Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Food Fight

Yesterday on my food blog I shared a New York Times blog post offering a list of cheap, nutritious whole foods. I found it interesting that, in the comments section of the original blog, a reader glumly noted the advent of a backlash against healthy, whole foods.

Backlash? I thought. That's a strong word. I mean, Lord knows there's some self-cariacature in the foodie world -- rich folks who really have no genuine interest in home cooking, nutrition, sustainable agriculture or anything much beyond their own sense of entitlement and desire to trend-surf buying spendy "heritage" meats and poultry and organic produce mostly because they can -- but the people I know who are interested in healthy eating and supporting small family farms are persons of modest means; very often persons with family roots on the land.

When I think of my own family background, I remember stories of my maternal grandparents, who were forced out of Detroit during the Depression -- there was no work, and the family was literally going hungry -- and wound up sharecropping here in mid-Michigan. My grandpa was a very serious gardener, and my grandmother was an equally fastidious cook and canner. Because they had to be. Because the rest of the family depended on them to be. Likewise, on Dad's side of the family -- another tribe of farmers just getting by -- food was considered a precious resource because of my paternal grandparents' experiences in "the old country." Food quality was important to them, because to treat food otherwise was to disrespect it.

But it occurs to me that whatever "backlash" there will be against the current iteration of the slow-food/local food/healthy food movement will be orchestrated by the same folks who brought us Joe the Plumber and pitbull hockey moms -- in other words, manufactured class warfare as a tool of partisan politics. And a central assumption in this warfare seems to be that mindful living is a bad thing; that thinking and learning in general, and any lifestyle choices and changes that result from doing so, are suspect activities that smack of "elitism."

Well -- that's stupid. Which seems to be the point.

I guess we can only hope that wilful ignorance and mindlessness as personal and public virtues are headed in the "out" direction in 2009 along with bouffant hair and highwater pants.

Grown-Up Church

After two weeks of sickness, Christmas preparations and travel, I'm back in a blogging state of mind. I'll post some pictures too, of our holiday adventures, once I have a quiet evening to upload photos.

But in the meantime I wanted to share a conversation I had with our pastor Christmas Eve. Fellow Traveler and I, navigating the difficult weather that evening, wound up at church about 45 minutes before everyone else; when we stopped at the parsonage to drop off a present, our pastor and his wife invited us in for a glass of wine while they got ready to head next door.

We soon started talking church chat. And our pastor noted, wistfully, "I think next year it would be nice to, maybe once or twice a month, have grown-up church -- no pre-service singalong, no kiddie stuff, no "seeker-friendly" stuff; just some grown-up liturgy with some smells and bells. I really miss that."

Thank you, Jesus. I bet more people than the parties present that evening would be up for some grown-up church.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Hannukah!

There's something kind of kicky about decorating the Christmas tree to the sounds of Sirius' all-Hannukah-all-the-time holiday station.

It's Perfecting, Not Procrastinating

Just so you know...I'm still decorating the Christmas tree.

Only a Matter of Time

For all those appalled and dismayed by Pope Benedict's recent comments suggesting that humankind needs to be "saved" from gay folks...keep in mind that the Vatican tends to be a little slow catching up. Give it a few more hundred years, and maybe we'll be rehabilitated, just like Galileo .

And just for fun -- here's to you, Ben and the boys:

Friday, December 19, 2008

What I Hope I Don't Dream About Tonight...

Gordon Ramsay walking into the kitchen -- imagine the remains of Christmas baking, round one, plus the detritus of my two sick days and FT's emergency all-day episode with an elderly relative who wound up going to the hospital, all of which has kept us preoccupied this week -- and screaming, What the bloody HELL is this ****ing mess?!

It's going away tomorrow. Yeah, buddy.

"Imminent Arrival" Friday Five

This week's Friday Five is short and sweet:

So let's make this easy, if we can: Tell us five things you need to accomplish before Christmas Eve.

Yikes. I don't know how anything can be easy in the next week.

1. I need to get my head in the game. In addition to Christmas preparations I am also 1) dealing, emotionally and practically, with my elderly aunt in her final days; 2) negotiating with neighbors who are going to purchase Cold Comfort Cottage -- that should be a good thing these days, right? -- whose timetable is going way too fast for me, whom I want to tell to back off until after the holidays; 3)with any luck, getting away for a long Christmas weekend; and 4)coping with work, which is probably grist for a blog all by itself but won't be. There's not a lot of room in my inn, if you get my drift.

2. We need to get the house decorated. I know; not a "need." But we want to do it. Our energies have been so wrapped up, if you pardon the pun, in getting our Christmas packages off to our out-of-town kin that we just haven't had time to do any household Christmas prep ourselves. You know the financial planners' favorite slogan about "Pay yourself first"? We tend not to do this at our house when it comes to holidays; we're the caretakers of everyone else's holiday, sometimes. (Visions of our respective therapists sitting, chin in hand, saying, "And how does that make you feel?" "Yes, but -- the point of the holidays is giving." "And what do you give yourselves?" "Yes, but...") Anyway...we don't have the tree up yet; which makes my Germanic self happy but my Americanized self panicky. And we need to merge my Christmas swag, which necessitates a trip to the Cottage, which means dealing with the neighbors who practically have the moving van backed up to the door...oy veh.

3. I need to tie some final strings in regard to our congregation's adopted Christmas family. This has been a very enjoyable endeavor this year, and our people have come through with flying colors for not only one but two holidays on behalf of this household.

4. I need to purchase some little stocking stuffers...like, right away. And another impending blizzard on Christmas Eve adds to the time pressure.

5. I need to find White Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story on the weekend television schedule for Fellow Traveler, who is wanting to soak in some holiday spirit via film. I've already watched my obligatory annual A Charlie Brown Christmas, mouthing memorized dialogue as its being broadcast ("Isn't there anybody here who can tell me what Christmas is all about?" "Sure, Charlie Brown...")

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Naughty, Not Nice

What comes to mind when you hear the word "Advent"? I know -- slutty dolls that culture-benumbed parents give to their prematurely sexualized little girls.

Here is a picture of an actual Bratz Advent Calendar.

Strangely enough, though -- the liturgical colors are correct.

Cookie Mania

Good thing I finished the bulk of the Christmas baking before getting sick.

So far I've gone through over 5 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of butter and 1 pound of margarine; a half jar of peanut butter; a package of chocolate chips and a package of Hershey's Kisses; a pound and a half of nuts; a half-box of oatmeal; and a jar of Amish blueberry-rhubarb jam.

And the scary thing is...this is cutting back, for me. No sour cream cutouts; no chocolate pixies; no honey-and-mace drops; no walnut bars. I did try a new recipe, inspired by our local coffee shop -- I took the plain-Jane oatmeal cookie recipe from the bottom of the oatmeal box lid and added a cup of dried cranberries, a half-cup of chopped nuts and about a tablespoon of orange rind, with some extra orange juice squirted into the batter. You wind up with very tasty, portable cranberry bread, more or less; good stuff. The kitchen hit with my better half were gingersnaps -- this recipe has lots of spices in it, including black pepper and ground mustard. The dud of the year, and perhaps of my entire cookie-making career, was my modest attempt at spritz cookies -- cookies my mom used to make by the dozens when I was a little kid -- thwarted by an inadequate cookie-press apparatus (that's my story and I'm sticking to it) and, after I did finally manage to squirt out maybe three dozen little almond "S's," the tag team of Mollie the cat and Gertie the dog -- at least from the evidence retrieved the next morning, one party appeared to have batted the cookies off the dining room table while the other party ate them. And even after all that, the cookie I managed to taste didn't taste like the ones I remembered, even using the same recipe. Oh, well.

FT (with relatives plaintively asking her if my cookies were done yet) graciously offered to help me bake Russian tea cakes, the favorites of our extended family, so one day while I was at work she did all the hand-molding and baking and powdered-sugaring...I think for maybe six or seven dozen or so. When I got home she hugged me (this was pre-illness) and said, "I feel like a husband who undervalues his wife's housework until he has to do it. I will never, ever underestimate the work you put into the Christmas cookies ever again!" I didn't know she had; but, hey.


I've been home sick for two days now, with That Bug That's Going Around. Actually around here I'm told there are two bugs floating around simultaneously: the fevery/achy/sniffly/scratchy throat bug and the barfy, bathroomy stomach flu bug. Mine is the former.

While "enjoy" is not a word I'd use for a sick day, there is something to be said for a quiet day on the sofa under a blanket.

Sickness seems to be synonymous with Christmastime. I know that part of this is simply a function of more shoppers and travelers swapping germs in busy public places; but I wonder if there isn't also a psychological element to it -- if at some point, if one is feeling overwhelmed by holiday obligations and "to do" lists and multitasking, the body eventually protests, "No mas!" and allows itself to succumb to a handy URI, just to slow the world down for a few days.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


We went to my aunt's nursing home yesterday to be with her during the annual Christmas party.

We genuinely enjoy these parties; even though a lot of the residents don't seem terribly engaged in the proceedings, and even though some family members present look and act as if they're waiting for their own executions. The staff works hard to create a pleasant, positive atmosphere; and I think that celebrations like this are a bright spot in their workdays, too.

When we got there my aunt was in her wheelchair, ready to go; quieter than usual, but communicative. (When Fellow Traveler started singing spontaneous Christmas carols, filling in missing words with strategic humming, my aunt responded, "Don't sing if you don't know the words!" -- then grinned.)

About 10 minutes into the program proper, though, it was obvious that my aunt had had enough and wanted to go back to her room. Her snacks sat uneaten on her plate; the cup of coffee she'd asked for was tipping precariously in her thin white hand. When we asked if she felt unwell, she responded, "No -- I'm just tired." And the way she said that, said the word tired, implied something much more existential than just a desire for sleep.

We stopped in today after church and she was a little more chipper, but she hadn't eaten any of her lunch, not even her fruit juice, and at times she seemed to be in a different place.

We're pretty sure she's getting done whatever she still needs to do in order to leave. Because, as she said, she's just tired, and wants to go home.


At our church we are always reminding the little kids of the importance of their baptisms -- that when they were baptized they were marked with the cross of Christ forever. When they come up through the Communion line we retrace that cross, and bless them and thank them for being part of the Church.

Today at Bible study our pastor shared the following story: One of our little kiddos got into an altercation with another little girl in daycare, and the other girl clocked this one right in the forehead. The injured party went crying to her mother: "Mommy! She hit me in the cross!"

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Case of the Mystery Meat

We're pretty fastidious about marking freezer packages around here, so we were rather chagrined this morning, pulling out a half-gallon bag of frozen leftovers to toss in the crockpot for a hot weekend supper, to discover no label on the bag. We had no idea -- no idea -- what was inside. Except that it was orange, and lumpy.

We sniffed. No clue. We gingerly tasted icy flecks of whatever it was. Couldn't tell.

So in an act of faith we emptied the bag into the crockpot anyway, added a package of hamburger and a can of Progresso tomato bisque, and turned the thing on.

Several hours later, it smells pretty good. And we can now discern meatballs floating in the sauce. We added a splash of red wine and some herbs.

Ah, sweet mystery of life.

Our Advent Wreath

Here's this year's model of our Advent wreath. When I pulled my Advent stuff out of the Christmas chest at Cold Comfort Cottage earlier this month it was so musty and smooshed that I decided to begin at the beginning...and with updated liturgical colors. (The local Cheap Stuff From China Store and fabric store didn't have the exact ELCA regulation hue, but I did my best.)

Meanwhile...I love these Advent meditations from Creighton University. Enjoy!

It's History

Stepson #2, our Brooklyn boy, told his mom the other day that he thought he and I had a real bonding experience over the Thanksgiving holidays as we went exploring New York City. He said that he had no idea I was such a history bug, and that I gave him a great excuse to feed his own history jones; that otherwise he'd never take the time to visit the historical sites in the city by himself.

That's how it is with us history buffs. We're geeks. We know we're geeks. We have to be kind of circumspect about our passion for the past...you know, slipping cheesy romance-novel covers over Barbara Tuchman books; telling friends we're reading Twilight when we're really reading Bruce Catton's history of the Civil War; stuff like that.

Well...maybe it's not that bad. But still.

Anyway...I'm glad we had a bonding experience. (I'm still chuckling.) And if Stepson Number 2 has been very good this year, he may get a copy of Forgotten New York in his stocking.

Blue Christmas

I've been reading some interesting online meditations on Seasonal Affective Disorder. Beliefnet's depression blogger talked about Advent as a season that resonates with depressives. RevGalBlogPal Shawna Atteberry
shared some thoughts along the similar vein here .

I agree that depression's introspective eye can sometimes be even a beautiful thing. Last night, for instance, driving home in the dusk past dark silhouettes of trees and snow-covered farm fields, I was struck -- for just a second -- with a flash of momentary clarity that let me see how beautiful this place was, at this moment. I treasure those moments.

On the other hand...I was trying to describe what SAD feels like to someone not too long ago, and I used the analogy of waking up in the darkness of early morning, feeling comfort under the covers in this dark room -- and suddenly having a bare, glaring lightbulb shoved into my face, and the covers thrown back, and the radio turned on really, really loud...and having this sensation of shock and cold and noise and violation go on for the rest of the day, while my body and mind are crying out for a return to warmth and darkness and rest. That's what it feels like to be in a depressive episode, and what SAD can feel like on any given day.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Makin' Bakin'

The baking game is on -- on despite fatigue and funk and other tasks on the agenda.

So far I have made about five dozen oatmeal-cranberry cookies (inspired by a cookie I had at the local coffee shop) and a large pan of Toll House cookie brittle, which is basically flat shortbread studded with chocolate chips and nuts.

On the horizon: gingerbread (I'm trying a new, ueber-spicy recipe); a couple different jam bars; peanut butter blossoms; must-have sour cream sugar cookies. If I'm feeling perkier I might even try my hand at spritz cookies, which I haven't made in decades -- cute and fast.

This is all, by the way, for export only. We're pretty much over Christmas cookies at our house. Prime rib, on the other hand...

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

But wait -- they're in Amish dress!

That was my experience this evening on the way home from work.

There's an Amish-run bulk food store on the way home that I visit from time to time for baking supplies. Tonight as I entered the building I heard singing -- faint female voices singing a capella, in an unusual but pleasing harmony reminiscent of Southern shaped note singing.

Then the storeroom door opened and a young girl came out, humming. Behind her were about a half-dozen other teenage girls, singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." They smiled but quickly shut the door.

The Amish don't often share their singing talents with their English neighbors, so it was a real treat to hear them.

Friday Five: The Eyes Have It

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five is about the windows of the soul -- eyes.

1. What color are your beautiful eyes? Did you inherit them from or pass them on to anyone in your family?
I have brown eyes -- unlike my parents, who had hazel eyes, and unlike many other extended family members. My paternal grandmother had brown eyes, though; and her particular branch of the family tends toward dark Slavic features, including almond-shaped brown eyes, hinting at places in Eastern Europe where Asian DNA became part of the local blend. Any geneticists reading this -- have at it.

2. What color eyes would you choose if you could change them?
Oh, I like my eyes just the way they are, thanks.

3. Do you wear glasses or contacts? What kind? Like 'em or hate 'em?
I wear geeky black-framed reading glasses. I like them. I like them so much that I'm constantly losing them.

4. Ever had, or contemplated, laser surgery? Happy with the results?
My mother had cataract surgery. The surgery itself was a pretty slick procedure, but Mom wasn't entirely happy with the result in one of her eyes. I think I'd have to be looking at (pardon the pun)a cataract or some similarly serious impediment to sight to let surgeons go poking around my eyeball.

5. Do you like to look people in the eye, or are you more eye-shy?
I am generally eye-shy. Ironically, this goes away when I'm mad. So if you see me glaring at you eyeball to eyeball, watch out!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Big Lump of It in Their Stockings

I know that times are tough all over, and corporations are whoring themselves out like the hooker I saw plying her trade in the parking structure down the street from our hotel the other week. But this beats all:

Check out, if you dare, the delightful holiday video streaming on the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) website and elsewhere online, and spotlighted on The Rachel Maddow Show tonight.

If the idea of cynical ad-agency types coming up with the concept of Christmas-caroling lumps of coal doesn't evoke your gag reflex, the sacreligious reworkings of "Silent Night" and "Adeste Fideles" might send you fleeing to the nearest throw-up pot.

As a bemused Rachel observed, "Where are the 'War on Christmas' people when you really need them?"

On a brighter note, though -- there's a "Contact Us" link on the ACCCE website. So you can.

Mad Men

It hasn't been a good month, PR-wise, for corporations.

First we see Big Three execs flying private jets to DC en route to their hat-in-hand Congressional hearings. And now we have Burger King defending an ad campaign that combines cultural insensitivity, insensitivity to hunger issues and all-around dumbnitude. (You've got to love the Burger King exec's reference to "reverence" in the video below. Let's get serious; who the **** is he kidding?)

If the ad agency that created this campaign is also responsible for that scary-ass plastic-face Burger King, I'd recommend that the Burger King brass hire someone else; and maybe call the Intervention folks to confront their current ad men/women about whatever substances they're obviously abusing during their creative strategizing meetings. But you can draw your own conclusions:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Mr. Bean's Christmas

I thought of making this our church website's "YouTube Pick of the Month," but thought the better of it:

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Small-Town Ugly

Tragedy struck our greater community while we were out of state: A little Amish girl was run over and killed on her way home from school, in whiteout conditions, by a driver who'd become disoriented and pulled onto the shoulder to wait out the windstorm.

What should be happening is an outpouring of sympathy for everyone involved -- for the child and her family and for the driver as well. I don't think any of us who live in the Upper Midwest can hear a story like this and not see ourselves in similar driving conditions, becoming involved in a similar accident.

What's going on instead is the blame game -- focused on the Amish community. Although the Amish have, I understand, been in regular contact with the driver involved, offering forgiveness and comfort through what must be a horrible time, I've heard grumbling around the local cracker barrel about "Oh, yeah -- those people talk a good game about forgiveness, but I heard that they'll just sue them in civil court." I've heard non-Amish citizens blame the children walking home from school for not walking against traffic: "Why were those kids over on that side of the road anyway?" (Maybe because little Amish children have the same degree of critical thinking skills as "English" children the same age?) Today I heard a store clerk speak approvingly about a town cop coming down hard on an Amish woman whose buggy horse had defecated at its hitching post in the large parking lot next to the store -- something not at all uncommon in an area with a large Amish population -- warning her that he was going to keep driving past that spot in the parking lot for the rest of the day, and if the mess wasn't cleaned up by then he was going to write her a ticket.

We don't have a lot of visible minority groups in our area. You kind of have to work at finding someone "different" enough to pick on. So, especially in anxious times, the Amish are a handy target.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Black and White and Read All Over

Today as I ate lunch at a local Subway -- uncomfortable because I had no newspaper at hand, as is my wont when eating alone -- I remembered a remarkable thing I'd noticed during my trip to New York: Everybody reads.

I've never been in such a literate city. Everyone, of all social classes, seemed to carry newspapers or books of one kind or other. We spent Thanksgiving morning not only watching the parade on TV, but passing sections of the Times and Post back and forth, and collectively working the crosswords.

It made me kind of giddy, all that reading in public.

I'm sure the pedestrian/mass-transit nature of travel in Gotham is one reason that the printed word seems to retain a healthy respect. But I wonder if there's also a different appreciation of information dissemination in general that we don't share in Greater Outer Podunk. If any students of rural sociology are reading this, here's some grist for study.

A Seasonally Hopeful Friday Five

Here's this week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five in its entirety:

"Imagine a complex, multi-cultural society that annually holds an elaborate winter festival, one that lasts not simply a few days, but several weeks. This great festival celebrates the birth of the Lord and Saviour of the world, the prince of peace, a man who is divine. People mark the festival with great abundance- feasting, drinking and gift giving....." (Richard Horsley- The Liberation of Christmas)

The passage goes on, recounting the decorations that are hung, and the songs and dances that accompany the festival, how the economy booms and philanthropic acts abound....

But this is not Christmas- this is a Roman festival in celebration of the Emperor....This is the world that Jesus was born into! The world where the early Christians would ask "Who is your Saviour, the Emperor or Christ?"

And yet our shops and stores and often our lives are caught up in a world that looks very much like the one of ancient Rome, where we worship at the shrine of consumerism....

Advent on the other hand calls us into the darkness, a time of quiet preparation, a time of waiting, and re-discovering the wonder of the knowledge that God is with us. Advent's call is to simplicity and not abundance, a time when we wait for glorious light of God to come again...

Christ is with us at this time of Advent, in the darkness, and Christ is coming with his light- not the light of the shopping centre, but the light of love and truth and beauty.

What do you long for this Advent? What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What is your prayer today? In the vein of simplicity I ask you to list five Advent longings....

1. I long for a job that has meaning for me and for other people...that isn't just a paycheck...that enhances my quality of life and relationships instead of acting as a drag on them.

2. I long for inner quiet; the ability to be centered and still even in the midst of doing what I have to do on any given day.

3. I long for knowledge. This has been something of a revelation in the past few weeks, frankly I think because of the elevation of ignorance as a virtue in certain political circles popular in this part of the country. That attitude makes me want to go back and revisit the classics of philosophy and literature; reread the Church Fathers; be and do exactly the opposite of a certain political party's core constituency. Who knew that being intelligent, well-read and well-rounded were radical, countercultural values? Fight the power!

4. I long for a kind of personal metanoia in terms of seeing life as a glass half-full instead of half-empty. I understand that optimism/confidence and negativity/anxiety are personality traits that have a significant genetic component, as well as an environmental component that tends to become established early in life...but perhaps it's not too late to teach this old dog a new emotional trick or two.

5. I long for simplicity of space. Again, I realize that this is working against my natural grain as a right-brained, absent-minded, disorganized clutterbug who has great difficulty navigating in the spatial world. But I am so eager to shed the superfluous stuff in my life. The other day, as I tried to move some debris out of the passenger side of my car, and kept finding items I didn't know I'd lost, or had no memory of putting where I'd put them, I almost started to cry in frustration. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not a little ADD/AHD. White, minimalist rooms...Zen gardens...lots of emptiness. That's what's calling to me right now, in the place where I live and move and have my being.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Another Great Advent Calendar!

This calendar is wonderful.

Booyah Humbug

The Christmas season is becoming ever more understated at the office. Between the dismal economy and a looming restructuring here (one of the counties of our two-county agency service area wants to break off and go it alone, putting the job status of half the staff in jeopardy), spirits are not particularly happy and bright. An attempt by one of my more studiously cheerful coworkers to pull together an office decorating party after work tonight was unsuccessful. The agency Christmas party was cancelled due to a combination of expense, public perception and a precipitous drop in staff participation over the years. We're still having our traditional office potluck the day before we depart for the holiday weekend, but a kibosh has been put on office gift exchanges.

To all of which I say: Thank God. It's such a relief to be spared the distraction and expense and pretense of enforced workplace Christmas spirit.

Facing Off and Twittering

Fellow Traveler and I finally took the Facebook plunge, with our own separate pages, a couple of weeks ago at the behest of a couple of our offline friends. It's proving to be a very interesting social networking experience. We've both met friendly alumni from our respective high schools (my class valedictorian/Big Man on Campus at Outer Podunk High is now a big-city Buddhist with a delightfully serene avatar). And, contrary to recent op-ed pieces bemoaning the likeminded social bubbles in which we seem to be increasingly isolating ourselves, I find I'm developing a pretty diverse friends list. I can scarcely imagine going back to BI -- before Internet -- and living here in Outer Podunk, and not wanting to throw myself under the nearest tractor, or mud-bog pickup, out of sheer loneliness.

I can see where, in our busy lives, Facebook and its newer cousin Twitter are usurping the popularity of the blogosphere. Sometimes my infrequency in blogging is due to the sheer mental effort needed to craft a mini-essay I feel worthy of posting here for all posterity. The immediate, shout-out, "Yo, what up?" quality of Facebook makes it much more accessible during the course of the day.

An Advent Calendar For Grownups

Check this out. Cool. The entire website is most bookmark-able.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


As I noted on my Facebook page a few days ago, I feel most un-Adventy this year -- even after reading an essay by an Orthodox priest suggesting that Advent is a good time for depressives to enter into their feelings of sadness and emptiness, mourn their losses, gain some perspective through charity and service, and otherwise prepare themselves for the joy of Christmas.

That sounds very reasonable and therapeutic.

Meanwhile, I started assembling my Advent wreath (late, because of our trip) only to discover that half of it is still in my Christmas chest at Cold Comfort Cottage. I searched Pandora for Advent music, to no avail (although no real surprise there). Fellow Traveler is nursing an extremely painful eyeball that we think may be some kind of sty-ish/low-resistance infection thing, that is giving her a kind of Popeye appearance as she squints into the light. (She is now a partner in discomfort with Semi-Son-in-Law, who came down with shingles in one eye last month and spent the Thanksgiving holiday involuntarily accessorizing with a black eye patch; he tried to maintain a glass-half-full attitude by noting that his eccentric-possibly-insane-director appearance seemed to give him more professional gravitas wrangling Macy's parade entertainers.) My job appears to be starting the swirl down the drain of insufficient public funding and organizational regime change. And then there's...well...the news.

I'm waiting fot the "Wake, Awake, For Night is Flying" to kick in.

Another Reason Why I Hate Housework

A hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for this interesting article explaining how disorder attracts disorder. Except now it's making me even more anxious and neurotic about my own lack of organizational ability.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Random Impressions of a Hick in the City

Ah...home again, home again.

The house is redolent with the aromas of pot roast and warm bread. We are curled up in the living room in our comfy clothes, our pets at our feet. (Well, actually Molly is on her favorite perch atop the satellite box, while the dogs are out frolicking in pre-blizzard snow.)

There's no place like home.

There's also no place like New York City, for a visit. Here are some random thoughts gleaned from the past week.

Smells like NYC: I had been forewarned that the city had an odor all its own. And it does -- burning rubber and bus exhaust, with occasional whiffs of sewer gas. But it wasn't nearly as objectionable as I had been led to believe. Although it was with some relief that, emerging from the plane in Chicago for a layover on the way home, the smell had finally left my nostrils.

Let's get small: I don't think that we in rural America truly appreciate the spaciousness of our homes and yards and landscapes. In the city, I felt constantly hemmed in -- by other people's bodies; by our tiny hotel room; by tall buildings. Semi-Daughter-in-Law, a successful professional, lives in a studio apartment not much larger than a dorm suite. I'd been attributing the relative slenderness of New Yorkers to vanity and the forced exercise of walking everywhere, but I think lack of space is a real incentive to slimness.

Rude New Yorkers: I have to say that the vast majority of people we encountered defied the stereotype. Most of the sane people, and even most of the crazy ones, were friendly and polite, and even took the initiative to be helpful. The worst behaviors we encountered involved mothers who used their baby strollers as offensive weaponry, especially at the Macy's balloon-blowup extravanza next to Central Park Wednesday evening.

Crazy New Yorkers: I'm sure that the greater city is teeming with bag people, but they seemed to be few and far between in our travels; just a couple of truly sad looking babushkaed old ladies. One exception was a large woman aggressively panhandling outside the Staten Island Ferry building Friday evening. She was just studied enough, and just scary enough, to put the normally empathetic threesome of Fellow Traveler, Son #2 and myself into don't-make-eye-contact mode as we hurried past. She yelled after us. "Hey! Whattsamatta wid youse? I bet youse had a Thanksgiving turkey! Nonna youse look like you missed a meal lately, motherfuckers!" When I looked back she was engaging with a couple of Asian tourists who were handing her money; their expressions were less of pity than of an audience taking in an interesting sidewalk performance piece. Son #2 related how he used to save half his restaurant lunch once a week to share with a man who begged on the sidewalk outside the establishment. One day while Son #2 was handing over his takeout box, filled with most of a roasted chicken and sides, the street person erupted, "When the hell you gonna bring me some decent silverware and napkins?"

More amusing was Fellow Traveler's encounter with a stranger as we were stopped at a bank ATM in the financial district, on our way to the new American Museum of Sports -- we're not sure if this woman was crazy or just deeply moved. "Can you believe how the teachers' union screwed us over?" she asked FT as we emerged from the bank lobby. "I saw you at the meeting. You heard 'em too." Not missing a beat, FT responded, "I know. It's just terrible. But whatcha gonna do." The woman, encouraged, continued. "I'm gonna take my pension money all out and roll it over." "That's right," said FT. "You may as well hide it under the mattress." "Yeah. That's what I'm gonna do. I can't believe how the union sold us out." This conversation continued for a full minute, and even when we finally broke away the unhappy teacher was still cursing the sellout union bargaining team to anyone within earshot.

Taxi drivers: Our taxi and car service drivers were the best. Our favorite was a cabbie from Senegal; after we got into the taxi Fellow Traveler quipped that we were tourists hoping to get into the Cash Cab, to which the driver grinned and said, "I can play Cash Cab! I ask you a question, then you ask me a question!" So we did this for several miles. Whenever one of us got a correct answer we flashed the taxi light.

Crime: We did not allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear of crime. And we're pretty street savvy -- especially Fellow Traveler, who in addition to her military experience has also worked in some of the more badass neighborhoods of Detroit. I'm not going to say that riding the subway home from Brooklyn at 11:30 on a Friday night with a gaggle of gang members sporting their colors wasn't a somewhat, um, anxiety-provoking experience, even with the buffer of other passengers. But during the week I was actually more worried about Islamic terrorists. I felt vulnerable in places like Grand Central Station -- even with all the heightened holiday security present. My crude but nonetheless effective mantra in all the crowded public areas of the city: Don't be afraid and let the bastards win.

Losin' my religion: It would be very easy to become irreligious in New York City. Oh, there are oases of spirituality -- I actually found St. Malachy's, across from our hotel, to be a welcome haven of quiet piety in the middle of Times Square noise and bling, and I was also amazed at how quiet and peaceful Central Park could be just a block away from the street -- but I had a very Lutherish experience at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which looked and felt like a gaudy circus of irreverant tourists, omnipresent institutional entreaties for money and a general lack of Christocentric focus. The terrorist seige in Mumbai, and the transit terror threat this week, have made me rather ill-disposed toward religious zealots of any kind, even the relatively benign group we saw in Grand Central Station urging passers-by to repent or else. Just shut up and leave us the **** alone, you freaks, I thought grumpily, mentally conflating their cautionary placards with TV footage of wild-eyed Islamist militants and screaming mullahs, and politically ambitious LDS homophobes and our own Bible-banging Outer Podunkian sidewalk irritants, and cross-waving backwoods white supremacists. On the other hand, I was witness to many random acts of kindness on the streets of New York that, as far as the eye could tell, had nothing to do with religion at all, except maybe per the prophets' generous and non-sectarian definition. Some days Buddhism looks awfully attractive.

My surprising favorite semi-fancy eatin' place: Fraunces Tavern, somewhat kitty-corner from Battery Park. I just loved this place. So did George Washington, evidently -- it's where he took his posse for drinks after his inaugural address. It has character. It's not that expensive. And it's fun; like Cheers with a more impressive pedigree. We also enjoyed ourselves muchly at Ruby Foo's, right down the street from our hotel, where we enjoyed our one fancy-dress-up meal with Son #2 and Semi-Daughter-in-Law; we had an absolutely delicious meal there, and also amused ourselves people-watching. Ditto our mornings at the Food Emporium, on the corner of our block; imagine a mini Whole Foods crossed with a specialty grocery crossed with a cafeteria. Every morning we'd get our bagels with schmeer, and fruit and coffee, situate ourselves at the streetside bar and just watch the pedestrians. This is much more interesting and entertaining than the current television season.

Law enforcement:I can now say that I was scolded by a New York City police officer -- not once, but twice; both on Wednesday night as our party struggled to maneuver through the madness surrounding the Macy's parade preparations and find Son #1 and his partner, who were working there. The first time I was simply trying to keep within sight of Fellow Traveler as we both straggled behind our younger and more agile extended family members, getting jostled by aggressive parents and rammed by strollers. "Slow down!" commanded an irritated officer. Later, when we found our way to Son #1 and Semi-Son-in-Law blocked, we tried to walk against the foot traffic and take a shortcut through a corner of Central Park. I somehow found myself at the front of the pack, where I was confronted by a young officer straight from Central Casting. "Yer goin' the wrong way," he informed me. At this point Semi-Daughter-in-Law -- a Brooklynite transplanted from Fellow Traveler's old stomping grounds in Ypsi/Ann Arbor, a young woman of elfin size and appearance -- stepped up beside me and began back-sassing the cop in true New Yorker fashion: "Well, the other officer over there told us we couldn't cross that street." "Well, you can't cross this street either." "Those people are walking up the sidewalk from somewhere. If they can't be on that street, then where did they come from?" "But you can't walk there." "Look -- there's people in the park. How'd they get in the park if you can't go across the street? Let us cross the street and go into the park." After several minutes of tough in-your-face negotiations, the worn-down officer, rolling his eyes heavenward and muttering, "Why do you people make my job more difficult?" shrugged and said, "Okay. You people can cross the street. Just don't move my barricade." We never did make it to our kids' workplace. Although I can now say I've walked through (a very tiny corner of) Central Park at night and survived. Fellow Traveler's very understated comment of the evening: "This has stopped being fun."

Coolest places: I enjoyed our museum trips. I loved the New York Historical Museum, which I think is somewhat undervisited and underappreciated. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was fantastic, even though the crowds were unbelievable, and even though we only had time to sample about a half-dozen exhibits. I'm not the biggest sports aficionado in the world, but I have to say that the new Sports Museum of America is very well done, and the exhibits and interactive features hold the interest of even a fairly sports-indifferent person like me. I especially appreciated the matter-of-fact gender equity of the exhibits, and the aesthetics of each room. I also enjoyed our trip to the United Nations, even though the idealism, like the building aesthetic and artwork, seems sadly dated; stuck in the 1960's. I found myself being guided through the tour, hearing all the rhetoric about international cooperation and aid, thinking, "I want to believe," but not really believing; I felt like an atheist sitting in church at Easter.

And -- count me among the easily amused -- I very much enjoyed the subway mosaics in the cleaner, more tourist-friendly subway stations.

Most overrated places I visited: I hate to say this, but -- after my first evening wandering around Broadway, I was pretty much over the showbiz and retail bling-bling. Shopping failed to impress -- other than the street vendors' cheap pashmina scarves I had no interest in any other wares the city had to offer. I also hate to say it, but I was less than impressed by Son #1 and Semi-Son-in-Law's favorite local eatery, a little hole-in-the-wall at the edge of the Village called Say Cheese that specializes in...toasted cheese sandwiches. I mean -- it's toasted cheese. We have toasted cheese sandwiches in Outer Podunk. I was far more intrigued by the tiny Indonesian satay place next door. Fellow Traveler's and my goal to eat boldly was pretty much thwarted both by our frenetic schedule and by our chaparones' preferences.

Where I'd go on my next New York vacation: We think we'd like to do more exploring in the Village -- we simply didn't have time last week. I might like to go to Ellis Island, if only as a small homage to my forebears. I'd like to visit more of old New York, whether the remnants of its colonial past or the vintage restaurants like Morton's in Times Square. We want to go to the Museum of Natural History, another destination that we simply didn't have time to visit. We'd like to go to a show someday when the plays and musicals are interesting and innovative again. (Ironically, even though we were literally surrounded by theaters, nothing playing there registered at all on our entertainment meters; the revivals were all "Been there done that"; ditto the Hollywood-to-Broadway stuff -- I mean, they're doing a Shrek musical, for God's sake.)

Well, that's what we did, what we didn't do and what we might one day do on our New York vacation. It was fun. But we're glad we're home. And reality truly sets in tomorrow.

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

We're still trying to compile our collective photos. Meanwhile, this is just a sampling of my off-the-cuff cellphone pix:
"They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway..."
The Mayfair Hotel, our home away from home

Central Park
Constitution Hall (I don't know who the guy is next to the Washington statue -- hey, dude, you're on the Internet now!)
Christmas tree atop the Radio City Music Hall marquee
The naturalistic tree-trunk chandelier in the Grand Central Station market
Organ in St. Patrick's Cathedral
Kermit the Frog, Thanksgiving Day eve
The Lady in the Harbor, taken in Battery Park at dusk
"It's Christmastime in the city..."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Off to the Fiesta

After a day of serious tourism that began with the United Nations and through Rockafeller Plaza and ended with the Macy's balloon blowup extravaganza next to Central Park -- and our walking what seemed like miles in between subway rides -- we went to bed early (like, 7:00 p.m. -- I don't think the kids really understand how middle-aged we are), we are off to breakfast and then our Thanksgiving Mexicana in Brooklyn.

I don't have a lot to talk about...just scores of moving images in my head. Maybe later.

Time for coffee.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Greetings From the Big Apple

This was our evening last night -- just wandering around the general neighborhood of our hotel and taking in the sights and sounds (and occasionally smells) of New York City.

We are esconced at the vintage Mayfair Hotel, in the theater district. I've been describing it as an urban version of Fawlty Towers -- charmingly eccentric, with a friendly staff that truly seems to like one another and to enjoy working here. The rooms are tiny, about the size of a dorm single for a double occupancy, but are clean and tidy, with cheery toile furnishings. It's not the sort of hotel for people looking for Holiday Inn conformity. It's quirky. Like us. We like it.

We are right across the street from St. Malachy's, the "Actors' Chapel" beloved of numerous celebrities over the years, and kitty-corner from The Food Emporium, a kind of mid-town Whole Foodsy place where we just had breakfast. We are about a block down the street from Ruby Foo's, a funky Asian restaurant where we had a meet-up with Son #2 and Semi-Daughter-in-Law last night. The food was outstanding, and not at all expensive. One of the things we're finding interesting is that, while transportation and lodging costs are certainly higher here, the price of a decent meal out really isn't, if you know where to go.

Today we are meeting up with Son #2 on this drizzly day for lunch and some museum hopping. The Kids are falling over one another trying to squire us around, even though we are fine just poking around ourselves, so we've pretty much let them develop our itinerary. ("I like to think it's a damned fine itinerary," notes Semi-Daughter-in-Law.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why We Need To Get Out of Outer Podunk

Fellow Traveler visited the local UPS store yesterday to mail our homemade salsa and our household stash of Dona Maria mole' to Semi-Daughter-in-Law in Brooklyn for our Thanksgiving Day feast.

The store owner picked up a jar of mole' and examined it critically. "What's this 'mole' stuff?" she asked, with some disapproval. "Why would you want to eat that? Is it, like, gravy for rats? Because when I think 'mole' I think rats and mice."

FT attempted humor: "Well, we are sending it to New York -- lots of rats there."

UPS Woman didn't get it.

So FT patiently explained what mole' was.

"Well, why would you be sending that?"

FT patiently explained our Thanksgiving dinner plans.

"Why don't you just have turkey for Thanksgiving, like Sarah Palin? Wasn't that a cute video of her pardoning the turkey? You know, people just don't give Sarah a chance." (Actual quote.)

FT, after squelching the urge to vomit all over the counter, patiently explained that, first of all, everyone in our extended family likes Mexican food, and that, secondly, when feeding a bunch of people in a borrowed galley kitchen without several days' preparation, Mexican food is a lot easier to cook and assemble.

"Well, we had a Mexican at our house once, and he ate American food." (Actual quote.)

The woman went on to express her general distaste for Mexican food. "It's all the same. That's why that Mexican restaurant down the street went out of business. No one here likes Mexican food."

FT patiently explained that Mexican cuisine is actually very regionally diverse; and that the restaurant down the street closed, not because the food was Mexican but because the food was bad, and overpriced.

Did I mention that FT was here simply to mail a package?

UPS Woman redirected her attention to our homemade salsa. "What's that?"

"It's homemade salsa."

"Well, it doesn't look like [local supermarket chain's] salsa." (Actual quote.)

This went on for several more minutes, before FT's inquisitor finally finished packaging and processing our package.

This is the kind of interrogation I go through every day that I bring my own lunch to work ("Oooh...what's that?" "Um -- curry." "Eeeeuw...I don't think I'd like that...") It's why we need to get out of Outer Podunk -- this week definitely, but eventually forever. It's not just the ignorance, but the wilful, arrogant embrace of ignorant, small-minded hickdom around here, that drives us both fruitbat crazy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Baby, It's Cold Outside

We're having quite the early cold snap here in mid-Michigan...snow squalls, sharp winds, icy roads.

Here's a possible reason: Hell has frozen over.

To wit: Bob Jones University Apologizes For Racism.

"Mix and Stir" Friday Five

It sounds like at least one RevGal/Pal is headed for the kitchen this coming week of Thanksgiving. So we are talking...kitchen appliances.

1) Do you have a food processor? Can you recommend it? Which is to say, do you actually use it?
I do have a food processor. It is at least 10 years old. I think it's a Hamilton Beach -- not the cheapest but not the fanciest by far. As to whether I actually use it...probably once a year. Although one year I got a bee in my bonnet about grinding my own ground round and pulled it out of its cupboard lair a few times for that purpose. My big issue with this thing is the lid, which requires a graduate engineering degree to get on and off. By the time I've figured out either action, I could have chopped my food by hand.

2) And if so, do you use the fancy things on it? (Mine came with a mini-blender (used a lot and long ago broken) and these scary disks you used to julienne things (used once).)
I do have a disk capable of slicing or julienning. It's lethal -- not only the specialty blades, but the sharp edges of the disk. I've drawn blood numerous times, which is another reason my food processor tends to stay in a dark recess of the cupboard, gathering dust.

3) Do you use a standing mixer? Or one of the hand-held varieties?
I have a mondo cheapo plastic handheld which I very rarely use. My mother, by contrast, had a wonderful, sturdy stainless steel standing mixer that she got for her wedding, which was a good and faithful kitchen servant for about 40 years before the engine finally went kaput. I used to be the family (box)cake maker, so I got out that mixer at least once a week for that task during my 'tween and teen years; on special occasions I also made my mother's very delicious cooked icing, which started out as kind of a roux in a saucepan, then wound up getting whipped into fluffy, caloric goodness. (Where is that recipe, come to think of it?) I am also old enough to remember Whip-n-Chill and Jello 1-2-3 dessert -- it magically made three layers right in the serving dishes -- and used to get a kick making that.

4) How about a blender? Do you have one? Use it much?
We just bought a blender. We've not done much with it; used it for smoothies a couple of times.

5) Finally, what old-fashioned, non-electric kitchen tool do you enjoy using the most?
Hmmm...it's got to be my vintage potato masher. No, I don't whip potatoes with a mixer; please.

Bonus: Is there a kitchen appliance or utensil you ONLY use at Thanksgiving or some other holiday? If so, what is it?

Another legacy kitchen utensil of mine is a 50's-era nut chopper with a spring-loaded top and heavy glass bottom. It works like a charm, and I wouldn't trade it for anything, especially making nut-intensive cookies like Russian tea cakes. That device pretty much only comes out for the Christmas baking season.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Eye of Sauron

I think it's a warning sign that you're ready for a new job when you walk into work every day feeling as if the Eye of Sauron is ready to fall on you; when you want to get really, really small so that you escape its notice.

Crashing and Burning

Here in Michigan, on TV, it's all about the proposed Big Three bailout, or lack thereof. The story dominates the local television affiliates; car dealers have stepped up ads urging viewers to "Buy American" and "Stop Sending Jobs to China." Here in the northwoods, where well-heeled union retirees have helped support the local economy for years, and where a good portion of the businesses that populate modest small-town industrial parks are suppliers to the auto industry, the news is especially grim.

So it's hard for me to say this. But I want to say it.

It's about time. It's about time that this bloated, unsustainable, increasingly obsolete and arrogant system crashes and burns.

Don't get me wrong. The auto industry has been good to my extended family. My uncles -- farm boys with a minimal education and few career prospects -- enjoyed an incredible standard of living thanks to the Big Three. The auto industry has been good to education and the arts in Michigan. Union members have been generous with money and time donated to good causes in this part of the state.

But the auto industry has been an industrial bully in this country for decades -- squelching development of a comprehensive public transit system; killing passenger rail travel; fighting environmental legislation; going so far as to sabotage their own alternative-fuel vehicle programs in an effort to maintain their status quo. The auto execs' infamous $20,000 private jet trips to D.C. this week is just the latest example of the Big Three's arrogance and cluelessness.

And the corporate greed of the automobile companies has only been matched by that of autoworkers. For years not only autoworkers but autoworker retirees have made more money than either blue-collar workers or many white-collar professionals in this part of the state. It wasn't a tenable system; and the union leadership's "Yeah, but look at how greedy management is" response is just so much schoolyard I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I posturing by equally irresponsible people.

This is just a big, unholy mess. And I don't see how bailing the players out for another few months, until the next financial crisis in Detroit, is going to de-mess the situation.

I feel sorry for retirees in danger of losing pensions and benefits. I feel sorry for the employees of the little non-union shops up here in rural Michigan and elsewhere.

But not sorry enough to support a bailout. In a world of "change or die," the Big Three, as well as their union employees, have refused to change.

Join the Advent Conspiracy

Hat tip to RevGalBlogPal Lorna for this:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"A" is For Anarchist...

...and "A" is also for "asshole":

Gay Anarchist Group Crashes Worship Service

When I lived in East Lansing, Mt. Hope Church was the sort of church very into demonology and "deliverance ministry" -- looking for Satan under every rock and behind every curtain. So the geniuses behind this bit of guerilla theater happened to pick not only a homophobic church, but a generally paranoid, everyone's-against-us church, for their action. Way to go, kids.

Here's a thought: Perhaps the fight for marriage equity needs to be fought by persons with the maturity to take it seriously, instead of long-term adolescents with oppositional behavior issues.

Just What I Need...More Time Online!

I signed up for Facebook, under my real name.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Family Matters

I'm dealing with some sad news right now.

My aunt M, who has lived in the local nursing home for many years, has been diagnosed with a dilated bowel. This is a life-threatening condition, and without surgical intervention the prognosis is pretty grim. On the other hand, intestinal surgery on a frail, bedbound elder doesn't have a very promising best outcome either. And my aunt -- always independent -- has made it quite clear that she wants no surgery or other heroic life-saving measures.

When we visited her yesterday, she was pale and quiet, curled up in her bed like a sick little bird. When she talked to me she looked past me in that way that those of us with sickbed experience find ominous; the thousand-mile stare. I mentally contrasted that picture with the aunt I remember from my childhood, a robust farm woman slinging hay bales onto a wagon and walking the perimeter of her property with me every day.

I visited her this morning during lunch. I had steeled myself for whatever I might encounter there today -- and found her in the cafeteria with her lunchmates, sipping coffee, looking fine, in a cheerful mood.

She may be well for a day, or two weeks, or a month or more. I may get "the call" tonight. It's one of those things.

Because I'm Aunt M's guardian, and because I've been through more than one health scare with her before, I've rehearsed funeral arrangements in my mind countless times. My mother's family has dwindled to almost no one, just a few octogenarian second cousins downstate, so when the time comes it's going to be pretty much just a few old family friends, Fellow Traveler, our pastor and me, at the funeral home. I'm pretty sure of the "what" and the "how"; it's the "when" that's unnerving.

Pray for us.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Food Snobbery Cuts Both Ways

Today I was reading a critique of locovorious grocery shopping -- the idea that it's more environmentally sound, as well as healthier, to eat locally grown, seasonal foods. The argument was that transportation costs associated with food are not all that significant in the grand scheme of things; and that it's often more cost- and resource-effective to import food from other places.

To which I respond...well, duh.

Most people I know who support local/sustainable agriculture understand this. And most other locovores I know -- all of them, in fact -- do not have a knee-jerk aversion to either "foreign" or mass-produced/marketed food per se. Our chicken chili today may have locally grown beans in it, but it also contains regular supermarket chicken thighs, tomatillo salsa from Mexico, a bottle of Molson's from our neighbor to the north and seasonings with variously exotic origins. We're eating it with brand-name fat-free sour cream.

Got a problem with that? I don't.

Locovorious/wholefoods/organic foodies are often labeled as elitists who are trying to deprive ordinary working folks of inexpensive mass-market food. Hey -- wait a minute. I'm an ordinary working folk. I make less money at my full-time public sector job than a teacher or a secretary or any number of other jobs. I drive a seven-year-old car.

Nonetheless, I care about what I eat. I care about nutrition. I care about ingesting pollutants. I care about the welfare of my farming neighbors. I care about the planet. Hmmm...do thinking and reading and making purchasing decisions independent of marketers make me an "elitist"?

Does it make me more of an elitist than persons who, having attained a certain food sophistication by virtue of their background, education and experience in life, and who most probably make many of the same food choices I do, seem to assume that unmindful shopping and eating is good enough for those other people over there? You know: "My children's school is participating in a wonderful garden-to-cafeteria program. But I'm sure your kid's bologna sandwich is just fine too."

I'm perhaps naive enough to want to live in a society where fresh local foods are available to as many people as possible, at reasonable prices; a society where we can all interact directly with the people who grow some of our food, and where small farmers and market gardeners can make a living wage by developing local customer bases.

That doesn't sound terribly elitist to me.

And the Irony Award Goes To...

Next thing you know, Ted Nugent is going to convene a world conference on veganism:

Saudis Hold Conference on Interfaith Dialogue

Live Blogging on the 15th: Our Normal, Boring Gay Lives

7:49 a.m. Up betimes -- except for the dogs, who after waking us and getting us in the living room, went promptly back to sleep -- and ready for an indoor day of cooking and website management. Outdoors it's the first day of firearm deer season in Michigan -- another good reason to hunker down.

Fellow Traveler, who got up first, helped me get a head start on dinner -- white chicken chili, featuring locally grown navy beans from our friend Farmer Ken and homegrown hardneck garlic from Pleva's in Cedar. As soon as I get enough caffeine in my bloodstream I am going to make us a warming farmhouse breakfast with fried potatoes and ham steak.

I hear the kitchen calling.

10:28 a.m. We had a glorious breakfast...I made our fried potatoes with multi-colored fingerlings we'd found at Gallagher's Market in Traverse City during our last venture up north, so our taters were a crazy quilt of calico colors -- yellow, purple, pink. And now the house smells like my Aunt M's farmhouse kitchen; homey and cozy.

We are trying to get a good photo of the backyard squirrel pilfering suet from our bird feeder. So far our resident rodent has not solved the problem of our squirrel-proof feeder, but I don't hold out a lot of hope that it won't figure out some way to monkeywrench the mechanics.

This morning we're working on our church website -- we're co-webmeisters of this project -- and on the website of our local gym, which we're managing in exchange for free memberships. I love bartering. I'm trying to find some area farmer who sells directly to consumers, who'd be willing to trade meat or veg for our web services: Will compute for food!

1:59 After discovering that we're all out of cumin -- not acceptable on chili-making day -- I had to make a short field trip to the local supermarket. I brought along The Girls, who've been getting stir-crazy at home (taking a fawn-colored dog to the local recreational area for a run is not a good plan today, when the fields and woods are filled with hunters of varying degrees of expertise, in various stages of sobriety); when I pulled into the supermarket parking lot they looked at me in dismay, as if to say, You called us into the Jeep for this? So for a consolation prize I drove through town and over to the Mast farm, where I bought some onions from their roadside farmstand (commerce done on the honor system, an old margarine tub with a slotted lid filling in as cash register) and The Girls got a thrill barking at the Masts' sheepdog. Two small barefooted children watched us from the farmhouse doorway.

We watched Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood on TV. We wanted to follow with the Michigan game at noon; instead we find we're watching Ohio State. We're waiting for the MSU game at 3:00 p.m. (We live in a house divided, but over the past three years I have helped ease my partner into a marginal tolerance for Michigan State football.) Fellow Traveler is updating our church website; I'm providing editorial assistance from the other sofa. At some point I need to rouse myself and collect a washload of socks. Maybe in awhile.

4:54 pm. An MSU blackout; drat. So we're working on our websites and sipping wine. The socks are still on the closet floor. The four-leggeds are outside terrorizing the local squirrel population. I love our cozy, quiet Saturdays together.

8:35 pm. FT is still putting finishing touches on the church website. The trouble is, our pets keep interfering in the process; Mollie the cat just jumped on the sofa, walked on the laptop keyboard and turned the computer off.

I've been reading accounts of today's demonstrations in support of marriage equality, on Andrew Sullivan's blog and elsewhere, and it's very encouraging...even if the mainstream media, judging from websites, were trying to find instances of confrontation and bad behavior. To our community's credit, most of the day's events were peaceful, civil and devoid of acting out. Pride indeed.

So, anyway...as you have seen, we lead very mundane lives here. But we live them together, in a spirit of love, respect, service and fidelity.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fighting the "H8"

A grassroots movement to protest California's Proposition 8 has generated some major momentum, and is calling for demonstrations against Prop 8 tomorrow.

It feels a little ironic for me, as a Michiganian -- where, thanks to ueberconservative deep pockets in the western Michigan Bible Belt and a legislature that can't find its fanny with both hands on any other issue of importance, we in committed partnerships can scarcely hope for civil unions or shared benefits/legal protections of any kind, let alone marriage -- to show support for our community and others of goodwill in California. But I'm going to anyway.

Since in my experience much of what we tend to label as "H8" is actually enculturated, comfortable ignorance, I think that my modest contribution to the "impact" tomorrow is to live-blog a day in the life of our family. The weather here is going to be nasty, and it's the first day of firearm deer season as well -- it's a good day to stay inside and do householdy things. And that is what we're going to do. And you are going to read about them. I invite you to share a link to my blog to friends and acquaintances who think that FT and I are a weird, scary subspecies whose existence, and relationship, somehow threaten their own families...or, for that matter, share a link with folks you know who need some affirmation.

Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish will be sharing photos, stories and blog links tomorrow. Pay him a visit as well.

Friday Five: Remembrance Edition

This week's Friday Five touches on both sacred and secular days of remembrance that we've been observing in recent weeks.

1.Did your church have any special celebrations for All Saints/All Soul's Day?

We of course used All Saints' Day lessons and prayers. We have also, this month, been including the names of our beloved dead in our Prayers of the Church each Sunday.

2. How about Veterans' Day?
We don't have a specific Veterans' Day commemoration, but our church participates with other area churches in Memorial Day observances -- prayers and choral music -- at our local cemeteries.

3. Did you and your family have a holiday for Veterans' Day/Remembrance Day? If so, how did you take advantage of the break?

4. Is there a veteran in your life, living or dead, whose dedication you remember and celebrate? Or perhaps a loved one presently serving in the armed forces?
Constant Readers may remember that Fellow Traveler is a veteran -- U.S. Air Force, where she served as an air traffic controller. Our nephew, who's been in the Army for several tours of duty, was just re-deployed to Iraq. Looking back through my own biological family tree...I had a maternal great-grandfather who served in the Civil War -- he pretty much jumped right off the boat from Germany and into a Union uniform -- and my mother's father was a medic in France, in "the war to end all wars." On my dad's side of the family, three of my uncles served in World War II -- two of them seeing action in both Europe and the South Pacific. Growing up, I used to have a small seashell collection from one of those uncles, from his time in the Solomon Islands.

5. Do you have any personal rituals which help you remember and connect with loved ones who have passed on?
Well -- some of you know of FT's experiences with "Hank" in the Cold Comfort Cottage garage. (We are in negotiations with "Hank" to move his presence over to The Big House garage.) Other than that...I try to be a dutiful loved one and keep the family graves tended, but I have to say that I don't find a special connection with them at cemeteries; I enjoy the stillness and the natural flowers and the wildlife that seems to flourish there, but I don't feel as if I'm communing with the spirits. Actually, the things that make me feel closest to my mom are her kitchen utensils, which I use all the time. I remember just breaking into sobs when I accidently broke the green Fiestaware mixing bowl that was probably the most used bowl in our family, holding everything from leftovers to Christmas cookie dough.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

We Shopped 'Til We Dropped

I spent the whole of yesterday -- I had X'd out a vacation day several weeks ago for this adventure -- on a girls' day out, helping shepherd two elderly aunts-in-law through Cabela's ginormous Dundee sporting-goods/lifestyle store so they could go Christmas shopping for their kids and grandkids. Think Driving Miss Daisy squared.

And these ladies, ages 87 and 90, are pistols. The homebound husband of the younger aunt had not only mapped out a detailed diagram of the Cabela's store, but also created an itinerary of which departments his wife was to visit, and when. The two sisters thought this was hilarious. "Maybe I'll go where I want to when I want to," declared Aunt H defiantly. When I explained that we would probably have lunch first, and noted, "Well, there goes the master plan," she beamed in triumph.

The sisters spent some time discussing, with great passion, both current events and various extended-family issues. When the topic of a serially dysfunctional great-niece's latest life drama came up, Aunt A suggested, "That girl needs to be professionally studied."

We began our adventure with lunch in the Cabela's cafeteria (barbecued elk, anyone?)...and then FT and I were summarily dismissed: "You two go where you want to go, and we'll meet you at the front of the store."

So for the rest of the day we surreptitiously tracked them -- ironic considering the venue -- occasionally dropping in to make sure they were all right.

At one point the 90-year-old whispered conspiratorially in my ear: "It's hard shopping with [her 87-year-old sister]. She's a little...high maintenance."

The aunts had a great time. We delivered them to their respective residences in respetctive cities, got home and promptly collapsed into incoherent puddles of fatigue.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Let Us Widget...

Those of us who 1)by choice or circumstance spend most of the day with our noses to the computer screen and 2)always have a reason for not maintaining a daily spiritual discipline now have no excuse. Meet the Daily Office widget. We still have to supply the liturgical bits, but the daily lectionary readings are instantly accessible. Thank God for church-geeky computer nerds.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Funeral Sermon From Hell

Fellow Traveler was downstate today, to attend the funeral of her childhood-best-friend's mom. Back when FT was a mischievous young beanpole growing up in the baby-boom Detroit suburbs, Mrs. W was a "Kool-Aid mom" -- the kind of no-nonsense but child-friendly mother whose home was a frequent gathering place for neighborhood kids.

Mrs. W had spent the last couple of years in the twilight world of dementia. In recent weeks she'd stopped eating; was getting IV nourishment and palliative care, but beginning to slip away.

FT went to visit Mrs. W not too long ago. She'd expected to spend some quiet time saying goodbye to someone unconscious and unresponsive in a hospital bed. She was shocked to find Mrs. W in a chair, in the cafeteria -- not eating, but seeming to enjoy the activity around her.

"Well," noted Mrs. W as she gave FT a head-to-toe, "you're certainly a lot meatier than you used to be."

So it was important for FT to attend this funeral -- for her friend, and for the memory of Mrs. W.

I got a call from FT midday: "You would not believe the funeral I've just had to sit through," she exclaimed. "It was awful. And the pastor was Lutheran."

Oh, geez, I thought. I've been to my share of awful Lutheran church services over the years, but I hate it when my partner the newbie experiences Lutherans Gone Wild. It's like having to explain crazy Uncle Al at the family Thanksgiving dinner.

"He didn't say 'Jesus'," FT continued. "He said 'JAY-SUS!!!' He was yelling. He said that anyone who wasn't baptized was going to hell -- that Mrs. W was saved because she was baptized, but the rest of us would be going to hell if we weren't baptized. He was pounding his fists on the pulpit. And we was going on and on about JAY-SUS and Lazarus and 'I AM'...he was out of control. And he had nothing to say about Mrs. W; nothing about her life. My friend said she wished you could have been there and officiated instead."


I'm trying to be charitable here. I'm trying to think about the pastor -- someone who'd only met the deceased a couple of times before her death; someone speaking to an unknown assortment of mourners with widely varying Christian backgrounds, trying to frame this experience in a meaningful way for them.

Nope; can't do it; can't be charitable. What in hell was this guy thinking?

A funeral is not a time to rhetorically dope-slap mourners into what we deem correct theology or praxis. It's not a time to aim a theological Uzi at a captive audience and frag them.

What it is, in my own humble layperson's opinion, is a pastor's opportunity, and privilege, to communicate both the depth and breadth of God's grace and an invitation to hope. And it's a special opportunity and privilege in a context where mourners are not high-commitment "church people"; how cool is it to be able to preach the Gospel to people for whom it's not a kind of comforting white noise of familiar Scripture verses and pious platitudes, but who might actually be startled to hear that God loves us, means us well and sticks by us no matter what, not because of who we are but because of who God is, and that this departed sister of Christ has not reached an end, but rather a beginning of "the life that is life"?

I'm just sayin'.

They Don't Have To Live Like Refugees

Today bloggers around the globe are joining to educate readers and advocate on behalf of the world's refugees.

According to Amnesty International, there are approximately 14.2 million refugees worldwide, and an additional 24.5 displaced persons. Most refugees are in African and Asian countries.

What can you do? Organizations like Amnesty work to pressure governments into abiding by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, to fight the factors that create refugees in the first place and to ensure that refugees are treated with decency and dignity. You can read about Amnesty's work with refugees here . You can also support denominational aid agencies and other aid agencies that help refugees -- to see what Lutherans are doing in this regard, go to the Lutheran Immigration Relief Service website.

And, of course, bloggers out there can do what we love to do -- blog. Feel free to borrow my graphic.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

And the Question of the Day Is...

Yoga or tai chi?

Consider the potential practitioner: A fitness-challenged, ungraceful middle-aged person without access to a flesh-and-blood teacher, who will be dependent upon DVDs for guidance.

My thoughts:

Yoga: Pros: A vast array of instruction materials; recommendations from friends and coworkers; the relaxation angle. Cons: I'm fat and inflexible.

Tai chi: Pros: Seems at face value to be a more accessible discipline; don't have to do floor exercises; looks cool. Cons: There don't seem to be as many instructional resources; when I attempted to teach myself tai chi using a DVD for older adults, it was still too fast for me to keep up -- which tells you something about my kinetic aptitude.

Those of you with experience in either or both practices -- what do you recommend?

The Oil in Our Lamps

Like many of you, this morning at church we listened to a sermon based on the Gospel of Matthew's parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids .

My pastor noted that, for him, the most interesting question raised by this story is: What is the oil that keeps the light on in our lives, that keeps us ready, until "the day of the Lord"?

His conclusion? Compassion. Self-giving love and concern for others. In a world fueled by fear, compassion is the Reign of God's response to the anxiety, anger and confusion around us. It's the way that Reign is going to break through the way the world usually works.

It was a great, thought-provoking sermon that's going to make me reevaluate my own responses to the world around me these days.

What's Cookin'

I feel a little sad relegating my cooking adventures to a separate blog (if you read the blogroll you'll find a new link to my food blog ). For those of you wondering what's been happening in our kitchen lately, check out the other blog to read about chickens (as in lots of chickens, raised by local farmers, filling up our new freezer), eggs (as in pickled), soup (as in chicken soup), and bread. If I may say so myself -- the buttermilk potato bread in the photo is one of the best bread machine recipes I've attempted. It's feather light, and has just the merest tang of buttermilk flavor. I do not have a chicken soup recipe per se, but I have found that a mixture of onions, garlic, celery, carrot, parsley and just a handful of parsnip and turnip make a most delicious stock. (I actually like to keep containers of these two vegetables, diced and then steamed, in the freezer for convenience.) And in the spirit of the Native American hunters who used to pray an apology/thank-you to the game they were about to kill, we just want to extend our gratitude to the anonymous farm-fresh roaster who gave his life for our soup.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Folk Medicine That Works

As Constant Readers know, Fellow Traveler has been struggling for the past few weeks with walking pneumonia. One of the miseries of this ailment is uncontrollable coughing jags that have left FT's throat sore and kept her awake much of the night.

One of our friends just sent us an e-mail -- one of those spammy e-mails that make the rounds -- about a cure for nighttime coughing. I was skeptical -- but now I'm not. This trick works. FT had her first cough-free night in weeks after trying it.

You will need a jar of Vicks or other mentholated rub, and a pair of clean cotton socks.

Just before retiring for the evening, slather a healthy amount of Vicks onto the soles of your feet. Put on the socks. Go to bed.

I'm here to tell you -- this stops the coughing. I don't know how it does, but it does.

It also keeps the dogs from stealing your socks.

Here's the Church...Here's the Steeple...Here's the Glock

This is absolutely batshit crazy:

More Churches Employ Armed Guards

I wonder what the "white-robed martyrs" would say about the cluster-canoodle of bellicosity, cowardice and poor-me melodrama afflicting today's churches?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Quotable Quote

Andrew Sullivan, urging patience in the struggle for marriage equality:

And we need patience and relentlessness in explaining our lives.

I think that is especially true in the faith community.

Making the Band

Several RevGalBlogPals have shared this meme. It's pretty cool.

1. First, pick a band name from a random Wikipedia link.

2. Next, find a name for your latest album. (Go to the Random Quotations website and use the last four words of the first quotation.)

3. Finally, select art for your album cover. (Find an interesting photo on Flickr.

Here's my band:

Band Name: Finite Group Presentation.

Our Latest Album: Better Than the Best Memory. (Okay...I used five words. But "the" shouldn't count anyway.)

Our Album's Cover Art:

I'm thinking this album goes over in the ambient-music section in Barnes and Noble, and people listen to it while they're doing yoga or getting a massage.

Of course, the very coolest thing of all would be if a group of musical friends got together, did the meme...and then actually recorded an album for the Internet. This could be done.

Friday Five: Comic(s) Relief Edition

This week's Friday Five is all about the comics:

1.What was your favorite comic strip as a child?
Definitely Peanuts, because I identified so totally with good ol' Charlie Brown.

2. Which comic strip today most consistently tickles your funny bone?
Um...er...none of them. Even into my thirties I used to turn to the comics section of newspapers first -- before the editorial pages, even -- but I honestly can't tell you the last time I looked at the funny pages. I wonder what the demise of paper-in-hand newspaper reading will do to the cartoon industry.

3. Which Peanuts character is closest to being you?
See Question 1. I am Charlie Brown.

4. Some say that comic strips have replaced philosophy as a paying job, so to speak. Does this ring true with you?
Not anymore; perhaps in the days of Peanuts, Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes. Now I think the lucky few bloggers-for-pay have stepped into that role.

5. What do you think the appeal is for the really long running comic strips like Blondie, Family Circus, Dennis the Menace as some examples?
I think there's a certain comfort in turning to the funnies and seeing familiar faces there. The other day I picked up a Detroit Free Press -- a newspaper I've been reading online for a couple of years now -- to read with my lunch, and I was startled to turn to the comics section and find row after row of unfamiliar characters. And as far as serial comic strips...I've certainly gotten caught up in the plot lines of cartoons like For Better or For Worse and even, God help me, Brenda Starr.

Bonus question: Which discontinued comic strip would you like to see back in print?
Well, for humor I'd have to say Bloom County, back when it was at its funny and insightful peak. And "The Far Side." And I miss Bill the Cat ("Ack!") But for style points, my vote goes to: