Monday, June 30, 2008

Save the Bees!

Now, my favorite depiction of a honey bee is the ol' Walt Disney animation that shows bees carrying little buckets of honey. In fact, I was disappointed when it truly sunk in that - oh, the humanity - that's not the way bees work. Like when I found out that Haley Mills played both parts in "The Parent Trap," and it wasn't twins. I almost cried.

I, like the rest of humanity, am vulnerable to the dreaded bee sting. The most memorable bee sting I received was at my grandparents' farm, when the extended family sat outside in the warm weather to eat. I sat, transfixed, as a yellow jacket flew perilously close to my leg, then hovered between my knees. My little girl self reacted instictively. Unfortunately, I have bad instincts. I immediately squooshed my knees together. You know, to keep it from stinging me. The result was, of course, that it ensured getting stung. What really stung was knowing that I had brought on the red, swollen welt.

Perhaps because I've never had to carry around an epi pen, I rather like bees. Not swarming around me, or even weaving into the "no-fly zone" around my head. But I like that bees exist.

So, apparently, does Haagen-Dazs. Last Friday when we were at the evil box store Wal-Mart, almost their entire ice cream section was emptied. I don't know why. So my plans to buy healthy Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches gave way to eyeing the Haagen-Dazs pints. Most of which had a cute little symbol about how they're trying to Save the Bee. Why? Because, people, OUR BEES ARE DYING. And even if you have a bee phobia, you should care.

Do you like fruit? So do I. Guess what pollinates fruit trees. Do you like honey? So do I. Guess what carries honey around in little buckets, or something. Bees.

Now, I'm no bee charmer (like Idgie from "Fried Green Tomatoes") but I've always been intrigued by the job of a bee keeper. Cause you can bet it's the bee's knees. And who doesn't want to make insects, or whatever bees are, drunk with smoke from a can that looks like it came right off the Tin Man?

I wouldn't mind having some bees (did you know that ingesting local honey helps fight off allergies?), and maybe a few chickens, too, if we lived out in the country. But right now the dogs are a handful, and they don't have stingers. Maybe I like bees because of early childhood exposure to Winnie the Pooh.

So buy some ice cream, save a few bees, and picture yourself heavily hooded smoking your bees and selling local honey at the Farmer's Market. No? Well then, hey, it's almost the Fourth of July. Just buy the ice cream.

News stories on the disappearing bees:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

To Have and To Hold Hair

I'd like to think I'm always graceful. But then I pull open the knife drawer and find confectioner's sugar from a few months ago when I made cookies. Then I trip over the dog, get tangled in my sports bra, and almost have a high-speed collision.

Taking John to work the other day, I was more tired than I realized, which resulted in John warbling Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel." On the other hand, the other day I heard myself saying, "stop playing the air guitar and drive!"

Today I had wonderful plans for time stretching out free and clear. I felt empowered. I went to the gym - on a Saturday. Well that's partly because a pint of ice cream disappeared a lot faster than I meant it to last night. But gosh darn it, Haagen Dazs chocolate and peanut butter while watching "Rocky" for the first time is a sublime experience. Oh yeah, and I watched "Rocky" for the first time. And LOVED it. I think I've put it off so long because I got it confused with Rambo. I know. I know.

So my plans stretched out in front of me like the wide open prairie to early settlers. Then the headache started. Then the fatigue set in. Then the nausea began. For the last time, no, I am not pregnant.

This happens like once every three months. I get a migraine-like experience, feel like the world is ending, my heart races, sound, light, and smells are abhorrent, and I ready myself to meet my maker. Then I throw up violently, rest, and emerge a few hours later a pale, wan version of myself. I mean more pale, and more wan. I know, that means almost transparent with my fair skin. If I take migraine prescription medicine at the beginning of the experience, then sometimes that helps avoid it. But I don't know where my samples are. I think it has something to do with moving like three times since Christmas.

And it was annoying, because my brother had come over for the day and I was ready for frivolity and fun and catching up on some housework. I had just called my brother to take my pulse when It Happened.

Insert all kinds of epic battle music here, or simply a blank screen with "technical difficulties" on it. All I know is, my sweet brother held my hair while my sweet husband took care of other gruesome details. And few things in life make you feel more loved than someone turning towards you in the uncomfortable, un-graceful moments of life rather than away from you. They shield your shame, a la Noah's good son, and bless you through presence instead of backing away.

So today, or this weekend, or next week, move toward someone who's not at their best. Hold hair. Mop up a mess. Be grace with a bucket.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

True to Form: The Weepies

I don't mean the band, "The Weepies." I mean, The Weepies. When you get weepy.

Sometimes I have sad days. When I want it to rain, and when I want "Paint It Black" to come on the radio while it's raining, while reading "How You Die." I think it's better to embrace the melancholy, man.

Yesterday I had a bad sad day. John was very understanding as I sniffled on the bed. "I'm going to the store. Do you want anything?" I shook my head no. "Chocolate?" Safe guess, but again, I shook my head no. At this point he realized it wasn't pms. Half playful, half serious, he made another attempt. "Doll?" Another no. "Maybe Crayons" I mumbled. "Dollhouse? Well, I can't get you a dollhouse. I can get you a cardboard box, though." I brightened. Now we were talking.

It takes a very mature person to admit they want to make a dollhouse out of a cardboard box. Very, very mature. Only the insecure would say otherwise.

No, I don't have young children to tend. Why do you ask?

July's tend to start this way. I know it's not July yet, but it's hot, and it's Getting There, and July is always a tough time for me for personal reasons. It never hits the same way, which is why last night at 10:30 I was busily cutting up a cardboard box and drawing rugs and portraits for it with crayons and yelling for John to bring some tape.

My cardboard box dollhouse has two rooms downstairs - very traditional - and one large room upstairs, with fold-down stairs because I like to keep it real and it always bothered me when dollhouses didn't have stairs. Like the family was going to fly out the window to enter an upper story. The top room is a dance/modern art studio. Yes, I made a piece of modern art for the wall out of - yes - more cardboard. It all sounds quite grand, I'm sure, but really it's a cardboard box with cardboard interior walls and stairs and crayon rugs and a crayon portrait.

But of course this really is just a continuation of the Mouse House. The Mouse House was a large, sprawling, dusty cardboard mess I kept under my bed when I was little until Mom made me throw it away because it was a series of shoe boxes taped together forming separate rooms for my stuffed mouse who had a little yellow dress and bead earrings I had sewn through her mousy ears. The Mouse House was pretty scraggly and collected a lot of dust and I had passed playing with it but was reluctant to throw away my hours of cutting doors to adjoining boxes and taping "curtains" to the windows and making little matchbox tv's.

Making the cardboard "dollhouse", for me, was like "scrapbooking" is for a lot of people. I don't "scrapbook." Especially when you have to pay lots of money for little cute things to decorate your scrapbook with, which, in my opinion, negates the term "SCRAPbook."

But making things from cardboard did make me think of one children's book I used to enjoy reading, and I have no idea what the title is. It was about a girl nicknamed "Cat" who liked to ballet dance and I think she was adopted and then her parents had quadruplets and she struggled to share her newly redecorated room with squalling babies and had friends with a big family down the street and I could swear the babies' names were Tim, Ian, Seth, and Luke and that Tim died and no, I'm not making this up but I can't even find out what the title is on Google. My memory is super strange and sometimes I do remember details that vividly that I haven't read in...let's see...seventeen years. So if this book sounds familiar, let me know, because it's seriously driving me nuts that I can't remember the title.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Boiled Peanuts and Milo's Sweet Tea

Well, this weekend, things went south. Ha! What a great pun.

John and I (that means John) cleaned out the car, ran laundry, arranged for dog-letter-outers, and we (that means me) stocked a cooler, printed out directions, donned sunglasses, and drove to Florida. Northern Florida.

We were going to a memorial service for John's "Grandmommy," a fascinating lady who had been both divorced and a lady preacher in the 50's and 60's, living near the Texas/Mexico border and frequently crossing it with goodies for nearby village kids. What I didn't understand was why the memorial service was being held at a camp - a secluded, northern Florida, good ol' fashioned camp meeting. We were about a mile from arrival and I was asking, in essence, how the Texas-bred family came to attend a camp in Florida, when John said matter-of-fact-ly, "oh, my ancestors founded it." By ancestors, he meant his great-grandfather.

Now Grandmommy had suffered from Parkinson's, so she donated her body to medical science, which is both extremely philanthropic and also takes a certain steel constitution, in my opinion. So rather than a funeral being held at the time of her death, a memorial service was scheduled for the annual June camp meeting.

I hope you've been to a camp meeting. It is one of the distinct expressions of historic American religion that has lasted for roughly two centuries. Old-timey songs like "Shall We Gather at the River?" and "When I Went Down to the River to Pray" embody the outdoor combo - much before the word "green" got hijacked - of faith, worship, and nature. This camp meeting was as camp meeting as they come: an open air "tabernacle" (if you have no frame of reference for this, think park pavilion with benches all facing towards the front), musty dormitories that have stood, sagged or leaned with sweaty kids, flirting teenagers, young families, and camp patriarchs for decades, hungry lines of nametag-wearing attenders happy to have a break from cooking and cleaning up, communal bathrooms, and lizards.

My camp meeting, growing up, didn't have lizards. We had cicadas and mosquitos. But we were in Indiana. This was Florida, so lizards scurried under porches, up trees, and hopefully not into my suitcase. I didn't see any gators, but there were some not far from camp. Tiny frame cabins stood in rows across the grounds, often passed down from generation to generation. Ceiling fans whirred in the tabernacle and we sang "Victory in Jesus" from the old, worn, blue revival hymnbooks, and then Michael W. Smith's "How Majestic Is Your Name," and then something from Chris Tomlin.

There were altar calls while we sang "I Surrender All," and bare lights hung, strung between trees, swaying in soft summer breezes. The concession stand buzzed with activity after evening services, stocked with candy, pop, and other post-repentance snacks.

My young nephews squawked as their teeth came in and their legs learned to walk and they muffled out "elifbef" in honor of my given name Elizabeth.

And I saw people I knew. I think the quiet secret of camp meeting is the feeling of homecoming, the feeling of reunion - but I'd never been to this one. And yet, in rural northern Florida, where pine trees scatter needles in the hot sun, I saw people I hadn't seen in several years, who used to attend church with me, who traveled to the U.S. from Zimbabwe. I saw people who knew people I knew. I saw photos on old, faded camp fliers of people I knew or had heard of who preached three decades ago at camp.

What does it do to your faith to travel miles into the country, give up internet, cell phone service, and Starbucks, and re-orient your schedule around morning seminars, afternoon studies, and evening services? In ritual language, a liminal state is part of a rite of passage in which your identity is suspended between what you were and what you will be - in some rituals, a woman may be "sequestered" with other women, given something neutral to wear, fast, and then experience baptism, or the joining of "adulthood," or whatever the rite of passage directs to. But the liminal state can last minutes, or hours, or days, or weeks. When you emerge, you come out as something new. And I think, sometimes, when you are spatially removed from your regular surroundings, given new habits, new schedules, it is an opportunity to pause, breath, and receive and be formed rather than attempting to affect and form others. It's like the moment under the water, if you're baptized by immersion.

I think I immediately associate camp meeting with outdoor baptism because the two used to be linked more often, and because both place the believer in the outdoor cathedral of nature rather than an indoor worship space. There's nothing quite like worshipping as rain falls two feet away and the scent of pine needles mingles with the perfume of a lady down the bench. Why not allow the crickets to join in singing?

I enjoy churches that schedule some of their summer services in local parks: whether urban or rural, experiencing God outside is in some ways inevitably public. Campmeeting, for many, can offer an awesome sense of a yearly Sabbath that removes you from washing machines, answering machines, and fax machines. It's also frugal: not exactly the Hilton, but what a child-memory tugging experience, to walk down to the bathroom with your towel and shampoo in time to go to supper.

As we drove away, I think John and I were both homesick: most "vacation" spots don't leave you feeling homesick for them, because you're returning "home." But Oxford, England, made me permanently in mourning for every moment I spend outside its city limits. And Bethlehem Family Camp won't wash out of the towels spinning in the dryer.

When you are removed from your cares, as when you rest somewhere, it's easy to play that it will continue to last. It is that longing for home, for heaven, for rest, for haven, that I believe tugs you to long for the Day when all loved ones are near, troubles are put to bed, and you and the crickets join voices again.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yogurt of the World: The Twilight Zone

So in my optimistic attempt to tackle international cuisine, I bought Greek yogurt over the weekend (you know, in which to dip the [insert unpronouncable name here]). I had planned to make this thing involving rice, pine nuts, herbs, and grape leaves. Alas: the only grape leaves I found, when I got them home, were stuffed, and smelled like...canned spinach? Pine-sol?

So I abandoned that part of the menu.

Here's my problem: now I have a container of Greek yogurt. Does it "eat" like regular yogurt? What can I do with it? I know I could probably answer all these questions - and many more - by simply Googling it. But, I prefer to ask you, because sometimes you want a human response and not a computer response (spinoff "Twilight Zone" episode on the cruelty of machine relationship here).

Speaking of which: helloooo, when's the last time you watched "The Twilight Zone"? Those things are aMAZing. We just started checking them out of our uber-cool library (it has a comic book collection), and they're more addictive than your favorite snack food (cookies. strawberries. cocoa pebbles. cheese. let's be honest, choose one?? what was I thinking). For one thing, it's super cool to look back and note the Cold War fears (current entertainment focuses mostly on the attempt to survive. A lot of these episodes fear, not the fight for survival, but surviving - alone). For another thing, they have cool twists that you always know are coming but are difficult to predict. "Dramatic irony." And a lot are like "Everyman" morality tales. They're like black and white, robotic "Aesop's Fables." Also, they have surprisingly good actors I've never seen in anything else, and I've watched a lot of old movies and tv shows.

But lest we forget the yogurt dilemma: I hate to admit it, but I'm a little bit afraid of Greek yogurt. Probably because when I traveled to Mongolia they warned us to avoid fermented mare's milk. And I know, Greece and Mongolia are far apart, and I know, making homemade yogurt under your bed in a yurt is a far cry from buying Greek yogurt in a Whole Foods, but yogurt is NOT one of those things I feel like experimenting with. For the same reason I don't make my own cheese. Shudder.

Speaking of yogurt, there's a cool article on "yogurts of the world" - first, a round of applause for that title. Second, now I want to go to India and try mango and cardamom yogurt that's so thick you have to cut it with a knife.

Yogurts of the world, unite.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Raiders of the Lost Party

What I Did This Weekend: by Bitty

What I did this weekend was I had a party. I had a party for my friend, and husband, John. I made a cake. We had fun. Our friends came over.

The End.

I fried plantains for the international menu.

See? International. Chicken satay with peanut sauce,
fried plantains, and dates.

This is a Hershey's cocoa cake I made then cut up.
I put jungle-y decor around it. Then I added homemade peanut butter frosting, and crushed Nilla wafer.
And herbal foliage around the edges.

Get the gold idol and RUN, Indiana Jones, RUN!
OH NO you'll get crushed by that giant rock!
An evil Nazi lurked around the party.
One of the Indy's present confronted the Nazi.
Two Indy's, a Nazi, a jungle native, Marian, Short Round, and Kate Capshaw.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What It's Like to Have Dementia

There's a lot of popular confusion when it comes to dementia. Is it something only the elderly have? Is it the same thing as Alzheimer's? Do people ever come back from it? And even, is it a spiritual problem?

I spent about a year working in a nursing home and learned a lot about "What to Expect When You're Expecting Dementia." And I think one of the most important things for you to know is what it's like to have dementia - that way, you'll know what to expect, and how to communicate with your friend or loved one.

Of course, very few people can actually give testimony. But studies and research are being done with those who have early onset Alzheimer's to try to learn more about people in their 40's, 50's and 60's who can still communicate accurately what they're experiencing as the disease progresses through it's early stages.

And be very aware - I think it is ABSOLUTELY IMPORTANT to know about this topic and EXTREMELY HELPFUL to have experience with it. I consider myself an advocate for those on the margins, and some of the most marginalized people in our country right now, especially when you look at sheer volume of numbers, are those in nursing homes. Consider: even physically, they have to experience care together, in one building, set apart from the rest of the town. Now, specialized care is critically important for many, and many families do not have the resources to care for their loved one in their home after a certain point - there's a lot of guilt about this. But if you're thinking about where a good to place to volunteer would be, well, call your local nursing home.

Before we talk about what it's like to have dementia, let's do the schoolroom chalkboard thing and define it.

Dementia 101:
Does dementia mean Alzheimer's?
Dementia, per my personal, easy to use definition, refers to cognitive or memory impairment. So Alzheimer's is a type of dementia, but there are other types, too, and sometimes doctors simply say "dementia" as a reference to the disease. Dementia is a physical, biological disease, but it shows itself often in behavior, moods, verbal interaction, memory, and even personality. So sometimes cues that someone is beginning to develop dementia may not be that they drive to Arizona accidentally - sometimes it's mood swings, outbursts, difficulty expressing themselves - separate from what you know to be "normal" or "average" for them. Of course forgetting a skillet of bacon on the stove also counts, but the range of symptoms is wider than that. However, keep in mind that someone grieving can also display some of these things, so if Tess just lost her husband six months ago and is moody, combative or forgetful, don't jump to the conclusion that it's dementia.

Is this something only the elderly have?
Define elderly. In rare cases, people as young as their thirties can be diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. It's becoming slightly more common for women and men in their late forties, fifties, and sixties to be diagnosed. But slightly more common doesn't mean average. It's still a disease associated with aging. A lot of research is being done on this with awareness that the boomer population will hit this threshold in the next few decades.

Can you come back from it?
This is the most tragic part. Right now, the only medication available slows the process by about six months. But here's the thing: neither is it a death sentence. My job description at the nursing home was to provide for the psychosocial wellbeing of 109 residents. Their activity level was up to them. And that was in a nursing home. There are lots of assisted living facilities for people who can mostly manage, but need help with certain things. Both of those are different from retirement communities, which, I understand, are a lot like swingin' apartment living for the active and sometimes rambunctious.
What you should know about dementia is that often confusion increases as the day progresses - "sundowner's" is what the nursing home staff will call it. The later you visit in the day, the more confused, moody, and combative a resident is likely to be. Also, dementia patients have good days and bad days. So if you visit once a week for a month, it's possible that you could hit all good days or all bad days, giving you a different perspective on their condition than what is actually the case. Also, people with dementia lose their shortterm memory first, and keep their long term memory for the longest. So don't ask what they had for breakfast as a litmus test of their wellness. Instead, enjoy your time together by reminiscing about things from ten, twenty, thirty years ago. If you don't know the person you're visiting, then ask about their children, or career, or what it was like during the war, or where they lived. It's surprising how much you'll learn.

Is my loved one, who is yelling, losing their temper, and even swearing, not a Christian anymore?
One of our volunteers was in her eighties, and she struggled over this, because her beloved husband, in a nursing home in a different state, would yell, hang up the phone on her, and raise heck with the nurses. Finally, one day, Millie confided that she was worried "she wouldn't see him" in heaven.
"Millie, was he like that when he was younger? You were married to him for fifty years, so as his wife, you'd be the one to know."
"Oh no, he was loving and kind, not at all like this."
"Then Millie, I think it's safe to assume that this doesn't involve his will. He's not choosing to behave like this. If he was delirious with a fever, would you take what he said or did seriously?"
"Well no, because then he couldn't help it."
"Well I think the best way to think about this, then, Millie, is to realize that this behavior isn't chosen, it's a symptom of a disease, just like being delirious with a fever. I know that doesn't make it easier to deal with, because you love him. But God knows what he's experiencing, and you know what he was like for all those years. You know that dementia affects the brain, and the parts that control mood. This isn't really him."
A few months later, I visited Millie in the hospital. A few months after that, she died of cancer found to be suddenly and pervasively throughout her body. And I think that Millie and Joe are having a wonderful time together.

So what's it like to have dementia?
First of all, if you like to read nonfiction, put it down. Head over, in your mind, to the fiction section of the library, and then head over to the fantasy and sci-fi stacks. Because interacting with a person with dementia will never, ever, be cut-and-dried, predictable, or formulaic. It's the difference between "Herbaceous borders of North America" and "Alice in Wonderland." You're going down the rabbit hole, or to switch stories, over to Oz. It's much more Lewis Carroll and H.G. Wells than Martha Stewart how-to-scour-copper-kettles.

Now, think about dreaming. When you dream, there's often a period when you're suspended between waking and sleep: you're not sure if the dream you just had was real, or if you're awake or still dreaming. You still see images in front of you from a dream even as you hear your alarm clock next to your bed go off. Or you awaken to find yourself completely disoriented, not recognizing the room around you, until a few minutes pass and you remember that you're in a hotel, or visiting your sister-in-law.

Those experiences will be the most helpful in understanding what it's like to have dementia. One of the first things I learned was that it is pointless and counterproductive to argue with a person with dementia about what's "real" and what's not. It upsets them, and it also doesn't respect what they're experiencing. So when Mattie started collecting boxes in her room because she was getting ready to move, I was amused and didn't know what to do to convince her she wasn't moving. "Mattie, would you like to come have some coffee?" "No, I have to pack." Now, at this point, I wanted to a) be truthful, b) respect what she was experiencing as real, and c) get her out of her room for coffee. Because she didn't think she was moving from the nursing home: she thought she was moving - 40 years ago. The things she saw in front of her weren't only Room 105 - it was her house from 40 years ago, much like when you or I are slowly waking from a dream, and still see one image in front of us, even as we realize we're waking. So instead of saying "Mattie, you're in a nursing home" - which in some cases IS the best thing to do - I said, "Mattie, why don't you take a break from packing and have some coffee." It usually didn't work - she was on this kick for over a week - but at least it acknowledged what she saw as real, but also tried to engage her with other people.

This is why you can have an eighty year old crying because they don't know where their mother is. Violet wasn't asking if she's in heaven, in hell, or just buried. She didn't remember her mother had died. Some dementia patients - like when you or I dream - think of themselves at a certain time in their lives. So one sweet lady was constantly getting crushes on the men that worked at the nursing home, because she thought she was in her thirties. And things that they loved to do at that time of life, they often think they're doing now. But similarly, things they worried about fifty years ago, they may worry about today. Similar to a dreamlike state, time collapses like a telescope for the dementia victim.

Ninety year old Geneva constantly thought her baby was crying. So she was given a doll to hold, which helped bridge the world of today with her world of years ago. Years of caring for children were a lot of what defined her.

Alzheimer's varies a lot, though. So what one resident might experience as their house in front of them, packing 40 years ago, another resident down the hall might not see at all. Advanced Alzheimer's is why you see women and men sitting in wheelchairs or laying down on reclining, mobile chairs in nursing home hallways. This isn't abandonment: advanced Alzheimer's is closest to a coma state. So moving them from their rooms to the sun lounge, or a hallway, is ironically a way of increasing different stimuli. I am sorry to say that at this stage, I don't know what an Alzheimer victim experiences. No one does, though I'm sure researchers conduct brain scans at this stage to track cognitive activity. It's as murky as talking to someone in a coma. Can they hear? Do they feel the touch of my hand on their shoulder? Is there any point in reading scripture to them?

I always erred on the side of yes. Was that eyelid flicker a biological twitch, or a glimpse of understanding, response? I don't know. It doesn't matter. I did what I hoped someone would do for me. I tried anyway. At first it feels a little ridiculous to read a birthday card to someone whose pupils are fixed on the ceiling, or whose eyes are closed altogether. I would hold the card in front of unseeing eyes. But then I thought, gosh darn it, I will wholeheartedly try anyway.

This is just a little glimpse into what it's like to have dementia. Hopefully, knowing what it's like will help you interact with those who still have a lot to give. And don't get discouraged when someone doesn't remember that you visited: working with victims of dementia is often emotionally exhausting. But for that moment, they knew someone was in the room. For that moment, you visited the least of these, and so, what you did for them, you did "as unto" Christ. And remember to let yourself grieve: whether you're a 34 year old volunteer or a 58 year old son of a dementia patient, it's hard to see someone you care about gradually disappear. There are a lot of anonymous moments when you wipe a nose of someone who can't thank you, or visit someone who won't remember you were there. And that's okay.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Saints Be Praised, Vol. II

Aren't you glad you don't have to fill out your taxes in Roman numerals? Boy, would that get tedious.

The other day I shared a few quick lessons I learned from my time "Among the Owls," serving in the activity department of a nursing home. "What does an activity department do?" you ask? I'll tell you. First of all, we don't do what you may fear: that is, I never had to bathe a resident, or do other intensely personal care. In fact, if you're not an aide, there are close restrictions on what you are and are not allowed to do to help a resident (not patient - resident). For instance, no transferring from wheelchair to bed, or vice versa.

Now, think of what Student Development does at a college, or your student life group. Then translate that into the halls of a nursing home. But combine the activity side of the Student Development department with the responsibility of an RA. Okay, now we're getting close.

Here was "a day in the life": on Mondays I would arrive, sometimes collect newspapers and deliver them to the residents who had subscriptions, if it hadn't already been done. I'd see what paperwork needed done that day/week (nursing homes/ senior care facilities are nothing if not paperwork-laden. High ratings from the state Are Everything, and paperwork backs up everything you do for an entire year). I'd move tables in the cafe to the walls, open the blinds, and put on music. Once a month I'd take around new activity calendars to each room and remove the previous month's. We had the capacity for 109 residents, though that number, of course, varied. And I'd get ready for the day's activities. On Mondays, that was coffee/exercise in the mornings, and Bingo in the afternoons.

In the morning, I announced the day's activities over the intercom, put the coffee on (always decaf), and would begin wheeling residents down to the activity room, where swing, big band, or Gospel played on the cd player. And here was a fine line: in respect of an individual's right to decide, we never took someone who didn't want to go to an activity. On the other hand, the getting ready morning routine for a woman whose body is half paralyzed takes a while for the aides to accomplish. So I'd knock on doors, invite residents to the activity, press their buzzer to let their aide know they wanted to go, and would continue on down the hall. By the time I left the nursing home, I knew dozens of personal preferences for how residents wanted their coffee. I knew who was likely to come, who might come, and who it would be a miracle to get to come. I knew who to check in on several times, as the aides might need "encouragement" to get someone ready on time. I knew that Esther, who loved to walk but had no short term memory, would need me to walk down the hall with her so that she didn't forget where she was going. I knew Evelyn would always say, "you're hands are nice and warm," as I took her hand and walked her to the cafe. I knew that sometimes Mary Grace's catheter tube got stuck in between the wheelchair construction and the wheel - watch out! I knew who needed thickened liquids (did you know some older people have trouble swallowing? Thickener helps it go down without choking or getting aspirated into the lungs). And I knew who was diabetic and needed sweet 'n low instead of sugar.

And then exercises would begin, accompanied by a tape. We stretched. We bent to touch our toes. We "rode our bicycle." We reached out and swam. We did the windshield wiper. All these activities encouraged strength building, and flexibility, and engagement in the outer environment, and interaction with other residents.

Then, one by one, I wheeled residents back to their room, or the tv lounge, or the hallway where they could sit and watch "traffic" - sometimes five, or ten, or fifteen of them, sometimes even twenty. I thought about getting a pedometer. Then Esther would help set up the tables for lunch by helping put tablecloths out, and we'd try to find the centerpieces, but Mattie down the hall kept slowly taking them from the cafe to her windowsill. She loved flowers.

I got out the binder. Everyone had a page. I marked those who turned down invitations "blue," and I marked those who came "yellow." I recorded the liquid intake for those who had coffee (dehydration is a constant battle, especially when you're taking lots of heavy medications) and gave them to the nurses' stations. If I saw a family member in a room, I marked on their chart that they'd had a family visit.

Mail had to be delivered, and read, for most. I sat and announced prayer requests from church bulletins to some folks, read the sermon scripture to others, read notes from grandchildren to some, read cards from friends back home. I propped them on dressers or tacked them to bulletin boards. I held them close to nearsighted eyes to see the blurred, bright images of a Hallmark card. Some knew what I was saying. Some gave no response. I read anyway.

Bingo was disastrous. It was the most stressful day of my week. Bingo was the most popular activity, and residents began lining up outside the dining room door before I even got a chance to get in and set up. And the fights it caused! Broken bracelets, scratched forearms, shouting, swearing. I was frazzled every time. And that's not counting this: "what was that - B?" "No, G, G, G as in GOLF" I shouted. Or this, after every letter, from Mary Grace: BINGO! Or this, from one resident to another - "will you shut up and let us play??" Yes, it was the favorite.

Volunteers came weekly to help corral the chaos. Cards were set out and taped to the tables so that stroke-stiffened arms wouldn't knock them astray. Poker chips were doled out to place on the letters. Trips were made back, forth, back, forth, collecting residents, parking them at their favorite table, with their friends, or at any table, if they didn't have a "regular" spot. Prizes were put out on tables for after Bingo - everyone got three prizes, only two of which could be a stuffed animal and jewelry. The rest were snacks. Thrift stores and church volunteers donated clip on earrings, necklaces, rings, stuffed animals, little boxes of raisins, snack cakes, crackers and cheese, bananas, and more. It was at the rush for the prize tables that things got hairy. That's when fights broke out, if they were going to break out. And there would be a traffic jam of wheelchairs blocking the doorway out.

Mondays I always returned home exhausted. But there was the rest of the week to face.

Steel Magnolias

There's something about southern movies that I appreciate. "Steel Magnolias." "Fried Green Tomatoes." "Gone with the Wind." To a lesser degree, "Elizabethtown." And in a different venue, but deliciously delightful, TNT's television show "The Closer." All of these carry an abundance of reflection on the mystique of The Southern Lady. What I enjoyed before I moved to The South, I now relish with intense fervor.

Friends may contest that last sentence. My husband insists that Kentucky is not The South, and I know quite well that the True South in many minds is the same as the Deep South. But I am convinced that you don't have to travel kudzu-laden highways to get a taste of Southern Living, as the ubiquitous magazine down here is named.

Southern gender roles, role reversals, the "iron fist in the velvet glove" - all these things distill topics on the national spectrum in a unique, charming, and often food-laden way. Perhaps Hillary could've convinced a few more primaries her way if she had embodied the southern woman more - but she did not translate the way her husband did. She translated Wellesley, she translated west coast or east coast - but not southern. And the South wields a lot of power.

Southern hospitality is notorious. Perhaps less well known is that the South carries with it an old-world policy unfamiliar, in some instances, to northerners: the southern lady will offer hospitality to her sworn enemy, sometimes almost as a matter of pride. The true southerner will welcome you and make you feel at home - but beware: southern women can welcome you to the table with one hand, and stab you in the back with the other. But is it stabbing in the back if it's simply considered rude to be - well - rude outright? The custom dictates hospitality be offered, and that is religiously offered. Just don't always take the content of a Southern Lady's word as the last word - take her tone (true, indeed, for all women?)

This may make the southern woman sound less than friendly. That's not my intent: I like southern women. They just operate very, very differently than women from Minnesota, or New York state, or Oregon.

And so we come to the real crux: a new book arrives on shelves this September, and if gas weren't four bucks a gallon, I'd buy you all a copy. "Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church" was written by Nancy Beach. This quote grabbed me and melted into the back of my mind like an M&M forgotten on a carseat in the summer. Don't ask.
"No mistake was made in heaven when God gave you the gift of leadership or teaching. Every gift you have came from the hand of a loving Father who crafted you." Some of you will cringe at referencing God via a male term. Some of you will shift uneasily because you just read a sentence about God giving women the gift of leadership. Good, for you both. Trinitarian language is apt, personal, and biblical. And ladies, your ovaries are not a liability. It is not a liability to be you. It is a gift.

So whether you're southern, or northern, or Himalayan, ladies, you can lead - if you're gifted for it. And we will hope and pray for churches and people around you to be hospitable and gracious, like any good southerner.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saints Be Praised

I wrote that title with an Irish accent in my head.

A little over a year ago, I left my job at the nursing home and began working in the editorial department of a magazine - a necessary shift to accomodate the emotional exhaustion I felt laboring among the forgotten, living memories of the past century - the 106 year old woman, the blind man with mental illness, the lady in her nineties mourning for her son who had just died - in his seventies.

I often think of the people there - the ones that are still living have experienced a year more of Bingo on Mondays, special musicians on Thursday afternoons, Santa delivering presents down the halls at Christmas, cards from family members tacked up on bulletin boards.

Here are a few things I learned from my time among the owls:

1) Grief is universal. A woman who loses her son grieves just as much if he was 76 as if he had been 26. Many residents in senior care facilities are grieving: the loss of children, the loss of siblings, the loss of spouses. Just because you're old doesn't mean it hurts less. Just because you're young doesn't mean it hurts more. Loss hurts.

2) Beauty is clearer in the midst of brokenness. There are intensely beautiful moments among catheter tubes, blaring game shows, and shelves of stuffed animals. One lady came every day to visit her husband - a former marine - who couldn't talk. She would cup his face in her hands and gently kiss him, and after lunch, when the aides laid him down for a nap, she would curl up next to him on the narrow bed until he went to sleep.

3) Being "old" is relative. Did you know 40 years can span the age differences among nursing home residents? There were 65 year olds and 105 year olds all living in the same facility, with varying levels of mental clarity and physical ability. Some just had bodies that were breaking down with COPD or cancer; some had able bodies and literally no short term memory. There is an amazing amount of diversity within the needs and wants of people who happen to live in nursing homes.

4) You can have friends sixty years older than you are. I cried - hard - when a lady named Happa suddenly died. I would sit in her room and read a James Herriott book aloud, and we would both chuckle at the antics of the veterinarian from 1930's England. Happa had been a nun at one point, and then a sociology professor. Some days, I still miss her.

I'll write more, soon, about my friends who returned to "dorm" living in their older years. But it's hard, still, because I miss them, and because it was never enough - no matter how many I helped, there were always more.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Ewok Dance

So, you know that happy Ewok dance that all the Ewoks do at the end of "Return of the Jedi"? And the happy song that goes along with it?

My soul is singing the happy, celebratory Ewok song today, because the denomination in which I grew up, the Wesleyan church, has just ELECTED ITS FIRST WOMAN GENERAL SUPERINTENDENT IN HISTORY. Now, if women were normally even district superintendents, or shoot, even pastors, that might be slightly more expected. But there are few women pastors in the church - my mother being one of them - and no more than five district superintendents who are female, and there have never been any women who served as a general superintendent. There are only three general superintendents total, overseeing all the abovementioned. To compare it to the United Methodists, general superintendents would be like Super-Bishops.

Meet Dr. JoAnne Lyon:

(Break out into robust song)
And I never even SING that song because Lee Greenwood ran it into the ground about three millenia ago.
So, I return to the happy ewok drums echoing in the forest. You can hear them here.

Peanut Butter Bread

Paula Deen, we love you.

Not only do you cook with lots of butter, you give us new ways to do so. You have successfully branded the Southern Cooking experience in a way that doesn't involve a bucket of thighs and drumsticks.

I have a Paula Deen cookbook given as a gift by a Southern colleague called "The Lady and Sons Savannah Country Cookbook." I can gare-on-tee you that anything delicious you've ever tasted at a true church potluck, and more, is in this handy little guide.

Paula Deen ruled the Food Network, has a restaurant in Savannah called "The Lady and Sons," and has multiple cookbooks out - all done after she was divorced and broke. But she did what she knew, which was cook, and turns out, she knows that pretty well.

I tried this simple recipe Sunday. It's fabulous.

"Peanut Butter Bread"

[yields 1 loaf]

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. salt
4 t. baking powder
1 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Add milk and peanut butter. Pour into a greased loaf pan (or brownie pan if you lost all your loaf pans). Bake approximately 50 minutes. Great with homemade jam.

The great thing about peanut butter bread is that it's like a peanut butter version of banana bread: not quite bread, not quite dessert, but good for anything and everything in between. I didn't try chunky peanut butter, but you can. I didn't put jam on mine, but you can. I didn't try gourmet flavored peanut butter, but you can. Or, dress it in milk and banana slices...or put a chunk in a bowl and swirl chocolate syrup over the top...or swirl dark chocolate syrup over banana slices over the top...or slather it in jam and give it to your sweaty child who's headed back outdoors after a potty break...mmm, the many possibilities of peanut butter bread.

Thank you, Paula Deen. Thank you.

Hung Out to Dry

My brother and I both received "traveling mercies" last night. After doing laundry and having supper at my house, I took him home amid some of the heaviest lightning activity we'd ever seen. Just as he dragged his laundry bag from the back seat, the first few raindrops began to fall.

About sixty seconds later I was headed out of town, the wind gusting at wildly random spots, when I drove under a tree just as a branch was being torn out of it onto the road. I ran over the branch - no time to react - with no damage to the car, though a pounding heart. As I passed out of town, I spotted a police car parked on the side of the road, pulled a U-ey, and drove up next to him to inform him of the branch. He said he'd move it, but seemed slightly distracted by the awe-inspiring lightning storm around us.

Now, I don't know what possessed me to do this, but somewhere I heard that you open the windows of a house in case of tornado to help equalize the internal and external pressure. And folks, this was the worst severe weather I've ever driven in. So, I reasoned, I should roll down the front windows a few inches.

Nothing dire came of this activity except a severe pelting of my face with wind, rain, and small bits of debris, but on the other hand, wind, rain, and small bits of debris were pelting my face.

Don't roll down your windows in a storm.

Almost home, something large obstructed the middle of the road. It was two full, upright trash cans sitting in the middle of the road like they were hawking homegrown produce, and the thunder was so loud, and the lightning so threatening, and the wind so strong, that the fabric umbrella sticking up out of one strongly resembled a person til I got closer.

Turning onto my street, I saw, along fallen branches in the neighborhood, that our street sign was down.

About thirty seconds after I entered the house, the lights darkened, air conditioner silenced. The power went out.

The drive to work was littered with twigs, stems, leaves, branches, and limbs. There is significant clean-up work ahead. The Ichthus music festival, which begins in a day or two, is in trouble because all of their large tents came tumbling down.

Some of the clean-up will take place in Ethan's back yard. I talked to him today. "Well, I was about fifteen seconds from death or serious injury," he reported. After walking up two and half flights of exterior wooden stairs around his building to get to his third story apartment, he went in and put his laundry bag down. A large peal of thunder cracked, but it wasn't thunder, it was a more resonant boom. A towering tree in the back of the yard had fallen on a tree in the middle of the yard, which hurtled several large limbs across the stairs he'd just climbed.

Prevenient grace: when you barely avoid being hung out to dry.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Gnawing Gnawing GNAWING

At the moment that describes my hunger. In general it describes the eight billion cicadas that are lying dead on the sidewalk, playing dead on the sidewalk, buzzing through the air, carpeting trees, and getting stuck in windshield wipers.

WHAT a weird weekend. No, seriously. I mean it. This one was random and strange straight through. John and I decided to go garage saling Saturday as a sentimental ode to one of the first things we did together when we were almost dating but not quite: one Saturday we stole out of town, visited yard sales, antique shops, and a retro drug store/soda fountain.

And BOY did we hit it big! We called my brother and woke him up out of a sound sleep and he complained but came along. Now, it was in the mid 90's this weekend, but the mid-morning wasn't too bad. We came away with a computer monitor, a red round lamp, a cabinet/counter, two square cake pans, a charming lil' green cup, free tomato plants, a picnic in a bag set, two nostalgic Matchbox cars from the '80's, a coffeemaker, bookshelves, and an antique ledger from a Methodist building fund, plus paint for the cabinet and bookshelves, all for under $25. Oh and a rug for next to the back door. And a crocheted dishcloth.

Because our monitor got scratched during a move, and the red lamp was great, and we needed more counter space, and I keep losing cake pans, etc, etc, and the carafe to our coffeemaker was broken recently, and we ALWAYS need more bookshelves. Especially for $4 when you take them home and repaint them green.

What I DIDN'T bring home was the $800 Klan sash from the late 19th century. See, it was the weekend for Kentucky's 400 mile yard sale, so there were lots of booths set up at the edge of town, cicadas diving bombing browsers and caught in the displays amongst paper milk bottle tops and old Nazi ensignias, an 8-track player/radio and antique silver spoons, spools of lace and some great old expensive Jadeite.

By this time I was whining about things like heat and how I'd forgotten sunscreen and how I was going to die of thirst, literally.

And then we found some more yard sales and got (what I thought was) lost in the world's biggest sinister subdivision that had me laughing so hard I was crying because I was so panicked that we would never exit the manmade monstrosity, and anyway, do you know how long those neighborhoods piggy backed on each other? Seriously, it was like five miles of houses that all look alike, a Twilight Zone, and maybe it was heat, or the cicadas, or the old lead paint on antiques, but I've never been more relieved to get out of a series of subdivisions in my life. I was a rat in a maze, or stuck in molasses swamp in Candy Land, as I said to John and Ethan, who were completely befuddled by my panic and distress at being trapped in rows and rows of brick and siding and lawn sprinklers and hanging baskets of wave petunias.

So then I had to paint the cabinet, and then we watched the Twilight Zone, and it happened to be my most favorite and least favorite episode because it broke my brain the first time I saw it. It's called "All the Time in the World," about the man who loved to read.

Church Sunday was a fiasco. And that's before the video clip of Mary Poppins came on. Yes, Bert the one-man band tied to the point the pastor was making, but seriously, people...half my kingdom for an exegetical sermon.

Anyway. The cicadas wanted to come to church too, and John and I were horrified to sit down at the end of the row, look out the wide, floor to ceiling windows over downtown, and see gnats. Only they weren't gnats, stretching over the streets the way bugs swarm in a ballpark on a summer evening. They were cicadas. Large, bulbous, bumbling cicadas that fly slowly and can't alter their path quickly. They kept bumping up against the window, and the lackluster worship leader had completely lost me to the mesmerizing view of cicadas banging their heads on the window.

Also, there was one on the floor down the aisle from us. And one on the good lady's purse sitting in front of us. But THAT one decided to move - right as prayer was beginning. As John started leaning his chest and body back from it but attempting to swat it away (he hates bugs), the lady saw the motion, turned, and let out a yelp, half standing, then covered her mouth quickly and backed out the aisle. Unfortunately, John had succeeded in swatting it - towards me, who also backed out into the side aisle. There was something about prayer and redemption being said up front, but all I know is we kept backing up til she took a courageous stomp with her shoe, and the little cicada soul floated up to heaven, or, well, down to insect hell, or maybe it went into purgatory, or maybe it lost conciousness til Judgment Day. The remains were solemnly scooped up by Someone as I returned to my seat.

OH, and at the garage sales I also got a retro-ice cube tray that's metal and has the folding dividers, because in my Mitford Cookbook there's a recipe for ice-tray ice cream and I always felt funny about making it in plastic ice trays but now I can make it in my metal one. It was a dollar.

So we didn't stay for Sunday School because I leaned over to John part way through the good article - motivational talk - what the bulletin called a sermon, if there had been bulletins, which I didn't see, and whispered, "do you wanna stay for Sunday School? Why go on a second date if you know it's not going to go anywhere?" Because although we really like the Sunday School class, I can't take another sermon where the pastor sings about the Holy Spirit in a cockney accent. So help me, I can't.

I went home, watched Akeelah and the Bee, almost cried, and painted my bookshelves. Then I made a new recipe, "Peanut Butter Bread," LOVED it, took a nap - cause I have a sinus infection, ya know - and then went to play a few holes of Disc Golf with my beloved, which proved a sweaty, hot affair ending in frustration when John lost his disc. We headed to a cookout where I demonstrated a completely random and unforseeable skill at cornhole. If you're north of the Ohio River, you probably haven't played cornhole, and think it sounds pretty gross. It's southern for bean bag toss into boards with holes in them. I also got to see our ringbearer's new grown up teeth crowding out his baby ones.

You see what I mean? What a strange weekend. The air conditioner worked all night and still couldn't get the house down to 68. Daisy and Charlie are NOT fond of cicadas. Our neighbors broke a window out fighting. Most the midwest probably can't even read this because you're all under water.

Oh, and Saturday we accidentally left the debit card in the ATM, which promptly swallowed it. I say "we" because even though an individual has to do it, well, I lose things all the time too, so it was a communal losing. Which meant I had to show up at the bank promptly at 8 just to be told by a smug, self-satisfied, lazy bank teller that they wouldn't get it out til 3. Kids, some women never get over high school, and take jobs at the bank and the courthouse where They Get Their Comeuppance on the World.

Which only goes to show. Be nice to kids in high school.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Where Did I Put My Pyramid?

There comes a time in everyone's life when you lose something.

Thankfully, I've never lost a pyramid.

Or a lighthouse.

But recently, both things have been found. In rather remarkable ways. You see, the historic folks of one New England town have been telling people for years that their old lighthouse was demolished. Then someone unexpectedly found the lighthouse.

In California.

Turns out they moved it there some eighty years ago. Nobody knows why, and they're scratching their heads at the labor it would take to dissemble and reassemble an entire metal lighthouse, but nonetheless, it happened.

Then, some archaelogists had found a pyramid and ancient town in Egypt. This, too, was decades ago, but it got lost under about 25 feet of desert sand and no one could find it.

Til recently, when some relieved diggers found it again.

Apparently this is a good reminder for all of us: don't lose your landmarks. Be careful not to misplace large cultural items. Someone might forget to put the memo out - ooooh, yeah, we moved that lighthouse. Oops.

Or, as friend Emily put it, "these days, you can’t turn around without locating a large, missing structure whose sole purpose is to be conspicuous."

Missing Pyramid Found in Egypt:

Cape Cod Lighthouse Found in California:

My opinion? I should start a newspaper for ads like this. "Lost: one large lighthouse. Metal. Please return to owner."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Over the Rhine's Poetry in Song

Someone recently requested posts about poetry, and I cast my mind back to some savored phrases and bits: "Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds..." (Shakespeare sonnet), or Susanna Childress' words that hang like ornaments in your mind long after you've put her work down (see, when I write about poetry, I start writing like poetry). Billy Collins, former poet laureate, crafts phrases which are still embedded in the depths of one of my soft, gooey brain folds that hold memories - maybe it's filed somewhere between multiplication tables and that song from my beginner's piano book, which I found myself humming the other day:

"Pit-ter pat-ter go the raindrops
On the tin roof fal-ling
I can hear their tin-y voices
Calling, calling, cal-ling."

Hardly going to skyrocket to the zenith of the New York Times bestseller's list, that.

But I rather get the impression that some of the most profound poetry that has etched my soul these last few years I haven't read - I've listened to.

Over the Rhine is my favorite band. Based in Cincinnati, and named for a neighborhood that raised my cousins' eyebrows when I mentioned it, Over the Rhine never moved to L.A. or New York or Nashville to pursue their music - and that has preserved its just-found-in-the-corner-of-the-attic feel.

People who like to categorize things always ask if it's a Christian band. Well, you won't hear them on K-Love, or Air One, the Christian radio stations that play music that - slight embarrassed cough - often sounds a lot alike. Sometimes you hear them on an NPR station that plays indie music rather than Brahms. They often are slated to appear at Christian music festivals, like Cornerstone, or hold songwriting workshops at places like Calvin College, noted for its interest in exploring faith and the arts. They're big in Europe. Sometimes you find them on a Starbucks mix. And they actually had characters in an X-Files episode named after Karin and Linford.

Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler, the married couple who embodies the nucleus of Over the Rhine - celloists, violinists, drummers, and additional guitarists come and go - are people of faith. Just as they were getting settled into their tour to promote a double album called "Ohio" a few years ago, they did what musicians never do - they called it off. To work on their marriage. And they told their fans this. Now, Amy Winehouse might cancel shows because she's in rehab for heroine addiction, but musicians never cancel tours to promote a giant new release to actually work on their marriages. Except for Over the Rhine.

So that's about them.

But what about me?

I remember feeling the rough texture of living room carpet under my head as I listened to one song, on repeat, tears sliding down my cheeks. It was one of those coping-with-life songs that defined my college years. And this is what it said:

Don’t speak.

Words come out your eyes.

You’re wet with this nightmare.

Like thorns you hold these secrets to your breast,your slender fingers closing into fists.
Trace your bruiselike a guilty streak.

Hold the pain.

You’re a connoisseur.

You think you have no other gift to give,

but we have so much left to live.

We don’t need a lot of money.

We’ll be sleeping on the beach,keeping oceans within reach.

(Whatever private oceans we can conjure up for free.)

I will stumble there with you and you’ll be laughing close with me,

trying not to make a scene, etcetera. Whatever. I guess all I really mean is
we’re gonna be alright.Yeah, we’re gonna be alright.

You can close your eyes tonight,‘cause we’re gonna be alright.

So come on now,I can almost see that placeon a distant shore.

And courage is a weapon we must use

to find some life you can’t refuse.

We don’t need a lot of money.

We’ll be sleeping on the beach,keeping oceans within reach.

(Whatever private oceans we can conjure up for free.)

I will stumble there with you and you’ll be laughing close with me,

trying not to make a scene, etcetera. Whatever. I guess all I really mean is
we’re gonna be alright.Yeah, we’re gonna be alright.

You can close your eyes tonight,‘cause we’re gonna be alright.

All that I can see is your eyes. Close your eyes. Close your eyes.

"Etcetera Whatever" lilts like a lullaby. When my heart was broken, when I felt I was never, ever going to find someone to love me, who loved the same things I did, or when I'd just had a bad day, I listened to this. Somehow, with the talk of beaches, and shores, and threadbare wallets, a C.S. Lewis-esque sense often stole over the music and words. Maybe it's because an early album borrowed the Lewis title "Til We Have Faces."

But the hard stuff of faith often took more struggling, melancholy tones, like these words...

When I try to pray

It's like a game of Red Rover

Take a real good run at it, yes I do,

But I can't break through

Ever felt like your prayers were hitting the ceiling and bouncing right back down? In tune with God's distance rather than God's nearness? What a profound image, the childhood game of interlinked arms blocking your passage no matter how vigorously you run.

And - balm to my sacramental heart - this creation that emerged from Over the Rhine's own dark night of the soul - a song which also named the album that came floating up from the wreckage of the year they cancelled the tour but saved their marriage, "Drunkard's Prayer".

You're my water

You're my wine

You're my whiskey

From time to time

You're the hunger on my bones

Every night I sleep alone

Sweet intoxication

When your words

Wash over me

Whether or not your lips move
You speak to me

Like an ocean

Without waves

You're the movement

That I crave

And in that motion

I long to drown
And be lost not to be found

You're my water

You're my wine

You're my whiskey

From time to time

A multivocal symbol is one that speaks on many different levels - something pertinent to studies of other cultures. And of course these words work in a similar way. Calling on the picture of Jesus turning the water into wine, and meeting people's needs with it. Conjuring the image of the woman at the well, longing for living water. And bringing forward the helplessness of the drunk, elbows on the bar, desperate for something to sustain him. And so, God is called my water, my wine, and when it gets rough, my whiskey. I've often wondered what comfort these words must give to a recovering alcoholic, just as much as they soothe the troubled heart grappling, Jimmy Stewart-like, with the heartbreak of the world.

I don't go to poetry readings to hear some of my favorite words, strung together and looped around my mind, my soul, my hopes. I slip in a disc, or stop by a website, or hum in my solitude. And images that evoke troubled people searching, and happy people finding, quiets my mind and restores my soul.

Oh. And did I mention they're romantics?

Goodbye, Sweet World

Enter the plague.
My sweet little town is being overrun by locusts. Well okay, actually, they're cicadas. And they're EVERYWHERE. and it's only JUNE. USUALLY, cicadas flourish later in the summer, but holy cow! The noise is so deafening that walking outside near trees hurts your ears; looking out the window shows dozens flying around in the middle of the day; and one flew right into John's neck while we were playing disc golf last night, causing him to leap about five feet and manically pound himself in the neck and chest in horror. They covered the trees on the course and were so loud that we had to shout to talk to each other where the path veered too near their lair.
If I suddenly disappear into oblivion, look for my remains under a lump on crawling, buzzing cicadas. They litter the sidewalks. They veer through the air. It's "The Birds", part two.
Good bye, sweet world. Scoot over, butler: the cicadas did it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Corn Casserole. Corn Pudding. Cornbread. Corn Pone...What IS Corn Pone?

I am Jack's thrilling recipe.

It's okay if you don't get that reference. If you do, well, it means you have both interesting movie taste and culinary curiosity. The other day I made corn casserole. Now, if you've ever been to a church potluck - and I mean a low-church, baptizin' in the crick, Gospel singers visit every few months to provide special music church potluck - you've had corn casserole. Some people call it corn puddin'. In some regions it's probably considered corn bread ("Hi, I'm the South, and if you ask for cornbread down here, you could get one of a hundred different things, including what looks like pancakes from the gas station down the road."). And I don't really know what corn pone is, I just remember an annoying song about it in the musical "L'il Abner" that I saw on AMC when it still showed old movies and not random things like "Beaches" or whathaveyou.

And I grew up loving church potluck corn casserole. The Episcopalians that I've seen don't know about it. They were thrilled with it, like a new plant form or something, delighted but slightly confused. "What IS it?" they breathed with wonder. But that's because Episcopalian potlucks are...different. I literally attended one where there was lamb and mint jelly. Lamb and mint jelly. I discovered I don't like lamb, which made me feel kind of philistine, but then I felt immediately world wise again when I remembered the reason: I ate so much sheep in Mongolia that I have met my life quota. Mutton is strong and greasy - I'm glad I'm not describing a person here - so anything remotely smacking of mutton is off my preferred menu.

Oh, and I've been to Mongolia. Let me tell you about it some time.

Anyway, the only place I ever got corn casserole was church potlucks, usually stuck between a Crockpot full of meatballs and Crockpot full of chicken and dumplings - in the hot stuff section, away from the broccoli salad and taco salad and Jell-O salad. But then I started wanting corn casserole because I hadn't been to a church potluck in a long time where there had been any, and I thought, shoot, I'll bite the bullet and find a recipe myself. So, naturally to my generation, I went online.

And this is what I found. And everyone who eats it loves it, and I swear it takes about a second and a half to make, and it reheats well, and in general it's just a lovely side dish - whatever you decide to call it. I don't know if it goes with lamb or not.

CORN CASSEROLE (puddin', bread, whatever)
2 beaten eggs
1 15 oz. can of creamed corn
1 8 oz. container of sour cream (but I buy the 16 oz. so I can have extra for stuff)
1/4 c. melted butter (that's half a stick)
1 can drained corn
1 (8.5 oz.) package of dry corn muffin mix (I use Jiffy)
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease a 2 quart casserole dish
*Combine eggs, creamed corn, sour cream, melted butter. Stir in whole kernel
corn, muffin mix.
*Bake for...depends on your oven. Bake for 45-65 minutes while you make other
things for main courses.
*Let stand five minutes before serving.
*Optional: you can add a cup and a half of cheddar. But though I love cheese,
I've never found this to vastly improve the corn casserole. Also, you
can add a half a cup of chopped onion. This makes it more savory and
a more "adult" flavor, so the kids might not like it as much. But if
you've eaten my corn casserole, you likely haven't found either of
these ingredients in it. I skip them.
Now, I don't plan on posting recipes often, because Pioneer Woman seems to have the corner on that and does it beautifully and by the way her recipes are aMAZing. But Mom's been asking for this recipe and I keep forgetting to give it to her, so here you go, Mom, and everyone else.
Feel free to reminisce about your favorite things you only eat at potlucks.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

More Than a Feeling: Feeling Bad, Feeling Wrong

Recently, I wrote about "When to Sympathize with Women." Wow, did that generate some comment. The topic bopped back and forth in the virtual badminton match was emotion. Can your feelings be wrong? - not in the correct/incorrect sense, like when Marge Simpson says her "woman's intuition is acting up, Homey." But can a feeling itself be, well, wrong? Like when it's wrong to lie or steal.

So, we're not going to clear the dust on this anytime soon - but it's worth asking. And my first question is, how do you know things? Well, you know from sensory input - you see, hear, smell, touch, and feel things. You know from rational thought - you know, "I think, therefore I am" kind of stuff. And you know from...the gut. Inside you. Now, that may be a subconcious reaction from your senses, or thoughts, or it might just be....ugh. Gesture, hesitate, try to explain. Intuition, feeling, emotion. You could possibly call this the "mystical" side of knowing, too, like when you just, well...know.

And of course if you're part of a religion, what you think guides how you interpret what you see or know through your feelings, or what you feel guides how you view the world, and so on. And many religions put forth that there's some kind of revelation from a higher Being to us humans - and we may know that revelation through our senses, or the way God has made our minds, or through our feelings or emotions.

Now, from the simply human side of this, personality enters in: some people process experiences by how they feel about them - "oh my goodness, that ride was so scary, I was hanging upside down in a roller coaster and thought I was going to die," - welcome to my amusement park experiences. And some people process experiences first by what they think of them - "the engineering on that ride was amazing. Do you know the G-force on that sucker? It's a 300 foot drop!" Everybody, of course, uses both of these - I feel things and I think. So do you. The question is, like my friend Krista, do you stop to "think about how I feel"? Or do you feel something and decide what you think as a result? Or maybe both trip over each other's heels as you feel and then automatically analyze what you feel and why (me).

So how do you know? Or, enter postmodernity, can you know? Or, like the show "Lost", do you really know what you think you know? "The Truman Show" is a great example of that - the movie tells the story of a guy who's lived in one place all his life, has a wife, a job - and then finds out that it's all a set of a reality tv show that he never knew about - the corporation had adopted him as an infant and he had lived his whole life in a giant tv set. But then, accidentally, he found out - and whole different world presented itself to him - the real world. And how he felt was based on what he thought.

Now, can you have a poorly ordered feeling? That is, can a feeling be based on something faulty rather than something true? When a five year old screams "you never, ever, let me do anything fun," I'm sure he means it - but that, in fact, doesn't reflect the truth. Is every desire you feel legitimate simply because you desire it? No - I desire dark chocolate every day of my life. To indulge every day would involve several wrongly ordered loves.

Just because a feeling is genuine doesn't mean it's in line with Truth that transcends thought, senses, and emotion. I can genuinely feel abandoned by God - but maybe my perceptions of God need altered, and then I will feel differently about Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

So if conversion - which is a turning from self-interests to Christ's redemption - involves the whole person, as a created being - your past experiences, your thoughts, your attitudes, your emotions - what does God want you to do with your emotions? Does God care about them?

Surely so - hate is both attitude, thought, and rage. Surely self-righteousness involves muddied thinking, inaccurate self-perceptions, and the feeling of pride.

Some days I feel impatient. And - get this - it's wrong for me to do so. Let's not consider only the negative though, but the positive: is it wrong for me to feel love for certain things?

I hope so! I hope it's wrong for a grown man to feel certain kinds of "love" for a five year old child, no matter how genuine he feels. It's wrong to love your country more than you love God. It's wrong to love yourself to the detriment of loving others. But I use "love" here loosely, because Trinitarian love is one thing, but broken, faulty love of humans, quite another.

If you think God brings "rightness" to the world - righting wrongs, righting disorder and chaos, righting attitudes and hearts and minds and loves - then you likely think there exists in the world some "wrongness." It is contact with God that helps us to truly love. God's sustaining providence means there's still some good in the world - parents love kids, kids love dogs, dogs love everybody. But when grace pounds on your door and you find yourself spring cleaning your soul, mind, whole self with the Holy Spirit, you find sometimes that God's love looks very different than yours. Maybe your love is faulty, or broken, or imperfect - everyone's is, after all. But love transcends emotion and feeling, because the Trinity is love - a standard never to be met with all the Valentine cards in the world. And if Christ-Love transcends feelings and emotions, then it's possible that Christ-Love will shape, mold, and conform our feelings to love what God loves, think as Christ thinks, feel as Christ feels. So that there is an objective, true, pulsing, vibrant, live Love guiding and establishing our thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions, and interpretations.