Where did the Gloria Go?

In the traditional Catholic calendar, today was Septuagesima, or “Seventieth.”  This is a misnomer, because it is certainly NOT the 70th day before Easter.  The 1912 Catholic Encyclopedia, as reprinted at New Advent suggests that it may just be named this as part of a series (since Lent is Quadragesima, or Forty), or that it’s possible that this is the earliest that Lent began for some early Christians (who would have excepted Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday from counting for the fast).  It comes down to this being one of those tradition-inertia things that we have held onto.

In any case, what it does mean is that we’re in pre-Lent.  It is a reminder that we should begin preparing ourselves for the great fast that is coming.  We have three Sundays to plan out our Lenten observances, and really figure out how to get ourselves ready for Easter through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  As a sign of this, the liturgy (at least in the Extraordinary Form of the Catholic Mass) changes.  We lose the Gloria at mass.  We also lose the Alleluia, which is replaced by a tract (essentially, an extended psalm without antiphon responses) in mass.  Traditionally, the Alleluia is “buried” the Saturday before Septuagesima (no, really, a paper or banner with the word is buried, to be brought out again at Easter).  The priest wears purple.  In many ways, it starts to look like Lent, even if we aren’t quite into the full-blown Lenten season yet.

Still, Lent is coming, and the liturgical changes serve as that wake up call to get us thinking about it.


On the Cusp of Language Development Breakthrough

Thumbkin, a rambunctious toddler, is very close to a breakthrough on his linguistic development.  Last week, he started making “g” sounds, followed by “l” sounds.  Over and over and over.  Yep, he was basically making the syllables for “giggle,” but it was coming out in toddler babble.  I was changing his diaper while he went on a chain of gg-l-gg-l-gg-l, and asked him if he was saying “giggle.”  In reply, he complied with a cheerful giggle, and went back at it.

Thumbkin manages to communicate and express himself quite well, which I think is a survival mechanism with four older siblings.  He HAS to be able to get a word (or babble) in edgewise just so we know he’s there.  Still, once he really starts talking, it’s going to be hard to get even a moment’s worth of peace around here, giggling aside.

Mittens: Winter Biking Necessity

Growing up, I hated wearing mittens.  Something about the way the hand-me-down things fit (or really, didn’t fit) make me uneager to don them, no matter how cold it was.  I also dislike the loss of dexterity that comes with having your fingers unable to manipulate things independently.

Fast forward to, oh, a couple of years ago, and I discover that mittens, do, in fact have their place.  It just turns out that, in my case, they’re really ideal for bicycle commuting in the winter.  Given my arthritis, which leads to really cold hands very quickly (not out-and-out Raynaud’s syndrome, but colder than usual), winter biking can be highly problematic.  My solution has been to wear a pair of mittens over a pair of gloves, which works pretty well.

I started out with a relatively light pair of mittens, marketed for bicycling.  They have the advantage of being water resistant, and not too bulky, so you can actually still do things with them on.  The disadvantage is that they really do need at least one pair of gloves underneath, and often a glove liner under that.  Some days, I had to wear an old pair of socks over the gloves as an additional “mitten liner” to keep some warmth.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up an inexpensive pair of ski mittens.  They’re far bulkier than what I had been wearing, but also much warmer.  I don’t really need the gloves unless its under 25 F or so, and even then just a light pair seems to work–I haven’t had to go with double gloves just yet, and I’ve already tested them with temperatures in the teens.

I know what I really need are bar mitts, which mount on your handlebar and create a weatherproof pouch for your hands, but I’m reluctant to spend the money on them, and I haven’t had a chance to source the neoprene to make my own.  In the interim, at least, the ski mittens are working, so I’ll stick with it.

At least I got over my childhood dislike of mittens.  It’s really a case of finding the right tool for the job.

Fudge, Finally

Based on multiple attempts, I’ve determined that I am not a confectioner.  I’ve tried to make different candies and such, but things more often than not go sideways.  This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but it is an interesting limitation to know and try to overcome.  The opportunity presented itself in the run up to New Year’s Day, when we were getting ready to have people over for hoppin john, cornbread, and a house blessing.

I was looking for some sort of dessert/sweet to make to have on hand for some friends of ours who have to be gluten free.  I also had on hand several bars of semisweet and unsweetened baking chocolate that needed to be used.  Sure enough, in the book CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher, was a recipe for fudge.  Several, actually, to include traditional, marshmallow, and microwave varieties.  I opted to try the microwave recipe because of the low time investment–about 5-10 minutes max, all told, of active work.  What makes this work is the sweetened condensed milk, which has all the sugar already in it, and much of the water already taken out of the milk:

1-14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

7 oz milk chocolate chips [I had 60%, which is in the semisweet category]

11 oz semisweet chocolate (bar or chips) [this is where I used some semisweet and some unsweetened]

1 tsp vanilla

[I omitted the nuts, but she gives directions to roast one cup of pecans or walnuts in the oven, then, once done, stir in a tablespoon of butter and a sprinkle of salt.]

Line an 8×8 pan with buttered foil.  Combine condensed milk and chocolate in a large glass bowl or 4-cup measuring cup and melt in the microwave at 50% for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.  As soon as the chocolate is melted, stir in the vanilla (and nuts, if using), and pour into the prepared pan.  Refrigerate to cool and set.  Once set, remove from pan, peel off foil, and cut into squares.

Since I used mainly semisweet, and not milk chocolate, this set up really firm.  Not too hard, but definitely on the firm end of the fudge spectrum, especially when it was kept in the fridge.  I was worried that it would be grainy because I overstirred it, trying to make sure the chocolate was all melted (and to keep the sugar crystals small, which is what gives fudge its texture) and it started to look curdled.  I didn’t need to worry–the sugar in the condensed milk is already entangled with the milk proteins, so can’t form large crystals.  The curdledness disappeared when I poured it into the pan, and didn’t affect the final texture.   It went over well with all the guests, so I would say it was a success.

Finally, I’ve managed to conquer fudge.  Not that it’s something to make every week (or month, even), but it is nice to have a quick and easy sweet treat recipe on hand.

New Year, Updated OS

With some unanticipated free time around the new year, I finally updated the operating system on my computer.  I’ve run Linux Mint since I built the desktop (about six years ago, now), and really like it–it isn’t too far away from Windows (sorry, no experience wiht the current Apple system, so I can’t compare), and doesn’t require use of Terminal, but you can certainly do things the quick way with text commands if you like.  I started out with Mint 14, and updated to 17 after that came out.  I finally got around to updating to 19.1, which is a definite improvement.

Probably the most notable update (at least for me) is with the repository (that is, the programs that are easily installable from within the system itself).  Lots and lots of new stuff is in there (and I’m still stumbling across more).  One notable inclusion is Skype.  Previously, you had to download the tarball and install it that way, then Microsoft dropped support for earlier versions of Mint (or something happened–I couldn’t get it to work, but since it isn’t entirely essential, I didn’t bother with tracing the problem).  Now, with it in the repository, it’s just a click to install.  There are also more social media applications, if that’s your way of interacting with the world.

Additionally, someone reverse engineered the software needed to make my Canon printer/scanner work in Mint.  Last time, I had to hunt for the drivers in a form Linux could use (from Canon’s Asian site) and do some work in Terminal to try and get it to work.  Now, a developer put together the back end to allow the printer to work in Linux without needing to do a lot of manual work.  I just installed that program, and the computer found it, both for printing and scanning.  A definite win.

In addition to updating the system, I went from the Cinnamon edition to MATE.  The main difference, as far as I can tell, is that Cinnamon has a slightly more polished graphics feel to it, while MATE is a bit more familar to long-time Linux users.  On the upside, since it has less going on graphics wise, it appears to be slightly more stable.  MATE is certainly appears more bare-bones, but that’s not necessarily a problem.  Sorry, not being a deep Linux geek, I can’t give much more than those impressions–I do understand that the file manager and menu programs are different, but functionality seems to be identical.

Finally, I made the leap and put in a home partition, which should make future upgrades (or switching back to Cinnamon) easier.  In essence, what this does is puts my home folder (where all your personal and working files go) in a parition on the hard drive, rather than as a folder within the OS.  When I go to update the system again (or install a different edition of Mint, or a different flavor of Linux), I should be able to keep the home partion and tell the system to use that as the home folder, rather than creating a new, empty one.  The mistake I made this time around was I tried to create the home partition before updating the system, and seem to have misnamed it (or named it properly, when the system wanted to create a folder of that same name).  When I installed the new system, it wouldn’t launch because it was confused by the existence of possibly two home folders on the parition.  After all, what would a system update be without a little drama and at least one re-install.  After re-installing, allowing the system to create the folder on the partion, and copying all my files into it, things ran (and continue to run) smoothly.

I’m still playing around with it, and making minor tweaks, but overall, I like the update, and am pleased with how easy it was (slight misstep with the home folder aside).  Really, it only took a couple of hours, and most of that was hands-off while files were being copied.  Well worth the investment.

Happy Epiphany

Note the song comes more from tradition than scripture.  As Yakum put it, “Wait, so the Bible says that there were magi, plural, but names three gifts.  So we know that there was more than one king, but exactly three gifts.”  Still, tradition gives us names for three of the (possibly many) magi, which influenced the carol.

Enjoy, and happy Epiphany.

Honor Among Felines

A few weeks ago, Lavash caught a mouse.  We had heard it off and on for a few weeks, scurrying around, but never actually succeeded in finding it.  I still don’t know where it came in, but given the amount of rain we’ve been having, I’m not actually surprised that it came inside in spite of the two cats.

In any case, I came inside and heard what sounded like one of the cats eating.  I assumed that one (or both) had stolen a slice of bread, or maybe a broccoli floret, or something similar.  The odd thing was that Benson was sitting a little bit away from Lavash.  It looked almost like he was standing guard, but also like he was waiting.  Benson is not known for being a patient cat–he will hop up on the counter when I’m putting food in the cat dishes, or when we’re chopping kale, or really any time he thinks he needs to eat (which is almost always).

When I got closer, I realized what had happened.  Lavash must have hunted the mouse, and caught it, while Benson was taking his extended midday nap.  Since she was the one who did the work, Benson was waiting to see if he would get a chance at the remains.  While he is not a patient cat, he isn’t stupid enough to try and take on Lavash when she’s in huntress mode.

Lavash very graciously let me trade the now-dead mouse for a cat treat, which she happily ate.  Benson got one, too, for being such a patient, honorable cat.

Advent: A Time of Wonder

In the fourth week of Advent, the immensity and wonder of the coming celebration really hits home.  We’re just past the winter solstice, and the day slowly, slowly starts to get longer.  In many places, plants are in full-on winter mode, giving the skyline a stark beauty against the crystal-cold skies.  In some places, snow glitters on the ground.  At least this year, the full cold moon is sharpening nighttime details, doing its best to compensate for the relative lack of sunlight.

Against this backdrop, when the world seems to be holding its breath and waiting for the new beginning of springtime, God fulfilled His promise to the Israelites to send the Redeemer, the One who could pay the ultimate price for our sins and bring us back to eternal life.  In this quiet, wonderous time, we remember that Jesus was born, and, wonder of wonders, took on our humanity to save us.  In this quiet, wonderous time, we look forward to that next awe-filled day, when angels herald not His birth, but His appearance in glory as the perfectly just Judge of all.

It is time to get ready to greet our Lord, with expectation, preparation, joy, and wonder.  He will be here soon.



Advent: A Time of Joy

[Not to go all Thomistic, but the following seemed like at least an amusing way to discuss the joy of Advent.  Many apologies to St. Thomas Aquinas.]

Article:  Whether Advent is a time of joy, as well as a time of preparation.

Objection 1:  It would seem that Advent, being a time of preparation, should not be a time of joy.  The joy comes with Christ (either at Christmas, when we celebrate His birth, or at His second coming), so to rejoice while preparing is inappropriate.

Objection 2:  Advent, to the extent that it is a preparation for the second coming, ought to be a time of penitence.  Joy is misplaced during penitential seasons, which is why the liturgy omits the Gloria.

On the contrary, it is written (Philippians 4: 4), “Rejoice in the Lord always:  again, I say rejoice.”  Since the Apostle gives us the order to always rejoice, joy is appropriate at all times, including during preparations and penitential times.

I answer that preparation can be joyful because the anticipation of the event fills us with joy, although not the same quality or degree as that experienced at the event.

Reply to Objection 1:   Just as Elizabeth (and John the Baptist) rejoiced prior to Christ’s birth because they knew that the Messiah was at hand, we know that Jesus will come again, and we should be filled with joy at the thought, even while we keep our lamps trimmed and ready.

Reply to Objection 2:  Our penitance should be filled with joy because we want to meet Jesus with hearts as pure as we can make them.  Rather than a duty we undertake with dour mein, penance and preparation, as difficult as it may be, should fill us with joy because of what comes once we are fully prepared:  life eternal with God.