Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Advice from America’s Worst Mom! How Much Fear Is Helpful in Child Rearing?
October 29, 2009, 7:56 pm
Filed under: Children and Youth, Family Ministry | Tags: , , , , , ,

Please reflect on this article and let me know your thoughts!


Sustainable agriculture and the fight against it

This article is interesting: What’s So Scary about Michael Pollan?

Also, our weekly alternative paper is starting a series about local farms and sustainable city life. Apparently this area has more than many other regions.

The Downtown/Midtown weekday seasonal farmers’ market (including the one I visit on Tuesday mornings) ended this week with a whimper, perhaps because it had been so windy the night before and keeping their canopies up was a challenge. But I got some good stuff, including corn, from the last few. One man gave me lots of extra pears and said, “See you in the spring.” The year-round markets are a few miles away, in shopping center parking lots. There is a very large market under the freeway not far from Midtown, but it’s on Sunday mornings. I’ll try to shop quickly some day before church.

Sacramento-Bethlehem Sister City Relationship

[Blog readers:  If you live or work in Sacramento and like this, please send a letter to the mayor and city council members by November 7!  Following this letter is a fact sheet about Sister City relationships.]

Oct. 28, 2009

Hon. Kevin Johnson via

Re: Support for Sister City—Sacramento and Bethlehem

Dear Mayor Johnson:

As a Sacramento resident and local clergyperson, I am writing to provide my encouragement and thanks to your efforts and those of the City Council to recognize the City of Sacramento and the City of Bethlehem as Sister Cities.

A couple in the congregation I serve are active participants in the relationship with San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua, and I’ve enjoyed learning about the relationship.  Another  member of the congregation has introduced me to community members working on the Bethlehem project.  My congregation and I support any endeavor that helps to promote cultural understanding between communities.

As one who has loved international travel and exchanges of culture and hospitality since college days, I am excited about the prospect of linking with such a historically and culturally significant city – not to mention one of the most famous place names in Biblical geography and literature!

I look forward to meeting Mayor Batarseh next week in Sacramento and look forward to a new learning partnership between my own city of Sacramento and the City of Bethlehem.  Please be in touch if you have any questions, and best wishes.


[my name and title]

cc to


Sacramento to Bethlehem Sister City Initiative



In 1956 President Eisenhower proposed a people-to-people citizen diplomacy initiative — “letting people themselves give expression of their common desire for friendship, goodwill and cooperation.” This evolved into a worldwide program of officially approved, long-term partnerships between two communities in two countries.


Also referred to as twinning, friendship cities and partner cities, the Sister Cities relationship can be initiated by the mayors or by groups and individuals in the community. And Sister City activities can include municipal, business, professional, educational and cultural exchanges and citizen volunteer participation. It’s everything from official city-to-city delegations, to a young person in Sacramento chatting electronically with another young person in Bethlehem.


The Sacramento to Bethlehem Sister City Initiative is a group of Sacramento area residents whose goal is to make Sacramento and Bethlehem official Sister Cities. The group communicated this goal in writing to Bethlehem’s mayor and city council in March 2008 via a letter hand-delivered by a Sister Cities International delegation visiting the region. Bethlehem’s mayor, Dr. Victor Batarseh, replied affirmatively on his behalf and that of the Bethlehem City Council in a 2008 letter to then-Mayor Heather Fargo, which he reiterated in a 2009 letter to Mayor Kevin Johnson.



The Sacramento to Bethlehem Sister City Initiative is demonstrating the feasibility of a formal Sister City bond between Sacramento and Bethlehem by accomplishing exchange projects and establishing relationships between Bethlehem and Sacramento residents and groups.


In July, the group met with Mayor Johnson to deliver the letters from Mayor Batarseh, to acquaint him with their work and to enlist his support to formalize the relationship between the two cities. The group is conducting similar visits with city council members. A city council member has offered to sponsor the resolution to make Sacramento and Bethlehem Sister Cities and after the Sacramento City Council votes affirmatively, the two mayors will sign a Sister City agreement.



Sacramento has an almost fifty-year Sister City history. In 1961, it became Sister Cities with Pasay/Manila, Phillippines. And in 2006, it officially became Sister Cities with San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua. And Sacramento presently has six other Sister Cities: Matsuyama, Japan (1988); Jinan, China (1984); Hamilton, New Zealand (1988); Liestal, Switzerland (1989); Chisnau, Moldova (1989); and Yongsan-gu, Korea (1997). Bethlehem would be Sacramento’s first Middle Eastern Sister City.


The city provides staff support and a meeting site to the Sister Cities Council of Sacramento, a group of citizen volunteers whose interest and energy keep Sacramento’s Sister City relationships active. Notes of the group’s bi-monthly meetings are made available to the mayor and the city council and annually the group provides a progress report to the City Council. Former-mayor Anne Rudin is the Honorary Chair. Members of the Sacramento to Bethlehem Sister City Initiative have been participating in Sister Cities Council of Sacramento meetings since October 2007.


Unitarian Night at the Movies: A Serious Man
October 28, 2009, 2:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

A Night at the Movies


Sunday night was Unitarian night at the Tower Theater!  Six UUSS-connected folks were surprised to see one another there.  We made up one third of the 7:00 PM audience for “A Serious Man,” the new Coen Brothers film, set in a Minneapolis suburb in 1967.  It focuses on Jewish culture and family life as well as religious questions and practices.  Themes include the randomness of life, the burdens of ordinary people, the struggle to do the right thing, and the complexities of human relationships.    It’s a modern, wacky take on the story of Job in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The majority of us agreed with the New York Times reviewer, who loved it, but a minority was in good company with the New Yorker reviewer, who didn’t.  PS—it’s not a movie for kids.

The Lure of the Fuzzy: Stuffed-Animal Blessing Service

The Lure of the Fuzzy:

Stuffed-Animal Blessing Service

UU Society of Sacramento

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Responsive Reading: gray hymnal #664, Give Us the Spirit of the Child, by Sara Moores Campbell

Hymns:  #203, All Creatures of the Earth and Sky; #21, For the Beauty of the Earth;

#201, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah. 

Piano/violin:  Linus and Lucy (Guaraldi).  Choir:  All God’s Crittters Got a Place in the Choir.

            Most children love stuffed-animal toys, made with plush or another soft cloth.  Lots of grown-up love them too, but sometimes we are shy to admit it.  Maybe we’re just shy  to admit that we might still have the feelings, motivations, and the very spirit of our childhood selves.  Your grown up ministers thought a service like this one could be a way to give permission to everyone to express appreciation for our stuffed, cloth-covered or fuzzy friends, and to consider what they have done for us. 
            The most famous manufacturer of plush animals began in Germany in 1880. Now the company is known as Steiff GMBH.   Its founder was Margarete Steiff.  Margarete had had polio as a baby and used a wheelchair all her life.  As a young adult she had a job as a seamstress and began making animals as a hobby.  First, it was elephants, then dogs, cats and pigs. With her brother’s help she started the company, making designs and prototypes herself.  She’s been dead a long time, but the company maintains her high standards for quality and safety for its products.  In 1902, her nephew Richard designed a stuffed bear.  Thanks to Theodore Rooselvelt, in five years they were selling nearly a million teddy bears every year, many of them exported to the United States.

Here’s the story.  In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt was out on a bear hunt in Mississippi with several other important men, who also liked big-game hunting.  After a while most of the men had killed a bear but the President hadn’t.  Roosevelt’s assistants found a bear, sicced the dogs on it, beat it, and tied it to a tree so the President would have something to shoot and take home.  Roosevelt said:  It’s not sportsmanlike to kill a helpless bear.  He went home empty handed but ordered others to put the mistreated bear out of its misery.  Later a political cartoon in the Washington Post newspaper showed the President turning away from the animal.  It said:  “Drawing the line in Mississippi.”  The animal became known as Teddy’s bear.   More cartoons followed, showing the bears ever cuter and cuddlier.  American toymakers Rose and Morris Mitchom were the first to make and sell a toy bear in the President’s honor, but the Steiffs were right behind them.  A few years there were at least 20 teddy-bear companies. 

        Lest you think me a promoter of consumerism for talking up store-bought bears, let us also praise the loveable sock monkey.  The sock monkey has been around since at least the 1930s.  While you can buy one in stores, typically these monkeys have been home-made out of work socks, especially socks with red heels, which become the monkey’s mouth. 
      I’m sorry to say that I was a greedy little consumerist kid.  I never settled for a sock monkey.  One Christmas season I instructed my parents to instruct Santa Claus that I wanted a lot of stuffed animals.  On Christmas morning, several of them appeared under the tree.  One was a plush pink pig with a wind-up key in its side, to make it play music. 

I’ve been wondering:  What is it that makes our comfort objects, like dolls and soft animals, such good companions?   What do these animals excel at?  For one thing, as versatile playmates, these toys encourage our creative imagination.  They are able and willing to play any role we give them in whatever skit or scheme we come up with.   With a fuzzy friend and an open imagination, you don’t really need anything fancy or expensive to have a good time. 

Sometimes as a boy I lined up my animals along the wall of our walk in closet.  They were behind the hanging clothes, so it seemed that each one had its own house.  I’d walk them over to one another’s homes for a visit, and deliver mail among them.  I practiced medicine on them, as well as cosmetology.  Once I cut out spots of their fur with scissors; kids, don’t try this!  The fur won’t grow back.  My father was a physician, and I filled some syringes with water and gave them injections, with real needles.  I don’t know if I was acting like Doctor Doolittle or more like Dr. Joseph Mengele.  But I do know that sometimes I took out my frustrations on my toy pets.  My real pets were no doubt relieved.

            Where else could a wolf and lamb lie down together, or a lion sit with a calf, than amidst  the fuzzy menagerie of a toddler who can bring them together by the spirit of imagination?  In the Bible, the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah imagines a new world, a world in a state of divine peace:  “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together.”  And, the Prophet Isaiah concludes, “a little child shall lead them.” 

        Soft animal toys or dolls teach empathy.  They listen softly, so to speak.  They are always ready to hear our joys and sorrows, our hopes and hurts.  As  patient companions, they welcome our ideas, opinions, grand schemes, and stories.  Soft listeners never say, “That’s stupid.”

They are role models of gentleness and reminders of the goodness of just being present with one another.   They don’t have to have the answer for our questions or try to solve our problems, they just need to be there.  No matter what your age, sometimes it’s nice to have the soft attention of a good listener.  Maybe  as adults we can remember how important it is to be gentle and patient with one another, and with ourselves. 

            For some of us, a soft animal has been a source of tender companionship when our family situation didn’t feel so tender, gentle or kind.  A Unitarian Universalist friend of mine grew up in the 1950s and 60s in an anti-religious family, and secretly prayed every night after going to bed.  When the lights were out she would pull all her animals under the covers with her and pray with them.  She’d pray to God for peace and harmony among members of her family.  She’d pray for peace and safety in her own life, and she’d pray for other children, including the kids living in the Soviet Union during those early years of the arms race.  She’d finish her prayers by praying for all the animals in the bed with her.  Of course, this little girl grew up to be a minister.    

Our stuffed animals can gain meaning for us over time–it’s not how many we have or how new they are that really matters– it’s their familiarity.  It’s like a meal we know as “comfort food.”  Comfort foods evoke a variety of memories, longings and cravings.  The meaning of things to us depends on our own life story, not on how elaborate or expensive things are.  I have a friend in her 60s who still still has the animal given to her by her father when she had her tonsils removed at age five.  This friend’s young-adult daughter also has kept a homemade stuffed animal from her childhood.  Once as a little girl, her daughter had a birthday party and invited all her guests to bring teddy bears, and they decorated tee-shirts for the bears.   This was the first party she didn’t want her younger brother to attend.  He had a stuffed penguin.  He drew a card for his sister, with a teddy bear on it, and wrote “I can’t bear to miss your party.”  [pause for sighing]  She let him come after all, and welcomed the penguin as well.
            Playing with dolls or toy animals is a way to practice love, kindness, and affection. Of course, the animals are not real, but the spirit of companionship is real.  The love that we show is real.   In the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams, the soft toy Rabbit asks:

    “What is REAL?  Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?’

    “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become REAL.”


Let us affirm the gift of imagination and the practice of love.  Let us learn to trust one another to show our softness and our spirits.  Let us give thanks for the real gifts of care that we can give and receive, all through our lives.  So may it be.  Amen. 


Introductions of our Fuzzy Friends

            If you have brought a toy or animal to church with you, we invite you to line up at the microphone and introdue it.  Tell us its name, and tell us what it is, if that’s not obvious.


Blessing Ritual

Now for the ritual of blessing.  We will have a laying-on of hands.  Place your hand over your fuzzy friend or another toy you’ve brought.  If you don’t have one, feel free to call to mind one that you do have, one that you used to have, one that you’d like to have, or one you would like to give to someone else.  Now let us call to mind the faces of those children who live in places or conditions where gentleness is is in short supply, and the need for peace and playfulness is great.   

            Spirit of Love and Creativity, we give thanks for all sources of care, comfort and companionship, including these present with us today.  Bless them and us, and bless the goodness that arises within us and among us.  We are thankful for the wonders of imagination and play, and the gifts of attention, patience and presence.  May the healing powers of joy, love and hope touch everyone, of every age, here and all over the world. 

So may it be.  Blessed be and amen.


Closing Words and Benediction

Our closing words come from one of the  Winnie-the-Pooh books, by A.A. Milne:

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
‘Pooh?’ he whispered.
‘Yes, Piglet?’
‘Nothing’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand.
‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’


May you depart in joy and return in peace.  Amen.

Big, Bold Opportunities or Building Life-Long Unitarian Universalists

Introducing Big, Bold Opportunities

for Building Life-Long Unitarian Universalists

By the  Family Minister

The Board of Trustees has appointed a task force to review and advance our long-range goal of promoting inter-generational community and ministering to families with children.

As the Task Force begins its work, I want to tell you what’s already going on, and worth celebrating. Unlike some congregations, UUSS is blessed that adult leaders in Child/Youth Religious Education bring experience as involved lifelong Unitarian Universalists. They span a range of ages from 18 to 80+ years. I am not exaggerating!

This commitment is key to congregational vitality, and the secret to the formation of life-long, life-loving UUs. Take a look at what you make possible here:

There is professional child care for those up to age 5 during both services in Room #11. In the adjoining room, during the 9:30 service, is Story Time for toddlers and kindergarteners. They enter by negotiating the stones across an imaginary river and crawling through a tunnel in the earth. The reader’s rocking chair is under a rainbow canopy, and we have classic and new story books. We ask each volunteer to plan to read a few Sundays in a row, but for just one stretch per year. Last week’s story was Frederick (you know, the mouse with the big imagination).

For grades 1-5 we offer Spirit Play. It promotes learning through stories, spiritual reflection and community building. Our trained adult leaders are Story Tellers. You can help out this thriving new UU program by offering to bring and set up a Feast (snack), learn to be an occasional Door Keeper, or come early a few times to help set up art supplies or to reshelve afterwards. A Parent Orientation for those yet to find UUSS (and other interested adults) will take place in January.

The junior high group enjoys conversations related to UU identity and values, explores various spiritual practices from world religions, and may consider field trips or overnight retreats. Last time I poked my head in Room 6 on a Sunday, I saw a good crowd of engaged youth and adult leaders.

The senior high youth group is booming too. On my first visit, adults and youth were getting to know one another and considering activities for the year. The next time I looked in I didn’t even see an open chair or even a space where I could have put one. What’s new for SHYG this fall is that our teens now join with all other ages for the first part of worship, including the Hand of Fellowship, Chalice Lighing, and reciting of our Mission, Values & Covenant.

Of course, every year we offer an Our Whole Lives program for one or more age groups. OWL is a values-based comprehensive sexuality education program, and all adult leaders have been trained to lead it. It takes place on afternoons or evenings over several weeks. Unfortunately for our dedicated volunteers, we did not get enough sign-ups to begin this fall’s junior high OWL program as soon as planned. So, spread the word! High school OWL classes will begin soon, too.

Our UURTH SONG Community Garden leadership team has invited youth and children to enjoy the wonders of our summer garden and help to plant the winter crops. It is a ready-made curriculum: all you have to do is enter it and you have all the materials you need for wondering, learning, sharing, contributing, and cheering!

In recent weeks and months church members have offered their professional talents in the visual and musical arts to engage our children and youth in creative and expressive activities. Last summer’s ArtWork Sunday programs were amazing, and I look forward to the bonding that comes from making music together.

Thank you for the many ways you support our shared ministry to children, youth, their families, and the whole congregation.

Here’s to the future!



PS: I welcome your help in organizing additional activities and special events for  all ages, starting with kids’ activities for the November 7’s Harvest Fest Dinner and Auction  and then the all-ages Holiday Crafts Party, Tree Trimming and Potluck Dinner in December.