Sunday, December 23, 2007

Where Are the Chunks in My Yogurt? And Pioneer Woman

Normally I'd never post at this time of day, on this day. You know, 12:48 pm, Sunday, December 23rd. I'd be having dinner after church, or making dinner after church, or avoiding the dessert table at the church potluck for 10 minutes only to succumb to somebody's blueberry crumble.
But I'm on antibiotics that are larger than several eastern European countries, and so I rested, and "pushed the fluids."
My larger problem, for the moment, is my yogurt. In a medicated haze, I drove to the store yesterday in a feeble attempt to replenish the larder. I grabbed what I thought was yogurt with fruit in the bottom. Turns out somebody stole the fruit. That or else I got the wrong one. This yogurt is the consistency of Bath and Body Works body wash, with roughly the same smell and color. If I wanted to eat body wash, I'd buy body wash. Give me chunks of blackberry, slices of strawberries, mangled blueberries. Anything that designates that This Is Fruit. Alas.
A secondary conundrum was the Case of the Missing Olive Oil. I awoke, brewed coffee, and, since I'd slept all morning, decided to head straight for lunch. I cooked some pasta, but What? No olive oil.
An Aside: my roommate Angie loves olive oil. She moisturizes her skin with it. She puts in on her wounds. She douses pasta in it. So sometimes when I need it in the kitchen, it's in her bedroom. But last time I made spaghetti I used too much, so it's possible she hid it in an attempt to conserve it for her cuts and abrasions. Come to think of it, she cut her finger doing dishes the other day. I bet it's in the bathroom.
Now for the larger point I'm making that you wondered if I'd ever get to: Pioneer Woman. Before I go any farther, you must promise that if I recommend her, you'll keep reading me. It's just that I love her website, and if I love it, you'll love it, and if you love, what if you forget the warm coziness of the big red couch?
But recommend her I must, because she makes me laugh on a daily basis, she holds "name that photo" contests regularly in which she gives away gift certificates, she provides recipes that I've tried and fallen hard for, and she's beginning to attract national attention with her pioneer ways. So, after Christmas dinner, when the grandkids are playing video games, the guys are watching football, and the dishwasher is digesting your dishes, scoot on over to Ree's For a great Christmas morning recipe, check out for an amazing cinnamon roll recipe that my other roommate Emily made one time that was sinfully buttery and surprisingly addictive. I myself have made Ree's "The best lasagna ever" recipe, to rave reviews. She's a woman who moved from the bright lights of LA to the dusty roads of a ranch for love of her now husband, Marlboro Man. They now have four kids on the cattle ranch. Did I mention she's a talented photographer as well? Pictures of mustangs, calves, and recipes in progress give vivid detail to her pioneer anecdotes.
I wish I had a pioneer woman cinnamon roll right would take away the sorrow of the missing fruit and olive oil...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tidings of Comfort and Joy (and Christmas cookie platters)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Oooh, Christmas. Oooh, wedding. Aack, mutant killer-bee cold/sinus infection, aack, moving and holidays and wedding and moving and medication and wedding and holidays and moving and...
Here's the curly mound of ribbon atop your present, like the ones my mom makes, bundles of cascading curling ribbon bouncing joy into your gift.
Manger moments, if you will.
1) Hearing our Episcopal priest sing hymns to me over the phone Sunday. Our marriage is being baptized into being at a beautiful, sacred Episcopal church, and the good reverend has counseled, encouraged, and breathed rich blessings into our lives as we prepare for the wedding. This was never so clear as the recent Sabbath when I couldn't make it out to service due to illness - again - missing my beloved Advent services, and had to finalize wedding plans over the phone with Father Jon. Scripture verses, candle details, all scratchily communicated over the phone, and then it came to hymns. Processional, check. But what about recessional, and the "gradual," which is the hymn sung when the Gospel text is read? He had a few suggestions, and since I don't have an Episcopal hymnal, lying under several blankets in a bed I had not vacated for several days, dayquil leaning drunkenly on the bedside table next to the all-important kleenex box, stuck inside, a "shut-in" temporarily, I leaned my head back on the pillow and listened. Verses traveled the airwaves, classic old hymns. I had a personal one man choir for several minutes, and it fed my soul and my bones and my mind. I chose the recessional and the gradual. I could not go out to Christmas. Christmas came to me.
2) The six year old lost his first tooth. TA-DA. His mom, he and myself were eating spaghetti for supper, watching a movie, when he popped up. "MY TOOTH CAME OUT!" It's been loose for weeks. A scared expression flitted briefly over his face, which I hastened to erase. "Wow! Cool! That's awesome! Let me see!" My housemate and I peered into his mouth, where, front and left, a bloody hole now existed, which he purposely gurgled and made it flow. The NEW tooth was already coming in, elbowing its way from behind. "If he has to live with three women, at least he should have more than one tooth fairy!" I whispered to his mom later. "I hope the tooth fairy leaves me a thousand dollar bill!" he pronounced, which his mother quickly extinguished. Later, when John came over, John, Angie and I pooled some one dollar bills, crept upstairs into his room, and made the tooth/dollar switch. He got three whole dollars. The next morning, he exclaimed to his mom, "I almost have enough for a brick!"
His class at school is "buying bricks" to build a school for kids in Africa.
The kid gave his first ever tooth fairy money to help build a school for kids in Africa. I said, "that makes me want to go slip MORE money under his pillow!"
We had assumed the tooth fairy loot would be socked away for future Lego set purchases, which is usually his major expenditure.
So now an African school has one more brick, and he has one less tooth.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Santa at the polls

With Santa Claus traditionally stationed at the North Pole, one wonders if his civic duties will include manning the polls in the upcoming primaries. He might have vested interests in reindeer preservation bills or international imports and exports (does his sleigh stop at customs?). Perhaps, instead, he'll cock an eyebrow at politicians claiming to be on the Nice List. Which of the candidates has received coal in their stocking on recent Christmases?
There are several issues topping my list this year for What I'd Like In A Candidate. Perhaps I should send Santa a bureaucratic, political wish list this year. Romney's out; not because he's a Mormon, but because I don't agree with his views; Giuliani, I have mixed feelings about; McCain, now, this surprises me, but from debate segments I've watched on YouTube, McCain is one of my top choices. Huckabee was also but now he's annoying me. Tancredo is more or less a joke, attempting to ride the coattails of the immigration controversy.
Friends who know me well have asked if I'll vote for Hillary because she's a woman. Now, as much as I like the idea of a Madam President, a commander in chief who you can stop and say, "nice earrings" to, I have enough common sense to know that the solution is not to elect a woman for the sake of a woman. I disagree with her on many topics, though not all, but when it comes down to it, I don't trust her. I'm not convinced she would act for others' good over her own. She has too many legal questions trailing behind her for me to believe that she wouldn't do whatever it took to save her own hide.
In my opinion, the Democrats would be foolish to run Barack Obama, and I think they know it would not succeed; perhaps Barack could land a VP slot, but even if Middle America is ready for a black president - and they should be - they are not ready for someone whose name so easily tongueties news anchors, who I've heard mistakenly say, "Obama bin Laden." It's the fate of the draw: people with school mascots of Cornhuskers or Razorbacks are not going to spring for an Obama.
Will there be a Clinton/Obama ticket? I wouldn't be surprised. I'd feel comfortable with a Giuliani/McCain ticket. Italian meets Scotch/Irish.
And now, the kicker: everybody wants my vote. They want my business at the polls, so to speak. Overall, I'm not too much of a target: Caucasian, but female. And that's where it gets interesting: will women - overall, at large - vote for a woman? Of course I posit that one should vote for the best candidate, male, female, white, black, Hispanic, I don't care: who is the best? I do not think that Hillary is the best. And it is the season of informal fallacies, those logical no-no's that pop up in campaign ads: vote for such and such, he goes to church (so did Ted Haggard); vote for such and such, she has ovaries (that makes a huge difference in her values and belief system!); vote for so and so, he saved his kids' hamster (therefore he'll make a good president???); vote for whatshisname, he voted to save the elderly (but did he tack on a ridiculous amendment?) and on.
The other day I was thinking about "the black vote," "the Hispanic vote," "the female vote." I was getting rather insulted by it. Instead of constituents, we're seen as targeted demographics to woo to a product. It's handy in an analytical, strategic sense; subcultures have important common identifying factors about themselves that emerge as larger trends. I get that. But what about values-based voting? What if newscasters reported on "the humanist vote," or "the Nietzschean vote," or even "the atheist vote"? Television has launched political debate from ideas to faces; from values to marketability; from integrity to personal anecdote. Reagan managed to portray, as few else have been able, the merger of these elements: he put a kind face to ideas, communicated his values clearly and winsomely, and underlined his character with self-deprecating stories and humor.
One time I heard a communications professor relate a story: as an advertising guru, a company brought him in to consider using his services. They expressed what they wished him to communicate about their product and services. They also told him about the troubles they'd had with a situation that hurt confidence in them, related to some dishonesty or less than honorable practices. He finally looked the boardmembers in the eyes and said in no uncertain terms that he wasn't going to lie for them; they were confused. He went on to explain that if the underlying issues of ethics and honesty weren't dealt with, all the advertising in the world wouldn't soothe their clients, and moreover, he didn't want to misrepresent something as reliable when it simply wasn't. He told them what things would have to be in place for him to feel comfortable representing them in advertising. At this point, he was certain that this was one gig he wasn't going to land. After dismissing him for quite a while, the board called him back in. "You showed integrity, the thing we've been missing, and you're absolutely right about this situation. We need someone like you. As a matter of fact, we'd like you to consider being the new president of our company."
Now that's leadership.


The Christmas titles will continue. Despite the fact that WWIII has been waging between the good all-American cells and the insidious invading germs in my throat, sinuses, chest and ears, I nonetheless am feeling The Urge. Despite the fact that in T-minus ten, nine, eight, I'm getting married and doze off for naps wondering how many extension cords I'll need at the reception, I still feel The Urge. Despite the fact that magazine deadline just wrapped up, a mini version of Finals that comes to my job every two months, The Urge jumps around corners to startle me into giggles.
It's The Urge to bake and wrap. I want to whip up thick, cakey gingerbread, peppermint something something, I want to smell the smell of wrapping paper and new Scotch tape. The closest I've come to either of these is purchasing Havarti cheese and slicing it over round sesame crackers and stuffing a couple small gifts in gift bags. But it's enough to get me going. Next week I have to take an eggnog cheesecake to an office Christmas dinner. I've never made one before, but I found the recipe and instantly felt that this was a destined meeting, me and eggnog cheesecake. We'll see how it fares. I've also decided to try another new recipe, a biscotti recipe involving dried cranberries and white chocolate.
Then I found this recipe for circa-1981 bacon holiday appetizers, and I think I might have to try it, too:
Oh, in the midst of things distracting me from The Urge, I also helped out a friend's friend with a final project for a media class, which means I'm appearing in a short film (less than an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond) which also, incidentally, housemate Angie and I thought up, brainstormed, she wrote, and then I starred in. When it's in a semi-complete form, I'll post it. It is, of course, comedic. I ended up with several bruises, chafed...well, never mind, and my cold got worse, but it should be fun. It's maybe 8-10 minutes long.
Because I have The Urge, I'm manically snacking on washed-and-ready-to-eat sugar snap peas, which keep me chewing and busy without gallons of butter, sugar, chocolate. That will come later with the cheesecake, and biscotti, and bacon appetizers.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Stocking Stuffers

Here's an assortment of "Things I Like". Consider it a tray of goodies from which you can pick and choose, cruise by later, nibble from again, then ignore for three hours before finally succumbing to its creamy, chocolately goodness.

1) Cepacol cough drops. They numb your throat when it feels like Dorothy Hamill has been skating figure-8's over it.

2) Gifts that keep on giving: items for home and hearth that arrive from faraway places and line the pockets of impoverished women, men and children: giving gifts that benefit individual families and villages through their purchase is satisfying for the giver and receiver. Here are some of my favorites...
Handmade Rwandan baskets woven by Hutu and Tutsi women, side by side, at Macy's:*1*24*-1*-1
Handstitched Sari Bari blankets made by women escaping brothels in India:
Jewelry, crafts, and nativity sets:
Organic freetrade Over the Rhine blend coffee - ships the day it's roasted!

3) Dictators of the world moustache buttons, which my friend Emily demands for Christmas, and rightly so; why hasn't anyone thought of this sooner?

4) This trailer for an upcoming movie, "Be Kind, Rewind"

5) The fact that Rachael Ray just commented on tv chef Nigella Lawson's new favorite snack, bacon chocolate. BACON CHOCOLATE. Heeheehee. How can two wonderful things like those NOT be put together?

6) Online Christmas shopping. No malls, no parking lots, no lost gloves, no cranky cashiers. The comfort of my own couch. You don't even have to brush your teeth. And with the price of gas, what's a couple bucks for shipping? Besides, there are piles of unique gift ideas online with just a little google browsing.

7) Propel fitness water. It gives you the good stuff of Gatorade - electrolytes, for the layman - that your body loses during exercise, but without the sickly sweet taste of Gatorade. Light flavoring makes it perfect for workouts or, in my current status, staying hydrated during a bad wintertime cold.

8) Who said hygiene isn't fun? The other evening sitting in the living room, friends and I raised our eyebrows and laughed at the six year old's bathtime antics we could hear all the way down the stairs. Apparently there was a storm at sea. I shrugged. Made sense. Many were the childhood times one of my toys nearly drowned in a torrential bathtub hurricane. His mother was not so amused, picturing the subsequent neighborhood flooding on the floor that might occur as an aftermath. It reminded me of the time in college my roommate got boats for the tub. I'd been whining for some for months. Come on, people, you can make tunnels through bubbles!

9) White noise. It's a Pavlov instinct for me now - space heaters, air filters, they all put me to sleep almost as successfully as Nyquil.

10) Nyquil. Wow. Work your magic, baby. (cough, cough, splutter)

11) Real mail. No ads, no bills. Real mail. Makes every day feel like..well..Christmas!

"Things I don't like":
1) Unlit Christmas trees are forboding to me, almost like the way clowns are to some people.

2) Sickness dishes. Who has time or more importantly energy to do dishes when you're sick?

3) The way water tastes sweet in the middle of the night or morning before you brush your teeth. It's not unpleasant, but it's...weird. Almost unnatural.

4) Dumb gift ideas that talk shows think are good ideas. A five pound portable telescope?

5) The fact that I don't have a talk show. Come on, I bet I'm not contagious...

6) The housing market. Seriously, housing market, you're messing up the economy and putting us all in a near recession that will springboard somebody's presidential campaign as they manage to emphasize domestic policy rather than foreign policy.

7) Iced over windshields. But I don't WANT to scrape my windshield in the morning. Mornings are rough enough as it is without the capricious weather gods laughing at me bumbling around a car with no gloves because I usually can't find them or forget to put them on while I almost spill coffee on myself and wonder why the defrost works so slowly.

Well, that's my naughty and nice list of things I like and don't like. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rants. Rants Rants Rants.

Of course I'd never use this platform to rant. Who, moi?
Unless something RIDICULOUS pops up in the world and one simply cannot ignore it. Or unless, heavens to betsy, several somethings pop up.

RANT ITEM #1: British teacher imprisoned in Sudan
DOES THIS LOOK LIKE A HARDENED CRIMINAL TO YOU? I didn't think so. Me neither. The photo features Gillian Gibbons, a sweet British lady who traveled to Sudan, Africa to teach there. Recently, at the highbrow school at which she taught, she had her pupils name - note, her pupils performed the action - a teddy bear. And they named the toy after an apparently popular kid. Named, as luck would have it, Muhammed. Now Gillian is going to spend over two weeks in a Sudanese prison. Why? Because the conservative Muslims have convicted her of "insulting religion," and "inciting hatred." Because the prophet Muhammed does not take kindly to having teddy bears named after him. That's a no-no. But I thought the kids named the bear? you might ask. Yes, but they weren't westerners. But I thought the kids named it after a boy? you might ask. Yes, but the boy shared a name with the prophet of Islam. The key tenet, of course, is belief "in Allah and his prophet Muhammed." So Sudan (which might ring some bells - you know, the country also home to Darfur, where the genocide has been taking place?) has sentenced Gillian to jail, after threatening her with a possible 40 lashes as well.
Britain has expressed its outrage, and diplomats are scurrying back and forth trying to keep the Sudan from mistreating their citizen. In fairness, it should be noted that many British Muslims are scoffing Sudan's actions as well.
Don't take your freedom of speech and expression for granted. In this country, if someone wants to name their hamster Buddha or their goldfish Jesus, they have the freedom to without fear of imprisonment or beatings. Our nation certainly isn't perfect, but my outrage at an African country who needs volunteers and foreign aid treating a woman so despicably makes me grateful that while some ridiculous things occur in the U.S. of A., at least we don't have that.
The Darfur region is a mess, UN peacekeepers have been wounded trying to protect Sudanese citizens from raping and injuring each other, and this is how Sudan thanks one of the UN power players. While 90% of me sides with the nameless literally millions of people suffering in the Darfur region, a scant percentage of me wants to say fine, Sudan, don't come crying to us when you're in an economic crisis a few years from now.
So, Gillian, our sympathies, while you spend two weeks in dank, corrupt Sudanese jails, facing heaven knows what indignities, abuses and violations.

RANT ITEM #2: Leaping Reindeer, Batman!

As I sit here listening to the classic, old-school "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," I am reminded of the special Shrek Christmas special last night. I am a Shrek fan, at least the first one. The second one was okay, still haven't seen the third. But the first was really funny and cute and original and had lots of puns I enjoyed, particularly the muffin man sequence.
Enter Shrek Christmas Special, which aired on ABC. While scribbling out invitation addresses, one of my roommates and the six year old from down the hall gathered with their suppers to enjoy Shrek's Christmas. Now Shrek, being an ogre, didn't know how to have Christmas. So a helpful shopkeeper gave him a book on keeping the perfect Christmas, replete with gathering the family around for the Christmas story. *Surprise*, I thought, the Christmas story? Surely not, on national television. I wondered if there would be a twist.
There was.
For those of you ignoramuses - ignorami? - who don't know what the Christmas story is, I'll tell you. Apparently, it's the "Twas the Night Before Christmas" poem.
"Twas the Night Before Christmas"?
I like that traditional old yuletide poem as much as the next nutcracker, but to label it ubiquitously as "The Christmas Story"? What...wha...I'm speechless. What do they think the POEM was based on? A holiday? Then what do they think the HOLIDAY was based on? The poem? Way to instill circular reasoning into our young. They'll be primed to be liberal television commentators.
I'm no Don Wildmon. I know some people who say "holidays" instead of "Christmas" with no political agenda, I understand that. "Holidays" does, after all, derive from "holy days," so the joke's on the pundits. But to call, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" the CHRISTMAS STORY? No manger, just eight tiny reindeer. It's like scrubbing the Menorah out of Hanukkah, to make Hanukkah more palatable to the Yuletide Police. Merry Christmas, kids, the holly jolly gestapo will be sliding down your chimneys making you goosestep your way to the dinner table.
Well, I've gotten those things out of my system. Meanwhile, I'm tempted to send an anonymous shipment of about 10,000 teddy bears with "Muhammed" embroidered on their hearts over to Sudan as a nicely wrapped Christmas gift. I may not have liked Shrek's Christmas, but as least we have the freedom to televise it and publish subsequent rants!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I think I'm still digesting Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, the season has come. It's cold outdoors, and indoors the furnace continually battles the drafts. One thinks of comfort foods among the available nest of creature comforts. Fuzzy socks, fuzzy robes, fuzzy gloves, all help keep the icy frost away from lungs and toes. Of course, so does hot chocolate, fried chicken, and baked potatoes.
I had a nice helping of gravy last week at a table-groaning, where's-the-extra-leaf Thanksgiving Dinner. Gravy is something I never make at home but always eat when a relative makes it. My Northern Grandma makes a brothy gravy, brown and rich and oniony. My Southern Grandma makes thick, white gravy waiting to surprise you with pepper and asking to be ladled over something, anything on a nearby plate. Both gravies make it onto my dish when I'm holiday-ing in South or North. I know how to make gravy; I can make good gravy; but I seldom indulge, seldom make a bird or piece of meat big enough to warrant gravy.
Yesterday I fried the best chicken I have in a long time. I'm convinced it wouldn't have turned out nearly so well had it not been rainy and cold outside. As it was, chilled precipitation had been dripping down all day, and the kitchen needed an excuse to warm up. I obliged, doing something completely new: making fried chicken for one. With John at work, and roommates off on their own tasks and errands, I thawed a chicken breast, dredged it in the only available flour (organic whole wheat), and placed it lovingly in a small skillet with a pool of oil in the bottom. I liberally snowed salt and pepper down on to it. And waited. And waited.
I think success came from several sources: A) I didn't keep turning it over impatiently. Letting it sit didn't make it burn, but it did allow the surfaces to get nice and crispy. B) I put enough oil in to begin with. Sometimes I have to add oil part way through, and I think adding cold oil messes up the skillet's groove. C) For some reason, the whole wheat flour worked really well at staying on the stupid bird. I have a frequent problem of most the flour falling off. This stuck. D) I didn't hold back on salt and pepper. Hallelujah.
It was lovely. I accessorized it with two small baked potatoes and some corn. What a feast.
I think this year I'm thankful for gravy: gravy to pour over potatoes, and gravy in the form of extras that season and salt life. Extras like red Christmas socks, extras like really good lip balm in cold, biting wind; the gravy of having a fiance willing to drive into the city just to print off invitations so they're just right; the gravy of a mom who enjoys Harry Potter, a dad who enjoys Scrubs, and a brother who enjoys Family Guy. Extras like the six year old down the hall who still gets excited at Spaghetti-o's, extras like having something you're nervous about go right, extras like a friend excited to hear from you. And extras, yes, like gravy, and hot Assam with a splash of milk and sugar, and lasagna straight from the pan.
For life's gravy, and my grandmothers' and mother's, I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spare The Cod, Spoil The Child?

Green is in. Now, I know this, being a lover of the color green and therefore quick to pick up mention of it in magazines, advertisements, and general public service announcements. That being said, if you haven't noticed, everybody in the whole entire world is "going green." In fact, green is the new black, to paraphrase fashionistas burrough-wide. Today, I am clothed in a cosy green cable-knit sweater, a wise choice, given my (intimidatingly stunning) green eyes. Maybe it's because of my childhood love and implicit trust in Kermit, but green is our friend.
At least if you're a pseudo-intellectual celebrity. I am only allowed to bandy about "pseudo-intellectual" because a colleague at college (say that five times fast) once referred to me as his "favorite female pseudo-intellectual." That one backhanded compliment spurred more academic achievement than was probably proportionate.
So not only do celebrities chain themselves to trees (though I do intensely dislike urban sprawl), but now a quick glance at your local circular's headlines will reveal that Wal-Mart, Ford, and McDonald's are all "going green."
Caveat: I fully support any company that will reduce its waste, become more efficient, and will easily aid consumers in make wise purchases by providing products that will save us from living atop landfills within the next decade.
It began to grate on sissy's nerves, however, when NBC injected environmental themes into their hit fall Thursday night lineup. Nobody, but nobody, messes with my Office. Yet here they marched, one right after another. 30 Rock, My Name is Earl, The Office all had "green" themes. Al Gore even showed up. Would that they would have a Darfur night, or a Human Rights in China night.
Carrying on about using efficient lightbulbs and reducing emissions is a worthwhile cause, though my lightbulb is getting burned out on strident, skeletal celebrities harping about it. But it strikes me that complaint about the environment is a luxury of the wealthy. I remember feeling shocked at the thick, soupy layer of smog that quilted Ulaan Bataar, capital city of Mongolia. I had forgotten that clear skies are still a luxury in many parts of the globe. Many working families with whom I am acquainted don't mind recycling but simultaneously worry about paying for new shoes for their kids, whether they're going to get laid off, and how to afford prescriptions during flu and cold season. Survival for the Gores may mean preserving the planet. For many, survival is still as immediate as the next mortgage payment or tank of gas.
Let's put a little more green in the pockets of working families this holiday season, bask in the glow of green holly, ivy and mistletoe, and let a few other matters rest quietly in peace for a while. The Greenpeace-ation of the world can be put on hold. Serve green beans at a homeless shelter or stock them in a food pantry instead.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Snap Crackle Pop Culture

She hunched over, tugging the blanket tighter around her chilled feet, ankles, calves, knees. Leftover Halloween gummy candy lodged in her teeth - no wonder she'd given up "dots" years ago. The warbling voice of a friend of a friend serenaded the office space from a small grey box on the desk. MySpace music warmed the air. She pushed her glasses up her nose, glancing at the metallic red sheen of the latest cell phone upgrade. No calls.
Her throat still raw from recent illness, she paused, testing her spirit. How was she feeling? How was she feeling? Weary. Pleased. Happy. Adrenaline-fused. Tired. Achy. Excited. Only two months, and she would be one and another, not simply one, the loneliest number. She considered the planning and work between the two points in time, and sighed. Christmas seemed like a minor blip on the radar compared to the monumental event a week and a half afterwards. She didn't want to minimize Christmas. But she also felt that a wedding somehow represented a lot of what Christmas was for, or why it was celebrated, as if Christmas itself were nodding enthusiastically as she unwrapped new joy.
She had intended to type about her pseudo-anarchy. How she'd watched "V for Vendetta" on the 5th of November, a movie recapitulating Guy Fawke's famous attempt to blow up parliament. She'd finished the epic Harry Potter series, pulsing with the thuds of fictional battle between good and evil. In a snap, an instant, she had reawakened to the reality of voting day, and felt the good, clean revolutionary Scotsman lurking in her blood come raring out. Completely fed up with her party's positions, stances, and behavior, she marched out of the voting booth triumpant, having finally wielded what little power she had left in the political process. She had finally threatened her politicians with what they understood: the dangling prospect of loss of power. She had voted, completely, thoroughly, and fiercely for the opponent. Not to support the opponent. But to communicate her displeasure. She remembered feeling proud of her "I voted" sticker that she'd later ripped off, bemused.
Bemused because her little act of defiance had wilted, shriveled, curled up and paled in a self-aware manner several hours later at lunch. Sitting across the table from her was a man with deep, dark skin, a broad smile, and happy, if haunted, eyes. He spoke about the war. How the rebels had entered Monrovia. How he had run from checkpoint to checkpoint. How he never picked up his wedding clothes from the launderer. How he had escaped onto a ship at the port after squatting with friends who were eating grass because there was no food. How his brother had been killed by the rebels, like soldiers nearly killed him, til someone whispered urgently, "run for your life." How he spend days and weeks not knowing what had happened to his fiancee. How, now that they'd been married for years, they were raising nine children: four of their own, five the orphans of his slain brother. How Liberia still doesn't have direct flights to New York the way it used to Before. Before the war. How Liberia has escaped the worst of the AIDS devastation, its population only measuring 10% infected. How people in the West don't take spirituality seriously, skeptical of his stories, of many stories, about possessed people.
The "I voted" sticker landed in the trash can, along with her sense of pious burden carried in preparation for the wedding. What could possibly be more important than being with the groom when it was all said and done? He had escaped chaos - missiles, gunfire, upheaval - but didn't know where Ruth was. His plans, his finished education, what did they mean now?
And there she sat, certain that finding just the right ribbon for bouquets no longer seemed quite so pressing. Her curtained, sheltered voting booth anarchy, held in the safest of places - a fire department - now sanitized, even homey. Courage is born anywhere we let it be, she reasoned, knowing that moral courage can appear big or small. But pretending to be courageous when there is no cost is usually called, on most American playgrounds, showing off. It didn't mean she didn't have courage. But it did mean that it was still a young courage, only tested in fires she didn't understand, but that increasingly grew with time and experience. She had not fled a burning city; she had fled spiders. She had not lost a close family member; she had missed them when she didn't get to see them all the time. She had no echo of gunfire ringing in her ears; she had only the violence portrayed on the television screen, easily paused, easily muted.
She sat across from the dark-skinned man, face to face with her own self-importance. When she stood up from the table, her shoulders were lighter, face more carefree. She left the burden of herself with the wadded up napkins and left, liberated by the man from Liberia.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Let's dish some commentary, shall we? I'd like to start off today's program by reminding everyone of the value of keeping up with current events. Of course, you are free to define current events for yourself, you history buffs, you.
1) Joe Torre quit as manager of the Yankees. The Yankee empire has disgraced itself by being the jerk of the season for offering this classic, classy manager a flimsy one year contract worth less than he earned this past season. So, the headlines read that Torre quit as manager. What that really means is that they shamed him out of the position. I guess you can buy players, but you can't buy class. I hope Steinbrenner walks into a press conference with toilet paper stuck to his shoes.
2)It's no secret: I love "The Office," which airs Thursday nights on NBC. For anyone located near Scranton, PA, or desiring to road trip there, Scranton is hosting The Office Convention at the end of next week, filled with visits from many cast members. You can learn more at
3) Exiled former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto - a woman - finally returned to her native country today after an exile of eight years. In a too close to home reminder that terrorism thrives in many parts of the world, explosions near Bhutto's caravan killed at least thirty people, though Bhutto herself is uninjured.
4) A legendary star of the silver screen succumbed to Parkinson's this week. Deborah Kerr, who played in "The King and I" and "An Affair to Remember," among other films, died Tuesday in England. Upon receiving this news and a proposal to make October 18th Deborah Kerr Day, my friend Emily promptly acknowledged the sad event by putting on her vintage hat and grimacing, at least according to a picture she sent me on my phone this afternoon. She also suggested the highly appropriate plan of watching "An Affair to Remember" this evening after The Office. It's one of the few activities capable of wrenching my nose out of Harry Potter at the moment. So pluck your vintage hats out of storage and pay homage to the graceful, red haired actress who entertained us in our childhoods. You can read her obituary here:
5) Here we have our favored segment, "things that gross me out." Check out, "the most curious canned foods found online." seriously, jellied eels? really? really?
Well, that's the nightly news with Baba Wawa. Good night, and good luck.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dangerous Surrender

I love my job. Partly because of some unique perks. Working in an editorial department means early exposure to new books. Given that I'm such a bookworm someone may try to stick me on the end of a fishhook at somepoint, this is a truly glorious situation. It's also why I moved a couch into my office area; sitting in a desk chair reading and proofing is rather uncomfortable.
I just finished reading Kay Warren's new work, "Dangerous Surrender," due out soon. Now, I admit, I had been skeptical - when you have gourmet chocolate, you worry about disappointment in M&M's. After you've had your head stuck in academia long enough, it can be easy to slip into this mindset: if it's popular, it's probably shallow. You know, like Brittany Spears, or the show The Bachelor, or the Prayer of Jabez.
Kay Warren is not shallow.
The Purpose Driven wife, as my roommate christened her the other day, breaks whatever misconceptions I had about bestsellers and those associated with them. "Dangerous Surrender" is as un-health and wealth gospel as you can get.
In it, she narrates her walk with God as she grew in her surrender to the burden God was placing on her heart - ministry to those with HIV/AIDS, care for AIDS orphans in Africa, etc. Voices ring in your ears after reading her blunt account, as she easily draws on the wisdom of Amy Carmichael, Henri Nouwen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oswald Chambers. There's a lot about dying to self, becoming like Christ, and the unglamorous walk of the faithful. She brings readers face to face with skeletal women dying under a tree in Mozambique, children forced into prostitution in southeast Asia, and women who have contracted AIDS from the husbands, only to be kicked out of their houses and villages. Kay vividly paints the kingdom of God in recognizable, if difficult terms - dying to self means sharing with the dying. Dying to self means knowing the fellowship of Christ's suffering. Through the lens of her own diagnosis of breast cancer, Kay accepts this new tutorial in identifying with the sick, lending her something new to give - empathy with the ill.
It is easily the best devotional/spiritual memoir/call to action/biographical narrative that I have read in a long time. Corrie ten Boom comes to mind. Any "classic" you've read will drift through your thoughts as you find yourself repeatedly challenged to surrender yourself more and more to God's work.
I found it humorously challenging and helpful to read this at this season in my life. The other day, I arrived at work and shared with a coworker the weekend's activities. John and I had walked through that rite of passage, gift registry. It's all hearts and doves until, "you don't like blue? what's wrong with blue?" he asks. I am categorically making my way down an aisle while he bounces ahead, blurting, "...and see this red casserole dish? and here's a cutting board..." "I'm still at the bread pans!" I cry out. It's on to a detailed discussion of salt and pepper shaker preferences. It was wonderfully, beautifully, exhausting. It was retail tug and war, give and take.
On sharing these moments with coworker, church elder Bob, he grinned wisely. "That was a gift from God," he announced. "I forgot how opinionated we both are," I admitted. "Best to be reminded now, in that relatively insignificant situation," he reminded. Then he went on: "what we should ask every young couple is this: where are you going to get married? where? in a church? where in a church? up front? where up front? oh, really, at the altar? what's an altar? yes, yes, a block of wood, but WHAT IS an altar? ahh...a place where things are tied down kicking and screaming with a knife at their throat dying as every bit of them is burnt up in smoke and flames...that is what marriage is, the dying to self, and that's what you're proclaiming at an altar, that you are dying to yourself for this other person, and it will make you grow like you've never grown before - and that is God's mercy to you, an amazing gift."
Dying to self. On our registry at Target, there are blue bath towels - a nod to him - and blue placemats - another nod. There are also a red kitchenaid chopper - because I've long wanted one - and an electric knife (I think he'll like that once he uses it). There are also two sets of salt and pepper shakers.
There is more, though. How rare is it to be a bride with a crazily enthusiastic groom during gift registry? One that cares about kitchen supplies?
There is more, even, that that. Part of why we both (strongly) care about napkins and welcome mats is this - we both intensely wish to offer hospitality to others. Part of dying to self, is dying to ourselves as a couple - letting our very relationship be a threshold at which others can come and meet Christ's touch, the love of Jesus in as practical a form as a bowl of soup or mug of tea. To be poured out as a couple means sharing our home, our lives, to be poured out for others.
Kay's "Dangerous Surrender" doesn't make that look easy. But it does make it look worth it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Those Two Little Words; or, But I Don't Know How: The Tale of the John & Elizabeth DuckTurkey

Two small words caught my whirling mind like a fishhook. "What was that?" I stammered. "Thank you," he choked, still looking a bit shaky and green around the gills. "For what?" I didn't understand. "For saying yes," he replied. "For saying yes, for marrying me." Without meaning to, I laughed out loud, my mirth echoing against the rock and hills and falling leaves. "Thank you? After today - all you've done - you're the one saying thank you?" I laughed and giggled and guffawed and punched him in the arm.
It had been, as a coworker later described it, a "fourteen hour tour de force." An expedition that uncharacteristically took me several days of reflection before I could even sit to type these words. How do you describe a before and after that some take reams of paper to elucidate?
Saturday morning started out like any other - sleeping in. I awoke briefly around eight, called John to wish him well at work, and rolled over to continue my symphony of drooling and slumber. To my surprise, he later entered my room to wish me good morning. "How sweet," I thought, "he stopped by on his way to work." But even without my glasses I noticed a distinct lack of suit jacket and tie. I rolled over and looked at the clock. "9:45? I thought he had to be at work an hour ago..." My fingers brushed against something lying atop the coverlet. That's when the tour de force began. For me, anyway. A parchment letter sealed with red wax waited for me to open it. I tore it open. Words of tenderness and love stared back at me; they had been in on the surprise for some time now. I bounded downstairs to the kitchen, where the kettle was beginning to hiss and pop. "Get dressed and put on tennis shoes," John commanded, avoiding my quizzical eyes. I bounded upstairs, and upon returning, found tea and another letter ready for me. It, too, a tender, if mysterious, epistle. I drained my cup, and it was Time To Go. We followed the winding road to the nearby town that has hosted several dates, pulling up to an antique store. I smiled. One of the first times we spent together was browsing around the last century's books, tools, and hats. I greeted the resident cat and we spent happy time attempting to discover the uses of unfamiliar utensils. As we prepared to purchase a couple of dusty tomes, the owner smiled. "I believe this is for you." Another parchment letter, sealed in red wax. At our beloved old-time, small-town drugstore up the street, the same thing. Root beer float, and a beaming proprietor, parchment in hand. Next we hit the river, swinging out on a rope from a tree, Huck Finn style, then settling down on a rocky beach for a game of Scrabble. But not before discovering an additional parchment declaration of affection in the Scrabble box. It was at this point, by the riverside, that an extremely large, unfamiliar bird swam up to us in the midst of the epic battle for verbal victory. We christened it the John and Elizabeth Duck Turkey, mostly because he thought it resembled a duck and I thought I detected some recessive turkey genes. (Later it turned out he was right. It was a duck.) After being sorely beaten at Scrabble, I gathered the tiles and was further surprised when we headed back towards town. Now, the following demonstrates one of my (pseudo-nerdy) loves: he took me to see the cabin in which Abraham Lincoln's parents were married. This was like giving me crack and taking me to a rock concert. Next we toured the old fort which comprised the original settlement of the state's oldest town, and browsed around a museum gleefully looking at original Lincoln letters, 19th century weaponry and a large grammar chart that I made John take my picture in front of. Oh yes, and a sly looking cashier at the gift shop handed me - in unison, now - a sealed parchment. I was beginning to wonder how vast this conspiracy was. Step aside, JFK. We drove home, my soul happy with antiques and Scrabble and arguments with John about states' rights versus unification that had been spurred on by my negative visceral reaction to the sight of Confederate bullets. When we arrived home I was instructed to get gussied up (my words, not his) and off we went again, in time for supper. Instead of traversing a main thoroughfare, however, we snaked along narrow, curving back lanes until he pulled over at what appeared to be a completely random spot. I did spy Angie's car pulled to the side up ahead, though. "Here, put these on." John handed me my running shoes. I looked down at my cute dress, shrugged, and slipped my heels off. We rambled along a path that looked like it had been formed by hobbits until I heard the sound of water. Ahead, I caught glimpses of a large, flat rock protruding out into the river, and adorned with candles and a blanket spread ready for supper. This "picnic" featured warm lemon rosemary chicken in a crock pot that melted deliciously with the serene autumn surroundings.
Now, by this time I knew it was a special day. Okay, that morning, it had been apparent that this was not the time to be a foolish virgin, because the bridegroom cometh. John had been focused but relaxed all day. I looked with raised eyebrow, though, when he abandoned his half-eaten dinner and stood. "Ready?" he asked. I looked at my partially consumed bread and nodded. We climbed up a rock path that wound around to a flat overlook about twenty feet above our dining area. Here, I discovered cheesecake and hot cappuchino, the desserts we had shared one of the first times we'd hung out. As I sipped french vanilla cappuchino from a large mug, I moved closer to the edge. "Hey look, the candles are so pretty from up here, next to the water." But I heard my name called, and turned, and found my beloved on one knee, ring in hand. He said something - my mind turned the consistency of tapioca - and I found myself hearing the famous words. I heard myself answer "yes" a trembling moment later. He slid a ring on my finger and kissed me, and so far, I hadn't cried. But then he led me over, to my surprise, to a communion set. "One of the first things I want to do now that we're officially engaged is to take communion." Now the tears came, and wouldn't stop. We served each other bread, and juice, and he held me. "Thank you," he choked, still looking a bit shaky and green around the gills.
After that brilliant day, those were the words he uttered when it was all over, and it is that tendency that I couldn't get away from when we were dating. Thank you? After presenting me with surprise and delight tumbled on top of each other, thank you was the first thing out of his mouth.
Those two words will lead to two new words - I will - in the wedding vows.
I don't know how to be a fiance. I don't know how to be a wife. I have tried to develop a spirit that shines as a woman, hoping that this will carry over into these new roles, still as foreign to me as the ring that shines on my finger. My hope is that the beauty these roles enable a woman to display will come close, some day, to matching the round emblem on my hand. I don't know how to be a Christlike wife. I hope I've had good practice by being a Christlike girlfriend, sister, daughter, and comrade. I don't know how to live with another as one. I don't know how to share lives.
I don't know how. But I will.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Your Personal Katie Couric. Or At Least Mine.

Well folks, we're headed into the temporary floatie in a warm summer pool: The Weekend. To catch you up to speed on headlines that I found interesting, funny, or bizarre, I've added a few to the "Extra, Extra" column at the right. There. I'm your personal Katie Couric. Or at least my own, because if all else fails, I've at least entertained myself, with such headlines as:

Japan Vs. The Jellyfish
Spicy Thai Chili Clears Out London Neighborhood
Children's Book: The Pope's Story through the Eyes of His Cat
Texas Baptists Could Have Woman Leader
Halo 3 Captures 300 Million in First Week

If these and others don't pique your interest, then frankly I don't know what will.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Votive Candles, Smiling Friends

I wore an apron as a cape yesterday. I could explain, but if you need an explanation, you don't know me well yet.
It came in the mail, courtesy of a dear friend who saw its bright, retro print and thought, "ah! Made for Bitty." I traipsed around the house in it for a while, reveling in the fact that it perfectly matched the outfit I had chosen for my Birthday. I soon noted, however, that the ties around the waist could easily go about the neck, and the apron became a cape for about an hour. It was lovely. I discovered, though, that when I wear capes, I become melodramatic. Note to self. I wore it in the car on the way to the store and screeched at inopportune times, overreacting to slight turns and speed changes. It was lovely.
My "flatmate", as someone recently called her, made a homemade devils food cake with cherry almond frosting. She festooned it with flowers and three large votive candles snuggled into cupcake paper liners. Apparently we were out of birthday candles. A festive sight, that. A ridiculously loud, off-key Happy Birthday song later, and I was wiping frosting off my mouth and playing Apples to Apples with gusto, vim and vigor. They're friends of mine (rimshot, please!). I am the proud recipient of a one hour massage gift certificate, the movie Constant Gardener, an upcoming day out, red and yellow daisies and mums, an apron-cape, and the memory of the six year old announcing proudly and shyly that he was going "to sit next to the birthday girl."
A nice foreshadowing of a reception in which I plan to hang numerous pinatas.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Democratization of Leadership; and Chaingangs

My birthday has been weird so far. Like a lopsided cake, to put it aptly. It began with a trip to traffic court. This was not nearly as benign as it sounds. There were Prisoners in Chains and Jumpsuits. Aaaaaaaahhhhh. Now, the irony hit me, as I reflected on a highlight in which I once got my picture with a convicted felon. Now, that felon happened to be Chuck Colson. Nonetheless, I found myself eyeing the Men in Chains with slightly less trust and enthusiasm than I had demonstrated in the former Watergate mastermind photo op. The judge read the entire courtroom our rights before proceeding. We all had to rise when he entered. The closest parallel that came to mind was the up-and-down of responsive readings or high church liturgy in Sunday services, which brings to mind another thought: the liturgy of the courtroom might be evoked for ex-cons in your congregations. Just be aware that you might be eliciting negative visceral responses. On the other hand, the themes of punishment, wrongdoing, and mercy are all familiar. Anyway, I skipped up to the microphone when His Honor read my name, wearing a cute birthday-ish outfit. He could tell, I sensed, that my presence in the courtroom was rather a Shirley Temple moment. He knocked off my speeding fine considerably and took off the 'failure to appear' that I had been unaware of because I never changed my address on my driver's license and didn't get any bureaucratic municipal mailings for the past six months. It was all extremely thrilling and boring at the same time, and for about five minutes I yearned to be a Prosecutor so I could Throw The Book at people. I got over it when I saw how much mundane activity they have to endure.
I then proceeded to a New Bank to open a New Account with a voucher for $100 if you switch to this bank. Yay. After sitting for fifteen minutes drinking watered down complimentary coffee and flipping through a magazine full of Hillary coverage, a gentleman who had been doing next to nothin' finally cheerily offered to wait on me. Yeehaw. His friendly demeanor wore thin when he started strewing 'dear' in his ongoing dialogue of question and answer. My nearest and dearest friends know that I have been known to stare down a waiter and inform him that, "first of all, I'd like a diet Coke, and second of all, I'm not your sweetheart." Gentlemen sixty five and up may call me sweetheart all day long. Women my age and up may call me hon or honey. Seventeen year old cashiers should not call me hon. A man roughly ten to twelve years older than I am should not call me dear, or I'll dear him. I finally began to feel sorry for him though, because if you have that job at his age, I don't know, it's a little Michael Scott-ish. So, I benevolently smiled mercy down upon him and resisted the Urge to Squelch. Particularly when I saw the books lined up behind him. The recent leadership title by Rudy Giuliani. A John Maxwell. That's when it hit me: my primary problem with the John Maxwellization of the world is simply this: not everyone is meant to be a leader. I honestly don't believe it. Everyone is meant to have character. Everyone is meant to be an honest, hard worker. But try sending a battalion of leaders to boot camp. They quickly learn that their leadership skills mean as much as the drill sergeant says they're worth, which is diddly squat. And not everyone can "build a skill set" that will make them an effective leader. To suggest that anyone is a leader is a cute, Cinderella, you-too-may-be-a-Princess kind of appeal, but we all know people who have leadership books sitting out on their desks who have little or no ability to carry it out, no matter how many things they underline or dogear or quote at the bottom of their emails. And anyone opening a bank account for me who gives condescending glances when he asks if I have a job and calls me 'dear' when he doesn't sound any more Southern than a two-bit actor will not be able to learn leadership. The democratization of leadership is a bad idea. I challenge someone to pen a book entitled, "how to be a gracious follower." Now THAT might be a very valuable contribution to functioning in an organization.
On a completely unrelated note, the University of Kentucky is a startling 5-0 going into this weekend, and Notre Dame is a dismal 0-5 for the first time in their history. Ok, universe. You win.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Prison of Ivory Organza

On my Birthday eve - yes, tomorrow is my Birthday, Happy Birthday to me - I reflect on a friend's recent description of a dress shopping experience from the weekend. On trying on multitudes of fluffy confections, I, in her words, struggled to free myself from a "prison of ivory organza." Indeed, one wonders why boutiques offer small dressing rooms for giant dress situations. A space smaller than a handicapped bathroom stall is expected to accomodate yards of tulle and train as a woman realizes that preparing for one of the most graceful moments in her life involves an absolute loss of grace, dignity and poise. A consultant may help alleviate the more confusing moments involving seventy zippers, lace up backs, crinoline underskirts and hidden snaps, but even then I realized that in those moments, she serves a similar capacity to a nurse at the doctor's office. You form a bond with some woman named Danielle because she sees you in your underwear and cues you on what's happening next. "I'm going to take your temperature now." "I'm going to smother you in yards of ugly taffeta." You wear a gown open in the back in front of several people so they can diagnose the situation. "That color looks really good against your skin." "That waistline is wierd." "Where did your bust go?" "Your butt looks good in that." But all of this is endured, for the rare, inevitable moment that makes the longsuffering infinitely endurable. The lights dim, the ivory cathedral length veil glimmers, and suddenly the heavy hospital gown feeling fades, cinderella emerging from the servanthood of oversized bows. It borders on miraculous, that sense that one is seeing in the mirror what echoes from childhood dreams and fancies, this vision of a woman's rite of passage preparing the soil of the soul for what will become. In an instant, the bedraggled shopper is caught by the image reflected back to her. She will be a bride. And a few - a very few - gowns remind her that they are all subservient to this reality. The best gown will magnify it the most clearly, the most simply, the most beautifully.
Recently I read an intriguing article in which the author suggested that dressing up actually prepares us for being like what we're dressing up as. When we try to "dress up" like Jesus, that actively begins to make us more like Jesus. We are practicing our new role, mimicking the words that shape a new season.
Poor fits, overabundant ruffles, and heavy skirts must be waded through. It is a burden women dream about having. "I want to wrestle through circus tent sized gowns only to find they look revolting on me." Because we know that, soon enough, a familiar looking woman will smile back at us in the mirror and we will catch a glimpse of what we will be. It is a glimpse worth waiting for.

Friday, September 21, 2007


Some tidbits to nibble on as you watch a movie, watch a sunset, or watch a game this weekend...

Lodgings cater to foodies who crave authentic experiences: make your own cheese, gather your own honey

Berlin: a café for the chocoholic

Tea salon with seven page dessert menu: when in Paris, find the famous macaroons at Laduree

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How Dumplings Broke My Brain

Friends often snicker at my choice of vocabulary. Seven years of college and seminary have peppered my language with words like, "zeitgeist," "lingua franca," "ontological," and "anamnesis."
But last night, chicken and dumplings broke my brain.
It's been a hectic season. A whirlwind of meetings with florists, out of town visitors, remodeling projects at home, visiting churches, and taste testing three million flavors of wedding cake. All good things. A lot of decisions rapid-fired. Not much down time. I neglected my tender introvert. And that's when dumplings broke my brain.
After Jazzercise, I headed home to boil the chicken I purchased yesterday, wash some dishes, put in laundry, and prepare to make a birthday cake for a co-worker. After some quiet bustling about, the house exploded with noise and activity and and concentration on my juggled tasks began to wane.
Let me explain: I love to cook when it's a deliberately chosen outlet, and I take pride in my cognac-glazed ham, homemade chocolate brownies, bleu cheese deviled eggs, and yeast rolls. Making them, eating them, serving them, it's all a delight and joy. I relish extending hospitality. And rarely do things go wrong. I cook and bake often enough that I almost always avoid beginner's mistakes, and sometimes if something does go wrong it's one item out of a large meal and makes, therefore, little difference. After asparagus-gruyere tart, chicken and dumplings are a no-brainer. Until they broke my brain.
I'd already began to struggle with the dumplings, after realizing that when I paused to get a new bag of flour from the cabinet, I forgot to finish measuring out the flour. No big deal, I added some to the batter and it began to transform into the familiar looking dough.
I'd already developed frustration that my idea to crumble bacon on top hadn't worked, since the only bacon we had was turkey bacon, and, distracted with thoughts of cake and the need to take a shower and the laundry that needed to be switched over, I had put some cooked turkey bacon in the chicken and dumplings instead of waiting to crumble it on top, and anyway, apparently turkey bacon doesn't crumble. Turkey bacon. Bah! I loathe thee.
I'd already decided to double the dumpling dough. We always run short of dumplings, it seems, everyone picks them out like their favorite color of M&M. Plopping the dough into the chicken and broth, I noticed with satisfaction and relief their quick transition as they began to steam. It would be alright.
Distracted with dishes (we don't have a dishwasher) and cleanup and preparation for cake baking, I shook off Angie's inquisitive, "what's that smell?" when she entered the kitchen. A moment later something horrid met me and I went quickly over to the stove top. The smell, whatever it was, was emanating from the nearly done chicken and dumplings. Horrified, I attempted to spoon down below the layer of floating dumplings to make certain nothing on the bottom was sticking.
Sticking like newly laid asphalt.
Sticking like tarpaper to a roof in July.
Sticking like a nice supper to the bottom of a stockpot.
A large layer of black came up from the bottom of Supper. Never had this happened before. I peered closer. The electric burner under the stockpot had an eerie glow reminiscent of Tolkein's Balrog or Dante's Inferno.
As a footnote, I should mention that one of the burners on the stove died this past summer in a loud, bright blaze of glory. It would not turn on low, but only frighteningly hot. Then, one day, it supernovaed into eternity.
Maybe it was just the blacksmith-caliber burner.
Maybe it was the combination of the burner and the extra dumplings soaking up precious broth.
Later, Angie said it's the most mad she's ever seen me. It's also the only time, in sharing the house with her and Emily and the six year old, that I've ever burned anything.
'Maybe we can salvage it,' she said hopefully. Alas, seasoned cooks know better: the entire concoction was polluted with a smell and taste that could only be described by the word "ashtray."
I was starving, and supper had gone the way of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There were still dishes in the sink, the cake to be made, laundry to be done, and Everything Crashed In.
I cried. I yelled at John for not realizing how upset I was as I banged pots and pans in the kitchen. I slammed the cake in the oven. I stomped upstairs to take a shower, now smelling like both Jazzercise and scorched failure. I cried more when I got out of the shower and thought about how I miss my family and how hard it is to have some of my best friends living miles away in Connecticut and Chicago and how I've never had to try to budget so large an event as a wedding and how my chicken and dumplings had burned and Emily had come bouncing through the back door to announce she had come home solely to get dinner, not comprehending the pained look on my flour-streaked face. I came down and yelled at John a little bit more and ended up sniffling about how much I miss home and what it was and will never be again.
Dumplings broke my brain.
I fixed tea, and toast, kicked a violinist and guitar player out of the living room, and settled in to watch an episode of 'Rosemary and Thyme.' Somewhere between the toast and the British mystery sanity quietly began to creep back in. I apologized to John and drank more tea and let two British actresses soothe my spirit. He rubbed my shoulders and I finished my toast and got cereal and apologized again.
The cake turned out beautifully. I knew putting it in the oven that God knows how much we can bear and knew that for the cake not to turn out beautifully would send me to Happydale Asylum.
After 'Rosemary and Thyme,' I promptly fell asleep on the couch, hushed conversation wrapping the room in familiar comfort as friends conversed and I slumbered, finally peaceful.
But the dumplings that broke the camel's back made me second guess myself as I whipped up frosting for the birthday cake this morning. I could tell they were going to test my confidence the way a driver flinches after being in a wreck. And the dumplings that broke my brain also cornered me with a reality I'd been pushing to the side: I needed down time. Bad. I hadn't had a quiet evening in weeks.
So today, I reserved a room at a favorite local bed and breakfast that I had to stay in last December when we weren't able to move into the house yet but I'd already given my landlord notice. I am going to pack my toothbrush and turn off my cellphone and watch the Food Network or crime dramas or just turn the tv off and read or sleep or paint my toenails and I am going to let my brain, and my soul, be healed, and rest. I'm checking myself into emotional rehab for a night, small-town style. And I'm taking any leftover cake with me.
Next week friends are coming over for dinner. Maybe I'll make chicken and dumplings.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Captions from September days

The air has cooled. Even though the next few days are spiraling upward in temperatures, much like the price of oil per barrel, the nights are cool, and I am able, once again, to sleep with quilts on my bed and autumn leaves in my dreams. If it were Mary Poppins, the sign would be the wind shifting the weathervane. Plans turn to when we'll visit the orchard, what we'll be for Halloween, and whether we'll host a Guy Fawkes party this year. (It's a British tradition based on the Guy - ha, haha - who tried to blow up Parliament. They held bonfires in remembrance and burned effigies. Our gala will be strictly BYOE. Bring your own effigy.)
I am seriously considering dressing up as the wheel from The Price Is Right for Halloween this year. I've always wanted to spin that wheel.
Last weekend one of my housemates' parents traveled down for a visit. We warmed soup and bread, grilled chicken and sausage, and ate in the backyard at a table set with a bright, vintage quilt top I purchased at a tag sale this summer and half a dozen candles flickering in the middle. It was just cool enough outside to warrant my wearing my wool Mongolian slippers under the dinner table. Hordes of neighborhood cats were fascinating with our activities, and we shooed them away only to play spectator to their gymnastics in overhanging trees. We cleared the table, prepared a place for a campfire in the yard, and set out smore supplies while John and Angie's Dad hunted down an axe to chop firewood with, hunted down a rope to lasso around a dead tree branch to add to the firewood, and, in the course of five minutes, mysteriously constructed a swing for Aaron from a tree. I brought out my party lanterns - like white Christmas lights, only with colorful paper and plastic globes around them - and strung them
from the corner of our white tool shed/garage. Later college students, friends and family were crouched near the warmth of the flames, strumming guitars, catching marshmallows on fire, and checking the score of the UK/U of L game. (UK won against a ranked team for the first time in thirty years. Meanwhile Notre Dame is 0-3. Will the Cubs win the World Series?) A guy with
a huge neck brace came and drank vanilla almond tea by the fire. He fractured his C1 vertabrae
in a recent car accident and was hopped up on painkillers but happy to be enjoying normal activities. I fell asleep smelling like woodsmoke and woke up the next morning content with
the arrival of fall but eyes bleary from the smoke and ash. I washed the campfire out of my hair and got gussied up to visit an Episcopal church. I'll tell you what, the Episcopalians know how to do liturgy. John smiled kindly when I kept elbowing him and whispering the history of various parts of the service in his ear. We joined the congregants for a potluck afterwards, tasted a few strange casseroles, and enjoyed the company of an English professor, a retired teacher, and a girl who just went into business for herself selling rare Ducati motorcycle parts. A departure from our usual habit of worship - a sparse country church overflowing with gusto and a leaning outhouse. I wish I could go to both. As it is, my country church is still home. But I like visiting the Episcopalians.
I read an article today about the rise of the Cupcake Store, and how cities around the country are popping up with cupcake bakeries. Maybe I'll open a bakery. That sounds tiring. But sugary. And fun.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Browsing is heavenly. Whether it's in a store, picking up candles, sniffing them, putting them down, skimming the back of a bookcover, or online, imagining how a discount lamp would look on your end table, browsing evokes leisure. Relaxation. A free moment amid the hustle and bustle. Especially when done with friends who share similar taste. Exclamations of glee, discussions on the shade of green bestowing a kitchen towel, and your satisfaction with a charcoal grill.
Now is the season to browse. Before Santa glares at you over Halloween candy at Wal-Mart, where the year is one big shopping season. While shelves are still stocked, traffic is still reasonable, and customers still smile back at you. When cashiers aren't too frazzled yet, parking lots aren't too crowded, and your arms aren't too sore from lugging bags around a mall.
I relish finding sales that feature items I know family and friends will love. I sock them away, like a squirrel stows nuts, then pull out my year's treasure trove to see who I still need to purchase for and who has already won the lottery of my months-long scavenger hunt.
So, I share with you a sale. A perfect time to sneak up on your shopping and score a sale. To surprise yourself with how little you have left to do later.
At the right of my blog, I have a few links. One of them connects to my Mary Kay website. Browse. Explore. Request a catalog, samples, or order online. Beat the rush.
All September purchases totalling $50 or more get this: half off a Satin Hands set. All September purchases totalling $100 or more get a free Satin Hands set, a $30 value. But we love to browse with friends. So if a friend of yours joins you in this online browsing and purchases something, you get an extra customer appreciation gift, to keep and savor or tuck into someone's stocking later on. Bring three friends with you who take advantage of the early season shopping moment and you get an additional free Satin Hands set.
Gift wrapping is complimentary upon request. Guys, if you're over your head just reading this blog, then name the amount you wish to spend and I'll create a custom gift basket full of our favorite products for your loved one with a few extra goodies tucked inside.
So pamper yourself by browsing now instead of rushing later. Try a new shade of lipstick. Grab a few Satin Lips sets for your girlfriends. Give yourself the gift of a restful holiday season this year.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Trail Mix

A grab bag of peanuts, M&M's, pretzels, and Chex cereal. Pick out your favorites. Leave the rest.
Browse past to preview an independent film that just won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival. The unspoken story? The man behind it is both "Latin America's Brad Pitt" and a bona fide Christian, turning down role after role in Hollywood to follow not fame but faithfulness.
Letting my medicine-soaked mind wander, I thought a funny novel to pen would be "coffeehouse cuisine," communicating the kinds of discussions that reign on soft, secondhand couchs over foamy espresso. Brain trails like, "marry, date or dump: Luther, Bonhoeffer, and Wesley." (for the record, I would marry Bonhoeffer, date Luther, and dump Wesley - his relationship track record is appalling. And Bonhoeffer was one of the cuter theologians of significance.) Or, "what would Maxwell books have been like in Middle Earth?" answer: "21 Irrefutable Ways to Lead Your Orcs," "The 17 Indispensable Rules to Relocating A Community of Elves," "The 10 Most Important Eras in Your Age," and, "The Vital Rules of Team Building: How to Make Elves and Dwarves Get Along." Similar coffee house discussion? "The Emerging Ent Movement: Ancient Worship in Authentic Forests," and, "Vintage Elf Hymns: How to Get Your Church Beyond Last Century's Rohan Trends." Of course, there would inevitably be controversial titles, too, like "Gandalf Is Not Great: Why Wizardry Poisons Everything," and, "The Sauron Delusion."
On to more distressing rants, that, while they may take place in a coffeeshop, are less likely to evoke laughter and giggles. A DISTURBING headline today:
"Latino evangelicals may ditch GOP over immigration reform"
This is disturbing because I spent quite a while writing to my Republican senators asking that they negotiate the recently defeated immigration reform compromise. I got nice form letters in reply for several days - form letters under the heading "immigration," I'm sure, because most of the letters were reassuring me that the senators were doing everything possible to stamp out "amnesty." Only one seemed carefully weighed and nuanced, and even that one voted against the immigration reform bill. Ok people, let's think about this:
Bush got 68% of the church-going Latino vote in 2000.
The U.S. economy would collapse in on itself if millions of people who work here and spend here were sent to Mexico.
Border security around the ENTIRE country needs to be enhanced and improved. Remember all those headlines about who were coming across the Canadian border?
Many other countries in the world do not operate like the U.S. does. For instance, you have two hungry children. Can you afford to take a day off work, go to a government bureaucracy, fill out paperwork, slip your national officials bribes to file the paperwork, and then wait six months to see if you're one of the quota of immigrants America officially admits every year?
These words were NOT penned for citizens only: "we hold these truths to be self-evident....that all men were created, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Those tenets were not only for citizens - citizens? At that time, the "citizens" of this country were actually "citizens" of England! Those were principles that Anglo and Hispanic alike were created equal and deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I am disgusted. If anyone is afraid of criminals coming over into the U.S., then we should also flush out the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. If we want a way to actually enforce justice in the migrant community, the best way is to create a way for immigrants to become legal without penalizing them. That way, when a Hispanic woman is raped, she can come to the authorities and report it without fearing that she will be deported and separated from her children.
The whole issue makes me consider registering as an Independent. Why? Well, for one thing, the principle behind the whole mess is this: "well, if you're born in America, you have a right to prosperity. If you're born in Mexico, that's not our fault, you should stay there until the right paperwork is stamped. Take your suffering elsewhere, we're trying to watch Survivor. We like to watch people try to survive for entertainment....." Yes. The problem exactly.
For the record: if I were struggling to feed my children and knew that a hundred miles away lie the solution to their hungry tummies, I would risk it. Whether there was a border there or not. If they went hungry on one side of it or were properly fed on the other side, I would tunnel, sneak, or crawl to get them what they needed to survive. I believe most mothers would. Immigrants are not bumper stickers. They are moms and dads. And if I had a church that could offer sanctuary, I would keep the doors open. Survivor, indeed.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

When I was small, mom would frequently take me to The Library. I would skip over the glazed, patterned bricks lining the patio-like courtyard entry, smell the scent of aging pages and high school art displays as I entered, and frolic to the children's section, my own domain, til I went in search of Mom, who browsed as I sat on the round stepping stool and studied the dewey decimal lables on the spines of mysteries and fiction.
In the children's section, there was a large rug with patterns for hop scotch and other games. There were tapes of books in plastic bags hanging like my shirts did in my closet back home. There was a computer where I could play children's Jeopardy. There were fanciful murals beckoning from the walls. And there were books.
Some of the books had an emblem I immediately recognized. Lavar Burton's own personal stamp of approval, it seemed to me - the Reading Rainbow recommendation. An avid conneusseur of Reading Rainbow, with a goal of being one of the child reviewers who closed up an episode, I always took this with the seriousness of a NY Times bestseller label. One of these books that traveled home with me in my handstitched book bag that I haven't been able to find since about 1993 was, "Meanwhile, back at the ranch." I highly recommend it, as Lavar did so kindly to me so many library due dates ago. It's about an old couple living on a ranch; the man goes into town and watches a turtle cross the street with his cronies, and other "big" events, while the wife stays home and accidentally wins the lotto, finds a diamond ring in crackerjack, and so on.
Anyway, after traveling to the ranches and gulleys of Texas, I am now back at the bluegrass ranch, the living room having been repainted during my travels. A few notes on the ranch-covered Lone Star state:
A) It's big. Real big. I'm sure no one has ever mentioned size and Texas before, so I'll make sure you know now: It's the size of the midwest. Maybe that accounts for more executions. I also think Texas should have more votes when it comes to immigration policy. They actually live with immigration realities. There were billboards in Spanish. Welcome to the future, everyone else. Wierdly, Texas is where it's going on, and I don't just mean Cindy Sheehan demonstrations.
B) It's hot. Real hot. People say the humidity is lower. I don't buy it. I felt like I was being a Christmas cookie baked in an oven most the time. And that was northern Texas.
C)It has lizards. Yay! A novelty for a corn and soybean girl. There was a small gecko in the bathroom sink one morning. Extremely fast. Cute, in a "I wouldn't want this thing running up my leg during the night" kind of a way.
D) It's full of Texas stereotypes, except for geysers of oil. I was disappointed not to see a single geyser of oil. Or a single cowboy. Still, Texas is full of Texas-sized stereotypes. And the barbecue really is good.
E) Dallas/Ft. Worth is surprisingly diverse. Like, wow, it's not just cowboys and latino immigrants. It was like being in NYC or Chicago. I found it refreshing and a strange relief.
There were Indian food grocers not far from Trinity Broadcasting Network headquarters.
F) Oh yeah, TBN is located in Dallas/Ft.Worth/Irving. Hmmm....I'm going to say No Comment there.
So, I'm back in the bluegrass, happy, refreshed, relieved that we're finally getting rain.
Angsty that friends are back in classrooms. Someone hand me a syllabus!!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rustlin' cattle

The thing is, I really wished to type something profound and nuanced for you, the equivalent of preparing a chocolate souffle for the soul. (Not that all chocolate souffle doesn't grace the soul with sublimity.) At any rate, I considered composing a sweet sonnet on the virtues of the ordinary. Ordinary days, ordinary people, ordinariness and the beauty thereof. Ironically, I can't concentrate on such a project because I'm too busy anticipating a break from the ordinary. Yep, a vacation. The first real one in a long time. 14 hour road trip to Don't Mess with Texas. And while I'd love to be able to tell all you non-vacationers to be happy at home, the truth is, I am relishing the prospect of getting out of town. So, instead of souffle, here's some macaroni and cheese, emergency numbers are by the phone, the babysitter will be over at six, you know the rules. I rented a movie for you, you can stay up an hour later than usual. She Will tell me if you misbehave. Time to paint The Road red.

Monday, August 13, 2007


Fishwrap. Newsprint. Spilled ink. The Daily.
Newspapers never go out of style.
If you'd like to see the headlines that have caught my eye lately,
check out my new "Extra, Extra, Read All About It!" links on the
righthand side of the page. Tucked between the couch and the baked goods
- right where newspapers usually reside.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Picture Picture: lego imprints on the bottom of my feet

My little six year old heart gleefully soaked up Mr. Rogers, as I sat on the floor, feet out in front of me, eating raisins and watching my favorite neighbor steer me through factories. Want to know how crayons are made? You can watch brightly hued wax pour through molds. Ever wonder where sneakers came from? He'd feed the fish, take me to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, and then Mr. McFeely would deliver a tin of film and Picture Picture would show us shoelaces and rubber soles come together.
It is Lego's Birthday, and, as an accomplished Lego Professional/Conneisseur, I celebrate the milestone of one of my favorite playthings. Not that they're that distant in my past - living down the hall from a six year old boy, I still get occasional lego imprints on the bottom of my bare feet from time to time. Lately, legos have been multiplying in the shower.
Here's a tour of the process of the birth of a lego: now go play.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mulching discernment

The art of discernment evokes long-term images. Mulching. Steeping. Brewing. Soaking. Infusing. All are sensory. All involve long-term good. All demand time. As Chesterton remarked, "one cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." Some things take time. How is it that knowledge and wisdom become something different tomorrow than they are today? We are in a continual sorting process of absorbing new ideas and experiences, discarding old theories, and flushing them out in practice. When one breaks down, another is found to replace it that works in life and logarithm.
But the wisdom writers of yore also spoke of action. A contemplative that gazes inwardly for too long becomes a stump. When a man working in a field found treasure, he quickly covered it up and went and bought the field. He didn't wait for the assessor to show up - he couldn't afford to. A word spoken in due season is lauded in Proverbs. One might note that action is involved in that advice. When the season comes, speak. But know the season, so that you might know when to speak. A youngster wanted to follow Jesus but said, "wait, there's something I have to take care of first." Jesus demanded immediate action.
It's interesting to see Christ himself displaying the both/and nature of knowing and doing. The disciples probably had an inside joke going by the end of Jesus' earthly ministry. "Where is he NOW? I just saw him and now he's gone again." They were constantly on the search for him - why? Because he had retreated to pray. To discern. To contemplate. To talk to his Father. The result of these sessions - their flip side, and sometimes, perhaps, their cause - were his moments of fast-foward action, where he trips over one miracle after another, confronts, heals, restores, chases, and travels.
In 'discerning' discernment, I have realized that there are three things that I should take into account: timing, technique, and telos.
Timing involves knowing oneself and knowing others. It means employing wisdom as to the consequences of future actions, and recognizing the seasons and contexts in which one finds
oneself. I have found that I am listened to more when I gauge when to speak something. A good piece of advice given at a bad time makes it bad advice. Not because the content is skewed, but because the speaker is. Testing seasons recognizes one's place in communal time. Timing in working with others is just as valuable as wise timing in your life individually. I remember sitting across the desk from a pastor I was working with, expressing profound frustration with some dynamics in the church lay leadership. Everything I was saying was true. But whereas I
wished it to be dealt with immediately, he had the perspective to grasp the importance of the community timetable. Sometimes timing involves correctly guessing the outcome of your actions. Do you have a realistic picture of what the results may be? Courage also meshes with timing. Lenny Skudnik was awarded a medal by Ronald Reagan because, standing on shore beside motionless firefighters watching people drown in a frozen river, he threw off his coat and dashed in.
Discernment requires technique, too. What are the sources from which you draw your guidance and information? Bad sources - poor theology, immature comrades, etc. - will yield only bad input.
Technique acknowledges that whatever outcome you're driving at, there will always be certain ways that are always inappropriate in arriving there. The technique cannot contrast with the content, or else your behavior is as mismatched as a Christmas sweater with workout shorts.
Do you consult all people your own age for advice? Do you consult people from other cultures in your decision making process? What are the fruits of the lives of people you seek wisdom from? Are you listening to people who differ from you on some issues and can reflect back a different perspective than the one you already have? Do you allow both quiet and action to reveal truth to you? Does the liturgy of the church calendar inform the way in which the collective community of faith marks your thinking and activity? Are you continually attempting to learn more about the Scripture that you depend on for clarity? Do you demonstrate an appreciation for the sciences, arts, and fields of learning and knowledge that provide a sensible approach to decisions? Do you balance worship and joy with the (potential) stress of a discerning season? Does your prayer for guidance reflect both personal dialogue with God and classic prayers of the church that provide the stability of centuries? Do you balance thinking through issues with acting through them - that is, do you look for truth and guidance in the midst of chores, hobbies, ministry, work, recreation, and service?
Discernment finds its home in its goal. Telos - Greek for goal, or perfection, or completion - communicates the end to which things are ordered. And the telos of discernment is always Jesus Christ as the picture of Triune God. To what end are your actions ordered? It may, in the short term, be in a particular career, relationship or project. But the content of a decision, and the method of deciding, must always match the telos, or goal, of the decision. If the target behind your decision is always to grow in relationship to Christ, becoming more Christlike, then that will help pull into alignment the smaller decisions you make. It can be as small as whether to stop and visit an ailing churchgoer for a few minutes, or as big as whether to invest in a ministry in a smalltown or a distant country.
Which brings me to a counterpoint: discernment implies testing a situation that is not inherently right or wrong. One doesn't stop to contemplate whether kicking a small child is a good action. But within the Christian faith, we as believers have times in which God smiles, steps back, and says, "now, this time, do it without the training wheels." Is it so difficult to believe that God enjoys watching us exercise our free will and creative impulse? After all, these are two ways in which we show the image of God in us. On occasion, we resemble those students who miss the joy of creativity for the fear of failure: "How long do you want the paper to be? do you want Times New Roman or Courier New? Single space or double space? Chicago Handbook grammar rules? How many sources should we include?" We miss out on actually learning for fear of failing due to a missed dotted i or crossed t.
But where, oh where, does Grace enter? If you really, down deep, believe that God has your best interest at heart, then where, o Christian, is there room for fear? Are you living rightly? Are you steeped in prayer and text? Are you letting others speak truth into your life? Do you accept God's grace when it manifests in acts of service to others? Then take a deep breath. Relax. Be at ease. If we truly listen to Jesus, and pursue obedience to him, then there is not a situation that we can drop and "break" that he cannot fix and make better than it was before. I am not speaking of cheap grace here, where we sin when we know better. I am speaking of prevenient grace that permeates our thoughts, feelings and actions, gently steering behind the scenes when we are attempting to discern the best course of action within an obedient Christian life.
When you find yourself in a position of exercising discernment (a phrase that implies active reflection), remember to consider timing, technique, and telos. And then sit back, when you have been labouring over your own knowledge, and know that just as you are steeping in your resources, the Holy Spirit is steeping you in his grace. You may think you're mulching discernment. But you are also being mulched in grace.

Friday, August 3, 2007

good cop bad cop

I love small towns. They have their strengths, they have their weaknesses. But they have
charm in spades.
This morning, when my boss arrived, he announced that the chief of police was going to grill free ribeye sandwiches at a nearby equine center for lunch. A moment to digress: my boss is a sponge for all kinds of information. He's a transplant from southern California, which is the best way I can describe him in a nutshell. If you want an anecdote about the time he interviewed the girl from NCIS or another time he was talking with director of Evan Almighty, you'll just have to spend time with him, because he doesn't find reasons to talk about these moments, like I would, loudly and often. They just come up in casual conversation, which makes discussions with him rather humorous and always popping up with the unexpected. At any rate, he also knows the names of the local utility guys and has an indescribable relationship with the owner of the pizza place across the street, who puts a bbq chicken pizza out on the lunch buffet when he knows Steve is coming.
So, the welcome news that free ribeye sandwiches were going to appear within a five mile radius of me landed on my ears quite pleasantly today. Around twelve thirty, I stretched, checked the directions to the local equine center with a coworker, and hopped in the car. Summer haze is stretched out across central Kentucky right now like a sticky spider web that clings to your face when you plow through it. It is a boiling sunshine. Jezebel, my trusty steed/Buick, hugged the curves out of town and I almost sailed past the lane I was aiming for. As soon as I turned down the narrow gravel path, I knew this was going to be a grand drive. The trees held hands over the stone and dirt and sheltered drunken butterflies from the dizzy heat. Toppling stone fences stood a ramshackle sentinel along the way and the lane dipped up and down as though it were in a continual curtsy.
A tidy sign pointed me down yet a narrower lane, and Jezebel and I climbed up the path next to more nodding stone sentinels slumbering from years of duty. Horse paths snaked away from the road through the brush, and I was glad that I was in a poison ivy-free car rather than crashing through undergrowth. Finally the top of a barn appeared. I knew I was at the right place when I saw a couple of police cruisers parked next to utility trucks and spied one end of a gas grill peeking from within the barn. I walked up, carefully stepping around horse evidence, and was greeted by a nondescript man with a name I recognized to belong to the mayor. The police chief sweated behind the grill but asked pleasantly, "hamburger or ribeye?" My spirit sighed with a smile as the Mayor pointed out plates, baked beans, potato salad and drinks - chilled Ale 8. The sweet smell of baked beans mingled with a dry scent of sawdust piled in the horses' stalls. I stood and chatted with a lady from city hall, and after being presented with "the best ribeye sandwich you'll ever have," was directed down to an air conditioned tack room where about ten girls who comprised the equine center summer crew sat and teased each other about boys and school and horses that kick.
God bless City Hall, even if I did just get a whopping speeding ticket recently. Jan Karon comes to mind. "Mitford takes care of its own." Whether punitively reminding me to be safe and careful or grilling me lunch.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Weird things I've seen

As I watched the end of the Guinness Book of World Records-Breaking "World's Longest Volleyball Game" last night at an area church, I reflected on strange things I've seen. Some of those things are mentioned in a post about working in a nursing home. But long term care facilities aside, it struck me that I have, at different times, chosen to be places where interesting things were happening; I have also found myself by pure accident in the vicinity of strangeness. I have also surrounded myself with people who bring the anamolous with them.
So it was that I watched my boyfriend help wrap up the World's Longest Volleyball Game (55 hours - play 3, rest 2). I've never seen a Guinness Book victory before, so it was a first.
I have also witnessed a presidential inauguration. A cold, rainy day in January, 2000, I stood with friends outside the Capitol building to watch George W. Bush take office. The early days, when things seemed rosy.
Once, by pure chance, I saw a hot air balloon crash, having run into
powerlines. Traumatic, yes. Strange, yes. Now I get quite antsy when I see hot air balloons cruising the skies on warm summer days.
In a wedding last summer, I watched a bride come down the aisle. In silence. To no music. Because the pianist had frozen. We bridesmaids shot him dirty looks, hissed, and later one of my friends confessed to the impulse to start humming the bridal march.
A few years ago I went camping with friends in Scotland. We drove around for a week. And on entering a small pub for dinner, we saw Prince William. About twelve feet away, eating with friends and a girl who kept ignoring him until she saw we were watching. Yes, I have made eye contact with royalty. No, we did not pester him. Yes, I was close enough to hear his English accent stand out from the Scottish ones around him. Easy way to keep people away from him: send him to Scotland, where they still chafe at English royalty being present among them.
At a C.S. Lewis conference in Oxford, England, I sat, amused, and observed scholar Peter Kreeft and Watergate convert celebrity Charles Colson line up at a microphone placed for questions to pose queries to the original world famous atheist turned deist Antony Flew. Seeing Chuck Colson stand in line at a microphone was fascinating.
On a more poignant note, I quietly watched an elderly Cuban Catholic gentleman who lived at the nursing home visit with his gay, HIV positive son. I cried later.
Walking up to a concert venue to hear my favorite band, Over the Rhine, I encountered two people who arrived at the door the same time I did. I started as I realized that one of them was Linford Detweiler, half of the band. All I could do was smile. Then I saw two eyes smiling out between a hat and scarf at my reaction. It was Karin, the other half of Over the Rhine. All I could do was grin.
I've also seen a Mongolian camel. In Mongolia. I tried to see the Great Wall, but there were clouds between the plane and the ground. I'm not sure if I saw it from the air or not. I settle for Great Wall Chinese restaurant. Ooh, also in Mongolia, I saw dead, frozen, skinned sheep that someone was getting out of the trunk of a car. I also saw a game of sheep knuckles.
When I was about twelve, I saw an Indy 500 practice. Half my face got sunburned, but there is nothing like the sound of Indy cars. Sends the good kind of chills up my spine.
My parents believed in exposing me to things, so I remember sitting in a university auditorium and seeing Margaret Thatcher give an address. When she spoke against abortion, my dad's claps rang out in the otherwise silent space.
In an intensely personal moment, I will never forget seeing my niece for the first time.
Of course, one strange sight, I shared with all of you recently in this space: the small town, 4th of July lawnmower brigade. Even more interesting were the pictures I snapped of Omar, half Iraqi, gleefully performing the lawnmower drills. I loved the unpigeonholedness of it
So I was a pretty geeky kid, and my early teens were spent devouring figure skating programs and trivia. So it was that my birthday present one year was to go see my beloved spinners and jumpers. Afterwards, we went to the busses, and I saw a young Michelle Kwan and got her autograph. Woohoo!
Well, if you can think of any that I'm forgetting, add it, mention it, jog my memory. Here's to more interesting sights.