Thursday, May 29, 2008


Over the years, milkmen have received a bad rap, through the catty subculture of Tupperware-laden suburbanite women who raise an eyebrow at a strange looking child and mutter something about the milkman.

But my fellow Americans, I propose to you that it is time to stand up in solidarity with the ever-decreasing ranks of these noble men and, lest you think me ignorant, women. Be it the milkman or the milk maid, I want milk on my doorstep every morning. In a bottle.

Think about it: millions of Americans used to automatically recycle by returning the "empties", and less waste, too - need only a little bit of whole milk? You can get a glass bottle, use it, rinse it, and set it on your doorstep, instead of the expiration date coming and going, forgotten milk from some abstract udder Out There In The Universe.

This subject arose when I was trying to convince my friend Emily to start yet another business. She has a list of about seven that she's always meaning to start some day, including a cleaning business with the motto, "we're anal so you don't have to be." Anyway, I tried to pitch Bananagrams to her. Not a note with a banana. Oh no. A banana left on your door step every morning for breakfast with an anagram alongside it, an abbreviated version of room service's southwestern omelette and New York Times. Banana. Anagram. Bananagram.

Who wouldn't want that?

"The only thing," I commented as I drove back from returning tapes to the library, "is that we'd have to offer vacation stops. No one wants to return home from vacation to find seven rotting bananas between their screen door and their front door."

Still, I liked the idea of bananagrams. Then we started ranting about other erstwhile, far-off services that used to bedeck the common American landscape. Like how we don't get milk delivered to the door any more.

"My cousin in Pennsylvania does," Emily fumed. "She has online grocery shopping too for five dollars, and farmers in her area have chickens so you can just go buy a chicken."

I understand, citizens of the world, that bananagrams may not be your cup of morning tea. But I WANT A MILKMAN.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Postscript on Women

By the by, there've been a lot of comments on "when to sympathize with women." Rather than make responses in the comment section, I plan to pen more on this topic soon, especially the roles of emotion and virtue. Be well. Be blessed. Try a new recipe today.

Leftover Jeopardy Questions. Or Are They Answers?

"I'll take potpourri for $200, Alex." Potpourri means "all those leftover questions - or are they answers? - that we ran out of time to toss at the contestants, and now we're putting them in a miscellaneous category so our researchers' time wasn't wasted."

Ha! Today you're getting potpourri, better known as casserole made out of leftovers you forgot existed. Open up. Here comes the airplane.

"What have you been up to, Bitty?" "Oh, you know, nothing much, except seeing Indiana Jones in the theater." Sidebar: anyone my age barely missed seeing Indiana Jones movies in the theater the first time around, so whatever you think of this new installment, it's pretty doggone cool to hear the theme music in surround sound. I happen to like this new one. It has a few corny lines that the writers didn't control themselves on out of sheer giddy glee that they get to work on this project. But in my opinion "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" can stand with dignity by the first three Indy's.

"What else have you been up to, Bitty?" "Oh, you know, nothing much, except seeing 'Lars and the Real Girl'. "What's that, Bitty, I've never heard of it!"

Well, you should have. It's quirky and sweet and set in the far reaches of a northern state, all of which describe some stages of my existence. You can rent "Lars and the Real Girl" and I highly suggest you do. It's not for kids - they'd get bored in ten minutes - and there are a few references that should be over their heads because they don't need to think about things like that yet. But it's a "good clean movie" and portrays real faith beautifully. It's not a blockbuster, explosion-driven action movie. And I like it. A lot. The summary, you ask? A loner with "issues" who can't really talk to people starts taking around a lifesized doll with him as his girlfriend, and his family and the small town he's part of have to decide how they'll handle it. I LOVE this movie. It sounds corny, but it's actually quite profound. Believe me. See it. Thank me later.

"What else have you been up to, Bitty?" "Oh, you know, nothing much, except playing disc golf on Memorial Day." "What's disc golf, Bitty?" It's like playing golf with frisbees. There's a course in our town and I did the worst of my group, cause you know, I like to affirm people and wouldn't want to make them feel badly by doing better than oooowwww, my arm and shoulder are STILL sore. Alas.

"Anything else you've been doing, Bitty?" "Besides setting off a gigantic neighborhood chain reaction of dog barks by taking Charlie and Daisy out on a walk last night? Besides the little neighbor girls showing me how they climb a large bush in their yard? Besides making cookies with quick oats instead of old fashioned oats? Besides watching "Northern Exposure" dvds while ironing? Besides attempting to stop a sinus infection before it starts? Besides reading murder mysteries involving cats and aging actresses?"

Not much.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shorthand Serenade

In the quaint, small village in which I have lived, worked, and gone to school, there lives a small lady with a vague appearance and flutters of gray hair. Her name is Rene (Ree-nee). Occasionally, she sets up a small card table in the local IGA and neatly displays tapes and cheaply bound "books" of her life. When you walk in on a random Saturday and turn right, towards the bread shelves, there she sits, a spider waiting for passersby who feel a pinch of guilt for not making eye contact. Rene is 86 and attempts to hawk her piano tapes with less success than the Girls Scouts unload their wares. It just so happens that country crooner John Michael Montgomery used to work in the meat department at Fitch's IGA, so a faded, signed poster of him hangs behind the ground round. One spring I exited the sandwich shop to see the bank's marquee commandeered by the unassuming lady: "Rene Frick will be playing her tapes at IGA" it announced. I have come close to purchasing a Rene tape out of sheer sympathy for the birdlike figure perched behind the table, but my student income nagged my common sense. I'm not sure she knows about cd's yet. She most certainly cannot be found on iTunes.

Yesterday, Rene walked into the new tanning salon where my brother sells tanning packages and racks up record Solitaire scores. Her purpose was to apologize for parking in front of the tanning salon. It should be noted that the tanning salon is on one end of the only gas station in town. There are gas pumps, convenience store entry, newspaper dispensers, ice cooler, pay phone, and then the Sunsations tanning salon. Rene had done a bit of grocery shopping in the gas station but was forced to park in a space bordering the salon. Ethan then recounted that somehow the conversation morphed into discussion of the pros and cons of the shorthand system, typewriters, and Scrabble. She also examined the tanning lotions and found one called "sex kitten." "Oooh, that's the one I need!" she exclaimed. "Do you have any wrinkle remover to make me look beautiful?" Rene is a good, churchgoing lady. But she's still very much a woman.

"Sounds like she was lonely," I told Ethan when he stopped by to pick up his cooking spray from my house. I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor. Sometimes it needs that. Sometimes I need that. "You should offer to play Scrabble with her. She could bring it in when you're working."

When he first told me the story of the bespectacled lady entering the tanning salon, he didn't know her name. But the further he described her, a vague image began to form in my brain. "Wait, wait, wait - it wasn't Rene Frick, was it?" "Well, she drove a car with 'Rene F' on the license plate, so I guess it was," he pondered. "Ethan, she's the lady who sells her tapes at IGA! Gold Buick, or something like that, right?"

I considered my grocery store policy and habit. Not my IGA policy, but my Kroger and Wal-Mart policy. IGA is small, and after living in town for five years, I know where things are. But when I'm in Kroger's or Wal-Mart, if I don't know where something is, I don't ask employees. I ask old ladies. They've been shopping much longer than I have, usually have good inklings about where things are likely to be located, and enjoy a young person stopping to ask them questions. It happened last week with beef buillion cubes. And apparently I emit approachability, because I also have old ladies ask me to reach things for them in grocery and cosmetic aisles. I think it's because I smile and make eye contact, which a lot of people don't do with old women. Sometimes when I see women considering different products that I've used, I lean over and tell them which one I like. Actually, one time a thirtysomething lady saw me with a bag of cat litter and asked if it was good, because it was the cheaper brand. "Sorry," I apologized. "I'm allergic to cats, just making luminaria." I enjoy the unspoken bond between harrassed shoppers trying to spend their pennies wisely, attempting to get the best kitty litter or lipstick. One time a lady prevented me from making a catastrophic lipstick choice, and I remain grateful in retrospect. "You think the base will cement on the color," she advised, "but really the color begins to flake off after a few hours. But some of it's still stuck on. I hated it."

Thank you, lady in the lipstick aisle.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Burma, China, you-a

You there! Sitting in your chair. You think I can't see you eating that delectable cookie, but I can, and you must learn to share! Speaking of delectable, Pioneer Woman has a recipe for what looks like possibly the Best Thing Ever on her website right now - "pots de creme." Emily and I are whipping it up tomorrow to savor and languish over. Anyway. I digress.

You there! Sitting in your chair. Get up and do something about this: Burma and China have both had natural catastrophes in the past few weeks. Burma (Myanmar) was hit by a colossal cyclone, with thousands dead and millions homeless or displaced. China' Sichuan province was rocked by a massive earthquake about eight days ago, and people are still being pulled from the rubble of collapsed buildings, including hospitals and elementary schools. Over 40,000 people have died from it, with around five million homeless.

Now, China's government (though I rant about it's many faults often) is at least responding to the situation, and is allowing foreign aid to assist the victims. MYANMAR, however, has a ridiculous government (the "junta") that has allowed very little aid in, despite the fact that their tragedy goes far beyond what the government could do if it wanted to. What little aid has entered the country has been given to only a fraction of the affected population. Unfortunately, volunteer aid workers and relief supplies are piled up, waiting to enter, on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Meanwhile, cleanup remains unbegun, which means that dead bodies have not been recovered - which means that the possibilities for widespread disease are huge. Myanmar, by the way, is one of the world's poorest countries to begin with.

Southeast Asia still bears marks of the tsunami that hit a few years ago, much like the Gulf Coast still has much repair to be done here in the U.S., so recovery of the affected areas of Burma and China will be both short-term and long-term efforts. Right now, though, instead of going out to eat, or downloading a new ring tone, you can make a quick donation. You can think about volunteering for a relief team (missions team) later, if you want (though I'm sure some will start forming soon).

Here are some websites you can visit:
World Hope International:
United Methodist Committee on Relief:
The Red Cross:
World Vision:

It's difficult to describe how some folks like me, brought up with burgeoning technology, view the world, but it's something like this: the people of Myanmar and China are neighbors in the worldwide community. When a cyclone hits in southeast Asia, I can't see the flooding as readily as if it were the Smiths down the street, but the people suffering are just as much a part of our town as if they were the Smiths down the street. It just happens that their town is on the opposite side of the world. A five year old is five wherever he is in the world. A woman is still a woman. A man is still a man. They speak differently, they have different customs, but they often want similar things in life: security for themselves and their families. I'm not glossing over the rich depths of cultural differences, here, but I am stating that Burma is valuable, China is valuable, people we don't know are valuable. I don't dismiss people who see situations like this as "opportunities" to minister or witness to Christianity. But I also believe that you are called to serve people whether they convert to your religion or not. Why? because it's the right thing to do! I think evangelicals often see proselytizing as the greatest good: but if you're preaching to someone who hasn't eaten that day, the thing to do is to feed them. Let me be super clear: Christians don't only have an obligation to other Christians ("uh-oh, Christians were affected, we better pray for them"). John Wesley stated clearly that the world was his parish - not just a section of England, but the world. Denominations are organized differently, but the world is your district, the world is your conference, the world is your county.

I never met my great-grandmother, but my mom told me the story, growing up, of how her grandmother would rock in her chair, holding mom on her lap, with an atlas. My great-grandmother lived a rural, impoverished life, but she loved supporting missionaries. "Don't you ever let anyone tell you your grandma didn't go anywhere," she told mom, turning the pages of maps. "I've been all over the world through this." That image stuck in my head when I saw the sands of Mongolia from an airplane window, when I saw the rolling English countryside from my window seat.

One of the prominent objects of my childhood was an enormous (to a six year old) canvas bag with prints of the sphinx and the pyramids on it. It was mom's library book bag, and it was the sturdiest thing I've ever seen. My grandma and grandpa from across town had brought it back as a souvenir from their trip to the Middle East. The shapes on it fascinated me. They brought me a little headdress. Later, they brought bright beaded barrettes and moccasins from their annual summer road trips to South Dakota, where they helped with Bible schools for kids on the reservations. Grandma and Grandpa had worked in factories for decades, but they traveled - and they taught us to travel.

Maybe you can't go to Burma or China. But your grandchildren, know it or not, will be watching.

Monday, May 19, 2008

When to Sympathize with Women

Gentle Readers,

I find it about time to talk about something pressing, irksome, and absurd.
I find it time to talk about when to sympathize with women.
"What's that?" you say. "Shouldn't I sympathize with a woman if she's pretty, or crying, or a diamond in the rough?"


Let me illustrate my thoughts on the fallacy of emotion. Recently I attended a large conference at which there were many protesters. When the protesters' cause was voted down, they stood in protest, bawling. Middle of the road voters were rather upset by this. I think even those who voted it down were shaken. "Uh-oh - we made them cry." Let me just state this from the beginning: tears do not an argument make. You can be upset as much as you want: that doesn't make an emotion legitimate.

For instance, if you cried when Heath Ledger overdosed, that's probably not a legitimate emotion. If you cried when viewing a Rothko painting because of its profound revelation, that's probably not a legitimate emotion either. A large block of yellow paint shouldn't move you that deeply, in my opinion. Now, if Heath Ledger was your son, that's okay. If the world was bombed and you thought all art was destroyed and then you found a Rothko amidst the rubble, you're allowed to weep.

But I find it ASTONISHING that so few people - often men - know when to sympathize with a woman. Because sometimes, sympathizing with a woman is the most foolish thing to do.

If you sympathize with a crying woman over, say, your wife, you're not sympathizing correctly.
If you sympathize with a pretty woman who weaves a tale of woe, but no other women like her, be on your guard.
If you sympathize with a woman who's just had it so hard and really does have good values even though she's rough around the edges and hey just because she cheated on the bloke before you doesn't mean she'd ever do that with you so give her a second chance STOP RIGHT THERE.

How to spot a woman who's not faking:

She won't have crises all the time. She may have them sometimes, or for a season, frequently. But if she's melting down every time she doesn't get her way, or every time another pretty woman comes into the room, or every time you're unsure of the relationship, watch out.

She calls on others beside you when there are crises. You won't be her savior, you'll be one of a number of people in support of her, and some of those people will be women. Beware the woman who makes you feel that you're the only one who can help.

She'll have blunt, honest friends that she sometimes has conflicts with. Any woman who surrounds herself with toenail-painting, sympathetic, nodding "yes women" who never actually tell her that the dress is not flattering should probably be avoided.

She'll confront you occasionally about your values, character, or flaws. Not this: "you never spend enough time with me", or this, "you're perfect," but this, "hey, I've really been thinking this over, and you say you value this, but then you act that way..."

She won't encourage you to do the wrong thing, even when it's to help her out. She won't put you in that position.

Now, I say these things because I grow tired of general opinion, institutional trends, and legislative decisions that deny women's responsibility. I am nothing if not a feminist by certain standards: I think businesses should make it easier for women to work from home when they have small children; I think that women in academia should gain tenure even if they're part time due to motherhood; I believe that women are competent to be pastors, lawyers, politicians, doctors, surgeons, bakers, or makeup salespeople. It bothers me when writers use "mankind" instead of "humankind" or "man" instead of "people." I have little patience for those who can't see that my ovaries are not a liability. And I am all for full punishment of rapists, sex traffickers, and the like, preferably by means of a cleaver and a chopping block.

So it's not that I myself don't sympathize with women, our concerns, our dangers, our difficulties and challenges. But because I believe that women are able to do so much, I also believe that we are responsible for our stupidity, lack of wisdom, and occasional mistakes, and even, yes, our own character flaws.

A perfect example of this tension exists in sexual harrassment policies and laws. These exist after decades of women who put up with sexism, or worse, in the workplace. But look at how much power that gives a woman now: if you get a needy woman rejected by a boss, or an emotionally broken woman who misinterprets something she hears, or if you get a simply vindictive woman who goes for the throat, you can have good men's names muddied before the ink on the lawsuit has dried. Why? "There's no smoke without fire," "we can't afford a lawsuit," and so on.

How many women, I wonder, have actually turned to a man and told him that he's making her uncomfortable? Or to stop? Or to say "that's inappropriate." Either at the time, or later on in private. Many women either shy from confrontation, or read into every little signal. Nothing's really changed from high school. It's the pleaser who won't say something in her defense, or the flirt, or the girl who thinks everyone is flirting with her.

My mom told me early on of the time a guy felt her up in the hallway at school. She didn't go to the school board. She punched him. You can argue for either, but hearing that anecdote instilled in me early on a certain confidence.

Ladies, act with integrity: if something a man says, or does, bothers you, tell him first before you go crying to someone else. Actually, that's a pretty good rule of thumb for if a woman says or does something that bothers you, too. But particularly with men, you need to be a good steward of the protection that society offers you. Be responsible with men. The suffragettes didn't work hard to get you a vote just so you can squander it in stupidity.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

By His Stripes

A floating phrase from Isaiah: by his stripes we are healed...

A friend of mine I think will need these words. We all do. But today, I'm thinking of him and of us - the us who constitutes "culture", the majority, frequently, the white. This friend is a campus minister, a graduate from the same seminary that I attended. And all too easily I can imagine the situation that he describes. His name is Omar. Omar al-Rikabi. He was born in the U.S.

This is what he recently wrote in a blog post:

I’m not making this up. This happened last week:
I take my truck to the dealer for some work. After handing over my keys I walk into the small “customer waiting area” - a small room complete with a pot of coffee, a bunch of lame magazines, and a television on the wall blaring CNN. I walk past the only other waiting customer, a woman with her head literally buried in a fast food bag.I brought a book with me. I’m reading Teacher Man, a memoir by the Irishman Frank McCort. In the chapter I’m reading he is describing an ongoing struggle: He was born in America but raised in Ireland. When he returns to work in New York he is considered an Irish immigrant. When he returns to study in Dublin he is labeled a Yankee. He is a a foreigner in both the land of his birth as well as the land of his roots.

As I try to focus on the story over the sound of the news, a few more customers make their way in and sit down around me: A very old man in an old cap and oversized sunglasses, and a well-to-do couple who look like they are close to retirement.After a few minutes they start the small talk. Then a story on the news laments the every increasing price of gas. The woman who is now done with her fast food feeding makes the observation that it is crazy that the cost of gas won’t stop going up every day.The husband of the couple agrees with her, and then makes the comment that the culprit is the ever increasing demand for gas versus the supply.

Then she drops the bomb:“Well you know, the main reason for the high supply is all the foreigners who live in this country. They come over here and they all drive their cars and use up all the gas. Get rid of the foreigners and you get rid of half the demand right there!”My reading freezes in the middle of a sentence, but I don’t look up. Without a moment of thought, the husband agrees. I wonder for a short moment if they are really talking about all foreigners, or just jumping on the anti-illegal-immigrant band wagon.But in his next breath the husband clears up any confusion:“And then of course there are also the illegal foreigners who come here. They want to work? Okay... fine. Put ‘em in a uniform and ship ‘em off to Iraq and that’ll put ‘em to work.”Then something is said about how that will keep ‘em from wanting to come over here or something.

But my brain locks up for a second in shock and I miss it. Besides, now they are talking about immigrants, oil, and war in the Middle East. So I probably shouldn't say anything about my father being an immigrant petroleum engineer from Iraq. It probably won’t be until I am driving away an hour later when I will think of something clever I should have said.
So instead I grip the edges of my book a little tighter, and this son of an immigrant re-reads the chapter about an immigrant while sitting in a room full of people who don’t like immigrants.

That's what Omar wrote. Now, you have an interesting opportunity. You can comment on it here, without commenting on the original site on which it appeared. Say what you will. I think you know my response.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Flare. Not flair. And Sibling Brivalry.

I'm putting this out quick, people. After working a grueling 14 hours Friday, I slept this weekend. Insert snores. Slept and read murder mysteries. Slept and read murder mysteries and played indoor croquet because it was raining outside.
So I'm sending up this flare because that's all I can do. Last night the croquet got down to me and my brother. I said, "oh, it's a sibling b- rivalry." Because you know, I started to say battle. Who ever heard of a sibling battle? Well, that's what proofreading and writing for fourteen hours does to me. So Ethan pestered me the rest of the game by pointing out our sibling brivalry.

A few things floating through my shipwrecked brain: Now THIS is a fun game. Kind of stressful, in an unnecessary way. I found out my average is 68 words per minute. Wow. The Myanmar government is killing thousands of citizens by refusing to let in worldwide aid sitting at its doorstep to help kids and families who've been left without food and homes due to the giant cyclone that hit a bit over a week ago. I'm all for dropping aid in anyway. Don't forget, STAMP PRICES have risen again. Doesn't the post office realize they're just discouraging people from sending letters? Blind bowler gets perfect score. Enough said.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Or, As I Said to Emily, "A Methodist Sock Got in With the Rest of my Laundry and Dyed it All Methodist"

Well, after a bumpy plane ride from Ft. Worth, I have returned. At least, to be a dualist about it, my body returned. But my mind is a haze of laundry needing done, Ft. Worth restaurant menus blinking in front of my eyes, the smell of warm cement outside the Convention Center, and the slobbery dogs at home needing baths. My mind, as I said to Emily, is like a Methodist sock got in with all the rest of my laundry and dyed it all Methodist. My conversation and dreams are peppered with images from the last two weeks, like when I returned from Mongolia.

Which means I need to think about something else, because now that we're home from the United Methodist General Conference, we have to think about it at work, read about it, write about it, proofread it, read about it, pour it into layouts for the magazine, reproofread it, publish it, and send it out to bazillions of people.

So here are a few of the other things I've been resting my brain with. Here, brain, have some pie. Enough cerebral granola.

"Violinist Performs for Cabbie who Recovered Rare Instrument": a violinist left his multi-million dollar Stradivarius violin in a cab. And got it back.

AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA. "Endangered Seals Eating Endangered Salmon": wait, wait, which ones do we save? technically this one's more endangered, but that one is prettier...oh, shoot, let's just take bets:

CREEEEEEPY. "Emails from the Dead": posthumous email services are springing up. I never, I repeat, never, want one of these. Unless it's really funny, like, "I went all the way to limbo and all I got was this lousy email." Hee. Haha. Oooh, morbid humor floats my boat.

"Toy Car Powered by Hamster Wheel": yes!!! my favorite of the day. Why? Because it'd almost be worth getting a hamster, just for this: