Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Annoying Tourist Photos!

With a special shout-out to those of you suffering through the -22 weather we hear is going on back on our home turf...

Here's LC learning how to relax at the Margaritaville restaurant inside the Universal theme park...

A thoughtful gorilla at Disney's Animal Adventure. We only had time to go through the African safari; it was very interesting, and despite what appears to be a valiant attempt to keep the exhibits as natural as possible, some of the animals genuinely seem to take on the cheerful, tourist-friendly characteristics of other Disney staff.

We were, I understand, incredibly fortunate to catch a glimpse of the resident cheetahs at Animal Adventure -- most tourists never see them. (Semi-Stepson advises going on the safari early in the morning, when the animals are more active.)

A scene from the Hoopty-Doo Revue dinner theatre presentation -- schmaltzy fun, with all you can eat literally brought out in buckets by affable waiters like the charming Robert who served us.

Epcot at night. This has really been my favorite theme-park destination so far. We spent the entire day there, right through the nightly fireworks finale, and had a swell time. Note: This is not the place for the calorie-conscious. Just fuggetaboutit and enjoy yourself. (We did a wine tasting and noshed on French pastries, then split a brat mit Kraut, among other 'round-the-park nibbles, then finished up at the Moroccan exhibit for dinner at the fast-food outlet of the Moroccan restaurant.)

An Uncle Walt original -- the Small World cruise, Fellow Traveler's favorite destination within the Magic Kingdom.

A glimpse of a fast-moving Polynesian fire dancer at our Spirit of Aloha luau tonight. The dancing, food and service were wonderful -- a tip o' the hat to our wonderful and highly entertaining waitress Kim -- the scripted part of the show not so much. I know that Disney is for children, blah-blah-blah, but I think that this is one attraction where anyone under the age of about ten belongs somewhere else, so that the show can dispense with shtick designed to appeal to the very young. In this case the presentation began with a rather confusing hip-hoppish slapstick number that had nothing to do with Hawaii or greater Polynesia. Hey, Disney folks: I'm from Michigan; if I want to hear hip-hop I'll vacation in Detroit. When I'm at a luau I want to see and hear -- duh -- Polynesian music and dance. Is that wrong?

One more piece of insider advice from our kids: Almost no guests ever report good service to management, so if an employee goes above and beyond for you when you visit a theme park, do that person a favor and let other staff know -- at the dinner theatres, for instance, there are booths available for guests to lodge compliments or complaints.

Well, that's where we're at, at this point in our vacation. Tomorrow we are headed to Daytona Beach to visit Fellow Traveler's sister.

A Message From Our Hosts

We got home from the Magic Kingdom and Spirit of Aloha Luau tonight to find a prerecorded message from our timeshare concierge office, advising us to "enjoy a pipping hot Pizza Hut pizza, and have a fanatical day." Alrighty then!

Stating the Obvious

This morning I read (yes, amazingly I am reading a bit on this vacation, in between the theme parks) an interesting article in the New York Times, about the measurable benefits of farmers' markets on poor families' diets.

This makes so much sense. But when our state government started slashing budget items, support for farmers' markets came on the chopping block.

Meanwhile our state legislators are probably hard at work passing a bill to ban even thinking about civil unions, or debating what to proclaim the state moss, or whatever else they do in Lansing while Michigan continues to swirl the drain.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Modesty: It's Relative

I am too tired to dump our pix from the past two days, but here's a funny story from our Epcot adventure today, related to my crabby commentary on the Modest Christians.

We were waiting in line for what seemed like forever, slowly wending our way around walkways that bore an interesting resemblence to slaughterhouse ramps. But anyway, ahead of us was a Modest Christian Family. Well, the women were -- the standard long skirt/knee socks/long hair uniform. Pater familias, however, was clad in skin-tight Dockers that created, shall we say, an extreme buttock silhouette visible even in the dim light of the hallway. Fellow Traveler leaned over and whispered, "Don't look now, but I can see Mr. Modest's thong underwear." Eeuwww.

Note to Modest Dad: No one really wants to see your ass cheeks on Disney property, except maybe the baboons in the Animal Kingdom.

Family Values Report

This past Sunday we got to meet Semi-Stepson-in-Law's family -- his mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew. The children, who are just li'l kiddos, are adorably precocious -- no surprise, growing up in a household with creative parents who work in the entertainment industry. And they love their uncles -- at the sight of them they scream "Uncle _______! Uncle _________!" and come running for hugs.

Yesterday we took Nephew to Animal Kingdom while his sister was in school. This kid is a theme-park veteran, but he was nonetheless entranced again by the tour, peppering the doting adults around him with questions and getting a kick out of the very controlled thrills of the safari ride. The sight of him happily swinging hands with his uncles as we walked down the sidewalks was priceless. And they're constantly teaching him -- about the animals, about numbers and shapes, about the appropriate courtesies that should be demonstrated by a proper southern gentleman. (You've got to love a four-ish child who says, "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes, sir." And who calls me "Miss LutheranChik.")

Contrast that with the encounter we'd had the day before at Universal, where we passed by a parent informing her youngster that, since he couldn't behave, she was turning him over to the authorities for foster care until he turned 18. Maybe she was auditioning for a remake of Mother of the Year.

Greetings From Florida!

This first-time tourist's impressions:

I'm so grateful to have Semi-Stepson and his partner as tour guides. For one thing, the Orlando area is so confusing to me that I'm always completely disoriented as to where we are; if it were up to me to navigate we'd probably wind up on a swampy two-track in some rural county an hour away, fending off Darryl and his other brother Darryl. But Semi-Stepson and Semi-Stepson-in-Law are not only seasoned Floridians -- SSIL is that rare creature, a native Floridian -- but they're Disney/Universal insiders who've worked at the parks for years, and the absolute best companions there. They're also entirely entertaining. (And, after hearing my wish to find the absolute tackiest souvenir, presented me with the taxidermied gator head you see here.) It's funny though -- while Fellow Traveler and I ooh and ahh over the sheer entertainment value of the various places we visit, these two critique them on a creative and managerial basis -- "Good lighting"; "Bad scripting; it takes too long to figure out why that character is even in the show"; "Oh, we know [insert Disney or Universal character here]; he auditioned for another part but obviously didn't make it." Oh -- and we have come to learn that cast members in their civvies cannot tell you that they play So-and-So; "Friend of" is the code language, as in, "I am a Friend of Spiderman."

I believe there is an industrial plot afoot to keep tourists in a perpetual food coma here. The portions are insane. Our plan to keep to our diets rapidly devolved into "Well, we'll eat a light breakfast." So we eat our sugar-free yogurt in the morning before bellying up to the plate later in the day. So far -- I guess I can speak for Fellow Traveler as well -- we had family meetups at PF Chang's and Buca di Beppo, and so far those have been our favorite restaurants; excellent food and pleasant surroundings.

One of the small wonders for this horticulturally sensitive northern tourist is seeing what houseplants look like planted outside, all grown up.

We can't believe the construction here. The humungous resort where we're staying is in the process of further expansion -- I'm listening to cranes and bulldozers as I'm typing this -- and there's similar building going on everywhere. If Florida is in an economic slump I can't imagine what it's like when it's not. What saddens me is the increasing marginalization of both wild land and farm land -- yesterday I saw an anhinga drying itself off next to a postage-stamp-sized pond in the freeway meridian, and a couple of tiny cattle pastures hanging on despite resort construction on both sides.

I think it would be very easy to fall off the Christianity wagon in Florida. Three days and I've had it with the Christians -- the obnoxious "Turn to Jesus" skywriters who seem to make daily runs over Disney World (do they really think they're creating any metanoia moments?); the Christian jihadist families whose patriarchs sport normal tourist polo shirts and shorts while the long-locked womenfolk have to schlep behind them in supposedly "modest" (as in "Hey! Look at me! Look at me! Look at how holy and pure and Bible-believing I am! Look! Look! Look!") long denim skirts and knee socks, the families sullenly trudging through the Magic Kingdom as if they're on their way to a proctology clinic. Yes, I so want to be like you -- NOT. Pour me a margarita and throw me to the heathen, baby,if these are my two local Protestant alternatives. (An amusing note: At Buca di Beppo the other evening our large party was seated at what's called the "Pope Table," in a recessed area filled with photos of old-school religious types and portraits of popes. An almost-life-size plaster bust of the current Pope, encased in plastic, sits atop the huge lazy Susan on the table. As other dinner parties came by, and the host or hostess pointed out the Pope Table as a future option for large gatherings, we started mugging -- pointing the Pope in their direction, calling out "Bless you, my children!", making benedictory gestures. The reaction was generally either hilarity or disapproving glare. We guessed that those exhibiting the latter were actually cranky Protestants -- of which, as I say, there seem to be lots of around here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Frrrrrrreezing Friday Five

Ah...the official RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five (illustrated by a view out my office doorway):

1. What is the thermometer reading at your house this morning?
I think it was something like 10 degrees Fahrenheit, although taking windchill and my lost gloves into account it felt a heckuvalot colder.

2. Snow—love it or hate it?
I like it as long as I don't have to drive in it. If you have any tendency at all toward claustrophobia, avoid driving in a blizzard at night.

3. What is winter like where you are?
Our weather has fluctuated quite a bit over the past few years...after several years of eerily warm winters -- one year I was out mowing the lawn the first weekend in December -- we're back to winters like the ones I remember as a child, with tall snowbanks and regular snowfall at least a couple times a week.

4. Do you like winter sports? Any good stories?
Does birdwatching count? Or NCAA basketball? Oh -- wait -- I do enjoy freestyle skiing -- as a spectator, of course. Those people are cwazy, but fun to watch.

5. What is your favorite season, and why?
My favorite season by far is fall -- the sights and scents of autumn, the moderate temperatures, the harvest.

My Own, Personal, Pre-Vacation Friday Five

Since the RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five has been delayed, I thought I'd go ahead and compose my own Friday Five. Because sitting here shivering in my office (it's maybe 15 degrees outside, and seemingly not much warmer here -- my nose is actually red from cold), anticipating sunshine and warmth...needless to say not a lot of productivity is going on.

What are going to be some of your "firsts" on this vacation?
Lots. My first ride on an airliner (as opposed to a shaky little private plane). My first glimpse at palm trees not growing in a conservatory or mall. My first trip to a theme park. My first encounter with an ocean, when we travel over to Daytona Beach to meet up with more of my in-laws. With any luck, my first airboat ride. My first encounter with alligators not in a zoo or made into a purse. My first experience of all the stepkids/significant others in one place at one time.

What are you looking forward to most,themeparkwise? Otherwise?
With the disclaimer that I really don't know what I'm in for...I think I'm going to enjoy Epcot Center the most. Otherwise -- I'm sure I'll have fun on the beach. And we're very open to local things that aren't like the things we have around here; Fellow Traveler and I want to have some Cuban and/or Caribbean food; there's an orchid farm in the Kissimmee area we want to check out; we want to stop at the local roadside stands; we want to experience some of the flavor of the place outside the Magic Kingdom and blingy surrounds. The place where we're staying rents out cane poles for fishing in its lake; I might want to do that.

What is your mental musical backdrop to this adventure?
Reggae; Cuban music; Sheryl Crow singing, "I just want to soak up the sun..."

Does anything make you anxious about leaving?
I feel bad for Cassie, our golden retriever, who will be staying at one of our friends' home. We made a family visit a couple of weeks ago so Cassie could get acquainted with Maize, our friend's retriever, and get used to the house. Cassie loves our friend; was mildly interested but non-committal regarding Maize. We hope she won't be too traumatized when we drive away tonight.

What souvenir do you want to bring back from your travels?
A seashell I picked up my own self from the beach, and -- for fun -- the most incredibly tacky memento I can find.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Love Lutheranism -- It's Just Lutherans I Can't Stand

I love humanity -- it's just people I can't stand. -- Linus VanPelt

I don't know why I've suddenly fallen under a cloud of negativity -- I mean, people, in four days I will be in Florida, reaquainting my skin with sunlight, watching God's good gift of palm trees sway in the breeze and cavorting with princesses and giant mice -- but these days it seems I encounter a spiritual buzzkill everywhere I turn.

Including the latest issue of The Lutheran . There's the usual crabby letters-to-the-editor commentary, of course, and one chuckleheaded critique of incense in church as a "pagan" practice that made me laugh. But what really disturbed me was the reader feedback for this article , about the daughter of a synodical bishop who converted to Judaism and is now studying to become a Reform rabbi.

Now, I'd love to have a rabbi in my family; partly because I need all the help I can get, and partly because I frankly like the way that Jews do Torah and do questions of ethics. But I can't believe how many respondents to the Lutheran article think that the bishop's Jewish daughter is going to be drop-kicked into H-E-Double-Hockey-Stick, and that spotlighting this unique family in anything other than a negative manner is wrong.

I know that it is human to feel rejected when someone rejects something you love. I also know that denominational attrition is a sore subject in many Lutheran homes these days as younger generations "leave the reservation." And, more importantly, this story of one family's spiritual diversity begs the question, Why Christianity? But the seeming attitude of the negative respondents seems to be rooted in what amounts to Pascal's Wager -- that if Christianity is the One True Faith, then you'd better get with the program or else.

If that's the reason we follow the Christian path -- to keep the perceived divine gun to our heads from going off -- then we're a particularly pathetic tribe of human beings. And we'd better stop patting ourselves on the back for being the ones who know all about God's love and grace.

Even More From My "Stupid Christian" Files

These people really need to stop -- I mean, I'd intended this to be an occasional feature of my blog, but I keep getting directed to ever more examples of Christian stupidity.

I remember Jesus calling his disciples "fishers of people." I don't remember him enlisting them as Kommandos For Khrist. But someone tell Kirk Cameron, who's out hunting for bear, so to speak, for Jaysus...actually, hunting for Druids.

Frankly, I'm rooting for the Druids here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Extreme Makeover" Chili

What's a football Sunday evening without chili?

That's what we thought. And since we're trying to count calories here, we chose to make turkey chili.

We started out with a package of extra-lean ground turkey, about a medium onion and three minced garlic cloves, then added a can of Westbrae Salad Mix beans, a can of diced tomatoes and a packet of McCormick mild chili seasoning. But this was so bland it was scarcely worth the effort of throwing together. So I added about 1 dTBS of chili powder, an equal amount of cumin, a few healthy dashes of oregano, a couple grinds of black pepper and a tablespoon of finely minced fresh jalapeno. (We freeze these whole and then use them as needed. One caveat though -- you still have to not touch your eyes or hands after handling the frozen pepper, or you'll be in trouble.) Then I poured in the better part of a bottle of Corona that we had left over from our holiday family Mexican feast and let the mixture reduce. Then I added the juice of one lime and about a tablespoon of dried cilantro. (A couple of cilantro notes: I never cared for cilantro until I ate it in dishes that also included lime -- something about the lime seemed to change the taste of the cilantro in a favorable direction for me. And I know that dried cilantro is a very poor substitute for fresh, but here in Outer Podunk's neighboring town of South Succotash the local grocery store doesn't carry cilantro of any kind, so we make do.) After the chili simmered for awhile I sprinkled in a bit more chili powder, cumin and oregano.

The final product was outstanding -- best chili we've had in awhile. If you don't have a bottle of beer on hand, I think a teaspoon or two of sugar might add the very subtle sweetness that the Corona seemed to impart to the chili. But the lime is a necessity.


That's my total from a preliminary count of my "found money" -- my stash of personal loose change scavanged from pockets, purses and the underside of sofa cushions. After I do a second sweep, I'm sure there will be more.

Fellow Traveler is also collecting her chump change. Together, we're certain that we can buy a Heifer Project goat, if not something more.

I'm not noting this to brag. Obviously this isn't sacrificial giving -- it is, frankly, collecting the crumbs of our household consumerism. But it's something. Something we can give. Something we can give that offers a needy person elsewhere in the world a big return on a small investment.

Here's an experiment: Count your found money in your home and car. Did you find $25? That'll purchase a poor family a flock of chickens or ducks. $35? A hive of bees. $60-ish? You can help plant a grove of fast-growing trees to provide someone with shade, fodder for animals, wood and perhaps fruit as well. Or -- your $25 or $50 or $100 could help lend a woman in the developing world a microloan to start her own business, or help little kids in some educationally deprived part of the planet afford to go to school.

Is it giving 'til it hurts? No. Is it still worth giving? I think so.

More Notes From My "Stupid Christian" Files

Read this , if you can get to the end before you need to run to the bathroom and vomit.

Oh -- and if in addition to keeping the womenfolk ignorant, pregnant and in the kitchen you also have a hankerin' for a good ol' slave to do the scut work around your house or business, here here is a Christian "scholar" who thinks we're all really too PC and hung up about the institution of slavery.

The God Game

Here are this Sunday's lectionary texts.

When you're a little kid -- a fat, unathletic little kid -- nothing says "despised and rejected" like not being picked for a team in gym. This formerly fat, unathletic little kid even experienced the humiliation of being forced to hear the rest of her classmates, with the smirking approbation of the gym teacher, arguing over which team would be forced to take her.

All of us have, I think, experienced this kind of humiliation. Which is why I think it's so hard for us to wrap our minds around the concept of justification by grace -- that God chooses us. Because in our heart of hearts we're terrified that God won't choose us; that because of some deficiency on our part we'll wind up eternally benched, while others are picked for God's team. Perhaps this is why we cling so tightly to the notion that we are, in the final analysis, the team captains of our fate, the masters of our souls, who "choose God," who "make a decision for Christ," who have to do X and Y and Z to achieve and maintain our position in God's game plan.

Our texts this week point to an entirely different reality; one in which God chooses us. Not because we're particularly good or gifted or insightful or successful; not because we're beautiful or popular. God chooses us because God wants to.

I'm trying to think of one instance in Scripture where Jesus ever turned anyone away, or "fired" any of his frequently clueless, inept disciples. Even in that intriguingly problematic story of the Syrio-Phonoecian woman, where Jesus seems to be both confused and ultimately surprised by the scope of his calling -- in the end she and her daughter are brought within the embrace of God's inbreaking Reign. Even Judas isn't ejected from the Jesus team; in fact, the great tragedy of the Judas story isn't so much that he betrayed Jesus -- something we all do, if we're honest -- but rather that he ultimately despaired of the grace of God, tragically appointing himself both judge and executioner.

How do we know we're chosen? Because, as the song says, we are the world -- the world that God so loved that God came down to be our God With Us. We are the "all nations" that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah was sent to gather into God's Reign. The challenge is not "winning souls" for God's team, but proclaiming the good news to the sad and sick and poor and alienated -- the rejects of all the various "teams" organized by the powers and principalities of society -- that we all have a place in God's franchise.

God's got game -- and God says we've made the team. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Family Game Night

Let's see what went on in our queer den of iniquity this evening...

We ate leftovers.

We played dominoes.

We played Scrabble.

We listened to music -- Catie Curtis, Indigo Girls, Mary Chapin Carpenter and other crunchy coffeehouse types.

We reminded ourselves that we have to stay after church for our congregational meeting tomorrow.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. No wonder people are afraid that our household is eroding the institution of marriage.

From My "Stupid Christian" Files

And -- gack -- this individual is Lutheran. He makes me want to turn in my union card:

Why Women Shouldn't Play Sports .

One of LutheranChik's Constant Readers

Huck Plays the B Card

Well, I don’t think that’s a radical view to say we’re going to affirm marriage. I think the radical view is to say that we’re going to change the definition of marriage so that it can mean two men, two women, a man and three women, a man and a child, a man and animal. -- Mike Huckabee, in his Beliefnet interview

Ah, yes...the B card: Allow gay marriages or civil unions today, and tomorrow the pervs will want to conduct nuptials with their Great Danes and iguanas, or that comely Jersey heifer down the road at Farmer Jim's.

Dear Governor Huckabee: For someone so concerned about "slippery slopes," why don't you seem as concerned about sliding down the slippery slope of tweaking the Constitution in service to Christian sectarianism?

Governor, you are a slandering, pandering ass.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dinner At a Snail's Pace; and a Wine

Last weekend I told you about our excursion to the Hermann's European Cafe in Cadillac, Michigan. Hermann's Deli, next door to the restaurant proper, sports a small specialty-foods pantry; delighted by our delicious escargot appetizer, we went home with a large can of snails. Of course, once we got home, we looked at the can and thought, Now what do we do?

Here's what FT did: Sauteed the snails with a decent amount of garlic and some red bell pepper in some olive oil. Added white wine and lemon juice and simmered for a bit. Poured over pasta, seasoned and tossed with Parmesan cheese.

This was very good. Very good. Not too many calories either. If I were to surreptitiously feed a squeamish, unsuspecting other escargot, it might be in this manner.

And, for frequent fliers on this blog who care about cheap wine, here's a couple of reviews:

2007 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau: I realize that I'm two months behind this season's Beaujolais Nouveau frenzy, but -- what can I say? -- this was displayed at the front of our favorite wine purveyor's, and it was cheap, so I bought a bottle. It frankly didn't do anything for me, or for Fellow Traveler. One review I'd red described Beaujolais Nouveau as "plonk," and that pretty much summed it up for me. For a light, fun, fruity red wine that goes with a variety of foods, I'd actually recommend a wine from my own fair state, not generally known for decent red wine -- Chateau Chantal's Naughty Red. That's good stuff.

2005 Woodbridge Riesling: This was, I think, one of those "Oh, why not" sale purchases at our nearest Big Box Store. Honey is the predominant flavor; the wine has some sweetness but isn't cloying. It's quite okay on its own, and I think it would be really, really okay partnered with some Riesling-friendly cheeses and fruit.

A "Bookin' It" Friday Five

Here's this week's RevGalBlogPals questionnaire:

What book have you read in the last six months that has really stayed with you? Why?
[Casting down eyes in shame] Truth be told, I haven't read a book cover to cover in the last six months -- and this is coming from a former book-a-week reader -- so I don't have a lot of inventory to review. But I can tell you that I'm greatly enjoying Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, her account of her family's experiment in eating only locally grown foods for an entire year. That wish resonates with us in our household, even though like the Kingsolver clan our geography makes this difficult. I was also taken with Kingsolver's personal custom of planting asparagus in the yard of every home she'd lived in as an adult, leaving a kind of culinary legacy for future homedwellers. I love stories like this. I was reminded of an audio essay on public radio several years ago where the essayist spoke of his Ukrainian grandmother faithfully planting fruit pits from her household garbage in her back yard (much to the bemusement of her adult children), so that others coming after her could enjoy the free gift of fresh fruit right outside the door. I also thought back with fondness to the postage-stamp back yard of a squalid duplex my friends and I lived in during our college days, a once architecturally fashion-forward building slowly deteriorating into ruin, where a determined row of hostas nonetheless poked up through the spent soil and paint chips next to the back door year after year and provided cheery mid-summer blooms.

What is one of your favorite childhood books?
Alice in Wonderland/Alice Through the Looking-Glass, hands down. As a child I had a well-worn copy, with all the wonderful Sir John Tenniel illustrations, that I cherished to the point of total destruction. (I also gave my mother a fright that I'm sure added some white hairs to her head, when she caught me chewing on some unknown natural substance outside and I told her that I was eating a mushroom to make myself grow bigger or smaller. Turned out it was one of those woody and evidently harmless shelf fungi that grow on old stumps.) When I grew up I discovered The Annotated Alice, which made me appreciate these books even more.

Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? Do tell!
It's hard to say. I like the Gospel of John despite the "I am he as you are me as you are we and we are all together" Godtalk and that fingers-on-chalkboard language regarding "the Jews" that pastors and Bible study leaders never seem to adequately explain to laypeople. I also appreciate the Gospel of Mark's short-sharp-shocked delivery, and am intrigued by the sudden ending.

What is one book you could read again and again?
When I was a kid I'd read books dozens of times. (Maybe because I had access to fewer books.) I don't do that as much anymore. One perennial favorite of mine, though, are Mark Twain's nonfiction; the intelligence and wit still hold up.

Is there a book you would suggest for Lenten reading? What is it and why?
Shameless promotional plug -- Bread and Wine, a Lenten anthology featuring some of the most eloquent writers, old and new, of Christendom, that the RevGalBlogPals will be discussing this coming Lenten season. You can read it every year and come away with new insight and inspiration.

BONUS POINTS: If I were to write my own book, I'd like it to be a book of humorous essays...something I've had a little experience writing in the past. And as far as jacket endorsements...oh, Bill Bryson would be nice...David and Amy Sedaris...Merrill Markoe. (I somehow can't fit Katherine Norris, Garrison Keillor and Kelly Fryer into this literary scenario, but who knows.)

Christian Stereotypes: Exhibit A

I'm skating to work on glare ice this morning, trying to allay my driving anxiety by paying attention to Morning Edition, and what should they be broadcasting but interviews with Evangelical voters on the eve of the South Carolina primary.

My reaction, narliness compounded by the driving conditions:

These people seem to be wanting to vote for a Messiah rather than for a competent statesperson of a religiously and culturally diverse, secular republic. Has anyone told them that we already have a Messiah and that our Messiah's Reign isn't seated in Washington D.C.?

One interviewee gushed over Mike Huckabee's commitment to "family values" -- and we all know what that means -- as a primary reason for supporting him. Once again: Who are we voting for, exactly? And I wanted to reach through the radio, grab her and ask, "Why do you hate my family so much that you've made prohibiting the legal legitimacy of my family the end-all and be-all of your participation in the political process?"

So if you read over my post from yesterday, with quotes from Marcus Borg and the Barna researcher -- I can give another resounding "Amen" to their observations, less than 24 hours after writing what I did.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Down South Church Search

Guess what? Fellow Traveler and I are going to Florida!

We are going to be visiting family and doing the Pale Northern Tourist crawl in the Kissimmee/Orlando areas.

Do any readers out there have any recommendations for a church to visit while we're in the neighborhood -- a church that navigationally impaired strangers can access fairly easily from the freeway? A hat tip in advance to any recommendations.

Huckabee Schmuckabee

Read this interview with Mike Huckabee.

God help us.

How Good is Our Good News?

I've been moodling about my new involvement with our church's Evangelism Committee as I've been following the lectionary, with its stirring Old Testament longings for restoration and messages of hope and assurance.

Juxtaposed against that, though, is something I read on the Journeys With Jesus lectionary website. (Hat tip to RevGalBlogPal Gord.) Here's just an excerpt, quoting theologian Marcus Borg:

"'When I ask [students] to write a short essay on their impression of Christianity," says Borg, "they consistently use five adjectives: Christians are literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted.'"

And here's more, citing the recent book UnChristian by Evangelical social researcher David Kinnaman:

"These broadly and deeply negative views of Christians aren't just superficial stereotypes with no basis in reality, says Kinnaman. Nor are the critics people who've had no contact with churches or Christians. It would be a tragic mistake, he argues, for believers to protest that outsider outrage at Christians is a misperception. Rather, it's based upon their real experiences with today's Christians.

"According to Kinnaman's Barna study, here are the percentages of people outside the church who think that the following words describe present-day Christianity:

* antihomosexual 91%
* judgmental 87%
* hypocritical 85%
* old-fashioned 78%
* too political 75%
* out of touch with reality 72%
* insensitive to others 70%
* boring 68%"

I have to say that I generally do not find Christians, or Christian worship in my tradition, old-fashioned or boring...but speaking as a Christian, I not only understand the rest of these statistics, I've lived them. And it's a constant source of irritation to me, particularly as I travel in gay and lesbian circles, that I have to battle such generalized perceptions.

Bottom line: Among the unchurched, the "good news," as folks outside the church door perceive it, is pretty damned bad news, or at very least irrelevant news.

Here's the challenge: How does a mainstream/mainline faith community -- a community whose words and actions in the greater community are the antithesis of the popular perception of Christians -- overcome these stereotypes? Because I feel that, no matter how "out there" our congregation and others are in terms of being inclusive and welcoming to all, of helping people, of operating from a missional frame of mind as individuals and as a parish -- we're not being heard and seen by people outside our "family circle" and denomination. What's up with that? What can we do about it?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Just For the Health of It...

For those of you whose New Year’s resolutions to get healthy are flagging…a program I’ve found most helpful is Prevention’s “My Health Trackers”. It’s free; you just need to sign up and input some basic information about yourself and your base activity level, and then you can track your daily calorie and nutrition intake, activity level, weight, mood – you can even develop your own charts for measurements of special interest to you, like your daily hours of sleep or blood pressures.

A caveat that this is not a program for persons with an OCD-ish need for precisions – the food database, for instance, is not comprehensive and is frustratingly user-unfriendly in general, so expect to deal in equivalencies and outright guesstimates at times. And you’ll have to give yourself about 10 or 15 minutes a day total to do your reporting. But if you can benefit from the discipline of keeping a food journal – and I’ve found this to be one of the few positive motivators for me to watch what I eat – and make a deal with yourself to be scrupulously honest and somewhat skeptical of your own virtue in eating and exercising – it’s kind of cool to see your habits and progress rendered graphically over time.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Book 'Em

I saw some sad statistics about the state of American reading habits over at Beso Mami's blog the other day.

Beso Mami has resolved to read more and encourages others to do the same. And in fact this was one of my resolutions this New Year, as I noted to my chagrin that my one-book-a-week reading habit had fallen off dramatically over the past couple of years. There are so many great books out there, I thought, that depriving myself of the pleasure of reading them is actually a kind of passive-aggressive way to be mean to myself.

So -- currently residing on my night table are Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Bill Clinton's Giving. So I'm not on the cutting edge of the New York Times Review of Books, but I'm trying. And I'll tell you what I think about the books I'm reading.

What's on your reading list these days?

Sunday, January 13, 2008


The camera-shy Mollie, in an uncharacteristically charitable mood, allows her photo to be taken.

Fellow Traveler relates that Mollie has had an interesting life -- beginning about a decade ago at the home of a Crazy Cat Lady in Maine, where Mollie was born into a household of about 50 other felines. When the animal control people finally took the cats away from Crazy Cat Lady, they somehow overlooked the petite Mollie, who wound up sitting forlornly in the middle of the road until a passerby rescued her and later gave her to FT. Now Mollie says, "Shredded turkey and cheese...catnip mice...scritches from Mama...sleeping on LC's head whenever I can get away with is good."

Rollin' Our Own

Constant readers know that we loves us our sushi around here. So today we decided to roll our own for supper.

Thanks to Semi-Stepson and his partner, I'm the proud new owner of a sushi kit and serving vessels. And after buying a cute little apartment-sized rice steamer for Semi-Daughter-in-Law for Christmas, we found out that she doesn't really care for rice...which is what we were secretly hoping, because we thought the rice cooker was pretty swell. So I was armed for bear -- or more accurately, for krab-with-a-K, because California rolls are about the freshest and safest seafood sushi to attempt here in the landlocked Upper Midwest.

The good news is that sushi isn't as hard as it looks. The bad news is that it's not all that easy either, mostly because the short-grained rice is so sticky, and because there's a trick to not overfilling the I learned in my first attempt. But I kept at it, and the second roll came out fairly okay.

So, anyway, I made my rice in our new steamer; seasoned it with rice vinegar; let it cool to room temperature; spread it on a sheet of toasted nori up to about 2 inches from the far end; made a little furrow in the middle of the rice that I very lightly spread with a slight fingertip of wasabi; then placed some krab and thin sticks of avocado and cucumber along the middle; then, using my new sushi rolling mat, rolled the nori like a cake roll.

In the meantime I'd stirred up some homemade miso soup to go along -- we had a small amount of broth left over from making other soup, to which I added water, sliced green onion, a little bit of julienned carrot and Chinese cabbage, a few small cubes of tofu and, of course, a couple tablespoons of miso -- which is sort of like a solid, sweetish soy sauce, good for adding some depth and richness to vegetarian soups and stews, and also tasting good in things like glazes for poultry or fish, and even paired with peanut butter in a sandwich.

Fellow Traveler has a sake set that deserves to be used more than it is, so when we were in Cadillac yesterday we bought a bottle of Tozai Nigori "Snow Maiden" sake -- milky in color, and with a flowery, fruity taste that at least to me was reminiscent of a light Riesling. Slightly chilled, this was very, very good with our rolls.

If we're going to watch our fat and calories, we can at least have some fun doing it, and we had a lot of fun with this kitchen experiment tonight.

I'm looking forward to experimenting with my sushi kit again, and maybe even improvising a recipe that uses regional ingredients -- how about, for instance, a smoked whitefish roll with a little bit of wild rice incorporated into the sushi rice? Or something utilizing a pickled wild leek from regional foodie provisioners Food For Thought ? Hmmm.

Food-stylin' and photo courtesy of Fellow Traveler

A Fine Mess(age) We've Gotten Ourselves Into

Fellow Traveler and I stayed after church today for a congregational meeting.

The action items were voting on a budget and nominating new heads for three committees -- Stewardship, Property Management and Evangelism -- whose representation on the church council is ending this year. This weighty agenda meant that what's usually about a 15-minute rubber-stamp process turned into a tortuous talkathon that made me wish I were a Premillenialist who could hope in an imminent Rapture to spirit enough members away to force an early meeting adjournment. (Actually, I had a bullet-biting shoulder ache that was making me narly and unfocused, hence my bad attitude.) The budget discussion was finally tabled until next week, but the persons assembled were asked to break up into small groups and discuss possible nominees and committee members.

After this was all over, Fellow Traveler and I found ourselves on the Evangelism Committee. We don't want to "represent," mind you, because we're commuter members for whom attending council meetings is a responsibility we're not willing to assume -- but we are interested in helping our congregation get out there; letting people know who we are as a faith community.

When we got into the Jeep, my first words were, "What did we just get ourselves into?" But I think this will be an enjoyable challenge.

Mike Huckabee: Man of (Some of) the People

Mike Huckabee, speaking to a group of pastors in my fair state this week (Hat tip: Yahoo! News):

"The former Southern Baptist minister emphasized his opposition to abortion as he urged about 100 pastors in Grand Rapids to support him and use their address books and e-mail lists to mobilize others.

"'I don't presume that you will support me because of a common faith," Huckabee told them. "I know that I have to earn that. But I also recognize this is a unique opportunity. For a long time, those of us who are people of faith have been asked to support a candidate who would talk to us. But rarely has there been one who comes from us.'

"He added, "Life is in the balance.'"

And he's humble, too.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Schmeckt Gut

Fellow Traveler and I celebrated our first real post-holiday weekend by heading up to Cadillac today, just for kicks...and boy, did we ever have a great meal. We went to Hermann's European Cafe , a jewel of a restaurant halfway between Outer Podunk and the Grand Traverse area. We walked in without much of an idea of what we wanted to eat -- were talking about ordering a couple of appetizers, as is our custom when we're checking out promising restaurants -- but wound up enjoying a hearty late lunch -- let's call it linner -- starting with buttery, garlicky escargot baked in mushroom caps as an appetizer, then sauerbraten and spaetzle with sweet-sour red cabbage. For dessert -- we got a little crazy -- FT ordered baklava while I ordered the house special bread pudding, which is a delightful and ever-changing mosaic of assorted cubed baked goods from the attached bakery, soaked in custard and served with caramel sauce. (My square of pudding included bits of lemon-poppyseed muffin, cinnamon roll and some unknown pastry swirled with raspberry jam.)

After lunch, we waddled next door to the deli/specialty food store, then to the attached specialty butcher shop/wine store, which offered everything from roast duck to rack of lamb to sashimi grade tuna. Fortunately for our wallets, we were too full and too far away from home to take shopping there too seriously, although we did have an enjoyable chat with the butcher.

If you're ever headed to northern Michigan via US-131 and, as many travelers do, choose to take a pit stop in Cadillac en route to the "Gold Coast" -- check out the downtown Cadillac area, especially Hermann's.

"Book of Faith"

I really wanted to like the ELCA's "Book of Faith" initiative ; I really did. But frankly I didn't find a lot of "there" there, nor did I find any compelling reasons for a Bible newbie to suddenly get engaged in reading Scripture.

The folks I know who'd like to know more about the Bible tend not to read it because it's hard...because they have no context in which to understand what they're reading. So dontcha think a program designed to encourage Scripture reading would place some major emphasis on helping laypeople understand the who/when/where/why of the texts? And wouldn't that be approached in a sequential way?

I'm just sayin'.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mike Huckabee's Environmental Plan

Read all about it at Mike .

Oh...wait...there's nothing there.


Thanks to my nephew-in-law and family, briefly visiting from Germany, Fellow Traveler and I have been introduced to the Nintendo Wii.

Last night we played a variety of games, including bowling -- a game I haven't played since junior high school; sadly, my average score 30-some years later is just as dismal -- and golf, which I found myself playing remarkably well (despite a brief sojourn in a virtual sand trap).

I've got to tell you -- this thing is fun. And unlike the couch-potato-tot video games of yore, the Wii is full-body gaming -- for instance, apart from not holding the weight of a real bowling bowl, you're putting your body through almost the same motions as the real game when you play. I've heard that some forward-thinking senior care facilities are investing in Wiis to give their residents an accessible alternative to sports they used to enjoy, and I think that's a splendid idea.

Since we're not what marketing folk call Early Adopters -- I think our category is Late, Cheap and Able to Postpone Our Gratification Until Closeout Special Time -- we are not going to run out and buy a Wii anytime soon. But it's on our horizon line.

How I Know I'm a Real, Live Lay Minister

Because I got not only a lovely prayer book as a Christmas present from the Bishop, but also the January "in with the in crowd" informational mailing from the synod office.

Wow. What a concept.

Mike Huckabee on Foreign Affairs

I guess this is what he means by resonating with the average American -- to whit, being equally ignorant about the world outside the borders of the United States:

Friday Five: Birthday Edition

When is your birthday? Does anyone else (famous and/or in your own life) share it?
My birthday is December 26th – Baby Jesus is pretty tough competition for a non-divine little kid, so birthdays were kind of a nothingburger for me as I was growing up. I don’t share my birthday with any friends or family member, but a quick Googling of December 26th found a list including the famous (Emperor Frederick II; Mao Zedong), the funny (Steve Allen, Allan King, David Sedaris) and the alarming (Phil Spector).

2. Do you prefer a big party or an intimate celebration for the chosen few?
Definitely the latter.

3. Describe your most memorable birthday(s)--good, bad, or both.
My Auntie M, now in a nursing home, was always concerned that I never had an opportunity for a “real” birthday party, so each December 26th she faithfully invited my parents and me to her home for cake and ice cream. One year she and my uncle L even made homemade vanilla ice cream for me, using cream from their own cows, a process I found fascinating. This year’s sushi birthday was pretty swell too.
One of the worst birthday parties I’ve ever attended was not mine. It was a “croning party” for a woman who’d just turned 50. The intent was for an over-30 chick party/crunchy-granola middle-aged-female empowerment celebration at the rustic home of some mutual friends. What happened was that one party-goer, for unfathomable reasons, brought along her two-year-old son, so that the event soon degenerated into a group babysitting session – putting up with his constant screeching, repeatedly pulling him away from the bonfire and out of the forest, dealing with his poop and pee issues and generally ignoring the guest of honor, who wound up rather sadly hovering in the background of her own party. My advice to anyone with a child or grandchild under the age of five: If you’re invited to a howling-at-the-moon hoopdeedoo primarily for the perimenopausal, and the host says, “Oh, yes, and little Damien is invited too” – she doesn’t really mean it.

4. What is your favorite cake and ice cream? (Bonus points if you share the cake recipe). Or would you rather have a different treat altogether?
Strangely enough for someone who likes sweets in general and chocolate in particular, now that I’m an adult I don’t care that much for cake, even chocolate cake. If I am offered cake, I tend to prefer white cake, with the subtle vanilla-almond taste thing going on. My favorite ice cream is Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food, which I would never adulterate with cake of any kind. Actually, a real birthday treat for me involves protein and vegetables, with any ice cream clearly subordinate to the main course, and preferably served several hours afterward; that’s just the way I roll.

5. Surprise parties: love 'em or hate 'em?
I’ve never really had one, but I’m inclined to think the latter. I’ve had fun being a co-conspirator in a number of surprise parties, though; maybe for most people there’s more enjoyment to be had at that end of the enterprise.

Bonus: Describe your ideal birthday--the sky's the limit.An intimate dinner with good food and good wine – which doesn’t necessarily mean “expensive” or “in a restaurant” or “involving lots of cooking fuss” – perhaps accompanied by some outing or activity that I enjoy.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Just Some Good O'l Boys...

After the Iowa caucuses pundits were busy talking about the "outsider," "new ideas" appeal of Mike Huckabee.

But how "outside" and "new" is he, really? Read about his recent visit to Liberty University , where he sounds like just another good ol' boy of the Religious Right trying to impose the social platform of the Southern Baptist Convention on everyone else in the country.

As Jerry Falwell, Jr., observes, "He's one of us."

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Zen of Dogs

An observation from humorist/dog lover Merrill Markoe:

"I sometimes look into the face of my dog Stan and see wistful sadness and existential angst, when all he is actually doing is slowly scanning the ceiling for flies."

(The seemingly angstlich dog in the photo is Cassie, pondering whether to get up or go back to sleep.)

Saturday, January 05, 2008


I was reading an article the other day about "creating more abundance" in one's life.

No, it wasn't one of those New-Agey endorsements of creative visualization or its "name it and claim it" Christian counterpart. Rather the author talked about ways to nurture the perception that one has enough, and more than enough, in one's life.

Readers were asked, "What makes your life feel abundant?"

For me, a close friendship makes me feel like I have an abundant life. I have always tended to be pretty independent, pretty sometimes it surprises me how important it is to also have a supportive presence in my life.

Learning -- feeling that I'm exercising my mind -- makes my life feel abundant. Access to books and information, learning new things, learning a new skill, all make me feel more alive.

Being surrounded by living things -- enjoying nature outside, or being in an indoor space alive with plants and pets -- helps me feel that my blessings are "pressed together and running over."

What makes your life feel more abundant?

God Endorses Huckabee

Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, on his ascendant popularity: “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people."

And he's humble, too.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Resolute Friday Five

This week's query by the RevGalBlogPals is all about New Year's resolutions:

1. Do you make New Year resolutions?

2. Is this something you take seriously, or is it a bit of fun?
A bit of both. I'm taking this year's seriously enough to do some amateur research on the best means of behavior change; on the other hand, there's just something enjoyable and cathartic about starting a new year afresh.

3. Share one goal for 2008.
One rather bizarre but needed resolution: I resolve to have framed and display all the artsy up-north prints we've collected over the past year and a half but that I've kept in a "round-tuit" pile. They deserve to be seen and appreciated.

4. Money is no barrier, share one wild/ impossible dream for 2008.
Move up north to pursue a new career as a philosopher/barista.

5. Someone wants to publish a story of your year in 2008, what will the title of that book be?
Living For the Health of It

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Class Act

Fellow Traveler and I have been talking about taking a class together -- no particular subject, just something of interest to us both -- and today I think I found a good one, via Fisher's Net : Spirituality: Invitation to a closer Relationship with God. We're looking forward to participating.

I'm also considering the ELCA's DVD course on Lutheran ethics, if only because I encounter so many non-Lutherans who don't think we have any. But I think I'll take this continuing education project nice and slow.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Over It

On a related end-of-year/beginning-of-new-year note, I submit to you my list of Things I'm Over:

Pregnant celebrities. I frigging do not care. And if I hear the term "baby bump" one more time, I am going to hurl my linguine all over the floor. And I find especially tiresome the leering glee of supposedly sophisticated Hollywood entertainment reporters when it comes to the unmarried enciente; for God's sake, grow up.

Slutty little girls. Dear parents of prepubescent female children: Stop dressing your little girls like models for Hos "R" Us. It isn't cute or ironic. It's gross. Start a new trend -- chinos and polo shirts and boat shoes. Parent up. Raise your kids.

Boys raised by wolves. One of the unfortunate trends I see among child-rearing friends of mine is the attitude that boys are inherently socially defective, like rabid monkeys, and as such should not be expected to be polite, capable of being educated, respectful to elders, considerate or even hygenic: "What do you expect? He's a boy." Bull hockey. I grew up in a Prussian-American subculture, and you'd better believe that boys were expected to be civilized. Once again -- parent up. Raise your kids. If you assume that your boy is the behavioral equivalent of a baboon, guess what he'll grow up to be.

"Born-again" anything. Problematic theology, Lutheranwise, aside: I am so over so-called born-again Christians self-identifying as an especially important and meritorious societal subset entitled to admiration or, worse yet, deference on the part of everyone else. I sometimes find myself actually rooting for the ascendant irreligious majority to finally find enough of a public voice to send the Real Christians[tm] back into the sociopolitical backwaters. I wake up in a cold sweat at the thought of President Huckabee; God save us.

Beliefnet. It took me several years, but I think I am finally over my addiction to the Christian-Christian Debate forum. The number of squirrely/fundie/un-fun posters has finally reached a tipping point for me. (And how can I read all my new magazines if I'm online all the time?)

Sweets. Ironically, my marathon cookie-baking over the holidays has made me sweet-averse. Which doesn't mean that I no longer have to watch what I eat -- I loves me that meat and potatoes -- but frankly (and it hurts me to say this) if I were confronted this moment by the choice of a chocolate bar or a bowl of LutheranChik Family Recipe split-pea soup, I'd go for the soup.

A real Christmas tree. I am "over" it in the sense that I no longer find the thought of an imitation Christmas tree a calamitous betrayal of tradition. This year I decided that, since we were moving back and forth between households all holiday season long, it wasn't practical to fuss with the upkeep of a real tree. The fake one went up in about 15 minutes -- the hardest part was aligning the light plugs on my pre-lit model -- looks fine, isn't tippy, doesn't need daily watering and doesn't shed needles. Some year I may go back to a natural tree, but this year the faux fir worked out just fine.

My Best and Worst of 2007

In the spirit of all those TV morning shows and newspapers touting the best and worst of the previous year, I present to you my own best and worst list of 2007:

Best Culinary Arts Discovery: Learning that one can freeze garlic right in the bulb, with no special preparation. Earlier this year, after canning salsa, we found ourselves with about a half pound of lovely, locally grown hardnecked garlic that we feared would sprout or go bad. Enter Ina Garten, of Barefoot Contessa fame, with this revelation. Thank you,Ina, for tipping us off to this great storage option. I keep a bulb in the freezer door and just pull off cloves as needed.

Best Beverage Discoveries: Republic of Tea White Jasmine tea, which is like a gentle shiatzu massage for your mind and tummy, and viognier, a most lovely white wine with the added charm of being a varietal underdog brought back from near-extinction.

Best Household Luxury Discovery: Flannel sheets for the wintertime at Cold Conmfort Cottage. There's no going back after spending a blizzardy night between toasty flannel.

Best Television Discovery: Just the other day, while randomly clicking up the TV remote, I found The Deadliest Catch, a Discovery Channel series that follows real deep-sea fishermen on the job. Having loved Jon Krakauer's The Perfect Storm and Linda Greenlaw's books about the fishing life, I was immediately intrigued by this real reality television. When I told Fellow Traveler -- a former Mainer familiar with the fishing industry there -- about the show her initial reaction was "It's a show about what?"...but as soon as she began watching she got hooked (so to speak) too.

Best Meat Analog Discovery: As I've blogged in the past, I often dislike meat analogs; as a general rule I've found that one food trying to pretend it's another food just isn't very good. But we've been being Quorn brand chicken-ish cutlets at the food coop, and we just love them. Both the box and the product look unpromising at first -- the box design is rather industrial and boring, and when you open it the ugly frozen cutlets just tumble out sans benefit of plastic lining -- but these babies are the best substitute for chicken breast we've found. They're great in pasta, fajitas, marinated and grilled -- any recipe calling for chicken breast.

Best Middle-Aged, Lazy-Day Background Music: I love my Putumayo world music compilations. I am aware that music snobs find these albums very bland and superficial...but I like them.

Best Housekeeping Innovation: Automated bathtub/shower-stall cleaners. They are worth every penny of the initial investment for the machines, which hang on your showerhead and, at the push of a button, squirt cleaning solution all over your tub and tile. That is, unless you enjoy cleaning grout with a nail brush.

Best Sock Discovery: Elder brand cotton socks, which we buy at the Amish hardware store. They'e a kind of lofty, coarse-knit cotton sock that is so warm and comfy -- we love them. And they're pretty cheap.

Best Blue Jean Discovery: L.L. Bean jeans, which are stylin' while still comfortable for a broad-in-the-beam perimenopausal body.

Best "Hidden Jewel" Discovery in Our Neck of the Woods: The county recreational area just around the block from my house. Oh, we visited it the year previous, but we really grew to love it this year.

Best Destinational Discovery: The greater Empire/Glen Arbor area. Oh, we'd buzzed through before; but we really came to appreciate it during our long weekend there. We love everything about it: the eclectic, bohemian feel of it (despite the yuppie tourist presence); the local commitment to community-supported agriculture and plethora of farm markets, roadside stands and cottage-industry foodie businesses; the local commitment to recycling -- something we could desperately use in our neck of the woods; the natural beauty of the Leelanau Peninsula and Sleeping Bear Dunes area. Honestly, if I could find a job that paid a living wage up north, I think we'd move there immediately, do-not-pass-go.

Best Familial Discovery: A triple-play here: It was delightful to have our nephew, T, up from Florida for the holidays; he's such a nice young man, and we enjoyed his presence so much. It was fun to re-meet a great-niece at an age where she's starting to talk; this weekend I read Winter Friends to her, a nice little kids' book from the Michigan wildlife photographers/authors who created the wonderful Stranger in the Woods, and her comments were priceless. (Upon seeing a photo of a deer approaching the snowman in the story I asked, "Do you know what animal that is?" the little girl -- who isn't even two yet -- furrowed her brow, thought for a moment and responded, "It's....oh, I just can't think of it." "It's a deer." "Oh! Yeah! Waindeeh!") And -- we have discovered that Mollie, a cat who heretofore behaved like a largely absentee roommate, is actually very sweet and affectionate, and craves our companionship. After spending a couple of days in exile at the Cottage in deference to the kids' allergy issues back at the Big House, Mollie has been right in the middle of the family circle here...and spent much of the night sleeping next to my head.

Best Rediscovery: I always used to be a magazine junkie, ever since I was a little kiddo reading the household Family Circles and Newsweeks from cover to cover and begging my parents for change to buy a copy of Jack and Jill. For whatever reason I'd gotten away from that. But this past couple of months FT and I have subscribed to several magazines -- everything from Traverse to Body and Soul. Sometimes it's nice to turn off the 'puter and enjoy the visual and tactile experience of reading a magazine outside the context of a doctor's-office waiting room. "worsts." Well, that's a good thing, right?

Good Eats, Holiday Edition

It's good to be queen. That's how both of us felt this holiday season, enjoying our various holiday meals with one another and with extended family.

On Christmas Eve, after we got home from church we made a small beef tenderloin -- very simply; just sprinkled with Montreal seasoning, browned on the stovetop and then roasted until just barely medium rare -- and had that with steamed spinach and a small orange teardrop squash that I'd halved and steamed prior to going to church, then finished off in the oven with about a quarter-cup orange juice, two tablespoons lemon juice, maybe a heaping teaspoon each of orange and lemon zest and a good shot of sherry. If you're tired of the usual sweet-sticky baked winter squash, this makes a tangier and more interesting treatment. (Another, totally savory alternative to the brown sugar/maple syrup/honey thing: some minced garlic, sage and Parmesan cheese.)

Per the Birthday Girl's request, we -- FT, her son and Almost-Daughter-in-Law and I -- went to a sushi place in Saginaw for my birthday. Great food -- rather than eating dinner per se, we shared appetizers like edaname, spicy squid and tempura shrimp, then ordered a huge tray of assorted sushi. Ahi tuna is my absolute favorite, but I found myself marveling at how much I enjoyed eel. (There's a story in my family about one of my great-aunts cooking eel for a homesick great-uncle longing for eel like Mutti used to make, and Auntie subsequently having to throw the pan away afterward because the eel was so oily and fishy and generally horrible. So I came to the table with an anti-eel prejudice.)

This weekend we spent the day -- actually, we wound up spending a night and a day, having been caught in a big mid-Michigan blizzard and deciding not to head home -- with Fellow Traveler's sister and extended family. One of FT's family traditions is having Mexican-food day when the clan comes together over the winter holidays, so on Saturday we feasted on cheese enchiladas, chicken mole, beans and huge bowls of homemade salsa and guac. (Without giving too much away, FT's secret mole ingredient is a sweet chocolate bar added to the garlicky stewed chicken/bottled mole mixture.)

Our new household New Year's Eve tradition is seafood -- lots of seafood. This year, taking advantage of the short window of opportunity for obtaining fresh clams, we bought a bag of them for steaming and served them with lemon-garlic butter. Oh, my. Oh, my. Then -- in homage to the seagoing stars of our new favorite TV show, The Most Dangerous Catch, we made ourselves some sweet, succulent Alaskan crab legs. A few crudites and crackers, some nice Riesling to wash it all down, and we had ourselves a party...even if we didn't make it to either the lobster course (postponed until lunch today) or the dropping of the ball in Times Square.

Today is radical relaxation day at Cold Comfort Cottage; enjoying the Rose Bowl Parade, the Christmas tree and a household that's finally settling down after a very busy week-and-a-half.

Warning: Dangerous To World Peace...and To Maine

How funny to wake up this New Year's Day and hear Pope Benedict exhorting governments to protect "traditional" families in order to preserve world peace. And to read about a protestor from Maine attending this morning's group civil union ceremony in the capital of New Hampshire, which recently passed civil union legislation, stating that he was there to observe this horrendous event in order to warn his fellow Mainers of what might happen in their own state unless they act to ban civil unions.

Who knew what threats Fellow Traveler and I are to the civilized world?

We just started laughing. "The Gay Army is on the march -- duck! And the lesbians are bringing their power tools!"

You homophobes out there need to just stop -- now you're just sounding silly.