Sunday, December 30, 2007

Travels with Crash

Crash and I are riding Amtrak up to Vermont to spend a few days housesitting for friends (just down the road from his favorite ski hill and a few miles away from Math Man's Aunt Venerable). It's a long drive in sometimes dicey weather, flights are expensive, so the train is a gift. Crash worked on a paper about Freud (?!) and is now refining his world conquering strategies playing Civ III on a laptop while simultaneously watching Scrubs on his new iPod nano (coincidently inscribed: Interdum feror cupidine partium magnarum europe vincendarum1.) I can watch over his shoulder as tiny legionnaires battle for territory or build emplacements. It reminds me of the Robin Williams' flick Night in the Museum.

I love looking out the window on long train trips, and often wish for my camera (though good pictures would require getting out and washing my window pane, and as Crash is fond of saying, "That's not happening!"). It turns your perspective around. Instead of the fronts of stores twinkling with lights for the holiday, you see their plain concrete block backs, dumpsters and heaps of brown cardboard boxes -- all lit by utilitarian floods. I momentarily wonder what it's like to live or work so close to the tracks that you could reach out your window and touch the passing trains. And just what happened to the United Pattern Company, now a forlorn brick shell by the side of the tracks? We roll by a rack of gleaming white shrink wrapped boats just a mile away from a trio of rusting car hulks.

Who rides the local trains? From the ads on station walls it's definitely not the people living in those apartments against the tracks: Betteridge - serious jewelers, visit us in Greenwich, Palm Beach and Vail; NY Times bestselling author Joel Osteen "Become a Better You"; Flat Out to Hong Kong.

1Sometimes I get this urge to conquer large parts of Europe.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Feast of Unleavened Bread

Having made a joyful noise unto the Lord last night at the vigil Mass, the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord at my house unfolded gently this morning, and for the first time in years I did not celebrate morning prayer alone as the dawn broke.

The boys got up and helped me get the breakfast ready: orange juice, tea, and homemade cinnamon buns. Gifts were opened and enjoyed (my favorites - Math Man 's gift of an e-book by one of my favorite authors; Crash's Nerf dart gun - along with lessons in how to shoot it; and the Boy's kit to construct a robot from coins - the first time he's ever shopped solo for me with his own money).

Crash wanted loaves of "Wernersville Bread" (actually Brother's Bread from Secrets of Jesuit Bread Baking - a gift from my father years before I ever visited the old novitiate); Barnacle Boy lusted after his own favorite, the yeast rolls from Fannie Farmer. I manged to get a batch of each made this afternoon, juggled around the rest of the cooking. Twenty minutes before dinner was due to be ready, as I opened the oven to slide the rolls in, I knocked the pan with the two loaves off the stove top where they had been rising. The pan flipped and both loaves hit the floor. I could hear the oof as they deflated - right along with my pride in my ability to juggle multiple cooking projects.

Crash and I picked the now seriously unleavened bread off the floor. By some miracle both loaves were on the dish towel I'd covered the pan with, so we reformed them and left then to rise a third time. (There's a parable here I'm sure...) The third time was perhaps not quite the charm, the loaves are a bit flatter than usual, but Crash professed his delight with the outcome nonetheless.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Pecan Shorts

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tbsp cold water
1 cup flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and water. Gradually blend in flour. Chill. Roll 1/4" thick. Cut into rectangles. Bake at 325oF for 20 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. While still warm, shake in powdered sugar. For a festive look, add a couple of tablespoons of colored sugar (I like green or red at Christmas) to the confectioner's sugar. Alternatively, sift the confectioner's sugar over the warm cookies while stick on the cooling rack. I get less cookie breakage with the second method.

These are my all time favorite Christmas cookies. The recipe comes from my Great Aunt Vi, who grew up on the bayou in Lousiana, then worked as a nurse in New Orleans. The year before my mom died, she was bemoaning the fact that my dad was not planning on making Shorts for Christmas. Too much trouble, he said. They are fragile cookies and do require a bit more oversight than most. As a surprise, I baked a batch, carefully wrapped each cookie in waxed paper, then packed them in layers in bubble wrap. Off the package went to my sister's in California for hand delivery to my Mom: express mail to be there in time. The next evening, my sister called to report. Urgle. Her dog had eaten the package. A real trooper, The Pretty One asked for the recipe (she's not a cook), baked a batch and brought them over to my mom.

Ah...yes, there are no pecans in the recipe as it's come down to me. I'm allergic to nuts, so this is fine with me. But if you like pecans, you'll have to figure out how much and how to add them in!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Don't make me send out the screaming monkeys!

When my dad visited this fall, he brought with him a small stuffed monkey wearing a cape and a mask. He camped on the sofa and waited for my youngest son to come into the room. Pull and release. The monkey soared across the room, cape fluttering in the breeze, screaming as it reached apogee. It sounded just like the screaming monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.

Back in the days when you were at the complete mercy of the network programming executives for your home entertainment, a showing of the Wizard of Oz was a real treat. Counter cultural even then, my family never ate with the TV on (except on Saturday nights when the Black Hawks were playing), but we would be allowed to do so to watch Oz. My dad saw it in the theater when he was 7 years old and has fond memories of the magical moment when Dorothy reached Oz and the film was suddenly in color. Since we had a black and white TV, I never picked up on that transition (and now that I think of it, I don't think I've ever seen the film in color). My first memory of the film is of the wicked witch and her screaming monkeys. I was terrified of the monkeys, and would flee the room when they swarmed.

These days I have a deep desire for my own corps of screaming monkeys that I can call out when I reach the limits of my patience.

Find your own screaming monkey here. Or see a flight on YouTube.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Attractive Fixed Points

Math Man specializes in the mathematics of dynamical systems, in chaos theory. I dabble in chaos too, just in its embodied form, rather than the theoretical. Chaotic systems are not random, though they might appear to be. Given a particular set of starting conditions (two sons, one cat, teaching two classes, a spouse on leave), the unfolding of the system is completely determined (a December calendar that requires 5 colors to keep track of everyone's obligations).

Not every system ultimately leads to chaos (where every possible state is eventually experienced), some eventually arrive at an equilibrium state - called an attractive fixed point. I think I'm approaching a fixed point tomorrow, though I'm not finding it all that attractive personally! All obligations (musicals, concerts, dinners, rehearsals, auditions) are being sucked in to the 6 hours between 3 pm and 9 pm on December 13th. Some fixed points have basins around them, where the conditions all lead to the same end point (exhaustion?). Others find a new fixed point to hone in on with a subtle change in conditions. So what will the potential ice storm do to my spiral?

The spirals above are three related species in a damped oscillating chemical reaction.

The Jesuits hold that you can find God in all things, presumably even chaos. I note that ergodic is another term for chaotic. QED, or perhaps I should say AMDG?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Six Recognitions of the Lord

I know a lot of fancy words.
I tear them from my heart and my tongue.
Then I pray.

Six Recognitions of the Lord,
Mary Oliver in

For all that sung prayer is in my life, I generally don't sing when I pray the Office alone. In the last few years, I've occasionally used poems in place of the hymns to start my prayer. There are poems in the back of my breviary - but for the most part few of them spoke to me, and for years I've ignored them. A chance encounter with the still point in T.S. Eliot's Burnt Norton led me to begin to dip into and out of the worlds of various poets. I find those who are spare of words, but rich in imagery to be most appealing...and now I have a collection of favorites to supplant the ones in the back of my book. This is the latest addition.

These words are utterly spare, but incredibly full...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My Soul in Stillness Waits

I wrote this for a limited circulation Catholic magazine in 1995, and this week found a copy stashed in the Advent/Christmas volume of my breviary. Crash was about 8 months old!

I love the evenings of early winter. The colors of the sunset are so gentle, the air so clear, the branches so stark against the waning light. There is such a sense of clarity and stillness about them.

Something about that sky invites me to stop -- not to admire or to capture -- simply to stop. It’s a feeling at such odds with my life in this season. I am always struggling to squeeze that last bit of information into my students, to write that final exam and grade those papers and somehow eke out a moment to bake a cookie or two. Yet there is that sky, quietly, insistently drawing me into its stillness.

Last year the autumn chaos was worse than ever. Back from a year’s sabbatical, I was teaching a new course, trying to prepare a paper for a meeting overseas and in the midst of it all get things ready for a new baby. I hadn’t much time for sky watching. The first weekend of Advent found me early to Saturday Mass. The candles were lit and the light was soft and gentle. I could merely stop, like a breath suspended in time. In that incredible stillness, I could suddenly feel the child within me. The stirrings inside were gentle, yet unmistakable. What I had rationally known for almost five months, but somehow never quite believed, was suddenly abundantly clear -- I was not alone. A new life was struggling to make its approach known to me, and here in the stillness of a winter evening I could finally hear it.

Christ is that winter’s evening. A light that is soft, yet one that brings the world into clear focus. A center of stillness, gently, inexorably drawing us into a place where we may simply stop and wonder. A place out of time where the stirrings of a new life might be finally be felt. A place where we are not alone. This is the Christ of the O Antiphons. O Lord of Light, come light the hearts of those in shadow! O Spring of Joy, fill our thirsty hearts! O Root of Life, may your seed come to fruition within us!

As Advent approaches, I find myself again watching the evening sky and remembering the faint stirrings of the babe in my womb.. The stillness still draws me into it, despite the lusty cries of hunger from a babe now in arms. For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits, truly my hope is in you.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Practically Perfect in Every Way

The New York Times has an article today about the risks of perfectionism. I'm glad to know my lack of compulsiveness about the dust bunnies under the bed at home is a sign of mental health! Interestingly, when the article first went up, it was less than perfectly edited, there was an extra period:

"Ms. Provost said those in her program at U.C. Davis often displayed symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder — another risk for perfectionists. They couldn’t bear a messy desk.. They found it nearly impossible to leave a job half-done, to do the next day. Some put in ludicrously long hours redoing tasks, chasing an ideal only they could see."

As this was an article that could be commented on (a new feature at the Times), I followed the link to do so (the first - a perfectly blank page, how delightful!), and wondering if the flaw was deliberate - a subtle joke.

Apparently not, not only has the article been corrected, but my comment was scrubbed! The stated policy is: Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments FAQ. Now admittedly, the FAQs note that "To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction." But I would argue given the subject of this article, and that it speaks to teaching perfectionists how to "slack off" productively, it was very much to the point!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Tea Time

Barnacle Boy is good at self-care. Once I came home to find him in the living room, watching TV, with his feet in a pan of water. When I asked what was up he told me he'd had a stressful day and needed to relax. I haven't caught him soaking his feet for a while; now when he's had a stressful day, he makes himself a cup of chamomile tea or takes a bath. I even bought him his own personalized supply of loose chamomile to use.

A friend bought me this amazing penguin that holds your tea bag on his nose and whisks it out of your cup when the timer goes off. No more oversteeped tea. The boy loves it, but couldn't find the bags to put the tea into. He tried a tea ball, but the flowers were packed in so tight they couldn't steep. Mom to the rescue. A pair of pliers, a metal tea filter and Mr. Penguin was ready to time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Non est misericordia

For the last several years we've been playing "family soccer" on a more or less regular basis with a group of families from the neighborhood. Everyone plays - 5 year olds, 50 year olds - everyone. I bought us pinneys (I'm not playing shirts and skins - even in May) and cones to mark the edges of the fields, and pack the first aid kit (added after trying to cope with a bloody nose without even a tissue in anyone's pocket!); the kids call around to announce time and field location. We are quite a contrast to the organized games we often share quarters with. No refs, no uniforms (other than the orange pinneys), very assorted sizes and no one on the sidelines shooting photos or drinking coffee.

The kids' official motto is "show no mercy" and they don't, and I've often had the bruises to show for it. Crash and Barnacle Boy are both now taller than I am, and outweigh me - and it may be time to rethink their approach to the game. In a battle for the ball this weekend, I was perhaps a bit more aggressive than I should have been and got side-swiped by a 13 yr old. Something in my knee went pop, but after a couple of minutes, it didn't hurt, so I went on to play. Alas, when I got home I realized that my knee made an audible crunching sound as I went up the stairs and it was swelling. Uh-oh.

Final verdict? Torn ligament in the ankle, tear in the MCL on one knee, torn cartilage in both knees. No more soccer for a while. Non est misericordia.

The photo is of the Boy versus our backyard neighbor.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What earth has given and human hands have made

One loaf of Brothers' Bread (much beloved by the tween/teen set in this household), kneaded and shaped by She of The Book. By now it's been eaten (though one loaf remains for sandwiches tomorrow). Barnacle Boy's biscuits (yeast rolls actually) went straight from the oven to the table without a stop on the cooling racks, never to return.

She of the Book made the fruit fillings (apple and berries), The Boy helped roll and shape the crusts. Yes, that is a bird's head poking out...

These haven't been touched, we went to a friend's house for wonderful desserts (homemade bittersweet chocolate pudding!), but I imagine they won't last through the day tomorrow

And Crash Kid did the table design, including arranging the flowers...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

What's cooking?

She of The Book and Barnacle Boy and I have been cooking up a storm:

2 batches of Brother's Bread (an easy one rise free form bread recipe from The Secrets of Jesuit Breadbaking)
1 apple pie
1 raspberry/blueberry pie
1 pie crust for pumpkin pie
1 pot carrot soup (dinner tonight)
1 pot New England Clam Chowder (dinner tonight)
1 batch Black Midnight Brownies
Cranberry Sauce (with pomegranate syrup)

But I still got a 2 mile walk in...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Time Present and Time Past: Ten Twenty Thirty

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

from BUIRNT NORTON by T.S. Eliot

Mother Laura was prompted by Shawna and Sally's responses to this meme to think about where she was 10/20/30 years ago, and as I'm thinking about where I was 5/10 years ago as I write a proposal for my sabbatical leave, her nudge to me to post about these far away times and places is a good way for me to procrastinate writing said proposal.

1997: I had a one year old, Barnacle Boy, who still did not sleep through the night, and was still nursing. Math Man spent a month in Russia, working with a math research group in St. Petersburg. The boys and I stayed behind in the US. The Boy learned to walk and talk while Math Man was away, his first word was a panic stricken "Dog!", elicited by coming face to face (literally, he was tiny then) with my dad's Labrador retriever, Babe. Crash, at 3, was a seasoned traveler by this point. On a solo trip with both boys to my parents that year, my mother marveled at the sight of him walking down the tarmac and into the tiny terminal towing his own car seat and carry-on. Later that year I left the guys for the first time and flew to Las Vegas to give a talk at the national chemistry meeting. I still have the deep red dress I bought to talk in, and still love it (I'm amazed to think I've had it this long). Crash got the croup while I was at the meeting, the Boy got it the day I got home and ended up being admitted to the hospital. He spent time in the ER being evaluated, while I nursed him and endless people scooted in and out of the room, lifting my shirt up to examine him. I had more people under my blouse that night than before or since!

1987: This was a horrific year - so you may not want to read any farther. The beginning was grace - I was happily married to Tom, who I had met in graduate school; I was in my first year in a tenure track position, we'd bought a house in a great neighborhood. In the spring of that year on Palm Sunday I turned 29. Tom and I loved to play tennis and he had bought me a fancy new racket for my birthday. Even though I had a ton of work to do, the weather that day was so glorious that I decided to play hooky and go play tennis with him. It was a day to savor.

Then, as now, the entire faculty of my college met for faculty meetings, not just an academic senate and in those days we met at night. Though I usually commuted by train to the college an hour away, Tom drove the 50 miles down that Wednesday of Holy Week, planning on swimming his laps in the college pool, with plans to grab a sandwich at the local diner and drive home around 10 that night. In the middle of the meeting, the college president was pulled outside by a security officer to deal with an emergency at the swimming pool. I can still see her tall figure in the doorway, crooking her finger at me to join her in the hallway. Tom had been pulled from the pool with an apparent heart attack, minutes later I was in the ambulance with him on the way to the ER. I clung to the Office all that night, though I'd left everything behind when the president called me out of the faculty meeting: briefcase, breviary, papers to grade. I dug the psalms out of the Bible sitting in the waiting room, and prayed the rest from memory. Tom died on Holy Thursday, of what turned out to be a ruptured aortic aneurysm. The Triduum, not surprisingly, remains an intense time for me. Layer upon layer of passion, death and resurrection, some of which still has the capacity to surprise me.

1977: I was in my sophomore year in college at UC Irvine. Majoring in chemistry, minoring in linguistics, living at home and commuting to college. I was working as a temp every quarter break - and had 8 am language classes the rest of the time. Always a pretty early riser, this year really cemented it for me. I took wonderful courses in anthropology, physiology, and East Asian art history. I drove a brown Karmann Ghia convertible, which had to be push started when it got damp, which it did virtually every time I had a late night lab.

If you'd like to reflect on time present and time past, play and let me know in the comments...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Good Questions

Mother Laura offered me the following questions...and timely ones they are at that!

1. We can tell from your posts as well as the front page "about you" that your commitment to Catholicism is a very important part of your life. What you do you love most about your church? (On rereading I realized this could mean the larger faith tradition or your parish. I was thinking the former when I wrote it, but either or both would be great to learn).

I'll try both readings of this...I love the catholic part of being Catholic (and here I mean it in the sense of the faith tradition and not necessarily its instatiation in the Roman Catholic Rite)- it's vision of universality and it's rich pot of traditions to draw from even if we cannot always (even often?) make it manifest. The sacramentality of the Catholic tradition also calls deeply to me, that God is in all things, as St. Ignatius would have it. God touches us and we can touch God, not in some insubstantial and metaphorical way, but directly and even messily - in water, in bread, in wine, in the candles we light, the incense we burn, in each other. My breviary is full of sacramental bits, notes from my kids and spouse, from friends, photos, a strand from a prayer shawl knit for a dying friend, prayer cards...

I love my parish for many things, but perhaps most for the way in which they have embraced my non-Catholic spouse. He's invited to all sorts of things social, welcomed at liturgy, but not harassed about converting. He is enfolded, but not suffocated.

2. What are the joys and challenges of combining your vocations as chemistry professor, wife, and mother?

I wrote a whole essay about this a few years back (Elemental MoThEr) for a collection called Parenting and Professing! I used the optical illusion illustrating this post as a metaphor for how I hope I've combined things - it's one image, which you can view in different ways; I'm one person that the world experiences in different ways. I argued that parenting fed my scholarly work in the same ways that other colleagues used "ancilliary" projects (the philosopher of aesthetics who conducts, for example), and for me it does. Being married to a math geek probably makes it easy to fold our life into my life as a scientist. [Crash, if you're reading this, stop now, or you'll be embarassed by your parent again]. One memorable morning our pillow talk consisted of a conversation about what, fundamentally, was energy.

The joys for me are my kids and my students, so are the challenges. Trying to keep it all to scale is the most difficult for me. I like what I do, which encourages me to do more, and eventually the cycle results in things getting overwhelming.

2b. sm would like me to add "to ministry" to this list.

One of my favorite passages in Isaiah ends "so great his strength, that not one fails to answer" (Is 40:26). I think that I try to answer my call in all the things I do, it's all ministry, by virtue of that resounding call of my name. How can I fail to answer? That said, I'm thinking a lot these days about exactly how my vocation might play out in the next decade (see 3.)

3. Geeky spiritual director question: you seem to have at least some affinity for Ignatian spirituality. Have you made the Spiritual Exercises via the 19th annotation or the Long Retreat, or is it something you might consider doing in the future?

I like geeky spiritual directors -- and their questions! Yes, I'm definitely of an Ignatian bent (my mother thought I would make a good Jesuit except for the obvious impediment) though the Augustinians have probably really had the forming of me. The psalms are in my very bones, not just because I've prayed the Office all these years, but because I've experienced it within that community and growing out of their millenium long history.

Funny that you should ask this, since right now, almost as I type, I'm planning my sabbatical (coming next year - proposal due to the college in 10 days). One of the things I wish to do on this leave - as I turn 50 - is make the Exercises, and since I have the luxury of doing it in the 30-days, that's part of my plan. I'm hoping to go a year from January, perhaps to Eastern Point. My kids and spouse have signed off on it. My director and I have started talking about it...

One thing I will take along on that journey will be "vocation"...

4. On a lighter note, how do you like to relax, alone and/or with your family?

Alone, what a wonderful thought!! That in itself would be relaxing for this introvert. I like to sing, walk, read, paint, sail, cook, bake, knit, make books (bind and illuminate), have dinner with friends, drink a wonderful cup of tea (for the experience and NOT the caffeine).

5. Did you have animal companions as a child? Any in your home now?

I grew up with dogs - my first was Peppy Princess. When I was widowed and moved into a new house, closer to work, I adopted cats so I wouldn't have to come home to an empty house. McCoy and Spock were delightful companions, but seemed a bit miffed about the later additions to the household (Victor, who eventually won their hearts by feeding them, then the boys, who they never really took to). Fluffy is the current feline denizen of our household, and seems pleased to have a large staff to tend to her needs!

If anyone wants to be interviewed let me know in a comment. The rules are as follows:

1. If you are interested in being interviewed, leave a comment here saying, 'interview me.'
2. I will respond by posting five questions for you. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with a post with your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Miles to go before I sleep

Barnacle Boy is memorizing poems for his language arts class. Last week it was Kipling's If. Tonight the Boy is following me around the kitchen reciting Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening by Robert Frost. He savors the final two lines, "and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep." and muses, "That reminds me of you, Mom." Feeling as if I'd already been a thousand miles today and indeed had a few more left to manage tonight, I was all ready to agree when he pops out with, "I can feel a blog post coming on..."
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I have promises to keep yet tonight. To my students to post a study guide, to myself to take a walk...

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Writing Life

I'm grant writing, I'm paper writing and I'm writing writing - not here, but here and there.

I'm tired.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Extragavant Unbusyness

In chess, the end game often means that play has been reduced to very few pieces. In my life, the end game is when the pieces multiply, often out of control. The end of term is coming, the end of the calendar year is coming, the end of the liturgical year is upon us, and I have loose ends everywhere.

This is also an extravagant time of year. My students are investing extravagantly in study time, as am I in grading, giving feedback and having office hours. Extravagance creeps into family life, too. There are marvelous holiday meals to be prepared, gifts to be found, and decorations to be put up. The richness of the liturgical season cries out for extravagant attention - to music, to texts, to the preaching. As a result, we are extravagantly tired.

Today I had an appointment with my spiritual director. I worked the last two weekends, will work the next two. I have a grant due next week, and a mountain of grading to do - but in the end decided to take the few hours and go (an extravagance, I know!). I discovered that though the truly intense weeks have not arrived yet, I've already reached the utterly tired stage. After an hours' conversation with my director, we ended as usual with a prayer and some chocolate. As always, he sends me out with the assurance that I need not rush out the door, but am welcome to stay at the old novitiate as long as I wish. Today he looked at me twice and said, "That chair reclines. I'm going to a staff meeting. Take a nap." And I did.

Perhaps it's time to consider being the extravangance of being unbusy?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Warm memories

11 years ago we spent about a month living in Vienna, beginning at Thanksgiving and going through to the new year. Math Man had a residency at the Schrodinger Institute there, which came with an apartment; I was on maternity leave after the birth of Barnacle Boy. It was an amazing experience. Every day I packed the boys into their double-stroller (kitted out with a terrific insert that let you pop a baby in and zip up, no need to mess with snowsuits!) and toured the city. I found playgrounds for Crash to run off his energy, cafes in which I could feed him french fries and nurse the Boy and when all were full and sated, I hit a museum or church while they snoozed in the stroller.

The weather was cold and damp. My overwhelming impression was of darkness, we saw the sun the day we arrived and never again. The nights in the apartment were chilly, and when I would put the Boy back into his crib after nursing him, the clammy sheets would wake him up. I finally bought a baby hot water bottle to keep his spot warmed, which worked like a charm. For Christmas that year, celebrated in a small town in the Italian Alps, Math Man produced a carefully wrapped gift: the mother of all hot water bottles. It was huge, and had a perfect seal. It still warms my feet and my heart!

Today Crash was home from school, not feeling his best. He found the bottle, and curled up on the sofa with it. I'm hoping I can get it back!!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Out of Time

I took off my watch on Thursday afternoon and didn't look at it again until this morning - I wanted to be "off the clock" in an intentional way. The leaders of the contemplative practices weekend included enough time cues to let me do this, and it was an interesting experiment. I realize that I check and re-check my watch when I'm worried about being late (my kids would say "OCD" -- their new label for anything that makes them twitchy). Being without it certainly made me more aware of other markers for time, the noise of people's voices shifting down the hall to go to a meal. The thud of the feet hitting the floor above me: time to get up. I suspect the exercise will help me be more aware in the classroom of those subtle clues to the passing of time.

The hardest piece for me were the walking meditations; not the meditations themselves, which were graced moments for the most part, but my ongoing worry that I would not hear the bell sound to signal our return to the building, and without a watch would not have a back-up. I struggled with this 3 days running. Each time I'd head back to where I could see other people walking, cutting my meditation short. Today I just kept facing the river, reminding myself I could not fail to hear the bell. So great is his strength, that not one fails to answer.

Friday, November 02, 2007

All Souls in All Things

Kathryn's amazing All Soul's liturgy reminded me of a liturgy earlier this year. I was asked to come sing for the service my parish does for those who have lost children (on the Feast of the Guardian Angels). Does not matter when (in infancy, adults, before birth), how long ago (last month, 50 years ago). To a mother now in her 90s, carefully carrying her son's photo, says something no Hallmark card can about a mother's enduring love.

Everyone brought some remembrance to place in front of the altar. Photos, baby blankets, a pair of shoes never used,a leaf. As people gathered after the eucharist to take their remembrances home, there were tears, and laughter all intermixed. And everyone took home a packet of seeds....brilliant a la Kathryn.

There is much to be said about liturgy and loss (and there is a wonderful article in last week's America on such), but I think the modern church (using the term encompassingly) has lost some of its "sacramental" sense in this context. There is something about embedding God's love in something tangible that reaches us at a deeper level. I still have the crucifix that was placed on my husband's bier, blessed as we blessed his body. It is a tangible sign of the grace of that moment, with all the grief, shock, hope and love still accessible to me in that object, which now hangs in my prayer space. I could touch it, even at those moments when I couldn't reach the intangible, the immanent.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Noble Silence

I'm spending 4 days on a contemplative faculty retreat. Thirty three of us gathered together to be mindfully, attentive and intentionally silent. One of the three people leading the retreat spoke briefly about the purpose of the silence. She urged us to practice "noble silence" - a Buddhist practice of stilling not only the voice, but even our body language, a silence that lets one be alone in the midst, supported by the silence of others.

The monastic practices of "custody of the eyes" and the Great Silence serve similar purposes. To encourage us to hear rather than talk, with all our senses. To reverence the needs of others over our own. To be still, even in motion.

Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble

My dad can recite that entire section of Macbeth from memory. Good synthetic organic chemists are sometimes called "pot boilers," so this is an apt quote for him. When I was young, we would beg him to do it as he cleaned up the kitchen after dinner. Last night when I came home to find Crash stirring up a cauldron of blood (see cheap and easy blood recipe), I was tempted to see if I could bring up those lines again!

The recipe called for coffee. Crash used coffee grounds, which had an interesting effect, but probably not quite what the recipe writer intended. No one in this house drinks coffee, and I'm not sure that Crash knows how you go from a can of grounds to what is in the cup. Even though I don't drink coffee either (and never have), I had this skill down by his age. As the morning lark daughter of a night owl mother, at an early age I learned that making my mother's coffee early in the morning was a great kindness.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Grateful Dead

Not the band, alas, though there is some Cherry Garcia in the freezer. And I should point out that the Grateful and the Dead in this title are two different groups. I would be Grateful. The mouse would be Dead. And this would be why I'm grateful, though a bit saddened.

I'm off to a 4-day conference at the end of the week. Though it's on contemplative practices, the schedule is tight and time for class prep non-existent. I'm busy trying to get everything done I need to get done to prepare for next week, done now. So as I head through the kitchen to the basement with an armload of laundry, I hear Fluffy at the door. I shift the clothes, open the door, hit the screen door with my hip and in she comes. As I close the door I notice that...

we are not alone....

Oh dear. I really, really should know better by now. I dashed down to the basement to dump the laundry, grabbing the broom on my way back up. Hoping beyond hope that the furry thing the Fluffster had dropped on the floor by her food dish was (a) still there and (b) deceased. And so it came to be that I was Grateful and the mouse Dead.

Math man thinks that there is a market for a mouse disposal kit. Gloves, plastic bag, tongs (don't ask about the time he thought about picking up a live mouse with my kitchen tongs) and what else?

Saturday, October 27, 2007


It's quiet enough to hear the spider walk on the silk throw pillow next to me...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bread and Circuses

I've been baking bread -- sturdy peasant bread, delicate egg bread. Crash (who adores his carbs) has discovered the joy of bread fresh from the oven, with butter melting into it. Tonight he got a piece that had cooled for all of 10 minutes and lamented that it was "not the same as fresh bread." Beyond Wonder Bread indeed.

The act of kneading the bread, paying attention not to the timer or the recipe (knead for 8 minutes), but to the sense of when the dough yields under my hands. There is a moment when suddenly all the stretching and turning has done its work, and the dough relaxes under my hands. It was a good contemplative exercise - definitely requiring a certain attentiveness. It's also a seed for meditating about my teaching (stretching and turning my students, paying attention to the subtle signs that they are ready for the rising), as well as my life overall (how is God stretching and turning my life around, can I relax under Her hands?).

I suspect we've lost a lot of the richness of scripture since we don't bake our own bread, grind our own wheat, or even see these things being done.

And it's a circus here, between doing administrative tasks today, I was taking up Halloween costumes and comforting distressed middle schoolers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Of Place Mats and Tablecloths

The boys (all three) ate without me tonight - I had a late meeting (one agenda item - changing the standard 4-6 pm meeting time to improve work-life balance). Everyone was tired and cranky, but Math Man kept me company at the table (and had nice things to say about the bread I'd baked last night). As I cleared the table after dinner and whisked off the tablecloth covered in crumbs I found myself contemplating the simplicity of the covering.

Math Man and I are agreed to disagree on this point. I think that not having to wipe down individual place mats, which are then left as "visual clutter" all over the kitchen to dry (and as a result occasionally catch fire on the stove), and not having to wipe down the table (except when someone's glass has been knocked over) is a huge time saver. It takes me just a minute to take off the tablecloth, put on a fresh one and toss the dirty one into the hamper at the top of the basement steps. Pop a plant into the middle of the table and I'm done. To him, it seems "too fussy" to use a tablecloth . Why cover more than you use? Last summer, I finally got to the point where the sight of 4 placemats on the table, which would have to be washed, would take up all my counter space while drying AND a table which would have to be wiped down drove me to tears.

I finally realized tonight, it's not the mats versus the cloth - it's that my life is so tightly packed that those extra minutes and that visual clutter were the final straw.

Fewer things, please.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Surprise, I'm Catholic

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Catholic

You are a Catholic. You believe that the bread and wine are transformed by the priest and become the Body and Blood of Christ. Though the accidents, or appearance, of bread and wine remain, the substance has been changed. The Eucharist remains the Body and Blood of Christ after the celebration, and is reserved in the Tabernacle; Eucharistic devotions are proper. As the whole Christ is present under either species, you partake fully of the Eucharist even if you receive only one.













Friday, October 19, 2007

Fall Breaks

It's dark in the novitiate library. The only light is the reading lamp by my chair. It's fall break at the college and I'm stretching a visit with my spiritual director into 24-hours and a bit "off duty". I took a 5 mile walk this afternoon, through the hedgerow and down the country roads. While the flora were nothing to write home about, the fauna put on a magnificent show. I watched a woodpecker explore a tree, taste testing the branches; two cardinals flew within a meter of my face, vivid flashes of scarlet among the still green leaves; a squirrel stood stolidly upon a bird house nailed to a tree, defending his stash of nuts.

Next stop, the candle lit small chapel and some time to think about next year's sabbatical. What would you do with 8 months of free time? Or with 15?

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Barnacle Boy has a nasty sore throat, having come down with WIGA (whatever is going around). I used a flashlight to take a look at it last night, noting in passing that his tonsils looked huge. Predictably, Crash wanted to take a look, too, though the Boy was loathe to give permission. Instead, I offered them each a look in my throat. (Mother is just another word for sacrificial lamb.)

Crash is recovering from a bout with WIGA and I (so far anyway) am what the epidemiologists would call a susceptible and what I would call lucky, so we had three sets of tonsils in different states of inflammation to compare. Ever curious, the Boy still wanted to see his own throat and wondered if I would take a picture. At my hesitation, Crash leapt into the breech and suggested the Boy look in the mirror.

"Hey, they really are big!"

Crash recalled when he had strep throat which I had him self-diagnose over the phone. "Dad didn't know what it looked like, but you had me look in the mirror with the flashlight..." Dr. Mom does telemedicine.

Epilogue: The Boy does not have strep. Math Man took him to the pediatrician after he started spiking a fever (Mom was collecting a "bad mom card" by being away for a night of self-care at the Jesuit Center).

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Life Lessons

Fall is a busy season for the VLF. There are adventures (and mice) to be had outside - and these are all the more fun when shared. And once again I ventured out the kitchen door in bare feet. Patently, this was an error. But then, I already knew that. Blech!

Last night, in the midst of a rainstorm, I hear meowing from the kitchen door. I open it - no sign of Fluffy. Meow! I look up - she's on the roof. And won't come down. Crash finally opened the bathroom window and called her in. I'm afraid she will view this as an alternative entrance and beg to be let out that way as well.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Caramel Coated

I saw a sweatshirt today that said "Chemistry is just like cooking...just don't lick the spoon!" Thus inspired to do some chemistry in my kitchen (where I can lick the spoon) and having some apples from the local farmer's market in my 'fridge crying aloud to be covered in caramel, I embarked on a candy making adventure tonight.

The recipe called for melting a cup of sugar over high heat, then whisking in butter until melted and finally some heavy cream. This is not a low calorie recipe! Nor is it one for meditation - once that sugar melts, you need to be ready with a whisk and the butter. Having mucked up the whisk trying to melt the sugar (the recipe recommended using a whisk to stir while melting - I found a silicon spoon worked better - once I convinced myself the melting point of sucrose, which I know in celsius (160), was lower than the max temperature the spoon was designed for, which I know in Fahrenheit (425). As a result, I was madly digging in the drawer for another whisk whilst trying to keep the melting sugar from overbrowning. The word relaxing does not come to mind...

In the end I have caramel sauce, it tastes right - no grit, rich and buttery - but it's not thick and gooey. Like any good chemical reaction, the conditions clearly need a bit of tweaking.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

All creatures great and small

It's the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (for at least another two minutes anyway, or longer if you count the end of the day as when I say Compline). Last year, Fluffy celebrated by heading off for her first ever blessing - this year she is channeling her inner predator. As I was writing in the sunroom a few minutes ago I heard a thump and a squeak from the basement. Fluffy proudly strode into the room, two ears and a tail sticking out of her mouth. Yep - it's still alive. Nope - she does not want to take it outside. Don't I want to watch her? Most emphatically - no! The mouse thinks I have it in for him as well, and has resisted various attempts at rescue. I have retreated to my bedroom, where I have barricaded the door, lest she decide I really must enjoy the show. I feel badly for the mouse on this day of all days- have I let St. Francis down?

The boys have taken to calling Fluffy the "VLF' (vicious little furball). While warm and cuddly with her human staff, do not get between her and her amuse bouches.

Last week, walking out to get the morning paper with the Boy, he notices something out of the usual and inquires, "Why is that mouse sleeping on the driveway, Mom?" "Um, it's not sleeping..." "Oh, the VLF again!" Crash ("sarcasm, just another service we offer!") chimes in with, "at least this one has all its limbs". This is when I realize that the Fluffster has left us another gift. This one is just so much fluff on the door mat - and I have just walked through it. No shoes. Life lesson - wear shoes to get the paper.

I will wear shoes in the morning - that is for sure.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mysteries of the Moleskine Revealed

reverendmother covets these journals. I admit to having two: one for keeping track of daily life, the other for keeping track of my interior life. They are tough as nails, and have survived dunkings in tea, many meetings and being stuffed into all manner of bags. But where to keep your pen, wonders the good reverend!

In the spine, just like a spiral notebook...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Zen of Not Blogging

I’m spending 48 hours at a Zen workshop. Two friends were coming, and encouraged me to come, and given that I am facilitating a group on contemplative practices, I thought it a good thing to try. The workshop is essentially immersion into Zen practice. Explanations are sparse, just enough to shape our practice so that it is incrementally better than it was before. Zen teachers are sprinkled throughout the zendo (or zen hall). Three-quarters of us (including me) are rank beginners at this. The Zen master who is leading the weekend emphasized at the beginning that Zen is a practice that deepens whatever religious tradition you profess (or don’t).

Even though I regularly use stilling practices and exercises of awareness for prayer, and am a veteran of 8-day Ignatian retreats where I might spend 6 or 7 hours in formal prayer each day, I’m finding this weekend hard going. Part of this is the necessarily rigid schedule of the communal meditation. We are to be in the zendo ready to go 5 minutes before the appointed hour. “The work” as one of the monks calls it, may last 3 hours at a stretch. We sit and meditate, walk as a group – meditating - and chant. The first period began at dawn, the last one will end at 9:30 tonight. All together, we will spend 9 or 10 hours working together.

The sitting is hardest for me. The instructions are to be aware, pay attention, but not to process. Don’t internally name the sound you hear, don’t think about what you will do in the free period after lunch, don’t think. Just sit. Above all, don’t think about what you might blog about the experience!

Friday, September 21, 2007

The instinct for self-preservation is strong

Last weekend we took the Fiat Lux out again. This time the wind was strong and gusty. The first tack across the lake was rough going. I’d get everything sheeted in, then not only would a gust hit, but the wind would shift. I sailed back, beached the boat and then wondered if we should back out, or call it a day. The four boys who had not been out were clearly voting for staying. I was watching the other Laser on the beach pack up and having second thoughts. When I saw a 15” Hobie cat (with its sails reefed, no less) go over, I had third and fourth thoughts. “So what’s the worst thing that can happen?” Math Man asks. “We capsize.” Hey, we’ve brought dry clothes, the weather is warm and this is not the open ocean. I rule that everyone (including me) wears their PFD zipped up and tight, and we sail
Barnacle Boy has tons of questions about balancing the boat, prompted when I wouldn’t let him sit on the bow on this ride. We are having a wild ride across the lake, when I decide it’s time to come about. Over goes the tiller, and…over goes the Boy. He couldn’t find a good grip on the deck, so when the boat turned, he slid right off. I tried to grab him, but he outweighs me by 20 pounds and I couldn’t get a grip. “Mom!” “I won’t sail off without you,” the captain promises him. He doesn’t look very reassured, and does look very small and forlorn bobbing in his yellow PFD in my wake. Sailboats have no brakes, no reverse. The best I can do is point up into the wind. In this kind of wind, holding the boat into the wind midlake is what Crash would call a mad skill. The rigging shivers and clangs like Marley’s ghost. I point up and tell the Boy to swim to the boat. Thankfully he swims as if he were born with gills. He slides back over the gunnel, soaked to the bone. “I think I’m ready to go in now, Mom!” He’s grinning though, and the first words he has for the crew on shore are, “I fell off!” And how else would anyone get that wet?
Later in the afternoon, Crash and I are out. The wind is still up and it takes both of us hiking out over the side to keep the boat sort of flat in the water. Crash is discovering why reaching in a 15 knot wind is so much fun. By now I’m getting the hang of the wind and the boat and am practicing racing turns. Fast and smooth and right onto the new tack. I like being in control. Suddenly a puff hits and the clew end of the boom is in the water. Certain we’re going to be in the water, I turn to brief Crash on what to do: climb out onto the hull opposite to the sail. I find him already turned around and half-way out of the boat. The weight actually brings us down again and we don’t flip the boat. “Whew, I thought we were going over for sure! You did just the right thing.” My 13 year old responds laconically, “Mom, the instinct for self-preservation is strong.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The least you can do is take me to Staples

Barnacle Boy is anxious to get his supplies for middle school. (We bought the basics in August to beat the rush, but there are a few specifics his teachers have asked them to bring in.) I finish class today and the phone rings as I hit my office. "Mom, can you take me to Staples when you get home?" After 9 hours without a break, the thought of standing in a 30 minute line at the office supply store is not high on my list. "Can it wait?" The short answer is no, he doesn't want to wait. All evening long, he tries to get either me or Math Man to take him. We're not biting. I finally ask to see the list, which notes that the teachers (quite reasonably) don't expect the supplies to be in hand until next Monday.

Finally, around 8, I check the New York Times and see the article about the new iPods. This has got to distract him..."Barnacle Boy, come see the new iPods!" We enjoyed checking out the new models and had a rousing discussion about whether (if you had the money) you'd buy the 4G iPhone or the 8G iPod with touch screen and Wi-Fi. Relief is short-lived. The conversation closes with, "Well, if you're not going to buy one, the least you can do is take me to Staples!"

Sunday, September 02, 2007


I've been on the road much of August, living out of my red rolling suitcase, dropping in just long enough to run a load or two of laundry and head out again. The rest of the team has been road-tripping too, though with a bit less intensity. It felt good on Saturday to be doing the laundry with the intention of putting it away in drawers, of having a choice of shirt color (pink or white?) instead of the monochrome pallete I wear to travel.

After a week at the beach, I decided to stage laundry in the living room. Suitcases were emptied onto the floor, and I dragged the kids' surprisingly full hamper down the hall to join the party. "Hey, Mom," wonders the Boy, "could you order us some more shorts? We only have 3 pairs." Three pairs? They had a dozen between them at summer's start. Have they been that hard on their clothes? "Sure," I shoot back, "just let me see what you've got and we'll order enough to get you through the fall." As I chat, I'm emptying the laundry hamper. And emptying, and emptying, and...

a foot from the bottom , there is a flash of pink. Pink? Pink! Pink panties to be precise. The boys are in trouble, but it's not what you think. Panties belong to their cousin, who last graced these walls on July 27. This layer is a foot from the bottom of their three foot deep laundry hamper.

When was the last time someone did their laundry? No one knows. But the stratigraphy is clear, even without consulting our back door neighbor (a geologist). It's been way more than a month.

This got me wondering if they'd just been hamper diving while I was away. My current theory, which Math Man isn't debating (he's taking the fifth on this) is that every time they came back from a trip, Math Man washed the three or four pairs of communal shorts that they packed. So I think they've mostly been wearing clean clothes, just not much variety!

Saturday, September 01, 2007


I think the hard drive on my laptop may have crashed. I last backed-up before I left for the August travels. As my Carmelite friend would say, "detachment, my dear". Sigh....

Practice makes perfect

"Mom, Game Guy and I are going to have a practice middle school day tomorrow," Barnacle Boy announced as he sailed through the door last night. "A practice middle school day? What's that?" "We'll get up at 6:00, shower, eat breakfast and meet in my driveway at 6:45 for parents to take pictures - well not really take pictures today, but..." Today, I will note is Saturday, when legions of teens and pre-teens blissfully sleep through all the hours designated am. "Did Game Guys' parents OK this?" "Yep!"

At 5:36 am I awoke to the sound of the Boy's feet hitting the floor. At 6:20 am he appeared, shiny and clean at my bedside. By 7:30 am when I appeared downstairs, showered and dressed, he and Game Guy were playing The Hard to Acquire Game System That Shall Not Be Named and reported that they were 10 minutes early to the bus stop. We'll see how this all goes on Tuesday!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Vacation is Working

I wondered how relaxing it would be to be with my thoroughly-on-vacation guys while I tried to balance a bit of beach time with 6 or 7 hours of class prep time each day. Surprisingly, it has been incredibly relaxing. I suspect that at least part of the reason (besides the wonderful view) is that when I'm not working, I'm not working: no cooking (Barnacle Boy has been getting up at 6:15 and going to the bakery for my lemon buns); no laundry (towel and bathing suits get dried, that's it); no tidying (and it looks it, abandoned soda cans are scattered hither and yon). So there is time for an afternoon swim in the waves, to walk 5 miles along the waves, to sit on the deck and write and still sleep 8 hours a night. There's a lesson here somewhere...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The view from vacation

I returned from my chemistry meeting Thursday afternoon, went into my office Friday, then left early this morning to come spend some time on the Jersey shore. One week left (and a bit) before classes begin and I'm excited to be having some low key time off. Retreat was time away, and a respite, and there have been family visits of all sorts, but this is time with just my boys (all three!) in a place we go often enough to have worn grooves. No need to think, we can just settle into the rythym of it all.

Right now I'm sitting on the deck watching the waves, the view is amazing, but it does come with the occasional wart - as you can see! We're staying on an island, essentially a large sandbar. Beach erosion is evident this year - the high tide is nearly to the boardwalk. The gradual erosion of older homes is also evident. Every year we see small family cottages replaced by enormous shore homes. Even the little Catholic church down the street, which dates to the late 1880s, is accomodating the new age, with an electronic ticker sign on the corner advertising Mass times.

Goals for the week: walk morning and evening, play silly games in the waves with the boys, eat lemon buns from the bakery with my morning tea, and...sigh...prep to teach next week (but this beats my office by far).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pocket Guide to WMD

I spent the last week at my professional society's national meeting. There is always a huge exposition along with these meetings - hundreds of vendors peddling their wares, loads of tsotchkes to bring home to Crash and the Boy (lobster lollipops got best of show in my book). This year, the FBI had a booth - hoping to recruit chemists. A couple of my students have gone to work in forensics - real life CSI - so I thought I'd see if there was any good information I could bring back to put up on the career bulletin board. I picked up the basic info, then spotted the brochure: A Pocket Guide to WMD

A Pocket Guide to WMD? Does the generally public really need to have in their pockets a guide to identifying weapons of mass destruction? or listing the associated laws? (Yes, it is illegal to produce, obtain, possess, demonstrate, or teach others to make weapons of mass destruction.) My favorite part of the guide shows the standard warning symbols for biohazards, nuclear materials, and flammable or explosive chemicals, advising us to be able to recognize these symbols. In bold print, it goes on, however, to warn that we should "not expect to see them on a WMD device".

Interestingly, the brochure didn't provide any information about identifying actual devices, like the guides to identifying energy ship sillouettes from WW II, just broad definitions. ("Any weapon involving a disease organism.") The brochure itself seemed to me to be an incendiary device, the sole purpose to suggest we be ever vigilant for we know not what.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Urban Sophisticates

Crash is at a week-long writing camp in the city called a Plop and a Plunk - run by his quirky, but inspiring 7th grade language arts teacher. How inspiring? My child - who historically loves to read, hates to write - begged us to rearrange vacation plans so that he could go to this camp and...write?!

He and his fellow campers climbed onto the local train yesterday afternoon (sans parents), headed for the big city for the first day of their big adventure. They met with a photographer to talk about her work, then went to a local cafe to talk and write. It's been rainy and unseasonably cold, so I figured Crash would have gotten hot chocolate, which he did. He reported that his buddy Wild Man ordered a cappuccino. Such sophistication! (Though most of this group considered ordering something caffeinated "risky behavior"...)

Today they are going to the Rosenbach museum to see Bram Stoker's brainstorming notes for Dracula. Wish I were there!

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Fine Cup of Tea

A riddle, what does a Best Western motel have that the Ritz Carlton does not?

The answer - a great cup of tea. Or at least a microwave in the room so that water may be brought to the boil for said cup of tea. It was rainy and damp in Mystic, CT yesterday and the tea was a welcome start to breakfast, even if it had to be in a styrofoam cup. Last spring, at a conference held at a Ritz, the room had note inviting you to have a fine cup of tea. Made with water below the boiling point, in a carafe covered with coffee oil. Not hardly!

No tea is my travel penance; so I'm glad in this month of being "on the road" to have had at least one wonderful cup.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sad Sailors, Sigh

Wil smama had a bad start to her day - mine was much ado about nothing (though we had plans, many plans!).

Today we finally got my boat onto the (now legally registered) trailer, the missing plug arrived by UPS yesterday (and it fit), drove an hour to the lake and....(drum roll...) discovered that my adored and adoring husband had not only dismantled a difficult to assemble set of lines (the kicking strap AKA boom vang) BUT lost the critical piece that attaches said assembly to the boom (and which secures the boom to the mast) on while helping me put it back after a dry run the previous night. No kicking strap, no sailing.

Thinking he must have left in the garage - I drove home with Crash to see if I could retrieve it and save the day. No go. Where, oh where, did he put it down? Crash and I drove back (it's now 3 pm, we left at 11 ish). Take the boat out of the water (did I mention that we'd put it in the water...we were that close??).

Four very sad sailors. Next possible sail date is September 6. I am praying for good weather already!!

The boys and I are blaming it all on Math Man's Myers-Briggs. Crash and I are INTJ, Barnacle Boy is ENTJ. Math Man can't remember what he is (so we're sure he's not a J!). I'm threatening to get us all t-shirts with our codes on them...and to restrict rigging and take-down to J's only.

Friday, August 10, 2007

RGBP Friday Five: Stress Busters do you deal with the stress monster!!!???
1. First, and before we start busting stress, what causes you the most stress, is it big things or the small stuff ?
It the rate of "stuff" happening that does me in. If I've got a moment to take a breath in between stressors, it's less likely to cause brain implosion.

2. Exercise or chocolate for stress busting ( or maybe something else) ? Laughter! Exercise followed by chocolate runs a close second. In true desperation, Crash's brain sucker (guaranteed to provoke serious giggling, if not outright guffawing).

3.What is your favourite music to chill out to?Something I can sing along to...that makes me breathe deeply. Or something off my "calm" playlist if I can't sing.

4. Where do you go to chill?
Right where I am now, the huge chair in my bedroom. Windows open if the weather permits, listening to the trees rustle likes waves on the shore.

5. Extrovert or introvert, do you relax at a party, or do you prefer a solitary walk? INTJ, that's me. So that would be a walk - all by myself. At a recent family gathering, my attempts to walk the hills alone one evening were met with "Just let me get my shoes..." and "Oh, are you going for a walk? I'll be right there!" Thankfully I can say, "Not tonight, dear!"

Bonus- share your favourite stress busting tip!
Find something to laugh at, yourself if you can....

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Some Like it Hot

....just not us! We went camping for a week. We lasted 2 nights - albeit two nights where the temperature never dropped much below 80o F even in the wee hours, and the humidity was about the same. No need for a campfire to melt the chocolate for s'mores - it melted just sitting under the picnic table.

I still feel like a wimp for coming out and telling Math Man this morning that I really wanted to come home. As we hiked this morning (in the indescribable heat), we came up with ten reasons NOT to wimp out on camping.

1. It's been raining solidly for 3 days and will rain for 3 more.
2. You're morning sick.
3. You have a two month old who wakes up every hour.
4. Fifteen minutes after you set up the tent, a bear has come to call.
5. Your 2-yr old (Barnacle Boy) has consumed an unknown number of Advil.
6. There is a river of water running through the tent.
7. You hung the sleeping bags out to dry while you hiked and another storm rolled in.
8. You have no dry sleeping bags (see 7.).
9. The entire campground is infested with poison ivy. (And neither my then 1 yr old or 3 yr old managed to get into it, sometimes God is good!)
10. Someone fed your 15 month old (Crash) an entire pint of blueberries.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Fiat Lux!

We finally succeeded at getting the Fiat Lux out of mothballs yesterday. She cleaned up nicely, and we're hoping to get her ready to sail, if not this week, soon. The only missing part is the transom bung plug. Seems small, but as I told Barnacle Boy, water going inside the boat's hull is generally not conducive to speedy sailing - just to speedy sinking!

I bought my Laser in 1990, at the Philadelphia Boat Show. Currently you can only get a Vela grey hull, not my splashy red. I have the radial rig - which is rated for one person massing 50-65 kg: perfect for me, the Boy and Crash. Math Man needs more wind that we do to fly (he really should sail with the standard rigging), but he still can get a good reach out of it. This year, the Laser Radial will be a women's Olympic class, the standard rig (for 65 kg and up) has been an Olympic boat since '96.

Vela is from the Latin for sails.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

INTJ - really

Click to view my Personality Profile page

I have one introverted kid (Crash) and one extraverted kid (Barnacle Boy). These days the Boy is using "introvert" like a curse, he's looking for a companion to bounce with and after three weeks of camp Crash needs a bit of down time. After the umpteenth exchange of insults this morning, I just sent Crash up to my room with the instruction to either "nap" or "nook" (curl up in the chair in the nook of the dormer and read). "I can't nap." "Then nook!" Meanwhile, the Boy is blasting Harry Potter Puppet Pals behind me, someone is weed whacking mint in a nearby garden (noisy, but smells nice), my niece and nephew are playing video games in the living room and I would be trying to write a review of two opposing papers, except for the I vs. E war, the YouTube videos and the weed whacking.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dutch Treat

A friend sent me a copy of an article from the Dutch popular science magazine Natuurwetenscap & Techniek which features my other blog. Between my German and a bit of help from a friend who does know some Dutch, I managed to puzzle my way through it. The whole thing was quite a surprise, though, as I had no idea that any such article was in the works.

The featured quote is from this post about a pair of molecular earrings.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Caution: Tired Teen Tales

My teen is tired. He's at camp for 7 hours a day, playing rugby, climbing towers, canoeing, and I suspect only sits at lunch, and then does some catching up with friends in early evening, sometimes at the pool. All this means Crash is a seriously pooped pup, and sometimes a bit grouchy. Just in case I missed the subtler signs of his mood, he raided the basement tool box for something a bit more direct. I took the hint.

After dinner, he was up in my study on the computer. I was putting towels away in the hall when he popped out and inquired about Pandora's box - did I really think the box in the garage was left by a goddess, or was I just using the title? Huh? He's reading the blog - all of it. We had an interesting talk about it all cleaning up the kitchen later. I asked him how much he read. "All of it, except what I'd already read and what was really boring." "What did you think of the writing?" "Some was really good, and some so-so. You average out OK."

Since I started the blog, I've collected the posts about the kids and bound them into a book for them each year, and I'll often tell them if I've posted about their antics, and occasionally they will ask to see them. This blog is not particularly anonymous, either. So why did I feel a bit self-conscious when Crash started rummaging through the blog tonight?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Taking umbrage

For forty years, my mornings have started with a cup of tea - these days, sweet and black. Until about fifteen years ago, my preferred cup was Lipton. Now I use loose tea, easy enough with a basket that just pops into my mug. My tea ran out with my retreat. Every morning I'd invade the kitchens for hot water to brew my cuppa, then take it out into the eastern cloisters and watch the sun rise. I ordered more when I got home last week, but in the meantime have been drinking the tea in the photo. After seeing the Harry Potter movie, though, the color of this box so reminds me of Dolores Umbrage. Suddenly my morning ritual felt much less soothing, as if Prof. Umbrage would appear in the kitchen and start posting rules on the walls. "Do you really need so much sugar in your tea, dear, hmmm?"

the pink, pink tea

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Caustic Comments

For several years I've had a benign growth on my back (like my need for bifocals, yet another sign of senescence). Today it needed to come off (for reasons I will spare you, but that did manage to gross out the thirteen year old boys at my dinner table, a feat I generally have a hard time managing). So tonight at 6:15, I had the !@(* thing excised, all 3 cm of it. The physician who did it was good and kept up his end of the distracting conversation well. Alas, my attempt to describe what quantum mechanics might have to do with the nifty device that measures your blood oxygen levels while he put in the local was not up to my usual standards. I was mostly doing my best not to faint.

Just as he's getting ready to start the actual procedure, my cell phone goes off. "Better get that now," he says. I snag my purse from the chair next to the table and answer, hoping it's Math Man telling me he's home from his trip to the state capitol and I can turn the home front over to him. Nope, it's Barnacle Boy, making dinner. "Mom, we don't have any ground beef. " "Sure we do, check the top shelf of the freezer, left hand side," I reply, feeling momentarily disoriented as I sat amidst all the medical paraphernalia giving directions for this mundane task. "Thanks. Can you pick up a baguette on the way home?" there no way to get off duty?

We treated the resulting 2 inch wound in my back with lunar caustic (silver nitrate to the modern chemist) to cauterize it, no stitches, so I can swim sooner. The local is wearing off right about now and I'm wishing I was in Dublin with a friend there on sabbatical, having a beer!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Sheep Genome: Transcription Complete

My sheep is finished, alas, Barnacle Boy (the intended recipient) finds it "too fuzzy", so I'm off to find a wool that he likes. The wool was lovely to knit with indeed, so I will follow up with a sweater of the same stuff (for me, not the boy!)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Slowly, slowly...

My spiritual director is fond of advising, "Sloooowly, sloooowly...." a relic from his time in India. As I headed out the door after 8 full days of silence, my director for this retreat offered similar wisdom, though less colorfully expressed. "Don't plunge back in for a day or two, take time to unpack the mental bags as well as the physical ones." It's been good advice, though by 11 pm on Saturday night after cantoring the evening Mass, followed by a barbecue (a working dinner for my spouse), I was wondering if I could take it (the advice, not the pace).

Random impressions:
  • It was hot and steamy for several days, which has the positive effect of encouraging stillness. I spent several afternoons sitting in the cloister garden, reading and drawing (not well, but a good contemplative exercise).
  • Watching a 20 acre field, glittering with fireflies. Special effects like I've never seen.
  • A deer and her fawns crashing through the hedgerow at night (after which I took a flashlight - deer up close are BIG).
  • The line of sneakers holding open the doors on the second floor, in hope of getting a cross breeze.
  • Hoarding quarters to do my laundry again, like grad school

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Into the silence

Today was beyond relentless. Never tell people you are leaving and won't be reachable - suddenly everything is a crisis!!

I'm off to spend 8 full days in blissful, blessed silence.......

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?).