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.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I find myself reading and following several blogs of LGBTQ Christians, mostly Catholics, these days. That is not a cross that God has given me to bear, but I have spent a lot of breath and incurred a lot of heart ache in the past few years as I struggle to put myself in the shoes of my friends who feel Different, while I simultaneously try to hold fast to the teachings which I know are life. But I believe that the "issue" of the apparent conflict between the Church's teachings on sexuality and the struggles of LGBTQ persons does not simply draw us as matter for compassion, while us lucky straight people can simply hum and nod in pity for the poor gays. The conflict is compelling because we do sense that there is something deeply wrong here, but perhaps we then shrink back from it not out of disgust with our fellow men, but from the fear that while casting flashlights about in this labyrinth, we may strike something reflective which bounces the light back onto our own tangled and overgrown hearts.

I have been moved by what I have read on these traditional, orthodox Christian, LGBTQ blogs because these people have skin in the game. The dissonance between straight/mainstream Christian attitudes, LGBTQ struggles, and Christ's love is more than an academic or political problem to them. They are hanging on for dear life to Christ, despite attacks both from the mainstream gay community and from within their churches, because, as the Apostle Peter said, surely trembling, Lord, where else would we go? You hold the words of truth and life.

My struggles start to look very fluffy in the light of that resolve. My comforts are abundant and my efforts are anemic.

Here is my favorite of the bloggers, a Catholic wife and mother, philosophy/theology nerd, and fantasy writer, who used to identify as a lesbian, and now (I think?) recognizes herself as still gender-queer.

Here is an interview with one of the editors of Spiritual Friendship, along with Orthodox priest Fr. Josiah Trenham.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Huevos Rancheros

Well, I done went and told all the women under 40 in my church how to find my blog, so hi guys! Every time I think someone I know is reading my blog, I have to go back and read it through their eyes. Good thing I don't have too many readers or I'd get sick of myself.

I have been tres fatigue (Rachel! That means "really tired" and it's pronounced "trey fatty-gay!") recently and my kitchen is a wreck. It's very small so it doesn't take much to wreck it, and I get discouraged when it looks bad. When I'm languid I'm lazy obviously so yeah, it's bad.

I have three unbaked pans of this huevos rancheros breakfast casserole that I just sort of made up sitting in the refrigerator for church tomorrow. I am sharing the recipe now, not having tasted it yet, but I will let you know what everybody thinks. I have to confess that most of the time when I post a recipe on this blog, I sit down and write it while the dish is simmering or in the oven or whatever, before I forget what I did. So yes, I usually post the recipes before I taste them. (Unless I say "I made this last night and it was great!") But so far they've all turned out great, EXCEPT for the Lenten Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. Don't make that. It was bad. I never went back and told you that.

EDIT: It turned out great!

So here's what I would do to make just one of these possibly really good casseroles.

In New Mexico this would be made with sublime roasted Hatch green chiles. Everywhere else you'll have to settle for the canned stuff. It's not even 1% as good but still, my eyes started to water a little bit with tears of bitter joy when I opened the can and smelled even the hint of Hatch. A glimpse of heaven.

For three casseroles, I mixed three 7 oz cans of chiles in a 12 oz jar of tomatillo salsa that I happened to have around. Tomatillos are bright, acidic little green tomatoes that go very well with the smoky deep chile flavor. You'll find the two paired often in New Mexican cuisine. But if you don't need to stretch your chiles, no need to adulterate!

Huevos Rancheros Breakfast Casserole
6-8 corn tortillas (Our favorite brand in the whole world is Milagro. Mexican grocery stores, in the midwest, at least, seem to have them consistently.)
(2) 7 oz cans green chiles, if you're not in the Promised Land 
8-12 eggs (how hungry are you?)
3 or 4 cups of grated cheese (a big block,) such as Pepper Jack, Cheddar, or a Mexican queso
1 can black beans, drained
a bit of oil to fry the tortillas

Fry the tortillas in lard or coconut oil. Let them cool and then rip them into several pieces each. Cover the bottom of a casserole pan with half of the tortilla fragments. Dump all the beans in the pan and spread them around evenly. Spoon half of the green chiles evenly over the beans, and sprinkle with half of the cheese. Cover with the rest of the tortilla fragments, then the rest of the green chiles and then the remaining cheese.

Whisk up the eggs in a bowl or big measuring cup. Salt and pepper them to taste. (That means to your liking, it doesn't mean taste the raw eggs to see if you like them.) Pour the eggs over the whole thing. Some people don't break the yolks, which is yummy, but I was hoping the beaten eggs would permeate all layers of the casserole rather than just sitting on the top. That seems easier to divide into small portions for many people.

Let it all sit in the fridge overnight.

Tomorrow I'm going to bake the casseroles at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. I'll check back in with you after church.

Also, I would definitely garnish with green onions if they had not been oddly absent from my grocery store today! Cilantro seems like a decent thing to do. Avocado and sour cream are also recommended.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Manhattan Clam

You can't call it chowdah if it isn't from Maine. My husband was suspicious of this soup because he grew up spending summers in Maine, and his family lives there now. So a tomato clam chowder just doesn't sound right. If I had just called it "Tomato Clam Soup" he might have felt differently. But Manhattan Clam Chowder sounds so fancy!

It's really easy, cheap, and you probably have all the ingredients. The only thing that kept my version from being Lenten was the lard I used to saute the vegetables at the beginning. You can use olive oil or just soften them with a little clam juice or water.

Manhattan Clam Chowder (Can Be Lenten)
1 Tbsp lard, olive oil, or butter
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
2 medium onions, diced
2 biggish carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
2-5 cloves garlic, minced
2-14.5 oz cans of diced tomatoes
2 cans of minced clams
3-5 large potatoes, cubed
Tabasco or Tapatio to finish

Do I even have to tell you what to do? It's so easy. Saute the vegetables except potatoes until they are soft. Add the tomatoes and the juice only of the clams, along with the potatoes. Add a couple of cans of water so that you have enough liquid to cover the potatoes. Salt generously, because the potatoes need it! Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 30-40 minutes. Add the reserved clam meat and seasoning.

Now, if you are really fancy, you will use the last 10 minutes of simmering to steam some REAL LIVE clams in their shells! Ooh la la.

Sorry that this is just a recipe blog now! I'll get back on this horse someday. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

spanakoriso, three ways

It's fall, blah blah. The leaves are orange. Actually, some are still green here, even though it's November 2! I'm confused.

I've been hankering after spinach recently so I made this Greek Spinach and Rice dish. It's terribly simple and cheap. Here is the recipe straight from Greek Cooking For The Gods by Eva Zane.

Eva Zane's Spanakoriso
2 pounds fresh spinach
1 cup uncooked rice
2 medium onions minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 bay leaves
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Wash and dry the spinach, and tear into pieces. Saute the onions, garlic and rice in olive oil until the onions are soft and golden; add tomato sauce, and stir; add spinach, bay leaves, salt and pepper, mix well and add beef broth; cover and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.

I didn't have fresh spinach so I used two 12-oz bags of frozen spinach. Although that sounds like it should be less than 2 pounds, I think it was weighed when frozen, so in fact it ended up being more spinach-heavy than I think it was supposed to.  We are out of olive oil so I substituted butter. I will go to confession tomorrow I guess. Additionally, I have no idea what she means by tomato sauce; perhaps paste? I didn't have that either, so I just dumped in a can of diced tomatoes. I would recommend using pureed tomatoes next time so that you don't have chunks, but my results are still very tasty.

Here's the way I made it, with the ingredients in the order in which they are used:

Mallory's Non-Lenten Spanakoriso
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice, rinsed
(1) 16 oz can tomatoes, diced
 (2) 12 oz packages frozen chopped spinach
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
2 cups homemade chicken broth

Saute onions, garlic and rice in butter until onions are golden and soft. Add tomatoes and stir. Add spinach and cover to steam and melt the spinach a bit. Add remaining ingredients, cover and simmer about 25 minutes (longer to let the rice absorb the moisture from the frozen spinach.) Stir as needed, but cover it quickly so the rice can cook. When the rice is puffed up and edible, it's good.

This is how I would make it if I were fasting from olive oil, meat, etc and didn't want to use a barbaric oil like coconut or sesame in a Greek dish.

Mallory's Theoretical Lenten Spanakoriso
Same ingredients as above, except substitute veg broth or water. 

Cook the onions, rice and garlic in a little bit of broth (no more than it takes to moisten everything) to soften the onions. Then proceed as above.
You may need to add more salt to make it taste good.

I garnished my bowl of spanakoriso with kefir (you can use yogurt), lemon juice, salt, pepper, and like four drops of olive oil from our empty can. More olive oil would have been better! One time I added parmesan cheese, I don't know why, and it basically became a risotto. It strikes me that ground lamb or sausage would also be a good addition if you are very hungry and want this to be your main dish. But if you stick to the Greek method, you can't go wrong.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

brief confessions of a former future philosophy Ph.D. student; LOTR

At my job, I stare at a computer all day, so I haven't felt like blogging at home. It's difficult to get in the mood for writing at work, even though I do have some time for it, and every time I've thought "well, I'll break the silence with a little anecdote that just happened," the old fashioned internet browser doesn't let me click in the typey screen. Sorry!

Since my last post, whenever that was, I have been re-reading Lord of the Rings for the first time since high school. I always meant to come back to it after college but honestly, it's taken me three years to lighten up enough to read a novel with elves in it. Maybe that's not exactly true, because I believe there is at least the fear of some wood-sprites in Kristen Lavransdatter. Nonetheless it's definitely been more pleasure than I've allowed myself in years. And before you think I'm some kind of repressed wannabe philosopher (sometimes I think that,) I have to say that I obviously enjoy literature, and I've read more literature than philosophy since graduating from SJC. And I enjoy philosophy and theology too. But I know at times I've approached reading these things as if it's something I'm supposed to be doing, instead of something I truly feel like doing. Sometimes I even don't read anything because I don't feel up to the tasks I've set myself.

But not Lord of the Rings! It makes me feel like a tremendous dork to be carrying it around town, but I love it. The primary struggle for me has been getting the damn movie out of my head. I haven't watched it since high school either, but looking back it just seems like it was done so literally.  I was at a certain Orthogal's apartment this last weekend and complimented her roommate on a lovely ink painting of a city in the mountains, with some winding paths and craggy trees, etc. She said that her parents spent more money than they really should have to buy it in the seventies or eighties because it "reminded them of Middle-Earth." I kept staring at the picture and after a few minutes, commented that it was so cool that they could be just reminded of Middle-Earth. The picture just tickled their fancy and made them think about Tolkien. It could have been any place in Middle-Earth, and you know what? It didn't have to look like New Zealand. In the same way, I have much fonder memories of the somewhat cheesy seventies Rankin and Bass Hobbit than of Peter Jackson's movies, and I think it is because the cartoon format allowed for more imagination and mystery.

These days, it's a little harder to look at a painting and be reminded of Middle-Earth, because we now have such a specific idea of what Middle Earth is supposed to look like! I struggle so much to imagine Frodo and Sam as anyone besides the boy from Flipper  and "Rudy." 

But thank God, there are episodes of the book that have not been committed to film! Although I was probably annoyed with this as a teenager, I am so glad that Peter Jackson cut out Tom Bombadil! I felt such relief as the hobbits were rescued by Tom from the clutches of the Old Willow, because I was simultaneously being rescued from the tyranny of the screen. Today I read the episode of Sam and Frodo's stay with Faramir under the waterfall, and I was so pleased that with Tolkien's clues, I was able to construct it myself. Moreover, I was reading it in my parents' living room, looking out the window at the same raggedy old pear tree that sheltered me when I first read Lord of the Rings. I was able to return to the impressions of my teenage imagination. And with such a peaceful upbringing, in a countryside basically quite similar to the Shire, how did I envision such grand journeys? How did I imagine the fragrant, dry hills to the east of Mordor before I had ever been to the high desert of New Mexico? To what could I compare the halls of Rohan when the grandest building I had seen was probably a government building in Indianapolis? How could I understand this book at all when I had never seen a single mountain? Reading the passages which are protected from the dull, universal control of the film was a return to my tender, youthful hopes. Now I realize that Lord of the Rings awoke a wanderlust in me that certainly led me to enroll sight unseen in a college 2,000 miles away.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

It's still pretty warm, but the air is getting a little crispy around the edges. Last night was a marvelous evening for doing my errands on my bicycle. (I never realized my hometown was s'damn hilly.) I braved sections of the road that I hadn't covered before and saw three students! Two of them were playing in the street and didn't notice me, and one is apparently the daughter of the owners of the carniceria/taqueria where I tried to get cilantro (her father gave me the one pathetic remaining bunch for free.) When you teach every single second and third grader in town, you musn't ever dress skankily or be drunk in public. I even feel bad riding around without a helmet; I'm setting such a bad example!

At the taqueria, I fell for coconut juice again. I always get it confused with coconut water, which actually tastes good and would be great after a bike ride, unlike coconut juice which is slimy and too sweet. So with an un-resealable 18 oz can of coconut juice to use up, I made this cake.

Note: I was really appalled today when I had some of the very sweet chocolate milk served in the cafeteria at school and realized that sugar is the second ingredient. So I didn't use sugar. But you could. In that case mix it in with the dry, not the wet, obviously.

Vegan/Lenten Pineapple Upside Down Cake 

Preheat oven to 350.

Make 2 flax "eggs" with 2 tablespoons flax meal and 3 tablespoons liquid (I used the damn coconut juice.) Do this first so it can coagulate a bit.

In the bottom of a 9x13 pan, spread around:
1-2 tablespoons coconut oil
20 oz can of crushed pineapple (DRAINED; reserve liquid)
1-2 tablespoons ground ginger (I just grated it right over the pineapple)

In a big bowl, whisk together:
2.5 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon

Make a well in the dry ingredients and add:
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 1/3 cup liquid (mine was leftover pineapple juice and most of the coconut juice)
1 tsp vanilla
the flax eggs
~1 cup sweetener (I used honey and molasses)

Mix dry and wet. Pour batter over pineapple stuff. Bake for 40 minutes. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Disconnected pieces of news about my life

Well, it's been a while. This morning I'm typing at a card table by our kitchen window, overlooking a little playground at an unused elementary school. My computer is surrounded by squash and zucchini and Rousseau's Emile. I am drinking my second Labor Day cup of coffee and the fan in the window is sucking out the scent of burnt oatmeal. I have set off the smoke alarm at least three times in the first two weeks in this apartment. The stove is electric and I just can't get the hang of it.

We moved from slummy southwest Indianapolis to sweet, green Crawfordsville. We aren't teaching at the little Orthodox school any more. Someday I will write about that lesson. I work in a little public school not four blocks from this little apartment, and it's horrible because everything is built on assumptions that I completely disagree with or at least question seriously (except for "It is good to help children",) but it's wonderful because the teachers and aides are so kind and devoted, and the children are raggedy, raw things who give me adoring hugs and high fives whenever they see me at Wal*Mart.

Matt is piecing together several little jobs, like substitute teaching, tutoring, teaching a homeschool Latin class, working on a farm stand and occasionally picking tomatoes, possibly building a fence for one of the priests, cleaning a bank, etc. Once he gets it all oscillating harmonically I think he will like his rhythms. He is working hard at applying to Ph.D programs in philosophy, so he walks over to Wabash college almost every day to take advantage of a scholarly, air-conditioned library.

We walked to Vespers this weekend. It's 1.4 miles according to Google. A nice walk if you're not bringing something to coffee hour or portaging your raw milk home. We do so much wheeling and dealing with our crunchy church family that we usually need the car on Sunday.

I don't have to prep at all for school because I'm an aide. I get home at 2:45 and I have the rest of my life to do what I want. I am working on sketches for an icon of Christ, which is inspired by Manuel Panselinos' Christ Enthroned:

and the Hilandar Christ:

 It's for my grandmother, who is old and failing. I hope it will be a comfort to her. She is Baptist but I know that she loves Christ and if I paint him truly, she will love the icon. She is an artist herself and has painted so many beautiful things for me. I've repaid her in scribbled thank you notes and brief phone calls. It's time for a real gift.

I have much more time to read now too. I devoured The Master of Hestviken, by Sigrid Undset. After a YEAR, I'm almost done with Emile.

 Here is a great essay about writing. I am fully aware that I am not a writer and I like to hear that practically nobody else is a writer either.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

"Sometimes I feel like I'm married to Cheech and Chong." -Matt

I wanted to share that on facebook (yes I went back) but didn't want 600 people to see it.

I haven't blogged in a long time.

Today I'm thinking and reading about and praying for Syria. Today I have time to blog but everything else would be trivial.

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Also: If you are new to reading my blog, I want to apologize for its totally artless appearance. It's both intentional and unintentional. I got fed up with messing around with pictures and thought I'd take it back to square one, just black and white with default everything. Then somehow I got stuck and still canNOT figure out how to change anything again! I don't mind the black and white, but the font and spacing are terrible! I am way more artistic than this blog makes me look, you must believe me.

Speaking of black and white, I just read Bea Johnson's hot new book, The Zero Waste Home. Thanks to my friend Rachel, I have been following her blog for a few months and have been totally inspired. I have to say that the blog frightened me a little bit. In the first post that I read, she talked about freaking out on a camping trip when they had to buy a plastic jug of water. Little things like that made me wonder if this woman was totally immoderate, like in the way that makes everybody uncomfortable. But I was charmed by pictures of her wearing the same black oversize man's button-up shirt every day, all summer, in 40 or 50 different cute ways. So I kept reading, and I'm convinced. I want to adopt new ways at a natural pace, and the last thing I want to do is be weird about it or make anyone else feel bad, but count me in. Here are some very small steps I've taken since I started reading the blog, both to simplify my life and reduce my waste:

  • Ripping up old t-shirts to make "paper towels"
  • Remembering (more often) to bring a bag to the store
  • Finding a store where I can buy bulk
  • Signing up for dairy, egg, meat and produce shares with local farmers/friends from church
  • Recycling more; donating lots of old stuff to the thrift store
  • Using olive oil as a face cleanser and vinegar as a toner (they both really work)
  • Massaging coconut oil into my hair occasionally, so that I don't need conditioner
  • Choosing to buy those recyclable toothbrushes made from yogurt cups (laugh at me!) 
  • Buying a water filter instead of buying so many dumb jugs of filtered water for kombucha
  • Keeping a coffee cup in the car for the free coffee at Half-Price Books... that's a joke, because it was a dirty coffee cup from that morning. But I did make the decision to turn around and get it, and it was raining!

This summer I would like to accomplish a few more steps:

  • Minimize my wardrobe and donate extras (cutting down on laundry!)
  • Composting (for... other people's gardens I suppose)
  • Finally figure out how to do the dishes correctly (I always waste tons of water)
  • Streamlining kitchen and pantry
  • Getting the appropriate containers for buying/storing bulk foods (I drool over her 100 mason jars)
  • Assess weekly/monthly food needs so that I can minimize trips to the store
  • Get the dang bike fixed and find one for Mon Epoux

Those are slightly more daunting tasks than bringing a bag to the store. But not as daunting as say, using moss for toilet paper, which the author used to do when she was even crazier about zero waste. And none of it is as daunting to me as the Diva Cup. Eek.

Please let me know if I ever become judgmental or weird about this. What I don't like about the book is how Zero-Waste seems to have become as important as a religion to the author. I absolutely think that mindfulness about the material world is part of becoming more attuned to God. But it is easier to be zealous in organizing my closet than in rooting out those pesky baobabs from my planet, especially when the former zeal can be flavored so deliciously with pride.

I must go make some cookies.