Friday, December 15, 2023

Taking tea with a grain of salt - the Boston tea party

Tomorrow is the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, the day protesting American colonists dumped 42,000 kg1 of tea into Boston Harbor. That's enough to make about 21,000,000 cups of tea. While that might sound like a lot of tea, several billion cups of tea  are drunk across the world  every day2. Each year humans drink enough tea to to fill Boston Harbor end to end. That's a bit less than half a cubic kilometer (which in those terms I confess does not sound like very much - but Boston Harbor).

The tea, once dumped in the harbor, was unusable due to contamination not only by the salt water, but by the sewage that surely polluted the bay. (I was fascinated to find that a vial of the tea leaves purportedly collected from the harbor still exists.)

Salt would seem to be the last thing you want in your tea, but in the eighth century manuscript Classic of Tea, the tea master Lu Yu recommended adding a dash of salt to water before using it to brew tea. Salt, actually the sodium ions in it, suppresses our perception of bitterness. A small amount of salt, not even enough to taste, reduces the bitterness in a cup of tea. Other ions will do this too, including zinc. Beware, zinc also interferes with the perception of sweet!

1. If you prefer this in Imperial units, that would be 92,000 pounds.
2. At this point I'm apparently contractually required to tell you that tea is the most popular beverage in the world. Virtually everything I read about tea made sure to make this point early and often.

If you want to know more about the chemistry behind tea, my book Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea comes out from the Royal Society of Chemistry Books in January 2024. You can sign up to hear me talk about the chemistry of tea on February 15 with Chemistry World.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Vampire diaries

On Tuesday morning I had a procedure on my eye which left me as sensitive to light as a vampire and with very blurry vision.  I came home and spent the afternoon like a Victorian lady with the vapors. In a dim room propped on many pillows, eyes closed while someone read to me. It lacked only the cool compress on my forehead and some smocked white lawn dress to be a woodcut right out of a 19th century novel, well that and my intrepid book reader was not the vicar's daughter but my iPhone. 

No email, no desultory browsing the news, no list of household chores to get through, I drifted along to the voice in my ears, letting someone else choose the pace at which the story progressed. All in all it was a tiny retreat, a meditation on surrender and control.

By bedtime I could see well enough to pray Compline, “Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in His peace.” Two Advil (the local had worn off) and indeed I slept in peace, and rose in gratitude to a less blurred day. 

Monday, September 04, 2023

The season for changes

green caterpillar on a grey wall
It's September, the season has changed from summer to fall (though the temperature feels anything but fall-like today). Classes start at the college tomorrow, and I am thinking about changes. (If you also now have David Bowie's Changes as an earworm, I apologize, or consider it the soundtrack to this blog post.) 

Like the caterpillars, so much changes for me at this point in the year. My schedule changes. Inflexible classes plant themselves in my calendar, meetings sprout like weeds around them. My tasks change, too. I need to find time for office hours and grading and class prep. I will have new students and new colleagues. I am teaching a new class this year and team teaching general chemistry for the first time ever (in this my 40th year of college teaching). My office was renovated over the summer, so that's a change, too. (My door opens on the other side and the light switch has moved. I keep swiping at the wall when I come in. Habits are hard to break.) So many little changes.

office flanked by bookshelves
But I'm also thinking about longer-term changes. What would it be like to retire? A big change that will cascade into many small changes. What's the next big writing project I want to undertake? It feels so odd to be looking at space in my calendar that doesn't have "writing" in it, after all these months of working on the book on tea. There are more changes to come, I expect.

Photo of new office, just like the old office, but with fewer books. (Really.)

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Indexing habits


I just finished Dennis Duncan's Index, a History of The: A Bookish Adventure from Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age. It was a great read, accessible and with lots of lovely word play to enjoy. I enjoyed his capacious definition of an index, large enough to encompass the arrangement of kitchen cabinets to allow its users to reliably locate items. I reflected to Math Man that we use that sort of index when we are at the shore. There is always a designated key and beach pass bowl established near the door. Going out for an early morning pastry run? No need to shake out everyone's pockets looking for one of the two sets of keys we were issued, they are in the bowl. 

These days I leave my phone in the bowl, too. Mostly. Today after a long beach ramble I put it down on my shoes while I unlocked the door, thinking to myself, "Don't leave it here!" Door open, I dropped the keys in the bowl. Two hours later, headed to lunch, I grabbed the keys and wondered where I left my phone...argh. On my shoes. Outside the door.

Practice good indexing habits!

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Sensible of conditions

I looked out at the beach yesterday, the water dotted with white caps, sand shimmying itself into tiny dunes and turned to Crash, "Did they teach you the Beaufort scale?" (He is taking a sailing course in London this summer.) He checks the waves and says, "Beaufort 6?" "It's been too long since I thought about it," I admitted.

The Beaufort scale describes the intensity of the wind in terms of observable conditions. Beaufort 0 is so calm that smoke rises vertically.  At Beaufort 2 the leaves can be heard to rustle and you can feel the breeze on your face. Beaufort 6 is a "strong breeze" in which it is hard to raise an umbrella, and white caps are widespread on the waves.

If I wanted to know the current wind speed at the nearby weather station I could check my phone, but there is something about being sensible of the conditions where I am standing that I find appealing. It calls me to be present, to listen and to look and to feel what is around me.

For the record, the conditions were Beaufort 5, a fresh breeze, windspeed 20 mph. Crash and Math Man demonstrate!

Tuesday, August 22, 2023


Should I spend some time this morning working on my syllabus? It's a cool day at the beach and perhaps that is why I am feeling the tug of the school year. Or perhaps it's because I read an opinion piece in The Atlantic that claims the syllabus is dead. (Because you can make an update-able electronic version? Because now it's customary to put a lot of policies on it, which somehow dilutes the scholarly value of the reading list and schedule?)  

I am trying to resist. I have been seriously unbusy for the last 10 days, leaning into the joy of being away where I can't clear off my desk or tidy the living room. Savoring the time with family. Burrowing into books old and new. Writing purely for pleasure. 

The pull of the new academic year is a bit like the tide, swelling and ebbing on an immutable schedule. Today at 1:09 pm the tide will peak. On Wednesday, September 6th at 1:10 pm, I will stand up and welcome a physical chemistry class bursting at the seams. Resistance is futile.

Monday, August 21, 2023


I am recreating. I am down at the New Jersey shore, ocean breezes blowing through the door, the susurration of the surf punctuated by the shrill shrieks of sea gulls excited by the potential snacks being toted onto the beach to keep toddlers (and teens and twenty-something offspring and their parents) from getting peckish. 

I have read six books, walked miles each day unplugged from books or podcasts or the news, floated in the sea, eaten ice cream, laughed with my kids until the tears ran down my face, lingered over dinner at an outdoor cafe. Soaked in grace until the creakiness of the summer’s push to finish the book (and several other projects) eases. Reminded that at my core I am a human being, and not a human do-er.  I feel re-created.

Classes begin in just over two weeks, the start of my 39th year as a college professor, my 61st “first day of school”. I always imagine the entry to the new school year will be gentle, the air faintly crisp at the end of the day. And always somehow surprised when it is comes in hot, afterburners roaring. All the more reason to dump as much heat as I can this week.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Two universes

I started The Impossible Us by Sarah Lotz last night. It's about a couple who meet online but turn out to be living in (slightly) different universes. In another timestream Tom and I would be married 42 years today. A friend who was married a week before we were posted a picture from their wedding a few days ago. In the background was Tom, who had been a groomsman. It was if he had casually dropped into my universe for a second, to say hello.

The story is leaving me to wonder a bit what my life would have been like in that other universe. Would that Michelle be here at the shore this week? Might I run into her on my morning walk, when for a brief second the two universes intersect? Or catch her out of the corner of my eye? 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Ferragosto and the wedding of the sea

It is the feast of the Assumption, Ferragosto in Rome. This year I am down at the beach, where it is just as hot and humid as the last time I was in Rome for the Assumption. The church here is air conditioned, unlike the church in Albano, and the cool Atlantic waters offer sweet relief after a walk. Like Albano, church bells have been ringing all day here. To call the faithful to Mass. And the carillon currently playing an eclectic mix of patriotic songs and hymns (none of them Marian).

The tradition here is to bless the ocean, then take a dip to share in the blessing -- before the grace evaporates at midnight. The water was a bit rough, but then grace can be rough at times, too. I made sure to get in the water. The bishop starts in Atlantic City and finishes in Wildwood, it seems, so the entire Jersey shore gets a share in the grace. 

I finished Velvet the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. It was a riveting read, with enough unanticipated twists and turns to occasionally make me gasp. (I could almost taste the tortas in the little cafe in Mexico City, so tried the local tacqueria for dinner.) Finished Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves (a re-read). Dug into Frederick Buechner's The Remarkable Ordinary, which is remarkable and not in the least ordinary. Downloaded The Impossible Us to start.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Write a book for you?

I kept getting these sorts of emails while I was  actually writing the book for my UK based publishing company. They did not all go to junk!

I love the line, "Last but not least, after the publication of your book, it will be published in Google News, Yahoo, and other major news channels. What more can you ask for?"

What more, indeed.

Dear Dr. Michelle Francl,

I am ....., Editorial assistant from UK based publishing company, contacting you with the reference from our editorial department. Basing on your outstanding contribution to the scientific community, we would like to write a book for you.

Researchers like you are adding so much value to the scientific community, yet you are not getting enough exposure. No matter how many papers you publish in famous journals, you will be still unknown to common people. To solve this problem, we came up with this unique solution.

With our book writing service, we will write your research contributions in common man’s language. We will also include all your published papers into this book in a way that a common man can understand it. And then, we will publish your book with our publishing group. Before, publication, we will send the draft to you for scientific accuracy, once you approve our draft, we then proceed for publication. You will get all the rights of your book, and all the sales generated from your book will be credited to you.

Your book will then be listed on famous websites like Amazon, eBay, Goodreads, and many other popular book websites. As a result, you will get good credit and people will recognize your hard work and your scientific contributions.

Last but not least, after the publication of your book, it will be published in Google News, Yahoo, and other major news channels. What more can you ask for?

All we need is your book writing contract, and you will get all the rights for your book.

Will be waiting to hear from you.

Best Regards,

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Done is good

It’s a book! The manuscript for Steeped: The Chemistry of Tea has been dispatched (virtually, a zip file dropped into the publisher’s dropbox). Math Man captured the moment for me. I read some 500 papers, drank 400+ cups of tea, made about 100 chemical figures and gathered it all together into what will become a 150-ish page book early next year. The final paper copy of the manuscript weighs just over 700 grams — printing it out for a last read made it feel very real. Paper has more heft than electrons. (Yes, I realize there are a lot of electrons holding that paper together!)

“Done is good!” is what students and faculty say at Bryn Mawr to encourage each other to finish something. It may not be perfect (should I have written more about matcha? Or about wind ovens and samovars? Maybe.), but it is finished. And done feels very good! So I am off on two weeks of vacation, with some time to read things unrelated to tea. (First up, Velvet is the Night, a very noir novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia set in 70s Mexico. I spent a summer there in 1973, so the setting really comes to life for me. I adored her Mexican Gothic, and some 60 pages into Velvet I am entranced.)

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Aspergillum/Aspergillus: where science and faith collide

Today I learned that Aspergillus niger - the fungus (mostly) responsible for the fermentation of pu'erh teas - was named for the aspergillum used liturgically to sprinkle holy water, which it (vaguely) resembles. No surprise, the botanist was a priest (Pier Micheli).

I haven't been writing much on the blog of late, because I have been writing another book (#6). This one is on the chemistry of tea, titled Steeped. After a day of writing, or a day of teaching and tucking writing into the corners, I've been loath to get on the keyboard in the evening and blog. I may not be out of ideas of things to write about, but I am definitely out of energy and words at the end of the day.

I am very much at the end of the process, finishing writing the last bits, and doing a big edit on the book as a whole. The goal is to have the whole thing submitted by the end of July, so watch this space!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Principle and foundation redux

“In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some responsibility.   We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.  For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.” — David A. Fleming, S.J.

As much as the Exercises are structured linearly, each week building on the next, ultimately we find ourselves revisiting them out of order in various moments of our lives. It’s Easter season, but I am floundering in the Third Week, scrambling to find my balance.

Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation animates his Spiritual Exercise. If you have not acceded to this, you are not ready to immerse yourself in the work of the Exercises. I may have accepted the Principle and Foundation long ago, but I cannot say that I have always managed to live in such perfect indifference. It’s a process, it’s the little things. I still do not suffer wet socks well.

Or, it’s not the little things…A few weeks back I woke up with much of the vision in my left eye gone. Light and darkness, color and movement remained, but the world to my left rippled and wavered in a disconcerting way. Shortly I was sitting in a chair in a darkened room as my ophthalmologist ran through a series of possibilities — none of them particularly comforting. When I could not read the letters on the eye chart with my right eye covered, a line from Fleming’s paraphrase of Ignatius flashed through my head: “We should not fix our desires on health or sickness…” I wondered if I had the courage to keep from fixing my desires on sight.  "Pray for the desire for the desire, then," I hear a long ago spiritual director advise.

Within an hour some of the worst diagnoses were off the table, but more tests and a visit to the sub-specialist had to follow before there would be any clarity, metaphorical or literal. I sought the anointing of the sick. I sank into the Gospel stories that wound closer and closer to the Passion. I assiduously avoided the stories in which the blind regained their sight. My sight certainly had not returned.

The specialist had a diagnosis, for which I am grateful. The prognosis is mixed. This will not progress. But I will not entirely regain what I have lost. On the left, I am like the blind man in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 8:22-25), who when only partially healed sees people walking about like trees. The right remains clear. This is the First Principle and Foundation embodied, the two desires compassing me about.

So I struggle to find that indifference, the desire not for any particular path, except that which leaves me closer to God. I find comfort in Rilke, believing that somehow in the ebb and flow of event, God is cutting deeper channels into my soul.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for 

may for once spring clear
without my contriving. 

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.  -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours I, 12

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Lodging in Wisdom's branches

Happy those who meditate on Wisdom,
and fix their gaze on knowledge;
Who ponder her ways in their heart,
and understand her paths;

Who pursue her like a scout,
and watch at her entry way;
Who peep through her windows,
and listen at her doors;

Who encamp near her house
and fasten their tent pegs next to her walls;
Who pitch their tent beside her,
and dwell in a good place;

Who build their nest in her leaves,
and lodge in her branches;
Who take refuge from the heat in her shade
and dwell in her home. - Sirach 14:21-27

Yesterday was the feast of Our Mother of Good Counsel, the titular feast of my parish and the patroness of the Vatican Observatory. And by some miracle, perhaps the intervention of our Lady, my early morning meeting was canceled and so I found myself at the 8 AM mass, where the scent of the pastor's homemade sticky buns was creeping in the door.  There was breakfast for all comers afterwards!

The readings were taken from the Augustinian lectionary for the feast, rather than the Easter season, for we are an Augustinian parish. The first reading was this pericope from Sirach. Though I have heard it before, I was struck yesterday by this description of those who seek Wisdom, the Holy Spirit. So like the scientist that I am and the scientists who are my colleagues at the Observatory. We pursue the mysteries of the universe like scouts, we peep through the windows and listen at the doors. We encamp, settle in, willing to take our time dwelling with God's created world.

As I write this, I'm sitting in my study. The green leaves of the oak trees that surround the house have come out and I truly feel as if I have a nest in Wisdom's leaves and am firmly lodged in her branches.

Photo is of a painting of Our Mother of Good Counsel (the original is a fresco at Genazzano, Italy) in the entryway of the Vatican Observatory outside Rome.

Friday, April 07, 2023

Do this in memory of me

(This is an edited and expanded version of a very brief reflection I gave at my parish's mission a few weeks ago. The movie is wrenching, and a difficult watch, but also beautiful.)

A few weeks ago I watched a movie on PBS. My oldest son had worked on the production, stage managing the play and then the film  and I wanted to see what he had done. The film, Remember This, was about listening, about listening deeply, and about seeing and what happens when we are deliberately blind to those around us. It told the story of Jan Karski, a Catholic and who worked with the Jewish Polish resistance during World War II, who told of the horrors they were enduring even before the US entered the war. Warning the world, warnings that went unheard. We could have stopped it, but we refused to hear. Forty years after the war, Karski said that he was still haunted by what he saw, and moreover that he wanted to be haunted by it. 

I want to tell you about a time when I saw something, and then chose to be blind to it. The experience haunts me, and I think, as Karski did, that I want it to haunt me. It was a bitterly cold December day and I was in a taxi outside Union Station in Washington DC on my way to give a talk. I looked out the window to see a man in a beige wool coat with a cup of coffee in one hand and a bagel in the other. As he crossed the street he tossed the half eaten bagel into the trashcan on the corner. I can still see the arc it made as it sailed through the air. And then I saw a man in a thin sweatshirt get off a nearby bench and reach into the trashcan, pick up the bagel and take a bite.

I was horror-struck. How hungry do you have to be to fish a half-eaten bagel out of the trashcan? I knew what I should've done, gotten out of that taxicab, and given him my hat, my gloves and my jacket — though in retrospect it was unlikely to fit — and taken him for breakfast. But I did none of these things. The traffic eased, the taxi drove on. If I saw Jesus on the street corner, how fast would I have bounded out of the car and said come have breakfast with me? The trouble is, I did see Jesus on the street corner, and chose to be blind. I still cringe when I think of it, and have mentally dubbed this experience the parable of the two men and the bagel.

When Karski walked the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, his companion kept repeating to him, “Remember this. Remember this." I want to hear as I walk the world Jesus repeating in my ear, "Remember this, remember me." I want to be haunted, so that in the end when Jesus asks me when I saw him, when I fed him and clothed him and cared for him, I can say, “on every street corner.”

In his homily last night for Holy Thursday our pastor asked us what we thought Jesus meant when he said, "do this in memory of me." Do we think he meant solely the celebration of the Eucharist? Or perhaps this yearly washing of the feet? Or is Jesus asking us to shape our whole lives in memory of everything that we have seen and heard of his life. So yes to the Eucharist, and yes to the washing of the feet. But also yes to the feeding of the hungry, and yes to the healing of the sick, and yes to the welcoming of those who the world pushes to the edges, unheard and unseen. And I thought again of Jan Karski, and those whispered words "remember this, remember this."

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Op-ed redux: thoughts and prayers

The op-ed below appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer last May after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas. There's been another shooting, so many other shootings. We throw up our hands and say there are too many guns but what's to be done? If we had the will, if we cared about the lives of our children and our young people, perhaps we could see to it that there were fewer guns. We may never stop all of the violence, but to say that we can stop none of it is untrue.

We have gun toting congresspeople, but I wish someone would ask Marjorie Green Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert every time they speak, why do you need to carry a people-killing machine in your purse?

I wondered what image to put with this post, a photo of the original article, or some religious image, perhaps Christ bent under the weight of a cross. But part of me really thinks that what should go with these articles are pictures of the carnage. Detailed, up close, many, pictures of the carnage, the physical as well as the emotional. I spent time many years ago in Ignatian contemplation of the crucifixion, and wonder if we need a national contemplation of these tragedies in much the same way. Not to experience the horror of it, but to viscerally experience the weight our sins and know how we must change and live from that reality. To truly see what we have chosen as a nation. It surely isn't life.

Ted Cruz is “fervently lifting up in prayer the children and families.” Mitch McConnell is praying fervently, too. My Twitter feed is full of thoughts and prayers for Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two adults on Tuesday afternoon.


We keep using that word, but what do we mean?

As someone who writes regularly about prayer, every time I see “thoughts and prayers” in my Twitter feed or hear it uttered by a politician on the news, I wonder what we think we’re praying for.

Are we offering to make some vague noise in the direction of God’s ear and then move on? Or do we have something specific in mind that we expect God to come down and take care of? Perhaps a miracle that restores the lives lost, or some divine assurance that something this horrific will never happen again — or at least not to us.

C.S. Lewis once said, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless … It doesn’t change God — it changes me.” Are we willing to pray fiercely — even desperately — to change the way we approach guns, as individuals and as a nation?

Remington claims its version of an AR-15 rifle will give you “the confidence and firepower to get the job done.” Are we willing to pray to change the conversation, to dispense with euphemisms and say aloud what the job of a gun is: “This AR-15 will allow you to kill or maim another human being. Many human beings. Quickly.”

In Buffalo, N.Y., 10 in two minutes.

Can we pray for the vision to see how guns change us? To grasp that we might secretly relish holding the power of life and death in our hands, to consider we sometimes buy guns because they make us feel a little like gods ourselves, or if not gods, at least like a superhero. Or a patriot.

Are we willing to pray that we can change — that we could imagine ways to reduce, if not eliminate the carnage, as other countries have done? Or perhaps should we be praying for forgiveness from the families of the next classroom full of terrified children who will die in a hail of bullets? And we won’t have long to wait. On average, one child is shot every hour of the day in America.

We say now is not the time, in the wake of a tragedy, to think about the solutions. Instead, we should focus on thoughts and prayers for the dead, the dying, and those who loved them. But what are the prayers for, if not to change things? We must go beyond issuing vague petitions in the wake of a tragedy. Instead, we can offer ongoing, concrete prayers for our own change of heart, and for the hard, realistic thinking and respectful dialogue it will take to change a nation.

Perhaps the next time our leaders are offering their thoughts and prayers in the wake of a mass shooting, they might take the lead and say what those prayers and thoughts are.

That would be a miracle worth praying for.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Leaves of grief

Grief is a funny thing. It can reach out and grab you by the throat from years in the past. Tom has been gone almost 36 years. I have grieved for him. I have found great joy in Math Man and our two sons. Yet somehow the joy and the grief are interleaved with each other, flying past each other like the pages of a book ruffled in the wind. 

Our beloved cat Fluffy died on Friday. She went to sleep on Thursday and simply didn't wake up. The end was swift but gentle, but it remains hard to lose a companion of almost 17 years. Math Man and I cried our tears for her, and did the last necessary things. We will bury her ashes under the cherry tree that she loved to climb,to harass the squirrels and find her way to the window outside my study, demanding I remove the screen and let her in. Terrifying the neighbors as she balanced on the roof, but never once falling. 

I came home from teaching on Friday afternoon and was faced with her food bowl sitting in the kitchen. I emptied her bowls and put them in the dishwasher, and started to clear away the little pieces of her life scattered around the house, washing the bedding in the basket she sometimes occupied in the kitchen and picking up the toys she batted under the sofa. And as I did so the grief and the anger I felt when I came back from the hospital after Tom died came flooding back. I had gone around the house that Good Friday afternoon doing the same thing, throwing away the razor he would not need ever again, washing the bedding and remaking the bed for a single occupant. Suddenly that grief was all fresh again, and I could hardly speak for the tears.

In a moment of clarity, I remembered the advice of a long-ago spiritual director on this kind of grief. Think of it like the Amtrak train howling through the station, he suggested. It comes on fast, it's noisy and rattles you, it's frankly terrifying. But it will pass, and generally quickly. And it did. But I still miss Fluffy...and Tom. 

Friday, January 06, 2023

Happy New Year!


What makes me happy? Besides a book and a cup of tea?

A kitchen full of family. From conversations with my mother over the counter in the kitchen, to early mornings cups of tea with my dad, to times with my brothers and their home kitchens, to cooking a holiday meal with my sons and their partners, to the quiet days of emptying the dishwasher while Math Man cooks dinner for us. The holidays this year made me happy on all fronts. Family, food and cups of tea and lots and lots of books.

Perhaps it's because I grew up in a large family that even though I am an introvert, it's the people in my life that bring me joy. It turns out that I'm not alone. Last summer I had the privilege of reading a draft of a book a friend was writing on happiness. Marc drew on all the data generated by an ongoing study begun at Harvard in the 1930s (he is the associate director of the study.) I loved the interplay of data and story in the book. (Also fun, seeing your colleague's work in the NY Times.) Whether the conversations happen in the kitchen or elsewhere, what generally makes us happy is our relationships. 

The book (The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz) is coming out this week, and if you're interested in happiness (who isn't?), I recommend it. But I'd also recommend it if developing community as part of the work you do. I'm chairing our parish council through these pandemic years and have really come to appreciate how important relationships are to keeping a community healthy and whole, and the work that is required to keep them going when events such as the pandemic interfere with our usual patterns. So I read this with an eye to what I could learn, not only about my own life, but about the life of the parish.

Happy New Year!