Next!

Well, August is closing at last, and we’re getting into my favorite season of all.

I used to have a lot of baggage with saying autumn was my favorite season. First, there’s the whole school thing—I always liked school and genuinely miss it now, but it’s hard to go around talking about how the start of a huge semester is your favorite thing on earth. People start looking at you strangely.

Then there’s the whole winter is coming thing, and I’m not a huge fan of winter either. Not with the icy roads and the rationed sunshine and the way my feet NEVER stay warm. I like winter during the holiday season, but by January 15th I’ve got my fix for the year.

But if you can separate those things out of the equation, you’re left with just autumn. And it’s sort of magical here in Michigan. The nights are already starting to get chilly. People put out autumn wreaths and scarecrows on their front porches. The cider mills open and suddenly donuts are everywhere. People have campfires and you grab hoodies before heading outside. The leaves turn. You carve pumpkins and make Halloween plans. The earth smells musky with fallen and forgotten apples mouldering into fertilizer. People start making soups and meatloaf again. And lots of apple pies.

I like it.

When I lived at home, my younger brothers and I would throw half a dozen blankets and pillows in the bed of my little red truck, drive out to the field at my parents’ home, and go stargazing. It was mostly an excuse to eat cheese and crackers and get our faces cold in the wind, but it was part of the rhythm of life there, and I miss it when I think about fall.

Yesterday, when Fig called—now in graduate school an hour away—we talked about forming a luncheon club with the three of us again. That will also be an excuse to eat cheese and talk books and sit around together, so I guess some things don’t really change.

In October, Carl and I are flying to Denver for his sister’s wedding and taking the two days following to drive up to the Rockies and see if we can catch some leaves in the act. We’ve done a couple of local weekend trips this year, and we went tagging along to Florida with my fam in the spring, but it’s been a while since we flew somewhere on our own.

I’m looking forward to it.

Other than that the pleasures of autumn will be all the low-key ones I like best. We’ll get donuts and sit by the river watching the mallards paddle around, like we did when we were dating and checking out our compatibility in really important areas like who we considered the best movie villain of all time.

And maybe one of these cooling days we’ll find a realtor who returns our phone calls and buy a house.

Maybe.

I’m looking forward to it.

Big Church, Little Church

For work, Carl and his team often shoot footage at various locations—downtown Detroit, an ornate library, an old-fashioned movie theater. They scout out the place, meet the owners, get permission, and occasionally pay a fee.

Most of the time, who they work for isn’t that big of a deal.

Except when it comes to churches.

Carl’s coworker got refused by a church in Plymouth recently, a church with a classic steeple that they wanted for backdrop for a brief clip. A church that had been very friendly… until they found out where he was from. Then it got weirdly ugly. His contact went back into the church and returned with the pastor, now flanked by two backup men.

Why don’t YOU have a steeple? The pastor asked in what I guess you would describe as a taunt? Not sure. He chewed him out a bit, and then said something to the effect of, I won’t give you the PRIVILEGE of shooting our steeple.

Carl told me this story over dinner that night, and because I am that kind of person I said, “I wonder what we DID to them? It must have been something awful. People aren’t that mean for no reason.”

Or are they? Carl shrugged. You’d be surprised.

No reason, yet lots of reasons.

Big churches and little churches.

To be honest, I don’t know much about church politics. When I was little, my family went to a church of 30. Now I go to a church of more than 10,000 members and who knows how many attenders. It’s different, but it’s the same. There are things I like and things I don’t like. There are people I like and people who just aren’t my style. There are sermons that cut right to the heart of the issue for me, and sermons that annoy me. Some programs are fantastic, and some are there just because people seem to like programs. There are problems. People come to Christ. Somebody’s always unhappy about the music. It’s life.

And it shouldn’t be this hard to remember we’re on the same side.

But it is.

People get defensive, and defensive people generally do stupid things. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that. Big churches get defensive and talk about how God has blessed them with growth and influence in the community. Little churches get defensive and talk about how they haven’t compromised the truth for the sake of popularity. And pretty soon it gets to the point where an adult, a pastor of all people, feels a smug sort of pleasure in refusing to work with somebody from one of THOSE churches.

Now, I may be totally off in my theory, but if Miss Marple’s system of thought is correct than the small social system is generally a fair way of shedding light on the big social system, and THIS social system reminds me for all the world of what went down in the drama department when I was in college.

I went to a Christian college that was somewhere in the muddy transition between straight-up Bible college and liberal arts college. When I stared going to school there, you could major in missionary aviation and just scrape out a minor in theater. When I graduated, you could major in theater and the aviation program was kaput.

Now I was young and shy and spent most of my free time skulking around the library… where the drama department’s costume designer noticed me dodging behind bookshelves one day and told me I should try out for the spring musical. So I did. And I loved it.

I made friends, and I loved acting, and I ADORED my drama teacher. I was having a great time.

Then in my senior year, the department hired in a new teacher, a young prof straight from graduate school with lots of ambition. And I liked her. She was different, but I liked her.

Yeah, that changed.

People who didn’t like me always said it was because she didn’t give me the lead in the next play. Well, of course I was disappointed not to be cast, but there were lots of parts I wanted and didn’t get in college, and I’m prepared to swear that while it didn’t make me feel especially adoring toward her, it really wasn’t the reason I came to loathe her.

I started officially loathing her the day she took credit for making the theater program something of value. And by the end of the year all of the young freshmen who came in with her loved her and started talking the same way: how backward the school’s drama program was before, how we didn’t even have a theater MAJOR until she showed up, how everything had been so sloppy and unprofessional.

And now, suddenly, it was awesome.

Were the plays better? Well, sure. The department was getting larger, so it was attracting more students. And she started casting graduates, so she was able to get more experienced actors for the lead roles. And since there were more students and more teachers, she could schedule more plays into the “season” and build up a bigger audience. So yes, it was a great thing for the department and the school in the long run.

But the thing she forgot is that you don’t have to disparage one model just because you decide to pursue a different one. Nobody I acted with had any plans to move to Hollywood and try to make it big. The new regime all seemed a bit pretentious to me. I couldn’t help wondering why, if you wanted to make it in Hollywood, you would go to a small Christian college in the first place. (Ok, that is my snarkiness coming through, but you know what I mean). Well, and also it all seemed a bit rude to talk about the “unprofessionalism” of the former director… when her office was right next door.

Surely it’s possible to be excited about growth and positive change without saying disparaging things about the people who came before you.

The motherly drama teacher who cared as much about your acting as your emotional development. The little churches who’ve been taking care of their people for a hundred years before your church turned mega.

I’ve been sitting her for ten minutes, eating my macaroni and cheese and trying to figure out what it takes for the small churches. It takes humility for the big ones—that’s easy enough to grasp—humility to realize that small things have just as much value as large ones. That just because God blesses you with growth and money and lots of spiritual “decisions” doesn’t make you a better church. It takes humility to remember that whatever awesomeness factor your church might have it’s all supposed to go to God anyway, the same God who cares just as much about the church of 20 as he does the church of 20,000. It’s not your awesomeness factor, so hands off.

But you know, the more I think about it, the more I think it takes humility for the small churches too. Humility to realize it’s not about defending your size or worship styles or dress codes. It’s not about being awesome.

It’s about caring for the things that have been entrusted to you, no matter how many or how few.

I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say success is about having a world of mega churches. It seems to me, success should be about having a Christian community that loves each other and works together for the good of others.

You know, the kind of crazy, idealistic world where videographers are allowed to film church steeples without being snarked at.

Western & Southern Open!

Yep. It was a great day for tennis.

We made the 4ish hour drive to Cincinnati on Saturday night after Carl got off work, stopping for hamburgers and fries, windows open to the wind, chatting about life—all the things happy road trips are made of. Although I didn’t actually consider that 4 hours would feel like a road trip, or I probably would have tossed in a book on tape or grabbed a book of mental puzzles. I think we make the 2 hour drive to GR so often it really doesn’t feel like a road trip at all, and I forget that 4 hours feels quite different from 2.

But anyway.

We stayed in Mason, OH, which is quite a bit ritzier than I would have thought. Not, of course, that I suffer from any particularly ritzy expectations of Ohio in general, so maybe that’s my problem. We kept driving around and saying, “oh. This is nice. Hm. Look at those houses.”

An impulse no doubt heightened by our house-hunting frame of mind.

“Tennis or King’s Island?” the hotel clerk asked knowingly when we trundled in somewhere around eleven. The TV in the lounge was tuned to the last women’s semi-final match still ongoing at the stadium a couple of miles down the road. Less eager tennis fans were already trickling back into the hotel around us. More annoying tennis fans set off a car alarm right outside our window at 3 or 4 the next morning… and UTTERLY UNCONSCIONABLE tennis fans allowed their car to flail in misery until the half hour loop finally died away on it’s own.

Sigh.

Even so, we were up on time, had an enormous breakfast, and dashed off to the tennis grounds around 11, giving ourselves an hour before the men’s final was supposed to start. It’s a really nice complex: one big stadium, a middle sized one attached at the rear, a couple of smaller courts for warm ups and early rounds, and lots and lots of vendors.

Note: the lemonade stands were AMAZING. Lemons squeezed while you wait, simple syrup already prepared (so no sugar crystals gumming up the works), and all of it over lots and lots of ice. We ended up going back between matches for another round.

A little spot of Disney World, which is to say a little spot of nostalgia heaven.

But to back up, we had just gotten through security check at the gate when we noticed people drifting toward one of the smaller, warm up courts to the side. I decided to pop my head in… which led to frantic hisses of honey, we MUST and respectful sitting down.

We were twenty-five feet from Roger Federer, practicing serves with his team and totally indifferent to the audience. Like a sleek big cat in a zoo exhibit.

Roger Federer.

It’s okay if that name doesn’t mean anything to you. I forgive you. But you should probably know that he’s the most successful tennis player in history.

He’s kind of a big deal.

He’s also, by some accounts, at the start of the gentle downward slope end of his career. And it’s saying something that #3 in the world is seen as a downward step, but anyway it WAS a surprise to see him there, because he’d actually been knocked out of the tournament a couple of days previously. Just a lucky break for us, an omen, we decided, of the perfect tennis day ahead.

After exploring the grounds, we settled into the men’s final between Djokovic (current #1, Serbian, funny) and Murray (#4, Scottish, Carl’s pick).

Fun! Fantastic! Edge of our seat!

Murray took the first set 6-3, a surprisingly easy win over Djokovic… who’d only lost 1 game this year in a record-setting season of wins. Then the second set opened, and within a few minutes Murray was up 3-0.

And then it started to rain. Big, fat drops. People started standing up and moving nervously for the exits, but  it takes a lot longer to evacuate a stadium than it does for a thunderstorm to start.

We were SOAKED.

About half way through the interminable crush to the exits, the ref informed us over the loudspeaker that Djokovic was retiring from the match with a shoulder injury and that “weather permitting” Murray would receive the winner’s trophy shortly.

We all huddled on the ground level under the stadium for twenty minutes or so while the storm passed. Luckily, it ended as quickly as it started. We picked our way warily back upstairs and watched the crew start cleaning up the court.

Do you know how they clean up a court? I didn’t. First they form a long row of squeegees and dash across the court, sloshing water ahead of them. They do that forever. Then they run what looks like water vacuums over the whole thing. Then ball boys with towels dash around dabbing carefully at any missed spots.

It was an anticlimactic way to win a title, but Murray did get the hardware in the end. And we were on hand to cheer, so I’d call it more or less a win-win.

The women’s match was less dramatic in terms of weather, but definitely better tennis as it ran a whole, nail-biting 3 sets. I won’t give you the play by play, but Sharapova won. It was a good day.

A beautiful, wonky, memorable day in Cincinnati.

Just right.

A Lengthy Excuse

I was going to post yesterday, I really was, but then two things happened: I started reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and my already special computer developed a whole new set of disabilities.

If you haven’t read Guernsey, you probably should. I know a couple of people who were thrown off a bit by the epistolary style—lots of characters writing lots of letters to one another—but if you can get over the format (or if you can listen to it on tape) it’s lovely. Cosy and book-loving and LOVELY. I started it in earnest yesterday, and I finished it up before bed. A highly satisfactory day.

Less satisfactory: my computer.

Yes, so I sat down to do some work for my brother since I got approximately NOTHING done last week… popped open the file, started typing… and a bunch of numbers came blopping out. As in: I was going to write “new draft for AP story page” and the computer helpfully added “19298239803” to my word document.

I’ve known my laptop was dying a slow death for a while, but this was a new one.

Yet I am nothing if not resourceful, and we happen to have an external keyboard for the laptop that sits on a lower, roll-out desktop (so convenient for short people who type too much and worry about annoying things like carpal tunnel—which I accidentally typed as crapal tunnel just now. And it really is). So I plugged in the external keyboard and happily typed “newdraftfortheAPstorypage.”

Apparently the space bar is broken.

I mean, in one sense it was a delicious thing. I really COULDN’T work in conditions like that, Carl having taken his laptop to work that day. So there really wasn’t anything to do but read Guernsey and wander around scrubbing random fixtures in the digs. An ideal sort of day, right? Then again, I really hadn’t considered the strength of my social media addictions. Not so much Facebook, although that used to be a major time sink for me. But I joined a couple of online forums for various interests in the last couple of years, and while I could scroll through the new topics and read everyone’s latest thoughts on this or that… I COULD NOT COMMENT.

But I must comment!

I can’t hear someone talking about the convergence of borderline and narcissistic personality disorders and not say something. Don’t be foolish. I can’t listen to creative-type women chat about how lovely and supportive their husbands are without PUTTING IN A GOOD WORD FOR MINE.

Unthinkable.

So there I am, henpeck typing on the external keyboard with my left hand, my right hand poised on the other keyboard’s functional spacebar, HOWLING in frustrated rage at the slow dribble and false starts of my sentence construction. Manageable for 3 sentences. Ghastly for blogging.

Anyway, that’s my excuse for not writing.

Am morosely behind with my work now, but I swear tomorrow I’ll be in form to regale you with tales of our tennis outing. Ha. Assuming the computers work.

Busy Friday

Which would be significantly less busy if I could focus on my work instead of stopping every three minutes to watch the Stosur vs. Sharapova tennis match. And then the early afternoon match that follows. And then the late afternoon match. Heh. The Western & Southern Open is getting good and (woot! woot!) we’ve got tickets to the finals on Sunday, so I really sort of have an excuse for being obsessed, right? I want to know who we’re going to get to see on Sunday afternoon!

We’ve been watching tennis for about two years now, which isn’t that much of a commitment if you only watch the four majors each year. Well, and except for the US Open, all of them are 5 or 6 or 14 time zones removed from ours, so we don’t end up catching too many of the matches anyway. But this is the first time we’re going to get to actually SEE a match live. In person. In a stadium with lots of fans.

I’m kind of geeked.

We’ve talked about going to NYC for years—great vacation spot, tons to see, close to family—and trying to make the vacay coincide with the US Open, but the ticket prices are kind of ridiculous so we’d probably end up just seeing one of the very early round matches.

The Western & Southern Open is in Cincinnati, so only 4 hours driving time. Which means no plane tickets and only one night’s hotel. And it’s not a major, so tickets to the finals cost about as much as tickets to a first round game in NYC. And all the top players will be there, so the tennis is world class.

It’s a win/win.

But before we jet off tomorrow, we’re having Carl’s coworker and fam over for dinner tonight, which means that in addition to doing all of the job work I’ve been putting off all week, I also need to clean the apartment (a feat not managed since, um… July) and whip up some dinner.

Jaime is a vegetarian, howev, so I’d been scratching my carnivorous little brain trying to come up with something delicious… and decided to make the one truly fancypants vegetarian meal I know how to make (eggplant rigatoni with pine nut crunch), which is delicious—so delicious that I decided to make it this week even though I knew they were probably going to come to dinner next week, but what the heck, it’s good. We can eat it twice in one month, yeah? SO I made it on Wednesday, and just as we sat down to dinner Carl said oh, yes, Nic and Jaime said they can come on Friday of this week, so that’s what we decided today at work.

And I said noooooooooooooooo in slow mo, as I stared at the creamy/steamy on the table before me. I was going to make THIS when they came. Because it’s vegetarian. And it makes me look awesome.

And Carl said, what about those stuffed peppers you make? Those are nice.

And full of pork, I said gloomily.

And then we decided that my awesomeness in the kitchen was not really worth holding up dinner for, and we ate, and life dramatically improved right along with my blood sugar levels. Much later it occurred to me that I really like Bon Appetit‘s pimiento mac’n’cheese (don’t judge, pimiento cheese haters!! It’s really good), which is also free of the meat stuffs.

And then yesterday Em gave me a bag full of fresh-off-the-vine heirloom tomatoes, so now I have the fixings for a fantastic tomato/cucumber salad, and dinner is officially good again.

Does remind me though that I should probably get more comfortable with the meatless meal alternatives. I mean, there are plenty of comfort things like grilled cheese and tomato soup or a simple pasta or whatnot. But most of the time I like to put a little extra loving into the food I share with people, and extra loving apparently means meat to me. Must explore my options for the future.

Right.

Between tennis and emails and lazing about, I’ve now wasted almost two hours. Must get cracking. Happy Friday everyone!!

And Sharapova just took the first set, so I’m fairly sure it’s going to be a good one. 🙂

Our Quiet, Quirky Life

This is Carl’s “runway” walk.

I saw it debuted one night last year after Project Runway, a smooth sashay in pajama pants just creeping up the ankle from too much washing and a snap-up plaid shirt—all the better for dramatically ripping it off in one swift tear at the turning point of the catwalk.

Good times.

I’m not sure why he started tying our throw blanket together into a cape the other night. I am, on the other hand, usually pretty good at knowing when Carl’s being serious and when he’s not. Except when it comes to stories of childhood deprivation. I tend to assume a sympathetic expression and believe those.

“We weren’t allowed to do this when I was little,” he says, tying the ends together. Knowing that Carl wasn’t allowed to leave his closet door open as a kid because his parents “weren’t paying to heat the closet”… I don’t find it hard to believe he wasn’t allowed to play with throw blankets either. Maybe it stretched out the fabric or something ridiculous like that. “We weren’t allowed to play imaginary games,” he says, now laying it on thicker. I am suspicious as he slips the blanket over his head like a cape. “We weren’t allowed to pretend to be other people.”

Now I know he’s pulling my leg, and I laugh as he stalks to the bathroom in his superhero cape, glad to have a minute to grab the camera before he comes back. He sees the camera as he rounds the corner and voila, the runway walk returns.

I do like this quiet, quirky life we have together.

So affectionately placid, in fact, that while I absolutely love receiving early birthday presents (a box came yesterday and he thought I would like and use the gift so much he couldn’t hold out on me), I admit there is something deeply satisfying, if not exactly joyous, about our occasional disagreements—most lately over the prioritizing of certain features in our potential new home. I am all about layout and yard, he’s slightly more concerned about location and neighborhood. Nothing major. Just one of those conversations that requires actual communication to make sure you’re both on the same page in the end. Something to prove that your usual compliance and affection isn’t just a veneer to hide reality… even from yourself.

Things you don’t have to worry about if you have a marriage of two confrontational types.

Although I also hear people talk bullishly about marriages with one confronter and one peacemaker. That’s probably the most common arrangement, which is why we tend to make up all these mutually exclusive gender stereotypes about it (“men are less relationally aware, which is why she has to confront” sits comfortably, if strangely, on the shelf right next to “men are so direct, you know, which is why he has to confront. Woman tend to be peacemakers.”)

I suppose the good news is that there seem to be happy marriages in every possible configuration and if any of us has a favorite, it probably just says more about our marriage and temperament than anything else.

I like having lots of overlap in our personality profiles. It works for us.

Although I don’t think I’m going to be styling a throw-blanket cape any time soon. That’s pretty much a Carl thing.

Advice Wanted: New Home Edition

So the house thing is apparently happening… and much faster than I thought.

Carl found us a realtor last week through church connections, and we’ve been idly sorting through the customized listings he’s been sending us for our price range. I’m picky when it comes to certain things, but location isn’t really one of them. Carl is much pickier about location, and it’s actually really good because it’s kept our focus nice and sharp.

When the M was here on Thursday we had a lovely lunch at Compari’s in downtown Plymouth (get the goat cheese ravioli) and then decided to do a covert drive by of the more promising addresses… which enabled me to knock a couple off our list immediately (roof looked terrible, neighborhood sketchy, shed/yard falling apart). And also revealed one that might be a keeper. Carl got an email a few hours ago as we sat over our pancakes and bacon informing us the asking price for that one just dropped 5k yesterday, so I think we may have to get a tour on Monday and see if the inside looks as promising as the out.

A cosy 3 bedroom home with a finished basement, fenced yard, family room fireplace, central air, and hardwood flooring upstairs. The paperwork calls it, rather optimistically, a 3 bedroom colonial, but I’m not sure I’d go quite that far. It’s a comfy, friendly, cookie-baking sort of home whose name is probably something akin to Nancy or Brenda.

I like it.

But I’ve always had a soft spot for kicky ’50s and ’60s names. Susan, for example, is a fantastic name for a small dog, am I right?

Anyway, the point of all this was to ask for advice, since I know many of you have already moved into your first (or second or third) homes and have been through all this before. So lay it on me. How long did it take you to find the right house and what would you do differently if you were doing it all over again? What drove you crazy and what worked out super well about your approach? Have you actually used/do you still like the fireplace/huge yard/hard wood flooring or are the extras not as thrilling as you thought? Do you need more/less space than you thought you did? Does it drive you crazy to only have one bathroom or do you HATE having to clean the 2.5 bathrooms you ended up going for?

TELL ME ALL YOUR HOME OWNER WISDOM.

I need the help!