Archive for September, 2005

Bear with me…

While I try to figure out how to add a picture to my profile….

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Yesterday, after Russian class, I realized I hadn’t talked to my sister in about two weeks, which is something of a record for us — ever since she got a new, and very part-time, job. So I called her and asked if she were available for lunch. She called back, said yes, we met at a local eatery, and talked for over 2 hours. My sister is 15 years younger than I am, so it’s like two generations in the same family: my experiences and memories are so vastly different from her experiences and memories. Between us, we’re a virtual encyclopedia of our family. (The three guys who arrived between my birth and hers don’t seem to remember anything family-related. Must be a chick thing.)

I got home, got on my e-mail, just to see what had occurred in the world between my 7:00 a.m. departure and 3:00 p.m. — and found a note from the Summer School of Liturgical Music: the wife of one of the graduates had been killed in a traffic accident, leaving behind two children. The kick in the head is, these people are all from Russia. Now this girl’s family will never see her again, and presumably, she will have to be buried in foreign soil.

They live in the Boston area, a city with which I am fairly well acquainted; so I really should attend the funeral, if I can get down there. However, there’s the rub: No one in his right mind drives in Boston. This is probably true for most big cities; for example, I’ve never driven in Manhattan, despite being a native New Yorker, and I never drove in Boston for all the five years we lived in close proximity to that city. Boston has the added “charm” of having streets that are so unpredictable, you can make four right turns and have absolutely no clue where you are — all you know is, you are not where you started.

So driving to Boston is out of the question. No problem. There’s train service between here and Boston, bus service as well. OK, now: How to get from either North Station (train service) or South Station (bus service) out to Roslindale, where the funeral will take place?

Do you think there’s anything so simple as a map of the city’s transportation system that actually acknowledges the existence of Roslindale?

That about sums up my whole experience with Boston: A city that should be a whole lot more convenient than it is, full of insane drivers (there’s a reason that ads for auto insurance always add, “Not applicable in Massachusetts or New Jersey”), and impossible — absolutely impossible — to get from here to there using anything that makes any sense. Why is that?

Why are people in Boston so hot and bothered about where they’re going that they drive like certified lunatics? When we moved there, 25 years ago, my husband was told that “red lights are strictly advisory,” and the person who told him that — a native Bostonian — wasn’t joking. It’s the only place I know of where you can have a green light and a pedestrian Walk light, and still have to watch, in all directions at once, every step you take.

Why was somebody in such a big honking rush that he took a risk that cost a young mother her life?

Why do people find it necessary — and this includes most of our ancestors — to travel halfway around the globe in order to find a better life?

And the obvious question, that nobody has any business asking, but I know it’s in all our minds: Why was it necessary to deprive a young wife and mother of her life?

Having gone through a similar experience, of having grown up without my natural father who died in a traffic accident, I can state with absolute certainty that this event will shape the entire lives of those two children, quite possibly for the better. They will never again take anything for granted that most people do. They will never again become so attached to anyone that the thought of losing them won’t be uppermost in their minds. When they marry, they will cherish every day of life with their spouse, even when said spouse drives them up the wall. And sadly, they will also probably put up some kind of a wall between them and their father — after all, the same thing could happen to him. Once it happens, anything at all is possible, right? Can’t afford to get too attached.

As for her husband: As you get older, you start to consider what life without your spouse might be like. Or what life might be like for your spouse without you. To me, it’s just a sensible precaution to make sure that Jim could get through daily life without me. But when you are young, in your 30s and 40s, getting things in order for your spouse to carry on without you is just not on the radar scope. Only for him, it’s not only on the radar scope, it’s scored a direct hit. He’s just experienced his own personal 9/11: catastrophic, unimaginable, destruction beyond destruction of something that was supposed to last a lifetime. And the need to carry on as though it were only a blip, a temporary disruption in the continuum of his life. He still has to go to work every day. He still has to put bread on the table for his kids. And only a few people care that he now also has to do everything for them that his wife did.

So, the final Why: Why do people imagine for one nanosecond that they can possibly get through anything like this without the presence of God? For Vladimir, that won’t happen. He’s a committed Christian, someone who became a Christian despite having grown up in an atmosphere that daily denied the existence of God. This is someone who will most certainly ask all they Whys I did, and many more; but he won’t have to ask the final Why.

Pray for these people. Pray for Vladimir, Anna, and Victor. Pray for the soul of Galina. And pray for those with whom you share your life, ’cause you really never do know when the last kiss you share will be the Last Kiss in this life.

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Actually, there is no love-hate affair. It’s all hate. I have yet to meet a vacuum cleaner that loves me, let alone that I could love.

My mother had an Electrolux for years. She loved the thing because she had purchased it from her brother, after his retirement from the Navy. (Shortly after he sold it to her, he re-enlisted.) Not being, as they say, au fait with cleaning generally, let alone the ins and outs of Advanced Vacuumetromy or whatever it’s called, I paid no heed. I didn’t even own a vacuum cleaner when we began our married life, seeing that we were living in a foreign country with foreign (i.e., direct) current.

Shortly after our arrival home, however, we set up house, and my mother talked me into getting a vacuum cleaner. It was a Sears canister model, and it was all right. It did the job. For about five years. One day it simply quit, and I believe was no longer repairable; at least, I think that’s why d.h. took the thing apart and left it sitting in the hall closet, complete with all its working parts in a shoebox.

Since then we’ve owned two others, one another Sears canister and my current model, a Shark Euro-Pro. The Shark has the advantage — the sole advantage, I might add — of being somewhat quieter than any other vacuum cleaner I’ve ever owned. Changing the bags is a nuisance (and I refuse to go bagless. How on earth do people put up with the dust and other yuck that accumulates in a vacuum?! Do they go out and buy another one?!). There’s no storage tray for all the little attachments, so you either have to stop every time you turn around to get the correct “tool,” or forego the things altogether.

Really, what do you need a vacuum cleaner for?! What does it do that a dustmop, a broom, or a carpet sweeper can’t do?! It’s even easier to clean off your windowsills with a dust brush, that to haul out 50 lbs. of machinery bent on tripping you up every chance it gets.

And what’s with the flipping? When did they stop making vacuums with four wheels? Now we’re supposed to believe that three wheels are just as efficient for getting it from one room to the next, but boy, that thing flips onto its back faster than a dolphin that smells people food. The Shark is even worse: It has just two wheels. They’re rather large, and the vacuum is really small, so you’d think they’d be adequate to the task, but no, all I have to do is turn around and my vacuum is flat on its back, spinning its wheels like a motorized cast sheep.

Most galling of all is that dh really loves the things. To him, a house without a vacuum cleaner is unthinkable. How else would you clean? he seems to think. I don’t know why. It’s not as if we had carpets. I dislike carpets intensely, chiefly because they need to be vacuumed, and because getting them cleaned once a year is outrageously expensive. I’d rather have a civilized little rug on a nice hardwood floor, something you can toss when you’re good and sick of it.

And it’s not as if you could wash the floor with it. Dust with it? Dust with it?! Who dusts with a vacuum cleaner?! That’s like curing a headache with brain surgery. No, all it seems to be good for is lugging around from room to room, periodically setting it upright after it gets cast again, and getting up the grosser dust from nooks and crannies. Did I mention it doesn’t even fit under furniture? I have to get out my dust mop for that.

Oh, wait, I know. It makes Noise. Sounds Productive. Rather like having a power mower that you still have to push, pull, lug and chug around the yard — another 20th-century invention that makes no sense to me. What’s the good of adding another 20 lbs. of weight to lug around, when you could do the job with less effort, and a lot more quietly, using a reel mower? Similarly, why subject yourself to all that dust, noise, and pollution, when you could simply push around ye olde dust mop (or Swiffer, if you want to be modern about it), flick a feather duster over the knick-knacks, and let the fresh air sweeten the house?

I’ve just finished my irregular effort with the vacuum cleaner. I get it out whenever dh looks to be building up a good head of steam, to the effect of, Here I am doing all this yard work, and you’re just sitting around playing with the computer again. Now that he has heard Noise, he’ll leave me in peace. The house is no cleaner than it was half an hour ago (in my opinion), but I guess there’s no arguing with Noise. Oddly enough, that logic hasn’t yet extended to purchasing a dishwasher. Now, there’s a noisy appliance I could live with.

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Philippa posted a comment to my last blog about a woman at her church who’d had a lump on her thyroid, and after she prayed about it, it went away. The doctor couldn’t explain it.

As I mentioned, during that fall at Jordanville I also cracked my wrist. Four days after “treatment” (they put it in a splint, but didn’t put a cast on it), it was still throbbing, and no pain-killers were working on it. On the Thursday morning, the Kursk Root Icon was being brought to the school for the students to venerate, before it left the monastery for Australia. I had heard that this was a miracle-working icon, so as I venerated it, I touched my wrist to the icon, hoping that the Theotokos would take away the pain. As I lowered my wrist, I felt bones rearranging themselves, accompanied by a gentle radiant warmth; holding my breath, I went back to class, picked up my pen, and began to take notes. And I had not been able to write with that hand at all.

Later on in the day, I was telling one of the teachers about my experience, and she recalled a “whopper”: It seems that a local Matushka and her two children were out running errands, and as they crested a hill, they found someone in their lane, hurtling towards them. Their car was totaled, and all three ended up in the hospital in comas. The little boy came out of his first; the mother was next; and a few days later, when she was able to process information, the doctors took her in to see her little girl, three years old. The child was in a deep coma, and the doctors explained that from the severe impact of the head-on, her brain had basically turned into water; they showed the x-rays to the mother, and advised her to have her child taken off life support.

The mother knew that the Kursk Root icon was visiting the monastery, so she called, asking for prayers. Next thing anyone knew, seven Orthodox monks, in full regalia, marched into the ICU, holding the icon; surrounded the child’s bed; and proceeded to offer a Service of Supplication to the Kursk Root Icon.

At the time I heard this story, the little girl was seven years old, had just completed second grade with top grades, and was doing all the normal seven-year-old stunts that stop any mother’s heart.

(By the way — I love how they talk about icons generally: “The icon was visiting the monastery, the icon is travelling to Australia, Father So-and-So is accompanying the icon….” It took me awhile to grasp that the person portrayed in any given icon inspires a flesh-and-blood human being to pick it up and take it someplace, therefore, the icon itself initiates the action; but I still get a charge out of hearing it expressed so clearly. A Westerner would have a real problem with this concept!)

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I don’t quite know what to say about this, but I have to say something; so here goes.

Three years ago, while at the Summer School for Liturgical Music in Jordanville, NY, I took a bad fall down a flight of stairs. Incredibly, I didn’t get that badly banged up; I got a chip fracture in my right wrist (the one I write with, naturally), and my knee, which took the brunt of the fall, actually didn’t break, though it was terrifically swollen and painful for about a year. X-rays didn’t show any damage, though, so no one has ever done anything about it.

People were kindness itself to me when I fell. The Summer School Director and his wife put in a lot of time running me to the hospital for checkups; the students fell all over themselves trying to make my life easier; blessings particularly on the guy who took me to the hospital the night I fell, and ended up missing dinner because of me. There was also a kindly babushka who belongs to the parish who gave me a bottle of oil from the tomb of St. John of San Francisco.

Except that over the past three years, walking has become increasingly difficult. There were some other side issues with my right foot, now thankfully resolved, but three years later, I still have three lumps in my knee, one in front and two on the side, and off and on, they really bother me. I still can’t kneel at all, which is real interesting during Lent and confession, but even more interesting when trying to clean around the house.

Last week sometime, I managed to do something to this knee, twist it or something, in a way that made it extremely painful to get around. I limped through my household chores on Saturday, and managed to stand aright in church on Sunday by hanging on for dear life to the music stand in the choir loft; but when I woke up yesterday, and the pain was still with me, I didn’t know what to do. Going to the doctor is not an option; I’ve been trying to get a doctor to look at this thing for three years, and no one wants to bother. (New Hampshire must be where they send all the bottom-of-the-barrel med-school graduates.) As I finished my prayers yesterday, having trouble standing and getting to my feet during those, too, I growled, “All right, enough is enough,” and reaching for the little bottle of oil that the kindly babushka had given me three years ago, I dabbed a little on my index and middle fingers and smoothed it all over my knee.

And it hasn’t given me any trouble since.

OK, why am I so surprised? I mean, what did I expect? Why did I rub this stuff on, if I didn’t expect it to work? I guess…because things like this happen to other people, but not, as a rule, to me. I guess I still can’t get over the fact that when something is hurting me, that actually matters to God, He actually cares enough to do something about it. With the exception of my husband, this never happens in my life. The point of my existence is to take care of other people, not to be taken care of; so even though I know He cares, in a general God-loves-everybody sort of way, it still takes me by surprise that He notices, that He reaches out a healing finger…. Yeah, that He kisses my boo-boo.

What would He not do if I weren’t afraid to ask Him, because dammit, I still Don’t Want to “Bother” God.

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Shamelessly cribbed from Philippa’s blog (I tried to insert a link, but it didn’t come up):

First best friend: Karen Morrissey in Middle Village when I was 6.
First car: 1967 VW Beetle.
First screen name: What’s a screen name? I could tell you my first scream name….
First pets: I know it was a dog, and I know I was around 8, but for the life of me I can’t remember its name. It didn’t last too long.
First piercing: never. Ewwww.

Last cigarette: Never smoked.
Last car ride: Yesterday, to Weight Watchers.
Last kiss: Last night, before bed.
Last good cry: In my book, there is no such thing as a good cry. I hate crying.
Last library book: P. D. James’s latest, but I can’t remember the title.
Last movie seen: The American President, on video.
Last beverage drank: Cup of peach tea.
Last food consumed: Chicken thighs, with rice and California-style veggie mix.
Last crush: The Old Pussycat!
Last phone call: Can’t remember!
Last time showered: Last night.
Last shoes worn: New Balance walkers.
Last cd played: Rarely play CDs — who needs ’em when you live in an area with *three* classical-music stations?!
Last item bought: Gardener’s soap from a new shop.
Last annoyance: People who don’t use their heads for more than hatracks. I’m not the brightest crayon in the box, so if I can see a thing, why can’t anyone else?! The really galling part is when they say, “Ohhhh, I never thought of that!”
Last shirt worn: Rose-pink polo shirt.
Last website visited: Blogspot
Last IM: Never did learn how to do this.
Last word you said: “G’night, Sweetheart. Sleep tight.”
Last song you sang: Closing prayer at Vespers.
What color socks are you wearing? Right now? Bedroom slippers!
What’s under your bed? “This house is protected by killer dustballs.”
What time did you wake up today? 3:45 a.m. Don’t ask.

Where do you want to go? Short-term: Church. Long-term: Someplace quiet. You wouldn’t believe how noisy Gonic, NH has become.
Where are you going to live? Right here, for as long as possible!
How many kids do you want? Six. But the two I had are just fine. 😀
What kind of car(s): I’d love it if I could buy another Escort — can’t beat 40 mpg. Failing that, I’d love a Mini Cooper, but they’re expensive as sin.

Current mood: Hey, I’ve been up since 5:00 a.m. Let me wake up first!
Current music: None
Current taste: None.
Current hair: Needs to be brushed, but at long last, my bad-hair days are pretty much over. Menopause is good for something, anyway.
Current clothes: Nightgown, bathrobe, bedroom slippers.
Current color of toenails: Natural, dahhhling!

1. Nervous Habits: I pick the sides of my thumbs.
3. Can you roll your tongue?: No, and why would I want to?!
4. Can you raise one eyebrow at a time?: Just the right one.
5 Can you blow spit bubble?: Yes. It always impresses babies. 😉
6. Can you cross your eyes?: UGH!
7. Tattoos?: No, absolutely not. I can’t stand them!
8. Piercings and where: See #6.
9. Do you make your bed daily? I air it out first — throw back the covers and let the fresh air kill all the dust mites. Then I shake it out and smoothe it (it’s a duvet), but when I shake it out depends on my schedule.

10. Which shoe goes on first?: Left.
11. Speaking of shoes, have you ever thrown one at anyone?: No. If I were ever tempted to throw anything at anyone, it wouldn’t be a shoe.
12. On the average, how much money do you carry in your wallet?: That’s classified. But it’s under $100.
13. What jewelry do you wear 24/7?: Wedding ring, engagement ring, gold cross, and watch.
14. Favorite piece of clothing?: At this point, anything that fits. But I would love to find a nice riding skirt in a deep tan (deep, rich brown my second favorite).

15. Do you twirl your spaghetti or cut it? Twirl. I never heard of cutting spaghetti!
16. Have you ever eaten Spam? You mean you eat Spam? 😉
17. Favorite ice cream flavor? Sadly, I can’t eat ice cream. But when I could: coffee chip.
18. How many cereals in your cabinet? Three: oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, and Great Grains. I also have a couple of Ezekial cereals, but I find I can’t eat them — they have, shall we say, an unfortunate effect on my digestive system.
19. What’s your favorite beverage? Iced coffee in the summer, peach tea any time of year.
20. What’s your favorite restaurant? A local breakfast/lunch place called Benedict’s. They have the best-prepared, most reasonably priced food, and their kitchen is spotless.
21. Do you cook? Not only do I cook, I cook international. That’s why I hate summer; who wants to eat hot food in the summer?!

22. How often do you brush your teeth? Once or twice a day.
23. Hair drying method? I wash it at night and sleep on it wet. In the morning, it comes out with just the right amount of fluff.
24. Have you ever colored/highlighted your hair? A long time ago, I used to get my hair highlighted red (I love red hair). But it doesn’t take on greying hair, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s women with wrinkles and bright red or blonde hair; so I’m not getting it done anymore.

25. Do you swear? On rare occasion.
26. Do you ever spit? One of my least favorite habits (in others – don’t do it myself). I can’t say enough about how it grosses me out.

27. Animal? That’s easy – sheep!
28. Food? Anything German. Brings back happy memories.
29. Month? September. No, wait, October. No, wait, I love ’em both.
30. Day? Sunday. Monday’s a close second. I love the feeling of a new work week.
31. Favorite Cartoon Character? I have favorite cartoons, but no one character.
32. Shoe Brand? At this point, anything I can walk in. I have terribly crippled feet.
33. Subject in school? History or English. I hated school generally.
34. Color? Brown.
35. Sport? Bicycling.
36. TV show? NCIS. I used to love JAG, too, but the last two seasons were phenomenally stupid.

41. The CD player? We have two: one in a boom box, and one in one of those Crosley record players that looks like a 1930s radio.
42. Person you talk most on the phone? The kiddos.
43. Pictures up? I have a few pictures of English cottages in the living room. What I would really love is to frame some of my Thomas Kinkade calendar art.
44. Do you regularly look at yourself in store windows and mirrors? <>
45. What color is your bedroom? Blue-flower wallpaper. But I think we’re going to re-do the room pretty soon, and I will probably look for something green, to go with the rest of the house.
46. Do you use an alarm clock? Not usually. Morning people have built-in alarm clocks, I find.
47. Window seat or aisle? Doesn’t matter, usually, though on a train I do like to look out the window.

48. What’s your sleeping position? Right side.
49. Even in hot weather do you use a blanket? I need at least a sheet. But no, I’m not really comfortable without some kind of weight on me.
50. Do you snore? There is a canard to that effect….
51. Do you sleepwalk? No.
52. Do you talk in your sleep? Gosh, I hope not! But how would you know?
53. Do you sleep with stuffed animals? No, but we have a whole menagerie of stuffed animals that take the place of the kids.
54. How about with the light on? I can’t think of a better recipe for interrupted sleep that some light glaring in my face.
55. Do you fall asleep with the TV or radio on? No.
56. Do you sleep with the door shut? Depends. In the summer, when the fan is on – yes. (It pulls in the air more efficiently from the window if the door is closed.) In the winter, when the heat is on, and we like to sleep with the window open – definitely. The rest of the year, no.

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As all my nearest and dearest and most of my cronies know, I usually spend two weeks every summer at the Summer School for Liturgical Music in upstate NY — two weeks of hobnobbing with other folks who love to sing and love Orthodoxy, it doesn’t get any better than that. A couple of summers ago, I was chatting with one of the professors about politics, and he opined that one’s only real choices were the “Party of Evil” or the “Party of Stupidity.”

Now, since this person is from Boston, I was pretty sure which political party he considered “evil” (Boston being one of the most solidly Democratic cities in the nation), but I was curious to find out why he thought the Democrats were stupid. So I asked, “Which is the Party of Evil?” He looked at me as if to say, “You’re kidding, right?” and answered, “The Democrats, of course.” And while I was still picking my jaw up from the floor, he added, “What’s more evil than killing your own children?”

Good point.

I raise it because, reading other people’s blogs, I am struck with the venom directed at the Bushes. Regardless of one’s opinion as to how this latest fiasco was mismanaged (and having seen FEMA in action on many other occasions, I’m not convinced this was any different or worse), there’s such a personal quality to people’s vituperation. Really, it’s been that way ever since the election of 2000, when people were convinced Bush “stole” the White House. (Yes, Gore won the popular vote, but not the electoral vote. That has happened before, most recently in 1960, when the other Most Hated Republican — Richard Nixon — refused to request a recount.)

So I got to thinking. And it seems to me that for the absolute foulness of public discourse to cease, the only solution is for the nation to keep electing Democrats, since at least Republicans are funny when taking potshots at the opposition.

In that case, which is worse? To live with four years of Republican mismanagement, a lot of malcontents spewing venom and hatred at everything that the President undertakes, and rousing the rabble until we become a camp of armed militia on either side of the political spectrum? Or to live with the Party of Evil in power, supporting the demolition of the family and the wholesale murder of the unborn and definitions of marriage that are most charitably described as “creative,” selling the country down the road of perdition until a takeover by Anti-Christ is inevitable — but the rabble are Fat, Dumb and Happy, and intelligent discourse becomes not even a memory?

I don’t know. Well, I do know — for myself. I will continue to vote according to my conscience, and also according to the way I have voted most of my life: deciding early on which candidate I’m against, and not looking too closely at what’s left. Unfortunately, I think that’s how most people vote nowadays.

Oh, and I’ll spend Election Days as I spent this past Election Day, singing alternately, “Save, O Lord, Thy people,” and “To thee, the Champion Leader.” That way, whichever wins, I’ll know it was the will of God, and I’ll be content.

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