Thursday, 22 September 2011

Gardening update

Cooler temperatures have arrived, and every living thing in Texas has breathed a sigh of relief.  There's even been some rain!  I lost a few plants to the Great Heat of 2011, but those that have survived are perking up and even daring to put out some flowers.  Also, a couple of weeks ago I attended a Yard Smart seminar run by the city of Fort Worth, which left me all excited about gardening again.  If you live in Fort Worth and are at all interested in plants, go: the speakers were engaging, entertaining and inspiring, and it's entirely free!

One of the topics at the seminar was fall greens.  My last attempt at greens was spring lettuces, which put out about six leaves before deciding that it was far too hot to bother growing.  The advantage of planting in the autumn is (hopefully) a longer period between baking and freezing temperatures, and also, apparently, the shorter days encourage the plants to store sugar, thus making the leaves sweeter to eat.  I sowed kale and collards, those archetypal southern greens, and they sprang up in less than a week.  Definitely an encouraging start.


The only thing is, owing to Toby trying to "help", I got the boxes mixed up and have no idea which is kale and which is collards any more.

Kale sprouts.  Or possibly collards.
Of the plants that I acquired in the spring, I think the turk's cap has done the best.  Even in the scorching days of August it managed one or two little red flowers, and now that September has come it is blooming in abundance.  The sage and daisies ceased all activity and went into hibernation mode over the summer, but are stretching out a petal here and there now.  The silver foliage of the wormwood stayed stalwart.  The coreopsis were the major casualties; not entirely dead, they nevertheless look decidedly unhappy.  Even before it got really hot they came down with some kind of fungus, and I learnt at the seminar that they are not keen on clay soil.  You could probably make pots out of our soil, so I don't wonder they're struggling.

A new plant nursery opened up close to us fairly recently.  Wishing to support local business, Toby and I went for a browse sometime back in July.  Unfortunately they'd covered the ground in a thick layer of pebbles.  I put Toby in his pushchair, ploughed in and stopped dead.  Four-inch wheels in two inches of loose gravel is a distinct no-go.  I had to carry him, and believe me, lugging around an 18-pound baby in 100-degree heat is a sweaty endeavour.  However, we emerged from the ordeal with two lantana plants - small shrubs with leaves a bit like mint and pretty clusters of small flowers.  Of course they stopped flowering the minute I got them home, and one was doing so badly in its pot that I had to bung it in the ground with much haste and little preparation.  It was touch-and-go for a while but it's beginning to lose its crumpled look.  I hope it survives; it's the New Gold variety with bright yellow flowers, and others I've seen look really nice.

Lantana "ham & eggs"
The other is the regular pink-and-yellow, and never came quite so close to death's door.  I actually saw it in Virginia, where it was labelled "ham & eggs" due to its unusual colour scheme.  While "lantana" sounds rather more sophisticated, you have to admit there's a certain satisfaction in having a plant named after a breakfast food.  Do you think I could find "toast & marmalade" or a porridge plant, too?



And finally, I should just mention the sunflowers, which have been rioting along the back fence.  Living up to their name, they seemed to revel in the heat, and provided a cheerful and entirely unexpected backdrop to our garden all summer long.


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Grillin' and chillin'

September 5th was Labor Day, which is kind of the official end to summer in America.  Right on cue, the temperatures dropped out of the triple digits and it got almost - gasp - chilly overnight.  Starved for fresh air after three months stuck inside breathing air-conditioning, we spent as much of the weekend outside as we could.

Saturday morning we went for a walk over at Parr Park in Grapevine.  It has a great-looking playground; unfortunately Toby's still a bit small for anything but the swings, and gets easily overwhelmed by big play spaces.  Still, it's OK if you're hanging on to Mum.


In the afternoon he was grouchy.  He has recently developed a scream which has roughly the same effect as a pneumatic drill boring into your brain, and deploys it to good effect.  After a few hours of this Graham and I were about ready to donate him to the nearest adoption agency and flee the country.  Finally he slept, and we collapsed onto the couch and tried not to snap at each other.  As the next best thing to fleeing the country, we packed up a picnic and drove to the Levitt Pavilion in Arlington for one of their open-air concerts.  As we spread out our beautiful wedding quilt on the grass and dug into some pasta salad, the tension began to dissipate.

Boogieing to the music
Melissa Lawson was playing, who, apart from writing some very listenable music, manages to mother five boys under the age of twelve.  She certainly knows what hard days are about.  Hearing a few of her stories and songs kind of put ours back in perspective, and made us glad to be a family again.  Of course, it helped that Toby had stopped screaming.

Always on the move
Monday evening we did what all good Americans do on Labor Day - grill.  We never did get around to buying our own barbeque, but all the parks around here are equipped with picnic tables and grills, so we hung out at Bear Creek Park and cooked veggie kebabs, corn on the cob and bacon, with a few toasted marshmallows for afters.


Tofu kebabs
1 red or green bell pepper, cubed
12 mushrooms, halved
1 onion, cut into chunks
2 zucchini/courgettes, cut into chunks
450g / 1 lb firm tofu, cubed
125 ml / 1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp grated fresh ginger

Thread the vegetables and tofu onto skewers, and place in a large non-metallic dish.  Mix up remaining ingredients and pour over.  Leave to marinade for 30 min or so, turning a few times if you remember.  Grill over charcoal, basting with the marinade, until cooked.  The tofu picks up a lovely smoky flavour.  Serve with couscous.

Isn't this fun?
Aside from the constant vigilance required to stop Toby stuffing his mouth full of dirt and wood chips (clearly he didn't appreciate my culinary genius), it was another pleasant evening.

Exploring the great outdoors - aka hitting it as hard as possible

Son-set

The church is the people, not the building.

This old adage has been repeated so often it hardly seems worth saying any more.  But, like all good clich├ęs, it gets an outing on a pretty regular basis.  Someone said it at my church on Sunday.  And I realised it isn't true.

Or if it is, we no longer attend the same church that we stepped into almost two years ago.  We started going there in December 2009, when it met on Saturday nights and we were childless and free.  By the time Toby's baby shower came around in October 2010, almost all the people we'd initially got to know had left.  Half a year later, when the founding pastor moved back to Canada and a new minister took over, very few of those who had signed Toby's baby book for us were still around.  Not only the congregation but also the leadership had changed completely, twice.

Yet the building is still there, and still pretty much the same.  Whatever else has changed, there is still a sense of calling to that particular place.  What does this mean, and how does it affect how we do church as such a changeable congregation?

Most church plants start with a group of people.  They meet in a house, a coffee shop, a rented school.  Later, as the group grows, they may start to think about buying a property and calling it a church.  By then, the church-as-people is already well established.  They have been through a few struggles, lost some people, gained some people, and hammered out what they are there for.

Through a combination of circumstances, my church plant came at things backwards.  It was gifted with a building while the fledgling congregation was still small and finding its wings.  The people part of the church is still working out who it is and what it is there for.  But meanwhile, the building is there, designated as a house of prayer.  Go and open the heavy oak door to a small stone English country church.  As you step over the threshold, your footsteps will become quieter and your voice will hush, and your eyes will lift to the stained glass that depicts the glory of God.  The centuries of Morning and Evening Prayer whisper in your ear and a peacefulness comes into your heart.  All this without another person present.  The building itself holds the atmosphere of holiness, and although ours is so much newer, it too is acquiring that hint of peace.  Perhaps this is our first calling: to so worship and so pray in that building, that whoever enters it is moved to recognise the presence of God.

Downtown Fort Worth is not the gritty urban setting that might come to mind when you hear the words "city centre church".  The streets are clean and spacious, the bars and restaurants are generally free of drunken yobs, and the condos in the tower blocks sell for a million dollars.  If there is a ministry here, it is to sophisticated urbanites who quite probably regard churches as outdated, inflexible and irrelevant.

But they drink coffee.  Coffee shops are not outdated, inflexible and irrelevant.  They're where you go to deepen relationships, hear live music, and discuss the meaning of life over a quick meal.  So nothing like church, right?  Well, this building happens to be half coffee shop, half church.  And maybe the two halves have more in common than either the churchgoers or the non-churchgoers might think.  So perhaps this is our second calling: to throw open the doors between the two; to discuss God in the coffee shop and the latest news in the church.

So is the church the people, not the building?  What do you think?

'Mister,' Anna took his hand and pulled him to the wall, 'mister, is the Thames the water, or the hole it goes in?'
The policeman looked at her for a moment and then replied, 'The water, of course. You don't have a river without water.'
'Oh,' said Anna, 'that's funny, that is, 'cos when it rains it ain't the Thames but when it runs into the hole it is the Thames. Why is that, mister? Why?'
I grabbed Anna's hand and led her away. 'Nice work, Tich, nice work. A good bit of thinking, all that Thames stuff.'
'Oh,' murmured Anna, 'but when do you, Fynn? When do you start calling it the Thames and when do you stop calling it the Thames? Do you have a mark? Do you, Fynn?'
From Mister God This Is Anna, by Fynn

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Wonky teeth

I was listening to the news on the local public radio the other day and the announcer said that Texas spent more on orthodontic treatment last year than the other 49 states combined.

That's one of those pieces of information that's so random it keeps bouncing around in your brain.  Not only more than any other state, but more than all the other states put together.  Is that even possible?

Are Texans born with hereditary wonky teeth?
Are Texans vainer about their (children's) smiles than other Americans?
Or do they all get their teeth kicked out by bucking broncos?

As ever, the real reason is far less interesting.