Saturday, June 30, 2007

Online Dating

Mingle2 -

this is what I get for writing headlines with the phrase "suck it" two days in a row.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Two summer ago, shared my a tale of woe (more like WHOA! about breaking my espresso machine. The post was called Why Baristas Wear Aprons, and it tells how I threw in the disgusting, stained towel on home creation of espresso drinks.

Well, I've switched to iced coffee, and on the very convincing advice of the New York Times Magazine plus a raft of questionable strangers on the internet, I am experimenting with cold-brewing coffee concentrate. This will be my second batch, and the first batch was quite decent - less acidic, just as all the propaganda promised, with the sort of strong flavor needed to stand up to milk.

Sites that talk about this process use words like 'mulch' to describe the coffee-grounds-and-cold-water goop, and that's not inapproprate. Actually, peat moss. Smells better, though.

Tonight, I have added some sugar to the peat moss, to see if it suspends evenly - actually, to see if it dissolves at all in cold water which is then kept in the fridge. If I can make sweetened iced coffee concentrate.......wooo.

The tough part is not making your iced coffee at home. See, when I spend the $3 a day for iced coffee at Starbucks, I'm drinking it either in the store (rarely), in the Prius (usually) or at my desk. Unmolested by one-year-olds.

The tough part is getting a chance to drink your iced coffee at home.
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You know I was just writing about Betsy Recipes? THIS could be the Betsy Apartment.

via Dooce.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I am searching, searching, searching the internet to see if I can find some version of the recipe I cooked tonight (without having to a)violate the copyright of a writer I admire and also b)type it myself.)

Because it is The Very Best Thing I Have Ever Eaten. Plus, I've made it several times, and it is easier to make well than it is to make badly. (I know, because I've done both. But it really is easy to make well.)

It's Chicken with Vinegar, from The Minimalist Cooks at Home, which was a Christmas gift several years ago and which I am finally working my way through. I don't have very many cookbooks. Since several of my favorite recipes were from Mark Bittman's Minimalist column in the NYTimes (print edition; the food section's on Wednesday) I thought this one might be a good bet. Well, yay me, and my excellent taste.

I love to cook, but I go through long phases where I can barely bring myself to toast a poptart. Lately, I've been cooking up a storm. Even more than cooking, I love grocery shopping, though when prices are high as they have been this spring, I get all mad, as if I was being insulted personally by mango growers and organic chicken farmers.

Rather than go on and on about the difficulty and frustration of trying to cook with a one-year-old standing between your feet, waiting patiently for you to put that knife down on the counter, instead I give you:

The cookbooks I use a lot:
My dad's 1955 Joy Of Cooking
The Best of Mennonite Fellowship Meals, which I'm thrilled to see is still in print. This is a weird compendium - but for every green jello salad with canned fruit, there's a great simple recipe that's got a place in my repetoir.
Brother Juniper's Bread Book my favorite baking book (and I've read them ALL.) Also thrilled to see this is still in print.

Easy Basics for Good Cooking, from Sunset, out of print but apparently there are plenty around. I need to take mine out and get it rebound, or drilled and kept in a looseleaf notebook.

I got out of my house basically able to scramble an egg. My dad was a terrific cook (in the 'big roasts surrounded by root vegetables' vein), and it was his main creative outlet. SO HE WOULD PHYSICALLY REMOVE ME AND MY BROTHER FROM THE KITCHEN so he could create in peace.

My brother was able to learn a little more from him than I was, and then worked in a bakery and at a lunch counter, so he had no such handicap as he faced adulthood. Me, I ate a lot of sandwiches, and a lot of eggs.

I don't really remember what made me want to learn to cook - I think it's connected to having this house and wanting to be hospitable. I do know that, before we were even really moved in, I made a big batch of chocolate chip cookies with walnuts for my brother and his friend, Wesley Paxton, who was visiting from England.

Our friend Chuck lived with us for years, and I think I learned mostly from him. He's a very ambitious and creative cook, who learned from both his parents; we've spent many happy hours talking food, now that he has his own kitchen.

Anyway, Easy Basics is exactly that, with lots of helpful photos (because the choux paste is SUPPOSED to separate like that when you add the eggs, but if you've never done it before, it totally looks like it has something has gone horribly wrong and you should throw it all out and order something instead.)

And because of Easy Basics - and because of choux paste, which is what creampuffs and eclairs are made of - I developed my peculiar area of speciality when it comes to cooking.

Which is: the recipes (and there are hundreds) which are simple and dependable, but which create a product all out of proportion to the effort involved. Which seem, to the person eating them, to be hard and time-consuming and to show immense skill.

Those are Betsy Recipes.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ecumenism critqued

over here. I'm a fan of Kyle Potter; he's a divinity student, a terrific clear writer about some complex subjects, and incidentally, a devout Anglican. (All those guys who starts out as Southern Baptists make the best Anglicans.)

It's more than incidental for me, actually. I'm a cradle Episcopalian, who, after a very devout childhood and short periods as a Buddhist and a Quaker, grew up to be sort of a general-purpose evangelical who worshiped, and now serves, in independent churches., wait, Post-denominational churches. That's it.

My identity - my denominational identity - surges from foreground to background, from not-even-worth-mentioning to the primary fact of my identity, the first bullet point in my introduction. The last few years, it's come to the front again.

For one thing, it's a distinctive - it connects me to some people (Bob comes to mind) and sets me apart from others.

It sensitizes me to, and aligns me with, the victims of evangelicalism's tenacious anti-Catholic bullying.

I also suspect it's my primary qualification for my job.

Seriously, the Old Boss aside, hardly anyone in the congregation I serve has a sacramental background. The things I grew up believing and celebrating and doing are a part of what our church wants to give people - deep ritual, meaningful actions, a place to meet God beyond logic and sermonizing. The rhythm of the year; connections between this Lenten season and the one 5 years ago. Disciplines. Ancient poetry.

I haven't been to seminary; I never studied any of these things. I got them through immersion, through them being the only way I knew to be church.

And my background has plenty of holes. Growing up in my church, there was no moment of decision, of 'giving your life to Christ' - you were His already, obviously, baptised and raised under God's hand. Any decision - if one decided not to be confirmed, for example - would have been a refusal of the assumed order rather than a positive step. It was a little like the Columbia Record and Tape Club; it ran on negative consent.

The church I grew up in left lots of room for interpretation, so much so that famous Episcopal priests have published books debunking the virgin birth and the literal resurrection. Moral decisions were largely between you and God, but the directions for seeking God's guidance were pretty hazy. Also, if I had grown up 'born again' ("I've been born again my whole life!" as the character in "Saved!" says,)
I'd have a much better handle on the Bible, both as narrative and as compass.

Not to mention the class and gender baggage woven into the gigantic structure...the whole massive hierarchy (and its basis, apostolic succession) just seemed more of an impediment to God's work than a help. I couldn't sign on for that. And God was kind, and appears to have led me to a way to honor my 'calling' (I feel pretentious calling it that, but honestly, there's no other word) outside that structure.

And so I have made a commitment to an ecumenical, born-again community.

Nothing in my life has ever made me feel more Anglican. And more high church Anglican, at that.

I don't want to post a comment on Kyle's blog, cuz dude, they're all a bunch doctoral candidates and parish priests hanging out over there, and they'd eat me alive! Not in a mean way. They just know a lot of words that I didn't learn while getting my BA in theatre. I would be exposed.

But I will say this here (where I am constantly exposed) -

Kyle says that the differences between denominations are real, and to suggest that one is as good as another is disrespectful. Because we pick our denominational affiliations, at least in part, because we believe it to be
...the most faithful way, in this time and place, to respond to and embody the fact of God's reign in Christ?

And if you really think your church- say, the Baptist church - is the one that's 'the most faithful way', then to say
"I'm a Baptist, because that's what I think is right for me. I'm glad that you're a Methodist, because that's what God has called you to be. It doesn't really matter because we all love Jesus."

may be well-meaning and even kind, but it isn't truthful.

Here's where Kyle and I differ:

I think that I believe denominations were made for people, not for God.

People are limited. They're limited in their intellect and spiritual connectedness; they're limited by habit and taste and history.

God is enormous, majestic, passing understanding.

This may be the postmodernist in me -

I believe (and scripture and history support) that God reveals God's nature in many ways - scripture, creation, sacraments, supernatural happenings. Jesus was/is the most perfect revelation of God's character and nature.

Even people who knew Jesus in person, who walked with him 365 days a year for 3 years, did not get the fullness of God's revelation. They didn't even get the fullness of Christ. And he was right there. He ate with them, joked with them. They saw him rise from the dead.

Why, then, is it hard to imagine that Methodism might exist not because it's the best vehicle for revelation (and so everyone should get on board) but that it's the best vehicle for revelation to a certain type of people. Other people will be left cold by Methodism but love Roman Catholicism. Neither is 'the most faithful way' in God's eyes. Both are God-inspired but human-made, and so have truth and errors and beauty and hatefulness somewhere in there.

Does this make sense? It seems to me that God has done many things (Christ's incarnation, parables, Pentacost, to name three) to speak to people in a language they'll understand. Are denominations part of that?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Small Town Life cannot suck it quite as much today.

1. a triumph - 18-month pediatric checkup with NO SHOTS. This is especially good for me - he cries for 5 minutes, but having to hold him down is an emotional minefield for me and I'm messed up for the rest of the day.

plus lunch at the Japanese buffet - that's always good.

2. a serious miscalculation - I packed The World's Cutest in the car, and on our way to the hardware store, I stopped for a moment at the municipal pool. I wanted to check the hours and the prices and get a general idea of how things might go if, on some 100 degree day (they're coming, mark my words) I decided to take my toddler swimming.

The lifeguard behind the counter was polite and informative, and Ian and I peeked through the fence at the pool. "See?" I said to Ian. "That's a SWIMMING POOL. One day we'll come and play in the water. Okay, let's go to the hardware store."

And that, apparently, was the signal to unleash hell.

Ian, who has never in his life seen a pool (or a garden hose or even a particularly full bathtub) made up his tiny mind that he must not be separated from the pool. The pool is his destiny, his one true home. His Brigadoon. His Shangri-la. He completely, utterly flipped, and cried in a way that I have never heard him cry in his life. I was afraid he would injure himself - I wasn't sure how, but it just seemed immanent.

Okay, so change in plans - no hardware store. ("But you LOVE the hardware store!" I pleaded over my shoulder. Fresh wails. Okay, fine.) Drivethrough, followed by the lake, where we could eat and play on the playground and watch the DOG and DUCK SHOW.

2. The playground was an enormous success; his dinner less so, consisting as it did of 3 waffle fries, one nugget, a juice box and about half of my milkshake. (Yeah, call child protective services, I know.) He played decently with the other kids; he didn't hurt himself at all; he went down the big slide.

We witnessed a great deal of playground drama, mostly centered on a 10-year-old boy who smarted off to someone else's mom, who then detailed over the cell phone how she was going to call the police. "And WHERE is his MAMA???" she shouted from the top of the climber, where she sat with the 3 exhilerated, giggling daughters. There was also the requisite "I can't play with you/Ew she touched me" action, which made me tense even though none was directed at Ian. Yet.

3. DOGS were plentiful, varied and friendly (and Ian remembered How to Approach a Dog, I was thrilled.) DUCKS were scarce, though we were chased by several enormous farm geese, apparently setting a good example for the enormous fluffy gosling with them.

Not 'chased' exactly. (I am, as I have mentioned, from the country, and so I've been chased by a goose before. Plus I'm nuts, as I many have mentioned.) We walked toward the water, they saw us and approached us in a casual way. I picked up Ian and tried to act calm. Then I started to back away, you know, casually. Like, 'No, don't be silly, I'm not running away, I just see something kind of interesting OVER HERE BYE." I did drop our bag of leftover fries, which I thought would distract them but did not spark the smallest bit of interest. The fries were cold, I guess, while the backs of our thighs were warm and tender.

The geese evidently nest, or at least hang out, near the boathouse, which is pretty inconvenient.

4. Far from the boathouse (therefore safe from the geese...Good Lord, it's not enough that I have to do the Snake Check every time I step out of the house, now I have to monitor waterfowl as well? Sheesh) is the bandshell, where a band called Oracle was playing to a small crowd. They were pretty good and very weird; a couple of old rock guys in hawaiian shirts, two beautiful women in batik tank tops, flinging their long black hair in gypsy-ish ways, a young Latin guitarist, an excellent fiddler. They were skilled musicians; and clearly they prided themselves on their range. During the time that Ian and I were listening, they played:

A hooked-on-classics sort of instrumental
Black Horse and the Cherry Tree
Runaround Sue
a celtic ballad
and a country number with the lyric "She thinks my tractor's sexy."

And they were all pretty good! I mean, nothing was embarrassing or half-assed. Everyone on the front line sang lead, credibly; the fiddler and the acoustic guitarist were terrific. I think their identity problem is really working for them.
Gape in amazement at theirsong list.

Ian was totally digging it, dancing all around. And, in fact, I was curious to see what on earth was next on that set list, but it was already past his bedtime.

When we arrived home, 3 of the 5 little boys from 2 doors down - Isaiah, Kaleel and some other OT Prophet - came barrelling out the door because they had caught a glimpse of Ian, and thought he might like to play again - they had played for nearly an hour this afternoon already. So they all ran in circles screaming for several minutes before collapsing. I slung Ian over my shoulder and took him up to bed.

So I think we've proven that Laurel has plenty of entertainment for an 18-month-old. Who in turn, is rather entertaining himself.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Small Town Life can suck it.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I have (almost inadvertently) begun a sort of campaign to begin to appreciate my town a little more, rather than frittering away my days wishing I was somewhere more glamourous/funky/whatever.

In the last 24 hours, The Laurel Project has suffered two setbacks - neither really major, but both annoying.

1. Yesterday, in a yard about a block from our house, I spotted a great photo. A family had washed several of their childrens' stuffed animals, and hung them on the laundry line to dry - mostly held up by old fashioned clothes pins, pinned to their ears. Especially striking was a neon pink bunny with a (understandably) surprised expression.

It made a great photo - a fence behind, framed in a tall hedge, back corner of the house visible in the frame. Nice summer-y greenery.

I pulled over and took a few shots with my little snapshot camera. I was anxious to get them onto the computer and tinker with them, maybe make one the first post on a new photoblog.


And I did not wait long enough for the download, from camera to hard drive, to finish.

And then, before checking the target drive (did I mention that I am not a patient person?) I cleared the camera's memory.

So now this funny, nicely composed photo, which held a certain amount of meaning for me, exists as a thumbnail and a file name but not as an actual, accessible photo. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing ever. Why preserve the thumbnails, then, Kodak? Why not just skip the whole thing?

2. After settling the kid down, and watching way too many minutes of E! True Hollywood Story (Mickey Mouse Club! Ryan Gosling as a 12-year-old womanizer! Keri Russell looking exactly the same as she does now! It was kind of like a car wreck - you don't want to look, exactly, but you can't look away.)...I ran out to the library, thinking I'd have about 20 minutes to grab some magazines and books. That's plenty of time, right? I know where everything is. It's not like I'm picky. So 20 minutes should be a ton of time.

Except it's Laurel.

So everyone knows you.

And so they talk to you. Catch up on the baby's sleeping habits. Tell a story about their kid's (now 18 years old, but they remember it like it was yesterday) sleeping habits. And their own. And then the guy whose neighbors' dog keeps him up has a quandry (will calling animal control lead to dog poop on the porch? Magic 8-ball says YOU MAY RELY ON IT.)

And yes, of course I could have blurted out "Hi, great to see you, gotta run and get books." And I did not. Or, I did, but it was right after the library lady breathed all over the PA and said that it was 8:55 and the library would be closing in 5 minutes. I had made it to periodicals when they started turning out lights.

And I silently cursed small town life, and longed for the precious, precious anonymity of the city, where no one knows your name or give a shit about you and your little problems and you can die alone in your apartment and your cats will eat you and no one will know for weeks but at least you can get some freaking library books in peace.

Wendall Berry never mentions that part.

On the other hand, our Fox station just did a teaser for a news story where they'll be talking about, no lie, "the fight against violent crime." Well, I guess some things are worth fighting for....

Monday, June 18, 2007

A decade in the vocation by Peacebang.

Of course I'm not (and at this late date, and considering my level of misgivings about, well, practically everything, am unlikely to ever be) a parish priest. So my experience isn't really like hers. But my feelings surged right along with her as I read this.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

3 thoughts while watching television

1. On America's Got Talent Which It's Keeping in a Top Secret Location And Then Showing Us This Crap Instead, a magician did a pretty inventive turn and advanced to the next round! Last year's auditions included some rather awful magic; Nathan Burton hung in until late rounds, and his act (IMO) is strikingly unoriginal.

Tonight's guy (I missed his name) ate fire, and then combined two classic effects (one of which is occasionally flashy but never deceptive) into one well-choreographed, fooling, totally surprising trick!

Magic - really, a lot of allied arts - has such exceptional potential for originality, surprise, the ability to bring beautiful metaphor and poetry to literal life. To embody really meaningful ideas. (Not that the guy on tv tonight had any beautiful ideas; he had 2 minutes to make people curious to see more, which worked.)
And so much is 100% soulless. So I was pleased to at least see something I hadn't seen before, and well-done.

2. Dude, I would totally RULE The Singing Bee.

3. Prince Harry's pretty darn hot.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Creative Nonfiction

I am about two-thirds of the way through RebeccaWalker Gives Privileged, Navel-Gazing Feminist Hypocrits a Bad Name. Honestly, with a subtitle like this book has - "Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivelence" - well! How could any book be more interesting? Ring more bells for me? Be more 'up my alley'?

I'm sorry, but this is crap. This woman delivers keynote speeches? Writes books that are required reading in gender studies? (So says the flap.) It's possible that her less-creative nonfiction is defensible, but this pile is just painful.

Plus there's the whole mother thing. The author's mom is Alice Walker, an intermittantly fine novelist and, apparently, a rather crap mother. A conflicted mother. A mother who saw her children as keeping her from her real life's work. And who, by all accounts, did not try too hard to keep that feeling a secret.

(Hmmm. Perhaps there's an unintentional insight for me in this book after all.)

Anyway, Rebecca and Alice have a strained relationship, and have decided to conduct it almost exclusively on paper, in published essays and interviews. Granted, pregnancy does bring all one's mother business to the top of the agenda. One could hardly write an honest memoir of pregnancy and not talk about mom stuff, especially if the old girl's still around.

But R. Walker, after pages of, alternately
"My mother was so disappointing. I am still reeling from the damage of a disappointing mother. As I detailed at length in my last 2 books."
"I cannot imagine why my mother is so petty and vindictive. (Here, let me give you some examples.) All I'm doing is claiming my truth. How can that make her so angry? All I want is a little love and approval."

writes something I find just jaw-dropping.

She had gone to visit her mother, and says that she was uncomfortable being alone with her. And then she says:
"but I kept thinking about Marvin Gaye and how he was killed by his own father."

Christ Almighty.

This woman is either a complete idjit, or disingenuous to the point of being shockingly evil. And I cannot tell which.

Many people seem to have a high opinion of her writing, which makes me lean towards the latter.

And it's not that I'm offended because it's Alice Walker, oooh, big feminist icon. I don't care who it is. You don't just casually drop 'I kept wondering if my mother was going to kill me over dinner' into a general interest hardback. As a little digression.

And then wonder why she's so upset.

On page 76, R Walker says:
"... For the twenty-five-thousandth time, I apologized for telling my truth in a way that hurt her, and told her that I tried to protect her the best way I knew ..."

The Marvin Gaye aside is 11 pages later.

But somehow, I can't stop reading it. The power of the pregnancy narrative, I suspect. But I kind of want to see what stunner she comes up with next.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Could this make me love my hometown?

I don't love my hometown.

I didn't love my original hometown, the one I grew up in, but now in my late adulthood I have begun to see that it had, and continues to have, many loveable qualities. It's the sort of town one could love.

The town I have lived in for 16 years, I do not love. It's considered a small town (though it dwarfs the one I grew up in) and though it's perched in the suburbs between Baltimore and Washington, it's a real town, with history and character and problems.

There are some things about it I love. I'm quite fond of our library. I like our main street, which never fails to make me think of Richard Scarry's Busy Town. I like the fact that you can know merchants; I like the fact that my kid always hugs the owner of the Indian restaurant, that the people at the Korean buffet make him little treats. I like that I know people who work at other churches, and we can occasionally 'talk shop' in the bagel line. People here are very kind to us.

But - maybe because of geography, or perhaps bad (dated) planning, it lacks a central focus, a walkable 'third place' for meeting and living in public. And, maybe as a result, I don't feel the same sort of 'sense of place' that I feel in places I really love, like Fells Point in Baltimore or Philadelphia's Queen City.

We have cheap ethnic restaurants, a farmer's market, a little theatre or two, writers groups, even a yarn shop for heaven's sake. I sure would like it if we had a Trader Joes, but that's not it....For some reason I can't put my finger on, this town just doesn't 'come to life' for me.

Maybe it's me, or us. I suspect that I'm wishing it were something it's not - either urban/funky or upscale/yuppie - instead of appreciating it for what it is and really digging in. Really - how would I know if the houses around me were full of hilarious bloggers, jazz musicians, world travelers, beat poets? I haven't really tried to find out.

Anyway, tonight I saw this gorgeous site, linked by Jen. (And, just as an aside, if Jen lived in your neighborhood, you'd be set for life, a full schedule of little adventures and porch parties and philosophical conversations during coaster bike rides to the art supply store. I know this because I actually know Jen in person. You should too.)

Anyway, the photographer of this beautiful site, Kathleen Connelly, describes it this way:

On January 3, 2003, I began this photoblog to visually document the residents, visitors, plants, animals, architecture, landscapes and farm life of Durham Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania (where I live), and nearby areas in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Unless noted, all photos are taken within a ten-mile radius of my home.

Now, I love a photo safari - so much that I still occasionally take one, with toddler in tow. I'm forever nipping out to Baltimore, to SOMEPLACE INTERESTING, to take pictures. (and I've been to Bucks County, and it is noted for it's natural beauty and historic archetechure. And I bet they have a Trader Joe's.)

Still, I wonder - would looking through my camera make my town look better? More interesting?


Occasionally I complain about the books that Ian enjoys. We have a copy of Walt Disney's Jungle Book (because Rudyard Kipling's remains would spontaneously combust if anyone thought this was the real Jungle Book) which I have hidden under the bed, because Ian would see it on the pile and request it, and I could not stand to read it even once, let alone 3 or 4 times in a row. It lacks the literary qualities of a Go Dog Go.

But THIS! exceptional item makes my head spin.

Via the brilliant Whoppee.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Smarter than a 12th Grader

This list of 100 words that high school graduates should be able to define...scared me to death when I first saw it linked on the excellent Addison Road.

But a deeper look, at a more relaxed time, and I was able to scrounge up a vague idea of the meaning of everything except 'moeity'.

Speaking of dictionaries, what's a good slang dictionary? The other day, I used the phrase 'that'll cut no soap with me, young man' (meaning that Ian's whining would win him no sympathy) and I wondered where on earth that had come from.

A great many of the turns of phrase that come out of me were common in the 1920s and '30s, because I am a time traveler. That's also why I know all those old songs. Oh, you may THINK it's because my dad was born in 1914, and my mom in 1924, but I'm sticking with the time travel story.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The deed is done

The tale is posted at my baby blog. Some photos - not of the event itself, which was FAR too upsetting to be photographed - the only thing more shocking would have been an audio recording - anyway, some photos of the ambiance at the barber shop are at my Flickr account.

I cannot imagine finding a more satisfyingly old-fashioned barbershop anywhere.

Still sadly lacking in issues of Argosy or Soldier of Fortune, though.