Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Potholes (a bit of ranting about trusting our leaders)

This afternoon a committee of the Houston City Council heard feedback on a proposed Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance. (You can see some of the #WeNeedAHero conversation on Twitter. Also #HOUEquality.)

Yes, one of the largest cities in America does not yet have such an ordinance. But we're working on it. At least two Unitarian Universalist ministers and several other clergy spoke for the ordinance, calling for fairness and justice. Other clergy (and lay people) spoke against the ordinance with other religious arguments, and there were plenty of other arguments. 

It was not always the easiest of things to listen to.

Aside from the obvious "How can you be so disrespectful?" and "Stop with the CHOICE talk!" mutterings at my desk, one of my biggest growls came when a gentleman told the city council that they should get back to what they were elected for--the budget. And potholes.

OF COURSE an equal rights ordinance has fiscal considerations for our city. And that's why the business organizations and realtors sent people to speak in favor of it. For now I'm going to set that piece aside.

But potholes?  Talk about being mired in the details.

This insistence on the minutiae is not just self-serving.  It is distraction, making real change nearly impossible. 

What would it take to really give our leaders permission to lead, to do the jobs we elected/ordained/hired them to do?

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am called to be in covenantal relationship. To respect the people around me, and to work with them. To begin with some assumption of good will.  Egad, you mean I need to TRUST them?

And wait--you're saying that it's not just about me? My pothole might need to take a back burner to helping hundreds of thousands of people? Or even just ONE person, in a life-or-death situation...

As communities, we need to experience loving discourse and build trust with one another. We need to be okay with different people taking roles on things important to them, and recognize that many have special expertise--let them have a little authority already!  

We need to realize that we can build great things together, rather than trampling each other's dreams with petty criticisms.

Rev. Erika Hewitt has a lot more to say on this, far more eloquently than I have here--Tom Schade has put it up on his blog, and I highly recommend the read.

Because beloved community takes so much more than a smooth commute.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Of Dementors and Horcruxes

I'm a wee bit of a Harry Potter fan. 

Before each book came out, I'd read the predecessors. Again. (By the time Deathly Hallows came out, I'd read Philosopher's Stone at least seven times.)

I saw all the movies in the theater (at least one at a midnight showing), and watch them on cable (even the dorky ones) whenever I notice they're on. ABC Family's PotterTuesday is a most excellent way to start my week.

I've dressed up as Molly Weasley for Halloween*.
We call my sons the Weasley Twins.

I have sermonated on the subject. (The Five Smooth Stones of Harry Potter)

Hopefully that's cause enough for those not interested in Harry Potter to clear the room. Because there's some serious geekitude ahead.

And spoilers.

The aforementioned Weasleys and I were watching the last movie this weekend and I was thinking aloud about the fact that when Bellatrix and Voldemort die, their bodies explode into itty bits. This is remarkable because generally in the Potterverse, killing curses and whatnot leave a remarkably intact corpse. 

Concepts are made physical in Rowling's world. Despair is personified by dementors, ghoulish things that float around, sucking the joy out of the world. (No worries--you can protect yourself with patronuses, and heal the damage with a good chunk of chocolate.)

Evil, we are told, can split your soul-especially something as bad as killing another person. In Voldemort's case, he chose to take these splittings and embed them in objects--a horrible partitioning called horcruxes.

Last time I checked, we do not live in the Potterverse. 

And yet.

Who hasn't felt despair as a physical presence? Something that seems to make life colder and utterly without hope?  

And our world is full of a thousand kinds of evil--from choosing not to care about another, to deliberately destroying things and people. Surely this must erode our souls. I think of the PTSD of troops, called to do horrible things and witness still more.


Sometimes it seems a miracle that people are as intact as they are. 
Thank goodness that there is healing in this world. 
And experts and loved ones willing to help.  
And that our world still contains hope.
And chocolate.

*Spouse went to that Halloween party as Undead James Potter.

Monday, April 28, 2014

My Sabbath Criteria

Monday is my Sabbath. 

It's not just a day off*--A day off is where we find the time to get the errands and appointments done that we can't fit into a work day.  Chores. Anything that counts as a have-to. We might need to wear shoes.

Sabbath is a time outside of time. It is putting a pause button on obligations and worries, as much as that is possible. 

A day to BE rather than to DO.

It is a day to be restored. There's a lot of resting--sleeping in or napping, and just being dozy on the couch. There's quiet and calm.

It is a day for feeding the soul. Beauty and joy and meaning, however we define these things. 

Sometimes I sit outside and watch the leaves fluttering in the breeze, the lizards scampering across flagstone. There might be meditation or exercise or hobbies. Other days I read something lovely- poetry or an old favorite... NO manuals, no curricula, none of that. And sometimes it is frivolous and goofy--I will admit that I read three hundred pages of a book with absolutely no redeeming qualities today.

I wear different clothes on my Sabbath. When possible, I stay out of shoes entirely. (Slippers are permissible if the floors are cold.)

Often, I do not leave the house at all on the Sabbath. When I do, it's generally to see a much beloved friend. Occasionally for something fun and quite outside the ordinary.

Sabbath to me, is not unlike shutting off all the accumulated programs and tabs on my computer.  Clearing space for what is to come, even when there's some anxiety of "But... I need to deal with that still! What if I forget about it? What if there isn't time?" Bookmark it, baby. It can wait.
*I considered making a Venn diagram of Day Off and Sabbath, but that would definitely count as work.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

For a safe nest

Mama mourning dove here has made her nest under the eaves of our fellowship hall. The good news is, she is not directly over a door...this year. A little distance means a better chance for peace for her and her babies. I might remember to come click a few pictures on occasion, but other than that there shouldn't be too many disruptions.

I am not a mourning dove, but a quick reading of the wikipedia article tells me that the doves tend to be monogamous, and in warm climates they might have multiple broods, up to twelve chicks a year. And they eat seeds--plenty of those to be found on our grounds. Security and food. Easy enough to meet those needs.

Humans, though, have considerably more criteria. Maslow and his hierarchy of needs and all the theories of the seventy years since. Yes, we still need food. And security, most definitely--though our idea of threat is somewhat different. A need for friends and other close relationships, knowing that we belong and that we have worth. And then there are the needs to creatively act in the world... it's a really rich tapestry--for just one of us.

When we come together in a group, especially a religious community, it is amazingly complicated. So many different needs calling out to be met--so often unspoken and unknown. How can we best be in relationship, where it feels safe to express one's needs and one's callings?

There is sacred work to be done here.

May your nest be safe and comfortable and your fledglings warm, healthy, and ready to fly!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Finding your calm wherever you might be

The whole family headed to my partner's company picnic today. Several hundred people taking over a ranch turned country club.  Lovely landscaping and plenty of activities, plus a rather amazing treehouse featuring air-conditioning AND a bathroom.

We strolled the grounds and chatted with people while the boys explored the boating and fishing options and the treehouse. Other than lunch and a short round of bocce, secondborn spent most of the day on the lake. (Thank you, Wellness group for handing out tubes of sunscreen.) In this picture he's lying down in a kayak, having a bit of a siesta while the rest of us were in the pavilion awaiting raffle results. 

While we did not win a smart-TV or an overpriced cooler or an iPad, he got to float in peace.  Smart kid.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sex, Sex, Movies, and Sex!

I'd love your input on this one.

My sons recently completed Jr. High OWL (Our Whole Lives), the amazing comprehensive sexuality education program. They spent a couple of months learning much more than the basic plumbing facts, talking about values and relationships. It was meaningful and practical and they got to eat a lot of bagels. 

Anyway, with all this new knowledge and maturity, we figure they're ready for some more mature movies. We could simply up the ratings, but would love to make a fun list of movies to watch together.

So, ideas? 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Creating, maintaining, letting go

I put a lot of effort into researching the perfect reusable calendar to hang in my kitchen!
It has little dials to change the month and the days--so clever!
Repeating appointments can stay on the calendar!
A cork strip at the bottom means I can put important documents and such right there!
It will be so easy to keep track of life!

So said my January 2012 self. I bought it and got it ALL set up. I even had color-coding!
February and March and April and May, I was all over updating that calendar!
So efficient and clear was I!
At a glance every member of the home could know the plan!

Then I forgot to change it in June. And July. And August...and the rest of 2012.
And all of 2013.
And JanuaryFebruaryMarchApril 2014.
From time to time I would glance at the calendar and feel bad.
More shame than guilt.
That paralysis made me even less likely to fix things.

I have a feeling I'm not the only one to fall into these less-than-useful patterns.

This morning I took a few deep breaths and determined to move ahead.
I took a few minutes to remember how to make the little dials work.
I figured out which of those repeating appointments even still happen on those days of the month. Or happen at all.

Maintaining the old is far less exciting than making something new. The realization that the task might be neverending? That's daunting.

But if we can make it a habit, remembering that this is important even if it is not so novel? That is meaningful.

And then there's the flipside--what do we do when the cultivated habit is no longer important? Do we hold on for dear life, going through the motions for tradition's sake? Or do we celebrate the accomplishment and then move our energy to somewhere new?

At some point I might get my digital calendar just right and shared with the rest of my family, instantly accessible. I'll be happy to reclaim the wall space--maybe put up a lovely poster or a mirror for last-minute "Did you comb your hair/put on necklace" checks. 

For now the calendar still has a purpose. 
If I can remember to update it. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sandwiches and Happy Chaos

The pragmatic part of me understands that a sandwich makes an excellent lunch--simple to prepare, no need to heat, the bread containing the stuffing so you can eat it easily and neatly. Blah blah blah Earl of Sandwich and gambling and whatnot.

I dared not unwrap the sandwich
for photo purposes, because it
is cruel to make y'all drool on
your keyboards.
Most of the sandwiches I enjoy, though, are gooey and overstuffed and require several steps and many napkins. 

Today's was the California Connection from Central Market, a slightly-fancy grocery store chain down here.  Turkey breast and provolone with a thick layer of caramelized onions, tomatoes, chipotle mayo, basil pesto, and salsa pesto. They carefully stack the ingredients on both slices of bread, put it through the oven open-faced, and then press the layers together. Oh my goodness, what a delicious mess! But it all comes together with a synergy that is so much more than you might expect from each ingredient taken on its own.

My theories on sandwiches, I will admit, sometimes bleed into other parts of my life. I've been accused of being something of a mistress of chaos.  But hey, it's generally a happy chaos.

Happy chaos is a wonderful part of community as well. Whether it's a Sunday school lesson or a worship service or a special event, I feel like sometimes we need to set aside a bit of our control, a bit of our assumptions, and let some magic happen. It might be a wide-open question that begs for wild participation. It might be belly-busting laughter or that vocal solo that makes everyone else's breath and hearts catch in their throats. It might be the child who takes an elder's hand and skips down the aisle, across the courtyard, and to the abundant snack table.

No, we shouldn't abandon safety policies and our goal is not total anarchy. We are just opening up new space for wonder, for joy, and for truths we need not work so hard to engineer.

What magic might happen?
I bet the mess will be worth it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Say Cheese!

For about ten years my kids did not eat dairy. There were good health-related reasons for this at the time, but it was never easy. Restaurant kids' meals are full of mac'n'cheese, pizza, cheeseburgers. Birthday parties are much of the same (incidentally, I used this as an excuse to avoid Chuck E. Cheese entirely. That was bonus.)  If it wasn't hard enough to live in Tex-Mex central, I'm from Wisconsin. Every time I'd buy soy cheese on vacation up there, I worried that my name would be put on a list...

About a year ago the kids decided they were done with that particular austerity. They made some experiments and when things seemed to be OK, they dove back in wholeheartedly.

Pizza! Bagels with shmear! Ice cream! Cheeseburgers! And holy cow, the quesadillas. Their latest birthday party featured cheesy bean dip, a 28" pizza, and an ice cream cake. Their lactose-intolerant father was most envious.

Keeping the fridge stocked when you have teenagers in the house is always a challenge, but I've had to resort to rationing or we'd be at the grocery store EVERY day. A carton of ice cream every two weeks. ONE pack of tortillas, not all the tortillas in the world. Balanced with pretty much as much fruit and veg as they want.

Our next big milestone is Coming of Age. What are we taking to the brunch? Bacon/panko-crusted macaroni and cheese and a baked brie.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Oops and Ow Moments

When I was a kid I accidentally slammed my hand in a heavy car door. The doctor, while checking for damage, asked, "Well, why would you do such a silly thing?"

I had no good answer. I had no intention of causing myself pain, but it happened. And I have yet to stop. Over the years I've fallen awkwardly, had a pizza cutter incident, and repeatedly gotten poison ivy in my own backyard.

The worst is when I cause myself damage and don't even realize it until hours later when I'm hurting or unable to move in all the ways. Usually that's a back thing. 

Part of it is that I'm not always paying attention. Trying to do too many things at once, often rushing to get something done. Forgetting that I can slow down or ask for help or just let things wait.

I've heard from others that this annoying skill of mine is not that unusual--have you ever had one of these oops and ow moments?

What helps you to be more mindful? To be more patient?
Does it keep you from hurting yourself?
(And likely from hurting others!)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Calculations for a Nap

I love church work.
AND Sundays are pretty exhausting.  So it's my practice to take a nap on Sunday afternoons.   Mmm, sweet nap.

It turns out, though, that you need to be careful with your napping--too long or too late, and you risk insomnia later.  Or perhaps sleeping straight through the evening and night...  

Today  I did not fall asleep until 4pm, and slept until the dog exuberantly asked for dinner around 6.  There's an excellent chance that I'll stay up later than I should.

I might need to finish the book I'm reading.
And watch silly movies.
And do some general lolly gagging.

Why did I urge caution in nap-timing?

(Thank goodness I have off tomorrow.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The '80s Mixtape Playing in My Head

Yes, I'm a product of the '80s. The music especially keeps bubbling up.

*If, in a body prayer to the four directions, the instructions include "Now face west", I will be transported to REM's "Stand."

*In any meeting where "liaisons" are mentioned, I head to Mr. Mister's "Kyrie."
Lord, have mercy.
(I didn't see Dangerous Liaisons until much later, for better or for worse.)

*Bloody Sunday puts me to U2 before Selma.

My fellow Gen-Xers, I'm sure I'm not the only one with such musical neural pathways--what's in your wiring?

Folks of other generations, what sparks your neurons?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Considering Calendars

We had a little bit of ice here this winter. It made some traffic messes and some logistical fun for families, especially when school wasn't cancelled until early morning.

But a different kind of storm played out today.

See, school calendars are rather complicated things. A district needs to have the proper number of days of school and also have space for an ever-expanding list of holidays and observances. And summer needs to be long enough, and winter break, and spring break... graduation dates are set far in advance, so adding days to the end of the year is not an option.

Our local school district built two 'inclement weather' holidays into the calendar this year, and wouldn't you know it? We needed to make up both of those days...

Good Friday and Memorial Day.
Yep.  A major Christian day of obligation, and a federal holiday. On two weekends when families often travel.

To put it mildly, folks are ticked. The district website has pages and pages of comments with many suggestions, most impossible to implement in midstream. (My favorite? "Make them those Jewish holidays, or that Martin Luther Day.") The district sent home a letter letting us know that yes, we all have the right to fulfill our religious obligations--here's how to make it an excused absence.

My sons attend a large campus and report that it was a ghost town--three or less people in each of their classes, until fifth period when the teachers just let them hang out with a science teacher for the rest of the day. So hooray, they got to play with magnesium ribbon.

Best part of this story--next year's calendar is online.  The make-up days? 
Good Friday and Memorial Day.
Hopefully we'll have a milder winter... and no hurricanes.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

When I start muttering about goats...

Some days life seems overly complicated. Appointments and printer jams and traffic jams and a cell
phone that has given up the ghost. I mutter about escaping to the countryside, away from all of this.

The ongoing fantasy is something about Montana and raising goats. Not that I've ever been to Montana, or know much about raising goats. It's a fantasy.  My version of that whole Thoreau at Walden thing.

Beyond those moments of fantasy, I'm a realistic soul. So I present:

Ten reasons the Walden life is really not for me.

  1. Pollen is not my friend. seriously. I was outside for an hour and my body's reaction to the pollen load was to congest me enough that I couldn't hear out of my left ear.
  2. I enjoy being in contact with other people. In person, internet, phone... the whole nine yards.
  3. Takeout. (Ok, I suppose Thoreau had his mother and the Emersons sending care packages...)
  4. Bean farming is more work than he told. I can only imagine goats would be moreso.
  5. I'm all about journaling, but only if I don't have to do it longhand. 
  6. Nature sketches? My drawing skills are so limited that an art teacher thought I was being impudent.
  7. Winter. Especially winter. I have limited potential for the season anyway, but trapped by myself in a cabin surrounded by snowbanks? That would be attractive for about two naps.
  8. Washer and dryer. And someone to remember to get the clothes OUT of the dryer.
  9. Television. Even though Scandal is done for the season, there are so many movies I need to see yet.
  10. Self-reliance isn't really a life goal for me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Stopping the itch

The first time I learned about family systems theory, I was told "A system will do anything to stop pain." This week, I'm substituting "itching" for "pain."

Have you ever been REALLY REALLY itchy? Like unable to think about anything else? Willing to do desperately destructive things to yourself, if only that burning ticklish insistent feeling would just STOP?

(Are you getting a little itchy just thinking about this? Sorry!)

One of my children has hives right now, and after a couple of days of home treatment gave him no relief, we spent a couple of hours at the allergist and pharmacy today.  There was a questionnaire, a physical exam, a scratch test, and an in-depth interview--none of this revealed a cause. This surprised exactly none of us--often hives are 'idiopathic', a five-syllable way of saying "We're not sure."

The good news is, the first line of treatment is the same, regardless of the cause--take an antihistamine to calm the itch down!! Often this needs to be something of prescription strength--Benadryl may not do the job long-term.  Make it so the patient can sleep and go about a normal day without keeping an eye out for new implements to scratch every bit of skin off their torso/arm/back/wherever.

In our congregations, anxiety can become both paralyzing and explosively damaging. We become entirely reactive. But just like treating a skin condition, calming down can really help. 

Easier said than done!  

Sometimes we can calm ourselves. Sometimes we need a trusted leader or even an outside expert to come in and prescribe something just so we can get to a point where we are able to reclaim our full cognitive power, to remember the theological and emotional ties that bind us together as a congregation. 

Once the itching is controlled, we can doctor the scratches, consider the underlying causes, and build a way forward.

(And to bring this post full circle--sometimes hives are caused by stress.  Like you might find in a congregational conflict.)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Whittling away at limitations

I am not an especially crafty person--my hands are not skilled at transforming what is in my mind or in my vision to the situation in front of me. I cannot paint or draw, can only sew straight lines, and my knitting? Oy. It's wretchedly tight and irregular.

My profession demands a certain level of competency around crafting--and generally I get around it through clever applications of the Internet. (Truth-telling: I search with keywords like easy and preschool. The second grade crafts are enough to make me hyperventilate.) Thank goodness for e-hows.

One thing I've often wished I could do is whittling. The idea of taking a piece of wood and knowing JUST which bits to remove? And how to make a 3D version of any object, however delicate, into something that is wholesome and set.  A whittled flower does not wilt, and a whittled toy might be handed down to one's child and grandchild.

There are reasons, of course, that I never picked up the hobby. First, I cut myself enough just preparing dinner. And THAT involves a cutting board, and skills I've practiced for years. I'm a little afraid about my thumb's limits.

Secondly, I recall that whittling was presented to me as a very male endeavor. Everyone I knew who was learning to whittle was a Boy Scout.  Meanwhile, Girl Scouts (in my very limited experience) were expected to make a meal plan for a camping trip...which might happen in the leader's backyard. (As much as I enjoyed learning to make eggs in bacon grease, I remember more intently that we did not even get to go to a real campground that year...)

Perhaps whittling will make it on a list of future endeavors.

Step one: Get a pocket knife.
Step two: Get pockets for storing the knife.
Step three: Buy more bandages.
Step four: E-how!

Monday, April 14, 2014


Charoset*, pictured here, is a delicious mixture of fruit and nuts most often eaten at Passover Seders. The name is taken from the Hebrew word for clay, and it is meant to represent the mortar (or in some versions, the adobe) the Jewish people used to build Pharaoh's cities during their time in Egypt. Of course, there are other interpretations, because this is the way of Talmudic tradition--what truths can be supported by careful study?

For nearly two decades I've been bound to my Jewish partner, and most years there's been a Seder, especially since our children came along.

I was raised Catholic, then had a few unchurched but searching years in my early twenties.  In the transition to parenthood I was looking for community and sought a playgroup--little did I know that another young mother would invite me to visit her church...leading me to a faith community I could love, to Unitarian Universalism, and to my calling as a religious educator.

My sons have been brought up in Unitarian Universalism, with some intentional exposure to their Jewish heritage and Catholic family traditions. Here in Houston, Christianity is ever-present, but it's also a global city-my children's classmates come from dozens of countries and practice many religions. 

This year the boys are in Coming of Age, a Unitarian Universalist program for teens. In some ways, this is like the confirmation process of many faiths--a journey and ritual to help youth move toward an adult understanding of their religion. They develop relationships with adults who are not family members, bond more closely with their age cohort, and have extensive time to consider what they hold most dear.

But UU Coming of Age is not about agreeing to a set faith statement. Instead, they consider what truths they already know, and what questions they still have. A tangible product of the year is the credo statement each youth develops. Here, the youth are preparing to stand in front of the congregation and share their statements. 

Like charoset, credo statements can be sort of... chunky. A fully integrated and embodied statement is a lot to expect of ANY of us, at any age.  But the start these thirteen and fourteen-year olds have made? Delicious.

And like charoset, there are an infinite number of recipes--no two credos are the same. And yet they use many of the same elements, what we can recognize as our shared faith, and with such hope and energy!

What would your credo be?
Whether or not you've studied theology extensively, whether or not you've read an assortment of philosophers and poets and comic books, I'm willing to bet that you have a pretty good idea of what you stand for. You believe certain things to be true, and you have some big questions that you struggle with.  Maybe there are inconsistencies in what you believe, in what you practice--that just means that like all of us, you are compelling, struggling, and not done quite yet.  Thank goodness.

*Just in case you clicked this link hoping for my charoset recipe--I go with what I like. 1 part chopped pistachios, 2 parts Granny Smith apples, a drizzle of honey, a few pinches of good cinnamon, and a couple glugs of sweet wine. Sometimes a squeeze of citrus juice, and a little extra salt if the mixture needs it.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I had two chairs in my office, stacked neatly.  And they WOULD NOT come apart. Heaven knows how long they had been stuck, but I needed them separate today for a meeting. No amount of physical strength could help. And I had company, so the justified expression of certain words didn't seem prudent.

It doesn't take much to flummox me some days.

And then I saw something odd.  Is that... wire?

Sure enough, someone had taken the time to wrap about eight inches of rigid metal wire around the legs of both chairs.

The most likely culprits? My own sons.

Movies and books and real life give us countless stories of PKs- Preachers' Kids. The children of religious educators are more stealthy.

Thankfully, I took a picture of this, because I forgot all about it minutes later.
Perhaps tomorrow I'll ask the boys for the rest of the story. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Signs Spring Is Here

Many of my northern friends are posting pictures of crocuses and daffodils lately, remarking on putting away the shovels and unplugging the bird bath heaters.  

In Houston, winter proper (such as we have it*) has been over for a month now. And flowers never completely stop. Heck, we have some 'deciduous' trees that stay green all year.

So, how do I know it's finally Spring?

It could be the desperate urge to garden--weeding and trimming, getting container plantings started in my patio, and putting some spring color into a front bed. Yes, I could garden most any time of the year, but my Wisconsin blood comes through with this early April compulsion. Confession time--today I bought a tree at the grocery store. I swear, I was going for butter, Sunday School snacks, and Seder food.  I brought home a tree, too.

Along with the gardening (and the rise in temperature), comes a desire for cool foods, and lots of veggies.  I had a salad and ceviche at brunch this morning.  My partner had the traditional eggs, bacon, and English muffin, so be assured, breakfast was covered.

It could be the decision to put away the flannel sheets. We might have a cold front next week (40s at night), so this is a bit of a crapshoot. But it's 85 today--it just
feels like it's time.

Or maybe it's the letter from the Homeowner's Association, telling us things that our wrong with our house.  Those always seem to start up in April, dooming us to extra hours of joyless tasks. This one came Thursday, and tells us that there's mildew on our bricks. We live in a semi-tropical climate, folks. Mildew happens.  (If I ever move, I might seek out mildew-colored bricks, just to save us all the time and paperwork.)

Sadly for everyone who lives with me, I've never had a sudden urge to clean the house in springtime. Chametz will forever remain in the corners of this joint, and a certain level of clutter.

But I do become more open to change--the comfort of 'things as they've always been' starts to itch a little. As my gardenia blossoms and the basil threatens to bolt, I consider where I'd like movement in my work and in my life in general. What could be freed up? What could be more dynamic?

It's an exciting time. And excitement, of course, leads to more work and more stretching.  Thank goodness for ibuprofen, good friends, and soft summer sheets.

*No, it's not bilzzard land, but even here this winter was unusually cold.  We had icing three times, where usually that happens every few years. There was snow, but no accumulation, because again, semi-tropical climate.  Zone 9, if you're into USDA hardiness zones.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kids grow up (even if you stack books on their heads*)

They really love camo. For all occasions
My sons, affectionately referred to as the Weasley Twins, are in the eighth grade--high school course selection has already started. Through church they're taking OWL (Our Whole Lives, the uber-comprehensive sexuality education course) and they are in Coming of Age (UU version of confirmation) as well. It's like they are growing up or something.

Part of the growing up piece is taking little jaunts away from the nest. They were at a church retreat last weekend, and are gone all this weekend for a school thing. They go to school early, and some days stay late. And on unscheduled days they might leave for hours at a time- hanging out with friends or riding bikes for ever-increasing distances.

In the early days of parenting, my spouse and I had next to no time for just the two of us. At first, a date required too many logistics--sometimes two sitters! And the Weasleys were not especially known for a love of sleep, so time after bedtime? Well, we'll just say that some nights (and afternoons!) I fell asleep before they did. These days not only are the kiddos gone a fair amount, but they are happy to hold down the fort while we head out for a hot suburban date. (True story then and now--an alarming proportion of our dates involve a trip to the grocery store. These days, though, we don't run into the babysitter's parents in the dairy aisle.)

Texas children must be photographed in fields of
bluebonnets.No one knows why. Just do it.

In the early days of parenting, I almost could not remember what silence was. Even just a year ago, I was glad to have a Monday Sabbath, because I was guaranteed a day at home by myself--I would get irate that so many school holidays fell on Mondays... But now there is plenty of time for quiet. And it will take a few years before I will be sad about that.

My mother claims that the first real AH-HA! she had when we'd all finally left the nest was that she could leave something on the counter, go to work, and when she came home that evening, the item would still be in the same place.  I am tempted to try this over the weekend. But my spouse would put the thing away, or more likely, holler out, "Where does this live?"

And that would break the silence.

*No, don't put books on their heads. Read the books. Or use the books to flatten the important forms the kids forgot at the bottom of their backpacks. Not that that ever happens...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Patio Office!

Back in February I posted about the on-pause patio project at my home.
While my amazing father was here last month, we completed the work, leveling the ground and putting in flagstone and pea gravel.  

After my appointments today I decided the patio could be my home office, as I worked my way through a bunch of reading, emails, and logistics.

(Also, I never knew this camp chair had a canopy.  Awesome for this pasty girl.)

 My coworker in the home office was happy for a while to bask in a sunspot on a favorite pillow, but soon enough decided that she'd rather be out and about with her peers.  Or back in air-conditioning. 

Tomorrow I'll be back in my church office, and soon enough it will be too hot to be outside in the heat of day. But today was pretty wonderful.

I'm privileged enough to have some flexibility in what I do--not chained to a single desk or even a single task in most moments. But too often I get stuck in "Holy Cow! So Much To Do!" and do not stop to consider that I could be plenty productive away from the desk and the phone and the Giant Stack of Binders. 

Opportunities for joy and beauty and laughter--I look for ways to include them in every Sunday School lesson, but in the sacred work I do on my own? As Tim Gunn likes to say, "Make it work, people."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

My Favorite Hydra

When I head out on vacation each summer, I take books along with me. Last year I was in too much a rush to make mindful decisions, so I took thirty books across the country. Plus my Kindle.  AND I visited the library once I was at my destination. All told, I read thirteen books that month. Many of them fun stuff, and some professional books requiring some dedicated quiet time.

It was relaxing and there was some sense of accomplishment... but my to-read list never gets any shorter.

Every time I read a book, this odd hydra thing happens--Ooo!  A resource I need to investigate.  And... there's another! There's an excellent chance that I will be ordering at least one more book (or adding it to a wish list) before I finish the first one. 

Monday I was minding my own business, reading Facing Feelings in Faith Communities. And there on the page popped out a great quote "Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring...a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the moral quality of the social relations in which we are immersed..." (Beverly Wildung Harrison)

I did not even finish the page I was reading. Nope.  Grabbed the computer and started hunting for which book contained that essay, then searching for an inexpensive copy. The Internet is a delightfully dangerous thing. It's the perfect pairing of inexpensive prices and books of any vintage or rarity.     

Today Making the Connections: Essays in Feminist Social Ethics showed up on my doorstep. Two hundred sixty-three pages of book PLUS extensive notes and indexing.  When will I possibly get to that? And if I do, how many more books will it add to my list?

Edited 4/10/14 to add- And then I finally get around to reading my April CLF (Church of the Larger Fellowship) newsletter and there's a great article about the power of books (and Beacon Press, who published the aforementioned volume!) by Meg Riley.  Well worth the read.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Life Lessons From My Turtle

Meet Mack, our red-eared slider.  He's a fairly content turtle, mostly hanging out in his tank and begging for freeze-dried worms, waiting for his basking light to come on. On occasion he gets a little field trip. (Whatever you do, don't let your turtle go for a joyride through a rosemary bush.  It's hard to get rosemary needles out of turtle nooks and crannies.)

When it's time for his tank to be cleaned, Mack needs a temporary residence. Sometimes we put him in a tub, sometimes he gets swaddled and held, and sometimes he goes in a basket.

Now, Mack is a self-preserving soul. The first thing he does when put in a new place?  Legs and head INSIDE the shell. But within a minute or two he starts to investigate. And consider a way out of this obvious trap.  He'll stick his head through the hole--maybe a leg. Maybe two legs. Maybe all three appendages in three separate holes. This does not work so well.

He makes his way around the base of the basket, trying every possible exit.  It doesn't work, but he persists through multiple orbits.  Stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck.  
And then, through some stretch, he reaches up. OH YEAH! He can CLIMB!  He works on this for a while--getting to the second and then the third levels of the basket.

Mack is a diligent soul, and he's also heavy. So that climb quickly topples the basket, and ba-da-bing--he is out of that trap, and on his way to safety. (Want to see the video?)

Returned to the basket today, he remembers the strategy, and is out again in seconds.   Wait a couple of weeks, though, and he is trapped trapped trapped stuck stuck stuck again.

As individuals and as congregations, we like to think we are highly evolved, thoughtful, resourceful. But when we feel trapped?  We go back to our reptile brains. We get stuck and we fall back on safe but ineffective strategies. We don't go anywhere, and we have a hard time admitting just how stuck we are. And when we finally make the leap, make the change? We're so happy to be out of that mess, but we may not carry the learning forward.

How might we reflect on and formalize our growth, so it is truly retrievable and replicable? How shall we remember that we ARE resourceful and thoughtful enough when the next challenge comes around? How can we have the confidence to know that stretching is a good thing, and the hope to know there's something worth attaining on the other side of that obstacle?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Playing Grown-up

This entry is The Rev. BFF's fault, as we discussed it over pie yesterday.

By nearly all criteria, I count as a "grown-up"...I have completed four decades on this planet, have a house and job and teenagers.  I drive a sensible car, own more than two pairs of shoes, and have eaten a vegetable in the last day. 

I'm told that people consider me conscientious and wise.

I do not feel especially mature.

Well, for one, I still take rather a lot of pleasure in the cute and the whimsical.  My soap dispenser looks like a penguin.  I wore my cheesehead to a recent church event.  I spend a fair amount of my free time laughing at really hilariously dumb movies, and prefer my pop music stations to NPR.

And then there's the whole, "Well, I'm not as old as my mother." I do have a capacity for algebraic thought and I know that both of our ages continue to creep upwards at the same rate. But MAYBE I will be grown when I am her age. (This said, her soap dispenser has duckies, and most of her DVD collection is Pixar or Dreamworks.)

A rather ginormous piece of it, though, is that I do not feel like I have all the answers. I struggle to even come up with a question that only has one correct answer--I feel like that went away at some point in my sophomore year of college twenty years ago. Heck, every thing I learn seems to uncover dozens more facts and concepts and trains of thought I still need to investigate. 

James Luther Adams wrote about how revelation is forever ongoing.  While I value that as a tenet of my faith, let me just say that it is exhausting. If I could just check "Learn Everything" off my to-do list, there would be a lot more time for dumb movies. And blogging.

Instead, I keep adding to my "To-read" pile. And I'll get to that reading, as soon as I finish my comic book stack.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What Is Ministry?

Ministry is embodying love and helping others to embody love.
Ministry is dynamic and sitting completely still to hold space for another's sorrow, struggle, or joy.
Ministry is in the moment and forward-thinking and with respect for what came before.
Ministry is connection-paperwork, emails, phone calls, face-to-face conversations.
Ministry is crafting a life-changing sermon, leading the sacred ritual, staying calm in a late meeting.
Ministry is disposing of a dead squirrel, moving mulch, waiting for the pizza guy.
Ministry is done by ordained ministers, by religious professionals, by congregants, by children.
Ministry requires all of us and each of us
Waiting for the pizza guy
choosing to embody love.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Katy's Non-exhaustive List of Movie Rules

To quote Sally*, "I just like it the way I like it."

For the purposes of this post, I will be talking about movies I see in theaters.  I watch plenty on DVD and TV as well, but theaters, oh, it's a special magic.

1) I choose movies based on their popcorn-ability and whether I feel the big screen will add something to the experience. That is, I want something that is dynamic and meant for entertainment. Serious stuff waits for rental or TV.   Giant monsters, superheroes, kabooms?  Let's go out to the movies! This also means that by the time the Oscars come around, the only nominated movies I've seen are those nominated for special effects, sound editing, and animation. I'm OK with that.

2) Yes, popcorn is mandatory. Our usual place does bottomless popcorn, with (real) butter on request. It's an important part of the experience.

3) Sit close to the back of the theater. (My eyes prefer it. Your mileage may vary.) 

3a) Seats with armrests that swivel up are bonus, as I most often go with my sweet baboo.

4) There should be enough trailers that you nearly forget what movie you came to see. I love trailers. Today's were Amazing Spiderman 2 (I think I am getting old. Also, it seems a real waste of Emma Stone), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Michael Bay? Hrm.), Guardians of the Galaxy (Vin Diesel gets to have some geek fun), and X-Men: Days of Future Past (I may have cried during this one.) Oooo!  The Godzilla ad just came on my TV.  Distracted much? Yes.

5) OF COURSE you do your best not to distract others in the theater. We go to Alamo Drafthouse whenever we can, not just for the yummy hatch chile queso fries and quote-alongs, but because they have a firm No Talking policy, with great announcements.

6) We must stay for the end credits. First, because I enjoy the different animations--today's (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) were simple but intriguing. And because sometimes you get surprises, like Nick Fury.

7) The best time to go to the movies is early afternoon, so I can be surprised by sunlight when I walk out of the theater. That said, I'm happy to go most anytime.

*I did not see When Harry Met Sally at its theatrical release, as it was before my friends and I could drive. But I've made up for it since.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The good, the bad, and the TANGO!

The bummer is, Disney has started charging a fee for some of their Pixar shorts on YouTube. This means that I cannot watch some of my favorites whenever I feel like it--I actually have to get out my DVDs and figure out how to use the PS3 to play a video...

The good news is, they put up a bunch of other "Disney Favorites" shorts, so new stuff for me to investigate and to share.

Here's my favorite thus far-Tumbleweed Tango by Humble. We've all found ourselves in prickly situations, where navigation is tricky, to say the least. Thank goodness for friends helping us to move gracefully through life!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Adaptations (My take on Hainanese Chicken Rice)

I had never heard of Hainanese chicken rice until seeing Anthony Bourdain's Singapore episode of No Reservations. And oh my goodness, I needed to have it.
So I did some reading up online, bought some chicken and ginger, and got to work.
The basic concept is simple enough- Boil whole chicken in a flavorful broth. Use some of the broth to cook your rice. Serve chicken atop rice, with delicious condiments, something for crunch, and broth if you like.
Over the years I have made enough changes that I really can't call it Hainanese chicken anymore, but dang, it is delicious. My starter broth is a combination of water, frozen broth (usually chicken or turkey), soy sauce, chopped green onions and garlic, some crushed red pepper flake, and the peelings from a big chunk of ginger.
Into this I put the chicken (yes, I often do the exfoliating step steamykitchen describes.)
I bring it to a boil, then drop it into a simmer. It goes until the breast tests to about 170. I let it cool just a few minutes, pull off the breast, and put the rest of the chicken back in the pot so everything else can finish cooking through.
The rice is cooked in this same broth, in my rice cooker. (Although not this week, as there was an incident involving an improperly cleaned rice cooker. Very expensive mistake. And disgusting to boot.)
Sauces--these are my primary reason for making the whole production happen.
1) Ginger-garlic sauce. Grate ginger or throw in mortar and pestle with 2 or 3 smashed cloves of garlic and a 1/4 teaspoon salt and a generous grinding of white pepper. Combine with a few tablespoons of sesame oil. Sometimes I add a splash of rice wine vinegar.

2) Soy-scallion sauce. Like it says, this one is pretty much good soy sauce and a bunch of thinly-sliced green onion. Either rice wine vinegar or freshly-squeezed citrus juice. Sometimes I add a smidge of garlic and a couple of drops of sesame oil so it clings better.

3) Sriracha. Awww, yeah. (Traditionally chefs make their own chili sauce. I am fine with this squeeze bottle, thank you very much.)
I tend to hand everyone a bowl of the rice, with a little broth poured over it. They get to put on their chicken, sauces, and fresh garnishes.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Oh, Fort Hood...

There are other things I planned to post tonight.

But another shooting at Fort Hood stops me in my tracks.

The details seem to be coming out quickly. Four dead, including the shooter.  Sixteen injured, some quite critically. The instant constant news cycle means that experts and congresspeople and military representatives are quick to share what they know or suppose.

Even if there were a call for help, even if I had a specific skill to be of use there, I am two hundred miles away.

Speculations and careful reasoning to put together how something so horrible can happen? My mind could likely come up with a thousand scenarios.

But my heart has no patience for that-it knows only that something is horribly wrong, that it is hurting.

Tonight I will simply pray.

For the families and the friends of the fallen
For the healing of the injured
For the steady hands and sure way forward for the medical staff treating the wounded
For our servicepeople who reel from yet another horrible shock
For all those petrified with worry, not knowing if their loved ones might be lost or hurting
For all of us.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Developing a Habit

How long does it take to make a habit of something? I have seen articles claiming anywhere from twenty-one to one hundred days. And really, I think there are too many variables for a one-size solution. Where is it on a continuum of MostFunEver to Borrrring (or Painful?) Is it enough of a stretch to be compelling? Does it involve intrinsic or extrinsic rewards and expectations? Is there muscle memory involved? How much time does it take?

The experts tell us that as we take on new habits, there are ways we to encourage success.  Having some way of being accountable is a biggie among most sources. Carving out the time for the habit helps, too, especially if it is keyed to times of day when you have the headspace to get it done. Figuring out how to handle things when you would rather do anything BUT the task you have set before you... The lists go on.

It works in my favor that I am a completionist--I really enjoy getting to check things off my to-do list, turning things in, and knowing that I have done what I set out to do. I am not, however, especially quick with these things, and often pull things down to the very end.  (What? It's 11:52 and you haven't done three of your daily things yet today? Get on it, young lady! Then GO DIRECTLY TO SLEEP!)

I have been working on blogging daily. Today, if I am doing my math correctly, is Day 40.

In some ways, blogging every single day is easier than whenever I get around to it. Because let's face it--there are thousands of things that could keep me from that whenever. And then I feel horrible because I haven't written in months and it feels like it has been so long that I won't be able to restart... oy, the cycle.

A daily practice ups the urgency and keeps it on my personal radar.

It has also helped me to accept that not every post will be Totally Amazing and Immediately Changing The World. As a perfectionist, this is a major issue. Sometimes it is just about sticking with the habit, being ok with 'ok', and developing a specific voice. And simply getting something OUT THERE, instead of hiding away. And anything that helps me take myself a little less seriously? Bonus.

So, has the habit stuck yet? Nope. This evening I nearly fell asleep on the couch with any number of things left undone. And it still feels somewhat unnatural-I do not easily fall into a flow most days, and the editing can be soul-sucking. (A journaling practice is so much easier for me, as I don't have to edit!) I still have problems with endings that aren't completely abru