24 December 2008

'Twas the Night Before the Night Before

"Where's your spirit of adventure, hm?"
"It died a slow and painful death when those bats came out of the rafters."
~ Doctor Who: The Chase
I am absolutely stone cold mental. It is three a.m. and I am still awake, tap-tapping away on my laptop. Searching for any sign, any hint, that my Christmas wish will come true and BBC America will be playing the 2008 Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Next Doctor. Alas, I will be bereft until at least January, when the DVD comes out. And I thought myself quite clever to have just finished Season 4 on DVD. Sigh. I will go back to watching the old, old, OLD episodes until then. My friend Lauren and I had gotten through all that exists of the very first Dctor ~ William Hartnell. Now I shall fill the time by working through the rest of the 1970s version.

Did I mention I am a huge Doctor Who fan?

I was absolutely thrilled with Christopher Eccelston; adore David Tennant. But my hero is Russell Davies, the head writer. Now that is one person I would love to meet. His creativity has made DW more than just a campy sci-fi show ~ it is a series with substance, brilliantly conceived and executed. I am sorry to hear he is leaving the show, although I am sure whatever he writes next will be incredible.

One more cup of tea and then it is off to the Land of Nod with me!

Oremus pro invicem,

11 December 2008

When the Flesh Feels the Chain

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
~ Albert Einstein

believe in fairies…

Christina Croft recently wrote a post on Emily Bronte's poem, The Prisoner. It is a poem of haunting brilliance that speaks of Emily's anguish with having to deal with the outer world and her desire to remain untouched on her beloved moors.

dreadful is the check--intense the agony--
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.
"The soul to feel the flesh and the flesh to feel the chain." That line is a watchword spoken and understood only by those souls graced with artistic sensibilities. One of my housemates calls it "feeling too much" and views it as a curse and a vice. But I think one should be grateful for this sometimes indefinable gift. I would much rather feel too much than not at all. Someone once told me that he hears music and analyzes the notes making up the chord progressions. As a musician, I recognize the importance of technique and theory. But there is much more to music than just that! It fills one up, caresses the body and soul with velvet sound and carries one to another level of emotion and perception. In a word ~ you feel it. Otherwise, it is just notes on a page and any computer can replicate that.

* * * *
Do you remember Anne of Green Gables? I am sure my female readers do. Marilla often worried about Anne's emotional capacity. Her lows seemed lower than anyone else's and her cup of sorrow and darkness was almost bottomless. But that only meant that her highs and her capacity for love and joy and ecstasy was equally as bottomless. Life is never all comedy or tragedy; it is both, wrapped up in one glorious whole! And the more one can experience it, the more fully human one is.

This ability to experience life and its accompanying emotions to the nth degree, when coupled with a rich and living imagination and that inner artistic sight which is almost spiritual, does have a downside. And that is loneliness. Because one is never fully understood by those who see the world with pragmatic eyes. The Marillas of the world do not quite understand the Annes; they view the Emilys as quite morbid. All this high drama could be so easily avoided; why in the world would you waste precious energy on gushing over whatever it is that has now caught your fancy!? There are dishes to be washed; laundry to be ironed, the world to save, etc., etc., etc.

Well, I have news for Marilla. Such souls do save the world: they save it through beauty. Art and poetry. Drama and music. They save it simply by being alive. Because they are so alive!!
For a time, the condescending remarks of the Marillas pierce the artistic heart. But it learns quickly to lock the door to such barbs. Indeed, why waste precious energy trying to explain the unexplainable?! So the Emilys of this world travel alone in their inner sanctum; alone and yet...never truly alone. For the inner world is teeming with life that only they can experience. And if they are met by another soul with the same gift ~ then and only then does the key turn and the door thrown wide.
* * * *

So. Why mention fairies at the beginning? Because I grew up walking the woods behind our home, eyes straining at the slightest movement, utterly convinced of their existence. That flash of light that catches the eye? The reflection of sunlight on gossamer wings. The small, low opening in an ancient trunk? The gateway to another world. If only one could find the key to physically step through!

And I haven't lost that childhood belief. Somehow, I have managed to hold on to innocence, if not
naiveté. To hope in the midst of despair. To bathe in the streams of sunlight in a dark wood. But I dare not mention it other than here, under the cover of a crowded room. The Marillas would merely raise their eyebrows or worse yet, smirk condescendingly and murmur: Ahhh, Mikaela. You are something else.

Indeed. And I would not have it any other way.

Oremus pro invicem,

10 December 2008

Here and There; This and That

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
~ Douglas Adams
Alas, I promised you a post on Married vs. Single this weekend. Between recovering from a nasty early winter cold and preparing music for a gig and High Mass at St. John the Beloved, I had not one brain cell left to rub against another. Add to that, my previous post engendered some discussion at the dining room table, so I am back to thinking and writing about it some more before I post.
In the meantime, I caught up on my reading of some of my favorite blogs and Christina Croft has inspired some thoughts which I will share later.

Put the kettle on and light a fire, there's a dear. I shan't be long!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

04 December 2008

The Odd Couple, in a Manner of Speaking

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.
If you have that awareness, you have good manners,
no matter which fork you use.
~ Emily Post

his past Tuesday evening, I got together with a few close girlfriends ~ over tea and Trader Joe’s chocolates, of course. The talk turned to friends and acquaintances married in the past year. One of the ladies present mentioned an odd phenomenon she has encountered: the reluctance of some married people to converse with single people. Time and again her experience has been to try to engage married people she knows in conversation, asking them questions about the children, extended family, etc. And time and again she has been given the cold shoulder; people have avoided looking her in the eye; have ended the conversation as quickly as possible and showed no interest in asking after her life, etc. Note that this has occurred with both colleagues at work and with friends ~ not strangers on a train.

She made an excuse for them half-heartedly: “I guess once you’re married, you have nothing in common with your single friends anymore and there’s nothing to talk about. Or perhaps they feel slightly jealous that I am able to do things with more freedom then they are.”

Two guesses as to what my reaction was. Oh yes, my dears ~ that Southern belle dander “got up” and went to town! My first question to her was as to the location of her colleagues’ and friends’ place of “raising.” Under a rock? Perhaps in an Amazonian jungle, I politely inquired. It certainly seems perplexing to me, to put it mildly, that in our so-called Information Age, one can encounter those strange creatures called the Impolite, or colloquially: The Rude.

In our house growing up we did such crazy things as write thank you notes within a week of receiving a gift or help. We called adults Mister or Missus and their last name, never by their first name. And when we were spoken to, or asked questions, we were taught, that no matter the station, status, education, or tax bracket, you answered politely, looked the conversationalist in the eye and returned the favor by inquiring after them and their families, etc. It really is not rocket science, people!

Perhaps there are slues of married people will rise up and say that their single friends do not talk on the phone for very long anymore or who are constantly scanning the room while talking to them at a party, etc. Well, of course, there are no boundaries or restrictions on Rudeness and who may engage in such atrocious behaviour. I make no apologies for The Rude, whomever they may be. However, I am single and at this point in time, that is one of the lenses through which I observe the world and all its oddities. And I have never had a problem engaging a conversation with anyone who ~ GASP! ~ did not think like me. Or ~ THE HORROR! ~ I did not have anything remotely in common with. Or who ~ NO! ~ was not JUST LIKE ME!

To which you may reply, if you have nothing in common, why talk? Look, even if you are bored, charity demands, at the very least, that you refrain from yawning, or looking around the room, or asking what time it is. There are more polite ways of ending the conversation. But if you are bored, there is one thing I know about you: YOU are boring. So the person is different from you. That is exciting, not boring! Only a clod socializes exclusively with people who think exactly like they do. God forbid you learn something or get a new perspective on an issue or have your eyes opened to beauty you had not seen before! How will you ever grow as a person unless you stretch your mind and your heart a little and talk to ~ ACK! ~ people!? And did it ever occur to you, O Rude One, that someone else out there might ~ O! The thought makes my heart flutter! ~ just might learn something from you?

Which brings me back to the, if you will, particular shade of Rude: Married vs. Single. But this post has become quite long already, so I shall pick this up again tomorrow and leave off for now on my diatribe on Rudeness (I really do like that word ~ reminds me of the Ood. And if you do not know who they are, then we obviously have nothing in common and I cannot bear to speak with you anymore).

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

30 November 2008

Thanksgiving Leftovers

One should never be afraid of the unknown. Especially in the kitchen.
~ M. D’Eigh

mmmm. Thanksgiving weekend. A very homemade time of year in the food department. At least it should be. I am always amazed at the amount of fear that people exhibit when it comes to cooking. Dearest readers, the turkey will not suddenly sprout fangs and jump out of the oven at you! And if you keep him covered with aluminum foil and give him a nice bath now and then, he will not wither and dry out either. ;-)

Most of my friends have anointed me a kitchen goddess because of the culinary creations I conjure up. Contrary to popular belief, however, I did not arrive in the world with a Calphalon pot in one hand and a KitchenAid mixer in the other. Shall I let you in on a secret? Great chefs are born not made. And they are born from hard work and multiple burnt dishes and colossal casserole failures. I have come to believe that in order to be a good cook one must have a healthy dash of humility and an enormous capacity to laugh at oneself. I have a lot of the latter and am still working on the former. ;-)

There is a story told in our family of the time my mother asked me to help her fix dinner. Her instructions were simple enough: fill the pot three-quarters full, let it come to a boil and then drop the spaghetti in. Simple enough indeed. I proceeded to put three-quarters of a cup of water in the pot. Ah yes, dear readers, well may you laugh! My family still tells this story. So all my readers who ever ran screaming from raw chicken, take heart! You too can learn to boil the correct amount of water and serve a brilliant pasta dish!

This is all to introduce a new take on a Thanksgiving classic: stuffing. I arrived back in Arlington late last night and was so intent on making it back before collapsing from blocked sinuses, that I forgot to take leftovers along. And of course, there is nothing like comfort food to help cure an Advent cold. So I whipped up more stuffing. But alas! No celery or onions or chicken stock could I find! Well, a stuffing isn’t stuffing without something green in it ~ at least in my humble opinion. As I think I have mentioned here before, I am a very big proponent of using what you have in your pantry before wasting gas or money to get “must haves” for a recipe. You can always find an acceptable substitute. Being a Southerner, there is one vegetable I manage to have copious amounts of in the freezer: okra!

Into the pan, along with about three tablespoons (eh, give or take) of butter and two cloves of garlic, chopped, went the okra. Once that had sautéed for a couple of minutes, I added a little beef stock and heavy cream. In a bowl, I cracked two eggs. Well, one actually, but it had two yolks ~ jackpot! I had some leftover cooked, shredded chicken and I added that to the eggs. I took a sheet of bread crusts out of the oven, which I had broken up and seasoned and baked for roughly fifteen minutes at 350 degrees. I added them to the bowl with the whisked eggs and poured the butter broth on top and mixed it up with a fork. Once the mixture was coated and had soaked up a good portion of the liquid, I placed it in a buttered pie plate and baked it at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Ahhh ~ comfort heaven! And salt-free by the way. Even better!

So you see, you should fear the kitchen no longer. Cooking is an art, yes, but one that is at the same time an act of love and adventure. Enter it with abandon!

I hope y’all had a blessed Thanksgiving surrounded by loved ones.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

24 November 2008

The Fifth Annual St. Cecilia's Arts Festival

Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.
~ Albert Camus

As some of my readers may know, I host a little soiree in honor of St. Cecilia every November on the Saturday closest to her feast day. This year, the little soiree grew to 144 registered guests and I partnered with Miss Erin Mac to bring it to St. Mary’s Lyceum in Old Towne Alexandria. The evening went beautifully with only a few slight hitches and I think that the audience enjoyed themselves immensely.

The program was diverse and entertaining: Sullivan and Sarah DeCorla-Souza read their original works and Lauren Proshek read a poem by John Donne and another by Tolkien. Two skits were performed: The Hollowmen’s Train Noir skit (performed by Sullivan and J. DeLo) and Monty Python’s The Argument Clinic (the latter performed by Sullivan and yours truly). All these were interspersed by some incredible musical talent, including a piano solo by up and coming Mexican pianist Sergio Neverez, a folk-rock guitar solo by local artist Acoustic Stew, soothing Gregorian chant by J. Kascir and Anthony Smitha, a rollicking improvisational piece by the Very Slightly Off quartet, and a couple of solos by yours truly.

The highlight of the evening was a performance by the Off the String cello quartet who played everything from Brahms to Metallica and Apocalyptica. They also played a piece called Revival which was composed by a member of the group, Mr. Loren Westbrook-Fritts. More than one guest commented on their performance and we are looking forward to their debut album. More to come on that!

All of this was emceed with great wit by Christendom’s own Dr. William H. Marshner, to whom I am also indebted.

And the food? Well, my dears, you know I cannot write about an event I host without mentioning the edibles! ;-) I confess I went slightly off the deep end this year and lost a bit of what little sanity I have in the process. Ten, yes, ten different hors d'oeuvres were served, at about 140 pieces each ~ give or take. Stuffed Mushrooms, Sausage Bites, Cheese Rounds, Pecan-Rosemary Shortbread, Raspberry-White Chocolate Trifle, Kentucky Bourbon Pecan Pie & Chocolate Turtle Cake (courtesy Mrs. Leslie K.), Curried Chicken in Won Ton Wrappers, Rum Chocolate Truffles, Grand Marnier White Chocolate Truffles, Red Pepper Roll Ups, Pecan and Ham Tea Sandwiches, Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Dates, Miniature Pumpkin Pies (courtesy Sullivan), Miniature Quiches, Hummus and Homemade Pita Triangles, Artichoke-Parmesan Crostini, and gallons of Cranberry Punch, Hot Mead Toddy and wine. Most of these recipes can be found on either Epicurious or MyRecipes.

Now you can see why I am still recovering on Monday! Of course, I would be lying if I wiped my brow and moaned about how difficult it all was. In truth, it was hard work. But I had a group of friends who willingly and lovingly jumped in and saved me on the battlefield of the kitchen. And what a troupe they were! I am in the process of thanking each one of the individually. I owe them so much ~ this event would not have gone so smoothly if not for them.

Be sure to mark 21 November 2009 for The Sixth Annual St. Cecilia’s Arts Festival! Seats are already being reserved!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

12 November 2008

The Power of Love

The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.
~ Pearl S. Buck

Recently, a discussion came up between Benedict Ambrose, Seraphic and myself on the subject of whether one should become completely healed of past wounds before entering into a relationship or whether the new relationship itself can be a source of healing. I promised a post on the subject and here it is.
Just because you love someone doesn't mean you have to be involved with them.
Love is not a bandage to cover wounds.
~ Hugh Elliott, Standing Room Only
A relationship with another person, whether it be eros or filios, is never a panacea for loneliness. That is, a person is never to be used, never made into an object. Entering into a relationship simply because one cannot bear to be alone is a recipe for disaster ~ not to mention it makes things exceedingly tiresome and boring for the other person. If you had a troubled relationship with your father or mother, trying to compensate for what you should have received as a child with your Beloved will not take away the pain and neither will it make the need to face that loss go away.

Nor, as Benedict mentioned, will the love of another person, probably as broken and wounded as you are, be enough to “save” you. Especially from yourself. John and Staci Eldredge call this taking your question to Eve (Gentlemen) or to Adam (Ladies) and it only leads to more heartache and disillusionment. Working through past wounds is highly recommended for two reasons: one, the aforementioned inability of any one mortal human being to “fix” you or "fill" you. Two, if your father always promised he would do X, Y or Z for you but it never happened because something (be it good or bad) got in the way, you may have a tendency to expect all men to promise but not deliver. If your mother was manipulative and domineering, you may have the tendency to view your girlfriend’s ability to handle herself well and take charge of a situation with distrust or you may simply retreat when faced with taking responsibility. Meaning: if you do not take the time to overcome those wounds, you will keep attracting the same type of hurtful people into your life.
Bottom line: human beings are not a rag to mop up your need with.
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves
alone ~ we find it with another. ~ Thomas Merton
That being said, I do believe that “perfect love drives out all fear.” (1 John 4:18) What do I mean by that? If you have experienced love in an unhealthy way, experiencing it in a healthy, integrated way can only help your healing. And this I do know, having discussed this type of healing with a couple of friends who are counselors and psychologists.
Another way to look at it is this: if I have been lied to and emotionally used in past relationships, if the pattern continues, it becomes much more difficult to heal from the past wounds because the bandage keeps getting ripped off. But if I continue to work on my healing and I become involved with someone who is a Good Man (and not a Middling Man – see Seraphic’s great post on this!) then the healing process is sped up. Sort of like antibiotics cure the flu (grace, therapy) but eating well, taking in fluids and getting rest (healthy relationship) speed up the recovery.
We were not created to be alone, to work out our problems in isolation. We are social beings, made for self-gift and with an incredible capacity to love and forgive and grow. Pride says you do not need anyone or anything to help you heal. That is not love ~ that is, well, Hell, quite frankly! But neither are we meant to be lay-abouts expecting things to just magically get better without putting forth any effort at all and letting our spouses, children, friends, confessors, shrinks do it all for us.
No, the answer lies somewhere in between. Working out your issues in the shelter of the arms of a Good Man (or a Good Woman, gentlemen).

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

11 November 2008

Culinary Sincerity: An Organic Dinner for Four

To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or to cook for yourself;
it is to express your sincerity.
~ Shunryu Suzuki

“Are you a chef in a restaurant?”

Such words are music to the ears of an amateur gourmet such as myself. It is one of the highest compliments you can pay me. It means that I have achieved a great level of culinary magic, one that creates the illusion that I actually know what I am doing in the kitchen! And Saturday night, I practiced my secret kitchen arts and fooled not one guest, but four.

After spending almost six months searching for a mutually agreeable date and time, I finally hosted the Organic Dinner for Four I donated to the 2007 Tepeyac Family Center Gala. I hope the guests in question found it worth the wait as well as the $6,000 they donated! Certainly Mrs. R’s question seems to say that it was. Planning, shopping and executing this dinner was both a labor of love and an exercise in insanity.

One of the causes I support is the effort to buy fresh and local. Today more than ever, the local economy is in need of our support. And nowhere is this truer and more effective than in the realm of gastronomy. All the stories coming out about poisoned Chinese food products only confirms my earlier decision to buy as little from large chain grocery stores and as much from local farmers and butchers as I possibly can. Food is about relationship and authenticity. Now be honest: does your grocery chain cashier, meat manager or produce guy know you by name and ask after your family and talk about theirs? Even if they do (which is rare around here) can they tell you which farm the food comes from and how clean it is?

Aside from the meat (from Texas so still uber American at least and organic)and the seafood (fresh off the boat and a plane from the New England coast), and one red bell pepper (oddly enough only green bell peppers at the farmers’ market), every course I served was fresh, organic and locally grown and purchased. So I not only succeeded in putting my money back into the local community but using such fresh ingredients ensured better taste in the finished meal. Ah yes, so what was on the menu? Voila:
Fresh Sea Scallops from the Coast of New England – served on a pillow of spinach pesto
Autumn Spinach Salad – with Walnuts, Apples and Cranberries sprinkled
with a Balsamic Vinaigrette
Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Bisque with Cider Cream
Grass Fed Filet Mignon with Port Glazed Cranberries and Gorgonzola Cheese – served with Bacon and Red Bell Pepper Green Beans and Orzo
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Coulis

There was only one slight hiccup ~ again, it would not be worth the telling without something going wrong! The original menu consisted of a potato-turnip puree for the starch portion of the main course. The recipe I used and which I will not be using again, turned my beautiful red potatoes and turnip into glue. I kid you not ~ I seriously could have hung wallpaper with it. I grabbed a wine cooler, almost fainted and then quickly substituted an orzo dish and chucked the potato glue into the oven to finish off the monstrous recipe. And there it turned to soup and was acclaimed by all the kitchen staff! Will wonders never cease!

I served four different wines with dinner: two bottles of 2006 Viognier from Horton Vineyards and one bottle of 2007 Chardonnay from Rappahannock Cellars with the first three courses; a beautifully plumy bottle of North Mountain Vineyard’s Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006 with the main course and a Raspberry Merlot with dessert, also from North Mountain Vineyards. All the wines were from local Virginia wineries and all were quite good. I must however, give special mention to the North Mountain wines ~ and not just because I met them at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday and they were super friendly and nice to me! ;-)

I had never tasted a Franc Reserve before and after one sip, I knew I had to serve it with the filet. I was not able to taste the Raspberry Merlot on the spot, but I figured that with dessert, it would be fine. Alas! If only I had been able to taste it there, I would have bought a whole case of it! It was definitely the hit of the evening! And not just among the guests, but my friends who were playing kitchen and wait staff for the night. Thank goodness no one was there to see me swig down the last few drops after everyone had toddled home or off to bed. It was decidedly barbaric of me! But oh so worth it!!

Which sums up the whole evening, actually. Exhausting, overwhelming, insane, with some hysterically funny moments thrown in. And totally worth it.

I can’t wait to do this again. ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Special Thanks goes to the lovely and talented: Annie F., Jeannette P. & Marlena L. for chopping, smashing and arranging things so beautifully; Tika, the baker extraordinaire who donated the flourless chocolate cake. Also to Roshan, our tireless waiter in training; Sergio, whose haunting piano music was the icing on the cake and my long suffering housemates who helped turn our home into a peaceful café for the evening. I could not have done it without any of you!

21 October 2008

A Prince of a Poet

Volodya was an extraordinary being, a living instrument of rare sensitiveness, which could of itself produce sounds of startling melody and purity, and create a world of bright images and harmonies. In years and experience he was still a child, but his spirit had penetrated into regions reached only by a few. He had genius...
~ Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna

am in love. With a man known for his kindness, charity, piety and devotion to his faith. A writer of exquisite poetry, he published two books of poetry by the time he was 19, some of which was composed whilst he was fighting in the trenches of World War One. A fighter who was unafraid of death and a devoted son and cousin who chose to die rather than renounce his family.

He was Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley [Владимир Павлович Палей], a distant member of the Romanov family, martyred during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and considered a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. I have always been a fan of the Romanov family and their tragic history and when my friend Ashmut recently sent me one of Vlad’s (as I affectionately now call him) poems, I was immediately intrigued. In his poetry one finds passion and purity, faithfulness and struggle, light and shadow. And the workings of a brilliant mind and artistic soul. In my research into his life, I came across this entry on the website for the Russian Orthodox Church in Baltimore:
Prince Vladimir Paley, member of the Russian Imperial family and cousin to the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II, spiritually inherited the divine gift of poetry from another royal poet – the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich Romanov – known under the initials “K.R.” On July 5/18, 1917, together with the latter’s sons – Ioann, Igor and Konstantin Konstantinovichi, and the Grand Duchess Elizabeth and nun Barbara, Prince Vladimir Paley was thrown by the godless into the mine at Alapayevsk, thus earning for himself the crown of a New Martyr.

Ashmut tried to mock my new found infatuation, but since he happens to have a thing for Ella, (the Grand Duchess Elizabeth), he really should not be throwing stones from his glass house. (Ahem!) My favorite poem is God in Every Place and Thing:

God is in every place and thing,
Not only in our lucky star,
Not only in the fragrant flower,
Not just in joys sweet dreamings bring,
But also in the dark of poverty,
The sightless terror of our vanity,
In hurtful things, where light is not,
In things to bear which is our lot…
God’s in the tears of our pain,
The wordless sorrow of goodbyes,
The faithless seekings of our brain,
In suffering itself is God.
It is through life upon this sod
That we must reach the unknown land,
Where with the crimson trail of nails
Lord Christ will touch the wounds of man.
And that is why all flesh must die,
And why God is in all that is.
Translated by Kosara Gavrilovic
If you can read that and remain unmoved, you must have stone in place of a soul and I really do not know what we shall do with you. As for me, I will continue to search for those two volumes of poetry and if anyone comes across them anywhere, do let me know. I do not read a lick of Russian (although dearest Papa does) but who cares!? Just to hold them would be incredible and I am sure I could get them translated. For now, I will have to content myself with the few poems that have been translated into English and reading a biography of his life, A Poet Among the Romanovs by Jorge Carbonell. This I shall do whilst drinking Russian tea and eating piroshky. Do pull up a chair and have some with me, my dears!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

30 September 2008

Auditions Announced

The St. Cecilia Group announces auditions for

The Fifth Annual St. Cecilia’s Arts Festival

Sunday, October 5th from 5pm- 7pm


Sunday, October 12 from 4pm to 6pm


Show will perform Saturday, 22 November 2008 at the Lyceum at St. Mary’s in Old Towne Alexandria. Musicians and Singers: Please prepare 32 bars of the piece you will be performing and bring accompaniment on CD if needed. Actors and Poets: Please prepare 16 lines from poem or monologue you intend to perform.

To schedule an audition, please contact Mikaela D’Eigh, Artistic Director at mdeigh (at) gmail (dot) com.

This event is geared towards adults, young and young at heart.

29 September 2008

Musica Sacra: Latin Choir of St. John the Beloved October Music Schedule

To chant it is the most sublime and exalted activity in this world.
~ Sri Guru Granth Sahib

A close friend of mine who is a professional contralto near New York City recently had to sing an Agnus Dei from a ghastly contemporary Mass: the Missa Gaia by Paul Winter (which was recorded I believe at St. John the Divine). No, dear readers, that was not a typo: Missa Gaia.

I felt her pain ~ when you sing for a living sometimes you have to sing pieces that should never have seen the light of day but for which ignorant and tasteless people will pay money to hear. Well, it could be worse I suppose. Although I cannot think of anything worse than a Kyrie composed of whale song and vocal moanings. And I love whale song! But here it is very creepy. Great for Halloween, mind you, but a Mass?

Although he was not talking about music, I think a quote from Mark Shea sums it up best: Episcopalians: Making Catholics Feel Better About Themselves for Over 40 Years.

Suffice it to say, at St. John the Beloved in McLean, you will not hear such a monstrosity. The music schedule for October listed below will be updated periodically. Please note, the first Sunday of the month will always be a plain chant Sunday, unless otherwise noted. In October, it will the ladies schola singing.

October 5, 2008 - XXI Sunday after Pentecost
Opening Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
Salve Mater – Chant / Introitus
Offertorium / Motet: Vir Erat – R. Rice
Communio / Maria, Mater, Gratiae – G. Faure
Mass: Missa Cum Jubilo – Mass IX

October 12, 2008 - XXII Sunday after Pentecost
Opening Alleluia, Sing to Jesus
Offertorium / Motet: Exsultate Justi – L. Viadana
Communio / Motet: Mass: Missa Beata Virgine – G. Aichinger

October 19, 2008 - XXIII Sunday after Pentecost
Opening Jesus Shall Reign
Off: / Motet: Ave Maria – E. Elgar
Communio / Motet:
Mass: Mass in F – C. Wood

October 26, 2008 - Christ the King
Opening For the Beauty of the Earth
Offertorium / Motet:
Communio / Motet: Ave Maria – F. Liszt
Mass: Mass of Saint Lawrence the Martyr – Fr. S. Haynes

Hope to see y'all there!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

09 September 2008

Musica Sacra: Latin Choir of St. John the Beloved returns from summer break

It is incontestable that music induces in us a sense of the infinite and the contemplation of the invisible.
~ Victor de LaPrade

Fall is definitely around the corner. Evening temperatures have been in the low 60s, the vegetable garden is offering up the last fruits of late summer, and the moment I have been waiting for: the return of the Latin Choir of St. John the Beloved to the Noon High Mass. I am very excited to see what Maestro Lang has in store for us this year. Whatever he has planned, it is sure to run through every emotion that can be experienced: ecstatic joy, soul-stirring passion, profound grief and incredible peace. I can personally attest to experiencing the whole range of emotions while performing some of the greatest choral pieces to ever be composed for the missa cantata.

Our first sung Mass with the entire choir will be this Sunday, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Following is our music list for September. If you are in town, please stop by! I'm the alto on the end. ;-)
September 14, 2008 - Exaltation of the Cross
Opening: Lift High the Cross
Offertorium: Christe, Adoramus te – C. Monteverdi
Missa Nos Autem Gloriari Oportet - Francesco Suriano

September 21, 2008 - XIX Sunday after Pentecost
Opening: Praise To the Lord
Offertorium: Cantate Domino – Hassler
Missa Brevis in G (KV 49) – W. A. Mozart

September 28, 2008 - XX Sunday after Pentecost
Opening: Immortal, Invisible
Offertorium: Super flumina Babylonis – G. P. da Palestrina
Mass in G – Giovanni Battista Casali
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

04 September 2008

Cook on the Run

The qualities of an exceptional cook are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker: an abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb and an impeccable sense of balance.
~ Bryan Miller

A sense of balance. Does that include remembering to take the orange juice out of the fridge while racing madly out the door?

The past few months I have done a lot more work with both the marketing and commercial sales departments at my company. It has been a very interesting lateral move for me. But it is, of course, not my passion. So when our local sales rep found out about my deep love of cooking, she asked if I would cater her monthly breakfast meeting this month. I jumped at the chance to show off and cook for people outside my normal social circle.

Ro said I could make whatever I wanted, so I chose two dishes which are fairly easy and relatively inexpensive: biscuits and sausage gravy and scrambled eggs. I knew what she normally spent on catering and I wanted to beat it and come out ahead.

No cooking adventure is an adventure worth the telling if things don’t go horribly, comically wrong at some point in the story! ;-) I decided that I would make as much as possible the evening before the meeting, saving myself time and frustration in the wee hours of the morning. Ahh ~ “the best laid plans of mice and men….” Everything went well at first. I browned four packages of pork sausage, took the meat out with a slotted spoon and set it aside. I added flour, milk, cream and pepper and whisked the gravy until it was perfection. Even my mother could not have made a better, tastier gravy. I added the sausage back in and put the pan in the fridge to heat up the next morning.

While the meat was browning, I took 2 dozen eggs and mixed them with half a pound of grated sharp cheddar. Then I sautéed some garlic, green onions, chopped mushrooms, some spices and added that to the mix as well and put it in the fridge to scramble up in the morning. The only two things left were the biscuits for the sausage gravy and a fruit platter.

Blame it on the amount of stress I have been under the past few weeks. Or the fact that I am not detail-oriented. At all. Blame it on the fact that I was not feeling well and had not slept much the night before. Whatever the reason or excuse fits, I looked at two different recipes for biscuits (sorry Mom, couldn’t find yours!), combined them and managed to leave out the key ingredient: leavening. One recipe called for yeast, but mom had never used yeast in her biscuit mix. I proceeded and my dough looked beautiful and felt soft and wonderful doughy and while my little biscuits looked small, I had high hopes for them once they were cooked.

Alas! They did not have high anything! I kept looking at them in the oven, wondering why they stayed flat. These were not my mother’s biscuits, nor my grandmother’s. I bewailed the fact that I had not used the tried and true family recipe. And then I remembered. Mom never used yeast in her biscuits, true. But she did use self-rising flour. Argh! Needless to say, I will not let my Southern half of the family know about this latest cooking faux pas. One of my uncle’s used to make fun of my mom’s biscuits, claiming he could use them in place of baseballs. Mine were not baseball worthy. They were hockey pucks!

The next morning came way too early. Somehow I managed to fall behind even though I got up an hour and half earlier than normal. (Wait ~ why did I agree to cater a morning meeting? I dislike getting up in the morning!) My little tower of gastronomical delight fell faster than a soufflé. When I took out the sausage gravy to heat it up, I made the discovery that if you are going to cook sausage gravy for an event on a subsequent day, it would be better to keep the sausage and the gravy separated until the day of the meal. Adding the meat back in and re-heating introduces more grease and fat then I thought existed on one little pig.

It is a rare thing, but I was very tempted to cry or throw something. But this is not the way of this cook. I got out another pan and whisked up some more gravy and added it to the now heated up sausage gravy. I thought it looked a tad….how do I say this?....already digested. But I had to remind myself that it was sausage gravy and really, it is solid comfort food of salt of the earth people. You cannot make sausage gravy look like crème brulee. (Hmmm, now there’s a thought….) And I was feeding 10 grown men. They were not going to care what it looked like. Really.

Ten grown men. Whew. While I was solving the gravy problem, another one was forming. I was also scrambling the eggs. And let me tell you, 24 eggs sounds like an awful lot. But once you put it in the serving tray, it looks like nothing. So I cooked up the remaining 6. Even 36 eggs seemed small and insignificant in that pan. And truth be told, there was not much left over after the meeting. Which makes me wonder: how many eggs does one normally cook for 10 adults?

Perhaps part of my problem stems from the fact that for me, if the tray is not overflowing; if the table isn’t ready to fall over from the weight of the amount of food on it, then I am a failure as a cook and a hostess. Someone might not get enough to eat! When there are leftovers, I think that no one liked the food. When there are no leftovers, I think that I must not have cooked enough. Someone please tell me ~ is this “chef guilt” a Southern tradition? Or do other cooks experience it as well?

Well, whatever. Everything turned out beautifully: I finally got everything plated and “trayed” and into the car at 7:09am and quickly drove to the local German bakery to pick up some freshly made rolls to accompany my sausage gravy and raced to the office, getting there just in time to remember that I had left the orange juice in the other fridge. Sigh.

Ro wants me to cater the meeting next month. French toast? No worries. ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

14 July 2008

Love, Your Belle

I write to understand as much as to be understood.
~ Elie Wiesel

In a recent reorganization of my boudoir/library, I came across Alexandra Stoddard’s classic book on missives: The Gift of a Letter. It was like finding a letter from an old friend and I eagerly picked it up for a re-read. One of the first points she makes is that in today’s fast paced, technologically overwhelmed society, a real, honest to goodness, handwritten letter still opens doors that emails and text messages simply cannot.

There are so few letters written today, in spite of the fact that almost everyone enjoys receiving a handwritten note in the mail. I have posted here before about letter-writing in general. This time, I am not talking about letter-writing per se, but one of the key virtues that is needed in order to be an excellent letter-writer: vulnerability.

Vulnerability is a much overlooked virtue, especially in 21st century, make-it-alone-or-die America. To write down one's thoughts in black and white is to expose one's soul. My scribblings here on this page are vulnerable to some extent ~ but there is still a layer of anonymity, especially for my readers who have never met me.

But a letter. A well-written, honest, completely open letter, between friends, between lovers. That is a window to the depths that lie behind walls that time and past hurts have erected in so many of us. And those walls were built very carefully. Put a window in!? Are you crazy!? Someone might see in! Or worse. They might not answer my letter.

I once read a quote from C.S. Lewis: "I do not pray because it changes God. I pray because it changes me." Letters have an analogous effect. Since I think in terms of words and outlines, notes and lyrics, putting pen to paper is a more effective way for me to communicate well. I do not write letters in order to receive a response. I write to express what is in my heart and to gather my too often scattered thoughts. Writing changes me. And if it changes or affects the recipient, so much the better. But I cannot control that end of the process.

Now, I admit that when I do receive a hand written note in reply, I am overjoyed and such an event is treated with fanfare and special attention. You may be sure that if you take the time to write to me, I will take the time to savor each word, each sentence ~ candles lit, music playing and no interruptions allowed.
Sometimes, when in the midst of composing a letter, I have no idea where it will end up. I may be regaling my reader with a dramatic retelling of an embarrassing event that happened that day or that week and by the end of the letter, I am musing on how that brought up old memories, or made me think of a loved one. There are times I think that I know where I stand on an issue, only to realize in writing my thoughts down, that my position is unreasonable or unsupportable or overly emotional.

But what about my readers who do not fancy themselves letter-writers? Never fear! One need not be Cyrano de Bergerac to write heart stopping prose. It does not even have to sound heart-stopping to you, the author. I assure you, even if you are the worst writer in the history of personal correspondence, the person who receives a hand written note from you will treasure it for years to come. Why? Because you took the time and the courage to open your heart and your soul and let them in. Does conversation do this? Of course. But not in the same way that a letter does.

If a friend and I run into rough spots in our friendship, as even the closest of relationships are wont to hit now and then, it helps smooth the way for reconciliation if there are letters in the possession of both that serve as a tangible reminder of shared joys and even shared tears. This happened to me recently and because I had no intimate shared correspondence with this friend, I found myself questioning whether there was even a friendship there worth fighting for. The end result is that the friendship has to be rebuilt out of ashes. In essence, it will be a new relationship.

So even if you are better at communicating in person, practice putting your thoughts and feelings down on paper. It will be appreciated by the recipient. The beauty of a letter is not in the style or even the script, but in the openness of the heart on the other end of the pen.

Vulnerability is indeed difficult and frightening. But it is not only worth practicing, I think that in some measure, we need to be vulnerable. Our heart cries out for it. To write a letter is an act of love in and of itself. And love entails risk. But anyone who has ever loved would admit that But despite the risk, despite the potential pain, it is worth every tear. As soon as the heart heals, it aches to get back out there. Because let's face it: we are built for self-gift and we will never be fulfilled or realize our full potential until we give ourselves completely and unreservedly to another.
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

07 July 2008

The Art of Smoking: II

But I will place this carefully fed pig
Within the crackling oven; and, I pray,
What nicer dish can e'er be given to man.
~ Aeschylus

I promised you more about my smoking adventures on the 5th, but I was busy hostessing until the wee hours of the morning and then Sunday I was busy recovering, so part two had to wait to be written until today.

Success!! Not only did I have enough pork to feed everyone, there was even some leftover. Whew! I think this had more to do with the fact that the second pork butt did not (alas!) cook all the way through on the grill/smoker. So I had to finish it off in the oven at 350 degrees. That took awhile and everyone filled up on ribs, the other 8 pounds of pulled pork and all the Southern sides: fresh picked green beans, homemade coleslaw (you cannot have pulled pork without coleslaw), Vanessa's hamburger buns (which came out perfect this time!) and Cornbread Salad, a recipe I found over at Foodnetwork.
The salad was an unexpected hit. My friend Kathy took one bite and promptly asked for the recipe. So I have included it in the link above. I did not have all the ingredients and I am huge believer in using what you have. This outlook comes in handy when you are running low on time or want to conserve gasoline! Instead of pinto beans, I used garbanzo and instead of green peppers I used artichoke hearts. And for the first time, I used fresh tomatoes from our garden! That in itself was very exciting and soul-satisfying. We also had fruit salad, apple pie, chery-blackberry pie, chocolate torte and of course, gallons and gallons of sweet tea. ;-) The chicken never did make it to the grill.
Smoking meat is an involved art, but it was well worth the time, effort and expense to hear the satisfied "mmmmmms" of my guests as they chowed down on another delightful Southern culinary tradition.
Oh? You are wondering what happened to the chicken I bought? Sadly, it never did make it to the grill. It is happily marinating and awaiting a chance to shine at the next dinner party. Now where did I put my planner?
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

04 July 2008

The Art of Smoking

Mustard's no good without roast beef.
~ Chico Marx

And a Fourth of July weekend is no good without pulled pork. So today I entered the mysterious world of smoking. Meat that is. I had never been in this culinary realm and so did as much research on it in the preceding weeks: Alton Brown, Bobby Flay, The Meatwave. You name it, I have probably read it. All the masters of the grill looked to pork butt as the cut to go with. So that is what I bought. Over 17 pounds of it. Like all my Southern female ancestors before me, I live in terror that there will not be enough food. In the South, it is practically a mortal sin. Even 17 pounds does not sound like enough for 25 people. So I also have a couple of racks of spareribs (both pork and beef) and some chicken.
Brining the pork butt beforehand also seemed the way to go, so when I got home late last night, I made up a brine of water, salt and molassas. I owe this new knowledge to The Meatwave and Alton Brown. While the salt was dissolving on the stove, I took out the pork to get a closer look and to take some of the excess fat off. Whew. I seriously need to sharpen my knives! I have never encountered such tough, hard fat on a piece of meat! Luckily, I did not want to take off all the fat, because you need some for flavor and to protect the meat during smoking.
Once that was done, the butt went into the brine and I stuck them in the fridge to sit overnight and moved on to make the rub for the ribs. Here I also took a cue from The Meatwave and followed his recipe almost to the letter. Only I didn't have cayenne and I didn't have mustard powder. So I used red pepper instead and hoped for the best. One of my housemates walked in while I was rubbing the spices into the meat and said that it looked therapeutic. Hmmmm. Not really. Kneading dough, now that's therapeutic!
This morning I woke up and set to work preparing the fire. This is very sad, but I must confess I had to call a male friend to get instructions on the best way to light the charcoal and keep it going. Once that was done, I checked the temperature until it was between 225-250 degrees, added the wood chips and then placed the pork butt on the grill. For the pork butt, I took matters into my own hands for the rub and made up my own consisting of black pepper, curry powder, garlic, chili powder and fresh basil and rosemary from the garden. I also added rosemary to the fire on one of the grills. I had a little trouble with the first grill. The temperature would not drop below 400 degrees for the longest time, but I put the meat on it anyway since I cannot be up until the wee hours. We shall see how that affects the meat.
More tomorrow!
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

02 July 2008

A Crust of....Biscuit?

Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable.
~ Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Thank goodness my friends have great senses of humor and a memory for past foodie triumphs. Both serve them well when I have either a disaster or mishap in the kitchen. And I love them so much, I give them plenty of opportunities to have a laugh at my expense. ;-)

Vanessa! Mea culpa! I do not know what I did wrong, but your beautiful hamburger buns became delightful biscuits in my confused yet capable Southern hands! :-D I was absolutely mortified. Here I was in charge of providing a suitable throne for Meg's oregano-infused hamburgers, yet no golden crusted buns appeared out of the oven. I showed them to Meg, saying oh dear, "these look like biscuits." Our Randy said, "Honey, those aren't something LIKE biscuits, they ARE biscuits!"

Despite their failure as hamburger buns, they proved to be delicious. And at least 5 of us opted to eat our hamburgers on a biscuit instead of the somewhat stale store bought versions we ran out and bought. I must say I am now a fan of the hamburger biscuit. Meg thought her hamburger would be too monstrous for just one biscuit, so she used two: one on top and one on the bottom.

As a cook, however, I am still determined to make Vanessa's Hamburger Buns actually look like Vanessa's Hamburger Buns. I confess I did not let the dough sit for 6 hours in the fridge as suggested. Was that my downfall? There is only one way to find out!

To Be Continued....

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

27 June 2008

Food for a Cause

The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.
~ Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

In my search for genetically unaltered, pure, organic, old fashioned food, I came across this great company that makes the most delicious store-bought cookies (oh, come on ~ you know mine are better just because you eat right out of the oven!) I have ever tasted while also feeding the creativity of American Folk Artists.
Owner Scott Blackwell started The Immaculate Baking Company in 1995 and in the years since has won many awards. Once you grab a few boxes and sample them, you will understand why. And you can be at peace knowing that they use fresh ingredients and that you are also helping support American folk artists. Helping artists and eating great food?! Perfect combo!
My personal favorite: Pumpkin Gingerlies. It may be the end of June and 89 degrees in the shade, but pumpkin is never out of season! ;-)
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

26 June 2008

A Crust of Bread

If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.
~ Robert Browning

This Saturday, my housemate Meg will be hosting a charity cookout. Guests bring a dish and any money they would have spent on dinner at restaurant to go to a local charity. My contribution is going to be bread. I had decided on a basic loaf of French bread, but then I came across this article on Serious Eats, which led me to What Geeks Eat. The pictures of those golden crusts convinced me. Saturday morning will find me elbow deep in flour, trying my hand at baking Vanessa’s hamburger buns. I will let you know how they turn out!
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

12 June 2008

Dulce Domum

He saw clearly how plain and simple -- how narrow, even -- it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.
~ The Wind in the Willows
Mr. F recently began re-reading The Wind in the Willows. T.Q. mentioned that he thought Toad was an addict and I was intrigued. As I had not read it myself since I was a child, I picked it up as well to see what a jaded adult eye could reap from its pages.

The description above of Mole’s emotions towards both his old home and his new adventures by the River in Chapter Five touched a nerve somewhere deep inside me. Having moved to the “big city” of Washington, D.C. almost eight years ago, I have always thought of myself as a bit of a geographical schizophrenic, with my heart attached to the terra firma of the homestead and my body and social life firmly ensconced within the concrete halls of the nation’s capital.

Like Mole, I have grown quite a bit in my sojourn here and indeed the pull of the upper world (is) all too strong….the new life and its splendid spaces…and all they offer. I too can count (on) this place which was all his own….and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome. There is a special bond between a soul that lives on the land, surrounded by the both the beauties and horrors of nature, and the very dirt one plays and plants in ~ my familial roots are anchored deep in the red Virginia clay of home.

But the luxury of being able to escape from the stride of the noisy city to the languorous pace and silence of the country cannot be counted on forever. One’s parents will not live forever and either one must step in to save the family home or let it go to strangers who may or may not keep the land that one’s family has worked so hard on. Couple this longing and familial responsibility with the necessity of cultivating one’s soul and artistic endeavors and the dilemma presented is of Solomon proportions.

Such a wrenching choice is not thrust upon Mole. He is free to live out his adventures on the River, expanding his borders and horizons. If he wants to return to his old home in the meadow, it will be there, patiently waiting; ready to welcome him with open arms. Mole is lucky too in that he has already made that dreaded yet necessary leap: he knew he must return to the larger stage. And he can do so without heartache because of his ability to return whenever he wishes, to the comforts of the familiar.
I must confess I envy Mole...just a tad.
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

09 June 2008

A Bit of Earth

She wants a little bit of earth
She'll plant some seeds
The seeds will grow
The flowers bloom
Their beauty just the thing she needs
~ A Bit of Earth

It is something out of a B movie from the 1950s: attack of the killer tomatoes! Beefsteak and Roma tomatoes are the latest victims in the Salmonella Wars. Yet another reason to grow your own vegetables!

Which is exactly what we did. This year's tomato plants were purchased from an organic farm right here in Northern Virginia (yes they do exist here!) and are already producing beautiful, healthy fruit. For this Southern foodie, you cannot offer two more delectable dishes than fried green tomatoes or cheese & tomato sandwhiches. I love tomatoes and I love fried food: put those two together and you have a little piece of heaven! ;-) I must give a shout out to my yankee friend Di, however. She hails from Pennsylvania but I have yet to taste an equal to her fried green tomatoes. Scandalous! But I do not complain, especially when the notion strikes her to make them and share. Mmmm!

Cheese and Tomato Sandwhiches are one of the reasons I can look forward to summer, despite the wretched heat and humidity. Store bought 'maters (besides being a health hazard these days) just do not have the same flavor as these fresh-from-your-own-garden beauties. For me, it is not only the fresh taste but the memories that come with each bite.

As I have mentioned before, I grew up on a small, "gentleman's farm." My parents grew varying vegetables on three of their five and half acres and although I loathed weeding and grew to hate the sight of zucchini and eggplant, I loved squishing my toes in the soft earth and running through the sprinklers; picking sugar snap peas right off the vine and eating them pods and all. Digging up potatoes was like a treasure hunt and I certainly inherited my father's love of the spud. And though it sounds like a quaint Americana dream, I cherish the memory of sitting out under the ancient maples, snapping green beans with my mother, sisters and at on rare occasions, aunts and cousins. I am sure there were times I would have rather been reading the latest Bobbsey Twins or Nancy Drew story from the libary. But I loved to eat green beans too much and I also loved helping my mother prepare them for canning.

As for tomatoes, we grew several rows of those as well and canning those was a hot chore. I was not a big fan of the canned tomatoes ~ they could not stand up to their fresh picked counterparts. But raw tomatoes, paired with a few slices of cheese, on bread slathered with homemade mayonnaise ~ that was a summer treat not to be missed!

I am looking forward to continuing this delicious tradition once my salmonella-free 'maters ripen. They go great with a gallon of sweet tea! Y'all comin' over for supper? ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

27 May 2008

...Are Longing to Stray

Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiae can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy.
~ John Paul II

This past weekend I attended the 20th Anniversary of Classical Singer magazine in New York City. The convention was incredible ~ I took copious notes and learned much from the likes of opera great Sherill Milnes and several judges and coaches from the Met. I love opera, but it is not the style of music I sing. The wisdom and performance tips I learned, however, apply to almost all singers, whatever genre their talent falls under. Many thanks to my dear friend and soul sister Imelda Franklin Bogue for making it all possible! :-)

On Saturday evening, I headed from Brooklyn over to Manhattan’s east side. The Church of Notre Dame is a beautiful piece of architecture modeled after the Church of St. Louis in Paris and located not far from Columbia University and under the care of the Polish Province of the Dominicans. As I mentioned previously, Mr. F is a member of the choir there and they performed a concert in honor of Mary, the Mother of God. The church itself is a wonderful space for a concert of early sacred music. The soaring ceiling over the nave made the acoustics something every singer dreams of.
As I sat in the pew waiting for the concert to begin, I confess I felt a tad uncomfortable. Turning off the critical musician’s ear is possible, but it is neither easy nor is it often done. This makes listening to a friend’s performance a virtual minefield. One wonders whether honesty in such cases truly is the best policy!

Luckily, I have never been in such a position and Saturday night was no exception. Any reservations I may have had were instantly swept away from the first note to the last. I was completely taken in and won over by the masterful blend and balance of this small ensemble. Closing my eyes a couple of times to “drink it in with my spirit,” I thought I was listening to a small group from the Tallis Scholars! I asked Mr. F later if any of the members were professionally trained and he told me that the baritone was currently studying music at Columbia, but the rest are all ordinary professionals with no music training. I was impressed anew with the purity and strength of their sound. If you are in New York and would like to hear them, they sing at the 11am Mass on Sundays. They are on break for the summer but will return in the fall.
Bravo Mr. F and the rest of the Choir of the Church of Notre Dame! I hope to hear more of this lovely choir in the future.

Oremuc pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

22 May 2008

These Vagabond Shoes...

It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

Tomorrow, I head up to the Big Apple for a much needed mini-vacation and some quality time with far away friends. Saturday marks the 20th Anniversary of Classical Singer Magazine and I will be attending their Convention in Brooklyn. I am rather looking forward to being in a hotel among 400 divas (not sure what the male version is called ~ divos?) As my dear friend said to me: "Good Lord! Can you imagine!? 400 other me's!!" Ah yes indeed. I am not alone in my drama! I do not know whether to laugh or whine! ;-)
On Saturday evening, I and my friend Diane (that Norwegian goddess!) will endeavor to find our way to the Church of Notre Dame for Mr. F's concert. I am very much looking forward to seeing the church and hearing what promises to be a fantastic evening of music! Mr. F ~ I do hope you will have time for post-concert coffee!
There is wifi on the trip up, but I staunchly refuse to take my laptop. I will have my cell phone, but I am breaking free from the technology ball and chain for a whole three days! Yipee! I shall enjoy talking over the weekend with you once I get back. Til then, ta-ta!

Oremus pro invicem,

08 May 2008

Musica Sacra: Widor Mass, Opus. 36

Music is a means of rapid transportation.
~ John Cage

Don't forget that this Sunday, 11 May 2008, the Saint John the Beloved Latin Choir will be singing the Widor Mass Opus. 36 at noon. It is a piece of music you will not soon forget!
Saint John the Beloved Parish is located at 6420 Linway Terrace, McLean, Virginia 22101.
We hope to see y'all there!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

02 May 2008

A Return to the Land

Chemicals, n: Noxious substances from which modern foods are made.
~ Author Unknown

Both the Washington Post and the Washington Times greeted me this morning with front page stories on the $770 million in food aid that President Bush is asking Congress to approve. The line that caught my attention was this: “the administration denied that corn-for-ethanol subsidies are a major cause of the worldwide surge in food prices.” (Times, 5/2/08). The Post said the same thing: “While nearly all experts agree that increased biofuel production has contributed to escalating food prices, there is little consensus on the scope. Edward Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, argued yesterday that the impact of ethanol on prices was minimal, because corn is a small portion of global food consumption.” (Post, 5/2/08)

Although I am no economic expert, I am a consumer. And an uneasy one at that. Frankly, the denial that increased corn production by a large number of American farmers is NOT contributing to the current food crisis sounds like what it is: denial. Here at home the decision by farmers to turn their fields over to producing as much corn as possible has definitely affected those of us who buy the bulk of our fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. To deny that such a decision has minimal impact is ludicrous. And I have all the proof I need right at home.

My parents are retired and live on a very limited income. It has become more and more expensive to buy fresh, healthy produce. Even for just two people who do not eat a whole lot the grocery bill increases each time they shop. Add to that they live in the country where driving everywhere is a necessity and the bulk of their income is going to food and the gas needed to go buy it.

Thankfully, they still own around four and half acres. So this weekend I will head down for a much needed mini vacation where the only sound I hear at night are the cows and the crickets. But it will not all be rest and relaxation. Since Dad had a pacemaker put in, he cannot do as much as he once did, so yours truly gets the awesome job of bush-hogging one of the fields. And to help them save on produce, I will also put in a vegetable and herb garden for Mom.

They both have incredibly green thumbs. Last summer’s tomato crop left mine in the dust. I expect this year’s yield to be just a good, if not better. And the good news is, it will all be local and organic. So we know that it is not genetically meddled with or injected with drugs or sprayed with toxins.

When I was growing up, we owned a little over five and half acres and at least three of those were vegetable gardens. I could not eat zucchini for the longest time because we grew so much of it! (I like it now….in zucchini bread. ;-)) Because of Mom and Dad's decreased mobility, this year’s garden will not be quite that large. However, I do plan on making it big enough to feed both of them and my household as well (we also plan on having a small city garden ourselves).

The good thing about going back to the land out of necessity is that you rediscover something both beautiful and basic; something you cannot experience or touch when you live in the city: man was meant to till the land and take care of it. And once you get dirt in your blood, there is no getting rid of it. To try to deny it is to deny a primordial need.

And there’s enough denial in this town as it is.
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

24 April 2008

Pope Benedict in America: Musings

All the Saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me. And your prayers, my dear friends, your indulgence, your love, your faith and your hope accompany me.
~ Pope Benedict XVI

Today, Nationals Stadium welcomes baseball fans once again, showing no signs that a mere seven days ago, it held within in its heart our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and His beloved servant, Pope Benedict XVI. What glorious day that we will not soon forget!

Over 45,000 souls gathered inside to show the Holy Father their love and support. There is nothing to describe the feeling that comes over one when you first see the Popemobile drive out into the stadium or hear 44,999 other voices praying the Our Father in unison. This was definitely an experience where I felt all four marks of the true Church hit me in the face like cloud of incense: One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

My friend Roshan was blessed to volunteer at the Mass and was kind enough to get me and another friend tickets. Since yours truly misplaced her camera, he also acted as official photographer for our little group. These beautiful pictures are courtesy of him. Thanks Roshan! :-)

Although I was very young at the time, I still remember when John Paul II visited D.C. in 1979. There was Mass on the Mall, thousands of pilgrims and lots of praise and worship music. This time around, it was more structured, and given the world we live in, there wer Secret Service crawling all over the place, but there were still thousands of pilgrims and the music sounded pretty much as it did in 1979. More on that later.

Above, our little band of B16 fans pose in front of the VIP section, where Roshan was volunteering. It was a double blessing in that our whole house (The Divine Mercy House) was able to attend the Mass, along with two converts, one of whom just came into the Church this past Easter. Welcome Doris!!
The cross used at the Papal Mass was, if I'm not mistaken, loaned from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and is the crucifix used to mark the historic landing of the first Catholics to the New World.
When we first arrived at the Stadium, I was surprised I didn't see more people I knew, but like any Catholic Mass, it was only afterwards that we kept running into familiar faces. We all gathered near the back of where the altar was set up and had to keep taking pictures because we kept seeing people we knew and calling them over for a huge group shot. I am sure there were others, but these were the friends who were in the vicinity of the cameras.

Fallen Sparrow mentioned in his post on the Papal visit to New York that there were protestors. We had our share of them here in D.C. as well. It is a common occurance in the nation's capitol, but I was still annoyed. You could faintly hear them during the Holy Father's homily and once we were outside, I could not help rolling my eyes and sighing. Perhaps I should have been feeling more charitable, but as we all know, feelings and emotions are neutral and say nothing of the act of the will. So, I willed their good, said an Ave for them and ignored them. Can you really reason with a man with a bullhorn?! I highly doubt any of them would know a Greek letter of the alphabet if it bit them, so why waste time trying to explain how their reading of Scripture is way out of context and does not even follow the original text? One of my housemates did stop and talk to several of them, so someone did try.
And now to the Papal Mass itself. It was a huge undertaking and having been involved in the past with Masses and events at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, I have an appreciation for all the work and planning that went into putting together and celebrating a Mass on this scale. It ran like clockwork. If there were any hitches or mistakes, I did not see them.

The one thing that I did notice however, was the music.
All I can say is that as a Catholic in the United States and a member of the Arlington Diocese, I was embarrassed and appalled. As a musician, I was archly amused. I had missed auditioning for the Papal Mass Choir and was feeling a little sad about that. But after they began singing, I was relieved that I had not! God bless them, it was not their fault. When you are a chorister, you sing the music that is put in front of you. And sometimes, when you are the choir director, you conduct and rehearse the music your boss asks you to. I do not know who is to blame for the music choice for the Papal Mass last week, but it was....lame. Not to be mean, but the music we sing on a weekly basis at Saint John the Beloved is much better. Thank God for David Lang and Father McAfee!
Bongos, guitars, hand claps and *groan* the Mass of Creation!? And that is not the half of it. My first thought was, here we have a sample of what has been wrong with the liturgy for the past 30 years. My second thought was, have these people even heard of Spirit of the Liturgy, much less read it?!? I will give them the benefit of the doubt that the music choice was done out of ignorance and not malice. But one has to ask: what were they thinking?! The Pontiff is a man with exquisite musical taste, an eye for beauty and an brilliant understanding of liturgy and tradition. He comes from the land of Mozart and you gave him Haugen!? How.....gauche. Not to mention liturgically wrong and just plain ugly.
As my director always tells us, a right note sung at the wrong time is still a wrong note. And in the case of the music for the Papal Mass in Washington, D.C., their pitch may have been perfect (which, by the way, it was not), but the music chosen was way off key.
Fortunately, the Holy Father was at the Shrine the evening before and Dr. Peter Latona is an incredible composer and director, so the music was more in keeping with what Pope Benedict XVI advocates and loves. And there was a musical bright spot at the Papal Mass itself: Placido Domingo singing Panis Angelicus. One of the most emotional moments took place after he finished singing: the Holy Father got up out of his chair and met Placido Domingo half-way and embraced him. It was beautiful. But I couldn't help thinking, he's probably saying: "Thank God! Finally, a beautiful piece of music befitting the glory of the liturgy!"

Musical faux pas aside, though, it was an overwhelming experience and I am so grateful to my friends and to Our Lord that I was able to attend. God bless Pope Benedict XVI and long may he reign!
Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela