Monday, November 30, 2009

A Mid-Michigan Advent, Day 2: "Oh, That We Might See Better Times!"

Many are saying,

"Oh, that we might see better times!"
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O LORD. -- Psalm 4:6

When I was a kid, the closest thing we had to Coney Island was Houghton Lake, a resort town about 30 miles north of my hometown. The actual lake for which the community is named has the distinction of being Michigan's largest inland lake; but most of the lakeshore has long been obscured by a colorful jumble of motels, vacation rentals and tourist-oriented businesses.

Houghton Lake never possessed the tony cachet of the Traverse Bay area; but for many years it was where a blue-collar worker could buy a weekend getaway cottage for a reasonable price and eventually upgrade it into a cozy retirement home. If you were a child, the town itself offered an inviting assortment of amusements -- go-karts and a summer-long midway, miniature golf, souvenir shops, burger joints. A variety of year-round businesses also made Houghton Lake a shopping destination for residents of smaller nearby towns.

We drove to Houghton Lake today; partly to look for some supplies at a large art-and-craft store, but partly just for the drive. It was a sobering journey, and a reminder that change is the only constant. We drove past formerly unbroken stretches of state forest land now clearcut in large patches, to arrive in a community blasted by a changing economy. Building after building was boarded up; scores of shabby cottages sported For Sale signs on their patchy front yards. Riding down the main drag reminded me of riding through blighted Detroit. The people we saw were mostly old; mostly poor.

I remember once opining that the best thing that could happen to the main street of this community would be a team of bulldozers. That may indeed happen sooner rather than later; in the meantime, neglect and vandalism are already taking their toll.

"Oh, that we might see better times!"

I felt sad as we left for the trip home. I remembered how my father had loved this area and had seriously considered retiring there. I remembered stories of my uncles, in their late teens, spending an enjoyable idyll as hunting and fishing guides there, back in the prewar days when Roscommon County was a destination for affluent downstate and out-of-state sportsmen. I remembered picking berries in the state forest; fishing with my dad in the backwaters of the big lake; lobbying for frozen custards and ferris wheel rides in town.
We were passing the clearcut area again. I looked at one of the older clearcut patches, where young jackpines and other trees had begun to fill the landscape again. This cheered me a little. The very endangered Kirtland's warbler, a tiny bird whose range is limited to the jackpine ecosystem of northern Michigan and an equally tiny area in the Bahamas, requires large stands of young jackpines for nesting. At least a few species are on the ascendancy here.

That's the thing about "better times": Sometimes they involve pain, dislocation, loss; sometimes that's the only way to make room for something new to take place. My part of the world has seen the low side of the boom-and-bust circle before. I want to believe that this latest end of one era is necessary to make room for the next.

A Mid-Michigan Advent, Day 1: Be Alert

(Running a day behind...)

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” - Luke 21:34-36.

We were coming home from a day out of town this Saturday, happy to be approaching our town as the daylight rapidly disappeared. We passed a series of farm fields, now barren and ready for winter, that line the highway; as we did, we noticed a subtle but steady movement along the treeline on the far side of the field. It was a string of deer, slowly making their way along the edge of the field. Their color matched that of the bare earth and corn stubble and dry weeds around them; they were barely visible. Every so often one of them would stop the group's resolute trek to lift up its head and scan its surroundings.

I felt pity for the deer, this last weekend of the firearm deer season. I was aware, from my daylight trips down this highway, how many hunters' stands and shanties lay hidden in the trees. I suspected that more than one member of the herd had fallen to a hunter's bullet in the past days. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a deer this time of year, experiencing the sudden terror of the rifle's blast, the smell of gunpowder and blood, and the running, the breathless running for one's life, into the next field for a few minutes' respite...only to have the terror repeat again, and again, and again.

Those of you reading this, like myself, don't live with the day-to-day terror that our four-legged neighbors face. But many people on this planet do, in places beset by war or disease or natural disaster. And even in the relative comfort of 21st century America, there's a sense these days that our privilege has come to an end; like the deer, we are finding that we can't simply run from our present economic or societal woes into some quiet, verdant next-door pasture. That's how it feels here in mid-Michigan, right now. And as the text in Luke suggests, some of us here in depressed rural America are sedating ourselves with drugs to take the edge off our lives, while others of us live with ongoing gnawing anxiety that eats away at our physical and mental health, shortens our tempers and prompts us to circle the wagons around what's left -- our possessions, our affiliations, our ideologies.

So is there a good word at all in Sunday's Gospel lesson?  I think it's the same message I saw in the lives of the deer. You carry on, for your own sake and for that of the people around you. You live prudently. You keep moving when you can. You pray -- which I think deer do by being themselves, and which we do in part by being ourselves, truly ourselves, and offering that to God. And maybe some day -- some day -- we will find ourselves in a place with no more pain, no more anxiety, no more confusion, standing before the Son of Man.

Redemption Songs

I have no idea what's getting played over on the local Christian radio station today, but I heard this song on Sirius Coffeehouse a few minutes ago and thought it rather appropriate for this beginning of the Advent season:

Friday, November 27, 2009

A "Crushed" Friday Five

From the RevGalBlogPals this week: high school, I had a crush on my Chorus teacher. He was a young guy, and he had gone to college with some cousins of mine, and over the summer between 9th and 10th grade, we ran into each other at a series of pre-wedding parties, and I feel DEEPLY in like.


1) Did you ever have a crush on a teacher?
My first first-grade teacher, Mrs. Peters. After a Kindergarten in Hell where I was traumatized by an irascible old relic from normal-school days who had finally begun to melt down in the thick of the Baby Boom, Mrs. Peters was my savior: She treated me with kindness and respect; she actually encouraged my intelligence and curiosity -- unlike my kindergarten teacher, who treated me like an annoying problem; she let me do special tasks for her like help decorate the class bulletin boards at recess instead of going outside. And unlike the rest of the faculty -- the sort of Sensible Women who wore orthopedic shoes and their hair in buns -- Mrs. Peters was hip, with a "That Girl" flip and mod clothing. When circumstances caused our elementary school to add a new first-grade teacher to the roster and shift the original classes around, I found myself in a new classroom, with a dispositional clone of my ogre-like kindergarten teacher, and I was distraught for the rest of the year.

2) Who was your first crush?
I had a boy crush on a little kindergarten classmate.busmate of mine, Ronnie, who bore a close resemblence to a baby seal or a Precious Moments figurine; he had the biggest blue eyes and longest eyelashes of anyone I'd ever seen. He was a tiny, slight boy who was constantly picked on by the bigger kids, and that brought out my protective instincts. I remember Ronnie being tormented one day on the bus ride home by some older students, and that angering me so much that I -- and I too was often the brunt of teasing and unkindness on the bus -- stood up, waved an accusatory finger at the older kids and told them that they'd better leave Ronnie alone. I was loud enough to attract the attention of the bus driver, who finished the job of reprimanding the bus bullies. This of course did not win me any friends among the cool kids, but Ronnie was grateful, and even gave me a kiss on the playground at one point.

3) Have you ever given a gift to a crush?
Just my current crush, who also happens to be my partner.

4) Do you have a celebrity crush? (Around my house we call them TV boyfriends and girlfriends...)
The fact that Fellow Traveler and I have been discussing this for five minutes and are unable to come up with names or faces is probably an indicator that I don't. Now, I used to have an auditory crush on Fiona Ritchie's voice -- she the Scottish hostess of The Thistle and Shamrock. And both Fellow Traveler and I are rather taken with Geoffrey, Ina Garten's amiable, beloved and amazingly well fed husband.

5) Have you ever been surprised to find yourself the crushee?
One evening when I was a freshman in college, walking back to the dorm for supper after a late class, I was startled to find a male classmate sidling up next to me. He was someone who I had, in my mind, voted Most Likely to Ascend the Clock Tower and Start Shooting Random Bystanders With An Assault Rifle. ("He was really quiet..." "He always kept to himself...")  I remember noticing, of all things, his hands in class -- he had short, fat hands like a garden toad's front claws, and I remember being disturbed by that, and by the way he stared at me and other students when we engaged in class discussions. Anyway, Fat Hands started talking to me, innocuous stuff out of the "How to Start a Conversation With a Girl" handbook, and even though I was quite curt and unencouraging in my responses he followed me all the way home to my "island" of dormitories. I decided to eat in the cafeteria of the dorm next to mine, so he wouldn't figure out where I actually lived. He followed right behind me in line, and sat across from me, and kept trying to engage in conversation with me. I finally lied; told him that I had a date with my boyfriend and couldn't talk to him anymore. Despite this, he got up when I did and was ready to follow me to this date until I finally told him that, no, he needed to go home now, or my boyfriend would be angry. He finally took the hint and left...and to my relief, he never attempted talking to me or walking with me or anything else ever again. I always felt that my guardian angel was working overtime that particular evening. But the experience left me very afraid for weeks afterward.

Thinking back on this bizarre incident, I'm astounded at how passive I was and how afraid to hurt this guy's feelings. My God, it's no wonder that so many university students wind up victims of sexual assault. If something similar happened to me today, I think it's safe to say that things would be differently.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A bit of irony for breakfast: We're doing some catalog Christmas shopping for the extended fam this morning. Fellow Traveler just noted that the Cabela's catalog is offering an Alaskan fly-in Dall sheep hunting excursion for $15,000. I slipped over to the Heifer Project catalog, where purchasing a sheep, plus all the attendant training in husbandry, marketing and such, for a family in the developing world costs $120.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christ the King Sunday

I posted this video on our church website...pretty cool:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Five: Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving

From the RevGalBlogPals:

The Cure

Lying around all day
with some strange new deep blue
weekend funk, I'm not really asleep
when my sister calls
to say she's just hung up
from talking with Aunt Bertha
who is 89 and ill but managing
to take care of Uncle Frank
who is completely bed ridden.
Aunt Bert says
it's snowing there in Arkansas,
on Catfish Lane, and she hasn't been
able to walk out to their mailbox.
She's been suffering
from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.
The cure for the mulleygrubs,
she tells my sister,
is to get up and bake a cake.
If that doesn't do it, put on a red dress.

-- Ginger Andrews (from Hurricane Sisters)

So this Friday before Thanksgiving, think about Aunt Bert and how she'll celebrate Thanksgiving! And how about YOU?

1. What is your cure for the "mulleygrubs"?
A ride in the country often does it for me.

2. Where will you be for Thanksgiving?
I will be at home with my beloved, sans guests -- for the first time in three years. Usually we invite some of our family-disconnected friends to be with us for the holiday. This year we originally thought we'd be in Brooklyn with Son #2, Almost-Daughter-in-Law and Almost Grandchild...but we're now going there for Christmas, so we declared that this Thanksgiving would be our time together.

3. What foods will be served? Which are traditional for your family?
We are, like the Baywatch producers cited on Glee the other week, going in a different direction this year: We ordered a turducken from Cajun Grocers, and will be attempting some Cajun and Creole side dishes to go with it, as well as a sweet potato/praline pie. None of this is in any way traditional for our family. One day we were watching the Food Network, and idly wondered what a turducken might taste like, and one thing led to another.

4. How do you feel about Thanksgiving as a holiday?
I loved Thanksgiving as a small child and have fallen in love with it again since I don't have to deal with the extended-family stress that would send my mother into an emotional tailspin each fall. I like the univeral nature of it; that it's grown beyond its sectarian roots so that everyone from New England Congregationalists to emigre' Senegalese cabbies can embrace it as their holiday.

5. In this season of Thanksgiving, what are you grateful for?
I am grateful for my beloved Fellow Traveler; for my new extended family, which will soon (as in any day now) include a new grandbaby; for our own cozy Thanksgiving this year; for a life away from my former place of employment (something I still thank God for every day); for my church family; for our Amish friends and neighbors and the cultural texture they bring to our community; for our ability to travel and pursue our own interests, and for my increasingly infrequent tendency to feel guilty for this or unworthy of the privilege.

BONUS: Describe Aunt Bert's Thanksgiving.
I've never been to Arkansas, but if Aunt Bert and Uncle Frank were part of my church family I suspect that they'd be showered with holiday cards right now, and that on Thanksgiving they'd respond to a knock on the door to find their neighbors offering them a complete Thanksgiving feast with extras for the weekend...and that Aunt Bert, having met them at the door with her red dress on, would invite them in for some just-baked cake.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Lutheran Eavesdropping On Calvinists Doing Theology

With apologies to all my friends and readers in the greater Reformed tradition...after reading this , all I've got to say is: My head hurts.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Christian Bullies and Klingon Love

I received this update, again, from yet another former high-school classmate on Facebook:

Let's see how many people on fb aren't ashamed to show their love for God and admit that Jesus is their Savior... We need to get God back in America... If you're not ashamed, copy and paste this in your status!
Apart from the fact that this spam keeps recirculating back onto my Facebook page, sent by people considerably older than the 12-year-old who appears to have originally written it...what really frosts me about this childish conflation of jingoism and kindergarten evangelism is the mocking, confrontational tone: If you're not ashamed...

What if I don't copy and paste? Do I go to hell then? Do you unfriend me because I must be a heathen? Oooooh...I'm so scaaaaared.

What is this thing about a certain subset of conservative Christians and their need to throw down the gauntlet in front of every other Christian they encounter, challenging them to "prove" how Really Christian[tm] they are?

It's kind of like rutting Klingons in Star Trek -- how, before they do the one thing, they beat one another up.

Well, sorry, Real Christians[tm], but I don't swing that way.  And I'm not a Christianity Cop; if someone tells me s/he's a friend of Jesus I tend to take that person at his or her word  -- even a nutty and/or annoying person --  until I'm given good reason to suspect otherwise. And may I point out that, whether someone is a friend of Jesus or not at any given moment, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

Glory Be To God For Dappled Things

This afternoon we decided to take the Gertster on a ride -- this is how we justify taking rides. As we usually do on such journeys, we visited a couple of our Amish neighbors' roadside stands -- soon coming to the end of the season -- to see what produce they might still have for sale. We were specifically looking for Delicata squash, a small striped winter variety that's easy to prepare even in the microwave, fine-fleshed and candy-sweet.

We were in luck -- there were still a few Delicata  available. There were also some wonderful confetti-colored acorn squash. "I have to try one of those," I announced. (I found out later that this particular variety is called Carnival.)

One of my many garden eccentricities is a fascination with anything unusual for its type. (Fellow Traveler says that this is part of the "Ooh, Shiny!" Syndrome.) Why grow green snap beans if you can grow striped chartreuse-and-purple snap beans? Why not candy-stripe beets, or golden beets, instead of the old Detroit beets that my parents grew every year? Round orange pumpkins are a dime a dozen; what about the elegant red-gold French heirloom pumpkins instead?

Obviously I'm a GMO developer's dream consumer, which is why it's a good thing that I'm also an organo-locovoric type who shuns such products whenever I can identify them, on principle. (And usually loudly, in the store -- as in, "Oh, look! Here's some Acme Corn Critters made with genetically manipulated corn!") If my squash is tri-colored, I want it to be because its ancestors were cross-bred with lovely multihued heritage varieties, not because a mad scientist in a multinational agribusiness added some calico-kitty DNA to his witch's brew of Frankensquash.

And some of these veggies don't just have a pretty face. Chioggia beets, with their candy-cane interiors, are wonderfully flavored, as are the purple-striped Dragon Langerie snap beans. One of our great discoveries this summer was the Black Russian variety of tomato, which beat out all competitors in my BLT taste test. Other unusual veggies are -- well -- meh; all hat and no cattle. But that's okay too.

I'm going to continue my love affair with dappled things in next year's garden...and expand that category to include the "Miscellaneous" section of seed catalog offerings.  After all, we can get a lot of very nice veggies from our Amish friends; but try finding salsify or Florence fennel around here. FT is chuckling over my current moodling over sketches of our garden plot -- which will be divided into raised beds in the spring -- trying to decide the most advantageous spots to plant this motley assortment.

Frankenfood: no. A garden of earthly delights to the eye as well as the palate: oh, yes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


At our church we lay ministers get a monthly opportunity to deliver the sermon. This month is my month, and this Sunday is my preaching Sunday.

I've preached on Christ the King Sunday before, so between the lessons and the experience I'm on pretty familiar territory.

Sunday's lessons are rich in irony, from the "God is on our side" Psalm identifying the king's earthly reign with the Reign of God to that dramatic text in the Gospel of John where the rabble seems to fall away in the periphery as Jesus and Pilate, the representatives of heavenly and earthly authority, confront one another; where God With Us speaks truth to power not in the person of the prophet Daniel's awesome vision but in the battered and bloody person of a tortured prisoner in an occupied land. The festival day is itself ironic, born at the ascendancy of fascism, a nationalism worse than the nationalism that had just laid waste to much of Europe.

But this is tricky stuff, in a local culture where God and country are often knotted together in ways that make conveying the subversive nature of the Gospel sound like treason to all that is right and good. I briefly thought about sketching out a swastika on a sheet of typing paper and taping it to the pulpit as an illustration of what happened in our own faith tradition when Church let itself be coopted by State, but reality-checked myself shortly thereafter. There has to be a good way to communicate the implications of "Jesus is Lord" to people who love their country, who in many cases have served their country in the military, some of whose kids are off in the Middle East fighting a war of dubious wisdom on behalf of that country, who on some levels feel beseiged by outside forces challenging their beliefs and practices and presumptions about many things. The good news that Caesar isn't Lord of All may, on some level, sound to them like the bad news of one more brick being kicked out of an increasingly shaky wall that keeps them on the other side of chaos.

I'm not sure exactly where I'm going with this whole thing yet. But I'm going somewhere with it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Apples of Our Eye

One of our best Amishing stories happened a short time ago:

We were driving home from a trip to a local apple orchard, where we'd bought some cider and a bag of apples. We decided to go home via the back roads, past a couple of Amish families who maintain roadside stands, to see what they had to offer that day.

As we stopped at one stand, a young girl came out to wait on us, soon followed by a smaller child who couldn't speak English. (Small Amish children speak a Swiss dialect of German at home, and only learn English when they start attending school.) The barefooted kids were so charming, and grimy, and seemed so serious about closing the sale. So as we bought a couple jars of canned peaches from them we offered them a couple of apples from our bag, along with our money. Their faces lit up. The younger child devoured his in a few gulps; he ate like a kid with competition at the dinner table.

"Maybe your other brothers and sisters would like apples too," offered Fellow Traveler. "How many do you have?"

"Ten!" announced the girl.


We just gave them the rest of our bag.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


You know it's not a good day when Fellow Traveler, the University of Michigan's most ardent fan, takes to her bed at the beginning of the game.

FT woke up in the middle of the night with nausea and a gutache. She was marginally functional in the morning, but after attempting soup for lunch she threw up again, and decided to go back to bed.

We are desperately hoping that this isn't the H1N1 virus, since neither of us has had the opportunity to get vaccinated for it yet. (We did get our standard flu shots back in September.) FT wondered if she could have possibly picked up the bug at the emergency room the other night when she had to have the sliver in her toe removed. Because of her ostomy, she has to be careful avoiding influenza, especially the barfy/diahrrhea-y strains; aside from the misery these symptoms cause in someone who's missing a significant chunk of her gastrointestinal system, the potential for dehydration and inability to take in nutrients has all sorts of negative implications for maintaining a healthy electrolyte balance. (We travel with gallons of V-8 juice, which is loaded with potassium and other important minerals -- more than sports drinks or other fortified foods/beverages.)

We reviewed our diet over the last couple of days. The only food she has eaten that I haven't was chili sauce on a couple of coney dogs we ordered for takeout yesterday. She didn't eat anything that might cause a blockage, a potential problem for ostomates that leads to nausea and stomachache. "It feels like the flu," she explained. "Nothing mechanical. It feels like a bug."

It's a moot point anyway. She's in bed; I'm half-watching the MSU game and wondering what useful household tasks I can accomplish without making annoying noises. Poor Gertie, who picks up on when one of us is sick, is lying next to me with furrowed brow. It's a warm, sunny November Saturday, but it pretty much sucks at our house right now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Five: Very Superstitious Edition

It's Friday the 13th -- time for a spooky RevGalBlogPals Friday Five!
1. How is this Friday the 13th looking for you?
It's looking like Day 2 of our epic Clean the Refrigerator marathon. Yesterday was devoted to throwing out assorted biology experiments that had migrated to the back of the fridge, to ruthlessly culling all condiment bottles and jars with unknown expiration dates and to washing out the crisper drawers. Today I am continuing to scrub shelves -- Fellow Traveler kindly removed them for me while I was off getting spiritually directed -- and together we'll put the thing back together, with considerably fewer contents. The frightening thing is...I am enjoying this, or at least the anticipation of looking into a clean refrigerator. Maybe it's perimenopause.

2. Have you ever had anything unlucky happen on Friday the 13th?
I seem to remember actually breaking a mirror on a Friday the 13th many, many years ago, much to the distress of my poor mother. I don't recall any other negative repercussions, though.

3. Did your family of origin embrace or scorn superstitions? 4. Are there any unique or amusing ones from your family, region, or ethnic background?
As noted, my mom -- and her mother as well -- were terribly superstitious. You name it -- breaking mirrors, spilling salt, horseshoes hanging upside down on a nail -- it all scared the bejeezus out of them. But their family had a rough, rough life with a lot of misfortune, so it's perhaps understandable that they'd project their experience onto handy externals. My dad's side of the family pooh-poohed a lot of this stuff, but they had their own pet superstitions. They considered it unlucky, for instance, if girls whistled -- "Whistling girls and crowing hens/both will come to no good ends" -- and my dad was actually quite irritated at my maternal aunt for teaching me how. Dad hunted rabbits and always had a rabbit's foot hanging up in the barn. And -- I find this interesting -- my father's side of the family considered black cats to be good luck on the farm, and would be happy when Mama Barn Cat produced a black kitten in a litter. Both sides of the family embraced inherited folk traditions regarding the health of man and beast, and the potential "hexing" powers of hostile others -- tying a bit of thread in a knot around a wart, then taking and burning the thread, or tying red fabric on a cow's tail to keep the evil eye from afflicting the herd.  Looking back at all this, I'd love to know more about German and Eastern European folk magick and follow the folkloric trail from there to here.

5. Do you love or hate horror movies like "Friday the 13th"?
I don't like the mad-slasher/undead mass murderer genre at all. I do like psychological ghost stories/thrillers; I was one of the people who thought The Blair Witch Project was an entertaining movie, and will watch shows like Ghost Lab even though I know they're hokum. (For anyone interested, YouTube has a series of short videos from, apparently, a disgruntled former employee or hanger-on that demonstrates some of the un-paranormal funny business going on behind the scenes on that series.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Extraordinary Time

For everyone who's just about had it with  the "green and growing season" -- I love this!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Our Trip to th ER

Oy! It's been one of those days.

Actually it was a very good, kick-back day. Contrary to the common wisdom predicting rain, it was fairly sunny and warm today. We went to the local apple orchard for a final bag of local apples, took Gertie to the Recreational Area and then came home to grill some lamb steaks.

I think I had my shiraz in hand when Fellow Traveler came limping through the patio door, grilled meat on a plate, gasping, "Red alert! Red alert!" I didn't understand what she meant, but I grabbed the steaks as she hopped to the sofa.

"My toe!" she gasped. "This hurts so much!"

FT, who has had major abdominal surgery and spent over a month in the hospital, is a pretty tough cookie when it comes to pain. But now she was nearly in tears.

"Look at my toe!"

To my shock, when she raised her foot I saw a splinter well over an inch long completely embedded in the underside of her big toe. There was no end protruding from the skin; but there was blood.

Somehow, as she'd been walking to the door with our dinner, her foot hit the patio in such a way that a loose sliver of wood  pushed its way down the length of her big toe, deep under the skin.

"I think I have to go to the doctor now."

First she called the nearest VA hospital for guidance. If you're a fully service connected veteran it's expected that you get your healthcare at a VA facility, but our local VA clinic closes at 5:00 pm. A clueless nurse at the other end of the helpline didn't seem to understand what was going on.

"Well, if your local clinic is closed then you have to come here. There's no doctor on duty right now, but we can call one in."

"Your faciity is an hour away, and I can't drive. We have a local hospital 10 minutes away."

"You can't find someone to drive you here?"

The VA is loathe to give patients a go-ahead to get treated outside the system. But given the alternative of driving 8 miles up the road to our local hospital's urgent care and driving an hour to Saginaw, to have someone remove a splinter from a toe -- it was a ridiculous choice.

The nurse -- who still had no idea even of where the VA's own satellite clinic in our area was located, let alone where we live -- finally gave the go-ahead for FT to go to urgent care.

And so we went.

Our local hospital's ER has the reputation for lackadaisical walk-in care, but for some reason we seemed to hit the place at the right time of the evening, and FT was ushered right in. After an excruciating Novocaine injection, the on-call doctor excised the splinter. It was huge -- bigger than I'd originally estimated. "That is one big piece of wood," he marveled.

Amazingly, we were back at home after only about an hour. FT's appetite had understandably disappeared during this ordeal, but we did finish off our bottle of shiraz. She's now sitting with her bandaged foot propped up, waiting with some trepidation for the numbzit to wear off.

An old Chinese curse wishes, "May you live in interesting times." I think a corrolary curse is, "May you have an interesting day."

Saturday, November 07, 2009

ELCA Homophobia, and Why I'm Done Arguing

While homophobia is something that we gay folks live with on a day-to-day basis, at least in my everyday life it tends to operate in the background, like a buzzing fluorescent light -- if you pay attention to it, it can become quite disconcerting, but if you can focus your attention elsewhere you don't notice it as much.

Every so often, though, the buzz not only buzzes but shocks me.

I hang out on the ELCA Facebook page. They do a splendid job with it; every day they post a question for "fans," or a Scripture verse or other message generating discussion. Most of the frequent fliers there seem like nice people, and I've even "friended" a couple of them.

The Troubles, though, bring out the homophobes, wrapped in Luther Rose banners and waving Bibles. I have trained myself to largely ignore these people and pay instead pay attention to the good discussions on that page. But yesterday, as the dead horse of CWA was being whipped further, one individual whose presence on the forum is largely limited to carcass-banging opined that same-sex couples hurt others -- therefore disqualifying their monogamous committed relationships as holy ones and making their legal status as families undesireable -- because our rate of STDs cost society money in healthcare costs.

This comment was so breathtaking in its hatred and stupidity that I had to break my silence -- not to argue with him, but to bear witness that his comments were both hurtful and slanderous, as well as personally insulting. But I left it at that, recusing myself from further comment. Sandal, dust, shake, move on.

This is why I am not going to go racing off to the CDC webpage to look up relative demographic rates of STDs, or wonder if the same rationale should be used to deny fat, inactive, substance-abusing people protections under the law: This indivdual wouldn't pay attention to me if I did. Because I am a gay woman -- two strikes right there -- I'm sure all this person sees when he sees my posts is the fuzzy part of an eye exam. If we were in a room and I were speaking, all he'd hear is wonk-wonk-wonk, like the Peanuts gang listening to adults.

This morning I was reading the "time travel" retrospective feature of the New York Times, from I think the year 1907, talking about the increased momentum for women's suffrage thanks to the support of wealthy and socially influential women. The thing is, though -- women's suffrage would never come to be if the discussion hadn't moved into all-male halls of power, with a tipping-point of influential men finally creating a cultural and intellectual environment where it became desireably progressive to support the vote for women. In the end, it was peer pressure that made all the difference.

And that's the way, I think, it's always been in matters of civil rights: Minorities can't rely on themselves alone to secure their rights. They have to wait for the development of critical mass on the majority side to effect change.

That is, frankly, not a comfortable place to be -- at the mercy of others. I don't like it. I don't want to think that my fate as a citizen or as an ELCA Lutheran is so dependent upon sympatico Sincere Bible Study Guys (and Gals, although not to the same extent, it seems)  winning over that bloc of recalcitrant peers. But that's reality.

I notice that someone called out the STD guy on the ELCA Facebook discussion. (Who responded, predictably, by complaining that his "bound conscience" is not being respected) . I am grateful for the support. But I'm not going to participate in that discussion further. All I can do is tell my own and my family's story when I can, in media like this blog, and trust in my heterosexual friends' ability to somehow translate that experience  in ways that their friends will understand, because -- unlike me -- the friends will listen to them.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bedtime Stories

Fellow Traveler's sister sends her interesting birthday presents...things like a hatchet; or a coconut-monkey windchime; or a FLORIDA keychain with twirling dice; or...well, you get the picture.

This year, though, on FT's birthday, UPS arrived with a big, mysterious box from Sister-in-Law covered with multiple warnings about fragile contents. We couldn't figure out what could possibly be inside. It didn't sound like a coconut-monkey windchime; in fact, it made no sound at all when we gingerly moved it back and forth. We slowly pulled off the tape...opened the top of the box...

...and found a smallish but sleek flat-screen television. Turned out Sis-in-Law had remembered FT, many years ago, bemoaning the loss of a television she'd lent out that had never been returned.

This was a wonderful surprise. Except that we had nowhere to put it. So we stuck it in a corner of our front room, sans satellite connection, and talked about hooking it up to a DVD player, or even giving it to a deserving someone who had the appropriate hardware and television service.

In the meantime, after some mind-numbingly frustrating encounters with our satellite providers, we'd been thinking of switching. We went so far as to call our current provider and tell them we were through with them. Suddenly these frequent antagonists of ours were showering us with special offers in order to keep our business -- more channels; a free second hookup. Second hookup?

We thought about our options. We like keeping our front room fairly technology-free. The birthday TV was too small for our living room.

"Let's put it in the bedroom," suggested FT, "on top of the dresser." Our dresser is a frequent collector of stuff; a TV would end that. I pondered all the studies that warn about watching TV in bed; how it interferes with one's sleep and with interpersonal harmony. But then I thought about the falderol that we usually go through before we go to bed, with the pets and the lights and the appliances, and how nice it would be to be able to get all that stuff done and then wind down, in the comfort of a nice, warm, comforter-laden bed.

So that's what we did -- we had Satellite Guy hook up the TV to sit on our dresser.

I have to tell you -- we're loving this. Not every night, mind you, but especially on those cold, rainy, windy evenings when you just want to cocoon.  None of the doleful predictions about sleeplessness, anxiety or disconnection from one's partner have come to pass. We're like a couple in the 1960's marveling at the novelty of having a second TV right in our bedroom. Ain't technology grand?

And if one of us falls asleep, the other is free to carry on, without the need to shake the sleeper awake and summon her to bed.  And the awake person can spend a few minutes watching television that the sleeper does not enjoy -- professional football, cheesy paranormal reality shows, educational programming on arcane topics. It's a beautiful system.

Did I tell you that we're really easily amused?

One technological taboo is still in place, though -- teh Internets is not allowed in the bedroom.

Friday Five: New and Improved Edition

This week's RevGalBlogPals' quiz challenges us to name five things we especially like when they're new. Hmmm. Let's think about this. The smell of a new baby has already been used as an example (and G-bambino is still in utero, although not for very long, so this is anticipatory, not actualized). Okay -- here goes:

1. Newly baked bread. (Maternal Grandmother said that day-old bread was better for the digestion...but we know better.)
2. The smell of a new automobile. (Yes, it's unhealthy to sniff the inside of new automobiles, but...I don't care.)
3. A new Old Farmer's Almanac -- I know this is very hokey, but it gets the new year off to a good start.
4. A newly scrubbed bathroom; there's something about the chemical freshness, the gleam of the mirror and porcelain, the squeakiness of the shower tile, the soft drape of a new set of towels, that makes you feel all domestically accomplished and hygienic -- even if it all only lasts for five minutes.
5. A new stack of library books, especially if they've been collected in a random, intuitive manner. There's a lot of potential in there.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Failed Experiment

Of all my many goals for this special year, this year of intentional freedom from paid employment, one has just not panned out. It is, for all intents and purposes, kaput.

That's my online class in webmeistering.

There: I've said it and I'm glad.

I have found that I simply do not possess whatever aptitude it takes to spend hours reading lines of code. It was taking me frustrating, rest-of-life-derailing eight-hour days to finish simple assignments. And I wasn't getting any sense of proficiency or accomplishment out of the thing; just futility, especially with the knowledge that most of this stuff is not memorizable; and that chances are it will become obsolete about the time I "get" it.

With the crystal clear vision of hindsight, it is now apparent to me that I could have taken the money for my course and instead leveraged it into decent web design software that would still let me be creative while doing the heavy lifting for me. "Work smarter, not harder." D'oh.

And, to put things into perspective: I already have a decent amount of real-world experience helping out on two websites that Fellow Traveler and I set up for our church and our gym, just for the fun and experience, as well as experience developing an integrated online presence for our church. So this academic defeat is, in the grand scheme of things, a bumpy detour on the road of life, not a dead end.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Gays and Guys' Guys

So today is the big referendum day in Maine regarding marriage-equality Proposition 1.

I was thinking about that yesterday, and about the ways in which the Yes on 1 agitators are attempting to manipulate emotions in Maine, and about the Sincere Bible Study Guys I mentioned in a previous post. They're usually about 30-something, usually dads of smaller children, very down-to-earth and manly-man; the kind of guys who want a "yes" to be "yes" and a "no" to be "no," who mean what they say and say what they mean; who'd pull you out of a burning house or crashed automobile without blinking.  But they seem to find teh gay, as a class, pretty intolerable.

What's up with that?

One of my best buddies when I worked up north, Zen Congregationalist Marine -- one of the five males who worked in our overwhelmingly female company -- was a guys' guy who nonetheless had an easy way with the ladies (perhaps because he was the baby in a large family of mostly sisters), and was quite happy to act as the office Dear Jake in explaining to his female coworkers What Guys Think. One day the topic swung around to homophobia, and another friend of mine mused that straight men seemed a lot more uncomfortable dealing with gay men than straight women are discomfitted interacting with lesbians.

ZCM explained that many men are at heart terrified of being solicited for sex by another man -- or, worse yet, being sexually assaulted by another man -- and that this fear tends to short-circuit rational thought about homosexuality in a lot of male circles.  When straight women meet gay women, they tend to accept them as members of the larger sisterhood of double-X chromosomes; for straight men, encounters with or even thoughts of their gay brothers seem to conjure up...well, the laundry-room scene in The Shawshank Redemption.

"Well, welcome to our world," responded my female friend, rolling her eyes. "Women have to deal with unwanted sexual advances and sexual predators all the time."

ZCM shrugged. "I'm just sayin'."

Some time later, after a day working out of town, ZCM confided to us that, en route home, he had been propositioned by a stranger at a freeway rest stop; some middle-class guy who looked like he was on his way to a Rotary meeting.

"What did you do?" we asked. ZCM was a burly lumberjack type who'd been in military intelligence during the Vietnam era, who probably possessed a frightening personal-defense skill set; despite his mild-mannered civilian persona, we wondered what exactly had transpired in that men's room.

"I'll tell you," he replied. "I said, 'Look at you. You're sneaking around in a public bathroom, for God's sake, begging for sex. That is just pathetic. And it's dangerous -- for you and for your wife if you have one. If you're gay, then why don't you just get honest with yourself and everyone else and say, "Hey, I'm gay," and find a good man in the gay community, and settle down?'" He said that the stranger, who had stood transfixed as ZCM delivered his little urinal-side homily, slowly backed out of the men's room, fled as fast as he could to his vehicle and sped off.

I wish Zen Congregationalist Marine could talk to every Sincere Bible Study Guy in this country, and share this particular story with them; how a real, straight, manly-man guys' guy deals with his worst gay fear realized.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Maid Women

We made a big decision at our house a couple of weeks ago.

We came to the conclusion that we were tired of stressing out about housekeeping -- a task that neither of us finds any joy in performing, and that our busy lives don't give us a lot of time to do.

We counted our pennies and decided that it was worth it to economize elsewhere in order to hire someone to help us with the house once or twice a month. We knew someone from church who keeps houses for a living, who has also had personal experience with Fellow Traveler's medical issues and attendant cleaning needs, whom we trust and whom we knew would appreciate the business, and asked her if she could help us out.

So now we have a housekeeper.

Today was her second day on the job, bringing up the neatness level of our house to our desired baseline so that we can dial back to a less intensive maintenance schedule.

Having a housekeeper is wonderful. It's also weird.

It's odd, of course, to give someone such access to our home on a regular basis. And it's odd to have a housekeeper who's a friend. We sometimes don't quite know where to draw boundaries. How much do we chit-chat, for instance? And about what?

Our housekeeper also makes us both feel very inadequate about our own housekeeping skills even in a maintenance capacity. Like many people with housekeepers, we "pre-clean" before she arrives; and still she spends hours here, saving us from ourselves. We already had what we thought was a rather formidible arsenal of cleaning products and tools, but after surveying our supply she gave us a wish list of technologically superior supplies she prefers -- ouch. And she finds things to clean that completely escape our attention. Today she asked us if we had an old toothbrush. When we asked why, she said she needed it to brush the mesh at the end of the faucet, to clean off the hard-water deposits. This is not something we would have thought of on our own, ever. She performed some sort of magic on our stove cooktop that erased accumulated scorch predating Fellow Traveler's purchasing this house. We feel kind of dumb.

Mollie the cat is not at all happy about this new turn of household events; when the housekeeper shows up, Mollie heads for the closet in the guest room and stays there all day. Gertie is less angsty, but still isn't really sure that she likes this lady coming into our house. And I noticed today that within about a half hour of her leaving, Gertie had all her toys out of the box and onto the floor again.

On the other hand...clean house. And we're now motivated to keep it that way.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Happy All Saints' Day

The Opposite of Reformation

Arlene (not her real name) rode my schoolbus. She was about three years older than me; friendly girl, always very fashion-forward, and radically uninterested in scholarship -- a natural disinclination accentuated in her teen years by the copious amounts of ganja she and her friends smoked during lunchtime in their shag-carpeting-lined Chevy vans over in Student Parking.

Arlene was in my American history class, which at the time was state-mandated for high school graduation. This was her third trip through the course. I remember one day, after the unit on World War II, when the teacher passed out our graded exams, and we could see that Arlene's bore a prominent red "E." We heard her sigh over her exam, and saw her out-of-order eyes try to focus on the the document before them. "So, like, who did win World War II? Like, it wasn't, like, Hitler? Damn."

There was no fourth American history class for Arlene.  About a decade later I ran into her cashiering at a supermarket in the next county, apparently a responsible taxpaying citizen despite the less-than-glorious end of her academic career.

The virtues of perseverence aside, there often comes a point, in certain endeavors, when you just have to cut your losses and stop trying. John Shelby Spong seems to have reached this point, at least according to his recent manifesto announcing his refusal to further debate homosexuality, the role of women in the Church and other issues whose resolutions are so self-evident that it's pointless to discuss them further.

I first read Jack Spong when I was in college. I thought that his Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism was brilliant. Over the years I thought he'd gotten a little too strident, a little too self-promoting, a little too eager to assume for himself the mantle of modern-day Reformer. But I rather liked this particular segment of his manifesto:

I do not debate any longer with members of the "Flat Earth Society" either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United States on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union. I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church's participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day.

Many of us can relate to that sentiment. Just yesterday I was reading a gentle, patient attempt by a seminarian to try and exegete "clobber verses" in Romans for the benefit of Sincere Bible Study Guy (those of you who frequent Bible studies will be acquainted with this Typ) who seemed incapable of understanding what she was saying. She may as well have been typing in Japanese characters. It wasn't a case of "I passionately disagree with you." It was more like the Peanuts films where adult voices are represented as a discordant "WONK-WONK-WONK." I caught a brief mental glimpse of Arlene, back in history class, staring slack-jawed at the chalkboard, probably working out the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven while our teacher was lecturing about VE Day. Another year, another lecture, wouldn't have made a difference.

So part of me is with Jack Spong: Over it; moving on. But another part of me resists giving up. How can a Church be "ever-reforming" if reformers decide, "To hell with it," and recuse themselves from the conversation?

And...I can't help but wonder if Spong is really capable of carrying out his own resolution. My money is on "no."