so many books in May

So far I have finished 10 books in May (strong emphasis on the finished). Still this is a rather ludicrous number of books to have finished in one month, especially considering that it is almost double the rest of the books that I have read this year. 

So, I wanted to pause for a moment and reflect on at least a few of the books that I have finished, some good, some bad, and some ugly. To keep the ending vibes positive, we will work from the bad to the good. 

First up are two books which I ultimately did not like: Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers and Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House. Rupi Kaur’s book stank of modern pseudo-feminist Instagram poetry, which appears to be empowering and liberated but is merely overly sexual. I did not finish it, since it only appeared to get worse as the book went on. Ultimate rating: 1 star (because I can’t do 0 stars on Goodreads).

Ninth House was better than this; it was a good romp and I enjoyed reading it. This book is about a girl named Alex (aka Galaxy) who gets caught up in some magical secret societies at Yale; also there are ghosts. I knocked off one star for the profane content (aka trigger warning material, of which there was a great deal), another star off for choppy pacing, and a final star off for the mystery part having one too many plot twists. I can appreciate a few good twists and turns in a dark mystery novel (in fact, they are compelling), but after a certain point, they just cease to be believable. Ultimate rating: 2 stars. 

Next up is a spur of the moment read which I picked up via Kindle through my library’s Libby app. (Stay at home/ quarantine has given me a newfound and very deep appreciation for this app; if you have a Kindle and aren’t using the app, you need to. Like right now.) This book was Tara Westover’s memoir Educated, which took me a single night to read because I found it so compelling (and was dealing with some infrequent insomnia). This memoir chronicles her leaving her fundamentalist Mormon family and the implications of that throughout her life, which was really interesting to see since she wrote about how the separation kept dragging on and on because the ties of familial love are (naturally) so strong. Her work resonated with me a great deal, and in some places made me cry. Ultimate rating: 5 stars (mostly for emotional reasons, and if I’m going to rate someone’s actual life it sure isn’t going to be any less than 4 stars). 

Finally are two pop sociology books, Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World. Cal Newport’s book examines the dichotomy between following your passion and designing your career to suit a niche and thus profitable audience. I honestly suffered through thus book, since I thought it was merely an extention and more “grown up” version of his philosophy developed in How to Be a High School Superstar. However, I finally finished it, and all I can say is he really harps on that whole “don’t follow your passion” thing. Which gets more irritating when you realize that it’s a false dichotomy, and all the people whose careers he examines picked something they liked and just followed it through to its natural extent. (Now there’s a controversial topic….) Ultimate rating: 3 stars. 

Amanda Ripley’s book was one I started four years ago when I was an secondary education English major at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and I read about half of it on the train to and from school. I found it in my bedroom and decided to finish I remembered it being good. Ripley essentially examines the factors that go into getting a “good” education, from quality of teachers to money spent per student to socioeconomic background of the student (and more). She then compares these aspects across several countries with some of the highest-performing students, and with these in mind looks at what the USA is doing right and wrong. It is a fascinating book, and I highly recommend reading it. Ultimate rating: 5 stars. 

So, there are some of the books I finished during the month of May! Obviously there were more, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the post, so maybe I’ll do another one! I really love writing book reviews like this, and if you like reading them go ahead and like this post or comment or something so I know I should do them more frequently. 

Blessings to all,

Catherine

may 2020

The ending of April and beginning of May have carried a huge amount of weight for me in such a good way! I finished my thesis, did my last week of classes for my undergraduate degree, and took my last finals, and now I am approaching my first summer as a college graduate! (I suppose I should mention that I do have to take one more class for my science credit over the summer, but this should be fun and I’m not counting it because I’m taking it online at a local community college anyway…)

My graduation present to myself also came, which is Laine’s beautiful 52 Weeks of Socks book (which I guarantee is sold out again so I’ve linked to the Ravelry page showing all the patterns)! I preordered a copy of the fourth (!) printing run, and it showed up right before my finals began. This was of course very exciting, and I couldn’t wait to cast on. I originally chose sock number 51 using a La Bien Aimee sock yarn held double to get the gauge, but this ate through the yarn and there was no way I would have had enough. So, I frogged it and cast on another sock with the same yarn but held single. This worked out beautifully, and now I have one whole sock, which I am very proud of. Hopefully I can get through Second Sock Syndrome and finish the second and have my first properly fitting functional pair of socks made with my own two hands.

This whole sock knitting adventure has only just begun, and at the rate I knit, I’ve got years to keep exploring the wonderful world of socks. I really want to get some thicker sock yarns, like Tukuwool and Quince and Co’s Finch (or Tern if I’m really feeling luxurious). There’s another one, Onion Yarn, which is a Norwegian blend of wool and nettle fiber that I really want to try. (One of my favorite Instagram sock knitters used it in a couple of pairs of socks, and it’s absolutely beautiful.)

In terms of book news this last month, there honestly isn’t much beyond M. L. West’s Greek Lyric Poetry and Plutarch’s The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives, both of which were for school. I think my favorite of the Greek lyric poets are Sappho for her incredible use of images of nature, Solon for his meditations on citizenship, and Stesichorus for Geryon, followed by Bacchylides for his use of color and imagery which just aren’t in Pindar (Bacchylides is not in the M. L. West volum). Of Plutarch’s biographies selected for the book, my favorite was Themistocles. There was this beautiful line about the tapestry of life that just got me, but then I am always completely taken by textile metaphors…

I also reread Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles and Helen by Euripides (both from this volume). Helen is such a romp, and I love the way Euridipes explores power dynamics between women and men even in Menelaus and Helen’s relationship.

In a more religious vein, I am reading a short book, How Can I Learn God’s Will? by Fr. Daniel Sysoev. The first three quarters of the book is about God’s love and the Divine Names, which is very in line with St. Dyonisios the Areopagite’s On the Divine Names (which I really want to read soon). Only the last quarter is about learning God’s will, and it is quite practical. I am also reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer on my Kindle (this COVID-19 situation has given me a profound appreciation for the ebook lending part of the library). It is good in its ideas, although sometimes difficult for me to read, because of its modern self-help language and expression.

What are you working on and reading these days?

With love in the risen Lord,

Catherine

(Joining up with Ginny’s Yarn Along this month)

the end of an era

As I am writing this, I am approximately two weeks away from being done with all of my classes of the second semester of my senior year. In other words, I’m almost done.

This, as you can imagine, brings up all kinds of feelings, especially because I have to finish my degree in quarantine (or whatever we are calling this situation right now). I am nostalgic for my campus, stressed about finishing all my work, at a point where I am apathetic towards my work, and basically terrified about what comes next.

The great big future is before me after this, and there are no right or wrong answers about what to do. I have done what is socially acceptable, and now (young) adulthood is here on the very visible horizon.

Of course, I have been working towards going to grad school, but at this point it is not in my immediate future, and I have a year to fill. A year of reflection and solitude, a refresher year after this degree I just finished. (If you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in gap years.)

I’m excited to read a lot. I’m also excited I found a platform which supports local bookstores (bookshop.org). I’m also excited to announce that I registered for an affiliate link on bookshop.org. You can find my shop here if you feel like supporting it in any way. I made some shelves with books I like and a few books I want, but go ahead and explore the whole website. Support those indie bookstores! (…and maybe support me too, if you want…)

I suppose I should mention that I was (and still am) really opposed to registering for an affiliate program with Amazon, because of the monopoly they hold on Internet shopping. Basically, the fact that this exists makes me happy, and I am glad to support them (and I probably would link to them now anyway, so there’s that).

I might do a book review and updated TBR comparing what I have read with what I want to read. That will definitely happen after May. I also have some project updates and some other things in the works that should be coming along soon after I get some abundant quantities of free time.

Until then, God bless, and I will see you tomorrow on Pascha!

-Catherine

on the meaning of prothesis

Photo taken at an old abandoned monastery in Albania

Way back at the peak of ancient Athenian glory, in about the mid fifth century BCE, there was a tradition of public burials for soldiers who had died in service to their city-state. Greeks at the time had funeral pyres (we see this even as far back as Homer, and who knows how much farther back it went). So, the public ceremony of the burial opened with a laying out of the ashes and bones of the dead soldiers.

This process was called prothesis.

Now, if you are Orthodox, this might give you a bit of a pause. Wait, you might think, isn’t that the Greek word for the Table of Preparation, on which the priest prepares the offerings of bread and wine to be ready for the Liturgy?

And indeed, you would be correct.

Just as the ancient Athenians would lay out the ashes and bones of the dead soldiers, the priest lays out the Lamb, Who comes to be slaughtered and offered as food for the faithful (as the Cherubic Hymn of Holy Saturday says), surrounded by His Mother, and his faithful servants, the martyrs, confessors, bishops, ascetics, unmercenaries, holy virgins, and so forth (see here if you want the whole service).

It always utterly fascinates me when I learn the origins of the words of Orthodoxy with which I am so familiar. I hope this is as awe-inspiring for you as it is for me!

displacement

In the upcoming couple days, I will become one of the displaced college students who have had to leave their colleges or universities and go home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (aka COVID-19).

There is not much I can say about this except that a lot of the fears and anxieties about one’s physical and emotional safety are made a lot worse when one is forced to leave one’s home (however temporary) and drive across the country in a world that does not want to be close to anyone at the moment.

I’ve been very much trying to focus on the positives, like the fact that I have somewhere to go, and the fact that I have money for food, and the fact that my college gave me more time than most to pack up and leave.

But sometimes, the negatives and specifically all the uncertainties associated with my particular situation feel more overwhelming than the strong presence of the good things.

This makes it hard to pray in a time when prayer is most vital.

I think I am finally starting to understand what the Fathers mean when they stress the importance of the practice of the virtues and the practice of prayer when times are easy. We can’t face hard times correctly if we do not face easy times the right way.

May St. Nikephoros the Leper intercede for us, and may God have mercy and save us all, in all the ways we need.

march downfalls, and some thoughts on prayer

Some brothers asked Agathon which good work required the most effort. He replied, “No labor is more difficult than prayer. Demons understand that prayer is a path to God. They will do everything possible to hinder this journey. Prayer is like fighting a war.

By Way of the Desert, entry for March 4

This month literally brings with it the beginning of Lent for us Orthodox folk, which is a beautiful as well as a stressful time. It always feels as if there is more to be concerned with, when really this time is about focusing on the one thing needful.

I have been doing a lot of reading for school, mostly Pindar with a side of St. John Chrysostom and a bit of Herodotus thrown in for good measure. My favorite is the Philokalia, which I am working through in a non-linear fashion because apparently that is how one is supposed to do it. If anyone wants to know this order, please let me know through email or whatever, because this way definitely beats cracking open Volume 1 and starting with, “There is among the passions an anger of the intellect, and this anger is in accordance with nature.” Oof. Start in the middle of Volume 4, my friends. It is much easier.

For personal reading, yesterday I (re)read from start to finish C. S. Lewis’ classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I would say it was a delight, which it was, but it was also very challenging, because I’ve been in a bit of a rough patch recently spiritually. It’s all good and probably means I’m growing, but you know when an allegorical children’s book is challenging, things are rough.

On the same spiritual front, I’m about halfway through a book called The Divine Flame, which is a book about a divine flame that St. Porphyrios lit in one man’s heart, which inspired him to become a monk. I’m obsessed with St. Porphyrios; he’s absolutely wonderful and has been very active in my life, so this book is very dear to me. I actually got the copy as a gift when I was visiting his monastery (the Hesychasterion of the Holy Transfiguration), which is near my monastery in Greece.

I’ve also been reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea for my book club. It’s a literary ode to the story, which despite its relative lack of a plot I don’t mind overmuch, but one does have to acclimate to her writing style. Alongside that, I’m (still) reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. I really should finish it, but school and spiritual reading has been taking priority recently.

After writing all that it occurs to me that I’m reading a lot of things simultaneously. I’ve always done this, it keeps me entertained. Since the whole going on brain meds thing has happened, I’m at least a lot better at finishing them, which is nice.

As far as crafting projects go, I’m working on the same sweater and the same embroidery and many of the other same projects as recent posts will mention. I’ve also started a Honey Study Hat (pattern by Andrea Mowry, because apparently I’m addicted to her patterns) in a lovely gray wooly wool that didn’t have a label. I will say, brioche stitch is much easier than I thought.

Whether it is at night or during the day that God grants you the gift of praying with a pure intellect, undistractedly, put aside your own rule, and reach towards God with all your strength, cleaving to Him. And He will illumine your heart about the spiritual work which you should undertake.

A Discourse on Abba Philimon, from the Philokalia

P.S. I’m sorry about the lack of pictures, but my room is a mess and I really couldn’t be bothered to take any. So writing it is.

(linking with Ginny’s Yarn Along)

one year, and good Triodion!

My blog just reminded me that it has been one whole year since I started this project. Thank you to all who have come along on this journey so far, and I hope there are many more adventures to go!

Also, tonight is the opening of the Triodion. Tomorrow is the remembrance of the Publican and the Pharisee (which is crazy, right?), along with the Leavetaking of the Presentation of our Lord as well as normal Sunday celebrations. It is a gloriously mixed up festally repentant mess.

In any case, Lent is just around the corner. I’m excited, although I’m dreading additional ascetic exercises (services, fasting, etc) on top of my schoolwork, but with the grace of God all things are possible.

Kalo Triodion! May we all have a blessed Triodion!

projects and reads: February 2020

Recently I have been trying to finish many of the projects that I started a while ago, such as my sweater now formerly known as the Christmas sweater (I am stuck on that infamous place, sleeve island, on this one). Thus, armed with high hopes and great intentions, I instead cast on for another project.

Now, you could say that this is the continuation of a project I have been working on for some time, since I bought the pattern almost a year and a half ago, and have started it at least two different times, but now I think it is the time for finishing my very own Find Your Fade. I am starting with a skein of a white speckle I picked up at one of the yarn shops here in Boston, then I will be using a few skeins of La Bien Aimee, and a skein of Farmer’s Daughter Fibers. I think it will turn out very well.

Currently, I am reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (for fun) as well as J. N. D. Kelly’s Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom (for school). In Achebe’s novel, I am really loving the exploration of the spiritual aspects of the traditional African tribal culture he depicts. I think that kind of really immediate connection to the spiritual or divine is something the West has really lost, so seeing it be very present in another culture is wonderful.

Golden Mouth is a thorough biography of St. John Chrysostom which uses his main biographers as sources but supplements with other historical information. So far I have read about St. John’s early childhood and the general conditions of Antioch in the 4th century AD, as well as his conversion to Christianity and his dedication to the ascetic life.

As a mental health side note, the February (and pre-Lenten) blues are upon us. So, here’s a quote from Mother Gavrilia:

Never ask: “Why has this happened to me?” When you see someone struggling from gangrene or cancer or blindness, never say, “Why has this happened to him?” Instead, pray to God to grant you the vision of the other shore… Then, like the Angels, you will be able to see things as they really are: everything in God’s plan. Everything.

Mother Gavrilia
My working desk

(Joining with Ginny’s Yarn Along on this first Wednesday of the month)

a word from St. Nikodemos

St. Nikodemos

…through this spiritual work [of the constant remembrance of the name of Jesus] you will establish the whole of your inner self to be a temple and a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, while your heart especially will be a holy altar, a sacred sanctuary. Your mind, moreover, will be a priest; your will and disposition will be a sacrifice; your prayer of the heart to God will be an offering of spiritual fragrance, as St. Basil used to say.

St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, from A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

I read this yesterday in the assigned reading for the class I am taking on the Philokalia, and it stood out to me. Our hearts are also altars for God, and St. Nikodemos himself in an earlier part says that our hearts are our true home, where our minds rejoice to return.

How beloved are Thy dwellings, O Lord … even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God.