Category Archives: Never Had I Ever

Choose Your Own Adventure

Image from page 174 of "The adventures of Peter Peterkin" (1916)

When I was a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. Maybe it was the sense of power they gave me, maybe it was the idea of multiple stories contained in one story, maybe it was just the novelty factor.

Sometimes, I would make a choice that turned out badly. My favorite character would be imperiled; a potentially fascinating door would suddenly close; an unpleasant new situation would present itself. Like many other Choose Your Own Adventurers, I’d flip frantically back through the book, trying to find the place I’d gone wrong. This was never successful. I could never get the story to go exactly how I thought it should. Continue reading


Filed under Ministry Matters, Never Had I Ever, Thankful Hearts

Never Had I Ever Crashed a 100-Year-Old’s Birthday Party

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

I don’t usually schedule my visits to the assisted living facility or the nursing home in advance. This means that sometimes, when I arrive at coffee time, I get an accordion concert instead of a visit with the person I came to see. It’s not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world. (Pro Tip: Because coffee + treats + accordion music = delightful, of course.)

But when Zoe and I arrived at Brandt Ridge on Thursday afternoon, it was not an accordion concert. It was a 100th birthday party!

Image from page 612 of "The Ladies' home journal" (1889)

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Filed under Ministry Matters, Never Had I Ever

Never Had I Ever: Thomas the Tank Engine Edition

I don’t know how it happened.

I don’t even know how it started.

Was it the set of books from Uncle Paul? Was it something at day care? Was it just in the air somehow?

I don’t know how it happened, but our Leo is an absolute Thomas the Tank Engine devotee.


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Filed under Movies and TV, Never Had I Ever, Your Moment of Leo

My Kind of Town

litchfield family photo

August 2014: A family photo with the Litchfield sign, just like I always wanted. You may notice that some family members are happier about this than others.

“You have to be open to the call of the whole church.”

That’s a thing they tell you before you start seminary. It means, “You have to be willing to go where the Spirit sends you, even if the Spirit sends you somewhere really tiny or really far away.” Also, the Spirit works through people–candidacy committees, call committees, synod staff members. These people do not and cannot always get it right.

When I started seminary, I was sure  I knew where the church would call me: right back to urban ministry, maybe even right back to my beloved Milwaukee. When I finished seminary, I knew that I just wanted to be a pastor. The where was not as important as the what.

Even so, I was a little stunned to end up in Litchfield, MN, population 6800. (For a little context, the population of my high school was 3200.) But I loved life in Litchfield and ministry in the two country churches I was called to serve. I began to see that in the context of southwestern Minnesota, Litchfield was a pretty big small town.

But: “I’ll never go anywhere smaller than Litchfield,” I said.

You know where this is going, right? Continue reading


Filed under Minnesota Nice, Never Had I Ever

Back in the Saddle

Polly Gaines modeling with a saddle in Sarasota, Florida

When I was a sophomore in college, I decided to read Madame Bovary for fun. During finals week.

This week, I am packing up my office in preparation for a move (across the building). I am cleaning house and packing a bag for an anniversary getaway with Mike. I am trying to find Zoe’s backpack and wondering how we lost the remote again and watching my calendar fill up with spring and summer plans.

So, I figured it’s a good time to start blogging again!

A lot has changed since I put down the pen. (Set aside the keyboard? What’s the idiom for “stopped blogging”, dear ones?) Zoe is almost seven. She has a little brother and he is almost three. We live in a different town (we are homeowners!). I serve a different congregation (just one).  I drive a CRV!

One thing is the same: I’m in the midst of the great adventures of parenting and pastoring, and I want to keep talking about it. And maybe Dairy Queen and Agatha Christie, too.

So: What’s new with you?


Big kid action shot. (Pro Tip: Eating donuts totally counts as action.)


Filed under Never Had I Ever

Never Had I Ever: Disney Princess Edition

“I thought we weren’t going to do Disney Princess,” said Mike.

And, he’s right.  We weren’t.

But I remember how beautiful I felt in a pink dress with a hoop skirt one Halloween.  And I remember how my best friend Sarah and I used to pretend we were famous singers, wearing her mother’s fancy full slips as evening gowns (my stage name was Orchid).

So, a few days after Halloween, I found myself combing the racks of 70% off Halloween costumes at Target (and 50% Halloween costumes at Wal-Mart–so, I’m obsessed) for dress up clothes for Zoe.

“I thought we weren’t going to do Disney Princess,” Mike said, “and now we have two Disney Princess dresses.”

But we also have a very happy little Cinderella / Tinker Bell (technically a Disney Fairy) / fire fighter (her interests are varied).

As every parent knows, there is always room to surprise yourself as a parent.  It might be the cliched phrases you swore you’d never utter.  It might be the expensive toys or baby gear you promised you’d never buy.  It might be the traditions you never imagined you’d treasure.

For me this week, it’s the Disney dresses I never thought I’d buy.  Turns out?  They make me pretty happy, too.

How have you surprised yourself?


Filed under Never Had I Ever, Your Moment of Zoe

Never Had I Ever: Felt This Way About a Cucumber

Continental Can Company, store display for cucumbers for C.J. Prettyman, Jr., produce broker, Exmore, Virginia

“I mean, I guess I could take some cucumbers,” I said with a hint of reluctance. “Maybe . . . four or five?”

As six or seven garden cucumbers tumbled into the bag before worship on Sunday morning, I said feebly, “Maybe I’ll make cucumber water!  That would be good!”

“Mmm-hmmm,” said the wise farm wife as she filled the bag. “They’re pretty good eating right out of the garden, too.”

What can I say?  I’ve never been a big cucumber fan.  I have nothing against them, and since moving to Minnesota I have developed a love for the pickled variety.

But the cucumbers you buy at the grocery store or have on your Subway sandwich are pretty much a nothing vegetable.  Right?  Like a lukewarm green ice cube, making you feel virtuous (veggies are veggies, after all), but not adding much to your meal.

So, when I bit into my first slice of garden cucumber on Sunday afternoon, my expectations were low.

Oh, my friends.  Did you know that a slice of cucumber can be a revelation?  Did you know that a garden cucumber can be a something vegetable, after all?

I didn’t.  And now I do.  Next time, I might just accept the whole bag.

What food has surprised you lately (or long ago)?

P.S. Try this delicious lunch / breakfast / snack from my friend The Lady Pastor!  Sounds fab.


Filed under Learning Opportunities, Never Had I Ever, Taste and See

5 Things I Didn’t Expect My Three-Year-Old to Do

1. Order her own food at restaurants.  This mostly amounts to her declaring, “I want chicken and fries!” wherever we go (unless it’s an ice cream shop, in which case she declares, “I want chocolate!”).  But she’s also able to troubleshoot, substituting grilled cheese or fruit as needed.  Just don’t believe it when she says she wants a cheeseburger (unless you’re at McDonald’s, home of the “real” cheeseburger).

2. Watch German opera. She has favorite parts of The Ring Cycle.  She asks questions like, “Where’s Wotan?”  She has a better attention span for this stuff than do.  (Pro Tip: This is not actually saying much.)

3. Drive a pontoon boat.  She did this twice on our Cumings family trip to Bay Lake.  This is probably twice as many times as I have driven a boat of any kind.

4. Wear diapers.  I promised myself I would not blog about my child’s potty training experiences, so I won’t say more than that.  But really, the list can’t be all bragging, can it?

5. Fill my heart with love and pride all the dang time.  Parents do mention this about having children.  It turns out they are totally not exaggerating.  (Pro Tip: When I say all the dang time, I don’t entirely mean it–the times she’s having a tantrum in line at the grocery store or in the middle of a worship service, insisting on being carried along with the groceries, or refusing to get in her car seat?  The love and pride levels are slightly lower at those times.)

What surprises have you found in your vocation (as parent, child, sibling, spouse, or whatever your job may be)?

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Filed under Never Had I Ever, Your Moment of Zoe

Never Had I Ever Been So Thrilled to Hear the “S” Word

Sharon Monts-DeOca looks at stuffed rabbit she was given on her first Christmas: Jacksonville, Florida

When you tell someone that you are a pastor–or that you are going to be a pastor–the person usually responds in one of two ways:

1. By telling you all her problems.


2. By frantically replaying the conversation in her head to see what curse words or incriminating details she let slip.

(Or, if the someone is a cute boy who has been flirting with you at work, he will immediately cease and desist, then act weird when you and your new boyfriend see him at symphony concerts, not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.)

Man and woman in bathing suits in a rowboat near Tacoma, Washington

There’s just something about Identified Religious Leaders (as we say in the seminary) that makes people a little uncomfortable.  When Mike and I were planning our wedding, the photographers and DJs and florists we met always asked us how we met (at church) and what we did (go to school to be a professor and a pastor).  Then, they responded like this:

1. “My grandma’s a Lutheran.  My girlfriend and I got married on a Wednesday because she was pregnant–whoops!–and we were in a hurry.”


2. “Oh . . . well, we believe in God, but we don’t go to church much.  And sometimes we swear.”

(Or, charmingly: “Oh, I’m Lutheran, too!  I was on the call committee that chose our new pastor!  Do you know her?”  And I do.  And she is great.)

Guess what?  We hired the non-churchgoing, swearing photographers, and the pregnant-girlfriend-having DJ, and the Lutheran florist.  Because we were actually  interested in their skills as photographers and DJs and florists, not the state of their souls or the cleanliness of their language.

(Pro Tip: They were all awesome, and if I remembered their names I would recommend them to all you Milwaukee brides and grooms.)

American Magazine, cover, No Swimming Allowed

So, when the conversation at a recent church council meeting lingered overly long on the subject of the planter in front of the church building, and I told a story about a long council meeting at another church (lo these many years ago) where I heard all about what color the newsletter cover should be, I was delighted to hear these words come out of one council member’s mouth:

“And now you’re hearing about shit and dirt,” he said.

We all laughed.  No one looked at me nervously.  No one whispered, “Not in front of the pastor!”  It was no big thing.

Truly, I was thrilled.

Now, I’m not saying you should curse a blue streak at the next pastor you see.  But if you do meet a pastor, or have a pastor, try to relax and be yourself.

And if being yourself includes some colorful language, God can handle it, and so can the pastor.

Helene Madison in a bathing suit with Seattle Park Board President Simon Burnett, Seattle, Washington

What’s the best (or worst) reaction you’ve gotten when you tell someone who you are or what you do?


Filed under Never Had I Ever

Never Had I Ever: Watched Bambi as a Mother in Minnesota

Deer Which Are the Symbol of Schell's Beer Are Seen in a Deer Park Adjacent to the Brewery, Germans Like Their Beer and Their Descendants in This Town Are No Exception...

So, how’s that for a mouthful of a post title?

When I asked Mike what movies he would like to watch with Zoe, the first one he mentioned was Bambi.  (The second was Babe.  Anyone see a theme here?)  I had reservations, but when I found a VHS copy for twenty-five cents at a garage sale on Thursday, I picked it up.  We started it Friday night and finished it Saturday morning.

The verdict: Zoe loved it, and I managed to cry without her noticing.  (Pro Tip: Do not ask me to cry surreptitiously while watching Dumbo, however. That is not happening.)

And here’s the thing.  I was crying for Bambi, of course, because it is terrible to lose your mother when you’re a child (especially when your father is no prince, even if he is the Great Prince of the Forest or whatever).  But this time around, I was mostly crying for Bambi’s mom, because she will miss taking care of and taking joy in her baby.

Don't kill our wild life (LOC)

And here’s the other thing.  Have you ever noticed that the tragic “Where’s Bambi’s Mother?” scene happens in early spring?  I noticed this for the first time, and I was shocked.  “Who the heck is hunting out of season?” I shouted (in my mind, because Zoe got the idea that the other doe in the movie is Bambi’s mother, and who am I to argue with that?).

You may say that in the timeless world of Bambi’s forest, there is no such thing as hunting season.  I thought about that.  But then I remembered that even Pa Ingalls didn’t hunt deer in the spring, because he knew better than to shoot mothers whose young still needed them.

Of course, in a movie where owls, skunks, rabbits, and deer talk and make jokes and get twitterpated, maybe that level of realism is too much to ask for.

In which case, only one question lingers in my mind: What do you mean, Flower the skunk is a boy?

What childhood movies have you loved (or hated) watching as an adult?  


Filed under Never Had I Ever