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My Obsession

I have been absent from this space while the turmoil of these covid days swirls around in my brain. I don’t really want to talk about that right now. What I am going to write about is the framework through which I have been viewing things lately and what it means to me.

I have lately been obsessed with British history. I think it started a few years ago with the Great British Bake Off. I was fascinated by the hyper-regionalism of British food cultures and what that said about the people of Britain and their history. How do you get a food like a Cornish pasty, for example, which is only really eaten by a particular group of people in a particular corner of a country about the size of Kansas? How does it happen that individual towns can have their own traditional foods that are relatively unknown outside of that place? And what is the difference between a dessert and a pudding?

These questions led me to explore other aspects of British history. Transportation, for example. And identity. I learned that the population became Roman, then Saxon, then Norman, then English, but always kind of English, or maybe British, depending on who you ask. I found 20 seasons of the t.v. show Time Team on YouTube and watched it like I was getting my PhD in British archaeology. I soaked it all up.

And in the meantime I asked these same questions of the United States. What are our food cultures? What does it mean to be American in a country made up of so many different people with different backgrounds in a country that is so geographically large and varied? Is having a national self identity tied more to history, politics, or people?

Throughout all of this my questions have also been about myself. Who am I? How do I know who I am if I don’t know my family history, background, or geographic origin? Does it even make sense to be obsessed with British history if I am not, myself, provably British? Should I be investigating other countries, or does it not make a difference if I don’t know?

And what does it mean to be native to a place? There are people in Britain whose ancestors have always –always– lived in the same place. We, as Americans, are by definition a nation of people who traveled. The majority of us are not native here. We displaced natives. Does that mean we don’t belong here? How do we answer these questions within ourselves? If you don’t know where you come from is there anyone waiting for you to come back? We are all native to somewhere.

I think about the people wrestling with a family history that includes slavery and the people lamenting their family history of slave ownership. Meanwhile, I sit here not knowing anything about my family history. Is researching British history a way to feel like I belong somewhere? Is it a romanticized fantasy of kings, queens, knights, and peasants that denies the very real struggles of the very real people who are my actual ancestors, even though I don’t know them?

I think one answer would be to talk to my mother about her family and learn about these people, but she and I have a strained relationship. And here we are, back to covid, where quarantining away from my church family has shown the very real necessity of meeting with people face to face in order to love them in all of their messiness. Holding people at a distance is no substitute for sitting across a table, or even across a phone call, and needing to do the hard work of loving them despite their humanity.

If only that were easier.

 

Pandemic Thoughts

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It has been a few months since I have posted here and in that time the world has changed substantially. We have been in moderate self quarantine for 65 days and under government mandated shelter in place orders for 51 of those. Though restrictions are loosening in our area, we are not making any major changes to our routines because of it. We are taking the threat of this virus very seriously.

I say we are not making major changes but that is not quite true. My husband went to Mass this morning. The local Catholic cathedral experimented with allowing gathering outdoors and distributing communion to the faithful. I have yet to hear how that went for him.

To be honest, I have been enjoying our time at home. My life has changed very little with one major exception: I no longer get to see my goddaughters. I have helped raise them from infants and being distanced from them is painful. We have been having lots of FaceTime chats which isn’t quite the same but is better than nothing.

But aside from that glaring hole in my life, I have almost been enjoying this quiet time at home. It sometimes feels like a sweet vacation away from all of the pressures and expectations that were so overwhelming before. Then I remember that there is a virus out there trying to kill us all and I try to be more somber. A friend’s mother has died of the virus so I try to keep their family foremost in my mind when speaking about our new situation. I need to remember that while I am safe in my home there are people who are hurting and others who are dying.

So I wear my mask while running necessary errands and I try to avoid the unnecessary ones. There will (God willing) be time for those later. I am focusing on my home and garden. It has been a blessing to have the time to work on the ongoing yard projects that I need to ignore during busier seasons. I have yet to turn that kind of attention to my home projects, but the longer this quarantine goes on the more likely it will be that they will also happen. It takes me a long time to adjust to even small life changes. I am only just now feeling like I can tackle some more productive tasks.

I hope all who read this are doing well. Let us remember that the goal is to run the race to the end.

My cat died yesterday. I had raised her from a tiny fluffy kitten living in a storm drain at a shopping center with her two sisters. She liked nothing more than to sit on my lap and take a nap.

She had been missing for two days, which was very unusual. I don’t know what combination of events caused her to stray into the neighbors’ fenced yard, but that is where we found her. She had probably been killed by their dogs. She was not a pretty sight when I found her.

The lessons:

  • A husband who will clean up the mangled remains of your precious cat to bring her home and bury her is worth more than gold.
  • When Christ said to love your neighbor he meant all the time, even after their dogs kill your cat.
  • The death of a cat is no small thing. In her absence all of the relationships and patterns in the house need to adjust and change.
  • It is hard not to blame yourself for failing to care for a helpless creature as well as you wanted.
  • Lent is a good time to deal with difficult things.

Pączki Day

It is a Polish tradition to eat these filled doughnuts called paczki on the Thursday before Lent starts in the Roman Catholic churches. My husband is half Polish and introduced me to them, but I didn’t really enjoy the kind we bought at the local Polish store. It was filled with rose flavored cream — not my favorite. So a few years ago I found a recipe and started making them myself. I don’t always manage to make them on the correct day, but they are always delicious.

February Happenings

I have been away from this space for a couple of weeks and I have felt it keenly. Let me just recap all of the things that have happened in that time.

At the beginning of the month the little business that I run with a friend was featured in the first ever Ancient Faith Artisan’s Corner. That was very exciting. Preparing for it was more challenging than I thought it would be, but our business has become stronger for it and I am grateful.

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The next weekend we decided to foster a dog through the same rescue that sent us the previous dog. It was their last chance to match us with a dog that would fit into our home with its kids, cats, and general pre-existing mayhem. They sent us home with Rosita, a six month old puppy, and we had a great couple of days with her. We returned her at the end of the weekend foster, but we had mixed feelings about it.

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That week I had two days off from my full time job. Since I work from home that means running all the errands I can’t normally get to as part of my everyday routine. On Tuesday I drove out to Chapel Hill to visit the North Carolina Botanical Garden and eat blts with a friend at the school where I taught last year. It was my first visit this year and I got lots of hugs from the kids.

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That afternoon I went back to the rescue to pick up our puppy. She is ours now. We are all settling in okay, but the cats aren’t very happy.

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I made cheese fondue for Valentine’s Day. It was delicious, but I think I’ll do it a bit differently next time.

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Yesterday I was featured in an interview on Melinda’s new blog series called #MakersMonday. That was great fun!

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Now we’re all caught up and I can get back into a regular habit of writing here again. How have you been?

Pick Two

Have you heard the expression: “Good, fast, or cheap–pick two”? The idea is that all three things are not compatible. You can have something good quickly, for example, but it won’t be cheap. Or you can get something cheap fast, but it won’t be good.

I feel like I have to make compromises like this in my life all the time. The daily one is the sleep, shower, or eat breakfast conundrum. I often don’t have time to do all three, so I need to pick two.

But my three Instagram accounts illustrate this happening in my life on a larger scale. I noticed it in the last year. I have one general account for my life, one for my health efforts, and one for a small business I run with a friend. I discovered that when I put effort into my business, my health account gets ignored. Not just my account, but my health efforts in real life. And when I get back on track with my health, my business suffers from lack of attention.

In the past two weeks circumstances have caused both my health efforts and my business to need more attention than usual, and I found that the rest of my life kind of got put on hold. My relationships suffered. My house definitely suffered. I ignored both my general life Instagram account and this blog.

I’m hoping to put some systems into place to enable all three things to get the attention they need in proportion. With my word of the year being Energy the quote I have been thinking of lately is, “Where attention goes energy flows.” These three things need attention, and not to the exclusion of each other. A little something to work on as we approach Great Lent.

How do you balance the different parts of your life that need attention?

Without A Country

I have been researching fry bread for my #81cookbooks project all week. Have you tried it? I never had. It is a traditional Native American bread commonly served at gatherings, like pow wows. However, one look at the ingredients and you will immediately notice that it is not all that traditional. In reality, it is a dish that comes from the displacement of native peoples from their ancestral land to less productive reservation land. The US government gave a ration of flour, sugar, and oil, and thus fry bread was born.

I tend to research food history quite a lot. Food makes sense to me as a lens through which one can learn about people, places, politics, and technology. I understand why the food of the South, where I currently live, is the way that it is. I do my best to support local farmers, cook and eat in season, and use more traditional cooking methods when I can.

But Southern cooking is not the cooking I grew up with. In actuality, I didn’t grow up with any one kind of culinary tradition because I have no known heritage. My parents aren’t from any one clear country of origin. Our family ties don’t go back very far. I often feel rudderless.

The day I joined the Orthodox Church as a young adult I remember feeling this great sense of being carried by, or as though I was floating on, a deep sea of people who came before me. It was the first time I ever felt connected to something that stretched back through time–the first time I ever belonged to something.

I did not choose the Church in order to be Greek, Russian, Lebanese, or any of the myriad other peoples who have been Christian for generations. I am not those things. My husband is half Polish and I sometimes prepare Polish food for special dinners or holidays, but I am not Polish. The country I feel most affinity for is Britain, but I don’t think I’m British. Anyway, there is no way to know. I am a genealogical dead end.

I think about that scene at the end of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle where the Pevensie children are running up the hill, going further up and further in, and the country where they find themselves is at once strange and familiar. Then the Unicorn says,

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, thought I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.

This is the vision of heaven I cling to. I hope that one day I, too, will find myself in my real country.

The Easy Sins

I was standing in church alone this morning having some kind of feeling I couldn’t quite identify. During one of the corporate prayers I actually started to cry. What was going on?

As I stared at the icons in front of me I could feel the old temptations to judgement and anger. They hadn’t been there a moment ago, but my guard was down and they crept in. They are my easy sins. Do you have those? They are the ones that are pointed outward to keep me from needing to face myself. It is much easier to judge my fellow Christian for not doing something right than to look into the depths of my own heart. It is easier to get angry at someone else for their behavior than to confront my own.

So as I was standing there this morning feeling these easy sins creep up on me I took a moment to notice them. “I know you,” I said, ” and I know why you are here. Go away so I can see what is really wrong.” And they went. What I was left with in that moment was the realization that I was actually wallowing in self pity. I was in tears because I felt sorry for myself for everything I don’t have. It was this feeling of lack that I wrote about recently and have been starting to see more clearly at work in my life.

It is a blessing to see our own sins, the easy ones and the harder ones. I know I will have plenty to work on this year during Lent. Today I am thankful for God’s grace, the gentle guidance of the Orthodox Church, and the time I have to work on my salvation. May God grant us all many years.

The News

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina slammed into the US and displaced more than a million people. Some of those people came to Raleigh, North Carolina with little more than the clothes on their backs. My husband was involved with a group through his church that helped these people settle here and get the help they needed to get on their feet.

A year later the radio news had nonstop anniversary coverage of Hurricane Katrina. It was all of the fear and hopelessness relived without the ability to do something about the problem. This was when I stopped consuming the news in any form.

I say any form, but it is impossible to escape the news completely. It scrolls by on Facebook, interrupts during television or radio programs, or is discussed by dinner companions. One can never get completely away from the news. But one doesn’t need to be consumed by the news.

I think the thing that helped me unplug was imagining something as big as Hurricane Katrina in a historical context. (I tend to look at everything through a historical context — it’s the ex-archaeologist in me.) If I lived here in the days before the internet, television, newspapers, or radio–maybe even before high speed travel was an option–would I know about the things that are being reported on the news? With Katrina the answer was yes. People moved, they migrated, they dispersed and disrupted normal routines. They had basic needs that had to be met. Can I say the same thing about most of the other items on the news? No.

There are a lot of things going on in the world all of the time. I can’t care about all of it. I can’t know about all of it to know whether or not I care. The best I can do is know and care about the things that are happening nearest to me, to the people I know and live near, and to myself and my own house. I need to be prepared, like the Good Samaritan, to give what it takes to get the injured man on the road cared for and well.* I need to be sure that the needs of the people in my own household do not get ignored while I care about the needs of the world. In the middle of this I also need to care for myself so that I can be ready to act.

During times when it seems as though the whole world is collapsing under the weight of the 24-hour news cycle I find it beneficial to pick up my head and look around me. There are plants outside living their lives without any care about what happens in Washington, DC. Maybe they could use a little tending by a loving hand. The cats need to be fed. If I put the dishes away we can start another load before bedtime. Maybe I’ll bake a cake and invite someone over to share it. We can talk about something other than the things that frighten us and make us feel helpless. Then we will be a little bit less alone.

Consider the lilies.

* Remember that the Good Samaritan took care of the immediate needs of the injured man and then paid an innkeeper to care for him until his return. The change I made to my life after realizing this will be the subject of a future post.

#81cookbooks

Late last year I started a new cooking project on Instagram called #81cookbooks. It is named after the actual number of cookbooks on my shelf. Here are the rules:

81 Cookbooks Project

Rules:

  • Once a week use a random number generator to choose a cookbook.
  • Use the random number generator to choose a page.
  • Cook the recipe on that page.
  • If the recipe is unsuitable for any reason use the generator to choose a new page.
  • Modifications can be made due to availability/affordability of ingredients, personal tastes, or fasting season.
  • Post a photo to Instagram.

This has been an incredible experience so far. I may post some of my #81cookbooks photos here from time to time, but if you want to see them all check out the hashtag on Instagram.