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Category: personal

current events

by Andrea Elizabeth

Though I am glad to give my eyes a break from continuous wear contact lenses, which I’ve worn for at around 15 years, and to have multi strength progressive lens glasses that enable better focus on close to mid range objects as I have developed presbyopia due to my advancing age, I am still finding the adjustment difficult. The lack of peripheral vision makes me feel sometimes like I am looking at the world  through a barred jail window. As a result of this and a stressful situation I am dealing with, I have had a back of the head and neck ache since last Saturday. It is briefly relieved by OTC pain relievers and heating pads, but I find watching moving objects on screens and reading to be particularly taxing and uncomfortable. Therefore I have not had as much to say here for a while. In addition, talking about other stressful things, like Osama, is not doing me much good either. I don’t even feel like venting about my situation. I am encouraged about a pleasant surprise in the midst of it all, but to talk about that would also bring up the other situation, which isn’t resolved and probably wont be for at least a couple of months.

So, I’m glad about our recent rain and how green things currently are. And I’m thankful for my family and friends. And I’ll say that I’m glad for the relief of gently read and sung Orthodox hymns that I’ll hopefully get to hear at St. Seraphim Cathedral tonight if my neck quits hurting enough for the long drive.

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Cleaning House

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m about 1/5 through sifting the more personal and opinionated, controversial and art review posts out of this blog, starting with my first posts from 2007. I’ve put some of them into a blogger blog, and just unpublished others. I’m keeping the ones that have to do with studying mainly Orthodox books, with some about philosophers like Plato and Derrida too. I’ll probably change the name while I’m at it as Shakespeare would fit better in the other blog.

A More Serious Part 2 to our Winter Vacation

by Andrea Elizabeth

Due to George’s sister’s baby’s baptism being moved up a Sunday earlier, George flew up to Erie on Saturday, Dec. 27th, two days before our six kids and I began our drive up. We already had lodging reservations for our return trip that we did not want to cancel, and felt that extending our trip by driving out on Christmas Day in order to make the baptism would be too stressful on our bank account, Kronk the Bearded Dragon and our friends keeping him, on Pippin the Corgi and the dog boarders, and on ourselves for being gone from home for 15 days instead of 12. Our new plans meant that I would be the sole parent on the way up, but with our eldest being 20 and our second eldest being 18 and a tag-team driver in the eldest’s car, I felt we could manage ok.

It ended up being the most segregated trip we have ever taken. Our van died this past year and we have been going to various places in two cars since then. On this trip, audible books and other paraphernalia made car swapping inconvenient so the boys stayed in theirs and I and my two daughters stayed in ours. Such also were the hotel arrangements of course. We made good time to Jackson, Tenn, crossing the Mississippi River just after dusk. In the flood plains preceding the river in the waning light we saw very interesting patterns of migrating birds in various rippling waves across the sky. Besides the pine trees of East Texas and Western Arkansas, they were the ascetic highlight of the day. Memphis’ city lights reflecting in the moody Mississippi can be tacked on to the next day in Orthodox fashion. The next morning we began our ascent into Tennessee’s Appalachian foothills. We approached Cincinnati after dark that night. I believe that is the most beautiful city at night that I have ever seen. After clearing the hill hiding its proximity, the road signs warn of a steep descent. This descent is into the Ohio River that boarders the city on its southern side. So again you have light framed buildings reflected in a mighty river, but the hills are more dramatic and the bridge leads directly into a tunnel through the hill on the other side. Both cars called each other to express our state of awe.

We drove on through Columbus to get an early start to visit Maxim at the Greek Archdiocese’s Saint Gregory Palamas Monastery between Columbus and Cleveland. We awoke to a newly snow-covered landscape that stayed with us all through the week. We had arranged to be at the monastery for lunch as it was not far out of the way on New Years Eve before we reached our destination at George’s parents’ house in Erie. Father Joseph greeted us very warmly, then we met the scholarly and affable Maxim who was visiting through the holidays. We spoke of Father Seraphim Rose, whose spiritual child, Father Ambrose, had been connected with that monastery. I told him I had brought my book on Father Seraphim’s life by Hieromonk Damascene, and that I had felt there was some sort of connection of his with that place. During the meal he sat with the monks, and the kids and I had a table to ourselves while a monk read a Scripture and a Patristic teaching on Christ’s consubstantiality with the Father, if memory serves. They are on the “New Calendar” by order of the Archdiocese, so we had delicious chicken spaghetti and a green salad with beets and grapefruit. I enjoyed the peacefulness of that meal very much. After visiting a bit longer and being shown the Church, we headed north and east to complete our trip and be reunited with George.

We had a lovely time with George’s parents, brother, two sisters, their spouses, and the passel of cousins, as I have briefly described below. The next Sunday we visited the “Old Believer’s” Church of the Nativity in Erie. I had been somewhat prepared by reading Father John Whiteford’s posts on this same Church when he visited for a conference this past year. I did not have a white head covering so I wore the Russian made black one I bought on the Alaskan Cruise ship last year, and the girls wore other colorful ones that George had bought for me. We stood on the left side of the Church with the other ladies. Though it seemed very reverential, I regretted not being able to see any of the faces of those who stood in front of me. I also noted that there were female readers, that the female choir members outnumbered the men, and there was a woman, maybe the choir director with the men choir members on “their side”. But I can see how having such segregation would engender bonding among the women, and perhaps less attention seeking from men. I was however glad to be reunited with George at the end and to have someone to share the responsibility of our two youngests, who are girls.

Before the service, a kind gentleman allowed me to use his prayer book to help me along. We were there in time for The Hours which were read pretty quickly, so I was glad to read along to catch more of the words. Other than that the service was pretty much the same as our OCA service but with slightly different translations of some words. The chanting was not the four part harmony with Russian music as we have in our parish, but Znamenny Chant, which is “a Russian refinement of the Byzantine neumatic musical notation”. It sounded pretty foreign and a little “moany” to my untrained ears, but at one point midway through the service, a soloist sang in a very gentle, light way that caused the whole Church to listen with increased stillness and silence. It was a special moment.

After the service, Father Simon very warmly welcomed us and explained how the Old Rite had separated from the Church in Russia when Peter the Great introduced western innovations into some of the practices, including the adopting of the New Calendar. (By the way, they were still in the Nativity Season so it was nice not to leave Christmas so soon since we had to leave home so close after it.) He went on to say that some of the Old Believers during the time of the separation were too fanatical about form, but if you want to know how Orthodoxy was practiced from the Baptism of Russia in 988 until the 17th Century, they had preserved it. He showed us how they hold up different fingers when making the Sign of the Cross and the different style of his prayer rope which Father John depicts in his blog linked above. When I asked him to please return the prayer book to the kind gentleman, he said I could keep it. I treasure The Prayers in their words.

We had to pack and get on the road, so we didn’t stay for coffee hour, but related that we hoped to on our next visit which we agreed would not be soon enough. A family of eight makes a nice addition to a small Orthodox parish. I wonder sadly though how long we will be a family of eight with three of our sons off to college and then God knows where.

After a prolonged meal with George’s dear family and sad goodbyes, we departed south in the rain which by the time we reached West Virginia, had completely melted the snow. Farewell winter! We stayed in a town just over the border and next morning made our way to Holy Cross Hermitage , a Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia monastery for Vespers in Wayne, W.V. We called on the way over and were told that the monks eat at 4:30 before Vespers. We arrived at 5pm in order to get settled before the service and were greeted by Father Sergius who handles guest relations. We asked him to please go ahead and eat his dinner, but he insisted on giving us a tour anyway. Both monasteries were nicely rustic, but Holy Cross has a more secluded feel due to its isolation, closer hills, and taller trees. We were there two days before their Calendar Christmas, so we enjoyed an augmented Vespers and Matins with Nativity Hymns. We have their Nativity CD which is sung in English in Byzantine chant as are their services. It was nicer in person. Microphones somehow decrease my enjoyment of Orthodox music. The emphasis changes from a space being filled with praise, to the soloist themselves. I much prefer the former.During this service the women were separated from the men and wore head coverings as well. There is a nun who lives on the premises and another frequently visiting lady, so the girls and I followed what they did and made up the end of the line behind them to the venerate the icons and get blessed by their three priests. It was a lovely candlelight service and I had never been in such a line that venerated every icon around the whole Church. The one of St. John of San Francisco stood out to me the most.

After the service, Father Sergius gave us each a homemade cross from the Holy Land, a piece of frankincense – he had earlier showed us how it is made into incense – and a picture of the Port Arthur icon depicting how the Theotokos had intervened in the Russian war with Japan. We received a blessing from the Abbot, Father Seraphim, and went on our way to the lovely Pipestem State Park with their woodsy mountain cottage, which accomodates eight people, and stayed the next two rainy nights and a day before returning home again by way of Jackson, Tennessee. Another chronological sidestep, my third in this post I believe: after leaving Pipestem Wednesday morning covered by a clearing but windy sky, through two mountain tunnels, John Denver sent me on my way with Country Roads and Sweet Surrender.

So that is how I came to appreciate head coverings, standing with women, and Byzantine Chant.

I Am Back

by Andrea Elizabeth

Hello again, Dear Reader. It is indeed good to be home. Please pardon the coyness of my last post, but I was at a loss as to how write about being gone without putting our house and home in jeopardy by publicly declaring, or at least implying it empty of human guardianship for almost two weeks. There is a paper trail that despite my best intentions of concealing it, could lead someone of ill-intentions to our home address.

At the outset of this post, let me say that the last three days of driving across the country accompanied almost exclusively by a delightful audible version of David Copperfield has not left me unaffected. I regret to say that despite an ardent determination to complete the tale upon our arrival to this humble abode, 30 minutes remain unheard and will have to wait until errands are run today. But writing will not have to wait any longer! I have in my mind composed many versions of the goings on of the last few days and I have no doubt that what will actually be set forth in this account will differ significantly, as what I post is usually unpredictable to me if not to you.

I will attempt to be chronological, but a couple of themes have also presented themselves to me in a priatorial light. Finding secrets very difficult to keep concealed, including the obviousness of my taking a trip, my attempts notwithstanding, I will go ahead and spill the proverbial beans ahead of time by saying I now prefer head coverings, male-female segregation in Church, and shocker of shockers, if not to you but to me, is my acquiring a taste for Byzantine Chant and Draft Dark Beer! But you can’t stand beer, you may say. I know! I have barely been able to let the least little sip of it pass my lips my whole entire life! I have tried many brands and types, even Guinness Extra Stout, but have felt they all tasted like carbonated dish water. Sweetened wine coolers have been tolerable to me since my early adult days, and more recently Sangria, Zinfandel, dessert wines and Port have been emptied from my glass at restaurants, and most recently dry wine and Vodka mixed with Seven-Up have found their place in my repertoire. But the unpalatability of Beer was maintained right through New Years Eve at my gracious brother-and sister-in-law’s (brother and sister’s-in-law?) house when I turned up my nose after a sip of Bud Light and returned to my delicious Seagram’s Margarita wine cooler. I need also mention that the nightly whiskey shots begun that night grew substantially on me, but I file that under Vodka which is a completely different story that I wont divert to now. All this to say that maybe it was the warm cozy company and the atmosphere of the Ski Lodge at the Peek’n Peak after a lovely time of snow tubing provided by another gracious sister-in-law that did the trick. Thawing out over pizza and draft beer (graciously provided by yet another sister-and brother-in-law) while watching out the huge wall window while the skiers descended the very nearby slope in the dark was what it took to get me to relax enough to let go of my prejudiced inhibitions and enjoy the best that genre has to offer. I do not know if I’ll take to the can after this, but maybe I’ll be able to get past the first sip.

I was going to be chronological, but now feel I should leave the rest to a future post(s).

My age has finally caught up with me.

by Andrea Elizabeth

Yesterday, as I made my way from unloading groceries onto the conveyor belt to reloading the bags back into my cart, the young man scanning and bagging my items said, “I bet you’re really looking forward to getting out of here.”

“Oh, I’m resigned to my weekly trips to Walmart.”

“I’m off tomorrow.”

“Yay, Friday off! That should be fun.”

“I’m going to go see Saw 5.”

“What’s that? I’m not really up on new releases.”

And here’s the kicker, he calmly and good naturedly said, “Most older people don’t like it.”

I was so impressed, relieved and amused at his honesty. Just say it like it is.

He continued, “The Saw movies are about lots of people dying and what they would do to stay alive. Younger people are desensitized to violence.”

“You’re right and perceptive to say that I wouldn’t like it.” But trying to sound with-it, I said, “I did watch the new Batman movie and noted that Joker tried to create situations to test what people would do to stay alive, usually involving choosing their own lives or their family’s.”

“Well this is more about what you would do to yourself”, and he proceeded to describe gruesome things people had to do to themselves to try to get away.

Genuinely amused and enjoying his candor, I said, “Oh, like that guy in the news who had his arm pinned by a rock in the middle of nowhere and had to saw it off to get away.” I was a nurse after all, I can handle it.

“Well this one guy had chain links going through his lip [….]”

“Yeah, that’s worse. Wow, you could have a pretty intense day if you watched all five movies in one sitting.” Why not just wallow in it? Don’t do anything half-way, I say. “We watched all three Lord of the Rings movies in one day one time.”

“You know what’s more intense? Watching all six Star Wars movies in one day. I did it once to show my friends I’d really do it.”

“And those are pretty long movies.”

“My girlfriend likes the Saw movies too and she’s mad that I’m going to see it tomorrow without her.”

“That could have been a fun date.”

And now wanting to distance myself from his affinity for gruesomeness, albeit justified in his mind by how the victims needed to be taught a lesson as they did not appreciate life enough, I said, “I don’t even let my kids play first-person shooter games.”

“How old are they?”

“I have three in college.”

“Oh, you know they’re playing them anyway.” They aren’t because they don’t get out much. I even checked when they got home last night, but Ben had heard of the Saw movies through conversations with enthusiastic college kids. Ben started to tell me the plot when I told him the check out guy already had, and that I was sure what he told me was more horrible than what he’d heard. His eyes perked up in anticipation, “That OLDER people (like me!) wouldn’t like it.”

“Ooooooooooh! That really bites.”

Next time I’m going to wear my makeup to Walmart.

A Black Widow, Compost and Whole Wheat Bread

by Andrea Elizabeth

While retrieving the shovel for to mix the compost, I discovered that a medium sized black spider with a bulbous body was trying to avoid being noticed by alternating to the other side of my shovel while I turned it to get a better look. I finally shook “her” off onto the driveway and hit her with the shovel. She sat deathly still so I thought the deed was done without two much damage to enable closer examination, as her body was still bulbous. So I found a piece of cardboard and a paintbrush to scoop her up and then she quickly moved toward me, even when I altered my escape route. So I covered her with the card board and hit her harder. Unfortunately she flattened a bit and got stuff on her underbelly, obscuring the tell-tale red markings. I brought her in the house and my kids confirmed that they saw the red spot, which I couldn’t see until I moved some guts over. And there it was! A real dead black widow.

While mixing the brown material (leaves) with the green material (vegetable kitchen scraps), my son and I noticed that the compost didn’t writhe and squirm like it used to do. Ben thought maybe the it was too dry for the meal worms(?) But I noticed that the compost was degraded so something must be doing it’s work, and upon closer inspection we noticed that long skinny bugs were crawling all over the places between the crushed oak leaves and dark compost material. My how they’d grown!

Later this afternoon I baked my second batch of whole wheat bread. I enjoyed my morning slices warmed with butter and topped with orange marmelade so much this week that I made some more. It rose this afternoon perched over the upright deep freeze and then I baked it in the oven made hot by warming frozen cheese pizza. Baby steps.

Oh, and I have a second tomato growing!

I concede, gardening is better – so far

by Andrea Elizabeth

Especially if you have help.

While I was at Walmart buying the lovely tomato, jalopeno, bell pepper, mint, okra, and chive plants that you see here from left to right, top to bottom, my sons looked up the box gardening site and made me this frame and lined the bottom. You can see the contrast between the Miracle Grow Garden Dirt for Vegetables which I thought matched Mel’s Mix closely enough, and our total clay native-to-the side-and-back-yard soil. The more elevated front is sandy for some reason. I tried to mix the clay in a little, but the gloopy globs would not give in, so George picked me up some more MGGDfV at Walmart on his way home to make up the difference. I think it could still use another bag. So far this garden has cost $50, not counting the lumber and liner we already had. I hope it will yield enough delicious fresh, natural vegetables to make it worth while.

I probably overcrowded it and will have to thin it out later. I also wonder about the tomatoes having enough depth, the soil they came with which had roots sticking out of it only has a thin layer of MGGDfV under it. We couldn’t tell if the boxes had bottoms so we lined it with weed preventative liner that I had laying around. And now I just found that if you put it over grass, all you need is cardboard or newspaper between, which would have bio-degraded. Oops. This year is experimental, I’ll fix it next year if there’s a problem. I started a compost pile a number of months ago that may be ready to use by next year too.

I didn’t time how much direct sun it gets. In that location to the side of my house, it will get at least a few hours of afternoon sun. It is also right next to our limestone wall and concrete driveway which I think will reflect extra rays. At my previous pecan tree shaded house the extra Texas heat and reflection from the white sided walls provided enough radiation for my tomatoes and okra. Seeing the already budding yellow tomato flowers yesterday brought back memories.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have had some disappointments in my previously idyllic neighborhood. George and I moved here eight years ago from the central part of town because we outgrew my 30’s era, quaint wood-floored but one bathroomed home, and loved the out of town, rural environment, with its very small, quiet, one entrance neighborhood where everyone has at least an acre, and which is surrounded by ranches and hills. We got a great deal on our home as the previous owner had built it just before his wife left him. He was disillusioned with his dream-life/home, and behind on his taxes, so he pretty much sold it for cost to keep the IRS from seizing his profits.

But then they built a huge shopping center on the main highway which increased traffic on our ranch roads, as well as increasing the light pollution at night. We used to see a lot of stars. And more recently, one of the ranches adjoining our neighborhood sold its 45 acres to be developed for housing. My heart ached as I heard the bulldozers, in orcish fashion, cracking down groaning, longstanding oak trees behind our property. At least each custom designed house will be spread out on acre lots, and the front entrance has a nice, but faux, wooden ranch fence.

I mentioned last week that we were starting to take walks out on the ranch road. It was pretty nerve-wracking to be forced to walk in the culvert to avoid the traffic which I hadn’t realized had increased so much on a nearby road. There is a lot of natural gas drilling going on in our surrounding counties and the amount of loud trucks that it takes to haul the drilling materials is ridiculous. They’re going to have to repave all our roads, which will need to be widened when they’re through because of the new super bright shopping centers and car dealerships.

But maybe it wouldn’t be too compromising to find an unexpected boon. Yesterday we decided to walk the other direction and ended up walking through the newly paved road loop of the new, but still houseless, neighborhood. By the way, there are some aggressive dogs in our neighborhood, and the teenagers who ran over our sweet dog (Punkin, not Pippin) live there so I haven’t enjoyed walking our neighborhood for a while. We don’t stay on the heavily trucked road for very long if we cut into the new neighborhood, and the cleared land still has some trees on it and the view of the nice, rolling property is much better from the inside. And it makes the mile walk much safer. Hopefully we will get some nice neighbors who have good taste in building who will keep the walk enjoyable. I wish ranch roads were more pedestrian friendly because I’d rather walk amid the cows, goats, horses and donkeys along that route, if it were as peaceful as these pictures show.

4995 Tune-ins

by Andrea Elizabeth

Thanks to everyone for listening. Today I posted my heart on my other blog if you care to hear that too.

Another Nativity Fast Reflection

by Andrea Elizabeth

Even though I’m seeing my sin as more serious and am patting it on the head less, I still notice, especially in rereading what I wrote, that I have anger issues surrounding how I feel I have been hurt. Forgiveness is a complex thing. I don’t want to be in denial of real problems, mine or theirs, or tolerate these problems to the extent of passive acceptance. Wading through discernment, honesty, mercy, righteous indignation, judgementalism, codependence, and unrealistic expectations requires the balance of a tight-rope walker. Self esteem is a whole nother issue. Humility is looking at myself realistically and honestly, though seeing people through the lens of the past, present, and future are all legitimate viewpoints, though the third is meant for trained professionals.

Mainly I think I need to lower my expectations and blaming of others. For one reason, who am I to judge them. I need to work out my own salvation. I don’t think I should just put up with everything, but instead of aggressively confronting what I perceive as an offense, to me, God, my kids, husband, or other people I feel are being hurt, I think I’m seeing that withdrawal is usually called for. I can withdraw without condemning or even being sure that they are wrong and I am right. It’s just giving the situation some space until peace can happen. And who knows if peace will ever happen in close proximity with them ever again whether it’s my fault, their fault, or nobody’s fault. But forcing a situation too violently will bring post-traumatic stress (my amateur diagnosis), and after 40 years, it can make a person pretty jittery. I think proximities can be made closer, looking from the point of view of me being the withdrawer, if genuine love or truth seeking is sensed by my fallible self. I am too shell-shocked and cannot tolerate pressure where I feel I am being manipulated or guilted into taking care of a person who wants more from me than I can or should give, which is my working definition of co-dependence.

I have withdrawn a lot over the years since Isaac died. Some blame my withdrawal on Orthodoxy, but it started before that, not that I ever was a highly social person. But all the same, I have found myself being particularly needy to people in certain specific situations. I don’t want to analyze what I have been looking for, part of which I talked about in my last post, but I think there’s more to it than just romantic fantasy, but if feels like naval gazing and giving too much credit to Freud to analyze it further. Point is, I’m trying to transfer that certain neediness to God and not “put my [hope and] trust in princes and the sons of men”, though I still believe in the intercessions of the Saints, the common man, and donkeys for that matter. I’m just trying to be less graspy about them, and see them in a more Incarnational way, but not possessively. God’s will be done, and to Him be all glory, honor, and power, not that He doesn’t synergistically share it with others, now and ever and unto ages of ages, amen.