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musings from an old rocking chair, on my front porch.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Angels 

I believe in them!

You know, I've always believed in angels. I've been able to look back over certain events and say to myself, "one more inch to the left," "why did that person just happen to be there," etc. We all have those stories and some consider them coincidence, happenstance, etc. Not me. I've always believed in heavenly watchcare from a young age. The Orthodox, from what little I know about them, also believe strongly in guardian angels. There is even a prayer in our little prayer book which entreats the guardian angel's help and protection. I have taken to praying that prayer in the morning before I start my crazy day.

My little daughter has entered the "monster phase" of her development. Last night as I began putting her to bed, she said to me, "There are no monsters in Ana's room."

"That's right," I replied. "Look at me. I scared them all away." (I was looking pretty scary after a day of cleaning and had exercised right before preparing dinner with no shower yet). She didn't get the joke.

As we were running through our bedtime routine, Ana clung to me more than usual, as if scared. I had planned on showering just after I put her to bed; however, at this time my husband occupied our one and only bathroom so I stayed with Ana, stroking her hair and caressing her cheek. A little extra TLC can never hurt, right? I also prayed softly, "Lord, I pray you would send down some angels to guard my daughter's heart and mind from scary thoughts tonight. Keep her safe and protected as she sleeps." I don't know if that's particularly "Orthodox" or not...but I know how scared she was and I wanted to do something before her. I had "closet monsters" and "under the bed monsters" as well. In fact, there's is still a part of me that doesn't like to let one ankle fall over the side of the bed as I sleep for fear of something grabbing it. I also still sleep with night lights. I willingly admit that I am still afraid of the dark!

My husband exited our bathroom, I took my shower and we did our usual evening routine (scripture reading, devotional, prayer) and then I went back upstairs to brush my teeth and check on the kids before crashing. As I was brushing, I had this picture in my mind of an angel hovering over Ana's little head board with wings and one of those fiery sword thingies described after the fall in Genesis. It was weird. And then, when I went to check on Ana before I retired, I felt the room was not occupied by her alone. Not a sinister presence at all...but also one that gave me chills. I was almost uncertain as to whether to enter the room to do the final "cover pull up" which I didn't even need to do since she hadn't moved since I left her to shower.

I went in anyway...I just love to get a close up look at that sweet face as she sleeps. If there were angels present, I had invited them, right? As I walked toward Ana, I "felt" as if room were being made for me...as if something was stepping aside to let me pass. I truly believe there were angels standing guard in that room last night.

Spooky? Definitely. A figment of my imagination? I don't think so...but like good old FoxNEWS...I'll report and you can decide!

Have a lovely day...may angels guard your steps!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Buuurrrp 

Rites of Passage!

My oldest son has now developed the habit of emitting earth-shattering belches in front of my husband and then saying, "Do I burp just like you, Dad?" I suppose this is some sort of "rite of passage" for the human male species. I can remember my brother, when he was about Mikey's age, reveling in his ability to produce rattling gas explosions at the supper table and then gloating that he had grossed me out. I would look at my Mom and say, "That makes me feel like I want to throw up!" My statement only served to further Eric's ambition.

Jim has, of course, added fuel to the fire by regaling Mikey with tales of how Jim's grandad used to call Mikey's Pop Pop in from playing with a loud belch rather than simply calling his name. Then of course there are Jim's stories of his most glorious belches, including the one he loves to tell about his best ever burp which transpired after he had partaken of two beers. The windows of our first house were all open as we were without air conditioning and apparently in addition to not only shaking the walls with his explosion, passer's by also made comments about this most glorious burp!

Men, I'll never completely understand them.

However, there is something so tender about Mikey's question following his burps, "Do I burp just like you Dad?" I always feel a rush of compassion for a seven year old boy who is trying so hard to be like his Daddy...and perhaps Mikey is sometimes wondering if he'll make it. It also reminds me of a story I found within a Bible study. It is from Gilda Radner's Biography called, It's Always Something published in New York by Avon Books:

When I was little, Dibby's cousin had a dog, just a mutt, and the dog was pregnant. I don't know how long dogs are pregnant, but she was due to have her puppies in about a week. She was out in the yard one day and got in the way of the lawn mower and her two hind legs got cut off. The rushed her to the vet and he said, "I can sew her up, or you can put her to sleep if you want, but the puppies are okay. She'll be able to deliver the puppies."
Dibby's cousin said, "Keep her alive."
So the vet sewed up her backside, and over the next week the dog learned to walk. She didn't spend any time worrying, she just learned to walk by taking two steps in the front and flipping up her backside, and then taking two steps and flipping up her backside again. She gave birth to six puppies, all in perfect health. She nursed them and then weaned them. And when they learned to walk, they all walked like her.

I guess the moral of the story is watch how you walk...for little eyes are upon us always watching how we make our way in the world! It's pretty incredible if you stop to think about it for just a moment.

Have a day full of blessings,

Monday, December 29, 2003

Christmas Down South 

A good time was had by all (I think...)

We left the day after Christmas to travel to North Carolina to see my family for Christmas. My parents had offered to come to our house sometime over the holiday in order to save us the trip, but I really felt we should give them a break and do the traveling this time. My husband agreed, although somewhat reluctantly. Before leaving, we had a long talk about his expectations for the trip. In the past, he has felt that I behaved "differently" around my parents than I do when they are not around and it was stressing him out. Jim just wanted me to be "me" and not to feel as if I had to cater to my parents...I agreed...he was right.

It didn't start out so well, of course! We had planned to leave on Friday around 1:00 PM which would have had us arriving at my parent's house around 5 or 6:00 PM. We ended up leaving around 2:30 due to some unexpected laundry trauma...the washer wasn't draining properly during the spin cycle and so it took forever for that last load of clothes to dry. Jim actually wore a slightly damp pair of jeans when we started out the drive. We then hit heavy traffic on good old DC beltway and also on Interstate 95 south of DC...it took us three hours to move 20 miles! We finally made it out of the traffic jam and started moving around Fredericksburg. We arrived at my parent's house around 9:00 PM to hot homemade chili and corn muffins. My mom is a wonderful cook!

The funny thing is that, for me, the closer we came to "home" and left the big city congestion behind, the more relaxed I felt. As the road opened up and we passed more trees than buildings, the easier I was able to breathe...I actually felt my blood moving more slowly in my veins. How I miss that slower pace of life, waving at people in cars in the opposite lanes whether one knows them or not. It's a way of life not preserved here in Baltimore except for the occasional transplant like myself who pushes around a "buggy" in the grocery store as opposed to a "cart." And those groceries are placed in a "sack", rather than a "bag."

The kids stayed up until around 10:00 PM which is very late for them, but, I wanted them to have some idea of where they were in case they woke up in the middle of the night. Luckily, they didn't. Poor David just looked totally shell shocked! The combination of the long trip and being up so late left a bewildered look on his little face, "why are you crazy people doing this to me?"

After we put the kids to bed, Jim and I stayed up talking with my parents until somewhere around midnight or so. The conversation was easy...I don't remember what was said as I was tired and also had a beer with my chili (I'm a lightweight) but it was an enjoyable time. Saturday morning arrived early as Ana woke up around 7:45. My mom and dad followed suit when they heard us in the living room cuddling in Grandaddy's big leather chair. My daughter took to my dad almost immediately. She didn't want to leave his side and spent quite a bit of time cuddling with him and playing with him throughout the weekend. The kids were slower to warm up towards my mom, I'm not sure why that is exactly!

My brother and sister-in-law arrived and we opened presents, again. Ana has become adept at present opening and no longer needs help. In fact, she tried open presents which didn't belong to her! My parents got some revenge by giving Mikey one of those wonderful space guns which makes an incredibly loud laser like noise when the trigger is pulled. I believe my grandparents gave my brother or I one of those...I guess one day I'll do the same!

At any rate, we had a wonderful Christmas with my family. I didn't feel the need to "be someone" for them. I was just myself. My parents talked and played with Mikey and Jim also had several conversations with my mother without me in the room. It took nearly six years, but, it appears that they have finally accepted Jim's place in my life...I continually asked Jim if I was "myself" and he continually answered "yes."

Jim also enjoyed the time at my parents house. Their kitchen table affords a lovely view of the woods surrounding the back yard. It's easy to relax and enjoy the clean air and nice view. I think he was very appreciative of the break from the regular "routine." We were in no hurry to get back except that we wanted to get the drive over with! My father gave us an alternate route around DC traveling by route 301 which was much more pleasant despite some traffic lights through La Plata, Waldorf and Upper Marlboro, MD. I think it will be our preferred route for future trips.

And the perfect ending to our trip...as we were leaving my parents neighborhood a gentleman was out power walking...he waved and I waved back....Ahh...I hope some day we will spend more time in the south!

Blessings to you this day!

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas!! 

Blessed Nativity, Happy New Year!

We went to church yesterday evening. Our first Orthodox Christmas Eve Service. It was a stunning experience with swirling incense, swinging chandeliers, haunting chanting, shimmying candles, microwavable underwear (yes that's what I said, I'll tell the story), sleeping children and the one that refused to sleep and even a few "Western" Christmas Carols. I'll tell you all about it when I've had more than 4 hours of sleep...hopefully before we leave to go and visit my parents tomorrow.

Until then, Have a wonderful day with family and friends.

Laura

Swirling Chandeliers 

I could have added more, but on four hours of sleep this was all I could manage. There may be another entry at a later time!

We attended our very first Orthodox Christmas Eve Service yesterday evening. The service starts with Matins at 10:00 PM and then moves on to a Divine Liturgy ending with a service of carols surrounding an Icon of the Nativity. We actually hemmed and hawed about the decision to attend this service because we would have to bring the kids with us. After talking with some other parishoners, we decided to bring them along in their PJ's with pillows and blankets. Apparently, this is standard practice for the late evening/early morning services.

I expected Mikey and David to sleep and for Ana to remain awake for the entirety of the service. It didn't quite happen that way! We entered the nave just as Matins was beginning. It was quiet, and the nave was darkened save the shimmying candlelight. We arranged the kids on the floor with blankets and pillows, Mikey actually spread out on three chairs and fell off to sleepy land fairly quickly. Ana and David rose from the floor quickly and wanted to be held. I had never attended a Matins service and so it was all new to me. I tried to absorb as much as I could while keeping the younger two children under control, with Jim's help of course. It's always a tag team effort.

Some where in the middle of Matins, one of the Sub-Deacons came to stand under the huge chandalier which hangs in the middle of the church. He then began to swing the monstrous behemoth, round and round. The chandalier had been cleaned recently and once the lights were turned up it's many twirled stems glistened and sent glinting little lights throughout the nave. Ana and David were enraptured...their little eyes glued as the lights made their twisting journey. Once the twirling stopped, Ana begged, "again." Unfortunately, we won't see this feat again until Pascha!

Aside from wanting to be held and wanting to make several trips to the front of the nave to "kiss Mary," Ana was fairly well behaved and eventually conked out on the floor after I rubbed her back for a few moments. It had been a long day with presents at our house and then presents at Grandmom and PopPop's. I thought for sure her little brother would follow suit, but no dice. David remained awake for the entire service! He was like a little commentator, remarking in his babbling way about what was going on, pointing out icons and candles to us as if we couldn't see them. Just when his head would start to feel heavy on my shoulder and I'd think, "A Ha!", his little head would pop up and his finger would be extended to point out something to Jim or I. At least we only had one child to worry about! He didn't cry often except when he wanted to switch being held by Jim or I. Even on the way home in the van he was smiling and babbing! I'm glad he had a good time.

Mikey woke up in the middle of the service and stumbled downstairs to the fellowship hall. Jim said to, "let him work it out." I decided to bring his blanket and pillow to him in case he was retiring on the floor. Once I made it down the stairs, I heard him crying softly in the bathroom and was obviously moved to investigate what was happening. I found him on the floor with his PJ bottoms around his knees all hunched over sobbing. Somehow, he had managed to wet his underwear, but not his PJ bottoms...I guess he managed to "drop trou" but not "undies!"

"It'll be alright honey, just take your PJ bottoms off, take off your underwear and then pull your pants up again...no one will no the difference."

"I don't like the way that feels," he replied.

"We don't have any choice," I said. "I didn't bring a change of underwear for you."

He was really upset, so I helped him do the switch. I had David with me so I decided to let him run around the I re-settled Mikey on the floor in the Fellowship Hall. Sadie, a truly delightful Lebanese woman I've spoken with before showed up downstairs while I was helping Mikey settle in. She tried to cheer Mikey up to no avail.

"He really doesn't like not having any underwear on," I told her.

"I know," she replied. "And we don't have a drier here. You could microwave them!"

"That's a good idea!"

Sadie held David while I rinsed out Mikey's underwear in the bathroom sink. She offered to take David back up with her, but he refused. Once I had the underwear rinsed out, she went back up to the nave while I microwaved the underwear. Underwear is microwavable! Who knew?! It took several minutes but I finally got the underwear dry and I handed it back to Mikey who I think rearranged himself again under his blanket. All was well...

(yes, I bleached out the microwave afterwards...even though urine is sterile.)

David and I returned to the Nave for the conclusion of the Liturgy. I grabbed two candles and handed one to the lady sitting next to me who I later discovered was Coptic. As I held the beeswax candle, I relished smelling it's honey sweet smell...reminding me of the sweet gift Christ brought into the world. We sang several traditional Christmas Carols starting with "O Come all ye Faithful" and ending with "Silent Night." It was a peaceful and beautiful way to the end the evening in the darkened nave with candles glowing on the faces around...reminding me that we all reflect God's image. It was a beautiful ending to a slightly hectic service!

Have a blessed nativity!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Thankful-ness 

Yesterday evening, I decided to run to the grocery store for a few moments, leaving the kids at home with Jim. I was grateful for a few moments of peace. It's crazy how wonderful just getting out of the house for a bit, even just to go to the grocery store can feel so good for a mommy! I also am able to turn up the music in the van to nearly blistering (just kidding) levels as I'm not worried about ruining my children's future hearing abilities. Silly...yes?

At any rate, I needed to purchase a few last minute Christmas supplies including a roll of sausage to make the traditional sausage pinwheels for breakfast and some marshmallow fluff to make fudge. I use the "cheat" method, I only stir for 5 minutes instead of the interminable time my grandmother probably stood at the stove making fudge. The recipe is on the back of the marshmallow fluff jar...it's called "Fantasy Fudge." I don't even have the recipe written down, I just trust that every year Kraft will reprint the recipe for me. They have yet to fail me...so who's the patron saint of marshmallow fluff?

I had a little trouble locating the marshmallow fluff as I only buy it once a year, to make fudge. You'd think I'd remember the location of such an important item...nope! I expected it to be with the peanutbutter as when I was a child we made "fluffer nutter" sandwiches with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff...not there. Then I checked the baking aisle to no avail. I suppose the grocery layout people just don't think like I do. But then again, does anybody think like I do?

I asked a beleaguered store employee the location of the most sought after fluff and he said something about, "ice cream toppings," and "at the front of the store by the registers." I wandered around the front of the store, no fluff. I finally did locate the stuff over by the ice cream...anyone want to explain to me the sense that makes?

It was then that I met him, a little man in a dark outfit. He was shorter than I and his dark glasses took over half of his face, stooped, a little unkept looking and needing a shave, hair and clothes both rumpled. I happened to look over in his direction, "Excuse me, do you work here?" he asked.

"Well no," I replied. He hung his head, shaking it in defeat on the way down. My heart went out to him.

"Maybe I can help you anyway," I said, thinking to myself, "some grandma has sent her husband out grocery shopping for a few last minute necessities while she stays at home to make the final preparations for a feast. I walked over to where he was standing, the bright yellow cart cheerily contrasting with this small, dark and befuddled figure. He held out his grocery list so I can see what was written. "I am looking for 'Mr. Coffee' 8 to 12 cup size.'"

"Oh...that's probably over by the coffee. Just follow me and we'll find it." I needed to head back that way myself as I had purchased a large can of condensed milk and only needed a small one, according to Mr. Fluff. The canned milk and the coffee are on the same aisle...go figure.

"I have such a hard time finding things here." He said.

"Oh I do too," I replied. "The way they have things arranged here just doesn't make sense."

He smiled. We arrived at the proper aisle and I picked out the needed coffee filters and handed them to the unlikely gentleman. "Ohh, let me see if this is it!" He sounded thrilled....over coffee filters. I smiled.

"She'll be glad to get those, I guess."

"She's been gone several months now and it gets harder every day."

"Oh sir, I'm so sorry," I said. I squeezed his hand. What else could I do?

"Well, thank you." He replied...and then noticed that opposite from the coffee filters was the candy aisle. He began picking his way through the colorful bags of sweets. I didn't get a chance to say, "You're welcome." Perhaps admitting to someone in the coffee aisle of the grocery store that your beloved has passed and that you are lonely is just a little much...perhaps my hand squeeze felt trivial. I'll never know. I just hope that helping him find coffee filters lifted some sort of burden from his stooped shoulders.

I do know that I hugged my kids more tightly when I arrived home...and that I was happy to see my husband sitting with them on the couch...A blessed woman I am.

Say a little prayer for the lonely widower today. His image is printed on my heart...

Blessings to you....

Coffee filters... 

...and blessings in unlikely packages...

Yesterday evening, I decided to run to the grocery store for a few moments, leaving the kids at home with Jim. I was grateful for a few moments of peace. It's crazy how wonderful just getting out of the house for a bit, even just to go to the grocery store can feel so good for a mommy! I also am able to turn up the music in the van to nearly blistering (just kidding) levels as I'm not worried about ruining my children's future hearing abilities. Silly...yes?

At any rate, I needed to purchase a few last minute Christmas supplies including a roll of sausage to make the traditional sausage pinwheels for breakfast and some marshmallow fluff to make fudge. I use the "cheat" method, I only stir for 5 minutes instead of the interminable time my grandmother probably stood at the stove making fudge. The recipe is on the back of the marshmallow fluff jar...it's called Fantasy Fudge. I don't even have the recipe written down, I just trust that every year Kraft will reprint the recipe for me. They have yet to fail me...so who's the patron saint of marshmallow fluff?

I had a little trouble locating the marshmallow fluff as I only buy it once a year, to make fudge. You'd think I'd remember the location of such an important item...nope! I expected it to be with the peanutbutter as when I was a child we made "fluffer nutter" sandwiches with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff...not there. Then I checked the baking aisle to no avail. I suppose the grocery layout people just don't think like I do. But then again, does anybody think like I do?

I asked a beleaguered store employee the location of the most sought after fluff and he said something about, "ice cream toppings," and "at the front of the store by the registers." I wandered around the front of the store, no fluff. I finally did locate the stuff over by the ice cream...anyone want to explain to me the sense that makes?

It was then that I met him, a little man in a dark outfit. He was shorter than I and his dark glasses took over half of his face, stooped, a little unkept looking and needing a shave, hair and clothes both rumpled. I happened to look over in his direction, "Excuse me, do you work here?" he asked.

"Well no," I replied. He hung his head, shaking it in defeat on the way down. My heart went out to him.

"Maybe I can help you anyway," I said, thinking to myself, "some grandma has sent her husband out grocery shopping for a few last minute necessities while she stays at home to make the final preparations for a feast. I walked over to where he was standing, the bright yellow cart cheerily contrasting with this small, dark and befuddled figure. He held out his grocery list so I can see what was written. "I am looking for 'Mr. Coffee' 8 to 12 cup size.'"

"Oh...that's probably over by the coffee. Just follow me and we'll find it." I needed to head back that way myself as I had purchased a large can of condensed milk and only needed a small one, according to Mr. Fluff. The canned milk and the coffee are on the same aisle...go figure.

"I have such a hard time finding things here." He said.

"Oh I do too," I replied. "The way they have things arranged here just doesn't make sense."

He smiled. We arrived at the proper aisle and I picked out the needed coffee filters and handed them to the unlikely gentleman. "Ohh, let me see if this is it!" He sounded thrilled....over coffee filters. I smiled.

"She'll be glad to get those, I guess," said I.

"She's been gone several months now and it gets harder every day."

"Oh sir, I'm so sorry," I said. I squeezed his hand. What else could I do?

"Well, thank you." He replied...and then noticed that opposite from the coffee filters was the candy aisle. He began picking his way through the colorful bags of sweets. I didn't get a chance to say, "You're welcome." Perhaps admitting to someone in the coffee aisle of the grocery store that your beloved has passed and that you are lonely is just a little much...perhaps my hand squeeze felt trivial. I'll never know. I just hope that helping him find coffee filters lifted some sort of burden from his stooped shoulders.

I do know that I hugged my kids more tightly when I arrived home...and that I was happy to see my husband sitting with them on the couch...A blessed woman I am.

Say a little prayer for the lonely widower today. His image is printed on my heart...

Blessings to you....

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Kaleidoscope 

My Father-in-law is doing as well as can be expected. Thanks to all who read my words and took a moment to pray for him. He was able to use his right arm yesterday, but is obviously very sore. He also had a difficult time getting out of bed yesterday as he was extremely dizzy. Thankfully, my father-in-law already had an appointment with his orthodpedist on Monday and I'm sure the doctor will thoroughly look him over in order to make sure no extensive damage was caused by the accident on Friday...a season of miracles and we're hoping for more!

My son loves to wear the light up boots my mother-in-law purchased for him. They are black sort of "moon boot" looking (I think that's an ancient 80's word) and have red light up spaceships! David will sit on the floor and tap the heels hoping to see the lights. That's not the funny part though, the funny part is actually hearing him say the word "boot." It sounds more like "but" coming out of his mouth and he puts the emphasis on the "t." It's hysterical really...but I can't quite do it justice here.

My daughter made up an incredible story last night while looking at a painting created by my husband's uncle...the same who died recently. It is a lake scene with ducks and a very large rock. Ana's story included something about a whale coming in and smashing down the rock and the ducks somehow assisted the whale in this dastardly deed. Her little face was drawn and contorted when telling this story. I don't know where she gets her expressiveness from...it's not like her mommy and daddy send their musings off into cyberspace all the time!

Last week at the library, Ana was glancing through a book and telling story to go along with the pictures, loudly. I shushed her and the librarian working the children's section said, "No...don't do that. I love to work over here and here those stories." God bless that woman...she is a saint for a tired mommy trying to teach her daughter proper behavior!

Speaking of tired...Ana decided she wanted to wake up at 5:00 AM and lay on the couch. When I told her "no" that no one else was up yet she screamed for 45 minutes. Is there such a thing as an intravenous caffeine drip?

Actually what amazes me is that I can be even more selfish than my two year old. Such things our children teach us about ourselves!

Speaking of selfish, my husband thought he was being selfish yesterday when he accepted the gift of a prayer book from a certain monk on an online discussion board. "I shouldn't have accepted that. I can go buy one on my own at some point." I contend that he would've have been selfish not to accept this gift from someone so concerned about his soul. When love is offered, even from the most unlikely places, it should be received...and then shared. And what a wonderful signpost, altar almost, in regards to my husband's own faith journey. I think of the idea of that prayer book and imagine it's well worn leafs being fingered by generations after us...and the story told of someone who loved us over great distances.

We've had two such experiences of late. Our friend Serratia loved our kids enough to send them a gift card...and she's never met us. She's one of those new breed of "internet buddies." As soon as I can I'll send her picture of the toys we bought for them...the majority of them wooden. Someday, I hope to be telling a grandchild the story of a woman whom we'd never met who shared her love with us in a lean season and helped us through as he/she traces the worn paint on wooden toy mallet.

Who says the world is an unloving place?

My mother-in-law is desiring to build a stone altar to remind her of the many blessings she has in life. I look into the eyes and the hearts of my friends and family, nearby and distant...and I see mine.

Blessings to all of you,

Laura

Friday, December 19, 2003

Prayers... 

Never-ending...

Yesterday evening, my daughter and I attended the Vespers service together at our church. We lit a candle and prayed for Pop Pop, my husband's father. I asked for God to watch over him, keep him safe and help his back to heal. Pop Pop has had rough go of it with back trouble and may have a spinal fusion in the New Year. I pray regularly for the entire family, but for Ana, saying a prayer for Pop Pop is something her brain can easily latch onto. The lit candle signifies that our prayers do not end once spoken, but continue.

Earlier today, as Pop Pop was returning home from trip to the bank on the Baltimore Beltway, a semi truck decided to attempt to merge into our Pop Pop and his Subaru SUV (the particular name escapes me at the moment). The driver of the truck apparently never stopped merging. Our Pop Pop had no choice but to attempt to avoid having the truck hit him by slamming on the Subaru's brakes while traveling at around 55-65 mph. The Subaru, with Pop Pop inside it, slammed into the Jersey wall adjacent to the Beltway and flipped several times. While Pop Pop was tossing and turning inside the Subaru, the seatbelt snapped and the air bag deployed. When the car finally came to a stop, the Subaru's windshield was mere inches from Pop Pop's face having been smashed and compacted in the tussle.

Pop Pop walked out of the Subaru. A witness to the accident reported that he didn't expect to see Pop Pop alive considering all that had transpired. The driver of the semi stopped, saw Pop Pop get out of the car and then promptly drove away. Pop Pop went to the University of Maryland Medical Center's Shock Trauma Unit where he was X-rayed and released, bruised, with a bloody nose and some difficulty moving his right arm due to the extensive bruising...but alive to celebrate Christmas with the granddaughter who remembered him in prayer yesterday evening. And that prayer continued into today...keeping Pop Pop here with us.

Thanks be to God!

Vespers...with my Ana 

A mommy and her daughter worship together...

A strange occurrence has happened in our little family. My daughter wants to go to church...every day. Each morning soon after she rises and wipes the sleepiness from her eyes, she says, "We go to church today, Mom?" Obviously, every day of the week isn't Sunday, so most days I say "no." But last night, while we were eating dinner (Shrimp Creole Redux), Ana again inquired about future church attendance and as it was my night to go to Vespers so Jim asked, "Mommy's going to church. Would you like to go with her?" Her answer was quite the vigorous head nod!

I was a little put off by the idea in my selfish nature. I spend all day with the children and was looking forward to spending some "out of the house without a kid attached to my hip time." It also meant I not only had to perform the miracle of getting the kitchen cleaned up and myself dressed in time for the service but also had to find suitable clothes for Ana as well. I chastised myself, asked God's forgiveness...and promptly bucked up! I am thankful my daughter wants to go to church!Ana loves to wear her tights and shiny patent leather shoes, so I put her in a little "skort" outfit. She looked adorable...I don't know when she doesn't look adorable of course. We bundled up and headed for the car. By this time, I was actually looking forward to worshipping and praying with my daughter.

Despite my husband's best efforts to warm the car before we left, it was chilly. Yesterday was a cold and blustery day...ridiculous as I kept saying to the children...I hate the cold. I have been obsessed with the Creed song, "Higher" lately for some reason. The guitar and base lines in this song are wonderful in my opinion. It may have been an unlikely choice for worship preparation...but it worked for me. I even managed a chuckle as I listened to the line, "Can you take me higher....to the place where blind man see" as I pulled in next to our beloved little stone church. No, I most definitely cannot...but I know someone who can.

I pulled Ana out of the car and grabbed her little hand and we slowly processed into the church. I wasn't in a hurry, even though we were pushing it a bit to get into the service on time. I don't want Ana's growing up church memories to be surrounded by feelings of obligation and hurriedness...but of peace and light. Up the stairs, coats off, into the darkened nave. Ana and I lit a candle for Pop Pop...the only one to be lit at that time. She almost inserted the candle into the sand without lighting it.

We went to the front of the church and said "hi" to Mary and Jesus. In adult language we venerated them. Ana is growing adept at crossing and bowing now...and when I lift her to kiss the icons, more often than not she leans her head on them as if giving them a hug. I wonder if somewhere in the heavens, a mother is smiling down at this tender embrace.

I sat down in one of the chairs lining the sides of the Nave with Ana in my lap. I regarded the face of Jesus depicted in the icons on the iconostasis and painted on the dome above the sanctuary, "Why me....why did you call me in the back of Deanne's old car on the way to school one morning. Why did you listen to my seven year old's heart as I cried out in my bedroom, alone in the dark, 'Jesus, come and live in my heart.' And why do you continue to seek me out despite my selfish nature..."

Ana nuzzled her head into my chin, strawberry blondish tendrils reached up and tickled my nose. I tenderly stroked her head and thought about something my husband had said earlier in the evening, "I remember reading somewhere that children sometimes see things that we adults cannot. Perhaps David was so vocal in Church on Sunday because he was reacting to something he saw that we couldn't." I regarded my daughter's voracious desire to attend church and to pray with us...and wondered. I gazed at the icons of the angels...and wondered...

The service began in the darkened nave, candles shimmying in the darkness. I silently consider, "the rocks are to sing...are the candles to dance?" Ana began the service in my arms as I stood, but quickly asked to be let down. She stood in front of me or sat for most of the service. The candles danced, reminding us that our prayer doesn't end when it's spoken, but that it continues onward upward...the incense swirled about us, reminding me of the sweet fragrance poured out by a prostitute and spilled all over Jesus' feet by an unworthy prostitute...and I think..."how like a prostitute is my soul..." The incense also signifies that our prayers are carried to heaven.

All of this, the dark, the dancing candles, the sweet yet acrid and swirling incense invading my nose, the chanting and singing of ancient prayers serve to quiet and settle my gypsy soul, center me, remind me that it's not about me, it's about Him...the one who did meet me in the back of that car all those years ago...the one who answered when I said, "Come and live in me." I regard the face of Jesus for most of the service. I don't yet know the prayers, "by heart," so I focus my heart on Him...and I feel at peace.

Ana was solemn for most of the service and even "shhh'd" the chanters a few times. I had told her we needed to be quiet while we prayed...she didn't understand the chanter's were leading the prayers. Toward the end of the service she decided she needed to proceed the the front of the nave. I asked her if she wanted to say "hi" to Mary and Jesus again and forward we went. She attempted to head straight up to the iconostasis where Father Gregory was standing. He smiled at Ana's insistence. I whispered through her fuzzy hair, "We'll say 'hi' after the service." Undaunted, Ana simply waved at them instead. Several times.

Ana announced, "Mommy I need to go pee-pee," just as the service was ending. I asked Ana if she wanted to say "goodbye" to Mary and Jesus before we left. She shook her head "yes" and we went through the whole bowing and praying process again...only this time, Ana wished to say "goodbye" to the depictions of John the Baptist and the icon depicting the discovery of the Holy Cross (for which our Parish is named). We did so, and exited the nave.

On our way out, several folks were in the Narthex and they all remarked on how "good" Ana was. If they only saw her when she is denied something she really wants I think....I don't say this, instead I say, "She loves to pray and come to church."

"How wonderful!"

YES, how wonderful. We head back out into the cold and into the van. The CD player in our van kicks on again..."Can you take me higher?" I wish I thought you knew....

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Mini-Maestros... 

Some time ago, I wrote an entry about my husband and music...

...which can be found here. Essentially, it's about my mourning of my husband's abandonment of his music. From a young age, Jim has very much enjoyed playing and writing music. At some point after our marriage, for reasons only his heart can completely express, he abandoned his music and his focus became taking care of our little family. Although on some levels, I can understand his reasoning, it still saddens me. Jim's response to that particular entry was something along the lines of "all things returned in the fullness of time." I can't look up the exact quote currently as it was left when I was posting both on LiveJournal and to this client. The comment was left on LJ and as my internet access is down, I'm currently unable to look up his exact words.

"All things returned in the fullness of time." I'm not certain exactly what Jim meant by those words. But, this morning, I had an experience which brought them back to mind. Actually, it began last night. I returned from babysitting a neighbor's children to find Mikey, the dear son of my heart, excited at having learned how to play a simple song on the piano. Unfortunately, it was the "Michael Myers" theme from Halloween. Rest assured, he did not watch this movie at our house...rather he was exposed to it somewhere else. As you can likely guess my opinions on that subject, I'll simply keep them to myself. This morning, he was ready to practice his new skill and consented to having his picture taken.

He was very proud of his accomplishment!

Both Ana and David enjoy tickling the ivories as well. Ana is constantly singing some sort of song, from her own meandering interpretation of "Jingle Bells" to a rousing rendition of the "ABC's," it seems music is in her blood. David, however, is the one who is most captivated by the piano. This morning, he continually returned to the keys, seeing what he could come up with. He was quite annoyed with me when I refused to let him play while Daddy was working. "The Piano is taking a nap," I said to him. He seemed satisfied with this explanation. I feel quite certain that as soon as the cover is lifted to reveal the shining piano smile once again, he'll be asking to be lifted back onto the bench...ready to begin composing anew.

Soon after the piano playing session, Mikey left for school and I hustled myself and the two youngest upstairs so I could give the bathroom a lick and a promise. Ana, still wanting to be musical grabbed two coat hangers and exclaimed, "Look Mommy, I make music!"

Ana was quite exuberant regarding her coat-hanger symphony. I couldn't help but think of the ridiculous PDQ Bach compositions I'd performed in my high school band experience. The PDQ Bach pieces frequently contained some sort of unconventional instrument in use, trash can lids being the one "musical intstrument" which I remember with particular clarity. At any rate, it appears my children have music in their blood...or at the very least a great desire to create.

Ana drew this face this morning and was quite proud of her work...so Mommy took the requisite picture. As you can see, her concentration level is fairly intense! Michael, when he was very young actually composed his first song while playing on Daddy's old keyboard. Jim discovered it one morning when attempting to recover some music he had written the night before. Apparently, Michael had inadvertently, pressed the "record" button on the keyboard and thus his music was preserved. Jim actually transcribed the music and a copy still exists somewhere today. I ran across it when searching for the words to a song Jim had written. I do that every so often, go searching through the old music binder, reading his words and looking at the notes dancing across the page....it is a wistful embrace...I feel sad writing about it here.

So were Jim's words, "All things returned in the fullness of time" an unwitting prophecy which involves our children? I don't know and as the old saying goes, "time will tell." I was talking with my mother-in-law this weekend about the differences between the way my head and Jim's head "work." I summed it up by saying, "I'm an amoeba, Jim's a cube." What I was trying to say was, "I go with the flow and Jim kind of fights it a bit." I was attempting to be poetic...I'm not sure it worked!

I do know this...Jim has tried to sell our piano in tight financial times on two past occasions that I can remember and possibly even three, each time, to no avail. The piano continues to preside in our overcrowded living room in our overcrowded little house in the midst of an overcrowded life. Jim regards it as the one item that needs to go in order to give us some more space...someone else obviously believes it needs to stay. "All things returned in the fullness of time."

I've no idea if the "fullness of time" will be realized in our lifetime or even that of our children. The piano may acquire dust for generations before it is put to loving use again. I do know this,
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will kisten. If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me. I will be found by you,' says the Lord. 'I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and bring you home again to your own land.'" Jeremiah 29: 11-13

Jeremiah is actually one of the more depressing books contained in the "Old Testament" section of the Bible. That particular promise sort of stands out like a bright and shining penny in the midst of Jeremiah's dire prophecies. I wouldn't have wanted to be a prophet! This verse has followed Jim around most of his life. I believe it's one of Jim's mother's favorites and one she has clung to in times of trial. Now, in my own life, as I look at my children and the many losses and pieces of ourselves we give up along the way...I remember, "For I know the plans I have for you...." and "all things returned in the fullness of time." It's something my amoeba brain can encompass as I wonder about my children's future and consider the promise contained in the piano which sits silent so often. There will be music emanating from it's keys once more. I don't know who, or how...but it will be returned to its purpose, "in the fullness of time...."

Monday, December 15, 2003

Woo-Hoo! 

This was supposed to be a short entry!

We had a busy weekend. Busy in a good way of course. We went to a "New Home Blessing" on Saturday. One of the families in our parish lost their home in a fire over Thanksgiving while they were away visiting family. They are currently living in an apartment until their home can be rebuilt and will be staying there for around six months or so. Of course, they wanted their temporary home to be blessed. It was a beautiful ceremony full of ancient prayers and ritual. After the service I told my mother-in-law, who graciously agreed to watch the kids for Jim and I that the house was definitely "clean." No bad elements could exist after all of that blessing.

I expected Father Gregory to arrive with Holy Water and he did. I expected the Holy Water to be carried in some sort of special vessel, beautiful, old and cherished. It was a plastic squirt bottle with the words, "Holy Water" printed on the front in bold letters. I have to say I was a little disappointed. Who says Orthodoxy doesn't except some of the trappings of modernity? However, it's also amazing that God can take a lowly plastic squirt bottle and use it for divine purposes, perhaps there is hope for me after all!

And just to illustrate how my mind works...I noticed that Father Gregory had received a hair cut since last I'd seen him. So of course, I had to wonder, "Does he wear his cassock to the barber shop?" I've never seen him without his cassock and likely never will. But I wonder when he goes without it. Surely when he's alone at home, he takes it off...but what if one of the parishoners comes by...does he quickly put it on? And what if he were to go out and about without wearing it and accidentally meet up with one of the parishoners....what then? I still have the insatiable curiosity of my two year old about such things...forgive! I'm also willing to admit it!

The truth is, I wouldn't want to see Father without his cassock. My husband and were talking with each other after the house blessing about how much we appreciate Father Gregory and how seriously he takes his role as "Father." He very much has the aura of "spiritual leader" without any "airs" if that makes sense. I don't feel uncomfortable around him. It is a unique person who can be in such a position of leadership and yet still be able to connect on an easy, personable level. Obviously, this is a God ordained position...I also think it helps that he's from the south (my husband will cringe a bit at that one).

My daughter talked about church all weekend. She really, truly loves the experience as much as a two year old can. Her favorite part, of course, is the candles. I let her pick one out and we usually say a prayer for Pop Pop as he is often not feeling well due to some long standing health problems. I try and explain to her that the continuing flame of the candle reminds us that our prayer doesn't end, but proceeds eternally. Ana doesn't yet understand, but she will in time.

We did go to church yesterday, through the wet, sloppy snow! Once my husband and I definitely decided we were going to make the mile and a half trek to the church, I started cooking. I was concerned that many other parishoners who may have been signed up to make food for coffee hour afterwards wouldn't make it and there wouldn't be enough food to go around. So, in the midst of coralling three kids into church clothes and somehow getting myself dressed, I made home-made mac and cheese (although I cheat a bit...you can make a wonderful cream sauce with can of cream of mushroom soup, mayo and milk), quick yeast rolls and grabbed a jar of applesauce from the basement. It actually looked pretty meager, but then, Jesus has accomplished more with less...

On the way out the door, I realized I had forgotten to brush my teeth...I managed all of the above paragraph, and forgot my teeth?! "Oh well," I reasoned. "I just won't stand too close to anyone else."

Ana did a beautiful job in the service today. We took a couple of bathroom breaks, but, other than that she stayed in the service. David, on the other hand, decided he needed to commentate quite a bit today. He wasn't mis-behaving, he was just commenting, loudly! At one point, during the service, he felt the need to continually point to the icon of Christ and say, "EESUS!" very loudly. As if no one else knew who He was. During the homily, I finally exited with David and allowed him to roam around downstairs in the fellowship hall...

Just as communion was starting, the kids started a war over mommy's lap, so I took both of them to the basement to heat up the mac and cheese I had prepared. A lovely woman named Sadie followed me downstairs, grabbed David and took him back up with her. David stayed with Sadie for about 15 or 20 minutes until she needed to come back to the fellowship hall to make some final food preparations herself. It was a wonderful respite...and after the service David was passed around from person to person. I had thought he might be shy like his sister...but actually he seemed to enjoy the attention and he is such a wonderful little guy...MY SON!

The pickings were slightly lean during coffee hour, but it seemed there was enough for the 60 or so parishoners who braved the weather...I was able to have actual conversations with several women in the church. I'm a little less worried about the choosing a sponsor. I have several weeks yet to make up mind about who...and it looks like I may be able to get to know some women by then, but keep me in your prayers...

Yesterday evening, my oldest informed me that I was "weird." He made this pronouncement due to my propensity for shouting, "woo hoo" after we pray for our food at the dinner table. "Why do you do that...you're weird." It's partly left over from being a camp counselor and working with kids all those years, partly due to my refusal to grow up completely (there is a secret corner in my heart that still believes in Santa...shhhh) and partly because of something else...

I was speaking with my husband last night about my favorite part of the Divine Liturgy. There is a hymn sung somewhere in the liturgy of the word which contains the lines, "Oh Christ our God, trampling down death...by death..." I always end up with goose bumps...because you know what? It's only through His death, that I, a lowly plastic squirt bottle of a human being, can be transformed into a vessel of blessing for others. He's accomplished more...with less...Without Jesus...what is the point of my existence. In my heart, I let out a silent "Woo Hoo!" I feel this after every prayer...thankful and grateful for God...it spills out into celebration. The pentecostals, say, "Amen," the Greek folks may say, "Axios." Me...a lowly squirt bottle from the southern climes says, "Woo Hoo!"

Have a lovely day!

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Stretching... 

Growing and learning. It "hurts so good!" Apologies to John Cougar Mellencamp...

As you probably know, I am a very emotional person. I've mentioned that a bazillion times. It's hard for me sometimes to separate the emotion out of a situation and view it with objective eyes. This can be a tough, exhausting way to live. One of the aspects of modern Evangelical Protestantism I was keenly drawn to and them repulsed by, was it's dependancy on emotion to stir the faithful into a relationship with God. There is an underlying problem with this idea...what happens when the emotion is gone? What does one do when the feelings have evaporated? Despite the fact that I am a very emotional person, I had these moments...and at times they stretched for hours, days, weeks, dare I say, months. The most difficult time for me was when I spent that hour at church, the first half being an emotionally laden "Praise and Worship." I didn't often feel the emotion I was singing about. It wasn't there. What an exhausting experience. I felt as if I was a balloon someone had stepped on, forcing the air out until it's a flattened, lifeless mess on the ground.

Not only was this exhausting, but frustrating. I would look around and see the others worshipping and think, "are they for real? Do they really feel this?" I didn't think so, at least not all of them, all the time. I've mentioned in the past so many times that I wanted to rip the masks off of the church people, times I wanted to come home and take a shower so as to wash the phoniness away. It hurt me. I knew there was pain under the mask, a true yearning for God as I felt it myself. Somehow, I didn't feel safe speaking these thoughts. I was afraid there was something wrong with me and my attitude toward God.

I have learned in my marriage...the hard way...that the emotion isn't the important part of the relationship. Emotions fade. That is obvious. The work is what's important. If I want to be in right relationship with my husband, if I want to truly love him, I have to do the work. The same would logically follow in my relationship with God. I am going to borrow someone else's words now to try and more fully express what I'm saying. She is a much better writer than I and also has more experience with Orthodoxy. Once again the book is At the Corner of East and Now by Frederica Mathewes-Green published in 1999 by Penguin Putnam. It is a long portion, but as I said, the author is a wonderful writer....

A popular informal hymn in evangelical circles is based on Psalm 42: "As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee; you alone are my heart's desire and I long to worship thee." The melody is lovely and haunting, somewhat like "Greensleeves." It speaks of yearning, even if the lyrics can't decided if they're addressing "you" or "thee."

Once my husband commented on this song, "Back when we were Protestants, we were always singing songs like this, about how we longed to worship. The truth was that we didn't know how to worship; we just glimpsed it from time to time. As best we could tell, it was about emotion."

I remembered that, that intense hunger for God and the frustrating sense that it would never be satisfied. Since we became Orthodox, I realized, that hunger has diminished. Not because our worship is particularly emotional; sometimes emotion appears, but when it doesn't, the dignity and authority of the ancient prayers are sufficient to bear you beyond yourself. In fact, when worship is emotion powered, it's like a fun-park ride, and you're being carried around as a treat. It's only when those emotions fade and you get down to the business of doing the work, following the way, saying the prayers even when you don't feel like it, that your stormy heart begins to budge. It's only the offerings done from deliberate will that bend the will and shape it to fit the will of God. Giddy emotions feel good, and all of us might need a bowl of ice cream from time to time, but the don't produce spiritual growth.

Orthodox worship doesn't engender that kind of emotion, I find. I'm less likely to face the twins I knew so well before: flushed sentimental weepiness, or vexed, restless yearning when that treat was absent, the yearning I believed the song was about. Instead the spiritual emotions I find prompted by walking the path Orthodoxy teaches are complex and hard to describe: the overwhelming, deliciously terrifying riptide of God's love; the rapturous joy of weeping over my sins; the sweet stinging desire to bring others to see the beautiful face of Jesus.

I don't have to "long to worship thee" anymore; I do worship him. The longing is satisified, not by emotional thrills but by something that just feels right, like a key in a lock, like "food is meant for the stomach and the stoach for food" (I Corinthians 6:13)

I was made for this.

Orthodoxy means "right teaching." It also means "right praise."(pp154 and 155)

It's not about me.

I don't really think I can add any more to that. At least not now...

Have a lovely day!

Friday, December 12, 2003

Decontstruction 

or demolition...

On one of the web forums I visit, a topic has turned into a deconstruction of marriage. I chimed in with a few comments, was of course challenged on them (nicely) and then I decided to bow out. I am not by nature a debater...I'm not a very confrontational or competitive person, except when playing Scrabble and sometimes pool. The question at hand is when is a person married, do they have to a formal wedding ceremony or can they just be committed to one another in their hearts and are then free to enjoy sex as they wish. Many call this deconstructing. It is a reaction against, "modernist" views. The movement attached with all of the deconstruction is called, "post-modern." It's kind of a misnomer in my mind...how can we live post-modernly?

I, being more conservative (as if you couldn't guess that) truly believe in the institution of marriage...and family. In my mind's eye when we start talking about deconstructing marriage I see pyramids made out of alphabet blocks being demolished...scattered helplessly all over the playroom floor. For someone as scatterbrained and seemingly free spirited as I, this would seem like a good thing, like fun! But, the specter of a particular person keeps coming to mind whenever I consider this question. He's haunting me, and I wonder if I should tell his story. Right now, I'm on the verge of tears just thinking about it. I'm going to dive in and do the best I can.

I first met Steven in the summer of 1999 when I was working as a substitute speech-language pathologist (SLP) for the school run by the local psychiatric hospital. The school was a non-public school for students who had emotional/psychiatric disorders and couldn't survive in the public school system. Steven had problems. However, he was also hysterically funny.

Steven couldn't really read or write all that well. He had been shuffled among so many foster homes that no one had taken the time to make sure his homework was completed and that he was functioning as he should. His father was dead and no one really knew where his mother was. They were never married. Steven had older siblings, the patronage of each I never knew, none of them lived in Baltimore. By the time I met Steven, he had completely flunked out of the foster care system and was living in a group home on campus. I already knew this but he told me when we first met...it came out quickly, "I live in a group home on campus." I wasn't sure if he wanted to shock me or if he was making sure it was "ok" by me...as if somehow he wasn't damaged goods in my eyes because of his lack of traditional living arrangement.

Steven also let me know on our first meeting that he wasn't happy to see me. He truly liked the SLP I was subbing for and even admitted a crush on her. I would've had a crush on her as well were I a teenaged boy...she was a very attractive, slight, blonde young woman. I'd seen her in pictures. I also think part of his issue with me was the complete lack of stability in his life as far as people who cared about him were concerned. I was another challenge...will she "like...maybe even love me" although I doubt he allowed his heart to speak the word "love." So, Steven and I had issues. I would go to pick him up for a session and he would refuse to come half the time. I would cajole...I would offer to let him play his music...anything to get him into my office.

Steven was not retarded...I don't think. I'm a little fuzzy on that one actually. He definitely had some learning disabilities which were exacerbated by his unruly childhood. As I said, he was hysterical, a dry wit. That summer, Steven was a member of the "Outdoor Adventure Club" and thus went on the yearly camping trip. When the students arrived back at school, I asked him how he liked it.

"There wasn't enough food and I heard a bear crawling by my tent."

"A bear, Steven!" I replied.

"Yeah...they're trying to tell me it wasn't, but I know a bear when I hear one."

I laughed. Steven was a city kid...I doubt he knew a bear when he heard one. He laughed with me. I'm sure he wanted to believe he'd heard a bear...

The summer ended and I was offered a permanent position at the school. I jumped on it. My previous job was in the city schools in Baltimore and as much as I loved it, I didn't like the way the system was planning to "do" inclusion (mainstreaming) without any regard to planning or consideration for the teachers, students and families. I was relieved to be "out." Steven ended up being assigned to yet a different therapist, but one he'd had when in elementary school. He was very comfortable with her and I think it worked out for the best. But I missed him. Steven was a good kid...

And so, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving that year, Steven showed up in the SLP/Occupational Therapy suite. He had a "date" to do lunch with his occupational therapist. I happened to be eating lunch at the same time and so we all sat down together...several others joined in. We talked and laughed. Steven asked if any of us would be dropping by the group home for the holiday. None of us were sure....we all had family obligations. Steven then said these words which wake me up in the middle of the night sometimes...they haunt me...

"All I want for Thanksgiving is a family."

Lunch ended...the day ended...we all left for the holiday weekend. I thought about Steven, but he wasn't forefront in my mind. We returned from that holiday to discover that Steven had escaped the group home and was no where to be found. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. The search was eventually called off. It was postulated that he had tried to make it to Richmond, VA where his sister lived.

One day, we finally knew. Steven had been found in an apartment in Virginia with a bullet through his head, self inflicted. He died a lonely, desperate death...no family...

"All I want is....a family." It haunts me. I hope it haunts you. That's a terrible thing to say, I know. And I know all traditional families are not healthy. I know that. I know that all families that are healthy don't look "traditional." My own little family doesn't...we have a "blended" family. We have an amazing God who is big enough to transcend the traditional...when he has to.

But when you start deconstructing...spilling the blocks all over the playroom floor...someone is going to trip and fall. There are many kids out there like Steven...they may not kill their physical bodies, but they are no more than zombies...the walking dead. I fear that the more we deconstruct/demolish...the more Stevens there will be...That's the logical conclusion to the argument for me...

It's not based on facts...but a real person. I wonder what Steven would have to say about all of this. We can never know.

Sorry for the depressing entry. Have a good day.

Trip to the Harbor... 

I had to get out of the house today!

Yes it was windy and a little cold, but the sun was shining. We've been cooped up in the house waaayyy to long. The kids are on the mend, although both of them are still coughing just a bit. However, this time of year, that nasty cough tends to hang on longer than anyone would like. I thought it might do us some good to get out and remember what trees, grass and the sky look like when viewed face to face rather than the forlorn picture they present when viewed through a window. So I bundled us up and away we went to walk around Baltimore's inner harbor. Ana, of course, had to sit on every bench and exposed curb that she could. It wouldn't do for Mommy not to join her. Before long, she was imitating me here...sitting down for three seconds and then saying, "OK" and scampering off again.

We attempted to check out Santa Claus in the house he always constructs this time of year at the intersection of Pratt and Light streets. Ana even said she wanted to say "hi." As soon as she got a good look at him, she nearly climbed over the stroller to get away from him. That was that, I don't feel a particular need to force the issue! We instead hung outside of his house and I snapped a couple of pictures. Here is the best of them. I wanted to get a pictue of the kids chasing pigeons, but it was too much to keep up with the whereabouts of both kids at the same time and also to take a good picture.

Happy Early Christmas from Ana and David!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Shrimp Creole 

I recently read that I am to keep my blog entries short to make them more "readable." Sorry I was feeling rebellious...grab a cup of coffee for this one...

Yesterday evening, I prepared Shrimp Creole for dinner. It's kosher with Orthodox Nativity Fast as shrimp were, at the time of the apostles, considered an insect as opposed to meat. So, we can eat shrimp, or any other shellfish for that matter. I started to think of tradition yesterday, no, actually I've been thinking about it for some time. The Christmas Holiday Season is given over to many traditions among families and by participating in the tradition of the Nativity fast, I am joining in with Orthodox all over the world in preparing to celebrate the birth of our savior. Earlier in the day, I had read a section in Frederica Mathewes-Green's book, At The Corner of East and Now which explains, in part, the purpose of the traditional fasts within the Orthodox way of life:

In Orthodoxy, believers are called to ascetisim--to discipline the body to self control, cleansing the eye so that it may better see the rich beauty of this physical world, God's good gift. We fast to restrain and temper the appetites to reunite body and soul as they are meant to be, in harmony; then we love the world as we see it with God's eyes--beautiful, good, and filled with people whom he loved into being and saved by his death. At this point, the passions are transformed, and their energy redirected into zeal for truth, for loving others, and for humility. (p 37-38).

I considered all of this as I added the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce to the already sauteed onions, garlic, green pepper and celery in the dutch oven. This particular dutch oven was my grandmother and by all accounts has seen better days. But I love to cook in it as it unites me with my grandmother in some way...keeping her alive in my heart. I have the same feelings when I cook a fajita or bake corn-bread in Me-Ma's cast iron skillet. It was what I requested when she passed 10 years ago this May. I miss them both, especially this time of year.

As I swirled the the red tomatoes into the green peppers and celery and inhaled that wonderful, earthy, smell of garlic and onions cooking I considered the whole Orthodox system of labeling things, "little t" and "big T," sort of a way of distinguishing between the big Traditions and the other not so important ones. I suppose the nativity fast would have a "big T" as it's one of the more significant fasts throughout the year. Me cooking in the dutch oven is probably a "big T" for me, although to outsiders it wouldn't appear so. But for me, especially over the holidays, it brings to mind stories of loved ones who have left the physical world and crossed over into the spiritual. I know they're there, but I can't hold them close physically, so I hold onto them the only way I have left...through tradition.

As the tomatoes and vegetables simmered in the dutch oven I thought of how, I like the idea of the Orthodox fasts and the purpose behind them. I like the idea of dying to my own passions, especially those which are selfish. It's a good tradition, a big "T" for sure. I am a passionate person, extremely emotional, to a fault at times. I don't often show anger, but instead allow it to burn deep within me until it vehemently explodes unchecked with the power to hurt those whom I hold dear. My husband can attest to this. I also hold tightly to things I enjoy, music, chocolate, television shows, certainly not all of them are edifying. Giving up something so life-sustaining as meat for forty days, and surviving, makes it ever so much easier to burn off the rest of the dross...and hold tight to that which brings me closer to God instead of separating us further.

I puttered around the kitchen, preparing the shrimp to go in the pot with the tomato sauce. My thoughts on tradition stymied as I tried to keep my two babes occupied without killing each other. Somewhere, Ana has learned how to and subsequently decided that it is fun to run and bump into her brother with her belly. He thinks it is fun as well, until the first time he falls....

Finally, after the shrimp have been added and in cooking changed from gray to pink, the white rice boiled and cooked, the macaroni and cheese prepared for the children, we sit down to eat. I marvel at how "Christmasy" the meal looks, all red, green and white. Sort of like a Christmas Wreath someone stepped on and left behind in the snow...maybe more of a Dali-esque wreath. It's a pretty meal, and tasty as well. It almost seems "not quite right" as we're supposed to be fasting...aren't we supposed to feel denied? I don't really think that's the point!

Later on, Jim and I went to our Introduction to Orthodoxy Class at church while, "Miss Belli" watched our Ana. David was already in bed at that point. We came home to find Ana still awake. Belli said she had, "performed a concert" for Ana but still wouldn't sleep. We were in the house 30 seconds before I heard her begin to pitifully wail and it hurt my heart. Up the stairs I ran to her. She cried for a moment or two more as I stroked her cheek and hair, and then her big blue eyes opened wide and she said "SING."

"Do you want me to sing our special songs?"

The answer was an affirmative head nod.

The first...from the veggie-tales

Think of me everyday
Hold tight to what I say
And I'll be close to you
Even from far away
Know that wherever you are
It is never too far
When you think of me
I'll be with you

The second is from my childhood. I vaguely remember someone telling me my grandfather wrote it, but I can't be sure. I'm sure someone's grandfather wrote it:

When nighttime comes and my prayers
are said
I go to sleep
in my little bed
and God
Takes care
of me

Ana then rolled over and went to sleep, satisfied. Tradition is a good thing. I think all traditions should be counted as "Big T." We just can't get away from them, can we?

Have a lovely day!

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Tuckered 

Mommy's log...stardate 12/08/03

"Mommy is tuckered," I thought as I wearily put on my workout attire and dragged myself up the stairs to go through the motions of my workout with two kids in tow. "Why the heck am I so tired? Probably because I rose at my usual early hour, read a bunch of stuff on the internet, rescheduled my yearly gyno appointment which was already three months late and will now be 6 months late, scheduled an appointment for my son to see the doctor, cleaned the main level of our townhouse, took the kids to the doctor, dropped off the script for prednisone as David has croup, dropped off the DVD's borrowed from the library which were due today, somewhere in there had a convo with my neighbor who was distraught over having to take another neighbor's child off the school bus and that child's mom was MIA, folded some laundry (still not finished with that and it's on the bed and is a pressing matter), picked up a hand-me-down booster seat, went back to the drugstore to pick up the prednisone and purchase a humidifier, played on the internet a bit while baking cookies for an internet friend who's going through a rough patch, wrapped the cookies, made dinner cleaned up the mess and now here I am working out. I'm sure I forgot something in there..."

Who says stay at home mommy's don't work?

After my work out I read "Jack in the Beanstalk," Ana's current favorite for the 433'd time. And here I sit, writing this down...still tuckered...all in day's work...

There you have it...straight from the trenches...

Sunday, December 07, 2003

A little something... 

We all missed out on church today...

My husband stayed up half the night with my daughter who couldn't sleep as she was continually coughing. I woke up around 2:00 AM or so realizing I was hearing Ana coughing in the den as opposed to her bedroom. I walked up the stairs to see what was happening and found Ana and Jim cuddled together in the recliner. Ana peeked over her Daddy's arm and said,

"Oh hi Laura."

She sometimes calls me Laura like big brother Mikey. She's experimenting...Anyway, Jim didn't get much sleep and so decided to stay home from church today and keep the kids with him. I was planning on going by myself, which didn't feel "right" but I was going anyway. One of the family's at our church recently lost their home in a fire and there were to be some special happenings and I wanted to take part. However, on my way out the door my son started crying and holding his hands up to me. In the long inspiration before the loud wail I realized he was wheezing, so it's likely that his nasal congestion has gone pulmonary. Instead of going to church, I bundled him up and went to the local immediate care walk in medical facility. There I was told the doctor on call was not certified to see pediatric patients. I was referred to another facility specializing in pediatrics...called them...they were to open at noon. I then travelled back home with David as it was only 9:30 AM.

To make a long story longer...the second walk in place specializing in pediatrics that didn't open until noon only accepts patients by appointment. They are not walk in...which wasn't specified on the voice message I heard when calling to inquire about their hours. When I walked in, the first available appointment was for 5:00...and the appointments were scheduled every 10 minutes...back to back. Just how long do you think I would have to wait to be seen for my 5:00 appointment. I walked back out. We'll hopefully see our real live pediatrician tomorrow and hopefully David's wheezing will not grow worse.

All that to say...and to make this tale interminable. I missed church. I missed the break up in my weekly routine to stop and bow before the Lord...to remind me just what a tiny grasshopper I really am and how grateful I am that He is Lord of my life. It didn't feel "right" to go alone and without my family, but, it also didn't feel "right" not to go at all. It was always an easy decision to skip church prior to out attendance at Holy Cross...the slightest kiddie sniffle would have us staying home and oggling at Bob Vila's amazing home improvement projects. Today, we actually discussed the whole thing. The kids really are sick, Jim was exhausted. God knows all that and understands us staying home. It didn't make it any easier....

I was wrong about the title of this entry...it wasn't a little something missing...it was the biggest something in my life....

Lord, have mercy on our sick and tired little family...

Friday, December 05, 2003

Eventful-ness 

Yesterday was a busy day and today it's snowing "to beat the band!"

Yesterday was a fairly eventful day for our little family. Fr. Gregory came for a visit. True to my southern nature I had to have at least two yummies to offer the Fr. when he arrived. It was a little hectic preparing with Ana and David "helping." Apparently Fr. Gregory really enjoyed the chocolate chip cookies I had prepared for the All Hallow's Eve party at the church, so I made those and some cheese wafers from my Charleston Cookbook. The cheese wafers were supposed to have sesame seeds in them, but those I burned while toasting them...oops. At any rate, I pulled it all together after having burned the sesame seeds and making a two pitchers of iced tea...the first being too weak as one of the kids distracted me while I was adding the extra water to the super strong brew.

At any rate, Fr Gregory arrived and we set a tentative date for our little family to enter the catechumenate (hope I'm spelling that correctly). It should be sometime around the first of the year, the first full weekend in January I believe. I haven't actually looked at the date yet! So now the race is on for me to find a sponsor. Jim, of course, already has an idea of who he would like to have as his sponsor. Me, I'm not so sure. The times I've spent with some of the women in the church I've also had my children with me. Getting to know another woman well enough to feel comfortable enough to ask if she will sponsor me has been difficult. My reserved nature doesn't help. I may appear a party animal here, but most of the time I'm a sort of wall flower! I entreat the prayers of those of you who understand such things.

Fr. Gregory also graciously brought us our first Icons. One of Mary and Jesus and another which is sort of a mini-representation of the iconstasis at Holy Cross. They have been given temporary homes amidst the Christmas decorations. I installed a candle in front of Mary, which Jim removed as he singed hair attempting to kiss her. Oh well...David even looks at the icon and says, "Dee Da" as in "Jesus." Ana is still non-plussed. We've started saying our prayers in front of the icon of Mary and Jesus. It's interesting the extra solemnity and "realness" it adds to the experience of prayer. I can't exactly describe it, but it definitely feels "richer" if that's even a word. I actually just said my morning prayers standing up in front of Mary this morning instead of slouching in front of the computer monitor. I also was able to kiss Mary good morning...I know I'm supposed to say "venerating", but if she's supposed to be my saintly friend I suppose it's OK that I say good morning...right?

I went to Vespers again last night. It's always nice to attend and slow myself down a bit during the week. I attempted to follow along in the service book this evening to no avail. I don't know if the church adds to the service according to the particular saint's day, or if the service changes somewhat because of advent/nativity season or some other variable I've yet to learn. At any rate, I eventually gave up and just tried to pay attention and sort of meditate as the chanters went through the service. I'm growing more comfortable with the crossing and bowing, etc. There were only two other people in attendance last night, aside from the chanters and so I stood in the back so as to take my cues from the others.

Even though I attempted to meditate last night, and did have some feeling of communion with the Saints, I was also quite amused at one of the chanter's children. Apparently, her stockings itched. I noticed her upon entering the nave, mostly because she is adorable, bobbed blond hair and glasses just a bit too big for her sweet face, but also because she was wearing her hat and gloves while still in the sanctuary. She was pretty fidgety throughout the service which I understand completely, never having been one to enjoy extended periods of sitting still myself. In graduate school I actually asked my professors if they minded me cross-stitching in class. None of them did and I have a beautiful series of stitches I made while learning about alternative communication strategies, language development, neuroanatomy...etc. I only earned one "B" while in grad school..the rest were "A's." I had found a way to effectively deal with my fidgety nature. I don't think most of the congregation at Holy Cross would appreciate it if I brought my stitches with me. Luckily, I have my two children to keep me occupied!

At any rate, this little girl had a pair of itchy stockings. She began with a few gentle scratches with her hands. The movements kept getting bigger and bigger until she was literally dancing in her scratches. Several times, she grabbed the waist band of her stockings through her dress and pulled them up, almost to her chest. She then did the scratching dance again...first one booted foot up and down the length of her leg and then the other. Which of course caused her stockings to come down again...and then the dance would begin anew. The wee one also made several trips in and out of the nave. Her long suffering father attempted to corral her in a seat behind him...but she just couldn't keep still. The itchy-scratchy dance continued through most of the service. I really wanted to give that little girl a hug and tell her I understood...(Shh...don't tell Fr. Gregory my entire attention wasn't on the service).

The service ended and I ran to my mother-in-law's to grab some snow supplies...bread and juice for the kids. Being the sweet woman that she is she threw in some oreos as well. I woke up to several inches of snow on the ground. Yuck...sorry. I just don't like it any more and could quite easily picture myself moving to some southern coastal town where snow is an anomaly! Ana is also coughing so we'll have to at least make it to the drug store if the doc calls in a script for her. Life marches on around us...I do my best to join in and add a little joy to the tune...

Laura

Fun mommy story... 

Anyone else ever had this happen?

I have been pooped, peed and vomited on. I have been slobbered on galore and have even been used as a tissue for snotty noses but this one takes the cake.

Ana came up to me yesterday with something in her hand she wanted to give me.

"Here, Mom," she said extended her little hand to me.

I reached out, expecting a marble or a stray ornament from her Christmas tree. Instead of dropping something into my hand, she rubbed her hand against mine. Uh oh...

"What is it Ana?"

"Throw up."

"Oh Thank you very much."

She's been coughing quite a bit and I suppose that a little extra came up.


On a happier note, David loves his little Christmas Tree. Everything that has lights on it is now a tree. He points and says, "Tee, Tee." Very sweet to spend his first Christmas he now being somewhat aware of the goings on.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

A Christmas Memory... 

Borrowed the title...don't tell Truman

The little stone church looked tranquil as the family pulled into the parking light. Soft light glimmered through the windows, stained glass window shimmering in the early evening. The girl and her family walked down the steps and continued on the sidewalk, past the stone wall where she had taken many an after church service walk. They parted ways at the side entrance where the choir entered the building before services, the girl and her brother continuing on into the Narthex. The accepted candles from the gentleman at the door.

"Merry Christmas"

"Merry Christmas to you."

Continuing through the Narthex and into the church, the girl and her brother found seats and settled in. The girl pondered how the air always seemed different on this night. It was almost as if there were little glinting lights strewn through it, angels perhaps? Even the young children were quiet, their parents not having to go through the usual litany of "shh...." The usual pre-church chatter was replaced with hushed and respectful waiting. The girl pondered the candle she had been given. It had been used many times before, trails of wax led down to the white and green cardbord ring surrounding the base, an effort to protect tender skin from burns.

Looking around the sanctuary, faces seemed to glow, reflecting the light of the candles behind the hurricane glasses in front of the large windows. Huge wreaths covered the pipe organ cover on either side of the choir's seating area. The altar was filled with red poinsettias. The girl took it all in, as she had in years passed and waited for the service to begin.

When it did, the usual carols were sung along with some special music. The girl began to squirm a little impatiently in her seat, continually checking her bulletin and wondering how much longer until....Finally, his face emerged from the sea of choir members and proceeded to the pulpit. The organ began to softly swell the opening chords. The girl had heard this music over and over over the last weeks...practice, practice, practice...

He opened his mouth and began to sing in a clear tenor,

"Oh Holy Night,
The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our Dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world
in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt it's worth
A thrill of hope...."

The girl leaned forward slightly in her chair, those around her hushed by the song and it's gentle presentation. The man singing believed the words and loved them. The girl thought to herself, teenaged parental/child turmoil forgotten... "That's my daddy."

Monday, December 01, 2003

On being judgemental 

Random thoughts on an oft-used word...

The last few days I have had the word, "judgemental" on my mind. Although I think it is most likely heard more often in Christian circles, I have also heard it used by people who wouldn't consider themselves to be Christian. I'm still working through the whole idea, but, I am going to attempt to put some of my thoughts down in an effort to draw some conclusion. The conclusion may be that there is no conclusion...who knows.

When someone decides to call someone else, "judgemental" that seems itself to be a judgement. So is it the proper word or response to someone who seems to be acting in an unloving way towards someone else? I think it has pretty much become a word that has lost true meaning. We readily dismiss people as being "judgemental" instead of trying to understand where they are coming from. Is that truly the way to walk?

More and more, I think "no." More and more I think rather than readily dismissing someone as being, "judgemental" and "intolerant" we should try and understand who they are and where they are coming from. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of work. No more "snap judgements" allowed. We have to find a way to borrow the other person's shoes and walk in them for a while.

I am ashamed of all the times I dismissed someone as being "judgemental," whether I outwardly called them so or not. It smacks of self-righteousness and false humility to me now. I feel lower than the grasshopper, more like a flea. The truth is that even if another seems full of hatred, Christian or not, they are still created in God's image and we need to look for that image and draw it out. All too often I looked away. It was just easier.

But then the question is begged, at least in my mind, how do we hold other's accountable? Certainly, if we see someone steering their train into a ditch we should try and stop them. What is the right way to go about this? Must we be in a long standing relationship with the other person to do so? Must they have given us some sort of authority in their lives to say..."yes this is ok...no that isn't?" How does one stay humble in this situation?

What is true humility anyway? I asked that question on a message board once and received many answers, many good ones. But I'm still not sure I know!

I don't know...I just don't know. I guess I didn't really draw any conclusions. I may never. Perhaps this is one of those mysteries the Orthodox like to speak of. I feel the box that is my life has been dumped out and I am now picking up the contents and burning the worthless stuff and keeping the good stuff. Much of this arises from interacting with the Orthodox faith.

What a strange journey is my life!

Have a beautiful day!

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