Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Grumbly Fussy Snarling Halloween!!

There was bickering in my hallway this AM as I tried to have a very cool, but now mostly forgotten dream. I opened my eyes to see my offspring preparing to spar 10 feet from my bed. Clock says I'm 25 minutes behind schedule already. Grrrrrr... this is no way to start my favorite holiday.

There are black crayons stuck in Darth Vadar's light saber. He cries and rubs his tears away with the sleeve of his dark lord turtleneck. Princess Leia demands that Darth Vadar hand over some of his cereal to her. I make the poor guy share. His lip pokes out and I see the little Anakin within.

We get to Darth Vadar's school just in time, but he still has to run in his big black boots. But he doesn't fall. Leia keeps hollering, "I wanna' hear my song!!!" from her carseat. Calm is not the mind of this Jedi mama.

At Leia's pre-school someone dares to tell her she's a fairy princess. She scrunches her face and stomps her tiny pink boot. With hands on pink, shimmering tu-tu-ed hips she declares, "NO! I'm Princess Leia." Hopefully her daddy will be Obi-wan later and get her in line. Obi-wan her daddy is my only hope today.

I returned home and re-dressed a few times. Once in costume, sort of. I pulled out my old black shirt and priest's collar from my hospital chaplain days. Made me look kind of creepy. Gave up. Went with black and orange stripey socks and boring everywhere else. People who know me have already expressed their disappointment. I bite my tongue to keep from expressing my...

Tonight I'll be on the front porch in our giant Winnie the Pooh costume handing out the goodies. The Star Wars gang will be roaming the streets gathering loot. I'd better improve my mood by then. Nothing scarier than a Pooh Bear who growls like Chewbaca. Now that I think of that image, my mood is lifting already.

If there is any overarching theme to my career in ministry it is: Laugh through it! To be grumpy on Halloween? Now that I've mulled it over awhile... that's kind of funny. I'm the only person I know who gets to smooch on Darth Vadar, tickle Princess Leia, call a Jedi master "Cutie", and do it all in a giant Winnie the Pooh costume. What's not to like about this day?

Monday, October 29, 2007

If you were a famous poet

As I recall, I corrupted Ms. Kitty through the meaningful internet quiz discovery that she is most like Carole Lombard on the oldies film star quiz. I corrupted Sisyphus through the internet quiz discovery that he is worth $50 less than I am as a corpse. The latest chapter in this insignificant but lots of fun internet quiz saga is thanks to Ms. Kitty. Let me know how the quiz turned out for you.
gURL.comI took the "If You Were a Poet..." quiz on
I am...

Do you tell it like it is, even if "it" ain't pretty? Then Sapphire, (aka Ramona Lofton) may be your poetic predecessor. Sapphire is a jewel of a poet, but you won't find any precious language in her books. Read more...

Which poet are you?

Evening Service a Success

My goodness, that went well.

Our first evening service was last night. Over 70 people came. We had a wonderful poet in First UU member Susan Williams. We had an enthusiastic and generous artist in Lori Valenti, who not only made art but encouraged children to make an artistic response. We had the 6 man band of the century. Only two of these dudes had played together before I put them in a band for a week. All of them said they'd like to do it again. They were fun to work with AND they are all talented.

We had teens, young adults, wee ones, grandparents, the thirty-fifty somethings, and one service dog who prefers not to have her age revealed. We had ten to fifteen visitors, one of whom came out wide-eyed and exclaimed, "Is this what all of your services are like?!?" In a word... no. But more will be.

There are some details that need some ironing, parts I want more or less of, mistakes I don't intend to repeat, but for our first time out the whole thing was, well... great.

Thank you to the many, MANY who helped behind the scenes. And for all who not only came out, but also brought your friends. See you again on January 27, 2008, 6:00 PM when the theme is The Blues.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


A delightful poet.
An energetic sprite of an artist.
6 men in a rock/alt country/ funk band.
A minister on the edge, hopefully the edge of something good.
And a great theme...

Why haven't I blogged all week?
Night after night of preparation for our first evening worship service.
6 PM. Tonight.
All ages are welcome.
We will rock you.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fast Friends

It may seem to the outside observer that my life is so packed with work and children that I must resort to desperate and odd measures to have some semblance of normalcy. This observer might imagine that I eat standing up 4-10 times a week. Or perhaps he/she/you believe(s) that I nap at any possible opportunity. Or maybe even that I pick sermon topics in order to explore ideas you and I wouldn't have time to think about otherwise.

If the observer thought any of these things, he/she/you would be 100% accurate.

I have just arisen from a much needed nap, am about to stand in my kitchen (whose days are numbered) and wolf down a snack, and I am thinking about friendship. I'll be preaching on it twice in November.

In recent days I have had very brief encounters with my friends. To be a minister's friend you need to be the kind of person who has many other things to occupy your time. You need to have a calendar to plan out months in advance for a cup of joe and a 45 minute visit. You need to be comfortable with last minute cancellations. And, MOST OF ALL, most days you need no ministering unto.

This week I've exchanged emails with the college buddy who is super-realtor in Manhattan. It is even harder being the realtor's friend than the minister's friend. We are perfect for each other that way, and he knows my secret college nickname, so I'll never cross him.

I had a great phone conversation with my maid-of-honor, college roommate, I-performed-her-wedding buddy who is 9+ months pregnant. WAITING was the theme of that one. Bless that darling. She missed our high shool reunion in June because she was working in the Cloud Forest. I was sure that was a euphemism for something, but it is just Costa Rica.

I took the long way home from work one afternoon and stopped by to see my favorite music guru pal at the local record store. Our friendship is sustained by a shared sense of humor, his constant presence at his place of business, and my constant presence at mine half-a-mile away. In the two years of our friendship, we've never seen each other when one of us isn't working.

I had a 2 minute check-in with my country undertaker from Dinwiddie county while driving back from a wedding. He was setting up his house for his youngest's 1st birthday party. We promised to talk again before November. Are you sensing a theme?

My friends are crazy-busy people. Friendship in my circles is no longer sustained by dinner parties, beach vacations, and weekly interaction. We are held together by the bonds of email, telephones, and eating standing up. Sometimes I am sad about this. Today I am just grateful that we are able to maintain any connection at all. Sound familiar? I hear that this has less to do with my profession than with our culture at large.

So that's me on friendship today. You want any more you've gotta' show up in Durham, NC or Glen Allen, VA in a month. (Like you've got time for that. The fact that you made it to the bottom of this post is a minor miracle, right? As a reward, I leave you with the funniest of all the friend stories this week, and this time the preacher is naming names...)

My friend Rex. I love this guy. Rex's life makes my life look like a slow inner-tube ride down a lazy river on an endless summer afternoon. I'm not even sure we are allowed to call each other friends. We spend YEARS trying to find time to have dinner. A glass of wine takes 6 months to schedule. I called him today to check in. (Yes, I was waiting for my next appointment, but don't be impertinent. At least I called.)

Here's Rex's voicemail: Hi, this is Rex. I am in the UK right now and don't have access to this cell phone. You can reach me by emailing me at .... or, if it is an emergency my UK cell phone is 5767877902-34847486189111-0076582490-940825739404-727553. Otherwise, leave a message on this line and I'll get it eventually.

I laughed so hard I triggered some system and it booted me, so I had to call back to rag on him mercilessly. Which, of course, I did. The funniest thing of all? The last time that I had time to call Rex was a month ago and then he was in some other foreign country with some other foreign cell phone with 43 digits. Good thing we're friends.

Friday, October 19, 2007

UU blog update

Finally got to catch up on some UU blogs last night. Ms. Kitty got all kinds of interest on her cleavage post. Mile High Pixie wins my vote for funniest comment. Are other religions posting on cleavage? I did a google on Hinduism and breasts, but got some leads I did not want to follow.
Shed a few tears with Lizard Eater over the death of a 5 year old from cancer. Then to balance emotions out, it is always a joy to catch up with Never Say Never to Your Travelling Self.
For my congregants who are new to UU blogs, browse my links when you get a chance. Then when you go to other UU blogs, you'll find other UU blog links. There's a lot of variety out there. Many of them take themselves a lot more seriously than yours truly, which may be a nice change for you. Or not.

Upcoming Services, both churches

Because I am constantly surprised by where I will be next, it might be a good idea to blog a bit on where to find me. This Sunday I am at UUCC in lovely pastoral Glen Allen where I will be preaching on the Ramayana. The Ramayana is an Indian epic and I will be using it as a springboard to talk a little about Hinduism.

For those who have yet to go out to Glen Allen, it is a pretty place, nice views, kind people, and they serve snacks! Services are at 9:00 and 11:00. Meanwhile at First Church, my buddy Rev. Jeanne will be preaching at 9:30 and 11:15 on Creative Interchange. Gallery (our annual juried art show with 100 artists of many media) is up at First Church and is quite lovely. I have already been relieved of some of my cash.

Next Sunday I'm at the 6:00 PM service at First Church. This is a cool new service with a band, a poet, an artist, and yours truly. The theme is "Borderlands". All ages are welcome.

Lyrics and Paper Plates

I am doing the most miserable thing I can think of. No, I'm not going back to Vegas. I am having my kitchen re-done. "Agony. Heartache. Starvation." These are the words that come to mind.

"Hideous. Useless. 11 years of crap... " These are the words that come to my husband's mind concerning the current state of the kitchen. He won. The demolition begins Monday.

The demolition and remodeling are being done by none other than my favorite singer/songwriter Billy Hatley and a man we'll call Dave. In honor of Billy's work and to calm my anxiety I have begun to put graffiti all over my kitchen. They are snippets from Billy's songs and they are on the walls, under drawers, in cabinets.

Over the stove: "I can't complain, how bout you?"

Under the trash can: "Don't you worry bout the hoot owl hootin' in the tree. He's not hootin' at you. He's not hootin' at me."

Where the Tupperware lived: "You gotta' go to school, so get your ass out of bed!"

Where the paint has peeled: "Teenage beauty queen, leader of the whole scene, went and got your nose stuck in the wrong thing..."

None of them make any sense on their own. But together they remind me of songs, concerts, friends, dancing, and laughter. That is SOOO much better than agony, heartache and starvation. I've also let Billy know that I fully expect not only a new kitchen but a new song to come out of this. Knowing Billy, he'll claim to have written it on the sub-flooring after they lay the new one.

Vegas Recovery Almost Complete

Is it any wonder I'm still exhausted from the Vegas trip? So, the rest of the story in as brief a summary as possible...
The Fountain at the Bellagio, sad to admit it - it is that good. The juxtaposition of the sheer excess of the fountain and the choreography to "Tis a Gift to Be Simple" was more than odd, however.
Yes. I was reduced to taking pictures of bathrooms in famous casinos. It seemed wholesome compared to my surroundings.
In my final hours I was chased by Klingons and the Borg; saw Treasure Island, the Venetian, Casino Royale, and the Mirage; made appointments for future meetings with an embalming supply rep. and the president of a stationery company who assures me he can meet my picky demands on a funeral register book; packed, ate overpriced food, mistakenly ordered a 32 oz. beer (mama's not real good with numbers), did not drink it, and took the red eye back to the Commonwealth.
It was the strangest 72 hours of my life. Next year's convention is in Orlando, another destination I have no desire to see. Then again, I do have family there...

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ten Seconds of Something New

My attempt to capture a fave Vegas moment. Sorry it is crooked.

Classes at Convention

My purpose for going to the NFDA convention was to take classes. I teach continuing education for funeral directors in Virginia. I pride myself on being up-to-date and informed in my course offerings. This convention is how I stay up-to-date.

I took several very good classes. I have yet to take a bad one at NFDA. My flight came in too late for me to attend the Thomas Lynch class, but I bought the recording. I'm greatly looking forward to istening to it. You can see Thomas Lynch on Frontline on October 30 at 9PM, PBS. He ROCKS!!!

I was glad to hear what Justin Zabor had to say about cremation. Justin is part of a family owned funeral home in Ohio. He speaks at conventions on the "F words of funeral service" among other things. Justin and his family are about innovation. He knew his audience would not be 100% behind him on this so he talked about innovation in terms of value.

Essentially he said that the modern funeral consumer has different values than they used to have. They would rather take a trip or throw a party than spend 20 grand on a funeral. The role of funeral service is to offer services that people value now, not the model that is 50 years old. Simple, right?

No, not really. That means embracing cremation and offering other services that more resemble event planning. That means losing the profit in traditional areas and becoming more technologically savvy. And it means making new allies with, for instance, progressive ministers with new ideas about services, ritual, and meaning making. (Justin didn't mention that one, but he doesn't know me yet. He will mention it next time.)
I thought Justin did a great job in saying what needs to be said. He was very gentle and positive in his "Change. Or your butts are history." message. Oh, and I forgot to mention. Justin is on my Men of Mortuaries calendar. And so is his brother. Here Justin is with some of his fellow models. Sorry to the nice man on the right for getting him with his eyes closed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Best Dressed Person at NFDA Convention

In a previous post on the convention called "Oddly Loving It" I described the sartorial class evident at this convention. I'm a bit old school on attire. I believe the Old Navy aesthetic kills the pulse of your soul. To put it mildly.

There are plenty of fashion nightmares in the funeral biz. But their ratio of snappy dressers to putzes is much better than in the general population. I also think business casual was the worst fashion idea in the modern world, and the funeral homes I work with have no part in business casual.

Now anyone who knows me knows that my fashion sense in how I dress myself is somewhere between Lucille Ball and Cyndi Lauper circa '85. I can spot a gorgeous suit a mile away, though. Do as I see, not as I do.

I saw many beautifully dressed men and women at the National Funeral Directors' Convention showing pride in their profession through their outward appearance. What is truly amazing is that they find gorgeous clothes that can be worn for 14 hours. The best clothes I see on male and female funeral directors are as functional as they are fashionable.

I didn't intend to pick a best dressed person. I was thinking I'd take half a dozen photos of nicely dressed people. Then the holy grail of tailoring walked by me. The most beautiful suit of the convention was worn by Anthony Papavero, Jr. of New Jersey's own Branchburg Funeral Home.

The photo cannot do this gorgeous piece of art justice. The colors called to mind chocolate and hibiscus. It felt softer than anything I ever wrapped my precious newborn babies in. And the cut looked like Versace himself was resurrected to tailor this suit! Gorgeous.

Our man Anthony had it beautifully accessorized, too. His tie probably cost the same as a meal at the Stratosphere, and the shirt... perfect. I know I'm going on a bit, but give me a break. I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister - unless someone dies, where the hell am I going to see a suit like this???

As for our man Anthony, as you can see he is friendly and nice. He is fourth generation funeral service. I met his daddy, and he was also just as sweet as can be. (But the fashion sense is the junior Papavero's forte; the papa is more subdued.) Anthony says that he is always stopped and asked about his clothes. He said that even at the New Jersey convention where they all have access to this kind of tailoring, he gets comments. The guy can dress, no doubt about it. If I should make my earthly departure suddenly, somebody call Anthony to pick out the suits for my entourage of funeral directors.

Anthony, thank you for setting the bar, and for not calling security when an amazon blogger descended upon you with her camera and notepad.

Fremont Street's Little Show

See previous post for "before" photos. These are during the show.

TV Conversion

I watch almost no TV. It's not completely by choice. My husband talked me into disconnecting the cable which took me away from my favorite shows. I just never got around to getting new favorite shows. I turn on the TV twice a month to see what happens. It's always a commercial and I shut it off again.

But then I was introduced to the TV on Fremont Street, Las Vegas. The TV in question is five football fields long. It serves as the roof for a pedestrian mall. There are speakers the size of my refrigerator all along the street. When not on, the TV serves as an arched roof to the mall. It is "ON" every hour on the hour for a "little show."
See next posts for the "little show."

Fine Dining at the Barf-o-sphere

Does Vegas make people crazy or does it just attract the crazies? I'm still not sure, but I am CRAZY for eating a meal at the Stratosphere. For those of you not in the know about Vegasian interest spots, I'll give you the short version.

107th floor
Helicopters flying below you
Fine dining (And Kudos to the chefs, it was a very good meal.)
Spinning floor (They called it a slowly rotating restaurant experience. I say otherwise.)

Why combine heights, expensive food, and movement? Why, why, why?

In my case, you gotta' add death care specialists, though. And they made the evening worth it. Great company. View was wowsie. Thank you VFDA for choosing the spot. But, no joke, I'm getting flashback nausea writing this. Perhaps the blur of the photo will help you to share in the experience.

Vegas Got Me, Baby

I did way too much, and fell behind on my blogging. So I will ask you a favor. I'll start posting the FANTASTIC stuff I did and saw, and you pretend that I'm still there.

Sorry for the delay. Vegas ain't a blogging kind of place. Baby.

(See? I almost got that Baby thing down!)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Other Interesting Funeral Tidbits

It seems the stationery industry continues to be in a rut. The convention hall is packed with cards, programs, announcements, and acknowledgment cards that I can't imagine anyone I know ever using. It doesn't have to be this way, does it?

The good folks at Peka continue to have superior colors in their products, but still not exactly what I imagine the people in my congregations preferring. They were my favorites last year for their variety, vibrant look, and desire for suggestions for innovative looks to try.

This year I salute The Regal Line who are trying to break some tired patterns of the industry at large. They have "Thank you" cards that are decorated by Flavia and have wording completely appropriate to the sentiments of many of my congregants. (When I told the Regal Line representative Dallas that I was UU, he pointed me right to them. Smart man with a great name.)

I also like the Regal Line's multi-cultural offerings, although I recommend that they stop calling them "Ethnic Sets." Immediately.

What I found at the Regal Line that filled a need best, though, was envelopes for memorial contributions. These things are great. I know this is a big yawn for any of you who don't do this kind of work, but trust me on this. Currently, if someone wants to give a memorial contribution they have to send to the charity themselves. Sometimes they come to church with a donation at the service, and we don't have a great way to collect it.

These envelopes have a simple way to collect the donation and have the donor record what it's for, and who gave it. The envelope is sealed so the privacy of the donor's gift is maintained. And there's an adhesive backed label where the donor writes his/her address. That label can then be attached to the thank you card for sending. One less step for a grieving person. GREAT idea.

You may remember from last year my fondness for a good scrapbook. Notable Legacy has one that takes a lot of the work out of it. Many scrapbook enthusiasts like the work part. But most of us end up procrastinating and not getting around to recording the memories. Notable Legacy takes care of much of that for you. They are run by a cute-as-a-bug woman named Jean who can tell you about this better than I can. Follow the link. They are a little pricey, but when you look at the materials list and the binder itself, it is worth it for most of us to not have to go shopping for all the parts and accessories.

Jean also has a sideline selling lacy garters to hide one's ID and money in while travelling. She's a versatile gal. I mention the sideline mainly to explain the photo, though.

Beautiful Urns

Unfortunately, I don't find enough urns that pass the Unitarian Universalist aesthetics challenge. When at the National Funeral Directors' Convention I am always on the lookout for an artisan who does an urn I think my congregation would like.

Here's a delightful craftsman. His name is John Berger and he is out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. For those of you looking for affordable, handmade, natural, and not "urny" looking urns - this is your man. He has great prices. I mean GREAT. And the photo doesn't do justice to the work. They are maple urns in a variety of sizes with tung oil finishes that can be natural or dyed most any color in the rainbow.
This is John's first NFDA convention. If you would like to contact him, he's at

No Words are Sufficient

Oddly Loving It

You are going to hate Vegas.” he said.
That place is the pus hole of the world,” said another.
Somewhere between the two is where I find myself at this moment after approximately 12 hours in sin city.

Not much to report on the sin side of things. The energy and water waste is abominable. The waste of human potential and spirit at the omnipresent slots and tables is deplorable. The second hand smoke is gag-rageous. But I am not here for any of that, so my spirits are actually quite high.

As a reminder, I am here for the 126th National Funeral Directors’ Convention. It is the oddest thing I do all year. And I love it.

Odd- The opening session began with a gospel choir led by a Chaka Khan look-alike in the most extravagant wedding dress I’ve ever seen. She accessorized with a white feathered hat the size of a wedding cake and a voice that could carve the Grand Canyon. In a good way.

Love it – I’ve already seen a guy in a “Men of Mortuaries” t-shirt. M of M is a calendar that combines beefcake, lessons on the death care business, and funeral director pride. Also falls under odd, but I own a copy of this thing and am glad to see that it has taken off. I’ll pre-order you a copy. As for the guy in the shirt: very cute but I’m not sure he’s your type.

Odd –There’s a whole lot of praying going on with this crowd. Lots of “God bless” and praising going on. And I am saying this as a preacher. If I feel it’s a little much, it is more than a little. I’m also sniffing some ou want to roll out the holy, let’s have the convention in Iowa. In Vegas? Baby, I ain’t buying it.

Love it – The women are all shapes, sizes, shapes and colors. Meanwhile, there is an unbelievable percentage of the men who you’d peg as a funeral director no matter what they did. And then there are my perennial favorites – the Mack-Funeral-Daddies-and-Mamas These folks are styling. Now it is a conservative chic, but it is still chic. And the best part is, I know that the shiny wingtips, silk ties, pocket squares and Gucci glasses are their version of business casual.

On the floor at NFDA

Yes, I am really here. I don't know which is more shocking: the fact that I am in Las Vegas or the fact that I am at my SECOND National Funeral Directors' Association Convention and having a grand ole' time.

I am standing outside the exhibit hall this very moment so I have to make this brief - but a few highlights...

A giant convention center full of coffins, hearses, and embalming chemicals doesn't seem one bit weird in Las Vegas. (The convention next door is for car washes. Now that's weird.)

I had a great green burial discussion. Will be letting you know more about the future of that worthy and essential movement.

No, I have not gambled unless you count ordering a salad for lunch in a convention center. It was pretty scary, but it worked out in the end.

Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, the Pirates of the Caribbean, and Cher are all here. I think they all work for casket companies and hearse companies now.

That's it for now. Got some cool photos and products to tell you about shortly. Hope this made your day seem just a wee bit more normal.