Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Time for our annual visit to the Philippines via California. Say a little prayer for us!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Favorite Holiday Food?

Merry Christmas!

Do you have a favorite treat you love to eat (or make) over the holidays?

I'm a "food memory" person, so although I'm sure this is of no interest to anyone but me, I'm going to jot down this year's Christmas indulgences.

Our Noche Buena Menu:
Baked brie en croûte with brown sugar, apricots, and walnuts
Black-pepper-crusted rib roast with balsamic-glazed roasted red onions and a side of rice
Baked ham with honey glaze
Salsa monja (a green olive relish my family in the Philippines really enjoys)
Baby spinach salad with bacon, mushrooms, candied pecans, and warm vinaigrette
Philippine lumpia shanghai (spring rolls) with garlic-vinegar dipping sauce
Queso de bola and other assorted cheeses
Frozen mango-and-cream bars from Trader Joe's - we were too full to eat anything bigger!
Light Christmas Day Brunch:
Prosciutto with melon
Crimini mushroom pseudo-soufflé
Calamansi juice
Buko Pandan (a Philippine dessert), though I didn't exactly have buko...
This year's memorable sweet treats:
Pistachio-cranberry Icebox Cookies
Buttery sugar cookies (or sugary butter cookies?)
Chocolate-covered peanut butter balls
Candied spiced pecans and almonds
Now for some New Year's resolutions - less butter, more working out, right? :)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Noche Buena

In the Philippines, as in Spain, Cuba, and Latin America, Christmas Eve or noche buena is traditionally celebrated with evening mass followed by a feast. We had a small, quiet celebration tonight that couldn't have been lovelier. My rib roast turned out just the way I wanted it. My daughter, mother-in-law, and I sang carols in the living room after dinner. We laughed, we talked, we hugged, we laughed some more, we contemplated putting cookies and milk out for Santa...It was just the evening I was hoping for after a full day at work.

Tomorrow, Christmas day, my family and I will go our separate ways. They will go north to ski for the weekend; I stay behind for weekend duty at the hospital.

Ordinarily I would be moping and complaining about this; but as I've counted my blessings during this Advent season, and tried to keep focused on the true center of it, I find there's so much to be joyous about despite everyday stresses that I can't bring myself to whine too much. Such is the deep, healing power of Advent.

May your Christmas, if you celebrate it, be full of peace and light.

[Image source here.]

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Procedure Envy

Recently I was paged stat to the emergency department for possible intubation of an infant. When I arrived there were three doctors, two nurses, two parents, a respiratory therapist, and a nursing supervisor crowded into a tiny exam room around a baby less than a year old. The baby's skin was dusky. The oxygen saturation reading on the monitor was alarming. The parents looked lost and frightened.

The x-ray showed a pneumothorax, or a collection of air in the chest causing an area of lung collapse, at the top of one of the baby's lungs. One of the clinicians was getting ready to insert a needle into the baby's chest to remove the collected air that was compressing the baby's lung.

"Second intercostal, mid-clavicular line," he said to himself as he poised the needle under the baby's collar bone. He inserted the needle and there was a rush of air. His assistant used a syringe and sucked out about quarter of a cup of air - a significant amount considering the size of an infant's chest.

Almost immediately the baby's oxygen saturation started to improve. In less than a minute she had come up to 95%, then 97%, then 99%.

"I think we'll hold off on intubating, for now," the doc in charge decided after seeing the results of a blood gas.

With that I was free to return to my other duties.

I like standing by to offer help if needed. I feel like a true team member offering a service that helps a healing process run more smoothly. That day, I have to admit, I was a little jealous that it was someone else's turn to be of such concrete help (in a good-natured way, of course). What a cool procedure, and what a great save! But I was proud, too. Proud to be working beside such a talented healer who had so much to teach those around him.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Monday, December 14, 2009


Every work place has at least one person whose mode of discourse is permanently fixed at "complain or criticize as vociferously as possible." Often such individuals strike others as abrasive, unpleasant, irksome, or downright exhausting. Everything that comes out of their mouths is waah, waah, waah. They seem incapable of speaking in any other way.

I walked into the lounge when one such person was holding the fridge door open and accusing the housekeeping staff (in their absence) of consuming some leftover sandwiches that a couple of the surgeons had ordered for those who help out in the O.R.

Now, the fact that the sandwiches were no longer in the fridge could have been due to a number of things - hungry anesthesiologists or surgical house officers on call, disposal by someone concerned about old food in the fridge, nurses on break between weekend cases, etc. But this woman had it in her head that the housekeeping staff had taken the sandwiches, and the two others in the lounge who were discussing the issue with her were more than happy to accept her conclusion as gospel.

For at least five minutes they went on and on and on about how the O.R. wasn't truly a locked unit, anybody could get in, the housekeeping staff had surely gone in and helped themselves, blah, blah-blah, blah-blah. Back and forth, back and forth, complaints and criticisms, complaints and criticisms.

Then there was a brief lull. One of them took another bite of her salad. Another looked in the cupboards for sugar for her coffee. The third looked out the window.

I probably shouldn't have intruded into the conversation, but it was a small lounge, and their words were swirling around me like angry little gnats, and there was something I wasn't quite understanding. So when this pause in the diatribe came, I took a sip of my coffee and asked, "But why shouldn't they be included?"

All three heads turned toward me. What was that look on their faces - incredulity? Lack of comprehension? Annoyance that I had opened my mouth?

Finally one of them retorted, "The housekeeping staff?"

"Yeah," I said, taking another sip of my coffee.

"The whole housekeeping staff for the whole hospital?"

"You're saying the whole staff came here over the weekend?"

"Yeah. They have their meetings in this room."

"Okay, but why shouldn't they be included?" I repeated. "They do all the work in this hospital that no one else wants to do."

Just a few days ago when I arrived at the hospital I came across a man in uniform on his hands and knees scrubbing the floor around the toilet in one of the small lobby bathrooms. Clearly someone had had some kind of unpleasant accident or something. Who was going to thank him when he was done having his hands and face in someone else's excrement so someone else wouldn't have to be confronted with it?

The three women in the lounge stared at me for a second, then returned to their lunches in silence. When I left the room with my coffee they were still sitting there not saying a word. I would really have liked to know their answer to my question.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Story of Guadalupe: December 12, 1531

My name is Quauhtlatoatzin. "Talking Eagle," you would say. I am fifty-seven years old, a poor farmer and a weaver of mats.

You'll have trouble calling me by my name, I'm sure. I understand. Our names are not easy ones. You can use the name the white people gave me six years ago. They call me Juan Diego.

I was forty-five when they came, forty-seven when they won, fifty-one when they gave me that name. My wife, who was given the name Maria Lucía, died two years ago. I have only my skin-and-bone farm animals and a sick old uncle now for company. And my faith. I always had that. I have always believed we can find the sacred even in this sorry world. The Spaniards have fancy names for it - "grace" and "sacrament" and "liturgy" - but we're all talking about the same thing, aren't we? The presence of holiness among us?

I walk several miles to church every Saturday and Sunday. Let me tell you what happened on Saturday, the 9th of December, this year of Our Lord, 1531. Last Saturday. It was chilly that morning. I had my special tilma, the fancy hemp-and-linen one - the most extravagant thing I own. (I'm not even supposed to have one like this - only the rich folks are entitled to wear the finer things.) I was walking by Tepeyac and I heard birds singing on the hill. Strange, don't you think? Even stranger, I thought I heard a voice calling my name. Quauhtlatoatzin.

I ran up the hill and I saw a beautiful girl surrounded by a halo of what looked like sunlight, the pinkish-golden kind you only see at the very beginning or the very end of the day, my favorite times of day. She was no ordinary girl, that much was clear. She looked like an Aztec princess. And so young - fourteen, fifteen, sixteen at most. Yet she called me Xocoyte - mi hijito, my little son. Would you believe my cheekiness? I teased her and called her Xocoyote, my youngest child. She took it well.

Her Nahuatl was perfect, mind you. You have no idea what it is to have to adopt a language not your own, learn things you don't necessarily want to learn, then hear your mother tongue spoken so beautifully. You feel as if you're home again; it's familiar, it's what you grew up with, you're safe, you're known. I could have wept. I only get to speak it with those closest to me, and the one who was closest of all is gone.

Anyway, she wanted a shrine. "Just for you, my youngest child?" I teased again. She was so small, yet somehow I also knew she was greater than all of us put together, even the white people. Yes, she said, a shrine, a teocalli where people could turn to her, Coatlaxopeuh, "she who crushes the serpent;" a sacred place where people could pour out their hearts and find her love, her compassion, her help, and her protection. "Here I will hear their weeping and their sorrow. Here they will find help for their suffering."

I don't know when exactly it dawned on me that I was speaking to the most special woman in the history of the world, but I think by the time she said these words, I knew.

She told me to tell Juan de Zumárraga. Me? Go to the Franciscan in charge? "You think Fray Juan de Zumárraga will listen to a poor peasant, my Lady?" I begged her - I mean, got on my knees and begged her - to send someone else. But she wouldn't budge. Who knew that the Blessed Virgin could be so stubborn, I muttered, teasing her again. You won't find that in any book.

Well, I went to see Zumárraga all right. What do you suppose he said? Actually, it went better than I thought. He wasn't as arrogant and mean as I expected. He actually listened and didn't have me dismissed as a madman, but he was a little condescending, and clearly he was doubtful and thought he had better uses for his time. He said he needed a sign. I thought that was fair.

So on my way to church on Sunday I went up Tepeyac hill and saw my Lady again. I begged her again to choose another messenger - someone important, someone whose words would count for more than mine. You should have seen the way she smiled at me then. You know when your mother or your wife smiles at you as if you're the most wonderful, the most important, the most beautiful, special person she has ever seen? That's the way she smiled at me. She said I would have my sign the following day. "Not my sign, Xocoyote," I replied. "Zumárraga's."

When I saw Zumárraga after Mass he repeated that he still wanted this "sign." Proof, proof, I needed proof, proof of what I was saying, proof that I spoke the truth. Or rather, he needed it.

But that night I was preoccupied with other things. I went to my poor sick uncle's house, and he was in such a bad way. The next day I set off for the city to find a priest to give him the last rites. I was avoiding Tepeyac but she found me anyway. I felt a little sheepish but I told her where I was going, and she said, "Don't worry about that. Your uncle is well."

"What?!" I cried. "But I must go and see him!"

"You need proof, Xocoyte?"

She had me there. I asked her what I should do. She told me to go up high on Tepeyac to pick flowers.

"Flowers! But nothing blooms up there, Xocoyote, especially at this time of year."

Nevertheless, I went up Tepeyac on December 12, and there I found an abundance of Spanish roses. Beautiful, fragrant Castilian roses. She helped me put them in my tilma and told me to bring them to Zumárraga. "The real miracle," I said, muttering pointedly, "will be if such important people listen to the voice of someone so unimportant." She must have gotten used to my muttering by then. "Your name suits you, Talking Eagle," she said. She gave me strict instructions not to open my tilma for anyone but Zumárraga. She must have known people I'd pass on the road would keep asking me, "Hey, Quauhtlatoatzin, what's in the tilma?"

The hardest part was when Zumárraga's people were insisting on seeing what was inside before I was allowed into his chambers. She must have been protecting me, because in the end, I was able to see him without opening the cloak. His whole household was curious by then, and already gathered at the door, so they followed me in. There was a translator there, of course, and also a dark-skinned slave woman, the cook and her three children, and a couple of other men.

"The Lady asked me to bring you this," I said to Zumárraga. I opened my tilma and out spilled the roses. "I picked them on the barren part of Tepeyac this morning."

But he was barely paying attention to the roses. Castilian roses, man! I felt like saying to him. You can only get these back where you come from! Nothing grows up there! She had to explain to me what they are! His mouth was slightly agape and he was slowly kneeling, but he wasn't looking at the flowers. He was looking at my tilma. So I looked at it too, and do you know, I almost dropped the thing. Because there she was, my Xocoyote, just as I'd seen her on the hill.

Her words echoed in my mind at that moment: "Hear me and understand well, Xocoyte, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear..."

That's been her message ever since.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Newest Obsession (or, Where I've Been Lately)

I am addicted to Sibelius.

No, not the composer - though there's some good oboe there - but rather, the computer program.

I started using it a couple of days ago to arrange some piano accompaniment for a vocal score I have (long story), with some help from an audio recording, and I am totally HOOKED.

I've neglected my blog for it. I've neglected my books for it. I've neglected some of my happy Christmas projects for it (this is the latest I've gone without sending Christmas cards). I can't get enough of it! Who knew arranging music could be so completely mesmerizing? I could play with it for hours. It's my World of Warcraft.

Let's try this harmony - no, actually, that first one was better. Triplets or dotteds? Oboe or flute? Ooh, we can transpose the whole score from E flat to E...Maybe I should throw in a whole new alto line...Ew, thank goodness for instant playback, that accidental's definitely in the wrong place! How I love rubby intervals that resolve...

Imagine how lost to the world I would be if I could actually compose?!

So alas, there's a powerful force behind this blog neglect. My music projects are like bright candles for this little moth. I'm even arranging some carol duets for my son and me to play on violin and oboe - two beginners, lotsa laughs.

I suppose there are worse vices out there... :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What the Dickens...

access to Charles Dickens' original manuscript of A Christmas Carol - "my own, and only manuscript of the book" - complete with crossings-out and rewrites.

The only thing more wondrous than being able to see and hold someone's thoughts is being able to see and examine a creative person's thought process.

Hat tip to Michael Leddy for the links.