Thursday, December 31, 2009

More year in Photos

In no particular order, the animals this year...

Our dogs, Roxie the lab-mix and Ruby the Viszla


A lizard on our back wall

King Ollie, our daughter's dog waiting for her in the office of the barn

The ground squirrel family outside the wall of our backyard

Baby doves in the tree on the side of our house

The bobcat family that resided on the roof of the empty house across the street

Cardinal and dove at the bird feeder

Ollie snoozing in the back of daughters car, nose in her boot...what a goof.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Year In Photos

Here is a snapshot of my year:

A meet up with Diane in Feb. (or was it March)

A winter storm in Feb. that left snow on the mountains behind my house

A summer storm and rainbow

BE 2.0

A trip to the knitting store during the BE 2.0

A trip to the Grand Canyon with RevGals following the BE 2.0, in April

General Convention in LA, where I was a page in the House of Bishops

My God-daughters on their first sledding trip

A serious dust storm, Dec. 22

The sunset on Dec. 30

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sun and Sand

The winter sun in Arizona crosses the sky, from horizon to horizon, at a sharp angle. No longer directly overhead, blistering hot, the winter sun is nonetheless intense. Blinding rays blast relentlessly into car and house windows for hours as it crosses the southern sky, east to west. Visors are not made for this angle of blaring light. Closing curtains and blinds is mandatory to tolerate being in the house and avoid fading furniture and artwork. The Sonoran Desert offers some 340 days of sun.

Sand is another constant in the desert. Sand comprises most of the soil content, the ground is harsh to any but the most tolerant and hardy of growth. Cacti, shrub trees, some amazing flowering bushes. Sand is the color of the earth and homes. Sand refuses to absorb water, which runs off in dangerous currents until it finds some places to stop, or evaporate in the dry air. And when the wind blows, which it does every time the weather is changing - storms blowing in, change in temp. whatever, the wind howls up to 50 miles an hour. For a day or more. And of course the sand, because there is nothing to hold it in place, blows with that wind.

Sand blots out the mountains, obscures the sun, creeps into every crevice, layers clothes on closets, scratches windows, peels paint off of cars, and brings in illness and disease from whatever animal excrement lies in that sand.

A week ago we had horrible wind and terrible sand storm. While the Midwest was suffering from blizzard and snow we were suffering from wind and sand. Sadly this storm proved to be fatal. A 24 car pile up happened on the main highway between Tucson and Phoenix, a fiery fatal accident that took the lives of one adult and teen aged sister (17) and brother (14). The highway closed down for some 12 hours. And the next day, when I had to make that drive from Tucson to Phoenix, I was horrified to drive through the debris of burned black semi's and cars, melted together, so intense was the fire.

I think often, and pray, for that family who lost their daughter and son two days before Christmas. Who lost them in such devastation. I don't know who the adult was, I think the semi driver...that person too, I pray for.

The photo on my header was taken that day, the day that wind and sand obscured the sun. A reminder that the very things that are normal to life here in the desert are also the very things that take life.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Prayer for Sunday, Christmas I

Holy One
Growing in wisdom
Teach us your ways
That we may love as you

Eternal One
Bless leaders of every
city, nation, world
with your wisdom and grace

Gracious One
Heal those who suffer
Mend the broken
Fill the empty, tend the ill

Lover of Souls
forgive our weaknesses
Bring forth your strength
in us, through you, with us

Holy Teacher
help us to know your ways
may all we say -
all we do - be for you

Crossposted on the RevGalBlogPal blog and RevGalPrayerPals blog

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Vision of Love: A Christmas Homily

The scene opens with Jack, a high powered wealthy business man, preparing to buy out another company, on Christmas Eve. He insists that all of his employees stay and work late, and then come in and work again on Christmas Day. Family time for the holiday does not matter. Jack is fully in control, and gives the impression of a man who thinks his life is perfect.

The next scene: a few hours later Jack is in a convenience store when he encounters what looks like a potential armed robbery. He intervenes by offering the thief $200 dollars to leave the store, and after some haggling the two of them walk out together. As they wander down the street Jack continues to offer help to the thief, ideas and suggestions for changing his life. The thief is amused that Jack is trying to help him. At one point the thief says, “Wow, ok, you want to save ME, that’s incredible. Alright then, just remember, you brought this on yourself.” That’s when we, the audience watching this movie, get our first clue that this thief is not who he appears.

The next morning, Christmas morning, Jack, wakes up in a room, in a bed, he does not know, with a woman he knew 13 years earlier, a woman who is now, apparently, his wife. And instead of a high rise apartment in New York he is in a house in New Jersey, a married man with two kids and a dog, and a beat up minivan instead of a Ferrari. Understandably Jack is stunned, confused, speechless. And despite the fact that it is Christmas morning and family is arriving to open gifts, Jack bolts out of the house and drives into Manhattan, in a futile effort to find his life again. After a series of events that tell Jack that the life he knew is gone, or never happened, he then encounters the thief again, this time driving Jack’s Ferrari. It turns out the man, played by the actor Don Cheadle, is not a thief, but an angel. And Jack, played by Nicholas Cage, is about to learn that his perfect life was not so perfect.

Over the next scenes Jack begins to realize what is really missing from the life he led as a powerful business man. At first it is a struggle, he misses the fine restaurants and clothes, the luxury of his “former” life. But he also comes to realize the deep emptiness within him, from a life without love. Eventually the movie returns Jack to his old life, back to Christmas Day and the corporate buy out he was completing. Only now he has a vision of what his life could be like. He no longer wants to live for wealth alone, he wants to live for love. His vision of life has been transformed, and now he yearns for nothing more than to find that love and live the life of his vision.

This time of year is filled with movies like this one, The Family Man, or It’s a Wonderful Life; movies and stories about the transformational power of love. Each story contains a pivotal moment when we see the main character transformed.
On this night we celebrate the pivotal moment in our salvation history, the Incarnation. The birth of God into human flesh is for us the most important act of love that God offers humanity. The incarnation is the pivotal moment in the Christian story of salvation – God’s love in human form – defines for us who we are and what we are to do.

It is the birth of God in human form that shows us a vision of the life God desires for us. It is the birth that leads to the death that culminates in the ultimate sign of love, the new life, the resurrection. The birth is the event that brings God’s love to us in tangible human relationship.

In the Gospel of Matthew there is a crucial argument that takes place between Jesus and Pharisees. Well, most of Matthew is an argument between the Pharisees and Jesus – but this one question changes everything. The Pharisees ask Jesus which commandment is the greatest. Now, it is helpful if we remember that in scripture there are not just the 10 well known commandments, but 613 commandments that God gives to Israel. 613 rules for living in right relationship with God. The Pharisees ask this question of Jesus, but it is a trick question, because what ever one commandment Jesus chooses they will argue for another – well, what about this one, or that one?

Jesus, showing his brilliant understanding of God and what God is doing in the world, offers the one answer the Pharisees cannot argue against. He says, “The greatest commandment is this, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On this hang all the law and the prophets.”

Love God, love self, love neighbor. From the incarnation and the life that Jesus lives, we have a vision of the depth of God’s love for creation, for us. Not just a vision, but a real experience of love, of being loved and of offering love in return. Tonight we celebrate a simple humble love born in a human baby to a human family -not to grandeur, power, and wealth, but under the most modest of circumstances.

Simple, and yet, it’s the only love that can comfort us in our deepest sorrow. It’s a compassionate love that fills us with peace even during our darkest moment. It’s a merciful love that sees into every kind of difference between us and shows us what we have in common. It’s a grace-filled love that laughs with us and celebrates our joys. It’s the love of a friend, a parent, a companion, a colleague, a stranger. It’s the kind of love that transforms every face into the face of Christ, every hand into the hand of Christ, every heart into his heart – mine, yours, theirs, ours. It’s the kind of love that mends brokenness, heals wounds, restores wholeness, even when the possibility of such a love is just a glimmer of light, a star in the dark night sky.

That’s the vision that God offers us in the incarnation. The potential of what could be if we let the vision take hold of us and guide our lives. That’s the vision that comes to us anew this night. That’s the hope God offers us for our lives and our world, simple, humble, yet all encompassing love.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Morning Booooondt Cake Recipes

I got these recipes off the Internet and adapted them. I used a layered star bundt cake pan instead of the usual pan. I made two cranberry orange cakes with cranberry orange glaze, two cranberry spice cakes, one pumpkin apple cake, and one carrot raisin cake.

Cranberry Orange Bundt Cake

1-1/2 c whole wheat flour
1-1/2 c white flour
2/3 c butter, softened to room temp
1-3/4 c sugar
1-1/2 c plain low fat yogurt
1-1/2 c cranberries, blanched in 3/4 c water with 1/2 c of sugar
grated peel from one orange

Glaze: 1 c sifted powered sugar, remaining water from blanched cranberries, 1/4 of orange peel.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Blanche cranberries in 3/4 cup of boiling water and 1/2 c of the sugar, boil just long enough for cranberries to begin to "pop." Set aside to cool.

Spray bundt pan with Pam or other spray on oil then flour.

Sift together flour and soda, set aside.

In another bowl (or Kitchen Aide) beat butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs and 3/4 of grated orange peel. (reserve remaining orange peel for glaze) Beat until fluffy. On low speed slowly add flour mixture alternating with yogurt, beat until just blended. Drain cranberries, reserving liquid. Add cranberries, save liquid for the glaze.

Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees. Tip over on a rack, remove pan, and cool. When cool mix sifted powdered sugar stir in enough cranberry liquid to make a glaze consistency, add remaining orange peel. When cake is cool dribble glaze over cake. Store in a 2 gallon zip lock bag.

Pumpkin Apple Christmas Bundt Cake

3-1/2 c flour (or split 1/2 and 1/2 white with whole wheat)
1 Tbl baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp salt
1 c butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
1 c dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1 c chopped apple (I used a peeled granny smith)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour bundt pan.

Combine in a mixing bowl or Kitchen Aide, butter, sugars, eggs, pumpkin mix. Add and mix well - flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices. Stir in chopped apple. Spoon into greased and floured bundt pan, bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes.

When cool, glaze with: 1 c sifted powder sugar, grated rind of one orange, juice of orange to thin powder sugar to glazing consistency - approx. 4 tbls per c of sugar.

Carrot Bundt Cake

Soak 1 c raisins in 1/2 c boiling water.

1-1/4 c canola oil
1 c granulated sugar
1 c dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 teasp vanilla
2 c grated carrot

1-1/4 c whole wheat flour
1-1/4 c all purposed unbleached white flour
2 teasp baking powder
1-1/2 teasp cinnamon
1 teasp baking soda
drain and add raisins

pour into greased and floured bundt pan, bake 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Turn over pan on rack, cool.

1 8 ounce package of cream cheese softened
1 Tbl butter softened
1 Tbl orance juice
1 tsp vanilla
I tabl grated orange peel
1-1/2 c sifted powdered sugar

mix glaze ingredients and dribble over cooled cake.

OK. There you have it, the recipes for three of the four cakes. The fourth one I didn't add orange but instead used cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and vanilla to taste.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Morning Musings

For all intents and purposes Advent is over and now we head straight into Christmas. On mornings when my husband is home he turns on the TV and we watch the TodayShow. This morning they are offering Gift ideas, quick simple board games. My shopping is mostly finished, just one or two very small things for my son...So on this Monday after Advent and before Christmas I am musing about:

The scarves I knitted, the one I will finish today, and the two I never got too. Also that pair of small socks that I never finished because they were too small and I kept making mistakes. Back to those later.

The Christmas bundt cakes I want to make for the folks I work with at Back in the Saddle Church. (Whole wheat yogurt cranberry orange - really delicious). And the carrot bundt cake I want to make for our Christmas morning. My son loves carrot cake, this will be a rendition of that, in breakfast cake style.

The sermon I have to write for the 6pm Christmas Eve service...

and the massage I will have at noon today.

That's what's on my mind this morning, what about your day? your week?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

God of Love, Come forth for us
May our Lives magnify you

Surprise Us, shower favor
On all your people, me, you

Have mercy on the needy
Tonight, each day, always

Mighty One, heal the broken
heal us to be your hands, heart

Bless our lives that we can be
a sign of your heart, your hope

God of Love, startle us
with new life, heart rejoicing

Savior God, Come forth for us
May our lives magnify you.


I offer prayers this morning for my friends, near and far, who are suffering, who have been abandoned by the Church or by human love, and for all who are in particular need this day. May God's love embrace us all in new ways, with new life and hope.

Crossposted on the RevGal Prayer Pal blog and the RevGalBlogPals blog.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bearing Worthy Fruit

A reflection the propers for Advent 3C: Luke 3:7-18

A few days ago I decided to make chocolate chip cookies, a double batch. And while the butter softened in the afternoon sun that streamed in the kitchen window, I took my dogs for a walk. It was a clear, crisp, sunny day, following that winter storm that packed near hurricane strength winds. Debris still littered the streets, branches and shriveled cacti, and streams of mud. I plugged in my iPod, popped in the earphones, leashed up the dogs and walked out the front door. There I encountered the roar of an engine. Even through the music and the headphones, I could hear it, a border patrol helicopter. Looking to my left I saw it, almost close enough to see the pilot. The helicopter was making a small circle around an area about block from where I stood.

With a deep sigh I headed off on my walk, the hum of the helicopter vibrating through my headphones. By the time I returned home however the copter was gone. So, too, probably whoever they were looking for. Although this is common around here it still gives me pause to think and wonder, sadly, about whomever it is they are looking for.

Now I have no idea where you all stand on the border issue. I know some folks who easily say, “They’re illegal, and breaking the law, so just shoot ‘em.” I find that a little extreme. I know other people who leave water jugs in the desert along known pathways, and people who cross over the border to help bandage the feet of those returned. I know the border patrol is doing what it is supposed to do and some of that includes tracking down violent drug cartels and the illegal smuggling of human beings. But sometimes it just a desperate person doing a foolish thing in an effort to try and make a living. And it is that person my heart aches for.

It’s a person like this who became the catalyst for the creation of Just Coffee, which we were selling here last Sunday. Ten years ago Eduardo left his home in Chiapas after Hurricane Mitch which followed on the heels of the dramatic fall in coffee and corn prices, all of which undermined the financial structure of his community.

Eduardo migrated 2000 miles north, from Guatemala to Agua Pietra where he found a job in a factory and joined the Lily of the Valley Presbyterian Church. Not long afterward Eduardo was offered a better paying job at a golf course in Phoenix and on Oct. 4, 1999 he migrated, illegally over the border. The journey was arduous, Eduardo fell, injured his knee and was caught by the Border Patrol. He was sent back to Mexico where the members of his church cared for him as he healed. A broken man in many ways, he helped his Pastor understand the pain that the coffee growers experience when they are unable to make a living wage and have to leave their land. The pastor, collaborating with an Episcopal priest in Douglas, AZ, along with their parishioners, began the process to establish Just Coffee, a co-op based in Chiapas and Agua Pietra.

Generally speaking the grocery store coffee is manufactured by companies who pay the coffee growers a substandard wage. As a result many coffee growers around the world have taken to selling their land or finding other ways to supplement their income, usually illegal means. Just Coffee offers an alternative – the families who join the co-op work together to grow, transport, roast, package, and ship the coffee. The proceeds go back to the families in the co-op providing a living wage profit. Think about it – for the price of a bag of coffee you are helping families stay together, support a community of people to earn a living wage, and reduce illegal border crossing. That’s the gift of Just Coffee, but it is also the gift of buying any Fair Trade merchandise, be it coffee or jewelry or pottery. In this season of gift buying Fair Trade offers us a way to give in more ways than one. And it’s possible that if we all bought Fair Trade more often we could shift the global economy and reduce poverty around the world. Now that is a radical thought.

Being radical is exactly what John the Baptist is calling us to do – think and act in radical ways – ways that will change the world. John is harsh, wild, critical - he calls his own followers a brood a vipers - and proclaims the end of the world with the coming of the Messiah.

But ultimately the Gospel of Luke seems interested in something else – not so much the destruction of the world but rather the transformation of the world. In pointing us toward Jesus Luke is pointing us in the direction God would have us go – a direction that is focused more on transformation of ourselves and our world than on condemnation of our selves, of others, and of our world. Luke wants us to see that in the coming of Christ God is calling us all to a new way of life – a life that asks us to love in very profound ways, life changing ways. It seems that John in the Gospel of Luke is pointing the way to a new social pattern, one that will change the entire world – entire communities built upon the premise that God is calling us to love more deeply than we can possibly imagine – to “bear fruits worthy of repentance”…

We might wonder what it means to bear fruits worthy of repentance. Certainly the people listing to John did and asked him, “What shall we do?” John’s response was direct and specific: if you earn a living don’t earn more than you deserve, if you own things don’t own more than you really need, share with others, and lastly, while John calls it extortion, we might think of it as allowing ignorance to protect us from recognizing the consequences of our actions. For example, what are we buying and who is benefiting from those purchases? The latest collapse of our economy is indicative of what happens when ignorance and greed prevail over compassion. Perhaps ignorance, greed, and lack of compassion are the chaff in our society that needs to be burned in an unquenchable fire.

I recognize that I am blessed. I have a house and the resources which enable me to make chocolate chip cookies and own an iPod. It might be easy for me to live in my own little world and ignore what is happening in my own backyard. But John won't let me. He names our chaff, calls us out of ignorance propels us to self awareness and from awareness into action.

In our confession each Sunday we ask to be forgiven for things known and unknown. I know that there are things I do that unintentionally cause harm. It’s startling to think that it can be as simple as the brand of coffee I drink. Transforming the world into what God desires includes becoming self aware, choosing not to live in ignorance, and repentance.

So, burning the chaff by asking for forgiveness of things known and unknown, is one step in the process of transforming this world into that which God desires. Repentance, changing our behavior is the next step. Bearing the fruit of repentance is the third step and it requires us to take action to change not just ourselves but the world around us. For me, one simple action is coffee. Perhaps for you it is something else. But if we all take steps to become aware, repent, and take action together we can follow the cry of John the Baptist, bear fruit worthy of repentance, and rejoice!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Napping Puppy

Yes, this is Mr. Ollie, napping in the back of our daughter's car, nose in her boot.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Silence After the Storm

Yesterday, as the wind blew in southern Arizona, I drove from the southern end of the state to midsection and back, some six hours of driving. In the early part of the day the southern section had sustained winds around 25 miles an hour with gusts up to 50, the midsection had pouring rain. I have not seen rain like that since we moved here. Last night we tried to sleep, but as our bedroom is on the corner of the house, nearest the arroyo (canyon) and open to the southwest, the wind raged, no idea at what speeds, and everything shook. There is damage outside. Grapefruit trees blown over, hibiscus trees knocked down, the pool full of debris. But no broken windows. And, now, silence.

There have been lots of storms raging these days, in the lives of people I know, my own life too. Humans can inflict such violence, verbally, physically, and psychologically, against one another. Often the infliction is nothing more than a person lashing out of their own hurt, inflicting pain on others, as a way to ameliorate their own. You know the parable of the unforgiving servant, found in Matthew 18? The one who pleaded for mercy and then failed to have mercy for others? Of course the parable reminds us that mercy is the better response, lashing out of our pain and our anger and our fear, to hurt others, will never actually end our own pain.

I am currently leading a Bible study on the Gospel of Luke. Our focus last week and this week is on the parables. We are using an "African" bible study method to consider a few parables. This method is a spiritual reflection, like an Ignatian approach. We choose one parable. Someone reads the parable while the rest listen for what word or phrase stands out. What word or phrase causes your heart to flutter, your spirit to say, "What?" or "wow!" or "What does that mean?". Then we share the word or phrase with the group. Another person reads the parable again, this time from a different interpretation - different voice, different interpretation, another way of hearing the parable. This time we are listening for what the Spirit is saying to us right now, how is the parable speaking to us in our lives at this moment? Then we share that and a discussion ensues. The parable is read a third time, another person and another interpretation, listening for where the Spirit is leading us as we go forward. We used the parable of the sower and the seed in Luke. Much of our reflection last week focused on looking inward instead of on others.

The work we need to do is internal, not external, focusing on the self and how we can each become more faithful, closer to God, kinder people, and not on the failures of others. It seems to me that this is often what happens when the storm has quieted, after so much hurt has been hurled around, suddenly the quiet comes, and with it a moment to look inward. What have I done?

Some folks, I imagine, never actually do this. Not during the storm, nor after. Some folks just feel satisfied, justified, like the hurting was fair and goal accomplished, regardless of the fall out all around.

But God calls us to something else. God calls us to self-awareness, to love and mercy. Even in the midst of the storm, but if all else fails, at least in the calm that follows. To do as God does, love with compassion.

We are nearly at the middle of Advent. As always the season flies by. Time remains though, to ponder the ways we are hurting this Advent season, and also the ways we hurt others. We all do. And then make adjustments, turn and return to God. Ponder and pray, and wait. God is coming again, making all things new.

Friday, December 04, 2009

RevGals Friday Five: Do Nothing Meme

Sally over at RevGals offers this Friday Five:

I am reading a wonderful little book for Advent it's title: "Do nothing Christmas is Coming!"

So this weeks Friday Five is simple.

List Five things you won't be doing to prepare for Christmas.

And while you are doing nothing play the bonus, put your feet up and listen to your favourite Advent Carol, and post it or a link to it...

1. ....putting up a real Christmas Tree. Not in Arizona. I hear they dry up nice and crispy and cost about twice as much as any where, artificial it is. Now, how to get that wonderful pine fragrance?

2. ....going on a shopping frenzy to buy gifts. I will buy gifts, but slowly...and only a few.

3. ....traveling (well, maybe I will, but no plans to do this, yet)

4. ....making Christmas cookies? Well, I may do this too, but no plans yet...

5. ....decorating the house...probably will be skimpy on this too. We are beginning to pack for a move, seems silly to pull all that stuff out at this time.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...