Friday, December 30, 2005

RevGal friday Five: New Years' Edition

1) Do you make New Year's Resolutions?
You mean besides my annual resolution to lose twenty pounds? Nahhh. Why break the pattern?

2) If so, are they generally successful?
You must be kidding.

3) Do you write them down, or make a mental list?
Too disheartening to write the annual weight loss resolution down.

4) Even if you don't make resolutions, is there something you want to focus on in the New Year?
Yes. Completing my discernment process with integrity and with focus on where the Holy Spirit leads me.That, and cleaning the refrigerator.

5) And do you have plans for New Year's Eve?
Cooking a lovely dinner for PH and me - I suspect StrongOpinions will be with UselessBoyfriend for the evening, then trying to stay conscious past nine p.m.

Nope, we're not night people, and that's OK with us.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


I dropped the boys off at the airport. Litigator will return to Rhode Island, and Stonemason back to the North Country.

It's such an adjustment to relate to them as young adults rather than teens. We put away all the liquor, since Litigator has been through rehab and we saw no reason to leave temptation in plain sight. He mentioned nothing, a change from the last time we had an argument about it. He seems more focused on school and the future than he has in the past. We had some good conversations, and he seemed to genuinely appreciate his time with PH and me. Stonemason seems much more mature as well; he's working as a cook and enjoying it a lot. My boy who couldn't make himself an egg two years ago makes pizza, pasta and soup at an Italian restaurant. His sweetness is back. He also seems to have a much more realistic view of the world since being on his own. He's enjoying the restaurant work and lots of snowboarding in winter, and is looking forward to working as a stonemason again in the spring.

StrongOpinions made me the loveliest little collage of photos of herself and her brothers as children. I nearly cried. She has a tender heart, for all her strong facade. She still struggles for a place in her relationship with her brothers; she wants to be treated as an equal, but they're not there yet.

I love them to pieces, but I am enjoying the quiet again. I'll clean their rooms, and strip their beds, and wash their towels, in anticipation of their next visit. The little rituals that keep us looking forward...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Opening Presents...

You can see Litigator's black eye in all its glory, StoneMason enjoying the fun, and StrongOpinions in the foreground opening a present. Their friend Sadjo, a native of Equatorial Guinea who lived with us for several months, was along for the fun. You can't see StrongOpinions' friend Caroline, who joined us for dinner and lots of giggling as the various gifts were opened. Some of the 200+ Santas are visible on the mantelpiece, as well as the oversized stockings I knitted for the boys and the angel stocking I made for strongOpinions when they were little.

RevGal Christmas Meme

1. What is the best gift you received this year? (Tangible gifts only, please!)

It's a toss-up between the photo collage StrongOpinions gave me of her and her brothers as little kids and the copy of Walter Brueggeman's "Theology of the Old testament" that PH gave me.

2. What is the best gift you gave this year? Maybe the earrings I gave StrongOpinions.

3. When did you do most of your shopping/creating? Late at night on the computer.

4. Did you go shopping the day after Thanksgiving (U.S.)? Nope. Hate crowds. Today? Nope. Hate crowds.

5. What stands out already about Christmas 2005? The kids are growing up, but they're not grown up, if you know what I mean.

Litigator showed up yesterday with a massive black eye. He had gone out with one of his friends, newly returned from Iraq, and the friend had gotten into a fight, and he waded into the fight to rescue him, and got repaid for his trouble with a punch in the face.

StoneMason was his usual very sweet, mostly truthful self.

StrongOpinions was both pleased and frustrated by her brothers' visit. As in all things, she has expectations that are usually not met. Add the fact that StoneMason is buddies with Useless Boyfriend, and you can imagine the indigestion. I love my kids, but they do seem to bring on those Tums moments.

Today will be clothes shopping for the boys (part of their Christmas presents) and supper out.

I should sleep. Maybe I'll be able to...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


While ReverendMother is in labor waiting for teh arrival of the revbaby, I'm here waiting for the arrival of my two big sons, whom I miss like crazy. The elder son, Litigator, is in college. He's coming here from his dad's house up in New England. We'll have political discussions, film discussions, state of the world discussions. He has an opinion on everything, and is happy to share them all. The younger son, StoneMason, is an apprentice stonemason and aspiring professional snowboarder (they've all been on skis or snowboards since they were three). I will pull information out of him like taffy, ever so sssssllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyy. He's coming from way-up-north New England. We are having a big dinner tonight which will be the family Christmas here. Useless Boyfriend will join us. He's friends with StoneMason and of course boyfriend to StrongOpinions. Should be interesting. StrongOpinions has been busy finishing up her gifts. I am still knitting her scarf (see it here, and yes, she has she has unusual tastes: )but it should be done in a day or two. PH's sweater will take a bit longer. Here's the Alice Starmore pattern, sans the rolled neck PH's version will have: . His is made in Debbie Bliss cashmerino aran. Yum! Post dinner is present time. One of the boys' presents is taking them clothes shopping tomorrow - always an interesting experience.

The dinner menu tonight will be prime rib roast, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, broccoli, homemade bread, salad, and Buche de Noel (the infamous Log, Log, it's better than bad, it's good). I will spend hours cooking stuff, and the kids will demolish the food in twenty minutes. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep them at the dinner table for some conversation for a bit longer than that!

I think I'll try to sleep for a few more hours...anticipation is keeping me wide awake.

Prayer Requests

Prayers, please, for two of my favorite women: my dear mother-in-law, who has had a bad case of the flu since we left Chicago, and ReverendMother, who is in labor (or may have even had her baby by now).

Monday, December 26, 2005

Merry Day After Christmas

I'm back from Chicago, and the family feasts with PH's clan. A calorific time was had by all. StrongOpinions picked us up at the airport. What a nice treat, to not have to schlep the bags out to the parking lot in West Nowhere! I got back to the house and I immediately did two things: scooped out the cat litter box, and checked online to see if ReverendMother's baby had arrived yet. As someone who was expecting over Christmas some 22 years ago, I feel a kinship. No dice yet, but she and R and C and the baby-to-be continue to be on my mind and in my prayers.

Special moments on the trip:
-the smiles on my two little nephews' faces yesterday morning when they came down and saw that Santa had come and had eaten the cookies and drunk the eggnog he had been left;
-seeing how my eldest nephew has become such a good-hearted young man - not a kid anymore - in his first semester in college;
-singing in the choir at PH's home church with my dear FIL (doesn't a church feel so very different when you're up on the altar looking out rather than sitting in the congregation looking up?);
-watching my middle nephew and his uncles play ferocious and idiosyncratic games of Risk;
-my younger niece's utter joy at getting toenail polish as well as a boombox to listen to music in her own room;
-my elder niece's beauty and maturity as she gets ready to go off to college next year;
-the love and respect shared by the whole family.

Of course, my two-year-old nephew walking around asking for more of his new favorite drink :"Nog! Nog!" will stick in my memory for a long time! Plus the new kitten (Saniania is her name, courtesy of my five year old nephew) playing with her older aunt cats.

I'm afraid to step on the scale this morning. Many wonderful feasts. The Yule Log was eaten yesterday after the post-church ham dinner and several folks had seconds, always a compliment to the cook.

I'll be back after I make some coffee....I missed you all.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Is Coming...

The goose is getting fat (or maybe it's just me).

We're leaving this afternoon for Chicago for a few days of Swedish Christmas with PH's family. Julotta, smorgasbord, pepparkakor, sil, all the usual goodies. No diet this week. I'll bring the (frozen) Buche de Noel, which will stay frozen until we get there, I hope. We'll see what the security screeners do with it. I put the gingerbread dough in the checked luggage - looks too much like some sort of plastique, I fear.

I just got my nails painted BRIGHT red in celebration. Is there anything quite as much fun for a woman of a certain age at Christmastime as a bright red manicure?

Peace and blessings as you celebrate our Savior's birth. See you Sunday night.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's Better Than Bad, It's Good

I decided to work from home for the afternoon; I had gotten two big pieces of bureaucratese written and shipped off, so I felt no guilt. The BlackBerry keeps me available, and everyone is taking off for vacation anyway (have I rationalized enough yet?)

Anyway, it was time to bake the Buche de Noel (Chocolate Yule Log) to freeze and bring with us to Chicago on Friday.

Buche de Noel (or Log, as the kids call it, referencing that great piece of TV culture, "Ren and Stimpy", and the ad for "Log, Log, It's better than bad, it's good") is a big family favorite and a tip of the hat to my late mother, who loved all things French, especially chocolate things. Time to get out Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible. My copy is so well-used, it is falling apart. It's well-stained with egg, chocolate, vanilla extract, mysterious substances.

There are three parts to my recipe: the cake part, chocolate sponge roll that is like chocolate air, an espresso buttercream, and dark chocolate ganache to frost the outside. You have to make the buttercream and the ganache first, since they take time to set up. Many pots and bowls are dirtied in the process. It is a good thing.

It reminds me how much I love to bake. Cooking is a creative process; it's an art class. Baking is science. It's chemistry class, with harsh lessons if you don't follow directions and measurements precisely. Mis en place, setting out all the ingredients so you can work efficiently, is de rigueur. A scullery maid to wash the bowls and utensils would be nice, but cleaning as I go is the more theologically sound way, I think.

Once the cake is baked, it must cool. Then I spread the coffee buttercream and roll it. I cut off an angled piece to attach to the side of the roll as a branch. It goes into the fridge to firm up, then I get to do the fun part: frosting it with the dark chocolate ganache and making the bark-like ridges with the tines of a fork. It looks like a bit of the deep, dark woods when I put it into the freezer.

We'll get on a plane for Chicago on Friday afternoon. By the time we get to PH's family's house that evening, the cake will be mostly thawed, and by Christmas Eve, it will be ready for the feast. Traditions, and chocolate, are wondrous things.


Our lady human is annoyed with us. She doesn't understand that, when faced with an enormous tree sitting right in the corner of the living room, we cats will be tempted. Very tempted.

Other cats may be tempted by the ribbons. Other cats may be tempted by the ornaments.

We simply like to climb the tree.

The male human (Mia's pet) has foiled our efforts to conquer (knock down) this tree with a very sturdy, wide-based tree stand. The lady human (giver of all good food and Spooky's pet)tries to distract us from our mission with treats. The girl human (she who got a GECKO, ferhevvinssake) plays too rough with us. We like that sometimes, but only when WE choose it.

Foolish humans! Don't they know it's in our nature to conquer trees? Besides, when we're up the tree and look out the window at the birds at the feeder, we can fantasize about capturing the woodpeckers and the goldfinches and the cardinals and the mourning doves and even the sparrows, although they don't taste as good...

We were probably Druids in a past life. We have nine of them, you know. Lives, that is.

Guest bloggers Mia (pantera tigris) and Spooky (pantera pantera)
They who Rule the House

Monday, December 19, 2005

Slightly Stressful Sunday

I knew it was going to be a little stressful: I was already conducting the choir in our Advent Lessons and Carols service. Four anthems in addition to the normal hymns and service music, and one of the anthems was a piece by the modern mystical composer John Tavener that the choir was none too fond of.

I had also invited our priest associate from Kenya who is attending the seminary I will be attending next year, S, and our associate rector, L, to lunch. I had made an Indian lunch (beef curry, biryani rice, saag paneer (a sort of Indian creamed spinach), and paratha. I thought I had everything under control by getting up VERY early to set the table and get the pots into the oven, which I had set for delayed start, thus to heat up the food while we were at church.

As Julia Sweeney titled her great book, "God said Ha!"

I had to serve as chalicist on the altar for the 9 am family service. That went fine, even when the little kid who was tasked with lighting the Advent candles seemed a bit shaky with the big pole with the flame on the end.

I talked to S and L and said PH would drive S over to our house after the 11 am service (I would leave a few minutes earlier to finish cooking the meal while they did the usual after-church greeting and chatting with parishioners). S said, "I hope lunch will be not too fancy, because I have a paper to type this afternoon (he's working on his MTS) and I have to study for a test for tomorrow morning. L said she, too, was under time constraints as she had to drive to Philadelphia in the afternoon.

No problem - I could have lunch on the table in 15 minutes. I committed as well to S that when I drove him back to the seminary - did I tell you he doesn't have a car? - I'd type up his paper for him.

So we got through the 11 am Lessons and Carols service. The choir did a lovely job. The organist forgot to play the Agnus Dei, or the Angus Dei (must be the Scottish variation, as printed in the bulletin) and was a little slow on the Communion hymn, and the service ran a tad longer than normal, but it went well.

I bade farewell to PH, who was helping someone with something related to the Building and Grounds Committee, and told S and L I'd see them back at my house very shortly.

If God was saying Ha! before, He was laughing hysterically by now.

I got home. The food in the oven was hot. I stated cooking the rice. I started browning the paratha and putting it in the oven to stay warm.

I finished cooking the rice.

I finished browning the paratha.

No sign of anybody, except StrongOpinions, who called down the stairs every two minutes, "Mom, can you get my jeans from downstairs by the dryer? Mom, do you have a white blouse I could borrow? Mom, these pants are still damp. Can I borrow your sweatpants? Mom, where's my eyeliner?" Parents of teenage girls will recognize all these phrases.

Another twenty minutes passed.

Still no sign of anybody. StrongOpinions borrowed some cash so she could run up to the Vietnamese nail parlor and get her eyebrows waxed. "It'll only take a sec, Mom."

Sighing by now.

The biryani rice was a solid pot of rice cement by now, I was sure.

Shortly thereafter, PH and S arrived. S had decided to call his wife in Kenya from church, where our calling plan gives great rates on international calls.

"Where's L?" I asked. "Oh, she had to stop home before she came over here," S said.

Oh, well, no point in sighing and letting people know my blood pressure was up 30 points.

So we finally sat down to the lunch which had to be quick because everyone else had stuff to do about 45 minutes later than I had thought.

Did I mention that my Parish Discernment Committee was meeting for their final (decision-making) meeting back at church?

Back to the lunch. everyone was there, even StrongOpinions with freshly waxed eyebrows, everyone enjoying the food - the ricy was only slightly clumped up - and the phone rang.

I answered it. It was the chair of the Parish Discernment Committee. They had a couple more questions. Could I come back to church and talk with them a bit?

It was not like I could say no. I apologized to my friends around the table, and went to church. I had to take PH's car, since he was blocking mine in our tiny driveway. As I got to church, I noticed S's briefcase in the back. Too late now. In PH's hands (and God's) at that point.

So do you remember how I mentioned that one of the members of the committee seemed unhappy with one of my answers when they were interviewing me? My read of that moment was right. He wanted to revisit that issue, plus how I might use forgiveness and how I forgave others when bad stuff happened to me to inform my pastoral care. So he took 25 minutes to ask the questions. Another 10 minutes to elaborate on them. By that point, I was not even sure I understood what the question really was, but I soldiered on. Another member of the committee wanted to press me on what doctrinal issues I have problems with. That led to a little riff on how one preaches and teaches on the difficult contemporary moral issues that may evoke controversy. (gee, aren't I supposed to be learning about this in Seminary??????)

So I finished up with them at 3:45. I went back to the house. PH has taken S back to semianry, swinging by the church to pick up S's briefcase fromt he back of PH's car. L has long since left for Phillie. PH didn't know about the dessert (Pears poached in spiced red wine with mascarpone cheese), so they just had some coffee and Christmas cookies. The table and kitchen are full of dishes and glassware to be washed, and it's the good stuff which doesn't go in the dishwasher. PH calls to tell me he's going to stay at the seminary and type S's paper for him. Have I told you what an angel he is?

I washed the dishes.

If I had to handwash dishes every day, I wouldn't enjoy it so much. But the once-in-a-while Zen of dishwashing at this moment is a balm. I play some Nichole Noordman on the CD player. I can feel my blood pressure going down.

I think I answered the PDC's final questions reasonably well. It is their job to challenge me, and to see where my growth opportunities might be. I'm feeling glad they called me a gave me a second bite of the apple to help them understand who I am and how I see my call and the work ahead of me.

The dishes and the glassware get done. I start a load of wash. I plan on taking the poached pears to the Red and Green supper that night (chili potluck plus hanging the greens int he church).

Poor PH comes home with a splitting headache. S, coming from Kenya, likes his dorm room warm. 85 degrees worth of warm. An hour of typing in the warm room seems to have incubated a case of the the flu or bad cold or something. PH takes to his bed (something he NEVER does, so I know he's feeling bad).

I go to the Red and Green supper, with poached pears in hand. Good chili. Good company. Folks love the pears. We hang the greens. I come home to a reasonably clean and quiet house (StrongOpinions is out babysitting). I end my evening doing the most peaceable thing I can think of...reading the day's devotion from our "A Light Blazes in the Darkness", enjoying reverendmother's poignant and timely meditation on Mary and RM's Blessingway.

We are all blessed.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sunday Morning

and the skies are still pretty dark, so my light-sensor window candles are still lit. There's something about candles in a window (even electric ones) on an Advent Sunday morning. And the BBC is playing British soccer scores on the radio.

Today is our Lessons and Carols service. I'll be conducting. The choir will sing a couple of hymns from the green Oxford Carol Book (A Great and Mighty Wonder and Coventry Carol) as well As John Tavener's The Lamb and a lovely setting of Jesus, Jesus Rest Your Head. Assorted other carols. It's a lovely Advent gift, being able to conduct the choir for this service. The Tavener will be a bit dicey. I love it, but my choir is intimidated by it. Ah well, as long as we end the cadence together, we should be OK.

The last few nights have been Christmas party after Christmas party. I think I'd like some quiet time today, but instead we're having our assistant priest from Kenya over for lunch (I'm cooking Indian food, yum) and then a Red and Greens party at church - eating a chili potluck then hanging the greens in the nave and on the altar.

Who needs quiet time, anyway?

Friday, December 16, 2005

RevGal Friday Five

1) Have you ever gotten a really good kiss under the mistletoe? Tell the truth. Spare no details. Was the mistletoe real, because kisses under the fake stuff do. not. count.

I'm sure I did, sometime, somewhere. It's just that those brain cells have long since died off...seriously, the kisses I get from PH every night have wiped the memory of any other kisses from my brain.

2) Do you know anyone who makes real eggnog, not the stuff from the carton? And if so, do you actually like it?

I have made real eggnog from scratch, and have liked it myself, but my family did not, so now I buy the carton-ed stuff. Bah.

3) What's your favorite Christmas party album/CD ever?

John McCutcheon "Winter Solstice" and The Nylons "A Wish for You." Let it never be said I am not eclectic in my tastes.

4) Does your office/workplace have a party? Do the people there ever behave the way people in movies behave at office parties, which is to say, badly?

I work in a one-person office, so I don't do the office Christmas party thing any more. In ancient days, however, I did attend a few truly hedonistic (and embarrassing for some folks) parties. Glad I don't have to do that anymore. I am not a raucous party kind of gal...

5) If you have to bring something to a party, what is it likely to be? Do people like it?

Dessert, usually, and everyone always complains about the calories/carbs, then eats it all up.

Yes, I do like Christmas, but not for the parties; I love it for reminding me what's important.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Five Facts

I'm a little slow to the party here, but since Leslee tagged ALL of us, herewith are five facts about me:

1) I was adopted at the age of four months - a Christmas surprise to my parents, who had just about given up on ever getting a baby. I was actually supposed to go to another family, but got creatively redirected.

2) I used to have a part-time catering business, and still will do wedding cakes for special friends.

3) I survived a run for statewide political office with my finances and my scruples intact.

4) I learned to knit at the age of eight from the British companion of a friend of the family; my first projects were Barbie doll clothes.

5) I have a master's degree in orchestral conducting; I occasionally sub for our choir director, but haven't conducted an instrumental ensemble in a zillion years.

Rather disjointed, eh?

What Christmas Carol are you? - thanks revamy

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
You are 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing'. You take
Christmas very seriously. For you, it is a
religious festival, celebrating the birth of
the Saviour, and its current secularisation
really irritates you. You enjoy the period of
Advent leading up to Christmas, and attend any
local carol services you can find, as well as
the more contemplative Advent church services
each Sunday. You may be involved in Christmas
food collections or similar charity work. The
midnight service at your church, with candles
and carols, is one you look forward to all
year, and you also look forward to the family
get together on Christmas Day.

What Christmas Carol are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Sunday, December 11, 2005

You Take a Paperclip and...

I flew to Chicago Friday to meet up with Strong Opinions, who was heading home from Cheeseheadland and Useless Boyfriend, so we could share the driving the rest of the way home (just 706 miles, but who's counting?)

In spite of my pleas for her to leave WI early on Friday, or maybe because of them, she didn't end up leaving until 6 pm. We had planned for us to stay at my in-laws' house Friday night and leave first thing Saturday morning.

She got into Chicago at 9 pm, and had a bite to eat with her Grands, and we set off for home at about 7:15 a.m. She had a slow leak in her back tire, so we had to put some air in it. Then she had left her cellphone at the Grands' house, so we had to go back and get it. I took the first leg of the drive, while she slept a bit more. Did I mention that she's not a morning person?

We actually had a good time once she woke up, conversing on all manner of things political, theological, romantic...that's the good thing about such long drives, particularly across the really flat straight parts of Indiana and Ohio. You can talk.

We stopped at a rest stop in Toledo for me to attend to my aging bladder. I came back outside and she looked scared. "You won't believe this," she said. "I'm turning the key in the ignition and nothing's happening, but all the lights are on in the dashboard."

What I know about cars is pretty much limited to pulling out the credit card and paying for the work to be done. On an off chance that he'd be in the shop, we called Richard, our fearless Saab mechanic (when you're in a household with three Saabs of varying vintages and a Volvo, you have a very close relationship with a trusted mechanic). Despite the fact that it was Saturday, he was actually in. He diagnosed the problem - a tiny piece of the key had broken off in the lock, so an electical circuit was no longer being established to turn on the car. The good news - yes, there was good news- was that the ignition was stuck in the ON position, so we could start the car.

"I'm gonna teach you how to hot-wire it," he said.

My doubts must have conveyed across the telephone connection, because he said, "It's simple. You just need to get a paperclip."

The continuing good news was that I happened to have a paperclip with me, in my maternal purse that carries everything you'd ever need for anything, including hot-wiring a Saab.

StrongOpinions opened up the hood of the car, removed the fuse box, and per Richard's directions, put the ends of the unwound clip into two points. Miraculous! The car roared to life. Poor StrongOpinions was somehow not expecting the very loud sound of the engine starting with her head under the hood, and just about leapt across the parking lot.

Several truckers had been watching with amusement, and then amazement, as she successfully hot-wired the car. I suspect not many 17 year old girls have this skill.

We continued on our way, nervously amazed that we - or rather, she - had accomplished this. We were afraid to try it again, so we just kept the car running all the way home, and when we stopped for food or bathroom breaks, one of us stayed in the car while the other one went in, and when we stopped for gas we broke the rules and fueled it with the engine on. We added more air to the tire a couple of times, and several hours later (13 hours in all) we had backed her beloved Saabie, Saabie into our garage.

Teachable moments come in the strangest ways. This time, the skill was taught by someone else, but one of her comments after it was over surprised me. "In the old days, you would have flipped out. You were pretty calm about it, Mom."

I allowed as how she was right - marriage to PH, and advancing age, have mellowed me in many ways. I hadn't really noticed. Old dogs can be taught new tricks, and the teachable moments aren't only for the young.

And now we both know how to hot-wire an ancient Saab.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Seven-Year-Old Wisdom from my Niece

Linnea was in the back of the car and burst into song, with lyrics about the “music of the night”. Isn’t that from Phantom of the Opera? Anyway, her mom asked her where she’d heard that and she said it was on Beethoven’s Wig(A kid's CD with lyrics set to classical music). Apparently there is a line like that in Eine Kleine Nacht Musik . Her dad told her that song originally was written with no words and it was a German song. She said, “Then they excavated it into English.”

Friday her class went to hear the symphony. Her mom asked her what her favorite instrument was. She said the brass. So mom said, “which brass”? She said, the kettle drums. Sorry honey, that would be the coppers. She said she wished her mom been one of the "sheperdones" on the trip like the other mothers. I think she’s on to something there! Her mother said, "I can just imagine myself with a crook keeping 10 2nd graders in line, or better yet, circling the flock and nipping at heels".

Looking Ahead

Today will be a lo-o-o-o-ng day. I have to finish up a casserole for PH to bring to his staff meeting (chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives over couscous). I have a string of meetings running nonstop from 9:45 am to & PM. Then at least I get to have fun: PH will have brought home our lovely Christmas tree and wreath from our church Christmas greens sale, so we can set it up. I think I'll wait until Sunday to decorate it. The rest of the house is done, including the 200 Sants who have taken up residence in the living room. Oh, and somewhere in there, I should probably cook some dinner for us, don't you think?

Tomorrow I fly to Chicago (in the midst of an anticipated snowstorm) to rendevous with StrongOpinions, who's been in Cheesehead land visiting Useless Boyfriend. She'll drive to Chicago and we'll stay over at my in-laws', then drive home (11 hours drive) on Saturday. Please pray for traveling mercies. I hate driving in bad weather, and I think the snowstorms will have passed ahead of us, but if not, I'll be a basket case. I'll be looking forward to seeing StrongOpinions, who has been away for a couple of weeks, and see her reaction to her freshly painted and redecorated room.

Sunday I'll be busy with church (subbing for another chalicist, singing with the choir), then I promised I'd stop by a friend's open house, then dinner, then off to lead our Emmaus Bible study group. We're starting the section on Jubilee. I'm enjoying doing this. We should get home by 9:30, after which we finally get to decorate the tree.

And I just found out I'm directing the choir the following Sunday for our Lessons and Carols service. Just another week in the life.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Reflections on the Gulf

I've had over a week to start to digest my experience in Qatar. It's been an interesting process.

Frankly, I never would have gone there were it not for PH's family being there. Not a place I really had a desire to visit. I went with some misgivings, given the political situation.

I was very surprised by how I fell in love with it.

It's not the most beautiful of places. Qatar, in particular, is mostly desert, although the bay the corniche winds around is a beautiful teal blue.
The construction is mostly new (the joke is that the national bird is the in construction crane). Nonetheless, even in the new construction, all the architectural references are to we would call Moorish design. No two buildings are alike, even in new housing developments. Out in the desert, the wind-carved sand dunes are beautiful abstractions.

The people are generally friendly; if not friendly, they're at least polite and hospitable, particularly if treated with respect (more on that later). Men wear white thobes (long outfits that look like white dress shirts that grew down to the ground) and ghutras (I think I've got the spelling right), which are the white or red-and-white scarves held in place by two black coils at the crown of the head. The coils are supposed to be the ropes that these men used to use to hobble their camels, but since today most drive Beemers and Benzes, they're simply decorative. Some men from other regions of the Gulf wear different headgear - Omanis, for example, wear what look like embroidered pillboxes. Native women wear black abayas (floor-length cloaks) and headscarves called sheylas. Some women wear face veils as well, or a rather odd starched black nose cover. Often the abayas are beautifully embroidered. The most conservative women wear black gloves as well. The young men in the shopping malls are like young men in the US, except they adjust their ghutras very precisely, often at a rakish angle, much like our teenage boys adjust their backward baseball caps here in our malls, hoping to impress by their stylishness.

The expectation for non-Muslim women is that we dress modestly - no bare knees or shoulders, though slacks and capris are OK. No need for scarves.

The children are incredibly beautiful, with black eyes and lashes out to there. Usually, they have curly black hair.

We spent a goodly amount of time in the souqs, shopping. The people all spoke at least a tiny bit of English, certainly more than my Arabic, which is limited to inshallah (God willing), alhamdullilah (thanks be to God), salaam aleikum (peace to you), and shuqan(thanks). They were invariably very polite. Prices were always quoted "before discount." Yes, you do haggle, but always politely. The only sad exception to this was when we went to the rug souq. After finalizing our purchase of a lovely rug from Turkmenistan, we waited for the assistants to wrap it up. In came another American woman, who asked to see some high-end silk-on-silk rugs. These rugs were simply amazing; as you looked at them from different angles, the color changed, due to the sheen of the silk. Some were over 1200 stitches per inch, all made by hand. She was very rude and dismissive to the shop owner, who had been so kind to us, bringing us drinks (even while looking at $10,000 rugs!) and talking about how he was hoping his son would get into Texas A&M. She said, "I'm no tourist, I live here." As if this would merit special treatment. I was embarrassed by her, as she tried to insult her way to a lower price.

In the gold souq, once again the shopkeepers were very welcoming, and willing to bargain. PH bought me a little gold ring at a fraction of the price in the US. We had delightful conversations with several shopkeepers, who were curious about where we came from and what had brought us to Doha.

The spice souq, also called the Iranian souq, was the oldest and most primitive. People sitting on the ground hammering metals, weaving baskets. Men on stools selling not only cardamom and cumin, but frankincense. It felt like we had been carried back to ancient times.

We went to a tailor who made PH a new suit - Italian wool - custom made, in five days. Exquisite. $165. I had brought a clerical shirt, which, as you fellow Anglicans/Episcopalians know, usually costs between $55 and $75 a pop. Got five copies made in various fabrics. $12 each. The tailor was a sweetheart. His assistant, an Indian young man from Karela, was busy practicing his English on us. Suffice to say, once again, his English was a heckuva lot better than our Hindi.

We had the pleasure of participating in the Anglican service. PH preached and I sang. The officiant was a wonderful Scottish priest who has been in the Gulf for twenty years. We had a great conversation about how he had gotten there, and about my process of discernment. He offered me the opportunity to come back, perhaps as a field ed project, once I got into seminary. I may well take him up on it. It was fascinating to me to see how gracefully he managed a highly diverse congregation (American, British, Canadian, Indian,. Sri Lankan, Ghanaian, Nigerian) with a broad range of liturgical traditions and equally broad range of theological thinking. He has managed to survive in this world as part of the minority within a Muslim nation sufficiently well that the Sheikha is helping to fund the building of a church (they currently meet in a school). She is also helping fund the building of a Catholic Church. There are lessons to be learned from him.

It's what I'd characterize as a progressive but observant Muslim country. You are awakened at 4:30 in the morning by the muezzins' call to prayer. If you drive by a construction site after the call to prayer, you see workers prostrated on prayer rugs facing Mecca. Ramadan is strictly observed, to the point that the American school covers the windows of its cafeteria during that month of daily fasting so as not to offend. Yet the young women take classes with the young men in the university, and can drive, unlike in Saudi Arabia, and will usually converse with non-Muslim women.

And, oh, the sky at night in the desert! All of God's stars right there to see!

As I said at the start of this post, I'm still processing the experience (as well as the jet lag - 8 hours time difference) and trying to understand why I was so entranced. I do know I want to go back, if not to Qatar, then to Jordan to see Petra and Beirut to visit friends of PH. Maybe I'm getting more adventurous in my middle years. Maybe there's work for me to do. I am grateful, though, to have had this chance to see a different world, and to understand it in a way a didn't before.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Dune-blogging II plus other stuff

My dear father in law watches the women's car as we come down a rather steep dune in the midst of the desert. Can you imagine riding this on a camel or a donkey? Pregnant? Like Mary?

On the right, you can see our driver Mr. Abdullah thinks this is all a load of laughs. You can't see my mother-in-law in this picture, though it's just as well, since her eyes were very tightly closed and she was holding my hand tight.

On a more mundane note, we had our 15th annual singalong Messiah performance at our church this past evening. As usual, we did a sometimes sublime, sometimes rocky performance. I sang "Rejoice greatly." Not one of my better performances, as I think I'm fighting off the flu. In fact, the whole bench should have been on the injured/reserved list: our choir director and tenor soloist cum trumpeter had a bad cold, our usual alto soloist has been down with a nagging bronchitis and didn't sing at all, so she was replaced by our former organist who had strained her voice at an earlier concert in the afternoon leading carols, and our usual bass soloist was busy playing Herr Drosselmayer in a performance of the Nutcracker downtown. A relatively new member of the choir, and a brand-new dad, so you know he was operating on little sleep, stepped in the do the bass solos, and did an excellent job. The choir did well until "His Yoke is Easy," when the altos missed an entrance, which knocked out the tenors and basses on their entrances like a row of dominoes. Only we noble sopranos kept going for about 10 rather empty bars. Ah, well, it was a receptive audience, from our church membership and the larger community, so everyone still had a good time. One of the more charming moments was noticing, during the Hallelujah Chorus that the 8 year old son of one of our choristers was sound asleep, head bent back over the chair, while we blasted away. If he can sleep through that, he can sleep through anything! Best of all, there were cookies afterwards. PH and I went home and crawled into bed with grilled cheese sandwiches. Aren't we a lively pair?

I'll be having a follow-up MRI this morning for the optic neuritis problem I suffered from earlier this year - I covet your prayers that there will be no further changes in this feeble and overcrowded brain of mine! The good news is that I really can fall asleep in the MRI tube... as long as I've made sure the middle-aged bladder is empty.

Time to read myself to sleep. I sure wish I could get back into this time zone once and for all! I've got the falling asleep part down - it's the staying asleep part that's a challenge.

Grumble, grumble...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Friday Camel Blogging

This one is of yours truly in the blue shirt and straw hat, with new camel friends in the desert. The humans are my sister in law and my father in law. We had taken a wild ride into the desert to the inland sea, which is on the Qatar-Saudi Arabia border. After driving 50 miles out from Doha, Qatar's capital, our SUV drivers (yes, they still drive SUVs in the Gulf, where gas is 80 cents a gallon) came to the end of the paved road, lowered the tire pressure to 10 psi (!) and we drove over the sand dunes, sometimes at what seemed a very precarious angle, up and down to the sea. We met up with these camels, who looked rather surprised to see us in their habitat, as we were driving over to our picnic barbecue on the beach.

We must have been rather boring to the camels, who decided, fearless creatures that they are, to just walk by the cars as we got back in.

More on our trip to come in future posts - I'm still pretty jet-lagged and missing home-made hummus and tabbouleh.

RevGals Friday Five: Decorations

Courtesy of the lovely Songbird, who always has great Meme ideas:
1) Do you display a nativity scene, and if so, where?
Yes, a beautiful set of Italian ceramic figurines that have a place of honor on top of the grand piano.
2) Do you put a skirt under the Christmas tree? If so, what does it look like?
I have an appliqued one that we've used for several years, after the cat tore apart the old one.
3) Do you hang lights on the house or put them in your windows?
We used to use those icicle lights, but we all got in such bad humor untangling them, that we stopped as of last year. We have candles in the windows, though. One of my favorite sights in a house with candlelit windows.
4) White lights or colored lights on the tree? Big bulbs or the small, pretty ones?
A source of great disputes in our family. PH loves the big colored ones and I love the little white ones. The compromise was colored small ones. I think StrongOpinions would like the ubertacky bubble lights, just to be contrary, but she gets shouted down on that one.
5) Do you have a tree topper? What sort? Who puts it on top of the tree?
An angel strumming her harp. PH usually puts it on, as I'm skittish on the ladder and StrongOpinions would much rather kibitz on the sidelines and tell us if the angel is straight or not.

Our tree should arrive on Sunday afternoon. One family in the church with connections in the tree-farming area of North Carolina takes orders for trees, wreaths, and garlands. They delivery super-fresh trees to us. The profit (even with a profit, these trees are a bargain compared to the ones for sale in the parking-lot Christmas tree sites around town) go to the church's music program. I love the smell of a fresh pine tree in our living room!

The other big project is setting out my Santa collection (200 pieces and counting). Gimcrack or fancy, ranging from Santa poling a gondola to Santa playing the clarinet, from Swedish Santa to
kitty-cat Santa, I love them all. They pretty much take over all uncovered spaces in my living room for the holiday season.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Back home again from the middle east and London

...and my body hasn't a clue what time zone I'm in. I've got to go start the first of what will be many loads of laundry. I'll come back later to start blogging. I missed you guys!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bye for a while

Off to the Middle East. We'll be back late on Dec. 1st - I'll check in then. I may be able to post from my in-laws', but I'm not sure about that. Have a blessed and delightful Thanksgiving, my friends. Keep me in your prayers, as I will you all.

Bounty and blessings!

Monday, November 21, 2005

One More Day

...until we leave for Qatar. My MIL and FIL are already headed out and will get there a day before us. PH has his sermon 95% done (isn't that our standard state of being?) and I have practiced my song enough so I shouldn't make a fool of myself. I'm trying to not pack my entire closet - originally I was going to try and do it with one roll-aboard bag, but PH says he wants to bring a pullman bag, so now I have the luxury of deciding on more stuff. I do have to leave room for the stuff we buy at the souk.

Does anyone else have an overwhelming urge to clean the house before leaving on a trip? I think part of it is wanting to come home to a clean house with fresh sheets and towels, but another darker part of it is leaving the place clean in case we don't come back.

Leave it to me to find the gray side of the cloud instead of the silver lining!

Counting the hours.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Another painting project

I painted Stonemason's bedroom today. After his wear and tear plus the pregnant couple who lived in the room for three months, it was looking rather grimy. I started with the windowsashes and sills. The Spooky cat decided to help by leaping up onto a freshly painted windowsill. She is no longer pure black, since she now has some lovely white markings on her paws and tail. I managed to grab her and wipe her paws with the wet rag before she left a trail of pawprints throughout the basement level, but she's still looking slightly embarrassed.

I was very proud of how efficiently I was painting when I got to the very last bit of wall, stepped off the stepstool...into the roller tray full of paint.

So much for thinking I'm smarter than my cat! I hope I can get through painting the trim tomorrow without anymore mishaps.

RevGal Friday Five- Kiddie Lit edition

1) Earliest book you remember (read to you or by you)
A Children's Garden of Verses. I still have this book down in my basement, in rather sad condition.

2) Picture Book you would like to climb into
Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are (particularly when the bedroom becomes the jungle), or from when my children were little the "Carl" series featuring a very loving Rottweiler. I adore the pictures and the kids enjoyed making up words for the stories.

3) Favorite series of books (then or now)
Harry Potter now, Nancy Drew then.

4) Character you would most like to meet
Kristin Lavransdattar (yes, I was a book nerd in my youth - heck, I'm still one).

5) Last childhood book you re-read (for yourself or to someone)
C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters (actually a teen book, but a real favorite).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sad ECUSA news...

Here's a press release from our diocese. It's greatly troubling; themissioner who was named here has been affiliated with the most conservative church in our diocese, as well as the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which is also conservative, as I understand it. It seems this fellow is pressing the issue of canonical authority. I have also heard that the diocese will continue its plant in this community, even with this group leaving. We've had several large conservative churches withhold their diocesan pledges, but no one left until now. I think I'll go pray for a while.

South Riding Missioner Resigns, Congregation Leaves Episcopal Church
November 15, 2005

In an afternoon meeting, Monday, Nov. 14 with Bishop Suffragan David Colin Jones, the Rev. Phil Ashey, missioner of South Riding Church since 2002, announced his resignation as missioner effective Nov. 13, 2005. In that meeting and in his letter of resignation Mr. Ashey also stated that the congregation of South Riding had voted on Sunday, Nov. 13 to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Diocese of Rwenzori of the Anglican Church of Uganda, placing themselves under the Canonical authority of the Rt. Rev. Benezeri Kisembo.
News of the congregation’s vote was posted to an American Anglican Council Web site at 8:25 p.m., Monday, Nov. 14. This is the first congregation in the Diocese of Virginia to leave the Episcopal Church.
In his letter of resignation, Mr. Ashey also said he was “giving notice that I have been received by the Diocese of Rwenzori.”
“I reject the assertion that Mr. Ashey is under any Episcopal authority other than that of the Bishop of Virginia or any canonical authority other than the Canons of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia,” said Bishop Jones.
In his meeting with the Bishop Suffragan Mr. Ashey returned the parish register, service book, a copy of the congregation’s 2004 audit and an inventory of all assets purchased from the operating funds of South Riding Church up to Saturday, Nov. 12, 2005 which he acknowledged belong to the Diocese of Virginia. As a forming congregation, South Riding Church has no canonical status and did not file parochial reports. Financial and membership information could not be readily confirmed.
“I am saddened that a member of the body has chosen to break with the body and feel that our community is diminished for it,” said Bishop of Virginia Peter James Lee. Lee added that church membership is an individual choice and said he appreciated Mr. Ashey’s forthright manner in returning congregational documents and property.
Bishop Lee also reaffirmed that Mr. Ashey remains under his canonical authority and rejected the assertion of property rights made by Bishop Kisembo in a Nov. 13 letter to Mr. Ashey purporting to accept his “letter of transfer.”
“The Bishop of Rwenzori has no authority in the Diocese of Virginia,” said Bishop Lee. “Only a diocesan bishop has the authority to transfer a cleric from the Diocese of Virginia. Mr. Ashey remains under my canonical authority until disciplinary action is taken if any.”
Since beginning as a church plant in 2000, over $350,000 in direct financial support has been given to South Riding Church by the Diocese of Virginia. In 2001, the Diocese purchased 8.4 acres on Poland Rd. in South Riding at a cost of $680,000 for the intended benefit of South Riding. That property is titled in the name of the Bishop of Virginia. Mr. Ashey was the third missioner assigned to the plant in 5 years.
Mr. Ashey was named missioner of South Riding in 2002 after serving for 3 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Prior to moving to that diocese, Mr. Ashey was an associate at Church of the Apostles, Fairfax from 1992-1999. From 1988-1992 he served churches in the Diocese of Los Angeles.
The press release posted to the American Anglican Council blog site at 8:25 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, 2005, stated that the congregation will keep its name and continue to worship at Little River Elementary School in South Riding.
The Diocese of Virginia, organized in 1785, is a community of over 90,000 members worshipping in 195 congregations in 38 counties throughout one-third of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Weather Report

It is raining frogs and toads and we are expecting 50 mph gusts of wind this evening. It's gone from 75 degrees at noon to 60 now at 3:30 and will continue to head down from there. Finally, it feels like late fall. The rain should bring down most of the leaves that are left on the trees, I imagine. I'm glad the neighbor across the street had his two dead trees removed earlier this week - I would hate the thought of them landing in my bedroom (their most likely trajectory as I watched them getting more forlorn over the past year).

I decided to work from home this afternoon. I'm cooking dinner for the family with the stay-at-home dad who has inoperable stomach cancer. He's in between chemo cycles, so he actually feels like eating something. I'm glad to give his wife and kids a break by bringing over something (rules are nothing spicy and no dessert). Anyway, given the miserable weather, I'm bringing them a nice warming beef stew over noodles, plus a salad, plus green beans, plus a loaf of homemade bread. Such a small thing, but I really love this ministry (we call it "Meals That Heal"). When I was very sick last year, it was an adventure seeing who was going to bring the food and what it was going to be. I remember one meal that was delicious, but its crowning glory was a large, perfectly ripe pear. That pear was just about the most idyllic eating experience I ever had, and reminded me that I would get better and life would be good again. I hope I can bring a little of that pleasure to this family, which is going through so much.

The Spooky cat is on the desk, reminding me that she was locked out on the sunporch all morning. She is positioned under the halogen lamp, AKA the kitty tanning lamp. Her sister Mia is sitting on the oriental rug in the living room, looking perturbed, which is how she always looks.

We are so fortunate to have this warm home, and a roof that only leaks a little when it rains very hard, and food in the refrigerator. Thank you, Lord.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

ridiculous but lovely too

this is all in lower case because as i was sitting here with my left arm resting for a moment, the spooky cat came and put her lovely head on it, just her chin resting on my forearm. i haven't the heart to move her.

Yet One More Step...

...on the path of "The Process".

PH had his meeting with my discernment committee on Sunday afternoon. Two hours on how well-suited he was to be a pastor's husband, how real he perceived my call to be, when I had started down this path. The downside of him being ordained and so well-respected in the congregation is that they look to him to validate my call (which doesn't seem right somehow - that's THEIR job). The upside is that he's loved and well-respected, so they believe him when he says that it's genuine. The chair of the committee is one of his cycling buddies, and offered him transactional immunity! So now they need to draft a report to the Vestry. I expect - given what feedback I've heard- that I will get through that stage pretty smoothly. Then on to the Commission on Ministry, and if that goes well, my interview with the Bishop.

Meanwhile, we're doing things to prepare the house for sale. I finished painting StrongOpinion's room from the very very dark forest green (a compromise over the black she originally wanted to paint it) to a lovely soft sage green with crisp white trim. Got some white curtains and I'll hang a few of her grandmother's paintings on the walls. It won't be "her", but it will make the house more saleable than in its original condition. Using muscles that I haven't flexed for a while caused me to have a few nasty aches and pains, but it looks so lovely now, it's worth the aches. I think I'll use it as my "escape room" while she's away! We have to move the chest of drawers back in. I had taken an old dresser several years ago and done decorative painting on it, marbling the top, painting flowers on the drawer fronts etc. She moved it downstairs when she decided to make the room more art-studentish. It should look pretty in the room. I'll try to post some pictures when it's all done.

Next project is to repaint the room that our pregnant couple lived in while they were here. Just basic white, but between them and StoneMason, it's gotten rather tired-looking. I need to do some touch-up work on the woodwork in our bedroom as well, and some floor polishing, but I think we're in pretty good shape. We do need to remove the ratty wallpaper from our bath and repaint it, but that's just a day's work. Hardly a Ben-Gay moment in that.

PH's colleague is moving back to the North Country next summer, so we may rent his townhouse, which is just 1.5 miles from the seminary. That would be pretty blissful. The seminary married housing is actually further away. I could even walk to school (pulling a rolling backpack behind me, like the geek that I am).

We're leaving next week for Qatar to visit my brother-in-law and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving. I am so excited! PH is preaching at the Anglican parish there, and I'm singing (for those who care about such things, I'm doing Morten Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium"). I wouldn't mind picking up a rug or two, and PH has promised to buy me a tri-color Cartier-style rolling ring at the gold souk, where they are very reasonable. I told him it could be my combined anniversary and Christmas present. My wonderful sister-in-law has promised tea at the Ritz. My MIL and FIL are going, too, so it should be quite neat. SIL says she can get everything she needs for Thanksgiving dinner there (they'll go get a lamb for Sunday dinner, but turkey is apparently available in the markets) so I don't have to haul cans of Libby's pumpkin and ocean Spray cranberry sauce in my suitcase. What an adventure!

Enough rambling about unrelated stuff for today...

Friday, November 11, 2005


How do I feel about pies on the list? Varies:

1) Apple Pie
I make a Dutch apple pie that is my daughter's favorite. Easy to make, too.

2) Cherry Pie
Since PH's family is from Michigan, cherry pie is a big fave. I never understood it until i made one with real pie cherries(the sour kind). Now every year, in their very brief season, I buy as many quarts as I can in our famer's market, pit them and freeze them so we can have real cherry pie throughout the year. If only I had a big freezer!

3) Pumpkin Pie
This is a favorite of Litigator's (my 21 y.o. son). In the holiday season, I make many of them. He eats them for breakfast, dessert, snacks, whatever.

4) Chocolate Cream Pie
It's chocolate. What more can I say (except that I am weak in matters of chocolate)?

5) Pecan Pie
My PH's favorite. I could make one every day of the week and he'd eat it. He wouldn't gain an ounce, dangit. When I'm feeling very indulgent, I make him a chocolate pecan pie.

I'll finish up with a lemon meringue pie story from my childhood:

On Sunday afternoons, we would walk the two blocks to my Aunt Marie’s apartment for family dinner.

Aunt Marie was my father’s cousin, a woman in her fifties who bore a sad resemblance to Boris Yeltsin. She was witty and intelligent, a woman with a doctorate who worked at a women’s college in administration. She kept piles of the New Yorker magazine on a windowsill, and had a collection of coffee cups from around the world, though she herself never traveled. As the single daughter in her family, she bore the responsibility of care for her 96 year old mother, who was blind and bedridden, but still lucid and sweet.

For all her intelligence, she was – like most of the family – alcoholic, so the Sunday dinner often was a challenge. Alcoholism took a similar path for all the affected members of the family. Most were functional. They got up, went to work, came home, drank to a state of semi-consciousness, slept and rose the next day to repeat the cycle. On the weekends, there was a bit more drinking, but they still managed to get to Sunday church, at least by the 1 p.m. Mass, before starting the drinking for the day. My father, who worked in a soda bottling plant and was a Teamster shop steward, followed the same pattern. He’d often go to a local bar after that 1 p.m. Mass, for “breakfast.”

It being the weekend, Marie was usually in an altered state by the time we rode the elevator up to her apartment. Sometimes, dinner had been prepared for several hours and was either mummified or cold; other times, it was still in the oven, which may or may not have been turned on. Raw duck is not pleasant, especially when you’re eight.

Often, my father’s brother Ed and sister-in-law Helen came, with my cousins Peggy and Michele in tow. Michele was a year younger than I and always sweet, but Peggy, a bit older than me, could be cruel. Occasionally, my other uncle, Tom, a priest, came. He was a garrulous Scotch drinker, and the favorite pastime of the three brothers, after they had taken the edge off with a couple of shots of Johnny Walker, was to argue driving directions. The volume of the conversation increased as the amount of alcohol consumed added up. It was a small apartment, and hot. It was not conducive to meditations on the food, but given the quality of the cuisine, that was probably a good thing.

My mother, an angry woman on her best day, felt the need to bring something. She did not care for my father’s family; she saw the family’s group alcoholic tendency as a failure of will, and a club to which she did not want to belong. Nevertheless, she felt the need to impress, so she brought dessert.

I digress here to talk a bit about my mother’s cooking. She was Alsatian by ancestry, and thus felt comfortable with German and French cuisines, at least the basic grandmother food rather than haute cuisine. For the most part, she cooked by feel and taste rather than by recipes, and was generally successful. The one place where she felt insecure, and relied on the recipe books, was baking. Like other homemakers of the 1950’s, her other source of recipes for baking were the backs of cans and boxes. Cakes were Duncan Hines, though she made buttercream frosting from scratch.

A psychiatrist could do a case study on why my angry, insecure mother would elect to bring something that did not showcase her natural gifts as a cook when going to her husband’s family dinner. When cooking in her own house, she’d often skip making dessert and offer something from the local German bakery, Koelsch’s. She’d expend her energies on the main courses rather than dessert. No one minded.

Nevertheless, the bringing of dessert to Aunt Marie’s on Sunday became a ritual that we followed for a number of years, and one of the frequent choices was lemon meringue pie.

The process of the pie was simple. My mother and I would return from Sunday Mass by 10, she would make me a mushroom omelette to break the Communion fast, and she would set to making the pie.

The crust was made from a Jiffy box mix and baked. Then the filling would be made from My-T-Fine lemon pudding mix. There was a capsule in the box which was filled, most likely, with lemon oil, to add the requisite zing. The hot filling was poured into the crust, and my mother would use the egg whites not incorporated into the filling to make a meringue. She’d sculpt a veritable meringue monument on top of that filling, then dust it with a bit of sugar and put it into the oven to brown the tips of the meringue. Then, most important, the pie had to set for a few hours. It would then be put into the pie carrier for transport to Aunt Marie’s.

It was a reliable dessert, for which she’d gotten appreciative comments from the clan in the past, so it became a regular in the rotation.

And so the Sunday came during which the pie was forever transformed into something other than dessert: it became a symbol of the whole sad, troubled dinner and the family that populated it.

It was late autumn. The air was chilly, and I wore tights under my Sunday dress – we dressed for dinner - rather than short socks. I was, perhaps, nine. I was not looking forward to another boring Sunday afternoon at Aunt Marie’s, where I was often shunted into Grandmother’s bedroom to chat. I had a book in my coat pocket in case things really got bad, but it was hard to find a quiet corner, so I doubted I’d get to read. I pestered my mother to let me carry the lemon meringue pie – just general-purpose pestering, the thing that nine year old girls do so well. She relented. My father, testy at wearing a tie and jacket on Sunday afternoon even though he knew this was what he would do for every Sunday afternoon for the foreseeable future, was grumbling about how he’d prefer to stay home and take a nap.

As we got to the apartment building, I had to take a step up to the entry. Whether the tights were too tight, or my patent-leather shoes too slippery, or my father coughed from his perpetually burning Pall Malls, I tripped.

Hands forward, pie box sailing through the air, knees scraped on the hard cement.
I began to cry. Whether it was from the scrapes that had torn through my tights, or my fears of my mother’s anger about the condition of the pie, I don’t know. She dusted me off, picked up the pie box (which had landed right-side up), wiped my drippy nose with a Kleenex, and pulled me through the door. As we waited for the elevator my father said, “How’s the pie?”

She peered in, and said, “It’s fine.”

“You mean she dropped it, and it didn’t break all apart?” He always referred to me as “she” unless he was angry. Then he’d use my full name.

“It’s fine.”

And then my father said the words that, in today’s world, would have been grounds for divorce, or murder: “It must be made of concrete or something.”

The temperature in the hallway dropped markedly, and it was even chillier in the elevator as well. I could read my mother’s face. She had made the effort to make a pie for these drunken ingrates and now the chief drunken ingrate had insulted her pie.

We went into Aunt Marie’s warm, smoky living room, and my father, never good at social situations even with his own family, compounded his problem: “Guess what we brought you for dessert? It’s concrete pie.”

By this time, the aunts had spotted my torn tights and bloody knees and asked what had happened. My mother, with barely moving lips, said, “Mary was carrying the pie and tripped and dropped it.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” the aunts said. ”We can just have some ice cream for dessert.”

“No, no,” my father now, “it’s fine. The damn pie is fine. Ann must have made it from concrete. The damn pie didn’t move. The kid’s all scratched up, but the damn pie is fine.”

“Well, good, then,” the aunts, ”we’ll have concrete pie!”

They must have thought themselves witty, but I knew there would be no living with my mother for the rest of the week. Dessert time came, the pie was served up, there were many remarks on how tasty the concrete pie was. My mother didn’t have any.

“If it’s made of concrete, I’d better not have any. Too heavy. ” Mother believed they all thought she was fat. Perhaps she thought that obesity trumped alcoholism in the pantheon of sins, and their judgment was upon her.

I wondered, as the dinner drew to an end and we started to walk home, whether my mother would say anything to my father about the concrete pie. I wondered if he would ask her why she seemed so angry. This, though, was a long-established way of life for them. No words need be spoken. They had defined themselves and followed those definitions once again.

There it all was: the little yellow capsule with the lemon oil, the bitter zing hiding under the sugary meringue fluff, the concrete that scraped and caused us to bleed.

My mother brought the concrete pie – for it was called that ever after – to dinner at Aunt Marie’s house for several years after, even after Grandmother died, and Aunt Marie became mentally unbalanced after a mugging. She finally passed away in that hot little apartment. My father died in an accident shortly after that. My mother lived for almost thirty years more.

She never made lemon meringue pie again.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Carrie Newcomer Concert

Reverend Mother (and R) and I (and my pal L) went to the Carrie Newcomer concert last night. Twas wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! Such a funny, warm, thoughtful artist. We were mumbling and humming along (does that mean we were humbling?) with the songs from prior CDs, and loving the new material. To ReverendMother's delight, the final song was "The Yes of Yes."

I heartily recommend her to those of you who are not yet her fans.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Home Again

The travel demons seemed to be conspiring against me as I was coming home from Monterey yesterday. My flight out of Monterey ended up being two hours late leaving there, causing me to miss my connection in SFO, causing me to have to sit in that airport for five hours waiting for the next flight to Your Nation's Capital.

The good news (or bad, depending how you look at it) is that there are some very nice fast food places (including one devoted entirely to desserts) in the food court there.

I've got a large quantity of laundry to do, so I'll blog a little more meaningfully later on...

It's good to be home, even if the electical circuits on my side of the bed are all dead, so no radio, reading lamp, or TV right now. That only feels a little bit bad right now.

Monday, October 31, 2005

To the Wild, Wild West

Off to Monterey for a week for a conference. I'll resume blogging when I return.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Friday Five-Hallowe'en and All Saints' Edition

1) Favorite Halloween Candy - 3 Musketeers little bars - I won't eat them any other time of year, for some strange reason.

2) Least Favorite Halloween Candy - anything nougatty - I think I'm always afraid a filling will come out if I chew on something like that. And little boxes of raisins are a crime against children.

3) Best Costume Ever - ones I made for Strong Opinions when she was a little one (Belle, Bride, Fairy Princess). I always went way overboard sewing them, but it was so much fun!

4) Worst Costume Ever - my Betsy Ross costume when I was 10 - geeky costume on a geeky kid.

5) A Saint you treasure (please feel free to use the definition of "Saint" that is meaningful to you and to your faith tradition and life experience) - Teresa of Avila - you've gotta love someone as wonderfully whacked out as she is. Don't we all need a little practical mysticism in our lives?

Moments of Grace

I took a mental/spiritual health day off from work today to go down to a church in the state capitol for a meditation day on poetry of TS Eliot and Rowan Williams. It also turned out to include a discourse on St Augustine and on Russian icons (ah, something I KNOW something about). It was blissful. The lecturer was deeply versed in the work of Eliot, and drew some beautiful parallels between Eliot's work, how Augustinian theology informed it, and how we can hear echoes of it in Williams' poetry. Wonderful to be able to stretch one's brain in this manner.

A brief moment of grace on the two hour drive down - the air was like a gray scrim, more sleep-inducing than depressing on a 7 a.m. late October morning. Then, out of my peripheral vision, I saw two little deer grazing by the side of the highway. Delicate, graceful, looking rather like slightly gawky thirteen year old girls as they searched for something tasty. I'm still more used to large and muscular New England deer. These creatures were quite small and lovely. The trip back home at evening rush hour, which more resembled NASCAR, was a different matter, but I'm grateful for the early morning moments when I can snatch them.

Tomorrow is the church Christmas Bazaar. I've made two Dutch apple pies, six carrot babycakes, six chocolate-raspberry babycakes, and the major work on the matzoh ball soup is done. I'll get up early to actually make and simmer the matzo balls themselves - we serve a variety of soups for lunch - and then try to transport it all to church without any internal or external accidents. The amount of work we put into this thing in relation to what we raise is ridiculous, but we all have such fun doing it, it's worth it. The challenge will be: 1) don't eat too many sweets, and 2) don't buy too many used books. Ah, a good problem to have!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Grandprincess and Grandpuppy Blogging: Halloween edition Daphne and Scooby Doo from the eponymous cartoon...

Sorry for the small picture!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

New York, New York's a heckuva town.

PH and I went up to the city (drove in the rain) this weekend to see the Russia! exhibit at the Guggenheim, have a fancy dinner, and sleep in a bed someone else was going to make the next morning (a little boutique hotel near the museum). It was delightful, despite the rain.

We went up with another couple - we were all celebrating our respective anniversaries, their 25th, our 8th (we're late bloomers).

The exhibit was quite good. We went primarily for the icons and they didn't disappoint. The big draw was the iconostasis from the Dormition Abbey. Each of the five panels (representing Christ in Glory, Mary, Mary Magdelene, and the Archangels Gabriel and Michael) was 7 feet tall and over 4 feet wide, with beautifully restorated colors. Almost overwhelming, there were so many things going on and layers of symbolism. In contrast, some of the art from the Communist era was as you would expect propoganda to be. There were some amazing eighteenth and nineteenth century pieces, though, including some portraiture that rivalled John Singer Sargent.

We took naps, then dressed up and went down to Sutton Place for dinner at March. Five course tasting menu, with wine. Amazing food, with a bill to match at the end, but we only do a big splurge meal like this once in a blue moon.

We went back to the hotel, had a glass of bourbon, read Compline together, and went off to dreamland.

We decided after a bit of breakfast that we would go down to Ground Zero - still moving as nothing more than a hole in the ground while they argue about how to best fill it - and then to church at Trinity Wall Street. Very high church Solemn Eucharist, along with smells and bells. Great choir, very down-to-earth preacher, a sense of real community and diversity across socioeconomic and ethnic lines, which surprised me. The celebrant was a bit plummy, and there were more people up on the altar than I've seen since the concelebrated funeral mass for my uncle the priest thirty years ago. One of the joyful moments was a mentally challenged man sitting in front of us who clearly loved the music. At climactic moments in the hymns, he would play imaginary cymbals and vocalize a crashing cymbal sound - truly praising him with harp and cymbals! He was clearly a regular and beloved of the congregation - a couple of people came over to visit with him after the service. Another interesting moment was at Communion, when we received the wine from the verger, who looked into our eyes with great intensity. It was a moment of connection and recognition of the power of the Gift.

Then we drove back down. The Jersey Turnpike is still as boring as it was when I was a kid, and we hit the Washington Beltway just as the Redskins game was letting out. Lots of happy fans all driving SUVs.

Then I led our Emmaus group - we're currently doing a study on the nature of Sabbath and how we can reclaim it - and came home and slept the sleep of the very tired and overstimulated.

So good to be home, even if I do have to make my own bed.

Friday, October 21, 2005

RevGal Friday Five Meme

1. What was the last CD you purchased?

Bonnie Raitt's newest.

2. Did you like it?

Just started to listen to it, and it hearkens back to her older more blues-oriented sound. I like that a lot.

3. Is it the kind of music you would call your favorite?

Not necessarily. I love opera, and French art songs, and Bach and Mozart and some Stravinsky and some Phillip Glass. A tad eclectic in my tastes? Or just indicative of multiple-personality syndrome? You tell me.

4. What was the first album (CD for you youngsters) you ever owned?

It was vinyl. "Highway 61 Revisited"...classic Bob Dylan, and a rebellion against my poor mother at age 12.

5. And what was your favorite cut from that recording?

The one with a thousand and one words that has a refrain that goes "How does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home?" Perfect for pre-teen angst.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Road Trip

PH and I are going on a road trip this weekend with another couple to New York City. Since it's only four hours away, we'll drive to and from.

We're indulging ourselves in two sublime things: The "Russia!" exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum (supposed to be a bunch of exquisite icons - I'm psyched) and dinner at an amazing restaurant called March, where we ate several years ago, and where PH said he ate the Platonic Ideal of vegetables.

The other couple are neat people. She is in lay leadership at our church, and is the most experienced student in our icon writing class. She's got a real gift for it - did an amazing Christ Pantokrator that I aspire to in a few more years. She's also in my Koine Greek class, so we can practice vocab drills in the car (PH, having already survived Greek in his MDiv and PhD programs, can correct us). Her husband is equally delightful, with a very dry sense of humor to equal PH's.

We get to stay at a lovely tiny boutique hotel I've gone to every now and again for business over the past 15 years.

This is a bit of a late anniversary present to ourselves. We haven't had such an expedition in quite some time, so I can't wait. It will be the last little romantic journey we take (despite the excitement of our trip to Qatar next month, I don't think of that as necessarily romantic - mostly jet-lagged) until I finish seminary, I'd guess. We'll have to make our own romance where we are.

Ah, bliss!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's All Greek to Me

Tell me once again that I can learn Greek. I'm feeling particularly dense after class last night. One of our little band has a real gift for memorization and language study. I do not. Of course, I'm not studying anywhere near as hard as I should.

Drat! I should have known WORK was involved!

Monday, October 17, 2005

A Long Day

Sunday was a rather long day.

I served as a chalice bearer at the 9 o'clock service, set up for coffee hour and attended adult Sunday School at 10, went to choir rehearsal at 10:30, sang at the 11 oclock service, and served goodies at coffee hour. Had a wonderful conversation with a gentleman from the seminary, who is looking for a posting at a local parish as part of his work. He's from Kenya and is already ordained, but is doing an MTS here. He might be good for us, and I hope we might be good for him.

That was the easy part.

At 1, we had my next big session with my Parish Discernment Committee. The topic was all things having to do with ordained ministry, from when you refer a parishioner to a professional counselor to do you preach on political topics to how are you going to finance your three years at seminary.

I though it generally went well - even when one person asked me to comment on the different preaching styles of our two priests and asked which one I'd model myself on. Talk about a politically challenging question!

I was a tad frustrated by one questioner who seemed to be looking for a specific answer (about preaching on political topics). I told him I thought preaching on the moral/theological axis was what we were called to do, and that preaching on a specific political agenda (especially here in Your Nation's Capitol, where everyone has an axe to grind) was not a good idea. I think he wanted me to talk about the necessity to speak truth to power. I'm afraid my answer was too wishy-washy for him. He's a hard person to read - would make a great poker player, I think - so I worry where he is on endorsing my call. Ah, well, the others in the group seem very supportive.

Lots of leadership-type questions. I think I did an adequate job there talking about concensus-building, clarity of vision, need for buy-in.

The "aha" moment was when they asked if I thought that I would be able to minister to a less intellectual parish than the one I am in now, where most of the folks are pretty high-powered intellectually. The question came up int he context of referring parishioners for professional help if they needed it. They rightly pointed out that if I was in one of the rural counties, such resources might not be available, and it would fall on me to provide pastoral care, even for folks that I might refer to professionals in other settings. My case thus far had been that at least in the early years of my ministry, I'd err on the side of caution and refer folks more. They were right - I might not have that luxury if I were in a rural community or a poor urban one...

Afterwards, I did a debriefing with PH, who was gently amused by how I was parsing out every question and critiquing each of my own answers. He thinks I'll have no problem whatsoever. I'm not sure I'm ready to feel so confident.

Next step is their meeting with PH, who will get to talk about how he'll deal with the rigors of being a clergy spouse. Turnabout fair play.

Then they get to draft their report and decide whether to recommend...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fish Story

Two years ago, PH decided our front garden (just outside his office window) needed a "water feature." In his usual meticulous way, he researched ponds and waterfalls, getting several books out of the library, visiting our local garden center, and doing what amounted to meditation on the plan. He knew it was something I wanted, too, and asked me what I wanted. I told him this was an outdoor project and therefore his thing, and I trusted that he'd do something nice.

I though he'd build a little bitty pond, maybe with something burbling in it, in a corner of our yard.

He started digging, by hand, two years ago. Our front yard slopes down towards the house, and there is a flat area towards the garage. It was in the flat area that he commenced digging.

He dug.

He dug some more.

He dug still more.

Frankly, I didn't mind it, since PH doing manly labor with his shirt off is pretty appealing to behold. I wondered, though, how much more digging would be involved.

He dug all summer. What I though would be a bathtub-sized pond evolved into an eight-bathtub sized pond. Digging all that Virginia red clay was hard work. Stonemason helped for all of one day. I hid in the house. PH did it all himself, to a depth of two feet, to meet the needs of the fish we hoped to add to the pond (more on that later). The key question is not how he did it, but what he did with all that clay soil. What's the saying - "put it in a parcel and ship it fourth class book rate to Epping?" In lieu of getting a dumpster for it, he spread it as thinly and judiciously as possible through the rest of the yard. Just what we needed...more highly compactible soil amongst the perennials. Once he had finished digging the pond, he started trenching a meandering waterfall from the top of the slope down to the pond, with an auxiliary trench for the hose from the pump. He ran electricity from the garage to run the pump and biofilter. The waterfall had steps to make it splash more rhythmically. He lined the pond and the trench with rubber sheeting, then started laying some 3,000 pounds of slate to surround the pond and make the waterfall steps. He installed the pump and biofilter. He filled it with water, which had to be treated to overcome the vast quantities of chemicals that our county puts in, presumably to protect us from all possible ills. We went on a pilgrimage to the garden place where we got plants. some flowering, some aerating, some grasses. They had to be kept at a certain height, so various bricks and milk crates and such were placed in the pond to elevate the plants.

Last but not least, we got fish.

You can spend $10,000 for a single koi if you're a connoisseur.

We got five $3 goldfish.

This was a good thing, because the first batch of fish died within two weeks. We hadn't gotten the ecosystem of the pond quite right, because one by one they floated to the surface, looking like those little cartoon dead animals with x's instead of bright eyes. Ah well, only $15 lost.

We got another five goldfish. We did better this time: only four of them died. We had once again named them (Bubba, Spot, Whitey, Miss Fishy, and ...I can't remember. Their personalities weren't all that distinctive.)

So we replaced the four that died, this time not daring to name them.

We must have done something right, because they did well, growing and gobbling up the expensive TetraPond fish food that we now got in the large boxes.

Winter came. We knew from our reading (yes, I was now fully engaged in this adventure) that PH had dug deep enough so the fish could winter over - they needed at least 18 inch depth. We knew that once the water temperature got below 50 degrees F, they'd stop eating and go dormant. We purchased a little heater that bore a disturbing resemblance to those heater coils you can put into a mug of water to boil it in situ, and make your tea. This was supposed to keep a small part of the pond from freezing over, so the fish would get oxygen.

Sure enough, when it got cold enough, the fish became very still, floating near the bottom of the pond. They no longer came up to the surface like puppies when I went out to feed them.

I expected they wouldn't survive our cold winter. Despite following the directions in the books, I was sure they'd float to the top once the weather got warm enough. Little x's for eyes once again. Another $15 to be flushed (literally).

I was wrong.

One sunny spring day, I noticed they were swimming around again, nicely lively. A few weeks later I noticed little tiny things in the pond. The fish had spawned.

StrongOpinions was horrified. "The fish have been corrupted!" she cried. Well, not corrupted, but they clearly had had some fishy fun.

Eventually we counted well over twenty baby fish. The five parent fish were now as large as seven inches in length (not bad for $3 goldfish) and looked plump and healthy.

Herein lay the quandary: what to do with the babies? The books make it clear that a closed ecosystem like our pond can only support a certain number of inches of fish. We were well over the limit.

The thought of flushing the babies didn't just horrify our vegetarian daughter, it seemed to offend the nature of the work PH had put into the pond. What to do?

We called the garden center from whence the parent fish had come. They wouldn't take them, for fear of the introduction of some fish disease from our alien babies.

We finally got the idea to list them on craigslist, the populist local variant of ebay that operates in many major cities. Success! We had several inquiries from a variety of people in the area.

Two came this evening to get some fish.

This was an experience that is unique to this area. One was a Vietnamese man, Phan. The other was a woman who was either Iranian or Turkish- we never quite got her name.

The fish, being smart, figured out pretty quickly what was up. They hid, despite my offer of their favorite fish food. We tried wrangling the fish, with one of us at one end of the pond swishing one of the fishnets around to scare them down to the other end, where the other of us had the other net.

That didn't work.

Then PH took the plants and their various stands out of the pond, to give them less places to hide.

That didn't work.

Then PH got the idea of taking out the section of chicken wire we lay over the pond in the fall to catch the falling leaves. Phan had one of the nets. The Iranian lady had the other. Slowly, they managed to corral the fish to the end of the pond; we harvested twelve to go to their new homes. They were put into giant ziploc bags and didn't seem too stressed. Their kin in the pond didn't seem too mournful.

No one fell in the pond.

Somehow, this was not the scene we envisioned when we first talked about our tranquil, peaceful, little "water feature." This was much more fun.

Somehow, though, I feel a bit like when my first son went off to college...

Friday Five Meme

Thanks to Songbird, who is much wittier than I...
RevGalBlogPal's Friday Five

1) The weather where you are--gray, and it can't decide whether it's hot or cold...unnervingly like me in the midst of hot flashes.
2) Where you are typing this--In PH's study, probably the most elegant little room in the house. I always feel like a grownup when I'm in here. Of course, it could be the bookshelves filled with theological and psychotherapy books.
3) Where you might like to be sitting if you could be anywhere--having un ombra ed un tramezzino in Ai Do Mori, the oldest wine bar in Venice. No place better on a gray autumn day, particularly if you've got your rubber boots on to deal with aqua alta.
4) A chore you have to do this weekend--the annual mammosquish. Another part of the joy of womanhood.
5) Something delightful you will do or would like to do this weekend-do a baking frenzy for coffee hour at church this Sunday (Italian almond macaroons, madeleines, raspberry-oatmeal bars), get a pedicure, go see "Proof" and.or "Wallace and Gromit" with PH. Enjoy being empty nesters for a few days while StrongOpinions is in Cheesehead land, visiting UselessBoyfriend. Clean the house and have it stay clean for more than a nanosecond.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Grandprincess and Grandpuppy

"I love my puppy!" - Grandprincess

"Keep telling me this is better than the pound." - Grandpuppy

In Honor of My Wedding Anniversary

I share with you a true story:

Brides are crazy. This is a fact, not a judgment.

I know this, because I’ve been a bride.

I was crazy. How do I know? I made my own wedding cake.

You know all those “Baking with Julia” shows on PBS that have famous patissiers tossing off goodies with the venerable queen of the kitchen? Baking a wedding cake isn’t like that, although I did use Martha Stewart’s recipe from that series for the cake (not the filling or frosting or décor – that was Rose Levy Beranbaum all the way).

Here’s what happens.

A week before your wedding, when you are most insane, you buy a lot of sugar, and a very lot of cake flour, and a very, very lot of unsalted butter (it must be UNsalted, not regular butter), plus some other ingredients that require you to go to the extremely special cake and candy supply store way the other side of the universe.

You sharpen wooden dowels in a pencil sharpener to provide the support for the layers, which will weigh as much as Martha Stewart (her pre-menopausal weight, not her pre-jail weight, thank heavens), and then wash them for fear of giving your guests graphite poisoning.

You measure the quantities of ingredients. This is called mise en place but might well be called planning the D-Day invasion. Alternatively, one might call it the Bay of Pigs, at least in my kitchen.

You realize that your Kitchen-Aid mixer, although the ne plus ultra of mixers when you got it several years ago, cannot accommodate the very large quantities of ingredients you are going to have to mix.

You portion the ingredients into manageable amounts for the now-inferior Kitchen Aid mixer, organizing by layer size, since you’re making this cake in tiered layers.

You mix the ingredients, carefully following the directions.

You realize that you haven’t turned on the oven to preheat it, so you turn it on and have to wait.

You realize that you haven’t prepared your baking pan, so you spray it with a little Pam (should have used softened butter, but you forgot to get enough to meet that need), put in the parchment paper, which you didn’t cut as neatly as you wished you had, then spray it with Baker’s Joy . Will anyone know you aren’t using the butter and flour? Will this spell doom for the marriage?

You pour the batter into the pan and are on the verge of putting it in the oven when you realize you’ve forgotten to add the vanilla.

You pour the batter back in the mixing bowl, add the vanilla, re-prepare the pan, pour the batter back in and put it in the oven, praying that the leavening power of the baking powder hasn’t been compromised. (Do soldiers fear the power of their missiles is affected if there is too long a wait before they are fired? I think not. Baking is harder and more unforgiving than war.)

You hover over the oven. The rule about watched pots doesn’t apply to baking, where the art of the hover is finely tuned. You debate whether to open the oven when the timer rings, wondering once again about that faithless thermostat which is usually wrong, and how it might affect the cooking time. You test the cake with a cake tester, which took you ten minutes to find in your cooking tool drawer because it is so small, but it is better than a toothpick because it is EQUIPMENT.

You take the cake out to cool and wonder if perhaps you left it in too long because the cake has already shrunk from the sides of the pan and Rose and Martha told you not to let that happen. Will anyone taste the dryness of the overbaked cake? Will we be divorced by our first anniversary?

You repeat the process for the remaining layers. Timing must be adjusted for each because of the different sizes. But the change in timing is not a linear thing, and besides you’re miserable at math, so all you can do is hover and pray.

The cake layers cool. You drink a cup of coffee. You wish for a stiff shot of scotch, but fear the effect that might have on the cake.

Each layer must be torted, or split into two equal layers, so there is a place for the mousse filling to go. Getting the split even, so that the final assemblage doesn’t look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, requires a few technical tricks (or trucs, as the French patissiers might say). Your powers of concentration are waning, your mother and Julia never taught you the trucs, and one of the layers does not look quite perfectly even. You contemplate making a replacement layer. You burst into tears and jettison that idea.

The cake layers must be frozen, since it is four days before the wedding, and nobody’s recipe will last that long. There are too many other steps that must be completed.

You go to bed.

You rise to face the challenge of the mousse. In a descent into a deeper trough of madness, you decide to make two different kinds of mousse to fill the cake, one chocolate, one not. You are modifying someone’s mousse filling recipe, which is tricky even when sane. You don’t know if the mousse will freeze, which it will need to do to hold the cakes for the buttercream phase.

You make the raspberry base for that mousse. Making the base takes longer than you expect. You think this project will never get done.

You wait for the raspberry base to cool. You do not think of melting the chocolate for the chocolate mousse, even thought this will require a cooling period as well, because you are insane. Rational thought has left the building.

You finish the raspberry mousse, and take out the frozen torted layers to fill, rewrap, and put back in the freezer. You thank the gods of baking and your landlord, who had a big freezer in the basement of the house you are renting. The gods are smiling.

You start the chocolate mousse, melting the chocolate, doing all the whipping cooking tasting adjusting things that one does for the chocolate mousse. It is 7 p.m. and the child wants dinner. How dare she interrupt this process with something so mundane?

You stop and cook dinner for the child. It is 9 p.m.

You take out the layer that will have the chocolate mousse. You fill it, but realize that proportionally there isn’t enough mousse to make that layer the same height as the other layers. It will be ½ inch shorter. You burst into tears.

You dry your eyes, rewrap that slightly shorter layer, and put it into the freezer.

You go to bed.

Waking is not pleasant. Today is the day of the buttercream. This is not your mother’s buttercream, made with confectioner’s sugar, butter, and a little vanilla and maybe warm cream. No, this is a classic buttercream, made with an Italian meringue base per Rose’s Cake Bible ( the chemistry text for those who bake – Rose is the Marie Curie of the field).

This is not only classic buttercream, it is VAST QUANTITIES of classic buttercream. Rose takes pity on you and gives you the proportions of ingredients for a cake the size of the one you are making, but once again the iniquitous Kitchen Aid is unequal to the task. You must break the ingredients into smaller portions (mise en place times two) and pray that the two different batches are the same in appearance, so the finished cake doesn’t look like the Washington Monument, with a demarcation line where work stopped when they ran out of money.

Buttercream completed, you bring up the layers to be frosted. You unwrap each one, dust off any crumbs, and apply what is called a crumb coat of frosting to, logically enough, keep any crumbs from marring the final finish coat. Invariably a few stray crumbs manage to sneak by, but you are on a roll. The cakes, being frozen, take the icing quite well. You finish off each layer by running a hairdryer over it to slightly warm the frosting so you can smooth it. You think that you have truly descended into madness, using a hairdryer on a cake.

You put the layers, unwrapped, into the freezer for a brief time to harden the icing before you rewrap them. You put the leftover buttercream into a plastic tub and put it into the refrigerator. You think little of that act at the moment, but it will be your salvation later on.

After an appropriate time, you once again take the layers out for the assembly. Each layer is on a thick cardboard pedestal. Just layering them without supports will cause them, once the cake defrosts completely, to sink like the lava dome at Mount St. Helens. You hammer in the wooden dowels with a rubber mallet as you construct the layers. This is just as Martha and Rose have taught you. Baking as construction project. The assembly is now almost three feet tall and weighs as much as a six-year-old child. You put it back in the freezer.

You think about what ordering a cake from the supermarket might have been like.

You sigh.

You go to bed.

The prospect of making flowers from an odd substance called gum paste sounds crazy. That’s alright, because we have already established that you are crazy. Gum paste, an amalgam of gum Arabic, sugar, glucose and other household chemicals, gives you a material that you can use to create the most delicate of flowers. You have decided that you are going to make gum paste flowers because Rose talks about them, and you’ve seen them in wedding cake books, and you know you can make the most beautiful things that are just like the flowers in your bouquet. Somewhere, the notion of just getting more of your flowers to decorate the cake, rather than creating an imitation of them, has slipped away, perhaps with your sanity.

You make the alchemical mixture. You start to form it into flowers, many flowers, many different kinds of flowers, each tinted slightly differently. You make gum paste roses, gum paste jasmine, gum paste ivy. You dust them with bits of edible gold dust, a silly thing to worry about since these flowers, though made in large part with sugar, taste awful, and no sane person will eat them.. You use the same sculpting techniques Rose has taught you when you make roses from chocolate modeling clay; at least that tastes like a grown-up Tootsie Roll. This tastes like you might expect from something called gum paste.

At midnight, you are still crafting gum paste flowers and assembling little sprays of them for the cake.

You fear you have developed diabetes from all the sugar products you’ve used over the course of the cake-making. You’ve read somewhere that a chef said he thought all chefs were fat because they absorbed fats through their skin. Perhaps this has happened to you.

You wonder if you will still be able to fit into the wedding dress you made for yourself – another foray into madness.

You put the assembled flower sprays into flat plastic shoeboxes (clean, of course) with tissue paper to protect them and keep them dry.

You go to bed.

You rise the next day, knowing that various relatives are coming to town today. You start the day by making the frightening trip to church with the cake. It will wait there, slowly defrosting for a day, in the huge refrigerator where it will share space with the half and half for coffee hour and the apple juice and baby carrots for the children in Sunday School.

You pray no one will touch it. You leave a sign on the door saying (in a very Christian way, of course) “Don’t touch this cake or you will die a painful, horrible death.”

You go home, take a shower, and dress for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. Your back hurts from carrying the cake.

Your directions to the rehearsal dinner are fatally flawed: one of the key road signs has been stolen. The out-of-town guests drive miles out of their way before finally making it back to the gathering. You are mortified. The children are bored.

You go to bed wishing you had just gone down to Town Hall, gotten a damned marriage license, and went to Bermuda.

You wake up the morning of your wedding, and realize that the sky is blue and you are happy. For some reason this shocks you, perhaps because you are insane.

You dress in casual clothes to go to the church and finish the assembly and decorating of your cake. You do not have any coffee, because you want your hands to be steady.

It is Sunday, and you arrive during the normal Sunday service. The giant refrigerator is in the kitchen where the coffee is prepared for the post-service Coffee Hour. Edgar, the 92 year old man who has made the coffee since the Johnson Administration, is there. His moods swing between charm and curmudgeonliness. He is reasonably sane, though.

You are insane.

The cake awaits you in the refrigerator.

You will take it out and put it on one of the rolling carts, for final decoration and moving into the chapel, where your reception will take place. You reach in to take it out of the refrigerator. Edgar says, “Let me help you, dear.”

“No,” you say.” I’ve got it.”

He helps anyway, tipping the cake into your chest. Fortunately, this is as far as it tips, and you manage to get it onto the cart with no further problem…except for the two roundish dents in one side of it.

You contemplate killing Edgar, but realize this will not solve the cake problem and will distress your guests, not to mention your fiancé, who is opposed to murder on principle.

You realize that there may be enough extra buttercream to address the dents. You smooth it on, put the golden ribbon decoration around each layer, add some additional buttercream edging in swirls and flourishes, gently place the gum paste flowers, glistening with the gold petal dust, on the cake, and carefully move it into the chapel. You manage to safely transfer it to the top of the piano, where it will be displayed during the reception. You say a prayer to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Saint Honore, patron saints of bakers, to keep it safe while you go home to prepare for the evening wedding ceremony.

You go to the hairdresser, where Lucien has made a special trip to fix your hair. He makes it excessively poufy a la Priscilla Presley (the early, Elvis years), but you still feel lovely, particularly after the drink of brandy he gives you to calm your nerves. He makes the child look like a little princess, which she is anyway. You go home to dress and put on the makeup.

By now the boys are in their tuxes. They have relented after making cash offers to be spared the indignity, offers which you have refused. You complete your preparations. You are on some other planet now, watching yourself move through the various preparatory steps to making a marriage.

You think this is what hope is, doing this again, loving again after a disaster.

You go to the church, you see your beloved, you know that this is more than hope, it is belief in the essential rightness of this love.

You have the ceremony. The music is lovely, the flowers are lovely, the words spoken are lovely, you remember nothing of it but the quality of the light in the evening.

You are still floating during the reception. The toasts happen, kind words are spoken, people seem genuinely happy for you. People bring you food. You eat, but do not taste.

The time comes for the cutting of the cake. There it sits, in all its glory. The work of a week, of a lifetime, waiting to be sacrificed on the altar of love. You wonder, for a moment, if it will taste good. You cut, with the cake server your mother used at her wedding. You each take a bite.

It tastes sweet. It is sweet. All is good.

Happy Anniversary, dear PH. Eight years is only the start of bliss.