December 30, 2012

Something sweet for the new year

Growing up, these yummy little squares were featured fairly prominently on the potluck and special dessert rotation. This is my Mater's recipe -- I believe that it came originally from a Mennonite cookbook.

They take a bit of time to bake but are super quick to put together. It's a great dessert to pop into the oven right before you sit down to dinner so that they're nice and warm when you're ready for dessert!


Butterscotch Squares

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts, or oats
1 tsp vanilla

Melt butter and blend with sugar; add egg and beat vigorously.

Combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.

Add chopped nuts and vanilla.

Spread dough into greased 8x8" pan.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

Cut into squares while still warm.

December 29, 2012

Please tell me you're kidding

So I read a lot of blogs, and some of them are on tumblr -- and because I can't figure out how to comment on tumblr without having an account, I'll just rant here a bit.

Ok, here is the post (bowdlerizing mine):
yesterday i was hanging out with a friend of mine who i really like and we were talking about the hobbit (he’s seen it, i haven’t)

and we were talking about the movie and the book and etc. and i mentioned how disappointed i was that there weren’t any female characters in the book (and therefore likely not in the movie)

and this friend of mine was like “well it’s not like it’s EXPLICIT that there are no women”

and it’s just like

your barometer is so [expletive]

[expletive] [expletive] i should not have to try this hard to find a character to identify with in your series

i should not have to rely on “well the author doesn’t explicitly say ‘THERE ARE NO FEMALE DWARVES’ so i mean, that means there’s probably AT LEAST ONE, SOMEWHERE, and so he’s not a misogynist!!1”

just….. what? are you being serious right now?

ESPECIALLY when the companion series has a seven to one male to female character ratio and all of the female characters are ultimately super [expletive] disappointing

i’m not saying you can’t like tolkien/lotr/the hobbit/whatever,

i’m just saying let’s not pretend it’s not a [expletive] problematic series if you happen to be a woman

(or a person of colour! but i’m not even gonna get into that)

This kind of thing makes me tired.

A short quiz for the post author:

1) Imagine that I change your summary to read "i mentioned how disappointed i was that there weren’t any male characters in the book" and "the companion series has a seven to one female to male character ratio and all of the male characters are ultimately super [expletive] disappointing":

a) Would there still be a problem here? Or would you just assume you were reading, say, Judy Blume?

b) If you don't have a problem with a 7-to-1 female/male ratio or "super ... disappointing" male characters in a novel or movie, please elaborate: why is it only a problem the other way around?


2) Regarding the term "problematic series", please explain:

a) Why does the inclusion or exclusion of a certain demographic make a series "problematic"?

b) Seriously, what do you mean by "problematic"? Does it hurt you? Does it hurt women? Is it problematic to write about men? Are men problematic?


3) Regarding "i should not have to try this hard to find a character to identify with in your series", please explain:

a) Is the author ethically, morally, or otherwise obligated to include a character of any particular demographic in his or her novel, regardless of whether said character fits into the story he or she wishes to tell?

b) Would you really rather have a character of a particular demographic included in a story for the sake of including a character of that demographic? Isn't that what we call "token characters"?

c) If part of the draw of fiction, especially of the science fiction or fantasy variety, is the ability to encounter and empathize with characters who are not like us, is it possible that you're missing the point?

d) If we're only relating to characters based on their surface characteristics (race, sex, etc.) rather than on their interior characteristics (personality, emotions, etc.), isn't that bit on the shallow side? Not to mention the racist/sexist side which you are trying so hard to position yourself against?

e) If you find it impossible to identify with characters who aren't just like you, is that the author's problem, or yours?


December 22, 2012

This is the way the world ends

... not with a bang, but a snowstorm. 

Well, as we all know, the world didn't come to an end yesterday -- go figure -- but we still got walloped with a wonderfully-huge dump of snow yesterday. This is great for me; we don't have a car, but I do have great big snow boots, and as far as I'm concerned, the more white stuff on the ground the better. I am a creature of winter, like a cardinal... or a yeti...

This afternoon Stan and I will be taking the train to my parents' house for Christmas with the (extended) fam. I'm pretty excited; I've seen my family a few times in the last year as they've come up to visit us, but I haven't actually been home since last Christmas. Happy day!

The big drawback, though? Where my parents live, the winters are weaksauce. The first year I was living here in Rivertown, I went back for Christmas in The City and I wore my big winter boots -- because we had snow here. But there wasn't snow in The City, and so I was stuck in gigantoid boots as I tramped the bare pavement... like a dork.  

The weather conversation with my Vater yesterday went something like this:

Christine: Yeah, we're getting a foot of snow today! Is there snow where you are?

Vater: They're saying we might get some flurries overnight....

Sad, I tell you. Sad. 

December 17, 2012

Things I never get tired of

1. Eating pomegranate seeds (juicy rubies you can crush between your teeth!)

2. Watching the way the wind blows snowdrifts over a frozen river

3. The way that a dried-up sponge expands when water hits it

4. Stomping around in great big winter boots

5. Wrapping Christmas presents just so

6. Spontaneous toddler hugs

7. Fart jokes

December 15, 2012

Easy, yummy oatmeal bread

Stan is out of town on a business trip at the moment, which means that I had a whole Saturday morning to myself. So I thought I'd make bread! This is one of my favourite recipes. It makes a dense, sweet oat bread that's perfect for toast and great for sandwiches. I like to eat it slathered in butter. (Though who am I kidding? I like to eat anything slathered in butter. Heck, I just like eating butter.)

The amounts listed below are enough for two loaves.


Ingredients:

1 cup oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp salt
2 Tbsp canola oil
2 cups boiling water
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
5 cups white flour

Combine oats, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, salt, and oil in large bowl. Add boiling water and stir.

In a separate bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add to large bowl when the boiling water has cooled to lukewarm. Stir in white flour.

When dough is stiff enough to handle, turn onto floured board and knead 5-10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled. Punch down, divide, and let rise in 2 greased loaf pans.

Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes. Cool on rack.

A few notes:

1. You're not going to get much height on your second rise. Like as I said, these loaves end up short and dense.

2. It can take a while to get all the white flour incorporated into the liquids. Persevere. Adding it one cup at a time helps a lot.

December 14, 2012

PSA: Please excuse this superfluousity of posts

Ok, so I'm importing a blog that I used to write, just so all of my archives are in one place, and I notice that every! single! post! is being grabbed by my rss reader... even though they're all 3-5 years old, they're only counted as being "published" now.

If you're seeing all of my ancient posts popping up, I apologize. I'm not a spam-bot! Carry on with your lives!

We are getting out of debt, and it is doable

When Stan and I got married we realised that we were facing a combined debt load of nearly $50,000. It had multiple sources; some was student loans, some was credit cards, some was personal debt and a string of questionable decisions. But however it got there, there it was: $47,000 in owed money, give or take a few hundreds here and there.

That's a lot of debt for anyone. That's especially a lot of debt for a young couple just starting out. And it would be easy to look at a number like that and become paralysed. Despair is easy! Big numbers are scary! Et cetera!

But instead, we are getting out of debt. We are getting out of debt and it is doable. It takes hard work and discipline, but it is totally doable. I calculated yesterday that in the nine or so months since we got married, we've paid down over $23,000 of that debt. That's not really halfway because of interest (dang you, interest!) but it's incredible progress!

Not only that, but we're saving $500-625 a month while paying that debt down.

Here are things that are working for us:

1. We treat debt repayment as a fixed expense. It's awfully hard to get out of debt if you wait until the end of the month to see if there's any money left to put toward it. We treat debt repayment the same way we treat paying the rent and giving our tithe: no matter what, that money is going to be used for its intended purpose. Every month we repay about $1150 on our loans. If we have to wait on other purchases, so be it. If we skip eating out, so be it. Debt repayment is a fixed expense.

2. We negotiated with our bank for lower interest rates. This is something that you can just do! We've done it for credit cards and we've done it for the line of credit. It never hurts to call your bank and ask for a lower rate. And if you're paying less interest, you're taking bigger chunks out of your principal. Hooray!

3. We repay as much as we can afford over the minimum amount. Our bank automatically debits our chequing account for the minimum amount due on the line of credit each month. Once that happens, we top it up with an extra payment, so that our monthly payment amount on the line is $900. That extra payment is applied directly to the principal, and it really helps us whittle down the amount we owe.

4. We don't treat dividends as spending money. Any time that extra money comes in -- wedding gifts, bonuses from work, tax returns, etc. -- that money is put directly onto the line of credit. As above, these extra payments get applied directly to the principal. Yay!

5. Savings: we set 'em and forget 'em. For a while we were trying to remember to set aside money for savings every month, and some months we'd remember, while other months... not so much. While we were trying to treat savings as another "fixed expense", it wasn't really working. Then Stan hit on the (brilliant) idea of setting up an automated savings plan with our savings bank. Now every Wednesday $125 gets automatically moved from our chequing account to our savings account -- that means we're putting away $5-600 dollars depending how many Wednesdays there are in the month. It's really encouraging to see our savings growing so steadily, and amazingly we've found that we don't really miss that extra money. (We save with ING; if you're considering opening an account, consider using our referral key -- 15769833S1 -- and we'll both get a bonus!)

Now, obviously this isn't always a walk in the park. Stan and I are fortunate in that we're both working full time right now, and so there's enough money coming in that we can make some pretty big strides here. This can be harder if you're a couple with one income, or you're in school, or what have you... but take heart. Getting out of debt is doable. And when it finally happens, it's going to feel amazing.

December 11, 2012

In what non-hygienic world is this a good idea?

Goober, at snack the other day:

1) Picked up his yogourt and sneezed on it.

2) Put down his yogourt. Picked up his spoon and sneezed on it.

3) Picked up his yogourt and proceeded to dig in, with gusto.

Sick toddlers are disgusting.

December 9, 2012

For your pleasure, edification, and delight...

After a pretty busy weekend, I'm a bit light on post material -- so here are some interesting things I've been reading lately:

How to Guard Sabbath for our Children -- now, Stan and I don't have children yet, but the principles laid out here are super sound. It's actually a good reminder to us to work on guarding Sabbath for ourselves now.

The Curse of Low Parenting Expectations for Teens -- Again, we're not parents, and so it's funny how much time I spend reading parenting articles... goes with the job, maybe! This is a fantastic post by the equally fantastic Sheila Wray Gregoire. I think that my parents had pretty high expectations for me, and that definitely helped me to set high expectations for myself. I hope to be able to provide the same sort of framework for my children one day.

Inherited Memories in Organ Transplant Recipients -- True? I don't know. Fascinating? Heck yes.

Your Beautiful Eyes -- This is a gallery of super-close-up pictures of people's eyes and they're crazy beautiful, and also just plain craaaaaazy. Highly magnified pictures of body parts kind of freak me out a bit, but these are amazing.

Man Travels England Licking Anglican Cathedrals -- is anyone surprised that this was to win a bet?

December 7, 2012

Friday evening thankfulnesses

A while ago, following the example of Ann Voskamp, I decided to start writing down a list of things that I am thankful for. You know, attitude of gratitude!, and all that (I feel as if that phrase always ends with an exclamation point whether warrented or not). As promised, I did actually notice a change in my internal habits of thought -- and perhaps a lessening of my cases of the grumples -- as I tried to intentionally notice God's small gifts all around me. It was good.

Like most of the habits I try to start, however, this practice fell by the wayside after too short a time, and the special little notebook I bought rattled its lonely way around my purse for some weeks without being pulled out. But I think that it's time to start being thankful again. I need to be reminded.

Here are some of today's thankfulnesses:

- This morning I put out the nativity set, as a surprise for Stan when he got home. I'm thankful that Christmas is coming.

- Yesterday Goober said his first complete interrogative sentence: "What is this?". The twins have expressive language delays and so it's really encouraging when they make strides like that.

- Tonight I got home from a singalong performance of Handel's Messiah, which is my all-time favourite piece of music in the world ever -- both to listen to and to sing. It was amazing to sing it with hundreds of other people. The soloists were very good this year, particularly the alto, and I had a great time. I'm thankful for singing, and for music, and for Handel, and that I was able to get off work early so that I could make it to the rehearsal on time!

Things I'm not as grateful for:

It's Christmas (well, almost), which means Christmas decorations, which of course means bringing out our favourite ornaments from our separate pasts (this being our first Christmas and all), which means that Stan has gotten out his creepy, creepy nutcrackers. Although he's kindly placed them facing away from the bed, I just realised that this means that they're just watching me in the mirror. They are CREEPING me OUT, honey.

He just whispered that they're plotting against me. Thanks, babe! I'll sleep well tonight!

December 4, 2012

Om nom nom, brownies!

I made brownies at work with the kiddos today, and they turned out so well that I copied out the recipe to take home. The cookbook was one of those church-published jobbies (by the Main Centre Mennonite Brethren Church, in bustling Main Centre, Saskatchewan -- last reported census population zero). The recipe looked pretty good on its own, but I can't leave well enough alone, and so I include my modifications in italics, below:

Best Brownies

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup melted butter
2 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch salt
chocolate chips

Mix all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips together in a bowl. Spread batter into a greased 9x9 pan (or smaller if you'd like thicker brownies) and sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake at 350F until done, about 25 minutes in a metal pan or 30 in glass. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

I made these with nuts at work and without at home -- yes, they were so good I made them twice today -- and they are equally decadent in either form. The cinnamon pairs beautifully with the cocoa, and I'm surprised that more recipes don't use them together. Note that these are a bugger to get out of the pan, even when it's greased; maybe more flour would fix it? If not, feel free to do like I do and eat the pan-scrapings with a spoon.

Enjoy!

November 30, 2012

We mustn't forget beard research

Friday's seven quick takes, hosted by Conversion Diary

1. I realised a little while ago that because this is our first Christmas together, Stan and I have zero tree ornaments or other decorations. This sent me into a small flurry of sewing, as I had the bright idea to use some of my fabric scraps to make ornaments. I pinned, cut circles, sewed them together, turned them inside out, stuffed them, sewed them shut, and then spent some time contemplating how difficult it is to sew stuffed circles. A number of them look more like the little ghosts from Pac-Man, and at least one distinctly resembles Australia.

Stan came home from work one night to find me sewing the benighted things closed.

"What are you making?" quoth he.

"I'm making... Christmas... blobs."

2. Goober and Goobrette are now two and a half, just about, and their vocabulary is starting to pick up. Specifically, they're really starting to get the hang of body parts. Last night I overheard Goober playing with his little playmobile people: "Man! Penis! Man! Penis! Man! Penis!"

3. I recently stumbled across a neat little programme that solves the problem of turning your laptop on at night and your eyeballs immediately wanting to die from the horrible blue glare. Flux actually changes the temperature of light that your screen emits throughout the day, making it bluer in the morning/daytime, and much warmer at night (if you plug in your longitude & latitude it'll track your local sunrise and sunset). It took about a day to get used to the night settings (it's all a bit pink-y) but now I love it. No more late-night eyestrain! Yay!

4. A week or two ago I bought a dress from a friend of mine, who buys hideous pieces of clothing from Value Village et al. and then upcycles them into cute things. She's pretty brilliant, and I love the dress, but maybe the best part is that I paid for it over paypal and neither of us have grown-up email addresses (you know, the kind with your actual name) linked to our paypal accounts. The line item on my credit card therefore reads "Paypal: WHIPPERHEAD".

5. I know that I talked about Ordinary Time in my last post, but I'm not over them so they get another mention. Go listen to track twelve and then try telling me that they're not amazing. Go on, I dare you. (Be sure to go to the end -- it starts to get super amazing just before the two-minute mark.)

6. Speaking of music, here's a dude singing a one-man medly arrangement of Les Mis:



(What I would give to have a range like that! Holy cow.)

7. I have a (bad?) habit of bookmarking virtually everything on the internet that catches my eye, and then never sorting out my bookmarks folder or visiting any of them ever again. Possibly I should delve into them more often, since I am missing out on such gems as Dorodango, Rock Paper Saddam, and Beard Research.

November 28, 2012

Music to live by

I have a tendency these days to get stuck on an album or two, and play them on constant repeat. Sometimes a particular mood or theme or what-have-you of a song or an album just fits my life so well that I become a little obsessed.

I'm okay with this. (Stan has yet to comment.)

Here are three albums I'm living by lately:

1. The Longing, by All Sons & Daughters. This was a birthday present from my maid of honour, which came with chocolate and tea and sympathy at a time when I desperately needed all of them. If you click through on the album link you can hear all of the tracks; there are only six, so it's only about twenty-some minutes long, but all of those minutes are pretty near perfect. Called Me Higher may be the best of the six.

2. In the Town of David, by Ordinary Time. This is the album that has me breaking my strict "no Christmas music before Advent" rule. A facebook post from a former priest of mine led me to their website, which sat neglected in an unopened tab for a week or two. But I finally had a listen (as above, you can hear the whole album off their website) and I was hooked. Their vocal harmonies are beautiful, and I love their renditions of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis, tracks 3 and 11, respectively. I've asked for this and their two other albums for Christmas.

3. Ghosts Upon the Earth, by Gungor. This was sort-of a present from two people: one put me on to Gungor in the first place, and the other (my roommate at the time) took a hint from my incessant grooveshark repetition and got me the physical album (as well as Beautiful Things) as a wedding gift. The blub on their website says this: For their third major release, Gungor has composed a concept album that celebrates the beauty of life even in the midst of darkness and pain. Starting with a startling musical imagining of the creation of the universe and traversing subjects like the “fall of man” and the imperfection of our religious systems, this album leads the listener through a roller coaster of emotion that eventually leads us back to wonder and thankfulness to this beautiful gift of life. I'm not totally sure what "concept album" means, but I can tell you that this is one to listen to all the way through with the lights off.


November 27, 2012

"My sleep Daddy my baby!"

Once again, the toddlers prove that understanding every word in a sentence doesn't necessarily lead to understanding the sentence.

June 9, 2012

Overheard at our house

"Should I ask why you're beating eggs in the bathroom?"

June 8, 2012

But it's summer and dishes are boring

Friday's seven quick takes, hosted by Conversion Diary.

1. I finally have a name at work, which came about a few days ago when Goober started calling me Mama. Uh, no, sweetheart. Not your mama. "Christine" is mega-hard for little mouths (especially little mouths with expressive language delays) and so we've compromised on Nana. Goobrette says Nanny, but Goober has rejected that option soundly... so Nana I am.

2. I dreamed last night that tiny black-and-yellow spiders were nesting under all of my finger- and toenails. Oddly enough, in the dream I wasn't so much concerned with that fact that this is supremely disgusting, but with the mild social embarrassment whenever one of them crawled out. Apparently tiny spiders were akin to acne; everyone's been there, so it's not a big deal, but you still don't want people to notice.

3. I realised a funny thing with how I got the job working for La Saucisse's parents. I didn't hand in a resume, or references, or anything like that, and I think it was only on my first day there that her mother grabbed my cell number. But in the neighbourhood I work in, I am my own reference. Parents see me at the park every day. If they want to know if I'm good with children or if I'd be a good fit for their family, they can just watch me and decide. This is both convenient and daunting.

4. I went to a women's retreat with my church last weekend. The speaker, Jane, was probably only around the age of my parents -- older, but not yet old -- but her face was very deeply lined. I saw when I looked closely, though, that every one of her lines was a laugh line. It was amazing to see someone who had been so marked by joy. When I am wrinkled, I hope they are laugh lines.

5. At the retreat I ended up a few times telling the story of how Stan and I got together. Our first date involved a nine-hour hospital ordeal during which he stood by my side (me being the one who needed the hospital) for six hours because emerge was so crowded. That was also the day I decided that this was the man I wanted to marry (and, lest you ask, I decided that before I had the morphine). I like telling this story; I like praising my husband in public. He's the best.

6. Sometimes commercials make me cry, because I'm a huge sucker like that. To wit:



7. Things to do today: drink morning tea, paint toenails, fold laundry, try not to eat the entire pan of bread pudding for breakfast, drink more tea with a girlfriend, go to work, come home & feel guilty because I still haven't done the dishes and we're going to start running out of glasses soon.  I could do them now but I'd rather get my nails finished. Is it bad that I'm prioritizing red toes over dishes? Probably.


June 5, 2012

Better living through mild neglect

I started a second part-time job today (on top of my full-time -- is thirty hours full-time? -- job with Goober and Goobrette). On Tuesdays I will be taking care of La Saucisse, a burbling three-month-old, and occasionally of La Fille, her three-year-old sister, as well. La Saucisse's parents are diplomats, and her mother is now using her Tuesdays to learn a very difficult language in anticipation of an upcoming foreign posting.

Better her than me!

At any rate, the day was uneventful except for the fact that La Saucisse decided that she wouldn't take her bottle from me. Her mother had breastfed her before departing, and after her nap I attempted to give her a bottle of expressed milk -- only to be met with Baby Rage. You know that thing they do where their entire tiny bodies arch backwards in fury? La Saucisse did not want her bottle and was personally offended that I was trying to nourish her.

I know, I'm a huge jerk.

So I stopped trying to feed her. I sang, rocked, swaddled, etc. We all calmed down, and I offered the bottle once more. Rage! Angst! That was about when I stuck her in the bassinet and called my mom. My mother suggested trying to spoon feed her (Rage!) and then if that didn't work, to just let her cry until she was good and hungry (Angst!).

Let her cry is a route I'm familiar with, but it always seems rather sad to me and so I try to avoid it. So I sang, rocked, swaddled, etc., and was really as attachment-nanny as you'd like... until my bladder came a-calling. Some things can only be put off so long, and so down she went into the bassinet (Rage! Angst!) and off I toddled to take care of business. Much to my surprise, when I re-emerged she had fallen asleep on her own.

She slept an hour and then sucked down four ounces like a champ, the little prima donna!

May 26, 2012

"Our only loveliness is Orthodoxy itself"

I recently re-read Frederica Mathewes-Green's book Facing East, a warm and well-organized account of her conversion to the Eastern Orthodox church. The book is a collection of vignettes, moving through a liturgical year in the life of their small Maryland church. The sub-chapters range from a few pages to just a few paragraphs long -- this makes Facing East a very good pick-up-put-down book, as each chunk may be separately digested. And digested is the right word; Mathewes-Green's writing naturally invites one to pause for reflection. This was perhaps my third or fourth time reading it straight through, and the thoughtful intimacy of this portrait of Orthodox life will no doubt recommend itself to me again.

Plus, she's funny:
My favorite experience with the Trisagion prayers occurred when I was invited to speak at a pro-life rally in a large Southern city. I had suggested the organizers invite the local Orthodox priest to give the benediction, but by the end of the evening when he came to the podium, he had figured out that the crowd was 90 percent charismatic. So he prayed the Trisagion prayers, just as any Orthodox would do, but in a heartfelt way with pauses, as if the phrases were just coming to him:
"Holy God," he said. 
 "Holy! Holy! Our God is holy!" all the charismatics around me murmered.
"Holy! Mighty!" the priest went on.
"Mighty! He is a mighty God!" the charismatics echoed. 
"Holy! Immortal!" said the priest. 
"Immortal God! Yes, Lord!" 
"Have mercy on us," the priest concluded in a deep rumble. 
"Mercy, Lord! Mercy! Yes, Lord!" 
I don't know when I've enjoyed anything so much. I sat in the front row with my arms in the air, just rejoicing in the mercy of the Lord, buoyed on the bosom of all those good, good people. (p 39) 
Having spent a lot of time with charismatics, I found that pretty amusing.

Not only is Mathewes-Green funny, though, but she has a gift for explaining the basics of her faith. My only previous encounters with Orthodoxy were of the My Big Fat Greek Wedding variety, and so I originally came to this book with no idea of what to expect. I found that Facing East is accessible, entertaining, and intelligently-written. As an example, to my mind Facing East contains one of the best explanations I've ever encountered regarding the idea of praying to saints (which doesn't naturally sit well with my Baptist-raised, low-Anglican self):
Upon chrismation, each new Orthodox claims a saint from the church's rich history as his or her own. Often the person will assume that saint's name and lay aside the birth name, entereing new life in Christ with a new identity. This saint becomes that person's patron, a special intercessor and friend in high places.  
Because the role of these saints is so often misunderstood, it's good to take a look at what saints are not. First, and most important, they are not dead. Life in Christ is eternal life, and they are merely on the other side of the veil, continuing that everlasting life that they began, as we do, on this side. This is why the interior of Orthodox churches are covered with icons; it makes visible the unseen reality that our worship is lifting us into heavenly realms, where we stand with the faithful of the centuries.  
Lest this confidence in the saints' heavenly reality be pushed to an unhealthy extreme, it's important to note something else they are not: they are not deputy Gods. We don't ask them to perform supernatural feats under their own power, like superheroes with individual areas of expertise (this one finds lost keys, that one makes houses sell). We ask their prayers, just as we might ask the prayers of our friends here on earth, though we assume that standing in the unclouded presence of God gives special power to their intercessions. Unlike our friends on earth, the saints do not chat with us in return. Two-way conversation is not the goal.  
Finally, the saints are not God's receptionists. We don't submit petitions to our favorite saints instead of praying to God; they don't stand between us and the Almighty, transcribing our requests and turning them in at an end-of-day meeting. We still bring our intercessions directly to the throne of the Father. But there is a place for uniting with fellow Christians in our prayers, and no reason to exclude from that the brothers and sisters who have gone on to stand before the throne. (pp 213-14)
That seems to me a much more nuanced, and more biblical, approach to the saints than I have seen demonstrated in Roman Catholicism. One of Stan's coworkers actually explained to him the other day that the best way to get your house to sell was to take a statue of St Somebody-or-Other and bury it upside-down in the garden. And voila! Your house will sell. This strikes me as, well, superstitious nonsense, so I was happy to read Mathewes-Green's more thoughful explanation of the role of the saints in our lives today.

Facing East is a lovely little portrait of Orthodox life, well worth reading and re-reading. Is it a bit happy-go-lucky, at times? Perhaps. But if that's so, it's the happy-go-lucky of a woman falling in love with her community, her liturgy, and her God:
Just when you think life is going to be cozy, something like this happens--a blue electric jolt, the black jagged trees dancing, a red pit in the earth. God isn't our pet and he isn't our pal, and when our lives are swept up into his, anything can happen. He never promises us safety. He only promises himself. 
As I reread Facing East I worry that I've projected a happy-little-family image of our church, and although that's not false, neither is it best. We are extraordinarily blessed at Holy Cross; I've never been in a more joyous and vibrant church, and I give all the earthly credit to my husband's God-directed leadership. But even in a less functional church, in an inharmonious community or unhappy family, God is still fully present and still supplying all things needful to each person who seeks his face. It's not a comfortable earthly life that we are looking for but a transformed life in him, one that extends beyond the grave. 
At the graveside I hold Hannah's little hand tightly. It's cold, and I can feel the bones of her fingers, so small and smooth, in my own. My fingers get more knobby and bent every year. I once had a tiny, pretty hand like Hannah's, but now the thing, wrinkled skin can't conceal the orderly bones lined up beneath. Bones are the signature we leave behind when we dive under the blanket of earth and strip down to nothing. Nobody has a choice about this dive into nothing. We can only choose who we're going with. (p 244)

May 25, 2012

Unrequited toddler love

Goober and Goobrette, being almost two years old, are now starting to be quite free with their affections. Sometimes I'll be noodling around in the kitchen and Goobrette will run up and hug my legs. Goober will give his sister un c├ólin when she's upset, without prompting. It's nice to see them being emotionally demonstrative in a way that doesn't involve shoving.

These bursts of affection aren't limited to humans. They both adore la chatte Nikita and Goober will happily, squealingly, tackle her to the ground for a full-body hug. The cat is remarkably gentle with the twins and will simply look at me beseechingly as she attempts to crawl her way out from under him.

Actually, these bursts of affection aren't even limited to living creatures. Goobrette has a baby doll -- named Baby -- that she adores. Baby gets fed, wheeled around in a little stroller, and smothered with hugs. When Goobrette can't find Baby she wanders the house calling for her. It's not a bad life for a doll.

Goober has a hard plastic doggie pull-toy, the kind with wheels instead of feet. When you pull it around on its string, the ears and tail wag.

Yesterday I walked in on him french kissing it.

May 21, 2012

It's really the obvious solution

Those who know me in real life would not hesitate to tell you that I write with far greater skill than I speak. On paper or screen I comport myself with a fair amount of ease. When I speak out loud, however, my mouth tends to sever its connection to my brain and carry on at its own pleasure. When I am tired, excited, or both, I will come out with phrases ranging from the simply nonsensical to the genuinely alarming.

Some of my family was up for a visit this weekend. My parents and my brother, Beardacles, were staying in our apartment building's guest suite. Apparently Beardacles's pull-out bed was not up to snuff.

"My mattress was this thin," he explained, "and it rested across three metal bars."

"Well," I solicitously replied, "there are lots of extra blankets and comforters in the bedroom closet. You should just take some of them and make a bread palace."

May 18, 2012

We have a problem, and that problem is violence

One thing I don't think anybody talked to me about before I got married was the adjustment to sleeping with someone else in your bed. I've shared a bed before, with friends or cousins, but that was generally only on a short-term sleepover arrangement. Now I share a double bed with Stan, and Stan is there every night, and I am there every night, and this occasionally lends itself to some difficulties.

The problem is violent sleeping. We figured out the basic mechanics of sharing a bed (cuddle? no cuddle? back-to-back? back-to-belly?) fairly quickly -- but we're both rollers and thrashers. In my sleep, I've punched Stan in the mouth, elbowed him in the face, and sacked him in the, uh, sack. Last night he kneed me in the butt.

Apparently I'm not supposed to complain because I'm already up 3-1.

May 16, 2012

In absence of deities, nannies will do

For my day job, I take care of toddler twins, Goober and Goobrette. That means primary care -- everything from meals to naps to potty time -- for about thirty hours a week. People always exclaim in amazement when they find out that I take care of twins, but it's not so hard. When I started they were four months old and it was pretty labour intensive; these days they're independent and quite capable of amusing themselves (and each other), and so taking care of twins is not much different than taking care of any two siblings.

It does produce some odd moments, though.

Right now the weather is fine enough that we can spend great swaths of the afternoon in the back yard. Since Goober and Goobrette are old enough not to eat rocks, mostly I sit and read on the steps while they do their thing. Heck, sometimes I leave them out there and go make dinner (don't worry -- I can still see and hear them fine out the kitchen door). (Maybe don't tell their folks, though.)

Favourite outdoor activities: putting rocks in buckets, taking rocks out of buckets, putting rocks back in buckets, pulling up grass, putting rocks in the water, taking rocks out of the water, putting rocks back in the water, pulling up flowers... and piling lawn debris at my feet.

They'll run up, singly or as a pair, and bring rocks, sticks, leaves, grass clippings, dandelion heads -- whatever's lying around. They make little piles around my feet and throw greenery into my lap.

This must be how temple idols feel.

All of which is to say nothing much at all

First posts are about getting words on the page, not about saying anything particular, amiright? They're about overcoming paralysis.

This is why all of my university essays started with two paragraphs of lorem ipsum. I would otherwise sit for hours, staring at the blank page of the word processor, too hesitant to start. A post-less blog template creates much the same feeling.

My first blog post ever (way back in 2003) said this:

Hey look, a blog! 
Had to sign up with Xanga to add a comment to Ruth's page. 
Well, we shall see where this goes. Maybe this time I'll actually stick to a blog after making it. 
Maybe.

Xanga! Does anyone use Xanga anymore? (Does anyone use blogger anymore?)