Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I Believe, Too

So we think this was probably the last Christmas with Santa in our household. In the weeks leading up to Christmas this year, we were trying to get a sense from Monk if he really, truly believed in Santa anymore. We would bring it up every now and then, and try to read his responses--which were often rather cryptic themselves.

About a week or so ago, we brought it up again, a little more determined to root out the truth. And the conversation was really very dear--and left me feeling very confused about how we ought to proceed as parents.

Monk admitted that most of the kids in his fourth-grade class do not believe in Santa anymore. He said that most of the kids think their parents just get up in the middle of the night and sneak the presents under the tree from Santa. "What do you think?" we asked him.

He said that he thought that would be like the parents were lying. And if they are, then it's up to them to tell the kids that that's what they're doing. In other words, he felt that it's not up to the kids to doubt their parents or accuse them of lying. But its up to the parents to come clean.

At the same time, he said, he still wants to believe. He told us that he just doesn't feel ready to give up on that amazing feeling of waking up on Christmas morning to a tree that has magically been surrounded by presents from a stranger, someone who doesn't even know Monk personally. "It just won't be the same," he said, "if the presents appear from you."

The conversation we had seemed to be on several levels at once. About Santa, yes. But also about growing up. About believing in magic and letting magic go. About being in that really precarious place, where you're on the edge of growing up, on the edge of leaving boyhood behind, but you can still choose--for only a little bit longer--not to.

I feel like I remember that moment in my own life. And it was about this time of year, although it wasn't related to Santa for me. I think it was the year I was in sixth grade. It was over winter break. And I was still playing with my dolls and Barbies. I remember being achingly aware that winter break that it was the last time I would play with my dolls. That I'd held on to them for just a little bit longer than I should have, because I could still, just barely, choose it. But my childhood was slipping, and I could feel it going. I still played with dolls with all my heart for those two weeks. But I don't think I ever did again after that. As soon as the break was over, I put them away. And that summer, at our yard sale, I sold nearly every one of them.

But in our conversation with Monk, I was also moved, and worried, about his label of "lying" about Santa. D has always told me about his parents' approach to Santa. He has always maintained that they had managed to do Santa without every lying about it to him. In a very similar way, that night, D had Monk come up and sit on the couch between us. He said to him, "You know, I know exactly who Santa is. And all you have to do is ask me, and I will tell you everything I know about Santa."

Monk kind of squirmed and laughed, sitting there between us as Doug went on: "You've never asked me directly who Santa is, so I've never told you. But I'll tell you right now if you really want to know." We paused for a while. "Do you want to know?"

Monk shook his head. "No. Not yet. Maybe in a couple years."

A couple nights later, after I'd spent the day making Christmas cookies from my grandmother's recipe box, the three of sat down and watched A Miracle on 34th Street for the first time. It couldn't have been better timed for us as a family. The complicated layers of believing, or choosing to believe, are all there. But also, a sense of mystery. It's never entirely clear what we are to believe.

I've started to wonder, in recent days, if a more developed understanding of possession could help our post-enlightenment minds grasp the concept of Santa better than "true or false" ever does. There is a sense in which I do believe in Santa because I have been Santa. The spirit of one who gives generously has been alive and well in our household for these past ten years. As Susan says in A Miracle on 34th Street: "I believe, I believe...It's silly, but I believe."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Is He? Or Isn't He? Yes? No? I Think, No... Oh, I Don't Know!

Kind of a stressful morning with Monk as he complained about an upset stomach and a sore throat. He actually woke up at 2:30 last night and called me in because he was afraid he was about to throw up. I've learned to get the bucket first and ask diagnostic questions later! But he didn't get sick last night and fell asleep again with the bucket on a chair beside his bed.

This morning it was more of the same, but my gut instinct kept telling me he wasn't really sick. (Even so, my gut has told me that before and the consequences have been dire!)

I've been kicking myself ever since our conference with his teacher on Tuesday afternoon. I told his teacher (in front of Monk) that this is the first year that Monk hasn't had any absences yet and hasn't fussed at going to school in the morning. It was as if I planted a seed that was bursting to sprout.

The past two mornings have brought back the old struggles in full force.

We ended up sending him to school today. The thing is, he has tomorrow and Monday off. And then he heads off for his first-ever overnight field trip on Tuesday morning! So today felt like a really important day for him to go in and get any of the last minute instructions that he'll need--and so that we'll feel like we know what's going on when we drop him off Tuesday morning. (For some reason his teacher embedded the permission slip for this trip deep in the packet of information about it. When we turned it in, we neglected to pull it out of the packet. So now all we know about the trip is what we feel like we might, kinda, sorta remember from going through the packet once. Not enough, in other words.)

I think we made the right decision. We heard him singing in the shower for heaven's sake. You don't sing in the shower when you feel like you might hurl, do you?

But I hate this feeling of not being sure. I wish there were some sensor on my kid where we could touch it and feel and know exactly what he's feeling--rather than having to sift through a bunch statements that always seem either just vague enough or just dramatic enough that I have no idea what's really going on.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Another Step in the Right Direction

So here's something I am very excited about lately. At the end of last week, we had a huge, green bin delivered to our apartment building. It resides out back, next to the dumpster. But it doesn't collect trash--it collects food scraps! And paper towels, paper plates, paper take-out containers, pizza boxes, ice cream containers, napkins! And the food scraps don't have to be only vegetables, but can include meat, cheese, and other food things that can't normally be composted. I . AM . SO. HAPPY !

In the week that we've had this new bin, we have yet to fill the trash can under our sink. I think it is going to make a HUGE difference in the amount of trash we contribute to landfills.

Plus, the ability to recycle to this extent makes the now few things we can't recycle really stand out like a sore thumb! Extra packaging seems more obscene than ever in comparison.

What makes me not excited? The yahoos in our apartment complex who have already put plastic bags in the green bin (which D, bless his heart, fished out). Unbelievable.

In other news, I haven't talked about it since I started, but the vegetarian life is greatly agreeing with me.

Small steps that my family and I are able to take to live more gently on this planet.

PS I've already pointed out to D that this means we absolutely must eat more ice cream--so we have an easy way to collect the food scraps. Don't you agree? :)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mass Hysteria

I just wrote this story to a friend in an email, and decided to tell it here, too. It has been a strange, strange Halloween.

When Monk announced that he wanted to dress up as President Bush this year, we laughed and thought it was a natural progression given his costumes over the past several years: Darth Maul, Darth Vader, the Devil, and President Bush.

But what we never expected was the way his costume would tap into some deep wells of hatred! Not only that, but it created what D referred to as the Mascot Effect. It was as if people immediately forgot that he was a human underneath the puffy coat and the big mask. As soon as the mask would go on, and this is no exaggeration, swarms of kids would immediately be drawn to him and start poking him, hitting him, pulling at him. I've never seen anything like it.

But there was definitely also a Burn-Him-in-Effigy Effect as well. One kid walked over and said, "Some night you're going to wake up and find me standing over your bed with a knife." But even adults (parents, not the teachers thank goodness) would come over to him and say things like, "Watch out! I'm going to punch you!" We had some deep-seated hatred going on.

I was glad that both D and I went to Monk's school parade. We flanked him and kept having to fend kids (and adults) off. Finally, Doug turned to me and said: "Now I know what we should have dressed as...secret service agents!"

There was a very sweet moment, though, when a little girl--not more that 2 1/2 I'm sure, was utterly enthralled with Monk. It was the positive mascot effect, as if he were a Disney character or something. Monk shook her hand, as if he were one of those characters. She was smitten! I caught the moment below:

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bringing the Outside In

Yesterday was a frustrating one for me, for various reasons. Within about an hour of chapel beginning, I was probably at my most cranky point. But I headed over to chapel (later than I've done all semester), in order to prepare the space for our worship service.

After setting out the hymnals and preparing the communion table with the green cloth I use each week (never the same way twice, though), I felt overwhelmingly that I wanted to bring something in from the outside.

I walked out the door of the chapel and looked about me. I thought of maybe some branches off a tree, or some flowers I might find... then I saw a charlie-brown ginkgo tree just off to the side of the chapel. It had shed a number of its bright, gold leaves and they had blanketed the ground around it. I collected a good handful and put them by the bulletins (which I always set on a table at the entryway). I also put some more on the communion table on top of the green cloth and under the candle, already burning. But then I turned around and saw this long stretch of bright red carpet along the the aisle...

I went back out with a student. I took off my jacket and we started to fill my jacket with gold leaves. As we reentered the chapel, the president of the seminary looked at me curiously: "I saw you out there loading leaves in your jacket..."

I laughed. "Wait til you see what we do with them!"

Then we proceeded to strew them all along the aisle - from back to front. The bright gold against that deep red was something!

It was fun, then, to watch people come in and blink! The prayer of invocation we prayed together ended up asking God to help us see God in unexpected ways: in the strange and familiar. Then the sermon was on the feeling of "in-betweeness."

I thought about how the leaves made our space an in-between space: not outside, not inside. And Autumn being an in-between season: not Summer, not Winter but carrying us between the two. For me, the leaves began to generate meaning.

My favorite part was directly after the service, first the two of us who had brought in the leaves (and made the mess in the first place!) started collecting them into baskets. Then, little by little, more and more people--from the students to the dean--were down on our hands and knees collecting leaves! There was so much laughter and marveling going on down there on the floor of the chapel that it was certainly a continuation of the worship service from my perspective.

Part of my role as the director of chapel is to use the chapel experience to teach students. I've been trying to do this subtly, by showing the kinds of things that are possible in worship. At our community dinner afterwards, one of our students asked me about the leaves. She is Korean and still struggles to express herself in English, which made our conversation all the more beautiful to me. She asked me about the meaning of the leaves. I talked about the meaning I had found in them, but suggested that others might have made different meanings. She smiled, and said: "I liked it. They were beautiful!"

Another student admitted that she hadn't noticed the leaves at all until partway through the service. And she said she couldn't figure out then if they'd been there when she had walked in, or if someone had walked through as part of the service and scattered them, or if they'd been there every week and she simply had never noticed before! She was one of the ones who got down on the floor to pick up the leaves, laughing delightedly. It occurred to me that the leaves had called her into presence in worship in a way she had not expected. They were familiar things in an unfamiliar place--and they had caused her to notice. There is gift in that.

By the time the service was over, the frustrations of my day had melted away. My spirit had been able to come to a resting point. And I'd been reminded of the joy that can be found in community, especially a community that dares to worship together.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Giving Thanks for Simple Things

First, with prayers for all those who have been displaced from their homes due to fires, for those who are facing danger by seeking to contain the fires, for those who are grieving loss in its many forms.

Thanks to all who have encouraged us to go ahead and take this cruise. I think we're gonna do it! Looks like we'll be heading out in the spring, shortly after Easter. We'll celebrate Monk's 10th birthday in Ensenada, Mexico. Now, really, how cool is that? We're very excited about this grand adventure ahead.

More immediately, I'm scheduled to head back to the dentist today for (possibly) some major work to be done on my tooth that broke a few weeks ago. I say possibly because I got a letter from my insurance company which suggests this particular procedure may not be covered. Either that, or there was simply a technicality with the way the claim was filed. At any rate, it means a day chock full of some of the most unpleasant things I can imagine doing: dealing with an insurance company and going to the dentist. Nice.

In other news, I finally gave in on Monday and paid for Amazon Prime so that I can get "free" two-day shipping on my orders. The trick is whether or not it truly will be free; that is, if we buy enough books from Amazon (and Barnes & Noble, I guess) that we would have spent the $79 over a year anyway. Even I, as terrible with numbers as I am, have that much figured out.

Truth is, though, it's not so much about saving $$$ as it is about getting the books immediately. And I have found that often, once I am online looking for a title, it's because I need the book yesterday.

Speaking of which, my books did arrive yesterday (one day sooner, even, than expected). The first is for my dissertation. A book by Jurgen Habermas called (tantalizingly) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Say wha? Even so, I remain hopeful that by the time I get to the end of the book, I'll have some glimpse of what the heck that title means. :)

The second book is equally for my own prayer life as it is for work. (How joyous that the two can be that closely intertwined!) It's by Nan C. Merrill called Psalms for Praying: An Invitation for Wholeness. Merrill's project is a lovely one (although I freely recognize the dangers in it). She offers a translation of the Psalms that does not "other" enemies or nations, but draws them in and identifies them as internal enemies, whether fear, doubt, despair, lack of self worth, and so on. She also translates images of God primarily in terms of Love--calling God Love, Beloved, Compassionate One, Blessed Healer, Blees One, Listening Heart, etc.

One of the dangers, of course, is that a translation like this over-psychologizes the imagery in the Psalms. In some ways, the Psalms are transformed into nothing more than a sort of Jungian prayerbook. Another danger is that it clearly de-historicizes the Psalms, which commits a certain violence to the Hebrew/Christian texts--faiths that are deeply rooted in historical events.

But here's the thing: Merrill is not proposing her translation as a replacement of the more literal translations. And in that sense, I feel like the prayer book's dangers are mitigated considerably. And the benefits of these contemporary, accessible, and poetic images outweigh the dangers as I see them. I can't help but wonder what it might be like to grow up knowing God's name as Love, Beloved, and Compassionate One. I mean, really, what might the world look like if we knew this as God's name? Truth is, I open this book of Psalms and immediately experience it as a prayer book in a way I've never quite been able do with the traditional translations.

Anyway, enough talk about this, let me leave you with one of the Psalms. Here is Merrill's translation of Psalm 54.

Awaken me, O Blessed Healer with
your holy mercy,
that I might be free of fear.
Hear my prayer, O Holy One;
give ear to the words of
my mouth.

For nagging doubts assail me,
bringing loneliness and pain;
I remember not the Beloved, so
overwhelming are my fears.

Yet behold, You are my helper,
the upholder of my life.
With You I have the strength to
face my fears;
Your faithfulness will help me
transform them into love.

With boundless confidence, I
abandon myself into your Heart;
I give praise to your holy Name,
O Beloved,
with gratitude and joy.
For You deliver me from my illusions,
and, through Love, my heart
opens to Wisdom.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Crazy Ideas are Afloat

So here's the thing. The wonderful and amazing RevGalBlogPals sent out word a few weeks ago that arrangements were being made for our first-ever RevGal Big Event. The matriarchs/board recommended the wildly unorthodox notion of taking a cruise together in the Spring! It was a creative way of gathering women from all over the world to a central location that was accessible by a major airport. And it was surprisingly affordable.

I have to say I never once imagined going on a cruise before, but when I checked into the details of the RevGals Big Event, I actually found it looked like a lot of fun. Unfortunately (though understandably), the RevGals decided that partners and kids wouldn't be invited to this particular event. So after giving it quite a bit of thought, I decided I just couldn't leave my guys at home while I went sailing off to Mexico. Most especially because it would be over Monk's tenth birthday. (That's double digits, baby!)

But a seed was planted. A bee was put in my bonnet. My imagination started running wild. And next thing I knew, I was sending away for cruise information for the three of us. Lately we've started to talk about taking a four-day (or so) cruise to Mexico during Monk's spring break (which is also, coincidentally, his birthday week). We'd leave from a Southern California port (not the RevGal New Orleans port).

I'm a little embarrassed by how fun I suddenly think this all sounds. It's not at all, not even remotely, connected to our simple lifestyle commitments of yesteryear. We don't live extravagantly by any means. Even so, despite our tiny apartment, we manage to pack in quite a few extras here and there. Still, a cruise?

But here's what appeals to me about it: being on the ocean (wow!), going to Mexico for the first time, traveling even while getting to stay in the same room each night (magic), meals included with the price (affordable), and doing something utterly different from what we've ever done before.

No decision has been made yet. I still need to research it all. :) But we'll see. Maybe...

Finding Perspective

On Saturday I went to watch Monk's hockey practice. Each week at practice they do a horrendous drill where they skate the length of the rink (back and forth) while the coach shouts, "Down!" then "Up!" With each command they drop to the ice then clamber back up again as quickly as possible. I guess it's supposed to help them learn how to get on their feet again if they take a spill during a game.

Granted, all exercise strikes me as dreadful, but this one in particular looks like utter punishment. I couldn't help but smile as I sat on the bleachers this Saturday. It occurred to me, no matter how bad a day I may have on occasion, I never have to do that. It was such beautiful little moment of perspective. I feel like now I always have something to be thankful for. :)

Yesterday wasn't a bad day, but it was a long one. Mondays always are: I get in to work by 9:30 a.m. and stay 'til 10 p.m. (Though last night it was closer to 10:30 before I headed out.) I spend the day preparing both for the Seminary chapel service at 6:00 as well as preparing to teach immediately after chapel from 7:00 to 9:30. The amount of energy that goes into each experience is tremendous--both draw on wells of spiritual intuition and empathy, not to mention intellectual challenge.

For the most part, I find that worship and teaching gift back energy more than they take, but on occasion they really zap me out of it. And last night was one of those. Even so, it is such a privilege to get to do this. The tired that hits me is a well-earned tired. And the thing is, I never have to do that drill.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Extreme Home Makeover

We live in a small, I mean, tiny apartment. And every now and then it becomes terribly evident that our stuff has surpassed our apartment's capacity to hold it. In a way it's a good thing to live in a place that has this sort of built-in alarm system that lets us know when we've accumulated too many things. But it also wears on us, I think. There is not much forgiveness to the space: everything is either picked up or it's a mess. No in-between.

Yesterday we couldn't take it anymore. And our efforts became concentrated in Monk's room. He's now 9 1/2 years old. And he had a lot of toys in his room that he has simply outgrown. Most of his playtime now is dedicated almost entirely to playing sports: hockey, football, and baseball. He plays a lot of these by himself in the afternoons. But he also throws a ball with his Dad every afternoon in the park across the street. (If you live in a tiny apartment, it always helps to have a park across the street!)

The three of us ruthlessly filled trash and recycling bags yesterday afternoon. I even cleared out old schoolwork he'd accumulated over the years, showing my anti-math bias by only keeping creative writing assignments. :) I went through Monk's dresser drawers and took out the clothes that no longer fit--a chore also long overdue. Included in that pile was an old Eagles jersey my brother gave Monk when he was only two years old. It was huge on him at the time, and somehow we managed to squeeze five years out of that jersey! But there is no way Monk would fit in it now. (That jersey isn't representative of the other clothes in his drawer, by the way. Everything else was sized between 6 and 8. I'm not that far behind.)

At the end of the day, I vacuumed in there. Including getting down on my hands and knees and using the attachment to vacuum along the edges of the room, floorboards we haven't seen in over a year! A deeply satisfying project.

The end result is that the room is cleaner, neater and better put together than I think it's ever been, even since we moved in. We've little-by-little divested of the excess toys (an embarrassment of riches for our only child). It's now a room that is pleasant to be in, a haven and a sanctuary.

Now if only the rest of the apartment felt that way, too!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Random Thoughts on a Monday Morning

(1) There was much celebrating when the Phillies clinched the NL East championship yesterday afternoon for the first time since the magical 1993 season. That was the year D and I were married and we had bought each other partial season tickets (a set of four seats so we'd always go with friends). If you remember what the '92 Phillies were like, you'd know it was a giant leap of faith. If I'm not mistaken, they had finished in last place that year. But 1993 brought a new ragamuffin team out onto the field and we, along with the rest of the city, fell in love with them as they made their unbelievable journey to the World Series.

So the last time the Phils won the NL East, D and I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to drive up to Pittsburgh in order to see it happen. There were more Phillies fans there than Pirates fans for that game. And though nothing was guaranteed, they did indeed win the title that evening. It was enough great energy to fuel our eight-hour drive back home so we could go to work that morning. At every rest stop along the PA Turnpike, we would run into the same group of diehard fans who were on the same journey we were.

This time we celebrated the win from afar. But still managed to see it on D's computer. So wonderful to hear Harry Kalas call another championship game.

(2) All things baseball, D's fantasy team won his league's world series championship yesterday. And, in fact, Elliot also won his league's world series as well. So we broke out some champagne and sparkling lemonade and celebrated the boys. :)

(3) I dyed my hair yesterday afternoon for the first time in a while. I was tired of it's plain old browness and wanted a little more spunk to it. But not the spunk that comes from a $100 appointment at my hairdresser. I've been wanting to do this for a while, but have put it off because it meant giving up my gray hairs. I love my gray hair! I don't love the flat brown.

(4) A full day ahead preparing for chapel this evening and then class immediately after that. Most of the service is together, but I still need to fit it into bulletin format and make the copies. We will be celebrating communion for the first time, so new details for me to pay attention to. Still more firsts. A year of firsts, I suspect. At any rate, I need to be finished all that prep no later than noon to give myself a good, solid 4 or 5 hours to finish prepping for my part of the class tonight.

(5) Looks like we're planning a vacation to San Diego for Thanksgiving this year. I'll be down there anyway for the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting. So the guys are going to fly down on the last day of the meetings, we'll stay a few days, then drive back home together. This will be our first real vacation here, other than a couple days "housesitting" in Tahoe. It's been so long, I don't even know how to plan a vacation anymore. So if you live in the SoCal area, let me know if there are any places we ought to stay or visit!

(6) Oh, yeah. One more thing. Right after the Phillies won yesterday afternoon, I happened to cut my thumb on an aluminum foil take-out container. It was a pretty good cut and started bleeding right away. Monk, after making sure I was okay, joked: "Hey, Mom, you bleed red." Yes, indeed, I do. :)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Fine Day

A few weeks ago I decided to be more respectable in my free-time reading choices, so picked up Middlemarch. But as I got further along, I started losing steam on it, until a couple days ago when Monk assigned me new reading.

Monk had read Eragon, the first book in a trilogy--a fantasy boy-and-his-dragon story. As soon as he finished reading it, he immediately passed it on to me: "Mom, you have GOT to read this." I figured there may not be too many more years when he wants me to read the same books he's reading, you know? So I'm making my way through the first book (much more slowly than he did) while he cruises through the second one. My boy.

Today has been astoundingly beautiful here. A wonderful coolness, even crispness in the air. It's simply Autumn, through and through. Honestly, I don't remember it ever feeling so fall-like here. And it makes me wonder if I've finally just gotten used to the subtlety of seasons here. Maybe. There's something wonderful about that. And something a little sad, too.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Miracles Happen

SFD done and sent to my adviser!


Out of Myself into God

Well, I guess the good news is, we didn't need any retrofitting to survive this morning's little temblor. :)

Yesterday, I had a very heavy heart. And though I had (and still have) a pressing amount of work to do, I found it was nearly impossible to get the focus I needed to get anything accomplished.

I came home in the afternoon to spend some time with my family before having to head out again for class in the evening. There was a peaceful moment of watching Monk hit baseballs - enjoying the way he is clearly living out great scenarios of world series success with every hit. He throws his arms in the air and begins his trot around the imaginary bases.

Things got a little worse for me when a tooth in the back of my mouth came apart. Or maybe it was the filling that fell out. It's hard to tell because it was one of those composite, tooth-colored fillings. I only had it filled in August, but I don't think it was ever done correctly. It had never stopped hurting since then. Turns out the dentist can't fit me in until Wednesday of next week. A week with a hunk of tooth missing? How is it I never had any teeth trouble until I started to go to the dentist?

So between my heavy heart and my teeth woes, I really had to drag myself off to class in the evening. We had invited a guest speaker, a young Pentecostal pastor, who was there to talk about his theology of and approach to preaching. He did a fantastic job. It was thrilling to hear him. And this was the great thing: midway through the class I realized I hadn't thought about myself since things had started. I had been able to get caught up in the content, engaged with the speaker and the students, and focused again on things that bring me joy.

After the evening was over, I was deeply thankful for the opportunity that I find myself living into: to live out my call in teaching, to participate in something larger than me, that draws me out of myself and into a sense of God's mystery and wonder.

The big task before me today is to finish my first rough draft of my dissertation proposal and send it off to my adviser. What an accomplishment that will be. All the while I'm keeping Anne Lamott's wonderfully liberating writing advice in mind, summed up in three letters: sfd (s#!%&y first draft). Hopefully I can do that much.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Conversations You Wish You Hadn't Overheard

Our landlord, standing below our living room window, talking with a contractor about retrofitting* our building. I heard two snippets clearly:

Contractor: "If the pressure is on this part then the whole building..."

and a few minutes later,

Landlord: "Well, I think the least expensive option would..."

I didn't hear the completion of either sentence. It's left up to my imagination and yours. If you lived here, how would you complete the sentences?

*Retrofitting, for those of you who live on solid ground, means to make a building more stable in the event of an earthquake.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Seeing Ghosts

A couple years ago I was hanging out with some girlfriends for Happy Hour when out of the blue it occurred to me what I could say at Thanksgiving when we had to go around the table and announce what we're thankful for: I am thankful that, other than a couple dear friends, I have never, ever run into anyone from my high school since I graduated.

It was such a brilliant absence in my life! I was delighted that I could be aware of it and celebrate it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I started to receive invitations to my (gulp) 20th High School Reunion and found (gulp again) that I really wanted to go! Wha?!

The notes have been coming in by email for maybe two weeks now. And with them, names of people who used to be a part of my life--but who I'd nearly completely forgotten about--have been floating back into view for me. It was a little like confronting ghosts. A bunch of these kids I went to school with from kindergarten all the way through graduation. And nearly all of them I'd known since the fifth grade.

I think I had the impression that I could float free of that group of people, as if it were only circumstance that tied us together. But I can't float free, untethered to such a large part of my past.

At the end of the list of names being sent around is a smaller list, though not nearly small enough, of the classmates who have died since graduation. (Actually one of them died our senior year from alcohol poisoning.) I felt awash in grief as I read through those names - and again a day or two later when one more name from the "unknown whereabouts" was moved to the list of deceased. After all these years, I can still see their faces plain as day.

I don't know that I'll actually be able to attend the reunion: it's the Friday after Thanksgiving on the opposite coast from me. But I haven't yet ruled out the possibility.

In the meantime, it prompted me to get in touch with my best friend from high school (and Maid of Honor in my wedding almost fifteen years ago now). So parts of my soul are feeling restored.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

My Little Boy Growing Up

Last night it happened for the first time ever. Monk brushed his teeth, put on his pj's and came out to the living room to kiss me goodnight. "You want me to tuck you in?" I asked.

"No. I'm good," he responded.

He didn't see, but he made his Mama cry with that one. I knew the day would come. My little boy is growing up.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Things that Give Me Hope

This picture and its accompanying story simply brings tears to my eyes.

I came across it via Bible Versus when the picture was displayed on Blogger Play, which I discovered via my big brother's blog, Thoughts of Cyen.

Okay, so now you know how I spend my Friday evenings...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Growing Pains

My Mom says that when she was little, she knew she would finally be grown-up when she no longer had scabs on her knees. I think she used to tell me this because I always had scabs on my knees as a kid. But I've been surprised, over these past nine years, that Monk has not had the same experience. In fact, he had one really bad fall when he was about three-years-old that he still talked about for years afterward. He was at daycare, standing on a bench, and he tried to grab a rope and swing on it. But he missed and fell--pretty much breaking his fall with his face, leaving a large abrasion. For a while we thought it would leave a scar. And for a while after it was clear it hadn't, Monk was convinced it had. :) He sort of clung to that injury as a badge of honor of some kind. Or, in his more dramatic moments, as evidence of his tragedy-filled existence.

But in recent months, he's finally started to get the abrasions and scabs I remember as being a daily part of growing up. Maybe two weeks of hockey camp had something to do with that. :) But I also think it has to do with a little more boldness on his part--a willingness to throw himself into things (literally?) with abandon. I think it's wonderful. And I can't help but beam at him when he comes home with the latest scrape. "Aw man, I'm proud of you!" I hear myself declaring.

Yesterday he went with a friend and his family to the beach for the day. Because Monk is an only child, I know there are ways we overprotect him more than other families. (Uh, hence the lack of scrapes...) So this trip was a big deal for us, well, especially me. DRD, who has always seen when Monk is ready to do things before I seem to see it, didn't worry nearly as much as I did. I always hope I keep my worrying out of sight of the boy, but judging by my Mom's lack of success in that area when I was a kid, I probably don't hide it near as well as I think I do.

Anyway, Monk came home with bruised and scraped up shins. Apparently he was running through the water with the other boys and slammed into a rock covered in barnacles. ("Covered in barnacles" seemed to be an essential part of the story whenever he told it.) I glowed at him when he showed me his scrapes. They match his currently scabbed elbow quite well. We're finally starting to go through Band-Aids around here!

This morning, he came out of the shower complaining that his foot hurt. Turns out he also managed to get a splinter yesterday. We dug at it for a little bit with the tweezers, but it wouldn't budge. "I wish I had Deshler's Salve!" I said.

My Mom had an ancient jar of Deshler's Salve that she would always take out when one of us got a splinter. It would draw the splinter out after a day or so, requiring no digging with pins or tweezers. It was a goopy, sticky, brownish salve with an oily smell to it. I had the feeling it had come from my grandmother's medicine cabinet.

After excavating in Monk's foot unsuccessfully for a while, I turned to Wiki-How. They suggested that you make a paste of baking soda and water, put it on the splinter, cover it with a Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. After that, the splinter ought to be drawn out enough to grab easily with tweezers. So we're giving that a try today.

In the meantime, I looked up Deshler's Salve and discovered that it hailed from Germantown / Mt Airy in Philadelphia--our old stomping grounds! Mrs. Deshler (who was related to the Wisters, in case any of you locals are reading this) purchased the salve from her butcher. (It was called butcher's salve for awhile.) But over the years, it came to be known as Deshler's Salve. Looks like its ingredients are quite odd. According to the website HerbData New Zealand, here's the recipe for Deshler's: Resin 23, yellow wax 22, prepared suet 30, turpentine oleoresin 12, linseed oil 13. Melt together the resin, wax, and suet, and add the turpentine oleoresin and linseed oil ; continue the heat, if necessary, until the mixture is liquefied, strain and stir until it congeals.

Turpentine?! Suet?! Linseed oil?!

And here's where I discovered the history of the salve: Excerpt from the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution

A guest blogspot by my partner, DRD

Monk is a lot like his dad in that one of his “guilty pleasures” is listening to heavy metal--particularly bands whose lyrics are not always entirely edifying. Monk’s current favorite album to listen to on the way to his hockey games is AC/DC’s Back in Black. He thinks of the title track as his team’s theme song, because they often wear black jerseys, and he like to imagine them blasting the song through the rink’s sound system during pre-game warm-ups. But he told me today that his favorite AC/DC song, which he’s had running through his head for the last couple of weeks, is “Hells Bells.”

I’m not entirely comfortable with this. I’m sure Monk likes the song partly because he thinks of hell as a curse word. I don’t think he gives much thought to the concept of hell, and AC/DC’s comically absurd glorification of it—which always put me off as a churchgoing teen. And I know he likes the ominous feel of the guitar part. He’s joked more than once about how his teacher last year always invited the kids to bring their favorite music in to be played at school, and he likes to imagine how she’d react if he’d brought “Hell’s Bells” in to be played for his third-grade class. But he thinks she probably wouldn’t do it because of the curse words.

When he mentioned that today, I seized upon the “teaching moment” as an opportunity to undo some of the damage I’ve done in introducing his nine-year-old mind to these songs. I said something like “Well, I’m sure your teacher doesn’t want to play music in class that some of the kids or their parents would find offensive. You know some of those songs really don’t have a very good message about how to live—like where ‘Hells Bells’ says, ‘If you’re into evil, you’re a friend of mine.’ ”

He says, “Yeah, I know, sometimes their lyrics aren’t so good--other than that one.”

I was a little baffled, and asked him what he meant.

He says, “Well, that song basically says what God says--that no matter what somebody’s done, even if they’ve done some really bad stuff, you should still be their friend, still love them, still stick with them.”

You gotta love a boy who hears the gospel in his AC/DC album.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

N'est Pas Fumer

Yesterday I took Monk to a doctor's appointment. The nurse was running through the routine beginning: measuring his height, weight, taking his temperature. She turned to me and asked a couple usual questions, finishing up with: "Does anyone smoke at home?"

"No," I answered.

"Only when she cooks," Monk quipped.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Tooth Telling

I spent a bit of time in the dentist's chair this afternoon getting my first-ever cavities filled. (I'm 38, in case you're wondering.) I always prided myself as a kid on never getting a bad report from the dentist. Although, having no cavities growing up certainly didn't spare me from the misery of being in the dentist's chair.

I come from a Welsh heritage (among other things--a real mutt am I). And I'm convinced a trait of being Welsh (besides being tremendously supersititous) is big ol' teeth. My dentist decided when I was little that my mouth was too small to hold all my teeth. So every time I went to see him, he would shoot me up with Novocaine and yank out a couple teeth. Let's see, over my lifetime I've had at least 14 teeth pulled, eight of those were adult teeth. (This doesn't include my wisdom teeth.)

The last time my dentist pulled my teeth (two on the top) he didn't wait long enough for the Novocaine to work. Because I was still just a kid, he didn't believe me when I told him I could still feel what he was doing. What a miserable, miserable experience.

The cumulative effect of all this was a bit of trauma related to the dentist--keeping me from setting foot into a dentists office for much, much too long.

But with the new job came dental insurance and my excuses ran out. Last week I went for the first time and got my first bad report. And today I went to get a couple teeth drilled and filled.

Because of my fears, especially in connection to the needle, I paid extra out of pocket for the joy of Nitrous Oxide. What a beautiful thing. After several minutes, I was able to relax and let everything go on around me without getting stressed out about it.

A bit of irony for the whole experience? There was construction going on right outside the window. They were using a jackhammer out there. Kind of put the sound of the drill in perspective. :)

The fat lip feeling has finally just worn off. So I'm ready to consider eating a little something for dinner.

I'm very proud of myself today. I did it. I really did.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why Can't Anything Be Simple?

In the words of my two-year-old nephew: "Oh, man!"

Today my brother left a comment here with a link to this article about The Dark Side of Soy.

I'm so bummed! Just when I thought I'd found a clear cut answer to eating more responsibly and healthfully.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Grilling in the 21st Century & Moving In

I bought a hibachi on July 4th this year. A cheap little $3 one. The bag of charcoal actually cost more than the grill itself! But I had a hankering for a cookout on the Fourth of July and figured, just because we're 3000 miles away from family doesn't mean we can't have our own little cookout for the holiday.

It took D and I about ten tries to get the charcoal lit. And we grilled up our own little feast that day, in the driveway of our little apartment. :)

Tonight I'm giving it another try and am pleased to say it only took me three tries to get the coals going strong. And now, here I sit, waiting for them to get good and hot--with my laptop on my knees, blogging. Yep. That's grilling in the 21st century for ya. :)

I've kept a nearly vegan diet since July 8. That's only four days, but it's something. Tonight I'll be grilling chicken for the guys. And I'll be having tofu sausages or something of the sort. Grocery shopping yesterday was a challenge as I tried to come up with veggie alternatives that wouldn't mean cooking several different dinners each night. We shall see how this goes.

The big celebration for today, however, was taking over my first loads of books to my new office! I don't know what we'll do in an apartment that isn't crammed with books. But how I love filling those shelves in the office. How immediately the walls spring to life with the things I love. Like filling the office with old friends right at the beginning. It's a beautiful thing.

If I keep up a good pace tomorrow, I should be able to bring over the rest of the books. Little by little, step by step I'm moving into this new life. Amazing.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Going Veg?

On the evening of July 7, I watched the Live Earth concert coverage with my family. I appreciated the concert, even given the self-contradictions it seemed to embody. (My brother offered some apt critiques here.) I think I appreciated the extent to which the concerts must have served to raise awareness, especially among young people. I think to whatever extent we can get the concepts of global warming and environmental responsibility to be familiar concepts, then change will happen more broadly and effectively. When Gore was interviewed on the night of the concert, he talked about Live Earth being only a beginning, a launch event for a global movement. The excitement generated by the concerts may raise hope and motivation for that movement. And if that's the case, then I'm grateful for it.

Near the end of the evening, I logged onto the Live Earth website and spent a good bit of time clicking through their lists of suggestions. (You can find them listed in the box titled "even more suggestions" on this page.) Their suggestion No. 31 is "Eat your Veggies" and includes this startling paragraph:

"The gases coming from cow's rears are even worse, greenhouse-warming-wise, than ol' CO2. Enteric fermentation--the ruminants' digestive process--produces flatulence, a.k.a. methane, while manure releases nitrous oxide. Even more emissions come from collateral effects: deforestation for pasture, fertilizers for feed crops, and energy to run meatpacking plants."

This made me more curious, so I visited the PETA-sponsored website (linked from the Live Earth site). I eventually viewed this video. WARNING: This video contains graphic images of animals being abused and slaughtered. Not suitable for children. And may be more than you can stomach.

Watch more videos at

I've flirted with vegetarianism a few times in my life. The only time I made a strong commitment to it was the semester I lived in Oregon, almost twenty years ago now. (My gosh, is that true?!) At the time, I had a problem keeping weight on. And there were fewer alternatives available for vegetarians. So once I returned to the East Coast, my commitment eventually waned.

I think I've always thought of vegetarianism as a matter of personal preference. But I'm beginning to think of it differently now: as a matter of justice, a way of right-living, a commitment to walking lightly on the earth. It seems, in fact, that becoming vegetarian can be one of the single-most effective ways to make a tangible, positive difference on this planet. Such opportunities are so rare that I feel as though I ought to pay attention to it.

The struggle, for me, would be how to live this out while being the food-preparer for my family. I don't feel right making this decision for my partner and my son: it seems like a choice they would have to come to for themselves. D is --as always-- very supportive of whatever decision I make with this. So I guess together we would need to figure it out.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, June 18, 2007

To the Beach!

Well, I'm closing up shop here today and will be off on vacation for a couple weeks. Feel free to peruse the archives while I'm at the beach. Maybe send some good vibes to our cat, Felix. He has a dear friend staying with him while we're gone, but he sure will miss us terribly. And, boy, will we ever miss him, too.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Random Ramblings - 8 Things Meme

Thanks to Diane, I was tagged for the Eight Random Facts meme that's been going around like the common cold at a preschool. First I have to post the rules, then dig right in to eight things you never wanted to know about good ol' me. :)

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3.At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here goes:

1. I lived in the same house until I graduated college. Shortly after I was married, my parents divorced and consequently sold the house. One Saturday, Dad told me I had to go up to the attic and sort through the relics of my entire childhood: children's books, my schoolwork through the years, stuffed animals, pictures, old projects, toys, clothing, you name it. I got up there and felt totally overwhelmed. I selected a Rubics Cube (which I think technically was my brother's) and Monopoly. I gave up everything else that was there. Stupid. Every now and then, before drifting off to sleep, I walk through the entire house again in my imagination, trying to remember as many details as I possibly can.

2. I was in San Francisco for the very first time one week after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. While there, I bought a copy of Martin Buber's I and Thou in a used book store on Haight Street.

3. I took the train across country when I was a junior in college. Jim got on the train in Minneapolis/St Paul and sat next to me. He was fifty years old and had been riding his bicycle across country. He was on his return trip when he got word that a friend had died, so he cut his trip short and was taking the train the rest of the way back to Sacramento, California. In Portland, Oregon, we had a five-hour layover. He bought me lunch and we spent a couple hours in Powells, a massive used bookstore in the years before Borders or Barnes and Noble. He lit my cigarette with a Zippo lighter despite the blustery wind as we walked back to the train station. I got off the train at Klamath Falls, Oregon. I turned and waved. I never saw him again. I guess if he's still alive now, he would be over 70 years old. Wow. That just occurred to me at this moment.

4. At the end of fourth grade we picked the instruments we wanted to learn to play the following year in band. I chose the tuba. My parents didn't let me play it because, they said, "Only boys play tubas." So I ended up playing the clarinet which was, I suppose, sufficiently girly. The other day Monk came home and told me he chose the instrument he wants to learn to play next year: the flute. I was astounded to find myself thinking: "Only girls play flute." I can't believe I thought it. Awful. I promise I'll never say it to him. Truth is, now that I'm an adult, I think my parents weren't so concerned about me playing the tuba because I was a girl as they were worried that the tuba was so very big, and I was so very small--it surely would have crushed me!

5. I lived at the beach with some girlfriends for a summer in college. Every morning my best friend and I would eat Cheerios and drink orange juice for breakfast. No matter what brand of orange juice we would get, I would have a complaint: "This orange juice is too sweet," or "This orange juice is too tart," or even something as vague as "This orange juice just doesn't taste right." Around the beginning of August, my friend turned to me and said very gently and lovingly, "I don't think you like orange juice." We laughed until our bellies hurt. She was absolutely right.

6. In high school I was enthralled with Shirley MacLaine and Richard Bach. After giving things some serious thought, I decided at the time that in a previous life I had been Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen.

7. When my hair is long, I dance like Snoopy. I don't know how to dance when my hair is short.

8. My parents bought a piano for us when I was little. I think it was a square grand piano--very, very old. And extremely rare. An ancient man used to come and tune it once a year. When the house was sold, the piano went with it. The picture below is the closest one I could find that looked like our old piano.

Wow. Funny how many of these random things are from a long time ago. Let's see. I tag: my brother, Amy, SpiritMist, Canticles, RevEm, RevMaria, and you if you want to play!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Friday Five - Hit the Road, Jack(ie)

Time to do a little dreaming. This week's Rev Gal Friday Five has us taking a little trip:

Suppose you were told to pack some essentials for a trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Describe your location, in general or specific terms
I would love to go away to a little cabin, nestled in the midst of some very tall trees. Somewhere where it will get hot enough for a swim during the day. But cool enough for a fire at night. A place where you can smell the pine trees. Drink coffee out on the porch in the morning. No other human-made discernible sounds--just the sounds of birds, wind, insects, maybe the lap of the water if it's close enough. -sigh-


1) What book(s) will you bring?
A White Teacher Talks About Race

2) What music accompanies you?
I hear only one song in my head at the moment, as I imagine sitting in the cabin: Norah Jones' singing Come Away with Me.

3) What essentials of everyday living must you take (as in the health and beauty aids aisle variety)?
Other than toothpaste, toothbrush, and other basic hygiene items? Nothing. Okay, maybe mascara.

4) What technological gadgets if any, will you take with you or do you leave it all behind?
I'd leave 'em all behind except my cell phone. If I have my laptop with me it will be open in front of me. Gotta leave it behind if I'm really going to get away from it all. Otherwise, it all comes with me.

5) What culinary delights will you partake in while there?
Oh, what a lovely question. How about some wine. Maybe even a bottle of champagne for one night. And maybe make some pasta with shrimp, garlic, olive oil, and hot pepper for dinner one night. Maybe make a pot of chili one day. Let's see. Fresh strawberries. Peaches. Granola in the morning. Coffee, of course. I wouldn't mind picking up hoagies from a deli one day for lunch. Some pretzels for snacking. Maytag blue cheese, pears, and french bread one evening while dinner cooks. How about some s'mores over the coals at night? Mint juleps. Or mojito. French toast one morning. We could make salmon one night, wrapped in foil with some asparagus spears, maybe some dill, lemon, and butter, all cooked together in the coals. Oh, life is so good. Ain't it?

As a bonus question, what makes for a perfect day on vacation for you?
Waking up whenever we wake up--no alarm. Reading. Going for a hike. Canoeing. Conversation. Writing. Cooking a simple meal. Quiet.

A Question of Anonymity, Part 2

I am very appreciative of all of you who generously responded to my question about how you feel about writing a blog under your own name or anonymously or pseudonymously. (Thanks, Songbird, for that word! I couldn't come up with it no matter how I wracked my brain when writing the original entry!) :)

I'm also thankful for my conspiracy-theory-prone brother's long and stern email to me on the subject as well. :) He is a very good big brother to me. (When I wrote him an anxious note, hoping he didn't take offense at the way I described him in my blog entry, he wrote back that, far from offensive, he took it as a compliment! He's so great!)

I think what most impressed me as I read through your reflections is that writing under your real name does not expand the subjects you're able to address; rather, it more likely restricts them even more. As I sat with your responses, I realized that the question may be less about anonymity than it is about the genre of blogging itself. It is a wonderful place to do some reflection, but not the place to do all reflection, by any means.

I definitely resonated with Tripp Hudgins's comment: "Blogs are public. Ministry is public." On some level, the degree to which I have chosen a public living out of my faith journey makes my pseudonymity on this blog seem almost self-contradictory.

Nonetheless, I suppose that for now maintaining this thin veil of disguise (however penetrable it ultimately is if one is determined enough to find out), seems like the wiser choice. Perhaps, like Rev. Dr. Mom eventually I may decide to start a second blog (disconnected from this one) in which I write under my professional (and therefore already public) identity.

So, thanks again to all of you for helping me think this through!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Question of Anonymity

I am thinking about 'coming out' on my blog--that is, deciding to stop being anonymous and go ahead and write with my name attributed to the words here. It's only a recent consideration, so I don't know yet what I'll decide. (And I know my conspiracy-theory-prone brother will not be pleased that I'm even thinking about this!)

I noticed, however, that it was very difficult for me to write anything on my blog over this past year as I got deeper and deeper into my professional roles as an associate minister and as a teacher. I found that much of what was consuming my thoughts and energies had to be off-limits from blogging. Mostly because I wanted to continue to protect my anonymity--not because anything I wanted to write would reveal something about my students or congregation.

I'm wondering if I went public, if I would find it easier to write? Or more difficult?

I'd be interested to know what others' experiences with this has been. Especially if you've made the transition from anonymity to public identity.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Faith Guiding Our Votes

I was sadly disappointed, for the most part, in the Sojourners sponsored CNN event Faith Guiding Our Votes, broadcast on a special edition of The Situation Room last evening. I can't imagine Sojourners was that pleased with it either.

For the most part, the questions asked by Soledad O'Brien, the moderator of the event, still represented a narrow-minded, deeply personal understanding of what it means to be a person of faith. I was astounded to see her lead off the event with a question posed to John Edwards: "Do you believe in creationism or evolutionism?" When Edwards answered immediately: "I believe in evolutionism," O'Brien followed up by asking: "So does that mean everyone who believes the world was created in six days is wrong? And their pastors are wrong?"

O'Brien's closing question for Edwards was downright salacious: "What is the greatest sin you ever committed?"

Barack Obama was offered the most relevant questions--in terms of faith and politics--when O'Brien asked about the war on terror and Israel/Palestine. Even there, however, the trajectory of her questions were sensationalist rather than searching: "Does God take a side on the War on Terror? In other words," O'Brien follows up, "Is God on the side of the U.S. troops?"

Obama raised the level of the evening's discussion by drawing on communal understandings of faith and responsibility, quoting from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln several times.

When Hillary Clinton took the seat, O'Brien sank to an all time low. Without hesitating, O'Brien immediately asked Clinton "Did your faith help you through the difficult time of your husband's infidelity?" Soon after, O'Brien giggles after asking Clinton an equally personal question: "It's just us girls talking." What?!

These questions have absolutely no bearing on Hillary Clinton's campaign for the presidency. And, like Edwards' "worst sin" question, they were questions borne out of an utter lack of sophistication on issues of faith. I couldn't help but think of Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter in each of these instances--the public shaming of individuals in the name of religion.

What was most discouraging about it, I think, is the overprivatized notion of faith--that matters of faith are only deeply personal and have no public purpose. To my great disappointment, questions of faith were not expanded in last night's forum, despite Jim Wallis's persistent effort to reintroduce the issue of poverty each time the microphone was handed to him.

I had expected that Sojourners would have had more say over the entire selection of questions posed to each candidate--especially when each person was only given a total of fifteen minutes to speak. Unfortunately, they didn't. And in my view, the intersection of faith and politics was muddied all the more.

Here is CNN's summary of the event.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ordinary Time

Sunday was the last worship service I had responsibility for planning as the Minister of Worship and Spiritual Growth at our congregation. As of the end of May, my position is coming to a close. Between this ending and the end of the semester, the month of June opens up for me to be able to pay attention as I move into my new position as Assistant Professor of Worship at the beginning of July.

I stand in awe at this transition time--and desire to engage it with great intention. Noticing the endings, anticipating the beginning, living in to this time of change.

The paintings I did this past weekend, what I ended up calling my Pentecost Trees, must have something to do with this. Some release of creative energies. Some openness to Spirit moving. On Wednesday of last week, my spiritual director asked me what I most felt I needed to do in the weeks ahead. I settled into God's leading after she asked the question, turned the question over for the Spirit to do her work on it. My sense was this: "Be open to receiving. Do not try to shape too much." I don't know what all that means quite yet. But I hope to live into it.

There is something truly lovely about beginning this new season of my life with the long, verdant season of Ordinary Time in the liturgical year. Festivals like Pentecost command our attention--with all their reds, and flames, and stormy winds. But Ordinary Time asks for a quieter reception--none of that bluster of birthing Spirit, just the gentle invitation of everyday moments of being.

My season of Ordinary Time begins with making lunch and breakfast for Monk this morning. Some time of reading and prayer. A trip to the bank to deposit checks. And then some work--reading, and writing comments on final projects. Nothing more ordinary than these things. And yet, all of it shimmering with God.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Pentecost Triptych

I did it!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Pentecost Tree

Here is my final draft on canvas this time.

My First Attempt

Here is my first, practice attempt at painting (see my entry below). I decided to call it Pentecost Tree. I'm working on the canvas one now. I think I'll make the tree less thick. This is so fun!

How to Tell the Semester is Over

I'm Cooking Again
After not cooking a single meal--lunch or dinner--for about a month, (including, to my great shame, not cooking a single meal for my dear brother when he was visiting last week!), yesterday I grocery shopped and then prepared 21 meals!

I got the menus, recipes, instructions, and assembly guidelines for the meals from the website Saving Dinner. Some time ago, I blogged about this great place not far from us called The Full Plate--a place where you can go to prepare 7-12 meals with fresh ingredients that then get frozen. (You don't cook the meals ahead of time, so that everything would end up tasting like leftovers. You simply assemble the fresh ingredients, place the prepared meal in a ziploc freezer bag and put it in your freezer until you're ready to defrost and cook it.) The cost of preparing 8 meals is about $150 through the Full Plate (as I recall). That averages to a little over $6 per person, per meal.

Well, these dinner kits I prepared yesterday are the same exact idea except that you do it all yourself--shop the ingredients, prep them, then assemble the meals. It was a huge project--I probably spent a good eight or nine hours between grocery shopping and making the meals. But now my freezer is full of a month's worth of weekday meals! The cost of preparing these meals was probably about $250. That comes to about $4 per person, per meal. Astounding.

I Want to Start an Art Project

When my brother was in town, we all went to the astonishing Maker Faire. This is truly an eschatological event to me. When I go to the Maker Faire I cannot help but celebrate the creativity of the human spirit. So many of the folks who have booths at the Faire are able to imagine things different from the way they already are. And not only are they able to imagine it, they know how to make different things happen. There is also a great joy about the faire and the people there. Many of the projects are full of whimsy--something that seems too often missing from a lot of adult lives. For instance, one of my favorite displays was a guy who had designed a system, called botanicalls, where you put a sensor in the soil of a houseplant. When the plant's soil gets dry, the sensor sends a signal to your phone. The plant telephones you to tell you it needs water! Then when it senses the moisture in the soil, it phones again to thank you for your loving and kind attention!

While we were at the Maker Faire, we saw a booth with folks from the website Etsy. I visited the site for the first time the other night and totally fell in love with it. Etsy provides a webspace for artists and craftspeople to display and sell their work. Most of what I looked at was at truly reasonable prices. And, like the Maker Faire, fills me with hope that the creative spirit in North Americans has not been ultimately destroyed by the forces of mass production and consumerism. There is hope yet! Do visit the site and see what kinds of things are there. And if you are an artist or craftsperson, why not sign up to display and sell your stuff, too! Let me know in the comments what you think of the site!

I sent my brother a link to a triptych painting I liked a lot. He wrote back and told me he thought I could try and make a similar series of paintings myself. I've never painted anything, but I'm thinking today we may walk down to Blick's Art Supplies and maybe give it a try. Why not? It truly must be the end of the school year.

Oh, one last thing: If you like to make stuff or craft stuff, I highly recommend the magazine's my brother subscribes to--and the mags behind the Maker Faire: Make and Craft. Believe me, they're not your usual DIY.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why Nothing Ever Gets Done

10:00 a.m. - Sitting at computer working. I think: "I'm hungry. I wonder if we have anything to eat?" I go to the refrigerator to look for a snack.

10:05 a.m. - Staring in the refrigerator I realize how many science projects and petri dishes I have going in there. I decide to clean out the refrigerator.

10:15 a.m. - Finish cleaning out the refrigerator and take out the trash. I notice the recycling bins overflowing with non-recyclables yet again. I remember D stewing last night because he is always the one who goes out every week and sorts through the bins for the entire apartment building (8 units) so that the City collectors will accept them. Almost a year ago, we secured recycling bins for our apartment, but our good deed has left us with a weekly hassle.

10:20 a.m. - I announce to D that, because we were the ones responsible for obtaining the bins in the first place, I think we should take them and stick them under our sink for our own use. Let each unit make their own arrangements or hassle the landlord if they want to recycle. D agrees.

10:25 a.m. - I dump the bins out into the trash (most of it was trash anyway). Then realize the bins are covered in gunk, ants, spiders, and goo. I run them under the outdoor spigot (the hose disappeared last week).

10:30 a.m. - I realize the bins will need a good scrubbing. I go in and get our scrub brush and soap. I start scrubbing away.

10:50 a.m. - I finally finish scrubbing out the bins and take them upstairs. Both bins won't fit under the sink--and there's no where else to put them. So I take one bin back outside and figure someone else can be responsible for maintaining it from here on in. Not my problem anymore.

10:55 a.m. - I realize one bin also won't quite fit under the sink because of the vases I've stored at the very back. I remove the vases to the kitchen table, get the bin under the sink, and empty our recyclables into it. I call out to D, "How on earth did I get involved in this project?!"

11:00 a.m. - I line the vases up on top of the refrigerator, with images of the next earthquake dancing ominously in my head. But where else can I put them?

11:05 a.m. - I take our old container for collecting recyclables out to the trash. I wash my hands.

11:10 a.m. - I sit back down at my computer and start to respond to an email. I think: "I'm hungry. I wonder if we have anything to eat?" It dawns on my how I got involved in the project in the first place.

11:40 a.m. - I finish writing my blog about this very thing. I'm still hungry. May as well wait 'til lunch now.

11:47 a.m. - I correct the typos in this entry and republish it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Welcome Baby Luke!

We joyously celebrate the arrival of our newest nephew at 3:24 a.m. ET weighing in at 10lbs 4 oz and 22" long! Mom, Baby, and Dad are doing well. And 2-year-old Big Brother will get to meet Luke this afternoon. Congratulations! [I hope to post a picture soon.]

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Little Fish

I was greeted with very bright eyes last night when I came home from an end-of-semester gathering for our Liturgical Studies Area. Monk had his first Swimming Test last night. Not only did he pass the level he was in (Beginner 3) but he also passed the next level as well--skipping right over Beginner 4 and heading into Advanced Beginner.

He was proud as could be. And I am proud of him, too. Truly an accomplishment for him and a great boost of confidence to take him through the next level.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

My Mother's Day Poem

from Monk (a fill-in-the-blank note from school. The words he filled in, I've marked in bold.)

Happy Mother's Day, Mommy!

You're as beautiful as a rose.
I like the way you cook like a chef.
You're as kind as an angel.
With you I feel loved.
You're as sweet as a kitten.
You are special to me because you love me like a lion.
You're as loving as a puppy.

My favorite line? "You love me like a lion." Yes, I do!

Monk's Pursuits

Monk has been doing a unit on heroes in his third grade class. He was assigned two reports for this unit--to choose one hero he knew personally and one hero he did not know. For the first, he chose his great uncle. For the second, he chose Mahatma Gandhi.

I'm so thrilled for the opportunity to learn more about Gandhi along with Monk. He's already read a rather substantive biography about him and has taught me quite a bit. On Friday afternoon we bought the film Gandhi and will be watching it in installments over the next week or so.

At nine-years-old, Monk is asking large questions lately. And seems to be deeply paying attention to witnesses of faith in his own and others' traditions. Seeing the connections between Jesus and Gandhi is astounding. To get to notice these connections with my little one is a true gift.

Don't worry, Monk's also interested in the typical nine-year-old pursuits. In fact, he's urging me to come in and watch him play Sims even as I write this. :) So I think I shall...Perhaps more later.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Grapes of Little Miss Sunshine's Wrath

Caution: This entry includes spoilers for the movie Little Miss Sunshine and the book Grapes of Wrath. You've been warned...

Okay, so we're a little behind in our movie viewing! But we recently restarted our Netflix subscription and are getting caught up on last year's films. First on our queue (so happy to have the word queue come into American parlance!), was the controversial Little Miss Sunshine. I didn't have high hopes for the film--mostly because my brother didn't like it much, and another dear friend thought it was insipid from the first scene on through. Nonetheless, it seemed like a movie you couldn't miss.

Now maybe it depends on your mood when you start the film, but D and I thought this movie was a hoot. I don't know what it is about wildly dysfunctional families that crack us up, but this one did. In some ways the movie seemed to be in the vein of a Douglas Coupland book--especially All Families are Psychotic. But even more than the quintessential Gen-X author Coupland, Little Miss Sunshine reminded me of another American author, the great John Steinbeck--especially his book The Grapes of Wrath. So much so, that I am made to wonder if the film was an intentional homage to that classic story in American literature.

Like Grapes, the characters of Little Miss Sunshine embark on a road trip to the "promised land" of California, in order to cash in on the great prize of the American dream--in this case embodied in Olive's dream to win the beauty pageant after which the film is named. In Grapes the characters carry around a flier that announces plenty of jobs for those who are willing to work in the fields of California. The flier is a scam; ultimately, meant to flood the market with labor so the migrant workers can be hired at well below living-wage. Similarly, the beauty pageant is another form of scam--building off the great American dream of working hard, applying yourself, never giving up, pull-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps-and-you'll-succeed. An ideology that the father in Sunshine completely buys into and even markets in his "Nine Steps to Success."

Grapes begins with an older brother who is released from prison just before the family leaves for California. Sunshine begins with an uncle who is released from the psychiatric ward of a hospital after a suicide attempt. Grapes has a surly grandfather and a grandmother who both die along the way. The grandmother's body has to be smuggled across state lines because of corrupt funeral directors who are out to make a buck on the miseries of others. Sunshine combines the characters into one, with the same need to smuggle the body wrapped in a sheet-made shroud in the trunk of the car. Grapes has an odd brother who doesn't speak much and eventually leaves the family part way through the journey, walking off to follow a river, never to see his family again. Sunshine likewise has a brother who has taken a vow of silence, and nearly leaves the family as well.

The similarities are too present for me to ignore--and they make me take the movie a bit more seriously than just the offbeat, grotesque comedy it seems to be at face-value. It seems to unmask something about contemporary North American culture today: the state of the family, the absurdity of the American dream...

There is without doubt a stark ugliness to the movie. And the characters are certainly involved in insipid pursuits. But something deeper is definitely going on. As in Grapes, none of their dreams are realized. But they do discover their love for one another in the midst of their defeats. "There are two kinds of people in the world," the father pontificates, "winners and losers." Well, this family is a family of losers, alright. Certainly by the standards of the American Dream. And yet, despite their losses, they do seem to come away with something more.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Friday Five: Potato, Po-tah-to Edition

from the RevGalBlogPals
There are two types of people in the world, morning people and night owls. Or Red Sox fans and Yankees fans. Or boxers and briefs. Or people who divide the world into two types of people and those who don't. Let your preferences be known here. And if you're feeling verbose, defend your choices!

1. Mac? (woo-hoo!) or PC? (boo!)
To my Big Brother's delight, we finally became a Mac family in March--and we love them! Our old PC's (beloved for a time) had slowed to a snail's pace. And I hate to admit it, but I'm sure we were marketed right into the decision by those wonderful Mac/PC ads. Ultimately, though, the new computers (a MacBook for me and an iMac for my editing partner) were a celebration of my new appointment to Assistant Professor--why, an Apple for the Teacher, of course! By the way, have you ever seen the spoof of the Mac/PC ads with the Christ-Follower/Christian ads? They're pretty clever.

2. Pizza: Chicago style luscious hearty goodness, or New York floppy and flaccid?
Chicago style takes an hour to cook! If I wanted to wait that long to eat, do you think I'd settle for pizza? I like a pizza that requires two hands to eat. World's best pizza? Mack & Manco's in Ocean City, NJ. (It was my son's first solid food, he'll be more than proud to tell you.) But one requirement for floppy pizza--it's wrong to eat it folded in half! If you want to eat your pizza that way, order a stromboli.

3. Brownies/fudge containing nuts:
a) Good. I like the variation in texture.
b) An abomination unto the Lord. The nuts take up valuable chocolate space.
Depends on my mood. Uninterrupted gooey chocolate brownies fill my heart with a deep contentment. Such a wonderful comfort food. But when I'm feeling engaged, thoughtful, and open to a challenge? Well, then I like the sharp contrast of a brownie with nuts. In this case, the nuts seem like the conductor of the symphony--somehow guiding the taste of the brownie, but ultimately deflecting the applause to the delicious yumminess of the chocolate. I think I need a brownie for breakfast...

4. Do you hang your toilet paper so that the "tail" hangs flush with the wall, or over the top of the roll like normal people do?
Like most things in life, I'm over the top on this one. And since it seems I'm always the one who has to change the role, I usually get my way. Last December, D changed the role right before he left for a trip back East. But he changed it "wrong" so the tail hung flush against the wall. For three days I made myself live with it that way, telling myself I should be thankful that he changed it and not be such a control freak about it. After the third day, I couldn't take it any longer. In a spirit of defeat, I flipped the role around.

5. Toothpaste: Do you squeeze the tube wantonly in the middle, or squeeze from the bottom and flatten as you go just like the tube instructs?
The tube has instructions on it? Who knew? I'm a middle-squeezer. Truth is, the times I have tried to be a bottom flattener, I've found it's a Sisyphean task--inevitably the very next time you go in the bathroom, someone else in the family has already squashed it all out again from the middle.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

No One Warned Me About These Things!

I think I've reached another adolescence of some kind. Another bodily adolescence. It occurred to me a couple weeks ago when I made a joking comment to D that when I look in the mirror, I don't recognize the middle-aged woman looking back at me. I thought I was completely kidding--but as soon as I said it I knew it was true.

The change sneaked up on me. I swear it was only a year ago that I was lamenting still getting carded when buying wine at the grocery store! And I don't mean that as in "It seems like just yesterday..." I really was getting carded last year!

Maybe it's the short hair now. Or getting a little rounder in recent months. Or the strands of gray which seem to be proliferating. Or the laugh lines that are crinkling around my eyes. I guess it's all of those put together.

But the result is a sort of strange unfamiliarity with myself. Clothes which seemed to fit--not only size-wise, but personality-wise, too--now seem strange on me. But when I shop for new clothes, nothing hangs on me the way I expect it to. I pick up things I like on the hanger, but once I try them on...they're just not right. Who is that gazing back at me?

We recently discovered some outlets near us which have some cool clothing. Beginning my new job this July, I truly am in dire need of professional looking clothing. I'm well aware, too, that I'm in the midst of crafting my image as "professor": I don't want stodgy, or frilly, or conservative, or plain. I want something that seems to flow on me, that has flair, something that I can move comfortably in, but also something that's clearly dressed up--not casual.

Eventually I found a lovely, simple linen dress in a coral color. And another linen skirt and blouse in light blue. But my favorite purchase of the day was my hippie shirt. Here's a shot of it from the website of the store. I'm not sure it's something I could wear teaching, but it will make me happy to wear it on my days off.

In my early twenties, shortly after I got married, I was astounded to discover my body changing in ways I'd not expected. I remember commenting on it to a friend of mine who was about ten years older than me. "It's your second puberty," she told me. "No one ever talks about it. No one warns you it's going to happen. But it does!" Well, now I realize that a third one happens in your late thirties, too! Who knew?

The trick is to try and befriend this new body--even, hopefully, with more kindness than I've managed toward myself in a long time. It is truly a wonder and a mystery--living into this life and this self. I so much want to live into it with grace: roundness and wrinkles and all.