even cider slushies. We took the scenic route around the countryside to circle back to Midland, found our turn-off road, found the orchard...and found it closed. We couldn't believe it, this late in September.

We'd noticed roofers working on a barn next door to the orchard proper, so we drove there and asked when the orchard would open. We were receiving a clueless and rather surly response from one of the roofers when we noticed an older man in hunting camo and boots walking toward our Jeep from the orchard.

We waved hello, told him we were looking for applesauce apples and asked him if the orchard would be open this year.

"No," he sighed. He explained that his orchard was an "expensive hobby" that he'd had a hard time keeping up with this year while at work in his day job. He also said that the growing season had been so dry that the harvest wasn't up to par, and he had also battled with scab and other diseases; he and his wife had decided that it just wasn't worth opening the orchard store this fall. He paused -- I think scanning our crestfallen faces -- then said, "Tell you what -- why don't I just give you a couple of bags, and you can pick what you want."

He led us to a couple of trees, a variety called Sweet Sixteen, with a fairly large, healthy crop of apples, handed us large plastic bags and let us fill them. We wound up with, we reckon, almost a bushel of fruit.

"What do we owe you?" we asked.

"Nothing," he said. "Just take them."

We couldn't believe it. We asked him again. He just waved us off. "Enjoy them."

We told him we were really looking forward to the orchard opening next year, and wished him a good future harvest. He smiled.

Thank you, Apple Man, for making us smile.

The Tale of Two Girls and a Canoe

Here is the tale of two girls -- girls of a certain age; one girl a skilled canoer, the other a canoe virgin -- on the river, this past Saturday morning.

After pondering where we might begin this first canoe lesson, we set out for the canoe launch at the Outer Podunk North Park. (Outer Podunk may be a humble, financially down-and-out small town, but they do have a remarkable city park that twists and turns along a local river the entire length of the town, with amenities ranging from a campground to tennis and basketball courts to hiking trails to a skateboard park. And, of course, a canoe launch.) I had been told that, as occupant of the front seat, my job was principally to look out for obstacles; that I could luxuriate in my newbie-ness by not doing a whole lot else.

Well, good Lutheran that I am, I chafe under this type of restriction. We are bred to be helpful. So I kept pleading with Fellow Traveler, "Please tell me what to do." "Tell me what to do." "Can I paddle now?" "What side of the canoe should I be paddling from?" "Just tell me what to do." "I want you to hold your paddle in your lap and tell me what's ahead of you," FT told me at one point.

Nonetheless, I got a rudimentary idea of how to help steer the canoe left and right. I enjoyed the scenery surrounding the river. We periodically encountered a pair of ducks that seemed to be following us. At one point we passed a school of trout -- at least a dozen nice-sized ones -- that to me was incredibly exciting.

And then things got interesting.

The wind picked up. The river flow increased. We met up with more large rocks and snags in the water. FT and I couldn't keep in synch, and it was hard for me to remember that she really couldn't see past me. We hit some rocks along the river's edge. We ran into overhanging brush. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with myself. What am I even doing here? I thought. I can't even swim. I am utterly incompetent to be on the water. I got short with FT when I heard what sounded like an exasperated groan behind me. "LOOK -- I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE," I snapped. "YOU NEED TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO."

All of a sudden I heard a yelp from the back of the canoe: "The camera!" Our camera case had popped out of FT's life vest and was now headed down the river, sinking as it tumbled along.

I uttered a word that is probably illegal for canoers in Michigan to speak aloud in the presence of women and children.

This wasn't going well.

But the relative good news was, we were now at the South Park beach, about a mile from our launch point, and had a chance to rest and regroup in the relative civilization of the weekend park crowd. The purple camera case had come to rest in some sand and was visible to us. FT decided that, on the return trip up the river, we could try to push the camera onto the river's-edge rocks with a paddle and retrieve it by hand.

We set out again...and immediately ran aground on a sandbar. We backed up; ran aground; backed up; ran aground. Again, I felt as if I were impeding our progress by not knowing what to do. But finally we moved forward, with difficulty. The camera case was out of reach.

"Here's the plan," FT advised. "We're going back onto the beach. I am going to wade into the river and get the camera."

I looked at her in disbelief. It was a nippy morning, and the camera was lodged in a deeper spot in the river. "Let's just forget the camera," I pleaded. "It's just a camera."

FT waded into the water, up to her waist. She tried to reach into the water; the camera case was too deep. "I'm going in," she called out to me as I stood on the beach. Soon she was underwater.

She was able to grab the camera...but the sand was grabbing the camera, and her...she was only able to get back to shore with difficulty, stumbing on an underwater rock and bruising her calf in the process. And she was freezing cold.

"Here's an idea," I said. "You wait here; I'll walk back to the Jeep and drive it back here and we'll forget about canoeing back." FT, now sitting on a park bench shivering, nodded weakly. I turned around and race-walked double-time all the way back to North Park and the Jeep.

Armed with coffee and a blanket, I headed back to South Park. FT was talking to a young woman with a dog. It turned out that the woman had apparently initially thought FT was a disoriented street person, sitting there dripping wet in the 60-ish temperatures. Once she heard the story, she stayed with FT until I got there, and helped us get the canoe back onto the Jeep.

We sped back home. FT took a very hot shower and wrapped up in some quilts, while I made coffee and hot soup. FT told me that if she ever again announces that she is going to do something as chowderheaded as diving for a camera in a freezing-cold river, I am to tell her, using every expletive in the dictionary, that that is not acceptable. We also Saturday-afternoon-quarterbacked my own maiden voyage. FT said that I actually did very well for someone who had never been canoeing before; that my big problem was trying too hard; not enjoying what is supposed to be an enjoyable, laid-back recreational activity; becoming too panicky and too impatient with myself.

"That's why I'd make a terrible Buddhist," I noted.

" you think you'll remember your first canoe trip?" asked FT.

But wait...there's more.

By afternoon FT had thawed out sufficiently to get ready for some Amishing and dinner out with a friend of ours in a neighboring county. As we were tipping the canoe off the Jeep, it suddenly gained momentum and I lost my grip on my end; Cody had wandered underneath the boat, and it seemed the canoe was going to hit him full force. "CODY!" I screamed, diving for my end of the canoe. Cody scuttled out from underneath just in time, but the edge of the canoe whacked me right in the temple, sucking the breath out of me and making stars swirl before my eyes for a second. I am now sporting a painful shiner on the side of my head. Who knew canoeing was a contact sport?

Despite all was a good day. It really was. I am undeterred in my goal of learning how to do this. And we'll probably go out again before the snow flies. On our pond.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Nice Fish

I don't know how many of you watch outdoor-sports programs on television -- I was weaned on Michigan Outdoors and American Sportsman, and even now I'll occasionally watch one of these programs for a few minutes while channel-flipping -- but if you watch the fishing segments, you will invariably hear one phrase, over and over, angler to angler: Nice fish.

Well, tonight for dinner we had nice fish. We didn't catch it, unless snagging it on major sale at the local supermarket counts as pulling in a big one.
With Chinese cabbage salad it made a tasty and quick homemade Friday night meal. I'll share the original menu; we pared it down to two-serving size.

Teku Lodge Basted Grilled Salmon

1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

Mix together well; place in a large plastic bag. Add:

6 salmon filets

Marinate in refrigerator for about 2 hours, turning occasionally.

Heat grill of choice. (We used a little George Foreman contact grill.) While grill is heating, drain salmon, reserving marinade; pour marinade into a saucepan and add

1/4 cup butter

Heat mixture on medium high until boiling; cook for about 4 or 5 minutes, until liquid is reduced and syrupy.

Grill salmon about 4-5 minutes per side, basting with the sauce. Plate and pour some of the remaining sauce over the salmon. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Artwork by Darrell Charles, Jr. and Clark Mundy

Friday Poetry Bloggery

My Cabela life jacket came in the mail yesterday, and tomorrow I will be going on my maiden voyage in a canoe, in a shallow, newbie-canoeist-friendly local river. I didn't find a lot of inspiring canoe poetry, but I did find a paen to Canada by Billy Collins, one of my favorite poets, that reminds me of many of the things I love about living "up north," even though I'm not quite that far up north. And I also found a nice seasonal painting by noted Canadian artist A.Y. Jackson that fits perfectly. I hope that my Canadian blog buddies, especially, will enjoy this post.

Friday Five: Coffee and Danish Provided

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is all about...meetings. Do you have a copy of the agenda?

1. What's your view of meetings? Choose one or more, or make up your own:
a) When they're good, they're good. I love the feeling of people working well together on a common goal.
b) I don't seek them out, but I recognize them as a necessary part of life.
c) The only good meeting is a canceled meeting.


2. Do you like some amount of community building or conversation, or are you all business?

I'd say about a 1-to-3 ratio of community building/conversation versus "bidness."

3. How do you feel about leading meetings? Share any particular strengths or weaknesses you have in this area.

I have been told that I lead good meetings because I keep them short, sweet and focused on the agenda. (See question 1.) Which is probably why I don't get asked to lead too many meetings.

4. Have you ever participated in a virtual meeting? (conference call, IM, chat, etc.) What do you think of this format?

I think something is lost with disembodied voices/written comments. On the other hand, I hate driving long distances, so if I had to choose between a face-to-face meeting in some distant metropolitan area or a virtual meeting, I'm going for the virtual meeting. And that way I don't have to dress up, either.

5. Share a story of a memorable meeting you attended.

A previous employer was very big on the management-fad-of-the-month; this was an organization where employees were asked to go to team-building workshops with "trust falls" and blindfolded walks in the woods, and where for awhile staff meetings started feeling like group therapy. I was working in a department of this organization largely staffed by overeducated, underemployed cynics, so these exercises in "Kumbaya" were met with much scorn and derision behind the closed doors of our offices. Anyway, we had been told to come to one staff meeting prepared to share a favorite song on tape, and talk about why it was important to us. The employees chose the sort of songs one might expect -- "Wind Beneath My Wings," other songs of inspiration and fellowship and saccharine orchestral arrangements. In an act of relative chutzpah that surprises me now, I brought a recording of REM's "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." I explained that it was a tune that helped energize me and put things in perspective when we had busy days with numerous expedited projects. Afterward, one of the Big Bosses came up to me and noted, "I don't know whether to be intrigued or frightened."

Hat tip to , a source of hilarious anti-motivational merchandise for the kind of worker who'd choose "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" as an inspirational song for a staff meeting.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Happy Scholastics!

I just have to share this post from RevGalBlogPal Earthchick ...not only because she shares photos of her two absolutely adorable children on their first day of school, but because they received some of the best advice, for the academic world and for the world in general, that I have ever heard; and it came from a homeless, mentally ill gentleman who hangs out at Earthchick's church. Read and smile!

Sidebar: A number of bloggers have described organizing a "Blessing of the Backpacks" ritual at their churches to mark the beginning of the school year. What a cool idea. I definitely have to put this bug in the ear of our Worship Committee for next year. Having grown up in a church where children were expected to sit down, shut up and not take an active role in worship other than on Christmas Eve...I believe that it's important to welcome kids as active participants in worship. Anyway...I'd love to see our church bless the backpacks next year.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hopelessly Devoted To You...

I have an assignment for our next retreat. I have to come up with a devotional for the beginning of the first day. (Hmmm...wonder if this had anything to do with my suggestion, on my last post-retreat feedback form, that people be given some guidance on creating and leading devotionals.)

As an almost-graduate who's been through the rotation of devotionals and table graces, I shouldn't be too terribly worried about this task. My classmates' interpretations of what consitutes a devotional have included everything from by-the-book Matins and Compline to interactive stuff to, in one case, a long personal testimony.

But...I just don't enjoy coming up with group devotionals. Frankly, I don't always get very much out of sitting there on the receiving end of them either. My inclination is to use the short-form Morning Prayer out of the Book of Common Prayer; it's much more eloquent and elegant than anything I can create, and it's short and to the point, so why re-invent the wheel? But I can't help but think that I'm expected to come up with something unique; something boffo.

One of the things I've learned in my year as regular Assisting Minister is that "boffo" rarely shows up on the average Sunday; it's generally "muddling through." So maybe I need to lower my self-expectations to my Sunday ones and just muddle through with something adequate to the task.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Pasta Night

We had a great -- great -- meal last night.

It was one of those impromptu, "What do we have in the house that we can eat without too much prep time?" kinds of meals. Our scrounged ingredients:

whole wheat rotini
shredded leftover roast chicken
a sack of heirloom tomatoes from The Ugly Tomato "honor market" up north
red bell peppers and garlic from a local farm market
on-najor-sale goat feta from the food coop that we'd bought just for the heck of it a couple of weeks ago
olive oil
sea salt

Fellow Traveler roasted the garlic, bell pepper and tomatoes with olive oil in the oven...cooked and drained the rotini...tossed the roasted veggies and the chicken with the pasta...added cubed feta and seasonings. That was it.

It was very, very, very good, especially accompanied by some Two-Buck-Chuck sauvignon blanc from our last trip to Trader Joe's in Ann Arbor. The leftovers were just as good, if not even better, the next day, marinated with balsamic vinegar and eaten as a cold salad.

Living well is the best revenge...especially if you can do it on the cheap.

Stop...You're Killing Me

Another installment in the ongoing series Why Fundamentalists Drive Me Crazy:

I'm on a Christian discussion forum. Someone going through an emotional crisis has written quite poignantly about struggling with suicidal feelings. Various posters have offered wise, compassionate advice and support.

Then along comes a Real Christian[tm]. This individual's counsel to a desperate, hurting person (paraphrased, but you'll get the drift): Are you ready to die? Are you ready to be judged by God? Probably not -- so you'd better pull it together and shape up...or else. This person compared life to God's timed test; when God tells you to put the pencil down you'd better be sufficiently holy...or else.

When I read this post, I thought, "Who on earth would respond to a suffering, suicidal individual in this way?

Oops...rhetorical question.

You know the saying that if the only tool in your toolkit is a hammer, all your problems will look like nails? I guess if the only tool in your theological toolkit is a big can of industrial-strength Wrath-o-God Whup-Ass, everyone's problems become an opportunity to mace them in the face with it.

I recently read a comment on Kelly Fryer's blog , about how religious fundamentalism has the potential to kill people -- emotionally, spiritually and even physically. Does she have a witness? Oh, yes.

What is with these people?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are...

What if you threw a party and nobody came?

As some of you know, Fellow Traveler and I have been trying to provide fellowship opportunities for lesbians in our area -- last fall we held a Thanksgiving open house for people who didn't have a family dinner to go to and we've scheduled several potlucks and meetups. We've used the Internet and our network of friends and acquaintances to let people know we're here. And some of our friends have also stepped up to host events in their own communities and at their own homes. Most of these happenings revolve around eating (as if you wouldn't guess this from this blog), talking and engaging in non-sensational amusements like playing cards or watching sporting events on TV.

What we've found, though, is that many women who are interested in what we're doing nonetheless won't come to our get-togethers. Because they're afraid. One of our friends who lives in a metro area downstate related that the same thing happens when she tries to get people together in her own city -- that women on one side of the city are reluctant to travel to the other because they're scared.

While caution while meeting people online is always prudent, I think this goes far beyond anxiety that we're a couple of Internet-based wackos. I think many women, especially in our rural part of the state, are afraid of identifying with other gay women in any other way; that they are burdened, in their psyches, by an unseen gallery of disapproving others who intimidate them to the point of self-segregation from the rest of our community.

This makes me sad. I wish there were a way to reassure these women that it's okay to come to our homes; that there's good food and good conversation, hopefully some good-natured silliness, and support.

Full House

We had a fairly full house at church today...which just goes to show you, you can't get too worried about short-term attendance phenomena. About a dozen people also showed up for the new pre-service adult book study, currently working through Velvet Elvis. Maybe people just needed a couple of weeks to dial down from their full-tilt-boogie, weekend-warrior busy-ness.

We also had -- calloo, callay -- lots of happy little kids in church today. One tot whose parents are regulars just loves everything about the service; he's fascinated by all the action front and center and stands watching from the center aisle, all smiles and giggles through worship. Today during the Eucharist I distributed the wafers while our pastor played music; when this little guy came up with his 'rents I made the sign of the cross on his forehead and blessed him, and he just started laughing and running around in circles. Now, how to keep that general attitude alive through the kids' tweens and beyond...that's the challenge.

Befuddled By Blessings

One of my favorite audio essays on public radio's This American Life recounts the yeshiva experience of a frequent contributor to the show, who humorously recalled learning the various blessings over food required of observant Jews, as well as proper prayer protocol for same; as those of you familiar with Jewish ritual know, different types of foods require different prayers, and there is a prescribed order to these blessings. The rabbi who taught his class would quiz the students on such theologically challenging dishes as casseroles, and many of the students would become...well, befuddled by blessings.

I thought of this during our Leelanau wine tour. The rolling hills, filled with cherry orchards and grapevines and woodlots...the bluest of blue skies...the blue waters...the charm of the wineries themselves, which were very often in otherwise nondescript buildings that had been landscaped into warm, inviting places...the varied flavors of the wine and the amuses offered by the was indescribably pleasurable, especially in the good company of a partner who was equally delighted by it all.

We were at, I think the Chateau Fontaine, tasting different vintages as one of the owners chatted with us about each one; she pointed out a fruit-laden grapevine twining along the window, and noted that it was one of the varietals we were drinking at the moment. The Jewish wine blessing popped into my mind: Blessed are you, O God, Sovereign of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine. But in reality, like those Jewish schoolboys remembered in the This American Life piece, so many blessings were tumbling around in my mind that I couldn't even begin to name them all.

The irony, though, was that Fellow Traveler and I found ourselves, that afternoon, in a kind of inadvertant convoy of fellow winery tourists -- everywhere we went, the same people soon showed up right behind us. We even got to know their vehicles. I'm not sure if these folks were all in a group or were likewise incidental tour companions, but their one commonality was a collective bad mood. They acted as if their wine-tasting were an annoying duty. They treated the winery owners and staff with the imperious rudeness of upstairs Victorians addressing the hired help. At one winery, when an owner asked one of them if she cared to sample some of the product, she glared back, "I DO NOT DRINK!" in a granite tone suggesting she was quite offended to have been asked...which to me would be like a vegan standing in line at KFC and then getting upset when the counter person asked, "Original or Extra Crispy?"

I don't know the story of the people who followed us from winery to winery; and everyone has a story, so perhaps there were understandable reasons for their demeanors that day. And Lord knows that I'm not always in a grateful state of mind. But I think being befuddled by the blessings around me, even if only in scattered moments of insight, is a pretty good place to be.

Ah, the Irony...

For your listening pleasure (for those of tender ear, be aware that there is an R-rated word at the very end of this song -- for the PG version you can listen/download at Janis ):


Cassie, aka Miss Cassie May, is the third four-legged member of our family. Because she's camera-shy, it's hard to get a photo of her...but I managed one on Labor Day, when we were at the recreational area. It's only fair to give her equal time on my blog, I think.

Cassie loves to hug and kiss us in the morning. She loves to run behind the Jeep. She loves to swim. But her favorite thing of all is stalking squirrels...she can literally spend hours under a tree, patiently looking upward while a chattering squirrel mocks her from a high branch.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Our Excellent End-of-Summer Adventure

Notes from Fellow Traveler's birthday trip:

Ever hear of anyone over the age of maybe ten who was so antsy to open her birthday presents that she got up at the crack of dawn to do so? This is what Fellow Traveler did. Of course, we did go to bed early the evening before -- on the spur of the moment we'd decided to spend the night in Cadillac, a halfway point to our trip, so after some mad scrambling to pack and round up the dogs, and an hour's drive from Outer Podunk, we were pretty beat; more or less comatose before 10:00 at night. Anyway, we found ourselves up and at 'em at 5:00 am Friday, and FT immediately commenced opening her birthday gifts. You know, it's not every woman who's impressed by a harmonica (it's a long story), a Pudge Rodriguez bobblehead and a stainless steel back scratcher; but FT was. She even test-drove the harmonica, there in our room at, like, 5:20 am; between that and Cassie the golden retriever going into Hound of the Baskervilles mode after being startled by another guest in the hallway I kept waiting for the staff to usher us out of the place, with instructions never to return. But they didn't; and we left of our own accord just before 7:00.

A poignant start to the morning: We stopped at McDonald's to get the dogs sausage biscuits and some coffee for ourselves, then headed for a local park for dog breakfast. As we pulled into the parking area we were startled to see the shambling outline of a human figure emerge from a darkened woodland pathway and head toward us. After a few moments we realized that it was a homeless person who'd obviously spent the night in the woods. As he approached he stopped in the park's picnic area to rummage through the trash cans -- for bottles and, we thought, maybe for some salvageable picnic throwaways as well. He was an older man -- in his 60's, at least. "Sir!" FT called out. "When's the last time you had something to eat?" After a less-than-convincing response that he was all right, FT gave him a sausage biscuit and her cappucino, which he seemed to appreciate. (Interestingly the dogs, who generally get nervous around strangers in general and often actively dislike men, were very quiet and gentle around this individual. I told FT that she may have, as the Bible says, just entertained an angel unawares.) Ironic, I thought, that we feed our dogs McDonald's sandwiches while the invisible homeless in our midst go without.
We first drove to Beulah, in Benzie County, for FT's chosen alternative to birthday cake -- a delicious, warm ginger scone from The Phoenix Cafe, one of our very favorite destination spots up north. We enjoyed our scones and some Fair Trade coffee; then rubbernecked the rich folks' summer "cottages" along Crystal Lake, then headed up M-22 to the village of Empire, then to Leelanau County.

Words cannot express how lovely this part of the state is. Wind-whipped dunes at the edge of Lake Michigan; rolling fields; orchards and vineyards; woodlands; stunningly blue inland lakes. There are countless places for visitors to hike, bike, fish, canoe or kayak, picnic and just sightsee. The area has a tradition of maintaining honor-pay produce stands; we visited an entire produce store called The Ugly Tomato selling all manner of heirloom fruits and vegetables with nary a storekeeper in sight; just a box to put your money and a change jar.

In addition to preserving the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the National Park Service also maintains the Port Oneida Rural Preservation District , a number of historic farmsteads and other buildings; visitors can wander around freely, picnic in these old backyards, eat an apple from an abandoned farmyard orchard.

We drove up to Glen Haven, an old abandoned village that the Park Service has turned into a kind of living museum, and let the dogs run around the beach for a little while. Then we headed for Glen Arbor, a kind of upscale tourist trap of a village that had all but pulled up the sidewalk for the season, then made our way to Leland .

Leland is known for Fishtown, the remnants of the original fishing village along the docks that have been restored and turned into specialty shops selling everything from Docksiders to ice cream. There are numerous charter fishing operations and boat rides to the Manitou Islands, and one still-extant fishing operation whose owner is about fourth-generation; you can buy the freshest fish imaginable right next to the big lake. We wandered around for a bit, until the hungries got the best of us and we wound up back down the street at the Stonehouse Breadworks, an artisanal bakery that also runs a great little deli with delicious sandwiches and soups, and local artists' works on the walls.

After lunch we decided to go on a wine tour . Some of you may not know that Michigan's Grand Traverse and Leelanau Peninsula areas enjoy a burgeoning and increasingly respected wine industry. There are maybe 15 wineries in the general area. We didn't have the stamina to hit all of them -- plus we needed a designated driver -- so we bypassed Good Harbor Vineyard, which we'd visited before, and instead meandered through the peninsula to find Gill's Pier, Bel Lago, Chateau Fontaine and Longview wineries. What fun! Most of these establishments are visually pleasing, with helpful and friendly staff -- most often the owners, who are visibly proud to show off their creations. We bought some chardonnay, pinot gris and pino noir -- the latter being something of a challenge to grow in the northern Michigan climate, which makes it more special -- and even some cherry wine. If fruit wine makes you think of Boone's Farm or your great-uncle's scary homemade concoctions -- you will be most surprised by a well-made semi-dry cherry wine; it'd be great with ham or roast pork. At the Longview Winery we tried one of their cherry wines with a homemade chocolate truffle -- it tasted just like a cherry cordial.

A moment of family drama at Lake Leelanau, where we'd stopped at a public access to give the dogs a break: We were standing on the dock when Cody suddenly leaped -- he did not fall, but leapt, legs out like a flying squirrel -- into the water. Now, back at home he does this in shallow water where he hits bottom; here he foundered in the water, his head sinking under, until the intrepid FT jumped in up to her waist and fished him out. (Good thing we overpacked clothing.) We've decided that The Man needs his own pint-sized doggy life jacket for future trips.

Our original plans had called for a stop in Frankfort, on Lake Michigan, for some terrific sushi at a restaurant called The Fusion...but by the end of the afternoon the birthday girl wanted something more substantial, so we headed for another favorite area restaurant,
Joe's Friendly Tavern
in Empire, for some good bar food -- a "County Fair" chili-cheese-fry burger for her and a whitefish sandwich for me. This is the place where, earlier this summer, we'd enjoyed sweet potato fries with cherry salsa, whitefish fingers and cherry-Buffalo-sauce chicken wings. If Glen Arbor is like the Beverly Hills 90210 of the region, Empire is more like Haight-Ashbury; artists, hikers/bikers/kayakers and general bohemians. I could live there, I think.

We got back to Outer Podunk at a fairly reasonable hour...exhausted but very happy. A good time was had by all.

And I should add that, when FT got home, she also found a birthday lawn mermaid in her garage. Again, not every gal would want a mermaid and harmonica and bobblehead and back scratcher...but she did. That's why I love her!

Friday, September 07, 2007

An "Overcoming" Friday Five

The depth of my responses to this week's Friday Five will not match the depth of the questions -- partly because I'm doing this on a break and partly because I'm still on a high from my Wednesday Leelanau Peninsula mini-vacation -- but I'll give it a try nonetheless.

1.Have you experienced God's faithfulness at a difficult time? Tell as much or as little as you like...
Many years ago I quit a job in a community I enjoyed, with coworkers I enjoyed, in order to take what I thought would be a much better job, with better opportunities for education and advancement, at a regional university. I'd also be somewhat closer to my recently widowed mother. My goal was to take advantage of the school's policy of free tuition for employees and pursue a master's degree. Long story short, by the end of my first week in the new position, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake. Four months later I had an ulcer, was insomniac and was utterly miserable. The day after I passed my probationary period -- with kudos from my boss, and a raise -- I gave my two weeks' notice.

So here I was -- no job; no new job in hand; moved back home with Mom.

But as sad and angry and disappointed as I was, I had an underlying sense that God was with me and was about to steer me into a new direction. And that was indeed what happened. Looking back, I see this episode in my life, as painful as it was at the time, as a learning experience that has helped me subsequently.

2. Have you experienced a dark night of the soul, if so what brought you through?
I experience this with regularity. What gets me through is the Jesus Prayer -- "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" -- and fixed prayer. As someone once noted, sometimes one has to go through the motions to get the emotions.

3. Share a Bible verse, song, poem that has brought you comfort.
"Don't be afraid" -- a consistent message in Scripture when humans encounter the Divine. (Not that I don't still feel afraid!)

4. Is "why suffering" a valid question?
I think it's a valid question in that it's understandable that we ask it. But for me I find it more sane and healing to begin with the assumption, as my Buddhist friends do, that life inherently involves suffering...and to move past the "why" into the "What can I do about this suffering?"

5. (I'm paraphrasing because I didn't cut-and-paste very accurately): Your difficult time has passed and you want to celebrate. What do you do?
Simmply cherish my time with my beloved and our four-legged family members. Our family time together is the best place to be.

Friday Poetry Bloggery

Evocative word-snapshots of the end of summer, by Jane Kenyon. (Hat tip to Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac," which I heard on the way to work this morning.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Prodigal Cat

There was a family that had two dogs and a cat. The cat, Mollie, had had to spend the night all alone in the house while the humans and the dogs went away. When the humans and the dogs came home early the following evening, an impatient Mollie wanted very much to go outside. The humans let her out. She soon wanted to come back inside. The humans let her in. Soon she wanted to go out again. The humans let her out. Then she wanted to come inside again. The humans complied. Then Mollie wanted to go outside again. “Mollie, it’s dark outside – you’re in for the night,” said one of the humans. But Mollie stared at the door and meowed several very long, unhappy meows, and finally the human said, “Oh, all right,” and let her out.

After about 15 minutes the humans opened the door. “Mollie? Mollie? Mollie, come!” Mollie, standing by the garage door, yawned and batted at a passing cricket. One of the humans came outside: “Come here,Mollie,” she coaxed. Mollie blinked a slow, bored blink, then scampered into the woods and disappeared. The human sighed, raised a garage door just high enough for Mollie to enter, and went inside to bed. She waited a few minutes, straining to hear a “Let me in” meow, but finally fell asleep.

Not long after that, Mollie traveled around the property, delighted by the veritable amusement park of wild things surrounding her – irresistibly squeaking rodents; coy bats flitting just out of reach above the patio table; juicy and enticing insects of all kinds. She hunted and hid and pounced as the hours passed. But soon she grew tired; the night grew chilly and damp with the heavy September dew. She retreated to the garage and huddled on her haunches upon the cold cement floor. A great horned owl, the enemy of all cats, called out from inside the canopy of trees.

Mollie remembered her daily dish of Meow Mix and pat of savory shredded – shredded, never minced – Little Friskies that her humans fed her every day. She thought of her dog friends – the big, goofy one and the funny little white one – and how fond she was of them even though they were smelly, undignified and uncouth. She thought of her humans’ petting and scritches. She thought of all the warm, soft, dry places in the house where she could be sleeping.

When she came to her senses, she said to herself, “The humans and dogs are warm and safe and asleep inside the house, while I’m hungry and afraid and miserable out here. I know what I’ll do – I’ll go to the window and tell the humans that I have sinned against heaven and against them, and am not worthy to be called their cat; that they can treat me like a visiting stray.” Then she thought, “Wait a minute. I’m a cat – I’d never say that. But I’ll go to the window anyway and see what happens.”

"But while she was still a long way off, washing a paw in contemplation of coming back to the house, one of the humans, who’d gotten up early to go to work, sensed her presence and was filled with compassion for her; she went to both front and back doors and called out into the darkness, “Mollie! Mollie!” A few minutes later the human heard a plaintive “Mew?” through the screen and found Mollie standing on the patio table, looking longingly through the window.

The human threw the door open wide: “Oh, Mollie! We’re so glad you’re all right! We were so worried! Look -- I’m going to open a can of Little Friskies Turkey and Cheese for you right now. For you were lost, but now are found.”

Mollie jumped off the table, strode through the doorway past the human and headed for her dish. “Whatever."

"And that turkey is shredded, not minced; right?”

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dog on the Run

Cody, my almost-17-year-old dog, has discovered a new pastime: running.

I'm not making this up. Some of you may recall The Codeman's bad heart and numerous old-age brushes with the Great Beyond. Well, since he has become part of an extended family of two- and four-leggeds, his health has improved exponentially -- to the point where he no longer needs his meds.

Here's one of the things he loves the most these days: When the rest of us are sitting on the Cold Comfort Cottage front porch, Cody starts running laps around the house. He always runs clockwise; we're not sure why, but he does. Once he gets started, he is in his own space, unresponsive to his humans or fellow pets or any other external stimuli. And he runs full tilt boogie, tail wagging furiously, until he's so tired that his little butt starts wobbling side to side in fatigue and he trips himself with his hind feet. But he's still happy -- joyful isn't too strong a word for his demeanor during and after these circular treks. Cody's motto: "Life is good."

We'll sit on the porch and observe, over time, "Cody, Lap One...Cody, Lap Two...Cody, Lap 3." We've counted up to 25 laps.

I hope that when I am the human equivalent of 17 dog years I'll have half Cody's energy.

The Coolest Park You've Never Been In

This is the lodge -- yes, the lodge -- at the entrance to the coolest park you've never been in.

It's in Outer Podunk, within a reasonable driving distance of Cold Comfort Cottage. Once upon a time it used to be the Outer Podunk Sportsmen's Club, but when that organization went kaput the county took over the property and turned it into a recreational area. It's clean, well maintained and respectful of the land.

And here's what you can do there: There's a picnic area, next to the lodge, with tables and grills and horseshoe pits and a volleyball net. You can rent the lodge for parties or other gatherings. There are hiking/snowshoeing/cross-country skiing/horseback riding trails. There are a series of winding two-tracks that go deep into the woods. There's a river, with an observation deck overlooking it.

This must be one of the most popular parks in the area, right?


Fellow Traveler and I visit the recreational area several times a week to give the dogs some exercise. We've snowshoed and fished and hit golf balls and had picnics there. During that time, I can count on the fingers of one hand, or maybe a hand and a half, the number of other upstanding citizens we've met there, also enjoying all that the place has to offer. Now, every once in awhile we see a vehicle -- usually with a couple of young, furtive-looking passengers in it -- speeding down the road to the far end of the property. We've startled a fair number of folks down by the river overlook -- folks who seemed to be about to engage in activities other than picnics or horseshoes.

To me it's very sad that more people in our area don't make use of this wonderful natural resource, as well as other local parks that we find equally underused. Parks become deserted, creepy and crime-ridden precisely because good people stop using them.

Well...we refuse to stay away. On Labor Day we had a splendid picnic there -- buffalo burgers with all the fixin's, plus a lovely bottle of Au shiraz and hamburger patties for the dogs (who love this place so much that when you say, "Who wants to go to the park?" they both practically fall over themselves scrambling to get to the car). Some fall weekend we want to throw a two-person tailgate party with a picnic lunch and a battery-powered TV. We are definitely snowshoeing there again this winter.

For those of you with a general idea of Outer Podunk's location within the Lower Peninsulan mitten and the ability/desire to visit, we'd be happy to give you directions to the rec area and county contact information about the lodge rental. If you don't/can't, my advice to you and reclaim your own local parks and recreational areas. Rediscover the fun of a picnic; take a walk; play a game; plan a group outing there. You will have fun.

Making Waves

Nautical news from Outer Podunk:

After more than a year of waiting because of her illness and surgery, Fellow Traveler got in her kayak this weekend and paddled for about a half a mile. She was positively alight with happiness when she returned to shore.

Meanwhile, yours truly -- someone who, despite living my whole life in the Water-Winter-Wonderland has never kayaked or canoed or even been in a boat by myself, had my first kayak lesson. It was in the lagoon bordering a friend's house on a lake in Ogemaw County, north of Outer Podunk. I'm proud to say that, with some shoreside coaching, I was able to travel around in a kind of funky ellipse a few times, and I only hit the neighbors' docked watercraft twice. FT said I did "extremely well for someone who's never even rowed a boat before," which I think is a polite way of noting that I didn't drown.

But, as long as I'm clad in a lifejacket, I can get into watery recreation; yes, I can. And fate further pointed in this direction when one of my neighbors displayed a nearly new Old Town canoe on his lawn for an astoundingly low asking price. With paddles and foam carrier yet.

Now I just have to obtain a red tasseled toque and learn a few of those jaunty old voyageur songs as I prepare to join my waterworthy fellow Michiganians on the lakes and rivers.

Hey! Where'd All the People Go?

As you may recall, my congregation recently built a new sanctuary, having grown out of our venerable World War I era worship space. The new sanctuary is visually stunning; it's roomy; and unlike the old one, it's also handicap accessible.

You may also recall that our congregation got behind this project to an amazing degree. During the congregational meeting where we decided to commit to the new sanctuary, only one person voted no.

So where'd all the people go?

It's very interesting: Since we've moved worship into the new space, our weekly attendance has gone down by about 30 people.

Is it buyers' remorse? Or the sort of "too nice to use" impulse that makes some families' living rooms off limits for everyday use? Or is it just the physical discomfort of learning to maneuver in this new space?

My pastor informs me that this phenomenon is not at all uncommon, and it might take a year to get some people back into church on a regular basis.

In the of the most physically infirm older couples in our congregation -- people whom we had in mind when we committed to creating an accessible sanctuary -- continue to enter the church via the old front door and its tortuous stairway, instead of using the new accessible entrance. Go figure.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

It's Time to Say Goodbye For the Summer...

One of my frustrations this summer has been my kaput camera; I haven't had the time or attention span to shop for a new one yet. But in the meantime Fellow Traveler have gotten a couple of good shots from her camera. Here's one of a female ruby-throated hummingbird visiting FT's feeder this morning; won't be seeing this too much longer.

And here's a dragonfly taking a break on the patio railing.