Friday, November 30, 2007

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

Two quickie wine reviews from Cold Comfort Cottage:

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

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

Fruitcake Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday Five: "Bah, Humbug!" Edition

This week's RevGal's challenge:

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

1) dessert/cookie/family food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just sayin'.

Veggie Tales

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

Monastery Lentils

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2007


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

Your Inner European is Swedish!

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

Game ON!

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

A Somewhat Colder Comfort Cottage

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

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

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

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

A Wine-y, Cheesy Post

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

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

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

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

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

Christ the King?

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Little Thanksgiving Music

Black Friday

May I rant, just a little?

What is the matter with people?

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

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

Post T-Day Friday Five

Today's RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Groaning Board

Here is our Thanksgiving menu, thus far:

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

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

He Was a Good Dog

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

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

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

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

For the Birds

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Knot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheap Wine Finds

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

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

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Another Reason to Buy Just Coffee

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

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

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

Just Coffee .

Just Coffee Seed Project .

LC's Pre-Holiday Shameless Commerce Division

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Saturday Friday Five: "Think On These Things"

From the RevGalBlogPals this week:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meme Time

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

15. RED OR PINK? Red.

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

28. EYE COLOR? Brown.


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

It's Fun to Be an Angel...

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

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

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

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

What a Surprise...

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Luther

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













Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lectionary Blogging -- I'm Lovin' It

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

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

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

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

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

It's a World Gone Mad

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

Will you join me? One…two…three…


Thank you. I feel better now.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

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

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

The Story Continues

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bigotry Hits Home

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

Well...I guess that's happened.

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2007

An Era Passes

Cold Comfort Cottage is now officially in the 21st century, television-and-Internet-wise.

With help from Fellow Traveler, who did all the service provider wheeling and dealing, I now have satellite TV and Internet, for an amazingly discounted price. (CCC is now officially a "second home.")

Considering the direction heating prices are heading...I may be sitting in the living room in my winter coat and mukluks as my breath crystalizes in front of me...but at least I'll also be able to watch Ace of Cakes and download tunes while the frostbite sets in.

From the Mouths of Babes

Awhile back I blogged about a self-identifying "sister" who runs a local mission for the needy and who, in her spare time, writes rambling letters to the editor in the hometown paper that are politically to the right of the John Birch Society as well as rabidly homophobic. I pondered, on my blog, the wisdom of walking into the mission one day with a clothing donation -- maybe out of cussedness or defiance or the ol' coals-on-head holy-passive-aggression thing.

Well, my friend S's church -- specifically its children -- beat me to it. S belongs to another ELCA congregation. S's pastor and co-parishoners have repeatedly gone head-to-head with Sister X in the local paper's Letters to the Editor column. This congregation zigs where Sister X zags.

The other day a group of kids from S's church visited Sister X's mission with a delivery of food to be given away there. They had composed a song about Jesus that they sang to the mission workers.

I wonder if this isn't the way to start chipping at the Great Polarization on a grassroots level; just show up.

My pastor, a few of his mainline clerical friends and some of our people "just showed up" at a local National Day of Prayer event that has traditionally been a rally for Falwellian sociopolitical types; when it was their time to join in prayer they prayed for the masses of un- and underemployed in the area; for strength and wisdom to weather the changes in geopolitics, in economics, in environment that are changing life in this region; they prayed for protection from the hopelessness and frustration that lead to nihilism and scapegoating and hate.

Maybe I'll just show up at the mission with my grocery bag of clothes and some canned goods, after all.

Friday Five: Extravagantly Unbusy Edition

RevGal Sally writes:

"I am writing in my official capacity of grump!!! No seriously, with the shops and stores around us filling with Christmas gifts and decorations, the holiday season moving up on us quickly for many the time from Thanksgiving onwards will be spent in a headlong rush towards Christmas with hardly a time to breathe.... I am looking at the possibility of finding little gaps in the day or the week to spend in extravagant unbusyness ( a wonderful phrase coined by a fellow revgal)...

So given those little gaps, name 5 things you would do to; care for your body

2. to care for your spirit

3. to care for your mind

4. to bring a sparkle to your eye

5. to place a spring in your step

Enjoy the time to indulge and dream.... and then for a bonus which one on the list are you determined to put into action?" timely is this in light of our recent couple's retreat? Here's my list, adapted for those "unbusy" moments:

To care for my body: Exercise 15 minutes a day.

To care for my spirit: Follow the Daily Office more faithfully. (Because it really does make a difference. Really.)

To care for my mind: Read for enjoyment, at least a couple times a week.

To bring a sparkle to my eye: Visit an arts-and-crafts show or art exhibition.

To place a spring in my step: Contribute to our local "Angel Tree" project, where people in the community can purchase gifts for needy kids or vulnerable adults.

As far as what I'm most committed to -- FT and I sincerely want to commit to moving more. And now that our respiratory infections are finally starting to subside, we are going for it. Elliptical trainer, here we come!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Eatin' Good in the Neighborhood

After several days of surviving largely on chicken broth, I thought that peaked Fellow Traveler needed some more substantial eats. Plus, it's cold and snowy -- yes, snowy; time for something hearty.

So I pulled some beef short ribs out of the freezer. After thawing them and seasoning them with salt, pepper and mixed herbs -- I wanted thyme, couldn't find any because I'd left my bottle at The Other Domicile -- I browned them in olive oil; took my time until they were nicely browned and caramelized.

After removing the short ribs from the pan I poured off some of the oil and added a mirepoix -- a fine dice of maybe 2 cups of onion, 1/2 cup of celery and 1/2 cup of carrots -- sauteeing it while scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the vegetables were soft, I returned the short ribs to the pan and added a can of beef broth, 2 garlic cloves, more seasoning and about 1/4 cup of fresh parsley.

After heating up this mixture on low for a bit, I transferred it to a crockpot and refrigerated it overnight. The next day, Fellow Traveler put the crockpot on low and let the mixture simmer all day. Served over some homestyle noodles -- what a feast. And -- today after work I added some chopped tomato, extra onion, celery, parsley and broth to the leftovers, and made a terrific soup.

The Best-Laid Plans...

Well, it’s been almost a week since our couple’s retreat, where we examined the health of our bodies, minds and souls and created what I think are some good goals for us to strive for in the next year – and our plans were almost immediately kerfuffled – partly by the lingering “bug” that’s left us stuffy, headachy and listless; partly by the “fall back” time change, which is always disorienting, even after gaining an hour that first day; partly by basic inertia. We’re basing our daily success this week on being able to maneuver vertically through space; anything else is above and beyond.
Our very modest commitment to more daily exercise – nuh-uh. My commitment to less evening snacking – if anything, I’ve become more ravenous, almost Dagwoodian, after 7:00 pm. Daily devotions together? Not yet.
I’ve heard this phenomenon framed in terms of cosmological battle: As soon as you begin on a journey of wellness, spiritual and otherwise, the Adversary immediately gets busy setting roadblocks in the path, or creating distracting avenues to nowhere along the way.
I’m not sure that I want to be that cosmic about our kerfufflement. What I think is that human beings hate to change. We really, really hate it. As soon as we commit to a change, a part of our psyche digs its heels into the ground: Noooooooo! You can’t make me! Knowing the strength of the mind-body connection, I’m thinking that even our slow recovery from our illness is a kind of defense mechanism against change: How can you expect me to do all this new stuff when I feel so bad? Ditto the mechanism behind my increased hunger: Omigod! I’m going to starve! I’d better load up now before the food gets cut off!
I think one of the values of both spiritual direction and of cognitive therapy is to remind us that these sorts of reactions to change and growth are natural; but that once we have more insight into the “whys” of our feelings and behaviors, we’re more empowered to counter their irrational elements, and discover better strategies for overcoming those things that keep us stuck where we are.
Julian of Norwich compared the spiritual path to carrying a heavy load home to one’s master while walking along a ditch; every so often one becomes unbalanced and falls into the ditch. Knowing that our God is a God who understands, in a most intimate way, our burdens and weakness, who loves us and who forgives us when we take that periodic header into the ditch, can give us the faith and courage not to give up; to rebalance ourselves and keep going. And Christian community, in our own homes and without, can give us a continued hand up back onto the path.

Today's a new day. We'll see where it takes us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Nearly Great Thanksgiving

Fellow Traveler and I just sent out our invitations to our second annual family "open house"-style Thanksgiving dinner for folks we know (and, by extension, folks we may not know yet, whom the folks we know may know) who for whatever reason aren't going to be with their biological families this year during the holidays. We love doing stuff like this, and hope we get some positive responses. We will be serving locally raised turkey from our pal Farmer Ken, plus a groaning board of side dishes. (The number of same dependent on our RSVPs.) We're also going to go around the table and talk about our collective blessings during the past year. If we could somehow "virtualize" our feast to include our online friends, we'd do it!

Shameless Commerce Pitch

One of our best discoveries this past weekend was the Cherry Republic flagship emporium of all things cherry, located in Glen Arbor.

I'd known about it for ages -- and it has retail outlets elsewhere in the region -- but I'd always figured that it was kind of a tourist trap. Cherries are to northwest Michigan what oranges are to Florida, so once you get into Grand Traverse and Benzie and Leelanau Counties you pretty much can't spit without hitting cherry-themed merchandise. (Smoked cherry-whitefish sausage, anyone? I'm not making that up.)

This place, though, is fun, and self-consciously kitschy: It declares itself an independent republic, flying a banner of "Life, Liberty, Beaches and Pie." And the cherry products it sells are excellent; there are opportunities in the store to taste nearly every product. We'd been introduced to cherry salsa at Joe's Friendly Tavern in Empire last year, so we stocked up on it last weekend; the store also sells a very tasty cherry barbecue sauce, a host of cherry preserves ranging from jam to chutney, and lots more.

Adjoining the store are a winery and a cafe, both spotlighting cherry products.

And -- this is cool -- one percent of all sales go toward preserving the area's agricultural land, which is being quickly swallowed up by land developers and subdivisions; the old story of people moving up north to enjoy the rural atmosphere, then destroying the very thing they love until "up north" looks no different than any other suburb. One of the things I love about this part of the state is its commitment to community-supported agriculture and to planned growth with preservation of what makes the area special. (Mid-Michigan isn't there yet, and may never be, for a variety of socioeconomic reasons.) Anyway, it made us feel good to know that doing our Christmas shopping at Cherry Republic was also, in its own small way, helping local farmers, not only by purchasing their products but by helping finance programs that give them incentives to stay on the land and preserve their families' farming heritage in the face of encroaching development.

Cherry Republic does a brisk mail-order business, so give their website a visit. Oh -- and even though I try to keep this blog non-partisan, I would note that an election is going on, on the Republic website, giving you an opportunity to, among other choices, anoint a queen. Not that I'm trying to influence your vote or anything.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

No More Whine For Me, Please

“Christianity’s Girly God” trumpets a new Beliefnet headline, above a lavender-tinted photo of a clapboard church. It’s a teaser for an interview with John Eldredge, who seems to have developed an entire literary career out of advocating for a Christianity more dispositionally suited for he-men like himself.

Now, my first reaction to such stuff was a kind of knee-jerk defensiveness: Who you callin’ girly, Ponytail Boy? And then I sighed at yet another pop-psych example men-are-from-Mars/women-are-from-Venus stereotyping that really does violence to complexity and diversity of human existence. I thought about the undertones of sexism and homophobia that usually accompany appeals to “muscular Christianity.” I thought of the kenotic irony involved in dismissing as “wimpy” and unchallenging Christian values like compassion and self-sacrificing love – which not only dismisses Jesus, but also dismisses the truly hard work of love and compassion. And then I had to laugh at the creative audacity of accusing an institution run almost exclusively by men for two millennia, and either tolerating or actively promoting misogyny for much of that time, of being “feminized” – sort of like kicking a woman down to the ground, holding her there with a jackboot to the neck and then criticizing her for not getting up and making the fight more interesting.

But then…after getting all lathered up about this interview, I wandered into the Beliefnet discussion forum and visited the Lutheran neighborhood, where a discussion is going on about the new hymnals in both the ELCA and LCMS, and about general hymnal vs. bulletin vs. projection worship modalities. One of the posters reported hearing a complaint from a fellow parishioner that the new hymnal in their church was “too heavy.”

Oy veh.

I had the same reaction, reading that, that I had watching a recent news report about children’s increasing alienation from nature, following a group of suburban schoolchildren taking a field trip in a nature preserve: One kid about 10 years old – a strapping lad who looked to have a bright future in caber-tossing or bear-wrestling or some such thing – was actually weeping on camera, whining, “The grass scratches my legs when I walk through it! I hate being outside!”

Oh my God, I thought. We have become a nation of utter wimps, and we are spawning more.

I don’t think that American Christianity’s problem is with a “girly God.” It’s with a wimpy membership whose enculturated intolerance of anything resembling effort or personal discipline or discomfort, much less sacrifice, spans genders and ages and socioeconomic strata.

And – here’s more irony – whiny-ass men who threaten to stay home and pout with their football and beer because they feel that church worship is too sissified, or because they can’t always be the bosses there, are as wimpy, ineffectual and annoying as any other societal whiner. Boo freaking hoo. I’m gettin’ out the world’s smallest violin, fellas.

I don’t know about you, but loving God and loving my neighbor – even and especially the neighbors who make me want to smack them upside the head – are pretty tough assignments; not for the weak of heart or mind or will.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Pensive All Saints' Day

I'm sitting here in front of the fire at 9:00 -- no, 8:00 -- in the morning, having some quiet time before we check out and head for Suttons Bay, the next stop on our journey.

Last night, after our day of excursioning, I was really sick -- feverish, runny-eyed and runny-nosed, having a hard time breathing and generally miserable. I woke up bathed in sweat but feeling and breathing much better; a hot shower and bowl of oatmeal have made me feel almost entirely human again. (My viral adventure seems to be about two days behind Fellow Traveler's; she was in pretty rough shape Thursday night on the way up here.)

The original plan had been to do some spiritual tourism this morning at a local church. Problem is...there aren't any. Not many, anyway. And no friendly churches, if you know what I mean, within 25 miles. It's disappointing.

I've been feeling somewhat introspective this All Saints' Day. A good friend and fellow parishoner of Fellow Traveler's and mine, one of the has been diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma, with a prognosis that's less than encouraging, and seeing him physically fade over the last few weeks makes us sad. How does it feel, on All Saints' Day, to ponder one's own passing from one existence from one to the other?

Right now -- and this is pure coincidence -- I'm listening to Catie Curtis' song "Passing Through," written with Mark Etelli:

We are passing this world on to our kids
From the day when they climb from their cribs
We'll try and teach them well, show them that they're loved
But in the end all we can do is hope our best was good enough
They'll witness how this life can be so beautiful and cruel
We can't shelter them forever but if we show them all the tools
They might leave this world in a little better shape than me and you
We are only passing through

Passing through, passing through
We are only passing through
Passing through, passing through
We are only passing through

We are watching this world from our living rooms
Near forty years since we walked on the moon
This big blue ball is shrinking and I don't know if that's good
But for better or for worse now this whole world's our neighborhood
And there's no place left to run to, to stay above the fray
We better learn to get along not just to get our way
Not only for each other but our children's children too
We are only passing through

Passing through, passing through
We are only passing through
Passing through, passing through
We are only passing through

And I wonder sometimes what will I pass on
How much can one voice do with just a song
Sometimes injustice and indifference are all that I see
But I refuse to let my hope become the latest casualty
So I'll sing of love and truth and try to practice what I preach
If I can't change the world, I'll change the world within my reach
What better place to start than here and now with me and you
We are only passing through

Passing through, passing through
We are only passing through
Passing through, passing through
We are only passing through
We are only passing through

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Greetings From God's Country!

Whoddathunk that our rustic retreat venue, tucked against the Sleeping Bear Dunes, had wi-fi?

Yes, it's been a weekend of improbables...beginning with Fellow Traveler's and my raging head colds, which came upon us full force Thursday, on the way here, and almost jettisoned our retreat.

Another improbable: The idea that a personal retreat plan from the Calvin Seminary website could be morphed into a very fruitful couple's retreat for two middle-aged lesbians. Ah, well..,the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Equally improbable is our retreat location, Duneswood, a "womyn-friendly" resort up here; I rather think our little cabin has never heard so much overt Godstuff going on.

Anyway, the programmed segment of our retreat went much so that we've decided to go on retreat as a couple every year. The "Body, Mind and Soul" theme really helped us gain an appreciation of our strengths and weaknesses in this area, gave us some goals to work on, and underscored the idea that we are in a partnership with God and with one another in working toward wholeness.

Today is a free day. We'd taken a little break yesterday between segments to go provisioning in nearby Glen Arbor and give the dogs a chance to run around on one of the abandoned farmsteads that are part of the Sleeping Bear park system. Today we're in total "play" mode; we're heading off to our favorite area coffee shop for ginger scones, then doing a local culture crawl, then coming back to watch the MSU-U of M game. Hope you're all having nearly as much fun as we are today!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

For All the Saints

As two simul iustus et peccator saints-in-training -- cold-sniffly-sneezy but determined saints in training -- prepare to head up north for our retreat...some music of the season for you -- have a blessed All Saints' Day and great weekend: