The Kingdom

King Michael I of Romania died on December 5th. I found out a week later when the secretariat of the Romanian Embassy sent our diaspora a message which announced this, along with the news of opening a condolences book for signing. I wanted to, but haven’t made it to the embassy. I haven’t followed the events in Romania since I have no Facebook account, no Instagram, no Tweeter, no tv and whenever I listened to the radio, the news focused more on our current doll prime-minister. There was nothing posted on LinkedIn – well, for a rather good reason: “king” is not among the positions popular these days; “former king” even less so.

A friend from back home sent me an emotional email saying how many tears shed, how many people at the palace gates (in Bucharest?), how sad the king’s death, how disheartening the politics of the present government, how this and how that. I wrote back with a note about how much better it would have been for the very people crying at the gates if they had taken the stance to put the king back on the throne while still alive. Too cynical? Oh well.

On a related note, a commoner died on December 9th. I was preparing for our annual concert of carols that day when I heard the ding of a message: Grandma has died. She was not my grandma, though we all called her that. The mother of our good friend, my daughter’s godfather, she had her own three grandchildren whom she raised with homemade meals and hourly care. She was an excellent cook and a dear conversationalist. Her little laugh was warm and sweet. Whoever went to their house and sat at their table was pampered by Grandma. Bunica. In Romanian, the good one, a pretty literal translation.

I swallowed my unshed tears and focused on the concert that evening. I sang for her, miraculously managing not to let emotion creep in. I found out afterwards that she had said her last confession on the day our king died and had taken her last communion the following day on St Nicholas – peace was the saint’s last gift to her, apparently.

One week later, we travel to Montreal for her funeral. A bit of rainbow traveled ahead of us, ahead of the Sun itself, like the Star of Christmas. How did that rainbow came about in the dry crisp December sky is not a matter of explanation.

It all continued into a luminous day, despite the long funeral service, the burial, the commemoration meal. A day filled with divine presence that whispered prepare, prepare, do not delay, it is all part of the daily exercise and yes, it’s hard, but so much more precious with every right step you manage and all the stumbling which you raise from. There were good people at that table for Bunica. She would have loved the company. I am quite sure she somehow did.

We left before sunset and traveled west this time. Into the night and towards the Sun, which had decided to shoot a column of light straight up into the clouds.

Apologies, I probably should have left it to your imagination. The pictures don’t do It justice, the Light we saw throughout this day. It was a presence, not an atmospheric phenomenon. It was a connection of horizontal and vertical, of all dimensions we know and those we know not. It was the light of heavy crosses carried on royal shoulders and simple backs alike, both elegant and strangely gracious in their demeanor. It was quite the literal description of heaven on earth, that which we so often imagine so differently. There were no words spoken in the car and little unseen tears of fright, longing, isolation, terrible loneliness.

That was only yesterday. I cried a lot before communion today, as I read through all the setup prayers, many of which I should, oh yes, have read last night – oh no, I am not well prepared, nor disciplined, nor good. My only gift to God today was my subdued will. Among the last, I went to the altar and when I opened my mouth to receive Christ’s body and blood, true peace came over me, but it was not this which re-established the connection. It was the hope, which took form again – a hope so long lost, it had looked like a ghost at times. A hope of conquering vicissitudes, of victorious (chosen?) battles, of flying flags and starry rainbows, built on the architecture of inexplicably luminous columns. I felt light. And for that little bit of kingdom, there are no words to express gratitude. Just imagine it.

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Math Expression

Friday mind stretch!

Apologies for not posting anything in this category for FOUR months (my mind was simply stretched in other directions! 🙂

First, the answer I owe you for the last challenge, the Quickest Descent: the cycloidal path is the quickest descent as the ball reaches a high speed earlier and uses it to race ahead of the other balls on the shorter paths.

Now, the next challenge is to reduce a mathematical expression to its simplest form. I took it from a book filled with such exercises, a book well-known to Romanians growing up in 20th century Romania. The exercises were made by Grigore Gheba, one of the great mathematical minds in a long line of Romanian professors. The book belonged to my grandfather, himself a fantastic math teacher who taught many students, myself included.

This expression is one of the easy ones and it has a neat answer. Check it out next week! Here’s the exercise:

Happy Friday mind stretch!

Tradition

St Nicholas has come to our house for about 20 years, always on the morning of his feast day, December 6. Before that, he came to my parents house, even in the communist times – then, it was quite a treat to find oranges and bananas in our boots which had been nicely polished and placed by the door the previous evening. Chocolate was rare, candies even more so. My mom baked cakes but not gingerbread.

I learned though, the gingerbread craft, I taught myself. After my first one was born, I came across a magazine which had what looked like a good recipe, along with instructions on how to make a gingerbread house. The first was rather simple and it managed to produce some sort of effect.

The many others which followed were variations on the theme during the years our first batch of kids – as we like to call them affectionately – were small enough to believe the old saint brought the treat. And then I stopped making the house, and only baked gingerbread cookies. The dough though I’ve made every year since December 2000.

When the daughter of the second batch arrived, the older children said: so you’re gonna do a house again, right? Nooo, I groaned, too complicated. What? – they said – there’s no way you’re going to deprive our sis of the experience! So I was forced back into the game somewhat. 

And then I got mad. Well, to put it mildly, it wasn’t the best time of my life – in order to fight depression, I took up watercolour and drawing again, learned relaxation techniques, and generally started to take care of myself, more or less. The afore-mentioned madness was specifically about starting to make gingerbread models of actual architectural buildings. A few years ago I did a small development of three one-and-a-half story houses, as a memento of managing to finish my doctoral thesis on Canadian postwar housing. Another year I chose the Vanna Venturi house – now that was quite ridiculous, it took me ages to make. Last year, I did row housing in Amsterdam, since we had visited the city the previous year and absolutely loved it.

And this year, it is a “Painted Lady” of the San Francisco, CA. The first batch had accompanied me on a West coast tour in August and I had many photos to choose from. But before I load the finished look, allow me to explain the process.

I start with making scaled sketches of the facades. This time when I cut them to assemble into a rough model, I realized the house would possibly be too big for the amount of dough I had, so I scaled the facades down on my photocopier.

I cut the papers and laid them into the baking trays to figure out how they’d fit – efficiency is key, trust me on this. Then I rolled the dough directly onto the parchment paper (outside the tray, duh…), placed the papers on top and cut on the perimeter of each shape.

Not a good idea to cut the openings (windows, doors) as during baking the dough puffs up a bit and, if completely cut, the holes would become smaller. Mark them with the knife before baking, so they show when the pieces are taken out of the oven. Work quickly to cut the openings and remove shortly after baking, while gingerbread is still warm – as soon as it cools down, it becomes very hard and breaks easily.

Now the fun part: decorate pieces! Get out all the hundreds and thousands and stick them with a “glue” made of icing sugar and lemon juice. Not only terrribly sturdy, but also gives gingerbread a very yummy final taste.

Perform a bit of archaeological work and dig the contour of the house in the gingerbread base, so the walls would be stuck into it and will thus have more stability when glued.

And… voila! Finished re-creation of an architectural heritage piece.

That was two days ago. 

This morning: back to square one 17 years later. The baby in the first photo is all grown up and shows that photo to the present “baby” of the family. As for the house… you must know that earthquakes are quite likely in the San Francisco bay area. Well, today was one of those days, damaged heritage. 

Tradition is good. Tradition grounds you. It inspires in the good days, it comforts in the down times. Tradition is the stone upon which kids are raised to believe that miracles do happen, even when you are likely to stop believing because, well, it’s hard in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get world. Tradition is about passing on skills, loving your folks and land, cherish your good memories. Tradition is about the important stuff in life.

Tradition is good. Make yourself at least one if you don’t have it – and start now!