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.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Simple Pleasures

The other day I had the pleasure of a phone conversation with my Mom. She happened to mention that she had walked a total of 60 miles in the month of April. It was just the thing I needed to light a bit of a fire under this lazy butt. Not to mention that my father-in-law, who had major back surgery just before Christmas, is also putting up phenomenal numbers of miles walking each day. I decided it was time to stop thinking about walking for exercise and to start doing it.

So on Monday, and again today, I headed to the Bay to take a nice walk. The first day Monk volunteered to go with me. And today, I managed to rally both my guys to go with me. And, boy, is it good for the soul. There is something truly amazing about the opportunity to walk by the water, only a half mile or so from our home. Today the wind was really strong coming off the water--so that my ear ached after a while. The wind was causing little white caps and waves--and at one point I felt the spray of a bay-sized wave as it crashed against the rocks. We also spotted a small family of geese--a few adults and maybe ten goslings! All floating in a nice row, heading out for their own little exercise session.

The great thing about having a nine-year-old along for a walk is that it's never really about the walking. On Monday he had the two of us doing skipping and galloping races. And today he interspersed short jogging sessions on the return trip--certainly enough to get the heart rate up there! And something I don't think I'd ever make myself do on my own!

Now for a quick dinner. Then off soon to Monk's fourth swimming lesson. He's doing just great with it. His face just lights up when he's in the water. I think this is really, truly going to be the summer he finally learns. Our boy.

Today we also are celebrating Felix's fourth birthday! (Felix is our wonderful cat.) Last night about midnight he started meowing like crazy, desperately wanting to be let out for the night. He had completely stopped going outside at night almost eight months ago! But last night he was absolutely insistent. I finally gave in, and regretfully watched him as he disappeared into the cloak of darkness.

This morning about 5:30, I woke up a minute or two before a huge downpour started! Felix is one of those crazy cats who adores the rain. Sure enough, not long after the rain stopped, I heard his loud meow at the front door. He was sopped through. I grabbed a towel and dried him off while he purred away contentedly.

Later, when we remembered it was his birthday, we joked that he'd insisted on going out because the cats in the neighborhood had planned a party for him. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if this were somehow true. I've never known a cat to make as many cat-friends as Felix has.