Monday, December 8, 2014

for the record...

My six month old son is having some sleep problems; therefore, so too my husband and I are having some sleep problems.

He's in a crib with one open side, jammed next to our bed. I give him a bath, say prayers and nurse him down between 6 and 6:45. He usually goes to sleep pretty well, and stays asleep until 10 or 11. He wakes up, I nurse him again, and he goes back to sleep until midnight or so. From then on he's waking up every couple of hours, if not more frenquently, only going to sleep again when nursing. He wakes up pretty much for good around 6 and kind of plays by himself in bed if we're still asleep. That part seems fine since I put him to bed about 12 hours earlier. It's just the stuff in between that kills me.

He does not transfer well from the bed where I nurse him to his crib. Part of that is probably the feeling of the cold crib blanket on his face; sometimes if I lift him up with blanket where we were nursing underneath his body and face, he makes the transfer.

So I think we have two problems. The first is that he can only go to sleep while nursing. The second is that he wakes up when I put him in his crib. That is as far as my analysis has gotten. Another possible problem is that we are waking him up with our movements (the feeling is definitely mutual,) but we don't have another place to put the crib.

We tried the Ferber thing for a while, where you let them cry (not scream) for about five minutes, and then go and comfort them with singing or back patting, but not holding or nursing, for a couple minutes, and continue that until they learn that all they get out of crying is a pat on the back. That seemed like it was working for the initial bedtime, but then he would wake up every hour after that until we went to bed, as if he were only sleeping rather grudgingly. (We're sort of in the middle of one of these struggles as I'm writing this.)

Then we felt terrible and concluded that Dr. Sears was right all along and we should just go with our instincts, which tell us (me at least) to nurse and soothe your poor little baby when he cries, not to ignore him. That feels right in my gut, but I don't know that guts are the only decision-making facuties to employ in parenting. Dr. Sears doesn't really have any answers as to how to stop co-sleeping. Surely after eight or nine kids he should have something to say about that.

Also, eff Facebook again, I'm so over it. Ain't nobody got time for that. That's my new catchphrase (although it's from an old meme,) and I use it in response to almost everything that isn't essential to loving and taking care of the people I'm responsible for right now. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

New blog idea

Sometime a couple of weeks ago I decided that I'd like to start learning Greek again. I studied Attic and Homeric Greek for a year and a half in college, a million years ago, and have made a few sallies in relearning it since then. Matt has kept up with it fabulously and is able to read Plato pretty well now without prohibitive labor, and I am jealous. I'd say I stayed more familiar with it than most of my classmates because right when we stopped studying Greek, I became Orthodox, so it's remained important to me, and I still know enough to make it worthwhile to look up Bible verses and stuff. But my ability to actually read it is long gone.

I asked myself how this attempt to study Greek again would be different from other unsuccessful resolutions, and somehow I came up with the idea that I should blog about it. After about a week and a half of thinking about it and talking to Matt and my best friend (who was a classics major at Reed after transferring from SJC) about it, I decided that this is what I'm going to do.

I'm going to basically pretend that I'm teaching a class in New Testament Greek. I found it very easy to learn Latin by teaching it for two years; the onus of explanation kept me accountable to really understand what I was learning and the schedule kept me on track. I've thought for years that I'd like to be able to teach Greek to our kids, and perhaps to teach it in a school or co-op someday as well. Now seems like a good time to develop the material for a course.

After studying Greek and French at SJC, and developing courses in Latin and Greek at the Orthodox school, Matt and I have come to believe that the best way to learn a classical language is through a mix of deductive and inductive approaches. A deductive study of a language consists in learning the grammar and vocabulary by memorization and exercises. It usually proceeds in a cumulative fashion, and seeks to eventually provide mastery of all the grammatical forms and concepts of the language. One practices reading the language by translating sentences that are written using only forms and vocabulary that have already been convered. It is thorough, but it is boring.

The inductive approach is to simply jump in clutching a dictionary and start reading, largely without understanding at first, but slowly amassing vocabulary and a working knowledge of the way the language works.

Our favorite way of teaching is to introduce the grammatical forms systematically as in a deductive approach, but to always spend part of the class reading an original text in the target language (we liked using Aesop's Fables, Xenophon's Anabasis, daily gospel readings in Greek and the Latin Vulgate, and Ovid's Metamorphoses.) We give the students some of the vocabulary words, expecting them to figure some recognizable things out for themselves, and point out the grammatical forms that they recognize. As we continue, we give them less and less help, and they see the forms they're mastering in action.

In order to teach in this way, the teacher has to have enough knowledge of the language to be able to pick out the forms and vocabulary to be given, and has to be a savvy enough translator to guide the students in their own translation. It doesn't require perfect fluency and expertise, but I think it would be hard for an inexperienced scholar and teacher to prepare this material themselves.

So that is where my blog comes in. I will be studying Greek using a textbook (probably the very thorough Hansen & Quinn, although I might look for one specific to koine Greek,) and explain the grammar concepts in my blog posts, as if I were to teach them to another adult, who would in turn teach them to their students. I will also post a portion of some Greek text every day (or with some degree of regular frequency,) with glossary and grammar help appropriate to the level that we've attained in our deductive grammar study. I'm leaning towards using the Acts of the Apostles, since as Matt said, reading the Gospels is just a little too much like looking straight into the sun.

The goal is to amass enough material, written at the right level for a reasonably clever and motivated teacher or parent to be able to teach New Testament Greek to their students, with the goal in mind of being able to read the New Testament without much help by the end of a year or something. Ultimately perhaps I will turn it into a curriculum for Orthodox schools. That's a long way off but I want to keep that in mind so that I can be organized as I go along.

I won't start until January, because the Greek books are at my parents' house in Indiana. But I just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking about it. Any ideas? How about a name for the blog?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

my days are okay.

So for some reason, I just have this constant anxiety that I'm not living a beautiful wholesome life every minute of the day. I live most of my life like assuming that I am falling far short of the habits of a virtuous thinker/wife/Christian/mom/whatever else I am, and then spending a lot of energy trying to plan how I can do better. For some reason tonight, when I was reading a blog about unschooling (an annoying term that means way too many things to be helpful,) a light flashed in my mind, or the winds changed or something. I realized that I do what I want to do and what I can do and most of this stuff is totally fine.

Just as I wrote that, my husband, out of nowhere, looked at me and said, in a surfer voice, "I think you need to squarely confront Heidegger." Shut up, that's not what this post is about!

Here are the things I usually do, basically in order.

  • Wake up and wrassle around in bed with my baby in an affectionate manner; change his diaper etc
  • Stare off into space and think about what's going to happen today while I smell Matt's coffee and wait for him to be done translating Plato or whatever he does so that I can...
  • Hold the cooing baby while Matt says prayers and reads the Bible
  • Tidy the kitchen and make breakfast and prep for later meals and make bread
  • Put the baby down for a nap
  • Sometimes nap with the baby, sometimes check in with our guy upstairs to talk about work or help him with computer stuff, sometimes make my coffee (which takes a long time because we use the Melitta pour over method) and do work (which is now the fun job of writing!), or drink coffee and read things on the internet or write in my blog or write emails
  • Go on a long walk with Matt and the baby
  • Make and eat lunch
  • Attend to grownup crap if I have to, like things where you have to look at the calendar and maybe get out the folder of boring documents and sigh because it's not really that convenient to do everything online
  • More working or reading stuff on the internet or petty household concerns while baby naps, playing with him as much as I can when he's not napping
  • Sometimes I go to the store and usually have fun; I drive to Trader Joe's and listen to NPR or church music or nothing, and I walk about a mile each way to the organic grocery store
  • Give the baby a bath (his favorite bathtime game right now is called "Clutching my junk and splashing disastrously with the other hand") and say night time prayers with him (Matt is usually at school)
  • Put him to bed and fret about whether I should let him cry or not
  • Read a book or blogs or write in my journal about what the baby's up to
  • Throughout the day, talking on the phone and texting with my sister-in-law (who was my friend before I met Matt and has a two year old,) my BFF (in whose grandpa's house we live,) and a good friend from college who came back into my life when she got pregnant (and had a baby last month!)

So what else do I think I should be doing? Iconography is not happening right now, I have accepted that. I could read more, but why should I read more than I feel like reading right now? I guess the one thing that annoys me is how much time I spend looking at the iPad. I use it for work, but you know how life is these days. All your crap is on the computer. What time is the store open? When are my library books due? How far is it to Maine from here again? Is there a liturgy on such and such a day? How do you make banana bread that isn't weird Sally Fallon bread? Etc. But I can't really help that. I don't rush to the computer for every single thing. It's ok.

Now I look at the clock and see that it is 11:57 and I am sure that the virtuous thing to do is go to bed, and I think I will. But I feel pretty good about what happened between 7 am and now.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

St. Catherine

St. Catherine's feast day is coming up. Earlier in the fall I sorta-promised a post about her, and I made a lot of attempts to deliver. I even started writing a short story, a new hagiography, so to speak. I had been reading Fear and Trembling and tried to get too fancy in imitating the Exordium. (That's where Kierkegaard tells the story of Abraham many different ways, changing essential details each time to meditate on the story.) It was getting corny (let's just say I spent way too much time reading about the library in Alexandria) so I put it away. I've had a couple of conversations about the St. Catherine problem and I think I might have exhausted what I had to say in those conversations, but I think I'd better just hack it out right here, right now.

Here's how I came upon the St. Catherine problem. I chose her for my patron saint when I was just a child of nineteen, stumbling into chrismation and baptism in a little Russian parish. I found her in a book of women saints, distinguished to my mind from all the other virgin martyrs because she seemed to be an intellectual woman. I happened to style myself an intellectual at the time, studying philosophy and all the "wisdom of the Greeks," and I was also a Single Lady, so her story appealed to me. I cringe a little now when I think of it, not at all because of anything shameful in St. Catherine (God forbid,) but because the choosing itself was so hubristic. Did I think I was going to be a Philosopher Warrior Princess? Did I think that I would be worthy to "defeat the pagan orators" and convert multitudes by my arguments? It's pretty embarassing, but I think that's how I felt at the time. Let's just leave it this way: She is the patron saint of philosophers, and my study of philosophy was one of the main things that led me to grope awkwardly towards Orthodoxy.

But I never felt very close to her. I don't know why. Maybe the problem is that I didn't ultimately see myself as a philosopher, and the virgin martyr thing wasn't really that inspiring to me either. Selfish, subjective reasons. I tried painting an icon of her, and it helped a little. During the time that I was finishing up painting my icon of St. Catherine, I read an account of her life which contained the episode, new to me, in which she sees the Theotokos and the Christ child in a dream. In my story, she saw the holy mother and child from behind, but even so, she fell in love with Christ, seeing him as a bridegroom to embrace, a king to reverence, and a child to carry, give birth to, and nurse all at once. (Remember that she had refused all her suitors, on the grounds that none of them were noble, wise, rich, or beautiful enough for her.) In her dream the Mother of God was discussing with Christ his
choice of a bride, and asked if he had considered Catherine. I imagine that her heart stopped with dread, as he turned his little face to her, and addressed his mother. "I have considered Catherine, and she is ugly and unbelieving, a foolish pauper, and I cannot bear to look on her until she forsakes her impiety." Catherine awakes full of longing and shame, and hastens to her baptism. In another dream, the Theotokos gives Catherine as a bride to Christ, and he gives her a betrothal ring, with which she awakes.

I found this story very compelling, but still did not feel very close to St. Catherine. Having married a nice Orthodox guy (who actually is a philosopher deep in his bones) a few years after baptism, I got pregnant a few years after that, so virgin martyrdom was no longer open to me. In my pregnancy I remember feeling that my mind was so ... soft and fuzzy, and that I felt overwhelmingly embodied, so that abstract thought seemed miles too high for me. I contrasted the warm fertile principle that I felt ruled me with the cool rationality with which my husband so naturally makes his way. And I still didn't feel that I could call to St. Catherine for help, because I identified her with the abstract male way of thinking. What did she know about pregnancy? About nourishing a child? About creating something with the involuntary secret power of your body and blessing it every second with your heart? Her distinctions were in the realm of the mind, contemplating the cosmos. My body was pulling me down to earth, where I had to think about things like stuffing my face to feed my baby. I did find myself praying to the Mother of God more often than before, almost more reflexively than to Christ himself.

But Catherine, in all her wisdom, knowledge, rhetorical skill, and general put-togetheredness was still distant, until after my child was born. I was chatting with the other Youngish Wyves and Moms of my church, and someone mentioned that she and her husband liked the name Catherine for a girl, and someone else said "Isn't she your saint, Mallory?" and I said oh yes, she was a wonderful saint, although I had recently almost been wishing that I had a different one (forgive me, St. Catherine!) because she was the patron saint of philosophers and... "crap! That's not all! She's also the patroness of... nursing mothers?"

Yes! It's true! But it is very weird. The reason for her patronage of nursing mothers is that when she was beheaded, not blood but milk flowed from her neck! Ah, well, that explains it...

So what's the deal? Why on earth does milk flow from her neck? And what is a nursing mother supposed to learn from St. Catherine's life, given that her method of secreting milk is so very, shall I say, unorthodox?

I've been pondering this for a while, and here's what I think. First let's review why it's weird. Of course the miracle is strange in itself, because it is outside of the natural order of things. It's also weird because Catherine is a virgin, and has no experience with nursing babies. Moreover, she is a philosopher, and one common criticism of philosophy is that in a way, it's barren. It can critique and examine things, but doesn't produce anything new, or really "do" anything at all. It's associated with abstract, universal, big ideas, but not so much with particulars, the material world, and immediacy. It's pretty usual to identify the transcendent realm of philosophy with the male, and the immanent world of practical crap with the female. So it's weird that Catherine, a philosopher and a virgin, produces milk, which is the way that a female body nourishes the body of a child. Very weird. But usually, in holy stories, if something weird happens, it is in order to instruct us in The Way Things Really Are. 

Another weird thing about the miracle is that the milk flows when Catherine's head is taken off. Now, this might be a stretch because I know that the ancients did not locate the mind in the head, but rather in the chest. But nonetheless, Catherine was a renowned orator, and that happens by means of the mouth, which is on the head, which she lost. So the nourishing milk appears when the organ of her fame is removed. That could mean two things about The Way Things Really Are.

The first possibility is that we have to kill rhetoric and philosophy in order to be a fountain of life. I reject this possibility because first of all, it can't be universal. Check out St. John Chrysostom et al. It also implies that St. Catherine was somehow wrong to be a philosopher, or that she practiced it in the wrong way. But her wisdom and powerful speech brought many of the governor's scholars and attendants to Christ, and it is the reason that she was sent to her martyrdom. So I don't think "Kill philosophy" is the message about The Way Things Really Are.

The second possibility, which my husband saw before I did, is that the removal of the head did not give way to the nourishing flow of milk, as if the presence of her powerful mind had been obstructing the flow, but that the milk was there all along. What if this maiden were not so cold and rational, but rather teeming with kindness and life? What if her chastity was not barren, but fruitful beyond mere biology? She is not Athena, virgin goddess of wisdom, armed like a soldier, with flashing grey eyes. Her philosophy was not cruel and proud, but "shows us the heights of humility."

I had it all wrong. How could I have forgotten that Christ is the child of, and so has special love for virgins, and that God always brings fruit from patient, barren branches? Catherine is like the rock struck by Moses which quenched the thirst of the Israelites. She is a fig tree which offers fruit to Christ even though it is not the season. Of course, she is like the Theotokos, who is both a Virgin and a Mother. The milk that flows from Catherine's neck teaches us that in truth, this is The Way Things Really Are. Philosophy, far from being barren and removed from "real life," is rather the love of God and all his creation, surging through us like sap from a tree, which drips out sweetly when we are pierced, revealing this life-giving virtue to the world. Virginity is fruitful.

That is something that this philosopher-turned-mommy needed to hear. Holy Saint Catherine, pray to God for us.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Popping in

I see that I did not make many posts in October. I guess I ran out of things to say for a while, and then got out of the habit of thinking bloggically. I'd like to keep it up, for a couple reasons. It's a fun way to keep in touch with friends, it requires that I examine and develop my whimsical little thoughts more rigorously than Facebook does, and Matt thinks that I can use this blog to Take Back Philosophy from the Philosophers!!! I will put that on my to-do list, babe.

In the meantime, this lecture on Immediacy by the matriarch of St. John's College, Eva Brann, might help to explain why I would want to do that. It's definitely about SJC and might seem like it's for insiders, but she delivered it at a conference on the liberal arts which was attended by many Muggles, so you should get something out of it even if you don't care about my weird college that I never stop talking about.

I would love to get off of Facebook again. But where would my little one-liners go? Yesterday I thought that I would write each little joke on a post-it note and stick them on the literal wall. Matt can put stickers on the ones that he likes. I don't need much more approval than that.

One does get lonely, though, in what I've come to call The Baby-Cave. This weekend I reconnected with old college friends on two occasions, and I think I can ride that high for a good week or so. It takes some effort for this little old country girl and her cranky baby to brave the poor signage and sometimes hellish traffic of the DC area, but it is always worth it to make contact again with friends who know me. It almost brings me to tears each time to finally see and hear these friends who are so much more than memories attached to a name and a little picture on my computer. In the presence of each of these friends, I feel vibrations in some tiny corner of my heart that has been silent for several years. Thank God for real people being real.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

every little thing

I am reading a book called Christ and Apollo by William F. Lynch. Matt asked me if I liked it and I said that I liked the ideas, but not necessarily the way they were expressed. I think it's because it's something called literary criticism, which I know next to nothing about, and I don't like things that I don't know anything about. (I am aware of this fault of mine, and when I see it, I say "My dogs are barking!" in reference to Socrates' description of the spirited part of the soul as a guardian dog, who barks at people that he doesn't know, and welcomes people that are familiar to him. Once you start looking for that dog, you see him all over town, including at your front door.) I find the writing basically boring, but the ideas are interesting.

Lynch identifies two tendencies in approaches to art (specifically literature) which he says have significance for the way we live our lives. One is towards the "Christic," the incarnational embrace of the definite, of particulars, of time, of our limited experience. The other approach is "Apollonian," in that it seeks the absolute, the infinite, the heavenly, and wishes to discard or "transcend" the limitations of human experience in order to achieve, in a word, divinity. Lynch, a Jesuit, of course does not reject the pursuit of "insight," as he calls it, but maintains that it is to be found in attention to and even adoration of the details of the material, temporal human experience.

It reminds me of one of my favorite bits from Dante. In Paradiso, St. John the Theologian questions Dante on the history of his love for God and his ascent to Paradise. Dante has been drawn upwards by his love for his girlfriend, Beatrice (who is in Paradise,) as well as his veneration of his patron poet, Virgil, but St. John presses him even further to confess where he first learned to love, and Dante answers:

I love the leaves wherewith enleaved
is all the garden
tended by that eternal Gardener.

Not only does each single leaf point to the whole of creation, but in some way each part contains the whole, so that Dante's love for each Created Thing is really a love for all Creation. I like that. It is an apt description of what I think constitutes Good Art, and it seems to me to be a healthy attitude towards life as well.

I was thinking about this when I was pushing Scott in his stroller. I thought about how good it is that Orthodoxy teaches us to love Creation through the many, many "blessings" that we do for all of its parts-- people, plants, food, bodies of water, homes, even man-made things like cars. A blessing affirms and even commands the goodness of things. I wondered if there was a blessing for strollers, because I am terrified of Scott rolling into the road. I tried to remember if I had ever seen an Orthodox blessing for animals that were not currently being eaten in roasted or cured form, because I was about to pass the Episcopalian church where I had seen signs for weeks advertising the Blessing of the Animals (which prompted me to make a wicked joke in my head about not being able to tell if Pride Week came in October this year, or if it was just the Blessing of the Animals at the Episcopalian Church.) And lo and behold, as I passed the church, I came upon a circle of people with dogs, listening to a priest read the bit from the Gospel about the sparrows of the air and the lilies of the field. Scott and I rolled up to listen and watch the priest bless each animal with holy water. I was a little bit skeptical and even prepared to make more somewhat mean jokes to myself as I approached, but I couldn't help smiling and feeling my heart melt a little bit when I heard the priest say:

"Butters, be blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
"Peanut, be blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

"Coco, be blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

I'm not sure it's strictly Orthodox, but I said "Amen."

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

wheels within wheels

Yesterday I bought Scott a big box of Huggies. It cost $23.99 for 80. They are really, really good. We had been talking about getting disposables for night time because the bigger he gets, the more pee he makes, and the more he soaks the bed. We've tried every combination of cloth diapers and intensely absorbent hemp inserts, but he always prevails. He has been sleeping on a towel so that we don't have to wash the sheets and mattress cover every dang day, but I hate that because it gets all bunched up. Thinking about buying disposable diapers made me very sad, because I know that they just end up in a landfill and will never, ever decompose, not in a million years. So I put it off, and then the other day when we went apple picking, I left him in his diaper for too long, and when we got home, he had a nasty rash. All the cloth diaper configurations rub him in exactly the same place, and there was no way to make him comfortable (except just letting him go sans diaper, which I did for as long as possible.) So my sadness about hurting my baby defeated my sadness about hurting the planet and future people and animals and I bought the Huggies. And now for the next 79 nights I won't wake up in a puddle of urine. That's nice.

Women who take care of the home, especially when children are in it, are constantly dealing with the immanent, material world-- the world of chopping vegetables, doing dishes, folding laundry, making the bed again, cleaning up pee and poop and vomit and snot, giving haircuts and baths, fixing broken stuff, buying all the things that you need to perform these actions, etc, and repeating all these things often. There are so many little decisions to make and actions to take all day long, and in all of them one is trying to make the best use of material resources that she possibly can. For some, that just means doing the cheapest thing. Others add "the quickest thing." Many add "the healthiest thing," and increasingly, people are adding "the thing that least screws over the environment." I try to hit all four of these criteria and it is rather emotionally draining. Having very high ideals about eco-friendliness and health makes it awfully difficult when the money and the time are both so short. Here is a diagram to illustrate what I mean. This is just about food (which is the biggest one because I have to make choices about it like, every hour.)

Not pictured: Lenten food (don't even get me started) or tasty food, because given my preferences, I believe that it's a subset of healthy food.

There are flaws with this diagram-- when you have four or more circles, not everybody can sit next to each other, so there are some scenarios which will not fit on the diagram at all (like something that is healthy and affordable, but not eco-friendly or easy/quick, such as many meals cooked from scratch using grocery store ingredients in lots of plastic.) And obviously I had to reach for something ridiculous to illustrate food that is healthy, but not eco-friendly, easy/quick, or affordable. But it serves to illustrate my thought process with every dang grocery store purchase or recipe selection, and now you can see where most of my anxiety comes from. I think it was easier for moms when all they had to worry about was affordable and easy, because they didn't really question whether the food in the grocery store was healthy or not, and nobody cared about the pelicans. But my god, the future of the human race depends on whether or not I am too selfish to make my own glue from flour and water and Death rattles a little closer to our door with every box of sugary granola that I just keep buying these days.

I went to church today with Scott for the feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, which is the patronal feast of the church we've just started visiting. I found it so peaceful and refreshing to cease my calculations and take a break from the game of hopscotch I've been playing between these circles. Peace and joy are floating somewhere above them, and I keep thinking I'll reach them if I can just build my house in that middle section, but more likely I just need to walk away.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

they couldn't reach it

Οἶον τὸ γλυκύμαλον ἐρεύθεται ἄκρῳ ἐπ᾽ ὔσδῳ
ἄκρον ἐπ᾽ ἀκροτάτῳ λελάθοντο δὲ μαλοδρόπνεσ,
οὐ μὰν ἐκλελάθοντ᾽, ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐδύναντ᾽ ἐπίκεσθαι. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Matt: You are a leaver of food! You left three spinach leaves on your plate at dinner tonight.
Me: (laughing) You were counting my spinach leaves?
Matt: I wasn't counting them, it's just that three is the smallest easily recognizable number besides two.

(We laugh some more because we think that's funny.)

Me: Oh, except for one, right, haha...
Matt: (stops laughing) One is not a number.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Haus keeping

This week I got 21 views from Romania, 19 from France, and 5 from the U (still!) K*. Be ye robots, or be ye men? I am dying to know.

I think a lot of people get to my blog by Googling little bits of Shakespeare or recipes or Orthodox buzzwords or "classical education," and they click on my posts thinking they're going to learn something. Sorry! Welcome to my brain!

Also some people might get here through Orthogals, which is terribly flattering (thanks O-gals!,) but just so you know, I'm just a 26 year old new mom with a liberal arts B.A., a keyboard, and no agenda. I'm an Orthodox Christian but this is not an Orthodox Blog so don't expect to find my podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. I started the blog a long time ago to practice writing and I kinda got excited about it again a couple of years ago. Sometimes you'll catch me writing to my friends from home because I forget that strangers are eavesdropping! I don't give a hoot about formatting beyond basic legibility and I rarely post pictures so I hope you like Garamond size 12.

My title, "Sweet beneath the leaf" is a bit from Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room.

The words we seek hang close to the tree; we come at dawn and find them, sweet beneath the leaf.

That's all! Husband is out in the glorious crisp September sun with baby, I've got to seize the day and shower.

*Could one of these ppl** be Auntie Seraphic!!!??
**When I spell "people" that way I intend it to be pronounced as the Monks of Valaam would pronounce it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Foolproof Soup Method

Soup, I think we can all agree, is awesome. Soup happens a lot during colder months, and for Orthies (as my little sister used to call us) especially during Lent. It is easy to make and a great way to enjoy random things in your refrigerator and to bring together enough nutrients to make a complete meal in one dish. Why am I telling you all this stuff you already know about Soup? Becaaaause, I used to have a completely distracted approach to Soup, wherein I just kinda threw stuff in the pot at random intervals and would often end up with veggies of diverse mushiness floating in a watery mess. But I got tired of that and now I have perfected a method of making Soup which I use so often that I just do it automatically, with results that everybody usually likes, even during Lent.

There are two really important flavor components in my soup routine. One is to use excellent bone broth. Chicken broth is very cheap, easy and versatile. I make mine in the crock pot (like so) with the carcass from our biweekly Sunday chicken roast. It's a cinch and hardly takes any time at all. I always include the neck (and feet if I have them, even though it makes the crock pot look like it is full of witches) as it contains gelatin. The silky texture imparted by gelatin is desirable and it is said to be a very healthful component of good broth. Of course this very important flavor Soup flavor component is not Lenten, (although I have seen on one exciting church calendar that during Cheesefare week you may cook with "meat drippings," so consult your conscience/priest on that one.) If I am cooking for fasters, I sadly forgo the broth and use water. You can make Lenten shrimp broth using shrimp shells but I have never really saved up enough to do that. I used to make vegetable broth with scraps but in the final analysis I felt that it tasted like compost.

That (what? compost?) brings me to the second very important flavor component: the spice roux. If you want your Soup to be very flavorful, it's not enough to dump paprika et al into the whole deal at the end and have them floating around aimlessly. You must first fry the spices in oil, so that each little molecule of oil becomes a flavor bomb. I also recommend grinding your spices fresh in a mortar and pestle if you have the time. Sometimes I don't have the time anymore. If you are a very observant faster you don't do oil on most days during Lent, so ... your Soup is going to be a little crappy because you can't use either of my tricks.

I do all of this in a big dutch oven that we were given as a wedding present. It's great to do everything in one pot.

Here is the order that I follow when making Soup.

1. Spice Roux
Heat your choice of delicious healthy fat (coconut oil, butter, lard, olive oil, tallow, bacon grease) in the bottom of the soup pot. Toss in any ground spices that you want to use (turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, that kind of thing.) If you are using dried herbs, they can be fried as well, but fresh herbs you will save for the end. I stir the whole deal quite a lot over high heat (unless I'm using butter, which burns easily.) At first it will be a dryish paste, and after enough cooking it will just look like a puddle of fat again, but colored according to the spices you have used.

If you are browning meat chunks or reheating leftover cooked meat, you can just do that in this flavorful oil. The same goes for pre-cooked or soaked grains like rice or barley. If you are cooking meat that is going to give off a lot of oil, you can do that first, set aside the meat, and make a spice roux in as much of the drippings as you would like to save.

Sometimes I will put a little flour in the spice roux, so that the soup will become more of a stew. You end up with basically gravy and it's great.

2. Sauteeing/Sweating
Now turn the heat down a bit to sautee onions, garlic, celery, and/or ginger. You're coating these veggies in your delicious spice roux and then imparting their flavor to the oil. NB: I sometimes include the garlic in the spice roux, and sometimes I just dump it in with the veggies.

3. Things that need to boil
Now add your chunky uncooked vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli bits, carrots, parsnips, squash, what-have-you,) beans, uncooked grains (I recommend soaking these overnight as well if you think of it, because they'll cook more quickly,) frozen stuff, or noodles.

4. Liquid
 Add your excellent homemade chicken broth or water, salt using intuition, and bring it to a boil. You'll have to be the judge of when to turn it down to simmering and how long to let it simmer. Taste for seasoning.

5. Fragile elements
Twenty minutes or so before you need to eat the soup, throw in any greens that basically just need to be wilted, like kale, spinach, or chard. Cauliflower doesn't take very long to cook if it's chopped small. Any pre-cooked veggies can go in here as they just need to be re-warmed. Coconut milk or any dairy can be stirred in now to warm. Fresh herbs should be added right before you serve, or allow diners to garnish their own bowls.

Et voila, you will be hailed as a Divine Soup Giver.

I prefer almost every kind of soup with yogurt or sour cream. Bread is a must. (Have I talked about Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day lately? Even I can do that, and I have a baby and I'm a hopeless scatterbrain.)

Bone appletights!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For Hannah, who gave us this camera

The entrance to our apartment, in the back of the house.

Our little patio, which grows lovelier with every dead mosquito.

The front of the house.


Living room of the Man Upstairs. He is kind enough to share it with us.

The kitchen, which I am always changing. I like the galley set up.

My dishwashing view. Except I don't wash the dishes too much, since we have a dishwasher. This violates my principles of Simplicity and Elbow Grease but it does make life easier.

Um, this is out of place, because it's in Pittsburgh.

Me and bubs on the patio

The approach. I will die on the stairs, I know it,

Add caption

Monday, September 15, 2014

I have several posts in the "hopper," or "pipeline," (or "chute... tubes.....?" as I called it, when I asked my dad how his sales were doing) which I hope to finish, but finishing is harder for me than starting. I'll tell you what they're about.

1. A post about St. Catherine of Alexandria, which is turning into a short story about St. Catherine of Alexandria. The question driving both of these examinations is:  

Why, upon her holy demise by beheading, does milk run from her neck instead of blood? 

Something about fruitfulness of virginity and the contemplative life, despite the charges from the World that philosophy is barren.

2. Pictures of our apartment, for the enjoyment of friends who are not on Facebook.

3. My foolproof instructions on making soup in a certain way, from which I never deviate.

4. Various anecdotes. These might never see the light of day.

5. Emotional navel gazing stuff, especially about worrying.

I write a lot in my mind as I'm walking, rocking, nursing, etc., but it's hard to sit down and pound it out.

Here's a little quote just for fun.

Me: So and so's wife is a very chic girl. She is the manager of an Anthropologie store.
Matt, in total sincerity: Is that the store that sells various... topical... agents.... for diseased skin?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

the five Ss of NOT getting your baby to sleep

SMACK his little buns with increasing vigor because this used to work

SWEAR under your breath between shushes

SIP a stiff one

SMOKE a fat one

SURRENDER to the realization that this just might not be a sleeping day

don't call DCS; these are all jokes (except the last one!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

titles are for normal people

There is a very corny poem on my midwife's bathroom wall:

Cleaning and dishes can wait til tomorrow
For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow
So dust balls be quiet! Cobwebs go to sleep!
I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep.

I told you it was corny! Imagine it on a sampler. It's catchy, though.

My first week of staying-at-home-being-a-mommy by myself will be over tonight when Matt gets home, because he only has to go to school Monday through Wednesday. The first two days were not bad; I resolved that I would set my sights on no higher accomplishments than getting the baby to nap and nurse as much as possible, and that meant that when I did sneak away to unload the dishwasher or feed myself or go to the bathroom I felt like a big success. I even had some nice long sessions of reading (Aristotle East and West by David Bradshaw in the morning and George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss in the afternoon, both excellent) and drinking coffee (bad! bad! but good...) while I rocked him in his car seat on the porch, with the overhead fan blowing the mosquitoes off-course. I felt slightly decadent but part of adjusting to this job is being okay with sitting around.

Actually, I've realized that it's pretty important to not just be okay with it, to not just excuse yourself for your apparently leisurely attentions to your child, but to own them. You have to sit there and hold this child, so why torture yourself by resolving to jump up and Do Something Productive as soon as his eyelashes stop fluttering? You are nourishing and comforting somebody else who can't do anything for himself. That's good in itself, and if you get to devour a book or binge on a podcast, then that's a bonus. Forget the dishes.

 So those days were good. But today was bad. This morning I abruptly handed the grouchy baby to Matt and said "I have to take a shower. You take him." I expected to hear screaming when I turned off the water, but I poked my wet (successfully no-poo'd!) head out of the bathroom door and found Matt serenely reading Plutarch's Life of Dion aloud to Scott as he sweetly slumbered on the bed. They were even holding hands.

So I expected it to be a nice peaceful day while Matt was gone, but it has been miserable. Bubs has been fussy about nursing for a few days now, so that I've somewhat flipped my protocol. Instead of nursing him to sleep, I'm sleeping him to nurse. If I can rock or walk him to sleep, he nurses before he wakes up fully, or I can sometimes slip him a nip while he's still conked out. The problem today was that I couldn't get him to sleep! The poor baby has been crying in the most weak little pathetic hungry tired fashion all day, shaking his head and grimacing when I offer him the breast, and making the saddest little lip trembles when I set him down. Finally I took him on a walk in the wrap, through a little wooded park nearby, and he fell asleep before I left our yard. I walked a long while but by this time I was very hungry and tired as well, so I gave him an early bath and with not too much screaming I rocked him to sleep, and there he angelically whimpers next to me now. He probably won't wake up except to nurse again until six a.m. or so.

My fifteen+ hour day of nearly constant fretting is now done and I think I deserve a beer. I always think I deserve a beer. We've become religious daily beer drinkers since becoming parents. I mentioned to Matt that perhaps we should cut back on this what some might call frivolous expense, as a 12-pack of non-donkey-piss beer per week adds up to $50 or $60 per month. He gravely rebuked me. "It's really important." I perceived my error and agreed that here I would not scrupulously scrimp. What price sanity?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

second nature

At my very last "girls' night" in Crawfordsville with the other young to youngish Orthodox wyves, which was conducted mostly on my floor amidst boxes of books and dishes, I suggested for conversation the topic of Habits. I had recently re-read Fr. Thomas Hopko's 55 Maxims for Christian Living, and noticed that the word "regularly" shows up a lot (in addition to words like "practice," "discipline," and "always,") and then noticed that even where it doesn't, of course it's implicit that all these imperatives ("Be," "Do," etc) are progressive and so the reader should understand that these things are to be done as a matter of habit.

With new beginnings in a new home on my mind, I was reminded then of a saying that Fr. JB of XtS in Chicago attributed to some Gregory or another during a homily when we visited last fall. I can't quote it exactly but the gist of it was that although every day is a good day to make a new beginning, there is no time more perfect than autumn to start a new good work in Christ. Something like that. So I suggested that we talk about habits generally, and specifically what we'd like to begin anew this fall. I was naughty and beset by many moving woes, so I didn't do the homework and think about the habits I wanted to start, and we just talked about the 55 Maxims, which was good. But now we're here in our new home, mostly settled in, and I'm ready to start laying some track.

It seems to me that human beings are mostly made of habits and that is why it is so exciting to think about starting new ones. It's like a makeover. You really can make yourself into the person that you want to be. Is it Aristotle who points out that when we know how to do something effortlessly through practice, we call that our "second nature?" I don't remember. I like that because it recognizes that we have two natures-- the raw material given to us at birth, and the form into which we can sculpt that material.

Enough babble. I'm a bear of very little brain right now so I'll just tell you the habits that I want to start this autumn.

1. Baby/Family routines: We've found that Scott Maximos is much happier when we do the same thing every day. This is how the day is shaping up for him:
  • Matt changes his diaper when he wakes up. Daddy is a little goofier than Mommy about this so it's a fun way to start the day.
  • Prayers, which Bubs actually seems to enjoy. He likes to look at the icons and listen to our voices.
  • Nursing while Daddy reads the Bible
  • The rest of the day is spent in little naps, nursings, accompanying me in the kitchen or sitting on somebody's lap while reading. We try to get in a big nap in the morning and one in the afternoon. The more he sleeps and nurses, the happier he seems to be.
  • A bath with Mommy after dinner, pajamas and a big long nurse while Daddy reads something out loud. I was having a bit of trouble following Tristram Shandy by ear since it is famously composed of about 95% parenthetical digressions. Matt picked up a Trollope novel yesterday at a bookstore so we'll try that. Bubs falls asleep and we sneak away. I nurse him throughout the night when he grumbles but he doesn't wake up much.
That's it.  It's amazing how much easier it is to take care of him and get other things done when we follow this routine.

2. Yoga: It's dumb, whatever, but I'm starting to feel like a senior citizen in my knees, and yoga is pretty gentle on the joints. I went to a yoga class every day for one semester in college and it was the first time I ever felt fit and strong and brimming with health that was over and above my youthful vim. It's the only workout I know how to do, so that's what I'm going to do, damn the torpedoes. We have a sweet little patio in a green jungly yard where the baby likes to sit and watch me wiggle clownishly. I can do a little every day and counteract some of the effects of gravity on my spine, which have been exacerbated by baby toting.

3. Learn some dang French: This is ridiculous. I am 26 years old. It's time. Two of my younger siblings are fluent or conversational in another language (in my defense, that is because they spent time in their target countries,) and it makes me extremely envious and, as you can see, defensive. I'm going to do a little Duolingo every day (I only stopped because of a computer problem at work last year,) and surely there is some website that hooks up language learners for conversation? If not I will Skype my Francophone bro, although I think we know each other so well that I'd probably understand what he was saying in any language. One other idea is to learn Deutsch along with Matt, but I do not need to add another smattering to my collection.

That's probably enough new habits. Somehow this short list doesn't express everything that I want to be. The grandpa we're living with noted that I am always doing something in the kitchen and asked me if I was an ambitious person. I said that I wasn't ambitious in the sense of moving forward or upward, but that I was dead set on maintaining peace and equilibrium in my life. There are a lot of little habits which cultivate serenity and balance, which are probably best summed up in those Maxims above, but which are invisible and interior.

Crying baby, bye!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Something my friend said a while ago which pairs well with the post below:

"I was perfect before I had kids."

The big news is that Mary remained perfect.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A few weeks before wee Scott was born, I was listening to a lot of Search the Scriptures with Dr. Jeannie Constantinou, in particular the talks on Deuteronomy. She tends to go off on tangents, which I sometimes like better than the actual Bible study part, because she gets all riled up and becomes more of the sassy Presvytera Jeannie than the professorial Dr. Constantinou. Anyway the last rant that I listened to lasted for a couple podcasts, and concerned the matter of ritual impurity, specifically that of women. She firmly stated that there is no such thing in Christianity. There are no unclean animals or people anymore. Menstruation and childbirth do not defile a woman and make her unfit to touch holy things. (You do not have to abstain from communion when you are menstruating!) She takes a look at the prayers for a woman returning to church after childbirth and while there is talk of cleansing and defilement in these prayers, they are clearly asking for God's grace in purifying the woman spiritually, not physically. What she said next struck me: The new mother needs to pray for spiritual cleansing because she's been away from church for a long time and probably has done some sinning.

I have thought about that a lot since Scott was born because HOO boy she was right. You might look at a new mother and think it's all rainbows and little baby kisses etc., and it is certainly very romantic much of the time, but it's also an emotionally tumultuous time, and there are a countless occasions for bitterness, anger, self-pity, remembrance of wrong, envy and pride. New parents can get very depressed and frustrated because while every minute is worth it, the "it" that every minute is worth is difficult.

The Mother of God is becoming my best friend in a new way. I really, really need her help, and she always comes through. When I returned to church I was struck by the familiar praise: "Without corruption/defilement you gave birth to God the Word." I never thought about that much before; I assumed that it simply referred to the biology-defying miracle of the Virgin birth. It does, but now I see how miraculous it truly is. The Theotokos did not merely bear Christ while remaining a maiden physically, which is amazing in its own right. More astonishingly, she became a mother without becoming a crazy bitch. She resisted all of those temptations to post-partum despair and bitterness and hoped in God, even though she knew this would happen:

We have this icon (one like it anyway) and I used to think it was maudlin, but now I find it very comforting. My heart is outside of my body now, squirming in a cradle over there, and anything could happen to it. ("Please God, don't let the eagles get him like they got Johnny G." -Anne Lamott) But it's all already happened to Mary, and she made it.

The thing that I hope you understand about the Mother of God is that she isn't a goddess. There would be no hope for me if she were. She was a woman, and because she gave herself completely to God, she fully realized her potential, and became exactly the person she was created to be. The thing you should always remember when you think about the Mother of God is If she can do it, I can too.

Monday, July 28, 2014

It has been a crazy pleasant summer here in Indiana. I've hardly broken a sweat. We've had only a couple of weeks of heat and humidity, but the rest of the summer has been all big fluffy clouds, awesome thunderstorms, and cool breezes.

We were taking the air this afternoon, which was exceedingly fine, and strolling around our usual haunt, the Small Liberal Arts College just blocks from our home when my throat clenched up a bit and I realized that we don't have very many strolls and hauntings left in that place. I've been buzzing around there since high school. I used to sing in the community choir and take cello lessons in the fine arts center, my brother graduated from there, and the library has been Matt's and my sanctuary whenever we've stayed with my parents. We walked home through the little playground across from our apartment, where I used to play with some friends I had when I was five or six.

We had just gotten back from the baby's checkup at the doctor's office where my mom took me when I was a baby. I showed Scott the wooden beads and big wooden play clock on the wall that I remember playing with from a very young age. The doctor is a different one than the guy we used to see, who was the backup for our midwife, who dug a piece of toothpick out of my foot when I was eight or so, and who is now our representative in the State House. But this doctor is an old family friend from church and homeschooling days. He had taped a calendar photo of Arches National Park on the ceiling above the examining table, and I pointed it out to Scott and told him that I had been camping there with the doctor himself. I used to think I was going to marry his son but I didn't (although we did go to prom together twice.) I still hang with his daughter and wife.

Every step I take in this town is executed with unthinking confidence, because I'm walking on personal and family history.  I was gazing at my baby today and realized that he was cradled in a rocker lent from my friend who's the doctor's daughter, wearing a hand-me-down onesie from a church friend, and wrapped in blankets made or given to us by still more friends from church.

I'm excited to move and optimistic that things will generally be good, but I get a little scared when I think about how that cradle full of blankets wouldn't be there without our friends. Heck, we wouldn't have any furniture either. I know we'll make friends, but there will be so many new things happening. New house, new city, new church, new circles of friends, grad school, new stages for the baby, new jobs, etc. Someone once told me that you should only allow yourself one huge life change per year. But you just can't plan that kind of thing. Love and babies can be surprising.

I'm rambling, I know, and mixing metaphors here and there. The baby was mega fussy after getting his DTaP shot today (that's what we instantly blamed anyway) and now I deserve to go drown in a beer and my exciting novel. ("Oh, my, GOD!" I said this morning after an eventful section in the book. "What's going on?" "I can't possibly explain it, it's too eventful.")

Saturday, July 26, 2014

blitzen und donner

I am STARVING but there aren't any snacks or prepared food to hand and the baby needs to be rocked to sleep, so I am drinking glorious milk in a bit of leftover coffee in order to stave off rapid ketosis. You see, as far as I understand it, it is not necessarily a sign of blissful first-world ignorance to describe yourself as STARVING when you are hungry, because you may very well be in ketosis, especially if you are breast-feeding and walking everywhere! I realize that this starvation is not unto death because I have a lot of food available to me as soon as I get up from this very pleasant little diversion of rocking my baby to sleep, drinking coffee milk, and blogging.

I went off cow's milk for many days, planning to go two weeks, in order to see if the wee bairn had a difficulty digesting it, but I couldn't make it the whole two weeks. I loaded up on dairy yesterday and while he's had a bit of gas, the evening was marred only by about an hour of fussing, rather than several hours of screaming, so I don't think the milk was the problem, or at least not the primary problem. I think he's just growing up, and it's hard (see the "Strawberry Fields" reference on my sidebar.) The evening colic jag is often referred to as "happy hour," and that's apt. Even grownups need a drink when the day is done, and if they don't drink, then they have some other sort of relaxation ritual. We've decided that we'd better start a bedtime routine for Scott in order to help him wrap his head around the idea of day and night. It's going to involve a bath, nursing, pajamas, and a beer. I think it might help us all transition to the new place. I'm a little worried about that; it's not like he will remember his first home when he's older, but I do sense that he's aware of when we're home and when we're not (possibly influenced by my own level of relaxation,) and it could be bad if he just doesn't feel at home in our new apartment for several days or more.

This morning Scott and I got up when Matt was getting ready for work, and we all enjoyed the ominous, quiet glow of a morning heavy with a storm. On the internet I was led to a cool website wherein you can listen to very fine ambient noise of many kinds. I liked the Himalayan Bowls, In Utero, and Beatae Memoriae. But then I saw a flash of lightning and realized that there was a real thunderstorm outside, and I'd do better to listen to that. It reminded me of a story my midwife told me about a yuppie couple who said they wanted to listen to thunder during their labor. When my midwife was driving to their birth, she was delighted to see that there was indeed a thunderstorm brewing, and when she got there she said "Well, you got your thunderstorm!" And they had no idea, because they had the windows and blinds closed and the air conditioner was going, while they listened to a recording of a thunderstorm. Har har!

Baby is asleep! Time to make my eggies and toasty, and then hurriedly accomplish the beginning parts of several tasks.

One thing I wanted to commit to print, though, before I really do starve unto death: I decided that I'm going to look for a nerd choir in the DC area which will let me in to sing medieval chant etc. Surely there is something like this in our nation's capitol. I don't know how I will find it but since my husband is going to attend The Catholic University of America, I hope something will show up. I really love singing chant in Latin and I can't do that in church, since I'm not Catholic and I don't have a time machine anyway. It will be good and fun in itself, and also a useful know-how for teaching Latin, which I hope to do again in the future, at least to filii mei  if not to others.

Oh, one more P.S., it's nice to listen to the Complete Holy Rosary. Lots of repetition of course.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Get depressed, Crawfordsville! We're shipping out three weeks from today. Matt is only working this weekend and the next, and the rest of our time is spent reading, doing stuff with and to and for the baby, walking, doing our usual thang. We're also, of course, leisurely sorting through our stuff and deciding what stays here in Indiana, what gets pitched or passed on, and what we will pack into a very small trailer and a Toyota Corolla and take with us to DC.

How many more times will we have to do this sorting and paring and parting before we only have what we want and need? It's taken me five years to throw out photos of an ex-boyfriend. I didn't need or want those pictures in the slightest but somehow they've stuck to me through four or five moves, because I just couldn't bring myself to go through the mess. I don't know if it was laziness, indecision, or fear of the memories (nothing scary, just embarrassing!) that prevented me from doing it before, but I just tossed them, and it wasn't that bad. Now the old diaries, those are a tough call. There's a lot of stuff in there that makes me blush but there are also some observations and attitudes of personal archaeological significance, as well as notes for essays. I think I will be able to stomach the embarrassing stuff in the future, but in the mean time, I'd better put some kind of curse on the diaries.

I guess if we were more organized, we wouldn't have to do all this sorting all the time. Organization means you sort things as they come to you and they STAY sorted. We could just pick up the folders called Old W-2s that we might need some day, Paper icons that we can't throw away and Embarrassing old stuff and off we'd be. Maybe now that we are moving into a tiny apartment with a baby, we should start doing that kind of thing.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brief Educational Prospectus for Wee Scott Maximos

Now we have an actual kid, not a potential one. But since he doesn't even know how to put his hand in his mouth, piano lessons and Homer seem just as distant as they did before he was born. Still, this is what I think I'd like to teach him.

The Big Three
If he leaves my tutelage familiar with Shakespeare, Homer, and the Bible, I will give thanks to God and sit back and have a drink. It seems to me that those three bodies of work are the foundation of Western humanity, and provide a reference point for most of the thinking that people have done since then, but also that if you grew up on a deserted island with only those books (+ Euclid and some other people to talk to and love, and someone to administer the sacraments to you on occasion?) you could lead a completely full and happy human life. In fact, your life would probably be fuller, happier, and more human than the lives of most people who were not on that island. (Speaking of islands and imaginary restrictions on book availability, Jean-Jacques wants Robinson Crusoe to be Emile's first book. It's a charming idea; so charming that it just might work...)

The question is how to promote a love of these works in a child, since we swear that we are not going to be his teachers in his adolescence. First of all, I think that children are capable of understanding more than we commonly allow. Matt led some pretty normal nine through eleven year old kids in a truncated (but not abridged) production of Julius Caesar, and I think they nailed it. They didn't understand it all of course, but they got a lot of it, and they've stored those lines away for later when they will need them. So with that in mind, I would read excerpts from those books with Scott, and have him memorize bits, and talk about them. We could always have something brewing from those three books, and let him read according to his taste in the rest of his time. One always hopes the child's taste will be good, but if not, he's getting some good stuff with his parents.

I worked with very low-ability (?) second graders on math homework last year, and I am just baffled as to why they don't know any math facts. That's their one job. That's all they have to learn in math, pretty much. Bubby is going to hammer those math facts. I also think you have to do some imaginative stuff with math but hammering the math facts is important if you're going to have any fun with the imaginative stuff. Euclid is the other desert-island-biggie; once again, I think you can introduce this at a younger age than most people imagine. I don't see any reason why we couldn't start dipping the child's toes into the Elements around age ten, and slowly work through at least books I-V by the time he is thirteen. That's when I'm probably going to sit back and have that drink, so I hope he knows some Euclid by then

It'd be great if we had a French nanny or one of us were fluent in a modern language, but we're both dabbling dunces and we can't speak any language but English. Phooey. I sometimes think we could learn a language together as a family-- Matt is going to take German to fulfill a requirement in his program. Maybe Scott and I can Duolingo along. All we know for sure is that we'd like to teach him Latin from about ages 7-12. Once again we are into exposing him to the real thing here. Luckily we both know Latin well enough to be able to teach him from original works without having him depend on a textbook too much. (We like to have a textbook on hand under the table, but to have the student go pretty much bookless.)

We both love Greek, and Matt is definitely good enough to teach classical Greek, but I don't know if it makes sense to try to cram in both classical languages before high school. We want to teach Scott a few really important things really well, and let him have lots of free time. Still, I'd like for him to know at least how to read and pronounce Greek. It's nice to be able to read the inscriptions on icons, and to sing along in Greek churches. If we go to a Greek church with a Greek school, I'd totally sign him up for that. I'm also down to learn and teach him lots of hymns in Greek.

We're not going to cram it down his throat. We will keep the feasts and the fasts as prettily as we can, read Scripture and sing hymns and pray, but I'm not going to do much in the way of Religious Instruction. I think he'll get what he needs from church and from living in a Christian home. Mommy paints icons and Daddy reads theology so that will make some kind of impression. I like what St. John Chrysostom says-- children should be taught to always have three things on their lips: Thank God, God willing, and Glory to God. I'm working on that myself, so that perhaps Young Bubs will pick it up as well.

Other stuff
Piano lessons. Singing at church. Being a Nature Boy- learning the names of plants, animals, and stars. Taking a class in martial arts or ballet or whatever his thing is. Doing good works and helping people. This stuff does not worry me. What worries me is that he's going to absorb more lessons from watching me fumble around in the world than from any sermons I might give him.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

First things first.

Here is something that I keep wanting to say on Facebook in re: extremely immoderate debates about the Hobby Lobby brouhaha, but I'm not sure it would be helpful. So I will say it here where only a bunch of my cronies who agree with me will read it. Great.

Do you people (not you people, the other people not reading this) not understand that Christians are opposed to abortion primarily because we believe it to be murder? MURDER. Sexual ethics come into it for most of us, in at least a secondary way, but the main problem is that we believe it to be the destruction of a human life, a soul that's just been united with a body, and either is or has the potential to become a person.  That's it. That's the reason.

Why wouldn't you want to respect that belief? Don't you agree that Murder Is Bad, especially murder of an innocent? You do not agree that abortion is murder because you do not agree that an embryo/fetus is a human life, and you do not like the consequences of calling it murder, but can you see why we would be upset about it? If you can't hold the idea that somebody thinks abortion is murder in your head for more than a second before rejecting it and moving onto women's rights, then I think Western civilization is over.

Murder is pretty much the worst thing you can do. If there is any question in your mind whether you are murdering someone or not, would you not want to err on the side of not murdering someone?

This has been my question pretty much since sixth grade or whenever I learned about abortion. It is a very simplistic and probably childish one, but I don't see how you can get around it without absolutely proving that an embryo/fetus is not a human life. That is not a provable thing one way or the other (although in the case of a viable fetus it seems so obvious to me,) but I think that you don't have to be a Christian to give the potential victim the benefit of the doubt. You can talk all you want about the sex stuff and the social consequences of "stigmatizing" abortion as murder, but you have to do it in the shadow of death, or the truth is totally not in you. That is why I appreciate, in a murky perverse way, people like Naomi Wolf, because at least she admits that abortion is murder, and even child sacrifice. She continues to support it, but at least she is barefaced in her wickedness and does not hide it behind the mask of humanitarianism.


I could write a very long post about breastfeeding and changing diapers today, but I probably won't, because I have other plans like walking Barnacle Boy down to the Farmers' Market to buy some more ravishingly sexy tomatoes, mailing all the thank you cards (no more extremely generous favors, please! I'm running out of cards!), going to the library, having a friend visit and maybe visiting a friend, and probably doing some breastfeeding and some diaper changing. My main question is how to get poop off of cloth diapers without getting it onto everything else.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Haven't been blogging because baby. I have plenty of sitting around and thinking time, and I'm feeling verbal and spry enough in my brains, but it's hard to type with toes. Even holding the baby takes fingers. Thought I could get away with sitting with baby in Moby but now he's crying, never mind, goodbye.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Husband: Hey, have you ever seen lightning strike the ground?
Wyf: No... but it just happened in my book. In fact a horse was killed.
H: What?! So many things happen in these books!
W: Oh yeah...  also people keep having sex and breast milk goes everywhere...
H: Either one of those events is enough for a whole book!!
W: A Horse Gets Struck By Lightning.
H: In a John Updike novel you would just have a hundred pages of wandering around, then the protagonist would have sex and breast milk would get on him, and then he'd question his existence and it would be over.
W: Don't worry, there's some of that too. Plus she has sex with the king of France.
Mothers will plan on having their way and only their way, when in ghostly form and when killed by their sons.

-Stunning finale to a student's essay on the Oresteia, which I just dug up

Friday, June 20, 2014

Love songs

Here are some songs that have been stuck in my head as I search for lullabies. They're songs that I've always liked, but now they mean more to me than they did before.

I've seen you laugh at nothing at all
I've seen you sadly weeping
The sweetest thing I ever saw
Was you asleep and dreaming

Well you may not be beautiful
But it's not for me to judge
I don't know if you're beautiful
Because I love you too much

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the end of the skies

And the first time ever I kissed your mouth
I felt the earth move in my hand
Like the trembling heart of a captive bird
That was there at my command, my love

And the first time ever I lay with you
I felt your heart so close to mine
And I knew our joy would fill the earth
And last, till the end of time, my love

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

choses varieuses

I bought a journal a few days before Scott was born, for the purpose of turning inward and being quiet and thoughtful and stuff in the several weeks I had left before the child arrived and my life changed forever. I think I've written in it three times. One entry just says "It's kind of hard to find time to write with a baby around," and then it stops because the baby woke up.

Tomorrow is the fourth week since his birth, and things still aren't quite back to "normal." My body is basically functional for non-gestational purposes again, barring some weird little quirks like sore knees? Itchy chin? I expected a flabby stomach, bags under my eyes and huge boobs but not an itchy chin (it is a common post-partum complaint, I discovered.) Our sleep patterns will never be the same, but we're settling into some kind of pattern, anyway. Breastfeeding is starting to go well, although Bubby-ji and I still have some very frustrating moments. Walk away from the baby, take a shower or at least a deep breath, try again. He doesn't seem to like it when I try to multitask while nursing, so today, when I nurse, I am shoving away all distractions such as the internet, books, and my cup of coffee. I wonder if it's that my body shifts subtly when I'm looking at something else, or if he can sense in some other way that I'm not thinking about him. In any case, it seems good to return to him.

In addition to the Outlander series, I am reading Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West. That may sound random but it is totally awesome. The author documents her trip through the Slav states in 1937, but it's more than just a travel journal. I think the fundamental task of any artist and thinker is to relate the universal to the particular in a way appropriate to the scope, topic, and audience of the work. Dame West glides between these spheres in such a way that each movement is welcome as refreshment, comfort and delight. Of course she relates amusing and poignant anecdotes about people and places, but one never knows when a little vignette will open up into something wide and cosmic. She often reads little details as symbols (for example, she and her husband find a Slavic fairy tale a telling statement of Slavic attitudes toward government) but never too neatly. The history of Western European imperialism in Eastern Europe is woven deeply into even her minute observations because she is not only a very perceptive novelist, but a well educated woman with a long view of things.

Virginia Woolf notes, with Coleridge, in A Room of One's Own that a great mind is androgynous, that the sexes are unselfconsciously united in someone like Shakespeare, Shelley, or Keats. 

...when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life. 

Ever since I read that I've been on the lookout for androgynous minds. I feel a little shy about actually bestowing such a compliment on anyone, but instead I take it as an ideal by which I measure all artists. And I think that Rebecca West measures up very well.

Now my baby is pooping and crying. So much for a room of my own!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

this must be the place

On the Sunday before Scott was born, we witnessed the wedding of two sweet kids (jk!) at our church, and attended their lovely reception, both of which of course gave us opportunity to reflect on our own marriage (see how selfish people are? I'm not sure it's a bad thing, though.)

We hadn't been to any weddings since our own, three and a half years ago. If you look at the pictures taken right after the ceremony, you'll see us looking extremely stoned and confused, hardly smiling at all. That's because we were floating in a haze of incomprehension and joy (the sober, unsmiling kind.) I told my husband that I was glad to attend another Orthodox wedding so that I could finally listen to the words (and was it just my parturient brain, or are all the prayers about having babies??) When we were getting out of the car at the reception one of our friends said "Hey, we found the program from your wedding in our service booklet." We said "We had a program?" That's how little attention we were paying to the details. It was a slapdash sort of affair, just a church service with gyros and an iPod afterward. I wonder if people thought it was a shotgun wedding. Nope, we was just anxious to get hitched before Lent.

At the reception as we were dancing, we realized that among the many other nuptial conventions that we did not observe, we did not have a "first dance" as a couple, nor did either of us dance with our parents. I guess we would have felt silly, but I don't know why because I like it when other people do it. That started us wondering what song we might have chosen for a first dance. The problem, we decided, is that most of our favorite touching songs range from wistful and bittersweet to downright tragic, and people definitely listen to the words in these situations.

This is the most appropriate song that I can come up with. And we did dance to it at our wedding, but with all of my drunk or eleven year old siblings and father, and Matt's sister, and my best friend from college, at the very end of the wedding when everyone else was cleaning up, and we just played all the Talking Heads songs that we had in iTunes. It was awesome.