07 December 2011

Teaching Music

My job as a music teacher is to tell my student what is wrong with her performance, make sure she understands how to correct it, and then send her away to drill on her own, or supervised by her parents or nanny. Later, I will see her again, and find out whether her practicing has been fruitful.

My job is NOT, contrary to the opinion of the mother of my newest student, to supervise her drilling a song for half an hour. Especially not when the student is barely seven years old, is only having a few lessons to learn ONE song to sing for a special occasion, and can already sing the song perfectly. I made a decision to cut the lesson short, even though the nanny was there and I couldn't talk to the mother. Irate mother called me later and asked why I didn't give her child the full half-hour as agreed. Because I was paid to teach her one song, and she learned it! Why punish her by making her repeat it until she hates it?

Said mother also thinks that half-hour lessons are awfully short. Not for a one-on-one lesson with a small child, they're not! When you're seven, half an hour is a really long time. I'm glad that I will not be teaching this child for long, even though I could use the money. The kid is great, but the mother...yeesh!

06 December 2011

Project Vegetable, Day 2:

Breakfast: Veggie omelette (2 servings vegetables)
Lunch: French Onion Soup (1 serving vegetables)
Dinner: Chicken stir-fry (2 servings vegetables)
Dessert: Banana, peach slices and yogurt with honey (2 servings vegetables)

I tried something new in the chicken stir-fry: beet greens. I prefer to buy golden beets rather than the purple/red kind. I know they probably lack the nutrient that gives purple beets their color, but the golden ones taste the same and don't stain my fingers. The only golden beets available here are organic, and they come with long stems and leaves. I knew the leaves had to be edible, I just...wasn't sure what to do with them. So after throwing away the leaves of two bunches of beets, I decided to cook the leaves from the third batch. I just sautéed three leaves (they're pretty big) and added them to the other vegetables. They are delicious! Fairly mild, and a bit like spinach once cooked. I followed the advice of several on-line recipes and cut out the stems and cooked them first, adding the leaves once the stems had been in for a couple of minutes.

Even my husband, who eyes all unfamiliar vegetables with suspicion, gave them a try and said he'd be happy to eat them again, as long as they were mixed in with other things. Yay! Now I don't have to feel guilty about throwing away perfectly useable greens.

I also realized that the golden beets at our grocery store are sold by the bunch, not by weight. All bunches have three beets, but the beets seriously vary in size. There are some bunches with three tiny beets and some with three huge beets. So, of course, I try to buy the huge beets.

The beets themselves are for dinner tomorrow night. They and a turnip will be roasted in the oven with some pork chops. If the pork chops are defrosted in time. *sigh* Nothing seems to defrost overnight in my fridge, and I always forget to take things out earlier. Maybe we will be having bacon and pasta tomorrow night and pork chops on Thursday.

05 December 2011

Project Vegetable

I've looked over all the diets and examined how what I eat and what my husband eats relate to each other, and also what our food budget looks like (important because sometimes healthier foods cost more--sad, but true). I've figured out that the easiest thing I can do is eat more vegetables. If I eat more vegetables, I won't be so inclined to reach for desserts. I was also kind of inspired by watching a TEDx talk by a doctor who has MS talking about her vegetable regimen and what it has done for her. I'm not, at this point, going to be able to eat 9 cups (!) of vegetables a day the way she does, but I am aiming for 5 servings of vegetables and 2 of fruit per day.

Today I had vegetable quiche for breakfast. 1 serving of veg (broccoli, squash and carrot). A large salad (2 servings) and peach slices (1 serving) with lunch. Small salad (1 serving) and broccoli (1 serving) with dinner. Peach (1 serving) and yogurt for dessert. And probably a gingerbread cookie as well.

My husband keeps teasing me because I have been eyeing Paleo Diet websites, but I know I can't give up grains and starchy vegetables entirely. I couldn't do something that radical unless he went along with me, and he won't. The day he gives up eating Nutella is probably the day he dies. But I can look at websites for other kinds of diets for hints. I am fed up with looking at a lot of low-carb diet sites because so many advocate alternative sweeteners, which I'm just not going to do. There are enough chemicals in food these days as it is without deliberately seeking them out.

So begins Project Vegetable. I'll let you know how it goes!

ETA: I didn't have peach slices and yogurt for dessert last night. I had a banana-Nutella milkshake. It was delicious.

03 December 2011

The Chant Guerrilla

Today, for the first time in a year, I helped plan the music for a Mass as well as execute it. It was a retreat day, with a visiting priest whom we know and who is fond of chant. We knew we'd never be able to get away with a chant-only Mass, but we did the best we could. We sang an actual Graduale Romanum chant, the Kyrie was chanted, the Psalm used an actual chant psalm-tone for the verses, and the Introit was a Proper text in camouflage. We waited until the last possible moment to tell anybody what the music for the Mass was going to be. We were like Gregorian guerrillas, firing off a few surprise rounds and then disappearing back into the forest. And you know what? We made a couple of hits.

Being First Saturday, we had a Votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin.

For the introit, we sang the hymnodized version from "Introit Hymns" by Christopher Tzietze. When we bought that book, I didn't think we'd ever actually use it. But here we are. I don't like a lot of the hymn tunes chosen for that book, but this particular one was set to the tune of "The Angel Gabriel Came Down," which is cute and seasonally-appropriate

Psalm was the Magnificat, in a setting from the Chabanel site (of course). The Ordinaries were from the Mass of St. Frances Cabrini, which was chosen as the setting for all diocesan liturgies, and we've been using it in our parish since September. It's one of the few things that all the parish musicians, guitar-lovers and chanty-types alike agree on: we all dislike it. Oh well. It could have been worse.

Offertory hymn was "The God Whom Earth and Sea and Sky." A nod to using the parish hymnals, but as solid a hymn as you could choose: a translation of a 7th century text, with a 17th-century melody harmonized by Bach. And although it's not a proper text, it does at least say all the same things as the Offertory options from the Common of the Blessed Virgin. Finally, for Communion, I sang the actual Graduale chant, Ecce virgo concipiet. It felt SO GOOD to sing that.

I have to share what one of the congregants said to me about the Communion chant. "It was beautiful and peaceful and so meditative to be able to receive without being expected to sing, without all the clutter of trying to prepare and also find the page in the hymnal. And if I hadn't experienced hearing the chant, I never would have realized that the other way was clutter."

You should have seen her face when I told her that the parish Liturgist didn't want me to sing that chant. Not that he voiced his displeasure to me; he took it out on the lovely lady who organized the retreat day, who didn't have anything to do with the music other than asking us to plan it. She told us about it later. I don't think the Liturgist would ever confront me. I suspect he is secretly a little afraid of me. If he weren't, he probably would have asked me long ago not to wear a veil when I am a cantor and not to kneel at Communion, or told me off when I refused to announce the hymns at a funeral because the words and music were all in the worship aids anyway. But he didn't do those things. When I said I wasn't going to announce the hymns, he just said "Ok" and scurried away. Ha!

The Liturgist is a menace. I'm not sure if he's worse than the Business Manager, but they both need to go. We're losing one of the best staff members because of their behavior, and the parish will lose three more as soon as other jobs can be found. People are refusing to pony up their pledged money for the new building project because everything has been so mismanaged. The place is falling apart, and it could be fixed so easily. The pastor could fire the Business Manager, Liturgist, and Music Director. He could hire an accountant, a part-time sacristan, and a secretary for the other two music staff and save the parish tens of thousands of dollars and a lot of grief. But he won't. He'll just watch the rest of the staff leave, and be sorry to see them go but not in a hurry to rectify the problems that are causing them to leave. He's a good priest, but an awful manager, and it's sad. He could take some lessons from his parochial vicar, a take-no-prisoners type who might run over some toes but would ultimately have a tightly-run ship that better fulfilled the spiritual needs of the parishioners. I guess they all need prayers.

I hope some of the people who heard our music today will go to the pastor, write to the music department and to the Liturgist and tell them how much they liked it, and exactly WHY it was so great.

22 November 2011

Happy Feast of St. Cecilia!

Since we're musicians around here, this is a special feast day for us. Let us do as St. Cecilia recommends, and also exemplified:

Dum aurora finem daret, Caecilia exclamavit dicens: Eja, milites Christi, abjicite opera tenebrarum et induimini arma lucis.
As dawn was fading into day, Cecilia spoke with a loud voice, saying: Arise, O soldiers of Christ, cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Cecilia, famula tua, Domine, quasi apis tibi argumentosa deservit.
O Lord, your servant Cecilia served you like a busy bee.

Aren't these lovely? We certainly lost some treasures in the new Office, including the image of the bee in that antiphon. Sad. Incidentally, can any one tell me about the word "argumentosa" here? It's being translated as "busy," but none of the dictionaries I have translate it that way. Maybe I am looking up the wrong stem?

Anyway, a bit of encouragement, brothers and sisters: this morning, arise, put on the armor of light, and be bee-busy serving the Lord!

St. Cecilia and her husband Valerian from the apse mosaic in the basilica of St. Cecilia in Rome.

16 November 2011

Que Sera, Sera

The girl who was my best friend in 7th grade has a three-year-old daughter now. As proven by a recent video, the three-year-old knows almost all the words to "Que Sera, Sera" and can actually sing them fairly tunefully. I am super impressed! Children are amazing.

I babysat three awesome little ones today so that their mother could go to her first pre-natal visit for #4. They are 6, 4 and 2. They were not acting too awesome today because they'd recently been pumped full of artificial food colors, to which they are sensitive. But mostly they were charming, especially when the oldest one sat next to me on the couch reading a book while the two little ones crawled around the floor pretending to be puppies, or when we went outside and made "snow angels" in the fallen leaves. They mostly did what I told them to do, and shared toys and didn't argue. And the oldest girl wants to have a BVM-themed birthday party--isn't that sweet?

It was a little less charming when all three decided to imitate their grandpa with his leaf blower ("bzzzzzzZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz I'm blowing leaves in your face, HAHAHAHAHAHA"). Children are amazing, but sometimes weird.

On the other hand, I'd be really tempted to do something like that if I had a real leaf blower. Maybe I'm still a kid too, at least a little bit.

13 November 2011

Neat Stuff

Check out my friend's Etsy shop PaxCarmel. She and her husband are selling beautiful knives made from railroad spikes made on a tiny forge in their backyard.

I have the coolest friends!

12 November 2011

Very Funny

A friend's comment: "We're going to learn this for our first child's wedding. We will wow everybody."
I fully support this endeavor and volunteer my services as a back-up dancer.

11 November 2011

Veteran's Day

When I think of WWI, I always think of two pictures that hung on the wall of my parents' home when I was a child. The pictures were of my mother's grandfathers, Otis and Olen, each in an Army uniform. Unfortunately I don't have copies of those pictures to share. I don't have pictures of my grandfather and grandmother in their Navy and Army Nurse uniforms. I don't have pictures of my great-uncle, or two uncles, or assorted cousins, or father-in-law in their uniforms, either. In fact, I hardly have any family photos at all. I'll inherit them eventually. In the meantime, it's just as well--I'd probably lose them.

I do, however, have access to one photo of the aforementioned Otis, which happens to have been published on the internet. Otis is the small boy in the Little Lord Fauntleroy suit. The older boy is his half-brother (his mother's son from a previous relationship, even though Genealogy.com will try to tell you they're full brothers), the baby is his sister, held by their mother. The man in the coffin is Otis's father, an Irish immigrant, dead of dysentery at 39.

It might look like Maggie is smiling here, but I assure you that her face is clearer in the original photograph and she is clearly not smiling.

I remember the first time I saw this photo in a family album. I was pretty shocked. But photos like this were not uncommon at the time--pretty much the last chance to take a family photo if you didn't already have one. The children here did not meet happy fates, alas. The older boy was a professional card player in a smoke shop, and the baby was eventually sent off to be raised by another family. Otis joined the army, and then came home and married a very pretty local girl and had a son. Otis's wife died of TB just a few years later and Otis had to send his son to be cared for by relatives, first by Maggie here pictured, and later with the boy's maternal relatives. Otis died of TB in 1933 at a VA hospital. He was 40 years old.

Otis's little boy is 91 years old now, having surpassed the combined lifespans of his father and grandfather a decade ago. He's a veteran, too--of WWII and Korea.

27 October 2011


Sorry the photo is a little blurry. I took it with my brand-new iPod Touch 4G, an early anniversary present from my husband. He thoughtfully had the back inscribed, "MVSICA LAETITIAE COMES MEDICINA DOLORVM." The previous iPod had my name and phone number on the back, but statistically it's unlikely to be returned even with that information. So we have a fun inscription this time, of the sort that's usually written on painted harpsichords and lutes. It will serve just as well to identify it if I accidentally leave it behind at airport security or something.

Anyway...breakfast! Yes, that's what I meant to talk about. This is a picture of my breakfast this morning: pumpkin oatmeal and tea. Isn't the Eeyore mug cute? It contains "O'Sullivan's Favorite" tea from a beautiful little tea shop in Raleigh. Loose-leaf tea, that I make in a proper teapot. The blue and white teapot has a built-in filter, which is quite cool. I've had the teapot for five or six years now, certainly since before I married, but I never used it much. Now I use it almost every day.

Maybe you're curious about the pumpkin oatmeal. Did you know that pumpkin is very good for you? It's high in fiber and Vitamin A, it has a little bit of protein, and it's not very high in calories if you're not putting a bunch of sugar in it to make a pie. Pumpkin oatmeal is very easy. Make your oatmeal as usual--you could probably even do this with the instant kind that you just add boiling water to--and add two tablespoons of mashed pumpkin (I use canned) per serving. Don't use canned pumpkin pie mix (nasty stuff), just plain canned pumpkin. I add raisins and dried cranberries while it is cooking, so the dried fruit plumps up in the hot water. A little brown sugar or maple syrup on top, a little milk, some walnuts or almonds if you need more protein, and it's ready. It takes about ten minutes, maybe less, if you do it on the stovetop with regular oats. I'm sure this would also be good with other kinds of grainy cereal, like that Bob's Red Mill 7 grain hot cereal, but it might be a little weird with Cream of Wheat.

A good, healthy breakfast for a beautiful fall morning.

21 October 2011


We have a parochial vicar from South America. This has been a problem for some people in the parish ever since he arrived.

"Why did they send us a hispanic priest?!" (Maybe because we have a huge hispanic community?)

"I can't understand him!" (Our sound system is lousy. Try sitting at the front of the church instead of at the very back! Also, some people can't understand your accent. Deal with it.)

"Father, are you coming to the Sodality dinner?"
"Um, I don't know. What is a Sodality?"
"And you call yourself a Catholic priest?!" (Yes, he's just not a native English speaker.)

"Why don't you go back to Mexico." (1. He's not from Mexico. 2. He'd like to go home, but he knows we need him here, because you didn't encourage your sons and nephews to think about becoming priests.)

And no, not all of these people are old. Clearly racism is still an issue here.

17 October 2011

Prayers for a Suffering Priest

If you are reading this, please stop and say a prayer for a priest who is suffering. He recently began a very difficult assignment, one that few priests in his diocese would take on willingly. I suspect that even he doesn't do it very willingly, but only because his bishop gave him no choice. He is desperate to leave this situation, already counting down the days until his one year in this assignment will be ended. In the meantime, he does the best he can, but he is depressed and discouraged.

He needs your prayers. All priests need your prayers. Remember especially those who suffer from loneliness and depression, and who are persecuted for doing good work and preaching the faith.

08 October 2011

On Glossolalia

I have several friends who have or have had involvement in the Catholic Charismatic movement. I don't care for it myself, but there is one particular feature that I don't have much patience for: the phenomenon referred to as "speaking in tongues."

Many Charismatics, both Catholic and Protestant, use the term "speaking in tongues" to refer to various noises people make that do not correspond to any human language. They may sound like yodeling, muttering, or like ordinary speech in nonsense syllables. Hardly anyone--either the speakers or others--will claim to be able to interpret these "tongues."

These tongues are presumed to correspond to the phenomenon described in 1 Corinthians 14. But is this really what St. Paul was talking about?

Let's look at what some Church Fathers have to say on the issue. St. John Chrysostom clearly equatesthe gift in 1 Corinthians 14:6 the gift to the Apostles at Pentecost; that is, the gift of speaking in human languages never before studied or spoken by the gifted person. Pope St. Leo the Great also equates the gifts described in 1 Cor. 14 with Pentecost. St. Gregory Nazianzen includes Isaiah 28:11 ("With other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people") in the same category.

Angelic tongues are sometimes mentioned, but when these are spoken, they are still expected to result in rational messages that can be interpreted.

Unintelligible messages (that is, unintelligible in content) are mentioned, and there is some discussion of utterances that cannot be interpreted. These types of utterances are to be kept private, because they are of no value to the community. Standing up in front of a crowd and talking gibberish is not encouraged.

So, if you think you are speaking in an angelic tongue, hook up with someone who has the gift of interpretation. Don't head up to the front of the church, or grab a microphone. If the interpreter can't interpret what you're saying, one of you doesn't have an authentic gift.

If, on the other hand, you suddenly start speaking Mandarin Chinese, or Xhosa, or German, without ever having studied or spoken it before, please seriously consider the possibility that the Holy Spirit is working in you, and may be equipping you for missionary work.

26 September 2011

Liturgiam Authenticam

I bought Peter Jeffery's book "Translating Tradition" over a year ago, but only gave it a cursory glance. Hyped up on caffeine last night (should have ordered decaf!), I worked through 3/4ths of the book.

I don't agree with everything he says--I agree with another reviewer who opined that Dr. Jeffery "over-interprets" the document in certain respects.

I think that the issues he has with the document are not actually with its directions for literal translation. He agrees, and I do too, that more literal translation of the liturgy into English is a good thing. The problem is with how LA talks about the history of liturgy and what that reveals about the thought processes of people who are in charge of our liturgical directives.

There is one other thing that I agree with Dr. Jeffery about. I am not going to deny that the Church has the right to change the liturgy. She absolutely does. But like Dr. Jeffery, I think that the reasons for doing so should be laid out openly and honestly. Those reasons clearly don't have much to do with actual history.

The problem isn't with the new translation. It's a good thing. But it's like putting a band-aid on a broken limb. And the brokenness of the current liturgy is really what Dr. Jeffery was getting at, although he didn't come out and say it. The idealogical problem began much earlier. Even the 1962 Missal is flawed from this perspective, though it's a lot better than the OF.

The more I read, the more extreme my views on this get. I am not a Lefebvrist, and I never will be. I will continue to attend Mass according to the Ordinary Form. The Ordinary Form is a valid liturgy. It's just very, very far from being the ideal for the Roman Rite. I would be happy if most of the 20th- and 21st-century alterations to the Mass and Divine Office were thrown out (although I do think the revision of the Holy Week liturgies was a good thing).

It gets harder, in some respects, to reconcile my scholarly life with what I see at Mass every week. Sometimes I'm good at focusing on the Lord and ignoring the deficiencies of our liturgical expression. Other times, I am angry that we are not giving our very best. I don't like to be angry at Mass. Maybe someday I won't have reason to be any more.

23 September 2011

Das ElevatorMusik or '80s Science Fiction Theme?

One of my friends pointed out the remarkable similarity between this unfortunate incident:

Opening of Berlin Papal Mass from Rocco Palmo on Vimeo.

And the theme of one of the awesomest scifi shows ever:

She's so right. And it's so wrong.

22 September 2011

Why Don't We Chant?

A dissertation that I'm currently reading for research gives a list of reasons cited by church musicians who are avoiding compliance with liturgical norms regarding music. Here are the basic points (some are paraphrased):

1. Composers believe in good faith that any musical form might be adopted in church.

2. It's easier to obtain impressive effects with small forces in "modern" styles.

3. The people like it.

4. Numbers in church would dwindle if theatrical music were suppressed.

5. Musicians think chant masses are not impressive enough.

6. Patriotism: liturgical music (both Gregorian and polyphonic) is foreign, in an "old, dead white male" way rather than an exotic way.

Do these reasons sound familiar?

Can you guess where these points originated?

William Whitehouse wrote the dissertation, and it's on the state of music leading up to the Second Vatican Council. The list he gives is a summary of points made by Pius X in his 1895 Pastoral Letter of Venice.

Pius X was a pastor. He understood. I'm sure he is disappointed in how his reform and the subsequent reforms turned out, but he's probably not surprised. 116 years later, nothing has changed.

20 September 2011

Waiting and Wondering

In the last two weeks, three of my friends have announced pregnancies. Two of them are expecting second children, and the third is expecting her fourth child. All of them married not more than eighteen months before my husband and I.

I am still waiting.

It is hard not to wonder why. It does not seem, on the surface, as though we are any less suited to parenthood than anyone else. God surely has some purpose in this. There is a reason He is making us wait. But what is the reason? What must I learn? Will my empty arms hold a child when I have learned the right lesson, or improved in some virtue? Or is this the way it will always be, just the two of us?

I wonder, and I wait.

19 September 2011

Art by Natalie Dee

I've had a cold since Thursday. Couldn't talk at all on Saturday and most of yesterday. My throat and lungs hurt so much from coughing that I half expect to start hacking up bits of lung tissue any time now.

I'm not very good at the whole "offer it up" thing. I whine a lot when I'm sick. That means I'm going to be doing a lot of whining in the next few months, because my husband's office is in an elementary school and he brings home all those kid-germs. We were sick almost every month from September to March last school year. Yay cold and flu season!

10 September 2011

We Should Have Known...

...that my husband would not get along with his boss when the man proudly showed us his Thomas Kinkade paintings. Actual painted ones, not prints. Plural.

What's so bad about that?
Simcha Fisher tells us.

And no, they aren't Kinkade's better work, they're the fantasy hack stuff.

07 September 2011


My bishop, Bishop Burbidge of Raleigh, has engaged James McCrery--yes, the one who designed the Carmelite Monastery in Wyoming--to design our new cathedral! I couldn't be more excited. This is really, really good news.

Also, Baby Thomas, mentioned in my previous post, has been released from the hospital and is doing fine.

31 August 2011

More Prayers Needed!

A nine-month-old baby named Thomas is in the hospital with some kind of infection. His parents and his three older sisters are very worried about him.

Update: Thomas has MRSA. It looks like he'll be ok, but they have to drain an infected wound, so it's still pretty scary.
Prayers for Upstate New York

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I spend time every summer in the Catskills. The Catskills were devastated by flooding following Hurricane Irene, which dumped over a foot of water on them in one day. It had already been a wet summer, and the saturated ground and high creeks and rivers just could not absorb the additional water. Flash floods raged through picturesque towns, knocking houses off their foundations, flattening crop fields, killing livestock. Fortunately very few human lives were lost, but there were a few. My little town, where my parents' house is, was spared, but nearby communities suffered chest-hight floodwater, bridges and roads washed away along with people's livelihoods.

The little towns I drive through every summer, the farm stands I frequent, museums and stores and restaurants are gone. I am waiting to hear what became of the piano museum in Hunter, which I so happily visited six weeks ago, and whether any of their half-dozen playable 19th century instruments survived. Based on the pictures of the town, I suspect they did not. I am also waiting to hear about the damage on the pretty little Catholic church in Phoenicia. I bet the rebuilt historic railroad there was washed away, too, the fruit of many years' labor by volunteers.

As so often occurs with natural disasters, the regions hardest hit were the ones that could least afford it. Very few there have flood insurance, and Greene County was already an economically depressed area. Some of those destroyed businesses will never reopen. Some of the destroyed houses will never be rebuilt or repaired.

Here are a few images of the devastation: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/08/30/us/20110830_HURRICANE-2.html

28 August 2011


I need to lose quite a bit of weight, not just for aesthetic reasons but because high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes run rampant in my family and I want to put off that scourge as long as I can. I do quite a bit of walking with the dog, and some exercises with dumbbells three or four times a week, so it's not the exercise that's a problem. It's the food.

Since I married, I've gained more than thirty pounds. I gain weight easily anyway, but cooking to please my husband's picky palate means I eat a lot more fried/breaded food, cheese, bread, cookies, milkshakes, and all those things you're only supposed to have a little of, and a lot fewer vegetables and fruits than I would if left to my own devices. I don't really have time to cook two separate meals for him and myself, and buying extra vegetables just for myself is problematic because of the cost and the waste--a lot of vegetables available here come packaged rather than loose, and it's hard for one person to eat them all and still have a variety. I can buy a package of green beans, but it means I have to eat green beans almost every night for that week.

I can't really expect my husband to change his eating habits. He sort of self-medicates for stress with junk food, a bad habit for sure, but one that is difficult to change when your job is really stressful and you don't have a lot of time or money for more positive stress-relieving outlets like exercise or going to the movies or the shooting range. If I don't cook the fried things and sweet things that he likes at home, he relieves his stress by buying them from fast-food joints and coffee shops--even more unhealthy, and definitely budget-busting. So, I'm stuck baking the cookies and frying the chicken. How can I bake cookies and not eat any?

Oh, by the way, I can't sneak in veggies or whole wheat or sweeten things with stevia instead of sugar, either. He can always tell, and will then refuse to eat them. And he won't eat cookies with dried fruit in them. There has to be chocolate.

So, I can't really change his menu at all, and I don't have time or money to cook two separate things (or brains--I'm a respectable cook, but it takes all my concentration to keep things from burning). Am I doomed to choose between fattening food and really boring food? How do other married women deal with this?


26 August 2011

I Love L'Angelus

The prayer:

And also the band:

I'm in a French (and Cajun) mode these days.

17 August 2011

If You Have a Moment...

...stop and say a prayer for the dear lady who blogs at Renidemus and her husband. They have been hoping for a child ever since they married five years ago, and are now waiting on an adoption. The legal process for the adoption is moving very slowly, court dates keep being moved back, and there is no end in sight for them. I hope that their long-awaited child will be home with them as soon as possible, and that God will comfort them in the meantime.

I understand a little bit of her pain, since I have been married almost four years myself and am not yet a mother.

16 August 2011

Well That Was Unnecessary

My husband's boss, who is ill and away receiving treatment, just sent an email update. He's doing ok, but for some reason he felt the need to sermonize as well:

We went to the Extraordinary Rite [sic] Mass at the Cathedral yesterday. As much as I love the Latin and the chant, it became painfully obvious to both of us why we had to move on to where we are today, and beyond. These poor folks obviously find the reverence and ritual nostalgic, but THEY JUST DON'T GET IT! So out of touch with the mystical body of Christ. It was a good experience for us, to help remember why we do what we do.

WHY?! Why did he have to say that? Why did they even GO? I have to say, this doesn't exactly put me in the right frame of mind to pray for his good health. Not that I wish him ill health, but I find it hard to pray when I'm angry.

So, thanks Mr. Boss, for insulting me and many of my friends, and our bishop, and lots of other people. Even if you think that, it's not very polite to just come out and say it, especially in an email sent to the whole parish staff and everyone in all the choirs.

Maybe this picture of my cousin's cute little dog will cheer me up.

Yeah, that's better.

06 July 2011

Jammy Memories

My friend Maggie makes jam. I haven't bought any yet, but it sounds awesome. Today she posted on Facebook that she was making Santa Rosa Plum Jam.

A flood of memories washed over me. When I was six years old, my family moved to Napa. The backyard was huge, 2/3 of an acre, and all uphill. Landscaping it was a real challenge for my parents, but they were up for it. They devoted a lot of time and care to that yard, making sure to plant things that would grip the hill and halt mudslides, things that weren't needy when it came to watering, things that were useful as well as beautiful. It seemed like we had miles and miles of rosemary and lavender. The pussy-willow grew bigger than any pussy-willow anybody had ever seen--I think it was ten feet tall. There were already a few cherry-plum trees growing wild, maybe leftover from some forgotten orchard, which they worked around. In the flat bit in the middle of the hill they also planted new fruit trees; an apple which didn't thrive and never really bore edible fruit, an apricot in which I once found my cat munching on the fruit, and a plum. A Santa Rosa plum. Dad was insistent that it be no other variety. His parents had a Santa Rosa plum in their yard, and he had fond memories of jam-making with his mother or just eating them right off the tree. So, a Santa Rosa plum was duly procured and planted. It thrived.

We started making jam a few years later, because otherwise the fruit just ended up squished into the bark below the tree. We only made two kinds of jam, or variations. Apricot and plum. Sometimes we mixed them. One year the apricot jam came out kind of runny, but it turned out to be the perfect topping for grilled pork tenderloin, and an awesome salad dressing additive, so it didn't matter. We were actually sorry that we could never replicate that consistency. With the plum jam, we sometimes mixed in cherry-plums from the semi-wild trees. Sometimes we mixed in strawberries, either from our own little strawberry patch or ones my grandfather brought with him, leftover from his jam-making.

I only remember my maternal grandfather making strawberry jam. As far as I know he never made any other kind, and he did it by himself--my grandmother did not participate.

In our house, though, jam-making was a whole-family experience. Mom and Dad and I all crowded into the kitchen and heated the jars and lids, separating the skins and pits from the cooked fruit, measuring the sugar, stirring the pot. Every window and both back doors would be open, the scent of blooming jasmine mixing with hot fruit. The bewildered dog and cats got underfoot, and I risked burned fingers to scrape a little of the thickening mixture out of the emptied pot and taste the red sweetness of the Santa Rosa plum jam. I always had to wear old clothes for this process, because I invariably came out sticky and stained at the end. Some things never change; I still have to wear an apron when I cook.

Maggie lived about a block away from us, and probably didn't know or care until I mentioned it on her fb today that we used to make jam from our own plum tree so close by. I think the only cooking she ever saw at our house was on a singular occasion when my dad baked cookies with her little sister (a memory for another day). But the mention of her Santa Rosa plum jam brings happy, homey memories of the "old days" in Napa.

24 June 2011

New York Descends Further Into the Pit

They've legalized same-sex "marriage." Knowing that the vote was coming, some of my friends have been much more busy on Facebook than usual, and through this I discovered that three of my college friends are lesbians. I hadn't known that, although in one case I suspected it. They didn't have girlfriends when we were in college, but they do now (two are in a relationship together). I'm not so upset by information like this about my graduate-school acquaintances. Most of them are not religious and never have been. But it really throws me for a loop when somebody that I used to go to daily Mass with stops going to church and announces on Facebook that they're engaged to be married to a same-sex partner. Please, if you could keep my friends AS, AK, AM, and AS's partner D in your prayers, I'd appreciate it. I hope that they will be open to God's Will, and return to the Church.
Ut, Re, Mi
Warning: technical music stuff ahead!

Happy feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist! Father Z reminds us that the Vespers hymn for today is Ut queant laxis from which the 11th-century Benedictine monk Guido d'Arezzo derived the now-familiar system of "solfege"--ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, or as Americans and some other English-speakers know it, "Do, re, mi." Each phrase of each verse of the hymn begins one pitch higher than the previous note. The syllables are the first syllable of each phrase of the first verse of the hymn. As Father Z mentions the seventh pitch of the scale, "si" (for some reason transformed to "ti" in English-speaking countries) is probably derived from Sancte Ioannes.

Guido used this system, along with the so-called "Guidonian hand" to teach music to choir boys. He bragged that with his system he could teach boys in a few weeks what it used to take them years to learn. The boys at a monastery or cathedral school were expected to sing with the monks for liturgical services. Although very large choir books from which many people could read at the same time did exist, monks and boys were largely expected to memorize the chants. Guido, with his new system, could teach the boys about interval relationships very quickly, and using his hand as a guide, he could "conduct" them by pointing to the part of his hand that represented the next note they were to sing. Anyone who has seen a children's (or adults'!) choir director mouthing the words at the singers has some idea of how this might work.*

The ut, re, mi system is still used in Europe and in European-style music schools in Asia, South America, and elsewhere. The often don't use the alphabetical system, ABCDEFG, that's common here in America and other English-speaking countries for referring to notes and key signatures. For instance, I bought a CD in France that says "W.A. Mozart: Messe en ut mineur." Not Mass in C minor, but in "ut" minor. Needless to say, their solfege system is "fixed"--that is, Ut=C every time. In America, we often use a "movable" solfege system, in which do is the primary note of whatever key or scale we're working with at the time. In other words, if we are in the key of C, Do=C. But in D, Do=D, in E, Do=E, etc. Where you put your do in a minor scale also depends on what method your teacher uses. In E minor, it could be that Do=E, or maybe Do=G.

Each method has its advantages. Moveable Do is, I think, very useful for beginning musicians. You learn scale degrees and how they relate to each other quickly, so that the same song transposed into a different key doesn't suddenly become a foreign thing. I think this also helps with basic chord relationships. The trouble comes when you start doing music with more complex modulations than simply major key and its relative minor. Fixed Do/Ut is much more useful for complicated music. But Americans plow ahead with Moveable Do, figuring that once you get to that complex music you probably don't need solfege much anymore.

I first encountered the Fixed Ut usage when I was in high school. A disproportionately large part of the 20th century harp repertoire is French, and a lot of it is only available from French publishers. The pedals on the pedal harp, to refresh your memory, are not like the pedals on a piano. They are for tightening and loosening the strings, which changes the pitch of the strings, whether natural, sharp, or flat. So there are seven pedals--one for each note of the scale--and one pedal operates the mechanism for all of the A strings, one for all the C strings, and so on. So, put the pedal in its lowest position, and all the C strings become C-sharp, put a different pedal in its highest position and all the B strings become B-flat, and a third pedal in the middle position and all the F strings will be F-natural.

For some music you can set all your pedals at the beginning and not worry about it, but in other pieces you have to change in the middle because there are accidentals. Sometimes, kind editors will put indications in for where to change the pedals (otherwise you have to write them in yourself). In American music, you'll see, for example, a big "C#" written under the staff, telling you to put the C pedal in the lowest position. But in French music, the same indication will be written "Ut#." I was mystified at first, but now that I am aware of the thousand-year history of solfege, I am tickled every time I see "Ut" written in my music.

So hopefully now you know more about harps and solfege than you already did, or probably ever wanted to know. Happy name day to any Johns or Joannas out there!

*I have actually sung using Guido's method, in a music history class. One of my professors is very hands-on, so to speak, and thinks that the medieval and early-Renaissance methods of teaching are still very useful for teaching the music of those periods, if you want the most period-accurate performance.

21 June 2011

Prayer Request

Please keep this baby boy and his mom and dad in your prayers. He was born prematurely on June 18th. He weighs just 2.1 lbs. The good news is that he is breathing on his own.

Poor little fellow doesn't have a name yet--his mom and dad thought they had almost three more months to think of one.

Update: The baby's name is Bennett!
Belmont Abbey, Again

Well, I may have criticized them for their church interior re-design, but here is something I can completely get behind:

College Maternity Center is a First

I'm also glad to see that the Knights of Columbus of North Carolina have contributed to the project. So proud my husband is one of them!

Catholic colleges, particularly the larger ones, I hope you're taking notes. Non-Catholic colleges, too. Projects like these save the lives of babies and help break cycles of poverty by making it possible for women finish their college degrees. Hopefully there is a childcare center on campus as well.

20 June 2011

Father Corapi

All I have to say about it is, look at the date for this:

The Black-Sheep Dog brand information

Mantilla tip to my friend Barbara for this information.

16 June 2011

Bishop Burbidge

My bishop is in Rome for the Catholic/Pentecostal dialogue and he's Tweeting about it! With pictures! I really like that he uses his coat of arms as his profile picture. We love our bishop!

15 June 2011

{pretty, happy, funny, real}
Little Dog Edition

{pretty} This is Brody, dog of many nicknames.

Sometimes we address him as "Cockapoo," which is what we were told he is. We think he has some terrier in him too, though. He has some big troubles for such a small dog, both epilepsy and behavioral issues. From this comes other nicknames, including Mr. Grumpypants and Dr. Teeth. But he is often affectionate and playful, and so darn cute. That curly hair and those big brown eyes make it a lot easier to deal with the bad days. It does, unfortunately, make strangers want to come up and pet him, though. Dog rule #1: always ask if it's ok to pet the dog, and don't start bending down and wiggling your fingers before you hear the answer! I totally understand the temptation. He is adorable. Even I have a hard time not petting him when he is in Mr. Grumpypants mode.

{happy] Brody LOVES toys. And being indulgent pet owners who have no children to spoil, we sort of spoil him with toys. It doesn't stop him from shredding tissues or stealing socks, but it generally does help hold his attention away from the furniture and shoes. He is a happy dog when playing with Little Red, or Turkey, or Rabbit, or an empty water bottle, or that purple puzzle toy where he has to spin the top part to get it loose enough to stick his tongue inside for peanut butter, or keep flipping it over so it dispenses kibbles. That's the one I use to distract him while I'm cooking. Training him not to jump at the counter top didn't work so well, but a food-dispensing puzzle keeps him well occupied and VERY happy. If my camera did movies I'd show you the wagging tail.

{funny} The first picture is Brody in the music room. He hangs out on the rugs in there while I practice. After I practice, he wants attention. Stop playing the piano and pay attention to me! Rub my tummy! He loves tummy rubs. For several months he would not let my husband rub his tummy, though. I think he felt too exposed. Now he sometimes allows it. It's a good sign that his trust is growing. He looks pretty funny when he rolls over on his back, though, because as you can see the hair on his chest and belly is kind of sparse. He is not fun at every minute of the day, but for at least one minute every day he makes me laugh.

{real} Excuse the view of the bathroom, but I guess that's pretty real, right? Brody has some separation anxiety issues, to the point where he wants to follow me into the bathroom. He's ok with me being in a different room, but not if I close the door or even the shower curtain! He has even tried to get in the shower with me.
One time I replaced the dirty towels in the bathroom right before I was going to shower. I left the dirty towels on the floor, intending to take them to the laundry room after I got dressed. The dog didn't scratch at the door! Instead, when I opened the bathroom door after my shower, there was Brody happily curled up in the pile of towels. We've reduced the pile to one hand towel, now, but this how I find him whenever I come out of the bathroom--patiently waiting for me rather than freaking out. It's a bit odd, but it's a really simple solution and now I won't have to repaint the bathroom door anymore, so who cares?

round button chicken

11 June 2011

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Church Architecture

I was browsing around looking at lists of colleges here in North Carolina today, and I came across before and after pictures of the Abbey Basilica of Mary Help of Christians (Belmont Abbey College was founded by the same Benedictine monastery).

Why do we allow this butchery of historic buildings? This church building was the first cathedral in North Carolina, before the Diocese of Raleigh was created, and remained a cathedral until the Diocese of Charlotte took over its territory. This is a really significant building, not just any old parish church. Who decided that it was ok to do this to its interior? As if I needed to see more examples of ecclesiastical interior design heavily influenced by Original Series Star Trek sets, besides my current parish, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in Spokane, and a few others. I've posted pictures of Lourdes Cathedral before, and won't do it again. The carpet makes me feel ill. Here's the best I could find of my current digs:

At least in defense of my current parish, the building was built in the '50s and was ugly already, so the '70s renovation didn't ruin much. The Spokane Cathedral is of an age with the Abbey, late 19th-century, and used to be beautiful inside. The exterior has the superficial similarities of being red brick buildings with two towers.

The Abbey Basilica's towers are of different sizes, though.

This may be one of the rare instances of the Jesuits doing something better than the Benedictines. Take the case of St. Aloysius, the church that serves the Jesuits and students of Gonzaga University; it's a parish church of the diocese of Spokane, but always staffed by Jesuits and is in the middle of campus. The interior was renovated, and there are elements of the renovation that could be better (I wish they'd kept the altar rail, for instance), but they certainly didn't ruin the church. It wouldn't be too hard to put St. Al's back the way it was.

04 June 2011

Read This Blog

Not my blog, Appian's blog. He's a very cool guy. His post from 29 May reads like Chesterton, if Chesterton were less enamored of his own one-liners. I can hardly believe that someone can be as smart as this and not older than me. It makes me feel slightly old, actually. But he's brilliant, so go read.

ETA: Link fixed.

02 June 2011

Yesterday's Lunch

Cold leftover salmon, orzo tossed with olive oil and rice vinegar, lettuce. Garnished with feta and basil. The basil is the first harvest from our own vegetable-growing attempts. The feta acted almost like salt, as a flavoring rather than an independent element of the dish.

We've found ourselves eating out a lot lately--aka wasting money--because I either had nothing planned for lunch or what was available was boring for DH. He's a bit picky, and isn't keen on leftovers, which often lose something in texture. I'm trying to do better, both in the organization and imagination departments, and I think we could hardly do better than salmon salad!

31 May 2011


I observed this exchange in my Facebook feed today (names redacted):

Proud Dad: Little Girl: "I'm baptizing him (pointing to a stuffed animal). "He's not a little heathen anymore."

Friend Dad: Little Boy is still available for early betrothal if Little Girl doesn't end up at a convent.

Proud Dad: I might be able to scrounge together some used books as a dowry.

Friend Dad: That should be sufficient.

I am so pleased to know people like this!

27 May 2011

On Forgiveness

I am proud to call Rosario Rodriguez my friend. She is an amazing, beautiful, strong woman who has been through a lot, especially in these last couple of years. Rosario was our neighbor in L.A., and we regularly gave her rides to church, and sometimes my husband gave her a ride to work. She was part of the little group of us who sometimes had dinner together after Mass. One day we gave her a ride to a friend's house less than a mile from our own place, where she was going to house-sit. She went out again later that night to run an errand. The next day we got a terrible, shocking text message from a mutual acquaintance--"Rosario was shot last night"--and went to see Rose in the hospital.

She looked so small and fragile, almost childlike in that hospital bed. She has come a long way since then, but don't believe those cop shows where someone gets shot and shows up back at work a couple of weeks later. Rose is still not 100%, a year and a half later.

Here is Rosario, talking about forgiveness, and the consequences of not forgiving:

26 May 2011

St. Philip Neri

When I was a sophomore in high school, my parents asked me to abandon my beloved little classical Catholic prep school in favor of the big Catholic high school in town, for a period of one year, basically to see if I could hack it. They weren't sure about how the little school's academic standards would compare. As it turned out, they needn't have worried--I did very well, and was actually quite bored in English class. The biology and French classes were good and useful (I couldn't have had that at little Trinity), and I also learned a lot of non-academic things that I sort of wish I hadn't learned until college, if ever. It wasn't a fun year, and I was thrilled to return to Trinity the next fall.

One oasis in that purgatory was study hall. I had a free period twice a week in the spring semester which I spent in the library under the watchful eye of an elderly Christian Brother whose name I don't remember. He was probably 80 years old and apparently had something wrong with his throat, perhaps emphysema, because he coughed a lot and could hardly speak above a whisper. He was suspicious of the students generally, and I was no different, at first. That was until he noticed that I always sat at the table near the shelf with saints' biographies, so I could read them without checking them out and hauling them home in my already over-stuffed backpack.

One day he pointed out a biography of St. Philip Neri. "Try this one," he whispered. I did. I was enchanted. If I hadn't already been reading The Interior Castle and decided that my confirmation name would be Teresa, I might have taken the name Philippa. I wouldn't say that I developed a great devotion to St. Philip Neri, but I still get a warm, happy feeling whenever I think of him. It pleased me greatly to encounter his name when I was studying 16th century polyphony of the Roman School.

Reading about St. Philip Neri again today, I see that he is the patron saint of the U.S. Special Forces. In previous years this would not have meant much to me, but now I live not far from Fort Bragg, which is home to a Special Forces group. There are a number of current and former Special Forces officers who attend our parish. May God bless them through the intercession of St. Philip Neri, and all others who are under his patronage.

03 May 2011

Aquaponic Adventure

Have you ever heard of aquaponics? It's a food-growing system that combines hydroponics with aquaculture (fish farming). The problems with hydroponics and aquaculture are that you have to constantly add nutrients to a hydroponic system, and remove waste products from aquaculture systems. Aquaponics, however, is a closed system: the waste from the fish provides nutrients to the plants, and the plants filter the water to send back to the fish. You do have to make slight pH adjustments and top up the water, but that is pretty much all the maintenance that needs to be done once the system is up and running.

We've started building a small aquaponic set-up in our garage. We mounted the frames from which we'll hang the grow lights this morning. A couple of weeks ago, our re-purposed food-grade barrels arrived, and we cut the top off the barrel that will hold the fish, and cut the other barrel in half to make two grow beds. This is a common first aquaponic set-up, and when we have a frame built for the barrels it will look something like this. For fish, we will start with inexpensive goldfish. That way, we won't be heartbroken if things go wrong and the fish die. Once we have things going, we will introduce an edible fish like tilapia or another variety of perch. These fish are omnivorous, so they'll eat trimmings from the plants as well as fish food, and they are tolerant of the water temperatures we'll be able to achieve without a heater or very deep water (unlike trout, that require colder water). They also grow to eating size in about six months!

But when we get the plumbing together, we'll just have goldfish. They'll feed the veggies well enough. There are two ways to grow the veggies--on floating rafts, which requires the solids to be filtered out of the water, or in grow media like gravel or clay balls. We'll be using grow media, so we don't need a filter.

There are all kinds of extensions to the system that people have posited, if you want a more comprehensive food-growing operation. One that was proposed in a recent, interesting TED talk by Charlie Price of Aquaponics UK posited a system that included chickens and two sets of worms or grubs. One set of worms is fed to the chickens. Chicken waste is fed to the second set of worms. The second set of worms are fed to the fish. Fish waste feeds the plants, and waste from the plants (old plants that are no longer fruiting) are fed to the first set of worms. So now you get eggs and meat as well as fish, fruits, and vegetables. If you could work in a goat or two you'd have a farm and all food groups represented.

The main advantage of aquaponics over traditional vegetable gardens is growth rate, fruit production, and in an indoor system, protection from insects. We planted our lettuce, tomatoes, basil, carrots, beets, chives and parsley outside weeks ago. They are still tiny little sprouts, and many of them died because the weather has been unfavorable (high winds and alternating heat with torrential rains). We also have an infestation of strange little white ant-like insects who are eating the peat pellets that we started the seeds in, and damaging the seedlings' roots in the process. This won't be a problem in the aquaponics system. We'll probably have to deal with fruit flies, but that's easy to handle. Aquaponically grown plants grow faster than traditionally farmed produce, as well. The grow lights help with that. Check out the pace of growth in this aquaponics system: comparison pictures. The tomato plants that I started indoors in February and transplanted into pots rather than into the outdoor beds have taken twice as long to get that big.

So, here we go! Fresh veggies in another couple of months.

25 April 2011

"Dad may try to ruin your style..."

Has anyone seen the new Tide commercial with the white mini-skirt?

In the commercial, Dad, who is fixing a rusty gate, spies a white mini skirt hanging on the clothesline. He takes it down and uses it to wipe his rust-covered hands, dropping it into the hamper inside the house. Teenage Daughter comes along and digs out the skirt, is appalled to see its condition, and takes it to Mom. Mom knows what to do--Tide will get the stains out. Mom also clearly knows that it's Dad's fault the skirt is stained. Daughter parades through the house in her white miniskirt and Dad is appalled that his ploy has not worked.

Leaving aside the unrealism of Dad actually putting the skirt in the hamper (apologies to any men out there who are tidier than the ones in my life), this commercial ought to be a shocking portrayal of the disintegration of family life, albeit not a surprising one. Dad apparently cannot just have a discussion with Mom about Daughter's immodest attire, and agree that the mini skirt should go by the wayside. He has to take an underhanded approach. This would never have happened in the house where I grew up. First of all, a natural sense of modesty was inculcated from an early age--I would not have worn a skirt that short, even if my mother allowed me to own one. Second, Mom and Dad would have discussed something, and my Dad would not have had to sneakily plot to get rid of an objectionable piece of attire.

I suppose it's meant to be a lighthearted look at fathers who don't want their daughters to grow up too fast. But it's right for fathers not to want their daughters to dress like tramps, and the daughters and their mothers shouldn't want it either.

22 April 2011

Baking Disasters

I thought that I would be very clever and bake pretzels for our fasting "snacks." I've never made pretzels before, but I looked through several similar recipes and it seemed easy enough. I am a novice bread baker, but I have done a bit of bread-baking before and am starting to get the hang of dough textures, etc. So, I thought I could handle this. The recipes promised beautiful pretzels like in the picture above, like the kind you'd buy at a mall pretzel stand, or, more familiar to me, at a German music and beer festival.

Perhaps my mistake was improvising slightly. The uncooked pretzels are supposed to be dragged through a bath of baking soda and warm water, which kick-starts the chemical reaction that gives them that beautiful brown, soft crust. The recipe I used called for just a warm water bath, but more traditional recipes use slightly boiling water (really traditional recipes call for lye instead of baking soda, but I don't trust myself around strong chemicals; the last time I used oven cleaner I burned my arm quite badly--twice--so if I were to use lye in an edible application I'd probably inadvertently poison us both, if I didn't burn through the skin on both my arms first). So I used simmering, slightly boiling water with the baking soda. I don't know whether I left them in the bath too long or not long enough, or whether I should have used an oiled instead of a floured surface to roll them out, or whether I miscalculated regarding the consistency of the dough (it was sticky, hence needing to flour my hands and the board I rolled them on). They came out looking like this:

Vaguely pretzel-like, but hideous. Ignore my lack of dough-twisting skill (that especially deformed one was fine until it was in the water bath, but it came untwisted)--that's not the real issue here. They are lumpy all over and not smooth. They are slightly brown in some places, but mostly not. I promise I did cook them long enough--they're the right texture both inside and out, they're just ugly. My husband really likes them, but to me they taste awful, like they've been dusted with baking soda instead of sea salt. Oddly enough, the taste exactly reminds me of a bad batch of waffle batter I made a couple of weeks ago, when I tried a new recipe that called for a teaspoon of vinegar (note: add the vinegar to the milk to sour it and make it like buttermilk, do not add directly to the batter). So, husband will eat another one or two later in the day, and the rest I'll put in baggies for him for the rest of the weekend. I guess I'll have to stick to the store-bought bread for my own needs today. Clearly I need a lot more practice at bread baking.

Do any bakers out there have an idea of what I've done wrong? Should I just forget about the baking soda bath and use an egg wash to make them brown? Should I use both? Was it wrong that the dough was sticky--insufficient flour? I'm sure there's more than one place where I took a wrong turn. I'd like to try making pretzels again, but I'd like to make ones that look pretty and taste nice!

21 April 2011

Maundy Thursday Madness

My husband was at the walk-through for the Triduum services this morning. Apparently, there will be foot-washing of both men and women tonight, in defiance of the rubrics. My husband was asked if he thought I'd like to participate and have my feet washed. He demurred on my behalf. He sent me this text message:

"Hope you don't mind that I opted you out of the foot-washing. A pretty thing such as yourself shouldn't be mistaken for viri selecti."

(Apparently he gave a version of this comment to the people who had asked him. They did not find it quite as amusing as I and the parochial vicar did. I hope he doesn't get in trouble!)

15 April 2011

Pink Slip
For TR

A letter to announce a sudden end:
They could not bear to tell you face-to-face.
A note was all they could endure to send.

Eighteen years of service to this place.
“Stop filling young minds with worthy thoughts,”
They could not bear to tell you face-to-face.

In a different time, we’d go call out those snots.
We suppose that you’ll go elsewhere. Now,
Stop filling young minds with worthy thoughts,

It’s time to pack up. We can’t tell you how
It saddens us to see things end this way.
We suppose that you’ll go elsewhere, now.

It sounds as brass on our ears to hear them say,
“It saddens us to see things end this way.”
A letter to announce a sudden end:
A note was all they could endure to send.

14 April 2011


Jeffery Tucker has posted a Faculty Profile of Edward Schaefer for the Sacred Music Colloquium over at the Chant Café. This makes me happy and kind of annoyed at the same time. Ever since the New Liturgical Movement blog got going, I've been trying to tell them about how awesome Dr. Schaefer (or Rev. Mr. Schaefer, if you prefer) is. He was my mentor, and Lizzy's too, and neither of us would be where we are today without him. My whole life as a musician, as a student, and as a Catholic would be quite different--and much worse--without the things he has taught me.

I and my husband have pointed out Dr. Schaefer's admirable work in the NLM comboxes numerous times, only to be ignored or told that his work was not as admirable as we believed it to be. Once upon a time, I emailed Shaun Tribe and asked him to put up a notice on NLM advertising one of Dr. Schaefer's workshops, and was refused, because, "We don't advertise for people we don't know." Well, the tiniest bit of investigation would have presented all the knowledge necessary. A year later they were happy to put up notices for one of his workshops, and even to post a report that I wrote about the workshop. Still, only about a year ago did I finally see Mr. Tucker and his cronies begin to acknowledge that Dr. Schaefer's work was important. Now, here they are, praising him to the skies. I wonder if in private they are eating their earlier words, or if they even remember a little, insignificant combox inhabitant's staunch advocacy of Dr. Schaefer's scholarship and skills.

So, I am really, really happy that Dr. Schaefer is getting more recognition for his work. He is a brilliant, humble, kind, devout, amazing man, and a wonderful musician and teacher. He deserves recognition. I'm just very annoyed that it's taken so long; that not only Gonzaga but also fellow inhabitants of the small sacred music world downplayed his accomplishments and virtually ignored him for years.

Maybe I'm just especially sensitive this week, because of what happened to my high school mentor, being fired from the school he has worked tirelessly for these last eighteen years. And what is continually happening to my husband, the put-downs he suffers at work (have I mentioned that his boss occasionally addresses him as "Boy"? or that the boss has ignored my husband's suggestions about the new church organ and wants a pressure-sensitive keyboard on the new digital monstrosity?). Why is it that people I admire are not--or have to wait years and years to be--admired by people who have the power to put them in the limelight?

12 April 2011


Image: Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives by Frederick Edwin Church, 1870.

Holy Week draws near. I am not at peace, for many reasons. My dissertation is not progressing at the rate I'd like, and I blame my own laziness. The house is not clean. My husband's boss is ill, and the prognosis and potential treatments seem to change every week, so that we do not know if he will retire or stay on, if he will take medical leave or not, if my husband will have any opportunity for a much-needed vacation this summer if the boss cannot be at work. The dog is...well, the dog. His epilepsy is under control, but the twice-yearly blood tests that accompany the medication are not cheap, and he continues to flip-flop between being cutely affectionate and testing the limits of our tolerance.

A few weeks ago, I found out that the former pastor of the parish I grew up in had died. He heard my First Confession and gave me my First Communion, Confirmed me (a story for another day), received my father into the Church and convalidated my parents' marriage. So, he would have been an important person in my life even if I didn't like him. I did, as it happens, like him. He was not a very good preacher, he didn't give acute spiritual advice, and he wasn't a good business manager. He was humble and kind.

He left our parish under rather mysterious circumstances, about 10 years ago. There were some accusations that he'd had an affair with an unmarried woman near his own age. It's sad, perhaps, that the news of the exact nature of the accusations, after having heard rumors of misconduct, was almost a relief. There had been a horrible scandal about eighteen months before which involved our bishop, our parochial vicar, a couple of teenage boys, and a lot of embezzled funds. So perhaps you can understand why an affair with an adult woman seemed so normal and tame. Nevertheless, probably because our diocesan shame was so recent, Father was spirited away, literally removed in the night, and we never saw him again. Newspaper coverage abruptly stopped, and all we were told was that he'd gone home to the place where he grew up. Never whether he was guilty or not, or what happened to him. This ate at me for a long time. Thankfully, I discovered that I know a priest in the diocese where my former pastor died, and he was able to fill in some blanks for me, and give me a little peace.

Now, tonight, I find news via Facebook that my high school mentor, my favorite teacher, will not have his contract renewed at my alma mater. He is to be let go at the end of the term. No one has said why, only that it is not, as some speculated, for budgetary reasons (he is the most senior teacher, and thus the highest paid, hence the speculation). A cold little fear gnaws at my heart, a fear that I may not ever know why this decision was made. A fear that they have no reason, or a fear that they do have reason? I can't imagine that they have a real reason, although they may have imagined one. But it scares me a little. My college mentor quit his job the year after I graduated, largely because of institutional politics. O halcyon days, when I dreamed of sending my children to the same schools I attended! There's no reason to, now, since they will soon not be the schools I remember.

02 April 2011


Yesterday, I volunteered to cantor for Stations of the Cross. We usually have an opening and a closing hymn, for which the cantor sings into the microphone, and then, not using the microphone, the cantor gets everyone started for each verse of the "Stabat Mater" so we're all singing in the same key. It's all a cappella, and no big deal, musically. It was also my first experience of official, parish Stations of the Cross in several years.

I had forgotten about the Stations of the Cross calisthenics. Genuflect, stand, kneel, stand, repeat fourteen times. Not such a big deal if you're in a pew with a kneeler, but it is if you're the priest who's kneeling on bare marble (and Monsignor is not young), or a cantor kneeling on the hard, industrial carpet in the sanctuary. My legs were already sore from sitting in a weird position earlier in the day, and by the end I was actually in a great deal of pain. I thought about how much pain Monsignor might be in, and wondered if he'd ever considered dragging a pillow along to kneel on. I thought, maybe he prefers to perform the mortification of kneeling on the floor, and offer up the pain. I thought, I'd prefer not to perform that particular mortification--but is it really a mortification if you don't have a choice of whether to use a kneeler or kneel directly on the floor?

Upon reflection, I realized that hardly ever in my life have I been given that option. Most Roman Catholics, I think, don't give a second thought to dropping the kneeler in their pew and putting their knees on it. But I am a choir loft rat. My parish church as a kid did not have kneelers in the choir section. My school, where I attended daily Mass for years, rented its property from a Baptist church and used their chapel, which had no kneelers. The cantor standing at the front of the church, a position I have often assumed, doesn't usually have a kneeler. The choir at my college chapel where the Schola sang had no kneelers. The lofts at St. Paul's, St. Victor's, St. Catherine's, and my current parish have no kneelers.

So basically, the only time I've used a kneeler is when I was a kid too young to sing in the choir, or on vacation, or sometimes at daily Masses in a normal parish at which I am not singing. This is a comparatively small percentage of the Masses I have attended in my life.

Our parish is in the process of raising funds for a new building. We have the money to build the structure, and are now raising money for the interior furnishings. I think I will ask whether the new choir section can pretty please have those chairs with kneelers attached to the back, and enough space between the chairs to actually let them down. I doubt that my years as an Irish dancer have done my knees any favors, and although at 26 years old I am still fairly young, I still feel like I'm getting a bit old for kneeling on the bare ground, just as my relatives kindly informed me a couple of years ago that I was too old to be expected to give up my bed and sleep on the floor for the sake of holiday guests.

I might still kneel on the floor occasionally as a penance, but I'm awfully tired of not having the option of padded kneeler.

28 March 2011


The chinese fringe bushes are not quite as spectacular as they were, but the dogwood is now in full bloom. It's almost funny how much it looks like it did a few months ago, when it was covered in snow. Also, the ground cover in the flower bed near the patio has sprouted beautiful purplish-blue flowers.

The backyard azaleas are not quite blooming, but the ones in the front yard are spectacular. We didn't know what colors we had until a couple of weeks ago. Most of them are white, to my disappointment, but by the front door there are some pink and purple ones. Unfortunately, the bushes in the front are weedy and uneven in size after several years of neglect. As soon as they stop blooming I'll attack them with my shears and force them into conformity.

27 March 2011


When flowers start to bloom and the weather warms, most girls of my acquaintance start thinking about spring and summer clothes. Lightweight skirts and dresses, sandals, a cute hat or two to keep that delicate complexion from too much sun. Those of you who tan nicely, rather than just turn unsightly shades of pink and mottled red, can keep that to yourselves, by the way.

I probably won't be buying many new things this spring. I bought plenty of new clothes last year--mostly fancy things, anticipating job interviews and a job that never came--and wonder of wonders, even after eating my own cooking for a year they all still fit me. Even with budgetary considerations, and space "constraints" (I've already kicked my husband's clothes into one of the hall closets, though to be fair I let him put both the long gun and handgun safes in my closet), I can still ogle the pretties. If I had all the money in the world and a genuine need for new clothes, here are some things that might be on my list:


Floral-embroidered linen dress

Sailor-inspired collar and birdcages on the hem!

Sash-front layered skirt


Ribbon-trim straw sunhat

Button-front vest

L.L. Bean:

Mountain Laurel Sport Sandals. Not so glamorous, I know, but pretty enough and practical: I spend a lot of my springs and summers walking on uneven surfaces like gravelly festival parking lots, dirt trails, and grassy fields, through which I am often running in pursuit of an escaped dog. Practical and comfortable are important.

Washable linen skirt--one in every color, please!

Rain bucket hat, because unlike Washington and California, it rains on the East Coast during the summer.

Coldwater Creek:

Crinkle flare skirt

Print-detail cloche

All pretty, and pretty modest. What clothes do you love for spring and summer?