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Happy Birthday to my country-in-law!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 1, 2017 at 7:29 am | Edit
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Where did the month go?

This Ramadan I was going to join my Muslim friends for one day of their month-long fast. But suddenly the season is over—though I'm sure it did not feel sudden to those who were fasting.

This idea was not for spiritual reasons—I'm a Christian—but for awareness, and as a statement (to myself) of solidarity. To feel just a little bit of what it's like for our friends.

Having read stories from The Gambia in preparation for our visit there last year, I had been astonished at how difficult they find life during Ramadan fasting. After all, they get to eat a big meal before sunrise, and again after sundown. Skipping meals during the day is not fun, but hardly debilitating.

Then I remembered that few Gambians have the, um, caloric reserves that Americans do. I figured that must be the reason they find it hard to function well.

Well, that may be true—but then I discovered that there's more to Ramadan fasting than not eating.

There's not drinking.

I'm not talking about abstaining from alcohol, which observant Muslims do at all times. There's no drinking, period. No coffee, no tea, no soda, no water. Temperatures in the 90's and you can't drink. No wonder the soccer teams from the Christian tribes have a decided advantage during Ramadan.

In truth, I'm sure that's the reason I kept putting off my day of solidarity. I'm no stranger to fasting from food, but doing without water scares me. It probably would have been good to have had that tiny bit of identification with those whose lack of access to safe water makes this a year-round, not a day-long or even a month-long problem. But intimidation led to procrastination, and now the time is over. Maybe next year....

Anyway, my respect has gone 'way up for Muslims who keep Ramadan, fasting all day long for a month, year after year. Especially for those in hot climates, like the Gambia, where normal perspiration puts them at risk of serious dehydration. And for those living in the Far North in years when Ramadan occurs during the summer months. Could Mohammed have imagined that there would one day be Muslims living where the sun never sets?

It was not until I wrote this that I realized what a particular hardship Ramadan poses for Gambians: No ataya!

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 26, 2017 at 8:41 am | Edit
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I opened up Facebook this morning to be greeted by the following "Suggested Post."

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Some of my readers will immediately recognize the "Castle in Arquenay" as Château de la Motte Henry, where 10 years ago we celebrated Janet's birthday. We chose that fairy tale castle not because Janet is a romantic and highly imaginative person, although she is, but because the château happens to be the home of some dear friends, whose daughter would later be the flower girl in Janet's wedding. They are the most amazing hosts, and the experience was sublime.

The wonderful thing, as Facebook so cheerily told me, is that you, too, can have the Château de la Motte Henry experience! Well, not the friends-and-family perks, but let me tell you, these people know how to host an experience for their paying guests as well! Don't let the price tag put you off—share the cost with friends; it's a huge place! (No, I don't get a commission; I just love sharing something so special.)

If nothing else, take the time to go to the booking site, browse, and dream. Check out the amenities, marvel at the photos. I quote from the overview:

*JUST LISTED AS ONE OF "THE TIMES' TOP 20 CHATEAUX IN FRANCE" FOR HOLIDAY RENTALS!* -- (If you are a group larger than 14, please inquire about additional space & rates.) Live a fairytale dream in this romantic 19th century castle with its own private lake, swimming pool & cinema. Your senses will be dazzled with stunning views, gentle sounds of birds and rippling water, and the rich scents of roses and lavender. You will luxuriate in the privacy of 29 secluded acres, but only travel 2 km to reach all amenities. Whether you are a family, corporate group, or reunion of friends, the château offers pampering, fun and relaxation in a sublime setting for groups both large and small.

The château is an historically listed property, once open to the public, and now privately owned and operated. Featuring a motte (mound) from the time of Henry II surrounded by a moat, spectacular parkland, ancient trees, a private spring-fed fishing lake, and a Renaissance-inspired swimming pool within a secluded walled rose garden, the château is a haven of peace and tranquillity.

Here one can bask in the glorious French countryside, or discover the riches of the surrounding areas of the Loire Valley, Brittany & Normandy from this central location. Children & adults alike will delight in visits to the famous Loire châteaux, Mont St. Michel, D-Day Beaches, the fabulous Puy de Fou theme park and Zoo de la Fleche, all within a 1.5 hour drive. Within 15 minutes drive, one can experience beautiful gardens, golf, riding, nature-activity parks, river cruises, museums, stately homes & more. Or, you may simply never wish to leave the grounds of your very own château...

The château offers extremely spacious bedrooms, all with en-suite bathrooms; reception rooms comfortably yet elegantly renovated in keeping with the romantic style; & wonderful facilities for self-catering, such as a recently renovated designer kitchen with granite and marble-mosaic finishes, as well as three outdoor BBQs.

Special amenities include: Nespresso Machine, Bathrobes, Slippers, Large Welcome Basket, Champagne Reception on Arrival, Toiletry Kits in Bathrooms

Here's another view, Janet's own picture from a decade ago. Can you imagine walking through the woods and suddenly seeing this through a break in the trees?

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Facebook is scarily good at surprising me with relevant ads, but this one was the most amazing yet.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 11:04 am | Edit
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Our church prides itself on its reputation as the most liberal church in our diocese.

That our diocese itself is somewhat of a traditional haven in an Episcopal Church that, frankly, has gone off the rails, is a major reason why we have not been driven to another denomination. The dismal state of the American Episcopal Church is not just my opinion, but that of most of the world's Anglicans. However, contrary to what happens in many denominations, the very structure of its services keeps it from going too far 'round the bend in any direction, and enables people of great diversity to worship freely together. I would hate to lose that.

Why, one might ask, do we not seek out a parish that is more in line with the diocese and less with the national leadership? After all, a church that was our home for many years, and which we still hold dear, is just that. It would be disingenuous not to mention that it is 45 minutes away, and our current church less than 10. But there's another, more important reason for being where we are:

We don't fit in.

I don't mean we feel unwelcome. Ours is a friendly church, and almost unmatched in the way children are respected in the service. A nicer bunch of people than our choir you'll not find anywhere. We share a lot in common. But there's no doubt that when it comes to many political, social, and theological issues, we are among a small minority.

One of the greatest dangers facing America today is that we don't know each other. We hang around, in both our real and our virtual lives, largely with people like ourselves. A community of empathetic people is important, even essential. That's the success of 12-step programs and other support groups formed around a particular need. We all need the encouragement of people who have been where we are and are going where we are going. We need a place to be at home, to be ourselves, to be fully accepted, to share inside jokes and to let down our defenses.

But too much of that can also lead to insularity and inbreeding. While we're not likely to forget that there are people who disagree with us, we're all too likely to forget that they are no less human than we are. You think that's crazy? Look at America today. We have become a nation of divisions that each think the others subhuman.

Is there a remedy? The best I can think of is to get out of our comfortable circles and work together with "the other" on something constructive. To find opportunities to meet together on common ground, to see each other as people with jobs and families, with trials and victories, as people who bring us meals when we are sick, and to whom we take meals in their need. People with whom we can learn that discussion is not war, difference is not division, and disagreement is not hatred.

Church, where we already have much common ground, and choir, where we have common work, are obvious places for us to find this interaction, at least at this stage of our lives. Is it frustrating at times, and lonely? Yes. But I've been there before, many times.

Who am I kidding? I've been there all my life. I've never fit in. I grew up a nerd, was the only girl in some of my classes and activities, always preferred classical to rock music, was considered an anomaly by my peers for refusing to lie to my parents, was a feminist until it became popular and then jumped ship, and developed decidedly unconventional attitudes towards birth, childrearing, and education—even in homeschooling I was philosophically an outsider among outsiders. So I'm accustomed to it.

And if I'm not going to fit in, our church is a great bunch of people not to fit in with.

Wait, that didn't come out at all the way I meant it.

They're a great bunch of people, and they don't mind if I don't fit in.

For now, this is where we should be. Will it always be so? Only God knows. As long as we are only swimming upstream and aren't fish out of water, I'm okay with that.

And hopeful for America.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, June 12, 2017 at 10:24 am | Edit
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This is not our pool. It looks a lot like it, but it's not. It was, however, one Florida family's Memorial Day experience, and I could probably crop the photo in a way that would give our grandkids a thrill. (Photo from the Sarasota County (FL) Sheriff's Office Facebook page.)

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Theoretically, this could happen here, but it's more likely to be a bear that breaks through our screen. The worst we've had so far has been a rat, and we didn't need professional trappers to "relocate" it.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 6:57 am | Edit
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Our yard is a wildlife sanctuary. By American standards it's a pretty small yard, but it abounds in nature, especially considering how developed the area is. We lack only a consistent water supply (and the $20 processing fee) to be a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. We're working on that; the water source needs to be accessible to wildlife (so the pool doesn't count) without being a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Lizards and frogs abound, because we dispensed with dangerous pest control services a few months after we moved here over 30 years ago. Snakes are not as plentiful as they once were, because too many people in the neighborhood think the only good snake is a dead snake. :(  We have all sorts of birds, from mockingbirds and Carolina wrens to woodpeckers of several varieties to flocks of ibises to hawks, owls, and recently a swallow-tailed kite.

There have been reports of bears in the neighborhood, but actually I'd just as soon they give our yard a pass. It's really too small to accommodate a bear comfortably, and bears have been known to rip down pool screens without a second thought.

The middle-sized animals are more fun. Our current little raccoon is too shy (read: too nocturnal) for me to have caught him on film yet, though I enjoy his company in the darker hours. Here is a pair of friends who allowed me to photograph them this morning.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 9:14 pm | Edit
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Who would have thought it possible?

It's May the 6th, I have my office windows open, and I'm chilly in my shorts!  It's 63 degrees out, the humitity is low, the sky is blue, and both the sun and the breeze are friendly.  In fact, it's the same temperature here as in Granby, Connecticut!

I want to wrap up this day and bring it out periodically, say from now through October.  Starting with this coming Thursday, when the high is supposed to be 97.

Instead, I'll give myself over to gratitude and take a walk in the beauty of Creation.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 6, 2017 at 9:46 am | Edit
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Jeremiah just turned four He has three brothers and two sisters, so he is no stranger to heroes and battles He's also being brought up in a strong Christian family and frequently hears theological discussions.

This morning he built a cross out of Tinker Toys, and explained:

(Holding the cross up) This is the Cross where God died. The Heroes killed God.

Then he turned the cross around so it resembled a gun.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! (or however you spell machine gun sounds)  Then God killed the Heroes!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 9:16 am | Edit
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The people of the nearby Congregation Beth Am invited our choir to join them for their Celebration of Liturgy a couple of Sundays ago. It was quite a fun afternoon. In additon to the Beth Am choir and our own from the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, participants were the Casa de Restauracion Misionera, a charismatic Hispanic church, and Fellowship Church, a non-denominational Christian Zionist congregation.

In other words, in ordinary life the chance that any one of us would step into a worship service of one of the other groups borders on infinitesimal.

I'd love to do it again. In fact, I'd like to see it expand to include more groups, because I've found that the three best ways of learning how much we have in common with people who differ from us are working together, eating together, and singing together—and this event covered two of them.

Interestingly, although at the most basic theological level we had more in common with the Christian groups, it was the Jewish choir I felt most comfortable with. I tend to be generally pro-Israel, but the strong, almost strident Zionist emphasis of Fellowship Church seemed to be more central to their nature than their Christian beliefs—though probably they were just seeking to honor our hosts. The Hispanic music of Restauracion was enthusiastic and heartfelt, and would not have been hard to participate in had the volume been 30-50 decibels lower, but as it was all my concentration had to be on saving my hearing. I had left my purse, with the earplugs I take nearly wherever I go, in the car. :(

But that's all okay. This gathering wasn't about being with people who are most like ourselves!

Perhaps most fun was the end, when we all sang a song together. I'd post it, but it's only available on Facebook, not YouTube. Not that there was anything special in the music, only that we were all singing it together.

Theological and musical differences aside, apparently everyone agrees on good food. We should eat together more often.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at 4:40 am | Edit
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Recently we had the opportunity to participate in a diocesan youth choir festival at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando. I've been to children's choir festivals before, but not this one. One major difference was that some adult singers from participating churches were also included, so it was truly a multi-generational affair. My mistake was in thinking, "It's a children's choir festival, how hard can the music be?"  Guess what? There's a big difference between a children's choir festival and a youth choir festival: this included not only young elementary school students but also those in high school—you know, the All-State-Chorus, make-superiors-at-Solo-and-Ensemble kind of high school student. There were some amazing voices there, and the music put my sight-reading confidence to the test for sure.

We had one long rehearsal on Saturday, then sang for the regular church service on Sunday. One of our younger choir members exclaimed, when he walked into the cathedral, "This is the biggest church in the world!" It's not, by a long shot, but it's still impressive. Another proclaimed the whole experience to be "epic." 

And it was. I love our church and its service, but even in the Episcopal Church a service at the Cathedral is a cut above. I almost broke down during the processional, with the cross and candles and banners and incense and glorious music and so many people, young and old, in the procession. Glory, majesty, and awe are so often missing from church services, but this took my breath away.

Our own church is considered "high" because we sing much of the service, but at the Cathedral even more was sung instead of merely said. So much beautiful music, in a church with beautiful acoustics. Good acoustics encourage the congregation to sing, because you don't feel as if you are singing a solo, but are lifting your voice in song with everyone.

The service "belonged" to everyone, children and adults alike. Perhaps best of all, although the Festival choristers were welcomed and acknowledged, we didn't "perform" but were just a part of the regular worship service (albeit a bit fancier than usual). It was a glorious experience.  Like our own church, but taken up a level.

Here's part of what we sang. As usual, the videos are not us, but something found on YouTube to bring the song list to life.

Praise (Dyson) We didn't join the choirs on this one. It's unison, for young, high voices.

Beautiful Savior by Robert Lee

Be Thou My Vision by Bob Chilcott

God Be in My Head by Philip Willby

This Little Light of Mine (William Bradley Roberts)

Three of our service music pieces, the Gloria, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei, were by Carl MaultsBy, which is always a pleasure. He even stopped by briefly to encourage the kids.

The only part that made me a bit sad was knowing that none of our grandchildren have this kind of opportunity. On the other hand, how many children sing good music every day in their own homes, as part of their daily routine? And how many ten-year-olds get the chance to play in the same handbell choir as their mother, grandmother, and grandfather? We make, and rejoice in, what opportunities we can.

(My thanks to whichever Daley photographer took this video.  Mine's still on the camera....)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 10:42 am | Edit
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I've held off updating my prayer request for The Gambia, waiting for events to settle down a bit, but it seems that I can truly report good news:  Former President (dictator) Yahya Jammeh has been persuaded to step down peacefully and make room for newly-elected President Adama Barrow. He appears to have run off with about $12 million of the country's funds, and the questions of his crimes against humanity are left unresolved, but at least The Gambia has been given a chance at freedom and democracy. That's great news!

President Barrow and the country are still in much need of prayer. On the financial side, the disappearance of most of the government's treasury may be mitigated by the release of European aid funds that had been frozen because of concerns about Mr. Jammeh's leadership. That's a good thing, because I wasn't sure a Kickstarter campaign could raise 12 million dollars for them—though it would have been interesting to try.

Our friend is back from her brief exile, helping the country's best math students get their disrupted educations back on track.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 7:26 am | Edit
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What train transportation could be in America.

Don't I wish!  I think trains are the most beautiful and relaxing way to travel. More room and ability to move about than either airplanes or automobiles; tables for working; power outlets; and (if done right) lounge, restaurant, and playspace cars. Human-dimensioned views. Someone else drives. But to compete with planes and cars (especially self-driving cars) a few important potential roadblocks come to mind.

  • Good parking at the stations (now often inadequate)
  • Cost (currently not competitive in most places)
  • Security (if it becomes widespread and popular, would we get TSA-style screening?)

Still, wouldn't you love it?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 at 8:51 am | Edit
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EPCOT has a new party: The International Festival of the Arts. We checked it out, and found it almost as much fun as their Food and Wine Festival. There was art, mostly with a Disney theme, and music, and other features, but our interest lay mainly in the culinary arts.

I do remember one painter, probably because his name was Noah. "Noah Fine Art" is his business, and I remarked that it's pretty amazing to be known only by your first name. When we came home, I did a Google search simply on "Noah art"—and his website was the first hit.

But as I said, food was our main interest. There was much more we could have eaten, but even sharing the already-small portions doesn't leave room (or budget) for everything.

From Pop Eats!: Sous Vide Venison with Butternut Squash Purée, Pomegranate Reduction, Pickled Turnip, and Juniper Berry Powder, followed by Almond Frangipane Cake layered with Raspberry Jam and Chocolate. The flavors worked together in an amazing way, and the venison was the best I've ever tasted. (Porter liked the venison he ate in New Zealand better, but I did not have any on that occasion.)  The cake was even better than it looks. (As usual, you can click on the images for a bigger picture.)

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From The Refreshment Cool Post: Chilled Shrimp, Quinoa, Layered Vegetables, Spiced Yogurt, and Red Pepper Coulis. I'm sorry I forgot to take a picture of this, because the presentation was totally not what I expected, and the taste was really good.

From The Painter's Palate: Trio of Savory Croissant Doughnuts—Whipped Herb Cream Cheese with Sea Salt, Chicken Mousse with Fresh Herbs & Everything Bagel Seasoning, and Spicy Tuna with Sriracha Mayonnaise and Sesame Seeds. These were good—the Spicy Tuna winning hands down—but messy to eat. I missed photographing this one, too; fortunately the picture was available in Disney's promotional materials.

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From The Artist's Table: Callebaut Belgian Sipping Chocolate Flight: White, Milk, Dark. As you can see, I forgot to take this picture till we were well into this incredibly delicious trio. Even the white chocolate (my least favorite) was wonderful, the dark was the best, and the milk had caramel notes that made it spectacular.

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It was a hot day (in the 80's and sunny) so a repeat-repeat visit to Japan for shaved ice was in order after we had put some space (and food) between it and the chocolate. This time we tried the rainbow flavor; it was good but tangerine is still the best, and it's still worth paying the extra buck to get the sweet milk topping.

Finally, and this has nothing to do with food but everything to do with amusing our grandchildren, or more likely their mothers. This was a wall decoration at Italy; I call it La Figmenta.

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Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 8:02 am | Edit
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One year ago we were five days away from embarking on our Gambian Adventure. (Yes, I'm all too aware that I still have most of that trip to write about.)  If our trip were this year instead, we would have had to cancel it.

The Gambia is poised on the brink of real political reform, but it may not come as easily nor as peacefully as originally hoped. From a New York Times article two days ago, emphasis mine:

The longtime leader lost a Dec. 1 election to opposition coalition candidate Adama Barrow. Jammeh initially conceded, but later called for a new vote. The United Nations, the United States, the European Union and others have united in criticizing him.

Jammeh's party filed a petition to the country's Supreme Court against the election, and a key court ruling is expected Jan. 10.

What might follow the court ruling is anybody's guess. Civil war could erupt. Most Gambians are happy with the regime change, but not all. The Gambia's neighbors have not ruled out military intervention if necessary, and even diplomatic and/or economic sanctions could devastate the Gambia's shaky economy.

The uncertainty has already disrupted the educations of those who are the country's best hope for progress, and it could get much worse.

In recognition of the solidifying crisis, the United States on Saturday advised American citizens not to travel to Gambia "because of the potential for civil unrest and violence in the near future."

The U.S. State Department also ordered relatives of diplomats and embassy staff to leave Gambia and warned all its citizens to depart now, saying those who choose to stay should "prepare for the possible deterioration of security."

Per these recommendations, the Gambia's Most Awesome Math Professor is away on what she hopes will be a short visit out of the country. But of course her home, her job, her beloved students, and our new Gambian friends are left behind.

Please pray that the transition will be smooth and the disruption short-lived. If all goes well, the new president should take office on January 19, and the Gambia will embark on a new, democratic path of reform. It will be a difficult road—the Gambia is desperately poor and lacking in resources—but a hopeful one.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 9, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Edit
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I'm sure my creative readers will find ways to make this even better, but I love the way it takes up just a small amount of space behind a couch, reclaims a hidden wall outlet, includes a device-charging station, and provides room for a book and a tea cup.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 5, 2017 at 9:40 am | Edit
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