01 January, 2011

The 7th Day of Christmas

A New Day Dawns

And a new year comes upon us, arbitrarily placed ...*here*...by the creators of the Gregorian Calendar. It came with a blazing sunrise and frigid temperatures.

The Anglican church year begins with the first Sunday in Advent, normally the first Sunday in December. The Hebrew Kalendar year begins variably in March or April of the Greogorian year.

Our Orthodox brethren go by the old Roman or Julian Kalendar, which predates the "modern" calendar instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 to amend and correct a cumulative error within the Julian structure. That error had pushed the Vernal Equinox back into early March. Since figuring the date of Easter was tied to the Vernal Equinox, the Roman Church leadership decided to institute the change by Papal decree.

New Year occurs on different days in different countries following Buddhism. New Year in "Theravadin" countries of Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos is celebrated three days from the first full moon day in April. In Mahayan countries, New Year celebrations start on the first full moon in January. These countries celebrate the day according to their ethnic background and culture. People of China, Korea and Vietnam celebrate it in the month of January or early February, while Tibetans usually celebrate a month later.

Delightful human creativity and cultural differences are found all across this wicked old world.

God must enjoy us all!

Now 'tis nap time on this frigid January day.

The 6th Day of Christmas

New Year's Eve

Its a traditional Southern meal, with a twist. Both of our local markets were out of black eyed peas. I used black beans instead. Soaked them overnight, put them in a dutch oven with hamhocks, a bit of salt and fresh ground pepper, a dash or two of Hatch mild red chile powder, and a coarse chopped onion. I added enough cold water to cover it all, brought it to a rolling boil and then reduced the heat to a low simmer.

Three hours later, I began the process of making bread.

I use a recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book. The book was first published in 1971. My copy dates back that far. It is dog eared, crusty and well loved. Some years ago, I finally had to add clear packing tape over the binding to hold it together.

The Tassajara Zen Mountain Center is located south by southeast of Monterrey, CA in the Pacific Coastal range on the edge of the Big Sur Wilderness. The hot springs on site have been in use since prehistoric times. In the late 1800's a hotel and spa were built there. In 1967, it was purchased by a group of Zen Buddhist's who transformed it into the first Buddhist monastery in the U.S.

Much like Christian monastic life, Zen Buddhism is based upon prayer and meditation and holy work, what can be described as prayer and meditation in action. The connection betwixt the two practices came together in the very profound life of Thomas Merton, a Roman Catholic monk.

Along with yeasted bread, I whipped up my Dad's recipe for Southern style buttermilk cornbread. Its not sweet. It is dense, crunchy and honest, a perfect foil for the beans and hamhocks.


6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 cup of yellow corn meal
1/2 cup of unbleached flour
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 tablespoon of baking powder (adjusted for high altitude)
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cup of buttermilk


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Melt the butter in a 12 inch cast iron skillet.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat the eggs in another bowl and blend in the buttermilk. add the liquid to the dry ingredients and beat until smooth, adding the melted butter.

Here is the secret to making the bread:
Keep the skillet hot with the remnants of the butter greasing the surface. Pour the batter into the hot pan and immediately slip the skillet into the the oven. The hot skillet sears a bottom and side crust almost immediately.

About thirty minutes later, a beautiful brown crust will appear on top. Test with a toothpick.

The Tassajara recipe calls for three separate rises to create a dense dough. It is honest, straight forward and very, very tasty!

While I was making the sponge for the dough, I whipped up some sourdough starter, something I haven't done in twenty years. It will sit, lightly covered at room temp for about 5 days. I will stir it every day. By day 5 it will develop its distinctive "sour" smell and taste as the yeast works and dies. What will remain is an active starter, ready to be made into pancakes or bread or muffins.

With the yeast bread and corn bread out of the oven, we sat down to a fine meal of black beans and hamhock, corn bread and GLORY brand canned southern mixed greens. It was delicious!

Here's wishing a Happy and Blessed New Year to one and all!

30 December, 2010

Song for a Bitter, Brutal Night

I used to think it funny, maybe a bit strange; how shared song and mirth, born of the Christ-Mass could drive away the Winter chill.

No longer.

It is His birth, His life, His crucifixion and resurrection all conjoined in our own lives that drives the cold death away.

Blessings dear and beloved ones. Epiphany and the Star and Wise Men wait on the horizon.

Canadian Clipper

A huge low pressure system is still centered off the coast of California, funneling moisture eastward on the prevailing winds aloft. North of us, one of Al Gore's least favorite duo's has set up a classic Front Range killer. First, the high pressure rages, pulling sub-zero arctic air south. It mixes with the Pacific moisture and slams the mountains. This one, beloved, this storm, is so big that it has drawn down enough cold air to pull that moisture onto the High Plains. It is massive, stretching from the Canadian border to the Mexican frontier.

That is a good thing. We have not had measurable snow fall worth a shit since last Spring! And yes, we did have good precip to create one of the best wheat and corn, sunflower and soybean harvest in the last 10 years.

That being said...right behind the low pressure rolls in a high pressure ridge.

THAT means cold....bitter and brutal. Arctic cold, killer cold.

Thank the good Lord for wool and silk and natural gas.....and well made structures, insulated.

.................I wonder where Al Gore is tonight?............

(AND, and do not....DO NOT start picking with me about the scientific differentiation between weather and climate! )

I am going to pull on my heavy wool vest, put on some Steel Eye Span.....unabashed, Scots/ Irish Celts.

Happy New Year to you, one and all.

The 5th Day of Christmas

The Sussex Carol

The musical dance form known as the Reel is a grand old British/Celtic tradition, born out of the Dark Ages after the Roman Empire had fallen and before the rise of the Renaissance and the Reformation. The Scots-Irish developed a myriad of variations based on the original "Reel of Three", wherein three (or multiples of three) dancers interweave with one another in a figure eight.

The music lends itself to the harmonic drone of the traditional pipes overlaid with a fiddle or recorder or single reed hornpipes laying down a melodic, repetitive pattern, reminiscent of the the weaver at work at the loom.

Many of our favorite Christmas Carols come directly out of the tradition of the Reel. Most have been subdued and toned down to match the solemnity of the post Renaissance grandeur of the Anglican Church liturgy. The Holly and the Ivy, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, The Sussex Carol and....one that I will share later: Angels from the Realms of Glory, as performed by Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band.

Since we have a massive and bitter cold Canadian storm blowing down upon us, perhaps a gathering of folks to dance some reels and share Christmas joys to keep the blood warm and pumping strong are in order!

Enjoy this 5th Day of Christmas!

29 December, 2010

The 4th Day of Christmas

The Chicken Coop Christmas

It was early summer, 1955. My brother John had been born nearly two months premature the previous February in the Copper Queen Hospital in Bisbee, AZ. After his birth, Dad applied for and accepted a job as a health inspector and engineer for the Denver Dept. of Health and Hospitals. We moved back from Bisbee to Denver. Dad had a Civil Engineering degree from Clemson College in Pickens,SC, and had served in both the Navy and the Army Air Corp during WWII. He knew how to fix most anything... and he loved being a Dad.

We were a family, struggling.

My grandmother offered to give us a berth for a while in her little WWII house. That lasted about two months. Simply spoken, not enough room and way too many memories for Mom and Grandmother.

Dad found a small converted chicken coop out west in the rural, turning quickly suburban unincorporated township of Wheat Ridge. Like many folks in the rural communities west of Denver, Al Munger, an elderly and taciturn German farmer had transformed one of his chicken coops into housing for the Remington Arms Munitions plant south in Lakewood. He rented it to us a pittance.

We were a family, and growing.

Autumn arrived, I fed horses, and fished for Sunfish and Bluegill in one of the irrigation ponds.
My buds from school and I wandered about the fields in the waning afternoons...chasing rabbits and the errant pheasant, talking of shooting our first animal, bringing home meat for the table.
Some had BB guns, some had shot a .22. The cottonwoods turned from yellow to brown to empty skeletons.

Winter cold rolled in early, brutal and windy. It was Advent. Mum and Grandmother walked the fence line, picked up shapely tumbleweeds and lots of milkweed seed pods. The tumbleweeds, dusted with a bit of spray flocking and ornaments, became prairie Christmas trees. The milkweed pods, painted and decked with paper and sparkling flecks, turned into Christmas geese and ducks.

Christmas drew closer. Frigid wind days and snow speckled, black nights haunted us. My little brother and I slept in a low shed roofed room to the north. There was no heat in the room. Piles of flannel and heavy quilts kept us from the cold. Each night, bricks, heated in the kitchen oven and wrapped in a towel, were stuffed at our feet to help us keep warm.

Mum put up a small evergreen tree with a couple strings of lights, tinsel and ornaments from her childhood. Dad worked a second job as a night cashier for the local liquor store. I came home sick one day. Chickenpox. My infant brother caught the virus. Poor lil' feller whimpered at the itch. Mum quickly knit him tiny mittens of soft cotton so he could not scratch open sores.

It was a good Christmas, baring all the hardships. Somehow we had presents and fresh fruit, turkey and dressing, sweet 'taters and green beans. Somehow, aunts and uncles and cousins called us to feast with them, sing with them, worship God with them.

Somehow.....somehow, we made it through.

Somehow, God and family and hard times forged bonds that are still strong today.

"Somehow" is the omnipotent, all encompassing love of God. He provides and cares for us. It is as true today as it was 55 years ago.

Bless you all, beloved ones. Happy 4th day of Christmas!

28 December, 2010

The 3rd Day of Christmas

The Celtic Tradition
& Symbolism

The intertwining of Celtic and Christian traditions runs deep in the Anglican Church. The solstice and the birth of our Lord Jesus is enrobed in the refrain of the old Carol "The Holy and the Ivy." With the rising of the first sun of Winter, the Jesus' birth is recalled, a new beginning for us all. The running of the deer, killing the first stag of the year recalls the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, to save us all. It is much like the old Jewish tradition of sacrificing an unblemished lamb at Passover. The intense imagery of a life given,again, to save us all in manifest in flesh. So it is with the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus, the Son of God made man and crucified to save mankind.

Both the Holy and the Ivy retain their green leaves through the winter, symbols of God's undying, and enduring love for his creation. The Holly with its pure white blossom, bitter bark, red berry and sharp thorn recall the whole life of Christ, his pure and virgin birth, the bitter wine of suffering, his blood shed to cleanse us and the pain of crucifixion, pierced by nails

The Anglican liturgical traditions are rich in symbolism. The Celtic flavor is a joyful fleshing out God's love for us.

Merry 3rd Day of Christmas!

27 December, 2010

The 2nd Day of Christmas

Leadville, CO—Christmas, 1958

At ten thousand plus feet in altitude, there was snow.....plenty of snow. Its the kind of snow the Colorado Tourism Board touts as "Champagne Powder," very light and dry. My Uncle was the parson at St. George’s Episcopal Church, a Carpenter Gothic, wooden Victorian structure with a hand pumped pipe organ. We spent Christmas with Uncle Bill, Aunt Barbara and their three boyz. The parsonage, located across a gravel and dirt street from the church was, at one point in its history, Leadville's synagogue. The ceiling in the attic, which had been turned into a dormitory for the boyz, was a deep cerulean blue with gold 6 sided stars and Hebrew biblical script painted on it.

I vividly recall the smell of coal burning stoves...Most folks still heated their homes with coal or wood. Propane was not yet available. Neither were fuel oil or natural gas. AND, my aunt and Mum cooked on all our meals on a huge ol’cast iron kitchen stove with chrome plated appointments and a large oven. The Christmas turkey, sweet breads and cookies seemed to appear from that oven in an endless stream.... THAT, beloved, is an art truly lost to this post-modern age.

How much snow was there?

We boyz did not build snowmen. Instead, our wild "BOY" imaginations led us to warfare and engineering! We burrowed in the back yard, creating tunnels and caves and two opposing snow forts where we staged the Battle of Falkirk (or some such historic event) with snowballs one brilliant blue skied day of that Christmas season.

‘Tis Holiday memories like that, the utter, innocent exhaustion at the end of the days play, the grand meals that prepared on that wonderful old stove, that make my heart swell... AND…The sobering, yet joyful sharing of the Christmas gospels as we exchanged gifts throughout the 12 days of Christmas leading to Epiphany, when we were finally allowed to pull the Three Wise Men out and have them come forth to give their gifts to the infant Jesus.

Yes, its deep, foundational traditions like these which have helped keep my faith from completely withering under the constant, bombastic assault from this wicked old world.

Leadville is a strong and strange community. It has been through three major "boom and bust" mining cycles. The gold and silver boom produced folks like Horace Tabor and his wife "Baby Doe"Tabor; John Brown and his equally famous wife Margaret "Unsinkable Molly"Brown. The 1890 market crash, followed by the devaluation of silver, almost turned Leadville into a ghost town.

In the '1920's and early 30's, secondary metal, like zinc, were mined to help feed the growing Steel Belt factories in the mid-west. The Great Depression came and, again, Leadville fell on hard times. World War Two and the need for stronger steel called.

Prospectors and engineers plied the rugged mountainsides. A rich deposit of molybdenum was discovered up the hill aways in a wide spot in the road known as Climax (11'360ft). Leadville once again boomed. The Climax mine ran until the late early 1970's when environmental and economic pressures closed it down.

Tourism has taken over as one mainstay income provider now. Winter sports, skiing and snowboarding require cheap housing for service workers. Leadville is close enough to some of the major resorts to provide inexpensive homes for some of those workers.

Through it all, the old town retains it's no-nonsense, bare knuckle bravado. The folks who live and work at 2 miles high are a tough breed...with big hearts. And St. George's Church still has a midnight mass on Christmas eve to welcome our Saviour, Jesus Christ into the world once more.

A Very Merry, 2nd Day of Christmas to one and all!

26 December, 2010

The 1st Day of Christmas

~St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr~

"Because of all you have endured for Christ our God, you have been given a royal crown, O First and Holy Martyr Stephen! You have put your persecutors to shame and have seen your Saviour enthroned at the right hand of the Father. Do not cease to intercede for the salvation of our souls.

The saint whose name leads all the rest who have sacrificed their lives for Jesus Christ is Stephen, the first martyr of Christendom because he would have been the last to deny him.

Stephen was one of the seven deacons of the original Church of Christ in Jerusalem, sharing his duties with six others - Philip, Prochoros, Nikanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas." --from Orthodox Saints, vol 4, by Fr George Poulos, Holy Cross Orthodox Press

The Bible records his death in the Book of Acts of the Apostles:

When they [Sanheidrin] heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. -- Acts 7: 54-60