Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Church for Graduate Students

I made a joke one time about Orthodoxy being Christianity for graduate students. Tonight I was remided of that joke at our parish's yearly potluck. The man I was sitting next to is fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Ethiopic, and English. He can also write in German but says he is slower in that language. But that is not all. He is the author of this book. And has worked with the Coptic Archbishop in California on that church's catechism. WOW! In one hour he explained all the stuff I didn't understand from the theology program at Joensuu.

Rain (a la cole Porter)

We have rain
Lots of rain
Under cloudy skies above.
Don't wash me out.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Why I don't like a certain heiress of Conrad Hilton

Reason #26: She has ruined "I Like Paris" (Frank Sinatra, Album: Live in Paris) for me. It used to be one of my top 10 songs and had a prominent place in my Life Soundtrack. But no more. She thinks she is just having fun. She is trampling on my life.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Where's weather?

I am sure you've heard about Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, and the great lake region getting plenty of snow this winter. I am happy for them but I am beginning to worry about California.

California, at least the northern part of the state (I have difficulty thinking of anything south of Santa Barbara as being part of The Bear Republic.) where I live has a summer-dry climate. That means ALL of our water falls in the winter. So far, very little water has fallen. The Sierra snow pack is below average. The creeks are dry, when they should be running high. The grass on the hillsides is brownish instead of the lush green of winters past. We haven't had any serious rain since November. I have a feeling we are heading into problems this summer.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oldest son

My oldest son is a paratrooper in the 503rd. He is probably the meanest, angriest, most hostile, belligerent, and dangerous (in a physical way) person I know. He actually enjoys fighting, even when he loses the fight. His body is so strong that he seems barely human. And he is a master of all of his weapons. His chest is dripping with qualification badges. I am proud of him for his single mindedness. I am grateful that our society has a place for men like him. I am very proud of his success in the profession of arms, but more and more that ethos of fighting falls into my past as I work out my salvation, and it becomesdifficult for us to relate to each other. Oddly, one area where we can talk is ancient history. He and I both know the ancient wars. In particular, we were able to talk for a long time about the battle depicted in this movie. I can hardley wait for it to come out.

Wood Carving

Earlier today Anselm asked me if we could go to the lumber yard, buy some wood, and carve it. I told him I wasn't sure, I'd have to think about it. But just a couple of minutes ago I came across this really neat carving project. I'll keep you updated.

dating and the nanny state

I read this article about Big Brother's intrusion into the affairs of the heart. It doesn't matter to me as an individual, since I am now married, but when I was single this mattered to me quite a bit. Why? Because most of my time was spent at 2 places: Church and work. I tended not to go after the women at church, for obvious reasons. But I always considered the women at work fair game. That is until that first sexual harrassment training. It was horrible. One of the women in the room, with whom I'd been out a couple of times, said, "Wow! I'd hate to be a man."

Anyway, that was kind of a tangent. Looking back, over my single years (way too many of them) I can see several situations where I was "harrased" (always too my liking). Once, and this is the tie-in to the article linked above, by an x-ray technician, another time by a nurse. I enjoyed it. Since, in both instances they were the primary actors I can only assume they enjoed the little flirtation, too.

So why do I care about this now? Because I have sons. I want them to have the broadest possible selection of women available to them when they reach the age to pick wives. I expect them to pursue any unmarried woman they want. I don't want them to feel limited by silly laws. Of course, the Western tradition is that an immoral law is no law. Alas, that is not the case for silly laws.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Field Trip

Anselm is making good progress in astronomy. He has memorized and can find in the sky many constellations and the 1st magnitude stars.
Today we went on a field trip to the Lick Observatory at the top of Mt. Hamilton. Much fun. Anselm was amazed to learn that other planets have moons.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Two Books and the Wall Street Journal

In the last three days we have received two fabulous books in the mail.
1. "We Praise, Bless, and Worship: Daily Prayer for Orthodox Christians". Now we can do Vespers, Compline, and Matins at home! Very exciting. We've done Compline. Tomorrow we are adding Matins. Thanks, Kum.
2. "Discovering the Universe". It is a college astronomy text book that comes with a cool CD-Rom that lets us observe the night sky regardless of clouds, artificial light, or smog. (He is doing very well in learing the constellations and 1st mag. stars.) Thanks, Philippa.

My comment was chosen for publication on the WSJ Online. I have commented on many of their stories but this is the first time one of my comments made it past the review process.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Basil, who is 15 months old, made the sign of the Cross over his dinner plate tonight. Thank you, Godparents, for all your prayers.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Strange Conversation

I had a very unsatisfactory conversation with a Roman Catholic on Saturday. I didn’t know him but we were both looking on the “Western Religion” shelves in used-book store. When I saw one of my own old books on the shelf I said to him in a casual kind of way, “Its an odd feeling to see a book one has owned sitting on this shelf.” I thought he might reply with something like “Oh, do you sell many books here?” But that isn’t what he said. Instead, he asked me, “What kind of Christian are you?”
“I’m Eastern Orthodox. You?”
“I’m a Catholic. So when are the Orthodox going to unify and come into communion with Peter?”
I ignored the invitation to convert to RCism but still wanted to be friendly so I asked, “Why do you think we aren’t unified?”
He replied, “You can’t be unified if you are not in communion with the Pope”.
I said, “Oh. You realize that Orthodox hold that all bishops share in …”
“But you guys used to think the Bishop of Rome was the Pope, then Byzantium, and now Moscow. You can’t keep changing who you think the head of the Church is.”
“We don’t th…”
“How do you explain Poland?”
“I don’t know what you mean?”
“Even during communism Poland was held together by the Catholic Church in communion with Peter. But Alexy II is a KGB officer. What do you think of that?”
“Oh, yes. He was a KGB officer. But that doesn’t mean his consecration as a bishop is faulty. Back in the 4th Century the Donatists…”
“But you have to look at Poland! Just look at how their devotion to Peter preserved them!”
I didn’t know what to say to him. But he was okay with that. He was really into monologue. He went on to explain how the Roman Pope has always been of the purist faith and morals. I mentioned the Borgia Popes and the enthrallment with the French King and was about to bring up Pope Honorious and the abandonment of the Advent fasting rules for the sake of stolen but he seemed to not know what I was talking about and cut me off again. At this point the was raising his voice and Anselm was saying he had to go to the bathroom. It seemed like the right to extricate myself from an uncomfortable situation. As I was saying “Its been nice chatting, have a nice day” he was saying, “How do you explain Poland?”
That will teach me to open my mouth!

Friday, January 12, 2007

I have a dream

Monday is MLKjr Day. And I have a dream. I have a dream that in my lifetime Amercans will return to their sartorial senses and dress as they did on that summer day in Washington, when Dr. King delivered that magnificent speech.

Compare, if you will, the dress of Dr. King's audience with the mourners who filed past Ronald Reagan's coffin on another summer day in Washington. The former was a display of dignity, elegence, modesty, and decorum. Men wore white shirts, ties (but even when no tieswere worn the shirts had collars and buttons), and hats. Women wore dresses and hats, and carried purses of practicality and reasonable size. But it is painful to even think of the the latter. Flip-flops, tanktops, short pants, t-shirts with writing on them, and atheletic shoes. What an embarrassment. I give us 15 years (max) before most Americas are walking around naked except for their atheletic shoes and baseball caps.

We've come a long way, baby.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

This Month's Educational Goals

I am homeschooling Anselm in earnest now. It occured to me that he is going to be 5 in a couple of months so I need to get on the ball. Below are the months ducational goals. I will post the results in early February.

Astronomy (Texts: Find the Constellations & The Night Sky Book):
1- Memorize the names, and identify the (N. hemisphere) constellations containing the fifteen 1st-magnitude stars, and the names of the 1st-magnitude stars.
2- Solidify knowledge of the lunar phases.
3- Define : light year, AU, star, planet, moon, zodiac, constellation, telescope
4 - Learn how to use a star chart.
5- Draw connection between the 8 lunar phases and the 8-tones in relation to Gen. 1.
Pedagogical method: Tracing constellations, viewing constellations, visit to observatory, flash cards

Theology (Text: Bible)
1- Learn the difference between a prophet and a priest
2- Learn the difference between a judge and a king
3-Learn that obedience is better than sacrifice
4-Learn that human governments work for God
5-Learn that priests and kings both can misbehave and be replaced by God.
Pedagogical method: Read aloud to Anselm the entire story of his patron, the Holy Prophet Samuel. Discuss.

Literature (Text: Magician's Nephew)
1- Enjoy the story
2- Develop ability to identify allegory
Pedagogical method: Read aloud to Anselm and discuss along the way. (It took him about 3 seconds for him to figure out that Aslan was God. Nothing in the book, so far, would identify him as the Son.)

Reading (Text: Not determined)
1 - Learn the vowel sounds
2 - Learn the phonems of his own name and match them to the letters of his name
Pedagogical method: Not determined

Math (Text: Not determined)
1 - Solidify knowledge of "tens"
2 - Learn difference between various units of measure
3- Introduce concepts of basic arithamtic operations
4- Introduce concept of 1 and fractions (will tie this into cooking, probably. Measuring cups will provide illustration.)
Pedagoical method: Not determined

Politics (Text: Not determined)
1 - Learn Aristotle's 6 forms of government and the differences between them
2- Introduce the concept of division of powers
3- Introduce the concept of federalism
Pedagogical method: Discussion and wall chart

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stollen, the Butter Ban, and Advent

Yesterday, we bought a walnut stollen from Sterntaler Bakery. It is absolutely the best stollen I have ever had in my entire life. (The other one I had was horrible. I got it at Cost Plus during Nativity week and had decided never to waste my money on stollen again.) This Sterntaler Bakery stollen is amazing. I wouldn't have bought it if the baker had not given me a sample. All I can say is WOW!!!! It is so yummy as to be nearly indescribable. The walnuts, spices and sugar are made into a moist (not gooey) paste and baked in a light yet substantial bread that has the perfect flavor, texture, and density. (See picture) It slices well, and the slices are easliy cut into thirds (they don't fall apart) for little hands to grasp.

But here is the interesting thing to an Orthodox Christian. According to the packaging...

Prior to around A.D. 1380 stollen was "a rather dull pastry as the catholic church's dogma forbade the use of butter and milk in its baking. Lord Ernst of Saxony appealed to the Pope to lift the so-called "butter-ban." The Pope eventually gave in and declared that milk and butter could be used in baking stollen. He declared this could be done with a clear conscience, with God's blessing, and by making a financial contribution to building the new Dresden cathedral."

As soon I read this aloud to my wife she said, "Are you going to call them and tell them about their mistake." I said, "Probably, but I need to confirm it first."

So I set out to confirm our suspicion, that the "butter ban" was nothing more than the Christian practice of eating no meat or dairy food in the few weeks leading up to Christmas. (This annual abstension from all meat and dairy food used to be normal for all Christians, but over time, most Christians abandoned the ancient practice. Only the Orthodox still keep the fast.) I looked at the history of Stollen on the official Dresden Stollen website but there was no mention of Advent in the article there. The text on the official site like the text on the packaging made the "butter ban" seem like a 365-days-a-year ban. But I knew my wife and I had to be right about the butter ban only being in place during Advent.

This was confirmed for me by Linda Stradley at What's Cooking America. Here is what she said:

"Stollen is thought to have originated in Dresden in the 1400s. However, at that time the Catholic Church, as part of the fasting rules in preparation for Christmas, forbade the use of butter during Advent. Thus, the stollen of the middle ages was a somewhat tasteless pastry.
In 1650 Prince Ernst von Sachsen at the request of bakers in Dresden, successfully petitioned Pope Urban VIII to lift the restrictions on the use of butter during Advent. The restrictions were lifted only in Dresden and thus began a baking tradition that continues to this day."

So, the nit-picky Orthodox Christian part of me has been satisfied, but here is the best thing about this Stollen: They sell it not only during Advent, when I can't eat it, but during Nativity week, and Theophany-tide as well!!!! This is extremely joyous for me because even though my family ate much panettone during Christmas, we didn'tget to enjoy the best panettone. The best panettone is sold by Trader Joe's and ALWAYS sells out before December 25. But now we know of something better than the best panettone. Now we can buy Stollen from Sterntaller Bakery and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the best possible pastry is on the table for Christmas. In fact, next year it will be given as Christmas presents.

Nevertheless, this joyfullness will be tempered with a little bit of sadness. A thorn among the roses. Every time I eat stollen I will be reminded that the once great and faithful Rome began abandoning Orthodox fasting on account of stollen.

Four new Orthodox Christians

Today at my parish four people were were brought into the Church. Two by Baptism, two by Chrismation. (We need a new building. But that will be a different post.) How to describe this to my EvProt and/or Pentecostal family?

Orthodox think of Baptism as being Born Again (see the Confession of St. Patrick), but EvProts and Pentecostals tend to think of Baptism as something not very important or even optional. Orthodox think of Chrismation as being Baptised in the Holy Ghost and fire. But Pentecotals would not recognize Chrismation. So, tomorrow when my Mother (I'm taking her to a doctor appoitment) asks how church was today, I'll probably just say "It was good. How were services at your church?"

Tonight I made mulled cider and roasted chestnuts for Anselm and I. The cider was good but I forgot to slice open the chestnut shells before roasting. The sound reminded me of a cluster bomb going off.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

12th Day of Christmas

Took down all the decorations this afternoon. The last item to be taken down was a red ribbon that ran along the top of the wall. Tied to the ribbon were 18 christmas tree ornaments: chocolate wrapped in colorful foil. I put them up the day after my dad died. Until the forefeast of Nativity they were the only decoration we put up. Every day since Anselm has been asking me to take them down so he could eat them. But we waited until today. He ate so many he didn't want anymore. We gave the last to the neighbors. It was a nice way for the boys to end Christmas.

This eveing we went to Church for vespers before Theophany. The boys were very tired during the service. We left after about 1.75 hrs. I felt bad about leaving early but they were so sleepy. I love all those OT readings. Except for water being in all of them I don't understand why some of them are included; like when Elisha had water poured on the altar during his contest with the prophets of Baal. What does that have to do with Theophany?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ninth Day of Christmas

Woke up at 4am could go back to sleep so I got up and did morning prayers. Made coffee. Woke Cyndi and the boys up at 6:20.

Panettone for breakfast!!!! (We have had several panettoni since the beginning of the feast. Whole Foods 365 was the only one we didn't like.)

Took Cyndi to work and then the boys and I drove to the summit of the Montara Range (really, it is just the northern end of the Santa Cruz Range) to where my Dad is buried. The headstone isn't there yet, just a plot number and netting to hold the sod down. It is very strange to think that the man I was talking to just a few weeks ago was under that sod. Prayed the trisagion for him. Holy water.

I was up late last night stuffing the Christmas letter into envelopes. Found out today that the post offices are closed for mourning. I remember Pres. Ford, barely.

On New Years Eve we had popcorn, hot chocolate and watched 2 movies: The Grinch (with the voices of Frankenstein and Darth Vader) and White Christmas. Rosemary Clooney sounds better than human bengs should and looks fabulous in that black velvet dress. It is such a good movie. It makes me feel nostalgic for a time that probably never was.