December 29, 2009

Review: Avatar


Well, the hype is true. You really should see this movie, and you should see it in 3D as the director intended. It is a visceral, visual feast that should not be missed.

James Cameron has made his reputation on movies that overwhelm visually. He knows how he wants his scenes to look, and if the technology doesn’t exist to give him exactly what he wants, he invents it. He owns patents from technology he created each time in order to make “The Abyss,” “Terminator,” “Titanic,” and now “Avatar.”

The one caveat I have is the same complaint I had for “Titanic:” Cameron really needs to let someone else do the writing. In the disaster flick, I found young Rose an irritating shrew and the romance a side plot to the real story. I can say, though, that I agree with a critic’s assertion that Cameron’s greatest achievement in “Titanic” was making us sorry to see Leo DiCaprio die.

“Terminator” appeared to be his greatest writing achievement until a lawsuit revealed that Cameron borrowed heavily from Harlan Ellison’s writing on episodes of “Outer Limits.” In “Avatar,” my husband said he recognized plot elements from C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. Even though I haven’t read them, the plot remains predictable. There are no surprises in the story line; but like in all the movies mentioned, it’s a forgivable weakness that is compensated by visual splendor. Cameron’s ability to make real the images of his mind’s eye combined with another writer’s fine, complex characterization and plot would make the masterpiece he has yet to create.

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas morning and I'm the only one up. It's a peaceful moment before the bedlam of gifts, food, packing, and travel. (We're headed to my brother's house in St. Louis for a few days.)

I'd like to take this quiet moment to wish everyone here a Merry Christmas. Of the gifts that I will open today, the best ones are the ones I already have: my loved ones and my friends. I count each of you among them. Have a wonderful day, however you choose to spend it. Take care of yourselves and take care of just one more person in some small way this holiday season. Let's show everyone what it really means to have a happy holiday.

Image courtesy of dearbarbz.vox.com.

December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

I’m in my office and the building is quiet, the down time after the children’s service and before the youth candlelight service. With help from volunteers and staff, the costumes have been put away for another year and the detritus of supplies and papers have been sorted and filed.

This year’s attendance by young families was the highest ever: about a thousand filled the sanctuary and choir loft. As usual, behind the scenes was happy chaos as we wrangled a cast of seventy children, most of whom were under the age of six. This event has the highest preparation to presentation ratio of all we do the rest of the year: eight weeks of prep, employing at least thirty adult volunteers, for twenty minutes of worship.

But you should see the faces on the children. The ones in the cast are excited to be a part, whether sheep, shepherd, angel or one of the “big” roles. The children in the pews have interactive baggies stuffed with items to use as instructed through the service, and they are awestruck as other children in fleece, togas, smocks and robes take their places in forming a tableau on the stage. This is the stuff of memories for all the little ones, cast and congregation. And that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

At one point our new pastor had her young son, decked out in fleece and topped with two little white ears, tugging on her sweater as she read scripture. The shepherds and sheep wandered about restlessly as the story unfolded. Anxious parents fruitlessly struggled to herd everyone back to their places. Joseph got tired of standing and decided to kneel for a while. It was glorious childhood in full bloom.


On the eve of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I am renewed in my hope that these children will grow up in this church knowing that God loves them exactly as they are. It is inevitable as the dawn: God’s love will prevail.

December 20, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

Here's this week's batch of random tunes from my iPod:

1. Court Of The Crimson King / King Crimson
2. Barber: Andromache’s Farewell, Op. 39 / Martina Arroyo; Thomas Schippers
3. Brighter Than Sunshine / Aqualung
4. Oh Lamour / Erasure
5. Benoit Dutras / Brian Eno & David Byrne
6. To The Wild Country / John Denver
7. The Name Of The Game / ABBA

December 17, 2009

Quiet Desperation

Yesterday I was having a quiet lunch at a favorite pub amid the constant chaotic activity that December brings. The restaurant was almost empty in the mid-afternoon, and it was lovely. I go there every Wednesday to have respite, and the staff is always welcoming. I ordered “the usual” and sat to read.

A little while into my meal, a middle-aged gay couple entered the dining room. The smaller man moved very slowly, using a cane. The larger man was scolding him at length for applying for a job that might—might—lead to too many hours away from home. The smaller man said nothing, looking down at the floor.

They sat down at the booth in front of me. I tried to continue my reading, but the one-sided conversation was sent my direction in a tone that was difficult to ignore. As my eyes glazed for lack of concentration, I heard Large engage in a nonstop barrage, berating Small for inferred slights, insulting his intelligence and appearance, scolding him for perceived inadequacies, and even criticizing him for acts that Large only anticipated might happen. Small’s responses were brief, timid and only on demand.

Witnessing this emotional cruelty was too much for me. I think Small might want that job to get away from Large. He sat and took it as the abuse rained down on him nonstop. I couldn’t stay. If I did, I’d have given Large an earful and told Small to get out as soon as he could. It took everything I had to keep my mouth shut.

I’ve seen two others in past weeks bearing bruises that were clearly the result of violence. (One had the sense to call the police and have the offender arrested; he told me all about it. The other raised his hand to try to cover his black eye, but there were too many bruises to hide.) I am shocked and outraged whenever I see this, and yet I know the solution lies in getting the victim of abuse to believe it is not acceptable. Abuse is a deal-breaker, whether physical or emotional.

These men are living lives of quiet desperation. Do they have somewhere to turn, as do women? Is there a network of help for male victims of abuse? Is there a heightened sense of shame because of cultural expectations? If there isn’t someone telling them how to escape the cycle of violence, they might never know freedom from fear.

December 16, 2009

Pit Stop

Just checking in briefly, as I have to take the classroom final for scuba diving in 90 minutes. But I wanted to put a plug in to those who actually have time to watch TV this month. Tonight on NBC at 8:00 Eastern, "The Sing Off" will offer an a capella group that has ties to the blogdom. Fellow blogger David's cousin Daniel is the lead singer for the group from southern California, appropriately dubbed The SoCals. If you're home tonight, check it out. And if you think that The SoCals should stick around for the next round of competition, please vote for them. David is so proud of his cousin, and I'd love to see Daniel go to the top.

Verbatim: Travel Advice

Ben is about to join Abe in California for a few days. It's his first flight alone, but he's pretty blasé about the whole thing. Abe has some advice.


Dec. 15, 2009 11:37 PM
Better set two alarms. Need to be at airport at 10:15 to be able to park and get Ben taken care of. Remember to give him cash. Tell him it is for the trip.

Dec. 15, 2009 11:38 PM
Goodnight.
Love, Abe


Dec. 15, 2009 11:41 PM
He wants to be awakened at 7 so he can lie in bed for at least a half hour. Wait 'til you see his suitcase; nothing is folded. :)
Good night. Mwah



Dec. 15, 2009 11:49 PM
No need to leave that early, is there? Better check flight. Maybe it is 11:30 departure. Cannot remember. If so arrive at airport by 10. No later. Leave house by 9. Drop off

Dec. 15, 2009 11:51 PM
Drop off car. Leave auto repair by 9:15. He could be awakened at 8. Set two alarms for you in case.
Thx. Love, Abe


Dec. 15, 2009 11:54 PM
We're fine. Thank you. Go to bed. :)



Dec. 15, 2009 11:55 PM
Fine.

December 13, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

So busy! 'Tis the season. I've hardly had time to think. But I do have time for some random music from my iPod. And none of it is Christmas music.

1. Neon Bible / The Arcade Fire
2. True Colors / Cyndi Lauper
3. You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman / Aretha Franklin
4. Walk Away Renee / The Four Tops
5. A Well Respected Man / The Kinks
6. What You Whispered / David Wilcox
7. The Worst Day Since Yesterday / Flogging Molly

December 8, 2009

Blue Christmas

I had to back up all of my data on my MacBook Pro and reinstall my old operating system, Leopard. Why? Because I broke my own rule against installing any program that ends in .0. I fell under the spell of Snow Leopard.

The result? It refused to recognize my printer driver. The rogue driver I found would only print text and only in color. Not good for someone who relies on graphics in her job. Also, the cursor took on a life of its own, zooming randomly all over the screen. The desktop got poltergeists, which arbitrarily shrank my icons and moved them around to wherever they liked. Commands in Appleworks—a native Apple program!—did not work. Working on my laptop was like dealing with a recalcitrant teenager. Enough.

Okay. I finally found everything I needed to execute the backup (another long story). Done. Reinstall Leopard: done—wait. The "save personal settings" box was ghosted. It wouldn't let me click it. So now I'm spending hours resetting preferences and  reinstalling all of my bookmarks, which I copied and pasted one by one into a Word doc in November. (I'm learning.)

I suggest to Mac owners that you avoid the Snow until spring at least. Let them work the bugs out.

@-}—

On Sunday afternoon, when the work day was over, my colleague Alice and I were winding down and I decided to open up iTunes and play a little music.

"I have a playlist of Christmas music. Let me—OH. MY. GOSH. There are FIVE FILES* in here. WHERE ARE THE OTHER TWO THOUSAND?!"

I turned to see Alice quietly climbing under her desk.

"What are you doing?"

"I want to avoid any flying missiles," she called out from under.

After reassurances from me, she climbed back out. She has been the greatest source of laughter for me, and that is important. If you can't have fun, what's the point? She agrees.

It seems that the joy has gone out of the job for her (coordinator of church school volunteers), and she has turned in her resignation. She will finish out the year on Sunday mornings and then I will be alone in the office until we find a replacement. It is a stressful job, making sure that all volunteer posts are filled each Sunday. We need over 30 people every Sunday on hand for the children.

Alice will still be here, as the workroom assistant. She's good, she's fast, she's smart. But she's going to be sorely missed on Sunday mornings, for her laughter and wit and ability to think on her feet when something goes wrong. (And that happens on more Sunday mornings than not. Nature of the beast.)

I know she'll be happier and less stressed. But I miss her already.

@-}—

Oh yeah. The computer. I have the songs backed up too. It won't accept them from my iPod. I'm hoping I can drag them from the backup hard drive and sneak them in the back door. I will have to steel myself for the job. But the cursor works! I can print graphics! Appleworks is cooperating! My teenage computer is back to happy compliance. For now.

*The five files it saw fit to save? Three Veggietales tunes (for the children) and two sermons, one of which was arbitrarily assigned a genre: "Blues." I sent a screen shot to my pastor.

December 5, 2009

Just Another Day In Alaska


My younger sister lives in Haines, Alaska, at the northern end of the Inside Passage. Cruise ships stop in their harbor during the summer. Everywhere you turn, there are mountains and glaciers. It's the home of whales, moose, ravens, grizzly bears (that are properly called "brown bears" in southern Alaska), and thousands of bald eagles. Oh, and about 2000 people.

She posted these pictures last week.


Haines harbor



Moose calf running after mother

December 1, 2009

Red Ribbon

Today is World AIDS Day. I have been looking for something special to say about this day, but I don’t have the words. Just about every day is AIDS Day for me. I have friends who are living with HIV and I see them almost every Wednesday at the Damien Center. Once in a while they’re too sick to do their volunteer work. But most often they arrive with big grins and tight hugs, chatting about this and that as they zip past my desk.

I take the calls. Most are asking for someone, and usually I can connect them. Some want information and an appointment for a test. I am careful to make it easy to come in, because just picking up that phone to call could have taken them weeks.

Last week, someone called to talk. He sounded anxious and confessed to me that he was “new to all this” and had just “become active” a couple of months ago.

“Sweetheart, do you need to be tested?”

“Are you someone I can talk to?” he asked. He sounded near tears.

Oh God. “Yes, I am, but I’m just the receptionist. Let me find you someone better qualified.”

I turned to a nearby employee quietly to ask where to refer the call, and he took the phone. But the caller had hung up.

The torrent of “what ifs” and “should haves” is beginning to subside. I pray for the man who called, that he found someone to talk to. I am well aware of what this season brings to those vulnerable people who feel they have no one.

“Awareness” calls for so many things. On this day, I would ask you to be aware of those living with HIV. Bring it up in conversation so that our culture is no longer one of shame. I believe awareness can bring about a culture of compassion, so that picking up the phone is not nearly so hard.

November 29, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

Tonight's selection from my iPod.

1. Son Of A Preacher Man / Dusty Springfield
2. The Fisher Who Died In His Bed / Figgy Duff
3. Teach Your Children / Crosby Stills Nash Young
4. Tears In Heaven / Eric Clapton
5. Love’s Great Ocean / k.d. lang
6. Til Kingdom Come / Coldplay
7. Time In A Bottle / Jim Croce

November 28, 2009

Overheard: Invitation

Abe invited Ben to bring his girlfriend to a football game.

Ben: "Dad, she would not want to go."

Abe: "How do you know? Maybe she finds me so awesome she’d want to come."

Ben: "Or awkward."

Abe: "One of those A words."

November 22, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

Tunes from my iPod. This time there's something for everyone.

1. Right Where It Belongs / Nine Inch Nails
2. Conjunction Junction / Grammar Rock
3. Scream And Run Away / The Gothic Archies
4. Sase [Sassy] / George Winston
5. White Room / Cream
6. South’s Gonna Do It Again / Charlie Daniels Band
7. Carmina Burana - O Fortuna / Carl Orff

Overheard: Shopping

I'm at the store, and I decide to do something foolish: buy something for my son when he's not with me. I call him.

Me: "I'm at the store, and I found a winter jacket you might li-"

Ben: "Mom Mom Mom. I have a new jacket."

Me: "It's a sweatshirt."

Ben: "Oh. Yeah."

Me: "Anyway, this one is very dark gray with medium gray accents. Very dreary. It's perfect for you."

Ben: "You can return it, right?"

Me: *Sigh* "Yes."

Ben: "Okay. I guess."


Posted on my BlackBerry from the parking lot.

Update: He kept the jacket.

November 20, 2009

Someday...

We all have that list in our heads and hearts, that list of things we want to do "someday.” When does someday come? The idea was brought to a head for me by a friend a couple of years ago. We were chatting about this and that and the conversation led to piloting an airplane. I exclaimed that I’d always wanted to learn how to fly. Then I began to blame circumstances for why I couldn’t do it.

My friend stopped my litany. He owns a plane (actually, two). He offered free use of his small passenger plane whenever I wanted to use it for lessons. Just like that.

Well. I was stunned. Then the reality of his offer began to take my mind where it hadn’t gone until then. I pictured myself in the cockpit. (Cool.) I pictured the hours and dedication it would take to get my license. (Okay.) I pictured the day I got my license. What next? (Uh oh.) I have no plane. It would be cheaper to take an airline than to rent one’s own plane. Reality check.

Okay, so that’s a dream and not a goal. (Still, it would be cool to fly a plane.) But what on my list is realistic?

For years since high school, I’ve wanted to get back to scuba diving. I did it only for a year in high school and only because I had a friend who owned equipment that I could borrow. Once I started going to college, all my pennies went to books and tuition. Then on a teacher’s salary, diving became a pipe dream. The years flew by.

I loved scuba diving. It is the closest I’ll get to flying without wings (because I do not have a death wish for cliff diving in a squirrel suit). It is so beautiful, drifting by the seascape, hovering here and there, exploring the ocean floor or river bottom.

It was another friend who brought this dream back to life for me. She and “the girls” go to Cozumel every year for a dive trip. On the cusp of her departure last summer, she invited me to get recertified and join them next year. That sparked the pictures in my head again.

This time, I pictured myself taking the lessons (no problem), buying basic gear (okay), renting the pricey gear (yep), and going on dive trips. Cozumel may be out of my price range, but Florida isn’t. Score.

I started my lessons last Wednesday. Due to holidays, we won’t meet every Wednesday; but I will finish up the first week in January. I could take my final open water test—two dives—in a cold and murky quarry. In January. In Indiana. OR I could do what a lot of people do and go someplace warm (with boat drinks!) to finish the course. I’ll be heading to Florida in February for my annual trip home, so I’ll be going to the Keys once again.

“Someday” is here for this item on my list. What’s next? And what’s on your list?

I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.

November 18, 2009

Today on Bilerico: "Simon LeVay and the Biology of Sexual Orientation"

I had the privilege of attending a seminar last Friday in which a neuroscientist and several mental health counselors addressed the challenges in understanding and working with clients who are lesbian, gay, and bisexual. Read my account of the day here.

November 17, 2009

Pure American Sockhound



When Sophie was young, she used to carry small socks around with her toys. The vet tells us it relieves stress for her. Okey-doke. It was fine until someone she didn't trust walked into the room. Then—gulp! She'd swallow the sock to keep from losing it. We had twenty minutes to get that thing out of her before it might call for surgery, so off we went to the vet. This happened five times over a couple of years, at $100 per sock for the emergency vet. (No, they don't offer frequent visit discounts. I asked.)

She always trusted me, so I started praising her for bringing me the socks. Then I'd hide them out of reach. This has turned into a daily ritual that requires Sophie to find and bring me a sock or three with a toy every single morning.

Yesterday she couldn't find a sock. She raced around downstairs. She came upstairs and rooted through Ben's jeans on the floor, pawing them aside in her search. No socks could be found. That afternoon, I had four socks on the table before dinner. I think she found them in laundry baskets in the basement. (And those baskets are on a table.)

Last night I asked Ben to please leave his socks on the floor for her to find in the morning. Yep, two dirty socks were dropped in my lap this morning along with a chew toy. Good dog!

Order is restored.

November 15, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

Tunes from my iPod.

1. Our Town / Iris DeMent
2. People Are Strange / The Doors
3. Please Come To Boston / Harry Chapin
4. Seven Bridges Road / The Eagles
5. Fanfare For The Common Man / Aaron Copland
6. Simple Man / Lynyrd Skynyrd
7. Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay / Otis Redding

November 8, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

Randomly from my iPod.

1. Oh Yeah / Yello
2. You Don’t Own Me / Leslie Gore
3. Turn! Turn! Turn! / The Byrds
4. You Don’t Know What Love Is / Chet Baker
5. Serenade / Doug Smith
6. Shout / Otis Day & The Knights
7. Take A Walk On The Wild Side / Lou Reed

A New Day

I’m having trouble sleeping lately. It’s easy enough falling asleep, as I usually do, quickly and deeply. But I awaken in the wee hours and can’t fall back asleep.

I’m dealing with change. Isn’t that what it always comes down to? In my case, my job description is changing to the point where I am no longer the square peg in a square hole. I have done—and done well—what I was hired to do, and they don’t need those skills any longer. I have some choices to make and none of them are without risk. There is a price to pay no matter which way I go.

If I stay, I must exercise skills that do not come naturally or easily. Being an administrator and recruiter are totally out of my comfort zone. I’ve done it before and well, but it ate me alive. And if I stay, I must give up a substantial portion of my already low pay. If it isn’t already obvious, I’m not particularly eager to stay under these conditions. But it’s a job.

If I leave, I’ll probably have to start over. That’s not a new experience for me; I’ve had three careers* to date, and I’ve been successful in each one, meeting my goals every time. Starting over in this economy is what has me hesitating. There are no guarantees whatsoever that I’ll be able to cover even my current meager income. Small as it is, we depend on it in our household budget.

I’ve learned that there are three things I need to be happy in my work: independence, creativity and making a difference. (Somehow money never made that list. Dangit.) Note that a job title is not part of the list. I can translate my skills just about anywhere. So what can I do? I can take diverse and complex information and make it simple. I find common themes and core ideas and make them accessible. It’s why I can teach. I’m a stickler for grammar, punctuation, accuracy and clarity. I’m a good writer and a great editor with a strong work ethic.

Since I’m going for the gold here, I want to do all this online as much as possible. I want the freedom I used to have, to do the job well and on time in the manner that suits me best: at home, on the road, or on the beach.

I don’t want or need sympathy. I have friends who are reeling from losing long-term full-time jobs with no prospects in sight. My issue is minor by comparison. What I would like are leads. Somebody knows someone who needs a person just like me. So I’m going to throw out the request and see what happens: if you have any sort of lead, any direction in which I might turn, email me at birdoparadise (at) sbcglobal (dot) net. I don’t care if it doesn’t bear fruit directly, but you just never know.

Thank you for your good wishes and any information you send my way.


*Language Arts teacher, corporate sales trainer, and Sunday School director/curriculum writer.

November 5, 2009

Blogger Confirmation: Blobby

I am in Cleveland, staying at a friend's apartment in his absence while I attend a conference. Mike has shown such hospitality, with everything I need for my stay. Only one thing is missing: Mike. We meet when he's on the road for art shows, passing through Indy. I thought finally I was going to be able to spend more than an hour with him. Sigh. Next time.

I was able to meet another friend, face-to-face for the first time: Blobby arranged for us to meet at an upscale bar downtown for a drink and conversation. It was a gorgeous place but completely empty except for us. Apparently downtown Cleveland rolls up the sidewalks at 6:00p. (Indianapolis used to be the same way.) No matter; we talked for two hours about everything and found some common background: his parents have a place on Siesta Key in Sarasota, so he knows the area.

We laughed about our stories and went on and on without pause. It was over too soon. I've teased him in the past for scowling in all his blog photos. (He says he doesn't like how he looks when he smiles.) Well, Blobby was all smiles last night, and I have proof he looks great when he grins.



As ever, our time together was too short, but it was terrific while it lasted. He says I was his first live link from his blog. If y'all are going to be in Cleveland, look him up. Maybe he'll smile for you too.

November 4, 2009

On The Road Again, Again

I'm about to head out the door to hit the road for sunny tropical Cleveland, where I will be attending the annual convention for the Covenant Network of Presbyterian Churches. I'll be networking and learning, all with the fervent hope of someday being a great resource for somebody my church. (Yeah, gettin' a little frustrated at the pace, which is glacial right now.)

If all goes as planned, I'll have a blogger confirmation for y'all too. WiFi will be spotty; updates when possible.

And yes, I'll be careful on the road. I'm taking my new convertible minipontoon. (When hubby got the "In God we trust" license plate years ago, I dubbed it the Jesus Chrysler. Now I'm driving the thing. I added an HRC sticker for balance.)

Later!

November 3, 2009

Please Be Careful

For two days in a row I have passed terrible traffic accidents on the way to work. One of them probably had fatalities; perhaps both of them did. It was quite sobering to drive by when traffic was slowed and diverted to make room for emergency vehicles. The cars and vans were completely crushed.

Y'all be careful out there.

November 1, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

Music from my iPod.

1. Celebrity / Mark Weigle
2. Look Through Any Window / The Hollies
3. Ever Falls The Twilight / The Gothic Archies
4. Instant Pleasure / Rufus Wainwright
5. You Like Me Too Much / The Beatles
6. High Desert / Bruce Kaphan
7. Monarch / Matt Alber

October 30, 2009

Overheard: Parenting

Abe hands Ben a drink pouch.


Abe: “Be careful you don’t spill—

Ben: “Dad. You’re parenting. Again.”

Abe: “Oh. Sorry. It won’t happen again.”


Minutes go by.


Ben: “Dad, could I have a sandwich?”

Abe: “So now I CAN be a parent.”

Ben: “Sure, when I get positive results.”


This is better than TV.

October 27, 2009

Overheard: Traffic

Ben and I were in traffic, and a Suburban Escalade Mountaineer Expedition passed us.

Ben: “What do you think when you see one of those?”

Me: “I think the owner has a very small penis.”

Ben: “Yep.”

October 25, 2009

We Had A Ball

Saturday night the Damien Center of Indianapolis held their 22nd annual Grande Masquerade, the premier fundraising event for the city’s primary HIV/AIDS support center. I was privileged to be one of many volunteers to help this event run smoothly, and it was great. For two years in a row the Grande Masquerade has been awarded the ISES (International Special Events Society, Indiana Chapter) PACE Award as the “Best Not-for-Profit Event with a Legacy.”

Image courtesy of the Damien Center

Prior to the start of entertainment, a very brief presentation recognized that this year the Grande Masquerade garnered more corporate sponsors and more auction donations than any year in history. This is especially heartening at a time when individual donations are down and funding from state and federal agencies has been severely curtailed. A sobering fact was revealed about Indiana HIV statistics: in the past year, 37% of people with positive test results for HIV were diagnosed with AIDS at the time of the test. This speaks volumes for the need to be tested early. Events like this ball are necessary for the funding to get the word out.

Since I was behind the scenes helping process the registrations and silent auction bids, I didn’t get a chance to watch most of the evening’s entertainment. However, I did get to see the Indy Pride Bag Ladies do their thing. This ragtag band of men in drag danced and lip-synced their way down the center of the room, bold and sassy and full of fun. They have offered their special talents at a number of venues over the years, and I understand that this year they exceeded one million dollars in total lifetime donations towards organizations dealing with AIDS. That is amazing and a wonderful example of how grass roots efforts can have a strong positive effect.

Image courtesy of Indy Pride Photo Guy

The evening ended with a surprise for me. I love any excuse to put on a costume, and this year I had a very special one, with the help of a good friend and excellent seamstress. I gained her assistance in making the iconic “curtain dress” worn by Carol Burnett as Starlet O’Hara in her “Went With the Wind” sketch. The moment that Burnett stepped onstage in that dress is one of the finest entrances in television history.

No one had the costume to rent, so my friend and I made the drapes and hat; I rented the dress and wig. I was a little concerned that the crowd might skew young and not get it, but all through the evening I was asked to pose for photos, alone and with fellow revelers. The real treat came during the costume contest, which—to my amazement—I won. The fact that I won in a room filled with men in extraordinary costumes, glorious wigs and better makeup than I will ever wear was not lost on me at all. I was stunned. The best compliment came as the evening came to a close. An admirer congratulated me and I expressed my astonishment. He said, “Honey, in this room full of gays, tonight you were f***in' Madonna.


So for a brief shining moment, I wasn't Elton John; I was f***in' Madonna. Wow.


Update: Here are the runners up


and some finalists in the contest.

October 22, 2009

Doppelgänger

Now I know why I've been called "sir" three times.

Image courtesy of Fameball.


Update: Make that five times.

October 18, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

Music from my iPod.

1. Tomorrow Night / Raul Malo
2. Bless The Beasts And Children / The Carpenters
3. Jack Hinks / Great Big Sea
4. If Everyone Cared / Nickelback
5. Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me / Gladys Knight & The Pips
6. Cosmik Debris / Frank Zappa
7. Love Is Like Jazz / The Magnetic Fields

October 17, 2009

Verbatim

Oct. 17, 2009 5:35:19 PM
Ooh. Found the turtle. Mmmmm.
Thank you!
B.


Oct. 17, 2009 5:39:39 PM
I am the best.


Oct. 17, 2009 5:44:20 PM
You really are.
Mwah

October 13, 2009

Today on Bilerico Indiana: Indiana Coming Out Day Celebration

I made a new sign for my second appearance at a protest! In all the excitement, I forgot to get a picture of it, but someone else posted a few and I nabbed one.

Photo courtesy of Wilson E. Allen

You can read my short post about it here.

Birdie's Bodacious Chili

First, let me tell you that I don't cook. I can, but I don't like to. But since I'm forced to do it every once in a while, I have learned to make a few good dishes. My beef stew is good on a winter day, and the chef at work taught me how to make the best gravy ever. But it's my chili that is requested by friends when we have a pitch-in.

Last weekend I made the first pot of the season. I'm not proprietary about it, and I love it when someone shares a good recipe with me. So here's my bodacious chili recipe. Not gourmet or difficult, this recipe serves at least four.


1½ lbs. ground round

1 16 oz. can finely diced tomatoes (no spices)
1 16 oz. can light red kidney beans

1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 medium sweet onion, diced (1 cup)
½ green pepper, diced
 (3/8 cup)
3/8 cup Worcestershire Sauce (6 Tb.)
2 Tb. chili powder
1 clove garlic, crushed

water
butter


grated mild cheddar cheese

sour cream


chopped chilies
hot sauce
corn chips

12” saute pan

large soup pot with lid




On medium heat, sauté onion and green pepper in butter until onions are transparent and lightly browned. Turn heat to medium low and add crushed garlic; sauté mix for one minute, constantly stirring so that garlic is NOT browned (and thus turned bitter). Toss in large pot.



Put tomatoes, beans and tomato paste in the same pot and add at least one tomato can of water. Stir and set heat on low.



Brown ground beef and drain if excessive liquid forms. Toss meat in Worcestershire Sauce and then chili powder over heat. Add to pot, stir, and cover. Simmer for one hour or more on very low heat, stirring every so often. Add water as needed.

Festivize with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, chilies, hot sauce, corn chips.

Serves four to five. Double recipe serves eight to ten and fits into large crockpot. (Warning: do not rely on a crockpot to simmer this dish properly. It must be simmered on a stove first. Trust me.) Since this is cooking and not baking, the amounts are "to taste." Play with it and make it your recipe.

Enjoy!

October 11, 2009

Sunday Shuffle

I have about 2000 songs in my iPod. I thought I'd share them with you on random shuffle.

1. Money Money Money / Abba
2. Summer Wind / Frank Sinatra
3. Angelina / Earl Klugh
4. Is She Really Going Out With Him / DaVinci’s Notebook
5. My Life / Billy Joel
6. Christmas Memories/Wheels / Tommy Emmanuel
7. Lovely Rita / The Beatles

October 9, 2009

Prodigy

This young man (from Russia?) is playing a chromatic button accordion. Amazing.

October 8, 2009

Small World

The last article I [re]wrote for Bilerico included a reference to my friend Rance, who died this past spring. He was a small but pivotal force in my life when we met three and a half years ago. Turns out I wasn’t the only one.

It comes as no surprise at all to me that Rance had a similar impact on someone else. I’m willing to bet it runs in the hundreds.

My little post “Missionary” was forwarded by a reader to a man who was a colleague of his. That man’s name is Ken. Now out of the Mormon church and out in life, Ken asked to contact me. He knew someone named Rance long ago. Could it be the same man?

Of course it was. Ken gave me permission to print his first response to me.

In the early 1980s, I was living in Salt Lake City, and business took me to Vernal, Utah, where I stayed in a motel owned by the Searle family. I had dinner at their restaurant, and Rance played guitar and sang for his guests. To me, he was a close replica of John Denver.

Also, since I wrote to my friend James, I "googled" Rance Searle and found his obituary from April - something that deeply saddened me, in spite of the fact that I have not talked to him or had any contact at all for more than 30 years.

But when I was going to Vernal on business fairly regularly, I would stay at his hotel and meet with him. We got to know each other fairly well. I knew he was a few years older than I, but never thought he'd have died at such a young age.

The most important thing that happened when I knew Rance was how he relayed his own doubts about the LDS faith. At that time, although I had admitted I was gay, I still fervently believed in Mormonism. I can recall him telling me about a list of 10 questions he and a friend had compiled, which he (or they) had taken to a General Authority, and were not able to get clear answers for.

When Rance told me that there were multiple versions of Joseph Smith's first vision (which cast doubt on his credibility), I remember the feeling I had: "Wow! Maybe I've been feeling guilty all these years - for nothing." A weight was lifted at that moment, and I'll be forever grateful to Rance for helping me see the truth.

Other issues he had were with the Book of Mormon. I can recall his strong emotion as he said, "How can we believe in the Book of Mormon when there is not ONE SHRED of evidence supporting it?"

There was, of course, much much more we talked about during those visits.

I'm sorry to know that Rance passed on…

That day in Vernal was the beginning of a profound change in my life, and I have Rance to thank for lighting the fire. I'm pleased but not surprised to know that he touched your life as well, as I'm sure he did many many others…


This exchange has continued and led to another introduction which has Rance at its center. I wonder what Rance would say if he knew of the newly-connected network of friends he left behind. I am eager to see where it leads.

It grieves me that Ken had to leave his church to find peace. Too many are taking that path away from God, the failure of men keeping them separated from what should be a loving community of faith. Shame on us for letting it happen.

I am having to pay my own way this year to the Covenant Network of Presbyterians annual convention in November. Our church budget is being cut quite close. I’m hoping to have someone accompany me, but no one has been able to join me yet. Even so, I am excited to be going. Who knows what I’ll learn or who I’ll meet that will send me on the next step of this important journey toward an inclusive faith community. It remains a privilege to serve.

September 30, 2009

Cultural Imperatives

Every month at work we have an all-staff lunch where everyone pitches in. We try to sit with those staff members we don’t see often or don’t know well. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and everyone looks forward to it.


Yesterday our table fell into discussion about cultural imperatives after a number of us quoted lines word-for-word remembered some details about a movie that others had not seen. Those who had seen “Princess Bride” agreed that one must see this movie to be considered culturally literate. Then people started chiming in on what they thought were cultural imperatives. Time ran short as we agreed on the following:

• “Princess Bride”

• Any Monty Python movie

• “Mr. Tambourine Man” as emoted by William Shatner *


I posted something about it on my Facebook page and got a few more suggestions:

• “Brokeback Mountain” story and movie

• “Godfather”

• “Blazing Saddles” or any Mel Brooks movie


I can’t help but notice that most of them are movies. Given a little time to think about it, I can think of a few more. But I’m curious as to what you would consider a “must.” What would you add to this list of cultural imperatives?

*Not culturally literate on this particular one? You can find it on my playlist on the right-hand column! You must sit all the way through it to hear the closing refrain.

September 28, 2009

Monday Mystery

This time you have to guess.
It's beautiful and functional—if perhaps uncomfortable—with a carbon fiber inner structure wrapped in leather. This is a prototype. Give up? Check it out.

September 25, 2009

Toward Life

I wrote this in July while I was in Florida and shortly after the phone conversation to which I allude. The recent campaign to encourage awareness of suicide and its prevention has made me decide to post it.

An online friend of mine named Al is a passionate and intelligent man who reached out to me at moment of deep grief. He has lost his best friend, who took his own life in a moment of surrender to despair. Al called me to talk because he knew of my own experience with my father’s suicide many years ago.

I was eighteen and Dad was fifty-five. He moved out of the house when I was nine. I saw him one weekend a month, but many of those days were filled with words unsaid. We didn’t have much time for those spontaneous conversations that fill in the jigsaw gaps of who we have become, but it was a gentle silence of mutual love. I knew without a doubt how much my father loved me.

When I learned of his suicide, the first thoughts of my young mind were—of course—of guilty ownership. Somehow I had contributed to his death. What could I have done to prevent it? My thoughts raced with all the what ifs. What if I hadn’t asked for help with college tuition? His death gave me the benefits that allowed me to stay in school. What if I had told him more how much I loved him? I wasn’t alone in that kind of thinking; I learned from his friends that my older brother was convinced that our father couldn’t live with the thought of a gay son. I’m willing to bet my two sisters had similar thoughts of their own responsibility.

Over time I have come to understand the folly of “what if.” We simply don’t have that kind of control over what other people do. Control of anything but our own actions is an illusion.

While I can accept now that I could not change the outcome, I still mourn briefly at moments I have not been able to share with my dad. And a few years ago when my husband and my daughter reached the same ages as in that tragic year, I looked at my daughter’s complete devotion to her father and imagined how she would be irrevocably damaged in similar circumstances. Perhaps for the first time I truly allowed my anger full expression. How could you do that to me? I was so young. I loved you so much. I needed you here.

The devastation of that act has repercussions even today, as I struggle every day to give the ones I love access to my heart. Having been burned to the ground by someone whose love was certain, it has been a long and difficult journey for me to give anyone the power to do so again; and in recent years I have succeeded in keeping the walls down. My husband wields his power gently, and it is a gift without measure.

Al’s best friend left behind similarly devastated loved ones, people who cannot fathom the depth of his despair. We who choose life will never fully understand. There comes a time when we must acknowledge that “I don’t know” is a sufficient answer. It is the first step to forgiveness.

Al and I talked for over an hour. I don’t know how much help anyone can provide for such grief, except to say, “I’m so sorry.” We connect over terrible pain and memories. It is what we must do, for ourselves and each other.

We come together in our vulnerability. It is our humanity that binds us. Our most difficult moments become our finest as we seek our commonalities, accept our differences, and forgive ourselves and each other. Can we seek those moments of reconciliation with purpose and without pain? Let us try. Let us all move toward life.

If you are young and gay or questioning and need to talk to someone about thoughts of suicide, call the Trevor Project at 866-4-U-TREVOR / 866-488-7386 any time day or night. They will listen.

Anyone can call 800-SUICIDE / 800-784-2433 any time. They will listen.

September 22, 2009

The Indianapolis Museum Of Art

Last week I had a few hours free on a sunny afternoon. I was downtown, so it wasn’t too far to visit the Museum of Art, a place I have not seen since the children were little. But I didn’t want to go inside this time. An acquaintance of mine has made a name for herself as the master gardener of its grounds. I found out last week that her reputation is well deserved.

Image courtesy of Destination360.com

The museum is situated on the former J.K. Lilly estate, with several buildings on 150 acres in the middle of the city. The Lilly mansion is there, and the landscaping includes a ravine garden and formal garden. Both were designed by the same landscape architect team that designed Central Park in NYC, and you can see the similarities. Come join me on my first walk through the gardens.

Naturally, artworks are on the grounds as well as inside, and this famous sculpture by Robert Indiana has its home here. The original purplish sheen will return as the surface oxidizes back from some recent repairs.



On a sidewalk through the landscaped parking, I found the path to the ravine garden.




From the path above the canal, you can see this beautiful footbridge area.



From there I walked toward the canal that separates the gardens from the 100-acre park. The park is going to become an art park, populated by outdoor contemporary installations that change over time. The grand opening is scheduled for next June.



At one point, I had to choose: ravine or formal? I went up.



Emerging from the trees, I came to the Lilly mansion.



From the courtyard you can see both gardens. This is an area merging the ravine with the formal garden.



Leaving the courtyard toward the museum, I walked through the formal garden.




A few twists and turns took me to the entry gate to the mansion. The bridge goes over another street on the grounds. I’ll find out where it goes on another visit.



I came full circle back to the museum. I can see I’m going to spend a lot of time getting to know this area now. While the weather is good, I’ll spend most of it outside. When the weather turns, I’ll go inside and see what awaits me there.



Before the past couple of years, my interest in the outdoors was limited to the untamed portions. My thanks for this new interest in gardens go to Greg, Patrick, Jeaux and JeepGuy, all of whose photos and musings gave me the desire to experience it for myself. My dad, who was a landscape architect and whose gene for said skill entirely missed me, would be smiling.

September 20, 2009

Today on Bilerico: Missionary

On weekends Bilerico contributors are asked to dig into their archives to pull out "timeless" pieces that are not dependent on today's news. Today I posted a lightly-edited version of "Missionary" that will be familiar to some of you. Those who haven't read it can find it here.

September 19, 2009

Avast!

It's Talk Like A Pirate Day, mateys!


Amaze your lubber mates with your favorite letter, arrrrrrr!

The Incense Of A New Church

Incense of a New Church by Charles Demuth 1921

A censer swings through the aisles of a new church, the smoke curling through the sun’s rays streaming from stained glass windows; and its scent is pleasing to God.

This new church is an institution that people seek because it gives them community peopled by those who welcome the weary, the edgy, the common, the fearful, the different, the strong, the powerful, the broken. All are welcome here.

This church is an institution that people do not hate or fear. It is the natural outcome of community, growing into a stable yet malleable structure that gives a framework for interaction in the journey and celebration of faith. Its doctrine is a magnet, not a weapon, drawing its members through the power of God’s unconditional love. It can be trusted with power because it does not demand it.

This new church celebrates diversity as a sign of success. It embraces questions as the means to spiritual growth. It is open to the change that is inevitable over time as new members bring new understanding to its tradition, its culture, its doctrine.

The new church is here. It can be found in individual communities of faith that are independent churches or that have set themselves apart within the mainline denominations.

If you seek a welcoming community of faith, don’t give up until you find one. Find one whose leaders make you like who you are when you are with them. Find one you wish to share with others from the sense of joy you gain as a participant. Find one that exemplifies servant leadership.

If you are in a church that needs to grow, become a part of its growth by asking questions that others may be afraid to bring up. Become inconvenient. Be persistent yet patient. When you speak up, you will find many who agree. One voice will become many.

Change is inevitable. The church has a rhythm of dying and new life. It will live anew if the death is its traditions. If it is not, the death will be the institution itself. Those are the only choices. From the funeral pyre, the new church will rise.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

September 15, 2009

September 14, 2009

Walk This Way

Apparently I walk too fast.

I went to a movie recently with my neighbor Dee. ("Time Traveler's Wife:" total chick flick, not my normal fare. But I got to see Eric Bana naked.) Dee came running up beside me as we walked from the parking lot to the theatre.

Me: Oh, I'm sorry. Am I going too fast again?

Dee: No problem! I can just jog next to you.

This is an email from another friend to the gang about our walking date:

Looks like it'll be another gorgeous day to walk. Last week it was just Birdie and myself, and I managed to keep up with her by wearing my roller blades!

Okay, fine. I walk fast. So sue me. I don't know why, but it just about kills me to stroll. It takes a concentrated effort to slow down. On the plus side, I've got a strong heart and strong legs. Won't you join me up here at the front?

Today on Bilerico Indiana: Senator Lugar Responds

Bilerico contributor Jillian Weiss made it easy this summer to contact my senator and email a letter of support for ENDA legislation. Recently, Dr. Weiss asked to hear about any responses. Read about Lugar's interesting response to my email on Bilerico Indiana.

September 11, 2009

How I Met My Significant Other

I was a freshman in college, alone on a campus of 22,000 students at the University of South Florida. I didn’t know anyone. I had just turned eighteen when our dorm floor—all freshman girls—was invited to a party at an all-boys dorm floor. Only a handful of us went, to a handful of boys in one of their dorm rooms. The frozen daiquiri was the drink of the year, and our host had a blender full of lime slush.

We all sat on the floor and talked while Led Zeppelin played in the background. Abe sat opposite me and focused on me pretty early on. What struck me then was that he listened more than he talked. He looked at me when I spoke. This was not what I was used to seeing. No bluster, no false bravado, no aggression, just questions and interested responses. And such kindness in those beautiful brown eyes. I wanted to know this boy.

I learned more about that night many years later. When I stood to leave, Abe offered to walk me back across the quad. Apparently our host started to rise to join us, but behind my back Abe waved him off. He sat back down, the entire exchange unbeknownst to me. Abe and I headed back to my dorm, where we agreed to another date. The rest is history.

It’s a long history: 38 years together, 31 of them married. Lots of ups and downs, and a few years back we reached a new high in our relationship that has held. Abe is a man of integrity, faith, hard work and a very dry sense of humor. It’s so dry that it took me years to know when he was kidding. But he does love to make me laugh. And he still makes me melt with those eyes.

It started with Jazz and went on to Jeaux, where I caught it.

September 5, 2009

Woman Bites Gator

I forgot to tell you!


A new item on O'Leary's menu is Gator Bites, batter-dipped and fried alligator, served with mustard sauce. Well, you know I had to try it. Not bad: mild, bright white, more like fish than chicken. Kelly had a similar reaction. In this dish there was more flavor in the batter than in the gator.

Alligator season comes and goes in Florida; they open the season when the population gets too great. I'd tried grilled gator many years ago at Kelly's barbecue. It's better fried.

Image courtesy of Columbus Foodie.

On My Way Home

It’s been short and sweet. I had gray skies all the way down to Sarasota, which is excellent for driving, and once ensconced at home the blue skies came out. I have two friends from school days who are “must see” appointments every time I come down. We spend hours talking, each of them about different aspects of our lives. With our histories we can talk about things with each other that I cannot with anyone else. We have deep roots.

I saw Lynn on Thursday. She asked where I wanted to eat, and I replied, “Outside, of course.” When she learned I’d never been to the Venice Pier, we were off, well before sunset.

We had dinner outside on the deck, right at the entrance to the pier.


It was packed and there was beach music. After dinner we walked out to the end of the pier and continued to talk about our families of origin. This is the view of Sharky's from the pier.


We stood at the rail and watched the moon rise over the gulf, lighting up tall clouds to the west. A school of fish nibbled at the surface, lighting up the phosphorus like twinkling lights. That went on for about an hour.

It was 1:15am when we finally looked at our watches. A few intrepid fishermen were still on the pier. The restaurant had long been dark. We had stood the entire time on the pier, and I finally realized my feet were sore. It was time to go home.

The next day I had lunch with Kelly, and we ate at O’Leary’s on Island Park at her request. She and I talked about our relationships—friends and lovers—while we sat under the palm thatch. We continued our conversation as we walked around the bayfront park, sitting on the same bench where I had conducted business a couple of days prior. A blue heron tiptoed up and watched nearby.


One side of the walkway goes by the marina. This boat’s owner is clearly a Seinfeld fan.


We could have talked longer after only four hours, but Kelly had a prior appointment with a longtime friend whose time remaining is short due to recurrent cancer. Kelly confessed that she has had similar thoughts to mine about remaining time in our lives.

As I sit here in the ATL airport—refusing to pay eight dollars for WiFi to post this essay—it strikes me that I’m going home, again. I felt the same way when I was headed to Sarasota. Home is where my heart is.

September 4, 2009

Armadillo Cam

Quite possibly the best 17 seconds you'll spend today.



From the Museum of Animal Perspectives.

Update: Better link! Check out the other animal cams.

September 3, 2009

Outdoor Office

Yesterday afternoon, I took care of business on my phone. I also took this shot from my phone, between calls.

Sarasota bayfront from Island Park

September 1, 2009

On The Road Again

I'm five miles from the Florida border, having driven 360 miles today from Highlands, NC. I and my parents are on our way back to Sarasota. We'll get there with ease tomorrow.

This is a speed vacation. (Not on the road.) I just had a few hours in Highlands. Naturally, I spent some of it at SweeTreats getting online. (Chocolate with Butterfinger and brownie mix-ins.) Instead of spending time with you all, though, I was purchasing used textbooks for Sheba's classes.

Highlands is in a temperate rain forest. Last night the humidity reached 100%, and the trees dripped on the house all night. We had a wildlife encounter! This squirrel has figured out how to reach the hanging birdfeeder by dangling by his toes from the screen.


A too-brief two days in Sarasota and it will be back to work.

August 30, 2009

It's A Guy Thing

I dare not let my son see this photo. Embiggen to find out why.



Image courtesy of Romain Laurent Photography. You should check out his website.

August 29, 2009

Legacy

I went to a funeral this afternoon. It was for the father of a good friend. He was in his 80’s and had been in good health until a recent diagnosis of cancer that came swiftly.

During the service a few family members came up to speak about memories. Every one of their recollections was about how Dad/Granddad had made them feel loved. Only the pastor mentioned his accomplishments, which were admirable.

As often happens to people in their middle years, I have begun to assess the time I have left, should I be lucky enough to follow my mother’s lead. I’m going to turn 56 this fall. That gives me maybe ten years of influence, then another ten years or so of activity. Only twenty years to accomplish whatever I wish to achieve. The previous twenty years have flown by.

Whatever achievements I manage, the people that are important to me will remember only the things I did that made them feel loved. That’s the real wake-up call. Will they look back and believe the love I know I have for them? What visible evidence am I providing?

When time comes to an end, all that is left is love. May I be aware daily of the true legacy to leave.

August 27, 2009

Checking In

I'd hoped to have something clever or funny or profound for you, and this is all I've got. But I'm still alive.

I have been on the annual staff retreat in which we discussed building up each other, the congregation, and the faith. It was a good time for us together and one of the few times in which I really feel a part of the staff. I'm part time and tucked away from main offices—the joke is "phantom staff"—so it was good to learn more about each other. The retreat was in the wooded hills of southern Indiana, the part of the state that is really beautiful. Stars were out in the clear sky. No cars in the distance, no TV. A moment's peace in a hectic schedule.

We wrapped up with a tour of churches in Columbus, IN, a city that is famous for its diverse and stunning architecture. I've got pictures but no backup explanations for what we saw. Maybe I can get a post out of that yet.

Back in the office, I'm getting ten days' work done in the shortened week, preparing to go to NC again on Monday to drive my parents back to Florida. Short trip this time: just a few hours in NC before we leave, but I get a couple of days in FL to unwind before returning to a busy fall calendar at work.

September begins the busy season at church, culminating in early January. My new boss, an associate pastor, seems to be really well-suited for this job, and I like her. She's going to be good for the church and the children.

Things are going so well with our family, but I hesitate to say it out loud. So many people are not doing well, economically and personally. Let us lift up each other wherever and whenever possible.

August 26, 2009

A Celebration Of Life

"Moments" by Will Hoffman




Simple moments, when seen as discrete events, show us how beautiful life really is.

Thanks and a hat tip to Andrew Sullivan.

August 22, 2009

Opie's Gone


Opie, age 20, was taken to the vet this morning and put to sleep. He had stopped eating a few days ago, and it was time.

He was such a sweet cat, always calm and cheerful, glad to see just about anyone. He lived his entire life in this house, a companion to his mother who also lived to age 20. We will really miss him.