Saturday, June 30, 2007


My oldest brother, Geek Guru bought one of our nephews The Dangerous Book for Boys. All the cousins in residence (of both sexes) were entranced. One niece, She of the Books, wandered around with it in hand, trying to teach Devil Dog new tricks (augmenting her current abilities, which include wedding cake eating and finding skunks). All three of my guys begged me to buy it for them, which led me to admit I'd already ordered a copy for Math Man's upcoming birthday.

The book was waiting for us when we arrived home earlier this week. The boys dove right back in, dreaming of building treehouses and making bows and arrows. Barnacle Boy appeared in the kitchen, "Look, Mom! They tell you how to shoot, skin and cook a rabbit." "Neat." "Can I try? Just the shooting and skinning part - not the eating..." "Uhhhh....."

We have lots of rabbits in the backyard, but I am certain that the township would frown on even a bow and arrow hunt. I suggested he wait for a return visit to my dad's where there is also a plethora of rabbits, who live in a field of rosemary on the hill. I've wondered for years if they taste of rosemary. Or maybe we can pair him up with MaryBeth's husband, who has a craving for rabbit tonight....

More fascinating to me even than The Boy's sudden fascination with hunting was my kids conversation about roles and gender. They firmly stated that boys are more risk-taking than girls, insist this is not a stereotype and holds in all cases. I pointed out that I was interested in many of the activities in the book, as was She of the Book and Bead Girl. Facts didn't seem to affect their position a whit...

Friday, June 29, 2007

RGBP Friday Five: Time-tested talents

The RGBP Friday Five plumbs tests and talents....

1. Personality tests; love them or hate them?

It's a love-hate relationship? I like to remind my husband that I'm an introvert, citing my Meyers-Briggs, and that I need time alone to refuel periodically. Then again, one of the members of my community lives by the light of the Meyers-Briggs, it's nearly the first question she asks of someone. Every once in a while I get the urge to peel off the virtual INTJ sticker she's applied to me and do something really outrageously E or P. But I'm too much of an INTJ....

2. Would you describe yourself as practical, creative, intellectual or a mixture ?

A friend once called me a practical mystic, a description I've grown to be more comfortable with over the years.

3. It is said that everyone has their 15 minutes of fame; have you had your yet? If so what was it, if not dream away what would you like it to be?

I'm having 15 seconds of fame today! An op-ed I wrote on the pleasures of silence appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

4. If you were given a 2 year sabatical ( oh the dream of it) to create something would it be music, literature, art.....something completely different...share your dream with us...

Next year I get 9 mos (or a year if I can swing it), so I'm already dreaming! Write a draft of a book? Make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius? Prove a new math theorem? Make and bind art books?? Help! Too many choices...

5. Describe a talent you would like to develop, but that seems completely beyond you.

Drawing. I would love to be able to sketch what I see.

Bonus question: Back to the church- what does every member ministry mean to you? Is it truly possible to encourage/ implement?

I think it's possible to grow it, but you have to be terribly patient, and water it constantly. I suspect it has much to do with recognizing the "quiet" gifts (those who pray, those who work behind the scenes to wash the linens, those who put the chairs back) as just that: gifts and talents that the community needs as much or more as it does lovely flowers, good singing and inspiring preaching. To those who say they are too busy (caring for an elderly parent, raising kids, working), invite them to pray for the particular needs of the community and the world. Ask them to commit a certain amount of time a week, just as they might to a more "active" ministry.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Barnacle Boy's Blessed Biscuits

Barnacle Boy loves to bake and to share what he bakes. Batches of cookies end up in my classroom, delivered to neighbors, mailed to aunts and brought along on visits to my spiritual director (who has a serious chocolate habit and a penchant for sharing the treats that pass through his office with all comers).

On our recent visit to my dad's the Boy enjoyed trying out the new kitchen and baked two batches of his famous cookies. His cookies taste different (and to some minds better!) than mine. A friend recently led a double-blind tasting in which everyone could reliably tell that the Boy had not baked the batch of cookies they were consuming. Maybe it's a bit like sourdough, he doesn't wash his hands as much as I do and some strange bacterial culture grows in the cookies? Better not to inquire too closely.

He says it's because he blesses them. He's serious about this. One weekend last fall he wanted a batch of chocolate chip cookies to share with his buddies. With four boys in my kitchen, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and vanished. Sorting papers in the in dining room, I could keep tabs on the progress in the kitchen. The Boy carefully instructed his team of assistants to say a blessing as they dumped the chips into the dough. He's not particular about your choice of deity or form, but he got each kid to offer some words. None of this batch survived long enough for me to sample, but it had to be a good one!

1 cup butter, cut into 1" cubes (doesn't need to be softened)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 12-ounce package of chocolate somethings (mini chips, M&Ms, your choice...)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream butter, sugar and molasses until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, beat to combine. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter, sugar and egg. Mix well. As you add the chocolate chips, say the blessing (or your own): Dear God, thank you for this chocolate and may you bless these cookies. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Scoop the batter by the spoonful onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Wonderful warm (how not?).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Queen is in Residence

My dad's farm is marked by two flagpoles, generally sporting the US flag and the California state flag. Years ago he bought flags for each of the states where kids, spouses and grandkids were born. My boys love to "read" the flags as we approach, to see which cousins might already have arrived, or if their flag is flying. Everyone is here or will be, here this week, for my dad's wedding, but it's my Lousiana flag that's aloft. When my brother, The Reverend, asked why, I offered, "It indicates that her Majesty, the Queen, is in residence." I am still surprised he didn't dump me in the pool for that one!

The flag wars have begun. My brother put up the Texas flag this morning!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chemical Warfare

A family of skunks has taken up residence under the workshop on my dad's farm. He is not delighted with the new squatters. Last night I walked my nephew up to my brother's house on the hill. Enjoying the cool night and the pleasure of having unscheduled time with family, I stayed to chat. The universe decided to balance accounts, as the 2nd law of thermodynamics requires.

As we're talking, one of the farm dogs shot past the house, barking hysterically. "Raccoon," my brother, The Reverend, laconically announces. My sister-in-law, Dr. Direct, sticks her head out the door and counters with "No, skunk, and a direct hit if I'm not mistaken." I decide now might be a good time to beat a strategic retreat to my dads. Unfortunately, my sandals have been doused in skunk musk, something I didn't discover until I'd put them on. The Reverend's Wife comes to my rescue, deskunking feet and sandals while The Rev deals with the dog.

The dog was already in the doghouse, so to speak, after eating one of the layers of wedding cake Dr. Direct baked yesterday. As we dissected last evening's events over breakfast this morning, Wookie (the youngest of my sibs) summed it all up as "karma is a b**tch".

Dr. Direct is a pro when it comes to wedding cakes, but the project to bake my Dad's wasn't running smoothly even before the Devil Dog ate it. Two layers collapsed the day before, in my dad's hands. A retired organic chemist and a superb baker, this came as a surprise. This morning Barnacle Boy and I tried to exorcise the kitchen. He whipped up a batch of Barnacle Boys's Blessed Biscuits (his own wonderful recipe for chocolate chip cookies), I said the morning office standing at the counter while they baked. So far things seem on a better track!

Warning: Uneven Mood Ahead

[From 30,000 feet somewhere over the Midwest.] We left for the airport this morning to make our annual pilgrimage to California. Crash and Barnacle Boy are travel pros. They packed themselves (a single duffel between them), negotiated in-flight entertainment choices, and organized lunch and a snack. My only job is to take them shopping for the snacks (and this year briefing them about the new rules on liquids). Math Man is more last minute than my junior team. I knew this long before I married him - when I discovered him just starting to pack his clothes for a six week trip overseas a scant hour before he was due to leave.

The sun has just peaked over the horizon, the boys have put suitcases in the car and are ready for the traditional donut stop when Math Man notices that everyone else is grabbing lunches from the 'fridge. "I didn't make one. Should I?" "Only if you want to eat, Dad," the Boy shoots back. We are now behind schedule, which makes the Boy (and me) fret.

While this scene is playing out, Fluffy has been trying to engineer an escape. She's succeeded three times, and been ignominiously hauled back each time. I ask the boys to be sure that someone has Fluffy in hand before going in or out. Someone obliges while I take the trash out. As I come back in, I ask Math Man to be certain the cat is nowhere near the door. "No, she's not around." I open the door and out she flies. It was not our best marital moment. I follow the streaking ball of fluff into the backyard, fully expecting her to have vanished into the jungle before I can catch up. In what I'm attributing to a bonafide miracle, she turns around and leisurely strolls under the hydrangea. Captured!

We never did make the donut stop; the Boy was very grown-up about it, despite his general lack of flexibility around things traditional. As we neared the airport, we hit a patch of highway that is being prepped to be repaved. "Uneven moods ahead," mutters Math Man. "Excuse me?" "We could use a warning sign like that one. 'Warning: Uneven Moods'," he replies, indicating the bright orange Uneven Pavement signs decorating the side of the road. It's a good thing I've got a sense of humor!
The Boy was pleased we managed one traditional event - a visit to In-N-Out burger. Home of wonderful french fries...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On Fire

School's out and my kids and their friends have moved outdoors. They set up a tent in our backyard and have slept out there two of the last three nights. Last night Math Man appeared in the kitchen and asked if the kids were roasting marshmallows. "I don't think so, I can't imagine they'd start a fire without checking in with a parent." (Actually, I can imagine them doing that, as teen brain has kicked in for one of the players, but I was pretty sure they didn't have any more wood out there!) "Well, I smell burning marshmallows..." I headed out to the back, ready to raise a ruckus. The kids are ensconced in the tent, enjoying popcorn and a movie on very small DVD player. No fire. No odor of burning marshmallows. Whatever.

Math Man heads back to the basement laundry, I go upstairs to retrieve my shoes in go for my evening walk. Our bedrooms seriously smells of burnt marshmallows. I peer out the window; seeing the neighbor's barbecue out front, I assume that's the source. But as I exit the front door, I can't smell anything outside, just upstairs. Huh? Back upstairs, I check closets, feel walls, worried that it's not burning marshmallows, but burning insulation I smell. I open my study door to find my desk aglow. It's on fire.

My screams for help rouse - not my household - but the neighbor's dog. She is no help. I grab the fire extinguisher (not having a baptismal font handy) and put out the huge pile of papers Crash had abandoned on my desk. Math Man finally appears, pulls out the lamp that had fallen on the papers. We drag it all downstairs to the front drive and I douse it one more time for good measure.

Denouement: Crash's 7th grade math papers are toast ("Well, I'd wanted to burn those anyway!"); my kids and their friends all learned how to properly use a fire extinguisher ("Cool..."); the desk is undamaged (there were a LOT of math papers); my nerves are shot and we're only 3 days into summer vacation.

If you're tracking the list of Fifty Fewer, now you know why a recently used fire extinguisher is number 200.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Pandora's Box

In the back of my garage is a red Olympic class racing sailboat, purchased almost 20 years ago and until the kids arrived, sailed several times a month almost all year round. It's spent the last decade in mothballs. Barnacle Boy's arrival put a stop to weekend sails, since I was unwilling to take 2-year old Crash out on the water alone, and I couldn't bring Math Man along, since obviously one couldn't leave the infant Boy on shore alone. And for some reason Math Man was not keen on being left behind with an infant and toddler while I flew across the water. (You may notice that I wasn't volunteering to be our girl on shore, either, so can't say as I blamed him!) So we turned to other outdoor activities, and the boat morphed into a convenient storage shelf.

Fifty fewer inspired me to delve into the boxes stacked on the boat and reclaim it for its intended purpose - sailing! Surely if I had not desired anything stored out there in years, much of it could be recycled, reused (by someone else) or just trashed? This afternoon's cool (for mid-June) weather and the absence of Crash and Math Man inspired me to begin digging. In short order Barnacle Boy and I had dispatched the decaying rug padding packed into the cockpit to the trash bin, put aside some extra pots and pans for St. Vincent de Paul, and cleared out a collection of cassette tapes that had long ago been converted to purely electronic playlists.

The Boy's attention drifted and he abandoned me for a snack, I was alone in the cool stillness. One box remained, from its label a stray from sabbatical leave in 1998 when we packed up much of the house to rent it out. I opened it to find notes and files from my theology studies, had I really once had all that at my fingertips? A flat package was tucked in the bottom of the box. Curious, I pulled back the flap. A crumpled, pale yellow cable knit sweater emerged. "Funny, I don't recall owning that sweater." Underneath were a pair of dirty socks, and a wallet. The pieces fell together with a resounding clunk. "Oh God, it's Tom's things from the night he died." The white plastic bag from the hospital, change from his pockets, his glasses neatly tucked into their case...I feel as if I'd been snatched from the quiet, dusty archives by an evil jinn and dropped back into the maelstrom of that night in the ER. Would the Boy come back to the garage and wonder where his mother had gone?

I didn't know what to do with the contents. What would I do with his shirt? much less with unwashed socks and underwear? I suddenly had a vision of Marie Curie sitting before the fire, in a paroxysm of grief, cutting her dead husband's clothes into pieces and throwing them into the fire. I could relate. Reality rapidly reasserted itself, far too hot for a fire in June and surely modern synthetics would not burn like Pierre's Parisian linen. I couldn't bear to actually take anything out of the box, I just looked. I finally called my best friend - who asked the very sensible question, do you need to DO anything with what's in the box right now? It's not as if I'm so short on storage space that I can keep only the bare necessities. So, no, there's nothing that must be done right this moment. I talked to her, poked at the box's content a bit more (his watch, a mass spec with his scribbled notes) and finally decided to close it up, label it and put it away for another time.

I suspect I subconsciously knew these objects were somewhere, and was therefore devoting internal space to wondering about when and how I would encounter them again. Even though I didn't move them out physically, I certainly feel as if some space was cleared around them internally. I wish I understood why I felt compelled to pray over the box before I put it away.

Yet another mystery is what those things were doing in that box in the first place? My best guess is that my mother would have put all these things aside for me to deal with later, though I'm sure she didn't intend it to be this much later. She was staying in our guest room cum study at the time, which might explain why it ended up packed with things theological.

Friday, June 15, 2007

RGBP Friday Five: Books, books and more books!

As long as I have a book to read I'm happy. There is always one "emergency book" stashed in my car and my purse. Just in case I'm ever stuck in a snow storm, or in an emergency room. I got caught without reading material twice in such circumstances, and it was so painful each time that I learned that I need this more than I need lipstick in my bag. The first time was in the ER with a two-year old who had an open fracture of his hand. On Christmas Eve. The hand surgeon was (where else) in surgery, so we had to "hang out" in the ER until Crash could be evaluated, and the hand repaired. The only kids book (or any book for that matter) they could scrounge up for us was the classic (and apparently it is a classic, but not one I'd known or would come to love) Scuffy the Tugboat. I read it over and over and over again to my drugged pre-schooler. I was ready to scream by the end, or demand the same drugs they were giving him!

1. Fiction what kind, detective novels, historical stuff, thrillers, romance????
Truth? Science fiction and period mysteries. A favorite SF series is about Miles Vorkosigan, who is short and smart. I can relate.

2. When you get a really good book do you read it all in one chunk or savour it slowly?
I used to down it in one go, but of late have enjoyed savoring them.

3. Is there a book you keep returning to and why?
Not so much any one, but I do know that when I'm stressed I tend to re-read fiction that I've enjoyed in the past.

4. Apart from the Bible which non-fiction book has influenced you the most?
Two? One fiction, one not. In This House of Brede, by Rumer Goden and Lady with a Spear, the biography of marine biologist Eugenie Clark.

5. Describe a perfect place to read. ( could be anywhere!!!)
Up a tree! My favorite reading tree is in the photo. It's an enormous beech tree that has a cleft shaped like an easy chair. I bring a book, a thermos of iced tea and a towel (to pad the branch), and climb up into the cool, rustling branches for an afternoon's read. Last time I took my camera up with me. Alas the tree is too far from my home base to be a regular reading spot, but it is downright perfect. Particularly since no one can find me once I'm up there!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

8 Things or What Sherlock Holmes could not have known

Both Cathy and MaryBeth have tagged me with two version of a meme...7/8 random facts. So here are the rules for the 8 Things version.


1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3.At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

My mother gave me the complete Sherlock Holmes to read one summer when I was recovering from a serious inner ear infection. I had lost all sense of balance, I couldn't even walk across the room without help. So while everyone tumbled outside to play in the summer heat, I lounged on a sofa and read. The biography of Marie Curie, The Good Earth, and...all of Conan Doyle's tales of Holmes and Watson. My favorite scenes had Holmes astonishing Watson with what he could deduce from examining a person's hat or hands. Here are 8 Things that I think Holmes could not have read from my hands:

1. I lived for a summer on a small farm outside Oaxaca, Mexico.
2. I can order breakfast in Swahili.
3. I used to race sailboats.
4. I use my first husband's last name, rather than my maiden name.
5. I can knit, but not crotchet.
6. I've prayed the Office daily for 25 years.
7. I can't golf. I've tried.
8. I hate wet socks.

If you aren't utterly fascinated by these 8 Things about me, you can try this randomly generated list.

Tagged: Kathryn, Scrivenings, Rev. Sharon, Meg, Mother Laura

Friday, June 08, 2007

Irrelevant, repetitive or nonsensical?

I posted on my other blog this afternoon (find out what mangos and poison ivy have in common) to discover that I have to use the word identification feature (and thereby prove that I am human) to post as my blog has been flagged as a "spam blog". A spam blog contains (according to blogspot): irrelevant, repetitive, or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually to a single site. Having read my teaching evaluations for last semester, I have some students who might agree with the first part of that analysis!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Into Great Silence

With the middle school chorus' rendition of the Beach Boys' Barbara Ann ringing in my ears, I got in the car last night to drive up to the former Jesuit novitiate north of Reading. It was so dark when I arrived that I nearly missed the gates. I wound down the long drive to find the parking lot brimming with cars, a sure sign that a retreat is in full swing. I offered up a quick prayer that this group had a better grasp on the concept of silence than those in the house on my last visit, grabbed my bag and headed up the walk to the cloisters. I heaved a sigh of relief - great (as in really terrific or profound, take your pick) silence reigned within.

I can see from the bulletin board that the retreat is in its sixth full day. The stillness is tangible, and I slip into it, drafting on everyone else's work of the week. I'm seriously undeserving of this - having not worked a full day, but getting a full day's wages nonetheless. Thankfully no one is comparing graces.

I've been here twelve hours, spoken to no one, soaking in the grace, slowly stilling body and soul. What a change from last time. No ringing phones tearing at the quiet, no lawnmowers savaging the lawn and the peace, no cell phone conversations crawling in through the windows, not even an organ ripples through the stillness.

At dawn, I stole into the kitchens for a cup of tea, and took it and my breviary out into the east cloister garden. At the moment I can't bear the thought of going to lunch -- even the dishes clattering seems too much. Time to dig into my stash of fruit and cheese...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Fifty Fewer Gifts

Barnacle Boy turned 11 today. He was born just after 11, a synergy not lost on him. When he came home from school today I asked him how he was. "Eleven!" he replied firmly. Yesterday he enjoyed a celebration with his friends and Crash. All week long he wanted to know when we were going to the local dollar store to get the stuff for the goodie bags. Three weeks into "fifty fewer" I could not bear to send fifty-odd pieces of "stuff" into other peoples' homes. Instead I suggested we hit our local children's book store and buy a paperback book for each kid. The Boy worried about transgressing the unspoken compact: you will come home from a birthday party with a bag of small plastic things that a parent will soon step on and break (undoubtedly muttering some imprecation under her/his breath) and CANDY. In the end he was game to give it a try.

We traipsed off with a list of names, and Crash (in case we needed a second opinion). It turned out to be a great deal of fun for the Boy to select books for his friends - Game Guy likes dark humor, while Bead Girl would definitely not want something too girly. It wasn't any cheaper to buy a dozen paperbacks, but it wasn't any more expensive either (we bought enough that the store gave me 10% off on the whole bill - yet another reason to shop local!).

The Boy held his breath at the end of the party. The first kid out the door was presented with his book, and crowed, "I haven't read this one yet. Cool!" Whew.