Monthly Archives: August 2011

Creating Worship and Why I’m Going to Stop

doing so much of it…I know the title got some of my fellow WUUCies to pay attention. If you’ve been at the Woodinville Unitarian Universalist Church much at all in the last three years, you’ve seen me up in front leading services quite a bit. Whenever I lead a service, I get a little bit of pre-service jitters, my hands go cold and I feel a little bit sick to my stomach. Every time. I can’t recall a single time where I start walking down the aisle ringing those chimes without some little flutter of nerves somewhere. By the time I drop the last stone in the bowl of water at Joys and Sorrows, though, I’m relaxed and ready to keep going. I know, it’s pretty much over by then–hence the relaxation.

If doing this makes me occasionally wake up in the middle of the night wondering about a niggling detail or has me not feeling like eating before I head to church, you might reasonably ask, “Why?…Why, Laurie, do you do this?”

The answer is simple and rather selfish. In spite of the pre-service jitters, it’s a lot of fun. There is a different and compelling connection to each and every person in the congregation when I stand up front that I don’t get when seated with my back to half the people in the room. I can see and feel it as I stand up there and ring the beautiful bell, or when I hold up a stone for the unshared joys and sorrows. Many of my fellow congregants have told me they enjoyed this or that hymn or poem, or that a particular sermon or poem moved them, or expressed enjoying how the whole service came together. I take no credit for any of the wonderful sermons that have been shared, but I do my best when I’m helping to bring it all together to find words in the hymns that support the message. I will pour over books of poetry to find something that fits the topic in an interesting or intriguing way, and I do this because I love it when all the elements of the service build off of each other to create something great.

I enjoy the ability to work with these outstanding people who come together to make a service happen. Between the minister or the speaker of the day, the musicians (can I just say AMAZING MUSICIANS) and the office staff, and all the other people who show up every Sunday to make it all work (sound, ushers, hospitality, greeters) creating worship is a collaborative experience. Lori V., our office administrator, makes the nuts and bolts of the order of service a breeze. Our minister is incredibly flexible, and every guest speaker we have had has been easy to work with. And, of course, having such compassionate people in the congregation to share the experience with has made it easy to get up in front. I have yet to experience anything less than kindness and understanding or gentle laughter when I make a mistake. (And believe me, there have been a few.)

But why, if I love doing this so much am I going to (almost) stop, and what does that mean anyway? After three years of at least once a month, I’m feeling like I need to let others step in and have some of the fun. For every Sunday that I “take” as Worship Associate, it is one less Sunday that others are able to step in and experience the fun and pleasure that comes from leading service. As I browsed the upcoming calendar for the fall, I found I could easily support each and every service that is planned through the end of the year. There are some wonderful things coming up–a “stump the minister” session where Lois will take questions from the box, the series Lois is doing on UU principles, the 20th anniversary celebration in October, a speech choir for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, Christmas Eve service…There are so many luscious topics to choose from, I could sign up for them all. But that would hardly be fair!

I have already given up my position as Lead Worship Associate and will run one more training in September. I know that others are going to step up and take the lead here, and it’s about time that we have some fresh faces up in front of us. I’m thinking once every couple of months, or so, should be more than adequate for me. It’s hard to give it up ALL together, so I’m keeping my name in the roster.

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Roadtrip Essentials: Advice from a Survivor

The Mazda was packed full.

When I was a child, getting into the car every summer is something we just did. With six of us and family across the country, summer vacation was all about visiting family, and not so much about traveling.

In spite of our recent Irish road trip, It’s not something we’ve done much of as a family. Our son doesn’t really like being in a car for long, and our daughter gets car sick if she reads while riding. We managed to get to Montana for our family reunion and back without too much friction, yelling or beatings. Okay, no beatings, though one was threatened. And, if you know me, you might imagine what it would take to get me to even make that kind of threat.

What follows are a few thoughts about getting ready and on the road. This is not comprehensive by any means, but just a few things I think worked for us.

Things to do before you go.

1. Stock up on your family’s favorite snacks and beverages. It’s not that you need a whole lot, but enough to get you through a day or two of grumbling in the car when someone gets gnoshy. Get a few not-too-messy treats for the car and make sure they are easily accessible to someone so that you aren’t stuck with a situation where everyone knows what they want but can’t get to it. Note: If your snacks contain chocolate, you might want to put them in a cooler or cooler bag to keep them from melting. Or, consider taking them inside with you if you will be out of the car in extreme heat. There’s nothing worse than sticking your hand in a bag of melted candy while still in the car. (Okay, I know what you’re thinking about worse things than a hand covered in chocolate, but I’m not covering them in this post.) You might want to add paper towels, plastic trash bags and some handiwipes to your essentials list.

2. Make sure the drivers have their sunglasses.
Summer driving often means long hours in the car heading in the direction of the sun. It doesn’t really matter whether you are heading East or West, at some point the sun is likely to be in your eyes. Avoid the strain and keep safe by having a good pair of sunglasses. I managed to get a pair of new prescription polarized glasses just the week before our most recent trip, and it saved my head.

3. Make a playlist (or two or three) for the car.
Almost everyone has an mp3 device of some sort. Make up several playlists if needed, but put some thought into what you’ll need for the journey. We didn’t do this ahead of time. On the final day of our most recent trip, the husband put together one pretty quickly on my iphone, and it literally saved my sanity and kept our 8YO from inciting me to violence. There’s something about music and singing together in the car that creates a positive atmosphere. We use a tuner connector that plays through the radio. The presence of these devices has most likely killed the need for anyone to ever sing “99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall,” something for which we can all be grateful.

4. Figure out where you are heading, have a paper map or a plan that doesn’t rely on cellular service.
This may sound archaic in the day of GPS and all that, but my brother called me from downtown Seeley asking me where the resort was. His TomTom had told him he had arrived when he was still a couple miles away. Most of America is well serviced by our cellular network, but there are pockets where we had no service whatsoever. Don’t count on technology to be there 100%. And, don’t always count on there being a person around to ask for directions if you get lost.

While Traveling:

The view of the hotel from our 6th story room.

1. Break up your trip as much as you can.
The destination is important, but don’t let that rule you so much you forget to enjoy the journey. I mean this literally and not as some trite life metaphor. This can take many forms and be customized for your particular family situation. For us, it means stopping frequently at rest stops that have enough room to toss a frisbee for a while. We get out, stretch our legs, use the toilets, and move around a bit. We were blessed with being on I-90 where there are regular rest stops along the way that are, more or less, dependable. Some are even staffed with people selling coffee, lemonade and cookies for one service organization or another. If you’re traveling along some of America’s more scenic routes, stop and look at those historical markers and roadside oddities. Visit that castle made of bottle caps or places that tout marvels of the universe. It breaks up the boredom.

We also like to stop in hotels with swimming pools. I love to swim, so this is as much about my own sanity as it is anyone else’s. I also discovered that doing a cartwheel under water in just the right way can also crack my back perfectly—the persistent pain between my shoulders from the first day of driving completely disappeared until we were just a few hours from home.

2. Use SLEEP to your advantage.

If you have little kids who can sleep while in the car, drive…just drive while you can and go as safely as you can without getting caught speeding or doing anything insane. This advice also works for some teens. Get up early. EARLY, like 4:00-5:00 early and put the teens in the car. The natural tendency for them is to just sleep through the morning while you drive. (This is from my brother who was traveling with four, yes, FOUR, teenage girls.) This didn’t really work for us as my son can’t sleep while upright unless we are five minutes from home. When be was younger we did have some success working around his sleep times.

3. Try not to sweat the small stuff and ignore your backseat drivers as much as possible.

I find this particularly hard, but it really is best to just let that camper trailer think be can pass the big rig if he pulls in front of you. It’s not really that long before he’ll pull back in front of the 18 wheeler and you can speed ahead. I hate being behind big vehicles. I like being able to see as far ahead as possible, so I am almost always trying to get ahead of them. The thing about summer is the roads are filled with truckers and campers. My hubby was constantly making motions to indicate what he would be doing differently. I think I only snapped at him a few times, and I never once pulled over, tossed the keys at him and told him to drive instead.

4. Use google and tripadvisor to find yummy hole in the wall eateries.
We had one fast food stop–at a Wendy’s because we needed the toilet and they have really good iced tea. The rest of our dining options were found through a quick Internet search, and we found some good places to eat. Sure, you might know what to expect at a McDonald’s, but…you know what to expect at a McDonald’s. I realize this advice relies on you having a phone or something that can connect to the web while in the car, but, it is possible to plan out stops way ahead and do some research before you go. Unfortunately, the Internet is cluttered with old information, so you might consider calling a restaurant before spending a lot of time driving around a town. When we got into Ritzville, we realized that our chosen place was closed and opted for the less than superb restaurant that was open instead. In Spokane, the Greek restaurant that promised awesome gyros was closed with no explanation.

5. Try to maintain a sense of humor.

When our son asked, for the 80 gagillionth time, “When will we get there?” The hubby said something like,”You’ve asked that a thousand times…” Our son replied,”But, that’s what kids my age are supposed to do.”
What else could we do but laugh?

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Family Zumba

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One of my cousins’ wife teaches Zumba and led a few willing victims in a full hour class. This was my first Zumba experience, and the first time I’ve tried any group dance-laden exercise since Jazzercise in the 80’s. Remember Jazzercise? Grapevines…sidesteps.. Zumba’s Latin roots make it a ton of fun. Even though I was pretty clueless with the steps about 90% of the time, I found myself laughing and having a great time while sweating. Thanks, Kathy!

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Family Reunion

About a year ago, I got an email from my aunt about this summer’s family reunion. I immediately looked up the Tamaracks Campground at Lake Seeley and picked out what looked to be like an appropriate sized cabin for our family and booked it. Turns out to be a considerably sized cabin with appropriate decor.

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This big elk presides over the living area of the cabin. The 8YO was a little freaked out by it to begin with, but has managed to fall asleep in spite of the fact his eyes seem to follow us around the room.

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The view from our side deck is pretty nice, too.

All thirty-five of is descended upon the local steak house for dinner last night. The options were simply chopped sirloin, sirloin, or special sirloin. The sides were salad, bread, mushrooms, potatoes, and watermelon rind pickles. They were gracious enough to let the kids order from the adjacent burger portion of the restaurant, so our 8YO was happy. The decor was pretty much dark wood interior, so the lighting made for pretty bad photos.

On the way back from the steak place, we stopped with my brother and his girls to get ice-cream. His SO, Kristy, caught some funny car trip moments during their two day drive up from Carson City. In this picture, she’s sharing the raw footage of the four girls rocking out in the car. (It’s really pretty funny.)

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Reunions can be stressful in different ways. For me, constant socializing can be hard. For the kids, not just mine, I think that trying to just figure out who everyone is creates a certain amount confusion. It doesn’t help that the easiest way to describe a relationship is hard to understand. “She’s my first cousin once removed, but she’s your second cousin.” Just saying, “She’s a cousin,” has become the easy answer.

The hardest thing for me about a reunion like this is the diversity. I’ve chosen to surround myself with family, most of whom hold quite different political and religious views from my own. I’ve learned it’s easier to try to keep the topic of conversation on things that won’t spark too much debate.

When one of my cousins said something disparaging about “those damn environmentalists,” my brother turned to me and said,”Sorry, Laurie, you are in Montana.” I am pretty sure my cousin simply doesn’t know just how liberal I am. I replied that I knew I was the minority in this group, and eventually managed to find a conversation in another group that involved quilting.

One advantage to having so many people around is I can always find something else to do than engage in a fruitless debate with family I see once every couple of years. It’s much more pleasant to search for common ground–of which there is plenty. Can you say s’mores?

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Why Writers Love Conferences (or why this writer does, anyway)

One of several good "headshots" taken by Mark Bennington at the latest PNWA conference.

I’ve had just a few different work environments. My first paid job was at House of Fabrics in the mall, my second was at my dad’s family practice as a billing clerk and the third was at Quadtek, a small company that had offices in an office park. Oh, and I had a short term job with a market research company in Reno that was in a truly creepy dark building off Kietzke lane. The first three I mentioned all had one thing in common–other people. Given that the fabric store was in the mall, there was an extended sort of relationship with other mall workers, too. I got to know the people at Mrs. Fields Cookies a bit too well maybe.

At my dad’s office, in spite of the obvious nepotism, there were about six of us in the front and billing offices. We went to lunch together, hung out occasionally and socialized. It was there that my dad’s book-keeper, Donna, taught me to knit. The entire office staff wasn’t huge, but it was a staff. At Quadtek, I had my first real experience in an atmosphere where I was working with what can be referred to as “colleagues” and not just “another employee sharing space.” With just three of us in the sales and marketing department, it was small, but still…

You already know where I’m heading here. Writing is a solitary act. Not all of us are hermits in caves, nor do we all want to be. But, for me, writing is something I do best when I’m alone and when there are no interruptions. Blogging is a bit easier than ‘writing’ when people are around. I started this post at 9:00 this morning, and it is now after 3:00 pm. Sure, there was an hour or so when the power is out, but it really shouldn’t take anyone six hours to write three hundred words. I started the post, fed the 8YO, did some dishes while waiting for the power to come back on, hung out with a friend who was dropping off a child for a play date, took the 8yo and his friend to the park, and am just back to it now.

My children might be fodder or material for my writing, buy they are not my colleagues. They are not here to support me in my writing, nor do they actively try. They don’t want to listen to me whine about why a character isn’t behaving, or why a plot is flailing around, or why I can’t stop writing the phrase “seems to” forty-seven times in two hundred pages. They don’t care why I am pulling my hair out over a single word choice.

Charlotte, me and Claire....aren't the badges just lovely?

At a conference though…I get to hang out with people who understand. People who nod their heads at insightful words of other authors and who giggle at writer jokes. People who speak the same language and have the same problems. People who know that writing a book really is a lot harder than reading one. Yes, it’s largely about networking with agents, editors, other writers and all sorts of people in the industry. But, it’s also a place to be with other people who understand both the mechanical and spiritual issues of what I am trying to do on a very different level–a professional one at that–than family and friends.

Conferences remind me that I’m not alone in the solitary creation that is writing. I get to hang out with people who are doing exactly what I’m doing in entirely different ways and yet struggling with a lot of the same issues.


Note: The headshot of me at the top of this page was taken by Mark Bennington of Bennington Headshots. I couldn’t get the caption to accept the link directly, so here it is in a note.
And, Mark just spent some time in India photographing in Bollywood. He writes about his experience and has better links to all his work on his blog.

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