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!


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.


Dear Stranger:

“Why don’t you keep those toys in the garage? Aren’t you glad it snowed?! Now you don’t have to rake. harhar.  Maybe you should get a fence!”

The Lawnmower: A powerful piece depicting the futility of object permanence.

The Lawnmower: A powerful piece depicting the futility of object permanence.

My brain did not register your helpful comment, fortunately for you, until I had already herded my, well, herd of small children into the back door.  Yesterday it snowed, and though I managed to shovel my sidewalk by bribing two older children with a half hour of Magic School Bus and heartlessly sticking the third in his crib in a vain attempt at a nap that didn’t involve me sitting there patting his back the whole time, I can’t say I did the job well… so combined that with the fact that the four year old does not actually have shoes at the moment and was plodding through the snow NEXT to the haphazardly cleared sidewalk in his fuzzy house slippers, the 19 month old was limply napping in my arms that were also lugging in two diaper bags, several half eaten candy canes, and a very old banana that I fished out from under my seat, AND the six year old was trying to open the outer door while the two and a half year old tried to helpfully CLOSE the same door on our porch which is exactly 3×4 feet with two stairs…  well, engaging my brain on your comment was down there on the priority list with things like picking up those the toys in my yard.

Said porch also slopes towards the house so the melting snow can flee the tyranny of Weather and join us in inside where it's warm.

Said porch also slopes towards the house so the melting snow can flee the tyranny of Weather and join us in inside where it’s warm.

I don’t know you. Maybe you have kids? Maybe you don’t?  But you look like you had a full night’s sleep, a hot cup of coffee, and enough leisure to find time to purchase a matching jogging outfit.  You even have enough time to USE the matching jogging suit. I bet that you even have the time to SHOWER after you use the matching jogging suit.  I used to be you, so I absent-mindedly nodded and continued with my first priority which was Returning Small People to Containment.

To you I now address this plea:  give the young mother some slack.  I do not have family nearby. I do not even have a husband-with-free-time.  The only friends I have around here that I know well enough to lean on also have Small People.  So leaning on them is a chaotic, head-spinning, calendar-juggling exercise in  mutual exhaustion only attempted in DIRE situations like “my four year old needs shoes and I need to go shopping before someone calls CPS please help.”

I know you think the yard is bad. I think the yard is bad. We murdered all the bushes so that it would at least look more like we hadn’t landscaped and less like we were too busy this fall keeping toddlers from eating mushrooms  in the grass to do the pruning.  I challenge you sometime to do yard work with three or four small people under six. (Please get someone to observe so that when you fail, no one will die. If the someone does not have kids, please find multiple someones.)  We did not buy a fence, because we bought a furnace.  If you feel deep in your heart that we need a fence, we gladly accept $3000 gift cards to Home Depot at this point. Beautiful hedgerows can wait.

You are not the first person to make thoughtless comments and you won’t be the last.  Even people who have been there and do know better make comments.  And this letter is to all of them too, for the sake of all those young mothers with small people out there.

I wake up at 3:00 a.m. every day because that is when my 19 month old wakes up.  He does not go back to bed without an up-and-down unpleasant business of me or my husband going in and telling him to lay back down.  Meanwhile the rest of the kids are also awake and silently pleading with us from their beds to Make It Stop.  Around 4:30 he goes back to sleep until 5:15 when he wakes up for Really Real and I bring him with me to bed so that I can at least close my eyes for another hour.  He sneaks out around 6:15 while I try unsuccessfully to pry myself out of bed and my equally-exhausted husband covers for me until around 7:30 when I finally admit the gig is up and try to be thankful that I had five hours of sleep. Sort of.  This has gone on in varying severity for the last seven years.  We are surviving.  Survivors do not trouble themselves about plastic lawnmowers half buried in snow.

Yes, the plastic lawnmower has been in my backyard for three months.  There’s not really any point in returning it to the garage as my children will just retrieve it.  I choose to think that it is much less offensive to look at than

What is this anyways?

this sculpture ^

in Allentown and at least has the benefit of being only temporarily an Emmaus fixture.  Would it help if I put up a circle of bricks and a plaque with some sort of historical nature listing the other backyards where it used to be on display?

The list of things in my life that matter are as follows: a house clean enough that we don’t all die of some horrible disease like dysentery, meals in bellies that once a day involve vegetables, and trying not to raise sociopaths who can’t read, write, or balance their budgets.

Wallpaper. The next best thing to boogies.

Wallpaper. The next best thing to boogies.

If I have any free time left, I try to find ways to generate extra funds to repair the long list of household items my small construction crew has helped us begin remodeling since we moved in this place.  Around the year 2017, you will see improvements.  And starting around 2027, be grateful that you live in a world that is still full with young adults who love and procreate and build their communities instead of neighborhoods of retired people with no one to rake leaves for them or fork over taxes.  The price you have to pay for that is a handful of years for each household to raise Small People into Medium People during which their yard will look, frankly, terrible.

Merry Christmas.


2013-12-11 15.01.20

2013-10-16 15.29.39

Oak trees have a lot of leaves. And acorns. We keep raking…

A lot has happened since I last gathered a few minutes to write in this space.  I’ve actually been wanting to put something here for weeks, but it always seems that there are more important things to do: lesson planning, my little business ventures, a couple longer term high priority surprise projects, lesson planning, bills, the AOG wiki (which is unfortunately only slightly above “my blog” in terms of priorities, so equally neglected… I may have to just shelve it until school breaks)… lesson planning.  When you scoop out four hours of your day and replace it with school, those precious hours in the evening become critical to home management.

I’m feeling myself fall away.  It’s not a bad thing.  I spent the first 23 years of my life training myself to not need anyone and live life solo.  Marriage, kids… it’s necessary retraining.  Painful sometimes, and I sorely miss being able to fritter away time on really mindless things like embroidery, but I feel myself being remade for something better.  I try to set my mind to see what can be learned from everything that comes my way.

This weekend I just sort of fell under a giant wave of obligations and child illnesses and then I stabbed myself in the hand and it was just. the. last. straw.  I’m regrouping.  Sometimes you have to retreat and reassess.  I deactivated FB temporarily, I stayed home from church (it’s a bishop weekend visit, so not a light decision.  But as much as we all love Bishop Thomas, a sick kid trumps pretty much everything.) I stuck my kids in front of Netflix documentaries, I Liquid Stitches-ed my wound, and I took a day off to get a hold of myself.  I really wanted to have a pity-party, but that would have been unproductive.  That moment when everything overwhelms… that’s the moment you know you’ve been neglecting prayer, fasting, time with Scripture.  FB on my phone is like spending money on coffee at the coffeehouse: a few here and there add up to big bucks wasted.  So turn it off already, right?!  Save it up and use it for The One Thing Needful, and when I get a grip on things, I turn it back on.

So: school is going well.  Sweet Pea loves to learn.  We dropped Pacyber.  I thought it would be flexible enough for us, and that the Calvert curriculum would be challenging. I was wrong on both counts.  We spent a lot of time rewriting the lessons, and suddenly the shiny bait of free art lessons wasn’t so attractive.  And remembering to login every morning (when we don’t use the computer for anything else) was apparently not compatible with my brain.  So I could foresee trouble with “truancy” (we were doing school everyday.  How does logging in prove anything either way?  *eye roll*).  I pulled out and we’re much happier to be unbound from the shackles of “shoulda” and to be free to pursue what interests us after we finish the basics.  The daily grind aside, I’m loving the conversations she has with me.  If she was off somewhere else, we wouldn’t be having them.  They come about from our daily experience, as the byproduct of interacting with the neighborhood and with the world of books.

A six year old can think… she can make connections.  Suddenly I have to really think about what we are encountering. I find myself suddenly grateful for that philosophy elective in college… the Socratic method is a really great learning tool.  Ask questions, and see where their brain takes them. Fr. A and I are almost in awe of what she knows and thinks about.  I don’t think it’s because she’s extraordinary; I think it’s because she’s free.

The other kids are sort of sadly neglected I confess.  Six year olds are not independent workers.  But I am watching a wonderful little boy on the weekdays who runs off to have adventures with Mishmish and Peanut, so I suppose the ABCs can wait another year.

I’ve found myself wanting to write so many times, but time is a precious commodity these days.  This season will pass soon enough.  I’m grateful for these days, as tiring as they are.

Ages of Grace

Hey! If you aren’t on one of the Orthodox groups, you may not have heard: The author of Ages of Grace gave me permission to share her continued (more roughly drafted) work, as well as the original Age of Triumph. I made a dedicated page for the files. Go check it out: Ages of Grace.


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