Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lenten Musings: The Way, the Truth, and the Lightbulb

Lenten Musings, Part 3

In election years, it would be easy to believe that Christianity is all about making sure the right guy gets into office, and debates over who, exactly, that "right guy" is could easily come to blows. Even among people who consider themselves Christian.

So it's good to be reminded that there's a whole lot more (and a whole lot that's more important!) to our faith, as I was when I read this article yesterday:

Pastor plans Appalachian outreach with solar panels

Go read the article. It's a great story about how an engineer and a minister in Appalachia have teamed up to improve the lives of the poor by reducing their bills for heat and electricity.

Families who receive solar panels pay for them with two currencies: money and time.

One home can cost between $7,000 to $10,000 to outfit, with trees to clear and supplies to buy. Families pay for the panels with some of the savings they start to see on their electric bills each month. The money goes into a general community fund that finances more solar panels on more homes.

"Once 10 families start paying back, there's enough for Family Eleven," said Mr. Seaman. [...]

In addition to those upfront expenses, outfitting a home also takes manpower; Mr. Seaman calls it Philippi's version of Amish barn building.

To pay back their neighbors for their time, families must volunteer by either installing solar panels somewhere else or putting in community time at the church.

Mr. Prusa printed "dollar bills" that are exchanged as currency for the volunteer hours.

The panels pay for themselves in about ten years.

There are a lot of things in this story that could be considered political landmines. Things like alternative energy (in the heart of coal country!) and microfinancing. But the guys in charge made the choice to just get it done and help the poor anyway. In the name of Christ.

You know. Like he asked us to.

Lenten Prayer:

Dear God, help give me the strength to ignore the division and the controversies and just get it done.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lenten Musings: Warts and All

Lenten thought for the day:

"As Monsignor John Tracy Ellis used to introduce his courses on church history, 'Ladies and gentlemen, be prepared to discover that the Mystical Body of Christ has a lot of warts.'"
-- Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, quoted in Newsweek

Lenten Prayer:

Dear God, please use us, your people, for good. Warts and all.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lenten Musings: Headwinds and Tailwinds

I've decided to take Pastor Cara up on her challenge for Lent, to take to heart this passage: "The kingdom of God has come near; change your heart, change your life and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:15. More Lenten reflections to follow, even if they're only pictures or quotes.

Since last June, I have probably put at leats 600 miles on my new rollerblades. Because I love rollerblading. LoveloveLOVE rollerblading. It's the exercise that doesn't feel like exercise. It feels like...flying. There is absolutely nothing like coasting effortlessly down the trail, thinking, "This is so easy! So much easier even than last time! I must be getting in really good shape!"

And then I turn around to go back and am blasted in the face by a ten-mile-per-hour wind, and forward momentum grinds nearly to a halt. And I realize, "Oh, of course. The whole way out I had a tailwind."

It's funny, but I can never feel a tailwind when it's pushing me along. And by never, I mean: Never. Even when I'm trying with every nerve ending to feel the wind pushing me, when I rely only on my own senses I just don't feel it.

I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out why that is. Is it a lack of nerve endings on the backs of my arms, which is usually the only skin I leave exposed? Is it that ears are cup-shaped, allowing wind to glide right over them from the back without any sound entering the ear canal? Or is it just that my body and brain want to believe that gliding along effortlessly is all my own doing?

Over the years, I've learned that the only way I can get a realistic sense of how much I'm being pushed is by ignoring what I feel and looking for objective measurement. The best way is to look at the leaves on the reeds by the trail: If they're parallel to the ground instead of perpendicular, I'd better save some energy for a tough skate back.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I watch the news. Specifically, I've been thinking about how many successful people are absolutely certain they've done it without benefit of tailwinds.

Years ago, when I was 23, I moved from Denver to Seattle. I had very good reason to move from Denver to Seattle. What I did not have was a lot of money. Just $800 and a one-way plane ticket, which would have been plenty in the college cow-town I was coming from, where I'd been paying only $140 per month for rent.

Here in Seattle, though, $800 didn't go very far, and it was dwindling down toward nothing just as I was oh-so-close to finding a job and a place to live. I had to make a decision: Keep going, or use my last dollars to buy a plane ticket back. Fortunately, though, I had a third option: call my parents, who were able to send me a check for $500.

That $500 kept me going until I got the call for the job I'd applied for, and it gave me the money to move in with the roommate who would introduce me to my husband. I don't know what life I would have now if my parents had not had that money to send me, and I don't know what person I would have become. But I would not be the person I am now, and I would not have this life.

That $500 was a tailwind. Having a college degree when I moved, paid for by my parents, that I could put on my resumes when I applied for jobs, was a huge tailwind. Even having a mother who read to me, who saw the importance of giving me my own library card at a young age, was a tailwind that helped me make it into and succeed in college.

There are a lot of people who skate merrily through life, like me on the trail, not feeling the tailwinds. They get sent to a good school, graduate from college with no debt, get introductions to good employers after college, and still believe that they have only the same chances as the young man who will be staying weekends at our church for the next few months as part of a homeless program for young adults -- a guy who was never cared for by his parents and who lived in 50 foster homes before he aged out of the system. And yet the people who can't feel their own tailwinds say, If only those people would work harder, they would be just like me.

Former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer said it best, "Some people are born on third base and go through life thinking they hit a triple."


Lenten prayer for today:

Dear God, help me to feel the tailwinds you've used to propel me forward, and help me do what I can to block the headwinds for others.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Quilt top, minus borders, originally finished in 2006.

This year, I decided it WOULD be ready for the quilt show in March. And it is.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the original Seattle Streets Quilt!!

(I love this thing. Have I mentioned how much I love this thing?)

Friday, February 10, 2012

This made my day

Got this in my email from Canada. Made my whole day. So wonderful to see something you've done go for a good cause!!

Hello Laurie,

I volunteer with a group called Blankets for Canada Society Inc. with the Edmonton and Area, Alberta, Canada Chapter. I found your Seattle Streets pattern on the internet, and printed the pdf of it. I intend to use it with the scraps left over from quilting bees at our work bees for Blankets for Canada. I very likely will do a demonstration of it at one of our work bees too. We meet two Saturdays a month and build blankets for those in need of warmth and shelter. The original mandate of Blankets for Canada is knit or crochet 8" blocks for joining together into an afghan. Edmonton has a huge quilting faction and we do probably 3/4 of our 'blankets' as quilts.One or two of our volunteers are quilters with the talent to put their quilts in juried shows. The rest of us play with the fabrics until they are quilt-top size, then get together and tie quilt them at our Bees. But we do get some gorgeous looking quilts, even if the blocks don't meet at the corners properly! (smile).

I will also use it for some of our church quilts we make for the hospital in Mannville, Alberta.

I thank you for sharing this pattern with us. I'll not get to it until the summer, but by then would probably forget to write you.

[Insert big smiley face here.]

(On a related note, I am FINALLY finishing the original Seattle Streets quilt. I realized I was never going to quilt something that size myself (93" x 105"), so I sent it out for longarming. Well worth it! Now I'm slowly working through hand-stitching the binding down, one long inch at a time. The backing was unintentionally a very densely-woven batik, and pushing a needle through it is making my fingers scream, "Owie! Owie!" But it WILL be done before our guild's quilt show in March, and probably much sooner. Stay tuned. This flimsy will soon be a quilt!)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Polly, Put the Kettle On (AND: You'll Thank Me For This Tea-Brewing Tip)

So this morning I decided to write about tea. And of course the old nursery rhyme "Polly, put the kettle on" popped into my head. So I was going to start this out by embedding a video of it. I go to search Youtube, and...

Wow. These versions are REALLY annoying. All fake light and saccharine sweetness. (Did I just date myself with the "saccharine" reference? I did, didn't I? But "Splenda-sweetness" just doesn't have quite the same zing.) These songs make me very glad I no longer have small children. Because MY future grandkids will get Disney's Silly Songs. I mean, if "I'm My Own Grandpa" was good enough to give my OWN children nightmares...)

But anyhoo. Tea.

Did you know that taking hot water and dunking a tea bag in it, the way most restaurants serve it, is the worst way to make tea? You will not get the infusion of flavor a good tea requires. For the best tea, you need to put the tea bag in the bottom of your container and pour the boiling water over it.

I have now made your tea-drinking life. Forever. You are welcome.

Also, if you are a tea drinker, you really, really need an electric kettle. I got hooked when my husband and I were in Ireland and England a couple of years ago, where the hotels do not have coffee pots in the rooms. Instead, what they have are electric tea kettles. Plug it in, push the button, wait two minutes for the electric coil to heat up and boil the water... And then it shuts off, and you can lift it up off the electric plate to pour your water. (OVER your tea bag. Just to reinforce the previous lesson.)

They are awesome. And available at a certain red bulls-eye store for about $30. You can thank me later.

Word Nerd Afterword:

Saccharine and Splenda are both ersatz sugars. In English, "Ersatz" means 'substituting for, and typically inferior in quality to.' Or, y'know, kind of fake.

I love the word ersatz, largely because it's one of those words I should have learned as a youngster but didn't. I ended up looking up the actual meaning as an adult. So now every time I see it written anywhere, my brain says, "Ooh! Ooh! I know that one! It means fake!" And the word nerd part of my brain feels all warm and fuzzy and proud.

Etymologically speaking (because I know you were wondering), ersatz comes from the German. Which you have probably already guessed from the "atz" ending. But in German, it does not have the "inferior quality" connotation. From Wikipedia. Because I LOVE this stuff:

Although it is used as an adjective in English, Ersatz can only function in German as a noun on its own, or as a part in compound nouns such as Ersatzteile (spare parts) or Ersatzspieler (substitute player). While the English term often implies that the substitution is of unsatisfactory or inferior quality ("not as good as the real thing"), it does not have this connotation in German. The German word for such product is Surrogat (surrogate).

It took on the "fake and inferior" meaning in English in WWII, when British and American servicemen were taken prisoner and given Ersatzbrot (replacement bread), made with sawdust, and Ersatzkaffee (a coffee substitute.)

Thus the bad rap for Ersatz in English.

I know, right? So cool!

Wait. That was what you were thinking, wasn't it?