Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year from Little Warrior


Champagne wishes and lollipop dreams for 2010. Little Warrior, Lizard Eater, and all the rest wish you a Happy, HEALTHY, New Year.

Goodbye 2009 and Thanks for All the Gifts!

For many, 2009 has been a rough year. Goodbye and Good Riddance, they say. I've had those years myself.

For us, 2009 has been great. Fabulous. Superlative.

Good stuff out the yin-yang. Wish trip to Disney. I got to meet my "twin." Trip with my family to New Mexico. Amped up my schooling. I said "Yes" to a lot. Wonderful things happened. Trip to New Orleans. Front row seats at the Nutcracker. Clear scans. Clear scans. Clear scans. And a need for glasses.

Of course, there were bad things, too. My mom had a heart attack, but she's fine now. I lost my godfather. Joy and woe are woven together fine.

As much as don't want cancer to define Little Warrior, or us, or our lives ... it has succeeded in defining the years since it appeared at our house.

2005: LW born. Great year.
2006: First diagnosis. Bad year.
2007: Clear scans. Back to school. Good year.
2008: Recurrence. Bad year.
2009: Clear Scans. Good stuff. Great year.

Little Warrior goes to play school two days a week. There, she's mastered patterns. Red tile, blue tile, red tile, blue tile. What comes next? we ask. "Red tile," she says.

It is difficult not to see a pattern in these years, difficult not to ask, "What comes next?"

Silly, of course. Nonsensical. Life is not that even, not that balanced. And there was good stuff in the bad years, too.

Yet part of me wants to hold on, kicking and screaming, like a 3 year old to his mommy's leg, to 2009. "Don't go! Don't go!"

And to 2010, the interloper, I look at it, wary. "I don't want to change things, I just want to be your friend," it says. "Yeah, prove it," I think inside.

Instead, I take a deep breath and say, "Goodbye 2009. You were wonderful and it's hard to see you go."

I take a deep breath and with what I hope is a warm smile, I turn to the new guest. "Hello 2010 and welcome ... looking forward to all the wonderful things you'll bring!"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

7 days

The Husband and I haven't had that much of a Christmas, nor Thanksgiving either, of our own choosing. In early November, we talked with the children about the gifts they received last year, many of which had been disappointing. We have a large playroom, with stained carpet, that seemed to be a perpetual mess. "What if," we proposed, "this year, our gift to you was a new playroom. A new floor, and we'd find a way to organize it so it was easier to keep neat. And maybe you could even ask Santa for his help with it."

Amazingly, they agreed to what was little more than a promise for a new floor and some cubbys. With enthusiasm, they each asked Santa for one small toy, and for him to help Mom and Dad with some things for a new playroom.

The Husband and I put a lock on the door before Thanksgiving, and began working our hearts out. Laminate on the floor, purged all the broken and unplayed-with toys, old game boards up as decoration on the walls, new game boards in a cabinet. (Once you realize that there's really no value in keeping the boxes, and you can instead put game pieces in baggies in a bin, and file game boards like books, it's amazing how many games can fit in a small cabinet.) Every evening, while the children watched Rudolph and Frosty downstairs, we worked.

December 23, we both realized something. Little Warrior's eyes were crossing. Almost immediately, we each had another realization. That it is rare, but Wilms' Tumor can relapse in the brain.

"It's subtle, not dramatic. I think we should wait until after Christmas. Give them a good Christmas. In case."

Somberly, The Husband said that he agreed completely.

7:30 am Dec. 25, we staggered out our bedroom as the children tumbled down the stairs. Santa came! Their stockings were stuffed and each had a couple of presents from Santa! Hmm. Perhaps Santa had decided not to help with the game room?

After ransacking our stockings, we went upstairs. The tv, about 15 years old, was outside the door. What the ... ?

We opened the door. In addition to all of our work, Santa had been there. He left a new tv. And Beatles Rock Band. And some videos and games.

I expected the children to be jumping up and down. Nope. Silently, barely breathing, they walked slowly around the room. For the first time ever, my children were speechless. "I'm overwhelmed," The Boy said.

And then ... Little Warrior sat down at the craft table. Bo Peep at the desk. And The Boy and The Princess sat down at what used to be their grandfather's chess table, and began playing.

Temporary insanity?

Eventually we made our way back downstairs for homemade cinnamon rolls and the rest of the presents from other family members.

Christmas afternoon arrived, bringing it with Lala and Pop Pop, our "adopted" grandparents, as well as The Hysteric Cleric and Mrs. Hysteric. Tofurkey and dry-brined turkey, agave carrots and potato gnocci. Wonderful company to be with, a party all around. And more presents, of course, including a very special book passed on from the HC from his library to mine.

Christmas evening comes and we can settle down now, just the family, in our new game room. "Bo Peep, go get me a towel from the laundry room," I instructed her. She came back, her mouth agape. "There's ... there's more presents, in the laundry room." "What's she talking about?" asked The Husband. "Y'all go down and help her," he told her siblings. They ran out and we giggled.

For the previous two weeks, amazon.com had run lightening deals on tons of games, selling them for 4.99. "I'm not getting anymore," I would inform the husband, and then they'd run another that was just too irresistible. We wrapped them all, and hid them in the laundry room, deciding on Christmas Eve that it would be more fun to wait until Christmas night to give them. We were right. "Monopoly!" "Clue!" "Guesstures!" "Trouble!"

We watched It's a Wonderful Life and cuddled with the children. And if we each hugged Little Warrior just a little harder and a little longer, it wasn't noticed by anyone.

Saturday, Sunday, holiday things and cleaning and leftovers. They wanted their friends to see the new playroom. Sunday night, The Boy could invite two friends to spend the night, then the next night The Princess, and so on. We dearly hoped.

Monday morning, woke up. Fears I had tried to basket up for the holiday were tumbled all around me now. I waited til the office would open, then called the pediatrician. She wouldn't be in all week, so I agreed to see the floating doctor. In the waiting room, in the tall high-rise, I noticed a ladybug crawling on the arm of LW's chair. A sign? A good sign? Or a sign to be strong? Superstitions are never clear in these cases. We were called back to see the Floater Doctor.

She gazed into LW's eyes. She didn't see anything, but one eye, she couldn't get the refraction she was looking for. Did I want her to call LW's oncologist or ... "I'll call," I said.

At home, I called to leave a message for Dr. Onc. "Hello," he answered, in person. I explained. "Before an MRI, let me have her see a special opthamologist who's here at the hospital." He promised to call right back. He did. "Tomorrow, 1 pm," he said, in his clipped, Indian accent. Half an hour later, he called back. "We were able to move things, so your appointment is now at 10 am." He didn't have to explain. I knew. If things went bad at the opthamologist, there would still be time for scans in the afternoon.

The Princess had her friend spent Monday night, after the friend's mom said it was fine that I would leave early in the morning, leaving them with The Boy. Make hay while the sun shines, thought I. The Husband came home. He had talked to his mother about when he had an eye patched, as a kid. "Maybe it's the same thing," he said hopefully.

Bo Peep wanted to invite her friend for Tuesday night. "Let's wait til after the doctor appointment," I said vaguely.

Woke up early. Made coffee. Fed LW, mentally calculating at what hour she could safely get anesthesia in case of MRI.

Drove to the hospital. Passed all the same things I have passed for the last three years. Got close. Got teary. Bitched at myself to suck it up, soldier. One message beat with my every heart beat: I do not want to be here again. I was not referring to physical location.

Wait wait wait for the doctor. Get teary. Get hyperventilatey. Pull out iPhone to look at anything. Check email ... perhaps there's a message from God letting me know everything will be fine? Got God's "out of the office" automatic responder. iPhone Air Hockey. Winner. Winner. Winner. Read waiting room books to LW. "Mama, you're holding me toooo tight!"

Our turn. Sitting in the patient chair, LW looks across the room. She correctly identifies what's on the screen. Covers the "good" eye. Can't read most of it. Hmm. Is that good or bad?

Old, experienced, kindly opthamologist comes in. He talked to our onc. He knows what is at stake. He examines her and turns to me. "I think it is an eye problem," he says. "Not a neurological problem." He smiles at me, but adds, "But I need to dilate her eyes, and then I will see you in half an hour."

Drops. Waiting. LW is bored. And then, it is our turn to go back. The Kindly Opthamologist looks and looks into each eye. He holds different things up to her eyes. "I am going to write some terms down for you," he explains. "You can google them when you get home." Apparently my reputation has preceded me.

LW is far-sighted. When her eyes try to focus, she looks cross-eyed. Some cute glasses, and she should be good as new. He'll see her again in a month.

I can't hide my tears of happiness, relief, gratitude. "Am I your only patient's mother to be so thrilled her daughter needs glasses?" He chuckles. "Oh, even parents who haven't gone through what you have, if they see crossed eyes, they think, 'brain tumor.'"

I had not told anyone. Not my parents, not the BFF-DRE nor the Hysteric Cleric, no Facebook, no blogging. Too many people are invested in my little girl. No need to make them worry.

Now, I let them all know. Now, like my mother, even though she hadn't known to be worried, she and they can feel relief.

Happy New Year to all.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Things That Matter to Me, Christmas Edition

This tree.


It is made of propofol bottles. When she was getting radiation, we met a gruff anesthesiologist in his 80s. He had retired, but came out of retirement to do anesthesiology for the radiation patients. See, the only people who need anesthesiology for radiation are those under the age of about 5. So every morning, he comes in and works a few hours, for those “special” patients who are all scheduled first thing in the morning.

The most common anesthesia is propofol. His nurse explained that he takes all the empty propofol bottles, cleans them, runs them through the sterilizer, then takes them home. He and his wife glue them together with special glass glue, stuff them with tinsel and Christmas lights, back the whole thing with a special Christmas Tree shaped piece of felt, and give the trees he’s made all year to the pediatric patients he sees in December.

Little Warrior was treated in May. But she got one anyway.

You can keep your Fitz and Floyd, your Spode. This glass tree holds a place of honor in our household.

This crèche.

The BFF-DRE’s father made this for me, at her request. Each piece hand-carved, carefully put together. Each piece came in one of Dad’s old socks, gathered by the BFF-DRE’s mom, to keep them unscratched.

But see, that’s how the BFF-DRE’s family is. My house is full of mouthless teddy bears (so you can tell them anything when your sister is going through chemo, and they’ll never tell a soul), heating pads, baby blankets and other goodies, all made by the BFF-DRE’s mom. There’s one reason the BFF-DRE feels called to serve the world. Did I mention that the BFF-DRE’s father “retired” … and stays busy busy busy with Habitat for Humanity? Apple.Tree. Not far.

A TV.

It’s taken different sizes through the years, but I am not ashamed to say that it’s also a big part of our Christmas season. Poor kitchen table, during December, it sees us only at breakfast time or when we’re cooling cookies. The rest of the time, we’re in the living room for meals. Meet Me in St. Louis, Christmas Vacation, It’s a Wonderful Life, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. Only one is my Moby Dick, and that is the original of A Christmas Memory, with Truman Capote doing the voice-over. (Reportedly slowed-down, because his natural voice was so so high. Apparently the master tapes have been lost. So sad.

But there are others to fill the gap. Polar Express, Elf, The Grinch (the original), A Christmas Story. Rudolph. Frosty. sigh. Home Alone. The Husband likes his humor of the Three Stooges type.
Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. You don’t want some Razzleberry Gravy? REALLY?

So I'm not ashamed to say it. This time of year, I'm thankful for our TV.

A Christmas Feast

Not a meal, it's a book, long since lost its cover. My mother gave it to me Christmas of 1979 and it's filled with all the familiar Christmas stories to thrill a little girl's heart. "Yes Virginia," and "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," and Gift of the Magi and A Christmas Carol in Prose and "Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy AND a penny. There had never been such a Christmas." And some other, less familiar, but no less wonderful stories, like Agatha Christie's "The Water Bus." Oh, it's so wonderful. Read it, please. And "The Peterkins' Christmas Tree." A family who gets a Christmas tree and it's taller than the ceiling ... so they cut a hole in the ceiling! Fancy that!

Every December, I crack it open again to read a couple of these familiar friends.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The "Hollywood Ending" of Job

I have learned so much from my calls-himself-a-conservative-Christian-but-acts-like-a-liberal-theologian professor in my Old Testament class this year. “Comfortable with the ambiguity” is a phrase he uses about himself. Love it. I did not have to leave logic or reason at the door.

Upon one thing, however, we are in profound disagreement. And it is not so much a theological difference as a philosophical one.

Job.

Specifically, the ending of Job. We’re both fans of the book. He, however, sees the ending of Job as a Hollywood ending, tacked on, that negates the rest of the book.

Boy, do I disagree. I think it’s real, and not Hollywood. I think it gives hope, yes, but legitimate hope.

So, Job has gone through all his pain and catastrophe. He has sat on a garbage heap, scratching his sores with broken pottery. What a picture.

He survived his asshat friends asking him what he did wrong.

He has even survived the wrath of God for daring to ask God, “Why me???”

And his life takes another turn. He has more children. He has wealth. He has friends who come and love him. He lives to be old. I think it fair to say that he finds joy again.

Does that mean he doesn’t continue to mourn the children he has lost? Does that mean he doesn’t struggle with the knowledge that it can all be taken away again? I think not.

But he lives life again.

I don’t think this is a Hollywood ending. I think this is life, or it can be.

So many times, we have a wonderful phase of life. And then we have an excruciatingly bad time. Catastrophe. We feel like Job. We feel everything has been stripped away.

I do not count myself in this group. Little Warrior is alive and playing in another room. I have lost innocence, sure. I have lost time. But I have not lost everything, not even remotely close.

But I have seen my parents go through it. I have seen other friends, including my dear friend L who lost a son to leukemia years ago and was an angel sent to help me during LW’s first bout with the beast.

They’ve gone through feeling that life was not worth living, and never would be again. And yet … life returned. Joy returned.

As my friend L said to me, at one of the very worst moments, “You will get through this.”

I have seen others go through catastrophe – having to leave a partner who had mentally changed into someone else – and never quite recover. Losing a life they built. They say to themselves, “I have had my great joy. And now it is over. It will not come again.” They do not allow themselves to fully live again.

Job refutes that. The book of Job says, you can get through this. And life can be good again.

But you have to get through it. You have to say, I am not going to live the rest of my life in the shadow. I’m going to grab life and find meaning again.

I believe that happy endings are possible. But I also believe they take us making the choice, to say, “Yes. I will live. And I will live fully. Intentionally. And I will honor the gift of life by embracing it.” With all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Amen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Right Way to Do Christmas

Lotsa talk about the “right” way to do Christmas – how to sing the songs, what kind of cards to send, what to buy, what to eat, what to do.

I come from a long line of “doing it wrong” Christmases, so these things don’t bother me. Plus, I actually make fruitcake* some years, and always send out a printed holiday letter. We’ve been sending out photo cards for 15 years, back before kids, when it was just us and two cats we’d affixed antlers to. You gotta have thick skin to do those subversive things. (Thick skin helps with putting antlers on a cat, too.)

One of my favorite memories is from the Christmas I was pregnant with The Boy. The Husband and I were in our little Austin house, my sister had just moved there, and The Husband’s younger sister had come for the holiday.

We knew that the next day was going to be a challenge. I won’t get into all the details, other than to say family members were coming in, and there was an affair everyone knew about, and a mean grandmother and …. well, you get the picture.

But Christmas Eve, it was just the 4 of us. At some point, we decided to go downtown and take a carriage ride up and down Congress Ave. What fun! We were singing some of our favorite holiday songs – Merry Christmas from the Family, Please Daddy Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas, and others of that ilk.

Our carriage driver was not pleased. “Look at the other carriages!” she hissed at us. “They’re singing things like ‘Silent Night.’”

See. We were doing it wrong. And having a blast.

Back home about 10:30 pm. I remember the time, because I pulled out my guitar and we began singing more songs. For some reason, about 11:15, I started improv-ing a song about the next day’s festivities. It was bad. REALLY bad. Have I mentioned that the affair-person’s name was Rick? Which very conveniently rhymes with what we thought of him that year.

To quote Arlo Guthrie – “Hey, I knew it wasn’t the best song I’d ever wrote.”

They kept goading me on. At some point, they decided that it would be real cool if I continued riffing until midnight. My fingertips have never quite been the same.

The next day happened and it was, indeed, stilted, stiff, and not great.

But that Christmas Eve was fabulous.

--
On the “right” way to do Christmas, I just laugh. Because I have my things, too. Thank goodness both The Husband and I came from families that opened presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. That might have been a deal breaker, there. There are certain things that really matter to me. But that’s a post for another day.

* It’s a dried apple cake soaked in brandy and it’s fabulous, too.

Singing ... for non-singers

Unapologetic product plug ahead, but bigger questions/issues to follow. Do you know anything about singing meditaton?

I've kind of used the "When I breathe in, I breathe in peace ..." as a singing meditation, especially with my children. Then a friend brought my attention to a book she has out now.

You can also listen to some of the clips.

Listening to the clips, it felt very familiar. I was in a "goddess group" (we jokingly called ourselves the "Chocolotta Coven") some years ago. It was pretty laid back -- we'd sit in comfy chairs around a coffee table/altar, nothing High-Pagan about this, no robes, rarely a planned-out ritual. One of the things we'd do was chant and sing. No rhyme or reason -- one person would start with one, we'd sing that for a while, then another would begin a different one. I never felt self-conscious or weird -- we were all there because we wanted to be. And it was laid-back and comfortable.

Anyway, the chants/songs definitely enhanced the experience. I have to admit, I have a low comfort level for ... oh, what would I call it? Well, mentally, I call it "frolicking," based on a time many years ago, when those leading a spring church service announced, "Okay, now we're going to go out into the parking lot for a Spring Frolic!" There are people who can do that sort of thing with no inhibitions, no self-consciousness. I am not one.

I think it holds me back in some ways, and I'm working on that. Not so that I can frolic in the parking lot. But so that I don't let the outer "woo woo" trappings close me off from experimenting with things that may enhance my own spiritual practice and development. I mean, the thing I love most at church right now is our "Deep Listening" group. It took a little time to feel comfortable in the silence.

So I think I'm going to have to check this singing meditation out. Seems like a great idea for a covenant group.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Posole and Conversation

I am getting more and more like my father as I get older. It would probably be better for me if I were instead getting more like my mother -- she is genteel, dignified, and never leaves the house without a perfectly accessorized outfit and a list of errands and items needed. But instead, I leave the house to take LW to playschool, intending on returning straight home, only to get a thought of this or that and then find myself at Fiesta, looking for posole, clad in a velour jogging suit.

My father has a habit of getting into conversations with strangers, which makes my mother roll her eyes, and used to embarrass me. Well, now I am the one in those conversations. Now, sometimes, it's not my fault. People just come up and talk to me. The Husband swears this never happens to him. He is, however, 75% deaf, and thinks that I talk to him far less that I actually do. So it's possible there are many people wondering about that cute man who completely ignored them in the grocery store.

Anyway, so I am in our local Mexican grocery, looking for fresh posole, when a very nicely dressed lady addressed me. "They don't have the After Eight mints. Isn't that crazy? This is the time you need them!" We chatted a bit about After Eight mints. See now, I didn't initiate that one.

But I am completely culpable for the next. I was on a different aisle, loading up on Ibarra Mexican drinking chocolate tablets and picking up another molinillo, when I overheard a nice white lady asking a store employee about an enchilada sauce. "It's not a red sauce. We can't eat red sauce anymore. But it's on enchiladas."

The employee, confused, was directing her towards some instant mixes. I couldn't help myself. I spoke up. "What you want is 'chili gravy.' You can find a recipe for it online." I added, "If you don't find what you want in the mixes." She won't. There's no such thing as a chili gravy mix.

The lady responded, "It's not red sauce." She looked at me suspiciously, the way any normal person would look at a red headed white woman in a black velour jogging suit, who thought she knew better than the Mexican employee.

"Yes," I answered. "But are you looking for a brown sauce? That goes on Tex-Mex enchiladas?"

"Yes," she said.

"It's called 'chili gravy.' There's no meat in it, but that's what it's called. You start like you're making a regular gravy ..." She and I discussed the details.

I continued filling up my basket -- stuff for a Texas care package for the California relatives, some Zatarain's for our Christmas shrimp cocktail, a cream cheese empanada for me, since I forgot to eat breakfast, as I didn't know I was going to be running errands this morning.

I ran into the white lady a few rows later. She was looking at the mixes. "I'm going to look for that recipe," she promised me, guiltily.

Well, she will or she won't. There are those of us who get our answers from strangers in the grocery store, and those who don't.

I never did find that posole.


Robb Walsh's Chili Gravy Recipe, via Homesick Texan

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lizard Eater's Hat Goes to the Big Easy

Auspicious Jots left her home and went to Mississippi to do good work. After that, she drove to New Orleans. Lizard Eater finished up with LW's scans and a big ugly Old Testament midterm, farmed out her kids to accommodating fools, I mean, wonderful people, and also drove to New Orleans. Accompanying those two were Bad Bad Man and The Husband.






Jots recognized me right away, even though I was traveling incognito.

blogcognito? inblognito?





Bad Bad Man is practically an honorary citizen of New Orleans, so we put ourselves in his capable hands. The Husband mentioned that he is a fan of hole-in-the-walls, so BBM took us to nothing but hole-in-the-walls. Dives. Dark and funky. Fabulous, delicious food. Jots wouldn't use the ladies' room in any of them.

She has issues.

Actually, the first was not dark. But it was funky in that you should be thankful you get to eat there, and shaddup about the service. Mother's. We stuffed ourselves with cafe au lait, eggs, biscuits, homemade sausage and grits. Ahhh. Jots had fresh fruit. There's a reason she's built like Barbie.

After Mother's, we went back out into the drizzly rain well fortified. Walked around a bit, then headed into a hole-in-the wall bar/laundry/game room.

My clothes would have been much cleaner in college had we one of those.

Hung out, chatted, talked about our most interesting jobs. I could tell ya, but you know, then I'd have to kill you.

After that, we took a streetcar for a bit of a journey. Tip: don't let Jots ride sideways.

After she recovered, we headed to Cooter Brown's. It's a sports bar with really killer food. Jots, BBM and The Husband scarfed down some oysters before we dove into plump, perfectly cooked fried shrimp and muffalettas.


Mmmm.

Later on that day, in amongst our wanderings, we found a pretty special forest. This was right after I spotted a white-bearded fella in a red shirt. "Look!" I squealed, pulling on BBM's sleeve. "It's Santa Claus!"

"Huh. Looks like the same guy who asked me for a dollar yesterday," he said.

Well, duh! How do you think he buys all the toys for all the girls and boys???

Anyway, after that, we found the magic forest. Now I know where white flocked trees are born.

That evening, before we headed out for dinner, The Husband made them one of his famous margaritas. They marveled at them. "This really is the perfect margarita," they said. Yep. No argument here.

For dinner, we met friends of BBM at Mulate's. Zydeco music, great food, yum.



Ostensibly, Jots has retired from ministry. After being around her for 48 hours and watching her minister to everyone including the kindly white-haired gentleman whom she danced with, I say, "Um, tell me when you actually retire." You can take the girl outta the church, but you can't take the church out of the supposedly retired minister.

BBM's friend brought Jots something she'd left at a funeral convention. This is the sort of thing that makes her squeal with delight. Dead Marilyn.

Jots and I danced, thus liberating the floor for other same-sex couples, including an apparent threesome of suburban looking moms. Jots' observation: two women on a dancefloor will dance. Three will stand there and talk.

The Husband and I danced, Jots and BBM danced, Jots and the kindly white-haired gentleman danced.

We ate till we thought we'd pop. Shrimp and corn bisque, frog legs, crawfish, catfish, jambalaya, etouffee ... Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Sunday morning, we got up and headed down to the French market. Touristy, but I wanted a little Cafe du Monde. Cafe au lait et beignets, oui? Ah, non non non. Line going about 2 blocks long. We skipped that and hit a cafe for more grits etc. And coffee!


"Jots, if I take a picture in here, it'll be back lit."
"That's just the way I like 'em, Baby."
She is wise, my friend Jots.


Then, it was time for a mule-drawn carriage ride! On Jeeves! To the cemetery!









"Um, Liz?" said The Husband.
"Yeah?"
"Jots is positively beaming."


Death becomes her. Really.

We wandered around, marveling at the generations of families all buried in the same crypt. Frankly, I'm envious.

Bad Bad Man found Marie Laveau's grave. He should be careful. I'm sure there's a few women who bought voodoo dolls of him in his youth.

Have I mentioned all the truly horrible dirty jokes he told during this trip? And the fact that my sweet Husband was egging him on?

He's a bad influence.

I'm not saying which one.

It was some time after this, once we'd be returned to the Market, that Jot's knee went out. I mean, OUT. Rheumatoid Arthritis ain't for sissies, folks. We propped her up against a streetpole and continued our souvenir shopping.

Oh, please, it's not like we didn't bring her back a tshirt.

Through a combination of piggy back rides on BBM's back and using The Husband and me as crutches, we managed to cripple down to Coop's, another great divey hole-in-the-wall bar with great food. No, great doesn't do it justice. Incredible.

But first, a Sazerac for me, Bloody Marys for them.

Lunch: four bowls of dark seafood gumbo, followed by plates of shrimp etouffe, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and the most incredible fried chicken I have ever tasted. Ever. And I'm a southerner, y'all. We were moaning with joy. Wisely, we split two plates, so we weren't quite groaning with pain.

Bad Bad Man and The Husband went back to the hotel to get the cars. Gimpie's knee was doing a little better, so we slowly strolled around. There's so many great signs under which to take a person's picture!


Trashy Diva. I mean, really, what can top that?

Well, for Death Becomes Her ...
















He's a Bad, Bad Man. But he's a heck of a tour guide. Priceless.


Go to New Orleans. Drink a Sazerac. Dance to Zydeco. Eat some crab claws. And know that you're helping a great place return to life. In return, it'll give you a little extra life in your life.

Even if death becomes you.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Radically Inclusive

I want the radically inclusive church. I mean, really radically inclusive.

A few years ago, the big buzz you heard at all the UU things was "Radical Hospitality." I went home from GA or Fall Conference or wherever it was, and looked on half.com for a book about radical hospitality. Found one. Bought it.

Boy, was this NOT the book all the UU's were talking about.

Puhleease, we talk about radical hospitality and often what we mean is "don't ignore people when they come into your church." That's not radical anything.

This book I picked up was written by some missionary-type Christians. They talked about picking up homeless folks and taking them home with them. And that, my friends, is radical hospitality. Not that I'm recommending you (or I) do the same. Just don't pat yourself on the back because you engaged someone in conversation and think that you're radically hospitable.

So, forgetting missionaries for the moment, what do I think RADICAL inclusivity within a UU church would look like?

Well, I can thank The Husband for this. As I mentioned earlier, I recently preached a sermon on Isaiah 6:8 at my seminary. I said "God" - a lot. I talked about being convicted by the Holy Spirit.

I am not a Christian. My definition of "God" is most probably quite different from that of my classmates. But I tell you and mean it: I did not say a single thing I don't believe.

The Husband heard my sermon, a few hundred times. (Well, I practiced it a lot, I knew I wasn't using a script.) It's a great sermon, he said. You should give it at church.

Uh, yeah, with a whole lot of editing.

See, I don't understand that, he said. (He is often about UU things as I am about communion -- if you didn't grow up with them, they're odd.) "UUs talk about being so pluralist, so inclusive. We have banners on the wall from different religions. So, you should be able to stand up and do that sermon."

Rabbi Shaman and I were talking about this recently. About having a UU message from the pulpit, but utilizing religious language that is Jewish, Christian, Pagan, Muslim, all those cool symbols and flags we post around the church ...

I think that would be radically inclusive. I don't think radically inclusive means that you exclude anything that might push someone out of their comfort zone.

Of course, you could have a church where the vast majority love the sort of language used by Christopher Hitchens.

Maybe the next "radical" that we're going to embrace is "radical congregational polity."

Huh. Now that might be interesting.

Some of our best friends are straight ...

One of the things I love about LIFE if that if well-lived, you just keep learning stuff till the day you die. New experiences. New understandings.

Let me tell you about my father.

He came from a small town, and when he was college age, he went to visit a friend he’d grown up with. Well, the friend had two male roommates, one of whom was extremely flamboyant. That’s how he found out his friend was gay. This was in the late 1940s. My father was so shaken by this, he beat a hasty retreat. For years – no, decades – he was convinced that gays “recruit” young men. No arguments would sway him.

Round about his 60’s, three things happened: he got to know my brother’s law partner, whom he highly respected, and who is gay. He began reading those articles that said you’re born gay. And then, after retirement, he and my Mom were adopted by their new next-door neighbors, “The Boys,” a middle-aged gay couple.

He’s 80 years old, and if his knees could handle it, my dad would now be marching for gay rights, especially gay marriage.

This Thanksgiving, my parents will be going to dinner at The Boys’ house. There will be a total of 8 people – my parents, The Boys, another gay couple whom my parents are fond of, and a transgender lesbian couple.

My mother has raised an eyebrow over the years at her “Let Your Freak Flag Fly” kids and our friends, so it was with great pleasure that I asked her, with as serious a tone as I could muster, “Do you have any straight friends?”

She thought about it for a moment. Last Sunday, they hosted another couple for brunch. The nice lesbian couple from down the street.

“Well, not really,” she said. “We really should get ourselves to that little UU church congregation in town so we can meet some people like us.”

Yeah. No chance they’d meet anyone LGBT in a UU church.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What do we prove?

After taking my OT midterm, I headed to the mall to exchange out my Mac power cord that died on me while studying for said midterms. After that, I did a little wandering, and was snared by one of those kiosk guys -- this one, selling some sort of a nail care kit.

He was good -- I'm usually adept at the polite smile and moving on, but I found myself in his clutches, literally, as he polished up one of my fingernails.

Now, don't tell Peacebang, but my hands are just not a point of beauty focus for me. Between cooking, playing guitar, helping kids build volcanoes, my fingertips are all about the functional, baby. If I manage to not have dirt under the nails or jagged edges, I am pretty fancy indeed.

But I had to admit, his little buffing, lotioning, was pretty dramatic. Looked like my fingernail had been polished. I wasn't even looking to buy, but he proved it to me.

So, since I'd been thinking about what we're selling in our churches, this made me think about us -- what do we prove? Especially to the people who aren't even looking to buy?

The price for this nail kit was too rich for my blood, so I moved on. But the next time I'm in a Walgreens, I'm probably going to pick up a little buffer set.

They work. Someone proved it to me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oh, SNAP! Small Church Marketing ...



from: http://smallchurchcoach.com/images/church-marketing-cartoon.gif

REAL EGGS!

A couple of weeks ago, I passed a small restaurant, and on the marquee, their words were:

REAL EGGS!

I drove past it, and about a mile down the road asked The Husband, "Is that really their big selling point?"

I mean, I could understand it this were wartime, or the Depression. They would be differentiating between themselves and those places selling powdered eggs. But now? Can you even buy powdered eggs anymore?

That got me to thinking about our churches, though. Are we still selling ourselves based on the circumstances from decades ago?

I mean, saying, "You have freedom of belief here!" is kind of like "Real Eggs!" isn't it? In a world of Bishop Spongs and Christopher Dawkins and heck, the New York Times, what are we really trying to sell? Our competition isn't the Assemblies of God Church down the road. Our competition is the Sunday news shows and soccer games and sleeping late. Guess what? The people watching Meet the Press and reading The New Yorker already have Freedom of Belief.

I don't want to try a new restaurant for REAL EGGS. You're going to have to find something else to sell me.

Never saw the sun shining so bright



Nothing but blue skies, from now on ...

CLEAR SCANS.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Arrrgh

No phone call from the doctor yet.

So, no news.

It could be something real simple, like the doctor is out of town, or too busy, or anything.

Or.

Or there's something he's unsure of. And he needs to wait for the radiologist to make an official report.

You know, I remember being in college, studying for a Shakespeare exam. It was a hard one, too. And some students down the hall were being loud. I thought it was impossible to study.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Studying, A Haiku by Lizard Eater

Noise outside is loud
But just a whisper, next to
Noise inside my head

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Can't Study Clowns Will Eat Me

Can't Study Clowns Will Eat Me Can't Study Clowns Will Eat Me Can't Study Clowns Will Eat Me

Things have been crazy ... yet great. Preached 5 times within 13 days. (Got double points today -- 2 services.) Assessment. An interfaith dinner. A baby shower. Stuff. Good stuff. It feels like things are moving. After five years, I'm seeing progress. Maybe I really will be a minister when I grow up.

My Big Fat Old Testament Midterm is Wednesday. Technically, a 3/4 term, but Wednesday it is. Studying, studying. Well, trying to. "Be able to place all of the latter prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) in their historical context, which might include date, circumstances, and contemporaries (both biblical and non-biblical). Also know the basic purpose or theme of each latter prophet" was one of the study hints.

If I take in my Assessment Tests that show that I am highly an abstract thinker, think I can get a pass?

Yeah, I don't think so, either.

Of course, the real issue isn't study style or thinking style or any of it.

Tomorrow, scans.

Specifically, tomorrow is 1 year scans. And an echocardiogram to see if the Doxorubicin gave any ill effects to her heart.

Meanwhile, Little Warrior is bouncing up and down, "Again, again! The Black-Eyed Peas!" We are watching their clip from SNL, singing "I Gotta Feeling." She shakes her booty. She shouts, "Let's kick it!" She sings, "Mazel Tov," turning around to inform me, "We say that!"

Will I know by tomorrow night? Will I be dancing, singing, shaking my booty tomorrow night?

Or.

You'll have to excuse me, just for tonight. I try to avoid the self-pity. Everybody's got something, as they say. It's just really hard to study for a test on Wednesday, knowing that tomorrow, my life could stop and begin spinning backward. Again.

This could be a really good week. Scans tomorrow. Get that mid-term out of the way Wednesday. My beloved Deep Listening group Wed night. Follow up with the doc on Thursday, which is highly enjoyable when, you know, it's good news. Friday, we toss our children into different households and meet Auspicious Jots and her entourage in the Big Easy.

It could be a fabulous week.

please.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A-HA! on that Freedom From Religion Ad

Well, I got my UU World today. It recounts some of the letters for and against the infamous Freedom From Religion ad. Old news, now. And then, at the end of the wrap, on page 13, comes a reply from Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation:
"Our ad was not an attack on the UUA, it was an espousal of the views of most Unitarians! Perhaps the infiltration of the UUA by new members who are not freethinking, who do not really understand its creedless position, accounts for this mind-boggling reaction."
And suddenly, I get it. If you believe that those who have a problem with that ad are exclusively:
  • new UUs
  • not freethinking
  • not understanding the creedlessness of Unitarian Universalism
then you truly do not understand this religion yourself. Ms. Gaylor, I am a life-long Unitarian Universalist and a seminary student. My parents, both fairly atheist, have been Unitarian Universalists since the 1950s.

They, and I, were mind-boggled by YOUR ad. Respect has always been a part of Unitarian Universalism. Mocking and belittling others is NOT a part of my religion -- it is a part of yours? Oh, I forgot. You want freedom from religion.

Yeah. I get that.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Assess This!

Got up at 3:45 am Monday morning and flew to the town of my candidate career assessment. Intensive and intimate, but since my personality is the open and ready to share type (you've never noticed that, right?), nothing bad. And I now have the test results to prove that I'm the open and ready to share type. And an extravert. And a big picture person. And "Joyful."

Very nice assessor, willing to go deep with me. No surprises in the assessment. Before we went over the test results, my assessor asked me to pick five words about myself. All five were represented in my test results, often in capital letters. So, I got confirmation that I know myself. Hmm. Is there a teensiest bit of disappointment, that perhaps there was some secret deep inside that even I didn't know about? Alas, I am no woman of mystery. Like Popeye, I yam what I yam.

And part of that, very comforting, is that I am, boringly so, of a personality type that is a good fit with ministry. There was some concern about my preternatural appreciation for ABBA, but with some trepidation, the assessor agreed that it's not technically a psychosis.

Now for those not in the candidating loop, the assessment centers where you are sent are specifically for those entering ministry, and we UUs (at least at the one I went to), are a tiny percent of the patrons, most of them being Methodist, Lutheran, and so on. I say that to give some background to the following exchange:

I was telling my assessor about a numinous experience I had this summer. I said something about "of course, it wasn't like a literal voice from the heavens, and it certainly could be my imagination, and I'm okay with that; imagination and God are certainly not ...

"Why do you do that?" she interrupted me.

I knew what she was referring to. "Because I'm a Unitarian!!!" I said. And we both laughed.

And then we talked further about that. And I spoke plainly, without all of the extraneous protestations -- "God said to me ..."

We talked about why I feel the need to do all the explanations, clarifications, justifications, about how I am often speaking to people who have a wide range of understandings of the divine.

"Do you feel that is burdensome, or a challenge you relish?"

And I had never thought of it before, but the question made me smile. And light up. And say, "A challenge I relish." Because it's not about proving my vision of a divine. Or trying to convince others. It's about finding the common grounds in all of our understandings. This was a bit revelatory because I have had the experience of mentally rolling my eyes as we split into subparticles yet another word or concept. Really, Bill Clinton must be a Unitarian -- "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." -- classic UU! But it's a challenge I relish. For the past few weeks, I've been cogitating on a definition of God, fit for those who do not believe in anything transcendent. But that's a post for another day ...

A world where people just nodded in agreement if I said, "God said to me ..."? How flat! How boring! How spiritually lazy I could become!

(That doesn't mean I don't want it sometimes and want to keep my tight group of intimates whom they know what I mean, and I know what they mean, and we can skip all that.)

Now, this did bring up another issue -- that of being authentic. Which I've taken to refer to being upfront and honest about your doubts and uncertainties, but she made the point that if you believe in the transcendent, but don't own it, ya ain't being authentic.

So, I haven't seen the official report yet, but my assessment of my assessment is:

* I know myself
* I want to be a minister
* I'm a Unitarian Universalist

We ended early, and I had given myself a good cushion of time before my flight "just in case," so I wound up at the airport with 4 hours to waste. I asked about switching my flight, and learned that my time isn't worth very much, as I was unwilling to pay $87 to change it. Called The Husband, told him about the assessment and that I was just going to use the extra time to study for my Big Fat Old Testament Midterm.

And proceeded to instead eat a cinnabon and cruise Facebook.

My assessor probably would have predicted that.

Monday, November 09, 2009

"I Am Jesus."

Mother-in-love came up and stayed with the family today so that I could fly away and get my assessment. Conversation she had with Little Warrior -- they were listening to Christmas music in the car (MIL is in a church choir and learning some new songs):

LW: They said 'Jesus!'
MIL: Um-hm. What do you know about Jesus?
LW: I am Jesus.
MIL: Uh ... what do you mean by that?
LW: Well, like, when I take cupcakes to the hospital.

Sure beats the Apostles Creed for me.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Skydiving with an Outline

Ogre said, "I want to hear more about the first steps on that path to no manuscript."

First, you have to really want it. It is definitely skydiving without a parachute. Well, not entirely -- that would be preaching without any notes. I still had my one page outline, even if it was on the lectern behind me.

Is it worth it? Oh yeah! Warning: it just may ruin ya for using a manuscript. Today, I guest-preached at one of my favorite little churches. I was doing a sermon I've given at other churches; it is heavy with the quotes, so I wasn't even going to attempt to not use my manuscript.

Meh.

I mean, they liked it, it seemed to go well. But for me, it was like the difference between giving pastoral care over the phone versus sitting next to the person. There is an intimacy that comes from eye contact, and when you have less time looking down at notes and more time with the eye contact ... and even better, when you can roam down next to people ... it's addictive, I tell ya.

So, how to do it?

1) You do have a manuscript as a part of the process. In Power in the Pulpit: How America's Most Effective Black Preachers Prepare Their Sermons edited by Cleophus James LaRue, most of the preachers talk about manuscript as an important part of their process. By writing out a manuscript -- not just an outline -- you find the rhythm of the sermon, and you find particular turns of phrase that you want to be sure to remember.

2) After that, create your "pulpit outline." I learned to do it on one page, horizontal layout, two columns, like a book. (Because I'm at a Christian seminary, and many of the preachers here will put their outline in their bible.) This includes a little information about your introduction, the proposition/big idea of your sermon, the main points, and any examples/illustrations. And info on your conclusion.

3) Memorize your introduction. Whereas the rest of the sermon, you can work from your bullet points, you want your introduction to be smooth and well-memorized. This will give you the comfort and confidence to relax and enjoy preaching the rest of your sermon.

For me, the above book was liberating, because one point that was made (by several of the preachers, as I recall) was "Look -- by not using a manuscript, you probably will drop something here or there. But it's okay. This gives you the freedom to include in things that just hit you there as you're preaching."

I am, first and foremost, a writer. Doing a sermon this way taught me the important lesson of "Get OVER yourself. Your words are not so precious that you can't lose a phrase here or there. It's about the lesson, it's about the stories, it's about the application. Using just the exact 'perfect' word is overrated."

My next step: to try using index cards or a very small notebook, so I can carry my main points (and any quotations) with me as I walk away from the pulpit. I felt like there was a bungee cord attaching me to the lectern, as I had to get back to it if I wanted to glance at my outline.

So ... have just preached 3 times in 6 days. Whoo-hoo! Early tomorrow am, I'm leaving on a jet plane to go get my career assessment.

Wonder what they'll tell me I should be when I grow up ...

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Uni-costal Preacher

Wednesday was a really good day.

My preaching professor had invited me to be the preacher at this week's Wednesday chapel at my seminary.

Fine enough, right? I mean, I preach all the time. Of course, I'd be preaching in Christian, which is my second language. No, actually, it's probably about 5th, after Ubbi Dubbi, Pagan, and French. Hubbi, mon magick ami!

But to make it more of a challenge, I've been pushing myself to preach sans manuscript. I had a one page outline on a lectern, but I mostly did the roaming preaching, walking down closer to the congregation.

And I preached fairly charismatic, as that's the most-spoken language of my classmates.

Sitting in the front row before going forward, it was a surprise when I got up and faced the audience to find that every professor and the school president were there. Manuscript! Manuscript!

No manuscript.

What a blast. Now this is the kind of roller coaster I could get into.

I received some really nice comments afterward, including one from my favorite professor, a soft-spoken man of few words, none of them hyperbole. "You were good," he said in that way that some people have that just has a particularly satisfying ring for all its simplicity.

So, a powerful affirmation of what I want to do.

(Next week I'll see the video and will come plummeting back to earth, but let me glide for now.)

What made it 100% good? I did not preach anything I did not believe wholeheartedly. I used some language not often heard in a UU church -- convicted, Holy Spirit, God, humility -- but it was all me, baby.

Me. The Uni-costal.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Scan-xiety scheduled

Okay, so, I have my super intensive Career Assessment/Head Shrinking on Nov. 9. One of the forms I had to fill in laid out several "issues" and asked what my current status was with them. Anxiety, fear, worry, stress, and some others.

To which, for each, I basically put, "Not a problem right now, but one week before scans, HOOOBOY!"

I phrased it a little different.

So, we just found out when scans are. Exactly one week after the career assessment.

Well. They can't say I didn't warn 'em.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Life Goes On

A year ago today, Little Warrior got her face painted, and played carnival games, and wore a costume, and trick or treated.

And then we left the hospital.

One year ago, she was completely bald, with no eyelashes or eyebrows, and so very skinny.

This year:


How is it possible that it was only one year ago? Surely it was at least 5.

My dad called tonight. My godfather died today from the flu. We are sad, but truth is, mentally he died a few years ago. A brilliant book man, talented musician, brought down by Parkinson's.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunrises, Interviews, and

So, lotsa stuff happening, everything braided, woven together. There are some people who can live more compartmentalized lives, but for me, it's all smooshed together in some way. So, like the book of Jeremiah (absolutely no order or rhythm):

* I finally had the long-awaited ministerial interview last week. This is normally one of your first steps toward ministry, but because Saturn was in the seventh house, and my minister was leaving the church right as I was beginning seminary and then of course we had cancer, and then I made an appointment, and then there was the recurrence, and then some other complications, and well, finally, I had the interview. And my interviewing minister was just a joy to talk to, even I wanted to turn the interview around and ask her a million questions. And she was far too nice in her assessment of me, but then, she doesn't know of my unnatural fondness of the word asshat. Shh. That'll be our little secret.

* Continuing to love my seminary classes. Have been asked to preach in chapel next week. A little skeered. But preaching on Isaiah 6:8. What's not to love? Bring me a burning coal, I need some lip gloss!

* The Halloween Party returned! Great time. Good food. Good friends. We had a duty to do 2 years worth of partying, and we did so admirably.

Okay, so there's the catching up. Interwoven in all of this is last year. I can't take a step without last year walking along with me. Halloween 08 was Little Warrior's last day of treatment for the recurrence. We had a big day in the hospital, then made it home in time for trick or treating.

She pulls on her pumpkin costume, the same one she wore last year. Now, she has a full head of hair, eyebrows, eyelashes. I see both of her.

I drove to school this morning. The sun was just coming up. Last year, so many mornings I watched the sun come up from our hospital room.

Same sun. Same Little Warrior. Same me. And yet, as the saying goes, you never step into the same river twice.

And it's all woven together.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not better, but different

I have written about this before: the proposition that having lived in the world of childhood cancer with my daughter, that I will be a better minister.

Almost as soon as she was diagnosed, some person made that point. "Gee," this person said, "I know this is absolutely awful, but ... (the significant pause of one who feels they are saying something profound) ... this will make you a better minister."

Well, piss on that, I thought at the time.

It's been a difficult thing for me to work my way through, as I had to get past my maternal emotions -- I don't want to benefit, or the world to benefit, in any way from my baby daughter getting cancer! -- and my confusion as I tried to reason it all out:

a) There was something deficient in you before that only childhood cancer could fix
b) A person who has experienced childhood cancer is inherently a better ministerial prospect than someone who hasn't

Both of which I reject.

And yet ... life gives us experiences. I don't believe they happen for a reason, but I do believe we should pay attention to all the accompanying lessons they bring.

Have I learned anything from my child having cancer twice? Um, 1097 lessons at last count.

You know how someone can say, or write, something very simple that puts it all in place? Well, of course you do. That's one of the beauties of our religion and a reason why I loved our old "Church of Myrtle" ads. (Wasn't it Myrtle? I can't remember her name.)

Anyway, the New York Times has an article today about M.D. Anderson cancer hospital. One of the patients they talk to is a doctor who had cancer. He debated this same concept, was he a better doctor for having had cancer?

“Then I realized I am not better, but I am a different doctor,”
he said.

And I thought, Yup.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Survivor

Or "Kids Understand More than You Think They Do."

Little Warrior is getting her memories back from when she was on treatment. She seemingly repressed them for about 6 months.

A week ago, she got in bed and cuddled with me. We talked about things we remembered from last Halloween, including a driveway party at our neighbor's. "And there were 2 ladies there who were cancer survivors," I reminded her. "A survivor is someone who survives cancer. Do you know what 'survive' means?" I didn't think she did, and planned on making some kind of "It's when you go through something difficult but you're okay later and ..." euphemistic statement.

No need. She looked me in the eye and said, "It means you don't die."

Four years old. And yet, a lot older.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Leaving and Returning

I went to Colorado last week, leaving behind The Husband, the munchkins, and my mother-in-love, who came up to watch all of them and do mountains of laundry, because that's just something she likes to do, and we are happy to oblige her by providing a Himalayas of laundry.

No, you can't have her.

The occasion was my father's 80th birthday. My family of origin all converged at my Successful, Elegant, Never Had Kids brother's house, with its sweeping views of Colorado Springs and distinct lack of clutter, fingerprints, or -- let's face it -- dirt.

It was a wonderful four days, filled with tall tales, family lore, and laughter. My dad's twin brothers came up for a day, adding another dimension to the experience, as the three of them told stories from their childhood.

And after childhood. They all went to the same college. Here's one from my Uncle Intellectual: "I remember going over to your Dad and Mom's apartment after school. We'd drink cognac and listen to Bolero and talk about art and literature." My Dad and his brothers were country boys from Shelby County in East Texas where such things were unheard of. How sophisticated they must have felt, just kids themselves, round about 1951, standing around a record player, sipping their cognac. Can't you just see it?

Every morning, I'd wake up to silence. No Thunder Cats with their elephantine feet pounding over the stairs. No children with their abnormally loud voices debating the merits of cereal vs. oatmeal. I'd slip out of my iron bed with the crisp sheets, tiptoe across the hand-scraped oak floor, and sit on a luxurious sofa, sipping my coffee, looking out at the quiet, peaceful morning.

Yesterday, my sister and I hopped a plane, sharing the first leg of her journey. For two hours, we barely drew a breath, as we dissected the visit, teared up at various points as we remembered certain tendernesses exchanged by my parents with us, and with each other, and caught up on each other's life.

I kissed her goodbye as I headed to baggage claim, and she to her flight home. Grabbed my bag, waited for The Husband, kissed him quickly under the watchful eye of the TSA agent directing traffic, and headed for home.

No one was in bed yet. Hugs and kisses all around. "Out of my whole trip, the best part was coming home to you," I said to each of them. And meant it.

"Mom! Mom! Mom!" a voice whispered urgently this morning at 6 am. I opened one eye. "Sookie (the cat) pooped on the couch in your office!" said the Princess. I gave her instructions for its disposal (the poop, not the cat, though that was tempting) and curled back into the Lizard Eater sized hollow in our mattress.

TAP TAP TAP. Someone is tapping on my forehead. It is Little Warrior. "I want to cuddle with you."

No, you can't have her.

She climbs next to me, wraps her arms around my neck, and falls fast asleep. Sleep is long gone for me, and I lie there, listening to her breath in my ear, and the thunder of cats without little fog feet and Bo Peep and the Boy discussing the superiority of cinnamon waffles to plain waffles and The Husband reminding The Princess to put away her violin and I know that I am home.

And I am glad.

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a cook."*

And as such, it affects how I think of things. Things like diversity.

I read that at this past General Assembly, "(Rev. Mark) Morrison-Reed believes we need to recapture what we had as children, before we had been taught racism, classism, and conformity all sorts, when we had a natural attraction to what seemed different or new."

I didn't hear the talk, as it wasn't posted online, but just that idea, of our natural attraction to what seems different or new, resonated with me and has stayed with me.

Chefs get this. A chef, looking for new ideas, will travel to another country. She is excited when she gets to taste something she's never had before. An explosion of inspiration.

Today, Rev. Sean is sharing an excerpt from Audre Lorde’s essay Sister Outsider. In it, she writes about viewing differences "as forces for change."

I am attracted to differences. If you have something in your life that makes you different than me, I want to know all about it. What was it like, growing up Dutch in a Houston suburb? What did your Jamaican mommy put in your lunch? Do you ever regret being mainstreamed with non-deaf students?

(That last is a question to my husband. And his answer is no. A story for another time.)

"People of a like mind." Sigh. I understand it. I've probably used it. Especially when you live in a larger community where the majority are your opposite in politics, in tolerance, and often, in values. In an area like that, a Unitarian Universalist church is a haven, a sanctuary.

The problem is when we want "people of a like mind" to be exactly like us. When we only want people with no children -- or only married-with-children. When we only want college-educated. When we only want atheists, or only want theists. Only vegetarians. Only non-smokers. Only Democrats. Only want those who will worship quietly, hands neatly folded. Only want those comfortable with linking hands and chanting.

Different is good. Different expands the choices. Different is richer, more complex.

If we have "different" in our congregations, we get to see that different isn't really that different. We get to see it as a benefit. New flavors. New experiences. And then we get to take that into the greater world, attracted to the differences. Not just tolerant. Not just accepting. Welcoming. Radically inclusive.

Now, there will always be those who view the new, the different, with mistrust. Going back to my earlier metaphor, the French chef, looking down his nose at anyone who ventures outside of Escoffier. They do not want their cuisine watered down by outside influences, their liturgy, their culture. Are there those French chefs among us, unwilling to make room amongst the NPR bumper-stickered Priuses for a pickup with a gun rack or a lowrider?

It's okay to want to be around people of a like mind. But on Sunday morning, let's limit that to religion. Ours. People who embrace continuous revelation, personal spiritual responsibility, and individual moral authority. Be they in their gimme cap, gypsy skirt, three piece suit, Star Trek tshirt. Carrying a drum, a tambourine, a Bible, or a bag of runes. Planning on lunch afterward at the sushi bar, the taqueria, or Mama's Sunday dinner.

And hey, if you go somewhere new, invite me, 'kay?


*C.B. Stubblefield, of Stubb's BBQ, where The Husband often filled his belly. back in college.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A quick note of appreciation

I must get back to blogging, as I'm having a backup of ideas that are making my head tight and my hat small. But not this week, as in addition to school, I'm having to rush through testing and the tons and tons of autobiographical writing you must do before your ministerial candidate career assessment. (Just between you and me, I have to confess that I am just sick of myself and ready to discuss something more interesting.)

But I did get to discuss you guys! I'm writing about my spiritual and faith development, and I just couldn't let that go by without talking about being a member of the UU blog community. I know I've written before about how appreciative I am for all youse guys, but I don't know that I've written about how you have added to my development of each. Reading y'all's blogs, thinking of your ideas, arguing back and forth and over there and over here as things pinged around the UU-blogosphere ... it has had a big influence on me. There is a tremendous honesty in our blogs -- we open ourselves up, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

Thank you for sharing your ideas.

Thank you for sharing your feelings.

Thank you for sharing your beliefs.

Thank you for sharing your lives, your dreams, your beliefs.

Thank you for sharing you.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Flashback to Summer, and being a Texan

My friend the Hysteric Cleric posted on Facebook an article Molly Ivins wrote about Texas. That made me remember that this summer, on the road to New Mexico, I'd scribbled some stuff. So here it is.

Saturday, June 27, 2009 3:02 pm

We are in the panhandle of Texas. We left our house at 6:15 am. Planned on stopping at an interesting café in Fort Worth, but we made such good time, we weren’t yet in the mood for lunch. Went a little further, til we go to Decatur and saw a Chicken Express. Loaded up on their marinated chicken strips and fried okra and ate it on the road.

Every person I’ve met who was a kid in south or coastal Texas has memories of road trips that always began with the first day of travel being get out of Texas. You drive and drive and drive, and you’re still in Texas.

My parents were – and are – frugal. When we took a vacation, we’d get up early in the morning and hit the road. I can see Mom, once we got out on the highway, carefully holding mugs over the floor in front of her feet, leaning over to pour hot coffee for her and Daddy. At lunch time, we’d stop at a rest area, and Mama would pull out a red and white flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth and we’d sit at a table eating pimento cheese sandwiches from the cooler and maybe some potato chips.

This morning, The Husband and I stopped at Starbucks first thing, then picked up the fried chicken. We need to take a page from my parents’ book.

It’s funny, the things that you remember as a kid. Comic books and chocolate pop-tarts. Those are two of the things I remember. Junk food for the brain and tummy, and the only time they were allowed was on vacation. They’d let me get a couple of comic books to take in the car – I usually chose Archie or Richie Rich. And we always stayed at a kitchenette, so we didn’t have to eat out. The kitchenettes would usually have a toaster (we didn’t have one at home), and Mom would let me have a box of pop-tarts.

We passed through a little town here a ways back, and in the parking lot of a used car dealership, there was a big tarp set up, with people sitting in folding chairs underneath. A big banner identified it: “Holy Ghost Revival.” I begged The Husband to turn around and go back, but he wouldn’t.

Texas Culture is written deeply in my soul. And I mean real Texas culture.

George W. Bush. Not a real Texan.

On my mother’s side, generation after generation were Texans, on back to the Texas Republic. Real Texas culture is very egalitarian because living out in the west, you didn’t have the clear cut definitions between what was women’s work and what was men’s work. Ranching and farming required the whole family. More recently, during the Depression, it took everyone’s help just to survive. My great-grandmother took in boarders, during WWII, my grandfather helped build the POW camps.

I don’t mean to romanticize. There was some ugly stuff about the early Texans, especially the Texas Rangers, and what they’d do in Mexico. Or the origin of Juneteenth.

I don’t say that I’m “proud” to be a Texan, anymore than I’m ashamed to be a Texan. It simply is a big part of who I am. It’s in the stories I heard, growing up. It’s in the food that I eat. It’s in my heroes, like Molly Ivins, Liz Carpenter, Ann Richards. It’s in the fact that for me, the plural of “you” is “y’all.” And paying for AAA, which I do, is really kind of silly, because everyone knows that if you get a flat, there’ll be a big pickup coming along in just a few minutes filled with three good ole boys who’ll get your tire changed r’at away. And with an “it was our pleasure, ma’am,” they’ll be gone.

Don’t be fooled by the Rick Perrys of my state. Sure, there’s provincial knuckle-heads in my state. I have yet to find a state that is knuckle-head free.

We are further in the panhandle now. Every here and there, you see a house out on the prairie, ringed with trees to protect it from the constant dust storms.

I haven’t seen the camels yet.

Many a traveler through here has done double and triple takes, as they’ve spotted, amongst the cattle ranches, a herd of camels grazing. They’re wild camels. No, really. Several decades ago, some one got the bright idea of bringing camels over. Similar climate and all, thought they might work better than horses or burros.

Well, it turns out that though camels are real good at carrying their own water, they just stink at herding cows. The cowboys probably found them less comfortable than their ponies, too. So they were left to fend for themselves, and did okay at it, mating and continuing on just fine. So every now and then, you’ll see them wandering around.

One of the things that’s kinda interesting about Texas is the West-East difference. See, if you’re in East Texas, you’re in the South. Accents are more akin to Mississippi – the food and attitudes, too. Nothing spicy here, but you’ll have collard greens and black-eyed peas, cornbread, and hominy grits. Boiled peanuts. Cotillions and southern belles.

West Texas, well, now, you’re in the West. Cowboys and cowgirls, honky-tonks and Mexican food. Tex-Mex.

My dad sums it up well. He said that you could always tell if someone was from East Texas or West Texas by asking what they did with the hog’s head. East Texas, they made souse, also called hog’s-head cheese. West Texas, they made tamales.

Seems to me, West Texas was always a lot more “live and let live.” In the piney woods of East Texas, you had more racism – racism against anyone not white. Black, Mexican, “other.”

West Texas, people were more spread out and there was more of a need for everyone’s help. My second-cousin, a grizzled, crusty and shy old fellow, was a cowboy, and it was from working ranches with other cowboys that he learned how to cook cabrito, mountain oysters, and sugar pickled onions. The other ranch hands were Mexican, black, white. And I am not oversimplifying when I tell you that when you see a bunch of 60 year old cowboys, who have worked out in the hot sun their whole lives, they all pretty much look to be the same race.

We’re in Amarillo now. Been seeing the billboards for the last three hours advertising the big ole tourist trap steakhouse. Literally three hours plus. The signs will tell you, “Three Hours to the Big Texan! Tour buses welcome!”

We’ll pass. We ain’t tourists.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Check In

There will be nothing poetic or even vaguely inspirational about this post. It's a simple check-in for our home viewers. (And if you haven't checked in lately, drop me a line down in comments, willya, and let me know what's going on in your life?)

* I finally rescheduled that ministerial interview. Oct. 23.
* Which is the day before the Big Mondo Halloween Party. And we've got to party like we missed a year. Because, you know, we did.
* And I have my Career Assessment set up for November. 2 days before my Big Fat Old Testament Midterm.
* Also in November: scans.

Loving my classes. Family doing great. Little Warrior doing great. A little crazy, what with preaching, school, trying to become a candidate stuff and hey, did I mention the 4 kids?

(And did I mention that I truly am married to the most amazing partner?)

But all good stuff.

Classify THESE as good times.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Listening Bead

I have been doing a prayer bead practice, based on the one outlined by Erik Walker Wikstrom in Simply Pray. I enjoy it; it's a good way for a monkey-mind like me to keep my thoughts organized, or at least to have a way to bring me back to what I was concentrating on.

Today, I was at the third topical bead, that of "Listening." I sat in silence, relaxing, receptive, listening ...

Mahnamanah
Do-do-do-do-do!

This was not a flight of fancy from my fluttering focus. This was my four year old. Mahnamanah, she trilled, downstairs.

Focus. Relax. Listen above and below.

Thump thump thump. Little Warrior is coming up the stairs.

Can I pray with you? she asks.

Yes. I settle her on my lap. We take breaths together.

"When I breathe in, I breathe in peace ..."

Mama, I'm going to hold the beads for you, okay?

"Yes. When I breathe out, I breathe out--"

Mama, is it this bead?

"Yes. Now take a deep breath with me," I instruct her. She obeys, puffing out her cheeks.

"When I breathe in--"

Mama, is it 4 more times?

"Um, I think so. Yes."

"When I breathe in--"

Mama, can I have a sip of your coffee?

"Let's skip listening and go to who we want to pray for."


There are sages alone on a mountain top meditating in silence. There are seminarians who are full scale in divinity school, living, eating, and sleeping at their school. Sometimes I envy them, no need for balance, the opportunity to be completely immersed in this challenging, exciting world of religious philosophy.

Well, my path is a little different. It merges with the paths of others for whom I am responsible. More than a braid, this path is macrame, like that owl decoration your aunt had in her living room in the 70's.

You know. The one with the beads.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What will turning out The Light mean to Broadway?

I'll admit it. I was a soap watcher. My grandmother watched Guiding Light, my mother watched Guiding Light, and after getting hooked on it the summer I was 16 and down with mono, I watched it.

Oh, how I groaned at the absurd stories. How I would take breaks from it, vowing never to watch again, only to take a glimpse one day and be hooked anew. During college, I missed it during the year, but would catch it in the summer, watching it before going in to my restaurant job. After college, I would tape it on the VCR, watching it at night. Even The Husband got a little hooked, though he won't admit it.

But soaps are expensive to produce and it didn't have enough viewers, a refrain I predict will continue until "then there were none."

But today, as the curtain drops on Guiding Light, I wonder what this will mean for Broadway. GL was one of three New York based soaps. They drew in professional stage actors who wanted a steady paycheck, and fed them back to the stage, as the actors took leaves of absence from the soap in order to star in a play. For young actors, they were the ultimate summer stock, grooming them for the stage.

Soaps have been this quietly subversive force in our culture. Amidst all the multiple divorces, far-out story lines, people coming back from the dead, there were story lines about AIDS, abortion, homosexuality. This wasn't HBO. These were shows playing to middle-American housewives.

Goodbye Otalia, the Four Musketeers, Nick, Dolly. Goodbye to the marvelous scenery-chewing Buzz. Goodbye Cedars. And the Bauer barbecue.

Goodbye Old Friend.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fave UU preachers (with podcasts)?

Okay, friends. I have my handful of podcasts by my favorite preachers* that I listen to religiously (yuk yuk). They go with me on my commute to and from seminary and take long walks with me at the gym.

But I need more. Feed me, Seymour!

Who are your favorites? Who should I add to my podcast subscription list?

*my favorite preachers who provide podcasts. Ahem, yes, I'm looking at YOU, you know who you are, now start putting podcasts of your sermons up, please.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Evil

Reverend Erik Walker Wikstrom addresses some of the things I am struggling with on the subject of evil. Go read it; it's good.

The topic of evil was already rumbling around in my head, but now, today, September 11th, of course it is front and center.

I don't believe in Original Sin, I do not believe we are born evil. Boy, those who compiled our high school reading list certainly did ... A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies ... bah.

And yet.

What is this antagonism in so many of us? And I include myself in that 'us.'

Rev. Tamara Lebak, Associate Minister, All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, gave a great sermon August 30, titled Conversation That Matters. Another good one to go check out. She talks about our instincts about others, about how rarely we assume good intentions on the part of someone else.

There is a big difference between thinking and acting. Yes, I agree.

The Husband and I were talking about this last week. Do you think Pure Evil exists? he asked. In the person of another? I clarified. Yes, he said.

I don't think that I do. There always seems to be some tiny fraction of a person's soul that still houses something besides evil.

Whenever I think of evil, I think of Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green. Ruth, the maid and mother figure to Patty, says something along the lines of yes, Hitler was evil, but would he beat his own daughter? And yes, your father (who beats you) is evil, but would he cause the extermination of millions of Jews?

There is a big difference between thinking and acting. Yes, yes, I agree.

And yet.

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions." -- author unverified

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said yeah, you know that you're not supposed to murder. But guess what? If you are angry at someone, you will also be judged.

Searching for the roots of evil.

In that context, it is difficult for me to let myself off the hook for my knee-jerk jealousies, antagonism, suspicions, and all around lack of assuming good intentions.

This eye looks with love
This eye looks with judgment
Free me take the sight out of this eye.
-- This Eye, Edie Brickell and New Bohemians