the body of christ, broken for you

I had all but forgotten that it was my turn to be a greeter at Sunday School today, but my phone beeped helpfully at me, and I was able to get to church a few minutes before I needed to be there. We were standing there chatting with Rev. Lanita Monroe when she asked me – apologizing for the short notice – if I would assist in Communion.

I was delighted. I don’t do it that often, and I consider it a privilege. I was thinking about this just a week ago while listening to this excellent episode of The Liturgists Podcast, featuring Rachel Held Evans talking about her book “Searching For Sunday,” which I’m reading right now. Both Rachel and one of the regular hosts – I can’t remember whether it was Michael Gungor or “Science Mike” McHargue – told the stories of what it meant to them to serve communion for the first time. (By the way: Check out The Liturgists Podcast. It’s excellent.)

And today was actually World Communion Sunday. I’ll let Chuck tell you about it:

So, I assisted. As a lay speaker, I find it’s amazing how many little details you don’t think about in worship until you happen to find yourself responsible for them. I wasn’t sure which direction to go, or when to move. Was I going to fast? Was I holding the tray too high for people to reach comfortably?

It all worked, and it’s wonderful to watch the variety of people in church – young and old, men and women, what have you – receiving the sacrament. We have two different people at church who are in wheelchairs with severe mobility or muscular issues, and in both cases a family member has to gently put the little piece of bread in their mouth and gently hold the little glass cup up to their lips. It’s a powerful thing to see up close – the body of Christ, broken for you; the blood of Christ, shed for you.

Next Sunday, First UMC will play host to 13 other churches for their charge conferences – an annual meeting at which various church reports are turned over to the district superintendent for approval, and at which each church approves various committees and leadership positions for the coming year. In the past, each church would host its own charge conference, but this year they’re being done in county-wide batches at central locations, and at each such location there will be a combined worship service following the separate business meetings.

Anyway, the district director of lay speaking/lay servant ministries, Ruthan Patient, has asked me to help her next Sunday in greeting and guiding the various church members as they arrive. We’ll have someplace for each church to wait until it’s time for that church to meet with the D.S. I always enjoy working with Ruthan, and so it should be a fun afternoon.

round round get around, I get eye of round

UGO had a small eye of round – only a pound and a half – on manager’s special tonight. Usually, when I see an eye of round on sale I think jerky – when you can get it cheaper than normal, it’s a great cut for jerky because the grain runs lengthwise and there’s little marbling, only an easily-removed fat cap. For jerky, you want as little fat as possible; fat goes rancid.

But this was a very small roast – not quite as much meat as I would normally use for a big batch of jerky. Plus, I knew I was out of both Worcestershire and soy sauce, neither of which UGO had tonight, and I didn’t want to make another stop. So my mind went to the other great use for eye of round. It’s a recipe that America’s Test Kitchen had on their show years ago. Unfortunately, that means I can’t link to it here, since only the current season’s recipes are available for free online, and even then you have to register.

Eye of round is sort of a transitional roast – it’s not as cheap and doesn’t have the connective tissue of a good, slow-cooking pot roast, but it’s not naturally as tender as the pricey oven roast cuts. However, it can still be an oven roast – cooked in dry heat to your preferred doneness (I’m going to tell you that your preferred doneness is medium rare). You just have to pay a little attention to it first. ATK has a recipe where the roast is coated generously with kosher salt and wrapped up tightly in plastic wrap for 18-24 hours. The salt works like a brine or marinade – it penetrates and tenderizes the meat a little. It looks like it would be too salty, but it’s not, since the salt distributes itself deep into the meat during that time. My roast is now all wrapped up in the fridge and will be ready for dinner tomorrow night.

Then, you brown the roast in a dutch oven or skillet before cooking it very slowly in the oven over low heat. At one point, you are supposed to cut the oven off without opening it and let the residual heat cook it the rest of the way. The end result is a tender medium-rare roast which you can slice thinly across the grain. I’ve made it in the past, and it tastes like a much more expensive roast.

This recipe works best if you have one of those remote probe thermometers, so you can check the roast’s temperature without opening the oven door. I can never afford a nice one; I’ve bought the cheap ones from Walmart two or three times, and they tear up pretty easily. Plus, the recipe as I have it from ATK is for a much larger roast than the little one I have. But I’m going to do the best I can tomorrow night and check it with my little instant-read thermometer.

Spontanean Nation! Nation!

I listen to several different comedy podcasts. Most, but not all, normally use a studio-based format, while others use a live-audience format, recorded at some sort of comedy club.

Sometimes, a studio-based podcast will do a special episode in a live-audience format. They usually present this as if it were a special treat, but I often don’t like the live episodes as much as I do the studio episodes, because the live episode usually has a different and unfamiliar rhythm. (And yet, I have no problem with the podcasts that use a live audience as their regular, week-in week-out format.)

The comedian Paul F. Tompkins is involved with several different podcasts of his own and is also a frequent guest on other podcasts. Tompkins created and plays H.G. Wells on the hilarious Dead Authors Podcast, in which he interviews other deceased authors (as played by various Wikipedia-crammed comics and actors).

But one of Tompkins’ newest efforts is Spontaneanation, a unique podcast with a two-part format. In the first part, Tompkins interviews a podcast guest, usually a wide-ranging conversation which brings up funny stories from the subject’s past and childhood. Then, in the second half, Tompkins and a team of improv comics create a sketch which takes place in a setting which has been suggested by the interview guest. They try to be as funny as possible and also to work in callbacks to funny moments or anecdotes from the interview segment. My description probably isn’t doing the show justice; it needs to be heard to be appreciated.

Anyway, Spontaneanation is normally studio-based but this week has a live episode. In spite of the reservations cited above, I thought this was one of the funniest they’ve ever done. The reason is Tompkins’ guest, Scott Aukerman, who hosts “Comedy Bang! Bang!” both as an audio podcast and an IFC television show. (Aukerman is also one of the proprietors of the Earwolf podcast network, which distributes “Spontaneanation.”) Aukerman is hilarious as an interview guest – subverting the normal interview process with weird diversions and character moments. Tompkins (who must have been absolutely delighted) keeps making remarks about how far the interview has gone off track.

Usually, the guest isn’t part of the improv sketch, but in this case Aukerman stays on for the improv segment, and deservedly so. The result is just hilarious – although not necessarily safe for work or young children. You can listen to it here:


With the play over, I finished up reading Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years by Michael Shelden, which I bought on sale for Kindle a while back. I started reading it, then had to set it aside because a library book for which I’d been on the waiting list became available, then came back to it, then set it aside again while I was so busy with the play.

It’s a terrific book. As the title suggests, it is not a comprehensive biography of the great author but a look at the last four years of his life. Many readers and scholars over the years, picking up on a certain bitter edge to his writing following the death of his beloved wife Olivia, have painted a portrait of Twain as a completely embittered man during this period, an impression Shelden seeks to moderate, pointing out some of the joys and successes of this period, a period when he was held in great esteem as a beloved national and international figure.

The title, of course, refers to the white suit. If you close your eyes and imagine Mark Twain, you envision him wearing a white suit. But he didn’t begin wearing one (at least not as a year-round trademark) until the winter of 1906, when he appeared before a copyright hearing at the Library of Congress. He wanted to call attention to himself, and believed arriving out of season in white would do the trick. It did. Twain’s purpose at the hearing was to endorse the idea of extending the term of copyright protection. His two surviving children, Clara and Jean, were unmarried, and he hoped that ongoing royalties from his works would help to support them once he was gone.

The book is, in many ways, not only about Twain himself but about his relationships with Clara, Jean and another important woman in Twain’s circle, his assistant Isabel Lyon. Clara was a vocalist who yearned for a career in which she wouldn’t automatically be introduced as Mark Twain’s daughter but would be recognized on her own merits. Jean was an epileptic at a time when treatment for epilepsy was primitive. For much of the period covered in the book she was cared for in an institution, much to her aggravation and her father’s sadness. She longed for independence.

Lyon, the other major character in the book, is unique. She became Twain’s right hand, and personally supervised the construction of the Connecticut home, Stormfield, which Twain dreamed of sharing with Clara and Jean. But in some ways, their professional relationship was not as well-defined as it should have been, and she presumed a personal connection and a responsibility for protecting Twain which got her into trouble. She interfered with Jean’s treatment out of a selfish desire to keep her from being allowed to join her father at Stormfield; having Clara and Jean too close by would have interfered with what she saw as her role as Twain’s protector. Early on, she was driven by a real, intense affection for the beloved author, but she eventually fell in with Twain’s greedy business manager, Ralph Ashcroft, who had designs on Twain’s money.

I can imagine a prestige HBO movie centering around Lyon and her somewhat sad character arc.

Anyway, despite all of the soap-opera machinations, there were joys and triumphs in Twain’s life during his final years – such as an honorary degree from Oxford, a close friendship with a controversial business tycoon, and the joy of trips to Bermuda, where Twain found both physical and emotional rejuvenation. Twain was both working on his own autobiography (some parts of which were sealed up at Twain’s request and not to be published for many decades after his death) and cooperating with his authorized biographer, Albert Paine. He enjoyed encounters with Rudyard Kipling and Helen Keller, among others.

This is a great book, and Shelden has done a terrific job of research while telling the story in a readable and compelling way. I can highly recommend the book.

The final curtain

Well, the play is over, which is simultaneously the best and worst feeling in the world.

For weeks, I worked on my lines every day, worried that I’d never get all 300 lines memorized. Two rehearsals a week eventually turned into three a week, and then four rehearsals during “hell week” before we opened on the 18th.

And now it’s all over. I can delete the audio files from my phone, and go back to listening to music, or nothing at all, during my daily walk rather than listening to my lines. My schedule has suddenly gotten more open.

I’m tired; in some ways, I’m ready for it to be over. I won’t be auditioning for the Christmas play tomorrow afternoon; it’s hard for me to go straight from one production into another, although I know a lot of theatre people who do just that.

But I will miss it. This was a great role – the favorite role I’ve ever played, and it was the lead, which is always fun (but also adds some pressure). There’s nothing like being the last person out for curtain call. Even more important, this was a great cast and crew – I’d worked with most of them before. As most of us sat at Chili’s just now, unwinding from a week of performances, you could feel the mutual affection and admiration. I will miss spending time with these people – Martin and Dianne and Morgan and Amanda and Keith and Meridith and April and Joe and Cliff and Mary Ann and Randy and Anne.

And in a two-weekend production, there’s always the sense during that second weekend that we’ve just now gotten it right. You wish you had a few more opportunities to show the production off now that it’s been sharpened. But it’s got to come to an end.

I won’t know what to do with myself this week. I plan to get back to work on the book of sermons, devotions and essays that I’ve been compiling. Depending on how that goes, I may or may not decide to jump into National Novel Writing Month in November.

I’ll probably feel a little more lonely than usual this week. But I’ll get over it.

Cup o’ stoopid

The day did not begin well — I overslept — but I’m not sure whether to blame myself or Procter & Gamble for this latest bit of foolishness.

I had sneezed a few times and had a little stuffy nose but was out of tissue on my desk. I decided to walk across the street to the convenience store and buy some. My first trip was cut short when I discovered it was raining, and I had to roll up the windows to my car, getting wet in the process. I made a second trip a few minutes later.

I looked, and looked, and looked, for five minutes (it seemed longer) and did not see any facial tissues, Kleenex or otherwise. I finally got in line (it was unusually busy) and asked the clerk if they carried any. He took me directly to these:

car-cup I had looked at this package at least twice, and had no idea what i was looking at. All I noticed was the words “Car Cup,” and since the box wasn’t far from the napkins and paper plates, I just thought it contained paper or plastic cups. I did not notice the tiny Puffs logo on the front or the only-slightly-larger one on the top.

It’s not a bad idea for a product — a tissue dispenser designed to sit in a cupholder — but I think the manufacturer either needs to alter the name or put a photo of the open package on the front to make it a little more noticeable as a package of tissues and not, as I’d assumed, a package of cups.

Even so, I felt pretty stupid.

souper man

I posted earlier today on Facebook that one of the grocery items in my second-ever Jet order was a bag of Hurst’s HamBeens 15-bean soup, which I think I’m going to make tomorrow, while I’m recuperating from a late night at the show tonight. I’ll have it to and enjoy over the rest of the holiday weekend, and then a little extra to go into the freezer.

I have blogged about this product in the past, but it’s been a while, and so I’m going to wax poetic about it. It’s been a favorite of mine for many years.

WP_20150905_11_49_03_Pro (2)

You can find it in the dried bean aisle of the supermarket, because that’s basically what it is – dried beans, plus a small packet of a smoky seasoning. You add other ingredients to turn it into soup – meat (ham, hamhock or smoked sausage), water, a can of diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, a little chili powder and the juice of a lemon. This leaves room for some experimentation, of course. It feels more like a recipe than like processed food.

It’s easy to make, but slow-cooking. You have to soak the dried beans overnight, then you cook them with the onion and with your meat of choice, add the other ingredients and the little seasoning packet, and cook some more. The combination of different beans gives the soup a great texture – you have just enough creamy thickening from the beans that break down, while you still have individual beans in there to give the soup a hearty, meal-worthy bite. Don’t skip the lemon juice – it adds just the right little bit of tanginess to perk up the slow-cooked flavor.

It’s wonderful the night you make it, and – like many soups and chilis – even better when you reheat the leftovers the next day. It also freezes well, as long as you use it before it gets freezer burn. (I miss my FoodSaver. I need to get a new one the next time I get a tax refund or something like that.)

In addition to the basic product you see above, they make other flavors. I’ve tried the Cajun flavor, which is fine, and so is the beef flavor.

On my Facebook post, Donna Brock asked if I was going to have cornbread with the soup tomorrow. That would have been a great idea, and I wish I’d thought of it while I was at the store. Instead, I already bought some canned biscuits. They’ll be good too.

It feels like summer today, but as the weather starts to cool off, and it will, this is the perfect fall meal.

Book, interrupted

I was in the middle of reading Mark Twain: Man in White: The Grand Adventure of His Final Years by Michael Shelden, which I’d bought on sale for my Kindle. A few weeks earlier, with nothing to read, I’d gotten onto the waiting list for a few books at the library lending site for Kindles, and one of them, Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman, suddenly became available. So I had to put Mark Twain aside and read the Offerman book while it was available.
It’s an interesting book — not for all tastes, and there were a few things that annoyed me, but I definitely enjoyed it. Nick Offerman is a comic actor best-known for playing the taciturn character Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation.” In real life, Offerman — the husband of comic actress Megan Mullally — is an accomplished woodworker. When he goes to visit one of his favorite authors, Wendell Berry, Berry’s granddaughters know him from “Parks & Rec” but Berry’s son knows him from articles he’d written for a fine woodworking magazine.
He’s not exactly like Ron Swanson, but the character drew on certain aspects of Offerman’s personality.
“Gumption” is a series of profiles on people the real-life Offerman admires. The list starts off routinely enough, with founding fathers, Frederick Douglass and Eleanor Roosevelt, among others. But it takes a left turn about the time we get to Tom Laughlin of “Billy Jack” fame, and some of the other honorees range from Carol Burnett to Willie Nelson.
The book is written in a humorous, self-deprecating style (Ron Swanson was never self-deprecating), but underneath the humor, Offerman appears to be deadly serious about some of the qualities he’s trying to highlight. You may not agree with all of them, and some are overstressed, which in some cases may have been intended for comic effect.
There’s an argument about religious proselytizing in the second half of the book that gets driven into the ground to the point of annoyance. Yes, we get it, Nick. You don’t like people telling you what to believe. We also get that many people who identify as Christians don’t seem to have much connection to the actual teachings of Jesus. But aren’t you trying to proselytize people to some (worthwhile) ideas in your own book?
But that’s a quibble. I gave the book a good rating on GoodReads, because I think it’s an enjoyable and provocative read.
I have not read Offerman’s earlier book, Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living. He makes reference to it in “Gumption” as having been more risqué than the second book.
Getting back to the Twain book (and I have gotten back to it) it’s terrific as well. It’s a biography focusing on the later years of Samuel Clemens’ life, which attempts to moderate the common stereotype of Twain as universally bitter and miserable following the death of his beloved wife Olivia. Yes, he was deeply affected by her passing, and Shelden doesn’t dispute this. But he points out some of the triumphs and pleasures of this stage in Twain’s life, when he was one of the most famous and admired Americans, a sort of beloved national mascot.
The title, “Man In White,” is a reference to the trademark white suit in which most of us imagine Mark Twain. But that suit did not become his trademark until age 71, at the beginning of the period covered by the book. Twain wore it as an intentional attention-getter while testifying, in the dead of winter, before a hearing in Washington on copyright issues, and it worked so well he began wearing it frequently. When he traveled to England to receive an honorary doctorate from Oxford, some people wanted to know why he wasn’t wearing the white suit.
I may have more to say on the Twain book once I’ve finished it.

Not the one McCartney was singing about

Jet is a new Internet startup that has been getting a lot of attention — it’s sort of a cross between Amazon and Costco/Sam’s Club. There will eventually be a membership fee, but right now if you go there you can get a free six-month membership. The six months don’t start until you actually place an order.

The pricing is a little strange — most items have a price but also say that your total order will be discounted by such-and-such, so I suppose the real price is the first number minus the second number. But the discounts are fluid — they go up the more you order. Orders of $35 or more (and that $35 is figured before the discount, which is good) ship for free. Grocery and household items tend to have two-day shipping, and they have other items for sale as well.

You get an additional discount for using Visa or MasterCard instead of AmEx or Discover. The company claims it’s selling you everything at cost and will make its money exclusively from the membership fee.

I just ordered some non-perishable groceries — stuff I would have bought anyway, and just barely enough to cover the free shipping — and once you figure in all the discounts, the prices seem good. My order before the discount was more than $35, so it qualified for free shipping, but after the discounts the total order came in at just under $28.

Jet had been in an invitation-only beta test but is now public. When Amazon did its big “Prime Day” promotion a month ago, some commentators speculated that Amazon was worried about Jet in its rear view mirror and wanted to try to get more people locked in as Amazon Prime subscribers before they got the chance to sign up with Jet.

DISCLOSURE: Like many websites, this blog is part of the Amazon affiliates program, which means I sometimes have product links in blog posts and get revenue when someone buys from them (which does not happen very often). As you can tell from the above, I don’t let this arrangement affect my content.

Harriett and Samantha

It was Harriett Stewart and Samantha Chamblee who, four years ago, first asked me to serve on the American Cancer Society Relay For Life committee in Bedford County. At the time, Harriett was our ACS staff partner and Samantha, a volunteer, was our local committee chair.

Since that time, a lot of things have changed — Harriett was transferred to another job within ACS and then ended up retiring. Samantha, on the other hand, ended up taking a job with ACS, and now she does what Harriett used to do for several counties in the area.

All of this makes it delightful that both women are now involved in Bedford County’s Relay once again. A reorganization of ACS territory means we are now one of Samantha’s counties. (Many thanks to our previous staff partner, Mackenzie Evans, who was also a delight to work with. Mackenzie is still with ACS and will be working with several college-based Relay events.)

Harriett, even though she lives in Lebanon, still has a special place for Bedford County’s Relay in her heart. When several of us from Shelbyville went to her retirement party a year or two ago, as soon as the people from other counties found out where we were from, they noted how often and fondly she spoke of the Bedford County crew. Anyway, Harriett will be working with us as a volunteer this year, helping to recruit sponsors for the Bedford County event.

Here’s Harriett, in the foreground, with Judi Burton, another known troublemaker:

A photo posted by John Carney (@lakeneuron) on

Both of these things were announced Monday night at our first committee meeting to start talking about the 2016 Relay. I think very highly of both these ladies and am looking forward to working with them in the coming year.

Technically, the 2015 Relay year has not ended yet. If you still want to give to this year’s Relay, you can do so between now and the end of the month. I’d be honored if you gave towards my participation.