Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Inter-Holiday Fluff

I stole this material from dh. From his post-it:

IDEA! for dytopic novel

President TRIG 2038-2042
President TRAK 2042-2046
President TRIPP 2046-2052
President TROIG...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Post Christmas Post

Ahhhhh, Boxing Day is my favorite holiday. It's 2 PM, I'm in pajamas, and that's not going to change until tomorrow.

All kinds of emotional bits and bobs are popping out in the afterparty of that minister post; here's some fluff to keep you kids amused while I get it all sorted.

Cool Shizzah My 4 Year Old Got For The Holidays:

Magic Wand that the house gnomes (Rinky, Dinky and Sly) procured from mermaids for King Charlie

Lace-Up Shoe, Plan Toys

Metal Kaleidescope, Schylling Toys

Natural Skittles Set from Camden Rose

Strength for Superheroes, compliments of the local grocery store

Battery-Free LED Flashlight Eyes Robot

Superman's Space Rocket/Playhouse and Flashlight Eyes Robot Sidekick

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I am SO not a minister anymore

... since so many of you have been asking. I was officially disfellowshipped from the UUMA (Unitarian Universalists Ministers Association) a couple months ago. In typical UUA style, I received a letter that explained I had already been disfellowshipped, since I had not responded to any of their inquiries. (Did I actually receive any such inquiries? No.)

The letter was signed by the same person who, when I once explained that I was not available to commute coast to coast on a regular basis because I had a nursing baby, responded with a horrified, "How long are you planning to do that?" My explanation that I wasn't willing to separate our child from either parent for long stretches of time--regardless of nursing status--seemed to fall on mystified ears.

I framed the letter and hung it next to my certificate of fellowship and my seminary graduation diploma. They all represent important and cherished chapters of my history.

The reasons why I am no longer in ministry are long and complex. It's hard to do them justice in a blog post. Nonetheless, here's the Reader's Digest version:

1. Unitarian Universalists: by and large wonderful people, they are also terrible employers. Our half-assed, ultimately-benefits-no-one version of congregational polity makes for a lot of lost paychecks, inconsistent benefits, and blown contracts. The seminary classmates who don't have horror stories for me of this ilk... are the ones I haven't caught up with lately. Not that my own brief experiences were good. "What do you mean you want dental?"

2. I have found that the quality of energy and care needed for good ministry draws from the exact same pool as the energy and care needed for parenting a small child. I'd much rather put mine into my four-year-old than a group of adults (with a penchant for acting like four-year-olds).

3. I went into ministry in part to live my spiritual journey in an open and intentional way. In recent years I've found that living my own journey out loud is contradictory to the expectations placed upon ministers, which, despite a lot of liberal hype, are really fairly traditional. I got a little tired of deleting the most liberal (and authentic) pieces of my sermons. "Hmmm, better not talk about THAT if I want to be asked back..."

4. Board meetings. Both literally, and as the epitome of the rule-based, justice focused, institutional culture. As my journey has led me deeper into unschooling, consensuality, and relational ethics, I find myself an increasingly poor fit to institutional leadership. I resist the authority conferred upon leaders based not on their personal qualities, but their title. The role of Minister is not a mantle that sits comfortably on my shoulders--that ironic old black robe is anathema to me.

5. When I entered seminary, I wanted to write. I loved to write. I was tremendously excited about the idea of writing a piece nearly every week, having an audience for it, and actually getting paid. Guess what? I'm a freelance writer now. I'm getting paid to write--and sometimes to write what I actually think. While I'm at home with my family.

I still love UUs (and to a lesser extent, UUism). I hope to retain and build church relationships--just not as a minister. I'm eternally grateful that I went to seminary and got as far as I did. And I'm eternally grateful that I quit. Life. It's funny.

Monday, December 15, 2008


A quick shout out to my girl Ania for her latest piece of flash fiction, published this month at Elimae. It's cool, it's kinky, it's what's happening now.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Holidays Ahoy hoy

Well, that was fun. I just edited a novel. More of that, please.

In sustainability news, we're getting our Christmas tree today. When you drive over the line into Lunenburg county on the highway, you pass an enormous sign that reads, "Lunenburg County: Christmas Tree Capital Of the World". (Which brings up the obvious question: Can a county really be a capital? Of anything?)

It's true, however, that Christmas trees are a fundamental arm of the local economy, and that it's actually possible here to have a huge, splendiforous, real tree with no environmental guilt whatsoever. Particular thanks due to Kevin Veinotte for his organic, sustainably harvested woodlot.

Usually our biggest problem is finding a tree that's small enough. Most folks around here get as big a tree as they can possibly fit through through the front door. Eight feet tall is a "medium". In the past I've bought the smallest tree on lot (for five dollars), then chopped it in half at home to suit our modest collection of ornaments. This year we're bundling cinnamon sticks in ribbon and baking cookies to decorate and hang, so we can go a bit bigger. We broke down and got a locally made, heavy-duty tree holder.

And so it goes, as Nova Scotia continues to seep its way into my American mind and Western heart. In close, I leave you with a picture of the sleigh cookie my four-year-old made yesterday. (I helped a bit with the frosting placement, but besides that--design and everything--it was all him. He's already more artistic than me.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

True Confessions

If you know me well, this won't be a surprise.

I'm pretty good at writing about gardening.

I'm lousy at actually... gardening.

Want to know how lousy? I'll lay it on the line for you. Remember, faithful readers, how eloquently I wrote about the varietals of garlic I planted last year? They were beautiful bulbs, satiny and firm, beckoning me with the promise of life.

Key word in that sentence: bulbs. A bulb is something that grows in the ground.

So where did I ever get the idea that new bulbs of garlic would sprout from the... um... top of the plant? I think it dates back to a conversation dp and I had in the spring, in which we both commented that Gosh, garlic you buy at the store sure looks all shiny and new and not like something that came from the ground (seriously)and at the time the tops of our garlic stalks were sprouting things that looked vaguely bulb-y.

The fact that they never developed into bulbs didn't tip me off. Or the fact that other people cut off their scapes. On the contrary, I became more sure that I was correct--but just a bad garlic grower--when the flowering heads developed fruit that looks and tastes exactly like tiny little garlic cloves. I still have several of these rattling around the garlic basket, pretending to compete with the big boys.

It wasn't until last week, when I said, "Look at what's growing in the garlic patch! It looks like cottoned on just in time to prepare the bed for winter. We'll have a lot of garlic next year.

The upside? It's a good thing we're unschoolers. 'Cause without experiential, interested-based learning, my poor child would have gone through life unaware that garlic grows in the ground. (Not really, because he's way smarter than both of us and probably would have corrected my assumptions if I'd asked him--but you know what I mean.)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

President Barack Obama

I just wanted to write it. The race was called at the stroke of midnight Atlantic time. I couldn't breathe, in a good way.

Now, as dp says, "The good cop cycle begins." ;-)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Green Betty Goes Solar

Working my thing for the National Wildlife Federation...

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Although I'm an American by birth, I'm Canadian by choice, marriage, and luck. Enormous luck.

One of the many benefits of living in Canada is Canadian Thanksgiving. The timing is far more sane than American Thanksgiving--instead of having a long, intense holiday month that begins with turkey and ends in an exhausted heap of discarded holiday wrapping paper, Canadians eat their big birds in October. Everyone gets a chance to breathe, get away from their families (and their family disagreements), and generally calm down before revving up for the next round.

On top of that, mid-October is a lovely and logical time for a harvest festival. It's gorgeous out right now. The leaves are brilliant but still mostly on the trees, it's still warm enough for long, lazy strolls, and all the traditional Thanksgiving food are at the height of harvest.

Down to the facts. Here's what we ate:

Turkey from Maplegrove Farms, stuffed with sage, thyme, parsley, and onions from Rumtopf Farm as well as garlic from the backyard, cooked in a clay pot. (Not terribly attractive, but succulent as all get out)

Stuffing made with bread from La Boulangerie Vendeenne, red peppers and mushrooms from Glad Gardens in the valley, sausage from Kurt Wentzell at Wooly Mountain Farm, and chicken stock from one of Sustenance Gardens organic chickens

Gingered puree of buttercup squash (the 'pumpkins' in our back yard that persistently refused to turn orange or get big, whoops)

Mashed potatoes, Rumtopf Farm

A corn and creme fraiche pudding, corn from Glad Garden (Those guys really need to get a website for me to link to! Guess they're too busy building those interesting log greenhouses of theirs)

Cranberry relish--and I actually made my own this year, with local organic cranberries, of course

A baguette from Vendeenne, and

Mama's secret gravy (hint: the secret is a lot of sherry)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Autumn Love

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Local Joe

One of my favorite parts of rural Nova Scotia life is the opportunity to get intimate with my food chain. I go to the post office to pick up mail and exchange greetings with Donna, who grew the cilantro for last night's Ginger, Sherry, and Cilantro Scallops. We drive past the cows that will feed us this winter on our way to the grocery store. Just this morning I had a nice chat with Perry Brandt, who produces our honey. (OK, his bees produce it.) His hives were knocked over by hooligans a couple weeks ago but happily, the queens all survived and are buzzing away.

And one of my very favorite local food businesses is Laughing Whale Coffee. Fair trade, organic, and soon-to-be something else sexy that I'm not allowed to give away, Laughing Whale is a glowing example of best practices in a situation where the local meets the imported. Even better, they occasionally give me some free beans. Are they any good? Here's the scoop:

I confess that I approached Laughing Whale’s new Sumatran blend with trepidation. As a connoisseur of fine food and drink, I’ve always felt that I should like dark roasts—yet I rarely do. A history with inferior darks, tinged with bitter or sour notes, has curtailed my exploratory nature. Starbucks, I point the finger of blame chiefly at you. Too many unpalatable cups had led me to think of dark roast as a sort of S&M food --with a cautious exception for the French, who surely must know what they’re doing.

Sue’s Sumatran turned out to be a delightful exception to my dark past. I found it rich and smoky toned while managing to avoid any outright bitterness. This finely attenuated roast was dark but smoothly balanced, and strong, yet gentle on the palate.

My favourite thing, though, about Sue’s Sumatran was its stellar ability to stand alone—no sugar, no cream, no crutch or mediator of any kind. Unlike most coffees, including my household staple grinds, the Sumatran tasted best to me straight up black. It was just me and the cup, poised in a long, calm sip with a clean finish before a headlong plunge into the day. 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Perfecting the Half-Assed Garden

I accept that I will never have a neat and tidy full-assed garden. It's simply not my style. The thought of getting things in the ground at just the right time in straight little rows makes me break out into hives.

Luckily, there's always more than one way to plant a seed. My backyard is bursting with the most gorgeous squash and tomatoes you'd ever hope to see.

Of course, I didn't plant any squash or tomatoes. Not on purpose, anyway. Last week I took down our tent to pack it up for a camping trip on Prince Edward Island--and behind it, in a narrow alley between the back wall and the pine trees, was a forest of green that had sprouted from a leftover pile of last year's compost. Since I've moved the tent it's blossomed further; squash tentacles adorned with huge, school-bus colored flowers have stretched out nearly five feet into the tent's old footprint.

Conversations with local farmers affirm my suspicions that this is actually a great way to garden: eat local, organic produce and toss the (seedy) scraps in the compost. Spread it out on a likely plot and just see what grows. The best-suited and most vigourous plants will claim the space. Next year, I'm just going to do more of the same and enjoy whatever decides to present itself.

We've been talking about our plans for the unexpected bounty. Between the squash, tomatoes, herbs, and garlic (all four varietals are producing beautifully), I think there will be some serious late summer soupmaking. Watch this space for recipes!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

And a Word From Jacques Cousteau

...and let us remember too that life, in its exuberance, always succeeds in overflowing the narrow limits within which man thinks he can confine it.

Goodbye, Luna

We had a lovely long weekend on Prince Edward Island... then came home Monday to a sick dog.

Luna had been ill like this before. Her hips clearly hurt and her eyes were dull. She was eating and drinking,though, and managed to haul herself up the stairs and onto her favorite couch. She wagged her tail furiously when we said "good girl". She enjoyed her ear rubs.

But Tuesday morning she simply collapsed and that was the end.

I'm glad she didn't suffer long. I'm glad we didn't have to struggle with complicated care or the decision to put her down. But gosh, it was too quick.

And the house, now, is too quiet.

We had a dinner in her honor last night. I made this dish.

Remembrance Potatoes

Local new potatoes, freshly dug
Kosher salt
Unsalted butter
Rosemary to taste (ours comes from a pot on the back porch. Luna was always trying to eat it.)

Bring a suitably sized pot of water to a boil. Add 1 cup of kosher salt for every quart of water. Stir to dissolve, making a brine.
Add the potatoes, lid, and boil for 15-30 minutes or until soft to the fork. Drain but do not rinse.
Toss the potatoes with unsalted butter and rosemary. Eat with mindfulness and love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Check It, Santa

I've been oh-so-good. Please, won't you bring me a kachelofen this year and free us from our dependency on Big Oil?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Yum Campy

Here's our vacation menu, to be enjoyed in between bouts of snorkeling in Seal Cove, Prince Edward Island:

Corrido Chile
Local, organic, grass-fed beef, ground, pan fried with lots of local garlic including some green garlic from the backyard, cumin, a trio of chiles, roasted peppers and onions, our own turtle beans from last year, and local tomatoes

Coconut Lime Chicken
With fresh grated zest, peanuts, and shredded coconut, served with an organic basmati rice

Mama's Crazy Yum Granola
All organic oats, nuts, maple syrup, and shredded coconut

Baby carrots from the market
Stone fruits in season (cherries are off the hook right now)
Local strawberries we froze earlier in the season
Peapods for snacking
Mary's organic crackers
Laughing Whale espresso brewed with raw sugar in the Moka Pot to make Cuban cafecito

Aaaaaannnnnd we're going to drink us some fine local wine. Report when we return.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Shit Trip

I wanted to figure out a few things, spiritually speaking.

So... I went to church. I signed up to teach Sunday school. I ran a church's religious education program.

I went to seminary for four years (seriously. I did that.)

It's come to this.

The Grand Theology of the Shit Triplicate (or "Shit Trip" for short)

1. Shit Happens

God doesn't do it to me. I don't (particularly)deserve it. I don't attract it. It simply happens. Into every life a little shit will probably fall, and there's no controlling how or how much or when. Being rich won't protect you. Being "white" won't protect you. Nothing will protect you.

Where meaning enters the picture is when you, after the fact, make some.

2. We don't know Shit

The universe is massively, stunningly, immesurably complex, interconnected, and delicately balanced. It works in ways that we do not fundamentally understand--and the more we learn, the more obvious this becomes. Messing around with life in a way that changes whole systems is usually a really, really bad idea--although people don't usually want to admit this until it's too late.

Uranium mining comes to mind.

3. It's all a big Cycle of Shit

Shit comes and shit goes. Sometimes it seems like a bad dream, and sometimes you're right in a huge pile of it. As my three-year-old would say, "and then the bacteria eats it and it turns into dirt and it isn't stinky any more. And then life starts over."


(This is, obviously, the Extreme Reader's Digest version. If you want to learn more, you can email me privately or just wait for the book.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Another Year

I'm 36 today. Things are just starting to get interesting.

I'm writing for the Canadian Unitarian now. Everything is falling into place for Brine, my own little local foods magazine. And as I grow deeper and deeper into relational food, my own eating is undergoing a quiet revolution. From beans to berries to spinach to oats, I'm eating local foods that nourish and delight. The backyard offers worlds of herbs, and I accept.

Speaking of, both Mountain Top and Quebec are doing beautifully in the garlic garden. I sat on my hands to leave the scapes alone (ate BW's instead). I'm impatient to savour the bulbs. A couple weeks ago a clump of pumpkin seedlings popped out of the spinach patch, where Charlie dumped a packet of seeds in May. I successfully transplanted them to an empty bed. Now our pumpkin patch may be our biggest producer.

Time for a birthday Turkish coffee. Guess I'm not eating THAT locally. ;-)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tending My Plots

Local horticulturalist Svenja Dee took one glance at my 'broccoli' from 20 feet away and said, "That's spinach. It's gone to seed. You can't eat it." But next spring we'll have an already-established patch. I think I'll see if we can build a raised bed around it.

In other news, the Citizens Against Uranium Mining blog is coming together nicely. Curses upon you, Triple Uranium!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The UnWrap

My dear husband John is the Master of Leftovers. Which is great, since my cooking and grilling experiments generate so many of them. This is what we enjoyed for lunch yesterday:

Leftover fried chicken, chopped into tidbits


Olive oil (John used some Zatoun we got at the Mahone Bay organic farmer's market)

Shredded cheese (I'd like to say I made my queso blanco for this, but I was too lazy. We slummed with an organic cheddar from the market)

Chopped lettuce (We used BW's organic greens)

Taco sauce

Minced fresh oregano (also from BW's farm)

Warm the olive oil in a cast iron pan over low-medium heat. Toast the tortillas in the pan one at a time, 1-2 minutes per side. Set aside or in a tortilla warmer.

Toss the fried chicken tidbits in a light coating of taco sauce. Warm gently on the stovetop. Leave the taco sauce out for people to add to taste.

Plate the tortillas, one per plate. spoon the warm fried chicken down the middle, top with lettuce and cheese, and gently wrap into a burrito shape. Sprinkle the top with minced oregano, and voila!

Why do we call it an UnWrap? Because the soft, warm tortilla contains its ingredients loosely, leaving room for additions, subtractions, or other improvisations. As an unschooling family, it fits us to a T!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Vache Perdu

We spent the whole day yesterday at the zoo. I stood for ages, cooing at a two week old gibbon and his mommy. Charlie went on his first pony ride. Japanese deer with velvet antlers and anime eyes came out of a dark, cool forest to nibble corn from our hands.

We topped off the whole affair with a picnic of organic local strawberries, fried chicken, and biscuits. It was a long, fun, hot day.

And as a result, we were floppy like jello this morning. John made some hot chocolate. We sat around with the paper for hours, sipping his spicy brew and trading political commentary, then eventually I made these french toast sandwiches:

1 stale brioche (I used our standard, from Boulangerie La Vendeenne), sliced thinly

Organic butter

5 eggs (We get ours from Wooly Mountain Farm. The chickens' diet of organic grain and oyster shells produces such a muscular yolk that they're hard to beat. Whoops, I made a punny!)

1/4 C cream

Vanilla to taste (Did you know that vanilla is the sex organ of the orchid, a tropical flower that grows on the sides of trees in the rainforest? I like lots in my french toast--and everything else)

Zest from two lemons (we get organic ones from Peet's Frootique in Halifax)

1 pkg La Vache Qui Ri

Heat the pan on low/medium. Beat the eggs, cream, vanilla, and zest together well. Soak bread pieces in the mixture, turning over after a few minutes. Drop a dab of butter in the pan (I like stainless steel with a copper bottom for this.)

After browning the bread on both sides, remove and plate. Make the slices into cheese sandwiches, using 1/2--1 triangle of cheese per sandwich. Serve and eat by hand. Delicious!

(And a little maple syrup as a dipping sauce doesn't hurt.)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sauce Chartreuse

I modified this recipe from one offered by the monks who make Chartreuse:

2 C chopped tomatoes
1 big onion, minced
3 T butter
1/4 C green Chartreuse
1/4 C heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Sweat the onions in butter with a pinch of salt until mostly soft; add tomatoes for the last 10-15 minutes.

Add Chartreuse and turn off the heat. Let sit for a few minutes, then stir in the cream and serve immediately.

I served this on a grass-fed roast from Kevin Veinotte (ten miles) and boiled new potatoes from the Annapolis Valley (about 70 miles). It was a nice taste, but I thought the tomatoes overpowered the Chartreuse to a surprising extent. I think next time I'll try adding Chartreuse and cream to a simple broth and pan jus mixture. There's something the marriage of chlorophyll and alcohol that just does it for me.

No Surprises Here


As a 1930s wife, I am
Very Poor (Failure)

Take the test!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Green Betty Fries Chicken

2.5-3 lbs chicken pieces (We use Kevin Veinotte's free range, organic birds)

Kosher salt

1 minced onion

2 cloves garlic, pressed (This ingredient I grew myself!)

3 C buttermilk

1 t guajillo powder

1 t ancho powder (all our chile powders come from Native Seeds)

1 t cracked black pepper

3/4 C flour

1/4 C cornmeal (both this and the flour are available organically and locally from Speerville Mills)

2 C vegetable fats

1 stick organic butter

Lightly coat the chicken pieces in kosher salt and pile them up in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Combine buttermilk, onions, and garlic.

Rinse chicken well and add to buttermilk. Marinade for between 8 and 24 hours (the longer the marinade, the more distinct the buttermilk/allium scent to the meat. I like it at about 12 hours.)

Combine flour, chiles, pepper, and cornmeal in a big ziplock; shake it all around until thoroughly blended. Remove chicken from buttermilk mixture, shake off the excess, and shake it all around inside the bag. Put it on a piece of waxed paper for 20 or 30 minutes.

Heat the fat and butter in a 12 inch cast iron skilled on moderately high heat (7.5, on my stove dial). Add 1/3 of the chicken pieces, reduce heat to low (2 on my stove) and cook for 10 minutes. Turn and cook for another 12 minutes (legs and thighs) or 8 minutes (breasts). Transfer chicken to a paper towel and drain before eating or storing.

I took this to the one year anniversary party for Lalanova. The compliments are going to keep me fat-headed for about a week.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Garden Update

Okay, for those of you who were impressed by my early, grandiose descriptions of my garden... this is what really happened.

The flower house was a bust. I planted too early while everyone was still starving. The bugs ate the morning glories and the birds ate the sunflower sprouts. I planted again and nothing came up. Now it's getting too late. I give up.

Here are the edibles growing in the yard as I write:

One Honeycrisp apple tree, wee but busting out all over in healthy foliage;
A healthy and productive raspberry bush, with a bumper crop starting to form;
Some rhubarb from John's mom's yard struggling to survive its transplant;
4 varieties of Garlic from Salt Spring Seeds. Only the 'Quebec' strain is thriving (unless the others are supposed to be teeny and yellow, not too likely) but 'Quebec' is doing great--it practically looks like corn;
Several random patches of parsely;
The usual vibrant chives;
A pot of rosemary on the porch;
Some small spring onions in a raggedy circle out by the tent;
Wild strawberries on the front lawn;
A plot of something Charlie planted. We're not quite sure what, but I'm starting to suspect broccoli. Whatever it is, it's growing well.

Okay fine, so it's not the permaculture smallholding I envisioned, but for only my second year of gardening (not to mention the year I started a business and learned what it's like to have an extroverted 3 year old) I'd say I'm doing okay.

And am I ever grateful for our local farmer's markets? Hell, yeah.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I'm a busy little writer these days... check out my newest blog-for-pay at Ecoble and my volunteer contribution to the community at Citizens Against Uranium Mining.

I'm also working with a group of local food writers to produce a small 'zine entitled either "Brine" or "Eat It" (to be decided soon). It will contain restaurant reviews--beginning with Trattoria Della Nonna, profiles of some of our local farmers, local food recipes, and an advice column. Watch this space for more details!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Told Ya

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


So I was driving into Halifax Sunday morning, trying to decide whether I should say the word "shit" in my sermon. Poopie? Crap? Nothing else quite fit the bill, particularly since the context was "Shit Happens" (my central theological belief). I was concerned about giving offense, on the other hand. It was a close call.

Then I had a sign.

It was the McDonald's marquee on Quinpool Road. I looked up as I was driving along and read, "Come in and try our new Anus Burgers!"

And I said, "OK, I guess I'm going to say shit."

So I did. The congregation loved it.

(Lo and behold, I had a camera in my purse. Check back for pics soon.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Unschooling Unitarian Universalism

Delivered at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Halifax May 25, 2008

Those of you who have heard me preach before might recall that I grew up in an entirely secular home. Well—secular doesn’t really even cover it. I am the product of several generations of commie atheists, and my family bore the mantle of our heritage proudly. Just about the best way I could rebel against my upbringing was to go into ministry. Frankly, my folks are still a bit scandalized by it.

Even though I knew I wanted to try out Unitarian Universalism, I was a long time looking for a congregation to join. I frittered around in a few different young adult groups in college and beyond. But by the time I was 23 I was sick to death of the exclusive companionship of other young adults. I hungered for the wisdom of an elder, the laughter of a child. I sought out a community that would accept me as I was—young, yearning, fiercely liberal, fiercely independent, and largely unsure. I spent a dozen Sundays at a suburban UU church standing around with a cold cup of coffee, trying to look approachable, before giving up.

I sat zazen for a year instead. I quickly grew to love my meditation practice. Yet at the end of every session, I felt saddened as the crowd promptly left the zendo and melted into the city around us. I longed for the chit chat of a churchy church. I needed to process my journey with others. I hoped to be encouraged to grow upon my path in a way that was respectful and joyous. It was a difficult mix to find.

And then, just as I was considering chucking the whole enchilada, a friend from work recommended 2nd Unitarian of Chicago to me. The little brown church in a hip, residential neighbourhood was an easy el ride from my own.
As I walked down the footpath to the sanctuary door that first time, a familiar face greeted me. “Hey, you like kids! Come downstairs with me!” There stood Sharon, a sociable regular from the Heartland Cafe and Buffalo Bar, the trendy joint where I served bison burgers, curried tofu, and a dazzling selection of microbrewed stouts to a equally dazzling array of urban clientele. Sharon and I had put back a whiskey or two together at the end of a shift.

She was, of course, the Director of Religious Education at 2nd Unitarian. She linked arms with me and ushered me right into the basement. We entered a warm and funky common area full of children working on their own projects. Among the heaps of books, poster paints, and puppets, two tykes were hard at work at a craft table, hand-lettering a gltter and feather encrusted banner endowed. It read, “Welcome Lynn and Kelsey”—Lynn Ungar, the newly called minister at 2U, and Kelsey, her same-sex partner.

I knew I’d found the place for me.

At Sharon’s kind and insistent invitation, I immediately began teaching God Images to nine and ten year olds. I didn’t even make it up into the sanctuary for weeks. I never did establish a strong presence upstairs. The minister knew me only slightly, and the board president had me conflated with somebody named “Deb”. I think they were all pretty surprised when they heard I was going to seminary.

I didn’t care. The basement of the church was my first real religious home. My young, uncertain heart was nourished in the religious education committee meetings. In that basement I met the older adults who became my models and mentors as we planned field trips and debated the purpose of religious education. The children were also my teachers, modeling a lifestyle in which personal choice about belief had always been an unquestioned right.

Having been raised in a home that while extremely liberal in some ways was quite rigid and rule-driven in others, I was amazed to watch young children assert a great deal of choice in their own lives, and I was further amazed at how well they handled the responsibility that came with latitude.

As I spent a few years with them, I was privileged to experience how an eight year old’s beliefs and schema of the world changes to a ten year old’s to a twelve year old’s... as their parents showed me how a 38 year old’s beliefs can change as he turns 40 and 42. I realized I didn’t have to “get it” yet, and that in fact life is a neverending parade of things to get. And that I’ll be done when I die—or rather, I’ll never be done.

My first congregational community modeled for me how each step we take in life propels us further down an individual path, and how winding our paths together increases our joy. Most importantly, that congregation shared the joys of diversity with me through the way they honoured the individuality of each person among them, including their children, while seeking to expand their welcoming arms at the same time.

We are already diverse by the nature of being human. For me, attending to diversity is a profound spiritual act. UUs, more than any other group I’ve belong to, get that having lots of different people with varied skills, beliefs, talents, knowledge bases, and viewpoints, is a blessing.

Once I was in seminary, my exploration of spiritual freedom and belief infected nearly every waking moment. One of my favourite parts was the intense and volatile year we spent backtracking the long and winding path of the western tradition’s theological development. I stuffed more Paul and Augustine and Kant and Locke in my head than I would have thought could fit—and in fact a fair bit of it has fallen out the back end since then. But that’s what it took for me to really get that people aren’t inherently bad in any way. In fact, any idea that levies judgement upon human characteristics is just that—an idea, an idea without any empirical truth behind it.

We belong here. We are as much a part of nature as any bee or hummingbird. We are naturally diverse. I’m further convinced that we have a strong instinctive drive to learn everything we need to know about the world around us and to get along with others. We don’t have to be forced to behave the right way because A) there is no one “right way” and B) we are just fine they way we’re born.

Given my current lens on humanity, I observe that most of what mainstream culture holds to be true about children is deeply rooted in the idea of original sin. We are enculturated to believe that in many ways we must both make choices for children and force them to follow our choices...or else. Duh duh daaaaaah! The evil inside them will take over. The dishonesty and laziness and desire to play World of Warcraft night and day will swallow them from the inside.

For me, Unschooling means un-choosing values based in fear of human nature, or God’s nature, and letting go of my need to control my child’s path. The word “unschooling” is a term coined by educator John Holt. It refers to interest based education in which the parents do not authoritatively direct the child's education, but instead aid the child in exploring his or her interests. Unschooled children learn primarily through the experiences of life.

I first met unschooled kids at a Unitarian Universalist youth conference. I was working as the chaplain for the Central Midwest district. This meant that I attended youth conferences around the Chicago area. I would sit for about 72 hours straight in a designated chaplain’s room and talk to whoever wandered in. People who came in usually did so accidentally or looking for a place to be alone with a new friend. Most of them were pretty gracious about ending up talking to the chaplain instead. I loved hearing their stories.

At the time I thought homeschooling was a totally banana cuckoo thing to do, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by some of the unschooled youth in particular. Like Linnea, who told me about her internship at a physics lab nearby, or Josh, who had never spent a day in a classroom but was looking forward to the experience when he went to university that fall. What impressed me the most about them, though, was not their achievements or even their knowledge base, but their sense of composure and ease in relating to the people around them.

One of the biggest misconceptions about unschooling is that it’s a laissez-faire, hands-off method of parenting. But letting go of control doesn’t mean letting go of my child. Unschooling is an involved process of helping my kid get the information and resources he needs to make decisions. At Charlie’s age it means respecting his autonomy as much as I can while protecting his physical safety, and most of all being an active and dynamic problem solver myself as I model a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Charlie needs me to love and support him in his natural processes. His existence put to me the question of how we support the dignity and inherent worth of an infant, and then a toddler, and then a small child. As a lifelong learner myself, I’m still figuring it out.

For me as a parent, much of unschooling is simply living my fundamental theological beliefs:

• Life is short, and then it ends. Every moment we have in the meantime is precious and worthy of joy.

•There is no such thing as a problem in the absolute sense. There is a problem for someone. There are always multiple ways to address a problem.

•Shit happens, completely unrelated to whether it is in any sense deserved or not, and completely out of our control. Our control is over what meaning we make out of what happens.

•Now is the time of the learning and the making of joy, of the continually expanding into the now, into loving one another and the world.

So that’s what we do all day in my home. It’s a 24-seven lovefest. Well, not really. Right after I wrote the preceding paragraph Charlie and I went to Superstore, where he ran away from me five times before drawing on his face with a Sharpie. When I put him in the bath at home to wash the marks off (not that that worked) he rolled all the toilet paper off the roll—a new roll-and put it in the bath with him. I did not respond well. I did not say, “ah, life is short, let’s make some meaning. I’d rather not repeat what I said here.

But eventually, I did return to my breath and remembered to trust our natures. Unschooling for us means loving each other as gently as we can while gathering disintegrated tissue shards together, then end up chatting about where toilet paper comes from and googling what kinds of trees are used for toilet paper and what their habitats are like and then we end up back at fair trade and environmental sustainability, which seems to happen to us all the time.

In our family unschooling means listening to lots of Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker, and Ella Fitzgerald. We read books. We read book reviews. We plague the local librarians with our incessant demands for books. We roam the streets of Lunenburg, making friends of every age and ilk.

Our family is a learning community. We travel through life together, even as we each take our own path. We enjoy an intensely home-based life, ebbing and flowing in a shared rhythm. Our home is our religious home, and our house is sacred space. All learning connects us. Diversity strengthens us. In our family, it is more than okay to be different from others. To swim instead of fly and dare to love it. It’s an improvisational approach. No wonder we love jazz so.

We’re very lucky that we can even consider offering this learning modality to our child. We work hard to make it happen and we’re lucky that it’s a choice. We live our love of learning together. We know enough about difference to know that what works for our family is not “right”, but simply what works for our family. We don’t have anyone else’s answers but our own.

Unitarian Universalism has given me the tools and the support to put aside judgement and open myself to love in many ways; unschooling is a central part of how I practice it. The values that first attracted me to Unitarian Universalism are the values that sustain me in my life today. As UUUs, we are free to find our truths and support in the basement or the attic or the ocean outside our door. It’s a life in which we ask not, “who is right?” but “how can we creatively meet everyone’s needs?”

My husband asked me about the title of this sermon. He said, “Unschooling Unitarian Universalism! That sounds... prescriptive for you.” But that’s not how it’s meant. I don’t think UUs should become Unschoolers or that UUism needs Unschooling. Rather, I think we already are unschooled. Our core values are unschooling values. We dare poke at the assumptions of our society. We never stop asking questions. We never close ourselves to new truths. We unmake to make anew, to create meanings in a life that holds no easy answers.

May we all walk our paths today in joy.

May we share them together with love.

And coffee.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Memory Lane

From our wedding invitation, 51/2 years ago:

Our ceremony will take place on the outdoor patio of Janos. The reception will take place inside J Bar, with dancing on the outdoors patio. The ceremony at 1 PM will be very informal (wear jeans if you want!)and will be followed by an hors d'oeuvres and beverage reception. We're very excited to have a chef who supports sustainable agriculture and uses local heirloom crops.

Our menu:

Ceviche Shooters
Chorizo, Nopalito, and Chile Quesadillas
Jerked Pork Flautas
Scallop Tostones with Spicy Yellow-Eyed Beans
Achiote Chicken Chilipatas with Mole Verde
J Bar Cones with Tepary Beans, Roasted Corn, Smoked Poblanos and Roasted Garlic Aioli

J Bar Margaritas
Mexican Beers
Guadalajara Coolers

Chile Chocolate Goddess Wedding Cake (this, and the wedding favour truffles, were both from Vosges)

Sunday, May 18, 2008


That's how my garden is looking.

I would like to blame my 3 year old for opening many packets of seeds and "planting" a field's worth of produce in a 3' by 3' patch on his onesome... but it's not as if I'd prepared the plots for those seeds. Nor will I, given how busy I've been with work in the last month. We did get the flower house planted as well as a few herbs.

And canning is going right out the window, too. I have the jars. I have the ideals. But I also have a chest freezer and a book that describes how to freeze virtually anything. So I am, instead, freezing, and canning will have to wait for some year when I'm not starting a business and parenting a 3 year old.

Just in case y'all thought I had my act together or something... now you know better. I have ten pounds of local rhubarb in the freezer. It's a start.

In other news, check out my new articles at Going Green Resources! Green Betty is working her thing.

Monday, May 5, 2008

the view

I love my house. I loved it the first moment I walked through the door. Having just seen 28 houses I did not love, the decision to buy came easily. Over the years it has given me many reasons to stay enamored.

Last week I was standing on the bed, opening a small, high window to invite some fresh air. "Let me see out the window," said three-year-old Charlie, and I scooped him up for a look.

Five years into fishing village life I've become a tad indifferent to the sight of the sea. It's nearly always there in the background and except for beach trips, doesn't garner too much of my attention.

It had been too long since I'd looked out this window.

Designed to catch the breeze coming in off the water, it faces straight out to the ocean. We are at the top of one of a pair of hills that contain the town, and we can see the whole of the Academy topping the other. The rise and slope of our hills remind me that we are on top of mountains. They begin deep beneath the sea, part of the northernmost extent of the Appalachian chain.

At this time of year we can see not just Front Harbour, which is visible year-round save for heavy fog days; we can also see Back Harbour through the still-bare trees across the street. The harbours glint two slighly different blues, while the sky makes it a trio.

The odd sailboat drifts by.

All this is fascinating to Charlie, although nothing more so than the neighbor's laundry drying on the line directly below us. I am braced for an interesting discussion one of these days with Herb Zinck about his stripey pyjamas.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


We invented a couple words this week.

Celeberate: v. ritual verbal abuse at a family celebration


Disnusted: adj. caught at the crossroads between Disney and disgusted; a frequent occurence in a house with young children

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Garden Grows

Well, the scapey bits on the garlic are up now. Their springy greenness reaches across the yard and through my (dirty) office window, pinching my eyeballs with their urgent presence. Charlie and I nibbled on a few the other day--heaven for me, "Bleah! Too 'picy!" for Charlie.

Some seed distributor or other is clever enough to put a picture of a jack-o-lantern on their packets and display them at kid height, so... we put pumpkin seeds in jiffy pots yesterday. And thanks to our incomparable friend Naomi, whose seeds began most of last year's garden, we'll sow a wildflower patch at the end of the driveway this week.

The Honeycrisp apple tree is scheduled to go into the ground for our annual Cinco de Mayo celebration. I have my little eye on some cherry and pear trees, as well. Appleberry Farms has an entire quarter of their gardening section dedicated to fruit trees and rose bushes. It's like the "me" section.

We bought a bag of seed potatoes (purples ones). But then my husband John, whose family has been growing potatoes around these parts for 250 years, outlined the basics of potato growing for me. Which convinced me to say 'nuts to that'! Green Betty don't hoe.


Friday, April 4, 2008

About That Tobacco...

OK, so Cindy Bablitz wants to know "what gives?" on the tobacco we're growing in the garden this year. It's a good question.

First off, I am not a smoker--although I used to be. A long, long, time ago. Now I'm that super-anti-smoker crazy person who former smokers tend to turn into. Just ask the nurses blocking the sidewalk in front of the hospital down the street from my house with their cloud of cigarettte smoke about the nutso CFA. (CFA = "Comes From Away" in local parlance.)

Dh and I have toyed with the idea of ceremonially smoking tobacco for years, although I always get the former smoker wigguns about it. Our conversations, though, have gotten me pretty curious about the history of tobacco.

The seeds we're growing are tobacco rusticana, which is quite a different strain than what goes into commercial cigarettes. For one thing, the nicotine content is several times higher. It's a mighty powerful plant, used for ritual purposes by all kinds of people for the past 4,000 years.

So, when I saw the seeds listed in the catalogue for $3, I couldn't resist joining the hordes of human history who have grown it. It's supposed to be a nice ornamental, too. I'm curious to watch it grow. I want to smell it, warm and fresh and musky on a summer day. I don't know whether I'll be able to bring myself to smoke any, but at the very least we'll give some to our smoker friend Jim. Jim, our own personal canary in the mineshaft. If he smokes it and is still tweeting... maybe we'll give it a shot.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Eclectic Easter

To celebrate the holiday we made a great big Monster Cookie (Charlie alternates between saying "Monster Cookie" and "Cookie Monster") in the shape of an egg. All right, it wasn't a chicken's egg per se, but I'm sure it resembles some kind of animal's egg. Maybe a T. Rex.

This is our time of year to get ready for the garden (and damn the snow falling outside my office window as I type!) We let our "winter spinach" die and plan to use the pots to put mignionettes underneath the strawberry print kitchen curtains. They'll be "grabbing distance" from the cereal bowls.

The compost is looking like... compost! If you've followed us since the installation of Darth Vader, you'll understand how thrilled I am by this most ordinary of miracles. I haven't wanted to put our pesticide-laden winter produce compost in the old DV; everything has gone into our regular community compost.

I hate putting food in our bodies that I don't consider good enough for my compost. This summer, I plan to can (as in mason jar). Our food strategy is to cultivate mostly unique and heritage strains of veggies, herbs, and medicinals, while we stock up on basics at the market. We'll can and freeze as much local, organic produce as we can to try and make it through the winter. Many thanks to Cindy Bablitz for inspiring me to take the leap to canning!

So it'll be an eclectic garden. Here's our Easter order from Salt Spring Seeds:

Yellow Mortgage Lifter (tomato)
Russian Rose (tomato)
Gramma Walters (bean)
Triumfo Violetta (bean)
Friggitello Pepper
Georgescu Chocolate Pepper
Italian Sweet Pepper
Sue Senger's Chile Pepper
Nantes Carrot (Daucus carota)
Early Yellow Globe Onion
Parsley Giante d'Italia (Petroselinum crispum)
Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Horehound Green Pompon (Marrubium vulgare)
1000 Year Old Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica)
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)
Marshmallow (Althea officianalis)

I imagine we'll add to this list as seeds tempt me throughout the spring. Plus we'll grow both varieties of pole beans from last year, our usual raspberries, the five varieties of garlic we put in last fall, and an apple tree--"wood" to celebrate me and John's fifth anniversary. I'm hoping for success with a Honeycrisp. Svenja and I are also planning to grow a flower playhouse for the boys.

And perhaps a butterfly flower garden under the apple tree.

And, er, some old world roses under the living room window.

I sure hope Charlie loves gardening...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Here's a taste of what I'm working on now. Big thanks to the editor at grubstreet.

Randal Marlin: he’s an author, a philosopher, a teacher to thousands. An expert in the shady ins and outs of propaganda, he’s been called “Ottawa’s Orwell”. Marlin learned his first lessons about the nature of power—and its abuses-- from the most influential of teachers... his childhood peers. Of course. Didn’t we all?

Marlin’s colourful childhood saw him bounce from DC, to QC, to the UK. After some powerful Quebecois culture shock and a generous helping of what would be labelled “bullying” today, he graduated to yet more culture shock (and more bullying) in the class-centric world of British boarding schools. Orwellian, indeed! He overwhelmingly experienced how power over others can be a slippery slope for anyone, himself included.

As a young man Marlin experimented with exercising his personal power: on the student newspaper at Princeton, where he butted heads with the university administration; with his professors as he tested their tolerance for his late-night poker matches (and subsequent class absences); and as a new homeowner fighting to keep his neighbourhood a welcoming place for families to grow and play.

Now 70, Marlin shares the wisdom of someone who has pushed himself to learn and develop throughout all of his life. He’s not afraid to say when he’s goofed up—he owns up to his share of pain inflicted and opportunities missed. I wouldn’t like him otherwise. In this interview, he allows peeks into his personal make-up along with the basic principles behind his most recent book, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion.

Alternately quoting cartoons and Plato, Marlin shows how the most pernicious falsehood is one that brims with truths told in a deceiving manner. His main thrust, however, is not purely philosophical, or concerned with purely academic matters of “truth” and “falsehood”. Instead, it is the very everyday ways that the media (and other interested parties) stir-fry facts like tofu and present them on a platter to look like, well, whatever they want them to look like--in the hopes that the public will eat them right up and ask for seconds.

Marlin is a big proponent of each person having a unique contribution to make to the world. Clearly, part of his own gift is to discern, to dissemble, to say, “Hey! That’s tofu under there! Didn’t we order steak in the last election?” (No offense to tofu. We love us some delicious stir-fried tofu—we just want to know what it is we’re putting in our mouths!)

From the rugby field to the office of the US “president”, Marlin notes well the ways in which people relate to one another with genuine intention, or complete lack thereof. His faith in humanity is endearing. His work is elucidating. His personal example is powerful.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Things I Learned in School

1. How to tell a universally believable lie.
2. How to clean my hands really, really well through the fastidious application of Elmer's glue.
3. How to stay awake by writing in backwards script.
4. How to stay awake by self-administering a slow series of pinches.
5. How to sleep sitting up.
6. How to endure being closely surrounded by people I loathe and who loathe me--all day, every day (this may be the most useful skill yet, especially if I ever end up in prison).
7. How to store vast quantities of information in short-term memory without allowing any of it to seep into the permanent files.
8. How to make a sub cry.
9. How to hold in-well, any bodily fluid--for up to 55 minutes at a time.
10. How to wait years upon years without (much) protest for "real life" to begin.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Charlie is 3. Quintessentially 3. It's an intense time. He's growing and changing in wild spurts, poking at the boundaries of his world, boomeranging out away from me and crashing back. He needs his Mom frequently, but like any good artist he tells his truth slant. It goes something like this.

He melts down into child's pose and says in a muffled voice, "I'm an egg. Pick me up and put me on the couch. No, the big couch." "My dear little egg," I reply, snuggling him closely. "How I love my egg! I love to hold my dear little egg and keep it warm. I can't wait until my egg hatches and I can see my little hatchling's face." I've learned not to say "Charlie" because he isn't always being Charlie. Sometimes it's Max or George.

Slowly, he emerges from behind his hands and uncurls his legs. "Hello, my hatchling!" I croon. "Welcome to the world."

We take a long, deep, quiet breath together.

I think, if I ever have Alzheimer's and live in fragments of the past... please let this be one. That would be OK.

Then zippity zap, he bounds off again. Usually to ride his tricycle (aka the zoopercar) madly around the house. Did you know that if you pour half a bag of flour on the kitchen floor and ride a trike through it as many times as Mom's pee break allows, you can disseminate it evenly throughout a 1200 square foot floor of a house? Science is fun!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sam I Am

John just handed me the following Latin anagram on a post-it:

in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni

trans: We go into the circle at night and are consumed by the fire.

I have a cool dh.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rules, Schmules

This post is dedicated to the wonderful Rev. Dr. Carol Hepokoski, who introduced me to the work of Sharon Welch.

It's hard to be a theologian who doesn't believe in much. I'm always grasping for language. I don't like salvation (see two posts below), good, evil... god is iffy in the best of contexts.

I don't use "morality", to give enother example; I think it implies absolutes of Right and Wrong (um, and who decides what those are?) Unlike so much other church language--darn, that stuff gets welded right onto the framework!--I can accept "ethics" as a reasonable substitute. Which is a piece of luck. Let's talk ethics.

In our house we talk a lot about being In Relationship. With each other, with friends, with strangers, with the innumerable aspects of the earth. I perceive us in a constant dynamic with the world around us--whether we like it or not. We strive to be in balanced and fulfilled relationship. I wouldn't call it a faith, but rather a pagan and buddhist inspired ecological worldview. We are all a part of each other. When we hurt someone else, we diminish ourselves.

I don't care for rules much, and that applies to the Golden Rule as well. Different people like and care and are hurt by different things. I'm a bigger fan of its inverse: don't do things to others that you wouldn't want done to you! (Unless explicitly requested. We won't go there.)

Applying my standard to others doesn't take their individual quirks and cultural influences into account. Again, I don't think in terms of there being a "right" way to do things, but ways that work or work somewhat or don't work.

I don't stay centred in relation. I hurt people. I waste resources. I stumble out of balance, again and again.

And I learn from my imbalances, at a depth that I never experienced while caught up in my former perceptions of "right" and "wrong". Judgement blocks understanding. Never more so than when I judge myself.

This unschooly, UUish perspective of mine may best be termed a situational ethic, rather than a rule-bound one. It calls for bringing my perception, caring for others, and mindfulness into every aspect of daily life. It's an ethic of joy. So... yay!

Curious to read further about situational ethics? I recommend A Feminist Ethic of Risk by UU ethicist Sharon Welch. I credit Sharon with moving me considerably along the unschooling path. When I was assigned this book in seminary, the first chapter challenged my (then) framework so strongly that I couldn't bring myself to read further. I denounced it as "boring" in class. As if.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Delivered at the Universalist Unitarian Congregation of Halifax, January 27 2008

It was the fall of 1994, and I made my bed in a green VW microbus with a pop-up top and manual steering. I had spent the summer in northern Wyoming, living in the bus with a boy named Jack. Jack and I worked in Yellowstone National Park, doing scut work in the kitchens of the lodges forty hours a week, spending the rest of our time hiking and camping and generally whooping it up in a VW microbus sort of way.

As the days got shorter and darker and colder we decided to head for warmer climes. Luckily, our home was made for moving. Unluckily, it had been made in 1978 and had a breakdown on average of once a week. More often if we were actually driving it. We were short on money, and rural Wyoming was even shorter on classic VW auto parts. Our muffler pipe, to give you an example, was held more or less in place by a variety of materials, including but not limited to gum, duct tape, and pipe cleaners.

We never knew what was going to break next, or where. For some reason we didn't allow this state of affairs to deter us even a little bit in launching off on our adventures. First we spent a few weeks in western Montana staying with some fly-fishing buddies who worked as chefs at a 4 star resort. We happily ate 4-star scraps in the kitchen and snuck into the hot tub in the wee hours, balancing our bodies at the junction of hot steam and cold mountain air, gazing for hours at the stars and snowy peaks. After a couple blissful weeks our feet got itchy and we started to meander vaguely in the direction of Illinois, where we hoped to get a few home-cooked meals and perhaps a little cash. I knew my father would be profoundly disturbed by our automotive state—and I’m sure he would have been, had we ever made it home. Instead, we got held up along the way. Several times. This is the story of one of those times.

On an unseasonably warm November day we decided to visit the Battlefield of Little Big Horn. Jack drove through the Crow reservation of southeastern Montana to the entrance gates. To approach the battlefield, one must drive up a large, steep hill to an entrance gate that is poised at the highest point in the surrounding landscape. From this summit you can see for miles in any direction. It was here that the bus died.

Over and over I turned the key in the ignition--to no effect--as a line of vehicles grew, stretching down the hill behind us. Many of the relationships contained in those vehicles had grown a bit overripe after enduring close quarters all the way from Los Angeles or Calgary or Rockville, Maryland, and as we struggled to budge the bus in one direction or another a growing chorus of overripe commentary floated up to us.

Eventually so many of the disgruntled passengers walked up to see what the problem was that the crowd was able to get the bus turned around. We coasted down the hill in neutral, slowly rolling into the parking lot of a gas station/shopping complex on the Crow, or Absaroka, reservation below. With great relief I maneuvered into a parking space in front of the gas station. Jack wiggled beneath the microbus and diagnosed it with a bust alternator. With the help of the phone book we found that we could get a replacement part in town the next morning.

Feeling awfully lucky to have a solution in the works, we decided to splurge and spend the big twenty-five bucks on a room in the hotel down the road. I was pleased to take a break from the bus—which had many charms but neither heat nor running water. Before leaving, however, we decided to stick our heads in the gas station, explain our circumstances, and ask permission to park the bus in their lot overnight. The manager poked his head out the door and looked speculatively at the big green monster. "Sure," he said. “Although you might want to move it to the other side of the lot. Right there by the entrance isn’t the safest place. Someone got hit there just last week." No problem, we figured. Jack pushed the bus while I steered it into a more out of the way space between two other cars. For some reason I found it harder to steer than usual. Perhaps I was just tired. But I found myself cutting a little too close to the car I was trying to park next to. "Jack!" I cried. "Make it stop!" "You're driving!" was his panicked reply. "Step on the brake!" But it was too late. Crash. A man came running out of the souvenir shop. "Hey Brenda, somebody hit your car!"

Brenda shot out the front door with a panicky expression on her face, followed by about a dozen of what turned out to be intimate friends and family members. They had all been enjoying a cup of coffee together in the gift shop café. Brenda seemed a little too upset to talk to us herself, but she called her husband to come deal with the situation. While we were waiting for him the reservation police stopped in to see what the fuss was about. The officer driving the police car tried to take a report of the accident. That turned out to be a complicated process, since each of the friends and family members present claimed to have seen it occur from the windows of the café. Listening to their accounts, I kept looking over my shoulder to see just how many windows that café had—a lot of different ones, apparently. A spirited argument ensued. I got the feeling that they had been sitting there just waiting for something to happen, and were quite pleased that I had obliged them. As the heat of the debate rose, the language of discourse switched over from English to Crow which didn't help me and Jack any in sorting it out. From time to time someone would turn to us and say incredulously, "and you say the car wasn't running when this happened?" I would sheepishly nod, the questioner would shake his head, and the argument would run on. The parking lot slowly filled as people from the surrounding community came to see what the fuss was about.

Finally, Brenda's husband Sam arrived. He had the good sense to take Jack aside and come to an agreement: the following day we would go into town together to get estimates on the damage and we would pay him the lowest one out-of-pocket. This was a great relief to us, as we also had a little proof of insurance issue complicating matters. Furthermore, as long as we were going to town, he offered to take us to the auto-parts store so we could pick up our replacement starter and be on our way. Sam informed the now huge crowd that we'd come to a resolution and, with a few grumbles of disappointment, they slowly dispersed.

The next day Sam picked us up at the motel as we had planned. We had a pleasant conversation on the drive about work and family and the weather, and I felt utterly relieved that I'd had the good fortune to inflict my unique driving skills onto such a pleasant person. And then he asked The Question: Are you saved?

I first thought: “Saved from what? Yes I'm saved, you're saving me from hitchhiking into town" before I realized what he meant. Now Jack had grown up in a particularly southern Baptist part of Texas. He didn't need any help with this question. "Yes, SIR!" he replied enthusiastically, although the closest he'd been to a church in the time I'd known him had been drinking at a microbrewery across the street from one. Sam's eyes turned expectantly to me in the rearview mirror.

Was I saved… was I saved? As a Unitarian Universalist I had a complicated idea of what this meant to me. Should I say yes, and then explain that I thought everyone was saved in some communal, non-original-sin-involving, humanity embracing, hippie love kind of way? But I didn’t think that this wasn’t the question Sam was asking. He didn’t want to know what my out of the box theory of salvation was, or how I saw it fitting into the larger Western culture. And while I didn’t want to anger him and risk getting thrown out of the car before we had transacted our business, neither could I bring myself to be dishonest about this. So I said “no.” And then, while Jack was in the auto parts store for—I don’t know, seemed like about ten hours--I got quite the sales pitch about Jesus and his love.

The first time I told this story from the pulpit, about 7 years ago, I concluded that yes, I was saved, that we all save each other through acts of intentionality and kindness every day. I no longer agree with that, however. In the Unitarian Universalist tradition of lifelong growth and change, my answers have changed with time. And the more I think about how to answer, the more I think it’s the wrong question to be asking.

I don’t believe that I am saved. I believe in luck, or the absence of luck, absolutely undeserved in either case. I may be in desperate need of help at times, but never of salvation. You save something that is lost, or ruined. I don’t think those are appropriate words to apply to living beings. Salvation too often seems to exclude the possibility of you helping yourself, or on the other hand recognizing that your situation cannot be helped, simply endured as possible. It minimizes the role of sheer happenstance in life—that someone who knows Rumplestiltskin’s name will just happen to walk by, and you will luck out for no reason at all.

Sam asked me a question, from his understanding of the world. I perceived loving and sincere intention in it. Still, his question was nonsensical within my framework. Over time I have become much more interested in having meaningful conversations with strangers of all kinds and much less patient with salvation. I know they call it the good news but salvation has never sounded like very good news to me. “Good news! We can lance that hideous boil on the back of your head!” (What? What boil?) Well, it’s certainly news. I’ll give it that.

Perhaps I would have been best off cheerfully replying, “Yes! You’re saving me from a heck of a lot of trouble. Thank you for the ride from the bottom of my heart.” But I also could have asked, “What does salvation mean to you?” and explored his framework together. Too late now, I’ll never know. I made a lot of assumptions about what salvation meant to him and I may have been right. Perhaps he would have enjoyed exploring that himself. I wish I had not let the fear of our differences put the kibosh on authentic conversation.

In the years since my wandering hippie days I have come to view “salvation” as an inherently unbalanced concept. It starts off with a bang, assuming that our world is broken due to original sin. I believe the world is neither broken nor perfect, neither bad nor good. I don’t think that thinking of the world in terms of being good or bad is very helpful for making sense of why things happen or how we might be able to affect them. We make meaning out of what happens. Meaning does not descend upon us from on high, although sometimes it feels as if it is pressed in on all sides. The act of making meaning is part of what makes us human. Making meaning connects us beyond ourselves.

“Good” and “bad” are hard words to get away from in our culture. They leave a great jagged gap in their stead which begs to be filled. In recent years I have started to think more in terms of whether something works, or not, or how well. And I have found that the words “good” and “bad” tend to distract my energy from being open to workable solutions to problems. Asking the questions, “What does everyone here need?” and “How can those needs get met?” frees me up to reframe problems in a number of ways. It allows unconditional love to flow in where judgment used to stand

Now I know some of you are sitting there saying, “The title of the sermon is two Christians and a Microbus. So we have Sam and…who is the other Christian? It certainly wasn’t me. No, it turned out to be Jack, who returned to his Baptist roots after many adventures abroad and now lives in Texas, living the word of God as he interprets it. I call him up from time to time and we argue lovingly about the state of the world. The bus is still sitting in his driveway, and I hear he takes it out for a spin now and again. We both remember Sam with loving gratitude.

May love guide us. May we marvel at the way life can be wonderful, without being good. May the stirrings of compassion that sing in our heart lay the groundwork for loving relationship. May we create meaning in the way that we care for one another. We have but to listen and hear the cry fear won’t still, the dreams, the heart’s call to will. Ours is to respond.

Monday, January 7, 2008


In a recent conversation on Unschooling Canada, Beatrice Ekoko of Radio Free School asked us what books have had a profound affect on our lives. The question took me down a road of memory littered with the literary.

I've always been a big reader. Early literacy was a wonderful gift my mother gave me, supplemented by quality literature from the first. I read 1982 in
1982, when I was ten and lived under Reagan. It formed the base of
my relationship with government institutions, and created an odd
pocket of sanity inside me in the wilderness of public junior high.

There have been lots of others just as influential. I remember
reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X in my closet at fourteen and
experiencing a sense of breakthrough to a new level of understanding
immediately followed by the shocking realization that most adults
around me did not operate anywhere close to that
level. I learned as much through New Yorker cartoons and Doonesbury
as any great work of fiction, too.

And in recent years, I'd say Learning To Be White by Thandeka and Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn have been both fundamental frame-shifters as well as
dear to my heart.

How about you, dear readers? What wonderful books have shaped your world--in the distant or recent past?

Sunday, January 6, 2008


The other night I went to a meeting at the Lunenburg library to brainstorm ways to involve the South Shore Regional Library in community development. What fun!

I was raised to revere libraries, and librarians. As an autodidact with an unschooling child, the public library is a particularly important institution in our lives. I'm proud to support the library with my dollars and my ideas, and I was priveleged to meet some of my neighbors who are doing the same. We talked about ways to help patrons evaluate source when they're searching for the information they want. We looked at the children's section together to think about how to make it as inviting as possible. We conjured a passel of program topics to bring people into the library.

If I hadn't already spent all my money going to seminary, I would become a librarian. In fact, if none of my current employment prospects work out, I may yet apply to MLIS programs. 'Cause my spirituality is definitely leading in the direction of a job with, say, dental benefits and vacation pay.