Thursday, May 31, 2012

...pass the peace, pt 2: shift happens

There was a funeral
two thousand years ago
that we never forget

It ended with an explosion
of ascendant life.

from Trail of Hope by Charles Van Gorkum

A female mate was hit by a car as she swooped low across the road, and the
condition was soon fatal.

Her mate brought her food and attended her with love and compassion.
He brought her food again, but was shocked to find her dead.
He tried to move her, a rarely seen effort.

Aware that his mate was dead and would never come back to him again,
he cried with adoring love
...and stood beside her with sadness and sorrow.

From the email I received:
The photographer sold these pictures for a nominal fee
to the most famous newspaper in France.
All copies of that edition were sold out on the day
these pictures were published.

A decade ago, when I was told by the 911 operator to get out of my house immediately - out into very unfriendly elements - I had no idea what had just happened. Only that my basement was filling up with swirling, thick, muddy water. When she said "Get out NOW", I wondered what I had ever done to this person on the other end of the line that she would send me out into a raging storm. By the time I ran through the heavy downpour and cloud-to-ground lightning to my car, the firemen had arrived. They yelled for me to get up my driveway NOW. There was that word again. I was up and out in a flash but, during that short drive, time ceased to exist for me. How surreal to pass the corner of the house and see light where none should be.The song, "His Eye is on the Sparrow", began to play in my mind and calm settled over me. In that moment, nothing, not even death, held sway over me. Later I would hyperventilate again. But not in that pre-dawn flight from disaster. 

I've thought about my short drive many times in the intervening years. That morning was the culmination of a year that began with the events of 9/11. I met with hospice three hours after the attack and my mother died three days later. Nine months later, my husband died. Three months after that, the house collapsed. I recall watching the endless coverage in the days following 9/11 and asking, "Will war solve anything?" An enemy who wanted nothing from us except our extinction had spoken. An enemy who can, if not through physical attack but by sheer numbers at the polls, overwhelm. I still ask that question. Having been stripped of control, vulnerable...I learned that powerlessness doesn't kill.

Those in power, beware: shift happens. Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away. And so shall I...every fallible cell of me will cease to function one day. Could be today. I don't know. No guarantees. But ascendent life exploded after a funeral two thousand years ago. And that life calls me to love my neighbors as I love myself: "NOW". That word again. Whatever happens along the way, I have countless choices,  a multitude of chances, to do the next right thing. I have missed too many. Note to self: Celeste, you are made in the image of radical love...keep your eyes on the sparrows. Even the pesky ones. And leave some decent ripples.

...pass the peace, please

Desiderata  [from the Latin meaning "things to be desired"]
Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. 
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. 
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

The year was 1971.  Home was a fifth-floor dorm room in South Myers at the University of Georgia. Pre-renovation. Five flights of stairs, no air-conditioning, two twin beds, a pair of small closets, a desk, an illegal popcorn popper good for heating soup and a Mateus bottle/candle holder (illegal on several counts) covered with decoupaged quotes and waxen drips.  

The poster above my bed was also standard issue for the times that were a'changin': Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, written in 1927. An obscure piece, the poem gained a degree of fame in 1965. According to the Wiki, "when Adlai Stevenson died in 1965, a guest in his home found the Desiderata near his bedside and discovered that Sevenson had planned to use it in his Christmas cards." 

Leonard Nimoy and Les Crane produced spoken word recordings of the poem. Both changed the line "Be cheerful" to "Be careful"...a sign of the times. Another measure of the poem's popularity in the Seventies: National Lampoon produced a parody called Deteriorata.

During this period, I also had purple bellbottoms and a borrowed mini-skirt. Illegal on all counts back home, the brown tweed a-line bordered on micro since my roommate was a good four inches shorter than I. The University of Georgia in the seventies was hardly a hotbed of controversy. Unless one counts the infamous parachuting streaker who landed on campus sans everything but boots and chute. HIs alleged response: "Ouch!" My mother called in a panic once after a report about campus demonstrations ran on a national news program. I assured her that no riotous conditions existed. Just some frat boys annoyed by the Hare Krishna's efforts to elevate Greek consciousness. The scandalous scuttlebutt: someone from the press handed placards to the brothers (frat, that is) and offered to buy beer if they would walk around in a circle behind the broadcaster in a staged protest against the war. The response: "No" (preceded by a pithy expletive, according to lore, first cousin to the afore-mentioned scuttlebutt). 

This was the era of Vietnam, the first televised war: surreal images of death and destruction were the backdrop of dinnertime conversation. Young boys fresh out of high school were the first to go to the steamy jungles of Southeast Asia. They were later joined by those beer-swilling, poker-playing college boys who were drafted - later "lotteried" - after graduation. And when they all came home, no bands played. My Marine brother-in-law told of garbage dumped by peace protesters on his ship (and consequently upon the men on deck) as it returned beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. How sad that an action in response to violence became violent. No bullets. Not a one. But the chants and slime that rained down upon those soldiers killed their spirits, stripped them of homecoming, stripped many of hope. They left Agent Orange only to return to misguided agents of peace armed with rotten oranges and insults.

Bill, a registered physical therapist, was sent post-college not to Vietnam but, after training, to a hospital in charge of a ward filled with anywhere from two hundred to four hundred men with spinal chord injuries. He hates war. How could any sane human being not despise it? But he cares deeply for those who go to that place we'd rather not see too clearly.

Rewind, then fast-forward. A dorm room poster. John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance. Followed by another war. And another. Instead of ordering young men and women to "aim and shoot", couldn't we at least aim high? I've quoted my friend, the other Bill, twice already in my posts...this friend who went to Vietnam, who paid the price to speak these words. Here we go again: 

As I travel all over the world to places as wealthy as Monaco or as poor as rural India, I find one recurring theme irrespective of religion, culture, education level or standard of living.  Just as a shake of the head means “No” anywhere on the planet, people simply want to live in provide for and raise their families, to enjoy social interactions.  It’s the same everywhere.  Only the crazies want to destroy others.  Only the desperate turn to violence to make a statement.  Almost everywhere that there is tolerance, there is peace.

The starting place is within. From the Dalai Lama:  The question of real, lasting peace corcerns human beings, so basic human feelings are also at its roots. Through inner peace, genuine world peace can be achieved. In this the importance of individual responsibility is quite clear; an atmosphere of peace must first be created within ourselves, then gradually expanded to include our families, our communities, and ultimately the whole planet. 

The seeds were planted long ago...praying for the harvest.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

...tell a teacher "thank-you"

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. 
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
Albert Schweitzer

Since 2002 I've made several moves. If you've read my posts, you know that one time a house moved from beneath me during a storm. Through the kindness of neighbors and strangers, mud and sewage-coated belongings that could be rescued were drug from the sludge. Frankly, I was grateful for all that could not be removed. 'Less is more" has never been more appreciated.

From house to apartment to rental condo (hot water never worked) to rental condo (decided I should buy) to purchased condo (now rented) to a sailboat, then to another condo...this time, with Bill, in northern California. With each move, a letting go; sometimes a losing...or two or three. And with each move, gratitude that I have less stuff. 

Before the move to California, I sorted through most of my things but did not have time to sift, scan and organize paperwork that was filed away. This has occupied my time in recent weeks. Last week I opened a large envelope and found a surprise: six folded themes, each with two grades, one above the other: style over content. Written in 1969, they are yellow with age. Along with these, my seventh grade English grammar notebook. Tucked inside this, I found a paper written in tenth grade. My treasures.

The notebook was compiled in Mrs. Afdahl's class. In her class, I first learned that President Kennedy had been shot. And encountered the mother lode of grammar rules. The paper was written in Mr. Barr's tenth grade class. We were assigned a research paper on a Georgia author of our choosing. I had read Flannery O'Connor's short story "Everything That Rises Must Converge" during my thirteenth summer.

I came of age in the South during the Civil Rights era. This seminal time in America's history united those willing to grow but threatened people indisposed to change. Black leaders, writers and activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin and Malcolm X addressed the anger, the sorrow, the hope of their communities. It was, however, a tale of two women and one hat - a story of racial prejudice and ignorance - by Miss O'Connor that resonated with a young white girl.

The terms of our term paper included no encyclopedias. We were to contact our author if possible. Delve into the Georgia Archives for the papers and letters of long-deceased writers. Write to the peers of recently deceased authors. I had the great privilege to correspond with the late Miss O'Connor's mother. Beautiful Kitty Kellam from my mother's garden club was Flannery's childhood best friend. Mrs. Kellam allowed me to interview her for an oral history. The experience was life-changing for me. 

I was empowered to make deferential requests and to ask questions that encouraged critical thinking. I was awed by the generosity of the famous and not-so-famous alike. One of my classmates, Bill Sewell, wrote to novelist and poet, Conrad Aiken, a Pulitzer Prize winner. He was rewarded with an invitation to the writer's Savannah townhouse. The two talked there by the fire, then continued the conversation as they walked the beaches of Tybee Island.  

Mrs. Frances Powell taught me Literature during my junior and senior years. This last sentence is deceptively under-stated. Mrs. Powell challenged, prodded, inspired. Among other verbs. She was a friend outside the classroom, a fact that gave me no advantage in school. If anything, she worked me harder. We got the silly giggles when we climbed a ladder to pick pears at her house in the country and later had long, adult conversations over peanut butter pie in the breakfast room of her house on Pine Forest Circle. For decades she was my confidante. Alzheimer's claimed her incredible mind but I had the privilege of one last visit with her before the illness carried her into the fog. 

As an adult, I would sit with Mr. and Mrs. Powell at church when I returned to Dublin for visits. (I loved him, too.) The above-mentioned Dr. Barr was minister of music so I also saw him and his delightful wife, Lois. On one Sunday morning visit, Mrs. Powell didn't recognize me when I approached. I stepped back, sat on another pew...and wept. She was so near, yet so far away. I wasn't ready to let go. An hour later, during lunch, the phone rang. My late husband answered in his mother's kitchen, then called to me, "You're going to want to take this one."

"Celeste, this is Frances Powell. Jack tells me you were at church and didn't sit with us. You have some explaining to do so come on over now." 

I obeyed and, for the next four priceless hours, had my last conversation with this woman I loved. Multitudes loved her dearly and all had that love returned in spades over the years. I am eternally grateful for our last afternoon together. At the end of the conversation, she stood - shoulders back, chin up - and placed her hands on my shoulders. Her words at the end of our afternoon will remain private and precious. I will say that I have kept a promise I made to her that day. I keep it every time I post a blog. I will write, Mrs. Powell, until I can no longer peck at a keyboard or grip a pen. Or dictate.

All of you have had a teacher - or several - who made a difference. Please tell them. In writing. Make a little effort for someone who worked hard for low pay to change the world, one student at a time. Do it now. If they are no longer present, then pass the love forward.  Others loom large in my life. Mr. Wooddy, my math and drama teacher, is a story for another day. As are my two P.E. teachers, Mrs. Tanzine and Paula Raymer. God bless them...what a thankless task this pair had everytime I walked onto the basketball court. The list of teachers I love - not all had degrees or a job title - is long. 

When our class studied Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, Mrs. Powell said, "Before I die, I want to visit England and hear the nightingales." To my knowledge, she never made that journey. All during her protracted illness, I prayed the same prayer every night: please send into her silence a nightingale's song

I have no idea where my mother's cloisonne Sheffield steak knives ended up a decade ago. Or what happened to a set of my fine china. Clothes and cookbooks have gone by the wayside. But six themes, a paper, and a grammar notebook have never left my side. Literally. 

I am rich. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

...a climate change of a different color

To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought. ― James Baldwin

We took a walk at day's end...a brisk unwinding up and down the hills with slower stretches along gardens filled with spring. And I thought how I had missed the humble sidewalk. None ran along the suburban street where I lived for over twenty years. I once stepped on a large acorn at the top of the hill, launched, then quickly landed at the bottom. On the way down, I watched the wheels of a car go past my face as I careened out of control. After that, my friend, Joanie, and I walked at Jameson Park with its beautiful nature trails along the little creek, a branch of the Cahaba River. 

Last week, though, I re-encountered the old-fashioned sidewalk in a small northern California town. I thought of my son who once mused that air-conditioning was the beginning of all our troubles. As I listened to his theory, I recalled my own youth in south Georgia. We finally had central air installed when I was twelve. Prior to that, my father spent summer nights arranging and rearranging fans to "create draft". The man had the patience of Job with a double-helping of optimism. We'd all settle down and, after a few minutes, I'd call out, "It's really hot in here." Mother would say, "Just lie still and you'll cool off." Good advice but the damp outline of my body on the sheets each morning bore testament to the long southern night. 

So, I looked at my son - who, I might add, had grown up with air conditioning, without complaint - and waited for what came next. Here's his theory: Before we had air conditioning (and television), people sat outside after dinner. Had real conversation. Waved at neighbors who passed on the sidewalk. Noticed youthful high-jinks and called out, "Billy, just wait until I see your mother. Now, you get home and behave!" With the much-welcomed arrival of arctic air into the home, we all went inside. And, according to Patrick, civilization took a giant step back.

Last week as we walked through neighborhoods, I felt a sense of connection and community although I knew none of the residents. A walk in nature is a very good thing but a walk through a small town street stirs, too. Watch people carry food to a home filled with grief. See the big pink and blue ribbons that celebrate new life. Listen to kids play in the backyards, unseen reminders of my own evenings of Red Rover and hide-and-seek. Smell roses and lilacs along the way. 

Several years ago, I saw families gather nightly in the small campo near the little inn in Venice that was home for seven nights. All generations came together: the adults talked, rocked little ones, watched older children chase each other and kick soccer balls. And I thought of my son and his theory of climate change. That boy is onto something. We not only live inside walls but we bring more and more stuff inside with us. For what? An insular life built brick-by-hard brick of delusion? Some false illusion of safety? Where we not only forget our neighbors but re-invent the past to suit our self-serving notions?

There's a good reason for vernacular architecture. From the dog-trot houses with their wide central halls and detached kitchens to the large plantation homes with walk-through windows and grander halls, southern houses were built to "create draft" keep the air flowing. And all had front porches that urged the residents to "sit still and cool off". While I don't suggest anything as radical as the abolition of air-conditioning, I think nights are better spent outdoors whenever possible. Where stars rain light down on us and remind us of our smallness in the vast unknown universe. Where annoying neighbors give us a reason to practice what we preach: love 'em as we love ourselves, a love that says "just as I and you and them "are", just as the Great Goodness loves us. Where poppies take root in a sidewalk crack and shout "Grace". This last one gets to me. Because I am a bit cracked (the degree depends on who you ask). 

This is a good spot to repeat Mr. Baldwin's elegant, oh-so-true words: To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought. 

The past that seemed so intolerable became a tool and all my lovely illusions broke. Thank God. I needed some cracks. Exactly one week ago, I stood in a room with my sisters. I hadn't met these ladies before but we had a family reunion all the same. I recall thinking as I looked around that I had never seen so many beautiful women gathered in a single place. Not a Barbie in the bunch. We hadn't bothered much makeup and hair...a good, brisk shower, a swipe of lipstick, and the all-time best accessories a girl can have: laughter and tears. R.E.A.L. In that cocoon, we were protected for a few days. But love took this little caterpillar and changed her into a California butterfly with flowers in her hair. Well, tinsel actually - and I'm not so little - but you get the idea. Cocoons are designed for nurture, not flying. A week later, we've scattered again. But I bet that poppies are sprouting all over the place. 

Bloom, my friends. And not just where you're planted. Get out of the house. Go outside yourself. Carve out a spot if need be. Find a crack along the way and grow. Forget what or who caused the crack. Blame is a dead woman's game. 

Someone else just might pass and find a little hope in your courage and bright beauty. I did. 

Keep some tinsel on hand. I do.  If you're in the deep south, bring a fan.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

...go get some shimmer on

She took flight just after this photo.
To any ornithologists out there, the bird is a metaphor: do not write to say that this is a male.
To Mr. Berry [see poem below]: I don't have a hill in my backyard. But the bay is nice.

The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep
that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all.
Instead we live out all the other selves,
which we are constantly putting on and taking off
like coats and hats against the world's weather.
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Yesterday I sent the email and poem below to some special ladies...

My sweet friends,

Sending you love and good thoughts this morning. Thank you for your caring hearts, your shared wisdom, and your openness..for letting your lights shine.

Here's the poem I mentioned yesterday. Seems appropriate as we leave our cocoon and return to our "every days"...a reminder to hold onto the light from within, not the focus, criticism, and rules that the world whispers - sometimes hurls - at us.

A large group of disparate women gathered in silence last Thursday night and unpacked doubts, a few fears, perhaps even some cynicism (she says almost innocently), and a lot of fatigue. In three days, community was born. Not because we were won by arguments or manipulated by guilt but because we were bombarded with radical, copious, heaping helpings of love. As I meet the neighbor whose walls are up, the game-playing co-worker, the reluctant relative, the cynic, I pray that I hold uppermost in my mind and heart the undeserved love, grace and mercy freely given by the Great Good God and shown to us all by sisters of light who journeyed before us.

So, so grateful for your abiding presence...

love and light,

"Do Not  Be Ashamed" by Wendell Berry.

You will be walking some night in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine round about you,
and behind you will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty:`
You misread the complex instructions,
you are not a member,
you lost your card or never had one.
And you will know that they have been there all along,
and there eyes are on your letters and books (blogs),
and their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the pages they hold out to you,
then such light  you have made in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach.
Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:`
"I am not ashamed."
A sure horizon will come around you.
The heron will begin his evening flight
from the hilltop.

To all of you: be not ashamed...go forth, my friends, and SHIMMER.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012 sin: a decadent ten-layer chocolate cake

What do you call ten (one was on the kitchen counter)
greased and wax-papered cake pans?
A good start

I'm on a diet. Let me re-phrase that. I'm changing my eating habits. Going Mediterrranean. I've had a really good time this year re-visiting old favorites that I hadn't made in a month of Sundays. But my zippers are tired. So, how better to go out with a bang (the sound of my waistband button hitting the wall at high speed) than with Glenda's ten-layer chocolate cake with old-fashioned fudge filling and chocolate icing? Glenda is my sister-in-love, baker par excellence. Let's make that "Chef de Non-Resistance". She cooks good stuff.

Before I continue, a short note: Dear Grumpy Person who wrote and asked if I plan to post a healthy recipe: yes. But frankly, my dear, this isn't a food blog, so it's not as if people around the world say, "Let's check Abiding before we go to the grocery store." I rather thought the Chicken Cacciatore not incredibly bad for one's health. I just bought the Williams-Sonoma Mediterranean cookbook (thank you, Joanie) and will share some of those experiences. I would have shared Saturday's Thai basil chicken but we ate it before I could take photos. Please, feel free to gloat over the fact that my jeans are snug. 

Bill and I have had a southern retrospective year but now we anticipate new dining adventures that employ the delicious produce and fresh seafood readily available here. Dessert will be minimal...two squares of dark chocolate (with sea salt or orange peel for me, plain for the purist), good fruit with yogurt and almonds, and the o-c-c-a-s-i-o-n-a-l dinner-out dessert (split two ways). Frankly, after about two weeks, I no longer crave sugar. But until then, step awaaaay from my desk. 

Now, however, with no further delay, I present My Sin...a decadent ten-layer cake. Go higher if you like.

Different from my usual 1-2-3-4 recipe but what Glenda says, goes

3 cups self-rising flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
5 large eggs
1 T. REAL vanilla extract    NOTE: NEVER buy imitation vanilla extract. Ningun. Nada.
1/2 lb. butter
1 c. (8 oz.) milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar. (Forgot to take picture...mea culpa...but I went for a walk before I began and believe this helped tremendously. Those flowers are Pride of Madeira. Thought you might enjoy the view. You don't have to take any pictures of the cake unless, of course, you want to commemorate the event or torture someone at a distance.)

Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well on medium speed.
NOTE: I used organic, pasteurized eggs...reason revealed at bottom.

Add sifted flour and milk alternately and beat well after each addition. (For new bakers, start and finish with dry ingredient(s) and add liquid in between: 1/3 flour, stir so it doesn't splatter, then beat with mixer; 1/2 milk, stir, beat; more flour, milk, flour)

Add vanilla ( I repeat, REAL, not imitation) and mix thoroughly.

Bill bought the cake pans at Dollar Tree. Real pans. $1 each. They only had 8" but these worked perfectly and the price was right. I greased, floured and put wax paper in each. To cut wax paper circles, tear off a piece larger than the cake pan. Place bottom of pan on wax paper and run knife lightly around edge of pan on paper. This will make a circle on the paper. I stack ten squares with the "circled" piece on top and cut all at once. See big photo at top of post.

Spread a half-cup batter in each pan. Bake two layers at a time in the preheated 400 degree oven. Baking time varies with ovens, anywhere from five to seven minutes: just until done but not overcooked. 

Run a knife around the edges and remove from pan to cool. My cooling racks are still in storage and Dollar Tree, alas, had none. So I spread a large towel on the counter and covered it with baking parchment and let the layers cool here while Bill and I made the icing/frosting.

Before I go any farther...I took NO pictures of this process. After you've made it, you'll know why.

4 cups sugar (oh, go ahead and write, Ms. Grumpy)
1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 T. butter
1 T. vanilla

Mix sugar and chocolate together in LARGE pot.  Our dutch oven is a bit wonky and doesn't sit flat so I used a 4 qt. pot...BARELY large enough. Go bigger.

Add milk a little at a time. Blend thoroughly and bring to a boil on high heat. 

Boil for ten minutes. 

Reduce heat to medium and cook 15 minutes, stirring constantly. Bill did this part, bless his heart. We invested in good spatulas that withstand high heat. They don't scratch a good pot and also make solid contact so that all sugar gets dissolved (all four cups, honey) and the icing won't be grainy. Test to make sure icing is at soft ball stage by dropping a bit into a cup of cold water. If it stays together and forms a ball, it's ready. (IMPORTANT NOTE: My good digital never-fail candy thermometer is somewhere in that storage warehouse, drat, probably next to the cooling racks. Our stove is a ceramic solid cooktop - we both miss a gas cooktop - and is a tad hot/fast. The icing reached the soft-ball stage at seven minutes. Don't go by the clock alone. Trust me.)

Add butter and vanilla and stir well. 

Spoon warm frosting over layer and repeat as each layer is added. It hardens a bit on cooling. Think "fudge with cake in between". A few tips: Our oven is amazingly not too unlevel but layers are never exactly even. Notice the "high" side and turn when you place each so the cake doesn't lean in one direction. Also, the layers are very tender. Spoon enough frosting on each layer and spread softly with a rubber spatula. You have to work quickly while the icing is hot or it will stick and shred the layers. When I got to the top layer,  I was glad I had cooked ten layers..not eleven (had extra batter - see bottom) but I ran short on icing. This is when cooking becomes an adventure. Read on.

Chocolate Frosting
I hadn't planned to cook this additional frosting but, if you've cooked very long, you know that "not enough" is the mother of invention. Oh, how I love an iPad. In no time, I had located this frosting recipe which I adapted a bit. (It helped considerably that Bill stayed extremely calm and positive.) We were pleasantly surprised at the outcome and will do this again. When we have a bigger, flat-bottomed pot. 

2-3/4 cups confectioners' sugar (get over it...I've cooked four cakes in a year and shared)
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (you can use less but I matched the depth of chocolate to Glenda's fabulous fudge icing)
6 T. butter
5 T. evaporated milk
1 t. vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, sift together the confectioners' sugar and cocoa and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter until smooth, then gradually beat in sugar mixture alternately with evaporated milk. 

Blend in vanilla. 

Beat until light and fluffy. If necessary, adjust consistency with more milk or sugar.

Spread icing on top (over fudge icing) and sides of cake.

...and enjoy!

Now for the reason I use pasteurized eggs


Still lickin'

The missing eleventh layer