Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anne Lamott - A Call to Arms

My favorite 21st century feminist theologian strikes again. Thank you, Anne, for saying it better (and wittier) than any of us. I especially appreciate her use of the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator.

Added Blog Bonus: A photo of the boys and our brand spankin' new Obama sign, just for kicks.

Mandy (a.k.a. Torpedo Vindicator Palin)

A Call to Arms

How to handle the fury brought on by this election? Register voters, hit the streets, pray. Stop talking about her. Talk about Obama.

By Anne Lamott

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Autumn is the New Summer

I've alluded to my newly acquired bikes a couple of times already. It's sort of a thing for me: I'll get my mind on something - an iPod, a kitchen for the boys, a stereo to play the iPod (for both home and car, of course), and most recently... bikes. I'll research these products online like crazy, get a sense of retail price, and then turn to the most logical place for acquisition: Craig's List. My college suitemate turned me onto Craig's List when she got a piano for free. FREE. I love that stuff that's burdensome to others can become a prized treasure. Plus, there's the added bonus of avoiding the retail circuit and finding just what you need tax free and at a fraction of the cost. It's like re-gifting, but not as tacky.

Most recently, I've been scouring Craig's List for bikes, since the weather has cooled from unbearable to mostly lovely. Not just one bike, but lots of bikes. Here was my plan: find a decent bike for me, an Adams Trail-A-Bike for Jackson, and a baby seat for Cooper. I read family cycling sites and saw pictures of these three things existing like a Trinity of mobility and fun. So, last Saturday I sent out a slew of e-mails to various people, all named sale-851248493, or something, and by afternoon, Jackson and I were headed to Grant Park to pick up the first of our plunder: a bike for me.

This bike was particularly important, since the rest of the attachments (literally) hinged on its existance. I found a mountain bike for a remarkably cheap price, and I was thrilled when I got it. The seller, who lived directly across from Zoo Atlanta, said something like - "This is an almost-new bike, I just wanted to get something a little lighter for riding on the roads." It was perfect - tall enough, sturdy enough, inflated enough, bike-y enough. It had two wheels and a seat with functional, though squeaky, brakes. I was delighted.

J and I moved on to part two: the Adams trail-a-bike. We found this near Brookhaven, and picked it up from a very kind UCC Congregant who was listing it on Craig's List on his brother's behalf. The only hitch was that... there wasn't one. No, really - the hitch that attached the bike to my seat post was missing. The seller promised me he'd look for it and have his brother look around and call me, and then cute puppies would show up at my door and unicorns would come back into existance, and all would be well. In the meantime, we headed home with our trunk full of plunder.

It took me a little while to explain to J that we would have to order the part that connected his bike to mine, and we'd have to wait a few days for it to come in. He, like me, is way into instant gratification and was totally bummed that we didn't have all the parts we needed to try it all out when we got home.

So, here's the timeline for the week that's passed:

Sunday: I ordered the part from Boston, with the promise that it would arrive on Wednesday.

Monday: Confirmation that the part had shipped from Boston, with the promise that it would arrive on Wednesday. Find baby seat on Craig's List. Get in bidding war with two sellers.

Tuesday: Settle bidding war. Pick up seat on lunch break. Feel elated at good fortune. Part still scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.

Wednesday: Continuously check e-status of package scheduled to arrive from Boston. Feel like a superhero when I decide to ride my bike to work. Head out to meet Bruce for lunch, leave early, sail down Candler Rd. with the wind in my hair and joy in my heart. Get to the part where Candler Rd. starts heading uphill. Get winded beyond recognition. Legs turn to noodles. Overcooked noodles. Take "this hill is too steep for my out-of-shape-self" walk of shame up the hill. Coast into parking lot of restaurant and pretend like I'm not about to throw up because I'm old and out of shape and not 15 years old anymore. Make believe, as I lock up bike, that I totally rode the whole way. Try to regain composure and blood pressure while waiting for Bruce. Feel revived halfway through lunch. Ride bike... to MARTA, and give noodle legs a rest. Arrive at work, coasting down the last three blocks of Peachtree as if I'd been at this the whole time. Lock bike up and gloat to co-workers. Change Facebook status to reflect my efforts as a smug bike-to-worker, inspiring friends and acquaintances to feel guilty about driving. Find a ride home. Hey... it was late and dark outside. What am I, a superhero?

Thursday: Package hasn't arrived. Papapalooza has begun, since both Matt's father and my dad were simultaneously in town for a short while. Check UPS website every 15 minutes. From work. Like I could do anything there. Harumph.

Friday: Get message from UPS. They forgot the package on Thursday. Jerks. It's scheduled to arrive today. They promise. Take bike and boys to Bicycle South in Decatur, where they show me how to attach Cooper's seat with the use of some handy brackets that my "department store" bike didn't seem to have. Curious. Arrive home, and Matt hangs out with napping Cooper while 40-pound Jackson and I took our first trip together to Oakhurst Village. I plopped him into the Topeak "baby" seat, and very nearly toppled. With a little practice and a lot of encouragement from J for me to "keep balance," we made it alright. Although, I was incredibly exhausted, perhaps beyond reason, since the ride is mostly flat. Clearly, I'm an old, flappy wreck of a person. But that old, flappy person got herself and her son to the local coffee shop for treats. Rev. Noodle Legs hasn't lost it yet!

By the time we were finishing our Grown Up Sodas and smoothies at the coffee shop, I checked my e-mail and discovered: THE PACKAGE HAD BEEN DELIVERED!!!

We headed home with the fury and speed of ... something really fast, but moving uphill and really out of shape. So, really, not fast at all. But, we were determined and excited. Matt greeted us at the door with: THE PACKAGE! which we ceremoniously opened with fanfare and measured enthusiasm. After all, it's not a secret decoder ring or anything. It's a hitch for a bike.

We head outside, toolbox, allen wrench and pliers in hand and set to the task of attaching both of the seats to my shiny new department store bike. The time: 3:24 p.m.

Around 5:00, our neighbor arrived home. He chatted with us, and inquired about our project. I tried to fill him in on the details about my bike's deficiencies and the trouble of attaching both pieces, and the next thing I knew, Neighbor Jeff was wheeling a bike around for us to try. A Vintage, 21 speed Trek Multi-track 730. In perfect condition, save a couple of flat tires. My mouth dropped open. This bike was almost exactly like the one that was stolen from me during college. I accepted his offer to try our trinkets on this bike, and was more than a little surprised when Neighbor Jeff spent the better part of the next 2 hours helping me attach everything, including moving tiny extension pieces from one place to another. It was frustrating work, and a less kind neighbor would have moved on, but Neighbor Jeff stuck it out until, at nearly 7:20, we had a bike that could hold me and both boys.

As the sun was setting on our last little house in Atlanta the first house in Decatur, the boys and I rode climbed on our new contraption, helmets donned, water bottles full, and hopes high.

We immediately crashed to the ground. Cooper wailed. Jackson brushed himself off. Matt consoled all of us.

After some coaxing, Cooper agreed to try again. And this time, it worked! It really worked! I instantly had visions of us biking to Oakhurst, Columbia, Decatur, Dancing Goat, Target, Saint Mark, Tennessee, Minnesota, the moon... nothing was going to stop us! The sun was setting, and Cooper was still a little rattled, so we rolled into our driveway and locked up the bikes - one for all four of us, thanks to Neighbor Jeff.

Today was the first day that we opted to try out the family bike in the neighborhood. I got home from church, and encouraged all the folks to put on bike-appropriate clothes. I mean, they were already wearing helmets, 'cause they haven't taken them off since last Saturday. After a bit of confusion and delay, we got on the road, waving to Neighbor Jeff as we took off with Cooper in his baby seat with Matt and Jackson pedaling eagerly behind me. We biked across Candler, and down the neighborhood streets, crossing over onto Midway and onto Columbia's campus. As I type, I'm remembering how easy it felt to glide (mostly downhill) into our destination's parking lot, and I realized while I was pedaling that I didn't feel like an aging, decrepit shell of my former, youthful self. On the contrary, I felt tremendous! The smell of the air in my nose was intoxicating - it was liberation... from gas-fueled vehicles, one-car sharing, closed up spaces, slovenly living... I haven't felt that overjoyed in so long. I felt powerful, fit, able and like I could go for miles. I felt... like I was 15 again.

So, I thought back to my first attempt at biking any length: Wednesday. I was wrecked about 4 minutes into my ride. What was the difference? It's not like I'd gotten a tremendous amount of exercise in the preceding days. I wasn't any better rested or nourished... why, then? Mystery "Fountain of Youth" water? All of the help I was (seriously) getting from Jackson on his tandem?

Suddenly I realized... Matt was nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. Jackson casually suggested that we wait on Daddy, and it hit me:

Matt was riding my Craig's List find. My "department store" bike. The guys at Bicycle South were just being polite. It wasn't just that my bike wasn't equipped with accessories. No, no! It was a gigantic, steaming piece of crap! Matt finally gasped his way up the hill, looking winded and weary. Let me be abundantly clear: Matt is in great shape. This bike is the fitness devil. It somehow manages to suck away all energy, momentum and happiness. The only way to ride it without feeling like it's a Dementor is to ensure that you're riding at a slight incline. Always.

We all coasted into Columbia's campus where Matt had to go and scavenge for a book on Martin Luther King. You know, a little light reading for Sunday. While he was in, the boys and I biked around, Cooper tried out the tandem, we rolled around in the grass, they peed on the sidewalks, we hung out with the African drummers (seriously!!!). It was a great afternoon. By the time Matt returned, we'd logged another mile or so on the bikes and were ready to get moving. We stopped by Ms. Anna's house to lament the tragic and untimely passing of her chickens that we'd had the chance to observe since their chick-hood. Cooper dubbed these chickens "Bok Boks," and he was having trouble understanding that they were no more. We paid our respects, and sailed into Winnona Park.

It was here that we found what most certainly must have been paradise. In this gorgeous neighborhood, just a short bike ride away, we came upon the Winnona Park Neighborhood Association's annual picnic. There was a live jazz band, children, strollers, puppies, babies, parents and barbeque everywhere. If we'd arrived a little earlier (and known at least one person on the field), we might have stayed for dinner. So, instead, we gazed down with longing eyes at the beautiful community before us. Our tired legs and hungry bellies reminded us that stargazing doesn't get you fed or home any faster, so we worked our way into Oakhurst for an amazing dinner at Colvita's, which came recommended to us from some of our first friends at Saint Mark.

We sat on the patio, drank water and ate delicious and creative food while our children chattered proudly about all the biking they'd done. The weather was stunningly beautiful, and it was a fine day to be a Flemming. As the sun began to set, both boys urged us to get home. They sucked down the last of their bike-bottle water and flopped into bed, sweaty and happy. Three hours of biking will do that to you (especially if you're on the dementor bike). I apologized and sympathized with Matt about his rage-inducing, poorly constructed, challenging laws of nature bike, and he was an incredibly kind sport about it.

Now, my new project? I'm gonna re-gift that bike to someone on Craig's List.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

PUBLISHED! Part II: Fidelia's Sisters

For all the young clergy women out there, here's a new post that will change your life.

Well, not really. But, I hope you'll read anyway!

Blessings, all. Thank you for your support!


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sick Day

Yesterday, we were on our way to school, hurrying because we had an appointment with Jackson's teachers for his parent-teacher conference (yes, I know he's not even 4). It had been an incredibly full weekend, mainly driven by my decision to outift the family with biking equipment so that we could ride together. More on this to follow, I'm sure.

In our freshly-cleaned home (Matt had his class over to watch the documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer the night before; this has been an old trick of ours - when the house gets too dirty, invite folks over! It gets clean every time...), I made a pot of oatmeal, dressed the boys in freshly-cleaned clothes, and refreshed their freshly-cleaned sippy cups. We're not exactly a well-oiled machine (as anyone who has ever had a morning appointment with me knows), but we were doing alright, eeking out the door right on time.

On the way to school, we passed Egleston Hospital. This is the inspiration for lots of morning drive dialogue because of Jackson's most recent experience there. It usually involves the youngest boy in the backseat suggesting that he needs to go to the 'ospital to get a cut (i.e. have surgery). By the time we've passed the next stoplight, conversation has progressed to cranes, or scooters, or the Dan Zanes song they'd like to hear for the 239468569875th time in a row (in case you're wondering, the top-played song on my iPod is Tennessee Wig Walk).

But yesterday, we passed the hospital, and Cooper commented: "I don't feel good."

"Oh, Bean, you're okay." I passed over his comment as if it was a beige stripe on a tan wall.

Cooper responded: "Blgggggggggggggh."

Mama: "Take your hands out of your mouth, Cooper. It will make you gag."

Cooper: BLGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Matt, doting father that he is, just happened to be rubbing Coop's chest when we saw the oatmeal again. This always, always, always happens to Matt. Always. I think it's God's way of rewarding me for birthing the boys without medication. (What's that? You didn't know I'm a natural birthing machine? Oh! Well. Now you do. I'm never going to let anyone forget this. It's great currency when I'm feeling tired or lazy or ... if it's Monday, or something. Anyway, back to Matt catching Cooper's breakfast...) So, Matt dutifully does what he must to prevent the mess from being larger than it could be, which is waaaaay more than I could ever do. It's the one mom-task that makes me want to flee and forsake my parenting responsibilities for about 10 minutes or so. Then, I'm totally back in the game. I swear.

We finish the drive to school, and apologetically deliver Jackson to his teachers, and return our attention to our half-dressed baby. Matt, after washing his hands with the intensity and fervor of Lady Macbeth, snagged some extra clothes from Cooper's cubby and we turned on our heels and headed back to the car. Cooper was warm, and it was clear that he wasn't going to school. Matt had class that night, and lots to prep, so it looked like it was me and C for the day.

Before dropping Matt off and heading home, we made a quick run by the store for sick-day provisions (SOUP!) and Dancing Goat for must-have essentials (COFFEE!!!). Cooper was lethargic, but cheerful, which is the best kind of sick to be. We got home, and I wrapped him up in our favorite couch blanket, turned on his favorite show and unloaded the groceries. He stayed burritoed for about 8 seconds before popping up and quipping, "I need some MIIIIIILK."

Bearing in mind my loathing of vomit, I was a little hesitant to meet his request. I'm just not the best at handling this particular mess, and the couch and rug had just been washed the day before... you know... the hassle of cleaning again...

But, Cooper is nothing if not persistant, so I got his milk for him with fear and trembling. We sat down on the couch, and I remembered the gorgeous cup of coffee that was waiting patiently on me. I got up to get it, and hear a tiny voice say, "I go pee pee."

"Okay, Cooper! Let's go to the potty!" Mustering enthusiasm is hard sometimes.

"My yeg is wet." ["yeg" is CJ speak for "leg."]

"Your leg is wet? Did you... Cooper!?!?!!!"

A lovely spot spread out from around his bum. Apparently, a sick day at home with mom also means that one is free from expectations like eating a variety of foods, or ... wee-ing in the freakin' potty even though you've been potty-trained for nearly TWO MONTHS.

So, I washed the couch cushion for the second time in twenty-four hours (thanks, IKEA!), and said a silent prayer of thanks that I was washing out one bodily function instead of my least-favorite other. I returned to find Cooper cuddling with his bicycle helmet, as if it was his most beloved stuffed animal.

"Cooper, do you want to cuddle with Mommy?"

"Yesss." He crawled up on my chest, and proceeded to flop around about 18 times before settling down with one arm around his helmet. He looked up at me, disquieted.

Cooper: Mommy? You hold my helmet?
Me: Sure, baby.
Cooper: I wanna hold my penis.
Me: Um... Okay.

Who am I to deprive him of this comfort? He sighed and settled in with hand shoved down his pants. This is always a clue that he's tired, so when his show ended, we headed upstairs for the world's easiest naptime transition. He fell asleep in about 8 seconds.

With all of this free time, I wondered what all I could do.
Go on a bike ride? Too irresponsible, what with the sleeping, sick baby and all.
Read a book? Too ... studious.
Get ahead on my writing for work? Too responsible.
Do a massive overhaul of everyone's clothes? PERFECT!

So, I spent the first hour of Cooper's nap engaged in a ritual that I've dubbed "Sad Boxing." This involves me emptying out the drawers of one (or both) boys and examining the labels. Anything that is clearly too small gets put into a "sad box." This originally started when Jackson was an infant and beginning to grow out of clothes. I was so emotional when this proof of his everlasting growth and maturity began to materialize, that I couldn't even weed out too-small clothes without turning it into an event. The orginal sad box is barely larger than a shoebox, and holds all of J's original 0-3 month clothes and many of my tears.

I've been putting this particular rotation of clothes off for a while for a few reasons. One, it was a huge, disorganized mess from the last attempt. As I put tiny clothes away, I also pull down the appropriate box of Jackson's to fit Cooper. So, it's no easy feat. It's also a little sad because there's not another baby coming around to fit into the tiniest clothes. Since Jackson is 22 months older than Cooper, his baby clothes got put back into rotation almost immediately.

My blogmother, Catherine Newman, when describing how she feels about the newborns of others, she says she's moved beyond nostailgia to flat-out envy. I totally get that. I'm one of the rare folks who loves those first few weeks of babyhood. My goodness, they coo, sleep, eat and poop. They're awake for 8 minutes, get fussy, and repeat the cycle. I know I was totally sleep-deprived, but there was something about the utterly changed rhythm of those days that I loved. My first maternity leave with Jackson was so liberating. My only job, each day, was to wake up and care for this amazing little flapping creature and make sure that he didn't perish. Beyond that, anything else I did was gravy. Shower? A huge accomplishment! Lunch? Totally optional! Vacuum? Not a chance!

So, while my still-a-baby boy slept in his big-boy bed, I switched out his wardrobe. I packed away two boxes of clothes that have no promise of being seen on a baby any time soon, and with a heavy heart, headed downstairs to enjoy some quiet time of my own.

I made the mistake of doing what I always used to do on my lunch breaks at home: watching A Baby Story on TLC. It's hugely clich├ęd, but this was my ritual: Wake up, eat breakfast, nurse baby, pass time, nurse baby, put baby to bed, eat a meal with both hands while watching tv shows of other people's babies, retreive and nurse own baby, etc. But yesterday, it was too much. I turned it off and pointed myself to more productive activities: conquering Matt's laundry. Just for kicks, here's a short list of the things I found in Matt's pockets:
  • kleenex
  • a chewed-up lid to an Arden's Garden smoothie
  • wadded up kleenex
  • ketchup packets (Seriously. Ketchup? Matt doesn't even like ketchup! He doesn't even know how they got there!)
  • kleenex
  • paper
  • receipts
  • $.57, mostly in pennies
  • kleenex
It was a nice pile of plunder. I also did 7 loads of laundry yesterday afternoon. Seven. As in, the number of completion. Laundry rules my life in an evil and cruel way. Mainly because I don't mind doing the laundry, but I can't ever seem to get around to folding it, so it sits in corners, glibly tormenting me with its helplessness and inability to do anything but wait on me to put it away. But yesterday, during Cooper's marathon nap, I caught up on every piece of laundry in our room. It feels surreal, like the house elves I've been praying for finally showed up to do their job.

(Seriously - how great would it be to have actual house elves to clean while we were away?! I would suspend a hefty portion of reality to make this so.)

By the time Cooper woke up, he was feeling tremendous. Aside from the fact that he ate 4 bowls of applesauce yesterday and little else, it was as if nothing had ever happened. We went and got J from school, who lamented the fact that he had to be there "alone" all day. He missed his baby brother, in sweet and almost surprising ways.

Since Matt was teaching his class, the boys and I spent the evening together, playing in the backyard and tinkering with our bikes. We had chicken soup and crusty bread for dinner. We tumbled into bed easily and early. We sang together our new closing for the day:

God we thank you (God we thank you),
For our day (for our day)!
All of us together (all of us together),
Thank you, God (thank you, God).
(sung to the tune of Frere Jacques)

It was the best kind of sick day - one that didn't involve much sickness, really. Cooper and I got to spend some rare and wonderful time together, and we were grateful for this unexpected gift of a day, a single day, that gave us the opportunity to stop and rest and work where we needed it the most. At home.

Here's to sick days that call us home, for rest, love and comfort.

Confession, out in the real (well, virtual) world!

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a confession to make. (Deep breath. Long exhale. Sweaty palms. Bowed head.) I am a murderer. A cold-blooded, indiscriminate killer. I can’t help it. Something comes over me, and it’s like I can

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This story was just picked up by Divine Caroline, and published for all to see!

All, that is, who dig around in the gardening section of this website. The irony of this does not escape me.

Love and thanks to all of you for reading!!!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The best laid plans of mice and Flemmings often go awry...

I have a friend, who I feel that I know better than I actually do, because I read her fabulous blog every single day.

A couple of weeks ago, she posted this: http://yestertimeblog.com/2008/09/02/bring-out-the-wide-angle-lens/

(I'll give you time to go read it. Go on! Read! It's crucial for the rest of my post. Make sure you note my comment at the bottom. It's important, I promise.)

Okay, are we all caught up? Here we go...

We started off this morning by navigating the entire family to Columbia Seminary where Matt was delivering his inaugural address... I mean sermon. It was kind of a big deal, and really fun to have everyone there. But, of course, you know these things are different in theory than practice.

The plan was: get to Columbia, print out bulletins, play on the quad, go to chapel, listen intently for the proclamation of the Word of God, snacks in the cafeteria. EASY! Even a 2 year old could handle this, right?


Skipping over the chaos before the worship service began, the boys and I did get a brief chance to hang out and observe the construction. (See photo, above.) They were still, quiet, reverent (you see where this is heading, don't you?). At 10:00, we entered the chapel to find a sizable crowd, friendly faces, and a couple of other children already sitting in the pews with their parents.

I took the boys up to the very front pew and the service began. I led the Call to Worship. They were angelic. We sang a hymn. They took it all in. We prayed a prayer of confession. They bowed their heads. "This is going splendidly!" My inner idiot said. "I'm so glad we brought them! How grown up! How mature!"

Then, Matt got up to preach. This sent things into an instant tailspin. Jackson was fine, but Cooper saw this as his opportunity to take center stage, so I hustled him out of the worship space and into the bookbag holding room. I whispered to him, "We have to be quiet until Daddy is done preaching. Let's listen together."

"Alright!" My bright, reasonable 2 year old answered. He immediately yelped with delight and hollered, "WHO'S DAT MAN!??!!!" while pointing at someone he's never seen before.

I managed to keep him sequestered for the rest of Matt's sermon, which I understand was lovely. It was on the stoning of Stephen in Acts, and addressed the risks of being a prophet and preacher. He had a powerful example of MLK's own stoning in Chicago. All of that considered, I was more than a little surprised when I heard laughter coming from the congregation. This was not a "funny" sermon.

The mom-light went off over my head. "JACKSON!"

Sure enough, my little (still-3-year-old-until-Oct. 7-when-he-finally-turns-4-and-has-an airplane-party-at-the-airport-with-his-friends) boy had managed to find his way up to the pulpit. As it turned out, during this sermon, Matt made reference the stoning of Stephen, you know 'cause that was his text. Guns and violence have been a BIG topic of discussion in our family since J hit the Preschool scene, and we're pretty clear on how we feel about weapons of any sort. Well, my son couldn't help himself and in the middle of Matt's exposition, J jumped up and said:

"Killing people is not okay! It's bad! It's not okay to hurt people!"

My little prophet.

Matt handled the situation with grace, and managed to avoid using J's outburst as a prop in his sermon, which I would not have been able to resist (hence this blog post). As well as Matt had done, most of the comments after the service were about J's moment of truth. And, frankly, we couldn't have been more proud.

Once the benediction was uttered, we gathered our family to scuffle over to the cafeteria for coffee (sweet, delicious coffee...) and bagels. We talked with folks, doted on our boys, and enjoyed some grown up conversation. In fact, we got so wrapped up in grown up conversation that we neglected to heed Cooper's cries for attention until an unfamiliar voice said, "Excuse me, you may want to take care of your little boy."

We turned to look at Cooper, who had... dropped trou. He was pantless and underpantless, with his dainty bits on display for all. He has never looked so pleased with himself. We quickly hoisted his pants up over his bum, and raced him to the potty. This prompted a series of "When my son was that age" stories, but there was no taking away from the fact that we have a very bold family.

My son, the prophet.
My son, the nudist.

Together, they could have the Naked Street Preaching market cornered.

All of these events prompted me to reflect on what it truly means to be a prophet and preacher. My son's actions were not well-timed, expected, or proper. Okay - I'm mainly talking about J here - he did what he knew in his heart to be right. To speak out against the use of weapons and, though he doesn't know the word yet, violence. He took an ill-timed moment (in the middle of his father's sermon) and turned it into the most memorable moment of the morning, because of his boldness and his truth. We commended him on his preaching, and he countered, "I wasn't preaching! Guns just aren't okay." I believe this is how we should strive to proclaim the Word- out of authenticity and inappropriateness.

I took the boys to school after this, and picked them up in time for dinner at Moe's with a friend. When I got to school and found them, playing together in J's piazza, I noticed a big brown spot on J's face.

"Jackson, did you get something on your nose?"

"Yes. I fell down."

Fell? More like plummeted. His nose, upper lip, chin and forehead showed some serious signs of trauma.

Remember the blog post I asked you to read? Remember my comment?

Our pictorial directory photo is scheduled for today. The boys have their school photos on Monday.

Curses on you, pictorial directory deities! Curses!!!

Looks like we'll be rescheduling...

Saturday, September 13, 2008


So, in the interest of full disclosure, I have a confession to make to all of you faithful readers [insert joke about how only my immediate family reads this ... here].

(Deep breath. Long exhale. Sweaty palms. Bowed head.)

I am a murderer.

A cold-blooded, indiscriminate killer.

I can't help it. Something comes over me, and it's like I can't stop myself. I don't even know what I'm doing. In fact, in the moment, I actually think that I'm doing something good.

I make myself sick.

I am a killer... of plants.

Basil plants, in particular.

I murder* basil plants. For fun. Pretending like I know how to take care of them, but really... I'm a deranged psychopath who, instead of loving and nurturing these tender, peppery, lemony green plants... I kill them. ALL OF THEM. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

*As an aside - Matt offered that I'm more like Chris Farley in this scene from Tommy Boy, which makes me guilty, not of murder, but of (wait for it!) plantslaughter. Enjoy:

It is more than tremendously embarrassing that my "organic food eating, farmer's market patronizing, zipcar driving, natural birthing, homemade baby food pureeing, cloth-diapering, long-term-nursing, making-things-harder-than-they-have-to-be-for-the-sake-of-God's creation... that's right - CREATION!" self cannot seem to keep a simple basil plant alive for more than a few days.

Here's the routine:

I go to Publix (because I just can't do the unpasteurized cow's milk that the Farmer's Market sells. I'm pretty crunchy, but this is one step too far for me). I purchase said milk and Tropicana orange juice that isn't $5/quart. While walking through the veggies, I stumble upon simple, healthy, fragrant basil plants. The instructions insinuate how simple it would be to maintain said plants. The cost is reasonable. I put the innocent basil plant in my shopping cart delicately, next to the eggs ('cause, well, we need eggs, and I only go to the Farmer's Market on Fridays. Man, you're pushy. Stop pestering me!) My hopes are high. There will be homemade pesto in our future. Yes, there will be!

I arrive home, enjoy the help of tiny hands and strong muscles carrying in my plunder. I take the liberty of personally carrying my new plant into the kitchen.

"Another victim?" Matt jokes.

"HA! You're funny. Just watch - see how healthy this one is?! See how tender and green and fragrant?! This one's a survivor. Just you wait..."

It's important for me to recognize here that the last basil plant that Publix offered to me like a virgin sacrifice to its most uncompromising deity lasted nearly a year.

A year!

This is because my husband, son of an avid and talented gardener, knows the subtleties of over/underwatering, which have totally escaped me. He took over care of that plant ("Agnes," as I affectionately dubbed her) when it was clear that my black thumb was casting a shadow on her sunbeam. My attempt to regulate the plant's water supply end up with me doing one (or all) of the following:
  1. Forgetting to water the plant for 5... or 11 days, until I notice it weeping under the weight of its own leaves.
  2. Misting it with a spray bottle, which succeeds only in making the plant really, really angry and it collapses under the weight of its own leaves
  3. Overwatering and over-organic-plant-food-feeding the plant until it... collapses under the weight of its own leaves.
You get the picture.

But Matt managed to keep that plant alive for nearly a full calendar year. I think it finally passed when we went out of town for a short time, and all it had for nurture and comfort were the sighs and snores of Edgar, the anxiety-ridden Beagle.

So, today, I put another plant to rest after only 3 short weeks. It was doing beautifully until I transplanted it from the plastic container that it arrived in to a lovely, roomy terra cotta pot. After I moved it, well... let's say she didn't make the transition well. I packed in what I fully believed to be organic soil, patting it down and misting it lightly with fresh water. It looked so healthy, so promising.

Until it started drooping.

Today it was clear that she was not going to make it. Briefly, I had the thought of putting the plant back into the ground, with actual healthy soil around her so that she might be resurrected from her terra cotta grave. Jackson and I headed outside, trowel in hand, to try and medivac the plant to an earthly hospice and pray for a miracle. "Talitha cum," little plant.

We up-ended the pot, and pulled. The basil plant came out easily, with weak little roots trailing behind, but the dirt that was left behind was putridly rotten.

Matt, looking on, thoughtfully commented, "Um... I think you overwatered it."

(Matt, you know, the man who could grow and nurture a freakin' GARDENIA plant in the desert, should he choose. I know he's being supportive, but GEEZ... does he have to be such a show off about it?!)

Jackson offered, compassionately, "That dirt smells like POOP!"

Thanks, men. Thanks.

We did our best to move the plant without puking on our shoes. Both J and I got distracted when I tried to put some "organic soil" around the plant. I was calmly and optimisticly patting the soil around the plant when my horticulturalist husband said, rationally, "Take it easy, Mandy - don't put too much food on there."


You see, when I lovingly and thoughtfully moved my little plant to her huge new terracotta condo, I made sure to fill her pot to the brim with lovely, rich soil. EXCEPT, it wasn't organic soil that I'd packed around that healthy little plant.

It was organic PLANT FOOD!


I overfed the darn thing... she went from basil to meatloaf in two days flat. She didn't stand a chance. And really, I'd like to think that she died happy and full of yummy organic nutrients, which is not true for the plant, but is for the lone rice-shaped insect that I found. (I'll leave it to your imagination to decide what I'm getting at.)

"I'm DONE!" I announced, and gathering the remainder of my dignity, I tossed the trowel, fumbled with the cap for the "food," and marched inside.

I swear. This time is the last time. I promise. No more basil plants for me.

Unless I could find some actual organic soil... then maybe I could keep it alive! Yes! That's all I need! I was doing alright, until I overfed it, but now I know the difference in the products, and I'm sure I could try again and maybewecouldgetaplanttomorrowandIcouldtakecareofit all by myself! Right? I can do it! Right?

O Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me, a sinner and killer of innocent basil plants. Let me not be deceived by the simplicity of growing herbs nor underestimate my capacity to fail at the endeavor. Take away my pride, grant me humility, and the wisdom to purchase herbs from a locally-owned basil growing expert.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. God have mercy.


*An update: this post got published! Out in the real world! Check it out here: http://www.divinecaroline.com/article/22167/55949-confession

Thursday, September 11, 2008

God is with us

Today, I've heard a lot of stories about where we were 7 years ago.

Seven years ago, I was in Atlanta, which was unusual because Matt and I were still living in Princeton. We just happened to be in town for a wedding, and were hanging around for a few days afterward before making the long trek back north before school started.

Seven years ago, I wasn't married - or engaged - yet. I wasn't a mother. I wasn't a minister. I was a seminary student who had finished one year in a strange land, and was holding my breath as time unfolded. We had just finished Hebrew, and on Sept. 10 we were on the campus of Columbia Theological Seminary for the first time, visiting a friend of mine.

Today, seven years later, we actually live in Atlanta. Matt actually works at Columbia Theological Seminary. I am actually ministering and mothering and back in a place that feels a like home should, and I've forgotten almost every last bit of Hebrew.

But it still feels just as fresh as it did 7 years ago, doesn't it?

You remember where you were, don't you? Almost like it was yesterday...

At this point, I could tell you the detailed version of my story, and where I was and how I found out, but that's inconsequential. My story will be like yours at some points - the day-long viewing of CNN, the gasps of disbelief and feeling of vulnerability and world-shifting, desperate phone calls to family and friends, regardless of how close they were in proximity to the attacks. My story will differ, as well - I was at the home of a friend, and my day ended with a short walk from 7th Street in Midtown to Piedmont Park where we tried to pretend that the day was normal, and that playing frisbee with your dog was exactly what we should be doing. We invited everyone we could think of over for dinner, and we gathered in quiet and still fellowship while we broke bread and recounted stories from our day. Where we were... how we found out...

When we returned to Princeton, via Washington D.C. and past the Pentagon, which was still in flames, the world had not quite returned to any sort of balance. The bridges and tunnels to the city were still mostly closed. New Jersey - America's largest parking lot - was filled with cars and cranky drivers. It was also home to many of the residents who had perished. For what seemed like weeks, we saw funerals and processions and crying spouses in black, with clergy arms wrapped around their hunched shoulders.

As classes began, our theology professor opened his lecture by saying, "I don't know what to make of this and what this says about God in our world. I am sure that God was not there when the towers fell." He, like many of us, had been totally rocked by the events that transpired. And here we were, second year seminarians, many of us pitched into churches as interns for the year, and we were supposed to have some answers.

But nothing came easily. "God was there" seemed easiest. I had to believe that God was there, not watching, but present in the miraculous stories of firemen and businesswomen who ran up a thousand stairs to rescue coworkers, even as the towers were falling and the Pentagon was blazing. I had to believe that God was there with the woman who was home sick and the son whose wife had just had a baby, so he was at home, changing a newborn's diaper. I had to believe that God was present in the phone calls that were desperately made to spouses and partners at the last few moments before time ran out.

But with the overwhelming sadness, the displaced and broken families, the children who lost not one, but two parents, the economic crisis and the chaos that followed, it was hard to claim any sort of Godly presence for longer than a fleeting moment. I was shaken, not only by the event itself, but by the overwhelming and ridiculous reactions out of fear. I remember being afraid the first time I saw an airplane after the airports were re-opened. It looked like a predator, a shark... I don't know. It looked terrifying. Something so innocuous (on the ground, anyway) suddenly made me think that it might take a hard left at any time and point itself directly at a high-density area.

We started talking about the post-9/11 world in which we were living. The Holocaust had defined the early 20th century, and the 21st now had its response. Theologians and seminarians and pastors and people struggled to answer the abiding question: What does all of this tell us about God? Where, O where, is God in all of this mess?

This is where the doctrine of incarnation steps in to save the day. "Easy! We believe that The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. So, there you go... God was with us - in the towers, in the fire engines, on the streets, in the planes... God was and is with us."

Easy, right?

But this takes a lot of faith to mire through the muck of what floats to the surface so quickly: homeless and parentless babies, shattered dreams and skeletal buildings, lingering emotional and physical traumas, unexpected deaths and the assuredness of evil's most certain presence in the world that sits back and waits for Life's response. And all we can say is: "God is with us."

Maybe you're like me - when something happens, big or small, it is the snide remark or negative comment that takes the stage, no matter how much good is said or positively reinforced. No, the darkness always finds a way to cast a shadow on the light, so that even the brightest good stands in the shade of another's perspective.

So, on this day, seven years ago, the darkness put on a show. It wasn't subtle or covert. This was pomp and circumstance and a celebratory reminder of evil's power in this world and how easy it would be for the dark to overcome the light.

But, we believe that the light has come into the world and the darkness did not overcome it. A great pastor and preacher, Scott Black Johnston, once wrote about these words from the prologue to the Gospel of John: "The light came into the world, and the darkness did not overcome it." He writes:

I struggle with these words because they do not say what I want them to say. I want them to declare that when the light comes into the world it obliterates the darkness. It takes the bleak mid-winter with every sadness, every despair, every raw deal, every horrendous tragedy, every evil plan, every god-awful, life-sucking disease, and tosses the whole mess into the cosmic trash bin. I want the light to arrive and to win, and I want it to win big. I mean I want the light to deal with the darkness in a way that is so overwhelming, so completely devastating, that I can switch channels at half-time because there is no way, no possible way, that the darkness is even going to come out of the locker room to play the third quarter.
I get that - I want the light to come in, not like it's shining through a crack under the door, but like someone turned on an overhead light while you were still sleeping. You know, like ... the sun.

But sometimes the darkness gets to be all bold and dramatic, and our light persists as it peers in through keyholes. But the light is persistent, isn't it? The light does not give up - even as airplanes were crashing into towers and fortresses and fields, the light kept redirecting the darkness by empowering passengers to fight and opening the eyes of people to see, so that they noticed patterns and kept more damage from happening, and the thousands of other "I could have been there... it could have been me..." stories that we still hear.

The world changed on that day, seven years ago. The darkness came into the world with drama and power and frightful passion that sought to destroy and disconsole.

But the light has come into the world, in the power and abiding presence of God in Christ. That light faced the deepest darkness, and it was not overcome. That gives me hope of the dark nights that we've yet to face, and the promise of God's insistence that we know that now, always, and forever...

God is with us.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A picture says a thousand words...

... so, technically, this post is 3,000 words long.

This is what fills my days and my thoughts. These little, gorgeous, curly headed boys.

Thank you, God. Thank you.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

I knew I loved Tina Fey for a reason.*

Sarah Palin actually character created by Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock

<- Tina
Sarah ->

*Just so we're clear... I like Tina Fey, not Sarah Palin.
Not at all.
Not even a little bit.

What I love about the article above is that it asserts that Sarah Palin isn't even a real person, just an act to try and attract voters purely on the basis of our gender:

*Here's ONE more reason why I love Tina Fey. LOVE her!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Six Years Ago ...

September 1, 2002

Hurricane season.

Summer internships.

Pulpits, commutes, funerals.

Stress and beauty.

Boxes stacked with gifts inside.

Late nights, sitting side by side, carefully crafting calligraphy and wax seals on invitations.

A single cell phone, shared between us.

Dinners at fancy restaurants, searching for the best place for the rehearsal dinner.

Long drives to Marlton for dress fittings.

Long distance phone calls to relatives and bridesmaids.

New tuxedo hanging in the closet, a gift from the retailer.

Collecting responses, selecting menus, sipping wines, ordering shoes.

Hurried chaos and frenzy. Tiny meltdowns and major sighs.

Anticipation. Wonder. Joy.

The day.

Rain. Rain. Rain. Rain.

Sister Joan spoke truth and power. She commanded the rain, and it behaved.

Early hair appointments. Gatherings of friends.

Family arrive with candles and ribbons.

Beautiful girls in beautiful dresses gather in the bottom of the chapel.

Handsome men looking dapper fumble with flowers.

All is quiet. The music begins.

The bride enters, glowing. The groom smiles, knowing.

There is peace. All is well and right and good and as it should be,
as the rain falls and the preacher proclaims this love to be better than good, better than tov...
it is sent from God and will be set as a seal upon our hearts, for love is strong as death.

We break bread and share the cup with all whom we love and all who love us.
We call them by name and serve them in reverence.

The rain stops.

The dancing begins.

Pictures, pictures, pictures.

Friends pull us aside to congratulate us.

The choir sings.

O my love's like a red, red rose that's newly sprung in June. O my love's like a melody that's sweetly played in tune. As fair art thou, my Bonnie lass, so deep in love am I. I will love you still, my dear, 'till all the seas gang dry.

The rain poured down... the seas will not go dry.

I will love you still my dear, for you have been set as a seal upon my heart, as a seal upon my arm.

Thank you for six beautiful years, Matty.

Sweet Spot

This one's for you, Puppa Flemming.

Love, Jackson (3 years, 10 months, 27 days old)

And Cooper James - 2 years, 1 month