One of my favorite places to be is sitting lengthwise on our back porch swing, looking out towards the yard. My favorite time to be there is more or less from four to six in the morning: then I find the solitude that is so vital to our mental health and so lacking in modern society. And yet I am certainly not alone. The frogs and insects are invisible to me, but they are omnipresent and loud. Barred owls stop by to say a word on their way from and to who knows where. The armadillo waddles his way slowly home from his nightly wanderings—though the one time I saw him chasing a female armadillo he moved at a speed I could hardly believe of him. As dawn approaches, many birds awaken and supplement the chorus.

Once I've identified the fauna, I try not to disturb them; I know the armadillo's sound, and he dislikes my flashlight, so I am content to listen. But the other day curiosity drove me to investigate a new noise.

It sounded a bit like branches and acorns falling on the porch roof, a not uncommon sound this time of year. Yet it was more localized, and not really the same. So I got off the swing, picked up the light, and found ... raccoons.

There were four of them, I learned, though I only saw two at first. Not babies, but clearly youngsters. They were small, and playing with the gay and fearless abandon of the young. Unlike the armadillos, they loved my light, climbing off the roof and onto the screen of the pool enclosure to follow it. One of them insisted on sitting exactly above me, giving me an unprecedented view of a raccoon's underside. When I took the light off the screen, they lost interest, and went back to playing on the roof.

Then they sought further adventure, and nimbly climbed down the ladder we had left leaning against the wall. I followed them with the light, and once again entranced the most adventuresome fellow. He headed right towards me, and I think that if there hadn't been a screen between us he would have come up to sniff my feet. If I moved a little, he would draw back, but as soon as I stopped he would approach again.

I returned to my swing, but eventually they all climbed back over the roof and down on the other side, near the swing. I could see three of them wrestling with each other, as young boys do. The fourth, which was smaller and—dare I stereotype?—probably female, mostly eschewed the acrobatics in favor of exploring in the bromeliads and finding an occasional snack. All four played there for a long time, frequently passing through a convenient hole in the fence between our yard and that of our neighbors, whither they eventually departed.


A few days later, at around the same time of day, I heard them crawl back through the same hole. To my eyes they were noticeably bigger, but they were only three. The smallest raccoon was missing—I hope it was because the gap between her interests and those of her brothers had grown, and not because she had met an untimely end, though as Ernest Thompson Seton famously said, "the life of a wild animal always has a tragic end."

The three did not play as much as before, but seemed to have exploration and a destination in mind instead. However, they allowed themselves to be again distracted by my light, and two were even bolder than before, running right up to me, and stretching against the screen to get as close as they could. We were just a few inches apart, and only if I moved suddenly would they temporarily retreat.

Unsuccessful at getting closer, they eventually resumed their journey, which led off somewhere in the back of our yard, where they disappeared into the undergrowth of and bromeliads and ferns.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 18, 2020 at 9:26 am | Edit
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Well, look at that. Columbus Day actually falls on Columbus Day this year.

I never did like the Monday Holiday Bill, as we still call it. But sometimes you get to choose your battles, and this one is not mine. Still, that doesn't stop me from being extra happy when the traditional holiday happens to fall on a Monday, and I can pretend there's still some historical connection between the event and the celebration. ("In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," landing in the Americas on October 12, by the old calendar.) So,

Happy Columbus Day! 

Some of you, I know, do not celebrate Columbus Day. If so, just pretend that I wished you Happy Hanukkah and you're not Jewish, or Eid Mubarak and you're not Muslim, or Seasons Greetings and you're celebrating something much more particular than "the Season." Take my happy wishes if you want them, ignore them if you don't.

Disassociating oneself from the historic meaning of a holiday is not unusual, nor surprising, especially now that so many have been made Monday holidays for the express purpose of encouraging people to think not about the significance of the event but about vacation time. But the peculiarity of America is our eagerness to leave behind even the name of a holiday, lest it bring to mind the event that inspired it. The Japanese don't have that problem: The population is only about one percent Christian, but regardless of their beliefs they happily sing Christmas carols about the birth of Jesus, and like to celebrate weddings in churches. Europe was determinedly secular long before America, yet we are the ones who take down public crèche displays and hesitate to wish our neighbors "Merry Christmas." Europeans are delighted to honor Christian holidays, from Easter to the Assumption of Mary, by closing businesses and taking the day off from work. They may have no idea what Pentecost is all about, but who cares? A party is a party. Maybe, too, it comes from the European sense of history and heritage, which America, being younger and more diverse, seems to lack—to our detriment, I think.

Have yourselves a merry little Columbus Day, unless of course you'd rather not.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, October 12, 2020 at 10:30 am | Edit
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Even during COVID-tide our church celebrates the Feast of St. Francis with the annual Blessing of the Animals. We attended virtually, as it was again held in the sanctuary instead of outside, and last year all that fur and dander was Not Good. It was fun to see the pets from a distance, however.

Even more fun was what you'll hear if you go to this YouTube video of the service, which should be set to begin at 21:38. (Sorry I can't embed it here.) Soon you will hear what the priest spoke at the point of the service where he usually tells the congregation, "You may be seated."

This was also the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, but I know Father Trey well enough to be certain he was not speaking to them.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, October 4, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Edit
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Yes, I am thankful for the rain. I love the thunderstorms with their deluges, normal for this time of year. And I'm grateful for the long, soaking rains of the kind we usually only get when there's a tropical storm off the coast but which have been nearly continuous all summer. The Floridan aquifer really needs the boost.

Nonetheless, I've decided I don't want to live in the Pacific Northwest.

My father's grandfather moved his family from Baraboo, Wisconsin to Sumner, Washington in the early 1890's. Sumner is just outside of Seattle, where it rains on average 152 days a year. So you'd think rain was in our blood. However, my father himself grew up in Pullman, Washington, where his father taught mechanical engineering at what was then Washington State College. Pullman is in the desert side of the state.

We have had so many days of rain this summer that I'm expecting to break out in mushrooms any day now. At the very least a severe case of mildew. After I've been outside for a while, I want someone to pick me up and wring me out like a piece of laundry. With six active tropical storms on our horizon, I don't expect things to dry out anytime soon.

I'm indeed grateful for the rain—and for the roof over our heads and the air conditioner that together provide a refuge that is both cool and dry.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, September 14, 2020 at 9:15 am | Edit
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In October 2018 I began another adventure in reading—as close to consecutively as was reasonable—all the works we own by or about a particular author.  Previous authors have included the highbrow, the lowbrow, and the in-between: William Shakespeare (plays only, read or viewed), George MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, Miss Read (Dora Jesse Saint), and all the Rick Brant Science-Adventure series of John Blaine (Harold L. Goodwin).  This time I tackled C. S. Lewis, the number of whose books on our shelves is exceeded only by George MacDonald's.  I concluded the project 21 months later, in July 2020.  Needless to say there were a lot of non-Lewis books interspersed with these.  Even C. S. Lewis is none the worse for a break.

Here's the whole list, in the order in which I completed them.  The links are to my own posts about the books.

Ratings Guide: 0 to 5 ★s reflects how much I liked it (worst to best); 0 to 3 ☢s represents a content advisory (mildest to strongest).  I make no claim to consistency, as I couldn't keep the ratings from being affected by both my mood at the time of reading and what I had read before.

  1. C. S. Lewis: Images of His World, by James Riordan and Pauline Baynes  ★★★
  2. C. S. Lewis: A Biography  ★★★
  3. Spirits in Bondage  ★★
  4. The Pilgrim's Regress  ★★★
  5. Space Trilogy 1: Out of the Silent Planet  ★★★★★
  6. The Problem of Pain  ★★★★★
  7. The Dark Tower and Other Stories, edited by Walter Hooper  ★★ ☢
  8. Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, by Michael Ward  ★★★★★
  9. Poems  ★★★★
  10. Preface to Paradise Lost  ★★★
  11. The Screwtape Letters  ★★★★★
  12. Space Trilogy 2: Perelandra  ★★★★★
  13. The Abolition of Man  ★★★★★
  14. The Weight of Glory  ★★★★★
  15. Space Trilogy 3: That Hideous Strength  ★★★★
  16. The Great Divorce  ★★★★★
  17. Miracle ★★★★★
  18. Mere Christianity  ★★★★★
  19. On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature  ★★★★★
  20. Past Watchful Dragons, by Walter Hooper  ★★★
  21. C. S. Lewis on Scripture, by Michael J. Christensen  ★★★
  22. A Book of Narnians: The Lion, the Witch, and the Others, by James Riordan and Pauline Baynes  ★★★
  23. The Chronicles of Narnia 1: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe  ★★★★★
  24. The Chronicles of Narnia 2: Prince Caspian  ★★★★★
  25. The Chronicles of Narnia 3: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader  ★★★★★
  26. The Chronicles of Narnia 4: The Silver Chair  ★★★★★
  27. The Chronicles of Narnia 5: The Horse and His Boy  ★★★★★
  28. The Chronicles of Narnia 6: The Magician's Nephew  ★★★★★
  29. The Chronicles of Narnia 7: The Last Battle  ★★★★★
  30. Smoke on the Mountain, by Joy Davidman (not by or about Lewis, but it seemed appropriate, as she was his wife)  ★★★
  31. Surprised by Joy  ★★★★
  32. Till We Have Faces  ★★★★
  33. The Business of Heaven, edited by Walter Hooper  ★★★
  34. Reflections on the Psalms  ★★★★★
  35. Studies in Words  ★★★★★
  36. The Four Loves  ★★★★
  37. The World's Last Night  ★★★★★
  38. A Grief Observed  ★★★★
  39. An Experiment in Criticism  ★★★
  40. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer  ★★★★
  41. Letters to Children  ★★★★
  42. C. S. Lewis: A Companion & Guide, by Walter Hooper  ★★★★
  43. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (by Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper)  ★★★★
  44. Christian Reflections  ★★★★
  45. Letters to an American Lady  ★★★
  46. Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories  ★★★
  47. God in the Dock  ★★★★★
  48. Surprised By Laughter: The Comic World of C. S. Lewis, by Terry Lindvall  ★★
  49. G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis: The Riddle of Joy, edited by Michael H. Macdonald and Andrew A. Tadie  ★★★
  50. The Quotable Lewis, edited by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root  ★★★★

Was this adventure worthwhile? Absolutely. Once again I found it interesting to follow an author's development over time. My reading left me with a strong desire to see what he would have written about our own times—if he could have survived the shock of seeing the fruit, 60+ years later, of the negative social trends that disturbed him in their beginnings.

A few of Lewis's writings are hindered by some of the examples he uses, which were aimed at a British audience of a long time ago, but that happens surprisingly rarely.  Timeless truths about the human condition never get out of date.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 26, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Edit
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During my lockdown-inspired nesting phase, I tacked the master bedroom closet first, and was thrilled to find two flags from my long-ago childhood. I calculate that they had survived at least six moves over four states: safe, albeit neglected, rolled up in a cardboard tube.

Many people have found this restricted time to be inspirational, and I am one of them. Finally, finally, my long-forsaken flags have been cleaned, mounted, and proudly displayed on our wall.

It turned out to be quite a project, especially trying to complete it with limited resources: this was during the severest phase of the lockdown, and I couldn't follow my usual practice of browsing frames at Jo-Ann's and Michael's until I found a size that inspired me. I did my browsing online instead, which was much less satisfactory. Nothing seemed right—certainly nothing that I could get handily.

I scoured the house for unused frames. I even considered temporarily cannibalizing a picture that had not yet found a home on our walls. But nothing was right.

So I reluctantly set aside the project and moved on. That was when I found, well-hidden in an obscure corner of our daughter's room, an unused poster frame. (Janet, if you were saving it for something, I owe you a frame.) It would be perfect, I thought, if only I had a 50-star flag to complete the set.

It was no easier to find the right flag than the right frame. They were either too big, too small, or too expensive. Finally, I looked away from all the flag stores and found one of the right size at Target. And it certainly wasn't too expensive: the price was $1.00. I placed my order.

Because of the pandemic-imposed restrictions, when Porter picked it up for me, he was unable to browse for the best quality—assuming there was one of better quality—but took what was handed to him. Somebody did a lousy job of print alignment. No matter; it does the job. Someday I may replace it with a better. Or not.

I'm proud to be one of the dwindling generation that has lived under three different American flags. Four, if you count the Bennington flag that was popular to fly during the Bicentenniel celebration of 1976.

Happy Flag Day to you all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 14, 2020 at 1:10 pm | Edit
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This year my children and my husband got together for an entirely different kind of Mother's Day treat: a selection of Jeni's Ice Cream delivered in dry ice to our door.

My favorite Connecticut ice cream store, Grass Roots, had an ad on Facebook that said, Your momma called: she wants Grassroots ice cream. I laughed in appreciation when I saw it, knowing that my sister-in-law might get something from Grass Roots for Mother's Day, but it was out of the question for me.

And then this happened. It wasn't Grass Roots, but it was delicious and had the Grass Roots approach to unusual flavors.

First, of course, we played with the dry ice. It's much more fun if you have grandchildren to share it with. And to no one's surprise, there's a lot less dry ice left when it's delivered to Florida than when it's delivered to New Hampshire. Still, we enjoyed the moment. Here's the short version.

Now for the ice cream itself, in order of our trials. Boy, was that the wrong word. It was hardly a trial to enjoy these treats!

Blackout Chocolate Cake A chocolate ice cream quadruple threat with cake, extra-bitter fudge and chocolate pieces. Fantastic. Rich, darkly chocolate. Better than Publix's Chocolate Trinity? I don't know. Give me a large bowl of each side by side and I'll see what I can figure out. It might take several experiments....

Brown Butter Almond Brittle Brown butter almond candy crushed into buttercream ice cream. Is is possible that there could be something better than chocolate? I found this only moderately promising from the description, but oh, my what a flavor! A little almond, a little caramel, a little reminiscent of the wonderful milk ice cream we ate in Japan. It's subtle, but may even be my favorite of the Jeni's flavors, since Publix does so well in the chocolate department.

Skillet Cinnamon Roll Dark caramel, cream cheese, pastry, and cinnamon (lots of it). Not in the same league as the first two, but definitely good. If I liked cream cheese frosting more than I do, it might be great. I'd happily eat it again.

Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns (Dairy-Free) Rich coconut cream loaded with sticky bun dough, dark caramel, and roasted pecans. Fortunately, Porter liked this. It was far from his favorite, but he certainly made sure it wasn't wasted. I'm glad I tried it, but in a word, no. First, the "dairy-free" label is a big warning sign, and makes me think fake from the beginning, with overtones of margarine, artificial sweeteners, and decaffeinated tea. Then there's the c-word: coconut. I enjoy coconut in savory Indonesian dishes, and that's about it. Not at all in anything sweet. Pecans are another thing I like only in certain contexts (like salads) but desserts is not one of them. Sticky bun dough and caramel? Now those are winners, but frankly the overwhelming flavor was coconut—which is why Porter liked it and I didn't.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake Sweet-tart pineapple with golden cake, red cherries, and a caramel swirl. This is what I opened when I turned the coconut-flavored ice cream over to Porter. It seemed fair: he doesn't care much for pineapple; I do. This one was smooth and delicious, but the other tastes were overwhelmed by the pineapple.

Lemon & Blueberry Parfait Tart and uber creamy lemon with from-scratch blueberry jam in fresh cultured buttermilk and cream. Delicious, and the lemon makes it very refreshing. I love lemon, and this has an excellent flavor, but it does overwhelm the blueberry.

Sweet Cream Biscuits & Peach Jam Buttermilk ice cream, crumbled biscuits, and swirls of jam made with Georgia peaches from "The Peach Truck." Very yummy. The biscuits are noticeable by both taste and texture, just about the right amount in each case. The peach flavor is excellent.

Salty Caramel Fire-toasted sugar with sea salt, vanilla, and gress-grazed milk. A perfect balance of salty and sweet. This also was delicious, though I'll admit it was even better when paired with some Chocolate Trinity. I love the combination of chocolate and caramel.

Brambleberry Crisp Oven-toasted oat streusel with sweet-tart bramble berry jam of blackberries and blackcurrants layered throughout vanilla ice cream. I'm running out of things to say other than "delicious." But that it was. The vanilla is a better foil for the berries than lemon was for the blueberries. The oat streusel is reminiscent of a good-quality granola or an oatmeal cookie.

If I were to be blessed with such a gift on another occasion, what would I want to repeat? Any of them except the dairy-free variety would be welcomed, but Number 1 on my list would clearly be the Brown Butter Almond Brittle. It was the biggest surprise of all the flavors, and the most memorable. If there's an equivalent elsewhere I haven't found it.

I went over to the Jeni's website to check out some of the other flavors they offer. I'd definitely want to try their Gooey Butter Cake, in honor of our most pleasant visit to my nephew when he lived in St. Louis. Maybe Churro, or Cream Puff, or Boston Cream Pie, or Pistachio & Honey. Texas Sheet Cake and Dark Chocolate Truffle sound good, but both are dairy-free so I would steer clear of them. Porter would love Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, but I don't think I'd offer to help him finish that pint.

Brown Butter Almond Brittle aside, the best part of Jeni's is the variety and the opportunity to taste unusual flavors. I'm really thinking Grass Roots should get into the delivery business. :) Or maybe not; to do that they might have to grow too much and lose their small, local-business cachet. But it's a thought.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 10, 2020 at 8:20 am | Edit
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Staying home is generally not a problem for me. I have 'way too much on my plate to be bored, and in fact appreciate the extra time. (I just wish I were in better shape to take advantage of it, but introverts are not immune to the mental shock of these sudden changes and restrictions. I'm making progress, but not the way I think I ought to be able.)

I miss church a lot, especially singing in the choir. And the comfortable routine of eating lunch with friends after the service. But as I said, there's so much to do at home the days are still flying past.

Nonetheless, going out these days feels like coming up for air.

Porter's printer ran out of ink, and the best and most timely deal was to pick it up from Staples. So he ordered and paid for it online—after adding some banker's boxes to help with my home projects.

In the meantime, remembering that our Gordon Food Service store was between home and Staples, I signed up with them and was also able to place and pay for online an order for pickup. GFS is our favorite source for large bags of frozen fruit—the only source I know of for frozen sour cherries.

When we arrived at each of the stores, we parked and let them know we had arrived. When they came out, we popped the trunk and they placed our items inside. GFS did hand us a receipt through the window, which Porter accepted with gloved hand and masked face; next time we'll just refuse it as we did at Staples.

Then home again, home again. The ink box was thrown away and the ink installed; the banker's boxes stored in the garage for a few days of disinfection, and the fruit bags duly washed.

Whenever I feel annoyed at having to treat groceries as if they were deadly, I remember my father's sister. With her husband and three young children she managed their household for two years in Ethiopia, back in the 1960's. Their produce came from fields where human manure was used as fertilizer, and everything had to be washed with a bleach solution to prevent diseases much worse than COVID-19. Perspective is good.

Well, that was fun. Now it's time to hole up again and see what progress I can make. Hang in there, my friends!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 14, 2020 at 9:06 am | Edit
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Perhaps my favorite service of the church year is the Easter Vigil, usually held on Saturday night.  Here's my description of our service from 2015:

For us, Easter started last night with an Easter Vigil service that was over two hours long, but wonderful.  Lighting of the New Fire, procession, candles, singing, and a large number of baptisms (adult and child), confirmations, and first communions.  The latter is why it was so long, but who would want fewer?  I love that our church has a means of doing infant baptism by immersion (parents' choice).  I also love that moment when the lights come on and we shout the first Alleluia of Easter—alleluias are banished from the service during Lent—with the whole congregation sounding bells and other happy noisemakers.  (There were a few unhappy noisemakers as well, as it was a long and late night for the above-mentioned children.)  I brought my tambourine, and Porter the ship's bell that Dad had given us so long ago.  The latter makes quite an impressive sound.

Naturally, things were different this year.  But as someone said, if the churches are empty, at least the grave is also!  Our church will have our online Easter service later this morning, but I couldn't resist a private snippet of the Easter Vigil.

In a phrase taken from C. S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms,

"Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen!"

Except there are no chocolate eggs for us, as our Easter candy purchases were interrupted by the news that our Swiss grandchildren had been shut out from our Easter celebrations.  We will, however, be eating their jelly beans.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 12, 2020 at 6:19 am | Edit
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How different today is from what we expected just a month ago. Our house should be bursting with family: all six of Janet's family from Switzerland, and another eight extended family come to see them. The Palm Sunday service this morning should have been bursting with joy: lots of people, a procession with palms, glorious music, Janet and Stephan singing with us in the choir. A day filled with people and love.

Instead, we exchanged greetings with far-away family via WhatsApp. Choir members shared photos of palm decorations at home. 

At 10:30 we settled down for our church service—live-streamed on Facebook. I put on a red shirt in honor of the occasion, and gave a wave of my tambourine. But there's something too weird about church online. I suppose that in a church where the sermon is the focus and there's not much congregational participation, watching the service makes more sense. And don't get me wrong: I'm massively grateful that our service is online for us! But it will take some getting used to, with Fr. Trey doing everyone else's part as well as his own. Everyone's part but the music director's, that is. :)  Thank you, Tim.  And our COVID-19 Concert Series trumpet player.

Actually, we didn't see the whole service until later, as Facebook could not handle the great number of churches livestreaming their services at the same time. We gave up and watched the recording a little later.

Unfortunately, that means the Swiss part of today's congregation had to give up, too. Here's a shot of what we had in common, while it lasted. As Janet said, "It was great worshipping together, if only for a short time."

Next time it will be better! And it's still Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week. The first Holy Week wasn't exactly a picnic, either.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 5, 2020 at 5:44 pm | Edit
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I was not at first happy that Ron DeSantis, Florida's governor, issued an executive "stay-at-home" order. It is not as if Florida had been without them before: they had been issued at the county level, allowing each county to tailor them for their individual, very different needs. I saw no need for state-level action, and concluded the governor was merely caving to pressure to flex his gubernatorial muscle.

However, it turns out that this order has done at least one thing that is very important. Not that I've read it in detail—it's full of legalese and unexplained references to other documents—but this part was abundantly clear (emphasis mine):

Section 3 Essential Activities

A. For the purposes of this Order and the conduct it limits, "essential activities" means and encompasses the following

  1. Attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship; and
  2. Participating in recreational activities (consistent with social distancing guidelines) such as walking, biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, running, or swimming; and
  3. Taking care of pets; and
  4. Caring for or otherwise assisting a loved one or friend.

As I wrote to the Governor this morning,

Dear Governor DeSantis:

First, let me be clear that our church is continuing to be creative in meeting both the spiritual and the physical needs of our people in this time of crisis: cancelling, postponing, and moving activities online wherever possible.

However, I have been very concerned, seeing other examples of stay-home orders, to note that church services are not usually considered essential activities. It is true that not all people see them that way, just as not all people consider day care centers or laundromats to be essential. But for a significant part of the population each of these is vital, and it is a very dangerous precedent to make rules as if a worship service were merely a social gathering.

You are to be highly commended for taking a stand against this trend, and in your recent Executive Order making the clear point that "Attending religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship" is considered an essential activity for the purposes of compliance with the order.

This doesn't mean it is wise to continue with "church services as usual" at such a time as this, and most churches, like ours, are voluntarily complying with health recommendations. We must not abuse any freedom, including religious freedom. But it is vital that it be confirmed as the essential activity that it is.

Thank you very much, Governor DeSantis. I pray for you daily.

As for ourselves, we did skip Monday's church service, on the grounds that the in-place County order enjoined gatherings of more than 10 people, and we didn't want to be responsible for contributing to the delinquency of a priest. As it turns out, we would have been fine. But we didn't know that.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 8:52 am | Edit
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Having not been out of the house, except for short, solitary walks around the neighborhood, since last Sunday, I was glad to be able to go to church again this week without violating any rules. With most of our congregation watching the service on Facebook, it was easy to keep a respectable distance from others. We come in the back entrance just before the service, wear gloves, and leave right afterwards. It's weird, but better than not being there at all.

In contrast with last week, today's church service was more uplifting than not. It had its moments of grief, such as saying goodbye to a good friend who is moving far away, and not being able to give her a hug. But this time I was prepared for a service stripped of much of its music, and it even seemed fitting, somehow, for Lent.

Last week we grieved. Today we moved on.

After the (diminished) procession, Father Trey set the tone of the service with this pronouncement:

When the church finds itself in a time of great need, we typically break out the strongest thing we have in our arsenal, and that is the Great Litany.

I love the Great Litany, so even though I would have preferred to sing it, it was a powerful way to begin. We also continued our COVID-19 Concert Series, which simultaneously fills in for a greatly reduced choir and provides employment in a time of great need for local musicians. This time we were joined by a violinist.

It was a good service.

On the way home we stopped at Publix; Porter stayed in the car and I shopped, having donned a new pair of gloves. There were plenty of cars in the parking lot, but the store was not particularly crowded, and it was not hard to keep a decent distance, except during checkout. The cashiers have been promised Plexiglas shields, but there are not yet in place.

We could have managed a while longer without shopping, but I decided it was better to go sooner rather than later. Our most urgent need was milk, and I had planned on getting some extra gallons to put in the freezer so that we would not have to shop again for at least two or three weeks. That plan was foiled, however, because milk purchases were limited to one gallon. That was odd, and frustrating, because the milk section was chock full of gallon jugs. I did mange to pick up several other things for which our supplies were low. Even if I spend this quarantine time baking, we will not run out of sugar for a while, as it was only available in 10-pound bags. Except for toilet paper, sugar, and eggs, I noticed no particular shortages. I couldn't find my favorite whole wheat hamburger buns, but bread was available and will do the job in a pinch.

Unpacking at home was interesting, to say the least. Someone had sent me a video by a doctor in Michigan showing "sterile technique" for bringing food from the store into your home. When I watched it, my reaction was "that's not happening." But I decided to try it. It's doable, if you are a small household. I pretty much guarantee it will not happen in our daughters' households, with their large families.

One piece of his advice I took to heart was the one-touch rule when shopping, That is not me at all: I typically look at my groceries carefully, to make sure they are not out of date, that the package hasn't been slashed by a box cutter, etc. But that often involves touching several packages and leaving my fingerprints behind, so this time I practiced grab-and-go.

The advice I did not take from this doctor is that which revealed that he really was talking from Michigan: Keep your groceries outside for three days before bringing them into the house. Maybe in Michigan, or Minnesota, or New Hampshire. But in Florida, pretty much anything other than canned goods would in three days be rotten, moldy, or eaten by creatures.

So I worked with his second best practices. One of his good points was that many items have both and outer and an inner wrapper, so that, for example, I could open and discard the graham cracker box, and put away the clean inner packages. Bread I took out of its wrapper and put into smaller zip-lock bags to freeze. Plastic and glass I wiped down with a disinfecting solution. The only thing that stumped me was the bunch of bananas. The commercial disinfectant said only to use on surfaces that didn't touch food, so I figured that using it on a banana would not be a good idea. The doctor's solution for fruit was to wash it all in a sink full of soapy water. I didn't think that would work for bananas, either. I know, you peel the banana and the fruit inside is clean—but you really don't want to peel bananas until you're ready to eat them. My final solution was a gentle rubdown with an alcohol solution, figuring the alcohol would have evaporated long before we touched the bananas again.

Of course, in and around and between, over and under all this process, I washed my hands a gazillion times.

In the end, I concluded that this is an excellent protocol if one wants to encourage shoppers to buy as little as possible.

And that—plus writing this post—pretty much took up the whole day. Now I'm violating a clear health rule: staying up long past bedtime. Adequate sleep is as important as clean hands.  Good night, all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 29, 2020 at 10:24 pm | Edit
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It is almost a cliché these days to see someone in the military or emergency services, and say, "Thank you for your service."  (What a contrast to the Vietnam years of my vivid memory!)

These days it is naturally being extended to all medical personnel.

But there are also many others on the front lines in this war, endangering themselves for our sakes.  To name just three:  pastors and other church workers, all who work for delivery services, and those who keep grocery stores open and functioning.  In the case of the last, I especially honor my nephew and pray for his continued health.

Thank you all!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, March 28, 2020 at 8:58 am | Edit
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I lost it in church today.

Our family has been through a lot of loss and grief in the past week. Week? How can it possibly have been only a week? But the world is turned so thoroughly upside down that the shock enabled me to hold myself together. Until now.

Oh, I'm still okay. Unless you count being touchy and frazzled and unproductive and unable to focus on anything for more than a few minutes "not okay." Other than that, I'm doing fine.

But I'm highly sensitive to the power of music to bring forth emotions. Joy, sorrow, determination, tenderness ... music opens floodgates. There are songs that to this day reduce me to tears because of events that happened nearly 20 years ago.

I'm not surprised that I sometimes find it difficult to sing; the throat is not designed to handle sobs and songs at the same time. But this time it was not singing that did me in.

We were two of maybe a dozen people in church today, and we went into the service knowing it was going to be hard. We were spread well apart from one another, we'd already suspended the "passing of the peace," and made changes to the way we offer the Eucharist. (Quote of the week from our rector: I've used so much hand sanitizer today I'm afraid to go near an open flame.) Porter and I went further, wearing gloves, and—most heartbreaking of all—deciding not to take Communion. I doubt the latter was necessary, but out of an abundance of caution we took that step for the sake of others, in order to maintain distance. In an Anglican church, where Eucharist is the heart of worship and definitely not "just a memorial," that really hurt.

But we had counted on having the music.

We did, sort of. I'm rather proud of our "COVID-19 Concert Series" in which local musicians, who now find themselves unemployed as all their jobs have been cancelled, are hired to provide music for the service, even if everyone is watching the live stream instead of being in church. Today we had a young man who played clarinet, flute, and oboe, and we really enjoyed talking with him (from a distance) before the service about life as a professional musician, the dangers of air conditioning to wooden instruments, and the fickleness of oboe reeds.

It was lovely, but it was not enough. We are accustomed to a "sung service" with chants and music throughout. Today, for reasons I don't understand, it was instead a "said service." (That's "said," not "sad," but if I'd made that typo it would not have been inappropriate.) We had a few hymns, but we didn't sing the Psalm, and we didn't sing the Trisagion; we hardly sang at all.

Where it really hit me was during the Offertory. We had planned to sing one of our favorite anthems, and were thrilled to have flute accompaniment for it. But there weren't enough choir members present to make it work. Instead, we just had the piano and flute part together, which turned out to be very beautiful, but not singing along ripped me apart, exposing me to all the pent-up grief of the week (which would have been more than enough for a year).

Still, I know that if that's the worst of the grief this year brings, we are very blessed.

I also know why churches should not close any more than hospitals, grocery stores, and post offices should close. We must adapt as needed to minimize risk, and be patient with each other as we figure it all out. But this is not a social club. It's a life-and-death essential service.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 22, 2020 at 9:40 pm | Edit
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Despite my firm intentions to capitalize on the need to stay at home, I have not recently been accomplishing much. The world has been turned upside down and I'm finding it hard to stay focused on anything. On top of my own frazzled state, interruptions from distant family have greatly increased. They're all distant at this point—and that's harder than usually to take because in just one week we were supposed to have begun to gather most of them together here! The interruptions are most welcome and most treasured, but it's hard to work when every call, every text, every e-mail, every WhatsApp, every form of contact suddenly feels urgent.

I was at sixes and sevens all yesterday, but I made a concerted effort to have one finished task I could point to at the end of the day: I made barbecue sauce.

For years our favorite barbecue sauce was Jack Daniel's Original Old No. 7. But for months now I haven't been able to obtain it, and I became determined to make something similar of my own. Inspired by discovering the remains of a bottle of Scotch whiskey in our cupboard, I decided that yesterday would be the day. It was Cutty Sark, not Jack Daniel's, but I will hereby shock and alienate all aficionados by insisting that "whiskey is whiskey."

I found several "Jack Daniel's Barbecue Sauce" recipes online, took what I judged to be the best of each one, added a few twists of my own, and cooked it up.

In testimony to my frazzled state, it took me two tries. I hadn't gotten very far on the first one when something interrupted, and it ended up burning on the stove, making an awful mess of the pan.

After some extensive clean up work, I was able to see Try #2 through to the end.

Oh, was it delicious! Yes, I do say so myself. I think that even if I do find the commercial kind again, I won't look back. This is 'way better. The flavors bring to mind—of all things—the description in C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Proposes a Toast of devil's wine made from "vintage Pharisee": Look at those fiery streaks that writhe and tangle in its dark heart, as if they were contending ... forever conjoined but not reconciled. The flavors mingle without blending. It's sweet and sour, salty and smoky, smooth and rich with a bit of fire. No one impression dominates; each takes its turn coming to the forefront.

Whiskey Barbecue Sauce

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 - 2 tbsp whiskey
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup onion
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/2 tsp hot paprika
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt

Put both garlic and onion through a garlic press. Add with whiskey to a medium saucepan and heat gently for about five minutes.

Combine remaining ingredients, mix well and add to saucepan. Bring just to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so.

Stir in remaining whiskey and simmer for another five minutes. Bottle when cool, and refrigerate.

Using the garlic press on both the garlic and the onion was my idea, and I think it works well. The sauce ended up silky, with no blending necessary.

Initially I resisted using ketchup, figuring that I ought to be able to make the sauce from tomato paste alone. But all the recipes I consulted used ketchup, and the clincher was that my tomato paste stock was low and we had lots of ketchup. Since ketchup is pretty much a staple around here, why not use it?

None of the online recipes call for smoked Spanish paprika and hot paprika; Liquid Smoke and bottled hot sauce seem popular. I used what I had hanging around, and am pleased with the result. I suspect there's a fair amount of flexibility here if you can't get the named ingredients. If Worcestershire sauce is unobtainable, for example, try a dab of anchovy paste or some fish sauce.

Enjoy!

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 20, 2020 at 5:22 pm | Edit
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