Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Catalog shopping

This blog series contains my observations about my move to Tioga County Pennsylvania. In the past, I have written about landscape and lots to do, but have not told about my forays to malls for necessities of daily living. Here is a look back at this week:

A week ago, I decided that I want a dress or two for those times I get dressed for going out places and jeans are not appropriate. I went to the local shops and found nothing that fits me. Neither in size nor in age. My size is almost unchanged in over quite a few years though my age continues to creep up. I was sixty-seven last year and very much too old for clothing meant for a flirt-y and flat-chested 20-year old. After exhausting the local shops, I drove to the mall – DETERMINED to find a dress that looks good. I spent a whole day (my day off for those of you who are wondering where I get this time) taking off and putting on. After 8 hours, I did purchase one dress that, when tried on at home, is terrible. I gave the double-knit clingy polyester dress to my 36-year old neighbor who is better suited to the clings of knit polyester. The same day, I bought a skirt (a keeper) and two blouses – that can now be found in their respective mall stores.

Not being completely deterred, I looked online then, remembered why I don’t like to buy clothes online – I return them. In the office area of my home, I have an almost-new sewing machine, so on my day off this week, I went to the same New York mall and bought material, two spools of thread, two patterns, and tree buttons to sew into two dresses. Next week, after Easter, I will give it the old college try. I used to sew well, but have not since discovering that I can try on clothes in a store, discard what I don’t like and take others home. After sewing, if I don’t like the dress, it goes into a basket to be taken to Goodwill.

Next in the list of things I need is bedding. I have wanted a colorful quilt for several years and looked at many online sites without luck. When a catalog came and I saw the picture of one I liked, I ordered it immediately. I waited with eager anticipation for the package to arrive --- it came yesterday. I could barely contain my excitement as I tore open the box and put the quilt on the bed. Disappointment flooded my soul – the quilt did not look so good. I decided to return it, then talked myself out of that spontaneous reaction, tried it again, decided it was OK – not great, but OK. This morning sanity returned and the ”OK” quilt with two shams (total cost: $398) are on their way back to the online catalog store.

There is one thing that I could shop for online and not return, a date! On January 1, 2010, I signed up for match dot com for three months, just to see if there is someone "out there” to date: someone to talk with, to have coffee with, to laugh out loud with. I met four men and did not meet as many others who expressed an interest. People tell me that I did well for three months. Here is what I learned – few men are interested in dating a minister (that may have to be qualified to dating a “female” minister, apparently being a male minister is a turn-on). Living two hours apart is not an attractive proposition for men seeking women my age they have many opportunities to date single women living a mere 20 minutes away. An additional drawback: I am employed, working 50+ hours each week, so I plan time off. The men my age are freer - retired or working part time and can do things at the spur of the moment. I did meet one nice man, clergy, who is at this point, a friend. He listens, makes me laugh and even talks about his ministry. All good – just the inconvenient two hours away from Wellsboro.

Catalog shopping – the days of the Sears and Roebuck Catalog being eagerly anticipated may still be who Americans are. We love to look, make our wishes – then we do the 21st Century thing – we go online and buy – getting goodies overnighted for just a few dollars more. Instant gratification. I would settle for gratification just because something came, fit, looked right or (in the case of a date) lived close enough to have coffee on an impulse.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The times they are a changin'

Today is not Tuesday – it is Thursday and I am late writing this blog. On my way to yet another meeting – this one more church-oriented than some others I attend – I pondered what to write. Then, as I drove over a road that, by this time next week, may be only be gravel as the pavement deteriorates from heavy truck use, I decided to write about changes in Tioga County.

At 8AM this morning, I attended a committee meeting of the planning committee for the county health partnership. For several months, the committee has been aware that changes accompanying the gas industry explosion (pun intended) will have profound effects on the communities in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. We are learning, for instance, that farmers who for generations could barely get a living out of their fertile land now find themselves millionaires – too much money, too few plans, too much to worry about now. I am so happy that families who did without for many years are able to “do with” now. How wonderful for them to be able to buy a truck with cash, to pay off mortgages that date back to the days of their fathers or grandfathers. How incredible that children can have all new clothes for school, that a family can afford that flat screen TV and that parents can sleep without nightmares about the annual taxes.

Alongside the “incredibles” and the good fortune is the destruction of the environment by gas company trucks that have no long-term stake in the area. Nineteen months here does not make me a native by any stretch of the imagination, but I have more roots than many who are coming now. Many leave their families “back home” bringing new problems: the health system is poised to explode. Several months ago, I wrote that the hospital was expanding their emergency room; now I fear the expansion is going to be too small. Others do bring their families to an area without housing and to schools that are not prepared to accommodate many new children.

People say “those people in Tioga County have to change their ways” meaning that we must lock our house doors (some don’t even have a key) and the days of running into the grocery with car still running are past. We see fights in entertainment venues that had rarely experienced unruly behavior. When looking at the stats for our county, I found only one murder in several years – that last winter when a landlord tried to evict a tenant. What will I find in a year or two about the murder rate and the rates of domestic violence or STDs?

Today, I again understood how fortunate I was to purchase my Wellsboro home on a short road; in Mansfield, 12 miles east; it is difficult to get through the red light. In our weekly paper (read by all) we see that cars are being set on fire – did that come with the gas people or did the gas explosion cause so much unhappiness that there is retaliation – or ate the tow even connected? Projected growth requires new sewage treatment plant, new roads, more housing, deluxe mall-like stores. Good for business and those who are able to adapt.

We all appreciate how fortunate some are to have the land and royalties; yet I grieve the loss of a way of life. New York, a few short miles to the north has Marcellus Shale as well. The state declared a moratorium on exploration and drilling while it discerns the ramifications of this largess. The gas will not go away. Perhaps with planning, New York can miss the tragic consequences we are living.

I will end my day with a 7PM church board meeting. One primary thing on my agenda is warning them that we may be in for a crisis we are not prepared to meet. I am not sure that membership growth from new community residents can offset the needs as dysfunctional families turn to the church for help and some newcomers seek rental assistance and food concerns plague more families living on the edge. Will we – the CHURCH – be ready to step in where needed? We better get our thinking caps on – be creative and courageous because this could be our biggest challenge yet.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Get out of Dodge

Several years ago, I received a “call” from a church in a small town in Colorado. The church called a part time pastor and offered a parsonage for the pastor. I could be that pastor if I chose. The minister who offered me the position said about this call: “I’d be there the weekends, then get out of Dodge every week” (i.e., return to Denver). As I listened to him offer this advice, I thought how cold and calculating: get out of Dodge every week. I do not know if he was using it as a piece of practical advice on how to live in a small town, or if he was being cynical.

Over the past 19 months, I have had time – lots of it – to reflect on that advice. Two weeks ago, I realized that I needed to “get out of Dodge” myself for a few days. So, I signed up for a conference that not only takes me away, but also offers some learning at the same time. I am so committed to being away, that I am more than willing to pay for the whole of it myself.

Yesterday, in the afternoon mail I received an invitation to “get out of Dodge” to attend a conference in Kentucky scheduled for mid-May. The offer was open to the first 50 registrants. I did not take time to complete the application and send it snail-mail. Instead, within minutes of receiving this mail, I was on the computer, registering online. “Get out of Dodge” another way. I hope I was one of the first 50 though others may have had the same drive to get away as I.

These reflections strike me as interesting. First, I wonder why I am not worthy to just take a few days off – after all, I work 60+ hours each week and rarely have more than one day off. I know of no one employed who has a full benefits package that includes only one day off. Second, I ponder why I forget that a healthy pastor is the greatest gift I can give the church. As I strive to plant a healthy church, a healthy way of life for the planter (me) seems imperative. I am entitled to four weeks of vacation per year and days off each week and holidays that I never find extra time to take. It is time to re-evaluate.

Therefore, in mid-April (confirmed) I will be in Rochester participating in a Interfaith Understanding Conference that will be like no other I have attended because all participants are invited to bring cell phones, cameras, laptop computers, and specifically invited to Tweet, Twittr and Facebook during the sessions (the audience interested in this social networking is younger than I, though the audience in general is not). In mid-May (fingers crossed), I will be in Louisville KY being ministered to by ministers - experienced church planters - who understand the total absorption required for this calling. I know I can plan on three days in June – a required UCC conference – and three days in July – a required DOC conference – and all of August is vacation. As I count the above, I see five opportunities to take care of me and return healthier each time. My very wise former spiritual director used to continually remind me that the church could make it without me for a few days because God will be in charge. Seems like God is offering opportunities to take over and I am gladly accepting!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A tool for Lent

Lent. In the church, Lent is a time of preparation, of reflection, giving up and adding to the day-to-dayness of our lives. This Lent, like all others, I gave thought to what I would do as I prepare for Good Friday and Easter. After thought, I am consciously adding extra prayer to my daily life. This past week, especially, has needed prayer, so it is a good thing that this is my choice.

When praying, some prayer tools are helpful. The Roman Catholics have the rosary – many Hail Marys and Our Fathers that focus attention on the praying rather than on the art in a building or on the music playing or the kids outside. Though no longer a Roman Catholic, as a kid I had many sets of rosary beads, none of which are still in my possession. Other faith traditions use their own beads: When I traveled to Ireland, each pilgrim received an Episcopal “rosary” – four sets of prayers of any stripe rather than five sets of Hail Marys. Two years after the Ireland trip, a friend sent me prayer counting beads from Turkey. I used the Episcopal and Turkish beads to focus my thoughts until I broke both of them. I still have the beads, but not the patience to restring them. Another prayer tool was needed! Ah, the labyrinth. A gift from the ancients.

Over many years, I have loved outdoor labyrinths. They are amazing at focusing my prayer. The walk in to the center is calming, the center itself filled with wonder sometimes making me cry and the walk out always light - even though I may have shed tears in the center. For me, the labyrinth is a wonderful, if not generally portable, prayer device.

There was hope for my choice of prayer tool as some enterprising individuals make and sell hand-held labyrinths. I shopped online and ordered an inexpensive five-inch labyrinth. This past two weeks I found that this portable labyrinth fills the “tool” need quite well. It does not tear as do paper labyrinths, will not break as my handcrafted clay labyrinths might and does not require external electrical power as a computer-assisted labyrinth would. The thin wood-chip labyrinth fits into my purse, has the 12-circuits of a Chartres labyrinth and is handy when I pull off the road if early for an appointment.

Thus far, while using this indestructible labyrinth, I have not found the Holy Spirit as physically present as I do at large labyrinths I have walked. I have not found myself in tears from relief or pain or joy. Rather, I experience calming. Perhaps, calming and peace is exactly what I needed in my recent life. I will continue "walking" with this prayer tool at least until the Saturday before Easter.

If your interest in labyrinths is piqued, you can find more about them by googling “labyrinth;” a computer assisted interactive labyrinth is found at the Grace Cathedral, San Francisco site.