Category Archives: Bay area, Calif.

An obscure Palo Alto Unitarian

While researching something completely different, I came upon an obituary in the 1919 volume of The Pacific Unitarian for Helen Kreps. She had been encouraged to enter the Unitarian ministry by Rev. Florence Buck, interim minister in 1910 at the old Palo Alto Unitarian church. By 191, she was a highly promising student at Pacific Unitarian School for the Ministry (now Starr King School for the Ministry) when she died in the great influenza epidemic. I make no claims for the historical importance of this story, but its poignancy makes it worth reprinting here.

From The Pacific Unitarian, vol. 28, no. 3, March, 1919, p. 65:

Helen Katharine Kreps

(Editorial Note. — The above article by President [Earl Morse] Wilbur came just too late for our last issue. Since it was written the deeply lamented death of Miss Kreps ended her heroic struggle. Dr. Wilbur now adds a tribute to her memory.)

About three years ago I received from a young woman in Palo Alto, of whom I had never heard, a request for information about courses of study in our divinity school. Shortly afterwards a member of the staff at Stanford university told me that one of their finest graduates was coming to us to study for the ministry, and mentioned her name with high praise. Later in the spring a slight, girlish-looking person appeared at the school, accompanied by her mother, to make final arrangements for the proposed course of study. Thus I first came to know Helen Kreps. She entered as one of our students in the autumn of 1916, and was thus in her last year when death snatched her from us. Continue reading

It rained today

It rained again today. So I said to a long-time California resident, “It’s raining! When I moved out here, I was promised that it only rained in the winter. I thought our high rents out here paid for no rain. Doesn’t this void my warranty? Can’t I get my money back?”

Smiling, he said, “It rains eleven months of the year here. And we have land slides, wild fires, the occasional tornado, and the Bay Bridge collapses in earthquakes.”

“So this doesn’t void the warranty?” I said.

Still smiling, he just shook his head. “Land slides, wild fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, this is a terrible place to live. I keep telling this to people, they should stay in the eastern half of the country, they really don’t want to live out here.”

It rained today, and now everything smells fresh, and the trees look a little greener, and the white cumulus clouds drifting by overhead are beautiful.

Recycled garden beds

We completed two garden beds today, both made out of recycled wood, and filled in large part with compost (made by the city) from yard waste. Because we live in a hundred-year-old house, it’s probable that there’s lead in the ground from lead paint, which is why we decided to use raised beds with soil brought in from somewhere else. In the photo below, the nearest garden bed is made from a pallet that we got for free from a store across the street; the further garden bed is made from recycled wood that Carol got at Urban Ore when she was over in Berkeley last month.

The end of spring

The rains continued right up to the last week of April, which everyone keeps saying is unusual. Everything is still green: the hills in the distance, the unmowed verges along the roads. But now it seems that the rains have ended at last, and the summer-dry season is setting in. As I drove across the Dumbarton Bridge to the East Bay, I noticed that the green hills on the other side of the Bay are already fading to gold in places. And the long grass along part of the road near the church is fading from a brilliant green to a light golden-green, its heavy seedheads nodding in the sun. Soon the hills will fade a golden-brown, and the ground will be parched dry; in the mean time, though, flowers bloom everywhere, the air is thick with pollen, and trees are beginning to set fruit. Another writer living in a Mediterranean climate said this about this time of the year:

My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land;
The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

Song of Solomon, 2.10-13, KJV

May morning at church

Rev. Scotty McLennan was the preacher here in Palo Alto this morning. After the worship services, dancer Robert Neff and and concertina player Paul Kostka led Maypole dancing. There was also an ice cream social sponsored by the senior high youth group, and the middle school class did a Morris dance (they made me play the Fool in the Morris dance, not because I’m the best dancer, but because they wouldn’t trust me with a stick). Ice cream, good preaching, dancing, hitting sticks — what more could you ask on a perfectly sunny northern California morning?

What the insurance agent asked

I went to get new automobile insurance today. The insurance agent politely asked me for various pieces of information. “Occupation?” she said, looking at her computer screen while she typed.

“Minister,” I said.

She stopped typing and looked me in the eyes. “Do you mind if I ask you something?” she said. “Are you seeing more people in your church recently? Because of the economy?”

“Not really,” I said. “But I’m seeing more desperate people. People without a job, no money, that sort of thing. I think it’s maybe worse here on the Peninsula because everyone has such high expectations for themselves.”

She nodded. “It’s really bad, isn’t it?” We both sat there for a second, and then she went back to entering information into the computer.

Altered Barbie, Episcopal style

Out here in the Bay area, we are used to people who alter Barbie in various ways. After all, San Francisco is the home of the Altered Barbie art show and artist community. But now even the Washington Post has picked up on the altered Barbie trend.

Astute reader E sent along a link to a Post article about Episcopal priest Barbie. The article links to Rev. Ms. Barbie’s Facebook page, which is priceless not just for the beautiful fashion photos showing Ms. Barbie with surplice, cassock, thurible, etc., but also for the many comments, some of which are admiring and some of which are entirely disapproving. The Post also links to an earlier Religion News Online article, which had the headline “Barbie gets ordained and has the smells-and-bells wardrobe to match.” Excuse me, bub, that’s Rev. Ms. Barbie to you. And there’s a link to Unitarian Universalist blogger Peacebang’s “Beauty Tips for Ministers,” who has already posted on Episcopal Priest Barbie.

I note that Rev. Ms. Julie Blake Fisher, the maker of Episcopal Priest Barbie, lives in the midwest, proving yet again that the midwest, not the coasts, is the home of the most subversive craftspeople in the U.S. There are rumors that a midwestern craftsperson is even now working on a similar project for Unitarian Universalist ministers: Rev. Mr. Sock Monkey.

Update: Blogging at Blag Hag, Jen McCreight, a “a liberal, geeky, nerdy, scientific, perverted atheist feminist trapped in Indiana,” has created Atheist Barbie, who wears a Flying Spaghetti Monster necklace. Apparently BoingBoing even picked up on McCreight’s post, which means she probably exceeded her bandwidth limitations this month. I just want to say that from my point of view, a Flying Spaghetti Monster necklace does much more for an outfit than a thurible; accessories really do make the outfit. Did I mention McCreight was from the midwest?


The rain stopped, the clouds went away, the plants and trees are incredibly green, and today the sky seemed impossibly blue. Right now that blue sky is beautiful.

Four months from now, after we’ve had nothing but blue sky day after day, after grasses go dormant and turn the hillsides brown, after the leaves of trees fade to dull green, I’ll be longing for the rain to return.