Pink Frosting

Pink frosting on yellow cake was the order of the day today immediately following mass. We were marking the retirement of Deacon Claire and the leaving of our organist and choir director, Clyde, and cake has never been such a mix of sweet and bitter without involving chocolate or coffee before.

I never really had a chance to know Deacon Claire. She seemed merry and smart, and warm, if not quite as immediately gregarious as Fr. Young. She has a lovely speaking voice, a bit gravelly from age, but still easy on the ears. It was mentioned today that she’s a Franciscan, and for the second time I commented to Fuzzy that I hadn’t realized the Episcopal church had orders, the way the Catholic church does. He merely smirked and said, “You said that last time.” And I never resolved the lack of information. Not very good on my part.

Clyde, on the other hand, is someone who I’d count as a friend. He’s funny – even snarky at times – warm, engaging, and amazingly talented. Consider, he not only plays the organ and acts as cantor but ALSO directs our balky and sometimes extremely amateurish choir. Directed. Acted. Today was his last day. Everyone tried to bribe him to stay, while also trying to respect his wishes, his needs – he lost both parents this year, and work (his day job) and family are demanding more of his time. You can’t really argue with that.

And so today after mass, after singing Christmas carols (because it’s still Christmastide in the church), we met in the parish hall and toasted these people, and laughed with them, and hugged them, and marked their leaving with plaques and cake with pink frosting.

I hope they got the corner pieces with the slightly salty sugar roses.
The corner pieces are the best, after all, and they deserved them.


I spent the day puttering on the computer. Never got around to making the turkey soup I’d planned to make – didn’t feel up to it. Was freezing until ten minutes ago when I woke up sweating. But I’m feeling lucky, even though I’m sick, because I have a warm cozy house to feel sick in.

The dogs left piles of non-returnable presents all over the house today, apparently their statement about the weather. (Chihuahuas don’t like getting their dainty feet wet, don’t you know.) But even though I’m annoyed with them, I’m lucky to have them to cuddle with when I don’t feel well, and to bark at every noise they deem threatening, and to have their sweet faces reaching up to mine whenever I feel sad or grumpy, or come home after an absence of greater than three minutes. And puppy-kisses make everything better.

My parents emailed me to say thank you for hosting Christmas, and so did my aunt, and you know? Even though my family is damned annoying at times, and even though there’s a REASON I live 2500 miles away from my mother, I’m lucky to have parents who encouraged me to be independent and a free thinker, and an aunt who, when she’s not being just a little too neurotic, will listen to whatever I need to talk about. I’m also lucky that Ira, my stepfather, cares for my mother so tenderly and with such patience. I will never have to worry about her being alone in the world.

Fuzzy and I bicker a lot, and don’t go on dates as often as we should, and yes, sometimes we IM or text each other’s phones, or even just call each other within the house, and he can be really stubborn, and I can be really bitchy, but I’m lucky to have someone who supports my ideas, and encourages my dreams and gets my jokes, and even better, helps with the dishes and the laundry, and is RIGHT NOW out buying groceries.

And maybe this post would’ve been better for Thanksgiving, but as the year draws to a close, I’m struck by the thought that luck is what we make it, and that in a world where there’s far too much strife, it’s a good thing to take a moment and count up all the good things we have.

Good friends, good family, good dogs, good home.
Good luck to us all.


Sick with a major cold that has settled in my ears and throat now, I spent yesterday curled up in bed with dogs and tea, alternately napping and surfing the web from my trusty laptop. At times, I flipped the television on, but it was a “500 channels and nothing to watch” sort of day, and anyway, there was entertainment provided free by Mother Nature herself.

Wednesday had been a grey day, but in the soft, innocent sort of way that basically makes you feel as if the entire world is wrapped in pale greyish-lavender candy-floss. Yesterday was aggressively grey, and the rain showed up accompanied by a symphony of wind, thunder, and lightning, as well as its own sound – the slick staccato of drops falling on the deck, on the glass table, different pitches melding together, or the soft hiss of the water landing in the pool, sounding for all the world like a simmering cauldron.

And the lightning, oh, the lightning.

I love lightning, and one of the things I love about living where I do is that we get amazing, tremendous lightning storms. Yesterday was not disappointing. I remember crossing the living room, lit by only the Christmas tree and the bannister lights (which will remain until Epiphany), and turning my head to see long fingers of Dracula lightning arcing across the sky, not once, but three times in succession.

Another time, I’d have been awe-struck, and stopped just to watch, but yesterday I laughed. We have a wreath on the front door that has a motion detector. When someone stands in front of it, it begins to dance and sing “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” and, like something from a horror movie where a child’s toy plays innocently just before the axe murderer comes, each flash of lightning was triggering the wreath.

The dogs did not like any of this.
And my head and throat were achey, still are achey, so I returned to bed, and cuddled them, soothing Cleo so that she stopped barking at the thunder. She finally burrowed under the covers where she was mostly oblivious to the lightning, at least.

And I?
I turned out the lights, lit candles, and watched the flashes of light in the sky until sleep claimed me again.

Smells like Black Phoenix

My good blog-buddy Janet mentioned some really intriguing perfumes a while ago in her blog. She shares my love of all things Snape, and comments were made that if he made perfume, he’d have made these. Or something like that. I meant to check out the company immediately, but forgot, as often happens.

Several months later, I stumbled across another mention of said perfumes, in a totally different blog. This time, I checked out the website for the company: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, and read almost every description, coming up with a short list of favorite scents that was 18 items long. (You don’t want to know what the long list looks like.) I mentioned the name to Janet, and she reminded me that this was the same place she’d mentioned.

In the mail on the 23rd was a card from Janet with a sample (BPAL calls them “imp’s ears” or just “imps”) of a scent called Calliope, one of the scents in the MUSES collection, which can be found here. The description reads, in part, “Hers is the scent of creative inspiration, and it is a boon to writers, poets and arbitrators: lavender and bright mint with bergamot, verbena, thyme and a touch of sweet orange and warm almond,” and yes, it smells as delicious as it sounds.

I told my husband I wanted something from Black Phoenix for Christmas, and he printed out their logo and gave me a dollar amount of spending cash, which I used today to order a bottle of one of their Christmas/Yule 2006 Limited Edition scents, “The Winter of our Discontent,” as well as six imps (“Asphodel,” “Dragon’s Heart,” “Intrigue,” “Lightning,” “Midnight,” and “Miskatonic University”), as well as purchasing a mystery pack of imps from a member of the BPAL forum, where there are recommendations based on astrological sign and blood type as well as just ‘preferences,’ swaps, and reviews of the products.

I admit, I wanted to buy one of everything, but to do so would require one to be independently wealthy. I confess I also keep going back to read the forum and the descriptions on the actual site. They’re marvellous. Inspiring. Amazing. But don’t believe me. Go check them out for yourself.


I’ve always loved licorice, and its flavor-cousins, anise and fennel. Maybe this is because my Italian grandmother got me hooked on Stella D’oro anisette toast when I was a small child, or maybe it’s because my mother likes Good ‘n’ Plenty candies, but whatever the source, licorice and I have had a long relationship.

Oddly, however, as much as I like licorice (and I mean the strong black stuff when I refer to it, for, though red vines are tasty treats, they are NOT licorice), I never actually buy it, so when my aunt’s last envelope arrived and included a package of Nordic Salty Black Licorice Fish, I was happy to save my parents and Fuzzy from having to ingest them, though my mother and stepfather did each have one. “Too salty!” they said, and admittedly, I thought this as well, but the thing is, those strong salty squishy fish are sort of addictive.

Well, more than ‘sort of.’

In fact, they’re my new favorite comfort food for the time just before that time of the month, because the salt and sweet and incredibly strong flavors combine in a way that is both repulsive and delicious, if that makes sense. Somehow, they were soothing and satisfying, even with their underlying vile-ness, and if I wasn’t giving up sugar after the holidays, I’d totally buy more.

As it is, I think I’m going through withdrawal.
I wonder if they still make stella d’oro anisette cookies.


Morning came softly, creeping in between raindrops, oozing around the windows and doors as cracks of light. The sky isn’t blue, but cloudy lavender, the air is cold and fat with moisture. Will it rain? Very possibly. Do I mind? Not at all.

My ex-Catholic-now-quasi-pagan mother and ethnically-Jewish-but-turned-secular-Humanist stepfather came to Christmas Eve mass last night. The service was simple, sweet, and relatively short. The creche was blessed, incense was smudged and clouded and shared, songs were sung, and at the end, we were given to-go cups of hot chocolate. Standing under the roof of the breezeway sipping hot chocolate a bit after midnight, while the rain pattered on the parking lot, we greeted the new liturgical year.

But it’s the birth of the new year in more secular ways as well. Oh, a bit late, even if the calendar stills says 2006, but really, the day of the solstice nothing changes, it’s now, a couple days later that there’s a feeling of hope and promise underneath the wet cold. A promise of days getting longer. A promise of greenery returning. A hope for a better world – that we can make this year better than the last.

Morning comes softly, in the easing of the hours of night, in the subtle change in the music of the earth, and even as I’m reflecting that if you go back far enough, it doesn’t matter if you talk about a blessed virgin in Bethlehem, or any other figure of motherhood from any other culture, as all are aspects of the same, representative of the same, the birth of the future, the eventual return of spring, I’m still smiling, and uttering the phrase on everyone’s lips today:

Merry Christmas

And echoing the sentiment of my 60’s-radical parents, in my most simple wish for the world:


The Regular Table

Question 16:
What is your favorite Christmas / holiday sound?

Raised glasses clink against each other accompanied by exultant declarations. “To us! To the future. To everything!” The details of the conversation don’t matter. The ebb and flow of voices soft when serious, louder when silly, crashing down like thunder with the group breaking into laughter, and finally tapering off again into stray titters, tells the story without us understanding the words.

We know that the people at this table share a common vocabulary, a common frame of reference, but are also just different enough to add their own spin, so that, like a good stew with its spices, vegetables, meat and broth, there is a melding of thoughts, ideas, opinions, observations.

Sometimes the topic is a weighty: someone has died, gotten sick, lost a job, lost a spouse. Other times, serious, but joyful: a birth, a marriage, a new home. Laughter prevails, the teasing laughter of a good joke, the embarrassed laughter as wilder moments are recalled, the softer laughter reflecting the blush of new love, the baudy sort when risque subjects are touched upon. But always laughter is an important element here, more than a grace note, less than the whole piece.

Friends, family. At the regular table the details of the relationships are not important. The laughter is.

Of Corpse

Question 15:
Other than “jolly,” in your opinion, what word(s) would best complete the following phrase, ” ‘Tis the season to be…” ?

Deck the halls with boughs of holly.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Tis the season for dead bodies.
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Wait a minute…dead bodies?

Well, yes.

My parents, my aunt, Fuzzy and I spent much of the day at the Museum of Science and Nature, in Dallas’s Fair Park. We began with a guided tour of the original Natural History museum, from curator Becky Rader, who also took us down into the admin offices, where we hung out with a real-life paleontologist, an incredibly handsome and gregarious fellow who talked to us about visits to various digs in Alaska, and also got to see the Jar Room (which is, just as it sounds like, a room full of specimens in jars.) Severus Snape would have felt quite at home in the jar room, with its shelf after shelf of pickeled snakes, skinks, turtles, frogs, and other such creepy crawlies. On the way to the jar room, we brushed past the Live Animal Room , with it’s warning sign: CAUTION: Poisonous Arthropods Within. We take no responsibility for your safety. Do I need to mention that we did NOT enter the poison bug room?

But we did visit the climate controlled Collection Room. A room full of amazing deep-drawered file-cabinets and coolers, all on rollers so that you could create aisles where you needed to be. Young Kelly, intrepid keeper of the collection, walked us in and said, “What do you want to see? Bird mounts we don’t use? Bats and mice for skin studies? Minerals? ” And let us look at whatever we wanted, rolling open aisles with as much magical aplomb as ever witnessed in a J.K. Rowling novel. And so we indulged ourselves, looking at geodes, and shark jaws (“Large shark jaw,” said my aunt looking at a blackened shark tooth easily three inches long. “It certainly is.” “Don’t worry,” I told her, reading the label, “It’s megalodon. They’re extinct.”

She showed us a stuffed owl and offered to then open the paleontology drawers, but we were running out of time, so we browsed the top floor of the museum without a guide, then walked along the lagoon to the The Science Place, which has merged with the Natural History museum to become one unit.

We had a quick lunch, then moved along to the Imax theatre, where we saw a six-minute flyover of Dallas and had fun trying to find the ComedySportz Arena, among all the other buildings, and then a BBC co-production about the human body. There was collective laughter during the bit where the soundtrack played “Let’s Get it On,” while the video was sperm valiantly trying to fertilize an egg, and collective oooh-ing at the images of newborns swimming in a “Mommy and Me” aquatics exercise. We left the theatre glad that none of us had to deal with a five-year-old that evening.

And then we went to BodyWorlds, the controversial exhibit featuring the anatomical display of real human bodies (you can see it, sort of, during one sequence in the latest James Bond film, I’m told). Even after browsing the website, it was difficult to know what to expect with all the hype. “It’s corpses,” was the first assumption, and while technically that’s true, it’s not at all what the exhibit really was.

First, you are eased into the exhibit gently, with a series of quotations about the wonders of the human body. Then you see the first specimen case, cross sections of human bones. If you’ve never seen the inside of a bone, it looks a little like layers of dense gauze. After the case, was the ligament skeleton, a human skeleton with most of the ligaments still intact. It was not in a case, merely arranged on a platform, with a caution sign warning, “Do not touch.”

The warnings were in no way ironic, because the prevailing sense was WANTING to touch. The crowd, allowed into the exhibit gallery in small controlled groups, entered laughing and talking, and was hushed almost instantly, with the general tenor of the group being reverence, awe, profound wonderment. As we walked through the various rooms, each displaying bodies, body parts, or in some cases, cross=section slices of bodies, we all – my group, and everyone around us – would look at a posed skeleton showing the lungs, say, and then breathe in, breathe out, try to correlate the placement and process of our OWN lungs with what we were seeing. At one point, looking at the ribcage and hips and pelvis of one of the bodies, my aunt paused, and felt along her own side, prodded her own hip. “I have to find this on my own body,” she said softly. “Find the correllation, see where the matches are.” At another display, focussing on the respiratory system, I stopped next to my mother, and realized we were both doing the same thing. “You’re suddenly hyper-aware of each breath, aren’t you?” I asked her, and when she said yes, I admitted the same thing, and we smiled at each other.

It should be noted, because I was asked this, that the only smell in this exhibit was that of the staffers eating Thai food on the other side of the curtains, out of sight. This is because the preservative method used on these bodies, all of which were people who volunteered to donate their bodies to science, and all of whom were kept anonymous so people would focus on the visual and not the backstory, is a type of modern mummification called Plastination. In some cases, colored dye was used to highlight certain things – blood vessels, for example – and there was labelling of specific parts, but not obtrusive amounts of labelling, and the entire exhibit was just…well, we’re back to profound.

Almost as amazing as the bodies themselves, many of which were posed to highlight certain things – strength, flexibility, etc. – was the crowd, which was multi-ethnic, and multi-generational. Staring at one of the posed bodies, a young girl asked her grandmother, “Is this a man or a woman?” And the grandmother replied gently that it was a man, and showed the girl the penis, the testicles (which, sans scrotum, looked like play-doh eggs on cords). “Oh, cool,” she said, and moved off to the next display.

Near the end of the exhibit, in the last gallery, was a curtained off section focussing on childbirth, with a collection of preserved human fetuses from 16 – 33 weeks of gestation. (It was noted that some were over 80 years old, and all had died of ‘natural’ causes). Most powerful was the posed body in this exhibit, that of a woman who died while eight months pregnant, her unborn child perishing with her. She was in a reclining position, with her abdomen windowed to display the fetus pushing her internal organs up toward her heart and lungs, and it was beautiful, and poignant.

Before leaving the galleries, we were given the opportunity to write in a guest book, and I confess that before I wrote my brief entry, I read some others. Overwhelming numbers of them had words like, “haunting” “amazing” “wow” and “cool.”

We were all very quiet on the way home, digesting what we had seen, moved and changed by the experience. We all came to the conclusion that this exhibit should be required viewing by all biology students and medical students. And we all agreed that it was fascinating and overwhelming and intense.

The museum states that it takes about 90 minutes to explore the galleries. I’d allow more time, because it’s truly intriguing, to see the human body, the thing we all inhabit, the one common element we have across ethnic, culture, and gender lines, so exposed. Seeing this, you would never want to take a life again, never want to cause harm, never want to overlook the tiniest moment of a long and fruitful life.

A Great Christmas Present…

…is waking up on the day your parents and auntie are due to arrive, knowing you’re completely not ready for them to do so. You pull your laptop into bed with you for your morning email fix, and what to your wondering eyes does appear? No, not a sleigh, but a letter, your first one, from a soldier you ‘adopted.’

And he’s apologizing for not writing back sooner.

As if responding to email from strangers is the first thing on someone’s mind when they’re stationed an hour outside Baghdad.

I haven’t even had coffee yet, and I’m smiling.

Happy Thursday, everyone.


One of my favorite things about The West Wing was the attention to detail. If you watched the show, and especially if you’ve watched the special features on the dvds, you know that schedules actually had schedule information, and that when they needed a bill or any other document, there was real text for them to look at. And there was CJ’s goldfish. (Gail) It’s not so much that the fish remained on her desk from the time it was given to her to the end of the season, as that – and you couldn’t always see it – the aquarium was always decorated for the season.

Which brings us to today’s QotD:
Question 14:
Suppose you have a 50-gallon aquarium in your home. How will you creatively decorate it for the fish this holiday season?

I’ve never really been a fan of fish-as-pets. In fact, my philosophy has always been that fish are furniture, but if I had an aquarium, I’d certainly decorate it. After all, my dogs wear bandannas in their signature colors (blue for Zorro, red for Cleo) on special occasions, and they have their own Christmas stockings, in which Santa generally leaves bully sticks or pig’s ears.

The question then, is how would I decorate it. Well, I’m fairly certain you cannot convince fish to wear tiny Santa hats, but I do know that a wide variety of tiny aquarium ornaments exist. How cool would it be to have a sleigh pulled by eight seahorses, and a Santa sporting a Neptunian trident? How much fun to have white gravel along the bottom, so that the inside of the aquarium looked like a snow globe.

I could, of course get one of those aquarium screens that looks like a snowy sky, but really, less is more.

And the sleigh…that’s really the thing I’d want to see.

If, you know, I ever had fish.