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.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Cheesehead's Meme

Cheesehead has challenged me to participate in her meme:
Leave your name and... 1. I'll respond with something random about you.
2. I'll tell you what song/movie reminds me of you.
3. I'll pick a flavor of jello to wrestle with you in. (Ummm... actually, I won't.)
4. I'll try to say something that only makes sense to you and me.
5. I'll tell you my first/clearest memory of you.
6. I'll tell you what animal you remind me of.
7. I'll ask you something that I've always wondered about you.
8. If I do this for you, you must post this on your journal. You MUST. Okay...who wants to play with me??

And here's how she replied to me:

For Mibi: 1. Terrific pseudonym-osity.
2. "Still Standing" by Carrie Newcomer. It's a song about strength.
3. I was just kidding about the jello. ;-)
4. I'm glad your BC is no longer fiction.
5. I remember how you "get" having 'interesting' adult children.
6. A beautiful strong bird--a long distance flier of some sort. Maybe a hawk.
7. I wonder how your journey to ministry came about. What's that story like?

My dear, you are much cleverer than I! I adore Carrie Newcomer, but number 4 is so obscure I can't figure it out.

The journey to ministry was very long, circuitous, and serendipitous.

You can take the girl out of the Irish, but you can't take the Irish out of the girl...

You are St Brigid's Cross: St. Brigid is an Irish
saint who hand-wove a cross,out of rushes she
found by the river. She made the cross while
explaining the passion of our Lord to a pagan

What Kind of Cross are You?
brought to you by

Friday, October 07, 2005

Friday Cat Blogging

The Spooky cat helping her RevGal mom in rainy day reading (note the RevGalBlogPals tee shirt).

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Rob built the furniture in the living room because I asked him to. It was my second year in the apartment, my second year in graduate school. The first year, I lived with another woman, an education major from Montgomery, Alabama. The apartment was furnished by the landlord with cheap, ugly pieces made of pressboard and plastic veneer. When she left, and Rob moved in, I asked the landlord to take the furniture back. I wanted our own space. We bought a bed.

We were in love in some childish, naive way. Enjoying the physicality, sharing music, sharing college gossip. We lived in a closed universe with a secret language all our own. He liked the idea that I would ask him to build furniture. This was a manly task, an appropriate one in his eyes. I gave him an idea of what I wanted it to look like, and he planned it and built it. A built-in L-shaped seating area, with cushions that I upholstered. A credenza of sorts under the windows, with terracotta tiles. I would tile and grout it.

His idea of the project was to build it so a 500-pound person wouldn’t break it. Since we had friends who were opera singers, and whose weight might approach that number, it wasn’t unwise. Thus, he bought a vast number of 2x4s, and overbuilt the thing so that a massive earthquake wouldn’t move it. Of course, the one element we didn’t plan for was comfort. The sofa was a miserable thing to sit on; the proportions were wrong. Sit on it for more than twenty minutes and your legs would fall asleep if you were short; your back would start hurting if you were tall. It looked pretty good, though, in a earth-toned 70’s modern way, and we shared the pride of having made something ourselves.

I was also responsible for the lamp, made from a big green glass jar. As with everything connected with the project, I thought I was saving money by doing it myself. By the time I bought the components, it always was more expensive. My heart loved it because I had made it, but no one would ever mistake it for a hundred dollar lamp, or even a twenty dollar one.

Having completed this fine project, we needed a party to celebrate. The occasion came when my mother decided to come up from New Jersey for a visit. Thirty years later, I can’t recall if she knew that Rob and I were living together – I think not – but she must have suspected it. Nevertheless, we decided we would throw her a dinner party, and I would cook a feast.

She didn’t know I could cook. In her home, the kitchen was her fortress. My father and I entered at our peril. Small tasks might be delegated to us – stringing beans, peeling potatoes – but she controlled the castle. She was a good cook, albeit a predictable one given my father’s predilection for meat and potatoes.

When I left for graduate school, after four years of college while living at home, I taught myself to cook, first by using Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer, then by the ineffable Julia Child’s The French Chef Cookbook. I experimented every night after my last seminar, often cooking late into the night. That first year, living with my Alabama roommate, I’d often hear her drawl “Mary, you’re gonna have nightmares eatin’ that stuff this late.” Sometimes, I did. Some mushrooms - made a la grecque per the old Joy of Cooking - had a decidedly non-hallucenogenic effect – I knelt in homage to the porcelain god in our little bathroom for several hours. She was living on cottage cheese, with an occasional hot dog, so her comments on cuisine held little weight. She didn’t want to try my experiments, unless they were baked goods.

By the time the second year, and the fateful dinner party, rolled around, I was an experienced cook, at least by my own measure. Thus it was that I decided I would cook a cassoulet for the party, in honor of my mother’s Alsatian heritage. It was late autumn, so a hearty casserole-type dish would do well. That, plus a salad and bread, would make a fine feast.

That old rhyme that begins “for want of a nail” comes to mind when I think of the project that the cassoulet would become.

Vast quantities of various ingredients, some unavailable in Hartford in the mid-70s, were called for in the recipe. I needed to decide on substitutions for things like duck confit. I did find a regular Long Island duck, something that was not on the menu at my house growing up. I couldn’t find French garlic sausage. Kielbasa would have to do. And so on, through the seemingly endless list of things I’d need for this casserole, not the least of which was a very large bag of dried beans.

I am not a bean lover. I like regular American baked beans because of the high brown sugar-molasses content. I’ve learned to love lentils, with the variety of spices that can transform them. Unreconstructed white beans – no. The cassoulet would add some flavors, but this was a bean dish. Nonetheless, this would be my culinary triumph, my way of showing my mother that I was now an adult. I could cook! Not only could I cook, but I could make something that my mother had never tried to cook.

For this dish to work, only one pot would do: a massive Le Creuset pot. Le Creuset makes beautiful enameled cast iron pots. They are famous for two things: the slow, even heat such a pot lends to stews, and the incredible weight of the cast iron. Even the small pots are heavy. A large Le Creuset is hernia-inducing.

Off I went to the kitchenware store for the pot. I found my pot, in the traditional flame color (orange fading into red and a status indicator for foodies even then). It cost a whopping $185, a vast sum for someone who was working part-time as a schoolteacher. The investment was worth it. I was proving something (to myself? To my mother? To Rob?) and this was a requirement.

Cassoulet was originally created to use up leftover meats of various sorts, and stretch the protein by adding legumes. It was made tasty by some tomatoes, herbs and spices, and judicious use of fats and breadcrumbs. It was an end-of-the-month penny-stretcher (or sou-stretcher, to be more accurate). My recipe was not.

Even with the substitutions of more mundane ingredients, this casserole was going to cost me a lot. Furthermore, it was going to make a large quantity of food. How many days was I willing to eat beans? Not that many.

We decided to invite several friends, so my mother could meet the young people with whom I worked and played in Hartford. Musicians are eccentric as a rule, and this was certainly true of the young men and women we asked for the party. John, an organist who affected a French beret and a quasi-British accent, was among the milder variations. Stephanie, a mezzo who would later marry a gay organist and then be shocked – shocked – when he left her for a man, was the most sane of the women. The apartment was small and our well-constructed furniture could accommodate weight but not quantity of people. We decided to add some folding chairs. This might destroy the elegance (so we thought) of our design, but would make it possible to share the beans with more people.

I began cooking the components of the cassoulet three days in advance. Ventilation was poor in the little space, and I began to feel like the dish had entered my pores, but I was on a mission to prove my abilities. Step by step I worked my way through the complex recipe. When I reached a step which gave me some down-time, I cleaned or made another course, like dessert. I can no longer remember the other courses. The cassoulet, built with a hundred 2x4s of ingredients, took all my attention.

My mother arrived the morning of the feast. She was more focused on the sorry state of our neighborhood, with prostitutes trolling on the street corners and dirty children playing in the gutter, than on our elegant interior design. She was not shy in her comments. The cat hid under the bed in an act of self-preservation from the acerbic tone and the second-hand smoke.

I completed the final stages of the dinner, relatively calm because of all the preliminary work, and set up the buffet in the kitchen. Our guests would have to balance their plates on their laps. Had I thought of this problem, I might not have chosen the meal I did, but it was too late now.

Slowly, and predictably late, our friends came. The concept of time to a musician is relative, not absolute. This is particularly so for opera singers, who made up the larger part of the guest list. For them, tempo must be flexible. How else would one hold a high note until the conductor is shaking with rage?

We had wine, hors d’oeuvres, chatted away. My mother, never easy with young people and in the unfamiliar role of being the guest rather than the chef, squirmed in her uncomfortable seat on the home-made sofa. Our friends were oblivious to her discomfort; I was intensely aware of it. I could think of nothing that would put her at ease, and felt the sting of failure as her hostess. I didn’t realize then that there was nothing I could do to make her feel better. Her discomfort was not the awful sofa, it was being in a group of young people who already had more privileges than she had ever had in her life, who were not only done with four year college degrees, but were in graduate school. Their conversation might have been in Urdu. She didn’t belong. I was too busy fussing with the food to act as a conversational bridge for her. If I had she might have resented it even more.

It was time for the piece de resistance: the cassoulet. I announced the main course, and everyone got up to grab another plate in the kitchen. The young people didn’t let Mother go first. This was an unforgivable sign of poor manners in her eyes. When she got to the buffet table, she looked down and said, “Beans? You made beans?” My protestation that this was cassoulet, that it was French, that I thought she’d like it, were useless.

I had not even made real food for her. I had made beans.

Everyone (perhaps even my mother) enjoyed the dish. Several of the guests had second helpings. Even so, we barely made a dent in the ocean of beans that was the pot of cassoulet. My stomach was already jumping at my mother’s displeasure and the jug wine; the thought of beans for the foreseeable future nearly sent me over the edge of nausea. Somehow, I survived the main course, and started the coffee and served dessert. Whatever it was, it was well-received. Full of good food and sufficiently alcoholic wine, we continued to sit, though some were shifting from side to side. Whether this was the beans at work or the 2x4 sofa, I didn’t know.

Rob and the guests departed, and I was left with the clean-up. My mother helped. Washing dishes was the equivalent of Zen meditation in her household. We did the work silently. I wondered how angry she was about the beans. I was too young to know that it wasn’t the beans that she was angry about.

She stayed for another two days. We went out to eat and had mediocre food, in no way the equal of the cassoulet, but she paid for it, and was happy. She didn’t thank me for the hospitality or the effort or the food, nor did she compliment our décor. I had failed.

Almost thirty years have passed. I have learned that the predicate of pleasure at the table is the company and the love with which the food was prepared. At potluck dinners, I still find myself doing competitive cooking, asking my husband if what I served was superior to what others had brought, but I no longer overbuild what I bring and tend to rely on the same favorites again and again. I think I know now that food is not competition or proof, but it can be love, and that is the best of what we bring to the table.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Seminary Application - Spiritual Reflection

As part of my seminary application, I must write a spiritual reflection. I'm on draft # 49 1/2 - perhaps I'm overworking it a bit? - and would like to share it with you. I covet your comments and suggestions.

Spiritual Reflection

Perhaps the briefest way to explain the journey that has brought me to apply to VTS is this: it is easier to say “no” to myself than it is to say “no” to my Lord.

I was born in 1952 and spent the first four months of my life in an orphanage. I was designated to go to one set of adoptive parents, but my godmother’s intercession with her supervisor in the Diocese of Newark caused me to be redirected, as it were, to the couple who became my adoptive parents.

I was raised Roman Catholic, but attended a Ukrainian Catholic grammar school for grades 1 through 3. These nuns and lay people, who had escaped the repressive Soviet regime that crushed their nation in the mid-1950’s had a faith that puts us all to shame. Even at that early age, I could sense their sense of purpose and determination to live as Christians in a new life in America. Thereafter I attended Roman Catholic school, and was particularly impressed by the Dominican nuns who taught at my high school. Their academic excellence, their rich spiritual life, their sense of social justice informed my beliefs as a young woman.

I was disillusioned, though, by the Catholic Church’s view of the role of women. The level of respect accorded to my high school teachers, who were academics and theologians of some excellence, was not the equal of that accorded to priests, who were, of course, male. Some of the priests were wonderful. Some were less than wonderful. Yet their position in the hierarchy was clearly higher. It rankled.

I was further disillusioned when, in my college years, I was the victim of sexual violence. I was told to go to confession. What I was to confess, I still do not know, but the confessor impressed upon me that I had somehow done wrong and needed to repent.

Though I felt I could no longer attend Catholic Church, I could not separate myself from God. The next year, when in graduate school, I got the opportunity to sing in a choir at a Congregationalist Church. It was a very different spiritual environment. Scriptural exegesis was not part of what I had grown up with, but I enjoyed it, and grew from the experience to a deeper appreciation of the Scripture. It was revelatory to realize that the laity could study Scripture, could delve into it without the mediating influence of the priest.

In later years, when I was married to my former husband, we attended Unitarian Church. It was the only church I could convince him to attend. He, too, was a former Catholic, and had felt deeply unhappy with the experience. Although the concept of a non-credal denomination seemed strange to me, I embraced the opportunity to explore a different way to address the Divine. My Judeo-Christian roots were strong, and sometimes I disagreed with some of the more unusual approaches some of the congregants in that church took in their search for truth, but the pastor there was a gifted and thoughtful man, who rarely took the easy way in his sermons. I learned from him and was grateful for his teaching.

I’ve attended the Episcopal Church, and Saint Peter’s in particular, since 1995. Subsequent to my divorce, I returned to the Washington area, where I had worked several years prior. A friend suggested St. Peter’s, with its rich music program, as a possible church home for me. When I came to Saint Peter’s and to the Episcopal Church, I felt I had come home to a place and a people who recognized the importance of the sacraments and who valued a spiritual life that balanced the mystical, philosophical, and liturgical elements of faith in a way that resonated for me. I was received into the church in December of 1997 by Bishop Peter James Lee. Saint Peter’s was also the place where I met and married my husband, Doug, who is ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and works as a pastoral counselor with the Center for Pastoral Counseling of Virginia. Though he is ordained in another denomination, he attends St. Peter’s with me.

Since coming to Saint Peter’s, I’ve served as a member of the choir – music has always been the way that I felt I could reach out to God - I’ve served as chair of the Every Member Canvass, I’ve been on the vestry and served as its Senior Warden during a time of great tumult in our parish, I’ve been a delegate to Region III and currently serve as its Vice President and Secretary, and I serve as Chair of the Board of our Generation to Generation Fund. I have raised funds for the Diocese’s Mustard Seed Fund. Every now and again, I have fun baking for coffee hour, and I regularly cook for Meals That Heal.
One of the ministries I’ve especially cherished at Saint Peter’s has been as a Lay Eucharistic Minister. It has been my sense that it is in the sacraments that we help people at moments when they are most vulnerable and most open to God’s voice. When I help distribute wine at the Eucharist, I feel a sense of privilege in service that is humbling. On those occasions when I’ve brought Communion to shut-ins, it was instructive. Learning to be quiet and know that God is there and that sometimes words aren’t necessary was not a natural lesson for me. I’m grateful that I have started to understand that.

In a leadership role, or in a service role, I always feel the Lord by my side, and am grateful for the opportunity, but I have felt in recent years that I am called to do more.

I long to participate in the sacraments in a deeper, more active way. This is at the core of my belief that I am called to be a priest. I could continue to serve in lay ministries, but there is that insistent tug on my sleeve saying that I am called to do more, to walk with people as they make their faith journeys, to help them when they fall, and to show them that sinners who fall as I have can get up, with God’s help, and to share the sacraments with them.

I have had a full professional life, serving in two branches of Federal government and in the private sector, running units of multinational corporations and being an entrepreneur. I believe that the skills I learned in those jobs would prove useful in the priesthood, particularly in parish administration and in resolution of congregational conflict, and I look forward to the kind of training and spiritual growth that would help me to preach God’s Word.

Part of this process for me has been to develop a more disciplined prayer life. I have been saying Morning Prayer pretty close to daily for the past couple of years. Recently, I’ve been trying to add Noonday or Evening Prayer, although I confess that has been more difficult. I’ve been reading a number of books (Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, Nora Gallagher, among others) to help me contemplate God’s call for me, and I’ve begun a self-study program in Biblical Greek. Four years of Latin in high school have helped with that a bit. I am a weekly communicant at Saint Peter’s, and participate in the Emmaus/First Acts Study Group as well as the Women’s Bible Study. I have the benefit of a wonderful spiritual director, who challenges and encourages me in my conversation with Christ.

I believe that at this point in my life I will be a capable student. I have a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s, and have had additional study in business management at Stanford University. I’ve had a great deal of coursework related to my professional life in software engineering, government relations, and in diversity issues, and have excelled in that work. I’ve written coursework in software engineering as well. I’ve written extensively (public policy issue anaylsis as well as speechwriting) for a Congressional Committee and for the trade associations with which I’ve been affiliated, and regularly speak at conferences in my industry. Frankly, maturity has increased my diligence and hunger for knowledge on a broad range of subjects; it has also provided me with an ability to separate the wheat from the chaff in analyzing content. I’d like to think I have an agile and hungry enough mind to take on the rigors of the seminary.

The thought of going from a job where I am at the top of my game, and which compensates me well, to an uncertain future and financial challenges, is daunting. I have thought about this long and hard. I’ve tried saying “no” to God for several years. He keeps drawing me in, saying there is something more I need to do for Him. At this point, I want to give up to His will, where it may take me. I want to say “no” to my human desire for comfort, “no” to my craving for the familiarity of the life we now live, and “yes” to Him who is the source of all that I am.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Nursery School is So Very Cool.

It's especially cool when you've got a matching dress and shoes and backpack. This is granddaughter Katie (all in pink) with her best friend since birth Skyler at their first day of nursery school.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Knitting Blogging

Ah, yes, I know I've recovered from the trauma of GREs. I'm knitting again.

For several weeks I had focused on "The Ultimate Math Refresher Book." I've gratefully passed it on to StrongOpinions, who has SATs next Saturday. I can now concentrate on more important things, like doing the laundry, knitting, Koine Greek, and working on some troublesome legislation.

It has also turned blissfully cool here in Your Nation's Capitol. Thus, sitting and knitting while watching Jacques Pepin and America's Test Kitchen of a Saturday afternoon is not only possible, it's delightful. Perhaps PH's fisherman knit sweater will get done by Christmas, after all! The Spooky cat likes to cuddle alongside me while I knit. Who needs Prozac?

We three went out to dinner last night. StrongOpinions, as usual, shared her strong opinions with us. What a delight she is turning out to be! I'm such a lucky mommy!