Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The 'What' and the 'Why'

Abba Anthony the Great said this, 'If he is able to, a monk ought to tell his elders confidently how many steps he takes and how many drops of water he drinks in his cell, in case he is in error about it.'

from 'The Sayings of the Desert Fathers' ~ Benedicta Ward, SLG

I mentioned in a previous post that I was working my way through this book, and when I read it this morning the above quote stuck with me.

I don't think Abba Anthony is suggesting that true monks should all go out and purchase Pedometers or keep careful records of their consumption of Dihydromonoxide (after all, how big is a 'drop'?). What I heard in this was an increased level of Awareness. I know their have been times when I've sat down to read a book with a packet of cookies and 20 minutes later I suddenly notice that all the cookies have gone and I have no recollection of consuming them.

The act of being aware changes our behavior. I did an experiment today and I decided to write down everything I ate. Suddenly I was conscious of walking past the goodies at the Receptionist's Desk at work, I noticed how many refills I wanted at Boudreaux's at lunchtime. I ate and drank less today for the sole reason that I was writing it down and was therefore aware of it.

Socrates said 'The Unexamined Life is not worth living' - I'm not sure if I'd go quite that far, as their have definitely been moments in my life where I would have much rather have been numb and clueless to what was going on inside. But Socrates and Abba Anthony are just saying what so many other writers have said, we need to be 'Aware'.

I try to avoid a lot of political debate, but when I do get into discussion, I try to be more interested in the 'Why' rather than the 'What'. People are often very good at articulating what they believe, but not so much the why. 'Why' asks us to take a look inside, to examine ourselves, the good and the bad.

If I start counting the steps I take and the water I drink I might become aware that I am walking in the wrong direction or consuming the wrong things. The 'What' leads to the 'Why'. Suddenly I notice my internal drives and compulsions, and in doing so I am awakened.

So, how many steps did you take today? How much water did you drink?


Going on vacation?

Very hilarious!

Check out the rest of the fun at www.phdcomics.com

Monday, September 21, 2009

Vampire Worship?

(random thoughts from a non-theologian)

Vampires are apparently a big thing at the moment. I say apparently, because, as I'm not a teenage girl I've not read any of the 'Twilight' books or watched any of 'Trueblood' or any other of the various vampire shows around right now. It just seems that nearly every issue of Entertainment Weekly (my source of world news) has a mention somewhere about these bloodsucking creatures.

It seems they've even made it into church.

I was at worship this weekend and the band led us in a song that was new to me, that featured the lyric 'From His wounds we drink salvation'. All I could think of was 'ewww'. Couldn't the songwriter have used a different word than 'drink'? I get what the lyricist is trying to say, but the image of lapping blood from the Crucified Christ is not one that moves me, the lyric became a hindrance rather than an aid to worship.

There is a whole thread of christian lyrics where almost magical power is ascribed to the actual blood of Jesus, as if somehow Jesus' blood was different from the rest of humanity's.

There is a fountain filled with blood.
Jesus blood never failed me yet.
It's your blood that cleanses me.
There is Power in the blood.

At times it seems we are in danger of venerating the 'symbol', rather than what the symbol represents. In Bruge, Belgium there is even an alleged phial of Jesus blood contained in the Basillica of the Holy Blood But as my friend Matt once said to me, Jesus' blood is not special, what it accomplished is. When we take Communion, we worship Christ, not the Wafer or the Welch's grape juice. When we remember the Crucifixion shouldn't we do the same?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nostalgia in the Oven ~ Jumbleberry Crumble

A really good cookbook should assault the senses. Just reading the recipes should be enough to stimulate the taste buds. And then the glorious pictures amount to food porn, calling, tempting, promising indescribable pleasures if you just cook the recipe depicted.

Nigella Lawson is well versed in the art of the Seductive Cookbook...

...and I made the mistake of browsing through one of her tomes this morning over my breakfast cup of tea.

My fate was sealed when I saw the picture on page 182

Jumbleberry Crumble

No matter that I didn't have the over sized teacup for serving, or the cheery table mat, one glance was enough and I knew that you had to be mine. I could already taste the glorious cool of the ice cream, the sweet crunch of the topping and the tart zing of the warm berries.

Fruit crumbles, normally apple, or raspberry were a part of my childhood. Admittedly my mother's were generally overcooked, burnt on top and soggy on the bottom, but even that has a familiarity to it that the picture evoked in me. O.k. so it didn't go with the Enchilada Casserole that was bubbling away in the crock pot, but no matter, I wanted it.

The recipe is simplicity itself.

For the crumble Topping:

2/3 cup of flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

3 tablespoons brown sugar (light or dark)

Blitz all of the together in a food processor (or rub together by hand) to make a mixture that resembles sand.

You'll also need:

Frozen summer fruits



vanilla extract

Put the frozen berries in an oven proof container (for one serving I used a 2 cup ramekin)

Put in some frozen berries to just below the top.
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 2 teaspoons sugar and a drop of vanilla extract on top.
Top with crumble topping.

Put in the oven at 425F for 15-20 mins until cooked.

Serve with a dollop of vanilla ice cream!

The recipe actually makes too much topping, but the beauty is you can store the topping and the berries in the freezer and assemble the entire dessert from frozen quicker than it takes to heat up the oven.


Monday, September 14, 2009


Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Requiem
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Here are just a few pics from friday night (none of the wind players unfortunately). Sorry they are a bit blurry, I was taking them from the back of the concert hall with no flash and no tripod!

The performance was incredible. I was amazed at the number of people there and the warm reception that they gave my music. I felt very humble to have such incredible musicians perform my work :)

Abba Anthony shows the way.

One day some old men came to see Abba Anthony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, Abba Anthony suggested a text from the scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one Abba Anthony said, 'You have not understood it.' Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, 'How would you explain this saying?' and he replied, 'I do not know.' Then Abba Anthony said, 'Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: "I do not know." '

from 'The Sayings of the Desert Fathers' ~ Benedicta Ward, SLG

I'm slowly reading through this collection of writings at the moment, and this one has really stuck with me. There is a humility in bible interpretation displayed here that I find very attractive. Given the churches track record in scripture interpretation - Slavery and the position of the earth in the Solar System to name just two, it is refreshing to see someone back in 300 A.D. advocating a position of humility before the Divine Mystery that is scripture. I think all of us will be amazed when we get to heaven about how wrong we were in the things we labeled important.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Requiem Performance Details

(Just in case you didn't know GRIN)
The Performance is tonight at 8pm in Stude Concert Hall at Rice University.

Tonight is the Night - Dona Nobis Requiem

'Dona Nobis Requiem' is the only sung phrase in Latin that is not in the original Latin text of a Requiem Mass. It translates us 'Grant us rest'. It is the final sentence that is sung in the work tonight, and it seemed a fitting conclusion...

...I didn't get much Requiem last night. I stayed up late playing boardgames (specifically Tales of the Arabian Nights). I fell asleep quickly, but I had some 'Requiem Dreams'. They never really materialized into full blown nightmares, but they were enough to make me feel unrested this morning.

There were really 2 recurring themes in them.

The first was that all the publicity that I had given out were for the wrong venue - I spent most of that dream frantically calling, emailing and messaging people on Facebook trying to get the correct information to them. Consequently when the concert started I was so emotionally drained and worrying about who was missing it, that I missed it.

I will really practice being present tonight.

The second was even more curious. I was standing outside the venue when two strangers struck up a conversation asking me what I knew about the composer and his music. I answered the best that I could without revealing my identity. Then a friend came by and of course immediately gave the game away. I looked chagrined, and the 2 people then began to barrage me with these incredibly complex musical questions about the work and my compositional techniques. I had to ask them so many questions just so I could understand their questions, and then it took me so long to formulate my answers using their language that I came across looking like a dullard.

I know I have a tendency to put myself in outsider status. To believe that everyone else is genuine and I am a fraud. I make those judgements internally to myself in many different social settings and I recognize that it serves 2 purposes 1) It is a defence mechanism, I assume I am going to be rejected, so I reject you first, that way it is my 'choice' and therefor doesn't hurt as much. 2) It flows out of low self esteem issues. It's me telling myself that I'm not good enough.

Tonight I choose to be transparent and to celebrate my 'Goldenness' even as I acknowledge my 'Darkness' The response to the Requiem from the students and Faculty has been wonderful, I trust their judgement, and I also trust mine. I will let the music speak for me and I will relax knowing that I have many wonderful friends who are attending to support me and hear what I create.

Dona nobis requiem? - Yes God did, and I'm grateful for it.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Hunting for the Skallagrigg

I first encountered the book 'Skallagrigg' in the late 80s when it came out in paperback. I can vividly remember finishing it for the first time. I was riding on a train back to London from Nottingham, and as I reached the final pages I was sitting there, tears streaming down my face.

I have lost track of how many times I have read the book now, I know I have read it more times than any other work of fiction. It never fails to move me.

The back of the book says:

Skallagrigg unites Arthur, a little boy abandoned many years ago in a grim hospital in northern England, with Esther, a radiantly intelligent young girl who is suffering from cerebral palsy, and with Daniel, an American computer-games genius.

Skallagrigg - whatever the name signifies, whoever he is - will come to transform all their lives. And William Horwood's inspired, heart-rending story of rescue and redemptive love will undoubtedly touch your life too.

I just finished reading the novel again, and I allowed myself to sit upstairs and gently weep. The first time I read the book I think it brought me to tears only once. I was younger then and very trained at denying my emotions expression - one of the 'benefits' of growing up in the U.K. when I did.

This last reading reduced me to tears many times, but not tears of pity for the characters, but tears of recognition, of finding myself within the pages.

This quote has stayed with me this time (from page 718)

Life is usually a self-made maze whose walls are fears and prejudice, a maze through which there is no perfect route, whose final stages demand acceptance of weakness, not display of strength. Where you must accept that one day your child may lean over and take the spoon from your hand, without your having the strength to resist. In the end strength lies in acceptance, hope is in truth not fantasy: peace cannot be in craving, but in the giving up of desire.

A strong thread of contemplative Christian Spirituality flows through this book and William Horwood's later works 'The Duncton Chronicles' which I also made sure I brought with me from the U.K. and read constantly.

I sit here right now, dried tear stains on my face. Aware of God's incredible grace and my own limitations. I am emotionally drained, and yet I am at peace, because I have found the Skallagrigg.

South Pacific

This lyric is from the show 'South Pacific' by Rogers and Hammerstein.

When the movie version was being filmed the Producers tried to get them to cut this song from the show for fear it might be offensive and alienate some people.

Hammerstein refused because he believed this song encapsulated the core message of the show.

You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

You've got to be taught to hate and fear
You've got to be taught from year to year
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You've got to be carefully taught

You've got to be taught before it's too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You've got to be carefully taught

Rodgers And Hammerstein - South Pacific

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Games Played and Weight Update

There really is no weight update - I haven't been losing because I haven't been exercising. I'm in a holding pattern right now. I keep meaning to get back into it, but I'm too good at finding excuses.

So on to the games!

With going to Gen Con this past month it was a good time for games. I totalled up 48 plays of 34 different games.

So what were the highlights?

The Hanging Gardens - a game I tried at the convention that has seen a lot of plays since. It's easy to teach, has some interesting decisions, and plays in under 45 mins so it is a good filler.

Dice Town - this was a game that I wanted to demo to see if I would buy. I enjoyed it enough to purchase it. It's a poker dice rolling fun fest. There's not a lot you can do to mess with other players, but the delicious joy of rolling 3 aces on your final turn to shut another player out, is wondrously palpable :)

Livingstone - exploring the jungle on the way to Victoria Falls. A clever dice mechanism coupled with a push your luck precious gem mine and creative scoring made this a must by.

Tales of the Arabian Nights - do you remember the 'Choose Your Own Adventure Books'? This is like one of those gone crazy. At every encounter you have about 8 different choices to decide between that all lead you somewhere different. It is a game, in that you do have a winner, but it's more about the fun tales that develop as you travel around the board. It goes to 6 people, but I think it would be too slow with a group that large. We played with 3 and it was perfect. It's a great rainy day game, and not nearly as complex as it appears at first glance.

Looking at my stats for the year so far, we have a clear winner with 21 plays:

Dominion - we picked up the expansion for this game this month, so I don't anticipate it being knocked away from winning position this year...unless something really incredible comes along!

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

There are some recipes that I actively try to find, Chocolate Brie En Croute being my latest search (I'll let you know how it tastes after I've been brave enough to make it!). Then there are other recipes that seem to find me. I read various food blogs, and, because people know my cooking passion I frequently get recipes sent to me.

Raspberry Cheesecake Ice Cream was a recipe that I linked to from a blog that I linked to from a blog that I read(!) I'm not a huge raspberry fan, but the combination sounded decadent - and it is. I should hasten to add that it is an easy decadent. Making ice cream can be a complex affair with egg custards that might burn and having to have sinks of ice handy to ward off threats of curdling.

No such problems with this recipe.

I did use my trusty Krups Ice Cream Maker, but to be honest I think you could make this without.

8oz cream cheese, softened.
14oz can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups half and half
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
12oz frozen raspberries (no need to thaw)
1/2 cup sugar

Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer. On low speed, carefully add sweetened condensed milk, half and half, lemon, and vanilla until thoroughly blended.

Combine the raspberries and sugar in a bowl, keep cold until needed.

Put the cream cheese mix into the ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturers instructions.

When the ice cream is almost solid swirl in the raspberry mixture.

If you do not have an ice cream maker then put the cream cheese mix in a freezer proof container and freeze for an hour. Remove, stir and then freeze again. Do this a couple of times before adding the raspberries and sugar.

It's as easy as that!