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Archive for the ‘Daily Routines’ Category

Most of us do at least some looking back (retrospecting) around the end of the year. What went wrong, what went right, what do we want to change in the new year, and will we really carry through with those changes?

We mostly don’t do that unless there were some real BIG disasters. Generally, the Ol’ Curmudgeon and I make our analyses and resolutions at the time of the disaster.

Today we received in the mail a Christmas present from some very, very dear friends. It is a CD, and we opened it to be sure that’s what it was because they were asking if we had received it.

It is a beautifully packaged CD of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir doing Orthodox chants of the 17th and 18th centuries. Had to put it on. Shouldn’t have done that, or, perhaps it is a good thing we did. The first band was “Let my Prayer Arise” (in Old Church Slavonic). On about the second Refrain, I burst into tears. First, I cried out to God to forgive me. Then I rushed (well, “cripped my way”) downstairs to throw myself in the Ol’ Curmudgeon’s arms and beg his forgiveness! We are still in the Lenten period before the Nativity, and I was, and am, filled with remorse for all the things left undone, and all the wrong things done – both externally and internally.

We all are lax and don’t discipline ourselves sufficiently both in our spiritual lives and in our secular lives. In fact, we artificially divide our spiritual and secular lives as if they were two different things. But they are not. They are both our LIFE. Not both PARTS of our life, but both ARE our life. They should be intricately intermeshed so that they are indistinguishable. Yet, even we, the Orthodox, who, of all, should know better, separate our lives into the spiritual and secular.

God should be at the center of our lives, and all that we do should glorify Him. I was overwhelmed by my sin – by missing that mark for which I am aiming. I was overwhelmed by how far I miss the mark – every minute of every day. As an example, I read medical records and decipher whether someone “missed the mark” in caring for the patient. It is frequently my judgment that determines if a case is to be brought against the providers. Yet, all too frequently, I don’t pray about it before, during and after I read the records and write my report. It is these kinds of sins that overwhelmed me. Not making God the center of my life, not “integrating” my life into God.

So, like an Orthodox Christian, I shall get up once more, start anew, and try to “get it right” this time. Despite my trying, however, most likely I will fail because of my own shortcomings. But we are not called upon to do the impossible, simply to keep trying to do that which is “right” – which leads us closer to God.

May God have mercy upon us all.

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Here at Turtle Rock, I often am enjoying basking so much I don’t start work as soon as I should – then I end up being in a very big hurry and stressed with it.

The Orthodox Church Fathers call procrastination Sloth, Negligence, and Laziness, spiritual afflictions that affect our perception of and relationship to God. They rob us of our proper orientation toward God. If allowed to progress, these afflictions will lead to akidia – listlessness and soul death! So simple procrastination has many very serious implications.

My procrastination is often due to unrealistic expectations of my self and my work. “Oh, it won’t take that long! I don’t need to start it for (2, 6, 24) hours!” Finally, I sit down to do it, realize how big a job it really is, and start to panic. This can lead to carelessness in my work – I try to work too rapidly.

So I struggle each day with procrastination. I have help from The Ol’ Curmudgeon, who will often remind me that I have certain tasks hanging over my head. I am grateful for this, but I realize there are times when he isn’t here – on a business trip or at work – and I don’t have the reminder. So I need to remind myself. My computer has lists, pop-ups, alarms – and, sadly, I have become able to ignore them all. Continual struggle with this is my lot. I’ve worked on it for years, and I see a long road of struggle with it ahead of me.

The Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, said every day during Great Lent, is instructive:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faintheartededness, lust of power and idle thoughts

But give, rather, the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant

Yea, O Lord and King,  grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for Holy art Thou unto the ages of ages. Amen

I often feel the need to say this prayer when it isn’t even Great Lent.

Turtles may not be hares, but we at least need to start at the same time!

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We were watching Cats the other day. Love that musical. I think it’s the “perfect” stage musical. The Ol’ Curmudgeon likes it, but prefers Chicago over it. Variety is what makes life go ’round!

But I got to thinking – back when Cats first came out, all of a sudden all the young girls would choose “Memory” as their recital or their competition song. They were picking the wrong song. “Memory” is a song for the older woman who has seen life and is nearing the end. There are just some songs that are for youth and some that definitely are for the mature person. “Memory” fits the latter category.

About 25 years ago, JRR Tolkein approved a Song Cycle written to sing some the poems in the Lord of the Rings. Check Wikipedia for a fairly good discussion of this. I obtained the book when it came out, and the LP when it came out. We very carefully recorded the LP to tape so we could preserve the fidelity of the original recording.

Why do I mention this in conjunction with some words about Cats? Well, there’s a song there that is also for the mature person. It is Bilbo’s lament. It is beautiful, but even more beautiful when sung to the music of Donald Swann. I cannot understand why Howard Shore didn’t avail himself of Swann’s themes for at least some of the music for the movie. I wonder if he even knew of it.

Back to the theme of this essay. Memory begins accumulating when we are children, but does not really become nostalgia until we are older – much older. True nostalgia – a longing for an idealized past – does not usually appear until middle age or older. Both of these songs, “Memory” and “I Sit Beside the Fire and Think,” exemplify nostalgia.

When my mother was dying, I took her “I Sit Beside the Fire,” and she truly appreciated it. She said it summed up what she was feeling – without being too maudlin about it.

I sit beside the fire and think…
by J. R. R. Tolkien

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

Memory
from Cats

Grizabella: Daylight
See the dew on the sunflower
And a rose that is fading
Roses whither away
Like the sunflower
I yearn to turn my face to the dawn
I am waiting for the day . . .

Midnight
Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone
In the lamplight
The withered leaves collect at my feet
And the wind begins to moan

Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can smile at the old days
I was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again

Every streetlamp
Seems to beat
A fatalistic warning
Someone mutters
And the streetlamp gutters
And soon it will be morning

Jemima: Moonlight
Turn your face to the moonlight
Let your memory lead you
Open up, enter in
If you find there the meaning of what happiness is
Then a new life will begin

Grizabella: Daylight
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I musn’t give in
When the dawn comes
Tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin

Burnt out ends of smoky days
The stale cold smell of morning
The streetlamp dies, another night is over
Another day is dawning

Touch me
It’s so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You’ll understand what happiness is

Look
A new day has begun

Both of these are the reminiscences of mature people who are looking back at their life. That life is ending, but they remember earlier days. And they have certain things they need and want at the endings. They need company, conversation, acceptance, caring. They need to know they will not be totally forgotten the minute they are gone.

In one of Jean Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit, the characters are in Hell. They can still see the people they knew, but only as long as they are remembered. There is much more, of course. When I saw it, however, that was the part I remembered and came away with.

The Orthodox Church provides remembrance for all. In the ancient monasteries in Russia, on the Ancestral Saturdays and on the Feast of St. Demetrius, all the people who have ever asked to be remembered at the Liturgy are remembered. Their names are read aloud. Books, and books of them, page after page of names are read. Several monks read them at a time in order to get through all of them. Lists beginning from the 10th century are read. At every monastery all over the world, people who have asked to be remembered are remembered and prayed for. In that way, they will never be forgotten. Long after the memory of the person has faded, after the people who knew that person are long dead, those names are read. They are called to remembrance, and prayers go up to God for them, like the smoke of the incense.

Why is it important to us that we will be remembered? Perhaps it is that attempt to achieve immortality on earth. When we occupy ourselves with ways in which we will be remembered on earth, we are not spending time working toward life immortal – life after death. It is not time spent climbing the Ladder to Christ.

So I reflect and remember my life. Of summers, autumns, winters and springs. And I realize that eventually a winter will come and I won’t see the spring. I my vanity, I remember that once I was beautiful – at least to some people – and realize I am now a fat old woman. As the lament at the Orthodox funeral says, “Where is the beauty of the body, and where its youth? Where are the eyes and the fleshly form? Like the grass all have perished, all have been destroyed. Come ye, therefore, let us prostrate ourselves at the feet of Christ with tears.”

An entire chapter of The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus is devoted to “the remembrance of death.” By this, he means that we should remember death every day. “As of all foods, bread is the most essential, so the thought of death is the most necessary of all works. the remembrance of death amongst those in the midst of society gives birth to distress and meditation, and even more, to despondency. But amongst those who are free from noise, it produces the putting aside of cares and constant prayer and guarding of the mind. But these same virtues both produce the remembrance of death, and are also produced by it.”

When I hear the songs I mentioned earlier, I am brought to the remembrance of death – it comes for all, and even for me. The popular song and the Tolkein poem-song bring me to that remembrance and, hopefully, to repentance. My thoughts turn to the bright Day of Heaven.

“Like the sunflower
I yearn to turn my face to the dawn
I am waiting for the day . . .”

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Since I married him, the Ol’ Curmudgeon has occasionally pulled a surprise on me. Life with him has never been dull! The Pond, with him, is marvelous!

So I shouldn’t have been so shocked when he looked up from some cook books he was perusing and announced that when he retired, if we could afford it, he’d love to go to cooking school!! WOW!

Well the Atlanta Culinary Institute it beyond expensive and into a small fortune to attend. So I assumed we’d have to find some other ways to do it.

I was at Publix picking up a couple of things in the bakery, and one of the employees was being incredibly helpful – like Publix people usually are. I asked if they too classes to learn baking, and she replied that it was more like OJT with occasional continuing training classes. So I told her what the Ol’ Curmudgeon said, and she told me that Publix runs a cooking school!!! Not only that, but she flagged down the manager as he went past, and he kindly wrote out the contact information for me!

Turns out that the Publix up in Alpharetta runs a cooking school. When called and told the OC, he didn’t sound real interested – “I really want Cordon Bleu,” he says. I was a bit downcast. Here I’d found a cooking school for him that probably wouldn’t cost us the mortgage on the house, and he didn’t seem to care! “Well,” I said, in an attempt at making him a bit more positive about it, “at least you could maybe learn some knife skills. That is always needed.” He was grumpy as usual.

When I returned home, 4 hours later, he had already looked them up on the internet, and was making plans to take some of their courses!! Turns out, it’s run by a trained chef, and their “guest instructors” include people like Alton Brown, Paula Deen and the occasional visit by Emeril Lagasse!! Cool! Now he’s enthusiastic. Looks like he’s going to take some 1/2 days off over the next few years to take some of these classes.

Guess the old girl isn’t so useless after all!!

Happy Smile

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The sun sets late during the summer here at the Pond. The heat, humidity, occasional storms and frequently constant sunshine have made the grass grow high.

The Ol’ Curmudgeon gave up trying to find someone to mow our grass for a “reasonable” fee, so he invested in a new, electric mower. He was out there at 7 AM today and mowed for a bit before coming in.

Yesterday, when it arrived, he mowed for a bit to try it out. I worried about him doing that in the heat, but he was adamant he needed to do this.

The sun started setting a couple hours later, and the scent of sunset – which has it’s own scent – and the scent of new-mown grass (and weeds) mingled into a whole that brought back memories of childhood.

Running around in the yard, catching fireflies, playing hide-and-seek in the twilight, rolling down the hill of the newly mown lawn and coming up covered in bits of grass clips. We would come in itching and take a cool bath before bed.

But that was the twilight of youth. What about the twilights of our twilight years?

As the sun sets over the Pond, we breathe a sigh of relief that we have survived another hot day that now has ended, and send up a prayer of thanksgiving that we have air conditioning.

A friend said that my post on Death at the Pond was pretty “dark.” Well, death is dark. And darkness comes at the end of the day.

But twilight is different. It isn’t dark at all. It is full of joyful remembrances and affection. There are some regrets that the tasks of days gone by have not been accomplished, and sparks of joy at the serendipities of some of those days.

There comes a point in life when we want to reach back and contact our friends from years past. Perhaps to affirm that our memories are accurate, or to find out if we are remembered. As I do this, sometimes I am startled to realize just what others remember about me – are they remembering me, or someone else? Did I really do that?

Then I remember – the Angst of Adolescence – I was a very melancholy individual, dramatic, unpredictable, hysterical at times, thought of myself as “fey.” I suspect I was difficult to get along with, especially for the adolescent and just post-adolescent male of the species!

There is this about twilight – whether of the day or of life – it is a time for reflection. To reflect on whether my life has been what it should have been. To consider: is there still time to make changes, to repent?

My mind jumps from topic to topic to topic as I reflect in the twilight. There was once a time when twilight was the time for planning the next day. The days, now, stretch on with a sameness, a predetermined rhythm, that require no planning. I know what will come the next day – if the next day comes. It is the same as the day before.

The grass will be mown. The work performed. The meals made, the dishes washed (thank you, dear!), the clothes washed. Prayers will be said, Scripture read, the Fathers studied. The Ol’ Curmudgeon will tell me I suit him. I will tell him I adore him. We will sleep. God willing, there will be another day – and another twilight to reflect, to remember, to relax, to repent.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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Of course, in the pond, there are periods of famine – or fasts – when meat is not eaten, but we do eat meat the rest of the time.

Although the Ol’ Curmudgeon on his blog talks about food a lot, and although he does much of the cooking in our pond these days, I used to do the cooking, and certain recipes seem to be “mine” rather than things he cooks. Meatloaf is one of those recipes. So, when we are eating meat, and I’m having a particularly good day, he will ask me to make it.

Because he is just rabid about it, I tried to put together my recipe. But it just doesn’t lend itself to traditional recipe formats! Guess he has influenced me too much! So, such as it is, here is “my” take on Meatloaf:

I don’t think I’ve ever made meatloaf the same way twice. As long as the Ol’ Curmudgeon likes it, I won’t worry about it. What is meatloaf? Well it’s a basic food staple.

From time immemorial, people have mixed meat with veggies, breads, thickeners and various spices, baked it in a loaf or patty, and served — sometimes with a sauce or gravy, sometimes without. They did this to stretch the meat in lean times, to use up bits of meat that otherwise might have been thrown out, and to make tough meats more digestible. In early times, the meat used was already cooked — usually leftovers — whereas now-a-days we tend to use a raw ground meat — either beef or pork, but lamb, chicken, turkey and veal can be used, also. Any meat, actually. Horse, anyone? Donkey? Goat? Yup. Any or all of the above!

What I do these days is get or make about 2 pounds of meatloaf mix — 1/3 ground beef, 1/3 ground pork, 1/3 ground veal. Add in 1-2 sweet Italian sausages removed from the casing. Do not mix, yet!! Now the variations begin! About 1/3 to 1 cup of bread crumbs. I’ve used: pulverized bread out of the loaf, crushed croutons, crumbled cornbread, prepared breadcrumbs from the grocery. I’ve used more, I‘ve used less. In this case, less isn’t very good, and too much more is not very good, either. Just toss them in on top of the meat. Toss in 1-4 Tbsp of some kind of meat sauce — Heinz, Worcestershire, A-1, Lea and Perrins steak sauce, etc. I tend to use a thick, savory sauce, like Lea and Perrins Steak Sauce. Chop up some onions. About a quarter cup to half a cup is good. I don’t add bell peppers, but some people do. If you add them, don’t add much, chop them up very finely, and “sweat” them before adding to make them really tender and sweet. Salt, pepper to taste. I use seasoned salt and lemon pepper. Only now do you mix — very lightly — just enough to get a semi-even distribution of all ingredients. Some people try to “squish” it in their hands to mix. I use a couple of table knives, and cut through several times, then toss with a fork.

Precook, about half-way done, enough bacon to cover the top of the loaf. While the bacon is cooking, gently pack the meat into a loaf pan. Liberally cover the top with ketchup. I use Hunt’s — nice deep flavor, not too spicy. Once the bacon is about half-way done, lay the strips over the top.

Bake in a 350degF oven for about an hour, or until the meat is done in the center (145deg on meat thermometer).

The first night we have it, we just slice it and serve warm. We don’t like gravy on it, but others do. A flour gravy, a sausage gravy, brown gravy — whatever you like will work if you want gravy.

The next day, we slice thinly and make sandwiches with lots of mayo and sweet relish on them. I like some spicy dark mustard on mine; the Ol’ Curmudgeon does not. O well! To each his — or her — own!

Other things that can be done with meatloaf include: rolling up into little dough-covered packets — pasta dough makes raviolis, yeast dough makes pierogs, flatbread (pita) makes gyros, tortillas makes burritos, corndough covered with corn shucks makes tamales. Good for lunch pails. The meatloaf should be cooked before adding to these to avoid having food poisoning problems. Every culture seems to have some kind of meat roll.

Roll in packets of wonton skins and cook in chicken-miso stock, then fry — you have egg-rolls. (Leave out the meat, only use veggies, cook in miso stock, then fry — then you have spring rolls.)

Another delightful thing to do with a meatloaf mix is to roll it in softened cabbage leaves and cook all lined up and stacked in a deep pot (crock pot will do) with some broth of some kind around it. Cabbage rolls are an Eastern European fave. Think Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, Slovakia, etc. Good with a generous dollop of sour cream on top!

Roll into little balls, cook in a skillet — voila! Meatballs! Add to some cream sauce or tomato sauce and serve over pasta — Spaghetti and Meatballs! Or, add to a savory brown sauce and — Hungarian meatballs.

It’s all the same stuff. And it’s all good, plain, basic, country cooking. Country French, country English, country Russian, country, country American — add your own geographic area!

To get it to where you like it requires experimentation. That’s something we have problems with in our “Mickie-D” society. We want to do it fast without playing around. Some people are actually fearful of experimenting in the kitchen. To them I say, put your fears aside and get your hands greasy!!

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Here at the pond, some of us sleep more than others do. I, for one, seem to need more sleep than most, so I take naps. Now I don’t mean the kind of nap in which I go lie down in bed. No, I probably wouldn’t sleep – I’d lie there and wish I could fall asleep. But, it being daytime, I would not be able to convince myself that I could sleep in bed during the day! I might “miss” something.

No, a nap is best taken in the living room with the recliner opened out all the way, legs propped with a pillow, lumbar support in place, “dogbone” pillow diagonally under shoulders and sticking up over the left shoulder, head turned slightly to the left. One (or more) of the cats immediately leaps up onto my lap, and begins to “vibrate.” If I am chilly, I pull my DD-made fleece blanket onto my lap. Thus prepared, the nap begins.

Light noise is important. Perhaps it will be Ancient Faith Radio on the laptop nearby, or a couple of CDs in the player set to repeat ad infinitum. Not too loud, not too low. Too low and I will strain to listen and not sleep. Too loud, and I won’t be able to get to sleep.

Leave the table lamp on, but turn head away from it. Not too dark, not too light. OK. All is well. Oops! put phone on my chest so I can answer without truly waking up – unless it’s a business call. Then I will wake up immediately and focus. The thing about napping in the chair is, I’m still “out” where “things are going on.” So I won’t “miss” anything.

I take about 2 naps a day. The first early in the morning, starting somewhere between 6 and 7, and lasting until about 8 or 9 (except on “swim days”). The other one in the afternoon somewhere around 2 or 3 and lasting until about 3 or 4. Just an hour or two.

It’s amazing what these naps do for me! With the inflammation from the arthritis and the pain associated with the arthritis and the fibro, these short rests rejuvenate me. After a little nap, I can get more work done and my mind is much sharper than if I do not take a nap.

It’s almost time to nap. Now you know how I do it!

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