I was a Girl Scout in various forms (Brownies on up—no Daisies in those days) for most of my childhood.  I've written before about my frustrations then and even more so now, so I'll limit today's comments to cookies.

Yes, it's Girl Scout cookie time again, the only time of the year I really appreciate the organization.  Not that I can't get plenty (read, too much) in the way of good cookies outside of the Girl Scouts, but their Thin Mints are unique and have been part of my life as long as I can remember.  When the girls were young and living at home, we'd buy a case of Thin Mints every year, stick them in the freezer, and dole them out at the rate of one box per month.

This year we tried something new: in addition to the Thin Mints (now half-case) we bought a box of their Lemonades.  Meh.  Good but not exceptional, not worth the extra price over lemon Oreos.

After purchasing our cookies this year, I reflected how far the Girls Scouts have come in their salesmanship since I sold the cookies door-to-door for 40 cents a box.  (The price is now an order of magnitude higher, and I'm sure there is less in the box.  But we still buy them.) Back in the day we had to take orders, then go back some weeks later to deliver the actual cookies.  Now, the girls have a booth set up in the fellowship area after church, with piles of boxes of cookies ready-to-hand.  You see the merchandise, hand over your money, and walk off with boxes of delicious cookies.  I know they must sell so much more that way than by the sight-unseen, place-an-order method.

But wait.  Not everyone has gotten with the program.  A few days later, three little girls in Girl Scout uniforms rang our doorbell and offered to sell us cookies.  I had to explain that we had already bought ours for the year.  If they had had the cookies right there with them, I'd have bought another box anyway, just to avoid disappointing them.  But they did not.  They were stuck in the order-taking days.

We've bought cookies at church, outside the grocery store, and even at Outback Steakhouse.  I don't know how troops get permission to set up in these public places, but I find it a happier solution all around.  Now that's a Girl Scout innovation I can get behind.  Probably the only one...

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 6:39 am | Edit
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On January 28, 2016, we were preparing to land at the end of our flight across the Atlantic from Paris to Newark, the penultimate leg of a journey home from the Gambia that had begun with a take-off from the emergency Space Shuttle landing site that serves as the Banjul Airport runway.

Thirty years ago, that same Atlantic received the shredded remains of the Challenger and all her crew.

Five years ago I wrote about our own experience watching that disaster unfold, so I won't repeat it, except to add that in all the launches I watched before and since, the vapor trails were quickly dispersed.  That time the sky's tears streaked the cold blue for hours.

What struck me this time, thirty years after the fact, was something I didn't pay much attention to at the time:  President Reagan's speech in response, which he gave instead of his planned State of the Union Address.  It was written by the then relatively unknown Peggy Noonan, and delivered as only the Great Communicator could.

What Reagan (and Noonan) knew, as did Winston Churchill, was how to inspire people to be better than themselves.  You don't make children learn more by telling them how stupid they are; you don't make people love others better by insisting they are racist, sexist pigs; you don't encourage the weak to become strong by pointing out their failures.

Nor do you regale them with how strong and smart they are, and insist "you can be anything you want to be."  You don't imply that success should be easy or that love doesn't require sacrifice.  You don't suggest that the best way to fight terrorism is to continue buying and selling as usual (President Bush after 9/11) or partying on (some Parisians after the recent attacks).

A good leader is not afraid to insist that there is no gain without risk, no success without effort, and no victory without battle.  The way is hard, the road is long, and it is not safe.  A great leader goes on to encourage others to believe that they are the kind of people who will rise to meet the challenges; that the benefits will be worth the cost; and that the way, though difficult, will be sprinkled with joy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 10:15 am | Edit
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One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was this butter dish.

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I received many wonderful gifts for Christmas, and point of this post is not to minimize any of them, but to highlight something important about gift-giving.

This butter dish actually fails several of the tests of what is usually considered a good gift.

It's inexpensive.  That's not to say the giver was cheap, as this was only part of my Christmas present, but even had it stood alone it would have been a welcome gift.  Sometimes the monetary value of a gift does indeed matter; sometimes it's important to hear from someone we love, "you are more important to me than a giant TV."  But more often than not, the true value of an item is surprisingly price-independent.

It's practical.  Actually, that's a plus for me, though some people scoff at useful gifts.

It was something I'd asked for.  I can't shake the idea that the best presents are those that flow from the heart of a person who knows you well enough to see a need or a desire and present it to you as a gift, especially if it's something you can't or won't buy for yourself.  Sometimes that still happens, but these days we most often don't know each other well enough, because our lives are so scattered. 

I could have bought it myself.  Let's be honest:  if it's something we want that's affordable, most of us just buy it ourselves rather than hope someone gets it for us at the next appropriate occasion.

Why am I so excited about this butter dish?  Because it was perfect.  It was just what I wanted and had gone without for a long time.  I have two butter dishes that are exactly like this in all but color—and the fact that the tabs on the ends broke off long ago, rendering them frustrating to use.  I'd looked for replacements on and off for years, and what I found was too fancy, too expensive, too ugly, or otherwise just not right.  Finally, this one showed up in an Amazon search one day.  It was close to Christmas so I put it on my wish list, and at Christmas my hope was realized.  This morning, as I unloaded it from the dishwasher and put it in its place, looked at that modest butter dish and felt a thrill of delight.

That's what we hope all our gifts will do.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Edit
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My grandparents lived in Daytona Beach all their adult lives.  Both arrived in 1915; my grandfather was originally from Western Pennsylvania, and my grandmother from West Virginia. My great-grandparents, John Stansbury Barbe and Minerva (Kemp) Barbe (Minnie) were very active in Daytona Beach:  She was a hotel owner and busy with all sorts of community affairs, from business to politics to schools, and he was at one point mayor of the Town of Daytona Beach (before it became a city).

My grandmother ran the hotel for a while, but by the time I knew her had retired from the business and was living in my favorite place in all of Daytona Beach:  431 North Grandview Avenue.  Sadly, both the house—now a business—and the neighborhood have changed, but at least the building's still there.

What more could a child want?  It was a big house with lots of places to explore, a cellar that was sometimes visited by poisonous snakes, a picnic table and my grandmother's amazing flowers in the back yard, and an outdoor shower that we sometimes shared with lizards.  (Living in Florida myself now, lizards are commonplace.  But they were an exotic treat for a child who lived in upstate New York and only visited every other year.)

Why the outdoor shower?  Not because there were no indoor facilities, but because the house was a mere two blocks from the ocean and the incredible beach; the shower was an easy way to wash off the sand and salt from our frequent swims before entering the house.  It was also an easy walk from my grandparents' home to the Bandshell and Broadwalk (not "boardwalk").  As a child I was completely oblivious to the seamier side of life in Daytona Beach, though I understand now why we were never allowed to go to the Broadwalk without an adult.

Then there were the people.  My Florida relatives were different from most of the folks I knew back home, which thanks to the presence of General Electric, had a higher-than-normal population of engineers and other intellectuals.  My grandfather had worked for the Post Office and retained an intense interest in collecting stamps—if only I had managed to figure out how to enjoy his enthusiasm without feeling obliged to share it!  My uncle was a fisherman, and I loved it when he'd let us fish with him off the Pier.  My cousins were much older than I, and therefore very cool, especially the one that could be counted on to do dangerous things like set off firecrackers in the backyard (not sure how my grandparents felt about that...), and the one who was at first a lifeguard (very high coolness factor to a young girl) and eventually worked for NASA in exotic places like Grand Turk Island and could tell us stories about the astronauts (even higher coolness factor to a young nerd).

Because of their former hotel business, my grandparents had made friends from all over who still came to visit them.  They even had a maid who came occasionally to help with the housework—no one else of my acquaintance had a maid—and what's more, the maid was black, which made her even more exotic than the lizards to one who was growing up in a town where "cultural differences" meant that some of your friends' parents might have come from Italy or Poland.  I wish I had been more curious as a child to hear the stories of all these different people.

My grandmother was a wonderful cook, especially when she was cooking fish that had been caught just hours earlier, and most especially if they were fish that I had caught.  We hardly ever ate at restaurants—in those days few ordinary people ate out, even if their grandmothers weren't good cooks.  But when we did, for special occasions, more often than not it was at a place called Kay's, at 734 Main Street.  It was a "family restaurant" with what you might call ordinary American fare, though my taste buds recall their fish as anything but ordinary.  And definitely on the extraordinary side was a drink they called a Tiny Tim.  When I knew it, the restaurant had Dickens-era decor, and one of their specialty mixed drinks they called a "Dickens."  The Tiny Tim was a non-alcoholic version of the Dickens.

We all liked the Tiny Tim so much that we had it whenever we could, and eventually I begged the bartender to give me the recipe:

  • 2 packages Bartender's Lemon Mix
  • 4 packages Bartender's Lime Mix
  • 1 package Bartender's Coconut Mix
  • 3 gallons water
  • 3 quarts pineapple juice
  • 1 quart orange juice
  • 1/3 quart lime juice
  • 2 small cans grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 quart cherry juice
  • grenadine for color

Unfortunately, that didn't help much, though I'm sure it was only because I didn't try hard enough to find the ingredients that were not readily available at the grocery store.  It occurs to me that all my efforts were BI (Before the Internet).  Maybe I should try again.  Anyway, I'm putting the recipe online for anyone who wants to check it out.  I'm not hurting Kay's by giving away trade secrets:  sadly, the restaurant went out of business, thanks in part to the neighborhood's change from family-oriented to one that catered to bikers and other tourists.

All these memories were triggered by a lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.  There, Porter ordered their Frozen Iced Mango drink:  "Mango, Tropical Juices and a Hint of Coconut Blended with Ice and Swirled with Raspberry Puree."  It came with a strawberry, a slice of lime, and a slice of lemon as well, which may explain why despite the different ingredient list, it tasted more like a Tiny Tim than anything I've had in years.  Whatever it was, next time we visit the Cheesecake Factory (which seems to be about once a year), that's what I'm ordering to go with my Avocado Egg Rolls, which is the reason for going to TCF in the first place.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 8:22 am | Edit
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Happy New Year, everyone!

And Merry Christmas, again, for it is still Christmas until Epiphany on January 6.  We're up to maids-a-milking, if you're keeping count.

On New Year's Eve Afternoon, we went out to do a few errands:  to the library to pick up The Road to Character by David Brooks, a book recommended by our rector; to Staples where we accomplished nothing except discovering that our magic (corporate) credit card no longer gives a discount (boo!); and then to Steak 'n Shake for the supposed highlight of the trip, a half-priced Speculoos Cookie Butter milkshake!

The milkshake was all we could have wanted, but that it was worth waiting nearly an hour for is questionable.  It seemed that half the world was at Steak 'n Shake, and the other half was on the roads.  The traffic was ... I was going to say unimaginable, but we could well imagine that it would be yet worse at night, with half the drivers drunk, and therefore were very glad to be planning a quiet evening at home.

Lo and behold, 2016 came in just fine without me being awake to welcome it.  I guess the world doesn't revolve around me after all.

I went for a swim on the last day of 2015, and again on the first day of 2016.  That's a first for me:  our pool is screened and well-shaded and has never in my memory been so warm at this time of year.  If you live in Florida long enough, you get used to surprises from the weather.  Last week the water temperature was 72 degrees (the year-round temperature of our freshwater springs), but today had climbed to an unbelievable 75.  Today's high is predicted to be 86 degrees, but this may be the peak:  tomorrow is supposed to be 20 degrees cooler.

May your 2016 be blessed with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  (See banner above.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 1, 2016 at 11:05 am | Edit
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Having finished YouVersion's Cell Rule of Optina read-through of the New Testament by Thanksgiving, and planning to start a new chronological plan at the end of the year, I wanted something short to take me through Christmas.  I chose Before the Cross:  the Life of Jesus, which was billed this way:  "This 80 day reading plan takes you through the four Gospels, in chronological order, walking through the life of Jesus from His birth to His ascension into Heaven."  That's almost true, though they did leave out some of the less action-oriented passages.  I easily compressed the 80 days into one month.

I also switched versions of the Bible for this reading.  My favorite versions are either the old New International Version or the old Revised Standard Version, neither of which is often accessible in online form.  I had been using the English Standard Version on my phone, which is a little modern for me but not bad.  This time I decided to try the New King James Version.  I'd heard a lot of positive talk about the NKJV, but I was not impressed.  I was expecting a reworking of the beautiful-but-outdated King James Version that takes into account all we've learned in the field of Bible scholarship since the early 1600's.  Maybe it's not outdated anymore, I don't know—but I do know it's no longer beautiful.  Why produce yet another Bible stripped of its poetic language?  We had plenty of those already.

Now that I've finished the Before the Cross plan, I've committed to another year-long chronological plan.  Not the chronological plan I started with; that was a great one, but why not try another one, since there isn't completely agreement on chronology?  This is called Reading God's Story: One-Year Chronological Plan, and this time I've chosen to use the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

I'm still gung-ho about the YouVersion system.  Granted, most of their reading plans are not what I'm looking for (too short, too slow, too embellished, too disjointed), but I still find what I need.  And having it right there, on my phone, easy to access, easy to keep track of—priceless.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm | Edit
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I'm not Englebert Humperdinck.  I'm not Michael Bolton.  But <ahem> last night I sang with the amazing Ashley (Locheed) Tessandori!  Don't ask about the venue or the size of the audience, just let me bask in the reflected glory.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 26, 2015 at 8:14 pm | Edit
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My random quotation generator greeted me with this when I turned the computer on this morning:

May no gift be too small to give, nor too simple to receive, which is wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied with love. - L. O. Baird

 

Merry Christmas to all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, December 25, 2015 at 6:18 am | Edit
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I did some last-minute grocery shopping this morning, realizing that my normal day for that event (Friday) was out of the question this week.  Boy am I glad I didn't go later in the day—it was crazy enough as it was.

Before I even put the groceries away I checked my e-mail, which contained a Christmas greeting from Publix, our grocery store.  I like it so much I have to share it with you.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 24, 2015 at 11:23 am | Edit
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I know it's Advent, and we're still waiting for Christmas.  But that's the header for our Christmas newsletter.  This year we revamped our system for Christmas cards, sending more than half of them out by e-mail.  I'm concerned that some folks may have gotten lost in the upgrade.

So if you did not receive our Christmas letter, and would like to, please let me know.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 21, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Edit
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Actually—there really ought to be a word for "daughter's in-laws."

That Phil and Barbara were involved in a protest back in the day doesn't surprise me.  But I had no idea they made the New York Times!

Here's the update almost thirty years later.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 14, 2015 at 12:26 pm | Edit
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This year we splurged and purchased annual passes to Disney World—for the first time since we moved to Central Florida over 30 years ago.  Back then, with two very young children (four and not-yet-two), the reason was to free ourselves from the pressure to drive our kids hard in order not to "waste" any of the very expensive day at the park.  What was our excuse this time?  Beats me, but we're enjoying it.  Porter's retirement frees us to visit the parks on our own schedule, and his annual pass provides free parking.  (Mine is a lesser, cheaper version, but what need have we for two parking passes?)  When parking is $20, it's a deterrent to casual visits.

All that to say:  for a year, we can go to Morocco for dinner.  Or China.  Or Norway.  For our first trip, we chose EPCOT's Marrakesh Restaurant, always one of our favorites.  Then we stopped by Japan; we didn't buy anything, but admired a lot.  We didn't buy any funnel cakes, either.  Pictures bring memories of good times but no additional calories.  :)  You can click on the images to enlarge the photos, but please don't drool on your keyboards.

alt Beef brewat rolls, chicken bastilla, Jasmine salad...and bastilla for dessert

alt Especially for Vivienne

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Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 7:16 am | Edit
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We went to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney, formerly Disney Village) a couple of months ago to pick up our new passes, and I was most thrilled by the parking garage!  That's not meant to disparage the rest of the site, but I was happy to find some place in America that has adopted this Swiss custom.  (Okay, I don't know if the system is Swiss or not, but Switzerland is where I first saw this useful technology.)

It's a smart parking garage.  Sensors know which spaces are open and which are not, and lighted signs direct drivers to the open spaces.  It sure beats driving up and down all the rows!

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 3, 2015 at 9:33 am | Edit
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I'm glad Veterans Day didn't suffer long from the Monday holiday craze and retains the connection with "the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month."  History is also worth remembering.

It must often be so...when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them. (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King)

 Thank you, all veterans and current members of our armed forces.

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (Book of Common Prayer, American Episcopal Church, 1979)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 11:11 am | Edit
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Rather cool, even if we do all have our mouths open.  (Click to enlarge, or follow this link.)

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Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 1, 2015 at 5:54 am | Edit
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