Friday, June 26, 2009

Worship Snob or Contemplative?

This week a colleague and I were given the opportunity to lead worship for 3000+ people at a conference in San Antonio. I must confess it was nice to treated as special - hotel room (with a view of the Alamo from the window) and conference paid for, ushered backstage, roadies moving the piano and technicians setting up our mikes. We were even able to change the entire backdrop lighting and the visuals on the screen just by a simple request. It was nice to be spoiled.

I also got to experience a number of other worship sessions led in different styles. Some good, some not so much. I remember being in one afternoon session and getting v. confused by the lyrics to one song.

"And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise, on eagle's wings
Before my God fall on my knees,
and rise...I will rise"

We sang this chorus a lot! And we also repeated the phrase 'I will rise' many times. I'm sure it was meaningful for some people, but not for me. I wrote in my notebook during the session "How do you 'rise on eagle's wings' and 'fall on your knees' at the same time? All whilst 'You Rise'? Do eagles have knees???

The sudden clash of the images of Eagles and falling on knees with the main theme of 'I will rise' bothered me, as did the reverse sentence for no apparent reason - normally you would say "fall on my knees before my God", I cannot see any apparent reason this line has been reversed out of normal English, it isn't to make a rhyme which is the most common reason.*

The song, and the entire worship set bothered me.

It bothers me that it bothered me.

I've always been opinionated about worship and music writing. It used to be that I always had to be using the latest songs sung by the most up-to-date people. Here I was at the conference complaining to a friend that 'we haven't sung a single hymn'! I used to judge a worship experience by what I 'felt'. Now I'm overly judgemental about what I think could be emotional manipulation by the worship leader.

The worship I feel drawn too these days is more cerebral. It is quiet and reflective. I no longer mistake an 'emotional high brought on by hyped music' for the 'presence of God.'

I would rather just sit still with God. It feels like the companionship of a couple who have been together so long they can just together, they don't need to talk, and in fact sometimes talking gets in the way.

Even after all these years, my prejudices about worship still sometimes get in the way of my worshiping.

*I believe there is a craft to Lyric Writing, Composing and Worship Leading in the same way there is to painting. An artist must learn color, perspective, brush stroke, composition etc. Sadly, the 'craft' of music and worship leading seems to be fallen by the wayside -ignored or considered irrelevant. Worship leaders, please, at least learn to play the songs in a key that the majority of the congregation can sing it in, there is no point in you leading them if they can't follow!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Together in Electric Dreams

One of my favorite movies from the 80s was Electric Dreams. It's the familiar love story:

  • Man buys computer,
  • Man accidentally pours champagne in the computer transforming it into artifical intelligence
  • Computer falls in love with the cello playing blond upstairs.
  • Man falls in love with woman too.
  • Chaos ensues
  • Computer commits suicide and writes a hit love song!

It's a plot we've seen numerous times :)

For years this movie has been unavailable on DVD, it has an awesome soundtrack that was recorded before the rights for the music were included in the soundtrack contract. It has just been released on DVD in the U.K. so hopefully a U.S. release isn't far behind - or I'll just purchase it the next time I'm in England.

Here's the scene where Edgar (the computer) first here's Madeline playing Cello and decides to take a break from working on his earthquake proof brick (don't ask), and play along.

And here's the touching end to the movie...probably the cheesiest computer death scene ever filmed - and with a twist, Edgar takes over all the Media in the U.S. to broadcast his final love song to Madeline.

They don't make movies like this anymore!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Peter - the Funeral Singer

Today is the second anniversary of Mom's death.

Last year all I could think of was roses.

This year is different.

In the past 2 weeks I've done the music at 2 different funerals. It might seem strange, but I think I 'enjoy' playing for funerals more than I do weddings. I feel like I am helping the grief process when I play for a funeral, singing and playing music that is meaningful to the family. Even if I am just playing instrumental music before the service, I try and craft the music I make into wordless prayers of comfort.

At my Mom's funeral, the local Church of England minister went to great pains to tell us how he had met with Mom before she died and enquired into the eternal state of her soul and how he knew she was ready to die and be with Jesus.

At my Dad's funeral, the humanist 'minister' told a brief biography of Dad's life. His passions and achievements. There was no mention of God* because dad was an Atheist and had left strict guidelines for his service.

It seems strange, but Dad's funeral was more comforting to me than Mom's.

I didn't want to hear that Mom was 'safe in the bosom of Jesus' - I knew that, but that knowledge did not comfort the vacuum caused by her death. Dad's service was far more helpful. The Humanist simply acknowledged that death is horrible. He didn't attempt to minimize our grief by telling us that we should feel glad because 'dad was in a better place' - because to a humanist that better place did not exist. I worry what the Church of England Minister would have said had he conducted Dad's service. If we assume that telling the Bereaved that their loved one being with Jesus is the best source of comfort, what do we tell them when our theologies say that they are not with Jesus?

Funerals are not for the dead but for the living. For me, assurances or platitudes about the final destination of the Departed were not helpful. Neither was people telling me that 'They understood how I feel' or 'Time heals all wounds'. I needed people simply to sit with me in silence and tell me that 'Life sucks sometimes'.

A well played instrumental can offer as much comfort as a carefully constructed Eulogy, and sometimes, it offers more.

*Dad was very specific at not having any mention of God at his service - he had actually threatened to disinherit any of us if we gave him a 'Christian Burial'. Then again, dad used to joke about disinheritance a lot!

So we're sitting in the Crematorium and we're at the final part of the service just before the Dismissal. This particular Crematorium had an electric curtain that moved across to obscure the coffin and signify the end. As the curtain began to move, an organist (who we didn't even know was there!) began to play to cover up the whirr of the motor.

What was originally a deeply sad, final moment in the service suddenly turned into my brother and I stifling giggles and desperately praying that Mom would not realize what the organist was playing - 'Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God'!!!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When Passions Collide

If you read my blog for more than 3 minutes you will generally notice that I really enjoy boardgames.

If you know me, you'll also know that I enjoy performing and composing musicals too.

Well today was doubly a good day.

A musical about a board game!!!!

I saw the original national tour of this show back in the 90s. It exists in many different incarnations, most of them with some flaws or other, but Tim Rice (who wrote the book and lyrics ) claims that this new version is the one crafted the way he's always imagined it.

I've tried many times to post the trailer for the show, but for some reason I can't get the html code to make it work. If you are curious...and you should be, you can see it here.

It features Adam Pascal from 'Rent', Idina Menzel from 'Rent' and 'Wicked' and Josh Groban from...well, err.....I can't really think of any show he's been in, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt this time :)

Now all I need is a board game about Stephen Sondheim musicals and I will have all my bases covered.....

Well there is always this.....

...but I'm not a fan of A.L.W.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Spiritual Times Tables

I remember learning all my Multiplications tables as a child. I could recite them all by rote from a fairly young age. In fact I knew the 'What' long before I knew the 'Why'. As I got older I learned exactly how 6 x 7 and 42 were connected, but for a while it was just a fact I had memorized, no different from knowing the points of the compass or the states of the U.S.

Yesterday in church we were reciting the Apostle's Creed and my mind was wandering. Like the Multiplication tables, the Apostle's Creed is something I know by heart, so my mind was not particularly engaged. I caught myself saying a line wrong simply because I wasn't paying attention.

I declared confidently from the choir loft that 'I believe in.....the communion of sinners'.

My first thought was hoping that the choir mike was not on because I didn't want my mistake being amplified, I wondered whether I could substitute the omitted word into the next line instead '......the forgiveness of saints'.

The word Communion is a polyvalent word - one with many meanings.

1. (often initial capital letter) Also called Holy Communion. Ecclesiastical.
a. The act of receiving the Eucharistic elements.
b. The elements of the Eucharist.
c. The celebration of the Eucharist.
d. The antiphon sung at a Eucharistic service.

2. a group of persons having a common religious faith; a religious denomination: Anglican communion.

3. Association; fellowship.

4. Interchange or sharing of thoughts or emotions; intimate communication: communion with nature.

5. The act of sharing, or holding in common; participation.

6. The state of things so held.

I have experienced the 'Community of Saints' and the 'Community of Sinners'. There is a commonality in knowing that everyone else is as much of a ratbag as you are. Acknowledging everyone's flaws means that I don't place any person on a pedestal. It is also easier for me to be open about my mistakes when I realize that I'm not the only sinner in the world.

There is a commonality in the 'Communion of Saints' as well. In its traditional meaning it refers to a mystical bonding between the Living and the Dead in a confirmed hope and love. But due to the Polyvalent (my word for the day) nature of the word 'Communion', it makes me think of acknowledging everyone's goodness. It means that I don't place anyone beneath me. I see the goldeness in every human being, I acknowledge that everyone bears the fingerprint of God.

'...the forgiveness of Saints' swapped with '...the forgiveness of Sinners' also produces some interesting material for reflection.

I find it very easy to call myself a 'sinner'- so much so that I tend to frequently diminish my own goodness. Wearing the name 'saint' is a lot harder. It feels like it comes with many expectations. Ascribing it to myself feels prideful and presumptuous.

Like Schrodinger's famous cat I exist in two states simultaneously. I am a Saintly Sinner and a Sinning Saint.

All this reflection from misquoting a creed, imagine how much reflection I could get from living it!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Salt to Taste?

I've been thinking a lot about Salt this week.

I posted a story from my childhood about Salt here .

As you can probably guess, the impetus for my salt fixation comes from a famous passage I read in Sacred Space Tuesday morning. I read it in a different translation to usual, the Message.

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage."

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."

Salt, when used properly is a flavor enhancer, it makes the natural flavors of the food shine through. A dish that is over salted is not a pleasure on the palate. I would rather consume bland, under seasoned food, than something that has been covered in salt.

I like the way that Eugene Peterson (translator of the Message) says we are here to '..bring out the God flavors of the earth'. Some Christians seem to live as if their purpose was to make the world as 'salty' as possible. Anything or anyone that doesn't fit in with their definition of Christianity tends to get 'a-salted'. Everything and everyone has to look and taste the same.

A bland dish can be improved, but it's difficult to save a dish that has been over salted. I think of friends of mine who were so offended by encounters with Christians that were zealous in prosyletizing their flavor of Christianity, that they rejected all forms.

Now I know that the Medium is not always the Message, but how we say things is as important as what we say.

Nobody wants a mouthful of salt

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Salt - A story from my childhood.

(Taken from Old Peter's Russian Tales- by Arthur Ransome)

Once upon a time there were three brothers, and their father was a great merchant who sent his ships far over the sea, and traded here and there in countries the names of which I, being an old man, can never rightly call to mind. Well, the names of the two elder brothers do not matter, but the youngest was called Ivan the Ninny, because he was always playing and never working; and if there was a silly thing to do, why, off he went and did it. And so, when the brothers grew up, the father sent the two elder ones off, each in a fine ship laden with gold and jewels, and rings and bracelets, and laces and silks, and sticks with little bits of silver hammered into their handles, and spoons with patterns of blue and red, and everything else you can think of that costs too much to buy. But he made Ivan the Ninny stay at home, and did not give him a ship at all. Ivan saw his brothers go sailing off over the sea on a summer morning, to make their fortunes and come back rich men; and then, for the first time in his life, he wanted to work and do something useful. He went to his father and kissed his hand, and he kissed the hand of his little old mother, and he begged his father to give him a ship so that he could try his fortune like his brothers.

"But you have never done a wise thing in your life, and no one could count all the silly things you've done if he spent a hundred days in counting," said his father.

"True," said Ivan; "but now I am going to be wise, and sail the sea and come back with something in my pockets to show that I am not a ninny any longer. Give me just a little ship, father mine--just a little ship for myself."

"Give him a little ship," said the mother. "He may not be a ninny after all."

"Very well," said his father. "I will give him a little ship; but I am not going to waste good roubles by giving him a rich cargo."

"Give me any cargo you like," said Ivan.So his father gave him a little ship, a little old ship, and a cargo of rags and scraps and things that were not fit for anything but to be thrown away. And he gave him a crew of ancient old sailor men who were past work; and Ivan went on board and sailed away at sunset, like the ninny he was. And the feeble, ancient, old sailor men pulled up the ragged, dirty sails, and away they went over the sea to learn what fortune, good or bad, God had in mind for a crew of old men with a ninny for a master.

The fourth day after they set sail there came a great wind over the sea. The feeble old men did the best they could with the ship; but the old, torn sails tore from the masts, and the wind did what it pleased,and threw the little ship on an unknown island away in the middle of the sea. Then the wind dropped, and left the little ship on the beach, and Ivan the Ninny and his ancient old men, like good Russians, praising God that they were still alive.

"Well, children," said Ivan, for he knew how to talk to sailors, "do you stay here and mend the sails, and make new ones out of the rags we carry as cargo, while I go inland and see if there is anything that could be of use to us."

So the ancient old sailor men sat on deck with their legs crossed, and made sails out of rags, of torn scraps of old brocades, of soiled embroidered shawls, of all the rubbish that they had with them for a cargo. You never saw such sails.

The tide came up and floated the ship, and they threw out anchors at bow and stern, and sat there in the sunlight, making sails and patching them and talking of the days when they were young. All this while Ivan the Ninny went walking off into the island.

Now in the middle of that island was a high mountain, a high mountain it was, and so white that when he came near it Ivan the Ninny began thinking of sheepskin coats, although it was midsummer and the sun was hot in the sky. The trees were green round about, but there was nothing growing on the mountain at all. It was just a great white mountain piled up into the sky in the middle of a green island. Ivan walked a little way up the white slopes of the mountain, and then,because he felt thirsty, he thought he would let a little snow melt in his mouth. He took some in his fingers and stuffed it in. Quickly enough it came out again, I can tell you, for the mountain was not made of snow but of good Russian salt.

Ivan the Ninny did not stop to think twice. The salt was so clean and shone so brightly in the sunlight. He just turned round and ran back to the shore, and called out to his ancient old sailor men and told them to empty everything they had on board over into the sea. Over it all went, rags and tags and rotten timbers, till the little ship was as empty as a soup bowl after supper. And then those ancient old men were set to work carrying salt from the mountain and taking it on board the little ship, and stowing it away below deck till there was not room for another grain. Ivan the Ninny would have liked to take the whole mountain, but there was not room in the little ship. And for that the ancient old sailor men thanked God, because their backs ached and their old legs were weak, and they said they would have died if they had had to carry any more.

Then they hoisted up the new sails they had patched together out of the rags and scraps of shawls and old brocades, and they sailed away once more over the blue sea. And the wind stood fair, and they sailed before it, and the ancient old sailors rested their backs, and told old tales, and took turn and turn about at the rudder.And after many days' sailing they came to a town, with towers and churches and painted roofs, all set on the side of a hill that sloped down into the sea. At the foot of the hill was a quiet harbour, and they sailed in there and moored the ship and hauled down their patchwork sails.

Ivan the Ninny went ashore, and took with him a little bag of clean white salt to show what kind of goods he had for sale, and he asked his way to the palace of the Tzar of that town. He came to the palace,and went in and bowed to the ground before the Tzar.

"Who are you?" says the Tzar.

"I, great lord, am a Russian merchant, and here in a bag is some of my merchandise, and I beg your leave to trade with your subjects in this town."

"Let me see what is in the bag," says the Tzar.

Ivan the Ninny took a handful from the bag and showed it to the Tzar.

"What is it?" says the Tzar.

"Good Russian salt," says Ivan the Ninny.

Now in that country they had never heard of salt, and the Tzar looked at the salt, and he looked at Ivan and he laughed.

"Why, this," says he, "is nothing but white dust, and that we can pick up for nothing. The men of my town have no need to trade with you. You must be a ninny."

Ivan grew very red, for he knew what his father used to call him. He was ashamed to say anything. So he bowed to the ground, and went away out of the palace.But when he was outside he thought to himself,

"I wonder what sort of salt they use in these parts if they do not know good Russian salt when they see it. I will go to the kitchen."

So he went round to the back door of the palace, and put his head into the kitchen, and said,

"I am very tired. May I sit down here and rest a little while?"

"Come in," says one of the cooks. "But you must sit just there, and not put even your little finger in the way of us; for we are the Tzar's cooks, and we are in the middle of making ready his dinner."

And the cook put a stool in a corner out of the way, and Ivan slipped in round the door, and sat down in the corner and looked about him.There were seven cooks at least, boiling and baking, and stewing and toasting, and roasting and frying. And as for scullions, they were as thick as cockroaches, dozens of them, running to and fro, tumbling over each other, and helping the cooks. Ivan the Ninny sat on his stool, with his legs tucked under him and the bag of salt on his knees. He watched the cooks and the scullions,but he did not see them put anything in the dishes which he thought could take the place of salt. No; the meat was without salt, the kasha was without salt, and there was no salt in the potatoes. Ivan nearly turned sick at the thought of the tastelessness of all that food.

There came the moment when all the cooks and scullions ran out of the kitchen to fetch the silver platters on which to lay the dishes. Ivan slipped down from his stool, and running from stove to stove, from saucepan to frying pan, he dropped a pinch of salt, just what was wanted, no more no less, in everyone of the dishes. Then he ran back to the stool in the corner, and sat there, and watched the dishes being put on the silver platters and carried off in gold-embroidered napkins to be the dinner of the Tzar. The Tzar sat at table and took his first spoonful of soup.

"The soup is very good to-day," says he, and he finishes the soup to the last drop.

"I've never known the soup so good," says the Tzaritza, and she finishes hers.

"This is the best soup I ever tasted," says the Princess, and down goes hers, and she, you know, was the prettiest princess who ever had dinner in this world.

It was the same with the kasha and the same with the meat. The Tzar and the Tzaritza and the Princess wondered why they had never had so good a dinner in all their lives before.

"Call the cooks," says the Tzar. And they called the cooks, and the cooks all came in, and bowed to the ground, and stood in a row before the Tzar.

"What did you put in the dishes to-day that you never put before?"says the Tzar.

"We put nothing unusual, your greatness," say the cooks, and bowed to the ground again.

"Then why do the dishes taste better?"

"We do not know, your greatness," say the cooks.

"Call the scullions," says the Tzar.

And the scullions were called,and they too bowed to the ground, and stood in a row before the Tzar.

"What was done in the kitchen to-day that has not been done there before?" says the Tzar.

"Nothing, your greatness," say all the scullions except one. And that one scullion bowed again, and kept on bowing, and then he said,

"Please, your greatness, please, great lord, there is usually none in the kitchen but ourselves; but to-day there was a young Russian merchant, who sat on a stool in the corner and said he wastired."

"Call the merchant," says the Tzar.

So they brought in Ivan the Ninny, and he bowed before the Tzar, and stood there with his little bag of salt in his hand.

"Did you do anything to my dinner?" says the Tzar.

"I did, your greatness," says Ivan."What did you do?"

"I put a pinch of Russian salt in every dish."

"That white dust?" says the Tzar.

"Nothing but that."

"Have you got any more of it?"

"I have a little ship in the harbour laden with nothing else," says Ivan.

"It is the most wonderful dust in the world," says the Tzar, "

and I will buy every grain of it you have. What do you want for it?"

Ivan the Ninny scratched his head and thought. He thought that if the Tzar liked it as much as all that it must be worth a fair price, so he said,

"We will put the salt into bags, and for every bag of salt you must give me three bags of the same weight--one of gold, one of silver, and one of precious stones. Cheaper than that, your greatness, I could not possibly sell."

"Agreed," says the Tzar. "And a cheap price, too, for a dust so full of magic that it makes dull dishes tasty, and tasty dishes so good that there is no looking away from them."

So all the day long, and far into the night, the ancient old sailor men bent their backs under sacks of salt, and bent them again under sacks of gold and silver and precious stones. When all the salt had been put in the Tzar's treasury--yes, with twenty soldiers guarding it with great swords shining in the moonlight--and when the little ship was loaded with riches, so that even the deck was piled high with precious stones, the ancient old men lay down among the jewels and slept till morning, when Ivan the Ninny went to bid good-bye to the Tzar.

"And whither shall you sail now?" asked the Tzar.

"I shall sail away to Russia in my little ship," says Ivan.

And the Princess, who was very beautiful, said, "A little Russianship?"

"Yes," says Ivan.

"I have never seen a Russian ship," says the Princess, and she begs her father to let her go to the harbour with her nurses and maids, to see the little Russian ship before Ivan set sail. She came with Ivan to the harbour, and the ancient old sailor men took them on board.She ran all over the ship, looking now at this and now at that, and Ivan told her the names of everything--deck, mast, and rudder."May I see the sails?" she asked. And the ancient old men hoisted the ragged sails, and the wind filled the sails and tugged."Why doesn't the ship move when the sails are up?" asked the Princess.

"The anchor holds her," said Ivan.

"Please let me see the anchor," says the Princess.

"Haul up the anchor, my children, and show it to the Princess," says Ivan to the ancient old sailormen.

And the old men hauled up the anchor, and showed it to the Princess; and she said it was a very good little anchor. But, of course, as soon as the anchor was up the ship began to move. One of the ancient old men bent over the tiller, and, with a fair wind behind her, the little ship slipped out of the harbour and away to the blue sea. When the Princess looked round, thinking it was time to go home, the little ship was far from land, and away in the distance she could only see the gold towers of her father's palace, glittering like pin points in the sunlight. Her nurses and maids wrung their hands and made an outcry, and the Princess sat down on a heap of jewels, and put a handkerchief to her eyes, and cried and cried and cried.

Ivan the Ninny took her hands and comforted her, and told her of the wonders of the sea that he would show her, and the wonders of the land. And she looked up at him while he talked, and his eyes were kind and hers were sweet; and the end of it was that they were both very well content, and agreed to have a marriage feast as soon as the little ship should bring them to the home of Ivan's father. Merry was that voyage. All day long Ivan and the Princess sat on deck and said sweet things to each other, and at twilight they sang songs, and drank tea, and told stories. As for the nurses and maids, the Princess told them to be glad; and so they danced and clapped their hands, and ran about the ship, and teased the ancient old sailor men.

When they had been sailing many days, the Princess was looking out over the sea, and she cried out to Ivan,

"See, over there, far away,are two big ships with white sails, not like our sails of brocade and bits of silk."

Ivan looked, shading his eyes with his hands."Why, those are the ships of my elder brothers," said he. "We shall all sail home together."

And he made the ancient old sailor men give a hail in their cracked old voices. And the brothers heard them, and came on board to greet Ivan and his bride. And when they saw that she was a Tzar's daughter, and that the very decks were heaped with precious stones, because there was no room below, they said one thing to Ivan and something else to each other.

To Ivan they said, "Thanks be to God, He has given you good trading."

But to each other, "How can this be?" says one. "Ivan the Ninny bringing back such a cargo, while we in our fine ships have only a bag or two of gold."

"And what is Ivan the Ninny doing with a princess?" says the other.

And they ground their teeth, and waited their time, and came up suddenly, when Ivan was alone in the twilight, and picked him up by his head and his heels, and hove him overboard into the dark blue sea.

Not one of the old men had seen them, and the Princess was not on deck. In the morning they said that Ivan the Ninny must have walked overboard in his sleep. And they drew lots. The eldest brother took the Princess, and the second brother took the little ship laden with gold and silver and precious stones. And so the brothers sailed home very well content. But the Princess sat and wept all day long, looking down into the blue water. The elder brother could not comfort her, and the second brother did not try. And the ancient old sailor men muttered in their beards, and were sorry, and prayed to God to give rest to Ivan's soul; for although he had been a ninny, and although he had made them carry a lot of salt and other things, yet they loved him,because he knew how to talk to ancient old sailor men.

But Ivan was not dead. As soon as he splashed into the water, he crammed his fur hat a little tighter on his head, and began swimming in the sea. He swam about until the sun rose, and then, not far away, he saw a floating timber log, and he swam to the log, and got astride of it, and thanked God. And he sat there on the log in the middle of the sea, twiddling his thumbs for want of something to do.

There was a strong current in the sea that carried him along, and at last, after floating for many days without ever a bite for his teeth or a drop for his gullet, his feet touched land. Now that was at night, and he left the log and walked up out of the sea, and lay down on the shore and waited for morning.

When the sun rose he stood up, and saw that he was on a bare island,and he saw nothing at all on the island except a huge house as big as a mountain; and as he was looking at the house the great door creaked with a noise like that of a hurricane among the pine forests, and opened; and a giant came walking out, and came to the shore, and stood there, looking down at Ivan.

"What are you doing here, little one?" says the giant.

Ivan told him the whole story, just as I have told it to you. The giant listened to the very end, pulling at his monstrous whiskers.Then he said,

"Listen, little one. I know more of the story than you,for I can tell you that to-morrow morning your eldest brother is going to marry your Princess. But there is no need for you to take on about it. If you want to be there, I will carry you and set you down before the house in time for the wedding. And a fine wedding it is like to be, for your father thinks well of those brothers of yours bringing back all those precious stones, and silver and gold enough to buy a kingdom."

And with that he picked up Ivan the Ninny and set him on his great shoulders, and set off striding through the sea.

He went so fast that the wind of his going blew off Ivan's hat.

"Stop a moment," shouts Ivan; "my hat has blown off."

"We can't turn back for that," says the giant; "we have already left your hat five hundred versts behind us."

And he rushed on, splashing through the sea. The sea was up to his armpits. He rushed on, and the sea was up to his waist. He rushed on, and before the sun had climbed to the top of the blue sky he was splashing up out of the sea with the water about his ankles. He lifted Ivan from his shoulders and set him on the ground.

"Now," says he, "little man, off you run, and you'll be in time for the feast. But don't you dare to boast about riding on my shoulders. If you open your mouth about that you'll smart for it, if I have to come ten thousand thousand versts."

Ivan the Ninny thanked the giant for carrying him through the sea, promised that he would not boast, and then ran off to his father's house. Long before he got there he heard the musicians in the courtyard playing as if they wanted to wear out their instruments before night. The wedding feast had begun, and when Ivan ran in, there, at the high board, was sitting the Princess, and beside her his eldest brother. And there were his father and mother, his second brother, and all the guests. And everyone of them was as merry as could be, except the Princess, and she was as white as the salt he had sold to her father.

Suddenly the blood flushed into her cheeks. She saw Ivan in the doorway. Up she jumped at the high board, and cried out,

"There, there is my true love, and not this man who sits beside me at the table."

"What is this?" says Ivan's father, and in a few minutes knew the whole story. He turned the two elder brothers out of doors, gave their ships to Ivan, married him to the Princess, and made him his heir. And the wedding feast began again, and they sent for the ancient old sailor men to take part in it. And the ancient old sailor men wept with joy when they saw Ivan and the Princess, like two sweet pigeons, sitting side by side; yes, and they lifted their flagons with their old shaking hands, and cheered with their old cracked voices, and poured the wine down their dry old throats. There was wine enough and to spare, beer too, and mead--enough to drown a herd of cattle.

And as the guests drank and grew merry and proud they set to boasting. This one bragged of his riches, that one of his wife. Another boasted of his cunning, another of his new house, another of his strength, and this one was angry because they would not let him show how he could lift the table on one hand. They all drank Ivan's health, and he drank theirs, and in the end he could not bear to listen to their proud boasts.

"That's all very well," says he, "but I am the only man in the world who rode on the shoulders of a giant to come to his wedding feast."

The words were scarcely out of his mouth before there were a tremendous trampling and a roar of a great wind. The house shook with the footsteps of the giant as he strode up. The giant bent down over the courtyard and looked in at the feast.

"Little man, little man," says he, "you promised not to boast of me. I told you what would come if you did, and here you are and have boasted already."

"Forgive me," says Ivan; "it was the drink that boasted, not I."

"What sort of drink is it that knows how to boast?" says the giant.

"You shall taste it," says Ivan.

And he made his ancient old sailormen roll a great barrel of wine into the yard, more than enough for a hundred men, and after that a barrel of beer that was as big, and then a barrel of mead that was no smaller.

"Try the taste of that," says Ivan the Ninny.

Well, the giant did not wait to be asked twice. He lifted the barrel of wine as if it had been a little glass, and emptied it down his throat. He lifted the barrel of beer as if it had been an acorn, and emptied it after the wine. Then he lifted the barrel of mead as if ithad been a very small pea, and swallowed every drop of mead that was in it. And after that he began stamping about and breaking things.

Houses fell to pieces this way and that, and trees were swept flat like grass. Every step the giant took was followed by the crash of breaking timbers. Then suddenly he fell flat on his back and slept.

For three days and nights he slept without waking. At last he opened his eyes.

"Just look about you," says Ivan, "and see the damage that you'vedone."

"And did that little drop of drink make me do all that?" says the giant.

"Well, well, I can well understand that a drink like that can do a bit of bragging. And after that," says he, looking at the wrecks of houses, and all the broken things scattered about--"after that,"says he, "you can boast of me for a thousand years, and I'll have nothing against you."

And he tugged at his great whiskers, and wrinkled his eyes, and went striding off into the sea.

That is the story about salt, and how it made a rich man of Ivan the Ninny, and besides, gave him the prettiest wife in the world, and she a Tzar's daughter.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Speedy Hot Dessert - Nectarine and Blueberry Galette

I am in love with Nigella Lawson.

I was browsing through one of her many cookbooks last night, Nigella Express, (am I the only one who reads cookbooks for fun?) and I came across this dessert recipe that I already had the majority of the ingredients for, so I thought I'd try it.

This is for all of you who think a hot dessert as well as a main course is beyond you!

Nectarine and Blueberry Galette

Nigella describes a Galette as ...a fancy way of saying "This is a pie, but don't get your hopes up." I would say do get your hopes up, for it is simple and tasty as any pie, served as is or with vanilla ice cream.

1 sheet of store bought all-butter puff pastry
1 1/2 tablespoons apricot jelly
1 1/2 tablespoon whipping cream
1 small nectarine, cut into 12 segments
2/3 cup of blueberries
1 1/2 teaspoons light brown sugar

(Yes I know the pic shows 2 nectarines, I thought I'd need both, but I was mistaken)

The puff pastry will be in the frozen food section - I normally buy Pepperidge Farm.

Buy this the day before. Take it out of the package and separate the two pieces. Wrap them both in saran wrap and put one in the fridge to defrost and the other in the freezer for later use.

1. Put the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 450F

2. Unfold and lay the puff pastry on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or a silpat (I love my silpat). Using a sharp knife score a frame around the edge of the pastry about 3/4 inch in.

3. In a small bowl mix together the apricot jelly and cream and then paint or spread this onto the pastry within the frame.

3. Arrange the fruit on top and sprinkle with with the brown sugar before baking in the oven for 10-15 minutes (keep an eye on it after 10, and when the pastry is nice and brown take it out!)

The only tricky stages are a) Scoring the square so that you cut the top layer of the pastry without cutting all the way through, not that it would be a disaster if you do, and b) Slicing the nectarine. The riper the nectarine the easier that will be - see the instructions here.

I must confess I rather hacked my nectarine to pieces as it wasn't really ripe enough, but once it's all cooked you can't tell the difference!

Absolutely delicious!!!
One other thing, if you are using a silpat, make sure you slide it off onto a board before cutting it. You don't want to cut on the silpat because if you do it will stop working!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pigs in Blankets for Grown Ups?

It's visual recipe time again - this post it's Pork Wellington. A dish that sounds and looks impressive but is really easy to make. This recipe comes from the Food Network, courtesy of Alton Brown.

1 whole egg
1 tablespoon water
1-oz dried apple rings (don't buy them, you can make them here)
1 whole pork tenderloin, around 1lb but normally they are tough to find that small
3oz thinly sliced prosciutto ham
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
All purpose flour
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed completely
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1. Place the rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat to 400F

2. Whisk the egg and water in a small bowl and set aside. Using kitchen scissors cut the dried apple rings up to the size of a medium dice.

3. Trim the pork tenderloin of any excess fat and sliver skin (if you don't remove the sliver skin the tenderloin will curve while cooking). If needed slice the tenderloin down the middle lengthwise, creating 2 separate pieces. Lay the tenderloin pieces next to each other head to tail, so when laid back together they are the same size at the ends.

4. Lay out a 12x 16 piece of parchment on the counter and arrange the prosciutto in the center overlapping them enough to create a solid layer that is as long as the tenderloin. Place another piece of parchment on top and using a rolling pin, press the prosciutto together to help it adhere to one another. Remove the parchment and the sprinkle the prosciutto with the salt, pepper and thyme.

5. Set the tenderloin in the middle of the prosciutto. Spread the dried apples in between the two pieces of tenderloin and then then push them back together with the apples held between them.
6. Using the parchment paper to assist wrap the prosciutto around the tenderloin to completely enclose in a package.

7. Sprinkle the counter with flour, and roll out the pastry to approximately 12 x 14 inches. Spread the mustard thinly in the center of the pastry and lay the prosciutto wrapped tenderloin in the center of the pastry on top of the mustard.
8. Fold the puff pastry up and over the tenderloin, then roll completely to enclose, brushing the edges with the egg wash in order to seal. Turn the tenderloin over so the side of the tenderloin with the double thickness of pastry is underneath. Pinch the ends to seal.

9. Brush the entire pastry with egg wash. Place the tenderloin on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 140F (I suggest using an oven thermometer to keep track - esp, if you have a really cool one like mine.)
10. Remove the tenderloin from the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. (While it rests the internal temperature will continue to rise another 20F and the juices will get partially absorbed. Don't omit this resting time or you will get undercooked pork!)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

4am Friends

Random thoughts for Sunday's contemplative service where I'm leading half of the meditation.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Who do you go to when you fall down?

Who is that friend who can help you up?

I remember a time when I was living in Lubbock, Texas and I was desperate. It was about 4 am, and, instead of being in bed like a 'good little fervent evangelical' I had been out getting into trouble. Nothing illegal, but something that smothered me in guilt. Pre-dawn Lubbock is a pretty desolate place, it was as bleak and lonely as I felt inside.

I needed to talk to someone, but who can you call in the middle of the night? Did I know anyone I could wake from their slumber?


I dialed a friend's number and by some miracle the phone only rang once before he answered. He had woken up about 10 minutes earlier with a sense that something was going to happen, so he was sitting by the phone.

Was it God waking him up or just one of those unexplained coincidences? I have no idea, but I do know that him telling me that story was exactly what I needed to hear. He invited me over and as I pulled up at his house he opened the door and handed me a hot steaming mug of tea - again exactly what I needed.

We must have talked for a couple of hours, I think I left his house just before the rest of his family woke up. He invited me back to talk again that afternoon.

It's wonderful to have friends like that. Someone who will be a companion with you on your life journey, even in those stretches where you are wandering through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We all need people to be 'Jesus with skin on' for us at times.

Who has been that 4am friend for you?
Who would feel able to call you at 4am?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

If Videos Matched the Song

I posted one of these to Take on Me by Aha awhile ago.

Here's an awesome version of that classic song with the incomprehensible video - Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Monday, June 01, 2009

June Weight Update (plus some boardgames)

Well it's the first of the month and I've made my target again.

I've now lost 25lbs woohoo!

I went shopping this weekend and bought some new shorts and pants, the waist line was 4 inches smaller than the ones I was wearing at Christmas - that felt good. Now I don't have to cinch my belt extra tight or risk my shorts sliding down over my hips and descending to my ankles!

My weight had a lot more variance this month. Around day 15 it looked like I was going to lost 10lbs this month, and then my metabolism decided to change and even breathing in was adding poundage. Consequently this past week I was wondering if I was going to make my target at all.

I also discovered the depressing truth that if you go for a week without exercising (like I did this month when I got sick) it means that when you restart you have to drop a few levels. It was rather depressing to discover that just after one week the workout that I could just about make it through was suddenly a struggle for me.

As the months have gone on the 5 pounds have got steadily more difficult to lose, but the amount of weight lost has become more gratifying. I seem to get more joy over 1 pound now than I did over 5 pounds in January. I think it's because it's taking more effort.

Here's hoping my metabolism decides to go on a 'fat feast' and I'm suddenly skinny! That would be a great birthday present this month.

Onto the games!

May was a great month for games, with 21 different games played for a total of 31 games altogether, that is a new record for one month!

Top of the list was Duck Duck Go! and Go.
Duck Duck Go! Is a newcomer which is why it got played so many times, I foresee it dropping in the ratings. It's a game of racing rubber ducks around a bath tub, it looks fun and it's easy to play, but I'm not sure of its sticking power.
I continue my efforts to master 'Go'. I'm slowly beginning to see the bigger picture of the struggle for space on the board and not get so bogged down in individual battles - I have a couple of books to read to help me with strategy.
Top of my list with a total of 7 plays this year is still Dominion. It's an excellent game with lots of replay value!
I also had the fun of introducing a whole new group of people to the delights of playing Werewolf. It's always a great feeling getting to facilitate lies and deception :)