I’m Not Afraid of Lent

It’s Lent. Generally speaking I love this season of the church year. I love the slowing down, the somber tone, the minor keys, the intention of surrender and sacrifice. Acknowledgement of limitations. Namely death.

But this year I don’t need the reminder. It’s been dark out there for way too long. Over the last few months my community of friends, church, and neighbors has been hit with death, heart attacks, suicides, job loss and depression. There are days when the newspaper brings me to tears. I get darkness. I get death. I can’t bear it.

Typically during Lent folks give stuff up. Or take stuff on. Or dwell on which is better and lift their worries up to the heartless cloud of know it alls we know as facebook where they are set straight. And further tizzied.

As for myself, I came up with three ideas of what to give up this lent.
1. Lent. Nah. That would be the easy way out and what sort of stubborn church snob would I be if I didn’t do it the hard way?
2. Self. Nope. I love me. And this one gets too confusing. Too out there.
3. Fear. Yes. I’m giving up fear. Which scares the hell out of me. But that’s the kind of the point, correct?
I’m going with Jacqueline Bussie‘s take on life that the opposite of Hope is not Despair but rather Fear.

To be honest I don’t know what it looks like. Probably doing some new things. Earlier this week I faced my fear of the backstroke during lap swimming. I got water up my nose. I’ve said no to a few things this week. That’s something I’m generally afraid to do. Maybe that’s all it is.  I’m guessing there’s more to it. I think living as someone who is not afraid could get a little crazy. But crazy is not all bad. Even Seal acknowledges this.
So good-bye fear, hello hope.
You so crazy.

Posted: February 15th, 2013
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It is possible.

A couple weeks ago our family was driving up to Bay Lake Camp for a weekend retreat with other folks from our home congregation/neighborhood. I was in terrible mood. Tired and angry and frustrated about a number of things. In fact at one point I actually pulled over and got out of the car to let Jodi drive ’cause I was in no place to be behind the wheel. I even asked Jodi, “Why are we even going this weekend?” (Other than the obvious: It’s the congregation she pastors) Her response?  “It’s transformative.”
That woman.  She’s always right.
We drove out to the island. Driving on ice will never be normal for me. We unloaded. I laid down. I even slept a little bit – a relatively new thing for me. I mean, sleeping during the day. I think it’s called napping.
When I finally dragged my bitter self into the community space and took on the taco bar I wasn’t quite ready for people. But it was that or not eat tacos. And I would sooner drive on ice than not eat tacos.
This would be a nice place to say, “And then everything changed.” And in fact I was hoping someone would flip the switch and I’d be a happy camper. But it wasn’t. All the same I stuck with the community. We turned in our cell phones. We played games. We froze. And we went to bed. And I was only slightly less cranky.
Mid morning day two I went for a walk with a few friends. We headed to the site of the Island Folk School. It may be my favorite place on earth. Which works out well because I plan on retiring there.
On the hike back I was asking my friend Chris how she manages to always be so giving and hospitable. (The sorts of things at the heart of my stress and bitterness.) She shared a number of insights but the big one for me was surrounding ones self with people who see possibility.
That’s when things changed for me. That’s when I realized I was hiking back to a lodge full of people that saw possibility. They were part of a scrappy podunk congregation because they saw possibility. They believe in a God of possibility not prosperity. Of hope not outcome. Possibility not perfection. You and I get to be a part of that possibility. We are possibility.

It’s possible that I’m bordering on motivational speaker here. In which case: Buy my book!

Or receive my thanks: I’m grateful for you, because you keep my vocation a possibility. I hope I can do the same for you. Thank you.

Posted: January 30th, 2013
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New Again

Last year I visited a church. Well, many of them actually. It’s a vocational hazard of sorts. The church I’m thinking about today was one in transition.

Old church. Old neighborhood. The population/ethnic make up around the church had changed and the church had not. Its congregation was made up of folks who drove into the city to attend because that’s where they had always gone. And this congregation was ready to fold. It wasn’t sustainable.

So this church called a new pastor in hopes of giving it one last go before they closed the doors. The pastor’s job was to be the pastor of the existing congregation and simultaneously start a new congregation that was more representational of the neighborhood. New name, new time (evenings), new people, new life, new language, etc…

As he worked with the new and old two things stood out. The new congregation wanted to worship in the mornings when the old congregation worshiped. And the old congregation wanted to worship with the new congregation.

And so there was no longer an old congregation. It died. And it was raised to new life in this new congregation that met in the same place at the same time with many of the same people. It had been made new. New faces. A new call. A new life.

With a new year upon us change and transition are on our minds. Me? I’m ready to start over. How I’ve done things in the past is no longer sustainable. I could use a new set of rules to play by. That’s scary. And may lead to the unknown. But my identity remains. In my tradition I’m carried forward by the promises made in baptism. That I have been made new. That I am whole and loved and welcomed into God’s work in this world.

Whatever the new year holds I need you to remind me of that.

Posted: January 2nd, 2013
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Julekake. And jule thank me.

I married into Julekake. Yet another example of how I married up. This is a sweet cardamom Christmas (Jule – pronounced like you’ll-uh) Bread (Kake- pronounced like poop in Spanish). I’m sure my rootsier scandinavian readership will happily clear up any cultural and pronouncial details. In the same way my English major friends will make up for not working in their field by kicking me in the ouchies for making up the word pronouncial. (Relax, Mr. Keillor has got your back.)

A couple years ago I scoured the Internet for recipes and I found a wide range. So I tried to remember what Aunt Laurie’s Julekake tasted like then I made a guess based on the various recipes I found and every year tweak it a bit. Over the last 3 years it’s come into a focus a bit. This year I tried two new things. I shaped it more like a batard and I experimented with an egg glaze. The new shape I like. Traditionally they’re in big rounds (boule) but I like the more predictable size of each slice I get with the batard. The egg glaze? Didn’t do it for me. Skip it. You get to drool icing over the top anyway, that’ll be plenty pretty.

So here is what I did this year.

9 cups / 1575g        all purpose flour

1 cup / 250g            warm water
1 1/2 cups /400g   milk
1/2 cup                       butter
3 eggs

2 1/4 tsp                     yeast (1 package)
1 Tbl                             salt
3/4 cup / 160g       sugar
2 Tbl                           cardamom

1 cup white raisins
1 1/2 cup candied fruit (totally unnaturally red and green cherries, candied citrus is good)

Heat the milk to about 180-190 F
Remove from heat
Add the butter to cool the milk and melt the butter
Add water – use cooler or warmer water to end up with a 90-105 F mix. Keep in mind the temperature of the eggs you’re about to add – again, the end temp of all the liquids
should end up around 90-105 F to create a comfort zone that allows your yeast to be fruitful and multiply.
Add those eggs
Sprinkle the yeast on top
Whisk it all up
While that’s doing it thing mix the flour salt sugar and cardamom in a a big bowl
Add the liquid and use a big spoon or your hand and make a big lump of dough
Cover and let rest for 15-20 minutes
Add the raisins and candied stuff.  This is sticky and messy just so you know.  But even when dough seems like a disaster, carry on, it knows how to be dough and it will come back to what it’s supposed to be.
Knead. Like 10-12 minutes probably. It should be a slightly wet dough.  If you need to add moisture spread the dough out flat, dimple with your finger and sprinkle a little water over it.

Cover and let rise. Mine took about two hours to double. I put a plastic bag over the bowl and stick it in the oven with the oven light on. The bag retains moisture the light keeps it a little warmer than our house normally is this time of year.
Form into 4 boules or batards and place on parchment paper (2 per pan)
Let rise again. Generally half the time of your initial rise.
Do not score, you won’ be getting that kind of spring
Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes – I do one pan at a time and keep the waiting pan somewhere cool so it doesn’t over proof before going in the oven.

After the loaves have cooled you can drizzle icing over the top. I’m not sure what the measurements are for the icing because I used some that was leftover from making ginger bread houses and added a little hot water and almond extract to make it a little smoother. If you mix powdered sugar, a little butter, water and a dash of coffee (for real) and a bit of almond extract I’m sure you’ll end up with something fattening that your body will respond positively too.  I might actually just go try that to see for myself.  Yum.

Garnish with some of those freakishly bright candied cherries.

We like ours lightly toasted with butter and a thin slice of gjetost (yay! toast.)

Merry Christmas folks. I may not blog next week so keep busy with something else, okay?

Bake more bread,

Posted: December 20th, 2012
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I went to Menards this morning in order to save big money by way of spending it which still doesn’t make sense to me but why would the colorful talking box lie to me? As I handed over my play money/credit card, the man in front of me apologized for being slow and mentioned he was having surgery the next day. We talked a bit about it. Hip surgery. He was looking forward to it being done with. And then he headed out as I bagged up my ‘savings.’ When I started my car I noticed he was walking back from putting his cart away. He was using a cane and I could see more clearly how badly he needed that hip replaced.

By this time I had started driving through the parking lot searching for a way out – as is my custom – and I thought, ‘I should pray for him.’ And then I thought, ‘I should turn around and get his name.’ And then, ‘That’s weird.’ But self rebutted with, ‘If I was having surgery I’d be okay with a stranger asking my name and saying they would pray for me.’ Quickly countered by, ‘Aha! I finally found the exit, this is my chance to flee this internal dialogue!’

And then I turned around.

He hadn’t got back in his car yet, in part to the hip I’m guessing. His name is Jim. I said I’d pray for him. I gave myself an internal pat on the back for doing my holy deed.(I make a point of celebrating such a rare occurrence.)

On saying I’d pray for him his face lit up and he thanked me and then he turned it around and said, “I just think of it as one of God’s little interruptions. I mean, just think about Mary. God interrupted her life and it worked out okay.”

By ‘Mary’ I’m assuming he was talking about the Baby Jesus Mama.

Interruption. Rupture. Breaking open. Breaking into. Shattering the norm. The status quo dashed.

I’m ready to be interrupted. Preferably without major surgery.
I’m ready for this world to be interrupted.
I’m ready for the immense capacity for violence in this country to be interrupted.
I’m ready for hate to be interrupted with love.
I’m ready for heartbroken parents to be interrupted by their child’s embrace.
I’m ready for death to be interrupted with resurrection.
I’m ready for another shitty manger to be interrupted with the presence of God.

Posted: December 19th, 2012
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Saint Lucia Buns. Yes, Taylor, I send buns.

December 13th is St. Lucia day. I spent 31 years of my life not knowing this. The first 31 to be exact. Living in Scandisota has taught me that there are many dates I spent much of my life oblivious to and in doing so I missed out on a lot of butter, flour, sugar, and calories in general. I’m working on rectifying this.

Last year for Christmas I received Pat Sinclair’s cook book, Scandinavian Classic Baking. Today’s recipe for St. Lucia Buns comes from this fine book. I’m not going to reprint her recipe here because, duh, it’s not mine and I would need permission to do that. You can find plenty of recipes out there on the interwebs if you want to have these ready for tomorrow morning. Or you can rush down to Ingebretsen’s and get your own copy of Scandinavian Classic Baking. I recommend it. Cookbooks are vinyl in an mp3 world.

So if I’m not printing a recipe why read on? Because I’m going to give you a few tips that’s why dummy. Nothing like a good insult to up the readership.

Tip #1. Don’t forget to add the eggs. I did till a few minutes into kneading. Though I’m guessing it would’ve worked I didn’t feel like kneading eggs directly into the dough. What worked for me was to crack two eggs into a bowl and whisk in a 1/4 cup of flour or so to make them less slimy. Then I flattened out the dough, made deep finger divets in it and poured the egg/flour combo over it. Fold it over and start kneading. It’ll ooze out a bit, but stick with it and it’ll all come together. And adding flour won’t hurt because you just added more moisture and they should balance each other out.

Tip #2. If you’re dividing dough into 16 equal pieces and don’t feel like busting out the scale here’s what I do. (adjust #’s as needed) The knife I cut my dough out with is 1 1/2 inches wide. 1.5 x 16 = 24. Roll the dough (like a snake) into a 24 inch long cylinder. Start at one end and lay the knife flat on top of the dough so the dull side of the blade is lined up with the end of the dough. Upright the knife (now the sharp side is in a cutting position on the dough) and cut a disc of dough. Repeat. Work down the length of the dough and you’ll have 16 equal size pieces of dough. And yes, a picture would’ve been worth a thousand words in this case.

Tip #3 Make them the night before and bake them in the morning. I made the dough, let it rise, punched it down, divided and formed my little S’s and layed them on parchment lined baking sheets. Now cover them with plastic wrap or put in a big plastic bag and immediately put them in the fridge to retard the dough. In the morning take them out and let them warm up and rise. I accidently woke up at 4 so I went ahead and pulled them out of the fridge and put them in the oven with the oven light on to rise. When I got up at 5:30 I pulled them out and preheated the oven. By the time the oven was up to temp I put the first tray in and they came out wonderful.

Oh. And for those of you keeping track of my imperfections: I didn’t use the signature ingredient, Saffron. The roads were crap and I didn’t want to make a special trip for it. But I do love Cardamom. And so I used that (1 teaspoon).

Break more rules. Bake more bread.

Posted: December 12th, 2012
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Wheat and Flax Seed Bread

The following is a work in progress. This is the third variation of a recipe I’ve been working with for about a year. It’s getting there. Baking is a science to some and an art to others. Sometimes I weigh, time, and check temperatures at every stage. Other times I eyeball the entire process. Don’t let the details bog you down. Bread knows how to be bread.

2 C / 300g Wheat Flour
5 C / 750g Bread Flour
1/2 C / 50g Oatmeal (uncooked)
5 T / 50g Flax seeds (raw, whole)
2 T / 30g Salt
1 T / 12g Yeast

3 C / 700g Water (room temp)

Mix Flours, Oatmeal, and Flax Seeds in a bowl.
Add the water.
Get your hand in there and bring it all together so that the dry ingredients are wet. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic bag and let rest for about 20 minutes.

Add Salt and Yeast, remove from bowl and knead for about 10 minutes.

Place back in bowl and cover with towel or plastic bag (I prefer a bag) and let rise until double. This will take 2 or so hours depending on water temp and room temp. (The last time I made this I used cold tap water and our house was chilly so it took about 3 hours.)

After it has doubled, gently push it down, rework it into a round, and place back in the bowl for a second rise. This will take about half the time of the first rise.

After it has doubled a second time, remove from the bowl and cut the dough into two equal pieces. Round each piece into a ball. Set the balls on a parchment lined or corn meal sprinkled baking sheet. Lay a towel over the top and let rise a third and final time.

Preheat the oven to 450 F.
When the formed loaves have risen to nearly double use a lame, razor blade, shiv, what have you, and make a few decorative slashes in the top of your loaf.
Bake at 450 for 15 minutes then lower the heat to 375 and bake an additional 30 minutes.
Let cool on a rack for at least an hour before cutting.
That lower right one came out a bit wonky.  I’ll admit I rushed these a bit because I had to get some DVD’s back to the library before it closed.  But even rushed it turned out nice.  I think with the next batch I’m going to add sunflower seeds and toast them with the flax seeds before adding them.   The possibilities are endless folks.  Let me know how yours turns out.

Bake more bread,

Posted: December 5th, 2012
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What Are You? Chicken?


TUESDAY MORNING (the time not the place)

Though a decade has passed since my vegetarian days it has remained true that eating animals still kind of grosses me out. To overcome this I tend to eat meat in forms that least resemble its source. I’ll take a hamburger over a steak and a chicken strip over a drumstick any day. If the turkey is carved in the kitchen I have an easier time with it.
Similarly I rarely prepare meat. When I’m on the road or Jodi’s gone (as she is this week) I naturally cook vegetarian because as it turns out dead animals have blood on them. And I don’t like blood.

I think that blood and evidence of life are the root of the best arguments both for and against eating animals.

I think that I’m not interested in arguing right now so I won’t go there.

What I will say is this: Yesterday I bought a whole chicken that looks a lot like the chickens a few of my neighbors have in their backwards – except the one I bought doesn’t have feathers or a head. Or a pulse. And tonight I plan on roasting this chicken. All by myself. Me and a dead bird.


Here’s how it went down:

Step 1. – Find A Recipe.
I enjoy watching America’s Test Kitchen on PBS so I started here and won.
Here you have it.
In watching this video my recipe choice was confirmed when they acknowledged this recipe was created with Tuesday evenings in mind.  Someday I may try it on a Wednesday or even, gasp, a Sunday.  But for now the fewer variables the better.

Step 2. – Instill Responsibility/Pass The Buck.
The next step in handling this bird was trying to convince my 9 year old that she’s old enough to bake a chicken all by herself. She was not interested.

Step 3. – Follow The Recipe.
I thought this would be the crazy part. Crazy kitchen hijinks would befall me and hilarity would ensue. Not so. Everything went smooth. Real smooth. To the point of being a boring blog smooth. (Like you hadn’t already figured that one out.) In the end I was only mildly grossed out during the prep work and totally thrilled when I pulled this out of the oven:

Step 4. – Eat.
I made some buttermilk biscuits too. Yum. And then a variation of the pan sauce in the above recipe. Also yum. Bonus: The kids loved the sauce. After professing said love I told them it had onions and dijon mustard in it. They were flummoxed.

Moral of the story?

I rule.

Posted: October 24th, 2012
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Hope For The Old Folks.

It’s not uncommon to desire hope for our children.  That’s a good thing, but I think it’s really just how old folks look for their own hope.  We (the old) put our worries on our children and then offer them hope so that we can feel hopeful.  Tracking?

Sure you are.

With all my churchyness, I hear a lot of adults voice concerns about churches shrinking, membership declining, Sunday schools drying up and only a handful of kids getting confirmed.

Well as a hack professional allow me to assuage your worries with these two words:


Hmmm… Perhaps I should rephrase that.  On second thought, No.  I would only make it worse.  But I can explain.

I like to bike.  In mountain biking there’s an important concept you learn early on in navigating single track:
Look where you want to go.

Why?  Because where your eyes look your body will follow.

This last weekend I was surrounded by church folk who were doing just this:  Looking where they want to go.  Rethinking.  Reimagining.  Reworking.  Rather than focusing on what’s wrong they are looking at what’s right.  And similar conversations are happening all over in worshiping communities around this country and around the world.  They’re sharing a story of hope.  They’re telling the story of where they want to go.

It’s fine and healthy to name the junk in your congregation.  It’s cathartic to name things that suck.  It’s important to know what dangers lie about on the trail.  But that’s not where you want to go now, is it?  Duh.

So acknowledge what is and live into the hope of what is to come.

You want hope for the children?  Then be hopeful.




Posted: October 17th, 2012
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Downloading The Stumbling Service

I recently released Stumbling Service.  It’s been well received and hopefully that will continue.  If you’re not familiar with it, skip this post, click on the link and listen/read all about it.

Now that you’ve done that…

This is an all digital release.  There’s no physical songbook or CD available for purchase.  This allows for a number of things.  I can sell it for $20.  You won’t have 10 extra copies floating around your church library 20 years from now.  You can pass on the MP3s to the rest of your band without first converting file formats.  All in all it makes things much more functional.  It also allows for immediate use.  You buy it.  You download it.  You use it.

Unfortunately my initial online store set up kind of stunk.  I was paying for way more options that I needed and there were all kinds of steps the buyer had to go through.  It was kind of a mess.  And then when the first few folks followed the links, jumped through the hoops and ordered Stumbling Service they had to e-mail me because the download link didn’t work.  I ended up e-mailing files to people individually.  I don’t mind doing that and I felt horrible that they had to go through yet more step.  As the head of Nate Houge Industries and Frivolity I knew something had to change.

And it did.

Now I’m using bitbuffet.  I’m telling you this for two reasons.

1.  I’m sure I lost sales because of the previous store.  It was too complicated.  If that was the case for you, now you can click here buy Stumbling Service via PayPal.  Easy.

buy file or download now!

2.  Of the 6 people that read this blog 5 of you are in the same business as me.  And Mom, you might want to sell a digital download someday too.  So for all 6 of you I recommend bitbuffet.  It’s simple.  It’s cheap.  It works.

The End.


Posted: September 5th, 2012
Categories: song
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