It's official: our church has a new rector, Father Trey Garland. He's from Texas, so I assume he's up for a big job: taking over for a popular retiring priest without splitting the church. Our church in Massachusetts, which ended its 18-month-long search for a new rector just as we moved back to Central Florida, suffered just such a split. Some would say we took the coward's way out, figuring that quitting one's job, tearing up the family's roots, and moving 1300 miles is preferable to having one's church blow apart. They have a point.

Our current church is not an easy church to pastor, being both highly diverse and highly opinionated in our religious and political views. On the other hand, we do manage to love, respect, and care for each other while working together to get the job (whatever it is) done—a trick our country could learn.

Besides, I have high hopes for Father Garland: he plays the bagpipes. No joke. He went to college on a bagpipe scholarship.

We learned the identity of our new rector on Sunday, and—because I have a reputation as The One Who Looks Things Up—our choir director said he expected me to have a full report Monday morning. He was joking, but that's what I do. I look things up. Our children quickly learned that there was no need to consult the dictionary or an encyclopedia with a question: just ask Mom, and she won't be able to rest until she finds the answer. (I'd say, "look it up," and they'd say, "I don't want to know that badly," and eventually I would look it up myself, because I wanted to know that badly.) There are some people, of course, who find this behavior annoying. My sister-in-law has learned not to idly wonder how tall the Eiffel Tower is, for example, when we're in the middle of playing a game, because I will not rest until I've looked up the answer, even if it is my turn. To me, "idly wonder" is an oxymoron.

That said, I'm a bit peculiar in what I choose to wonder about.

Believe me, I take the situation of having a new rector very seriously. There are many issues that matter, issues that have split churches and driven long-time, faithful, hard-working pillars of the church away. When asked in a church survey what questions I would like to ask a candidate for the position of rector, my suggestions were along the lines of, Who is Jesus? How do you view the authority of the Bible? Of Church history and tradition? How do you promote grace, mercy, and compassion without compromising truth or condoning sin? What is your view of families with young children worshipping together in the service? Do you think we should reshape the worship service to be more attractive to young people? What is your philosophy of music as it relates to worship? What is your vision of the church's role as a member of the community? What is your vision of missions and outreach?

The answers to these questions I await with fear and trembling. But my actual research? Priorities, you know! Here's what I've learned:

I have it on the highest authority (the world-renowned piper who played for Heather and Jon's wedding) that the bagpiping program at our new rector's alma mater is highly respected, and we should encourage Father Garland to make piping a regular part of the service.

I'd settle for Christmas and Easter. And maybe the weekend of the Highland Games.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 3, 2018 at 7:20 am | Edit
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We're home after a month overseas, and it's raining.

Europe has been experiencing a drought so severe that our Viking River Cruise devovled into a Viking Bus Tour. Looking over the California-brown land of the Netherlands, Porter—who had lived there for four years in the 1960's—recalled that he had never, ever seen Holland as anything but a lush, green country. His only concern about the weather for our planned adventure there with Janet and her family was that it would be a soggy affair, because "it's always raining in Holland."

Except that it wasn't. We had five beautiful days of almost unprecedented sun, accompanied by almost unprecedented heat.

And then, finally, it rained. The grateful grass took notice and stood up, acquiring a green blush overnight. It also rained some during our subsequent visit to Switzerland.

It wasn't until tonight that I realized why it the experience was somewhat disorienting. It rained in Europe much as it rained in America's Northeast when I was young. That is to say, I relearned what umbrellas are good for, and more than half the time didn't bother with one anyway. I got a little wet; I soon got dry.

But tonight we are back in Florida, and it is RAINING. The water is pouring out of the sky so fast that the gutters overflow before the flood has a chance to reach the downspouts. Any minute now I expect to see the Maid of the Mist cruise through our back porch. Then again, maybe I missed it when a lightning strike, so close that the bottoms of my bare feet tingled, sent us scurrying back inside.

If in the Netherlands we didn't bother with umbrellas because they were hardly needed, in Florida we don't bother because after 30 seconds one is soaked to the skin anyway.

Now that's rain. One night of this and all the cruise ships would be back in business.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at 7:59 pm | Edit
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There are at least nine swallowtail caterpillars here.  I need to find a butterfly that likes lemon balm (currently overgrowing the parsley).

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 6, 2018 at 9:31 am | Edit
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Ours is a very safe neighborhood, so I rarely worry when Porter goes out for a run, as he does several times a week. If the time of day happens to be dusk or dawn, I can't resist warning him to watch out for bears, and of course there's always the risk of angering a dog that's running loose. But we've always considered those to be remote possibilities.

The attack, when it came, was totally unexpected.

Due to a mild injury, Porter chose to walk this afternoon, rather than to speed along at his usual running pace. Suddenly, he staggered under a powerful blow to the head. Totally out of the blue. Literally, out of the blue. Shocked but still upright, he looked up to see one of our local hawks with murder in his eye. In truth, Porter coudn't exactly see the bird's eyes, and in any case it was probably murder in her eye. Our best guess is that there was a nest nearby and the—not helicopter, but certainly hovering—parent saw this slow-moving, strange man as a threat. The man thought it best to be on his way quickly.

Porter wears a hat when he runs, to keep off the sun. I rarely wear hats, because they make me too hot. Today, Porter's choice was vindicated.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 7, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Edit
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altThere's a Sushi Eatstation in one of our local shopping centers. I'm not generally a fan of strip mall food, and bad Asian food can be ... really bad. So I was initially suspicious of this design-your-own, food-fusion, fast-food restaurant. I mean, how weird is it to be able to make sushi with chicken, sweet potates, and bacon?

But today we decided to check it out. And am I glad we did.

We were too overwhelmed by the choices (check them out yourself) to design our own on this first visit, so we chose the Traditional Ninja combination, in a bowl, for $12. This was white rice, salmon, tuna, krab (the standard sushi fake crabmeat), cucumbers, avocado, scallions, masago, tempura flakes, seaweed salad, sesame seeds, nori seasoning, ponzu, and sriracha, to which our server added some ginger and wasabi.

The large bowl was plenty for the two of us, though it was so good I could easily have eaten it all myself.

Was it traditional? No. Was it an awesome sushi experience? No. Was it a delicious flavor and texture experience? Absolutely. Will I return to the Sushi Eatstation? I certainly hope so!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Edit
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As some of you know, the barely-three-year-old grandson of a dear friend of ours is fighting for his life with a rare and virulent form of leukemia. Today he will begin Day Zero of his new life, after a bone marrow transplant from his sister and best friend, who is just five years old herself. For you Green Ember fans out there, by replacing his bone marrow cells with hers, she is quite literally living out "My place beside you, my blood for yours." Not all heroes carry swords.

To all the prayer warriors and well-wishers who read my blog: please remember Jennings and Caroline today. The procedure is risky and there will still be a long road ahead, but it's the best foundation current medical science has that gives hope for a cure.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 19, 2018 at 6:20 am | Edit
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Ember Rising, the latest in S. D. Smith's Green Ember series, is now available!  I have just completed a delicious re-read of all the previous books—The Green Ember, The Black Star of Kingston, Ember Falls, and The Last Archer—and am almost halfway through my advance copy of Ember Rising.  It was hard to wait patiently to read the new book, but worthwhile to get the old stories clear in my head again.  (I am not like J. R. R. Tolkien, for whom there was only one "first reading" of a book.  I read voraciously, and I read fast—but I forget quickly, too, and don't really remember a book until I've read it several times.)

So, any of you Green Ember fans who didn't get advance copies, now's your chance!  Here's the link at S. D. Smith's store, and here's Amazon's.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 8, 2018 at 6:21 am | Edit
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TODAY, Februay 7, you can get the first two Green Ember books in Kindle format for FREE.   Enjoy!

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Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, February 7, 2018 at 3:11 pm | Edit
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In 1944, my grandparents moved across the continent from Pullman, Washington to Rochester, New York, where my grandfather worked until he retired in 1969. This film, made in 1963, gives glimpses of their Rochester. The Rochester they watched as it developed.

We visited them at least once a year when I was young, but I remember little of the city from then. Most of my memories are from my own time in Rochester, from 1970 through 1983. That's close enough to 1963 for this video to have sparked many memories, from the Midtown Plaza Clock of the Nations to Letchworth State Park to the Spring House restaurant, where we had our wedding rehearsal dinner. Not to mention the University of Rochester, the Lilac Festival in Highland Park, and the old familiar industries and landmarks.

By the time our daughter returned to attend the Eastman School of Music at the end of the century, Rochester was a different city, with much of the industry gone or on the way out. A telling quote from Wikipedia about the Eastman Kodak Company, once virtually synonymous with Rochester, is this: Although Kodak developed a digital camera in 1975, the first of its kind, the product was dropped for fear it would threaten Kodak's photographic film business. They had forgotten, perhaps, the film's admonition that if a company (or a city) does not change, change will come in ways unexpected and unpleasant.

Rochester is still a lovely city, and I sure miss "the splendor of a Western New York apple," though I don't think anyone's bragging about the traffic situation anymore. Our children, and perhaps even my siblings, are too young to remember when life was like this, but I hope they'll still enjoy this bit of history, which is part of the world of my childhood. I only wish I could talk with my grandparents about the Rochester they knew.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 21, 2018 at 7:19 am | Edit
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Since mid-November, my reading has been rather light, there being nothing intellectually challenging about my last 13 books. (Well, Boys of Blur could be—I need to re-read Beowulf—but it was enjoyable enough without going into all that.)  I had planned to continue that trend for a while, not from any particular desire for easy reading, but because I want to re-read all the existing Green Ember books before the new one is released.

altMy eldest grandson, and the library, changed all that.

His current all-time favorite book series is Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time.  With that kind of recommendation, I thought it would be good to check it out. Recently our libray sent notice that my hold for the first book in the series, The Eye of the World, had come through, so today I ventured out to pick it up.

The librarian didn't quite need a hand truck to bring it from the back room.

The book is 670 pages long.

I hope I like it, because 670 pages will be a long slog if I don't. But I'm more than half hoping that I don't like it too much, because there are 13 more books in the series, plus a prequel and a companion book.

Long gone (though only five years past) is the time when I could sample his taste in reading by whipping through half a dozen Animorphs books in a few days.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 20, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Edit
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I need new jeans. This is a perennial situation; I've been looking for new jeans for years, waiting for comfort to come back in style. I mean, we're talking jeans here. Not high fashion. Jeans are supposed to be comfortable.

When will the skinny jeans fad end?

For some inexplicable reason I thought I'd try my luck again today. Tell me, what kind of an oxymoron is "plus size skinny jeans"? Just plain moronic, I'd say.

Listen, folks. I wouldn't want to look as if my jeans were painted on even if I had the best of figures. But in what bizarre nightmare did you dream that a plus size woman might want to feel every ounce of flab she owns from the waist down—and display it all for the world to see? Even the models in the ads look ugly, stuffed into skin-tight pants.

One more, little hint you might want to take seriously: Adding big rips in the knees does not make the jeans any more attractive, no matter what the size. On plus sizes it looks beyond stupid.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 18, 2018 at 2:56 pm | Edit
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I've been waiting over a year for the next book in the S. D. Smith's Green Ember series. As I said at the end of my review of Ember Falls,

Bring on the next bookBring on the next Kickstarter appeal. I'll be there#RabbitsWithSwords

The time has come. Ember Rising is finally in the home stretch. The book is written, artwork done, cover chosen ... there's just that little matter of publication. Once again they are funding this through Kickstarter, which I see as a great way to support a good author and play a small part in getting these wonderful books out of his head and into the world. 

I'm now officially an S. D. Smith fan. I don't support projects for the sake of the rewards, any more than I donate blood for the t-shirts and gift cards. But they're still nice to have, and this time I chose a level with rewards that duplicate things I already have—such as Kindle versions of the books—because it also gets me physical copies of all the books published so far. I had some, from previous campaigns, but gave them away, because why take up bookshelf space when you have the Kindle versions? Unless, of course, you have decided that you really like the books, and you're a true bibliophile, and still love the feel of a real book in your hands. And want to be able to lend the books to friends, or attract the eye of a visiting grandchild. That sort of thing. You can read a Kindle book, but you can love a physical book, and some books deserve to be loved. Hence my extensive collection of George MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Ransome, Miss Read....

Anyway, here's the Kickstarter link and accompanying video, should you want to join this exciting project.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 at 8:50 am | Edit
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On an out-of-the-way street in a suburb of Lucerne, Switzerland, hides a small, by-invitation-only restaurant called Chez Stücklin. It was there that we were privileged to celebrate our 43rd wedding anniversary.

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Well-dressed, cheerful greeters met us at the entrance and led us to our private table. This was located in the Sun Room, which was on this day a misnomer, as the sunshine was primarily of the liquid variety.  alt

No matter; the room was well heated and we were offered warm slippers to protect our feet. Note the blue, personalized place card, the beautiful roses, the amusing pig-shaped candle, and the fancy-folded napkins.

The menu at Chez Stücklin is fixed. Here is what was served on our special night. (Click on any image to enlarge.)

The elegant, semi-refined wait staff lit our candle and took our drink orders. They were attentive to our drink needs throughout the meal—to me, the hallmark of a great restaurant.

Soon they brought in the first course: Mermaid Blossom Potage, "seasonal soup with a trefoil of select seasonings."  It was delicious, and reminded me of the curried pumpkin soup we traditionally enjoy at Thanksgiving time, but with lighter seasoning.  During the soup course, the youngest kitchen apprentice came by with a bowl of potato chips, solemnly handing us each a single chip.

altThe main course, Pizza on the Head ("homemade pizza with Mama's favorite crust and toppings worth jumping about"), was prepared tableside, as we watched. The dough had been previously prepared, but the staff rolled it out to perfection, one of the crusts even being in a "hidden Mickey" form in honor of our home town. They then added sauce, cheese, and a personalized assortment of toppings.

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While we waited for our pizzas to bake, we enjoyed the restaurant's varied entertainment. Seldom have I been so pleased with the volume of restaurant music, which is nearly always too loud. Here, it was pleasant to listen to and did not interfere with normal conversation.  If the quality of the performances varied somewhat, there is no doubt that the cuteness factor was as high as I have ever experienced.

I regret that a few of the acts are missing from the following montage. The restaurant has a policy that discourages videotaping of the older staff, so you will not get to see some delightful piano and harp performances. There was also an incredible duet between the head waiter on keyboard and Waitress V on tin whistle. I'm told that it was a completely unrehearsed, impromptu performance, but Waitress V was so sensitive to the music that she picked up the rhythm and even some of the melody simply through listening to the piano. I'm really sorry not to have filmed that—Waitress V would love to have had it recorded—but by the time I realized what was happening, I was simply too entranced to pull out my camera. We also missed a comedy routine I'm told was hilarious, but apparently the commedian was overcome by a sudden attack of shyness.

altMy pizza was all I could have hoped for. I could easily have eaten it all, but accepted the suggestion of a take-home box because I knew that dessert was part of the anniversary dining package. Team Vanilla Chocachilla, "a generous portion of vanilla ice cream with hagels and chocolate sauce," was the perfect finish to a perfect anniversary dinner.

Chez Stücklin, Lucerne's hidden gem, receives my highest possible, five-star rating.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 5, 2018 at 5:49 am | Edit
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This is for someone who will appreciate it, even if the rest of you are covering your ears.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 21, 2017 at 7:42 am | Edit
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I'm so glad that the ending of the Space Shuttle program did not mean the end of being able to watch launches from our front yard.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Edit
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