Monday, March 31, 2008

Bravely Repaired

My breviary is only half as old as I am, but like me, is beginning to exhibit some age related pathology. On Easter, the back of the Easter/Lent volume fell off, and the front cover was clearly loose. I couldn't bear to replace it (budget aside), for reasons I can't quite express. Do I lack detachment? It and I have been through a lot together, but I would not lose the experiences with the book. Who knows! I decided to give repairing it a whirl, and thanks to a class a few years back in book binding and manuscript illumination, have the skills.

Barnacle Boy watched me start the project, and was fascinated with seeing the "insides" of a book. Tonight he was rummaging in my purse and took it out. "Hey, your bravery [sic] is fixed!" With great pride in my work I inquired of my beloved sons, "Can you believe that the back was completely off?" In chorus, "Yes!"

It's functional again, and I'm pleased!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Up on the roof

(With apologies to James Taylor...)

Bead Girl, Barnacle Boy and the Kid with the Hair marched into my kitchen. "We're going up on the roof!" announced the Boy. That would be no. "Why do you need to go onto the roof?" "We're bored." I sent them to the playground.

Later that same afternoon....

"I have a sudden urge to go onto the roof," muses the Boy. Still bored? Yep. Suggested he empty the dishwasher. He's not that bored.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Three Pieces of Chocolate Cake

"You didn't give up chocolate for Lent, did you?" my spiritual director inquired, as he reached for his box of post-conversation treats. I assured him that I had done no such thing. "Good!" he said as he produced a box of marvelous chocolates. As I walked down the hall, chocolate and cookie in hand, I thought about the piece of chocolate cake that had been tempting me on my last visit here, and a piece from a retreat many years ago.

The summer after Tom died, I went back to my family in California twice, but didn't go on retreat. By the middle of fall semester, though, I was desperate to get out of my office and away. I told my department chair I wanted to take a few days off. My director at the time suggested a convent in New Jersey - whose name I can't recall any more, and called ahead to let them know what my situation was.

It was November and characteristically cold, dark and rainy. I was the only retreatant around, it must have been the week before Thanksgiving. I walked, sat in the library and read. I had lost a fair amount of weight, and didn't have much appetite - even for chocolate. The sister in charge had told me that they would leave dinner for me in the guest dining room. On the first night I appeared with my book just as she was vanishing around the corner. As I took the top of the tray to see what was for dinner, there was the largest, most amazing piece of chocolate cake I think I'd ever seen. I laughed aloud, was this my director's idea, or the Holy Spirit's? She always maintained the latter. Whether direct inspiration, or channeled through Pat, that was the moment I began to thaw again. Grace indeed.

Twenty years later and I'm at Wernersville to see my director, and spend a Lenten night in silence. There is a houseful of high school students on a retreat (a remarkably quiet group). Dinner was spare - rice and a salad. Dessert on the other hand... I had my eye on an incredible chocolate cake, the twin of the piece two decades in the past. I carried my dishes to the kitchen trolley, turned around only to find the last piece of cake leaving in the hands of a strapping high school kid. Penance in place of grace?

A couple of weeks later, I'm in Dallas for a meeting. The group went out to dinner, and the vegetarian options were limited - abstinence was morphing into fasting. That is, until dessert appeared. A huge piece of chocolate cake materialized. The Holy Spirit has an odd sense of humor!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Breakfast and the dishes

I've started writing a regular column about prayer and spirituality for the Catholic Standard and Times - the Philadelphia Roman Catholic archdiocesan newspaper. My first column came out today (read it here)! It's about doing the dishes...and making breakfast.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Science in Santa Fe

Some RevGals may be going on a cruise tomorrow, while I stay at home - but I will get a relaxing trip to Santa Fe in May. I've been accepted into the Santa Fe Science Writers Workshop! A marvelous way to start my summer and a time of sabbatical...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fasts and Feasts

My mother used to say she understood why the vigils of the great feasts were often days of fast - to spare the cooks having to make the regular meals, while simultaneously laboring to prepare the festal table. Barnacle Boy and I spent some serious time in the kitchen yesterday preparing to celebrate the Solemnity of Easter.

Cinnamon buns are the traditional feast day breakfast item in our house - and I've been working on my recipe for at least the last decade. This version was dubbed by the Boy and I Suessical Cinnamon Buns. The spiral forms were amazing (and the results delicious). If you want the recipe - including how to get the fantastic spirals to form, send me an email.

Friday, March 21, 2008

In the breaking of the bread

It's a day of fast today. Despite that, I made 4 loaves of bread (some for dinner, some for friends), applesauce and leek soup - and grocery shopped. It was hard to fast in the midst of all that plenty, particularly when my family wasn't fasting (Math Man is not of the faith and the guys are too young to be bound by the discipline). The Boy shopped with me and popped in and out of the kitchen as I cooked. We talked about how hard it was to be hungry, when there was food around you and people eating. "I feel sorry for you, Mom!" I pointed out it was my choice, but there are people for whom this is not a choice, but a reality of their everyday life.

When we got home from church tonight, before I even changed into my jeans - the Boy appeared with a piece of warm buttered bread, broke it and shared it with me to break my fast. Take this all of you and eat ...


I am covered in hives - and I'm grateful. Why? Because it didn't start until after the Good Friday service tonight. Meanwhile, Crash and the Boy, having used up all their control at church (Crash was an acolyte, so was seriously on best behavior) are now engaged in escalating sibling warfare. I point out this is not a good time to be baiting your brother. (This begs the question, is there a good time? Answer, I think, is when I'm out of earshot.) Math Man has been up since 3:30 am working on a grant, I've been juggling parental, teaching, departmental and liturgical responsibilities all week AND am clearly having an allergic reaction to something.

As I desperately beg for peace yet again, Crash turns to the Boy and remarks, "I think this is making Mom exacerbated." It's definitely not helping...

Why the St. Benedict tag? Patron saint of hives.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Math Man jokes that I married him because he was in line to inherit a copy of the Compact Oxford English dictionary. This is (mostly) an exaggeration. The infamous copy of the OED, complete with the little drawer containing a magnifying glass now resides in a cabinet in my office. Tonight, while grabbing a file folder off the shelf, Crash noticed the OED stashed in the corner. "Is that the dictionary you married Dad to get?" I agreed it was his dad's dowry. "Compact Oxford English Dictionary," he read off the back. "That's a joke!" I'm confuzzled. "Two volumes isn't very compact, Mom," Crash patiently explains. Since I'm entertaining visions of the first version of the OED I knew-- some 15 volumes -- two volumes (which contain all the content of those 15 huge volumes) seems pretty compact to me.

I use the online version these days, thanks to a subscription through the college (only 8 clicks away at this very moment). More than a half million words waiting for me to find them. Crash and I wondered if you could still get the printed version. Yep. eBay. $599 + 69.99 shipping from the official re-sellers for Oxford University Press. 20 volumes.

Enjoy testing your skills. Play the vocabulary game at Correct answers result in rice donated to people in need. My "best" rating is 51 (best possible is 55). Crash was impressed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Mixed Messages

I startled an elderly Jesuit in the kitchen at the old novitiate in Wernersville last night. I had come late (having heard Barnacle Boy's magnificent concert earlier), and having missed dinner at home. So I traipsed down to the kitchen in search of a plate and a piece of fruit to go with the sandwich I'd providentially packed. In the back was Fr. D struggling with a package of cereal, and muttering under his breath about a missing pair of scissors. When he picked up a knife, I offered to help and he nearly jumped out of skin. "No, no, I can get it," he assured me, twisting the package. He did get it, and the Cheerios went flying.

As we were picking them up from the floor (there must be a broom there somewhere!), he told me that he was taught in the novitiate years ago to assure oneself, in charity, that whoever had removed what you were looking for must have had a greater need. "I wasn't feeling so charitable just now," he reflected, "more saracastic!" I told him that my oldest has a t-shirt that reads: Sarcasm, just another service we offer.

In return, he recounted this tale of preaching in Africa.
There I was, in the middle of the homily, looking out at the congregation. Towards the front was a young man, with an incredibly innocent face, totally focused on my sermon, but I could hardly bear to look at him. He wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with: Cut the crap out.
There's a message there for those of us who teach!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Maybe I should be a writer?

Your Language Arts Grade: 100%

Way to go! You know not to trust the MS Grammar Check and you know "no" from "know." Now, go forth and spread the good word (or at least, the proper use of apostrophes).

Are You Gooder at Grammar?
Make a Quiz

Crash is not surprised. Mom is his "go to girl" for grammar. Found at red heeler ranch.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Catholic Blog Awards 2008

I've been nominated for a Catholic Blog Award! in four categories, no less - Best Individual Catholic Blog, Best Written Catholic Blog, Funniest Catholic Blog and Most Spiritual (are those last two mutually exclusive?) can vote for me here (warning, you have to register to vote). You don't have to be Catholic to vote, you just have to think I am!

Hebdomadarian - it's not a camel

In writing about the musical adventures of the monastic community I pray with I used the term hebdomadarian. I first encountered this word many years ago in Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede - and thank heavens there was a glossary in the back! It's the term for the assigned leader of sung prayer in a monastic community. The assignments were usually rotated weekly, and this is reflected in hebdomadarian's etymology, it derives from the Greek for seven, hepta. I have to say, to this day when I see or hear this word, my first thought is not the Divine Office, but camels (dromedary!).

The Augustinians I pray with use a weekly rota (I used to be Thursdays), with substitutes filling at need, but the title persists.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

They did not choose wisely

My brother, the Reverend, is a middle school vice principal. One of his favorite moves scenes is from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the ancient knight guarding the Holy Grail dryly remarks "He chose poorly" as the bad guy writhes on the ground after drinking from the wrong cup. It's all about choices in middle school.

Math Man came home tonight after a meeting. "There's water ice," he said temptingly. "Not anymore," I inform him. "They chose poorly," my spouse intoned. It appears he drove them to the water ice place on the way home from school, then Crash and Barnacle Boy ate it all before he got a taste. Thankfully I was not craving green apple water ice, though I expect there will be a conversation about choices in the morning.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Toilet Training

I left early this morning, before even the mice were stirring at my house (Fluffy barely twitched when I slipped out from under the covers). I left the boys a note reminding them to take the envelope I'd left on the door for them (so they and their sitter could go enjoy their favorite ice cream place, which just re-opened for the season). I used to leave such missives on the door, but they didn't always get noticed. Then I tried the mirror in their bathroom, with equally mixed results. The miracle solution was Crash's - I caught him leaving a post it note with reminders to himself on the (closed) lid of the toilet. Hard to miss - works like a charm.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Check the seat pocket in front of you...

for any personal belongings - and large pieces of chewed gum left by previous passengers which may be stuck to them.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Tea Tantrum

I'm in Dallas, immured in the airport for 48 hours for a chemistry meeting. I'm traveling not only with my mug, and favorite morning tea, but with an electric kettle. My patience has been tried too many times by lukewarm water that tastes of stale coffee.