Monday, March 31, 2008

You're IT!!

I’ve been cheerfully tagged by Sandy over at Curly’s Corner. She’s chosen my houseblog, The Sow’s Ear, as one of her ten favorites to receive an Excellent Blog Award. Thank you, Sandy. It’s marvellous to know I’m being read, and appreciated.

But of course, I mustn’t keep the love and joy to myself. So in fine memetic tradition, I give you the rubric. Recipients, consider yourselves on notice!

By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you agree to award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want but please award at least 10. You deserve this! Feel free to recognize blogs that have already received this award.

Here’s my list, in no particular order. I’ve decided to post it here on my flagship blog, because I don’t want Jeannie and Aaron, our moderators, to feel I’ve gone completely off-topic. I’ve been doing little but playing piano over at the Sow’s Ear lately, and they’re likely beginning to wonder.

You listed below, you, in the Clara Bow sense, are IT:

Mile High Pixie at Why Architects Drink. You can find plenty of blogs blathering on about the latest rarefied design theory or the intricacies of drawing technology. I know of no other blog that actually tells you what it’s like to be down and dirty in architectural practice. Besides, given my own sidetracked architectural career, it’s fun to be involved vicariously through Pixie’s adventures.

Miss Kitty at Educated and Poor. Supported by her sister Pixie, a squadron of adorable kittehs, and one self-possessed red hen, she lets you in on the ironies, frustrations, and triumphs of teaching at the university level students whose receptivity too often was arrested in grade school.

Gary at This Old Crackhouse. Read the thrilling adventures of one man’s fight against urban decay in Dayton, Ohio, facing down the forces of raccoon poop, bad plumbing, worse electrical wiring, blocked-up fireplaces, and the occasional tool thief. Riding high on his trusty steed Shellac, Gary has inspired many of us to follow in his trail. Even if no one has yet volunteered to come carry bricks for his latest chimney!

Waiter at Waiter Rant. How presumptuous is it to tender private kudos to a blog that came ever-so-close to taking the 2008 Bloggie Award and has gained its author a contract for a soon-to-be-published book? But when a blog is so educational as to let me know I should be tipping the server who prepares my take-out order, and so compellingly written that I’m now happy to do it, how can I leave it off my personal E for Excellent list?

Chris at Extreme Theology. Chris forthrightly upholds Jesus crucified and risen for our sins as he examines and confronts the popular assaults to the faith once delivered to the saints. Though I find his Lutheran views on Calvinism and on women in ministry to be uninformed and regrettable (we all have our blind spots), overall his writing encourages me to keep on preaching Law and Gospel, in that order. And when I need some balance, I turn to

Gifted for Leadership, a group blog by evangelical Christian women in leadership positions. These servants of God seek to stay rooted in biblical soil, and their reflections on their efforts to minister faithfully encourage me to keep my own eyes and focus on Christ and His will.

PeaceBang at Beauty Tips for Ministers. She’s on a mission to remind pastors of both sexes and all denominations that our parishioners and the general public have their eyes on us. Enough with the frumpy fake humility, already--how we dress and carry ourselves communicates more than we can imagine about the offices we hold and the God we serve. Reading her blog just before Easter, I knew I had to go get a haircut. Who’s going to listen to me in the pulpit if I look like a superannuated 12 year old?

Craig and Yvonne’s Our Victorian House. More a website than a blog, their illustrated saga of the renovation of their Eastlake frame house in New Jersey is breathtaking, inspiring, and educational. Click the blog link and post comments and questions about the ongoing work!

The anonymous owner of StuccoHouse. Though her house is stucco and mine is brick, though she's reclaiming her existing wood windows and I’m planning to replace my metal windows with new wood ones in the old style, I can always find something relevant and instructive. Yes, someday I hope to get rid of my crummy aluminum trim, too!

John at The Devil Queen. If you want house renovation angst-- presented with humor and irony-- John will give it to you in spades. Shovelfuls. Dumpster loads. And John's great paintings on his linked blog, The Failed Artist, almost incite me to get off my duff and pick up my artist’s brushes again. Until I look again at the title. Oh, well!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day One

Friday, 17 March, 1989
From Oxford to Little Chesterford, Essex
Day One

Well, my great Britannic adventure did not get off to such a brilliant start. But maybe today saw the obligatory bit of things going awry and henceforth things will settle down. I survived today, at least-- I hope.

Actually, I started out rather well. I was surprisingly on-schedule, especially for me, and by 2 PM I had presented myself at the Europcar rental agency by the Texas store (I think they sell housewares and do-it-yourself supplies; odd name for an English chain, isn’t it?) on the Botley road to pick up my car.

First hitch-- Whoever took my reservation Tuesday had neglected to enter it, and no car was waiting. Easily solved: another was available.

Second problem, but much bigger-- the credit authorization people refused to take my Commerce Visa and my Centerre card has expired. This is not nice at all, for the immediate purposes and for general implications. . . .

[I spend some time and ink cogitating on what might have gone wrong, especially given that a relative in the States was keeping my accounts and paying my Visa bills]

. . . But all this was abstract at the moment, with me standing there at the car hire office, a room booked in Cambridgeshire (or is this Essex?) for the night and me legally liable for that, and my officially having given notice I was vacating the room at Coverdale* Hall today. Not nice.

The way it was finally solved was for me to take the bus back into town and get the amount in cash, £200 or so of which I’ll get back presuming I don’t do anything untoward to the car.

So by 4:15, two hours behind schedule, I had the vehicle. Headed back to Coverdale*, loaded up the waiting bags, called the people I’d reserved with to say I’d be late, and headed up the Banbury Road and over to Marston Ferry and on east.

Here is something interesting: driving on the lefthand side was no problem at all for me, and I hope things continue that way. True, I tend to be a little afraid of getting too close to oncoming traffic (or do I fear that if I drive too far to the right I’ll forget and revert to American habits?), meaning I overcorrect and was plowing the verge a time or two. Thank God I did discover that by trespassing on a curb here and some grass there, and not by sideswiping either a parked car or a passing cyclist.

The real problem is the road signage and the car itself. What they gave me was an Austin-Rover Maestro, but it ain’t no master-- of anything. Or maybe with its name it has Italian ideas of how things mechanical should run (I take that back-- Fiats and Ferraris are reputed to be excellent automobiles). Maybe a better way to describe it is that the whole car seems constipated. The trunk lock sticks, the gear shift is horribly stiff, the bright lights switch won’t stay on, and the cassette deck has swallowed one of my tapes and refuses to give it up.

The shift is the worst. It’s obnoxiously difficult to shift into first or second, with the result that I am continually and unintentionally starting from a dead stop in third or turning corners in fourth. This is rotten on the gears but so far I can’t do anything about it. That car is driving me crazy and I’m checking with the Cambridge Europcar branch to see if I can get a replacement (I want an Escort, dammit!!). At least I’ll need them to make the player surrender my Berlioz tape.

As for signage, well. A little of it is me not being used to it and also trying to navigate at night. But when you go 130± miles on what’s supposed to be a 75 mile trip . . .

I got sidetracked on the A40 when the sign for the A418 and Aylesbury came up too suddenly for me to make the turn; I got off the A40 and was on the road that goes by Little Milton before I could turn around and make my way by an alternate route to Aylesbury.

Then I missed the connection with the A4012 at Leighton Buzzard and ended up down some road, finally turning around in a farmyard past a church.

Then I made it to Woburn (pity I wasn’t there in daylight to see the Abbey) but it took me five or six passes and all sorts of edifying nocturnal side-trips to Woburn Sands, Aspley, Guise, and once a jaunt parallel to the M1 nearly all the way to Milton Keynes before I finally found the turnoff where the A4012 continues. (It was at a very nondescript, ill-lighted corner and the signs from both directions weren’t turned so car headlights could hit them). I think I took that turn mostly because I’d tried everything else. Heaven knows the sign message wasn’t visible.

Then I got a little screwed up at Clophill, but turned round at a pub before I’d progressed too far towards Bedford.

But I pulled another brilliant navigational feat at Baldock, where I forgot which town I was aiming for when I got onto the A505 at the roundabout and ended up all the way to Luton, to the southwest, instead of passing north of Royston, to the northeast.

Once I’d got that corrected, I was all right the rest of the way. And East Anglian roads are fairly straight, more like I-70 or something, and for the first time I could comfortably do the legal 60 mph. 50 down to 45 mph, up to then.

I can see that one must memorize the towns you’re likely to encounter, because that’s the only way you’ll know you’re on the right road. Besides signs that give you no warning to turn in time and ones that are badly placed, the biggest problem is lack of road numbers along the route. If you miss the number sign at the roundabout or junction, you’re out of luck till the next roundabout or junction. Similarly, you don’t see signs saying "Milton Keynes 5 mi." outside town limits, nor are the highways called out as "A507 East" or whatever’s appropriate. It’s a shame, because the landscape’s so pretty it’s rotten to not be able to enjoy it because you’re afraid of missing an all-important, unique, and perhaps badly-located sign.

At any rate, I didn’t arrive in Little Chesterford till 10 PM. The proprietors of the B&B, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Payne, had gone out but their 16 year old daughter Vickie was home to let me in and show me the room.

It is cute-- under the eaves of a thatched house, with the timber wallplate visible about a foot and a half above the floor. The house is thatched, but I couldn’t see that well in the dark.

There was tea making apparatus in the room; I had two cups, more for the warmth and comfort than because I need any such drink that late at night.

The weather at the moment is clear and starry, most unlike the foul rain we had yesterday. The sunset sky in Oxfordshire was beautiful-- too bad no place I had to turn around could give me a good camera shot at it!

Vicarious Travel

Something earlier this month led me to take down and read the journal I kept of my car tour around Great Britain during Easter Break of 1989.

At that time I was doing a sabbatical year abroad, studying at Oxford on a program sponsored by William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. I was reading Medieval Church and Architecture History, and like a handful of other Oxbridge program students, I was privileged to be a lodger at Coverdale* Hall, one of the Church of England theological colleges affiliated with the University.

But we Americans suffered the same fate during school vacations as did the British students who didn't have all-year-round rooms-- we got kicked out for a month at Christmas and Easter to make space for conferences and seminars.

This was no hardship, really-- it gave us the incentive and excuse to travel. Most of my compatriots headed for the Continent both times. Me, I took my architectural tour of Europe in December, and devoted the Spring break to England, Scotland, and Wales.

And as I said, I kept a journal. A not-badly-written journal, if I say so myself. So from time to time, I plan to share my travels with you, interspersed with my usual entries for 2008.

I'll try to keep editing to a minimum. I might break up paragraphs to make them more readable. I well may excise portions where I wax a little too personal, or where I might embarrass others. I might substitute a pseudonym from time to time (marked with an asterisk). I may or may not give actual names of bed and breakfasts and their proprietors-- what would you like? But in general, I'll copy down what I wrote nineteeen years ago, and let you see the landscape, architecture, food, and people as I saw them when I was in my mid-thirties.

I took a lot of slides during the trip. Assuming they're not too faded, I'll see about scanning a few and illustrating the entries from time to time.

One more note: Then, as now, I like to avoid main roads and motorways whenever possible. So don't take my route numbers as the quickest and most direct ways! Equally, don't assume that when I tell you I was trying to find some B road, I must have been lost!

So hop in (on the lefthand passenger side, please), and we'll get going!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Some Easter "Hymns" Need to Be Egged

A brief rant before I retire to bed this Easter Sunday evening:

I was just downstairs, plinking out Easter hymns on my new old piano, out of the 1933 Hymnal. "Come Ye Faithful, Raise the Strain." "Welcome, Happy Morning." "The Strife Is O’er." "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today." Good, solid hymns with good, solid doctrine about what Jesus really did for us on the cross and at the empty tomb.

So what did I get for one of the two hymns in the church where I preached this morning? "He Lives." What were people singing all over "evangelical" America this morning? "He Lives." Which is not really about Jesus and His resurrection and what He’s accomplished at all, it’s about "me" and how Jesus makes me feeeeeeeeel!

I was stuck with it because the organist at Indian Hill* picks all the hymns and, in the absence of a regular pastor, what he says, goes.

Lord help me, every year I’m less able to tolerate that piece of gnostic, sentimental chozzerai.

This morning I barely sang it. I went "la-la-la" to the melody line in first verse, and for the other two I made a half-assed attempt at following the alto line, still on "la-la-la."

Irreverent, you say?

Ha! I gave the bloody piece of tripe exactly what it deserved, and more.

No, I didn’t disrupt anyone else’s worship "experience." The organ was behind me and it quite effectively drowned me out. Which was the idea.

. . . I need to stop feeling angry about this. It’s not my calling to go on a one-woman crusade against bad Christian music. It is my calling to preach the gospel of Christ crucified and risen again, and Lord helping, I believe I did that this morning.

But I see I've gotten sidetracked in my rant. It ultimately isn’t about disgust. It’s about sadness.

Sadness that so few modern hymnals have the great classic Easter hymns in them at all. Sadness that it's not popular or fashionable to sing them even if they are. We’re losing our musical heritage, and with it, a great support to our faith. Something like "The Strife Is O’er" goes a lot farther is teaching a Christian what he believes and why he should believe it, than something like "Christ Arose."

But even "Christ Arose" is better than "He Lives." Gaaahhhhggghhh!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Trying to Do What Matters

I picked up my repaired sewing machine late yesterday afternoon. But with all the errands I had to run, I didn't get home till nearly ten o'clock at night. No time to sew more than a couple seams in the lining of my new Easter skirt.

Tried to get it done today. But around 8:30 PM, when the zipper was in, all the side seams done, but the waistband and all the hemming and handwork yet to do, I decided the project had crossed the line.

It's a lovely and Christ-honoring thing to wish to wear a new white outfit to preach the good news of the resurrection in on Easter morning. But not when that means appearing in a crookedy hem because I didn't have any of my friends handy this evening to pin it up for me. And especially not when a new suit of preaching clothes means staying up all night finishing it and showing up at the church late and rushed and out-of-sorts. Then it's no longer something I'm doing to honor God, I'm doing it for my own ego.

So while I've gone ahead and basted on the waistband, I've decided finishing this skirt can wait. I'll wear a white blouse with my dark turquoise lightweight wool skirt. Hey, it's a festive, Easter-eggy color, right?

Besides, I've got something else to deal with tomorrow that I believe really does matter:

I just checked the email the church secretary sent me the other day with the order of worship for tomorrow. I wanted to see whether I needed to be prepared with a Collect (no, I don't). But for the first time, I noticed that they've got the Children's Sermon before the Call to Worship! Like the kids and the word I'm offering them aren't part of "worship" at all! I didn't expect to see it in such a place, and therefore, I didn't.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. If it's at all possible, this will have to be tactfully but firmly changed. Because the children matter. They matter a lot.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"The Other Mary"

I just noticed something intriguing while working on my sermon for Sunday:

St. Matthew, telling the resurrection story, reports that it was "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary" who went to the tomb early that first day of the week after Jesus was crucified.

St. Mark and St. Luke say it was Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James who went, as well as other female disciples, named and unnamed.

"Mary" (or Miriam) was a very popular girl's name at the time, so to identify this second disciple as "Mary the mother of James" meant that everyone in the church knew who "James" was and would think, "Oh, yes, that Mary. James' mother!"

But which James? James the brother of John? I don't think so. Every time the Gospels refer to her, she's always "the mother of Zebedee's sons." In fact, in chapter 27, Matthew mentions Mrs. Zebedee as standing "at a distance" along with "the mother of James and Joses" as Jesus died on Calvary.

Could she be the mother of James the Less, one of the Twelve?

Probably not. His career wasn't prominent enough to make him someone to be identified by.

Unless James the Less is the same as James the Just, the writer of the Epistle of James and leader of the Jerusalem Church for many, many years?

But I'd argue against that. Because James the Less was one of Jesus' disciples-- and James the Just (pace my Roman Catholic readers, if any) was the half-brother of our Lord. St. Mark in chapter 6 of his gospel records the murmuring of the crowd against Jesus: "'Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph [ Greek Joses, a variant of Joseph], Judas [i.e., Jude] and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?'"

Hmmm. And St. John tells us in chapter 7 that Jesus' brothers didn't believe in him. Their eyes weren't opened till after the resurrection. (Which may explain why Jesus commended his mother to John, and not to one of them!).

But Jesus' half-brother James did come to faith in him after he rose from the grave, and became known as James the Just, the renowned bishop of the Jerusalem church.

So who is this "other" Mary, the mother of the famous James and his brother Joses? It looks to me as if it were Mary, the blessed mother of our Lord!

So why don't the gospel writers come out and say so? Why all the understatement?

I could argue that they didn't want the pathos of a mother's sorrow to upstage the drama of God played out in the resurrection.

But I think it's more likely that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are all pointing up the fact that with the resurrection, Jesus transcends his blood relationships with any one human being. No individual can now claim special identity from being his kin after the flesh.

For now Christ is united in holy and spiritual relationship to all who believe in him. Now that he is risen, the blood relationship that matters is the one forged by the blood of his cross. It is entered into not by sharing his DNA, but by faith when we accept the atonement won for us in his blood. This blood relationship is birthed in us by the Holy Spirit and nurtured every time we partake in the cup at Holy Communion.

Since the resurrection, Mary of Nazareth no longer has a special human claim on her Son; she is one with all her brothers and sisters, falling joyfully at the feet of the One who is her Savior and ours.

"The other Mary," indeed! Are there any legends of her pulling rank or demanding special treatment in the church because the Christ was born of her womb? I've never heard of any!

That's humility worth emulating!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Last July, when I was back in Kansas City, I bought a few yards of some beautiful off-white wool fabric from Kaplan's Fabrics on the Country Club Plaza.

My intention was to make myself a new preaching outfit from it, for those weeks from Easter on when it's too cold and early to wear white linen, but just wrong--liturgically, in particular--to wear black.

Not that I don't already own a winter white suit; it's just that I bought it back in 1997 and I've, well, kind of outgrown the skirt since then.


Anyway, this weekend it hit me how close it's getting to Easter. So Sunday I found the fabric and the pattern, and preshrunk the material in the washer because there's no way I'm paying for dry cleaning every time a speck of dirt falls on it. Monday, I cleared and extended my dining room table, and started cutting the skirt pieces out.

This morning I attached the three front and the three back sections (it's a six-gore skirt), using French seams.

I'm debating whether I'll put a pocket in it; the pattern doesn't have one, but it's handy in case a church wants me to use a radio mike. Trouble is, when I made this skirt before, the seam over the pocket didn't sit straight. That skirt is black, so there I can kind of get away with it.

In white, not so much. But a pocket is so useful. I'm still trying to decide.

One thing that's not up for debate: The skirt needs to be lined. The wool fabric is too fine and lightweight not to. Last evening, I drove over to JoAnn Fabrics and got some matching lining material. Preshrunk it last night, and this afternoon I cut it out and started attaching the pieces.

But what on earth--? My sewing machine will not let me sew a straight seam on that lining! The feeddog catches it (or maybe, doesn't catch it) and the needle inexorably veers in a mindless diagonal off to the edge. I tried completing one seam, then another. Hopeless. They both look like a work of a crazy drunken fool: meandering all over the place, starting and stopping and restarting again, the stitch length long to tiny to back again, the tension too loose or too puckering tight.

I just can't make that machine sew my lining evenly and straight!

Why now, Lord, why now?

And why, at all?

. . . Well, yes, I did notice this morning that the sewing machine presser foot isn't dropping smartly into place. Rather, it sort of moseys its way down onto the fabric, like it hasn't quite made up its mind whether it wants to get to work or not . . . And this afternoon it was so slow and lacksidaisical about it, I thought it would never descend at all.

My theory is that it's just not holding the fabric down to the feeddog the way it should. The wool was just thick enough to make do with the pressure it gave, but the lining acrylic, no.

All very nice to have an idea of what's wrong. But I could have gotten so much more done on this skirt tonight! And now I've been sidetracked. There's no point in doing anything more until I can borrow or rent another sewing machine until mine can be fixed. Or until I can figure out how to clean up my old machine, a 1951 Singer, so it won't get oil and crud all over my nice cream-colored fabric.

How am I ever going to get my new suit done for Easter Sunday!? I'm as sidetracked as my crookedy lining seams!

Unless-- Unless this is God's way of telling me to work on my sermon for Easter Sunday before I work on my clothes? Like, maybe, this is His way of getting me-- maintracked?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Spoke Too Soon

Yesterday I got most of my bills paid for the month. What statements I hadn't received yet, I figured I had covered.

So besides gas for the car and niggling things like food and water softener salt, I figured the piano tuner's bill next week was the only expense I'd have to concern myself with the rest of the month.

Ha. Guess again.

I had business at my bank this afternoon. I come out, get into my car, and I find in my windshield I have one of those gifts that keep on giving: a crack in the glass low on the passenger side.

Ah, yes, that would be from the rock I picked up yesterday or the day before. Thank you so much. Of course I didn't think to check for a chip in time to use the free car insurance coverage for chipped windscreens. No, I have to develop an actual crack. Which will mean a new windshield. On my dime, since my deductible's pretty high.

And then this evening, I got some work done on my house. And I wanted to take a picture of it. Turned on the digital camera, composed the shot, pressed the shutter, heard the shutter make a noise-- but nothing happened. Tried it again. Still nothing. Tried a different setting. Nothing again.

Bork, bork, bork!!

Uh, rewind memory to late this morning: Hands full. Picking things up off the shelf in the front hall. Dropping the digital camera onto the floor. Not thinking much of it-- floor's only wood and vinyl.

Could that be what broke my shutter?

If not that, then what?

Of course the camera's about three months out of warranty. And FujiFilm probably wouldn't warrant damage like that, anyway.

So now I get to decide what to do. Try to repair this camera, buy a new one on credit, or-- aaaaggghhh!!--fast from taking pictures until I can afford a new one?

But it never fails. I think I've got everything under control, and boooiiiinnnggg!!! Guess I ain't so smart after all.