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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
My 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.
This is for someone who will appreciate it, even if the rest of you are covering your ears.
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.
When we moved to this neighborhood more than 30 years ago, we considered buying a house on the street shown in the news story below. Instead, we opted for a home one street over, of significantly higher elevation. Today that's looking like a very good choice.
Children, being the delightful people they are, find joy where the more knowledgeable and responsible adults find worry. They remember the togetherness of huddling in a hallway, listening to a hurricane rage outside, while their parents were wondering if a tree was going to crash through the roof. They remember the delight of the family sleeping together by the living room fire during an ice storm, and using marshmallow sticks to toast bread over the coals, while their mother fretted over how to get the baby clean diapers with no power to run the washing machine. They recall the thrill of riding their bicycles through knee-high water, while the neighbors dealt with flooded yards.
Irma's flooding in our neighborhood was the worst I have seen here. The hurricane that provided the biking adventures for our kids flooded the river so badly that a nearby bridge on the main road had to be closed, yet the water was not nearly as deep in our neighborhood as that from Irma. Flooded yards you may have to expect when you live next to a river, even a small one, but flooded houses are causing people to ask why. I suspect that recent reconstruction of the water/sewer/road system in our neighborhood left behind a glitch in the drainage, but that may be difficult to prove. Then again, the bridge has been upgraded and raised, too, so maybe we did just get that much more water—we're not usually on the east side of the hurricane.
Our first chair sousaphone player wasn't able to play with the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band in this year's Independence Day parade in Geneva, Florida, so he played the video cameral instead. Be sure to stay for the credits.
I think Geneva, Switzerland needs us, too; maybe this could be our audition tape. What fun we have! What total lack of self-respect we exhibit!
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!
I opened up Facebook this morning to be greeted by the following "Suggested Post."
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?
Facebook is scarily good at surprising me with relevant ads, but this one was the most amazing yet.
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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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
(My thanks to whichever Daley photographer took this video. Mine's still on the camera....)