Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ooh...Now, That's Scary

Cody loves his food. Actually, he loves food more than any other living thing I know loves food, including me. He will go head to head and bite for bite with his 55-pound golden retriever sister Cassie, and usually winds up eating more than she does...all the while -- sigh -- maintaining his svelte nine-pound training weight.
When given a favorite food -- chicken, cheeseburgers and "s'ghetti" -- he literally dives into the bowl, so great is his enjoyment. Oftentimes we make our dogs a homemade stew of hamburger, rice and vegetables; here is a picture of The Codeman after a recent repast: "I loves me that burger an' gravy!"

Well, It's Got a Beat, and You Can Dance To It

For your viewing and listening pleasure: The Reformation Polka, courtesy of YouTube:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Word Up

Well, it's been about a week since I started journaling on the day's Gospel lesson on my Beliefnet home page .

It's been an interesting experience, and a good personal discipline, dashing off these drive-by reflections. I'd like to think that my lay ministry studies have helped inform my reading to a certain extent, although I'm approaching the readings from a less thinky, more intuitive angle.

(Un)Happy Reformation Day

I assisted at the service yesterday...a last-minute scheduling change which worked out beautifully, because I had to find someone to sub for me next Sunday while I'm at Fellow Traveler's and my retreat.

Throughout my childhood and into my college years, Reformation Sunday was always a big deal at church -- thunderous renditions of "A Mighty Fortress" with brass accompaniment and choral descants; "Yay, Team!" sermons; a feeling that we, as Lutherans, had been part of an astounding moment in history.

Things change. Today in these ecumenical times many Lutherans and other children of the Reformation are uncomfortable with Reformation Day; "Yay, Team!" has given way to a more introspective and even self-critical assessment of Luther and his legacy.

But there's something else. I assisted yesterday morning at our quite modest Reformation Sunday service; as the pastor gave a brief explanation of the significance of this day on the Church calendar, and as I looked out into the congregation and saw blank faces looking back at me, it occurred to me that we as a faith community -- and I mean all Lutherans, not just my congregation -- have lost so much of our shared narrative; our common understanding of Church history, of the wheel of the Church year, of the basics of our theology. That saddens me. I think we are diminished by that.

Also disheartening is the reaction of so many contemporary Christians to the Reformation message of God's unmerited grace -- the good news that our relationship with God isn't predicated by our "earning points by doing stuff"; that God always comes down to rescue and befriend us. This concept is as offensive now as it's always been, in the Christian community. The need for a Reformation is as timely now as it was in 1517.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

You Can Take the Lutheran Out of the Potluck, But You Can't Take the Potluck Out of the Lutheran

This evening we're headed to a catered thank-you dinner that our church is putting on for everyone who helped, in any way, to build our new addition. What I find amusing is that, for the last month or so, the bulletins and Sunday morning announcements have reminded parishoners, "This is not a potluck. You don't have to bring any food. Please don't bring a dish to pass."

For any bettin' folks out there: What do you think the odds are that, when we get to church, we'll nonetheless find a few bubbling crockpots of sauerkraut and baked beans?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Singin' the Booze

Fellow Traveler and I have been singin' the booze lately.

Which is to say: We're finding it sobering, and a little depressing, to note how many people in our circle of female friends have an alcohol problem. The kind that manifests itself in things like hiding one's daily fifth of Scotch in a lunch bag, or hammering down almost two dozen cans of beer over the course of a party (much of it surreptitiously during "smoke breaks" in the darkness of the host's driveway), or becoming preemptively defensive about "controlling people telling me how to live my life," or "It's actually good for my heart, you know."

We're not teetotalers. As Constant Readers know, we enjoy a good bottle of wine now and then. But our policy at our own gatherings is to serve only non-alcoholic drinks, and let people who want something else bring their own; and that's how it's been at most of the other women's gatherings we've attended. We don't want to be the Booze Police, but we don't want to be enablers either.

I -- who often feel compelled to "fix" every problem I see -- feel a sense of helplessness, sometimes, when interacting with the women I know have a substance abuse problem -- and they're nice, funny, enjoyable and intelligent people. FT and I were talking about this with a mutual friend, and we've decided that our best option is just to provide people with safe, enjoyable gathering places were alcohol is not the center of group activity. The other weekend, for instance, we went to a pizza party and bonfire, and when the weather got too nippy and windy to stay outside we came in and just sat around the fireplace; our hostess had cut out a variety of discussion-prompting questions ("What is one important life lesson that you would want to share with other people?" "What do think is the most important characteristic of a good partner?" "What's one thing about yourself that you'd like to change?"), and we each pulled one out of a bag and talked about them. It was very interesting, stimulating discussion, and even the sloshier participants became engaged in the conversation in a serious way.

I appreciate our friends who create these types of gathering places, and they're what we want to achieve at our home as well.

Our 24-can acquaintance wound up spending the night at our house -- she had ridden to the party with us because, she said, she didn't like driving in the dark, but we later suspected she was afraid of being pulled over, both to and from. It was Sunday morning; we were all sitting in the living room in our jammies, having rather meaningful conversation about family and pets and relationships and even, briefly, spirituality; it became clear to me that jumping up and saying, "Oh, we'd love to talk some more, but we've got to go to church now," would be about the dumbest and least caring thing we could have done. So we hung out that morning until our guest was ready to leave, watched her pull out of the driveway and then silently commended her to the care of a God with a track record of helping the helpless.

A "Haunting" Friday Five

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is all about Halloween:

1. How did you celebrate this time of year when you were a child?
My father was a dairy farmer, so he was busy in the barn as soon as he got up from the supper table...so it was up to my aunt and uncle to pick me up on Halloween evening and take me trick-or-treating around the neighborhood and into downtown Outer Podunk. (One of my favorite destinations was the local general store, which gave out chocolate Ice Cubes -- I still love those -- and green apple candies. A less favorite stop, but one done out of social obligation, was at the home of our neighbors, an elderly couple with no children of their own who would pass out kid-unfriendly candy like licorice bridge mix and black walnut nougats. Those treats went directly to the 'rents.)

2. Do you and/or your family “celebrate” Halloween? Why or why not? And if you do, has it changed from what you used to do?
When my mother was alive, we stopped putting on our porch light for the trick-or-treaters; the interaction with strangers made Mom anxious. Last year, though, Fellow Traveler and I pulled out the stops for Halloween -- she carved almost a dozen pumpkins that we lighted and placed along my driveway; I put eerie green light bulbs in our lamps; we bought a bushel of candy and savory snacks. We ordered pizza for ourselves and spent the evening having an awful lot of fun with a surprisingly large number of little bumblebees and pirates and ghosts. We are dialing back the carving somewhat this year, but still kitting out the yard and stocking up on candy for the trick-or-treaters.

3. Candy apples: Do you prefer red cinnamon or caramel covered? Or something else? Pumpkins: Do you make Jack O’ Lanterns? Any ideas of what else to do with them?
I am -- gasp -- not much of a candy apple eater; if I have a choice, though, I'll pick the caramel. Fellow Traveler loves candy apples of both kinds. As mentioned above, we do make jack-o-lanterns. After Halloween we throw them out into the woods (a good way to discharge stress, by the way) for the deer and other woodland critters to gnaw on; if we had a compost pile we'd probably chop them up for that.

4. Do you decorate your home for fall or Halloween? If so, what do you do? Bonus points for pictures.
We do both. I like the harvest motif -- it feels warm and cozy, what we Germans call gemuetlich -- gourds, pumpkins, cornstalks, wheat weavings, swags of ornamental corn. But you can't see a picture of this year's effort because...um...we're not finished yet. Or even much begun, really. Hey -- we have almost a week!

5. Do you like pretending to be something different? Does a costume bring our an alternate personality?
I haven't been to a costume party in ages; although I did wear my infamous Coat of Many Colors to our office Taco Day fundraiser yesterday and felt a little like Ugly Betty except without braces or a Guadalajara poncho.
Bonus: Do you have a favorite fall recipe, particularly involving apples or pumpkin?
Unfortunately I'm away from my apple crisp recipe -- it is so easy and good, and the perfect solution to people who like apple pie but are afraid of dealing with pie crust -- so instead I'll share an unusual chili recipe that I adapted from one of the later editions of Joy of Cooking:

Michigan Farmhouse Chili

1 pound pork sausage (I like a little more sausage in mine)

1 large onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, diced

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped

2 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons Michigan maple syrup

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons powdered sage

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 cups cooked Michigan navy or great northern beans, drained and rinsed

Brown sausage and onion in a large skillet. Toward end of browning, add celery. When celery is softened, add tomatoes, broth, maple syrup, cumin, sage, and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add beans and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve with cheddar cheese and corn bread.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Better Than Network TV

I’ve been taking Lexapro for a couple of months now. And in addition to some of the other good outcomes I’ve gotten from this drug – fewer bouts of sadness and weeping and anxiety, less anger, better sleep – I also have to say: I’m diggin’ the dreams.

Extremely vivid dreams are evidently a common Lexapro side effect. I wonder if it’s not because those of us who take it previously experienced sleep disruption that kept us from getting enough of that good, deep sleep that provides a good home for memorable dreams.

But anyway, I have had some doozies lately. In one recent dream my near-daughter-in-law (who is, ironically, a psychotherapist in New York City) was dragging me through a huge, busy Gotham shopping mall in search of a fish platter for an upcoming family party. But she wouldn’t let me stop to look for the desired item: “No! No! We need to go here!...No, let’s go here!...Wait! Look over here!” It was like Alice Goes Shopping in Wonderland, with cameo appearances by a variety of city stereotypes whom we were constantly jostling in our mad rush down the endless mallways. (“Hey! Youse guys! Watch out, willyouse?”) I’ve dreamed of snowshoeing in the woods only to emerge on the main street of an unfamiliar small town, with the sun going down and absolutely no idea how to get home. The other night I dreamed I was hiking on a brushy mountainside in Scotland with several athletic Scotsmen clad in kilts – och, laddies, watch those knees. I even had a dream of my late mother tearfully chiding me for not doing my housework the right way.

But usually my dreams are far more entertaining than anything on television. Which may be why I’ve been hitting the hay well before the 11 o’clock news.

"You Make Me Want to Be a Better Person"

The other day I read an Internet news blurb about the physical and emotional health benefits of a “gratitude attitude.” University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons conducted a study showing that persons who kept a gratitude journal tended to take better care of themselves physically, felt better and had a more optimistic outlook than those who didn’t.
I am trying to cultivate my own gratitude attitude. And one of the things I’m most consistently grateful for in my life is the presence of people who make me want to be a better person.

Fellow Traveler and I have a friend, J, a frequent hostess of our women’s weekend get-togethers, who makes both of us want to be better people. She is a professional, a highly successful one, who has overcome various life adversities and has a real desire to share what she’s learned with others; to spread that positive, “overcoming” attitude around, particularly with the disadvantaged and discouraged. She is curious about the world, adventurous, and open to lifelong learning; right now she is nurturing an interest in the arts and creating some amazing artwork herself. She is also a gracious host who is always opening her home to neighbors and friends, and who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of her guests in between visits. Her home is filled with Oprah-esque motivational books and magazines, which may be easy to dismiss as feel-good pop psych, but…she really is on to something. When I’m around her for any length of time she makes me think that maybe I ought to shop around my writing or take up watercolors or pick up those golf clubs for real or mentor someone. She makes me less stingy and possessive regarding opening my own home to others. I am the better for knowing her.

Another person who makes me want to be a better person is…Fellow Traveler. No, I’m not going all gooey-mushy romantic here. I’ll just give you one example of why.

This past Sunday, after spending the morning nursing a sick Cody (he’s back to normal now, or as normal as he can be) and sending off an overnight guest who’d accompanied us to a pizza party/bonfire at J’s, we decided we really needed a couple of apple cider slushies. So we packed the dogs in the Jeep and headed to Freeland, to Leaman’s Green Applebarn, a new favorite fall destination. We got our slushies and spent some time just sitting in our vehicle, people-watching. We saw proud grandparents herding excited grandchildren; studiously bored dads who looked as if they were waiting for their annual white glove test; blingy women who seemed to have spent hours kitting themselves out for a trip to the orchard; embarrassed teenagers walking several steps behind the ‘rents and their younger siblings: “I don’t know who these people are.”

Then a car, a bumper-sticker-laden rustbucket with a mismatched door, pulled into the space behind us. A woman and boy maybe seven or eight years old emerged and headed to the orchard’s pumpkin patch. The woman had a camera, and was taking numerous pictures of the child, who tentatively moved from gourd to gourd as if to say, "Is it really okay for me to do this?"

“I bet that’s a single mom,” noted FT. “She probably doesn’t have the money to buy a pumpkin.”

I nodded. “That’s probably why she’s taking pictures of her boy next to the pumpkins – because they can’t take any of them home with them.”

After awhile the two disappeared into the orchard store and stayed there a long time. Maybe we were wrong, we considered. Maybe they’d gone on one of the orchard hayrides and exited the other side of the building. Maybe they weren’t as needy as they appeared.

Then they came out of the store. The mom had a very small bag in hand.

“Do you think she would be offended if I offered to buy her a pumpkin?” FT asked me. “When I see her I see myself back when I was a single mom. I had to work so hard during the week, and had so little money, and had so little time to spend with the boys on weekends. I wanted to make good memories for them, but sometimes it was just so hard.”

“You can ask her,” I said. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

I stayed behind with the convalescing Cody while FT got out of the Jeep and headed for the family. I saw some friendly chatter with the child, and then a discussion with the mom. And then – FT bought them a pumpkin.

“I was right,” said FT when she came back to our vehicle. “She is a single mom. She’d told her son they had money for a pumpkin or for donuts, but not for both. And she even had to borrow a camera from work to take those pictures. When I asked her if I could buy them a pumpkin, she said, ‘Why? Why would you do that for us when you don’t know us?’ I told her that watching her made my partner and I miss our kids, so we wanted to do something nice for you and your little boy.” The mom was amazed and grateful. The son was ecstatic.

That made me want to be a better person. "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Nominated For Banishment

Lake Superior State University, in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, has a 3-decade-old tradition of compiling an annual list of Banished Words: current buzzwords and -phrases that are so overused, misused or otherwise annoying that they deserve eternal banishment from the language.

The new list comes out on January 1st, so I wanted to get a head start on my nomination:

values voter

What does this even mean? Don't all voters have values that motivate their participation in the voting process? If I don't fit the rather narrow parameters that defines "values voter" in current usage, that somehow makes me a "valueless" voter? Excuse me?

I've already made my feelings known on the LSSU Banished Words website. Feel free to do likewise, with this idiotic term, or one of your own.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Yet Another Excuse to Spend Time Online

As some of you know, Beliefnet is one of my other frequent online hangouts.

Well, it's getting a facelift -- new format, new features. Members can put together MySpace-ish home pages with photo galleries, journals, friend networks and the whole shebang.

I have a rudimentary home page set up here , under my Beliefnet screen name. Stop by and take a tour around the place.

Now I'm wondering if I should consolidate my two Internet personalities, especially since my Beliefnet "member photo" is actually more appropriate here, on this blog. So perhaps in the near future LutheranChik will have another official online roost.

Friday Five: Bon Appetit!

How fortuitous that this week's Friday Five deals with one of my very favorite things...food!

1. If you were a food, what would you be?
Prime rib -- full of fat and cholesterol, but worth the risk to get to know me.

2.What is one of the most memorable meals you ever had? And where?
I've had many, in various contexts. But I think one of the neatest meals I've ever had was in a church basement in Toronto, back when I was in college. Our church folk group had gone to play at the parish of our director's brother, who pastored an amazingly diverse congregation there. We hadn't expected the congregation to feed us, but they served up a groaning board of dishes from all over the world -- everything from hot German potato salad to Caribbean curry from Jamaica. That was cool.

3. What is your favorite comfort food from childhood?
When I was sick, my favorite comfort meal was tomato soup with a toasted cheese sandwich. Otherwise, one of my favorite "feels like home" meals was my mom's smothered chicken -- she'd flour and season the chicken, then brown it, then put it in a roaster with chopped onion and pour a little water over it, then bake it in the oven. This recipe makes the most delicious gravy; it's essential to serve it with mashed potatoes. This was a popular haying-season dish when one of my great-uncles or neighbor kids came over to help.

When going to a church potluck, what one recipe from your kitchen is sure to be a hit?
We have a sauerkraut, white bean and kielbasa dish -- you add some onion and a little ketchup to it, and that's pretty much it; FT and I had this at a party and scored the recipe for it -- that was a hit at one of our church potlucks; our church folks are a sauerkraut- and sausage-loving people. If I ever got up the energy to replicate my mom's labor-intensive hot potato salad, that would probably be a hit as well.

What’s the strangest thing you ever willingly ate?
I seem to recall recently sharing with you all my barbecued-beaver-on-a-bun story, from a family reunion many years ago; I didn't know that's what it was before I made myself a sandwich, but I did finish the sandwich after my father told me what I was eating. Earlier in my life, when I was but a toddling LutheranChik, my mother once caught me outside chewing on a hunk of shelf fungus I'd pulled from a stump in the yard; I explained that I wanted to be like Alice in Wonderland, and grow larger and smaller at will.

Bonus question: What’s your favorite drink to order when looking forward to a great meal?
We're muchly into Michigan wines around here, although we tend to look to the Land Down Under for red wines. On hot summer days, brewed iced tea -- unsweetened, thank you! -- is just the ticket for light, picnic-y meals. And -- gotta have a good cup of coffee with dessert, or with a great breakfast.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

(Lectionary) Reader's Digest

This is what happens when I work with my gut and not my head.

I have volunteered to cohost the RevGalBlogPals' Tuesday Lectionary Leanings feature, where hosts provide some initial food for thought regarding the following Sunday's lectionary readings, to help give pastors/preachers/pray-ers others helpful jumping-off ideas.

I have also, on my new Beliefnet home page, begun a journal based on daily lectionary readings.

Now, if I'd been using my head, I would have told myself, "Why are you overprogramming like this?"

But my gut says, "Do it."

So I am.

Treat or Retreat

Our retreat plans are well underway...we've made our lodging reservations, and I gave both Fellow Traveler and myself pre-retreat questionnaires that are an integral part of the weekend.

Our retreat theme is "Body, Mind and Soul"; our homework involves observing and commenting on both the positives and negatives of one another's body-, mind- and soul-keeping, and writing prayers for one another's wellbeing in these areas. As familiar as we are with one another, as honest as we are with one another...we both feel our anxiety-meters rising at the thought of the other evaluating us, even in a loving and helpful way. Which makes me think that this is going to be a meaningful retreat...one that stretches us in good ways.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Delicioso Leftovers!

I know that this isn't primarily a cooking blog, but I have to share a great recipe with you.

As Constant Readers know, this weekend we roasted a pork loin. It was a mondo pork loin; huge. We had visions of carving leftovers off of it for days, until we never wanted to eat pork again.

But today Fellow Traveler, inspired by a dish we like down at the local semi-Mexican tavern, diced up the leftovers and created the following:

Puerco Soft Tacos With Salsa Blanco

about a pound and a half diced/shredded roast pork
a half of a very finely grated/minced onion
one large grated/minced garlic clove
a little water or broth -- maybe half a cup

Simmer about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Meanwhile, heat on Medium:

1/3 cup salsa verde

Lower heat to Low; whisk in:

1/2 pint low-fat sour cream

Whisk until sour cream and salsa are incorporated and just warm.

Fold pork into warm torillas. Top with sauce. Sprinkle with Monterey Jack or other cheese of your choice.

A Meme of Four

Many moons ago someone tagged me for a Meme of Four. Sadly, I don’t recall the person, nor do I recall the questions…but since that time I’ve seen many Memes of Four, all different, which led me to just make up a meme as I went along.

So here, in its blogospheric debut, is my own Meme of Four. If you're reading this, consider yourself tagged…but if you want to reinvent it, go right ahead.

Four things I wanted to do when I was a child but never got around to:
Being crowned Queen of the Animals (okay…I was really young at the time)
Becoming a conservation officer
Learning to play the piano
Getting a microscope/science kit for Christmas

Four things I want to do now but haven’t gotten around to:
Learn to sight-read music in at least a rudimentary way
Learn Spanish
Learn to swim
Update my poor, neglected blog sidebar

Four things I enjoy doing but have trouble doing regularly/consistently:
Walking for exercise
Reading for pure fun
Eating vegetarian
Getting out to art fairs and museums

Four things I really have no interest in ever doing:
Riding a motorcycle
Bungee-jumping and related risk-taking endeavors involving heights and falling (sorry -- no parasailing, FT)
Attending a NASCAR race
Seeing or listening to or reading anything about Britney Spears

Your turn!

Special Rights

I found this letter to the editor in the paper the other day. As you can see, the letter writer, like Martha, is worried and anxious about many things. (Probably thanks to her pastor and hours of "Christian" broadcasting.)

What caught my eye, though, was her fear of the "Gay Bill of Special Rights." I must have missed the memo on this one, the way I never got my free toaster oven.

Special rights? Wow. I wonder what they might be.

I'm really an egalitarian sort. I don't covet "special" rights. Well...okay...when I'm in a hurry and pull into the parking lot down at the Outer Podunk Stop-and-Shop and see a half-dozen empty handicap parking spaces, I'd kind of like a special right to park there, even though I'm not handicapped (except when I'm canoeing).

I read in Yahoo News this morning, en route here, that Ellen DeGeneres is in trouble for violating a contract with a pet rescue organization by giving her rescue dog away to her hairdresser because the canine couldn't get along with DeGeneres' cats. I can appreciate this scenario, and I understand DeGeneres' creative and humane solution to the problem. So I think DeGeneres should have the special right to break her contract with the pet rescue organization.

Those are the only two "special" rights for my people I can think of right now. So the poor, handwringing lady writing alarmed letters to the editor can rest easy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

To Everything There is a Season...

This afternoon I did some pre-winter cleanup around the Cold Comfort Cottage yard -- mowed the lawn, mulching up my leaves in the process (my technique for minimizing my actual raking/blowing); threw my moribund tomato plants and spent annuals onto the compost heap; deadheaded my perennials; put out my suet feeder for the cold season. It was an overcast day, threatening drizzle; like every year, I found myself feeling a little melancholy as I went about these tasks.

But there's also a joy and comfort in autumn; the joy of gathering in, of harvest. After my chores today Fellow Traveler and I went out to get pumpkins for Halloween, from an Amish farm. As we picked out our pumpkins, the family patriarch and a passel of grandchildren came in from the field with a horse-drawn wagon filled with more pumpkins, and the normally serious youngsters seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves.

I think that, in abandoning the festivals that acknowledge the turning of the year -- the changes of season that we all experience in both a sensory and psychological way, whether we live out in the country or in the midst of the concrete jungle -- the Church has done itself a great disservice. We really need, as faith communities, to rid ourselves once and for all of the creeping Gnosticism that finds enfleshed living distasteful and the rest of creation at best nothing more than a disposable backdrop for the cosmic drama, and the residual Puritanism that is terrified of "paganism" anytime someone experiences spiritual meaning in the natural world.

Back when my parents were young, Erntedankfest -- the German Lutheran "harvest home" festival -- was part of the Church year. This observance seemed to fall out of favor first of all when the Nazis took over the German state church and appropriated Erntedankfest for their own purposes, and then when it seemed to some to be increasingly irrelevant in modern, industrial society.

To me, to the contrary, in these days when our increased estrangement from the natural world has boded ill for the environment -- and I think for us emotionally as well -- we need to reconnect with the idea of regularly thanking God for the gift of creation. The calendar seasons also serve as metaphors for our own seasons of mind and soul and action, and I think it would probably do us all good to engage in an annual "harvest home" -- identify and give thanks for whatever gifts we've been given over the past year; share what gifts we can with others; and go about those year-end cleanup tasks of pruning and composting and putting away the spent, the superfluous, the no longer useful. Not all of us have enough hagiography in our heads to fully appreciate all the saints' days, as helpful as it is for us to remember and give thanks for the people of God of all times and places; but we all can appreciate the passing of days and seasons, and sense in them God's creative, sustaining, renewing activity around us.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Good Eats

Fellow Traveler has been battling a bug for the past two days, so I assumed the role of cook and bottle washer this weekend. Sunday dinner is something of a sancrosanct household ritual for us; today it consisted of roasted, cider/maple brined pork loin topped with thyme and sage leaves from my herb planter, roasted butternut squash, homemade baked beans and stir-fried green beans with garlic. The m.o. is to have lots of leftovers to nosh on for the next couple of days.

Cider/Maple Brine For Pork
7 cups hot water
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 TBS cracked black peppercorns

Combine all ingredients in pot; bring to boil; simmer for maybe 10-15 minutes. Cool. Use on pork roasts or chops. I brined our large roast overnight; chops, maybe 4 to 6 hours would do.

Note: I poured maybe a half cup of apple cider in the bottom of the roaster before placing the pork loin in it, and also brushed a little more maple syrup on the roast just before it was ready to come out of the oven; and I served the pork with a few spoonfuls of tasty pan juices over it.

What Kind of Reader Are You?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Literate Good Citizen
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

At the Fair...

I did my stint at the community fair.

As expected, I only made a couple of referrals. But over 100 people showed up -- even with the most minimal of local publicity.

My observations of the crowd: Many -- many clients were developmentally disabled. I saw evidence of substance abuse in others. Sadly, in both cases there seemed to be an intergenerational component. And there were families just down on their luck -- a lot of younger families with lots of kids.

Some visitors were grateful for the help available. Someone had donated several cases of laundry detergent and toothpaste, and those of us with display tables had to reassure fairgoers that they could take what they needed, without cost. I was happy to see many young mothers taking multiple copies of free parenting magazines and children's books. Many people were happy to get free haircuts.

But some visitors' behavior was inexplicable. The folks helping with food distribution said that a lot of fairgoers passed up the very good food being given away -- cartons of bananas, bags of potatoes, noodles and fresh eggs, just to name a few of the groceries. "We just didn't seem to have what they wanted," noted a volunteer sadly. I could imagine my mother -- who as a child really did go hungry at the start of the Depression, until her family could get out of the city and grow some of their own food -- watching in horror as people turned down bananas and eggs: "They are not hungry. We were hungry." Other people took a bite out of the free hotdogs -- grilled, with a variety of condiments available -- and immediately tossed the rest into the trash. Oh, God, I thought, if some of our perpetually riled local taxpayers saw this, it would only underscore their contempt for the underclass -- lazy, ungrateful "welfare people."

Then again, they didn't see the woman who cried when she got her free food. Or the young girl, in grungy hand-me-down clothes, proudly sporting a new haircut. Or the mom in the wheelchair carefully balancing free kids' coats and books on her lap.

I just heard on the news this morning that social workers have one of the highest rates of depression among all employed persons. I can understand this -- the overwhelming scope of people's problems and their systemic nature, as well as some peole's resistance to, or sheer inability in, achieving independence.

I went home depressed.

And last night I dreamt that, at a family holiday gathering, one of my siblings (note: I don't have any siblings in real life) came by with twelve tiny, crying babies adopted from the developing world, all with various health problems, and just gave them to me: "They're really not that hard to take care of."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

...And Another Thing About My Job!...

It's promising to be a lovely October day -- a day perfect for yardwork or sightseeing or apple cidering with my two- and four-legged loved ones.

I will be doing none of those things. I will instead be sitting in a conference room, in a public building set literally in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, at a "community fair" geared for economically disadvantaged families. My agency, which serves the elder population, is a member of the community committee that has set up the fair, so even though our services have relevancy to only a small number of the target market, it's politically expedient that I "represent" at this affair.

I will have my agency's visual dog-and-pony show set up on a table -- a table that I have to tote there myself. And if this fair is like past fairs at which I've presented, I will have meaningful conversations with perhaps two or three attendees. Most people who show up are there for the free stuff -- the pens and keychains and other promotional bling -- and couldn't care less about the information being offered.

I remember, one year, exhibiting at a senior health fair at a local casino. Now, if you're an older adult, and have the option of going into one room filled with oxygen companies and wheelchair salespeople and hospice workers and other providers whose presence sends an unspoken message of, "You're old and sick and going to die really soon," or going next door and playing nickel slots until you get hungry and then heading for the all-you-can-eat buffet down the hallway...where are you going to go? I thought so.

The silver lining to this is the fact that I can comp my time on Monday. And today I'll bring my work laptop and work on a project, and also bring my new Feeling Good handbook and work on the exercises; it's kind of appropriate, I think, doing a little cognitive self-therapy in the context of today's assignment.

But -- oy -- I am so tired of this stuff. I think I do quite well putting on my public-service game face during events like this, and every so often I make a meaningful referral and can go home happy about actually having helped someone; but it becomes wearying. I go home exhausted and cranky. I don't want to spend the rest of my life doing this for a living. I think the fact that the other areas of my life -- my personal life, my life in my faith community -- are so rich and full underscores my unhappiness in this sector. And then I feel guilty for thinking that; I mean, my God, I live in one of the most underemployed counties of my state, and should be on my knees thanking God for my job every morning.

I used to work with an ex-Marine whose favorite slogan was "Persevere!" I guess that's good advice. So that's what I'll do today.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Friday Five: The Good Book

1. What is your earliest memory of encountering a biblical text?
When I was little, I remember going upstairs into our attic (a somewhat scary place for a little kid), opening the door to a long-abandoned spare bedroom, and seeing on the wall a framed, highly embellished Bible verse written in German, in old-fashioned Fraktur type, cut out of heavy black paper and placed over foil so that the letters shone. It took me a few years to decipher the text; it was from the third chapter of Proverbs: Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

2. What is your favorite biblical translation, and why? (You might have a few for different purposes).
I almost always use the NRSV -- it's our pew and pulpit Bible, and also the Bible I use for study. But I do have a sentimental fondness for Luke's Christmas story read aloud from the King James Version.

3. What is your favorite book of the Bible? Your favorite verse/passage?
My favorite book used to be the Gospel of John; I love the High Christology of it (even the parts that my pastor refers to as "I am he as you are he and you are we and we are all together"), and the reassurances of Christ's love and presence. But in my later years I find myself preferring Mark's Gospel -- the theology of the Cross, "short, sharp, shocked," to borrow a term. I also love the Book of Jonah -- which I never really appreciated until I heard a rabbi discuss it on Sound and Spirit. It's such a great story of God's extravagant grace and our petulant resentment of that grace being extended farther than we'd like, to people we don't like.

4. Which book of the Bible do you consider, in Luther's famous words about James, to be "an epistle of straw?" Which verse(s) make you want to scream?
I really don't get exercised about the Book of James; to me it's the necessary yin to Paul's yang. I am also, frankly, not that upset about the clobber verses regularly regurgitated upon women and gay folks by fundamentalists -- because, unlike fundamentalists, when it comes to Scripture I have space in my thinking for contextual interpretation and human foible, and am under no great compulsion to make the Bible "come out right." I do find the Book of Leviticus quite tedious (except for the more amusing/bemusing tidbits of the ritual law), and the Book of Revelation really more trouble than it's worth, considering how it's been misread and misused. I understand that Revelation only made it into the canon by a slim vote; too bad they didn't hold a recount. As far as texts that do indeed make me want to scream: The sloppy use of the term "the Jews" in the Gospel of John to refer to the Jerusalem religious establishment has created untold misery throughout the centuries. If there isn't a better translation of that phrase, the least we can do is educate the people in our churches that these texts are not an indictment of the Jewish faith nor are they an easy excuse for anti-Semitism.

5. Inclusive language in biblical translation and liturgical proclamation: for, against, or neutral?
I am very much for inclusive language insofar as it respects the integrity of the original text's meaning; "humankind" for "mankind," etc. As far as inclusifying biblical God-talk specifically...well, in the particularity of the Incarnation Jesus was born male; deal with it; and instead of bowlderizing Scripture to force non-gendered pronouns or terms for God onto the text, I think that there are ways to refer to the Godhead in more inclusive ways in the liturgy. And more than that -- female clergy and lay leadership in worship, I think, do more to affirm and welcome women in the pews than tinkering with the language of Scripture: "Show me, don't tell me."

Bonus: Back to the Psalms--which one best speaks the prayer of your heart?
I think Psalm 40: 1-11:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.
Happy are those who make the Lord their trust, who do not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you. Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.
Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am; in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”
I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.
Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me; let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why Living Well is the Best Revenge

Okay...so my work is making me cranky. And today, after the daily grind, while waiting in the Redi-Med to have my stitches taken out, I found myself sharing waiting-room space with a loudly virulent small child and a sallow-faced man who, alarmingly, was handed a barf pail by the receptionist. I couldn't find the birthday present I wanted for my aunt. I'm worried about sick friends and home repairs and getting a sub for my next AM assignment at church so Fellow Traveler and I can go off on our couple's retreat. And my haircut is growing out and looks like heck. It wasn't the best of days.

But then I come home to a meal fit for a queen. Or, more accurately, a maharana.

We've been feeling a hankering for Indian food around here, so FT, exploring the intriguing little jars we've collected in our pantry over months of foodie-foraging, pulled out some Thai red curry paste and some korma sauce. "What can I do with these?" she thought.

While braising the pork steak in the korma sauce, she made lentils with garlic, about a half-teaspoon of red curry paste and maybe a teaspoon or two of brown sugar, as directed on the jar, to cut the heat.

Oh, my. Oh, my. This southern-Asian fusion of flavors was so good. The creaminess of the korma sauce played nicely off the heat of the red curry paste; the flavors did not compete.

Our accompaniment to this feast was a wonderful bottle of wine that I found, in all places, down at the local butcher's shop, dusty, languishing on the shelf. It's a 2005 Toasted Head Viognier -- frankly I'd never heard of this before and had to Google it to find out what it was. Viognier grapes, it turns out, are a very ancient variety, thought to have come to Gaul during Roman times. Unfortunately the grape is very susceptible to a disease that nearly wiped the entire variety off the wine map; but a few vines persisted in scattered vineyards, and now the varietal wine has made a comeback. I love underdogs, so of course I had to go back and buy the bottle.

It's a lot like a Riesling -- very light; slightly sweet but not too sweet. We tasted hints of peach and pear and flowers; like ambrosia. And it went perfectly with our spicy meal.

As FT noted tonight: "We have a good life."

For all your many blessings, Lord, may we truly be grateful.

A Workplace Parable...

...or why my job sometimes drives me insane:

Once upon a time, local organizations were set up to provide subsidized buggy whips for the buggy-whipless. The buggy whips were pretty plain, not state-of-the art; and procuring them involved filling out forms and following nit-picking regulations; but the recipients nonetheless appreciated the modest buggy whips, and so the buggy whip program was popular. Taxpayers also didn’t mind chipping in for the buggy whips. Life was good at the buggy whip factories.

Then automobiles began to appear on the roadways. More and more people sold their horses and bought Model T’s.

Still, the buggy whip factories continued to churn out buggy whips. The mid-level agency overseeing the subsidization of the buggy whips scolded the factory managers: “Why aren’t you distributing more buggy whips?” Some legislators and taxpayers began to ask, “Why are we paying for buggy whips that no one wants anymore?”

The Subsidized Buggy Whip Factory Managers Association wrung its collective hands over the lack of demand for buggy whips. “Maybe we can make them prettier. Or maybe we can call them something else. Or maybe we should target a younger demographic, that needs to be educated about the benefits of owning a buggy whip.” But whenever the factory managers attempted to innovate their buggy whips, the mid-level funding agency said, “That violates the regs! You can’t violate the regs!”

Meanwhile, more horses wound up at the stockyards, and more flivvers chugged down the roadways.

Some of the buggy whip factory managers came up with a new idea: “Let’s try building our own automobile!”

The trouble was, first of all, that the buggy whip factory managers didn’t have enough money to build a car as good as the Model T. And their automobile would come with conditions and restrictions that Model T’s did not. The people who wanted Model T’s already had their own. The people who didn’t want Model T’s…well, they didn’t want Model T’s. And the mid-level funding agency said, when they heard of this proposal, “That violates the regs! You can’t violate the regs!”

And then they added: “Why aren’t you distributing more buggy whips?”

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

It's a Dog's Life...at Our House

Travel Snaps

A few photos from our trip up the Sunrise Side of the state: One of the few spots of fall color we saw en route...
...Tawas Point Lighthouse on Lake Huron...

...and a bit of beach.

Monday, October 08, 2007

"All We Are Saying..."

If you're looking for peace activism in my state, you won't find a lot of it in Outer Podunk. When I travel in more progressive parts of the state like Ann Arbor or northwest Michigan and see anti-war signs on people's lawns, I wonder how they'd play back home, and conclude that they'd probably provoke Bubba into some front-yard vandalism, or worse.

Lately, though, I've been noticing a few signs cropping up on people's lawns around here. They're simple black signs bearing a single line, with citation, from Psalm 34: SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.

I wonder if Bubba would react in a different way to those.

Off the Beaten Tract

This past weekend Fellow Traveler and I went on a leaf-peeping excursion up and down the Lake Huron Coast -- West Branch to Tawas up to Oscoda and then back down to Standish. (FYI for any fellow Michiganians: Not much leaf action on this side of the state -- the leaves are quite a bit more colorful even around here in Outer Podunk and surrounds, and in the Tri-Cities area.)

We stopped to shop in touristy downtown East Tawas -- down one side of the street and up the other. In the time it took to get back to our vehicle, someone had 1)stolen FT's clip-on U of M flag off the window; and 2)slipped an inky, low-production-value tract onto the passenger seat warning that "Your life may end in the next five minutes -- where will you spend eternity?"

(Sidebar: If you want to drive a fundamentalist crazy, if they ask you the above question face-to-face, tell them that, because your ultimate trust is in the saving power of Jesus Christ, whether your demise happens in the next five minutes or the next 50 years is irrelevant in terms of the quality of your faith. It's also a handy response to the Rapture theology folks who seem to think that discerning the inside scoop on penultimate things is somehow going to make us shape up and fly right -- hey, if I step off the curb on my lunch break and get run over by a car, or stroke out at my desk while I'm eating my sandwich, then today is my last day...why should the last day concern me any more? But I digress.)

My comment to FT at the time was that I sincerely hoped the tract person wasn't also the person who'd walked off with the U of M flag -- although I never assume anything.

But the more I thought about the tract, the more bemused I became.

How, exactly, is an anonymous drive-by tract fling "evangelism"? What exactly was supposed to have been our response to this cheesy little booklet tossed onto the seat? How was this tract in any way representative of the Christian proposition -- that God loves us, saves us and calls us into healed, healthy relationships, with God and other human beings, based on love and service?

A new book , UnChristian, explores the decreased willingness of Americans, especially younger ones, to identify themselves as Christians, and the reasons why.

I think the tract someone tossed into our Jeep, and the mentality behind it, is a good example. I wish the freelance distributor had tried to save a tree instead of me.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

From the Mouths of Babes

As the collection plates were being passed in church today, a toddler's voice rose above the rustles and clinks: "GOODBYE, MONEY!"

Friday, October 05, 2007

Friday Five: Little Things Mean a Lot

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is very simple: List five things for which you're thankful.

I was about to head in the direction of Big Ideas when it occurred to me that I am thankful for a lot of the small stuff around me -- things that make life easier or more enjoyable. So here are five little things that mean a lot to me:

1. My Scrubbing Bubbles shower-cleaning machine. This product, unlike many automatic gizmos, actually works. No more scary fungal manifestations in the bathtub; no more scrubbing grout with an old toothbrush. It is a real blessing to the housekeeping-challenged. And it makes the bathroom smell good too.

2. Garbanzo beans. They're so tasty, and so healthy -- I eat them right out of the can. Last night at The Brass Cafe in Mt. Pleasant, which was featuring a "little dish" night, I ordered an appetizer-sized portion of garbanzo bean curry on rice, with yogurt...mmmmm. Garbanzo beans are a good gift of God.

3. The Footwear Department at Sears. I recently introduced Fellow Traveler, who hates big-box stores as well as sartorial shopping in general with a passion, to the joys of shoe-shopping at Sears. They always have excellent sales...we each wound up with some badly needed walking shoes, and I also scored some stylin' ankle boots, all for astoundingly low prices. And, best of all, we only spent about 15 minutes in the store. Thank you, Sears! You always come through for my feet.

4. Google. To paraphrase the Psalmist, it is a thing too wonderful for me to understand.

5. New England asters. We seem to have a bumper crop of them in Michigan this year. Last night, driving in the "evening sunshine," the medians and roadsides became an amazing flowing quilt of asters and goldenrod. I kept thinking, Wow. Wow. Wow.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Going Back For Kathy

Some of you will recall Kathy Griffin, of My Life on the D List fame, getting into hot water with television censors and incensed Christians several weeks ago for poking fun, in a crudely profane manner, of celebrities who publicly thank Jesus for their professional successes.

Fellow Traveler and I ran into a non-celebrity Kathy Griffin a few weekends ago, at a potluck. As soon as we were introduced, and I was identified as a lay-minister-in-training, it became obvious that this woman had issues with religion and didn’t care who knew it. As a matter of fact, my presence at the gathering in question seemed to fuel a series of irreverent Griffinesque references to the Godhead – she would drop a profane G- or J-bomb, then look at me slyly as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” while fellow guests – and this was a pretty laid-back crowd acquainted with irreverence of various kinds – glanced wincingly at us both and then tried to change the subject.

I am well aware of, and understand completely, the religion-hostility that exists in the gay community. I still recall sitting at a lay ministry training where the pastor-facilitator recalled a trip into a metro-area gay bar with his adult kids, and the reaction to his presence by many of the patrons, with a naïve surprise that made me want to chuckle: "Some of these people seem very angry with the Church," he'd announced to our class in evident puzzlement. Well, no shit, Sherlock.

But – here’s the really interesting thing about this particular potluck evening, with this particular angry person: When we found ourselves in the kitchen together, she started asking me honestly curious, non-confrontational questions about my lay ministry. Could I go into hospitals and pray with sick people? Could I do blessings over people in various circumstances?

Later on, talking to a friend of ours who’s a philosophy/religion professor and practicing Buddhist, she asked, rather wistfully, “But how can you share this spiritual wisdom in a way that someone like me can understand?”

It seems to me that this place – this nexus of love and hate where many people’s spirituality is seated – is a really, really exciting place to do ministry. I don’t mean in the fundagelical, yay-team “win a soul for Jaysus” way, nor do I mean in a patronizing, “Oh, you poor dear, let me fix you” way. I mean – these passionately alienated people are the people the Church (which is all of us) needs to give it an edge that cuts through the crap of both “the powers and principalities” and the Church’s own self-righteousness, arrogance and frequent ridiculosity. We need to go back for the Kathy Griffins of the world, not only for their sake as persons seeking a living spirituality but for ours as a faith community.

"We Have Some Bad News..."

The professional assessment of my ailing laptop: "Fried."

Fried motherboard, to be exact.

Oh, well...it lived a good and useful life.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

In Retreat

Fellow Traveler had a great suggestion the other evening.

"We should go on a retreat," she said.

The fact of the matter is, we've been so preoccupied with the incidental "stuff" of life that we're feeling a definite need to swim in the deeper end of the pool in terms of our wellbeing, spiritual and otherwise.

We weighed the option of "retreating" in the context of a group...but the idea of planning our own retreat was more appealing.
I found an excellent retreat outline here that I think is easily adaptable to what we have in mind, and that I thought readers here may also find helpful in your own personal or group contexts.

So now we have the what. The where I'm working on, but I think will be a quiet and friendly location in the northwest part of the state where we'll have the freedom to do our own thing. The when will be a little more difficult -- among the other incidental stuff of life, I just received a jury summons for later this month -- but we want to do this before the snow flies.

I'm kind of excited.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bad to the Bone

I am typing this a little awkwardly, with nine functional fingers, on Fellow Traveler's computer. My left thumb, which is actually supposed to be in repose somewhere above the level of my heart, is swollen, swathed in bandages, and stinging from about five stitches.

It was like this: I hate fall household chores with a passion, but this weekend I'd decided to bite the bullet and put the storm windows back up at Cold Comfort Cottage. Sunday afternoon, after church, I set about doing this -- taking down the screens, washing the windows, then toting the storm windows up from the basement, washing them and slipping them into place.

I was very nearly done; I just had one kitchen window and the bathroom window to go. I retrieved the bathroom storm window from its slot in the cellar and slid it up the basement stairs. As I reached the top of the steps and readjusted the grip on the window, the metal frame inexplicably slipped off in my hands...and the raw edge of the glass caught me in the thumb. A geyser of blood shot out. All I could think, for a split second, was that the top joint of my thumb was about to fall over like a loose hinge, or fall off entirely.

"HELP ME!" I screamed.

Fellow Traveler came rushing over; wrapped a clean dishtowel around my thumb and had me bear down on a pressure point; and then we sped to the ER.

It's funny how blood makes even the normally laconic staff of Outer Podunk General's emergency room sit up and take notice -- I was immediately whisked inside.

The good news is that my bones, ligaments and nerves seem all right despite the deep cut. The bad news is that I wound up with five stitches (note to the fellow accident-prone: If you're going to lacerate your thumb, stay away from your nail bed -- when they shoot the numbzit up there before suturing it, it is going to hurt like hell, much worse than the original injury), and I have to drastically curtail my hand movement for the time being. I called in sick at work, because the prospect of driving 45 miles to our satellite office and then alternating hunt-and-peck keyboarding with propping my arm above heart level, my thumb aloft in hitchhiker mode, did not seem particularly appealing or prudent this morning.

Well, it's time for me to hoist my thumb again, so I must go.

The Accidental Graduate

My fellow lay ministry student S picks me up in the driveway Friday morning for the trip to our next retreat. The retreat topics are material we've studied before, back at the beginning of our association with this program.

"So," I ask S jokingly, "when ya think they're finally gonna graduate us?"

We puzzle aloud about why we're having to re-take the same courses -- why our curriculum would be time-based, not subject-based -- then move on to other topics of discussion for the next hour.

But when we arrive at the retreat site, S asks the facilitators when we're due to graduate from the program. The facilitators tip-tap at their laptops for a few seconds.


It seems that we already have graduated. But no one knew. Well, alrighty then!

Anyway, I am now a freshly minted lay minister whose final hurdle is simply being installed in my parish. After which I'll be doing...well, the same things in my church that I've already been doing, sans portfolio.

You'd think I'd feel more graduated, out of one thing and into another. Oh, well.

Experiencing Technical Difficulties...

My laptop died late last week, so getting online has been a challenge to my normal Internet loquaciousness. Until Ol' Bessie comes back from the shop, you may experience long periods of silence here...while I experience activities like reading books again.