Friday, February 29, 2008

Star Wars according to a 3 year old.

This is SO CUTE! I'm not a big Star Wars fan, and I'm also not a big fan of other people's three year olds doing cute things...but this combo just is too much!

taking the hobbits to isengard

A Day of Rest

I have declared it thus. Today.

Yesterday we ran around like madwoman and madchildren, getting groceries (I still like Aldi's!) at three different stores, and preparing our house for guests. And then cooking, etc.

I'd invited some new friends who hail from Burundi for dinner, and we wanted everything to look good. The kids were very helpful in getting it all done, so I'm extra proud of them today. Our dinner was a roaring success, despite language barriers all around. (My French improves rapidly, as does their English.)

Besides, we usually call Fridays "Fun Friday" and only do the core school work and then do something like play a game.

Today, I think it's going to be the Lord of the Rings Movie Marathon. Perhaps. All of them.

So, in the spirit of that, I offer you the following, which is one of my kid's favorite Youtube works of art these days: They're Taking the Hobbits to Isengard!

I particularly like the progression of response videos, esepcially the one where the guy is dancing around with a stick, and then the version where someone edits THAT video with the same techno sound track as the original. Geekdom at it's finest. And frightening proof that people have too much time on their hands.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Rules, Rules, Rules!

I think from the outside looking in, all the rules in Orthodox Christianity can look like so much legalism. Do this, do that. Don't eat this, do eat that. What's the point?

Well, why does Bob Greene tell Oprah to get off her butt and do x, y, and z? Why does he tell her to eat or not eat certain things? To get her in shape and keep her that way, of course.

It's the same way with the Orthodox Church. It is basically a very old and very effective training course for overcoming one's passions and for building spiritual strength, for preparing one for being with God.

But the irony is, the further one goes on this path, the deeper one's awareness of one's own sins. So you never get to the point where you are saying "Yah, I'm perfect now!" If you are, it's called delusion and is very very spiritually dangerous. The Russians have a word: "Prelest". It means spiritual delusion.

So, I was out at a Chinese restaurant last night, talking with a friend about all these things. Me: "It all seems sort of 'rules-y, doesn't it?" "Yeah," she said. "But I think the point is to teach us how to love." "But there are going to be those people who love the rules and who like to check off their list, like OK, I've done this and this, so I'm safe from purgatory or whatever." (My friend is Roman Catholic). "Yeah, but it's like saint Paul writes: If we have not love, we are but a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal....and all these so-called-legalistic rules are tools designed to make us stronger that we can either embrace or resist. What if they are embraced in a spirit of grace and love? Then it becomes a very effective training program for spiritual growth."

Personally, I'm very glad not to have to invent ways to strengthen myself spiritually. I have a hard enough time choosing to do the good I know I could be doing. Darn it! Do I pick up my Bible, or a prayer book when I have a few extra minutes and I need to put my feet up? Or do I whip out the lap top and cruise Youtube for old ABBA videos? ...ahem...ask me how far I had to reach to come up with that example...{as I'm humming Dancing Queen to myself in my head...} (Not that there's anything wrong with old ABBA vids on youtube...it's just that, if I had eyes to see, I think I would see that it is an utter waste of time. And time is limited.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pintoburger


About half of a bag of pinto beans, cooked (overnight in the crock pot works just fine), drained.

Mash them up and add a packet of onion soup mix (I checked. It does not contain beef). Add some oats, and some flax seed meal that have been turned to slime in a bit of boiling water (egg substitute). Stir well.

Form into patties and roll gently in corn meal.

Bake for a while until they smell good.

Make a burger in the usual way. These taste very good. Almost....meaty.

A Monk Talks

Last night, Wes, B, and I went to over to the lecture hall in UK's library, and heard Hieromonk Alexander (that means he's a monk who's also ordained a priest...not all monks are priests), from the Holy Cross Hermitage Monastery in West Virginia, give a talk. The title of his talk was something like "The purpose of Orthodox Monasticism in the World Today". Interestingly enough, the purpose of monasticism in the world these days is much the same as it has always been: To produce saints as efficiently and quickly as possible.

He gave an overview of the history or monasticism, showed us slides of various famous Orthodox monasteries, including St. Catherine's in Egypt, which is one of the oldest monasteries, and is located at Mt. Sinai.

He also gave brief intros on some of the men and women who, in recent past, have been great spiritual monastics.

Highlights:
-The monastic life was developed as a radical way to keep the gospel commandments as thoroughly as possible. "If you want to be perfect, sell all you have and give it to the poor and come follow me."

-The state of monasticism is a barometer for the health of the Church. If the Church is healthy, monasticism will be thriving, that is to say, she will be cranking out young people who WANT to become monks and nuns.

-There are two aspects to the monastic life: the exterior, and the interior. The exterior is the only part a visitor to a monastery can experience, and includes all the prayer services, the work, etc. The interior aspect of monasticism is the journey that each monk or nun is taking as he or she is "alone with God". This involves dying to one's self and living for Christ.


The audience at the talk was an interesting mix of Orthodox faithful and UK students. Some were there to get extra credit for such things as their philosophy classes, etc. And of course I recognized a good many faces, too.

What I took way from it was a keen sense of "different yet the same". Our goals, as lay persons, ought to be the same as that of a monastic: To become a saint. That's a pretty radical goal in life. And I think that monasticism can teach us, also, how to "climb that mountain". It is said that we are all climbing the spiritual mountain. The monastics are heading straight up the side, while those of us still "in the world" have a path that circles the mountain like a cork screw. This is probably true. I don't really think that non-monastics can claim to be doing anything akin to what a monastic does, or if we are, it's such a small portion of what they do. Different in intensity, if not in intent.

But we can be spurred on towards those good works that gain us the Kingdom, and the example of the monastic way can help pull us along. Perhaps, then, as we choose to become less distracted, more focused on the things holy, more attuned to the things of God, our winding path up the mountain will at least be a steeper winding path, with fewer turns. And always, this Way of following Christ is the way of repentance, whether one is a lay person or a monastic.

Here's a way cool trailer for a film they are making.

Some things for me to mull over, just in time for lent.

Monday, February 25, 2008

In God's Other Hand

My son comes to me, holding his hand carefully cupped. "I think the universe is shaped like a ball"...."And if there's an alternate universe, it's in God's other hand."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

After



Scissors. No maroon dye yet. Husband hates it. Who cares? It will grow.

Things Depressed People Do


Eat too much...OK, that's not an option.

Consume chocolate: In the form of homemade sugar free hot cocoa. Perhaps I should have some now!

Try and fight it: prayers...check. Exercise...check.

Drink wine: Not really much of an option. (the whole calorie thing).

Take a nap: tried that.

Cry: did that.

Do strange things with their hair: Contemplating this. It keeps getting shorter and shorter. I've promised I wouldn't take the clippers to my own head again, but I never said anything about scissors, and I could get pretty darned short with those, too.

I'm dreaming of maroon.

Would that be ridiculous? My friend, Lisa, is a cool and artsy type and totally has the funky hair color thing going on and it rocks. And she's like, six years older than I am. Perhaps she can get away with it because she's cute and all that.

I'm more of the oaf type than she is.

Sometimes I wish I were one of those black women. You know the style...with the super short hair, and the gorgeous skin and the DRAMA.

But it's just me...bad skin. White, with scars, acne AND wrinkles.

Geeeez, I'm depressed! I should really keep it to myself better than this. But here I am, shouting it from the rooftop of my blog.

I'm sad because a dear friend is moving away. Tomorrow. This is the second friend of mine who has moved this past year.

And I'm sad because my daughter is sick. There, I said it.

And I'm sad because I have this horrid panicked feeling that I'm forgetting something although I don't think I'm forgetting anything.

Oh, and the other thing depressed people do: Take pictures of themselves when they look really bad, have been crying and are just up from a nap with bed head and post it on their blog.

I still want maroon hair.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Looking forward to Lent


I'm looking forward to Lent. The longer I've been Orthodox, the more this time of year draws me. There's a "downshifting" that happens as a community, and personally, and in some ways it has already begun, although we are still a week away from meatfare. (Meatfare Sunday is the last day we eat meat, a week before Lent officially starts, as we clean out our freezers.) I suppose this feeling of slowing down is due to the fact that the Lenten triodion has begun. In the three weeks before lent, we start thinking about getting our hearts ready for repentance.

First comes the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. Second is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. And last, we remember the Last Judgement. (As if that weren't enough, we contemplate Zaccheus' repentance the week before. Bombs away!)

Talk about a comprehensive program to get us all primed for repentance!

And I want my heart to be primed. I want to be ready. I want to be the good soil, to follow in the footsteps of Zaccheaus, the Publican, and the Prodigal.

If I stop to think about it, does it seem odd? Planning in advance to repent? Shouldn't we be doing that all the time. Well, yes. But that's the point. Planning it gives the "all the time" bit that extra oomph. I suppose it is better to schedule repentance into my calendar, into my life, and plan for it, than it is to never get around to it. It's amazing how easy it is to fall asleep.

I suppose it is better to decide in advance to forgive, than to float along letting my emotions be my guide.

I suppose one does not just wake up strong one day. Rather strength must be built in little ways, day by day.

I was speaking of such things with my kids yesterday. My nine year old is convinced that Lent was invented just to torture us. (Sort of like my cross country coach in High School "invented" uphill sprints to torture us...but we were so much faster and stronger as a result.) At his age he lacks the maturity and perspective to see the value of it. Hopefully over the years, he'll catch on. But I also hope that we can do this in such a way that is life-giving for him, where he is at, as well.

I plan on keeping plenty of all-fruit popsicles in the freezer, that's for sure. I suppose the topic of "Mothering my Children through Lent" would be somethig to contemplate and write about at some point.)

God, have mercy on us and turn our hearts to You!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stressed and Distracted

For some reason, I feel like this week and last week I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off. (My mom used to say that, and no doubt her mother and her mother did, too.) Nowadays, chickens with their heads cut off don't run. They are usually hanging upside down in a meat processing plant. But I digress...

I've had so much on my plate. And I don't really like the feeling that I'm forgetting something. And I keep forgetting to write things down and so at least three times this week I've accidentally doubled up on commitments because I'd forgotten about some other thing.

This is SO not normal for me. Usually my life is quite the opposite. So I'm hoping things will slow down just a little bit soon.

And my oldest is acting like she's getting worse again, and perhaps coming down with something (which can make the whole catatonic phenomenon worse).

I enjoyed shopping at Aldi's today. So did everyone else from this end of town. I liked bagging my own groceries. Milk was only $2 per gallon.

Sometime soon I'm going to create some Core friendly biscotti.

And I lost over two pounds this past week.

Grateful


My patron saint is St. Juliana of Lazarevo. Also known as Juliana Lazarovskaya. She was from the town of Murom, in Russia, and lived about the same time that the Pilgrims were sailing for the New World.

Juliana was illiterate, and was orphaned at a young age. Raised with an aunt and uncle who did not share her piety, and mocked her when she would recite the psalms (which she had memorized at the age of 12!). Juliana's hope was to become a nun.

But then the son of the local overlord caught a glimpse of her and no one else would do, he had to marry her. And her family insisted on it. So, this pious young woman finds herself going from being the local orphan girl, to married to the local gentry and suddenly in charge of the estate, as her in-laws happily turned all the chatelaine duties over to her. In other words, she went from working to working. She also bore seven children, some of whom died in infancy and one of which was murdered when he was a young man, by his trusted servant. So she knew what it was to grieve. But she never lost faith in God.

There was a famine one time, and Juliana taught her servants not to steal and set the example of generosity to them, to share their bread, and to make loaves out of wild grasses and such. She knew what it was to suffer. But she never lost faith in God.

Being the wife of the local overlord put her in a position of being responsible for those under her care on the estate. And there were many poor. (Russia's always been good at producing many poor.) One of the things Juliana did to alleviate their suffering was stay up very late into the night sewing clothing for the destitute. And praying.

Just like Tabitha/Dorcas did, who is mentioned in the book of Acts.

I've always thought that sewing for the poor would be a neat thing to do. But there is such a glut of clothing here in this country. Free clothes abound and really, who wants something homemade?

So, I'm sitting with my friend having some coffee at my dining room table yesterday. My friend recently got back from a short mission's trip to Swaziland, Africa with an organization that helps the many many Aids orphans in that small country in various ways. One of the needs is school uniforms. And in general clothing for these children. And not trashy old stuff, but new things, for these who have nothing. And if she supplied fabric, would I be willing to do some sewing for them?

The VERY THING I was wishing for got dropped in my lap while I was sitting in my own dining room.

Who would have thunk it?

God, I reckon.

And I'm grateful.

Icon of saint from here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lunar Eclipse


It's really too cold to enjoy the Lunar eclipse tonight, but I did go out and take a peek or two. I even let the kids stay up late, under the condition that they be quiet and get some of tomorrow's school work done since they'll be trashed in the morning.

But they did, and then got just too darned sleepy to make it to the full eclipse, so one last look, then off to bed.

I was five minutes late peeking at the full eclipse, so when I noticed the time on my computer, I rushed out side so see the barest sliver of moon shining past the earth's shadow.

Speaking of shadows...it is time for darkness and bed.

Sleep well.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Experimenting with a Policy of Non-Replacement

For a while now, I've been somewhat in a "non replacement mode". Let me explain.

I feel that I own way too many things in this world. And even after a big clear out before Christmas, our house is still quite full of lots of possessions.

So I decided some time ago, that if something breaks, I'd see if I could get by without it, rather than replacing it.

(I rather think I'd draw the line at my stove, fridge, freezer, washer and dryer, though, and the computer for the kid's school work and cars. Just saying.)

So, since this resolution, I've broken more dishes than I can count. Pots and pans seem to be wearing out. I've broken my pampered chef bar pan stone. My favorite serving bowl is gone. A less fave serving bowl is also gone.

My winter coat got cat pee on it this past summer and I've made it through this winter by layering jackets. (I will get a coat when I'm done losing weight.)

Of course there's my engagement ring stone, too. Dh wants to replace it. I think I'll let him. ;-)

The dishwasher has been un-useable and I don't really miss it (my kids are learning how to wash dishes!) and today...

Today it was the microwave oven! I grew up without a microwave oven. I kind of like the idea of slow food. I learned this pm that it IS possible to heat up some leftovers on the stove top, and actually make hot cocoa water in a tea kettle. Duh!

But most importantly, I tried it and CAN successfully make low fat pop corn on the stove top with cooking spray in the pot instead of oil. I was not sure that would work, but it does.

And I'm plotting what to do with the extra space that little machine took up.

It's an interesting experiment, this non-acquisitiveness. Not that I've been completely perfect about not buying things. I've made a thrift store run here and there for t-shirts and such.

But even with my clothes, I'm trying to be very intentional about simplicity, especially as I start to shrink out of my current wardrobe. (I promise I won't go naked, and that I WILL replace my clothes! Today I had to rummage in the top of my closet for the next-size-down jeans I had stashed up there.) I'm seeing this, too, as an opportunity to scale down...not only my body, my closet, my food consumption, my possessions as well.

Well, at least I'm trying to be intentional about not doing the knee-jerk "gotta have it NOW" shopping response. It's not easy and I see that I'm very inconsistent.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I hereby solemnly swear...


...that I'm up to some good. At least trying.

I lifted this picture off The Ashram Blog since it IS a picture of me.

A rather snarly look on my face. Protesting mountain top removal coal mining. Part of a crowd begging our legislators to pass HB 164, the "Stream Saver Act". But really I was just squinting in the sun.

Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop...

Today while I was standing in prayer at Liturgy, we were praying Psalm 50: "Have mercy on me O God..." and we got to the part of "Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Thou shalt wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me to hear joy and gladness; the bones that be humbled, they shall rejoice..." That part in particular just stood out to me.

I'm the type of person that sometimes forgets that even after all my striving, and all my prayers, and all my efforts, that it is GOD who does the washing. It is GOD who does the cleansing, the healing. And that He actually will. That this is not an unrequited hope or love on my part.

And it's really talking about theosis here. That whiter than snow bit reminds me of Jesus revealing himself as he truly is on Mt. Tabor (Mt. 17:2) "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light."

"Thou shalt wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow."

See the connection? This is God's will for us. And He will do it. Not me doing it to myself. I need to learn this. It was like that still small voice whispering in my heart: "Don't you trust ME to do this in you?"

And yet, there is this synergy of repentance and humility.

Today is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. (Luke 18:10-14) As we begin our three week preparation for Lent.

"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (RSV)

And here's the challenge. I think for most of us who have been raised Christian, or been so for a long time, perhaps, it is very difficult to be so aware of our sins. But in a thousand little ways, they still dominate our existence. I'm so blind and full of pride. I'm confessing it here publicly. I guess I can say, "Lord I'm like the pharisee, have mercy on me a sinner!" thus becoming in that prayer like the publican.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Highly Recommended


for those of us suffering from depression, SADD, grief, etc.

The Akathist Prayer Jesus: Light to those in Darkness by Archpriest Fr. Lawrence Farley.

Here's a link to the PDF: Jesus: Light to Those in Darkness

An Akathist is an ancient format of hymn dating from the 6th century onward. Akathist prayers/hymns are still being composed today in the Orthodox Church. The hymn consists of thriteen sections, and each section has a kontakion (verse thingy) and an ikos (another verse thingy in a slightly different format). If done correctly, one part is plain canted, and another part is sung. When I pray such prayers/sing such hymns, I end up plain canting the whole thing because I have not learned the melody sufficiently well yet to put it into the verses on the fly. I need to practice more. If anyone knows of a link where I can download the sheet music for the standard akathist melody, I'd appreciate it.

We must remember to call upon our Lord Jesus Christ in our times of darkness. For He is our Light!

The icon is found originally in the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai, Egypt.

Depression

I asked my husband last night:

"Do you think I might be depressed?"
"Yeah!"
"How about you, you said the other day that you think you are depressed, too. But you seem so chipper about it."
"Yeah, well..."
"I think I started on December 1 when B went into the hospitial. So how long have you been depressed?"
"Since 1994 when my parents died. I'm used to it. And this feels the same."

That was an enlightening conversation. But I've got to take care of myself. And I don't really want to go out and get me some Wellbutrin or anything like that. I just don't. Not yet, anyways.

So there's this dark cloud, and I literally have to force myself to do everything. I'd rather just curl up in a blanket and stay in bed all day. But I won't.

I do find that when I get depressed, the housework suffers a bit. I think the kids have been picking up some slack, because I have not washed dishes in days, and yet they keep getting washed.

And another symptom: I cut my own hair. That ALWAYS happens when I get depressed. What is THAT about?

So, what's my plan? I suppose I just forge ahead with the "must do" items, and find solace in prayer. Perhaps I should create an imaginary therapist friend in my head to help me through some of the issues that I've got going on. It's cheaper than actually paying a real therapist, and sometimes just as effective....bwahahaha.

So, I watch what I eat, say my prayers, get exercise each day, wait for the sun to come back, and try not to get enmeshed with my very needy daughter, drink lots of water, avoid abusable substances, try and be kind to everyone I meet, and wait for the dark cloud to lift.

Onwards!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Aldi!

I've heard good things about Aldi grocery stores. We are finally getting one here in Lexington, and it's going to be fairly close to where I live!!!!

Their main competitor is Save A Lot, but it seems they might have even lower prices. I shop SAL sometimes, but can't always get what I need. Plus, SAL's dairy prices are sort of high and I've gotten a rotten chicken from them before. Eeeeeew!

I think I will most definitely check into this. Not that I expect to get EVERYTHING there, but you know...hopefully they stock brown rice and cornflakes and dry beans and basics like that.

And, in oh-so-German fashion, I get to bring my own bags. (Aldi is a German store chain and they are EVERYWHERE...all over the world, that is.)

Imagine me doing the happy dance......oh, yeah! oh, yeah!...

Ok, so don't imagine it. Not such a pretty thought.


I'll report back in next Thursday after I shop there.

Getting used to a new store....shudder.

Orthodox Fasting Practices

Again...Selena asks.

On Wednesdays and Fridays Orthodox Christians have "fasting days". Also, at various times during the Church calendar year, specifically the 40 days before the Nativity, the forty days (not counting but also including weekends and Holy Week) before Pascha (Easter), the Dormitian Fast in August (first two weeks of August) and the Apostle's Fast before the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, which varies in length from year to year depending on when Pascha falls.

In total we are fasting about 51% of the year, I think.

Rather than figure all of this out, we usually buy handy calendars (available in places such as Parish bookstores, etc.) that have the fasting days clearly marked.

How we fast:

The typical Orthodox fast is a fast from meat products, eggs, dairy products, olive oil and wine.

Not everyone keeps the full fast. Some only abstain from meat. Some might abstain from meat and cheese but allow an egg or some tuna fish if they have extra protein needs, etc. What we all MUST fast from is judging others, and from sin, as much as possible. Therefore we never look at what is on someone else's plate. Lord have mercy.

Since Orthodox Christianity originated in the Mediterranean area, certain foods that were considered "the dregs" are allowed. Namely, spineless seafood (clams, oysters), crustaceans and insects (lobster, oysters, locusts...things with exoskeletons...eeeeew) and shrimp.

Now in America it is intersting because shrimp, lobster, crab, for instance, are considered a delicacy and cost more than chicken. So we walk a fine line of "this is canonically legal but ridiculous to spend more money on" and perhaps we eat tuna and fishsticks instead and save the shrimp for if it's lent and we are having company. The Russian practice is to allow fish during fasting periods, so we have the further complication of "Which culture to we look to as we work out our American Orthodox practice?"

So a fully fasting lenten diet will be vegan with shrimp and oysters and clams, crabs, lobster. I know that monastics typically always eat this way, with fish added for times of feasting, I think.

So we get good at making lentils and hummus, and things like this. And there's plenty of grace. People with health problems that are affected by diet need to follow doctor's orders first of all. A person's priest will advise on the individual fasting rule and keep one accountable.

There is also the idea that you don't eat extra and snack extra and only eat just enough to keep you going, during times of fasting. Lord have mercy.

But the point is, we aren't making up stuff willy nilly and we are fasting as a community. The first century writing "The Didache" refers to fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays as being the Christian practice, so we know that it dates back to the very earliest days of the Orthodox Christian Church. On Wednesdays we remember Christ's betrayal, and on Friday's we remember his crucifixion, just as on Sunday's we commemorate the resurrection of Christ.

There are certain days of the year, such as Great and Holy Friday, when a total fast is called for. Also, we fast from food and drink completely starting at midnight before the Eucharist on Sunday morning.

If a feast falls in the middle of a fasting period, such as the Annunciation on March 25, which is always during lent, fish, wine and olive oil are allowed. Additionally there are many "fish days" during the fasting period leading up to Christmas.

That's just the food fast. I won't even touch on other areas. But during lent many do without movies, computer, going out, music, blogging, reading materials get more sober and spiritual, etc. It all needs to challenge us to grow, to stretch ourselves, and to knock out some of our passions. It's a struggle and it is very difficult.

Now I know I've left out salient factors in this little "quick and dirty" run down of Orthodox fasting practices. I was told once that it can take seven years to learn how to fast. I know it's difficult. And mostly we fast so that we can pray with more focus, pray more, free up funds for almsgiving, and so that our passions can be curbed.

Here is the Prayer of St. Ephraim which we add to our prayer rule during Great Lent:

O Lord and Master of my life
do not give me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power or idle talk. prostration
But give rather a spirit of chastitiy, humility, patience and love to your servant. prostration

Yes, Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions
and not to judge my brother.
For blessed art Thou unto ages of ages. Amen. prostration

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some Pumpkin Recipes

Selena also was wanting a Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe, since she had an overabundant pumpkin crop this summer. (Imagine that...it is summer down under! Such thoughts fill me with unaccountable glee as I slog through cold and snow....)

But before I post a desert recipe, I HAVE to post this one, since it is SOOOOO GOOD! and for my Orthodox brothers and sisters, it fits the lenten bill just fine, too.

Pumpkin Clam Chowder

1 onion, chopped
a handful of carrots, chopped
celery if you have it on hand, chopped (I usually don't)

Chop and sautee these. Add about 2-3 cups of frozen pre-cooked pumpkin. And a couple of cups of either water with veggie boullion or vegetable broth. Drain off the juice of two cans of clams and add that as well. Salt and Pepper to taste. Let simmer until all is tender and hot.

Chop the clams, meanwhile. BEFORE adding the clams, run the veggie mixture through a blender. This makes it nice and smooth. Pour it back into the pot and add the clams.

Heat up again.

All I can say about this recipe is: YUM! YUM! YUM! Of course crusty bread is the perfect accompaniment.
'

Pumpkin Cake Fix

To make a cake mix lower in fat and calories, take about 14 oz. of pumpkin, either canned or pre-cooked, and mix it with the dry mix powder. Do NOT add the required eggs or oil. Bake according to directions.

If you use chocolate, or a spice cake or carrot cake mix, the pumpkin is indistinguishable in the recipe. Even my veggie hating son will eat them, since he can't taste the pumpkin.


Pumpkin Cheesecake

24 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup extra fine ricotta cheese
1 3/4 cup splenda or sugar
15 oz. pure pumpkin
pumpkin pie spices in unknown quanity (I forgot to copy this part into the recipe booklet my guess would be 1 tsp each of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.)
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks

400 degree farenheit oven with 1" water bath heating.

spray 8" springform pan with cooking spray.

Mix 2 minutes on low: cream cheese, ricotta, pumpkin, splenda and spice

In separate bowl whisk remaining ingredients. With mixer on medium, slowly pour egg mixture into cheese mixture, until just blended.

Pour batter into springform pan and place in water bath. Reduce heat to 275 F. after 15 minutes. Bake for 2 hours until cake is light golden brown and edges are pulling away from the pan. Turn off the oven and let it cool in the oven for 3 hours. This will prevent the cake from falling.

Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.

This is not my invention. I think it's from a George Stella Cookbook, and I hope I don't get sued for posting it here.

Political Protest Rally


I did say to a friend earlier that today was my first ever political protest rally, but now I recall I did some kind of march thingy in Switzerland when I was about the age some of my kids are now. I remember marching, banners, etc. but I don't remember the cause.

I hope my kids remember this cause, though. Because it's so important.

People gathered today on the steps of our State Capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky to agitate for the passage of the "Stream Saver" act, that would make it impossible for Mountain Top removal mining to continue destroying habitats, property, clean water sources and people's lives, not to mention MOUNTAINS here in Kentucky. I guess Tennesseeans and West Virginians will have to do their own agitating, since it is a state by state loophole-to-federal-laws situation.

But here's the thing: The headwaters of the ENTIRE eastern seaboard are in the Appalachian Mountains. Respect the mountains, people.

But Big Coal has big money and big money can buy the politicians, and so it goes, and the people don't get represented. And the people are getting MAD.

I was yelling and whooping and hollering along with the rest of everyone, and holding up a homemade sign that said: "Mountains Don't Grow Back!"

We got to hear Wendell Berry give a very excellent speech. People like him make me proud to be a Kentuckian.

And the children got cold and miserable. There were lots of speeches, singing and a big crowd. Next year we'll go again.

And this morning on the way to Weight Watcher's, I fell on the ice, and landed on my knees and wrists. Throb, throb. But I'm SO GRATEFUL that I did not land on my butt!!!! With my bad back, that would have truly been horrid. So, thanks be to God for protecting me.

Photo link

Why I Homeschool and How I Do It....

Selena from Australia wants to know.

OK, the "why". I homeschool because I always wanted to homeschool. I've read one too many books by the likes of John Holt, and envisioned for my kids a bit more freedom and less structure.

I homeschool because when they were in public school is was horridly exhausting, to be overseeing homework at the end of a long day. Now I oversee their work in the mornings when I am fresh as a daisy.

I homeschool because every day, when they were in P.S. (and this was true for all four of them), they would come home emotionally drained and upset from the teasing, social interactions, etc. We have a very nerdy and introverted family and all day every day with other kids whom one does not fit in with was just too much.

I homeschool because I want to teach my kids the Orthodox Christian Faith, including taking them to Divine Liturgies for all the feasts, etc. And I want to be able to sit down with them and read the scriptures and speak of our faith, etc. This was getting squeezed out when they had to rush out the door every day.

I home school because that gives us the flexibility to do things like take a day to go and do things like participate in a protest mountaintop removal. (www.ilovemountains.org)

I home school because it improves our family life. We talk more, play more, and get along better.

How do I do it?

I spend about a thousand dollars per year on textbooks and teacher manuals. With four kids, this is homeschooling on the CHEAP. I wish I had more to spend, I really do. But we do OK.

I have each of them working independently on their Math and English, checking their own mistakes, etc, but I "teach" Botany and History, in which subjects they then return to me an essay or a notebook entry.

I start each day with 3rd hour prayers, Gospel and epistle reading, and a lesson from a catechism book. Then, while we are all together, I will do a botany or history lesson, and review what they need to turn in later. Then they are to go and do their Math, English and whatever else I've assigned. They also have the opportunity to study a foreign language of their choice, and most have been dinking around with German and my oldest with German and Spanish.

In addition to that, I am teaching those who are interested in cooking and hand crafts. We play games, and visit the library at least once a week. I try to arrange play dates with other kids, but I will say that the social aspects are rather pathetic for us. But considering the level of introverted nerdiness, no one really complains.

Are there things I would change? Yes. I wish I had more funds for them to perhaps in in some sort of "lessons" like Karate, or something. But I don't, and quite frankly, with four kids, that would be rather a hellish amount of running around.

Selena also wants to know about Pumpkin Cheesecake recipes...and as an added bonus I will post my pumpkin clam chowder recipe. It's better than the cheesecake. But that will have to be later, as I MUST be out the door for a Weight Watcher's meeting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The End of the Day


I was having such an interesting conversation with some of my friends tonight, and the topic of death came up. I wondered if I looked like I was sprouting a second head when I suggested that we all ought to constantly be in remembrance of our own deaths.

Just thought I'd share a wee bit more of where I'm coming from on that score.

In the daily cycle of my life as an Orthodox Christian, I recall death and resurrection every time I go to sleep and then, by God's grace, am granted another day in which to live.

An evening prayer goes like this one by Saint John Damascene:

O Master, Lover of mankind, is this bed to be my coffin, or wilt Thou enlighten my wretched soul with another day? Behold, the coffin lieth before me; behold, death confronteth me. I fear, O Lord, Thy judgement and the endless torments, yet I cease not to do evil. My Lord God, I continually anger Thee, and Thy most pure Mother, and all the Heavenly Hosts, and my holy guardian angel. I know, O Lord, that I am unworthy of Thy love for mankind, bu am worthy of every condemnation and torment. But, O Lord, whether I will it or not, save me. For to save a righteous man is no great thing, and to have mercy on the pure is nothing wonderful, for they are worthy of Thy mercy. But on me, a sinner, show the wonder of Thy mercy; in this reveal Thy love for mankind, lest my weickeness prevail over Thine ineffable goodness and merciful kindness; and order my life as Thou wilt.

Enlighten mine eyes, O Christ God, lest at any time I sleep unto death, lest at any time mine enemy say: I have prevailed against him.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Be my soul's helper, O God, for I pass through the midst of many snares; deliver me out of them, and save me, O Good One, for Thou art the Lover of mankind.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


Now, to be perfectly honest, I will say that I pray this occasionally. So far I have not built my prayer rule up to the point of including this regularly, since it comes at the very tail end of compline prayers, but I aim to, and I will. It's like building physical fitness....must build stamina one step at a time. And this is a normal part of the Orthodox evening prayer rule. Others pray better than I do.

And in the morning, for Matins, we pray Psalm 3, among others, which says: "I laid me down to sleep, I arose, for the Lord will help me."

So our sleeping and rising is a daily metaphor for our death and resurrection. A built in reminder.

Just thought I'd share.

Healthier Cornbread (less fat and more nutrition!)

1 cup corn meal
1/2 cup oats (food processored)
1/2 quinoa flakes
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup splenda or sweetener of choice
2 eggs
1 15 oz. can of plain pumpkin
1/2 can of water

Mix all together and bake in a sprayed cast iron skillet at 425 F. until done.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What if?

I think one of the reasons I'm feeling so down today is plain old envy. I have to struggle against that particular sin a great deal. I have a propensity in that direction, I guess.

I was reading blogs and was reading about a life long dream that got fulfilled in a miraculous way for someone. I'm happy for her. Really, I am.

And yet, envy rears its ugly head.

God knows my wishes. My dreams.

But somehow those are never the right ones.

Because He always says "no".

I despair of even knowing how to pray anymore. Because God always says "no". And as the years go by, I am able to look back at how often I thought I was asking for bread, but was really asking for a stone. And God said "no" and gave me bread instead.

So, I take a deep breath, and learn to pray "Thy will be done." Again and again I must practice this. And it is so difficult. And it is so hard. Hard because my eyes deceive me, and I still find myself reaching for the stones.

Perhaps I learn. I cast all my desires down onto the ground and I dare not even pick them up to examine them. And I repeat my refrain "Thy will be done" by sheer stubborn force of will. My emotions have not caught up yet.

And my life is so small, it seems.

And what if....what if...when all is said and done, and I have finally learned to desire ONLY GOD....

...what if He does not give Himself to me?

...oh God have mercy on me...

One of THOSE days...

I feel all tense and coiled up inside. The house is a mess and my oldest dd keeps bursting into tears at EVERYTHING. I suppose that's life with a young teenager sometimes.

It took dh THREE hours to get home from work last night. Snow that turned into an ice storm .

And chiseling the ice off the car this morning was no fun. For now, everything is thawing, I'm just nervous that the temps will drop and wet stuff will re-freeze before he gets home tonight, and he'll be driving on ice.

And for some reason, even though it's Tuesday, I keep feeling like it ought to be Wednesday and I keep wanting the week to be further along than it is.

I'm just out of sorts.

And even prayers are difficult. And so many people are on my heart and mind that I just feel all knotted up with prayers and "Lord have mercys".

I know what I need to do. I need to do some house work. And then I need to exercise. And then I need to do some more house work.

I folded a huge pile of laundry this morning, so the living room is cluttered with books, papers, knitting stuff (way too much knitting stuff), mending stuff that never gets done (my fault, I know), and various laundry baskets. Some are emptied and some are filled. Sigh. And I have some papers to grade3.

And the bathroom could use a good scrub down as well as the floors. But as usual I need to start in the kitchen. And there's more laundry to do.

It really is that bad. And this post really is that boring and stupid. Gah!

Perhaps I should set some goals, get some stuff done and then reward myself with a nice hot cup of cocoa and a good history book.


It is right now 12:39. I am going to get off of here, and see how much I can get done in ONE HOUR. I'll report back in at 1:39ish and let you all know how much I did.

Monday, February 11, 2008

They're Taking the Hobbits to Isengard!

Just kidding. (Yeah, I've been watching youtube videos, can't you tell?)

Tonight there is a lovely snow coming down, which will be much lovelier once Wes is home safe and sound. He called me after driving an hour or more and he was perhaps half way home. He said traffic was moving at around 25 mph on the interstate between Louisville and Lexington. God grant him safe travels tonight.

Well, the kids and I are going to our very first political rally on Thursday: Against Mountain Top Removal. Against the ruination of human and animal habitat in the world's second most biodiverse forest. Against asthma. Against flash flooding. Against homes being destroyed. Against Elementary schools down stream from dammed toxic sludge ponds. Against economic destruction of communities due to greed.

M is particularly excited. She's our environmental activist idealist type.

Meanwhile, I think we have too many lights on in this house. OK...now the kids are turning them off.

www.ilovemountains.org


Watch the videos and weep. Then get angry. Write a congress person. It's not just about Appalachia, it's about our whole country. It's not just about the earth God made, it's about the people who live on it.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Good Morning, and Cooking Lite



Here's me in my jammies this morning and my vat of morning coffee in hand. Check out the ultra cool Raggedy Ann mug that my friend was getting rid of...It's become my new favorite mug because a) it reminds me of my new friend who was getting rid of it, and b) it holds a ton of coffee...always a good thing, and c) it allows me to indulge in a bit of nostalgia for my Raggedy Ann doll toting days as a pre-schooler. I think I wore that doll to shreds. I'm way too nostalgic about my childhood, but overall that's not a bad thing, perhaps, as it means I had a wonderful one. Which I did.

Anyways...I digress. I wanted to tell you all about some cooking I did yesterday. I had catfish nuggets waiting to be cooked in my freezer. So, instead of frying them, I did the usual egg/skim milk wash, cornmeal but then I placed them in a baking dish, sprayed them with cooking spray and baked them.

They were a hit.

Re-vamping old favorites is hard to do sometimes from an "I like things the way I like them" perspective, but I must admit, baking is simpler and less effort than frying, so there is an immediate pay-off in terms of effort saved as well as calories saved.

My other culinary experiment yesterday was to concoct a healthy "core plan" carrot cake. I did. My only complaint is that it is not very sweet, but it makes a perfect breakfast bread.

So, here it is as I cooked it:

1.5 cups oat flour-whirl whole rolled oats in a food processor, then measure the required amount
.5 cup quinoa flakes
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1.5 tsp stevia powder
1 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves

mix all dry ingredients

shred in food processor:

1-1.5 cups of baby carrots (I just dumped some in, so this is an estimate)
2 red apples, cored, but with peel still on.

Add to dry mixture, along with:

3 eggs
2 cups unsweetened applesauce.

Bake at 375 in a large springform pan, muffin tin, or loaf pans...whatever...until done.

This is very moist and delicious and slightly sweet. But check out all those nutritious ingredients!!!! Perhaps we should call it the "no guilt carrot cake". Have you seen the nutritional profile for a regular carrot cake????? It's got way tons of calories because traditional recipes call for up to a CUP of oil. My, my, my.

Ideas for sweetening this up: crushed pineapple instead of the applesauce. Or pineappple tidbits, drained, instead of, or in addition to the apple chunks. Or, if you aren't doing Weight Watchers core plan, how about some raisins? That would be good, too.

So, there's my recipe that I made up yesterday.





And look at these GORGEOUS mung bean sprouts my daughter just "harvested". I'm thinking those will make a great addition to lunch!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Boring and Painful Back Exercises

...inwhich she eats a bit of crow...

I dutifully did those boring and painful exercises today. The first 3 exercises hurt like the dickens, just like they did yesterday. But then I moved on to other ones, equally boring and painful. But they didn't hurt my back so much as things like knees and wrists...supporting body parts.

OK, so I KNOW I"m obese and this makes it difficult to hold up my body weight and all that...hence the extra pain...

But I have to admit, my back feels better for having done ALL the exercises. And perhaps those "Fire Hydrants" (yes, it IS what you imagine!) will shrink my butt over the long haul. So it's not all bad.

Oh, WAIT! NO! I'M NOT OBESE ANYMORE...merely OVERWEIGHT!!!! I lost two more pounds this week, for a total of eleven and a half or so.

So, me and my crappy muscles are heading in the right direction.

If I keep up these hideous back benders, eventually I may be able to tolerate yoga.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"Your Muscles Are Crap"

Yes indeed!

The girl-child (college freshman) physical therapist told me that today. I'd neglected going to the chiropractor for over two months. In part because I was busy taking care of my dd. Another part is that my chiropractor changed his business from straight up chiropractic into a Healthsource Chiropractic/Physical Therapy franchise. Changes, changes.

And I don't like them. So I avoided going. In particular, I' don't like going to the chiro, after having done whatever exercises I've done for the day (today it was an attempt at a new Tae Bo video...and no, I couldn't keep up, but yes, I did move in general aproximation of an imitation of Billy Blanks for the alloted amount of time and my body generally felt noodlish) and then having to do more exercises in front of a bunch of college kids who are hired to oversee us middle aged geriatric types with bad backs, in an open room for all to see.

So, on today's menu of pain was an L1 stretch. I was to lay on my stomach, and then push up with my hands, bending at the waist, to stretch the front of my L1. Niiiice, especially since THAT'S WHERE I WAS ALREADY HURTING!!!!! Every cell in my body was screaming that I was stretching it the wrong way!

After doing that horrid stretch three times, I was crying. And the guy was trying to get me to go on to the next thing. I asked him to give me a minute, while I tried to surreptitiously dry my tears. He asked me if I was OK. "NO, it HURT!". I was so mad. Ohhhh, I was mad. Then I, upset, had to ask WHY Dr. Mike had us doing these exercises when they hurt so much and felt like the opposite of what my body needs.

And that's when she said it: "Well, you see, he can do the adjustment, but you see, your muscles are crap and the adjustment won't stay. So we are trying to build up those muscles."

Niiice.

As if one extra exercise session per month is going to make a huge difference in how long the adjustment holds. HA!

And then I was informed that the doc was OUT and I could go home and put some ice on it. Doc had an emergency with one of his kids, but he'd be back soon. She must have seen the look on my rather annoyed face, because she ammended it to say I could wait and get an adjustment if I wanted. I waited.

Finally when I saw the doc, I told him what his college freshman employee had said to me, and that it was in no way OK, even if my muscles ARE crap. (Which they are). I get to call them that, she doesn't. She gets to use a nicer word, like "weak" or "underused" something. But not crap.

I thought I was OK, but then I ended up crying all the way home. The adjustment hurt, too.

And now I have a very boring and painful looking set of exercises to do in addition to all the exercise I'm already doing.

Since my muscles are crap.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Playing with Dolls


Yesterday, B and I found a couple of huge bags of assorted yarns at the thrift store. Someone clearly had cleaned out their stash. Now it has become OUR stash. It's fun to have a box full of "play yarns" (in browns, blues, pinks, greens, beiges, black and one ball of bright red) and it reminds me of the bins of yarns at school, in my hand-crafting class, that my teacher had all neatly balled and sorted according to color. (Yes, it's all very quaint to think about, but that WAS Switzerland, and it WAS more than a quarter of a century ago. Egads! I'm OLD!)

My hope is that I can teach my kids how to do yarn-crafts like knitting and crochet. So far I'm only 25% successful. My son thinks it's too girly and my eleven year old would rather read a book. My youngest does some crocheting, but seems reluctant to move past the chaining stage. Sigh. B on the other hand, taketh after her mom.

In order to inspire them, I'm whipping up a cute cardigan to fit an 18" doll. It's beige with blue stripes.

See, the next level of playing with dolls is making clothes for them. And that happens with scraps and bits, often wonkily cut and patched together with needle and thread. I did my fair share of that sort of thing when I was a kid.

But then it can be taken to an even higher level and actually be done for real. High quality, heirloom-worthy fun.

I'll be raiding my Grandmother's button collection for this little cardigan when I'm done. And I think a blue skirt with a beige stripe around the hem will complete the outfit.

Dare I knit some doll tights? Crochet a matching hat?

Well, I'll post a picture of what I come up with when it's all completed.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Snuggly Crochet Love!


Last night I finished my latest crochet project: A snuggly shawl. Here it is, draped over my husband's raggedy chair. In real life it goes down below my butt when I'm wearing it. I made it in a lighter color so that I can use it in the summer time to combat the evils of air conditioning....brrrrr.

It's made up in a lace-weight mohair blend yarn. The photo makes it look chunkier than it really is.

Now, using some 100% virgin acrylic! yarn I got at the thrift store, I am determined to learn how to knit lace! I'll report on how it's going at a later time. WHAT is virgin acrylic? That's what I want to know. How is acrylic in any way vigninal, or pure. Ah yes, straight out of the ground, into your knitting basket. Petrochemicals at their finest. Virgin, in fact!

Perhaps once I learn how to knit lace, I will make something beautiful out of something real. I also want to improve my crochet patttern reading and following skills. Unfortunately, I tend to make stuff up as I go along, and that limits me. It is better to follow a pattern.

The Meeting of Our Lord in the Temple




The Presentation of Our Lord and Savior in the Temple

February 2
Apolytikion in the First Tone
Hail Virgin Theotokos full of Grace, for Christ our God, the Sun of Righteousness, has dawned from you, granting light to those in darkness. And you, O Righteous Elder, rejoice, taking in your arms, the Deliverance of our souls, who grants us Resurrection.
Kontakion in the First Tone
Your birth sanctified a Virgin's womb and properly blessed the hands of Symeon. Having now come and saved us O Christ our God, give peace to Your commonwealth in troubled times and strengthen those in authority, whom You love, as only the loving One.
Reading:

When the most pure Mother and Ever-Virgin Mary's forty days of purification had been fulfilled, she took her first-born Son to Jerusalem on this, the fortieth day after His birth, that she might present Him in the temple according to the Law of Moses, which teaches that every first-born male child be dedicated to God, and also that she might offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons, as required by the Law (Luke 2:22-24; Exod. 13:2; Lev. 12:6-8). On this same day, a just and devout man, the greatly aged Symeon, was also present in the temple, being guided by the Holy Spirit. For a long time, this man had been awaiting the salvation of God, and he had been informed by divine revelation that he would not die until he beheld the Lord's Christ. Thus, when he beheld Him at that time and took Him up into his aged arms, he gave glory to God, singing: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, O Master. . ." And he confessed that he would close his eyes joyfully, since he had seen the Light of revelation for the nations and the Glory of Israel (Luke 2:25-32). From ancient times, the Holy Church has retained this tradition of the churching of the mother and new-born child on the fortieth day and of the reading of prayers of purification.

The Apodosis of the Feast of the Meeting in the Temple is usually on the 9th of February. This, however, may vary if the Feast falls within the period of the Triodion. Should this occur, the Typicon should be consulted for specific information concerning the Apodosis of the Feast.

Reading courtesy of Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Apolytikion courtesy of Narthex Press
Kontakion courtesy of Narthex Press
Icon courtesy of Theologic Systems


Today is also the sixth anniversary of my Chrismation! Ten years ago, my family and I started "heading east" and six years ago today we, along with the rest of our parish, became canonically Orthodox! Praise be to God!