Monday, December 18, 2006

Decemberish

It's wintertime here in Pasadena, which means I am blessed with day after day with cleansing sunshine, bracing wind, and brooding mountains. A typical Pasadena winter day looks like this:


The Meyer lemons and clementines drip with juice, and the farmers' market is flush with them. While the dates have reached their caramel-y state of perfection, the new crop of walnuts and pecans has just arrived; the combination means that it is time to bake. But even as the winter harvest of goodies lures me towards the kitchen, something very special is happening outside, something even more special than the glorious mountains.


The citrus trees are blooming. The air near a lemon, orange, or any member of that happy family pulses with the cleanest and most cheerful scent that exists on this planet.

All of this natural and culinary wonder begins right now, right when I'm in my mad rush to get grading, planning, and related paperwork done before winter break. I have a daily debate over whether to spend my time in the kitchen or outside, when I really need to have my butt glued to a chair in a coffeeshop with a stack of papers in front of me.

I have hope though. It's only four days until break. Four days.

The mountains have lasted millenia: I think they can wait for me for four days. The citrus trees, though more transitory, have some time left in them too. It's going to be okay.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Anticipation

Whenever my dad pours slow-moving ketchup out of a bottle, he sings that Carly Simon song that used to play in Heinz commercials. Do you remember that song?

“Anticipation, anticipation / Is making me late / Is keeping me waiting.”

Anticipation is making her late? Late to what? The meeting that she is waiting for? What the heck?

I’ve been thinking about anticipation a lot, because as you may have heard, it is Advent and Advent is the season of anticipation. During this season, we await the birth of Jesus and the hope that He brings.

Oh my, did that just sound as corny as I think it did? It sounds corny to me. I’m sure some folks just read that and rolled their eyes, thinking, “She is going all holy-roller on us.”

The truth is, I’m not going holy-roller yet because I can never quite figure out just what it is I do believe. I’m constantly struggling between my confidence in a loving God, my incredulity over a story in which a woman becomes magically pregnant and a guy gets zapped into heaven, and the peace that I know I’ve experienced when I pray to Jesus. My experiences and my brain are in constant struggle. Sometimes, it’s my experiences leading me towards belief while my brain leads away from it, but more often than not, it’s the latter. The majority of adults I spend time with during the regular school day don’t believe in much of anything, and those who do believe in the Holy Trinity seem to attach that belief to a thousand other claims over which I wholeheartedly disagree. I don’t agree with my Christian coworkers on very many political or social issues, that’s for sure. Some of them don’t consider me a Christian, not because of my doubt, but because of the fact that I voted for a Green party candidate in the last gubernatorial election. (I didn’t know how I could follow what I understand of Jesus’ advice and vote for either of the leading candidates.) And when people who are supposed to follow the same God I want to follow condemn me, it gets harder and harder for me and my brain to want to be a Christian.

Sorry for the venting. God is bigger than venting, right? If so, He’s certainly bigger than politics.

I digress. I have something real to say about anticipation.

I have four candles at home, all ready to light for Advent, but I haven’t lit one yet. I want to. I want to sit down, light a candle, lose myself in prayer, and tell God I’m waiting for Him. I’m waiting for His peace, His hope for the world, and most especially, the best part of God, His Grace. But, I’m late to my own desire. I’m late the appointment with God, and I’m keeping Him waiting. As much as I want to keep that appointment, one I anticipate very much, I just haven’t been able to force myself to do it. Yet.

20 (Give or Take A Few) Hour Anticipation Bread

No-Knead Bread has been around most food-oriented blogs I know, so I won’t write the recipe up here, although I do need to praise it. This is some good stuff. I bake a lot of bread, and this is the easiest, and one of the most successful, everyday bread recipes I’ve ever tried. I’ve made it four times now, and had wonderful results each time. I’ve only made a few changes to the recipe. I add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt, rather than only 1 ¼, and, since it fits my schedule better, I’ve allowed it to rise even longer than the 18 hours suggested. I’ve let it go as long as 23, and experienced no adverse effect.

It's worth waiting for.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What Works

This teacher is a hypocrite.

I haven’t done what I’ve been asking my students to do. I haven’t been, as my students say, when they try to take my words and make them their own, “metacognating.”

I haven’t been taking the time to reflect on my own life and recognize where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. I haven’t been talking to God. Instead, I have been, as you’ve clearly seen in some of my more recent posts, unhappy. For a long time now, I’ve been complaining about how busy I am and how I can’t do all the things I want to do; however, I finally got the kick in the head I needed to get myself together and realize that, even if I had 36 hours in the day, I’d never have enough time to do all that I think I need to do. I’m not one to covet things. Not me, no. I covet verbs.

Sitting down with CD a few weeks ago helped me remember my past and where I was twenty -odd years ago, living on a little ranch, loving my horse, and playing in the treehouse with my brother. Those memories sparked others of high school in Minnesota, where my snot froze as my friends and I secretly sledded down the ski slopes after the parks closed, and of college in DC, where I met people who would change my life and worked with the crazy (Mafioso?) Italians at the florist. I remembered starting to teach ten years ago, and how each day was its own plot structure, complete with conflict, rising action, and one hell of a climax. These memories were fascinating to relive, but they still weren’t enough to get my brain off of its lazy ass and start doing some real thinking.

The spark came from my former roommate EH. She stopped by for a surprise visit the other day, bringing me persimmons and life updates, and we went for coffee. Over Mexican chocolate mochas at Zona Rosa’s, she told me that she planned on taking up one of my habits: regular walks. She said, “I think that your walks are one of the ways that you celebrate Sabbath and enjoy God’s creation.”

Well, shit. They sure were, back when I took my regular walks.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I would walk at least three times a week. There were no short jaunty strolls. On my most frequent route, I would walk from my house on 24th and I to the Capitol (that’s 3.2 miles for those who were counting), run up the steps of the building, then walk back. I would always go alone, walking fast. Even though I walked fast, I still moved slow enough to see everything. I saw the White House elms’ umbrellas start as lime green lace, turn to emerald capes, dingy yellow blankets, and finally black scraggly calligraphy against the sky. On these walks, I sometime listened to music, but more often listened to the noise of my brain. I’d start out with arguments in my head. I’d yell at people I was angry at and think of all the ways I could prove them wrong. I would work myself up in a fit of fury and pound out my frustration the on concrete squares of sidewalk. Then, perhaps as a way to calm myself, I’d start to pray. I’d list long needs and want for myself and the people I knew; eventually, I’d get to world concerns, but frankly, I’d get bored of those pretty quickly. Then I would stop asking and just be quiet. After a while, I wouldn’t think about much of anything. I’d have actual chunks of time where my brain would be completely serene. Sometimes, on the way home, I’d have ideas about how to deal with whatever crap was making me frustrated, but most of the time, I wouldn’t even worry about it anymore. Whatever angers I had started with stuck like old gum to the dirty sidewalks and rarely followed me home.

I continued this practice for many years here in California. I walked around the Rose Bowl, through Old Town, among angular Craftsman homes. I’ve worked through most of my life’s worst issues this way, and (six or seven years ago) even wrote a self-conscious poem about it:


What To Do
What to do when I am
so sad that even my

name

hurts:

Walk.

Walk to see the random secrets of
the seasons creep up or
settle into the crevices of a city.

Walk to see the morning routines of
bartenders and waiters,

arriving at the lonely restaurants,

leaning against the bar,

drinking orange juice

and talking quietly over breakfasts.

Walk to be overwhelmed by the
clean scent of eight old magnolia trees

trapped amid the geometry of buildings.

Walk to feel the rhythm of my steps fall into
the cars

jutting left elbows and

sliding out pieces of songs,

the cracked sidewalk,
and the parrots squawking

so happily in this strange,

foreign city.


Hey, I didn’t say it was a good poem.

But here I am now, not currently practicing the type of meditation that I know has worked for years for me. I walked a couple weeks ago, the day after EH reminded me that it was something that I did, but I haven’t walked alone since then.

Girlfriend has got to get it together.

I’ve been working too hard and too long on the elliptical machine, pumping away, working up a sweat, but never getting anywhere. It’s time for me to lace up those walking shoes. I know what works. It’s time I get to work making it work.

Lemon Curd that Works

My friend RWW asked for this recipe the other day, and while writing it down for him, I remembered how well the combination of five ingredients comes together. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it works every time. In fact, it’s worked for over 300 years, as this particular recipe was first recorded in 1682. To make it, use the best lemons and butter you can get your hands on. I usually use the Meyer lemons from R and SWW’s tree. Wowsers, those are good lemons.

You will need:

The finely grated rind and juice of two excellent lemons
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs (remove whatever white strands you see around the yolk)
1 cup of unsalted butter, cut into chunks

To make the lemon curd:

Hand-beat the eggs together well in the top of a double boiler, mix in the sugar, then add all the other ingredients. Place the double boiler over medium heat then stir the mixture consistently, with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. The butter chunks will melt into the mixture as it heats. Cook until the mixture reaches the consistency of a thick cream sauce, and remove immediately from heat. Pour the mixture into jars to cool.

The lemon curd lasts for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, but I think you’ll eat it well before it might spoil. Spread it on toast, between the layers of a white cake, on eggy crepes or craggy English muffins. You’ll find you’ll want it all the time.