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!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Dr. Francl's home for lonely poinsettas


The email came from a student in my first year writing class. Could I give a temporary home, she wondered, to her poinsettia over winter break? After a brief exchange concerning cats and watering requirements we agreed that I could house her poinsettia. She would drop it off, she said, on the last day of final exams. "Perfect! I'll be on the lookout for it.”

Friday came, and the poinsettia arrived with a note. I took it into my office and put it on my desk and returned to grading quantum mechanics finals. I stepped out for a minute to heat up a cup of tea and when I returned there were two poinsettias outside of my office. I was puzzled for a moment. I was sure I had brought the poinsettia in. Had I imagined it? I picked them up and carried them inside and indeed there was already a poinsettia my desk. Whew!

Still I wondered, why the plenitude of poinsettias? And one looked a little bit the worse for wear. Was it the ghost of poinsettias future? 

An email resolved the mystery, upon hearing that I was giving a home to one poinsettia, friends of my student thought I might give a home to their poinsettias as well. So I find myself a plant parent for break. They do brighten my office. And I feel honored that someone thinks I might be able to restore the sad poinsettia to health (though I fear it may need more of an Easter event). I will do my best to channel my mother who was not only an amazing parent to six kids but also a terrific plant parent as well.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Asperges: Blessing the sparrow-grass

Asperges. From the Latin, to sprinkle. We replaced the almost three decade old hymnals at the parish. I was sad to see them go, not because I will miss the music, but because I will miss the water-crinkled page with the song we sang many Easter seasons during the sprinkling rite. There is something about the physical traces of the water that cascaded over the assembly, a potent reminder of mercy we held in our hands each and every liturgy.

Asperges. French for asparagus. I wondered if this was somehow related to the ritual asperges. If I squint my eyes the individual stalks of asparagus look much like an aspergillum. But no, asparagus at least, is an old word. Even the OED is unsure where and how it was born. Perhaps it comes from the Greek, perhaps from something much earlier. The a vanished early on, dropped in Latin, and Italian, and old English. Sparagi,sparaci and spargen.And from there sparagrass. And finally sparrow-grass. Only botanists called it asparagus, reclaiming the a from the proto-Indo-European dustbin. It was too stiff, too pedantic for common use. 

Friday, December 09, 2022

A list of things to write about

I've been teaching a first-year course that centers around close reading and writing. The title of the course is "Women Who See Through Walls" about women poets and mystics and scientists. As part of the thread that links the course together we have been reading selections from Natalie Goldberg's beautiful book Writing Down the Bones. One of the last selections we read was called "A list of things to write about". I haven't had much time to write on the blog the semester, teaching three different courses with three different preps each of with a boatload of grading, along with a couple of other writing assignments, have sucked up all my time. But I have been keeping a list of things to write about!

1. The blessing of sparrow-grass; also some weird word that started with c or g and that I can't figure out where I scribbled it down.

2. Shrikes. OMG, I cannot get a description of these birds and their habits when it comes to food out of my head. Thanks New York Times crossword puzzle.

3. Fingernails. Not the things on the end of your fingers but what my grandmother used to call a particular sort of butter mint. The college bookstore had the peppermint version of these, which I had not seen in years. I bought a bag.

4. It appears that AI can write homilies, but should they? I'm really bothered by the thought.

5. Advent calendars are having a moment. I heard a piece on NPR about them, and there was a piece in the Washington Post. I was struck by someone who said the point was to get rewarded every day that we managed to wait. I'm all about waiting, and leaning in to my desire for the living God in Advent. There is an asceticism to that waiting that I'm loathe to give up. That said I'm also all in on Advent calendars, both those that just have numbers behind the doors and those that might have special treats behind them.

6. There's a whole set of math memes going around riffing on the elf on the shelf. Heard about the elf on a shelf? What about the quadratic in the attic? or X on the T Rex? or the lemniscate on the gate?...tell me you're laughing...

And last but not least, a new book is out which has two of my homilies in it. One for Lent and one for the feast of All Saints. A Prisoner and You Visited Me is part of the Homilists for the Homeless series, put out by Clear Faith press and edited by indomitable deacon Jim Knipper. All of the homilists (which include Fr. Jim Martin and chemist Mags Blackie) have donated their time and writing and all the proceeds from this particular book could help those in prison. You can find the book here!

Monday, November 21, 2022

You're doing it wrong

You’ve seen the clickbait, some photo of an everyday object withe the caption, “You’ve been using this all wrong!”

This summer, Math Guy (the offspring with many blog names, including “The Egg”) and his fiancee (!) brought me a cool spoon for my tea that rests on the cup. For months I had been putting the spoon across the cup with the bowl hanging outside the cup. Recently it occurred to me that this left the spoon dripping onto my desk. So I tried the perch shown in the photo. I wasn't sure how secure this would be, but it works great. The spoon seems to float, but is stable enough to carry the mug upstairs without dropping the spoon. I was definitely doing it wrong! (And I did check with the internet, which confirmed it.)