Saturday, May 31, 2008

Scrabble and Scrabulous

The first board game I bought for T was Scrabble (the Nostalgic Edition--in a pretty wood box with real wood tiles!). From the time I began to enjoy spelling, I've loved to play Scrabble. My family would play sometimes, which was always interesting because you have master spellers, like momma, good spellers, like daddy and my older siblings, and then the baby spellers, my younger sister and me. So the little ones would spell words like CAT, ATE, or IN, while momma would place words that used up all 7 of her tiles (50 point bonus!), adding on to my small words, spelling things like "ARTICULate." Of course, even momma was blown away when we would play with my Grammy. Grammy must have grown up playing Scrabble, or maybe she dreams about it at night, but she is THE Scrabble master. Grammy could figure out a word like "DiScOMbOBuLate" filling in spaces between already-formed words, still using all 7 tiles, AND using several other words' points. I swear she gets at least 80 points every turn. Anyway, I also was recently hooked on the facebook version, Scrabulous (thanks, R, now my facebook time is monopolized by trying to beat your score!). If facebook is the boon of homework, Scrabulous is the boon of facebook! It's fun, really. I enjoy logging on only to find that one of the letters I needed has appeared on the board! Sometimes, though, some people score 80 points in one turn (just like Grammy) :P So to practice, I have brought out T's and my little Scrabble game. We have it set up on our "game" table (a small, square fold-away table from Target that has a checkerboard printed on it). We sit on the floor and play lingering games of Scrabble. If board games like these occupy our evenings more often than watching movies, I don't think I'll mind (and I really like watching movies--especially if there's popcorn). Hopefully I'll increase my vocabulary, too!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Apples to Apples

Last night, as T and I were going to bed, we were talking about many varied things and apples came up. Since T's from WA, and I went to school there (I consider myself "from" WA since I got married there), I had a rather amusing thought, which I shared with T: "Wouldn't it be funny if we named all our kids after apples?" We could have: Fuji and Gala Black (twin girls!) MacIntosh (aah, the Scottish side of T's family) Granny Smith Black (sounds like a feminist grandmother from the 60s with a hyphenated last name) Courtland Black (British sounding?) Jonagold Black (German maybe.) 'Course, some names would be too bizarre, even for us: Red Delicious Black (horror movie?) Pink Lady Black (a rock band, maybe? Or, listed alphabetically by last name: Black, Pink Lady) Then I went online today to find some MORE interesting apple names, and some of them aren't too bad: Oliver Baldwin Anna Elstar Franklin Oriol Salome Alexander (A & R, I'll bet you didn't know your son was named after an apple!) Others, though, are not so normal, even for apples! Early Strawberry (This is the name of an apple. Seriously) Winter Banana Ellison's Orange Lemon Pippin (A hobbit apple?) Leather Coat (??) But how 'bout: Black, King Cole Black, Lady in the Snow (sounds like the title of a novel of the dark ages) Black, Merton Beauty Black, Rambo (yes, there's an apple variety called Rambo. It's for manly men only!) And, in honor of my mother-in-law, here are a few alliterative names: Bonnie Best Black Billie Bound Black Beauty of Bath Black Belle de Boskoop Black Black Oxford Black (or Black, Black Oxford) What would YOU name your kid if you had to choose an apple name? :) Just click on the link above and have fun! (Leave comments please, I have a feeling they'd be HILARIOUS!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sunday at St. John Chrysostom's

Psalm 84

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.

Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

------------ I mentioned last week how good it is to attend Divine Liturgy again. It's true that, many times, one does not know what one has until it is missing. I don't think I took the Byzantine church in Washington for grated while I was there, but I do think I undervalued the richness of that particular faith tradition. Being in Boston, so far away from old friends and our families, we were also confronted with a difficulty: there are no Ruthenian Byzantine churches in the entire state of MA. This sad lack of our particular tradition is not devastating, though. Being Catholic, there is always a church we can attend (especially in Boston). There are some fabulous faith communities here and we are blessed with a strong group of friends who share our love of the Church! There is even a Ukrainian Byzantine church here we could attend. (As a small note: We did try the Ukrainian church, but they spoke the entire Liturgy, which was quite a let down for us, being used to singing the liturgy. The other (most likely sung) services are entirely in Ukrainian. Also, they didn't have a Saturday evening liturgy and T works a lot on Sundays.) Still, I miss the familiar hymns (even though many of them have changed ever so slightly since the revision of the Liturgy a couple years ago). I miss the incenser with bells on it. I miss the icons. I miss the changing of the hymns, incense, and icons with the changes in the liturgical year. I miss the leavened bread used for the Eucharist. I miss seeing babies receive. I say all that because I hope to give you a small idea of what it was like to go to Divine Liturgy again this Sunday! T arranged the visit very nicely so that we got to spend two Sundays there. We are still celebrating Pentecost, so the church was still green! There was a baptism this week, too. Michaela Elizabeth was baptized, chrismated, and received her First Solemn Communion all in one day! She was a very good baby while she was "churched" (where the priest takes the baby and carries her into the church. He also dedicates her before the icon of the Theotokos). I've been fortunate enough to attend 3 Byzantine baptisms: my God daughter Caellainne's, A & R's baby "Sasha," and now Michaela's. What a beautiful world :) Father's homily this Sunday was incredible. He urged parents to protect their children from the evils of the world. He made sure to emphasize that parents should not keep their children ignorant of the world, but that they should foster in them a deep desire for purity and holiness. Fr. Joseph is a very unique priest. Not only does he have several degrees (two PhD's, I think) and all the experience and wisdom many years as an Air Force chaplain teach, he is also the adoptive father of an orphan from Spokane, Christopher. Having raised a child himself, he speaks with great authority. He told us, "We must protect our children. Make them pray, even if they don't want to. Teach them the faith. Be mean. When they're 30 or 40 they'll love you." I'm glad my parents were "mean." I'm glad they taught me to pray--in so many different ways. I'm thankful of all the ways T and I have learned to pray as a couple on our way to heaven. I love the beauty of my faith, of the Church, and of churches. I'll post some pictures of St. John's soon. It's truly a beautiful church, for the glory of God! I'm glad we got to go again. Next time I'm in Spokane, I'll try to take pictures of Ss. Cyril and Methodius Church, which T and I attended for the first year we were married.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"A wedding? I love weddings!"

One of the reasons we went to visit Seattle when we did was because our good friends M and K were getting married (to each other. We weren't going to wedding-hop!). T and M have known each other since they were little boys, and M was one of our groomsmen at our wedding. When M and K started dating and we met K, we knew these two were perfect together. M had asked T to be one of his groomsmen. What a joy it was to share in their wedding day! (Also, they're Byzantine and it was GREAT to attend a Byzantine wedding!) We went to the wedding rehearsal and dinner on Friday, which was quite enjoyable. Fr. Joseph, who officiated at our wedding, also married M and K, and it was very good to see him again. He is such a proficient priest and he's done so many weddings the rehearsal went very smoothly (despite the fact that there was a couple missing from the wedding party). His deacon, Michael, was also there and was a big help (as always!). I wasn't in the wedding (which was fine), so I was just there to take pictures (see album below). It was lots of fun to see a wedding rehearsal from the "outside," as it were. It brought back many memories of my wedding rehearsal, and the few other weddings I've been in. It reminded me of how a bride feels on that beautiful day before the beautiful day. I loved seeing M and K smile at each other. I could see their eyes say, "This is it." There were a few funny moments, too. M and K, for the first part of the rehearsal, were sitting at the end of the front pews across the aisle from one another. After going over the vows, Father told everyone to sit down where they had been before, but K says, "Can't M and I sit together?" I remember asking that SAME question at our wedding rehearsal, and I heard the same pleading meekness in her voice, "Please Father?" Father looked at hear with a twinkle in his eye (after all, he IS a romantic at heart!) and told all six of the groomsmen to move down to make room for the bride on the groom's side. It was cute :) At the rehearsal dinner, there was a good conversation with Fr. Joseph and Deacon Michael about the superiority of Maker's Mark, a very fine bourbon, which is Fr. Joseph's favorite and (after Father's influence) Deacon Michael's favorite too. K's younger cousin, the flower girl, was absolutely enthralled by Father in his impressive black and purple Byzantine regalia. Father loves children, and it was a new experience for me (with no children of my own yet) to see him interact with this sweet little girl. Then, in response to a remark about the weather, Father mentioned he would be rather warm the day of the wedding, what with all the layers he's wearing. K piped up, "Well, I'll be wearing quite a few layers too, Father." But Fr. Joseph put his finger over his lips and said, smiling, "Oh, shhhh. That's supposed to be a surprise." And I could have sworn that he winked at her and M :) On the day of the wedding, although I would be sitting with T's family in the pews (yes, we took up more than one), I got ready early and left with T and his brother E (also in the wedding party). It was a good thing I did, too, because the pianist (who was playing music before the wedding, since Byzantine liturgies have no accompaniment) and I hit it off big time, and she and I were both able to help out with little odd jobs around the church before the big moment. I even helped put pew bows together :) Despite a small problem with the microphones for Fr. Joseph and Deacon Michael (which they discarded half way through the Liturgy), the wedding was simply lovely. A Byzantine Crowning is a beautiful ritual--the bride and groom are crowned King and Queen of their own, newly formed Domestic Church. M and K did get to sit together after the vows (and the six groomsmen were very courteous). Their wedding icons were written by M's mom and were gorgeous. Likewise, the reception was loads of fun. Although I felt a bit lonely at first having to sit without T (I was with the family, though, so really it was ok), I had good conversations with both the pianist (it was GREAT getting to know you, dear!) and one of T's good friends who married one of my good friends last summer. We are struggling with some similar issues and it was very edifying to connect on that particular score. Praise God for such good people :) M and his brother P even did some Irish step dancing, which was a rare treat. Did you know they were international competitors? All in all, a fabulous time of friends, family, love, and laughter. After the newly weds drove off and the reception party dissipated, T and I a several friends went to hang out at Red Robin (yummy!) for a long night of MORE laughter and friends and family. Life is good. ...I told my cousin the other day that every wedding T and I attend is, in a very small way, "our" wedding, too. It's not possessive or anything, but every time we're blessed by attending the celebration of one couple's union before God, T and I can renew our own commitment to each other and ask God, once again, for the strength to be a good example of His love in the world. It's true that I love weddings (drinks all around!), especially weddings where the couple is so well suited for each other, where the liturgy is beautiful and deeply meaningful, and most especially where it is so clear the Lord is present in all these things.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Somewhere, Beyond the Sea... Lover stands on golden sands, and watches the [ferries] that go chugging. Our trip to the San Juans was fabulous. There were a lot of firsts for me: first ferry ride first time whale watching (but we didn't see any whales) first slice of rubarb pie (actually, I shared with T so it was more like a 1/2 a slice) We left Seattle right after liturgy and headed north to catch the ferry. We were the last two cars on! The ferry ride was great, and I got some fun pictures (see album at the end). After we got on the island, we checked in to our hotel and went in search of a place for dinner. We found a restaurant that worked (kids menu and all!), but they had to seat us in two different booths. Trying to seat a party of 12 + highchair isn't easy at the end of a weekend :) I had an absolutely delicious mojito (though fortunately, Lydia didn't want any of it: "Um, what is that?" "It's a mojito." "Well, I don't want a sip of that."), which settled in nicely with my scallop ravioli in cream sauce. After dinner we went to the pool. At least, I think that's when we went. T's younger siblings LOVE the pool. There's nothing they'd rather do that become little wrinkled up prunes in a pool. Diving, jumping, splashing, laughing, screaming, squealing, swimming, gaming. It's all there. I think they went to the pool every day we were there. They even went this morning before we left (aah, a nice 8:30 a.m. swim; nothing like it!). Dad was quite a trooper, taking them so frequently. After the pool (or after the pool then after dinner?) we went to Lime Kiln to watch for orcas. We didn't see any, but I did get some more pictures :) Monday was quite an adventure. In the morning we went to the beach and had a picnic. 'Course, we had to climb over piles of washed up logs and slide down rocky slopes to get to the water, but that's all in a days' works for the Blacks! :) The water was positively freezing, so no one went swimming until later, that is... You see, every time T's family gets around a large body of water, they feel the need to build a raft. What BETTER task to accomplish with copious amounts of dry wood lying about for the picking. They even managed to find some rope. I got to witness the story of Raging Queen XIII (or XIV? or XVI? they've lost count, I'm afraid). That evening we went to "The English Camp" and played frisbee while Caellainne ran around in the damp grass and Mum and Lydia nested in the tall grass. I think the kids went to the pool again when we got home, but it's all a blur. I only went once (on Sunday) and I don't remember after that :) Tuesday, the last full day we were there, was definitely a full day. We woke up and headed out to visit local bookstores! Luckily, we found a used bookstore which cut our costs tremendously, since we are ALL great lovers of books. It was a fun, relaxing morning full of reading. We went for lunch at the Hungry Clam, which was very yummy (prepared well!) fried food--fish and chips! Since it was drizzly all day, T on down through Sebastian went to see Iron Man while I stayed with the 'rents and the two little girls. We went down to the docks and walked around. Dad "shopped" for boats, while Mum and I rolled our eyes :) Dinner, at "The Place" was FABULOUS! Oh my, so yummy. I had pan seared sole with a yummy lemon garlic sauce and then rhubarb pie for dessert (with ice cream)! All the portions were just right and we were pleasantly full by the end of the meal. The restaurant people were very nice to us, too, since we were such a large, young crowd (and quite a crowd!). Kudos to them for being so tolerant, understanding, and accommodating!
San Juan 2008
All in all, it was a fantastic visit to the San Juan Islands, and I had a great time with my in-laws! :) Stay tuned for stories about the rest of our visit to the BEAUTIFUL pacific northwest and the wedding on Saturday!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

We Made It!

Whew! We made it all the way to Seattle with all our luggage, not too much weariness, and of course, lots of hugs to be had at T's parents' house. We were even surprised by the "welcome" the kiddies had concocted involving a specific place to stand, lots of cheering, and, naturally, home-made confetti. What fun :) It's been a great visit so far. On Saturday, when we got here, we had a small, late dinner, and then went to bed. We had to be up fairly early on Sunday to attend Divine Liturgy. It was so good to attend St. John's again. We've missed the beautiful richness of the Byzantine rite very much while in Boston. The songs, the incense, the vestments... it's just beautiful. I can't quite explain the feeling I get when I walk into the church, as the altar boys (there are only boys, no girls allowed) prepare for liturgy in the sanctuary, as people exchange greetings, and as the family files into the pew after venerating the icon on the tetrapod. Mum always pauses for a moment in front of the icon of Our Lady (the Most Glorious Theotokos). As soon as the youngest learns to kiss, she has to kiss the icon and the blessing cross too :) It's very endearing. PLUS, this week is Pentecost--the ONLY time the WHOLE year that the church is decorated in GREEN cloths and candles. I don't know if it was because I was raised Roman (and saw green so often during the year) or if it's just 'cuz green is an awesome color, but I love it when things are green :) Since green is used for only this week the whole year, it seems to make it extra special. Green is the color of life, the color of the Holy Spirit! We got to see Anselm serve for the first time (that is, it was the first time WE saw him, not his first time serving), and Fr. Joseph was in excellent form for the homily. The recently ordained Deacon Michael is a joy to have too! His presence, as deacon, enhances the liturgy tremendously--he's a more concrete liasion between the congregation and the sanctuary. And he's got awesome vestments... and a nifty hat. (Apologies for not using the right terms for things-Byzantine. Not having been raised Byzantine, I'm not familiar with them. However, to be completely fair, neither is T (not with ALL of the right terms), though he's been Byzantine much longer than I have.) This Sunday was also the Solemn Communion for the children who made their first confession on Saturday. If you didn't know better, you'd think it was their FIRST communion, similar to the Roman rite, because they're all dressed up in gleaming white attire. But, in the Byzantine rite, a child is chrismated and receives the Eucharist at his baptism. Thus, he's received all the sacraments of initiation from the earliest possible moment. Then, when he reaches the age of reason he receives the sacrament of reconciliation and, clothed once again in the white of his baptism, he confesses the creed before the whole congregation. It's a lovely tradition, and it's darling to see all the children so fancy! And since it was mother's day as well, all the mothers received a beautiful holy card and pin of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. After liturgy there was a yummy reception downstairs and I got to sit with my friend K who is GETTING MARRIED ON SATURDAY! It was good to catch up with her and chat about the impending bliss :) Also, I finally got a chot-ki! It's a pretty bright royal blue with a big tassel :) So Sunday was wonderful and we're super-excited to go stay with the fam for three days on the San Juan Islands. Yay for vacations!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Bread :)

I've always loved home made bread. Few things are as comforting as walking into the kitchen and being met by the wafting scent of baking bread. Momma used to make Aunt Jacquie's bread recipe, and my favorite way to eat it was fresh out of the oven with butter melting into the cracks. It was never the same if I just toasted it, though that was good too. It's just perfect straight out of the oven. She also made pull-apart bread (great with split pea soup), which is another favorite of mine. When I met T's family, his mom had a great recipe (4 loaves per batch!) of honey wheat bread which I made a lot. It's a very versatile loaf, good with everything from sweet jam to savory soups. I love the smell of the yeast mixing with the flour. I love the variety of recipes out there for different kinds of bread. I even love to knead my loaves by hand (though I often use only my mixer). And it's incredibly satisfying to pull out a steaming loaf from the oven and serve it with the dinner you've made. Lately, though, I find I've been a bit disillusioned about making bread. I've been trying one recipe several times over, but it keeps turning out worse and worse. It seemed to work fine the first time I tried it, but maybe that was just beginner's luck. The main difference for this bread recipe is that you soak the flour overnight to make it more easily digestible. If we had four stomachs, like cows, I don't think we'd need much extra help digesting grains. But we don't, so we do. I want to try making a sourdough bread, which accomplishes the same thing as soaking the grains in a yeasted bread, but I'm anxious about starting a culture. Not only does it require time and regularity of schedule (it takes about a week to get a good starter going), it also can depend largely on the type of water used, freshness of the grain, temperature, etc., etc., etc. Maybe when T and I get back from CA in June I'll give it a try. We should be home for a good steady period after that. In any case, with the helpful urging of a good friend last night, I made another loaf of bread. It was Oatmeal Bread from the book Cold Weather Cooking (a gift from this same friend. I highly recommend this book--it's got LOTS of helpful hints, is very explanatory, and has well-written, almost-fool-proof recipes. I credit this book with the success of my first Thanksgiving turkey!). I didn't soak the grains first because I wanted to try the recipe without any modifications, to see how it is supposed to turn out and all that. As it happened, I didn't have any apply cider, so I used orange juice. And I didn't have enough honey, either, so I used maple syrup. I'm happy to report it turned out FABULOUSLY! In fact, I think it's the best bread I've ever made! The texture was great. It rose up to a normal loaf size. And it wasn't as crumbly as most other breads I've made. I only made 1/2 a recipe because T and I are leaving for WA for 10 days on Saturday. I'm incredibly excited to see my in-laws (we haven't seen them since August!), and I may even bring the bread recipe with me since T's mom makes her own bread too. But I'm also excited to get home and try a full recipe and experiment with soaking. The oats in the bread need to be softened with boiling water anyway, so I think it will be very easy to soak the oats (and the whole wheat flour) over night in some warm water with yogurt or buttermilk added. So those are my bread adventures so far. I'll be sure to let you know how the soaked version comes out :) ---------

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” James Beard (1903-1985)

"[Bread-baking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells...there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread." M. F. K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Happy May!

It looks like spring has finally (and lastingly) sprung in Boston! Today is a sunny 65 degrees; I'm even wearing a sundress and sandals! I am happy this month. It's not quite explicable, but it's undeniable. I feel more hopeful and optimistic about life in general and everything in particular. I don't think I had been pessimistic or depressed or anything, but I'm feeling a renewed freshness about my outlook... Maybe it's because we are going to visit T's family in just a few days! Maybe it's the wedding of our dear friends K and M we're going to see while in WA. Maybe it's that T's siblings are all so excited to see us they've been planning a "welcome" ceremony for weeks. Maybe it's because the sun is shining. Maybe it's because we spent a lovely evening last night with two good friends here (who are expecting!). Maybe it's because they're so happy together (and happiness rubs off on me). Maybe it's because hope springs eternal. Maybe it's because of all the babies we're expecting in the next year. Maybe it's because I'm married to the most wonderful man in the world! Maybe it's simply because God is good. All the time. Could be this May may be the best May yet. :) Here's hopin'!