Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Statement of Faith-- Whether I Feel Like It or Not

"Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior."

                   --Habakkuk 3:17-18 (New International Version, 1984)

Monday, November 05, 2012

Blahg, Blahg, Blahg

A few years ago, when I first heard about blogging, I was reliably informed that it was basically mental regurgitation.  Random, stream-of-conscientiousness effluvia.  Inchoate plops of verbiage emitted whenever the writer had the impulse.

I discovered, of course, that this is far from the truth, at least for weblogs worth reading.  In fact, writing a blog post is more like producing an essay than anything else.

And with one thing and the other, I don't feel like producing essays lately.

But I wouldn't mind occasionally emitting a few plops of verbiage, inchoate or not.

In no particular order and in no particular relationship:

  • Which is stronger-- my dislike of wrongheadedness or my dislike of conflict?  I ask myself this as I wonder to what degree to engage my niece and a friend of hers on Facebook over their screamingly erroneous and absurd political opinions.  Disagreeing on aims and goals and ways and means is one thing.   Having someone take her stand on outright lies is quite another.  But at this stage of the game, where do you start?  Is it worth trying?
  • Hoping Mitt Rommey wins the election tomorrow; we can't take four more years of Mr. Obama's policies.  But I have no illusion that a Republican victory will automatically open up the jobs market to someone of my age and experience.  Can't hurt, however. 
  • It's going to be hard keeping my weight down now that the cold weather has set in.  Find myself wanting to eat more.  I have a new dark gray size 6 dress I've been wearing on Sundays to preach in, but who knows if I'll be able to get into it the Sunday after Thanksgiving-- that's my next engagement.
  • Preached yesterday at a church where I've been before.  They put on the back of the bulletin, "Welcome Rev. Blogwen X* who will deliver a great SERMON."  (All-caps theirs.)  Yes, indeed, God willing I hope it was a great sermon, but I'm sorry, I'm afraid it wasn't a little bitty short one.  Normal twenty minutes-- but oh, dear, it was Communion Sunday.  And as one of the elders told me afterwards, "the old people are used to getting out in a hour," Communion or not.  He acknowledged that it was too bad they thought that way about the Word of God, but well, "they're old."  Thinking about it afterwards, I beg to differ.  The problem is not that they're old, but that they're old children-- children as to the Word, who have never matured in the faith enough to savor a proper meal of spiritual meat and drink.  But what can you do to help them grow up before they die, especially when you're not the permanent pastor?
  • Spent the afternoon processing my Halloween jack o' lanterns into pumpkin purée.  Ended up with maybe three quarts or more of it.   Now I've got to figure out what to do with it all, especially since freezer space is at a premium-- I'm storing up raw milk against the winter when the dairy dries out their cows.
  • Oh, did I mention I've been drinking raw whole milk since last April?  Great stuff, which is why I want to lay in a good supply until the cows come into milk again in the spring.
  • Thinking about the poor people in New York and New Jersey who've been devastated by Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.  If my power was out but my house was intact and I'd put by enough water, I would be okay for food for two or three weeks, just on what I have in the pantry.  Though if the gas were shut off as well, I might be reduced to eating cold soaked pasta-- gack.  But the people in the New York boroughs, they don't have room in their dinky apartments to store a lot of food.  Their pantry is the shop down the street.  Praying the power and transportation lines will be up again sooner than soon.
  • When I look forward to enjoying the new milk in the spring, I may be living in a fantasy world.  My financial situation really stinks, and for all I know, by spring I may be living under a bridge. 
But that's another essay I don't feel like writing at the moment.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Listening Fail

I'm finding out why it's a good thing I don't have a working television and cable to supply it.

Because I can get programs I like on the Internet, and that's just as bad. Or worse.

Especially if you can get episodes on continuous stream.


So, I admit it.  I've found someone on YouTube who posts back episodes of What Not to Wear and Say Yes to the Dress.  What a guilty, addictive pleasure.  The former can be helpful in helping me shop sales, but as for the latter?  I've never tried on or needed a wedding dress, I don't foresee ever needing one (though it would be a nice surprise out of life, yes?); nor do I have any daughters or granddaughters who might take me wedding gown shopping with them.

Still, I watch.  Let's say it satisfies the frustrated fashion designer in me-- after all, that's what I wanted to be all through high school.  And sometimes the show gives food for thought-- in a not necessarily digestible or comfortable way.

Take the Season 1 episodes I've seen lately.  It's just like a TV show producer to glom onto and follow around the most interesting consultants, the ones with the most personality or those who'll strike the most sparks.  So in Season 1, they latched onto a newbie consultant named C--, whose combination of cluelessness, egomania, and crappy selling skills has the YouTube commenters wide-eyed with wonder.

I could tell she was headed for trouble in her first appearance, when a bride told her she wanted to see "Greek goddess" gowns and instead of fetching some, C-- basically told the bride (though in not so many words) she was stupid for asking, didn't she know that style made everyone look fat?  I was sure that when the show was broadcast, she'd be mortified to see herself and want to correct her behavior.  But as the episodes go on you see her committing error after correctable error.  Couldn't she have asked to see the footage taken of the successful sellers?  But you glean that she wouldn't be interested, because she continually tells the camera that she thinks she's doing just fine, there's no room for her to improve, nobody sells that many dresses anyway, etc., etc.

The Kleinfeld's management gives her chance after chance, and to her face and to each other they say, "C-- doesn't listen."

Oh, that.  That's a song I know well.  And from bitter experience, I well know the uselessness of vague job review terms like "X doesn't listen."

For C-- really thinks she is listening--according to her own definition of the term.  Trouble is, it's not her definition that was going to rule.  But if her supervisors really want to give her a chance to succeed, . can't they see she doesn't or can't catch what they're trying to convey, that she's interpreting it entirely differently than they mean it?

"You doesn't listen" in this Say Yes to the Dress situation could have meant

  • "We don't want you just to hear our words and understand them, we expect you to do what we say."  I.e., "to listen" means "to obey."
  • "You need to learn from management and the other consultants, and not figure a rookie like you has it all down."
  • "Listening to the brides does not mean making common cause with them over against the store.  It reduces their confidence in the establishment and in you."
  • "When management politely suggests something be done, the politeness is social grease, and we really mean, do it."
  • "You keep up such a flow of talk you can't take in anything else."
  • "When the brides say they want to try something or other, you're sure you know better and bring them something else instead."
  • "You don't know to shut up long enough to let the brides' instincts about the Perfect Dress take over and make the sale for you."
And so on.  True, C-- was so colossally full of herself I guess it would have done no good had management spelled it out for her.  She deserved to get canned.  But for the rest of us poor working fools out there just struggling to do our best, please, HR, be a bit more specific.  Define your terms!

When I was hit with "She doesn't listen," I knew it meant "she doesn't obey."   In the circumstances I couldn't acquiesce and they had no right to ask me to do so-- though they did have the power to punish me for it, however unfairly or illegally.  But that aside, last night I reflected that I don't listen as I should.  I tend to talk too damn much.  Lord, help me to be quiet in myself and let the other person's thoughts and feelings and ideas flow!  For unlike C-- on Say Yes to the Dress, I have it in me to see myself and be very, very mortified.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Beating the Odds-- So Far

Not mine, but illustrative
I don't believe in food-as-medicine.

Yes, I believe in getting one's nutrition as much as possible from healthy, wholesome, locally-grown food eaten in reasonable amounts and proportions.  But when it comes to the esoterica of when and how and how much and in what combinations, my response is "Non credo."

You've seen them.  Articles from nutrition pundits who tell you to eat a cup of fresh blueberries three times a day every day for the rest of your life.  I like blueberries, but not that much!  Or blog posts insisting that all grains are inherently bad for people and one should never eat them.  Or the book that tells me I should never eat red meat after three in the afternoon, and then only if I've done four impossible yoga poses before sunrise.  And don't forget the earnest folks who tell you you can't possibly be healthy unless you consume some exotic fruit or herb found only on some South Pacific island the Polynesians have never heard of.  No.  Can't swallow that.

But there's a way lately that I have been taking a more therapeutic attitute towards food, and to some extent it's paying off.

A couple of things dovetailed this spring, and a very portly dove it was, too.  The first is that the low blood sugar I've put up with since my college years at least seemed to be getting worse.  I found myself getting lightheaded more frequently, and even feeling I was going to faint a time or two.  Yeah, some people would say I should run off to the doctor and get tested for diabetes.  That's not me.  If I can deal with it myself, I will.

The second thing is that I noticed that I'd gained a lot of weight since my last post-chemo weigh-in in late February.  Above the waist, where I generally don't put it on.  Rolls of flab on my back.  No more definition in my upper arms.  The pot around my belly button greatly increased.  I hadn't changed my eating or activity habits at all, but here it was getting difficult if not impossible to fit into my clothes.  What's this all about?

So towards the end of May I decided to tackle both these problems at once.  I'd change my eating habits.  I wasn't going on a diet, oh, no.  Nor would I renounce any particular food.  I've been at this weight loss game long enough to know that that's the recipe for desperation and disaster.  No.  Instead, I began to stretch out my meals.  Instead of eating three largish meals a day four to six hours apart, I'd spread them out.  Have the protein at one little meal, then two to three hours later have the starch I would have had with the protein.  Be conservative about portion sizes, and learn to enjoy, say, new potatoes boiled with just salt, pepper, and parsley, no butter or gravy.  Of course I had to go back to enforcing my no-eating-after-9:00-PM rule.  By all this I hoped to keep my blood sugar even and kickstart my metabolism so maybe I could lose a little weight.

I'm still at it.  It's been interesting the past month.  My birthday is in mid-June, and customarily I share the celebration with my friend Frieda*, who was born in late May.  We celebrated this year on the 2nd, and I made our favorite sour cream chocolate layer cake.  Sent a good two-fifths home with her and shared a couple more pieces with a small neighbor boy who has no compunction about opening my fridge and begging for whatever treats he sees inside.  This left me about half the cake.  You know it took me three and a half weeks to finish it?  I could say I'm "restricting" myself to one dessert "meal" a day, but the fact is, I don't feel like having more than that.  The cake was a little dry by the time I ate the last piece the other day, but it was still good.

Sometimes stretching meals out can backfire.  Couple weeks ago I ate something that was evidently past its use date.  Evidently, judging by all the painful pot-sitting I had to put in that morning and afternoon.  Banana bread.  Spoiled banana bread.  Ordinarily, I would have finished that ages before, but not this time.  I've learned to put things in the freezer if I'm not going to eat them in a reasonable time.

Happily, this regimen seems to be working to even out my blood sugar.  I might still feel a little lightheaded when I finish one of my snacky-meals; normally, that would justify my eating more right then.  But with a shallow nod to the food-as-medicine advocates, I tell myself, "No, let the food work.  You wouldn't take another dose of aspirin if your headache wasn't gone the moment you swallowed the first two tablets, would you?  All right then."  And most of the time, the airheadedness soon goes away.

However, it didn't seem that I was losing any weight.  I have two body scales in the house, neither of them accurate, but their inaccuracy was not encouraging.  I was still being squeezed by those fat rolls above my waistband, and the post-hysterectomy pot below my waist was as protruding and obtrusive as ever.  What was wrong?  I can swear I'm eating only two-thirds to a half of what I was before, so why aren't I dropping the pounds?  It's not like me to get cancer head before my post-chemo checkups, but I found myself wondering if something was Wrong.  Especially since my digestion isn't totally back to normal after that bout of food poisoning.  Oh, lord, what if the cancer had come back and got into my intestines?

It didn't bear thinking of.

So I didn't.  Instead, I went online and looked up "menopot," a cute name for the very uncute bulge we women often develop in our midsections post-menopause.  None of the articles I read was specific about the precise location of the bulge, above or below the waist, but all agreed that it was endemic, annoying, and about impossible to get rid of.  I gathered also that I shouldn't gripe that I'm fighting it now, after my cancer surgery.  The remarkable thing, apparently, is that it didn't set in seven years ago when I hit natural memopause.

So my triannual post-chemo checkup was this morning.  And withal I braced myself for possible bad news.  But all my test reports came in normal, all my numbers are good.  So with my former ovarian cancer, I am continuing to beat the odds, so far.  And as to my weight on the doctor's official scale . . . ?  Down.  Five pounds from my February weight.  Being weighed in jeans.  Which may mean I've lost six or seven pounds since the end of May, since I know I gained some since the February weigh-in.

And I have to admit that those jeans are size 8 slims, and it's easier to zip them.  And my tape measure says I've lost a half inch off my waist in the past month.  So enough with the pessimism!  When it comes to post-menopausal weight gain, it looks like I'm beating the odds there as well.

So far.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dear John

May I call you John?  Perhaps it's disrespectful.  After all, you are my five-times-great grandfather.  I should honor you with a title at least.  Will "Grandpa John" be appropriate?  All right, then.

Grandpa John, I'm writing because I've learned some things that change things between us, and I thought you ought to know.

No, it's not that we are not related.  You, John Wade of Virginia, certainly are my fifth great grandfather, the father of Otho and the grandfather of Sarah who married my third-great grandfather Sampson Zickefoose, father of Peter Hull Zickefoose, whose line leads down to my mother and to me.  I make no complaint touching my descent from you.

The problem is with-- Ah, well, allow me to explain.

This past year when I set my mind to learning more about my family's past, I came across a-- well, let's call it a document, a family tree, authored by another one of your five-times-great grandchildren.  This cousin of mine presented his work well, with thorough footnotes to document his findings.  He wrote that your wife, my fifth great grandmother, was named Sophia Howard, and she might or might not have been descended from the Howards who were the Dukes of Norfolk. I respected the note this cousin made saying this lineage might be dubious, so I was apt to believe him when he said that your father was Zephaniah Wade and your mother, Verlinda Pottenger.

Zephaniah and Verlinda were very interesting people.  I found an online copy of the inventory of Zephaniah's worldly goods when he died fairly young without a will (What's that, you ask?  What does "online" mean?  It means-- Oh, never mind.  Please bear with me).  He had a plantation next to George Washington's Mount Vernon, and the young Washington mentioned the family in his early correspondence.  But even more interesting to me was the information the cousin gave on who your mother's ancestors-- and therefore yours and mine-- were.

Go back far enough here in colonial America, and we find a Nathaniel Bacon.  Not the Nat Bacon of Bacon's Rebellion, but his cousin.  And Richard Kingsmill, Nathaniel's father-in-law, who came to Jamestown in 1616 and so was one of the original Ancient Planters.  Drawing on other sources, I traced Richard back to England, and found that he (and we, Grandpa John) were descended from one Bridget Raleigh (actually there were two Bridget Raleighs in the 1500s, aunt and niece, but I determined which one was ours), and her line goes back to-- amazing places.  In one branch, I learned we were the offshoots of the Dark Ages kings of Northern Ireland and Scotland.  There was early English royalty.  Edgar of Wessex.  Ethelred the Unredy (you see how I spell it to reflect his lack of adequate counsellors, or rede, not any lack of preparation).  Coel Hen, also known as Old King Cole, belonged to us, and more beside.  Especially pleasing to me, I found links to the old kings of Wales.  Cadwallon Longhand, Maelgwyn the Great, and even Roman Emperor Macsen Maximus, Spanish-born but claimed by Wales.  They, too, were our forefathers.

In another of Grandmother Bridget's lines, I found that we sprang from the race that included John Balliol and Devorguilla his wife, founders of Balliol College.  I read about our many-times-great grandfather John "the Red" Comyn, who might have been king of Scotland in the early 1300s, had he not been treacherously murdered by Robert the Bruce in the Kirk of Greyfriars.  I traced our line that married into the Balliols, which included the de Clares and the Earls of Pembroke and went back to William the Conqueror's sister and beyond.

But it was in the Pembroke line that I discovered the ancestor whose name and memory filled me with the most pride.  For I found that our hearts beat with the blood of Sir William Marshal, the first Earl of Pembroke.  Grandpa John, American schools teach nothing about him, so it was not as if I could boast of him to my friends and gain their admiration.  But Sir William is a progenitor worth boasting of, indeed.  "The Flower of Chivalry," he was called.  And, "the greatest knight who ever lived."  A man of strength and skill, never defeated in battle or single combat.  A man of unblemished honor and valor, who with wisdom and prudence served four kings.  The man who convinced King John to yield to the barons at Runnymede and sign the Magna Carta; who confirmed the precious charter and had it reestablished when he was regent for King John's young son and heir Henry III.  A man who was no man's fool or toady, who gained and held the respect of all, a man who could so easily have seized power in those uncertain days and become king of England himself, but who faithfully followed the path God had laid out for him.  Here was a longfather to inspire the highest of aspirations, to induce in me the deepest sense of responsibility and of strength.  Noblesse oblige!  The blood of Sir William Marshal flowed in my veins!  Should I not strive to live up to such an illustrious heritage?

But, Grandpa John, there was one small problem.  It had to do with the dates and places recorded for you and for your parents Zephaniah and Verlinda.  The cousin I mentioned before had it down that you were born in western England or Wales in 1724, and you had an elder brother Nathaniel born there in 1720.  But both Zephaniah and Verlinda were said to have been born in the colony of Virginia.  And the pedigree said they didn't marry until 1727.  This seemed strange to me.  Though even in the eighteen century nice young couples might, ahem! get in a hurry, Zephaniah and Verlinda didn't strike me as the sort.  Especially, not the sort to wait seven whole years with two young sons to have their marriage solemnized.  And what about your place of birth?  Had they travelled to England for some reason and had you there?

But as I said, this cousin's work seemed so convincing overall, that I put these concerns away from me.  Perhaps the dates were transcribed incorrectly from the original documents.  Perhaps the couple actually were married in 1717.  There was an explanation, of that I was sure.  Meanwhile, I added our illustrious forebears to my tree and revelled in how pleased my mother would be when she saw it.

Alas, dear Grandpa John, that's when it happened.  I was engaged in further research, and I came across a . . . letter (we'll call it a letter) written by another of your descendants.  And she argued-- and argued convincingly-- that you, John Wade, were indeed born in western England or Wales in 1724, but you and your brother Nathaniel were not the sons of Zephaniah and Verlinda Wade.  They did have a son named John, born in 1741, and no one seems to know what became of him.  His fate is cloaked in obscurity.  But the same is true of your parentage.  No one knows who your mother and father were.  And so, goodbye Macsen, goodbye King Kenneth MacAlpin; farewall Balliols, farewell de Clares.  They are none of ours.  Ours not the Kingsmills, the Raleighs, the Potyngers, the Chamberlynes or the de Merlays.  Nor ours, alas! the Pembrokes and the noble William Marshal.  All gone, all fallen away-- all is changed.

Forgive me, Grandpa John, and have pity on me for my absurdity and pride.  How I felt about you and our line has altered, and things between us can never be the same. So I bid you adieu, John Wade, son of Zephaniah and Verlinda, and scion of kings, queens, and nobility.  And with due modesty I beg to make the acquaintance of John Wade, son of who knows whom, born who knows where.  You have produced a goodly heritage, and I am honored to be in your line.

Your 5x Great-granddaughter,

PS:   Nevertheless be assured, dear Grandpa John, that I would be immensely gratified if somehow you could lead me and your other progeny to discover who my Wade sixth-great-grandparents actually were.  After all, noblesse oblige!

Monday, February 27, 2012


It may have been noticed that I haven't posted since last August.  Some of that is busyness, some of it is laziness, a lot of it is childishness, but most of it has been cowardice.

Yes, cowardice.  This past autumn I interviewed for a half-time position as an interim pastor with a parish in my presbytery.  During the interview, I mentioned that they could see a sampling of my sermon style on my preaching blog.  Makes sense, right?

What I forgot was that the sermon blog was linked to this one.  And one of the committee members clicked through, found this blog, and, as she wrote me in an email, was deeply disturbed by what she read here.  Seems I was too open with my revelations about how things had gone in my previous parishes, and although I had disguised church and presbytery names well enough, it bothered her.

We talked on the phone about it, and she professed herself reassured about my history and my explanation of it, and said she'd only mention it to the other committee members if she felt she should.  But I didn't feel easy about it.  Up to that time I was pretty sure I'd be offered this job.  After this, I felt my past and my big mouth had come back to bite me again.

It's very like me to write and reveal and not expect what I've written to have any effect in the real world.  Hey, I think in imaginary conversations where I work out how I would explain things to other people; isn't a blog just more of the same?

No.  I guess it's not.  You know the term "chilling effect"?  That's what this had on me.  I felt literally cold inside. I took the link to here off the sermon blog.  And for months I've written nothing.  I was afraid to write anything.  Not here, at least.  Too paralyzed thinking about how what I say can be misconstrued or used against me.

Chicken, chicken, chicken.

As it turned out, after observing certain things while guest preaching in that parish, I decided the position was not for me.  It would have been impossible to do all that was wanted and needed on a mere half-time basis.  But for whatever reason I didn't ring them up and say so.  Maybe I wanted to be convinced otherwise, since I really need the work.  Eventually I heard from the search committee chairman himself: they were going on with other candidates.  I bit the bullet and asked what had eliminated me.  The answers weren't totally convincing, I thought.  Had the one committee member told them about this blog, and he didn't want to say so?  Better not to ask.  And as I said, by that time I'd tacitly withdrawn myself.

That's been almost four months ago, and I hope and expect they're beyond caring what I say here.  But I guess it's a lesson.  I have to be willing to stand up and take the heat for what I publish, or shut the dickens up.