Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Preparing for the Bazaar

We make soap. We learned years ago from a good friend who has been making and selling soap for a long time. Her gift to us has become a gift to many others. I am so glad we can share it.

Gathering essential oils for this
years' soap.
We just made the soap we'll be selling at St. Nicholas' Annual Bazaar. It is very fine olive oil soap. So far, we have unscented, unscented with oatmeal, lavender, lavender with oatmeal, sweet orange, cocoa-peppermint, frankincense and myrrh, and ylang-ylang. If we can get to it we will also make eucalyptus.

I collect the best, affordable olive oil I can
in between soapmaking sessions.
We only use natural essential oils. I am sensitive to chemicals and artificial fragrance oils. If you are like me and need natural soap at home you know how expensive it can be. Learning to make soap ourselves saved us a lot of money. I do want to teach others at our parish to make it for their own use, but I have not found the time in a year. I feel badly about that. Four kids, buying a house, just life I guess.
Tikhon measures essential oil.
We sold a lot of soap at last years' Bazaar and then much more over the course of the year. It sells especially well on days like St. Nicholas Day when we have many visitors. This year we're putting a gift basket of the soap in the silent auction.

Pouring the soap into molds.

Tikhon cuts soap 24 hours after pouring it.

Soap curing before packaging.

I hope to teach more members of our parish and perhaps other parishes this winter. We have a move coming up, so it will have to be after we settle into our new home. Everything associated with St. Nicholas is the greatest gift I have ever received, and I am full of desire to give back.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Rome's 4th Birthday

Romneya (Romanos) Martin Grey O'Melay turned 4 on July 29th. The day was much-anticipated. My baby is 4! Below, you can see photos of him from birth.

Rome from birth to (almost) 4

We planned a big party for that afternoon. It was a joint party for Rome and Tristan (who turns 10 on August 9th) We had signed on the house the week before, so we thought we'd make it a big party. We have so much to celebrate. A year has passed since Karl's surgery, we have been blessed to buy a home, our eldest son turns 10 and our baby turns 4. Exciting times! I was worried about the party and the guests. Would there be too many people, to few? Would they like the food? Would people think this or that of me?

We had Liturgy in the morning then went to set up. My Saturday was a bay of baking, so I had 4 cakes to put out. We had a good selection of food and this 'make your own lemonade' stand with bottled organic lemon juice, simple syrup, water and ice (and vodka for the adults). The bottles all had bar spouts and the kids had so much fun concocting too-sweet and too-sour versions of their lemonade, tasting all the while.

I was amazed how people showed up. They all began helping laying out the food, everyone brought excellent dishes to share and began chatting. I saw a few people I have not seen in a long time and met others for the first time. There was a pedestal full of gifts and Rome was circling it. We had reserved the fireplace area of this lovely North Berkeley park, Codornices. Here is the fireplace, built into a hill.

The kids were running around it. In the back you can run up onto its shoulders because of the hill. A couple of guests even asked me, are you should he (Rome) is okay playing there? I felt like it was inevitable and that I should pick my battles. This was a mistake.

Rome was impatient for gifts, so I let him open one. It was a cute parachute guy that you could drop or throw and watch parachute to the ground. Naturally, the fireplace became the place to drop him as Rome could run back around and pick him up to do it again. I knew this was happening and yet somehow did not foresee the outcome.

In a millisecond: the most horrible sound you have ever heard. Rome fell from the top down to the stone below, some 5 feet, cracking his head squarely on the crown. I was over there with all swiftness, holding him. He was not even screaming at first, then flailing and crying. He didn't know who I was. There was very little blood, but hair everywhere as the hair had been broken by the impact. He sputtered and choked and screamed.

Rome's Godfather Nikola was there of course and he is a doctor. He came instantly to our aid. We were not sure at this point if we should go to the ER or stay awhile to see what would develop. We decided to sit for a minute, Rome still wailing, and try to distract him in case he was mostly in shock. We tried to open presents in front of him to calm him but it was no use. At some point the choice was made and we flew across the park to the car of another friend, Jim. Jim drove while Nikola kept watch over Rome and I sat there losing it. Jim was like a superhero, running red lights and saving the day. Nikola grew more and more frightened as Rome, who still didn't know who I was, started losing consciousness. We tried to keep him awake but his face was swelling where the area behind his eye was filling with blood (internal bleeding)  Rome slipped away, and even pinching and hitting would not wake him. When we arrived at the Children's Hospital, Nikola picked Rome up and rushed him in, speaking doctor to the triage people and getting him in quickly. They opened the big trauma room and cut off Rome's clothes with scissors. They had him on one of those boards and with a collar. It was very surreal as they swept me away to answer medical questions about Rome and Nikola stayed by him. By some miracle, Rome came to. "I want to tell you something," he said. "I love you."

The party was left behind completely of course. I know now that the guests stayed to light candles for Tristan and have him open presents. Then they all helped Karl clean up and get home. We were not thinking of this much in the ER.

All through the evening into the night, our dear friends Lien and Jim and their children stayed with us, bringing me hot food and even pajamas and treats. They were so awesome.

They did a CAT scan. By this time Rome was aware of his surroundings and who I was. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. They were about to put us in a room with an IV but immediately came to remedy the mix-up. His CAT scan revealed a skull fracture and we were meant to be in the ICU.

The fracture starts at the right eye socket and all of the way through extends to the crown of his head where he struck. Once the neurosurgeons decided that it was clean and in-line (no surgery) the biggest concern was the eye itself. They explained that the many tiny muscles behind the eye can easily become impinged by the fracture area and bits of bone.

We stayed in the ICU for one day, but it felt like a week. We had visitors and many calls and prayers. When we came hom we were so relieved, but also scared. We have to keep Rome near us at all times in case of sudden bleeding. He has to wear a helmet until the neurosurgeon signs off on his healing. Otherwise he is okay. He is in some pain which translates into very bad behaviour more than anything. He is testy, angry, and will not listen to me- even more than before. Church has been trying. We had a long weekend with Transfiguration and all, 4 services in a row. I felt like by the end of it everyone was tired of Rome's screaming. I know I was. I pray that everyone will find some room in their heart for Rome right now and that I will do the right things in getting him back to full health and normal behaviour.

We had an eye follow-up and it's fine. Thank God! All we have to do now is make sure he doesn't hit his head again while it is healing.

Rome in the ICU right as we were discharged. 

Long Absence

I have been absent, and I'm sorry. I love keeping a journal and I know that someday this blank spot will sadden me. Let me fill in where I can.

Naturally, we brought the kids back from camp safe and sound. When we returned as a family we spent a day at the retreat center, went to Liturgy at the Life-Giving Spring monastery, and drove up into Kings Canyon forest to see the trees and swim in that big, beautiful river. The kids had a great time at camp. I should not have worried. (a sentence that pretty much sums me up)

We were during this time completely mired in home-buying treacle, but looking back I have a hard tine remembering what specifically we were doing. Loan conditions, funding, things like that. It still very much felt as though it would not happen. It felt that way until the last day, when we were called to sign and record! That's right, we got the house. We own a house. We served notice to the tenants 24 hours later and are waiting, no, to take possession. We bought a house!

Every day I pinch myself when I remember.  And I thank God.

The day after we signed on the house, our dear friends took us to Vigil at the church just a short walk away from 'home'. It felt so good to be there and know that this house was God's will. All the work we put into it would have been nothing if God had not willed this for us. As we venerated the icons we found one tiny icon of Blessed Xenia, whose intercessions help families find homes near their church community.
The church near our new house.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Our two oldest children are in church camp this week. I drove them down, dropped them off and stayed a night to be sure all was well, and came home with just my two little boys.

Sometimes I have out-of-self moments where I look at what I am doing and see it with secular eyes. The worry was building for camp and I had one of these thoughts. We, who have never left our children with anyone, are abandoning them for a week with people from a church we recently gave our entire lives to at a moment's whim. From the outside this does not look 'good'.

From the inside it is perfect. 

Yes, I chose this camp as safe because it is Orthodox. But that is not the only reason I am suddenly able to trust in the concept of leaving my children with other people. I have changed. I have a trusting relationship with the church and with life. I am worried about my kids, of course. It is my new-found belief in the profound goodness of God that overcomes the worry. All the hard things in my life are nothing compared to the good things God has given me. This is and will be true for my children, too. They are going to be okay. In the same way that last summer's crisis brought us unimaginable gifts, a little homesickness or sorrow at camp will be okay in time.

I find I do not care if outsiders think I am addled. It was not long ago that I would have thought something like that myself. Who could have imagined that I would be here, feeling these things? 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Kings Canyon

“I love forms beyond my own,
                 and regret the borders between us” 
-Loren Eiseley
An unexpected change in plans brought us here.

My two youngest were with me.
They took off down the path.

The paths make you want to follow them. 

It was our first time seeing giant sequoia. 

We ran through the centre of fallen trees.

It was the most beautiful place.

We picnicked underneath the giant trees.
The kids ran off to play and I stayed to pray.
I discovered I had no words to pray with
so I followed my boys on the path.

Thank you, God, for unexpected changes in plans. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Last year, today's Gospel was read on July 3rd.  I even wrote about it. I felt so much like this message was timed perfectly for me.

I feel the same way this year.

It could read, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'Will we get this house?'..."

I must accept that I am not in control. I can't make this happen the way I want. If it does happen, it will not be my doing. My energy is best spent on what I can control.

I can contribute to happiness and peace in our home.
I can thank God for all the good in our lives.
I can love my family and everyone around me.
I can ask for strength to weather this day and everything that will take place during it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I can't imagine

Earlier today we signed a piece of paper that lifted the first of two contingencies on this house purchase.  From now on, if this fails, we will not see the money we've put in again. It is at risk now, as our agent says.

It had to happen sometime.

I spoke to my Godmother and while we were talking I remembered that the last time I felt this was was not long ago. Remember Holy Week? We had prepared for more than a year. I had sewn the white gowns by hand. Then we were sick, and sicker. I was coughing red blood. My seven year old daughter didn't eat or drink for eight days and we rushed her to the ER. She lost 10 pounds. At the end of Holy Week, on the morning of Great and Holy Friday, I was completely lost. I felt that this plan, God's plan, was bad. I couldn't imagine what God was thinking. How could we prepare for so long and be abandoned by Him at the last moment? What terrible lesson did God have in store for us to cause so much suffering? I was despondent and bitter. I spoke to the small few I trusted on the phone and spitefully suggested we wait another year or two.

Then, in the afternoon of Holy Friday, when the time came for us to say the Creed and renounce Satan, we arrived at the church. I carried my baby girl in my arms and a white quilt. She couldn't lift her head.

We said the Creed, we spit westwardly.

And then it was as if a spell was lifted. Kassi stood up and was hungry. She didn't stop eating from then on. All was well. In the most amazing way, it was almost as if nothing had happened.

Almost. On the morning of Holy Saturday I was a new person. All expectations and designs of my own were lifted. The trial we had endured erased them. I had nothing, wanted nothing. We brought ourselves to be Baptised without anything but the marvellous present. I felt empty, singular, clean.

I could not imagine the things God had planned for us. I saw only darkness through my fragmented, darkened lenses. Great and Holy Saturday and Pascha were the most beautiful and Heavenly experiences of my life. I had no idea.

I am trying to hold onto that memory as we approach the close of this house deal, for better or worse. My mind wants to pin down God's plan. I think, what if we lose this house and money with it, how can that be God's plan for us? We have done everything right! We deserve better.

I am trying to remember that I can't imagine what good God has for us. It is beyond my understanding, and if losing this house is part of it, that is what will happen. If having this house is God's will, we will have it.
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