Saturday, December 1, 2012

How to dry your own herbs in 5 easy steps

1. Buy a pot of fresh herbs. 

I got my pot of sage, rosemary, and thyme from Trader Joe's before Thanksgiving. You'll be more inclined to complete this essential step if you let the nice Trader Joe's lady trick you into thinking of yourself as the kind of person who is likely to make herbed cornbread dressing from scratch.

2. Guard your potted herbs from all natural sunlight. 

If you live in a basement, this should be simple. Placing them by the sunniest window will suffice.

Just because it's night in this picture doesn't mean
that much more light comes in during the day.

3. Forget about the herbs.

Let's not kid ourselves, that herbed cornbread dressing is absolutely coming from a box, also bought at Trader Joe's. You have other things going on.

4. Remember them two weeks later.

Where are those dead leaves on your desk and floor coming from? Oh, look! The herbs are ready!

Didn't the paper around the pot used to be green?

5. Tear the plant apart and sprinkle it on maple mustard chicken. 

Tell your husband this is what you intended the whole time.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Thank You, Red Ball!

Over the past several years, I've found that most of what I write ends up being about improv somehow. No matter what I sit down to write about, I use improv vocabulary to help me understand it.

So I've started writing about improv at a new blog called Thank You, Red Ball! The name of the blog is from my favorite improv warm-up, which is all about cultivating gratitude.

Regardless, I have thus far written about:

How improv helped me recover from dysfunctional churches
How much I like cake
How to be a jerk and have no fun ever
How depression effected my playing and faith
How not to be a good team
How improv helps me understand church denominations

If faith/art/play intersection is your thing, come say hi!

My friend Rachel asked how this is different from my regular blog.

The answer is: It's more focused, mostly. 

I know that when I subscribe to an RSS for a specific kind of blog, I get frustrated when the writer posts things unrelated to the blog's purpose. If it's a crochet/knitting blog, I don't want updates on how potty training your toddler is going. If it's a theology blog, I'm not interested in pictures of your dog. 

(It's totally different with friends' blogs, when I'm interested in the person rather than the topic. I enjoy reading what's going on in my friends' lives and brains and Instagrams.)

Thank You Red Ball is a topical blog focused on improv, so it won't have anything about books I'm reading or things going on at church if they're not directly related to improvisers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Basically famous.

This is NOT the kind of dinosaur pajamas I was wearing.
Mine were just regular pajamas with dinosaurs on them.
I subscribe to a handful of podcasts, though I don't usually listen to them right away. A queue of them builds up until I have a good chunk of data entry to do at work, or some particularly tedious chore around the house. So it wasn't until a couple of weeks after it aired that I found out I had been quoted on CBC's WireTap.

Every few weeks, WireTap asks a question of its listeners on Facebook. Ironically enough, I'd forgotten that I'd answered, "What's your earliest memory?" until I heard a guy reading MY earliest memory aloud.

Which means I've been quoted on a Canadian comedy-ish podcast.

Which gets rebroadcast on NPR.

Which means I've been quoted on NPR.

Which makes me a famous expert* of some kind. 

You can hear the podcast here, at least for another week or so. My quote is at 8 minutes.

(The episode on memory is a little more serious than the usual ones. Do yourself the favor of listening to WireTap's 7-minute interview with Margaret Atwood. She is more than a person. She is an idea. And her robotic arm will punch you in the face.)

What is YOUR first memory?

*I am an expert at wearing dinosaur pajamas and pestering my newborn brother.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I picked up Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers because I visited Masada* last fall. The novel is historical fiction following the stories of four Jewish women, where they came from, and what led them to the fortress. 

Also, I found the cover to be striking.
Here's the thing: I should not be two thirds of the way through a book about Jews at Masada and think, "Finally! The Romans are here!"

But that is what I thought, and here is why:

1. Alice Hoffman really Wants You To Know about Masada. She accomplishes this by having her first-person narrators constantly explain, "Among our people, we highly value [element of nature] because of its role in [sacred practice]." It feels like the action is interrupted by Wikipedia blurbs about ancient Jewish culture rather than letting the reader use context and basic historical knowledge to put the pieces together. Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth is a historical novel that does this well, mostly by using children and outsiders as well-rounded audience surrogates.

2. The heaviness is relentless. I'm not asking for comic relief; I don't expect a book about Masada to be a laugh a minute. But I do expect a break from Poignant Metaphorical Truths, which punctuate each page. A narrator can't describe a lion or a mountain or a loaf of bread without it quickly becoming a symbol for her own soul.

3. The narrators are smart, independent, sexually liberated women with progressive ideas about gender roles and an irreverence for religion (except for a smattering of goddess-worship). In the eyes of these women, anyone following the law must be unenlightened, oppressed, or manipulating the system. To me, this sounds more like a 21st century secular woman than a 1st century Jewish woman.

Ashtoreth worship was more believable in Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, since Jacob's wives were not Jews before they married him. I would have bought it if one or two of The Dovekeepers' narrators had played fast and loose with the laws of Moses -- it's not like Israelites had a spotless, idolatry-free record --  but all four together formed a polemic against the patriarchal oppression of organized religion. Even one devout, sympathetic character who actually cared about the law and the temple could have saved the novel from its agenda.

Even still, the story has been stuck in my head since I read it. I don't think that is from the strength of Hoffman's story so much as the intrigue and mystery of the historical event. The four narrators were same-y, and the other characters may as well have been little green army men for all there was to distinguish one from another.

The night after I finished the book, I had a dream that reflected my emotional attachment by the end of the book: Little army men were slaughtering one another in my kitchen cabinets, getting blood on my Pyrex. In the dream, I mostly remember thinking how glad I was to have glass storage ware instead of Tupperware, since I figured blood would stain the plastic.

Does anyone know if there's a better work of fiction about Masada? I haven't seen Masada, the miniseries about the siege; if you have, do you recommend it?

*Quick synopsis: After the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, some Jews fled to Masada, an abandoned fortress on a mountain in the desert. The whole mountain-desert combo made it a handy place to defend, but after an extended Roman siege -- SPOILER ALERT** -- all 900-something Jews chose mass suicide over becoming Roman slaves. Two women and five children somehow survived to tell the story to the Romans. 

**Is it still a spoiler if it's a well-known historical event? Let's ask Linda Holmes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Merrily, merrily

Screen shot of another one of Steve's Holy Week 2011 prep photos and the comments that followed. I think this was an attempt to let the waters under the heavens be gathered together in one place.

On a normal week, the office at Rez behaves something like The West Wing.* (The TV show, probably not the real live office.)

This week, though, the office is behaving more like 30 Rock or a PG version of Slings and Arrows.  The chapel(/rehearsal space/art studio/storage room -- we're a little cramped) has become a sort of ongoing performance art piece for anyone who happens to pass by.

Yesterday, my boss was hip hop dancing in the lobby. 

This evening, I saw a priest and two lay leaders chanting, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," as solemn as anything.

Ten minutes later, I saw our visual arts leader, Laura, spray painting one of the aforementioned lay leaders gold.

It's Holy Week, people. All bets are off.

*This would make me Donna Moss, obviously.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Them bones, them bones

2011 Dry Bones rehearsal by Steve. I'm definitely taking a nap.

Most of the Easter Vigil readings are either narrative or prophetic. The narrative ones are stories with beginnings, middles, and endings -- Creation, Noah and the Flood, Abraham and Isaac, and Israel's Deliverance at the Red Sea.

The prophetic readings are more like poems. They don't have much built-in movement or action, so they take more imagination to stage -- Salvation Offered Freely, God's Presence in a Renewed Israel, New Heart and New Spirit, The Gathering of God's People ...

And then there's The Valley of the Dry Bones. It lives somewhere in between story and poetry, history and prophecy. And it's awesomely bizarre.

The Valley of Dry Bones from Church of the Resurrection on Vimeo.

Skills required to participate in last year's Dry Bones reading (pick one):

a) sheet holding
b) Indonesian shadow puppetry 
c) lying very still, then standing up and walking
d) Scripture memorization

I am quite adept at (c), so I was part of the army. 

This year, the ideal skill set looks more like:

a) cello or percussion playing
b) hip hop dancing*
c) beat boxing
d) Scripture memorization -- in Hebrew

So, as you see, I'm out. But I'm SO excited to watch. If you're around Chicago next week, come and see!

*I would totally qualify** if my own dry bones would cooperate. Did you know you could sprain your rib from coughing? Heads up, you can, and it hurts.

**No, I wouldn't.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored ...

This is me, rehearsing being formless and void. Steve took the picture. He is also livestock in the video below.

This will be my 7th Easter at Church of the Resurrection. Even though we read the same 9 Old Testament passages year after year, they always feel fresh, thanks to artists who are committed to treating the Word of the Lord with the creativity and respect it deserves.

Last year, I got to serve as part of the troupe that developed the readings under fabulous direction. Our directors gave us guidelines within which to improvise, and they curated the best of our ideas into the final readings.

Rez recently posted videos of last year's Easter Vigil readings. Some of last year's readings didn't translate well to film, since they were designed to be in the midst of the congregation rather than elevated onto the stage. One that did, though, was the creation reading. Something about the creation story brought out the troupe's playfulness, so we ran with it.

Creation from Church of the Resurrection. Video edited by Josh, who is also Adam's dog. Music edited by Blade. Besides being formless and void, I am a frenetic star, a flower, and livestock.

The Creation reading will be drastically different this year -- more music, more dance, more kids! -- and I'm SO excited to be part of it.* If you're in the Chicago area Easter weekend, don't miss it! Full details are here.

“O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 214)

*I play 1/48th of the Voice of God, as well as 1/4th of the serpent. At such times, I'm thankful not to be a method actor.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How utterly unprecedented.

"You are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are."
- John Green in The Fault In Our Stars

You'd think the last thing Blade and I would need right now would be to read a book about terminally ill cancer patients, but this weekend we found ourselves reading The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.

(The above video was filmed the week the book was actually released, a little over a month ago. I get annoyed when authors and artists pretend they don't care what anyone thinks about their work because it's all about the process blah blah. I find that unbelievable. I like that John Green comes straight out and says to his readers, "I really hope you like what I made for you!")

The hero/narrator is a 16 year old girl who, because she's been so sick for so long, lives in a pretty small world -- her parents, her doctors, the one friend from school who still bothers to call her sometimes, and the kids at her ever-shrinking kids-with-cancer support group. She thinks it's best to keep her world small so that she devastates fewer people when she inevitably dies. The book is about whether it is possible or even desirable to protect other people by isolating yourself.

What keeps it from being too depressing or sappy is that the characters don't fit the mold for how we mythologize cancer patients, especially kids: They're not unspoiled innocents, and they're not angelic or stoic or especially brave. They don't have some mystical insight into The Meaning Of It All. They're just kids who happen to be very sick. They still get crushes, fight with their parents, play video games, and crack jokes.

John Green said this in an interview with NPR:
"All of the people I've known who were sick — young or old — were still funny. It's important to note or remember that people who are sick and people who are dying aren't dead. ... And so I've known a lot of young people who were very sick but also very, very funny, and often in dark, dark ways." 
The dialogue is tight, smart, and hilarious. One criticism I've read of the book is that "real teenagers aren't like that." That is, real teenagers don't read smart books or make witty comebacks.

This criticism falls flat to me, because it assumes that teenagers are all the same. I knew some shallow, boring kids in high school, but I also knew some quirky, brilliant, thoughtful kids. Just like there is no single kind of cancer patient, there is no single kind of teenager.

The other criticism that keeps popping up in amateur reviews is that young adults (to whom The Fault in Our Stars is actually marketed) aren't mature enough to catch on to the symbolism and the literary references.

Yes, the The Fault In Our Stars is full of nods to The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye (and maybe Finnegan's Wake?), but it would be enjoyable even if you didn't catch onto those references. 

Even so, remember that most people in America who are currently reading The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye -- and, for that matter, Crime and Punishment, The Odyssey, and Hamlet -- are high school kids.* They're being actively taught how to read well. Don't tell them what they can and can't understand.

*This is completely a guess on my part. But how old were you when you first read those books? I'd guess you were younger than 20 unless you are a particularly classy grown-up who somehow missed those books in high school English and yet have pursued them anyway.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The trouble with poets is they see poetry everywhere.

My husband, Blade, and I have seen Peter Mulvey in concert several times now. The first time, it was a surprise for Blade. It was Blade's birthday, and we'd both gotten attached to Peter Mulvey's music that summer, and he happened to be playing for free.* Another time, we saw him with a full house at SPACE in Evanston.

This week, we saw him at Schuba's in Chicago as our Valentine's date.

At most concerts I've been to, the audience either sang so loud that no one could really hear the band or else mingled among themselves with the band's music as a backdrop. At Peter Mulvey concerts, though, whether they're at a bar or a concert hall, people lean forward and listen

Our friend Dan** wrote this in a review of Peter Mulvey's album, Letters from a Flying Machine:
... Mulvey's love for music saturates his own work, which enables listeners to love more fully whatever and whomever they love. ... [W]hen someone else shows you who they are, when they sing honestly, it reminds you of who you are. 
That is probably why we keep going back to Peter Mulvey concerts whenever we get the chance. In fact, we may get another chance in March. Who wants to meet us a Schuba's?

*When we got there, it turns out that we were crashing a birthday party at Chicago's oldest lesbian bar, at which Mulvey was giving a little private concert. We sort of stuck out, though it didn't seem like anyone minded that we were there.

**You may know Dan as the creator of 3eanuts. You should also know him, though, as Freddy Raccoon's handler, which is probably a more demanding job.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is this not how everyone else plays?

My friend Liz has a YouTube series called How To Liz, in which she plays a character named Liz.*

I went on HowToLiz this week, though, to teach her how to play Words With Friends:

I think "defenestrate" made me crack because I had just sat in on Molly's Latin class, in which she taught some third graders about cognates of fenestra (window).

In real life, Liz usually beats me at Facebook's Words With Friends, which is essentially online Scrabble. I forget about playing on tiles that are worth lots of points and just focus on making any ol' word.

Liz's version is actually kind of hard. It makes me think of the improv game, "Malapropism," in which you point to things and say what they're not. It stretches a muscle in your brain that's easy to neglect -- the muscle of naming what is possible instead of what is obvious. That is a particular strength of Liz's.

*It's a little like how Stephen Colbert plays a character named Stephen Colbert, except that Liz hasn't bought a SuperPAC. If she did -- she does know about politics -- she would probably spend most of the PAC money on temporary tattoos.

Monday, January 30, 2012

How to Cook in Your Sleep

I often stay up too late at night to read, but I've lately surprised myself, violating my bedtime by reading a cookbook.

The difference between a standard cookbook and An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler is the difference between, say, King Lear and The Actor and the Text. A standard cookbook is a script of recipes, often very good ones, but Adler's book is about how to think about food in such a way that cooking and eating make sense.

The book doesn't have many recipes in it, but that's just as well for me, a person who isn't good at following recipes. I got used to improvising upon recipes when I found out I was allergic to dairy but was still determined to eat whatever I liked. I also tend to skip any step in a recipe that looks sensitive or inconvenient, as long as the food looks and smells right while I'm cooking it.

An Everlasting Meal is about cultivating the right attitude toward cooking and eating. She treats ingredients as though they have personalities and volition of their own. To her, asparagus is happiest when roasting in olive oil, and chicken bones have a deep yearning to become broth. "An egg can turn anything into a meal and is never so pleased as when it is allowed to do so," she writes. I love that.

She makes the food complicit in the way it's being eaten. So you don't say, "What do I want to eat?" Instead, you look in your fridge and say, "How does this kale want to be eaten?" (Incidentally, kale in our fridge usually wants to become kale chips. I force it into being salad with lemon and goat cheese sometimes, but it really likes to be vinegar-y chips.)

Here is a video she made, which is essentially a visual summary of her chapter on vegetables, entitled, "How to Stride Ahead."

How to Stride Ahead - Part Two from CJ Richter on Vimeo.

Some lovely, well-meaning acquaintance gave Blade and me the Williams-Sonoma Bride and Groom Cookbook as a wedding gift. The book claims to be an introduction to the basics of keeping a proper kitchen and instructions on how to cook things everyone should know how to cook.

I paged through it not long ago and found that I didn't have any of the bafflingly specific equipment needed to make the "basic, essential" recipes. I'm sure that's because Williams-Sonoma paid someone to write the book, and Williams-Sonoma wanted me to register for all their gadgetry. (This book is probably on its way to Goodwill soon.)

In contrast, Adler's chapter, "How to Paint Without Brushes," she advocates "not filling your kitchen with tools, but becoming, rather, the kind of cook who doesn't need them."*

Now, it's late at night, and I haven't been able to sleep, because I need a book to read. I finished An Everlasting Meal a couple of days ago, but the books I've casually picked up since haven't held my interest. I might fry an egg instead.

*Except for wooden spoons: "A writer named Patience Gray recounts the provenance of her favorite wooden spoon. ... It came flying out a kitchen window at the climax of a couple's squabble, and she picked it up and kept it. I buy a wooden spoon whenever I see one I like because I may need to throw something, and a passerby may need one." Dear Tamar, can I be your friend?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Christmas Village in Review

I’m blogging over at Church of the Resurrection today, sharing the tip of the iceberg of the craziness that was Christmas Village. The post focuses on the missions aspect of the Village, but much of my Christmas Village time was in the  days and weeks before, setting up and taking down, rounding up and organizing volunteers, and making sure the cookies were plentiful and the hot chocolate kept flowing. 
Doesn't look like a cafeteria, does it?
I shared at Rez the amount of money we raised, but here are some more numbers:

116 shoppers (people who donated gifts to missionaries)
70 volunteers (probably more, actually) working hard behind the scenes
50 live Christmas trees
12 groups of entertainers — singers and dancers, mostly, but also an exotic petting zoo and a pen of puppies
10 hours of Christmas Festival
8 countries represented -- more about this at RezBlog
7 hours of set up
2 hours of take down
1 break in the evening for the Christmas Pageant

Blade was invaluable; he helped run errands with me all day and made sure I got something to eat besides cookies.

I slept most of the following day, the whole thing was so exhausting, but it was all totally worth it.