Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sleep will not come to me tonight.

Pregnancy works such a remarkable number on the mind and the heart and the body.  At the end of my days, I would like to know what it really means to carry this little life inside of me and why it is such a struggle (even the best pregnancies have their struggles).  Isn't it amazing to think that I am one body full of life, pregnant with another soul . . .  this wiggly, little girl that bumps and twists against me throughout the day.  This child is full of bursting joy and I feel so happy as she makes herself known to me.

Insomnia has accompanied my last few pregnancies.  My mind locks onto an idea or an anxiety and I cannot let it go.  Minutes turn into hours and night gives way to day, while I roll around meditating the life out of one thing or another.  Tonight is one of those nights.  Logismoi is at its worst when I am pregnant.

I had a shock recently.  Events from my past, choices I made and have greatly repented and despised have found their way into my present.  How and what they are are really unimportant . . .  because in the grand scheme of things nothing has changed.  My life will continue on as it has with no difference.  Nonetheless, it is painful.

Whenever I have had a terrible struggle, my Beloved, has always taken me to church.  Whenever I have experienced deep pain at my own hand or by another, he gets me to Vespers and Reconciliation.  I know someone out there is thinking, "what an oppressive, jerk!"  In reality, God is the only one that can heal this pain.  When I first became a Christian, I was seeking shelter.  I had broken my own heart through sin and error and bad ideas.  I became a refugee of the Church.  My husband knows this is the cure for what ails me . . . another reason why I love him fiercely.

So tonight my husband brought me to Peace.  He doesn't ever ask if I'd like to go, he just announces that he is going to Vespers and anyone who would like to go needs to be ready in 10 minutes.  This saves me from thinking too much about how I am feeling, what I am wearing, the location of my headcovering, etc.  Do I want to go, yes or no?  Yes.  Yes, I want to spend sometime in the quiet with my dear husband.  Yes, I want to sit in the darkness of the temple and let the prayers and the incense wash over me.  In many ways, I am still a refugee in Christ.  There are times when I feel like a half-drowned thing washed up on the seashore, tonight was one of those nights.

I've been home and beginning to walk finally just in the last week or so.  Standing for any length of time is excruciating and so I availed myself of one of the chairs that line the wall near where we usually stand.  Just closing my eyes and listening to the chanted psalms and prayers is such a gift.

Lord, I cry unto thee:
make haste unto to me;
give ear unto my voice,
when I cry unto thee.

Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense;
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

My heart melts whenever I hear Psalm 141.  God is merciful and so is my spiritual father.  He gave me a chair to confess from.  He endured all my blubbering and fear, my poor, illformed confessing with love and gentleness.  He reminded me of God's mercy and God's protection.  He reminded me of all my blessings and amazing gifts that the Lord has bestowed on me.  His reproofs were easy and kind.  Truly, our priest is an amazing man.  

And yet, even if he weren't, Reconciliation would still be my favorite sacrament.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
 wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me to hear joy and gladness; 
that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.

Hide thy face from my sins,
 and blot out all mine iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; 
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; 
and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation;
 and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Even without a tender confessor, this is God's promise.  In seeking absolution, we are not seeking a magical word or a comforting phrase from the priest.  The absolution we seek and are so blessed to receive comes from God.  If you ever find yourself broken hearted at your own hand, burdened by grief and despair, worn out from worry . . .  get to church.  Were you to break your arm, you would get to the hospital.  When you rent your soul let Christ send his angels to minister to you.  Seek absolution; be unburdened.  

Pray for me as I seek to give thanks for my blessings and opportunities for humility.  The Lord is such a faithful Father.  His love astounds me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

While We Are On The Subject...

Got a big family? Then you already know that you’re crazy, a traitor to feminism, and a slave to the pope; you’re neglecting most of your kids and robbing the rest of their childhood; you’re a burden on the system in general, and you probably don’t own a television set.
But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget, you’re also destroying the earth.
Lately, it’s become fashionable for radical environmentalists to denounce large families as irresponsible, even selfish. Maybe you heard the remarks of the chairman of the U.K.’s Sustainable Development Commission, who said that, out of respect for the earth, couples should be legally limited to bearing two “replacement” children.
And yet, if we can get beyond the inflammatory rhetoric, do radical environmentalists have a point? Should we slow down a little? It almost seems like common sense, especially when you’re having one of those days when you do feel a little crowded by the swarms of ravening locusts — uh, I mean, treasured offspring who share your last name.
Read the rest here.

I ♥ Ravelry

Best Baby Cloche, pattern by Aesthetic Nest

Baby It's Cold Outside, pattern by  Julie Holetz

When I was discharged from the hospital, I thought, 'hey, I know!  I'll teach myself to knit and crochet while I'm stuck in bed.'  So books were purchased, sets of needles and hooks, too, and then a stash of luxurious fibers in jewel tones, whereupon I proceeded to learn a lot about humility.  Six weeks later, nothin'doin', as I like to say, I was blessed to be invited by a fellow parishioner to a crocheting class in her home.  Her mother is our instructor.  A sweet Russian lady who speaks flawless English and is an excellent tutor.

She taught us single crochet over the course of two hours.  Many of the ladies from our parish joined us.  It was the first time in weeks upon weeks I had been with them.   I really loved being there among them listening to stories about their children and families.  The goings on, the New Year's resolutions, the ups and downs.  I had very few girlfriends growing up and sort of askewed female companionship in college.  I really did not know what I missing.  I have really come to depend on my sisters in Christ.  

The above pictures are two items I managed to produce in the week and a half since that class.  The cloche, crocheted in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran yarn, uses a variety of techniques (Crocheting in rounds, double crochet, half double crochet, single crochet, increasing, decreasing, shell stitch).  Anytime I was stumped I was able to find a video tutorial on the great Google.

The sweater is crocheted completely in half double crochet from bulky Plymouth Hand Dyed Baby Alpaca Grande yarn.  There is a single crochet border on the edges.  

I found both patterns for free on Ravelry.  It is a online community for knitters and crocheters.  The search engine is superb.  Not only can you search by pattern, but weight, yardage/meterage, source type (book, magazine, etc), gender/age/size/etc, free/purchase, and attribute/technique.  Love, love, love it!

It is nice to claim this skill for my own.  Though I am not anywhere close to being knowledgeable or talented.  It is nice to reclaim that skill which belonged to my great-grandmother's generation and was still of great import to the women of South Texas when my father's mother was coming up.  A mere nine years younger, my mother's mother, though she may have learned, as the descendant of very successful merchants and wildcatters, she placed little import on the skill.  

It may have taken me more than a decade to gather my wits enough to start getting it together, but this one was one of my goals I wanted to accomplish when I set out to be a homemaker.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

You Know What Causes That, Right?

Somehow, when I hit publish half of my original post disappeared.  Please forgive my incoherence.  I'm not sure this made it any better, but the first half has been restored.

Recently, I was waiting at the hospital for a decidedly difficult to find sharp's container when it happened.  I was waiting in the discharge area with several other patients. Usually I can predict who and what form the 'it' is going to take, but that day I was not paying attention as I had already waited for quite sometime and there was no end in sight.

"Is this your first baby?"
"Pardon me?
"You are expecting?  Is this your first pregnancy?"
"Yes, I am.  No, it isn't."
[uncomfortable pause]
"How many children do you have?"
"This will be our seventh."

I know that it can be more startling to hear this news that there is a young, 30-something mother happy to be expecting her seventh child, but I was still taken aback by this particular woman's reaction.  Rising out of her chair, she adjusted the spectacles that balancing on her nose so that she could more effectively examine me.  Her hands struck the desktop with such startling ferocity that several of the other patients jumped in their seats.

"You know what causes that, don't you?"

Up to now, I had only ever encountered a sneer ion the lips of some sinister ne'er do well in the pages of   of some gruesome murder mystery.  I am certain that the tone and expression on this woman's face would live up to everything literary sneering aims to be.

I wish I could pinpoint the moment in time when we became committed to the large family course we've been on for more than a decade.  The most hopeful me would say, our wedding day.  In reality it has been a struggle for each of us.  Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it is a daily conversion for each of us.  Growing in understanding of what exactly is this blessing of children, what it means to being open to to life, being open to God's will.  Just because you decide on paper that you do not want to engage in the so-called 'contraceptive mentality' does not mean that you won't wrestle with what that means from time to time.

After I became pregnant with our third child, the jokes, comments, and questions began to abound regarding when we were going to stop having children.  Three.  It really amazed me that three small children could elicit such powerful emotion and derision.  I was embarrassed, angry! and speechless at the near constant commentary that came from all quarters.  I'm certain that Satan was doing all that poking and prodding and hackle raising.

Actually, mention any spiritual discipline and you will get the same angry response from the same people.  So taking an average group of Christians and non-believers alike and raise the case for tithing or fasting or the blessing of children and you are likely to be met with the same level of vitriol, defensiveness, and rejection of the argument (maybe even a few ad hominem attacks if you are really lucky).  And why is that?  Because the Devil is at work there.  Any time we obey those commandments that cause us to die to self, any small sacrifice that we make towards the building of our treasure in Heaven, anytime we choose LOVE over jealousy, avarice, covetousness, fornication, pride, et cetera our defeated foe makes a furious campaign to overwhelm us.  It can be shocking the venom that snake has ready for us, but there it is.  I used to be much more cautious to call out the Devil on these things, but if it is not the work of Satan then I am at an utter loss as to why my business is of any concern to anyone else.

I had a much beloved professor who used to pound table with both hands and declare, "Children!  If you learn nothing else, you must know!  Evil exists!  It's a fallen world!"  That lovely man saved me more time than I can tell you.  I no longer try to understand the senseless, terrible things that occur in this world.  If events at times seem to arise out of senseless chaos, out of insanity . . .  then it is likely that they do.

So given all this, and the fact that we do have several more children than your average household, I decided several years ago, that I wanted to be a positive witness for marriage, large-than-average families, and for husbands and wives.  I have been through the 5 stages of "you know what causes that" everything from humiliation to cordial silence to barbed comments to funny retorts and finally acceptance.  I know this topic is covered ad nauseum, there's even a song.  As I am rapidly approaching my due date (only 7.5 more weeks) I'm going to throw in my 2 cents:  be a good witness.  If you must say something, smile and say, "yes."  Now unfortunately, this doesn't satisfy everyone, but it will satisfy most.  It was not going to satisfy my cross-examiner that day.  What a bizarre experience, this public trial of sorts as there were many present.  All the same, I was resolved to neither be snarky, nor rude, nor defensive, nor embarrassed.    

"You know what causes that, don't you?"

"Yes. My husband is a wonderful lover."

The coolness and unexpectedness of my comment knocked her off her feet.  And maybe that seems to be a mean or crude joke to play on someone.  But actually, what followed was a frank and lovely conversation about what we consider our vocation.  Gone away was the Angry Sneerer,  scurried off was the venomous snake, all that was left was a room of people who listened and heard, "the grace is bestowed when the blessing is received."

Win-win, I'd say.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In the News. . .

E. helping fill up gallon jugs with raw milk
 on a recent co-op run.
I was excited to see this feature about raw milk in our local newspaper.  Mike Moyers, owner of Sandy Creek Farms in Bridgeport, Texas, is our dairyman supreme.  If you are a local and looking for Grade A, certified-free, grassfed, Real Milk, Mike's your man.  Gallons of milk are $5 and I've never had better milk.  

The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo started January 14.  On Monday, Vanda, one of Mike's beautiful ladies, was named Grand Champion.  The FWSSR is the oldest continually running livestock show and rodeo.  It is also one of the largest, in 2007, over 900,000 folks visited the Stock Show and 22,000 animals participated in exhibitions, shows, and rodeos.  As they say, "this thing is legendary!"

FORT WORTH -- The grocery store dairy case is stocked full with every kind of milk. Whole milk. Reduced-fat milk. Low-fat milk. Skim milk. Buttermilk. Acidophilus milk.
Comedian Lewis Black rants that soy milk,  another choice, isn't milk at all.
"They couldn't sell soy juice, so they call it soy milk," he says. "Because anytime you say 'soy juice' you actually" -- Black pauses, his throat working -- "start to gag."
What you won't see at a Texas supermarket is raw or "real" milk.
That's the pulsating squirts of white liquid being pumped into tanks during hourly live milking demonstrations at the Stock Show.
Throughout each day, four or five cows are led into an enclosure, where they stand in stalls, end to end, like railroad cars. The teat cups of milking machines are attached to swollen udders and, voila, the magic begins.
Children gather behind a glass partition take in the educational experience with wide-eyed amazement.
"They think milk comes from the store," said Dennis Carr, an instructor with Southwest Dairy Farmers, the milking parlor sponsor.
Carr grew up on a dairy farm, where he routinely drank raw -- unpasteurized -- milk.
So did Mike Moyers, a 6-foot-4 dairyman who operates Sandy Creek Farm, in Bridgeport.
Moyers, 53, says that raw milk has never once made him sick and that drinking it obviously didn't stunt his growth.
He sells all the raw milk his 30 head of brown Swiss cows can produce. The unpasteurized product is available to consumers for $5 a gallon at his farm, the only place he can legally sell it.
In Texas consumers can buy raw milk only by going to the "point of production," i.e., the pasture-based farm and buying it directly from the farmer -- provided the farm has a Grade A Raw for Retail Milk Permit issued by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Meet Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis, Iconographer, Children's Book Author, and Illustrator

It was a search for quality Eastern Christian children's books that began my conversion to Orthodoxy.  Many of you may be familiar with Potamitis Publishing and their beautiful full color books for children.  I am pleased to introduce you to the illustrator and half of the author-team, Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis.  Currently, the best place to find these gorgeous books is on their website.    

Svetlana:  Where are you from? Have you been Orthodox your entire life or are you a convert? Was your family very religious growing up?

Egle:  My roots are from Eastern Europe. Having said that, I must admit that it takes me a few seconds to answer the question where I am from, cause I very truly feel Greek. My family was not religious at all, though I do remember my grandmother whispering the Lord's Prayer at my bed every evening. I became  a Catholic at 19 years of age , but soon after I found out Orthodoxy, which has genuinely fascinated me since.

Svetlana:  Did you always want to be an artist or an illustrator? What inspired you to illustrate children's books?

Egle: Absolutely. I've been holding a pencil since I can remember. However, my graduation paper says that I am a foreign language teacher, though I always wanted to study art. Ever since I graduated, I had an urge to draw which eventually developed into the urge to draw for children. My husband always stood by me with ideas or text. We have no less than ten fully developed and illustrated children stories in the drawer still waiting to see the daylight. It took six years from the beginning of my first try for a picture book to our first published book.

Svetlana: How long have you been writing icons? What is your favorite medium?

Egle:  I started writing icons some twelve years ago with the blessing of our family's spiritual father. However, lately there was absolutely no spare time in my daily life, so there are some five pieces of beautiful, ready to paint on wooden desks on my shelves, patiently waiting for that big moment. I prefer egg and pigment mix over any other kind of medium for icon writing.

Svetlana:  Who or what are some your favorite artists, authors, and children's books?

Egle:  I'm absolutely crazy about picture books and children books in general! There's never too many of them at our house and we really do have tons of them. My favorite illustrators vary from classic to modern ones. I am in love with classic old ones, such as Brandywine school illustrators (Jessie Wilcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish), Beatrix Potter and old Russian fairytale illustrator Ivan Bilybin. My top five modern picture book illustrators would be Gennady Spirin, Anthony Browne, Vladyslav Yerko, Pavel Tatarnikov and Leonardas Gutauskas. My absolutely number one author is swedish Astrid Lindgren, though I suppose she is not so well known in the US.

Svetlana:  What was the inspiration of Potamitis Publishing?

Egle:  Our own kids. And the gap that we felt at the time for good orthodox material for kids. So we tried as good as we could to provide what we thought was appropriate and needed first of all for our own flock.

Svetlana:  You and your husband, Dionysios, often collaborate on your books. Who does what?

Egle:  Usually we collaborate on the text, which, from the first draft to the final pro - edited version, changes loads of times, is trimmed, cropped, discussed over and finally agreed on. Then come the illustrations, this being my field ( but with kind suggestions from my husband and even the kids). All the credit for the graphic design, scanning, pre-posting, etc. goes to my husband.

Svetlana:  How did your books gain the attention of His All-Holiness, Bartholomew I?

Egle:  His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, wrote some very kind comments about my humble illustrations to the book "The Fairy tales of the Island of Imbros" (by Evi Tsitiridou and "Akritas" publishing house, 2004).

Svetlana:  Your books are published in 7 different languages, which is amazing! How have your books been received in traditionally non-Orthodox countries?

Egle:  We usually concentrate on Greek and English editions of our books, but with our last publication we expanded the language range a bit. Thus, the set of twelve small books "The Paterikon for kids" is now available not only in English and Greek, but also in Spanish, Italian, Russian, Romanian and German. The books are, thank God, received very well even in so called non- Orthodox countries, but, then again, they are purchased by the Orthodox living there.

Svetlana:  You clearly love your faith very much. What is your favorite part about being Orthodox? Any favorite traditions?

Egle:  Yes, I do, as Orthodoxy feels authentic, ancient and very deep. I really do love everything about being Orthodox. We try to keep all the main Orthodox traditions.

Svetlana:  Do you ever illustrate for other authors?

Egle:  I did illustrate the fairytale book for Evi Tsitiridou "The Fairy tales of the Island of Imbros".

Svetlana:  What advice do you have for others, particularly mothers or fathers who would like to write or illustrate a children's books?

Egle:  Take a sketch pad and a pencil! Write down your ideas, make tons of sketches and drawing. Look for a theme that fascinates not only you but also your or others kids. Do not stop with the first obstacle.

Svetlana:  You just released The Story of the Vasilopita. Any future projects in the works?

Egle:  There are too many projects simmering in the pot. However, being realistic, I should just mention that there is a sequence for "The Paterikon for Kids" being prepared, as well as there are more coloring books to show up soon, God willing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

How can you provoke your child into anger (Ephesians 6:24)?

Here are some easy steps:

  1.  Spoil him.
  2.  Give him everything he wants, even more than you can afford. Just charge it so you can get him off your back.
  3.  When he does wrong, nag him a little but don’t spank him.
  4.  Foster his dependence on you. Don’t teach him to be independently responsible. Maintain his dependence on you so later drugs and alcohol can replace you when he’s older.
  5.  Protect him from all those mean teachers who want to discipline him from time to time. And threaten to sue them if they don’t let him alone.
  6.  Make all of his decisions for him because he might make mistakes and learn from them if you don’t.
  7.  Criticize his father to him, or his mother, so your son or daughter will lose respect for his parents.
  8.  Whenever he gets into trouble, bail him out. Besides, if he faces any real consequence, it might hurt your reputation.
  9.  Never let him suffer the consequences of his behavior. Always step in and solve his problems for him so he will depend on you and run to you when the going gets tough and never learn how to solve his problems.
  10.  If you want to turn your child into a delinquent, let him express himself any way he feels like it.
  11.  Don’t run his life, let him run yours.
  12.  Don’t bother him with chores. Do everything for him then he can be irresponsible all his life and blame others when things don’t get done right.
  13.  Be sure to give in when he throws a temper tantrum.
  14.  Believe his lies because it’s too much hassle to try to sort through to get the truth.
  15.  Criticize others openly; criticize others routinely so that he will continue to realize that he is better than everybody else.
  16.  Give him a big allowance and don’t make him do anything for it.
  17.  Praise him for his good looks, never for character.
From the blog Trivuum Pursuit

h/t Josephus Flavius

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tales of the Wild Babushka

From a blog shared with me by my dear, Mr. Flavius:  Tales of a Wild Babushka.  I found her post on prayer to be relevant and intriguing.  Here's an excerpt:

——I have my prayer book in my icon corner. It is sitting right there, waiting for me. I rarely reach for it. Lately all I have been able to do is ring the bell I have in my corner and offer metanias. Prostrations. Sometimes I sing the prayers from Liturgy, as that comes more naturally to me than speaking the prayers. But my prayer book is right there, and I should give it a chance being more a part of my offerings.
Go have a read! 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year Preparations

We are getting ready for the new year and another name day, this time for our youngest son, B.  January 1st is his name day.  Never before has there been a more inflexible menu!  Except we changed a bit this year to accommodate my brother-in-law, J., who is Jewish. C'est la vie!

Every year we celebrate with a sugar spiced ham, black-eyed peas, braised cabbage, cornbread, and lighter-than-air, buttered biscuits.  This year Mama served roast goose.  The crowning glory of the dinner is a rich, aromatic cake called Vasilopita.  It is essentially a pound cake which it is perfumed with oranges and lemons and two spices of mysterious origin, Mahlab- (pronounced mă-HĂ-lăb) the seed kernel of a St. Lucia Cherry, and tears of Chios- resin of the mastic tree. The flavor of the mahlab is something akin to bitter almonds crossed with cherries, while the tears of Chios is very clean smelling, almost antiseptic.  In ancient times this mastic gum was worth its weight in gold, chewed as a remedy against bad breath, and was considered a powerful medicinal drug. Even today its antibacterial properties continued to be studied and it is reputed to kill H. pylori, the bacteria that cause ulcers which can cause stomach cancer.

You could use pre-ground ingredients or commercially prepared extracts, but I like being connected to all the little Greek women of the past, who had to grind their own spices and seasonings for their festal breads and cakes.  I use a heavy brass mortar and pestle.
Here is a little history about St. Basil the Great and the cake or bread baked in his honor from the website, The Vasilopita Coin:
THE HISTORY - This age old tradition commenced in the fourth century, when Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He wanted to preserve their dignity, so as not to look like charity, he commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins. 

THE MAN - St. Basil was one of the greatest Fathers of the Christian Church and appeared on the spiritual horizon of the Orthodox Faith. He was Bishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia (Asia Minor). He was born four years after the First Ecumenical Council held in the year 325 A.D. Saint Basil was one of the three Cappadocian Fathers of the Church (the others were Gregory of Nazianzus, his best friend, and his brother, Gregory of Nyssa). Saint Basil was the first person in human history to establish an orphanage for little children. He also founded the first Christian hospital in the world. His fame as a Holy Man spread like wildfire throughout the Byzantine world. He was considered one of the most wise and compassionate clergymen in the entire history of the Church. His Feast Day is observed on January 1st, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season. The Church, therefore, in respect for his many contributions to the Church and to mankind in general, combined the joy and happiness of the New Year with the glory of the birth of Christ, and the Epiphany into what is known in the Orthodox Church as the Vasilopitta Observance.

The Vasilopita is a Beautiful Tradition, and a custom which should not be neglected by Greek Orthodox Christians as should perhaps be adopted by all Christians in the Western world. It is such a wonderful way to begin each New Year which God has given to the world. If you have been holding the observance in your home, congratulations 
and please continue to do so! If you have not, please start and keep this glorious family tradition!
Gran and B.
Happy New Year and a joyous feast to you and yours.  God grant my little B. many years in peace, health, and happiness.