Saturday, January 31, 2015

Quiet Service

The church I serve has this half court in the back parking lot. 

It's a simple, relatively inexpensive, and passive community service. Most every Saturday there are games going on out there. 

We also have some lovely green space in an area that's quickly reaching saturation--plenty of neighbors walk their dogs here, or just take themselves for a walk around our gardens. We recently added a Little Free Library, because let's face it--we all have too many books.

What are the easy and passive ways your congregation can serve the community, simply by sharing what you already have?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Love and Guts

My husband adores chopped liver. I inherited his grandmother's recipe, and once or twice a year I set aside my visceral dislike of that particular organ meat, and make him a batch.

I'm prepping a turkey for the Super Bowl*, so I had some liver on hand. Might as well get to work...

I finally diced the hard boiled egg while the liver cooked. I added some salt and pepper... it was coming together.

And then I realized that I'd overcooked the liver.  

And then I remembered that spouse only likes chicken liver, not turkey liver. 

All things considered, I may have just spent twenty minutes making a treat for the dog.

The famous letter to the Corinthians goes on and on with the many things love is. Here's my Friday night version.

Love can be less than pretty.
Love is compromise.
Love is making things work, even when things aren't perfect.
Love is at least taking a taste, knowing that it might not be exactly what you were hoping for.
Love is sharing a treat with the dog.

*For supper. Not special teams.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


 Sourdough experiments happen a couple of times a week right now. I'm finding that the Dutch over method gives a great crust--you leave the lid on the pot for the first half hour for an internal steam system, then remove the lid and let the top crust brown over a final fifteen minutes.

Here's the thing, though. Sourdough has this elastic nature. And the (enameled) cast iron takes on a lot of heat in that 450-degree oven.

Today, despite an oiling of the pot, the bread stuck. Like it seemed to be welded in there.

A variety of utensils, one burned palm and a couple burned knuckles, I managed to free most of the loaf from the pot.

That bit left behind was deliciously crisp, and was slathered with butter or olive oil and devoured while we waited for the rest of the boule to cool.

And I just learned that one does not pronounce the e in boule. It sort of rhymes with pool, and it means ball in French.

So, lessons for the day--
  • Use more oil in the Dutch oven.  Seriously. Do not skimp.
  • Patience would mean less burning of self.
  • People may not even notice that there's a hole in the bottom of their bread, as long as it looks nice on the board.
  • And even if it doesn't look nice, it's still fresh homemade bread.
  • Boule--rhymes with pool.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Don't Forget! Don't Forget!

Last night as I drove home, I realized that today would be the day.

The day the car's odometer hit 22222,

I adore palindromes, especially in numbers. Symmetry is pleasing.

So I drove to co-op and the office and home again, keeping an eye on the odometer as I could.

Traffic this evening was horrid--surface streets backed up enough that we were waiting through several light cycles. And then suddenly it all cleared up... right as the odometer hit this milestone. This picture was snapped in the six seconds before the light turned green, hence the blur.

But I did not forget to pay attention. To the odometer, or the traffic.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Character Flaws

It is January 27th and my Christmas cactus hasn't bloomed yet.

It's been showing signs for over a week now.

It has oodles of buds, pink even!

And this one putting on this hopeful show...this morning I thought, "Surely, it will be blooming when I get home tonight."

But now I need to go to bed and that bud is just not there yet.

I found myself muttering at this $4.99 houseplant.

I am so very impatient.

(And then it took forever to get a focused picture... and forever to get things to upload... I am flailing like Overwhelmed Kermit.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Getting Ahead of Ourselves

We passed a milestone today, sooner than expected.

Firstborn got his first recruiting packet from a college.

It shouldn't be a surprise--he took the PSAT this fall, just as practice, but it was a debut of sorts.

He's fifteen. Plenty of time to consider. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Winter Storm Prep and Comfort

Winter Storm Juno* is already predicted to be a historic storm, with nearly three feet of snow possible in some of the biggest cities of the US East Coast. With heavy snow and high winds, some areas may lose power, and getting around will likely be treacherous for a while.

I grew up in Wisconsin, so being snowed in is not a foreign concept to me. The last time I dealt with extended outages, though, was when Hurricane Ike came to visit Houston in 2008.

Here are a few suggestions for getting through the next few days-

Before the worst of the storm hits-

  • Charge your cell phones, find your candles and flashlights just in case you lose power. 
  • Prep some easy food--if you lose power, hard boiled eggs are way easier than raw ones... 
  • Reassure family out of the area that you'll be fine and how best they can be in contact with you.
  • Yellow pages. Find them if you can, but if you don't have any, this is a good time to write down critical numbers you might need. (Also handy is a phone that plugs into the wall just in case everything loses charge...)
  • Make something that gets your home smelling excellent. Trust me on this one.
  • Catch up on laundry.
  • Give your heater a nudge up if you can, just in case
  • If you have pipe freezing issues, please keep on top of them. (This storm is not likely to be 'bitterly' cold, but freezing is freezing.)
  • Make deals with your kids on how you'll be weathering the storm. Especially "This is an awesome opportunity for Mom to sleep in. Make yourselves cereal." (Sadly, it's hard to negotiate with babies and pets.)

Staying comfortable during the storm-

  • Consider this an excellent reason to fall in love with your blankets, fuzzy socks, and silly hats. 
  • Books, jigsaw puzzles, board games (if you have company)
  • Moisturize! I mean it!
  • As delicious as comfort foods are, eat a vegetable. Or an apple at least.

If you have shoveling to do:
Yes, shoveling a few times as it falls is less heavy than two feet all at once. But if it's a whiteout, please stay inside. And please don't overexert, ever. If you collapse, some poor ambulance driver has to navigate the roads for you.

For folks elsewhere wishing they could help out, you might look into supporting Warming Centers in impacted areas as they provide shelter to homeless people.

What else do you suggest?

*No, I'm not really a fan of naming winter storms. Enough so that I mislabeled this storm as Iola originally...
It just makes people feel bad in a neverending winter.

Saturday, January 24, 2015


I am a bit of a Sudoku practitioner. For ages I had puzzle books full of them, and in this digital age I have an app on my phone.

When my mind is all over the place, I can open a game and focus. Make sure all nine numbers are in each boxes and each row and each column. 

Some puzzles seem obvious, even the really difficult ones. Others I have to stare at for quite a while, figuring out where I can start and how it all comes together.

I usually stick to the hard puzzles, but when I am feeling overwhelmed, I will flip back to the early ones. 

There's a single solution for each puzzle, and things fall into place. Unless I get it all tangled up--I can hit a button and restart the game. 

Oh, if life were so simple.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Boosting the Signal

Yesterday MetaFilter started an "AskMeFi"- an Ask Meta Filter--asking women to share examples of inappropriate and inaccurate comments/treatment they've gotten based on their gender.

I heard about it yesterday, but waited until I had the headspace to start reading. Because I knew it would be going into some ugly stuff. No, not instant death, but long-term toxic stuff.

It is amazing the things that one person will say to another. Things they feel to be completely justified in saying. And it is amazing how many of them deal with being "too much" something. Too smart. Too intense. Too serious. 

And then the words men are so rarely described as, but totally fair game for women--unhelpful, abrasive, etc.

I tried to find a couple of quotes to lift up here, to give you a quick summary, but no. Just read the article if you can.

There's a positive spot in all of this--a thread of folks (mostly male-identifying) saying thank you for the learning they're getting out of the AskMeFi.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


I've spent much of the past couple of months preparing sessions on Islam for the children and youth of our church. Pulling together materials from our denominational curriculum, Teaching Tolerance, and a variety of amazing Muslim resources.

This Sunday's theme is Women in Islam. So much more to say than fits in an hour of Sunday School, much less a fifteen or twenty minute sermon. 

So for right now, I'm just sharing up this awesome image Shahirah (Seredipikitty) put up.
those days when you feelin’ fab

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Can Cookies Cause Insomnia?

"You know what I'm going to do after supper, Mom?"
"Um... no?"
"I'm going to bake cookies."

Firstborn has become quite the baker recently, usually taking his offerings to his afterschool clubs. Tonight's recipe was a chocolate chocolate chip cookie my youngest sister made up nearly twenty years ago. I'm certain they'll be a hit with the young men and women at school tomorrow afternoon.

And now my house smells deeply of chocolate. 
It's a wee bit distracting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Who's Your Designated Survivor?

We're told that the Designated Survivor for tonight's State of the Union address was Anthony Foxx, cabinet member over the Department of Transportation. So if the joint sessions, President, Vice President, and Supreme Court go all kablooey, no worries--this one guy will restart our government!

The congregation I serve will have their annual meeting this Sunday. As far as I know, no trustee or staff person is designated to stay away. Hmm. I guess it's a good thing the minutes and policies are all online.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Vulnerability of Privilege

Eula Biss is interviewed in a recent Salon article, following the publication of her book "On Immunity". Lots of powerful stuff on fear, privilege, and vulnerability. Here's an excerpt-

One of the favorite narratives [of privilege] is that we’ve just worked harder, so we deserve more. But there’s another narrative. It has to do with vulnerability, and that’s a narrative that I first started thinking about and noticing when I was writing about race. It justifies certain ways of wielding privilege, on the argument that the person who is privileged is actually not powerful but very, very vulnerable and needing protection, and that the people who are dangerous are the people who are less privileged. There’s a story line that runs something like this: vaccination may be OK for some people, but my child is uniquely vulnerable. My child is actually too vulnerable to receive this preventative medicine, and therefore I’m going to opt out of this public health initiative to spare my child this risk.

My mind is whirling with other examples of this privilege/vulnerability issue-

Going to war. These days we don't have a draft, but even when we did, there were those who could somehow escape it. 

Castle doctrine. The idea that someone behind their locked door is more vulnerable than the person on their porch. 

It is human nature to want to protect oneself and one's offspring. But we also have reason and morality--we need to get beyond irrational fear.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

It Can Wait.

I had grand plans to make a wonderful congregational analogy post, based on the Packers game.

Then they lost.

Yes, it's just a game. 
And it makes me whiny.

So I ate thirteen extra-dark chocolate chips, and I'll come back to the congregational life stuff another day. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Creating Geodes*

I'm big on "things in things" - filled cookies, Jucy Lucys, and my favorite, baked Brie.

Part of it is the combination of textures, but I also just love that moment of surprise--going beyond expectations.

"Oh look. A brown bread thing." 

Then the moment of reveal--mmmm, delicious cheese and fillings!

Last night at the rally (also known as a "con" or a lock-in), our youth played a common getting-to-know-one-another game - Two Truths and a Lie. Basically, each person shares three things about themselves, and the rest of the group tries to identify which thing is not true.

Sometimes there's an obvious tell--the person giggles or looks away. Or maybe others in the group know the person well enough to say which two things were true. But often, there are surprises. The person who says they can play the piano, ate a bowl of crickets, and climbed K2? Well, they were lying about the piano.

Each of us includes so many surprises, just waiting to be discovered.

*Yes, I know. A geode is different, if we're talking geology. But I hope you get what I'm saying. And please, don't whack me with a hammer to see what's inside.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Staying Awake Until Austin Gets Here

Youth (and their beloved chaperones) are coming from around the district to spend the weekend at a rally, the local term for a lock-in. 

I am not hosting this year, just helping with a bit of the logistics. I can go home whenever I want.

But I'm holding out another fifteen mintues or so, because we're told the group from Austin will be here soon. Among them, my goddaughter, whom I haven't seen since November.

Connection is important.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Tradition and Innovation

Earlier this week I mentioned that I've gotten on the sourdough bandwagon.

Today I tried a very traditional application-a big ol' sourdough loaf with a fifteen-hour sponge stage, a five-hour proof, and baked off in a Dutch oven. The awesome crackly noise of this crust may be my greatest triumph of the week.

And I still needed to bake desserts for the lock-in my son is attending. Eighty-some teens and their adult chaperones, taking over a church for the weekend. Hmm...

Something quicker, please. And we have some special diets in the group, so what might I do with ingredients already in the house? 
Vegan banana bread! And my usual vegan chocolate cupcake recipe--I could make that gluten-free with the special mix I had in the pantry.

Within an hour I was done with these two recipes. My son reported that the cupcakes were sort of elastic. I tried one.  Yeaaah.  Sort of like a gummy worm. Hmm. Maybe it's the potato starch or the guar gum. Perhaps a reaction with the vinegar beyond the usual baking soda moment. Regardless of the chemistry, they still taste awesome.

Sometimes we go for tradition--using recipes and methods that our great-great-great grandmothers might have used way back when. Other times we try something very new, maybe taking a chance with something even our grandmothers couldn't have bought in any store. It might be for the sheer novelty of it, or it might be a deliberate choice to be more inclusive to whomever walks in the door.

May it be delicious!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Winter flower

January in Houston

We haven't seen the sun for days and days and days, but still flowers are blossoming.

I guess it's supposed to give us hope.

Really, I'd prefer to see the sun.

All week they've claimed that Thursday would be the sunny day.

Now they're saying Friday.

And we can use the rain.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gutting A System

A library nearby closed for renovations in May. It will reopen in the fall of 2015--that seemed an incredibly long estimate for a renovation. And then we saw the gutting of a building. All interior walls gone, ceilings stripped, even the big sign out front demolished. 

Huh. Maybe they were just going to flatten the place and start over... But no. They brought in special supports and kept the walls. It looks like someone's setting up the walls for a gingerbread house. 

The library is in the midst of a physical transformation. What was state-of-the-art in 1975 was not fitting the needs of our twenty-first century community. So over the next nine months they will rebuild, with dedicated spaces designed to better match its people and their programs.

Some days this sounds really daunting.
Other days it should hopeful and exhilarating.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Start of Something Delicious

They say that simplifying your life is a good thing.

So I, of course, do something to make it more complicated. No, I'm not pregnant or getting a puppy. A little less maintenance than that.

I've adopted a sourdough starter. The note atop the container tells me

Starter Instructions: For the next three days, keep the starter at room temperature and feed daily with one cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 c. water.  
At that point, it is ready to use and should be refrigerated. Feed it every 4 to 5 days (1 c. flour and 1/2 c. water.) 
After four feedings, discard half or give it to a friend. After two regular feedings (that is, after you have started refrigerating it) transfer to a clean container. 
If old bits are allowed to cling to the side, they can contaminate and kill the starter.

We've made it through the three day period, moved the starter to the fridge, and today I made some sourdough dinner rolls.

And because I'm me, I have a spreadsheet to track feedings and usage and recipes.

That whole "work-life balance" thingy. It's a dream or a myth or a struggle, or maybe it's a dance.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Avoid distractions when writing.

You know, like football games, family, and the South Park movie.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Not a Priority

Seen the Nationwide Insurance ad about "when you're not treated like a priority" or some such?

The "low priority" customers are portrayed by children.

I think I gasped out loud, amazed that they were so very blunt. 

As a parent and an educator, I've spent the majority of my adult life working with children. And yes, in US culture, children are often seen as a low priority. They're short, can't vote, and don't have their own credit cards.

Thank goodness they're loud and adorable, or they might be overlooked entirely.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Choosing Among Good Things

As a director of religious education, I'm pretty busy on Sundays--mornings and some afternoons.

This is not the best schedule for someone who likes to catch football games. It takes a VERY light Sunday for me to be home before halftime of the first game, and some Sundays I fall asleep even during my most anticipated games.

The playoffs make things a little easier, with three games beyond church hours. I may even manage to take my partner out to watch the Patriots game with fellow fans.

Too bad the game I most want to see starts at noon Sunday. 

Go Pack Go! (I'll check scores and try to see a screen when I can...)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

"We Do Not Hit"

Kids are really really good at pushing each other's buttons.  Poke poke poke poke poke... until 


Yes, the annoyed child lashed out and whacked his brother.

This played out more than a few times in my household. And each time, we firmly stated

"We Do Not Hit."

That hurting someone is a bad choice. (Yes, we also talked to the one doing the annoying, after making sure no actual first aid was needed.)

In Paris, satirists repeatedly poked. Poke poke poke.
Extremists took offense, stormed the magazine offices, and killed twelve people.

We do not hit.

We do not hit.
We do not hit.

AND we treat each other kindly and with respect. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Technical Difficulties

The Wi-Fi is being wonky, so a very short post tonight.

The cold front is coming through and I sit in my warm house, sweaters and blankets at the ready.

None of these feel luxurious or unreasonable, yet so many in my town and in our world are not so blessed.

There is work to be done.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Growing Up Is Hard For All

Weatherman says there's a cold front coming.      I can't remember the last time we bought coats for my sons.

We went through the closet and oh goodness. It's been a couple of years. The growth spurt years. And as one of them said as he struggled out of too short sleeves, "These colors are awfully bright for me."

So we made our way to the store. To the men's department. Somehow they're wearing men's clothes. And given that they're within an inch of their parents' heights, it's possible that the coats we bought tonight might fit them when they are fully grown.

That's a lot to process.

So we needed ice cream. (Or, at least, I did. And it would have been rude to make my young men wait in the car.)

Monday, January 5, 2015

History and Future

I love living in the future.

In my pajamas, from the comfort of my couch, I'm watching streaming footage from a courthouse in Key West, Florida, where they're about to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

History is being made, and I get to see it.

And the Fifth Circuit hears oral arguments on Friday, January 9th. Oh, Texas, please!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Truth In Advertising?

Whataburger is a popular chain around here--I'm sort of in love with their jalapeno cheddar biscuit. When my mother visits, I make sure she gets her favorite--the honey butter chicken biscuit. Yep, a biscuit with a piece of (boneless) fried chicken, topped with honey butter. 

A while back we found that our local HEB grocery store was carrying Whataburger's ketchup, spicy ketchup (OH YUM), and mustard. But today I came across the honey butter sauce!

Wait--it's not just butter and honey?  Oh, that would be too simple.
Let's look at the ingredients list- Soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup... um... The good news is that it does contain honey. But milk listed in the natural flavors is as close as we come to butter. Really, this is sweet mayonnaise.

I do understand that they need to make some adjustments for large scale production and to make it shelf stable. And I'm also certain that the product cost is far less than it would be if it were truly honey and butter. So it becomes "sauce."

In its April 2014 issue, Cook's Illustrated ran an article dispelling the myths of "fresh-squeezed" and "100% juice" mean in the orange juice industry. Oh my goodness, the tricks companies use to make my (formerly) beloved Tropicana Pure Premium taste so wonderful!
Since I read that article, I haven't bought orange juice for my home, only drinking it when I feel like going to the trouble of squeezing from fresh. (Translation- not often.)

Compromise is necessary, for groceries and for relationships and for all sorts of things. At one point do we compromise so much that we lose the essence of what we started with?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Easing Back Into Grooves...

My sons have been off school for two weeks now, and the week before had half-days and an open campus during exams.

To put it mildly, they are very off their usual schedules. They sure have excelled at video game conquests, though.

Tomorrow we're back at church, and Tuesday is back to school.

Getting back to reality might take every moment we have between now and then.
(Step one: get them to clean out their backpacks. This probably should have happened BEFORE Christmas...)

Friday, January 2, 2015


I'm at a lock-in with church youth who are planning an upcoming event.

So many things are not pictured here. Or quoted. Because minors and boundaries.

Trust me, though--it's hilarious.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Eating Our Mistakes

Ursula Vernon wrote this great post about the lessons of learning to throw clay pots, and then smashing the whoopses.

I haven't taken that pottery class yet, but I make plenty of whoopses. Often in the kitchen--where happily it's usually still edible, even if you might not serve it to company. 

These loaves are an attempt at upping the white wheat flour in French bread, making the bread a little closer to whole grain. They look pretty good, but they're DENSE. Why? Because it was a spur of the moment decision to bake, on a day when I didn't feel like going to the grocery store for the vital wheat gluten needed to amend the dough. I know better, but I just wanted it to work easily--as if my desires can affect the structure of bread. (Yes, I would LOVE to have superpowers that lend themselves to toast...) 
I'm getting better at making the best of my whoopses--in this case a smear of butter or jam goes a long way.