First of all, let me offer my condolences to you all in the South who either have been whacked by the winter weather, or you know it’s coming…for our part, my first victory came this morning when my car started by remote start after sitting outside all night. It’s -23 still temperature, but it’s a toasty warm 70 degrees inside. Guess where I am staying today?
And while I am inside, I will continue to celebrate the lineup of four days of completely different celebrations! Yesterday, of course, was Valentine’s Day, and Wednesday begins the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. In between are President’s Day (today) and Mardi Gras (more on that tomorrow). Even though Cheri had to work today, like always, in my season of retirement, today is just another holiday to be enjoyed. The only trouble with a holiday on Monday, is that Adam is also “off work,” meaning he doesn’t have to log in to his work computer from his basement bedroom. That also means he is sleeping in late – far later than the 6:30 wake up he does most weekdays. That also means that our cats’ treat schedule is all messed up, because usually by 7:30 each morning, Adam is up and has climbed the stairs from the basement, and does his duty of giving each of the cats a little taste of cream cheese from his fingers. Now, I don’t know if you have ever gone to a zoo just before feeding time, and you see the majestic lions and tigers pacing back and forth in their caged area, impatiently waiting for the zookeeper to bring them their supper – it’s just on a far smaller scale, but we have the impatient four-leggers whose tiny alarm clocks went off a while ago, and they will not go back to sleep until Adam brings them their catch of the day…
But that’s up to Adam and the cats. I am NOT going to get caught up in that house drama, or I know that whenever in the morning I might go anywhere near the refrigerator, I will be set upon by the starving (did I mention there are three bowls of food filled all day long?) creatures of the wild, hunting for the elusive cream cheese. Not going to play in that playground, for sure.
No, today, as the sun comes up on another February day in paradise, I offer a word of thanks for both Abraham and George, since, unlike when I was in elementary school, we now celebrate their birthdays when neither of them has a birthday, so instead, banks, post offices and the government gets a convenient three-day weekend. So much for changing history. But I remember stove pipe hats and funny beards on February 12, and white wigs on February 22, as we honored these two fellows and the role they played in our history. Now I know and hear all around the efforts that are being made to somehow de-idolize these presidents, and many others in between, for all sorts of reasons that were part of their lives and cultures and time in history. I take a different, more accommodating view of our nation’s past leaders. You know, if they are dead, which most of them are, there is little – actually nothing they can do to redeem themselves in the eyes of those who for whatever reason want to condemn and eliminate them from our history. So, if I had a hat, I’d tip it, and if I were the kind of person to raise a glass, I would raise it, and celebrate our presidents today, on Presidents Day.
But I have more to do than that. You see, I lived a year in New Orleans, during my internship in seminary. I worked at a church, and taught English to students out of the projects who were the first ones in their families to attend college. It was an unusual time, and not the least bit of it was that I was there for the thousands of celebrations that New Orleans is built on as a city. Especially – and I’ll talk more about that tomorrow – I was there for Carnival and Mardi Gras. I was also there for Epiphany, which as a season of the Church, was another excuse for New Orleanians to party. Starting on January 6th, all across the region, get-togethers start occurring known as “King Cake” parties. Basically, it’s an excuse to continue doing what folks in that area do so well – party and eat and drink. The centerpiece, however, since Epiphany begins with the coming of the kings to offer gifts to the child-king Jesus, is a special cake made in specific ways to then of course get cut up and eaten.
It’s a rich cake – more like a heavy thick donut or coffee cake and French pastry. It’s made in the round with an open center, like a big donut, and then is covered with super rich cream frosting, and because that’s not enough, it is then sprinkled with three colors of sugar – purple, yellow and green – the three official colors of New Orleans. Then, to top it off, a tiny toy baby, usually made out of plastic, but in older cakes was a fancy porcelain doll, is pushed up somewhere on the bottom side of the cake, where it sits until the cake is carved, and the baby is discovered. The significance of that is that the person who gets the baby gets to/has to throw the next King Cake party at their place, where the whole process is repeated. This goes on until Ash Wednesday, so this year, it was a fairly short season with only 40 days to have parties before Lent. Still, it’s a fun event.
Well, it’s fun if you are living in New Orleans, so you can go buy a Randazzo or Gambino or Haydel or other brand of king cake from your local bakery or grocery store. However, up here in the Northland, that tradition just has no foothold. It’s a fool’s errand to try to find one, and if you want to be clever and just order one from New Orleans, it’s possible, but you will spend $20-30 on the cake, and THEN another $30-40 to have it shipped to you. Quite the deal. I found another path. In the handy King Arthur Flour catalog, which every home should have sitting their coffee table, you can actually buy a two-cake king cake kit for the mere price of $39.95, babies included. In a wild moment, I thought of all the fun our family could have with our very own king cake party, and so I dropped the $40 for TWO cakes, which meant we got a special deal of free shipping. That’ll show those New Orleans rip-off artists…
Here’s the trouble. I got all excited about the “king cake” part of it, and not so much thinking about the “kit” part. When it came, I expected to see a bag of cake mix, another bag of ready-to-squirt frosting and some sugars – and a baby. Instead, there indeed was a bag of flour, and a packet of yeast (what?) and a bag of dry ingredients to make a vanilla glaze, and a bag of nuts and brown sugar stuff to put over the glaze, and then three small packets of sugars. I then read on the side of the box, “Baby not included.”
So, apparently, this is going to require a bit more than mix-up-dump-in-pan-bake-frost-and-sprinkle. When you have yeast to be somehow incorporated, that’s a whole deal-changer. And no baby? I guess I could drive down to Hobby Lobby, and put the dumb facemask on, and find a plastic baby somewhere, but the whole concept of “kit” to me meant everything is there – all you have to do is dump it, ice it and eat it. I’ll have to think of how ambitious I am to take this on… you know, Cheri is really the one who loves to bake stuff, and bake bread and monkey with yeast and everything… I’ll bet she would love to do the cake next weekend, even if it meant eating it in Lent and not Epiphany. After all, we don’t even have a baby…
Plans and dreams are what make up a large part of an abundant life. What we hope to happen, what we want to happen, and what we plan to happen all lead us to strive after the “what might be.” Of course, the inherent danger of that is that what might be could also become “what might NOT be.” However, so long as we are able to adapt to the immediate changes, while still endorsing the long-range dreams of our lives, we can keep the two different levels of decisions apart: the short-term, like what I want for dinner, or whether to make a king cake, can change and go away and become quite other things. However, the long-term, in which I hope and dream to always be a person of integrity, and kindness and love and justice, should never be set aside, even if there are changes blowing in the wind. These are in part things that I hope to be known for, but they are also those things that I must be, if I am to be the person I know. That’s the core of intention – that’s who we are.
Quote for the day: “Anything that can go wrong, will.” Edward Murphy. Ok, a couple of things about this quote, for your information: first, at least I was never aware that there was an actual “Murphy.” Edward Murphy was a World War II veteran who then became a research and development officer for the Air Force, specifically working on developing the rocket sled. Now, you could expect, in working with those types of experiments, that you indeed might give yourself over to fate, and to the possibility of negative versus positive future results. We have all perhaps used that quote, when we have experienced a mistake, and said something like, “Well, if something can go wrong – it figures…”
Except that’s not what he said, and he has been quoted wrong for decades. What he actually said is much funnier, and probably truer: “If there is more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in a disaster, then somebody will do it that way.” It’s less an statement about fate and bad luck as it is an assessment of decision-making by many individuals!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.