I Choose You…

I Choose You…

It’s been an exciting few weeks at church.

It started April 15, when our minister informed us that he was leaving to take the position at the UU church in West Chester.  This makes perfect sense.  He’s been with our church for 14 years, which as a preacher’s kid I can tell you is a LONG time.  I don’t think we ever stayed anywhere longer than 7.  And his home and family are there, with a lot of ties and connections there.  This is a good move for him, and I can only wish him well.

But I was devastated.

I’ve only had 3 ministers in my entire life, and Dan was the only one I wasn’t related to in some way.  Dad, obviously, and Burton, who was my brother Ben’s godfather and a kind of surrogate uncle/grandfather when we were little.  I started going to BuxMont because of their pagan circle, but I was hooked when, in the first sermon I heard while I was there, Dan quoted Terry Pratchett.  My minister was a geek.  I had found a home.  Now suddenly he was leaving, and I had to look at how much of me staying was him and how much was the community.

I was already struggling with my decision to wait to become an official member.  After 2 months, I already knew this was a comfortable, supportive, encouraging environment, and I was going to stay.  But I wanted to see how the annual meeting went.  You can tell a lot about a church by how tense the annual meeting is.  Talking about money often brings out the worst in people.  After Dan’s announcement, though, I changed my mind.  A transition of this kind is a big deal, and if I was feeling this invested, then I needed to be in a position to be involved in the process of change.  Plus, I kind of wanted to be a tick in Dan’s box.  I know it’s not about the numbers, but it was a way of showing him I valued his ministry and it had affected me enough to make me want to join.

I signed the book with 4 days to spare in order to be able to vote at the annual meeting.

That Sunday, my first as a member, Hero was babysitting for both services.  So I brought my knitting, planning to attend the first service and knit in the library through the second service.  In the announcements for first service, the president of the board of trustees got up and asked for volunteers to serve on the Interim Minister Task Force, to handle all the candidate evaluations and interviews involved in selecting a transitional minister to help clean house before we search for a permanent minister.  It’s a UU practice that I think is a great thing.  It helps avoid the “rebound boyfriend” syndrome I’ve seen several times in churches.  I had talked to Dan during my pre-membership meeting about the possibility of serving on the ministerial search committee, not knowing about the interim thing, and he had kind of put me off the idea, that since I was such a new member, the board would probably want people with more experience.  So when Howard made the request, I sighed a little but moved on.

Second service came around, and I was sitting at the table working on my @#$% shawl (that’s another post) when Howard came in and sat at the table across from me.  I smiled a little at him, he smiled a little at me, as one does with people you don’t really know.  He pulled out a laptop and started working on something.  I thought about his call, I thought about what Dan said, I thought about what I wanted.  Finally, I cleared my throat and said, “I know I’m a really new member, but I would be happy to serve on the task force if you thought I could be of help.”

He looked startled, but we started talking.  I told him about my experience at BuxMont, my background as a PK, my spiritual and professional base.  A couple of other people came in, older members who I had actually talked with while contributing to the upcoming auction, and they vouched for me.  By the end of the service, he had sent me the schedule for the interim task force and said he’d put my name in to the board when they met on Monday.

By Tuesday, I was on the task force.

Now, when I said the schedule, that makes it sound like there was a lot of time for deliberation, review, strategizing.  That is NOT how this went.  There was literally 2 weeks from the time that the candidates names were released to the churches they were interested in serving until the time we could offer the position to our first choice.  Knock off two days from that for when we had to get our top three choices back to the denomination for evaluation.  Take another day or two more to allow the board to review our choices.  So we had about 8 days from release day to review, interview and vet our candidates.  The Task Force was named on Tuesday, and we met for the first time that Thursday to get to know each other, review the process, and come up with a strategy for how to proceed.  And to say various kinds of prayers that good ministers would want to come serve us.  I got elected tech expert, as we needed to make a bunch of information about BuxMont available electronically to the candidates, and none of the others were familiar with using Google Docs nor had used Skype very much, which was how we were doing out interviews.  I had an all in one computer and a Snowball microphone, so I was the techie.  Which, as the baby on the committee (everyone else had been there at least 10 years, one of them for 40!), I was glad to have something concrete to contribute.

Release day came, and with it our first big meeting.  Hallelujah (or OMG) but we had EIGHT candidates interested in us!  Talk about an embarrassment of riches.  So we started combing through the applications, trying to find ways to prioritize which ones we were interested in.  They were all really good, and each would bring something a little different to the congregation.  There were a lot of debates on what was more important, this thing or that, these benefits over that challenge.  We ended up deciding to interview all of them.  *crumple*  For good or ill, two of the task force members weren’t available over the weekend, so we crammed all but one interview in over the following three days.  It was really interesting to see how our thoughts shifted after each interview, how hearing someone speak in person gave such a different impression from what we’d seen in their application packet. All of them brought great ideas to the various challenges we wanted them to address about BuxMont.  I made a list.  I think we all made lists. Slowly we began to winnow them down.  One candidate took themselves out.  A couple more weren’t a good fit financially.  But slowly we focused in on our three.

That Sunday I got to speak during the first service about how it was going and what the interim ministry was about.  I forgot how much I like public speaking.  It scares the hell out of me, but I still love it.  It’s my roller coaster.  And to get to speak about something I was getting so excited about was the best.  Of course I was shaking so much when I finished that I almost couldn’t walk in my heels!  But I got good feedback from people, and I think I got across some of my enthusiasm.  At coffee hour, the task force members ended up gathering in little clumps here and there to whisper considerations and opinions to each other, giving all the candidates code names so we didn’t violate confidentiality.  Which was hysterical.

I had to miss the last interview on Monday.  I had taken Friday off, both because of these interviews and because I’d had to be up at 3 a.m. to get Hero off for her Disney trip (yet another post!), but I just couldn’t take Monday off as well.  When we met that night, I felt really bad because they’d had major technical issues.  They ended up having to do the interview by FaceTime on one of the team’s cell phone.  We jokingly agreed that it was a test of the candidate’s flexibility and adaptability!  So we spent two hours going over all the candidates references, their answers to our interview questions, evaluating them on 5 different criteria, and in the end we all agreed unanimously on our first choice.  There was some debate over who should be second and who should be third, but we crossed our fingers that that wouldn’t matter because our first choice would want us, too.

And she did.

Starting at the end of August or beginning of September, the Rev. Dr. Susan Rak will be our interim minister.  Susan is currently the interim at First Unitarian in Philadelphia, where she has helped them do some really amazing things and prepared them to call an outstanding, energetic and dedicated settled minister.  The task force is so excited about what Susan can bring to BuxMont over the next two years, and I hope we’re passing that excitement on to the rest of the congregation.  I am still sorry for the loss of Dan, but I’m practically bouncing with anticipation for the future.

The last hurdle we had to overcome was the passage of the church budget at our annual meeting this past Sunday.  Remember what I said earlier about wanting to see how the congregation treats each other at an annual meeting?  Yeah, well, ramp that up quite a lot.  See, the church had a shortfall on their pledge drive this year, meaning we would be calling an interim while working from a deficit budget.  We had heard murmurings that people were going to argue against approving a deficit budget, and the task force was worried how this would affect calling Susan.  Howard presented the budget, and there was some stomach knotting debate.  Then Tom, one of the trustees, got up and spoke about a plan for how to make up the deficit and build a cushion by the work of a short term task force.  Now, Karen, the chair of the interim task force, had asked me before church if I knew anyone new who would be interested in serving in a stewardship capacity.  I knew I didn’t have it in me to serve on the stewardship committee, and everyone I knew from the Explorations class I’d been in was still too new or still finding their way to serve.  But when Tom said “task force” and “done by September”, I thought of all the ideas we’d heard from all the candidates, ideas I’d gotten from other places, and my hand went up.  As did the hands of two other people from the interim task force.  And no one else.  So I stood up and said that the reason all the volunteers were from the ITF was because we had heard some great new ideas and we wanted to see them implemented and hoped others would be excited enough to want to help with that as well.  Afterwards I heard 3 more people volunteered.

So there we are.  Less than a month, and I’ve become a rabble-rouser at church.  I hope my parents are proud!  During one of our early sessions on the ITF, Karen suggested a book called Serving with Grace, which I have since gotten a digital copy of.  It’s a great book on leadership development, and on serving your church being a spiritual act.  Coming down from the success of the ITF, I really do feel that way.  Doing that job was not only an act of service to the church, but was an act of my own personal faith, that service to others is as important, if not more so, than rituals and prayers.  It’s a concrete manifestation of our inner life.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this path of service takes me.

Sheep Delayed

Sheep Delayed

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It’s been almost two weeks since one of my favorite days of the year: the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.  I get to buy fiber and spur of the moment yarn only at MDS&W and at Rhinebeck in the fall.  Which is probably a good thing.  If I allowed myself to buy the kind of things I get a festivals whenever I wanted, we’d be living out of my van.  Granted it would be warm and soft in there with all the fiber, but still, I think the kids prefer having indoor plumbing.

A little bit of a shift this year, as normally we go on Saturday morning.  But the church was having its annual fundraising auction Saturday night.  I had volunteered to bring food and had a couple of items I had put up in the auction, so I needed to be there.  I dragged the kids and the Aquarians along as well.  Nikki was open minded about checking it out, and I think she had a good time.  Morgan was REALLY resentful that I made him go, but in the end he got a couple of items he was really excited about, so hopefully he’ll be a little more open minded about it next time I want him to go to something.  The peril was in not spending all my fiber money at the auction!

I was worried about getting to the show on time, as I was hearing horror stories about the wait times and parking, so we left home at about 5:30 Sunday morning.  It’s a 3 hour drive to the Howard County Fairground, which really is ridiculous that we go, since we rarely spend more than 4 hours or so, so we spend more time in the car than at the show.  But honestly, it’s worth it.  And leaving that early turned out to be an equally good idea.  We got there at 8:15 and got to park right outside the gate, which was BRILLIANT.  We weren’t the first there by any means, but that’s okay.  There were none of the delays going back to the off-ramp on the highway that we have run into in past years.  Such a much nicer entry into the fair!

When I say we, I’m talking me, Nikki, Xander and Hero.  This is another thing that I can’t get Morgan to come to, and in the wisdom of choosing my battles I don’t make him.  But the kids have a good time.  The first year I took them, I gave them both their cell phones and set them loose with $20 each and orders to check in every hour.  Which they did beautifully.  So I’ve gotten more relaxed, especially as they’ve gotten older.  This year it was, “Yeah, whatever, check in when you’re ready for lunch.”  They were gone prectically before we’d cleared the gate.

I went in with a very specific list of needs.  Not a long list, though.  Which may have been my downfall.  I needed two new bobbins and a replacement orifice hook for my travel wheel, and I wanted some fiber to start learning how to card with the hand carders Nikki scored me when she was out in Lancaster.  Beyond that, I had no restrictions.  Oh, and I needed a new jar of Wood Beams.  (I love this stuff.  Even if you don’t spin, I recommend it for using on your cutting boards, rolling pins, wooden spoons, whatever.  And no, I’m not getting paid to say that!)

When you go to a show often enough, you develop a strategy.  We hate crowds, so we go to the main building first before it gets so congested you can’t even move.  Even at this early hour, the big name dyers already had lines 20 people long (the show didn’t even officially open for almost half an hour after we got there).  My wheel builder was actually in one of the barns, but he’s always in the same spot right on the end, so we stopped there first before the barns got insane as well.  Got my two bobbins, and he gave me the orifice hook for free, saying it’s not uncommon for them to break, so the first one is always free!  Get a Merlin Tree wheel, people.  Seriously.  Then it was off to the main building.

We actually stayed pretty focused on that building this year.  Some really interesting new vendors.  One place called itself the dollar store of the show, and I got some great nicknacks there.  A little travel tool kit, a pair of really sharp yarn snips, and some conductive thread so I can make smart phone compatible gloves.  They also had some lovely jewel toned merino that I got on a second visit.  We stopped at Into the Whirled, as we always do.  I only got one braid of fiber from them this year, as they didn’t have any bamboo blend, but I did get four skeins of finished yarn, three for a big project (yet undecided on) for me and one skein of Moriarty as a prize for the 221b team in the Ravellenic Games this year.  At a new stall for me, I was introduced to silk caps.  Silk comes in a couple of different ways for spinning.  You can get it in hanks of combed top like wool fibers, but it also comes in compressed layers, usually squares called hankies, since that’s what they look like.  Caps were something new to me, so I asked the vendor about them.  Basically, they look like stocking caps.  When you spin them, instead of pulling them apart like you would with a hankie, you just turn it inside out, pull out some of the threads from near the crown to whatever thickness you want for your yarn, and spin.  The fiber then unravels itself from the cap.  I was really curious, so I bought two, one in a purple/blue and one in a copper colorway.  I’m looking forward to trying those.  The other new vendor I got excited about was a place called Bead Biz.  They had, as the name implied, trays and trays of strings of beads for fiber crafts.  When we first found them, I didn’t have any projects in minds, so I just petted and coveted and moved on.  But after I got the ITW yarn, I knew it needed beads, so I went back and finally got a shimmer steel blue set.  I’m really itching to start something with them, but I’m forcing myself to wait until I finish one major WIP that’s kicking my ass.

Other little goodies I got:  A bag of dyed Gotland sheep curls.  I love Gotlands so much.  I do think those are going to be my fiber sheep when I get the farm.  Got some blue beads to make a full set of shawl stitch markers, since having a bunch of random markers on a project makes me crazy.  I got an inexpensive drop spindle to teach one or two people at church how to spin.  And I got a bag full of alpaca fiber to practice my carding on.  There were a couple of plant vendors tempting me as well.  I didn’t need any tomatoes, and for the moment I am resisting peppers (we’ll see how long that lasts.  I do still have two self-waterers in the shed…)  But I did get a lavendar and a lemon verbena to go in a couple of urn planters I trashpicked.

What I didn’t come home with was a big bag of raw wool.  It was a near thing.  I suspect I won’t be as lucky at Rhinebeck if we go this year.

We had a late lunch, intending to hit all the barns, but by then it was almost 1:30 (how did that happen?), everything was getting crowded, and we were exhausted.  So we gave up, satisfied with our purchases and our day, and hit the road home.  Dropped Nikki off around 5 and we were home by 6:30.  I had about enough energy to photograph everything and order in dinner before I collapsed.  It was a good, productive weekend, but honestly, I’m getting to old for that much excitement!

The Month That Wasn’t

The Month That Wasn’t

A lot can happen in a month.

And a lot did, but it was all overshadowed by the new job.  It took two months, but I finally started to pick up all the steps and start gaining some speed.  Then April hit.  At the beginning of the month, we got DOZENS of requests all at once from one client without any warning.  As we were trying to get through all those while still keeping up with the regular work load, the other new person, who had started just the month before I did, left.  So the team that was already down one person and had two people who were still under supervision, which took extra time from one of the staff who did know what they were doing, was now down another.  It made for a long month.  I worked through lunch a lot, stayed after half an hour-45 minutes, and was cranking through so much work that I was physically exhausted every night and was dreaming I was still working.  It’s really hard to focus on anything else when you feel like that.  I stopped hanging out with Nikki, I didn’t go anywhere I didn’t have to, and the things I did have to do I couldn’t get a lot of enjoyment out of.  It was the 25th before we finally broke the back of it, and I just about burst into tears.

It takes a while to recover from an intense period like that, but unfortunately it ended just as real life is getting its own kind of intensity.  I won’t have a weekend at home until the 21st I think.  A lot of it is good stuff, but I still need to find time to recharge.  Sleep in, watch TV, knit, run or ride a bike, work in the garden…

My list of things for fun almost sounds like a work list.

Anyway.  I have a list of catch up posts.  In June I am setting myself a Blog Every Day challenge.  But for now, know that everyone is well, things are green and growing, and life moves on a pace.

It’s a new month.  And a lot can happen.

Spring is here! Spring is here!

Spring is here! Spring is here!

Like a good pagan, I spent the first weekend of spring fixated on my gardens.  I ordered my seeds weeks ago, but was determined not to plant them until they’d been blessed at Oestara.  This had the added benefit of keeping me from planting stuff too early. I did start my onions indoors in February, and miracle of miracles I haven’t killed them!  The bunching onions especially are looking good. I tried a couple of times to sit down and lay out planting plans, but nothing’s sticking.  So I’m just starting stuff, and we’ll see where it ends up.

I have four 4’x4′ raised beds on one side of my yard, but the best sun is on the other side of the yard, where I’ve had nothing but weeds.  So this year I decided to put a deep bed in there.  to that end, I put out a call on Freecycle for cinder blocks.  Before you say, I know there is a risk with cinder blocks.  But I have a black walnut tree in my yard, which prevents me from being able to plant directly in my soil. (For those who don’t know, black walnut has a compound in their roots and leaves that is deadly to most garden type fruits and veggies.)  My existing beds I build out of 6″ wide boards, but they really only lasted about 4 seasons well before decomposing, and they aren’t deep enough to grow anything like carrots or beets well. Plus it was boku bucks to buy the lumber.  So I balanced the risk of the cinder blocks versus the certain death of the walnut and came down on the side of carrots.  But, surprisingly, free cinderblocks are hard to come by.  I put a call out on Freecycle and kept an eye on Craigslist, but nothing.  Then on Wednesday someone else put up an offer post.  My fingers flew on the keyboard!  Turns out the community garden in Phoenixville is removing all their cinder block beds for the above reasons, so anyone who wanted any could come and take whatever we wanted!  Yay!  Saturday the boys and I took all the seats out of the van and headed over.  It’s a sweet little garden, and if you’re in Phoenixville and need a bit of dirt, I can recommend this.  I kind of felt guilty dismantling the beds, especially since we were lazy and just took the top ones, but we weren’t the only ones there.  There were another couple of guys there with the same plan and a trailer!  I envied that trailer…  We loaded up 24 before I started getting worried about the van’s suspension, but we set aside the remaining 8 I needed to pick up the next day.  I also scored a really healthy thyme plant that was growing out of one of the blocks.  Yay!  This year I’ll have an herb garden for SURE!

The finished bed will be about 9’x4′, and about 10″ deep.  That’s a LOT of dirt.  Fortunately, our compost overfloweth (quite literally).  We stopped on our way up at the Agway and got two big bags of vermiculite, which I’ll mix with the rabbit litter and some peat moss to make up a nice, light mix.  The other benefit of getting the blocks from existing gardens is the hope that if they were of questionable quality, the worst of it will already have leached out!  Between that and the yummy new soil, I have high hopes for this bed.  I’m planning to put my winter squash in there, as well as the root veg.

Once that bed is built and filled, I’ll be able to fix the compost bins.  I have a two stall bin made out of salvaged pallets, which have worked really well for us so far.  However, last year I didn’t take much out, so instead of turning one into the other and starting new, it started overflowing both.  And the back on one fell in, so it’s hard to dig out.  So this year I’ll replace the ones in poor condition, wire them together better, and start anew.  The rabbits will keep filling them up, I’m sure!

The other thing that’s been tempting me has been fruit trees.  I’ve always wanted to have a micro-orchard, ever since I found out about dwarf fruit trees.  I did try blueberries, but they were a little to delicate for me to manage.  But Hero and I were at Depot the other week for something, and they had a bajillion dwarf trees in all different varieties!  Usually by the time I’m there, they’re down to 3-4 peach trees, which none of us like, so I don’t bother.  But these… and they were only $20 each.  With a 1 year guarantee.  So after thinking and planning and researching, on Sunday after I got the remaining cinder blocks (by myself, mind you!) I dragged Hero back after our bi-weekly Costco run.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), they had already sold out of a lot of the varieties.  I was able to get three different kinds of apple (you have to have at least two or you won’t get any fruit) and two cherries.

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I also got some other random things I need (a hose, a rake, some potting soil), but they didn’t have the peat moss I needed.  We had to pass Lowe’s on the way home, so we stopped there to see if they did.  They did, and guess what else they had?

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A dwarf nectarine tree!  Those we will eat, and they self-pollinate, so I only needed one!  Woot!  I had to put it straight in the ground, though, as it was already close to blooming.  You can’t prune them after they bloom.  The rest I’ll put in over the course of the week.  The cherries will go along the fence with the nectarines.  The apples will all go in one big hole together.  Before you squawk about the spacing, those 10′ recommendations are for commercial growers who have equipment to tend their orchards and who are usually growing full sized trees.  Well pruned dwarf trees actually do very well in close confines.  I have two spots I’m trying to decide on.  One is close to the house, which would be nice to look at, but might be a bit in the way.  The other is at the end of the new bed where I currently have a compost bin.  Once I empty it, it would be easy enough to move and put the apple trees in there.  I have to poke at that.

As though it had been waiting for me, I got my bi-weekly email from Mother Earth News with my planting schedule for the next two weeks on Saturday.  So Sunday afternoon, I sorted my seed packets out and figured out what I could direct seed now (lettuce, spinach, peas) and what I could start indoors (broccoli, cauliflower and white sage).  Planting out was going to require raking, but no turning as they’re going in the garlic bed.  But I didn’t feel up to that, so I concentrated on the starters instead.  The white sage went into a 12-cell “greenhouse” I got at the dollar store.  That will make them easier to transplant to gift out to my pagan circle friends at Beltane.  Two kinds of broccoli went into a disposable 9×13 pan with a dome lid, about 48 of each.  The cauliflower went into a disposable bread pan, about 16 starts there.  Yes, I’m going to have WAY too many starts.  I’d rather overdo than under, and I know several gardeners around I can pass the extras on to.  Now they’re all tucked up in plastic bags on top of the fridge, just waiting to pop their little heads up!

The rest of the week will be focused on taking bites out of the yard work.  It helps that it’s going to be in the 60s tomorrow and up to 70 on Thursday!  Gonna focus on the new bed first.  I have to move the blocks aside to lay down a cardboard base and then rebuild the bed and water down the cardboard.  Then tomorrow I can start filling it.  Which will be messy, but fun!  I also have some extra bricks, so I may build a separate herb bed on the front of the new bed.  That will give it some protection and extra warmth.

So many ideas.  I just need to start doing things and see what happens!

The Word Made Manifest

The Word Made Manifest

(I may get struck by lightning for that title…)

Something I tend to forget is the power of sympathetic magic.  How like attracts like, and naming something, whether it be something material or something more ephemeral, helps make it manifest.  But I’m starting to see it in my life right now.

I started going to church in a search for community.  What I wanted out of that was kind of vague.  I think at the heart of it was I wanted a place where, if something were to happen to me, there would be people who would help me beyond my two best friends and a handful of people at work.  A place for my kids to have adults to look up to.  And a place where I could contribute to other people’s well-being.

This started paying off in unexpected ways a few weeks ago.  I took the kids to game night, and for the first time they were exposed to kids significantly younger than them.  Young kids see teenagers are basically superheroes, and my kids had never experienced that before, really from either end.  They were both a little overwhelmed by it, but they rose to the challenge.  Hero did so well with one overly exuberant little girl that the mom spoke to the director of religious ed (basically the Sunday school director) about hiring her on as a regular babysitter.  So Hero now has a job, and one that actually pays!  She can pick and choose which opportunities to work fit her schedule (for example, she’s babysitting during the Wednesday class I’m going to), but she doesn’t have to work every Sunday, for example, or every special event.  I’m hoping after a couple more events, we might be able to get Xander on that list, too.  Once he’s not so overwhelmed by the attention!  He did seem to have a good time playing with the younger kids.

And I scored a hat!

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Back in December when I first started, I think it was my second Sunday there, they had a craft fair after service.  So many creative people in that church!  One of the women did hand-decorated felt hats.  I love hats.  I had a real Indiana Jones fedora I wore so much in college until one day I left it under my seat in class and someone swiped it.  She had one that I fell instantly and completely in love with.  It was teal green with a rounded crown and a brim with a lip on it, and she had decorated it with peacock feathers.  It was gorgeous, I loved it, and I was broke.  I put it down sadly and walked away.  I ran into her again at church last week.  She was wearing a dramatic straw hat with purple flowers all over it.  I took a chance and asked her if she still had that hat.  She said she wasn’t sure, but she’d check.  Middle of the week, I got an email that she’d found it!  Hooray!  She brought it to church on Sunday, and it was awesome!  Hero’s jealous of it.  Maybe I’ll get her one next craft fair…

But opening myself up to community is helping in ways I hadn’t expected.

I walk with a former co-worker at lunch most days, and we talk as we walk (obviously).  The other day I got complaining about my basement, and how it’s always flooding and I wish I could  dig out a hole to sink a sump pump, but I can’t break the concrete.  Out of nowhere Friday night she texts me to ask if she could bring her husband over to take a look at it.  Well, he’s a union plumber, so of course I said hell yeah!  They came over last night to have a look at it, and he agreed with my assessment, that the stand pipe there was probably a drain and that the concrete wasn’t so thick that he couldn’t hammer through it easily enough and sink either a bucket or a deep pvc pipe with rock at the bottom.  The benefit of the later is it would allow ground water to seep directly into it instead of having to rise to the surface and then run in.  I already have the pump, so Joe is going to check around his job site to see if he can find something to use for the insert, so yay!  I also mentioned wanting to permanently pipe the outside spigot and that I need to replace the water heater, and he immediately started making suggestions on that, too, so double yay!

I have to think that some of this comes from the service we had last Sunday.  It was an extended joys and sorrows ritual, where instead of being a small part of the service, the majority of the service was encouraging people to name their sorrows, their joys and their hopes.  Since there was more time allotted, I took the opportunity to stand up during the joys part and celebrate the fact that I fixed my own washing machine all by my own self.

Wait.  I don’t think I told you this story!

Three weeks ago, about two weeks after I paid $200 to get my 18 year old washing machine fixed, Morgan woke me up to tell me that the washer was flooding again.  I was barely conscious, he’d dealt with it, and there wasn’t anything more I could do about it at the time, so I went back to sleep.  The next day, I spun the last of the water out of my clothes, threw them in the dryer and promptly went into denial.  I just didn’t have the money to pay for another repair, let alone a new washer.  But eventually people start running out of underwear, so I had to deal with it.  I did some research based on what Morgan had told me happened, and decided that it was probably one of the internal water supply hoses that had given out.  That didn’t seem too hard to fix, if I could figure out how to get the housing off the machine.  But I needed to confirm that was the problem and get the hose off so I could drive around and try to find someone who carried the right part (all the appliance repair supply shops in our area have closed.  No one fixes things any more!)  So I pulled it out as far as I could, climbed over to detach the supply hoses…

And found that the drain hose had come off.

Seriously.  That was it.  Shoved it back on, clamped it back in place, and it was fixed.  No fuss, no cost.  I was stupidly chuffed.

Back to church.  So I stood up in front of the congregation and told this story, ending with something along the lines of, it wasn’t the actual act of fixing that I was so proud of, it was the fact that I was brave enough to look.  That kind of bravery, the “Maybe I can do it myself” feeling, I think gets harder and harder as our world gets more and more complicated.  So yes, I think taking the chance is an act of bravery.  Especially for me, who has no childhood experience of watching a parent fix things, and who hasn’t been educated in any of this stuff as an adult.  I think that bike repair class helped in more ways than I expected!

But more important was the naming of it.  By saying aloud in sacred space, “This I can do and this I am willing to do,” it put it out into the Universe that this is who I am, and has started bringing those things to me.  While I can’t do some of the stuff myself, I think Joe will explain what he’s doing and give me a chance to learn some simple things that I can do.  I’ll learn.  I’ll grow.  I’ll connect.

Hrm.  This post didn’t go where I thought it would.  But I’ll leave you this.  Name your fears aloud.  Name your triumphs aloud.  Speak your hopes, your sadness, your curiosity aloud.

Someone is listening.  Believe me.

Not so Perfect

Not so Perfect

I started with a study group at church last night.  It’s a six session program exploring our personal faith and how it maps onto Unitarian Universalism.  I figured it was a good way to meet other people in the church, learn more about UUism and find my path forward.  It’s a nice group of 9 people plus the minister and membership coordinator.  For the first session, we introduced ourselves, learned about how small group ministry works in UU, and then talked about our own paths to that point.  I wasn’t the only one there with pagan or “alternative” religion leanings, and I got to talk a bit about pagan humanism, which was empowering.  Towards the end, the minister, Dan, asked what we were hoping for from walking the path with Unitarian Universalism.  I was surprised when the first thing that popped into my head was “Healing.  Spiritual healing.”

I didn’t say anything.

But it was a moment that grew in my head all the way home and kept me awake off and on last night, half the time near to tears.  Because it was the first time I acknowledged that I was spiritually wounded and needed healing.  It’s still hard to talk about, because it means saying harsh things about people I still love and respect.  But the first step in healing is naming what hurts.  So I need to take that step.

I came into the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel in 1996.  Morgan was a year and a half old, Eric and I had just gotten married, and I was excited to be in a community where I could learn and develop towards my goal of being a teacher and leader myself one day.  And I did learn so much.  My first degree initiation was recognized, and two years later I received my second degree initiation.  I lead rituals, taught classes, aspected deity.  I got pregnant.

Things changed.

I had completed the coursework, as it were, for my third degree initiation, including exploring the possibility of a pagan-based AA program as part of my pastoral counseling training.  I got support and encouragement from my elder/High Priestess who had mentored me.  I went for my interview.  And I was denied.

The reason given for not granting me the initiation was something along the lines of I wasn’t well-connected to spirit.  Which seemed like a BS reason to me, but I wasn’t privy to their discussions, so I didn’t know what it was code for.  I knew that they had just had a young HP go seriously off the rails, so I chalked it up to them being gunshy about a repeat.  I figured if I gave it a year and re-interviewed, I’d be fine.  Coven leadership promised me all kinds of support and guidance in reaching my goal, so I committed to continuing.  I got pregnant.

I never heard from anyone.

I continued with the coven, but things were different.  I started to notice small things.  Comments I got from leaders that experiences I had in ritual weren’t “true”.  I was passed over for roles in ritual despite my experience.  Then a time came when our coven began addressing some group dynamic issues that had plagued the group for many years.  In talking one on one and in small groups with other members of the coven, I thought we were in unity on some of the decisions the tradition was asking us to make.  When we met with coven leadership, though, when I spoke up firmly against what we were being asked to do, the people I thought had my back didn’t.  I looked like an obstructionist and a troublemaker and was left to hang on my own.  My trust of the people I was supposed to be able to trust the most in the world outside my family was shattered.

A year later, I took a sabbatical from the group.

But it was less a break and more of a shunning.  It was tradition policy that if someone was on sabbatical, they were not allowed to attend any Assembly rituals or really communicate with Assembly members.  We had had someone sabbatical from the group before, and I had felt sick to my stomach that this person who was supposed to be a brother to us we were now not allowed to talk to. I understand that the policy was in place to keep the person from feeling pressured.  But for me, at a time when I most needed pastoral care and counseling, I was isolated and unmoored.

I didn’t go back.

The problem is, even with a second degree initiation, ties are made.  There is a part of me that will always be connected to the Assembly.  I still recommend it to people in the area looking for more organized pagan spirituality.  But I can’t go back myself.  I was made to feel like I wasn’t a good enough pagan, that I wasn’t valued, that what I had to offer wasn’t enough.  And I internalized that, so very hard.  I say I’ve been practicing solitary since then, but really the extent of my “practice” has been my internal communications with the divine.  When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I set up an altar in my room, but more often than not it has been a dust collector.

In November, I broke the literal ties to Oak and Willow and the Assembly when I created my new ritual cords.  In December, I started with Gaia’s Rainbow, the pagan circle at BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.  As I started, there was a voice in my head saying, “This isn’t how it should be done,” comparing it to what I’d done in the Assembly.  But after a couple of rituals and classes, I’m realizing THAT’S THE POINT.  In many ways, Gaia’s Rainbow is the epitome of Pagan Unitarian Universalism.  People following their own paths together.  It’s not a coven.  It’s a circle.  Open but unbroken.  I’m keeping my mouth shut about how things “should” be.  Things are the way they are.  And the combination of that and the broader church are part of my healing.  A time may come when I’ll be able to offer service and experience.  But for now I am content to learn these new ways and walk this gentler path while I heal.

People are going to read this post who may want to argue with me about what happened during my time with the Assembly, or who may be hurt by what I’ve said here.  All I can say is that  whatever may or may not have “really” happened back then, this was how I experienced it, and I have to acknowledge the damage it did to me.  It’s been 10 years now. I love you, I miss you, but I’m putting it behind me and moving on.

Let Me Knit You The Stars

Let Me Knit You The Stars

Hero’s going to Disney World.

We hope.

She’s been having a great time at tech school.  I love hearing her stories, especially when she complains about the other kids not being serious enough about it.  That tells me she IS taking it seriously.  So far she’s done the industrial cooking section (cafeterias), commercial cooking (restaurant kitchen), and is now doing the front of house component.  She won’t do the baking component until her last marking period, but as of right now, she’s most interested in the commercial area.  Which, yay!  I think she’ll have more opportunities as a chef than a baker.  And maybe I can get out of having to cook dinner all the time!

The school is offering a special opportunity for their culinary and hospitality students this year.  They are sponsoring a themed trip to Disney World in Florida to get some direct learning experience in a major hospitality venue.  It sounds like a really amazing program.  I’m kind of jealous, because I’d love to do it myself!

During this trip, the students will:

  • Visit the Epcot Land pavilion to meet with the master gardeners there to discuss food production and resources, and will get to cook with some of the ingredients grown there.
  • Spend a morning at Le Cordon Bleu Academy, an internationally recognized culinary school with a campus at Disney, for four hours of intense culinary education, culminating in a feast of their own creation!
  • Go behind the scenes at The Grand Floridian, one of Disney’s premiere hotels.  Here they will get to learn what goes into running a first class hospitality enterprise, from the front desk to the back of house and into the kitchens.
  • Tour the World Showcase restaurants and talk to the staff about their experiences with food from their native regions.
  • Talk with executives from all over the property, from the head chefs to hotel managers and more, with the chance to ask them questions about working in the industry.
  • Meet other students and chefs from all over the country, with powerful networking opportunities.
  • And of course have opportunities to explore the park and have fun!

I’m especially excited for her about the Le Cordon Bleu opportunity, since the school is closing their doors in the US and will only be available in Europe after next year.

The only problem is that it’s expensive.  $1,600ish.  I’ve already put down $500, and she’s been doing fundraising that the school is offering, but it’s still going to take a big chunk of change on our part.  I was getting a little desperate, so I started a fundraising campaign on one of those websites.  Not GoFundMe, because I heard some horror stories about them not releasing the money quickly.  We went with RallyUp, which has been working well.  But we aren’t even halfway to our goal.

I’m sure most of you reading this have already seen my pitches, but if you haven’t, we could really use your help.  We’re offering baked goods and knitting in exchange for donations.  Seriously, if you are looking for a gift, I am DYING to make someone a Celestarium shawl.

Celestarium

I made this one for my mother, and it’s just gorgeous.  Those holes?  Glass beads laid out in the patterns of the constellations. Total heirloom quality, which is why I don’t feel bad requiring such a large donation for it.  Or for a smaller donation, I can make a scarf.

scarf

Again, heirloom quality. Totally worth a donation!

The final payment is due next Friday.  So please, spread the word, share the love, and let me knit something for you!  (Hero’s red and white brownie/blondies are amazing, too.  I’m just saying!)

ETA:  Like a moron, I forgot to include the link to the RallyUp! campaign!  If you are interested in helping out (THANK YOU!), you can find all the deets here.

Mini(van) Victories

Mini(van) Victories

I fixed my car last night.

This wasn’t a check the fluids/change the windshield wipers kind of repair, either.  This was ELECTRICAL.  Scary, scary stuff, right?

Well, not really.  But scary enough for this newbie.

Last week, the heater in the van stopped working.  Mostly.  I could still get heat out of it, but only if I had the fan on high.  So either I was freezing or melting.  Not good when it’s only February and you’re expecting at least two good storms over the next few months.  But I really didn’t have the money to get it fixed.  As usual when I’m desperate, I turned to the internet.  A search of “Grand Caravan heat only on high” turned up a bunch of YouTube videos and a post on the Car Talk website.  “It’ll cost $600 to get it fixed” was the first thing I saw.  Bleah.  But the responses were all opposed to this.  Everyone else in the discussion said this was a common problem with Grand Caravans and that it was the heater blower regulator, a $12 part and an easy self-fix.  Well, easy for them, think I, but for $12, it’s worth taking the chance on, right?  At least I’ll already have the part when I have to take the car in for the repair.

Found the part on Amazon for $11.95.  Once again my Prime membership pays for itself.  Ordered it on Friday (along with a tart pan, three springform pans and The Force Awakens soundtrack), and it came on Saturday.  I was running around too much over the weekend to do the repair then, so when I got home from work last night, I went back to those YouTube videos and started watching.  Once I got past all the scary testing instructions (I don’t have a multimeter.  Not sure I want one.  Seems like a good way to get myself electrocuted.), I found out that yes, it is easy.  There are two sets of wires going into the unit, both in clips like what you clip the ethernet cable into your computer with, and then two hex screws.  One of the videos even told me the size of the hex, 8 mm.  Now, I don’t have metric hexes in my tool bag.  The ones I have are all imperial.  But you know where I do have hex heads?  In my mini bike repair kit.  Sure enough, there was the 8 mm, so out I went with that, the replacement part and a headlamp so I could see what I was doing.

And you know what?  It WAS easy!

Took me five minutes.  If that.  The hardest part was getting the motor power cord out without pulling the wires out.  That sucker did not want to come out, but after 10 years, who could blame it?  Other than that, it was easy out, easy in, plugged everything back in, turned the key and voila!  And it was so satisfying to have fixed it myself!  Especially since I saved myself so much money.  Even if it was only $150, it was still more than I had to spend, and really, considering how easy this was?  It would have been a little embarrassing.

I think maybe the bike repair class helped me with more than just learning how to fix bikes.  I think it gave me a bit more confidence at fixing anything.  I still don’t regret the $200 I spent to get the washer professionally fixed, because they were able to get the housing back on properly which I haven’t been able to do for 3 years, but I did have the confidence to look it up, find out what the problem probably was and decide no, I couldn’t do it, rather than go into it ignorant and vulnerable.  You don’t have to know how to fix everything, but knowing how to fix anything makes you a little braver in taking a stab at other things.

I did get new windshield wipers this weekend, too.  But I let the clerk at the auto parts store put them on for me.  Because I’m lazy and it was free.

I got the title for the van in the mail last week.  I guess it’s all mine now.  Which yay!  But also eek.  Small voice is saying, “You could get financing to get a new, smaller car now…”  Not yet, brain.  Not yet.

The rear windshield wiper has stopped working.  I should go look that up.  Maybe it’s just a fuse…

Shoe Pastry

Shoe Pastry

The title of this should tell you just how familiar I am with this particular delicacy.  Two series of GBBO, and I was sure this was how it was spelled.  After all, eclairs kind of look like shoes, right?  They’re long and hollow.  And French.  French cooking terms don’t always make a lot of sense to me.  Probably because I took 4 years of Spanish instead (not that I had a choice.) Thankfully I searched “eclairs” instead of “shoe pastry” when I went looking for recipes for this project, or I never would have found it!

For those as unenlightened as I was, it is actually CHOUX pastry.  See?  French.  Choux is French for cabbages, which the buns the dough was used for resembled.  I’m assuming these original buns were something similar to our cream puffs, and yeah, I can kind of see the comparison.

Technically, I have made choux pastry before.  Back when I was a pre-teen, we lived in a town that had a nice hotel with a really nice (to my uneducated eyes) restaurant.  Their claim to fame was the aforementioned cream puffs.  I got to go once to have one, and OMG it was so good!  But I couldn’t afford to go often (mostly since my brother and I were busy spending our quarters across the street in the pool hall.  Seriously.), so I decided to try to make them myself.  I don’t remember where I got the recipe or how I did it, but I remember the smell.  It has a very distinctive smell.  Not necessarily unpleasant, but not all that pleasant, either.

But back to the present.  I tracked down a recipe (The Kitchn website seems to be my go-to for these recipes these days), picked a day and got started.

Step one was organizing the ingredients.  Not too many of them, it’s actually a pretty basic recipe.

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I was even good and made sure everything was at room temperature.

Step two was getting the template together.  I wanted these to all be the right size, so I took a tip from GBBO and marked up a piece of parchment paper that I could then turn over and see through.

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Nice straight lines to pipe on!  To get them the length I wanted, though, I had to use the bottom of my cookie pan.  The lip around the top made them just that much too narrow to fit them all in.

As soon as I put the first stage of the dough together, the smell came back to me from all those years ago and took me right back to my parents’ 70’s day-glo orange kitchen.  I’m not sure why butter, water, salt and flour would have such a strong smell, but it does, and it’s not entirely pleasant.  Once the basic ingredients come together, you have to mash the crap out of it while it cooks down. 5 minutes may not seem very long, but when you’re stirring and mashing thick paste constantly, it seems like FOREVER.  My arm’s going to fall off kind of forever.  But that was the hardest part.

Once it was cooked down, I could dump it into the mixer and let the machine do all the work.

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At this point, you just beat it until it’s cool enough not to cook the eggs you’re about to add.  It still smells, and it doesn’t look very appetizing, but it gets better.  Once it’s cool, you start adding the eggs.  You can’t just dump them in, though, because too much and the dough won’t set up right when you pipe it.  Do it right and you get a lovely, glossy, thicker-than-batter that’s starting to look more like something you might want to eat.

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Then I got out my fancy piping bag and loaded it up.

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The piping went pretty well, considering how rudimentary my tools were.

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There was paste left, so I got out the other sheet and another piece of parchment paper and piped out a bunch of puffs as well.

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Then into the oven they went.

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These have to cook in stages.  First you cook them on a high heat to puff them up, then a medium heat to brown them, and then a lower heat to dry them out.  All in all it takes about 45 minutes.  So really, not terrible.  I did get an object lesson in the difference a pan can make, though.

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The éclair was done on an aluminum pan, while the puffs were done on a dark, steel sheet.  Same temp, same time.  Major lesson for me, especially since all my cake and muffin pans are the same darker metal.  Time to turn the damn oven down! Or get new pans…

Once they all came out (aren’t they pretty?), we just had to let the steam out and wait for them to cool.  In the meantime I made lemon curd.  Well, technically, I made my mom’s lemon meringue pie filling.  Which is close enough, right?  But that took a long time to come together, and we did have some whipped cream in the fridge…

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Oh yeah, them’s good eating!

Again with the piping bag, I filled the eclairs with the lemon filling, dipped the tops in the chocolate, and voila, eclairs!

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In the end, I was disappointed with the flavor.  The lemon really overwhelmed the chocolate, so I probably won’t do that combination again.  And they ended up kind of small for my taste.  But that’s me.  That said, I will definitely make choux paste again, this time maybe with pastry cream filling instead.

And cream puffs.  Definitely making cream puffs.

Writing Begets Writing

Writing Begets Writing

Long ago, when I wrote regularly, if people would ask me how I wrote so much, I would tell them you have to write to write.  I wasn’t being smart, honest.  Writing begets writing.  Writing is a muscle, in its own way.  The more you do it, the more the ideas flow, the more words structure themselves in your head, and the easier it is to keep writing.  It doesn’t matter WHAT you write, you just have to write something, every day, no matter what.  A few pages on your story, a blog post, a letter, hell, even a shopping list.  Just write SOMETHING.

And then I stopped writing ANYTHING.

Granted, I had good reason.  Between my separation and having to take care of three kids on my own, all my health issues, job insecurity, house reclamation, and just basic survival, I didn’t have time.  (That’s the other thing you need, time.  Which can be harder to come by and a lot easier to use as a fallback excuse.)  I wasn’t in situations anymore of enforced idleness that I could fill with writing.  Writing required scratching out time that I just couldn’t find.  I wrote it off (pun maybe intended?) and didn’t write regularly.  So when our annual Writers Weekend came around, I would try to cram in a ton of writing all at once.  This is like trying to run a half marathon when your previous athletic experience was all back in high school and you didn’t bother to train.  You can do it, but it’s going to be really, REALLY ugly.  And it was.  I finished a book after 5 years when my average for that length had been 6 months.  I have another half finished novel that gives me agita just thinking about.  Writers Weekend 2016, date yet to be determined, is coming up again.  Will it be another bloodbath?

Possibly not.

You see, two things have changed.  The first is this blog.  I haven’t been as regular on it as I would like, but I have been posting, and in doing so, I’ve been pretty wordy (sorry about that.)  Just taking the time to do them, though, has started warming up the brain.  Kind of like starting a walking routine.  Words on paper.  Or in this case, on the screen.  (Yes, I’m bad.  These posts go straight from my brain to the keyboard to you.  No editing, no revision.  You can probably tell.)  The 30 day challenges are really good for that, as it pushes me a little more than just casually posting would.  I have to come up with a lot of topics and put the time in front of the keyboard.

The other change is the OTHER blog.  The WriteFFS blog is going pretty well.  Well, I say well.  I have 12 followers. I suspect half of them are porn blogs. ::shrug::  BUT.  Because of it, I’m looking at writing blogs, both on Tumblr and on the broader internet, every day.  I’m THINKING about writing more..  Which may seem a bit masturbatory, but thinking about writing makes you want to write.  Going back to the fitness metaphor, I read an interesting piece of advice from the actor Terry Crews who said that if you want to work out, just start by going to the gym every day.  It doesn’t matter what you do, even if you just sit there and read a magazine.  Just getting there every day is half the battle, and eventually, you’ll want to try something.  That thing will lead to the next thing, and eventually you’ll be working out.  Just show up.  That’s what the WFFS blog is doing for me.  It’s me showing up, every day, 3-4 posts a day.  Yes, my queue is doing the actual posting, but I’m having to keep that queue filled, and I want to fill it with more than just reblogs (shares for you FB people).  So I’m out on the internet, finding other writing blogs to link to, to follow, to get ideas from.  Which is making me think about writing.  Which is making me want to write.

I’m not writing yet.  But I am organizing.  The story that I mentioned was nibbling at me?  Not writing it.  But I am starting to lay out characters and a rough, VERY rough outline.  It’s a major genre change for me, so I may resort to writing tools.  Need to start looking for more Scrivener and Evernote tutorials.  Right now I just have 35 rows in an Excel spreadsheet neatly numbered, one for each chapter, the first 6 of which just say “Mad Annie is looking for you.”  I’ll fill in more as the plot develops.  It’s taking its time, so I’m taking mine.  I found this amazing quote while working on the blog, though:

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It really helped me focus what I was trying to do with this story.  (For the record, it’s a post-apocalypse buddy/heist story.  Leverage meets The Stand?)  I was focusing too much on the politics and the worldbuilding and complicated machinations.  I need to focus on what’s important.  The people. Relationships, values, the human spirit.  But without the blog, I probably wouldn’t have found that, and this would still be more of a wish than a story.

This was a really long winded way of saying Write.  Every day.  It doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter for whom.  Post it, don’t post it.  Fiction, non-fiction, to do list, wish list, anything.  Anything you have to stop and think about.  Anything that requires the smallest amount of mindfulness.  All the tips about setting aside dedicated writing time, creating an environment, establishing writing triggers, they’re all good, but they don’t always survive first contact with reality.  Just write anything.  Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do it every day, but strive for it.  You’ll get better at it.  It will get easier.  Even only 300 words a day gets you a novel a year.