Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cooking for Six

When I look back on this week, I think I will remember the grocery shopping and the cooking.  We have had a rotating schedule of providing meals for the camp counselors, and by the end of the week, I'll have been responsible for 2 days.

There are 5 camp counselors, so I'm cooking for 6; my spouse is out teaching every weeknight or it would be 7.  I usually have enough ingredients on hand to cook for 2-4 people--6 is a different matter.

Four college age kids, along with a high school counselor in training, and not one is vegetarian or vegan—what is wrong with the youth of today? Just kidding, of course—in a way, it makes it easier to cook for a big group.

One of the counselors can't eat pork and is lactose intolerant.  I don't usually cook much with pork (or with much meat).  But it's interesting to think about all the desserts I usually make and how much they depend on dairy.

On Monday, we had chicken poblano mole, with a black bean and corn salad, and tortillas and tortilla chips. Tonight we’ll have pasta with a variety of toppings: last night I made a tomato sauce, and marinated veggies with mushrooms and without (one counselor looked a bit queasy when I asked if everyone was O.K. with mushrooms). I overbought mushrooms, so I’ll make a mushroom and olive oil sauté. Or they could just top it with grated parmesan romano cheese mix—except for the one who is lactose intolerant.  My spouse made meatballs, which I added to the homemade tomato sauce last night.

We will have leftovers, because I would rather have too much than not enough.  It makes planning for lunches and suppers when we're not hosting the counselors much easier.

We were told that we could give the counselors money so that they could eat out.  But I figured that I'd need to give each one twenty dollars--I can cook for 5 a lot cheaper than $100.

Of course, I'm lucky.  I know how to cook, and I know how to cook for a crowd.  I know how to economize--but even if I didn't, cooking at home for 6 is cheaper than sending 5 kids out for dinner.

Now, to plan for dessert:  leftover brownies made with vegetable oil or make an olive oil citrus cake?  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dinner with the Camp Counselors

Last night's dinner with the camp counselors went well.  I was nervous about it, and those of you who are better at these social occasions might wonder why.

I knew it would be just me and the 5 camp counselors for dinner.  I'd have been less nervous if some of the church VBS leaders had tagged along, but they had been working VBS all day, so I understood why they didn't want to make the trek to my house.

I had decided to make chicken with poblano mole sauce.  It's been a success when I've served it before, but it's unusual.  I made a black bean and corn salad to go with it, and I put out tortillas and tortilla chips.  I hoped that people would find enough to eat.

Happily, they loved the chicken.  They took seconds of everything.  We talked about Wednesday's dinner.  I worried that they get pasta too often.  They've been staying in people's houses all summer, and some of them have been doing this for several years, and they said they've never had spaghetti.  So, I will make my pasta with marinated veggies, along with some meatballs in a tomato sauce, and I'll let them decide how to combine it all.

I find it fascinating that I'm making meals for 4 college students and a high school student, and no one is a vegetarian or a vegan.

The item that makes me most nervous about hosting a get together with people I don't know is the question of what we'll talk about.  I needn't have worried.  Our conversation was wide ranging, from all the foods one can deep fry (squares of mac and cheese anyone?) to strange food combinations, like peanut butter on a burger to various camp experiences, some with food, some not.  We spent a lot of time after dinner talking about musical instruments.

The high school student was fascinated by the dulcimer, which I bought for $40, but never taught myself to play.   Actually, it would be more accurate to say I taught myself, but now I don't remember--it was a brief season with the dulcimer. 

By the end of the evening, he played it with a bit of a slide guitar sound.  As always, I'm fascinated by how people play instruments when they've had no training.  What makes some of us frozen with fear, while others explore? And I was intrigued by the fact that all of us can play the ukulele, to some extent.  Is the ukulele becoming more popular?  Or was it just some fluke?  I suspect it has to do with how affordable an instrument it is and how accessible.

They stayed for about an hour and a half after dinner.  We talked not only about musical instruments, but about camp experiences, both the residence camp and the travelling to churches to assist with VBS camps.  I was interested to know what kinds of lodging they'd had.  They've stayed in people's guest rooms mostly, with a sleep sofa here and there.  So our cottage is perfectly fine; in fact, one of them said, "If I was a college student here, I'd love to rent something like this cottage."

As I cleaned up, I tried not to notice all the ways I'd failed to clean my house for them--I was too busy getting the cottage in shape.  I had clean dishes and a clean bathroom, but my floors could use a sweeping, and let's not talk about the dust. 

I decided long ago that I can't keep up the housekeeping standards of a past generation.  But I don't want to let that fact keep me from extending hospitality.  I suspect that most people don't even notice the dust--or they say, "Hey, I'm not the only one who lets the dusting get away from me."

I'd like to have people over more often--but that often requires a feat of scheduling that's beyond me.  So for now, let me be happy to have had this experience--and its reinforcement of my belief that this hospitality is a worthy skill to practice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sunday Reunions

Yesterday was not only the day that the camp counselors came.  Our old campus pastor also came to worship.  I had time to reflect on our various journeys.

My spouse and I met at Newberry College, a Lutheran school in South Carolina that had more Southern Baptists than Lutherans.  Our campus pastor was also a professor.  Later, he would return to parish ministry and spend time as parish pastor at my grandmother's church in Greenwood, S.C., so I stayed in touch in a way I might not have otherwise. 

Much later, my spouse served on the board of Novus Way, the group that oversees 4 Lutheran camps and more programs than I could list here.  Our old campus pastor retired and found that he needed more to do than supply preaching--and thus, he travels across multiple states, supporting the mission of Novus Way.

Yesterday he came to our church for a variety of reasons; the main one was to give my spouse a beautiful print in honor of his service.  He also talked to the congregation about what their donations have made possible.  After the service, we had pizza and talked further.

At one point, I said, "Who'd have ever thought, back when you were my Phenomenology professor, that some day we'd be here, talking about church camp?"

One of the church members said, "Phenomenology?"

I said, "Yes.  I had to give an oral report on exorcism.  And one of my classmates was an ordained Baptist minister, and he said, 'Oh yes, I've done lots of them.'  And I never quite recovered my momentum."

Soon after that, we gave our campus pastor a hug, and he was on his way, driving all the way back to South Carolina in one day.  I said to my spouse, "I'm both glad that we're not making that long drive and slightly envious of that meditative state he might achieve."

We came home to keep working on projects, chief among them getting the cottage ready for the camp counselors.  I hope they'll be comfortable--I've done as much as I can do to that end, with the resources that we have.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Week-end Update: Graduation and Camp Counselor Prep

It has been a week-end with an odd mix of relaxing and getting things done.  When I look back on July and wonder why my writing didn't pick up once my intense online class ended in June, let me remember my spouse's intense July and how I tried to help him.

My work week lasted late on Friday, since I had to go to graduation.  In many ways, it was like most graduations.  Our Hollywood campus joins with the main campus in Ft. Lauderdale for the graduation ceremony.  Hollywood had far fewer graduates--let me remember these numbers when we compare retention rates.  At the Hollywood campus, most of our programs are still quite small--so when just one student decides to drop out, it impacts our retention rates far more radically.

Saturday morning, I got up with that barely-able-to-move feeling that's becoming more and more familiar--especially after an evening like Friday, when I was on my feet for hours.  But I drank some coffee and did some writing and eventually my muscles unclenched.

Yesterday my spouse and I began our morning together the way we have for several weeks now:  the task list and the divisions--the decisions about what must be done and what can be postponed.  And then the work commenced.  But we also had time to relax in the pool and to enjoy some burgers.

Our task list this week is complicated because we are hosting camp counselors who are coming to run our Vacation Bible School; see this post at my theology blog for more in-depth thoughts on this approach to VBS.  They will stay in the cottage, so it won't be as intense as it would be otherwise.  But it still involves some cooking, some cleaning, and some transport.

Late yesterday afternoon, I thought about getting some of the cleaning done.  I thought about baking.  But I was really enjoying the book I had just started:  American War by Omar El Akkad. Man oh man, is it a good read! It's a wonderful dystopian novel, set in the late 21st century. It's a fascinating way to look at climate change and refugee crises and the Civil War, both the one in the book, and the earlier one, the real one, in the 19th century.  These days, I get so little time to read the way I once did, when I just sink down into a book and settle in.  I decided to enjoy it.

Today I have a bit of time before the counselors arrive.  I'll do some cleaning and some set up.  I'll keep reminding myself that college kids who insist on resort style accommodations generally don't choose camp counselor as their summer job.  I'll keep reminding myself that hospitality doesn't mean that everything is perfect, but that everything is clean and comfortable with enough food to share.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Easter in July

Today, we celebrate the feast day of Mary Magdalene.  You might be saying, “Mary Magdalene? Wasn’t she possessed by demons? Wasn’t she a prostitute? Why would Christ appear to her anyway? Why does she get a feast day?”  Or maybe you remember more modern stories and think of her as Christ's secret lover and wonder if they had a secret family.

Or maybe you remember her in the Easter story as the first one to see Christ after the resurrection.  After Mary tells the disciples about the empty tomb, several of them race towards the tomb. They look, they assess, and then they go home. It is only Mary who stays behind to weep.

But because she stays behind to weep, to be still for a bit, she gets to be the first to see the risen Lord. The male disciples are first to see the evidence of resurrection, but Mary sees Christ. Soon others else will see him, but she is first.

The story of Mary Magdalene has much to say to us in the 21st century. We need to be reminded to stay alert for the Divine, and for each other. Busyness is the drug that many of us use to dull our senses. But in our busyness, we forget what's really important.

If we're too busy, we might miss Christ altogether. Both the Old and New Testament teach us that God will come to us in forms we least suspect. If we're not careful, we'll assume that we're not needed and go back to our houses. If we're not careful, we won't notice that the gardener is really Jesus.

It's good to be reminded of the resurrection story in the middle of July. Now the year is over half way done. We don't have the magic of spring to renew our spirits. We may be feeling scorched by the weather and by our dashed hopes for the year. It's good to remember the story that we can be part of; it's good to remember that we're promised grace and salvation.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Creativity Report: Thursday Night

Last night, I got home earlier than I have any other night this week.  I did some writing--a very small bit of writing.  Once I could write a huge chunk of short story, if not the entire short story, in an hour or two.  Now I feel lucky if I get a paragraph or two without feeling despair at not knowing how to write the story.

Next week we are hosting 2 camp counselors who are arriving to help our church lead Vacation Bible School.  Last night I found out that I'll be feeding them 2 nights, which is fine.  After all, when we agreed to host them, I assumed we might be feeding them dinner every night.  This week, my dinners have been my favorite:  wine, crackers, and cheese, which I feel O.K. about since I've been vigilant in portion control.  But that won't do for camp counselors.

I've had some poblano peppers that I bought when I planned to make a mole sauce.  They were on their last days, so I used the impending approach of camp counselors to make the sauce.  Later, I stuck it in the freezer for next week.

I had planned to collage, but I was running out of time.  I decided to go ahead and do it, just to see what would happen.  A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out some shelves, and I found a lot of materials that we kept in anticipation of doing more collaging.  I decided to throw away old calendars.  But I kept the envelopes of images and words that I cut out and saved. 

Last night, I decided that I didn't have to look through every envelope.  I found an old Christmas card that I liked, and I decided it would form the anchor of my collage.  I chose a few phrases, and a few other images.  When I was sorting, I came across a stash of mat boards that we bought at a sale long ago.  I decided on a purple mat board, even before I chose the images.  I love how it all came together:

I do notice that I tend not to collage like other people.  I have a lot of open space in my collages.  If I like the original image, it's hard for me to add other things on the image.  You'll notice that the Christmas card image is untouched, although I let things creep onto the white border.  The lantern had the purple glass.

When I used the modge podge, the images wrinkled a bit, and the blob at the lower right of the Christmas card formed.  I try to see it as part of the process, but my inner perfectionist is not happy.

If I look at this collage as a journaling exercise, it's clear to me what my soul is saying.  I'm ready for Christmas!  I'm also interested in more open spaces, in a different landscape.  What do those turtles mean?  Coming out of my shell or going in?  Wishing my house was more portable?

I didn't spend more than 45 minutes on this project, but I found it immensely satisfying.  Let me remember that for the future.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Love Each Other the Way You Have Loved the Monastery Dog

Near the end of our June retreat at Mepkin Abbey, I said, "I'm going to go home and love my husband the way we all love the monastery dog."

When I first met the monastery dog, I felt sorry for her.  I heard the story about how she appeared at the monastery in very bad shape, with a chain around her neck.  The monks took her in and taught her to trust the humans that show up at the monastery.

When I first met the dog, I thought about all the children who would never be part of her world.  But she has a never-ending supply of visitors who would likely pet her.  The monks take care of her.

I'm intrigued by how most people respond to the dog.  Almost everyone pets her head as she comes up to them with her wagging tail.  Many people kneel her level, all the better to be with her.  She seems to put most people in a better mood, and they respond to her accordingly.

She makes it easy to love her, in a way that humans don't always.  But how would the world change if we treated each and every human in the loving, soothing way that we treat the monastery dog?

I've had similar insights as I've watched toddlers move through the world.  I remember seeing a toddler in the process of having a crying meltdown in the parking lot--I'll never forget seeing the adult who was with her drop to her knees and talk in soothing tones.  It was so different than the way adults usually treat a child in the midst of a meltdown.

If we treated everyone that way, what a better world we would live in!