Tuesday, September 30, 2008

This Just In: Jesus Quits Christianity

A Beliefnet friend directed me to this -- I thought it was droll:

Jesus Christ Quits Christianity After Viewing Republican Platform

Anyone Have a Shovel? Or a Barn?

Back when I lived in northwest lower Michigan, the spouse of my good friend and coworker was an insurance salesman. Many of his clients were old Dutch farmers. He related making his regular checkup rounds in the countryside, being told, "As long as you're here, why don't I pay you my premium?" then waiting for a farmer to head out to the barn, dig up the family lockbox from its hidey-hole in the barn floor, and pay him in cash.

It doesn't sound like such a bad idea now, does it?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Coming Soon to the Neighborhood...

The Soweto Gospel Choir is going to be visiting several venues in Michigan in October, including the Midland Center For the Arts -- not terribly far from Outer Podunk. If there are any Michiganians reading this, here's a preview of coming attractions:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Night Out With Friends

Well, now we're both sick here at The Big House -- actually three of us, counting a sniffling Mollie the cat -- but yesterday evening, as my symptoms abated a bit and Fellow Traveler's just started manifesting, we decided to honor a commitment to hear our friend S sing at The Brass Cafe -- especially since we'd invited three other out-of-town friends to join us.

S is an academician, a professional philosopher; until this week we had no idea she could sing. She'd sent us an e-mail awhile back inviting us to meet her at The Brass to listen to jazz, and mentioned something about a new singer
we might or might not enjoy...and then, a couple of days ago, finally revealed that she was the new act.

When we got to the restaurant, S was setting up with her guitarist -- also, interestingly, a philosophy professor. She greeted us warmly, if nervously, then told us that one of our favorite Brass artists and a close friend of hers, Lois Hartzler , was in Ann Arbor, receiving treatment for an aggressive brain tumor. This made us so sad; we've only spoken with Lois on a few occasions, but we fell in love with her the first time we met her. A self-described "old hippie" who lives on an old farmstead with her husband a county or two over from Outer Podunk, she decided several years ago, at age 58, that what she really wanted to do was sing professionally...so she got some coaching, and then got some gigs, and started taking her show on the road. She's been a weekend regular at The Brass.

"I decided to do this when I found out about Lois," S explained to us. "I'm doing this for her." She smiled, gave us a little gassho bow, then made her way to the microphone.

S did a great job -- sang several sets of pop standards like "How High the Moon" and "Isn't It Romantic"; even scatted a few times. Our friends, who showed up midway through the evening, enjoyed themselves immensely, and we provided S with an enthusiastic cheering section. FT and I buoyed our flagging physical strength with small plates and spicy Virgin Marys.

Remember the old hymn, "It Is Good, Lord, To Be Here"? That's how I felt last night. It was good to be there, with friends, for friends.

Friday, September 26, 2008

We Heart Rachel

Air America's Rachel Maddow has been hosting a news-talk show weeknights on MSNBC since the beginning of September, but we -- not having access to Air America here in the jackpine wilderness -- didn't really have it on our household radar until last night. I'm laid up with a sinus infection; FT has been busy with a website project; we were channel-surfing last night around 9:00 pm and caught "The Rachel Maddow Show."
We love the mix of wit and good investigative journalism, which elicited some revivalish commentary in our living room: "Yeah. " " YEAH." " You tell the truth, girlfriend. " "THANK YOU." (Or, in my case, "THAG OO.") And -- let's face it -- the national news these days is so absurd that it's a comfort to hear a commentator affirm our essential sanity: No, it's not just you.

A Fruitful Friday Five

1. What is your favorite apple dish? (BIG BONUS points if you share the recipe.)
Bad news: My favorite apple dish is my mom's apple pie with streusel topping, which I cannot make...I don't have the crust mojo, for one thing. And it just doesn't taste the same. But I do know that Mom added a dash of mace to the standard cinnamon and nutmeg spice mixture, for a little extra zip.
But -- good news -- here's a great apple cider brine recipe, just in time for cider season. Great for pork chops, but it also works with other pork cuts or turkey:
Cider-Maple Brine
7 cups hot water
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 Tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
Combine and heat until salt and maple syrup are dissolved. Cool to 45 degrees in refrigerator before using.
2. Have you ever planted a tree? If so was there a special reason or occasion you can tell us about?

I used to help the 'rents plant trees as a child. Since I've lived in the woods, planting trees is rather a moot point -- our big problem is cutting trees down to keep them from falling on the house or to get satellite signal. But here's a possible occasion for a future tree planting: Once upon a time Fellow Traveler indicated to me that she was interested in bonsai. Not too long afterward I saw a grow-your-own-bonsai kit at a yard sale and bought it for, like, a quarter. It's still sitting on the entryway cabinet. Maybe it's time to crack it open and plant the enclosed tree seed.

Does the idea of roaming around the countryside (preaching or otherwise) appeal to you? Why or why not?
Roaming around the countryside sounds pretty much like an average weekend for us. Oh...you mean walking. I think I'm too much of a homebody to want to pick up a backpack and go walkabout as a lifestyle, for any reason.

4. Who is a favorite "historical legend" of yours?
I have always had a great deal of affection for Robin Hood. When I was a child I wanted to be Robin Hood.

5. Johnny Appleseed was said to sing to keep up his spirits as he travelled the roads of the west. Do you have a song that comes when you are trying to be cheerful, or is there something else that you often do?
Right now the Johnny Appleseed table grace beloved of church-camp kids is playing in my mental iPod: Oh, the Lord's been good to me/and so I thank the Lord/for giving me/the things I need/the sun and the rain and the appleseed/the Lord's been good to me/Amen...amen...amen, amen, amen...a-men.
Bonus question: What is your favorite apple variety?
An heirloom variety -- the Fameuse, or Snow Apple. They're beautiful and tasty.
Oh...glad you asked. The lovely apple art was painted by Mary Hughes .

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Vox Populi, Vox Stupidi

Overheard at a local gas station, from the lips of one of Outer Podunk's professional class as he chuckled with his cronies at the door:

"It'll be hard to choose between the n***** and the woman this election."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"If I Can't See You, It Means You're Not There!"

Evidently the Southern Baptist Convention is stuck at this level of human development, judging from their bookstore's censoring of a magazine with a cover article on -- gasp! -- female clergy. You can read about it here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I love autumn -- it's absolutely my favorite time of year.

Which is why I feel so especially out of sorts this autumn. Every area of my life sings "Joy!" except my work. Sitting here on Sunday evening, thinking about getting up for work tomorrow morning, I feel as if my head is going to explode.

I don't feel as if I'm creating work of value.

I don't feel valued at work.

I have too many bosses and too little direction.

I feel that I'm part of an entire system, reaching all the way to national level, that's broken; that needs to redirect its mission and its means, but is too hidebound by bureaucracy and politics to be fixed.

I feel that my work stress and disillusionment negatively impact my mental health, my physical health and my relationships.

I'm tired of the smallness, on multiple levels, of my weekday world.

And I feel guilty for feeling all these other things, in the midst of a near-depression.

All the positive-thinking happy-talk in the world can't change the way I feel. My former therapist once suggested to me that maybe I needed to be satisfied with being and doing "good enough" at work; what's good enough of nothing? Because that is what my work feels like to me: a dead zone, a black hole that sucks the life and heart out of me.

My head and heart are both screaming, "GET OUT! GET OUT NOW!" while my inertia and fear and need for financial security keep pushing me out the door every morning.

I don't know what to do. Eight hours a day, five days a week, doing work I hate in an atmosphere I hate, feels like time stolen from my partner, from myself, even from God.

And the contrast between this emptiness I feel during the workday and the happiness I feel in all the other areas of my life, simply underscores the disconnect.

I really don't know what to do about this other than pray for some kind of insight into where to go and what to do for a living.

Bossy Church People

Please allow me a rant.

Picture a member of our congregation whom we suspect has some cognitive difficulties, and who is quite needy, stocking up at our share-the-harvest garden produce table in the fellowship hall. Picture another, more affluent, member striding up to her and scolding, "Don't you think you have enough?"

This is just one example -- and I could probably fill a small book with others -- of the sort of rude, bossy Lucy Van Pelt behavior that just drives me crazy in church. And not just in my present congregation, but pretty much every one I've ever been a part of. I'm not sure what it is about being in a church setting that seems to bring out the worst in people, but it certainly seems to.

Shouldn't a morning at church be different than a morning at work?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Getting to a Grace Place

The Gospel for this week is here .

I'm not preaching or praying front and center tomorrow. But reading and thinking about the texts this week, I'm struck by the disconnect between the Gospel lesson and the way Christianity generally works. As a regular on Beliefnet, I'm always stunned by the way that folks want to ration God's grace, as if it's a finite quantity -- and as if, if it's extended to someone perceived as unworthy of it (yeah...there's that conceptual problem too), there's less of it to go around for the Real Christians[tm]

Funny folk, are we Christians. We just don't get it most of the time.

Good thing about the grace.

'Tis a Gift to Be Simple

I spent much of this afternoon excavating Cold Comfort Cottage's spare bedroom, the scary "alligator room," as we finally get around to consolidating our homes.

My goals were pretty modest today: Throw out the mattresses; throw out the chest-of- drawers. The latter belong to the 70's-era three-piece bedroom set that my parents bought for me when I was middle-school age, that made the move to CCC when I was in college and my parents sold the farm to move to the lake. This furniture is cheap, crappy particleboard, in a style that is retro but not in a good way, with a dark walnut finish. It also spent time in our dank Michigan basement, which only adds to the general yuck factor.

So I wasn't too sentimental about tossing out the first third of this bedroom set.

But I did get a little misty glancing through a couple of old diaries I kept when I was in about third grade, that for some reason had wound up in one of the drawers. The little books were tatty and mildewy and made me sneeze when I picked them up, so keeping them was pretty much out of the question. But I enjoyed re-visiting my thoughts as an eight- and nine-year-old; what I thought was worth writing down at the end of the day.

"Shelley was mean to me. We had fish for dinner. I played with the cats."

"I walked by the ditch. I saw a herrin and some frogs. Lunch was good."

Samuel Pepys it ain't. But there's something charming about the simplicity of a little kid's reflections on each day. It's very Zen; you have a thought, you note it and move on. It made me a little sad, comparing my old diary to the complexity of my adult life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

What's in a Name?

If you're Sarah Palin...it's hard to say.

Find out what your name would be if you were a Palin child, thanks to the Sarah Palin Family Name Generator .

Why My Church Should Be More Like My Gym

It's been one week since my initiation into the world of fitness centers. I have walked and biked several miles. I have pumped iron, a little (make that very little). I have bared my legs and jiggled my doughier body parts in a parallel universe populated by mostly younger people, many of them tattooed, hardbodied males.

So what has this experience taught me so far?

One thing I've learned is how the born-again Christian subculture permeates the rural subculture in which I live. The local tai kwon do group is explicitly Christian, in almost a defensive way -- you know, "It's okay for your kid to be part of this even though it's from the Far East." The center manager is a very devout person. The music blaring from the sound system may be headbanging Z-rock, but the sacred is not far from the secular in this place. The folks scratching their heads over Sarah Palin's rockstar status in Middle America would also scratch their heads after a visit to our local gym.

But I'm also thinking about ways in which the gym appeals to me in ways that church and churchy people, frankly, sometimes do not.

I've been very pleasantly surprised by the level of acceptance FT and I have at the gym by our younger and more fit companions. Maybe because I was always the stereotypical child picked last for teams in gradeschool gym class, I envisioned adult gyms as temples of catty physical one-upsmanship among the Beautiful People...but what I've found so far at our gym is not only acceptance, but actual helpfulness from other members. Age and fitness differences don't seem to be a big deal here. I mean, I don't know what the buff young fellow was actually thinking as he showed me around the weight equipment the other day -- "Get a load of the fat old lady" -- but he was a very kind and patient tutor. FT feels the same way. These are nice folks. And sometimes, frankly, church folks aren't nice to visitors or newbies or members who don't fit neatly into the congregational norm. There's not that sense of people helping one another work toward a common goal.

And it's also been interesting to hear stories. FT's next-door neighbor on one of the spinning machines the other day was a woman who'd lost 80 pounds over the previous year, who credits the gym for saving her life. That was inspiring for both of us. While the word "testimony" makes me cringe, I think there's value in people sharing their stories in the context of the faith community. I know I got a lot out of our church's "Bag" Sundays, a few years ago, when every week a member was asked to fill a grocery bag with three things that were important to them, and then shared those things with the rest of the congregation.

And, at the risk of losing my Lutheran union card -- I believe there's value in cultivating a culture of self-discipline within the faith community. Would that my personal prayer life, for instance, were as structured as my mileage goals on the treadmill and my repetitions on the weight machines. I think in our Lutheran horror of works-righteousness and our mainline horror of fundie legalistic nonsense we tend to lose our way when it comes to giving people tools for ordering their spiritual lives outside our worship services.

So I think it would behoove my church to be a little more like my gym. The music, though -- not so much.

Falling Into the Friday Five

Yay! This week's RevGalBlogPals' Friday Five is all about my favorite season!

It's that time of year, at least north of the equator. The windows are still open, but the darned furnace comes on early in the morning. My husband went out for a walk after an early supper and came home in full darkness.

And yes, where we live, leaves are beginning to turn.

As this vivid season begins, tell us five favorite things about fall:

1) A fragrance
Burning leaves...curing roadside foliage...ripening apples and pears. Take a deep breath...mmmmm.

2) A color The wine-red of ash trees.

3) An item of clothing Oversized sweaters, my alma mater's hoodies, and tweed jackets. (Although -- have you tried finding one of these lately that's not some short-cut, pinched-waist, foofy-sleeved, ridiculously lapelled, belly-exposing travesty of a tweed jacket? What ever happened to those sharp women's hunting tweeds from the 20's and 30's?)

4) An activity I am very much a fan of fall picnics, whether tailgates or a basket of sandwiches in a local park on a crisp autumn day. I enjoy trips to apple orchards as well as my own backroad expeditions for "volunteer" apples. Color touring is another weekend enjoyment. And then there's just walking down a quiet road, with leaves gently falling down around and crunching underfoot.

5) A special day We're looking forward to two special days at the beginning of October, when we're going back up to the Leelanau -- the bed and breakfast that we'd intended to stay at with The Kids earlier this year, before their flight got hopelessly delayed, let us move our reservations, in lieu of a refund. Sad for the boys -- yay us.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Unfortunate Headline of the Day

It's right here .

Bridezilla's Goin' Down

Well, here's one silver lining behind the current economic meltdown -- the imminent death of Bridezilla.

I was reading a newspaper article -- can't remember the newspaper -- about how the recession is beginning to curb the wretched excess of contemporary weddings, which the article noted now cost an average of $29,000 in some localities. (I had to look twice to make sure that the comma was in the correct place.)

We saw this phenomenon in our own extended family, when our niece was asked to be part of a wedding party larger than Chuck and Di's, and the wedding costing nearly as much as theirs -- particularly ironic because neither the bride nor groom are gainfully employed, and already have kids together.

Some Bridezillas are not going down without a fight. One interviewed bride-to-be -- despite being, along with her fiance, already saddled by significant college debt -- fretted to a reporter what the neighbors would think about a downscaled wedding, noting that weddings are all about being "lavish" and "extravagant."

Silly me. I thought they were all about making a public commitment to mutual love and faithfulness.

Fellow Traveler and I filed this news item under "Crazy Straight People."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

When Worlds Collide

Yesterday one of my coworkers mentioned to me that she'd visited our family food cooperative over the weekend while visiting that city.

"How'd you like it?" I asked. She hesitated.

"Well...the food was great. But the people are...um...really natural, aren't they."

"'Natural'? What do you mean?"

"Like, the women don't color their hair. It's, like, gray."

Welcome to Outer Podunk.

I am so over this place.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bring Out Your Dead

The girls' toy box has a certain air of carnage about it -- it's the home of Roadkill Bunny, Groovy Bear Leg and numerous other pieces-parts of beloved toys that have had limbs amputated, stuffing pulled out and other canine indignities visited upon their persons.

So yesterday, as I was working in the kitchen and FT was designing a webpage, we thought nothing of Gertie cavorting around the living room tossing and then pouncing on some furry object.

Then, for some reason, I happened to get a better look at what Gertie was flinging around the living room. It bore a resemblence to Roadkill Bunny, but it was the wrong color, and too small, too rigid and in too good a shape.

"What's Gertie playing with?" I asked FT, with some suspicion.

"I'm not sure," replied FT, deep in thought at her computer.

I left the kitchen counter to get a better look.

It was a chipmunk. A dead chipmunk. I shrieked.

"Gertie, LEAVE IT!" I commanded.

She obediently dropped the chipmunk, stiff with rigor mortis, right on top of my laptop.

We suspect that Mollie the cat dispatched the chipmunk and brought it into the house through the cat door, only to have it intercepted by Miss Gertrude. Neither Mollie nor Gertie are talking.

All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

We run a pretty loose ship at our church. On Sundays I assist, I enter the church with not too many assumptions about how the service is going to go.

On Sundays when we have baptisms, it gets real loose; my pastor says he gauges the degree to which he follows the long baptismal liturgy to how restless the kids, both front and center and in the pews, are getting.

So today I didn't have a lot to do. I used an Introit cribbed from the Lutheran Church of Austalia (ironic that, considering their attitudes toward women clergy and gay folks) because the LBW prayer for this Sunday was so lame and apropos of nothing going on. My Prayers of the Church wound up stuck in the hymnal. So after the first 15 minutes of worship I pretty much just did church aerobics with the rest of the assembled.

"We need to figure out a better way to use you AMs on baptismal Sundays," observed my pastor afterward.

It's Da Bible, You Betcha

This morning our pastor announced that our church is taking orders for the new Augsburg-Fortress Lutheran Study Bible.

We're pretty curious as to what this is going to be like. My own Bible of choice is the New Interpreter's Study Bible; I understand that the Augsburg-Fortress Bible is going to be more layperson-friendly, and with an eye toward providing commentary with a Lutheran theological point of view.

It will be interesting to see if this takes off in our congregations.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


One of the reasons I love the RevGalBlogPals is their Saturday Preacher Party, a haven for stressed-out clergy and lay helpers to commiserate, procrastinate and share a lot of virtual vittles as they try to write their sermons and put a finishing touch on their liturgical plans.

I was chuckling over one contributor's note that he (being a Pal rather than a Gal)spent the day defrosting the freezer.

We spent part of the day buying a freezer.

I guess I'd better get busy writing my Prayers of the Church now.

A Reality Check

Thank God tomorrow is Holy Cross Day. Just in time, after the past few weeks of American Christian ridiculosity in the wake of the Sarah Palin Vice-Presidential nomination. Just in time, after reading about a survey that showed a majority of Southern Evangelicals approving of our government's torture of prisoners, at least until the researchers reminded their subjects of Jesus' Golden Rule. ("D'oh..okay...maybe it's not a good idea then...")

Crux sola est nostra theologia.

The cross alone is our theology.

Probably not a sentiment coming to a Dominionist PowerPoint praisefest anytime soon.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Scholastic Friday Five

This week the RevGalBlogPals go back to school:

1.Is anyone going back to school, as a student or teacher, at your house? How's it going so far?
Well, we're going to Bible study beginning next month, if that counts -- and looking forward to it, actually, despite everything I said earlier this week. And -- I am in the process of looking around for some quick technical training program, at the local community college or online or in combination, that will give me the necessary prerequisites to bail out of my current job and downshift into some lower-stress but currently in-demand job -- giving me both time and mental/emotional space to devote to things I actually enjoy doing, like lay ministry.

2. Were you glad or sad when back-to-school time came as a kid?
Yes. I was such a geeky child that I kept up my academics during summer vacation -- I used to do the exercises in my dad's old one-room-school English and math texts, and read my mom's and uncle's high school literature books for fun -- and I looked forward to the challenges of a new school year, even though I tended to get bored quickly. But I also missed the freedom to wander -- as a child I spent most of the summer, when I wasn't reading old textbooks, outdoors -- and felt sad when the days began growing noticeably shorter. And until I was in about fourth grade I got bullied around a lot, so I didn't look forward to interactions with my peers.

3. Did your family of origin have any rituals to mark this time of year? How about now?
Not really. My dad came from a family whose Russian-grade-school-dropout patriarch thought formal education made boys effeminate and girls unfeminine, and made children lazy and disrespectful overall. Only two of the six children made it past eighth grade, and even then only after my grandmother put up a fight. My father was not one of the lucky graduates, even though he loved school and was at the top of his class; after the eighth grade his father abruptly ended Dad's educational career so he could work on the farm. So education was one of those touchy Subjects That Dare Not Speak Their Names at our house. (I won't even go into my negotiations with the old man to go to college.)

4. Favorite memories of back-to-school outfits, lunchboxes, etc?
I remember a plaid dress that my mother made for me for kindergarten that I hated at the time -- I hated dresses -- but that, in retrospect, was remarkably well made, with a yoke and piping and everything, and the lines of the plaid matching at the seams. My mom was never confident about her sewing skills, but she did an amazing job with that dress. Lunchboxes: One year I had a Tarzan lunchbox; that was pretty cool, although I coveted my friend Mark's Yellow Submarine lunchbox.

5. What was your best year of school?
Probably my sophomore year of high school. My social fortunes had turned, and I was now in with the in crowd; I also loved all my classes and aced most of them. I had a great group of friends -- smart, funny, quirky. The teen angst was kept at bay that year.

I hadn't realized what a negative animus I have toward my early school days. Wow.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pumping Up

After jawing about it, after roundtuit-ing about it, for weeks...we finally went to the gym today after I got out of work.

The Outer Podunkian Gym is amazingly well equipped for our little town: lots of weights; ellipticals; spinners; treadmills; steps; things I couldn't identify. And -- perhaps not surprisingly for a town whose citizens are heavily dependent on Camels, bologna and bottled oxygen -- there was only one other customer.

It was fun. I did a brisk mile and a quarter on the treadmill, playing around with pace and resistance, then spun around on the stationary bike for a few minutes.

Tomorrow we're going on the grand tour of the equipment and getting some help figuring out weight training routines for our individual needs.

Fellow Traveler is the only person who could ever get me out in public in shorts, much less turn me into a gym rat.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Does It Feel....Cold in Here?

Because Fellow Traveler and I signed up for a new Bible study at church beginning in October. We're reading Paul's Letter to the Romans.

See, I usually hate Bible studies. You know; the layperson-led kind where the leader has someone read a verse, then asks, "What does this mean?" or "How does that make you feel?" or some other lame-ass question that generates a lot of self-absorbed, self-referential crap that has nothing to do with the original purpose or context of the text, until the group discussion degenerates into church gossip.

Just hand me a gun with one bullet in it. I once told a friend hell would freeze over before I got caught in another run-o-the-mill Bible study.

Our pastor is facilitating this study, so I am signing on with the expectation of a somewhat higher bar. And it's Romans; a great book.

Wish us luck.

Monday, September 08, 2008

RIP, Cooper

Sad news from Stepson #1 and Semi-Son-in-Law: Their beloved beagle, Cooper, died suddenly today.

While trying to convey something akin to pastoral care over the phone to Orlando -- being the closest thing to a family priest that we have -- I thought about how weird we Christians are about the death of companion animals. Most of us, at least in the liturgical traditions, don't have an issue blessing living pets, or even inanimate objects, but when a pet dies we sometimes think it's unseemly or even sacreligious to acknowledge that in any kind of pastoral or liturgical way.

For all you church geeks reading: If someone came to you asking for pastoral care or help with a ritual goodbye for a beloved pet, what would you do? If you had to come up with a short family-friendly liturgy for the burial of a pet, what are some things you'd include? I'm honestly curious.

Meanwhile, at our house we remember Cooper, marvelous creation of God and beloved companion to humankind, and thank God for this life well lived with humans who loved him, and who loved them back, unconditionally.

Happy Wheatland!

Yesterday we accomplished Phase 3 of Fellow Traveler's birthday revels (Phase 1 involved presents; Phase 2 was her requested birthday meal of lamb chops, new potatoes, Chinese cabbage salad and Jello) and headed off to the Wheatland Music Festival in Remus with one of our friends to see Cheryl Wheeler, visit the juried art fair and otherwise soak up the mellow Wheatland vibe. The Wheatland crowd was a bit thinner than usual, probably due to the dismal economy, and some of the artists at the fair told me their wares weren't selling very fast. I also detected a more pensive air at the festival; whether this is due to the graying of the old guard or the times we live in I don't know. Perhaps it was telling that, during the traditional Sunday morning gospel sing, an capella rendition of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" moved the normally frolicksome audience to silence, then brought down the house.

Nontheless, we had fun. FT loves Cheryl Wheeler -- who gave a very intimate (despite the surroundings), thoughtful and at times screamingly funny performance. We also enjoyed a trio called The Refugees, who sounded a bit like a cross between the Indigo Girls and CSNY. Our guest, who's a Wheatland newbie, was positively enchanted. I bought a couple pairs of earrings; our friend did some Christmas shopping; we ate some righteous breakfast food courtesy of the Happy Farmers Food Coop of Ferry, Michigan, one of the perennial food vendors at the festival. Our fellow Wheaties were friendly, polite and -- let's be honest -- made for great people-watching. And it was a beautiful day -- neither too hot nor too cold.

An old pal of mine from my Cadillac days used to say, "I wish the whole world were like Wheatland." For a few hours yesterday, for us, it was.

Friday, September 05, 2008


I have been thinking a lot about career alternatives lately. (Have I shared that I hate my day job?)

I've gotten over the need to validate my personhood or intelligence by seeking work commensurate with my education. I no longer have a desire to climb any career ladders. I pretty much want to clock in, do a good day's work that produces a tangible work product and pays for my health insurance, clock out and go home. I do not want to have to be creative on the job; I have plenty of outlets for that elsewhere.

Perhaps I'll check into the local community college's offerings of fast, concentrated trainings for currently in-demand jobs.

Still Life With Potatoes

Remember our CSA flower growers? Well, they sell produce to our coop, too. Here's a little sampler of their wares. The potatoes are destined for FT's requested birthday dinner tomorrow, as accompaniments to lamb chops.

A Vulnerable Friday Five

A less lighthearted RevGalBlogPals Friday Five:

1. Is vulnerability something that comes easily to you, or are you a private person?
I tend to keep my guard up much of the time.

2.How important is it to keep up a professional persona in work/ ministry?
I'm much more reserved at work than in the context of my faith community -- frankly, it's a matter of trust. But even at church, I find I have different levels of accessibility, if you will, with different people. And sometimes that's as much for their benefit as mine.

3. Masks, a form of self protection -- discuss...
I know the politically correct response is to say that we really shouldn't wear masks, that integrity of person should lead us to simply be who we are anywhere and everywhere -- but I'm not sure that's possible in anything other than perhaps an intentional community.

4. Who knows you warts and all?
FT, for sure. I think my pastor does. I suspect some of the readership here has noticed a wart or two on occasion.

5. Share a book, a prayer, a piece of music, a poem or a person that touches the deep place in your soul, and calls you to be who you are most authentically.
I think that school of character known as partnership helps me be who I am. My mask comes off promptly at 4:30 every weekday evening when I step outside the office and head home.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What If You Threw a Barbecue But Nobody Came?

With any luck, you wind up with a really good meal all to yourselves.

We had planned to end our Labor Day weekend with a barbecue/bonfire get-together with two good friends of ours, and to that end we spent much of Monday prepping for an enjoyable evening with them out on the patio.

First I precooked some baby back ribs -- ironically, ribs we'd bought to feed The Kids but never got around to making earlier in the week. I know there is a lively debate among barbecue fans about the relative wisdom of precooking ribs before finishing them off on the grill. My very old-school mother believed it was necessary to boil ribs into scary grayness before doing anything else with them; while I didn't want to do that, I was also uncomfortable with the thought of grilling them raw. So I tried something I'd read online: I seasoned the rib rack with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, sprinkled four sliced garlic cloves and some sliced green onions over the meat and then poured s braising mixture of one part balsamic vinegar to three parts water over and around the ribs. This went in the oven for not quite an hour. The ribs emerged juicy and aromatic, with a lovely basting liquid to reserve for the grill.

Meanwhile I marinated a couple pounds of chicken thighs in a mixture of orange juice, olive oil, kosher salt, just a splash of balsamic vinegar, garlic, green onion and a healthy spoonful of Great Lakes Tea and Spice's Northern Exposure Chicken Seasoning, a tasty mixture of herbs and spices that reminds me of Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute.

After the ribs cooled, I rubbed them with a mixture of Great Lakes Tea and Spice's smoked paprika; brown sugar; freshly ground pepper; seasoned salt; thyme; basil; a little dry mustard. (The measurements were by guess or by golly, but I used about 2 tablespoons of paprika and about one tablespoon of sugar as the anchor ingredients.) And then we waited for the appointed hour...only to learn that one of our friends, who is on call for emergencies, was summoned away, and her partner wanted to stay home until she got back.

We looked at our refrigerator, bulging with meat in various stages of flavoring and containers of prepared salads. (Lest you think we're food purists -- sometimes potato salad and baked beans from Meijer's deli are darned good to have on hand.)We said -- "Yay -- more for ourselves!" (Sorry, friends.)

After getting the charcoal ready we added about a cup of soaked maple chips -- this was a new experiment on our part. We placed the chicken thighs on the top rack of the grill, grilled them for a bit, then added the ribs to the bottom rack to brown them.

Good stuff. My own favorite was the chicken -- the citrusy, garlicky marinade had permeated the meat nicely and glazed the thighs a lovely golden brown. FT favored the ribs; and I will say that the combination of the smoked paprika and the slightly piquant marinade was darned tasty. I'll also give a shout-out to two Meijer's specialty potato salads, the bleu cheese and the three-potato...yummy.

We hope we can get our pals back here for another barbecue...we might have to reprise this menu.