Tuesday, August 31, 2010

happy last first day of school, libby jo

i have a photograph of my oldest daughter's first day of kindergarten. in it, she's wearing a lands' end polo dress and white socks. you can't see the color of her sneakers but the backpack strapped behind her is almost as big as she is. she's clinging to me for dear life, her head tucked into the hollow of my hip, and the expression on her face is one of pure terror.

that photo was taken just about 25 years ago, on a rainy september morning in pennsylvania. katie's all grown up now, and baby jake is turning three this fall - he's clearly not a baby any more. it won't be long before katie's taking jake to kindergarten and giving him her first last hug good-bye.

i don't remember much about that long-ago morning, but the rain and a general rush. this one's much calmer - there's no bus to catch, no frantic dash for last minute signatures or lunch money. libby's a pro by now - she's well-organized, and she drives. as with so many things, this turning comes as gently and as quietly as the tide.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

tales from a writing weekend

the assignment was to write about a character we observed from real life. i thought it was a fun exercise, mostly because it encouraged me to keep my eyes open for interesting characters. this is my response, based on two people i observed at the waldorf-astoria when Beloved and i stayed there earlier this month:

I notice them first because they’re both wearing orange. I’m wearing orange, too – a low-cut, empire-waisted pima-cotton coral number I picked up at Marshall’s on two-for-one clearance. When the pair of them push themselves onto the seats beside me, at the lobby bar of the Waldorf-Astoria, we look like a row of orange paint chips. In the city where everyone wears black, that can’t happen very often.
I sneak a glance at them out of the corner of my eye, trying to peg them for the kind of tourists they are. Honeymooners, wedding guests, reunion-goers like us? I hope they’re not as loud as the color of their shirts might imply.
The woman catches my eye but doesn’t hold my glance. She doesn’t want to talk to us, and I look a little harder. Her orange, a lighter version of my own, verges sweetly into peach. She doesn’t look old enough to need make-up, but she knows how to use it: her eyes are smudged sultry, not slutty. Her hands flutter with her purse, and she gives her order with a little trill that suggests she might be nervous.
In the seat next to mine, the man hardly notices me. His attention is focused on his companion. He gives his order to the bartender in a voice so low the bartender asks him to repeat it three times.
He looks – and smells – as if he’s just stepped out of the shower. The ghost of his after-shave wraps him in a pine-scented mist. His hair’s dark brown and neatly slicked back. It curls over the collar of his creamsicle-colored window-pane checked shirt. It’s a pretty shirt, in a loosely woven fabric that suggests some ruggedness despite the pastel color. Then I notice the tag. It’s sticking out of the collar, attached to one of those clear plastic things I sometimes miss myself. I recognize the red sticker, the block print. He got his shirt same place I got mine.
On the other side of him, the woman glances over her shoulder, fusses with her purse. “You ever stay here?” she asks.
“I like to come here and listen to the piano,” he answers as the bartender comes back with their drinks. He’s drinking beer, she’s got something frothy and orange in her martini glass. What’s with all the orange, I wonder. I think about tapping him on the shoulder, about offering to rip the tag off. I think about ripping the tag off without tapping him first. That would get him to notice me, I bet.
“I like to come here on first dates,” she says. “It’s a pretty place and I live right around the corner.”
So that explains it, I think. The fresh scrubbed looks, the brand-new shirt, and most especially the orange. It’s a second-chakra color. First dates are all about the second chakra. I decide to leave the tag alone.
“Maybe we got a match made in heaven here,” he says. He raises his glass and tips it toward hers. “Maybe this is our last.”
Color rises in her face, a flush that makes her glow. “To our last first date? I’ll drink to that,” she says.

you think it lasts forever

... at least, that's how it feels when you're slogging through the rain to deliver the upteenth forgotten homework assignment/lunch money/science book. that's how it feels when you're dragging out the door at some ungodly hour with a kid who might be coming down with something/doesn't like her teacher/just plain old overslept. that's how it feels when you are running between practices and lessons and appointments, and someone asks you what's for dinner and even though its 445 PM, and you hear yourself say, "i haven't gotten that far yet."

for the last 24 years, since my oldest daughted entered kindergarten back at Nether Providence Elementary School, my life between september and june has mostly been dictated by the tides of the school year. in the years that i was working, there was dropping off and picking up and in the years that i wasn't, there was getting to the bus and running down to school when we didn't make it. some years it's been lunch money and some years it's been brown bags. some years it's golden grahams and some years honey nut cheerios. in the winter, its brown sugar oatmeal.

through much of it - sick days and snow days, teacher conferences and random half days - it felt like it was going to last forever.

now, suddenly, this year it doesn't.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

surviving mercury retrograde

mercury retrograde occurs every few months when, for about three weeks, the planet mercury appears to move backwards in the sky. since mercury is the planet that governs communications, communications between individuals or organizations are most often perceived to be affected. depending upon one's sensitivity to the energies and one's understanding of how to manage them, a mercury retrograde can feel like a mild hiccup, or a periodic unleashing of the chaotic forces of hell.

one of the first things that i think is important to remember when considering how to manage the energies of a mercury retrograde is that all planets go retrograde. in my astrological chart, in fact, nine of the fifteen astrological bodies used to calculate one's horoscope are retrograde. for me, mercury retrograde isn't so much about disrupted communications, as about a chance to revise.

as a writer, i spend a lot of time revising. i spend more time revising than i do creating - revising is easier. for me, a mercury retrograde is an opportunity to do some revising - not just in my manuscripts, but in potentially all areas of my life. it's also a time to check my grounding. buffeted by airy mercury, i like to pay attention to my feet. it may seem silly, but i find a pedicure - even one i give myself - can be energetically soothing. it's also a good time for me to weed through my shoes and pay to attention to my socks. bribing my children to give me foot rubs is helpful as well. the nicest treat is a reflexology appointment.

mercury retrograde is not a time when it's easy to move forward, especially on written or other communications projects. and yet, this is the very kind of energy this story (Stud Farm) seems to demand - two steps forward, six or more steps back. as much as part of me would like to rush forward more impetuously - my aries sun is all about the rush - there's another part that recognizes that this is exactly what this story requires. there's a fine line between schlocky and well-done in science fiction. for me, it feels like a razor thin edge, and the energy of the mercury retrograde is helping me stay focused and aware of what it is that i am trying to accomplish, even as i revise the same lines repeatedly. this is a story that demands constant revisioning even as i move more deeply into it, and i am grateful the Universe has provided the appropriate energetic conditions.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Monday, August 23, 2010

blessings of rain

we've needed the rain, and this one feels particularly sweet. it's coming just as the brand-new gardens and the baby grass need it especially, just as the lower pond was very nearly completely dry.

right now, its falling straight down, a heavy, soaking mist that penetrates both muddy brown ponds and parched yellow earth so effortlessly, it scarcely makes ripples on the water. the grass is turning green before my eyes, the weeds are springing higher. the trees just drip.

for me, this is the kind of day that makes it easier to turn inward, to focus on the unseen, to be still and allow the world to wash over me like the rain down the windows. i've lit a piece of white sage and a candle. a few evenings ago, my critique group gave me some great suggestions on how to improve stud farm. this story is coming much more slowly than the others but that's because, i think, it's a Bigger Story. much Bigger, in fact.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

grannie annie's buttermilk-cream cheese cake

this is an adaptation to a receipe i found a few years ago in The Joy of Cooking. it quickly became one of my go-to cake receipes, even though there were occasionally complaints from the peanut gallery that it was "too dry." the original receipe calls for butter, and i found that the simple substitution of cream cheese makes for a moister, if somewhat denser, cake.

preheat oven to 350. grease a 9 x 12 pan.

1 cup buttermilk
3 eggs
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 1/3 cups cake flour
1 1/3 cups sugar

cream sugar, cream cheese and eggs together until light and fluffy. add the rest of the dry ingredients, then beat in the buttermilk and vanilla. bake for 25-30 minutes, or until fork inserted in middle comes out clean.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

this is not your country (or why i think its okay to build a mosque "near" ground zero.)

"this is not your country." that's what the young woman's sign read, in big red letters. the accompanying article was about "islamophobia." (i think its interesting how our language has such an easy way to coin new words for new fears. tells us something about ourselves, i think.)

islamophobia is not new. it swept across northern europe in successive waves throughout the middle ages, and if you look back far enough, you can see that the seeds of the emnity now erupting between the fundamentalist arms of the world's two biggest religions were sown somewhere between the eighth and the thirteenth centuries of our Common Era. the restablishment of the state of israel, taken in the context of the last two thousand years, was simply, to my way of thinking, only the latest opening salvo in a conflict that's been going on between christian europe and the moslem middle east for the last fifteen-hundred years. (knowing a lot of history may make for a lot to remember, but it provides one hell of a context.)

but people don't generally look back that far. the rallying cry for the anti-moslem hysteria sweeping some parts of the country seems to be "remember september 11." given the fact that countless millions across the last fifteen hundred years have already died in the cause of just this very conflict - christian west vs moslem middle east - i would think it should be easier for us as the forward-thinking society we tell ourselves we are to come to the obvious conclusion that its time to stop drinking the kool-aid, or in this case the Tea.

september 11th was a terrible event in our national psyche and i experienced deep shock and horror and i feel great sympathy for the families of all the victims. certainly there was great heroism and loss and we should remember that day forever.


we should not allow that one watershed moment to shape our collective psyche to the point where we as a culture can never move past it. we should not allow people whose world-views are not much more sophisticated than twelfth-century crusaders and whose religious ideologies are yoked to the minds of fifth-century BCE desert nomads, to shape our national policies. the lense of history also shows that the first step to the gulag or the concentration camp is taken when groups are allowed to identify and target other groups for the purpose of projecting onto them their own angers and fears.

to the angry, fearful young woman with the big red sign, i say - this isn't your country, either. not yet, anyway.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Friday, August 20, 2010

number one thousand

this is it. blog post 1000. one of the benefits of blogging is that i can look back over the last three years (has it really been three years since i started blogging?) and i see how much and how little my life has changed. so much is essentially the same... and yet so much is fundamentally different.

on the same side -

i still have both parents and both step-parents. i haven't lost any sisters or brothers or sisters or brothers in law. step-sibs are doing fine. children are still children - older and more or less wiser. like me and Beloved. we still live in the same place, in the same time and occupy our time doing more or less the same things. many of my friends are still the same.

on the different side -

my grandmother's gone. im a grandmother, myself. the house my great-grandfather built nearly 100 years ago belongs to someone else. i've made some new friends, explored some new places, and read a lot of new books. i continue to learn about myself and the people around me.

so what about you, Gentle Reader? what's the same in your life as three years ago? and what's different?

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

how to strengthen my witches powers

i'm sometimes surprised by the search terms that bring people to this blog, sometimes confused, and sometimes, intrigued. a few days ago, someone came here looking for "how to strengthen my witches power."

since this question seems to relate to my last post - how to deal with the dead - i thought i might sum up some of the advice i've heard and - in some cases tried - over the last ten years or so.

the best way i know of to strengthen one's intuitive or psychic abilities is to pay attention to them. note the days and times when you receive intuitive "hits" and note how or in what way they're accurate. keeping an actual record of your hits will help show yourself you aren't crazy when you know who's calling before you look at the caller ID, or when you have a "feeling" you should take a certain route home. it will help you to trust the information you're receiving.

the other reason to keep a log is that it can help you recall how you felt when you received the hit. this is very important, because although different people have different abilities and receive information differently, everyone FEELS the intuitive hit somewhere in their physical bodies. it's important to identify the physical feeling that accompanies the intuitive hit, because this is one way you can be sure you're receiving intuitive information and not simply making something up yourself. some people feel it in their bellies, in their guts, or in their hearts. i get a feeling in my solar plexus that feels like a great bell. occasionally i get chills or goosebumps. knowing that these are the physical sensations that accompany the reception of psychic information helps me know when to be sure.

another way to strenghten your psychic senses is to pay attention to what you eat. you are what you eat, and eliminating toxic foods is a quick and easy way to raise your vibration and energy levels. drink spring water and herbal teas, limit the amounts of caffiene and other additives. follow a healthy eating plan (such as Eating... the Angel Way.) respect your body as the miracle it is, nurture it and nourish it and your intuitive senses will respond accordingly.

a fourth way to strengthen your psychic snenses is to spend at least a short time meditating every day. meditation doesn't have to happen seated before a statue of the buddha. it's possible to meditate while washing dishes or folding socks or taking a walk. there are many ways to meditate - in a later post i will share some of mine. however, making time for and allowing yourself to open yourself to receiving information from your Angels and Guides is a wonderful way to raise your vibration and strengthen your intuition.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

how to deal with the dead

three times in the last three days someone has approached me with questions regarding what to do when the dead make their presence known. one person reported not realizing the dead were dead, one (my stepdaughter, no less) reported knowing they were dead but not knowing what to do about them once she saw them. the third person was just "freaked out."

so here's what i do...having lived for years in a haunted house and having dealt with the dearly departed in various places i've either entered or stayed at.

first of all, most intelligent spirits respect boundaries. if you tell a spirit to stay away, or not to scare you, generally, in my experience, it will. when i was packing up my grandmother's house, the presence of numerous family members was very clear to me, but after catching a few human-size shapes out of the corner of my eye standing uncomfortably close, i told them all they could follow me around and watch whatever i did, but to please not scare me. and they didn't, even though i continued to be very aware of them in other ways.

in the same way, the ghost of the original owner of Pond House frequently used to make his presence known by methods that were downright theatrical at times. however, after making it clear that while none of us minds sharing the space, we do resent being intruded upon given that we all live here now, we have reached a state of mutual cooperation. the only times i've encountered steve the ghost recently is if someone inquires about him...and the results can still be quite spectacular at times. (like the time my friend susan mentioned him, and all of a sudden, a guitar that had been leaning on the back of a chair lifted up about five feet in the air and landed on its back about ten feet away.)

one thing i think it is absolutely critical not to do is to react with fear. fear is a very low-vibration energy, and when someone is beset by fear, it can attract energies of similarly low vibration. these energies are not always formerly human entities, and this is where i feel people can run into trouble with a "haunted" house.

in this case, calling in someone who specializes in cleansing properties and people of low-vibrational energies could be necessary. however, before one resorts to calling in an outsider, it can be very helpful to cleanse your property yourself with salt and a high-vibrational smudge such as sage, sweet grass or cedar. various indigenous cultures have their own methods and ceremonies and one can find many suggestions by doing a little research. if you're confused by all the suggestions, remember that here in north america, the cultures of the indigenous peoples are acutely attuned to the energies of this particular part of the world, and so you might find inspiration among native american practices. on the other hand, if your lineage is asian or african or northern eurpean, among others, you may find that you resonate with the practices of your own ancestors. do what feels most natural to you.

however, i have found that generally a ritual cleansing, involving salt water, a white sage smudge, rocks or crystals and a firm and clear intention to fill a given space with love and light is sufficient to raise the energy so that lower-vibrational entities won't remain. the key, in either case, is to remain strong in one's own space, and to refuse to give in to fear. it can also be helpful, in truly disruptive situations, to take a look around at any situation in one's life or in the lives of family members that might be fueling such energies.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.
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Monday, August 16, 2010

writing in the rain

one of my earliest memories, when i was a very very little girl, is of my parents coming to get me one rainy summer afternoon when i was supposed to be napping. im not sure why they brought me out of my room - i remember being sleepy and not at all afraid of the sound of the weather that was happening all around our little seashore bungalow. what i remember is being stood in front of the screen door to watch the most torrential rain i'm certain i'd ever witnessed sluicing off the awnings and running in rivers down the sidewalks and the street.

maybe it was the fact both my parents were there, one on either side of me. i was so little the top of my head didn't reach the top of the bottom screen in the door. watching the storm, i wasn't afraid in the least. i felt cocooned by the two people i loved best, and safe. whatever was going on Outside couldn't get me, not while i was surrounded by my parents' arms.

some part of every rain evokes some aspect of that memory, i think, because i love to listen to the rain. i like to wake up to it, i like to fall asleep with it. and what i like best of all is to write with the sound of it in the background.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

pussycat, pussycat....

...where have you been?" ...."i've been to London to see the Queen..."

i'm a writer because my mother is a character. literally. its not so much watching her work a room that i enjoy, i realized today at the tea. its watching the expressions on the faces of the people to whom she's talking.

people love my mother. some people, that is. (some people despise her, but we won't go into who those people are or why that might be.) however, what i have noticed is that people who aren't captivated by my mother are usually threatened by her. and there is definitely a side to my mother that IS threatening and even downright terrifying and many other things besides - not all of them nice.

but whatever she is in any given moment, there is always a passion and a rich juiciness about how my mother embraces life that has never once dimmed, despite daunting challenges. she is the same force of nature at 75 that i remember when i was 5. she gave me many advantages, but the one she gave me that matters most is the image she continues to provide of Goddess Incarnate. in all her manifestations, my mother is never less than a Force to be reckoned with. even in her most human moments, my mother is magnificent.

its a quality you just don't see in a lot of people.

so happy birthday, once again, mommy... forever may you reign.

high tea

today meg, libby and i are attending Mother Superior's birthday tea.

*i* wanted to hire a stripper who could dress up like johnny depp as the mad hatter in the most recent version of alice in wonderland. my sister - who, after a brief stint as a worse Bad Girl than i ever was now puts more effort than i ever could into being a Good Girl - put the ix-nay on that Great Idea,on the grounds that there were going to be children under the age of 13 present. (make them leave for a few minutes, i suggested. you can imagine how well that went over.)

so there will be no high jinks at this high tea. at least, none that i'm responsible for.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Friday, August 13, 2010

honoring hecate

i spent the day gathering items to be recycled, given away or sent to consignment. this evening, as the sun was setting, i gathered an offering of sweet annie (the herb that encourages friendly spirits); white sage and dead roses that i'd been drying on my hearth since the solstice. they were a particularly pretty peachy-pink color, and i thought the Goddess might find them especially pleasing.

i took my offering down to the stone pillars where the driveway crosses a brook that runs from the chrysanthemum fields next door. i lit my candle - dark purple - and threw my offering into the waters in hecate's honor. then i carried my candle and placed it in front of the buddha statue on our front porch.

the dogs are curled beside my feet, im sipping a cup of sage tea. the smoke from burning herbs curls beneath my nose. the peepers are noisy but the air has a hint of that unmistakable chill. blessed be.

holy hecate

the weather turned last night - when i woke up at four am and ran outside to check for meteor showers, not only was the sky shrouded in dark gray clouds but there was a distinct chill in the air as well. how appropos for the dawn of Hecate's day.

how appropos Her day falls on Friday the 13th, a day even our own culture recognizes as fraught with the unexpected.

Hecate, goddess of gates and crossroads, chaos and trash, is a goddess to whom i find myself increasingly drawn. Her day falls at the end of a week bracketed by my grandmother's death and my mother's birth.

She's not a goddess to dance with lightly - in my early wiccan days, i was constantly meeting women who would proudly proclaim they were worshippers of Hecate, and then bemoan the fact their lives were full of chaos. part of her Power - and possibly Her attraction for disaffected souls - is that She's one of those Deities that don't seem to care whether you engage Her or not.

maybe because in the end, She's the One to whom we all belong.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.
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Thursday, August 12, 2010

happy birthday, mother superior

"all that i am, i owe to my mother." - abraham lincoln

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

a farm grows in brooklyn

probably one of the most gratifying sights on the tour of Beloved's former high school last friday was the school farm growing on what used to be the front lawn of the school.

i don't think we were ever allowed on it, reminisced one alumna, wistfully. the principal explained that the school was in what's considered an urban food desert, a place where access to fresh food is extremely limited due to many factors, but among them is that the environment is far away from fields where food is produced.

but that's changed now, at least in this brooklyn neighborhood, thanks to the vision and the energy of the principal and the people who work with him. the farm produces enough food to host a farmers' market that feeds the neighborhood, and the kids who attend the new and improved george s. wingate high school campus get to take home all kinds of fresh veggies.

Beloved was completely dazzled.

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

blueberry-buttermilk muffins

preheat oven to 350 degrees. grease muffin tins or line with cupcake cups.

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into pieces
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 cup salted butter, melted
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry

cream together the butter, cream cheese, buttermilk and sugar. add in vanilla and eggs, then dry ingredients. fold in blueberries carefully. spoon into muffin tins.
bake for approx 30 minutes, or until pick inserted in center comes out clean.

this receipe will make 9 large muffins, 12 -15 medium muffins and 24 gems.

grannie annie's blueberry butterscotch pie

preheat oven to 400 degrees. grease two 9 inch pie shells.

for the bottom crust:
3 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 sticks salted butter, melted

for the filling:
12 oz cream cheese, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
5-6 cups fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry

for the topping:
1 stick softened butter
1 cup cake flour
1 cup oats, whole, not instant

in a separate bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs with melted butter. divide between the pie shells, pressing gently and evenly to form the bottom crust. set aside.

in a larger bowl, beat together eggs, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. when smooth and creamy, fold in blueberries carefully. when blueberries are coated, spoon into pie shells. bake for 25 minutes.

in separate bowl, cut butter into oats and flour to form rough crumbs. after 25 minutes, remove pies from oven. spoon crumbs evenly over tops to coat. return to oven and bake another ten minutes more, reducing heat to 300.

meggie moo's mocha cake

preheat oven to 350 degrees. grease cake pans or line cupcake cups.

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa - i used gharardhelli
1 1/4 tsps baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 cup hot coffee
1/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup softened salted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Cream together butter and sugar. When light and fluffy, add eggs and vanilla, beating to a light consistency. Alternate adding in dry ingredients with coffee and buttermilk. Beat 3 minutes at high speed. Pour into pans. Bake 9 x 13 45 minutes, layers 30-35 minutes, cupcakes 18 minutes, or until a pick inserted in center comes out clean. This is a dense, rich chocolate-mocha cake that is wonderful paired with buttermilk-cream cheese icing below:

2 boxes confectioners' sugar
1 brick softened cream cheese
2-4 tbsp (approximate) buttermilk

beat together above ingredients to desired consistency. make sure cake is cool before you frost, otherwise, this will make a yummy glaze, too :).

blessed lammas, meggie moo

i like to cook when it's cold. for my daughter, meg, born in the summer, her birthday has frequently fallen either when she was visiting her father for the summer when she was younger, or during a heat wave when the height of my culinary inventiveness peeks at making reservations at her favorite restaurant. consequently, meg sometimes complains she gets short-changed in the Birthday Cake department. however, even meg understands no one wants to heat up an oven to 350 degrees when it feels like that outside.

but this year, meg's birthday celebration not only coincided with the first real chill of the season, but also a trip to Costco. when i asked her what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, she said she wanted blueberry pie AND blueberry pancakes instead. however, after i had already brought home two large tubs of blueberries,

she changed her mind and asked for a cake TOO.
this year her birthday celebration happens to coincide with lammas or lughnasa - which, as celebrated by neopagans like me, is a celebration in thanksgiving of the first fruits of the harvest. combined with the crisp, clear air, it seemed like a perfect excuse to indulge in an orgy of baking:

receipes to follow...

and furthermore, the war will end. blessed be.