Monday, August 18, 2014

Break on Through to the Other Side

VoilĂ ! Doors from Italy and Ireland. We were struck, especially in Tuscany, by how much effort people put into the way their front door looked. In those tiny ancient towns, there's no room for a garden or a lawn, so I guess a front door is all you've got. If you're on a slow connection, either skip this one or start it up and go get a cup of coffee while it loads.

I don't know what that little iron house is but it is so cool--the lock? a mailbox?

Doors of the Duomo in Florence

Side door of St. Peter's in Rome, with conveniently located brightly-uniformed Swiss Guard

Front Door (one of several) at St. Peter's. This one is blocked shut and won't reopen
until the next jubilee year which I think is 2025??

#7 Eccles Street, the address where Leopold and Molly Bloom lived
(characters from Ulysses). The door was rescued when the building was converted to a
business and it now resides at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin.

Door into Newgrange, an ancient tomb located about 40 minutes outside Dublin

Sunday, August 17, 2014

looking ahead

Hi, gentle readers. You can't possibly know how much your loyalty and support have meant to me over the past few years. It's not much of a stretch to say that having this space to talk about what I'm thinking has saved my life a time or two. I'm more grateful than I can say.

But for the past several months, I've had the distinct feeling that I'm done with this blog. I'd be on the verge of shutting it down, then some more post ideas would occur to me, and I'd keep going. But that "done" feeling never went away.

I could still do that. I could still write the post about things I've learned about travel over the years, or what we saw in Italy, or how being in Dublin made me practically vibrate with resonances with Ulysses, or the books I read this summer (Me Before You, thumbs up, The Rosie Project, thumbs up, A Thousand Days in Venice, meh, plus a few others). But I'm pretty sure the bottom line is: we're done here.

I can't imagine that I'm done blogging, because I enjoy it too much. Maybe I just need a break. I'll post the doors pictures from our trip after this, and then we'll see what happens. Probably in a few months I'll start up a new blog, maybe over on WordPress so I can have a bit more flexibility in how it's set up. I'll post here and let you know when I get it figured out.

Love and hugs and thanks for hanging with me on my journey.

Blecch. It's making me practically nauseated to post this. But I know it's the right thing, so I can move on to the next thing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

a light unto my path, but not a laser beam

I spent the 4th of July weekend in East Texas with my beloved family. My aunt and my older sister threw a party for my uncle's 80th birthday, and just about all of his kids, grandkids, nieces and their families arrived for the occasion. There were about 40 of us, and we had a wonderful time.

I was there for four days, including a Sunday, so of course we went to church. It was a little odd. About halfway through the service I realized I was clenching my jaw so hard that it hurt. I made myself relax but I've been thinking (of course). The whole Evangelical mindset is so firmly embedded in that culture. The town where my mom and my sister live is right in the middle of the Bible belt, and there's not much room for alternative views.

It's the most bizarre feeling--on the one hand, I don't feel at home anywhere in the world like I do in that particular region of the country and with that particular group of people (who don't all live in East Texas, but they are all family). The combination of those people in that place left me feeling at home and accepted in a way that I haven't in a long time.

But on the other hand, I completely and utterly don't fit in. If we sat down and talked theology--which is supremely important to almost everyone there, we are a group that approaches our faith through the intellect--even though I and a few of others would be fascinated to hash it all out, the strict evangelicals among us would be horrified to find out that we don't all agree. At least a few of them would not be OK with what I believe these days, how I think. (although perhaps they wouldn't be as surprised as I think they would be.) There are many things that are absolutely non-negotiable for them that have been untrue in my mind for decades. And to be fair, that I don't believe that way any more is non-negotiable for me.

It's a bit depressing. Evangelicals think they are completely and utterly wedded to the idea of the Bible as the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit and thus just as applicable to you and me today as it was when it was written. Really they are just completely and utterly wedded to the way they have been taught to think about the Bible. The Bible contains and yields myriad interpretations. wait--stop. I should re-word that and say that they way I used to think about the Bible was more about how I had been taught than anything else. I can't speak to what's going on in anyone else's mind.

So restricting this to my own changes: I don't believe in the inerrant, absolutely authoritative Bible anymore, but it was a long journey. I started out slowly thirty years ago--first recognizing some of the Bible's obvious contradictions and repetitions, then learning more about the historical context, then starting to see how my reading had been slanted by certain assumptions that were based in Evangelical sub-culture rather than any ultimate truth. Finally I've come to see it as a huge, sprawling, colorful, fascinating, inspiring book of wisdom and spiritual advice, entirely worth studying, but not authoritative in the way that I used to think it was. It wasn't written to me, it was written to the Hebrews, the Corinthians, the Christians in Rome, the Galatians.

But it was a scary trip, leaving that traditional, ingrained view of the Bible behind. I was several years into it before I could say with any confidence that I was OK with my new point of view. Now I can say that the further away I am from that old way of seeing scripture, the more irrelevant that it seems to me.

From my current point of view, the way I used to read the Bible seems almost like idolatry--worshiping words on a page instead of the living God. A living relationship with the Divine Being is completely different than measuring my thoughts and actions against words written a couple of thousand years ago in another time and place. I've been trying to think of an analogy--maybe this: if you found a box of your grandparents' letters written over the course of their long marriage, you might find them inspiring and moving and instructive for your own marriage, but it wouldn't even occur to you to worry about disregarding things that were no longer applicable to your own time and situation.

But that would be completely wrong to most Evangelicals. That belief in the universal, absolute authority of Scripture is the cornerstone, the bedrock of their belief system. For most of them, it's non-negotiable.

There are some beautiful things about that. Many Evangelicals take the study of scripture very seriously, which means they have ready familiarity with some of the greatest wisdom literature ever written. I'm the direct benefactor of that one--I passed my first Master's written exam back in 1985 in no small part because there were 4 (out of 15) questions in the short answer section that were about the Bible. I knew the answers without even thinking, while others of my classmates were despairing afterward (who the hell are Ruth and Naomi?).

Also, Evangelicals' sincerity, faithfulness, and devotion are rare in a culture that more and more tells us we should just do whatever we want, believe whatever we want, be cynical about anything other than cycnicism.

But even though I see things to admire, I can't go there anymore. It just doesn't make sense to me, and as I've said a gazillion times before, I can't agree with their opinions about many issues.

That's all. We have company coming (yay!!) for the next two weeks, and the day they leave, we are headed to Italy, so it will probably be a month or more before I post again. Hope you are all enjoying summer.

Friday, July 11, 2014

reading report: too much time on the plane

Remember "the next post" mentioned in the previous post? This isn't it. Still mulling that one.

In other news, you may have missed it in the comments a few weeks ago, but Laurel recommended a novel called Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, particularly for those who are planning a trip to Italy. It is perfect for that purpose, but it's also the best book I've read in years, so go find a copy of it even if you aren't headed to Italy. I tried to read it not long after it came out and never made it past the first chapter. Maybe because Walter's description of Pasquale, a young Italian who has recently inherited the Hotel Adequate View, felt motivated by pity. I've had my fill of novels about poor, victimized, wounded people, how they got that way, and why they will never rise above it. But Laurel recommended it highly, so I persevered. For which I am grateful, because Pasquale turns out to be a wonderful character, the heart and soul of the novel--and he does rise above his circumstances, although in a much more interesting way than I would have predicted. It is a terrific book, warm-hearted and generous, beautifully written, often funny.

This is starting to sound like an overblown description of wine (woody and fruity with a sexy nose and overtones of toasty oak). Just go find it. It's about Hollywood, movies and movie stars, a tiny albergo on the coast of Italy, the sometimes surprising nature of true love, selling your soul (or refusing to), Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, and the Donner party. Can't miss, right? I think I'm going to read it over again, because if it has a flaw, it's that there are lots of things going on and I'm sure I missed some of them.

On the return trip, both of my flights were delayed, so I ended up with plenty of time to read. Tawna Fenske's third novel, Frisky Business, turned out to be the perfect antidote. I've followed Tawna's blog for a long time, so I feel like she's a friend, although I've never met her and she has no idea who I am. She just gets better and better. This one, the story of a woman who takes over as director of development at a non-profit in Bend, Oregon, is just about the perfect romantic comedy--amusing, fizzy-light, but intelligently written with some worthwhile insights into people and their motivations. (see? like a wine description again.) I just wish she'd slow down a little and trust her story more, because it felt a bit rushed at times. Fun read, though, and if you're stuck on a plane circling Minneapolis for 45 minutes waiting for a thunderstorm to move through, you'll be just as grateful for it as I was.

And that's all the news from here. It's hot as heck here and since we don't have A/C, that makes things a bit miserable. But we've got fans and we're headed out to the lake this weekend to swim. Hard to complain, because that's what summer's all about, right?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

odds and ends: no, really, this one is odds and ends

See the next post for why I'm doing this, but here are several half-written posts that have been sitting in my "drafts" folder for awhile now.
Some word pairs that were going to be in a future Words on Wednesday post:
-hoard (a verb, meaning to save stuff up, usually a bit excessively) and horde (a noun meaning a group of people, usually used pejoratively to describe a mob or a dangerous, threatening group)
-prostrate (an adjective meaning lying down, prone; or a verb meaning to lie down)(which, for those of us who grew up going to too much church, immediately calls to mind "let angels prostrate fall") and prostate, which is a gland of the male reproductive system.
-seminary which is a school, usually for preparation for a career as a minister or rabbi (but not always, it is also an old-fashioned word for schools for young women) and cemetery, which is a place where people are buried.
-cavalry (a horse-mounted military unit) and Calvary (the hill where it is traditionally believed Jesus was crucified)

I've been feeling at loose ends lately. For a long time, school was my motivator--getting papers written, making decent grades, writing that damn thesis. Then I was recovering school, and then I had those classes to prepare for. But for the past couple of months, I've been adrift. Entirely too busy doing various different things, but I felt adrift, because I was just doing whatever was next on my to-do list.

So, and I hope you will be able to laugh with me about this, when Rick Warren's uber-bestselling The Purpose-Driven Life showed up on my recommendations feed at Amazon, on a whim, I thought why not? And if I'm going to do it, I might as well do it right. So I've actually been following directions. I read a chapter every morning. I started on May 1st.

I've joined the ranks of millions--for awhile there, just about everybody in our small town was in a PDL group. I hate being part of the crowd. I'm doing it ten years later than everybody else, but still it is a cliche before I even start talking about the book.

But you know, I have to confess. Even though there were times I was so mad or conflicted about what he was saying that I had to put the book down, he asks good questions, and he makes some good points. He has inspired me to think, and of course it has also helped me wade through some further layers of Dealing With My Past. Reading it was good timing. Even when I disagreed with him--and I often did--it was still good food for thought.

I realized something while reading PDL, though. I think I am done with my obsessive reading of Evangelical books. I've been doing it off and on for years now under the guise of "dealing with my past," and it occurred to me as I was reading the last 30 or 40 pages of PDL that I'm done with that. Not dealing with my past--I don't think you ever entirely get over that--but I'm done with mining Evangelical authors to get there. I think it's time to move on to reading more progressive authors, authors who can help me look forward instead of looking back. I'll let you know what I find. (And if you have any recommendations, pass them along.)

After a discussion with a friend, I've been thinking about spiritual boldness. I think it's under-appreciated.

Job is the best example. Job loses everything because of what is essentially a wager between God and Satan. He is outraged that the God he loves and trusts would treat him so badly. He sits upon his ash-heap and laments loudly, questioning God's fairness. Some of his friends join him, telling him all the standard platitudes about how God is bigger than we are, we can't understand God's design, we have to trust God no matter what. But Job is hurt and angry and he continues to pour out his frustration.

Eventually at the end, God appears to Job in a whirlwind. He tells Job basically the same thing his friends have been telling him--you are a human peon, you are nothing compared to God. But this time Job gets it. He experiences the hugeness of God and he finally understands. At the end, God rewards not the friends, but Job. God didn't want the platitudes, the easy answers given by the friends. God respects Job because Job was honest. He didn't pretend to say something he couldn't mean. He expressed his anger and his frustration, and he didn't turn away. He kept going until he understood, until he found answers that satisfied him down to his core, not just the glib theology. Even though the glib theology turned out to be pretty much the same thing as the real answer.

And Job isn't the only one. Time and again Moses stood before God and questioned his decisions or demanded that God act. David sinned hugely and yet in Psalm 51, he bares his heart before God and is forgiven. Peter stumbles and screws up and denies Jesus, but he is the cornerstone of the church.

It's clear God doesn't want us to go through our lives doing the right thing out of habit. God doesn't want robots. It isn't going to hurt God's feelings if we're honest and say exactly what we think.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

in which I do not use my words

Since I seem to have nothing to say these days, I thought I would pass along some things I've read recently that have made me think. I'm not a huge fan of inspirational quotes, because so often when you pull things out of context, you lose much of their meaning. Also, it starts to sound like you're designing those idiotic inspirational posters. But, like I said, I got nothin' these days, so here you go.

Brene Brown, in Daring Greatly, on the value of allowing yourself to be vulnerable: "Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it's understanding the necessity of both; it's engaging. It's being all in. Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection."

Jim Palmer, in Notes From (Over) the Edge: "When are you going to stop taking cues from others about what you should be and do in life? When are you going to stop denying your authentic self to satisfy the expectations and scripts others have put on you? When are you going to start listening to that voice inside you? When are you going to start trusting your own internal guidance system? When is the violation of your true self going to be a bigger violation than displeasing others?"

Bob Goff, in Love Does: "There is only one invitation it would kill me to refuse, yet I'm tempted to turn it down all the time. I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of complete engagement.... It doesn't come in an envelope. It's ushered in by a sunrise.... It's the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but I've seen plenty of people turn down an invitation to fully live."

Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance: "The belief that we are deficient and unworthy makes it difficult to trust that we are truly loved. Many of us live with an undercurrent of depression or hopelessness about ever feeling close to other people. We fear that if they realize we are boring or stupid, selfish or insecure, they'll reject us....We yearn for an unquestioned experience of belonging, to feel at home with ourselves and others, at ease and fully accepted. But the trance of unworthiness keeps the sweetness of belonging out of reach."

Tara Brach also tells the story of Ed Brown, a Zen teacher who is also a cook. Early in his career as a cook, he spent considerable time and effort in trying to create a biscuit recipe that measured up to his memories of the biscuits he loved as a child. Until one day he realized that this remembered perfection was actually Pillsbury biscuits that popped out of a can. His biscuit recipe was just fine, once he realized that his standards had been shaped by forces he no longer wished to support. Moments like that one, Ed Brown says, "can be so stunning, so liberating, these moments when you realize your life is just fine as it is, thank you. Only the insidious comparison to a beautifully prepared, beautifully packaged product made it seem insufficient. Trying to produce a biscuit--a life--with no dirty bowls, no messy feelings, no depression, no anger was so frustrating. Then savoring, actually tasting the present moment of experience--how much more complex and multifaceted."

What words are inspiring you these days?

Friday, June 06, 2014

odds and ends: I got two hands, one beating heart

1. PellMel finished her first year of medical school a couple of weeks ago, was home for a week, and then took off again to do a month-long rotation at a rural clinic. She is so excited about the stuff she's learning, it's infectious--even I got excited when she called to tell us about her first experience with a cardioversion yesterday (which is the thing you see on TV all the time where they yell CLEAR and then jolt the patient with paddles, but apparently that's not the way it's done anymore. It is more civilized now. But they still say CLEAR.). MadMax is done on Monday. Their school has a long-time policy of allowing those with less than two absences during the semester to skip end-of-semester finals. Apparently, it cut absences by some outrageous amount when they first started it (60%?? something like that), but over the years it has been less and less effective. So they are changing it next year so that everybody has to take finals again. But for one last time, MadMax gets to skip exams. Summer is about to begin.

2. Reading Report: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. This is one of those books that if you think about it too much, it starts to fall apart. But if you just read it and let it be, loved it. Louisa Clark loses her beloved job at a cafe when it closes and must find something else. When she reluctantly takes a job as caregiver to a quadriplegic, she never expects it to change her life. But it does.

3. Our chickens got sick. We have northern fowl mites, apparently. I feel terrible, because we let it get really bad before we realized what was happening. We've done the initial treatment and they are already much better, but we aren't getting many eggs. I might have to buy a dozen eggs, for the first time in two years.

4. I caved into the pressure. I'm trying gluten-free for one week. I'm embarrassed to even admit it, because it seems like such a food fad, one of those things everybody is doing this year and by next year we will have moved on to something else. But a) I do know some people (including one of my sisters) for whom it has solved a myriad of health problems, and b) this way when yet another person tells me I should try being gluten-free, I will be able to tell them that I DID try it. You can probably tell that I'm not expecting much, but I will let you know.

5. So I don't think I"ve told you we're going to Italy this summer. Dean's dad has rented a villa in Tuscany for July and August, and how in the world were we going to resist that? We'll be there for five days, with stops in Florence, Cinque Terre, Rome, and Dublin smooshed on to either end for two weeks total. (yes, I did say Dublin. It's a long story.) I promise pictures on our return, but not too many of them. Any ideas for a theme? I did doors last time. Maybe I'll just do doors again, because those were some really cool pictures.

6. Amazon vs. Hachette. Clearly I don't know the full story here. Probably none of us do. You can't paint Hachette as the little guy being crushed by the giant, because Hachette is huge publishing firm that has done its own share of crushing. And also, I'm not giving up Amazon. I live in a small town in Northwestern Montana. Without Amazon, I would be.... oh, there are so many things I love about Amazon, and some of them have nothing to do with buying things. I read reviews there all the time, even when I end up buying somewhere else. You have to take the reviews with a grain of salt, of course, because you never know when a review might be a plant, but still I can generally figure out what I want to know.

But in this instance Amazon is wrong. Just sayin. For the time being, I'm shopping elsewhere. And for the love of Mike, why can't we get Stephen Colbert and Sherman Alexie together more often? (see video below, if I embedded the code correctly.) If you can swing it in your book budget, go to Powell's website and buy California. (watch the video to understand why.) I adore Powell's anyway. If I lived in Portland, I would be there every day.

7. We have been blessed with the most beautiful spring I can remember. It took a long time to get here, but it has been gorgeous. I'm saying that now, because June is often the rainiest month of the year and and we're just getting started on June. I'm getting off to enjoy it while I can. Hugs to everybody and have a great weekend.

Friday, May 30, 2014

in which I confess to nothing

I have three half-written posts in my drafts folder right now, and another one in my head. They sound fascinating in my head before I sit down to write them, but when I am actually in front of the keyboard, they disappear. I think I'm going through my midlife crisis, and as I say that, I think I remember telling you that before. HA. I just went and did a search and it was back in 2007. Apparently I'm having a seven-year midlife crisis.

Anyway. Every time I start working on a post, it turns into a whiny, navel-gazing bore-fest. Even the few I've posted in the last six weeks have had that screechy scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel feel. So I'm sparing you. I will tell you two things, though.

One is that I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which is the mega-best-selling story of her trek along the Pacific Crest Trail back in the mid-90s. Her writing style sucked me right in. I couldn't put it down. But it's also pretty odd. I'm not sure I'd recommend it. It just wasn't very believable--not that I doubt that she's telling the truth (I have no way of knowing), but anybody who has tried to write non-fiction knows that just because something "really happened" doesn't mean it needs to go in your narrative. One small example: practically every man she met on the trail was handsome. Maybe they really were, but it makes her seem shallow and silly to say that every time a new man shows up.

Also, I find it difficult to relate to people who have had a lot of experience with heavy-duty drug use. It's just so far outside my experience that I can't understand it. Which probably makes me sound like the ultimate prude, but so be it. I want them to get over it and then feel bad about their experiences, then make the standard anti-drug lectures based on what they've learned, but it doesn't seem to happen that way. For some, it just seems to have been a necessary phase of their growing up.

Anyway. Reading it did seem to be just what I needed, though, because I'd picked up two or three fiction books in the week previous and hadn't been able to get absorbed in any of them. So I'm grateful to her for that, at least. Wild is very entertaining. Read at your own risk.

I have now started out two paragraphs of this post with the word "Anyway," and edited it out of another sentence. Which is probably about how I talk in real life, so now you know.

Anyway. (sorry, couldn't resist.) Here is the second thing: Yesterday was our 30th anniversary. Woot! You know he's a pretty special guy if he's put up with my nonsense for that long. Since we already took that trip back in March, we just went out to dinner last night, but it was pretty nice.

And speaking of time flying by, we're just a couple of days away from June. At the moment, I can't imagine that I will have anything else to tell you for quite awhile, but every time I think that, I come up with something new to post about, so who knows. Have a nice weekend.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Food on Friday: Not-so-sweet treats

Remember when I gave up sweets for Lent? It went so well that I decided that for the most part I should just cut out sweets altogether. For the most part, I have. I haven't been a saint about it--I had chocolate covered strawberries at a party last week, and there may have been some ice cream once or twice. But really, I'm finding that I don't need sweets.

Except sometimes. Sometimes you just need to indulge. So I've been scouting around looking for recipes that are relatively healthy sweet things for those moments. Not necessarily low-calorie, but sweets that have some nutritional value so I'm not just downing empty calories. I have several, but I'm just giving you two today. They're based on recipes in Alicia Silverstone's cookbook The Kind Diet, which actually has a lot of cool ideas in it. She's vegetarian all the time, vegan most of the time, and some sort of raw-macrobiotic combination sometimes, too. Since we are none of those things, I didn't think I'd find much in her cookbook that was useful, but it's good. She's a pretty creative cook, and although she clearly has strong opinions about food, she's not preachy. Just enthusiastic.

Aside: have I ever told you about my love of cookbooks? Maybe not. I love to read cookbooks. I have an astonishing number of cookbooks for someone who doesn't really cook all that much. And also I check them out of the library--our tiny library has hundreds of cookbooks. But I'm not a recipe follower. I modify recipes to fit what we have on hand, and also to fit what I know we like. The cookbooks just give me ideas for different things to do other than my standard six recipes that I make all the time.

(This is based on a recipe from The Kind Diet, but practically every vegetarian cookbook has a version of these, sometimes called power balls or protein balls. Feel free to experiment and use what you have on hand.)

1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
3-4 tablespoons cocoa powder (dutch process or regular, doesn't matter)
3/8 cup maple syrup (3/4 of a 1/2-cup measure)
1/2 cup almond or peanut butter
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t salt
optional: unsweetened coconut or chopped nuts

Pulse the walnuts in the food processor 5 or 6 times for 2 seconds. Add the dates and continue to pulse another 5-6 times. Add the remaining ingredients (except optional coconut and chopped nuts) and process until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be really sticky, so spray your hands with Pam and then form it into balls about an inch in diameter. Roll in coconut or chopped nuts if you like. Freeze until firm. Alicia says you can eat them straight from the freezer, but I keep them in the fridge. These are pretty astonishingly fudgy, and sometimes that is exactly what I need.

(This is also based on a recipe from The Kind Diet, but when I made them following her instructions, they came out a sloppy mess-- you had to eat them with a spoon. Which isn't exactly a tragedy, I know--dang, gooey chocolate and peanut butter-- but sometimes you want to be able to transport them without having them fall apart. So I changed it up a bit, and I actually like this version better. These are not nearly as sweet as their orange-and-yellow packaged counterparts, but they are more satisfying.)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or Earth Balance
      (Earth Balance is vegan "butter" and it's actually pretty useful stuff)
3/4 cup peanut or almond butter, crunchy or smooth
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup brown rice crisps or Rice Krispies
     (brown rice crisps are the whole grain version of rice krispies)
1/4 cup maple sugar or brown sugar

Optional Topping:
1 cup chocolate chips
1/4 milk (any kind)
extra chopped nuts (peanuts or almonds)

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or use silicon muffin cups. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, maple or brown sugar, and rice crisps. Spoon about two tablespoons into each muffin cup. If you want the chocolate topping, melt the chocolate chips with the milk and spoon a tablespoon or two of the melted chocolate over the peanut butter mixture in the muffin cups. Top with chopped nuts if desired. Refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Ingredient of the Week: The brown rice crisps are pretty cool. They're the whole grain version of Rice Krispies, so they have more fiber and more nutrients. The brand I can get at my grocery store is Barbara's (nice name, yes?), and you can swap them out anywhere you would use Rice Krispies. I've never been a fan of the marshmallow Rice Krispie treats (marshmallow = blecch), but at least this would make them slightly healthier.  But you could also go with the theory that marshmallow Rice Krispie treats are a hallowed tradition of childhood and you just can't mess with them. They're not supposed to be healthy.

I have a few more like these, but this has gone on long enough. Maybe I'll do more another time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

the post menopause post

I thought about calling this post "Ladies Only" but I figure putting the word "menopause" in the post title has done the work for me, and my three male readers have already run for their lives. So here we are.

I've been reading online a bit recently about menopause trying to figure out exactly where I am. Technically speaking, the bad part of menopause is actually peri-menopause, the months or years leading up to menopause, when you can be *smirk* swamped with heavy, unpredictable, long periods, hot flashes, irritability, mood swings, forgetfulness. Oh, yeah, I had those in spades. But menopause is actually just the cessation of menstruation--which has traditionally been defined as 12 months after one's last period.

So I'm there. It's been a couple of years at least. I'm actually not sure when my last one was, I think maybe fall of 2011?? And the worst of the symptoms is long gone. Thank God. Goddess. Whoever. I still have the occasional minor hot flash--maybe once a month??--but they're not nearly as severe as they were awhile back. I've always been a bit of a ditz, but it's not nearly as bad as it was three or four years ago when I was so spaced out I thought I was already in the early stages of alzheimer's. And I can't say how nice it is to not have to mess with the paraphernalia of periods. (paraphernalia. I had to look up how to spell it. That is a thoroughly excellent word.)

Maybe the best thing though is--as just about every woman I know who has been through it says--suddenly you're just not so concerned about what other people think. It's like this cloud of worry and anxiety about whether or not I fit in and how I hard I should work to make people like me--all of that is lifting away. It's not gone. I still have to deal with it, but it's so much better. I'm not so willing to throw away what I want just to keep everybody else happy.

Anyway, that's not what this post was going to be about, I just wanted to make sure that I buried this far enough down here that I'd have lost everybody who's not going through this. Because--also like many women I know who have been through this--suddenly I'm twenty pounds overweight. We've talked about this before. I've never been as thin as I wanted to be, but I've never really been overweight, either.

But now, I am. It pisses me off. I didn't change anything. I exercise more now than I ever have before. But suddenly I packed on the pounds. It happened in the space of about a year during my first year of grad school. Then I gained another ten pounds while I was writing my thesis. I lost that last ten pounds pretty easily, but the twenty that were from the first year of grad school and menopause--they're still hanging around.

I absolutely refuse to become obsessed with thin-ness, because being ultra-thin and being healthy are unrelated, as much as the diet industry would like us to believe otherwise. You have to find the size that's healthy for you, and it may not be the same as anybody else. I am at an unhealthy size for my build and lifestyle, so I've been working on this for awhile--those of you who have been around for awhile will remember some of this from a couple of years ago. I've tried various different things, but after failing miserably at anything that resembled a "diet," I swore off dieting some time ago. We've talked about that before, too.

But you know, a couple of weeks ago suddenly it occurred to me: to lose weight, you have to have a caloric deficit. There's no way around it. You may be able to achieve that through various different means, but that's the bottom line. And if you have caloric deficit, sometimes you're going to be hungry. And there it is: I hate to be hungry. I'm slightly hypoglocemic, so when I get hungry, I get angry and anxious and bitchy and obsessed with food. And sometimes I get a migraine. The surest way to make sure I'm thinking about food all the time is for me to be starving.

After I realized that, I spent a couple of days thinking, well, I'm just going to have to get used to being this size, because I can't deal with being hungry. But last week, I decided NO. I'm going to do this. I don't want to get back to the weight I was when I was 25 (which would involve losing about 45 pounds). I'll never be that thin again. But I can lose ten pounds--I've already done that, right? And if I can do that, maybe I can lose another ten and get down to the weight I was when I turned 40.

So I started a new rule. It's not a diet, because there's no prescribed list of things I eat. I eat pretty healthy food already, I just eat too much of it. But I can only eat every three hours. I've told you before I don't wake up hungry, so my new routine is: eat at 9:30, 12:30, 3:30 and 6:30. The first two days were pretty miserable, but I had decided I would do it for a week--you can live through anything for a week, right? and it was the beginning of the month, so I had plenty of migraine drugs.

You know what? By the third day I was starting to get used to it. And now, a week and a half later, it actually feels good. I feel so much more in control of my eating. I didn't realize how often I just cruised by the kitchen and put a bite or two of something in my mouth, and then if it tasted good, I'd cruise back by and have a few bites more.

All of that is eliminated. And it takes less food than I would have expected to fill me up at the times when I eat. I've made exceptions a time or two, but for the most part, I've been sticking with it. And I'm discovering that there's a different kind of hungry that goes with migraines. The migraines kind of hungry isn't what causes migraines, it seems to just go along with them, just another symptom like light sensitivity.

So will it result in weight loss? I don't know, but I'm sticking with it because it feels better. I lost a pound and a half the first week, but that's not statistically significant, as they say. It could just be fluctuations. But I'm sticking with this for awhile. I don't know if you remember this, but a couple of years ago, in this post, I said that I hadn't found the joy in food choices yet but I was sure it was there somewhere--and this is starting to feel like I might have found it. I'm not sure if this would work for anybody else, but it's working for me.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

more odds and ends, because it's an odds and ends kind of week

1. I've been a little discouraged about the number of headaches I'm still having even though I went through all the misery of getting off caffeine. But it's the end of the month tomorrow, and I still have six maxalt left. The drugs don't lie, I guess. My prescription is for twelve every month, and last fall I had to get extra a couple of times. So having six left at the end of the month means I'm not having as many as I used to, even if it doesn't seem like it. I always get migraines when I travel, and I've traveled quite a bit recently, so maybe that's why I've seemed headache-y recently. Whatever. I was happy and surprised when I went up to get one this morning and there were still six of them. (okay, now five.)

2. I haven't told you about one of my travels yet. A couple of weeks ago I met my mom, my sisters, and Cheery-o near Chicago so we could go to the memorial service of the beloved family friend (and Debbie's dad) I told you about in November. It was a great trip--I was able to catch up with my family, visit with Debbie, meet some new people, and celebrate a life well lived (although he is sadly missed). But it also brought back boatloads of memories, both from my childhood --we moved there when I was two and moved to Dallas the summer I turned seven--and also from my two years of college there. I had one of those classic throwback experiences: we drove the route that I used to walk every day from our house to the elementary school. It seemed like miles when I was a kindergartener, but it is only about three blocks. Ha.

3. Reading Report: I haven't done one of these in a long time. But besides the Jane Austens and the Jim Palmer book I already told you about, in the past two months I've read: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson, Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen, A Letter of Mary and A Darker Place by Laurie R. King. All recommended but none of them exactly knock-your-socks off. Then, to my surprise, I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's book on marriage, Committed. I wasn't a fan of Eat Pray Love, and Committed didn't get very good reviews, so I didn't see any reason to bother. But a friend recommended it recently, and it was available on ebook from our library, so I decided to try it. I was fascinated. Good mix of personal anecdote and research into the history and sociology of marriage. It's not anything like EPL, and maybe that's why I liked it. Also I read Tenth of December by George Saunders, which is getting all kinds of kudos as the best short story collection ever. He is a jaw-droppingly, stunningly good writer, but the stories are not easy reads. One of them was so horrifying ("Semplica Girl Diaries") that I almost put the book down. But there are a couple that save it from being too sharp, too cutting, so I'm glad I persevered. Recommended with reservations. :-)

4. As will surprise no one, it is easy for me to overdose on church. Really, sadly easy. I hit that point--with a vengeance-- last week. Poor Dean got an earful (okay, maybe two or three) about my frustration with long meetings, always having to be there, and etc. etc. Church is useful to my spiritual life, but it isn't the center of it, and I don't want it to be. Plus I am not particularly mature about being bored. But I knew when I signed up to be a deacon that I was signing on for three years of being more involved than I generally care to be, so I have little excuse. Fortunately last night I attended a "leadership training" session that restored my patience. We have a great church. But even so, I am glad that summer is coming, which means that choir and session both end for a few months and we can skip church for weeks at a time.

5. Starting just this week, I can look out the window and see green. There's still snow on the mountains, but our grass is (mostly) green, the shrubs are budding out, and the people across from us who actually have a real lawn have real, emerald green I can look at (we just have a big field). There comes a point every year where I start to believe that spring will never come, so this is a relief.

And that's all I can think of. Tomorrow is May, happy May Day to one and all. You will note that I remembered to add labels before I posted this one. Go, me.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I've said before that I'm more into fiction than I am poetry, which is probably a bit unusual for someone who spent too many years studying English literature. But there are a few poets I treasure--Emily Dickinson and Yeats come to mind, and I've told you before about my affinity for Philip Larkin. Another one is Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest who wrote gorgeous poetry back in the nineteenth century, but struggled throughout his adult life with the conflict between his nearly irrepressible desire/need to write poetry and the humility and self-abnegation he felt his religious calling required. I could go on and on, but if you're interested, there's lots of info about him out there on the web.

Anyway, I was reminded of him earlier this week and since then lines from his poems have been floating around in my head, so I thought I would share a couple with you. It was hard to pick just two. Google "Pied Beauty" and "God's Grandeur" if you want to read more. I'm not always sure exactly what he means (who is "him" in "half curls earth for him"? the beholder? the behold-ee?) but it's just so stunningly lovely to read. I think of his poems as poetry of incarnation--the Divine made manifest around us.


Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
  Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
  Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
  Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
  And eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a 
Rapturous love's greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world wielding shoulder
  Majestic - as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! - 
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
  Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
  And hurls for him, O half curls earth for him off under his feet.

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
  dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous. O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Odds and ends: old and new

1. Last fall I noticed that my ten-year anniversary as a blogger was coming up (it was in December). I was going to try and think of some cool thing to do with that, but then I forgot about it in the holiday rush and didn't remember until about a month ago.

Ten years. I was surprised, it doesn't seem like it's been that long--although when I go back and read some of those early posts, it seems like it's been centuries. Was I ever that naive? (For the record, I had two blogs before this one, which is why *cough* it's Aunt BeaN's Third Blog, right?) I've learned a few things about blogging over the years, and one of them is that when I start writing posts that sound like lectures, it means that I've learned something on an intellectual level but I'm avoiding learning it on a deeper level by thinking I should pass the information on to you. I think it comes with being a natural teacher (gifts again). As I'm learning something, I automatically start breaking it down for you guys: how would I teach this? But I haven't really learned it myself yet.

I've been learning things by the avalanche recently. Some of them I've passed on to you (see the Lent posts), but some of them I'm still ruminating on. I can't possibly tell you about radical self-acceptance until I get a little further along the path myself. It's a topic I first read about years ago when I ran across Tara Brach's book Radical Acceptance and more recently in Jim Palmer's stuff, but I'm not even close to really being there yet. Maybe I will feel more competent to pass along some thoughts soon, but in the meantime, check out Tara's blog or Jim's blog if it's a topic that interests you. Maybe you will be able to teach me.

2. Word geek moment: in the previous paragraph, is it "further" along the path or "farther" along the path? So I googled, and reinforced what I already knew--farther is for literal distances (six miles or six feet), further is for figurative distance. But the reason I was doubting is because "further along the path" is clearly figurative distance, but it doesn't sound right. Ah, the joys of being a word geek.

3. I somehow managed to completely wear myself out over the past couple of months. It snuck up on me. I've been in bed by 10:30 for two out of the past three nights with the light out by 11. You know what a night-owl I am, that is practically unheard of for me. Then this morning, I got up with MadMax at 7 so we could take his car in to be worked on. When I got back, I loaded up the dishwasher and started it, got a few other minor tasks done, and went back to bed. I slept for another hour and a half. Whaaat? Maybe I'm getting sick. At the moment, I'm thinking about going back and taking another nap. Why am I so exhausted?

4. Do you remember when I read and reviewed Gone Girl last year? For some reason I started reading reviews of it on Goodreads the other day, and was struck by how gleefully cruel they were. The ending of the book is sort of a slap in the face to anyone who would expect not even a happy ending, but any kind of resolution at all. That in itself is fine, although I didn't like it. Flynn made an artistic choice as to how she wanted to end her novel and it's entirely up to her. But what struck me was all these readers who were happily claiming that they loved the ending and it was just like real life, they knew it would end like that, etc etc. There are dozens of them. I get that you could appreciate the ending, or think it was appropriate to the amoral pose of the book, but love it? It would take a complete and utter cynic, someone who has completely given up on human kindness, to love that ending.

It depressed me. Are we so despairing these days? Have we completely lost hope that good ever wins, or even just that karma works? that someone who is awful will eventually be consumed by their awfulness? Are nice people, people who treat others with respect and courtesy and expect others to do the same, just patsies? I don't believe it, and furthermore, I don't think I'm dumb and naive to retain some faith in human kindness. So there.

5. I've been thinking about one of my favorite things I learned in grad school. In environmental theory, we learned that in Western culture, most of us see the natural world as a backdrop to human actions. Almost like a painted scene in a stage play. There's the background, and then there's the "important" human stuff that takes place in front of it. It's a fun thing to play around with, sort of like dissolving an invisible curtain between yourself and the natural world. Go for a walk or sit outside and see if you can bring the environment to life around you, so it's not just a backdrop but your habitat. There are small noises, bugs and birds and the way the grass is slowly turning green, and you can feel yourself as part of it, not separate. (Actually, if you're just about anywhere else but here, the grass has probably been green for some time now.)(Remember #1 above where I lecture you about things that I haven't fully learned myself? This would be one of them.)

6. Lent report. I gave up sweets for Lent this year, and overall it was easy. The only time I had trouble with it was when I was in a social situation where everyone else was having dessert. (and the last two days. I craved sweets those last two days.) But the good thing is that--unlike other situations-- if you say you gave up desserts for Lent, no one pushes you to have any, which was nice. Overall it went so well that I've decided I should try to limit my sweet intake all the time. I've never been one to sit down and eat an entire cake at one time, but if there are certain sweet things in the house, I'll have a couple of bites after lunch, and then a couple more bites an hour later, and then snitch a bit more while I'm fixing dinner, and so on until it's all gone. It adds up. So I'm experimenting with this. So far it's going well.

7. Time for a new look around here. I'll probably do it this weekend, just thought I should warn you. And also I need to go back and label a bunch of posts, so apologies in advance. I know for those of you who use an RSS feed, it makes them pop back up in your feed. I'll try to do it over the weekend when pageviews are down.

And that's all for me. Maybe I will go take another nap.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Lent: WWJD? part two

OK, so in the last post we established that I find Jesus to be a difficult role model. He wasn't a parent, he wasn't a spouse. He wasn't female. He was an itinerant rabbi. He voluntarily died for his beliefs. He's a pretty tough exemplar.

It's occurring to me that I'm perhaps I'm being a bit too literal here. Which is odd, because the people who are literalists about the Bible don't seem to have a problem with this. I'm definitely not a literalist when it comes to reading the Bible, but I find it difficult to use Jesus as my moral guide because I just fall so far short of his example--maybe I take him too literally?? I can't live the way he lived.

What am I missing here?

Of course there's grace and forgiveness and God loves me no matter how far I fall short, etc etc. I may not always be good at really truly believing that, but I get it intellectually. It's pretty much the cornerstone of Christianity. I don't think that's the problem.

The problem is something in the way I think about Jesus. When I compare myself to him, all I feel is guilt for how little I do, how selfish I am, how often I want to blow off what's right and just do what I want. I'm not inspired by Jesus. Thinking about him depresses me. (probably this also goes back to what I described in last year's Maundy Thursday post.) So I tend not to think about him.

If you're still reading, thank you. This is not my finest hour.

So. Enter Jim Palmer's third book, Being Jesus in Nashville. You may remember that I've briefly talked about reading his first two, Divine Nobodies and Wide Open Spaces. Honestly, I don't always agree with him, and I find myself arguing with him or rolling my eyes at him almost as often as I am touched and inspired. But I'm starting to realize that's my favorite kind of book.

As a former Evangelical pastor, he's wrestling with many of the same questions I am as a preacher's kid and former Evangelical. Our perspectives are different because Palmer came to Christianity in his late teens after a non-religious childhood and left it in his thirties (I'm not sure I have those ages exactly right, but that's the gist of his story), whereas I was raised as an Evangelical and started leaving it about the time I turned 20. I haven't regularly attended an Evangelical church since I was in my early 20s. So sometimes Palmer will spend an entire chapter going on and on about something that is obvious to me, and I'm sure my musings about my childhood faith would seem equally irrelevant to him. But more often than not, he has insights that are mind bending, or perspectives to share that really, deeply help.

OK, so back to WWJD. The premise of Palmer's third book is that he spent a year trying to recreate In His Steps (the original WWJD book) --hence the title, Being Jesus in Nashville. The first few chapters were of the duh, obvious! type, but by the time he is standing next to a dying dear friend's hospital bed and trying to figure out how he can (like Jesus) heal him, I was hooked. I've done that--not with a dying friend, but I've tried to heal someone. Shouldn't we be able to? Didn't Jesus do it all the time? And like Palmer, I was unsuccessful. How do we deal with this?

Palmer has a pretty simple solution. He says that Jesus was completely and utterly dedicated to living his life according to his gifts and his destiny (except Palmer words it better than that). Jesus was fully himself. So rather than trying to emulate Jesus's actions, we emulate Jesus by following our own path, as Jesus followed his. We can discover our own gifts, and use them to the fullest extent (hence the previous post about understanding our gifts). "I wanted to 'be Jesus,'" Palmer says, "but I noticed that all Jesus ever did was simply be himself. Jesus was never trying to emulate someone else....[he] was simply present to the world."

Palmer also points out that although we tend to think that being "like Jesus" means always putting others' needs first and never having any needs of our own, that's not how Jesus acted. His death was the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, but in his daily life, he didn't efface himself. If he needed time alone, he went off by himself. If He was angry, he said he was (or strode into the temple and started turning over tables). He surrounded himself with people who loved him. He defended the women who performed lavish acts of devotion to him (washing his feet, anointing him with oil, listening at his feet)--he didn't blow them off and say he didn't need anything from them.

So there you go. After two and a half posts worth of setup, it took two paragraphs to type that out, but I can't tell you what a game-changer that is for me. It has fundamentally changed something in my head. I'm still working out the implications (and also I'm still reading the book). There may be more to come on this topic, but that's it for now. Thank you, Jim Palmer.

Happy Easter, or Oester, or Happy Passover-- or whatever version of Spring holiday you celebrate.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lent: WWJD? part one

I cringe to use that overworked four-letter cliché in the title of this post, because which of us doesn't cringe when we see it? But that's the topic today, so there it is.

The idea of emulating Jesus has been around since Jesus, of course, but this particular formulation of it started with Charles Sheldon's 1896 book In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? Even though it was published well over a century ago, it's still in print. It's one of the best-selling books of all time. (I confess I tried to read it years ago and I never got past the first couple of chapters.) It's a novel about a midwestern congregation that undertook to ask the question "What would Jesus do?" before they took any action.

But the question isn't easy to answer. First of all, because Jesus lived two thousand years ago. Would he carry a cell phone if he lived now? Would he have a Facebook page? Would he be a Luddite--spurning technology? Would he prefer CNN or MSNBC? or would he not want to know what was going on in the larger world so he could concentrate on the individuals around him?

The questions seem ridiculous. Probably most of us want to think that Jesus would be a simple man, eschewing the trappings of modern life, because Jesus exists firmly in our heads as a monk-like icon from a simpler time. But it's entirely possible that he was just as much a man of his times as anyone --although with a unique perspective on pretty much everything, as he expressed in the Sermon on the Mount. After all, we're talking about a man who befriended sinners, prostitutes, and tax-collectors (more or less the loan sharks of their time).

And then there's the fact that Jesus was an itinerant rabbi (teacher). He wasn't married, he wasn't raising children, and probably he would have been a little bit mystified by our current notion of what it means to hold a steady job with good benefits (as would any person from that era). He didn't have a savings account, he didn't own a home, and given the Torah's teachings against usury (charging interest), he probably would have been opposed to having a mortgage. He did few of the things that most of us would consider to be a mandatory part of a responsible adult life.

Interesting aside: when James Joyce was looking around for a role model for Leopold Bloom, the quintessential Everyman who is the central character of Ulysses, he rejected Jesus because Jesus never had to live with a woman. He went with Odysseus instead. (I know. Go figure. because Odysseus, mighty warrior and veteran of years-long absences from home, wasn't exactly your John Doe, either.)

So the question of "What would Jesus do?" is considerably more complex than the WWJD bracelet-wearers would have you believe. This came up in our small group a couple of months ago. Jesus's most direct life-choice instructions (Sell all you have and give it to the poor; "go, therefore and make disciples of all nations") imply leaving home for a Jesus-like itinerant life. They are ignored by all but a tiny minority of ultra-passionate Christians whom the rest of us secretly think are taking things just a little bit too far.

This whole issue is something that has vexed me for a long time. And honestly, my response for the most part has been to ignore it because I couldn't figure out how to resolve it. Like most people, I just try to figure out the best I can how to live a moral life. Although I'd like to be able to sugar-coat this a bit, to be entirely honest, my response to WWJD, I'm sad to say, has frequently been, what difference does it make? He was never confronted with most of the problems I face.

I can get behind "Love one another" and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I can learn from Jesus's radical perspective on power and materialism as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, but Jesus as a role model? What did he know about enforcing curfews for teenagers? When did he ever have a fight with his spouse? When did he have to decide whether or not to pay the extra 30% for organic groceries? First world problems, I know, but they're some of the ones I think about.

Huh. to my surprise, this is turning into a two-part post. I'm not sure there's enough for a second post, but this one is already plenty long. More to come.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

AB at the movies: Noah

I will confess up front that I thought this was a really interesting, thought-provoking movie. I went with all four members of our family, and that opinion was not shared by everybody. PellMel, for example, thought it was too dark and disturbing. We saw it a couple of weeks ago, and at the time I thought I would write a blog post about it. But then a bunch of other stuff happened and I forgot about it until I listened to some fellow church members criticize it today. So I will tell you why I liked it, and try to do it in such a way that I don't spoil the movie for you.

The main complaint, of course, is that it doesn't follow the Bible story, which is found in Genesis chapters 6-8. Here is a link to it if you'd like to go read it. It's not very long, it takes about 10 minutes to read it, so you can go do it right now. We'll wait.

There are obviously major differences between the Bible version and the movie version, no surprise there. But do they ruin the story?

1. "The Watchers." In the movie, the Watchers are enormous creatures made out of rock that were formerly fallen angels. They decide to help Noah and his family build the ark. They're a bit ridiculous, no question. In terms of movie special effects, they're sort of a cross between the Transformers, the Iron Giant, and the Rock creature from Galaxy Quest. I hope we can be forgiven for not-so-quietly quoting various different lines from Galaxy Quest while we were watching Noah ("Rock! Rock! Rock!" and "It's the simple things in life you treasure" and... oh, wait, I'm getting off topic.)

But you know, there are the Nephilim in the Bible story, and they aren't described. We know next to nothing about them. So I'm giving them a pass on this one. Sure, they took the idea and ran with it, but there's a base there in the original story. Anyway--and the importance of this cannot be overstated-- Noah is a story from the Jewish scriptures. The Old Testament is an important part of my understanding of my Christian faith, but this was a Hebrew story long before Christianity existed. The Nephilim are well-established in Jewish tradition as "those that fell from heaven." Watch the credits roll at the end of the movie and you will see that the creative team behind Noah has a number of Jewish names. I think they're allowed to interpret the Nephilim however they want--although of course also we are allowed to roll our eyes that they picked a way that happens to lend itself to big-budget movie special effects.

2. Methuselah. Methuselah does not appear in the Genesis story of Noah, but he's in the movie. So yes, they added him unnecessarily. But in their defense, they got the details right. Methuselah is indeed Noah's grandfather. If you want to read Noah's family tree, it's in Genesis 5. The writer(s) of Genesis very helpfully include everybody's ages in those family trees, so according to Genesis, Methuselah would have been 369 when Noah was born. Ancient of days, yes, but since Methuselah lived to be 969, he still had six hundred years to go. And since Noah was six hundred years old when the flood came (Gen 7:11), it isn't much of a stretch at all to surmise that Methuselah died in the flood. As far as I'm concerned, this is an acceptable change to the story--in fact, I thought it was even pretty creative and required a fair amount of attention to the details of the Genesis story.

3. Tubal-Cain. According to Genesis 4, Tubal-Cain was Cain's great great great great grandson (Cain is the son of Adam who murdered his brother Abel), which means he was probably long gone by the time of Noah. But since there aren't any ages given in Cain's family tree, it's hard to say. In the movie, Tubal-Cain is the representation of all that is evil about mankind and a great example of why mankind must be destroyed. So far, reasonable enough. But later in the movie (avoiding spoilers here), Tubal-Cain takes on a role that is completely superfluous to the story, and really--in my opinion--unnecessary. So yeah, I agree. The way Tubal-Cain is used later in the movie is a bad addition to the story.

4. Noah's sons and their wives (or lack thereof). In the Genesis story, Noah, his sons, and his sons' wives all go into the ark. In the movie, one of the major conflicts of the story happens because two of Noah's sons don't have wives. So, yeah, this one is just wrong compared to the Genesis account. But. It allows the movie to address the problem of human evil in a way that wouldn't be possible if they had stuck to the story. It puts the decision about whether or not the human race should survive directly into Noah's hands. Is the human race worth saving? And since Noah has to decide, the viewer ends up thinking about it, too. It's the moral heart of the story. I found Noah's dilemma and the way it was eventually resolved fascinating. (Although, yes, it's a bit facile to have Emma Watson deliver the morality-tale ending. But big budget movies are rarely known for subtlety.)

This change to the story also partly solves the part of the Noah story that is so distressing to people who weren't raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Those of us who learned the story in Sunday School when we were four years old tend to gloss over the part where God--the supposedly loving, merciful Creator God--kills off what must have been at least several hundred thousand people, people that He created, just because they were bad.

Noah and his family survive because Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord, but what does that mean? Noah, being human, couldn't have been 100% perfect, and human beings being what they are, probably plenty of those people who died in the flood weren't 100% bad. It's a pretty disturbing story if you look at it from that perspective. The way the movie-makers approach this in the movie meets the dilemma head-on instead of sweeping it under the table and jumping to the Sunday School version, where a sheepish, apologetic God slaps a rainbow up in the sky and promises he'll never, ever do it again.

So all in all, I liked it. It made me think, and I even had a minor a-ha! moment while considering the conflict between exacting justice for wrongdoing, and extending mercy to imperfect human beings. Although there are plenty of big budget special effects, unlike the typical blockbuster special effects movie, there is no black-and-white distinction between the good guys and the bad guys. It made me think about good and evil, and justice and mercy. Go see it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

'tis a gift to have gifts

I've been thinking about gifts, the way each of us is gifted. In the New Testament, Paul talks about "spiritual" gifts, which are a result of being filled with the Holy Spirit, but clearly this idea doesn't apply just to Christians. Everyone has their gifts. There are several lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament, including wisdom, knowledge, administration, preaching, teaching, healing, and so on. Some of them are even a little quirky--like the gift of mercy (is that why some people find it so hard to show mercy? they don't have that gift?), and my favorite, which the King James version translates as the gift of "helps."

Christian or not, those lists are hardly exhaustive. A few that are left out: music, visual arts, cooking, writing, crafts and needle work, design, encouragement, engineering, building, computer/technological expertise --there must be dozens more. The gift of humor. The gift of entertainment--you know how some people can mesmerize a crowd by telling stories of their college days? The gift of loyalty and support--the people who make you feel better just by being around them. Some people have the gift of adventure, both of going on wild, amazing adventures and also of making adventures out of everyday experiences. The gift of play, which I don't think I ever had.

One of the reasons I've put off writing this post is because there didn't seem to be any way to do it without saying what I think my own gifts are, and that's a little scary and embarrassing. But that's silly, so here goes. I think my gifts are writing, teaching adults, helps, and a side serving of knowledge. Also I can be a leader, but it's not a major strength of mine--it only comes to the fore when I'm in a group that doesn't have someone with stronger leadership skills.

The cool thing about this is that once you figure out what your gifts are, you can maximize your time and efforts. When you play to your strengths, not only do things go more smoothly, but you enjoy your work more, and you can avoid wasting time on things that are never going to work. It helps me understand why when I am in a group, people respond to the information I present (teaching) but not to my vision for what our group or their lives could be (preaching/exhortation). And why I am not the one who ends up organizing and delegating tasks (administration), or charting a course for the future (vision). And why years ago when I was in a women's spirituality group, it didn't work to change our leader every time we met--some people just don't have the gift of leadership.

It also helps me understand some situations I've been in. An example--a couple of years ago I was working on a project with a friend where we needed to present some information to a group. It wasn't until long after we finished the project that I figured out why we were having such a hard time agreeing on how the information should be presented. I think her gift is exhortation (inspiring people to bigger and better things in their lives), but my approach was from the standpoint of a teacher--how do we break this information down so that people can understand it? If we'd seen that earlier, it would have given us a blueprint for how we could mesh our different styles.

and for the record, having a gift and being proficient or good at it are not necessarily related. At least I don't think so. I'm a perpetual beginner in writing, learning more and more about it all the time. The more I learn the more I realize how much I don't know. but conversations with other people over the years have convinced me that most people don't have this need to write things down, to get thoughts and ideas out of my head and put them down in words. (I almost said "on paper" but when was the last time I wrote anything other than a grocery list on paper?)

When I started typing, this was a setup post for something else. But you know how often I never get around to the "next" post. we'll see.

So what about you? What are your gifts?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

What we did on vacation

What did we do on vacation? Not a lot, but it was a good one. Sometimes the low-key ones are just what you need. We drove over to a hot springs near Bozeman and spent a couple of nights, and then spent a night at PellMel's apartment in Bozeman, and then drove back.

The hot springs where we stayed are near Yellowstone. So we drove down there twice. We went to Yellowstone in the fall, you may remember, but although we had a good time then, it was the end of the season and we didn't see much wildlife--just plenty of spectacular scenery.

This time we saw wildlife in droves. As in, we had to slow down and wait for bison to cross the road. We had to stay in the car so we were safe from the elk. We saw mule deer, whitetail, big horn sheep, antelope, a bald eagle, several sandhill cranes, and a whole bunch of waterfowl that Dean and MadMax could identify but I can't. But mainly there were hundreds (thousands?) of bison and elk.

So I took some pictures for you. The rest of the Lent posts are firmly lodged in Never Never Land at the moment, in spite of several attempts to write them out, so maybe they will eventually appear, maybe they won't. But at least you can see buffalo roaming in the meantime.

Big horn sheep (without big horns, the two facing the road are female with
short, less curved horns, the others are still young)

Where's the bison?

This is the Boiling River. We were all set to soak in it when--not kidding--
a BUSLOAD of teenagers from California showed up. We left and came back later. :-)

Friday, April 04, 2014

Food on Friday: Chopped Salad

I like vegetables. Some of them, anyway. Carrots, broccoli, green beans, zucchini, corn. Okra, if it's fried. Spinach in salads. But not all vegetables. In spite of all the different ways I've tried them, I still have never found a brussel sprout recipe I'd make again (and yes, that includes several that say "even haters love them cooked this way"). And I'm still learning to like greens. Kale is growing on me.

But I've known since I was teenager that for the most part, I'd rather eat veggies raw than cooked. In fact, other than okra and green beans, all of the veggies I said I liked in the previous paragraph I prefer raw. So when I happened to pick up a serving-sized container of "chopped salad" at a Whole Foods store a couple of years ago, it occurred to me that maybe that's the way I should eat vegetables.

Chopped salad has become a staple around here, any time I remember to stock up on the right stuff and have the time to do all the chopping. Honestly, it doesn't really take that long--I just made one and it took about twenty minutes. It isn't so much a recipe as a method, but here you go anyway.

Chopped Salad

Choose six or eight of the following:
Any firm, choppable veggie: zucchini, crookneck squash, broccoli, carrots, jicama, celery, cucumber, asparagus, bell peppers, etc.
(corn can be fresh, or drained canned, or frozen--which you don't have to thaw, just throw it in and 10 minutes later it is fine)
Greens: spinach, kale, chard, beet greens, collards, etc., and any type of lettuce or cabbage
Tomatoes, any type or color (grape, cherry, plum, regular)
Fresh fruit: apples, pears
Dried fruit: cranberries, apricots, cherries, blueberries, raisins
Beans: black, pinto, garbanzo, or black-eyed peas
Herbs: basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro
Nuts/seeds: pumpkin, sesame, pecans, walnuts, almonds, peanuts
(you can also start with a bagged chopped salad and add to it)
(also you could add cooked diced meat, cheese, hard boiled eggs, tuna--but I usually just do veggies)
(I think onions are too strong for this, but if you like raw onions, add them, too)

The key is to chop every thing somewhere between 1/4" and 1/2" in size. Broccoli and kale pretty much disappear if you chop them small enough. If you have a good sharp knife, it goes pretty fast. Dump all the chopped vegetables in a bowl, then add your favorite salad dressing (or olive oil and a splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar). Salt and pepper to taste.

Here is the one I made this week. It has carrots, zucchini, kale, asparagus, a bag of "southwestern chopped salad" (which included a pouch of sunflower seeds and cranberries), a can of rinsed and drained garbanzo beans, and about a dozen halved grape tomatoes that I had leftover from earlier in the week. Kinda pretty, isn't it?

(Mom brag: note chopping board MadMax made in woodshop last week!)

Sunday, March 30, 2014

odds and ends: March madness

Well, my bracket is trashed. I had UVA and Wichita State in the final game. I'm not even telling you who else I had in the final four. This is the first year in forever that I haven't had at least one of the Final Four teams. And the teams we have some emotional attachment to have been out since Thursday night. Our only comfort this year is that the Tar Heels lasted longer than Duke.

The ice on the pond melted off almost entirely in one single day (today). Yesterday it was still iced over, by the end of the day today, there was only a thin skin of ice over about a third of the pond and the rest of it was gone. Now we just have to wait and see if any of the fish survived the winter. Last year we had a bunch of fish survive, but this was a much harder, colder winter.

I had my last day at the tax place today. It has been remarkably slow the past two weeks. I guess everyone is waiting for the last minute. I think I will do it again next year. It ended up being a fun thing to do, and you feel like you're being really useful. People are so grateful. Of course, we did have the occasional angry encounter, but overall it went pretty smoothly. I will be out of town the next two weekends, so I'm done, but I'm a bit surprised to discover that I'm disappointed to miss the final rush.

In other news, I finished my second Jane Austen class this week. We did Emma this time. It was a great bunch of students, and surprisingly satisfying. Emma is a beautifully constructed novel. Every time I read it I admire it more. The first time I read it--30 years ago--it seemed like a straightforward tale of a mean-girl being schooled by her handsome, perfect, older neighbor. But the more you read it, the more you realize how strong Emma is, how much she stands up to Mr. Knightley, and how much Mr. Knightley has to learn from her. Even though she is a petty, arrogant snob at the beginning. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, my class is done, my volunteering is done, MadMax is on vacation-- sounds like spring break, doesn't it? And indeed it is. Dean is working this weekend, and then we have a few days at home. Then we're headed to the Bozeman area for a few days to see Mel and check out some cool stuff. I have a stack of books to read (I'm deep in another Laurie R. King at the moment and so far it is really good) and I am happy. I know this sounds like I'm about to say I'm taking another blogging break, but I don't think I am. I have three or four half-written posts in my head that I'm trying to get motivated to type out. I didn't realize until I looked just now that it had been two and a half weeks since the last time I posted (before the Lent one). How did that happen?

Enjoy the rest of the weekend, and I hope your bracket fared better than mine. Oh, and if you're looking for something to watch this weekend, I can recommend both of the recent BBC productions of Sense and Sensibility and Emma. Part of what these Austen classes were about was watching various film adaptations of the books to see how they've been reinterpreted in the present. Neither production is perfect, and in fact, I didn't like either of them at first. But they grew on me. Both of them are worth watching. Here are the trailers:

If you're a bit of a Jane Austen nut, as apparently I am, you could spend hours picking and choosing (Marianne and Willoughby from the Emma Thompson version, Elinor and Edward from the BBC version, and etc etc ad infinitum). But that's probably just because I've spent so much time over the past two months watching these things. I ended up watching five versions each of both S&S and Emma. Not kidding. I don't recommend it, even though in hindsight I'm already feeling a bit nostalgic of being in a position where I needed to sit and watch Jane Austen movies by the hour.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lent: this one really is about Lent

You may remember that the church tradition I grew up in didn't celebrate Lent. Lent is an adopted tradition for me. And to be honest, I have pretty mixed feelings about it. In Christian theology, the whole point of Jesus's death on the cross is so that we don't have to suffer for our sins. It's called "substitutionary atonement" if you're interested (and I just googled that and found a fascinating wikipedia article. I had no idea there were so many nuances.)

Technically speaking, Lent--like Advent--is a season of preparation for the celebration of a major church holiday (Lent for Easter, Advent for Christmas). But popularly speaking, most people use Lent as a time to identify with Christ's suffering. They give something up to identify with Jesus's voluntary surrender of his life. We suffer because Christ suffered. The 40 days are symbolic of Jesus's 40 days in the wilderness, mentioned briefly in Mark and described more fully in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, or the 40 years the Israelites spent preparing to enter the Promised Land.

There's a problem here. If Jesus's death is supposed to substitute for us so we don't have to suffer, trying to take on some of his suffering or identify with his suffering is completely missing the point. And there's no reason at all to use Lent as an opportunity for wallowing in how awful we are, we are mere worms, etc etc. That kind of hair-shirt attitude changes the focus from gratitude for Christ's sacrifice to making it all about me.

So I have lots of mixed feelings about Lent. But I do appreciate the rhythm of the church calendar: the intensity of focus on the spiritual life during Lent or Advent, followed by weeks of "ordinary time." It works much better for me than the year-round intensity of some churches I've attended, which sometimes feels to me like we are trying to whip up a frenzy of religious devotion every week. (not that there's anything wrong with that, it just doesn't suit me as well as the church calendar version, which is why we can all be grateful that there are different denominations for different people.)

Usually for me, Lent is a season of learning. This year I took a continuing ed class on the Jewish origins of Christianity, focusing on St. Paul. It was fascinating. I will tell you more about that another time.

But having said all that: here's something else. This year I gave up sweets for Lent. It has nothing at all to do with identifying with Christ's suffering, and everything to do with me taking advantage of the season to do something I wanted to do anyway. (Who's mis-using Lent now?) I didn't give up sugar, which is in all kinds of things like salad dressing and barbecue sauce and fruit yogurt. Just sweets--cookies, candy, cake, pie, and the like.

The first ten days were easy. So easy I was surprised. I should have done this months ago, I thought. But the past ten days have been a little harder. I built in an escape hatch--I could have a few bites of something if it was a special occasion--and I've taken advantage of that twice. But mostly this has been about me figuring out how it feels to not have sweets in my life. So far, so good.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

there's no place like home. there's no place like home.

It's true, you know. There is no place like home. But we had to keep reminding ourselves of that on Monday. We were sitting in the sun in SoCal Sunday morning, 80 degrees, nice breeze, gorgeous day, then we got on a plane about 4:30 in the afternoon, arrived home on the midnight flight, and woke up Monday morning to about 34 degrees and raining. Ah, Montana. And it rained, or snowed, or sleeted, all dang day long. Normally we are really happy to get home after a trip and see the animals, sleep in our own bed, etc. But it was a tough transition this time. I might not have been entirely cheerful about it.

We did have a great time. Our 30th anniversary is this year, so we wanted to go on some kind of mini-trip to celebrate (the actual date of anniversary is in May, but the weather around here is nice in May--we wanted to go away while it was still cold and gray). So last fall we started looking around for someplace to go, and we decided on the BNP Paribas Open, a pro tennis tournament that is held in Indian Wells, California, near Palm Springs. It was really fun. It's a major tournament, so all the big names were there, but it's a much smaller venue than many of the other majors, so you get to see a lot more of the players.

Our favorite part was watching them practice. They post the practice schedule pretty early in the morning, and you can sit about 12 feet away from your favorites as they warm up for their matches. It was so cool. We were shameless gawkers. We saw Federer, Wawrinka, Nadal, and Li Na in the first 15 minutes after we got there. It was hard to know where to look. Later we watched Djokovic and Andy Murray practice. We also saw several matches, including Nadal's near-loss to Stepanek in the second round (and since Nadal had a bye in the first round, it was his first match of the tournament). Then last night he did lose to Dogolopov (I'm not entirely sure I spelled that right), but we had to watch that on TV since now we are back at home. It's also really fun to watch doubles--we saw several of those, too.

Why am I telling you this? I have no idea. The best part was just sitting outside, soaking up sun and gentle air. We both really wished we could stay a few more days.

Let's see what else is new around here. Oh-- I keep forgetting to tell you that I got braces. It brings back lots of memories of high school, but unfortunately, I don't look like a cute teenager anymore. More's the pity. I'm told you can barely see them. I don't know if that's really true or if my friends are just telling me that. They don't hurt as badly as I remember them hurting. Fortunately, they're only on top and I only have to wear them until Thanksgiving.

My second Jane Austen class, this one on Emma, started last night. I wasn't sure we would have enough to talk about since I only had them read the first three chapters for the first night, but we ended up running out of time to do all the things I wanted to do. If you haven't seen the new BBC version of Emma (with Romola Garai as Emma), it's pretty good. Worth checking out.

That's everything I can think of right now. We had thick-as-peanut-butter fog this morning, but once it cleared off, it really did look like spring. Now we just have to watch out for flooding while all this snow melts.

Remember I promised you a picture of green? Here you go. Not the world's greatest picture, and I guess it's more blue than green, but I took it right as we were getting in the car to drive to the airport and head home.

And here is that same view off our deck on Monday when we got back. At least the snow is starting to melt.