Saturday, October 31, 2009

Under-Cabinet Lighting

In accepting the nomination for the Presidency in 1960, John F. Kennedy said, "We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sane future." Like millions of other Americans, I was deeply moved by those words. Sadly, the most I have personally been able to do in response is to mount lights under the cabinets in our remodeled kitchen, but it is a start.

Sally said last night that she wanted to bake plum cake today, and I just couldn't let another day go by without some progress. She agreed to help me with the lighting before continuing her baking. It's 7:30 p.m., the cakes are in the oven, and where there was once deep darkness, lights now shine.

OK, OK, enough of the irreverence. We're really happy to have gotten this done.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Morning Darkness

This isn't the latest sunrise of the year, it just feels like it.

We've reached the time of the year when the length of sunlight is changing by 3 or 4 minutes per day. This morning's sunrise came at 7:30 PDT, and Saturday morning's will come at 7:33. We then will receive a momentary respite in the form of the end of Daylight Savings Time, which will offer us an additional hour of morning light... for a few days... with a commensurate loss of afternoon light. But like light, hope is fleeting during this time of year. By the end of December sunrise will not occur until 7:38, despite being off of Daylight Savings Time.

What's the big deal? We have electricity.

My body knows. I feel the changing sunlight in my obsessive desire for carbohydrates. I feel it in my sluggishness, and desire to roll over and pull the covers over my head. Mostly I feel it in my fading, flagging spirits. My brain knows that the light will return, but it's a hard sell to my body.

Strange and wonderful creatures, we are. Of course, we aren't alone in this. The trees, the bees, the birds, and even Mr. Cat sense that it's time to slow down, hunker down, cling to what warmth we can find, and await the return of the light.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's About Numbers

This represents my 100th blog post. I must say that I have really enjoyed the process of writing. Perhaps the biggest challenge in all of this is the lack of feedback. In public speaking and preaching I avoid notes and lecterns specifically so as to make strong visual connections with the audience or congregation. In blogging, though I may think about how my eventual readers might respond to something I've written, I'm never really sure anyone is out there. At best the feedback I receive comes hours or days after I've posted. Looks like I'm finally having to embrace delayed gratification.

We clearly pay more attention to some numbers than others. I guess it's the result of being in a base-10 system that 10th, 20th, 30th etc. get our attention. 25th makes sense because of being a quarter of a century. Other milestones? I remember St. Matthew's Church in Evansville planning a big celebration for their 65th anniversary. I thought it was weird. In retrospect, perhaps the members there were all focused on retirement.

Anyway, since this is my 100th post, I'd like to share some numbers and their importance to me:

1 - Sally's the one for me.
2- dogs
3- great kids
3.14159265- Yes, I want punch and pi
4- seasons; Brett Favre of the Packers, Jets, Vikings, and _________
5- Paul Hornung of the Packers
7- always a favorite digit. Lloyd Ruby drove car #7 in the Indy 500
9- lives of a cat. Taj is probably on #5 or #6
12- first home address
13- # of great power associated with women and the moon
15- Bart Starr of the Packers
16- driver's license
18- voting age
21- drinking age
24- high school football #; age when Sally and I got married
25- Lloyd Ruby's other car number
31- Jim Taylor of the Packers
44- Hank Aaron
52- a good year
57- a good age
63- year my family moved to Indianapolis
66- Ray Nitschke of the Packers
79- Megan's birth
83- Erin's birth
86- Evan's birth
98- Parnelli Jones at the Indy 500; year we moved to Washington
98.6- seems normal
195- work at keeping the weight off
820- miles I rode my bike this year
1700- miles I rode my bike in 2008
2012- The Mayan calendar says what? Give me a.... break.
23,000- dollars we saved by doing the kitchen ourselves, at least!
4.5 billion- years of Earth history
14 billion years- since the Big Bang. Approximately. Who's counting?
101- my next blog post. It's been fun, but let's keep our eyes on the future, at least until 2012...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Times Change

Every four years a sports event thrusts itself onto the world stage... an event that can only be described with words like "epic", "unbelievable", and "extraordinary". The Olympics? The World Figure Skating Championships? The World Cup? No, though it is connected with the latter. It's the quadrennial exhibition of American xenophobia embodied in some sportscaster stating the "soccer is boring", usually because "there isn't enough scoring."

Epic ignorance. Unbelievable stupidity. Extraordinary lack of contact with reality.

This thread came to mind early this morning as I contemplated yesterday's words from Los Angeles Angels Manager Mike Scioscia regarding the scheduling of baseball playoff games. He doesn't like it that the schedule is dragged out so long. I'm sorry, Mike. To me, everything about baseball is dragged out pretty far. The only thing in sports that last longer than the baseball season is the last two minutes of an NBA playoff game in June.

Action and excitement are apparently in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder. Baseball fans find it terribly exciting when the pitcher and batter engage in cat and mouse games, the pitcher staring in to receive the catcher's signs, the batter standing stolidly until the last second before backing out of the batter's box, a dribble of tobacco juice quivering on the chin of the third base coach.... Will it cling or drip? I really don't understand how this "Fall Classic" is exciting, while 22 soccer players running up and down a field nearly nonstop, and without commercial breaks, is boring.

Clearly the gap between "exciting" and "boring" cannot be simply gauged. A no-hit game in baseball really is exciting, and an early season NBA basketball game, absent any evidence of defense, is not, despite the scoreboard turning over like an old fashioned gas pump.

From the perspective of an Indiana high school basketball fan, the measuring scale for sports excitement was established in 1954, when tiny Milan (pronounced MY-lan) High School defeated consolidated giant Muncie Central 32-30 in the state championship game. Though this game was the inspiration for the movie, Hoosiers, the movie was heavy with fiction. For example, though Milan High School was small, having just 161 students, their basketball team had actually been to the state finals the previous year. Muncie Central's kids were the ones who were wowed by the size of the fieldhouse at Butler.

Anyway, though it doesn't translate well to the big screen or television, the defining moment of the 1954 championship game came when Milan star Bobby Plump held the ball for 4 minutes and 14 seconds before launching a shot from the corner to win the game. Four minutes and 14 seconds totally devoid of action as the crowd went wild!

Twenty-five years later, Indianapolis sportswriter Bob Collins described the end of the game this way: It was a preview of the world's first mass LSD freak-out. For four minutes and 14 seconds, absolutely nothing happened on the floor while some 15,000 citizens were helping themselves to every bit as much excitement as they could stand.

These 15,000 fans were apparently not aware that the game was boring.

Times change. In fact, the US is even in the process of embracing football (soccer). ESPN now televises games from the English Premier and UEFA Champions Leagues. The newly formed Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer have taken the city by storm, regularly selling-out Quest field. Fans in Los Angeles were actually upset that aging superstar David Beckham spent part of their team's early season playing for AC Milan (pronounced me-LAHN), instead of the L.A. Galaxy.

Times change. What more needs to be said? What seemed thrilling at one point in time is deemed boring, and that formerly judged as boring is filmed in slow-motion to sell sports drinks. The only thing that doesn't seem to change is the sensation of sitting in a recliner, beer at ready, absorbing all the inaction. Now that's exciting!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Story Value

The worst times make the best stories. I don't know for sure when that reality first hit me. I remember Sally and I talking about it during the storm-ridden summer of 1993 in Nebraska. We had just purchased a three-room cabin tent from Cabela's. The purchase of the tent itself was a recognition of how bad our camping experiences had been.

I used to enjoy camping, even after the high school fishing trip to northern Ontario with my physics teacher where it rained every day, and where the boy scout pup tent my friend Beau and I were using had taken on all the characteristics of a large, khaki sponge.

Having children changed my perspective. On the one hand, I wanted them to enjoy the same simple pursuits I enjoyed. At the same time, I was really paranoid about their health and welfare. These contradictory values clashed on the campground. I've already written about our freezing in Yellowstone and being drenched in Glacier NP during our Pacific Northwest excursion in the summer of 1990. The next year we tried a camping vacation in Colorado and Utah, and were washed out in some of the driest places in the country. Though these stories are worth the telling, they can wait for another day. The end result of these dreadful experiences was a plan to buy one large tent to use as a secure base camp, from where we could take day trips with the assurance that we'd have a warm, dry, safe place to sleep. Thus the three-room cabin tent from Cabela's....

We purchased the tent using the Cabela's catalog. Having compared descriptions of the various tents they sold, we felt it would meet the needs of our 2 adult, 3 child, 1 large dog family the best. At $300 including tax and shipping, it was expensive, especially given our means in those days. But we felt we were investing in something important. The tent was shipped to us, arriving in Lincoln on the morning of July 8, 1993. We excitedly opened the box and examined the contents. The kids were interested in seeing what it looked like, and so was I, so the decision was made to erect the tent in the back yard.

The words that come to mind at this point are "Barnum & Bailey". I had never seen a tent that big, apart from the circus. I wasn't sure the thing would fit in a camping area, at least other than a KOA style parking lot. Indeed, it was reminiscent of an RV without wheels. While Sally and I debated whether we should keep the behemoth, the kids were moving in with the intention of spending the night. For seven-year-old Evan, moving into the tent included not only a sleeping bag and pillow, but also stuffed animals, Lego building sets, and his bicycle. Good thing it was a big tent.

As the day went on, the girls decided not to sleep in the tent with Evan and his stuff. He was really upset, so I decided I'd "camp out" with him. Before moving my stuffed animals, however, I decided to check the weather. 1993 was, after all, the year of the Great Midwest Flood, and knowing what to expect only seemed prudent. I went in the house and turned on the TV.

The first bad sign was that several local stations were off the air. I checked around the dial, and finally found a station that was broadcasting... a weather warning. They were reporting 90 mph winds just west of Lincoln, and were urging everyone in their viewing area to take cover immediately.

In our case, taking cover meant moving bedding, stuffed animals, Lego blocks, a bicycle and Evan out of the tent. Sally and I worked as fast as we could as the sky darkened and the winds picked up. Sally took Evan in the back door while I hurled the bike into the garage. Just at that moment there was a simultaneous bolt of lightning and clap of thunder, and the lights went out. In the next second we heard Megan scream from the dining room window, where she was following the action, "The tent!!!!"

There wasn't time to look back. Sally and I pushed the kids down into the basement, and poked around for candles, flashlights, and an AM radio. We asked Megan, "What about the tent?" Her response was to whirl her finger in the air, saying, "It was like the Wizard of OZ!" We asked her where it had gone, and she said, "Up."

Waiting for the "all clear" signal over the radio, Sally and I stared at each other across the basement for the next two hours, pondering the fate of our $300 tent. At some point, one or the other of us said, "This is going to make a great story someday." And we laughed.

And therein lies the tale. We laughed! Thinking about the story value of the entire, sorry experience took us one step outside the crisis. We realized that what mattered most to us was that our kids were safe, and that we had survived to tell the story.

That July storm is referred to as the Derecho of 1993, a term derived from Spanish, which means a straight line storm or wind. It caused severe damage through parts of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. Our power was out for three days, and we were luckier than many.

The tent? We found stakes and bent and broken poles strewn across several neighbors yards. There were likely parts on top of the roof of the house behind us, since that was the route the tent had taken. The scuffed, torn remnant of the tent itself was eventually recovered a quarter of a mile away, wrapped around a small tree by a grocery store parking lot. Our credit card company, which insured such sales, refused coverage of our loss, stating that the storm was an "act of God". I argued that, as an ordained minister I thought I would recognize an act of God, but to no avail. We got the tent repaired, though I'm honestly not sure we ever used it for camping. It was pretty much a loss.

But Story Value? Story value has continued to be central to our lives. It is a concept that is worth much more than $300, and has proven so on many occasions since. Including this morning. When things seem the darkest, don't despair. Hold on to each other and the story value, and you'll make it through.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Long Now

On Friday I heard a portion of an interview with Stewart Brand, creator of The Whole Earth Catalog and CoEvolution Quarterly. The portion I heard was quite interesting, with Brand making the point that many of the proposals of the green left are inadequate, due to their inability to translate to the scale of world issues. He was advocating for us to be scientifically and technologically savvy, and not merely "green".

I noted with special interest the title of one of Brand's books: Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility: The Ideas Behind the World's Slowest Computer. Though I have yet to purchase it, it sounds like something right up my alley. One feature of the book is discussion of a 10,000 year clock, meant to encourage societal focus beyond short term cause and effect. I'm intrigued.

I also find the title interesting because now can seem long indeed. Sally was in north central Washington all last week, and leaves again early tomorrow morning for five more days. Time will change more than once for me in the week ahead, slowing to a crawl while Sally is gone, and then literally falling back an hour as we exit daylight savings time. I expect it will gather speed again as we prepare for the NZ trip.

I'm wondering if the fading daylight is affecting others as much as I feel it's affecting me. I'm dragging around, accomplishing little, and not even worrying much about the fact. Perhaps I can rev up enough to install the under-cabinet lighting and molding in the kitchen this week. Sally began moving some things into the lower drawers today, and I need to finish the upper cabinets to facilitate more sorting and settling in.

We made one additional decision about the kitchen today, switching from the 120 volt Xenon lights we had intended to mount under the cabinets, to low voltage LED lights. They maintain a much cooler temperature, are much less expensive to operate, and have bulbs that will last 25 years or so. They were an expensive investment, but one that I think we'll be happy with.

We had a good Skype conference call this evening with the kids. Each time we do so I am amazed at having real time conversations with Evan in NZ, Erin in Corvallis, Megan in Kennewick, and Sally and I here. For one thing, it's a lot of fun. Perhaps this new technology stuff what I hear Stewart Brand talkin' about is worth considerin'.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Opportunity Cost

It isn't that my work at UUCS actually takes all my time. I didn't spend over 15 hours working this week, even counting Sunday. The problem is that my focus and energy level are impacted by my outside activities. I spend a great deal of time thinking about things, even when I'm not supposed to be working. As a result, when I finally get some down time, it takes me a while to get down.

There is an economic term that is helpful in this respect: opportunity cost. Opportunity cost involves the road not taken (a fabulous poem by the way), and is defined as the next best alternative given up as the result of any decision. As a silly example, if you're trying to decide between eating Italian or Sushi, the restaurant not selected is the opportunity cost of the choice you make.

For me, opportunity cost is all that I would do, including doing nothing at all, if I had not decided to engage in work activity. Opportunity cost wouldn't be such a big deal if I were only giving up work hours. The problem is all the time, including recovery time, also sacrificed.

The conclusion I come to is that working is really expensive. Money is nice, but not at all adequate to compensate for the sheer inconvenience of giving up all of my next best alternatives. The only saving grace comes from whatever esteem and satisfaction I derive from the self-actualization of doing my craft. As long as I feel I am making a difference, the time is well spent. Otherwise....

All of this is to say that I chilled yesterday, blogging at will and writing some other pieces. Today requires a different level of engagement with laundry, vacuuming, general cleaning, and perhaps some kitchen work on the docket. It doesn't seem like chores. I had enough down time yesterday to be totally down with what today holds for me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Trivializing Religion

Right after posting "Point Down", I read the account of the Minnesota Gophers mascot apologizing for poking fun at an end-zone-praying Penn State Nittany Lion on Saturday. A university spokesperson also apologized, saying the mascot did not intend to trivialize religion.

The spokesperson needn't have worried. The end zone prayer already accomplished that.

Point Down

OK, so some things bother me:

-- In the wake of the economic meltdown, commercials vying for our trust in the investment firms at the heart of the crisis...

-- Commercials prominently featuring the words, "Ask your doctor." How can anyone who watches television not realize the need for health care reform when these pharmaceutical behemoths are spending millions promoting products that they are confident will earn them 100's of millions?

-- Car commercials that continue to boast power and speed, even though the market clearly turned away from US manufacturers that focused on such models. The next "cash for clunkers" program might well just invite GM, Ford and Chrysler to connect their production lines directly to the junkyard, giving them money for the crappy cars they make while cutting out our need to drive them first.

These are all minor irritations in light of the pain I feel every time some athlete or another scores a touchdown and points skyward. What do they think they're pointing at?
TV play by play guy: "Billy Bob may have spotted a menacing cumulonimbus on his way to the end zone, guys. We might want to get the blimp tied down."

The religious mumbo-jumbo that results in athletes (especially wide receivers... it's thought Moses was a wide receiver in the Egyptian developmental league) thinking that God is a Bengals, Dolphins, Wildcats, Banana Slugs (mascot for UC Santa Cruz) athletic supporter, and more to the point, that God is a Billy Bob fan, is obscene. The whole pointing thing is passed off as their deep faith, when it's really extraordinary self-centeredness. Geeesh! Get over yourself, Billy Bob.

Anyway, I've got a cool idea. I think we should model a different behavior, one that relates to reality, rather than some wide receiver's imaginary Friend in the sky. Whenever we accomplish something big, have a deep insight, or are simply overwhelmed with gratitude and joy in response to the blessedness of life, we should point down!

Why down? Because the source of life and blessing is beneath our feet. Even a cubic inch of topsoil contains millions of filamentous microbes, and up to a mile of their filaments, enriching the soil and making macrobiotic life possible. Going yet deeper, why not point out that plate tectonics, the movement of the Earth's crust in response to upwellings of warmth from the planet's radioactive core, is key to this planet being a "Goldilocks world" -- neither too hot nor too cold -- just right.

I realize that pointing down may confuse the sportscasters: "Uh, guys, I think Billy Bob might be a Satanist." or, "Guys, did I read that Billy Bob's grandfather is buried somewhere here in Tennessee, or is he just a Satanist?"

No matter their confusion, I'm kicking off a new movement. From now on, in moments of celebration and joy, I'm pointing down.

Weather Flash

I just wanted to give you a heads-up. In this morning's Spokane newspaper, Randy, the long term weather forecaster, predicts the onset of fall colors.

Is this guy prescient, or what?

Look Up Again

Jane Ellefson, then Associate Pastor at First-Plymouth Congregational Church, was one of our friends in Lincoln, Nebraska. We actually had Jane over for dinner on a 98 degree Nebraska day. (Note: Do not plan much cooking when it's 98 degrees outside and your home is neither air conditioned nor well-insulated.) Jane later went to Africa to do human service. I guess she figured it couldn't be any hotter than what she'd already experienced in our dining room.

Anyway, Jane told us a wonderful story about her Norwegian mother, who lived on the plains of north central Nebraska. As the woman aged, her son in the Seattle area invited her for a visit. No return plane ticket was purchased, as the family thought she was too old to live on her own. After few weeks, responding to her eagerness to return to Nebraska, they broke the news. "Mom, we'd like you to stay with us. We thought the woods, water and mountains of the Puget Sound would remind you of growing up in Norway."

Their mother was resolute. "I need to go home where I can stretch my eyes."

In addition to being a wonderful reference to places like Nebraska, or eastern Washington, uncluttered by great forests or the signs of human habitation, Jane's story reminds us of the importance of vision that exceeds our grasp, and the reality that, in the larger context, our little endeavors don't add up to a hill of beans. Work hard, study hard, take life seriously, but every once in a while go somewhere where you can use different muscles, lift your hopes, and stretch your eyes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Look Up

I just returned from "Slashies", our pet appellation for the Rosauers/Huckleberries grocery store nearby. The dogs needed a walk, and I needed a cartoon of milk, so we collaborated. The store was as busy as I've seen it, with long lines at all the registers, including the express lanes. I took my place in a queue behind a full cart of groceries, near enough to a cashier as to feel a glimmer of hope.

The cashier was working very quickly, trying to be polite while focusing on the stream of groceries flowing past the laser reader like late-winter runoff over Spokane Falls. She was slightly red in the face, with one lock of hair falling onto her face so as to provide a target for her exaggerated exhalations. I heard her tell the customer ahead of me that the store had been jam-packed all day.

I was reminded of a long-ago Sunday at Dollen's Market in Indianapolis when seemingly everyone in that fair city decided they needed just one or two items. As usual, we had but two people staffing the little family market. There was a line outside the front door waiting for us to open, and another one at the solitary cash register at closing time. In between, I spent most of eight hours with my eyes rarely focusing beyond the price tags on the groceries and the worn numbers on the cash register.

At the end of the day I looked up, and became somewhat disoriented. My eyes seemed reluctant to adjust to a new focal length. I remembered solemn childhood warnings against crossing your eyes, lest they remain stuck like that....

I asked the "Slashies" cashier how long it had been since she had looked up. Smiling, she said it had been awhile, and that even on that previous occasion she realized it had been too long. She thanked me for my patronage, and I cheerily quipped, "Look up!"

This is no childhood tale, though perhaps an object lesson. Literally or figuratively it is all too common for us to get our vision stuck on the task before us. It may be important to focus our attention for a time in order to be productive, or to discern the minutia, important or otherwise, of our current occupation. But disorientation is a danger, and lack of perspective imperils our diligent efforts. The alternative isn't difficult. Remember to look up once in a while. You don't want your eyes getting stuck like that, do you?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hats I have known and loved...

Is it really so wrong to love a hat?

The first hat I fell for, and don't tell me it was an adolescent crush, was my Milwaukee Braves baseball cap. I wore it every day, every where (much to the chagrin of my parents), for a long time. It was my fishing hat, play hat, and constant companion until a hired assassin spirited it away in the night. I was crushed, in part because the Braves moved to Atlanta, and the script "A" on the new hats simply didn't match up to the stolid, blocky Wisconsin style "M" on the old one.

There were other hats, mostly light-hearted flings, over the next few years. But I began to notice that I had hair, and that hats did not allow me to show off my shimmering locks in the way the Creator intended. Those were the years of many a sunburn, all in the name of vanity, for which I now pay penance by having ugly sores and surgeries on my face and head on a regular basis.

There were lucky golf hats in high school, and a collection of stocking caps. I played the field in those years, wearing and discarding hats in succession. Easy come, easy go.

My next serious hat affair was a menage a trois (literally: household of three) comprising my increasingly bald pate, a plaid wool sports cap, and a heavier, hounds-tooth wool cap in brown. I could have settled down with the brown cap, except that it was just slightly too small. It looked pretty good balanced on top of my head, but the least puff of wind revealed my male pattern genetic make-up. It stayed on when I folded down the built-in ear flaps, but then I looked even dorkier than usual.

The plaid cap was lighter weight, fit better, and matched the lining of my winter coat. It became my cap of choice, and I was ready to make a commitment -- and it left me. OK, I left it -- in the closet of a hotel room in Chicago. I made phone call inquiries in an effort to win it back, but to no avail. It was gone, and I was bereft.

On the rebound I bought another Pendleton Wool cap, but it was as big as the brown cap was small. I tried an Aussie style felt hat, which looked great when my hair was longer and stuck out the back. But I couldn't wear it inside a car, and my now bare head needs protection on cold mornings, even in the car. I have a great collection of stocking caps and watch caps, including ones knitted by my ever-creative daughter, Erin, and a nice wool one from Denmark. Alas, these lack a brim, which my sun-damaged skin now demands.

So, once more with feeling, I've purchased, a hat. Is it unique? Can you say, "built-in forehead warmer?" How about "Royal Canadian Mounted Police inspired 'Tilley Tether'" (a strap which goes around the forehead to prevent wind loss). It has a lifetime replacement warranty should it wear out, and an insurance policy against loss for 2 years. I'm thinking, "This is the one."

So without further todo, I'm proud to introduce my new winter companion:

I'm talking on my cellphone to Sally, and smiling as I describe the wonderful features of the hat. Given what I paid for it we probably won't be able to afford to heat the house this winter. At least my forehead will stay warm.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Writing poems as I ironed.... Enterprising!
But my daughter panned my verses... most surprising.
We got into a tiff... she said my style was stiff!
So next time I rhyme and iron I'll use less sizing.

From Musings of a Domesticated Male (unpublished), by Hollis Bredeweg

I've long practiced multitasking, for example, giving some of my attention to a menial task while Sally is trying to have a conversation with me. It hasn't always worked out so well for me.

Last night it occurred to me that I have never before been both employed and a blogger simultaneously. Having spent a long day leading two worship services and attending a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane (UUCS), the twists and turns of the day were fresh in mind as I sat down in front of the computer. After at least 15 to 20 seconds of thought I decided that my work at UUCS will not feature prominently in my posts.

In the mid-1970's I was a student intern at a UCC congregation in Illinois. The church's pastor had established the internship because he needed the help, given the 10% per year growth rate in the congregation. After assuming my duties I learned more about why a UCC church in a small Illinois town might grow so fast.

First of all, the congregation and minister were really delightful. The warm, loving people and their workaholic pastor went together hand in glove. But there are many other warm congregations and workaholic pastors in the UCC. Why was this one growing so rapidly? The answer was to be found in the only other "mainline protestant" church in town, a United Methodist Church. This church had a somewhat rocky history, with several ministers having been removed in response to congregational unhappiness.

The then current Methodist minister, an accomplished guitarist with a twisted sense of humor, began moonlighting as a night club performer. His church members thought that was all pretty spiffy, until a couple families dropped into the nightclub to catch his act. It turned out that his humor drew upon real life stories from his ministry. He especially loved making fun of the matriarch and patriarch of the church who were, of course, closely related to those attending that evening's performance. Note to anyone who ever lives and works in any small town: Everyone is related, and even if they don't like each other, they don't cotton to outsiders making fun of their kin.

Well, the church was outraged, and went to the District Superintendent to demand the pastor's removal. The DS reasoned that, as the church had not liked their previous pastors, and as the current pastor wanted to stay, there was no reason to acquiesce to their request. (Thank you, Captain Barbossa.)

The church was in an uproar, but the minister stayed. Family after family moved their membership across town to the UCC church, and new residents of any "mainline protestant" background quickly surmised that the Methodist church was not the place to be, unless you were interested in hearing how your deepest secrets sounded with guitar accompaniment.

So, given my desire to continue living in this city, and despite my love of a rousing tale, I have decided that any humorous stories emerging from my vocational activities will remain untold. Private matters will remain private. At the very least I'll change the names of the characters.

In all seriousness, you can assume I am working with the UUCS until I write otherwise. This blog isn't going there. I don't want to set off a mass migration of Unitarians to small Illinois towns.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Sally attended and I preached at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane (UUCS) this morning, where I will be providing some consulting services for the next several months. This was my public debut there, which added to my nervousness. Though everything went pretty well, I felt totally drained by the time we made our way home after the second service.

In one sense the stakes were not at all high for me. My limited contract does not call for me to preach very often, or to provide ministerial services to the congregation at large. Given that, if the sermon had missed the mark or had the congregation's response to me been lukewarm, it would not have changed the contract. Still, I felt a sense of urgency to establish a strong relationship with the larger congregation, and to achieve a degree of credibility that might enhance the receptivity of various groups to my counsel.

Upon staggering home and collapsing I thought of Evan, who is in the early stages of job hunting. I'm sure there are others among my friends and family who face high stakes interviews and presentations in the weeks and months to come. May it go well, and be well for you.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Harvest's End

With the exception of some carrots in the ground, today
was the last day of our harvest. We awoke this morning to the sound of robins fighting for position around our arbors, signifying that the grapes had ripened at last. We picked a couple buckets full of the nicest, ripest bunches, and left the remainder for the robins to fight over another morning or two.

This afternoon Sally cleaned the
Gravenstein apple tree. She already made 20 pints of applesauce two weekends ago, and probably has enough apples for another 20 pints. The grapes are headed for the steamer juicer. We have little desire to compete with Washington's world-class wineries, and so will stick to jelly. We'll make a run to Rosauers when we feel like a nice bottle of wine.

Though Sally is disappointed in the apples, in retrospect it was a good year for our fruit. The apricots and raspberries were abundant, and the plums outdid themselves. We picked the pears a bit greener this year and are finding that to be a winning strategy. We ate a first handful of pie cherries from the new tree, and are eager to see how it yields in the future. Likewise we're hoping the new, pink Reliance table grapes over the pergola will make an appearance next year.

Our Concord grapes in the backyard remain an enigma. We gave up on them after the first two years of tiny, seedy berries, and cut them way back. They loved the abuse and knocked themselves out the next two years. Last year was a total loss, as the short season and early freeze never allowed them to ripen.

This year features the largest grapes we've had, though we're still battling the short season and the encroaching maples in our neighbor's yards. Our expectations are not high. I guess we'll take whatever sweet, ripe grapes we harvest as a gift, and leave it at that. Which, when you think about it, is a good attitude to bring to the harvest anyway. I think all that noise the robins made this morning must have been their effort to say "thank you".

Friday, October 16, 2009

Boardman, Oregon

Sally and I spent the last two days in the Tri-Cities area attending Sally's American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) section meeting. You might not assume I'd be all that interested in the cultivation of switchgrass for biofuels, the ways in which biochar has been over-hyped, or different ways to plant fruit trees to facilitate mechanical harvesting, but I was. Of primary interest, however, was yesterday's tour of the tree farm at Boardman, Oregon.

If you've driven Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon you've seen the Boardman tree farm, or at least a portion thereof. There are thousands (millions in fact) of hybrid poplar trees planted in straight rows along the south side of the interstate. Though it looks substantial as you drive by, it's even larger than it looks. The farm comprises 30,000 acres. That's really big.

We were shown around by Nabil Mohamed, a water and energy resources engineer. He showed us the nine, 1000 horsepower pumps that pull water from the Columbia River at a rate of up to 13,000 gallons per minute each. Nine times 13,000 gallons is 117,000 gallons per minute.
The facility is the largest drip irrigation system in the country, with over 9,000 miles of drip line. All of this is controlled by computer so that each tree gets a very precise amount of water, allowing it to grow at an incredible rate while not wasting water or money. Use of chemical pesticides is limited, as integrated pest management processes are employed. Sawdust and the refuse from harvesting is chopped back into the soil, limiting the need for chemical fertilizers. It was impressive.

On the tour we were also shown a tree combine that reduced 20 foot tall poplars to wood chips in seconds. The wood chips are used for paper manufacturing and for biofuel production. Older, taller trees are harvested for lumber products.

I'm not a fan of cutting down natural forests and replacing them with managed timber. A tree farm is not a forest, and does not support the same degree of biodiversity that a forest does. However, it seems to me that growing trees on the sandy soils across from Boardman, Oregon is a bit different. I won't say that I've been converted -- questions about the need for the products produced from these genetically modified, cloned organisms (yes, cloned) abound. But I'm apt to be less critical of this farm than I used to be, now that I have a sense of the effort they are making to be ecologically responsible. For more information about these efforts, click here.

We had lunch yesterday across the interstate from the tree farm in Boardman, Oregon. Boardman is something else. It sits on the banks of the Columbia, and all along the river are industrial facilities. There must be people who live there, for we saw a park and soccer field, but we didn't see many homes. The lunch was at a posh lodge and grill that is nestled right in the midst of the plants. Kinda weird. Good lunch, though!

It was a good, informative, whirlwind trip. We're glad we attended, and glad to be back home.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Using Cabinets

One of my favorite movies is Zoolander, with Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Christine Taylor. Among the plethora of memorable scenes in this wonderfully stupid film is that of Derek (Stiller) and Hansel (Wilson) looking for files on a G3 iMac computer. They call Matilda (Johnson) to ask where the files are, and she tells them that the files are in the computer. It is, for Derek and Hansel, an "Aha!" moment. "The files are IN the computer!" Of course, they can't figure out how to open the G3, which cues Thus Spake Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hansel and Derek proceed to attack the G3 with sticks, like chimpanzees in the scene from that classic film.

The cue for this walk through a history of cinema was Megan's urging me to take panoramic photos of the remodeled kitchen. I demurred, saying that the counters are still piled with stuff. Megan parried with the observation, based on history, that our counters will always be piled with stuff.

Ouch, that will leave a mark.

OK, Megan, fair point. I am a piler, and each and every "flat spot" in our home attests to that fact. But I'm going to turn over a new leaf. Really! It's just that we can't put anything into the cabinets until we get the under-cabinet lights installed, lest our pots, pans, and dishes become as covered with sawdust in the new cabinets as they were in the old (the result of wood moving against wood in drawers without glides of any sort).

Thus the next step in our interminable remodeling process is to mount molding under the front edge of the wall cabinets to serve as a light valence, cover the underside of the cabinets with wood-stained veneer, and then install the lights. Then we can finally move in. Then, too, we can move the rest of the old cabinets out.

As proof of our determination to make a new start, we've already rid ourselves of several pieces of extraneous furniture, including the three-quarter ton bookshelves we obtained from the Mount Vernon Public Library when Erin worked there. We will compensate for the reduction in total flat-spot area by actually putting some of our things away! IN the cabinets. Then I'll take some more pictures.

As the guys at the Possum Lodge on The New Red Green Show avow:
I'm a man
But I can change
If I have to
I guess

Monday, October 12, 2009

At long last....

Yes, that is a faucet. Dave from Anderson Heating came this morning and did all the plumbing work. We have a nice, new faucet, a super-quiet garbage disposal, and new plastic drain pipe. The dishwasher is reattached, as is the supply line for the refrigerator. We are ecstatic. A bit emotional, even.

We started tearing out cabinets on June 13th. The sink was decommissioned on June 25th. It's been 4 months of upheaval, and 3 and a half months with a bucket of water on the table in the music room. Having a sink is an amazing convenience.

I remember having this feeling after my first trip to the Dominican Republic. In Tamayo, the remote village where we worked, people got their water from an irrigation ditch, and used unadorned holes in the ground for toilets. I remember telling the kids when I returned that we should never take a faucet for granted.

I forgot that lesson for a while. I'm thankful again.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Digging Out

At long last, we have started the process of recovering our home. Now I'm aware that there are those in the world who would consider themselves blessed if they had our problems. Three and a half months of remodeling neither shows up on the Richter Scale, nor triggers tsunami warnings. Never the less, I've had enough.

Given that the dishwasher and refrigerator are back in the kitchen, on Friday I cleaned up the dining room and shifted the dining table out of the living room. With the space opened up in the living room I moved everything around, dusting and vacuuming as I went. Last night we moved some older cabinets from the laundry area out into the garage, where they were joined by the library shelves Erin got us from the Mount Vernon Public Library. Central Lutheran Church may pick them up tomorrow. Tonight I moved 2 of the old kitchen cabinets into the basement, where they will adorn the laundry area and shop, and one old pantry into the garage, where it will house bike gear.

While I was engaged with furniture moving, Sally picked and dried our Dwarf Greek Oregano and Rosemary, yielding two and a half pints of each dried herb. She also finished picking both the Friar plums and Italian plums (pictured). She made peach chutney earlier today, and is canning a double batch of plum chutney made from the Friars as I post this. The Italian plums are for eating, as well as our favorite plum cake (recipe below). All of this is in addition to the apple sauce and plum jam she made last weekend!

Sal's efforts are not bad (!) considering that we still don't have a sink. The plumber is due tomorrow morning, and we are quite eager for his arrival. With luck we will have a faucet, sink, garbage disposal, dishwasher, and icemaker-equipped refrigerator by noon.

Digging out feels good, but the fruit harvest is a vivid, and tasty, reminder that time goes on. The record cold temperature, 20 degrees below normal, is also a stark reminder that autumn is here, with winter in its wake.

In other news, I added a wall sconce between the refrigerator and the back door because that area seemed dark to me. I had advocated for a light there in earlier kitchen designs, but lost the argument. The darkness of that corner argued more effectively than did I, so the light was added. I cut a hole in the wall, ran a new wire into the attic, climbed up and dovetailed the new wire into the connection for the SolaTube. Now the switch for the SolaTube light also turns on the wall sconce, which is identical to those on either side of the range. Six months ago I would not have dreamed of trying this. Thanks to neighbor Ron's encouragement and a bit of experience I am now in a position to burn the house down without assistance!

We also installed all the cabinet hardware yesterday, and so are beginning to retrieve our pots, pans, dried goods, dinnerware, and junk drawer contents from their summer quarters in order to stow them in the new drawers and cabinets. First we shall sort. We vow that only what we will use will make it into the new space. I'll let you know how that goes....

The Marian Burros recipe: Plum Cake

Cream together 1 cup sugar and 1 stick (4 oz.) sweet butter. Add 1 cup AP flour and 1 tsp. baking powder and beat to combine. (I use the paddle attachment on the KitchenAid mixer, at low speed.) Add two whole eggs. Spread this batter (which will be *very* thick) in the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Halve 14 or 15 plums lengthways and remove the pits (this is very easy with Italian prune plums.) Toss them with a little lemon juice and cinnamon sugar. Lay them cut side up on the batter (you may have one or two halves left over depending on their size and how tightly you pack them.) Bake at 350° for an hour, maybe a few minutes more, until the top is nicely browned. (The cake will be gummy if you take it out too soon.) Serve with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche.