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.