Friday, December 28, 2007

An "Auld Lang Syne" Friday Five

This week the RevGalBlogPals ask members to name their five most memorable moments of 2007.

As I mentioned on that blog, I feel I've done an awful lot of living in the past year -- too much to distill the experience into five memorable moments, much less explain why these were memorable. But here are some highlights of my year that was:

Happiest: I'd have to say that Fellow Traveler's and my quiet, peaceful Christmas Eve was my best Christmas ever -- the closest to that elusive Christmas-card-ideal-Christmas-scene holiday in my head. (Our trip up north comes in a close second, despite our both being so terribly sick during most of it.)

Saddest: As regular readers know, it's been a hard year for our household petwise, with two of our beloved companions passing away. But Katie the golden retriever's death was much sadder than Cody's because her final illness came so suddenly, and because she was so sick and seizuring and disoriented toward the end. She was such a sweet, loving dog-friend; it saddens me to think of her last days.

Scariest: Fellow Traveler's health scares earlier this year were frightening indeed. Waiting for the post-op phone call...waiting in the Ann Arbor VA waiting room...not my favorite memories of 2007.

Strangest: Wondering, along with one of my fellow lay ministry students, why we were taking some of the same courses in our three-year program over again...asking about it at a retreat...and being told, "Oh...oops...well,it looks like you've graduated." It wasn't as if we were expecting "Pomp and Circumstance" with champagne toasts, mind you, but it would have been nice to have been informed of this educational milestone somewhat in advance.

Silliest: "Laverne and Shirley Go Canoeing." I don't think either one of us has recovered from that escapade yet. (Methinks the 2008 version will be my Adventures in Golf.)

Bonus Points: Quizmaster Singing Owl asked us if we had any "God moments" this year. I can't point to anything numinous or otherwise dramatic...but during our retreat in early November Fellow Traveler and I identified taking better care of ourselves physically, as gratitude for God's gift of our enfleshed existence and so that we can continue to be active, productive people was something we really wanted to do as a household in the next year. After that, it seemed that a convergence of things we were reading and hearing about and doing was also pointing in that direction -- to paraphrase Matthew Fox, it seemed as if the Universe were in on the plan and conspiring to get and keep us motivated. We have taken baby steps in a healthier direction, and come the first of the year we are focusing on this project in a much bigger way. Again, not a very dramatic "aha!" moment, but an "aha!" nonetheless.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Feed People, Get Smart

What a great website, courtesy of ADIL (Almost-Daughter-in-Law): Free Rice . Play the vocabulary game, and for each correct word you select you contribute a small amount of rice to the United Nations food program. This is the real deal; the advertisers whose banners appear at the bottom of the page pay for the rice. Do you know your weir from your weald? Check it out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

It's 9:30 our time; we are experiencing post-Christmas-Eve, post-Christmas morning mellow (enhanced by breakfast cinnamon rolls). So I'm not too eloquent right now. So until I get my writing voice back...Fellow Traveler and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas; and here are some photos of our celebration to date:
Here's the stylin' Santa who showed up at my aunt's nursing home earlier this month.

A weeping specimen tree all decked out for the holidays -- one of the visual delights of the Dow Gardens Christmas walk this year. For any readers in Michigan, this is a great holiday excursion; we estimated we walked about a mile and a half, enjoying an assortment of lighted garden features and musicians from local musical groups and churches stationed along the way. The path wends through the extensive gardens, into the Conservatory and winds up in a barn turned into a cozy warming house with cocoa.

A glimpse of our beautiful tree at Cold Comfort Cottage. I have very nearly, but not quite, reached the load limit of ornaments.

Just two items from my enormous pile of swag. Very appropriate, I think.

The LutheranChik family creche -- down to one original sheep, but otherwise still going strong after 50 years.

Cassie lapsed into a Christmas coma after getting all her new toys. (Mollie spent the night goofing on catnip, then retired shortly after the rest of us got up.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Coffee: The Third Sacrament

Hey -- ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson made it into a Newsweek special photo section, "Faces of Faith." As did his Rev-Run-worthy scapular. And as did his stainless steel coffee mug.

Coffee truly is our third sacrament.

(Hint to the PB: Try Fair Trade Ethiopian Yirgicheffe -- it's positively heavenly.)

Update: I forgot the link -- click on it now to see Bishop Hanson et al.

A Happy Solstice to You!

I don't know about you, but I for one -- someone who tends to be emotionally and physically worn down by the short, dark days of late fall -- am most happy and grateful that the days are now growing longer; and the metaphor of darkness and negativity being eventually overcome by light and life isn't lost on me either. I understand my northern European ancestors' desire to observe this time of year. And I don't see a conflict between being a citizen of the Reign of God and a citizen of this planet, subject to its circular rhythms and seasonal touchstones; I don't understand contemporary Puritan jihadists' contempt for the natural world and for the human impulse to celebrate significant points on the circle of the year.

So I wish my fellow citizens of Planet Earth a happy Winter Solstice, and more light of all kinds in the year to come.

Friday, December 21, 2007

See Our Tax Dollars at Work!

Read this.

Would someone please tell these people that they don't constitute the state church of the United States? What is it with them? Good grief.

Great Story

Check out The Bike Man .

Taking Christmas Out of Christ

I work with seniors, and one of the things that has them lathered up right now is the increasing use of the generic "Happy Holidays" greeting during the Christmas season. Lately much of their 'round-the-coffeepot discussions are frowny-faced allusions to people who, in their minds, are "trying to take Christ out of Christmas."

At the risk of disrespecxting my own personal experience living in the world is that not all that many folks really want to take Christ out of Christmas. But there are, it seems, plenty of Christians hell-bent on taking the Christmas out of Christ. I run into them all the time -- latter-day Puritans assaulting all things Christmas as "pagan"; in one case even calling into question the morality of church Christmas pageants, since these plays "use words that aren't in the Bible."

Oh, for God's sake, get over it! I want to scream.

If we really believe that Christ is the Redeemer of the world, then why is it such a stretch to believe that Christ has redeemed not only individual souls but the whole creation, as Paul points out, and with that both the natural world whose cycle we also acknowledge this time of year, and the Ur-memories of our pre-Christian heritage -- the beliefs and rituals of which so often foreshadow the Christian story?

I am so over Christian conservatives and their sour-souled jihad against not only secularism but against the cherished traditions and rituals of their fellow Christians. I don't even feel as if we are a part of the same belief system -- a feeling with which I'm sure they concur.

As someone once noted, If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution. Or in the words of Teresa of Avila, Lord deliver us from sour saints.

My Last Michiganian Jeremiad, and Then I'll Quit, I Promise

The other day I read an editorial in a regional paper decrying as "pork" government spending on specialty agriculture -- getting small farmers hooked up with trying new crops, particularly for the consumer and tourism markets.

I suppose that for someone in the city who doesn't understand farming, or for someone working as an office drone for a company that isn't getting a government subsidy for diversifying its product line, giving Farmer Brown the educational or tools to switch from raising dairy cattle to salad vegetables or running a petting farm for "agritourists" sounds pretty foolish.

But here's the thing: The lovely bucolic small farms of the average American's imagination can no longer survive growing the crops and livestock they've always grown; the economy of scale won't allow it. So small farmers, depending on where they live, are faced with not-very-appealing options like quitting agriculture altogether (to do what, exactly?), or becoming what amounts to corporate serfs of agribusiness factory farms. Diversification and specialty marketing can make a difference between a farm family staying on the land they've farmed for perhaps generations and being forced off. And preserving farmland is not only good for small farmers and their local economies, but the environment as well; one of the most insidious losses of wildlife habitat is due to the "subdivisionication" of farmland, which when it doesn't destroy ecosystems outright fragments them to the point of non-sustainability.

So what's not to like about agricultural diversification? Wouldn't it be great if, for instance, Fellow Traveler and I had the privilege of investing in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm where, for maybe $150 or so a year, we could enjoy whatever farm products were grown -- where we would share the farmer's risks each year but also be able to share in the harvest? Wouldn't it be great if farms in mid-Michigan could cater to other niche consumer markets?

But thinking like that takes vision. And that's something that Michigan has precious little of, in any area, from the grassroots to boardrooms, union headquarters and legislative offices.

I've been interested in politics since I was a little kid debating the Nixon-Humphrey election with my dad...and I have to say that our current Legislature is the most dysfunctional, do-nothing assortment of bi-partisan deadwood ever to descend upon Lansing. To paraphrase late Detroit mayor Coleman Young, the only thing Michigan politicians seem to be able to run is their mouths. Oh -- if you want the Ten Commandments displayed in marble on your courthouse lawn, or if you want punitive legislation passed against families that don't look like Ozzie and Harriet's, or if you want some critter named Michigan's state invertebrate, by God they're on that. But when it comes to anything that actually matters, I think that an average high school civics class could get more accomplished in this state; lock 'em in chambers with some Mountain Dew and a deadline and let them at it.

In a post awhile back I lamented the dismal lifestyle habits of Michiganians; we're always at the bottom of national health surveys on such matters. (Not too long ago I witnessed a multigenerational convoy of grossly obese people, some sporting oxygen tanks and cigarettes, wheezingly making their way in their motorized scooters down a local sidewalk, and thought to myself that that would make a sadly accurate addition to one of those "Day in the Life of Michigan" photo anthologies.) We're not getting it together at the level of individual action and responsibility. And we're not getting it together collectively either. We are in a mess -- a mess caused by inertia and complacency and lack of common sense; and a lack of vision for the future, both our own and future generations'.

And "Without a vision the people perish."

For those of you praying the venerable O Antiphons before Christmas, today's beseeches, "O Dawn of the East, brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of Justice: Come, and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." Today, in my pensive state of mind, it occurred to me that that would make an excellent prayer for Michigan right now.

A Pre-Christmas Friday Five

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...which brings us to this week's RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five:

What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave?
I think I was more young teen than outright child when I gave it, Christmas I bought my parents a Hallmark ornament -- they were much less blingy back in the day -- a ceramic Snoopy and Woodstock on Snoopy's doghouse. It didn't exactly fit the Old World esprit de ornaments of our family tree, but it was one of those first Christmases when I started thinking beyond myself and what I wanted, to our family celebration as a whole. If that makes any sense.

What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.
One of my faves is my mom's honey spice drop recipe, which she cut out of a 1965 wall calendar. They are pleasantly chewy, with a subtly exotic mixture of flavors that please and intrigue people who've tried them. And I'd love to share the recipe, except that I'm at work where I don't have it on hand. But when I do I'll post it.

What is a tradition that your family can't do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.)
I have to have the tree, and I have to open at least some of the presents on Christmas Eve. It's a German thing.

Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the "work" of the holidays. What happens at your place?
I can't speak for my pastor...but in these increasingly secularized times it's often hard to explain to friends that we can't just up and run over to their homes for impromptu get-togethers during the holidays because we're doing church. They seem befuddled by the concept that our church is a community, one that we commit ourselves to, and not a series of discrete worship events that we approach with an easy-come, easy-go attitude.

If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected... what would it be?
I've never spent a Christmas away from home. Christmas in a cozy cabin up north, enjoying a crackling wood fire while the snow gently falls outside...hmmmm...that might be an enjoyable experience one of these years. But this year we're spending it at Cold Comfort Cottage, sans crackling fire (please, dear God!) but with any luck cozy in its own way.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Paying it Forward

Here's a wonderful, anti-Scrooge article to make you feel a little bit better about your fellow human beings and about the corporate world.

If your employer gave you $1,000 with the proviso that it be spent on behalf of others, what would you do with it?

A New State Motto

On the way to work this morning I heard a depressing bit of news on our local public radio station: Michigan's governor desperately wants the state to become a leader in alternative energy technologies and supportive industries, but until there is actually a regional demand for such technologies, Michigan is likely to fall behind states with proactive, mandated alternative energy initiatives. Unsurprisingly, progress in this area is being blocked by a variety of special interests who like things just fine the way they are and who don't want to be forced to invest in future technology.

When I ponder this corporate attitude, plus the fact that Michigan is constantly at or falling toward the bottom of numerous citizen health lifestyle and quality of life indices, I wonder if we shouldn't change our state motto from "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you" to "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

I know it's been very quiet here lately. Lots of work stress...I'll leave it at up-north coffee barista fantasy is looking so good right now...catch you later.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

East is East and West is West

Fellow Traveler and I -- who've been making an effort to eat more scratch meals these days -- decided to have dinner out on Friday. We didn't want to drive very far, so we headed for a local tavern that features very good Mexican food.

It was freezing, with the constantly opening door chilling the non-smoking section, so we found ourselves on the opposite end of the establishment. Bad choice; we soon found ourselves enveloped in thick smoke -- largely due to one party sitting opposite us. One of the women at that table went through three cigarettes during our meal, and never set one of them down, not even to eat. We went home wheezing, with tar-besooted clothing and lungs.

There is a very interesting cultural divide between the western and eastern sides of this state. People in west Michigan tend to be health-conscious in a California kind of way. I always feel dumpy and lumpy traveling amid these buff Michiganians; and when I lived in western Michigan, my neighbors' healthy lifestyles spurred me to exercise more and eat better.

Eastern Michigan is the working-class, fried-bologna belt of the state. People here eat, drink and smoke to excess, and resent any attempts to either coax or legislate them into self-improvement. "Ain't nobody gonna tell me what to do" is the regional mantra. (Or, as my late father used to say, "If I want to kill myself smoking, that's my business." Which is pretty much what happened, come to think of it.)

Recent attempts to strengthen anti-smoking legislation in Michigan have stalled, and I suspect always will. Until then, the best way to get away from the smoke is to go west, young men and women, to restaurants and other businesses that have voluntarily gone smoke-free because the public appreciates it.

And So This is Christmas...

My online friend PXSeeker pointed me to this excellent CBS Sunday Morning video essay by Ben Stein, someone I love even though I suspect he lies at the opposite end of the political spectrum and that we cancel out one another's votes every four years. (I think his book How To Ruin Your Life should be required pre-graduation reading for America's schoolchildren.) Stein shares some wise thoughts here as well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Worst of Times; The Best of Times

An interesting juxtaposition this morning: I was watching Good Morning America; one feature was all about tipping one's service people during the holidays, approaching the topic with a kind of eye-rolling, resigned, "Oh, my God, how many people have their hands out this year?" attitude -- as well as with an assumption that viewers were all upper middle-class suburbanites. The very next feature was about donating goods in kind to organizations like World Vision, and spotlighted a family who, once a week all year, eat a simple/inexpensive meal and put the money they've saved on food that day in a special jar that, at Christmastime, they empty out and use to buy livestock, school supplies and other needed things for needy people around the world. I hope that I'm not the only person who had an attitude-adjustment experience watching these two stories in tandem.

In our household we are donating our collective loose change -- and it's amazing how this collects during the year -- to The Heifer Project , which provides people around the world (including households in North America) with livestock or trees, with training and support to help them leverage these gifts into needed family sustenance and income. The families are then obligated to share the offspring of their original gifts with other people in their community -- so the gift continues to give. We love doing this. And we bet you will too.

Friday Five: Just You Wait

This week the RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five asks us where we find the joy in the following. (And in the spirit of the question, I've waited a day to respond.)

1. Waiting?
I'll admit it -- I'm a bad, impatient waiter. On the other hand, I'm also a procrastinator, which makes me a hypocrite as well. So it's hard for me to find actual ajoy in waiting, for a number of reasons. But that impatience in waiting can be a useful spur to getting things done; as one of our local churches' signboards notes, "The King is Coming -- Look Busy!"

2. Darkness?
I love the quietness of darkness...the texture of darkness (if you've ever sat outside stargazing at night you know what I mean)...the space it makes for prayer, for rest, for meaningful thought not cluttered by daytime "monkey mind."

3. Winter?
Again, there's a quietness and peace (especially after the holidays) in winter that I find appealing. One of my favorite things is a snowed-in weekend at home; there's a restfulness, over and above the initial getting-away-with-something titillation, that I love.

4. Advent?
For me Advent is a needed corrective to pop-culture Christmas craziness. It's a reminder that, no matter what the dominant culture may be saying or doing, the season isn't about commerce, isn't about social payback, isn't about amassing stuff. And it's also a reminder that the Christian story doesn't begin and end with Christmas.

5. Jesus' coming?
I know that many people, especially people new to liturgical worship based upon the Church Year, have a hard time understanding the eschatological element of Advent; they're focused on expectant Mary and Baby Jesus, and here we are talking about the end of all things. But to me there is a joy, albeit muted, in holding on to the hope that life as we know it, collectively and individually, is not the end of the story; that there is a "new thing" coming, and that our Elder Brother Jesus is leading us there.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Dead Serious

I’ve been thinking about the afterlife these days.

It’s frankly not a subject high on my radar most of the time – it’s hard enough for me to be grounded in the present without woolgathering about the future. But recent discussions on Beliefnet, a couple of recent dreams involving my dead parents (in one rather humorous dream I’m trying to break the news to my mother that Cody, our Maltese, has finally passed on; she responds that she knows he has; when I ask her how she could possibly know that, she responds -- with some impatience -- “Because I’m dead! ”)and a recent afternoon half-listening to an A&E program about folks who claim to see dead people got me to thinking about the Great Beyond.

It’s fashionable in mainline circles these days to note that belief in an immortal soul is a Greek, not a Hebraic, concept; that in the Hebrew way of thinking about death, once you’re dead you’re dead – reduced to nothingness – until/unless God remembers you back into existence at the resurrection.

While there is something poetic and evocative about this image of ceasing to exist altogether, then being remembered back to life, it’s also pretty damned frightening, at least to someone who has, throughout her life, been variously forgotten – left on a schoolbus as a small child; left waiting for rides that failed to show up; left without an official office plaque like my coworkers, presumably because I was such a faceless office drone that no one remembered I was there. I’d like to think that God has better recall than my kindergarten bus driver or my former supervisor; and could I dare imagine that God might actually want to remember me?

And I’ve known people – sane, smart people – who’ve had memorable encounters with what they were certain were the dead. JB Philips, the Bible scholar, author and pal of C.S. Lewis, recounted in his memoirs what he believed to be a genuine visit from his deceased friend, at a time when Philips was despondent and contemplating suicide, offering needed comfort and advice.

So I have mixed feelings about my religious confreres getting all fundie and literal about the “biblical” view of death and the afterlife. To me there’s a hint of practical atheism in latching on to the “remembering” metaphor, as in, “Yeah – that’d be nice. But, anyway…” On the other hand, it's hard to harmonize popular concepts of the afterlife with Christian doctrines like the resurrection and judgment without mentally navigating through the space-time continuum until you accidently hit a curb or burn your last batch of cookies or otherwise get disengaged from present reality.

I guess I prefer the view that there are more things in heaven (also an “imported” idea, by the way – and this is a bad thing because?...) and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. And I need to get back to work.

Another Shameless Commercial Plug

I'm sitting here at my desk at work sipping on the absolute best tea I've ever tasted. It's the Republic of Tea's Asian Jasmine White Tea. Now, keep in mind that tea is not usually my drink of choice -- I generally do not enjoy black tea at all unless it has milk in it or it's iced, and I've never gotten my home-brewed green tea to taste as good as the tea you get in Chinese restaurants. This particular tea, however, is practically sending me into a moment, it's so good. And white tea is supposed to have even greater health benefits than green tea -- more antioxidants, less caffeine. (Just anecdotally, this tea seems to possess, like ketchup, special mellowing agents that make me less squirrely in the office...which takes some doing.)

So if you know a tea aficionado, slip a can of Asian Jasmine White into their Christmas stocking. They will thank you.

How's That Advent Thing Workin' For You?

We try...we really our house. But between my nightly cookie production line, trying to keep Mollie the cat from setting herself on fire with our Advent wreath and numerous other life distractions, it's hard to keep any kind of consistent Advent discipline around here. (Other than my ex-Marine buddy's favorite motto: Persevere!)

If your house is like mine -- if you feel like you're on a giant holiday gerbil wheel (albeit in a good way) -- there's still one Advent discipline you can follow. It's just a tiny one. But you can do it.

Go to The Hunger Site . Click on the little button there. Then go up to the other tabs at the top of the webpage, click on them, and click on the little buttons on those affiliated pages. That's all you have to do. And thanks to the kind advertisers on those websites, every click provides a small donation to organizations that feed people, care for sick kids, fight breast cancer, preserve the environment and take care of abandoned pets.

And -- shameless commercial plug here -- if you're still in search of some last-minute Christmas gifts, check out the merchandise on these pages. Much of it is handcrafted and/or Fair Trade. Cool stuff.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Things You Find On YouTube...

Check this out -- an interesting version of Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen. I've never heard of the Kelly Family before; they seem to be like the Von Trapp Family relocated to Middle Earth.

Nice and Spicy

By popular demand...well, by one's a great cookie recipe I found by happenstance while idly Googling.

Extra Spicy Gingersnaps
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1 cup dark brown sugar - (firmly packed)
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Mix flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, mustard, pepper, cardamom, cloves, and salt.

In a large bowl, with a mixer on high speed, beat 3/4 cup butter with brown sugar until well blended. Add egg and molasses; beat until fluffy.

Add flour mixture. Beat on low speed to blend, then on medium speed until well mixed.

Divide dough in half, shape each half into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and pat into a flat cake. Freeze about 20 minutes, or chill 1 to 2 hours until firm.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll to coat with granulated sugar, and set at least 2 inches apart on buttered baking sheets.

Bake cookies in a 350 degree oven until slightly darker brown on the bottom, about 10 minutes (if using 1 oven, switch pan positions after 5 min.).

Cool on pan about 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool. Serve, or store airtight.

These are really, really, really good...I've had to fend off both two-legged and four-legged cookie snatchers, and you probably will as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cookie Mania

I'm baking as fast as I can!

It seems that my cookie boxes last year made a big hit with the in-laws, so I'm busy reprising my success. I will include stand-bys like nutmeg-scented soft cutout sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, raspberry bars and Russian teacakes, but will also be including new discoveries like super-spicy gingersnaps that include white pepper, cardamom and dry mustard, and a chocolate-intensive recipe called Fudge Ecstacies whose batter, at least, lives up to the name.

I had started out with a formula for cookie types similar to a Whitman's sampler -- three fruit cookies, three spice cookies, three chocolate cookies, three nut cookies and the cutouts -- but this attempt at order and restraint fell apart right from the git-go. Do hermits fall under "fruit" or "spice"? Is walnut-studded Toll House cookie brittle a chocolate cookie or a nut cookie?

My new plan is to bake cookies basically until I run out of ingredients, and not be anal-retentive about making sure that each box has exactly the same mix of cookies in it.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves

A great story of Christians being Christ for one another despite Church, Inc.: Episcopal Order Takes in Evicted Roman Catholic Nuns .

Sleepers, Awake


Friday Five: Preparedness Edition

This week's Friday Five is all about being prepared:

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?
Good meds and my anti-anxiety exercises.

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?
Having grown up with parents who lived through the Depression and subsequently lived with residual angst about scarcity, I am used to having pantries and freezers filled to bursting with food...because you just never know what's going to happen. So unexpected guests would not be a problem at Cold Comfort Cottage. Pasta, stir-fry, soup, meat-and-taters -- you want it, I can whip it up.

Three discussion topics:

3. Thinking along the lines of this weeks advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of Advent preparations.....

I think Advent preparations themselves are neglected these days, even in liturgical churches. We just don't teach people the value of following the cycle of the Church seasons in corporate worship and in personal practice. I honestly don't think that most of the new folks in my congregation have any meaningful concept of Advent other than it's when we change the parament colors and light a wreath, even after sermons and prayers and worship narration attempting to explain it. But anyway -- I think that, among other things, we in the Church need to recover the idea of repentance as a proactive Godward turning instead of a cowering response to some wagging-fingered "Stop doing that!" directive from Religious Authority Figures. (Although I find my cynical self saying, "Yeah -- good luck with that.")

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....
I find myself "flowing" more smoothly this year -- again, partly due to medication that works, but also I think simply adjusting to a new phase in my life where I'm learning to roll with the changes.

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...
...unless you have just enough OCD to become preoccupied and downright mesmerized with the small things, to the point where you lose sight of the biggger picture.

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?
Giftwise, in great shape; pretty much done, in fact. Cookie-baking-wise, losing some ground but planning on surging ahead this weekend. Spirituality-wise, I've also lost some ground this week simply because it's been so darned busy around here, and because I am so disheartened by the increasingly Balkanized religious atmosphere in this country -- I'm starting to hope that the Premilennialists are right and the self-perceived Holy Folks suddenly get raptured away so the rest of us don't have to endure their political nattering and meddling anymore -- but am hoping to find quiet spaces in the days to come for reflection and attitude adjustment.

Freak Show

After several weeks of watching political candidates of both parties falling over one other in attempts to toady to conservative Evangelical voters, all I can say is...thanks to all you con-evs out there for making me want to become Canadian.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Continuing Education

I can't remember where I saw this meme, but it asks, "If you could enroll in six classes that you think would improve your life, what classes would they be?"

Now, I love continuing education, and I have a lot of things that I'd like to learn more about just for fun. But as far as classes to improve my life in more than a recreational way...well, here's my list:

1. Swimming class. Ironic, isn't it, that a lot of farm kids in the Water Winter Wonderland never learn to swim, at least in a formal class? Well, that's me. I want to learn both for safety's sake -- my partner getting me into canoes and kayaks and all, with only my Cabela's lifevest keeping me from sinking down to Davey Jones' Locker -- and for the exercise benefits of swimming. Somewhere. (Lack of access to actual indoor swimming pools is an issue here in the toolies, although a couple of local motels are getting into that game.)

2. Canoeing and kayaking class. I think, like driving, this is better taught by an impartial but supportive stranger than by a partner. I'm pretty sure FT agrees with me.

3. Driving class. As long as we're talking driving...I really hate most driving -- city driving, freeway driving, nightttime driving -- possibly because I was badly mentored as a teenager, by lackadaisical school instruction and by parents who also despised driving -- so I think I'm past the point of no return here. But maybe a class would help. Although I think both the instructor and myself would have to co-enroll in 4. Anxiety management class.

5. Spanish class. I'm really good at picking up languages, I can understand "Spanglish" pretty well already...and I think it's pretty smart this day and age to learn Spanish.

Extra credit: Algebra/calculus class. The benefit I'd derive from revisiting this neglected area of my education is purely psychological. I grew up at a time when girls were told, even by math teachers, that they were inherently inferior in math comprehension. And no matter how smart you may be -- you internalize this negativity. I know I did. So taking a refresher math course would, I think, give me a needed self-confidence boost, and also be a proactive, non-antisocial way of finally saying, "**** you!" to my eighth-grade math teacher and all the other nattering nabobs of negativity in my young life.


I can't help but feel a little glee over the recent Congressional investigation of financial misdeeds by televangelists.

When I think of all the real pastors I know -- you know, folks who actually preach the Gospel, administer the sacraments and provide pastoral care; pastors who drive cars held together with Bondo and bumper stickers, live in homes that do not feature marble commodes or gold-plated bathroom fixtures and live on the financial edge because they give back sacrificially to their parish and their community -- and when I think of all the real congrgations who conduct their financial dealings with standard-practice transparency and accountability -- all I can say to Senator Grassley is, "Go git 'em." And all I can say to people who support televangelists is, "Get a clue."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Cleaning House

Advent may be a time to clean house spiritually, but for me it's becoming a time to clean it literally -- to wit, tackling (with fear and trembling) the middle bedroom, otherwise known as the Alligator Room, of Cold Comfort Cottage.

This room is furnished with a most unlovely, and very cheap, late-60's-era bedroom set that holds neither monetary or sentimental value. My m.o. is to, each night that I can, empty one drawer of one dresser, sort through the stuff therein, and pitch both the junk and the drawer itself. (The ratio of junk versus salvage-worthy items being about 99 to one so far.)

So far I've found a ratty old set of cotton sheets that will nonetheless make great window-washing antique bone crochet hook and wooden darning egg of my grandmother's...some of my counted-cross-stitch samplers from a past needlework phase that are actually quite nice and that we're going to have professionally framed. (I've found myself having to resist the impulse to start this hobby up again: This is about simplifying your life, stupid.) And,of course, I've slogged through lots and lots of crap.

It's been an interesting exercise. If I can skeletonize the dressers and haul them out to the curb by the beginning of the new year, I'll feel as if I've accomplished something.

Take Me Home...Please

I survived another annual office holiday party.

Our organization isn't as doctrinaire about this event as the business where I used to work, which actually kept what amounted to "naughty" and "nice" lists of employees who did and didn't attend the company Christmas party each year -- but it still has that contractual-obligation feel about it. I know I couldn't help feeling cheated out of a real home-cooked dinner with my loved one, and out of time I could have spent on my Christmas cookie-baking. But I had pleasant company at my table, and was able to get through the evening, even the mind-numbingly tedious door-prize drawings.

Fellow Traveler, who'd offered to drop me off at the party venue, then pick me up after running some household errands, was sitting waiting for me in the parking lot, and reports chuckling at the rush of partygoers fleeing the scene all at once, like kids on the last day of school.

Oh, could have been worse.

There's No Place Like Home...

I have a new Advent wreath on the dining room table -- actually it's the old wreath, with a new candleholder I salvaged from a drugtore post-Easter closeout sale and repainted Advent gold -- I'll have to post the photo when we replace our camera battery.

Anyway, we lit it at the beginning of the week, after dinner; I quoted the passage in Romans about casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light, and we watched the flicker of candle flame for awhile.

I have always envied our Jewish sisters and brothers for their home-based spirituality; their rituals for remembering who they are. I wonder how we Christians diminish the experience of our own spirituality by so often confining our ritual practice to the interior of churches.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Putting On Shalom

We didn't get to church today -- a snow and ice storm struck our area over the night, and when we got up we found ourselves in a meteorological mess. This was too bad; not only because the First Sunday of Advent is a kind of new beginning, a New Year's Day of the liturgical year, not only because I'd been scheduled to be on deck assisting this morning; but because the day's lessons are so meaty and worth pondering in community.

This week I found especially resonant the line in Romans 13 about laying aside the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light -- a passage that I think can be read, incorrectly, as a waggy-fingered morality lecture, but speaks to a much broader picture of a life lived in honesty, integrity and wholeness.

Today I've been reading the current issue of The Lutheran . I'll be honest with you; I tend to bypass this magazine just because I am so sick of The ELCA Troubles and other churchy polity issues. But on a whim I visited the magazine website today, and was struck by the current issue's emphasis on shalom; on that concept of all-encompassing wholeness.

At our house we're becoming ever more serious about nurturing wholeness -- physical, emotional and spiritual. We've gone beyond the talking-about stage to actually setting goals and holding ourselves and one another accountable for working toward them. This isn't just about personal quests for better overall health and the positive outcomes that can have for us as individuals and as a household; it's also about wanting our partnership to be the best and healthiest it can be in looking and moving outward, on behalf of other people. We don't want to be stuck in the dark, so to speak, of habits and attitudes that keep us unwell, that keep us from experiencing shalom -- not only for our own sakes, but for others' as well.

I felt a "God" moment, reading the articles in The Lutheran in light of what we've been thinking and talking about and doing at our house. I think that God plants a longing for shalom in each of us; but we need to be periodically reminded that it's an active, not a passive, state of being. And isn't Advent an appropriate time to respond to that call to wholeness?