Thursday, December 18, 2008

Return of the Claw

Watch your peanut M&M's. I've been released back into the wild by my hand doctor. He feels that I am healthy enough to forage for sustenance and care for my young outside the cage. This may be a week or two premature but then, he knows I am on steroids for the RA which means...

I CAN DO ANYTHING!! Except - remember anything for 5 minutes or get my internet connection up.

Sorry for the silence. My tech king is working on the internet problems. The steroids are working on getting my hand to move. And my muse is stirring from her late Fall hibernation just in time for the Solstice service.

Come on out and hang with us Sunday night at 6:00 PM for the First UU Solstice celebration. We will be observing the timeless equinoxian shifting from dark to light in that natty First UU/Rev. Alane fashion for which we are known. (Think ritual + band + Ukrainian soloist + good company. Wear your urban druid rock star outfit.) The service will be followed by a trip to the labyrinth in Northside. (Add comfy shoes and warm coat to previously described outfit.)

Hey, look at you! You are more centered, hip, and happy by having read this. Now fork over the M&M's. Mama has mouths to feed.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Fear, Agony, and Facebook

Two kids in the Miles household - very different makes and models. A boy and a girl. An extrovert and an introvert. A TV addict and a lover of all things costume. (No, wait - there are three of us in the house that fit that costume affinity.) My point - they are different in almost every way, except...

Night terrors. Age 3 and one half onset of shrieking and howling in the night. And hers just began this week when, naturally, my lovely cousin finally agreed to come for a visit. After multiple nights of yowling, Lovely Cousin is now sleeping in empty house next door vacated by grandma who is now a nursing home resident and no I do not want to talk about my grief over that. What was I saying?

Oh yeah. Night terrors. Every night this week has been interrupted by a full body scream about bugs. It would be funny if she weren't sobbing, trembling, and shutting her little fists into balls. We bring her into our bed where she lies ramrod straight and deathly still but awake fearing that if she moves the bugs will get her. It makes me cry. It makes my lovely cousin cry. My husband is not crying. He says that his tear ducts have been welded shut by a lack of sleep. In hopefully unrelated news - she is composing amazing punk lyrics in her waking hours.

In our sleep-deprived ramblings my cousin and I have been discussing the nature of fear. Baby girl's terror aroused in my cousin her own deep fears: "She's going to get a raging fever and start vomiting and then we will all be sick by Friday." And also touched on mine: "What if this isn't a stage? What if her brain is wired in such a way that she is always fearful? How will my husband bear it because I WILL LEARN to sleep through it..."

I lead a rebuilding after divorce group. The night we talked about fear we were all stumped. In so many ways we have learned to reduce fear to anxiety in our lives. When faced with real fear we are caught off guard. This is one of the issues I teach in community grief workshops- fear is sublimated in our lives in so many ways that we are often ill-equipped to experience it when it inevitably comes. If I ever sleep again I will talk to my little punkin some more about fear.

I am a one woman economic effort to keep physical therapists gainfully employed in 2008. I am now in hand therapy. Hand therapy looks tres Zen. We sit at little desks in a circle facing each other. Each patient removes whatever brace they have and we begin these small movements. I am slowly crumpling a towel. The patient on my right is gently rolling a ball six inches forward and back. The patient on my left is removing marbles from a giant blob of Silly Putty. It is so quiet and would be relaxing if...


Do not fall. Do not dislocate fingers. Do not sprain your wrist. Do not break your fingers. Do not immobilize a non-broken finger when you have rheumatoid arthritis thus causing it to swell up like a big toe and barely move and no I do not want to talk about the myriad bad words that run through my mind when I try to chop vegetables. Hmmm. Lost my train of thought again.

Ah, yes, agony. There is a reason why so many of the torture scenes in spy movies involve fingers.


I just found the chat feature on facebook. Goodbye, cruel world - I will never surface again. In 40 minutes I traded parenting laughs with a congregant, invited a friend to church on Sunday, made a date to visit a graveyard in honor of a lost friend, and planned a Sunday service at the Charlottesville church.

I would write more but I need to go back on Facebook to find a cure for night terrors and a remedy for hand pain. While chatting on Facebook I may also talk a wee bit about the fact that sleep deprivation makes everything larger than life including the attractiveness of Hugh Laurie's stubble and the smell of curry lingering in my kitchen and the fear of going to sleep from which I now am suffering because I am tired of being jolted from my dreams of singing ska duets with Billy Ray Hatley on the White House lawn wearing footie pajamas with a feathered headdress awake into the eardrum piercing wails of my sobbing precious tot and no I do not want to talk about my grief that I have never sung a duet with Billy in waking life.

I wonder if he's on Facebook...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Don't Cry for Me Blog-en-tina

In the ongoing saga of ridiculous things I do...I went to Mississippi only 10 days after my nasty finger destruction. Supposedly I was there to help with the rebuilding effort (my second trip) and to lead my merry band of UUs. I was only marginally successful but the crew was amazing. Not only did they caulk, grout, hammer, measure, cut, fit, support, mop, cook and saw on the job, but they helped keep me healthy enough to do some work, too. Or they reminded me to take my pain meds when I would sit down in the middle of somewhere, hold my hand above my head, and mumble, "Uh oh."

This time we brought our own carpenter to help speed the process along. When he was not leading the crew and helping the construction manager...

He peeled my shrimp for me. Yes. It was great!
(This is the point where I suddenly lose my sympathetic audience.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Unplanned Blog Vacation

Sorry to have been gone so long. I fell before Halloween and broke two fingers, dislocated 4 or 5 knuckles, sprained my wrist and hurt my shoulder. Typing is very hard.
This photo is of the first cast. Subsequent casts immobilized those fingers that are greenish blue.
I am healing up nicely. Will type some haiku-inspired entries soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Yeah, That's Dirt

This must be the simplest and most delightful product I've seen at any funeral convention. It's dirt. That's all. Well, almost all. It is dirt from Ireland that has been processed and approved, and brought to America (an otherwise illegal process) so that you can sprinkle some on your beloved pappy's grave.

How cool is that? Simple, economical (about $10), the real deal, and it has a sweet, sentimental quality. I spoke with an adorable, great big guy named Pat from Ireland whom I understood in intervals. (Did you know farm could be pronounced "fair-em"?) Pat and his cronies had this cool idea, and being an agriculturally trained lad he got it done. This is their first week in full-on business.

The auld sod itself comes in bags and in cardboard tubes that look like small Scotch cases. These gents are going to make a mint. At least I can say I knew them when. Check them out online and should you not have a pappy who wants the Emerald Isle to come to him, it can also be used to grow shamrocks, as birthday gifts for the Irel-lovers in your life, or just to sprinkle about when you need a little Ireland.

I know what you are thinking... hmmm... I have a sudden craving for Ireland. Me, too.

Handcrafted Silver Urns

The National Funeral Directors' Convention continues to amaze. This is my third year and in some ways I am getting used to it. I hardly notice the playing of "Taps" throughout the day, the mongo Escalade hearses, the airbrush make-up displays, and the tragically small caskets. I should get counseling for getting accustomed to all that.

Instead, I spend my energy seeking out the items and services that I think are most likely to be attractive to Unitarian Universalists at large, my congregation specifically, and the random funeral service groupie who might find their way to the blog.

This year, let's start with urns. Every year I pick a favorite urn style since my(our) religion cremates in way higher numbers than the general population. Usually I pick something eco-conscious or of unique construction. This year, I went for a more simple concept: stunning, jaw-dropping beauty.

These photos do not begin to capture the beauty and craftsmanship of these urns from the fine artisans of Lasper Imperial Urns. I had the pleasure of meeting with the designer, JP Lascurain, who explained the design, creation, variation, and properties of these urns. Sadly for you, he did so in a lilting, hypnotic Hispanic accent which made it hard to focus on utilitarian ash receptacles. Their booth felt more like being in a very upscale jewelry store without the attitude.

What I caught when I wasn't dreaming of the magic of Mexico was that JP comes from a long line of silversmiths. These urns are the visible and tactile expression of his family legacy. They come in sterling silver and the more cost-conscious brass nickel plate. Both are very attractive but, naturally, the sterling looks like it should be in a museum while the brass nickel just looks like it would be the best looking thing in my home by far. Then again, a sterling urn costs what you would imagine (over three thousand dollars) while the nickel is quite affordable.

The urn shapes that were most eye-catching to me were the Chalice (or was it just the name that attracted me) and the Classique. They are available with different little notches on top that ranged from simple to ornate, and will also be available soon in keepsake size.

What is keepsake size? You sure you want to know? OK - should this get uncomfortable, imagine a beautiful Hispanic accent. The keepsake size is for children, pets, or when the remains are split among various family members. (Don't look at me like that. You asked.) With the general feeling of hanging around Sr. Lascurain, I think you could also use the keepsake size for jewelry if its real purpose is bugging you.

These are not your usual urn, nor are they like the urns I am generally attracted to, but they are so beautifully designed, so stunningly hand produced, so striking in their appearance (shiny almost to the point of being mirrors, and the effect of seeing your own face in your loved ones urn was intriguing to me)... I could not resist them. Needless to say, these are for people who do not want to bury the ashes, and people who are comfortable with an urn that will invite constant comment in their home.

Here are JP and Sergio in front of their display poster. Please check them out at their website. I told them you would be coming, so they'll be waiting for you. And even though they are not on the website, they have some drop dead beautiful necklaces. Sorry. That wasn't meant to be a sick joke. Very pretty. The necklaces are very pretty.

In an unrelated observation, JP on the left is also in the top spot for being the best-dressed man at the convention. How I got out of that booth without finding myself $3000 poorer is a mystery.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Orlando - More Fun with Funeral Conventions

On my way with my wee daughter to have some family and work fun in Orlando. No, we are not doing Disney. She's 3 and can entertain herself for an hour with an acorn. Why mess with a good thing?

We will be doing everyone's favorite Auspicious Jots activity - the National Funeral Directors' Convention. Woo hoo!

My spies are already in place and they say the unstated theme this year is GREEN. As you know, I am the green burial maven so I say the more green the better.

Will be blogging from the convention again this year. Send comments to this post if you want me to look for anything in particular. After all, how many people do YOU know who go to this convention?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Top 40 Under 40?

Have you ever been given a sincere compliment that ended up harming you more like an insult? It is a weird situation.

I was incredibly honored and excited to be recognized by a local weekly magazine for being one of what they call the "Top 40 under 40." This is a yearly listing they do. It is an honor for the lifelong Richmonder like myself and exciting to be affirmed publicly in a profession that is not generally recognized in this way.

The other 39 recipients of the distinction are a wide variety of advocates, public servants, business people, and interesting Richmonders. Reading through their accomplishments put me in awe. It is humbling to be in company like that.

The description that went beside the world's most flattering photograph of me, though, is unintentionally misleading. I recognize that I am a bit of a character. I boogie to the beat of my own drummer while most people are marching to theirs. I don't make conventional choices in very public ways. I can also be disarmingly blunt and honest. I think it was a combination of these personal characteristics exhibited in the interview that led to a profile that has become accidentally controversial.

The problem is that even though I am all of those things, most of my life is spent in small conversations with individuals and small groups as we try to make sense out of life's curve balls. That is how I am known by the people I serve. It's not print-worthy, however, and my unconventional side, though less frequently exhibited, evidently merits some ink.

I thought I knew how I felt about the profile: disappointed, hurt, confused. I felt like small aspects of my personality were caricatured and used to overshadow the hard, unceasing work of ministry. I wondered if they didn't know how to talk about my main ministerial interest -death and dying - so they went off on a tangent. But then I met with the editor and reporter today, and now I am really lost.

In their world, this was a compliment. In their world, my tendency to say exactly what I am thinking is a great thing. In their world, my willingness to reach out in unexpected ways is a gift. In their world, they portrayed me as straight talking, empathetic and approachable and are now bewildered that this has caused anything but celebration. Honestly, they said more kind things to me this afternoon than I am accustomed to hearing. If I had a fan club, the reporter would be secretary.

So now what? I am used to living with the thousand gradations of gray, but this is a little murky even for me. My family is upset. My friends are feeling the need to defend me. My congregation is wondering what planet the profile came from. (The planet is Richmond. Don't forget that we have our own galaxy.) Meanwhile the magazine people have been nothing but kind and apologetic, albeit perplexed.

If a ministry in death and dying teaches one anything, it is to get over anything that is not terminal. Since I can't even figure out if I'm wounded, I'm moving along. I won an award, there's one awesome photo of me, and my fan club has a secretary. Yay.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Evening News

Today's breaking news...

First from my sainted mother: "A van parked next to me at my mother’s day care recently had this written on the side:

Temple Image Paternity and Infidelity DNA Specialists
For a reflection of the truth

For what it’s worth, it had a wheelchair lift."

Now there's a joke here my mama isn't saying. I'm not sure how the joke reads but it probably involves viagara, alzheimer's, a paternity test and a punchline along the lines of... "But she can't remember."

Not that I would ever tell a joke like that.

This just in from the parking lot: My poor and formerly sweet, Alzheimer's plagued grandma cussed me out in the church parking lot yesterday. This morning she was really glad to see me and wants to go to the State Fair with me. The one good thing about Alzheimer's - moods can be forgotten. God bless that gal.

And speaking of the State Fair, I just saw on CNN that my son won 5 ribbons in the youth arts and crafts competition. Neil Cavudo (sp?) of Fox Business will be doing a 25 minute in depth interview this afternoon. Senator Barack Obama has decided to put his campaign on hold and come to the Miles family ribbon celebration in the living room this evening.

Auspicious Jots - keeping you hip to what's hot, baby.

Fresh-faced Global Ripple Effect

It occurs to me that conspiracy theorists may be onto something.

I am multitasking in a coffee shop. The men beside me have determined that the war in Iraq and the "imminent economic collapse of America" are part of Presiden't Bush's rabid xenophobic plan to eradicate immigration. "Mexico is looking mighty nice now, isn't it?" one just asked the other. They appear to be drinking Sumatra.

I'm a steamer gal. All milk, no coffee. I thought this made me immune to conspiracy theories. I just arched my eyebrow at the guys next table. However, I have come to a theory concerning my religion, Unitarian Universalism.

The greatest untapped vein of potential UUs are the vast unchurched. Depending on which poll, study, or worldview theorists cite - predictions are that the UU numbers could double or quadruple if we could just introduce unchurched America to our commensurate beliefs. So why is this not happening?

I'll leave the rational discussion and well-thought-out arguments to the other UU bloggers. Somebody spiked my steamer this AM, so I'm going out on a limb. It's the cosmetic companies. They have bonded together in a secret conglomerate united by their need to keep the UUs down.

Evidence? Refute this, baby.

I had my portrait made yesterday by a professional photog. (I'll reveal why in a future entry.) In preparation for this event I realized I needed to wear makeup. It's gotten to the point where the need to wear makeup is so rare it causes the need to buy makeup. My so-called friends called for two days in feigned worry on my behalf.

My hair artist: "Sweetie, shouldn't you have someone with some training apply that stuff?"

From a male funeral director: "Let me do that for you, hon. I have a lot more experience in the handling of cosmetics than you do."


I will admit to calling the photographer and asking him to please hurry up for our appointment. "Dude, I'm wearing eyeliner here." But I can put on makeup. I got married, didn't I?

After the shoot (Lizard Eater, cue "Girls on Film" here) I went through the rest of my work day. At the church supper I showed everyone the makeup. (It was like having a baby dinosaur in my hand. Oooohhhh. Aaaaaah!) and this was the first hint of the conspiracy.

As lovely UU woman after lovely UU woman bent her face to look into mine I noticed... not a jot of make-up on them. In four hours I spotted only four women in make-up and I really had to look for it. There are six other women in the coffee shop right now. Four of them are in make-up. The other two are this chick with the computer and steamer, and the UU gal behind the counter who is one of the reasons I like coming here.

Let's do some math, my fellow conpiratheorists. If 600,000 more Americans became UU, over 300,000 would be women. If 250,000 of them decided to stop wearing make-up... it could start a fresh-faced global ripple effect the likes of which has not been seen since the eighties ended and men stopped wearing eyeliner to the grocery store. Imagine the losses. Only Aveda would come out unscathed. (I seriously doubt Aveda is in on this. My steamer is not strong enough for me to cast my suspicious eye on them.)

Not evidence enough? In order to have the make-up I accidentally went to the headquarters of the cosmetic conspiracy: Sephora. I like Sephora. The lipstick tastes like raspberry gum. (Conspiracy!) As I was picking out the necessary paints and crayons I got a sudden uneasy feeling. I was being watched.

"Can I help you?" she asks oh-so-sweetly. "I'm good," I nervously reply.

A few moments later she silently swoops in. "Are you finding everything ok?"

I look at her face. Perfect arched brows. Lovely lashes. Pink lips and expertly applied eye hues. Then there's the fact that she seems to be genuinely helpful. A helpful sales person in a Richmond, VA mall? Something is not right here.

She smiles and blinks once. Aha! Conspiracy. In that perfect blink all is revealed. Not only are they out to get the UUs. They are using defense industry technology. I watch "Sarah Connor Chronicles." I know a robot when I see one.

Stay alert, UUs. Now that we are onto them - who knows what they will do to retaliate? But I am ready for the battle. Once I get my steamer refilled.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The P and E files

P is for paper. E is for electronic.

I made a pilgrimage of sorts last week to the home of our minister emeritus to peruse his files. Rev. MacPherson has over 50 years of ministerial files that are better organized, more useful, and more diverse than the mess of 14 years of ministerial flotsam I call a filing cabinet.

I had serious file envy. In addition to being labeled, alphabetized, and separated by drawers according to theme, many of the pieces of paper are identified by the date filed and the date used in services. I was swooning by the end of the tour.

Rev. MacP is from a different era, and within that era he was a unique bird. So I do not imagine that I want to go back in time to be a minister in the 1950s. The sex change alone...

While looking through the evidence of another ministry, however, I was struck by how different ministry has become. Rev. MacP's files reflect the changes he saw - from stencilling to xerox, from photo to slide, from biblical quotes to satirical cartoons on service covers - he had to roll with several changes in technology and worldview himself.

But I cannot imagine having the time to do the meticulous work he did to keep these files. He was no office mole, either. He was active in the community and with his congregants. He and his wife hosted events at their home. He travelled for ministerial training. I, on the other hand, with all the benefits of technology... am swamped. And I am always looking for something I can't find.

I've asked the gender question. What if I hadn't been pregnant or nursing for 39 months of my career? Or what might I be had I been married to the venerable Dottie MacP? Or what any of us might be capable of with a partner like that? I have a great partner but he also has a great full-time job and community obligations of his own. The expectations of a male partner in 2008 are way different than the expectations of a 1950's "minister's wife".

I have asked the personality question. I know other ministers who are still in full-time ministry who have great filing systems. I hate them. (Just kidding. Again - it's the envy talking. I hate that you don't visit and get bossy with my files.)

And I have asked the E question. Do I have more information in my two computers, external hard drive, this blog, Facebook, and now YouTube than could fit in a file cabinet? Am I well-organized in a non-visible way? (HA! That's great. I'm using that again. "It's not clutter. I'm organized in a non-visible way!")

The E files are a big part of it. But there is alot to say for the P files. I am making up a faux library card to check out P files from Rev. MacP. I am inspired and enriched by the content of his files, but the files themselves are inspirational, too - their mere existence and permanence. I just don't get the same feeling scrolling through my virtual folders and directories.

Let me close with a personal note, E style: Happy 80th Birthday, Rev. David MacPherson. You have been an inspiration to me for 23 years. I am honored to know you as a mentor, colleague and friend. Keep up with those computer classes!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fab List Making

What if we all had cool to do lists? What if instead of: clean kitchen, pay bills, find dog we had things like: get yet another amazing massage, put Nepal photos in scrapbook, return Prince's email TODAY ?

I come up with these things when I am not well and have health envy. I'm having a whopping load of health envy today and not just for myself. I have half a dozen people on my fret list who are going through all sorts of nasty treatments and diseases. (Wait. Make that a dozen. Ummm... hold on. Can we say twenty and leave it at that?)

Meanwhile, I know some amazingly healthy people who are doing or have done feats of bravado, strength, or sweet radness that I can only dream of. So, for those who are not at full speed right now - an impossibly cool list of things inspired in part by the healthy crew. And if you can do and desire to do something on the list, get off your booty and do them. Vicarious is ok by me.


1) buy season tickets and attend all shows of (Insert theatrical or performing art company here. If it were me - it would be the Firehouse Theatre.)

2) ride bike all over town

3) roller blade

4) do chin-ups in public place and enjoy the admiration

5) eat your favorite food without guilt, indigestion, or hives

6) dance all night

7) read a book a day for a week

8) comb hair (for my bald friends in treatment)

9) have a beer. In Hamburg. (that one's mine)

10) laugh (for my grandmother)

Photolude with quilt

And for those of you needing a little spiritual experience... the fine Quuilters of First UU Richmond with one of our group projects.

Photolude Denver style

Finally opened my buddy's pics from the DNC in Denver. Here's my fave campaign poster.


I haven't been posting enough photos lately. Here's a few to keep you going. I call this one - The Seventies only Hurt when you can't find your Sweater Vest. The fine studs flanking me are still studly. The one on the left was roller derbying this weekend while my son cheered him on.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Arts and Crafts Hell

I have become a State Fair Stage Mom. How did this happen? The child is only 6!

Since I don't know how I got here let me just say where I am. I live in a house where three hours a day are spent supervising a 6 year old as he sews, draws, constructs, and paints 10 entries for the state fair arts and crafts competition. (Activities he greatly enjoys, I will add to save my soul.)

I live in a house that has some drying or half-made project in every room. Let me formally declare that the papier mache robot hanging from the shower curtain rod looks like a voodoo homunculus.

In our house, when mama comes to wake a little boy by climbing in his bed, she does not mumble "Time for school" or "Good mornin' punkin'!" Mama says, "You gotta' sew before breakfast." Oddly, he jumped right up.

The only good that can come of this is that I will not be a dance stage mom. When I took him to dance class on Saturday I spent the 90 minutes calculating how he would finish these projects before Friday. I saw him dance for 3.2 minutes.

Next year I will repent. Really. In the words of Paul Simon, "I don't find this stuff amusing any more." I will not allow 10 entries unless he starts on them in June. I won't. I mean it.

As for the kid, he gets double TV time for a week or so just to get him back to normal. And I may have to go to the evil Chuck E Cheese. But not this week. It's all glue guns and embroidery thread this week.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Decorating Techniques for the Weary

Fridays are no longer fun. I take my nasty meds on Fridays at 12:30. I then call or text my husband with something along the lines of "Snow White has bitten the apple" or "I am Three Mile Island". And then I feel crummy for a day or two.

I have been inspired by the congregants I know who find clever ways to enjoy life in the face of health routines far worse than mine. In their spirit I invited a few friends over on Friday evening for cocktails that I couldn't drink and snacks. I thought the company would be a nice thing to look forward to instead of just cataloguing side effects.

This was a good idea with some drawbacks.
1) The house needed straightening.
2) I had no energy.
3) The guest list started to grow.

The end of the story is that the guests came and we had a very nice time. My family greatly enjoyed themselves. The house was mostly ready. Everyone got to meet people they did not know. I ended Friday thinking it was a good day.

One major thing did not get done, however. There is a huge pile of magazines, cards, junkmail, children's art, and random paper on a bookcase at the front door. I had no energy to deal with it. So I left it there. Right in the living room where we were all sitting. But to show some hostess decorum I put a big note on it so my guests knew that I would have done something about it if I could have.

The note read: Picture a Tasteful Floral Arrangement Here.

Do turtles have little hands?

We have jumped up on the "Why" season with my daughter. I like the why season. It makes me curious again. And when the questions are like the title of the post, I just smile.

Is fog really clouds that fell down? Can cicadas bite? How do they make Golden Grahams? The answers aren't nearly as satisfying as the questions. I wish she would answer some of my questions.

Why do you like your brother's shoes better than yours even when they make you fall? Why have you become so cuddly at last (not that I am complaining)? Why do you cry so much? What is the magic about bandaids? Why do you like foods today and hate them tomorrow? How do you get your hair to do that? Why doesn't "Thriller" scare you?

She'd probably answer mine with the same choral response I give her sometimes when I've run out of answers and almost out of patience.

Mystery. Mystery. Life is a riddle and a mystery.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Poetry Wednesday

Funeral Langston Hughes

Carried lonely up the aisle
In a box without a smile,
Resting near the altar where
Folks pass by and stare -

If I was alive
I'd say,
I don't give a damn
Being this-a way!

But I would give a damn.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Welcome to the horror!

My first facebook message was the title of this post. It came from a man whom I've known since he was a boy. He is funny, laid back, sweet and he caught me off-guard. "What on earth is he talking about?" I wondered.

Well, it is two weeks later. I now have 127 friends on facebook. I know thanks to the 250 emails that confirmed those friendships. I have received pokes, superpokes, flair, pear trees, beer, 80s toys, and a variety of star wars figures. Or so the endless emails tell me. None of these things seem to actually exist. They are just the way facebook friends say "hi."

I have reunited with at least a dozen old friends I haven't seen in years. I've checked in on the baby pics of classmates, work buddies, and SUUSI pals. And I regularly report my status and check the status of friends. (Rennie is still cleaning up the dog mess. Alane is pleading not guilty. Marco is watching Hungarian soap operas.)

As a woman who has done a lot of weird stuff in her life - performance art, military training, tending bar, following bands, giving birth...

Facebook has to be one of the weirder things.

Status: Alane is in the horror, but at least I know folks here.

That was enlightening

Thanks for all who commented on the posts about political parties and UUism. I had no idea that it would spark so much talk on and offline. Thank you to those who brought up the other angles beyond political parties, too.

Since the postings, I experienced a mostly UU weekend that was nearly derailed by political disagreements. I have had more members and friends "come out" as uncomfortable with the flavor of the discourse online and at UU events. And I continue to ponder why this isn't a discussion that can be had more openly and in a friendly way.

We have had a Power of Now discussion group which has been looking at the roots of anger, fear, and emotional pain. In that context, the political issue at church seems to make some sense. Politics are often based in our dreams of what this world can be. Religion is part of that same process. If someone is part of your safe group, the people who share your dreams, how can they be part of something you consider the antithesis of your hopes?

Well, young grasshopper, normally we call that FAMILY. And I know plenty of families who have had the same kind of painful interactions I have described and witnessed on the subject of politics. I know of some families that have been torn apart by their behavior and attitudes regarding politics. Most of the families I know find ways to work through it. Having already shared my hopes on how to move past pain and anger, I hope we can follow positive examples in our church.

Thank you to the politically conservative UUs who have contacted me and been so honest, gentle, and appreciative. And, of course, thanks to those who opened my eyes to this conflict in the first place. My life is more exciting to live with a variety of travelling companions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Seeing Through New Eyes

I feel like I just got a new prescription for my glasses.

I had some mighty long comments in response to my brief post in which I asserted that the pro-Democrat election fervor in UU lobbies and events was doing us harm. I only posted the one that was not anonymous. I will, however, respond to a few thoughts.

One comment objected to what I said about bumper stickers. I should have been more clear. I meant campaign bumper stickers. And I was referring to real concerns I have heard from people who did not feel welcomed because they look in the parking lot and think they should not reveal their political beliefs when they talk to others, or maybe should not enter. (Thank you for commenting on my fuzziness there.)

Everyone has a right to their bumper stickers. I'm all for that. I'm also all for the realization that the bumper stickers do not capture all of who we are and send a mighty strong message. In an effort to be welcoming, we spend so much time looking at our land, our entrance, and our facilities. We also need to recognize that our parking lot speaks for us, too. That's all. No guerilla bumper sticker stripping.

Another comment asserted that Republicans would be perfectly welcomed in our or any UU congregation. For years I have heard from many that they felt rejected and attacked by individuals, groups, ministers, and the UUA. I have heard from far more Republicans and conservatives than any other group who did not feel welcomed at UU congregations.

The number one complaint: some of our self-described Democratic congregants did not enter into compassionate, open dialogue and were defensive and accusatory when that perception was brought up. The number two complaint: people identified them only as Republican. Not agnostic parent of teens, not young adult who lives in Northside and likes Alan Watts, not fiscal conservative or libertarian- just Republican.

There are multiple examples in churches all over the country that some people who are not registered, yellow dog Democrats do not feel welcome and that naming that feeling in a healthy, respectful way gets them further isolated. They say that they are expected to defend themselves and state their case in a way that Democrats are not.

They also tell me it gets way worse at election time.

Let me be clear - not all UU democrats are insensitive. Not all UU political conservatives are looking for authentic and respectful dialogue. I am speaking about hearts, not just ideas. I'm speaking as a pastor. Some of the political discourse in our lobbies and groups is disrespectful and hurtful. People say it hurts. Some who have told me this read this blog. A few sometimes come to church. Some are loyal members. Some have given up on us because their experience has led them to believe our faith is hypocritical. And many say it is not safe to reveal these feelings. The response to revelations of feeling attacked and rejected are accusations of not being committed to justice, being selfish, or being overly sensitive and stupid.

Not historically; not in theory - now.

I have spoken out on this periodically for several years now. It was a big deal in my first ministry and was revealed in a different way five years ago. The feedback is that this year it is worse than ever for UU conservatives.

Mine is an interesting role for a person who cannot find a candidate liberal enough. But the conversations I have had with political conservatives who are also religious liberals have been some of the deepest talks of my religious life. I am grateful for the honesty and trust in which these conversations occur. When conducted in gentle, compassionate, and honest ways these conversations usually reveal a deeper connection than any political differences.

And every time I speak out on it- I see more clearly what has been described to me. It is not a flattering view.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Time for Change Indeed

10 weeks until elections. As UU's I believe we are called...
- to talk about something else at church. Why?

We are not the religious arm of the Democratic Party.
We sure do look like it far too often.

The elections are the focus of the media from now until November.
Someone needs to offer the media-weary sanctuary. And there are plenty of places for in-depth political discourse elsewhere.

I greatly enjoy that church-state separation concept.
Nuff said.

Now is a really good time to volunteer.
With so many civic-minded souls volunteering on the election, someone has to work the food pantry, drive the meals-on-wheels, donate the blood, and read to the kids.

We say we are open-minded, compassionate, and diverse.
Our political bumper stickers in the church parking lot say something else.

While the rest of the country argues, while the negative ads blare on, while the pundits fume, while the fingers point, while the nerves fray...

Let us instead be who we say we are.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ask and sometimes...

Well, that was easy.

Someone asked me to run a "Power of Now" discussion group. I did research. I bought the book. I looked into it. But I couldn't schedule it for months. When I finally could schedule it I didn't have time to give it a lot of publicity in the church. So I announced it on Sunday and our communications director got the word out electronically. Not much publicity.

16 people came. I was going to call 7 people a wildly successful turnout.

My my.

If you hadn't heard - we've got a Power of Now discussion group. 6:15-7:00 PM on Wednesdays for three more weeks. Should it continue in popularity, we will find other ways for people to engage with the ideas in the book.

Now, I'm going home to cook. Hopefully with the same spectacular and encouraging results.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Uncharacteristically Quiet

I've been getting the clearing of throats and meaningful looks from the blog fans. They all say the same thing, without saying it. "You are uncharacteristically quiet. Shouldn't the blog have more information. More about the Tennessee churches... more about the UU response... something, more?"

As my mama likes to say,

In a word - No.

Talk fills the void. Talk seems like we have solved something. Talk makes us feel better.

I'm not ready to feel better. I want to but it is not time. I'm still thinking, questioning, listening. And I had to talk way too much last week before I felt ready. Yes, I found words. Yes, the words found meaning in my mind and in the minds of some of those who heard them. It doesn't make me want to say more.

After the information came in, after you had called the ones you loved and broke the news or commiserated, did you tire of words as I did? Did you want to answer the questions from people who had seen the news and knew you are UU? Did you want to not have to explain the inexplicable to your children?

The breaking point for me was a reporter with whom I could tell there would be some communication issues.

"What do you want our readers to know, Reverend?"

I had nothing to say to that. My job is not to inform their readers about how we are feeling. There is no benefit in that to my congregation in a hard time. And it could hinder the healing in Tennessee. There had been other articles. Too much information was already available.

At that point, I didn't know what I wanted for any of us except a cosmic rewind and erase button that could change the past. Or a magic protector shield in preparation for the ugly opinions I knew were to come out in the media/press. Maybe ear plugs to block out the painful, hateful, thoughtless, and bigoted?

Quiet. We could use some quiet.

That's what I should have said.

Quiet. Just for awhile.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Standing together

On behalf of my congregation, I would like to thank all the people who have offered their support and condolences. I have been particularly touched by those who are not Unitarian Universalist and yet understand some of the nuances of who we are.

We are many hours away from Knoxville, Tennessee. Yet, many of our members know people from the churches there through leadership trainings, and UU camps and conferences. We have family connections to those churches. We have collegial conections. Some of us have attended those congregations. One of our staff and her family moved there. As a friend said to me tonight, "With UUs, it is not six degrees of separation. It is barely two."

Today I have been in contact with my friends from SUUSI. They were not physically injured. They were present in the service. They, of course, are connected to those who were injured and killed. They are in shock. They do feel the love and support of the wider UU community and others and appreciate those connections.

Tomorrow we will hold flower communion with the help of members from our sister congregation. Wednesday we will go to their sanctuary for a candlelight service. It is a great comfort to not be alone in town. We are so fortunate to have two churches in this area. I encourage as many members from both churches as possible to attend.

What I find in these sorts of ceremonies is that there is someone there who really wants to see you; someone who will get great comfort just by seeing that you are there. And if you go, in order so that this person might see you, you may discover that there was someone you really wanted to see and did not yet know it. It's best just to go.

And don't forget the flower.

Personally, my son has started asking questions. This is the fourth time in his young life that mama has had to work after something very bad has happened. What bothers me the most, is that the talk was so much easier today, because we have had it so many times now. I object to living in a world in which I have learned the vocabulary to explain the unthinkable/unacceptable to my six year old son.

As I trudge off to sleepless rest, let me say that I have felt nothing but pride, affection, and interconnection with the Unitarian Universalists of this country, for the congregations gathered in our Central Virginia cluster, and for the peaceful people coming to us on their journey. With company like this, I am incapable of despair.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bring a Flower

Unitarian Universalists are all familiar with the tradition of flower communion. In the face of hatred and violence during the Second World War, Norbert Capek gave us a tender celebration of peace, beauty, and love by creating the flower communion. Each person brings a blossom and we exchange them in observance of the fragile and lovely gifts of every human life

Although both Richmond congregations have observed the Flower Communion this year, we will join together again at the vigil on Tuesday night for a flower communion in response to the attack on our congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee. Bring a flower to give away at 5:30 PM on Tuesday evening and may our beloved peaceful tradition offer us solace in the face of tragedy.

In a Guitar Case

Sent to my comments section by Tim.

In A Guitar Case

I have carried guitar cases into Unitarian Universalist churches probably between 50 - 100 times in my life - mainly my own church but also a couple of others. I've played and sung to children, adults, activists. I've been met with everything from delight to indifference, but it's always been something I've enjoyed.

This morning I walked into my church, First UU of Richmond, with two guitar cases, and my friend Greg Greenway walked in with one. Inside his was his fabulous 1972 (or '73, I always forget) Martin D-28, which he played fantastically. I tried to hang in with my Regal dobro and my Carter D-10 pedal steel. The service was joyous, and any chance I get to play with Greg lifts my spirit to a very high level.

Around the same time, a few hundred miles to the west, a man walked into Tennessee Valley UU Church with a guitar case, but inside was a shotgun. This troubled man began firing, killing a brother named Greg McKendry who witnesses say took the blast to save others - one of which was his foster son who was performing on the pulpit. (A foster father - this was a man familiar with sacrificing for others.)

I have been devasted by this tragedy, so I can only imagine the grief felt by my brothers and sisters in Tennessee. I hope this is not perceived as sexist, but I think that something may be genetically ingrained in a man that his family must be protected. Greg McKendry did this - bless him. He is my hero.

For a brief moment I wondered if placing one's family in the midst of a religion that promotes inclusiveness in a violently intolerant world is a proper thing to do. Fortunately that thought passed - bigotry and intolerance can not be surrendered to.

But in a guitar case. A contraption where wood and wire fight one another as beauty comes out - that's what belongs in a guitar case. A guitar is an instrument of joy and consolation and action - remember, Woody's machine killed fascists, but what it really killed was fascism. That a guitar case could house an instrument of death and tragedy sickens me.

I send love to the Tennesee Valley UU Church congregation and to the UU family everywhere. Roots hold me close, wings set me free, spirit of life come to me, come to me.

Mid-week services for Richmond UUs

The latest news we have received about the Knoxville congregation is that two people were killed and seven injured by an assailant who entered during worship. The assailant is in custody. Three UU congregations were involved in the special worship service which was a musical performance by children of each community but held at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.

It is unfathomable that someone knowingly attacked a service led by children. I know that most of us are still in shock.

So that everyone in our Unitarian Universalist circle here in Richmond has an opportunity to attend services this week, there are two opportunities to join together. I will lead the 5:30 PM service on Tuesday at First Church with the help of members from both churches. There will also be a 7:00 PM service at UUCC in Glen Allen on Wednesday. All area UUs and friends are invited to both. Our hope is that one of these times will be convenient for everyone.

Our Hearts are with you, TVUUC

The news has just come in that our brothers and sisters at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church were attacked in worship by a gunman. We hold this congregation in our hearts, cry with them at their loss, and hope and pray for the recovery of the victims in critical condition.

We will hold a Vespers service in their honor and to be together during our time of grief at 5:30 PM, Tuesday in the Great Hall at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, Virginia. I have invited our sister church, the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Glen Allen to join us, so that we may all be together.

Any further information will be posted here and at our website which you can access through the links to the right of this post.

For the forty Richmond UUs who have just returned from SUUSI, I have tried to contact some of our Knoxville friends who were with us this past week. I have not yet heard back from them. I left messages letting them know that we love them and offering our assistance in any way.

May the love and tolerance that are the heart of our religion comfort us and guide us through this sad time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Greetings from SUUSI

Greetings from the holy land of Unitarian Universalist peaceniks! I am on pilgrimage at SUUSI in Radford, Virginia - where hippie is a compliment, and nail polish is mostly on men's toes.

It is good living here. Singing along with folk singers, hugging all my dear friends I've only known for ten weeks (but those weeks were spread over a decade, so I know them well.) Tonight we are doing a moon ritual - hope we get to howl.

Brought my posse of 9 with me. We range in age from 3 - 83 and I am constantly amazed at the similarities between the toddler and the great-grandma. They don't want to take a shower, need a nap desperately, and are grooving on the cafeteria setup. Then again, the rest of us are between 6 and 43 and are strikingly uniform, as well - want to hang out with our new friends, party all night, and also kind of keen on the whole french fries at every meal possibility.

Got a new computer and can barely use it, so will post some pics later. Maybe.

Happy Summer, Jots fans!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hallucinations or Premonitions?

For those fearing my imminent demise, I did sneak out for three hours yesterday. I was out long enough to meet Ralph Nader, introduce him for his speech, pick up a copy of "An Unreasonable Man", & head back home before the rash completely took over.

Should I succumb to scarlet fever (how very performance artist!) please put what dear crusader Nader said about me in the one act play that will be performed at my jahrzeit... "Alane is a consistent progressive voice in this community."

Jeff Goldblum is to play Nader, Chris Leavins is my husband, Larry the Cable Guy my best friend, and find something for Ewan MacGregor to do. I will be played by that gal who starred in "Extras" or by Tina Turner if she comes out of retirement.

Please chalk this one up to fever and give it not another thought.

Peace, Love, and...

Back in a few days. Been down with what seems to be scarlet fever. How very retro of me, I know.

As Don Cornelius says...

Friday, July 04, 2008

America - Home of Rock

Happy Independence Day! I say that there is no better way to celebrate America than through love and rock n' roll. And so that was how I spent my evening - officiating at a rock and roll wedding. It was great. The bride and groom are a blast. (For my dear Canadian readers - the groom is one of you. He and I giggled about "Father Ted" and "The Young Ones" during the rehearsal.) The bride wore the world's most awesome wedding gown.

In this picture you can see the bride on bass, my other rock n' roll bride from earlier in the Spring on drums, and my buddy Roger wailing away on the sax.
Here are my buddies Steve and Stephen rockin' it out at the reception. I love a reception where the guests just start grabbing instruments and rockin' the house. Steve later did a mean tango with the bride's mother.
And these are the stunning feet of the groom. He wore a white suit, blue shirt, white tie, and these FANTASTIC shoes. Needless to say, he had no trouble breaking the glass at the end of the ceremony.
America the beautiful! Rock on.

My brief political life

In spite of illness, I really have had an amazing year. Among the great moments - my husband's 40th birthday, Baby Dent getting potty trained, having the kitchen redone, seeing a Drive By Truckers show, Katrina rebuilding in Mississippi... big year so far.

It's hard to tell from the pictures, but another lovely moment was being invited to give the invocation at the special session of the Virginia General Assembly. A big hoo-ha was made over me, which is very flattering. My parents, hsband, son, and friends came to cheer me on. And no one threw rotten produce at me. A successful day in Virginia politics.

I like this picture because although I am but a white blur in the middle, you can see my sweet mama watching on.

Unfortunately, the prayer didn't work. I prayed for good will and insight, but the legislators began yelling at each other before I made it back to my seat. I had a faux prayer I had threatened to pray. It went something along these lines...

Dear Lord, we thank you for joining us today, but if you have more pressing matters feel free to attend to them because there are enough people in this room who think they are you.

Maybe I should have used that one.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I have been remiss in posting some quilting pics for my dear reader in Maine. I'm always flattered by the question, "How do you have time to quilt?!?" I don't. I believe that this quilt was begun before Baby Dent was born. It did not cooperate and had to be re-visioned at numerous stages. Lucky for me, Little Man is into cowboys again. It started out as a lap quilt but was too busy. So the sashing was added. Then it wasn't big enough. So the FIVE borders were added. I gritted my teeth at every additional border. As I gritted, I also waited... months. It was only at the end that I asked how on earth this was less busy.
The one part of this process I greatly enjoyed was the free-hand machine quilting. Five years ago my mother and I invested in a Bernina. There is a long story about my mother and my interest in sewing. The short version is that she supports my habit in spite of thinking I am mildly crazy. By supporting my habit, she enabled me to get the Bernina and with that purchase I became a VERY HAPPY quilter. I've long admired creative and organic folk art style quilting. The Bernina allows me to do that to some degree and to have the quilt finished before the child enters college.
There are a variety of designs quilted on but what you see above is an arrow and a target. I was incredibly happy designing and sewing this. I was able to zone out for thirty or forty minutes at a time. I seem to recall that this part was done after Baby Dent was weaned so I was feeling superhuman at the time.

When I began quilting at 19 I could only focus on a finished product and was constantly frustrated and aggravated by the process. What redeemed all that frustration was hanging out with my quilting mentor, Kate. As I've gotten older and mommy-fied, I care much less about finishing. I've stopped giving quilts to everyone for holidays and special occasions. Although there has been grumbling, the removal of the pressure of time constraints has helped me to enjoy the process much more.

Now I quilt primarily to have some time that is not focused on family or work. The whirring of the machine, the methodical and repetitive movements, the hypnotic effects of the fabric colors all combine to give me a little escape from my active mind. And from short people who yell in my house. So what was about social connections and completion has become a solo, meditative, meandering process. That pretty much sums up my experience of aging, too.

To my readers in Maine - hope retirement is treating you well. Remember, the plan was to CHILL OUT!

Rockin' Hob Nobbin

YouTube - The Baseball Project
This is my first attempt at blogging a video. I think I've just linked it instead of getting the cool screen look. Well, what did you expect from a Luddite at 2:30AM?

The drummer and the center guy were joined in holy matrimony by yours truly in the Spring. They are charming and darling, talented and delightful, even if they didn't tell their minister they were going to be on Letterman. Check 'em out on myspace, too.

Other blogs update

Insomnia ain't so bad. I've been catching up with my blogging pals. Over at the Journey, Lizard Eater's daughter's cancer appears to be back on the ropes. (I'll never sleep now. Just too dablurn exciting! Check her out through my links to your right. Leave her a supportive comment and tell her I sent you.)

My buddies over at Dogwalk RVA appear to have gone to a Rancid show (Sweeeeeeeet!) and gave me a shoutout. Check out the Tuesday June 24 post for that.

And check out Rev. Ricky's extremely fine biker mustache! I LOVE biker mustaches, fu-manchus, mutton chops, soul patches, and other out there facial hair patterns. You go, Rev. Ricky! I'm forever trying to talk friends into living on the edge with their beards. I just think it looks like fun. If the steroids make me get hairy and mannish I am SO coiffing it up on my face.

Did I just say that? Dear heavens, I need to go back to the religious books and stay off the internet past 10 PM. (Repeat to self - What would the Dalai Lama do? What would Thomas Merton do? What would Kermit the Frog do? And no more Diet Coke!)

Riding High and Incoherent

Back from the national convention of UUs in Fort Lauderdale. Hmmm. Very little to report on that.

Seeing Forrester Church for the last time was the biggest event of the week for me. I am reading his last book now. He was sweetly autographing copies in spite of his weakness and terminal cancer side effects. I managed not to burst into tears while talking to him. I am incredibly grateful that he has written so many good books, and told him so. He has gained a Buddha smile as he has lost a whole person of weight. I do not expect to cross his path again, and he made a special effort to be kind and friendly. It is a wonderful memory to carry with me.

As for the new meds in my system, for once the side effects are exactly as advertised: dizziness and nausea twice daily. I rest. It goes away. The beauty of those side effects is that I have no desire for a beer. The "no drinking allowed" edict is thus, a non-event. The weight gain from the steroids is another story...

Baby Dent has been a pistol as she approaches her third birthday. I don't recall her being so LOUD last week. Little Man has taken to making lists of birthday wishes (all super-hero costumes) and muttering under his breath. Is he turning six or fourteen? Like an idiot, I let him watch Rush Hour 3 in Florida. What WAS I thinking? Jackie Chan and kungfu is what. I forgot about the mouth on Chris Tucker. Little Man has not forgotten a moment of Chris Tucker.

Glad to be home with the super-spouse. Handling those kids without him was distinctly unpleasant. He is calm, smiling, and relaxed. I let him know that he should not look so happy after a week without us. I caught him putting a bumper sticker on his car tonight: Middle-class white guys for Barack Obama. I think he was giggling.

I'm in the middle of the summer ministerial reading. Thank goodness for Goodreads. (For those who have not heard - Goodreads is a site that helps you keep track of your reading and discover books that may interest you.) I find such better variety by doing Goodreads searches than I do wandering the box bookstore or the library. I've got half a dozen books going at the moment, but the goals for the summer are hefty so I need to keep cranking through.

As for today's blogging, if I don't sound like myself it is because I'm hopped up on Diet Coke. Again - WHAT... WAS... I... Thinking?!?! Before I do this stuff I really need to think about my spiritual mentors: what would the Dalai Lama do? Or Thomas Merton? Or Kermit the Frog? Or Earth, Wind and Fire? Or Louise Brooks? (Possible side effects of over-caffeination include jitters, incomplete sentences, and overstating examples. Or talking too much. Or blogging at 2 AM. Or... ACK!!!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Some random summer thoughts

More vacation photos. This time from the Clarke family who headed down to Tampa/St. Pete. They also included photos from Lowry Park Zoo, a favorite spot of my own Little Man. They even had a photo of the very manatee who made me realize that manatees create a LOT of poop. Thanks for the memories!
Little Man, Baby Dent (the two year old's new name for herself), and I are headed to Florida tomorrow for the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association. My husband looked over the program and laughed in glee that he is not going. I gotta' say that the forecast is gloomy. I can only take so many conventions of any variety, and when the program looks a little dull, I wonder why I am spending the money. I always get something positive out of the experience. But on packing day, that's hard to remember. I will probably have to go next year, too, but for good reasons.
I have gotten a great company to help make some much needed UU items. They are going into production shortly and I will have them by SUUSI. I'll let you know more about them once everything is done. Next year I am encouraging the company to set up a booth at GA. That would mean I would need to go to facilitate that process. 3 GA's in a row is a bit much for me and Salt Lake???
Or maybe I am just fussy. Last night may have been my last opportunity to drink alcohol for several years (or forever, but I don't feel the need to think THAT far ahead.) I see the doc today to pick up my big gun meds. One of the choices is a med which insists that you partake of ZERO alcohol because of the liver risks. I'll know in a few hours. Just in case, I drank my favorite champagne with my mom, and a sampler of delicious beers. Some of my buds accompanied me and told me their favorite dirty jokes because they said I won't find them funny in the future. Bad news, boys. They weren't funny with alcohol either.
In my blog-o-stream of consciousness, let's raise a toast to George Carlin who died too young. One of my buddies sent me this quintessential Carlin quote:
"The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A Death! What's that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you're too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You do drugs, alcohol, you party, you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last nine months floating…and you finish off as an orgasm!"
Godspeed, George!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Travel Season

I like other people's vacation pictures. It's a weird affinity. I have a few rules - you have to be a decent photographer; you have to be a friend willing to tell me the stories of your trip; you gotta' stop when I cry "uncle." Otherwise, it's all good.
Tim is in China. See below. He promises that he is not eating snake gallbladder, chicken foot, or stir-fried bullfrog. But, doesn't knowing that make the Great Wall look even cooler?

Eli and Simon went on a roadtrip across the US. We met them on the Mississippi leg of the trip. This is from Big Sur. Eli is a Buddhist who makes cool computer presentations that combine movies and a non-dualistic philosophy of peace. His subconscious melded with my subconscious in Mississippi at the work camp. His subconscious told me to buy a Mac.

John and Vicky are in Yellowstone. She's sending sweet emails to let us know they haven't been eaten by bears and that the vacation is truly THAT GREAT. The stinker hasn't sent a photo yet.
My other photo-related quirk is that I take pictures of food. I have decades of Thanksgiving pictures that are of my plate. Not only do I enjoy food, but I remember my travels through food. Here is one of my favorite Mississippi treats - a snowball. This one's flavor was called Frog in a Blender. Like all snowballs, it tasted like sugar. But a snowball is all about the texture, and wooooooweeeee this was a great snowball. That's Robert pouring it. We picked on Robert for being 9 and working at the snowball stand. He was a good sport.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Funeral Convention Juxtapositions

As if going to a ski resort in the middle of June did not already take some adjusting, here are some mismatched couples from this week's convention...

A hearse in the ski lodge parking lot
Hearses on the bunny slope
An open burial vault at the chair lift

Embalming fluid displays and free candy
Burial vaults with free "Vault" soda (I liked that one.)

On People
The "Got HCHO?" t-shirts (embalming fluid)
Every gathering sounded like the beginning of a joke, "3 Undertakers, a Minister, and an organ procurement specialist are at cocktail hour..."

Most difficult moment
Our 12 year old friend trying to explain to my 5 year old why one display casket was really really small.

Best moment
The 5 year old taught himself how to dive. The vacation part was a lovely change for me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hijacked Ceremony

I am at the Virginia Funeral Directors' Association annual meeting right now. This is my sixth in a row. I'm not on duty at this one, but doing child care and seeing old friends. I also wanted to be sure to attend the memorial service they have annually that recognizes funeral directors and their close relatives who have died in the past year. In spite of the fact that this event garnered public snickering last week in Style Weekly's The Score, I wanted to be present.

I knew six people who would be remembered this year. I had been to some of their funerals but not all, so I wanted a chance to remember them and honor their lives. I also assumed the best about a service organized by the pros. So this afternoon I got my son dressed up, explained what the service would be like, and off we went.

And then, after less than thirty minutes, as the sermon began, we stood up, and left. That's a first for me. Rather than enumerate the choices made in this service that I found to be heartless and narrow-minded, I will speak in the positive and the general.

When doing public worship for a SECULAR professional organization with over fifty mourning family members of different religions (not to mention the dozens of friends and colleagues)...

1) Refrain from making those gathered affirm a particular denomination's beliefs through words or actions. (Gathered at the throne? One true word? Stand in affirmation of God's word? - oh wait. Not enumerating. Not enumerating.) Instead use language that connects people who have all come together for a common reason - loss of a loved one.

2) Close your prayers with inviting spiritual words that could be appreciated by people of a variety of religious backgrounds. Not everyone prays in Jesus' name. Not everyone believes in the holy spirit. Not everyone... oops, let me move on.

3) Offer variety in the service in music, readings, speakers that speaks to different ages, beliefs, genders.

4) Don't you ever dare call the god-as-you-know-it "Daddy" on behalf of all gathered and not expect to be openly ridiculed on the internet.

Oh, wait. That wasn't positive. So true, but not positive.

Preachers, at a public gathering - we aren't your church. We are not gathered for you. We aren't interested in how YOUR people do it. It is safer to assume that no one agrees with you and speak the truth as you know it carefully, with an open and humble heart. Those who confuse public ritual with a specific religion's worship alienate the very people for whom they were supposed to hold up meaning. This isn't your prophetic moment. When you get confused about this, you fail to do what you were called to do in the first place.

And leaders of secular organizations who let this sort of thing happen, appear to not care about their membership at large. As I was walking out I thought: I guess this organization is only for conservative American Christians of one denomination. That's ok. Just advertise the fact. Don't ambush people in pain at a service of remembrance.

Oh, and as for the guy in the exhibit hall using racial slurs in hearing range of everyone... yes, we all did hear you. Your advertising was in clear and garish neon.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What Side Effects?

I am born again. Thanks to the bright and helpful rheumatologist we will call Dr. Superstar, I have less pain than I have had in years. Possibly 15 years. The sky is bluer. The jokes are funnier. Everyone is good-looking.

No. Dr. Superstar did not send me to Canada for r & r. He put me on steroids for a brief time until I start the big gun meds. Steroids rock!

The deep lines in my brow from pain have virtually disappeared. My fussiness in the AM is gone. I had to run 20 feet to grab something quickly and... I could.

Why am I telling you this? Many of my readers already figured it out by the times my blog entries were posting. Others saw it in the time stamp of my emails... Mama hasn't slept much this week. I've been working every night until 2:30 or so. Happily. In the comfort of my own body.

Side effect. Superstar warned me and said with a smile, "You'll have enough energy to clean your neighbor's house, too."

I know that steroids are a dangerous drug. I know that I only get to feel the fantabulous, beautiful, amazing relief of them for two weeks. But I also know that I haven't felt like this in years. I feel my age for a change. Who knew I am so young?

Male secondary sexual side effects? So what? Might go blind? Who cares? Can't participate in the Beijing Olympics? Well, that one is kind of a bummer. But instead I will write the next Rocky screenplay, put in my two cents in California government, and meet lots of baseball players.

Hey, let's go outside and lift my neighbor's Mini Cooper!

The Spouse's Surprise

Came home tonight to find my husband watching The Incredibles. That's odd. He has seen that movie 20 times with the kids and begs them to watch ANYTHING else.

I walk in the door and he's grinning in front of The Incredibles. Turns out that through hard work, coupon acquisition, internet research, and good luck we have TV again. Hi-def even. We have 12 channels or something. He was doing channel inventory, not watching.

I tried to be supportive and enthusiastic. We were just hours away from Father's Day, after all. But since we de-cabled, I've moved beyond TV. I've developed other interests. I have become immune to the lure of the idiot box.

Wait. Wait! Go back. Was that EastEnders? SWEET! No. Don't turn it off. Let me just see a second... minute... episode or two.

For those of you who are not British or have cable: EastEnders is a long running Brit soap opera about a working class neighborhood. It shows up on PBS late night. I love it. I watched a bunch when I was pregnant.

I don't know who anyone is. I can't understand half the accents. The episodes run in willy nilly order so I can't keep up with it. The clothes and hair are anti-glam and garish. And the credit music is ridiculous.

Love it.
Quote of the night, "Why down't you goin geyt yo glad rags on, shweetie. Show day boys whot's whot."
What the?
Oddly, the spouse was not as enchanted. He did however approve when the glad rags outfit entered the scene.

Father's Day

Twenty years and I have not cleaned one single toilet.

It would have been enough.

In the past months when I have been sick, I am granted a nap pass at dinner time.

It would have been enough.

All the years of leaving my shoes in the living room and my tissues in the bed.

It would have been enough.

Constant interaction with my HUGE family.

It would have been enough.

Creating our babies and being attentive, loving and patient with us all.
Enough already!
Happy Father's Day to my husband, also known as the man behind the curtain.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Equal Parts

Being sick is BORING. Tonight I am finally blogging again because the latest latest meds have given me insomnia. I can't find the book I've been reading. And because there has been subtle but insistent harumphing among the blog fans. Also, I have gathered enough amusing things so as to not be BORING. I hope.

The 5 year old Little Man has been equal parts antagonist, stone-cold liar, and charming comforter. Recent quotes include: "Don't be sad, mama. If you have to be in a wheelchair, we can watch TV whenever we want! Dada will have to turn the cable back on then." And "When I die and they burn me into ashes, if you sift through the ashes there will be a little clump of gum."

In brighter Little Man events, he helped lead Vespers this week. I choked up a little as he sang along to "Come Sing a Song With Me" and when he wrote his gift of advice on a card to share: Be Cind to Uthr Peepul. On the flip side of his personality, he fessed up to the sabotage of my brand new med pack. "Those pills shouldn't pop out so easily." And he has offered his hand in marriage to another school chum. This one is a girl. The last one was a boy. Both have cable and dads who are professional musicians. At least he knows his type.

The 2 year old is equal parts attitude, charm, and surprise. In the past week she has gone to school in full firefighting gear, cowboy boots and bicycle helmet, and covered in stickers and homemade tattoos. The church crew has started calling her mini-me.

Tonight in the car she requested our favorite, Billy Ray Hatley and the Showdogs, on the hi-fi. I blasted several of her beloved Billy songs and left one on after we pulled up to the house. She climbed onto the console between the front seats, thrashed her curls, sashayed her teeny butt, and hollered, "Sing it, Bill-ay!!!"

Them apples. They don't fall far, do they?

The crew at physical therapy have been starting new things on me since I don't seem to be kicking this flare-up. They seem to be trying equal parts ingenuity and agony. I've had 8 perfectly symmetrical bruises down one shin for a week. They are the prints of my therapist's bony but magic fingers. I have laughed about this only because both the bruises and the procedure that caused them hurt way less than the underlying condition. And they make me look like I was attacked by a far-sighted, snub-nosed woodpecker.

Today the therapist gave me a new gizmo to try. I've been wearing a back brace for about a month now, just for an hour or two a day, or when I remember (ahem). It is an elastic and velcro engineering wonder. Now I have a sacral brace to match. It's mostly elastic except for the thing that looks like a giant clothing security tag that presses my spine down at the sacrum. I wore them both for a walk this evening. I moved with the upper body grace of the Tin Man mixed with equal parts Mummy and safety harnessed Trapeze Artist.

If I gotta' wear crap like this, somebody had better start prescribing narcotics. In equal parts.

They don't prepare you for this in seminary, folks. Maybe when I'm feeling better I'll share some of the fascinating Frank O'Hara and Wislawa Szymborska stuff I've been reading. Maybe when I'm feeling better, I'll give a hoot again about some of the larger issues within religion, the world, and cleaning our house. (Okay, let's be honest - maybe when I'm feeling better but AFTER I've gone to hear some live music.)

I do have one spiritual thing to say. I was greatly comforted and moved by last Sunday's service when the pianist played Kermit the Frog's "Over the Rainbow" and the guest musician did "Hambone." Inspiration comes in a lot of shapes, doesn't it?

Come out for our evening service this weekend. 6PM Sunday and it will be about a sense of home. It was inspired by our trip to Mississippi. No. I will not be wearing the velcro. My physical therapist might be there, though. Watch out for her fingers.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Mission Mississippi - Friday

We woke up Friday to more rain. In yesterday's blog I failed to note that on Thursday I had called my husband from the toolshed and left a message along the lines of, "Hi, honey. They are calling for tornadoes here. Worry not. I'm in a flimsy toolshed one mile from the gulf and surrounded by trailers. I'm sure I'll be fine. I'll call when it's over."

Friday it was so dark from the storm that we all had trouble waking up. Or maybe that was the fatigue. Our crew was starting to look bedraggled. The Beverly Hills Episcopalians were dragging, too, and looking more like Congregationalists from Wichita. (I have no idea what this means. My only defense is that it sounded funny at 6 AM in Mississippi. I am sure the fine Protestants of Kansas are a glamorous bunch.)

My claim to fame on this trip is that on Friday morning as one supervisor insisted on the very tall Eli being in his group, and the Americorps volunteers were snatched up, my grounds guru Mike said that my considerable skills were needed again in the toolshed. It is good to be loved. We did all kinds of strange little jobs and I used half a dozen power tools and random gizmos I do not know the names of. Mike has a knack for introducing the novice to the fun parts of home repair. Who knew that the glob of caulk stuck in the nozzle is called the worm?

The emotional toll of relief work was being felt by all. We began to see houses according to water lines. Had the water reached the second floor? The roof? Was this house a rebuild or a redo? We were able to name all the little towns we'd been working in and knew the difference between Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Long Beach, and Gulfport varieties of devastation.

That we would have another trip was now a given. The questions before us became: whom do we invite to join us? How do we make this trip possible for people with limited income and those with construction skills? What supplies will we remember to bring next time? If Jack can't come, how do we get a Muffaletta sandwich back home to him?

Other than the depression and the weight of the realization of how much is left to do, what I felt strongly was a need to rid myself of stuff. Once you see the pictures, the video footage, the boxes of belongings in the front yard, the husks of residences, the stairs that used to lead to home and now lead to nowhere... it makes you think about your own home differently. I pictured what my home would look like under water. I imagined losing it all and what I would miss. I thought about how much I could do without that I am currently living with.

This was not all imagination for me. A few years ago Tropical Storm Gaston dumped 11 inches of rain on Richmond, VA. Our basement was flooded with 3 feet of water. I remember looking down into the water and seeing the oil tank floating on its side and feeling numb. I cleaned out the basement with the help of a friend and two Mormon missionaries. My husband had been emotionally paralyzed by the extent of the mess. And we had been very lucky.

As I worked in a toolshed in Mississippi listening to the rain pounding on the roof with only one pair of clean socks and undies to my name I imagined going home and getting rid of half my clothes, my sewing supplies, my books, my little mementos. I imagined my children running through a house with less stuff and being happy and free. I imagined that ridding myself of excess belongings would rid me of the weight of the memories of Mississippi's losses. I was getting loopy, as you can see.

Friday wasn't all contemplation. The UU crew had completed the sign that would commemorate our visit. I noticed that plenty of space was left to add names on our next visit.

In the evening we headed out to celebrate the culmination of our week. One group went to the local seafood festival. I took a group to New Orleans. What was I thinking? Is there anything less contemplative than Bourbon street? Okay, yes. Vegas. And the similarities between the two are multiple. The whole NOLA experience was a total culture shock for me coming at the end of our mission trip.
After a week of eating to replace all the calories burned on houses, we were confronted with cuisine. After a week of minimalist living I had the shock of a $17 bowl of gumbo. After a week of wardrobes chosen for utility, we were all amazed by the abundance of New Orleans cleavage. The shocks were not all unpleasant, however. Working construction made me look at the French Quarter with approving eyes. "Wow. Check out that siding - all wood. Nice." And I went wild over the beignets (doughnuts). In fact, I could swear I woke up Saturday with a beignet hangover.

But the most memorable part of New Orleans was the drive into the city. We passed block after block of dark, sometimes windowless apartment buildings. My Katrina eyes were only able to look for Katrina familiar. And it was everywhere. By the end of our 3 1/2 hour NOLA visit I was overwhelmed. Like my 2 year old daughter, I handled the overload by falling asleep in the car.

Mission Mississippi - Thursday

I am so grateful for all the people who supported me and my family while I had an almost two month long flare-up of Rheumatoid arthritis. I seem to be almost on the other side of it. I realized this when I woke up in a bunk bed in a Mississippi work camp at 6 AM after a day of landscaping... and I did not want to die.

"It's a new dawn. It's a new day. It's a new life for me. And I'm feeling good." Nina Simone

Not to say I wasn't sore. Lots of parts were weary, but I felt great considering the new bed, new schedule, new demands, and new weather. Yes, our luck had run out. Wednesday night it had started to rain and it was still going Thursday AM.

In spite of my newfound spryness, at breakfast it became clear that the tasks in the houses for the day were beyond my capabilities. I volunteered to stay and work on the grounds. In addition to the building crews, every day 4-6 people are needed to stay at the camp to cook, clean, repair, and bring order. I had met the king of the grounds, Mike, and he reminded me of some of my uncles and cousins. He had also uttered the quote of the week: Looking at your crew, you were the last one I would have guessed was the preacher. I decided to give it a try.

Grounds work is not the sexy Habitat for Humanity kind of stuff. Mostly we worked on fixing leaks, refurbishing yard tools, and organizing nails. I had an Americorps kid as my partner. He was a nice guy and much better with tools than I. We were getting along well until I realized I was old enough to be his mother. The highlight of the day was the use of big equipment. I didn't know I had a thing for big equipment. I do.

Thursday was also the day I had to sing for my supper, so to speak. As the clergy rep. of my group, I had volunteered to lead worship before dinner. I was not feeling calm about this. The worship on other days had been led by the camp director who is an Episcopal priest. She was delightful and had one of the best Southern accents ever distilled into sound, but it was a very different idea of worship. I had two choices - try to fit into the worship style of the camp, or let my flag fly. You know which I chose.

God bless those sweet Episcopalians. They loved it. They smiled. They clapped. They sang with abandon. They positively shivered with delight when I passed out my little take away gifts. And my UU crew acted the missionaries, later explaining UU belief, liturgy, and practice like pros. Should I ever become a travelling evangelist, the UU Mississippi work crew will be the apostles.

The day ended on a particularly high note. I would be remiss if I did not hail the food at this camp. They have a chef who corrals volunteers and food donations and creates some fantastic vittles. He's thinking about making a camp cookbook. This is the only camp I've been to where that sounds like a great idea. Thursday night was Muffaletta (excuse spelling - I'm guessing here) sandwich night. This meal caused a pastoral crisis as one of our group declared after his first Muffaletta that he may not be returning home.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mission Mississippi - Wednesday

Wednesday I moved to another house. My role this time: landscaping. In case you do not recall, I am a firm believer in letting the land do its own scaping. Mowing, weed eating, and general yard maintenance is done on our property twice a year, whether it needs it or not. (OK, my husband does it more often than that, but I do not support him in these unnecessary and frivolous endeavors.) So it was with fear and chuckling that I got behind a commercial strength mower and later strapped on a mega-weed eater.

Only one thing could make me do something this uncharacteristic: a good-looking man. He is pictured above. Mr. G is hoping to move into his new house within a week. He's been hanging out while the crews are there to drive that point home, as it were. It worked with me. Our crew cleaned, painted, mowed, whacked weed, leveled the yard, and swept like crazy. After I could mow and whack no more I chatted Mr. G up.

The house we worked on was a 3 bedroom deal that is bigger than my house. Mr. G is the same age as my grandma. I asked him his plans for this big place. "I'll roam around in it," was his reply. Sounded good to me. I then thought to ask, "How big was your home you lost?"
"Oh, a lot bigger than this."

After some talk about his life, careers, and family Mr. G revealed that previously he had lived in an apartment that was attached to a lounge. That was the big house. That's right, folks, the good Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Unitarian Universalists of this country were replacing the neighborhood juke joint with a house.

Bummer, I thought.

Mr. G seems to have taken his forced retirement from the bar business well. The neighborhood is full of his family and he is looking forward to being in his own space again. He is also a generous soul. As the crew left in the afternoon he gave them a pile of crawfish. Man, I bet that was a great bar in its day.

After work, the UUs cleaned up and we headed to the local UU church. This felt like homecoming. We had a great time meeting the Mississippi UUs. They have had a rough time of it. We had worship, a class, and some time just getting to know each other. We had a lot in common. This made their stories of post-hurricane struggles seem even more personal. They have kept their doors open through hard work, perseverance, and the support of UUs from around the country. They are nervous about the future, though.
The nervousness of the Gulf Coast UUs was echoed by other Mississippi residents throughout our stay. The FEMA trailers are being taken back without housing to replace them. The aid is only trickling in now, but it has been sporadic and unpredictable all along. The ripoff artists continue their work and people are having their "new" homes condemned or are discovering the shoddy work as houses start to fall apart. Fewer first-time volunteers are working at the camps as the rest of the country believes the need has passed.

Our group encountered this as we planned this trip. Many people expressed their belief that we shouldn't be going, that our energy and money were best used in other ways, that if the UUA is discontinuing their relief efforts why should we bother, that our timing and preparation were not enough. What about the needs in our own city?

There is always a reason not to take the risk to help someone. Who can forget the Live Aid planes of the 80s sitting on the tarmac and full of food that wasn't getting to starving people? No one wants to be on the boat of supplies to Myanmar that sinks. There are better ways to give help than others. All of this is true.

But this is also true. Our band of hopeful and helpful but not professionally skilled volunteers gave 360 hours of service to 6 homes. Everywhere we went the locals made a special effort to thank us for not forgetting them. The Gulf Coast UUs had a fun and uplifting evening with like-minded strangers. Mr. G will move into his own home this week after waiting almost three years.

The inkling was there from the start, but by Wednesday we knew. We are coming back to Mississippi. Soon.