Monthly Archives: December 2014

Linkage: Holiday edition

On Pacing Myself Through Advent [Close to Home]

How to Stay Productive During the Holidays [Ask A Manager]

Spend the Holidays Together Before You Say “I Do” [Verily]

Ask Polly: What If I Never Find Love? [NY Mag]
Because it’s too easy to get stuck on this question during the holidays.

14 New Year’s Resolutions for Orthodox Christians [Roads from Emmaus]

Happy Christmas, everyone! We’re taking vacation until January, so have a beautiful holiday and a wonderful new year. See you then!

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The most surprising thing

One of my favorite questions to ask married friends of mine is, “What’s been the most suprising thing about marriage?” The answers are delightful. Here are some of my favorites.

“I think, maybe, the biggest surprise is how easy it’s been. We’ve had to deal with a lot of hard things, but the marriage hasn’t been hard. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said something about marriage being as comfortable as an old sweater or your favorite slippers. And it really is.”

“How much FUN it was.” — married almost 50 years.

“I don’t think I’m allowed to publish that answer.” — a newlywed. “And, how much I still really, really, really want some of my independence.”

“Loneliness.” — facing terminal illness.

“The sacrifice. That said, I like him more now than I did the day I married him.”

“Oh yeah, that you can love someone so, so very much more than you did when you married them, because, and not in spite of, all the difficulties.”

“I’m really surprised that after almost 20 years we’re not tired of each other. I’m also surprised how much we both have changed over the years. I think we’ve both become better people with each other’s help.”

“That we loved our similarities when we were dating and now we love our differences.”

“Apparently it is totally normal to fight for a month straight when you first get married.” — another newlywed.

“The things that surprised me most in my first marriage were that someone who loved you and had pledged his life and heart to you could be so cruel. And that you could keep loving him and keep hoping things would change, for far longer than you’d have imagined possible. And that you could hide so much from other people.”

“Just how often we have to apologize and ask one another for forgiveness.”

“The things I thought would be easy were the hardest and the hardest things have been bearable because we faced them together.”

“I’m a harder person to live with than I ever thought before marriage.”

“My husband doesn’t open up like he did when we were dating. He’s more guarded with his emotions. Also, he’s a furnace at night, so we have to have a fan every night all year long.”

“That he forgives me so often.”

“How selfish I am.”

“We’ve had plenty of difficulties over the years. Life, you know? It happens. But our marriage has been the place to face life from together. And I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.”

“Touching feet might not make all the hurt feelings of the disagreement go away but there is stability and love in the little things that reaffirm you’re going to get through this together.”

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Christmas Presents: our recommendations

Christmas is around the corner! Read on to find out what we recommend you get family and friends.

Anna’s picks:

For arty or foodie friends:
— Relish
Lucy Knisley’s charming memoir about the role food has played in her life, in graphic novel form. Bonus: I’ve made a couple of the recipes included in here and they’re great.

For literary friends or your single sister:
— The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
It’s been a while since I read a book I loved as much as The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. The plot sounds so banal; misanthropic man learns to love through the adoption of a baby who was abandoned on his doorstep. However, this book is much smarter than that, while also having a lot of heart.

For your cousin who recently developed an interest in cooking:
—  Very decent Dutch Oven, not at Le Creuset prices. Other options: Microplane zester, immersion blender.

Laura’s picks:

For the one who misses your cooking:
— Mix in a jar (brownies, cookies, bean soup, etc.) Plenty of books with instructions at your local library or online. Personal faves include Whole Wheat Beer Bread, Boston Brown Bread, Patchwork Soup (Lenten!), and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

For the new music enthusiast:
— CDs and MP3s can be cliché, but not if you get them for the person who has just discovered non-popular varieties of music. The Nativity Kontakion by Richard Toensing always starts my holiday right. Robert Shaw Chorale is playing through my house right now, with Chanticleer up next. Duke Ellington’s The Nutcracker Suite or Manhattan Transfer for those who need a Jazz twist. Keep in mind that all these groups have non-Christmas albums as well.

For the nostalgic:
— Wooden boxes that can be used for icon corner supplies, pencils, sewing supplies or jewelry. Visit a local craft festival, farmer’s market, or Christmas market to find local options.

Brigid’s picks:

For the one who loaned you all their books:
personal library kit, $15

For the friend who loves fantasy:
— The Goblin Emperor
 This is about the unwanted youngest son of the emperor, who suddenly comes into power and has to figure out how to use it. The author loves language like Tolkien does, and the protagonist is one of the gentlest, strongest characters I’ve read.

For the one with a sweet tooth:
— vanilla sugar

For the person who gets all your in-jokes:
— a custom book made of favorite poems, recipes, prayers, stories, saved emails, or what-have-you. There are a few options, but I’ve used With coupon codes, it should be under $10 incl. shipping. Download a template and away you go.

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The sacred and the secular

There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.

-Madeleine L’Engle

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Orthodoxy, Standards, and the Nativity Fast

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of rules in Orthodoxy. 2,000 years of existence will do that to a religion. Of course, practicing Orthodox Christianity is ultimately not about following rules but following Christ. The rules are there to give structure and boundaries but should not be confused with the thing itself.

Rules are useful: they help us to understand that X action is part of Orthodoxy and Y action is not. Orthodox Christians who speak out about expectations and rules are often decried by those who perhaps prefer a “gentler” approach, but it’s a mistake to go too far with throwing out the rules.

A priest may preach a fiery homily, but in the confessional he is kind and gentle. There is a standard for all, and a good pastor recognizes individual circumstances and limitations. (47-365)_Little_man_in_the_tree_(5278200034)

That’s not to say that we should chuck out the ideal. Recently there has been a bit of a stir because a cradle Orthodox Christian complained about being barred from the Eucharist, despite the fact that he openly practiced homosexual acts and did not seek to reconcile himself to God through the mystery of Holy Confession (you can read more from the Greek Star; link opens a pdf file).

In Catholic circles, there is the term “Bad Catholic”. This usually refers to Catholics who don’t follow the rules about sexual morality but may still go to church. They don’t take communion, and they wouldn’t even think about expecting the church to change her teachings to to justify their behavior. Still, they love God and love the church, and they are working out their salvation. Many eventually “come home” and are reunited with the church. 

The nativity fast in particular can be a stumbling block to Orthodox Christians in America. You start the fast on the 15th of November, but 10 days later there’s a dispensation for turkey. The Christmas partying season lasts from approximately the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas day. I found it rather depressing living here starting at 16 (I grew up in Greece) to find that people threw away their Christmas trees on December 26th. I tried to explain that there are 12 days of Christmas, but in a country with no sense of the church-related feasts besides Christmas day and Easter, my protests were in vain.

The Church prescribes this season so that we may prepare to joyfully receive the Incarnate Word of God, and the rules are there for our own benefit. They should not be dismissed just because they don’t conform to the standards of 21st century America. So, go to those parties and fast or not as you will. As St. John Chrysostom’s homily for Pascha goes, “the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour”. The fast is a gift from the church; an opportunity to refrain from sin and to re-focus on what really matters. 

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