Archive for December, 2009

beans on toast.

Walking home tonight, I had an entertaining discussion with Scottish Navin about the British staple of Beans on Toast. He found it quite hilarious that I was devastatingly disappointed by how anti-climatic my first experience with the dish was. I honestly expected some miraculous, indescribable burst of flavors that would be produced when the forces of these two ingredients combined… but alas, it is just beans. on toast. Apparently everyone in the UK already knew this. He nearly weed himself when I told him I’d actually Google’d a recipe for how to make beans on toast. But I did. And oh yes, there are recipes.

 Baked Beans on Toast

Serves 1


-2 slices bread, toasted

-1 (200g) can vegetarian baked beans, in tomato sauce


1. toast your bread

2. butter if you like butter.

3. cut into 2 big diagonal triangles.

4. heat baked beans.

5. pour over toast.

6. serve. 


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the moon above our house

I just had a weekend so life-altering, I can’t find any adjectives to describe it. I decided to go on a monastic retreat. Maybe it was the visit to the Pannonhalma monastery in Hungary or the short-lived Gregorian chant radio channel in College Station that got me interested in the monastic life, I dunno. But when I was given a coupon for ScotRail to use before December 13, I booked a train ticket to Pluscarden Abbey. Here. I expected a four-day escape where I could be alone in the Scottish countryside and solve some internal dilemmas that have been haunting me lately. But from the moment I arrived, my expectations, thoughts, struggles, everything, just kind of froze and dimmed inside my head. I got to the women’s house on Friday afternoon and was taken in by two Irish women, Sandra and Maggie, who had arrived the night before and were also there for some escape. Not one of us was Catholic and we were all ignorant of how a Benedictine abbey worked. We spent three days hiking up the hills behind the abbey, listening to sheep noises and stopping every so often to take in this

sunset during our friday hike

 beautiful place. Sandra’s phrase she repeated over and over throughout the weekend was “Aren’t we just so lucky… to be here?” We went to every service at the abbey… all eight. (Although sadly, I never made it to the one at 4:45 in the morning.) We lived on bread that Brother Thomas gave us… and that was pretty much it. Bread and honey. Bread and butter. Bread and peanut butter. Bread and hummous. We didn’t shower, mostly because of the painful extreme hot/cold plumbing problem going on there. We stayed up late and I listened to their hilarious travel/hitchhiking stories from when they traveled around Europe together in the 70’s. We laughed at how much we loved Brother Thomas’s stylish denim outdoor work cloak, and how we were worried he might drop our loaves of bread he was coming to deliver when he caught the man stealing holly from the holly bushes outside our window. Sunday we took a vow of silence from the first morning service until the last evening one. (In theory, this would have been a good idea… had it not been for the 2 new women arriving to stay at the house and the sudden appearance of some chatty monks.) When we all left together in the taxi this morning for the train station, I realized not once in the past 3 days had I contemplated any aspect of my life. Sure, this monastic way of living is supposed to be the contemplative life, but I’m thankful that’s not how my weekend turned out after all. Actually, for the entire three days my mind was quiet. I didn’t think about all the crap in my head and I didn’t even pray that much. I looked and I listened, and that’s it. I looked at the scenery around me, at the inside of the abbey, at the rituals, and listened to the monk chants and the silence on the walks back to the women’s house. But I did thank God over and over for these two new friends. I would have had a very different, and probably horribly depressing weekend had I been on my own like I expected. God put these women with me to keep me company, to make me countless cups of tea, to skip down the road with back to our house from

Maggie skipping

 the abbey. Literally. Maggie convinced us to skip. And then I proceeded to teach her the running man dance. Getting to the train station this morning I knew that if I got nothing else out of this weekend, I got to experience God’s love for me. He knew I didn’t need to handle being alone this weekend, and he sent me friends to keep my mind on Him and to remind me of how much he loves me and is looking after me.

Maggie and Sandra and the abbey

But then that just wasn’t enough. Waiting for the train to Aberdeen, a young man came up to us who had been on the monastric retreat as well, whom we’d seen at all the services at the abbey but never talked to. He was going to Aberdeen as well, and then… on to Edinburgh. When we got on the train it was quite full, and he and I were separated from Sandra and Maggie, which I was quite sad about. (They had dark chocolate kit-kats and mars bars they were going to break out…) During the 90 minute train ride, George and I talked about the Catholic church. He seemed to know so much for someone so young, that I asked him how he got to be so interested in it all… The train reached Aberdeen, I hugged my new Irish friends goodbye (2 times) and after grabbing sandwiches, George and I settled on the Edinburgh train. And then I just listened. I listened to his story, his indescribably amazing story. Along the way I asked him questions about things I didn’t understand about the Bible and miraculously, he answered every one of them and his answers all made perfect sense. And he didn’t give me all-knowing, intellectual answers. He told me Bible verse. That’s it. No interpretation or anything. Straight words. It was all so simple, and right there in that book I keep on my shelf the entire time. The train ride flew by, overflowing with intense conversation and the view of the Scottish coastline from the window beyond George’s head. We talked for another hour outside the station before his train to England departed, and when the time came for him to leave, he told me he had seen me this weekend in the abbey and had prayed for me. I asked him why and he just smiled and said ‘that’s just what I do’. He said God had told him to go meet me, and at this point, I was on the verge of tears. God not only sent me two Irish friends, but also this British man, George, who clarified more for me in the 5 short hours I spent with him than in the countless hours I have spent fighting God trying to figure it all out on my own. I hugged him, walked home in a fog, dropped my things on the floor and cried. This weekend, I experienced how much God loves me in a way I’ve never experienced before, and that was more than I could have ever asked for out of this retreat. All from a stupid Sainsbury’s ScotRail discount voucher.

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