Ekaterina–and the Turning of the Tides

One loaf of Struan.

The family closest to Nataliya also has a new little baby girl. One of the many little girls I was telling you about that has come into our community as of late. This sweet little daughter has twin big brothers, and parents who are so full of love. She’s blessed, to be sure.

Anyway, last week, before the festivities of Thanksgiving arrived, on the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos, I baked. I baked and I cried. It was a whole day of tears. You need to know something about me–this dive into weakness and despair is very odd. I am Basque, which translates to my being stubborn and strong, despite the winds and storms around me. But God has been working desperately hard to tenderize this heart of mine. And I believe I’ve finally surrendered, and hopefully some good, fruitful work has happened within me.

Which is why I just let myself cry the whole of last Monday–sun up to sun down. During liturgy, I have to admit, I was tiring of the tears. I finally toted myself into the Cry Room to be with the babies. Funny–no babies were crying that night, just me.

Anyway, I brought the warm loaf of bread, hoping a baby would be present at liturgy–and there was Ekaterina, snuggled into her mama’s arms, wearing a pink knit cap.

So, I think we’re awfully near the end of depressing posts! The tides have turned and the baking for babies has begun, and I’m all cried out!

And Christ is coming…

And more good news:

Nataliya has been released from the hospital. So far her body has accepted the new liver, and she is weak but eating. Please continue to pray for her. Her kidneys have not recovered from all the trauma, so she’s enduring dialysis three times each week. Join me in offering up enormous prayers of thanks that she’s come this far–and let’s root her on to full health–I’m wondering if she’s tired of crying, too…

Sending you all love and blessings. Advent is here!


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Giving Thanks (from the heart)

I’ve learned as of late that it’s not so very difficult to give thanks, even in the midst of hardship. God has surrounded us by so much goodness and beauty that it’s hard to ignore. When you’re broken, seeing the little things can be strangely easier. But even though we can appreciate those things which make us thankful, we need to take the harder step and live and speak and love in a constant spirit of giving thanks.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks…

It’s true that…

I’m thankful for my home, my family, food, winter gardens, and sunshine. I’m thankful for my church, my country, and for God who loves me.

but it’s also true that…

I’m thankful for tears that really do heal. For a daughter who will tell me about her day, read to me the poems she writes, and play the piano early in the morning, filling the house with music.

I’m thankful for a small patch of grass, where I can spread a blanket and breathe some fresh air in the afternoon when I’m all done and can’t keep going. Grass, right here in my backyard, all cool, and inviting, and where miniature pinecones hide, and where John Ronan comes and plays all around me.

I’m thankful for matches that light on the first strike–a whole box of them, and just how easy it is to light a candle and say a prayer. I’m thankful for the people who pray for me.

I’m thankful for a long, wool, cozy sweater, that has given me warmth and a sense of safety these last few weeks.

I’m thankful for Carla who brought soup (twice!), for Viktoria who brought a vase of freesias, and for friends who have allowed me to say no to things during this busy season.

I’m thankful for hardship. Even though it’s HARD, you learn all sorts of things about being weak and being strong, and a little bit about being both at the same time.

I know that you, too, have a whole list of things for which you are thankful. Bless you…

But, let’s try to remember, you and me, to allow that spirit of giving, of giving thanks, to sit at the forefront of our hearts. So that when we’re cooking, and gathering with our family and friends, that our words

and actions

reflect the real thanksgiving that sits quietly inside us.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends…

Baking for Babies

Within our church community, we’ve had a litany of little baby girls enter the world these last two weeks. Two Xenias, one Farley Clementine, and one Sophia.

Four sweet little things, all come to join us witness the rain, and the sunshine, and to be enfolded in the love and hope that abounds in these families, in this place.

It’s Advent, which means it’s time to prepare our homes, but more importantly, our hearts, for the birth of Christ. It’s not necessarily the time to hang out at the malls and buy ourselves new things, it’s more the time to hang out in front of the altar, and pray, and then go out into this world and do a whole lot of giving.

I’m recovering from maybe the hardest string of five/six weeks ever. Emotionally strained, spiritually attacked, physically drained, psychologically unstable (!!!), I feel that I’ve tipped back onto the brighter path now, back to the healing side where the light is shining at the end of that proverbial tunnel. How beautiful is that light. Prayer is what brought me here. Deep and silent–I made some needed space in my life for a necessary dialogue, and God met me, and was merciful.

Last Lent I pushed my giving and tried to clean out some of those cobwebs in my heart with what I called Forgiveness Giving. This Advent, I’m not ready to tackle anything more than what I already have on my plate, which is why I’m simply going to rejoice in these new babies. I’m going to bake loaves and loaves of Struan, because there’s so much goodness in a harvest loaf of bread packed with nutrients, and I’m going to sit by these new mamas and talk about sweet hands and sweet feet, and revel in the sight of a brand new creation here on earth.

Speaking of which, Christmas is coming. And here are a few of the preparations already underway in our home.

  • I’m reading The Climb, the story of the Tree of Jesse, written by dear Katherine.
  • I’m gathering the necessities for another homemade Advent wreath, which I’ll make and have ready for the table on December 1st.
  • And I’m hoping to make a new Christmas bread–something from somewhere else, in addition to the traditional scones we always make for Christmas breakfast. I’d love suggestions! Please send suggestions 🙂

And thank you for your prayers. I know many have been rooting me on through heartfelt words offered on my behalf. After another week (since my husband is now home after being away for almost a month straight on business!), and a few more hot cups of tea, and a wee bit of baking for babies, I just might return to my spunky old self.

I love this inspiring message that my priest recently sent out to folks in our parish:

The last words of our Lord in the Book of Revelation are, “Surely I am coming quickly,” and St. John’s response is, “Amen.  Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”

Advent reminds us of Christ’s first coming to us, the Son of God becoming the Son of Man for our salvation.  So, might this be our Advent meditation: “Come, Lord Jesus?”

We ask this not only in anticipation of celebrating His Nativity, but in preparing our hearts that He would come to us afresh.  We can make this season an opportunity to make our cave and our manger (our bodies and souls) a fit dwelling for the Lord Almighty.

Perhaps this simple phrase “Come Lord Jesus” can help cut through the extra activities and busyness of this season and help us to heed the prophets’ warning and “prepare the way of the Lord.”

For Grandmother

“What can I bring home to the grandmother?” Heidi asked after a while.

“Something good,” said the aunt; “some lovely, soft white rolls that will please her; for she can hardly eat the hard black bread any longer.”

Don’t you just love bedtime stories? Long tales that take weeks to finish? You say prayers, then open the book and the little one slowly floats into dreamland with sweet stories circulating in his head…

My big kids are too busy–too adult already–for bedtime stories, which is one reason I think God gave us John Ronan. So that we could stay immersed in the world of the little child a while longer. There are so many lessons a little person can teach a grown up.

While reading Heidi, John Ronan and I have been entranced by this little girl who has a heart bursting with goodness and life. I’m inspired on many levels by the story–to be a better mother, to find more and more ways to encounter nature, and to be the optimist and giver that Heidi is.

John Ronan has been especially worried about the blind grandmother who can’t eat hard, brown bread. He is always looking for her in the storyline and hoping that she will have plenty of those expensive, soft white rolls to eat, since she loves them so.

I’m betting that his preoccupation with the grandmother in the story has a lot to do with his very own grandmothers who are both kind and giving. What a gift to a child, to have people in your life who exude love. I’m sure that little boy of mine would do anything to keep his own grandmothers from going blind, or from lacking soft, white rolls if they wanted them.

But Heidi threw herself down by Klara’s chair and began to cry in such despair, louder and louder, and more bitterly, and sobbed again and again in her distress:–

“Now the grandmother won’t have any rolls. They were for the grandmother; now they are all gone and she won’t have any!”

It seemed as if her heart would break. Fraulein Rottenmeier ran out. Klara was alarmed and perplexed by her distress.

“Heidi, Heidi, don’t cry so!” she said imploringly, “only listen to me! Don’t be so troubled; see, I promise you I will give you just as many rolls for the grandmother, or even more, when you go home, and then they will be fresh and soft…”

We only have a few more pages of the book until we’re finished, then we’ll be moving on to a new world, and a new read. I’ll be sad to leave the Alps, though–I used to live there, high in the mountains, just like Heidi. And though I didn’t live in a hut, or go to the pasture with a rowdy band of goats, I did see God in the sky and the wind and the flowers there–and feel Him in the air, just like she did.

And Heidi now took one roll after another out of her basket, until she had piled up all twelve in the grandmother’s lap.

“Oh, child! Oh, child! what a blessing you have brought me!” exclaimed the grandmother, when the rolls did not come to an end, but one kept following another. “But the greatest blessing is you yourself, child!”

not childish at all…

Once a week since September I have had the pleasure and delight of adding another little boy to the mix. I pick him up from school and the three of us–Ben, John Ronan and I–head out to play somewhere.We’ve hiked up to Douglas Preserve, we’ve baked cookies, we’ve braved the wind at Butterfly Beach, and this week we drove to Haskells–a favorite wild beach of mine, north, at the edge of Goleta.

I promised Silly String–my sister had sent two cans as a birthday gift–so the boys went at it. It was a messy, but incredibly fun affair.

Then, I laid a blanket in the sand and we all plopped down to enjoy chocolate chip cookies that I had baked earlier in the day. Ben was anxious for these, so I was surprised when he asked if we could all only eat one.

Why, I asked.

Are there enough for my family? he asked back.

I counted. How many will you need? 

Six.

It’s sad to admit that at first I was disappointed that I’d only get one! What a lame-o I am. But it didn’t take long for me to get past my gluttony (thank you, Lord!) and really appreciate this opportunity to give. Not only for me to give, but for Ben to be able to be the giver of good things, too.

Sure, I said in between bites, let’s pack up these extra cookies and you can bring them home to share.

Okay, so I was childish, but five-year-old Ben was not. He was thinking of others when he decided that one would be plenty for me,

and more than enough for himself.

Mining for Gold

Morning

It was the feast of the angels, and that meant Struan. It was a day that had to be about giving. There have been too many illnesses, dramas and heartaches these last many weeks, that have kept me busier than ever–and focused on the putting out of fires. I was (am) desperately missing the regular routine of reaching out.

Several years ago, when my daughter was five or so, we knew there was a mid-week service at church, but were too busy, too whatever, to even know what we were celebrating. My daughter begged to wear her gold angel wings to church, wings that she had made at school just a few days before. I relented after much begging, and we entered the feast of the holy angels with my daughter already in tune with the day, leading the way as she danced in circles and sang hymns celebrating Saint Michael and his fellow angels.

Children often have knowledge that we would be wise to listen to.

Every night I pray with my littlest one, who will absolutely not head to bed unless he has had triple prayers. My husband typically says the trisagion with him as a start (unless he’s out of town, and then my eldest usually jumps in). I swoop in and say another prayer, thanking God for the day, asking for restful and undisturbed sleep for the night, and John Ronan finishes with prayer number three, said with his eyes wide open and always a smile, entreating the angels to watch over him (among other things!). Triple prayers, every night.

Do you believe in angels?

I do.

Lately I’ve been making my way through Brother Juniper’s Bread Book. Written by Peter Reinhart, a master baker who is also Orthodox, he writes a beautiful explanation of the Scottish tradition of making Struan. It’s a Scottish harvest bread, filled with corn and oats, brown rice and bran. There’s buttermilk and brown sugar and honey…

Midday

Anyway, I had a list of things needing to be done that day–that day of the angels. School, for one. Picking up pine needles. Laundry. Baking Struan, downloading Skype, making a new batch of granola, reading books about angels. I got most of them done. A few of the uncrossed items simply moved to the next day. You know why? It was a feast day! A day to celebrate and learn, and love, and a day to put prayer and feasting in front of errands and domestic dramas.

Rewind

Several days ago I fell into a pit. Piled on top of all the sicknesses came a real live heartache. I haven’t felt angry in a very long time–not real hot anger, but this time I was spinning in circles, my defenses already beaten down by so many other worries and tasks. Prayer. I dipped into prayer, then lunged out, angered again. It was a wild ride. Thank God for the prayers of his saints, for the love of my friends and my priest who reached me and encouraged me to not be so horribly prideful and angry. Anger gets you No Where.

Giving

So, I brought the extra loaf of Struan to a friend who is also in a hard place.

But… when we arrived at church for the akathist, she wasn’t there. Instead, I shared that loaf of Struan with a whole host of everyone. Everyone who was there. So glad I had a way to share. I needed to give. Forgiveness Giving.

Saints All Around

And following on the heals of the feast of the angels was the feast day of Saint Nektarios. What a gift he is–my son was born on November 9th and so we got to celebrate yet again… And all day, when people said Happy Birthday, John Ronan responded this way, “AND, it’s the feast day of Saint Nektarios!”

Saints, birthdays, an ascent from a place of anger to a place of forgiveness. Here are some words I jotted in a notebook last year…

Father sees this time as a time when I can mine some spiritual gold. My body is struggling and God can be my help… Before succumbing to fatigue, ask God for help. Battle it. It will make me stronger in the end. Fatigue, hunger, sorrow–if you can find that place of light, of love and joy in the midst of those trials, then you will indeed strike gold.

Measuring

Most bread baking books will tell you how important it is to get your measurements right. They will recommend weighing your ingredients, instead of using measuring cups. Here’s what Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik say in their book Bread Alone:

A scale is vital. I like the ultra-precise Pelouze Balance Beam, but home bakers will do fine with a small spring scale. Bakers are incredibly precise about their ingredients. They weigh everything. It’s more reliable and specific than a measuring cup…

Well, I have to admit that I have yet to invest in a Pelouze Balance Beam scale. 🙂 It’s true, though, with so many environmental variables surrounding the baking of bread in a home kitchen, it helps to have consistency at least in your ingredients and measurements. One trick I’ve developed comes with the measuring of salt and yeast.

I’ve converted old baking powder containers into spice and salt containers.

This allows me to get fairly accurate measurements from one batch of bread to the next so that I know how to better make adjustments. I’ve converted some other spices to these containers, too. Spices that are potent and whose quantities need to be monitored carefully.

Plus, the wide mouths allow little bakers easy access to the ingredients.

And there’s no way to measure my delight when little–or big helpers–join me when I’m baking.

Nope, no scale, Pelouze or not,

that measures delight…