Friday, February 29, 2008

What's In a Name?

I couldn't resist this meme, from PK (aka Purple):

1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME (first pet, current car): Duke Intrepid

2. YOUR GANGSTA NAME (fave ice cream flavor, favorite type of shoe): Chocolate L.L. Bean Clog. Or L.L. Kool Bean for short.

3. YOUR NATIVE AMERICAN NAME (favorite color, favorite animal): Purple Dog. Or Red Dog. (It depends on the day.)

4. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME (middle name, city where you were born): Marie Gladwin.

5. YOUR STAR WARS NAME (the first three letters of your last name, first two of your first name): Pol-el.

6. SUPERHERO NAME (2nd favorite color, favorite drink): Yellow Coffee. (Um...not so much. How about "The" followed by your 2nd favorite color, followed by your favorite pastime? "The Yellow Procrastinator." Holy Reality Check, Batman, I think we have a winner.

7. NASCAR NAME (the first names of your grandfathers): Edmund Alfred? Alfred Edmund? That sounds less NASCAR and more...oh, I don't know...PBS host. (And neither grandpa was either a NASCAR or PBS kind of fellow...more beer-and-herring kind of guys.)

8. STRIPPER NAME ( the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy): Cool Water Dark Chocolate. Or Sandalwood Snickers. Again, it depends on the day.

9. TV WEATHER ANCHOR NAME (your fifth grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter): Smith San Francisco.

10. SPY NAME (your favorite season/holiday, flower): Christmas Orchid.

11. CARTOON NAME (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now): Melon Corduroy.

12. HIPPIE NAME (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree): Grape-Nuts Elm. (That sounds better than Yogurt Elm...something else I had for breakfast. Although Flaxseed Elm -- what else I ate for breakfast -- has a crunchy-granola ring to it.)

The Little Give

Fellow Traveler and I went grocery shopping last night.

It wasn't for us. It was for the Children Raised By Wolves and their family. The magnitude of their situation has made us feel pretty helpless. We've given them what we think are good suggestions for getting help, which have so far been ignored or dismissed; we've run out of ideas, and they're running out of time to stay where they're living.

But yesterday, while driving past the local supermarket, I saw the store's Buy One Get One Sale sign, and I thought of maybe getting the family some BOGO deals just to tide them over before they deal with their next household crisis. Shortly afterward I got a call from FT: "What do you think about going shopping tonight and buying some groceries for _______ and ________?"

So that's what we did. We pooled our funds and bought a grocery cart heaping full of food for them: meat, milk, potatoes, pasta and sauce, taco fixings, fresh fruit and juice, breakfast cereal, bread, peanut butter and jam, some snacks for the children. We called them up and said, "Have the kids put their coats on, because they'll need to help you carry some food inside your house."

Later that evening we stood in the muddy mess of their driveway, handing bags of food to the excited children. The mom and dad -- who sometimes don't give us a lot of indication that we're helping them in ways they appreciate -- were smiling. "Thank you!" the mom kept saying. "Thank you!"

It wasn't a Big Give; it wasn't the kind of giving that hurt, frankly. And it didn't solve anything. But it seemed like the next right thing to do.

The Live Life Fund

My cubicle-mate at work -- someone who's gone through some tumultuous times and is in a process of reinvention -- was telling me about a friend of hers' nest-egg savings plan. This may not be news to anyone reading -- maybe it comes from Dave Ramsay or another home-budget guru -- but this person periodically goes through all her dollar bills to find "A" series bills. She stashes those in a rainy-day fund.

My coworker, inspired, has begun culling her "L" series dollar bills, to stash away for times when she needs to be good to herself. She says, "I'm putting these in my Live Life fund!"

I find the idea of a Live Life fund rather enchanting. I wonder if this is a place where one should invest moments as well as money.

Friday Five: Living in the Leap

This week's Friday Five is all about living in the leap:

It's Leap Day!! Whether you're one of the special few who have a birthday only once every four years, or simply confused by the extra day on the calendar, everyone is welcome to join in and play our Leap Year Friday Five.

Tell us about a time you:

1. Leapt before you looked

One famous, or infamous, time was when I quit my aggravating-but-reliable job in one city to take another job, an administrative support position, at a state university in another city. My goal was to stick out this rather uninspiring job long enough to take advantage of the university's free tuition and employee flextime policy, and work on a master's degree. It turned out that between hostile coworkers, tedious work, a miserable working space (literally in the corner of a storage room) and the stress of a commute, I couldn't stand this job, no matter what the perks; the day after I passed my probationary period with flying colors and kudos from my boss the Dean, I gave my two weeks' notice. And I did so without another job in hand, which was another leap-before-looking.

Oh...and of course there's the case of two busy, preoccupied, frequently tired, anxiety-averse middle-aged broads deciding to adopt a semi-feral puppy of unknown parentage from some wacky crackhead dog-rescue lady after a 10-minute visit to the Kennel From Hell.

2. Leapt to a conclusion Upon meeting someone who is now a part of our household circle of friends, my initial reaction was, frankly, "What a mess." Because...well, let's just say that this person had (and has) issues. But after sticking with her, I've found her to be a good-hearted person and a good friend. Conversely, I've known someone whom I initially put on a pedestal -- thought she was one of the most together, successful people I knew -- whom I now recognize has...issues.

3. Took a Leap of Faith My latest leap of faith is getting involved with our church Evangelism Committee, even though the E word tends to make me cringe. Several years ago I took a Spiritual Gifts Inventory that identified evangelism as a charism of mine, which at the time made me laugh; when the opportunity came up to test that hypothesis, I figured, "Why not? What's the worst that can happen?" Don't answer that.

4. Took a literal Leap Hmmmm...don't do a lot of leaping. It's hard for us big-boned gals. Although seeing young Gertie begin to pop a squat in the dining room corner when we haven't been paying attention to her subtle "Let me out" signals has a certain energizing effect upon my movements.

5. And finally, what might you be faced with leaping in the coming year?
I'm always trying to leap over the heap of my own bad habits. Although maybe this year it's time to take a shovel to the heap.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Whine and Cheese

It was a sunny winter day here in Outer Podunk, and I -- stuck at home with the flu for a second day -- was starting to feel like a whiny, morose little child, nose stuck against the window pane, watching the world go by.

My wonderful partner came through with a pleasant surprise -- a wine-and-cheese sunch/lupper (at 4:00-ish). On the plate: wholegrain Ritz Toasteds with chunked colby-jack and Parmesan. In the glass: RH Phillips' 2004 Night Harvest Shiraz, from the bargain bin of our favorite wine purveyor.

I love Parmesan as an eating cheese. And it tasted so good with the Shiraz -- a very rich, velvety wine with strong blackberry and black cherry flavors, very similar to a Merlot and a lot classier than the under-10-dollars price might suggest.

Wanted: Great Church Websites

I am looking for...great church websites. Websites that go beyond the idea of signboard-in-cyberspace; that work well as a connecting point for active members and friends of a congregation, that help give people tools to live out their faith in the days between Sundays, and that are also appealing to people who may not (yet) be part of the faith community.

Any suggestions are most appreciated.

And Just Because I Can...More Cute Pet Pix

Gertie after her first haircut. The white stuff on her face is snow.
"Life is Good" -- the credo of the cat.
"Five minutes without The Kid...thank God!"


It's taken three weeks, but Cassie has finally begun to warm up to the notion that the li'l 'un can be kind of fun to have around, sometimes, maybe.

Train Wreck

Some of you may remember the Children Raised By Wolves across the street from The Big House, whom Fellow Traveler befriended and who do odd jobs for us.

These kids are in a world of hurt, and it's going to get worse.

First of all, their slumlord has sold the property upon which their trailer sits, so the family is going to be evicted within a few months. To compound the problem, their septic system is failing, but they're afraid to tell anyone because they don't want to lose their home even sooner than they expect, or lose the kids to foster care.

Our local public housing authority has a daunting waiting list for family housing...and even if it didn't, the parents balk at the rules they'd have to follow to live there (including ditching their junked vehicles, rabbit hutch and numerous semi-domesticated dogs).

The only family member willing and able to take the family in is Grandma, who lives in another city...with a registered sex offender boyfriend.

Meanwhile the mom and dad -- one of whom is mentally disabled and doesn't have the wherewithal to make responsible decisions, and the other of whom is constantly playing/skirting the system -- have pretty much cashed in all their goodwill chips with the Department of Human Services.

FT also found out that this family took out a $500 loan for kids' Christmas presents, then wound up taking the presents back and pawning them. We've already known that, unless we give the kids their chore money on the sly, their parents take it from them to pay their bills. Mom was recently laid off from her part-time, minimum-wage job, and has decided she doesn't want to work anymore, at anything.

Multigenerational dysfunctional families like this are why idealistic twenty-somethings who become DHS social workers in order to "make a difference" wind up bailing out for private practice where they can instead spend all day listening to whiny middle-class neurotics like me.

FT and I are understandably worried about the kids -- who didn't choose to be born into this train wreck of a family.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Don't get me wrong. I love Australians. They're some of the most interesting, derring-do and droll folks I've ever met. They have good beer too.

But -- damn, Spanky -- their flu really sucks.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Become a Yalie For Free!

Well...kind of.

Yale's new Open Yale online program is offering the public free access to Yale's undergraduate Introduction to the Old Testament class.

Very cool.

A hat tip to my online friend smcisaac for this link.

The Good News Bears

Despite my one-time vow to never sit on a church committee ever again -- ever, ever again -- I, along with Fellow Traveler, am headed to church tonight after dinner for a big confab of all our church committee members. The two of us are on the Evangelism Committee...ironic, because after my latest encounters with our fundagelical brethren and sistren online, I'm feeling rather agnosti-Buddhist. But maybe that gives me enough intellectual and emotional distance from it all to make me a useful member of the evangelism team.

"Better Late Than Never" Monday Five

What can I say? I've been in kind of a physical/mental fog over the past couple of days -- I think my body is still fighting off the bug that afflicted our home after our vacation -- making organized thinking very difficult. This morning I'm back at work -- a place where organized thinking is, shall we say, strongly encouraged -- so I need to get back in the saddle. I consider this my warm-up exercise.

Friday's RevGalBlogPals challenge asked readers to describe things heavenly. As in, what is your idea of a heavenly...

1.Family get-together Considering that my own blood relation tends to gather only for funerals, the only direction we have to go is up. On the other hand, Fellow Traveler's annual family reunion is pretty fun. And we had a real blast with our week-long mini-family get-together in Florida involving kids, FT's sister, significant others and assorted in-laws. Most of us will be re-rendevouzing in New York City for Thanksgiving this year to watch the Macy's parade (in which Semi-Stepson and Semi-Stepson-in-Law have working roles). Cool, no?

2. Song or musical piece It really depends -- anything from a Bach oratorio to a samba to Clapton playing the blues with B.B. King.

3. Gift At our house, we are pondering pooling our supposedly economy-goosing government rebates and purchasing a Wii, as a present to both of us. Hey -- that's what it's for, isn't it? We're just trying to be responsible citizens here.

4. You choose whatever you like-food, pair of shoes, vacation, house, or something else. Just tell us what it is and what a heavenly version of it would be. idea of a heavenly house would be a cozy cottage (albeit with enough yard space to satisfy the needs of two large dogs) in the Benzie-Leelanau area. The cottage itself needn't be new, but to be heavenly it would have to be in good repair: new flooring, safe and energy-efficient heating and cooling, appliances in excellent repair, nothing broken or rusty or buckling or sinking or leaking. This cottage would be filled with artwork and whimsies from the area...but would be the kind of place where you would feel absolutely comfortable taking off your shoes and putting your feet up on the furniture. And it would have a screen porch for hanging out during the temperate months; bonus points for a four-seasons room. I'd like the master bedroom in such a cottage to reflect the marvelous outdoor colors of that part of the world -- the blues and aquas and greens.

Sometimes I have visions of this imaginary home when I'm staring at the rusty air ducts or self-destructing bathroom faucet or repulsive 20-year-old semi-shag carpeting of Cold Comfort Cottage. Someday, I think...someday...

5. And for a serious moment, or what would you like your entrance into the next life to be like? What, from your vantage point now, would make Heaven "heavenly?"

I have to say...I have no expectations other than a "Welcome Home" that really feels like it. Beyond that -- I'm letting God surprise me.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Peculiar Institution

As we were channel-surfing last night (a glimpse into the wild abandon of our dissolute lives here at Cold Comfort Cottage), we came upon a rather odd program title: "My Big Redneck Wedding."

We glanced up at one another. "Oh, why not."

Our conclusion, one hour later:

Thank you, America, for setting the bar where you have. It puts our own relationship in a whole new perspective.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ship of Fools

No, not the delightful Christian website . (A shout-out to any Shipmates reading this -- I've been AWOL for a very long time, but not out of any ill will...I just don't have time.) I'm talking about wine -- wine crafted by Chateau Grand Traverse. Some coworkers and I were talking about doing the northern Michigan wine tour, so it was a coincidence to come home and find some Ship of Fools on the dinner table.

This is an interesting wine. It comes in a tall, Riesling-style amber bottle, but it's actually a mixture of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay grapes. It's dry -- very light to the point of almost-effervesence, subtly fruity and mineral-y -- but if you drink it with food, you'll experience just a tiny hint of sweetness at the end of your sip. I had it with a Subway chicken Florentine sandwich (hey -- I had to work late tonight; and living well is the best revenge),but I think it would also be really good with sea bass or other white fish, or with a vegetarian pasta dish.

If you'd like to enjoy a nice, moderately priced, food-friendly white wine, and support an up-and-coming American winegrowing region (shameless Michigan plug here) -- take a sail on this ship.

Putting My Money Where the Flowers Are

I love the idea of Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, where consumers can purchase shares in a farm -- usually a produce farm, although I've heard of the principle applied to dairy farms, apiaries and other agricultural enterprises as well -- and then share in the fortunes/misfortunes of that farm during the growing year. If things go well, the consumer shareholder gets a regular delivery of farm products. If the weather is bad or things otherwise don't go right, the consumer shares the farmer's financial burden.

Well, this concept has finally come close enough to Cold Comfort Cottage for me to sign on.

A few months ago Fellow Traveler and I were in our favorite restaurant, in a nearby university town, when I spied a homemade flier advertising a CSA flower farm; for an annual membership fee, you were entitled to fresh flowers each week of the growing season if there was something in bloom. Cool, I thought. Too bad it's too far away.

Fast forward to January, and I noticed another flier for the same CSA venture. Turns out that the grower lives not too far away from my satellite office, one county over. I'd been pondering some unique gift for FT for Valentine's Day, so I gave the grower a call. She and her husband are a young couple who want very much to transition from hobby farming to full-time specialty farming of flowers and organic vegetables; this is their initial toe-dip into that process. And so I bought in.

FT will now be getting a weekly bouquet or other flower-related product this summer and fall; the grower will deliver to my office, and I'll take our lovely surprise home. Moreover, the grower told me that one of her relatives will be selling the farm's vegetables at the relative's business just down the road from my office each Friday -- kind of a mini farm market in this little village.

This is so cool.

I wish that the impermeable bubble surrounding my own community, against which new ideas inevitably bounce off, would somehow let in the concept of CSA.

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm"

Some readers may remember my mentioning that Fellow Traveler and I were looking forward to going through an online course on spirituality offered by the ELCA's Select Multimedia Services.

Well...class got cancelled. Because only three people signed up for it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My Lenten Massage

So I'm lying face down on the massage table...

Let me back up.

As all three or four Constant Readers know, I recently enjoyed an hour-long Swedish massage during my Florida vacation. This was not only muchly relaxing, but it relieved the tension-induced pain that I almost always have in my upper back and shoulders. My masseuse, marveling at my stress-hardened muscles, had remarked, "You really need more massages!" And afterward I thought, "You know -- she's right."

So I promised myself that I'd treat myself to a massage once a month, even if it meant pinching pennies elsewhere in the household budget. And today I came through for myself, down at the local physical therapy clinic, which offers massage appointments once a week.

So I'm lying face down on the massage table, air redolent of herbal elixirs and soft Latin jazz as my masseuse digs into my shoulder blades and elbows my dowager's hump, pondering the seeming irony of enjoying a massage during Lent. I think of the over-the-top physical mortifications of the saints of yore -- things that would probably get them a 48-hour psych admission nowadays, and with good reason -- as well as the much more moderate forms of self-denial that many Christians take upon themselves as a discipline this time of year. As my pastor likes to say, "Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?"

I concluded that it's a good thing. Which may be an entirely self-serving, self-justifying sentiment. But let me tell you why.

Suffering tends not to bring out the best in me. Unlike people who report finding God's special presence and empathy with others in the midst of their own physical and emotional hurts, I tend to become self-pitying, self-absorbed, crabby, blaming, mentally "fuzzy" and a whole lot of other ugly, dysfunctional things.

When I feel that I've "got game" spiritually, it's usually when I'm feeling physically and emotionally well; when I'm not distracted by my own physical or emotional aches and pains; when I can get out of my own way.

Moreover -- we Christians (and, sadly, especially women) still labor under the burden of an otherworldly body-hatred that I believe is the basis for the physical self-mortification that used to be, and I guess still is in some circles, considered to be exemplary. This isn't the life-affirming, l'chaim! message of the Bible.

There's a difference between positive, healthy discipline and dysfunctional self-denial. If we embrace Paul's metaphor of the Christian life as a race to be run, we aren't very effective athletes if we ignore the health of our enfleshed selves or, worse yet, intentionally beat ourselves up in service to some distorted notion of asceticism.

I feel much better, thank you. And after being sick and out of sorts for the better part of a week, I'm feeling more empowered and mentally grounded and ready to just get on with it, soli Deo gloria.


What's a dog doing on the kitchen table? Gee...that's what Fellow Traveler asked herself today when she came upon young Gertie examining FT's stash of Valentine's Day Necco hearts. (Note Mollie the cat's indulgent gaze.)

From My "Stupid Christian" Files, Backyard Edition

The nature of my job leads me to read several local weekly newspapers. Because I am a church geek, I usually read the church news in these publications. (For those of you without benefit of rural newspaper, these are chatty little blurbs about area congregations, usually written by a layperson therein.)

Anyway, I'm reading this particular church-news page, when I come upon the contribution by a local Lutheran church.

It began: "The fountain of youth and cytogenetics are false hopes, man dies because of sin. Yes sin! A word denied by many." Hmmm, I thought, taking my former-professional-proofreader's red pen to the punctuation issues.

The article continued, "Christ is the 'Living Water.' The Samaritan woman at the well gave Christ water; Christ told her about her personal life, so she knew he was a prophet. This “Living Water” is faith. The spiritually thirsty need Christ for the forgiveness of sins. The church is not just a building, but the congregation. Those who are inactive need these living waters."

It sounded like scribbled sermon notes reconstituted by a non-English major. Oh, cut the person some slack, I told myself. They're doing the best they can with what they have.

Then my eyes fell upon this sentence:

"The Jews felt they were the master race, not the Masters’ race."

What? WHAT???????????

My stomach went into full churn. Oh. My. God.

Thanks, sir or madam, for sending Jewish-Lutheran relations back 500 years. What were you thinking? WERE you thinking?

And the sad thing is, there are readers in my neck of the woods who probably think this was quite a clever theological insight.

Oy gevult.

Monday, February 18, 2008

From My Stupid Christian Files: Foul Call Edition

Just to let you know that my Stupid Christian File is an equal-opportunity about St. Mary's Academy of Topeka's refusal to allow a woman to referee during one of its games.

Good Morning America interviewed the referee, as well as a representative of the high school athletic association that's currently reviewing St. Mary's status. The referee gave a calm, reasoned, stand-up interview wherein she noted that, once her uniform goes on, she is an official, and gender has nothing to do with enforcing the rules of the game.

Unsurprisingly, the traditionalist Roman Catholic administration of St. Mary's won't respond to requests for interviews or for an explanation of their athletic policy. (Otherwise known as the Stonewall Play...which has worked so well -- cough -- for institutional churches in the past.)

The people I feel sorriest for here are the students of St. Mary's, who are going to go through life burdened with ridiculous ideas about sexuality and gender roles that the rest of society is increasingly getting over.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Service No: Sunday Dinner Yes

Well, church was a bust this morning...and a good thing (for the past 45 minutes we've been watching unfortunate neighbors trying to drive up an icy incline on the road next to my property, and unable to make it to the top of the hill).

So we were housebound by ice. And illness too; Fellow Traveler is still not getting over her respiratory infection, and spent much of the day in bed with a sinus headache. But we did manage Sunday dinner, one of our more sacrosanct family traditions.

On the table: A simple roasted chicken from my local meat purveyor/feed-store owner Farmer Ken, rubbed with olive oil, anti-cholesterol faux butter and various chicken-friendly herbs and cooked on my upright-chicken cooker (the jury is still out on whether the chicken comes out better or faster this way, but the hollow chimney upon which the bird sits makes a great infusing chamber for herbs and other seasonings); mixed rice pilaf; baby spinach steamed with the last of a bunch of Swiss chard that I'd miraculously scored at our local supermarket last week; a baked sweet potato. At least it smelled like Sunday at our house. (And we found out that young Miss Gertrude loves her chicken.)

Ice, Ice Baby

When I got up at five this morning to take out the beasts (the always ingenious Casssie having gotten me up by waving in my face the baggie of leftover cheese I'd snacked on last night, then discarded in the trash), the weather seemed okay. When I got up for real, freezing rain had begun to fall. By the time I was ready to leave for church, the sidewalk, driveway and trees were all coated in a layer of ice. I drove about a mile down the road, and when I realized that I couldn't wipe the ice off the windshield fast enough to see where I was going, I knew it was time to turn around (very carefully) and give up on the church thing.

When I called, our secretary told me that she'd already called most of our seniors and told them not to try to make it to church -- and that our Sunday School teacher had slipped and fallen off her front porch while trying to get her kids into the car for Sunday School and had also decided to stay home. The few hardy souls who'd managed to make it were deciding whether to call the whole thing off this morning.

I just e-mailed my sermon to my assisting minister. If it keeps freezing-raining, she might have to e-mail it to the rest of the congregation.

I Had a Dream

Okay...I'll admit the midst of my angst last night I found myself nibbling on a nubbin of anonymous, leftover cheese from the gourmet store.

After which I fell asleep. And I dreamed...

First I dreamed I lived in some earlier time -- people seemed to be walking around in colonial dress -- under the rule of some Taliban-ish, misogynistic Vice and Virtue Ministry. And I was constantly subverting them, and encouraging others to do the same; doing things like wearing trousers under my skirt, and then taking off my skirt and walking around in pants when the morality police weren't around. I was something of a female Robin Hood in the community, and took real joy in messing with the Authority Figures without their knowledge.

Then I found myself in some contemporary totalitarian regime where inconvenient people of various kinds were euthanized. I was working in a care facility where, if one of the residents became too sick, personnel would appear to "wheel them outside for some fresh air" or other euphemism for killing them. In my dream one partner in a married couple realized that, his failing spouse was headed for this fate, and was tenderly saying goodbye to her, and telling her that everything was going to be all right, even as the institutional goons waited to disappear her into the "fresh air." I was filled with outrage, but didn't know what to do.

Then I found myself at some sort of work-related training, amid people I recognized from my current and past employers. There were also political bigshots at this convention, for some reason, including Robert Kennedy; no, not Ted or one of the second-generation Kennedys; Bobby. We were all watching a film on the importance of diversity and tolerance, and at the end a series of couples of different ethnicities literally walked off into the sunset arm in arm. Two women, also arm in arm, were included in this finale, and at the end of the film they kissed one another on screen. I burst out applauding: "Yaaaay!" -- and found everyone else in the room, my past and present coworkers, silently staring at me. I looked around, re-composed myself and repeated, rather resolutely, "Well -- Yaaaay!" Afterward I was wandering around in the hallway when a young man in a suit jacket came up to me. "I'm an intern for Senator Kennedy," he announced, "and I'm here on behalf of the Senator, who wishes to commend you for having the courage to out yourself in public, among your coworkers." The intern extended his hand.

I'm trying to decide if this dream was a profound message from my subconscious or just the aftereffect of eating moldy cheese before going to bed. It was interesting, anyhow. And Robert Kennedy's looking pretty good for a dead guy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Saturday Five: "All Wet" Edition

Better late than never...the RevGalBlogPals's Friday Five:

1. When and where were you baptized? Do you remember it? Know any interesting tidbits?
In the words of John Lennon, I was very young when I was born...and I was baptized shortly thereafter, while I was still in the hospital, in an incubator. (I was a low birthweight baby, and rather sickly.) My mother's Roman Catholic nurse was my sponsor.

2. What's the most unexpected thing you've ever witnessed at a baptism?
I can't really think of any. I do know of an ELCA church in my synod with an unexpected baptismal font -- a deep font, capable of full-body baby immersion, with running water, located at the back of the sanctuary so that worshippers can dip in a hand and sign themselves en route to their pews. It's kind of cool. Although I would be terrified of dropping a squirming, satin-clad child into the font; I'd want a fish net discreetly kept somewhere in the vicinity to dip in the font and rescue the kid if necessary.

3. Does your congregation have any special traditions surrounding baptisms?
We always invite all children to come up front and center to get a better view...which I think sometimes flusters parents or godparents who weren't expecting a crowd of little rugrats up close and personal.

4.Are you a godparent or baptismal sponsor? Have a story to tell?
I have only been a sponsor once -- for my college roommate, who came to college an atheist but who got involved in my church choir and wound up asking to be baptized. Sadly, we kind of lost touch over the years. I'd be curious to find out what she's up to these days. Hello, Lori Knapp, wherever you are!

5.Do you have a favorite baptismal song or hymn?
"Favorite" isn't really the word, but...for the first 18 years of my life every baptism at my childhood church was preceded by the hymn "Dearest Jesus, We Are Here," so that's been indelibly seared into my brain. Even though I've not heard it in the last, oh, 25 or so's always something of a surprise to me when I don't hear it before a baptism.

Bad Attitude

I'm sitting here trying to finish my sermon for tomorrow, and having a very bad attitude.

Part of this is due to the distractions of everyday living: Fellow Traveler caught the nasty bug that came down with right after our vacation, and is lying in bed in misery right now, so I am on solo duty with Gertie; I have spent all day taking unacceptable things (asthma inhalers, eyeglasses, electrical cords, bills, handknit Christmas slippers) out of her mouth and replacing them with one of the approximately 50 dog toys lying on the living-room floor. (I think I've now been officially designated Boring, Mean Mama.)

And part of this is due to a general funk. I confess to you, my sisters and brothers in Christ, that I don't really find a lot to like in Christianity right now. No, it's not about any quarrel with the creedal affirmations of historical Christianity. Fact is, I am so sick of Christian fundamentalists because of their mindless, slavish obsession with following the letter of Scripture; and that in turn makes me wonder about the wisdom of being "People of the Book," when the Book seems to make so many people stupid and crazy. Ah, Brother Martin, what hath thou wrought? I'm just sick of it. I'm so sick of people who think that their biblical literalism is earning them eternal brownie points for "obedience" or "faithfulness." I'm so sick of people whose decision-making regarding every detail of daily existence literally revolves around finding supporting Scripture texts. I don't want to be like these people; I don't want to be with these people. God save me from these people.

All of which makes preaching on a sermon text particularly ironic, as well as challenging. It depresses me to think that, thanks to our current religious Zeitgeist, people are going to be sitting there listening to me trying to hear a rule to keep them on God's good side.

During Lent our congregation is going off the Revised Common Lectionary in favor of a thematic series, "Shadows of the Cross." My text is from John 13, describing servant leadership. I am very tempted to ditch the bureaucratic sermon helps I was assigned by the Worship Committee, and instead work from a comment a friend of mine -- a refugee from a church obsessed with a kind of otherworldly holiness disconnected from daily living, as well as a parent of several small children -- who observed, "I don't want to be part of a church whose spirituality doesn't include the spirituality of changing poopy diapers." Or, I'd add, the spirituality of tucking the covers around a feverish, virus-exuding partner, or of shoveling puppy poo away from the back door. I am so tired of people aspiring to some sort of presumptuous, special holiness over and above the holiness of seeking to live as a decent person in this world.

All of which is to say: I'm really sick of "Christians" right now. I'm even sick of the C-word. I wish I had some alternative moniker. I want to say, Keep your "specialness" and "righteousness" and xenophobia and judgmentalism and anti-intellectualism and emotionalism and Bible-based bigotries and perceived otherworldliness away from me. AWAY. GO. GO! AWAY!

Give Peace a Chance

A good cheap wine: Peace Family Vineyard 2005 Shiraz.

We'd bought this in Suttons Bay back in November when we went on retreat up there, but I'd forgotten about it until I accidently came across the bottle while rearranging cupboards. We had it tonight with a semi-homemade Greek pizza (i.e., assembled on a pre-made whole-wheat crust)...mmmmm. It has a kind of blackberry-y, pomegranate-y richness. And I wonder, had I forgotten about it for a couple of years rather than a couple of months, if it would have tasted even better.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wings of Desire

Valentine's Day has been as romantic as possible here at Cold Comfort Cottage -- given a sniffly partner and a rambunctious puppy. One of the many lovely highlights of the day was our restorative at-home supper, featuring homemade egg drop soup and mahogany chicken wings. The wings were fabulous. Here's the recipe:

Mahogany Wings

3 pounds chicken wings, tips removed and dejointed
1/2 cup tamari soy sauce
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
2 TBS chili sauce (Note: I also added a plop of Korean garlic chili paste)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 nub fresh ginger (about the size of a thumbnail), finely minced

Place wings in a large ziplock plastic bag. Mix remaining ingredients well and pour over wings. Marinate overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place wings in single layer on a sprayed, aluminum covered cookie sheet; pour extra marinade over wings. Bake for about an hour, turning wings every 15 minutes.

These wings have a marvelous flavor and, as the name implies, a marvelous color. They are very good.


And here are two great quiet-evening-at-home wines: Black Star Farms 2005 Arcturos Chardonnay, from my own fair state, has a wonderfully well rounded flavor with an appealing toasted oak accent. We don't just do Riesling up here! And after reading glowing reports of Fetzer Vineyards' environmentally sound farming practices, I had to try a bottle of 2005 Valley Oaks Chardonnay. It's very light and food-friendly, with just a hint of golden raisin,. We'd definitely buy both again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reality TV Bites

Anyone else catch Wife Swap tonight?

For those of you whose finger is not on the pulse of popular TV culture, Wife Swap is a so-called reality TV show where two families -- chosen for representing polar opposites of various worldviews -- swap wives for a couple of weeks. For the first week, the visiting wife must follow the lifestyle of the host family. For the second week, she gets to call the household shots.

We very occasionally watch snippets of this show at our house if we're idly channel surfing.

This week the two families represented two ends of the Christian continuum. One family was Lutheran of the progressive variety; the mother was a business executive and the dad was a theologian/househusband. The other family was ueberfundamentalist; I don't know what the father did for a living, but he was adamant that he was the breadwinner, and that his wife was to stay at home and raise the children; moreover, his daughters were not to aspire to higher education or a career other than that of wife and mother, and were to limit their future dreams to praying for a suitable husband.

Obviously cultures collided in a dramatic way during this episode, as they always do. But this show lacked the silliness quotient of most Wife Swap episodes; it was just sad, and scary. And the fundamentalist father was not only crazier than a fruit bat, but bullying -- in a way that would compel me, if I were a neighbor, to contact Child Protective Services. In one especially heartbreaking subtext within the episode, the youngest fundamentalist girl expressed a strong wish to her feminist pretend-mom that she wanted to study medicine and become a doctor when she grew up, but was afraid to tell her parents because they'd disapprove.
After Crazy Fundie Father found out about this, he whisked the younger children out of the home, away from the influence of Evil Lutheran Mom. When the younger girl returned, I -- and this is just intuition on my part -- felt that Something Very Bad happened to her, off-camera, with her father; she looked like a whipped puppy, and was mnindlessly repeating the submissive-female propaganda of her parents. The sparkle in her eyes that had been there when she described her dreams of becoming a doctor had disappeared.

My reaction to Crazy Fundie Father, upon seeing this: **** you, you ******* *******, combined with a strong desire to reach through the TV screen and teach him, with extreme prejudice, to pick on someone his own size. I cannot describe how angry this abusive, disgusting creep made me.

I was also made sick to puke by the fundamentalist family's obsession with "cheerful service" -- no negativity or even neutrality allowed regarding doing family chores, but rather forced cheerfulness. Considering that I'm on deck to preach this coming Sunday, and my assignment -- we're going off the lectionary this Lent -- is to preach on "servant leadership" -- now I'm going to have to work through this image of mindless Stepford Christians whistling while they work, or else. Dear God, please Lysol my mind of this image.

Usually during the last segments of Wife Swap there is obligatory Hugging and Learning. Not this time.

This is what happens when I stray from the Food Network and the Travel Channel. Where's Anthony Bourdain when you really need him?

Monday, February 11, 2008

From Gertie's Diary

"Day Two: This was my first full day at my new home with the humans. As you can see, I'm very tired. But there's so much to learn, and so much to do...I just wore myself out.

"I used to live in an 8 by 8 pen with three brothers. We didn't even have a dog house -- just a kind of lean-to inside the pen. I can't believe that I get to stay inside a warm house all day now. At first I was afraid to go through the doorway into the house...but now you can bet I'm not afraid! (Especially since it's below zero outside!)

"Today I learned a lot of new things. I learned about all the toys in my new house. I like to pick them out of the toy box and carry them around and chew them. There are also some things around here that look like toys but aren't, and the humans don't like it if I pick them up and chew them. I thought the bathroom rug and the computer cord were toys, but the mamas say no. Hey -- two days ago I was living up to my ankles in dog poop in a 8-by-8 pen with three other puppies and not even a real dog house; give me a break.

"I also learned about mirrors -- you look into this thing, and a dog looks back at you! I was so surprised I couldn't stop barking at that other dog.

"I also learned about meat. Mamas gave me a tiny bit of their supper today, to go along with my dog food. Mmmm, that was good! I didn't even know how to eat it at first. I've never been anywhere with so much food or water before.

"And I learned how to slide down snowbanks. I climb up the snowbank, then slide down the other side. Wow! That's fun!

"Mamas are very happy with me for always telling them I have to go potty, and then going outside to do that. They tell me I'm very smart. (They keep using words like "smart," "cute" and "good" -- I don't really know what they mean yet, but they seem to be nice words.)

This is my big sister, Cassie. Here she's pretending she's not looking at me, but she really is. I love her. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

This is Mollie. She's something called a cat. When I saw her for the first time I started barking -- oof! oof! oof! -- and walked right up to her...but she just walked away. Mamas say that she's our friend, and that I shouldn't bark at her. Today she spent the day up on top of the sofa, while I was on the floor. I think that means she thinks I'm her friend too, now, kind of.

This is me, looking cute -- I think that's the word the mamas used -- with my new toy. I hope you'll be my friends too!

The "Little Doggie" Persists

It's Day Three of our New Dog Adventure.

Cassie -- who is something of a diva anyway -- is letting us all know in no uncertain terms that her life has been ruined irreperably by our new addition, that she's not forgiving us, ever, and that she is never going to be friends with the interloper.

(Cassie has had a rough weekend d overall. After church we went to our friend L's to show off the puppy. Cassie, who'd spent a week there while we were vacationing, and who loves L's dog, was excited to be back...but then the door opened, and there with Cassie's dog friend Maize appeared a massive elderly male golden retriever. Turns out L was dogsitting for one of her relatives. Romeo is kind of a big, dumb lummox who always had to be front and center during our visit, and you could see Cassie seething with resentment at his presence.)

Gertie, however -- and I think this speaks to something positive in her little puppy personality -- is cheerfully but resolutely undiscouraged in her attempts to be Cassie's friend. Gertie approaches; Cassie growls; Gertie backs off but still tags along. In the car, in the back seat, Cassie sulks next to the door; Gertie slowly worms her way next to Cassie and winds up snoozing next to Cassie with her head on Cassie's flank.

I'm reminded of Jesus' encounter with the Syrophoenician woman, his rather churlish comment to her that it isn't right to give the children's food to the "little doggies" under the table, and her persistence in pointing out that even the dogs are allowed the crumbs that fall on the floor.

Gertie is, by all appearances, happy with whatever crumbs of minimal tolerance she's receiving from her new big sister.

And I think Cassie will get over it, eventually.

P.S. Mollie the cat actually deigned to spend the evening on her favorite pillow despite the presence of Gertie in the room. Her attitude, in contrast to Cassie's, seems to be, "Dog, schmog...they come, they go...whatever."

Saturday, February 09, 2008


How can I even begin to describe our day? First we got completely lost en route to the rescue "ranch," in a flyspeck village about an hour northeast of Outer Podunk; then, once we found it, we almost turned right around and headed home -- think Romanian orphanage with dogs instead of babies, and the music from Deliverance twanging in the background, and a batshit-crazy dog rescuer breaking into a rap anthology of Neil Young songs while having us fill out adoption papers.

But, anyhow -- meet Gertie, the newest member of our household. This is after we administered a triple-shampoo baptism to defunkify her and effect a regeneration into a transformed, house-dog life. Gertie was amazingly good-natured about the whole thing, snuggling into a pile of blankets afterward.

Gertie is, we think, part lab and part -- well, who knows. She's five months old, about beagle sized, and built as solid as a brick house.

Mollie briefly appeared to survey the new addition, then retreated to the middle bedroom. Cassie isn't at all sure that this is a very good idea, and is sulking behind a living room chair.

Friday, February 08, 2008

This is Your House...This is Your House on Fire...

As I mentioned on the RevGalBlogPals website, Fellow Traveler and I almost made ashes of ourselves, and not a good way.

We had spent our first night back from Florida at The Big House, then packed up our things and our animals Sunday evening and moved the 10 miles or so north to Cold Comfort Cottage for the remainder of the week. (We move back and forth on about a 10-day cycle, something that completely mystifies our friends but that makes perfect sense to us.)

Monday when I got home from work, Fellow Traveler related that she'd gone back to The Big House to retrieve something or other and found the low-tech coffeepot still on, the contents turned to burned sludge. "Everything in the house smells like burnt coffee -- eccch." We agreed that it was a good thing she'd discovered this oversight before something worse happened.

Last night FT made the trek to The Big House again -- and found that the furnace wasn't working; the house was cold. Again, we agreed that it was a good thing that we'd disovered this malfunction before the weekend, so we could get it fixed promptly.

This morning FT left The Big House very early, as I was headed to my satellite office, to call the furnace guy and get the repair process started. When I got to work, I got a call: "Are you sitting down?"

Here's the story: When the furnace guy came, he smelled the funky smoke odor in the house. Fellow Traveler told him about the coffee pot. He sniffed again and said, "Funny -- that doesn't smell like all you scorched was the coffee." He then went into the crawlspace to inspect the furnace.

"That's not coffee you smell," he announced. "That's your house -- on fire."

It turns out that, at some point during the week, the furnace overheated. It caught its foundation on fire -- enough to damage the siding outside. But the fire was somehow self-contained enough to put itself out.

FT is, even as I keyboard, getting the ball rolling with the insurance company.

FT hasn't owned her home for very long, and got a fast education in some of the structural issues she unwittingly inherited with this property. Meanwhile, I will never again whine and moan about paying Furnace Guy for his annual inspection of the Cold Comfort Cottage furnace.

Postscript: I guess the dog-shopping is off this weekend.

A Lenten Friday Five

This week's questions from the RevGalBlogPals:

1. Did you celebrate Mardi Gras and/or Ash Wednesday this week? How?
It was a strange year this year. Last week was a little bit like Mardi Gras as far as general feasting and merriment, and I did win a string of Mardi Gras beads at the arcade at Daytona Beach...but I'm really more of a Shrove Tuesday gal; love those pancakes, in any way/shape/form. But this week I was preoccupied playing catchup at work, and then Wednesday our area was buffeted by a true blizzard that basically shut down all public events and kept us at home Wednesday evening

2. What was your most memorable Mardi Gras/Ash Wednesday/Lent?
Let's see...there was that beery Fasching party my fellow German Department students and I attended back in my university days, memorable because it was the first and only time I 1)did the Chicken Dance; and 2)temporarily blacked out -- I was standing in the bathroom, the walls spinning around me, and then suddenly for a moment I couldn't remember where I was or why. (This incident went a long way toward my exercising greater caution in my collegiate partying.) But seriously...I think the first time I actually experienced the imposition of ashes, it was a profound spiritual event for me. It's still one of the major touchstones in the circle of the Church year. I'm sorry I didn't get the opportunity to go to services this year.

3. Did you/your church/your family celebrate Lent as a child? If not, when and how did you discover it?
My childhood church, an LCMS parish, had a very Pietist bent and thus an uncomfortable relationship with ritual in general -- one always got the impression that our pastors were embarrassed by too much of it, and God forbid that we ever appear too Catholic. So Lent for us was not much more than a very stripped-down Wednesday Vesper service added to the weekly church calendar. Imagine my surprise when I went away to college and found myself in a high-up-the-candle Lutheran parish that "did" Lent in a very mindful and ritually full way. I appreciated it, a lot; it was an "aha!" experience for me.

4. Are you more in the give-up camp, or the take-on camp, or somewhere in between?
I'd say somewhere in between. I think that, given my own psychology and life situation right now, "taking on" too much is a recipe for disaster, whereas "giving up" some things may indeed be beneficial. My goal this year, though, is to not confuse Lenten discipline with New Year's self-reinvention; two good ideas, to be sure, but to be undertaken with different motivations and different desired outcomes.

5. How do you plan to keep Lent this year?
I am -- shameless plug for the RevGalBlogPals' book club here -- reading the Bread and Wine Lenten anthology again. And -- yipes -- I told Fellow Traveler that I may attempt an Internet fast one day a week. We're also going to try going meatless more often at our place, and channel the savings toward charities of our choice.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Doggone Family Expansion?

When Fellow Traveler and I went on our vacation, we left Cassie, aka Miss Cassie May, with our friend L and her golden retriever Maize. We'd been just a bit concerned because Cassie had been somewhat non-committal about the whole thing during a previous home visit with the two -- she liked L all right, but treated Maize with a rather paws-off attitude, and in fact spent much of that evening amusing herself by staring out of L's living-room window at the neighbors instead of interacting with her new doggie acquaintance.

It turns out that, once we drove away, Cassie and Maize hit it off like gangbusters -- think Happy Time Dog Camp for both of them.

But now that we're all home, Cassie is in a state of abject depression. Our normally exuberant dog spends the day either sleeping or moping. We think she's not only missing Maize, but by extension remembering her beloved dog sister Katie, and even her affectionately antagonistic dealings with Cody.

So our household discussions have turned to the wisdom of getting another dog -- not only because of Cassie's apparent loneliness, but our observations of Semi-Son the Younger's and Semi-Son-in-Law's two dogs -- one of which had been an older, "only dog" with numerous health issues until the kids rescued the other dog. These two dog buddies are so happy, and the older dog's health has improved exponentially (a phenomenon we'd also seen in Cody, who I'm sure owed his last year of life to his new doggie pals).

This weekend we're going to travel to a neighboring county, Cassie in tow, and check out a private rescue household we found via This might be the beginning of another dog adventure for our household. And it may give a whole new meaning to the term "Lenten discipline."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Filling the Bookshelves

Great news -- our church is embarking on a carpentry project to build bookshelves for our Sunday School program. Because we want to fill the shelves with new books and DVDs for kids and their families.

What are your recommendations for some good books and films for the kiddos?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Superbowl Nachos

We're back to cooking for ourselves's what we had for supper tonight, pre-Superbowl:

blue corn chips (the good, real-deal kind)
olive oil
one package of lean ground turkey
about 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
about 1/2 cup onion chopped
half a lime
salsa verde
1/2 can black beans, rinsed and well drained
shredded Mexican cheese blend

fat-free sour cream and guacamole

We browned the turkey in olive oil, adding the onion and garlic toward the end of that process. Then we added the beans, squeezed in juice from half a lime, threw in a few spoonfuls of salsa verde and a little extra water and added some fresh cilantro. After this was all heated through well we spooned the meat mixture over the blue corn chips, added the shredded cheese and microwaved the platter until the cheese was melted. We ate our nachos with fat-free sour cream and a simple guacamole made with avocados, juice from the other lime half and a few spoonfuls of chipotle salsa.

This was good eatin'.

The household Weight Challenge starts again tomorrow.

From My Stupid Christian Files: Doubleheader Edition

Who knew that Pan and pants (on women) were such clear and present dangers to all that is good and right in the world?

(More on the evils of pants here and here .)

Official Family Vacation Photo

From left to right: Semi-Son-in-Law; yours truly; Semi-Son the Younger; Fellow Traveler; Semi-Son the Elder; Semi-Daughter-in-Law.

My Final Tourist Tale

We are back in the Water Winter Wonderland, safe and sound, after a wonderful vacation. Some things I'll miss -- the sunshine; the flora; our kids; Epcot; fresh seafood. Other things -- spoiled, whiny children and their bored, resentful parents; $150 princesses; alligators; timeshare salespeople -- I'm pretty much over.

But I have to relate to you our return to Michigan.

We had a smooth, uneventful flight to Flint landing around 9:00 in the evening. We had parked, not in the long-term airport parking lot, but at a nearby franchise motel (which is a story all its own -- all I will say is eccccch) where we'd spent the night before our flight out, which provided cheaper parking. We caught a cab to the motel. We unlocked the Jeep and packed our stuff inside. We put the key in the ignition. Nothing. The engine was dead.

We were still on a high from our trip, so we took this unexpected glitch in stride, proceeding to the motel office to summon help. We explained our situation to the young blonde woman at the desk.

"Can you help us get a jump for our car?" we asked.

There was a very long pause. Evidently problem-solving skills aren't a job requirement for front-line employees of this particular motel chain.

"Um...I could, like, get our maintenance man, but he's, like, at the airport right now. I don't know, like, when he'll be back." More silence.

We asked if there was a list of emergency contacts behind the desk that might include the number for a towing company.

"Um...we don't have anything like that."

"Well...can you call AAA for us then?" asked Fellow Traveler.

"How do you spell that?" (I am not making this up.)

"How about if you give us the phone book so we can look up a towing service ourselves," I suggested, with a certain amount of impatience.

"Oh." I was handed a phone book.

"Is there a service station around here?" Fellow Traveler persisted.

"Oh...there's, like, um, next door."

"Do they have road service?"

"Um...I don't know. Do you know what the name of it is?"

"No, we don't know the name of it, because we don't live here."

"Yeah. Well, like, I wouldn't know that." Of course you wouldn't, sweetie.

After several more minutes of this surreal exchange, the maintenance man finally appeared and was dispatched to help us. We found ourselves talking with a grizzled little old man who was extremely drunk, and extremely irritated with us for not having called the motel to have him, rather than a taxi, pick us up at the airport. Thank God for small favors, I thought.

The man gave our Jeep a watery-eyed visual assessment. "I don't think I got room to get in there and give ya a jump," he slurred. "But maybe I can drive between the building and the cars."

We'd parked perpendicular to a wing of the motel. There was just barely enough space between the building and the end of the sidewalk to accomodate a vehicle.

We watched nervously as the man steered the motel courtesy van though this narrow passageway, just barely missing the other parked cars. Then we heard a clunk; he'd knocked off his side view mirror.

The maintenance man emerged unsteadily from the vehicle. "I'm afraid I'm gonna tear off my mirror," he announced, evidently unaware that that is what'd he'd just done. "But I work for tips, so I'll try to help you out." He rooted through his van and came out with a set of jumper cables. After attaching them to his battery (Fellow Traveler had stationed herself at the front of the vehicles to make sure that he didn't barbecue us all by cross-wiring the cables), he waded through the wet snow, live wires in hand. "Look!" he chuckled. "They're sparking!" Please don't breathe on them, I thought.

Fellow Traveler gently encouraged him to get out of the snow and get the cables attached to our vehicle. And, Gott sei dank, the Jeep promptly started. We gave the man a generous tip, which along with the cab fare officially doubled the amount of money we had thought we were saving by parking in this lot.

But it was still a good vacation.

More Annoying Vacation Photos!

Here's a gator getting wrestled at Gatorland. Gatorland is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure -- and I do mean once in a lifetime. Granted, this stop was on our itinerary purely for its irony value, but I'm not sure that irony is worth almost $25 a pop.

One of the classier citizens of Gatorland.

A shot of our timeshare building -- I should say, of Fellow Traveler's cousin's timeshare. While we were most grateful to be able to use it for a whole week, I have to say -- what a racket. You can't spit on property without hitting an obnoxious, commission-fueled sales representative. We spent much of our vacation thinking up ways to avoid the supposedly mandatory "maintenance meeting," which was really a sales meeting where the reps went one-on-one and sometimes even two-on-one on vacationers.

On the beach at Daytona, land of rednecks and old hippies. We spent some quality enjoyment time here at the arcade, playing skeeball. Sadly, we're told that the tacky charms of the beach are headed for the bulldozer soon, making way for condominiums. (You'd think that the vast stretches of overdeveloped property and abandoned commercial projects in Florida would send out a strong hint that "Build it and they will come" is no longer an astute real estate marketing strategy, but some developers seem to have a flat learning curve.)

Pluto busting a move in a Disney character parade.

A spectral scene inside the Haunted Mansion.

A bodacious peacock float in the Electrical Light Parade. This was one of the coolest attractions inside the Magic Kingdom. I was frankly something of a Magic Kingdom skeptic before going, but this parade does make you smile, and ooh, and ahh, no matter how jaded you may think you are.

Speaking of oohing and ahhing...a scene from the nightly fireworks finale over the Magic Castle.

Friday, February 01, 2008

The Latest From My Stupid Christian Files

I have just had a full-body Swedish massage -- not that I'm rubbing it in or anything [rimshot] -- so you need to understand that I'm posting this, not in a state of irritation, but in a state of wonderfully flexible, pain-free relaxation that has sparked a spirit of merriment.

After the masseuse left and I sat all fragrant and rejuvenated, luxuriating on the sofa, the thought occurred to me, This feels so good that there must be Christians out there who are against it. So I did a little Googling on Christians and massage.

Interestingly, there are lots and lots of practioners and practioners' groups that advertise themselves as Christian. If you read a bit further, you find out that these folks have a need to differentiate themselves from the dangerously heterodox other massage therapists out there, who may be into "New Age" or "Eastern" spirituality and liable to lead the gullible astray.

But soaring completely over the top of this predictably paranoid/xenophobic stuff are two websites, here and here , that certainly make one wonder about the biblical assertion that believers do not live in a spirit of fear. These people are frigging terrified of everything from yoga to -- gasp -- contemplative Christianity.

When people start insinuating that people like Henri Nouwen and Eugene Peterson are the devil's own tools, I start knocking off their IQ points by double digits.

My Take on Disney

I know that, politically correct creature that I am, I should hate Disney World, for any number of reasons: the hyperconsumerist, over-the-top pressure to buy stuff at every corner; the formulaic entertainment that's so often sexist and otherwise stereotyping; the homogenized and often tackily shtik-y approach to spotlighting other cultures and engaging with nature; the low-wage working conditions for many of the less glamorous Disney employees.

But -- you know -- you get what you pay for. And when you go to Disney World you're not looking for the International Genocide ride or Nature Red in Tooth and Claw boat cruise, or even Semi-Son-in-Law's tongue-in-cheek suggestion for a Dirty Florida exhibit. You want to be somewhere nicer, more cheerful, more optimistic about the world and its future than where you live physically and psychologically the rest of the year. And -- if I had to have a minimum-wage service job, I'd sure rather be a Disney worker than, say, a maid or maintenance worker at one of the roach motels along the main drag.

And sometimes the optimism about the future comes in surprising forms -- like the little girl we saw who, unlike the ubiquitous little princesses vogueing around the Magic Kingdom after their $150 Disney makeover, was proudly adorned in a Wonder Woman outfit (you go, girl!), or the little kids in Animal Adventure who were more knowledgeable about environmental issues than their parents, or the mix of nationalities all clad in the standard khaki-and-polo-and-camera-bag tourist uniform, all getting along at least for the duration of their visit.

Good Eats Off the Rez

Most of our dining this trip has been in Tourist Central -- the Disney and Universal properties, and on the main drags and associated malls. But we think the best meal we've had so far this visit was well off the reservation, where the real people live.

Our nephew, who lives and works down here, is familiar with the neighborhoods in Orlando, and while squiring us around the area en route to his mom's house in Daytona Beach yesterday took us to Jalapeno's, a little mom-and-pop Mexican restaurant on the corner of Oakridge and Rio Grande, a couple of blocks off, I thinkm Orange Blossom Trail, across from a public housing project; the sort of neighborhood where all the businesses have iron bars on all the doors and windows.

We had the best Mexican food ever here. I had marinated pork wrapped inside thick, warm corn tortillas; Fellow Traveler had chicken taquitos; Nephew had enchiladas; we all split a ginormous chile rellenos. I can't tell you how good this was. And the service was wonderfully courteous. (The owner, who recognized Nephew from other visits, confided to FT that he was "a very good boy...he's so quiet...but he always finishes everything on his plate.")

So any adventurous eaters out there who find themselves in the Orlando area may want to check out Jalapeno's. It's worth the detour.

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

...we're supposed to get about 10 inches of snow today.

There's a tragedy.

Although in the end Mother Nature may have the last we struggle to excavate our Jeep from the pounds of snow piled on top of it in the long-term parking lot.