Monday, December 24, 2007

Vegetables and Labor Pains

I thought you might appreciate a pic of my Nativity set. Sorry the pic is a bit washed out. As you can see Jesus is a french pea, Mary is a Carrot, Joseph is Asparagus, I have a Cucumber Wise Man and a Tomato Shepherd!

Working for a Church at this time of year means you get to think a lot about the Nativity Story. There's something that I've noticed in our various retellings of it. Every Nativity Service I've ever seen jump from a travel weary Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary being shown the stable, to a wonderfully cute image of Mary and Joseph staring lovingly down at the heavily swaddled baby Jesus.

There is a scene missing.

Very rarely do we ever see Mary giving birth. We may see a few labor pangs if the actress playing Mary is up to it, but Church productions of the Nativity Story never have a birth scene.

There again neither does the Gospels. Matthew just has the phrase '...she gave birth to a son'. Luke - has a little bit of 'in utero' movement when Mary meets Elizabeth. But once again the only phrase about the birth is '...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son'. (Interesting thought: Why did Luke think it important to tell us that she had a son - we already know that from Mary's encounter with Gabriel - surely there wasn't any doubt in the matter!)

Mark and John say absolutely nothing.

So, what did happen? Do we imagine a midwife present or did Joseph deliver the baby? I can't imagine he was much help, he was only a teenager himself and I'm sure he wasn't up-to-date on Lamaze or The Bradley Method. Would he have known about the Placenta? Would he have known how to cut and tie the umbilical cord? When I stop and think, I realize it must have been a terrifying scene. No Doctors, no Epidural, and a real possibility that Jesus could not be born at all if their were any complications.

I think we skip over the scene because we are desperate for the Christmas Card image - I don't think I've ever scene a card with blood stained straw, a very exhausted sweaty Mary and a Placenta thrown off in one corner. The very suggestion of it is shocking - believe me, I almost edited out that sentence numerous times, esp after seeing a picture of a Placenta on Wikipedia.

Christmas is messy.

We tell the Christmas story and try to generate warm fuzzies about peace on earth and goodwill to all people. We tell ourselves '...tis the season to be jolly', but for many of us it isn't. Christmas never lives up to it's portrayal, it has grown larger than life. The Mythic has consumed The Real.
We use the fantasy of Christmas to block out the realities of life. Hunger, Starvation, Injustice, Poverty, Oppression.

Fortunately Reality has a way of breaking through.

God born into abject poverty in a third world town. God could not 'sink any lower' if He wanted too. The ugly reality and misery is a telling of hope. Hope that is born in the dangerous pain of Childbirth. Hope that is born in abandonment, in homelessness, in poverty. Hope born to an Oppressed People reeling under the weight of Injustice.

This is a tough Christmas for me. I put on the sweater that mum knitted me today and had a little cry before I left for the office. But no matter how loudly the pains of the world scream, there is a tiny silent night, that swallows up the worlds misery and transforms it to Peace.

Longfellow's Carol
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And mild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

In a few hours the Chancel Choir wil be singing a choir anthem of mine with a full String Orchestra accompanying them. It's been a lot of work as I haven't orchestrated anything since 1994. And it's also an honor to have piece of mine in the Christmas Eve service. It is a new setting of the text of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' which you can listen too here. I've always loved the last verse of this carol:

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

The presence of God being born in us is messy, it's as messy as any other birth, full of unexpected complications, difficulties and labor pains. That's what makes it real. The pain of the world may scream, but the angels are still singing.

Merry Christmas.

Flashback to 1957

Every year the Queen gives a Christmas Day message to the people. In 1957 it was broadcast on T.V. as well as radio for the first can watch it here

Somehow her message is still relevant.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Remembering the dead....with a mop.

Today would have been my mum's 83rd birthday had she not passed away this summer. This coming Wednesday will mark the 6 month anniversary of her death. All this combined with Christmas and the ongoing grieving of my dad's death means I have a lot of emotions flopping around.

I wanted to do something to honor mum's birthday today, so I took up my mop.

I hate cleaning, I hate cleaning with a searing white hot passion. I can push the vacuum cleaner around, and I will happily clean up the kitchen so I can bake, but there is something about the combination of buckets of water, bleach and a mop that sends shudders through my spine.

So today, I 'swiffered' my floors, then I mopped them and finally I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed each tile.

And with each wipe I remembered Mum.

I didn't remember her because she loved cleaning. I don't think there are many people in this world who would list 'Cleaning' as a hobby. I did it because of a lesson Mum taught me through the way she lived.

The energy used complaining about and avoiding a task is usually far more than the energy expended completing the task.

As a child I could quite happily waste hours complaining about being asked to tidy my room. I would rail about the injustice about how if it was my space I should be able to keep it just how I liked. Invariably the actual task of tidying would take far less time to do than I anticipated. It frequently surprises me how quickly I tidy up when I finally set my mind to it.

Mum didn't like to clean - but she kept a clean house.
Mum didn't like to cook - but she did, nearly every day.

Mum did what she had to do without visible moaning or complaint. She did the tasks quickly and efficiently so she could get back to her love - her garden.

And so, today, I stopped complaining and picked up my bleach. I stopped avoiding and started scrubbing. Now on my Mother's 'Scale of Clean' I'm sure the Bathroom Floor only moved from 'Unfit for Human Habitation' to 'In Need of A Really Good Scrub'. I can live with that. It's the Attitude behind the Action that is important here.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux said "Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love."

So to honor Mum's memory I mopped the floor- and by doing so I scattered some flowers in the garden she loved.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Strange Happenings in the Workplace.

1. "Employee eats 32 vending machine items for charity"
A juvenile probation officer ate one of every item in a county courthouse vending machine in one day. She consumed more than 7,000 calories and more than 300 grams of fat, eating such items as beef sticks, candy bars, Pop Tarts and potato chips -- all to win a bet with co-workers and raise $300 for charity.

2. "Cola wars get physical as Pepsi worker attacks Coke employee"
Two employees from the rival companies got into a tiff over shelf space in the aisle of a Wal-Mart in Indiana. The Pepsi worker allegedly assaulted the Coca-Cola employee, hitting him in the face, giving him a black eye and breaking his nose. Police say the two were also accused of trying to run each other over with pallets full of soda bottles.

3. "Alleged robber asks victim out for date"
After two men robbed a Domino's Pizza delivery woman, one of them called the victim from his cell phone to apologize -- and to ask her out.

4. "Four women fired for gossiping"
Four women employed in a small New Hampshire town were fired for gossiping about a relationship between the town administrator and a fellow co-worker. They were fired on the basis that "gossip, whispering and an unfriendly environment are causing poor morale and interfering with the efficient performance of town business."

5. "Eau de Lawsuit: Woman sues over scent"
An employee in the Detroit planning department sued the city, saying a female co-worker's strong fragrance prohibited her from working. The woman claimed she is severely sensitive to perfumes and her co-worker not only wore a strong scent, but also plugged in a scented room deodorizer.

6. "Salt lands McDonald's employee in jail"
A McDonald's employee was arrested, jailed and is facing criminal charges because a police officer got sick after a hamburger he ate was too salty. The employee accidentally spilled salt on some hamburger meat and told her supervisor and co-worker, who "tried to thump the salt off." The employee was charged because she served the burger "without regards to the well-being of anyone who might consume it."

7. "Carpenter free to ply trade in the nude"
A carpenter caught hammering nails and sawing wood in the nude says he prefers working in the buff because it's more comfortable and helps keep his clothes clean. The carpenter was found not guilty of indecent exposure.

8. "Southwest Airlines employee tells passenger her outfit won't fly"
A Southwest employee asked a young woman in a short skirt to leave the airplane, saying she was dressed too provocatively for the family airline. The young woman was eventually allowed to complete her trip after covering up. On her return flight, she came home with no problem -- in the same outfit.

9. "Employee accused of faking being cop"
A Taco Bell employee was arrested for impersonating a law enforcement officer and attempting to arrest his managers and co-worker. He passed himself off as an undercover narcotics investigator, going as far as typing fake criminal histories on the general manager, two shift managers and an employee and telling them they were going to be arrested.

10. "Employee took 1 million screws home from factory"
An assembly worker hid screws in a specially designed hiding place and took up to 7,000 home with him every day. Over a two-year period, he stole more than 1.1 million screws with an estimated value of $155,000. He allegedly sold the screws over the Internet at discount prices.

11. "Deputy nabbed twice for DUI -- by husband"
An off-duty jail deputy was pulled over and charged with driving under the influence -- by her husband, a fellow deputy. She supposedly left before he could give her a Breathalyzer test, so he pulled her over again and called for backup. She was placed on administrative leave.

12. "Workers killed after seeking raises"
A car dealership owner killed two employees because they kept asking for more pay. The employer told police he was having financial problems and was under a lot of stress.

13. "Man demands coupons from radio station employee"
A radio station employee was threatened at gunpoint when an angry patron was unhappy with the promotional bumper stickers he received. The patron demanded McDonald's coupons instead; when the employee didn't have any, the man flashed what looked like a handgun. She searched her car and found a coupon for a free cheeseburger. The man took it, made a derogatory comment about the radio station and rode away on his bike.

14. "Wienermobile gets cop roasted"
When a 27-foot-long, 11-foot-tall vehicle -- known to most as the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile -- was slowing traffic in a construction zone in Arizona, an officer ran its "YUMMY" license plate to make sure it was street legal. A bad computer entry erroneously showed the Wienermobile as having stolen plates, forcing the officer to pull it over. After further investigation, the officer learned that the entry should have read that license plate had been stolen -- but only if found on any vehicle that isn't a giant hot dog.

15. "Drive-through dispute gets suspect jail food"
Workers at a Burger King in New York got into a dispute with a customer after he refused to turn his music down while ordering at the drive-through. The customer grabbed the restaurant's manager, tried to pull her through a window and then attempted to run over a worker who came to help the manager.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Stones in the Road

(This is a rough adaptation of my meditation from the contemplative service this morning.)

I've done a lot of travelling over the years, and I've got my fair share of horror stories. Delayed flights, lost luggage, missed connections, major reroutes (landing in London when I was supposed to be in Amsterdam!) and my personal favorite - exploding shampoo!!!!

These trips are frustrating at the time but now I look back on them with a certain level of nostalgia. "Remember when the car overheated and we got stranded over night in Roswell?"

I wonder if Mary and Joseph looked back on the trip to Bethlehem that way? "Remember when we had to make that trip to Bethlehem for the census when you were heavily pregnant and we had that stubborn lame donkey and when we got there the Motel Six had lost our reservations and we had to sleep in the stable?!"

Some journeys go fine, others we limp along. Sometimes we got a stone in our shoe - a minor irritation and others we get rocks so big that we can't see where we are heading anymore. Sometimes we things get difficult we lose sight of Bethlehem.

I can think of times in my past where there were problems that seemed insurmountable but with God's help I made it through. Boulders that looked impossible to move and totally overwhelming were eventually surpassed.

In the Hebrew scriptures people of faith often piled rocks together to make Altars at significant places where they wanted to remember God's faithfulness. When we look back at the 'rocks' in our life that with God's help we have survived I think those very Obstacles become Altars. Altars of God's Faithfulness, God's Mercy and God's Grace.

So as we journey to Bethlehem this Advent take a look at the stones in your path. Maybe you are just limping along or maybe the rock is so large that Bethlehem is nothing but a distant fantasy. Offer those 'stones' in prayer to God - and ask Him to transform those Obstacles into Altars.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Vodka and Redbull Cake

A few days ago I posted a spoof recipe for Vodka and Redbull Christmas Cake which is worth a read if you fancy a chuckle. Well I was at a Christmas Party last night and one of my blog readers presented me with this:

Looking at the fine icing job, they obviously followed the recipe exactly!!!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Christmas Chainsaw Massacre

Monday night I sang in a sing-a-long Messiah

This pic is one that I took of an original score of Handel's Messiah - he has messy penmanship. It's the end of the Hallelujah Chorus.

After the sing-a-long a friend came up to me and said that it doesn't feel like Christmas to him until he's sung the Messiah. I nodded politely but I was aware that I don't feel that way. I have sung the Messiah at other times of the year so it doesn't have that connection for me.

So I tried to think about what does make it feel like Christmas.

The following morning when I stepped outside my apartment I knew.

I could see my breath and there was frost on the roof of the nearby buildings. Cold and frost bring Christmas closer to me, as does 'The Christmas Chainsaw Massacre'.

You see my mum had some very distinctive Christmas Cake Decorations that she would put on the fruit cake every year. One was just the head of Father Christmas and the other was the head of a snowman. Both of them had big spikes that held them in the fruit cake. She also had a miniature evergreen that she would place on the cake as well.

The problem was one of size and perspective. The heads were almost as tall as the tree, so either Santa and Frosty had enormous deformed craniums or we had a bonsai Christmas tree.

The cake looked like someone had gone on a chainsaw massacre - and I miss it. The decorations were kitsch and I miss them.

Last year I didn't think too much about Dad being dead because all my focus was on mum being just out of hospital and making sure she had a good last Christmas - even though none of us acknowledged that is what we were doing.

So this year it feels like I am grieving both parents.

It sucks.

That final Christmas with Mum my present from her was a sweater that she handed knitted for me. It is a copy of one she knitted for me as a child - similar color and same pattern.

I don't wear it often in Houston as a) It's a bit tight and b) It doesn't often get cold enough.

But when I do, it's like getting a hug from Mum - I may be in my 40s, but I think all of us need a hug from Mum at times.

Monday, December 03, 2007

An Early Review of Sweeney Todd - Needless to say I am excited!

A friend found this on the internet and sent it too me - I can't wait till the movie comes out!

The screening of Sweeney Todd was hosted by Stephen Sondheim. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were also in attendance. This being a New York theatre crowd, they applauded and stood for Sondheim, but remained seated for Burton and Depp.
Sondheim gave a little welcoming speech and a small warning. What we were about to see, he told us, was not the stage musical we all knew by heart, but a movie. If we were to enjoy it, we needed to put the stage show out of our minds. I'm not sure that was entirely possible. In that room, anyway, which was packed with theatre community types. Burton and Depp didn't really say anything. They just waved. Later Burton hugged Sondheim and shouted out to us, "If you hate it, it's our (his and Depp's) fault!"
Sondheim was right, It's not a film of the stage musical. It is an entirely new beast. And for this, I am thankful. Unlike the movies of RENT, DREAMGIRLS, THE PRODUCERS, PHANTOM, HAIRSPRAY and even CHICAGO, this is as much a director's film (and triumph) as it is a version of a beloved stage musical. It's a hushed, beautiful film for the most part. But when it roars, it's deafening. And chill-inducing.
None of this is to suggest that it isn't true to its source. The "Ballads" are all gone, as is "Kiss Me." A few inner snips aside, that's about it. But Burton here has gone beyond a filmed stage musical. He's created a movie operetta of sorts. If you didn't know the piece, you might almost believe it had been written for the cinema.
Depp is exquisite. Bonham-Carter will split the theatre crowd. Her acting is deliciously low-key, but her unsupported singing voice doesn't really match her speaking voice. That said, in the end, hers might be the most haunting performance in this movie. Rickman, Spall, Cohen, and everyone else are superb. The design is breathtaking. The cinematography is sumptuous.
And the music! You think you liked the music before? Wait. Bravo, Mr. Tunick.
I've been a Tim Burton fan since Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. But he's hurled himself to a new level with this one. And in the process, he's shown the way in making movie musicals. By grafting his distinctive visual style and storytelling technique to a bolt-solid musical, he has transformed both the art and the artist. This is a new Sweeney Todd. His best movie since Ed Wood, and the best movie musical since Little Shop Of Horrors.
So go. See it. Leave behind your preconceptions, if that's possible. Enjoy it for the wonderful film it is. I'll be there opening day to see it again.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vodka And Red Bull Christmas Cake

It's nearly that time of the year… and now is the time to start baking that Christmas cake. So to help you, here is a recipe for:


1 cup water
1 cup of brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda1 cup of sugar
1 tsp salt
Lemon Juice
4 large eggs
Nuts (any kind)
1 bottle of Vodka
1 can of Red Bull
2 cups dried fruit

1. Sample the vodka to check the quality (VERY IMPORTANT)
2. Take a large bowl, check the vodka again
3. To be sure it is of the highest quality, pour one level cup of vodka and mix with a little red bull and drink
4. Repeat
5. Turn on the electric mixer and beat one cup of butter in a large, fluffy bowl
6. Add one teaspoon of sugar - beat again
7. At this point it is best to make sure the vodka is still ok
8. Flavour with Red Bull to taste
9. Try another cup. Just in case, turn the mixerers off
10. Break two eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in a cup of dried fruit
11. Pick the fruit off the floor
12. Mix on the turner
13. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry loose with a drewscriver
14. Shample the vodka to check for tonsisticitiy, flavour with a little Bed Rull
15. Next, ssifffft two cups of salt. Or something… Who giveshz a shizt
16. Throw a pinch of Bed Rull over your shoulder
17. Pick up the can, mop the floor
18. Check the vodka (shee steps 3 & 4)
19. Now shift the lemon and strain your nuts
20. Add one table
21. Add a shpoon of shugar, or somefink. Whatever you can find
22. Turn the cake tine 360 degrees and try not to fall over
23. Dont forget to beat off the turner
24. Finally, throw the bowl through the window, finish the vodka and lick the dog
25. Fall into bed


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Crazy Cooking Day!

I received a phone call from my friend Glen this morning who was too impatient to wait for the blog update of how the 'Dishwasher Lasagna' turned out as he was going to make it today. So once again here I go cooking where very few have cooked before.

I made up the Lasagna according to the instructions and it looked yummy!

I carefully triple wrapped it in foil and placed it in my dishwasher - and discovered a problem.

There was no way to fit the packet between the tines of the bottom rack. Careful examination of the pictures with the recipe printout led me to believe I could just rest the packet on the tines. Oh if only I had Internet at my apartment to do a more careful check! I proceeded anyway and when I opened the dishwasher to check how cooking was going, this was the sight that met my eyes.

The power of the jets had caused the packet to move against the tines and the tips had drilled a hole through the foil packet leaving me with a very clean soggy lasagna and this in my dishwasher!

That is a very tasty mix of freshly chopped Spinach and Ricotta Cheese clogging my dishwasher drainage area!!!

Undeterred I devised a plan - after all I was hungry and this was my scheduled lunch for the day! I drained the lasagna packet of excess fluid, put it in a Pyrex dish, added some fresh cheese and put it in the oven for 15 mins at 350C

Voila! Lunch was saved!

Careful examination of the Wiki how instructions show that the dishwasher used had collapsible tines so that the packet would fit on the bottom rack horizontally.

So my efforts in dishwasher cooking were foiled by my old fashioned dishwasher.
I've added a tip to the wiki how site suggesting that if your tines don't fold down like mine that you lay the packet in a dishwasher safe dish to prevent my disaster. Hopefully my friend Glen will do just that and let me know how it goes.

In other cooking news I made the Christmas Pudding. See this post for details and history of this most decadent dessert.

I carefully soaked all the fruits overnight in brandy - this is one boozy dessert.

Added all the other ingredients - eggs, flour, grated apple, spices etc.

And carefully wrapped it, and steamed it for 3 1/2 hours!

The aroma in the apartment was awesome! Now it will sit in the bottom of my refrigerator (even though it would survive fine in the pantry) until Christmas Day where it will be steamed for at least another 2 hours and then be consumed with Brandy Butter!!!

It was quite a cooking day - and I also did 6 hours of Defensive Driving, watched 2 movies ('Adaptation' and 'Singing in the Rain') and an episode of 'Lost'!!!