Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Two of a Kind

Remember that print Viv and I took to the frame shop to have set?  It's finished and it's beautiful!  I will try to take better pictures of it, and have both of them side-by-side, but for now, here they are, on their own walls.

The first one. Momma and I picked out the frame and mat boards when I was in high school:

The second one.  Momma picked this one out as my inheritance from Grammy, to go with the first one.  Viv and I picked out the frame this time.

I think they go well together, though (of course) they don't match.  I knew it would be impossible to "match" them, since I got the first one done at Michael's in CA (years and years ago).  I haven't put them up next to each other yet, so I don't know how well they look together, but on opposite walls in the same room--stunning :)

I am happy to have them both framed.  And happy to have the Van Gogh posters down from the wall.  I mean, those are great paintings, but only when they're paintings, not prints, thumb-tacked up on the wall.  I feel more like a grown up now :)

Buttermilk Oatmeal "Icebox" Muffins

I've had this recipe in the "drafts" section of my blog for months now.  I keep meaning to make it, take pictures, and post a nice version, but it hasn't happened yet.  Also, I haven't experimented with it using egg replacer, so I'm not sure how it will turn out for egg-free me :P

BUT! here is the original recipe. It's fabulous because you make the batter and store it in the fridge for up to 6 weeks.  Why is that fabulous? Because you can make as many or as few muffins as you want, whenever you want to make them.  Just preheat the oven, plop the batter in, and presto: delicious homemade muffins in 15 minutes.  Warm breakfast in a pinch? no problem.  Company coming and no fresh bread to serve with dinner? simple. And tasty :)

I remember these muffins so well growing up. Momma would make a huge recipe of batter and keep it in the fridge.  We would have them with potato soup (with a big dollop of butter melting bit by bit in the hot bowl of soup) or pea soup or we'd have them with skillet hash or stuffed green peppers.  Sometimes, we'd just have them as a treat, home from school, warm out of the oven.  Nothing beats warm homemade bread with butter. Nothing.

"Icebox" Oatmeal Muffins
Makes 11 c batter
cream together:
1 c (+ 2T) solid shortening (use at least part shortening, if you want to use butter)
2 c sugar (play with the amount. They don't need to be as sweet)
4 eggs

4 c oatmeal
1 T salt
5 tsp baking soda
5 c flour

add wet to dry alternating with 4 c buttermilk [did you know you can "fake" buttermilk? add 1 tsp vinegar to each cup of milk to mimic buttermilk's sour taste].

Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Serve warm with butter.
or homemade grape jelly?...

Store any remaining batter in fridge (in non-reacting leftover container) for up to 6 weeks.  In my experience, the top "layer" of batter tends to gray a little bit. I think this is fine--just oxidation.  Probably preventable by layering plastic wrap over the surface of the batter.

Palm Sunday Sticky Buns

I made sticky buns the other day, as a festal treat for Flowery Sunday.  I would have liked to post a picture of all their gooey-nutty-sweet goodness.  I would have liked to share all the lovely steps I took, making the dough, rolling it out and putting the filling in.

But they were too good. And I was in a hurry. And we were hungry. We devoured them.

So I'll just have to share the recipe for now. I'll make them again another time (after Easter) and take pictures... hopefully ;)

I mostly used this recipe, but halved it (it's still a fast, after all) and used a 9" round cake pan, instead of a 13x9. I felt like their instructions (for me) were too chatty (too many hints and tips interrupting the recipe (much like this sentence)), so I've re-written the recipe here, simple-like.

Pecan Sticky Buns
2 T butter
1/2 c sugar (or maple syrup (or agave))
2 T molasses
1-2 T cinnamon (to taste)
1 c pecans (whole or pieces)

3 c. white flour
1 (scant) T yeast
1 tsp salt
1/4 c maple syrup (or agave nectar)
2 T oil
1/2 c warm water (plus additional, if dough is too dry)

cinnamon sugar

Mix goo ingredients in a small saucepan on the stove until sugar is dissolved and ingredients are well-incorporated. Pour into 9" round cake pan and sprinkle nuts in a nice layer over goo.  Set aside.

Place all dry ingredients (including the yeast) in a mixing bowl and combine well.  Add the oil and syrup to the warm water and (with the mixer on) add to the dry ingredients just until a smooth dough forms.

Turn dough onto kneading surface and roll out to an 8" x 12" rectangle.  Slather on butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, nuts of choice, and raisins (if you want).  Starting from the long end, roll into a log, sealing the edge with a bit of water.

Slice log into 2" rolls and place on top of nutty-goo in cake pan.  Leave a little room between the rolls so they can rise.  Dot top of rolls with butter.  Cover and set in a warm place to rise for 1 1/2 - 2 hours [you may note, the original recipe calls for two risings of the dough.  The printed version I had was hard to read so I totally missed that step. Let the rolls rise until they look more roll-ish and less anorexic. Depending on the warmth in your kitchen, it may take longer than 2 hours].  When they look almost ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees (give it a good 30 minutes to preheat).

Bake for about 20-25 minutes (they should be firm and sound a bit hollow when you tap the middle ones).

Remove from oven and flip pan over onto serving plate (this way the goo is all on top). Allow to cool before devouring (this would have been a good time to get a picture. Oh well) :)

Next time, I might try this recipe--these buns look fluffier :)

Lenten Pretzels

I made pretzels last week, as a treat (because I finally found a reliable source for white spelt flour).

They were delicious.  Just what simple Lenten pretzels should be--doughy and salty and a bit chewy, and perfect with a big bowl of vegetable soup!

I even had a little sparrow to keep me company while I worked!

Lenten Pretzels

4 c white flour
1 T yeast
1 T sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 c water

Preheat oven to 425.

Add all dry ingredients (including yeast) in mixer bowl and combine well.  With mixer on, slowly add water until smooth dough forms.

Turn onto wooden surface and divide into 8 parts.

Shape each part into a pretzel (pretzels can be thick and puffy or thin and spread out--just make them all the same or they won't all bake evenly) and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Brush with egg white (or: water + cornstarch mixture) and sprinkle coarse salt over all to taste.

Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Best enjoyed warm :) 

Monday, March 29, 2010

"In a hole in the ground...

there lived a hobbit."

Thus began my first exposure to Tolkien's writing--to Middle Earth, hobbits, elves, and all the glory of his fantasy.   You may (or may not) know that my husband is a Tolkien FAN (I mean super-fan, really. He has read everything Tolkien's written), and can you believe it? he married me before I had read the Lord of the Rings :)  As a matter of fact, we read it aloud to each other on our honeymoon in Italy.  I have many fond memories of sitting up late into the night, taking turns reading through the growing climax of the story. "Just one more chapter! Let's just read one more chapter!"  But at the end of that chapter, we would want to read just one more.  We spent whole days inside, in Rome, to read Tolkien.  It was worth it.

I have read the story of Frodo and the ring twice since my honeymoon.  Once for a class on the Philosophy of Tolkien (T and I ended up reading it aloud together anyway).  The next time, I had started to read it aloud to Momma, during Congress last year.  I thought she would like to hear the story--and being read to is always a nice treat when one is exhausted in every other sense.  We made it to Tom Bombadil's house where "a golden light was all about them."  I finished reading the story "by myself" (and yet, in a very real sense, still with Momma listening) and finished it in May on yet another plane ride to CA.  I cried at the end. I sobbed.  It is such a good story--there is much sadness, but so much hope. This time, I am reading the Lord of the Rings aloud with my sister Viv.  Gandalf has just taken possession of the Palantir Wormtongue cast from Orthanc.

I was getting my master's at Gonzaga when I first read The Hobbit, and I realized, as I sat on the plane to CA last weekend, leafing through the pages of the first chapter, I hardly remembered any of it. It must have been an exceptionally busy and stressful semester to have been so distracted as I read.

There were, of course, those points in the story which are noted in later works, which I remembered.  But I couldn't remember how many dwarves descended on Bilbo's house, that he didn't know Gandalf before that morning in June, blowing smoke rings.  I didn't remember anything about the Wood Elves' underground palace or even Beorn (!).  Even nearing the end of the book, darned if I could remember how Bilbo and the Dwarves got rid of Smaug.  So I really enjoyed reading it this time through.

I also enjoyed the different feel of the book from the Lord of the Rings.  I understand the original editor replaced the word "tummy" with "stomach" in several places to make the book feel older, more mature.  Tolkien, I am convinced, wrote The Hobbit for younger audiences that usually guessed.

I really think it's a story about growing up--striding out of your comfort zone and doing something courageous, using the skills you have to overcome the problems you're faced with, trusting your friends and having faith that things will work out.

Trusting that adventures come to an end and you will make it home, one way or another, safe and sound.  And won't the sound of the boiling kettle warm your heart so much more, after adventure?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fellowship of the Band

I was cleaning up the kitchen the other day, putting things away, wiping off counter tops, sweeping the floor, etc. We have lots of rubber bands in our house.. not sure why, but they're everywhere in the kitchen.  We use them to secure bags of anything (coffee, flour, rice, popcorn), and I frequently find them on the counter, fallen comrades from a vanquished (and trashed) bag of something.

I found this one that day and took it over to the drawer where we keep them, and I noticed that someone had written something on it (If you're a Tolkien fan, this might sound familiar...)
One rubber band to rule them all..

One rubber band to find them...

And, I'm sure (if he had had enough room) it would have continued:
One rubber band to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them..

Not sure what "land" it would be in, though. Not Mordor--the rubber band would melt.

Can you guess who inscribed this rubber band? ;)

Rich Memories

Memories are rich. The last week has been especially rich with memory for my family.  One week ago, Taylor and Viv and I celebrated the anniversary of Momma's death.  We had a nice Tea Party "Brinner" (that's Breakfast for Dinner) of scrambled eggs, bacon wrapped sausages (baked in brown sugar and maple syrup), potatoes O'Brien, and guacamole.  For "dessert" we had the Bass Cottage Inn's oat scones, which were delicious, and bacon shortbread cookies, which were also delicious, and tea.

It really was a fitting celebration.  I knew Momma was there with us--her first tea party at my house in Boston :)

Each of us went in turns telling one memory we had of Momma, which, of course, led to other memories and stories and jokes.  At the end of the evening, we said a prayer of Thanks for Momma's life, and that we were able to know her and Love her.

Then yesterday, the anniversary of her funeral--St. Patrick's Day--we had a traditional Irish boiled dinner.  My first ever.  We has corned beef brisket, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and cabbage.  I even grated a little Dubliner Irish cheddar cheese to top things off, but the flavors were all so beautifully simple that not much garnish was needed.  I'm happy to report that it went well.  We had four people over, bringing the total eaters to seven--the number in my family.  We had a jolly evening.

St. Patty's Feast

And so, we go on and on.  A year has past. Before we know it, it will be two years, then five.  But we won't forget.  And we look forward, with great hope, to the day when we can all enjoy a Sunday High Tea as a whole family once again.  And it will be Beatific.


What are you doing this weekend?

Me? I'm going to CA to spend some time with my Daddy at the religious education congress in Anaheim.  The congress should be pretty cool... but even if it's not, I should get plenty of vitamin D :)

Hope you enjoy yourselves, too :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Feast of St. Patrick

When I was a little girl, attending Catholic school, St. Patty's day was sort of a big deal.  See, we had to figure out how to wear green with our red, white, and black plaid, polyester uniforms (:P).  I had green eyes, of course, but that didn't matter. All my friends would say, "That doesn't count!" and pinch me anyway :(

So I took to wearing a pair of Momma's green earrings--little round jade balls (we couldn't wear dangley earrings with our uniform).  I would wear my hair down and when people would say "You're not wearing green!" I would (trimphantly) pull back my hair and say, "HA!"  Sometimes they still pinched me... hm.

[This year I wore her teapot earrings, since they go so well with my bright green sweater!]

Nonetheless, we had all sorts of fun at school on St. Patrick's day (and yes, we were always on the lookout for Leprechauns and their pot of gold (though mostly we were interested in candy)).  We would have green snacks and build traps for them, placing gold beads inside, or gold candies, or spray-painted gold rocks, and concocting all manner of tricky devices to trip them up.  And it was all so shiny :) and so much fun.

I remember watching the movie "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" at home with my sibs.  Often we would go to the Knights of Columbus St. Patty's dinner and eat corned beef and potatoes and cabbage and have vanilla cake for dessert with delicious shamrock-shaped candies on top! So many tasty memories of those.  I remember bargaining for the candies with my parents and oldest siblings (Beth and Viv were too smart to part with theirs).

By high school, and later college, St. Patrick's day lost some of its luster from childhood. It wasn't that I disliked it, but I didn't make traps anymore :) and I didn't bargain for candy shamrocks either.  But, I also didn't go out drinking (even when I was old enough) and generally let the day (which was invariably during Lent) pass by without much pomp or circumstance.

And again, St. Patrick's day is changed for my family.  Momma's funeral was on March 17 last year, and we spent the day very differently than other years together.  Although the viewing the day before was hard on me (seeing my mother's body laid out, wearing make-up, stiff, and cold--it wasn't her anymore and I knew it), the funeral in many ways was harder, but (as there is always grace in sorrow) it was also very good.  [Here is the homily from the funeral.]

The saddest part for me was when she was lowered into her grave.  It seemed so final. So ultimate.  I will never see her body again in this world.  That is hard.

But life is never without humor or joy :)  While Momma was descending, Michael went over to look down and almost lost his gum (that wouldn't have made Momma happy, who spent much of her time as a teacher telling her students to spit their gum out in the trash can).  Also, look at Daddy's face. Know what he's thinking?  "Gosh, that's a deep hole!" :)

And so, here we are at the anniversary. There is still sadness, but even reading through the homily again, and remembering all the events of these recent years, I am not sorrowful.  There is joy behind the tears and I am able to smile, despite the mist in my eyes.  Not all tears are an evil.  And when I think of Momma, especially, I am often reminded of a line from the Return of the King, as Frodo sails to Valinor:

And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West until at last on a night of rain, Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water.  And it seemed to him that...the gray rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise. 

A Homily for Momma

Fr. Paul, the priest at my home parish, only knew Momma for a few months before she died.  But in his homily for her funeral, I feel that he knew her through and through.  Perhaps it was his grace as a priest. Perhaps it was her "transparency" among friends and those she trusted.  Either way, his words were from his heart, and they spoke to ours.  Here is the text, if you want to read it.

[First Reading: Judith 15:8-10
Second Reading: 2 Cor 5:1-10
Gospel: Matt 5:13-14]

As I was meditating on these readings, I said to myself, "How beautiful these words speak of Jeanette, herself." I said to myself, "The life of Jeanette was so faith filled that she lived her life in the presence of all of us."

But as I reflect on the words today, the words of scripture -- that had been chosen by Jeanette and her family for this Mass -- speak about her. And if Jeanette was here she would promptly tell us, "Yes! But, God comes first!" She would like to hear the words of God, for it was the heart of her life.

And as we listen to the first reading, we hear of a very beautiful lady, one that was still with the spirit of God. And she wanted not the praise of the people, but that her life should be dedicated to the service of God. And in giving service to God she obtained great joy, peace, and happiness. So much so, like King David, she danced for the Lord. And as I thought about this, I said to myself, "Yes, Jeanette, go ahead and dance for our God. You did everything for God and rightly so. Just like Judith, you go ahead and dance. Dance for Him that we here can only imagine the great Love, the Joy, and Happiness you have the pleasure of doing before our God.

Then in the second reading of today, from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, it speaks of our human body as a dwelling tent, something that has been given to us to use so that we may glorify God through the Son. And it's not meant for us to live an endless life here on this Earth. St. Paul is telling us that, so that we may use it to serve God, so that we too may achieve eternal happiness. None of us would love to stay on forever in this life because we were all promised the Goodness and the Greatness of our Heavenly Kingdom. So much so, that if we only realize how beautiful this existence with God is, I'm sure we would ask the Lord to take us home Today.

As I was sitting with Jeanette one morning, she was by herself, and as we sat and she shared with me, she said, "Father, I am tired. I want to go Home." And I said to her, "Jeanette, God is waiting. He has given you the time, the time to prepare yourself, so that when the hour comes, you can surrender your life to the Lord, just like Christ did on the cross. You carry this cross in your body for your salvation and the salvation of your Loved Ones. When the time comes it will be like the transfiguration, when Jesus was transformed into the beauty of His eternal existence." And as we watched the transfiguration through the story, then we understand how beautiful that Life will be. And we know that when the hour comes we will be like stepping out of this body and into the glorified body prepared for us by God, Himself.

And in today's Gospel reading, Jesus speaks about the Salt. He says, "You are the salt of the Earth." Continue to be salt of the Earth. Use your salt to enhance the taste of salt and your light, not to hide it, but to display it in the quality of life and the relationship that you shared with God. The greater our relationship with God, the better the quality of salt and light we demonstrate through our lives. Yes, Jeanette was the salt of the earth. She salted the lives of all those people she touched through her work at St. Ann’s, through the RCIA, the CCD, and all the other programs. Jeanette allowed the light to shine forth in her life. And this light came through her prayer life. Jeanette was a woman of great prayer.

As we were sharing that morning, she said to me, "Father, I love my family." And I said, "Love is a gift from God. If you love your family it shows your deep love for God." She said, "But Father, I am tired. But, since Richard wants to go to the Congress, I will go with him." And she built up that courage and strength to make sure it became a reality in their lives. And not only that, she spoke very lovingly of her children. She was so proud of all of them and she was looking forward to the day of her two grand children's Baptism, which would have taken place in May. She said, "Father, I am looking forward to that. That will be my last Joy." But God said, "No. Come home to Me. I need you."

And as I went to anoint her on the evening that she passed away, she said to me, "Father, I'm finding it so hard to pray," and I said to her, "Jeanette, let your soul pray. God hears the prayer of your soul. You don't have to use words. He knows what you are trying to say to Him. Surrender yourself to Him and allow Him to take you where He wants."

Jeanette, we thank God for the gift of you. We take from you the many good lessons that you teach us about God and we pray that you will pray for us that we may become the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the world, just like you showed us.

May you rest in peace.

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Story

About a week and a half before Momma died, I went to the CCD congress in Anaheim, CA with her and Daddy, and we met up with Viv for dinner and a few classes.  It was a great weekend. Momma was so weak by then, and jaundiced from liver failure, that she was in a wheelchair.  My job, in coming to congress, was to push her around for the weekend.

She was a trooper. She was cheerful and loving and really seemed to be enjoying herself, despite her exhaustion.  I wheeled her around to each of her classes, and she listened attentively and we discussed them together. I pushed her through the "den of booths" where she bought several gifts for people, including a congress t-shirt for Daddy (he gets one every year) and a long-sleeve shirt for me (it's one of my favorites now, actually).

I brought along The Fellowship of the Ring so that I could start reading it aloud to her and Daddy.  I thought they would enjoy it and it was such an important story to me that I really wanted to share it with them.  I intended to record the rest of the story for them and email them the files so at least Momma could listen to them while she was resting at home (she had stopped teaching in January due to a bad case of pneumonia).  Together that weekend, we made it through the Old Forest and right up to the threshold of Tom Bombadil's house "and a golden light was all about them."  Fitting.

I remember massaging her feet and calves, because they would go to sleep in the wheelchair. They were always cold, too, so she wore down-filled "tent booties" all the time.  I wanted to touch her as much as possible--y'know how great it feels when someone rubs your shoulders or your hands? all those endorphins? I wanted to send those little feel-good healers all through her body.  But I knew it wouldn't work.  She had told me a few months before that she didn't get those "shivers" of endorphins anymore. Maybe her nervous system had been affected too greatly by the cancer, but she said she just didn't get those feel-good ripples anymore.  That was perhaps the saddest thing for me that weekend.  We are such physical beings that it hurt me, physically (made me want to cry) to know that my touch didn't "work" on her body anymore.  I knew that she was thankful and appreciative that I was rubbing her and hugging her, that emotionally it was supportive, but it was hard to accept that the lack of connection between the physical and spiritual was the beginning of the end...

I remember so much from that weekend, the food we ate, the restaurants we visited, people we met. I remember how the wheelchair would vibrate if I pushed it too quickly along the sidewalks.  I remember sitting in the sunshine with my sister and parents, eating a brought-from-home lunch together.  My skin was hot in the sunlight. I took a picture of a little girl pushing her dolly in a play-stroller.  I asked Momma and Daddy to pose for a picture. The last one I have of them together. You have seen it before--I use it often. I am always struck by how Momma's jaundice was lessened in the sunlight, and how Daddy looks a little more pink than "normal" next to Momma.

Sunday that weekend we packed up our things at the hotel and loaded it all up in the car.  We were in my grandmother's Blue Van. She had been in a wheelchair for the last several years of her life and she picked that  van because it had a big space in the back for the chair, without having to collapse it.  Strange that Momma, who inherited the van, now found its original functionality so useful.

We stayed at Vivian's apartment that night.  She was on the second floor of a building with no elevator, so Momma had to climb the stairs.  Daddy asked her "how are you going to get up to Viv's apartment?" and she said, frankly, "I'm going to go up once and come down once and that's all."  It was hard for her--it took all three of us supporting her as she labored up each step, clutching the railing of the stairs. I think I slept on the couch that night and Viv slept in her roommate's bed.

In the morning, Momma and Daddy had to pick up Uncle Greg (Momma's brother) at the airport.  Momma climbed down the stairs again, two of us in front of her to lean on and one behind her for support, and walked the 15 or so feet to the van.  She was so weak, so tired. I hugged her goodbye, without bursting into tears, and Viv and I helped her up into the front seat of the van.  She blessed us and told us she loved us.  That was the last time I saw her alive.

I spent the rest of the day hanging out with Viv, visiting some of her "haunts" in the area :)  I flew back to Boston on the red-eye and had a busy busy week and weekend, with family visiting and house guests and work schedules and crochet class and an under-the-weather husband.

After Christmas, I had told Momma and Daddy I could take time off work to be in CA and help out (thank Heaven for employee benefits).  On Wednesday the week after I returned from Congress (after our last house guest had left), I got a call from Daddy in the afternoon.  In a very calm, but very sober voice, he asked me to come and stay for an indefinite period of time because Momma had taken a turn for the worse.  I could hear the emotion and tears catch in his throat as he continued, "She doesn't have much time."  I told him I'd come soon and Taylor and I booked tickets for Saturday, intending to finish the week at work and settle things with them about my leave. I went to my crochet class that evening, still thinking I had time...

Later in the evening, my sister Bethany called me, also choked up. She told me, "I don't know if Mom's gonna make it till Saturday. You've got to get here sooner."  Panic set in. But at that point in the evening, the next available flight to CA was early the next morning.  We had to wait.

So we packed our bags and I wrote a letter to my employers letting them know I was taking a month of family-related medical leave--I didn't care what they said. I'd sort it out later. I was going to CA.  We went to bed at 11, thinking we should at least be rested for the next day, since there was nothing else to do but pray.

Sometime around 1am my phone rang. It was my brother; he was crying.  It's always hard to bear when men cry, I don't know why that is. He said, "Mom died a little while ago." and he told me that he got to see her, just in time. She was conscious and lucid and recognized him when he came in the room.  Then Summer got on the phone and told me Daddy was still in the room with her, stroking her arm. She was crying, and she said she had to go take Giulia in to say goodbye to Grandmama.  They told me they loved me. I told them I loved them too and said something like "I'll see you tomorrow."

I hung up the phone and woke Taylor up. We cried together, hard and loud. Even then, in that moment, as we held each other in bed, I could feel Momma there with us.  I knew she was there. Right before my brother called, I was dreaming.  I dreamed about Momma's last moments. She was lying in bed with all her children around her and giving last bits of advice (or prophecy).

We sent emails to our closest friends and family, letting them know Momma had died, and we went back to bed.  A few hours later we woke to our alarms and piled our bags into the taxi, went to the airport, spent 6 dry (both in humidity and in tears) hours on the plane, picked up our rental car, got In-n-Out (well, Momma would have wanted us to, and we were hungry!), and drove the three hours up to Inyokern.

Hospice had removed Momma's body by the time we got there, in the afternoon.  We were the last to arrive. Daddy took Taylor and me and sat down between us on Momma's inherited (from her mother) antique couch and told us about the Valentine's day poems they had written each other, about her last moments.  We cried some more.

Madeleine Peyroux, one of my favorite vocalists, sings a song called Prayer.
This is what I imagine Momma's last thoughts were like...
Lord, I must be strong now
I don't belong now
In this world anymore

I'll say a final prayer for
Those I care for
Who've kept my company

My destiny is clear
I'm dying to have you near
To me

I don't belong now 

If you are waiting
I am not afraid to die

I'm prepared to go
Divide my body and soul
Won't you

I won't be long now
If you are waiting
I am not afraid to die

Have mercy, Lord
I'm told it's paradise
To have and to hold

I must be strong now
I don't belong now
In this world anymore

I won't be long now
If you are waiting
I am not afraid to die

We had arrived. We were there in the house without Momma, but she was still there.  We were face to face with her death, which we had been anticipating for months, but never expecting.  A year ago today, as I sat on that couch with Daddy between Taylor and me, quiet grief set in. The rush to make it home was gone. The busy-ness in Boston had been left behind. Hurry vanished. There was only "after" left. And all there is to do with after is let it linger a while, keeping company amidst the tears.  

Today, it seems to me, the after has departed, as gently as it came: like a mist in the trees that settles in the night and is burned away by the bright morning Sun.  There are still tears of course, dripping from the dew-laden boughs of memory.  Mist still lingers in damp depressions under trees. But the Sun is definitely shining. It's a brand new day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Two Songs, and One More

Before she died, Momma and Daddy met with one of their friends, whom Momma had asked to do the music at her funeral.  She had most of the songs picked out already.

The processional was Safety Harbor (by Rory Cooney).  My brother, in the navy, always really liked this song, since he knew what it was like to sail home to safety.  Accompanied by Momma, my oldest sister sang it in high school.  It's always been in our family, and I've even played it at funerals before, occasionally. I have often thought about the meaning in the words over the years.  It's a song of peace and relief, which (I think) is how Momma felt before she died.

Sweet Vision! Bless my eyes! 
Land upon the western skies! 
Constant stars, I bid you rise 
over Safety Harbor.

Home, home! At last, becalmed! 
Far behind us screams the storm. 
Tattered canvas waves like arms 
greeting Safety Harbor. 

From the windows of the tower, 
where the beacon burns, 
Faithful friends at ev'ry hour 
watch for my return. 

Yours the calm and peace I claim 
When I face the waves and rain, 
When the searoad calls my name 
Out from Safety Harbor. 

Through the fearsome, foaming gale, 
When no spirit fills my sail, 
I shall see, though sight may fail, 
Lights of Safety  Harbor.

Where from windows of the tower, 
bright the beacon burns. 
Faithful friends at ev'ry hour 
watch for my return. 

Heart's haven, mem'ry's shore, 
Call me through the tempest's roar, 
Where the pilgrim sails no more, 
home to Safety Harbor, 

Where the pilgrim sails no more, 
Home to Safety Harbor.

The second song I wanted to share is the recessional: It's a Brand New Day.  Simple lyrics, yes, but this, too, is how Momma felt--her sending-away message to all those who love her. "There will be a new heart for every man like the flowers that bloom in early spring."  How fitting, since Momma's apricot trees were just blooming when she died.  Joy really is everywhere.

It's a brand new day, 
everything is fine
Though it may be gray, 
I want you to know
that the sun's gonna shine
And out of that sky, 
piercing every cloud, 
is our God on high!
There will be a new heart for every man
like the flowers that bloom in early spring
For every life there is a plan,
no matter what autumn breezes bring
So put away care, 
let freedom be yours
Joy is everywhere, 
joy is everywhere!
Let freedom ring, alleluia now
Everybody sing 
let your voices shout 
to the mighty King.

Finally, Taylor took Viv and me to a concert featuring Hey Marseilles, a fun band from Seattle that's touring in the New England area.  They really have a great sound--uplifting and energetic and all-around enjoyable! The last song they played was a great farewell song for a touring music group. I was particularly caught by the chorus: "On the way I will go where the days left to breathe are not gone, are still long, I am traveling on."  Here on the year anniversary of Momma's death, I feel like this is (in some ways) the attitude we should have--we must continue our own journey and not get "stuck" around loss or grief.  I'm not saying we shouldn't grieve, or that the grief won't last a long time, but we can't just stay there, wallowing in it.  We carry the memory with us always, but we will always have Hope, and so we continue on the way.

(don't take the lyrics too seriously in regard to this situation--it's the general feeling of the song that struck me as so fitting) :)

Hey Marseilles

Silhouette seasons and far-away reasons are all I have now
Borders can keep me if Rio will have me to dance and to drown
Take to the harbor like sails to set
Sleep for the evening in failed regret
Hold on to skylines of pale and coal
Clouds on horizons and love to grow old

On the way I will go 
Where the days left to breathe
Are not gone, are still long
I am traveling on

Love is a hazard in lower Manhattan
You cannot escape, and musn't be saddened
By men who abandon your eyes for another's
There are always Brazilian boys to discover

Set your sights straight now
Don't forget pain
Drink 'til tomorrow becomes yesterday
Think of the shorelines you have yet to see
Men who will hold you with eyes you believe

On the way I will go 
Where the days left to breathe
Are not gone, are still long
I am traveling on

On the way I will go 
Where the days left to breathe
Are not gone, are still long
I am traveling on

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hey Saturday!!

Actually, it would be better to say "Hey Weekend!!" because it was an awesome weekend all around. Saturday morning we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast of tasty spelt pancakes, eggs (not for me), fruit, and bacon! After heming and hawing a bit about what to do that day, we decided to go see Alice in Wonderland.  We headed out into the remarkably fresh (and almost warm) afternoon toward the theater.  It was a glorious day, in so many ways!

And I will be honest with you, I really liked the movie.  Admittedly, I did not go in with high hopes for a life-changing cinematic experience, nor did I expect the soft fluffy cartoon version Disney did years ago.  I knew it would be a little spooky (what Tim Burton movie isn't, really?), and relatively dark.  But I also had hopes for a fun, enjoyable movie.  And that's what I got.  There were some parts that were a little silly, but the story is a little silly anyway.  I like the actors and the variation the writers came up with, and I would definitely see it again.  

In fact, we all liked it so much, we walked by a bookstore in search of Carroll's original stories.  Happily, we found them! both stories in one volume (annotated, actually.  The layout is such that one doesn't have to pay attention to the side notes, but they are there if one wants them).  When Viv and I have finished Lord of the Rings, she and T and I will read through all of Alice's adventures.  It should be enlightening :)

See, I haven't read the books before, and that could be one reason why I didn't find the movie offensive at all.  On that same theme, though, I love (love love) Tolkien's Lord of the Rings--could be my favorite story ever.  And I also really like the movies.  But they're not the same. I don't consider the three Lord of the Rings movies to be "just movie versions of the book."  That's ridiculous (and it would be a horrible mash-up of the written story, too).  Instead, I find it's easiest for me to appreciate the movies apart from the book.  The characters happen to have the same names, and the plots are somewhat similar, but really, they're different stories :)

After visiting with Alice, we walked home in the crisp clean afternoon air, and made some soup, ate it with bread, and generally had a quiet evening together (quite welcome after a long week).

Sunday was another easy day. Mass in the morning. Lunch at home with a few friends. Lazy, lounging afternoon.  The one "productive" thing we did (relaxing is productive, no matter what other people say!) was getting my inherited silk embroidered print to the framing shop.  It will be composed to go well with this one, which my Grammy gave me in middle school:

The second print is a bit more golden, and there's more brown in it.  Viv came to the shop with me (oh sweet, tolerant seester!) and was a good sounding board for all the (manymany) options the helpful framing-guy showed me.  I'm excited to see what they look like together when it's done.  Maybe I can finally get rid of the college-esque posters on our entry wall :S

After we left the shop, print delivered safely, Viv thought it was time for a treat :) we we crossed the street to Athan's and picked out a few sweets and chocolates.  I know it's Lent, but it was a Sunday, after all :)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mustard Mei Tai

Last week was a pretty gray week, in many ways.   It was cold and wet outside, which I don't mind--it's perfect sewing weather. Pot of tea. Movies playing. The hmm-mm-mm-mm of my sewing machine. Fabulous.  And I was warm and cozy inside.

Not only was it gray outside, but it was sort of gray inside. Gray and yellow!

I finally finished Kayleen's mei tai and mailed it off to her!

Kayleen picked out some very pretty yet subtle prints, and I really enjoyed putting it all together.  All in all, I think it turned out well.

The reverse side. She didn't realize it when she picked it out, but this is a very good "neutral" side for boy babies (or baby-wearing-husbands). And here I thought she had done it on purpose ;)

I had fun with the details, of course, too :)

From the pictures Kayleen sent, although Lou doesn't look terribly enthused (she was sleepy) :) it seems to work very well.  She says they're happy with it and Mike is surprised at how comfy it is.  (I love surprising husbands. I'm not sure why.)

Happy baby-wearing, guys! :) 

A Candlestick Maker

Yep, that's me!

Years ago, when I was still an undergrad at GU (gosh, that was 5 years ago!), the sacristan for the Student Chapel asked me if I wanted the altar candle remnants.  Never one to pass up an offer of free (non-scented!) candles, I said yes and he presented me with two (!) large boxes of 6" tall beeswax candles.  Awesome.

And they've traveled with me wherever I moved from then on.  I now have the boxes (which are a little more empty now) in our buffet, and I still use the candles around the house.  I love the subtle smell of beeswax :)  and I love candlelight.  We try to light candles when we pray together--it's so much more intimate and it sets the scene for hallowed thoughts, I think.  There's something enchanting about candle light.  At night, T and I turn off the lights and burn candles before falling asleep.  It's so much more satisfying to puff out a candle flame, rather than flicking a wall switch.  The transition is better, too, from the soft glow of a warm flame to the gathering darkness of sleep...

Only trouble is, the candles drip a lot of wax (I don't have any followers for the tips of the candles). I hate to see such good wax go to waste (besides, it's been blessed--can't throw it out!), so I've saved the drippings in a ziploc bag.  And I accumulated quite a lot over the past several years.

So... I made candles yesterday!  We have several scented candles in glass jars that were running low, so I melted the remainder of the scented wax with the beeswax remnants and re-filled the jars.  I even filled several votive holders with plain beeswax to use around the house.  I am super excited.  My favorite, you might have guessed, are the green votive holders, which I got as a C'mas present to use at Pentecost this year.

I might need to get some more candle glasses next time :) We'll see! Now go enjoy some candlelight yourself!


Well, folks, my 365 photo project has finally come to an end.  It's been an interesting journey, to say the least (but one could say that about most any project, especially one that spans a year).  Although there were entire weeks when I would struggle to come up with something (anything) to photograph, I never regretted starting.  And there have been a great many moments, as I occasionally looked back through each day's photograph, that I have been immensely grateful that I did start. So Paulie, this is a shout-out to you, for getting me started! :)

If you want to check out my full set, click here.

I learned a lot taking a picture a day, about photography, about my camera, about myself and the subjects I photographed. I learned about my interests and what I think is beautiful and what colors I prefer.  I even learned about life and society and why certain things are appropriate and other things aren't.

For instance, I learned that, the more pictures one takes, the more likely one is to get a picture that's worth something (anything).  I know, that's kind of a "duh" realization, but it's true! If you take, say, 50 pictures of a scene in front of you, you could come up with a priceless moment that you weren't necessarily looking for.

[Burke explains how Eskimo women harmonize their voices by standing really close together with their mouths open...?]

It's also frequently true that, try as one might, one may not be successful in taking a cool picture at all, all day.  And that's ok, too. Post it anyway.

And while you're taking a lot of pictures, people sometimes get frustrated with you--"did you get it? am I done?" and you end up with shots like this :)
[Viv gets tired of holding her hands up "just so" and starts making faces.}

I learned that my camera, my bitty point and shoot, does really well with macro focus shots (and less well with landscape shots).

Less awesome (but not too bad)

I've also learned that I really want a big, fancy digital camera (with this lens, I think), but am thankful for having a camera that I can stuff in my purse, and one that's better than my (albeit pretty nifty) phone-camera. It's the little things, right? :)

 And I've learned that my favorite subjects to photograph are People.  People are the most interesting Things on this planet, frankly. And I love looking back at the faces and emotions I was fortunate enough to capture on my light-writer.
And I love that something I recorded can make people smile :)  They make me smile a lot, recalling all the joy of the moment.  The peace or the happiness, blissful contentment, and delight.

I've learned that some photos, if I meditate on them long enough, will make me cry every time I look at them.  Some photos will always recall certain emotions.  And I'm glad I have those moments to reflect on.  "Not all tears are an evil," right?

I've learned that I'd like to be invisible.  See, when one has "just" a point-and-shoot camera, people look at you funny when you try to take cool pictures (which, admittedly, often forces you into sometimes-funny positions or odd angles).  I keep getting the feeling that if I had a more "professional" looking camera, people would dismiss it as "oh, she's a photographer." But right now, I just get looks that say "you're creepy."  Which is unfortunate.  Because I could get lots of  fun pictures if I was invisible, even with a point-and-shoot :)


So this was a long way of saying I'm happy to be done with my 365 project.  Happy that I did it, and happy that it's over. It has taught me that it's great to take pictures of random things--the memories photographs stir up may surprise you later on--days later or years later.  I am glad that I will remember so much of this year, the first without Momma.  I will probably make a photo book on the project, but how I want to format it, I'm not sure yet. 

And I will continue to take pictures and post them. My flickr account won't be lonesome! I will also continue to upload pics to my picasa Web albums: so visit there, too, and let me know what you think :D

Here are some other fun 365 sets. Some are themed and some are just all-around awesome.  Check 'em out if you like. (