Saturday, April 25, 2009

Moving to

After all, this is really meant to be my journal ... I like sharing with folks, but not everything. But I don't want to self-censor my journal because it's on the Net -- journalling is too good for my mental and spiritual health. Livejournal allows me to pick and choose which posts to make public, semi-public (to designated friends), or for my own eyes only, so I can journal freely, without a separate paper book, posting just the public stuff publicly.

So here's the address in case you'd like to follow ... the latest (public) post is about the fun family sing we had at my mom's house last night, with a visiting cousin who's a terrific musician.

Friday, April 24, 2009


I could spend money on a gym membership ... spend money on a tanning salon or bronzers ... spend money to pay someone to maintain my yard ... spend money on flavorless, pesticide-laden, petroleum-guzzling produce at the grocery store ... and spend all the money I can come up with on the PMS, it still wouldn't fix it.

Or I could garden.

Hmmmmmm......... I pick gardening.


The house ... my future

My realtor just e-mailed me ... expecting an offer on the house over the weekend. *sigh* Now that I've gotten resigned to the need to get a real job ... now that I've gotten the veg garden all plowed up and ready to plant ... now that my neighbor is trying to help me rent out the basement because she doesn't want me to leave.... I still need to pray on it. I don't have a job, yet. I am taking money from my brother, from T. I love this place and this little town, but won't God have something better in store for me if I let go of it? Does just the fact of feeling reluctant to let go mean I should let it go? i.e., I'm clinging to property, to a location, to a house and yard, when really all good things come from God alone. Only in letting go of the old can we receive something new and more valuable. I would be free again ... I could contact the nuns again, I could go off to Florida to the school for missionary farmers, I could rent a little cottage or trailer on 200 acres somewhere if I am willing to give up my little half acre. I could have 25 chickens and a couple of nanny goats, maybe, someday, if I'm willing to give up my little urban garden plot.

How to decide, then, if clinging is disallowed? I don't expect the offer to come in at the asking price ... how much am I willing to walk away with? What are right criteria? Enough to catch up on my bills, pay back my friends, and make the quarterly tax payment I skipped last week, and pay a security deposit on a country cabin somewhere? Enough for a year's rent in case I don't figure this all out by end of August, when my current income stops?

PRAY, girl, pray. I'm in full-blown PMS, but I've also just gotten lazy, distracted, disorganized, and off track. I haven't even prayed Vigils for days, much less any of the other hours. Time to go pray. I am off center. My house is a mess. My garden is still 8 empty beds. Focus ... pray. I cannot figure this out in my head, I have to still the racket, clear the clutter, so God can speak to my heart.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tragedy update

If you missed the last post, the tragedy was one of those incredibly horrific murder-suicides, a man who killed his wife & 3 small children, and then himself. Friends of my brother and sister-in-law.

I finally talked with my SIL. The slain woman was a close friend. They were in a moms' group together; where she says in her last blog post, "I volunteered to serve on the board of my Moms Club," that's my SIL's position she was going to take over. They saw each other every day, and of course their kids were friends, too. My 6-year-old nephew took it harder, even though my 4-year-old niece was the one whose preschool class one of the little boys was in, but he has calmed down. They are much too young to understand.

I guess they went (at least my SIL and maybe my brother, but not the kids) to the Woods' parish church yesterday, and at first she was angry that they were praying for the father along with the rest of the family, but I am glad to hear that she came around to compassion for him, too. She hopes they are all in Heaven together -- he healed of his madness, the kids with their beloved father, Francie with her beloved (at least once upon a time?) husband.

He had bipolar disorder and had recently switched to a new medication. His job required him to travel during the week, so I guess warning signs would have been very easy to miss. He killed them the night he came home from his last trip. I have always heard that anti-psychotic meds are horrible, even totally non-functioning schizophrenics often prefer to live on the streets of D.C., getting robbed or locked up periodically for scary behavior, self-medicating on all kinds of street drugs and alcohol. Even if newer anti-psychotics are much better, not every drug works for every person. Might he have decided the meds were worse than the mania? My step-aunt has bipolar disorder, and she has always opted to medicate the hell out of the mania, even if it meant spending a lot of time depressed. Mania was terrifying, unbearable. I guess! how terrifying to know that this demon could drive a person to such an awful, bloody crime?

GOD, please have mercy on this poor, sick man, and on all of us who suffer from various mental illnesses, and from the family and friends, coworkers and neighbors, who suffer second-hand from our mental illnesses.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gardening happiness, and a bloody tragedy

I had my garden plot plowed up yesterday. I ended up with 8 nice-sized beds where I used to have 4. The paths between are smaller, naturally. I went today to try to get a pickup truck-load of mulch from Public Works, but there was hardly any there. Gee, I hope I won't have to buy mulch, I need a LOT to fill in the paths.

I mowed my neighbor's back yard with my tractor after church this morning, since it had gotten too long for her little push mower to handle and rain is predicted (again) tonight and tomorrow. Then this afternoon, I finished potting up the tomato seedlings and sowed peppers, eggplants, tomatillos and basil in a flat. Still plenty to do!

Tragedy ... a man killed his wife, their 3 little children, and himself, in my brother's little town an hour north of here. One of the little boys was in preschool with my niece. My sister-in-law is stunned (everyone who knew them is stunned). The mother had a blog -- she seems like a lovely, lovely person. I don't know how well they knew each other but she and my sister-in-law are Facebook friends. I haven't called yet ... I'm shocked. There is nothing to say but "I care".....

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More good news, in brief

I did my taxes yesterday (nothing like waiting till the last minute!). Unless I made some terrible mistake, I will actually get a refund for once. Wow. I will TRY to refrain from spending the refund before I get it, in case I did make a mistake ... but I don't think so! I think I will be getting some pennies from heaven soon (so to speak). Catch up on the electric bill! Replace the worn-out tire on my car! Get the car maintenance I've been deferring!

OK, this is very touching: the other day one of my neighbors came over. She said she had been walking home a few days ago and heard the rooster crowing, and just had an overwhelming feeling of being home. And that she doesn't want me to leave! She had lain awake in the morning brainstorming ways I could bring in some extra income so I wouldn't have to sell the house. She is going to help me find a tenant for the basement.

Then my realtor called this morning and said there's someone interested, may be an offer coming in soon. Well, I hope not to be selling the house after all ... I told her I'd had a very good job interview, and of course I'm still applying to others.... so I won't be considering any low offers, at least. Poor A, this will (hopefully) be the second time I've listed the house with her and then pulled it back off the market. I will have to keep her well supplied with heirloom tomatoes from the garden this summer, to try to make up for it.

Blessings to all who pass by here

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Job Interview #1

I had my first job interview today. It went very well! I very much liked the boss, as a person but most importantly, also as a boss. The emphasis and balance of responsibilities seems very attractive to me. The challenges I would walk into are ones I'm really happy to take on. Work-life balance seems to be well supported.

She'll be interviewing more candidates through this week, then her boss will re-interview a few selected finalists. I think she very much liked me for the job, too. If anything I'm a little overqualified, but not by so much as to disqualify me, and anyway she intends to try to get the job reclassified up another grade within the year. So ... good day! Now it's just waiting for more news.

There is nothing that affects job satisfaction as much as the relationship with the supervisor. I would be very happy to work for the woman I spoke with today. I hope I get offered the job!

Blessings to you
Regina Terrae

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter hostess

I hosted Easter dinner at my house yesterday for 24 members of my family. We usually do potluck for parties, but this time I offered to do all the shopping and cooking and just let them chip in for the groceries. I had a couple of reasons for it:

1, all our parties end up being the same -- they're terrific, I LOVE my family and we all enjoy hanging out together, and there are plenty of excellent cooks in the family -- but I wanted to do a special Easter feast, specifically for Easter (lamb) and specifically for early Spring (asparagus, greens, baby potatoes). I'm far and away the most religious member of the family -- there's nothing special about Easter to many or most of my people -- and I'm also the most hardcore local-seasonal-organic foodie, so if I didn't assume control of that special Easter meal it wasn't going to happen the way I imagined it.

2, I love to cook! Hospitality is something that I have discovered a love for in this past year. I enjoyed creating a welcoming, comfortable space for vacation renters, I had a great time hosting Fr. H's 80th birthday party, and I thought I would enjoy hosting yesterday.

3, I'm playing with the idea of cooking as a post-midlife-crisis career. I wanted to test myself. Fr. H's birthday was a sit-down dinner for 8, and I did well -- could I do a sit-down dinner for 20+?

I learned some lessons. First of all, when I first proposed it I didn't realize how badly I needed a boost in self-confidence. I needed to challenge myself and I needed to rise to the challenge. Since I've been looking for a way to make a living, I've been so conscious of my limitations -- the mental stuff, ADD & PMDD; the fierce moralism (mostly around economics) that makes it so hard for me to imagine working for a company or agency that I perceive as part of the problem instead of the solution. And the problem, as I see it, is so systemic that it's hard to find a way to get paid to oppose it. I was determined never to go back into the kind of bureaucratic number-crunching job I had before, but I'm discovering that I'm not (yet) qualified to get paid for anything I WANT to do. And meanwhile my friends are buying me dinner and slipping me cash to get me through this unemployment, and I am shamed by my helplessness. So I really needed a challenge to rise to, to build up some confidence.

I discovered how much I needed that by my emotional reaction to my mom repeatedly questioning how much I was spending on groceries and how we were going to divvy up the cost. I felt that she either didn't trust me to keep it reasonable or didn't have much confidence in me to pull it off, and it shot me straight into a weepy, dragging depression. My dad has had the same effect on me over the last year, again when I have felt him to be less than 100% supportive. Neither one of them is being overly negative, I'm just needy, I'm at a vulnerable stage in life when I'm trying to reinvent myself, letting go of the past and unclear on the future, it's an insecure place to be. I talked to my brother to get a second opinion on how I was handling the party and whether I was being too much of a control freak, or spending too much money, or whatever, and he reassured me. Finally, I told Mom that my feelings were hurt. She did a reality check with the same brother, and came back and apologized to me for "channeling [her] mother".... She said "I seem to be doing what drove me crazy when my mom did it." And, "I truly do trust you and am excited about the way you’re planning this whole thing." So we kissed and made up, and I felt better, and then too, it was happy resurrection Easter and not tragic crucifixion Good Friday any more (I really get into the Triduum), and I felt better. When I woke up yesterday morning, after 3.5 hours' sleep (late Easter Vigil mass the night before), I was confident and happy and did great through the morning.

Then Mom arrived, early, with extra folding chairs and tables and hot trays and carving platters, and that's when I totally lost control. Nothing at all to do with the confidence/no confidence issue, just that the presence of another person, asking "what can I do to help", shattered my focus. And the more people showed up, the more the whole thing broke down into chaos. Which leads to the second lesson, this one a more practical forward-building one. At first I thought the lesson was that I do better working alone (well, I already knew that) -- that I would make a better personal chef than caterer, e.g. But when I woke up this morning and pondered it for a while before getting up, I realized that what I should have done differently was to plan to delegate. I know that some guests will arrive early, and I know that they are family and expect to jump in and help, and by that time I've made the point that I am capable of pulling this off. But only if I stay clear on the overall process and don't let it all devolve into chaos. Mom tried to help me stay in charge (for example, trying to prompt me to step back from dishwashing, let someone else do that, and to look around and see what needed to be done next). But mentally, my focus was shattered, because I was not PREPARED to delegate. I had not built that phase of the party into my mental plan, and I was unable to do it on the fly. Now looking back I see what I should have, and could have, done differently. Just now, writing this, it also occurs to me that I (just like my mom!) was so entrenched in the old family-party model that I failed to give my family credit for adapting to this new plan, so I wasn't prepared for them to be ready to take direction, as I guess they pretty much were.

OK ... so anyway, the party was a terrific success. I was far enough along in my preparations by the time Mom showed up that I feel that I rose to the challenge I had set myself. There were leftovers of pretty much everything, but not huge amounts of anything, which means I did well with the shopping (except bread, I totally misjudged that -- luckily I got twice as much as I needed and not half). There was way too much dessert, but I didn't do the desserts, I let Mom and a sister bring those (4 pies and a cake! Yikes!). Family is never shy about divvying up the leftovers, so that's no problem. We didn't run out of anything, the meal was balanced, there were plenty of appetizers (again, just the right amount -- except too much bread). The weather was beautiful, but cool enough that it was SO worth it to take the (major) time and effort to wrap the screened porch with plastic (with T ... T, I love you, man). The lamb was a little more cooked than I would have liked, but flavorful and not at all dry. Sorry I let someone else make the hollandaise sauce, it didn't come out so well, but I still enjoyed it on the asparagus.

And the most important thing: my wonderful, wonderful, loving family enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sweet Relief

How many women do you know who are actually happy to receive their monthly visitor? Well, I am thrilled. I don't feel great, I've got cramps, but the fog is lifting. Whew. I am so glad to be really conscious for Holy Week, after all. It is a very powerful season for me.

I got called for a job interview this morning -- a bureaucratic job, but pays well, and it's at USDA -- agriculture being one of those things I am passionately interested in, and if I don't love everything USDA does, I am at least encouraged at the direction it seems to want to move in under Obama and Sec. Vilsack.

I am moving forward with an open mind. God has a plan for me, I don't know what it is and I don't need to know. I just have to empty myself of my own pushy will and pray that He puts His words in my mouth for the interview, and to also hear with His ears. If the job feels right, during the interview, and if it's offered to me, I'll take it with the understanding that in some way it will bring me closer to my dream, my true vocation. It'll get my finances straight, help me to buy a retirement mini-farm (hermitage?), add to my pension, and provide long-term care insurance, the one kind of insurance my old cushy job didn't offer. It'll give me a detailed understanding of the kind of grants USDA offers to small, sustainable, start-up, and/or community farms (whether I'd be making myself ineligible to apply as a retiree is a key question for the interview), and probably a broader acquaintance with innovative farms and farmers.

Thanks for the prayers, folks -- I think they're working, keep 'em coming!
Blessings to you

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Ups and the Downs

Today's more of a downer...... so far. Headache. Rainy and dark. Crow's starting to get broody and I haven't saved any eggs for her to set (I did break her up today, though -- she actually ended up laying one!) (Chickens stop laying when they get "broody", which means they're in the mood to sit on the nest and hatch the eggs out; to "break her up" means to get her to snap out of that mood). OK, so anyway, I guess on balance that's good news: she laid an egg after all, which I set aside out of the fridge, and I'm hopeful she'll lay at least a half dozen before going broody and staying broody. Last year it was the beginning of May. You can't imagine how cute baby chicks are, all tumbling after their mama around the back yard. Hopefully she'll lay some girlies this year!

See, I just needed to post in my journal to get in a better mood. And take some Excedrin for the headache. And my herbal PMS pills came in today's mail, so I have high hopes of feeling better. I cancelled the Rx for Abilify, cancelled the follow-up appointment with the shrink, and made an appt with an endocrinologist (hormone specialist). The first available appointment was for mid-May, so I will have time to see if these herbs do the trick. Another complete PMS cycle between now and then.

Meanwhile I self-medicate ... dark chocolate, red wine (hence the headache) ... I sleep more, thank God I have that option ... and I do not function very well. I can't think clearly. I tried to start doing my taxes today, but couldn't concentrate enough to even get started. I don't cook much, I don't remember to defrost something to cook, so I don't eat terrifically well. I sit at my computer all day, doing Sudoku puzzles, Text Twist, and reading blogs and everything related to Michelle Obama.

I got an update today on one of my gov't job applications: "Your application has been placed in the Best Qualified category and forwarded to the selecting official for further consideration." Well, that's encouraging! A realtor who LOVED my house the first time he showed it, showed it to another client last night. The first time, I came home while they were still here, and they were fascinated with the chickens (who wouldn't be! my cute little lawn ornaments). Yesterday I planted beets and kale and sage in the front entrance flower bed. That kind of thing seems to appeal to the kind of people who like my house: the veggie garden, the fruit trees (though young and small and not bearing fruit yet), the chickens, the big, fenced, sunny yard. It is a very peaceful place, it's hard to imagine it's inside the Beltway.

I had a nice weekend. Minimized the sitting at the computer. Worked in the garden. Spent time with T. Tried to describe to him what this PMDD feels like: it's like I see the world through a veil, and I feel it the same way ... I'm in a haze, my skin tingles (I guess because of the water retention). I find myself squinting and furrowing my forehead a lot, I'm not sure if my eyes are more sensitive, or it's the general free-floating tension, or -- maybe I am trying to narrow my field of vision, I can't handle so much sensory input at one time.

Anyway, sitting still does nothing for my mood. I should have taken Excedrin hours ago, and found some indoor work to do, and gotten off my duff. Well, once it kicks in I'll throw some dinner together, try to get a balanced meal in me. And drink herb tea.....

I am going to talk with a friend of mine, who is an out-of-work chef, about going into business together as "personal chefs". He's the husband of one of my very best girlfriends, and we're getting together Wednesday evening. It would be fun work, I could use it to spread the gospel of fresh, local, seasonal, healthy food, and G is well qualified where I am not so sure of my own qualifications. And his wife works in a place with lots of overpaid people who could afford personal chef services :) And my own backyard garden could be tied in as a source of some of the produce!

We'll see ... I haven't even talked with him about it yet, I've only spoken with his wife, so I don't know if he'll be into it. Hopeful, though. It does seem like an awful waste of a perfectly good mid-life crisis to go back into a job just like my old one.

Blessings to all who pass this way.
Regina Terrae

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Abbot Alban, Requiescat in Pace

Yesterday we buried Abbot Alban. He was 97 years old. He'd been the superior of this community for 30 years, from 1946 to 1975, when he retired. I didn't know him well, but I know he was loved and respected by the monks.

We sang and prayed and laid him to rest in the little monastery graveyard, on a bright Spring morning with such a whooshing wind in the tall cedars that we could not hear the Prior's speech over the grave, so each prayed in his heart for Abbot Alban's rest, and for his own soul to be safeguarded as the old monk's seemed to have been, until its journey home.

This favorite poem of Abbot Alban's (and of mine!), by John Donne, was printed on the program:
Holy Sonnet XIV
Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend,
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee;'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Labor to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
But am bethroth'd unto your enemie;
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.
Regina Terrae

Friday, April 3, 2009


I ended my last post, a couple of hours ago, saying that I was going to go out into the back yard, miserable in the throes of PMS (PMDD). I did, and so glad I did.

I took a book & a cup of wine out to the picnic table (yes, I know I said I gave up wine for Lent. I gave up computer games, too, and haven't managed it). The chickens came over to hang out with me, so I put the book down -- I wasn't really into it, anyway, the chickens are much more interesting. It was mostly cloudy, actually, and quite breezy, so I put on a jacket -- but it is decidedly spring-like weather, nothing like winter.

I ended up sitting out there for an hour or so, letting go of every thought, just enjoying the wind and the cloud forms and the birds, the cherry tree and tulip magnolia next door and the big weeping willow in my own yard, and the bigger oaks and catalpas and maples that haven't yet leafed out. Went up to get my breviary and prayed Vespers in the back yard.

Came back in, switched from wine to herb tea, washed the dishes so tomorrow morning will start off fresh, and came to post this -- what a peaceful time, the silence -- interior silence, openness, presentness.

I so want to be a hermit ... anyway, I am at my Lord's service. I trust Him to get me through this insecurity, and to show me the way I am to go. Well, I trust with some reservations, still -- Lord, help my lack of trust! But I will to trust, I will to depend on Him, I will to be His, entirely. Peacefully, simply.

OK, good night, now -- going back out on the porch with my cup of Sleepytime tea, then to pray Compline by 9:00, and into bed early.

Blessings to all who stop by here.

Regina Terrae

Mental health, female health (my health)

More on female hormonal issues ... so if the subject makes you squirm, this is a post to skip! Sorry, this IS my journal, after all, not a carefully edited selection of spiritual reflections or agricultural policy papers meant to edify the masses. Maybe someone out there will learn something useful ... these particular problems are not well enough studied or understood yet.

PMDD = pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder. It's pretty much defined as PMS taken to a debilitating degree, not so much the physical symptoms but the mental/emotional ones. It's not depression, exactly, although I can get briefly weepy. It's acute tension, and a total inability to concentrate on anything. Hard to define. I'm in a grey fog, and I just want to curl up in a ball and rock myself until my period comes and it all clears up again for a couple of weeks. I can't get to sleep at night, or I wake up at 3 A.M. and that's it for the night. I often get migraines this time of month, occasionally as much as every day for a week. I crave dark chocolate, sweet-tarts, and alcohol, and I feel very fatigued, and physically weak. I've been sitting in this chair pretty much all day, and I tried but failed to finish a job application that closed today. Anyway I feel like I could never function well in a job (specially not an office job, with the concentration problems) when I'm like this. And I'm like this half the time!

So I went to a shrink yesterday. A psychiatrist, because I wanted someone who can prescribe meds, unlike a psychologist or other mental health professional. The SSRI I was taking was helping somewhat, but PMDD is still kicking my butt -- less, but I'm still VERY aware when I have ovulated. (SSRI: anti-depressant that works on the neurotransmitter serotonin, the most common type of med prescribed for PMDD). But the shrink said that this particular SSRI, Serzone, has fallen out of favor because it can cause irreversible liver damage or even death, so he hasn't prescribed it for years. I was taking it because I wanted to try an SSRI for the PMDD, on the recommendation of a psychologist, I used to take this one for depression with good results, and my general practitioner didn't hesitate to prescribe it. So the shrink recommended that I taper off it and instead prescribed, not another SSRI, but an anti-psychotic mood stabilizer called Abilify. Anti-psychotic! Not another SSRI because I had tried most of them and ended up switching to Serzone, years ago -- mostly because of problems related to sex, and although I told him I am celibate now so that's irrelevant, he paid no attention and went straight to Abilify.

I took the prescription to the pharmacy, and dutifully halved my dose of Serzone last night. Then today I started googling Abilify and PMDD. WTF?? Not. I mean, I gather that it's a lot better than older anti-psychotics, but honestly, if the Serzone is working, why not switch to another drug in the same class? Abilify is prescribed for bipolar disorder (and schizophrenia), but these mood swings are clearly tied to my monthly hormonal cycles, this is NOT bipolar disorder. And anyway, if I took Serzone for years with no problems, am I not unlikely to develop problems now? It's not like it's been pulled off the market, and in googling it I don't find any more prominent scary warnings than most drugs carry. So I'm going to tell the pharmacy to please cancel the Rx for Abilify, go back to my regular dose of Serzone, and try to find an OB/GYN who knows something about PMDD. Oh, this is frustrating. It's not like, oh, I don't know -- a toothache, you know exactly who to call for that, and the dentist knows exactly how to treat it. This is just total trial and error.

Anyway ... meanwhile, I've ordered Estroven PMS over the internet (couldn't find it locally). It's an herbal supplement that has rave online reviews from users, including those diagnosed with full-blown PMDD. If it seems to help, then I may try tapering off the Serzone and see if the herbal supplement works well alone. Anyway, the Estroven PMS is quite inexpensive compared to the Rx, and since I may not have such terrific health insurance any more after August, that's something to think about. I did mention it to my nurse-practitioner and she thought it sounded good and safe. Fingers crossed!

OK, well it was pouring rain this morning but now the sun's out and it's like 70F out there, I think I will go curl up in a ball at the picnic table in the sun instead of in here at my computer......

yours truly
Regina Terrae

Thursday, April 2, 2009

7 things you may not know about me

I've been tagged! (This is so Facebook) :) Thanks to Michael at Love to Spare, here is my list of 7 facts about myself. I thought I'd better jump in fast, because many of my favorite personal bloggers have already tagged each other .... (I mean personal as opposed to news blogs, or the weather guys over at the Washington Post, or ObamaFoodorama e.g.)

The rules:
  1. Link to your original tagger and list these rules in your post
  2. Share 7 facts about yourself in the post
  3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names and links to their blogs
  4. Let them know they’ve been tagged.
So with that out of the way, here are 7 facts about me:

1. I have been an Argentinophile since high school. I speak fluent Spanish, with a more or less Argentine accent -- it used to be totally Argentine, but over many years in a multi-national workplace it got diluted. I already had acquired that accent and fluency before I visited Argentina for the first time, in 1994, so I actually kind of passed for a local. That was thrilling! I have an extensive collection of Argentine rock and pop music dating up through my 2nd and last visit to Buenos Aires, in 1996. Pappo's Blues rules!

2. I used to sing in a samba band. That's how I learned most of my Portuguese, which I speak well enough to get along in conversation with a patient partner. I haven't been singing much lately, but I really should get something going...... church singing, preferably, not just because I'm religious but because I am NOT a night person.

3. I love, love, love to dance! Samba, salsa, merengue, calypso, reggae. My absolute favorite is Colombian bachata, a la Carlos Vives. Hmm, I don't do that nearly enough any more, either -- got to do something about that!

4. I love good food (OK, you already knew that one, LOL. Try again)
4. I am the 4th of 4 siblings, or the 6th of 7 if you count my steps, or really the 7th of 9 if you also count the steps on the other side, which I don't because they were my 2nd cousins before they were my stepsisters. Are you confused yet? LOL ... all the 1st marriages ended in divorce, my dad ended up married to my mother's cousin's ex-wife. No actual incest going on here! The beautiful thing about my family is that everyone loves everyone else. Last year we were all together near my stepmother's birthday, and she received a gift from my stepfather's ex-wife and her husband. Yes ... she received a gift from her husband's ex-wife's husband's ex-wife and her husband. And nobody blinked. I LOVE MY FAMILY! :)

5. I have lost the urge to travel (much). I want to put down roots, somewhere in the "Eastern Woodlands" ecoregion, preferably in or near Maryland where most of my family is, and though I love the sea it's the Appalachian mountains I really yearn for.

hmmm... 2 more .....

6. I can sit and pick & eat blue crabs for hours on end. I like them dipped in butter, but best is vinegar and Old Bay. An Old-Bay crusted beer bottle on one side, and at some point an ear of sweet corn to chomp on, for the rest a pile of steamed crabs and I'm a happy camper. So sad that the crab harvest has declined. It's those damn chicken factory "farms" polluting the waterways! I do hope and pray the damage can be stopped and reversed.

7. My mother's mother was Lebanese-Egyptian, my father's mother was a country girl from northern Vermont, and both grandfathers were hillbillies. Or at least, not more than first-generation out of the hills, with lots of family still to visit back home. One from southwest Virginia, the other from northeast Tennessee -- all of about an hour's drive apart on the modern Interstate highway. My mom grew up in D.C. and Latin America, a Foreign Service brat. My dad grew up in Tidewater Virginia, that's where I learned to pick crabs. I also inherited a love of Lebanese food and Appalachian music.

All right, that's it ... 7 bloggers who haven't already been tagged, hmm..... I'm going to have to go to Facebook and see if any of my family & friends are bloggers!

1. Sister Anne, at Nunblog
2. Sister Julie, at A Nun's Life
3. Grace, at Glynt Pottery
4. Meng-Hu, at The Hermitary
5. Heather, at New Cicada
6. Emily! at Emily's in the Rye
7. Amanda at Look Far

OK! A couple of these people know me in the face-to-face world, and one or two have never heard of me and I've never commented on their blogs. But I think they're all cool. Now, hopefully, they've all got "contact" links on their blogs, so I can let them know I've tagged them.....


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Eating as a Moral Act

As you may have already gathered, I am passionate about food. Especially home-grown food, or failing that, food grown as close to home as possible, as sustainably as possible. This morning's breakfast includes an egg laid by Crow, my little black Araucana hen, and some whole-grain toast baked by me, with nary a flake of white flour in it. Not the best bread I've ever eaten -- I'm learning -- but it's a whole heck of a lot better than any supermarket bread. (the egg, on the other hand, is perfect). It also includes store-bought organic bacon (I don't remember if local, and no longer have the original packaging) and store-bought cheese (I don't remember if it's organic, and probably not local). In my dream world, I would be raising my own hogs (they make great rototillers, too!), and milking my own goats to make my own cheese.

[Instead, for now, I'm applying for government jobs -- but that's OK, I'm lucky enough to have a pension ahead of me, at age 55, at which time I will be able to do all the hobby farming my little heart desires. Meanwhile, I have my garden and my chickens and my kitchen. Anyway, the job and money situation is outside the "scope" of this post, as we bureaucrats like to say. This one is about food.]

I am also pretty passionate about food, where it comes from and how it's produced, beyond my own kitchen and back yard. This morning I checked out La Vida Locavore (added to my blogroll at right), and found this post about a letter from the big chemical ag industry (MidAmerica CropLife Association) to Mrs. Obama complaining about her organic garden. I love this:

Starting in the early 1900's, technology advances have allowed farmers to continually produce more food on less land while using less human labor. Over time, Americans were able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming to pursue new interests and develop new abilities.

In other words, the decline of the family farm is a good thing, see? Concentration of farming in a few very rich and government-subsidized hands, the same hands that wrote this letter, is a good thing. Oh, and:

Many people, especially children, don't realize the extent to which their daily lives depend on America's agricultural industry. For instance, children are unaware the jeans they put on in the morning, the three meals eaten daily, the baseball with which they play and even the biofuels that power the school bus are available because of America's farmers and ranchers.

And a very visible backyard food-producing garden at the first family's home, the White House, also involving school children, is part of the problem? not the solution?? Mega-farms, on which few Americans "have to" work any more, are the solution to kids not knowing the agricultural origins of their food and other products? And get this, this paragraph makes my head spin:

Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown. Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical. Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.

Strawberries are one of those foods that are really not at all "tasty" when shipped out of season. And wholesome?? The conventional ones carry a very high pesticide load, rated 6th out of 47 by the non-profit Environmental Working Group. Even EPA recommends peeling fruits and vegetables to reduce (not eliminate) pesticides -- mmm, peeled strawberries, anyone? Speaking of storage, though, strawberries (easily home-grown!) freeze beautifully. And "local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive", as if "Mrs. O -- you can use chemicals on your White House garden, too!"

What's the big deal about some pesticides on those California strawberries? FDA says they're safe, USDA says they're safe, so who is Regina Terrae to tell you to avoid them like the plague? Regina Terrae is sceptical about FDA and USDA assurances. But says that "pesticide exposure may increase the risk of birth defects. However, that elevated risk is typically due to occupational or environmental exposure to pesticides", NOT to eating the strawberries while pregnant. And we've already seen how conventional farming uses "less human labor", and how "Americans were able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming." So no worries about "occupational exposure", right?? Ha -- of course that's not true. Even the seemingly plasticized, juiceless strawberries bred for shipping long-distances are too fragile to be mechanically harvested. Strawberries are one of the most labor-intensive crops around. As I googled around trying to find a link to post to back that last point up, finding it mentioned over and over but always in passing, I got drawn in to this 1995 article (note, the link is a PDF file) in the Atlantic Monthly, detailing working conditions damn close to slavery in some cases (in the form called "debt peonage", in which the worker sells his or her "soul to the company store", in the immortal words of the coal-miner's lament, 16 Tons). And then I also found this NIH study showing that even when they follow all the government-mandated safety regulations perfectly, strawberry farmworkers go home with "significantly higher levels of exposure" to pesticides, and that they carry at least some of that home to their families.

But they're not Americans, by and large. No, "Americans [have been] able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming." They're mostly Mexicans, mostly undocumented. The Mid America CropLife Association may not recognize that as "human labor" (or else how could they bring themselves to treat the laborers so miserably?), but I do. And I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb to suppose that the kind of folks who read my blog, by now are about ready to sit down and write their own letter to our First Lady, begging her to please plant some organic strawberries in the White House garden, and maybe one to the President asking him to see what he can do for our migrant farmworkers -- immigration policy and health & safety standards. And to keep pushing back against poison farming!

If you need a little more food for thought before putting those letters in the mail, consider the "Ethics of Eating" as laid out by the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, and the U.S. Bishops' "Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers, and Farmworkers". My church has its faults, God knows, but we do have a strong social justice tradition, and it is well reflected at those two links. Also, fellow blogger Acooba has started a series on The Alchemy of Love that explores the mind-body-heart-soul connection with some emphasis on how what we eat affects more than our bodies. I invite you to reflect on eating as a moral act.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Yesterday was the feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel came and announced to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah, the son of God. She probed a little, to understand what he was telling her, and then acquiesced to this crazy plan without reservation.
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
The Annunciation is the first of the mysteries of the Rosary. One of the traditions around the Rosary (which you can see at the link) is to name a virtue as the fruit of each of the mysteries. For the Annunciation, the associated virtue is humility. Do you find it at all odd that humility should be connected with the announcement to a teenage girl that she has been chosen for the most outrageously immense honor possible for a woman of her nation? One that her whole people has been waiting for, yearning for, for centuries? An angel has just appeared to her and told her that she is going to be the mother of GOD's son, who will be king and savior of the world! How does this engender humility??

Is it that we are supposed to feel humbled by comparison to this "most highly favored" lady? Maybe, although I don't find that very satisfying.... I guess the original intent is lost in the mists of ancient tradition, which is kind of nice, actually -- it allows us to make of it what we will, and so keeps it fresh. So about 20 years ago, I was praying the Rosary one day, and found a different meaning for the connection between the Annunciation and humility, not in contrast but in identification with the blessed virgin.

When we are presented with a great honor, are we more likely to react with pride or with humility? You'd think pride, but think again ... think about a REALLY big honor ... think, how did (or would) it make you feel that the person you most love in the world wants to be your spouse? What if a friend asks you to sit with her at her deathbed, because she always feels more peaceful when she's been with you? What about being asked by a member of your congregation to be their RCIA sponsor (for an adult coming into the church), or godparent to their child -- not because you're a close friend, but because you stand out as a really good, godly person who they want to be (or their child to be) influenced by? What if you were asked to speak at your child's high school graduation, not because you're famous, but because the other kids and their parents have so much respect and admiration for you?

Would you be proud? Or humbled? OK, maybe a little of both, but honestly -- doesn't it take a huge dose of humility to accept a really great honor? One that, maybe, you don't feel worthy of? I mean, who could feel herself worthy to be the mother of the Incarnation of God? Who could believe herself capable of containing God in her body, in her womb? Or even if she didn't understand that the child himself was God incarnate, even if she just thought he was destined to redeem his people from the oppression of the Roman Empire -- who feels worthy to raise a child to that destiny? A young working-class girl from a podunk town like Nazareth? She had to be humbled by that!

As should we all be humbled by the Annunciation, by the whole mystery of the Incarnation. The whole point is that we're NOT worthy, there's no way we could ever be worthy of the incredible sacrifice God made for our sake --- and we don't HAVE to be worthy! He does it anyway, because He loves us, He loves us freely and lavishly and insistently. And if THAT's not humbling, then I don't know what is! An honor like that makes you want to live up to it, doesn't it?

Many blessings to all who come across this journal.
Regina Terrae

Monday, March 23, 2009

Michelle O's garden, take 2

So the symbolism of the Black woman digging the White House garden did occur to another blogger, this one a black woman: Melissa Harris-Lacewell, at The Kitchen Table. Take a look -- she was dreading the slave labor references, but was, of course, pleasantly surprised by the actual positive reporting on the garden. She also recalls Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, which I think I will have to look for at the library, as well as a southern black tradition of family farming for self-sufficiency. All good.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Michelle Obama -- Black Woman digs White House garden

Eddie Gehman Kohan at Obama Foodorama has an intriguing post titled: "The White House Kitchen Garden At The Intersection Of Race, Politics, Food, And History". I encourage you to click over there and read the whole article, I haven't seen another one to touch this theme. She points out that "virtually no one pointed out both how historic and how potentially politically charged it was to have the very first black First Lady, who is descended from slaves, pick up a shovel and dig into the White House dirt." She reminds us that the White House was built by slaves, and that the class of slaves that worked in the fields was even beneath the class that worked in the house. And here is First Lady Obama, the first African American in her position, a descendant of slaves, not assigning the garden work to her staff but picking up a shovel and a rake in her own hands, even getting down in the dirt with her bare hands at one point, promising to keep at it and to get her family to dig in the dirt along with her. And the blogosphere (including Regina Terrae) never even noticed how symbolic that is. The other point Eddie brings up is how relatively quiet the black press & blogs have been about Mrs. O's garden. Both Eddie and I are white women. I have no theories about why black bloggers haven't picked up on a story that's creating some excitement in white or theoretically race-neutral media, other than that, perhaps, the "eat local, eat organic, grow your own" trend, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, et al, isn't as hot in black culture as it is in white culture?

Eddie wonders whether our collective silence on the symbolic punch of our first black First Lady, descended from slaves, herself out there digging in the White House garden is a sign that we're so post-racial that it doesn't matter? or is it too significant to mention, to hot to handle? Or is she really the only one to pick up on it? I have to admit that I, who consider myself more interracially sensitive than average, did not pick up on it -- but now that she mentions it, yeah ... wow.

You know what maybe it means, that is totally in character for Mrs. Obama? Many white Americans get very impatient and frustrated with many black Americans' tendency to assume racist intent in even very ambiguous cases.... there's a sense of having to walk on eggshells, that every turn of phrase, every image, every joke, no matter how innocent, is liable to be interpreted as a racial slur. The Obamas don't do that -- the Obamas know all about racism, of course, but they don't magnify it. Their tendency is to assume good intent, or neutral intent. Mrs. O talked the other day to the high school kids she visited, about her own schoolmates saying she "talked like a white girl", and she said "I'm like -- I don't even know what that means! But I'm still going to get my A!" She has risen above racist pigeonholes, just like she rises above Fox and Rush Limbaugh. She is who she is, she's not going to deprive herself of the pleasure of digging in the dirt (for the first time? she's such a city girl, has she ever had a garden? and now she's got something like 18 acres, and this garden is one whole acre) in order to assert some puffed up image of First Lady dignity. She knows how fabulous she is, she does not have to exaggerate or pose for anyone. She's not post-racial, she understands what it means that she's black -- but she's redefining blackness. Just as "talking white" is nonsense, just as the "weaker feminine sex" is nonsense, it's also nonsense that working in her own vegetable garden is beneath the station of First Lady -- that it's Field N* work. No, it's First Lady work (or First Lady play!), and it's work for all Americans to aspire to, because Michelle Obama is redefining First Lady, and she's becoming the American role model par excellence for the 21st century. (I love that lady)

Wendell Berry, one of my most admired humans and a very great advocate of "growing one's own", wrote The Hidden Wound in 1989 (see the Amazon widget over on your right!), about the intersection between racism and our modern unwillingness to involve ourselves directly in the work of our own subsistence. I've given my copy away, so I won't be able to quote directly from it, but I think it is a tremendously important book. He talks about how our modern culture disdains "getting our hands dirty", touching the earth, to grow our own food. We shift that "dirty work" off to whomever we can stick with it. He calls it -- pardon me, but the ugliness of the term is deliberate -- the "niggerization" of farm work. When he was a boy, the n* class were black Americans; now they are more likely to be Mexicans, but it's the same phenomenon: we place ourselves above the work of feeding ourselves, but since we have to eat, we have to demean another class of people who do that work for us, we pay them next to nothing (if we don't "own" them, any more), we treat them like dogs, and in the same process we disrespect the earth just as much. The n*, the manual laborers, have a visible wound; yet the clean-handed "comfortable" class have a hidden wound. Racism is a hidden wound for the racists, and it all has to do with cutting ourselves off from our own sustenance, from the natural world, and from our human brothers and sisters. Of course Mr. Berry's book is much, much better and richer than this little inadequate synopsis of it.

Michelle Obama HAS transcended race, where her garden is concerned, just as she transcended "talking white" where her education was concerned. She has so transcended race that she is inspiring thousands of Americans -- white Americans -- to imitate her in growing their own kitchen gardens as well. We want to be like Michelle! Maybe Eddie's implication is right, that black Americans are less fired up about this particular role-modelling of Mrs. O's, maybe precisely because it subtly redefines the old "Field Negro", for the 21st century, as the happy (race-neutral) mom feeding her family healthy veggies while teaching her kids about nutrition, botany, etc.

I love Michelle Obama. She is just too fabulous for words.

And now it is 1 a.m., 4 hours past my bedtime, and I am going to post this without re-reading and re-editing it 5 times. I hope it's coherent......

I would really love some feedback on this one! Obama Foodorama doesn't take comments, so I haven't been able to see any reaction but my own. As far as I know, I have 2 (count 'em, 2) followers, a black man and a white woman. What do y'all think about Eddie's post, and about mine? About the symbolic significance of black, slave-descendant First Lady Michelle Obama getting her own hands dirty in the White House garden? Had this angle occurred to you before?

Blessings to you
Regina Terrae

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Michelle Obama broke ground on the new South Lawn kitchen garden yesterday, accompanied by a class of 5th graders from a D.C. public school. I'm not sure why she chose a school that already has a garden of its own -- maybe it's the closest one to the White House? No, I just looked it up, it's nowhere near the WH. But whatever, the fact of the garden is fabulous even if they didn't bring schoolkids into it. They're going to have honeybees, too! I want honeybees! I should have gone to the course that was just offered by the county beekeepers association, but I missed it. I've got a great yard for them, big and sunny, and I could face the entrance back toward the train tracks to make it even less likely that anyone would get stung.

I feel like I'm hopelessly behind on my own garden, but if they're not going to plant early seedlings at the WH for another two weeks, I guess I'll be OK. I'll just have to put out money on some seedlings, unfortunately, because I didn't start my own. Time to start tomatoes & peppers etc. NOW. Got to go buy a bag of sterile seed-starting soil mix -- I totally forgot I was out. Well, it's below freezing now but supposed to be 50 and sunny today. Good day to start seeds out on the picnic table, as long as it doesn't get too breezy (blowing seeds away!). It's too messy a job to do indoors, dirt gets everywhere.

Got to finish removing the cinder blocks (Lord, that's a heavy job -- working on my Michelle Obama arms!), so I can till. I had cinder block-edged raised beds for 3 seasons, but the bermuda grass has taken over and it's impossible to get it out of the holes, so I decided just to till the whole area, and put mulch over newspaper or cardboard for the paths. The blocks are packed very tight with dirt and roots, so they are very, very heavy. Probably 50 lbs each, or close. My reference point is a 50-lb bag of chicken feed. In the past, when I had money, I would have hired some day laborers to do the heavy lifting, but it's better this way. I'm capable of it, I just have to pace myself. This way I get stronger and I get the satisfaction of having done the work myself.

I just saw that U.S. News & World Report has put out "10 Easy-Grow Veggies for Your Kids' Obama White House Garden". Yes! The trend begins! How exciting! The BEST thing the Obamas can do for this fundamentally screwed up economy is to encourage frugality and self-reliance at the household and community levels. If all us out of work people would start our own little micro-businesses, we could support each other, without the skimmed-off overhead of obscenely overpaid executives. Jobs are overrated! (she says, scanning the want ads ... SIGH).

One of the other oblates at the St. Benedict's feast last night said I could be a "life coach" -- now I don't know about that, given how confused I am about the direction of my own life. But spiritual direction maybe, yes. I LOVED doing RCIA, which is basically group spiritual direction. And I definitely think I have something to offer. But how and where does one put out a shingle for that? Maybe I should introduce myself to the pastors of my closest parishes, and invite them to refer people to me. It's not something I'd feel right about charging for, but I could ask for donations (reminding directees that their contribution could cover not only their own time, but that of someone else who can't pay). Or, I could set a price but make it optional to pay. Something like that ... I wouldn't want to turn away someone who's broke like me, and really in need of some support for that very reason. Anyway, I'm going to try to corner that oblate tomorrow after Mass and chat with him about the idea. Yeah ... I may end up a hermit after all (no more office jobs! anyway, not more than on a temp basis)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Random Thoughts

I watched Hotel Rwanda last night. It got me to bed very late ... I didn't watch it late, but it took a lot of fluffy internet browsing (ALL about Michelle Obama, LOL) to get it out of my head enough to prevent nightmares. I have added two books to my Amazon "Favorites" widget over on your right margin, by Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Tutsi survivor of the genocide. I've read the first one, Left to Tell, but not the other yet. Powerful stuff!!! She had an intense religious experience while in hiding. As she prayed desperately for God's protection, she stumbled on the words of the Lord's prayer: "as we forgive those who trespass against us." She understood that she had to forgive the killers, those who were hunting for her to kill her, those who had killed her family, those who were drowning her country in blood. She DID forgive them, and God saved her -- dramatically, with accompanying visions to confirm that it was God protecting her. It's an amazing, powerful story. Come to think of it, I am also adding the wonderful classic Man's Search for Meaning, by holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. Any books you buy through that widget, I get a few cents ... every little bit helps!

I'm going to add a couple of ADD books, too, ones that come highly recommended even if I haven't read them yet.... I went to the doctor today, to report back on the anti-depressant (Serzone) she prescribed for my PMS. It's helping! Got a refill Rx, and also got a starter pack of Strattera for ADD ... we'll see. Wow, it would be fantastic if it works. And it's not a controlled substance! :)

Speaking of books, right now I am reading Thoughts Matter, by Mary Margaret Funk, OSB. It is EXCELLENT. Those of you whose spirituality tends toward the orient will appreciate St. John Cassian's approach to mastering one's thoughts. Those of you with ADD will appreciate it, as well. Great for Lent! John Cassian, or his teacher Evagrius, is a major influence on Kathleen Norris's latest Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life. I love Kathleen Norris's books!

Tomorrow is the feast of St. Benedict. The Old Man himself! I am invited to Vespers and supper at the Abbey tonight (because tomorrow's Vespers is superceded by first vespers of Sunday. :)

I e-mailed a couple of temp agencies, ones that seem like they will actually sit and talk with a candidate about what kind of jobs would fit her best. I used to temp ... 20+ years ago! Got in the door at my 19-year ex-job that way. It may not pay much, and it might not be fun work, but I can definitely put up with it for short stints. I think. I have to do something, I need the money now!!

But I also e-mailed a couple of people I spoke to yesterday at a brown-bag lunch on a field I'm actually interested in: rights of indigenous peoples. Seriously, seriously, I could even work full-time on this, in an office, in a suit and makeup and heels, Monday to Friday. I'll call them Monday to follow up. They are super-busy right now because the OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is meeting to consider a draft declaration on Indigenous Peoples. Hmm, I guess I should check to see when the session ends and wait to get pushy until afterwards -- I think the session is a week long, but don't know if it's this week that's ending, or next week.

Lowered the price on the house on Monday. Maybe someone will want to show it on the weekend? Wish me luck. I should be cleaning!

I'm loving Spring ... the lilac bush right outside this window is leafing out, and a couple of male cardinals have been flitting around in it the past few mornings, disputing the territory. I also get the cutest little downy woodpeckers once in a while. And way too many of the invasive English sparrows. I think I will take out the window screen and try again to get some pictures. That will involve spending some time with the camera user's manual, to figure out how to manually focus, and how to brighten it up without flash, etc. Cool skill to develop. Grackles out there now. Such a pretty irridescent greenish-bluish-black. I bought a hummingbird feeder, time to fill and hang it.

The Eating down the fridge (and pantry) exercise is going swimmingly. I will have to shop again (the end of my garlic stash is in sight, for one thing). But I will keep on using up what I have -- way too many dry goods, and plenty of frozen veggies, a bunch of frozen fish. I have a family get-together on Sunday, that means potluck, and I think I will make some kind of couscous- or quinoa-and-bean salad. Or something. Yummy, and fun. Exercising some creativity! :)

I spend too much time on this dang computer! I have failed at giving up computer games for Lent (Lent's not over yet -- I hereby recommit!). All those lovely blogs I've discovered, and I want to read them all all the time. And Facebook. And just the general ADD mental mess ... I need to get up off my duff.



(who has ADD???) :) :) :D

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Idolatry vs. Contemplation

Yesterday's scripture reading from the Office of Readings was Exodus 32:1-20, the "Golden Calf" incident. Moses had gone up into the clouds on the mountain -- what appeared as a "consuming fire" to the people below -- to meet with God face to face and receive the stone tablets and other instructions from him. He was gone for 40 days and nights.

The people got antsy. "They gathered around Aaron and said to him, 'Come, make us a god who will be our leader; as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.' (32:1)". Aaron told them to give him all their gold jewelry, melted it down and formed it into the shape of a calf. "Then they cried out, "This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.'(32:4)".

Idolatry, all through the Old Testament, is ridiculed as people making a statue and worshipping it as God. I have tried to understand, but I just can't relate. People are just not that stupid! Of course they don't think the golden calf statue is really God, and they don't think it led them out of Egypt, either -- I mean, come on, it wasn't even made until they were out, right?

So what WERE they thinking? What was going on in their heads and hearts? What did they mean by "make us a god who will be our leader"? The NAB (New American Bible)'s footnote on v.5 says this: "it is clear that the golden calf was intended as an image, not of a false god, but of the LORD himself, his strength being symbolized by the strength of a young bull." Yes, that makes more sense -- they know it was the Lord himself who brought them out of Egypt. They know the manmade calf statue is just a symbol, not a real God.

So why is this such a big freakin' deal?? I mean, God wants to wipe them out for this! For making a gold figure to symbolize Him, and bowing down to it. Not to worship the image, but what it represents, right? Moses talks Him out of destroying the whole race, but still rallies the zealous Levites to mow down about 3000 of them. This is really, really serious!! Why?? The footnote at v.5 goes on to say, "The Israelites, however, had been forbidden to represent the Lord under any visible form. Cf Exodus 20:4."

Wow. God's tough! He really wants us to stay with the mystery. No images .... No names, just Yahweh, which means "I Am Who Am" or something like that. What is your name? Being. Wow.

God must have realized, eventually, that this was too much for us to handle. He gave us a name and an image, Jesus, a living human being, for us to worship. Except ... there's no record of His appearance. We make images and call them Jesus, and bow down and pray to them, but they are not Jesus. Not to mention, we Catholics make images of saints and pray to them -- we don't call them God, but let's be honest, a whole lot of Catholics don't distinguish very well. Have they slid down a slippery slope? Is there any difference anyway, between a made-up likeness of Jesus and any other image? Is it all idolatry? Is the Shroud of Turin real???

Read this quote from Thoughts Matter, by Mary Margaret Funk, OSB (available through the Amazon widget on right). My emphasis added:
According to John Cassian, a fourth-century monk, three renunciations are required of us [on the spiritual journey]. First, we must renounce our former way of life and move closer to our heart's desire, toward the interior life. Second, we must do the inner work (of asceticism) by renouncing our mindless thoughts. This renunciation is particularly difficult because we have little control over our thoughts. Third, and finally, we must renounce our own images of God so that we can enter into contemplation of God as God.

We cannot contemplate God as God until we renounce our images of Him.

It was pretty ambitious of Him to try to get a whole nation to the level of contemplating Him as Himself -- but God is nothing if not ambitious when it comes to drawing us closer to Himself. He's gotten gentler about it, mercifully, but no less relentless. The incarnation was pretty extreme.... But did it teach us the lesson? Are we any better at renouncing our images of Him, or contemplating God as God? Is it that the incarnation gives us at least a better chance of pure contemplation? Or what? I feel like I have at least sometimes achieved it, at least somewhat, but not always. For me, the Incarnation matters, I feel like it gives me a better understanding of the kind of God God is, and how He relates to us humans, how He loves us and reaches out to us. But is theology, doctrine, religious story, itself an idol that gets between us and pure contemplation? Is pure contemplation even possible in this life, or even a true glimpse of Reality "through a glass darkly"?

I don't have answers here, folks. If you have a thought on idolatry and contemplation, please chime in.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Reflections on Eucharist

I feel lucky to be a Catholic, because we have this wonderful supernatural approach to everyday interactions with God. The sacraments are real for us, not symbolic. The most important sacrament is the reenactment of Jesus's last supper, called "Communion" or "Eucharist", from the Greek word for thanksgiving. When we celebrate the Lord's supper, when the priest repeats Christ's words over the bread: "take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which was given up for you", for us, the bread really becomes the body of Christ, and the wine is His blood. It does not symbolize it, it is it. We take quite literally Jesus's words "this is my body", and when He says "do this is memory of me" we take it the way Paul seems to have done (1 Cor 11:23-29): that in reenacting this last supper of Christ, we must really recognize the body of Christ in what we eat and drink. He means to sacrifice Himself for us all over again, day after day. The implications are endless, and I mean to touch on only a few that struck me this morning at Mass.

You are what you eat. I received God this morning as food, and as that holy food entered my body, every drop of blood, every cell in my body, every nerve and synapse became infused with the divine. He became me, and I became Him. Our natures were joined, as His body was incorporated into mine. He is incarnate again, in me. Just as He did in Jesus the son of Mary, God fuses His divine nature with my human nature, in order to divinize my human nature. I am suffused with divinity, I, in all my humanity, am divine.

With that comes all God's power and grace. Today I can do anything! I am limitless, I am possessed by God! And I'm sitting in a church full of people who have also partaken in the Eucharist, and all together we are God, and in communion with each other also, that God who has suffused every cell of each of our mortal bodies is one, transcending our separateness and uniting us in Christ-ness. We are all, together, the one body of Christ. And how much more power and grace there is in that! The church fairly glows with the magnified presence of God! And there are millions around the world who have received the living God today, and we are all together His body, and our separate humanity is charged with His indivisible divinity.

The consummation of a marriage. The Bible is all shot through with imagery of a marriage between God and His people. For someone like me, who has flirted throughout her life with a calling to monastic life, that imagery is more personal. I am a bride of Christ, He is my spouse. When I receive Him in the Eucharist, it is an intensely intimate, humbling gift. He has sacrificed Himself, for no other reason than love for me. He came down from glory to this hard life, He chose hunger and cold and exhaustion, pain and opression, betrayal and violence and death, because this is where I was, and He didn't want me to go through it alone. He knows that love is the only thing that makes suffering bearable, and He loves me with an aching love, like a mother loves her child, like a man loves a woman. He chose me, and He speaks to my heart.

He instituted the daily sacrifice of the Mass so that I would have ever before me the reminder of just how much He loves me. He makes Himself small and humble, a little scrap of unleavened bread, and invites me to consume it. He is broken. His total gift of self is totally humbling. This is my Love I am taking in my hand, in my mouth, who makes Himself one with me. The only possible response is a total gift of self in return -- I'm incapable of that, but He keeps calling me to give more, by giving me everything, His whole self. Body and soul, mind and emotions. Will and all. He surrenders everything to me, for me, and that love is what demands that I surrender everything to Him, to His love, to His care.


Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Eating Down the Fridge" (and pantry)

I stumbled across this, via Obama Foodarama, and I'm in -- but it's going to take me more than a week to run through the contents of my larder! I've got plenty of frozen veggies (peas, green beans, corn, collards, kale, green peppers, onions, edamame, broccoli, cauliflower), so when the fresh lettuce is gone I will not be deprived. Plus canned tomatoes & mushrooms, and dried sea veggies. More incentive to get the garden prepped and started, too, get those early greens in! I've got way more proteins than I realized, and starches out the wazoo, and plenty of beans and nuts and seeds. I'll be sorry to run out of fruit -- but I have raisins, and some frozen cranberries I could grind up and do something with, and some jam I could get creative with (mmm, crêpes anyone?). I'll miss the cheese when it's gone, too, and I'm already almost out of butter, but I've got almost a whole bottle of olive oil so I'll deal. The celery, unfortunately, had to go to the compost, but surprisingly nothing else did. Wow. I have celery seed, does that count? I mean, for soups and stuff? Oh, well.

This will be a great, fun challenge. I don't have a clue what to do with a lot of this stuff. Luckily I have plenty of onions and a whole head of garlic, and lots of dried herbs. But hey, my Lenten resolution was to FAIL (i.e., to get out of my safe zone and try things I don't already know how to do), so I will have fun experimenting.

I'm a serious foodie. If I could get this mortgage off my back and start all over somewhere cheap, I would probably go to cooking school. I'm all about the organic, the local, the home-grown, the whole foods..... Oh, and speaking of home-grown, it looks as if I will be adopting another hen -- a R.I. red in need of a new home. Nice: R.I. reds lay brown eggs, I already have a white egg layer (a silver Polish) and a blue egg layer. Yep, blue. She's some kind of an Ameraucana, doesn't fit the APA standard but does lay lovely sky-blue eggs. I went to a talk last weekend on backyard beekeeping. *sigh* oh, I would love to spend all my time at home, and be able to give up this job hunt. OK, OK, I'll quit the b*tchin, I'm better off than a whole lotta people, I know. Actually, most of the people in the world are dirt poor, but I'm even doing better than a whole lot of Americans. Anyway, today I'm in a better mood, and getting ready to start cooking. Something. Probably arborio rice with chicken legs, sausage (because I have both defrosted already), canned or sun-dried tomatoes, and olives (a variation on a saffron rice recipe my dad sent me, though I'm out of saffron....).

Then soup, with some of those beans and grains and stuff. Though I have a lot of small grains: couscous and quinoa, and hot breakfast cereal stuff like wheatena & cream of buckwheat & cream of rice, grits (that's just a sample!). I dunno ... I'll figure it out as I go along. Cook some of them up and use cold in salads, with shallots and radishes or something. And cold marinated beans! I guess I'll be eating hot cereal for breakfast, with raisins, when I run out of fresh fruit and tofu for smoothies. Happily, I have some goat's milk, ultra-pasteurized so it should last plenty long enough to use with the oatmeal. I already bake my own bread.

And I promise to spend at least an hour or two on the job applications today, too!

Blessings to you all.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Yesterday was a rough day

Depression ... ADD ... PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, or severe PMS, hereafter referred to as PMS although I definitely qualify for PMDD). And I guess yesterday I got a little more down, just because this lingering cough is tiring me out.

All that mental dysfunction is a lot to deal with, even without the added stress of job-hunting in a train-wrecked economy.

Both depression and ADD are somehow related to PMS. There is a link between PMS and serotonin, so a few months ago I started taking an anti-depressant for the PMS (I haven't been really depressed for a while, thank God), and it's helping, somewhat. But apparently there's also a connection between ADD and female hormones, with extra confusion, distractibility, poor memory etc. (i.e., ADD symptoms) coming before a period; and now I read that declining hormone levels in perimenopause also intensify the ADD symptoms and make them more resistant to typical stimulant meds. I haven't had my hormone levels checked, but I'm 41 and my sister was through menopause by 41 or 42, so it's a good bet that my estrogen levels are dropping.

The ADD was frustrating even while happily unemployed, as I struggled to keep up with the house and garden work, to keep productive without any externally-imposed structure. But I was happily grappling with it. I had found some tools for organizing my time, and I was working at developing good working habits. Job-hunting, though, is something else. I think I might need some meds, now. Possibly some form of estrogen....

The ADD brain only works well with motivation and stimulation. Think about it, the meds commonly prescribed for ADD are stimulants, amphetamines even. When an ADDer is motivated, she can do all kinds of things, but without motivation it's a terrific struggle to stay on task. But negative motivation (fear of not being able to pay my bills) seems to be counter-productive; I just get more paralyzed. I have to be going to somewhere, not just running from something.

Last night I slept poorly (actually I've slept poorly the last 3 nights, another symptom of PMS/PMDD). I woke at 2 a.m. and never really fell back to sleep. With this horrible aching anxiety -- how am I going to get out of this hole? What's going to happen to me?

Surprisingly, though, my racing thoughts actually became more positive after a while, as I thought about all the positive traits associated with ADD. Really, Attention Deficit Disorder is poorly named. It's not all attention deficit: ADDers can also hyperfocus, which is useful for, e.g., coding, reconciling accounts, proof-reading, etc. And it's as much a gift as it is a disorder: my ADD plays a big part in my creativity, my ability to always see the big picture, not to lose sight of the vision and goals and principles underlying policies and procedures and processes. The ADDer doesn't just think outside the box -- there is no box for an ADDer. I may have trouble keeping track of the trees, but I will never forget about the forest. I learn things easily, I understand concepts easily. I have a gift (the gift of ADD) for seeing connections that others don't readily recognize. I am an excellent trouble-shooter. I am very good at, and enjoy, meeeting with a group of stakeholders to tease out the issues and opportunities that each one brings to a situation; constructing a 365-degree view of a situation and identifying solutions that everyone can live with. I will be a GREAT ASSET to whomever ends up hiring me, and I can even enjoy a government job, as long as I have a really good assistant. That's going to be the key question for me to ask in job interviews, I guess. Who will be working for me? And, realizing that my private office in my old job was a rare luxury, can I at least get a cubicle stuck off in a corner somewhere, out of the flow of traffic? And can I use headphones for white noise to keep down distractions, and can I work from home sometimes? Do I have to create a lot of spreadsheets, or am I supervising the people who do that?

I am applying for jobs related to my old field (because I need to make enough money to pay this mortgage, I can't go starting over in a brand new direction right now). I was an administrative manager, in charge of budget & financial management, human resources, procurement, etc. Those fields are infamously full of people who are sticklers for the letter of the law but lose sight of its spirit. The letter is important, but so is sensitivity to circumstances of individual situations, flexibility rooted in a solid understanding of the spirit of the law, and so is the ability to identify needed changes to the rules. Having those tree-focused financial types supervised by forest-focused me would be an asset to a bureaucratic employer. Not only that, but as long as I've got the support I need (above and below, from my supervisor as well as a good assistant) to deal with the downsides of ADD, I could really enjoy a new job. Well, OK, I'd rather stay "retired", but I don't have to dread going to work.

Please pray for me, anyone who reads this. I need it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Today's meditation starts with the antiphons for the psalms from the Office of Readings. Today there is just one psalm, number 37, split into 3 sections. The first antiphon is:
Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.
The second is:
Turn away from evil, learn to do God's will; the Lord will strengthen you if you obey him.
And the third:
Wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way.
The psalm is basically a riff on "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides." I like the first section, especially, so much that I'm going to quote the whole thing:
Do not fret because of the wicked; do not envy those who do evil:
for they wither quickly like grass and fade like the green of the fields.
If you trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live in the land and be secure.
If you find your delight in the Lord, he will grant your heart's desire.
Commit your life to the Lord, trust in him and he will act,
so that your justice breaks forth like the light, your cause like the noon-day sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait in patience; do not fret at the man who prospers;
a man who makes evil plots to bring down the needy and the poor.
Calm your anger and forget your rage; do not fret, it only leads to evil.
For those who do evil shall perish; the patient shall inherit the land.
A little longer -- and the wicked shall have gone. Look at his place, he is not there.
But the humble shall own the land and enjoy the fullness of peace.
"Do not fret", over and over again. Don't worry ... don't be angry ... be patient and content and trust in God. Later on, in the 3rd part, it says:
I was young and now I am old, but I have never seen the just man forsaken
nor his children begging for bread.
All the day he is generous and lends, and his children become a blessing.
"Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you." "Turn away from evil, learn to do God's will; the Lord will strengthen you if you obey him." "Wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way."

Surrender. Learn. Obey. Wait. Follow. And do not fret.

I've been fretting a lot lately, because I am broke and can't see how I will pay the bills from month to month. Fretting is not good. Somehow I need to get the urgency of taking action without the paralyzing effect of anxiety. My response to worry is to hide under the covers ... that doesn't get the job applications done. I am a master of ignoring unpleasant realities, like the fact that I have to get a job at all -- after a year and a half of living joyfully on my buy-out money. I guess I'm fretting because I think I will be as miserable in another job as I was in my old one. I can't figure out a happy way to make a living, at least not earning enough or soon enough to cover the mortgage on this house, and downsizing is just not an option in this market -- I can't get it sold. So I hide under the covers, get closer and closer to bills not getting paid, more and more stressed out and that sends me hiding under the covers even more. I start filling out job applications and my mind just wanders. I live in the DC Metro area, so there are a lot of good government jobs -- with ridiculously long and involved application requirements. I'm working on it ... but mentally it's a struggle.

I'm obeying, following (working on it); now I need to surrender, wait, trust, not fret.

This is, of course, the AA 3rd step: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him." One of those AA slogans that has stuck with me for the past 20 years is "do the next right thing." It means that I don't have to know how things are going to turn out ... I don't have to worry about outcomes. I just need to do one next right thing, whatever is in front of me right now. I just need to "trust in the Lord and do good ... then I will live in the land and be secure. If I find my delight in the Lord, he will grant my heart's desire."


Monday, March 9, 2009

God's Parenting Skills

The Office of Readings has been working through the beginning of Exodus since Lent began. I've been musing on the way God doesn't make it easy for the Israelites to escape slavery and come into freedom in the good country he promised their ancestors. He sees, He cares, He wants to release them from their suffering and lead them into a place of peace and plenty, but He doesn't just wave His mighty hand and it's all done. He "hardens Pharaoh's heart" (cf Ex 4:21), so that Pharaoh doubles down on his evil treatment of the Hebrew slaves and says "no" 12 times before allowing them to leave the country. Why? The footnote in my New American Bible says
"literally, 'harden his heart.' God permitted Pharaoh to be stubborn..."
OK, but that's not the same thing. That's too soft. If it's literally "harden his heart", that's not the same as permitting him to be stubborn. No, what it seems to say is that God made him stubborn -- resulting in more suffering for the Hebrew people. What's that all about? What kind of a father would do that to his children???

But to me, it's the same kind of parenting that tells the White House staff not to make the little girls' beds. Now I think I'd be pretty annoyed at that, if I were Malia or Sasha. "We've got a houseful of servants, Mom, why don't we just let them do their job? Why do you just want to MAKE us work?" What's the point? Obvious, isn't it, that the point is to train the little girls to become better adults? To create their own orderly, pleasant environment, because there will not always be a houseful of servants around, and even if there are, there are messes in life that nobody but they themselves will be able to clean up. They have to learn. Believe me, I did not learn those good housekeeping habits as a child, I was not trained up with good discipline and a strong work ethic, and I struggle as an adult because of it.

People do not naturally tend to do what is right. Children do not naturally treat each other well all the time. They have to be taught to share their toys, and you don't just tell them once and they get it, either. They have to be trained to share their toys. They have to be stopped from hitting each other. They have to be trained not to interrupt (or taught to politely interrupt, "excuse me, Mom") other people's conversations, and to stop and listen when someone else is talking to them. We are not created perfect. In relation to God, we are always children in need of training.

And there are levels and levels of training. Being trained to listen to each other is hard enough, and most of us don't do it very well. But learning to listen to God, who doesn't shout, doesn't get in our faces, who speaks in a "still, small voice" (1 Kings 19:12) ... wow, that's really hard. We have to WANT to hear God to hear Him. We have to go looking for Him, or rather, we have to ask Him to speak to us, invite Him in and make some room for Him in our personal temple, and then really get quiet and listen, very closely and open-mindedly. "Be still, and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10).

And we don't do that very easily or very readily. We forget, we get distracted by the things we perceive with our natural senses, and by the concerns we can understand with our human intellect, and we forget that overriding Reality that has to be sought to be seen. It takes training, and training takes work, and training takes pain. You don't go to the gym and pay good money to a personal trainer so he can tell you to go relax in the hot tub! You expect to be pushed hard, and to wake up the next day with aching muscles. Because you know that's what it takes to achieve your goal. Well, that's what it takes to achieve spiritual growth and moral growth, too.

God didn't harden Pharaoh's heart out of some sick sadistic impulse to hurt the Hebrews and kill a lot of Egyptians. He did it to train both nations to know God and take Him seriously; to train the Egyptians that they cannot always do wrong and get away with it, and to train the Hebrews to stand up, and take the consequences for standing up, against oppression.

And His tough love isn't all tough, either. No, it's all about training, loving and sensitive parenting: tough when we need the toughness and gentle when we need the gentleness. In Exodus 13:17, when they are finally getting out of Egypt, "God did not lead them by way of the Philistines' land, though this was the nearest; for he thought, should the people see that they would have to fight, they might change their minds and return to Egypt." As it was, when the Egyptians came after them, "they complained to Moses, 'Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you do this to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, "Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians"? Far better for us to be the slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.'" (Ex 13:11-12). So they protest, but they go forward anyway, and then God does the impossible (parts the Red Sea) to get them across.

God asks more of us than we think we can handle ... but never more than He thinks we can handle. Seek (pray & meditate) ... then stretch ... then trust. And so we grow.

Regina Terrae
2nd Monday of Lent

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The self-absorbed penitent

Continuing the theme of the last couple of days ... it occurred to me this morning that too much focus on one's own flaws -- too much penitence -- can actually be anti-Christian. Too much emphasis on getting my own house in order can keep me from opening it in hospitality. It's as if I think, I'm such a mess myself, who am I to think I have anything to offer others? I think I have to be a saint before I can be an inspiration or a comfort to someone else who is in trouble. So I work on myself, but I don't give, I don't share, I don't love.....

Bringing me back to the 12th step -- maybe I am finally understanding it for the first time. (After all these years!). Bill Wilson didn't help Dr. Bob get sober because he was living solidly in the 11th step, he helped him because he reached out of his own vulnerability. And although God got him sane, in order to stay sane he had to turn to other suffering people, it wasn't enough to just keep turning to God. And of course, he never got totally sane; he, and Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Saint Benedict of Nursia, remained flawed until the day they died, but they didn't let consciousness of their need for God's grace overwhelm consciousness of their brothers' and sisters' need for love.

I've always shaken my head at those many women who are so insecure about their physical appearance that they don't actually pay attention to their date -- they think it's the extra pounds or the zit on their nose or the bad hair day that's turning men off, when really it's the self-absorption. Don't you remember, the popular girls in grade school weren't necessarily pretty? In my school, at least, some of them had big noses or pudgy builds -- even then it was clear that what made them attractive was their self-confidence. I have always understood that where appearance is concerned, and I feel very attractive even though I'm 40 lbs overweight, have bad posture, and dress ... indifferently. I don't wear makeup, I don't color my grey hair. But I'm attractive anyway, because I believe I am, so I pay attention to my companions instead of obsessing over my own physical flaws. Being genuinely interested in people is attractive! Like Michelle Obama ... she's not a fashion icon because she dresses especially well, she's not gorgeous, although she's very fit she has bad posture, a flat chest in proportion to her hips, kind of a jutting jawline .... But she looks great because she carries herself with confidence and warmth. The clothes don't look good, SHE makes them look good. She'd look fabulous in a potato sack.

But I do obsess over my "moral" flaws, my character weaknesses. I do let them become a barrier between me and others. I've gotten better about having friends over even though I'm not a great housekeeper. I accept that my garden will be overrun with weeds before the end of the season, that doesn't make it a failure. I need to take more steps in this direction, cover up the moral "mirrors", and focus more on my friends and neighbors. Keep the examination of conscience for the minutes before Compline (or for this journalling time), and spend more time listening and embracing the people around me, instead.

Blessed be God forever.
(PS, isn't that a funny expression? I mean, God is the one who does the blessing, right? I guess I should say "thanks be to God forever", instead, LOL) Thanks be to God!