Wednesday, December 31, 2014


My dear friend and colleague Andrea Lerner gave an end-of-year challenge-
Select unfinished project/craft
Complete by 12/31
Post smiling ‪#‎FinishingTheYear‬ Pic
Revel in your accomplishment!

I have any number of "Get Around To It" projects that could qualify. 

The one chosen? The major pruning of my rose bushes.

I hate to cut back roses while they're blooming, yet in Houston, they never truly go dormant. So for several years I've taken tiny swipes at a few unruly canes, leaving me with leggy and too-tall plants. Here's one.

Today, though, I went forth bravely and chopped the bushes back to about a foot tall. Woof.

I conscripted my sons to bundle up the leavings, and we put a few of the blooms in the house for a New Year's Eve gathering.

I know the roses will grow back better than ever, and this also let us get rid of some volunteer trees growing around the base. Now to wait for Spring...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Making Warmth

In real life I assure you, I am not much into crafting. But from time to time I get struck with the need to make something. Sometimes I even get through all the steps of considering the project, buying supplies, and DOING the thing.                                                                                                          Twenty-five or thirty years ago my grandmother took a quilting workshop and learned to make a quillow--a quilt that folds up into a pillow shape. My parents received a lovely brown and green quillow and it served them well for years. A few years ago Mom let me take it home with us, and we've enjoyed it... and then one of my sons put his foot through the aged fibers.  Oops. 

I have made exactly 0.56 quilts in my life--piecing makes me grumpy, and binding thwarted me completely. So making a true quillow was probably not going to happen.

But what about something fleecy? No need for batting, and it would feel so nice and soft... time for a trip to the craft store.

It was a mostly straightforward project, but there were a few wrinkles. Literally in some cases. I may have used colorful language once or thrice.

And now it is assembled, the two layers stitched tight, plus the pillow pocket doubling as a warm nest for feet. Winter, do your best.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Soup Of Love

For decades my mother has made a beef barley soup that is about the best thing ever. Beef, broth, barley, and oodles and oodles of mushrooms*. A bit of onion and maybe some carrot and garlic. 

It is not an especially complicated soup, though she does start by making her own broth. It takes time, to be certain. To find the ingredients, to prep, to let things simmer.

I could totally handle making this soup.

But I have never made it. 

I wait for my mother to visit, just once or twice a year. We spend an afternoon shopping for the ingredients and she spends the better part of a day making the broth and then the soup. Often there are homemade rolls as well. I have some, and we freeze much of it in one-quart containers--Mom has been known to label the lids with love notes, while I do more possessive/ warning tags. "NOT YOUR SOUP!**" and the like.

Those little care packages are there for me when I am sick of body or heart, or just wishing that my family of origin were less than twelve hundred miles away.

*Truthfully, this should be known as a mushroom-barley-beef soup, but that's not the current practice.

**My sons sometimes need reminding that not all things are theirs to devour.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cold Fronts in Houston

Are not very cold. It is in the low 40s with a wind chill still above freezing.

But it is reason enough to snuggle under blankets and wear silly hats.

We'll go with that.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

(Warning- Crude Language--and Philosophy)

We watched Guardians of the Galaxy again tonight and I was struck by individual lines, and the full picture they put together. A lot of fun, and some sweet wisdom.

Peter AKA Starlord is a scamp, rarely on the right side of the law. But when he realizes that a truly evil dude is coming to attack a planet, he needs to do something--so he writes a letter to an officer (Rhomann Dey) who's arrested him a few times.

Here's a favorite piece- bleeped just a bit so it doesn't set off your net nannies.

Rhomann Dey: He said that he may be an... "a-hole". But he's not, and I quote, "100% a d!ck".
Nova Prime Rael: Do you believe him?
Rhomann Dey: Well, I don't know if I believe anyone is 100% a d!ck...
Nova Prime Rael: Do you believe he's here to help?
Rhomann Dey: ...Yeah, I do.
(This transcript taken from IMDB.)

I am all over the idea that there is some good in everyone, and that no one is beyond redemption. This movie is a ton of fun, but it's also about very imperfect beings coming together to make things right, and growing into better beings in the process. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

All Things In Their Own Time

Prepping a brisket
I had a grand plan for Christmas day. A brisket would smoke on the grill in ten to twelve hours, the recipe told me. I woke up around 4 AM to get it started, so we could have an early dinner before I headed to the airport to pick up my parents.
Oops. Too big for the
grill, we divide it.

In actuality, the brisket still was not done when I got home from the airport. After another hour, I gave up, carved a close-to-tender chunk, and put the rest in the oven. In total, our brisket spent about 15.5 hours on the grill, and a combined seven hours in a low oven (200-225 degrees.)

Life can be full of variables we cannot fully control. Sometimes things just fall into place and other times it is a struggle. Patience helps, as do naps while someone else keeps an eye on things. 

In the end the brisket was delicious--something of a hybrid of barbecue and pot roast. No one minded that it had taken half of forever, or that the smokiness wasn't spot on, or that the combination of techniques gave it something of a corned beef taste and texture. And I've got some notes for next time, whenever that might be.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Many talents

Not only do I have a winged pig, but he's made of steel. That means magnets stick to him. Useful when it's 5:30 AM and you need a place to put your thermometer...

Happy holidays, all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Easy Appetizer - Grilled Portabella Pizzas

Take one portabella per person. Clean gently, and pop the stem end off.  Brush the portabella caps with oil of choice (I smash a little garlic in the oil), salt, and set aside while the grill gets hot.

Meanwhile, saute the mushroom stems with whatever veggies you like--I used additional mushrooms and some Swiss chard, along with more garlic because DELICIOUS. 
Put the mushroom caps on the grill, starting gill side down. After a few minutes, flip those suckers, and lightly fill with those sauteed veggies*. Top with a few slices of good melty cheese. In this batch I had a lovely Scamorza, a smoked fresh mozzarella. Close the grill and in just a few minutes your cheese will be melted. If the mushrooms are not yet soft enough, move away from the heat. 
If desired, you can garnish with something a little acidic--fresh tomatoes, capers- the possibilities are endless.
We let them sit for a few minutes and then cut into wedges like a pizza.
*Sure, you can put some sauce in here. I just don't because it doesn't help things to stay together.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Less Than Glamorous Present To Myself

On Friday I mentioned that this part of my office is bugging me. So many things that need to be put away--the space is not just unusable, it's overwhelming.

I'm halfway through my fourth year in this job and this office, yet considerable archaeology is still needed. In the normal rhythms of congregational life, stopping in midstream to empty an office just doesn't happen.

So today I gave myself a present.  

I went into church on my Sabbath, my Never Go To Work Day and spent several hours--not just attacking the worst of the clutter--but moving things out of the office that I never would have put there in the first place.

Those tall cardboard boxes in the corner? They contain heavy rolls of bulletin board paper. And now they're in storage across the building, where I can still get to them as needed, but don't need to see them every day.

The drawers underneath are a map/blueprint cabinet, and yet poster board is stacked atop because there was no room in the actual storage unit. Instead, it was full of carefully sorted posters, maps, and pictures of all sorts of things--some of the papers were older than me. I recycled anything ripped or crumpled, made a thousand decisions as to what the program might ever need, and put all the discards in a bottom drawer, so I can ask a predecessor to claim or flame* after the holidays.
To sort everything in the drawers, I had to completely clear off the counter top here. I knew some of you would want a picture of the stark emptiness, which might never happen again.

I went through all sorts of nooks and crannies in this unit, finding many "WHAT is that?" items.

By the time I had to leave, the space looked like this. The baskets on the left deliver lesson materials to classes each week, while the binders to the right are from the trainings I've attended over the years. This way they're accessible and visible, but free up space on the bookshelf where I keep my personal professional library. 

(The final reward of this project will be reorganizing this case so I can find the books I need at a glance--having a helper alphabetize by author sounded like a great idea, but it turns out that I rarely remember authors...)

The office is far from done, but today it became more useful to me, and to our program as it currently exists.

Was it an appropriate use of my Sabbath day? Well, it was more work than I would generally do, but it was restorative, and I am hoping it pays dividends in the months to come. (And hey, my sons are off school for the holidays, so the office may have been a quieter haven!)

*No, we won't actually set any fires, though I have considered such drastic measures in my weaker moments. I just couldn't find a synonym for claim that rhymes with recycle.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

When The Words Don't Come

I write a lot. Daily journaling, these small blog posts, and rather a lot of material for work. I like to think that my fluency is good and that I keep the words flowing.  Right up until the moment when nothing is coming to mind, when every word seems trite and every sentence belabored.

This past week I had four publication deadlines for work, a couple of reports, some careful messages to draft, and a reflection piece for a worship service. Not a stellar time for the muse to take a three-hour cruise to a deserted island.

It was a week of "Make it Work", suffering through the dis-ease, complicated by tech problems in the office- a dead printer/copier, and Sunday, a power outage knocking out my monitor.

And still hating most every word I wrote. Hours of thinking on the words, sitting down to write, typing out my babbles, then deleting at least two-thirds of it. I broke down and DID DISHES, hoping the different muscle movements might trigger my fingers into finding the right words.

Anywhere I could get someone else's input, I did so--admitting that things weren't going smoothly on my end. Thankfully, I work with some eloquent folks.

In the end, I hit all the deadlines. The reflection piece was half taken from something I typed up at 6:30 AM, and half from notes scrawled on a big sticky note between 10 and 11:30. It was not the most concise or the most enriching thing I have ever written or said, but neither was it cringe-inducing.

I'm looking forward to a few days of spreadsheets and filing and reading. Not especially glamorous, but an easier part of the brain.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Little Things

Palindrome on the odometer!

And when it first rolled to 56065, the temp outside was 56 degrees. It dropped a degree while I was trying to get a picture. (At a red light. While spouse was behind the wheel.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

So Much Stuff

It is December 19th.
So far this month we've had two Sundays, a big potluck and decorating event, rather a few meetings and projects and deadlines.

Twelve days left in the year. One big concert, two Sunday services, and a Christmas Eve service.

So many things are not yet done. Some of them won't get done this year. 

And then there are all the things that just need to be put away. This is one corner of my office--you can barely make out the big paper cutter. It would be LOVELY to get that corner uncovered, its contents organized. And yet, it's just stuff.

There are naps to take, family to hug, cookies to bake, fun to be had, songs to sing, etc.

So first, I'm putting myself to bed for eight or ten hours. G'night.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Slice of Life - Meet the Neighbors

Among our "natural"* neighbors are free range peafowl. The peahen shown in this picture was a few feet from my front door when I first saw her today. They're pretty brazen--getting treats from adorers when they can, and scavenging the rest.

I live in the fourth-largest city in the United States. Millions of people. Millions of cars and trucks and buses.

Peafowl really don't care about traffic. They just cross the road when they feel like it. Almost always walking, though they can hop-fly for short distances. Sometimes we come across a flurry of feathers. Sometimes a squashed bird.

Beyond autos, there aren't many predators around here too eager to grab a giant pheasant. And well-fed peafowl can more than replace their numbers each year. I've never attempted a census, but it's fair to say that the birds are thriving.

*No, peacocks are not native to Texas. But this flock, in one way or another, has been in the area for over 20 years.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hanukkah Experiment

It's Hanukkah!

Tonight I assigned one son to making the matzoh ball soup, the other to the latkes.

All went well and was coming together deliciously. And then secondborn called out, "Mom, I have an idea and I am asking permission."

Kudos to him for remembering to ask permission... turns out he wanted to wrap a matzoh ball in latke-goodness.

An intriguing concept, but not especially easy to put into action. The wet of the matzoh ball and the wet of the latke mixture are not necessarily going to stay together in the fryer, and potato strands tend to get brittle when they are cooked. Turnning the ball gradually at not letting it get too brittle caused some improvement, but as we went to pull it from the pan, it became a mound of hashbrowns with a matzoh ball soggily peeking out.

I only make latkes once a year, so this idea will need to stew for a good long time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Donwanna Grow Up!

Being a grown up means being responsible and making healthy choices.

Like, say, not staying up until midnight when the alarm goes off at 5:45 AM.

But "When Harry Met Sally" is on.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ridiculously Easy Holiday Cookies

Yes, there should be a picture here. But we were hungry and all the cookies disappeared.

I originally got this as a low fat vegan cake recipe. These days I generally make them as little soft cookies. They are a big hit with all ages--not too sweet, a little different, and still with the comfort of chocolate chips.

1 can pumpkin puree
1 box spice cake mix*
1 cup chocolate chips*
1/4 c. water (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix together the pumpkin and the cake mix. If it seems dry, you may want to add up to 1/4 c. water. When that consistency is pleasing, stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop spoonfuls of dough on parchment or greased baking sheets. The dough does not spread much, so you only need to leave about an inch or two between cookies.

Bake until lightly browned on the bottom, and let cool.

*If you want the final product to be vegan, read labels to make sure your mix doesn't have milk or eggs. Looking at the allergen list is a big help here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Work-Cookie Balance

'Tis December--just a bit of a busy season when you work at a church.

And there are all these holiday things that I mean to be doing...plans to be made, gifts to be researched and bought, and most importantly--cookies to bake.

Nobody NEEDS cookies, I know. But my mother made dozens of kinds--surely I can find the time for a few. 

So this evening before I headed home, I went to the grocery store and grabbed a couple pounds of butter, some chocolate, some powdered sugar. Quite honestly, it may have been overly optimistic.

The good news is, I have until Epiphany, right?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

To Serve and Protect... the Mall

It appears that I took a blurry picture. So let's caption it- Notice to protesters- No protesting of any kind on these premises. Protesters will be treated as trespassers. Violators will be prosecuted.

Last Saturday protesters went into the Houston Galleria and had a die-in.

This Saturday the signs above were all around the Galleria. And boy howdy--they had all sorts of security folks at major entrances, and followed the protesters from their perimeters, and yep. They meant it.

At one point they lowered the gates around Nieman Marcus, and not only mall security but Houston PD officers were standing on the stairs, protecting Nieman's. 

Whom do you serve? Protect?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Life Hacks Only Work When You Remember Them.

Yes, I took a picture of my son's shampoo. Because I knew I couldn't remember the brand and scent and features.

I ran errands twice this week. Does the teen have more shampoo yet?


Because I forgot that I took a picture of the shampoo, and it took scrolling through the folder to do a facepalm.

Maybe I will remember this tomorrow.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Coincidences As Reminders

We are all connected and have so very much in common. 

Some days this is more obvious than others.

Today I found myself in a checkout line when the guy in front of me explained that he had to get two of each toy because he has four-year old twins. The cashier laughed knowingly and shared that she has twenty-year old twins. And then I chimed in, telling him of my teens. We both assured him that parenting twins gets easier once they're in first grade, and that he would get through it.

After that I went to lunch at my favorite Indian place--and the guy at the next table was wearing a Green Bay Packers t-shirt. I greeted him with "Go Packers!" and sat down. When he started talking to the older woman across from him, I realized that they were not only from my home state of Wisconsin, but from my part of the state even. He sounded like my Uncle Matt, and the woman sounded a lot like one of my great aunts.

All this on my writing day, when I would usually stick to the hermitage.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Decoration and Protection

A dozen years ago I went to a plant swap and came home with many succulents, including these agaves. 

They are well suited to Houston--taking moisture when they get it, never too cold, and never unhappy in the heat.

And they have these mean spikes--awls that seem to reach out and get you.

As it turns out, each of those points can also hold a little bedazzled polystyrene ball, a wee bit of seasonal bling.

No unsuspecting pedestrians will be stabbed here this holiday.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When Faced With Claustrophobic Bears

In my line of work, we inherit interesting things.

In this case, a large bag of about thirty 12-inch teddy bears with whimsical Santa hats.

Still trying to figure out what I'll do with them, but first, to give them a little air...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Crock Pot Potluck Time: Baked Ziti

Being a Nice Church Lady requires delegating and careful time management. This is especially true when there's a potluck lunch after Sunday service.

So I've taught my sons to cook, and I shamelessly call on the powers of my trusty Crock Pot. It can cook and it can hold things at a temperature for a good long time...but could it make a 'baked' ziti?

The answer is yes, more or less. You don't get a crusty cheese layer on top, but people are JUST FINE with a gooey layer, let me tell you.

Please note that I have a large slow cooker. If yours is not so big, you might want to halve the recipe.

2 lbs. ziti
2 24 oz. cans spaghetti sauce of your choice (Yes, you can use homemade or jarred sauce. But this is easy and economical.)
1 pint tub of ricotta cheese (lowfat is fine)
1 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
Cooking spray

You can add more ricotta if you like, and any number of other things--garlic, mushrooms, etc. 

The night before, or before assembling, boil the ziti in salted water until it is a little harder than al dente. (It will soften more in the slow cooker.) Drain and toss with ONE can of the pasta sauce.

When ready to assemble, mix together the ricotta and the remaining can of sauce. You can either stir this in with the pasta, or just layer it in the slow cooker.

BEFORE LOADING YOUR SLOW COOKER, SPRAY THAT SUCKER WITH SOME COOKING SPRAY. Unless you like soaking and scrubbing the thing. Or use those plastic liners.

Put about a third of the pasta and sauce in the pot, then sprinkle a couple handfuls of cheese on top. Add another third of the pasta and sauce, and more cheese. Finish with the pasta and sauce, and a generous bunch of cheese on top. You might or might not use all of the cheese.

Cover the pot and set it on high until the cheese is looking melty and the top is steamy, then switch to low. (If you're going to have this sitting for six hours, I'd probably do it on low the whole time.)

When it's potluck time, just take off the lid and insert a serving spoon.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Donning of Garb

Whoops. It's nearly midnight and I have very little brain at the moment. But here's a glimpse into my world.

I'm a Sunday School director, so Sunday is SHOWTIME. 

I tend to get to the church pretty early and make sure everything is ready, get the signs out, etc. While I'm going up and down and all over, I may wear an old pair of loafers--they've seen better days, but oh, they are comfortable.

About fifteen minutes before I expect the congregation to arrive, I take a couple of minutes to transition into nicer shoes, check my hair, and slip on my jacket/sweater/whatever. It's also a good time to remember to drink my coffee, to breathe, and to consider with love the people I serve and the good work we do together.

Of course, there have been days where I get distracted and spend the whole day in the loafers. Then I just hope no one's paying too much attention to my feet.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Seen at the #HoustonProtest this afternoon

This picture is over sized so you can see the club this officer carries. Gee, I assumed a standard club was issued and required.

I got to the demonstration quite late--the majority of folks had already headed out after making their stand at this intersection and within the Galleria for the die-in. 

In general, the police I saw were polite and even friendly.  Rather a lot of them, too. There were fourteen officers on my corner, and at least thirty around the intersection overall, plus additional officers on bikes traveling with a group of marchers, and mounted police across the way. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Don't Garnish A Rotten Turkey

Last week friends and I discussed and debated the best way to prepare a turkey. Dry brine? Wet brine? High heat? Butter? The conversation could have gone on forever.  And, chances are that even with all our differences, each of us ended up with a delicious turkey.

But what if the turkey was rotten to start with? Would we even believe that the staple of our Thanksgiving could have come out of the bag somehow less than the product we assumed we would get?

Would we still argue over the best way to prepare it? Would we blithely do our best to wash away the odors and the slime, then cover up the issues with some melted butter and extra garlic? Just hope we don't poison our families and our guests?

Body cameras for police? Onions for the gravy. Grand jury reforms? A parsley garnish.

The turkey that is this country's culture is deeply contaminated. That line about "all men created equal"? It has yet to be embodied by these states we claim to be united. 

Black lives matter.
Lives. That's far more than 'not deaths'--it's people growing and learning and thriving and loving.

I'm still listening. And still praying.

(PS: The turkey is just a metaphor. Sometimes metaphors aren't vegan-friendly.)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

No Quick Fix

The logical piece of my brain keeps trying to figure out some way for the state of this nation to make sense. But some things are too broken, too sick, to complicated, to be quickly and rationally explained. If they were, they would already by fixed.

I saw comments all over Twitter today--interviewers wanting to talk to the white people.
More than one protester asked that white allies hand over the megaphones.

I hear that. As a white woman in the 'burbs, I know this isn't my call.

So I listen and read.
I pray.
I do my best to be open and ready for what might come next.

And by trade I'm a religious educator, so of course I'll share some of what I've been reading-
The Twitter hashtags #AliveWhileBlack and #ICantBreathe and  #EricGarner and #BlackLivesMatter.

So many blog posts and articles- here are just an overflowing handful.
Kiese Laymon's essay of the 'safety' of a Vassar ID
Kai Wright's article on broken windows policing
Fania Davis on an authentic reconciliation process
Yolanda Pierce's Litany For Those Who Aren't Ready for Healing
Tristan D. Lalla's experience fitting a profile last month
This frightening piece on the statistics of deadly force
The science of our bigoted brains

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

"I Can't Breathe"

My sons are asthmatic. I know too well the cough, the wheezing. The panicky look in their eyes when they can't get enough air. 

Eric Garner was also an asthmatic--while I know little of his health history, I can imagine his mother Gwen Carr taking him to the pediatrician, the specialists, the ER, with shots and meds and puffers. Worried that every little bug is going to turn into bronchitis or pneumonia. More treatments, scary nights, missed school, missed work... 

But she raised him up. He became an adult, got a job, started a family--six beautiful grandchildren.

Then that horrible day in July. Gwen Carr's son was put in a chokehold by someone claiming to serve and protect. He gasped that he could not breathe... and medical personnel nearby did not help.

There was video. Hauntingly hard to watch. But surely, the whole world would know what had happened, and while her child could not be returned to her, there would be some measure of justice.

And now in this Advent week of hope? The grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put this mother's son in a chokehold. Even though there was video of the event. Even though the medical examiner had declared the death a homicide.

Yes, I am taking this personally. A woman's son has been stolen from her, and we are told it is not a crime.

Justice feels very far away.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bright Lights, Big Internet

I have been procrastinating mightily all evening.

No writing, no reading, no progress on jobs around the house.

But I have researched at least a dozen random things on the Google.

And played sudoku.
And commented on rather a lot of Facebook posts.

I fear I might never "grow up"...

Monday, December 1, 2014

What We All Need...

For ages now I've been claiming I need a wife. Someone to stay on top of the laundry and the shopping and the cleaning and salads and house appointments and whatnot--those things that two people working full-time don't necessarily get around to, at least, not without compromising our sleep and video game time...

These days I feel like that wife should be Pinterest crafty, coming up with clever solutions to our needs. Making the house all beautiful and efficient and whimsical. Especially around the holidays.

"Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow..." 
         - Hugh Martin, writer of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas