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The Sunday before Halloween was jam-packed for me. I spent the bulk of that day at my church. First I attended a special all-ages intergenerational Sunday service that dealt with Halloween/Samhain. Many people in the choir were dressed up in costumes and there were appropriately spooky decorations at the church as well.

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Someone brought this really cool looking Halloween cake that tasted delicious as well.

Halloween/Samhain Service, October 29, 2017

Here is how I decorated my car trunk for Trunk or Treat.

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

The only thing I regret not photographing is what I gave away. I purchased one package containing 24 small boxes that had temporary Halloween tattoos. The other were a bunch of tiny notepads that were shaped like mummies, witches, frankensteins, ghosts, and other Halloween creatures. I purchased them at Target for only $10. They were such a hit at church that I ran out and I ended up having to buy Halloween pretzels so I would have something to give out to the trick or treaters on Halloween itself. Oh well. In any case, here is how other people decorated their trunks.

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Someone brought a portable sandbox for children to play with.

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

There were games and face painting that the kids could participate in. Plus there was plenty of food to munch on.

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

Trunk or Treat at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church, October 29, 2017

I also shot a short video that included people dancing the Time Warp (yes, they played the song from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and children engaging in a wheel-type race.

If all that weren’t enough, I stayed behind after the party because, this fall, I’ve been serving as a volunteer teacher of English to recent immigrants as part of my church’s social action program. The class runs from 1:15-3:15 p.m. so I was definitely tired by the time I finally returned home.

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Dancing Skeleton

Today is the day after Halloween and the first day of the two-day Mexican holiday known as El Día De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). In addition, Inktober officially ended right on Halloween yesterday. I succeeded in drawing and uploading 31 ink drawings in 31 days from October 1-31. I finished Inktober at the same time as I ended up getting sick with this stomach flu where I constantly felt nauseous and I alternated between going through dry heaves and diarrhea. The fact that it also happened on the same day as Halloween totally sucks. I barely managed to get myself together enough to give out treats to the trick or treaters. Instead of going to a Halloween night party at a friend’s house, I had to make an emergency run to Giant after the official trick or treat time ended just so I could pick up some medication and toilet paper.

Today I feel better in that the dry heaves and diarrhea has subsided and I feel mostly tired. I took a nap today and I’ll probably go to bed early tonight so I can rest some more.

As I go over the drawings I did during the month, I realized that I could easily put them into certain categories (with many of those drawings falling under more than one category).

Animals: Penguin, panda bear, black cat, dinosaur, swan, pig, two former ride cars from the now-defunct Enchanted Forest amusement park shaped like a duckling and a swan, Willie the Whale, goat, and Zombie Dog.

Based on Dolls I Currently Own: Volks Dollfie Dream, Batgirl and Wonder Woman (with Donald Trump and by themselves).

Building: Crooked House.

Clark’s Elioak Farm: Two former ride cars from the now-defunct Enchanted Forest shaped like a duckling and a swan, the Crooked House, Willie the Whale, goat.

Death Penalty: Guillotine.

Friday the 13th: Black cat.

Halloween/Day of the Dead: The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, Goat Man, Zombie Dog, Day of the Dead skeleton, Frankenstein, Jack O’Lantern.

Hollywood Scandal: Harvey Weinstein.

My Own 100% Original Character: Zombie Dog.

Native American (For Indigenous Peoples Day a.k.a. Columbus Day): Wolf kachina.

Real People: Donald Trump with Jesus Christ, Donald Trump again (with Wonder Woman and Batgirl), Donald Trump yet again, Donald Trump one more time, Tom Petty, burlesque performer Reverend Valentine, Harvey Weinstein, my father-in-law, my mother (which also includes Elvis Presley), Madonna Girl Dale.

Religious-Related Drawings: Jesus Christ (with Donald Trump), Unitarian Universalist flaming chalice, wolf kachina.

People Who Celebrated a Birthday During Inktober: My mother.

People Who Died During Inktober: Tom Petty and my father-in-law.

Politics: Donald Trump with Jesus Christ, Donald Trump again (with Wonder Woman and Batgirl), Donald Trump yet again, Donald Trump one more time.

Relatives: My father-in-law and mother.

Superheroes: Batgirl and Wonder Woman together with Donald Trump and by themselves.

Supernatural Book/Movie Characters: The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz and Frankenstein.

Virtual Models from Figurosity.com: Woman running with a gun, woman dressed in psychedelic tye-dye outfit holding a gun.

The biggest challenge for me is that working on a new drawing a day then uploading it online to this blog and various social media sites took a portion of my time that I could’ve spent doing other things (such as doing house cleaning, putting up Halloween decorations, sending out a few more resumes). That was the main reason why I had quit a previous effort to do one new drawing per day starting on January 1, 2016 (which was a New Year’s resolution). I think the reason why I was more successful at Inktober than my previous daily drawing effort last year was because I knew it was only for 31 days that I had to worry about doing a new drawing each day. After that I could draw as much or as little as I wanted.

Even though there was an official Inktober prompt list of one word for each different day, I was more interested in doing my own thing since this is the first year I participated in this. (Inktober has been going on since 2009.) I only used the official prompt list if I was stumped for inspiration. Now that I got my desire to draw whatever I wanted for Inktober out of my system, I’m thinking that if I was to do this again next year, I would discipline myself by sticking strictly with the prompt list. It would be a way to challenge myself, especially since I’m sure that there will be a word or two that will have me totally stumped at first.

The biggest benefit I got from Inktober is that I was able to learn which social media sites gave me the best exposure in terms of publicizing myself and my work. I uploaded my drawings to the current popular social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) as well as other social media sites I haven’t posted anything in a while. These sites used to be relatively popular until they were overshadowed by Facebook/Instagram/Twitter. I decided to upload to them because I wanted to see if I should still bother with them. I found that the absolute worst were Flickr and Google+ because I only got one “Like” on both platforms and that was it. Tumblr was hit or miss in that I got maybe one or two Notes (which is Tumblr’s version of “Like”) for some of my drawings but there were others that got zero Notes. (The one drawing that got the most attention was the one I did of Tom Petty and that one only got four Notes.) Minds, the open source alternative social media site, was just as hit or miss as Tumblr in that I got maybe one or two “Likes” on some drawings but others were totally ignored.

By far the best response I got was on this blog and Instagram. In fact I got new followers on both platforms because of Inktober. Twitter came in at a close second in that I also got new followers as well as retweets. Facebook was surprisingly more of a mixed-bag. While I got a better response than Flickr, Google+, Tumblr, and Minds combined, the response rate was lower than this blog, Instagram, and Twitter.

The one major social media site that I didn’t use was LinkedIn because that one is more of a professional social media site and some of my drawings were either too political (such as the ones featuring Donald Trump) or the subject matter was one where I just didn’t feel comfortable in posting there (such as the one about the Harvey Weinstein action figure). I’ve seen people get chewed out on LinkedIn for posting anything that was even remotely controversial (especially one that’s political) and I’d rather avoid it since it’s common knowledge that would-be employers tend to look you up on LinkedIn to see if you’re someone they would even want to hire. I don’t want to lose out on any potential opportunity because of some post I made there.

It was time consuming to upload the same drawing on so many different social media sites per day but at least I gained knowledge on which ones are worth investing my time in promoting myself in the future so it was worth it in the end.

I also learned that there is certain value in practicing drawing only for yourself because you’ll never know when one of those drawings you’ve done have struck inspiration to do a regular art project based on what you’ve drawn. I’m thinking about doing a watercolor version of that swan I drew during Inktober because I really liked the results.

Another positive result of Inktober is that I discovered Figurosity.com and that site was valuable in providing virtual models for me to practice my drawing with. I plan to use that site for my drawing more often.

I also looked at other people’s Inktober drawings on social media and I was amazed by the amount of creativity I saw there. There were a few people who did some really ambitious things for Inktober. I saw some people do two or more drawings per day, which I personally admired since I found it a challenge to do even one new drawing in a small sketchbook every single day. I saw one guy who was working on a graphic novel and he decided to use Inktober to draw and ink one new page per day. There was another person who decided to use Inktober do a large complex drawing where the person inked just one section of that drawing each day with the goal being that the large complex drawing would be completed on October 31.

The biggest challenge with Inktober is to maintain my enthusiasm for continuing with drawing one new drawing per day then uploading it online. The first few days I was very eager and enthusiastic. But then I came down with this nasty cold but I continued to work through that cold even though my body wanted to get more sleep so it can knock off those cold germs. After I got rid of that cold I began to gradually view the daily Inktober sketches more and more as some time-consuming daily chore instead of something that I was excited and enthusiastic about. Even though I tried to keep the designs relatively simple and I used a small sketchpad, I still found myself burning out towards the end. This was especially true when I wanted to put up Halloween decorations or go to some Halloween-related local event only to remind myself that I needed to make time for my daily Inktober drawings.

By the last week I went to Clark’s Elioak Farm because I wanted to draw enough pencil sketches so I could just ink over them on the allotted day for the next few days. Then I spent one additional evening filling up my sketchbook with enough Halloween-themed pencil sketches to last me until the very end of the month.

But then I began to just burn out on even doing the ink over the pencil outlines, especially during that last weekend before Halloween. I started to partially-ink over more than one pencil sketch a day or two before the allotted date while leaving each one intentionally unfinished until the allotted date, when I would finish it so I could technically say that I did work on one new drawing per day each day during Inktober. One evening, about two nights before the end of Inktober, I used my free time to do the bulk of the inking on my scheduled drawings of the last two days while leaving just a small area of each drawing unfinished so I could spend less than 15 minutes completing each drawing on the allotted day.

I did it this way because I grew tired of spending anywhere from a half-an-hour to a full hour working on each new drawing then spending additional time photographing my drawing then uploading it on my various social media accounts. You may think that I was cheating but I don’t care. If I hadn’t done something like this, I would’ve grown so tired of spending a chunk of time on my Inktober sketch that I would’ve quit just days before October 31.

Right now I’m typing this in the early days of NaNoWriMo, which is something similar to Inktober where you spend every day in November writing your novel. I’ve read about people who are doing NaNoWriMo but I’m definitely not taking part in this. Spending time each day doing Inktober was enough for me without having to go from doing daily Inktober drawings in October to writing daily NaNoWriMo prose in November.

Now that Inktober is over, I’m going to take some time off from drawing on a daily basis because I have other things in my life that I need to focus on (such as the upcoming winter holidays in December). Ultimately I’m going to try doing a new drawing in my sketchbook at least once a month. I would do this by just working on that drawing in blocks of 15 minutes on a given day (and that would be only if I had extra time available for me to do such a drawing). I would keep on working on the same drawing, 15 minutes at a time and one day at a time, until I’m finished. Basically I want to practice my drawing but on a more leisurely schedule where I can balance that with other activities that require my attention at the same time.

Of course only time will tell whether I actually achieve this. (LOL!) But I’m willing to at least give it a try.

Here are a few things I would advise a person who’s thinking about doing either Inktober next year or simply wants to devote a different month to doing one drawing per day (such as December or March or June):

1. Don’t obsess too much about drawing supplies. I know the official Inktober site has a list of recommended supplies but some of these supplies (such as Micron pens) can be pretty expensive to those on a tight budget. If you can’t afford the recommended Inktober supplies, don’t fret. Just go with cheaper supplies instead. I did my Inktober drawings using a cheap pack of multicolored Paper Mate InkJoy pens that I purchased at Target for only $10. And I wasn’t the only one who didn’t use the best supplies either. I saw quite a few Inktober drawings that were done only with the cheap disposable blue ink Bic ballpoint pens and I found them to be just as interesting and well-done as the ones that were used with the more expensive pens. As for drawing paper, I would recommend shopping around because sometimes you can find the best bargains. Here’s one example: I’ve seen 9” x 12” (23 cm x 30 cm) sketchbook drawing pads on sale at my local Five Below store for only $5.

2. Use a small sketchbook that’s no bigger than 9” x 12” (23 cm x 30 cm). Not only will you fill up the page faster than with a larger sketchbook but a smaller sketchbook is more portable. I did my Inktober drawings using a 4” x 6” (10 cm x 15 cm) sketchbook. When I decided to travel to Clark’s Elioak Farm to do some more Inktober drawings, all I had to do was to put my sketchbook (along with my pens and pencils) in my purse and I was good to go. Heck, I saw some Inktober sketches online that were drawn on Post-It Notes.

3. If you can, try setting aside a certain time each day to work on your Inktober sketch. It could be when you wake up the first thing in the morning or after dinner or whenever. If you can’t commit to the same time every day, then just take advantage of whatever free time suddenly materializes to do your drawings. I’ve seen people admit that they did their Inktober sketches while riding public transportation on the way to or from their day jobs. I’ve even seen people admit that they did their drawings on the sly while being forced to sit in on a boring lecture at school or they took advantage of some downtime at work. Just do whatever works for you.

4. The one thing about Inktober I learned is that you can do some advance drawings in pencil as long as you wait until the designated day to do the final inking. In fact, I learned that this year’s official Inktober prompt list was put online two weeks before the month began so one could have the luxury to decide what he/she wanted to draw on the designated day and even do a rough sketch in pencil. I took advantage of this policy towards the end of the month when I began to burn out on doing a new drawing every day and I was in danger of quitting before the month was over. What I did was to go to Clark’s Elioak Farm, where I finished one new drawing in ink but I did other unfinished drawings in pencil that I could finish in ink over the next few days. By the time I finished that series, it was close to Halloween so I spent one evening just doing a pencil drawing of Madonna Girl Dale (who usually wears a costume in public all year round) followed by pencil drawings of traditional Halloween and Day of the Dead figures until the 31st drawing of the month. So I spent the last week of Inktober just coloring in one previously made pencil drawing in ink per day until I reached the last drawing on Halloween.

5. If you hit a rough patch where you really can’t focus on doing any complicated detailed drawings or you don’t have a lot of time to do anything too complex, just do a simple drawing that you can easily finish in 30 minutes or less. I experienced this challenge earlier this month when I came down with this horrible cold that literally left me feeling very weak and tired all the time. For those days I decided to do simple drawings of a penguin and a panda bear because those animals were relatively easy for me to draw quickly before I felt tired enough to take another nap. As an added bonus, those two drawings were basically black and white drawings so I didn’t have to do much thinking while I drew them. I also didn’t bother with drawing backgrounds because that would’ve been more time-consuming and I didn’t feel wide awake enough to draw something that would’ve been more complex.

6. Don’t be a perfectionist about your drawing. The whole purpose of Inktober is to practice your drawing, not focusing on being the next Rembrandt or Keith Haring. The idea is to do a quick drawing that can be done in a small part of your day.

7. Don’t be afraid of posting your drawings online, even if you personally feel less than enthusiastic about your latest drawing. I found that people tended to be really nice towards those who posted their Inktober drawings and many of them gave positive feedback. I personally didn’t encounter any cyberbullying in the month that I posted my Inktober drawings online. Just post your drawing online even if you personally don’t like it because there will be people who will like it better than you do.

Well, that’s it for Inktober 2017. I’ll end this post with a couple of embedded things in case you’ve missed some or all of the Inktober drawings I’ve been uploading over the past month. One is a YouTube video that includes some catchy background music.

If you prefer to view the pictures at your own pace without background music, you can view my Flickr album instead.

Inktober 2017

Despite being sick with a cold over the last few days, I’ve done a far better job at keeping up with this Inktober stuff than I did last year when I made my New Year’s resolution to do one new sketch drawing per day.

I attend a Unitarian Universalist church. Today I felt well enough to go to church this morning. I arrived at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church (PBUUC) in Adelphi, Maryland and I found a seat in the front row. I brought my sketch pad, pencils, and pens with me so I was able to sketch PBUUC’s flaming chalice while I was listening to today’s sermon on “Unpacking White Supremacy: Going behind the language to greater understanding.” Yeah, I was multitasking but I managed to successful at achieving both. The service was excellent and emotional, especially when a portion of the service was devoted to those who were brutally murdered in that horrible Las Vegas rampage because today is the one-week anniversary of that horror.

Click here if you want to learn more about the importance of the flaming chalice in Unitarian Universalism.

Not too long ago I attended a Saturday morning networking event that was held at McLean Bible Church, which is located in Northern Virginia. I was hoping to find contacts who could help me land a new day job in order to pay the bills as well as getting any possible new tips on how to refine my search. Plus it gave me the opportunity to actually step foot inside one of those non-denominational Christian megachurches that have been springing up all over the U.S. since the late 1980s.

Before I go any further I want to explain my own religious background so you’ll understand why this post has a “stranger in a strange land” feel. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church. The parish where I attended mass from the time I was a child until I was in college had anywhere from 1,000-2,000 members. The church held mass four times a week (one on early Saturday evening around 6 or 7 p.m. and the other three on Sunday at 9 a.m., 10:15 a.m., and noon). While some people knew who I was growing up, there were times when I felt like I was just a face in the crowd of Catholics. I don’t recall too many efforts to have social events for the parishioners so they could get to know each other. Basically people attended mass then headed out the door the moment the last hymn ended.

I left the Catholic church when I was in college and I spent my college years identifying myself as a “secular Christian” (or a gentile equivalent of a secular Jew). When I was in my senior year of college I saw an ad in the Sunday Washington Post for Unitarian Universalism which read “Instead of having to fit in with a church, I found a church that fit me.” There was something about that ad that resonated with me in a positive way and it was a contrast to all those fundamentalist Christian groups on campus (such as the Campus Crusades for Christ) who were constantly trying to recruit converts among the student body so often that I began to loathe them because they became such a nuisance. I showed the ad to my boyfriend and he was impressed by it as well. I found out that there were no campus UU groups at the time, the nearest UU church was at least three miles away and I had no car plus the Metrobuses tend to run erratic hours on Sundays. So I forgot about the ad and still considered myself to be a secular Christian who was happily unchurched.

My boyfriend and I were engaged soon after I graduated from college and we began to plan our wedding. My fiancee began to express a preference for a religious wedding out of the blue. (I was always surprised by his preference. He told me that his family was basically nonreligious when he was growing up, with the exception of a few years when his family attended a Quaker congregation only to leave it when that congregation went through a nasty congregational split that disgusted his parents so much that they quit.) He remembered that Washington Post ad I showed him and suggested that we try attending a Unitarian Universalist Sunday service. So we went to our first service and we were really impressed by the format of the Sunday service. We were further impressed when they actually served coffee after the Sunday service ended and we found the congregation to be very friendly and upbeat (which was a welcome contrast to my memories of dealing with the members of my old Catholic parish). We learned that the minister who spoke at that service was only a visiting minister and the regular minister would be speaking the following Sunday. So we attended the following Sunday and we were impressed with that minister and the other members were very friendly towards us during the coffee hour.

Basically we kept on attending because we liked the church and its members and we eventually joined that congregation. A few months later, we were married by the UU minister and we remained active members for many years. I continued to attend Sunday services at that UU church after my marriage fell apart. (It helps that my ex-husband only sporadically attends these days.) Compared to my 1,000-2,000 Roman Catholic parish I attended as a child, the UU church I attend has a room where Sunday services are held that can seat a maximum of 500 people. Despite that, we rarely had to deal with the room overflowing on Sunday mornings. Right now my congregation has around 150 members. I know that it’s small but, as an adult, I find that I prefer a smaller congregation. I find it easier to make new friends among the congregation and it’s really a good feeling to go to Sunday services at a place where most people know your name.

I know that there are downsides to having a small congregation, mainly when it comes to what programs we can actually offer to fellow members and the wider community. We don’t have enough people to offer services that larger churches offer, such as a soup kitchen for the homeless or computer lessons to underprivileged persons. But the feeling I get that I’m not being lost in the shuffle (which is how I felt at times in my old Roman Catholic parish) makes up for it.

For years I had heard of people joining megachurches but it seemed like my then-husband and I bucked the trend by joining a small church instead. There were times when I wondered what a megachurch is like but I wasn’t that curious enough to consider visiting a megachurch on a Sunday morning because I really didn’t want to deal with people pressuring me to convert to their church. When I found out about this networking event at McLean Bible Church, I found the perfect opportunity to see what this megachurch is like without feeling pressured into converting. I brought a camera with me so I could take pictures.

According to the Wikipedia, McLean Bible Church is spread out over five separate campuses, which draws a total attendance of 13,000 people each week. I went to the church’s main campus in Vienna. I parked my car in the church’s two-story parking garage (which is definitely the largest parking lot I’ve ever seen for a house of worship). Seeing that building from the outside for the first time was an eye-opener.

I entered the church on the lower level and I felt like I was in the corridor of a very large hotel or a convention center.


The next photo shows the sanctuary where Sunday services are held. Unfortunately the doors were locked when I was there so I was only able to get a quick shot of the doorway windows giving you a glimpse as to how big this church is.

The networking event was held in a lower-level conference room which is about as big as the room in my UU congregation’s Meetinghouse where our Sunday services are held.

Around the corner from that conference room is a full-service coffee bar called Journeys, which was closed when I was there. I got a look at the menu, which offers as many varieties of different coffees as Starbucks. I noticed that Journeys prices its beverages around the same as Starbucks does. This is a far cry from what my congregation serves each Sunday. (We basically offer regular coffee, decaf coffee, and hot water for those who want tea or hot chocolate. It is entirely self-service and we only ask a small donation if you can afford it. It is all wheeled out on a cart after Sunday service ends. I don’t see my congregation ever installing its own full-service coffee bar like McLean Bible Church has.)

The women’s restroom was also an eye-opener as well. When you enter the restroom, you encounter a rack full of brochures that people can take.

Each stall had a Bible quote hanging on the inside door so you get to read something inspirational while you’re doing your personal business.

But that’s not all. The women’s bathroom has a large room off to the side. It is a lounge that has comfortable seats and a large-screen TV. I’ve seen the restrooms in some of the really fancy hotels have something like this but this was the first time I ever seen something like this in a church.

After the morning networking event ended, I stuck around a bit longer because I was really curious about this church. I went up to the second floor where I found this giant lobby area.

There are long desks outside the entrance doors to the second floor of the sanctuary where Sunday services are held. (Those doors were locked just like the lower entrances.) To me the area looks more like a hotel or convention center than a church.

The next photo shows a display table publicizing the church’s latest project: sending cards to members of the U.S. military who are stationed overseas.

The next two photos show one of two or three tables full of American flags encouraging people to send cards to the U.S. troops.

One of the side lobby had literature promoting the various smaller affinity groups that McLean Bible Church has, such as men-only and women-only spirituality groups and an affinity group that is devoted to people who have recently moved to the area.

The last picture I took was a view from a second story window.

Unfortunately the battery on my camera died after I took that last shot. I found a mall-style fast food eatery where people can order meals and eat them at one of the many provided tables. (That fast food place was closed when I was there. I have a feeling that this place, like the coffee bar, is open only on Sundays.) I’ve been to a few larger churches that have kitchens with dining areas but these churches only use them for special occasions (such as this one in a Catholic church, which I went to when that church had an Oktoberfest event that was opened to the general public a few years ago). McLean Bible Church’s facility definitely had the look of a fast food place that’s opened on a regular basis because I saw trays stacked in one area where people grab before getting in line. I saw a full-service menu with prices that were on par with what a typical fast food place charges.

I saw a sign touting a gift shop but I didn’t make much of an effort to search for it because of the dead camera battery and the feeling that the gift shop is probably closed on Saturdays as well.

I have to admit that the church is impressive in terms of the amenities it provides but I still prefer my small 150-member church. It means a lot to me to have a place where people recognize me and know my name and it would be harder for me to adjust to a megachurch. So what if my church doesn’t offer espressos or other types of fancy coffees like the McLean Bible’s coffee stand does. There is a Starbucks located just a short drive away for anyone at my church who feels the urge for a Coconutmilk Moca Macciato.  If you’re looking for something to eat, there are a couple of shopping centers located close by where you can have your choice of various restaurants ranging from fast food to a regular full-service restaurant.

I don’t mean to offend anyone reading this who has long attended a megachurch. I understand that you may find my preference for smaller churches to be off-putting. Just understand that I was not raised in a megachurch (even my childhood Roman Catholic parish would be considered small compared to McLean Bible Church) and I’ve grown used to attending a small church as an adult. If you like your megachurch, I’m not going to tell you to switch to a smaller church. I just personally prefer a smaller church for myself. That’s all.

Three years ago I devoted an entire summer’s worth of Throwback Thursdays to doing a review a series of historical novels by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) devoted to a girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. I thought it would be fun to comparing how the 1970’s were portrayed in those books with my own memories of growing up during that same era.

In the midst of doing those reviews, American Girl decided to revamp its historical line by retiring a few dolls and placing the remaining historical dolls under a new product line known as “BeForever.” In the process I found that the original six novels I had reviewed earlier that summer were combined into two large volumes with all of the original illustrations removed. In addition American Girl released another volume that was basically a “Choose Your Adventure” book.

By the time I finished reviewing that Choose Your Adventure book (A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie), I had not only read and reviewed all of the books in that series, I was starting to burn out from doing this project. I briefly revisited this series last year when I did a review of a movie short that American Girl did based on the books called And the Tiara Goes to…

The last time I went to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, I found that a new Julie Mystery was published earlier this year called Message in a Bottle. This is the first new Julie Mystery book since 2013 (when Lost in the City was published) and the first new Julie Book overall since A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie was released in 2014. (If you’ve missed the reviews I’ve done for other books in this series, there are links at the end of this post where you can read them at your leisure.)

I know that The Police had a hit song called “Message in a Bottle” but that song didn’t come out until 1979—two years after the events in this book. The closest song title that actually came out in Julie’s era (1975-1977) is Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which came out a few years earlier in 1972.

The book was written by Kathryn Reiss, who wrote the previous Julie Mysteries The Tangled WebThe Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, and The Silver Guitar. The cover image was done by Juliana Kolesova and Joe Hinrichs.

All of the Julie Mystery books follow the events in the original Central Series books (which are now only available in the two-volume BeForever Books (The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 and Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2) and Good Luck, Ivy.

Since this new book is the latest one published and since the events take place in the summer (while the previous Julie Mystery, Lost in the City, takes place during spring break), I’m going to assume that it follows Tangled Web, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, The Silver Guitar, and Lost in the City.

Like all of the other Julie books, this one was written for a target audience of girls between the ages of 8-12 so some of the hot button topics of the 1970’s (such as the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion) won’t be mentioned at all.

She’s back and all ready to solve another mystery!

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1977 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her 17-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s the summer and schools are currently closed until September. Julie has been spending most of it alone in her mother’s apartment reading library books. (Apparently Julie’s 11th birthday came and went since it’s on May 1.) Both of her parents are busy with their jobs. Her sister Tracy is currently working not one but two summer jobs so she is rarely home these days. Her two closest friends, Ivy Ling and T.J. (whom the book misidentifies as “CJ” so it’s pretty obvious that some editor screwed up big time), are currently out of town visiting relatives.

But then her mother receives a letter from her younger sister, Nadine, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Nadine writes that she desperately needs her sister’s help on the commune where she lives with her son, Raymond, and she would like for her sister to come soon. She also mentions that she doesn’t have a phone so Mrs. Albright should just drive to the commune as soon as possible.

Apparently Tracy isn’t able to take time off from either of her two jobs so Mrs. Albright has arranged for her to stay at her father’s home and she also got her assistant at Gladrags to mind the store while she’s away. Her and Julie hit the road, driving north of San Francisco.

They eventually reached Sonora, the small town that’s located closest to Nadine’s commune. They decide to eat lunch at the outer space-themed Galaxy Cafe. They are waited on by a teen girl named Dolores who’s having such a hard time with arriving at her job on time from her break and messing up orders that the cafe’s owner, Mr. Coker, really chews Dolores out in front of Julie and her mother. Mr. Coker apologizes for Dolores’ mistakes and says that the meal is on the house. When Mrs. Albright mentions that she’s on her way to the commune to visit her sister, Mr. Coker says that Dolores lives at the commune herself. He also says that he had offered to buy the land from the commune but they keep on turning him down each time.

Julie and her mother arrive at the commune known as Gold Moon Ranch and Julie meets her Aunt Nadine and cousin Raymond (who’s around Julie’s age) for the first time since she was a toddler. As they are given a tour of the facilities, they learn that Gold Moon Ranch is supposed to be a self-sustaining commune where people live off the land and they make extra money on the side selling their homegrown vegetables and jars of honey. The commune includes a small cottage for each family unit along with a large central building, known as the Big House, where all the commune members eat their meals and gather for other events. The commune children are educated in a one-room schoolhouse on the premises and the adult members take turns serving as teachers. There is a large treehouse for the children to play in. There is also a separate bathhouse building with toilets (which are little more than seats on the ground over open pits) and with a water pump where the residents draw water to take a bath. (The commune has no running water or electricity.) They raise chickens, cows, and sheep while also growing their own vegetables. They make everything from scratch, including butter and wool yarn.

The commune got its name from the fact that it is located on the site of a former gold mine where gold miners used to dig during the California Gold Rush that went on from 1848-1855. The former mine has been boarded up in order to deter kids and trespassers from going in.

Nadine and her husband, David, founded Gold Moon Ranch and things were okay until her husband decided to join the military and fight in the Vietnam War. This decision was a shock because both Nadine and David were previously opposed to the war and so were all of their fellow commune members. It turns out that David joined because his twin brother was missing in action and he wanted to find him. He learned that his brother was killed and he was seriously injured not long afterwards. He relearned how to walk in rehab but he was unable to resume his work at Gold Moon Ranch due to his injuries so he has decided to take a part-time job at the library in Sonora. (Nadine mentions that things had become so strained between her and her husband that he decided to live in Sonora instead of the commune.)

David is described in the book as being very industrious and good with his hands before he went off to Vietnam. Ever since David went off to war the various commune members have been gradually moving out and it has gotten to the point where the remaining members can barely keep the place running and they are also having a hard time paying taxes. The reason why Nadine asks her older sister for help is because Mrs. Albright had been writing Nadine letters about how she had founded her Gladrags store and is currently doing well with it.  Nadine hopes that Mrs. Albright can put her knowledge and experience to work in helping the commune start its own store where they can sell their various handmade items.

Meanwhile Raymond has been distraught over his parents’ separation and he frequently talks about how his father had built many things on the commune and he basically misses his father. Julie tries to console her cousin by telling him that her parents are divorced and she once wanted her parents to reconcile but she has gotten used to her parents living apart. It’s obvious that Raymond hasn’t quite fully accepted his parents being separated while Julie has fully adjusted to her parents’ divorce because Raymond frequently talks about how much he misses his Pa.

If all that weren’t enough, there have been some pretty strange things happening at the commune. When Julie and her mother first arrived, they see the commune members trying to capture the chickens that had somehow escaped from the fenced-in area. Raymond tells Julie that the beehives are currently empty because the bees were somehow mysteriously driven away. Periodically Julie finds paper napkins scattered on the property that are the same ones that are used at the Galaxy Cafe. One night after midnight Julie follows her cousin to the entrance of the abandoned gold mine only for the two cousins to discover mysterious lights coming from that gold mine even though it’s supposed to be boarded up. Someone cuts the laundry cord while the commune’s freshly washed clothes were hanging outside to dry. Someone also manages to open one of the gates so the calf can run away while leaving her mother behind as the culprit leaves behind yet another one of those Galaxy Cafe napkins. (Julie finds the missing calf tied to a tree besides the river.)

During one of her walks with her cousin, Julie finds a perfume bottle along the river that runs near the abandoned gold mine. She later inspects it and finds that there is a message inside (hence the name of this book) while the bottle opening itself is sealed with wax. Julie manages to remove the wax, open the bottle, and take out the message. As she reads it she finds that it’s actually a poem about the downside of being a gold miner that has been signed with only the name Jack. Basically Jack wrote his poem to his “darling girl” where he expresses regrets ever becoming a gold miner and he now realizes that his love for her is a better source of being rich than gold.

What Julie saw at the commune raises all kinds of questions with her. Who really wrote that poem and why was it sealed in a bottle and thrown in the river? Who is behind all of those sabotage efforts on the commune and why is the person doing this? Is Mr. Coker doing this in an effort to get the commune to sell him the land? Or is it someone else, such as a disgruntled commune member? And what about those paper napkins from the Galaxy Cafe? Are they being left behind by accident or are they being left behind to send a subtle message to the commune that they should let Mr. Coker buy the property? Does that message in a bottle have anything to do with the sabotage that’s going on in the commune? Julie is determined to get to the bottom of all this.

The book ends with the two-page section titled “Inside Julie’s World,” discusses the rise of communes while mentioning the fact that the fictional Gold Moon Ranch is similar to a real-life Tennessee commune known as The Farm. The section mentions that these 1970s communes would later lead to the creation of co-housing and other forms of intentional communities in recent years (including co-housing for artists and senior citizens).

The section also goes into the plight of the Vietnam vets who returned home only to suffer through disabilities both physical and emotional while briefly mentioning veterans of more recent wars who have gone through something similar.

Music Mentioned in This Book

“Michael Row the Boat Ashore”

“Sweet Betsy From Pike”

“This Land is Your Land”

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

California Gold Rush
The Farm commune in Tennessee
Vietnam War

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experiences With the 1970’s

I used to hear about people living on communes when I was growing up but my parents were never into living that lifestyle. I remember when there was a cul-de-sac court of four or five houses located across from the street where I lived and once a year that particular area would organize a block party that was especially for those houses. (I used to go to that block party with a friend who lived next door to me and we used to play with the kids who lived there. The adults never minded us being there at the block party even though our homes weren’t in that cul-de-sac. I remember having fun at those block parties.) My mother used to talk about how she was glad our house wasn’t in a cul-de-sac court so she wouldn’t have to get involved with organizing one of those block parties because she had enough to do with her full-time job (she was an office manager for a life insurance company that has long since been merged with another life insurance company).

If she felt like that about an annual block party, I can only imagine her reluctance to live in a commune where everything was shared and people had to constantly take turns making the communal meals or educating the children. Besides, there weren’t any communes located anywhere near Glen Burnie, Maryland (where I grew up). Heck, I can’t even say if a commune had ever been established anywhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

My then-fiancee and I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church just a few months before I was married at 23. It was a usual religious community where people (both with and without families) would attend weekly Sunday service and get involved in extra curricular activities (such as book discussion groups, dinners, and other types of social activities).

My then-husband and I had been members of that UU congregation for a number of years when we got involved in a day-long workshop that was put on by the Unitarian Universalist Association at our church, which had guided activities that encouraged people to come up with ideas as to how to attract more people to our congregation and to UUism in general. This workshop started off with all of the participants being divided into small groups. Then we were given questions about the congregation’s history that we would discuss within the small group.

During the course of doing this exercise, it came out that during the 1970’s that some of the members of our congregation had started to meet in a smaller group where they discussed the issues of the day. In time they started to hold dances and other social events. These members had been dissatisfied with society in general after living through such things as Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Vietnam War. They began talking and this group started to express dissatisfaction with the whole idea of living in nuclear families and they wanted to explore alternative ways of living together in a community.

This group formed the nucleus of a movement where they would live together in a community and jointly share in the household chores and child raising, just like the commune described in the book. However, this group took things a bit further by exploring what was then called open marriage where married couples started having side relationships while staying married to their spouses. (Today it would be called polyamory.) I know that not all communes had explored anything like this and I can understand why American Girl would not even want to even hint about this in that book since their target audience are kids from 8-12 and they just did not want to provoke parental outrage.

There were two communes that they attempted to form. The first one was a group home in the Washington, DC suburbs but that one lasted just a few years. There was another attempt as a group decided to start a farm in Southern Maryland. I know that this farm still existed as late as the 1990’s (that’s because one of our longtime members had moved there because she wanted to live there post-retirement while being reunited with her old friends from the 1970s but she only lasted a few years before she moved back to our area) but I don’t know if it is still around or not.

I was amazed as I was hearing that story for the first time because none of the older members had ever mentioned anything like that to me before. I found out that it was because this group became controversial among other congregation members who weren’t into exploring open marriages or alternative ways of living together. I was told that quite a few members had left over this and it nearly led to a congregational split at one point.

By the time my husband and I started attending that church, this movement had pretty much collapsed and I guess that the other members just didn’t want to talk about a movement that had become very divisive within our congregation so I didn’t learn about this for years until I attended that workshop.

This led to a lay-led summer service just a couple of years later as the people who were active during that group’s heyday spoke about their experiences. I learned quite a lot from that service. For example, in the Message in a Bottle book I read it said in the “Inside Julie’s World” section at the end that it was young adults who had formed communes. This wasn’t the case with the people who formed their own movement within our UU congregation. One of the speakers said that the youngest person involved in the movement was 35 at the time. Another speaker said that her 25-year marriage disintegrated as a result of her and her husband getting involved in all aspects of that movement, including open marriage. Basically the majority of people who were involved were in their 40s, 50s, and even older during the movement’s heyday. Another aspect of that movement is that they had a no-drug policy and one of the speakers said that they had drummed out a few members for violating that policy too many times.

I later read in UU World magazine that this movement exploring alternative lifestyles and relationships was not unique to just our congregation. This article mentions how there was casual sex that took place among members of many congregations during the 1970s, including partner swapping, and how one UU congregation member said that she was frequently propositioned by married men.

The closest I had come to ever living in a commune was the time when I lived in off-campus housing just a half a mile from the University of Maryland campus in College Park. All except one of us were full-time students. (The one non-student was an aspiring DJ who worked as a busboy just so he could make ends meet.) We would socialize and stuff but we rarely ate our meals together because of our different class schedules. We had our own boyfriends/girlfriends and none of us had ever gotten into polyamory or anything like that. (It was hard enough juggling just one relationship with our studies, let alone trying to juggle two or more relationships.) I moved out after I graduated from school and moved back to my parents’ home in Glen Burnie. I moved out again 10 months later when I got married to a townhouse that I still live in because I got it as part of my divorce settlement.

As for the book itself, it’s not the first time Julie had tried roughing it with her relatives (see Julie’s Journey ) but this book had a much better-written plot than Julie’s Journey. The book provided some insight on what it was like to live in a commune. I found it mildly amusing when Julie admired certain aspects of the commune (such as seeing the stars at night with much greater intensity than in the streetlight-soaked city skies) while her cousin Raymond and teen commune member Dolores envied her because she has access to television and all of the amenities of big city life (such as a public library with a lot of books). Julie also took the point of view that it would be very difficult for some people to adjust to a lifestyle like Gold Moon Ranch. At one point in the book Julie admitted that moving to Gold Moon Ranch would mean not seeing her father or friends as much and she would also have to leave her current school.

The book became gripping when a commune member was trapped in the abandoned gold mine in the middle of a heavy storm that had the riverbanks flooding and Julie found herself in a race against time to help free that person before the gold mine became so flooded that the two of them would drown.

I also like the fact that this was a mystery where I wasn’t able to figure out what was really going on until the very end, unlike the earlier Julie Mysteries where I would guess the ending about midway through the book and I would be found correct at the end. I think making the mystery challenging enough makes the book more interesting.

The one thing I miss from this book that the older edition of the Julie Books had were the Looking Back section at the end, which were a multi-page spread that not only featured text but also vintage photographs and other illustrations from the era in which Julie grew up in. This new book, like the newer BeForever books, only have a text-only two-page spread titled  “Inside Julie’s Word.” It would’ve been more interesting to young readers had there been at least one photo of a real-life commune just so the kids could get an idea as to what one really looked like. Granted any kid could just Google “1970s communes” on a computer but I think it’s more convenient to have the visual information at hand while reading the text without having to interrupt reading the book, go to a computer, and do an online search.

I found the book to be a pretty good read but I still think The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter is the best of the Julie Mysteries because it was gripping at times with people following her and Ivy as they went through the streets of Chinatown and it also delved into the uncomfortable history of the racism against Chinese Americans.

That’s it for my book review. I have no idea if American Girl will come out with any more Julie Mysteries but if it does, I’m sure that I’ll probably buy it and read it. I’ll probably write another review for this blog.

I also noticed something about the Julie Mysteries. The events in the first, third, and fifth books (Tangled Web, The Silver Guitar, and Message in a Bottle) predominantly take place while Julie is with her mother. The events in the second and fourth books (The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter and Lost in the City) take place while Julie is with her father. If there is to be another book, it would be the sixth Julie Mystery book, so I predict that—if such a book is written and published—it will take place when Julie is with her father and her pal Ivy Ling will probably be there as well.

That’s the only speculation I’m going to provide about any possible potential future Julie Books because I’m not into spreading rumors.

If you want to buy this book and/or read my other Julie Book reviews that I wrote back in 2014, check out the links at the end of this post.

Where to Buy Message in a Bottle

Amazon
American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

The American Girl Julie Albright Books List

The Original Central Series

Meet Julie
Julie Tells Her Story
Happy New Year, Julie
Julie and the Eagles
Julie’s Journey
Changes for Julie

The Best Friend Book

Good Luck, Ivy

The Julie Mysteries

The Tangled Web
The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
The Silver Guitar
Lost in the City
Message in a Bottle

The BeForever Books

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1—A compilation of the first three Julie Albright Central Series books (Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie).

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2—A compilation of the last three Julie Albright Central Series books (Julie and the Eagles, Julie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie).

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Other Media Featuring Julie

And the Tiara Goes to…—A film short based on the Julie books.

Ramadan

I’m devoting this Throwback Thursday post to my wedding day mainly because today is not only what would’ve been my wedding anniversary had my husband not left me for someone else but June 8 falls on a Thursday this year. June is the month that many couples in the U.S. traditionally get married. On top of it this month is LGBTQ Pride Month and I have a wedding-related story that definitely fits with that theme.

A couple of months ago on March 31 I saw a bunch of stories suddenly crop up on my Facebook feed about people speaking openly about either being transgender themselves or having a friend or loved one who is transgender. I didn’t know that the transgender community have been having an International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31 since 2009. This year it really took off with all of the testimonials about transgender people and issues. I only wished someone had given me advanced notice because I would’ve told my own particular story then. So I decided to wait until Pride Month to tell my own story.

I grew up being completely ignorant about transgender people. I was raised Roman Catholic and the topic of being transgender was simply never brought up in church. The local public school system never mentioned that topic either in all the years I was a student there. The first person I recalled who actually had sex-reassignment surgery was a British man named James Morris, who became known as Jan Morris after having the surgery. I was a kid then and I thought it was pretty mind-blowing that one could change genders like that. I remember Jan Morris got tons of publicity and it ignited all kinds of debate about transsexuals (which is what transgender people were referred as at the time).

A few years later a tennis player named Renée Richards attempted to compete in the U.S Open as a female athlete. She became controversial when it was revealed that she was originally born a man and she, too, had a sex change operation. There were female tennis players who protested the idea of her being included in their tournaments.

When I was in college I picked up a copy of Gloria Steinem’s book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, which was a compilation of articles that she wrote in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Among those articles was a 1977 essay about the Renée Richards controversy called “Transsexualism.” Her hypothesis was that people opted for sex change operations because of the rigid gender roles that were proscribed in society, which dictates that boys don’t cry and girls don’t play sports. She basically said that if society were to loosen gender roles then men won’t feel the need to have sex change operations so they can express emotions more easily and women could play sports without having sex change operations to become men. Her closing words were “But the question remains: If the shoe doesn’t fit, must we change the foot?”

In the years since Gloria Steinem wrote her “Transsexualism” essay, there have been major changes in terms of gender roles. More men are opting to become stay-at-home dads while their wives work full-time. There are now male nurses, female doctors, male flight attendants, and female postal workers. The WNBA is a professional women’s basketball team and there is the FIFA Women’s World Cup Soccer. Women’s basketball, women’s hockey, and women’s soccer are all Olympic sports. Yet, despite these advances in gender equality, more and more people are coming out as transgender because they feel that they have literally been born in the wrong body, with the most prominent being Caitlyn Jenner, who once won an Olympic gold medal as Bruce Jenner.

During my college years at the University of Maryland at College Park, I met a couple of gay and lesbian students but my first-hand experience with transgender people was limited to going to a midnight screening of a certain cult film that has this musical number:

After college my fiancee and I decided to get married and it was my fiancee who, out of the blue, said that he wanted a church wedding. (I was always surprised by his preference. He told me that his family was basically nonreligious when he was growing up, with the exception of a few years when his family attended a Quaker congregation only to leave it when that congregation went through a nasty congregational split that disgusted his parents so much that they quit.) I had stopped going to mass and I would’ve been content with a civil marriage by a justice of the peace. I told him that we would’ve had to go to marriage classes if we were to be married in the Roman Catholic church while he would have to promise that any future children we had would be raised Catholic. He remembered an ad I had shown him that was published in The Washington Post a year earlier that was for Unitarian Universalism that said “Instead of having to fit in with a church, I found a church that fits me” while telling him that I was impressed with it. (I remember when I found that ad while I was going through the Sunday paper. There were no Unitarian Universalist groups on campus and the nearest congregation was only available by car, which I didn’t have at the time, so I never followed up on that ad and I soon forgot about it.) He even found a local UU congregation that he said we could try. (He also lined up a few other denominations we could try as well—namely Quaker and the United Church of Christ—in case the UU church didn’t work out for either of us.)

So we went to our first UU service and we were impressed with the minister. We found out after the service that the woman was a visiting minister and the regular minister would be speaking the following week. We were still impressed with the fact that the church had a weekly coffee hour where people stuck around and socialized after Sunday service. (In contrast, my old Roman Catholic parish had something similar called “Hospitality Sunday” that was only held once a month. Otherwise, people basically spilled into the parking lot and drove home once mass ended.) We were also impressed with how friendly the people there were. We went back the following week to check out the regular minister and we were impressed with him as well. We started going every week and, after a few months, we signed the membership book. We even managed to get the minister to officiate at our wedding so my husband got his way on having a religious wedding.

So we were married by a UU minister. During the reception I threw my wedding bouquet and one of the single ladies caught it. Then my new husband removed the garter from my leg and one of his single friends caught it. Then the bouquet catcher and garter catcher posed for a photo with me and my newly wedded husband.

The guy who caught my garter was named Dave Norris. Dave’s mother and my husband’s mother were friends and there were times when Dave hung around with my husband and his neighborhood friends in Long Island even though Dave was a few years younger than my husband.

Traditionally there is this old wives’ tale that says that people who catch the bouquet and garter are the ones who will be married next. That doesn’t usually happen in real life but Dave was the rare exception because he got married the following year while my husband was the best man at his wedding. It was a short-lived marriage that happened soon after his girlfriend found out that she was pregnant. The bride was six months pregnant at the wedding. Three months later she had the baby. Three months after the birth, Dave and his new wife separated and they were soon divorced.

My husband and I saw Dave in person a few more times after the quick wedding/separation/divorce. The last time we saw Dave was when he traveled to Maryland with his then-latest girlfriend because he was going to a conference in Washington, DC. The four of us ate at a local restaurant. After that we lost touch with Dave for a few years.

Meanwhile my husband and I became more involved in our new UU congregation where we made new friends. About a year or two later my husband and I ended up as co-chairs of the church’s Social Action Committee. During that time AIDS was starting to ravish the nation. At the same time there was a big March on Washington for LGBTQ people that was announced. A long-time member came to us about doing a lay service about AIDS. We knew that he was previously married to a woman and he had two children (one of whom would tragically die in a car accident when she was only in her early 20’s). It was during that time he came out to us as gay. A short time later he came out as gay to the rest of the congregation. I have to admit that the congregation was shocked but ultimately accepted him because he had been an active member. (If he had been a member of my old religion, he would’ve been driven away no matter how long he had been a member.)

I’ve already written plenty about that longtime member coming out as gay in this blog so I suggest reading this post if you want to learn more about Ed Kobee and his spouse, Al Usack. After Ed managed to rally his fellow congregation members (including my husband and I) to actually attend the March on Washington for LGBTQ rights, he and Al became activists within both our congregation, the Joseph Priestley District, and in the greater UUA for that faith to become more welcoming to LGBTQ people (which resulted in the UUA’s Welcoming Congregation program). Due to those efforts we started to seeing people who were openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual attending our Sunday services. Some became members for years while others attended for a short while then moved on.

I met my first openly transgender person through my UU congregation. One of the newer members was an open bisexual who had joined with her then-husband, who was also bisexual. (They gave a forum at my congregation on bisexuality where they said they had extramarital dalliances with same-sex partners.) That marriage subsequently ended and her husband left the church. She started a new relationship with a person who was born a man but he underwent a sex change operation and was now living as a woman. Yet she was still sexually attracted to women. I attended a forum on transgender at my church and this person spoke openly about how she felt like she was born in the wrong body yet she was still attracted to women. That was how I learned that gender identity and sexual orientation are two completely different things. This person was born in a male body and was sexually attracted to females so society designated him as a heterosexual. After the surgery this person was a woman yet was still sexually attracted to females so society designated her as a lesbian.

Basically the bisexual woman and the transgender woman started a relationship and stayed together for many years until the transgender woman died a few years ago. Over the years we’ve had other transgender people attend our Sunday services. I really can’t elaborate further on these other people because it’s really not my story to tell. On top of it, even though these people are openly transgender to my congregation, they aren’t quite as open to the general public outside of church. That’s because there have been too many cases of transgender discrimination on the job and in housing. And that’s not to mention the fact that there have been Republican lawmakers who are trying to pass those bathroom bills that only exist to make a transgender person’s live much harder. If that weren’t enough, there’s the fact that transgender folks are frequently targets of beatings, sexual assaults, and other acts of violence perpetrated against them by transphobic criminals.

Getting back to my husband’s friend who caught my garter at our wedding, we basically didn’t hear from Dave Norris for a number of years. One day, out of the blue, Dave called our house. My husband and Dave had an enjoyable conversation on the phone. Dave told my husband that he had started his own consulting firm and he gave my husband the URL to his new website.

My husband visited the website and saw the page that had the list of the small staff that the consulting firm had along with headshots. He saw the name “Denise Norris” on the list. At first he assumed that Dave had gotten remarried and his wife was helping out in the new venture. But then he took a closer look at that photo and saw that it looked like Dave dressing in drag. My husband soon called his old friend back and asked point blank if this person now a woman. His friend admitted it.

I remember that night my husband decided to take me out to dinner and he relayed that story about his friend is now living as a woman while we were in the car. We had the car radio on at the time while my husband was telling me this and this song suddenly came on the air.

Talk about serendipity! My husband and I got a good laugh out of it.

I have to admit that accepting my husband’s friend as a woman was slightly more challenging for this reason. The other transgender people I met through my UU congregation had already made the change so I never knew them in their previous gender. On the other hand, both my husband and I knew this person when he was a guy. (And my husband knew this person longer than I did since my husband hung around with this person while they were growing up on Long Island.)

A month or so later Denise was in the DC area attending a conference so we decided to get together for dinner at a local restaurant. It was awkward at first but then we hit it off, especially when my husband and Denise started talking about the old days when they were growing up and they would get into some escapades together.

We also learned that basically Denise had long felt like she was a female even though she was born a boy but she had kept those feelings to herself while she was growing up. I can understand why she felt she had to do this. There have been too many cases of transgender children being rejected by their parents and being targeted by bullies in school. It was only after she reached adulthood that her feelings became stronger and it reached the point where she felt that she had to have the surgery. I also remember that her mother was dead by then. (I don’t know if Denise ever came out to her mother before her death or not.) I’m only paraphrasing here because I don’t have an exact transcript of our conversation from that night and I’m just relying on my less-than-perfect memories here.

I have to credit Unitarian Universalism for my husband and I quickly adjusting to the fact that Dave Norris was now living as a woman named Denise Norris. If we hadn’t met other transgender people before seeing Denise, I think it would’ve taken both of us longer to accept Denise as she is now.

We would see Denise in person a few more times after that. I think the last time we met in person was sometime before 2008 (the year I had my hip replacement).

As for the woman who caught my bouquet at my wedding who is also in that photo I posted a few paragraphs ago, her name is Trisha and she’s my godfather’s daughter. I last saw her in person when my father died in 2000 and she stopped by the funeral home one evening during the viewing period. My husband and I told her what happened to the guy who caught the garter at the wedding and how he is now living as a woman. I remember Trisha smiling and deadpanning, “I have that effect on men sometimes.” (LOL!)

Denise Norris now works at Accenture and she is also a transgender activist whose speciality is getting corporations to not only end job discrimination among transgender people but also offer benefits to them (such as health insurance that’s broad enough to afford such expenses as hormone therapy and sex change surgery). She frequently gives media interviews on the topic, such as this recent example. I follow her on Facebook where I read her posts on transgender issues and fellow transgender people like Caitlyn Jenner. (Like many in the transgender community, Denise basically has a dim view of Caitlyn mainly because Caitlyn continues to support the same Republican Party that has been coming out with those notorious bathroom bills in recent years.) I haven’t directly communicated with her in years, especially since I am now divorced and Denise had been more of a friend of my ex-husband’s than mine. On top of it, our paths simply haven’t crossed in real life. There are times I wonder if Denise still has my old wedding garter and, if so, had she ever worn it. (LOL!)

As for my UU congregation there are still LGBTQ members who are active. The most recent transgender member is a person who originally joined my congregation as a man a few years ago. He was open about admitting that he was suffering from gender dysphoria and he was seeing a therapist about that. Last year this person decided to undergo medical treatment and she is now living as a woman. She is also in a relationship with a cis woman who’s a lesbian. This member now looks happier than before the change.

That’s it for my story.

Last November my Unitarian Universalist church joined the many other houses of worship across the United States in putting up a Black Lives Matter sign.

photo1

My congregation did one better with this sign. It also added the heart logo of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign and a rainbow banner indicating that it’s a welcoming congregation for the LBGTQ community. My congregation voted to erect this sign despite the fact that other houses of worship who have put up Black Lives Matter signs and banners have had them either defaced or stolen outright.

This morning I learned that my congregation has had the sign stolen. Yes, it’s distressing but, no, my congregation is not deterred. The word is that we will get a new identical banner and put it up. My congregation refuses to cower to the forces of racism, homophobia, and other types of ugly prejudice that has especially sprung up in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election.

I shot a short video featuring the Chalice Dancers at Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church right at the beginning of Sunday service. They did a Hawaiian dance to Hawaiian music.

I attended a Valentine’s Dance that was held at my church on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day and I took a few pictures while I was there.

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Fast Eddie and the Slowpokes performed their blues at this dance.

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Naturally there was plenty of dancing.

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

There were some nice romantic decorations as well.

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

Valentine's Dance, Paint Branch UU Church, February 11, 2017

I know I’m pretty slow in posting my own experiences with the Women’s March on Washington. With so many other people spending the past week writing their own experiences with the march on various blogs, websites, and social media, I felt like I could take the luxury of delaying my own report. (Besides, this blog is NOT a news site.)

This post has only my own personal experience with this march. It will include my opinions based on what I saw. It’s possible that you may disagree with my perceptions based on what I saw and did at that march. That’s fine. I’m only writing this to add to what has already been posted about this march. I’m hoping that one day in some distant future some historian will read what other people have posted online, including this post, to gain insight as to what happened and write some kind of a definitive account of this march.

Here is my account of what I saw and did at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017. It was a very dreary cloudy day, which is reflected in all of the pictures I took of the march that day. The ground was wet because it has been raining off and on for the past few days (including President Trump’s Inauguration the day before). Despite the gloomy clouds, it didn’t rain once. I was still glad I brought my folding chair because it was too wet and muddy to sit on the ground.

Participants were encouraged to wear knitted pink pussycat hats. I didn’t have one and I really didn’t want to knit a hat on such short notice because knitting can be such a time-consuming effort. (That whole march was announced just a month or two before.) I ended up wearing my Grumpy Cat hat that I originally purchased at Party City for $10 for a Halloween Party that took place at my church back in 2015.

Women's March on Washington

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

I had a number of people praise my hat, including a Metro security guard, which was pretty cool. One little girl at the march who admired my hat told me that she has recently gotten Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book that she loves very much.

I drove to the nearest Metro station on my own because I live pretty close to that station. I originally met up with some people from my Unitarian Universalist church congregation outside the Greenbelt Metro station at 7:40 a.m. (which was the agreed meeting time in advance).

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Even that early in the morning it was pretty crowded. I later learned from other people via Facebook that by the afternoon one had to wait up to two hours in order to enter the Greenbelt Metro station.

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

We all boarded the Metro. The train we were on was pretty full. I saw two of the women sitting underneath this ad that was pretty appropriate given where we were headed.

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Once we arrived at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station I got separated from my church friends because of the crowd of people, as you can see in the next few photographs.

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

I eventually went over to the Department of Health & Human Services building because people from my church decided to march with the larger Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice (UUSJ) they were all meeting there.

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

So I caught up with my friends again. But that reunion was short-lived once the UUSJ started marching because I was separated from them again because of the throng of people and I didn’t see them again for the rest of the time that I was at the march.

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

I managed to make it to the Mall. At first it was pretty roomy and I was able to set up my folding chair so I could rest in it and eat my lunch (which I brought with me because I know from previous experience that the food vendors tend to draw long lines at large events like this). I set up on the perimeter of the Mall just across the street from the Native American Museum. I folded up my chair after lunch because I needed to use the Don’s Johns port-a-pottle that was set up on the Mall for both yesterday’s Inauguration and today’s Women’s March. I went in this long line just so I can relieve myself.

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

After the bathroom break I walked around some more and snapped some pictures. I noticed that the Mall was filling up with more and more people while I was walking in the center of the Mall. For the record, I didn’t see or hear any of the people making speeches because I was so far back on the Mall. (The stage was set up closer to the Washington Monument and I was mostly at the end that is closer to the U.S. Capitol Building.) There were so many people that there was no way I could even think about making my way closer to the stage. I saw a jumbotron at one point but that was crowded with people as well and it was partly obscured with trees so I wasn’t able to see or hear anything.

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

I became so tired of walking that I decided to go back to the perimeter near the Native American Museum in an effort to open my portable folding chair again and sit down. Except I found myself trapped among the crowds that I literally could not go in any direction. I was stuck like this for at least an hour or more. I later saw this video that the British TV station Channel 4 had posted on its Twitter feed giving an overhead shot showing how packed the Mall became that day.

I learned through the rumor mill that people were busy speaking on stage and all the speeches ran overtime so the march to the White House didn’t even begin at its originally scheduled 1 p.m. time. People were pushing and crowding in all directions and I was afraid that there would be a disaster similar to what happened in the U.K. nearly 30 years ago when people at a soccer match were literally crushed to death. People near me kept on chanting “LET US MARCH!” and “LESS TALK, MORE WALK!” to no avail. It was almost like the people on stage were the 1% and the people being crammed like sardines on the grounds of the Mall were the 99% and the 1% could’ve cared less about the safety of us 99% plebes.

At one point a person near me literally fell to the ground and other people managed to lift him up back on his feet. If it weren’t for these helpful people, there’s a chance that this guy would’ve been trampled and crushed to death. It was literally so harrowing at times that I kept on thinking that if I had fallen down to the ground, I might as well say good-bye to this life because I would’ve been crushed and trampled to death.

The only other time I’ve ever seen the Mall get this crowded was at the 2010 Rally to Restore Sanity and March to Restore Fear that was put on jointly by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Except that rally had areas around the perimeter of the Mall where people who got tired of being crushed by the crowds on the Mall could walk towards the edges and take a breather. The Women’s March didn’t even have that convenience because I saw the perimeter across Independence Avenue being just as crowded as on the Mall itself.

Eventually it filtered down that the organizers on stage had decided to start marching to the White House. Hordes of people began to quickly empty out of the Mall. Once again there were empty spaces on the Mall so I decided to pull out my portable folding chair and rest again. I was exhausted as hell. I decided against following the crowd to the White House, look for the nearest Metro station, and just go home.

By that point both my smartphone and the back-up battery recharger had both run out of power so my smartphone was dead. I tried to retrace where I had walked until I found a sign pointing the way to the Federal Center Southwest Metro station. On my way to that Metro station I walked along a section of sidewalk near the Department of Health & Human Services Building that had the giant cobblestones instead of the usual smooth sidewalk. I literally tripped an landed on my knees. Some helpful bystanders helped me get back on my feet and asked me if I was okay. The good news was that I was still able to walk. The bad news was that I ended up with a bruised and stiff right knee. (My left knee somehow escaped being unscathed.) I spent Saturday night at home applying a heating pad to my knee until bedtime when I put on one of my compressing kneepads. This is what my right knee looked like the following morning.

Women's March on Washington, January 21, 2017

Once I made it back to Maryland, I drove away from the Greenbelt Metro station parking lot and I noticed a lot of people walking outside of the parking lot. I saw the cars parked at a nearby business park and an apartment complex, which was reminiscent of the 2010 Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert rally when I also saw cars parked at a distance from the Metro parking lot. I decided to drive to Three Brothers Pizza in Beltway Plaza where I order two slices of cheese pizza and a medium Diet Pepsi to go. I really wasn’t in the mood to cook anything for myself after spending a full day that that march. At least I was still able to walk despite my injured knee (which became stiff and sore) and the food line was relatively short so it was no big deal.

As I look back on this, I have to admit that I’m of two minds about my participation in the Women’s March on Washington. On the one hand, I thought it was great that I took part in something that literally broke all previous records for other marches and rallies. For years I had to deal with elders both in my church and in my neighborhood talking about how they took part in the 1963 March on Washington (where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech) and I envied them because my parents didn’t go and, if they had, I would’ve been way too young to remember. So the next time I hear an elder talk about hearing MLK give his “I Have a Dream” speech in person, I can reply, “Well, that’s nothing compared to going to the 2017 Women’s March on Washington and being among the throngs of people who broke all attendance records for a large political rally of its type.” (And that’s not to mention that the Women’s March took place just five days after the MLK holiday.)

I was thrilled to see the comparison pictures between the Women’s March and the Inauguration that was held on the Mall the day before and seeing that the protesters definitely outnumbered the Inauguration attendees. I heard that President Donald Trump’s thin-skinned ego received a serious blow over that fact. He deserves it for the way he ran his campaign where he catered only to white heterosexual Christian men with no disabilities at the expense of everyone else. In a way, it was worth it for me to take the time to do something that probably has seriously hurt The Donald’s feelings and if I had to endure being packed in like sardines on the Mall and suffering a bruised right knee as a result, well so be it. I’d rather suffer with a stiff knee than have The Donald’s thin skin and fragile ego that results in him frequently making an ass of himself on Twitter.

It was super cool finding out hours later after I was back home that this particular march was one of many marches that were literally held all over the world and many of those marches (particularly ones held in places like Boston, Chicago, London, and Paris) were just a huge as the one in DC.

On the other hand, it was harrowing as hell given the throngs of people who literally crammed into the Mall like sardines. It was a miracle that no one got crushed to death. I wished the organizers had been more flexible and practical in cutting the stage presentations short so people can march sooner and clear out the Mall. I know that famous people spoke on stage and doing something like this would’ve bruised a few celebrity egos. But I’d rather see bruised celebrity egos than risk innocent people getting crushed and trampled to death on the Mall.

I’ve read some of the progressive criticisms of the march online saying that it was organized mainly to highlight the concerns of upper class white heterosexual women who supported Hillary Clinton for president. I saw plenty of people wearing Clinton campaign buttons and t-shirts. I even saw a couple of people schlepping life-sized cardboard standees of Hillary Clinton. I found it interesting to note that Bernie Sanders not only attended the march in his home state of Vermont but he also spoke that that march as well while his one-time Democratic primary rival, Hillary Clinton, was nowhere to be found at any of the women’s marches anywhere in the world.

But the majority of protesters I saw did not indicate their support of Clinton at all. I saw people wearing Bernie Sanders buttons and t-shirts. I saw people holding “Black Lives Matter” and “Trans Lives Matter” signs. I saw Muslim women and Latinos holding signs indicating their fear of increasing anti-Islamic and anti-Latino sentiment coming from the Trump Administration. I even saw the occasional “We are the 99%” slogan that originated from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

While the march in DC was overwhelmingly white, I saw plenty of people of color who also marched as well as people who didn’t support Clinton or Trump at all. I know the march wasn’t perfect. I personally would’ve preferred more speeches made by non-celebrity activists representing ordinary everyday Americans and less speeches made by Hollywood celebrities because this march was supposed to represent the interests of everyday ordinary Americans who lack the wealth and privilege that the Hollywood celebrities enjoy. But you’re never going to get 100% perfection out of anything in this life and I have to admit that this march seemed very promising in that it hinted of the potential rise of a genuine alternative opposition movement against the Trump Administration. Whether that potential gets realized won’t be known until later this year.

The next day I actually watched videos of the speeches that I found on YouTube. Every speech I watched were inspiring and powerful. I’m only sorry that I wasn’t able to hear any of it on the Mall when I was actually there. I am glad that YouTube exists so I can hear these speeches in their entirety without having them be edited by some broadcast network news organization.

At this point only time will tell whether this march will have a long-term impact on average people in the U.S. I hope something good comes of this. Otherwise I will feel frustrated that I spent a huge amount of time being nearly crushed to death on the Mall while suffering with a bruised knee for nothing.

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