Friday, October 31, 2014

November is National Novel Writing Month

if you see me writing long blog posts in the next month, know that I am likely procrastinating on my NaNoWriMo project.

(And no, I won't be putting the very rough draft in this space.)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Some Days Require Chocolate Pudding.

This is not one of my allegory posts. Just pudding. No pictures because too busy eating.

Base recipe is Tyler Florence's, but I switched out ingredients some.

1 cup nonfat milk (I don't have whole milk in the house. Stick with me.)
1/2 c. heavy cream (left over from the mushroom soup Monday)
1/2 c. brewed coffee 
1/3 c. sugar (could probably reduce further, but not sure what it might do to consistency)
1/3 c. good cocoa powder, sifted
3 large egg yolks
3 t. vanilla extract
4 teaspoons cornstarch1/4 t. salt
A few shakes of chipotle Cholula or chipotle Tabasco
Pinch or two kosher salt

1: Mix together the milk, cream, and coffee. Pour 1 1/2 cups of it into a saucepan (nonstick makes your life easier) and heat over medium heat. Add in the sugar and cocoa. Stir occasionally until it comes up to a simmer.

2: While the milk is heating, separate the eggs. Add the egg yolks to the reserved 1/2 cup milk-coffee and whisk well. Add the vanilla, 1/4 t. salt, and cornstarch and blend thoroughly.

Once 1 is simmering, add it slowly to 2, whisking constantly. If you're impatient you may get little scrambled eggs in there. When that all comes together, return it to the saucepan and simmer for a few minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened. Add a few shakes of your chipotle hot sauce of choice.

Put the pudding into cups/bowls, sprinkle with kosher salt, and refrigerate until they are chilled through.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Strengthening Our Resolve

"I'm not worried about churches in our tradition conforming to the culture. I'm worried about them not effectively engaging the culture," Moore said in an interview. "We have to be able to speak with conviction about what we believe. We have to speak to people."

The Moore referred to in this article is The Rev. Russell Moore, an organizer of this week's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission National Conference.

According to the photo caption of the article, "Southern Baptists organized the three-day event to strengthen the resolve of Christians preaching the increasingly unpopular view that gay relationships are sinful."

To put it mildly, I disagree with their assertion that gay relationships are sinful, and I disagree with an awful lot of this article.

But yeowza, YES-- engaging the culture, speaking our beliefs with conviction--that's good good stuff for all of us. I think the conforming to culture is a danger for all people, regardless of their faith, and I am inspired by the idea of a dedicating several days to strengthening resolve on a single issue.

First thing, of course, we would need to agree to that single issue...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Cook's Illustrated Teaches Me About Ministry

The latest issue of Cook's Illustrated is a reaaaaaally good issue--I intend to try almost every recipe, except one that would set off my shrimp allergy. 

The same day I opened the magazine, I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients for their mushroom bisque recipe. I adore mushrooms and I really liked the write-up.

See, I adore the way the test kitchen folks approach a dish.

They consider what they're looking for--what would the optimal mushroom bisque feel like? Taste like? How much time are we willing to spend? How much money?

Then it's time to start cooking. Sometimes they try several recipes they've found, and sometimes they just make a basic batch of the item.

And they have taste tests and consider how it works with the criteria they've determined. They identify surprises and problems and consider how to refine what they're doing.

Then they set out on their own recipe--sometimes coming up with some colossal failures. They tweak and tweak, more taste tests and technique shifts, until they get it where they think it best matches their criteria. And even then, they sometimes revisit techniques and ingredients in years to come.

In this case, they had to figure out a reasonable mix of mushrooms, how to make the dish taste more of mushrooms than cream or chicken stock, and their wild and crazy finding? You could skip the time-consuming step of slicing the mushrooms, and just microwave them to pull out enough of the moisture to get good browning. (No worries--that reserved mushroom essence was returned to the pot.)

So, what would America's* Test Congregation look like?

  • Clarity around what they're looking for
  • Considering what's already out there, and what they think they know
  • Checking in and getting the opinions of a variety of stakeholders
  • Realizing that failure is an opportunity for lessons, not the end of the world
  • Willingness to try something outside the norm
  • Knowing that this stuff is DELICIOUS!
  • Sharing their results
  • Coming back to their program from time to time, considering what might be tweaked

*The PBS show related to the magazine is America's Test Kitchen. I'm riffing on that, not purposely excluding my colleagues outside the US.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Technical Difficulties

My netbook and I have had a good four years or so, but we'll just say that it's been through a lot. My dog knocked off the down key ages ago. It's on its third or fourth or fifth battery. It's getting slow.

And yet I am loathe to do the research for a replacement. So many questions and considerations, price ranges and features. And then the setups to get the right software and settings and whatnot. Exhausting.

That's the sort of energy I need to be putting into this planning for this year's National Novel Writing Month project.

At the same time, it would be a big kick in the pants to write my next novel without a personal (and mobile) computer.

So maybe I need to make the time. Before Friday night?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Calm That Is "How It's Made"

Most of their lives, my sons have been big fans of "How It's Made" .This Canadian show takes just a few minutes to show us the steps involved in producing some item, from a Faberge-type egg to a shop vac. 

The boys loved learning things and seeing all the tools and assembly lines and robots in action.

Why am I such a fan? Well, have you ever been too tired to read, but not able to sleep yet?

"How It's Made" is perfect for that. The relaxing-yet-groovy soundtrack, the calm voice of the narrator, and the clear steps of a process--it's sort of like a golf nap, but with a sense of completion.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Words words words

If you wear a Fitbit or similar device, your motion and sleep and whatnot can be automatically tracked.

Is there a similar device counting words uttered in a day? It would need to be more accurate than my current voice recognition software, and able to track just one voice as opposed to all sides of a conversation.

Still- do I use more words in a day than I step? Are some days more vocal than others?
What blessings might I find in a totally silent day?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Today's Experiment

Email, they say, is a flat communication. Hard to fit in emotions, especially positive ones. If anything, things get read with a negative angle.

So today as an experiment, I poured a bunch of love into a set of emails. Specifically telling stories of my favorite things about people. Utterly truthful, mind you.

I can't even guarantee that everyone will read their emails, but thus far the response has been good.

May the trend continue.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Putting Things Off Until You Can't

Stephen Covey (and many many others) uses a quadrant system for productivity. On one axis is
importance, and on the other, urgency.

The urgent stuff has a way of taking our lives, whether or not it's actually important. Sometimes we never get to that yellow quadrant because we're putting out fires in 1 and 3.

This year I've been taking a webinar-based class, with case study homeworks for each session. It's useful material, and yet I had a hard time getting to the homework amidst the other pieces of life.

So now we're two weeks out from the deadline for turning in all coursework, and I've got about a third of the work left to do. This is a great improvement over a week ago, when I had two-thirds of the work left to do*.

And yet I know I'll need to find some time to just turn off everything else and concentrate on the homework. After another major work event... and this Project Runway finale.

*Quite honestly, I couldn't fess up to this issue until after I talked with others in the class AND I made some headway.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Just because you can...doesn't mean you should.

Oh, Blacklist.
Having an episode THIS WEEK about a plague spreading globally? This might be exciting television, but it is not responsible in the current climate of fear and panic.


And of course, they can kill thousands of faceless people, and then find some simple way to stop the flow and everything is miraculously fixed.

Writers can fix anything, can't they?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


It appears that my voice-recognition software is not as much of a time saver as I thought it would be.  Any ideas what I meant to say here?

universal is in disney big dreams for what could be a kiss me hope to know the great thing searchable deserve it it is a face tradition about getting your house your hamster dance sometimes get your heart broken continuing on hope your world

Monday, October 20, 2014

Restraint, Of A Sort

Last year I came home from this work conference with nearly two dozen books. This year I only brought home six books.

Mostly because I have a bunch of last year's reading left to do.
And I wasn't checking any luggage today.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ready For Home

I like hotel beds and seeing my colleagues and learning things, but I also enjoy
*My own bed
*My own shower
*Having toiletries in sizes over 3.3 ounces
*Fresh fruits and veggies whenever I want them
*The six things I forgot to pack

(Home tomorrow evening, if all goes as planned)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Half-formed Thoughts

Professional conferences mean lots of new ideas forming in my head, but none of them are especially ready for articulating.

So instead, amusing link--

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sweet Traditions

Whenever I go on a trip, my son sneaks a stuffed animal into my suitcase. I then take pictures of said animal around the hotel/conference center/tourist spot.

I could say that this started when my son was very very young--maybe even that it was his beloved toy coming along.  But no, this just started a few years ago--if he wasn't a teen already, he was definitely a tween.

The first time it was a surprise that he had done such a thing, and I was touched. Then he did it again and it became something of a tradition. Now I make sure to mention that I have finished packing, just in case he wants to sneak something in.

I found Mr. Turtle (pictured above) before I left home this trip--I considered changing him out, as he's already been on a trip to D.C. with me AND he is not small or squishy enough to slip inside a purse or pocket. But that didn't seem fair to my son, who had already left for school.

Maybe I'll make a maximum dimensions statement, just like the airlines... 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Conference Survival Skills

Um, this was going to be a top-ten list, but one of those steps is "Get Enough Sleep" and the Pats game just ended...


#1 - Get outside whenever you can. If possible, stop and smell the roses. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

There Are Worse Places to Wait

I will admit--I kind of like hanging out in airports. 

Get through security, figure out where your gate is, and just have some time to explore. I walk the concourse, consider what treat I might get for the plane, maybe grab a citrus-laden beverage for fighting off germs*, and look at art.

More and more, airports seem to have intriguing displays of art--paintings, sculpture, you name it. Today's find was in a mezzanine between the two halves of Terminal A at Houston's Intercontinental Airport (IAH)- some whimsical, some geometric and precise, some sweet.

And yes, I should find time to just GO to art museums. But in the meantime, airport.

*Some hold that the addition of alcohol to citrus aids in germ prevention. Your mileage may vary, and please follow local laws and customs.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

I get on a plane in under 12 hours, so of course, I'm baking.

I use the standard chocolate chip cookie recipe off the bag...only not quite.

2 sticks BUTTER. Not margarine

1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
2 t. vanilla
2 eggs for certain 
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda

2 c. flour
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
a bit of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375.

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla and eggs.
Mix in the salt and baking soda, then the flour just a bit.
Mix in the chocolate chips.

Line a half sheet pan w/ parchment (or in my case, reusable parchment sheets) and drop big dollops of the dough on the sheet, then spread it out. It will ALMOST fill the tray.  Try to get everything the same height so it will bake evenly.

Sprinkle some kosher salt over the top--probably only a 1/4 teaspoon.

Bake about 20 minutes, or until browned and just slightly firm. It may get a little crispy around the edges-that's deliciously fine.

Let cool before cutting.  Yum!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Cold Fronts

I'm not sure of the veracity, but I've heard that Houston is the air conditioning capital of the world.

For the most part I do not use my oven while the AC unit is on--no need to make the poor thing work harder, and I much prefer months where the monthly electric bill is under $300.

So when the first few cold fronts come, I am excited and eager to roast and to bake. 

Today the front came through while I was in the grocery store stocking up.

Twelve hours later--

One pot roast w/ onions and carrots
Tray of roasted parsnips and red potatoes, a smaller tray of roasted mushrooms
Baked rigatoni dish with a mushroom bolognese and plenty of melty cheese
Roasted butternut squash (mashed and made into....)
Butternut cornbread muffins (like this but less sugar)

And on the stove top I made a big pot of pinto beans, while the grill was enlisted for corn, okra, and two kinds of sausages.

I'll be gone most of the week, but rest assured--the family will be well-fed.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

All Are Fangled

If you hear me say that this week, well, it's my new line. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Illusion Of Control

Preparations for my annual professional conference this week included special errands this morning.  See, the 3-1-1 liquids rule is our reality now, though no one is especially concerned that my 4-ounce moisturizer is going to do much more than moisturize my skin. I spent six bucks on a smaller bottle of a similar moisturizer, so I could avoid the $50 fee to check my luggage.

Tiny bottles in a clear bag, slipping off shoes, restricted access--there are any number of hoops we're asked to jump through at the airport these days. Few of them have any real bearing on our safety, but it sure looks like someone is vigilant...

Many of us (I'll include myself here) are hunting for a way to control our anxiety and our fear. We convince ourselves (mostly) that if we plan aggressively for every worst case scenario, surely nothing bad can happen! And if something bad still happens? Well, we just didn't plan well enough, and we'd better put some more restrictions into place, until we're all paralyzed.

What personal TSA rules have you made for yourself?

Friday, October 10, 2014

How Much Sleep?

Seriously--if you had a day when you could sleep as much as you wanted, how many hours would you sleep?

Could you go more than ten?  Twelve? Sixteen?

And when you finally got up, would you feel rested? Or would you grab something to eat and go down for a nap?

Not that I'm tired or anything.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

When Systems Aren't Gratifying

I am the eldest of three. We were forever bickering and our parents would often tell us we needed to work it out ourselves--they were not getting involved.

OOOOoo, I hated that. I wanted one of my parents to walk in, say that I was the righteous party, and thoroughly put my sisters in their place.

On Monday when the Supreme Court declined to hear the marriage equality appeals before them, I will admit-- I went back to my childhood indignation. I might have stomped my feet on my way to throw myself across my bed. HMPH!!!

In the past few days I've read a fair amount of the legal reasoning and I intellectually get while they chose not to hear cases right now.

From a systems standpoint, things are going exactly as they are supposed to. Mom and Dad shouldn't HAVE to get involved in every little bicker, unless they see something in some way damaging.

But I'm also horrendously impatient...and I live in Texas. There's been a move to expedite our appeals hearings to next month. I'm glad for motion, but our district judges are not the most amenable. And yes, in the back of my mind, is the phrase "Loving v. Virginia"--which state will be on the case taught in history books a generation from now?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Simple Math and Sad Truths

When you realize that you aren't getting enough sleep, there are three main variables to consider.

1) Morning wake - Sleep later. Awwwww yeah. That certainly would be awesome. And maybe not so practical...

2) Sleep interruptions - this one may be the piece we have the least control over.

3) Bedtime. Just go to bed earlier. And yet... Jimmy Fallon is on...

Sad truth--I think I need to give up my late-night Fallon habit. 

Hopefully people will post the best bits on Facebook the next day.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cheetos Bag o' Bones - Distribution and Relative Possibilitie

Investigation--how many complete cheetah skeletons can I make with a bag of Cheetos Bag o' Bones?

Materials: One 8-oz bag Cheetos Bag o’ Bones
Large bowl
Smaller containers for sorting the bones

Sorting revealed the following distribution:
Skulls: 54
Ribcages: 38
Paws: 51
Longbones: 82

Considering the picture above, a cheetah skeleton is one head, one rib cage, four paws, and four long bones--the limiting factor on skeletal assembly would be paws. This one bag of Cheetos Bag O’ Bones could assemble 12 complete cheetahs.

Another picture on the bag, though,  shows one head, one rib cage, four paws, and eight long bones. In that case, the limiting factor would be longbones, and the bag would only give us 10 complete cheetahs.

I could purchase more bags, but it turns out that the bones are the puffy kind of cheeto, not the crunchy ones I prefer.

So I’ll stick with the observation that the total volume of each kind of bone seemed to be approximately equal.  It’s also possible that bags are filled by mass of each bone, but my instrumentation was limited.  (My kitchen scale has been dropped enough times that its accuracy is unreliable. It's sensitivity with such light objects has never been stellar, either.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Glitches, Grace, and a Generosity of Spirit

May  5, 1819
William Ellery Channing gave the revolutionary sermon Unitarian Christianity.
Due to his soft voice and the poor acoustics of the church, only the first three rows of folks could actually hear the sermon.

October 5 (and 6), 2014
The Church of the Larger Fellowship switches to their new online worship platform with Adobe Connect. It did not go smoothly. Some elements froze entirely, or went in fits and starts.

And yet, people stuck with it, and it truly felt like community.

Some elements I witnessed (watching quite passively as a congregant) that made it work:

*Clear reporting ahead of time—
  •   Why we’re switching to a new format
  •  What platforms were supported by Adobe, and what you might need to do ahead of time
  •  Recognizing that there might be glitches, and that leadership was committed to working with the vendor to fix things over the coming weeks.
  •  Asking membership to please share their experience of what did and did not work. Amazingly, those emails were to be sent to the senior minister, Meg Riley.

*Leaders logged in early and were available for level one tech support.

*Collaborative spirit— Soon enough congregants were joining in with their suggestions and what worked for them

*Personal responsibility and flexibility- some congregants, when one device/browser wasn’t working for them, made the effort to try another way, rather than shaking their heads and leaving

*Reminders that all the video segments would be on YouTube as well, so anything missed was not gone forever! (As I write this, I see links going up on Facebook, directing us to the segments that were hardest to hear/see.)

*And through all the chaos, the message was vitally important and people’s pastoral needs were still being met.

Kudos to the folks at Church of the Larger Fellowship. I look forward to what is to come!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Justice and the Symphony

Today's sermon title was "Finding Courage, William Ellery Channing" -looking at his life and several of the major controversies that required him to find courage (often quite slowly and grudgingly.)  One of my points was that even if he agreed with someone's core ideals, he would shut down completely if their methods were too extreme or chaotic for him.

Sunday morning I woke to this news story, and knew I needed to share it with the congregation. We do not have easy video access in the sanctuary, so my description had to suffice. Several videos are online- here's one.

Last night fifty people purchased tickets to the St. Louis Symphony’s performance of Brahms German Requiem. They put on nice clothes, and took their seats.

As the intermission was coming to an end, two of the people stood and started signing a Requiem to Michael Brown, the young unarmed black man shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri two months ago.

“Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all. Which side are you on, friend, which side are you on?”

Others in the group joined in the requiem, displayed banners, and joined in a chant – Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter.  And then they peaceably dispersed, no need for ushers or arrests. Video of the event shows some of the audience and the orchestra applauding, others just watching.

“Justice for Mike Brown is justice for us all. Which side are you on, friend, which side are you on?”

William Ellery Channing would have been appalled at this display and this disruption of ‘civilized things’, though let's remember, this happened during intermission, not while the orchestra was performing. But he agreed with the idea to his core—black lives matter. Justice for us all.

KenShuman reminds us - Becoming a peacemaker requires courage, intentionality, & perseverance.  If you decide to become a peacemaker you will have to fight for it in your own life.

Folks, our families, our church, and our world need us to be peacemakers. Let’s find and stay to our courage, and build that better world.  

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Earlier in the week I used a nonsense word, forgetting that it is featured in an earworm sort of song. My sister cursed me for that, as she then had the song going in her head for much of the next day.

Oops. Does the unintentional nature of the earworming work as a defense? Perhaps in the sentencing stage?

Today I have a song stuck in my head.
More precisely, I have about a twelve-second loop of it stuck in my head.

Thus far, it has not worked its way into the piece I'm writing.
But as I preach tomorrow morning, well, we're just going to have to hope that it doesn't come bursting out.

Friday, October 3, 2014

That Idea Commercial

My sermon is at the scary/awkward/ugly stage right now.
We may not go full peacock, but I'm hoping for presentable?


A very good friend taught me that when you take a road trip with children, you should have little prizes to hand out every hundred miles. 

Supposedly when we grow up we develop this amazing self-affirmation tendency where we feel all actualized and awesome and need no further reward.

I'm not there yet.

I need prizes, fabulous and otherwise. Little chocolates, outings, or as seen here, goofy socks. 

I have a wish list online to give myself rewards when I do something I really did not want to do, like deal with a gross veterinary appointment.

And sometimes it's intangibles--taking five minutes to go look at the clouds, read a funny article, or play a sudoku page. Oo, or bubble bath.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cinematic Multitasking

I am a a champion channel-flipper, especially when commercial avoidance is involved. 

On rare occasions, I find fun pairings of movies to flip between with some common themes. 

10 Things I Hate About You and The 40-Year Old Virgin.

What's your pairing?