Saturday, December 29, 2007

Notes from the Past

Today as I put away some cookie tubs, I included a note to "Future Mama" from "Past Mama."

The note was as follows: Dear Future-Mama: Wash these cookie tubs before you use them in 2008 because the kids were putting Play Dough in them. I didn't feel like washing them again before putting them away for the year. I hope all is well. Regards, Past-Mama (12/29/2007).

This made me think of the parable of the man who planned to build barns, then eat, drink & be merry the day before his soul was required of him. In my case I made plans for next Christmas. My goal was not to relax or to be particularly merry. My desire was, rather, entirely charitable. Future mama needs to know she must thoroughly wash (not just rinse) the seemingly clean cookie tubs lest she corrupt her Christmas cookies with a subtle taste of Play Dough.

"Matushka's date balls are usually delicious, but this year they tasted like play dough." "No kidding! I usually love her coconut macaroons, but this year they tasted like play dough."

Actually, I don't know a single person who wouldn't eat every one of my cookies with good humor, despite the added flavor of salt, flour and red #40.

Which is why I pray for a long life, yet make provisions for the future out of kindness and charity.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Days of Obligation

This year the pre-Christmas planning season got away from me before I could 1. compose our family Christmas letter, and 2. send it out. I thought I was on my way when we had our photos done in September. I congratulated myself and took a three-month nap. Then Christmas arrived and I couldn't find enough stamps around the house before Christmas Day came and went. Old Calendarist friends don't expect Nativity letters...which is unfortunate because this letter would be on time.

So here's a belated Christmas letter to those to whom it was and never will be sent:

---

Christmas 2007
Greetings from the Mancusos !


We hope that this letter finds all of you, and those you love, healthy and happy.

Our family is always busy with work, church, homeschooling, and all of the social obligations that those things require. It’s hard to keep up with all of them so I must apologize, as this letter comes a little late.

This year Mark celebrated his 7th anniversary as a priest, and received an award during a clergy conference in Atlanta last month. He works harder and harder every year as a priest and as the head of our town's library, as both our little church and our town grow and expand.

In May of this year I attended a week-long icon-painting seminar in which we learned how to use egg temperas to paint icons in the Byzantine style. There were no children (or husbands), and the class was held at a retreat center in the South Carolina mountains. I don’t need to say I enjoyed every minute of it—but I think I will anyway. It was wonderful.

I also accompanied Rose and Margaret to Las Vegas in June to film a television-pilot which was written and directed by Rose’s 14 year-old friend, Zoe. In 2006 they playfully produced a funny little home-movie called "Hotel Elevator." When this was shown to an old high school friend (also a independent film-maker), he decided he wanted to fund a whole new project for the girls. Initially it was based on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women with a modern, comedic twist. But the final project took on a life of its own and didn’t resemble the book at all. It was a lot of fun for the girls, and was, if nothing else, an educational experience. Hopefully they learned that they don’t want to grow up to be actresses.

Rose, besides going to Las Vegas, drove up to Niagara Falls in August with Mark’s mother and step-father. She is their favorite traveling companion, so she often goes on vacations with them.

In addition to Niagara Falls Rose went on three-week tour of England, Wales, and Ireland with my parents and my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ned. The four of them were planning a trip to the UK in 2007. When my aunt suggested that they take Rose along, we couldn’t believe it. As it turned out, they graciously included her in all their plans and travels. I wish I could tell you some of the exciting and funny stories of Rose’s trip, but she hasn’t stopped telling them to me yet, so we all might have to wait till 2008!

I am officially homeschooling four children this year. Rose just started her freshman year, so I am often focused on her. Mark designed her honors world literature course which includes many books that most students don’t read until college. Ella and Margaret are doing remarkably well in school. Ella is in 2nd grade and still loves math. She’s a great reader. She loves to read about space and Egyptians. Margaret is in 1st and is reading very well. Max is in K-4, and loves to dismantle his toys. I’m sure there’s a future profession in that somewhere!

It has been a challenge to my sanity and my religion to keep all five of the children doing what they’re supposed to do and (especially in Little Mark’s case) keep them from doing what they’re not supposed to do. We have chosen a less formal approach with the younger children, so that they can play and learn together. We have a lot of fun.

We hope that you have a blessed Christmas and a very happy new year!

The Mancuso Family

Monday, December 24, 2007

Time for a Joke

It's Ella's birthday, and I'll probably document all of the stuff we did today later. In a few minutes we will need to put out cookies and milk for our late-night visitor.

I heard a good joke today:

There was a guy driving around a ridiculously crowded parking lot on Christmas Eve. He went up and down every aisle but couldn't find a place any closer than a half-mile. Finally he groans in desperation, "OK, Lord. If you can get me a good parking space, I'll be a better person and I'll start going to church again..."

A parking space opens up right next to him.


"Never mind, Lord, I found one."

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Brief Sermon for the Archbishop

Below is from Rush Limbaugh's show yesterday:

RUSH: As you people know, I really do not like to stray into religion, because religion is personal and it's faith-based, and to argue about it is not productive. So I very rarely like to stray into it, but there's a news story out that's been out there for a couple days that I have to address, because it bugs me. The liberal Christians out there, these wacko Christians that are liberal just try my patience. It's that time of year again just before Christmas, when some religious leaders feel the need to explain that the miracles of the Bible never happened, or that the homeless roaming the streets in Buffalo are the modern equivalent of Mary and Joseph. We get the bastardization of the story of the Bible this time of year by liberal Christians. Today's violator, if you will, is no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, and what he says is that the star of Bethlehem, the star of Bethlehem "rising and standing still," he said stars "they just don't behave like that." Now, that is the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a man of the cloth, and he said that it's just not possible. Stars don't just stop up there.

He also says that "belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a 'hurdle' over which new Christians had to jump before they" can be signed up as Christians. You can be a Christian without believing that. No big deal. I mean, who really thinks that happened anyway? says the Archbishop of Canterbury. Well, a lot of Christians know where his reasoning is going to end up, or where this line of reasoning will take you, because it ends up denying the fundamental basis of Christianity, which is the Resurrection. Because if that didn't happen, then the whole thing is in trouble, and if these biblical miracles didn't happen, the star of Bethlehem didn't stop, if there was no virgin birth, then, of course, there probably wasn't a resurrection. In which case, what the hell is the Archbishop of Canterbury doing in the business, if he wants to rewrite it this way?

...Now, the Resurrection. I've told you about the French philosopher, Pascal. Blaise Pascal. He was just agonizing over trying to find earthly proof of the existence of God, aside from inanimate objects and the existence of human beings. He was looking for some sign, and, of course, there is no sign that we knowingly receive. So he began to philosophize about it, and the Resurrection was his problem point. He said, "If that didn't happen, then all of this might be bogus." So he said, "How do I explain the Resurrection?" This is the thing about religion and the Bible, people take it on faith, but truly inquiring minds, curious minds, are going to examine it and try to establish proof for themselves rather than just have to accept the word of others. It's natural. It's part of the way we're created; there's nothing wrong with it. So Pascal set about to explain to himself in a satisfactory way the Resurrection, and I'm going to paraphrase, because I don't have it right in front of me, but he basically said, "It's easier to believe that something that has been can be again than it is to believe that something that's never been can be," which takes me back to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. He said that the star didn't stop, and he said that the virgin birth, you don't have to believe that. Why would anybody not believe in these things?

Isn't it because they are contrary to scientific laws, contrary to how we observe nature operating? If we don't see it operating a certain way, scientists say, "It couldn't have happened that way." Yet -- yet, ladies and gentlemen -- our very existence cannot be explained by science. The Big Bang violates the best-known law of science, the first law of thermodynamics. The first law of thermodynamics says that you cannot create something out of nothing. Hello, Mr. Pascal. He wasn't even a scientist. He was a philosopher. It's easier to believe that something that has been can be again than it is to believe that something that has never been can be. Yet, the Big Bang violates the first law of thermodynamics. That law says you cannot create something out of nothing. But cosmologists, who are physicists that study the evolution of the universe, have to invent new physics to explain the Big Bang: physics that have never been observed. So is this science or is it faith? The Big Bang crowd, nobody was there to see it. We're just told that this tiny little speck of almost nothing exploded one day and became the universe?

What law of physics explains that? We don't have one. They've had to create it because they haven't observed it. The Big Bang is as much an article of faith as anything else is in any other religion. It's just like the other day. We found out nobody in the world of science or medicine has yet to prove that unsaturated fats, saturated fats, whatever, clog your arteries and make you sick. Nobody has ever proved it. Yet we all believe it, and a lot of people run around believing the Big Bang. Nobody can prove it, and the laws of physics as we know them cannot explain it, and yet we accept it. So what's the problem with Dr. Rowan Williams? You can claim that the universe has always existed, if you want, on the other hand, but if you do that -- if you say that the universe has always existed -- now you're violating the next most important law in science, which is the second law of thermodynamics, which says that everything is running down and wearing out...

Therefore, here's the bottom line: Whether he knows it or not (and this is the key point here for the Archbishop of Canterbury), his very existence is a miracle, as is all of ours a miracle. That is, it cannot be explained by modern science. By the way, the Archbishop of Canterbury also said the nativity scene is a "legend." Not real, just a legend. So for those of you out there who feel compelled to take some of your Christian beliefs, discard the miracles, and replace them with modern science and thereby invent a new religion, go right ahead -- and if this is what Dr. Rowan Williams wants to do, if he wants to throw out the things in Christianity that he just can't explain in his "superior mind," go ahead, Dr. Williams. But just don't call it Christianity. You are distorting and debasing it. Call it whatever you want. Call it Williamsism. I don't care what you call it, but do not call it Christianity. When you start cherry-picking things that you want, cherry-picking things that your superior mind says you can't possibly accept because stars don't stop; there's no virgin both, and nobody can rise from the dead, fine. Go base your own religion on that; find the flock that you want, but don't call it Christianity.


Read the Background Material:

UK Times: It's All a Christmas Tall Story
FOX: Archbishop of Canterbury Dismisses Nativity Scene as Nothing but 'Legend'

Monday, December 17, 2007

Stinky

video
Here are some of Rose's videos of Little Mark and the kids.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spiders

A few weeks ago I ran across a series of books in the library about spiders. Each book was dedicated to a single spider, or type of spider. I checked out all that were available: The Garden Spider, The Wolf Spider, The Black Widow, and The Brown Recluse. They were easy to read, so I was hoping to gain some knowledge for myself, while entertaining and educating Max and LMark, who will pick up any bug without prejudice or fear.

When I was pregnant with Ella I was bitten on my leg by a brown recluse. I didn't see it, but the bullseye-looking wound it produced was characteristic of that type of spider. I had to take a higher dose of antibiotics than doctors typically give a pregnant woman. I also had to keep my leg elevated with a heating pad on the bite for a week, while changing the bandage and medicating the wound three times a day. Fortunately (other than Ella's extraordinary climbing and crime-fighting skills) there were no lingering effects of the spider bite.

According to a Ukranian and a Serbian I know, if you find a spider in your house it means you are going to have a guest soon. Presumably you are not supposed to squish it. If you do it means you will be a bad host. So, for the sake of my Slavic friends, I have made every attempt to avoid squishing spiders I find in my home. Rather, I try to transfer them to the outdoors via Kleenex.

As we were inserting the branches into the trunk of our fake Christmas tree last week, I noticed a spider dangling from one of the plastic holes. It had all of the characteristics of a black widow--except the red hour glass on its back. The hour glass shape on this spider's back was cream-yellow.

While checking out the spider books from the library put me in the position to learn about black widows, it would have been better if I had read them. If I had read them I would have been certain of this spider's identity, instead of waffling between the question of being a good hostess or certain injury.

I was fairly sure what this spider was, so I opted for cautiousness and began educating the children on the characteristics of a black widow--at a safe distance.

Rose heard me from the kitchen and joined us. Using an authoritative tone of voice she only saves for special occasions, she said, "Mom, black widows are not web-spiders. They're jumping spiders."

I looked at her doubtfully. "Rose, I'm pretty sure this is a black widow, even though the hour glass is yellow."

She defended her position manfully. I finally said, "Honey, go look in the book."

We watched the spider with mingled fear and awe.

Rose returned, "Mom, you're right. It's a web spider."

Margaret had already returned with a shoe--not a Kleenex.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sparkly Tears

Yesterday we went to our homeschool Girl Scout meeting. We were right on time, but I had forgotten that there was supposed to be the mother-daughter Christmas tea. The girls and I were brushed and clean, so I wasn't worried on that front, but it meant I couldn't run errands.

Just as we were getting out Margaret says, "I forgot my shoes." Usually this happens in the summer because they run around without shoes everywhere, but rarely in mid-December. But the weather is unseasonably warm (high 70s this week). So we had to go home and get them. I couldn't send Ella into the mother-daughter tea without her mother, so she came home with us.

One of the girl scouts has dairy, egg, and tea allergy, so her mother made the food and arranged for us to have non-dairy cakes and non-dairy hot cocoa. One cake was choclate and the other was pink. It was moist and yummy. I need to get the recipe.

We made Christmas ornaments of hollow glass balls and glitter paint. We put the paint inside the balls, rolled them around, and then put them in a dixie cup to drain. They're very pretty, and each one of them is unique. Ella made one that looks like the planet earth.

We had to wait till we got home to put the top on with the ribbon. Ella was putting hers on, but wasn't pleased with the way it was working so she popped it out again. The paint was still wet, so when she popped it, a glob of glitter paint flew directly into my eye.

I took out my contacts and glitter was floating in the saline. I wiped my eyes and glitter was all over my fingers and face. I still have glitter in my tears this morning. I have had plenty of things get into my eyes, from bugs to hot pepper flakes, but I think glitter paint hurt the most.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Garments

Look, I entreat: a royal table is set before you, Angels minister at that table, the King Himself is there, and do you stand gaping? Are your garments defiled, and yet you make no account of it? – or are you clean? Then fall down and partake …You have sung the hymns with the rest; you have declared yourself to be of the number of those who are worthy, by not departing with those who are unworthy. Why stay and yet not partake of the table? I am unworthy, you will say. Then are you also unworthy of that communion you have had in prayers? For it is not by means of the offerings only, but also by means of those canticles that the Spirit descends all around …You are no more allowed to be here than the Catechumen is. For it is not all the same thing never to have reached the mysteries, as it is when you have reached them, to stumble at them and despise them, and to make yourself unworthy of this thing …So I may not then be the means of increasing your condemnation, I entreat you, not to forbear coming, but to render yourselves worthy both of being present, and of approaching …And what then is our hope of salvation? We cannot lay the blame on our weakness; we cannot lay it on our nature. It is indolence and nothing else that renders us unworthy. (St John Chrysostom; Homily III on Ephesians I)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christmas Magic

It was after Ella lost one of her teeth. Margaret said to her in a maturely, self-deprecatory tone, "I used to think that the Tooth Fairy and Saint Nicholas were married!!" Ella and she laughed heartily at their youthful, unenligtened ignorance.

I stood in stunned silence and still wonder what look I had on my face.

Then today Margaret asks: "Mama, if you see Santa Claus, does that mean he has to kill you?"
There was an error in this gadget