Tuesday, September 02, 2003

back to school

This morning began with a phone call at 7:30 am to tell me that Mariah didn't have school today because a water line had broken over the weekend and flooded the middle school classroom. So she took off her "first day of school" outfit and got ready for one more day of vegetating in front of the TV before school...

At least Nick got to go. He was all excited. Well, actually, when I went to wake him up he first said, "I don't want to go to school" and then claimed he'd rather be in his kindergarten class again. But that didn't last long.

By some stroke of genius both kids had made their lunches the night before (the FlyLady would be proud of me!) so we got out of the house on time. Still there was no place to park within two blocks of school. Many of the bus kids get driven to school on the first day; none of the car pools are in place yet; and the "drop off" line wasn't even operating. So everyone had to park and walk. Nick and I had circled the school a couple of times when I saw a woman wave at me, motioning that she was about to go to her car. I stopped and threw the car into reverse as I opened my window, but then another car pulled up behind me. "Just drive around the block," the woman said. "I'll wait for you." I took off, circling the block faster than I should have given the number of illegally parked cars on the corners. But when I got there she was still standing on the sidewalk. She saw me pull up, got into her car, and drove off waving out the window.

A random act of kindness that kept me smiling all morning.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Not the last word on prayer, but mine--for a while

One of the people I've been praying for lately died last night. She'd been very ill, and her passing was peaceful. It was, in fact, all she'd wanted--she died at home surrounded by family. I hadn't been praying for her to get well. Should I have? I prayed instead that she would die peacefully, that she would be able to let go, that her family would know her love and that she would be surrounded by God's love.

I don't know much about intercessory prayer. Some years ago I heard Jack Spong speak, and in the course of a much longer talk he mentioned that in his first wife's long battle with cancer many people had prayed for her. Of course, he and his wife welcomed the prayers. But then, he said, he began to feel badly when they would say, "she's lived this long because so many people are praying for her..." or something of the sort. He began to wonder if they really believed that his wife deserved life more than someone else, equally sick, who was less known to praying people, who wasn't, therefore, surrounded by prayer as she was. He said he wasn't sure he wanted to believe in a God who responded to prayers like that, who just listened to the loudest or most persistent prayers, or who somehow kept score and responded to those who had the most prayers.

His wife finally died of her illness, surrounded by prayers. In the end, he said, he simply believed that prayer was "the God-stuff in me responding to the God-stuff in you"--that is, it's a way we connect with another across time and space, perhaps even without their knowing, in love and care. For now, that's enough for me.

So now I'm praying for those who live on, who have said good-bye to a loved one and have to go on with that hole in their lives. I know they will--they have plenty of love and strength and compassion--but it will be hard and so I'm praying for them, and in part it's for me, so I can connect with them and their love.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Highest IQ Ever Recorded

Can I just say that this is not what I was talking about when I was talking about the Lord's Prayer? Sheesh! (And thanks to Diane at Nobody Knows Anything for pointing it out...) The Highest IQ Ever Recorded

Sunday, August 24, 2003

and then the rest of the prayer

The whole middle of the Lord's Prayer is so great. Really. Here's how it goes: "Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our sins/trespasses as we forgive those who sin/trespass against us. Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil." Or, for those who prefer the older words, the last line goes "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." (If you want to compare many versions, you can check them out here: Pater Noster. However, to get the version I'm saying, with "sins" instead of "debts" or "trespasses," you may have to look here: The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.) It's a petition for care, for feeding, for safety, for forgiveness. It reminds us that in receiving forgiveness we should also grant it. I like the modern language, "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us," but I know some people still like to say "trespasses." For me the word "sin" isn't a big stumbling block as I know it is for others: in my mind I hear it as "error," or "distance," or "separation," or any number of other things which might or might not be inspired by, as the Church Lady says, "Satan." It's a state of being out of sorts, out of alignment. Anyone who's seen a six-year-old have a tantrum (as I did several times today) can recognize a sort of sinfulness that is an inability to share, to be part of the group, to be in communion. It's putting "me" first, and a "me" that is shallow, insincere, inauthentic. To go back to the tantrum, it's letting momentary disappointment or incomprehension overshadow what's good. Of course it can be much more than that as well--but I think misguided self-interest is at the root of much that is sinful, from hypocritical environmental policies that benefit chemical companies to graft and greed and--well, choose your favorite from the seven deadlies. (By the way, I'm not surprised but a little bit unnerved to find that there really is a deadlysins.com.) If "trespasses" conveys that to you--going the wrong way, being where you shouldn't--then that's fine with me. But "sins" works as well.

...kingdom

Then there's that bit right after "holy is your name," which goes "your [or thy] kingdom come." This troubles me on a couple of levels. First of all I've already tried to stop gendering God as masculine, so why a kingdom? (Though, in fact, I think queens get to rule kingdoms too, so maybe that's not such a big deal.) But more important for me is the image it creates of, again, a place, and a place that has a certain hierarchical structure. I don't mind being less than God, of course. That's fine. But human kingdoms really haven't worked well, and the idea that we're working towards a future that looks like a kingdom seems limited, really. Unimaginative.

Not that I can do a whole lot better. But I'm trying. Sometimes that sentence goes this way for me: "your fulfilment come, your will be done on earth as in your perfection." It's my best shot, though I think it could still be better. Language is so slippery, so inadequate, finally, to express the inexpressible. So we struggle along. In one of the hymns in the Episcopal hymnal we sing: "time makes ancient good uncouth." I like that. We do our best in the moment, then we revise.

Sometimes, of course, time makes us uncouth and we need to go back looking for those ancient goods again. But not always.

...heaven

No, I'm not going through the Lord's Prayer word by word, or phrase by phrase. In fact when I really get right down to it there are only a few things in it I want to change. (I'm sure Jesus is relieved that I don't really want to edit him that drastically, right?)

One bit is "heaven." Depending on how you learned the prayer, it begins "our father in heaven" or "our father, who art in heaven," or "our father, which art in heaven." That last one tickles me--after personalizing God with the term "father," the prayer then immediately depersonalizes God with the "which." Hedging your bets, maybe. I can respect that. But what about "heaven," anyway?

Nick asked me the other day if I thought there was a hell. I'm not sure where the question came from, though he did of course have that little episode with Marina and "help me hell" earlier this summer, so obviously he's thinking about it. Anyway I told him no, I don't really believe in hell. I think God loves everyone and so there's no need for a hell. This troubled Nick. "But for really really bad people, there's hell, right?" "Maybe," I said, "hell is not being sorry for being bad. Maybe it's not wanting to be loved. That might be hell."

"But if God loves everyone maybe the bad people are sorry, and then they don't have to go to hell," he responded. I love when he actually seems to be listening to me. "But if they're really really bad, then I still think they go to hell." And sometimes I wonder why he even asks me stuff, when he so clearly has his mind made up. Hmm.

But it did get me thinking. If I don't really believe in hell--certainly not as a place, though perhaps as a psychological state--then what do I think about heaven? Again, I have trouble with the "place"ness of it. I don't believe in a personal God who sits in a place up there, from which he (always he, in this version) decides who gets to come hang out with him and who doesn't. Most versions of Christianity I'm familiar with suggest, in fact, that God is omnipresent. So where, or what, is heaven?

Sometimes when I'm trying to work my way through this I end up saying something like, "Our mother and father in perfection, your name is holy." I'm not crazy about it, but it works better for me than "heaven."

Friday, August 22, 2003

"Our father"

I didn't mean for that prayer post to sit up there all by itself. I was going to go right into my revision of the Lord's Prayer. But it's been a busy week and it's just going to get busier, so I'll do what I can.

The Lord's Prayer begins, "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." Or, if you prefer the "new" words, "Our father in heaven, holy is your name." Either way.

I once heard a great sermon on how if all you could say was "our father" you were already praying. If you didn't know what else to say, even that was a start, because 1) it was making our relationship with God/the creator communal--it's not "my" father, it's "our" father--and 2) it was asserting a familial relationship with the creator, a closeness that not all religions espouse. God to Christians and Jews and Muslims is not some abstract, distant figure of creation, but an intimate partner, a family member.

I read recently that the only really radical thing Jesus does in the gospels is call God "Abba," or "Daddy." Everything else, this source (probably John Shelby Spong, but I'm not positive right off-hand) claims, is well within the bounds of orthodox Judaism, or the Jewish tradition at the time, at any rate. But that intimate familial relationship with God is a biggie.

Well, fine. But what if "father" doesn't imply intimacy to us? What about "mother"? That doesn't quite work for me either, though in terms of a creator-relative it makes a little more sense to me, frankly, than "father." "Creator" seems too distant, for the reasons above. If I wanted to be a Deist I'd live in the 18th century (or something. You get the point.)

The big all-powerful creative parent, in my experience, is the mother. If we want to get all stereotypical about it, the father is the big all-powerful disciplinary parent, and that's not really how I want to think of God. So I'm thinking of starting this prayer with "Our mother." Or "our mother and father." How about "hey you," which seems to work for my kids?

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

bedtime prayers

I said prayers on my knees next to my bed every night of my life until I was about 12, I think. I don't remember when it started or when it stopped, but I remember doing it the whole time we lived in Tokyo, at any rate, which was from my 5th birthday until I was 11.

I still remember every word. There was a whole routine: an invocation, the Lord's prayer, blessings on family (we had a rota, even, with various family members different nights of the week), a prayer for safety and care, thanksgivings & confession, praise, and a benediction. Every night. Every word comes back to me if I even start one of the prayers now, though I can no longer remember which aunt & uncle & cousins were prayed for which night of the week.

Dad or Mom would kneel down with us at bedtime. I don't really remember my younger sister joining in (sorry, Caroline!) but she was probably there. I remember my brothers because we often had our nightly ritual in their room, for some reason. Maybe to ensure their presence.

I didn't teach my kids nightly prayers. I think Mariah and I did something similar for a while, but with both kids our routine has emphasized reading and then settling down. Prayers can be part of settling down, of course, but they haven't been for us. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that--they go to church, so they hear the liturgy every Sunday, but the idea of private prayer isn't instilled in them in the same way it was in me. I remember saying these prayers to myself, in bed, when I was in boarding school--not every night, certainly, but as a way of calming myself down, some nights, yes. I still do, though these days I'm trying to rework the Lord's prayer so I can say it with some integrity. And I don't have a rota for praying for relatives anymore. I just remember whoever seems to need it at the time.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

the pause that refreshes

"It's as flat as a pancake," Mark said. I heard the disappointment in his voice as we came over the rise and onto the beach. "I can't even hear it."

It's not unusual not to hear the waves in Virginia Beach. Too many jet-fighters flying overhead. Bumper stickers proclaim, "Praise our noise! It's the sound of freedom!" If I lived in the neighborhood I'm not sure that would satisfy me.

So the waves were flat and the beach was noisy. Still, it was the beach and we were here for a break. We might even stay the night if we were enjoying ourselves. We still had almost an hour before Mark's surf lesson. We set up camp--folding chairs, boogie board, skim board, two buckets, assorted shovels, towels. Slathered sunscreen on every exposed bit of skin. And headed for the water.

Surprise number one: it wasn't cold. Last time we went to the beach I hadn't gotten in above my ankles. Numb feet aren't my style. This time it felt fine. I kept going, and found surprise number two: the sand extended out for a long ways before falling off. I could walk and walk and still not be in over my knees. There was a little dip right at the beginning--enough to make a neat sandbar at low tide, we learned--but then it was flat for twenty or thirty yards.

There weren't any surfers out, but we did see some boogie boarders managing to ride something. So it wasn't completely flat. Still, we weren't sure the trip would be worth it. Mark's been missing the beach more or less fiercely since we moved to Virginia ten years ago. Twice-a-summer trips to Virginia Beach haven't made up for it. One year we rented a beach house with friends, and had a terrific time. Then their marriage broke up, amidst disgusting revelations of infidelity and deceit; we haven't had the heart to try again. Every other year we visit Southern California and Mark renews his love affair with the ocean; the Pacific is awfully cold, though, so I rarely get in. I hadn't swum in the ocean in years, I realized.

The appointment time with the surf instructor came and went; we saw no sign of him. But Nick was figuring out the boogie board on the gentle waves, and I'd even been in over my head, swimming as the waves lifted me up and set me down. Mark rode a few waves on the boogie board and then set off to track down his missing instructor.

I'm afraid of the ocean. That's the bottom line here. Mark loves it, and wants me to love it, and I want to love it as well--but I don't want to get in it too deep. This was big, for me, to be swimming and floating on my back and even riding some waves. And I didn't drown. Nor did Nick, though I gasped and ran for him every time I saw him fall off the boogie board. He came up spluttering, and once needed to be held after he'd rolled around in the surf and swallowed some salt water, but mostly he was fine.

And I was, too. I realized I hadn't even had a chance to get in the water in the last --well, how long? Since Mariah? So that would be 13 years. But even before that, I wasn't big on going in the water because I couldn't see. I was always afraid of losing a contact lens, but without them I was completely blind. Last year, though, I had lasik surgery--now I can go in the water and not be afraid of losing a contact lens. Between not having to watch a child, and knowing I could see, the ocean became a different place to me. A friendly, welcoming place. I lay back on the waves and let them rock me.

Later that afternoon--after Mark got back from tracking down the surfing guy, but before he finally arrived for the lesson--we saw a school of dolphins just off-shore. They seemed to be clustering around a tour boat--maybe people throw food off it for them. They romped in the water, slapping their tails down, showing their fins--I know I'm attributing emotion on the basis of just seeing body parts, but they sure looked like they were enjoying themselves. Nick watched for a moment, then got back on the boogie board, more interested in his own enjoyment than theirs. But Mark and I were transfixed.

We stayed overnight. We got a motel room after dinner, figuring we'd get up early and Mark would get to put his surfing lesson to use for a while before we cleaned up and left. (That was after discovering the nail in the front tire--Mark changed it in a grocery store parking lot. Thank goodness the car came with a full-sized spare.) We ended up spending the whole next day as well, visiting two different beaches and fitting in a round of mini-golf (Nick got two holes-in-one!) before we left. The dolphins returned while Mark was surfing the next afternoon and he paddled closer to them, getting within six feet of a baby. It was glorious.

Nick fell asleep in the car twenty minutes out of Virginia Beach. The perfect end to the nearly-perfect vacation.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

beach vacation

I want to go into detail about our fabulous two-day beach vacation, but I don't have time now. So I'll just have to say it was fabulous. Nick & I both learned to boogie board and Mark got a surfing lesson, and then spent lots of the next day putting his new knowledge to use. It was perfect despite the nail in the front tire, the surf instructor standing Mark up (the first time), the crowds and the flyovers from the naval base. Really amazingly perfect.

But now we're back home and things are really gearing up for the semester to start soon. So more later.

comments down

I think the comments thingy was keeping me from viewing the blog today. And I've been away for a few days so it may have been longer. So I took it out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

rules of the reading & viewing lists

I just put those reading & viewing lists up for fun. Mostly for myself, because I do forget what I read if I don't write it down. It can be annoying, as when I've read a book all the way through, thinking all along, "I must have started this before, but I just can't remember the end." And then when I get to the end I realize I have indeed read the whole thing before. This even happens to me with good books. It happened, for example, with The Hours. I should be ashamed to admit that. In fact I am ashamed to admit it, but it's also true. I had read both of the Lois Lowry books I listed to the right earlier, a year or so ago at least, but forgot. In fact I was sure that I'd only read The Giver and Gathering Blue, and I wanted to read some more because I invited her to come to our campus and SHE SAID YES! (Yes, that was pretty exciting.) So anyway I thought I should prepare by reading some of her other well-known books. Turns out they were even well-known to me, I had just forgotten. Sigh.

So anyway I made those lists but then last night we watched Dr. Doolittle with Eddie Murphy. This, you might suspect, was Nick's choice, and you'd be right. It was really really awful. I like the original book by Hugh Lofting--I even bought Nick a copy of it last year (somewhat edited for pc reasons, but I thought it worked fine) and read him the whole thing. The Eddie Murphy vehicle has nothing, not one thing besides a doctor who can understand animals, in common with the Lofting novel. Now, that's ok, I guess--go ahead and make movies that take off from books if you want to. But the movie that they made was so incredibly lame--alleviated by the occasional fart joke but otherwise, totally boring. And the plot--such as it was--was so inappropriate for kids! It's all about being taken over by an HMO! Like any 6-year-old understands, or cares! I couldn't even have cared less, in this case. Oh, yeah, there's a little subplot--probably at one point it was the main plot, but it really got swallowed up by the HMO thing--about accepting yourself and accepting weirdness in others--but that was so obvious and Hallmark-y that it was just insulting, really.

So anyway Eddie Murphy is not going on my viewing list. I may not even like everything that I put up there, but if I watch it under duress AND I hate it I'm not putting it there.

And if you want to know what I think of any of the other things I've been reading or watching lately you can post comments and ask. I'll tell you. There's just not room over there in the sidebar. I thought about a rating system (stars? A-F grades?) but decided I have to do enough of that sort of thing in real life so I'm not going to do it here.

OK, that's enough about the reading & viewing lists.

a frivolous post

The perfect summer lunch: a BLT on sourdough (preferable) or wheat toast, and a limeade. The BLT would probably be best with some fancy gourmet-shop bacon, Hellman's mayo, homemade bread, and homegrown lettuce and tomatoes. Mine had store-bought fluffy wheat bread, soyannaise (last time I ran out of mayo and thought of it, I was in the health food store), turkey bacon, and the lettuce and tomato came from the grocery store. Still, it was divine. I honestly think I'd even eat a fakin' bacon BLT if that's all that was around--basically I want something crunchy and salty.

And limeade. Lest you think this is lemonade made with limes, let me correct you. In Richmond VA, at least, a limeade is a fizzy drink. Think, lemonade made with limes and fizzy water. It is incredibly tasty and I've never had it anywhere else. It caps off the perfect lunch.

no computer

Well, I was two days without a computer and that was about enough. I could check my email on a shared computer in the office but my trusy laptop was awaiting a new keyboard and cd-drive and I felt somehow held hostage. Now it's back and the spacebar works and I am very excited.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

make this pie

I've made two peach pies this season and I'm hoping to make several more before the peaches run out. It's my favorite pie, the sweet/tart soft juiciness of the peaches perfectly complementing the flaky crust. Really, it's so good. It's good warm, with vanilla ice cream melting all over it, and just as good cold. (Mark says it's better cold.) And it's really not that hard--or somehow I've convinced myself that it's not, and I've had years of pie-phobia brought on by my mother's pie-perfection. (She does bake the best pies in the world--and she'll tell you so. But I don't actually remember ever eating a peach pie that she made.)

OK, enough talk. Here's the recipe.

First start the pie crust. For a 9- or 10-inch pie pan (mine's a lovely pottery one that Mom bought me, and I think it's about 10 inches in diameter) you need 2 cups of unbleached white flour, 1/3 cup crisco in sticks, 1/3 cup unsalted butter, and 1/3 cup very cold water. Maybe a pinch of salt, but I do without and it's fine. DO NOT USE crisco in a tub. Get the hardened stuff in the sticks. I don't care if it's bad for you. You could use lard for your shortening--Mom used to--but if you are going to feed vegetarians, or people who are grossed out by lard, this will work fine. Maybe even better than lard. It's better if the shortening is very cold but don't put off making the pie if, say, your crisco just came from the store. It will be fine.

Put the two cups of flour into the food processor, fitted with the metal blade. Cut the shortenings into 1/2 inch bits and toss them into the flour. Put the top on the machine and pulse it a few times until the shortening is in little pea-size bits. Turn the processor on, open the feed tube and pour in the very cold water. Process until the dough begins to pull together into a ball--it should only take a few seconds. Don't do this for very long!

Dump the dough out onto a large piece of waxed paper. Divide it into two roughly equal lumps--one can be a little bigger, and you can use that for the bottom crust. Pat the lumps into rough circles, wrap each one in waxed paper, and put them in the freezer.

If you're not going to make the pie that day, take the pie crust out of the freezer a couple hours before starting to peel & slice the peaches. You want it cold but not hard when you start to roll it out.

Preheat the oven to 400.

While the piecrust is chilling, peel and slice about 6 cups of peaches into a large bowl. If the skins are recalcitrant, or the peaches are a little less than ripe, plunge them into some very hot water for a few minutes before peeling. It may help loosen the peel.

Sprinkle the sliced and peeled peaches with 1/4 - 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tbl flour, and some cinnamon if you like it with peaches. (I do.) Maybe some lemon juice--no more than a tablespoon or two.

Now roll out the crusts, fitting the larger one into the bottom of the pie plate and mounding the peaches over it. If you are scared of pie crust, as I am, a pastry cloth and rolling pin cover will really help out here. Or you can flour your rolling pin generously and roll the dough out on a (new, unwrinkled) piece of waxed paper. Roll it slightly bigger than you think you need it. Don't worry if it cracks a little--or even a lot--as you put it in the pie plate. You can patch it and no one will ever know. Both a pastry cloth and the waxed paper can help you get the pastry into the pie plate--just pick up the cloth/paper and, centering it, invert it over the pie plate. You may have to peel the pastry off it in places. That's ok.

Roll out the top crust and place it over the peaches, sealing the pie by pressing fork tines down all the way around the edges. Or press them together with your fingers. Slice a curve or two into the top crust with a sharp knife to release the steam and allow you to see the juices bubbling. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon sugar, if you like.

Put the prepared pie on a cookie sheet (to catch any drips) and then slide it into the 400 oven. After 10 minutes, turn the oven down to 375 and set the timer for 30 minutes. It may not be done then--mine usually isn't--so keep checking until the top is lightly browned and you can see peach juices bubbling through the decorative slits you cut. It won't take more than another 10 minutes or so, depending on your oven and how ripe the peaches were.

Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes or so, if you can stand to. Serve with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or just plain on a plate (Mark says this is best). Then stand back for compliments.

unconditional adoration

The other day as I was leaving Nick, after getting him settled for bed, he called out to me, "Sleep with me, Mommy! Sleep with me, sleep with me!" As I said to Mark later, it's not like I ever had teenaged boys clamoring at me in that way, but I imagined it being something like that: pure hunger. Then this morning he crawled into bed between Mark and me, settled down onto my pillow, and gazed into my eyes. "I love you Mommy," he smiled, and then he reached over and kissed me. We joke and call him "Baby Oedipus," but I have to admit I like it.

It's so nice to be loved. Yesterday Nick & I hung out together and I got a lot of love. I took him shopping so he could spend his birthday money. He was delighted that I took him to Walmart (he'd heard they had bey blades, his new obsession, there). He loved that there were so many choices. He loved that I helped him with the money. He adored me for putting the thing together when we got home.

And when I say he loved it, I mean he looked up at me and said, "I love you, Mommy." He is just so full of love these days, it's great.

This is not to say that he didn't whine and complain when I spent way more time in World Market than he wanted to, or that he didn't slam the door or stomp his feet or otherwise act up at various times during the day. He did. But then periodically he'd just look up from what he was doing, smile, and tell me he loved me.

I can forgive a lot of whining for that.

But there's a weird bit of narcissism in this love, I feel. I look into his eyes, and I see--me. Nick resembled me so much as a toddler that a friend said, "He looks more like you than you do!" With his new buzz cut and his stretching-out, lanky body, he resembles me less than he used to, but still. His eyes are mine, his mouth is mine, his whole facial structure is mine. So when he looks at me in love, or I at him, we are mirroring each other in an odd way. I don't know if he feels it but I do. Not that I fight it or anything. But it's new and different. Mariah's adoration at a similar age was very different, so based in need, I always felt. And looking at her was like looking at a picture--she was this beautiful little blond toddler with sparkling blue eyes, nothing like Nick's velvet brown ones. She was other, almost ethereal in her difference from me. (As she reaches my size and her hair darkens she's much more like me, though still not as similar to me as Nick.) I love having two kids if only for the insights it gives me into how unique each of us is--even Nick, my little Mini-me, who has his father's temperament built into my looks.