FO: Birkin

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At some point early in 2014, I discovered the Plucky Knitter. I was intrigued by her colors and the collection of bases. (And she’s from Michigan!) Somewhere in there, I bought four skeins of her Traveler Sport yarn, which is a wool/silk/yak blend, in vignette, a beautifully deep purple. I’m not sure what I originally intended for it, but it sat in my stash unused for months. Last December, I found it and began looking for the perfect sweater for it. I settled quickly on Amy Miller’s Birkin. In February, I wound the yarn. In March, I cast on, and for about two months, I worked on the body ribbing here and there when I had time. I was working on other projects during that time, and while I liked the yarn, I wasn’t committed yet. When I finally finished my Sazerac in late May, I buckled down on Birkin. It took me a while to finish the sweater, but during the Opening Ceremonies of the Rio Olympics, I finished it. IMG_2465

The pattern is well-written. I like Amy Miller’s patterns because they pull me out of my knitting comfort zone and help me to grow as a knitter. Despite having some new to me to things in the design, the directions were easy for me to follow. I figured out how to do these new things, and now I have new knitting skills.

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I adore the lace pattern. I screwed up a little at one point, but that’s the result of trying to knit a sweater while trying to watch the Tigers play the Yankees AND trying to buy yarn in Comerica Park. (Yes, I have now used the CoPa wi-fi to buy yarn. It was during a Plucky update, and I really wanted a sweater quantity of Primo Fingering in Plucky’s new Cecilia colorway.) Anyway, my screw-up fits with the rest of the design. The lace pattern was easy to memorize, and I love the way that it looks. I’m planning on using it for a cowl later this year. IMG_2472

The yarn was a dream to work with. Traveler sport is a wool/yak/silk blend, and it’s like holding a dream in your hands. I loved it. While it is a little pricier than I prefer, I definitely want to use it again. I loved the way the lace looks. IMG_2479

Aside from my baseball game mistake, the only other modification that I made was an applied i-cord edging on the neckline in place of the recommended ribbing. I was afraid of running out of yarn, and I did this to make sure that I had enough yarn to finish the sweater. I really like the way it came out; I think it adds a little class or elegance to the sweater. IMG_2482

I don’t know how well you can see her, but this picture is your first introduction to my new kitten, Madeline. I’ll blog later about who she is and why she’s in my life. But for now, that’s Miss Madeline. IMG_2494

I’m in love with this sweater. I enjoyed making it, and I love wearing it. And I might need to make myself another one someday soon.IMG_2509

Pattern: Birkin by Amy Miller

Raveled here.

 

In Defense of Nonfiction

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a few of my friends about what we’d be reading lately. As we talked, I realized that while my friends were reading mostly fiction I’ve been reading mostly nonfiction. I’m currently working my way through two works of nonfiction, and those are on top of other books that I’ve already completed this year such as Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton and Paul Kalanthi’s When Breath Becomes Air.

My friends were encouraging me to read more fiction. And I do read fiction. I like fiction. For example, in the past few weeks, I’ve read three Dorothy Sayers books, and I have a few works of fiction sitting on my bookshelves awaiting my attention. Fiction is and always will be my first love.

For many years, I didn’t enjoy much nonfiction. I found most of it to be dry and boring. As a high schooler, I bemoaned any nonfiction reading that crossed my path. I could rouse up interest for a biography or spiritual work at times, but for the most part, I just was not interested. There were even time when I couldn’t engage with spiritual works of nonfiction because I found them too dry. Even in college, I was more interested in fiction because I found it to be more interesting.

In college, I developed an interest in the writings of certain Christian authors such as Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis, and St. Teresa of Avila. I found these works to be engaging and compelling because I could directly apply them to my own life. I had found a subset of nonfiction that was relatable to me, but I wasn’t willing to step out of that zone. All other nonfiction was boring to me…especially all of those articles that my professors were assigning to me. In retrospect, I’ve come to realize that I don’t often enjoy literature that is imposed on me.

Then a few years passed-mostly without me reading nonreligious nonfiction-and I had to teach nonfiction. I taught speeches, and I enjoyed those. I really liked having the students read those while we watched videos of the speeches; I found it to be easier to relate to the speeches then. I also had the opportunity to teach an excerpt from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, and that really captured my interest. It wasn’t dry or boring; it was compelling. This wasn’t my usual experience of nonfiction. I didn’t go out and read Team of Rivals, but I put it on my list of things to read. (It’s still there. I need to work on that.) I also went and saw the movie Lincoln, which used the book as its principal source of information.

The movie also challenged my impressions of nonfiction. I realized that I enjoy many films that are at least inspired by real events (Miracle, Remember the Titans, Saving Private Ryan, and The King’s Speech), so why wouldn’t I enjoy reading about the stories behind those movies? Then, in the fall of 2014, I heard that Chris Hemsworth was going to be in a movie about whaling called In the Heart of the Sea. I’m not entirely sure why, but I really wanted to see this movie. (Okay, I wanted to see it because I think he’s attractive. Moving right along…) But I didn’t want to see the movie until I had read the book behind it. That’s my rule for fiction books, so I decided to apply it to nonfiction as well.

I’ve never looked back. I never did end up seeing the movie, but I adored the book. In reading that book, I had a lightning bolt moment. It was a story. I was reading a story. Yes, it was different than the stories that I usually read, but it was a story with a plot and setting and characters. It wasn’t just interesting; it was spellbinding. I loved it.  Nathaniel Philbrick’s prose was remarkable. I loved the book, and I wanted to read more. I wanted to read more nonfiction like this book.

I began seeking out good nonfiction. I talked to people I knew who knew things about the subjects in which I was interested. One of my friends recommended Orlando Figes’ A People’s Tragedy to answer some of my questions about the history of Russia. I learned so much from it! That was the thing that I began to learn about reading well-written nonfiction: I was learning things and having fun at the same time. This was what I wished my high school history classes had been.

I have found nonfiction to be a good way for me to fill the gaps left in my education. I haven’t taken a history class since I was 16, and my history education was a bit lacking in certain areas. (I watched The Patriot more than once in an American history class. We also watched Top Gun once.) Nonfiction helps me to learn the things that high school didn’t teach me. While reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, I decided that I wanted to learn more about the Founding Fathers. I compiled a list of biographies of Founding Fathers and asked a coworker who studied politics which of the books I should read first. And that’s how David McCullough’s John Adams ended atop my To Read List.

Nonfiction allows us to learn about the world in a unique way. While fiction can introduce us to ideas or emotions, nonfiction can introduce us to events and people. Each of these things has its proper place. I love learning about ideas or being challenged by the premise of a novel or short story. But I also love learning the lessons of the Russian Revolution or of a failed whaling expedition from 1820. I can learn about events, meet new people, and see the world through a different lens.

My problem with nonfiction was that I was reading the wrong things or coming at it from the wrong approach. I didn’t know how to choose good nonfiction, and the only exposure that I had to it came from school. I didn’t like most of what was in my school textbooks, and my teachers didn’t necessarily mitigate that well. They may not have known how to do this, or they may not have liked nonfiction either. Whatever the reason, nonfiction didn’t capture my interest until I was able to seek out my own nonfiction.

Much of my current nonfiction reading is inspired by what interests me. I read about Alexander Hamilton because I was curious about him. I read about the Russian Revolution because again I was curious. I read a biography of the Inklings because they’re writers whom I admire. I have plans to read a book by Julia Child because I want to know more about her. I’m now able to choose things that pique my curiosity. Anything we read should pique our curiosity or satisfy some sort of internal itch. After all, William Nicholson once said that we read to know that we’re not alone, and shouldn’t reading about real people and places help us with that?

Ecumenism is Uncomfortable.

A few months ago, I wrote about ecumenism as a hard call. I talked about a few of the difficulties of living with the reality of Christ’s broken Body.

Recently, I’ve found myself confronting a very specific aspect of the lack of Christian unity. It might sound petty. It might sound odd. But for me it is something that I run up against on a near daily basis.

Ecumenism is uncomfortable. 

I really started confronting this in myself a few months ago. One of my dearest friends was getting married, and I was to stand up in her wedding. She and her now-husband are Roman Catholic; I’m Byzantine Catholic. They are devout Catholics who I know to have strong prayer lives, strong relationships with Jesus. I was happy that they were marrying.

But as the wedding drew closer, I had to confront something about the wedding liturgy and (more so) about myself. A few people had tried to condole with me about the difficulties of being a happy bridesmaid while feeling hopelessly single. But the reality was that I wasn’t jealous of my friend’s big day. Now, much of that is due to my love of her, but a bit of it also has to do with the fact that I do not want the wedding that she had. I want a traditional Byzantine wedding, and that isn’t what my friend had. Her wedding came and went; it was a beautiful celebration of the couple’s love for the Lord and for one another. But it was also a wedding that made me uncomfortable.

The wedding was very Western as is meet and just. They are Roman Catholics. It made sense that their wedding would reflect their faith tradition. And that meant that it didn’t look like my tradition. They took vows. They knelt. Guys, I had to kneel during the wedding liturgy. I was uncomfortable. As an Eastern Christian, I don’t kneel during liturgies. I love that my faith tradition allows me to make a profound bow during the consecration. Kneeling is a sign of humility, and I don’t object to it. But it is not my tradition.

I wasn’t in my tradition. I wasn’t in my “home space,” but rather I was a guest in my friends’ tradition. And we all know that the old saying says, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So I chose love. I did something that made me uncomfortable. I don’t love kneeling during a liturgy, but that is Roman tradition. Our liturgies are different, and some of those differences can make me a little uncomfortable. I’m sure that my friends feel the same way in my church. It’s okay to be uncomfortable or to not understand a friend’s tradition.

Ecumenism calls us to love and respect our Christian brothers regardless of their traditions. This doesn’t meant that we live our shared lives boiled down to the common denominator(s). It means that we love one another actively. It means that we embrace what we share. We have a common Eucharist? Great, let’s celebrate that. We have a common Easter? Let’s find a way to celebrate together. We both really love St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians? Let’s talk about that.

Ecumenism also means that we need to learn about our differences and accept them. We can’t just shove them under the rug and pretend that they aren’t there. We need to work through them. Every now and again, I have very selfish moments in which I think that it would be better if I never married because none of my (maybe-possibly-someday) bridesmaids will be Eastern Christians and thereby will have no clue how to participate in my wedding liturgy. If I don’t marry, none of us will have to deal with awkward details like proper reception of the Eucharist or why there are no vows or whether to bow or genuflect. If I don’t get married, everyone will be spared a whole host of uncomfortable moments arising from ecumenical differences.

But at the same time, isn’t it important for us to see our differences? If we see them, then we can discuss them. We can talk about why there aren’t vows in the Byzantine wedding service and why they exist in the Roman service. We can talk about the differences between kneeling and standing during the consecration, the differences between bowing and genuflecting. These discussions can provide deeper understanding both of one’s own faith tradition and of those of friends. We can learn from one another and grow closer to unity through those moments.

The Lord calls us to unity. He does not call us to be a batch of perfect cookie-cutter Christians. On the eve of his Sacrifice, he did not pray that we would all be exactly the same. He prayed, rather, that we would be one as the Trinity is one. Each member of the Trinity is unique, and so we are called not to a unity of sameness but to a unity of diversity. This is hard. This requires being uncomfortable. But if we do this, then we can be a Church in whom the Father can rest well pleased.

So let’s embrace the uncomfortable, and let’s do it for love.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore.

-Psalm 133

Holy (Bleep)!

On a recent revisit to The Grand Budapest Hotel, I found myself thinking about my love of Wes Anderson films as well as my friends who also enjoy those same films. I was looking at that particular demographic within my friends. The Wes Anderson fans tend to be humanities majors. Many of us would be defined by most of society as “good kids.” Most of us are practicing Christians. I can think of many reasons why we enjoy his films-color scheme, script/dialogue, characters, music, actors, lighting…the list could go on for a while. There are many things to love these movies. I mean…I’d totally let Wes Anderson plan my wedding.

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The movies are pretty brilliant. They’re intelligent, eccentric, witty, and at least a little crass. It’s that mix that got me thinking. In Grand Budapest, M. Gustave (skillfully portrayed by Ralph Fiennes) goes from poetic dialogue that is not common in modern cinema to crass conversations or swearing. As I listened to Fiennes go seamlessly from reciting poetry to swearing, I wondered why this particular group of individuals enjoys this brand of cinema. I have plenty of good friends who wouldn’t enjoy the crass language. So why do other friends and I enjoy Anderson’s portrayal of the human experience? We don’t all have some crazy mustard yellow fixation, do we?

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Then I posed this question to my roommate who also enjoys these films. She provided me with an answer that resonated with me. Wes Anderson’s film reminds us that we belong to both heaven and earth. In other words, these movies show us a vivid and all-too real depiction of the fallen condition of humanity. Life is not a fairy tale. We are not yet perfect. We aspire to the skies, but we fall short far too many times. We want to perfectly crafted sentences that use elegant language, but life falls short. We fall short. And in our more base moments, we fall back on crass language.

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That crass language is far easier to use than those elegant phrases. Many times, it feels far more appropriate to swear than to use poetic language. There is a certain impact to “fuck” that “‘Twas first light, when I saw her face upon the heath, and hence did I return, day by day, entranced, though vinegar did brine my heart, never w…” just doesn’t have. Poetry is beautiful, but it often lacks a certain level of baseness that is so intrinsic to our human condition. There is something utterly satisfying about swearing or speaking in crass terms. Both swearing and poetry fit the human condition; they simply fall into different moments of life. These movies acknowledge both the baseness (earth) and elegance (heaven) of the human condition.

Beyond just the language, the films present a world that is flawed. These characters aren’t perfect. Their lives are far from perfect. These are not the stories to which we necessarily aspire. (Okay, certain parts of them definitely look appealing.) But there is something charming and endearing about these stories. The flaws and the charm resonate with us. Many of us have dysfunctional families. Many of us want to do something dramatic or exciting. Adventure appeals to us. Some of us wish that we looked good in mustard yellow. We realize that life doesn’t always give us happily-ever-afters. Anderson acknowledges that, but he also helps us to acknowledge the humor in the dark moments. Life is filled with elegance, with humor, and with profanity. Somehow, Anderson blends these elements together and makes them thoroughly delightful.

Also, there is Courtesan au Chocolat.

Why do I write?

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Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking about why I write. Do I like to write? Does it make me happy? Does it allow me to interact with others? Does it help me to understand myself? What does it do for me as a person? What does it do for my relationship with the broader world? And how can I use my writing to shape the broader world?

More than anything, I believe that I write because I need to. I have to write. There are things inside of me that must come out. I experience the world through narrative. I have a near-constant narrative running in my head. I love stories. I love to hear stories and read stories and tell stories. I enjoy fiction; I enjoy nonfiction. I delight in narrative. I have stories inside of me, and I feel a need to tell them.

This can mean writing them on paper or typing them. I may destroy them after I do that. I may need to tell someone a story. (Most of the stories that I tell others are true. Occasionally, I create stories for little kids.) I’ve used the internet to share a few of my stories with others. But regardless of what I do with these stories, they run through my head. Sometimes, a line will pop unbidden into my head, and I have to write it down. Recently, I was sitting and working when the line “My parents didn’t raise me to be a failure. No, I became one on my own despite the best efforts of those around me.” just came into my mind. I don’t know what I’m going to do with that; it sounds like it could be the beginning of something. It feels promising me to me. I don’t know who the “I” is yet or why he/she is a failure.

But I do know that I have words coursing through me. I have stories that I think must be told. I come up with ideas that become my blog posts-these ideas that MUST get out of me. F. Scott Fitzgerald once said (emphasis mine) that you don’t write because you WANT to say something; you write because you have something to say. Oftentimes, I find that I feel that I have to write. Take this blog post. I was sitting on the couch reading a book when ideas started following and I felt like I had to let them out of me. It’s an experience that I can’t easily explain to others. I get ideas, and I have to let them out. I check my grammar and spelling later.

Writing is important to me because it allows me to express myself. My thoughts may not be worth much to others, but they matter to me. They may not pay for my daily bread, but they get convoluted if I don’t let them out of my head. I write to clear my mind and to organize my thoughts. I write to explore the world. I write because it helps me to experience the world. I don’t know how my writing impacts others-or even if it does. But I know that my writing helps me.

Book Review: Helena

Knowing my great loves of Evelyn Waugh and of St. Helen, my roommate recently bought me Evelyn Waugh’s book Helena. Helena is a novelization of the life of St. Helen based in the theory that St. Helen was born in Britain.

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The book entranced me. Waugh’s prose, per usual, was delightful. His descriptions drew me into the story and made me care deeply about what happened. The story begins with Helena as the daughter of a Roman governor (about age 16) living in Britain when she meets Constantius. She marries Constantius and gives birth to Constantine; then, history ensues.

Waugh presents Helena as a strong woman who lives her life seeking truth. She is not concerned with material possessions or earthly success. She wants Truth. This begins with her education as a teenager; her father is portrayed as a man who wanted his daughters to be well educated. Her early divorce from Constantius and her son’s absence from much of her life allow her to learn and explore the small world she inhabits. (And she does, as a woman, inhabit a small sphere.) She is deeply curious, and this desire to learn stays with her into old age. The picture of her exploring Rome and Jerusalem in her seventies is inspiring. She craves knowledge and truth in a way that should motivate others to do the same.

The novel is very Christian, which makes sense considering who Helena and her son are. Much of the last third of the novel focuses on Helena’s growing faith in Christ and her frustration with those who converted to Christianity because it was fashionable or politically beneficial. As I said earlier, Helena is a woman who seeks Truth. Her desire to find the True Cross, the Sign through which her son conquered at the Milvian Bridge, is the crowning jewel of her life. She has spent much of her life pursuing truth. Her crowning achievement is to attempt to share the Truth she finds with as many as possible. She wants the True Cross and the hope that it represents to be evident not only to her own place and time but to all of humanity.

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All I want to say is this: read it. Helena is beautiful. Waugh’s understanding of Truth is both encouraging and inspiring. You won’t regret it.

Lastly, I should admit that this book only strengthened my resolve to name my maybe-possibly-someday daughter Evelyn after my beloved Evelyn Waugh.

Dairy-Free “Cream”

How do I replace cream in recipes that require it? I have a few different methods, but I want to share one of my personal favorites with you.

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All that is in that food processor is 1 cup of tofu “cream cheese” and 1/4 cup of soy milk. That replaces the 1 cup of cream that was called for in the recipe that I was using. I throw the two in the food processor and give them a whirl. I occasionally throw in a splash more soy milk if I think that is necessary. And I think it turns out pretty darn well.

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And the people who eat these scones seem to agree with me about that. I’ve even gotten people who swear that they’ll never try tofu to treat these scones…and enjoy them.