Who Left the Chants on Repeat?

Since Easter is a moveable feast, and Christmas is not, something sort of strange happens at the end of the Liturgical Year.  Differently strange in the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms, but strange nonetheless.

In the Ordinary Form (that is, the mass most are familiar with, in the vernacular), the last Sunday before Advent is the Feast of Christ the King.  The Sunday before is always the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, even if it actually isn’t.  The Ordinary Form has readings for 33 Sundays, but, if, for example, Easter falls late, you’re going to have to miss a few somewhere in there.  To make it work out, the Ordinary Form Calendar starts with the 2nd Sunday on the Sunday after Epiphany (because most places transfer Epiphany to Sunday, and Epiphany trumps a regular Sunday in the hierarchy of liturgical celebrations), and goes forward until Lent (which can move).  Then, to figure out when to pick back up, the calendar counts backwards from the 33rd Sunday, and stops when it hits Pentecost.  This means the “missing” readings come from the 3-4-5th or so Sunday of Ordinary Time.

In the Extraordinary Form, the chanted propers (that is, the Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communion) stay the same from the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost until the First Sunday fo Advent.  However, there are  always more than 23 Sundays after Pentecost (I think at least 25), so the propers get put on repeat.  The readings are a different story:  they get borrowed from the Sundays after Epiphany.  Corpus Christi Watershed has a great post from 2015 explaining this.

The upshot is that the Schola Cantorum (that is, those doing the chanting) have the opportunity to get really good at these propers.  That’s not to say that you can stop paying attention, but you do get multiple chances to perfect De profundis.  This year, we get four Sundays with the same propers, so four chances to really nail it.

Now you know why it sounds like your Schola Cantorum is stuck on repeat.


Gingerbread Birthday Angels

The twins spend a lot of time with the track/cross-country team at the kids’ school.  They aren’t old enough to participate, but, since we help out with practices, they wind up being sort of honorary members of the team.  This year, since their birthday was on the last day of practice before the final cross-country meet of the season, they decided they wanted to share cookies with their best buddies on the team.  Specifically, they wanted gingerbread angels.

I wound up baking two batches, because we determined one wouldn’t be enough for the entire team, plus younger siblings who had been invited to the final practice, plus any adults who were there volunteering to help out.  After I counted out the five dozen for practice, there were just enough to spell out “Happy Birthday”, plus their initials.  This turned into the dessert to share with one of their godfamilies (the other family couldn’t make it).

I modified the King Arthur Flour gingerbread cookie recipe by amping up the spices.  The original recipe calls for 2 tsp each of cinnamon and ginger, and 1/4 tsp cloves.  Because we like a spicy gingerbread, I doubled the ginger and cinnamon (4 tsp each), and put in 2 tsp cloves.  I also added about 1 tsp finely ground black pepper.  I also used whole wheat flour, and added some additional to try and get a stiffer dough.  Really, this dough does need to chill so that you can roll it–the added flour didn’t actually do anything for the first batch.  However, once it is chilled, it rolls really easily.

Because the twins wanted the angels decorated, and because I was a little worried the cookies would be too assertive for a more general population, I went with the Serious Eats royal icing recipe for the halos and wings.  This recipe is easy to make, and really does pipe smoothly.  It doesn’t taste too bad, either.

The final verdict?  A smashing success.  The twins were very happy to share the cookies with their friends, and delighted when we pulled out the Happy Birthday batch after dinner.  The cross-country team loved the cookies, even if they were on the spicy side.  So, happy kids all around, and I have a good gingerbread cookie recipe all set for the upcoming Christmas baking season.

Food with “Tails”

Likely because both cats were strays, they have some…interesting dietary habits.  One of the more unusual things they do is to hunt any food that looks like it has a tail, treating it the way they would a rodent of some sort.

You might not think this is a very long list, but some of the things the cats have hunted and devoured include:

Cherries:  The stem looks like a long tail, apparently.  Lavash at one point was fond of stealing a cherry from the bowl on the counter, and dunking it in her water dish.  We think she was trying to drown what appeared to her to be a round rodent with a long tail.

Kale and spinach:  Again, the stem must look like a stiff tail attached to a flat, wide body.  Both cats will gleefully steal leaves of either kale or spinach and chow down.  The problem is Benson often gets kale stuck in his throat, so it usually comes back up and lands in an inconvenient place, found only when I step on it.

Peppers:  Bell peppers, jalapeno, dried chilis, all of them.  I can sort of see how a jalapeno looks like a mouse with a short, curly tail.  Lavash tried to hunt a spicy pepper once, and almost got her mouth around it before she realized that it would be a bad idea.  Benson, on the other hand, has actually sunk his teeth into a dried chili pepper.  I don’t think he has been entirely deterred from future attempts.

Even though it’s a pain to have to keep an eye on the cats when working with these foods that seem to resemble rodents, at least it means the felines are keeping their skills sharp in case a real rodent ever makes its way inside.

Borrowed Spoons Come Due

My particular manifestation of autoimmune isn’t all that fierce.  I’m fortunate that my psoriatic arthritis isn’t too widespread, doesn’t flare all that often, and hasn’t (at least yet) caused any lasting joint damage.  I tolerate my methotrexate dose generally well (except for when I forget to take it with food…ugh).  That’s not to say that I forget I have it, but that I don’t need to be as diligent with energy conservation as many do with other, more severe forms of autoimmune disease.

Still, at the start of this month, I ran out of spoons*.  Due to a confluence of events, including rounds of illnesses for the kids and an uptick in work tempo, I burned through my reserve, and had to borrow from the future.  The debt came due on Monday.  I could sort of tell it was coming on Saturday, but ignored it.  Sunday I felt pretty OK for most of the day, but by afternoon, a headache and fever had set in.

Monday morning I woke up and felt about 50%.  By midmorning, I was glad I had stayed home so I could nap (and so were the cats).  Early afternoon I went for a strep test (which came back negative), and was considering whether a trip to urgent care would be worth it.  I woke up Tuesday feeling well enough to make it to work (just because there was an urgent tasker that I would have to handle, whether via e-mail from home or more efficiently in-person), and made it through.

What it seems happened was after I ran through my reserves, an ear infection set in.  Also, my psoriasis tends to flare when the weather changes, and we had certainly gone from late summer to fall, so the autoimmune was already in overdrive.  Rather than letting my body deal with the ear infection, I was getting the aches, pains, and itchiness of a flare PLUS the fever, cough, and headache of the ear infection.

It’s taken me about a full week to recover, which is not a bad rate, nor a bad price to pay for borrowing too much from the future.  Still, it’s also a timely reminder that it pays to be at least a little careful with the spoons I have.

* Read the original at the link, but the term “spoon” to refer to units of energy used by those with autoimmune disease in daily tasks comes from Christine Miserandino and her article, “The Spoon Theory.”  To explain to a friend what it was like to live with Lupus, Miserandino gathered up all the spoons at a table in the restaurant they were at, and took one away each time a seemingly simple task would demand excessive effort from someone with autoimmune.

A Minor Commuting Annoyance

Commuters in the DC area are probably painfully aware that Arlington Memorial Bridge is about to undergo major rehabilitation, which will last the next 2-3 years.  Maybe four, given government projects.  The new traffic pattern starts tomorrow.  The bridge goes from six lanes and two sidewalks to three lanes and one sidewalk.  To make things even more fun, one of those lanes will be reversible to allow more traffic into DC in the morning and more out in the afternoon.  Large signs over the lanes will tell you which ones are open for your direction.  FYI, they’re starting work on the south side, so the north side sidewalk will be open.  The new bicycle commuter path will require crossing GW Parkway and Memorial Circle an extra two or three times, it seems.  At least they moved the cross walk closer to the bridge.

It looks like they planned it out the best they could, and, while it will be a major pain, the bridge definitely needs the work done.  I didn’t realize that they had stopped running one of my favorite commuter bus routes because the bridge could no longer take the weight.  That caused great confusion on my part, and a much later arrival than I had anticipated the time I tried to take it.

What the NPS press release DOESN’T tell you is that concurrently, they are working on the DC-side approach to the bike path over the 14th Street bridge.  A project summary buried on the site (which I cannot find right now) claims that they need to make the slope more gradual, so it’s easier to approach on bike.  They’re also planning a better dedicated bike lane/approach around the Jefferson to deconflict between bicyclists and tourists.  Apparently they have bicycle commuters’ best interests at heart.  Luckily, this is only going to last through December.  The 14th Street Bridge is not a complete shut down, but you do have to carry your bike down a set of stairs, or use the very narrow ramp beside the stairs to wheel it down.  Actually, there was supposed to be a complete shut down last week, before this fun on the Memorial Bridge, but the work only took a day.  The problem here is that there is next to no information about the project (see above about the buried project summary).

So, given the option between crossing the GW Parkway additional times and hauling my bike up and down stairs, I’m opting for the upper body workout — especially for the first week or two while the drivers sort out their new flow.


Fall Fitness Season

The days are getting shorter, but that means the temperature moderates some overnight so it isn’t as oppressively warm and humid as summer.  The light has a golden cast to it, and the periodic breeze carries the dusty scent of dried leaves and grass going to seed.  It’s fall in Northern Virginia, and that means two things:  1), some of the best weather of the year and 2), more people out running and biking to train for races or just to enjoy the weather.

There are a number of really big road races around here over the month:  The Army 10-Miler happened today, and the Marine Corps Marathon takes place at the end of the month.  There are some more localized ones (especially of the Turkey Trot variety), and the schools have their cross country (and, in some cases, fall track and field) meets.  As soon as the temperature turned from hot and oppressive to merely warm and not-sticky (or, this year, from torrential rain to occasional sprinkles), there was a noticeable uptick in bike path users, both on foot and on wheel, but most noticeable were the runners during the afternoon commute.  Most of them have an intense, intent look on their face as if to say “I’m going to get through this, and I’ll LIKE it!”, while others look like they are second-guessing their decision to run multiple miles through the city with several thousand of their closest friends.

The issue is when they are wearing headphones and cannot hear bikers or other joggers coming up behind them.  More power to them for being in the zone, but that doesn’t exactly excuse zoning out.  It also means that the regular coterie of commuters needs to be especially attentive to the road and the influx of people, many of whom seem unused to sharing the thoroughfare (at least, they look surprised that someone would pass them on a bicycle geared out for commuting, and not racing).  I have been impressed, however, at the number of people who thank me for giving an audible, verbal warning when I pass.  Either they’re being ultra polite, or I’m one of the few who actually does so.

Fortunately, this season will pass as soon as the first flakes start to fly, or at least when the morning temperatures dip below 50 and all the races have been run.

The Geese are Seeking Higher Ground

While we haven’t been hurricane-flooded wet like the Carolinas (spare a prayer for them), it’s been wet this year.  If I’m reading this graphic from NOAA’s Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center right, we’re already about 16 inches over our annual rainfall, and we still have three more months to go:

The numbers get all bunched up there in the middle around DC because of the cluster of airports (Dulles, National, and BWI), I suspect.

In practical terms, this has meant a few very wet rides.  One morning, the Four Mile Run connector path to the Mount Vernon Trail was under enough water that I decided to detour and take an entirely different path, along with four other bicyclists who came to that spot at the same time I did.  My hunch is that we’ve had enough rain this year that part of the embankment has washed away, creating a couple of more low spots where the water can flood the path.  At least, this is the first year where I remember seeing three washout spots, as opposed to just one.

The path along Gravelly Point has also gotten wet at least once, if not twice.  There’s a nice debris field from the Potomac flooding that comes really close to the path, but since the path is a good 25 feet away from the river, at the top of a gentle slope, it didn’t quite wash out a significant portion of the trail.

The geese who live at Gravelly Point, on the other hand, actually seem somewhat unhappy with this turn of events.  Last week, they were in the middle of the soccer field at Gravelly point, when usually they hang out on the other side of the path, closer to the river.  While yes, they’re waterfowl, I think they resent their nice dry land close to the river being turned into marsh.  They get no relief on the DC side of the river, either, unless they cross a road to get to some sports fields (which they do, by the way, and obstruct traffic).  There are, however, some ducks who seem quite at home in the newly-marshy areas.

The rains continue.  Personally, I’m pretty happy with the most recent round, which has been falling gently for most of today.  I just planted some grass seed in my front clover/violet patch to try and cover in some bare areas, and this rain is perfect to get the grass going.

Benson’s Saturday Evening Spot

Cats like routine.  Lavash and Benson are our secondary alarm clocks–they know breakfast is at 0600, so start to get worried and make noise at about 0530 if we aren’t up and moving by then.  Lavash gets annoyed when we come in the back door when we get home from mass, since that messes with her plan to flop down on the carpet by the front door for belly rubs.  Curiously, this only happens on Sunday, so I suspect belly rubs are part of her after post-post breakfast nap routine.

Benson likes Saturdays since I almost always make pizza.  Not only does he try to steal a slice, or select toppings (like kale), he gets to hang out on top of the cabinet above the refrigerator.


I assume the view must be pretty good from up there, especially as a look-out spot for dropped pizza toppings of interest.

Checkerboard Birthday Cake

Ikinji recently turned nine, and we had a board games-themed party for him and a few of his friends.  Fortunately for us, only a couple of his friends were able to come– I think the noise level gets exponentially louder with each additional guest, especially after they’ve had a nerf gun battle at the park nearby.

In any case, keeping with the theme, I made a checkerboard cake.  There are surprisingly few tutorials online for how to do a rectangle checkerboard.  There are plenty for circular cakes, since it won’t matter which side you cut into–each wedge of cake will have the pattern, which is usually made by cutting concentric circles out of your cakes and fitting them back together in an alternating pattern.  For the rectangular cake, I cut strips of cake, approximately 1″x1″x9″ (the width of the cake) and stacked them alternating yellow-chocolate-yellow.  I used seven minute icing to stick the pieces together (and stick they did!) and german buttercream to frost the outside.


Checkerboard around the outside hints at what’s inside.  The top, by the way, had a chess piece piped on in chocolate.

As an added wrinkle, my wife suggested that each slice have a 9×9 grid, so that you could play tic-tac-toe with white and dark chocolate Reeses Peanutbutter Cups.  This required marking the outside with where the pattern repeat occurred.  I used a thicker line of icing for the outside checkerboard to indicate where to cut.  While it isn’t an exact match to the inside, this actually worked out pretty well.


Checks on the outside, checks on the inside. This is after most of the cake has been cut and eaten, hence the messy cake board.


What surprised me most was how quickly this came together once I had figured out how it would come together.  I had to bake two 9×13 vanilla cakes to get enough of the white, and one 9×13 chocolate.  If I had it to do over again, I would have cut .75″ rectangles to allow for loss during cutting, and to have a slight margin of error.  As it was, I had to use a leftover frozen chocolate cake for the last strip.  Still, the cutting and assembly went very quickly.  Also, since the frosting on the outside wasn’t too elaborate, that came together rapidly as well (which was a good thing, since I was frosting it the morning of the party.

The final product elicited the desired effect:  the boys were impressed, especially Ikinji, who didn’t know what we had planned.  The kids’ parents were pretty impressed, too, but the “Wow, neat!” I got from the kids was well worth the effort.


Feline/Toddler Interactions

Life with cats and kids is always amusing…never a dull moment around here.  It’s even more exciting when they start interacting.


Benson perusing Thumbkin’s favorite book.

Thumbkin is 16 months old, and very active.  He absolutely loves the cats, and I can sometimes distract him from an impending tantrum by suggesting we see where the cats are.  He usually snaps out of it, says his equivalent of “cat” (context definitely helps since other than “Mama!”  all his words sound nearly the same) and makes a vigorous petting motion with his hand.  Of course, when we find a cat, Thumbkin wants to pet the feline.  Usually, they put up with his affection with remarkable feline stoicism.

Benson is more often the recipient of toddler petting, since he’s usually more accessible.  Lavash is a little quicker to convey a feline “nope!” then Benson, so Thumbkin has learned to be a bit more cautious with her.  Still, this morning she was the target of his affection for a good several minutes, and she just took it in stride.  I even caught her purring.  Thumbkin was ecstatic about this, and, to show how happy he was with the interaction, took a break to lay down on the floor mirroring the cat’s body language.  It was incredibly cute.

Even though it wasn’t a toddler interaction, the cats got some additional attention and play time this afternoon.  Ikinji recently had a birthday, and, as a gift, received a Da Vinci catapult kit.  Think balsa wood pre-cut parts put together with dowels (and a little glue) to make a working catapult.  The instructions suggested using it to fling cat toys, which, once it was completed, he did.  Benson was snoozing on the couch and not terribly interested.  Lavash, on the other hand, played along for a couple of tosses, much to Ikinji’s delight.

Still, I suppose the cats feel they owe it to the kids to put up with slightly-too-rough petting from time to time given the number of times a week they score a snack when one or more of the kids, especially the toddler, accidentally drop food at mealtimes.