Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye 2009, Hello 2010

It is hard to believe that a month has passed since I last wrote anything on this blog. But, I guess the reality of the "first jump outta the chute" as I returned to Laramie and St. Matthew's is that it is a busy place and there are lots of things to be done. I have not exercised sufficient discipline to just be, to take time to reflect and think deeply as I would like. But I've felt more relaxed, rested and confident that all will get done when it needs to be done.
Still, in returning I want to incorporate the sense of peace that I enjoyed without deadlines and urgent contingencies. I sense a greater appreciation for all that gets done without my control and interference. I want to keep my sense of enjoying the present moment, the people I am with at the time. to continue to grow in my ability to taste and see where and what God is up to, so that I might just join in where I can. I do know just how much I really enjoy learning something new. I'm not sure how all this will work out in the New Year, but I hope to find some new ways of caring for my body (swimming perhaps), some new things to learn, some more opportunities to enjoy the people around me, sharing food and conversation around the table.
The photo above was taken in Rawlins while we (Mother, Daddy and my nephew, John) were in the midst of making sausage. The photo below was preparing the "stuff" for our favorite fruit cake. In the case of both sausage and fruit cake, there is the wonderful combination of ingredients. It is like the world and the church, the diversity of "stuff" or "people" is all important. We like the spice, the variety, the diversity.

One of my great memories of 2009 was the return celebration. A goodly assortment of friends gathered with me in the Undercroft to prepare a dinner for 60. I'd planned a menu that would represent the places and recipes I'd learned on sabbatical. It was kick with a dozen of us peeling, slicing, dicing, stirring, tasting, serving. The five course dinner included tapas, a Greek salad, a pasta course, Spanish Fricando (Beef and Mushrooms), Sweet potato chipotle gratin, and cherry chocolate cake. Working together-young, old, men, women, pros and novices--was just the best way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my becoming a priest on that date and my return to the St. Matthew's family.

So in closing this blog for 2009, I anticipate great things for 2010. I intend to blog with greater regularity as a way to be more thoughtful. I hope to be kinder, more appreciative, more relaxed and have more fun. I want to share the faith, hope and love I have been given with greater enthusiasm and integrity.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

All's well that ends well

Tonight I am writing after packing clothes, souvenirs, cookbooks, new cooking utensils, and the assorted "stuff" which I brought from Laramie for this extended time away or that I acquired in the last three months. It is a bitter sweet time for me on this last night of my sabbatical. In numerous ways I have enjoyed the relaxed change of pace, the opportunities of new learning, and the time to read, reflect and write without the pressures of time constraints. It has been a time of unexpected grace and blessing to have had so much time in Rawlins, renewing friendships with life time friends, entertaining family and friends for suppers created of new recipes, taking long leisurely walks with the dogs and finding that I can actually enjoy a walk long after dawn has come and gone.

My time here could not have been more timely; thus I stayed here in the home I grew up in for considerably longer than I had originally planned. My parent's health is increasingly fragile, so it was so good that I could be here to help them when Daddy had to be hospitalized with pneumonia. Mom hasn't gone up or down stairs or driven in 5 1/2 years, so I was in a position to really pick up the slack for them. Lots of cleaning, laundry, shopping, cooking, defrosting freezers, going to doctor's appointments, etc., but more importantly just having unhurried times to talk with them about all sorts of things. Daddy had recently been contacted by a man in the Netherlands doing research about the glider operations in WWII and the liberation of Holland. So as I helped him to respond--taking dictation and sending email--I heard stories I'd never heard before about his military service as a glider pilot. I am constantly amazed at the love Mother and Daddy share as continue in the married life of over 62 years now. Certainly I see the goodness of the Lord in that! Mother and I spent one delightful afternoon as she taught me the secrets for our favorite fruit cake. Another day, Mother and Daddy supervised my oldest nephew, John, and me in making a Swedish Potates Korv--a kind of sausage that Mother once described (when new to the family) as nothing but "hash in a gut." It is a family tradition that needed to be passed on. John and I learned all about it as we made and stuffed 40 pounds of Korv. Certainly I can taste the goodness of the Lord in these "delicacies."

All of this, plus all the other time on sabbatical, have been wonderfully restorative in many ways. I like feeling this rested and relaxed. I am gratefully aware of how the people of St. Matthew's picked up the pace and took on bigger roles in leadership and management in order for me to have the grace of this sabbatical. While in some ways it may be hard to go back to the day to day stuff of ministry, I am hopeful I will be able to incorporate some of the sabbatical disciplines into that part of my life as I move into the beginning of Advent with the celebration of my 20 years as a priest and my intentions for some more great years in this ministry entrusted to me by God.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Little Dab'll Do Ya

Grapes in El Priorat, Spain
Images on my mind: a raisin, a plate of appetizers, Sabbath, as I write on this unseasonably warm fall day, enjoying the sunshine after a great walk with Fargo and Rebel.
First, a raisin. Several months ago, I listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn speak about mindfulness, being in touch as much as possible with the moment, the surroundings, with self, right then and there. He spoke of a workshop in which participants were given a raisin, a single raisin; not a handful, not a boxful, just one raisin. For the next ten minutes they were to be mindful of the raisin, without eating it. They observed its wrinkled texture, the color, the feel, the smell. One guy put his in his ear. Finally, after appreciating all they could in those ways, they could put their raisin into their mouths--feeling it on tongue and cheek, then teeth as they bit it. POW, it was an explosion of flavor. It was as if they were tasting raisin for the very first time. They were mindful of the raisin and so experienced a raisin.
Kabat-Zinn continues about how in our normal eating we are apt to be jamming another handful/forkful into our mouths while still chewing the first bite. Mindful not of the first bite, nor of the succeeding texture, aroma, taste. I know this can be true for me, even when I'm not at a fast food place.
With that experience in mind (I used an almond, rather than a raisin), I have tried to be increasingly mindful of food and beverages, as well as other experiences, on this sabbatical time. I think it has helped me slow down to see, hear and experience even familiar things, people and places in new ways.
Certainly this mindfulness has enhanced my appreciation of the presentation of food in several restaurants in which the plates were as pleasing to the eye as they were to the mouth. Last Saturday I had a unique dining experience that went right along with my "taste and see" theme. The historic Elk Mountain Hotel in Elk Mountain, Wyoming hosted a gourmet dinner of all wild meats. Far from elk steaks roasted on an open fire, (thought there is nothing wrong with that), this multi-course dinner was as formally and pictorially presented as any I have ever had. The European-trained South African chef delights in using local foods, but with European flair (her words). Just as with the French cuisine I enjoyed a month ago, each course was composed of small portions, sensuously seasoned and delightful to savor visually and orally. We took three and a half hours to enjoy the food, the ambiance, the fellowship.
(For the foodies among the gentle readers, the menu included a starter of salmon pate, appetizers of wild boar, duck pate, venison and cranberry sausage; butternut bisque, fresh salad greens with sugared pecans and a delicate citrus vinaigrette; pheasant breast, seasoned with white wine and juniper berries, and polenta cake; fillet of venison with tiny green beans and sweet potato gratin with chipotle; pavola with a mix of berries; chocolate truffles and coffee with Kahlua layered with whipped cream)
These experiences challenge my thinking about abundance. So often I think of abundance in terms of large amounts, great numbers, big sizes. I sensed abundance when I saw countless clusters with grapes beyond number. Seeing one hallway of an underground wine cellar with one million (yes, truly, one million) bottles of Cava seems like abundance to me. BUT, what is it to truly taste one--just one--perfectly ripened Syrah grape, picked yourself from the vine? That is an amazing taste of abundant proportion.
This thinking is further supported by Allesandrao Scorsone, the events manager at government headquarters in Palazzo Chigi, who offers this word of advice for those wishing to enter the world of wine, "You need to drink less, but drink better. A good glass is all you need, just one. However, it must be the right one."
Even as I am formally away from church responsibilities, I am considering how these thoughts may play out for me as an individual and for the church at large. Could it mean living as simply as possible (plain food, simpler clothes, fewer activities, less responsibility, more restfulness) for six days and then using the resultant savings and energy for celebrations that may not be quantitatively larger, but qualitatively distinct where abundance is celebrated on a different scale? The POW taste of a single raisin, the grace-filled offering of one sip of really fine wine and service rendered with careful preparation and care; with appreciation of a small choir whose presentation is savored by those who sing and those who hear; where the space of silence is valued as much as the sounds of prayer, music, preaching. Could it mean a different preparation on Saturday (getting all the chores done on Saturday) so that the whole of Sunday--from sunset until sunset might be experienced with a greater sense of the gift it is--time to rest, reflect, feast with God, family and friends, letting God be in control, etc. Could it mean feasting on one carefully and lovingly prepared dish rather than a feast of huge abundant proportions?
That is enough for this moment and perhaps the answers will surface as I enjoy eating this one, single raisin.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Home in Rawlins

I've been in Rawlins for the last week staying with Mother and Daddy. This may well be the longest time I've been "at home" since my college days. This has been a relaxing time for me with ample opportunities to practice some of the techniques and recipes I learned on the European "taste and see tour." Many of the recipes had tomatoes and onions as key ingredients and with the current emphasis on eating foods locally grown, it is great that Daddy is a great tomato and onion grower. I have had plenty of both for my cooking, as well as carrots and cabbage for other more American meals. Fortunately the folks have been eager to experience the new recipes and to invite friends and family in for some fun dinner parties. It has been fun for me to come up with menus that are representative of the different countries. I think that overall the food has been good; or as my dear brother used to tell me, "We'll know it's good if it stays down." That was a high compliment from him. (I think)
Being in Rawlins for this extended time has given me the chance to see some old friends. Last Sunday I was so aware that I naturally gravitated to the pew where our family always sat. Just a couple of rows behind me was my 2nd grade Sunday school teacher; there were other folks present that I have known all my life. Even a trip to the grocery or hardware store is an occasion to see former classmates and long time family friends and even family members. Throughout the week my nephews and their families have stopped by to visit or to share a meal. Our roots in this town go really deep and no doubt have formed us all in various ways.

As I put that together with some of the reading I've done during the last several months about terroir which has been defined as the flavor or odor of certain locales that are given to its products, particularly with wine, I am so aware how we grew up eating locally, even before it was the latest fad. My grandparents and parents always had gardens. My family hunted elk, deer, birds. We bought lamb and beef from local ranchers. Daddy's garden provided lots of produce to many of their friends through the years.

Mark Davis is quoted in Amy Trubek's book, The Taste of Place, saying,"Terroir is character. it is the triumph of diversity over homogeneity." While there is no formula for determining this taste of place, there is a sense that the relationship that exists between the land and the folks who farm it, live on it, make their home on it, is somehow incarnated in their values, hopes and dreams. I know that somehow my need for independence, bucking up when the going gets tough and using humor to diffuse a crises is tied into the self-sustaining gardening, hunting and family meals of my family. I realize that the deep roots of lifetime friends which my parents continue to enjoy, even as the obits in the daily paper are more frequently of their friends, is something which amazes me. Perhaps going away and coming home again make me even more appreciative of the foundation which has supported me in what I have become and done. Perhaps that is why in the next couple of weeks I will spend some time in the kitchen with Mother, learning some of the family recipes which up until now have not been part of my repertoire.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fog and furrows

Furrows of sprouting winter wheat
So here I am back in my beloved high country, greeted by fall changing to winter with snow sticking to the ground on my trip north from Denver. Having arrived in late evening, I spent the night at a hotel near DIA, then caught a shuttle to Cheyenne where my good friend, Roxanne, was on hand to greet me and take me to a hole-in-the-wall purveyor of absolutely delicious Mexican food. It is good to have this comfort food of home, familiar aromas and spices. Their green chili compares favorable with the best I've eaten at the Lariat and Su Casa in Rawlins.
It is good getting reacquainted with my dog boys, Fargo and Rebel. Rox did some great training with them, so our first long walk around the wheat fields was even more enjoyable. After a month of little physical labor, it feels right to spend several hours raking leaves and hauling dead branches to Rox's growing compost pile. I like this opportunitiy to get in the work zone and have time to think some about the last several days.
While waiting for the shuttle at DIA, the thick fog made it impossible to have any sense of direction. I couldn't see the mountains; there was no sunrise--all very disorienting to me. After the last month following a travel itinerary with planes and trains to catch and classes to attend, the fog seems a fitting metaphor for the upcoming month or so. I have some notions of what I'll be doing, but the day to day, hour by hour is not so clear right now. Catching up on the Bible reading I missed while in transit, the familiar verse from Matthew 11 grabs my attention: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." This time away has been restful. I'm aware that my face and carriage feel different: more relaxed, happy, rested. Oh, what a grace that is. But I am also very glad that I have some additional time before returning to Laramie and St. Matthew's and getting back in the traces again.
Back to my habit of early morning walks with the dogs, I can't help but notice the difference in the wheat fields. When I was last here near Carpenter, the wheat harvest was just finishing up. Those fields are now stubble, resting in fallow. And the fields which were fallow then are now sprouting green with shoots of winter wheat, row upon row stretching to the horizon.
Roger Nash, author of the short story, "The Camera and the Cobra," writes about how the landscape shapes us, saying, "It seems, sometimes, as though they (landscapes) do their thinking through us. A landscape can awaken understandings, in us, that, at the time, we'd mistake as entirely our own, supposing we're in complete control of having them. Later, we realize that, but for being in that place, we'd never have arrived at those ideas...As nature speaks to us, awakening new mind-sets, we become more fully and richly ourselves...We fully come home only as the fuller selves we can become: otherwise, an undiscovered, unexplored part of us is left wandering."
So much of life is cyclical. Birth, death, rebirth; labor and rest; sorrow and gladness, disoriented and lacking direction and moving on with a goal in mind. A friend recently wrote me with the observation that following this time away I will be different, having seen, tasted, experienced and explored the world in new ways. She said that those who remained at home, living life in a familiar context would be different, too, having experienced things without me--music, worship, forums, crises.
I'm not sure what these differences are or what they will mean. It is like the disorienting fog, but as the way becomes clear, I'm sure that once again we will see that to change is to grow. And so the cycle of life will continue in the vineyard of the Lord where we live and move and have our being. Perhaps new varieties of grapes planted where old vines flourished will yield a fine, nuanced and complex varietal that pleases the palate, tickles the nose and delights those invited to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sisters on sabbatical

A photo of Joan and me before leaving Greece

Just try one bite--guest blog of Joanie Martino

Joanie making Kafedetes

The kitchen at Eddy's Greek Cooking School near Aliki on Paros

With lots of encouragement from my family, I was able to join with my sister, Marilyn, on the last segment of her "Taste and See Sabbatical."

When all the hurdles to leave my husband and kids were left behind, I soon began to taste the Wyoming freedom of being in charge of only me and began to savor 8 days stirring the pots that make me who I am.

Leaving everyone gave me a smorgasbord of feelings: I shouldn't indulge myself while they're all at home; I can't wait to pack only my clothes; what will the family do without my presence and ability to get everyone to the desired location at the right time with all the appropriate equipment and clothes; realizing that I will be able to watch the entire on-flight movie without interruption; and wondering what if Bob does better than I do and the kids don't miss me. Finally, time to spend with my sister whom I never get enough of due to proximity, jobs and obligations. Such a spread of thoughts and feelings went into the decision to meet Marilyn and then actually take the steps and actually go to meet her in Greece.

The time in Greece continued to be filled with tastes and sights. Tastes of exotic foods that at times required a push from within to go ahead, step out in faith and try it. Tastes of new music, smells that were unusual to my nose and finally the taste of time that it was time only for the sisters or the Cowgirls as Bob refers to us. Each taste made the time in Greece an experience I wanted to share with others and yet savoring them and knowing it was tasting time for only the two of us. I knew my presence would change the flavor for Marilyn's time, but I hoped my being with her for just the last part would bring a difference and companionship that had been missing--someone else to "taste" her experience. Time at a table where two or more are gathered enriches the time. Slowly bringing Mare's solo time to an end and then back to her family and finally to her church family.

The taste of Greece is deep, layered spices in slow cooking, layered culture with influences of myth and other cultures in their history and layered with tourists from all over the world. Greece is an explosion in taste of all ways.

In "sight" my time with Mare in Greece was unique also. First, just the physical appearance of place, people and things. Noticing the differences, then searching for commonalities--they resemble someone I know, this place looks like the Red Desert of Wyoming, another place looks as it has a past older than I can comprehend. Seeing and spending time with my sister, I always feel like my eyes are drinking her in--her presence in mine, her eyes dancing and laughing as we share this experience.

How does God figure into this? I guess first with trust that he can guide us and others to help while we are in Greece. Next, in love that he wants us to be together with others to share his world--new friends, old friends and family. Last, his blessings that the world he made for us is great and eternal from the Olympians of ancient times, to the chefs today to the skill of the pilots on this flight home. He puts others in our lives at all times so we taste and see that He is good.

Monday, October 19, 2009

From the oracle at Delphi

Aloura (So in Italy), Vale (okay in Spain) Now Greece and how can one say the submissive gesture that says "don't worry?"

I did get to Paros despite a cancelled flight and knew I'd leave there eventually despite another cancelled flight. And in the inbetween time spent at Maria's Village in Aliki--a nice new cottage just 100 yards from the Sea, then time at Eddy's cooking school on the nearby mountain, who knew how much fun and learning would go on?

My sister, Joanie, was waiting to greet me when the plane landed on Paros. It didn't take long to get settled in and walk "into town" to enjoy a really find Greek meal of Tsatiki and sausage. Walking on the beach and through the small town (think Riverside or Encampment), and just enjoying being together; later enjoying a bottle of the local red wine and supper of boiled sting ray, grilled swordfish, pork steak and the usual Greek salad.

After breakfast on Friday morning we were met by Eddy, the chef/teacher of our Greek cooking experience. In the environs of a 250 year old (barely renovated) farm house, we learned cooking from a Dutch computer engineer, who believes he has a Greek heart. Specializing in how "they" did it in the old days when the farm was new, he is transforming the house and barns and teaching everyone (even Greeks) how life was lived.

So it was that cooking on small marble slabs heated by very low heat on gas burners, he simulates the ovens of old bakeries. We made 11 different recipes to make a full lunch for 5 and a dinner for 9 during our 12 hours with Eddy. We split the timebetween active chopping, slicing, mixing, sniffing and tasting with tours of his ouzo distillery, the nearby monastery, the goat farm and with rest on the patio sipping wine, listening to Greek music and relaxing.

And when it was all over for the day we had made Tzatziki, Scordalia, Keftedes Courgettes, Briam, Papousakia, Keftedes, Stifado, Marouli, Rice and Horta. It was a wonderful non-stressful time following Eddy's method of Greek cooking in which there can be no panic. It's all fun and enjoyable. I'm still amazed at what we accomplished on less than 2 square feet of counter space with 3 frying pans, 1 dutch oven, 1 sauce pan and 3 marble slabs on a primitive gas stove. Joanie compared it to cooking in a sheep wagon.

The following morning we caught the ferry to Athens as our flight had been cancelled with no provision for our return. The 4 hours on the top deck, soaking up the Greek sun was most relaxing. So who can worry?

In Athens we quickly checked into our hotel before heading to the new Museum of the Acropolis. It's built over ancient ruins and in places, one walks on glass floors in order to look below at some of the seven layers of the excavated city. Unfortunately, the Acropolis was closed for the night so we weren't able to "summit" it.

We joined a tour group Saturday to tour the Pelopynesian Penisula. Our guide was an amazing teacher who easily kept our interes as he introduced us to Greece from the Bronze Age on. Myths, legends, history all came alive as we went from place to place. I particularly enjoyed his insights about how to "read" a frieze and how sculpture changed through the ages.

Spending one morning in ancient Olympia was a real treat. It is amazing that the ancient games were held for nearly 1000 years beginning in 776 BC; during that time only 22 cheaters broke the stringent rules for competition. Their punishment included having their names, the names of their fathers, the cities they represented and the nature of their infringement etched on marble and placed near the entrance to the stadium. Their shame was so great most committed suicide. A big difference from now with some of our heroic athletes.

While there we watched the rehearsal for the lighting of the Olympic Torch which takes places next week in preparation for the Winter Games in Calgary. Runners will carry the torch to Athens where it will be flown to eastern Canada where runners chosen by lot will carry it across the continent in the following weeks.

Touring with a group has been loads of un as we conversed on the bus and shared meals together in the evening. I thought my trip was significant until visiting with several who have been "on the road" from 7 weeks to 8 months. Those Aussies really know how to travel.

This morning we spent touring the ancient site of the Temples of Athena and Apollo where the oracle of Delphi is located. It is an amazing site where mountains, rivers, groves and the sea all converge. It is easy to see why it has been considered a holy spot since antiquity. Consulting the oracle leads me to believe that this will be my last post on this side of the Atlantic. We fly back tomorrow morning. Since I am unable to upload photos at this place, I will try to blog soon with some photos of the some of the amazing things we tasted and saw.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's Greek to Me: a travel glitch

Bread and wine above and San Marcos below

Struck by the words of Psalm 5 in the Daily Office, "In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation," I sipped my cappacino and set forth my hopes for the day. In the quiet corner of the boarding area of the Venice airpot, I gave thanks for my wonderful sojourn in Italy and looked forward to meeting my sister, Joanie, in Athens. We planned to travel together to Paros for the last of my cooking adventures.

The stay in Venice had given me several great memoires and insights. I was elated to finally see this infamous city and enjoyed being windblown as I stood in the back of the water taxi on my way down the Grand Canal, dodging slower water buses and emerging gondolas as they came from small channels just waiting to be explored. Venice is nothing short of romantic. Dueling little orchestras playing danceable oldies on the huge San Marcos Plaza, lovers cuddled together for private gondola rides, quiet canal-side eateries everywhere you turn.

Sitting alone at one such place I was aware that I longed for a dinner companion. (companion from com=with; and pan=bread, thus someone to break bread with). The first cooking schools featured preparing meals to eat together. Loads of fun exploring new tastes and textures, then talking about them together. The school in Florence was much more about professional preparation of food for guests and not so much about sharing the good food together. Eating there was more of a stand up affair in the kitchen before rushing off to something else. Then several days eating alone. So I found myself on more than one occasion in Venice mentally fast forwarding to being with Joanie and to making plans for my return home.

The bascilica of San Marcos is an amazing edifice, an imposing building the dominates the busy plaze that must be the size of several football fields, filled with music, crowds, hawkers of souvenirs and children feeding and chasing pigeons and the occasional out-of-place gull. The inside tour of the church is not to be missed. Even in the dim lighting, the gold mosaics of holy events and people take your breath away. Unfortunately, the mosaics are only lighted on Sunday and Sunday the place had been closed for a private event. So I contented myself with the view at hand. Seeing the plaza below from my perch on the outdoor gallery gave me a new perspective on the bells which are struck by ancient robots, on the size and busyness of the plaza , on the layout of the Grand Canal. And yet for all these good things, I was ready to move on to the next thing.

The flights to Rome and Athens were right on time and then things began to go awry. The afternoon flight to Paros had been cancelled. Apparently Joanie had received word in the States and made connections for an earlier flight. But there I was stuck in Athens and the alternative ferry was not running due to high seas.
Frustrated, teary, tired and aggravated, I struggled to keep my composure and go with the flow. Hadn't I begun with the idea that travel is an adventure? Stilll, having to go to 4 different places and get 3 different forms to locate my luggage and then taking 45 minutes on a bus trip to the hotel was not anywhere in the plans I had prayed in the morning.

It's amazing how a shower, lunch on a balcony overlooking the sea, an email from Joanie and a call to Paros began to let my perspective change. I really had no control over these events and I might as well quit pouting and find something good here. The sunset was every bit as golden as the Greek travel brochures promised; the cocktail with a friendly French couple on holiday was relaxing, despite the challenge of their limited English and my even more limited French; and the buffet of Greek delectables was comfort food of a whole new kind.

But perhaps the best was running into the executive chef in the hallway after dinner. When I complimented him on the wonderful menu, he stopped his errand and just stood to visit for a time. He spoke of his joy and the hard work in this vocation, of his love of Mediteranean cuisine, how God had blessed this area with oranges--round like the world; with olives and grapes in abundance; the sight and smell of the best vegetables. He wondered how with all these beautiful things that Jews, Christians and Muslims could fight. Why not just eat?

When I asked how he began to cook, he blamed it all on his grandmother. Despite protests of the family, she insisted that they all go to Church every Sunday. Afterward the whole family gathered at her home for dinner for what she pointed out was their second union with God: first at church, then with family. He had spent his lifetime trying to re-create for others the ambience and the delectable flavors and aromas of his grandma's kitchen.

And maybe that is what I most needed to hear/learn. That this whole cooking adventure is based on my deep longing that people everywhere would all have time to enjoy union with God and with one another with bread to break, wine to pour and an abundance of food to be shared; that we all may taste and see that the Lord is good, even when our best laid plans are put on hold for a time. God willing I'll be in Paros in time today to enjoy lunch with Joanie and to see the sights of another wonderful part of this world.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I once was lost....

Torta della Nonna (with pears)
A view of the Duomo from San Domenico, Siena

Yesterday, after finishing my last class at Scuola di Arte Culinaria--Cordon Bleu, (with Rabbit Cacciatora, Bucatini all' Amatriciana, Spaghetti alla Puttaresca, Finocchi al Parmigiana and Torta della Nonna) and thus earning a certificate and an apron (no chef's jacket yet), I came to Siena. Checked into Hotel Italia, grabbed a map and took off to see this historic, scenic town on my own. I had a private tour arranged for the next day (today), but wanted to see it myself first. After the hustle of Florence with 460,000 residents and countless tourists, Siena (pop= 60,000) was paradise. Still lots of tourists, but on a whole different scale.

Soon I was in prayer at San Domenico, the church home of Catherine of Siena, a doctor of the Church and I think the only woman so honored. Illiterate and yet a lay sister of amazing intellectual stature and persuasive charisma, a healer and worker of miracles, she is the patron saint of Siena, Italy and Europe (according to my tour guide) Her head and thumb are on display as relics.

Siena, a city set on a hill, was once a rival to Florence. The first ever bank was founded here in 1472. The bubonic plague wiped out much of the population; the Florentines took over after some battles and Siena became a back water town.

The amazing and fun thing for me to learn was about the 17 contrades. They are benevolent and social groups, once based on trades and geographical boundaries, but now are furiously competive in many arenas, but particularly in the 2 Palio events in July and August. The Palio is a bareback horse race in which 10 contrades are chosen by lot to enter their horse in a 3 circuit race around the city "square." From a film I watched and the explanation of my guide, it sounds like something crossed with Mardi Gras, Kentucky Derby, Cheyenne Frontier Days and a Shriner's Convention. Flag twirlers and drummers compete in addition to the horses.

But all bragging rights go to the contrade whose horse crosses the finish line first (with or without a jockey) and the whole shebang is really based on which contrade captain can "buy" or influence the other jockeys to lose, fall off, or truly win. So it is both skill on some levels and on chance on others.

People are born into contrades and have immense loyalty to their particular group and an affinity to their groups' allies. Groups are Elephant, Ostrich, Porcupine, Dolphibn, Ram, Unicorn, Dragon, Snail, Caterpillar, Turtle, Duck and a few others I can't remember) By pre-nup agreements, "mixed families" determine which contrade their offspring will be initiated into.

So, after checking out the Duomo and the Campo, I realized I'd lost my map. Darkness was just moments away; I didn't know the address of the hotel; rain was beginning to come down in earnest. I am so grateful that several views had been particularly memorable to me, including a tree seen from a brick lined, building bound, narrow street with a shop with smiling cat purses. Once I saw that tree I knew I could find "home."

But as I trudged along (even before sighting the tree), I started chuckling to myself. How absolutely funny (and fun) it was to be in a new place, lost and yet assured that soon I would find myself or be found.

Lost in Toulouse, mixed up in the French countryside, misplaced in Aix, misguided in Florence and, come to think of it, at some point lost in nearly every other place I've been. (And I consider myself a competent map reader with a good sense of direction. Just don't trust me as I am probably on my way to being found!!!)

Certainly an unexpected grace of this sabbatical is having the freedom, time and space to experience events and then reflect on them--not just record them on film or put them into a journal with the hopes of one day considering what it all meant. Trying to get a handle on how the landscape shapes me in the here and now.

We all get lost in many ways at many times in life's journey, but the good news is that, like the Prodigal, who "came to his senses," we find a view that reminds us how to return home again. For a moment, home may be a hotel in a strange, new city; or it may be the repair of a broken relationship; or it may be simply sitting down to supper with family or friends you left in the morning before going to work. It may be coming home to God, realizing we are found, forgiven, loved and named.

Having received word of many tragic deaths and sad events in Laramie, I am grateful that the saints who are there "at home" understand and undertake their ministries with such competence, grace and faith.

Caio! Blessings!

P.S. On this rainy night I regret leaving my Gore-tex jacket in Spain. It too was lost and now is found and it on its way back to Laramie. I'm glad for souvenir shops which sell umbrellas, too. And now out to find food and find my way back home.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Photos to go with following post

Noah "taking a nap" after enjoying some wine--from the Campenille at the Duomo
Chocolate Wine Cake

Ossibuchi being prepared

Aromas of herbs and spices

On this penultimiate day in Florence, I am on the piazza of Hotel Monna Lisa, enjoying a second pot of coffee and the cool morning, sure it will be in the high 70's later. This week at Cordon Bleu has been like total emulsion/immersion in Italian. Chefs Gianna and Christina use 99.9% Italian and Gabriella uses 95% when she occassionally drops in to translate. Most of the students are enrolled in 2-4 month courses, training to be professional chefs. In nearly every way I am out of my comfort zone; other than I do know what a stove is. I thought I knew how to use a whisk, but was quickly corrected. It is really loads of fun and I am learning much by observation, osmosis and from a couple of American students who answer my questions during the occasional breaks.

For the gentle "foodie" readers I will treat you with our recent learnings. Day 1, Techniques, we made Spinach/Swiss chard piel, Ossibuchi, Risotto ala Milanese, and Panna Cotta. Day 2, Pastry, was Torta Mimosa, Pasta Genovese, Zuccotto Toscano and Chocolate Wine Cake. Yesterday was all about sauces: Maionese, Hollandaise, Bechamel, Bernaise, Bordolese, Aeloli, all with variations. We finished up with mustard infused apple sauce and a sweet and sour sauce. At the very conclusion about 30 different fresh herbs were distributed to the 12 of us to touch, taste and smell while Gianna described their uses.

Perhaps it was only coincidental that my morning study included "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2Cor 2:14-15)

As a sauce reached its proper stage of reduction, Gianna would draw us close to sniff how it should be--even before tasting. it intriques me what "fragrance" we, as Christians, infuse the world. Somehow I believe it is the aroma of peace/shalom/well being rather than anger, hunger, war; it is empathy, forgiveness, generosity and concern the needy, rather than misunderstanding, intolerance, greed and getting even.

As part of my Italian time I have read about St. Francis and the Franciscan vocation. Susan Pitchford, a 3rd Order Franciscan writes, "We'll know we've discovered our proper job when we find that task to which we cannot bear to give anything short of our best. When no sacrifice is too great, no detail to trivial, and we're prepared to lavish the last of our resources on it, then we've found our vocation.

I see this sense of vocation in the folks training to be chefs as they sacrifice to much to participate in this course. As one whose vocation is to be the aroma of Christ, I am thinking about the sacrifices, details and generous spirit that this calls forth. I join in this prayer attributed to St. Francis in The Absorbeat, "May the power of your love, Lord Christ, fiery and sweet as honey, wean my heart from all that is under heaven, so that I may die for love of your love, who were so good as to die for love of my love. Amen."

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Doors and greetings

Some recent photos

Abre la puerta--open the door

I just tried to post and lost it, but will try again hurriedly to wish all a happy St. Francis Day and to say thanks for the greetings and birthday wishes to me, too. I'm happily ensconced at Monna Lisa Hotel in Florence. The management sent me a complimentary bottle of sparkling wine, aptly named Monna Lisa Chardonnay. Yea!

I hit the streets as soon as I could and found a favorite ristorante on Piazza San Marco where I enjoyed Aristos, a pork loin chop with pureed fennel. Yum. Then just traipsed around enjoying the sights and sounds of folks enjoying a warm fall afternoon, eating gellato, drinking those dinky, but strong cups of coffee, walking their dogs and enjoying friends. I touristed some in a church I'd never gone to before it was lovely.

So here I am starting my 60th year. In the last 6 months or so I've been thinking a lot about doors. I think it all began when I heard a CD of Clarissa Pinkola Estes reading her poem, Abre La Puerto, which translates, "open the door." She repeatedly invites/commands the reader to open the door because behind or within every door is God. She insists that opening the door to children, the homeless, your partner, your hurts, and the hurts of the whole creation will lead you to encounter God, because God is there in them and with them.

Doors suggest new beginnings bkut also limitations. Doors open, but they also close. They can keep you in or out depending on which side you are on. Or they can keep others close at hand or at bay, as well.

On my first visit abroad, a friend and I arrived on a very late flight into Bergen, Norway. We knew there were no available rooms because of the Grieg festival, but by gum, we had our plane reservations and we were bound and determined to use them. The airport manager agreed to let us spend the rainy night in the airport, but he insisted on locking us in, but said he would return in the morning to free us. (at least that is how we interpreted it) That event reminds me that some times we feel trapped by our own volition and need for security and sometimes we feel trapped by the wants and needs of others. This event also has served as a kind of metaphor for me. When I have the opportunity to open a door and discover "Norway" will I do it or will I stay in relative safety, just looking out the door, wondering what Norway has to offer and where God is beckoning me onward.

I sometimes wonder what doors I have slammed shut and kept others out or when I've opened them wide and welcomed them in, even aware that they will track in mud with all their issues, problems and stuff, but also almost always had a message of God working in and through them, if I only have ears to hear and a heart to understand. Sometimes I've chosen one way, sometimes another.

The threshold of every door is a liminal space; a momentary place in time between entering and leaving. For just that bit of time, one is going out, coming in, coming out, going in. It will never be the same again, even when it is the same door.

And so tomorrow it is on to Cordon Bleu of Florence--4 days of opening new spices, learning new techniques, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. Open your mouth, open your eyes, open the door. Abre La Puerta.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Eyes Have It

Some evidence that the eyes get to experience exquisite food, too.
Some of my attempts to be a food artist.

If being in Spain was about tastes on the plate, then being in France is about seeing the plate. I'm at Chateau de l'Hoste, north of Agen and south of Cahors for the gentle reader who is a map freak. This is a lovely old stone mansion with about 30 guest rooms, a dining room that seats about 25 and a pool. It is in the heart of farm country where there are fields of corn and sunflowers ready forharveste; fields laying fallow, orchards of hazel nuts and figs. This area is well known for its ducks raised especially for foie gras and for its prunes; indeed there are museums dedicated both to foie gras and to prunes. I visited the former, but not the latter. There are limits!

But back to the eyes. Each meal is brought forth on white oblong plates. The color, the shape, and the size of the garnishes make the plate an artist's pallette. I almost hate to disturb it, but the aromas entice and the first taste has me oohing, aahing, moaning in delight. If I were faking it could be something from Harry Met Sally, but there is no faking this. Oh, my!!!

Yesterday, in our class a Swiss German-speaking couple, a French men, an American couple from Arizona and I worked with Chef Guy Herault in something right out of Biology 101. We disected our huge, fat duck livers for foir gras. Once it was all properly placed in a loaf pan to be steamed, drained and weighed down, we learned all about how to properly cut up a duck in such a way that every little tidbit could be used. The breasts were butterflied open, then 5 prunes placed in the crease, rolled up, tied up as in a rolled roast. Ah yes, later to be fried and sliced for a starter. Other parts of the duck were to be used for a terrine, served in cassoulet, made into soup. As the class ended we celebrated with foie gras on two kinds of bread--one white, one prune/nut--and about 6 different kinds of jam and a light Cahor white wine.

For lunch we got the duck breast starter, a entre of terrine with figs and other little tidbits. The main plate was a salmon fillet with all sorts of colorful and tasty garnishes. Dessert went over the top with homemade double chocolate ice cream on a bed of ginger confite.

Spent the afternoon recovering from all that with a visit to the museum and a nice long swim, then reading until I fell asleep for a bit of a nap in the warm fall sun.

Today our cooking class was dedicated to learning how to make all the garnishes we had seen. I learned about five ways to use a tomato for garnish and a bunch of neat things to do with cucumbers, butternut squashand lemons or oranges. The we prepared salmon tartar, salmon filets, and other garnishes for our own lunch. The Arizona couple and I were joined by two fun French women.

There was a moment in between having Chef Guy gently show me the proper way to hold the knife to achieve the proper result and completing my own garnished plate, that I was so aware how much I have enjoyed this experience. It was a little scary for me to attempt doing something that I had no idea if I would be good at or would really enjoy and finding just how much I really like learning something new; to be open to the risk of failing and then succeeding at some of it and botching up some of it and knowing that the end result was really all about the process after all.
Later in the day as I walked to a neighboring town I walked through a hazel nut orchard. I readily recalled Dame Julian of Norwich's words about the hazel nut in which God showed her that God loved it and that everything has being through the love of God. Later she writes, "What do you wish to know your Lord's meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love. Remain in this and you will know more of the same."

And so I felt much love, much joy, great peace/shalom, a renewing of faith and an experience of God's presence all around me. I saw it with my eyes and with the eyes of my heart and I knew that today the Eyes have it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Picture this

Catacurian School, a former farm house in El Masroij, Spain

Salt cod with tomato sauce,
Patris, Line and Marilyn, new Catacurian graduates

Paella, does it get any better than this?

I made it to Toulouse via train today. After several attempts driving on narrow, pedestrian filled streets, I made it my my hotel. The whole day from the driver finding Catacurian (beginning his search in the wrong town and still getting me to the train in time) to finally finding the car rental at the train station to having to circle the inner city numerous times and then finding a restaurant recommended by the guide book, it all seemed like God just guiding and directing me to the right place when I really needed to be there and not before. The hotel is very nice, but it kind of gives me aesthetical whiplash. It is a lovely old building that has been renovated in a very modern style: black walls with LED lights that come on as you move down the hall; much chrome and airplane oriented things, includig a cloud mural on the walls and an espresso machine in the room. This is another beautiful city, filled with old churches and monasteries and loads of cafes, shops and specialty stores. But as you can see I mostly wanted to share some of the great photos above of the previous week in the first cooking shool in El Masroij, Spain. The finale of Paella was a great time in the making, made even more special when our chef (Alicia)'s brother and a friend/colleague stopped by to pick up a special pot for making white beans and stayed to enjoy the fruits of our efforts. They were loads of fun, sharing stories and skits. Laughter seemed to be our common language. I even did the "Babusha" story in Spanish (of a sort) Tomorrow I'm off to the next school at a chateaux a couple of hours drive away.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Catacurian: Olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, nuts, cookies

Carmelizing the "Creme de San Josep"'

Tomato sorbet with olive pate

Catacurian ("Cata" short for Catalonyan and "curian" for Epicurian) is my first cooking school. This old, totally renovated farm house on the edge of the Tarragon village, El Masroij, is where I have enjoyed a renewed sense of utter happiness. The owner/chef, Alicia, a retired ballerina and dance teacher, used to visit her abuela (granny) in this place. Now she shares her abuela's recipes (and her innovations to them) with her students. Enrollment is limited to 6, but this week, there are just 3 of us--me and a French speaking couple from Quebec. They are young, fun and well traveled.

For me this has been an experience in tasting all kinds of new foods that I have never had the opportunity to try before. And have I been missing out or what? Many of the dishes we helped create are made in one pot and will most definitely be among my new "signature dishes." Most of them include 2 basic mixtures that are added at some point in the cooking process. The first "La Picada" which means "knock, knock," the sound of a pestle in mortar, is a very finely ground mix of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, garlic, cookies, friend bread; and may include chocolate and/or the meat of special peppers. This paste is used to thicken sauces, rather than flour or corn starch. The other big additive is "Sofregit," which is like the Holy Trinity in Cajun food. It is is onions, grated tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. Maybe some parsely added; and brandy or white wine added at the end to carmelize the mix. When these two things are put together, then the other cooking really begins.

After this week, I will have to buy garlic in bulk, tomatoes by the bushel and olive oil by the gallon. Of course, chef Alicia is very biased toward the produce of "el Priorat" where we are located. This area was revitalized in the 1200's by Carthusian monks as they planted grapes vines and taught new agriculture methods to the locals. The head of the monastery, the Prior, was considered as nobility, thus the name "Priorat." Here they grow special tiny olives that give the best oil, the best nuts, the best grapes for wine. The Mediterranean is not far away, so fish figures prominenently in many dishes; as does lamb, Iberian (black) hog, wild game, rabbits and birds.

Just to make the mouths of the gentle readers water, we have made and enjoyed such delights as mussels with rosemary and garlic. Don't peel the garlic and saute it whole for a great sensation--very mild and the texture of potato. And Suquet de peix--a fish stew of hake, shrimp, clams, sofregit, picada. Another evening we had monkfish with rice, artichokes, rice, onion and garlic. Another night veal with three kinds of mushrooms in a sauce of sofregit and picada and stock. This could easily become a favorite.

Some interesting salads have included a huge white asparagus with duck breast ham, olive oil and pepper; tomato sorbet with olive pate; broiled goat cheese with a sprig of thyme on mixed greens with a mustard vinegarette. Oh, and did I mention that it is good to add olive oil to all of these? Desserts have often been simple fruits with cheese. But last night we made Creme de San Josep; traditionally a Father's Day treat, but is basically the Spanish version of creme brule. Tonight we make the requisite Paella; Alicia says that her school would be a failure if every class didn't enjoy this regional specialty.

I suppose it goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, the Priorat is a major wine producing region. So every meal is accompanied by a perfect pairing of wine(s); often beginning with the Spanish version of champagne, "Cava" available in white or stronger tasting red. Some of the white wines are very bold and hold up well with some very spicy dishes; the reds are complex--the result of interesting hybrids which love this dry, shale soil; hot days and tender care. We have sampled many varieties--even some while they were still fermenting in huge stainless steel tanks or aging in oak barrels. Nothing like going to the source, huh?

Today at a vineyard tour, near the Carthusian monastery, Jordie, the winery owner--a young, entrapeneur, with big dreams said, "What we are making in the vineyard is the most important part of the whole wine business." The technology and science of making wine can be controlled and is really pretty standard; bottling and aging can make some interesting nuances, but not so much; marketing can show off a wine and make some profits, but it is really what happens in the vineyard where it really all begins and ends. Some of it has to do with the care that someone exercises in the care of the vines--pruning, spading the soil, deciding when the grapes have reached their right sugar content, color and so on. But it also has to do with intangibles like the soil, the sun, the rain, the elevation. And maybe all of that really has to do with God and God's creation and provision. The Carthusians were silent hermits who listened for God in nature: birds singing, water flowing, wind in the trees. Being attuned to God by mindful awareness also made them enthusiastic pray-ers for the souls of others. As I think of the vineyards where we work (offices, schools, homes) and the people with whom we have contact, I wonder how we might convey that these very people in these very places are the most important part of the whole "God business." And trust that God is working in them and in us, with us and through us far more than we can ever ask or imagine.

Kind of amazing what one begins to think in the middle of siesta time after a lovely lunch of salt cod with tomato sauce and a goat cheese salad. Oh and did I mention that we added olive oil on top of it all and had a lovely white wine from El Priorat? Taste and see that the Lord is good! Salud!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Habla espanol?

Morrow de bacalla amb fons de'espinacs amb allioli suac at 4 Gats
My last day in NYC was spent with a friend I've known since kindergarten. Virginia left Rawlins to seek her fortune in New York as soon as high school ended. She is an artist and designer, master swimmer and scuba diver. What a treat it was to have someone--almost a native--show me around her part of the city. Since she has become involved in the Slow Food movement and shops most every day at the famous NY Farmer's Market, she was eager to also show me some of the speciality shops with their offering of cakes, fish, cheese. It was simply amazing to wander through Chelsea (saw General Theological Seminary), Soho, Greenwich Village, Flatiron, etc, all places I've read about, but never seen. We also walked the Highline which is a community movement to make a walking path and narrow, long park where an elevated railroad once ran. Eventually we ended up at Mari Vanna, a new Russian restaurant where I enjoyed a cold soup with an impossible name that uses rootbeer as the base. Her sorrel soup was much tastier, but not nearly so much fun.

The flight to Barcelona was easy with good films to pass the time. Then welcome to Spain! In my efforts to get adjusted quickly to the time change, I checked into the hotel and found a hop on/hop off bus tour. It was a great way to get the lay of the land and to see some of the famous spots. I particularly enjoyed seeing Sagreda Familia, the unfinished church, designed by Gaudi. It is an amazing piece of architecture with holy symbols, words and columns, chimneys, towers inspired by nature. One of the exhibits had photos of plants and animals, accompanied by his drawings, models of plaster and photos of the finished work. After seeing that, it made touring the church that much more enjoyable. The carvings dedicated to the Nativity were simply amazing.

We toured much of the Olympic (1992) Village, the stadium for the Barcellona Futbol Team which inspired some other tourists to join in singing the Barce song, and the world class harbor. The Queen Mary 2 was in port, Barcellona is the leading city for cruises.

In the evening I wandered through Las Ramblas to find the legendary Cuatro Gats (4 Cats) where Picassa and other artists used to hang out. Barcellona is famous for its salt cod and I enjoyed a wonderful cod loin sauteed spinach and alioli. Yummy and pretty, too. I got a kick out of ordering my whole meal in Espanol and having some Canadian tourists ask me if I could speak English, so they could get help ordering their meal. Too funny.

Today, I enjoyed tours of the Jean Leon winery. He was an associate of Frank Sinatra and started La Scala in Hollywood with James Dean. This winery was founded just to provide specialty wines for the restaurant. It's a big exporter around the world now since being purchased by the Torres family conglomerate. We also toured a huge exporter of Cava, the sparkling wine of Spanish origin. It is some kind of abundance to see 1.5 million bottles of wine in one cellar, just letting the yeast settle, and another couple of million in other states of production.
So, all is well, as I settle into the tasting part of this time. Tomorrow, begins a cooking class at the Catacurian School. Where do I see God? in the amazing artistry of cathedrals and churches as the special gifts of talented artists are offered? Where do I taste God? in the variety of new dishes. (and in a cup of Starbucks late in the day when my hotel's coffee maker didn't work for breakfast--as the deer panteth for the water, I was desperate for coffee) in the face of a fellow tourist who was on leave from her 2nd tour in Iraq and is headed to Afghanistan in November. She was of good humor as she enjoyed this brief leave and we toasted her rest, recuperation and hopes for peace.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

New York, New York

Kent Falls on the way back from the Dairy Farm

The last day on the farm at Melrose was highlighted with a beautiful drive through the just beginning to turn leaves to the dairy farm where the Community gets their raw milk to make yogurt and cheese. Along the way Helena Marie and I stopped to see several waterfalls and to forage for some black hickory nuts along the side of a highway. These gals truly are into being self sustaining with food as much as possible.

Though I had planned to take a train into the city, Helena Marie decided it would be fun to drive me in. It gave us some additional time to visit and an adventure. After getting caught up in traffic, the car overheated and began making an awful clunking sound. Fortunately we were able to get off the ramp and coast into a service station in Spanish Harlem. The guys standing around analyzed the problem as the fans had quit working. Another of God's graces: right across the street was a garage and auto parts store. While the car cooled down and we determined a course of action, we enjoying sitting under the trees in an alley, listening to Latin music, smelling food cooking and watching the men get off work relaxing in reject office chairs in the alley and drinking Corona's. Eventually an AAA tow truck took the car to another garage and dropped us off at a subway station so we could go on to the Convent.

Got settled into my cell before Helena Marie and I found a nearby by Indian cafe for Lamb Vindaloo. On one side was Thai, on the other Sushi and we'd passed by a Cuban cafe. It is amazing and wonderful to hear so many different languages and to see the different ethnic and cultural groups all around. Whole groups of orthodox Jews on their way to Rosh Hashana services; Indians in saris; etc.

Yesterday I got my "church fix" spending time at St. John the Divine; St. Bart's and St. Patrick's Cathedral. Later I toured some of the exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art. Oh, wow! It is so neat to see paintings and sculptures that I've heard or read about. On the way back to my subway I was momentarily disoriented and lost, but that walkabout took my by Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, the Waldorf Astoria (where Matt Damon was filming a new movie) No, I didn't see him! As the sun set I enjoyed watching boats on the Hudson River from Riverside Park. And what a small world it is, I ran into a friend from the days I read Ordination exams 6 years ago. She is a prof at Fordham University.

Later I chose the Cuban cafe for a sidewalk supper. Delightful new tastes, aromas and sights. This morning I worshiped with the sisters at their Sunday Mass and had breakfast with them. I don't care much about the silent meals, but appreciate their inviting me to join them. In a bit I will experience worship at St. John the Divine which is just a few blocks away. Oh, the gift of it all to taste and see so many wonderful things in this amazing city.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A day in the life of "Sister" Marilyn

Helping with bees at Melrose Convent, Brewster, NY
And so after a great trip to NYC (despite sitting on the tarmac for 45 minutes) before deplaning, I was soon headed north about an hour and a half to be met by Sister Helena Marie of the Community of the Holy Spirit. After whisking me to the Melrose Convent for a quick tour of the farm and school yard, I was soon sitting at the kitchen table in what promises to be a culinary adventure. The good sisters raise almost everything they eat, selling their surplus at the local farmer's market. Their vision is to be good models of "relocating" where people are involved in raising and using food locally.

Yesterday I was invited to participate in the typical life of a nun. It started early at 6:30 with a half hour of meditation, followed by the chanted service of Lauds. Then we hit the garden where they gave me some assignments where I could do the least harm--picking cucumbers, hedge pears, windfall apples; then I advanced to beans which were in the proper stage of drying. They had all kinds of exotic names, Strike, German Butterball, Black Turtles, Red Hidatsa, Preserver. The beans will be dried, stored and used through the winter. After harvesting all I could, I "got to" weed several of the bean patches.

At noon we took a break so the nuns could have "Conference" to work out conflicts and make assignments. I cleaned up in order to preside at the daily Eucharist as their resident priest was at a clericus meeting. The culinary adventure began at the Eucharist with homemade elderberry wine and gluten free bread. Then things got even better with a home grown, free range roasted chicken, cornbread, heirloom tomatoes with fancy names, collard greens and a to-die-for apple pie. Everything was grown right there, so one truly could celebrate the taste of place.

Following lunch, Bill, a resident associate who does much of the handy man chores, got me suited up to help tend the bees. I got to run the smoke billows as we fixed the hive so the queen could rise higher into it. They produced several hundred pounds of honey with their 4 hives. Did I mention that they also have 300 maple trees, so maple syrup can be used in a variety of ways, too?

After a brief time to rest, it was back to weeding for a couple of hours before cleaning up again for a combined service of Vespers and Compline. We fixed a simple supper of salad greens, homemade bread and cheese. It seemed a little strange to eat in silence as the Grand Silence began. But eating that way certain puts one in a mindful state of appreciating what is going into the mouth.

Today the schedule was basically the same, but the lunch which was prepared by another visitor was highlighted with a Uzbekistan eggplant dish, a grated, roasted beet and rosemary dish, called Beet Rosti, and zucchini muffins. Let me assure you I'll be asking for those recipes before I leave.

Monday, September 14, 2009

And she's off

Monday morning and I am due to fly out of Denver DIA in a few hours. After yesterday's 180 mile drive to deposit the dogs with Roxanne, we assembled a gate for the completion of the dog play area. The boys will be well cared for with her and her 2 pups. That is a great relief. We had a fine steak lunch in Cheyenne before taking the shuttle to Denver. At some moment I realized that the things I could take care of, I had and what I hadn't would all be okay. I barely cleared the city limits when a great peace came over me, a welcome peace. I fell asleep and slept most of the way. A quiet evening of phone calls and reading.

During supper I think about some of the restaurants I've eaten in the last two weeks--great food and atmosphere in some well advertised chains (Red Lobster, Texas Roadhouse, Ruby Tuesday, McDonalds). They were all crowded with folks having a fine time, sure that they would have a meal just like they did the last time they were there. How does that fit in with our sense of regular liturgy--always the same food, pretty much the same atmosphere with the same crowd? How does that compare with the dinner party I went to with my parents at a local golf course where all the Mexican food was handmade by the Latino family who lease the restaurant? There was a different sense of pride in the offerings as they helped serve the food, served their own family in a corner, and joined the dancing to a 4 piece guitar/drum band playing rock oldies, country favs and Mexican folk songs. Lots more of the unexpected pleasures but with a familiar crowd to me (4 widows, 2 widowers, 4 couples all married close to 60 years; all of whom I've known all my life) Rawlins really does have some of the best Mexican food I've ever eaten and some of the nicest folks one would ever want to know or count on as friends.
I am so aware of God's grace this morning for all who have helped me come to this day of departure, wishing me well, bon appetite, bon voyage, prayers for fun, rest, renewal, the offers of assistance and places to stay. The readings of the Daily Office could not have been better, no doubt of another of God's graces. The story of Naboth's vineyard (I will soon be in a vineyard, but don't want to covet others as Ahab did); the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness as I begin my own journey that will require me to trust God in new ways as I experience new things traveling alone; the beginning of I Corinthians, the epistle I'd chosen to study while traveling since I will be seeing Corinth near the end of the travel.

So, here I go, ready now for the great adventure this will be.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

From Peaks to Valleys

Reflections on the Grand Mesa, Colorado

Ancient petroglyphs of Rocky Mountain Sheep in the Little Dominquez Valley, Colorado

Last Saturday I drove to Grand Junction, Colorado to visit my good friend, Laurie and her mother, Esther. It was a leisurely 4 1/2-hour drive through the desert between Rawlins and Baggs, then on through the mountains of Colorado. There was so little traffic I figured most folks had headed to the hills on the previous night for their Labor Day camp out or were at another venue for a college football game.

My first Sunday on sabbatical found me in another St. Matthew's. I helped last fall with their stewardship campaign, so enjoyed seeing old friends. Their relatively new rector preached a good sermon that dealt with the many places in which we feel fear, then bringing the Gospel of Jesus inclusive presence as an antidote and cure to fear. It helped me to acknowledge my own fears and to place them with Jesus. As I did so I felt my excitement rise for the next part of my sabbatical. Later we went to see the film, Julie and Julia. Starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child, it was the perfect film to get my mouth watering for French cuisine and to get my fingers twitching to hold a chef's knife and start slicing something. I particularly like the part where she got caught up in the competition to be the fastest onion slicer--not that I'm that competitive!!!

The next couple of days took us on two very different hikes. The first was to the Little Dominquez Valley. From the rust-colored dusty desert floor our eyes were drawn to the towering rocky cliffs silhouetted against an ever changing sky--from clear, bright blue to ominous gray swirls to billowing piles of wool fluff. The highlight was seeing the ancient petroglyphs depicting Rocky Mountain sheep and riders on horse back and various lizard-like creatures. We spotted lots of real live lizards, but no sheep. Some hikers ahead of us caught a view of a mountain lion and her cubs.

The next day we headed in the opposite direction to the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-top mountain in the USA. From below it looks dry and barren, but on top it is a huge conifer forest with numerous lakes and rivers. The temperature dropped from 90 degrees in Grand Junction to 55 on the summit. Perfect hiking weather after hiking in the 100s the day before. We had a lovely 6 miler to Cottonwood Lake. Though there was plenty of elk sign, we weren't rewarded with a sight or sound of them. The aspen are just beginning to turn, giving truth that there is "gold in them thar hills."

So we had plenty of sights of God's goodness. And the tasting was all good, too. The famous Palisade peaches are in full harvest; as is the Olathe corn. We feasted on both and found them to be so sweet that it is like eating pure sugar. Eating produce picked that morning sure makes a big difference. The grapes are almost ready to be harvested, a hopeful sign that I'll be in France or Italy when their harvest is going on, something I would really like to experience. We also tried a wonderful Chipotle salsa and found it particularly good as a substitute for seafood sauce on our cold boiled shrimp. The hint of lime and the chipotle gave the shrimp a delightful new twist.

Now back in Rawlins for a few more days with Mother and Daddy, enjoying our time together while attending to last minute packing details.

Friday, September 4, 2009

At home with my folks

The harvest is coming on in Daddy's Garden--good eatin' from our very own farmers' market

Day 4 of the sabbatical and I am enjoying the peace, quiet, cool nights, warm days and gentle family times being in my home town. Most of the info sent by previous Lilly Endowment grant recipients suggested (strongly) taking several weeks to adjust to not being at the office and on the job. Great advice as making the transition seems to take some time. I'm alternating between great peace and sheer anxiety. I've been enjoying walking Fargo and Rebel around town, looking at the homes of my grandparents and old friends, old schools--lots of fun memories there of family meals, playing on the cellar door, overnights, birthday parties, bike rides and games. Yesterday I climbed the hill near our home where my brother and I had a fort. We often would take bacon and eggs up there early in the morning and learned the fine art of cooking on a sage brush/cedar fire. Kids in those "olden days" had lots of freedom to ride bikes, go places unescorted and apparently even play with fire.

Yesterday, my sister, Joanie, asked on the phone, "What are you tasting and seeing of God this day?" Certainly the hills of Rawlins, the wide open sky with some glorious sunrises/sunsets, due to the smoke from California fires in the air. Tasting a very garlicky, herb encrusted leg of lamb that I fixed the other night; also coleslaw made from cabbage Daddy picked moments before from his beautiful garden; also tomatoes and green beans and onions. As I have been reading a book by Amy Trubek about terroir, taste of place, I think how we have always eaten well from the produce of the folks' garden. Before the popularity of farmers' markets, we had our own. As someone said, "Now is the season when you must keep your car locked; otherwise your neighbors will be filling it with surplus zucchini and tomatoes." True, but tasty! Joanie continued, "But where did you see God in the face of people?" Ah, yes, there was the cute little boy who saw his teacher from last year and greeted her with such delight when she still recognized him. There was my great neice who on the first day of nursery school emerged saying, "Look my arms and legs are longer now that I've been to school."

Monday, August 31, 2009

St. Albans' Chapel, Sunday, August 23 taken by Andrew Kerr, Diocesan Communications guru

Unlike Garrison Keilor who says, "It's been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone," it has been a busy couple of weeks in preparation for today, the day the sabbatical begins. Last weekend we had our annual celebration of the Holy Eucharist at St. Alban's Chapel in the Snowy Range. From 10,000 feet, looking across the Laramie Valley and up to Medicine Bow Peak, it is a spectacular place to worship. Quoting the lovely Wyoming liturgy written by Linen Greenough, "We thank you that we live in a place where the glorious revelation of yourself is all around us. The prairie bursts with song from wind and birds and waving grasses. The abundance of animals roaming freely reminds us of our own freedom, and the many ways you provide sustenance in your kingdom. From the depths of the ocean floor you lifted your massive mountains and pointed them toward the heavens. We, like your son our Lord, are called to these high places to get away and rest in communion with you. We marvel as we wander through stately pines and twirling aspen along the creeks, where trout dance on their tails above the rocks, and deer and elk sip from the water's edge; and we remember that you have given us the Living Water to quench our thirst. Our spirit is refreshed and our strength renewed.
We welcome the passing of seasons in broad circles of time, with anticipation of new things to come, and we recognize that same feeling of hope that encircles our faith. Our lives are lived between sunrises and sunsets and brilliant colors. But at night the limitless stars have a way of pushing back the boundaries of our lives and we dream of heaven and your wonder."
After a summer of worshiping in the undercroft, it was a joy to have so much space around us and then to gather up around the table as close as we possibly could to celebrate the holy mysteries.
The rest of the week included numerous meetings to iron out details concerning my absence. It is so good that a number of folks in the congregation are stepping up to the plate to see that everything gets done. I know that this sabbatical time is an opportunity for us all to grow in faith and to experience new ways in which God takes care of us and guides us to serve one another in God's name. In just a few moments the Wardens and I will meet with Father Tom who will be offering pastoral care while I'm away; then I turn over the keys to the church and my home and hit the road on this adventure to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fall is in the air

Mushrooms found on a trail a couple of years ago on French Creek in the Snowy Range
Preparations continue for leaving on sabbatical. Last week, I tackled the office, tossing away about a half of dumpster of dusty old files, papers, and things that left me wondering, "Why did I want to save this?" Some of it was left by the previous occupants of my office. The place is so neat and tidy, I can almost envision working there again. I've started in on getting the house similarly straightened up so that Father Tom will have some space for his things and will be able to make himself at home while I am out of Laramie. With each load to the trash, I am thinking about what a great object lesson this is, taking my hint from Jesus' admonition to his disciples when he sent them out telling them to "take nothing for their journey, except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics." (Mark 6:10) Traveling light is my hope for my sabbatical travels and learning to sit more lightly about possessions in general in my dream for the future.
The nearly completed itinerary for the travel portion of my time away arrived by e-mail yesterday. It will take me to more places than I'd originally anticipated and to an extra cooking school. Spain, France (the unexpected place), Italy and Greece! I am feeling a good bit of tension, excitement at the prospects and anxious with the "stuff" that needs to be done before feeling like I am leaving well.
In the last two days I drove about 500 miles round trip for the last of the Episcopal Search and Transition Committee meetings I will attend for a while. It is a great pleasure working with the diverse and talented folks on both committees. Our work, while often confidential in nature, is marked with respect for varied opinions, delight with others' gifts and ideas. We try to keep a focus that God already has called our next bishop and our task is to discern who that individual is as we work through the process. Driving across Wyoming at this time of year--the nip of fall is definitely in the air; it frosted in some parts of town last night; and the hay fields are mowed and bailed. The corn is a few weeks away from harvest. It is another sign for me of God's abundant provision this year as we've had good rains and good hay. Some creeks are still running which are normally dry by now.
Today as I preached yet again on Jesus as the bread of life, I fondly recalled the first communion of a four year old in my first parish. His folks didn't think he was ready or understanding of what it all meant; but after visiting with him, I thought he was plenty ready. When I extended the invitation, "These are the gifts of God for the people of God," he bolted out of the pew, ran to the altar rail and extended his hands with the urgency and desperation that indicated he must eat this bit of bread as if his life depended on it. And it does. "Thank you, Jesus," he very audibly whispered to my delight of me and his amazed parents.
Just a bit of bread, just a sip of wine. It makes all the difference in making us one, making us alive, fully alive to the possiblities God holds out for our delight. Thanks be to God for these many ways of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.