Thursday, October 30, 2008

Strawberry Bavarian

Dinners for 6 to 8 is a fellowship method that my church is using to good success. You sign up for the program and are assigned to a group of folk numbering from 6 to 8 people. Your group then meets and plans 3 or 4 dinners to be held once a month at your homes. If you are single and live in a tiny place, as I do, you can co-host with someone.

We are in our 3rd season of this, I've signed up each time, and always had a good time. Usually when it is my turn to help provide the food I bring a fresh baked loaf of bread. That's minimal effort on my part because I have a great bread machine. This time I'm in a group where I know 3 of the folk in it already. Two of those are our rector, Robert, and his wife, Julie. The other person I know is Abbie who was my sponsor for my Cursillo and a really great person. Abbie and I were supposed to be co-hosting the first dinner this Sunday evening. That's not going to happen because right now she is in the hospital with an infection and blood pressure problems. We are all concerned and praying for her.

My contribution was going to be my usual loaf of bread and Abbie asked me to bring a dessert also. I thought I'd make Strawberry Bavarian. Mom tells me it is a spring dessert and I should do something more appropriate to the season, but I like this one for its lightness and I can make it low fat and almost sugar free. Who wants a heavy dessert after a full meal? Abbie is going to make ratatouille.

Mom was the one who taught me how to make this dessert. She used to serve it frequently, probably because I liked it so much. It was one of three of her desserts which were my all time favorites. The other two were Apple Brown Betty and Baked Bananas. If you've ever had these dishes you can probably tell that Mom is a pretty good cook. When I grew up and started feeding people as an adult this was one of my favorite dessert offerings. It was so simple that it usually turned out perfect and everyone seemed to like it.

The version of Strawberry Bavarian I learned had six ingredients:
1 pint of strawberries washed, hulled, and sliced,
1 envelope of unflavored gelatin,
1 cup of sugar,
1 tablespoon of lemon juice,
1 cup of whipping cream,
both cold and boiling water for the gelatin.

Pick the bowl you want to serve this in, or you can mold it if you wish. Wash, hull, and slice the strawberries and sprinkle sugar over them. Let them stand for 30 minutes to absorb the sugar. Prepare the gelatin according to the package directions, add in the lemon juice (this was optional according to Joy of Cooking) and pour it over the strawberries. Put this in the refrigerator to let it start to congeal. Whip the whipping cream to the point where it will hold peaks. When the gelatin is thickened but not set, fold the cream lightly into the strawberry gelatin mixture. Put it all back into the refrigerator to finish congealing. If you have some left over strawberry slices you can put those on top to decorate the dish. When set it is ready to serve. The cookbook said this makes 8 servings. I don't know how accurate that is as I always liked a really huge serving and so did everyone else. I never had any left overs.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Symbolism of a Heart in Action

Every second Sunday my church holds a special service so that things are kept interesting and the congregation can participate more fully. Often the sermon is presented by a member of the body with music, images, and stories from their life's lessons. Last Sunday my church held an "Instructed Eucharist." Obviously this is one in which the congregation is instructed on something. In this case it was the Eucharist itself and what all different parts of it mean and how they work together. It was an exquisite service, full of symbolism and love for the meaning behind and in the things we use during it and what our actions represent. Even better it enabled the congregation to participate more closely in the Eucharist as we were gathered around the Lord's table during the meal's preparation.

The writer of this excellent teaching was our new Assistant Rector, Matt Wise. Last summer, he was our "summer seminarian" and the young man who gave me guitar lessons. He recently graduated from seminary and is now doing his internship as a deacon until he is officially ordained as a priest on December 13th. Matt has a real love of liturgy and is responsible for many of the changes that are occurring in ours. I think his heart thinks in visuals of what something means and how it can play out.

I walked in late, just after the service started, and sat down in my early service front pew. Matt was sitting right in front of me on a tall stool with his notes on a podium. That was kind of cool. I've always liked sitting at the front of the class near the teacher. I hadn't missed much because the words that caught my attention were at almost the very beginning of the running commentary that continued throughout the entire service. They were:

In some ways, our liturgy is a drama enacted each time we gather with the hopes of drawing us all closer to one another as we together encounter the presence of the risen Christ among us. To help us experience this co-union or communion, we use many symbols. Symbols are signs that participate in the reality that they represent. A symbol works on us at a visceral level and the symbols we use in the Eucharist follow a pattern and form a ritual. Rituals help us experience and express things that cannot be easily verbalized.

After that my attention was pretty much locked to the explanations, my curiosity peaked. Fascinated I followed through the entire service every word that was spoken by either Matt or our Rector, Robert. I'd like to share this sermon with you so I invite you to go here and read the entire service teaching. It has a lot of good things in it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Addition to the Playlist

All the singing and music doings at church seems to have put me in a perpetual music mode. This morning I found Ella and Louis singing Summertime. This version has the horns up front at the beginning, then Ella, then Louis. For all that Ella seems to be the lead singer here, Louis was far busier during this rendition. He plays the horn for the intro, sings his part, goes back to the horns, and then throws in some scat.

There were 3 different files to choose from and all of them were of this version. The first one had the horns way high on the squeal scale and I thought that sounded very realistic based on the times I've heard horns live. The second version was deeper in tone, richer but without the squeal. It just didn't quite feel like a live performance. The last one had that rich acoustic space feel to it. The horns were better than number two but it seems to have been recorded in surround because I'd have sworn I could hear the echo off the high auditorium ceiling. If you've got a play list on your blog go to the search page and type in Ella Fitzgerald and Summertime. Tell me what you think? I chose the last one for its richness but the first one's horns still are sitting in my memory.

While I'm at it I guess it might be nice to tell you that a while back I also added in Jabberwocky and Catch the Wind by Donovan, and Highwayman and Poncho & Lefty which showcase several country artists including Willie Nelson. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Busy Doings at Church

Thursday of this week my verger training materials arrived. These consisted of a nice notebook with eight sections and a booklet depicting verger robes and virges. I'll probably have to get a robe at some point or the church will order one for me. The Verger Guild of the Episcopal Church (VGEC) provides you with a virge when you pass the test and are officially ready to be a verger. A virge is a staff with a finial on it. According to history it was sometimes used for battle but that was the business end of it. The pomp & circumstance end has a decorative and symbolic ornamentation that leads the way for the procession of the church on some of the more formal occasions. One uses it ceremonially to symbolically "clear the way." Are you wondering if you've ever seen a verger in action? Well, if you watched President Ford's funeral you saw one leading preachers and speakers to the podium.

While my church formally uses our verger in the processions at Easter and Advent he is usually active in the background at every service. I suspect that there are some churches where the verger takes part in every procession. I'm not sure but I think it might have to do with how "high church" your services are. Ours aren't that high, but they are getting more so. We just added in torch bearers to the entrance procession. The first two were very young and SO excited to be involved in a responsible activity. They did just beautifully despite their near wavering with excitement.

Anyway, back to the training materials. The moment I opened them I fired off a letter to Ted, our verger, and Robert, our rector, to let them know they'd arrived and asking when the first training session would be held. Then I sat down and read through the first 3 sections. Flipping through it in preparation for writing this post, I noticed there were some questions at certain points which no doubt require an answer. Between now and the first training I'll probably google for the answers, or go over and sit in the church library for a bit.

There is a reading list for training which we can read or read only sections. Robert and Ted had gotten together and have purchased a copy of the ones Ted said were the most used/useful. Robert emailed us all later that evening and those books are now in the church library. We'll have to take turns with them. Did I tell you that we are training four vergers? That seems a huge leap from one. Robert says there are all kinds of uses they envision for us. I hope so. I can already think of at least one service I want to be actively involved in next year.

As if that wasn't busy making enough, the choir, which I joined recently, is gearing up for several big services. There's our Lessons & Carols, All Saint's Day, the Ordination of our associate pastor, our 40th Anniversary celebration, and Advent. We've added in quite a few songs to our music notebooks recently including the glorious River Song from "O' Brother, Where Art Thou?" This past Wednesday we added in some numbers sung to us earlier this year by SAVAE at the concert they gave in our sanctuary. Those two songs are not in my native tongue so I'm really glad Cindy, our choir director, is starting us on them early. Now if only I had the lyrics printed out so that I could sing along with the songs on the CD I have of them. I couldn't find clips of the ones we are singing, but have a listen to SAVAE on the YouTube video below. They're singing Asi Andando.

We're also starting to hold planning meetings for our 40th Anniversary to be celebrated the week following Matt's ordination. December is going to be a busy month! The conundrum for me is the first planning meeting is being held during choir practice. I want to attend both and sadly am not endowed with the self replicating talents of Triplicate Girl. So I need to decide which is more important, practice with the choir and get socialization at the same time, or attend the meeting and be in on the planning from the start.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dropping Gas Prices

I just finished reading a news article on Reuters about how gas prices have taken a huge, record breaking, drop this past week. Good as this news is, it was interesting to note that average prices across most of the country still seems to be above $3/gal. See the excerpt below. For the whole article go here.

"In the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) weekly survey, gasoline was the most expensive on the West Coast $3.42 a gallon, down 15 cents. San Francisco had the highest city price at $3.60, down 12 cents.

The Gulf Coast had the lowest regional price at $2.99 a gallon, down 45 cents. Cleveland had the lowest city pump price, down 38 cents at $2.90.

The EIA also reported gasoline prices were down 29 cents at $3.46 in Chicago; down 12 cents at $3.44 in Los Angeles; down 30 cents at $3.38 in Miami; down 18 cents at $3.36 in Seattle; down 24 cents at $3.22 in Denver; down 24 cents at $3.16 in New York City; down 27 cents at $3.06 in Boston; and down 32 cents at $3.03 in Houston."

Some of those gas prices seem really high because unleaded at the Citgo across the corner from me is $2.71 a gallon. I'm guessing that the prices they took their averages from included those "we're on the corner of a highway and can charge an arm and a leg" prices of strategically located service stations. These averages were based on regular unleaded prices, not plus or premium, which are much higher. That reminds me of something my ex told me when we were engaged (he managed a gas station/store), "The difference between unleaded and premium is about $0.04/gal. to the retailer." When he told me this it was in '91 and gas prices were much lower. There was about a $0.20 difference for the customer at that time. Now, of course, it is higher and so is the difference.

My granddad owned and ran a Texaco service station for many years. It wasn't fancy, but the building was solidly built. And the pumps let you know how much you were spending with a nice ding every time the meter turned over another dollar. Back then you got about 3 gallons for a dollar. That the meters reminded you how much you were spending says something about the mindset of the country. People were careful with their money. I'm delighted to see gas prices dropping. I still wish we could go back to the days when the attitude was that folk were respected for their desire to economize, make their dollar go as far as it would, and retailers seemed more inclined to support this.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Switchover Maze

Times are hard right now and everyone I know is trying to cut back on expenses, including myself. Having both a land line and a cell phone seemed to be an area I could make some economies in so I decided to switch from Verizon, a most excellent company, to AT&T/Cingular who has a better savings in their roll over minutes. AT&T was so glad to get my business that they gave me a $25 credit, but the switchover didn't go as smoothly as it could have.

Before setting plans into action I had checked on the company's reputation. Comsumer's Report doesn't like AT&T very much. JS, on the other hand, did. She said she'd had no problems with them. So I talked to the Customer Service representative and was made a really nice offer which would make the switch over almost cost free. We're talking like less than a dollar. Woo hoo! And I'd have a camera and music phone to boot. So I placed the order. This was at the beginning of September.

The phone, a lovely plum LG CU515, was shipped to me on the 3rd of that month via UPS. UPS didn't deliver it. I waited and waited. I called the apartment office and had them search their package closet. No luck. The office closed at 5:30 but so did work. I didn't want to leave work early to stop by the office. I trusted the package would arrive. Maybe it was on back order. Nope! Eventually at the end of September I got a call from AT&T saying that my contract was about to be canceled for lack of activation, so I took time off from work and went to the apartment office. They still didn't have it but checked UPS for me and found that the package had been sent to Dallas instead. I called UPS. They looked on their records and had returned the package to sender because, "There was no apartment number on the label." Ouch! I'm pretty sure AT&T had my apartment number. It has been on my bill from them for the land line for several years now.

AT&T got my next call. They apologized, made lots of concessions, and set up a new delivery. It took a really long time to get that new delivery set up and I spent 45 minutes on the phone with them, middle of the day, anytime minutes. This was a really long lunch so when I got back to work I apologized to my boss. AT&T called again during the afternoon but I didn't pick up the call. Instead, I listened to the message and received the call again that evening in the midst of an Altar Guild dinner and meeting. The shipment had been canceled because they couldn't bill it to my account and needed a debit or credit card to charge the phone to. So they had to set it up all over again.

AT&T scheduled a call to me this past Monday to check and see if the phone had arrived. It hadn't. They were going to call back. They had shipped it via FedEx this time and FedEx tried to deliver it on Tuesday. I wasn't there. So they brought it on Wednesday. Last night, Thursday, AT&T called again to check and help me set up my phone by "porting" my number from Verizon to AT&T. The customer service rep left me with an automated phone system and I had no idea what was going on. So when I turned the phone on, as directed, and saw an error message about its smart chip I asked for a live person to talk to. That person helped me by having me reset the chip in place. Then we went together through the automated activation system and it worked. Then she had me place a test call to see if the phone would call out. Mom was glad to hear from me. Then the AT&T rep placed a call to my phone to make sure it worked. Whew!

The upshot of all of this is that I have a new phone but still have things to attend to. I need to see if the AT&T store can help me move my phone directory from the old phone to this one. That's a major headache if they can't because who wants to have to reenter all those numbers by hand? Then and only then will I call and give Verizon the bad news, although with the loss of a number I think the already know.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Walking a Measured Path

When I was just into my 30's I was working at a bank and finding life kind of rough. It didn't meet my hopes or my expectations. Decisions in life that I'd made without thinking had brought me to a point where I was feeling kind of cold about life and what mine represented.

Then one day I met Tom Jones, no, not the singer. This guy was a young and rising officer at the bank. We found we enjoyed each others company and music brought us closer together. You see, we both played guitars. So our dates revolved around that.

I think my life's dissatisfaction must have been present in our conversations because one day Tom asked me if I believed in God. He managed to do this in a way that didn't sound like he was trying to save me or anything like that. I wish I could tell you his exact words, but what happened after was more memory worthy.

We were sitting at the table in his place and I'd been talking about all the things wrong in my life. I even managed to spill soup on myself in the midst of crying. Tom was understanding, lent me a clean shirt, but after that he gently suggested I read the bible. I asked him what that would do and his answer was something along the lines of "it will give you good advice on how to live." So I guess I started seeking through reading.

I actually did. I read the New Testament because that's where Tom said I should start. My impressions of the bible were no doubt strange and sometimes silly. The morning after reading about Jesus cursing the fig tree I declared he'd gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Tom grinned when I said that but he also listened.

Eventually I read the whole New Testament, and at some point during that time Tom invited me to attend church with him and this lady he knew. That was where I got saved and the story of that evening was told back at the beginning of this blog in "Maintenance and Retro Learning". I'd never imagined that the receiving of a faith could be so real! Since that time I've walked through life knowing there was a God and he loved me beyond words and beyond reason, or at least from my perspective.

Looking back on those talks with Tom, I've come to realize that while I'd heard lots of proselytizing talks from friends or acquaintances, this one was real in a much more holy way and far less religious. I'd gone through the steps and stages that the bring people to Christ in a very natural way. All the salvation pamphlets list them. Seek and ye shall find. Confess your sins, repent and be forgiven. Believe and receive. Well I had sought, hadn't I? I was certainly unhappy till Tom helped me find that path. Confess my sins? I think that any believer is able to forgive sins in God's name. Tom heard me confess all my past sins at that dinner table. I'd cried over the things I'd done and wanted to be able to put them behind me. I'm sure that Tom forgave me, as did God. We stayed friends for many years. It was distance that separated us and I only hope that my friend is happy. When I went to church with him and Debra, his future girlfriend and my future best friend, I listened, believed, and received the Holy Spirit.

So who planned all of that? Not me. Not Tom. I think it was God. It just fit "the plan" too perfectly to be anything else. And that is how I came to believe, walking a measured path from dark into light. Thank God!