Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bear With Me.....

Quotidian: occurring every day, belonging to every day; commonplace, ordinary. From The Quotidian Mysteries: ""It is a paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation."

I woke up this morning full of aggravation and irritation. My 10.5 yr old son was complaining about having to go to school an hour early for study group. My 7yo daughter snuck a piece of cake after being repeatedly told no. My husband needed me to pack his lunch. The dog was being obnoxious. 

Then everyone left (except for the obnoxious dog) and I was left in a quiet house feeling incredibly lonely. Thus began the quiet, snaking thoughts..."What is the point of being at home when your kids are at school?" "You are almost 35 without a single degree to your name." "Any housework will come undone, what is the point?" "Chocolate" "Why am I doing this?" and so forth. Thoughts full of doubt, incrimination, self-defeat and incredibly de-motivating.  

While washing my hands I glanced up to the prayer of St. Ephraim that I have pinned to my window frame above my sink. " take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness... " (Please!)

This internal struggle with myself against the quotidian, the daily things that never end- the cooking, cleaning, laundry, writing, rewriting, demands of children, needs of my family- push me to choose to become a better person...or not should I decide to dwell in the realm of laziness and be too faint hearted to struggle against my natural inclinations.

Church creates the same struggle within me. The term Liturgy translates as "the work of the people". When I go to Church each week it is work. I have to wake up early and dress up, fast beforehand, the Liturgy is long, there is a lot of standing-sometimes prostrations, my feet hurt, I get confused when it switches to Greek, I get really hungry- but eventually the other-worldliness of the Church and the joy of being with other people comes into focus. Without fail, every time I celebrate the Liturgy it dawns on me that thousands +  around the world are doing the exact same thing. We work together. The same yearly cycle. 

Housework offers the same opportunity for self transformation. It pushes us into the realm of self discipline and service.  Most of the things I have to clean in my house were not from me. But I wash laundry, clean and vacuum to make my house a resting place for my family. A place where they can come and relax and be refreshed, a place where we can practice hospitality and welcome friends.  The daily cycles are something to be accepted and a place to work within in order to bring order to ourselves and our surroundings.

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The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim

O Lord and Master of my life take from me the spirit of sloth
lust of power
and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity,
and love to thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King
grant me to see my own errors
and not to judge my brother;
for Thou art blessed unto the ages of ages.


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Wednesday, March 30, 2011


The day to do everything I didn't do on Monday.
Bake bread
Make soup
Fold clothes
Take kitten photos

I also need to replant my seeds because Daisy the very very bad dog ate many of my seedlings. 

The weather today is cold with a chance of snow which means there is not way I am going outside to do yardwork or to clean the coop like I need to.  I will go out for a brief moment to let the chickens out, but that is about it. Cold and I are not friends.

Today I also hope to surpass 10,000 words with the story I am working on. I am right on the cusp of hitting that so as long as I sit down to write it will be done. 
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Little Things...

Maintaining my focus on the little things and finding new discoveries is how I maintain an inner equilibrium. At times life may be difficult and confusing to navigate and things out of my control threaten to overwhelm me, but as long as I keep my focus on the small details I come through ok.

When I feel my focus slipping a favorite way to bring myself back is by limiting my vision to what I see through my camera lens. While shooting pictures a sense of calm overtakes me and my breathing slows- my focus becomes solely that of my subject. In between shots while searching for the next thing my entire awareness becomes that of how the light falls and how colors interact.  It is my most practiced form of meditation.  Capturing Beauty becomes my main goal at that moment.  By limiting myself in this way and focusing on (and seeking out) what is beautiful I am able to let go of any negative thoughts or worries that threaten to swallow me whole.

Sometimes what I find beautiful is simplicity...a raccoon print in the mud- it is the stepped on stick- the contrast of the leaf and the mud with the sheen and texture is what captivates me..

The Moon in its fullness and the pull it has on the Earth, oceans and people

My sons walking away and the contrast of their clothing in the colorless landscape

How the wood on my deck echoes the colors and lines of the Chickadee

The startling red of a Cardinal in a landscape of browns, deep greens and greys

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No one ever tells you how hard it is to be a parent...

I heard that on a TV show last night.
The response by the spouse was "because then no one would do it"
Too true.
Today I am folding clothes and listening to Sigur Ros.  I keep coming across articles of clothing that my children have outgrown, and achingly I am forced to put them in the thrift store pile.  The hard part of parenting isn't "dealing" with your children....the hard part is how fast they grow is facing the demons from your childhood and trying to not repeat mistakes...but is looking at your child and it suddenly occurring to you that just yesterday they were a fresh infant...and today that child is almost your size with smelly shoes and in less than half of the years that you have been graced with him as your child...he will be an adult, and will leave.

The hard part of parenting is the sudden awareness of how short the time really is....even though when they were 3 and an absolute terror, the time couldnt go fast enough.

It is in the questioning of how many moments were lost because of your hurry to get things done, have the house clean, or wondering when you get a break.

The time Given with these people is all too short.
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Monday, March 21, 2011

Coffee and Eccentricity

The first thing that comes to mind every morning as I wake up is the thought of my first cup of coffee.  It will be freshly brewed, with enough cream to make it the perfect shade of brown, and one spoon of sugar. This is the thing that gets me out of my bed every morning.  Other people have work, or their goals they can't wait to achieve, I simply have that one cup-thoughts and motivations for my goals and magnificent obsessions ( I love that term) appear afterward.

Coffee and my neurotic need to have it just so is one of my quirks that I think secretly drive my husband crazy.
This morning when I went to make my coffee I discovered that we were out of cream..and the following scenario developed...
Me (feeling a profound sense of loss with a dash of horror tossed in for good measure): "What happened to the cream? Did you give the kids the cream we had yesterday in their coffee?" (on Sundays kids get coffee)

Husband (with a raised eyebrow at my reaction- since any normal person would simply use one of the many other drinks we have in the fridge like Dark Chocolate Almond milk or Vanilla Coconut milk); "Yeah...they wanted coffee...they like cream, I gave them the rest of it"

Me: "You can't do that!!! We had this conversation before, and I asked you to use milk for them instead of cream. Now my coffee will be all wrong, and that sets my day  off badly. You know how those motivational people say to not read the news first thing because it gives you an overdose of negativity first thing...THAT is how much my coffee not being right affects me"

Husband: "Ooook. Do you want me to drive to the store and buy more? I don't ever remember this conversation"

Me (realizing I was acting like an ass over something insignificant) : "No, it's ok...Im weird.  Im sorry for overreacting it is just that first cup is what I look forward to when I wake up and it needs to be done a certain way."

Husband: "Well, you do have your quirks and you are eccentric, but every genius is. You are a genius and this is just one area your quirks show up"

Oldest Son: "Yeah! Every age had its geniuses....just most people thought they were really madmen"
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

It's a Baby Boom Around Here

Last Sunday we added six chicks.  I had only planned to buy three more, but the feed store had a minimum purchase of six.  Should they all survive into adulthood our flock will be  at 11 chickens.  This year I am sure we will have plenty of eggs to share.  I am still uncertain about having that many chickens, it seems like a lot, so I may sell off a couple- or give them away. 
Here are the chicks in their fluffy cuteness last week. Already they are getting feathers in and starting to look ugly- but here they were still cute

Here is a curious blurry chick.
After we got home from the store we discovered that the stray cat we took in was in labor.  So, the kids and I sat with her and watched her birth two kittens.
(sorry for the bad photo quality...I will be taking better ones this coming week)
After the babies are weaned and go off to their new homes the mama cat will be spayed and will go to her new home with my mother in law.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teriyaki Memories

My father was raised in Honolulu with a family who had a Housekeeper, a Nanny, and a Japanese Cook named Ruth. Dad used to spend time in the kitchen with Ruth, where she would teach him how to cook, something that came in handy when he found himself a single father of an 8 yr old.
He seemed to mostly remember the lessons that involved the making of teriyaki sauce and stuffed pork loin.
We ate a lot of teriyaki.
It was very good teriyaki. 
In fact our dinners were usually either:  Steak/Lamb Chop/ or Pork Chop broiled until the smoke detector went off (what my dad called "the dinner bell") the meat was always covered in garlic salt and there would be teriyaki to put on the meat. With this there would be "salad"- always sliced tomatoes or cucumber or both.  I liked to cover everything with the teriyaki...and would sometimes eat it by the spoonful from the pan. When my dad caught me he would yell "Dammit Alana!!"

Rarely, there would be the stuffed pork loin...with tomatoes and cucumbers..

Other times there were On-Cor dinners full of mystery meat and God knows what. Or Hungry Man dinners...or Swanson dinners.  I'm pretty sure we had these more often that the broiled garlic salted meat.He really liked things that could be microwaved.

The teriyaki sauce is what sticks out the most and I cannot help but associate it with my dad and Ruth. I like to picture my father as a boy sitting in a sunny kitchen while this faceless woman in a white apron and flowered dress teaches him how to make the most amazing teriyaki ever.

Sadly, the recipe died with my father.  So I use subpar teriyaki in dinners that call for it. Tonight I made Teriyaki Tofu Stir-fry with the only brand of bottled teriyaki I can find that has recognizable ingredients.  It isn't horrible, I have had worse, but it is nowhere near to Ruth's recipe....
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Old Man With the Crooked Leg

He slid out of the rust eaten truck and stood for a moment, hand resting on the truck door. His slack spongy skin run through with grooves of hardship, while slumped shoulders proclaimed quiet acceptance of a weary life. Slack mouthed, he pulled up his olive green pants only for them to sag again, the fabric worn thin and stretched.  
 He began talking out loud, lips moving quickly, his recipient unapparent-begging the question if this man--of all men, was wearing a Bluetooth…or perhaps he was simply crazy. Onlookers move nervously at the thought of Crazy, taking alert glances at one another as if sharing a universal secret with a need to reassure. “He is an old beaten down man, we can take him” Truck door slammed shut; suspicious eyes are magnetized to the silhouette of a person in the passenger seat. No technology or insanity here. People breathe again, going back to gassing up their cars, avoiding each other’s glances, embarrassed over their silent overreaction.  
Slowly, cautiously the man takes a step; a lurching, bowlegged step, then a straight step.  
No. Not bowlegged – crooked; a shocking angle where a leg should never have a corner. The man steps and his body lurches with his leg-Step. Sway. Step. Sway.  A tortured walk of a hundred steps to a whole leg’s ten.  Lines in his face fold into themselves with concentration until his face is more prune than human.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Which I Admit a Personality Flaw and Shout With Capital Letters

I am a Perfectionist.
If something isn't going according to my self imposed definition of perfect I give up.
I find this personality trait to be odd because I KNOW Im not perfect, I fall over myself constantly, am impatient, have a tendency towards laziness, I procrastinate, sometimes I yell, returning phone calls is something that I rarely do, when I write thank you cards I forget to mail them, my attention span can be that of a cat's during conversations, and I can be horribly critical.
(that all makes me sound like such a lovable person-doesn't it?)

This blog post isn't supposed to be about all my flaws, just perfectionism, but I typed them all out because for some reason it felt like the right thing to do.

  I am currently working on a novel (which I do not like to admit because it is putting me out there as someone writing a novel and then people will ask me about it- which is scary because it means I am making a sort of commitment to this project. And while I have been married for 15 years commitment manages to scare the hell out of me.)
As I am writing I am critiquing what I am writing, and while this time I do like the characters enough to not kill them off by deleting all of my progress- I am not entirely happy with my writing because it isn't up to my RIDICULOUSLY IMPOSSIBLE criteria.
SO, I came up with some guidelines for myself.
1) The writing can suck, in fact it is ok if it does suck. That is what editing is for.
2) There will be no quitting until there are a minimum of 60,000 words- because I have never made it that far and I need to show myself that I can make it that far, and that  the world won't end if my story sucks.
3) The end result may be the sort of book I like to make fun of...and that is OK, because I wrote a book and that is all that matters right now- subsequent books can become better because there will have been more practice.

The odd thing is, I can take the critique of other people- it is my own self dialogue of critique that kills me before I leave the starting gate.
Now that I am nakedly exposed and uncomfortable with that, I will end this posting. ;-)
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Lent

One of the most anticipated parts of the year in our house is Lent. Being Eastern Orthodox our Lenten fast is rather strict with the dietary guidelines demanding no meat, dairy, oil or wine for the duration. There are a few days where the fast is not as strict and fish is allowed or wine. Every year I get excited when Meatfare week arrives and it is hard to eat the meat that we have on hand because I am so tired of meat, then there is Cheesefare week where we eat all the dairy in the house, then the fast begins in earnest, and Clean Monday happens.  Some hold to the tradition of not eating on Clean Monday, and some don't eat for the first three days of Lent (or so I have heard) this I have never done because I forget to not eat.  

The first couple of days my dedication to the fast is strong- but then thoughts of rare juicy steaks invade my thoughts during the day, and I notice how many commercials on the TV or in ads advertise restaurants with meat filled meals.

This where the other elements of fast and the WHY need to come into play.  Part of the fast is to increase prayer...something that literally takes minutes but is so hard. Also, the Lenten fast is to enable us to feel hunger and struggle with our body in its desires.  The struggle and hunger enable us to understand just a little better what the poor and hungry experience and to line up our human experience with theirs.
I came upon this quote tonight and found it to be helpful in keeping my perspective (after seeing 100 commercials for steak while watching The Middle)
For now, it seems that some fasting is the best way to remind myself of the millions who are hungry and to purify my heart and mind for a decision that does not exclude them. - Fr. Henri Nowen
I need this reminder. It is too easy to forget in our comfortable lives that people are starving and dying out there. My heart needs purification and softening towards those in need.  Lent serves to fix these things and adjust perspective and passions in order to be able to move past our inherent selfishness and sinfulness to serve and give and understand.  

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Productivity and Fiction

Recently I discovered an easy way to keep myself on task throughout the day. I program into the calendar on my iphone all the things I want/need to do in the course of the day with the beginning times. Once that is entered I program the alert to go off 5-15 minutes before my next task. It has worked wonderfully in the past but not today.

Today I was supposed to:
finish reading a book I'm writing a paper on
Make an outline for the paper to make the writing easier
Tackle the mountain of laundry that needs folded
Sort, purge, and bag clothes for Goodwill
Vacuum and dust
And do outside work because it is an amazingly beautiful day and my gardens are begging to be worked on.

Instead I decided to start writing.
Then I couldn't quit.
It has been many hours and many words, and I have discovered characters that I love,despise and admire- all at the same time.
I have heard authors say that writing is lonely; and obviously it can be, since one is alone. However, I find when I write fiction- especially when I stumble upon characters like I did today- that it is not so lonely, because there are these newly created people who have a story to tell.
That is the essence of what I love about writing fiction-meeting these people and dragging their story out onto paper (or Word)
What I do not love so much is making interesting the mundane details of their lives. 
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Monday, March 7, 2011

Easy Vegetable Soup

With Lent here I am looking for easy, simple, vegetarian recipes. I decided to make a huge pot of vegetable soup for my lunches throughout the week.  It turned out wonderfully and is very healthy. I did not measure anything, so forgive me for that...
Chop up two medium onions and toss in 2-3 minced garlic cloves (or more!)
saute until translucent and fragrant
Dump in a large can of organic diced fire roasted tomatoes (for extra flavor) with juice as well as a large can of organic chunky tomato sauce (I used Muir Glen)
Fill up can with water and add to pot...twice or three or four times if you don't like super tomato-y broth
Drain a can of kidney beans, rinse, add to pot
Add frozen vegetables...I used a soup blend of potatoes, carrots, green beans, okra and other things.
Add pepper, oregano and basil to taste, or whatever spices you like.
Let cook until done.
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Thursday, March 3, 2011


When my father saw previously untouched, wild land being developed he always said the same thing in a sad voice, "Well.....that's progress."  As the years went on he started adding in "How many damned Walgreens does this city need?" (add in any other drug store chain, gas station, fast food place and you have the whole idea)

Near the home I grew up in was a field we called The Polo Field, and with the field were woods. I spent countless hours there as a child bird watching, exploring, learning.  One day I went there with my guidebook of North American Wildlife and saw tire tracks, deep, rutted tire tracks that could only come from a big machine. I ran home in tears to tell my father, and he told me that they were turning that area into a housing development, and added a said "Well....that's progress".  This was devastating to me.  I had secret places there where I went to think, I knew the trees and where certain birds nested...and to hear that it would be destroyed was horrible.  Daily I would go and watch the field be transformed into dirt with big dirt piles that I would climb and sit on and survey the destruction of one of my most favorite places.

Today the developers started construction on the 70 acres of fields and woods that surround my house. Ive watched the bulldozers go off into the woods with men and chainsaws, and return dragging felled trees stripped of their limbs and turned into logs. I've had to stare at a bulldozer that is parked next to my fenceline, that narrowly missed taking out one of my lilacs.  My heart is broken and I have been in tears all morning. 

I wonder about their time frame with this developing, and how it coincides with the coyotes denning.  I wonder where the coyotes will go since they return to their dens to birth and raise pups year after year. Hawks nest in the woods, and owls...will their trees be felled while they are raising their chicks?


As I understand the plan, there will be a road build that goes through the fields and woods to connect to a
main road north of me. Way far back in the field a light industrial property will be built, and in the field to my north between my neighbor and us, there will be a pond, a playground and a hill that will be good for sledding. 

Eventually I am sure I will somehow come to terms with this, but for right now I feel the same way I did as a little girl when the Polo Field was destroyed ......I don't see any progress at all.
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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Story of Us

In 1994 a boy bumped into me at my locker. He was tall- lanky...his hair hung in his face and was straw colored; he wore a flannel shirt, tight black jeans, and big boots. I was not happy with being so rudely bumped into that I yelled at him, went to push him but was dragged off by my friend Ken admonishing me to leave him alone.
A few days later I was sitting in the student lounge of the alternative high school I attended; senior year found me with only three classes needed to graduate, so in between I would study or read.  I heard people come in the room - it was the boy who I had so  memorably met at my locker. We both glanced up and held a long look. In that moment I knew there was something about him.
After that he started seeking me out and we would have long talks while I was in between classes, and he was skipping.  In the last day of school before graduation he tore a page out of A Catcher in the Rye, wrote his number on it and said, "If you ever feel like talking again-give me a call"
Two weeks later I did.
Two weeks we talked on the phone for hours each day.
One night he said he had to see me, and he picked me up at midnight. We drove around till 5am talking.
Two weeks after that he said "You are the kind of woman I want to marry" and there was an understanding that someday we would be.

One and a half years later we were married.

Four years after that we had our first child
...then a second
....then a third.
The early years were a struggle that smoothed out into something so comfortable, so partnered, with both of us more in love than I ever imagined possible.

Today finds us at our 15th wedding anniversary.  FIFTEEN years! I can't believe it has gone by so fast.  Hopefully we can make 60 more.....

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