Thursday, January 31, 2013

winter, the season of my discontent

The wind is howling in a bitter, raging way and I am huddled next to the plug in heater in the office at church while the children run crazed and argumentative laps up and down the parish hall. Maybe they are having an actual game but I was promised they were doing 'laps' 'for exercise'. I've also been assured by everyone that every scrap of school work is done. And Matt is home cleaning the basement for exercise, not 'exercise' which is how it would be if I were doing it. So me sitting here, pursuing the vast sea of the World Wide Web, next to a pile of clean pristine church bulletins, the fruit of some few fretful hours yesterday and today, is perfectly justifiable, whatever the devil may try to say about it. (Hat tip Martin Luther)

Romulus has just been 'reading' to me--that mind/body/soul deadening exercise that comprises me sitting grinding my teeth and praying over and over 'Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner' while he writhes around on the chair trying to take his shirt and shoes off, picking all the skin off his lips, but never once sounding the sound of an actual letter unless I say aloud his name, sharply, and sometimes with a loud cry.

The child that wants to read speaks English the way I have always spoken French, haltingly, desperately, clutching at giant words like 'actually' and 'think so' and 'imgonnagogetdressedandgetmycoatandgowithyouonyourwalk' always without breath. She moves in when Romulus is finally at the end of either of us coping and looks at the back of Little Bear's Visit and says, 'You should buy me this red book here. Think so? Let's go buy it.'
'That book's not red,' I say, 'it's black. And we're not going to the store right now.'

It's really hard to keep my attention focused here, on the various dramas of all these children--and how is it that I'm only noticing now how many of them there are? I feel like I should have clued in three or four children ago and done some serious and real mental arithmetic--and not wander away in my mind to other climates and landscapes and colors and sounds. So many people I know and love are off in places of warmth and bright color doing interesting things, eating interesting food. How many of them envy me? Do they sit and think, 'what I wouldn't give to do the same things in the same order every single week'.

But I can't dwell too many minutes in discontent. We are memorizing Number 21:4-9 in the middle of which is documented that wonderful cry of the Israelites to God, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and water and we loathe this worthless food.' In response to which The Lord says nothing but only sends fiery servants to kill the people. Which is it, I wonder every time we say it out, no food or worthless food? Either way it wasn't true. There was food and it was heavenly food and also meat. Quail, for heaven's sake. As if any of us can afford to eat quail. Gladys turned her delicate nose up the other day and said, 'I weally weally like it' (whatever it was I can't remember) 'but I don't want to spoil it by eating it.' Like saying, 'yeah God,' as if any of us should be saying 'yeah' to God, 'thanks so much for everything. I'm really really grateful, but while you're at it, could you please make it something different, and put us all somewhere else.' I don't really want to be the one to say it. And I am really really grateful for the one who was lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness, to whom I can look and be saved from death, but from whom I also gain life and warmth and perfect spiritual food.

Monday, January 28, 2013

work, it won't save you

As usual for a Monday morning there are kids crashing around and screaming. We aren't shoving ourselves into the car to go scavenging for food one, because its sort of snowy and two, because an electrician is coming in a few minutes to see why all the kitchen lights keep shorting out or whatever it's called. And, three, if we were going to leave the house, I would have to get out of bed.

For the last few weeks or so, as is our want, we've been leading a seemingly crazy life that, in reality, isn't that crazy, but when you stop and examine it closely you think, 'OMW, there's no way everything will get done' but then somehow it does. Of course, the two things that haven't been 'getting done' are blogging and it were....I've rebelliously decided not to walk because of the wretched wretched cold and if I'm not going to walk, why would I bother to do anything else? Really, someone give me a reason. Please. As for blogging, when the choice is between picking up the house again, cooking supper, trying to squeeze in one more subject with one more child, and blogging, well, there I've been a touch more responsible, though it hurts my itching fingers to admit it.

So, who else is ready for lent? I sure am. If Jesus doesn't come and save us we will be sorely lost under our own misguided perceptions and illusions and we will choose so often the wrong thing that its worth crying about.

On that note, here are three things Gladys said yesterday as she laboriously wiped off all the tables in the parish hall before Sunday school.
"Guess what. I've been working as hard as I can and I'm not even moaning.'
'Maybe if I work really hard, God will appreciate me.'
Haha Child. Hahaha...I didn't really laugh at her, I said that what she had said wasn't true and that God loves us first and we do work because we love him back. She laughed sarcastically and then said,
'Well, loving God is good. Not gross like Womulous burping at the table.'

Monday, January 21, 2013

confining my remarks to the weather

Looking at the weather forecast, I'm appalled to see that it's going to be really really tragically cold this week. We've been spoiled the last few years in the matter if cold, as in, it's been reasonable temperatures and we haven't wanted to commit any desperate act on account of the unspeakable Weather. Whereas now. Well, I'm not going outside. That's all I can say.

Marigold came in just now with her hat and boots and pjs on and told us she was "going out". Almost let her but opted for her just being mad at me instead. No, poor child and poor dog and poor sanity, we'll be inside all week. We should be super productive what with not having to worry about putting on shoes or walking out to gaze at the evening sky or finding everyone a sweater.

Do I sound bitter? I'm not really. In other times and seasons I've had to walk around in these frigid temperatures. I'm deeply grateful for the luxury of not ever having to go anywhere. But in a cosmic sense I think this kind of cold must be a sign of God's anger with Binghamton. Otherwise I can find no reasonable explanation for it.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

a meager triumph

We're all watching football, most of us dubiously, or at least with a deep abiding sense of duty, but, I, at least, am basking in the glorious glow of finally having written on the last page of my journal. I've been writing in this journal for the last four years--began just a few days before we lost the lawsuit and had to move out of the old building and house--and have been sorely tempted, over the few weeks, to cheat by pasting pictures in the end or copying in laboriously the substance of some letter or fascinating post from my blog. But in the end I decided that integrity to the whole journal writing endeavor, and indeed my own conscience should win out over the perfect ideal of beginning a new book on the first of the year rather than on the 18th. So, in celebration of such an accomplishment and moral triumph, I have photographed all my journals.

Here is the first one (in the order of photographs, not of chronology). My very very clever aunt long ago  visually iconified the 'Lander Leg' in this lovely drawing which Marigold calls 'The Lady'. I, and all other females of the Lander Family, have inherited The Lander Leg--a stocky substantial Germanic leg which reaches all the way to the ground and which is, therefore, extremely useful. My Clever Aunt made this lovely picture and applied it to this book and to many cards. I was writing in this little book the summer my grandmother died.
It was really horrid of her to go off so suddenly, running away to her Love Jesus without warning anyone or being sick, although we all discovered afterwards that she had been sitting quietly on a lot of pain without fussing and whining the way I do. I was rooming with my Lovely Cousin and on the day Gramma (so we called her) died (whilst playing the opening hymn at a nursing home before my grandfather would preach) I sat up in my bed that very morning and said, "Cheer Up, things could be I cheered up and sure enough, things Got Worse', and never was I more prophetic than at that moment.
So next we have the book that was directly before that--The French Book. I purchased a nice plain gray book before shoving all my stuff in one of those old tortoise shell heavy duty suitcases so much coveted by me before I actually owned one. I had my plain clothes and plain hair and a frenchish sweater and very acceptable accent and I won't lie, I enjoyed my year in Nantes very very much.
I looked at the inside of every chateau I could reasonably get to, and eat my way through Strasbourg and spent all my religious holidays at Taize where I tried very hard to get them to accept me as a nun and failing that recommitted my way to Jesus accepting that I was a failure in so many things and yet He is Nice and He Likes Me.
I had to tear pages out at the end from writing much much too small through the year. Learned from this lesson later by buying books with actual lines in them.
And here is the bright fluffy much less fretful book with lines and blank pages in  which I discovered that I liked Matt Kennedy very much in spite of him arguing with the professors in class. Particularly liked that when I walked into a room he sort of came running forward with his piercing bright blue eyes saying foolish things like (in the school bookstore) 'Do you come here often?' Stopped writing a serious journal because of being swept up in  love and passing notes in New Testament and Systematic Theology.
Assuaged my conscience about not writing by pasting large cards on the off pages. Tore out a lot of pages at the end of the book to make it seem I'd even finished it.
Going back even further in time, here is the book I wrote in through High School. You remember, don't you, those puffy floral books from the 90's? They were so cool, so puffy, so floral.
I wasn't very clever, in high school, except in knowing that a lot of the things I was thinking and feeling feeling shouldn't be written down as they would embarrass me, probably, a great deal later.
Did do some "writing" but also an awful lot of "copy work"--the recording of clever and interesting quotes for future reference should I discover the need. Quotes like "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its fragrance on the desert air" or whatever that one was. Not going to stop now and look it up.
And so we come to the Grown Up Years, or whatever it is I'm in the middle of now. Leather bound books with lines and a litany, four days out of seven, of how I hope God will interfere in the affairs of his creation, including mine, intermingled with actual events.
This book took the better part of a year. Constancy. Virtue. Writing Nearly Every Day. You get the idea.

The book before that, you can see, was not so....well, let's not make ourselves feel worse than we need to, shall we?
And finally, here it is. This is the book I've just finished. Its horribly thick, closely and regularly written, and finally done!
January 1 to January 18 and in the intervening time, a remarkable work of God to bring us out of fear, cold, despair, worry, loss and grief to life, provision, hope, industry, growth, and the mercy of God who is gracious and loving enough to care for the things that feel like they ought not matter and the things that obviously do.
I'm really grateful.
And hopefully optimistic about the new book.
This book was purchased as an "impulse" but really as Deep Calling to Deep. The pages, you can see
are the kind I grew up writing letters home from boarding school on--close careful writing all the way down the length of a long page. The color and feel of the cover is Exactly Right. Mrs. Miniver, writing about an engagement book (but the principle is the same), "An engagement book is the most important of all those small adjuncts to life, that tribe of humble familiars which jog along beside one from year's end to year's end, apparently trivial, but momentous by reason of their terrible intimacy. A sponge, a comb, a tooth-brush, a spectacle-case, a fountain-pen--these are the things which need to be chosen with care. They become, in time, so much a part of one that they can scarcely be classed as inanimate. Insensitive, certainly--but so are one's nails and hair. And although some of them can be given away if one takes a dislike to them, with others the only remedy is destruction; and there is no case on record of anybody, however, rich, being strong-minded enough to throw an almost new sponge into the fire. Meekly, one puts up with its inconvenient shape, its repulsive texture, and the cretinous face which is discernible among its contours when it is lightly squeezed. Eventually, thank goodness, it will wear out; or with any luck one may leave it behind in an hotel."

In this case, the book is the same shade as the purse I  happened upon for such a glorious sale that I paid only ten dollars for it--short days before the strap on my True Purse wore completely thin. So there you are. A new year. A new book. A new purse. And a new pen, because, by the mercy of God, the old pen ran out at the same moment as the old book. New wine in new wine-skins and all that sort of thing.

Friday, January 11, 2013

seven quick takes

Woke up in this last hour worried about my parent's cat who was horribly injured this week by a big dog. At last report he had a fifty fifty chance of making it. He's a good Christian cat named after and blessed on the feast day of St Frances and so I hope you'll all pray for him.
Our first week back at serious school did, in fact, occur which is a glorious triumph when considered in the whole scope of human affairs and not taken by itself in its own isolated sliver of reality (can you tell that I'm writing this at four in the morning?). After the initial shock, particularly on the part of Alouicious, they all managed to all calm down, stop the infernal screaming, and do a tiny bit of work. The best and most exasperating part of the week was struggling to satiate little 'nonverbal' Marigold's new and sudden desire to try to learn to read. Basically, it's not really her turn and she should go pour cups of water back and forth in the sink. But the all out brawl--lying on the floor screaming and sobbing and heaving when I said she had to wait a minute to practice letters--has made me rethink the order of my life. I'm delighted, of course. And also, I'm pretty sure I'm going to loose my mind.
If you are casting about for an order in which to read the bible in 2013 (because, like me, it takes you a week or two to realize that the old really has gone away and the new is jamming itself down your throat) I really recommend reading it in chronological order. Hat tip, several years ago, to Homemaking Through the Church Year, who recommended it so highly. I join her in this recommendation. And because, in 2012, I was constantly behind I was always listening to vast swaths of scripture at one go, like, the whole book of Ezekiel, or all the Pauline Epistles. And then finally, the whole book of Revelation, which remarkably (and I assume you know this already because you're smarter than me) recapitulates the totality of scripture in this vast cosmic intense way like when, in The Last Battle, all the Sons and Daughters of Adam and Eve keep coming on old familiar landscapes which are, somehow, made new and rich and satisfying again. Just as there are so many pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament, the Book of Revelation is chockablock full of everything before it. Seems stupid to write it out loud when I've 'known' that before. But I saw it in a new and richer way and it was wonderful.
As I was trying to spell the word 'recapitulate' just now Matt went out to unlock the church for the men's breakfast and came in with the mail from yesterday. How is it that we didn't even have time to check our own box attached to our own house for our own mail? I don't know, I didn't have a free second yesterday except to eat a piece of cheesecake alone in the church kitchen for breakfast because I didn't have the intelligence to eat something at home before hauling all the kids and all their school work over there....where was I? Oh Yes! Matt just now plunked the mail on me which comprised a lovely Christmas card from England and a package from Nairobi by way of NJ which, when I cut it open gave up a plume of gorgeous turmeric. It smells amazing and is all settled all over everything in glorious richness. Thank you mommy! Cooking tonight will be more than usually enchanting.
Matt maligns my love of ordinary curry powder but, since I'm already wildly recommending stuff, let me just impress upon you the heavenly delight that occurs when you lather ordinary little bits of tilapia with olive oil, salt, and curry powder which you then bake at 350 for ten minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the fish, while you sauté an onion, a garlic, some green and red pepper, a handful of frozen peas and a handful of corn also liberally adorned with curry powder and then pile it all over the fish and back in the oven until the fish itself flakes white and perfect. And then your babies, who don't know any better, gather it in like the Wide Mouth Frog and also go ahead and help themselves to more of everything.
Which brings to my mind that long ago moment when my own mother, who has a brilliant way with fish, accidentally breaded fish very much like tilapia in cake crumbs instead if bread crumbs. The result was so surprising I can taste it now, as I write this, and see the expression on her face, and the horror in her eyes, at the first bite.
There's a baby up. That's too bad. She is shouting and rearranging the pillows and making a wreck of everything. I guess I'll get up and do some stuff. Amongst them continuing to pray for that poor cat, and for Jen of Conversion Diary who, though doing better, needs lots and lots of prayer.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

in it for the long haul

I'm letting the children sleep in the living room tonight. So sue me. Its still a feast day. Tomorrow, back to cracking the whip! Hardy Har Har. As if there are any real whips.

No really, back to school and stuff this week. I held forth to a friend at great length recently about how children (as in my children) ought to be really really really self sufficient and self motivated and require only tiny amounts of me telling them what to do about school. All of which she thoroughly agreed with, I guess, because she just told me that her child did her last three days of school in just such a manner. So now I guess I also will have a chance to practice what I preach. Lots of reading and writing, suckers, lots of reading and writing!

Can you tell that I'm gearing up for any possible psychological warfare they might inflict on me in the way of whining and trying to get me to do stuff for them. I'm actually not dreading it. Its high time we put all our minds to better use than lying around eating bonbons and rearranging the furniture.

I like the time between the secular New Year and Easter. The upcoming times of fasting and feasting don't bring extra craziness and expectation from the culture and the world. Any craziness that bubbles up and permeates my life comes from inside the Church Year. And that kind of craziness is pleasurable and life giving. The children gain space away from all the tinsel and expectations of Stuff and gather their energy around the Party Hats at the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper, or getting to miss Sunday School because of the Annual Meeting, or Celebrating the Last Supper on Palm Sunday altogether wedged into a tiny dark room. Their biggest concern is whether its our week to cook for Shepherd's Bowl and how many people will be there to play.

The days are dark and cold but ordinary and full and we will emerge on the other side to days that are longer and warmer, ready to be done with books and counting and writing and lists and routine. And hopefully not too too fat from all the baking.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

ringing in the new year

 Matt takes his feasting very seriously. Last night we ate a lot of fancy little food and made hats and paper stars and a paper chain and then stayed, dedicatedly, up till midnight. This effort involved first watching Brave (fine but meh, if I'm perfectly honest, not nearly as good as Tin Tin from the night before) and then running in circles while Matt cleaned the kitchen with U2 turned all the way up, and then finally a little bit of Mr. Bean before watching the ball drop and being totally grossed out by all the kissing and by Mr. Bloomberg's happy lipstick embellished face surrounded by Rockettes. The vision of Mr. Bloomberg with his sweater and his rockets seems an ominous picture for tone and tenor of this New Year, but maybe I'm just being phobic. Anyway, the party happened at all kinds of levels. Elphine dressed up and sat around prissily drinking her sparkling cider and averting her eyes when anything turned out to be weird or gross.

The baby danced and wore a crown until we'd all had enough and flung her in her bed. She sees a camera (or a phone) and immediately strikes up a terrifyingly false grin and stretches out her hands in love. She also makes funny faces, when given the chance.

Gladys and Marigold ran in circles and joined in the general merriment. The boys drank vats of the sparkling cider and hoped that the bear in Brave would eat everyone (what a disappointment).
I sat in Matt's big chair and drank champagne and enjoyed Mr. Bean most of all. I find the whole specatacle of a lot of people in Time's Square screaming with Nivea hats and waiting to be on TV very strange. And the ball dropping at midnight is so over rated. The first year I heard of it I expected a large glass ball to be hurled off a tall building and smash on the ground. This, like the reality of the Alamo, has been such a disappointment in real life. However, the children were enchanted with the possibility of staying up till midnight, so it can't have been all bad.

So now on to the food, because that's what its really all about, isn't it? Here is the seafood with red and green pepper, onion and garlic, pickled jalapeno, hot chili oil, blue cheese and a dash of sherry from my very own glass.
Matt ate most of it because I'd tasted so much of everything before hand I wasn't hungry at all. Blast it. Elphine arranged the vast array of food artistically and in a good and rightful order.
 And here are the scrambled eggs with full fat cream and cheese.

And here are the cheese and pepperoni, arranged four or five different times because of being eaten off the plate as fast as they were put on. Not really worthy of a photograph in their own right but for the triumph of, for fifteen seconds, having a full plate of cheese and pepperoni before they're being eaten off once again.

And here are the little sausages wrapped in puff pastry which go very nicely with champagne or sparkling apple cider, of which none were left at midnight. I love how quickly they puff up, how easily they are made, how fancy they appear and how salty they taste. Whereas now the children are all relatively young and small, only one packet of little sausages was sufficient. As I laboriously cut and wrapped them, I imagined my future self with six teenagers sitting for several hours cutting and wrapping sausages and having them disappear with an even greater speed than the cheese and pepperoni do now. Sob.
And here is the crowning moment of my entire married existence.......
The Cherry Puff
Matt has resisted every single dessert I have made for the whole course of our marriage. I bake and he smiles and nods and walks by it all, fit, trim, disciplined, holy. Bread, Cinnamon Rolls, Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Chocolate Trifle, Mango Cobbler, Persimmon Pudding, EVERYTHING, invented by me or even just executed very very deliciously. Until Now.
I took 15 seconds to lay down a puff pastry sheet, cover it with sour cherries left from the trifle, mix cream cheese, cherry guts and a teaspoon of sugar, mush it over the cherries and then lay over it all another sheet of pastry and he couldn't resist. Could Not. He ate a piece in the kitchen when he thought I wasn't looking and finished off everything out of the children's bowls and then put the very last piece in the fridge for later. Happy NEW YEAR!!!

And so finally we roused ourselves this morning to eat chocolate chip pancakes (well, the children did, I had a strong tea and hopped for a brighter tomorrow) and then Matt cooked a large turkey, as he is much addicted to doing, and we ate some more. And I waved my glass of Pinot around and held forth about the fact that I  had listened to the entire book of Romans this morning and discovered I was quietly hoarding some bad theology in the back of my mind but am firmly resolved to correct this faulty tendency in the new year, because, as we all know, Theology Matters.

So, A Happy New Year To You All! May God grant you many lovely things right away and may you eat of the fat of the land and sit in many comfortable chairs and be full of the knowledge of the love of God as the waters cover the sea.