Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vanity, Vanity

Said the Preacher in Ecclesiastes.

All is vanity.

That's a bit of how I feel today. The other bit is enjoying a nice murder mystery, and soon, a 100 calorie ice cream sandwich. Placebo? you say. Well, it's not Blue Bell or Breyer's, I admit, but it'll do.

Wait! you say. Aren't you at work?

No. I'm at home waiting for plastic surgery to be done.

Plastic surgery! you say. Don't you think plastic surgery is a terrible practice except in case of people who need some reconstruction after tragedy?

Yes, but someone needs to remove the gnome from my back.

Gnome? you say.

Yes. Apparently a gnome has been following me around for a week, randomly sticking needle nosed pliers in my lower back, squeezing nerve bundles, twisting the spine, or jabbing the area I'm going to call the "Bermuda triangle" between my lower back, my hip, and my butt.

Obviously, the solution is a gnomectomy. I wonder what the doctor will say tomorrow when I tell him.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mental Illness and Creativity

Things you might not know about me:

I wore red shoes under my wedding dress.

I have a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies.

I display a soul-shattering phobia of spiders.

I have Michelle Kwan's autograph from when she was about fifteen and I was about fifteen and I followed figure skating manically for a couple of years until one year I gave it up for Lent because that's how obsessed I was.

But this isn't about any of the above. It's about mental illness and creativity, something that I haven't pored over academically, but have pondered on from time to time. There are several garden varieties of mental illness among some long-lost extended family members. I think one of them is schizophrenic. Or maybe paranoid. Or maybe he's paranoid he's schizophrenic. I don't know, the point is, if your family tree has mental illness in its branches, it's okay for you to make mental illness jokes. I don't want NAMI to come after me; it's a great organization and a sweet lady I know is the president of NAMI or some such thing in my state. But humor and mental illness seem to attract each other.

So let's keep Woody Allen in the Big Apple with his plethora of neuroses and travel down Crazy Street.

First, I have to mention that my favorite comedy featuring mental illness - or perhaps the only comedy I know of featuring mental illness - is "Arsenic and Old Lace." Rent the Cary Grant version. There are days, when I find ants in my cereal, like this morning, that I feel like being carted off after phoning "Happydale Sanitarium - Sanitarium - Sanitarium." I rather suspect those of you who are mothers of young children often feel the same.

Now, let's get deep. Hold your nose, close your eyes, dunk.

How are mental illness and creativity related? The creative impulse in itself could be explored from many angles: personality, personal giftedness, intelligence, and a large dose of serendipity are involved. The other day a coworker and I were discussing the fact that it seems often in church - whether the sermon is good or not - that we find ourselves weaving some of our most creative, lively, and intriguing thoughts. If you believe in the Divine, then I think your concept of creativity will reflect that. The Trinity in itself (themselves?) is (are?) creative. If we want to get philosophical, we can ask: how is creativity related to personhood? Does creation necessitate free will? Is the creative impulse related to Beauty as a Transcendant? (That means Beauty as it exists objectively, by which we describe things as beautiful, reflecting that Transcending Beauty - it is not the subjective response.)

But creativity and perspective/perception are related. It is how an artist sees something that often catapaults her or his works into the Louvre: the Masters are my favorites, but I am deeply stirred by the colorful swatches pasting Van Gogh's canvases. Van Gogh, whose consumption of absinthe affected his perceptions; Van Gogh, who saw the Starry, Starry Night when he looked up into the cosmos.

Which is Why I Hate Modern Art - it is a perception of what? Someone's perception of who knows what. I think their gooey insides. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Rothko paints a great blinding square of color, but the time I see the Incarnation represented in it I'll eat my hat.

But what if one has mental illness? Consider the engineering side of creativity: I was first struck by the strange link between mental illness and engineering feats when I viewed "The Aviator", a stellar portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Howard Hughes was directing an epic war film and kept insisting that he wanted the camera to catch airplanes' speed: so rivets were smoothed down, the shape and body of airplanes were altered to increase aerodynamic qualities, a few years later, voila! Modern flight is born - sure, people flew before this, but now, it became commonplace. But Hughes' obsessive-compulsive behaviors destroyed his personal life. He was tormented, hounded, driven.

And because of this, you or someone you know has flown across the country recently, for what is actually a relatively low cost.

The other day I was privileged to hear a discussion about actors, art, mental illness and genius: it centered, of course, on Heath Ledger's mind-blowing performance as the villain "The Joker" in "The Dark Knight," easily argued to be Best Picture for 2008. The villain himself is portrayed as unhinged, utterly demented, eerily genius at pitting people against each other - evil. Heath Ledger, who already had a history of substance addictions, couldn't sleep while he was filming "The Joker." The portrayal of "The Joker" is, in my opinion, one of the top genius performances that I can think of for a very long time, and I am confident will remain so. Where the Joker was utterly separated from normal feelings of guilt, remorse, or conscience, Ledger was tormented by the character. Ultimately, continuing his fallback habits of addictions and substance abuse, Ledger accidentally took his own life by overdose. His artistic genius in this one role perhaps made him vulnerable to depression.

Does mental illness open windows onto the world that most people aren't privileged to look through? Does someone with schizophrenia, or manic/depressive disorder, or depression - does that person paint the world in a different way than a person whose brain chemicals function according to the status quo, whose past contains minimal trauma? But if so - at what cost?

Today, the Howard Hughes' of the world have ready access to prescriptions for obsessive/compulsive disorder. It seems cruelly utilitarian to suppose that modern flight was worth one man's destruction. Surely it is better to function - and function well - than to burn brightly, for an instant, and then out.

Consider the pain felt by John Nash's family - Nash, a Nobel prize-winning mathematician, whose life was swallowed up by schizophrenia and depression. That Nash's theories are brilliant, none can contest. Alongside his childrens' memories of receiving bizarre, encrypted, nonsensical postcards from their absent father, abroad in Europe.

Outside my office, petunias spring up, unbidden, from cracks and gapes in the concrete sidewalk. From wreck and ruin, chemical or personal, in the shadowy "mind" - part brain, part psyche? - beauty springs forth.

Take your medicine. See your doctor. But know that whatever disorder, neurosis, or disease wracks your soul, sometimes Starry, Starry Nights shine forth from your unique window onto the world.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's Official

It's Official.

I'm an eBay seller.

I started this as an experiment.

You see, it started with a paper plate.

But the design my thawing blueberries made was pretty cool, and I was loathe to throw it away.

Then I thought: Yowzas! I could sell this on eBay and pocket the cash - because if we've learned anything from Jay Leno, it's that people buy and sell really weird stuff on eBay.

You want to see it?


Okay. Here it is. My "organic postmodern art." I'm not kidding, I went that facetious. In for an ounce, in for a pound, or whatever.

I know what you're thinking: I want that for my kitchen wall. But please, don't bid just yet. I want to see if it will actually sell, not if you, my loyal reader, will buy it.

Would you like to know what the official description is?

Okay. But stopping drinking or eating whatever you're drinking or eating.

~Unique abstract piece created with the stains of blueberry juice. Streaks, blots and spatters capture the motion of frozen blueberries as they thawed.
~Brilliant shades of purple and indigo
~Mixed media: paper plate, blueberry juice
~Vivid sense of motion with varying degrees of existential overlap
~Unframed to allow buyer versatility in display
~No returns

Sometimes I like to do things that are unpredictable.

I'd say this counts.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Murder Monday

I've decided that Mondays will now be "Murder Mondays." Partly because they both start with "m", partly because Mondays usually make me feel murderous. Partly because we all need more mystery in our lives.

So from now on, it'll be Murder Monday around here, people. Curl up with a cup of tea and wiggle your toes with delight. Creepy delight.

The stuccoed wall reflected a flashing red glare on its normally creamy surface. In the front yard, birds began their early morning song, oblivious to the chaos of the night. It would have seemed more appropriate, thought Elle, if, just for today, they had remained silent in respect of the dead. But birds know nothing of life or death - even their own. And this morning, Elle felt, neither did humans.

Ever since Elle's pager had summoned her from a deep, mortific sleep, she grappled to orient herself to her surroundings. She thought grimly that if someone had tried to break into her house, they could've helped themselves to everything - even taken the leftovers from the fridge - and she would've slumbered peacefully through it all. But Oakford General's buzzes held her in a new-mother like grip, and when a patient needed a chaplain, she was there.

At 2:30 a.m. she had been called out to pray with a patient who would head in - no pun intended - for surgery on a brain tumor, if he made it that far. Complications had left Mr. Morris hoping for the long surgery instead of dreading it. She sat with him, holding the elderly gentleman's hand, a rosary tucked into his claw-like grasp. He had wandered far, he insisted, from the church of his childhood. But in these moments, though he couldn't bring himself to call for a priest, he wanted someone. And so she came.

Pulling onto her street a couple of hours later, Elle was surprised to find red and blue flashing lights assaulting her eyes in the pre-dawn darkness. She was new to the neighborhood, she didn't know her neighbors' names, and so she was very little help to the methodical policeman standing by her side.

No, she hadn't seen anything unusual at the house three doors down.

No, she didn't know her neighbor.

No, she hadn't seen suspicious looking vehicles - or if she had, she wouldn't have known it, since she was new to the street.

Statement, contact information, business card. Elle squinted at the yellow tape already fluttering in the wind, and wondered if she'd made a bad real estate choice. This was awfully soon to experience neighborhood violence. She still didn't even know where her spoons were. She'd been stirring her morning coffee with plastic knives, and once, a small metal whisk.

Although Elle McConn had never been a 'morning person,' she seriously doubted that sleep would come easily knowing that her neighbor had just been found with several artfully place bullet holes in her chest. She sighed. This wasn't what Elle had meant when she hoped for something to motivate her into early morning jogging.

Should Elle:
a) sneak into the neighbor's house after the police leave
b) try to become a police chaplain so she can find out more about the murder
c) ignore the crime and unpack her spoons
d) sprain her ankle, teaching her that jogging in the morning is, itself, a crime

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"The Office" Season Five Prophecies

I love the show "The Office." I've worked in offices that have had similarly quirky, annoying or interesting people, which is why it is so believable. My mom can't stand it because she's had bosses like Michael Scott. But in one job, the show actually helped me get through the day because I worked with people exactly like Michael Scott - and laughing at it on screen was my revenge.

So here are my predictions for the upcoming season:

#1. Dwight finds an alternative mode of transportation for work to save on costly gas. Probably a horse, hitched in the parking lot. It would fit the beet farm ambience.

#2. Jim and Pam arrive on the scene of season five already engaged, or having eloped. It's hard to top the disappointing results of the attempted proposal ending last season; it also might seem pushing it to have an episode focused on a wedding in which Michael makes a fool of himself, since Phyllis and Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration already pulled that off.

#3. This is a hope: I hope that Dwight and Angela get back together. I never thought I'd feel sorry for Dwight's character, but Andy managed to make me sympathize. I dislike Andy more than I dislike Dwight. A Schrute-Martin pregnancy would make things interesting. That would make the world more interesting: a little baby Schrute.

#4. Another hope: that Michael ditches Jan for the female Michael introduced last season, the lovely Holly, who by now has hopefully discovered that Kevin is not, in fact, mentally handicapped.

#5. Ryan is demoted to a "temp" kind of status and returns to Scranton, chagrined, through an obnoxiously merciful Michael.

#6. Today I passed a car that seriously looked like it was driven by Creed Bratton. That doesn't have anything to do with Season Five predictions. It just is.

#7. Is it possible Jim and Pam would spend a few episodes or more in New York, if Jim took Ryan's former job at corporate, and Pam finished up her art school stint?

#8. Let's all hope Andy not only finds out about Dwight and Angela, but attempts an attack on Dwight that would pale his former anger management issues.

#9. I would love to see Oscar host a Pampered Chef party.

What are your predictions and hopes for Season Five?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mr. Communist, Tear Down This Wall!

I applaud U.S. athletes. Here, athletes: this is me applauding your iron discipline, focus, and talent. Well done.

I've thought a lot about What To Do With This Year's Olympics. Will it matter if I, one lowly viewer, choose to boycott watching the Olympics? Well, one person does not a network make. NBC will chug right along without me. So - then - why not give in, and watch the swimmers, runners, and all those other inspiring Olympic stories?

I'll tell you why. Because of this man:

We can't change the fact that some thought hosting the Olympics in China was a good idea. There are plenty of arguments that this will shed light on the injustices there. But don't be fooled: Communist China will not make any major policy changes because the world is looking on.

Wait: there have been a few. Like this one:
No blacks, Mongolians allowed at Beijing bars during Olympics.

Yes, because those pesky Mongolians didn't get the hint from that giant WALL? Do they expect Ghengis Khan to sidle up to the bar and order a whiskey sour??

And what about all the press, athletes and workers who aren't Asian or Caucasian? And don't worry if you're disabled: they've printed a pamphlet about you, assuring volunteers that many disabled people have regular mental functions, just like you and me. Don't let that wheelchair fool you, volunteers: that person can think, too (though he or she may have a strange "personality" due to his or her handicap struggles).

Oh, and if you plan of visiting Beijing, don't worry about its infamous pollution: they've banned a million vehicles in honor of the Olympics to cut down on the smog. Wow, a few weeks in advance. That'll help those cross country runners' writhing lungs. And don't worry about massive earthquakes, either: China has promised that there won't be any. Wow. That's a pretty bold claim. To paraphrase Jim from "The Office," "to photoshop yourself into an old family picture of your girlfriend with her ex-husband and kids is a bold move. But then Michael's a pretty bold guy."

Check out the do's and don'ts that China has issued to visitors.

NBC still isn't sure what depth of censoring will be levied (China does not grant freedom of the press, remember!!) during the broadcasting blitz.

In the interest of history and architecture, I do not advocate tearing down the Great Wall of China. But the "People's Republic" is hardly the peoples', or a republic. Beijing needs to let go of the ruling Communist "dynasty" and embrace a form of government that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.

The level of hospitality offered during this Olympics season makes a plastic cover on a sofa look warm and inviting.

Where does this seemingly harsh attitude of mine come from? Well, it comes partly from exposure to continued human rights abuses. It comes from the above photo of one brave man who gave his life.

It comes from having been there - and Mongolia. I was with a group of people in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, ready to fly home, via Beijing. The trip organizer had spoken multiple times with representatives of the Chinese government to ensure our papers were in order. But when we arrived at Ulaan Baatar's tiny national airport, we were informed that we would need a visitor's visa for our layover in Beijing. First we'd heard of it. Our trip leader had to drive to downtown Ulaan Baatar to get fourteen visas totalling over a thousand dollars so that we could fly into Beijing and sit in the airport for three hours before embarking on the long flight to Chicago. The plane was held for us, threats were made that the flight would take off without us, and about five minutes from zero hour our trip organizer came running through the airport, visas in hand.

Bullies are bullies because they can be.

It's time to stop enabling bullies.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How to Host a Tea

For the Japanese, taking tea is a deliberate ritual, with method and rhythm that have led some to examine the elements of hospitality in the contextualized practice of the Eucharist in that culture.

For the British, "tea time" is something else: a kind of supper before supper, it may involve both sweets and savories alongside a pot of Darjeeling or Assam. Though any Brit may offer tea at all times of day, "high tea" or "cream tea" usually means some of food - small portions, but rich textures and flavors.

I have "celebrated" tea by setting out a tea for family and friends upon graduation of seminary. Here are some ways to create a unique, colorful, rich tea time for yourself, friends and family.

1. The Tea: invest in the tea itself. Although you can offer a hospitable cup steeped from a bag of "Constant Comment," to celebrate a tea in the most gracious sense is best done by discovering the joys of loose tea. If you've never used loose tea, don't panic! Not only is it simple, it is worth it - like the difference between Wonderbread and a rustic, crusty loaf fresh from a French brick oven. Loose tea is available at gourmet food stores, tearooms, and online. My favorite comes from Upton Tea. In the pages of Upton's catalogue, you will find varieties of tea and forms and styles of tea you never knew existed. Don't get overwhelmed, though: Upton (and other providers) offer samplers.

To steep loose tea, you will need a strainer on a chain or with squeeze handles. This is not a dunk-and-done bag situation: different kinds of tea should steep for different times. An Assam or Irish Breakfast - both rich and robust - will steep longer than the more delicate, shadowy Darjeeling. All these require boiling water, but some teas, such as herbal or white, should actually be steeped just before hitting the boiling point. Loose tea often arrives in a tin, from which you can scoop out the loose leaves into your strainer. Pour the boiling water over the strainer and let steep for the recommended time on the tin: 2,3, or even 5 minutes. Remove the strainer, dump the used leaves in the trash, and add sugar.

Here's something you need to try: milk. I never thought I'd like milk in tea. Well, I wouldn't like milk in a few quick dunks of a Lipton bag. However, a splash of milk in a rich, loose tea cup is splendid and compliments the flavors. Milk should only be poured in black teas: don't try milk in your herbal tea! The best non-sugar sweetener I've found is Splenda: it won't tease out the flavors of the tea as well as sugar, but in the winter months, if you're drinking multiple cups, it can cut out a lot of calories.

These, of course, address individual cups of tea: a pot of tea can be steeped by adding loose tea to a pot-sized "dunker" strainer, available for purchase usually at the same places that offer loose tea. In this way, you can offer a pot of Assam, a pot of Darjeeling, and so on. A communal pot is a fun way to add to the grace of the setting. Don't fear about the pot growing cold, though - you can make or purchase a tea cosy, which is like a mitten or scarf for your pot that will insulate it and keep the tea hot inside for a surprisingly long duration. This individual pot pictured at left has the tea in it and is poured through the cup-topping strainer.

Depending on the guests, it's a good idea to have caffeine-free teas available. This is most easily done by offering some herbal tea, often available in bags. Keep some honey on hand for sweetening, and let a bag of herbal tea steep for at least five minutes.

2. The Setting: It's surprisingly easy to craft a beautiful tea setting in just a few minutes. Here are a few ways I like to set the table.

Use a cup, jar, or small vase to hold posies of flowers from your yard (or the store). It feels less formal to set dessert cups of pansies and thyme on the table, end tables, and stove than it does to have one pre-packaged bunch of flowers from the store in the center of the table in a vase. Having mugs or cups of cosmos or daisies also allows you to see all around the table uninhibited by a floral arrangement that blocks your view of guests, food, or tea. In amongst your flowers, add sprigs of herbs - rosemary, thyme, and sage are beautiful and aromatic. You can even pinch off the grey, fuzzy leaves of Dusty Miller to add a backdrop to bachelor's buttons or dahlias.

Use a tablecloth. This doesn't have to be conventional: right now my table cloth is a brightly squared quilt top I bought at a rummage. It doesn't have to be lace to look inviting ( men like teas just as much as women sometimes!) Provide either unique, decorated paper napkins, or cloth napkins - neither has to match the tablecloth, but they should blend in with the colors you're using.
Have cups other than mugs available. Whether you invest in Royal Doulton (and that is an investment!!) or pick up a cracked teacup at Goodwill, your china doesn't have to perfect to be lovely to hold and to use. Estate sales, antique stores, or even Target can provide you with a mixed and matched set to present for company. If you like everything to match, that's fine: just remember your purpose. If you want a formal setting, match cloth and napkins, teacups and pot. If you want a less formal atmosphere, give guests their own design of teacup and don't fret over things matching. Instead, allow it to blossom into a diverse, beautiful setting. Just try to avoid using "Tom's Plumbing Services" mugs for these occasions.
For your sake, make sure you have a tray or two. This allows you to clear the table without your friends having to bus their own litter, and it keeps them from having to see the inside of your garbage can: just clear the table with a tray, then later after everyone is gone you can clear the tray and wash the dishes.

I've found that background music can encourage guests to speak without becoming tense at prolonged silence. I don't suggest hiring a Chamber Orchestra to play highbrow Mozart; but a cd player in an adjoining room playing jazz, or Celtic instrumentals, or piano solos can soften moods and relax brows. Don't play something heavily definitive of one genre, lest your guests dislike the music and wish to escape. But the suggested music above is not too generic but not jarring, either. Also beware! If you have a multi-disc player, make sure all the discs are something appropriate for your tea. You don't want a disc to end, only to hear Radiohead or Pink Floyd or Pedro the Lion.

I also like to think of "accessorizing" the items on the table. You can layer doilies or vintage linens over the center of your tablecloth; you can tie ribbons around a tiered stand that holds sweets and savories; you can place sprigs of herbs around the base of a sugarbowl. This attention to detail, in the end, communicates care for your guests and appreciation of beauty.

Keep your camera onhand to take pictures of your table before guests arrive, then with guests around it. Photos of the event are a nice reminder of the beauty, a good resource for ideas later, and a potential gift to friends.

It should go without saying that the setting - whether dining room, living room, patio, or porch - should be tidy and clean. To ensure this, a lot of the cooking and baking needs to be done ahead of time. Also, this will allow you to give one of the best gifts of all: a relaxed host or hostess. A frenzied hostess is not a sign of all the hard work you've done: it's a sign that you didn't prepare well. A lacksidaisical hostess is not a sign of a carefree attitude: it's a sign of an uncaring attitude. So treat your friends, relations, or guests to a relaxed you - because in the end, the people around the table will give and receive as much as the table itself gives refreshment.

3. The Food: One book I've seen suggests that the backbone of a tea menu is a two-pronged offering: sweets, and savories. (You could simplify even further to suggest sweet and salty, but savories aren't necessarily salty, and a lot of salty food isn't really savory.)

This is important! Unless you are an old hand at cooking and baking, try all recipes before you make them for the event. Try them a week or two ahead so that you can have a general menu in your mind (and therefore a general grocery list). It will cause a lot of unnecessary stress if you wait until the day, or even the day before, to try a recipe. It's difficult to estimate the time it will take in preparation; sometimes you miss an ingredient needed and have to make an unexpected trip to the store; and sometimes the recipe just isn't what you're looking for. Whatever you make the day before or morning of can be kept in the fridge or stored in Tupperware until time to heat it up or place it on a pretty serving plate.

Both sweets and savories can reflect the season in which you're serving, though they don't need to. Examples of sweets for the seasons:

Spring: Martha Stewart's ruby red grapefruit cookies, lemon squares, sugar cookies, lemon tarts, or chocolate macaroons (please avoid chocolate chip cookies at tea - keep them for all the other days of the year!)

Summer: Martha's lime meltaway cookies, miniature peanut butter pies, blueberry squares, sugar cookies with raspberry jam filling

Fall: pumpkin bread with cream cheese, miniature mince pies, molasses creams, rustic apple tartlets

Winter: honey bread, snickerdoodles, Hershey's chocolate cake, pear bread, tiramisu

You can see from all these that sweets include cookies, tartlets, miniature pies, cake, and breads. An all-season delight, petit fours can be made or purchased at a bakery.

Examples of savories for the seasons:

Spring: miniature spinach and tomato quiches

Summer: cream cheese with smoked salmon crackers (top with chives)

Fall: miniature sausage quiches, gourmet cheese plate

Winter: cups of homemade mushroom soup, cheese breadsticks

Now, you can see which ones I make more often. These are, of course, only suggestions, and may fit your tea table at many different times. This is also a very limited list of ideas. I highly suggest this book as a starting place for informed inspiration. Remember, when preparing, that you may also envision a cultural theme: Irish tea cakes with Irish Breakfast tea, or Southern tea cakes with a mint iced tea.

What, you ask? You have the culinary skill of a boll weevil? Well, let me give this counsel: A) try a cooking class to see if you would enjoy cooking as a hobby. B) if you buy the bounty for your tea table, you must - must - spend a pretty penny on the best. No Chef Boyardee for tea time. And trust me, if you buy it, it inevitably will cost a pretty penny - handcrafted miniature quiches don't come cheap, you know.

But, you ask, you have no skills or money? Then stick to the very simple, but arrange it in an elegant way: it doesn't take mad skills to arrange a piece of salmon on a cracker. If you're desperate (and I mean morning sickness-kids are ill-car broke down-pet has rabies desperate), you could buy a log of sugar cookie dough. But I warn you: you better present them well, or I will hunt you down and shoot you with a Tea Time Traitor Taser. Yes, they exist. Probably on eBay.

In all of this, remember, this is your tea time, for your friends. It can be as beginner or as personal, as rudimentary or as unique as you like. You could have guests all bring their favorite teas so everyone can try one cup of each. You could have a girlfriend sleepover night beginning with a tea. It's often fun to mix people you know well with a couple people you don't know well. However you host, this is what I've observed: tea time often brings the best out of people.

The best way to treat yourself and form the seeds of hosting a great tea is to visit a teahouse yourself. Whether you buy a cup of tea and a scone, or spring for the all-out all you can drink tea sampling with sweets and savories, your soul will be restored.

Happy Hosting!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Love/Hate Relationship

Love: "Cocoa Beach" Kashi cereal. It's like a dessert in your cereal bowl, only...grown-up, tres sophisticated, and good for you. "Cocoa Beach" has oats, almonds, and coconut, so it has a healthy dose of good fats. It's filling. The cocoa is true cocoa, not like Coco Pebbles where all the chocolate runs into the milk making chocolate milk. No, Cocoa Beach cocoa stays on those dad-gummed clusters of love. Second glances: at over $3 a box for a small box, this is an every-few-days cereal, not a shovel-it-down-your-gullet cereal.

Hate: Not having a regular church to attend. Since we've been married, John and I haven't found a church to ooze into and become a part of. I don't care if that preposition does dangle, I hate not having a regular church. It's not for want of looking. But trying to find a good church makes me antsy. Well, at least we're in the Bible belt. A dozen down, several million to go.

Love: Blockbuster Online. What's that, all I do is decide what movie I want to view, and it MAGICALLY APPEARS in my mailbox? What century is this, the 22nd? AND they have obscure films difficult to find, like British murder mystery series, and foreign films with subtitles, and lots of documentaries? Thank you, Bill Gates, for personalizing the computer.

Entertainment strikes. Don't make me mention the scarring Writer's Strike from this last winter, that interrupted shows like "The Office" for months. MONTHS. You may think you can strike, SAG (Screen Actors Guild), but be warned: we have Blockbuster Online, and we can find other shows NOT starring you to which we can quickly become addicted. Like "Rosemary and Thyme," and stuff. So you might think the consequences won't outweigh the benefits, but they might. THEY MIGHT.

Gimme That Ol' Time Religion: Bethlehem Family Camp

"O Brother, Where Art Thou?":
Delmar: The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
Everett: I thought you said you was innocent of those charges?
Delmar: Well I was lyin'. And the preacher says that that sin's been warshed away too. Neither God nor man's got nothin' on me now. C'mon in boys, the water is fine.

Shall we gather at the river,

Where bright angel feet have trod,

With its crystal tide forever

Flowing by the throne of God?

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Weekender

It's Friday: if you're looking for serious, try The Onion.


Cause, you know...The Onion is satire...

ANYway, my brain is fried - I worked hard this week, man. Corralling advertisers, and sending stuff, and getting a website up. Oh yeah, check this out: Wesley21.

So soon I'm going to post a recipe that disappeared quicker this week than...

Quicker this week than...

Ah! The macarena.

But right now, it's all about cool, weird, random, strange, and awesome stuff. Like this:

I will never wear this. Ever. Cicada jewelry

Or this movie coming out, with supernaturally themes: Hellboy II is garnering rave reviews for director del Toro.

Who got this job? Sound of Jell-O wobbling recorded for architects competition . "What'd you do today, honey?" "Oh, you know. Made some tapes of Jell-O wobbling. The usual."

"Moooom, I'm bored."
"Here honey - start this list."
Every book Art Garfunkel has read since 1968

What, is the season kinda dried up this year? Reminisce about the good ol' days of baseball, when men were men and moustaches were real moustaches.

The new Batman installment looks amazing, but if you want to see it opening day, you might want to check with your local theater: midnight and 3 a.m. showings were selling out so fast some theaters have decided to offer 6 a.m. viewings of "Dark Knight," the film Heath Ledger had just completed before he died. It opens a week from today.

Catcalls in the nursing home hallways? Senior sex: more frisky, more frequently.

I know I said nothing serious, but I feel you should be aware of this mounting crisis:
"Discord at the Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas"

Everyone blows off steam differently. Some golf. Others garden. Some box. Others bawl. This pastor built a Lego model of his church and filled it with toy parishioners. I know some choir directors sound bad, but SpongeBob?

Yay, nostalgia! There's an exhibit in NYC of 65 years of Golden Book art.

Do you ever wonder where all the health mascots are? No? Well, here they are, anyway.

Guess what I'll be doing this weekend.

Things I'm thankful for: not putting on a bra only to find hours later there was a baby bat inside. Yep, that would have to top the list.

Sometimes, you just want a lawn that stands out...or least, a lawn ornament. But hey, it could keep away those pesky Jehovah's Witnesses.

Here's a nice nod to the history of ladies' cookbooks and fundraising.

Bozo died at 83. Unfortunately this makes me think of Chuckles on Mary Tyler Moore, and I want to laugh.

And did you know Hawaiians love spam? Now you can even own a Spam sushi cookbook. For the cook who has all the other Spam cookbooks already.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What Katy Did

So the Christian music scene included Kate Hudson a few years ago - but not the Goldie Hawn-spawn who frequents romantic comedies. This Kate has transitioned to purely secular music (is there such a thing?), most notably through changing her name. Now Katy Perry is the singer/temptress/Victoria's Secret model-wannabe behind the song "I Kissed A Girl (And I Liked It)."

What led a girl raised by conservative pastor parents to go from hymns to hellraising?

And why does it matter for you?

Well, you may come from a hellraising past. The question is A) why the change in her? B) is your Junior High aged niece listening to this? C) what are the messages teenage girls are sent on a la carte sexuality? and D) how would you present this situation to a youth group who probably have both Christian music world artists and singers like Katy Perry on their iPods?

Whether or not Katy Perry's songs on sexual experiences are actually taken seriously, they break yet another sound barrier in what is discussed as viable behavior choices among young girls. Consider: when you play spin the bottle, what will you do when it points to someone of the same sex? "Sex and the City" writers crafted just such a scenario for popular character Carrie - and she went down the rabbit hole.

It's obvious Kate/Katy is sorting out her identity - in terms of gender, religion, sexuality, music, and profession. But even though her case may sound extreme, the fact of the matter is that young women are coloring in their character - who they are - in confused waters. And adding "be whatever sexual character you want to be" to the list of empowering choices can be a tempting lure for girls trying to take control of their lives. This isn't an "I was born this way" scenario: this is a consumer model. Kate/Katy can choose to wear Skechers or Chuck Taylor shoes, to listen to Carrie Underwood or Madonna, or to make out with Brad or Brandi. And in her setting, she declares her right to a la carte sexuality as much as any sexual activist declares her right to give leadership in any organization she chooses, whether it be the church or something else.

Whatever your role with young women in your life, encourage them to move away from thinking like consumers of sexual experiences.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I'd like to post photos. I really would. But have you seen my battery charger? No? Well, that makes two of us.

It's probably at home. But there was the time we moved everything for John's Indiana Jones birthday party, and there was the time we moved everything to "dog-proof" the house for a weekend while we were gone (ha!), and there was the time...

I cannot for the life of me figure out where I put it. My brother's convinced the dogs ate it. But my brother also memorizes long, random strings of numbers for fun, like other people's library card numbers, so, you know.

YOU know.

I wonder if he knows mine? Hey CIA, my brother would be great in your code room or something. Look him up.

And what is WITH this disc golf craze?

John has been playing disc golf every spare moment he has since about May. I think he was playing disc golf in his sleep last night. His arms kept jerking. When I can't find him, I put my hands on my hips and glare and head for the spare room, where he's reading disc golf articles online and watching disc golf instructional videos. He got really down the other day because the best of the best world professionals have different techniques.

"It's okay," I tried to assure him. "You just pick the one that works for you. Like I try several different recipes of one dish, then make the one I like the best." I don't think that example was a strong rhetorical move, but I felt, deep, down in my heart, that it was. Like those Heaven's Gate people felt they should join the Hale-Bopp comet.

I know what you're thinking. A) where did that comet go, anyway? It just swings by for dinner and then jets? and B) what is disc golf?

Well, disc golf uses frisbee-like discs. The player walks around a course, like golf, throwing his or her disc as many times as it takes to get to the "hole" which is a basket. So there are par three "holes" (baskets) etc. They even have different discs of different weights for "putting" and "driving." I use my all-purpose all in one disc because I don't feel like lugging around a bag of different discs, which John does. Also I like my disc. It's got swirly colors.

Here are some old-school audio-visual aids:

A man in the forest throwing his disc towards the basket. Some courses are out in the open. Others are nefarious, inhabited by ewoks, and I'm pretty sure, Shelob.

This is a disc golf bag with discs. It's about the size of a diaper bag. I haven't seen caddies so far. It's only a matter of time.

This is a flight chart. John likes to spend time improving his technique, because some discs naturally angle one direction or the other at the end of their flight. The trick, then, is to know which way your disc will angle naturally, and which way it will veer if you throw it hard enough. Some discs will veer to the left if you throw them hard enough even if they naturally veer to the right. But throwing isn't all. Oh no. There's footwork too.

Unfortunately, there are some spin-off products as well, like this classy charmer: because nothing says "I love you" like a disc golf basket necklace.

There are also leagues. Yes. Of course John joined one. He joined one that plays at the scary dark wooded forest course, where one can routinely spot elves, giant spiders, and hopefully, but not yet, corpses. It has always been a secret dream of mine to stumble upon a dead body, solve the murder, and become a detective. One time I thought I found a skull in my flowerbed. It turned out to be a rock.

I'm glad John joined a league. I encouraged him to find players he could compete with. Because right now, my throw is about a third as far as one of his "bad" ones. The skill difference doesn't bother me at all unless he gets discouraged about how he's doing. Then I sensitively point out that he's taken one throw but I've taken four to catch up to him.
Have I just been missing the boat for all these years? Or are disc golf courses a relatively new fixture of community recreation? I wouldn't know, my adolescence was much more about reading than athletics. No, nooo, of course I was cool.
Cool like a nice long novel. Cool like a spelling bee. Cool like a history buff.
Yep. Just call me The Fonz of church history.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Things I Bought That I Loved and Hated

This is not original. The great, hilarious actress who plays Kelly on "The Office" has a fantastically funny blog about purchases she loves.

So here's to Kelly, and her writer/actress reality.

Things I bought recently that I love:

1. Fig Newmans. No, not Fig Newtons. Fig NEWmans. As in Paul Newman, of "Butch Cassidy" fame. As in Paul Newman of "Newman's Own" spaghetti sauce. As in, all the profits go to charity. You can get Fig Newmans at Wal-Mart or some tofu-smelling organic store. And they taste better than Fig Newtons. I promise.

2. Guava yogurt. I did not know what I was getting myself into when I put a guava Yoplait carton in the shopping cart. For someone born in the sticks where you feed cattle corn and you eat corn and then the cattle, guava is pretty exotic.

I loved it. First, I love the color. Second, the picture on the front makes you feel cool and global, "oh, look at me, I eat things like guava yogurt, cactus, and homemade chicken satay." Third, it's a great change from the standby strawberry/banana.

3. I'm including video rentals in purchases. Deal with it. "Bella." The movie "Bella". It's an amazing, small-production movie with some of the best actors I've seen in a while. It's a great movie on faith, suffering, and community - but that makes it sound boring. It's actually vibrant, colorful, and very sensory - I felt like I could smell the smoke from the kitchen, feel the ocean breeze, ahhh...and great music. Get some great Mexican, stay in, and watch "Bella." It's a beautiful movie to watch in many ways. Also I cried. But it's not a sad ending, if you're avoiding sad endings. I'm trying to avoid sad endings right now since every time I go to the gas station it's a sad ending.

4. Kool-Aid. See, John and I have very different menus. I like feta cheese, portabello and Merlot spaghetti sauce, free-trade whole bean coffee, dark chocolate, bleu cheese, and fresh spinach, Mexican, Indian, Chinese and Italian. He likes hot dogs. Hot dogs, pizza, hamburgers, turkey sandwiches. No mayo. No ketchup. No sharp cheddar. No olives. Definitely no mushrooms. Only marinara sauce that's smooth, with no onions. Basically, his diet revolves around bread, meat, and cheese. He eats a little fruit and vegs on the side. He drinks milk by the gallon - literally. But dark chocolate? Ha! Bleu cheese? No way! Indian food? I'm as funny as Groucho Marx by this point.

So I bought Kool-Aid, because it's cheaper than the gallons of Gatorade he drinks, and it's nostalgic. And it's summer, and he's playing disc golf every chance he gets, so he's always thirsty. Kool-Aid is great. It's 18 cents a packet for berry or orange or Invisible watermelon/kiwi. And if people come over, well, everybody loves Kool-Aid.

Things I bought that I hate:

1. A smooshy canteloupe. Here's the problem: this doesn't mean all canteloupe are bad. What it does mean is, if you're buying your produce from a large box store (bad idea to begin with), don't get it the ripeness your Mom taught you - by the time you travel the five minutes home, it will be over-ripe. I picked up a canteloupe. It felt heavy for it's size: good. I knocked on it. It sounded hollow: good. I took it home. Two days later I turned it over and found soft spots on the outside of the rind. I cut it open. The interior was overripe - the seeds fell out when I cut it, the flesh went almost all the way to the rind, and it's taste was "so last year." I wish there was a mid-sized farmer's market nearby. I'd get up on Saturday mornings just so I wouldn't have to buy smooshy melons.

2. "My Blueberry Nights": we rented this movie. Now, it had Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, and Natalie Portman, so it should be pretty good, right? Unfortunately, it starred singer Norah Jones. I love Norah Jones' voice. Um, I think her talents are best showcased on the stage. By the end, she was more comfortable with the whole acting bit. The first five minutes I could've rivaled, and my acting is limited to church productions and student projects. And while I love foreign films and aesthetic cinematography, Kar Wai Wong's directing was not something I wish to expose myself to regularly. This was an American film, in English, but stylistically it felt foreign, which I often enjoy. But though I enjoyed the bright splashes of color and vivid tints, the slow motion was killing me by the end. That and the random, sensual close-ups of blueberry pie.

Well, those are my shopping reviews. Let me know what you love or hate.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


What is it about large explosives that cause my face to break out into a wide grin? I love fireworks. I love people getting together and grilling things and swimming and helping young children hold a sparkler for the first time.

Why fireworks? Perhaps if I'd recently spent time in a war-torn country I'd find the smell of acrid smoke, the bright flashes, and the earth-rumbling echoes less recreational than most Americans will tomorrow.

Bombs bursting in air: do we set off fireworks to signal that we've "won"? Do we ignite fuses and ooh and aww in symbolic declaration that we don't need our weapons anymore, we've won our independence, so we have extras we can set off on holidays?

Or is it a simple aesthetic of light, color, sound, and design that fuse to create a multisensory celebration? Fireworks, after all, mark the New Year in many countries, or Guy Fawkes day, or Bilbo Baggins' birthday, or even, in fact, my own wedding reception (that took place in January).

Event producers for cities this Fourth are speculating that crowds will stick near their homes for Independence Day (we don't call it that anymore - why?). Gas prices make extensive travel on the long weekend inaccessible for many Americans this year. It would be nice to drive to Indiana or Ohio to visit extended family. But gas prices are making giant deluxe packages of fireworks actually look cheap.

And here we come to the finale of the explosive production: where has the spirit of independence gone? Two hundred odd years ago, settlers were dumping products into the harbor in protest. This story is told as historical lore illustrating the boldness of the American revolutionaries. The unique pioneer spirit.

I have yet to see a picket sign outside of a gas station, courthouse, Shell oil company, Exxon Mobil, or the New York Stock Exchange, whichever you choose to blame or use as a platform for protest. Be it gas-guzzling Hummers, oil speculators, environmental limitations on drilling, or record-breaking profits for oil companies, $4 A GALLON GAS MUST STOP. And I do NOT accept one analyst's conclustion that "the days of cheap gas are a thing of the past." A scant ten years ago I recall filling station marquees announcing 89 cents per gallon.

I have yet to see empty highways from employees, employers, citizens, immigrants, and visitors who - in national solidarity - stay home for a day from the grocer's, work, church, and school. What would oil companies do if they saw millions of people walking into Manhattan?

Let's illustrate the cost: children are not driven to a frog exhibit at an aquarium and hour and a half away because gas is too expensive on top of the admittance. They lose an educational experience. Brothers and sisters are unable to drive three hours to spend a holiday weekend together because it's a choice between groceries or gas. Instead of reading scholarly works in my field, as I enjoy doing occasionally, I find myself clipping coupons and microreading ads to find the best deals on chicken. Community colleges are struggling to find ways to accomodate students who want to further their education but can't afford to drive into the city. Churches are rearranging their schedules so that activities all fall on one day, saving multiple trips.

It is evident that the cost of high gas prices is not just a loss of disposable income: it's a loss of education, a loss of exposure to beauty and other cultures (who can afford to fly?), a loss of community services (did you know the senior citizen centers are struggling to raise money to pay for gas to take the elderly to doctor's appointments?), a loss, in fact, of independence.

Independence, one can easily argue, depends partly on the freedom to travel. Not luxuriously, or extensively. Not all the time, or at any time, or in any mode. But independence is why Americans have been traveling the interstates since Eisenhower had them laid.

That experts fail to pinpoint causes for skyrocketing gas prices seems to leave ample room to argue for price gauging as evidenced by record-breaking profits. Perhaps from a strict reading of free market dynamics, prices should be allowed to raise until lessening demand causes them to fall. I argue, however, that it is unethical to make record profits on the backs of average, hard-working, common people.

Spilling oil in the Boston Harbor would be a much more disastrous act than dumping tea into it. We'd be scrubbing the black substance off of ducks with a toothbrush for months. But the lack of activism about the restrictive prices of gasoline is appalling.

Where are all the hippies now?

I want my independence back.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rahab Ministries

Found this today.

Love it.

This enterprise in Bangkok, Thailand has similar means and outcomes to Sari Bari; where Sari Bari works to give women in the sex industry employment by making blankets out of old saris, Rahab Ministries exists in one of the city's red light districts, entering bars and looking for women who want a way out. You can sponsor a woman - they always need sponsors - and they're working with Samaritan's Purse to provide housing for both women and their children. For employment, the women leaving prostitution make jewelry that you can buy. And guess what: it's really cool. I would wear it. No, I'm not saying I'm cool. Yes. Yes I am. Anyway, you can sponsor a woman for a year for just over a hundred dollars. Or you could do some gift shopping through them - necklaces, bracelets, earrings. Check out their "bazaar" on the website.