Friday, September 11, 2015

With Ears to Hear and Hearts Wide-Open

I guest preached last Sunday---and joked with Jeannene as I was writing my sermon that I could see why our pastor would have avoided the text! It's a difficult one, indeed. Jesus not only gets it wrong, but does so while uttering a racial slur, getting it really wrong. The text is Mark 7:24-37:

24From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

After the service, I had one guy tell me he really needed to hear my message and said he got tears in his eyes. Another woman said she hopes I'm saving these so I can collect them in a book. So, I thought I'd share this, in case any of you needs to hear it: 

Any Wonder Woman fans in the congregation? Anyone else a bit disappointed that she doesn’t have her own movie coming out next year, but is instead relegated to being part of Batman Vs. Superman? (Take heart, I hear the Wonder Woman movie is in pre-production!) I have loved Wonder Woman since I was a little girl. She is just so cool, with her invisible jet & her Lasso of Truth. Yep, she could make anybody tell the truth when she twirled the rope and lassoed them. Definitely awesome.

I’ve been kind of immersed in superhero stuff lately (big nerd), so when I read today’s passage from Mark this time around, the Syro-Phoenician woman reminded me of Wonder Woman. Usually, in stories about Jesus, Jesus is pretty much guaranteed to be the hero. In this story, well, he doesn’t look so heroic. We don’t really feel comfortable with a Jesus who comes across as less than heroic. We’re good with it if the heroism isn’t the kind of dashing, riding in on a white stallion and taking over sort of heroism first century Jews were expecting. We totally get that sometimes heroism looks meeker than we expect, gentler, milder. We’re cool with that.

What we aren’t so comfortable accepting is a Jesus who’s outright mean, even prejudiced. Wow. What in the world do we do with that? Did Jesus really just basically call that woman and her daughter dogs? Yup. He sure did. Doesn’t sound much like our Jesus, does it? Believers look for ways to make this ethnic slur, very common at that time among Jews, not really mean what it meant. The suggestion that maybe Jesus just messed up, that he was, in addition to the “fully divine” part, also fully human and, therefore, to some degree, a product of his culture, though, makes people pretty uncomfortable. In this culture, both women and foreigners were seen as pretty dang low, in fact, unclean. Touching or associating with them could spell trouble. So, Jesus was working with a common cultural assumption of his time. But declaring that Jesus was wrong? That can be a tough sell. My dear UCC seminary buddy, Adam, posted the following words to Facebook as he prepared his sermon for today: “This Sunday, come watch me tap-dance through a field of heresy and come out smelling like orthodoxy, with a message entitled: ‘When Jesus Got it Wrong...and Other Phrases that Will Get Your Minister Fired...’ (This event is BYOP -bring your own pitchfork- torches, tar, and feathers to be provided...)”

While I’m not very interested in a BYOP event with my immolation as the featured entertainment, I’m not your pastor, so I will just say it. Jesus was wrong. He was a product of his culture, so it’s not 100% his fault. We can’t expect the “fully divine” part to kick in all the time, if he’s also to be seen as “fully human,” can we? To take a step further in his defense, sort of, Jesus had just traveled to Tyre for, basically, a vacation. Immediately prior to this trip to what is now Lebanon, Jesus managed to completely shock and outrage the establishment by declaring all foods clean. He proclaimed that it isn’t what goes into our mouths that defiles us, but what comes out. This totally, completely flew in the face of everything that had been established, practiced, long believed in his culture.

So, he has withdrawn to recharge, regroup, maybe even to consider the response of his people to his teachings. He’s looking forward to a few days among foreigners who won’t be pestering him for miracles or castigating him for, basically, heresy. He’s been under a lot of stress and all he really wants to do is sit on the beach under a palm tree, piña colada in hand, and let the ocean do its healing thing. He has a little time off, a little time to breathe, and then along comes this woman who knows of him and his miraculous works. She has actually had the audacity to come into the house where he has been trying to keep a low profile and not have to deal with people. And she wants him to do more work. And when he does that work, he just knows, more people will come and demand his energy, his time, his attention. And, suddenly, there goes his much-needed vacation. Really, what would you do? Especially if you happened to be not only exhausted, but maybe a little hangry?

We may think Jesus’ response was harsh, but don’t we all know about faithful Christians who still today think certain people or classes of people are unclean or unworthy? Aren’t there plenty of Christians now who see outsiders as undeserving of even our crumbs? Friends, there are still churches in our lovely, open-minded UCC---I imagine even in our conference---that would never tolerate a woman pastor, places where a woman may as well not even submit her profile to the search committee. Or where a person with brown skin will hear that churches “have other candidates that are a better match for our church” after submitting a ministerial profile. This in the UCC. And don’t we ourownselves sometimes think people are unworthy?

So, when the very common, but very unpleasant, racial slur pops out of his mouth and he refuses to help her, it is clearly not his finest moment. Now, here’s an ugly story about me. At my last church, there was a really lovely woman, an artist, whose husband and son had died. So, she was quite lonely and had developed the habit of, if she saw I was free, coming into my office and talking for 45 minutes at a time. I really loved talking with her. That is, when I had the time. When I was frantically trying to pull together a confirmation pilgrimage, though, or hard at work on a sermon, or girding my loins for a contentious Council meeting, my heart sank when I heard her voice in the main office. Now, no slurs about her person came immediately to mind, but I’m pretty sure some salty language did. And I was often tempted to hide under my desk or pretend to be on the phone. And this was a woman I really liked and respected a whole lot. It was nothing at all to do with her and everything to do with my stress level and my lack of time. 

So, I can see why an exhausted, agitated Jesus might respond automatically and unkindly to this woman, this foreigner, this person who should never have had the temerity to approach him, since his ministry has heretofore been specifically for Jews. But here’s where the story gets really interesting. The woman, rather than showing that she was offended or just giving up, stands her ground and speaks her mind. Desperate to gain a cure for her daughter, whom no doctor could help, she likely would have done anything to restore the girl. Who cares what Jesus thinks of her, as long as her daughter is back to her normal self soon? Wouldn’t you parents do the same for your kids?

So, rather than insisting that they are not dogs at all, as she may have wished to do, she calmly and quietly, using her love for her daughter as her source of strength, uses a logical argument in an attempt to persuade Jesus that they deserve his help. Using her words, her steady gaze, her best manners, and all the dignity she can muster as a kind of Lasso of Truth, she captures Jesus with her argument. She owns the dog label, if it’ll get her what she wants. I mean, you never see Wonder Woman arguing that she’s not whatever the villain chooses to call her. She knows who she is, no matter what anyone says. She simply works toward her objective.

So, too, this Syro-Phoenician woman. As Harvard professor and historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich famously said, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Making history, this woman is most definitely not well-behaved. She speaks up and her words convict Jesus. He sees her clearly, his own ears are opened by her words, and he is forced to speak the truth, that, yes, even the dogs do get to eat the crumbs. So, why not expend the smidge of energy, no more than crumbs of his power, to give this woman what she has requested? He changes his mind, heals the daughter, and, in that one act, that one piece of willingness to listen and change, his whole ministry is changed. Can you imagine her joy, as she returned home to find her darling, precious daughter restored? Jesus said yes to her and her whole life changed. It reminds me of a poem by Kaylin Haught:

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes, God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes

Jesus said yes. Then, when Jesus returns to Galilee by way of the Decapolis, a Greco-Roman area in what is now Jordan, Syria, and Israel, his ministry opens up and he begins to work with and heal Gentiles, as well as Jews. With her courage, born of desperation, the Syro-Phoenician woman brought great benefit not only to her daughter and family, but to many. Jesus may have been saying to her, “No” or he may have been saying, “Not yet.” Either way, her refusal to take no for an answer, her persistence, created an earlier onset of Jesus’ ministry to a broader audience. In that way, really, we here in this sanctuary today may very well have the unnamed Syro-Phoenician woman to thank for our own relationships with Jesus. How about that? I think maybe she needs her own movie. And isn’t it marvelous that even God’s crumbs are more than ample to feed all God’s children?

I find it interesting, too, that the first healing miracle he performs after this is to open the ears and release the tongue of a man who is both deaf and mute. Yes, this was of great benefit, I am sure, to that man. But the symbolism of opening ears and loosening tongues? Well, my friends, that is one of the greatest gifts we have to gain by being in relationship with Christ. We have ears to hear---and we’re called to hear the cries of the needy, the chains of the oppressed. We have tongues to speak, to refuse society’s no to cries for justice, and to demand a better world for us and for our children, indeed for all God’s children. These loosened tongues, by the way, are excellent for speaking love and reconciliation to one another, as well.

So, what does it look like for a congregation to have ears to hear, tongues to speak, and hearts open wide? Well, God’s realm breaks down barriers & invites us to do the same. How do we embody our faith both within the church and beyond? We are challenged to leave our comfort zones, as both Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman did, not only beyond the church walls, but also our comfort zones within the church. Sometimes, that will be messy and uncomfortable. It might mean adapting to worship practices we might be leery about, like doing communion by intinction rather than tray. It could mean not looking askance at a teen who doesn’t fit traditional gender norms or not wrinkling our noses if the person in the pew next to us really needs some deodorant---or if the pastor wears jeans and a Wonder Woman t-shirt, like I almost did today. One of my favorite pastors, Nadia Bolz-Weber of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, is tattoo-covered, leather-clad, and completely unconventional---and her words are life-changing, in a very good way. You should Google her, if you are not familiar with her work. Whip out your smart phone now, if you want. I won’t be offended. Nadia rocks.

Strangers and those who are different from us can teach us a whole lot---can even change our lives for the better---but only if we have ears to hear. And mostly, they’re not going to approach us from the margins, so we have to reach out and ask to hear their stories. In the line at the grocery, while serving dinner at The Ruth Ellis Center, at a cocktail party, heck, how about during coffee hour, instead of sitting with our friends? Who can we, as a congregation, identify as people who are perhaps not being heard or included and make sure they are listened to & included? And, for those who feel like they’re not being heard or included, remember the power of the Syro-Phoenician woman standing up, speaking out, and not only asking Jesus for help, but challenging him when he said no.

How willing are we to be open and expectant and flexible? If we congregations are willing to do that, Luther Seminary New Testament professor Matt Skinner reminds us, it may pay off in the discovery of grace flowing in new directions this Autumn here at FCC and in our own personal lives. I encourage us all to flex, and stretch, and grow, even when it’s scary or stressful. Even when we don’t wanna. Let’s take up our Lassos of Truth and use them wisely, with ears to hear the truths of others, and hearts wide open to receive them with love. Amen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mother Nature's Having Cold Flashes!

When my wife and I booked our Dominican Republic beach vacation for May, I thought we had really missed the boat on timing. Of course, a beach vacation is wonderful any time of year. But, somehow, running off to the tropics when it seems like you should be hiring a tauntaun just to get to the grocery is so much more exciting than going the very week every lilac bush within a 50-mile radius is blooming lavishly. I mean, who wants to escape lilacs?

To make matters less dramatic still, the day before we left for the D.R., it was hot. Not quite "quick, turn on the AC" hot, yet, but still, hot. Nonetheless, we completely loved our time in the sun and water. We spent our mornings bobbing in the ocean (Jeannene with snorkel equipment) and our afternoons making the circuit of the pool, books in hand, between pauses for handstands and giggling. Sometimes, we dragged one another around the pool by the feet while the other laid back and read. We were profoundly grateful to have an air conditioned hotel room where we could de-sticky-fy when we'd been away from the water too long.

When we came back to Hoth---erm, Michigan---it actually felt like we had leapt nearly directly into summer, even though we'd had reports that it was 32 degrees (yes, fahrenheit) over the weekend. I thought, "Oh, man, just one week of spring and I missed it!"

Monday confirmed my conviction that summer had arrived. While I like to wait until June to turn on the air, I contemplated an early switch flip. I had the windows open all day and the cats were delighted at the breezes, when they came. They spent most of the time flopped on hard, smooth surfaces in an attempt to get cool, though. I positively swooned over the fully leafed-out maple tree all day.

Even better proof that summer had arrived was the emergence of the backyard neighbor kids from their home in swimsuits. Their babysitter, amid much ecstatic dancing and chattering on the part of the kids, hooked up a bright orange sprinkler hose and ran it down the hill toward our yard. The kids were all a-twitter with excitement. I watched with delight as the kids joyfully and exuberantly leapt, spun, and twisted through the sprinkler and landed among the field of tall wishes (in the form of dandelions gone to seed) between our yards. It was splendid!

We went to bed debating whether we should assist the house in cooling itself. We slept with windows flung wide and sheet and light quilt tossed aside. We wrestled off the odd cat who, crazily, thought it was a good idea to sleep fur to skin. I didn't quite pant, but I did wonder if I would ever sleep.

Yesterday morning, though, we awoke with our quilt clutched close and a bedful of chilly kitty cats. The air had turned brisk overnight and socks and a hoodie were required of me on my errands. I left the bedroom windows open while I worked downstairs, but the kitchen door and living room windows remained firmly shut.

When Jeannene returned from work and I popped upstairs before we went to dinner, I felt the frigid bedroom air and knew those windows had to be closed before she got anywhere near the bedroom! I'd re-opened them after my errands so the room wouldn't get hot, which appeared to be a tactical error. It got into the 30s last night. She was still chilly at bedtime, so we returned the down comforter to the bed, tucked a heating pad in with her, and encouraged cat cuddling.

It certainly doesn't seem right that the outdoor pool is opening this weekend, but hey, at least there's no snow!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Spring Revival

May is one of my favorite months (October running right alongside). Everything is fresh and new in May---tiny little leaves beginning to unfurl on trees, green grass growing, baby animals in fields and baby birds in nests, and dandelions starting to pop up on lawns. This seems a good time of year to revive this blog, as well.

I've been busy this week with two main activities. We have a vacation to the Dominican Republic coming up, so I've been preparing for that. Along with information, I've been gathering bug spray, sunscreen, swim shoes, frivolous paperback novels, and other necessary items for beach relaxation.

My other big flurry of activity is working on figuring out how to finance our adoption. While we haven't yet been matched with a woman who wants to create a family plan for her baby, there is, nonetheless, much work to be done. I am looking at some job options, as well as thinking of fundraising ideas. Adoption certainly isn't cheap, but it's well worth the costs.

I also continue to plug away at my writing, this week spending time with the inhabitants of Fox Hollow, Tennessee, a small, fictional community outside Nashville. It's fun (and sometimes alarming) to see where life takes them. Much of my work is done at my kitchen table, with a cat or two basking nearby. They've really been loving the sunshine and open kitchen door.

I've been enjoying the view of the birds who come to graze on our feeders, goldfinches, mourning doves, cardinals, woodpeckers, and sparrows. Either the juncos look different in spring than in winter or they have taken off for parts unknown. Every once in awhile, I'll see a blue jay out there, harassing the other birds.

Also enjoyable beyond the screen door is a glorious green patch of grass. This morning, it was studded with hundreds of dandelions, a wonderful sea of brightness even on rainy days like we had at the start of the week. This morning, when I first ventured downstairs, I was greeted by the sight of our neighbors' tiny little girl playing frisbee with her big brother, who was burdened with a backpack and anticipation of the school bus.

I was disappointed when I saw the mowers arrive. Their first visit this season felled nearly all the dandelions. I know they're considered a weed, but their countenances are so cheery that they register as flowers. Besides this, the bees really need them! So, I hate to see them mowed down. Better that than poisoned, though, for I know they'll return, probably with renewed vigor.

I heard news this week that my 1st & 2nd grade teacher died. She was a wonderful, warm, intelligent woman who truly enjoyed us children. She shepherded us back and forth from our alternative school to the affiliated college for gym and swimming each week. In the warm months, one of my classmates would always insist on stomping the dandelions as we walked. Bev would say, gently and cheerfully (even though she had to repeat it over and over), "Don't step on the sunshine!" Today, I thought, when the mower's engine started, "Don't mow down all the sunshine!" Luckily, there's plenty of the real thing to sustain me until the floral version reappears.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Aggravation---and Learning To Drop It

Maybe it's just me, but I am finding myself irked frequently yesterday & today. I am thinking I need to resume my 3 Cs wristband challenge, in which I have to switch my wristband to the other wrist every time I criticize, condemn, or complain.

Last night, when I was making my first recipe in the La Luna Cooks Mrs. Yoder project, wheat oatmeal bread, and forgot to halve the water amount, resulting in unworkably sticky dough & the need to add the rest of the originally-called-for-amounts of everything, I was terribly annoyed with myself for forgetting. However, the bread turned out nicely and I had enough to eat at home, send to work with Jeannene, and give to the neighbors. So, it was silly to be irked. It also taught me a good trick, suggested by my clever wife---write in the half amounts next to the whole amounts before beginning the actual cooking! Aha!

Today, when I was driving to the gym, and again driving home, I was horribly impatient with the other drivers around me. "Go! Go! Go! What are you DOING??? The light's greeeeeeeeeeen!!!" This morning, it was completely my fault I didn't start as early as I liked, completely my fault I lay in bed too long talking myself into going, completely my fault I stayed up reading until 1:30 this morning and thus had to talk myself into getting up & going to the gym. Not their fault & they were only driving normally, not going super slowly just to hinder my progress. At least I seem to have learned, for the most part, not to call other drivers idiots or worse. Maybe if I slip my wristband back on, I can learn to be chill when I am moving slowly. Pity the gym's not in the opposite direction as the traffic, but it isn't, I know it, and I might as well just relax & listen to the world news. Wait, that's not relaxing! How about if I use the trick of the Greyhound driver my mom encountered on the Charleston, WV, to Nashville route all those years ago? When someone cut him off or otherwise performed a jerk traffic move (either out of inconsiderateness or, more likely, just not paying as much attention as they could), he would say something like, "Careful, sweetie" or "Ease back a little, honey." Perhaps another "My religion is lovingkindness" bumper sticker would be a good practice aid, as well. I miss that sticker.

In the pool, I felt terribly snarky about a woman who entered the pool after me, chose a spot right next to me (cramming me close to the wall), & proceeded to tell me that she had to be somewhere afterward & didn't want to get her hair wet. She asked that I refrain from splashing her, saying, "You know, like Sea World. This can be the no-splash zone." Well, I didn't deliberately splash her, but I sure was tempted & I definitely would have enjoyed seeing her soaked & resembling a drowned rat. Isn't that mean? I told her I could sure try, then proceeded to do my workout as I normally would. It's a water workout. You can't expect not to get wet. However, my irritation with her arrogant request took me into some pretty mean thoughts and I try really hard not to be mean, even in my thinking. I am probably too compliant, but when a friend said she'd pray for the woman, I thought, "What a better response." Although, it was pretty funny to write about the ridiculousness of it on Facebook & composing my post while I bristled in the pool allowed me to relax into my workout instead of allowing her demand to ruin my morning. I also think a lot of times, the best we flawed humans can demand of ourselves is outward kindness. Even then, it can take an extra measure of grace to act that way.

Then, dealing with our property management company set me back into growly mode, as it usually does. Their communication is terrible, both with us and within the company. I can speak to two different people and get two completely different answers on just about any matter. Further, they seldom seem to want to go to any effort to fix a problem. However, today, I was given permission for something I've been asking about since January, so that's a great thing.

And that's the trick. It's looking for the great things, instead of focusing on the annoying things. It's recognizing that I am capable of fixing a baking mistake & producing yummy bread. It's grinning as I remember the old man who let me into the flow of traffic as I waited and waited. It's appreciating the woman in my water workout class who helped me figure out one of the moves when I couldn't understand what the instructor was saying. It's delighting in the wee, tiny boy in the gym's café who was sharing with me his enthusiasm for the construction equipment outside. It's the thrill of sneaking across the street to leave a surprise loaf of bread on Beth's door. It's anticipating with great joy the tea date I have with my mom for this afternoon. This, friends, is why I strongly advocate the practice of gratitude journaling. At the end of the night, I remember the bright, shining spots of the day and give thanks, instead of allowing the (pretty dang insignificant) clouds to blot out the light. It's a much better way to live.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

From Alpacas To Zanesville (Or, Rather, To Zanesville For Alpacas)

When Pie and his girlfriend, Bubbles, decided to move closer to us, it necessarily involved helping them move. In order to make it more fun for the grown folks, my sweet wife booked us into a bed & breakfast in the country outside Zanesville, where the kids' old apartment was. They were to spend the weekend packing, cleaning, & loading the truck while we had a weekend of relaxation, her first days off in over a month. We figured we were handling the finances, they could handle the physicals (although, when it came down to Monday morning & there were still things to be loaded, Jeannene pitched in, as well).

The B&B, Spring Acres, is way out in the country and the idiosyncrasies of my GPS meant we had an interesting drive from the Detroit Metro Friday night. We made it about as far as Sandusky on main roads, but then Jack (my GPS) diverted us to wee backroads, including one twisty gravel road in the dark of night, with a large truck following us. My wife watches too much crime television and was busy planning what to do if the truck driver tried to run us off the road so he could kill us---she was going to tell me to drive right into a house. Me, I was hoping we didn't either run into a place where the road ended or break down. Well, scenes from "Criminal Minds" did occasionally play across my mind's screen, too, to be honest, especially with the truck so close behind on such funky little roads. I was also a little worried whether the innkeeper would have an issue with wives instead of a wife & husband, given the general conservative bent of much of that region. However, Jack delivered us, shortly after midnight, into the welcoming arms of Spring Acres, where Sherry greeted us with a smile and a (fairly petite) bed. I was instantly charmed by the alpacas, rendered in metal, on the main gate. You see, the B&B is part of a compound that also includes an alpaca farm.  

We fell into a dead sleep and, in the morning, were treated to a delicious omelet made with fresh eggs from the Spring Acres hens, peppers from the garden, & cheddar. There were also beautiful sliced tomatoes picked that morning, home fries, fresh fruit (the blueberries, which I've only recently started to like, were heaven!), fresh-baked banana bread, and from-scratch biscuits. It's no wonder I gained weight over the weekend! After breakfast, we ran into town to fetch the U-Haul & check on the kids' progress. Both were fraught with anxiety, but especially the U-Haul. The guy warned Jeannene sternly not to get stuck under a particular overpass and gave her directions verbally to avoid such a horror. The key words in the story are, "gave her directions verbally" because she is utterly directionally impaired. She promptly turned the wrong direction and drove around hopelessly for a bit. I, following in the Bug, had no idea she didn't know where she was going until I got a frantic phone call from her saying she couldn't get to their apartment. Luckily, I was able to lead us back to the U-Haul, where I went in and wrote down the directions. Poor Jeannene. She's good at so much, but directions are not one of those things.

After the moving truck was safely delivered, we popped in at a wee Amish grocery on the way back to the B&B. It was a treasure trove of cool bulk items, flavorings I don't often find on my usual rounds (including butter flavor, which I've seen recommended in recipes but have never seen on shelves before), scrumptious deli items, and lovely produce. We also got to see 5 adorable, tow-headed Amish children with cornflower blue eyes, shopping with their red-headed papa. They stood barefoot in the aisles, reminding me of my childhood summers running around barefoot in Yellow Springs. I think they were as fascinated by us as we were by them.

In the afternoon, we meandered down to the lake, by way of the alpaca barns, where we stood and gawked at the cuteness. A couple of the babies looked quite curious about us and almost allowed themselves to come over and check us out. On the way back, we stopped in the little alpaca shop, where I found a lovely brown scarf with hot pink decorations and no price tag and a grey plaid blanket I'd have loved to pick up for my winter couch. We decided to return again before the end of our stay. Once back at the B&B, we hung out and looked at the Amish cookbook we'd picked up. I said, casually, that it would be fun to work our way through the cookbook recipe by recipe, á la Julie & Julia. Jeannene was quite taken with the idea (I think she was really taken with the idea that I would make all this homey food for her) & so we are going forth. You can follow that on my other blog, at I knew the Amish were known for their fabulous pies. What I hadn't realized was that something like 80% of the recipes in the book would delight the sweet of tooth. Candy, cake, sweet rolls, cookies, pies. I also didn't realize how much processed food the recipes would include. Velveeta reigns supreme. There is very little butter called for, with oleo being in just about every recipe. Jell-o and instant pudding are fixtures and Nestle Quik is featured in many recipes in lieu of cocoa powder. I've never seen anything like it, even in church cookbooks from the 1960s. I expect to be sharing the bounty quite a bit, as we cannot possibly eat even a quarter of the foods on offer.

In the evening, we drove into town to check on the kids again and deliver dinner. Pie had tried to weasel Jeannene into taking them to lunch, with very little work actually finished. She had promised them an alpaca viewing and dinner on Sunday if they got lots of work done Saturday. But we're not utterly heartless, so we took them hot dogs & BBQ from Whitt's, along with a quart of raspberry frozen custard. It being our 12 year and 8 month monthiversary of our first (illegal) wedding, we went out for something a little fancier at Muddy Miser's on the river. Luckily, they had patio seating available and we enjoyed a splendid appetizer of warm summer tomato bruschetta with gorgonzola, followed by filet mignon. Dessert came when we returned to the B&B and were served some of the best carrot cake I've ever had the pleasure to eat. Zucchini was the secret star ingredient. We visited with the other guests, a couple celebrating their 41st anniversary, then excused ourselves to bed, relieved that we didn't have to stay up all night with the woman. He seemed quite lovely, but she was the sort of person who can top any story, and always does, whether the other person is finished talking or not. I do try not to be mean, but she was simply exhausting.

Sunday morning, we were given scrambled eggs with homemade sausage and more beautiful fruit. There were biscuits and banana bread aplenty, as well, although I chose one this time, instead of a little of each! We'd planned a picnic, but the rain came down in a steady drizzle, with occasional livelier outbursts, all day, so instead we stayed in with a deck of Uno cards. It had been a long time since we'd had such a lazy day and it was sheer delight. When lunchtime rolled around, Sherry brought our picnic to us in the living room while we played---how spoiled are we? She'd made fabulous Dagwood sandwiches, accompanied by baked Ruffles & honeydew melon. Once Jeannene had beaten me soundly at Uno (much to her satisfaction---and she could not believe I wasn't perturbed in the least), we took up a book of trivia and created our own hybrid trivia/truth or dare game. What fun that was! We also popped down to the shop to purchase our chosen alpaca items. However, the shopkeeper was so utterly consumed by the loquacious lady that we, after waiting around for 15 minutes or so, gave up and returned to our cards. We'd overheard the conversation, with the woman repeatedly interrupting the shopkeeper's explanation of how they make the products with her knowledge of weaving and her stories about watching someone finger-weaving & picking it up in 3 days without formal instruction. We are not nearly as nice as we should be & returned to the inn snickering about all the things she is surely better at than other people. "Oh, you had hernia surgery? Well, I took out my own hernia and hand-crocheted the binder I wore during recovery." Pure meanness, but funny, nonetheless.

As the afternoon began to wind down into evening, we picked up the kids and took them to see the alpacas. Because it was raining and it seemed unlikely that the alpacas would come any closer than they had the day before, I stayed in the car. Had I known what they got up to while I was immersed in my book (a very good one called What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman), I would certainly have gotten out & joined them, as they got to pet a wee baby alpaca. Ah, well, my own fault for not wanting to get wet. After, we headed into town for dinner at Adornetto's, an Italian place none of us had been before. Jeannene and I, not yet fully hungry after our picnic, shared a plate of spaghetti with red sauce and meatballs. The pasta was tremendous, clearly made on the premises and cooked perfectly al dente. I hope we can find such a place near us. After dinner, we dropped them back to their work and figured out a route which would get us out of town without going anywhere near the Dread Underpass.

Monday, we got the kids' belongings completely loaded and hit the road for their new home, 6 hours away. I led the caravan, concerned that I would somehow lead us onto a road too narrow for the truck or a bridge too low or that I would lose someone along the way. Bubbles & Jeannene both kept up admirably, nobody got lost, and if Pie had a panic attack driving through the pouring rain, I never heard about it. Usually, he makes Bubbles pull over if the rain gets hard, but they stuck right with us. I was a smidge nervous, as the pelting rain struck right when we were at the spot which had been completely flooded last month, stranding motorists and destroying basements. We managed to get through without hydroplaning or getting bogged down in water and the sun came out in time for the unloading of the truck. With the truck unloaded, the kids happily ensconced in their new home, and the U-Haul dropped off, we went for pizza and beer, that most traditional of moving meals, a fitting end to Labor Day.