Monday, July 31, 2023

Pangs at the First Sign of Fall

Yesterday as we drove across the mountain to Faith Lutheran in Bristol, Tennessee where I preach every Sunday, I saw a very small maple tree with most of its leaves that glorious scarlet color that says autumn to me, not July 30.

I thought that maybe the tree had something wrong with it, but as I looked at all the trees, I noticed that many of them have shifted a bit.  I saw lots of browns and bronzes, rusty shades, the kind of color that I first read as too much spraying of herbicide.  But I saw the color on tree after tree, county after county, across state lines, so I think I'm seeing the first signs of autumn, signs so subtle that I would have missed them, had I not seen the scarlet maple tree.

I feel the pang that I remember from summers from a distant past, that pre-emptive mourning.  I know that my pace of life increases in just a few weeks, and I'm enjoying this more relaxed pace that I have now.  I know that come October, I'll be missing these summer days that have less structure.  And this year, I'm lucky to have summer days that have warmth, but not the blazing heat that make me yearn for summer to just be over and done with.

This week is the last week of camp at Lutheridge, and it's the week I'm volunteering as a Bible study (C3ARE) leader for middle schoolers.  I thought I'd be doing it by myself, but much to my surprise, we're in teams this week--and my teammate is a Create in Me friend.  Hurrah!

We are both teachers and have been for decades.  We have the kind of background where we could create an entire curriculum with not much prep time, so I don't feel much stress about it.  Plus, she's been a C3ARE leader with middle schoolers for years now, so she knows what to expect.  The campers will be off site for 2 of our 3 mornings, and camp ends on Friday this week, not Saturday, so it's a reduced load of a week.

Next week is my last week of summer, and it's not even a complete time off--my online classes end on Monday, which means I'll have grading to do.  I am taking advantage of this time of less responsibility and getting in a trip to see my parents in Williamsburg.  When I thought about moving to seminary, I knew that I wanted to see my parents more often, and even though I've moved further away, I still want to do that.  Even though I'm in a bit of denial about my own age, I'm not in denial about their age; I know that we don't have decades of time together.

But this morning, a different kind of time transport awaits--breakfast in the dining hall!  Let me get ready.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

A Walk in the Woods and the Rain

One of my Create in Me friends has periodically posted photos of her hikes in the mountains of western North Carolina.  When we moved here, one of the things I hoped to do eventually was go on a hike with her.  Yesterday, I was able to do just that, and it was amazing.

She's the type of hiker who knows all sorts of trails that are off the beaten path.  She thinks about the agility of her hiking group and chooses the perfect hike.  Yesterday, we had some challenges--some places where water needed to be traversed across logs and rocks.  I was more scared than I expected to be at first.  

What scared me?  Any number of things, from stupid things like getting my shoes wet (if I had known about the rain we would experience, I wouldn't have tried to preserve the dryness of my shoes) to falling and cracking my head against a rock.  I was scared of broken bones.  I had irrational fears of being swept away--but the water underneath us wasn't flowing swiftly or at all.  Most of all, I was scared of broken bones.

Come to find out, the rocks weren't slippery at all, which made getting across them easier.  And I am so glad I faced my fears and persevered.  By the end of the hike, I made my way across the rocks in the casual way my younger self did, that girl with no knowledge of broken bones and all the ways life in a physical body can be difficult.

Along the way we saw a variety of mushrooms and other plants.  

We saw waterfalls.  We ate lunch on a heart shaped rock.  We saw a few other hikers, some with a dog, some with a 12 week baby, and one with his 15 year old daughter coming back from a backpacking trip.  It made me happy to be human.

On our way back, the rains swept in.  It went from a light patter to a drenching downpour, and on we hiked.  Happily, I love walking in the rain, and our starting temperature was fine, so we didn't have to worry about our body heat.  I did worry a bit about rising water, but we were fine.  On the way back, we saw waterfalls by the road that weren't there when we drove up.

It was good to be reminded that I'm far more capable than I sometimes think that I am.  It was good to hike in a different place.  It was great to be with friends.  It was wonderful to breathe the mountain air and to feel the rain and to know that the planet has ways to heal.

Friday, July 28, 2023

The Writing before the Hiking

I do not have as much time to write as I sometimes do.  Today we join our hiking friends to go up the Blue Ridge Parkway, in search of cooler temperatures and a hike.  I need to make some sandwiches and clean out my backpack and eat some breakfast.  But let me record a few bits and pieces:

--As I was out driving yesterday, scanning the radio for a station, any station, that played music, I was surprised at the lack of Sinead O'Connor songs after her death was announced.  Maybe it's only people of the magnitude of a former Beatle that dominates the airwaves.  Maybe no music can dominate airwaves these days.  I was surprised by how many stations are all sports, all the time, and how many more religious stations there are.

--I threw a plastic bottle into recycling and now I wish I had it back for today's hike.  Sigh.

--I once had more supplies for a hike, both in terms of canteens, boots, and snacks.  We once had more water bottles; I wonder where we packed them.

--It feels like I haven't written much, but I did write a poem this morning, another Cassandra poem.  And as I finished it, I read about another torrential rainfall event in South Florida, just a few months after the one in April.  I am glad to be at 2200 feet above sea level.

--Last night, I saw fireflies as I was drifting off to sleep.  Later, the distant moon through the trees woke me up, but happily, I could fall back asleep.

--My Cassandra poem ends with this stanza, which I find surprisingly hopeful for my Cassandra series:

The spider reweaves at the end
of each day, spinning over the destruction,
working a new pattern. Cassandra cuts
her own fabrics, a crazy quilt,
a comforter for the new age.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Fierce Women, Fiery Ends

This month has seen the deaths of fierce women.  In some ways, that's true of every month; fierce women often meet fiery ends, and much too soon.  This morning, I was sad to hear of the death of Sinead O'Connor, and earlier this month, sad to hear of the death of Minnie Bruce Pratt.  Both women faced life circumstances, particularly around motherhood, that I will never have to face; I can make this claim as a post-menopausal woman.  Both highlighted the hazards that come from living life on one's own terms.

O'Connor's battles were much more public than Pratt's, who was one of the first to write about the sacrifices that she made when she decided to pay attention to her desires for other women; she lost custody of her sons because of that choice.

I only bought one of O'Connor's albums, or maybe two.  I loved I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, but by the time later work came out, I wasn't as interested for reasons I no longer remember.  I always cheered for her as she took on various causes, even as I wondered if less confrontational tactics might win more believers for those causes.  It's a question I often have--what means justify what ends?

I had some of Pratt's books, back in the days when I was buying any feminist work I could find, back when more of it was published, back when there were more small presses.  I have likely let a lot of that work go, and I do wonder if I'll regret it, in later days, when books may be harder to find and the power that fuels online collections dwindles/becomes ghastly expensive.  I wonder the same thing about all the music that has come through my hands.

If that end time comes, and I've read all my books, I'll just read them again.  If I can't play the music of others, I'll finally have time to teach myself all the instruments that has been waiting for me.  I will be a fierce woman, trying to avoid a fiery end.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Christmas Cookies in a New Kitchen

I've undergone several kitchen remodels now, and each one has left me exhausted and scarcely interested in ever being in the kitchen again.  In 2003, I made the cinnamon bread recipe from Beard on Bread to help me remember why I wanted to invest so much in a kitchen.  Yesterday, I made Christmas cookies.

Each year, Lutheridge has a Christmas in July week at camp, and people in the residential community bake Christmas cookies for the counselors.  Last year, I couldn't for a variety of reasons--we had just moved, and we were waiting on our stuff to catch up with us, so I didn't have mixing bowls.  I also didn't have an oven.

There have been times this year when I thought I might not be able to participate.  The kitchen renovation has been slow, slow, slow.  Having a stove, but not having countertops or a large enough sink to actually do much in the way of washing anything larger than a small plate, has limited my cooking/baking.

Yesterday, after having a surprisingly successful morning of getting the safety inspections for both cars, I decided to go ahead and get started on my cookie baking project.  I quickly decided I needed two batches of cookies.  The countertops are perfect for rolling out dough.  

I was not as happy with appearance of some of them, so we did a colored drizzle on some of them.  We had a good time decorating cookies--and of course, we had to sample some of them.  I'm happy to report that they taste great, even if they look a bit strange.

Then it was time to clean up.  My spouse actually used the bench scraper on the countertops.  I would not have done that--too much risk of scratching.  And yes, we've had countertop after countertop that has proclaimed that it's scratchproof, and it's not (dark Corian colors particularly).  Hurrah!  These counters seem a bit more indestructible.

We loaded everything into the dishwasher and ran a cycle.  Here's a surprise.  The dishwasher opens its door when it gets to a certain point in the drying cycle.  That was a surprise.  But the dishwasher did a fine job.

I'm looking forward to more cooking/baking adventures.  Next up:  bread for Sunday!

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Christmas in July

There are so many posts I could write.  Let me make a list for topics I might revisit later.

--I am listening to Paul Simon's latest recording.  Wow.  I've had it for awhile and been enjoying it.  This morning it's hitting all the right poetry vibes or maybe all the right theology vibes--both, actually. This line made me want to weep, thinking of all the times I have not had love as my default position:  "Nothing dies of too much love."

--I have been reading so much coverage of the Barbie movie.  Will I go see it?  Probably not; I am running out of summer free time.  But maybe I'll write a post about Barbie.  Or maybe I'll leave it at this idea, that I loved creating stories for my Barbies, stories that had them going off in the flying camper (the Barbie camper lost its front wheels), going back in time, solving mysteries, having cool careers.

--I could write about Christmas in July, the week that Lutheridge is celebrating.  What a fun time to be at camp!  

--Some of the houses in the residential section are decorated, but since campers won't see our house, we didn't decorate.  It makes me appreciate the neighbors who did even more.

However, I will bake Christmas cookies for counselors this week.  It will be the first thing I bake in the new oven.

--Finally, we have a kitchen that is usable.  We haven't used the new stove much, because our temporary sink was so very small--hard to wash big dishes by hand.  And not having a counter for several months makes me appreciate how much I use the counter to do the prep work.

--I will post pictures of the kitchen later.  Maybe one last kitchen update with before and after.  That kind of thing.

--One of my high school classmates posted a list of all of us--we have a reunion coming up, and they're trying to contact everyone.  The list had "passed" beside those of us who have died--16 out of approximately 300.  It seems like a lot to me, but I have no idea.

--If I'm going to bake, I'd best get to the store to get some supplies.  The butter will need time to soften!

Monday, July 24, 2023

Sunday Sermon Report: Weeds and Seeds

A week ago, I gathered seeds and things that might make a sprout.  I put them in a shallow pan:

Then I covered them with potting soil.  I had hopes that I'd have a pan of seedlings by Sunday, a visual to go along with my sermon about wheat and weeds.

During the week, the pan was saturated with rain water, so much rain water that I thought they wouldn't sprout.  But we poured off the water and waited to see what would happen.  Happily, by yesterday, we had a pan of sprouts.  I put the pan on a small table in the front of the sanctuary:

I delivered two sermons that I thought were strong, both on the idea of seeds and weeds.  I asked questions about how we distinguish between seeds and weeds--how do we know what is worthwhile?  The answer:  we may never know, particularly if we working on cosmic time, God's timeline, not ours.  We keep doing the work and the results shouldn't matter.

I also talked about our judgmental tendencies, particularly of ourselves.  This part near the end came to me as I walked up to the chapel on Saturday,  I prayed, asking God to let me know what the congregation needed to hear.  This paragraph sprang fully formed into my head:

"Like Mary Magdalene, we may be tormented by demons, the voices in our heads and outside of our heads, over and in and through society, voices that tell us that we will never be enough: good enough, rich enough, accomplished enough, nice enough, attractive enough, loved enough. Rest assured, when we hear those voices, we are not hearing the voice of God. When we are convinced that we are weeds, destined for the fire, that’s some other voice. It’s not the voice of God."

My preaching professor would say that it's a message that most people have never heard, and a message that is so important. I agree. 

I ended the adult sermon this way:  

"Even here, in the middle of Summer, The Easter message comes to cast out these demons again and again. Christ reminds us that he’s here, always waiting, always watching, always ready for us. Even if we don’t recognize him, Jesus will not cast us away. It is the voice of Jesus that can silence all of our demons and help us to be at peace. Jesus came to declare, to emphasize the Genesis message—God creates us and claims us and declares us good and very good. Let us hear that declaration today and every day."

I knew that I was taking risks with the sermon.  I subtly (was it subtle?) undercut the judgment imagery of weeds being cast into the fire; I focused on the message of putting judgment aside to let God sort it out, but I also claim that God will not throw us into the fire.  I wasn't sure how it would go over.

I got more positive feedback yesterday than I have so far--most days, I get no feedback at all, aside from smiles and interested looks.

Next week is the set of parables that includes yeast.  I will be baking bread for communion and doing interesting yeast experiments with the children's sermon.  I am so grateful for these sermon opportunities which include inspirations for visual elements and some participatory elements.

And one parishioner told me about a bread baking project in his old church, as he heard me ask if it would be OK if I brought homemade bread for communion next week.  His face lit up at the thought of homemade bread as part of the service.

I have always thought that homemade bread was part of my mission field, and it has been, in so many ways.  I am feeling deeply nourished this morning.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Notes from a Tomato Festival

Yesterday, we went to a farmer's market in a neighboring town--they were having a tomato festival, and their farmer's market is bigger than the one I usually go to.  I'd been wanting a wider variety of veggies, so off we went.

Here are the things that made this tomato festival day different from other days:

--The most noticeable thing:  a long table full of paper plates containing half a tomato sandwich.  Free tomato sandwiches!  Each sandwich was made on white bread, with Duke's mayonnaise, the way God intended.  There was salt and pepper.  It was delicious without salt and pepper.

--There was a booth where we could vote for our favorite tomato, advertised as a beauty contest.  The booth attendant gave us a ticket to drop in a cup.  I voted for the tomato least likely to win, small and ordinary.  My spouse voted for the one who hadn't gotten any votes.

--As we left, we noticed a woman in a tomato costume.  Was she officially part of the event or just deeply in the spirit of the festival?

I savored our time there.  I have a feeling that some day soon we'll look back with nostalgia, on a time  when we could enjoy a Saturday ramble through a farmer's market, saying no thank you to cannabis infused iced tea and happily munching free tomato sandwiches.  We came home with a variety of veggies and some whoopie pies made by a young entrepreneur, and life seemed full.

Could I write a poem without sounding maudlin?  Or cliched?  I'm thinking about returning to the figure of Cassandra.  Maybe she's given up making projections.  Maybe she sits on a deck overlooking the mountains, shelling beans that she grew, remembering a long ago day when the tomato sandwiches were free and the cost of so much modern life remained hidden.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Feast Days and Tomato Festivals

If you came here, hoping for a blog post about Mary Magdalene on her feast day, go to this post from my theology blog.  Later today, I'll finish writing my sermon, and I'll be on the lookout for ways to include her.  It's a sermon about weeds/tares and wheat: 

I'm planning to say something new, something beyond the judgment day kind of interpretation of that parable.  Including Mary Magdalene will do that.  Stay tuned!

In addition to getting some grading done and finishing my sermon, I'm headed over to the Hendersonville Farmer's Market, which is larger than the one that I usually go to in Mills River.  I haven't been finding many vegetables in that farmer's market this summer, and I need to eat some veggies this week.  The Hendersonville Farmer's Market is having a tomato festival today; fingers crossed that I can find some good tomatoes at least.

It's been a week of stress.  On Thursday night, after the stress of not finding the faucet, we bought some delicious pizza from a local pizzeria, Acropolis.  We needed a treat.  Happily, it fed us over two days.  But it did mean I didn't eat much in the way of veggies.

At some point, we should make some decisions about what is going where in the kitchen.  We have increased the amount of space, but if we spread out the dishes, cooking tools and pots/pans, we don't have room for food.  Sigh.  First world problems, I know.

We also got a chance to have the plumber come on Monday--hurrah!  And our washer and dryer arrived yesterday; unfortunately, we still need to create the laundry room before it's usable.  We have a plan.  But I'm anxious, because it involves moving plumbing.  It will make for a better house design eventually, so I'm sitting with my anxiety.

In the meantime, here's the kitchen as it is now, as it awaits the presence of plumbing:

I love the countertop, which is called River Stone.  

It's got blue and black veining, and I'm happy that the blue seems more visible on our counters.  I knew we ran the risk that it would look like white marble with black veins and weird beige blobs.

Let me bring this blobby blog post to a close, so I can go celebrate tomatoes!

Friday, July 21, 2023

The Case of the Missing Kitchen Faucet

This story has a happy ending.  But it made for a very stressful Thursday.  I was expecting a somewhat stressful Thursday, with a countertop install scheduled for afternoon.  But our anxiety was ramped up when we couldn't find the kitchen faucet.

I thought it had arrived and that we put it with the sink.  Nope--other things had arrived, like soap dispensers and a drain.  The Lowe's website showed that it had been delivered.  We turned the house upside down looking for it. My spouse looked under the house and in the shed. I checked the cars.

We had gotten stern e-mails about what had to be on hand for the install to happen, and the faucet was one of them. If it wasn't on hand, we might need to pay for an additional visit.  I figured they wouldn't leave with the countertops.  Happily, my spouse looked up the faucet template, and the installers were able to drill the holes--one for the faucet, two for soap dispensers.

That still left us the problem of not having the faucet, with the plumber scheduled to come on Tuesday to hook up everything.  Having to get a duplicate faucet wouldn't be the worst thing--if we could get it on time.  We didn't buy the super-duper, top of the line expensive model.  But still, I didn't want to pay another several hundred dollars to replace a faucet that we had already paid for.

And it left us with the lingering where-is-that-faucet questions.  Was there someplace obvious we hadn't looked?  Some not obvious location?

 I decided to call Lowe's, just in case the faucet was still there.  I expected to be told that the computer said it was delivered, and that would be that.  But the delivery manager looked through the photographs of what had been delivered to our house and didn't see a picture of it in his house.  He said, "Let me check the pick up pile."

Sure enough, it was there.  I got in the car and went right over to pick it up.  We live so close to Lowe's that I got to the Customer Service desk before the Delivery Manager did.

The faucet looks great, as do the countertops, so I'm trying to see this as an all's well that ends well story.  At the same time, part of me is distressed about the fact that Lowe's didn't deliver the faucet and that we didn't figure that out for weeks.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Moving Days: A Look Back

A year ago, it would have been the day before the moving van arrived.  Ten years ago, in 2013, we would have been moving across town, from the shabby neighborhood to the historic district.  This morning, I am grateful for all the moves, and beyond grateful that we're not doing a move this summer.

And that's not quite true.  I started the summer back in May by packing up my seminary apartment, which was about 1/4 of our possessions.  

I've spent this summer tracking weather events, primarily extreme heat (not affecting me) and wildfire smoke (not affecting me as badly as some parts of the country).  I have thought about organized retreats/exits from parts of the country that will soon be unlivable.  I have thought about how expensive it is to move.

I have been waking up in the middle of the night, worrying about the home repairs and remodels we need to do to this house, and then that morphs into contemplation of all the ways we could never get our previous house to where we wanted it to be.  That quickly spirals into feeling like a failure for not being able to adapt a historic house to its updated flood zone status.  In the light of day, I am much more gentle with myself.

Even when we moved in 2013, I had worries about moving closer to the coast.  I thought that we had more time before sea level rise started in earnest.  Everybody thought we had more time.

I became alarmed when we had fairly minor storms which had long recovery times.  I worried about a direct hit from a hurricane--even a level two or three seemed like it might not be a good idea in our historic home.  And when I thought about the fact that our floorboards were only 2 feet above sea level, I became worried about the acceleration of sea level rise and what it would mean in our lifetimes.

I am amazed that people are still moving to Florida and Phoenix and all the other warm places.  Perhaps they can afford the astonishingly high insurance, at least until the insurers declare areas uninsurable.  Maybe they can buy their homes outright, which means they can decide not to buy the astronomically high insurance.

Given the home upgrades that we've done in the past year, we just increased our level of home owner's insurance, and we're still paying less in a year than we did in our old house--so much less.  At points, in South Florida, when we had homeowner's insurance, hurricane insurance, and flood insurance, we paid over $13,000.00 a year--thirteen thousand a year.  I see some articles about the cost of insurance in Florida, and they always interview someone who is astonished to find their rates rise to $6,000.00 a year.  It's likely someone inland.  On the coast, insurance is much higher, and that's with the federal government subsidizing the flood insurance.

Living in South Florida is not sustainable for most of us with middle class jobs or working class jobs.  And frankly, it's not going to be sustainable for much longer for anyone.  Even the wealthy rely on infrastructure like water, sewer, roads, bridges, and tarmacs, infrastructure that will be impacted by heat and the sea level bubbling up from underneath at inopportune times.

I am glad that we saw an opportunity to manage our retreat from the coast.  I worry about those left behind.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The Crabby Side

Lest you think it is all sweetness and light here in our mountain house, let me confess that I woke up on the crabby side of the bed yesterday.  By the mid-afternoon, when I had worked my way out of my crabbiness (or waited long enough for the crabby tide to ebb/crest), my spouse was a bit grouchy.  We went to bed early, but then he woke up at 2:00 fretting about the unfinished state of home repairs, and we both got up for a bit.

Our house is lacking some key interior walls--key not in the sense of being necessary for structural integrity, but key to privacy and sound/light control.  In other words, sound travels and the light from TV and lamps travels, so if my spouse is up watching TV because he can't sleep, so am I.  

In an ideal world, we'd get some walls up before my classes start at the end of August.  I will have class three nights a week, which is a lot of keeping quiet in the other room time, if the walls aren't up.

But in happier news, the countertops are supposed to arrive tomorrow to be installed here.  When we ripped out the kitchen in early May--literally, we ripped it out with hammers and other implements of destruction--I didn't think it would take this long to get a functioning kitchen back.

Please don't let the same thing be true of the laundry room!

In some ways, we're lucky.  When the person came to measure for the countertops, he seemed to say we'd be lucky if we got them before September.  We're getting a manufactured product--it's not like we're waiting for the granite to be mined from Africa and shipped over the ocean.  Sigh.

Increasing my unease is the return of wildflower smoke, the hazy skies.  I don't smell smoke in the air, but I do wonder if my eyes are scratchy because of it.  It's been a strange summer of record breaking heat (not here, thank goodness) and smoke that ebbs and flows.

Is this the summer that finally convinces people of the reality of climate change?  Not likely. With each new record smashed, year after year, it's hard to imagine what it will take to convince the skeptics among us.

It's good to remember that we escaped from a house that was threatened by climate change in much more immediate ways than this one.  It's good to remember that we can do repairs and upgrades that are likely to last our lifetime and not be swept away in the next flooding event.  That's something we couldn't say in South Florida.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Midsummer, Mid July

Yesterday was one of those days when we got to 2:30, and I thought it should be bedtime.  And yet, at the same time, it felt like I got nothing done.  In part, it's because our volunteer mail delivery took longer:  we had the mail delivered, and then the postal carrier brought a new batch, so we did another delivery.

Before the mail delivery, I went over to the laundromat and washed a load of clothes, which I brought back to hang up to dry.  After the mail delivery, I did a quick grocery store run.  By 2:30, I was oddly exhausted.

We've also got another round of wildfire smoke--could that be contributing to my exhaustion?  Yes.  Our air quality is labeled "unhealthy."  What a strange summer.

I did have time to read on the deck.  That was a summer delight.  But by early evening, we wanted to do something to stay awake so that we don't get into an unsustainable habit of going to bed at 6:30.

A few weeks ago, when Alan Arkin died, I remembered how much I loved the film The In-laws, so we watched it last night.  While it was moderately entertaining, I didn't find it hilarious, the way I did back in 1979.

When I remember yesterday, I want to remember my morning walk, picking up a variety of items (dandelion puffs, clover flowers, a few blackberries) that might sprout quickly and putting them in a zip-lock bag I had in my pocket:

I made this Facebook post to explain my project:  "Scientist sermonizer, at your service! This week's Gospel is about the weeds that get mixed in with the wheat, so my sermon visual element requires a bit more thinking ahead. On my walk this morning, I collected dandelion fluffs, clover, and blueberries. I sliced a tomato and saved the seeds. And our birdseed sprouts rather quickly--it started to grow in the crevices of our deck. Will they sprout in time for Sunday? Stay tuned!"

Monday, July 17, 2023

A Soul Satisfying Week-end in the Middle of Summer

It's been a good week-end.  On Saturday, I had grading to do and sermon prep to do, and I did it.  The box of sermon props that I ordered for my children's sermon arrived, as was promised when I came up with the plan on Friday.

I got to the library to pick up the books that I had on reserve, and I spent part of the week-end reading for pleasure.   Bonnie Garmus' Lessons in Chemistry is every bit as wonderful as I had heard.  I read almost all of it by week-end's end.

Our trip over the mountains on Sunday was beautiful.  In the early morning, it felt like we were driving through a movie set--the clouds hung low across part of the mountains, making some of the trees look like they had spun fiber in them, and in some places, it looked like steam or smoke was rising up over the trees.

It was a good Sunday service--for more on my children's sermon, see this post on my theology blog.  As we drove back home, my spouse and I talked about the possibility for next week's sermon, with the Gospel being the parable about weeds and seedlings and the property owner who will sort them out in the end.  Can we get around the standard interpretation of judgment?  I think we can, and that will be my approach.

For afternoon happy hour, I set up a tasting.  I had bought 3 types of Chardonnay from Kendall Jackson:  an oaked, an unoaked, and a lower calorie/alcohol version.  It did not surprise me that I preferred the oaked version, my spouse the unoaked, and we both had a shrug over the lower calorie/alcohol wine.  It's not very scientific, since we knew what we were tasting.

And now I have a few weeks before my fall commitments begin.  They're not completely free weeks:  I need to create syllabi for my in person classes at Spartanburg Methodist College, and I'm doing middle school Bible study for the last week of camp in August.  We've got home repairs ongoing (but that's likely to be a constant state for at least a year):  this week, we're expecting the counters to be installed.

Let me go for a walk and look for some dandelion puffs.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Music Week in Short Segments

At some point, I'll write a more focused blog post on the past week, which was Music Week at Lutheridge.  My parents came for it, and my spouse participated in all the singing.  I participated in all the worship and Bible study.  

But today, let me just capture some highlights of the week in a short segment style.

--It started off cool and rainy and ended blazingly hot, although not nearly as hot as much of the northern hemisphere, not as rainy as in New England.  Each day brought me reminders of why I'm happy to be here.  Each day as I walked back and forth to Music Week events, I watched the ripening progress of the blackberry bushes in the vacant lot.

--Thursday we went to downtown Asheville for a hymnfest and before the event, we ate at the Foggy Mountain Brewpub.  It was delightful!  I felt a bit of stress because I suggested the place, primarily because it was close to the church that was hosting the hymnfest.  I needn't have worried:  the food was great and everyone with us had been eating camp food all week.

--Friday was my birthday, which began with breakfast with my parents at Biscuithead--also delightful food and huge biscuits.

--Later, I made this Facebook post:  "So far, I've gotten a lot of birthday happy wishes and offers from businesses (free popcorn at the movies! free ice cream at Culvers!). I love that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sent me a Happy Birthday e-mail wishing me a chance to go outdoors, and an opportunity to purchase a waterproof tag that tells what licenses I have (like a fishing license) that I could attach to my license plate, so it's with me, protected and safe when I go to the great outdoors."

--I arrived at rehearsals as they were ending, and I loved hearing the director, Tom Tenney, talk about how music and singing affects and improves our bodies, not just our souls.

--We did an evening labyrinth walk.  It was indoors, and we used the HUGE canvas labyrinth that the South Carolina synod has.  I was a bit staggered to think about the fact that I've been walking labyrinths for over 20 years.  I think I may like the evening labyrinth experience best.  As I think about the week of sleep, I slept most soundly the night after we walked the labyrinth.  It may be because of exhaustion, but I think it was more.

--It was also wonderful starting each morning with worship.  On Wednesday, I made this Facebook post:  "Even if I had my camera or phone with me, I probably wouldn't have been able to capture the heron that swooped over this lake and flew into a pine tree just as we began morning worship at Lutheridge (Music Week 2023). Great show, God/Nature/Earth/Heron!"

--It was great spending time with my mom and dad.  I realize our time together is going to be cut short at some point--we're all getting older.  I'm trying to cherish what we have.

--And let me not forget that I finished my seminary class.  It was a good class overall, but I'm glad to be done--it's been tricky balancing all of my commitments.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Happy Birthday to Me--and France, and Woody Guthrie, and Gerald Ford

So it is Bastille Day--happy French Independence Day to those who celebrate.  It is also my birthday, and the birthday of people more significant than I am:  Woody Guthrie and Gerald Ford come to mind.

I will be with people who care about me today, so I'm already rich in birthday blessings.  Last year, the whole dining hall at Lutheridge sang to me, but that won't happen this year, and that's fine.  When I tried to hop up onto the small stage in the dining hall, I felt my age.

It's strange to think about aging in this land that worships youth and agility, the kind of agility that comes with youth.  I have agility, but it's the kind that comes with pivoting after hard knock followed by good fortune followed by hard knock, again and again and again in a life span.

I am 58 years old.  I am resting at the far end of midlife before continuing on.  I hope to achieve wise elder status, but I'm not there yet.  It's going to be interesting, hoping to achieve wise elder status in a rapidly warming world.  Does any of our ancient wisdom apply in a rapidly warming world?

We are here, in our little house in the North Carolina mountains, finding the music of Woody Guthrie on YouTube.  Our CDs are still packed up, but that's OK because we're discovering versions we didn't know existed.  We're sending each other recommendations by e-mail, even though we're only 20 feet away.  It's a good way to start a birthday, or any day really.  It's also sad to realize how relevant Guthrie's music still is.  Listen to Bruce Springsteen singing "I Ain't Got No Home" and see for yourself.

Soon I will head up the hill to meet my parents for breakfast--we're going on a biscuit quest.  Perhaps later today, I'll figure out how to get my free ice cream at Culver's.  These are simple joys, but if life has taught me one thing, it's to seize joy where you can find it, while you can find it.  And often, the simple joys are best.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Yokes and Burdens and Children's Sermons with Styrofoam

Last night was the last night of my seminary class; I spent yesterday working on writing my final exam essays, which turned out to be easier than I expected.  Indeed, the hard part was choosing the movies I wanted to use to answer the writing prompts.  Once I settled on the three films, the writing flowed quickly.  Hurrah!

Before we get too far away from my children's sermon on Sunday, I want to make a record of it here.  Even better, I'll post a link to the video my mother took while it was happening.  I arrived with my styrofoam yokes, which I put in the front of the church--it's not the usual decorating that I do, but it did generate interest.

I started by asking the children to visualize the huge field next to the church, and then I asked what we would have to do if we wanted to plant a garden.  Yes, we would have to mow!  What would we use to do that?  Yes, a tractor!  But before tractors were invented, what would we use?  Silence--which was fine.  It led naturally to talking about plows and how animals would help us pull the plow and get the job done more quickly.

I read the passage from the Gospel, Matthew 11:  28-30:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In an ideal world, I'd have had a historic yoke to show them, but I didn't.  So I created one out of styrofoam, but I was sure to talk about how a real yoke would be made with wood, and I brought along a heavy board to help them imagine how it would feel around their necks.  Easy?  How?

I invited my spouse up to show how a yoke with 2 animals would work.  What happens if the animals want to go in different directions?

We had planned to have the yoke split, but we weren't sure what would happen.  We couldn't rehearse without destroying the prop.  But it worked just the way we wanted--it was dramatic and got everyone's attention.

I finished the sermon by talking about God, who invites us to be part of the ongoing creation of the world.  I talked about how much easier it is to get a job done when we have help and when everyone moves in the same direction.   

As I watch the video, I can see places where I could have done more.  But overall, I think this may be my best children's sermon yet.  You can see much of the video here, although my mom didn't start recording until after I had talked about mowing and plows and yokes in general.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Cassandra in the Mountains

Once again, between Music Week and class work (both for the class I'm taking, looking ahead to Fall,and the ones I'm teaching), my writing time is short.  I did want to make note of record water temperatures in the ocean around Florida.  I saw a tweet about water temperatures of 97 degrees, and I remembered a snorkeling trip from 2009, which I wrote about in this blog post.  We went on a day where the temperatures got to 92 degrees, which was record breaking.  The normal temperatures are in the mid-80's at the end of summer.

We're in the middle of summer and shattering records for heat, both in the water and on land.  I am so glad I have a house in the mountains.  I thought about Cassandra, who made predictions that no one believed.  How does Cassandra feel when predictions come true?

It's not a new subject for me, but this morning, I returned to it, as I created some lines that are building into a coherent poem.  Here's a taste:

I cannot save you from the sea,
but I understand how it has bewitched
you, leading you on with false
hopes, thinking maybe you will be spared,
one of the lucky ones to emerge
with your habitat sustained
while others bleach and burn.

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Children's Preacher as Poet and/or Teacher of First Year College Students

My writing time is a bit short today--between Lutheridge Music Week festivities and my final essay exam for my seminary class due this week, my writing time might remain short.  Still I hope to record a few insights here and there.  No, I hope to write some in-depth posts, but if not, I'll hope to make note of a few insights.

Yesterday, on the way over the mountains back from the church in Bristol where I am a Synod Appointed Minister (SAM), my spouse and I talked about sermons, as we often do on the drive back.  He is wise enough to be gentle in his critiques of my sermons.  Of all the humans I know, he has the most interest in a sermon that's intellectually rigorous.  My adult sermons sometimes hit that mark for him--well, at least, parts of my sermon do.

He is more approving of my children's sermons than I expected.  With a children's sermon, I've had less training and less experience seeing them in action.  Most of the churches I've attended in my life haven't done them, and so far, my seminary studies haven't included a class in how to craft a children's sermon.

So, I study the Gospel for the day, and I look for part that is most important for a child to hear and remember.  In a later post this week, I'll say more about some specific content from my past 6 weeks of children's sermons.  But today, before I go up the hill to the chapel for morning worship, let me record what I'm realizing.

My training and experience as a poet is serving me well as I try to create memorable children's sermons.  Just as when I'm creating a metaphor for a poem, I do the same in a children's sermon:  I'm trying to create something that makes people see the world differently, to see an object or a concept in a way that they never have before, and that each time in the future, they'll think of what I did in the poem or the children's sermon.  

My training as a teacher of first year college students is also serving me well, and it's training that goes back to my days as a drama kid.  I've always been good at improv and thinking on my feet.  I've always been good at projecting my voice and finding ways to engage the people watching me.  I'm good at making connections which often only come to me as I'm teaching or presenting the material.  I am happy to make a fool of myself if it will lead to memorable moments in teaching or preaching--because if I don't care what people think about me, I'm more likely to reach people, and it's more likely that I'm not going to make a fool of myself.

So, if that means putting my head through a styrofoam yoke to make a point about easy yokes and light burdens, I'll do it.  If that means having children move to a different part of the church, I'll do it.  And I suspect the adults watching may be learning just as much as the children.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Fourth Festivities Week

It's been an interesting week to have a house in the mountains--in all the good ways.  This past week has felt like summer has finally arrived, but it's the type of summer that I remember from my first two decades of life, where it's warm/hot during the day, but it cools off at night.  It's also felt like summer because Lutheridge (the camp where my residential community is located) celebrated the Fourth of July, which at times, felt like falling into a Norman Rockwell painting--in a good way.  There were decorated cabins, people wearing festive clothing and body decorations, and a parade (but everyone was on foot).  One of our neighbors who has a beautiful back yard, invited us all over for barbecue and other treats, like homemade ice cream.

Photo taken by Sally Lingle

Here is a picture of the parade, taken from a far enough distance that people's privacy is protected.

I didn't get pictures of the fireworks.  My phone isn't as good as the ones that others have, so my ability to take pictures at night isn't great.  Plus, we didn't stay long.  I remember finding fireworks enchanting as a child, but as an adult, they seemed noisy.  We drove down to the lake, which seems unwise in retrospect--too many pedestrians on very dark streets.  Next year we'll go up to the loft to see what kind of view we have from our very high windows. 

My favorite memory of yesterday may end up being this one:

What on earth?  We were making props for my children's sermon on Sunday.  The passage talks about yokes being easy and burdens light.  I don't have an old-fashioned yoke, so I asked my spouse if he had ideas.  He gazed at the pile of construction debris in the back yard.  Soon we were cutting the styrofoam that had recently cushioned the ceiling fans that we just installed.

Another significant event from yesterday that has no pictures:  I chose our new health insurance plan.  We got notification that the group that offered the plan we had, Friday Health, would be pulling out of the state, so we had until August 31 to choose a new plan.  I had thought of putting off that decision, but yesterday I found myself on the website and decided to proceed, while it was all working (website, internet, brain).  So far, I've found the website much easier to navigate than I expected.  And so far, we've gotten health insurance coverage that has cost us far less than it cost when I was getting insurance through my employer.  Thanks, former President Obama!

Speaking of former employers, I found out that City College has discontinued its Vet Tech program and rather suddenly.  I'm not going to say much about it here, but it's news that my brain comes back to periodically.  The program was very expensive to run, but once upon a time, it was the most popular program, the one with a waiting list.  Post pandemic, I don't know the statistics as clearly.

I am grateful to be here, up on the mountain, safe from the heat that is scorching most of the planet.  I feel lucky to be part of this community here.  I feel lucky to have the opportunity to preach at the church in Bristol.  In a few hours, we'll leave to meet my parents in Bristol.  They're going to church with us tomorrow on their way to Lutheridge for Music Week.  More gratitude for this abundance.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

Delivering the Mail and So Much More

A few months ago, our residential community had a request for a volunteer to be the mail delivery person to campers for the summer.  So many of us volunteered that we're sharing the work/joy.  This week has been my turn, and I'll deliver two days next week, and then the following week.  

Above is a picture of me leaving Pioneer A, the cabins for elementary school kids.  I was a camper there once, with terrible homesickness, finding comfort from reading a book under a tree.  It was The Little Prince, a book my mom packed in my suitcase for a surprise. 

Originally, I thought I would walk the mail route and get my exercise that way.  One of our residents has said that we can  use her golf cart each week.  This week, with the end of my Social Justice and Cinema class for seminary, using the golf cart makes sense.  Plus, it's so much fun driving the golf cart!

So far, this week, we've had mail that I could have carried by hand, but if there are packages, the golf cart makes even more sense.  But really, I'm just justifying my desire to drive the golf cart around camp.  It makes me want to buy one of my own, a yearning which really makes no sense.  We don't work year-round at the camp.  We don't need a gasoline-free way to zip from place to place.

Still, I must confess that I've gotten a sense of deep peace as I've zipped from place to place, leaving mail for campers in each cabin's mail box, seeing this camp from a slightly different perspective than the one I've enjoyed across decades.

On Tuesday, I could hear the faint strains of music as I drove away from Wilderness, the area of camp closest to the pool.  Could it be?  Yes, it was John Denver singing "Country Roads (take me home, to the place, I belong)."

Not for the first time since moving here did I think, yes, I really have come home:  home to a place where my mom was one of the first camp counselors, where my grandparents' church came for a summer Sunday picnic, where my dad saw the job advertised in the Columbia newspaper (that a Music Week participant gave to him) that would become one of his more long-lasting jobs and the last one, to the place where my family has gathered for Thanksgiving family reunions for almost 30 years, to the place that has nourished and sustained me when I've come for retreats.  I am lucky indeed.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Fourth of July Recap

I woke up this morning feeling more tired than usual.  It wasn't a great night for sleeping--lots of fireworks lasting late into the night.  At one point, I did get up to see if I could see any of them, but I couldn't.

I woke up feeling like I hadn't gotten anything done yesterday, but that's not true.  I went grocery shopping and did my volunteer duty delivering mail to camper cabins (more on that tomorrow).  I loved seeing Fourth of July decorations at some of the cabins.

I watched both of the movies that we'll discuss tonight in my seminary class, Social Justice and Cinema.  The first was Wadjda, a movie I had never heard of and wouldn't have discovered on my own.  It follows a spunky girl who lives in Saudi Arabia and yearns for a bicycle.  Later in the day, we watched Now, Voyager, a Bette Davis film that surprised me with its levels of nuance.

Getting caught up on my film viewing took 4 hours, so it's not surprising that I didn't have lots of time for other things.  We will do more Fourth of July celebrating on Friday, when Lutheridge celebrates with fireworks over the lake, and before that, we're going to a barbecue feast at our neighbor's house.  There's also a parade of sorts.

I also got in a walk in the morning.  I'm having fun looking for blackberry vines, now that I have a sense of what they look like.  Here they are before they turn into blackberries:

At various points yesterday, I thought I was finding lost parts of my self, the naturalist Kristin looking at leaves and identifying birdsong, the camp counselor who takes care of campers, Kristin who plans holiday celebrations with ice cream sundaes and Cracker Jacks.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Our Lives, Our Fortunes, and Our Sacred Honor

It's Independence Day, the Fourth of July, a day that sits differently with people.  I understand the despair, the anguish, the anger--and yet, I still find this holiday hopeful and a reason for hope.  I am always inspired by those men who signed the Declaration of Independence on this day in 1776. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, so great was their belief in what they were doing.

I realize that those men were committed to freedom for a much more narrow section of society than many of us would want to believe. It's good to remember how slowly those freedoms came for the majority of us, a good day to remember how much effort (and money and blood) it took. It's a good day to think about our commitments, our values, what we hold most true.

It's also a scary day, to be sure.  It's hard to sit with the fears that we're sliding back to a past that most of us don't want to relive.  Sure, angry people might make us believe that a majority of our fellow citizens would vote to reinstate slavery along with a variety of worst practices from the past, but that's simply not true.  Angry people are very loud in our current society, and it's easy to neglect those of us doing good work to make a more inclusive society, the way we always have done.

It's the kind of day where we might wonder if we're headed to armed insurrection, which hasn't been unknown in our country, which, after all, was born out of an armed insurrection.  I don't think that we are.  Some might argue that we're already in a state of armed insurrection, with mass shootings a daily occurrence now.  But that kind of violence is different than a civil war, different than a war to fight off colonizing imperialists.

I also know people with collapse-of-Rome fears.  But the collapse of a civilization usually comes much more slowly than one person's lifetime.  I do think we're headed to a very different future, but will it be a post-U.S. future?  Not any time soon.  I am much more worried about what climate change is going to do to countries and empires, but most people won't be talking about that future on this day.

I can't resist posting this picture of me and my dad, dressed up as colonist and British soldier, standing in front of a painting of British soldiers:

I have always been amazed that the rowdy colonists could pull off this defeat of the greatest empire in the world at the time. I don't think it's only that they were fighting on their home territory that helped them win. Plenty of people fight to defend their homes and don't win.

My reading of history has always taught me that the unexpected might happen--and yet, it often doesn't.

For all of the attempts to divide us, communities have found ways to stay together.  For all attempts to shred the Constitution, we've been knitting it back together again. May we continue to do so.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Home Repairs Then and Now

How the seasons have shifted.  Was it just last week that we had to turn on the heat to take the chill off the air in the morning?  And this morning, I turned on the AC, just for a minute, so that I won't sweat through a second set of clothes before 7 a.m.  I realize that our mountain heat is very different, so I won't complain.  But I am glad that we decided to invest in the ultra-modern HVAC system for our mountain house.

I have shifted the washer/dryer delivery for Monday, July 10, instead of this Friday.  Suddenly, this Friday, we have invitations and festive events to attend, like a Fourth of July parade at camp and later, fireworks.  Last year I was sad that we wouldn't get ourselves moved in time for the festive events.  I don't want to miss them this year because I scheduled a delivery on that day.

We have made good progress on house renovations in the past week, but we are at the point where I am tired, tired, tired.  The last time we did major home renovations, I went off to work every day.  That, too, had a stress level, but it was different.  I had a break from the home repair chaos every day.

Of course, I also had work stress.  As I recall, those were months of a boss telling me that if I had had more business classes like he had, maybe I would be a better manager.  Maybe I should think about an MBA?  I asked if the school would pay for it and never got a clear answer.  But as I researched the requirements for an MBA, I felt this absolute despair over how much the degree did not interest me at all.  I thought, if I'm going to do this much work, I'd rather be at seminary.

Little did I know, back then, as 2018 stretched into 2019, how many changes were about to come barreling my way:  a pandemic, the sale of the school, the yes we will keep you in your position or maybe we'll promote you or no we will not dance.

Today I'll finish writing my paper for my seminary class and do some "training" for some Lutheridge tasks that are upcoming--mail delivery duty and being a Bible study leader for middle schoolers in August.  I'll also enjoy this day with family since they leave tomorrow.  I will remember that we can get all of this done.

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Writing in the Remodeling and Rewiring

Today I will head over the mountains to Faith Lutheran Church in Bristol, Tennessee, as I've done for the past four Sundays.  But this morning, I'll drive by myself.  My spouse will stay here; his sister and her electrician fiancĂ© are here for a few days to help us rewire the house and install lights and ceiling fans.  Going to Bristol takes a significant amount of time, so I will go, and they will stay here to make progress.

They are an amazing team, so I'm happy to head out by myself and leave them to the work at hand.  Yesterday they got the undercabinet lights installed, along with some of the overhead lights.  They figured out a strategy for hanging the ceiling fans in the two bedrooms where there is no existing overhead light.  They made initial cuts.  They ran wire.  My spouse did some framing in the loft where we hope to add a half bath.

They were done in time to have dinner and play a few rounds of Sequence, the game that is both a board game and a card game.  Then they headed back to their hotel, and my spouse and I collapsed into sleep even before it was fully dark (not an unusual bedtime for us).

The more we work on this house, the more amazed I am at what a solid house it is, probably the most well-constructed house we've ever had.  Why is this amazing?  In part, because it was built to be a summer cottage at a church camp, which is the kind of house where builders might have been on a budget.

I can't really help in many of these home repairs, so I sat at my desk yesterday, working on my sermon for today and on my class paper and Powerpoint presentation for seminary class on Wednesday.  I am amazed at what I was able to accomplish.  And yes, I did sleep a bit better last night, in part because of my sermon being done and printed.

I am looking forward to today's drive across the mountains--such beautiful country I drive through every week.  I am looking forward to some alone drive time--it feels like it's been forever since I did that, even though it's only been 6 weeks.  I am looking forward to being with the congregation.  And I'm looking forward to coming home to see all that has been accomplished without me.