Saturday, May 30, 2009

Comfort Food

In the middle of the 30-days last January (2nd week, Temptation of Christ to be specific), I got sick. All I did was sleep and pray and throw-up. Tea and oral rehydration solution (thanks to UNESCO for the recipe) were my salvation.

Several days later, when I finally felt ready to tackle dinner (and dessert), there was an amazing bread pudding for dessert. Plated in pools of bright raspberry sauce and redolent of cinnamon, it was a delight to eye and palate. The sister at the table with me was so taken with it, she nearly licked the plate clean. Me, too. It was seriously comforting food.

We had several stale ends of French bread left over this week. I usually turn these into bread crumbs or croutons, but had enough to consider bread pudding. So that's what I did this afternoon, along with a batch of berry syrup to drizzle over my yogurt (and over the bread pudding). Barnacle Boy and Bead Girl approved the final product -- and it matches my memory well (though I discovered today I deeply associate this with the temptation of Christ!!!)

30-days Bread Pudding

1 large loaf of very stale French bread (or the equivalent)
1/2 cup butter, melted
7 eggs (!)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup heavy cream
3 2/3 cup non-fat milk
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cinnamon

Roughly cube the bread into 1" chunks. Place bread cubes (and the crumbs made in the process) in a large bowl, toss with the melted butter. Whisk eggs and sugar; stir in remaining ingredients. Pour the egg mixure over the bread in the large bowl. Let stand for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Generously butter an 11 x 13 pan (I used a glass pan), pour in the mixture. Tightly cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 F for 45 or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Serve warm with raspberry syrup or sprinkle with powdered sugar. (Some like this cold, but I'm all for warm!)

Berry Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
zest from one orange
6 cups berries (I used a mix of frozen berries: black raspberry, wild blueberry, raspberry)

Bring the water to a boil, stir in sugar until it dissolves. Remove from heat. Place berries in a blender, pour the water/sugar solution over the top. Puree. Strain out the seeds, stir in the zest, bring briefly to the boil again. Cool, then store in fridge or freezer until ready to use.

UNESCO oral rehydration solution

1 litre of clean water
One level teaspoon of salt
Eight level teaspoons of sugar
Stir the mixture till the sugar dissolves.

If you can manage a banana for the potassium, that's not a bad idea -- unless of course the novices have beaten you to all the bananas!

Strawberries Fair

Today's shopping. Beets, berries, bread...and wonderful cheeses (buried under the berries)!

(An attempt to "live blog" while waiting for the bakers to appear...)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Column: The Little Things

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard and Times on 28 May 2009.

When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” -- Jn. 6:5,7-9

Chris fractured his hand playing dodge ball and spent much of the last two months with it encased in a bulky cast. He complained rarely and was loathe to ask for accommodations at school or home. Chris is a trooper. Still, there were things he just couldn’t do, big — ride his bike — and small — carry a pan of water to the stove.

Late on a recent afternoon I was out running errands when I realized with a start that we needed to eat dinner early enough to get to Mike’s chorus concert. I grabbed my phone to call Chris and ask him to put a pot of water on to boil, when it occurred to me that I’d temporarily lost the help of my assistant chef.

It was a small thing, but without that little bit of help from Chris, dinner preparations were at a standstill until I came home. As I came home and cooked dinner, I thought about this Gospel passage from John where dinner preparations for a multitude similarly turned upon one small gesture by a young boy.

St. Augustine, in his reflections on John’s Gospel, notes that miracles “have a tongue of their own, if they can be understood … let us not only be delighted with [their] surface, but let us also seek to know [their] depth.” Why did Jesus need anyone to bring him loaves or fish for this miracle?

It strikes me that a crumb caught in his cloak would have served as well. Confronting the hunger of thousands, a crumb seems as much help as a loaf or even five, the miracle equally overwhelming. Augustine pushes us to go beyond hearing this miracle speak of God’s greatness to seek its deeper meaning in our own lives.

I often forget how much the small things I have to offer God can make a difference, like Chris’ help in the kitchen matters to me, and so fail to even make the effort. Like the disciples, I find myself at a loss when confronted with how little I bring in the face of enormous need, and yet I hear in this miracle God saying how much He desires even the little that I have.

St. Therese of Lisieux sought such a little way to God. In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she cherishes not the great deeds that she can do, but her insignificance: “the greatest is that He has shown me my littleness and how incapable I am.…”

In his incapacity, Chris has reminded me that all any of us has to offer is nothing in the sight of God — yet God desires and cherishes what we bring to Him as if it could feed a multitude. Which of course, given His abundant grace, it can.

God, our provider, You are the orphan’s hope and the widow’s bread. Strengthen our faith, that with simplicity of heart we may come to trust in You alone and hold back nothing in serving You. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. --Opening Prayer from the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Fireside Tales

Barnacle Boy has a shiner - acquired on a holiday weekend sleepover. He got hit in the face by a piece of wood that fell off the wood pile (life lesson: you should not lounge on the ground under the wood stack).

Tuesday when he went back to school he was wishing for a better story. Did he beat off a pack of hungry wolves? Defend the honor of his posse on the way to the pool? Any better tales?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

If you are me and I is Barnacle Boy - the short answer to this question is "no." Last night as we sat reading in the sun room, he reached into his pocket, took out his phone and started talking. I started to wonder aloud how he'd known that Bead Girl was calling at just that moment when it struck me, he had set his ringtone to the one that only kids can hear.

It's very odd, to realize that there are entire set of sounds that are "hidden" from me, and of course, it's a great delight to the teens around here. My only revenge? I can see colors that the Boy cannot!

Your ears aren't what they once were and you have resorted to doing online hearing tests.

The highest pitched ultrasonic mosquito ringtone that I can hear is 12kHz
Find out which ultrasonic ringtones you can hear!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Column: The Speed of Light

Chris' joke - "What's new?" "c over lambda" is the physics equivalent of why did the chicken cross the road?" (though these "philosophical" versions do much to revive the chicken genre!) A rough translation from geek to (almost) English is "Do you know how to calculate the frequency of electromagnetic radiation?" "Of course, divide the speed of light by the wavelength!" The formula for the conversion is ν = c/λ. The standard symbol for frequency is the Greek letter ν, ("nu", pronounced "new"). What's ν? c/λ!

My physicist friend blogs here (and works at the Vatican Observatory which does not look like the description in the da Vinci Code!).

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard and Times on 21 May 2009.

Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?”
— Mk. 8:27

We had a physicist friend to dinner last week. In honor of the occasion, Chris wore his geekiest math t-shirt and practiced his newest physics joke. He greeted our guest with the straight line “What’s new?” To Chris’ utter delight, our visitor came right back with the punch line: “c over lambda!” The joke is all about light and how fast it moves — c is the speed of light.

A couple of days later I walked into Bryn Mawr to run an errand. As the cars whizzed past, I briefly regretted that I had chosen this much slower method of transportation. Everyone else seemed to move at the speed of light by comparison; surely my time could be better spent.

As I walked, it occurred to me that in one sense I was moving at the speed of light. Christ is Light from Light, True God from True God, the fundamental constant in the universe from which the rest flow, and yet He chose to move at this same deliberate pace. No timesaving, miraculous translations. He walked. This was the speed of Light.

So I walked. No longer anxious about how fast I was moving, I opened my eyes to see what Christ might see if He walked these same streets with me, and my ears to hear what questions He might have for me, as He had for those who accompanied Him 2,000 years ago.

Walking makes you aware of what you carry and what you choose to pick up and take home. Needs and wants suddenly must be balanced against their cost, at least in space and weight. How often do I think about the cost of what I want — or those for whom the cost of what they need is more than they can bear? A mistake in direction takes more effort to correct when you walk than when you drive. Walking encourages you to think before you step: am I going in the right direction?

Creation is not once removed when you walk, but under your feet and within reach. So, too, is the trash on the ground and caught in the trees and shrubs. When you slow down and look, even the small bits of trash — the gum wrappers and bits of glass — are glaringly obvious. When I slow down and look at my own life, can I see that which mars what God has created me to be? I find as I walk that I am resolved to pick up some of the litter that is caught around my soul.

Like the disciples who walked with Jesus in Caesarea Philippi, questions dogged my footsteps. But I returned home sure that while Christ intended those walks to be instructive for His disciples, as they were for me, it is not the fundamental reason He took to the roads. He walked because when you are on foot, there is no shield between you and your fellow travelers.

The older woman I have seen so many times heading into town with her walker is no longer a nameless blur as I sail by in my car, someone to whom I might give just a passing thought. Now? I know her name; I know that she is going to the library; I know how much she cherishes the freedom of these walks. Christ walked with us so that He would know our names, our stories and our destinations — and we His.

Sovereign God, ruler of our hearts, You call us to obedience and sustain us in freedom. Keep us true to the way of Your Son, that we may leave behind all that hinders us and, with eyes fixed on Him, walk surely in the path of his kingdom. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. — Opening Prayer for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

...and now for a word from our sponsors

My director from the 30-days sent me the link to this YouTube video - part of a presentation he gave recently at Boston College on Ignatian retreats. It's about reading God's "other book" -- creation -- while on retreat. (Full disclosure - a few of the photos are mine.) My favorite one in the set (which is NOT mine) is of the person praying on the snowy rocks.

Loyola Press has just launched a site devoted to Ignatian spirituality: Ignatian Spirituality. It's a good jumping off point for many things Ignatian, though I might wish it had a bit more about what a retreat is like. The blog there, dotmagis, is an ecletic mix of spirituality and living the Ignatian charism in the real world. Read it to find out which U2 song is most Ignatian!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming....

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Column: Pray the Everyday Every Day

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 14 May 2009.

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. — Dt. 6:5-9

“Lois Anne,” suggested Sister in a stage whisper, “that’s enough.”

The child was firm in her response. “I don’t want it to fall off,” she told her principal as she continued to wrap the wires around the statue’s head. Even the invocation of her middle name left her undaunted in her devotion.

Long before I unearthed the black and white photo in my parents’ spare room, I’d heard the whole story. The photo is dated 1939 and shows a determined little girl in a white dress and veil standing on ladder before a sea of other veiled heads, crowning a statue of Mary. The little girl is my mother; a quarter century later I would don that same veil on a Marian feast for my own first Communion.

Fifty years later my mother still marveled that Sister would leave Mary’s corona vulnerable to the vagaries of wind and balls tossed in the school courtyard. Personally I marveled at my mother’s clearly longstanding determination to make what was in her heart — her deep and full love of God — visible. To wear it ‘bound at her wrist and written on her doorpost,’ as the Israelites were advised to do.

My theological library owes its start to my mother, who read the documents of Vatican II as avidly as she did the latest science fiction novel. Yet there was always a rosary to be found in her purse, and she never failed of saying grace at a meal, even when it was just the two of us in her hospital room. Faith was not just an academic stance for my mother; it was her whole way of being.

Jesuit Father Karl Rahner, one of the most eminent theologians of the 20th century, made Deuteronomy’s injunction manifest in his own preaching and life. He once cautioned a student, “Beware the person of no devotions and the person who does not pray.” Rahner himself often sat praying the rosary as someone read for an audience a translation of one of his complex theological papers.

In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Church reminds us that our devotions “should accord with the sacred Liturgy ... [and] in some way derive from it, and lead people to it, since in fact the Liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.” Our personal and community devotions are meant to grow from what is sown at the celebration of the Eucharist. Like physical exercise, they are intended to sharpen our appetite for the Eucharistic table.

In his short book, “The Need and the Blessing of Prayer” Father Rahner commends the little devotions of life: the rosary, marking a child with the Sign of the Cross each night, making the Sign of the Cross before cutting a loaf of bread.

Prayer is a grace but also requires practice on our part. These small acknowledgements of God, our pious practices, can give some structure to our daily practice of prayer. He sums up his advice, “Pray every day and pray the everyday.”

As the summer approaches, with its temptingly unstructured days, I ask myself how will I respond to God’s love: at home and abroad, whether busy or at rest? How can I pray the everyday every day, so that I might hunger all the more for God? What is written on my doorposts for my children to see?

Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Most honored of virgins, pray for us.
Chosen daughter of the Father, pray for us.
Mother of Christ the King, pray for us.
Glory of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.
Amen. — from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Writing in a corner

I have three significant writing project on my desk - an essay for Nature Chemistry, my weekly column for the Catholic Standard and Times, and a book that is about half done. My sabbatical is at its midway point - in a little over three months I'll be back in the classroom again -- and I'm beginning to think about my exit strategy.

One of the great joys of this leave has been its contemplative nature -- something that the writing has fed both by virtue of where I am doing it (tucked into the dormer at the corner of my house) and its inherent demand for attention (when writing my full attention is on what I'm doing -- I have missed earthquakes!). How can I sustain something of this contemplative stance in the midst of what will be a busy fall?

I have some thoughts -- what are yours?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Column: When Can I See the Face of God?

A few years back I took a course in illuminating manuscripts, including learning how to lay down the gold, and how to bind a simple codex. Looking at these manuscript pages, seeing where the hands had faltered, and yet the beauty of the whole was not marred, gave me hope that beauty is not always about perfection in the details, but in perfection of the whole vision.

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 1 May 2009.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
— Ps. 42:3

I will freely admit it was not the depth of my piety, but the depth of my aversion for the 5:30 a.m. train that drew me to the contemplation of this psalm a few weeks back. To avoid a before- dawn walk to the train station, I went down to Washington the afternoon before my conference began. So I had a bit of time to spare to see the exhibit on illuminated manuscripts at the National Gallery.

Hanging on the dark blue walls, the gold letters and brilliant colors lit up the space, as they must have in the dim churches 500 years in the past. Aptly enough, it was a cluster of three manuscript pages in an alcove that caught my eye. Each featured a slightly different representation of the Trinity. God the Father was drawn as the bearded patriarch seated on a throne, and the Spirit, a dove.

I was fascinated with the three depictions of Christ: first, as a full grown man, but the size of a child relative to the Father, held in the Father’s lap; second, on the cross between the viewer and the Father; and third, to me the most poignant of the three, kneeling next to the Father, bent over His cross, the Father’s hand on His shoulder. The faces of the Christ figures were expressive, in turns serene, impassioned and distraught. Behold, the face of God.

It seems almost unimaginable in this day and age, when the fashion choices of the famous are news stories and a thousand photos can be conjured up with a word or two to Google, that we have no description of Jesus. In fact, for eight centuries, Christians argued over the wisdom of capturing the face of God, in His human garb. (Now there are over 8 million images of Jesus cataloged by Google — I looked!)

Does collapsing the fullness of God-become-man to an image risk denying the divinity of Christ? Or, if we believe the Word truly became flesh, surely this reality must be able to be described and depicted. In his book, “God’s Human Face,” Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn follows this controversy over the centuries. He concludes that art, as all human activities, was transformed in the Incarnation, and like ritual, expresses “the infinite contained in the seemingly irrelevant gestures and creations of man.”

As I wandered the exhibit, I kept returning to these images of Jesus, God made man. I wondered, what does Christ look like? Was He tall or short? Were His hands gnarled from manual labor? The Gospels do not tell us. The power of His words was what propelled His disciples, not the cut of His tunic. Have I fixed on what is least important?

St. Theodore, a ninth century abbot, suggests not. Jesus pitched His tent among us, as John’s Gospel tells us, not as some universally representative icon of a man, but as an individual man with characteristics that distinguished him from other people such as “kindly eyes” or “curly hair.” He concluded such images are “a reliable testimony to the fact that the Eternal Word has become one like us.” We profess in the Creed: He became man.

On my way home, I picked up a book of reproductions of the illuminated pages in the museum shop. I am still contemplating the face of God through the eyes and imaginations of these long dead artists, the mystery of God Incarnate. Our souls thirst for the living God, the God who dwelt among us, the God whose face we must imagine — and hope one day to know.

God our Father, Your only Son has appeared in our human nature. We have come to know that He is like us in external appearance; through Him, please grant us the privilege of being refashioned in mind and heart. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — Alternate opening prayer for the Baptism of the Lord.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Girly Girl?

At a school event last week, the woman sitting next to me - a neighbor, though not one I know all that well - wondered if I wanted to scrapbook with her daughter. "You are such a girly-girl!" she says. Huh? I must have looked puzzled because she elaborated, "It's not that you can't do sporty, but you are so girly.."

I'm still puzzling over this one. What is a girly girl? Are there only girly girls and sporty girls? What about the geeky girls? Somehow my interest in quantum mechanics (of which the neighbor is unaware) doesn't seem all that "girly" but I don't really think that quantum is just for guys either.

I asked Barnacle Boy and Crash for their opinion. The Boy: "Anyone who discusses electromagnetic radiation on a car trip with her sons in not a girly-girl." [Note, we did have two such conversations last week!] Crash: "No way."

I may now have a more intimate and personal grasp of identity politics. Who do you think I am?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Of frogs and princes

Barnacle Boy has been playing a new game of late. He'll ask for a kiss and then duck as I go to peck him on the cheek. Every time I get close, he ducks. And I'm not fast enough (or tall enough) to catch him on the fly.

Tonight I finally asked him, "Don't you want that kiss? Are you afraid I'll turn you into a frog or something?" His priceless response? "I don't need any more kisses, I'm already a prince!"

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Last Typing Mother

"Hey, Mom, do you know what tomorrow is?" wonders Barnacle Boy. "April 30?" True, but not quite why he was so excited. It was the last day he needed to have his hand immobilized 24/7. He celebrated the removal of the ultra bulky cast device two weeks ago, replaced with a much more discreet model. As of Wednesday he only needs to buddy tape the last two fingers while "active" (which is more time than you think!).

It should have been a red letter day on my calendar too. I've been Barnacle Boy's typist for the last two months, typing any substantial piece of work for school. Transcribing his chicken scratches was mostly fun -- I haven't had this close a look at his work in a long time, and it's fascinating to see how his mind works -- though like any task, timing was everything.

A while back I happened across this post on a now presumably extinct academic species -- the typing wife. I'm happy to be on the endangered list as the "typing mother"!