Thursday, July 31, 2014

Paying For Ministries

Clergy finance is a big topic these days, with articles in magazines, blogs, Facebook conversations and more. Seminary and other formation costs can be staggering, student loans are painful, and churches struggle to pay a professional wage. It's a perfect storm.

And yet in many congregations, ministers have the best compensation package. I would love to see a fuller conversation of compensation and financial wellness for all who work in churches. Yes, as a religious educator, I've got an interest here. But it's also about our music directors, administrative staff, sextons--whatever positions make up each congregation. 

Sure, many (but not all) of these folks haven't been to seminary, but that doesn't mean that they aren't carrying student loans, or that they don't have their own formation expenses which may or may not have been covered by a congregation. And with no faith requirement in most of these positions*, we cannot be expecting a vow of poverty. 

Pragmatically, retaining trained quality staff is critical to the stability of our congregations. 

Theologically, economic justice needs to be practiced in our houses of worship.

The Unitarian Universalist Association's Office of Church Staff Finances has done considerable work. Fair compensation guidelines including not just salary, but parity of benefits, and a full listing of best practices. 
It's a pretty strong list, and the office has different levels of recognition for congregations to strive toward. 

*My experience is with Unitarian Universalist congregations. Other churches/denominations may have a faith statement.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Yes, I Watched Sharknado 2 Tonight.

I'm not at all ashamed. Heck, I made a special dinner of fish and potato tornadoes.

I knew Sharknado 2 would be stupid and not especially cultured or filled with excellent acting. 

And I enjoyed it, with its completely unrealistic portrayals of almost everything.

The cameos alone were worth far more than the price of admission*, and the bad meteorology was bliss. Seriously, it caught the attention of Dr. Jeff Masters of WeatherUnderground. During hurricane season!

And with social media, I could have conversations about the goofiest part of the movie even when my own family rolled their eyes and left the room.

Sometimes we just need to do something frivolous and completely unproductive. It's like window shopping without the aerobic exercise. 

*Ok, so SyFy is cable, but it's basic cable. And a two-hour movie is nothing compared to the How It's Made marathons this family watches.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Beauty Giggles

Once or thrice a year I stock up on beauty supplies*.  Today I got my latest order from ULTA.

They're very big on the Free Gift with Purchase and all sorts of coupons and deals.**

  • My shampoo came with a free screw top pump. 
  • A purchase of a certain amount came with a free bag of samples and full-size makeups.
  • And every purchase online comes with a sampler of samples.
  • Oh, and a random $3.50 coupon and free shipping.

Really, though, the bonus is giggling.

"Better Than Sex" mascara. Sorry folks, no. This isn't even apples to oranges. It's apples to carburetors.
(My eyelashes do look pretty luxurious, though.)

The pinkish envelope claims to remove blackheads and SEAL PORES. Um, I'm pretty sure you aren't supposed to do that, because it sort of defeats the whole porous porosity of pores.

The gray envelope claims to be moisturizing lotion with sunscreen and a gender requirement and a lot of punctuation.
Would using this product give me testicles?

The little tube is an all-in-one beauty balm. Nothing too remarkable about it, but they thoughtfully chose a complexion. Not mine. Huh. I got to choose what color gift bag I wanted (the bright pink above, or an orange), but not what colors I might want on my face. The included eyeliner might be useful for a peacock look, though.

My actual purchases, thankfully, are quite wonderful. The unscented hairspray appears to be unscented. And the diffuser? My understated blow dryer now resembles a megaphone. With horns. 

*Sometimes I even remember to use them.

**Two coupons came with my order.  $5 off any $15 purchase, and $5 off any ULTA Brand $10 purchase. 

***That's trademarked, by the way.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Last Day Of Vacation

Tomorrow I head back to the office. So today?

I didn't set an alarm, but didn't sleep the day away, either.
There was delicious coffee.
I encouraged some small household projects into happening.
I looked at my professional wardrobe and stuck my tongue out.
I read a book before lunch, and another book after lunch.

This evening I set an alarm for the morning.
I considered a starter plan might be for the office.
And reminded myself that not everything needs to be done that first day.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Stuck In A Most Delicious Rut

On July 3rd, my last meal before the road trip was the enchilada and relleno combo plate at Chuy's, served with a New Mexican martini (chili pepper-steeped tequila.)

I got back to Houston this morning, and within an hour we were off to Chuy's, where I got exactly the same meal.

It's something of a delicious reset button.
Or maybe I just know what I like.

Getting back to Real Life now. Back to work on Tuesday.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Travel Day!

Left West Bend, Wisconsin this morning.
Departure time: 4:05 AM
Departure temp: 60 degrees

Arrived Marshall, Texas this evening.
Arrival time: 7:40 PM
Arrival temp: 92 degrees (highest seen on the trip was 96.)

Most expensive gasoline pumped: $3.43, Rochelle, Illinois

Least expensive gasoline pumped: $3.19, Festus, Missouri

I forgot to glance at the odometer, but final mileage for the day was around 950 miles.  We have about 235 miles to go tomorrow. 

Depending on how late (hard) I sleep, we could be home for lunch with my dear sweet partner, who we haven't seen since very very early on 7/4.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Gifts of the Handy

I am not the most handy of people, but my father might be.

For over thirty years he fixed Xerox machines, from tabletop units to commercial book-processing units.

He built the second garage, fixes his own car, and has built any number of things.

In retirement he's been a Habitat for Humanity site leader and for fun he picked up blacksmithing as an extension of the welding and metalworking he'd done for years.

Whenever we visit, he invites my kids to take on a project. This summer he had some old fire extinguishers for them to work with.

Secondborn made this firefly--the yellow is a glow-in-the-dark paint. The wings are metal from a discarded electrical box and the legs are nails.

Firstborn made this fallen angel--the wings were cut from a dulled and discarded saw blade.

The projects are done, carefully wrapped, and packed up for our journey home. They will find a new home, either near the flying pig secondborn made last summer, or out on the patio they helped us create in March.

But first, the long drive home.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Finding the Right Fit

No, secondborn is not ordering a new fedora.

My sons have been helping their grandfather with any number of projects on this trip. Today they were blacksmithing a custom stand for a pottery birdbath.

Pottery is rarely regular enough for a tape measure to suffice- instead you need to make several measurements, try something, and make adjustments. So the calipers help. So does flexibility and constantly checking in.

Very little of our lives is "One size fits all." Finding the proper fit, whether it's a hat or a relationship, takes effort and there are most often whoopses and corrections along the way.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sweet Success

The annual cream puff was purchased and devoured.

This alone means vacation has been a success.

Envious? Here's the recipe.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When Summer Finally Comes

Please, cold front, come.
Threatening clouds tease us, and those six hot drops of rain aren't what we're looking for, either.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Grand Day Out

Behold, my mother. 

One of my very favorite people in the whole wide world, and not just for that whole giving birth to me thing.

She's smart, hilarious, and has learned how to do so many things. Many of them require a patience I have yet to develop.

Today we drove to a nearby town for some walking and sightseeing and shopping, and just hanging out, the two of us*.

We were too early to go into most of the stores, so oh darn, we had to sit in a lovely park and chat.
Then we wandered around and took pictures of flowers she'd like to grow, tasted olive oils and balsamic, and bought a case of wine. 

There are benefits to this whole growing up thing. And it's not just the wine.

*Meanwhile my sons and my father visited the Harley Davidson museum and had cheeseburgers. Everybody wins. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Red-Winged Blackbirds and Fireflies

In Kansas, I think, I spotted my first red-winged blackbird of the trip. It gave me a special thrill.
As did the next one. 
And the next one. 
And the next one. 

I never see red-winged blackbirds in Houston*, but they're all over Wisconsin. You see them all the time--locals pay them no mind whatsoever.  Two weeks into the trip, I still smile when I notice them, but I am not paying as much attention.

Fireflies, though...

When I was growing up, we didn't really see fireflies around here. I doubt they were spraying this far out of town, but I really do not know. 

I can remember the first time I saw them, out in Iowa when I was eight years old. It was magical.

So it was a real shocker the first trip back up here when I noticed one and then dozens of them lighting up my parents' backyard.  It was all I could do not to grab a peanut butter jar and chase the little bugs around the yard. I've been known to get covered in mosquito bites as I stare in wonder. 

I would like to think that I will never take fireflies for granted. Of course, we can get habituated to almost anything.

I imagine my great-grandparents, marveling at indoor plumbing. The only time I think about it, quite honestly, is when something is stopped up. Similarly all the comforts of modern living, from electricity to preventative medicines. 

The simple fact that my parents still live in the only house I remember growing up in (we moved here when I was two) and we get to spend time here each year? With both of my sisters nearby? That's pretty amazing. I try to keep that in mind when we're all under one another's feet.

From technology to family to the natural world around me, I am so very blessed. Now to keep that in mind...

What everyday wonder makes you gasp? 
Where have you forgotten your wonder? 
What are you most grateful for?

*Houston Audubon claims that red-winged blackbirds do nest in the area. Perhaps they hide from me... but more likely, there are more comfortable wetlands further out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Life With Young Engineers

From their earliest days, my children have been most interested in technical things. Many household items were disassembled. Popular Science and Make are bedtime reading. They want to understand how everything works.

Quite often I have no idea what they are talking about. I have to ask for context on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. 

Over the years we have come to an understanding on boundaries for what they can take apart and how risky of experiments they might perform.

Among the great benefits of technical minds? It's easy to convince them to assemble new office chairs and appliances. Heck, this afternoon firstborn watched a YouTube tutorial, then replaced a teeny tiny component in my sister's phone.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Custard/Ice Cream Count

Growing up in Wisconsin, I have a certain love of most things dairy.

This vacation we've been taking pictures of each frozen custard or ice cream encounter.  I'll include a few here.

#1: July 9 
Toucan's Custard
West Bend, WI

#2: July 13
Jumbo's Custard
West Bend, WI


#3: July 16
Milwaukee Zoo Dairy Barn, 
Milwaukee, WI
(ice cream)

#4: July 17
Chocolate Factory
West Bend, WI
(ice cream)

#5: July 18 

Toucan's Custard
West Bend, WI

Not photographed have been the fried cheese curds (#1: July 7, Medford, WI and #2: July 18, West Bend, WI) and the innumerable other dairy experiences.

I assure you, I have eaten some vegetables and fruits as well.
There have been salads and lean proteins.
But who wants to see pictures of all that?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beauty and Horror

I spent the morning out on a boat, ostensibly fishing, though nothing was biting.
It was quite lovely.

On the way home I made the mistake of checking the headlines.
The airplane crash in Ukraine--this story just got more and more tragic and troubling as the day went on. So many people, no survivors. A missile? The first pictures of the wreckage. The uptick in the passenger count--babies in laps.

More news from Gaza, of Israeli forces moving in, and calling up more troops.

Ooof. I will admit that I needed to curl up in a ball for a while.

And yet the beauty of the morning still happened. And we still live in a world rich with possibilities for good and for love.

Now for all of us to uncover the possibilities and work toward them.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blessings Where You Can Get Them

Whenever we go to the Milwaukee Zoo, we stop by the overgrown badger exhibit and find it uninhabited. But we always DO stop by, because it's Wisconsin and there should be a badger, you know?

Today we were overjoyed to find a new badger out and about!

Her name is Tink and she's still growing accustomed to the zoo--the sign on her hill explains that she mostly stays hidden. But she was out for at least ten minutes and I must have taken twenty or thirty pictures. I probably would have taken more, but my camera battery protested.

I feel blessed by a badger.
(It's like Touched By An Angel, but when badgers touch, claws are involved.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When the company's more important than the event

Tonight I had dinner at a restaurant I'd never choose for myself.
Then I went to see a movie I'd never race to see in the theaters.

But my sisters wanted a night out, and I enjoy spending time with them when I can. 

Dinner was Mexican-ish--chimichangas and fried ice cream on the menu. Margarita variations included strawberry, raspberry, and Packers. (No, I was not brave enough to try.)

The movie was 22 Jump Street. We had an awful lot of time guffawing at the hijinks, fully realizing that the film will not be up for (m)any Oscars.

We got to hang out together, and that means a lot. Soon enough I'll be 1200 miles away, with my beloved Tex-Mex but far from these two awesome women* who've known me a long long time.

*Yes, I should totally include a picture, but we didn't think to snap one tonight.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Snuggling a Snuffly Babe

Perhaps he's teething. Or it's a summer cold. But my nephew was snuffly and whimpery today, needing to stay in someone's arms and require their full attention.

He is an itty-bitty baby, so his demands are quite reasonable. He is not yet old enough to "self-comfort"--if indeed we ever get old enough to take all responsibility for our own comfort.

A baby cries out when he needs something. As a child grows older, we teach them to 'use their words', and maybe add a 'please' to their requests. And then we encourage them to do for themselves what they can.

As a culture, we value independence. Self-sufficiency. To a certain degree it's helpful.

But it is good to need other people, whether it's for a bit of warmth and a back rub, someone to get us something to drink or run a necessary errand. Someone to sit near us and listen, to offer encouragement when we are down and celebrate with us when all is well. 

Many of us need continuing education--how can I ask for what I need? How can we balance autonomy and interdependence? How can we be known as strong and mature people, while still sharing our vulnerabilities?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Talking With Rabbit

This evening we noticed a rabbit in my mother's garden. While he was sitting beneath a bird feeder nibbling fallen seeds, he was adorable to look at. But when he went over to the veggie garden and started nipping at bean stems?  Ohhhh, evil bunny.

I called out, "Hey! Stay away from the green beans!"

Unsurprisingly, he did not seem to care, and kept up the nibble.

Communication is all about mutual understanding of symbols/gestures. The rabbit does not know human vocabulary, and my tone was not sufficiently angered to push him to take action.  No, that took me going outside and storming the walkway he was on.

And hopefully we'll still have some bean plants left in the morning.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rain Rain Rain Rain Rain...

"Come in," she said, 
"I'll give you shelter from the storm." 
                            -Bob Dylan 

It's a little crazy wet when the amphibians are looking for dry places. 
Around here we don't have ducks wading in the cornfields, but I saw plenty of that in Iowa and Minnesota. If we could blow it back to the west coast to put out those fires and bless the crops, we certainly would.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Potato Salad and Welcoming All

Potato salad just might be one of my favorite things in this world.

AND, I am exceedingly fussy about my potato salad. There should be no pickles. There should be hard boiled eggs. A mayonnaise-based dressing. Celery, not too much onion. The potatoes should be on the firm side, and stay intact--mashed potatoes, while awesome, are a very different dish.

Each of my requirements above is really just a preference. I will not die if someone slips some diced pickle into the mixture, though I will likely grumble.

My mother, on the other hand, is seriously allergic to mustard. She NEEDS to know if a recipe contains mustard, if she'd like to keep her airways open.

When I can, I keep mustard out of food when she's around. But this evening, after I made a gallon of my beloved dish, without the usual scoop of stone ground mustard, I found out that the Kraft Mayo already in the batch?  Well, the company reformulated their mayo.  Despite my best efforts, Mom will need to skip the potato salad at our family barbecue tomorrow.

This example involves just a couple of people and some pretty clear-cut boundaries. We live in a great big world, though, with so very many relationships to balance, so many variables.  What do we need to consider for the safety and comfort of all in our communities? 

Coordinating Sunday School, I have an extensive list of allergies, health conditions, and needs of our students--things to consider as we plan events and lessons. 

In the wider church community, we are often balancing needs--how might we decorate for the holidays without throwing anyone into an asthma flare? How do we need to shift culture and find equipment so everyone can hear? Are all of our doors and hallways and restrooms accessible to people with mobility issues? 

There are so many questions with financial, logistical, and relational angles to consider. Sometimes there's an easy technical solution, something we could solve in ten minutes, or before the next worship service. Other times there are meetings with stakeholders and maybe even architects and engineers, then a capital campaign and lots of dust.

Draw the circle wide.
Welcome whenever and however you can.
And remember, Epi-pens do not take the place of medical attention.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Do Our Mistakes Shape Us?

I dug into some Serious Reading today and had some Serious Thoughts, like how Buddhist precepts overlap with family systems theory.  

But I'm on vacation, so I'm not going to blog on that right now. 

Instead, let's consider the YouTube videos my kids had me watching. Specifically this one from the Vsauce guys. Yeah, it's got cancer in the title, but it's about a lot more than that, and here's the one thing that stuck out for me-

120,000 transcription errors every time our DNA copies.  

Yeah. 120,000 mistakes.  Whoopses. Screw-ups. 

Many of them are caught by our bodies' own systems, but some of these errors will be carried on in further splitting of cells. Sometimes this is a bad thing (like cancer), sometimes it makes very little difference, and sometimes the mutation can even be beneficial.

Do our mistakes, conscious or not, make us who we are? Not entirely, but yes, they must play a role. 

First, the unconscious--from those genetic typos to things we don't really consider--the accident or opportunity we might miss when we oversleep. That right there is the stuff of a thousand stories.

Next are the big mistakes we make with our eyes open. Sometimes we make what turns out to be a wrong choice.  Or we make a choice and something unexpected happens--it, too, might be good, bad, or neutral.

And what about how we REACT to our mistakes? Do we take responsibility? If we have done harm, do we admit it and ask forgiveness? Offer to repair things? If we had one of those serendipities of accidental discovery, do we fess up to the wonder?

(If we're bitten by a radioactive spider, do we use our newfound powers for good, evil, or impressive macrame?)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Escape to a Blanket Fort!

I got to spend the day with my four-year old niece today. There was fingernail painting and necklace beading and pop-up books. Best of all, we built a blanket
fort across the living room. Blankets carefully arranged between the sofa and a rocking chair and a card table, with clothespins and hope holding it all together. Inside there were pillows, more blankets, books, and a hand-crank lantern. Snacks available on request.

Granted, this was not the most comfortable or spacious place to be. There was a sag in the middle and if the day had been a hot one, we would have needed to bring in a fan--likely messing everything up. 

But it was an opportunity to make a new world, or a series of worlds, with no worries about continuity or anything practical. My niece was first a baby dragon with a small horde of jewels, then she was a mommy, trying to get her children to sleep. She tried out lots of different little noises, then hid inside as people came into the room, her giggles giving her away.

When was the last time you built a blanket fort?  
When will you make your next one?
What new possibilities might unfold?

Are You Broadcasting the Right Signal?

"Dad, I'm sorry to say it, but you've become that old guy who drives miles down the interstate with his blinker on."

We caravaned back from our time in the Northwoods today. I know where I'm going AND I have the route on my phone, but I always let Dad keep the lead. 

The first time he left his blinker on, I wondered if he was telling me to get off at the next exit.  But no, we continued ahead.  Ah. He must have forgotten.  I tried to get his attention and finagle MY signals, but no use. The boat was in the way or perhaps he had other things on his mind.

Soon enough, though, he went to pass someone else, and the blinker was used properly.

And then ten miles later, he forgot again. And then again.  

After a while I started to ignore the persistent signal. 

Have you ever communicated something you didn't mean to? Maybe it was a facial expression--you were thoughtful and they thought you were angry or disinterested? Or maybe you used a phrase incorrectly--like I hear myself responding with "No worries!" or "No problem!" when it IS something of a worry or a problem.

Or maybe you continue to put something out there that hasn't been the reality for a long time--the bar advertising a beer that hasn't been made in forty years, the church brochure claiming a program or idea that fell by the wayside two ministers ago.

Such false communications dilute our message and make us look out of touch with our own realities, not unlike a driver in the slow lane, blink-blink-blinking across the countryside.

Messages matter. Let's pay attention to what we put out into the world, and what we need to take down.

This post was written July 8th, but somehow did not post until July 9th.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summertime up north-
Reasons for celebration
Outdoors while you can!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Expecting Miracles

Hard to live up to,
"Rejuvenating Bath Gel"
A full tube, perhaps?

And yes, it was like this when we got here. Given the state of the shower curtain, I'm thinking this was a housekeeping issue, not packaging mishap.

Road trip continues through Tuesday. Expect short posts or none at all.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"A Guy Thing"

I'm on a road trip, limited internet, but I'd love your insights--

My teen sons* refuse to share a bed with one another or any other guy. Last night neither would share the king bed in our hotel, with one preferring to sleep on the floor.

Several parents have told me that this is not uncommon among boys.

I have some theories on the reasoning, but first I ask y'all- is this the norm?
How long does this trend last?

*Reminding them that they shared a womb makes for some amazing eye rolls.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Two Road Trips

Shriveling butterfly corpse
Hotel parking lot, Ames, IA
July 4, 2014
When I think about
getting from here to there 
is a matter of logistics and options.

How much must I bring?
When must I be there?
Who else is coming?
How can I afford to travel?

For a butterfly, 
it's more about riding the air,
moving toward the next plant.
It's a short life,
but a lovely one.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Where Will You Innovate?

From Al Gore's current Rolling Stone article:

In poorer countries, where most of the world's people live and most of the growth in energy use is occurring, photovoltaic electricity is not so much displacing carbon-based energy as leapfrogging it altogether. In his first days in office, the government of the newly elected prime minister of India, Narendra Modi (who has authored an e-book on global warming), announced a stunning plan to rely principally upon photovoltaic energy in providing electricity to 400 million Indians who currently do not have it. 

Wow. So new tech is going to people who have never had the Same Old Thing.

In religious circles these days sometimes the innovation happens outside of bricks and mortar churches. Part of this is that bricks and mortar costs a lot of money--startups don't have it.  But also, there isn't an existing infrastructure to work through/around and less time spent on "We can't do that" and "What we have now is working well enough."

For some time now we Unitarian Universalists have been hearing about Congregations and Beyond.

And at General Assembly Faithify was launched, a way to crowdsource donations for exciting new projects on a wide range of passions.

Next up is NextGen Ministries* - 

a developing umbrella initiative of the UUA that will help spark new faith communities and congregational ventures to reach younger adults and other groups with high growth potential in Unitarian Universalism. NextGen Ministries projects, will be creative, collaborative, diverse, tech-savvy, mission-focused and action oriented, embodying the spirit of our new ventures in faith. They will be started by individuals and groups both inside congregations and outside congregations. 

It's a ripe time for innovation.  
What's your big idea?
How will you change the world?

I'm going to have some vacation first, before I start plotting.

*That's a working title, calling to mind Jean-Luc Picard. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Traveling Into the Future

Early Friday morning we'll heading out on a road trip, journeying back to my homeland in the midwest. I've made a similar journey nearly every summer for the past fifteen years.

Back in the day I had a whole AAA bag of tools- the Triptik, a foldable US Map with a highlighted route, and books for each state on the journey so we could find a reasonable hotel*.

Now it's a smartphone with Google Maps and traffic notifications and various review sites for lodging and restaurants. I might take a Triptik along, to hand to my sons when they ask how much longer.

And in just a couple more years, it's possible that they will do the driving, while I update my blog.

*And this was a vast improvement over the journeys of my childhood, when we didn't have a Triptik and never got to stay in hotels...

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

So Much News, So Little Time

I've read that you shouldn't publish things until you've had some time to process them. Make sure your thoughts are in order and not clouded with anger or despair or even an ecstasy you can't live up to. 

And yet this puts a person at a distinct disadvantage to keeping in conversation with the issues swirling around us every day. Days (weeks?) of processing can make a person seem out of touch, especially in today's culture of instant responses.

So shall we throw caution to the air and just let our emotions guide our tongues (or fingers)? Or should we maintain a log of contingencies--here are logical and just reactions to an issue being decided this way, and here's a reasoned approach to the opposite decision?

I'm going to have to think some more on that.