Saturday, June 29, 2013

I opened my eyes to a centipede squirming fluidly on the floor of the shower. I can't be certain but it may have come from my soul. He's in hell now; at least I hope that is where the drain leads.

Friday, June 28, 2013

do you ever feel as though if you were Catholic, you'd just be on top of the world?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

agnus dei

There has been a lot of strangeness and pain around here lately. I decided to go all out in my melancholy and sit in my pajamas, reading a blog from beginning to end. Matt is off taking a test and left his iPod playing John Williams (or Andres Segovia? I can never tell). Anyway it was classical guitar. Really lovely for a quiet, sad morning. I was enjoying it, but as I was writing an email to a friend explaining all our problems, suddenly I heard the musical equivalent of the sun bursting through the clouds. Palestrina shone forth unexpectedly! I suppose Matt had been playing the guitar music from the "Classical" genre on the iPod.

I can't describe how wonderful it is to be surprised by Palestrina.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

One of my longtime-hometown friends lives in the same city as me now, and I am going to ride my bike over to her BBQ baby shower in a little bit. I procrastinated on her gift until last night when I finally started knitting, optimistic that baby hats don't take very long. I am pretty proud of finishing it in less than 24 hours! It didn't turn out quite like I expected because when I picked it up this morning, I started purling instead of knitting, so I rolled with it and made bands of knit and purl. But the alternation actually gave it sort of the slouchy look I was going for. Here is a terrible Photo Booth picture of the hat, on a whiskey bottle, which isn't really like a baby's head, but it was the closest thing I had.

please don't put this on regretsy

I am tying up a "Once Upon A Child" gift card inside and attaching a note that says:

every hippie baby with a dreadlocked mommy needs a handknit rainbow elf hat!

It's the truth.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The earth is the Lord's

I linked to some podcasts yesterday but I didn't say what they were about.

These talks on "Divine Ecology" by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick have been very influential to my thinking about creation, community and dirt in the last year. In the first talk, he defines two common approaches to the environment. One is "liberal" misanthropic environmentalism, which sees man as a destroyer of the earth who should ultimately give way either to more enlightened people or simply to plants and animals. The other extreme is the generally conservative, Biblical-sounding "stewardship" model which is basically greed deferred- let's conserve this resource so that we can use it later. The misanthropic model sees man as inferior to the natural world, and the stewardship model sees the natural world as the possession of man. Both are incompatible with the Orthodox view of Creation, in which we, along with the natural world, are created and energized by God, intended for holiness. Yes, even the rocks and bugs are holy. God is in all. The attitude required by this view is reverence and love.

In the second talk, he gives suggestions for how we can fulfill our vocation as the priests in this temple of God, the earth. I won't go into the details but encourage you to listen to the podcast if you can. If you are dissatisfied by the dominant narratives about the environment, I suspect that you will be moved, as I was.

Here is one direction in which the ideas from these talks have taken me this year:

To my (simple) mind, the identity crisis of American Orthodox is based in complete confusion between the particular and the universal. We don't know which practices, attitudes, beliefs, traditions, etc. are Serbian or Greek and which are Orthodox. We often find ourselves asking "Is this Russian/Bulgarian/Arabic/etc, or is it Orthodox?" assuming that we need to clear away the particular local traditions to find some central nugget that is true for everybody. The ugliest product of this assumption, to me, is the bitter attempts on the part of American converts (who feel, perhaps rightly, excluded) to erase the cultural or linguistic heritage that they don't "get," because "we're Americans, not Greek." The other extreme (to which you have probably guessed that I list awkwardly) is posing as Greek or Russian when you aren't, evoking winces from both the target culture and concerned bystanders.

So unless you just want to give up and say that Americans can't be authentically Orthodox, there is a paradox to resolve, between the universal and the particular. We can't simply try to find the lowest common denominator, because the more universally accessible you try to make something, the less body, vitality, and meaning it has. It becomes thin, transparent. On the other hand, it's absolutely sickening and opposite to the whole project of salvation (the realization of our personhood!) to pretend to be somebody else.

 In the sacrament of Eucharist, materials that come from the earth (and in the old days, from the earth local to the community) are offered to God and made holy. In this I see an ascent from the particular to the universal, which does not at all demean the particular, but requires it as a hypostasis, and gives it meaning. Our salvation has the same shape. Union with God's energies does not mean disintegration into a boring soup of melted personalities, but rather that we become our true selves, in all our peculiar beauty.

Let me reiterate: in our ascent from the particular to the universal, we do not kick away the ladder once we've reached the top. The celebrant of the liturgy does not contemptuously toss away the leftover contents of the chalice, once all the communicants have been unified with Christ by means of the bread and the wine, as if the spiritual end were embarrassed by the physical means. The "leftovers" are revered because they were our means of communion with God. They are holy now.

Okay, how do environmentalism and American Orthodoxy relate to this "shape" of our salvation? Well, as with every other people, our culture, land and community are the particular material that we have to offer to God. Indeed as the priests of Creation this is our entire purpose. Unfortunately our culture is an incoherent whirlpool of frequent immigration from one city to another; we use and abuse our land as if there were no tomorrow; and many, many Americans never find a true community, but always live in a loose, chaotic association of individuals. Before we can decide on what our liturgies are going to be like as Americans, we need to have a coherent idea of what it even is to BE an American. And to do this, we need to know what it means to be from rural Kentucky, or Houston, or Seattle. We need to make the land holy by building a community and a culture of that place, and offering it to God. The music and the iconography and the translation will take care of themselves after that. The basic posture of reverence towards the earth as the temple of God, whose priests we are, is where we must begin.

Fr. Stephen Freeman happened to repost this article on Modern Loneliness and Staying Put on the day that I re-listened to the Divine Ecology podcasts. It is very timely and says, better than I have, much of what I mean. This is just a start.

Monday, June 17, 2013


centennial post!

quarter-century birthday!

for breakfast:
these leftovers from church
these made fresh for the day
a glass of goat milk

while listening to part two of
this amazing podcast

No reflections on mortality today. I'm taking it easy.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

if there's one thing I like about that gal of mine...

This is the song that my husband gave me very general blues clues about. Oh man, it gets me. Gets me good.

very needly haystack

Husband just said

oh! this [blues song] reminds me of that one guy we used to listen to... you know, the one who sings I woke up this morning... I woke up this morning....

and that reminded me of when one morning at breakfast a couple of years ago, my dad said

Daughter, I've been thinking about your privileged young anarchist friend from school.

and I had to ask, through my cereal

mmm.... which one?

not all the water in the rough and rude sea can wash the balm off from the anointed king

A jazzy non-measuring interpretation of this ginger ale is brewing atop my cupboards.

I am finishing up Richard II. I contrived a scheme at the end of the school year to begin reading all of Shakespeare. Not over the summer or anything, just... in my life. I thought I'd begin with RII, Henry IV Part 1 & Part 2 and Henry V, because they're so great, and we just watched a good BBC version of all four. I have to say I had big crushes on all three kings even though I know you're probably not supposed to like any of them all that much. Matt particularly had a man-crush on Jon Finch's Henry IV. So rexy.

I will shoot to read all four this summer (they really don't take very long to read,) but after that, I think the best way to proceed on my venture is to just read the plays in the order in which they were written. I know that the earliest plays aren't consistently very good, but it will be interesting to follow the development of Shakespeare's craft, and I need some method to force me to read the more obscure plays. "This one comes next" is the best way I know to get myself to plow through. Or "plough through."

I found Harold Bloom's collection of essays on every play at Half Price Books for two bucks, so I will reward myself after each play with the essay on it.

I struggled with Shakespeare when I was younger (who didn't?) and now am wild about him. I have discovered that the best way (for me) to enjoy the plays is to read one, watch a movie of it, and read it again. Or you could invert that procedure, watching another interpretation of the play after reading it. There is no shame in watching The Movie first when it comes to drama. If you have problems with Shakespeare, don't beat yourself up. Just watch The Movie.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

some dark holler

I've been thinking of this song because we spent the weekend out in the country at my parents'. There happens to be a tiny Orthodox church a couple miles away from the farm where I grew up, where my mother grew up. It's not the one we usually go to but we love the people there, and since our priest was gone this weekend we drove out there.

 The priest invited us to come pick strawberries at his house, and I took him up on it. I sat on my butt and and filled a bag with tiny sweet strawberries. I was accompanied by several kittens and serenaded by the squawks of a peacock. Between his little farm and the one where my parents live is what you'd call a dark holler. When I was growing up we'd ride our bikes down there and play Pooh Sticks in the creek. Later I'd ride my horse slowly down the road, suspended in the moist cool of the dark air down there. Right now it's completely green and takes my breath away.

It's just about my favorite place. The little church has started an Orthodox cemetery there. I can't think of a better place to wait for the trump to sound. Be it known that you should lay me there.

Monday, June 10, 2013

general coffers

I was nominated to be the budget-keeper several months ago and did a decent job of it for a while. I quit for some reason, probably resting on my laurels of being such a good accountant, and haven't gotten back to it. So much of it was the same from month to month that I got bored, and I suppose that I also got pretty used to what "felt" like a good amount of spending. What tends to fluctuate is what we spend on food, and since we're trying to see how much local, organic, blah blah food we can swing, I decided to start keeping detailed records of food purchasing. The spreadsheet is so much more pleasant to glance over. I much prefer reading lists that say things like 2 mangoes, 2 lbs peanut butter, 1 thing greek yogurt, chai tea, etc. to lists which say things like gasoline, electricity, student loans, etc. The personal satisfaction of a balanced budget is not a big motivation for me. Looking over the kitchen budget, one can fondly reminisce about the pizzas and cookies and lemonade and parties, whereas $54/monthly to Geico does not give anyone the warm fuzzies.

Does anyone want to hire me as a personal financial advisor? I work sort of intuitively.

Friday, June 7, 2013


I am having trouble rocking out. I scroll through my college iTunes and a lot of my old jams leave me cold now-- somebody's else's melancholy, giddiness, absurdity, or anger. (Were they ever mine?) So I find myself listening to mostly classical European and Indian music, Delta blues, and Orthodox hymns. Classical music is appropriately eternal and contemplative, blues is perfectly personal and sincere, and church hymnody is all of those things.

But still, a voice is missing from me.

I am going to try to put together some "popular" songs that still get me, and maybe you can help me find something new?

Here are three, threaded in my thought.

Clearly I'm calmer and quieter than I used to be.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

if i don't go crazy, i will sholy lose my mind

First week of freedom drawing to a close. We have made happy rhythms already, and the house is humming a little more sweetly than it has of late. I gave away a carload of Things and have rearranged the Things that are left, giving us space to move, brew, bake, prune, stretch, play, croon, write, read, draw and think more fluently. But there's more fat to trim, always.

We've settled into our screened-in front porch- a breezy, quiet place for coffee, wine, books, and observing the activity of our street. Neighbors trans-alley have unexpectedly started a vegetable garden, and shared some greens with us when I offered them compost. (They didn't want it because it wasn't organic.) The Motorcycle Moses across the street tokes up in his garage with the young hooligans.

We've had so much leisure this week, Matt said.
It's been like a dream! Insofar as I've been completely inward, I said.

And I am glad that I have. Everything must rest quiet in order to grow. But: On some days I fear the inwardness and quiet, because I know that things die quietly too. Or worse than death, they grow crooked and sallow, self-smug with no way of knowing it.

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.

Very dramatic for the first week of summer... It's a theme that's been wafting around darkly for me this year, especially during Lent, and I cheerfully examine it now.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

St. Nicholas Step by Step

Here is what I have so far of St. Nicholas. Actually it does not include the most recent night of work, wherein I added the halo and border, because my phone broke for a little bit. I'll take a picture next week before I begin work so that I have documentation of that step.

This icon is for my fat little nephew, Lincoln, whose patron is St. Nicholas. The St. Katherine icon involved a lot more original composition, and obviously a lot of ornamentation. It was also my first, so there were several points when I had to take up everything I had done in a night and begin again. With St. Nicholas, I am following an icon by Georgii Gashev fairly closely, I began on a board someone else had gessoed, and the most complicated and time consuming part so far has been the hair. (But just like with the ornamentation on St. Katherine, I had the most fun with the hair. I'm not really a painter [yet] and I feel the most natural when I'm using the brush like a pencil, as with hair and delicate embroidery.)

So St. Nicholas is going pretty quickly, and I hope I'll finish him (or he'll finish me!) before we leave for Maine at the end of this month. It takes a while for the oil finish to cure well enough to travel, and it also needs to spend some time on an altar being blessed, so I may be cutting it close. Luckily it is SUMMER and I can drink lots of coffee and stay at class as late as the nuns will have me.

Apologies for my generally wretched phone photography. It's hard (for me) to get the same exact angle every time, so there is always a bit of distortion of the face. 

Cartoon (Ink on Gesso)

Base coats for all areas

First flesh highlight

Third flesh highlight (terrible photograph)

Building up the stole (ultimate effect will be white)

First layer of "pillows" for the hair. I was worried that he would look like a little old lady with a blue rinse.
Doing some renovation on the awkward third flesh highlight

Final definition on hair. Does not look like blue-haired old lady.
Close-up on face, because that's apparently all I did this night

St. Katherine Icon Step by Step

Base coats on everything, with features re-inked
First flesh highlight + some highlighting on garments
Second flesh highlight
Third flesh highlight with features re-done

Beginning the ornamentation
Golden rays of light on the collar; fixings for jewels

Beginning the B*Dazzling phase

More B*Dazzling

Still more B*Dazzling, plus embroidery on snood

Halo, lettering, border

Final details by Mother Katherine: whites of the eyes, "enlivening" lines

Monday, June 3, 2013

[being-at-work-staying-oneself is] difficult to bring into focus, but possible to be

This isn't a food blog!!! But this is what we are having for dinner, thanks to our church friends who have included lovely meat in our CSA share. The husband works as a butcher at Moody Meats and so he is able to get us eggs and meat along with the vegetables that he and his wife are growing out in the country near where I grew up. I am giddy with health and hippie virtue in the most obnoxious way possible.

I wanted to find a Youtube video of the Drevne Ruski Rospev monastery choir to share with you, because I've been listening to them all morning, but this video of St. Basil's Cathedral with part of their "Now The Powers" is all I can find. It gives you an idea. They are so haunting and peaceful. When I was a junior in college, I would frequently go to sleep listening to their CD "Ancient and Monastic Chants." Although I was diligent in my prayers and fasting, I wasn't going to church very often during that time, unfortunately. My brain was always buzzing about, working through all the mathematical, philosophical and scientific structures that the Enlightenment built with such sanguine hopes. I was going to yoga every day and discovering new strength (I remember the changes in my body so surprised me that I called it a "second puberty.") Socially, I was drunk on popularity, wit, and the favor of my professors. My faith in my own powers was strong. I don't think I ever consciously said "Therefore I needn't go to church," but there is probably some connection. Nevertheless, I always returned to the ancient quiet of this music, and I am sure that it saved me. I wish I could show you more of it. If you are able, you should buy this album.

Thank God that it is summer. Matt just told me about his beginning-of-summer memory that he always returns to. He was walking up the trail to the mountains behind the college, and just before the buildings gave way to the wilderness, he saw a tutor and a student talking and gesticulating with beers from the Santa Fe Brewing Company in hand. It is a small image, but to me it means that the tilling, plowing, and sowing are over, and it is time to let blossom.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Julius Caesar

My husband has been working with a few students for several months on this adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Nobody else (including me) had seen it until yesterday at our graduation ceremony, and we were all completely floored by the maturity of the performances and the sheer amount of memorization. The editing of the play consisted only in choosing the three scenes most important to the plot-- there was no "dumbing down" of the language at all.

You can watch it in this series of videos taken by a parent. Altogether it is about 45 minutes long.

Brutus is in 4th grade, Antony and Cassius in 6th, and Metullus Cimber and Caesar in 9th. I have seen a lot of children's theatre and although I am partial to these kids, and I like Shakespeare better than The Wizard of OZ, I must say that I have never seen such sensitive performances with such rich material.

part 1

part 2

part 3

part 4

part 5

part 6