Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rice Pudding

“Alfred,” said Mother, “I have discovered a wonderful recipe for Rice Pudding,” putting a bowl of rice pudding down in front of Alfred.

“Oh?” said Alfred.

“The old recipe I had took eight hours in my Euro-Pro Ninja Multi Cooker” said Mother. “This new recipe is quite as good, and only takes a minute or two in the microwave.”

Alfred looked up from his New York Times Crossword and asked, “What’s a eight letter word for improbable? It has to start with a “U”…“Oh, I know, “Unlikely,” said Alfred, picking up his Crown Princess Pattern silver dessert spoon.

“I have also discovered a new word,” said Mother. “‘Snarky’, as in “Don’t be snarky, Alfred.”

“Snarky,” asked Alfred, “Is that a word?”

            “It means ‘crotchety’ Alfred,” said Mother. “We have to be open to trying new things.”

            “Well, there you have me,” said Alfred. “You are quite right.” He paused, took a spoonful of the rice pudding, and added, “Hmmm!”

            “I take it, that ‘Hmmm’ means you like it?” asked Mother.

            “What is it, Mother,” asked Alfred, putting the second spoonful in his mouth and savouring it.”

            Mother retreated to the kitchen and returned with a tin of Ambrosia Creamy Rice Pudding. “Our Scottish housekeeper Agnes Findlay swears by it. I think that she picked it up at the British Emporium in Grapevine.”

            “Quite good, Mother, quite good,” said Alfred scraping out the last of the rice pudding from his bowl.” 

            “As we get older Alfred,” said Mother, “I don’t want us to get stuck in our ways. Nothing could be worse than degenerating into two stuffy old people who won’t try new things.”

            “You mean ‘Grumpa’ and ‘Grumpma,’” said Alfred.

            “Exactly,” said Mother, “Grumpy, rocking on our rocking chairs and vegetating in the sun. By the way Alfred, I decided to accept Father Goodfellow’s invitation to host Abbot Wigbert next week. That ought to be interesting; I’ve never met a monk before.”

            “Wigbert,” that’s an odd name,” said Alfred.

            “That’s what I thought,” answered Mother, so I asked Father Goodfellow about it. He said it means something like Fighter, Warrior and Bright.”

            “Bright Warrior?” said Alfred. “If he lives up to his name he ought to be a spark to have around. Hosting an Abbot is like having something old and something new at the same time. Centuries old in tradition, but new to us.”

            “You and I, Alfred,” said Mother, “have always enjoyed having an adventure, and this ought to be an adventure. After all, if I understand Father Goodfellow correctly, Christian life is an adventure, a journey to new places we’ve never been before.”

            “It’s kind of like Ambrosia Creamy Rice Pudding,” said Alfred. “God values the old things, yet He is always doing new things.”

 “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them” [Isaiah 42:9].

Friday, March 21, 2014

Horse Latitudes

            “Alfred,” said Mother, “I am in the dumps, in the doldrums, and I just can’t shake off this feeling of lethargy.”

            “Horse Latitudes,” Mother, “Horse Latitudes,” said Alfred. “I was feeling much the same thing.”

            “What are Horse Latitudes, Alfred,” asked Mother?

             “The old tales,” said Alfred, “tell us that when sailing ships got in the subtropical zone where winds were weak and sails would hang limp, the ships would just sit becalmed waiting for a breeze. As water and food began to be depleted they would throw their horses and cattle overboard to save on supplies.”

            “Oh, Alfred,” said Mother, “say it isn’t so.”

            “Well,” said Alfred, “In any event the word ‘doldrums’ is another nautical term for getting stuck in the subtropical zone.  I remember a poem by Coleridge that describes it pretty well:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.”[i]

            “That,” said Mother, emphatically, “is exactly how I feel, stuck! What can we do, Alfred, what can we do?”

            “In a way Mother, it’s the Mid-Lent Blues, and it’s a long way to Easter.” said Alfred, “I’m in a bit a funk myself, and I surely wish I hadn’t given up smoking for Lent. It’s dashed hard.  I’ve been thinking about it, and I have an idea. I learned a long time ago in business that if I wanted to succeed I had to just keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter how I felt. It is sort of like Cricket, “Don’t worry about the ball hitting the wicket, just keep running between the wickets if you want to rack up a score.”

            “We need to do something, Alfred,” said Mother. How do you get out of the doldrums?”

            “First,” said Alfred, “I remind myself not to poke around at my feelings to take my temperature.  If I did that in business I wouldn’t get anywhere. Then in business I pay special attention to keeping a regular discipline about the things I needed to do. So I thought that if I did the same thing spiritually it would turn out just fine.”

            “Alfred,” said Mother, “Don’t beat around the bush. Get to it! What did you do?”

            “Well, Mother,” said Alfred it was actually very simple. I decided to do Morning Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer. When things got busy last month I slacked off, but I have a suggestion. Why don’t we do Morning Prayer together at the breakfast table every morning?”

            “Really, Alfred?” said Mother, “But I like to do the Sudoku in the paper every morning.”

            “That’s perfectly alright Mother,” said Alfred. “I like to do the Crossword. How about having a second cup of coffee, doing the crossword and Sudoku, and then doing Morning Prayer?”

            “Alfred,” said Mother, “that sounds just fine.  Let’s try it?”

“Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward” [Isaiah 50:4-5]. 

[i]Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Samuel 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Mother and Alfred's Lenten Discipline

“Mother,” said Alfred triumphantly, “I know what I have decided to give up for Lent! I have decided to give us spinach!”

“Alfred,” said Mother, “You don’t even like spinach!”

“Yes, I know Mother, but giving up spinach is a whole lot easier than giving up smoking, which is I what I really want to do.”

“Alfred, I noticed,” said Mother, you haven’t been smoking since Ash Wednesday. It looks like you’ve already given it up for Lent!”

“I know, Mother, I know,” said Alfred, “it’s just that if I admit it out loud, then I’m afraid I will really have to stick to it. I might be biting off more than I can chew. The very idea of giving up things for Lent is something we never did when I was growing up.”

“That is why, Alfred,” said Mother, “I always eat meat during Lent.  My family was Roman Catholic and every Lent we were condemned to eat fish. We weren’t all that devout.  It was sort of a Talliaferro family joke, ‘Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes, so get some rest and eat fish on Friday; ‘cause the priest says so.’”

            “What stirred up all this, Alfred,” asked Mother?

            “It was the Ash Wednesday service, Mother,” said Alfred, “That line about ‘prayer, fasting, and self-denial’ just stuck in my mind. I really felt I ought to do something.”

            “You know, you are right Alfred,” said Mother. “I hadn’t really thought about it. I suppose that just because my family treated it like some nonsense imposed by the priest, doesn’t mean that it’s not a right thing to do.”

            Mother wandered off into the kitchen while Alfred sat in his study looking at his marvelous collection of pipes; his Ashton Bent Billiard Briar, and his Old Church Bent Billiard, his marvelous hand carved Meerschaum, the Damiano Rovera Briar, and his other fine pipes.  He idly picked up his Rodgers Rosewood Chancet pipe knife and toyed with it for a minute; put it back down on his pipe stand along with the Lalique Jamaique ashtray, and with a sigh picked up the stand with all of his pipes and put it on a shelf in the antique oak credenza in the corner and closed the cabinet door.

“Well, that’s that,” said Alfred, “Hopefully out of sight, out of mind!”

            A few minutes later, Mother came back into the room looking a little somber and said, “I know what I have to give up for Lent.  It doesn’t do to pray about things like this.” Then she said declaratively, “I believe that I am supposed to give up complaining.”

            “That ought to be a challenge, Mother,” said Alfred.

            “Watch it, Alfred,” barked Mother. “On the edge! On the edge!”

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” [Hebrews 12:11].