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In my early adolescence, when I was busy trying to separate my meaning from my mother’s I found a church-going family who helped me in this task. They -like I- were quick to point out her sacrilege: her poverty, her politics, her single parenting (they did not know, like I did, what the alternative would have looked like). And I, like them, became spitefully critical of the church she’d taken me to when I was a child: A place marked as irreverent for its open willingness to negotiate through the beauties and follies of a number of faiths.

I borrowed the criticism of the Unitarian Church, like I borrowed the criticism of my mother. I refused her christianity, and so she made a new round of it, refashioning her faith in a new space that I did not snub at the time (though I wouldn’t put it past myself now, knowing my history).

I began looking too, sure that the “real” church could provide what I needed in a community and faith, if it was so self-assured and critical of everyone else. After years of looking around, blinking dumbfounded at congregation after congregation, often as numbed and insensitive to me as I was to them, I came to question the right for religious institutions and their spokespersons to point fingers.

It has been a long time since I’ve stepped into a church building. In my time away, I have let my imagination run wild with the grotesque possibility that all churches– indeed the buildings themselves–would represent everything I wouldn’t want a church to be: exclusive, apolitical, self-protective, anti-humanistic, gold-plated and in the clouds.

I walked in this weekend to wood. To the smell of it. To walls, darkened in places with old oak knobs and lit with the honey of split planks. There was a wooden rocking chair in the tall ceilinged meeting room– in case someone like me, wandering in, would want to keep a small child with me, rather than turn her over to strangers. And in all that crafted wood, and the murmur of forested voices, there was a whisper of worship at the pulpit- but worship, identified in working hands and good rest, in the richness of the land and the possibilities of music.

The man picked up that old book, laughing, laughing and proceeded to tell us the things in it that he found useful: A young prophet, politically radical enough to have been executed by the state. A message of peace and disarmament; the pounding of weapons into ploughshares and scythes.

This is not the first time I have realized a need to restitch myself to a history I rejected in my youth, but its the first time I’ve considered that task to be spiritual. Something in me feels deeply drawn to the idea of building a community in a place that wrestles (faithfully) with environmentalism, human rights, and peace, in ways that have been instilled in me since my childhood. I see room here, not for me to agree with everything, but to set a course down, and learn from others, in a community of people who hold on to whatever point of religiosity seems to make the most cultural sense to them, while still insisting on sharing a conviction that there’s something spiritual about the loves and joys and politics that we might live together.

When I arrived home, I called my mother, to tell her I knew something — some little thing– of what she’d lent me in life. and to apologize.


My first lesson in ritual masking was taught by my godmother. For the application of a base layer, she would close the door to the bedroom, and I would wait on the other side of it.   When finished,  I would hear her voice rise, “Luthe”, “”Lu-thee,” shrill, because she expected me to be downstairs. I was never downstairs.   I ran down and back up, to make the patter of sound she would expect, and then went in to see her same face, only made-up peach.

In the time it took for her to apply the mask, she would don not only a face cover, but a persona.  She became vibrant, electrically charged, and prepared for the worst. You could hear the change in the way she breathed.

She was not just putting on make-up, she would tell me. There was a spiritual preparation, bound in and up with her ritual paintings. It prepared her for the worst of days and doctor’s visits.  I was young though, and I wasn’t looking at much but her face. I made poor correlations, dismissed her comments on meditation, and understood the transformation as a power of the mask.  “Someday,” she promised “I’ll teach you about meditation.”  I have yet to get this lesson.

Now, whenever I am home, she shuts the door for long hours. I wear this weight: She has come to use the same meditation and mask to prepare herself for the every day that she once designated only for the worst of them.  Day and worst have become synonymous.

I know, only a little of what “the worst” once was, before it became systemic.  The mask was always applied before a visit to the hospital. These visits were frequent.  She’d suffered a  long medical battle to keep her only child alive. The failure of this minute-by-minute endeavor, after twelve years of hospitals, made her voice quiet to a whisper, wearied and perhaps afraid, when she spoke of doctors and hospitals. Twelve years would be enough, I’m sure, to make anyone whisper about them. But before a real breath was taken, she was back to the hospital. Scripted on her own body, a cancer grew. She was in the same strange-lit hallways, waiting, always waiting, on procedures and results and new promises from doctors eradicating her body of one carcinogen, and filling it with another: the burnt post-chemo pain that she still wears.

I knew this history, but as a child, I understood very little of what any of that pain meant. I was invincible still, little-touched by the marring and marred way this world twists us up into adults.  I’m not claiming that age lets you understand pain, it just seems, with time passing, to demand a more frequent acknowledgment.

And in this forced acknowledgment I  have come to understand the tri-part tool of a self-mask: to conceal ones own pain, to use a barrier, a protection from the next very-possible pain, and to create a persona that can negotiate these spaces of pain with some perceived holding-it-togetherness.

While I might not have fully understood, I was privy at a young age, to the seeming usefulness of a mask.  I used it sparingly in my younger years, but, in preparation for my move to college, which involved the purging of material collections that had defined my childhood, I evaluated and carefully packed the usable masking tools from my room.

I practiced the application for a week before leaving for school. I had learned in the local theater how to draw fish tails and white spots by my eyes to open them up, how to emphasize cheekbones and draw lines to appear like wrinkles. I intentionally modified my technique, to design a new face for close-up encounters. It was a mask, I assumed, that would let me start again, in a new space. I mustered up a mantra to go with the self-painting, in order to convince myself into the  modified face.   And so I very intentionally fell into the trap of women’s masking.

In a purse I had never used, I packed the stage makeup and the few compacts I had been given as gifts from well meaning family members in my earlier years. I still have this expired collection.

The first day of classes I prepared myself, shutting the bathroom door, and smearing over my more familiar face. By the second day the time spent on my ritual already seemed absurd, the daily tasks manageable. Years later, when I was new to teaching those freshman classes I once attended, I maintained the ritual of first days. I painted my face,  I focused on my breath. And by the next day, I found it unnecessary.

It was also, in the early years of my marriage, a standard practice to don the mask while I was in my mother in laws home; A place where mother and daughter refined themselves in mirrors in the morning, and I, newly part of the family, and in their space, followed suit.

Recognizing the pettiness in the way I have chosen to don the mask, it has been applied less frequently as I age. Perhaps my scale of tolerance for the world has  strengthened as the experiences that my own body has come up against have become more frightening. I am numbed, now, to the more simple fears of my youth. and their more simple concealments and solutions.

But, because this is a mask I own, I thought it appropriate for the self-portraiture project, despite its commonplace status among women.

And so, a mask:

Andjoli is growing reckless– rolling, crashing, smashing into the hard parts of furniture and the greater world. But she insists on being on the ground, taking it on and in. And it is a hard watch to see such a small and uncoordinated thing insist on fending for herself, until she is bumped and banged, crumpled and howling.

B often spends his days with the little one while I work in the house. I hear them, playing in the front room, coming and going from walks. His care for her is amazing, but I have not, in eight months time, been able even once to keep a steady head or heartbeat when she cries. The seconds between us are reddened and frantic. I do not remember to breathe, until I have her in my arms, and we both know she is alright.

B does not meet her anxiety with his own. And he looks at me, curious and mild, as I barrel from office to yard, a running savior to a child who is really just fine. As ridiculous as I must look, I can not seem to help myself.

Yesterday, casting papers to the side and in a flurry I took off toward the back yard at the first howl. By the time I arrived at the glass door she was up in his arms. I caught my breath, and paused. B did not know I was watching, as he bent over to kiss her tears away. As I have bent over his wet face. There is something small and intimate, about meeting a tear with a kiss, and even at eight months old, Andjoli seemed to notice. Because she settled.

I breathed something normal, and scolded myself, for my wild response. And without anyone growing privy to my presence, I snuck back and recollected my papers, calmed and enchanted by the way B handles himself and our little girl when I leave her unsnatched.

I have grown old enough to no longer recognize myself in the spaces that claimed me for my youngest years. But they keep claiming me.

My godmother still buys me Easter dresses and Easter hats. I obligingly don them, and, on parade, am still shown off in my Easter get-up. My daughter, new to this old tradition, is also dressed and hatted.

My godmother frowns at my lack of sentimentality, which is how she refers to my disinterest in being dressed up.  I frown back, because I fail to see it the same way.

Greek Easter has been marked these last few years by the signs of age on the whole old crew and a deep sense of avoidance about it. We all know that I am no longer the child I was, and that they have aged around me accordingly. But the masquerade of my youth keeps on, in a new dress.

And the newest dressee–my child–makes the curious nostalgia all the more obvious: Our roles are all changing, must change, around her.

here it is, again: a monthly review for family and friends who decide to follow this blog and are interested in the actual goings-on in our life, rather than my less practical musings.  I have divided our month into categories, and provided the highlights.

life with a little one:

i) Andjoli slept for three hours. twice. hours slept may not seem like the first and most important thing about a month to you, if you haven’t had children yet. but just you wait.

ii) chapstick and toothbrushes make much better toys than expensive organic non-toxic actual toys.

iii) We celebrated Andjoli’s first name day on March 25th. Hronia Polla. She had peas. For those unfamiliar, name days are similar to birthdays, void of cake and commercialism. Andjoli is the namesake of my godmother but we were unfortunately too busy to make it up for them to celebrate together. Perhaps next year.

iv) girl’s got bed head for the first time, and this crazy little hair woosh that i wouldn’t quite call bangs. she’s lookin’ good.

v)you’d probably just prefer pictures, anyway, so I’ll let them speak for themselves. Here are a few of her rolling around on our couch, and ready to go out in the last of the cold weather.

v) I’ve finally inserted pictures of the wool longies i made into the february review. i promised you these pictures last month, but it took this long to take and post them. I know pictures of pants don’t really compare to pictures of babies, so I put the baby in the pants,  hoping that it might increase the chance that you actually care. scroll down to the old post if interested.


i) I have winter-sown 12 different varieties of beneficial flowers, and they’re in their mini greenhouses on the front porch.  I know it’s spring now, but I still insist on referring to this propagation method as winter-sowing. we don’t remember to water them as frequently as we should.

ii) we’ve seen a good number of early spring flowers blossom and fade: lenten roses, snowdrops, bird footed violets, and a few others that i’ve never known the names of.  The early tulips and daffodils have set their flower heads up and are waiting to open. the lilacs have miniature purple mounds, and green leaves starting to unfurl. all the bushes, berries, nuts, fruits are leafing out nicely.

iii) all the spaces left unmulched are leafing out too. i wouldn’t call it “nicely” though. I might actually refer to it as a “problem.”

iv)B’s brother (and brother’s girlfriend) helped us weed the entire front yard and put up grape and raspberry wire trellis on the west fence. Since they left, we’ve weeded about a third of the back yard  and put in a few hundred strawberries between front and back, and twice as many onion and garlic sets. I also seeded the entire front yard with veggies and herbs, but there is a lot still to do in the back plots.

v) Our compost grew by several feet since we’ve started on this spring rampage. We built a large compost hoop to contain it all, but have not transferred the compost material into the hoop yet.


i)after good time in the garden, it was next to impossible to force myself to come in and work diligently on all of the papers, grading, lesson plans etc. that I had put off in order to get my fingers dirty. but i did it, and it’s done. most of it was accomplished past my deadlines and in a disorderly fashion, but it’s spring and there’s no keeping us in here any longer.

ii) a first coat of stain is down on the addition floor, and we hope to get the second on just under the march wire- we plan to finish the staining on the 31st. I’m jumping the gun and writing a review a day before the month is over, so I can’t report on this accurately, but it’s a plant based all natural stain, and I’m a little skeptical about the final outcome. If nothing else, we have a lot of good wool rugs to cover it up.

iii) the juicer is back in order (it was actually down less than a week). I can’t wait for the summer season to kick in to production, so we can get more local vegetables to put through this little machine. every other function it serves in my kitchen is back in working order. I really love kitchen order.


i) I’ve started outlining a chapbook that starts in the 6th month of my pregnancy, goes through Andjoli’s birth, and details vignettes of her first months. Essentially I’m drawing up a collection of essays that weave this year together. If it doesn’t end up publishable, it will still be a story worth sharing with Andjoli later.

ii) We’re still stuck in our rut of functional production, but we’ve talked about it, and determined it is not worth complaining about in the least. We really rather like it. We’re discussing ways to use our resources so that we can engage our community through creation.  We’re considering growing flowers, teas, herbs and medicinals on our plot in the coming years to sell at market.

community, work, politics, and the rest of the world:

i) I decided to cut out the categories of “school” and “work.” This does not mean we are actually cutting those things out of our lives, but sometimes we wish we were. Future updates on work and school will be highlighted under this new, more expansive, category. There is little in the way of news to put in these just-retired categories, excepting that, despite huge financial cuts in the department, I was offered one additional semester of teaching for next year, which should perfectly correspond with the completion of my PhD coursework.

ii)the neighbors are out! it’s so nice to run in to our hibernated friends and to again exchange stories, seeds, meals, and baby clothes. we are reminded: we were made for community.

iii) We found a small plot of earth about a mile from our house that is more than reasonably priced– and it has made us start to think about getting a little more land to work. We’re up to our elbows in work in our existing yard, but we’ve got spring in our noses, and ideas to boot.  We’ve already talked about putting a woodstoved yurt on the plot as a writing house and building a composting toilet. Of course, we don’t have 15k to put into property or dreams right now, and we don’t make enough to get another mortgage. It gets us thinking, anyway, about ways to increase our small urban homestead.

iv) After blood sampling and multiple interviews I have been accepted to donate my extra milk to the Indiana Milk Bank. The bank is a non-profit that provides breast milk to premature and newborn babies when the mother is unable to feed them (due to birth complications, maternal death, etc.). I’m excited about this, because it’s a rather unique way for me to provide a resource that’s pretty hard to come by (human milk), that I happen to have in abundance.

v) I am heading up a delegation for Amnesty International to talk to our Senators and Representatives (both State and National) about the crisis of Maternal health, and the possibility for access to education and transformation in policy to decrease  maternal complications and outrageous spending.  I don’t have time for this, but no one had volunteered in the whole state, so I’m putting myself through the Amnesty training and traipsing up to the (state) capital a few times next month to see if we can’t do something about a pretty serious issue in our country.

vi) we were considering getting a full-blown meat CSA from an amazingly wonderful local farm called maple valley. Because the CSA included large portions of chicken, turkey, and lamb, we decided to do some taste testing before we began, most specifically, to address our lack of lamb experiences. We have tried to love it, prepared it a few ways, and have decided we are not fans of the animal. Though the lamburgers with meg were tastier than I would have expected, I firmly believe that it is because we doused them in enough local condiments and spices to make the lamb unrecognizable.  And while I successfully consumed one whole burger, I’m not sure we would know what to do with a quarter of a lamb in our freezer. So, we’ve opted for a chicken share from the same farm, and will be getting a slew of free ranging hens to set on our table this year. I am on the hunt for an inexpensive rotisserie to make this experience even more enjoyable.  I love few things more than local, sustainable, home prepared, delicious food and am glad that the meat we eat this year will be all of those things. and not made of lamb.

For as long as I can remember Easter has been marked by the hands of my godmother, dyed red. The wrinkled creases in her hands grow deeper with marooned cracks as she has grown older, her knuckles, crimson and bulbous, are now swollen with arthritis.  These are not the hands I used to know. Indeed the only thing that is the same about them is the dye left on them from the religious scarleting of the eggs that we clack together in memory of a risen lord.

Christos Anesti.

We say it again and again and we smack eggs until all small ends and large ends in the room are broken, excepting one. And this untarnished egg end and the hand that holds it, receive the year’s blessing.

Last Greek Easter, after many years of unlucky smashed eggs I was left the blessed victor, egg intact.

And, a few weeks away from our ritual egg smashing, it seems important to reflect on what blessing has looked like.  Reflections on the good things in life are perhaps the simplest ways to drive me from the shuttlecocked anxiety of meeting the expectations of both worlds that demand my full presence (home and school).  And tonight is a night that I feel the need to press myself in to just such a reminder.

Under the blessing of a red-egged year our home has grown, as well as the number of people and animals we nest within it. Our garden has flourished. And all this growth is getting on just swimmingly together.  We laugh frequently. My husband has learned to match (my) socks.  Our libraries are amazing. I love teaching and I love what I teach. I love learning, and sometimes love what I learn. We always, and often in ways that surprise me, seem to have exactly what we need. My body, which has battled the systemic bents of food allergies and endometriosis, feels well. Well. Sometimes I have enough time to brush my teeth or to think about going home again, to clack eggs together.

And in two weeks time, we will mark another red handed (and egged) year, flung and passing.   We will be drawn again to the ceremonies, spaces and tastes of my childhood- the living memory, the ritual, of a family that sees each other too infrequently, but knows, when it has nested down together for a few days of white flowers, rich food and red eggs, that there remains a consensus about ideas like “family.” And “home.”

I’ve decide to provide a monthly review for family and friends who decide to follow this blog and are interested in the actual goings-on in our life, rather than my less practical musings.  I have divided our month into categories, and provided the highlights. This means that you can not complain that I never get to the stuff of it in this journal.

life with a little one:

i) Andjoli and I still do not sleep for more than two-hour windows. I am resigned to this. B sleeps six to eight hours but often still looks less rested than I. We all need (and take too few) naps.

ii) teeth hurt- both for her, and for anyone who gets too close to her mouth.

iii) Andjoli is slightly obsessed with the cat, Ossel. She gets the jitters when she is in close proximity.

iv)The little lady made it through RSV, and is now breathing again like a normal person. It is amazing what a blessing a steady breath is.

v) She has grown out of everything she used to wear this month- diapers, diaper covers, pants, boots. I’ve done my best to hand make or alter new clothes to fit her. My favorite creation is four pairs of recycled wool longies, balaclavas from her old (now too small) hats, and new booties. perhaps I’ll post pictures for anyone who cares.


i) I have yet to complete my winter sowing. I have all of these containers saved, but haven’t found time to actually get my hands dirty.

ii) some of the early bulbs that are in our front yard are poking their green heads up. spring buds are bulging on the trees and bushes.

iii) all of the fruit trees have been pruned. or butchered. I’m not sure how, exactly, to express what it was that i did to them.

iv) we have not winter mulched or prepared the beds. this spring smell is making me anxious.

v) we have too much green matter and not enough brown matter in our compost from the winter, and as it warms, it is looking more pitiful and soggy . .  we need to track down some leaves or waste wood chips to remedy our compost slop.


i) we spend more time here than we should when it is dreary outside. I look forward to having a more hardy little person next winter so that I can drag her out in weather like this.

ii) B finished laying the wood floor in the addition, and we are deciding if we should just go ahead and stain it and forget about sanding it. We’d prefer a more natural look over an even look anyway, and since we are using an osmo non-toxic stain/sealant rather than polyurethane I don’t think it needs to be perfectly level . . .

iii) the front cap to our juicer cracked. They will replace it, but mailing replacements takes time, and  I currently don’t know what to do with myself in the kitchen. How do you, for instance, make flour, nut butters, sauces and juice? I did not realize my dependence on the machine before this.

iv) having a laundry room upstairs is exceptional.


i) I have started this journal, which I suppose counts as “writing,” but I’m not writing well enough or consistently enough to satisfy my desire. I’d like to get something publication ready. hopefully I’ll have something positive to say about that in future monthly reviews.

ii) We have been limited to creating functional things: wool diaper covers, lullabies, breads, sauces and juices from ugly organics (local waste produce that is slightly too unattractive to sell or eat fresh), etc.  there has been no painting, no real music, no poetry- no simple extravagance. this must change.

my perpetual schooling:

i) no I am not finished. stop asking.

ii) A proposal for my second master’s thesis is due March 1st. It was not accomplished by the last day in February.

iii) I’m looking for impressive literature from authors who use their writing as a forum for dissent. Suggestions? (This does not need to be limited to the US, but does need to be available in English or French)

iv) We should deflect: B is finished with school! That might be old news to some of you, but all the same, you should congratulate him.


i) I prepared this month to start teaching a short intensive course at the University on Food and Industry. Starts March 8th. Should be exciting.

ii) B is learning about translation software and getting his name out in the translation world, and he is also hosting weekly neighborhood Spanish classes in our home.

iii) We are both considering summer work, but our criteria makes it difficult: we want to work in a place we believe in, where we can learn useful skills and support useful growth. We do not want this work to take the place or time of the rich and rewarding experience of being part of a family and a community, nor do we want it to strip us of the time necessary to create and self reflect as individuals. Because of these standards, it currently looks like we may not be working, or, I should say, we may be working on things we love and not making much of an income.

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