Monday, December 23, 2013

not sure where fighting with one's family fits in here, Elder Paisios!

Elder Paisios on experiencing the Nativity of Christ

Christ, with His great love and His great rejoicing shines upon the souls of the faithful with all of His holy feasts, truly resurrects us, having lifted us up high spiritually. We only must participate and have a spiritual appetite to celebrate spiritually. Then we will feast spiritually and get drunk spiritually from the wine of Paradise that the Saints bring to us to treat us.

Sweet Bells and burnt onions

Here is what I am listening to a couple of days before Christmas. Find the Youtube channel with the entire album if you like her. I know it's sappy and very Adult Contemporary of me, but I just am over the moon about Kate Rusby. Her voice is transfixing and her accent impossibly charming. The instrumentation on her music is simple but well-textured and sweet, and some of her songs are completely heartbreaking. Oh lordy, don't get me started on "My Young Man." I think a few of my readers would really like Kate Rusby (and you can certainly share her with your small children.) I don't know if she's a Christian or not, but her music seems well rooted in a very old Christian folk tradition. After bafflingly secular Christmas preparations in a public school, I appreciate that very much. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The teacher's TGIF and other news

The other day I thought, There is no truer TGIF than the one that issues from the mouth of the teacher.

I don't want to compete with anyone for the hardest job, but you must agree that it's certainly up there. The "bedside manner" is what distinguishes the profession from many other difficult and trying jobs-- the teacher has to be a bit of an actor, and must affect a certain posture of the soul for the entire time that she is interacting with the students. It's a major relief, on the weekends, to simply be able to react to one's surroundings without first asking "what will my reaction teach the students?"

Perhaps the words "actor," "affect" and "posture" reflect poorly on my attitude towards this aspect of teaching-- these words smell somewhat disingenuous. Well, I don't mean to be. First, I suppose I am feeling a little bit disheartened these days, as in the public school where I work this year, I am trying to quietly conform to a system I don't believe in. So my word choice probably indicates some real bitterness. Second, although the words sound negative, I'm not sure how else I would say it. When I think of what for me is the highest existing breed of teacher, the St. John's College tutor (or any other teacher who engages in that carefully cultivated Socratic practice,) I see heroic levels of self-restraint and many small, brilliant poetic deceptions. One grows up and realizes that perhaps the tutors were not saying what they really thought. But that is what it took to lead a sleepy student from their dim childhood to become the peer of the thinking adult teacher. A teacher who simply says what they think and expects the students to agree may gain acolytes, but they will not win true companions in their contemplation.

 Indeed if one considers Socrates himself as portrayed by Plato, one has a hard time pointing to any genuine, heartfelt statements or actions that can be interpreted plainly, in only one, obvious way. Far from being an indication of insincerity on Socrates' part, his "deceptive" manner is the best way that he can undeceive his students, something that I believe he wants to do with all his heart. He doesn't want fans who think he says smart things, he wants friends to strive toward the truth with him. He cannot accomplish this through revealing all that he is and knows. (I don't know what he was like when he went home to his wife and children. I would be fascinated to learn.)

One is reminded even of Christ-- his incarnation is often spoken of as a divine "condescension." We are poor, heavy creatures, who cannot perceive the unmediated radiance of the Father lest we be completely obliterated. The Son of God appeared to us as we are, without compromising his divinity. There is no deception in the words of Christ, and he does not pretend to be something other than God, so that he can trick us into our own transformations. But he does reveal himself in his glory before death only to three close companions, showing that he is cloaking himself somewhat to those who do not have the eyes to see. In this I think we see the most perfect Teacher, who becomes the same sort of thing as the Student without ceasing to be the Teacher.

All of this is to defend my use of the words "actor," "posture" and "affect" in my claim that a teacher's job is exhausting. I am not Christ, Socrates, or even a St. John's tutor, and so I do this poorly. Doing things poorly hurts and makes you tired, even if they are good things to do. (You can probably think of a hundred examples of bad posture during physical activity resulting in injuries or chronic damage.) If I were a better teacher, this would simply be an aspect of my being which I showed to my students, in the same way that I show myself diversely to my husband, my father, or my priest. I won't use the word "natural" to describe the process (maybe it would be appropriate insofar as a habit becomes part of one's nature, see Aristotle), but maybe the transition between Teacher-self and Weekend-self would at least be less abrupt.

In other news, I have killed my kefir, by doing one or more of several things wrong. I did not transition it slowly from raw goat milk to pasteurized cow milk to raw cow milk; I left it in the fridge for a long time, and then I left it out with milk for a long time. The result is that I have a jar of spoiled raw cow milk. Interestingly, it does not smell as bad as spoiled pasteurized milk. It almost smells pleasantly cheesy, but it doesn't taste very good. I am sad.

At my appointment with the midwife, I had gained about 4 pounds in one month, which doesn't seem like very much to me, especially after my five pound loss in the first trimester. Also, my fundal height was 13 cm, and I think it's supposed to be 15 at 15 weeks. (For boys and single ladies reading at home, the fundal height indicates the growth of the uterus and therefore the child.) My midwife agreed that it was a little small but didn't show that she was worried or give me any advice.  The baby's heartbeat was very strong, so I know I shouldn't freak out. But I had already been worried that I wasn't eating enough, so now on this Christmas break I am going to be extra diligent about stuffing myself. I guess my mom always had such big babies (from 9 to 11 pounds!) that I will be surprised and (unfairly) disappointed in myself if mine is small.

Of course I'm not fasting for Nativity. At first I thought that I'd give up this or that, or abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, or something.  I couldn't imagine not fasting in any way. But then morning sickness happened and I realized that it was completely impossible to try to map out any external restrictions onto my appetite. When you can eat something, you absolutely must eat it without regard for anything else, because you don't know when you will be able to stomach it again. Whatever saint said that eating during pregnancy is itself a kind of fast knew, somehow, what he was talking about. And really, if I were to fast, I would be forcing a baby to fast. And that would be cruel.

I am wondering when I will be able to fast again, though. Conceivably, a mother could be pregnant or breastfeeding from marriage to menopause. My mother had her last child when she was 42, and she told me she had signs of fertility as late as 52. I'm 25 now. That could be 27 years. Well, if I'm pregnant and breastfeeding for 27 years straight, maybe not being able to fast will be the least of my worries.

One more thing. I was getting into Notre Dame de Paris (also known as The Hunchback of Notre Dame,) when I started getting a little suspicious about the edition I was reading.

First strange portent, from page 8:

The other is this noble quatrain of the old humorist Theophile:--
Certes, ce fut un triste jeu
Quand a Paris dame Justice,
Pour avoir mange trop d'epice,
Se mit tout le palais en feu"---
which, unluckily, is quite unsusceptible of translation, on account of the pun upon the word epice, which signifies fees as well as spices.

Excusez-moi, mais didn't Hugo write this book in French? Why is he telling me that something is untranslatable from French to English?

Second strange portent from page 74:

A history of vagabondism, beggary, and thievery, could it be faithfully and sagaciously written, would form neither one of the least interesting nor least instructive chapters in the great history of mankind, and especially in that of all such old governments as have been established originally by violence and brigandage (commonly called conquest), and for the benefit of the invading and armed minority and their descendants, at the expense of the unarmed, peaceful, and laborious majority-- of such governments, in short, as that of France before the revolution of 1789, and that of England before the grand Norman plunder and ravage of our country, and butchery of the best and bravest of our free Anglo-Saxon forefathers....

This is just too much. Hugo was French. He could not have spoken of the Norman invasion of England as "the grand Norman plunder and ravage of our country." Just the word "our" is obviously wrong, but the whole attitude in general sounds completely un-French.

I went straight to Wikipedia to make sure that I wasn't crazy and that Hugo was French, and wrote this book in French. I was right. Moreover, in browsing the article on this book in particular, I came across several references to "The Preface." There was no such section in my edition. "I wonder who the translator is," I thought, and discovered that there was no translator listed anywhere in the book, nor was there any publication information whatsoever. Where did this volume come from? I almost suspect that it is diabolical in origin.

So now I must walk in the rain to the library to find a more authentic edition and start over. Au revoir.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Friends who read my blog who are also my friends on Facebook, I'm sorry for being a sometimes-scrupulous junkie. Not that it's a big deal to anyone else, but I'm always hopping on and off. It's probably not annoying to anyone unless you are trying to contact me in the laziest way possible. (J'accuse... myself.) But I just wanted to apologize in case you ever think it was something you said. It never will be; it's always me just wanting some peace and quiet.

I laugh every time I deactivate my account and FB asks for me to give a reason so that they can dissuade me from my drastic decision. Sometimes I select "I spend too much time on Facebook," to which they counter: "Did you know that you can limit the email updates that Facebook sends you?" Ms.Crabapplesays HAH! Like a FB junkie ever wastes time on email notifications! Then you would deprive yourself of the enjoyment of that little red flag. Surely only old people do that.

My reason for leaving Facebook, usually, is that "It is better for me to stare off into space and sing to myself like an Alzheimer's patient than to have other people's opinions and self-posturing constantly dripping into my brain and inciting me to self-doubt, envy, and scorn, even when I'm not on Facebook." I don't even have to move off the couch to spend my time more virtuously than that. I can literally watch an icicle melt for the same amount of time that I usually spend on Facebook, and I'm pretty sure it would be better for my soul. I might have a better chance of praying with the icicle or the Alzheimer's.

I do have enough really interesting friends that I miss the articles and pithy bon mots when I'm not plugged in.

Here's a list of more general interest than what I've eaten today:

Books I've read during my pregnancy so far
1. Lord of the Rings (started reading before conception, I think)
2. Middlemarch by George Elliot
3. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
4. Harriet Hume by Rebecca West
5. Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

I am hoping that this diet will be good for the baby.

Gosh, I feel like there was something else. I've tossed aside a few books that I just wasn't into currently (sorry Graham Greene [The Power and the Glory,] Shakespeare [Merchant of Venice,] and Goethe [The Sorrows of Young Werther,] maybe next time!) so maybe that's why this list feels incomplete. I've consistently been dipping into From Glory to Glory, selections from St. Gregory of Nyssa and I have started reading Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo. There are things about it that just make you sigh with a teensy bit of exasperation but I think I will like it more as I get into it. If I stay off of Facebook then that will happen sooner. I know I can't skip anything because the one time I skipped some stuff at Waterloo in Les Miserables, I missed a very important plot point.

Oh, I did read the first five pages of my husband's essay on Hegel with which he hopes to win admission into a few philosophy departments (as well as a stipend? That can support a small family? Anybody?) He left me with sort of a cliffhanger, and I was actually really disappointed that there was no more to read. (Yes! There can be cliffhangers in essays on Hegel!) The whole experience made me happy because first of all, I thought the essay-into-writing-an-essay* was quite good, and well, isn't it always good when things are good? Second, I was happy because every wife wants her husband to be good at the thing he wants to do and is trying to support the family by doing, so I was proud of him. Third, I was happy because some wives want reassurance from time to time that they still can follow an exegesis of the Phenomenology of Spirit, so I was relieved and please that I understood it well enough to be able to offer criticism.

I wonder what it will be like if he does end up in a philosophy program. I'm sure I'll be be able to follow the plot with interest in the conversations we'll have around the dinner table with his colleagues, but I imagine that I'll suffer from severe and chronic treppenwitz, since I do not plan to keep up on the secondary literature on Hegel et al, and also because, thanks to this baby, I can already feel my brain turning into a six lb lump of fresh mozzarella.

*French pun which I could not resist

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Let all mortal flesh keep silent (that means no presents)

Unrelated to the rest of this post: This is a calming and beautiful film. The snow is falling heavily this morning and I curled up with my blanket and hot cocoa to watch monks use antiquated tools.

On a less monastic note, I am so going to make these Parmesan Shortbread Cookies for people after Christmas. I LOVE savory cookies (like Mark Bittman's Olive Oil Cookies,) and now that I'm just not into sugar anyway (a healthy side effect of being pregnant.) And duh, shortbread should have cheese in it.

I like the idea of making some savory cookies for gifts after Christmas because:

1. I won't be on break until a couple of days before Christmas, and this year I refuse to do any Christmas preparation until I'm on break.
2. Everyone will be tired of puppy chow and fudge and chocolate covered pretzels and colored-sugar cookies and a treat with no sugar might hit the spot. Plus, after Christmas Orthodox friends won't have to choose between letting the cookies get stale and breaking the fast for a recipe with 7 tablespoons of butter.
3. Isn't it so much nicer to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas than the month and a half of Christmas? Not trying to be a triumphal "wetback" Orthodox here but dang, we just do it better. Or in our convert church's case, dang, we're learning to do it better.

My family (parents, siblings, Matt and I) have decided not to give Christmas presents this year. Well, of course we can't get away with ZERO gifts, so we're all just contributing one or oh okay maybe two things to each person's stocking. I am so relieved. I hate Christmas shopping. I don't care about presents that much either. If everyone was genuinely creative and thoughtful (which nobody has time for, including me) and gave something really touching and meaningful, that would be great. But gift exchanges (in my family, at least) too often become "What do you want? Okay, I'll go get that." On the one hand, it's nice to give and get exactly what's desired, but on the other hand, it's just a little crass. It reminds me of a comic I once saw about Christmas when you're in your thirties with no children-- Here's your Christmas present. I didn't wrap it because you were with me at the store when I bought it for you.

I always think of the Christmas in Little House on the Prairie, when the girls were so excited to each get one orange, a peppermint stick, and their own little tin cup. Or the Christmas in Little Women, when the March girls took their Christmas dinner to the poor German family. Compare that to my Christmases growing up, when we lusted after our presents for several weeks beforehand, and ripped off the wrapping paper so greedily. The rest of the day just seemed like a let down after that, even if we enjoyed our toys. That's covetousness for you.

So I am excited to see what Christmas is like with only stockings. I can't say what I'm putting in my siblings' stockings because I think my brother reads my blog. It suffices to say that Matt and I finished our Christmas shopping in about 20 minutes and spent more time and about the same amount of money eating sushi afterwards than we did shopping. (Christmas spirit? Maybe not.)

I realize we haven't actually experienced this gift-less Christmas yet, but I'm already imagining Christmas without presents for our children. With all that extra time, money, and energy that we've saved not buying gifts, we'll prepare the house with more crafty decorations. On Christmas Day we'll go to Liturgy, come home and have a nice Break Fast casserole, maybe open stockings, play games, and sing Christmas carols that we haven't sung all month. In general, I just want the focus to be on traditions more meaningful than exchanging gifts, which becomes so easily becomes the desideratum for children. They're not angels.

Matt will be on his mail route all day, as he always is on Saturday. My plan for the day is to listen to this podcast called "The Good Wife," which many of my friends are raving about, while either knitting a hat for my dad or gluing the linen to my icon board (the fibers will help the gesso adhere to the board later.) I've got some lamb bone broth bubbling (sorry everybody) and it smells great. I should go out to my parents' to do some laundry, clip some winter greenery and hang out with my sisters but it's snowing pretty hard and I just might not make it out of my pajamas until Vespers, if ever.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fish day pasta

Here's a pasta sauce that is Lenten (on a fish day) but also tastes good, nourishes a pregnant woman and her husband and is pretty cheap. The Lenten thing was pretty much an accident. I looked at the calendar yesterday morning, saw that it was a fish day and spent the whole day obsessing about sardines.

Pasta Puttanesca is supposed to include capers, and doesn't call for artichokes, but I think the substitution is forgivable. In general, we've taken almost religiously to using at least one anchovy, disintegrated with garlic in olive oil, as the base for tomato sauces. A whole can of sardines makes this sauce a little more assertively fishy, like "hey, I'm an INGREDIENT." I got the kind packed in extra virgin olive oil so that I could use the fishy liquid from the can in my sauce.

Amounts are ish-y on this sauce. Time can be ish-y too. I happened to start my sauce very early and just kept stirring in more tomato paste and water as it simmered and I puttered around my kitchen. I spent about 40 minutes doing this, and my sauce ended up being very rich, but I imagine it could be thrown together more quickly and still taste like BAM! The flavors really start harmonizing after 20 or 30 minutes, though.

Pasta Puttanesca-ish
1 lb linguine or fettucine
olive oil
3-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 - 4 oz can oil-packed sardines, or a can of anchovies if you'd like less fishy material, or both if you're crazy about fish
1 - 16 oz can diced tomatoes
1 can of tomato paste (you won't use the whole thing)
15-20 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (amount depends on your patience)
a can of black olives if you ain't choosy

1 -16 oz can of artichoke hearts, chopped

Start the water a-boilin' even if you plan to take a long time with your sauce. You can always turn it off and on again.

Making the Sauce
Heat olive oil and pour in oil from the fish. Saute garlic and fish over low heat until fish disintegrates.

Add tomatoes. Turn up heat to medium, high enough to start cooking the liquid down. Add olives.

When the sauce has reduced a bit, add a spoonful of tomato paste and about 1/4 cup water. You can also use brine from the olives as your liquid if you like. Reduce again and repeat until you like the looks of your sauce. The more disintegrated the particles, the better.

Add the artichoke hearts when you're about 10-15 minutes away from eating, as they are more delicate than the olives.

Important pasta/sauce integration technique:
 Get the pasta water going again and cook the pasta until it is slightly toothier than you like it. Before straining, reserve about 1 cup pasta water. Strain and return to pot. Quickly add a few glugs of oil, and pour the sauce into the pot. Return to medium heat and cook the pasta in the sauce for about five minutes, stirring frequently, so that the noodles absorb the sauce. I continually splash the pasta water back into the pot as I stir. The starch in the liquid will help bind the sauce to the noodles. You do not need to use the whole cup of pasta water.

Season generously with pepper, but tread carefully with the salt (sardines, olives, and artichoke hearts are already salty.)

This can sit around for a few minutes off-heat before you eat it. It is also very good as leftovers. I wouldn't even hesitate to make it ahead of time and warm it up (ON THE STOVE) for dinner.

Monday, December 9, 2013

help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace!

Okay, now I can talk about being pregnant. I need to try not to complain too much. I'm not the first dame who's ever been knocked up and I won't be the last.

I worry that I'm not gaining any weight. We don't have a scale so I have to wait until I go to my midwife again in a couple weeks to find out. I just don't think I'm eating enough. I'm not nauseous any more, and I'm a glutton, so I'd be glad to eat more, but I am LAZY. I don't go shopping often enough and I hardly ever feel like making something in the middle of the day just for myself. But guess what, eating is my ONE JOB right now (besides sleeping.) And I love to eat so how could I mess this one up?

I think I'll try to keep a dumb food journal. I wrote down what I have had already today. Sorry this is so boring to everyone but me.
  • Two eggs scrambled on two pieces of whole wheat toast
  • 3-5 celery sticks with peanut butter
  • some rice and kimchi stew (contained tuna, tofu, egg, potato, chicken broth, homemade kimchi)
  • 2 small glasses of kombucha
  • 1 mug of whole milk mixed with chocolate almond milk and about 1/3 a mug of my husband's leftover coffee
  • A sandwich on whole wheat with goat cheese, cheddar, and homemade sauerkraut

Hey, that looks like a lot, and it was all yummy. But I'm still hungry and now I have to go to the store or eat kimchi stew for the fourth time since Saturday. See my problem?

I found a black, short, wiry hair somewhere in my food today and I wondered when a dog had been near my food, but then I realized it was from my husband's head! Hah!

A friend is going to come over to help me organize my kitchen. Thank God. I am so excited but also nervous because when someone helps you clean your house, any good impressions you made when you had them over for dinner before will be exposed as the illusions they really are! I don't think she wants me to clean before she comes over to help me clean, so here is the Real Stripling House. Friend, who's reading this but whose emulation of St. Nicholas I will not expose, you will notice that my place mats are dirty.

I had to play fourth-string cantor at church on Sunday. Thank God that we made it to the end without too many awkward, paper-shuffling pauses and with zero blasphemies. Our church really is not a very tough crowd because everyone knows the music quite well, but that doesn't mean that leading doesn't take a lot of energy, especially when you're not really a soprano! (In fact, it might be more difficult to lead such a group of singers than a group that doesn't know the music.)  Actually, besides singing loudly and out of my range for 90 minutes, the biggest energy drain was beating my hands, perhaps too expressively, to "keep time" (or, since there are no discernible measures, call it "temporal and emphatic interpretation of musical phrases".) That doesn't sound like a lot of exercise but I am surprisingly frail these days, and I don't do a lot of hand waving.

I did appreciate that feeling of struggle. It's easy to cruise through church when you're very comfortable with the service. We might approach some aspect of contemplation when we pray so automatically, but for me it's often insincere. Yesterday I had a few moments when I was either close to fainting, or could sense its approach from afar, and all I could do was grip the cantor stand tightly, turn my face to the altar (away from the music book, which I obsessively read even though I know the music by heart) and collapse completely into the petitions for mercy. Perhaps this frailness is a gift, since I am not experiencing the frailness and struggle that comes with typical fasting for Nativity.

It reminds me of that Sunday after we had a big party, when I was so miserably hungover that it was all I could do to stand up for the whole service. When every breath is a prayer for help, the words of the Liturgy become very important, and the heart can do nothing but cling to them. Judgement and pride and idle thoughts go right out the window. So I thank God for the humbling experience of a weak body, something that young adults don't think about too often, and I also thank Him that I am only the cantor when the stars align in the most unlikely of patterns.

P.S. This song is a knife.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

deo gratias

Thanksgiving was last week, and the world has tumbled into Christmas crazy more quickly than ever before, obliterating the post-Thanksgiving glow. But here are some things that happened.
  • All four of my younger siblings were home at the same time (as me.) That has happened in the past few years but not on Thanksgiving, as I went to college like 2000 miles away, and never came home for such a short break. For the three Thanksgivings since I graduated, my brother has been in Europe every single time. So this was the first time in seven years that we've all been together for the simplest and nicest holiday.
  • We finally did a turkey right. We never used to do that when I was growing up, because at some point one of my younger sisters said "I don't want tuwkey, I want hamballs," and we just went with it for as long as I can remember. Then when I went away I realized that everybody else did turkey, and it was very good. So Matt and I have been trying to convince my mom to do turkey ever since. We made baby steps over three years-- from no turkey, just ham, to a ham and half a turkey, to this year's big fat turkey and no ham! (Well, there was ham around the house, and we ate it all day while we were making the turkey, but it was obviously singing BGV.) The turkey turned out great, even though we roasted it in my grandma's old metal dish pan, and we got a huge pot of turkey stock from it too. 
  • We bought a clownishly ugly car for Matt's mail route. It's yellow... former-taxi cab yellow, and blue... half-done DIY paint-job blue.
  •  I accompanied sibling #3 to a consultation with a natural health lady, who strongly suspects that my sister has really bad gluten and dairy allergies, and put her on an elimination diet to figure out if there's anything else going on. I was slightly gratified when I walked in after the appointment and my sister introduced me as "the one I was telling you about who keeps telling me to eat sauerkraut," and the lady was like "That's the best advice anyone's given her!" We went to Trader Joe's and loaded up on the very few food items that my sister can eat on this diet. Anyway, I'm glad because she's been diagnosed with ADHD by a shrink at her college, and getting her diet balanced might help her get off Ritalin and in general be happier. I wish I could show you the Polaroid from the No-Cavity-Club at the dentist's office when my sister was six or seven-- my mom found it recently and we all gasped at how zombie-pale she was, with huge dark bags under her eyes. She totally had allergies.
          I took her home and we made kimchi immediately.
  • The whole family INCLUDING my mother played a game of football in the yard. I don't think that has EVER happened. It was awesome.
  • We played our homemade version of Balderdash in the evening. We just pass around a few dictionaries and everyone takes turn finding a funky word, for which everyone else invents a bullshit meaning, and then we vote on the most likely one. I highly recommend this game.
  • I finally told all four of my siblings that I am pregnant and the two eldest immediately scrapped their plans for traipsing around the world this summer, which I thought was sweet.
  • Hey, I'm pregnant! Don't come to my house, it's very dirty.