Welcome to Minerva

“We” got our first car in 1997. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college when my then boyfriend called me up to tell me his folks had bought him a car, a manual transmission silver Saturn. My mind was *blown*. Who got new cars while in college? Adam named the car Olaf, and refused to let me drive him until we were married. (Since then, I’ve done 99% of the driving when we’re both in the car.) Olaf had canoes strapped to him. He did the trip between Connecticut and Massachusetts many times (at high speeds) the year Adam and I spent engaged and apart. We passed him to my brother when my brother graduated from college, and rumor has it Olaf still lives on in the roads of Minnesota, some 20 years later. (Please note: Olaf was named well before Frozen!)

Our second car was also a Saturn – green with an automatic transmission. In 2002 our commutes pulled us different ways and it was hard with a single car. We loved our Saturn and were sorry to see the rubber bumpers replaced with colored ones, but I’d vowed after a three hour, three mile journey on the tollways of New York not to get another manual. They just don’t make sense in the kind of traffic we live in. This car was named Brunhilde, on the viking theme. (Elsa would’ve been a great name on the Wagnerian theme – phew! Narrowly missed that one!) I was very conscientious in those early days about the traps that women fell into with finance. (I read a lot of Money magazine for a while after a panic-stricken realization I had no idea how insurance worked. It was full of horror stories about women and divorce.) So I proposed that we alternate ownership of the cars, so we’d build equal credit records. Brunhilde was mine. Brunhilde ended life donated to WBUR.

Olaf was replaced by Hrothgar – a 2007 Blue Toyota Matrix. That was my Beowulf phase – we named the car Hrothgar (or Hrothcar if I was feeling punny) about the same time we named our youngest son Thane. Same inspiration. Hrothgar was bigger than our Saturns (we were sad when they went away!) and was more of a “family” car. We brought Thane home from the hospital in it. We took it on our first ever camping trip in White Lake State Park. (In cleaning the car out, I found an old Mapquest-style printed set of directions to our home away from home!) Hrothgar was Adam’s in name, but the last few years I’ve been the primary driver. In an otherwise reliable workhorse of a car, the lack of audio line in or Bluetooth has driven us both crazy. Also heated seats. Today, Hrothgar drove off with new plates under the guidance of a friend of mine, after 93,000 miles of service. It’s good to know that a car that still has some working years in it will get that time on the road.

It was really the camping that made us need a bigger car. I wanted one with great gas mileage, so I test drove quite a few and ended up with a 2011 Kia Sorento. (The gas mileage ended up being a disappointment.) I was reading Herodotus in the Humanities Book Club at the time, and so we named our new car. It’s still our “big car”, and hopefully will be for quite some time (significantly to exceed three years, please…) It does have heated seats and Bluetooth. The only real annoyances are that it doesn’t have a thermometer (so annoying – I never even thought to check!) and the tan seats were a grave mistake. The car just hit 60,000 miles on our drive down to King Richard’s Faire, so I think it has quite a few good years left!

The time came, and then passed, when I’d budgeted for another new, smaller “commuter” car to replace Hrothgar. I dreaded the buying process. I dreaded the picking process. I’d driven my parents Ford C-Max (Rosie!) quite a few times on my trips home and I’d liked it a lot. The second car is definitely a commuter. It’s purpose is to schlep my husband or me the 11 miles between Stoneham and Cambridge, with heated seats and easy podcast syncing. So when we decided not to go camping Labor Day weekend (a mistake I still regret), I decided to use my time and attention on his task I knew would take both when it was needed. And I decided to focus on the C-Max, which was basically designed for the kind of commuter traffic we do constantly!

I put down a deposit on Minerva, a blue 2017 Ford C-Max Energi. She’s named after Minerve, the small fortified village in France we visited which is itself named after Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. (There was likely a temple there in the Roman era.) The “Energi” part of the C-Max is pretty cool. The car is an electric hybrid, or a plug-in hybrid. It has a fully electric motor with an approximate 20 mile range. (Remember? Cambridge is 11 miles from home. And my workplace has an EV charging station!) I have no range anxiety, though, since it also has a full gas/hybrid engine. When fully charged and gassed up, the car has an over 600 mile range. It also has pretty much no trunk space, but you can’t have everything. So I’m trying to find an electrician who knows how to install a charging station (I bet our next “big” car will be at least partially electric too!) and currently classily charging the car through a cord strung through the window. I discovered there are no EV charging stations in Stoneham, and have already dropped a “friendly observation” to an elected official or two. Minerva is used. I don’t understand the mindset that turns in a same-model-year car with 1300 miles on it, but someone did. And I benefited from a nice used car discount (and that crazy person also installed remote starter, so there’s that!) It was a bit of an adventure for the dealership to get the title (I guess it actually got lost in the snail-mail – who does that?!) which accounts for the delay. But it’s mine now!

Twenty years, and we’re on our fifth car. It does feel rather monumental!

Minerva at home
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The end of the season

After a long, cold spring, the summer has finally arrive with heat and humidity. The daylight lingers so long that you forget it’s time for your kids to be asleep. This last week was a week of closings.

Edwin Hubble readies his “Famous American” presentation

School ended on Friday. Today we’ve spent time spelunking through backpacks, throwing away pencils stubs and uncappered markers, while saving previous mementos and projects in folders marked “Thane – Second Grade” and “Grey – Fifth Grade”. Those folders will get no more entries. Monday they begin the adventures of summer camp, and kick off what will be an extremely busy summer for them. (Actually rather more relaxed for Adam and me!)

It was a very good school year for both boys. Thane is desperately in love with his teacher. He learned sign language from her, and felt valued and respected by her. He asked me a few weeks ago if he could fail second grade so he could do it all over again with her. (Sorry kiddo. Your grades are way too good!) I’d definitely been worried about sending Grey to Middle School. But he thrived in his classroom. He loved his teachers, learned a lot and has continued to grow in maturity and capability. Also, I think 5th grade is a fantastic time to learn what a 0 for not turning in your homework does to the ol’ GPA.

I’m always jealous at the end of the school year. The nature of my work is seasonless – the tropics of effort. I can’t help but thinking how lovely it would be to do work which both begins and ends.

This Saturday was also the last day of the soccer season. We require our kids to play at least one sport, and we can’t make baseball work. So that one sport has been soccer since Grey was wee. There have been quite a few years where one pondered whether it was a good idea. Grey used to have to be cajoled onto the field. Thane was apparently working on his PhD in falling down and didn’t like to get sweaty (sorry kid – it’s a requirement!)

Because of church commitments, I haven’t seen my kids play much this year. It feels like I’ve spent six months in non-stop committee meetings trying to find a pastor we want to hire. But I made it to all of this tournament. It’s really Stoneham at it’s best and brightest. The field is covered with children and parents. There’s a vast melting pot of colors, accents and levels of skill. Children in blue jersey as young as four to the teenage refs showcase sportsmanship and teamwork.

In it to win it

Best of all, though, was watching how much my kids have grown and flourished. Grey, the once reluctant player, was masterful in his defense. It was such a joy to watch him stretch his long legs, find his spots, challenge for the ball – and come away with it. In the tournament, he took two hard-hit balls to the his face. Where in prior years this might have been enough to keep him off the pitch entirely, this year he picked himself up and got right back into the scrum. I was incredibly proud of him, and grateful to his coaches.

Good luck getting past him!

Thane was equally wonderfully transformed. His team only had one sub, and was missing some of it’s skilled players, but managed to fight their way to the championship. They played back to back games. I couldn’t believe how well Thane read the field repositioning himself to be in just the right defensive spot. He did a great job stopping attacks and clearing the ball. He was focused, fast and good. I’ve never seen such a look of concentration and passion on his face. They ended up coming up short in the final game with a late goal by the other team. Instead of falling into sorrow, Thane cheerfully pointed out how fantastic it was that they got to play in a championship at all. I was delighted at the attitude!

Proud championship player

It’s not only the school year that is coming to a close. It’s also a chapter of our life on our street. We have an incredible neighborhood, where many of the families know each other very well. We have meals together, our kids play together all the time. We are deeply connected. This has been true for years now. But the time has come when our dearly beloved friend is being transferred to DC. We’ve known this was coming for years, but we’ve all been in denial. It’s getting harder and harder to deny, though, since they leave next week. Nothing will ever be quite the same – it never is. But this will leave a big hole in my life and community.

Love you forever, Stef!

Love you all the time!

Spring is astonishing

I work in technology, and the epicenter of technology is in California. I have thought a lot about living in California, and repeatedly decided that I did NOT want to live in California. Many people transplanted to California talk about how they miss “the seasons”. I mean, paradise is great but it has no variety. I sometimes wonder in the dreariest days of early April (when according to the seasons I learned at the hands of English poets spring should be well along) whether the seasons are all that much to brag about.

May has had it’s fair share of showers

But then, oh glorious May! There is this thing that happens to color and sunlight in May that beggars explanation. It’s as though your eyes put on a saturation lens. Every color – from the blandest grays to the chartreuse grasses and indigo skies – looks more vibrant than you remember the world looking. The phlox is unrealistically pink, and soft to the touch. Fragrances – long forgotten out of doors – waft on the soft winds bringing news of nearby lilacs (my favorite flower). The way the golden light bends over playing children long into the evening hours seems like a double bounty. Not only is it a glorious, beautiful and rich light, but it lingers longer.

Spring is an excellent time for ambition. Oh, not as great as Fall. There is no better time for the embarking on great adventures than September (as Tolkien well knew). But when you step outside to mow your lawn for the first time in a calendar year and contemplate the land allotted to you, it occurs to you it’s not enough. You should put in a flower bed. You should plant some pansies. Heck, maybe you should buy out your back door neighbor’s yard and add it to your own! (I confess that latter is a fantasy I’ve entertained. Tragically, that neighbor has no interest in selling.)

Spring is the time of year when you make gardening commitments your July self will deeply rue. You know that, of course. Everyone knows spring decisions are unreliable. But you can’t help yourself. You don’t want to help yourself. You want to believe, in spring, that all things really are made new and you yourself are a different person. A greater person than you’ve been before. A person who will weed all year round.

My next door neighbor is just such a person. (If you’re one of the cognoscenti of my street, no this isn’t any of my neighbors you know.) Every year since they moved in they’ve seeded their lawn with new grass seed. They even usually water it (thereby going one up on me and my “only the strong will survive” attitude towards grass seed). But they don’t believe in actually MOWING said lawn. Those newly minted blades of grass poking up through the “one-step” grass seed/fertilizer & soil mixes will be grow unmolested until August, at which point they’ll be crudely mown (by a weed-whacker I believe) for the sole time in the year. (Unless I get sick of it and sneak over and mow it first, which is deeply tempting.) Still every spring, they plant. You can’t fail to admire optimism like that.

Proto plum

I have continued to follow the progress of my plum tree with avid interest. The winter moths have not arrived. I don’t know if that’s “yet” or if they’ve been successfully suppressed. I have found today a tiny, embryonic plum. I haven’t given much thought to the growth patterns of fruit, but since you generally only see the flower and the fruit, I thought the inbetween stages somewhat invisible – the ridiculousness of which belief becomes apparent as quickly as writing it down. They are indeed there, those minute plums. The one I spotted is less than the size of an olive pit – much less. But it is there.

The tragedy of my spring is that I am not overambitious just once (or even twice a year). I suffer from chronic overambition. I would say that this year has been extra super ridiculously busy, but if I’m honest with myself it’s actually only a notch or two busier than usual. A good portion of the extra busyness comes from the Pastor Nominating Committee, which I’m chairing. We’re meeting three times this week. And for a total of about 6 horus. And I have homework on top of that. The efficiency maven in me keeps looking at how we might do this faster & better, but it’s a process that resists shortcuts.

This guy would like you to know he is NOT a spiritualist and does not condone the ridiculous stuff his son gets up to. His son, meanwhile, has his name on the plot in no less than FIVE spots.

I find myself caught between two powerful feelings – on one hand the feeling that this is all to much and I absolutely have to slow down. On the other hand, there’s this pressing and persistent guilt for all the things I have not done, which I have not put my hand to. I do absolutely nothing for the PTO. I would love to do more things with town history, but I’ve never even used the brand new microfiche machine in our library. (Although I’ve dispatched others for information found therein!) I really want to put up a sign marking the Nobility Hill Historic district. Two in fact. I just need designs. And money. Those just need… time. I haven’t seen half my friends in far too long. I turn down party invitations I’d rather attend. I don’t have season tickets to the theater. I don’t practice my trumpet. And I wish I spent more time with my kids. They’re neat people. It’s been ages since I attempted anything complicated in the kitchen. And the prime time of foraging season is here and I have not set foot in the woods.

In my defense, this weekend I did see “Guardians of the Galaxy” (both 1 and 2) with my kids. I finished reading “The Two Towers” for the, uh, I have no idea how many times I’ve read it. But when you have your own personal “director’s cut” (which I *didn’t* read) you may have read it rather often. I did a ton of PNC work. I cleaned up the “clothes to donate” pile. I took a 3 hour tour of Lindenwood Cemetery. (GUYS! Stoneham was a hotbed of spiritualism! The ghost stories just write themselves, really…) We went out to dinner with the gift certificate we were given in gratitude for rescuing a hiker last year. I played two board games. I attended one soccer game (our team won!). I went to church, and the International Potluck afterwards. We saw Gabriel at the theater with the boys (it was excellent!). I mowed the lawn and the space where I want to put the “Nobility Hill” sign. We went for a run. I made dinner & we watched “Bertie & Jeeves”. And then I realized I had no idea what to write for a blog post and went for the extremely creative “well what’s the weather like” prompt.

And honestly, this was not a super duper busy weekend. Not even the fullest spring-intoxication can beguile more commitments out of me!

Thane was a very effective goalie!

One last word on spring. I’ve often contemplated the shift in metaphor that separates us from our forepoets. Both Homer and Keats – worlds & thousands of years apart – have seen real live sheep in the flesh. They know what they are to the touch. What a clean pelt feels like. How a contented sheep sounds. These are things that thousands of years of history have in common with each other. And they are things which have abruptly been removed from the common experience – or at best made isolated and rare. The rich metaphors are drying out in a world that no longer does the things we’ve always done.

But the seasons still remain. The stars have faded (when is the last time you glanced out and the sky was clear enough you could see the Milky Way?). The livestock are gone from our lives. We neither sow nor spin nor shear nor reap (the latter being especially true for my neighbor). So what remains as connection is all the more precious. The seasons remain. The daffodils still bloom, as once they did. Our hearts are “pricked” and we long to go on “pilgrimages”, just as Chaucer said. Even as much falls away, or becomes an intellectual adventure, we still share those seasons with those who came before us.

And that, my friends, is why I will not move to California.

Goslings are cute. Geese are jerks.

Never ask “What else could go wrong?”

So you all ready my slightly annoyed post two weeks ago about how I’ve had to repair or replace five appliances in quick succession. I thought to myself – but did not say – that the only thing left to go wrong was something with a car, the one piece of machinery we own that costs more than a furnace.

I also didn’t note that things come in threes. “Maybe” I thought, “three replaced appliances counts and the repairs don’t.” Or maybe I’m not superstitious and things don’t really come in threes, we just use logic like the above to make them come in threes.

Regardless, I’ll admit that I was really relieved when the AC got fully hooked up on Saturday and NOTHING ELSE BROKE. Finally, done with all the hassle of getting things repaired and service windows etc. etc.

You can see where this is going, right?

A dark and stormy night
A dark and stormy night

Tonight, Adam has invited a few friends over to play a long role playing game to celebrate his 40th birthday. Grey was at a birthday party, so Thane and I went to the Burlington Mall to buy some Legos and kill some time. I was headed back on the chilly, dark night – after the rains of the day had stopped. The car in front of me squealed its tires as it came to a fast stop. I did that quick prayer and slammed on my brakes, relieved that I managed to stop bare inches from the bumper of the car in front of me. Then the car behind me plowed into us. (OK, ran into us. It wasn’t THAT bad.)

I asked Thane if he was ok, pulled over and turned on the flashers. The good news is Thane is fine. My neck hurts. Our airbags didn’t deploy, so it wasn’t a big hit. The front bumper is damaged from where I hit the car in front of us. The rear bumper is damaged. And I think our muffler was impacted, based on how I sounded like I was driving a racing lawnmower. The folks in the fancy car behind us did have their airbags go off (although the car didn’t take that much obvious damage). They behaved so weirdly we weren’t sure what the story is, and I didn’t get their insurance info (although the police did, so I’ll be able to get it).

Here’s the thing. I just got the car detailed today. I was talking with the dude about what a great, reliable car it is. Having a 9 year old car that runs really well is like money in the bank. You can’t buy a car worth the value of the car you have. I was joking any time I started to think of buying a new car, I’d just get my car professionally detailed (he does a great job) and then I stopped thinking about a new car for a good year or so. I really don’t want to buy a new car. They’re expensive. It’s a hassle. There are few less enjoyable experiences than going to a car dealership. I’m really hoping the car isn’t totaled, but I’m guessing that it wouldn’t take much to total my 2007 Toyota Matrix with 88k miles on it.

I do know this: more obnoxious logistical handling is in my immediate future. Time to go file the accident report, I guess. And schedule a chiropractor appointment. And figure out where to bring my car to see just how bad it really is.

Ugh.

Up in the air

Up in the Air

It’s been a long time since I last traveled for business. I was thinking about it the other day, trying to remember my last trip. I think it was all the way back in June, when I flew out to San Francisco and went to a boy scout camp in the redwoods with my then-new colleagues. That may actually have been the last time I was on a plane. It seems a little hard to believe – for several years I’ve been flying every other month or so on average. Sometimes it was all clumped together so that I was hitting Logan every other week. But we drove to Canada for our big summer trip, and didn’t go anywhere over the holidays so… it may have been half a year since I traveled.

I’m traveling now, of course. In that casual miracle of flight, I’m thirty thousand feet over frozen fields. Unlike the April-warmth of Boston right now, these fields are white. Our itinerary brings us over Canada, which is relevant because apparently the inflight internet doesn’t work over Canada, and it’s a bit hard to bring myself to pay $50 for wifi access that won’t work most of the flight, even if I am not the one who is really paying for it. I’m headed to Seattle, and the way the time zones work I’ll have most of a full day’s work still in that office once I land, so perhaps I don’t have to rush. After this trip, there are some more stacked up. Some are already booked (Anaheim later in the month). Some are only possibilities.

I think my least favorite thing about flying – other than how heavy my bags are to schlep – is the sleep I get the night before. If I am flying out and it requires me to get up even 20 minutes before my regular wakening, I don’t sleep well. I’m convinced I’m going to sleep through my alarm and miss my flight and get fired. Or, you know, minority inconvenience people (almost as dire). So I don’t sleep very well. I think I got only about four hours of sleep last night – which was the second night in a row I was significantly short on sleep. Perhaps instead of working on this flight I’ll exchange my time for some very low quality drowsing. On the plus side, hotel sleep is best sleep. Mmmmm…..

The biggest tumult in my life lately has been at church. Church is an unusual place to experience tumult, especially non-drama related tumult. But it is a hard, hard time in the life of my congregation. To sum up – our pastor of 35 years retired about a year and a half ago. There was a triumphal Easter and a farewell to a pair whom I’ve known and loved since I first arrived in Boston. Then there was this long period before we got to call an interim. It was too long. We felt unfocused and drifting, but I was committed to the process. I know that one doesn’t just say farewell to a relationship like that and snap into a new one, but I hated the lingering. We called an interim, and then had to wait almost another year before Presbytery would clear us to start our mission process and begin the work of discerning our mission and calling our pastor.

Before our prior pastor retired, I’d seen the writing on the wall. (Pro tip: when the pastor who lives in the manse buys a condo in a lovely retirement location, the countdown clock has started.) After over 12 years of constantly serving on a board or two, I took myself off all of them. I didn’t even teach Sunday School. I worshipped, and tried to un-burn myself out, knowing that the afterwards would require a lot of energy and leadership. So when we kicked off the New Beginnings process to help us hear God’s call for us, I threw myself into it, organizing meetings and drafting leaders and setting up small groups.

Towards the end of the year, our interim pastor seemed to start to struggle. He had some personal sorrows in his life that kept him in our prayers and that seemed like a likely culprit. In December, he was uncharacteristically late to start some services. At a funeral of a long time member (much lamented in his loss), long pauses punctuated the eulogy, which seemed unusually sparse in details for a man who had served our congregation so faithfully. Then on Christmas Eve, after the children had told the age-old story of a star and angels and shepherds, the meditation was very strange. It was filled with extremely long pauses. It left a biblical exegesis behind. And it went on far longer than any Christmas Eve sermon with a congregation full of excited kids ever should. I went to sleep that Christmas Eve night with a cold knot of worry in my stomach. I didn’t know what was right and kind to do, but the service was not one I’d care to repeat. My brother ended up filling in for the pastor at the last minute on epiphany Sunday (note: it’s good planning to always have a spare Presbyterian minister in your attic for just such emergencies).

And then, just as the year was starting, we learned our interim pastor has an aggressive brain tumor. Ah. That explained much. We hold him and his family deep in our prayers, but his work is now fighting that and not leading us.

I’ve soldiered on with the New Beginning process, reckoning to figure things out as we go. But this is also the time of year when our boards change members and the members change roles. Some of the lay leadership roles in the church are switching. An interim period is supposed to teach you the strength of your congregation, and it certainly has. This last Sunday, with a guest preacher in the pulpit, we stood to sing “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. On the fourth verse, the organ stopped playing. I figured it was a verse miscount and kept singing, but then… the choir was in motion. One of our older members had collapsed. The notes died on our lips as we called 911. The medical professionals in the congregation (we have a number!) rushed forward. We moved the piano and baptismal font and communion table from the front so the EMTs could bring a stretcher in. The clerk of session rode off with her in a big red ambulance. I watched Grey, sitting next to me, sketching the ambulance on the note pads we keep for the kids. (It seems now that she will be ok.)

At coffee hour we all just looked at each other. We miss our friend who died in December – whose myriad duties we keep discovering. We are shocked and grieved for our interim pastor, and for the dark and difficult road laid out in front of his feet. (And of course, we’re making casseroles, because that’s what we do.) It is a hard time not to have the focusing presence of a pastor.

I’ve been proud at how the congregation has responded. I feel like we’re a patch of woolen cloth. With the heat and pressure and friction of the last few months, the loose weave of our relationships is tightening. We’re coming closer to each other, and bonding together. I think that without the clarity of “who should I ask if I should do this” we’re starting to just do the things that need doing. We are a hopeful people. We want to look forward. We do not wish to stop doing things until we get a pastor to do them for us. I want to make sure we hand out the Bibles to the fourth graders. I want to invite Camp Wilmot to come speak to us. So I will just do those things. We are also leaning forward into the New Beginnings process. It’s not a perfect fit for us. We’re a regional, denominational church, and it’s a community based curriculum. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I could get people to come six times for small group meetings – we condensed to three or four. The curriculum uses these old techniques for running meetings that I don’t know how to do (mostly handouts and paper documents). I’ve converted them as we’ve gone to presentations. (Chromecast turns my tv into a great display for that!) I had this cold-water realization the other day that while I know what we’re supposed to do in the next step or two of the New Beginnings process, I don’t really know how it all ties in to the Pastor Nominating Committee etc. That was all pastor-guided. (Fortunately we have Presbytery resources to help there.)

It has been the sort of time where, when you are through it, you look back and see how it strengthened you. When you are in it, you wonder how much more room there is in the strength and resources of the congregation to deal with more blows.

All this has been very much on my mind, for several months now. The future of the church – both our specific congregation and the larger collection of worshippers – is in great flux. We must change to meet the need where it is. Waiting for it to come and meet what we are already doing is not a winning strategy.

It’s been a hard year for my friends, too. One friend’s husband was in a serious car accident. Another friend’s brother just died, and left a devastated family behind. They are not my personal sorrows, but I share them with my friends.

And then, back to the prosaic, our hot water heater went out Saturday morning. And the new water heater we had installed at great expense on Sunday (which is not as nice as the one we had before) will not keep its pilot light lit. Good times. I abandoned my husband to that particular domestic disaster.

So that’s what’s up with me. What’s up with you?

Speeding to the finish line

Every year around this time I take a deep breath and figuratively buckle my seat belt. This is always high time for me. In a six week period, every person in my household has a birthday. Two weeks later there’s Mocksgiving. Then Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We also kicked off our soccer season this Sunday, with losses for both the U8 Netherlands team and U10 Brazil team. Perhaps the extra coaching session (called clinic) both our boys are doing this fall will help transform some losses to wins.

The level of play is much higher this year than it was last
The level of play is much higher this year than it was last

I only caught the Netherlands game, since I needed to get to church to kick off the Sunday School year. I’m teaching 2nd through 5th graders this year. I’m particularly lousy at traditional Sunday School arts and crafts curriculum, but am hopeful I make up for it by attempting to teach actual Biblical information. (I had two kids who memorized the books of the Bible last year – one OT and one NT!) But we’ll see if my planned curriculum works for 2nd graders.

After church, I chaired a meeting of the Mission Taskforce, which will be in full swing through the end of the year. We have some interesting work to do, trying to figure out what the next generation of church holds for our congregation.

Also there was room cleaning
Also there was room cleaning

Saturday was no less busy than Sunday. I had dueling playdates for the boys (I hosted one, and shipped Grey off to one). Somehow Thane managed to fall, fully clothed into a swimming pool. We found a new bike path, and went for a cool ride along the Mystic River.

We've really enjoyed our bike rides!
We’ve really enjoyed our bike rides!
This is 20 feet in the air
This is 20 feet in the air

I don’t have a thesis statement. This is all just a very long excuse for not posting yesterday! It’s also foreboding. Several of these things are things that will not improve in 2015. They’re seasonal, and the season just kicked off. This is one of my favorite times of year, but it comes with a price tag. Hopefully I’ll find some moments to walk in the quiet forests of fall, with the only sound the shuffling of leaves at my feet and the laughing of my children. Hopefully I’ll find a quiet moment to soak in the essence of New England – only available this time of year. There will be apple picking and trick-or-treating. But there will not be much down time between here and January. So buckle up.

Cup of Joe

In lieu of real or meaningful content, I thought I’d take a moment this morning to discuss coffee cups. Those of you who know me in the real world are aware of the fact that I had a coffee cup surgically implanted in my hand at the age of seventeen. (OK – I only WISH I did. I spend half my life wandering around wondering where I left my coffee cup on weekends.)

On your average morning – like this morning – I make myself a pot of coffee. The pot is thermal. The coffee is Starbucks Sumatra, but at about half the recommended potency. I will drink between one and three of these pots a day. On a work morning, I make my pot, give my husband a teeny cup, then fill a 16 oz mug and a 16 oz thermos. During one summer job during college, my commute was so long I made a 16 oz mug, a 16 oz thermal mug and a 16 oz thermos and would have all of it consumed by the time I got to work. During college – at which time you could tell my relative poverty by the fact I was drinking Maxwell House (although I would cut it with Starbucks if I could get any) – I used to store my coffee cup in my coat pocket. For one class, I’d have my 16 oz mug, my 16 oz thermos and a 16 oz mug for a friend in my pocket. I was a good friend.

Let us speak for a moment of the platonic ideal of the travel coffee mug. I give you this one:

Starbucks Coffee mug c1997

This might be my very favorite coffee mug (although the one with the dancing skeletons I use during Halloween is a close second).

Prime attributes:
– Perfect size
– Perfect shape
– Plastic thermal mug is ideal temperature wise (more on that in a bit)
– Lightweight
– Relatively durable (this mug is – cough – 18 years old)
– Beautiful design

Starbucks used to make these mugs all the time. They were all the same basic design, but with different pictures. I have an impressionist one, a red hispanic themed one, the aforementioned dancing skeletons… I had an extensive collection. They cost five or six dollars and came with a free drink. (For reference, my current drink costs $4.44 so that would be an excellent deal for me. Plus it’s $.10 off every drink you get in your own mug!) It’s a good thing I did since five or six years ago (more?), they stopped making them. They branched out to different designs – every mug having a different profile. They’ve innovated themselves out of something I loved!

The back of the mug, with the Space Needle in the background. 1997 represents the period where Starbucks was just beginning to explode as a global company, but was still strongly rooted in Seattle.

Right now Starbucks is basically only offering stainless steel travel mugs, to my sorrow. My problem with that is that I drink my coffee black. I pour it the second it comes out of my Mr. Coffee (not because I’m a purist – because I’m late for work). So it’s near boiling when I put it in my stainless steel mug. It stays near boiling for a looooooong time. I’m guessing the people who love these mugs add milk or creamer so they don’t burn their tongues off.

Which brings me to my last idiosyncrasy (I swear, half of my externally visible oddness has to do with my coffee habits…) I drink my coffee from these travel mugs with a straw. Always have. I learned to drink coffee and to drive at literally the same time. (Coincidence? I think not.) When I fell in love with java was when I was putting nearly a thousand miles EVERY WEEK on my parents car. (Loving parents!) I was in the car 2 to 3 hours a day, every day. Maybe more. Often first thing in the morning. If you drink out of a mug regularly in the car, you have to tilt your head back to finish it (briefly taking your eyes off the road). You also have to be more coordinated than I am, or you spill coffee on yourself. (Personally, I consider au de caffeine my personal perfume.) I neatly solved both of these problems by grabbing a straw from Starbucks and using it in mug until it breaks. In a positive innovation, Starbucks has recently started selling durable straws (for use in their cold beverages, they claim) which do not break. This is a bonus.

Thus, the on-the-go coffee.

When I’m home, as I am today, I prefer my coffee in a non travel mug. (At which time I do not use a straw, if you’re curious.) I’d never had quite a favorite, until about a year ago. I inherited a few small things from my paternal grandparents. Some pieces of jewelry. The melamine plates and bowls my grandma served me cookies on. A handthrown clay coffee mug with birds.

My grandmother’s cup
I particularly like how the birds are actually etched into the pottery. You can feel the design with your fingers. I bet this mug would be lovely to a blind person too.

I don’t know why I like it so much. I’m not even – on calm reflection – sure how I know it came from my grandma. (Relatives, can anyone confirm, or remember it?) But it’s perfect. It’s warm to the hands, but doesn’t lose heat too quickly, or scald. It conforms perfectly to the proportions of my hand. It holds just the right amount of coffee for consuming at my pace without getting cold. And the three birds on it look cheerful. There’s a name of the artist neatly signed on the bottom in bell hook-esque cursive: “betty belle”. It’s as though the fifties blew me a kiss in the shape of a coffee cup. I love it.

One of the great curses of using beautiful objects is that they are exposed to risk in the use. That platonic ideal Starbucks mug hasn’t held coffee in over 10 years because it has a crack. If I put coffee in it, that design will be gone forever. I suppose I should just throw it away, but I don’t want to. Wandering around the house doing chores in my slippers – one day I’ll move wrong and drop my grandmother’s mug and it will shatter. It is pottery, thrown and designed by hand. It is breakable. I will mourn, but I’ll have the memory of a hundred hot cups to console me. I’ll take the great memories of a mug loved and lost over an intact cup in the back of my cupboard any day of the week.

I’ve Googled betty belle and come up with nothing. I like to imagine she was a Boeing housewife who did pottery in her spare time to supplement her income. She was almost certainly a Seattle area artist.

What’s your favorite coffee cup? What’s that object you touch every day that brings you pleasure every time you use it?