Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Birthday Cake

The cookout had ended. The chicken took nearly 2 hours to cook fully but it had cooked and it had been delicious. No one had gone hungry. People came a few at a time and left a few at a time, until 8pm when there were only seven of us left. We loaded up Fraleigh's car with the now dirty utensils and tinfoil pans and knives and uneaten tomatos and avacado and the abandoned bags of chips.

While packing up, I realized that no one had brought a dessert. More signficantly, there hadn't been a birthday cake. No candles. No singing. At no point throughout my birthday had someone sung to me. It may have been the first year that it had happened that way.

And I wanted cake.

Some of you may remember some of my past cake experiences, the Loneliness Cake from earlier in the spring as the chief example of what can happen when I get my mind set on cake baking. I get stubborn and desperate. In fact, many of my baking experiments came to be through stubbornness and desperation. Why cakes? I don't know. Maybe its the same reason I tend to paint my toe nails when I'm angry. It is a nameless urge.

Debate ensued. People wanted different things from the evening. But I was serious: I wanted cake. Specifically, carrot cake. I was pretty sure I had all of the ingredients. So back to Whim Cotty it was.

Cue Mass Chaos.

I've never been part of quite that level of scattered effort. People were pulling things out of cupboards and from the dishwasher and we were starting the cake at the same time we were cleaning dishes from the cookout. It turns out that, once again, I didn't have the right about of oil. Hannah left to get some from her apartment. Pans were dropped. Carrots grated. Flour was haphazardly measured into mixing bowls. Seth perched the computer on his head so we could read the recipe that I only had saved as an email to Barb.

And the, of course, the mixing and baking smelled just fine. It even tasted pretty good.

The aesthetics of cake-from-pan-removal still leaves a lot to be desired.

But a little bit of fire goes a long way to cover the sins of falling apart cakes.

The candles burned a little too long and wax got on portions of the icing. Something had to be done and much of the icing ended up on various noses and in hair.

A proper icing fight: an excellent way to end a birthday celebration!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shingletown After the Laurels Bloomed

Mooney picked me up in the same car we drove in two summers earlier to Shingletown Gap and climbed on the rock face. I wonder if it is about the same time of year as it was then. He wasn't sure how to get to Shingletown anymore. I showed him a shorter way I had found when I took the time to be lost for a while. I set my head out of the window and let the wind rush around. The roadside purple flowers were in bloom.

 We were about a week too late for the laurel and rhodedendrons. We kept looking for ones in bloom but only found one plant out of the hundreds we passed. No views or ridges or bouldering today. We stayed down by the Roaring Run. "The creek is running pretty nice the whole way" he comented several times. I wasn't sure what it meant for a creek to be "running nice". But it sang with energy as we moved slowly upstream, stopping to watch it when it came near us, in a small roar. As loud as its small body could manage.

But it was the green that captured us. It was so new. The light seemed young. It seemed happy and restored to itself. To hope.

 I was reading into this because I was quiet and sullen. Mooney asked me right away how my day was going. Rough. I had talked with a friend and it had been harder than I had imagined it would be. A conversation where you return things to each other like an overdue book exchange, handing back the borrowed pages.

I had slept more hours than my body really needed trying to resort things in my head. I needed to get out. Then Mooney, my older brother, texted. "Hike in Shingletown?"

The woods. The creek. The light. The green. It restored something. It was a perfect day. Everything looked like it shown in its own light.

We didn't say much as we walked. I was thinking. He didn't bother me. Just the ocasional, "What a beautiful day!"

Then I was attacked. He brandished his walking stick. "Find a weapon! On guard!" I grabbed a wet stick that he beat to the handle in a few blows, while I  I cried for mercy, giggling at my inevitable defeat. He fake stabbed me and the fight was over.

We found some landscape art. Someone had come by and arranged large rocks in a carefully balanced tower. It said, "I came by. Look, the earth is beautiful." We said aliens had come and changed the order of things.

I began climbing on things. Touching trees as I passed them. Letting my body weight fall with a thumb as I jumped from logs onto the waiting path. I tried to push Mooney into the stream. I started playing.

It was the light, the creek, the green, the woods.

And it was good.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012


Anyone who has followed me around for long enough knows that I am captivated by the idea of home. My fancy classroom words for this are place and presence and spaces and local community. Home has changed for me in the last four years. While I haven't written about those changes very frequently on this blog, many of you know some of the unhappy changes that took place inside my immediate family.

When "home" changed, I learned that my definition was based on experience only. When experience changed, the definition changed, and I didn't know to what.

I'd like to believe that "home" is an ideal that was revealed to humanity along with the moment consciousness was given. I'd like to believe that "home" was a real place and meant all sorts of idealistic things: comfort, acceptance, love, security, laughter, food, friendship, forgiveness, etc. They sound sappy when you line them up like that, stuffed with a warm, naive light like a Thanksgiving turkey with onions and bread crumbs.

In fact, I do believe it existed. Exists. Will exist.

My anxiety about the meaning of home, however, has subsided. I think the need to define and question quiets when it is answered by another experience. Whim Cotty was part of that. State College. Calvary Elements. Shingletown Gap. Room 133 in White Building.

These are places. Locales. Physically defined walls and windows.  They do not replace the physical location that no longer can be home. I still grieve the yellow and red maple trees in the front yard of 518 Trail Road. I still grieve when I think of the day that Jesse found cancer in one of them, the same day that I really understood that some things fall apart and won't be remade.

Home isn't the same.

While the places I listed don't replace what I no longer have, they do remind me that there are good places and that home is a gift not confined to my birth family and "hometown". There are spaces that do indeed become reminders of belonging and relationship and purpose that the house I grew up in can no longer give.

Home is not just a physical place but a spiritual one. It is more than physical space but a constant presence that walks within and without. There are many theological words for this. For now, I'll leave say that home is a relationship, a walking with God. And this God turns the most unusual places and our own tendency towards habit into ways of comforting and settling.

Last week, Anjali was walking across campus towards her lab. She was lost in thought and discovered that she had walked into White Building and was about to open the door to the 133 ballroom. Amazing. We're habitual creatures and when we don't watch our feet, they go back to the rooms we have spent the most time, the walls that we're used to holding our stories. I like this about human beings. I like that we circle around places that remind us of who we are. I know this isn't a good thing all the time, but originally... it was.

As part of this loosing and finding and loosing and finding, I think I've become better at making space for others to find a home somewhere alongside me. A friend told me this past week that he appreciates coming to Whim Cotty because we're always talking, making food, doing chores around our guests feet, doing work, watching movies, teaching roommates to dance. And it's like home. I was glad to hear this, to know that Whim Cotty has been a good place for more than just me.

And I want to be better at this. I want to carry "home" around with me like I sometimes carry around hummus and crackers, ready to share at a moment's notice.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Comes Dropping Slow / After the Students

"... for peace comes dropping slow."

I think of this line from Yeats as I walk around State College. Today is 24 hours after the last graduation and the population had settled down to a still trickle. The rain also kept some folks indoors. The hills have turned deep green.

There is a peace that settles in on the Valley in the first days after the semester is over. A relief. A sudden quiet nap. Breathing slow.

I took time and watched a duck watch a fountain. Watched the rain fall with the same interest one watches a camp fire. Let conversation pool and run like drops down a window, gathering and moving as it will, slowly and then quickly, and then slowly again.

Baking banana bread with a friend in her quiet kitchen, all the roommates gone. Peach and plum tea.

Seeing my sister go from a hesitant waltz to a winning newcomer waltz in a crash course lesson in Rm132.

Pizza and beer with Mel and planning all sorts of events that might never happen.

Marking up pages in "Wisdom and Wonder" by Kuyper in green pen.

The days are good like this. Work and focus and quiet and steady rain.

Saturday, May 05, 2012


I am thinking about return. Re-turn. Turn again. Go back. Leave and come back. To have left and returned. Out and back. There and back again. A hobbit's tale.

I. Books

I forgot about the dvds. Two of them. "An Education" and "Mrs. Hotschkisses ballroom and charm school". Yeah. About that.

At least it was watched with friends.

They hid with the other dvds that I do own. I forgot until Schlow Library sent me a notice. Overdue. A steep fine.

I've been avoiding the library since.

II. Jess

It was the last Essence of Joy concert of the season. The alumni were back and joined the regular choir in singing some classic Essence favorites. Afterwards, I ran into several alum. I found Kyle Garcia who in his usual delightful self effusively hugged and kissed me and we offerred joyful anecdotes on our lives the past semester. And then I saw Jess. I saw her first across the room as I talked to her boyfriend and we made eye contact and waved. When I finally made my way over to her, she hugged me and said how strange it was to be back. We talked a little of what fills our days. She said how she walked by her old apartment. How things are still the same.

"It's just strange coming back. I don't know how else to describe it."

III. Websters

Websters finally opened. Almost two years of waiting. And it returned.

I was tired and hungry and it was Monday and bright. But I dragged myself out of bed in time to go visit the new location on my way to tutoring. Golden Eros Chai. A Sceric (sp?) blend. Seth was there and we settled at a large table near the small windows that let in the daylight from the street. We exchanged the books we had on us: Rilke and French book in German. Someone at another table struck up a conversation about how good it was that Websters had reopened along with some snide remarks about feminism. Seth smiled his quiet smile, the one where you have no idea what he's actually thinking, but could be interpreted as agreement. I shifted the mug in my hand and noted that engraved on the side was a phoenix coming out of a book. Ah yes. Websters was back.

IV. Shingletown Gap

The trails around Shingletown are more and more familiar to me these days. I took the path across the footbridge to the right of the trail head and tried to piece together a recognizable path along a muddy creek bank. The trail blazes kept leading up the hill, so I followed them. The trail changed several times and went through an open area where there wasn't much underbrush or even trees. It felt familiar. So when I found my way to the top of a smaller ridge, I simply assumed that I recognized pieces from previous walks.

And then I went around a bend in the twisting trail and came into a flat open space. With a large fire ring. And a log beside it for sitting. And a strung up lean-to out of branches. It may have been four years at this point, but I knew where I was. This was the spot we had come in my first hike here, the one where I was the only girl and was unhappily stuck in the back seat of a small car and Greg Ford got us lost on the trail going up and we climbed down the rocky part in the dark. The time when they went out of their way to make me feel awkward and Mooney wasn't a good friend yet and Ben... well. We all remember what Ben did when we got back to the car. It was the night that I think of when someone asks for funny stories from college. I can't help but laugh when I imagine each of those people in their various jobs today: in Alaska counting fish for the government; a campus minister and neighbor; an engineer in DC; a masters student in Turkey; the still to graduate friend across campus.

I watched the empty space for a while. Further down the trail, I sat down and prayed for the guys who had been with me that night. In the oft repeated words around me, "Good times. Good times."

Workshop Quotes: Lydia Petrogova

"You see when I let you go without directions, it falls all over the place. Restrictions give freedom for you to perform your best. Everyone thinks freedom is being able to do what you like but that is not freedom. You cannot be your best without restrictions. Restrictions are freedom."