Welcome 2015

Well this post is a few days late but our 2014 ended in a whirlwind of sickness and 2015 started very similarly. As I look back on the year I see the impact of the crazy sickness that plagued our family. The year started with Elliana going into the hospital with some mysterious illness that turned out to be Celiac Disease. Everyone else in the house was sick off and on all year with some bug or another. I haven’t totaled all the hospital and doctor visits but I know there was a lot of them judging by all the bills I kept getting.

2014 ended much in the way it began…we went home to Tennessee to spend Christmas with my family and that week ended with my father in the hospital with heart issues and a mommy with bronchitis and 6 sick kiddos fighting this winters lovely bug (thankfully not the flu though). We rang in 2015 with an early bed time and some NyQuil and DoTerra essential oils. We slept in on the first and the day was spent taking down Christmas decorations and nursing ourselves trying to recover. On the second however we found that Elliana’s iron had not gone back up and they began the process if IV iron/platelet transfusions. She will have to have several transfusions over the course of months at the hospital.

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Biggest goal for this year is get healthy :). Mommy is still fighting the bronchitis and had been to the doctor 3 times now over it but at least the kids are feeling a bit better. I don’t make resolutions at New Years but I look forward to this new year and what it brings. Hopefully that will be improved health and sanity but regardless of what life throws at us we are together as a family and as a family we will weather the storms.

Memory Eternal

memorial

 

6 years ago today a tragedy struck our family. While away at a dear friends wedding a baby we didn’t even know we were going to be blessed with passed away. In the days past that we almost lost a wonderful wife and mother as well. Thankfully a very skilled and loving OB surgeon was able to save my wife’s life but there was no saving our precious child we never knew. We erected a simple memorial in a hidden spot on our property in the mountains a few weeks later and that is what you see above.

To this day that grief and pain is still there.Yes God has seen fit to bless us with 6 wonderful children and we a eternally thankful for that, but that does not change the loss we feel for the one we never knew.There isn’t a day that goes by that it doesn’t cross my mind. I have caught myself many times freaking out because it feels like I am missing a child and I count the heads and come up with 6 but that feeling of missing a child doesn’t go away…because there is one missing.

Summer Fun 2014

It’s been a fun and crazy summer here. Haven’t had a lot of time to post but I’ve got a few in my head to put down. In the meantime enjoy these pictures from our Summer.

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Pascha 2014

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Pascha* (Easter) this year was an especially busy but good one. Holy week started with my children’s teachers being put on notice that homework would not be turned in this week and that the kids would not be in class on Good Friday…and the drama that that caused. Every night of the week we would leave for services and inevitably would hit traffic and show up 15+ minutes late (most services last 2-3 hours this week though). The services are beautiful and painful all at the same time. This time more than any other we face the sinful nature of ourselves and the reality of the cross.

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The services culminated in the Paschal Nocturnes and Liturgy Saturday night / Sunday morning (starting at 11:40 PM Saturday and going till 3:00 AM Sunday). This service has always been one of my favorites. Reverent and joyous this service celebrates the resurrection of Christ in a way no passion play ever could. It is hard to describe…it is something you have to experience.

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We started attending the Orthodox Church during the season of Lent over 3 years ago. A lot has happened in those 3 years…many changes have occurred. Through everything Christ has been there with us… even in the times I was more like Thomas. The Pascha season was a time of remembrance and renewed energy. Christ is Risen…

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http://orthodoxwiki.org/Pascha

** Photos taken by my wife @ http://memoriaarts.com

Long Days and Short Nights

It has been a month+ since I last posted. Admittedly that is not particularly unusual, however we have had several things collide into a perfect storm on us. I still can’t put to words my thoughts so here are some pictures and quotes in the interim.

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My dear sweet girl (3) hospitalized for a week with a yet to be really determined illness. 

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Traffic….lots of tunnel traffic back and forth from home to hospital to work.

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The extremely long lasting vigil candle lit for my family….Has been going for over a month now (LED)

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Resilient goofy kids 

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Setting of the old day and onto a new one. 

Hopefully things are going to clam down and I can put words together…but right now I have no words. I leave you with a quote from a book I am struggling to get through.

I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out pursue his own way, and not his fathers or his mothers or his neighbor’s instead.

Henry David Thoreau ~ Walden

Let us spend one day as dileberately as nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.

Henry David Thoreau ~ Walden 

Stewardship Pt.3

 

Dropdown_Paradigm~ Image from http://www.thwink.org/sustain/resources/images/menu/Dropdown_Paradigm.png

I’ve been talking and thinking about Stewardship a great deal recently. Stewardship is truly a work in progress. It is not something that is automatic. I believe at one point in time it was automatic but somewhere along the way the thought was not passed down from one generation to another. I know this is certainly not the case for me. My wife sent me a link to a blog post over at Charming the Birds from the Trees that I found both inspiring and a bit convicting. I have found Stewardship to be a difficult row to hoe. The thing is those things that are truly worth it are difficult and take investment. We are in a society of mass production and instant gratification. If we want something chances are it is out there had can be had quickly and cheaply. On the surface this appears like it is a wonderful thing… who wouldn’t want to have everything at their fingertips and cheaply at that. The problem is that the value of something is tied to the resources spent on it. Be that time or money. This is why things are cheap…we have perfected the manufacturing process decades ago then we add cheap materials and cheap labor and we have a product we can send out quickly to the masses cheaply. Problem is because it was made cheaply with cheap materials and labor it breaks easily or is not really usable as advertised. The company doesn’t care that just means you’ll go buy another one and they will make more money. This is actually an economic concept called planned obsolescence; where a product is designed to break or wear out after a set time…usually quickly. This low quality combined with the consumerism culture is taking its toll on us. If we want to admit it or not we are damaging ourselves and the earth.  According to the EPA in 1960 88.1 Million Tons of garbage was produced… in 2011 that number was 250.4 Million Tons.* (to be fair thanks to concerted recycling efforts that number is slightly on the decline) Not including the environmental toll of manufacturing and shipping that alone is a huge increase in strain.

What is the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on. ~Henry David Thoreau

The environmental impact is an easy one to see but what about the silent erosion of ourselves…this is harder to see. As we diverge from the quality things in life and into the cheap (and I am not just speaking of materialistic things here) we lose the sense of value these things have. Speaking materialistically if we elect for cheap tools we will care for them less and less. They will be left out in the weather, fail to keep up proper maintenance, or maybe even become lost forever because what is the point…I can always get another “new” one for cheap. It is here, in this mindset, we loose the stewardship of the things we have. I can tell you from experience it is easier to take care of a $80 ax than it is a $20 one…it is worth so much more and is less replaceable (especially when you have to run all over town to find it).

Another unfortunate side effect has been we are exchanging real quality experiences for fake virtual ones. It was only a natural progression really…once we started replacing quality for quantity and real for artificial it was only a matter of time that we did the same with our relationships. With the invention of the internet and social media we have replaced meaningful deep relationships with shallow ones. Face to face relationships are becoming fewer and fewer with the majority occurring with our coworkers or other in our church. We have lost the connection to our neighbor. Social media is not all bad…I enjoy using it too (all be it sparingly)..it has allowed us to keep in touch with those that we are geographically separated from but it also has handicapped our relationships we are not geographically separated from. Think about it this way what is the point in asking that Facebook “friend” at church how their week has been if you already know. They may need someone to take the time to ask because they would never put in writing how their week really went for the world to see but the question never comes because it is already known or at least assumed. It also can lead us into a state of envy and discontent. If we are always concentrating on what everyone else has and dreaming of another life it plants that seed. (again speaking from experience)

Whereas social media is not all bad there is one cheapening of relationships that is. Intimate relationships are being replaced by their cheapened counterparts. Anyone in a real intimate, caring and loving relationship knows how hard it is. It takes work and vulnerability. So many are making the decision to forgo the difficulty and chose instead the “instant gratification” of pornography. Pornography has been there for years but with the technological revolution it has gotten so much easier to get…and secretly. No more is there a person checking the ID’s at the smut store it is an automated “I Agree I’m 18” button. Sadly more and more children are seeing porn even before they understand what it is. I am sad to say I was one of those children. I was 11 when I found the “stash” of dad’s dirty magazines. That would have been in 1993 today the average age is 8….8 years old. **

Porn is a drug with the same addictive properties (once again I speak from experience). It is a synthetic method to release chemicals like dopamine into our body and with the more that is released this way the more addictive it becomes. And like drug users it takes more and more to keep getting high. This often leads the person to change their behaviors and they begin seeking increasing more hardcore and taboo fixes. This spreads out into society and the addict stops seeing the women and men around them as humans and only sees them as pathways to pleasure. Pornography has the ability to destroy a marriage with its effects. ***

All of these things..from one extreme to another…have a similar theme and cause. They all stem from the disconnect from the value of the item…relationship…etc. The second we allow ourselves to see something or someone for less than what they are worth we begin to loose stewardship of that person, place, or thing. Sadly by the time we realize the importance and true worth it is often too late. Cue the Passenger music.

So what to do??? How to change??? I hate to say I haven’t figured that all out yet. I can tell you it requires a reboot. A reboot of thought. A reboot of the heart. I started with prayer honest vulnerable conversations with my wife and priest. I walked away from social media and really the internet (as much as an IT professional can) for a while, and when I feel that pull to look at my Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest I walk away for a while again. The smartphone makes that harder but I found the trick is to uninstall the apps and not take it to the bathroom…but make sure you carry a good book or you’ll be reading the shampoo bottle. I will tell you though all jokes aside it isn’t easy and the only way to change is through Gods grace. Trust me I’ve tried doing it on my own only to be left angry and frustrated. It boils down to where we direct our energies…as the old Cherokee story says:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.

“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

 

One final note to anyone struggling with pornography addiction there are places and people to help. A good start is Fight The New Drug or XXX Church. It isn’t easy but it is worth it.

 

*http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization_508_053113_fs.pdf

**http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/love_and_sex/pornography/how_to_confront_children_using_pornography.aspx

*** http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts

Stewardship Quote

Came across this quote by Wendell Berry. If you have not had the chance to read his writings I highly suggest you do. He is easily my favorite writer/poet.

“We depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”

― Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultura

Stewardship pt. 2

With the large amounts of snow that has blanketed the south (myself included) I marveled at how people flocked to the grocery stores and gas stations. This was of course expected by the retailers and they jacked their prices up to accommodate the hoarding masses. It got me to thinking about how we, as a society, are not prepared for any interruption to our daily life. I have to say, somewhat embarrassingly, I found myself in that boat this time as well (I couldn’t believe the beach could get 10″of snow). I won’t let that happen again that is for sure. I had to brave the snow covered roads (my city of 180,000+ people only has 4 plows) to make it to the only open store around…Wal-Mart. I found isles and isles of empty shelves. if it related to heat or food/drink it was mostly gone. I was able to get what we needed but only barely and by paying almost double what it would have cost me only 2 days prior.

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As I walked down these isles the one thing that did stand out to me was what was mostly left was the non-convenience foods. If you wanted Hamburger Helper or Mac-N-Cheeze you were out of luck. However if you wanted something like say spaghetti that takes some prep (all be it not much) there was plenty of that. Bread, Lunch-meat, frozen foods, etc all gone. As a nation processed foods make up 70% +/- of our diets.* Most of the ‘food’ in the stores is so heavily added to with chemicals and other additives that it is more man made than natural. Our drive towards instant gratification and constant experience has driven this. We want to drink our orange juice year round even though the growing season for oranges is small. As a society we eat what we want when we want…the result of this is our food is mass produced and shipped from all over the world.

This mass production and worldwide shipping has allowed us more ‘variety’ in our stores but what has it done to our health. Phosphates are one major ingredient in these foods; from good ole’ Mac-N-Cheeze to frozen dinners and soda’s have phosphate laden ingredients. These ingredients have been shown to affect the kidneys and lead to deterioration as well as weakened bones.** High fructose corn syrup (a leading sweetener) blocks the hormone receptors that tell you that you are getting full.*** This leads to overeating and obesity; Splenda and Sweet-N-Low aren’t any better.****

So what to do? I am a realist when it comes to this. I don’t think that most people can cut the artificial and processed out of their lives completely. Unless we all went back to a slower and more planned lifestyle there is no way. We can however limit our exposure. Eat out less and home more. Stay away from the middle of the grocery store; most processed foods are in the isles in the middle of the grocery stores. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables or better yet grow your own garden.

What it really comes down to is knowing what is in your food and how it was grown/produced. Most processed foods are not made in a sustainable way. The animals are packed side by side in inhumane conditions and  given antibiotics so they don’t get sick from the feces they are standing in and are pumped with growth hormones to make then mature quicker and be ready for slaughter sooner. This is not sustainable and it is not respecting the life of the animal. It is not being a good steward.

A good steward would respect the animal and that it is giving its life for our subsistence. A good steward would respect the farmer and their way of life and financial situation. A good steward would respect the consumer and their health and quality of product. This does not happen. Industrial food is driven solely by profit and efficiency. It has driven the charge to genetically modify foods to grow faster or be resistant to pesticides so they field can be dusted. It has driven the mass slaughter of animals who have been drugged to increase their meat quantities.

Do you know what is in your food? Do you know how that Chicken or Beef was raised? The best thing anyone could do is buy local. If you buy local from farmers you can talk to you will know these things and so much more. You will know what you are eating and have a better connection to the food you eat. It may not mean you can have your favorite vegetable year round but it will me you are eating quality food.

http://www.marketplace.org/topics/life/big-book/processed-foods-make-70-percent-us-diet

**http://healthyliving.msn.com/health-wellness/11-reasons-to-ditch-processed-foods#5

***http://healthyliving.msn.com/health-wellness/11-reasons-to-ditch-processed-foods#6

****http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/top-number-most-dangerous-artificial-sweeteners.html#b

Stewardship pt. 1

coal terminal

Last night I did our weekly grocery run and in doing so I have to pass over a bridge that goes over a Norfolk Southern rail yard. These rail lines supply the Newport News Coal Terminal with a steady supply of coal. Hampton Roads is the largest coal terminal exporter in the United States and one of the largest in the world *. This coal goes over seas to many different countries for various reasons but I can’t help but think of the mountains this coal came from as I see them passing by in mile after mile of railroad cars.

This coal is blasted out of the Appalachian Mountains in mountaintop removal surface mining. In this form of mining, as the name implies, the top of a mountain is literally blasted and hauled away. The veins of coal are so small that a traditional mine would not be able to economically get to the coal. So in the interest of economics and efficiency companies blast a mountain away just to get the coal. What is left is the discards of rock and soil and those tend to just get pushed into the valley and left. This allows dangerously high levels of toxins that were once trapped forever to be released into the rivers and streams and then into the drinking water. Killing plants, animals, and even people. I’m not going to go into the details of the mining process but you can read more here.

Why do we go to such great lengths to extract this coal and suffer the consequences of the process?….is it worth it?…does the benefits outweigh the cost? The first question is easy really…profit…plain and simple coal is big money. It always has been big. With the industrial revolution coal drove the “progress”  of this nation. Now as we have moved into a more technological revolution coal is still used to generate power but not as much as it once was.  We have seen how unsafe it is and have found other ways to generate our power.  As other countries are growing and going through their own industrial/technological revolutions they are demanding more and more coal. China comes to mind but there are others for sure.

The next 2 questions I suppose are all in one’s perspective. In my opinion no it isn’t worth it. We are taking a limited resource from our land in an unethical way and selling it to other countries that use it to facilitate the making of goods that they then sell to us. It would be one thing if the coal was removed in a more ethical and holistic way but it is not. We are poisoning our people and nature to gain money. Money that only a few really see or benefit from. Somewhere along the way the social responsibility has eroded away and been replaced with greed. Wendell Berry said:

“In the loss of skill, we lose stewardship; in losing stewardship we lose fellowship; we become outcasts from the great neighborhood of Creation. It is possible – as our experience in this good land shows – to exile ourselves from Creation, and to ally ourselves with the principle of destruction – which is, ultimately, the principle of nonentity. It is to be willing in general for being to not-be. And once we have allied ourselves with that principle, we are foolish to think that we can control the results. (pg. 303, The Gift of Good Land)”

― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

In Genesis 1:28 you find “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”  (KJV).  This passage, often to referred to as the dominion mandate, has been used to almost justify our right to do things like mountaintop removal mining. This passage is interpreted in a God says I am to “rule” over nature therefore it is mine and I can do what I want. The problem is that this passage is one of a charge to responsibility. Just as the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 14:30 the master (God) is charging his servants (man) to take care of and be responsible for his property (creation). In this parable the master expects the servants to be good stewards of his property.

Stewardship is greatly lacking in this world. In the quest for bigger and better…we have lost our understanding of stewardship and how to take care of what is given to us. When something breaks we throw it away and get another instead of repairing it. We choose cheap and poorly made goods over those that are well built and will last a lifetime. We would rather buy a $25 axe from India, that was made with most likely US coal, with a fiberglass handle that can’t be repaired if broken with steel that is brittle and cheap; over an axe that is hand forged from quality steel with a fixable hickory handle. Sure the quality axe will cost you $120 but your great grandchildren will be using it when the cheap one has had to be replaced 20 times. (Can you tell I was looking at axes last night)

Going back to the coal we are whoreing away out natural resources and destroying the land for the sake of money to buy cheap disposable goods that came from overseas and made (at least in part) with the coal we sold to make the money. The icing on the cake as it may be is we are disposing of these goods into landfills and they are harming the land and those around it. I am not saying that coal is evil but the way it is mined is foolish and will cause irrespirable damage in the long term. Yes there are better ways of mining…even better sources of power (some just as harmful if not more however)…the bottom line is we must become better stewards of the land and resources we have been given. If we don’t take care of what we have we will lose it one way or another.

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Hobet MTR Location before **Hobet-afterHobet MTR After **

* http://www.odu.edu/content/dam/odu/offices/economic-forecasting-project/docs/2013SOR%20Coal.pdf

** Images from website http://www.ohvec.org/galleries/mountaintop_removal/019/index.html

*** Image of coal terminal at beginning of post from the Dominion Terminal Associates website http://www.dominionterminal.com/Blending%20Options.htm

Record Cold Weather

The weather across the nation is down right cold. I awoke this morning and crawled out from under my warm electric blanket to freezing cold floors and howling winter winds outside. The fire had long since died out in the fireplace and left me wishing we had a wood stove instead. Definitely a day for warm clothes so on went my thick canvas pants and my plaid shirt (after a slight warming in the dryer) and a fresh fire to warm the house.

Over breakfast I looked at the temperature outside and the thermometer read 18 degrees. Chilly for sure but no where near as cold as I am used to this time of year. So I decided to look what was it at home anyways…oh -3 degrees…wow I ain’t gonna complain about my 18 then. But none the less it was still cold here. As I sat there eating my buttered sourdough bread and wishing the fireplace would hurry up and heat the house a video I had seen the day before popped into my head (shared below).

We live in an old home…built in 1918 to be exact and aside from the plaster (which I am sure has asbestos) there is no exterior insulation. We have new double pane windows an most of the doors are newer but there is still a draft. As the wind howled you could feel the cold air pushing its way under the french patio doors and the trash bag covered dining room window (because the massive window AC is bolted to the house on that window) and I begun to think about those that had even more issues with the cold.

Across this country there are people cold this very night. In cities and in the country there are people in uninsulated homes/trailers or no homes at all. Countless homeless are on the cold streets this night and others have the hard decision to make to eat or heat their home. As heating costs have skyrocketed over the years more and more are having to make this decision. It was then I said a short prayer for those in need and a thanksgiving for what I had then left to go to work. As the day went on and I saw the masses of people bundled up in the libraries in which I work I couldn’t help but wonder….how many of them are hiding from the cold in one of the few places they can. Help someone if you can or at the very least say a prayer for those freezing tonight.