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!