Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Truffles Redefined

When I started this blog, my first post (May 7, 2006) stated that the word "truffles" in the title above refers to my journey down the road to becoming a vegetarian. From time to time since then I've expressed some thoughts on that subject. Yesterday as I considered what Christmas dinner would have been if there were no turkey, I realized that I will probably never be a vegetarian. To assume that label would show disrespect for the many people who have succeeded in changing their eating habits. Maybe I'm too old, or to reluctant to cook, or too reliant on food for emotional support. Time to be honest about this: whatever the reasons, my vegetarian resolve is not sufficient to keep me away from meat and poultry. Despite my efforts, I still eat way too much meat and poultry to consider myself a vegetarian by anybody's definition.

Taking a more practical stance for the upcoming year, then, here's what I've decided.
  • I will increase my support for organizations like Food Animals Concerns Trust (FACT) that work to make the farming industry more humane.
  • When consuming animal products, I will try to find those that are humanely produced.
  • I will continue my efforts to reduce my intake of meat and poultry.
In light of all that, I'm redefining and broadening the word "truffles" in the blog title. For 2007, the "truffles" theme will refer to my efforts to eat a healthy diet and to exercise, which is a far greater concern for me at the moment.

This reflective post must be a sign that Christmas is over and New Year's Eve is right around the corner.

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Lessons and Carols at MMF (2006)

Upon returning home from Portland, I plunged into helping our pastor organize the annual MMF Lessons and Carols service. Although Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship is a very small congregation (average attendance 35 or so), this service involved a cast of thousands. Ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration, I'll admit it. But it felt that way because nearly every regular attender was involved in some way. A singing ensemble of about 12 people performed 3 songs. Two children played violin pieces; two other children played a flute and piano duet. The entire congregation sang hymns and carols, and a gospel choir from a sister church in the Bronx presented special offertory music. A marvelous pianist who attends our church played a lovely prelude and postlude and accompanied the hymns and special music. Various people read the seven scripture lessons, the last of which was the Christmas story. During this reading, children and adults alike formed a Christmas tableau which contained shepherds and a small poodle playing the part of a lamb, angels, wise men, and of course Mary, Joseph and a real baby playing the part of Jesus.

I've included the order of service especially for a couple of friends who used to attend our church until they moved away from Manhattan.


Congregational song: "Hark! The glad sound!"
Welcome and Introduction of the Day

Candle Lighting
"Gavotte" by P. Martin (played by 12 year old violin soloist)

Lesson One: Zephaniah 3:14-20
God’s people sing and rejoice in the promised deliverance.
The First Carol: "We will walk with God" sung by the MMF Ensemble

Lesson Two: Isaiah 12:2-6
Sing praises unto the Lord.
The Second Carol: "Gaudete" by Viktor Hug performed by the MMF Ensemble and instrumentalists (two flutes and violin)

Lesson Three: Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always, and think on things that praise God.
The Third Carol: "Love came down at Christmas" (congregation)

Lesson Four: Luke 3:7-18
John the Baptist preaches and prophesies of the mighty One who will come.
The Fourth Carol: "Lo, how a rose e’er blooming" sung by the MMF Ensemble

Lesson Five: Micah 5:2-4
The one who shall be ruler of Israel will be born in Bethlehem.
The Fifth Carol: "O, come, all ye faithful" (congregation)

Lesson Six: Luke 1:26-33
The angel Gabriel announces that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary, and she will conceive and bear a son, Jesus.
The Sixth Carol: "The angel Gabriel" (congregation)

Lesson Seven: Luke 2:4-14 and Matthew 2:1-2, 11
The Christmas story is read while the Christmas tableau is formed.
"O come, little children" traditional folk song (played by 8 year old violin soloist)
The Seventh Carol: #193 "Silent night, holy night" played by 12 year old flutist and 9 year old pianist (congregation singing along)

Pastoral prayer followed by The Lord’s Prayer

Prayer of Thanksgiving & Offering
Offertory music by Friendship Community Church Gospel Choir

Closing song: "There is more love somewhere" (congregation)

This service, which is not a very traditional Lessons and Carols format, was quite an organizational feat involving many people getting into the right place at the right time as well as moving a few props. Baby Jesus was fussy before the pageant began but miraculously she settled down when she was handed over to Mary. (Yes, in this pageant Jesus was a female, being the only baby available for the part.)

When so many from our youthful Manhattan congregation return to their parents’ homes in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia and other places around the country, the lessons and carols service has become the time when we draw together as a congregation. We are small and we have our share of problems, but at Christmas we appreciate each other and unite to celebrate not only our faith but our community. I was gratified to have been able to organize a service where everyone could experience a solid spirit of community.

Afterwards we went over to Menno House, the boarding house owned and operated by the church, for a bountiful meal contributed by members of the church. We ate and socialized and rejoiced in the warmth of the Christmas season. In this post, I hope I've shared a little Christmas joy with all of you.

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More Portland Weirdness

Ok –here’s something Manhattan doesn’t have: volcanoes. Portland has extinct volcanoes within the city limits! Thinking I should check out at least one of them while I’m here, I went to Mt. Tabor Park last Saturday. Before my visit, I looked it up online. I learned that Mt. Tabor is part of the Boring Lava Field, an extinct Plio-Pleistocene volcanic zone containing at least 32 cinder cone and small shield volcanoes lying within a radius of 13 miles. The zone became active 2.7 million years ago and has been extinct for about 300,000 years.

Mt. Tabor is a cinder cone volcano, which means its cone-like shape was formed when bits of congealed lava were ejected from a single vent. As the gas-charged lava was blown violently into the air, it broke into small fragments that solidified, forming cinders which fell back down around the vent to create a circular or oval cone. Although the park originated in 1909, the volcanic significance of Mt. Tabor was discovered in 1912. Sometime after that, a small section of the cone was excavated and now you can see its inside wall. Cool!

I didn’t have a camera with me, so I’m going to use this United States Geoogical Survey graphic to help you visualize the excavated cinder cone wall and its present surroundings. Picture yourself standing in the crater typically found at the top of cinder cone volcanoes. The parking lot was probably built on a portion of the crater. Facing left, you follow a sidewalk which descends from the parking lot down to a basketball court and a small amphitheater constructed at the base of the excavated cinder cone wall. Viewed from down here, the wall looks like a steep drop-off with an irregular surface. Although you can’t really get close enough to touch it, loose bits of cinders lie next to the sidewalk giving you lots of opportunities to feel the volcanic cinder. Interestingly enough, cinder from the excavation was used to pave the basketball court and the parking lot. After a look around, you walk back up to the parking lot. Facing right you see a high mound which constitutes the majority of the park. It’s covered with grass, trees, and shrubs through which trails and a single-lane road meander to the top. If you didn’t know Mt. Tabor was an altered volcano, you would think you were looking at two mountain peaks with a parking lot built in the saddle that separates them. Since the park does not have plaques or signs to explain the topography, that was exactly what I thought. Only when I combed the internet later did I realize that the two mounds of differing heights are actually one volcano – the taller mound representing the bulk of the volcano still intact, the shorter mound representing only a small section of the volcano’s cone, and the parking lot sitting where the crater in the middle would have been.

Phew! That was a bit tedius – are you still with me? I see what they mean when they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Getting back to my Mt. Tabor adventure, from the parking lot I hiked to the highest point in the park: elevation 641 feet. Since the height of cinder cone volcanoes is estimated to be 300-500 meters (984-1640 feet), we can assume that lots of erosion has taken place in the last 300,000 years. After all, cinder cone volcanoes aren’t formed of solid rock so they erode more rapidly than other types of volcanoes or regular mountains.

Photo by Linda Mason Hood
At the top of Mt. Tabor is a sculpture of Harvey Scott who, as editor of the Oregonion newspaper from 1866 until his death in 1910, greatly influenced the political thought of the region. The artist who created the sculpture was Gutzon Borglum, the man who put the faces of the side of Mount Rushmore.

When my ears started hurting from the cold wind, I went back to the car and drove all around the park’s roads. To the west I had wonderful views of the six reservoirs at the base of the mountain and downtown Portland in the distance. Here is one of those views.

To the east was a view of Mt. Hood and another peak in the Cascade range which I took to be Mt. Adams. Mt. Hood looks wonderful now, by the way, and quite different from the pictures in my October 22 post which were taken at the beginning of October. Now that it’s November Mt. Hood is completely white, and on this day it was gleaming impressively against the blue sky.

Actually, this was an unusually nice fall day, even if it was brutally cold. The incessant rains and thick cloud cover had given way to a sky that was clear blue for the entire day, and Portlanders were lovin’ every minute of it. Despite the brisk wind and freezing temperatures, people were hiking, cycling, and walking their dogs in the park. Young kids scrambled around on the playground equipment and older kids played basketball. Outside the park, local shops were doing a brisk business. In residential neighborhoods, cats basked on porches in the sun. The sight that took the prize, though, was what I saw when I looked out the window of the lovely upper-middle class suburban home where I was staying. A man in his terrycloth bathrobe and slippers raised his garage door, put an aluminum yard chair between his two SUVs, and sat down with his cigarette to catch some winter rays. Ah, suburbia – ya gotta love it! Looking back on the entire day, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the sight of that man in his bathrobe inspired my escape to Mt. Tabor Park.

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Knowing My Place

[With this post I'm taking a break from the photo competition series. Am saving the top winner for last, so stay tuned!]

Lately I’ve been reflecting on a sense of place and what makes one feel comfortable in a particular place. These reflections have been prompted by a month’s stay in a newly built suburb of Portland, Oregon. This housing division is being built in an area that formerly contained rugged northwest woods on steep hillsides. Everywhere you look, tall evergreen trees are being chopped down and the land bulldozed to make room for yet another street of beautiful upper middle class homes. This complete alteration of the natural environment imparts a sadness to this otherwise cheery family neighborhood. I wonder about the animals being displaced and the effect on the ecosystem. I’m not inspired to do any exercise walking here even though there are consistent sidewalks, a park that seems perpetually empty, and hills that would provide a good aerobic workout. Imagining what this area must have looked like a mere five years ago puts a damper on my motivation to walk.

On several occasions in the past month when I was in downtown Portland I noticed that I suddenly felt more at home. So marked was the feeling that I would describe it as being almost a physical sensation. Not something I could ignore. I think it had to do with being in an urban setting again. Although Portland doesn’t have skyscrapers like NYC, it does have tall office and apartment buildings, public transportation, shopping areas that are not malls, parks with people in them, restaurants that are not national chains, traffic, bridges, and pedestrian walkways along the river – all of which make me feel at home. Although I grew up in a suburban area, I moved to NYC as a young adult and have spent 38 years there. It is not surprising, then, that an urban area would feel more like home to me.

Sometimes people are drawn to places by the weather. For example, many people retire to Florida and Arizona to escape the cold northern winters. If weather were a determining factor, I don’t see why anyone would move to Portland. It rains all the time. Nearly every day. And quite often it’s not just drizzle. People here don’t even count drizzle as rain. They just say it’s wet outside. Moss grows on trees in Portland -- it’s that wet! Once when I was here in the spring, rain turned to hail the size of golf balls – the largest hailstones I’d ever seen. Lately it has been snowing. That’s something of an improvement because the temperature isn’t cold enough for the snow to accumulate on the ground. With all this precipitation, needless to say even a few hours of blue sky during the day is an event. The clouds are always hovering in the distance, threatening to move in and darken the day or unload more water. In fairness, I must say that all this rain makes for a stunning spring. When the grass gets green and buds appear earlier than most places in the US and the trees and flowers come into full bloom in March, I’m sure Portlanders’ spirits soar. And in summer when it rains the least, it’s not as hot as many other places around the country.

By contrast, I would say New York City is weather-neutral. By that I mean the various types of weather balance themselves in such a way that none seems to predominate. Hot, cold, wet, dry - you get a little bit of everything. And each season gives you some clear days that enable the Manhattan skyline to look its best and leave you as breathless as the first time you saw it. That said, I'm not sure anyone would move to NYC for the weather either. Throughout all the seasons New Yorkers are forced to interact with the weather because we do so much walking in the course of our everyday lives. We walk to the grocery, the laundrymat, the pharmacy, the bank, the restaurant, or to the subway or bus stop. We dress for the weather, whatever it is, because we know we’ll be out in it every day. We have a relationship with the weather. We brave the heat and the cold, and though we may complain loudly at times, we take pride in our ability to endure it.

More than weather or setting, I think familiarity is the strongest factor in making one feel comfortable in a given place. And familiarity builds if you stay long enough. In my neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan I love knowing the cashiers at the vegetable market, the dry cleaners, the pet store and the bodega (small corner grocery store, like Pantry Pride or 7-11 in Portland). I love knowing exactly what I’ll get when I order from the neighborhood restaurants. I love knowing the City well enough that I never get lost. I love the variety of smells and sounds that serve as a backdrop to the diverse mix of people, dogs, and drama you find on the street. I guess if I moved I would eventually become familiar with a new place. I would grow accustomed to the weather and get to know the people in the shops. I would redefine drama and make my peace with driving everywhere and shopping in malls when necessary. But it would take time. Another 38 years perhaps.

I am very lucky to live in a place that makes me feel so good. I wasn’t born in New York City. I chose it. I’ve become part of it, and it’s become part of me. And being away so long, I surely do miss it.

© 2006, Linda Mason Hood
Truffles, Turtles & Tunes Copyright Statement

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Three Kitties

For all you cat-lovers, I couldn’t resist posting this photo which got honorable mention in the Nature category.

Photo by Azaouz Guizani