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We had a serious family emergency this weekend so it feels slightly flippant to continue writing about this little challenge I took up, but we’ve been doing it and I do want to log it, so I’m going to post anyways.  If I seem a little more discombobulated than normal, that’s why.

*****

I had a big pile of change on my desk, so I decided that if I spent it it wouldn’t count.  Boury logic. I spent $2.65 on a big old box of quick oats for Fr. A, and another $1.85 on some clearanced apples.  We took a trip up to Great-Grandma D’s in Connecticut Monday and ended up spending about $20 in road food, having vastly underestimated both traffic and Squishy’s ability to be content in the car.  So as far as I’m concerned, French Fries were survival expenses.  Eight hours in a Prius with a screaming toddler is not a good day.

We also spent $2 on a gizmo to keep Squishy from turning off the fish tank filters.

And we managed to unclog the bathtub this evening ourselves when my kids put toilet paper in the water and then pulled out the drain plug.  I’m going to count that as having saved $65 dollars.  Because we had a conversation about it before deciding to try again.

I want you all to know that I have spent more on plumbers because of my kids than I have spent on their clothes THEIR ENTIRE LIVES. I’m not. even. joking.

The challenge also has motivated me to get my keister outside more often hanging laundry (thanks to Fr. A hacking me a clothesline!) and planting things. In no particular order: peas, Provider green beans, Mosaic Yard Long beans, Chinese long beans, red okra, Cream of Saskatchewan watermelon, Ein Dore cantaloupe, ambrosia melon, a fancy French melon whose name I already dumped (this is why you put in labels!), Midnight Lightning zucchini, Lebanese cucumbers, Edmondson cucumbers, Russian pickling cucumbers, several kinds of tomatoes, basil, several kinds of lettuces and kales, a bunch of herbs, and some St. Valery carrots.  And then I ran out of compost so that was that for now. But we’ll be eating well when everything comes in.  We also have plums coming.

We did lose both apple trees.  They are happy enough, but have caught Cedar Rust, which means we are facing a life-long fight since we don’t own the cedar that is the other half of that problem.  Soooo they’re coming down.  No point in having apples if I’m going to be spraying them just because.  So that’s $11 down.  (We got clearanced trees.)  We’re going to do our homework with the next pair, now that we know Cedar Rust is a problem here.

Super boring post, but I’m not feeling very zingy today.

My daughter and I were meandering around Youtube the other day and saw a video of someone talking about not spending any money for a month… just to see if they could. And she asked me whether we could try.  So why not?  I need to eat down the pantry anyhow in preparation for installing insulation.  (Yes, there is nothing between the aluminum siding and the pegboard in the pantry/rear entrance.  But on the upside, I had cold storage for winter veggies after I put up a blanket in the hallway!) It also coincided with me taking a close look at grocery and discretionary spending and realizing we’ve been slipping since Squishy hit the scene.

2014-03-15 20.19.29

Sneak peek at the packaging for the New Biz coming later this year.

{I have some new readers who haven’t been around that long, FYI:  random thoughts have been part of the mission from the start. This blog is where I talk to myself.}

I’m going to blog about it because I know if everyone knows I’m doing it, I’ll keep doing it even if it’s slightly uncomfortable.  (If it becomes seriously uncomfortable, I’ll stop because I care what you think… but really not that much.  lol.   Yes, I know, the Church still needs to do a few repairs on this model.)

We made some exceptions:  milk, because we are in a cow share contract and have to pick up four gallons every week. Fuel for the cars, because we need to go places.  A container of oatmeal, because Fr. A is on board, but only if there is still breakfast of a semi-normal sort. And possibly diapers, if I can’t potty train Squishy before we run out. (He’s long outgrown cloth.)  We have about a week and a half left.  I have my doubts. Also, emergency repairs to the car or house, and business expenses.  To make up for those things, we’re going to see if we can cover those exemptions by saving on some utilities like electricity, gas, and water.  If we spend less on fuel for the cars this month, we’ll also count that to try to zero sum the exemption expenses.

My daughter is very thorough sometimes.  I love it.  We’re going to try to make it until July, and then see how long we can hold out after that!

Yard weeds = Free Lunch.

Yard weeds = Free Lunch.

And a final note: I’ve had people ask me, when they find me doing things that they consider past their own thrift-comfort-scale, why the church doesn’t take care of their clergy.  And I tell them we don’t count pennies because of that.  Our parish takes really, really good care of us.  I know clergy families that are on welfare or food stamps.  We’re not. I can sit on my couch and eat bonbons all day while I play video games and watch kdrama, send my kids off to the wonderful local Orthodox school, and never worry about dentists and doctors. So my crazy little frugality missions are just me seeing if I can do it, because so many think you can’t.

“Your children are your pro-life work.”

That was something Joan Fasanello (the director of Life Choices, a local ministry serving mothers in crisis) said to me when I lamented that I just couldn’t seem to find the time to get down there and volunteer.  That comment stopped me right in my tracks for a good minute.  After which I filed it away in the data banks and went back to my usual overclocked self.

I operate at maximum capacity seven days a week, 365 days a year.  It’s my personality, and as long as no one is getting in my way I’ll work like the Energizer Bunny and I’ll do All The Things. (Warning: that very funny post has some Language.)


all the things

I thrive on activity and interacting with groups of people.  I come back from conferences like I have a caffeine drip in my arm.  Homeschooling?  Sure, I got this.  I’ll just grab this nice polished Ages of Grace curriculum and use it to write one for the Ancients while I do it with my daughter. No problem. And let’s ramp up one business and start working on another to launch in late summer of this year.  And add a two year old to my wonderful little herd of mini-me’s (an adorable, funny, sweet two year old that was still… two.) Oh, and I am going to remodel my bathroom and living room and expand the garden.

So, all that?  I can pretty much handle if I was running around solo.

I’m not running around solo.

I started noticing that my kids were getting whiny and anxious and cranky.  I don’t think those characteristics are natural in childhood.  When I’m whiny or anxious or cranky, I don’t say “I was born that way” or “I’m just being a thirty-five year old”.  I say things like “I have a headache” or “I should have gone to bed on time” or “hey, maybe I should eat breakfast.”  So I went through the list of basic needs: food, sleep, schedule.  We’re good on those.  What’s their deal?

2014-05-14 09.37.14

Guess what?  My daughter is probably an introvert.  She seems to need some quiet downtime with just the family and in our home.  The four year old likes people, but he needs someone to really stop and listen often during the day and provide unlimited Interrupting Hugs.  The two year old needs me to sing “Let My Prayer Arise” semi-continuously. Four hours of structured curriculum?  What was I doing to us?  Who is this for?  Them… or me…?

Ah, Pride.  You do goeth before the fall.  Sigh.  You must learn ALL THE THINGS. and I must do ALL THE THINGS.  And we’ll be… very tired and grumpy.

I’m bailing this sinking ship, y’all.  I feel a little bad about not continuing all that curriculum writing, but not bad enough to keep neglecting the small people I’ve been given charge of.  AOT is a wonderful start.  It’s training wheels.  But, SP and me?  We can ride our bikes now, so we’re taking the training wheels off.  We’ve been much happier since I decided that she needed basic arithmetic and phonics and not much else.  She is still learning, and I spend the hours I used to stand over her nagging her instead just trying to be present for them.

2014-05-19 19.36.45

We want to home school to strengthen our bonds of love while we strengthen our minds.  I needed to re-prioritize.  Put my children before myself.  And put them before all those internet friends of mine.  Put the phone away when the kids are in the room.  Ignore the constant tweeting and ringing of it in my pocket.  Stop letting any Joe Smith’s comment about their latest restaurant experience or any Jane Doe’s fascinating article about breast feeding take precedent over MM’s immediate need for me to receive the wilted, squished dandelion that he so lovingly saved in his pocket all day.  Stop and give him a big hug. Ignore all those asking me to donate my time to them because my daughter wants to learn how to wash dishes with me, to feed her need to feel loved by doing something with and for me.

Children are like water.  Sometimes they soften us slowly, like a warm summer river, with their surprising insights about our world.  Sometimes they are like glaciers, tearing all the unnecessary things from us as we try to hold on to them at all costs because we are adults Who Are Right.   I’m trying to embrace the change.

All of this to say:  I’m leaving the AoG stuff up there.  And if you want to mess around with the Wiki, go for it.  But as we’re not using it in any documentable sense, I probably won’t be able to help.  This post is a half-hearted apology.  Half-hearted, because I don’t feel any real guilt about not doing it.  Just a vague sense of “mybad”. I’m working on being present for my children, and letting them take ownership of their own educations.

traditions

I watch a lot of kdrama.  I would say almost all my television watching happens in Korean these days, so much so that I have picked up a fair amount just from the shows.  I enjoy them when I have a few minutes to relax and don’t have much energy for something more productive.  They are generally speaking a lot more family-oriented than American shows, if only because Koreans seem to value family relationships dearly.

One thing that shows up a lot in the dramas is the traditional memorial meal.  Now, I’m pretty much just describing what I’ve seen on tv, and I don’t really know exactly what is going on, but the children get together on their parents’ death memorials and other people also show up to remember them.  They put out a big spread of the person’s favorite food, plus a few things that seem to have some cultural significance, by the commentary of the actors.  I probably sound pretty silly to any actual Korean, but that’s what I’ve picked up.  There is something very… Orthodox… about the Korean tradition of remembering the dead.

My daughter sometimes watches bits of them with me and she is fascinated by the memorial ceremonies. My daughter is good at seeing patterns and connecting things that at first glance don’t really seem to go together.   So when we had a Soul Saturday Liturgy last weekend at our church, I explained about giving Daddy a list of our departed loved ones for him to pray for during the service.  She said, “Like the Koreans?”

Well, yes, I suppose something like that.  So we got to talking about it and she thought it would be fun to celebrate with a special meal.  I decided to make mussakhkhan, mainly because I had all the ingredients, but also because it is a one of the few traditional Palestinian dishes my taita made for me.  As I was preparing it, it became even more appropriate to the occasion.  I found myself doing things I know she does, as well as doing things other loved ones do.  I have smart, thrifty women on both sides of the family, and most of my good friends are the same way.  Lots to learn from.

So this is how a tradition is born, I guess.  I think we’ll continue it.  Perhaps mussakhkhan on some, and Welsh pasty on others.

Anyhow, how’s about a recipe?

Mussakhkhan (for a family of 5) – I used the recipe from “From the Lands of Figs and Olives“, because my taita wasn’t around for consultation.  It tasted pretty close to authentic. (And that’s a great cookbook, by the way.  No photos, just great recipes.) I’m going to write this up as I made it, but I followed the directions more or less.

  • 4ish pound chicken, cleaned and cut
  • 6 cardamom seeds, crushed
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 large onions, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup sumac
  • pita bread (about four)

I cleaned the chicken.  My friend gave me a couple breasts that she had already removed from a carcass, so all I had to do with remove the fat and tendon/membranes that I saw.  Then I cut it into small pieces.  (The recipe doesn’t say to do this.) I put the scraps in the freezer for the next round of stock. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the chicken for about 45 minutes on medium with half the cardamom.

While that’s doing its thing, I placed half the oil in a saucepan and added the onions, salt, pepper, allspice, and the rest of the cardamom.  I set it over medium-low to cook and stirred it once in a while (the recipe says cook it for 1 1/2 hours, and I probably did.)

While that’s cooking, you fry the pine nuts in the rest of the oil. (This happens very quickly. When the pine nuts just start turning color, remove the pan from the heat.  They will continue to cook in the oil.) When the onions are almost done, add the nuts and the sumac and let it sit.

Open the pita bread and lay a layer in a greased baking pan (inside-side up) spoon a little of the onion mixture over everything and then place another layer and repeat.  Put the chicken on top, then add the remaining onion mixture over that.  Cover and bake 350 for 40 minutes.  Serve some bread with the chicken.

This is awesome with yogurt, as well as with an Arabic tomato/cucumber salad.

Sorry I posted this during cheese week, but maybe you’ll come back to it a couple months from now.  ;)

You can't pin this recipe unless I put a photo in here... and we ate this too fast so I didn't take one!  Here's a pretty snow covered tree instead.

You can’t pin this recipe unless I put a photo in here… and we ate this too fast so I didn’t take one! Here’s a pretty snow covered tree instead.

Goodness, but it took me forever to write this post. We’re remodeling the main bathroom and we have an older house so the surprises are proving to be quite the adventure!

What was the builder thinking when he did this?  What's holding up this wall?

What was the builder thinking when he did this? What’s holding up this wall?

Anyhow, this post is not about our work in progress.  This post is about the St. Emmelia Orthodox Homeschooling Conference.  Last year, a change was made:  due to various circumstances, the conference planning was turned over to the participants.  An amazing, dedicated group of mothers took on the daunting task of organizing an entire conference for our kids this year.  Barli gave us guidance and helped with the transition and it looks like this year’s conference might be the best yet!

My family has only missed one of these conferences, and we look forward to it every year.  My daughter will declare loudly to anyone that she looks forward to events of the year in this order: “Pascha, St. Emmelia’s Conference, Christmas.”  She loves it that much.  She has connected to friends through this conference, and so have I.  I could write a lot about how thought-provoking and helpful the workshops and seminars are (they are great!), but what really brings us back is the community of families.  There is NO OTHER PLACE where I can go and worship with so many Orthodox Christian families who are choosing the challenging path of educating their children at home, and not just so they can add, but so they can raise saints.  The conference rejuvenates my homeschooling at just the time of year when we are ready to throw in the towel, and the worship and community edify my soul when the temptation to think I’m not doing the right thing might overwhelm me.  I come back like a lion from this conference.

Professor Christopher Veniamin is the keynote speaker.  Let me tell you something about him.  In seminary, they would have a lecture series every year and I attended them.  I don’t remember ANY of the talks, even Jaroslav Pelikan’s, except Dr. Christopher’s.  LOL.  His talk had me fully engaged, and I still remember what he said about the nous.  This is a great opportunity to hear him speak, and I bet he’ll come with his books (he is the man behind Mount Thabor Publishing).  He’s been releasing some wonderful translations of Saint Gregory Palamas’s writings.

If you haven’t been, this is the year to do it.  This is the year when we have to say, “It is important to me that my children and I have a retreat to somewhere we will be surrounded by understanding and support.  I have to put my money and time where my mouth is and go.”  This almost didn’t happen this year people.  If you’ve been saying to yourself, “One day, one day…” … Well stop that and say, “Today.”  The conference is March 27-30. Go over here and register.  (Scroll down to the links in March.)

Yes, we cooked this.  I can't even say this was the weirdest thing I've ever made.  Fr. A fortunately has an adventurous palate.

Yes, we cooked this. I can’t even say this was the weirdest thing I’ve ever made. Fr. A fortunately has an adventurous palate.

Seminary was hard.  Really hard.  The whole time I was there I hated it.   I wasn’t used to having people actively thwart the aspirations of the soul.  It was a jarring, dark glimpse into the human heart, which previously I had only read about.  Not everyone made it.  I’m not sure why we did.  My attitude certainly stunk and I definitely wanted to run away… but I didn’t.

A lot of it had to do with the good relationships we made during that time.  We were getting to know a bishop who took his calling very seriously.  We had it bad, but so did everyone else really… and we struck up a sort of camaraderie-in-arms with them.  The best of them showed me how to look at my situation in the best light, and for that I will always be grateful… Because there were others who sowed their discouragement around like the seeds of invasive weeds.

I had a job, I had responsibilities, and I stayed.  We pushed through, survived, moved on to a parish. And then I knew why seminary was hard:  Look, I told myself, this is harder.  They wouldn’t be doing the students any favors making it easy.  Even if the hearts were really dark… well there are dark hearts everywhere.  You can’t hack it?  Don’t sign those papers allowing your husband to be ordained.  Cuz it ain’t getting any easier, sister. We’re all sinners and we’re all in this together.  My attitude towards the seminary experience changed over the years since graduation.  Seminary wasn’t a mire barely escaped.  Seminary was a forge.

But there was one incident in seminary that sent my mind reeling… and I almost asked my husband to quit.  The seminary had a regular gathering of the seminary wives for education and fellowship purposes.  At one event, they brought in a veteran priest’s wife to talk to us.  And not just any priest’s wife: this one’s husband had particularly rough parish assignment, at least by the stories she told.  She had a positive attitude, but the deluge of her experiences (which included a tale of using an outhouse daily that lacked a front wall) overwhelmed me with discouragement.  How could I possibly survive that?  How could anyone expect that of me?  Am I supposed to be okay with my kids and I being treated as at best a free secretary and at worst free janitorial services?

Well, I know the answer now: No, actually, I don’t.  I was saved from my discouragement by a discussion with another, just as positive, priest’s wife.  She told me I will be treated however I allow myself to be treated, and so will the kids.  I should be myself and view myself first as a support for my husband, then my kids.  The parish comes after that.  I’m not the priest.  The bishop ordained my husband, not me.  I should strive to live a Christian life, but just like any other member of the parish struggling along the same path. I should volunteer for the things I feel called to with my talents, and turn down those that aren’t a good fit… no matter what the last priest’s wife was in charge of.  Don’t be an officer in the ladies’s group and don’t gossip.  Love everyone, not because you need to be political… but because you should “Love one another, as I have loved you.”

I came across something that a friend shared on Facebook and I know it was meant as a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek commentary… but I didn’t like some of it.  It reminded me of that incident.  Do I need to pray?  Of course, we all do. But to say I should “Shut up and pray”? Look, sometimes we all need to shut that door about our lips, I get that. But that statement says to me, “You are the priest’s wife… your real opinion is probably invalid.  Prayer is a way for you to gag yourself.”  It’s one thing to tell a new priest’s wife, “Learning discernment is important.  Learning how to let things go is a process.  Turn to God to help you with that.”  It’s another thing to tell her to “Shut up and pray.”

I’m not going to link to it, because I bear no ill will towards the (anonymous) author, but I am going to quote another of these:  “If you must cheat on a fast day, don’t get caught.”  You know what?  I have “cheated” the fast.  Who hasn’t failed at keeping the fast? Who hasn’t eaten a steak on a Friday because a non-Orthodox friend has offered them hospitality, or grabbed a bucket of chicken because they were driving through the middle of nowhere and their choices were KFC or a bag of convenience store peanuts? Who hasn’t carelessly eaten an egg sandwich because they forgot it was Wednesday, or even failed to resist that chocolate chip cookie at a non-Orthodox friend’s Christmas party? Do all of us do the full fast?  How many of you abstain from food completely every year from Monday morning to Wednesday evening during the first week of Lent?  The full fast is the Iron Man, people.  You don’t run the Iron Man if you’ve never run up and down your street!  You work up to it, and you might even have a coach helping give you advice.  Fasting is like that.  Small, consistent steps.  Failures have nothing to do with cheating.  A priest’s wife is a person just like anyone else in the parish, and she’s building the same muscles.   Don’t laugh the fast off, but it’s okay to acknowledge honest failures and struggles.  I work on my fasting with the advice of my confessor.  I’m not judging the fasting of others, so hopefully they aren’t judging me.

Most of the post was advice in the right direction, but I felt like it was intimating that us priest’s wives have to “hide” who we really are.  I don’t think that and I would never tell a new priest’s wife that.  I also wouldn’t parade out my war stories.  “This is a good life.  We’re doing the work God has handed our husband, and so to us as well in a way, and it does have its hard days.  But don’t fool yourself, honey, there isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t have hard days and plenty of them.  Don’t do anything immoral, don’t do anything blatantly un-Christian, look for the image of God in every person you meet (and sometimes that’s not easy!!), keep your eyes on the Prize, and be yourself.”

Even if you are me.  And I’m crazy, so if most of my fellow parishioners still like me, they’ll like you too!

35.

I’m coming up on my thirty-fifth birthday next month.  I don’t really do birthdays.  Or rather, I would do them if they were (to quote a friend) Amazon.com Wishlist Fulfillment Days that coincided with me being able to spend twelve hours in a row ensconced in my attic office alone with unlimited Caramel Machiatto deliveries and Skyrim and the newest episodes of The Prime Minister and I.  However, since I have a family this is not what birthdays mean.  They mean, “Take a day off of all the work you need to do so that you can spend the next week cramming it into your schedule. But you can’t spend it doing what you like.  You will spend it doing what everyone else wants to do, because no one else wants to hang out in your office and watch kdrama and play Skyrim. Also, make sure you still are on diaper duty.”  So my birthdays? A big, fat “Meh.”  (In fact, let’s just pretend  I don’t have one. That day will be much less stressful.)

I do have some thoughts rolling around my brain about thirty-five though.  Nothing earth-shattering, but this is my blog, so I’m gonna share them.

I am finally settling into a place where I am truly comfortable with who I am.  Not in the sense that I think I’m a perfect saint, but that I know my strengths and weaknesses and I’m kinda okay with them:  I can generate a lot of enthusiasm for a new project, but I’m not that great at the tedious precise details of them.  I can work with almost super-human energy at tasks that I want to do… but if I don’t want to do something I can find a hundred reasons to put it off.  I’m good at meeting people and making friends, but I’m not too interested in following social norms I haven’t internalized so I know I seem crazy to others half the time.  I talk too fast when I get nervous and I get a little obsessive for long stints with my interests, but I know what to do when we lose power for days, or water, or heat, and I can cook just fine over open flames using plants and animals from my neighborhood.  My deficiencies seriously annoy some people around me… and I don’t really care.  If I can accept their deficiencies, and they can’t accept mine… well, *shrug*.  I know the prices of every single item I have ever bought… but I can’t remember names or what anyone tells me out loud.  I hate to exercise, and I have a bad chip and dip habit.  I have a quick temper, though most of the time it passes just as quickly if I’m given the freedom to express it and deal with the problem at hand. I have strong opinions about art and literature and Star Trek and my faith.  I delete comments on my Facebook that irritate me without apology or explanation… even entire threads.  I forgive but don’t forget.  I play the piano enthusiastically but not all that well, because I’d rather bluff through the difficult measures than work at them.  I can make money in my sleep. I have trouble tolerating individuals around me that don’t face their problems directly… which means I’m pretty low on empathy.

I wouldn’t have been comfortable admitting those weaknesses ten years ago… but now I’m not particularly concerned about them.  It feels good to be comfortable.   I try not to start projects that my weaknesses make difficult, and just do the things that I know I’ll be pretty good at.  I know I can’t do All the Things, and I’m okay with that too.  I do what I can and try not to feel bad about what doesn’t get done.  It’s a good season.  Peanut is finally getting some sleep at night (so we are too!), my dad is coming to visit me next week, and my water doesn’t smell like licorice.  Life is pretty good.

 

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