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Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Day's Worth of Urban Adventure

On Friday, Kimberly, Ian and I took Metro North into Manhattan for the day. We started the day off at the American Museum of Natural History's exhibit on the Silk Road, which connected Xi'an, China and Baghdad and served as the major east-west route for trade in religion, technology, and philosophy as well as for trade goods.

By mid afternoon, we had seen everything we wanted to see at AMNH and went off in search the second part of our day's quest: the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. Ian discovered the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck online some time ago and has signed up to follow the BGICT on Twitter and Facebook, so it was no trouble finding out that the one-of-a-kind ice cream truck was at Union Square, at the corner of 17th & Broadway.

While I knew that the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck was something of a phenomenon, specializing in exotic topics like wasabi pea dust, bacon, cayenne pepper and olive oil, I was surprised to see a crew from the Food Network Canada was there, interviewing the guys running the truck and several of the customers. I was also surprised at the 20 minute wait to place our orders. When we got to the window, Kimberly and Ian both ordered the "Salty Pimp" cone (vanilla ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt, and a chocolate coating). When she placed her order, Kimberly managed a bit of an embarrassed giggle (both rare and priceless) which the guy at the window picked up on and teased her about in a truly fabulous way. I picked the "Monday Sundae" (nutella lined waffle cone with twist ice cream, dulce de leche, sea salt and whipped cream). We were all thrilled with our ice cream and proceded to eat it as we wandered through the Union Square Farmer's Market for a while.

Having finished our ice cream, we stopped to buy some pear cider from one of the vendors, then found a park bench to sit on while we enjoyed it. As we all sat chatting, a couple filmmakers came up and asked if they could interview us for a project they were working on about relationships. Kimberly and I agreed and Ian didn't object too loudly, so they started interviewing Kimberly and me about how long we'd been together and where we met. We laughed as we discussed the junior high school Latin Club banquet where we met and how Kimberly was frying squid when I met her and how I was wearing a bed-sheet toga (which was the unofficial uniform for the evening). After signing a couple release forms, the three of us walked up to 32nd St. and 5th Ave. to poke around Koreatown for a place to eat.

The block between 5th Ave and Broadway is a Korean restaurant paradise, with an embarrassment of riches. The first place we looked at was a mandoo (dumpling) restaurant, with a delightfully smiling woman rolling out the mandoo right in the front window. It looked like an inviting place, but we were looking for something a bit more meal-like and made our way up and down both sides of the block before settleing on NY Kom Tang Soot Bul Kal Bi, (32 W. 32nd St.) which claims to be the oldest Korean restaurant in NY and NJ.

Ian wasn't particularly hungry, so he got a large order of mandoo gui (fried beef dumplings). Kimberly and I were both attracted to the kimchi jigae (spicky pickled cabbage soup) and she ordered a combination meal with bulgogi (a Korean beef barbecue) and I had a combination with Kalbi (short-ribs). Seven or eight ponchons (small side dishes) rounded out the more-than-filling meal. Everything was fresh and flavorful. The prices were good. Even better, the restaurant isn't that far from Grand Central Station, so it is an easy place to get to when we're taking the train. We'll definitely be back.

The day finished up with a train ride back to Norwalk, with us arriving home before dark. Not a bad day for the first day of July's vacation!

Silver Lake Report

For many children, this is the season for summer camp. Here in Connecticut, we have a long tradition of reaching the lives of young people through outdoor ministry. In 1957, the same year that our United Church of Christ was formed as a denomination, the Connecticut Conference began using the property now known as “Silver Lake” as a summer camp and conference center. Since then, thanks to the volunteers who give of their time and the pastors and conference staff who work there “on alternate assignment,” thousands of young people have experienced outdoor recreation coupled with Christian education.

When I served Connecticut Conference churches back in the 1990s, I always made a point of spending a week each summer as a dean up at “the lake.” Back then, I ran a conference called “The Clown of God,” named after the book by Tomie dePaula, in which Giovanni, a traveling juggler who has seen better days takes refuge in a church on Christmas Eve and offers the Christ child the only gift that he has. During those weeks at camp, my co-dean and I would teach our kids the skills that they would need to be clowns: juggling, make-up, and skits. We taught them more than that, though, as we discussed the unique gifts each of us can offer to God and in service to all people.

When Ian was old enough to go to summer camp, even though we were living in New Jersey at the time, we brought him up to Silver Lake, knowing that he would not only have a good time at camp, swimming at the waterfront, making s’mores around the campfire and going on hikes, but that he would also find a place where his spirit was nurtured and his faith encouraged.

A couple weeks ago, from July 5-10, I got to be a part of Silver Lake’s summer program for the first time in ten years, when I went up to be a counselor for “Rhythm of the Saints,” a conference that focused on drumming and the rhythms of spirituality. It was exciting to be back at SLCC, working with our conference’s young people, but it was also a lot of fun to spend time with old friends. I got to see other pastors and members of churches that I served years ago, including some of my kids from the Naugatuck church who are now all grown up and leading programs at camp.

Norwalk was well represented, too, with John Ramos, Jr. and Sienna Dryden being on staff this summer, but I also got to spend some time visiting with Nellen Dryden and Minnie Yordon, who came by to visit with their “camp family.” Kat Mulvaney was leading another conference. Beth Yordon was working on the cabin I was staying in and, of course, Tim and Ann Hughes were all over the place, just as you’d expect the camp directors to be.

Highlights of the week were drumming with the kids on water-cooler jugs and various found objects, tackling the high ropes challenge course and climbing Bear Mountain with a group of kids who weren’t all sure that they would succeed, but did. It was a delight to be back at Silver Lake and I’m already looking forward to next summer and spending time with the children of the Connecticut Conference in God’s back yard.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Round Hill Highland Games

Today, Kimberly and I went to the 87th Annual Round Hill Highland Games at Cranbury Park in Norwalk. Last year, the games took place on the Saturday after July 4, so we were away in the Adirondacks. This year, we weren't about to miss it, especially since my mother-in-law recently put in so much hard work altering a kilt that I had somehow mis-ordered. (Thanks, Chris!!!)

So, this morning, after a leisurely breakfast of fresh-baked blueberry muffins and coffee (Thanks, Kimberly!!!), I suited up: Kilt, kilt belt, sporran, hose, garter flashes and sgian dubh, with a clergy shirt and a Tilley hat. I was stylin'.

We arrived at Cranbury Park about 11:00, in plenty of time to get parked and onto the property before the opening ceremony, with a parade of pipe bands and procession of the clans. Norwalk's Mayor Richard Moccia, who was a member of last year's Saints and Sinners Barbecue Team, issued a proclamation and the Rev. David Van Dyke, of the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford offered a first-rate invocation. Each of the clans represented was invited to offer a "battle cry" (which seemed to be each clan's Latin motto) and to come forward and receive a ribbon for their clan flag. Then the festivities really began.

Kimberly and I wandered through Clan Row, where representatives of all of the clans had booths with genealogical information, tartans, and miscellaneous other things of interest. Then, we turned the corner to the vendors' section, where kilt-sellers, bagpipe-purveyers, tartan-traders and plaid-pushers plied their trade. I scoped out all sorts of stuff that I really don't need and managed to withstand temptation -- at least until later.

We made our way to the food vendors, where Kimberly and I bought some pretty good fish and chips, complete with a liberal dosing of malt vinegar, of course. I also got some rather dubious deep-fried haggis balls. ("Gee," you say, "I didn't know that haggises even had balls..." That's very clever of you. Can we please move on, now?) The haggis itself was fairly good, but the deep-frying left the whole thing unpleasantly greasy. In the future, I'll continue to eat my haggis in the traditional way.

After lunch, it was time for us to head back to the games area, where the hammer throw and weight-for-height competions were taking place. The hammer throw makes my shoulders hurt, just watching it, as the competitors stand with their feet firmly planted and whirl the hammer around several times before releasing it, unlike the Olympic hammer throw, where the competitors spin their bodies and use the centrifugal force to propel the hammer. The weight for height just makes me afraid that one of the atheletes is going to misjudge and have the weight come down on their heads. They're both impressive games, but they also both leave me thinking that I've got no business signing up to compete.

When we had had enough of the heavy athletics, Kimberly and I sauntered over to the lemonade stand and then over to the pavilion, where the highland dance competition was going on. We sat and enjoyed the shade as we watched young teenage girls performing the highland fling and the sword dance, then it was back tot he main field to watch several of the pipe bands compete.

After a while, one of my church members, Nancy, showed up and we retraced our steps, while she took in the sights. As the day was drawing to a close, a couple more church members wandered by, including an expatriate Scot who was there with her husband. Helen seemed pleased (amused?) to see me in a kilt, though she opined that a real Scot would never wear a kilt on a day like today because it would be too hot. Of course, they don't even have Summer in Scotland, so the point is moot. Personally, though, I thought the kilt was rather comfortable. The clergy shirt, on the other hand, was awfully warm in thRe afternoon sun, so I guess it is just a matter of relative discomfort.

We stood around, marvelling, as we watched the caber toss, and then the day concluded with the a mass performance by all seventeen pipe bands that had been part of the day's competition. They marched onto the field in two large units, playing "The Minstrel Boy," and concluded with a earth-shaking performance of "Amazing Grace." Kimberly and I are already looking forward to next year and I expect that Ian is, too.
Seventeen pipe bands playing Amazing Grace
(Taken with a really crummy cell-phone camera. Sorry.)
((Did I mention that I hate my cell phone?))