Thursday, November 16, 2006

a little square of heaven

Nancy made brownies for me, Erin, and Colin on Tuesday night. Arguably one of the best things that's happened all week. Not only did she go out and buy all the ingredients, she did all the work making them. And these are no ordinary brownies: they have cut up Reese's cups on top of them. This is excellent for two reasons:

1. The salt of the peanut butter contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the chocolate, making an already-fantastic brownie even more delicious.

2. Since Colin doesn't like peanut butter...more for the rest of us.

The only downside is that I keep cutting little pieces and grazing all day long...especially since today was my day off. Someone please come over here and eat some of these before I finish them off myself.

Thanks Nancy - you can bake at our place anytime!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

whatever you do, don't lend it to me

I've come to the terrible conclusion that I have evolved into something that I never wanted to be: a bad borrower. Too often of late I've found myself making the mental note, "Oh yeah, I need to give _______ back to ______ . I've had it for too long." I've decided that I need to quantify this trend, to unveil the extent of my "bad borrowing" in empirical terms rather than perpetuating my denial via abstract admissions (e.g., "I have a lot of stuff that I need to return to some people").

After a brief attempt at closing my eyes and making a mental list, I began walking through the house with a pad and pencil like a health inspector in a restaurant kitchen. I became increasingly embarassed as I spotted borrowed items in almost every room.

So, as a public confession, I'm publishing a list of items that are currently on loan to me. I fear that this is by no means an exhaustive list. In fact, it really only covers books and movies at the moment and completely ignores the fact that my next door neighbor's lawn mower is still sitting in my shed. It also does not take into account the old Gibson bass guitar that I borrowed from Patrick Sweeney in 1994 or the Birmingham Baron's baseball bat that I borrowed from Mark Erdberg for our Mountain Brook High School production of "Damn Yankees" my senior year.

Anyway, you're likely to spot something of yours on here. Or maybe you're expecting to see a book you lent me two years ago and it's not on the list. If that's the case, please leave a comment or send me an email and let me know. My goal is to start returning these items in the near future (ah! another vague abstraction! I probably promised to return these "in the near future" the first time around, too, didn't I?). Here's what I've got...and yes, I remember who owns each item - I'm just not posting it:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life
Annie Hall
Lost, Season 1
Freaks and Geeks, The Complete Series

The Omnivore's Dilemma
The Spiral Staircase
God's Funeral
The Irrational Season
Assassination Vacation
The Partly Cloudy Patriot
Take the Cannoli
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Barrel Fever
The Shadow of the Wind
Early Christianity
Showing Mary
The Secret Life of Bees
The Solace of Leaving Early
The Known World
Clapton's Guitar: Watching Wayne Henderson Build the Perfect Instrument

(note: I did return a copy of Tom Robbins' "Skinny Legs and All" to its rightful owner a couple of weeks ago, but the return was offset by the fact that it had been almost a decade since I borrowed it.)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

i love a good soapbox as much as the next guy

I was awake this morning by 6:00 a.m. As is the case every Tuesday, I rise early to get to the church shortly after 7:00 to prepare for our weekly young men's Bible study breakfast. But today is Election the early start allowed me to stop by my polling place (I vote at the retirement home about a block away from my house) before I headed out for work. I dropped in around 6:20 a.m. Voter #36 at this particular poll.

I have to admit, this election has gotten so much press that I even dreamed about it this morning before the alarm went off. People may disagree on which policies are best for running our country. People may argue and debate and discuss and argue some more. But one thing holds true universally, cliched though it may be: it is an immense blessing that we are allowed to have a voice in our own governance - however small that voice may be individually - and we should not take it for granted. I would rather have someone whose views are diametrically opposed to mine go out and vote than to have someone who agrees wholeheartedly with me sit at home. I feel more and more strongly about this every time I cast a ballot. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves about issues and candidates in order to facilitate an informed decision that we are allowed to voice on Election Day.

So if you've voted today, I hope you feel good about having participated in the political process, regardless of whether your candidate wins. And if you haven't voted yet, I hope you will before the day is out.

Monday, November 06, 2006

a day of sloth

It seems as if my day-to-day pace has been in high gear for months now. Even the summer didn't feel terribly slow, and it certainly wasn't any sort of "break." Both weekdays and weekends have been packed full since early September when the program year started at the church. Upon realizing last week that Saturday, Nov. 4, was a day with nothing on the calendar, Erin and I decided to plan a "day of sloth": a sabbath (little "s") day of utterly useless, unproductive lounging around and eating. Kind of like Jabba the Hut.

The day's activities - and I use that word in its laziest, least "active" sense - included reading, movie watching, napping, cooking, and putting a fire in the fireplace. The big one, though, was cooking. We messed up and cleaned up the kitchen at least three times. It went down something like this:

Breakfast - homemade buttermilk pancakes

Post-breakfast cooking - (1) Erin made a chocolate cake (more like a torte - really thick) for after dinner, and (2) I made a Thai curry paste to be used with dinner

Lunch - I picked the remainder of the tomatoes from my garden before the Friday night freeze, so we sliced them to make fried green tomatoes. Actually, we made fried green tomato sandwiches on ciabatta rolls with homemade pesto mayonnaise that was made from the basil in my garden. Delicious - probably my favorite meal all day. See picture above.

Dinner - Thai Vegetable Curry over brown Basmati rice, a recipe from one of the Moosewood cookbooks. Aforementioned chocolate cake for dessert.

And I wonder why I never get in any better shape...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

remembering the saints

Today is All Saints Day. It's the day we remember all of those who came before us, those people whose lives have provided the generational foundations which undergird our own. It's not just about the saint saints, those untouchable "superstars" who have been officially canonized by the church - it's about the people who struggle daily to live good lives by sharing their spirit of love with us. Parents. Grandparents. Siblings and friends.

Last year, we ("we" meaning "the St. James's staff") decided to set up a microphone on the front steps of the church and read the full names and ages of all the U.S. soldiers who had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the inception of the war. There were about 2,200 names, and it took us about two and a half hours. This year, we felt it would only be right to do the same for those killed since All Saints Day last year. Sadly, we still had a list of more than 900 names to read. The median age in this list of departed was around 21.

From the portico of the church, those attending the noon Eucharist service took turns reading names from a multi-page printout. I read a series of fifty names somewhere in the mid-400s. By odd coincidence, two of the first three names were Christophers. Another couple of Christophers showed up later in my list. Almost every name I read was younger than I by several years.

This service is a powerful experience, but not always in the way you might expect. Yes, it is shocking when the first few names are followed by numbers like "20" or "22" - even some that end in "-teen". Yes, it is awe-inspiring and awful that a list of young dead takes an hour to read aloud. But the thing I was most mortified about was how un-personal the whole experience became somewhere in the middle. After a certain number of names and ages, the wave of sound became blurry and abstract. I couldn't imagine faces with names anymore. It felt fuzzy and run-together. It's the same mechanism that allows someone to fall asleep in the midst of loud music: as long as the sound is constant, it can be tuned out, ignored. White noise. I realized this as I stood listening and trying to make each name personal to me, to attach meanings to them. Instead, it was like a photo negative of what I should have felt. Blankness where there should have been...something. And I think it's mostly due to the sheer number: too many to keep up with.

Nowadays, when someone questions what we're doing in Iraq in the first place, many people respond with, "Well, we shouldn't worry about why we're there now - we need to worry about how to fix it and get out." We do need to figure out how to fix things and get out. But that first question, the one about why we're there in the first place? I can think of over 900 really good reasons that question deserves an answer.