Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all ...

... and to all a good carp!

These lovely fish were swimming in our friends' tub as of yesterday. As of a few minutes ago, a lovely portion of them (along with traditional Slovak potato salad) is swimming in my stomach. Yay for friends! And carp!


And kapustnica!

Another traditional Slovak Christmas Eve dish we made and enjoyed this year. It is a sauerkraut soup with klobasa (sausage) pieces of pork or beef, dried mushrooms, and pieces of prune and apple. It is so, so good.
Also good, if not traditional Slovak Christmas food: homemade challah bread.







We'll have more stories and pictures up soon. My parents are here! So Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the Edison-Swift-Albrights in Bratislava, Slovakia.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Camp ... is great, actually

When I would leave for a week or two of camp, my mom knew all was well when she stopped getting mail from me. If she didn't hear from me, life was too good, busy and exciting for me to sit down, get introspective, and compose something meaningful like: "The girls in my cabin stay up all night making fart jokes. They are so imature (sic)." When the letters stopped arriving, she could rest easy knowing I'd found my place and maybe lightened up enough to make a fart joke or two.

This is all well and good, but that "don't write when all's well" impulse continued when I went to college (Sample email from my dad: "Just making sure you are alive. Sign on to IM sometime!") and right up to today, making me a terrible blogger, email correspondent, long-distance buddy, journal-keeper, daughter, etc.

So, uh, all's well! I have a bit of a cold, but I'm giving my immune system regular pep talks. I've been crazy busy but in a good way: finding my place, lightening up a bit, making fart jokes here and there (not really, but it's on my to-do list.) I've given a bunch of sermons which we haven't gotten around to posting yet--we'll keep you posted on the posting of those. These days I am unreasonably overjoyed by winter weather, cautiously optimistic about completing internship paperwork, and a little weepy with anticipation for my parents' arrival on the 24th.

A friend of a friend applied for a Horizon International internship and we exchanged a few emails before her interview. I had a hard time writing it--I kept getting stuck in meaningless generalizations I could have come up with (or at least guessed at) before I'd even come to Slovakia. So I decided to do a quick rundown, a "week-in-the-life." It just happened that it was Thanksgiving week--lots going on at church and school and really, really good times with our friends and colleagues here. Here's what I wrote:

“I’m having trouble doing justice to the experience … so I’ll try specifics! In brief, this was my week:
Monday: doctor’s appointment (I set this up, found the place and went to it by myself—an achievement), figuring out buses to get to school from the appointment, getting to school just in time (but without my keys! Doh!), teaching four classes on the topic of natural evil (how is God involved in hurricanes, famines, etc.?), meeting with my supervisor to go over what’s happening this week, begin plugging Sunday’s service into our bulletin template.
Tuesday: give a testimony of my life with Jesus to the weekly women’s Bible study I attend, more planning (for Sunday and Wednesday evening) and bulletin.
Wednesday: lead chapel worship at school, teach a class, help lead Thanksgiving Eve service at 7 pm, work on skit for stewardship Sunday.
Thursday: teach three classes, clean our house in preparation for guests for our weekend Thanksgiving celebration, shop for what we need to cook our offerings for the feast, go out for pizza with American and Slovak colleagues from school to celebrate actual Thanksgiving day.
Friday: cleaning, serious Thanksgiving cooking by my husband, getting bulletin ready to print, going to a goulash party with Slovak and American friends and guests who have begun to arrive and eating delicious venison goulash.
Saturday: Thanksgiving! Amazing feast, about 35 people gathered, skits, games, massive communal clean up and then off to the Christmas Market in old town Bratislava … and then back to the warm apartments for dramatic readings from Shakespeare and other fun times with our colleagues and guests. Somewhere in there, I print and copy the bulletins and they get folded by our friends (sweet!).
Sunday: breakfast with our overnight guests and then to church by 9 to practice for First-Sunday-in-Advent-Stewardship-Youth-O-Rama. Service includes: stewardship temple talk, short youth presentation to follow up on the conference they went to in Holland, Advent wreath explanation and lighting, a very funny and effective stewardship skit, pledge forms, offerings brought forward and prayed over… and the normal stuff (Communion, sermon, readings, etc.) Coffee hour then to the pastor’s flat for lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers and Christmas movies. First time this week my supervisor and I get to sit down and talk about the first communion class we are teaching … that day … at 3 pm. 15 people come to the class (parents and kids from 8 to 15) and it goes really, really well. Then I ate dinner, planned lessons for Monday and wrote this email to you!”

Was that a normal week? No way! But there really hasn't been a normal week. This week at church we have a baptism, recognition of first communicants and the Sunday School Christmas Program. And tonight is our first night going with our friends to the symphony! Yesterday all my regular classes we cancelled and I taught two classes of first years. At some point, we will put up and decorate our wee Christmas tree. Life is good, busy and exciting indeed.

*Toot*

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Update goulash

Hi! (cough)

But really, I am so much better. Practically completely healed. Just a tiny little leftover cough and some shortness of breath--the worst part is really that I seem to have pulled a muscle on the right side of my torso, which hurts all the time but especially when I move. I feel like maybe I should start keeping that kind of thing to myself ... like I'm starting to get a reputation, here ... but, you guys, bronchitis is a really bad deal, and this muscle thing really hurts. OK, self-pity moment over. Sucking it up, moving it on!

This is my second week back at school post-illness and we've been doing some great things. I pulled "Be the Teacher" out of my old bag of tricks from teaching days in Texas: students broke up into groups and prepared lessons to present to the class. They all did an amazing job with this: we had skits, word games, graphic organizers, a rap (complete with beatboxing students) and lots of good questions sparking group discussions and insights into the text that I hadn't considered before. The question we were debating was: Given all the evil and suffering in the world, is human freedom worth it? What do you think?

Other recent highlights:

  • Voting. Yay! With the help of the diplomatic pouch at the US embassy, civic responsibility has never been so easy. If I meet Craig Ferguson on the street, I will be able to look him in the eye (actually, I will probably giggle like a fangirl. But metaphorically.)
  • Bus pass: checked! During orientation we bought bus passes and the purchase filled me with a great sense of accomplishment. This sense came to full fruition when our passes were checked for the first time last week on the bus on the way to school. I was ready! Here's what happens: during a time when the bus is full but not totally packed, two guys in plainclothes get on the bus. In a longish space between two stops, one guy at the front of the bus and one at the back get out handheld machines to scan the bus passes. Anyone who doesn't have a pass gets off with the guys at the next stop and gets a ticket ( Slovak crowns.) So when you're visiting, be sure you buy your ticket before you get on and validate your ticket on the bus!
  • Travels: this weekend Sean and I are going to Košice where I'll be a guest preacher at an international congregation there. The weekend after that we head to Prague for some R&R! We are excited to have the opportunity to get out and see some more of Europe (we've been pretty homebound so far.) We did get a chance to go to Vienna last Friday with the Schicks which was such a treat! We ate wonderful Thai food and Viennese sweets/coffee and got a great overview of the city from our knowledgeable guides. I slept so well that night--it was a great day, fresh air, good food, good company ... (happy sigh.)

Both of my parents are now home from their travels in South Africa (and for my mom, South Africa and Malawi.) They are posting and captioning pictures ... I will give the link as soon as I get the word from them!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Siiiiiick

Hey y'all. I'm going to crawl back into bed in a bit, but thought I should check in. Super persistent (and super-no-fun) coughing sent me to the doctor on Monday, who gave me antibiotics, an expectorant, and a form to return to work in a week. I'm not sure I've ever had bronchitis before--I'm really more of a sinus infection kinda gal--but my mom gets them all the time and I have new found empathy/respect. Really, no fun.

The antibiotics seem to be working--I can tell because I am weak as a kitten and can't seem to do anything but sleep (the analogy breaks down in that I do not, as kittens do, have sudden urges to go tearing around the house or pounce on pieces of yarn.) Also, I woke up this morning still coughing, but coughing less often and more productively (ew). I can breathe a little better today, too. I may have it together enough to get some grading done.

I preached twice last week; sadly our sound recorder has malfunctioned ... especially sad since there was a completely wonderful guest choir from Washington DC visiting on Sunday. We'll post the text of both on the website, soon. I'm looking forward to healing and good things this month: preaching in Kosice the 26 and a trip to Prague over fall break. But now ... I'm looking forward to another nap. Prayers for healing are welcome! Also ... prayers for safe travels as my parents attend conferences in South Africa and Malawi.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sermon Podcast: How much is enough?


You'd better believe I climbed those stairs up to the pulpit extra carefully for my first sermon last Sunday! I thought I heard (maybe on my January term trip) that the International Congregation didn't use the high pulpit, but Pastor David in fact does because the whole church is kind designed for it ... unless you're sitting right in the front row (neck cramp!) it probably the easiest way for pastor and congregation to see each other in that space. I am probably going to trip at some point; I am planning to do so with good humor.
The sermon is about forgiveness, which I think is a difficult topic. I welcome your feedback, in the comments or via email. Help me learn and grow! Grab our podcast or download the sermon text or audio here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Water

It is the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows, patron saint of Slovakia and a national holiday. Sean and I are listening to Morning Edition via whyy.com at almost 3pm, getting ready for school tomorrow and still recovering from a whirlwind week (teaching, sermoning, etc.) It's been raining lightly all day, a gentle, welcome tapping on our windows that makes me glad to be inside, warm and cozy. I love days like this, especially after it has been so brutally hot. Water can be comforting, joyful, renewing, and such a relief.

Water is also powerful and frightening. 6 hours after I gave a children's message on the joyful experience of using water to remember our baptism, Pastor Kristi at St. Luke's responded to terrible flooding in Park Ridge with a sermon on Noah, and God's rainbow promise to never destroy the world. Water has as much potential for destruction as it does for sustaining creation--it is absolutely essential to life and can be absolutely deadly. God uses this powerful sign to make powerful promises to humanity: you will not be destroyed, you are my children, you are forgiven.

Lots of prayer requests on my mind today!

Let us pray for the search and rescue workers in Galveston and for everyone still waiting for them.

Let us pray for everyone trying to get the basics in Houston: power, drinking water, gasoline for generators, food. May the relief efforts reach and assist them in their times of need.

Let us pray for everyone cleaning up from flood damage in Park Ridge, especially Katie and Phil as they also prepare for their wedding this week. Bless the members of St. Luke's as they remember God's rainbow promise.

Let us pray for everyone in the South and Midwest impacted by Hurricane Ike--bless relief agencies and home and business owners who will be "in it for the long haul" for recovery and rebuilding.

Let us give thanks for God's life-giving gift of water: water used for cleaning up after storms, to sustain the people who are in the midst of recovery, and to remind all of us that God loves us, forgives us, and gives us new life.

I talked to my parents last night--the basement of their condo building (the parking lot and storage area) was flooded 10 inches, and some of the items they had in storage were damaged or destroyed. They don't have power or hot water and my mom is on a big deadline for work ... they were keeping positive, but please keep them in your prayers, too.

Here's a picture of us praying at the end of the children's message, yesterday. We had so much fun sprinkling water on the congregation! You can see the kids are suppressing giggles, here. Water is a lot of fun when it isn't in hurricane form. We're going to post the text and audio of my first sermon at Bratislava International Congregation soon, but until then, check out the pictures here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Which candidate would you rather have dinner with?

Yesterday Sean and I went to the American embassy (which is really a very pleasant place to go when your passport is already blue) and they mailed in our absentee ballot requests for us. I swear I was already filling out the forms when Sean found this Craig Ferguson clip, but I have to admit, it did inspire/exhort/shame me into actually following through that very day.



Pretty great, right? I'm very excited to get my ballot--now that we're online and a little more settled we're back to following the election news. Lately we've been reading articles to each other in the evenings, which isn't as sweet as when we used to read each other Sherlock Holmes stories before bed, but I'm enjoying it.

Tomorrow is my first time preaching at Bratislava International Church. I will also give a children's message ... =). Of course I'm nervous, but in that "this is really happening and now it's started and that's a good thing" kind of way. Today I had a wonderful meeting with Pastor David about my sermon, and right away he highlighted the areas of preaching I need to work on: using clear transitions, writing for speaking rather than reading, writing a sermon rather than an essay, fully illustrating my examples rather than assuming my congregation will have the same background information I do. I feel like I'm already learning so much on this internship ... and as of today, we've been here just one month. My parents taught me this mantra when I was quite young and I've spent most of my life repeating it (because it's true): I'm a lucky girl.

Back to improving that first draft! Keep me and the congregation in your prayers tomorrow--the topic of the sermon is forgiveness, which is a tough one, to be sure. Sean's quote (which I'm using in the sermon): "If forgiveness were easy, we wouldn't need Jesus." This is most certainly true!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sweeeeeet

Many things here are familiar, or at least, it's not such a stretch to adapt to the differences. But when we want to impress our friends and family with an exotic factoid, we tell them about "sweet lunch."

"Sweet lunch" is a phrase we learned during orientation, used to describe days when dessert is served as an entree at our school cafeteria. Jelly donuts, pirogis filled with blueberry and dusted with chocolate, and spaghetti noodles covered with chocolate sauce are all sweet meals we'd seen or heard about. We went for a long time without directly experiencing it, though, and the anticipation made it take on mythic significance in my mind.

Our first real sweet lunch experience occurred on Monday--and it was really no big deal. Our friend and colleague Peter described it as "dumplings in vanilla cream": the dumplings were like pieces of challah bread, and the cream sauce was like a thin sweetened condensed milk ... not too sweet at all, and the bread was lovely and satisfying. Also lovely was the soup, which featured very hearty and protein-rich beans and sausage (yay!) and a piece of watermelon for dessert. My old fears about getting a balanced meal were banished and replaced by fears about whether or not I could balance all three plates on one tray--the women at the lunch counter and I had a good laugh as I tried to figure that out!

Speaking of sweet adaptations: we hooked our new-to-us TV up to the cable today and watched The Simpsons ... in German. I've seen those reruns so many times that only new voices and a new language I don't really understand could make it fresh again--I laughed a whole, whole lot. I also watched Scrubs in German--the guy dubbing Dr. Cox is brilliant. I'd like to think Sarah Chalke, who plays Elliot, is doing her own dubbing, being German and German-speaking and all. I'll have to see if they have credits for the actors doing the dubbing next time ...

...except that I really should be writing my first sermon, which is coming up on Sunday. I'm excited for the opportunity to preach here! I've got a hymn of the day picked out, which is a good start, and some good thoughts that are making their way to the page.

Goodnight! Sweeeet dreams!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Podcast: Annie's Installation

It's official! I was installed today as Intern Pastor at Bratislava International Congregation. During a particularly moving moment I started to tear up and couldn't help thinking, "Oh no ... I've got to sing right after this ...pull it together, Annie!" There is grace and I am grateful. You can find the audio of that portion of the service here.

So, remember what I said about keeping the windows open at all costs? Not tonight! It is raining furiously ... a completely amazing storm to cap a completely amazing week. I am going to make this quick so I can hop into bed while it's still raining, thundering and lightening-ing with intent. It's just about my favorite way to fall asleep, and living up in the attic as we do gives us a front row seat to all kinds of fireworks.

  • Check out our pictures. We've updated the Welcome to Bratislava set with more pictures of our neighborhood and apartment, and also added sets for our day at Devín castle and a craft fair at the Bratislava castle. The most recent set is one we've (tongue-in-cheek) titled Average Bratislava Weekend. It includes the first party at our apartment, the coronation festival in old town, my installation at Bratislava International Congregation, and a great batch of chocolate chip cookies, among other completely normal events. I joke, but I'm kinda serious, too ... I won't be installed every weekend, but exciting stuff seems to be happening all the time, all around us. Big city life? Flurry of activity before winter sets in? I'll keep you posted ...
  • The first week of teaching went well, but I'm too interested in getting a good night's sleep before starting the second week to say too much more about it right now. My students seem, as promised, really bright and ready to discuss and debate the big topics--it feels good, and gives me lots of good energy, to be teaching again.

OK, I missed the storm, but I'm still pretty motivated about this reasonable bedtime thing. Dobrú noc!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Let the sunshine (and everything else) in


I took this picture to show off our latest project: curtains for our bedroom windows. Hooray for privacy! (What a funny thing to write on the Internet.) Anyway, we love them--when we close them during the day the room has a warm, red glow that I think will be especially cheerful as it gets colder.

And it is getting colder, especially at night. We are keeping our windows open, though, and on the whole I'm enjoying this. Our open windows mean:

*thoroughly enjoying that slightly-chilly feeling of the mornings and evenings: perfect for snuggling or curling up with tea, a prayer shawl and a book.

*taking in the sounds of the city: busses and trolleys, classical music sing-alongs, wild parties late into the night (this can get a little old, but I have earplugs), cats in the courtyard, church bells near and far, fireworks for the holiday weekend. When we heard the fireworks we ran up to our roof-top balcony ... we really do have a great view! I've lived in big cities before (Houston and DC) but never right in the heart of the city like this--as much as I loved getting out of the city for an afternoon this weekend, living in the middle of it all suits me best, I think.

*living with pesky bugs. This wasn't so bad, at first, but as the weather gets colder the mosquitoes and bees are getting more aggressive. We take this as a sign of desperation and believe that our victory is near. Well, as near as the first real cold snap. They're just doing their buggy thing, feeding their babies with our blood, etc. We're just trying not to encourage them too much.

So, other than the bees and skeeters--which do add an element of excitement to our lives--we're loving the open windows. I listened to the bells today and wished I had our audio recorder set up to get all the great ambient sound. We'll have to capture some of that for our podcasts.

Podcasts may have to wait a bit--tomorrow begins a very busy week. The first week of school! Also, I'll be installed at the intern pastor at Bratislava International Congregation on Sunday. Lots of good things in the works; we'll report back as we can.

But first: I promised I'd report our first cooking or baking failure. We tried to make boiled ham, cabbage and potatoes tonight: the ham turned into a mass of inedible goo. We have no idea why this happened--perhaps the properties of ham are different here? Resistant to boiling? We ended up having a lovely cabbage and potato appetizer, followed by a delicious Tesco brand pepperoni pizza and a couple slices of freshly baked banana bread. Well-recovered! Quote of the night: "Sacrifice the ham to the bees!" "They don't want it, either."

Goodnight! Blessings on everyone returning to work after the holiday weekend, and to students and teachers going back to school!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

So ... how's that move coming?

Cardinal rule of blogging: broken. I could make excuses about Internet access and bein' busy, but Sean's been in the same situation as me and managed to send out quite a few posts since we arrived. Of course, he was often doing this:

Yes, that is Sean precariously balancing his laptop on the sill of our bedroom window (no screen, sixth floor up), hoping to catch some wifi on the wind. We found that if it was both morning and not too humid, we had a fairly good chance of getting a weak-and -unstable-but-serviceable signal at that exact spot. Fortunately, you can't really beat that spot as far as views go. I mean ... castle! I love waking up and looking out to see it every morning through these huge, cheerful windows.

While we still enjoy standing at those windows, our wifi pirating days are over. These last few days have been remarkable in terms of taking care of the necessities: we have cable Internet here at the house, we have cell phones and bus passes. Today we started the process of getting our visas at the police station and tomorrow we will go for a medical check up required by the school--after this weekend (long weekend for national holidays) we'll also have a local bank account. None of this can be credited to our ambition or moxie: our hosts and guides have taken care of us and all the details--we've just shown up with our documents and been ready to sign stuff! We're feeling blessed in so many ways these days.

So, now that I really have no excuses, some first impressions of our new home:
  • Sean is still an excellent cook here, and my baking skills seem to have traveled with us as well. Of course there are some differences in the ingredients, tools, measurements and methods, but so far we're doing quite well. I'll be sure to document our first (and, from what I've heard, inevitable) spectacular cooking/baking failure. Until then, though ...Sean made one of the best spaghetti sauces ever with oven-roasted tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and garlic. I made a loaf of banana bread, which you can see featured in this picture along with a St. Luke's prayer shawl (we've had some cool days already!) I substituted plain yogurt for the sour cream and it worked beautifully. I also made bread pudding, but it was a Paula Deen recipe and maybe unnecessarily sweet. I think I'd like to make cookies next, but we'll need to track down a cookie sheet. Everything is just a little different, and it's hard for me to explain exactly how: sugar, flour, butter ... but so far it's all turning into yummy stuff. One interesting difference we've noticed in the grocery store is that we can't find celery but celery root, or celeriac, is everywhere, even little tiny convenience stores. Time to make some soup! Also, the quality of fruit, especially stone fruit, in the grocery stores seems better here. It had been a long time since I'd had a good plum.
  • On our first day in Slovakia, David and Carla took us to one of their favorite places for pizza. When we sat down our menu didn't have any pizza in it. We got a menu from another table--it, too, seemed to have had a page removed. We found out from the waiter that the restaurant, which continues to have the word "pizza" in its name, no longer serves pizza. This was especially weird because David and Carla had just gotten pizza there recently. Then a copy shop that had been open the day before closed without warning for renovations. Then Larry noticed the picture on my desktop: I told him I took it from the tower of Bratislava castle. "When?" he asked. "In January." "Right before it closed down for repairs... why ... it's you!" Yes, I am behind all these strange events. Beware. Bwah ha ha.
  • So, between all that and successfully predicting the weather (I've started getting migraines the day before storm systems move in ... blergh) I've been pretty busy, but not too busy to pick up some basic and useful Slovak phrases. I'm pretty good at saying thank you, hello (at various times of day), excuse me, I'm sorry, good-bye, please and I don't know. I've gotten good enough at these phrases that I have misled many well-meaning strangers into thinking I know Slovak; hilarity ensues. The only solution is to learn Slovak! Put it on the list!
  • My first Sunday in Slovakia I helped lead the singing and the prayers of the church, enjoyed sitting in the congregation with Sean, and got to meet many good folks after the service at coffee hour. My second Sunday I got robed and led worship with Pastor David, taking on parts of the liturgy previously off-limits to me (parts marked "P"!) I got to lead my favorite part of the service: the order for confession and forgiveness. It is such a reliable and powerful witness to God's grace--we confess that we are in bondage to sin, we cannot free ourselves, and we hear and receive the Good News that ALL our sins are ENTIRELY forgiven. What could be better? How about a baptism? We baptized an adult member of the congregation--it was baptism, confirmation, and first communion all at once, as in the Orthodox tradition. That baptism made everything feel even more precious than usual: the gift of water, the welcome of the table, the way the Word came to us in the sermon and the hymns, especially as we sang "Go, my children, with my blessing," the beautiful sending song by Slovak hymn-writer Jaroslav Vajda, who just passed away this summer. "In my love's baptismal river/I have made you mine forever/Go my children, with my blessing, you are my own." My parents and I sang this hymn and wept before I moved to Texas; Sean and I sang it walking down the aisle together as very-newly-weds; we sang it at St. Luke's again the Sunday I preached and the congregation prayed for our safe transition to Slovakia. I've always associated it closely with St. Luke's, and home, but now I also connect it with Slovakia, with the baptisms celebrated and remembered all over the world, and with finding home in Christian community near and far.

Well, now I've broken another rule of blogging and gone on for too long. No excuses, just one more picture.
This is our magnetic photo wall. We realized the day we left for Bratislava that we have lots of prints from our wedding and pretty much no other recent events. We also ended up with too many pictures of just the two of us and we know what we look like. Send us photos! We will display them with honor and care. Our mailing address is here.

Later, gators.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

So ... how's that list coming?

Today is the day Sean and I depart for Slovakia; our flight leaves from O'Hare at 10 pm and will arrive in Vienna at 5:30 pm tomorrow. Today is also our two-year wedding anniversary. It seems fitting and auspicious to begin our adventure together this way, this day!

But, you may ask, what ever happened to that To-Do list you made back in June? It was completed, and quickly replaced by other lists. But it's worth taking another look, just to give me a small sense of accomplishment on a morning when we aren't ... quite ... packed (one of our brand new suitcases had a defective zipper. Eh, could be worse. We're going back to exchange it today. Plenty of time! =))

Done in June, July and August as preparation for pastoral internship and mission volunteering in Slovakia:

1. Sold most of our earthly possessions. This went really well, as previously reported. We are free of excess stuff and it's great. Very liberating. We hope to never own a car again. But before you make us saints of simple-living, know that we have probably over-packed for our trip. Neither of us is really sure how to pack for going abroad for a whole year--what clothes to bring or to leave--and we've both leaned toward "bring" since we have this neat allowance from the ELCA to go over our bag and weight limit. This is probably a mistake, but we won't know what was right to bring and what was wrong until we get there. If we do another short term mission assignment, we'll be better prepared for this part. Still, I'm going to take another look in the bags today and pull out what I can.

2. Went to the Jersey Shore, soaked it up. Sean is really hoping my first call will be to shore town. As long as there's a boardwalk with rides, soft serve, fried oreos and mini-golf, I'm there!

3. Prayed. For my family, missing Jason, and for my future students, the third years: at the end of this past year one of their classmates committed suicide. For my cousin L and my sister M who are sick. For safe travels and preparations for all the missionaries I met at orientation--and for all of us in that group, for support and love as we navigate transitional times. This is one that can't be checked off the list! Please keep us in your prayers, especially as we travel today and tomorrow.

4. Got trained. I'm still processing everything I learned at the Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leader training. The days were densely packed and each workshop was full of useful, engaging and meaningful material. If I'd been good, I would have blogged every night. Sleeping is for the weak. =)

This picture is from the training, and it's on the Bread for the World page promoting a really exciting campaign that all of you voter-types living in the US should consider taking part in: BEAT Hunger 2008. You sign up, Bread sends you emails when there are political events/townhall meetings in your area, you go and ask the candidates a question relating to domestic or world hunger, and maybe someone goes with you and records it and puts the whole exchange up on YouTube. Candidates start to realize that hunger is a real and relevant campaign issue, and should be a priority for them when elected as well. This will be tricky to do from Slovakia, but my dad signed up last night; you can join him by signing up here, and reading more about it here.

5. Wrote prayers for Sundays and Seasons. Look for my intercessory prayers in 2010: the First and Second Sundays of Christmas, Epiphany Sunday, Vigil of Easter and Easter Sunday. The Easter Vigil prayers were the most fun to write: if you haven't been to an Easter Vigil service, I highly recommend it!

6. Enjoyed New Jersey. We did! And we miss it. We've also enjoyed Park Ridge, my hometown. It's been very, very good to have this time with my folks, but I bet they'll be glad to have their condo, and they're regular routine, back! We're looking forward to getting into a regular routine of our own.

7. Enjoyed our family. This is also not something that gets crossed off the list. We will continue to do this, if from afar, over Skype, through emails and letters, and with the pictures y'all post. As we told our niece and nephew, "It'll still be good, just different."

We very much enjoyed time with our friends and family at the sermon/sending/anniversary party my folks hosted August 3. It reminded me of my high school graduation party, and our wedding reception, too ... so many good people coming together from different parts of our lives, interacting with each other in neat and unexpected ways, the room filled with warm, good feeling. Laurel said: "This is a good group, this is a safe place." It's true! We are blessed to have such a strong, loving support network. (And prayer shawls, from the St. Luke's Prayer Shawl Ministry--we also have one Mim made us for our wedding--we were advised to bring 'em all, as it can be cold indoors and outdoors in the winter!)
So, what's left to do? Replace that suitcase, finish packing, take it all apart and pack again, get on the plane. Do these things that are ongoing ... Enjoy our family! Pray! Wistfully remember New Jersey! Depart for a new place, knowing that we are loved unconditionally, glad for grace.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Geeked

Those who know me know ... I'm a cupcake fan.

In August 2005 we were starting to plan our wedding; I wasn't all that into it. I was excited about getting married, I just wasn't excited about ... getting married. I looked forward to planning worship, but I dreaded all the logistics of a reception. Then my mom said, "How about cupcakes instead of cake?"

That changed everything! I realized the reception could be a chance to share our quirky selves with our friends and family--enjoyable for everyone involved. We could have cupcakes instead of cake, lunch at the church instead of dinner at a hotel, and playing cards and a potted plant at every table. Cupcakes gave us permission to be creative and to be ourselves.

I enjoyed my cupcake-related research so much that I kept up with it after the wedding--seeking out blogs with good recipes and ideas. The best is the clearinghouse of all things cupcake, Cupcakes Take the Cake. I go there for all my cupcake-related news. =)

Which is why this totally made my day. Woo hoo! It may not be the most flattering photo, but it captures a joyful moment, and now it's been shared with others. Neat!


Here's another picture of us recreating the ceremonial "cutting of the cupcake" from our reception, 2 years ago August 12.
And here is my favorite cupcake recipe, a vegan applesauce spice cake I put together from several sources and tweaked into a never-fail favorite. Other cupcakes are prettier; none I've had are as consistently tasty. =)

Table prayer

As I sat down with the children of St. Luke's, I realized I was pretty much a total stranger to them. So I introduced myself: "My name is Annie--I grew up in this congregation, just like you are now. As you know, this is a great church to grow up in." They nodded knowingly. And it's true! Demonstration to follow ...

So, I summarized the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (more knowing nods from the children ... they were quite familiar with the story already) and tied that into the work of the ELCA World Hunger Appeal, which St. Luke's supports. "The World Hunger Appeal is one way the church gathers all of our gifts for Jesus to bless and multiply, so that people have enough to eat." Then they helped me teach an extended version of "Come, Lord Jesus" to the congregation. Together, we learned:

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest
Let these gifts to us be blessed.
Blessed be God who is our Bread
May all the world be clothed and fed.

One boy in particular volunteered that he already knew the prayer, so I asked him when he prayed it.
"Dinnertime!"
"Exactly! It's a mealtime prayer, a table prayer ... and I want to pray this prayer with all of you now, but we need a meal and a table ... do you see a table in this room?"

This was the part that amazed and impressed me: I didn't even finish the question before all of the children had turned and pointed to the table behind us, all set for Holy Communion. I learned to think of the altar as a table and Communion as a meal in seminary. Most of these kids were pre-reading age, most of them don't receive Communion yet, but they already have a deep theological understanding of the Lord's Supper as true nourishment. They know that we gather around the table, we are fed, and we are sent out to feed others. How cool is that?!

Which is exactly what I said at that point in the children's sermon. "Yes! You're right! That's so cool!" We all stood up and gathered around the table; we held hands and the congregation joined us in praying the prayer again. At the second service there were fewer kids, so the assisting minister, lector ("That's my mom!" I explained to the kids,) the music director, and presiding minister all joined the circle, too. I gave each kid a magnet with the words of the prayer (and the ELCA World Hunger website) to take home.

"Come, Lord Jesus" has always been meaningful for me; it is my family table prayer, a sign that I am home with people I love. Praying it in this new context--with the children and the table set for Communion--added a whole new layer of meaning and made me think about the words and appreciate them as I never have before. I'd recommend the experience for kids of all ages.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sermon Podcast: Bread for the Journey

I was honored to preach this morning at St. Luke's, my home congregation. The texts were Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145; Romans 9:1-5; and Matthew 14:13-21. I also got to do the children's message, but I'll post more on that later! Also for a later post: a report on the wonderful party we had back at our house after church.

But for now, subscribe to our podcast (via iTunes or other software) or download and listen to the sermon here. The text of the sermon (not a transcript, but close enough) is available as a pdf here and as a Word document here.

It was a wonderful day spent with family and friends. Now it's 10 pm and my dad is starting to turn off all the lights around the house ... must be bedtime for Edison-Swift-Albrights. I will not argue! But first, a picture of me and Mommy, after the service:


You can see more pictures from the service and the party on our flickr page.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Sermon Podcast: When Jesus Comes to Dinner

Click here to listen to our podcast of Thursday's sermon. Below is the artwork we used as part of our reflection: a paper cutting of the loaves and fishes by Fan Pu, a Chinese Christian artist I met in Nanjing in 2002. What do you like/notice/find interesting about the picture?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Loaves Abound!


Here we are after a whirlwind of wonderful worship: Sean was lector, assisting minister, usher and communion assistant (whew!) and I preached and assisted with communion. None of it would have happened at all without my dad, who designed and produced a handout (Gospel text on the front, Fan Pu's paper cutting of the Loaves and Fishes on the back), gathered loaf-looking pretzels and goldfish snacks for the after-worship fellowship, and made a DVD of a MOSAIC segment on Slovakia for us to use as part of our presentation after the service (he also ushered and assisted with communion ... Super Dad!) The Thursday night service is more informal--the sermon is usually dialogue-style, so I was able to use some of my teaching techniques. Sean's working on editing the audio file now to post on our website--I'll add a note here when it's up.

I'm tired and happy, looking forward to getting a good night's sleep and a good day's work in on Sunday's sermon. I've gotten great ideas and input from people, from the many insights of the folks at the service tonight to Carmen, who gave me a haircut this morning. She had me retell the story in my own words and narrow down what was most important to me about it--so helpful!

The presentation we gave after the service tonight went really well and I found myself reflecting on how nice it was to have a partner-in-mission to present with. Sean was great: very well-researched and knowledgeable as he talked about the Lyceum and the ELCA's relationship with the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia. It felt good to put some of that orientation training to such immediate use ... and it is good indeed to be a team.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ketchup

Ketchup on my hot dog*
While I catch up on my blog
To fill this screen
I need lycopene
Or a quick trip to Prague.

Yeah, the last line was a stretch for the sake of rhyme scheme. I'm open to suggestions. I was actually considering: "Or maybe just a nap," but that wouldn't scan AND would drive my parents crazy. We're in heads down, all-productive mode here at the Edison-Swift-Albright house: tomorrow I preach at the Thursday evening contemporary service, and then at the Sunday morning services at St. Luke's. Sean and my parents will also serve at these services in various roles: lectors, communion assistants and ushers. After the services Sunday morning we'll be hosting a rather large number of family and friends back at the condo: it is exciting, wonderful and there are preparations to be made. But first! A quick ketchup on the past month.
...
From the ELCA-specific orientation at the Lutheran Center we went to Hyde Park and the Ecumenical Orientation, joining missionaries and staff from the Presbyterian Church USA and the Reformed Church of America. Many in our group got a nasty cold, which we dubbed "missionella" or "missionaires' disease." Sean got it and it eventually made its way to me--luckily there was a sweet spot for noodle soup nearby.
...
After going to see The Dark Knight at a theater near Navy Pier, a group of us took the el home. It was pretty late at night and all was subdued on the red line heading south--until a women screamed, clearly distressed. The anxiety in the car rose as she screamed again--and just as suddenly all broke into laughter and relief as someone reported to the packed train: "It's a moth!" It was a huge moth, and, still laughing (and screaming a little,) we all spent the space before the next stop dodging and swinging at it. The moth made its way to the door and was liberated by a CTA employee as he exited, smiling and shaking his head.

It could have been a real emergency; it wasn't and I was grateful. Both for the safety the woman and all of us on the el, and for the chance to laugh together with friends and strangers.
...
At closing worship for the Ecumenical Orientation, Rachel (who will have a communications position in Cambodia) reflected on this ee cummings poem:

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Rachel said that orientation was helping her to realize that this poem applies not only to the people we love and will leave behind in the US, but also to the people we will meet and walk together with as we journey. We will carry them in our heart; they will carry us in theirs. It was one of the most touching, meaningful moments of orientation. Healing, too, for hearts like ours that might feel heavy with carrying--healing like the leaves of "a tree called life."
...
From the University of Chicago and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in Hyde Park we went north by limo (!) to Kenosha and Carthage College, site of the Summer Missionary Conference. There we enjoyed swimming in Lake Michigan (brrrrr!), challenging the young women of the volleyball camp to a beach volleyball game (winner: the mosquitoes), playing pool and the occasional polka.
Sean and I were particularly lucky in that my supervisors, David and Carla, and Josh (who is returning to the US after being the associate pastor in Bratislava), where all also at the conference. We're also particularly lucky to be going where we're going, learning from such great people! But more on that throughout the year. =)

We were blessed and commissioned as missionaries--while I have to admit to some orientation fatigue, there was a sense that everything we'd learned, experienced and reflected on had led up to that moment. And even with a month of preparation, that moment was a little overwhelming for me: such a blessing, such a gift, such a responsibility and a privilege! After closing worship we were quickly herded onto a bus to back to Chicago, where most got on planes to begin final preparations for their departure. Sean and six others stayed in Kenosha for 18 hours of intensive training and certification for teaching English as a Second Language. After a month of serious bonding, it was hard to see our friends scatter. It is good to know we'll be seeing many of the other Horizon interns in November, and this Internet thing is nice, too.

There's so much more I want to write about, but I can't justify another moment away from sermon-prep. I'll just have to work on my blogging discipline. And my poem writing. =) We didn't take very many pictures during orientation (we have to get in the habit of taking photos when there aren't any nieces or nephews involved!) but the ones we got are nice, and you can view them here.

*For the sake of realism, I actually did eat a hot dog with ketchup as I composed the poem. Delicious!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Orientation Day One: What's (in) your baggage?

Another title I considered: "Orientation Day One ... This is for real, y'all."

I think this poem from opening worship says it all better than I can right now. Steve Nelson, director for ELCA global service, told us that it was written to mark the first ordination of women Episcopal priests. I did some searching, and found that the author was one of the Philadelphia Eleven: women "irregularly" ordained (one might even say extraordinarily, to make a cross-denominational present-day parallel), and then denounced, two years before women's ordination was officially approved by the national church.

Passover Remembered
by Alla Bozarth-Campbell

Pack nothing. Bring only your determination to serve
And your willingness to be free.

Don't wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey,
but eat standing, be ready to move at a moment's notice.

Do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind--
fear, silence, submission.

Only surrender to the need of the time
--to love justice and walk humbly with your God.

Do not take time to explain to the neighbours.
Tell only a few trusted friends and family members.

Then begin quickly, before you have time
to sink back into the old slavery.

Set out in the dark. I will send fire to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire and I will be with you in the cloud.

You will learn to eat new food and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert to guide you safely
to that place you have not yet seen.

The stories you tell one another around the fires
in the dark will make you strong and wise.

Outsiders will attack you, and some will follow you,
and at times you will get weary and turn on each other
from fear and fatigue and blind forgetfulness.

You have been preparing for this hundreds of years.
I am sending you into the wilderness to make a new way
and to learn my ways more deeply.

Some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.

Some of you will not change at all. Some will be abandoned
by your dearest loves and misunderstood by those
who have known you since birth and feel abandoned by you.
Some will find new friendships in unlikely faces, and old friends
as faithful and true as the pillar of God's flame.

Sing songs as you go, and hold close together.
You may at times grow confused and lose your way.

Continue to call each other by the names I've given you,
to help remember who you are. You will get where you are going
by remembering who you are.
Touch each other and keep telling the stories.

Make maps as you go remembering the way back
from before you were born.

So you will be only the first of many waves of deliverance on these
desert seas. It is the first of many beginnings--
your Paschaltide. Remain true to this mystery.

Pass on the whole story. Do not go back.
I am with you now and I am waiting for you.

----------------
My dad forwarded me a blurb that the Church of England has taken steps toward consecrating women bishops. One of the things I love about this poem is that it names the pain in the midst of celebration: the hurt of gaining ordination but losing the blessing of a loved one, the inherent loneliness of navigating new roles and transitional times. So, this one's dedicated to the Anglican men and women who are taking big risks to make a better church, as well as to the recently-graduated women of Yale and Berkeley Divinity Schools who taught (and teach!) me how to preach, pastor and "pass on the whole story." Love to the Future Clergy of America!

We've managed to unload a lot of stuff lately, but I've got some, um, baggage: it's nice to have networks of folks who understand, old friends to reach out to and new friends like we are making these orientation days. It's becoming real, y'all, and that's a good thing--we're making the transition in good company!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Annie and Sean: Also safe and sound

We made it!

We sold or gave away all of our furniture, Goodwill-ed or threw away or stored or packed our stuff, cleaned and moved out of our apartment, and drove from Westmont, New Jersey to Park Ridge, IL with many wonderful visits with family and a mini-vacation in Amish country along the way.

We are tired but happy, safe and excited to begin orientation on Tuesday. Sean bought two new suits, a sport coat, and great shoes to start his teaching career off right. I got a new swim suit and a great pair of jeans, which doesn't sound as impressive but those in-the-know will realize that, in terms of difficult things for Annie to shop for, this is quite an accomplishment. Also, while my parents and I do pretty well keeping close while at a distance, it makes a huge difference to actually hold them close, to hold their hands and pray "Come, Lord Jesus" with them. And to then go out as a family and see WALL-E, which was AWESOME. =)

A more complete story of our road trip is up on flickr: you can see the photos and read the narrative here. Below I've posted pics of some of the highlights. I hope I'll be back to more regular posting soon--thanks for checking in on us!


With Brian, Jill, Eli, Bella and Gus in Collingswood, NJ.




A family portrait of Andrea, Jimmy and Casey in Thorndale, PA.




Two of my beautiful cousins--Leah and Rachel--in Rochester, NY.




Me and my Grandpa Swift.




An Edison-Albright self-portrait at a rest stop in Erie, PA.




Happy to be home with the Edison-Swifts on July 4th in Park Ridge, IL.

Friday, June 27, 2008

My parents: Home safe and sound

My parents returned from their month in Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Egypt yesterday. They sounded tired but happy on the phone--it is good to have them near-er again. And it will be so, so good to see them July 3 when we arrive in Chicago.


We haven't had much of a chance to debrief their trip yet, but they were occasionally able to post pictures and brief updates from Internet cafes, and from that I've gathered that they were often moved and surprised by images of peace in the midst of conflict. From the cooperation of people of different religions, to the symbolism of green and black olives growing together on the same tree, their trip seemed marked by these images of hope.


One of my favorite images from the trip, I have to admit, is this one:

It's the umbrella that cracks me up. My parents: Always cute. Always prepared.

Back to packing. We're making progress but it's still kind of hard to see. Blessed are we who cannot see the progress but have faith that this move is going to happen anyway, right? I guess that's not a matter of faith--it's a matter of our lease being up on Monday. Here I go, then.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Movin' right along

Thoughts on a rainy Sunday morning before Sean wakes up, while I still have my desk and time to type ...
  • I took some great notes at the Hunger Justice Leaders' Training, and I'm going to cull through them and turn them into something ... a blog post, some thank you cards, plans for next steps for this next year. The theology class I'm teaching at the Lyceum is on God and Suffering, and I'd like to use materials from Bread for the World and ELCA World Hunger to add a concrete, hopeful, Gospel-imperative component: God empowers us to respond to suffering through both immediate care and systemic change.
  • One reason I haven't gone through my notes yet is that I got home from training Wednesday afternoon and Saturday was our big yard sale. We took part in our apartment complex's yard sale (conveniently timed for our move!) and it was a lot of work in the hot sun (anticipated) and made me cry a little because people are beautiful (unanticipated). There was another couple moving out-of-country in a week; he's from Poland and gave me a list of things to do when we visit, and helped me carry bins out to our table. I also got help from neighbors from our building and countless others (I must have looked kind of pitiful carrying stuff ... Official Marquand Chair Mover or not, no one would mistake me for having upper-arm strength.) I wanted to be the lifter, though, because Sean was so good at the table--he took that station on his own in the morning, which is when all the serious yard salers come, and handled it with decisive grace. One of my helpers said: "You let him be, now, he's doing great. You just keep bringing him stuff to sell." And so I did.

    Eventually I ran out of stuff to bring down from the apartment, made us both some turkey-on-rye and brought out the water and the SPF 45 to spend the rest of the afternoon at the table with Sean. The afternoon was slow-going, but worth it for the conversations, with the folks at tables around us and folks who dropped by the yard sale just to check it out and chat. After the sun and lack-of-crowds convinced many to pack up early, a woman from the apartments came down and made our day. She went around to every table, she looked at everything, she bought some nice stuff for herself and her family members, and then she bought us all water ice. That's when I started getting a little teary--not just because of her kindness, but because she was an Umma, and based on our short interaction I wished I could sit down with her and ask her to tell me her stories.

    The sky was blue, and the occasional cloud and breeze were blessings. Everyone broke out umbrellas for protection from the sun, including me under my big Lee High School umbrella, and I was reminded of China. I gave my copy of Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak to a young Roman Catholic about to start seminary. Everyone wished us well and expressed excitement for our upcoming adventure. We capped the day off by taking some furniture over to the Jimmy, Andrea and Casey Casa and enjoying wonderful cheese steaks, ice cream, and an evening with them. It was a good day.
  • What's left? Less than a handful of unclaimed pieces of furniture--we should be able to find homes for these next week. Lots of sorting, packing, storing stuff with folks, and some storing-for-now with instructions to ship to Slovakia in July. We'll stay with Sean's parents June 30, with Jimmy and Andrea July 1, and head out to Chicago July 2 for our last big trip with the Sneaker (our wonderful little car ... for sale, y'all.)

There's a lot to do--we're really too busy staying on top of all the little things to process how we feel about the transition, etc. I'm sure a month or so of orientation will help! We are looking around the apartment these days and realizing that this is really happening.

Our alarm is about to go off ... better get back in bed. =) Keep us in your prayers!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Meanwhile, back in New Jersey ...

... Sean has sold most of our furniture and it's been taken away! Yay! I will come home to a much emptier house. This is really a simpler way to move, this "get rid of everything" method. I say as I sit in DC, far away from the actual process of getting rid of stuff.

Lots happened today, but I need to think about it a bit before I write it up.

Lazarus, Come Out!

Here are some key quotes and points from the presentations yesterday at the first Bread for the World Hunger Justice Leaders training in Washington, DC:
  • The Rev. Art Simon, Founder and President Emeritus of Bread for the World, talked about how, as Lutheran parish pastor in the Lower East Side of New York in the 1960's, he started thinking about combating hunger and systemic change: "It's better to have a fence at the top of the cliff than an ambulance at the bottom. I found I was always driving that ambulance." Rather than respond to the real needs all around him with band-aid solutions, Pastor Simon and his congregation started to explore how they might change the system itself. It was a brainstormed list of ideas on "hunger" that came out of a Lenten discussion group, rooted in connecting current suffering to Christ's suffering, that birthed Bread for the World. Great ideas--and the energy, people and support to make them happen--come from congregations!
  • It's easy to dismiss letter-writing and calling or visiting representatives as a waste of time. The Rev. Simon looked out and said, "What you do has life-changing and life-saving potential." I don't think it is naive to believe him; he's really seen it happen.
  • The Rev. David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, affirmed that we are grounded in resurrection hope: no matter what the current political climate or outlook for the cause, the knowledge that, in the end, there will be no more hunger gives us hope for the present moment. The fact that it is feasible to end hunger in the US and worldwide "is God moving in our history." It is "our Exodus ... the saving movement of our time, and we are being invited to participate."
  • The Rev. Juan Luis Calderon, Director of the Hispanic Pastoral Institute, gave a sermon on Jesus' reviving command to Lazarus (John 11:43) and the appointing of the 12 apostles (Mark 3:13-15). When Jesus says, "Lazarus, come out!" he is calling us out. He is calling you by name: Come out of your comfort and feed your famine for justice by being more than a witness to horror, rather fighting it as Jesus did, and converting the hearts and mind of the powerful change-makers who can end hunger.
  • Thinking ahead to my sermon August 3 ... Fr. Calderon mentioned that Jesus isn't our leader for ending hunger because of the miracle with loaves and fish. We're not hoping he'll show up and miraculously feed hungry people--our world has all the resources it needs, we have more than enough food. The miracle we need is the convergence of minds and hearts around the issue of ending hunger, and that's why Christ is at the center of the movement.
  • Fr. Calderon outlined four temptations when confronting the issue of hunger:
  1. Us vs. Them. Defining ourselves over and against hungry people, and believing we are outside the problem. Becoming "a witness to horror ... oh look, at those poor hungry people, so far away. Jesus was not called to be a witness, but to fight for justice. Come out, he calls you, out from your comfort."
  2. Run away from it. Looking the other way, closing eyes, heart, borders, etc.
  3. Hunger is an old problem, history repeats itself, it is a part of history and always will be. Lazarus, come out from fatalism! The hope Pastor Beckmann spoke of comes into play, here.
  4. We are the new Justice League: Hunger Justice Leaders of America will destroy evil with our special powers and mow down anyone in our path. Not so much. We are to convert ourselves and others to establish justice, not as dictators, but as followers of Jesus.

There is much more to report, but breakfast time draws near. =) We had a great role-playing exercise on lobbying and met with our covenant groups--the folks in my group are very impressive and I'm excited to learn from them, too! Off to get some cereal and another day of training!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

First night of Bread for the World leadership training

Should ... blog ... about ... today ... zzzzzzz

I'm tiah. I'll try again in the morning. It was a good day!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Good gifts in hard times

When disasters make the news, I'm often moved to give and pray ... when disasters leave the news, I usually forget to keep giving and praying. I'm glad that ELCA Disaster Response is there for the long haul. They will be working in Iowa, Wisconsin, Kansas, Michigan, Indiana and California long after these stories fade from the headlines. Every once and awhile I get an email update from them, gently reminding me to keep giving and praying, reminding me to stay in for the long haul, too.

Loving God, we pray for sustenance in the midst of the storm
For those facing floods in Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin
Fire in California
And recovering from tornadoes in Michigan, Iowa and Kansas
We pray for short and long term recovery of people and communities in these places
And in all places, especially Myanmar and China.
We give thanks for volunteers and relief organizations
and your constant, loving presence with those who suffer, those who sandbag, those who rebuild
And those who care for others in their loss.
May the rainbow of your promise stretch from Cedar Rapids to the Dells to Chengdu
Amen.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Very detailed anxiety nightmares and other updates

So, this morning I had an anxiety nightmare of the very, very detailed variety. Evidently I'd thrown together a band and planned to play guitar, even though in this dream, as in real life, I can't really play songs so much as make a chord, make a face as my fingers start to bleed, make another chord...

I was worried about this, and the fact that I only had one original song (which impresses me now, I wish I could remember it!) and the fact that all lyrics to cover songs had fled my brain ... and Leonard Cohen was in the unexpectedly large crowd of people coming to hear me sing and play.

This past year I've gotten really good at resolving my anxiety nightmares--my recurring back-in-high school nightmare lost much of its ability to induce trauma when my dream self was able to realize and assert that I didn't really need to pass this high school math class--I'd already done it, I'd graduated from college, I was in grad school ... the surprise exam and lost text book and the forgotten locker combination were irrelevant. I've gotten to the point where I enjoy working through this category of dream while I'm in it, and this musical performance dream was no exception. In this dream, Sean was there helping me come up with ideas for how to be most impressive with the least amount of skill and how to perform best at my most forgetful and nervous. He looked at my set list, "Of course you don't remember the lyrics to these," he said, "How about 'Come Thou Fount of of Every Blessing'?" Perfect. I could sing it in my sleep. =)

Anyway, I must be stressed about something. Probably item number 1 on that To-Do list: sell all earthly belongings. June is flying, y'all, and we have a lot of stuff. I made a spreadsheet last night and today I'm taking pictures for Craigslist. It'll happen--it has to happen. It makes me nervous about leaving for the Bread for the World Training this weekend. I am glad that, as in my dream, I'm not doing this alone.

In other news, I've gotten to talk to my folks every afternoon of their trip so far, which is a happy thing indeed. Yesterday was their first day in Israel, where they are staying on a hotel on a kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee. They day before that they had an 11 mile hike down a canyon to Petra, which Indiana Jones fans particularly may recognize. The weather has been good, Mom's been taking great pictures but hasn't had a chance to post them, everyone is doing well and soaking it in.

Soaking it in is precisely what we did at the Jersey Shore this past weekend, and we have pictures to prove it. Sea creatures, boardwalk food and grilled hot dogs were consumed. Mom Albright took us out to a lovely dinner to celebrate my graduation (Dad Albright had to stay home to meet up with the air conditioning repair guy--all went well.) The boardwalk was walked, plants were planted and the beach ... was sunned, read and strolled upon. Good stuff.



A self-portrait on the ferris wheel at the Wonderland Pier, on the Ocean City boardwalk.


On Tuesday night we had Jill, Brian, Bella, Gus and Eli over for dinner: Sean made fried chicken and summer veggie saute while I made some cornbread with fresh corn kernels and a little bit of pickled jalapeno and strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream for dessert. Bella helped whip the cream and took the lead on designing and building the shortcakes. It was wonderful to have them over to our house and pretty funny to watch Eli explore this new place with such great interest. (The kitchen! I want to go to the kitchen! While Uncle Sean is frying things!)

Here is Eli on-the-move! The child is fast. Fozzy was like, "Hey, wait up!"

OK, back to it. As much as I enjoy conquering anxiety in my dreams, I'd rather diminish my anxiety while awake so that my sleep is more restful.

Failing that, I could nap. =)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Travels


My parents left Saturday for a three-week Peace Not Walls trip to Israel, Palestine and Egypt. With the help of a slow Internet connection and a (very expensive, but I’m sure they agree, totally worth it) cell phone call this afternoon (10 pm their time) I got to catch up with them a little bit and get some of the first reports on their journey.

They were lucky their plane took off at all, what with all the terrible storms across the Midwest this weekend. They weren’t so lucky in that their departure resembled something out of the congressional hearing testimony for the Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights. After four hours on the tarmac with no fresh air and temperatures over 100 degrees, the plane ran out of fuel and they went back to the gate, deplaned, and soon re-planed Thankfully, there wasn’t too much delay before they took off the second time. A few hours later, my mom started feeling unbearably hot and dizzy. She got up to move to the galley, where it was cooler and less stuffy ... and fainted, falling on her chin.

It could have been much, much worse. She could have lost teeth, or her tongue, or gotten a concussion. As it is, she has some bruises on her knees and a bad bruise on her chin, which she thinks looks like a beard. A badge of perseverance in the face of adversity, I say! She’s feeling much better but it is a worrisome way to start such a trip, what with the five mile walk in 100 degree heat planned tomorrow, for example. My folks are tough cookies and good travelers—they’ll do everything they can to stay safe and healthy while still getting the full experience.


Mom said it was “worth the price of admission” just to witness this baptism in the Jordan River—I think she mostly loved it because it is a picture of women, of women passing on the faith in a holy place, of “one generation to another.” Another wonderful thing to witness: baby camels! My dad took the picture at the top of this post.

Things to be thankful for: baby camels, God’s amazing grace and the gift of baptism (and living baptism every day,) healing and the resilience of creatures and all creation, good humor in the midst of travels near and far. Mom is thankful that, so far, nothing has been as hot as the airplane. She told me another story from the plane that made me so grateful I got a little misty: when she fainted, it was in the aisle in the midst of a group from St. Ignatius College Prep. The kids were very sweet and concerned, and one girl leaned over and said, “I’m praying for you!”

Prayers for the journey continue to be welcome! I will post what I hear from my folks. Email me if you are interested in the group’s photo blog and message board and I’ll send you the link and password.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Meringue recipe and midwestern accents

Good times/"wuder" ice were had by all! It was a really lovely visit. One highlight of the evening for me was sharing the Mary/marry/merry dilemma with Diana and Sarah: Diana and I grew up in practically the same part of Illinois and we both grew up thinking (and even learning in school) that those three words were homophones. We also can't distinguish (sound-wise) between the names Erin and Aaron. Context is all. =) The best part is that most midwesterners have no idea this is unusual and most English-speakers outside of the midwest don't realize we’re doing it ... but when it's pointed out the midwesterners are befuddled, the non-midwesterners are totally horrified and hilarity ensues. I still maintain—and Diana will back me up, I’m sure—that the Chicago accent is delightful in its newscastery goodness. After all these years of thinking we’re the bland “standard”, though, it is kind of neat to find out that there’s something we do with vowels that the rest of the English-speaking world finds unbelievable (even if it does open me up to teasing by my Philly family.)


Sarah is allergic to gluten and dairy, so I ditched the usual cupcakes and went with meringues. I’m really starting to like these! They are simple to make, but take a long time to harden.

The recipe is here, on our recipe database site. A few notes to add: I haven’t gone the full three hours for baking yet, because I’m too antsy and I like them still a little marshmellowy in the middle. Two hours is the limit of my patience. I let them dry and cool in the oven over night. I used a piping bag and large tips this time but a plastic bag with the corner cut out or two spoons work well, too. I add about two heaping tablespoons of good cocoa powder to half the egg whites to make the chocolate ones. I know there are ways to keep them from cracking, but I think of it as the “homemade” stamp. In this case, it was good that they cracked, because it made it easier to split the tops from the bottoms; while I remembered not to flour the baking sheets, I didn’t remember Sarah’s dairy allergy and, yes, buttered the baking sheets. D’oh! Sarah did a very liturgical job of splitting the meringues, though. Sometimes you’re sitting around chatting and you forget you’re hanging out with an Anglican priest and a very-soon-to-be Episcopal deacon. And then the meringue is professionally broken for you, and you think, “Sweet!”

Traveling mercies and blessings to Diana and Sarah! Diana is ordained tomorrow! Tomorrow my parents depart (three weeks! what is an enmeshed child to do?) and Sean and I will be at the shore, hopefully enjoying some Annie-caught flounder. Time to start packing!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

So you're going to move (again)

The last time I started a blog and kind of stuck with it, the first entry was a To-Do before moving list. I did my best both to keep it fun and whimsical and also to make it about more than just food (I do still miss the food in Houston … so cheap, so good, so gourmet-you-can-get-wearing-jeans.) Faced with less than a month (!) left in New Jersey, I find the task of keeping the stress and preponderance of food out of my list a little daunting. It is go time, people. If I don’t feast on Atlantic coast sea creatures now … when? Who knows when mussels in red sauce will be so good, plentiful and local for us again?

So, here’s my new To-Do—a little less whimsical, a little more realistic, but still great fun and part of an adventure I’m so, so glad for. Every once and awhile Sean and I stop what we’re doing and just grin at each other, or embrace, still unable to completely believe that we’re this blessed.

Without any more ado …

To-Do in June when you are selling all your earthly possessions and moving to Slovakia for a year:

1. Sell all earthly possessions. We’ve got to get a move-on on this. I think we’re going for three fronts next week: Craig’s List, apartment bulletin boards and family members. There might be a yard sale with the help of our siblings (and their yard, ha!) Some of our very most treasured things we’ll keep with family, I think, though we haven’t explicitly asked anyone yet (it shouldn’t be too much stuff … my cupcake carrier and Sean’s cast iron pan are all I can think of at the moment. =).) We think we’ll drive to Chicago and try to sell the car there—anyone in the metro area looking for an incredibly fuel efficient, lightly-used Toyota? It’s a great little car.

2. Go to Jersey Shore and soak it up. We’re talking Pirate Island Mini Golf, the Ocean City Boardwalk and all the rides and terrible/wonderful food that entails, fishing, flying our anniversary kite on the beach (our gift to ourselves on our first wedding anniversary last year) and eating mussels in red sauce until I am sick or sick of them. Mmmmm, creatures. I can’t wait for this weekend!

3. Pray. You’d think this was a professional hazard, goes without saying, etc., but my folks are doing some serious traveling this month and that, uh, makes me less forgetful about praying. June 19th is also the one year anniversary of my cousin’s suicide; prayers and good thoughts sent the way of my family—especially Jason’s mom, dad, sister, brother, and fiancé—would be wonderful and appreciated.

4. Get trained. June 14-17 I’ll be in Washington DC getting trained by Bread for the World to be a Hunger Justice Leader; on the 17th I’ll hit the Hill for Lobby Day. Read about the Global Poverty Act here.

5. Write prayers. I’m writing intercessory prayers for Sundays and Seasons, 2010. It was pretty great to see my name and work in the 2009 edition that just came out! (Check out the alternate worship texts for Lent and Easter!)

6. Enjoy New Jersey. One more romantic dinner at Oh!Yoko, another trip to the rootbeer stand, The Taco House, the farmer’s market, McMillan’s Bakery. Walks in the park across the street, walks to the custard/water ice stand.

7. Enjoy our family. We had a wonderful Bon Voyage Party last weekend and have plans to see other folks before we go.
Here's one picture from the party (it's in the photo set I linked to above.) The US and Slovak flags are a gift from Sean's parents. We love them!

This afternoon we’re expecting guests—Diana and Sarah, good friends of mine from Yale Div. Diana has her first call at an Episcopal parish in Rittenhouse Square; I think I’m going to introduce the two of them to water ice today. I will teach them the correct pronunciation, too: “wuder ice.” Hee. Yeah, I’m excited to get going, but I’m surely going to miss this place. In June 2005 I wrote: “I feel like this is a good choice. I think the mental transition is going to take some time.” This is most certainly still true.