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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Prayers for Peace

As we celebrate the season of Christmas, and the birth of the Prince of Peace, I am reminded of humanity's warlike tendencies. While serving at my last church, I buried a soldier killed in our nation's current war in Iraq as well as a 100 year old German veteran of the First World War. At the WWI veteran's funeral, I reflected on how much the world had changed since the dark days of The Great War and how he had found a home in the country that was once his enemy.

In 1954, the BBC interviewed Frank Richards, who had served in the Royal Welsh Fusilliers and was present at what became known as the Christmas Truce of 1914, when German and British troops joined in sining Christmas hymns from their trenches, then met together in no-man's-land, where they found peace together, at least for a while.
BBC Interview with Frank Richards, a veteran oftThe Christmas Truce

Seventy years after the Christmas Truce, John McCutcheon, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, wrote "Christmas in the Trenches," a song that I have performed many times and which I will be offering as the peace prayer in church on January 3.





Today, I have a high-school classmate of mine serving in Iraq. In addition, I've got a "kid" from one of my former churches and two of my current church's staff members have children who are scheduled to deploy. I wish them -- and all of their comrades -- peace and a safe return home.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Visiting Sen. Lieberman (or at least trying to)


Last Sunday, I went to see Senator Joseph Lieberman to discuss healthcare. Of course, I wasn't alone. Five Hundred or so other people of faith, representing an unbelievably broad range of religious traditions, gathered at the high school across the street from Sen. Lieberman's condo and then marched over for a prayer vigil on the sidewalk. The event managed to grab a good bit of press and I found that my picture was on the front page of the The Hour, as well as The Advocate. (That's me holding the left end of the banner.)

Since the rally on November 15, bloggers from the far-right have characterized the rally as an intimidation tactic and have questioned the motives of those of us who prayed together, calling us all sorts of colorful things. Really, you've got to see some of this crap that thoroughly misrepresents the event. (Even scarier is to read the comments posted by the readers of these fearmongering blogs!!)

Then, watch this video of the event.



Weren't we scary, horrible and intimidating?

Below is the column that I wrote in my church's newsletter, explaining the need for a religious voice in the healthcare reform conversation and, even further down this is a copy of the letter written by my friend, Rabbi Ron Fish, of which I am honored to be a signer.

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When I went to Stamford on Sunday evening, I didn’t expect my picture to end up on the front page of the next day’s newspaper. Instead, I went to pray – along with nearly five hundred other interfaith brothers and sisters – for our country, for the unmet healthcare needs in our nation, and for Senator Joseph Lieberman. I went to stand side-by-side with Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Unitarians, Hindus and Buddhists as we spoke a message of responsibility for the most vulnerable in society that is common in all of our religious traditions.


I wasn’t at all surprised, when I arrived at Stamford High School, to find several FCC members already there, though we hadn’t made any advance plan to meet. After all, our congregation has a long history of working for social justice, of speaking out on behalf of the poor, of advocating for the needy. I was a little surprised, however, when some folks cheered and clapped when I walked into the church council meeting on Monday evening. It seems as though our legacy of standing up for justice has been a tad dormant over the last few years, as the efforts of our congregation have focused largely on our own needs during the interim period. People are glad that we’re “back in the game,” as one parishioner put it to me.


At the same time, I realize that not every member of our church is in agreement about our nation’s healthcare reform – or about anything else, for that matter. Some are worried about the church getting into “politics.” While I certainly understand those sentiments and the underlying concern that the church not become just another political action agency, it is also important to realize that our living faith calls us to be active in transforming our society to be more just.


As we prepare to enter the season of Advent, the major them of the scripture readings is summed up by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “prepare the way of the Lord” and by John the Baptist, who echoed those same words in the Gospels. All too often, we think about that preparation as just getting ready for Christmas, hanging greenery and lighting candles. From a biblical perspective, however, that preparation means that we are to be engaged in doing God’s work, in building God’s realm, in modeling God’s justice for all people.


Jesus was clear about what the “way of the Lord” entails. He preached about it in his first sermon, when he told the congregation, ” ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Later Jesus would tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, where he would explain that a neighbor was one who cared for the health of those who were in need of medical care. He echoed that same message when he told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the beggar who was covered in boils went to heaven, while the rich man who ignored his need went to hell. Christ summed up the law and the prophets by teaching that we need to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.


Of course, Jesus wasn’t making this up on his own. The Hebrew Scriptures are full of similar images. In Leviticus, the commandment is given, “you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” and the prophets consistently enjoin the nation to care for the old, the sick and the vulnerable. Our UCC ancestors understood this and started numerous healthcare institutions throughout the country. Our General Synod, just this past July, passed a resolution in support of a reformed healthcare system that is 1) Universal – it covers all persons; 2) Affordable for all; 3) Provides comprehensive benefits; 4) Offers a choice of physicians and other health providers; 5) Eliminates racial, ethnic and all other disparities for health care; and 6) Waives pre-existing health conditions and does not further impose financial barriers to health care.


Certainly, bringing about change in our healthcare system is political, just as the change in our nation’s civil rights laws was political. Political, but not partisan. While it is not appropriate for the church to ever endorse candidates or parties, it is the church’s proper role to address issues of public policy, ethics, morality and justice. Indeed, if religious leaders and people of faith kept silent, many of our societal advances would never have happened. We’re at our best when we work through both the church and the government to meet the needs of a hurting world, when we prepare the way of the Lord with all of the tools that are available to us as people of faith.


Advent Blessings,

Paul


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Concerned Clergy of Connecticut

Rabbi Ron Fish, Contact

November 12, 2009

Honorable Joseph Lieberman

706 Hart Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Lieberman,

We are not politicians. We are not doctors. We are not financial analysts.

We are rabbis, priests, ministers, imams and pastors.

This does not mean that our political, medical or fiscal views should be taken any more seriously than anyone else’s. We acknowledge that everyone must evaluate the complex and myriad questions that appear in the healthcare reform debate based upon their own judgments. Certainly our elected political leaders must weigh the problems of cost, availability and sustainability when redesigning such a large portion of our economy.

But our areas of expertise do come into play in this debate. The moral question of what kind of society we seek to build should underlie any deliberation on the question of healthcare reform. We surely disagree over many subjects of theology and politics, over questions of faith and dogma. But whether from the words of Torah or the Gospels of Jesus, whether from the Talmud or the Koran- our traditions all are explicit and clear on one thing: We are commanded to seek the welfare and healing of all those in our midst, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable. Our understanding of the insights of Jewish, Christian and Muslim thought on how we should navigate through the complex challenges of modern life compel us to speak out together in favor of major change that will extend the benefits of modern medicine to all our fellow citizens.

For us this is not an intellectual exercise. We work in our communities, among the sick and scared, who face not only illness but financial ruin when disease strikes. We see hard working people denied care because of pre-existing conditions. We see families with health insurance that they simply cannot afford. We see doctors and nurses whose vocation is to mend the broken, frustrated that their efforts are directed toward profits and paperwork rather than people and healing.

It is for this reason that we insist that the moral imperative of our time is clear. Anyone whose guide in public policy is conscience, anyone who argues that faith and religious tradition should direct our actions, such a person must stand for universal healthcare in America.

It happens that we are all also citizens of the State of Connecticut. This fact leads us to ask you, Senator Joe Lieberman- what is it that you stand for? We ask you to sit down with us, a diverse group of clergy, and your constituents, and answer the most important moral questions. How can you justify your threat to block this much needed reform against the will of the majority? How is it that you can stand in the way of our fellow citizens being granted access to life saving technology? When you speak of values and conscience, what exactly do you understand to be the morality of our current system?

When concerned about questions of finance, we turn to the independent analysis of the CBO, which suggests that a “public option” will reduce long term costs and lighten the fiscal burden of the government. When interested in the effect on medicine, we trust doctors, like the AMA, who approve of this approach. When considering the effect on seniors, we turn to the AARP, which also endorses reform.

But when speaking of morality and conscience, when pursing a calling to goodness and justice- on these matters we have something to offer. Our voices reflect our traditions and our understanding of what God asks of us.

Senator Lieberman, what is it that your conscience tells you?

Concerned Clergy of Connecticut*

Rev. Richard C. Alton

Saint Andrew's Church

Stamford, CT


Rev. Marjo Anderson

Tabor Lutheran Church

New Haven, CT


Rev. Edwin Ayala

Associate Director

Christian Activities Council

Hartford, CT

Rev. Gordon Bates

First Church of Christ, Congregational

Glastonbury, CT


Rev. Joseph Bradley

Retired Clinical Chaplain

Hartford, CT


Rev. Joan Breckenridge

Pastor

Zion Lutheran Church

Stamford, CT

Rev. Paul Bryant-Smith

Senior Pastor

First Congregational Church

Norwalk, CT


Rev. Johnny C. Bush

Greater Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church

Stamford, CT


Rabbi Debra Cantor

Congregation B'nai Sholom

Newington, CT

Rev. Annette Cineas-Exantus

Tabernacle of Grace Church

Stamford, CT


Maryteresa (Missy) Fenlon Conrad

Peace & Service Committee

The Religious Society of Friends/"Quakers"

Wilton, CT


Rev. Peter Degree

Minister

United Church of Christ

Deep River, CT

Rev. Samuel Dexter

Senior Minister

First Congregational Church

Watertown, CT


Rabbi Joseph Ron Fish

Congregation Beth El

Norwalk, CT


Rev. Christopher Files

Pastor

Trinity Lutheran Church

Milford, CT

Rev. J. Richard Fowler

Harwinton, CT


Liz Frohrip

Associate in Ministry

Salem Lutheran Church

Bridgeport, CT


Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

Congregation Beth Israel/Co-Chair Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Health Care

West Hartford, CT

Rev. Lisabeth Gustafson

Interim Pastor

Bristol Baptist Church

Bristol, CT


Rev. Debra W. Haffner

Executive Director

Religious Institute

Westport, CT


Rev. Richard Hanna Huleatt

Senior Minister

First Church of Windsor

Windsor, CT

Rev. Dr. James Harrison

Minister

First Congregation Church

Woodstock, CT


Rev. Kate Heichler

Pastor

Church of Christ the Healer

Stamford, CT


Dr. Tommie Jackson

Pastor

Faith Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church

Stamford, CT

Rev. Margaret Jay

Minister

First Congregational Church

Wallingford, CT


Rev. Keith Jones

Interim Minister

Higganum Congregational Church

Norwalk, CT


Rev. Lois Keen

Grace Episcopal Church

Norwalk, CT

Rabbi Stanley Kessler

Retired

Temple Beth El

West Hartford, CT


David Daniel Klipper

Chaplain, Rabbinic Pastor and ACPE Supervisory Candidate

Stamford Hospital

Stamford, CT


Rabbi Emily F. Korzenik

Rabbi Emerita

Fellowship for Jewish Learning

Stamford, CT

Rev. Linda J. Kraft

Pastor

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Trumbull, CT


Rabbi Stephen Landau

Bloomfield, CT


Rev. Bryan A. Leone

Pastor

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Monroe, CT

Rabbi Mark Lipson

Temple Shalom

Norwalk, CT


Rabbi Alan Lovins

New Haven, CT


Rev. James Mahan

Turn of River Presbyterian Church

Stamford, CT

Imam Adul Azzeim Mahmoud

Vice President

IT Services

Bethel, CT


Avery C. Manchester

Clergy

Stamford, CT


Rev. Brendan McCormick

Vicar

All Saints Episcopal Church

Ivoryton, CT

Rev. Michael G. Merkel

Pastor

Grace Lutheran Church

Stratford, CT


Rev. Bruce V. Morris

Macedonia Church

Norwalk, CT


Rev. John A. Nelson

Pastor

Niantic Community Church

Niantic, CT

Rev. Dr. Patricia Nicholas

First Congregational Church of New Fairfield

New Fairfield, CT


Rabbi Robert J. Orkand

Temple Israel

Westport, CT


Rev. Josh Pawelek

Unitarian Universalist Society

East Manchester, CT

Rabbi Richard Plavin

Beth Sholom B'nai Israael

Manchester, CT


Joshua Ratner

Rabbinic Intern

Fairfield, CT


Rabbi Liz Rolle

Congregation Beth El

Norwalk, CT

Rabbi Daniel J. Satlow

Congregation Beth El

Fairfield, CT


Rabbi Philip E. Schechter

Stamford, CT


Rabbi Jeffrey Silberman

Westport, CT

Rabbi Eric A. Silver

Temple Beth David

Cheshire, CT


Pr. Paul D. Sinnott

New England Synod

Torrington, CT


Rabbi David Small

Emanuel Synagogue

West Hartford, CT

Rev. Donald R. Steinle

Executive Director

Christian Activities Council

Hartford, CT


Rev. Diane Stevenson

Minister

North Stamford Congregational Church

Stamford, CT


Rabbi Yvonne Strassmann

Temple Beth Sholom

Stratford, CT

Mary Marple Thies

Co-Pastor

First Presbyterian Church

Stamford, CT


Rev. Keith Welch

Church of Nazarene

Norwalk, CT


Rev. Dr. Bernard R. Wilson

Senior Minister

Norfield Congregational Church

Weston, CT

* Positions are listed for identification purposes only.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

When Fall Comes to New England

Last week, as I drove through the northwest corner of Connecticut, I noticed that the foliage up there was just beginning to turn colors. Yesterday, I looked out of my office window and saw a tree next door, covered with golden leaves. Walking out to my car after work, I noticed that the church's lawn was speckled with orange and brown leaves.

In the spring of 2000, my family left Connecticut and moved to Pennsylvania. Since then, each autumn has brought wistful thoughts of my adopted home state, many of them echoed in Cheryl Wheeler's song When Fall Comes to New England. After nine years away, it feels great to be home.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Summer's Conclusion

Lately, I've been busy trying to make the most of the waning days of summer. I spent September 11-13 as part of the "Saints and Sinners Barbecue Team" competing in the Bar-B-Q Pit Competition at the Norwalk Oyster Festival (an event that had remarkably few oysters in evidence). This was the first time out for the team, which consisted of several members of the First Congregational Church of Norwalk, several people associated with the Norwalk Children's Foundation, and several other friends. Overall, we did very well, coming in 6th or 7th place in most events, out of a field of nearly 30 competitors, many of whom are either restauranteurs and caterers or "professional" barbecue contest competitors. Our team took third prize for booth decoration and tied for third place in the "Iron Chef" competition.

My three big accomplishments in the competition were the Iron Chef competition, where we prepared tequila-lime marinated skirt steak with a vidalia-chili finishing glaze, grilled asparagus with olive oil and sea salt, and fire-roasted garlic mashed potatoes. My mesclun-stuffed swordfish with ginger-lime-soy marinade turned out quite well and took sixth place in the seafood competition, and the hot wings came in sixth in the "People's Choice" competition. All in all, the team did very well and we're planning on a second appearance at next year's oyster festival and are even thinking about entering some other competitions, too!

Last week, I traveled to Sharon, CT, to attend the General Association of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ. (Say that five times real fast...) General Association is the longest running clergy gathering in the United States and dates to the bad-old-days when Connecticut was a theocracy run by the Congregationalist churches. Originally, the General Association would pass all sorts of resolutions and make decisions regarding the government of Connecticut, including electing the governor. These days, it is is a continuing education and fellowship event for UCC clergy. This year, we celebrated the 300th anniversary of the General Association and had the Rev. John Thomas, who is concluding his second term as General Minister and President of the UCC, as our guest speaker. Over the two days we had together, John shared many remembrances from his ten years as GMP and discussed the evolving role of pastors in our society.

This past Saturday, Ian and I, along with our friend Eric Anderson, spent the day at the Pipes in the Valley festival in Hartford. It was a gorgeous day and we got to hear several fantastic musical groups. The day started with a massed pipe band that marched across the Founders' Bridge and then there were continuous performances on two stages for the rest of the day. We were all quite impressed with The Wicked Tinkers, whose high-energy music incorporated didgeridoo, an electronic repeater box and a bronze age horn along with the traditional pipes and drums. The evening finished up with a two-hour concert by Gaelic Storm.

Two amusing tidbits from Saturday: We saw what has to be the world's smallest tugboat, which only appeared to be about 12' long, zipping about on the Connecticut River, just behind the stage. Second, I've been wanting to have a kilt for some time and, because Norwalk hosts the Round Hill Highland Games each year, I'd been thinking that I now have an actual excuse to own one. I tried one on at one of the vendor's tents and Ian decided that he wants one, too, so now we're sort of seriously in the market for kilts. That may well become its own post, later.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fun With Salmon, Part II

In these waning days of summer, I've been grilling a lot. Part of it is because I'm going to be competing next weekend in the Norwalk Oyster Festival's Bar-B-Q Pit competition and partially because, well, it is pushing the end of summer and I figure that there's a lot of food out there that deserves to get grilled before the snow starts to fly.

In peparation for the the Barbecue competition, I've been practicing up on wings and seafood. Of course, since I'm using those recipes in competition next week, I can't divulge them here at this time because, who knows, there might be spies from the other teams scanning the internet to find out what their competition is up to. Of course, it is really flattering to believe that the professional contestants in the competition would be so worried about me that they'd be reading my blog, so I'll just take idea and go with it.

On Friday night, however, I was grilling something just for the family, so I feel I can safely share that information with you, but don't go telling the competition or I shall have to become very cross. On Friday, I made a (Shhhh.) cedar-planked salmon.

Earlier in the summer, when I was a Costco to pick up some ribs, I happened to see a package of cedar planks and I remembered reading in a cookbook about the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest who flame-cooked salmon on cedar planks and how the wood added a smoky-spicy taste to the fish. Since I was only spending plastic money instead of real money, I tossed a package of the planks into my cart, figuring that I'd get around to trying them out eventually.

"Eventually" arrived on Friday when Kimberly came home from the grocery with a nice looking side of salmon (Wild caught, Atlantic salmon, of course...) I started looking for a recipe and found several fairly nasty looking ones that involved a whole lot of mayonaise. I found some that were very similar to the maple-soy salmon I made a while back, but I wanted something that was simpler than that and that would let the flavor of the cedar be a major part of the final product. Eventually, I gave up and decided to punt, coming up with my own recipe based on very little other than a desire for simplicity.

I started by soaking one of the cedar planks in water for a couple hours. You'll see in this picture that this is a high-end, gourmet cedar plank because it has a picture of a fish branded on the wood. Of course, a plain (untreated!!) cedar shingle or a cedar board from the lumber yard would have worked just as well. It just wouldn't have had that "I paid plenty of good money for this board" feel.

After soaking the board and getting the grill going with the coals banked to one side, it was time to prepare the salmon. A quick rinse and pat-dry, a half-hearted check for pin bones (who ever actually finds pin bones in their salmon and who really cares if there's one in the piece of fish, anyway?) and I was ready to season the fish. A bit of kosher salt, a generous grinding of black pepper and a (as it turned out slightly too big) smear of brown sugar, and the fish was ready to walk the plank. As you'll see in the picture on the right, I'm getting a substantial kickback from Morton's Salt and Domino Sugar for my creativity...

I had found plenty of different sorts of instructions for using the planks, so I went with the idea that seemed to make the most use of the cedar for flavor. First, I placed the plank good-side-down on the grill for a couple minutes until it started to smoke, thus releasing its smokey-cedary goodness. After flipping it over, I brushed on a bit of olive oil and scooted the salmon onto the board, which I placed on the cool side of the grill. With the grill cover back on, it was twelve minutes (Or maybe 13. You know how exact a science grilling can be...) of cook time before I checked the salmon and turned the plank around so that the other side was closer to the fire. Things were progressing nicely and the brown sugar was beginning to caramelize, running over the board, a process that I had counted on to give the fish an even coating of the brown sugar). After another 12 minutes (or 13) I declared the fish to be done and brought it in and served it with the broiled, sliced potatoes from the "Emma's Favorite Cod and Potatoes" recipe in Mark Bittmann's The Minimalist Cooks at Home, and steamed brussels sprouts. Yum!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jack Benny Ain't Got Nuthin' on Me

Perhaps you remember Jack Benny's classic schtick, here in a sketch with Grouch Marx... which reminds me of my son's first aquarium, where we named the fish after the Marx Brothers: Grouch, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Karl, but that's really not what I want to write about today...



When I was growing up, Jack Benny (1894-1974) was already a thing of the past or, more accurately, he was a thing of the past by the time I became aware of him, since he passed away when I was four years old. Benny was, of course, famous for his comedic vices of bad violin playing, tight-fistedness, and vanity. I became aware of his comedy through the persistent references of senior citizens in churches I served who would always claim that they were the same age as Jack Benny.

Well, as of today, I can claim to be everything that Jack Benny was. I'm a lousy violinist, having had only one semester's worth of instruction from a friend when I was in college. I'm fairly aggressive in not spending money -- in fact, I've never quite outgrown the "grad-student mentality," though I have, at least, stopped buying only generic groceries. And now, I can finally join all of those elderly church members in saying that I'm the same age as Jack Benny.

Oh, Rochester...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back from Vacation in Maine


Last week, the family piled into the station wagon and made a pilgrimage to America's second-most-visited national park: Acadia on Mount Desert Island. Over the years, we've been several times, camping in various campgrounds and coming to the conclusion that our absolute favorite one is Mount Desert Campground because it is right at the head of Somes Sound (said by some to be the only fjord on the east coast of the U.S.) and because it has hardly any mosquitos, partly due to the elevation and the breeze and partly due to the fact that it isn't surrounded by salt marsh, I suspect. The only real drawback is that you have to bring along plenty of quarters (U.S. only!) if you want to take hot showers.

During our week on MDI, we stayed busy with agressive outdoor recration. We spent our first day, Sunday, hiking Cadillac Mountain which, at a little over 1500 feet is the highest mountain within 25 miles of the US Atlantic coast. We took the free Island Explorer Bus right to the trailhead and hiked up the North Ridge Trail, with Ian zipping ahead on a one-man race to the summit while Kimberly and I moseyed up, stopping to enjoy the views and to eat lots of wild Maine blueberries. When we reached the top, we decided to take the West Face Trail back down to catch the bus back to town. As it turned out, we missed our turn and ended up having to take an alternate route down the Featherbed Trail, which may be the most ironically named trail in all of traildom, with a steep boulder-hopping descent before it joined the Jordan Pond trail, which took us to the Jordan Pond House, where we caught the bus back to Bar Harbor for dinner. (Lobster & blueberry pie!!!)

Having used our legs on the first day, we switched to using our arms for day two. We went to Long Pond, where we spent a good part of the day paddling our canoe and kayak. We stopped on a small island for lunch and Ian swam for a bit, even though the water was quite cold.

Tuesday was a "town day" and we spent a lazy morning in camp before heading in to Bar Harbor to wander through the various shops and making a run out to Ellsworth to buy groceries and to stop at the L.L. Bean outlet.

On Wednesday, we had a lazy morning in camp. In the afternoon, we went to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, where we saw many of the native plants in a botanical garden in a beautiful botanical garden at the Sieur de Monts spring. From there, we went to the Jordan Pond House, where we enjoyed midafternoon tea and popovers. After returning for dinner to our campsite, we drove up Cadillac Mountain to see the stars and to watch the Perseid meteor shower. The night sky was breathtaking and we watched for nearly an hour as the meteors streaked across the sky, sometimes as often as every thrity seconds. It was an awesome sight!

Thursday we started out early and went to Bar Harbor, where we walked out to Bar Island at low tide. It was a much shorter walk that we had imagined, since half of the island is privately owned, so we were back in the village in more than enough time to wander around for a bit before boarding the Friendship V for a whale watch tour. Though the day began cloudy, it had cleared by the time we left the dock and the Gulf of Maine was as smooth as glass, which gave us ideal conditions for watching a pair of humpback whales for a long period of time and for spotting two otthers before we had to head back in to shore. Dinner was at a lobster pound just opposite the Seawall campground outside of southwest harbor.

On Friday, we rented bicycles from the Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop and riding from town out to the carriage roads, built by John D. Rockefeller. Once on the carriage roads, we rode along the Eagle Lake and Jordan Pond loops. stopping back at the Jordan Pond House for some seafood chowder and popovers.

Saturday, we broke camp and loaded eveything back into the car and set off for home, stopping for lunch at a pan-asian bistro in Maine for lunch and then pushing on for a late dinner in New Haven at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Guadalupe La Poblanita.

For those of you who might want to see the photos from the trip, the album is here.

Editor's Note: After I posted this blog entry, Kimberly noted that I made a mistake in the paragraph about Wednesday. We did not, in fact, have a quiet morning in camp. Instead, Wednesday morning was spent at the Mount Desert Island Biological Lab, where we heard all about the lab's historical and current work with medical research, using marine animals for modeling. We also got to play with Lego models of DNA that were designed by folks at MIT and had the chance to go to the "touch tank" where there was a wide variety of sea-life from the Gulf of Maine, including lobsters, urchins, starfish, sea squirts, and many more.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: Star Diner, An Unexpected Gem

Today, Kimberly and I traveled up to Sharon, CT, in the northwest corner of the state, to pick Ian up from summer camp. I've been driving to Sharon for years, first from the New Haven area when I was volunteering as a dean at Silver Lake, leading a conference on clowning, and then just as a camper's dad, driving from New Jersey, but this is the first year that I've made the trip up Rt. 22 from Norwalk. It is a pleasant drive, about two hours each way, past plenty of beautiful scenery.

Going to Silver Lake is always a chance to catch up with friends. When we took Ian up this past Sunday, I found out that Chris Hale, one of my confirmands from when I was at the Naugauck church back in the late '90s is now the "Camp Family Dad," or the manager of the camp's summer staff, while Jillian Dufresne, who was too young to be in that confirmation class, is now one of the deans of Ian's conference. Today, I spent a bit of time with Eric Anderson, who is up as one of the high ropes course facilitators, as well as touching base with the camp's directors, Anne and Tim Hughes, who also happen to be members of my church in Norwalk.

On our way home from Silver Lake, Kimberly, Ian and I stopped at the Sharon Craft Fair, and wandered around for a bit (buying a new turtle for Ian's collection, of course) before continuing to Paley's Farm Market in Amenia, NY. Paley's has become a regular stop on our Sharon trips and we sometimes buy local produce (often fresh peaches) when we're there. Another of our favorite buys is sheep's-milk yogurt from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in Chatham, NY. (Kimberly likes the maple flavor and I'm partial to the ginger.) Having purchased our yogurt and some herb and cheese focaccia, we were back on the road toward home.

As luck would have it, we were driving down Route 22 through beautiful "downtown" Wingdale, NY just as we were all starting to think serious thoughts about food. We drove past the Star 22 Diner and made a quick U-turn to come back to the delightful little glass and chrome restaurant that looked like it came straight out of the 1950s.

The Star 22 Diner's menu wasn't nearly as extensive as many of the "big" diners that try to serve every kind of food imaginable (and so rarely do any of it well), but we all found something that appealed to us. Kimberly opted for breakfast -- blueberry pancakes and sausage links -- while Ian went for the chicken fingers and french fries. I ordered the open-faced hot turkey sandwich, with mashed potatoes and veg, which turned out to be carrots. The turkey was actual sliced turkey breast and not a processed turkey roll. The carrots were fresh-cooked and the mashed potatoes had little bits of unmashed potato in them. Some folks might derisively call them "lumps," but I believe that, in moderation, potato bits are just fine and they're also definite proof that the potatoes didn't come from a box. The food was good, of very good quality, was fairly priced and we all left full and happy.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Scotch Flyer

For the last couple weeks, I've been spending my Wednesday evenings doing what I love: sailing.

One of my parishioners, Bob McGregor (pictured at the helm), knew of my addiction to boats and invited me to join his racing crew, so I've been going out with him and a collection of his friends each week and we've been racing his 34-foot C&C yacht, Scotch Flyer, out of Norwalk's Shore and Country Club.

I'm having a lot of fun sailing with Bob and am enjoying being out with his friends, as well, even though they're really power-boaters who are just helping out a friend instead of being true sailors.

I find that sailing on Bob's boat is an interesting learning experience for me, particularly given my other sailing experiences. While the principles of sailing are the same regardless of the size of boat, I've only really sailed on Amistad (129') and my own micro-yacht, Boojum (12'), who takes her name from Lewis Carroll's poem The Hunting of the Snark.

I'm finding that the hardware involved is a bit different from either of the boats I know, as one is too small to need things like winches and travelers and the other is an historical recreation, so doesn't have any such modern frippery.

Scotch Flyer is a somewhat venerable vessel and has the added charm of having well-loved (read "kind of old and bagged-out") sails, which puts her at something of a disadvantage against some of the other boats in her class, which are outfitted in brand-new, really expensive kevlar sails. Bob still does remarkably well and, while we haven't come in first, we've always finished in the first half of our division. Tomorrow night (July 29), though, we've got an added challenge: with the exception of Bob and me, the rest of the crew are unavailable, so we'll be racing with novice sailors. At the moment, we've only got my Deacon Chair, Joseph DeRuvo lined up, and we still need another hand or two, so let me know if you'd like to sail with us. Really. Call me at church at 203-847-9551. We'll be leaving the dock at about 5:45pm.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

"Time flies like the wind.
Fruit flies like a banana."

At least, that's what they say.

Looking back, it is hard to believe that I've actually slacked off on writing a blog post for two entire months. In my defense, though, it has been an incredibly busy two months, especially the part where my laptop computer was stolen and I had to replace it

We've been settling into our new home, getting things arranged the way we like them. Kimberly has been planning on gardening for the fall and is looking forward to bringing a bunch of day lilies up from her parents' home in Virginia, where she had moved them before we left New Jersey. Ian finished up the school year here in Norwalk and was able to be in both the school band and the school orchestra. Kimberly and I attended the orchestra's spring concert and were also tickled that Ian marched in the Memorial Day parade.

On June 7, I was installed as Senior Pastor at the First Congregational Church, UCC, on the green in Norwalk, CT. The service was fantastic, with my friends, David Bocock and Eric Anderson preaching. The Chancel Choir and the Gospel Choir from FCC both sang and there were two pieces of music written especially for the occasion. Several members of the Norwalk Clergy Association, as well as a good contingent of the Interdenominational Ministers' Fellowship turned out to celebrate with our congregation's members and representatives from the Fairfield West Association of the UCC. (More of Joseph DeRuvo's photos here.)

Kimberly and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary on June 11, we celebrated by going to the Mystic Sea Music Festival from June 11-13, with our son, Ian, in tow, of course. Since we took Ian out of school for a day to attend the festival, we decided that we needed to provide some educational value, so we all attended the symposium at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy that preceded the concerts. Of particular interest (at least to me) was a paper on the evolution of Inuit music, from the age of European and American whalers who introduced their musical forms and instruments, through the present, where these "traditional" Inuit music has incorporated country/western musical influences, with the exception of the Inuit who are reclaiming their pre-1800s vocal and drumming. On Friday and Saturday, we had breakfast at one of my favorite little restaurants, Kitchen Little, at 135 Greenmanville Ave. in Mystic. I strongly recommend the Portuguese Fisherman's Breakfast. Yum! At the seaport, the music was fantastic, as always. One of the nonmusical highlights was seeing the Charles W. Morgan ashore, where she is undergoing a major restoration that is scheduled to last through 2011 and will likely return her to full sailing condition.

Over the 4th of July week, my family went to the Adirondacks to spend time with our friends Evelyn and John. It was unusually rainy, but Kimberly, Ian and I did manage to get out on Sunday, when we paddled out to Valcour Island in Lake Champlain and did some hiking. As luck would have it, we just happened to arrive at Valcour Lighthouse during the two-hour period that it was open for tours. The views from the top were spectacular. Another day, we took the ferry to Burlington, Vermont, where we spent a pleasant, though soggy afternoon poking around several shops and dodging thunderstorms. Leaving the Adirondacks, we went to Ithaca, where we visited with Evelyn's parents, Don and Edie. Don guided us around the town and gave us a windshield tour of Cornell, where he used to be an English Professor and the director of the library's rare books department.

After leaving Ithaca, we returned home on Saturday and I led worship on Sunday morning before loading everyone back in the car for a trip to Richmond for my Aunt Pam's funeral. While there, we visited with all of the various members of my extended family and, upon departure, left Ian with the Bryants, where he is spending this week. In Ian's absence, Kimberly and I took a day-trip to Fire Island, where we enjoyed the beach and toured the Fire Island Light, where we were able to climb the 167 feet to the top, but the weather was too foggy to see much more than the poison-ivy-covered dunes and a small herd of deer.

So, those are the high points of the last two months.