Daydreaming of Raspberries

This was a weekend of two daydreams — although the weekend was a wonderful dream in it’s own right.

Raspberries — wherever we’ve lived my mom has planted raspberries. (Man, it sounds nostalgic when you say it like that). My parents have a huge plot of raspberries where they are — which is constant need of weeding. It’s the only thing mom ever remembers to water. Every year, there are massive amounts of raspberries to be gathered. Mom and I would make raspberry jam together — even if we could only do so in the very brief vacations I came home. I would often go out and pick the raspberries in the cool of the morning, where the dew still clings to the part of the lawn not yet touched by late-rising sun. It’s impossible to pick raspberries without eating some, and they are always bountiful in flavor and soft on the tongue. It’s also impossible to pick them properly without getting your arms scratched up and berry-stains on the knees of your jeans… with sad berry corspes caught in your toes. But that’s another story. Once I’d worked my way down the line of raspberries and back, I’d usually have more than enough for a batch of jam. The amount I’d pick in a morning costs about $20 here, probably because raspberries are hard to pick and transport.

I’d bring them inside, and we’d rinse them. Then we’d start to squish them with the back of forks in glass pie plates. This is a tricky manuever, since the goal of a raspberry is to turn you red with a permanent stain. But unlike strawberries, it’s highly satisfying to squash raspberries with a fork. They go splat very easily.

4 cups crushed raspberries
7 cups sugar
1 teaspoon margarine (to keep a skin from forming)
1 packet CERTO pectin

The sugar/raspberry combination becomes liquid almost immediately. The margarine floats on the top of the mix for a long time, until the the mixture becomes hot. You have to stir for a long time — always longer than you think. And then things all come together at once. It hits a rolling boil and you dump in the Certo and stir like crazy for 60 seconds. Then you take off the heat. A brief fast moment to skim any skin that did happen and then I would pour into the jar (still hot from the dishwasher) with a big ladle, and then transfer the funnel to the next jar. Mom would wipe the jar lid with a hot dishcloth (attempting not to burn herself), and then pull a jar lid from the boiling water with two forks (attempting not to burn herself), put the lid on the jar and screw it tight with the threaded lid-holders (attempting not to burn herself), and then turn it upside down (attempting not to burn herself).

And then you’re done. You pour any that’s left over into a bowl for dad to have with his toast. You start to clean up from the carnage of fast-moving jam splatters. You sit at the kitchen table talking about something, or maybe getting bread started. And then you hear the first one… ^pop^. Jam makes a distinctive noise when it seals, cooling enough to contract and make the lid convex instead of concave. The pop is the sound of success — of jam that will sit in the cupboard and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Jones camping cookies. I love the sound of jam sealing.

I would really like to make raspberry jam this summer. Raspberries cost more than gold, unfortunately, when purchased commercially. I planted raspberries, but they are still small, weak things — and probably will never thrive before I have to move. I called some u-pick places and there are very few summer raspberries — mostly they have an autumn pick here. But hopefully, come mid July, I will be able to live out this fantasy (with my husband ably standing in the place of my mother in the trying not to get burned department).

Mother’s Day Letter

For Mother’s day, my mom asked for a letter talking about our past year and what was happening in our life. (She wants them going forward too.) Writing this sort of thing can be difficult, but here is my result.

Dear Mom,

So you want a synopsis of my life currently and my past year. There have been years in my life when I could have written a very interesting synopsis, full of fun things I learned and did. I am afraid, however, that 2003-2004 has not been one of those years. You see, A. and I are in the between times. We have left the time of life where every year came with its own markers and built in pieces of conversation. I can’t tell you what classes I took this year and about the fascinating concepts I encountered. I have not yet entered the time of life when every year – or every month for that matter – is full of someone else’s markers. I have no one to report on. The in-between times are pretty good times. We have time and resource to work in our garden or watch a movie or fly to Mexico for a week. They’re just not particularly notable.

That said, it’s not like nothing has happened this past year – it’s simply that my life could be encapsulated in the phrase, “It was nothing to write home about.”

Work has definitely taken the bulk of my time and energy. Isn’t it amazing how that happens? I have been with my company for the longest I’ve ever worked for anyone. Unfortunately, that’s still only a year and a half. I’ve learned a lot in the past year and a half. I’ve learned about my industry and how it operates. I’ve become a deeper programmer with a more accurate and available command of syntax. I’ve learned some new and interesting algorithms and methods of handling data. I’ve also learned a lot about how companies grow and operate. (Snip)

Another really neat thing about work has been my coworkers. Last time I counted, we have 9 first or fluent languages in the office. We speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Russian, Tamil, Teligu, Malarum and Hindi. I have made some really good friends. One Indian woman is a terrific programmer. I am eternally grateful that women’s liberation came to India in time for her to pursue her true gift. She is an astonishingly brilliant programmer, a cheerful personality and a good friend. She is also an “orthodox” Christian – a branch of Christianity in India that traces its heritage back to the apostles. I guess what I’m trying to communicate is that my actions and relationships at work are very real and inter-related with the rest of my life, and that since so much of my time is given over to work, that’s a good thing.

The second biggest commitment in my life is church. My obituary resume (you know how when someone dies the first or second thing that gets mentioned in the newspaper is how they’re a Sunday school teacher?) is pretty extensive. A. and I teach Sunday School at (ugh!) 9:15 on Sunday mornings to 1-8 kids between the ages of 11 – 16. We taught confirmation to the 16 year olds this spring, which was a particularly interesting experience since one of the kids was a very curious and interested agnostic. I co-lead the Cool Comings youth group, which is an evening youth group for the same kids I teach in Sunday School. I’m on the Board of Deacons, which usually involves me feeling guilty, but should involve me participating in the care of the community. I’m on the Christian Education committee, where we constantly wrestle with having many kids and few resources. I lead monthly “Prayer at the Close of Day” prayer services (when I don’t completely forget like I did this week). I frequently play my trumpet in church, and periodically get dragged into singing in the choir. I lead pre-service “praise singing” every Sunday but communion Sundays. We finally finished up the Mission Study Taskforce. I also maintain the website, which probably takes me between 1-4 hours a month once I got it all set up. In a typical month I attend 3 committee meetings, actively participate in 3 church services, lead a youth group event, update the web site, lead a prayer service, and have one miscellaneous activity.

These things feed me differently, spiritually. I think that the work I do with the kids is some of the most fulfilling stuff I’ve done since college. Teaching Sunday School has actually been intellectually challenging for me – which means that our curriculum is atrocious, but I’ve definitely enjoyed it. For example, I’ve done all the lessons in the curriculum that I think are worth doing, so I’m hoping to have the time and energy to do a two part class on the history of Jerusalem – the first section being on Jerusalem in the Bible, and the second on Jerusalem since then. I think that understanding how the history they’ve been working on still affects us today is a very important and key lesson. And I find it interesting.

I am very, very, very fortunate in that A. is my complete partner in all these activities. He is a serving Elder and leads up the finance committee. He is with me every Sunday morning, and often there if I have to miss. He’s the one who gets me up on in time for Sunday school, and he makes a long commute up on Fridays for Cool Comings. When we host coffee hour, he’s in the kitchen washing the cups, and when I am practicing after church, he’s talking to the kids in our youth group. I don’t think enough about how lucky I am that he also has such an active life of faith and service.

The third of my big commitments is sort of the flip side of our church commitment. Every Monday night, we play a role-playing game. We have been doing so for four years together, and A. played for the year we were engaged. We’ve been playing with the same group of people for the last 2.5 years… it’s A. (our usual game master, although he takes breaks), M. a composer who loves meat and reminds me strongly of a cat, E. who stitches (makes costumes) for the local theaters, is trying to gain admission to Harvard Divinity School, and is a dear friend (and M’s girlfriend), and D. who was a fellow trumpeter from Conn and serves as the battle sink of our group. They are an appreciative audience for dinners, so most of the time they get pretty good ones. After eating dinner together so long, we’ve started to feel a bit like family. They are people I can just talk to. We have been playing the same game and characters for nearly the entire time we’ve been together. I play a cleric named Terwilliger Bunswon who serves the god of Prophecy and has quite a lot of swagger. The session before last we finished our first quest. It was a strange feeling to finish what we started in 2002, and see it all come full circle. There’s a sense of loss that comes from not playing a character I’ve played for so long. Fortunately, I think that we will resume that game after a summer’s break of space adventures. Right now we’re playing a scary horror game, which is delightfully creepy.

As if playing once a week every single week isn’t enough, A. also plays every Friday night with another set of friends, and is currently also in a Wednesday night group with a bunch of other people from church. Amazingly enough, there are quite a few other gamers in church. A.’s background in Dungeons and Dragons was one of the ways we really earned credibility with some of the kids in our youth group. Life has strange twists.

Other than those things, I manage to listen to or watch nearly every Red Sox game played. A. and I have been much better about exercising in the past year, and while I haven’t lost a single pound, I can now do 4 pull-ups. (Right now the very concept of moving my legs makes them hurt. We went jogging yesterday and ouch! I haven’t done that in a while!) I periodically waste time playing computer games. I’ve been enjoying my hobby of rubber stamping. (Although I discovered tonight that I have absolutely NO mother’s day appropriate rubber stamps! Sheesh!) I’m hoping I’ll have the time and energy to finish what I started in the garden this year. Your mom gets the full details, but so far we’ve planted: lilacs, pansies, raspberries, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, yellow squash, cucumbers, zucchini and parsley. I donate blood as often as I’m eligible, and platelets about once a month.

A. and I moved houses this year, which was a good choice. We took a vacation to Mexico, which was lovely. We have gotten to spend time with our friends, although not enough. We are quietly preparing ourselves for the possibility that this will be the last year it is easy to do the things we always wanted to do. That’s not for sure – God often has strange plans. But I want to enter this autumn with few regrets for my young life. (Well, other than that I didn’t do something wildly adventurous. If I knew which wildly adventurous thing it was that I was mourning not having done, though, I’d probably up and do it.)

A. and I are very, very happy together. He is my best friend, without a doubt. I love him far more now than I did when I married him. I can spend every hour for a week together with him, and not be tired of his company. But we can also spend a few days apart and not fall to pieces. He is the best husband I could possibly imagine.

And that, in a nutshell, is our life right now. It’s a good life. It’s probably not quite as interesting as I’d imagined my life would be, but I’m only 25. There’s a lot of living left to do.

Love,

Me

Today I am North Korean

Death is a funny thing.

You hear that 10,000 people die in an earthquake in Turkey. You think, oh, what a pity. It gets some news coverage for a week.

You hear that 8,000 Brazilians die every day from Malaria — often children. You think, gee, that’s too bad. It gets no news coverage.

You hear that 3,000 North Koreans die in a train wreck, and you think. That’s no good. (Along with thinking that their government should keep their infrastructure up to date.)

3,000 some odd Americans die in a terrorist attack on American soil. And three years later, we think about it every single day.

We feel differently about accidental deaths than we do intentional ones. We don’t seem to mind preventable deaths nearly as much as we should.

But I thought, yesterday on hearing the initial death toll (revised downwards, I believe), how much more we value AMERICAN life than we do any other sort. I’m not sure our lives are worth any more than the Brazilians or North Koreans. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re not.

So today, I am North Korean. My heart goes out to the people of North Korea whose friends and family members died due to a combination of back luck and negligence. I am Brazilian. I pray for all those mothers who watch their infants wither and die because they had no mosquito netting, or $10 pills to effect a cure. I am Turkish. I pray for all those whose sisters and husbands were crushed under buildings built quickly and not to code, in order to earn a quick profit.

Lent

Lent: The 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday until Easter observed by Christians as a season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter.

[Middle English lenten, lente, spring, Lent, from Old English lencten. See del-1 in Indo-European Roots.]

Lento: [It.] (Mus.) Slow; in slow time; slowly; — rarely written lente.

These two words have had a connection in my head for a long time. In my youth (ah dissolate youth!) I assumed they were linguistically related. Because, you see, they do go together.

Lent is a long, slow time of year. There are two periods of waiting in the Christian calendar. The first is Advent, in anticipation of Christmas. In Advent, there is music and sound and anticipation. We look forward to the birth of our savior, and to Christmas trees and presents and colors and lights. We have shopping and baking and cleaning to do, and cards to write to our loved ones. Christmas comes all too soon (or too long if under the age of 12), and every day of Advent is delightful.

Lent is the second. Advent lasts for 4 Sundays. Lent lasts for 40 days (not counting Sundays). In Lent, we anticipate the betrayal, beating, humiliation and death of our savior — the man whose babyhood we celebrated a few short months ago. We look forward to a quick change of fortunes, to a friendship sold for silver, and to an abandonment of our God in human form by those who loved him most. Where Advent goes by with the snap of a sap-pocket in a cheery pine fire, Lent is like gradual erosion of mountains of dirty snow.

The end of the Lenten story, though, is the one that makes both Christmas and Easter meaningful and worthwhile. After the humiliation, after death, after despair, after the end of hope, Jesus rose up from the dead. I really think that we forget how surprising — how shocking! a conclusion to the story that is. Imagine if JFK had come out of his final repose, cured of his gunshot wound, three days after that day on the grassy knoll? If Martin Luther King JR. had bestirred his cold body after three days in a coffin? If Lincoln, three days after the theater and the botched surgery, rose up to tell us that not only had he given us guidance during the days of his natural life, that now he was immortal and would be with us always. Jesus’ disciples probably hoped that he would be a political leader (see James and John, sons of Zebedee, sucking up to him the week before holy week hoping for what they probably thought would be material power), but his messiah-hood far surpassed just a political solution for Jews under the thumb of the Romans. It was a promise to all humanity that death itself is not final.

Lent anticipates this, but it focuses not on the triumphant celebration over death at Easter — it focuses on the nastiness of getting there. Being raised from the dead didn’t make dying on a cross any more a pleasant experience. Nor did it help as Jesus was paraded and mocked with his crown of thorns. These were very real and very painful experiences, for a man whom we believe to be God. And in Lent, we think about the love it took for him to do that for us.

The music of Lent is slow and mournful. Lento. Contemplative. The 40 days stretch long, cold, and seemingly hopeless across the span of late winter and early spring. They leave a dusty taste in the mouth, with a touch of New England despair that the flowers will never come, and the countryside will never again be green and verdant. But our dispair is misplaced. Spring does come, against all fears. And God does rise up from the dead, against all expectation.

Status Change

I am 25, and have been married (very happily) for four years.

Today, I changed statuses. Two (2) of my dearest friends asked me when we were going to have a baby.

There have been other signs. My brother didn’t check his email, and when informed by my parents that he needed to talk to his sister because she had *news*… he thought it was me. The kids in my Sunday School class keep bugging me to have kids. It’s unanimous. The rest of the world has decided we should procreate.

I guess I should be glad for the four year hiatus. But it’s kind of weird.

And Old Testament/New Testament difference

I have my youth group kids for two seperate types of meetings — I have them for Sunday School and for youth group. In Youth Group, we’re currently going over a passage in Matthew that talks about God recognizing us for what we do for others, not necessarily for what we believe or say. In Sunday School, we’re doing an Old Testament summary — mostly Moses lately.

It’s really a pretty striking difference. In the Old Testament, you have a God who hardens the heart of Pharoah, blasts the people of Egypt with 10 plagues, kills the firstborn sons, threatens to eliminate the people of Israel when they create idols, changes his mind when argued with and generally lacks in warm fuzzies. In the New Testament, we have a God who humbled himself, served those around him with kindness and compassion, only got angry like twice and then usually against the establishment, and finally sacrificed himself on a cross for our sakes.

But Christians believe that the OT God of fury and temper and violence, and the NT God of compassion and sacrifice… they are one and the same. There are some mitigating factors. For example, I pointed out to my kids that even in the Old Testament, God was far more merciful than would be expected, while still practicing justice. For example, he killed the first born sons of Egypt. Well, the Pharoah had previously killed ALL the sons of Israel. So he exacted justice, but justice tempered by mercy. God also kept his word to the people of Israel, even when they broke theirs to him as quickly as humanly possible.

One of the greatest differences I see between OT and NT, however, is the scale on which God deals with people. In the OT he is really dealing with nations on a national basis. While he deals with Moses, he is really judging and interacting with Israel on a national basis. Salvation or damnation doesn’t come according to what one person does, but how the nation as a whole acts in covenant with God. Likewise, in Egypt, God deals with the nation of Egypt harshly, not just with the Pharoah in particular. When Jonah goes to Ninevah, the communal acceptance of God’s message is what saves the entire city-state from destruction. God was not going to spare the ones who followed his word and punish those who didn’t — it was all or nothing. So you have a history of sort of spokesperson individuals (like Moses and Pharoah and Jonah), and nations (like Israel and Egypt and Ninevah). If you personally were too sinful, you would be thrown out of the nation, and not be a part of its covenant with God.

In the New Testament, Jesus seems to redefine God’s relationship to humanity on an individual basis. Jesus no longer says that salvation and favor will be given on a national basis — to the nation of Israel, for instance. He emphasises the need for personal action and also personal judgement. He doesn’t stand and exhort the nation of Israel to follow God’s will. He stands in a crowd of thousands and exhorts each of them to do what is right. He answers individuals questions about what they must do, themselves, to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

It doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it is. Can you imagine what would happen if God judged America on a corporate basis? (I think, by the way, that IS the way the real conservatives look at it, and why they are so eager to impose their morality on others.) I much prefer to be held accountable for my own actions, because then at least I have control. This difference between corporate relationship and individual relationship is a key, I think to understanding the change that happened when Jesus came. It’s also a key for understanding WHY it is that for some religious groups that see us as part of their nation — they are so very eager to make us comply with their morality.

But like Paul, I want to preach Christ crucified. I believe in a God who sacrificed himself in order to still practice justice, but not have to punish us. I believe in a God who judges us on how kindly we treat others — who holds us to the standard of doing unto other people as we want to be done to ourselves. I believe in a God who has an individual relationship with every person on the earth — a relationship that make take different shapes or forms depending on our individual relationship and background.

You know it’s cold when…

…they shut down an ice factory because the ice cracks when stored below -15F.
…New Englanders close down schools across the state because diesel fuel is coagulating in buses, causes pickups to be unreliable
…the ocean freezes
…authorities ask people to conserve energy the way they do during summer heat waves
…AAA reports a record number of people calling because their cars won’t start — beating the previous record set earlier this week by over a thousand
…meteorologists say this isn’t the coldest New England has ever gotten, and refer back to the last ice age for correlation

But you know it’s New England when
…everyone who has tickets will still be at this weekend’s Patriot’s game