Sunday, July 28, 2013

One Degree of Separation

Hi friends, I know it's been awhile since I posted but hopefully this will help make up for the infrequency. I was invited to speak for our summer sermon series at Fountain Street Church, which is my spiritual home. So I was pretty nervous about this, I wanted to give my spiritual family a gift and I've given this one quite a big of thought. Turns out, ripping a sermon directly out of your heart is a good plan, people actually liked it! Some of them even asked me to post it on Facebook, but it seems a little lengthy for that format so I decided to share it here. It will also be on You Tube so when I have a link to that I will post that here and also on Facebook. Thanks for stopping by, blessings be upon you and your household!

Here's a quote I chose for the top of the Order of Service to help get you in the mood: "When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That's the message he is sending.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

The title of my sermon today started out as a joke based on the theory of 6 degrees of separation, which basically states that that everyone is six or less degrees, (or steps or introductions) away from any other person in the world. This theory was originally proposed by a Hungarian author, Karinthy Frigyes and it was popularized by John Guare’s play titled 6 Degrees of Separation, which was then adapted to the screen, and which many of you have no doubt seen. In the story, the actors make a game of trying to figure out how far any given celebrity is from the actor, Kevin Bacon. Now, when I play that game in my head and look at the people I’ve known over the course of my life, I realize that this could easily be true for myself, I might actually be 6 degrees away from everyone else on the planet.

For one, I have an extended family member who works for the United Nations, prior to that he worked for Oxfam, I don’t even know where he is now, Mauritius? But I’m connected to thousands of people all over the world through him. Another friend appeared in an independent film recently, “The Kings of Summer” with Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman. So now I’m only two introductions away from them and only 3 degrees of separation away from Amy Pohler and Tina Fey! That’s pretty impressive so just for fun I checked out Kevin Bacon’s page on IMDB, the Internet Movie Database, and sure enough, back in 2002, Kevin Bacon guest starred as himself on an episode of Will & Grace with Megan Mullally. So… there you have it! If I’m only three degrees of separation away from Kevin Bacon, how far am I from the rest of the world?

So for the past several years I’ve been telling anyone who will listen about the 6 degrees of separation, and then I tell them that in Grand Rapids, there’s only one. In Grand Rapids, everybody is no more then one degree of separation away from everyone else. It’s true, isn’t it? Every time you meet someone new, you have mutual friends and you can’t go anywhere in this town without running into someone you know! Am I right?

Here are a couple of personal examples. It’s about a 20 mile round trip from our house to downtown so Eli rides the bus most days and I give him a ride up to the bus stop. Last winter we were talking about the One Degree of Separation theory a lot and one morning this red car pulled up, maybe 50 feet away from us. The driver, another Mom, was dropping her son off at the bus stop at the same time I was dropping off Eli. I pointed them out to him and said: you know, we’re probably connected to them in some way too! He agreed that was likely and came back to me later on to report that indeed, he had spoken to the young man on the bus and what do you know, he turned out to be the nephew of Eli’s former drum teacher, my friend, Randy Marsh, so that’s how we met Randy’s sister Sandy and his nephew, Jake.

Another example happened right here at Fountain Street Church just this past spring. I was just walking through the social hall when I made eye contact with a stranger and we smiled at each other in that way that you do, friendly but not too forward, you don’t want them to think you’re flirting! Then my inner choir recruiter woke up and said, you should introduce yourself to this gentleman because you never know, he might be a tenor! I let my gaze drop to his name tag and wouldn’t you know, it was a name I hadn’t seen since High School, someone I considered to be one of my best friends but had lost track of! The person I used to get dressed up with and go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show with weekend after countless weekend! I rummaged through my purse to produce my own name tag and showed it to my friend. His eyes popped open a little, “NO WAY!” my friend said. “Way.” I said. We hugged and the reunion began.

It’s important to stay open to these possible connections, to see each other anew and avoid our usual ruts. You never know who you’re going to run into. I’ve found this to be especially true in social hubs like Facebook where I regularly find old friends and new kindred spirits through our mutual friends. It’s hard to stay open to all these connections sometimes. It’s too easy to allow fear to dictate our actions instead of love. As children we are carefully taught to fear the dark and the unknown and to stay away from strangers. Stranger danger! That same conditioning meant to keep us safe as children, makes it’s difficult for us, as adults, to assess that danger rationally and move beyond that conditioned response, to open our hearts and act with love.

Another example happened last fall, when, in spite of our fears and better judgment we took in a couple of young men who were homeless. They had been hanging around at church on Sundays and during choir rehearsals and I was kind of surprised when I found out they were homeless. That really bothered me because both of them were younger then my son Eli, who is 21 and although he’s working and going to school, he’s still living at home and I can’t imagine what his life would be like without parental support. So one Sunday in October I invited them home for dinner. Within minutes of arriving at our house, an epic nerf battle erupted in the backyard. I watched them play fighting with my two boys for awhile and shook my head as I looked at my husband, “They’re just kids!” I said, “There must be something we can do for them.” After dinner we listened to their stories… and then we had a family discussion… and we decided to let them stay for awhile. One of them stayed for a month and the other one is still with us.

In the process of getting to know these two young men I sent them friend requests on Facebook, and I wasn’t at all surprised to see that we had mutual friends. They had been hanging around church for about a month so I just assumed that Dr. Barton or some member of the choir had befriended them. That turned out to be true for one of them, the older of the two gentlemen who was with us for a month. But when I clicked on the mutual friends’ link for the younger gentleman, the two people I saw there were John and Lisa, an old college buddy of my husband and his lovely wife. My brain briefly exploded while I processed this new information and I quickly gave up on calculating the odds of such an occurrence. It just seemed too coincidental. Yet there it was; they were connected through a church in Cadillac, where our young man had lived with his adoptive parents. Do you ever have one of those moments where you feel like the universe might be trying to tell you something? This was one of those moments and a voice in my head whispered, “yes.”

Later on when I had time to think about it I remembered a conversation that I had with John and Lisa at one of our parties about 4 years ago. They were telling me about this young man they knew from their youth group who had been kicked out of his house by his adoptive parents, not entirely because of the trouble he’d been in, and there had been some trouble, but for declaring himself a Pagan and a practicing Wiccan. He was 15 at the time and he’d been with them for 6 years, but that was the final straw for the adoptive parents and they were done. He was living in a group home and they had no plans to let him come back. I remembered this conversation and how concerned I felt for this young man with no family and I wondered what would happen to him when he aged out of the foster care and group home system. It’s not like you just stop needing parents when you turn 18.

Four years later I met this handsome, articulate, 19 year old and I had no idea he was the same child. But when I figured that out, I have to admit, it really did feel like a vote of confidence from the universe. And after 9 months of working with him on getting his life back together, I can tell you that I am now intimately acquainted with what happens to young people who age out of the system and it is not pretty. It’s estimated that we have around six-thousand, two hundred homeless youth right here in Kent County and each year, over 1000 children are reported as runaways. Community resources for these young people are slim, jobs are scarce and the competition for them is fierce.

Being a card carrying bleeding heart liberal, homelessness has always bothered me and now it bothers me even more. I hear people complaining all the time about these lazy homeless people demanding to know why they don’t just get a job. I’m sorry but how do you get a job when your wallet’s been stolen, your birth certificate is lost and you have no identification? How do you even prove who you are? How do you get a job when you have no address to put down on an application, no clean clothes to wear to the interview, no place to take a shower and no money for a haircut?

So this journey is challenging at times and fraught with peril. But it also serves as a serendipitous and poignant reminder of how close we all are, not just to the Kevin Bacons and Amy Pohlers of the world, but to the homeless youth in our own community, to our neighbors and the check out clerk at Meijer, to the Amanda Berrys and Charles Ramseys, of the world and to each other. Now I’m not suggesting you all run out and adopt a homeless person like I did, but I often think of that quote from Hebrews, chapter 13 verse 2, be not forgetful to entertain strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.

99.9% of all human DNA is identical. All of our apparent differences in height, skin, hair and eyes and gender are all contained in one tenth of one percent of our DNA. That’s 0.1%. Renowned astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, reminds us that “We are all connected, to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically.” So I’m not just making this theory up, we really are all connected whether we like it or not! But maybe it was Dustin Hoffman’s character, Bernard, who states my case most succinctly in the movie, I Heart Huckabees, when he says: “Everything is connected and everything matters. There is not an atom in our bodies that has not been forged in the furnace of the sun.” It’s a continual challenge to honor those connections, to drop our guard and let each other in, to not let our lives be lead by fear. Listen to that little voice that says “yes” and keep an open heart, my friends. Miracles happen every day! Thank you!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mic check...

Today I am reminded that language is fluid, like a river. The older it gets the more it meanders where it wishes. Attempts to restrain or redirect this natural tendency are usually perceived by the river as hubris sprinkled with irony and therefore ripe for a comeuppance.

In other news, I'm glad to report that I live in one of the higher elevations of my very damp community but some of my friends aren't so lucky. For them I offer a little bit of Johnny, with sympathy.

How high's the water, Mama?

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Monday, April 23, 2012


Last night I started to get this involuntary twitching sensation on my right upper lip and all I could think was, I wonder if this will go away when the move is done? This morning I noticed that when the twitching is really bad, I can make it go away by smiling. This confirms my diagnosis of "nervous tic." So if you see me with a fake looking smile, you will know why. ;^]

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Conversational Snippet

Adult Son: So, what are you guys doing tonight?

Sarcastic Parent: Well, Dad's going to do a magic trick and then Mom's going to sing!

Adult Son: Bites lip, blushes and pretends to return to reading while suppressing laughter.

Sarcastic Parents: fistbump

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Almost August Already!

Where did the summer go? I can tell you, I have 4 cases of it put up so far, two strawberry, two raspberry and were picking blueberries next week to jam as soon as I get another case of jars. I used to think that October was my favorite month, but now I think it might be July.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Roast Beast Recipe

Today is my husband’s 49th birthday, he is getting older although it would strain credulity to call him a grown up. (Hat tip: Captain Barbossa)

Last night I made one of his favorite dinners, Roast Beast (Hat tip: Dr. Suess) One really nice thing about this dinner is that it’s easy to dress up by making gravy and adding special side dishes. Another awesome thing is that once you get it in the oven you can leave it alone for an hour or two depending on whether you are adding veggies during the cooking process.

Before I get into the ingredient list, I have to say something about the meat. You can do amazing things with a cheap cut of meat. I usually select one that is good sized, 3-4 pounds, and well marbled for juicy goodness. Depending on the size of your family, you might have enough leftovers to make soup!* The chuck roast I used last night was about 4 pounds and it was Angus so you know I got it on sale. Because I’m  cheap a smart shopper, whenever I’m at Meijer I meander past the meat counter in search of two things, catfish nuggets** and Angus roast beast that has been marked down. For the roasts, it’s an inexpensive way to get really good beef. Make sure they are still fresh; don’t buy them if they aren’t pink anymore! Once you get them home you either have to cook them that day so throw them straight into the freezer.

This is where I usually insert a disclaimer about how I don’t actually measure anything (really!) and all amounts listed are approximations. If anything ever needs to be measured exactly, rest assured, I will say so.

Roast Beast a la Miller Ruskowski

3-4 lb chuck roast
2-3 T cooking oil
½ t fresh ground pepper.
1 t garlic (At least 1 teaspoon, I use granulated garlic and sprinkle it all over the roast.)
¾ t Marjoram
½ t Thyme
1 Bay leaf
One bottle of beer, John likes micro-brews, but really anything will do, even canned.

Optional Ingredients:
4 small Onions, halved
Brussels sprouts
Carrot chunks

Preheat oven to 325°

Slowly brown the roast on all sides in the cooking oil in a heavy pot. (The pot should be uncovered for the browning process but should have a good fitting lid for the roasting process.)

After the roast is mostly browned use a pepper mill to grind fresh pepper all over the top of it. You want a heavy sprinkling rather then a dense coating. Apply as much garlic as you like, most of it will cook off in the process but it will still have a mild undertone.***

While still browning, Sprinkle on the Marjoram and the Thyme. Turn the roast over a couple of times to spread the herbs around.

Remove from heat, pour the beer around the roast, not necessarily on it because it will pour off the herbs, add the bay leaf to the liquid. Add the Onion halves if desired. Cover tightly and place in heated oven. Cook the roast for about two hours or less if you prefer it a little rare.

If you wish to add the optional veggies to the roast, the carrots and Brussels can be added during the last half hour to 45 minutes of roasting. Just throw them on top and cover tightly again.

For gravy, when the roast and veggies are done scoop the veggies into a covered baking dish to keep them warm. Put the roast on a plate and cover it with foil and a dish towel or oven mitt to keep the heat in. Bring the remaining cooking liquid to a boil while stirring frequently at med-high heat.

Meanwhile, put some flour or corn starch (1/4-1/3 C) in a container with a tight fitting lid. Add at least a cup of very COLD water, salt & pepper as desired. Cover tightly and shake briskly until you can see that it is thoroughly mixed and there are no chunks of flour or corn starch.

Once the cooking liquid is boiling you can add the flour/water mixture. Bring this back to a boil while stirring (almost) constantly with a whisk or slotted spoon. Just keep stirring and boiling until it looks like gravy. Serve immediately.

Cooking the roast and veggies together is a favorite trick of many cooks so you’ll have fewer pots to stir on the stove. It’s also a great way to conserve energy by cooking almost a whole meal in one pot rather then three or four.

I always cook my potatoes separately but they could certainly be included, you will want to give them at least 45 minutes with the roast. Just make sure you have enough room for everything, you don’t want to pack things in to tight and you still need your lid to fit.

This is a favorite for Sunday when I have a little more time to devote to a family dinner and they always love it. It would probably translate well to the crock pot but I haven’t tried that yet. We have made this while camping but your results may vary, mine certainly did! The first time it was excellent, the second time, I over cooked it and by over cooked I mean cremated. Yup, nothing left but ashes.

*That recipe will be a tough one to conjure, it really is different every time depending on what I have in the fridge.

**Unbreaded; these are essentially catfish bits that were not big enough to be called a filet. They don’t always have them but when they do they’re about half the price of the filets or less.

***In general, this is the garlic rule: For heavy garlic flavor, add it at the end of cooking, for a lighter garlic flavor, add it at the beginning.

That's all for now, only 13 days till spring!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reasons to Give

Support Wikipedia

Remember when your Mom or Dad's answer to every question was "look it up in the dictionary" or "go to the library?" I always hated that answer. These days, I love it when my kids ask me something that I don't know and instead of giving them the brush off, I can grab that learning opportunity with the click of a mouse and say "let's look it up together on Wikipedia!"

If you have an extra fiver lying around, please donate to keep this incredible internet resource free for all.

Thank you.

* Donate:
* Visit the Blog:
* Follow them on Twitter:
* Follow them on Facebook:
p.s. Did I mention that your donation is tax deductible in the USA? No? My pledge drive chops must be getting a little rusty.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Happy 2010!

I was watching a special on the history channel the other night regarding 2012 and the end of the 13th b'ak'tun in the Mayan calendar when it occured to me that the most logical life philosophy one could adopt right now is that if you aren't having fun, (or at least trying) you just don't understand the seriousness of the situation. I used to be troubled by people who take themselves or their life too seriously, now I mostly just pity them. To my way of thinking, if the world is coming to an end, it's highly illogical to sit around and fret about it. Although I'm not opposed to a little stockpiling of food and medical supplies, I'm a firm beliver that life was meant to be enjoyed, savored and fully embraced. It may be the end of the world as we know it, (and I feel fine!) but who's to say the next "world" won't be even better?

Don't get me wrong. I have made some serious resolutions in the past that I continue to try and incorporate in my life, such as exercising more. I don't make a list or anything, I just make a conscious effort to change something I see as negative about myself or my behaviour.

For instance, my husband really drives me crazy sometimes with his non-linear approach to life and it can be terribly frustrating to live with an abstract thinker. But sometimes, in my frustration I say things like, "how could you be so stupid!?!" (it should be noted, that this is not usually delivered in the most loving tone possible!) So I made a resolution to be kinder to my husband and not call him stupid, but to try and express my appreciation to him more often. After all, he is a wonderful father and a loving husband who goes to work every day and even makes dinner sometimes, so he deserves some positive reinforcement, right? I don't know that he has noticed, but I feel better about our relationship and I think that's what this whole resolution business is all about anyway, trying to become the best you that you can possibly be.

Sometimes I feel like I've spent the majority of my life trying to make other people happy, even though, on an intellectual level, I understand that we must each take responsibility for our own happiness. Thus, my resolution for this decade is to have more fun, take more risks, follow more dreams, trust my intuition more often, speak my mind even if my voice shakes and ignore more adversity. Do you have a resolution? If so, do you make resolutions for a year or for life? I'm especially interested to hear if you have you ever made a resolution that really changed your life. Please share!

Be blessed and have a Merry New Decade!

Monday, April 27, 2009


Wow, we had a glorious morning today! Walked out of the house to take Peter to the bus stop and it must have been 60 already. Went for my walk around the park with my walking partner. We only went around twice today but we stopped lots of times to pull garlic mustard so I figure that counts as sit ups. My walking partner knows all kinds of plants and wild life so it's always an adventure to go walking with her. Today I saw trout lily for the first time! Now it's raining again, I actually think I can hear the grass growing! Still warm and springy though with the windows open so, I don't mind the rain.

Heard the peepers last night for the first time this year! I love that sound so much. Some nights I just want to drive around with the windows open listening for the loud spots.

So the Facebook experiment has been interesting, I've been able to reconnect with people from my past as far back as 1st grade! But it certainly has it's limitations. For one thing, it lacks depth, it's like trying to satisfy your NPR jones with USA Today. Also, I've noticed that people will say things to you on FB that they would never say to you in person. Of course that's true with blog comments too. (Not mine of course, all my (two) commenters are very polite!) Surprisingly, Eli was the person in this family who I most expected to jump in with both feet, but he actually kind of shuns it. Not sure I get that, but I guess that's his job, to confound and confuse me! ;-)

Recently I had an exchange with an individual whom I considered a kindred spirit since we share certain interests. Turns out he's an asshole! Surprise! Today I got tired of him trying to pick fights with me about religion and politics (seriously, what the hell is he thinking?) and let him have it, but that type never learns anything, they are already convinced that they know everthing, what can you possibly teach them? I would go ahead and defriend him already, but I used to babysit for this kid and of course I always want to give people more chances. So we'll see, if he knocks it off like I asked him too, that will be good, if he flames me, I'm done. Either way, I'll get some closure. As I told him, I don't have the time or the inclination to argue with people who think their shit doesn't stink. Seriously.

I'm kind of hoping to start writing more, I don't know, it's hard when my Mom is here because I have no privacy. She's constantly hovering over me asking what I'm doing and whether I'm working or playing and can I look this up for her and what's for dinner and the bathroom really needs to be cleaned! I'm sugar coating that last one, she's using much stronger language there. Then there's the perennial favorite "how can you stand living with these people, they leave their crap all over the house!" I especially love that one since she is actually the worst culprit! She left on Saturday morning but I was busy most of the weekend so I've barely scratched the surface on the crap SHE left all over the house. Lol! Apparently she thinks I'm her mother, but honestly? My kids are much better behaved; she's kind of a spoiled brat. Sigh.

It always takes awhile for us to readjust to having our house back and not being micromanaged at all times. I'm sure this is just part of the readustment. It's been so long since I was able to follow my own stream of thought without being interrupted, I sometimes think I've forgotten how. Turns out it's just like riding a bicycle, it all comes back to you!

Our choir had a lovely concert on Sunday. Simply Schubert was the title, the first half was a collection of Schubert's leder (German sp?), which sounded alot like ballads to me, parlor songs of the era, so I'm told. The second half was the whole choir, the organ and an 8 piece string ensemble performing Schubert's Mass in G. We gave up our Saturday afternoons since February rehearsing for it and it was good to finally perform it. My garden beckons so I'm really looking forward to having my Saturdays back!

Speaking of gardening, I think I finally have my backyard vegan neighbor engaged with the idea of a shared vegetable garden! Yea! I really want to make that happen this year. Were getting a rain barrel and we have all this beautiful Southern exposure, it's a shame not to use it! Hopefully I'll be able to connect with my friend who owns horses for some free manure.

Most of the things we planted last year are greening up. I've learned a few important lessons already, such as the need to trim my perennials at the end of the season. My varigated thyme is coming back, but it's coming back around the edges, the center is all dead looking. My purple echinacea is sending up new greenery already, but the white swan isn't showing any activity yet. I'm most disappointed in my crocuses, their blooms have been dwindling however so I probably just need to reseat them in the fall. I've been really envious of all the bulbs coming up. I had sooo intended to get bulbs in last fall so I'd have flowers in front but, it just didn't work out. Ran out of time and money I guess.

I guess I'm technically out of time right now, my butt is hurting from sitting too long today! My poor body, it tries to send me signals! It really does! If only I'd learn to pay attention to them! Time to get back on the bicycle I guess.

That's all for now, folks, rubber side down!

Monday, February 02, 2009

Happy Ground Hog Day!

I think I've given up blogging for Facebook. So sad. Kind of like exchanging a walk-on part in the war for the lead role in a cage. Cold comfort for change. Wish you were here.
Marriage is love.