Wednesday, October 31, 2007


The past two days Rose & I have been putting together the Trick or Treat outfits for the children. Max wanted to be a scarecrow, Margaret wanted to be an "acrobatics girl", Ella wanted to be a swimsuit model, and LMark didn't care.

If I had been thinking I would have gotten through Halloween having spent only a few dollars. Max's hay would have been a dollar or two. Margaret wanted to wear the same thing she wore last year, and Ella just needed to put on her bathing suit. LMark could have gone to bed for the night and never would have been the wiser.

But, I got ambitious. I found an $8 Fireman's jacket & hat at WalMart that was perfect for Max. Then I found a Zorro hat and mask for $5 for LMark. Then Ella called me at the store and decided she wanted to be grapes. Not a problem: balloons are 99 cents a bag and grape leaves are just a couple dollars. But if I had returned home with nothing for Margaret she would have felt slighted. So I got her a little ballerina outfit.

Ella, just as we are about to walk out the door decides, as usual, to have problems with her somewhat bulky costume. But this required a mere: "OK, not a problem, you can wear your t-shirt and jeans..." At this point she decided to be agreeable and put on her grape suit. Rose told me she was all the rage around the neighborhood. Everyone they passed said, "There's the grapes girl!" A particularly funny boy held up a box of raisins to her and said, "BEHOLD, Your FUTURE!!" Ella was delighted with the attention. She's usually kind of shy so this was a big breakthrough for her.

A sweet story: We went down to my parents' house before trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. As we passed the church on the corner leading to their neighborhood there was some activity at the door. Ella said, "They must be going to church." I said, "They probably have a harvest festival going on..." Ella replied, "But they're dressed up like for church..."

As we turned the corner leaving my parents' neighborhood a short while later, Ella had made up her mind about what was going on there: "They were probably getting together to talk about how they shouldn't have scary costumes at Halloween. Because that wouldn't be a good thing to spread the Word of Christ."

We passed two anti-Halloween carnivals on the way home. There are two recently built churches within minutes from our house. They were having harvest festivities at the Life Springs Church and at the Sinner Point just around the corner. It's not really called "Sinner Point," but actually, "Centre Pointe." I think it's funny that no one realized the obviously double entendre before they finalized the signage. At Life Springs they had a hot air balloon, some spinny rides, and a few bouncy thingamajigs. At Sinner Point they had a bonfire.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Aahhh Baahh! Otche Nash!

Aahhh! Baahh! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Ben! Aaaaaaaa! Ging! Gum! Gum!

This is Little Mark singing the Lord's Prayer at full volume last night at our dinner table. It gets better, but I don't want to try to transliterate. He communicates pretty well for a 2 1/2 year old, but avoids or mumbles words that require the use of his tongue.

I've been trying to learn the Otche Nash (the Lord's Prayer) in Slavonic, but I get stuck around the "lead us not into temptation" part. If I'm standing behind a native speaker at church, I just hum along. If I am not, I belt it out as if I know it all. I probably sound a lot like my two year-old.

Katerina, Svetlana's mother, doesn't know any English, but learned one phrase: "I love you." It sounds like "Aloff you." It is very sweet. So I learned, in return, "Ya tee bya loobloo."

Sometimes I get ambitious. This summer I bought a book at our local school supply store called, The First Thousand Words in Russian. I thought it would be an easy task to write out the words and stick them on various objects around the house. I haven't done it yet, but it's on my list called, The First Thousand Things I Need to Do to Improve Myself. I plan to start on this list after I complete my other list I call, The First Thousand Things I Need to Do This Week.

The first thing on the list is, make the list. It'll help me be more organized. But first I need to finish supper.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Kind of Bored

So what is a mother of five to do when she is confronted with a situation in which all of her children are miles and miles away from her, and her husband is at a conference of priests until 3PM, and she sits in front of a computer in a hotel room unbothered by housework, unfinished jobs, unfolded laundry, and ungraded schoolwork?

She walks to Starbucks, gets an iced mocha latte and reads a book, thank you very much. I think she might have a nap too.

Better get decaf.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dairy-Free Lettuce

Recently, every morning Ella has situated herself and her breakfast behind three boxes of cereal arranged in three-quarters of a trapezoid. I can imagine the cozy feeling she enjoys behind the boxes as breakfast table chaos reigns around her.

She has always enjoyed reading cereal boxes. I have said before that I could teach my kids anything if it were set to music. Likewise, Ella could learn anything if it were on the back of a cereal box.

She's always been an avid reader of cereal boxes, and I am often confronted with healthy advice from this seven year-old about how to reduce my blood pressure, lower my cholesterol, or increase my fiber intake.

So today she asks, "Mom, what does 'dairy-free' mean?"
I explain that some foods have milk, cheese, or eggs as an ingredient, and "dairy-free" means that it doesn't have any of that.
She replies, "So, like, lettuce in a bowl of milk isn't dairy-free..."
Looking thoughtful, "...You would have to take it out of the milk," she says.

Just another educational moment at the Mancuso house.


Mark's mom & step-dad came this afternoon to pick up the boys for the weekend. They left around 1:00. Then around 2:00, Zoe's mom dropped her off to play with the Ella & Meggy. The girls played better today than they have in months. It's probably because there were no distractions from the boys. Zoe doesn't like Max very much (he's a boy), and it's all I can do to keep the girls from rudely excluding him from everything they do--even from toys he might own or games he might instigate. Such is the life of a boy, I suppose.

After Max & LMark left, I heard a really loud noise from outside. Because we live at the very top of a very big hill, helicopters which might happen to be in the area sometimes fly over us at an alarmingly close distance. Once in a while we get military helicopters flying over us in formation, which is really loud, and super-cool for the boys. So, forgetting they were gone, I jumped up, ran to the window, "Helicopter!!" and then out the door to look at it. It wasn't particularly impressive, but for a boy...but there were no boys.

I won't try to minimize the ridiculous impression this made on the teenager, my ever-present critic, who stood smirking as I reentered the house.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Science at Our House

Margaret: "Mom, I think moths and bulls are related."
Mom: "Moths"
Margaret: "Yeah because I was looking at a moth and it looked like a bull."
Mom: "You mean a boy cow...and a moth?"
Margaret: "Yeah."
Mom: "Ok."

Today Rose opened up the science experiment she prepared a few days before she left for England. She collected scum from the bottom of a pond in our neighborhood, and added various ingredients: egg yolk, rice, and hay. The jars sat undisturbed in the back of our pantry until she returned. A few days ago, after reminding her that she needed to complete her experiment, she rifled through the pantry and pulled out a set of disgusting looking jars of grey moldy liquid. She said flippantly, "So that's what has been smelling up the house."

I was shocked. I am always vigilant about trash and diapers and food around the house because I can't smell them when they stay around too long. But I completely missed the rotting science experiment. There were a number of people who came into my house within the past three weeks and were greeted with the stench of pond scum and rotten eggs, rice, and hay. This is utterly mortifying to me.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

So Dumbledore is gay...

So tonight I read all over the internet news that Dumbledore is gay. My first reaction was to mutter, "great." My second reaction was to try to spin this: "So what? It doesn't matter what a fictional character does in his private life--what matters is whether it effects his job performance...and clearly..."

Then I realized how ridiculous this sounded. A fictional character in his--private life--outside--the book...

Then I started thinking how the first article I read spun Dumbledore and the gay issue: "How Christians will have a new reason to hate the Harry Potter books."

The fact is I want to love the Harry Potter books despite being Christian: the nobility of the characters, their failures, their courage, their virtues. But boy, if one of them is gay, forget it. Gross.

Actually I'm just kidding.

The reality is regardless of Dumbledore's personal predilection, he still redeems himself just as every fallen creature of God can.

While the media loves to remind Christians of some modernized sugar-crusted idea of forgiveness, the one thing they constantly forget is redemption. They will remind us of how we must forgive, but forget that we can also stand up confidently as Forgiven.

The people the media accuse of "hypocricry"--the long list of televangelists, or conservative Christians or politicians--might not be the best examples of redemption, but they are, at least, examples of the media's perspective.

Dumbledore will be their next victim. It doesn't matter what they think of homosexuality. They will not allow imperfection if someone is held up as a noble character by Christians. They will not allow a sin to be forgotten or forgiven. It doesn't really even matter that Rowling, his creator, is "outing him." He'll never be forgiven by the modern media, and we'll forever be reminded of his homosexuality, his noble deeds ever forgotten.

God help the non-fictional.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Food and Robots

Mark & I just returned from the SC State Fair. Having taken the kids Monday, we, like last year, came back again without them so we could look at the exhibits and eat the food. We had fried mushrooms, a turkey leg, a miniature hamburger, a fried Snickers bar on a stick, and homemade potato chips. There was a young man standing in the center of the food area, a Pepto Bismol rep, wearing a pink t-shirt and unapologetically handing out free samples. We took a few.

We saw a some shows too. The Chinese drummers were a lot of fun to watch. We saw a horse show that was so-so. But the best show of all was the machine wars set up in a plexi-glass cage at the back of one of the buildings.

There were these man-made robot-machines of motors, metal, and old tools (like rotary saws). They were remote controlled and would destroy things like lamps, printers, and concrete blocks--or set them on fire. There was one machine that had four 3-foot long spinning pieces of metal that looked innocent enough, until it rammed into a huge microwave with a stuffed blue gorilla on top of it. When it destroyed the microwave, the gorilla fell into the metal parts. Its body erupted and sent styrofoam stuffing everywhere. Gosh, it was great.

Dusan's slava is tomorrow. I'm going to be making the bread for the service on Sunday. I've seen some of the breads these Serbian ladies make, and they're beautiful. I hope I can pull it off. Hope told me that every Serbian lady stands in mortal dread that her Kolach will be gooey when the priest cuts it open at the slava service. I'm the same way with the Artos bread that we cut open on Thomas Sunday. Fortuately there are so few people there that day, that my several "internal" failures have gone unnoticed by most of our people.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Boss's Day

This morning Mark told me it is Boss's Day. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be Bosses' Day, or Bosses Day or Boss's Day. I think the last one is probably it, since presumably you only get a card for one boss on Boss's Day (singular possessive), as opposed to every executive over you (which would require a plural or a plural possessive--not to mention a few more cards).

Anyway, the Homily in the Prologue was fitting for the day. St Nikolai is writing about Psalm 2:11: "Serve the Lord with Fear and rejoice in Him with trembling":

The prophet of God speaks these words to earthly kings and judges, for they are inclined to pride and lasciviousness born out of the power and riches that are given to them. O you kings and judges--clods of dust beneath the feet of God--do not forget that you are only the servants of God, hirelings from today until tomorrow! Of what does a hireling think, digging in the field all day? About the pay that he will receive in the evening. Of what is the hireling proud? Not of his labor, but rather his pay. In what does the hireling rejoice? In his labor, his sweat, or his pay? Naturally, in his pay. O kings and judges, your service in the field of this life is the labor of a hireling. Therefore, with fear serve your Lord, who hired you: for you know not how your Lord will evaluate your labor in the end, or what pay He will render unto you.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Smallish Things

We have been offline for a number of days due to something wrong with an internal gadget in our PC that determines our IP address on both of our computers. We sent it to the Geek Squad and they did their magic, but it took a little longer than they expected.

Rose came home Thursday. Already she babysat twice, bless her heart. Twice, she has made supper and has dressed the kids for bed. If she were any less accomodating and agreeable, I would feel guilty. But I don't because she thinks it's fun. So she can have her fun and I'll get a break, for crying out loud.

She has told me some wonderful, exciting, and tremendously funny stories of her trip. One of her assignments for next week is to post her journal on her blog. I'll link to it once I make sure her spelling is appropriate for public consumption.

One story she told me tonight, which she probably wouldn't tell anyone because it makes her out to be a wonderful person, follows. They were at the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Everyone knows the stoic demeanor of the guards, and how everyone wants to get their picture taken with one of them. My mother, sometimes guilty of socially awkward turns-of-phrase, said to Rose (within earshot of two of the guards), "Do you want to get your picture taken with the short, fat one or the cutey patooty?" (yes, she said that). Rose replied, "I'll get my picture taken with the cutey patooty." Then she calmly went and stood next to the guard my mother referred to as the "short, fat one" for her picture.

While Rose and the boys were gone I was able to take the girls bike-riding. We went to a park that had some small inclines, so I could teach them how to "stand on their pedals" to get the power they need to go up hills. After that plan failed, we went to the Riverwalk along the canal, which is ridiculously flat and physically unchallenging. But we saw about six great blue herons within feet of us, and the scenery and the weather were very pleasant.

We also painted Rose's room together, as well as the foyer, the hall, and the kitchen. We read Black Beauty and occasionally did schoolwork. It is this kind of season when we tend to skip school because the days are so pretty.

Last night the prosphora sisters went to Ruta's house to bake. Ruta made us a very nice dinner. Danielle & I both arrived with a double recipe of prosphora ready to be molded, so it didn't take long for five of us to finish the work. The baking took a while, of course. And we lost a batch of the small loaves because I kept turning the oven's heat up and down, fearing it wasn't heating properly. If I had been baking alone, I would have cussed. Then I would have felt guilty not only for burning the prosphora but for cussing about it too. But because it was shared, the frustration was lessened.

Monday, October 8, 2007

One Day Off

I am no good with math, especially in the morning. This is why I have a little spreadsheet I made into a laminated bookmark to tell me the Old Calendar day of the week. This way I can keep up with the readings from the Prologue of Ohrid each day. Since the New Calendar is 13 days ahead of the Old Calendar, the first 13 days of each NC month are the only ones that are different from one month to the next. For instance, if the previous month has 31 days, today's date is the 8th, and the OC date is the 26th. If the previous month has 30 days, it's the 25th, 29 days it's the 24th, 28 days, it's the 23rd.

If I miss a few days' readings, I have to use my spreadsheet to find my place again. That happened yesterday. I also messed up in the other crucial element in this computation: the little rhyme "Thirty days have September, April, June, and November..." I'm not sure what happened yesterday, but I accidentally read today's reading yesterday. I realized it in church when hymns were being sung to St Thecla, and not Sts Euphrosyne & Sergius of Radonezh. Since I love St Thecla, this morning I decided to go back and read yesterday's reading.

I'm glad I did, because in the Reflection of the day, St Nikolai, tells a wonderful story, which I don't remember ever having read before:

Once, on the Feast of the Annunciation, [St. Cosmas of Zographou] went with several other monks of the Monastery of Vatopedi for this, their main feast. During the church service, and during the meal in the refectory, Cosmas saw a woman of royal beauty and majesty, who authoritatively organized, directed, and even served. This was not a momentary vision, but continued for a long time, both in the church and in the refectory. Cosmas was perplexed and startled by this vision. It was not at all proper for a woman to be in a monastery of the Holy Mountain. When he related this vision to his brother monks at Zographou, all the while protesting the presence of women on the Holy Mountain, the astonished monks explained to him that she was the Queen of the Holy Mountain, the Most-holy Theotokos. then the perplexed heart of Cosmas was filled with great joy.

The theme of St Nikolai's reflection is that "Every saint is close to the place where he is invoked for help, or where his sanctity is commemorated and glorified."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

About a Fish

When I was a freshman at USC I spent a very brief time in a sorority. It wasn't for me so I quit. There were two girls, Helen & Kathy, who still liked me despite my leaving.

Kathy once asked me to watch her fish because she was going abroad for a few weeks. She explained it wasn't difficult. I explained that I had a history of accidentally killing small pets: innumerable gerbils, hamsters, and fish. She told me not to worry, I just needed to make sure the temperature read some degree, and that the fish was fed twice a day, I think. The water heater was already set to the degree it was supposed to be at, and a pinch of food in the morning would take care of it till evening.

Well, the fish died. It appeared that the poor creature was cooked. Not only that, I cracked the aquarium as I was trying to clean it out postmortem. I think the most awkward moment of my life was handing her an empty, cracked, aquarium with the plastic plants, pink rocks, and heating device neatly wrapped up inside.

Although Mark always tells me it's irrational, I'm often bothered by the seeminly inconsequential things I remember. I think I remember the stupid and the awkward events of my life because I have a lingering fear that someone else has too.

So it was with no particular surprise that my dear friend, Susan, of twenty plus years, bluntly informed me, "You know, we never thought Rose was going to live this long...You remember all those hamsters that died? One after the other, after the other...and remember Kathy's fish?"

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Eau d'Thai

During Theophany this year, Svetlana gave me some perfume in a small decorative glass bottle. A couple weeks later my parents came back from the Holy Land and gave me some perfume in a small decorative glass bottle. Svetlana's perfume was yellowish; my mother's was greenish. Both, I hear, smelled nice.

I, however, couldn't smell a thing. I suffer (hyperbole only) from anosmia--which is a complete or almost-complete loss of the sense of smell. I can smell some things, like Ella's skin lotion and occasionally a small flash of cooking meat, but for the most part I can't smell anything. For example, I rely on the kids to tell me that Little Mark has a dirty diaper. Fr Mark & Rose usually won't tell me because they think I'll insist they change it. Cilantro is one of the most obvious things I can neither taste nor sm

Anyway, tonight I paid the price of my disability.

When I put Max down to nap this afternoon I decided I would put up my makeup box since Little Mark has gotten into it no less than three times in the past six days. He usually takes the opportunity of his nap to sneak into my room (where Max naps) and to play. As I placed my box out of reach on Fr Mark's dresser, it occurred to me that all it would take is a small tug from one of the boys to pull the entire contents of his dresser (sitting on a decorative cloth) down to the floor. We put the two bottles on his dresser in an attempt to keep them out of reach.

I decided that since I never wear perfume I would finally just dump the contents of the two bottles down the toilet. That being done I decided to take the two bottles to the kitchen trashcan, since any drop in our bedroom trashcans would smell up the room for weeks. As I walked down, the ever curious pack rat, Ella, asked what I was doing with those two beautiful bottles. I explained and she convinced me that if I just put them into the dishwasher, they would be washed and she and Margaret would simply put them on a high shelf, never to be bothered by the boys. I gave in.

So tonight I made shrimp pad Thai for the family. I went into the dishwasher to use the strainer we had used for our lunch's noodle dish. Since I can't smell, it wasn't until the meal was served, that I found out that all the complex aromas of peanuts, carrots, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, mung bean sprouts, cilantro, lime juice, and the accompanying spices really just smelled like a French brothel--with shrimp.

I finished my meal because I didn't taste it. Everyone else said it tasted bad--but 2/3 of them would have said it was nasty whether they were eating Eau d'Thai or anything other than PBJ. Welcome to my life.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Beautiful Days

This morning I let the children play in the front yard after Papa left for work. They lined up to kiss him goodbye, and after waving from the front porch, the circus began. At least it did for Ella, Max, and LMark as they flipped, cartwheeled, and spun around all over our hill.

For Margaret, something else was going on. Her arms, in a unmistakably Julie Andrewsesque pose, floated behind her as she ran from one side of the yard to the other, leaping and singing. Her melody was more like something from an Ethiopian Orthodox Choir than a Julie Andrews film, but the words were utterly inspired. "The wind is flowing through my beeyootiful hair as I run through the grass <<get out of my way Max!!>> and the life is beeyootiful and the bushes and when I go up to the sun it's hotter than the earth..." and on and on like that for about 20 minutes.

We came home today from Girl Scouts/Boys Club to find that the concrete men were already digging out the 20'x25' area in which we plan to install the new patio. Mark & I discussed it's placement a couple weeks ago, and we both decided it should be moved out of the middle of the yard, the location of the original compromise, and into the back corner of the yard next to the swing set. There is no place in our yard that doesn't slope, so the men had to dig out a sizable chunk of earth to make it level. But I can imagine landscaping around it with a retaining wall or something else to make it look nice.

Right now we have a nice hill of sand for the children. The difficulty of this (and the gorgeous weather which allows more outside-time) is that they come into the house covered in sand and dust from head to toe. Which means they're thirsty, and they want water or tea, which they spill or slosh, and step in, and on and on, till I might as well not have mopped the floor two days ago, because it looks worse than it did before.

I got a call from Rose today. She described where she's been with a precise enunciation of her consonants. Either this is a result of being around my aunt for several days, or she's picked up a love of the English accent. She told me where she's visited, what she's seen, and how she loves blood sausage and tea with two lumps of brown sugar and clotted cream. She wants to go to Oxford now. She plans to post her journal on a blog she created a few weeks ago. I told her I wasn't going to link to it from my page until her spelling improves.

I went to Nell's house last night for our Church sisterhood meeting. She served pineapple upside down cake, fruit, blueberry muffins, and a chocolate peanut butter pie. The food, the table, and the company was enjoyable, and a nice break from the kids.