Archive for August, 2012

NaBloPoMo doesn’t have prompts on weekends, leaving them available for “free-writing.”  Not a good thing for me, as I usually either blow off posting entirely or go on a world-class Rant.  I promise to try to behave myself today, though.

Thanks to NaBloPoMo, I’ve picked up a couple of new readers – temporarily, anyway – so I thought I’d bring up something about my life, and the way I try to live it.  I am well into my sixth decade of life, married with two grown children (whom I sometimes refer to as “groan” children – you never stop worrying about your children), one of whom has two sons and one of whom is unmarried.  (Yes, the one with the two sons is married.  I can’t believe I just wrote that qualifier.  Nor can I believe that it should even need to be spelled out.  O tempora, O mores….)  I am a retired secretary with a degree in accounting, which I acquired too late in life to do anything useful with, and I currently spend my days on housework and “fine-art cross-stitch” – that’s when you find a pattern that reproduces, in symbols, a piece of fine art, and you work it.  It’s a little like paint-by-number, only with thread.

And I am an Orthodox Christian.  Not an orthodox Christian.  There’s a world of difference between the two.  If you are an orthodox Christian, you go to church on Sunday, you read your Bible, you do good works.  If you are a mainstream orthodox Christian, you do all of that, but you are also heavily active in political causes of the left-wing variety, engaging in protests and voicing support for behaviors that used to be considered highly unChristian.  You do this in the name of Inclusiveness, and you sincerely believe that this activity presents a God Who loves all humankind, just as they are.

If you are an Orthodox Christian, you may – or may not – have some kind of ethnic qualifier in front of that, such as Greek or Russian or Romanian.  People are always asking me what the difference is, and I tell them, “Language.”  Such a thing is only possible in places to which people from Orthodox countries have immigrated.  In all cases, the beliefs are exactly the same, and an Orthodox Christian can attend Liturgy in any of them and feel reasonably at home – language can still be a barrier, though.

If you are an Orthodox Christian, you attend church, but not just on Sundays – there is a whole raft of feastdays that fall at various points of the year, and while attendance at Liturgy is not mandatory (as it would be in the Catholic Church), an Orthodox Christian who takes his faith seriously will make an effort to attend at least some of them.  Some Orthodox Christians read their Bible, some don’t, feeling that the Bible presented in church on Sundays and feastdays gives them plenty to ponder on during the week.  One former Protestant pastor, on becoming Orthodox, counted up the number of Bible verses in an average Sunday service and came up with 104.  There’s a lot to think about in 104 verses.

Your good works tend to be of the quiet variety, and almost never involve public protests.  You might indulge briefly in a bit of juicy gossip about an “errant” member of the congregation, but will find that the conversation is swiftly, and deftly, turned aside to something much more innocuous; the following Sunday, the priest will probably preach a sermon about the importance of examining one’s own spiritual life.

And this is where Orthodox Christianity gets unorthodox.  Nearly everyone who knows anything about Christianity believes that Christianity is a religion of peace, love, and brotherhood.  Or they trumpet George Carlin’s famous (and inaccurate) observation that “more wars have been fought in the name of religion than over anything else.”  (Examine history.  Wars have almost always been fought over territory.  Territory equals economic power.)  What is true is that the end result of being a Christian should be acquiring a spirit of peace – but that peace is obtained by relentless spiritual warfare, battle with oneself, battle with those aspects of one’s personality that are at odds with the Gospel – or, as one priest once put it, “battle with God.”  In this warfare, failure is not only an option, it’s practically a requirement – and failure is a good thing, because it always brings you up against your own shortcomings.

We do tend to try to avoid politics, since worshipping God shouldn’t depend on one’s political leanings.  We don’t tell people that God hates them, since hatred is so alien to God’s nature anyway.  We do try to live simply, always within our means, so that we have money to give where it’s needed; we do try to treat the environment with responsibility, but without becoming nuisances about it.  Some people who become Orthodox see the Church as some kind of Christian-hippie movement, but it isn’t; a lot of business people (shhhh – Republicans, even) are Orthodox Christians, and yes, they do live simply and environmentally responsibly, within their means.  Some Orthodox Christians have quite large families; they are frequently upbraided for being a “drain” on the environment, but considering the number of people in this modern world who have chosen not to reproduce at all, it’s a little hard to take that claim seriously.

In short, being an Orthodox Christian is about as counter-cultural as it gets.  One lady thought her husband had joined a cult, when he became Orthodox; she subsequently learned enough about the Orthodox Church that she joined him.  People do tend to go overboard when they first become Orthodox; it’s a lot like being in love, when the person you love is all you can think about or talk about.  A good priest can help you dial it back, so that you settle into being a person whom others can live with – just with an added dimension.  An…unexpected…unorthodox dimension.

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Really, when you look at the strange twists and turns that life takes, I don’t know how people can conclude that there is no God.  If, for example, my godfather and uncle hadn’t met and married a woman from New Hampshire when they were both in the Army, my family would never have dreamed of visiting them here.  I would never have concluded that New Hampshire was an infinitely better place to raise a family than New York City, where my family is from.  If my husband and I hadn’t moved here, I would never have gotten a job at one of those firms that develops and scores standardized educational exams.  And neither would my daughter.  And if she hadn’t worked there, she would never have met the man who became her husband, and they would never have had their two sons.  Two people now exist in this world who would never have come into being, if my uncle had not met and married this woman – who subsequently divorced him, anyway.  I have no idea why; I only know my family’s side of the story.

That’s about to change, I think.  This past April, my uncle’s son killed himself.  We weren’t close, but since he was family, I went to his wake, and there met his mother, whom I have not seen in over fifty years, this same native New Hampshirite whose brief marriage to my uncle brought us all here.  She was ecstatic, after so many years – and to be honest, I was happy to see her at last, too.  I really, really liked her when I knew her, and always grieved for the breakup.

Today, I took myself out to lunch.  I take myself out to lunch as often as I can, actually, mostly because I really hate making lunch.  I mean, once you’ve exhausted cold cuts, tuna salad, and peanut-butter-and-jelly (which I can’t eat anyway – I’m allergic to peanuts), what else is there?!  Not last night’s leftovers, not with my husband home all day and routinely saying, “What happened to…?”

(We once had a conversation about my odd lunch-out habit.  When he learned that I had always eaten lunch out, he was floored:  “Didn’t you ever pack a lunch?”  I thought about that for a bit – it isn’t as if my family was as rich as, say, the Kennedys, but then, who is – before I realized why:  Anything I had brought into the house to pack for lunch the next day would have disappeared overnight, down the gullets of any or all of my three younger brothers.  Nothing was safe in that house.)

So, I take myself out to lunch as often as I can.  I bring a book, and enjoy my own company and somebody else’s sandwich-making skills.  I had just sat myself down and was reaching for my book, when an older woman came up to my table and addressed me by my first name.  Now, not too many people in this town know me by my first name, which I loathe; many more know me by my middle name, and that’s how I like it.  So there was only one way a woman of a Certain Age could have known me by my first name.

It was her, my long-lost aunt.  I probably would have invited her to have lunch with me, but she was already engaged with one of her daughters, so she contented herself with giving me her telephone number and exclamations of Let’s-get-together-soon.  I said we would – I really would like to – she went back to her daughter, and I returned to my book.

And then I went to pay my check.

And the waitress told me that the Ladies Behind Me had paid it for me.

“What is the sweetest thing someone did for you today?” is today’s prompt.  I know I covered this in the post I wrote this morning, but – that was yesterday.  This is today.  I am still floored, that getting together with me means so much to this woman.  After all, she’s from here, she has family here and a long, long history in this town.  She could have lunch with any one of a couple dozen people.  But she has just ensured that I will be getting together with her.

Don’t tell me there is no God.  He keeps breaking into my life in the most unexpected ways.

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Well, that didn’t last long – my resolve to post every day, that is.  In fairness, I was gone for most of yesterday, and also, yesterday’s prompt – ” What is the sweetest thing someone said to you today?” – wasn’t the most inspiring.  People aren’t given to saying sweet things to people my age.  However, today’s prompt –  What is the sweetest thing someone did for you today?” – actually works.  For yesterday.  Today is still too new for me to address anything besides breakfast, which I have yet to eat.

My mother was unimpressed by words.  “Actions speak louder than words” was her motto, so when you’d say, “Mommy, I love you,” she’d snap back, “Deeds, not words,” which meant, basically, “So get off your duff and do something around the house, if you love me so much.”  The trouble was, in a household the size of ours – five kids – there was always so much to do, that no matter what you did, it didn’t make all that much of a difference.  Eventually, I was able to take on the mending, so at least that helped a bit; I was hopeless at ironing.  I always managed to iron creases into shirts.

Anyway, back to the present.  The weather has been very hot and humid lately, so any housework that needs to get done, needs to get done no later than 9:00 a.m., or it’s a lost cause for the day.  (Laundry excepted.  Cold rinses always work on a hot day.)  Yesterday, I got all my housework done by 9:00 a.m., except for an errand to the post office, and I was planning to do that by car, on my way to somewhere else.  My husband, knowing that I had a long drive ahead of me, stepped up to the plate, and offered to walk my parcels down to the post office for me.

Big deal?  Yes, actually, it was.  The parcels in question really mattered to me, but only to me, not to him; and he had his own plans for the day, which included a good bit of gardening, shopping for groceries, and an afternoon swim at a lake about twenty miles from where we live.  In other words, his day was already all planned in his mind.  But to those plans, he added my errand, which meant that I was able to take off for my “church gig” unencumbered by more chores.  (“Church gig” = a drive of 40 miles/75 km, one way, to hang out with a group of senior citizens at one of the two churches I attend regularly.  I do this once a week.  The old ladies are a pip – I can always count on them for a good laugh and a lot of good stories.)

As Mommie Dearest used to say, “Deeds, not words.”  In the case of my husband, I get both.  I am truly blessed.

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Prompt for the day:  “Name something sweet you ate today.”

To be honest, I find this a little, umm, “desperate,” somewhat in the category of scraping the bottom of the barrel.  Is that all they could come up with?!  A one-word sentence would suffice for an answer!  On the other hand, I’m using prompts generated by a writer’s group – how desperate is that?!  So I will just shut up and write to prompt.

Fortunately, this one is easy for me:  Breakfast.  In my old age, my breakfast rarely varies.  I’ve found a formula that works for me, something I can throw together in my sleep, at this point, which I think most folks would agree has its charms at oh-dark-thirty in the morning.  (It’s not that bad.  With no kids and a retired husband, I’m usually up by 6:30.  That’s still too early for many folks I know.)

Breakfast, when I prepare it at home, consists of the same basic ingredient:  oatmeal.  It’s how you prepare the oatmeal that makes all the difference.  When I lived in Germany, I learned that most people I knew didn’t cook their rolled oats; they ate them uncooked, with fruit, nuts, and milk.  Sounds gross?  Try it sometime.  In the summertime, that’s how I always eat my oatmeal:  1/2 cup of Old-Fashioned Quaker Oats, uncooked.  Add to this 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries (frozen is very important), 2 tablespoons of mixed chopped almonds and hazelnuts, 2 tablespoons of raisins.  Mix everything together in the bowl, and add enough milk to cover it all.  The frozen blueberries put a real chill on a hot summer morning, and set you up to face the dog days.

Once the weather cools down, the recipe changes slightly.  I heat the milk first (a full cup of milk), and add the oats and blueberries to that, once it gets hot.  I don’t add nuts, but I do put in a tablespoon or so of maple syrup.  It has to be the real stuff, if you can get it; where I live, fake maple syrup is considered an act of treason.  Cook the oatmeal according to package directions, and eat when it’s done.  (Oh, OK, I do add a tablespoon of coffee creamer both to cool it down a bit and to add a little extra “kick” to the taste.)

One other thing.  For reasons I won’t go into – my friends know what they are – I do eat vegan for about half the year, and because of that, I’ve gotten away from cow’s milk.  I use almond milk, which adds to the overall sweetness of this dish and has the added benefit of being lower both in calories and carbs than cow’s milk.  It also has at least as much calcium as cow’s milk; a couple of name brands have more calcium than cow’s milk.  Give it a shot!  I also add a cut-up banana, summer or winter; the potassium is good for you on several levels.

Life is bitter enough at times; I feel we owe it to ourselves to sweeten it up as much as we can.  And there’s no better time than breakfast.

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