Friday, November 30, 2007

Sick Day

Today we had to skip school. It was too beautiful to be indoors. It was in the high sixties, dry, sunny, and no wind.

Since one usually feels miserable on sick-days, today we took our sick-day on a day when we were all feeling great. This way we could take full advantage of the lovely weather.

I finally did something I have been planning to do for the past seven years. We have a clearing in our woods where we hung a hammock and have a simple wooden bench. At first the kids and I were only going to hang a rope from a tree limb. But the project took on a life of its own and we ended up sawing, sanding, drilling and making a beautiful tree swing. The tree limb overhangs part of a hill, so the swing doesn't need to be pushed very high to be eight-to-ten feet off the ground on one side of the arch.

My goal is to plant some bulbs and maybe a Lady Banks rose & red honeysuckle around the woods so it's filled with flowers. We are already blessed with yellow jessamine winding wildly all through the woods in the spring. Sparkleberries and huckleberries are everywhere in the summer.

Once we had a British bishop come for an afternoon lunch. He peered into our back yard and politely exclaimed, "Ahhhh, what a lovely gaah-den." I was absolutely delighted at his words because I had never looked at our yard that way. My more cultured and erudite friend, Susan, told me that in England they call their yards, "gardens," so he probably didn't mean anything more than "You have a nice back yard." But that didn't take away the enchantment I felt at the image of my children romping my beautiful garden with flower petals falling all around their heads (Lady Banks Roses will do that at the end of a bloom).

So we hung the swing, and Rose took off up the hill. She was gone for 30 minutes or more. When she returned she was pulling a wagon containing sandwiches, hot tea, popcorn and warm Lenten whole wheat chocolate chip cookies (which were sinfully delicious).

Each of us had sandwiches made the way we like them (Max: PBJ; Ella: PB; Meggy: ham, lettuce, tomato, mustard & mayo (no the children don't fast); LMk: PBJ; and Me & Rose: saut├ęd mushrooms and tomatoes on health-nut bread).

I sat on the bench with my sandwich and watched the children as they ate. The leaves have gone somewhat beyond their color and have begun to turn maroonish and brown. The light seemed to give everything a pinky glow.

Rose and LMark were sitting side-by-side in the wagon. Ella was swinging sleepily on the hammock with her leg in the air (I don't know why). Margaret was kneeling in the pine straw to the side of the swing. And Max was kicking himself slowly back and forth in the swing, with his arms wrapped around the ropes so he could eat his sandwich. It was very quiet.

"...Mom, dis is the best day evah."

So I have been thinking. The reason mothers take so many pictures of our children is because we look at certain moments and can't imagine anything more wonderful or more beautiful than what we're looking at right now. But sometimes there are those moments when I'm glad I don't have a camera, because I am certain my mind will recall it better than a camera ever could.

So this image is it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

High Society

Little Mark spent the day dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, a waistcoat, and a bicycle helmet. He obviously doesn't have his father's fashion sense

Today I took Max, Meggy, Ella & their weekly playmate, Zoe, to a newly constructed park near us to ride their bikes. Max recently began riding without training wheels, and I told him he needed to practice before I take him to the Riverwalk. Because this park is new, and not officially opened by the county, there was no one on the grounds and nothing in the parking lot except seven very large vultures. But the fact that this park isn't technically open doesn't mean people don't go down there regularly to leave their trash and beer bottles in various places. One of the amenities of an "open" park in Lexington County must be the presence of trash cans.

One notable thing my little archaeologists found was a broken wine glass. They were terribly excited, and tried to find all the pieces. Zoe had a basket on her bike so they brought all of the pieces back to the van to bring home with them. I told them absolutely not. So I had to pick about fifty pieces of glass out of the basket. They were ridiculously disappointed and tried to make me feel like I was hampering their education. They had planned to glue it all back together when they got back to the house. Instead they had to be satisfied with "meteoroids" and "space alien eggs" they found buried in the soccer field.

Usually when I take the kids anywhere, and it's time to leave, I ask, "So, did y'all have a good time?" I asked this as I was putting the bikes into the trunk of the van. "Yeh-es!" came from all of the children except one.

Ella's bitter little voice murmured, "It would have been more fun if you had let us play with the broken glass..."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Purgation 2007

Last night began the Great Purgation of 2007. In preparation for St Nicholas Day, one birthday, three Western-Christmas celebrations, and one Nativity which will bring in more inventory than our 2,000 sq. ft. home can handle, we had to purge.

Every few months I find a way to distract the children while I enter their rooms with a Hefty bag and an unsentimental heart. I throw away all their broken toys, everything that is missing its accompanying part or remote control, and anything I'm just tired of looking at or stepping on.

Unfortunately, I have bred five little dragons who guard their hoard of toys like the beast guards his treasure. Maybe it is because their fallen nature is peeking through their innocent exteriors. Or maybe it's because they have a wicked mother who sneakily and unsentimentally rifles through their junk and commits it to outer darkness.

To psychologize I could say that my mother was and is something of a pack-rat. So I am less inclined to be one. I do, however, treasure two toys and one book from my childhood that I wouldn't dream of throwing away. The book is Little Bear, and one of the toys is a wooden train.

The other toy is a plastic yellow staircase that went with my Fischer Price doll house (which went on to meet it's great reward many years ago--or maybe it's in my mom's attic). This staircase had three steps and a banister. But the thing I loved about it was the door and cubbyhole underneath the stairs. The Fischer Price people fit perfectly, and I always wanted a house with a cubby like that. So, until I get the house, I'll hold onto my staircase.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Grace at Thanksgiving

Here's a story from today's homily by St Nikolai on Ephesians 2:5, 8: By grace ye are saved.

A child was traveling by night. He stumbled and fell into hole after hole and pit after pit, until he finally fell into a very deep pit from which he could in no way escape by his own power. When the child gave himself over to the hands of fate and thought his end was near, there was suddenly someone standing over the pit, lowering a rope to him and telling him to grab the rope and hold firmly to it. This was the king's son, who then took the child home, bathed him, clothed him and brought him to his court and set him beside himself. Was this child saved by his own deed? By no means. All he did was to grab the end of the rope, and hold on. By what then was the child saved? By the mercy of the king's son. In God's relationship with men, this mercy is called grace. By grace ye are saved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

10 Years

Today is the ten-year anniversary of our church.

Over my brief life as an Orthodox Christian I have learned that the Orthodox have certain ways of phrasing things. When speaking of Mary, I don't just say "Mary," or even "the Blessed Virgin," but rather, "the Theotokos." I rarely use the name of Jesus unless I'm praying, but more often "Christ" or "Our Lord" in conversation. In a casual exchange with a WalMart cashier, I might say "Thank God," "God Willing," or "Glory to God" just as easily as I might say "Have a nice day."

Although some might say it is a mere habit, I think it is a conscious decision to acknowledge God as my Author and Creator.

If I call something a "coincidence," or if the words "Good luck" ever cross my lips (!) I feel like I have committed blasphemy. So if I want to talk of an interconnected series of events that might have produced a favorable or interesting conclusion, I instead use the very pious sounding word, "Providence."

Of course the smarty pants priest I live with messes up my pious feelings by saying, "Actually if you acknowledge God is God, then everything is Providence, and what you're trying to say makes no sense."

But anyway, today is the tenth anniversary of the beginning of our little church, St Elizabeth the New Martyr. The Gospel reading today was Luke 14: 25-35. This is the part I find to be applicable to our anniversay (i.e. providential):

And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it--lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish...'

And that's all I really wanted to say.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Having a Ball

Our homeschool group has a winter formal every year as a fund raiser for the yearbook. Last year was Rose's first year to attend. She had a good time, but the theme was Under the Sea so they played Disney's Little Mermaid music over and over all night long. This year the theme will be A Night in Paris.

Someone offered to teach ballroom dancing to the kids (and parents) for free. So last Monday and tonight Rose and I went ballroom dancing. We learned the waltz last week and the cha cha this week. We're going to learn something easy next Monday, and then spend the next several weeks on the shag.

I don't think I'll ever be able to use these steps since we go to church instead of dance clubs. But it's nice to know that I can do it. Prior to last week I danced like Napoleon Dynamite--I mean Deb.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Slow, Steady and One Hour Late

Mark & I returned this evening after checking out the new retirement community Mark’s dad & step-mother are moving to in June. It is near Griffin Georgia, which is south of Atlanta. They were looking at the same type of community in Charlotte, which is closer to us, but decided on the same house in a different location because it’s much less expensive. As a result, Marilyn can retire a year earlier, and they’ll be in the same financial circumstances as they would if they had waited another year and moved to Charlotte.

The leaves were changing and the drive was magnificent. We had an hour of extra time to enjoy it because Lou suggested that we take highway 16 (which was a “shorter” route) vs. the Interstate (which would have taken us “out of our way”). While Mark knew all along that he should have taken the Interstate, he decided to do what is father suggested, and take the highway.

As I said, the drive was beautiful, and we had an extra hour to enjoy it. Not only did the road wind over creeks and rivers, through quaint little towns, past farms and beautiful old southern homes, we also got behind a “wide load” for about 45 minutes. It was very wide and tall, and accompanied by two pick-ups and two state troopers. It was, therefore, impossible to pass.

It was a boat. No, actually, I think it would be technically called--a ship. A ship. It was a mid-sized coast guard craft that had a crane on the back of it.

At first we laughed at it. Ha ha: a Coast Guard ship—boy won’t that be a good excuse for Mark’s dad (already waiting for us at Denny’s)? So we took pictures with the camera phone. As the hours—I mean minutes—wore on, the flashing lights became irritating, and the big black hull of the ship was not a complementary centerpiece to the majestic autumn colors framing it.

Fortunately, as we were driving through one of the little towns, the ship ran aground—or “a-curb” as the case may be. As the captains were negotiating their way out of it, we tore through back streets and around corners to find the highway again. There was no getting back to the Interstate now. Just as we were beginning to feel the freedom of the open road, a mile ahead of us there turned a pickup truck hauling a busted-up car. Its front wheels were propped up and chained inside its bed of the truck and it was going about –hmm—10? 15 miles per hour?

Decorum suggests that I bleep out what happened here.

But we arrived safely and returned home safely, thank God.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Yesterday began with a robust and well-fed-looking black cat showing up at our back door while the children were eating breakfast. They were ecstatic, because of the various animals that wander through our woods and into our back yard, few of them stay to visit. I've mentioned one before, and there are occasional rabbits, cats, and dogs. We gave the cat some tuna.

Last summer we had three St Bernards show up and spend the entire afternoon on our front porch. They had the electronic collars on, so they had obviously slipped out of someone's yard. I didn't feel comfortable enough to grab the neck of one and look at his tag. Their heads were enormous and their mouths were nappy, drippy and yucky. Bleh.

Our neighbor across the street was greeted by them as he came home from work. Rose saw this taking place, and perceiving that the neighbor wasn't going to get out of his car until the dogs went away, laid out a brilliant plan. She went outside with a fistful of hotdogs and yelled, "Hot Dogs!"

Not being the kind of person who thinks ahead, Rose wasn't ready for the onslaught of three St Bernards bounding across the street at full speed--each of which weighing more than she does wet. So she dropped the hotdogs and ran inside.

Now there lives across the street a little white Maltese that stares pitifully out the window at us like a creepy stalker. Our neighbor told us that the dog waits until he hears our van to jump on the coffee table and stare out the window. Since the weather is gorgeous right now, their window is open so he barks in a high-pitched bark that I personally wouldn't be able to tolerate. Last week, as I was walking outside I heard barking. I thought that the dog was in the yard. As it turned out, Margaret was barking at him.

She does a good impression.

In SC the weather changes strangely. We'll have freezing temperatures one day, and summer-like days the next. Not a problem, we just keep out a pair of shorts all year-round.

Today I asked Margaret what the weather was like outside. She replied, "Oh...I's room temperature."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I Heart Serbians

Yesterday we went to the Serbian church in Charlotte for their Slava. Bishop Mitrophan was there, as were three local Greek priests, my husband, Fr Alexander, & Fr Dragan. Thirteen of our people went too: MJ, Dusan, Mx, Jn, Rt, Sv, Kr, Mil, Hp, Pr, St, Fr Mark & me.

While somewhat amusing and moderately distracting, it was immensely gratifying to see the children just as active at the Serbian church as they are at ours.

While the bishop was preaching at the end of the liturgy, I watched Dusan with interest. It was curious to see him so moved by what the bishop preached (while not understanding a word of what he said myself). When I asked Dusan today what Bp Mitrophan said that so touched him, he tried to explain, but he admitted what he was conveying was not equal to the bishop's words. In conclusion, one thing he told me was this: "Matushka, if you want to find the heart of the Orthodox Church, you look at the Russians. But if you want to find the strength of the Orthodox Church, you look to the Serbians!"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

History of the Early Church: The Best Curriculum

Every first Tuesday of the month I get together with the ladies of my Purple Group. This is the name of the small group in the larger Protestant homeschool organization we are a part of. I've told the ladies that by the time our youngest children get into school, they're going to call us the grey group...

Last Tuesday my friend Elizabeth asked a general question: "Does anyone know of a good 'Church History' curriculum?"

A few of the ladies tossed out some ideas: Sonlight, Veritas, Story of the World; Mystery of History...

I kept asking myself: "What is our Church history curriculum?? What is it??"

Then it dawned on me.

Why, of course, it's the CHURCH--the ORTHODOX CHURCH. When we read the readings for the day, the saints for the day and follow the calendar of services, we are living and re-living Church History.

This is the best example of the classical approach. I could try Mystery of History to put the Early Church into a quizzable curriculum. Or I could just decide to bring my kids to church on the Nativity of the Theotokos, the Exaltation of the Cross, etc. We could get a text book and read the author's interpretation of the Early Church, or we could just live it.

The quizzes are probably more complicated in the text book approach, but I bet our final exam has more sparkly vestments.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Dumb Jokes

This evening Zoe and Asher came to visit us. Asher is Zoe’s 2 year-old brother. The family has a piano recital to attend, and toddlers aren’t allowed--to make the the experience more worshipful, they said--brilliant idea.

So they were dropped off at 6:30, and I realized how unready I was for two more children coming into the house with every intention of playing…with toys…the same toys we spent the majority of the late afternoon putting away. They also arrived with every intention of eating, eating, and eating. They’ve already had, undoubtedly, a home-cooked organic meal with greens and homemade bread, but they’re here. And Zoe has already told her brother about the occasional presence of Cheez Doodles.

For a few years I have made a joke that I get off work at 8:00 PM. The punch line of the joke, of course, is that I'm on call 24 hours a day, and I usually work 19 out of those 24 hours every day.

Another joke I have is that when the cleaning of the kitchen is done for the evening, I say the kitchen is “closed.” The punch line of this joke is similar to the one above. And I usually wake up finding the leftover meals with the shrimp or meat eaten out of it, half-eaten bowls of slimy cereal, or a bag of nachos left open all night.

I didn't realize how attached I've become to closing down the kitchen. I also didn't realize how I have become attached to 8:00--the hour I get off work.

These are dumb jokes, but I think they're funny. I didn't realize how my heart would resist getting knocked out of its comfort zone. I need to work on this.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I Want Some FRENCH Fries

To the millions of men and women who came from every country of the world and who -- with their own hands, their intelligence, and their hearts -- built the greatest nation in the world, America did not say, "Come, and everything will be given to you." Rather, she said, "Come, and the only limits to what you will be able to achieve will be those of your own courage, your boldness, and your talent...

America liberated us, and this is an eternal debt we owe America. Every time, whenever an American soldier falls somewhere in the world, I think of what the American army did for France. I think of them --and I am sad as one is saddened to lose a member of one's family...

We need France to be stronger. I am determined to carry through with the reforms that my country has put off for all too long. I will not turn back. I will implement all of them, because France has turned back for all too long. I have come to present to you today a France that comes out to meet America, to renew the covenant of friendship and alliance that Washington and Lafayette sealed in Yorktown. Together, let us be true to their memories. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I say this to you on behalf of the French people: Long live the United States of America. Long live France. Long live French-American friendship!

-Nicholas Sarkozy, President of France (11/7/07)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Straight Strong Soldiers

Friday night as Mark and I went out to WalMart (our favorite Friday night hotspot) we had to divert our drive to avoid traffic at White Knoll High School. There were three events going on: the school was playing their biggest rival in football; Senator John McCain was in attendance; and they were dedicating their new field house to one of their alumni who was killed in Iraq in 2005, Joshua Torrence.

While we were gone, Rose told us that they had flyovers about every 20 minutes by F-16's in the missing-man formation. I so wish I hadn't gone to the store.

The children and I were at this young man's funeral procession through Lexington. Prior to the procession, a man in a suit handed me flags for the children. As the caisson was going down the road, with the limousine behind, I remember the catching the mother's eye. I wanted so much to mouth "Thank You" to her, but I didn't think it would be enough from a stranger. So I put my arms around my kids and tried to communicate something with my face. I'll never forget it.

As we were driving to church today, there was something going on at the National Guard Armory. Before church they were assembling, and by the time we were returning home, there were about 150 soldiers standing at attention.

I took this opportunity to explain to Max how I want him to behave as an altar boy. I've been struggling with his behavior during the processions. He carries a little cross and leads the rest of the acolytes. His problem is not in the leading, but rather in the standing. If he thinks he's doing a particularly good job, he'll toss me a thumbs-up or a wink. He might play with the cross, try to balance it in the opening of his sticharion, put it in his pocket--or any number of innocent but horrifying tricks--including dropping it.

We've practiced and practiced. I have constantly told him he needs to stand like a "straight strong soldier." As we were passing the armory today I told him that this is how he should stand. Max seemed thoughtful. So I added that the cross he carries in the procession is the mightiest weapon in the world. That it can defeat armies.

That if you're carrying it you need to do it like one of those soldiers.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Pigs, Rivers and Planes

Tomorrow's Gospel reading is Luke 8 about the Gadarene swine. My job over the past two days has been to draw, cut and decorate little pink pigs. This Sunday School lesson could end up being as popular as the Father Mark paper dolls Nell put together last year. The end product is going to be a collage of bewildered-looking looking pigs jumping off a hill in whatever position the children choose to stick them. I can't wait.

I've seen an icon by a Melkite iconographer that had the pigs being ridden by joyful black demons with tails and ears. I'm not sure what to think of that. It's quite humorous--and definitely memorable.

Yesterday and today I took the children to the West Columbia/Cayce Riverwalk. It was totally different from the Richland County side which runs along the canal. While the ride wasn't entirely flat or easy for our novice bikers, the landscape was magical. The walkway followed the landscape of the river which meant there were plenty of bridges, boardwalks, and covered bridges curving this way and that. We all loved it. We were even under a bridge as a long two-engine train ran overhead. It couldn't have been better timing for two train-or-loud-and-large-vehicle-obsessed boys.

Friday, as we were passing the airport en route to the WCC Riverwalk, I noticed that the FedEx plane was moved out of it's usual position. Seven days a week we can pass our airport at any hour of the day or night, and see a FedEx plane parked in the same place. I've never seen one take off--always parked. Funny, though, as we were driving past yesterday, I looked over and said, "Hey, where's the FedEx plane? That looks like Airforce One------Hey!! That's Airforce ONE!!" We were all excited, even though four out of the five didn't know what they were supposed to be so excited about. The president was in town giving the graduation address at Ft Jackson.