Mar 27, 2008

Pics from last year's garden Wunchie

Helping dig the rhubarb bed, which was hard work!

Does this big shovel work any better?

Getting instruction from a friend (and his owner).

At home in the rows.

Sampling a fresh cuke from Three Springs Farm.

A butternut squash from our garden!

Wunchie-sized pumpkin

Mar 26, 2008

Thanks be to God -- Spring has sprung!

This afternoon, I planted 128 flower seeds in peat pots: nasturtiums, moonflowers, hyacinth beans, and Texas bluebonnets. I also have 89 cosmos seeds, 32 of which I’ll try to get potted tomorrow. I’ve always been both intimidated and impatient with seeds, preferring to get nice, big, established plants in pots that will look good in the ground that day. However, at $5-20 each, who can afford it? So, I’m trying my hand at starting seeds. (I have friends who are starting some vegetables from seed in pots – tomatoes, peppers – but I’ll save that for next year.)

Last week, we also planted our spring vegetable garden. We try and follow the square foot gardening method, where planting is based on units of square feet rather than rows. It’s a good method for backyard gardens, as it takes about 75% less space to grow the same amount of food as the row method. (So, if you would like to garden at your home but think you don’t have the room, try this out. It really does work.) We have 2 rectangular plots, about 3’X16’ each, and a 4’circular plot for rhubarb and a few strawberries. We planted one of the long plots with spring crops, leaving the other for summer planting in May. We planted seedlings of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, and kale, as well as 24 strawberry plants. We also planted carrots, radishes, beets, arugala, 3 kinds of lettuce, and snow peas from seed.

Miranda was a wonderful helper, bringing the plants and placing them on the soil, although she did tend to pull the plants out of the containers by their stems. I kept saying, “Honey, that hurts them. That’s like pulling you up by your hair! Be gentle with the little plants!” (She didn’t really look convinced.) She loved digging for worms, seeing them emerge from the newly turned soil, although she didn’t really like getting her hands dirty. All in all, it was a great thing to share together.

I’ve always said that autumn was my favorite season, and in some ways it is – I love the colors, the refreshing coolness after sweating through the summer, the smell of wood smoke in the air, apples and pumpkins and spiced cider. But I’m coming to realize that I find spring more invigorating. After the somewhat forced imprisonment of winter, those first warm days almost catapult me out of the house, weeding and digging and planting. I love watching the bulbs beginning their upward march, the beds of daylilies glowing that light, bright green of early spring, the little rose-red circles of the emerging peonies.
Nemo helps Mommy plant.

Our new strawberry bed.

Rhubarb and strawberries.

Mar 24, 2008

The Chronicles of Wunchie

Time for some catch-up posting on the Wunchie. As has happened before, her verbal skills took a major leap while I was in England (or maybe it's just being away that makes the change seem so abrupt!). Billy & I have recorded some wonderful little conversations and observations.


(Billy) Miranda, is Bambi finished?

(Miranda) Not quite yet.


(Maria) Hey there, big girl!

(Miranda) I'm not a big girl.

(Maria) Then what are you?

(Miranda) I'm a munchie!

(Maria) Ok, and what am I?

(Miranda) You're Momma Mia!


Billy and Miranda had just finished watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where Yosemite Sam is harrassing Bugs. Bugs rescues Sam from a shark, but won't pull him into the boat until they "make a deal." Sam says, "No deal!", but changes his mind after Bugs lowers him back into the water. With the stage thus set, and amidst cries of protest, Billy turns off the TV...

(Billy) Ok, wunchie, time for a bath.

(Miranda) No deal!!!


Miranda and Marie are out walking in our neighborhood...

(Miranda) Look, Marie, a bird's nest.

(Marie) Yes, Mirada, thats a bird's nest.

(Miranda) I want the nest, please?

(Marie) No, honey, the birds need that nest to stay there.

(Miranda) ... that's ok, my daddy will come get the nest for me, and take it home and put it in my room.

...What???? how many clauses does that sentence have??


And perhaps the best yet... on Easter morning, Billy greeted Miranda with the following...

(Billy) Happy Easter, Munchie! He is risen!

(Miranda) Daddy, are you risen? (...pause...) You're not risen.

Holy Week 2008: Footwashing

Ash Wednesday 2008 (with a flashback to 2006)

Mar 19, 2008

OTP (4), Day 12 -- And Grace Will Lead Me Home

Monday, the day I returned, was an unusually easy day of travel. And not just easy, but pleasant and good. It was full of those small moments of grace and kindness, where people help one another in ways large and small, where things just seem to go smoothly. Some of it could be written off as coincidence, but others can only be God's grace manifesting itself through us regular folks.

For starters, I had an easy trip to the airport in the early morn. When United Airlines emailed me, saying that I'd been changed from a 1pm flight to 9:25am, I quailed at the thought of walking to the tube at 5:45am, dragging my bags up and down the stairs, fighting with commuters at Kings Cross, and missing my flight due to horrendous lines at Heathrow. But somehow, things seemed to flow in serendipity. Rachel and I found a better way to get me across London, and she graciously took me to the Tube at 6am. After a hug and a picture of the pigeons eating leftover curry, I travelled to Paddington, caugh the express, and made it to Heathrow right on time. Somehow, each train magically appeared as I reached the platform, the crowds were minimal -- things just flowed smoothly.

At the airport, the lines were long but moved quickly. Everything felt relaxed. In the security line, I ran into the Turners' friend John and his buddies headed to Dubai for their theatre gig. On the plane, I said a grateful prayer at having an empty seat next to me, until an attendant asked if I would change with a woman and her 1 yr old. This was one of those moments -- wouldn't I have appreciated someone doing this for me? It felt good to help her in this way, and smile and say to her, "I know travelling with a baby isn't easy." (And the fact that my new seat was in Economy Plus, with and extra 4" of leg room? I'm not complaining.) The flight was easy, and I watched 3 good movies (Becoming Jane, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Why Did I Get Married?), and read, and dozed, and played with a fussy toddler by the bathrooms.

Passport Control went smoothly, as did baggage and customs. I wandered across the terminal, ate tortilla soup, and just felt good. As I crossed back through security, the TSA agent -- easily old enough to be my father -- complimented me on my blouse in such a genuine, understated manner that it made you feel just like a compliment should -- happy and grateful and in the mood to compliment someone else. And although our flight was delayed almost 2 hours, it didn't feel like a catatstrophe, which it wasn't. Just a small speedbump which is so easily absorbed into the calm of the day, if we can relax and let it. Best of all was the sight of my sweet hubby pulling up at the airport, kissing him hello and snuggling up to him as I fell asleep.

I'm not sure exactly why I've described this in such detail. I guess it just felt like the perfect ending to a good trip -- good friends, exciting academic progress, and now a final day of rest and calm. So often, travel (especially international) leaves everyone feeling crabby and selfish, only looking out for themselves. But today just felt different, somehow covered by God's grace. It may not happen often, but we give thanks when it does. And hopefully, we can be part of the chain of grace, a wave of blessing and shalom, even in the small things.

Mar 17, 2008

OTP (4), Day 12 -- Oh, so that's where the #&^%$* the outlets are in this airport...

This question is unexpectedly answered, 11 days too late.

OTP (4), Days 10-11 -- Cuttin' Class in London

What I should have done on Saturday was this. But what I wanted to do was this, followed by this -- and so I did.

Friday afternoon, after a very encouraging meeting with Robert, I caught the train down to London. It was a special treat to run into Margaret and Jamie at the train station, and give them a big hug and say "Can't wait 'til next time!" and all that. I dozed and read, and dozed some more, arriving into King's Cross around 8pm. I grabbed another yummy brie & cranberry sandwich and travelled on to the Turners' home in Hackney. I arrived in time to have a cup of tea with Andy and Millie, as Eve was in bed, and Rachel & Jess were out of town.

Saturday morning was a nice lie-in, sleeping until after 9am. I piddled around online, drank more tea, then headed into the city for the matinee of Spamalot, which I've wanted to see since last November. It was fun, in an over-the-top kind of way. (Not quite as fabulous as the original movie, but that's almost impossible.) It was fun to see how they wove bits from their other movies & skits into the show, things you wouldn't catch if you weren't familiar with their stuff. Afterwards, I walked through Covent Garden for a while on my way to dinner at Rules, billed as "the oldest restaurant in London" and very popular with the after-theatre crowd. (Those bits from the menu in my last post were from there.) It was a truly fabulous meal -- crab and lobster bisque, then steak diane with minted new potatoes, then finish with coffee and creme brulee with chocolate macaroons. Oh, wow. Thanks so much, Dad. After a walk in the rain from the subway, I went soundly to sleep.

Sunday was another quiet morning, tea and toast and the novel Atonement (which Billy & I saw at the movies and loved). After church, the Turners & I went to a local indoor pool, where Andy & the girls splashed, and Rachel and I went on a long walk along the canals in the Docklands area. We talked and talked and talked, about parenthood and marriage and the Olympics and everything. It was just wonderful. Afterwards, we returned home and made tea (dinner). Their weeklong visitor John brought a bottle of Shiraz, I got some wonderful chicken & lamb & salad from the kebab place on the corner, and Rachel made basmati rice and a beautiful tomato cream sauce. It was a feast, and very stone-soup in its concoction. We heard about John's travels to Dubai the next day, to lead a small production at DUCTAC, the Duabi Community Theatre & Arts Centre. After helping with the washing-up (again, used far too much dish soap! Maybe I need a tutorial?), I packed and took a bath and headed to bed.

Another nice weekend in Hackney. Already looking forward to the next one.

Mar 16, 2008

You don't see that everyday... at least I don't

You know you're in a "posh" restaurant when the menu says the following:

"Game courses are from our own estate in the High Pennines, and may contain lead shot."

"Please let us know if you have a car and driver waiting outside; we will gladly attend to them with beverages and a snack."

Mar 14, 2008

OTP (4), Days 5-9 -- Time in Durham (ie. There's my thesis, and then there's everything else)

This trip has been somewhat unusual and draining, for one reason -- it took me a long time to get acclimated to the time change. I couldn't sleep until late, late at night, then needed a nap later in the day. Why? I'm not sure. I'm suppose it wasn't surprising that I got a migraine on Thursday morning, which put me out of commission for part of the day. Fortunately I recovered quickly, and went on to have a great work session with Robert on Friday.

I really didn't feel adjusted until Friday afternoon, and of course that's when I left for London! Oh, well.

When people ask why I'm going to England, or what I do when I'm there, I usually say that I'm going to work with my advisor, to discuss what I'm working on at the moment. And that's true, but (fortunately) it's incomplete.

One of the things I like best about Durham is how many different things I get to do while I'm there. There are some perennials: studying and writing, going to the daily services at the Cathedral, Bimbi's and the Market Tavern, walking along the river and watching the ducks. And now a new perennial -- having dinner with Robert, Margaret, Iona, Jamie, and Maeve. And in between, there are always interesting additions.

  • Attending a postgraduate seminar on Jurgen Habermas and Cardinal Ratzinger's "The Dialectics of Secularlization: On Reason and Religion" (and having one of the professors bring a tray of coffee, thank you Chris Insole). There's something... deeply right about discussing the role of religion in the public square, then the brilliance of Calvin & Hobbes & The Far Side, one right after the other
  • Learning more about For City Sake!, a group of Durham locals who are protesting development along the riverside
  • Meeting Robert and Margaret's friend Sean -- it's always interesting meeting your friends' friends, you inevitably see a new side of them
  • Attending a lecture by Jean Porter on "Natural Rights and the Trajectory of Human Rights" (I'm fairly sure I didn't get that exactly right)
  • Walking through an old cemetary (circa 1820) where they are cultivating a natural greenspace for wildlife. I'm trying to think if anything sounds more peaceful than a field of moss-covered gravestones, where birds and wildlife can live quietly.
  • Remembering that you owe the bed & breakfast £10 from your visit last November, and having a good-natured laugh about this as you settle the account

Dinner with Robert, Margaret, Maeve & Iona was great. (Jamie was there, but went to bed early-ish.) I brought a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon for the adults, and "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein for Iona's 11th birthday. (Both were well-received and quickly ingested.) Margaret has been reading Shane's book, "The Irresistible Revolution", and we talked about the trials of living faithfully & courageously as the course of our lives changes through marriage, children, employment, and everything else. I find it very comforting that there are others who grapple with these issues, and who want to have the conversations about the journey.

One of the blessings of a trip like this is the deeply renewing nature of everything I get to do. I feel renewed by the time in the cathedral, where the presence of centuries of worship feels like a heavy blanket in winter; the sheer weight of it is comforting. I love the vista of the cathedral -- as I arrive on the train, as I jog along the river, as I leave the library at night. I love the lectures (even when I'm not sure I'm following them), extended conversations about meaningful topics. I love meeting other students, companions on that peculiar journey of doctoral work. I love going into the pub, having comfort food and pints of beer, feeling at home there. I love seeing the daffodils and forsythia blooming on the castle lawn. I love having a serious block of time to concentrate on my work, and the conversations which make that seem so much easier.

I'm so very blessed to be able to do this.

The ten finalists

"I think we're ready to upgrade you to PhD candidacy."

Seven of the sweetest words you'll ever hear

"Um, yes, this actually looks very good."

(said after reading some big revisions on my Plato paper)

Mar 13, 2008

Mar 12, 2008

Nicely Put

I've made a great new friend here in Durham. Last night, she and I had dinner with my advisor and his wife, and we talked about community, the kingdom, and living faithfully. At one point, she quipped, "Well, community is basically a necessity to keep you from disappearing up your own arse."


Mar 11, 2008

OTP (4) -- Images and updates from home

Billy sent an email this morning, describing the following conversation between Miranda and himself as they drove to get Miss Marie. Wow, what a munchie.

wunchie: Where's my dog?
daddy: I'm sorry honey, we had to find Charlie a new home.
wunchie: Charlie made mommy sick.
Daddy: yes, charlie's hair made mommy sick.
wunchie: I want my mommy.
daddy: mommy is at school honey, she will be home next week.
wunchie: mommy went on airplane.
daddy: yes, mommy went on the airplane.
wunchie: i go on airplane with mommy.

It was the most interactive conversation that I've ever had with her, simply astonishing. She is really making another big leap in her understanding of language. Otherwise, she's waited for your departure to begin climbing out of the crib and greeting me at least every other morning. This morning I heard a crisp, efficient, little "bump," and then the enthusiastic footsteps powering a small frame through the door and into our room, "Hi daddy...I miss you daddy!"

Here are some pics Billy sent yesterday, along with captions.

If I can't nap at home in my crib, I'll just have to make do behind a chair in Daddy's office.

"Snow! Snow!"

Hmmm... we're not sure about this.

Go away.

Go away!

I'm asleep!!!

Mar 9, 2008

OTP (4), Days 2-4 -- Languishing in Passport Control, Lazing at Nether Springs

Friday was such a long day. We landed in Heathrow 30 minutes ahead of schedule; unfortunately, about 4 others planes landed just ahead of us. So, when we arrived at Passport Control, there were approximately 598,387 people ahead of me. And it was stiflingly warm. I inched my way through the lines, fanning myself and reading The Last Picture Show. Eventually, I collected my luggage, caught the express to Paddington, and took the tube to King's Cross. At the station, I got some pounds, bought a sandwich, checked the internet and made some phone calls, and caught the 11am train to Berwick-Upon-Tweed. All in all, it took 4 1/2 hours from landing to leaving on the train. Whew.

My weekend at the Nether Springs house of the Northumbria community was restful and fun, in turns. I spent time with friends Pete and Catherine Askew (whom I just saw last month at the simple way family reunion), visiting an enormous secondhand bookstore called Barter Books, cooking dinner and drinking tea. I slept quite a bit, attended a few of prayer offices they hold each day, and got to know the staff and visitors. The daffodils, crocuses, and snowdrops were in bloom, and the wind was fresh and spoke of rain. We saw a brilliant rainbow which truly seemed to end just above Nether Springs .

On Sunday, the Askews drove me to Durham on little back roads -- full of sheep, ancient stone fences, small stone chapels, gorse and heather. We even had to stop and open a gate which crossed our one-lane road. We stopped along the way at Alnwick Castle (see above) where several scenes from Harry Potter were filmed (Quidditch, the Whomping Willow, and Hagrid's hut). To get there, Pete the Anglican vicar helped us sneak behind the rope barrier, saying he'd blame the 2 dumb Americans if we were discovered. We also gleefully acted like children as we jumped up & down on the swinging bridges at the world's largest treehouse at Alnwick Gardens.

After dropping my bags at my B&B on the River Wear, we meandered through Old Durham by the castle & cathedral.
We went to my favorite pub, the Market Tavern, for bangers & mash, beer, and "the best treacle sponge I've ever had," said Catherine. We then wandered back to the Shakespeare Inn, which is reputed to be haunted, for another beer and some great stories about life as a vicar (pastor). Finally, and with reluctance, I put them on the road and headed home to get some sleep. I have a long week ahead of me, but I think I'm off to a good start.

The daily highlights:

  • Well, we can always start with the food. Old Speckled Hen (it's a beer) sausage at Market Tavern, and a bite of Pete's "mash with mustard." You make mashed potatoes, then mix in some fancy seeded mustard. Oh, yum. Then a fabulous treacle sponge with custard -- that's spongecake with golden syrup soaked into the top, then covered in that yummy british custard, which is like semi-sweet, runny vanilla pudding. And of course, good beer!

  • Seeing all the thousands upon thousands of blooming bulbs along the side of the roads. It was delightful.

  • Meeting new friends at Nether Springs, and seeing new friends who are becoming old friends. Sleeping until noon one day. Laughing about this, which involved a friend of Pete and Catherine's.

  • That first glimpse of the cathedral as we approached Durham. It never fails to thrill me.
    1. Mar 6, 2008

      OTP (4), Day 1 -- Where the !*?@$% are the outlets in this airport???

      OTP (4), Day 1 -- Is is that time again?

      On my last post, several of you left a variation of this comment: "Are you headed back to England already???" And that's pretty much how I feel about it, too.

      How did time go so fast? It seems like I just got back from Durham a few weeks ago, and here I am, back at O'Hare Airport. The last few trips, I've been fortunate to find fares out of Lexington that are lower than Cincinnati, so the trip begins that much easier. Billy & the munchie took me to the airport at 9am, where I kissed the one and attempted to kiss the other (who was distracted by the impending pick-up of her favorite person, Marie). For once, flying into Chicago was uneventful, and I slept the whole way (to the nice lady sitting next to me, trying to chat -- sorry). I stopped at Chili's for a buffalo chicken sandwich, smiled proudly when the waitress admired my screensaver of Miranda, chatted with my sister Ellery, and headed to the international concourse. And here I am, sipping a latte and trying to find an outlet so I can charge my computer, waiting to board my flight to Heathrow at 6pm.

      Boring so far. More updates later. Meanwhile, I might do some catch-up posting on things I've been neglecting over the last few months.

      Mar 3, 2008

      It's Coming...

      ... the new season of Over The Pond: Maria's Adventures in the UK. For those who enjoyed seasons 1, 2, and 3, be sure to stay tuned as we get underway this Thursday, March 6th.