Friday, February 27, 2009

Springtime in Sugar Land

Spring has come to Sugar Land. Today it is about 80 degrees and my garden is full of blooming things, which gives me some comfort and calm amid the turmoil of the financial markets. Not sure it's helping El Jefe, though.

I'm not sure what this hedge is, but the flowers are pretty, purple and spiked.
Maybe its a Goth-flower?

These are just spectacular in our front yard!

This is my favorite flowering bush. It's called a Mexican Firecracker! A lot of bees are buzzing around it, which Beatrice found out the hard way. Ouch!

This is my super-duper triple red begonia.

These azaleas along my back fence began blooming late in January. The ones in front are purple and are just now beginning to form buds.

Any signs of spring at your place?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Observing Lent with Faith Comes by Hearing

There are many ways that Christians observe the season of Lent which just begun. My church (Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, Houston) is encouraging every member of the congregation (and their friends!) to participate in a program called Faith Comes By Hearing.

MP3 recordings of the entire New Testament have been distributed in worship, in Sunday School classes and in small groups. The idea is that if you listen for 20 minutes a day to the Faith Comes By Hearing recording, by Easter you will have listened to the entire New Testament. There is also a recording for children that families can listen to together so all of the family can participate. For those who cannot use an MP3 player, CD's of the recording can be purchased or you can purchase a special "Bible stick" to play the MP3 on.

There is also a mission aspect to the program: Faith Comes by Hearing records the New Testament in many obscure tribal languages and then distributes the recordings to remote villages around the world. Since many of these villages don't have electricity, the recordings come in a clever gadget called a "Proclaimer" that works with solar power or hand-cranking. MDPC's Palm Sunday offering will be given to help fund the recording of the New Testament in Amharic, a tribal language in Ethiopia.

I began listening to my copy yesterday. The recording includes some musical background (helpful when listening to Matthew's begats) and when there is conversation several voices read the different parts. It is easy to listen to--in fact one of my good friends is so enthusiastic about it she told me she is already up to the Gospel of Mark!

If you'd like to join us you can go to the MDPC website here and listen to the entire New Testament online.

(Cross posted from Presbyterian Bloggers.)

UPDATE: A word to the wise. Be sure the "shuffle" function on your IPod is off. Otherwise you may be startled to hear the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 followed by some really scary stuff in Revelation. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Listing This Old House

I remember seeing our house for the first time in the late '80's. El Jefe and I had decided that we would investigate what was then the far-flung 'burb of Sugar Land in search of a new home. The one we had was very well located in near-town Houston, but at over 70 years of age was turning into a veritable Money Pit. Plus we faced years of participation in the Private School Shuffle, which appeared to us to be a wildly over-rated and stressful exercise.

We didn't buy this house right away. We looked at several other homes in the neighborhood, but ultimately I wasn't ready to make that leap of faith 20 miles away from everything that was familiar to me. So we stayed where we were.

And yet. I kept thinking about that house. Maybe it was because it reminded me of the home I grew up in, but whatever the reason I ultimately agreed about a year later to make a bid on the home. We did and sold the house we had immediately. So it was pre-destined. Wasn't it?

Yesterday I sat on our patio overlooking the pool watching Beatrice chase birds and realized how much I would miss our backyard. How many pool parties for the church youth group, friends of our girls, neighbors and family members did we have here? Too many to count.

It's a very happy house. There are lots of big windows that bring sunlight into the house in every room. We had a few tough times here in the last 20+ years, but mostly we had very good times--holidays with extended family and friends; special celebrations of graduations, engagements, weddings and birthdays will always be special memories tied up with this place.

Last night we signed the listing contract with our realtor. It's time to move on and let another family grow and be happy in this old house.

We are excited about the new home we are building for our "empty nester" years. El Jefe remarked that both of us lived longer in our present home than anywhere else in our lives so of course we will miss it.

Selling a home is always a stressful decision, but in this current economic downturn there are many more unknowns than usual. We'll just have to see what happens and hope that the right buyers will come along in a reasonable amount of time.

Wish us luck!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How To Have a Great Session Meeting

Here's some advice for those looking for ways to improve session meetings, based on the one I attended last night:

1. Begin with a devotion.

2. Lead the elders in reading a selected passage of scripture.

3. Divide the session into small groups and walk the groups through the process of applying the practice of lectio divina to the passage.

4. Spend a few minutes in silence to allow time for prayer and reflection.

5. Open the business portion of the meeting with prayer.

6. Use a consent agenda for items that don't need explanation or debate.

7. Spend as much time highlighting mission and outreach efforts as on program and administration issues.

8. Invite questions and discussion on issues before the session.

9. Wrap it all up in 45 minutes with the reminder of how blessed the church is despite the challenges the economy is presenting and the struggle to continue the church's "dollar for dollar" policy that requires the budget to provide the same amount of money for mission and outreach as for administration and internal programming.

10. Conclude with a prayer ring.

The result? I left feeling spritually renewed and energized rather than frustrated and anxious as I have in the past at other churches. What a blessing!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Beatrice Blogs: Escape Haikus

Neither gate nor door
Neither invisible fence
Keeps me from escape.

Squeezing through the bars
Keeps me thin and beautiful
Running free all day.

Call me Houdini
Magician-like dachshund
Famed for trickiness.

QG is worried
How to keep me safe from cars?
I scoff at danger.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sister Blogging Act

Babs is now writing a weekly food feature on Portia's blog (Odi et Amo). "Cibus Corner"* appears on Fridays. Today's post features a couple of favorite desserts, complete with one of my favorite toddler pictures of Babs, family stories and recipes. If you're looking for some baking inspiration, check it out here.

*"Cibus" is the Latin word for food, following Portia's Latin theme for her blog. She was a Classical Civilization major in college, and both the girls took Latin in college.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Best in Mindless TV

Lately with all the doom and gloom news everywhere, although I have always been a political and news junkie, I find myself avoiding my usual TV fare and looking for some good old mindless TV.

I find that I can forget my worries watching cable shows like House Hunters, Project Runway, What Not To Wear, Top Chef, Designed To Sell or Chopped. Now El Jefe doesn't understand the appeal of these shows at all, so I tell him that they are similar to sports for the non-sports fan.

When he watches Rockets basketball or Longhorn football he loves to anticipate the next move the player makes and then second-guess and criticize : "NOOOOO, what was he thinking when he passed to the guard?" "That was NOT an interception, his knee was down", etc. etc.

That's what I do with these shows: "I'd pick THAT house", That dress is truly HEINOUS", "He should have put a cream sauce on that instead of balsamic" etc. etc.

The difference is the volume and the number of the comments.

What show do you watch when you want a bit of mindless TV? I need to find some new ones until Project Runway and Top Chef come back.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fixing To Sell

Since El Jefe and I committed to build a new home last fall --just before the great economic crash-- I've been watching a lot of HGTV to get tips about readying the house for sale.

I'd never seen HGTV before, but Portia, my SIL and nieces introduced me to it. It's a FantasyLand where there is always a happy ending after the homeowner heeds the advice of the "stager".

The last month or so, we have stepped up our efforts to spruce up the place by--
  • repairing and painting "dings" in sheetrock and trim
  • getting the roof repaired from IKE damage (just replacing a couple of tiles)
  • setting up portable gates to keep Beatrice and Olivia out of the formal dining and living rooms where they like to go and leave little surprises
  • removing clutter, one room at a time (with many thanks to Portia who spent one weekend cleaning out her sister's bedroom and the guest room)
  • making weekly trips to drop off donations at the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry
  • weeding the flower beds
  • donating the piano to a Galveston church that lost theirs in IKE
Yesterday our realtor called saying she would be coming over with a photographer next week and wanted us to have a heads up. So now we need to finish up by--
  • Taking the old stationary bike out of the bedroom and donating it
  • moving my desk
  • Donating El Jefe's easy chair in our bedroom because it takes up a lot of space and Beatrice chewed it up
  • Taking the leaf out of the kitchen table so it doesn't take up too much space
  • Replacing the tired potted plants on the patio with perky ones
Here's what I'm not doing, despite the advice of HGTV--
  • replacing all the '80's bright brass sink fixtures and cabinet hardware
  • refinishing the wood floors (which would be the entire downstairs)
  • replacing kitchen appliances with stainless steel ones
  • removing wallpaper in dining room and Portia's bedroom
My theory, supported by our realtor, is that if we price the house appropriately, the buyer will be able to do those things according to their taste.

The process of showing the house begins around March 1. The house next door to us have been for sale for the last 18 months, but is quite overpriced. There was a foreclosure down the street that just sold this month. There's another house that is comparable to ours a couple of blocks away that has been for sale for more than a year--also overpriced, IMHO. We're hoping we'll be very competitive. But in this market, who knows?

My SIL offered her home as a refuge when I have to leave and take Beatrice with me for a showing. El Jefe is pretty calm about the process, despite our atrocious market timing. I'm trying to take my cue from him and "be anxious for nothing."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Amish to the Rescue

This photo from the Houston Chronicle shows a young Amish volunteer from Indiana helping rebuild fences in southeast Texas destroyed by Hurricane IKE.

Recruited by the Fellowship of Christian Farmers, these folks have traveled a long way to help their Texas neighbors, in spite of dealing with their own economic troubles at home. Here's the full story.

The motto for the effort is : "Building fences in Texas until the cows come home." Don't you love it?

And it's not just a clever motto--apparently there are thousands of cattle in several counties that can't be returned to their pastures until the fences are restored. Another facet of the mess left behind by Ike.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Where Was God in Buffalo?

A few weeks ago my brother, who is a World-Class Forwarder, sent me an editorial cartoon drawn by Rex Babin that depicted the plane that safely landed in the Hudson River being held in the hands of God. I posted it here because I thought it was a striking and timely image, but made no comment about it.

Several weeks later, comments to that post continued in. Now, in the right-this-minute blogosphere, it is most unusual to get comments on month-old posts. Wondering where these comments were coming from, I checked the sitemeter and found that QG was getting linked in Google searches for this graphic. Not only that, but the hits on the blog were dramatically up. Clearly this picture touched the hearts of many people.

Eventually an anonymous commenter questioned the theology behind the cartoon: "The problem with declaring this a miracle and thanking God is that there is also the temptation to blame God the next time something goes terribly wrong and ask why God did not intervene."

After the tragic plane crash in Buffalo, NY, last Thursday night, another comment was posted: "Carm from Buffalo would like to know where GOD's hands were Thursday night at 10:20 PM when Continental Flight 3407 smashed into a residential home killing 50 people.

The anonymous poster's prescient remarks came before the plane crash in Buffalo. "Carm" no doubt speaks for many who wonder where God was when that plane crashed Thursday night. This is one of the great questions of faith. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why doesn't God prevent tragedy to innocent people?

I don't believe that we will ever know the complete answer to that question in this life. Maybe the the survivors of the Hudson River accident were saved because the pilot was more skilled, experienced and calm in the face of danger. But I don't know that is the case. Maybe no human skill could have saved those who perished in the Buffalo tragedy. Maybe the "Miracle on the Hudson" is just that. A miracle.

My response to these comments is that I do not believe that God abandons us in the midst of tragedy nor that because I do not understand why God permits suffering to continue, God does not exist. That is not to say that I don't get mad at God for permitting suffering and injustice--especially when it involves those I love. I do try to trust that God's ways are not my ways and that God knows the plans he has for us--to prosper us and not to do us harm, to give us hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11).

I liked the Babin drawing because it reminded me of the spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands". Since the Buffalo plane crash, though, I think it would have been better if the drawing had the title: "In Life and In Death We Belong To God." (A quote from the The Brief Statement of Faith, PCUSA Book of Confessions.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Volunteers Needed for

Our presbytery has put out a call for volunteers to help complete the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance village in Port Neches, Texas. Thunderstorms came through the area this week, causing significant damage and there is concern the village won't be ready for the first scheduled work group. Sometimes you just can't win for losin', as we say.

You'd think there would be some provision in the Stimulus Package that would help fund the rebuilding of the Texas and Louisiana areas devastated by Hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Rita. That would certainly put people to work! I can't find any reference to that--but then, no one seems to know what is in this bill, do they?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Better Living Through Government Blues

~harmonica riff~

We-e-ll, I went down to the Home Depot
But no good floodlights could I find.
You know I went down to the Home Depot
And no good floodlights could I find.
The fluorescent ones I bought are way too dim
And El Jefe thinks he's loosing his mind.

I've got to tell you all, I've got to spread the news!
We're stuck with the bad ones and are singing
the Better Living Through Government Blues.
Oh, yes we are.

The good old floodlights worked just great,
The new ones not at all.
The den is dimly lit
You know we can't see in the hall.
The clerk said the g'vment makes them sell the worthless ones to us
So don't bother Home Depot by tryin' to make a fuss.

I've got to tell you all, I've got to spread the news!
We're stuck with the bad ones and are singing
the Better Living Through Government Blues.
Oh, yes we are.

~harmonica riff~

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Turnabout Is Fair Play Department

The influx of Muslim immigrants from around the world has resulted in the building of many mosques in the United States--including in my corner of Texas. So it is heartening to read that a Muslim country is permitting the building of a church to serve its Christian immigrant population.

Hat Tip to my PresbyFriend Kim Shrull, who is currently an expat in Doha, and is blogging about that experience here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

Fantastic PW Table Scapes

This morning I attended the General Meeting of the Presbyterian Women's organization at Grace Presbyterian Church, Houston, along with a few friends from MDPC. I felt as though I had been transported back in time to the sixties and the PW luncheons at the church where I grew up.

I've never been active in PW. In fact, in the church we used to attend, PW was dissolved for lack of interest. Many churches find that the traditional format of this group just doesn't appeal to most younger women and doesn't suit their schedules.

But PW is clearly alive and well at Grace! More than 200 women were there, enjoying the singing of the Harbor Light Choir from the Salvation Army and an inspiring address from my good friend Mary Marcotte, associate general presbyter of our presbytery with a very long title that I won't try to repeat here.

But the point of this post is to share the amazing table decorations, or "Table Scapes" as the lifestyle mavens now term them. Each table was decorated--lavishly--with the theme of the hostess' choice. And there were 31 tables!

In case you need inspiration for your own Table Scapes, here are some examples: Planning a Safari Party?

Never too early to plan for New Year's...

Here's a Fourth of July Table Scape complete with placemats!

Don't you love the theme on this one: A Prissy Luncheon?

This one is for the fans of the local NBA team, the Rockets.

There's clearly lots of artistic talent and imagination in this group at Grace. The group also made a generous donation to the presbytery's Hurricane Ike Recovery Fund. Thanks, ladies!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Vote on Amendment 8-B

This post is for my PresbyPolity readers:

Presbytery of New Covenant voted on the proposed amendment to the Book of Order at yesterday's meeting. The vote on the one controversial amendment which would delete the ordination standards in 6.0106b was 119 in favor and 171 opposed. Historically, that is similar to this presbytery's vote in the past on the same issue.

Several months of careful thought and prayer by the Ecclesiastical Affairs Committee were spent in developing the format for the debate and vote on the issue. The meeting opened with worship and communion. When we got to the vote on the amendments, the less controversial amendments were presented and voted on first and then Amendment 8-B was presented separately.

Discussion of the issue began with brief presentations by an advocate and an opponent of the amendment. Then the floor was open 40 minutes for debate, each speaker being given 2 minutes. At the end of that time, a motion to extend debate to hear everyone lined up at the microphone at the time of the motion was made and passed by a close vote. At the close of discussion there was a time for silent prayer and then two pastors who hold opposite views on the issue offered a prayer that they had prepared collaboratively.

I believe this format has been used by a few other presbyteries. It seemed to work very well for us and I would recommend it to other presbyteries that may be looking for a good framework for the presentation of this vote and the debate. I heard a lot of positive comments from people on both sides about the way in which the issue was presented and the discussion. Kudos to everyone involved, especially our new Moderator, Rev. Wayne Eberly.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Catherine Update--She's coming to Houston

My sister, Music Mary, just called to let us know Catherine received an offer to join the HGO Opera Studio for the coming year. She's accepted, and we are thrilled she will be in Houston for the next stage of her training.

I told El Jefe to get ready for a Whole Lotta Opera over the next couple of years!

God is so good.

Catherine Takes Second Prize in HGO Young Artists Competition

What a fabulous evening for the whole QG family! Above you see me, El Jefe, my sister Music Mary and our Catherine, who took the second prize in the Houston Grand Opera Young Artists Competition. Portia, Babs and Paul were also in the audience cheering her on.

It was such a thrill to be in the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Center to see the Concert of Arias which concludes the competition! Ten finalists each sang two arias and then the judges announced the winners. Catherine not only sang wonderfully but was the most beautiful, elegant young woman on the stage. If I say so myself. And I do!

Afterwards there was an elegant dinner and we got a chance to see Catherine and also watch lots of people congratulate her and make a big well-deserved fuss. I'm sure my Dad was beside himself somewhere in heaven, too. Really, our cup runneth over!

We're very hopeful she will be offered a contract in the HGO studio, which is her first choice to continue her training. What a privilege it would be to have her in Houston for a while --and what fun the girls will have with her if she gets to come here.

Catherine Martin. Write it down. You'll be hearing more from her. And you read it here first!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Book Review: A Thread of Grace

Mary Doria Russell's A Thread of Grace is a well-researched and compelling historical novel set in northern Italy during WWII. The story begins as the Italian government collapses and the area becomes controlled by German forces. Members of the Italian resistance and ordinary peasant folks hid their Jewish neighbors as well as Jews fleeing the Nazis from other countries. And many paid the price for their defiance.

The meaning of the title of the book is revealed at the end when Rabbi Iacopo Soncini visits one of the Catholic nuns who hid Jewish children in an orphanage after the war is over.

" There's a saying in Hebrew," he tells her, " 'No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there's always a thread of grace.' After the Yom Kippur roundup in '43, people all over Italy helped us. Almost fifty thousand Jews were hidden. Italians, foreigners. And so many of them survived the occupation. I keep asking myself, Why was it so different here? Why did Italians help when so many others turned away?"

Russell offers some answers to the rabbi's question in the book, but ultimately, they are not fully satisfactory. The "thread of grace" seems to be the only answer to me.

Readers who are familiar with Russell's books The Sparrow and The Children of God, will see a similarity between the Emilio Sanchez, the conflicted priest in those books and the protagonist of this book, Renzo Leoni, the leader of the resistance who sometimes poses as a priest.

The novel is complex, compelling, disturbing and challenging on many levels. There are a few scenes of brutality that made me wish I hadn't read them so close to bedtime. I saw an article that said the author tossed a coin to determine the fate of several of the characters, which does reflect the random tragedy of war that afflicts "the just and the unjust."

I appreciated the "Coda" at the end of the novel that followed the life of one of the major characters after the war, revealing how it affected her and the family she had later.

It is important to remember not only what happened during the Holocaust, but that there were some "righteous Gentiles" who risked everything to protect the Jews and others targeted for extermination by Hitler and his henchmen. I'd like to think I would be as heroic as those in the book who sheltered their Jewish neighbors at the risk of life and limb, putting their own families at risk as well. But the truth is...I doubt it.

The Holocaust deniers cannot be allowed to rewrite history. We must Never. Ever. Forget.

Thread of Grace
would be a good choice for a small group study and discussion or a church book club. It's a great read and poses some deep theological and ethical questions. Here's a link to some suggested questions for discussion to get you started.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Mom Of Congress: Field Trip to IRS Today!

Memo to: Congress Boys and Girls
From: CongressMom
Re: Today's Field Trip to the IRS

Boys and Girls, CongressMom is very sad and disappointed. President Obama sent a note home telling me that some of you are not conscientiously doing your chores. The President says you seem to think that you don't have to follow the rules that you write for everyone else and are setting a very bad example for the rest of the class--er, country.

So CongressMom has decided to take all of you on a field trip. To the Internal Revenue Service. A fleet of my mini-vans (energy efficient hybrids!) will pick you up at your offices at 11 am this morning.

Our program will begin with a presentation by the Commissioner on your responsibility for paying taxes. It will be followed with a presentation by El Jefe who will demonstrate the mountains of tax schedules he fills out each year as a self-employed individual and show why it is that he, a trained attorney, is unable to complete these forms without paying a CPA to help him.

Afterwards you will be assigned to a small groups by state where discussion will be led by a taxpayer from your state. The topic for discussion is: Those Who Write The Tax Laws Must Abide By Them. Actually, YOU won't get to discuss. Just listen and take notes.

We'll break for lunch which you will have in the IRS Time Out Room. No talking during lunch, Boys and Girls! The IRS will serve you Hard Crusts of Regret that you can soften in their famous Gruel of Repentence.

Then each of you will have your own personal interview with an IRS Agent, so be sure to bring your tax records and receipts for the past 10 years. Oh, and don't forget your checkbooks!

CongressMom hopes that everyone will be paid in full by the end of the day because anyone who is still delinquent in their tax obligations will not be coming back to Congress with us. The IRS has special plans for those Boys and Girls. Trust me, you don't want to find out what they are. And don't think that whining to the President will save you. He's really disgusted.

CongressMom's vans will be at the foot of the Congressional Office Buildings at 11 am sharp. Be there on time, Boys and Girls! Or else the Commissioner will send his special agents to find you.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

It's That Time Again!

Four years ago fellow RevGal blogger Mindy had the inspiration to start the Pantipalooza in celebration of Valentine's Day. Originally her idea was to urge other bloggers to buy new underwear and donate it to their local women's shelter. Thanks to Mindy for the permission to use this photo from her blog.

Now Mindy is calling it "Palooza" and it is becoming an annual event: find a women's group or organization that could benefit from something you can make or do...and then DO IT on Valentine's Day.

Read all about it here and then go over to Mindy's place and let her know what you're going to do for Pantipalooza 2009. It will make a difference to someone, especially in this difficult economic time.

Mindy, I'm sticking to the original idea and dropping off new undies to the local clothing ministry.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Fat Lady Hasn't Sung Yet!

My niece Catherine was named a finalist in the Houston Grand Opera's Young Singer's Competition this evening. We are all very excited and plan to be front and center on Thursday evening when she performs for the judges in the last phase of the contest.