Friday, May 30, 2008

Lunar Eclipse


This is a picture from back in February; an attempt to record the lunar eclipse with a rather shaky camera mount from the side deck of the house.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Slow Growth

The slow maturation of true Orthodox life, in its fullness, without “one-sidedness,” is precisely that - slow maturation of true Orthodox life. St. Vladimir, Prince of the Rus, received Baptism in 988 A.D., but the story of Orthodox life in Russia generally marks the life and ministry of St. Sergius of Radonezh in the 14th century as the point at which there came a flowering of Orthodoxy in its fullness in that land.

This quote is from a longer blog post by Fr. Stephan Freeman. I excerpt it here becomes it seems to go well with the passage from Chesterton quoted earlier.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

55 Maxims

I first read these at Paideia. You can hear Fr Hopko read and comment on them in his podcast at Ancient Faith Radio. Scroll down to the entry for March 13, 2008.

55 Maxims for Christian Living
by Fr. Thomas Hopko

1. Be always with Christ.
2. Pray as you can, not as you want.
3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.
4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.
5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.
6. Make some prostrations when you pray.
7. Eat good foods in moderation.
8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.
9. Spend some time in silence every day.
10. Do acts of mercy in secret.
11. Go to liturgical services regularly
12. Go to confession and communion regularly.
13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.
15. Read the scriptures regularly.
16. Read good books a little at a time.
17. Cultivate communion with the saints.
18. Be an ordinary person.
19. Be polite with everyone.
20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.
21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
22. Exercise regularly.
23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.
25. Be faithful in little things.
26. Do your work, and then forget it.
27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
28. Face reality.
29. Be grateful in all things.
30. Be cheefull.
31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
32. Never bring attention to yourself.
33. Listen when people talk to you.
34. Be awake and be attentive.
35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.
37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.
38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.
39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.
40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.
42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.
43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
45. Be defined and bound by God alone.
46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.
47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.
48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.
49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.
50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.
51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.
53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.
54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.
55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

Monday, May 26, 2008

From the Week's Reading

The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us. The heart of the tree remains the same, however many rings are added to it; and a man cannot leave his heart behind by running hard with his legs.

From "The Romance of Rhyme" by G. K. Chesterton

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Caught in the act!

The woodpecker I talked about yesterday was back this afternoon. Here he is caught in the act courtesy of a telephoto lens looking down from the deck.
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Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Evidence

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We have a woodpecker who makes a regular breakfast stop on the wooden rail fence around the yard. While in general I would rather a bug be in the bird than in our wood, his cure is doing more damage to the fence than the odd insect. We have tried chasing him away with loud shouts and dramatic waving of arms, but the next day he is still there hammering away with his beak, wood chips flying and the hills echoing with the sound of a bird at work. The picture above is evidence of the crime, with a calling card left by the vandal himself.

Ram on the Shearing Stand

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Looking Towards Home

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Orthodox Agrarian

I periodically get hits on the blog from Google searches that match the title. I am always a little embarrassed because I am not a stellar exemplar for either Orthodoxy or Agrarianism. So, I am always happy to find other Orthodox making the move to a rural lifestyle. It lets me say, see- don't look at me; go look at them. James, the longtime blogger at Paradosis has taken the plunge and now includes regular farm reports in his blog. His wife has gone further and has set up a St. Brigid Farm blog with great pictures of their little plot of ground in the Pacific Northwest. If you stop by before Friday night there is still time to get in on the "Name the Goats" contest.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Authors On-line

An increasing number of authors not only have web sites but also write blogs, giving the devoted reader the ultimate fan experience. At some point I intend to add a few of my favorites to the list of links over on the right. As a start, here is a link to a writer John C. Wright's livejournal. Wright, besides being an alumnus of my law school, is a practitioner of space opera on the grandest scale as well as being a first rate writer of contemporary fantasy. A web page with links to his work is here. He is opinionated, articulate and willing to get into the trenches with fan and foe alike. While the livejournal writing is interesting, it doesn't begin to give an idea of what his fiction is like. For that, pick up one of the books.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday afternoon at the movies

Sunday afternoon Susan, youngest son and I went to the movies. Our hometown theatre is Royal Cinemas, a vintage small town movie house. The balcony has been converted into a second screening room and there is a tiny third screen on the left side of the old building, but the main theatre is still large enough to capture a bit of the old movie palace magic. When I go to the movies I want a screen big enough to lose myself in. Royal Cinemas has still got it.

We saw the new Narnia film, Prince Caspian, which gets a thumbs up from all three of us. There are two interesting reviews on the National Review web site. The first, by Thomas Hibbs, is here. The second, by Frederica Mathewes-Green is here. The contrast between the two would make for some good discussion, particularly Frederica's assertion that "The movie is just plain better than the book."

Saturday, May 17, 2008


There was a break in the rain Friday night with early morning winds on Saturday to dry out a week's worth of wet wool. Taking advantage, we set up the shearing stand and got to work. The first few sheep went quickly. They were older ewes, used to being handled and gave us no trouble, seemingly relieved to be out from under all that wool. Later in the afternoon the luck of the draw brought us a group of yearlings, sheep born last season who had never been sheared before. Imagine a 150 pound toddler getting his first haircut. Imagine that toddler with muscles, hard hooves, horns in one case, and absolutely no sense of decorum. We finished the talley for the day a little tired but with less drama and bloodletting than I expected. I have to say though, the hair sheep idea is looking better and better.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You mean I actually won something?

I am never the guy holding the winning ticket. The lottery has ignored me. The peel-off games at fast food joints have never brought me anything more than a free bag of fries, and a small bag at that. I've come to view a raffle ticket as just a receipt for a charitable contribution. So you can imagine my surprise when Susan told me that we had won a sheep. I had kicked in a buck at the Sheep and Wool festival for a chance on a Katahdin ram and thought nothing more of it until Susan picked up the phone and was told I had the winning ticket. Katahdins sheep are a little different from anything we have on the farm. For one thing their coat is different from normal wool. They are considered "hair" sheep. They shed. No shearing involved, it just drops off in the spring. Our prize sheep is down in Waynesboro, Virginia due south of us on Triple L Farms. Check out their web page if you are interested. For some great pictures of hair sheep go here.

I am not sure when we will go and pick up our prize. We have been too busy shearing for a road trip, which, I suppose, makes the case for the Katahdin all by itself.

Kitchen Companions

Not being naturally gifted in the kitchen and having an inordinate trust in books, I naturally turned to cook books when I first started fending for myself. The first one I ever bought was From A Monastery Kitchen. I know, a copy of The Joy of Cooking would have been a lot more practical, but the simple recipes accompanied by prayers, apt quotations and drawings made preparing meals beyond scrambled eggs seem not only possible but actually enjoyable. The edition I linked to is now out of print, but a revised and expanded version is still available.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Listening to Verse

In our time we have forgotten by and large how poetry sounds. I don't mean that no one reads poetry out loud anymore, just that we have lost the knack of properly reading verse in rhyme and meter. Go to a contemporary poetry reading and you hear the poet take on a grave, nasal tone, ending each line with a little up or down inflection of the voice, trying to inject a little music into what is basically prose with interesting line breaks. Or as Robert Frost put it in his poem "How Hard It Is To Keep From Being King":

Free verse leaves out the metre and makes up
For the deficiency by church intoning.
Free verse so called is really cherished prose,
Prose made much of, given an air by church intoning.
It has its beauty, only I don't write it.

If you would like a daily dose of verse read well, you cannot do better than Classic Poetry Aloud.
The link takes you to a very long web page where you can both read and hear each poem. There is a searchable index here. The most recent 100 readings are available as a podcast from iTunes. I carry a dozen or so with me in the car as an alternative to the radio wasteland.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What is outside the window

by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

More Food Blogging

In keeping with the recent food theme, here is a recommendation. If you are ever in Columbia South Carolina on a weekend, go to Little Pigs Barbecue for their buffet. No frills, just good cheap food and lots of it. It is also the perfect place if you have a dog in the mustard vs. tomato vs. vinegar base barbecue sauce fight. (I love them all, but I realize that mine might be a minority opinion.) They serve all three, plus whole slow cooked pork shoulders so you can pull and sauce the meat to suit yourself. The side dishes are all top notch and if you want to bypass the soft drinks there is all the sweet tea (house wine of the South) you can drink. You can find better barbecue if you look hard enough or travel far enough, but Little Pigs would still be worth a stop even if it weren't the best lunch or dinner deal around.

(This post is backdated: I'm catching up after some traveling last weekend.)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Getting Ready To Fly

Tomorrow morning I will be flying down to Columbia, South Carolina to meet with old friends and celebrate my goddaughter's confirmation in the Lutheran Church. I am looking forward to the trip, but not necessarily to the flying part. It is not because I am afraid of airplanes. It is just that air travel now combines the class and comfort of a long bus ride with the romance of a trip to the DMV. It didn't use to be this way. I've told myself it was a trade off I could and should live with in exchange for cheap fares. Now with fuel prices through the roof, it looks like we are in for the worst of both worlds, high prices and abysmal service. Don't get me started on security unless you are in the mood for a minimum twenty minute rant. I will spare you that and simply refer you to Peggy Noonan's column from a few weeks ago; The View From Gate 14.

(This post is backdated: I'm catching up after some traveling last weekend.)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Still in the Kitchen

While at the Sheep and Wool Festival I stopped by C.A.D. Cutlery's booth to replace a lost steak knife. They are a small family owned business in Maryland that carries a full line of Forschner kitchen knives. Forschner is a cutlery division of Victorinox, of Swiss Army Knife fame. The knives are great. Make no mistake, these are inexpensive no frills basic tools but they do the job better than anything else any where near their price range. The eight inch chef's knife with the fibrox handle has been my basic kitchen tool for almost a decade now. It's overdue for a professional sharpening, but is still getting the job done. If, however, you need to have your knives be works of art as well as tools, try browsing this site. I've never ordered anything and probably never will, but the knives are beautiful and the occasional drift into japanglish in the descriptions has its own charm.

(This post is backdated: I'm catching up after some traveling last weekend.)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Loafing at home

The bread in the previous posting's picture came out of our own home oven. Years back as a poor and hungry bachelor I learned to cook a little and branched out eventually into home bread making. These days it is hard to work the needed time for mixing, rising and kneading, to say nothing of baking into the office and farm schedule. No one wants to wait around until 11:00 pm to hear me say "Come on, the bread's ready!" So, when I ran across this book, I thought I would give it a try. Now, I knew going in that you really can't make "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" so I wasn't surprised to find that rising times still need accounting for, as well as a certain amount of time spent actually shaping loaves before baking. A book titled "You can make pretty decent bread at home without actually having to stick your hands in dough for more than five minutes at a time" probably would have been a harder sell, if a little more accurate. Nonetheless, following the instructions gives me better bread than I can buy at the grocery store and I am now in the habit of keeping a few pounds of pre-risen dough ready in the refrigerator. The authors have a useful web site, which includes a few important corrections to the book.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008

Autoharp Hero

The gentleman holding the autoharp in the last picture from the Sheep and Wool festival is Bryan Bowers. I was, as we used to say, "blown away" the first time I saw him play back in 1972. A friend and I had gone to a show at the Lisner Auditorium to catch The Seldom Scene, a bluegrass band we held in the same awe we would normally reserve for the Dead, Cream or Dylan. Bryan Bowers was also on the bill, following The Seldom Scene. Our guys put on a tremendous show, with their trademark mix of newgrass instrumental virtuosity, tight vocals and traditional stylings put into overdrive by the stage presence of the irrepressible John Duffy. Happy with what we had just heard, we were ready to leave but decided to see what one guy with an autoharp could do. We figured at least it would be good for a laugh. What followed was an hour of music still fresh in my mind over thirty-five years later. The energy pouring off that stage and the sounds he got from that string-covered board were nothing short of amazing. It was good to see him on Saturday. The energy level exhibited Saturday was more fitting for an elder statesman than a young turk, but he can still play. He doesn't look much like he used to:

But then, neither do I. It was good to hear him again.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sheep and Wool Festival

On Saturday Susan and I drove up to Howard County Maryland to spend the afternoon at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Besides, being a nice day trip, we had the blades to our sheep shears sharpened, bought a second shearing machine to replace one that went dead last year, ate junk food, listened to music, daydreamed about expensive farm equipment and admired the prize winning sheep on display. Here are a few photos from the day:

Thursday, May 01, 2008

For the First of May

May Magnificat

    MAY is Mary's month, and I
    Muse at that and wonder why:
    Her feasts follow reason,
    Dated due to season-

    Candlemas, Lady Day;
    But the Lady Month, May,
    Why fasten that upon her,
    With a feasting in her honour?

    Is it only its being brighter
    Than the most are must delight her?
    Is it opportunest
    And flowers finds soonest?

    Ask of her, the mighty mother:
    Her reply puts this other
    Question: What is Spring?-
    Growth in every thing-

    Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
    Grass and greenworld all together;
    Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
    Throstle above her nested

    Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
    Forms and warms the life within;
    And bird and blossom swell
    In sod or sheath or shell.

    All things rising, all things sizing
    Mary sees, sympathising
    With that world of good,
    Nature's motherhood.

    Their magnifying of each its kind
    With delight calls to mind
    How she did in her stored
    Magnify the Lord.

    Well but there was more than this:
    Spring's universal bliss
    Much, had much to say
    To offering Mary May.

    When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
    Bloom lights the orchard-apple
    And thicket and thorp are merry
    With silver-surfed cherry

    And azuring-over greybell makes
    Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
    And magic cuckoocall
    Caps, clears, and clinches all-

    This ecstasy all through mothering earth
    Tells Mary her mirth till Christ's birth
    To remember and exultation
    In God who was her salvation.
    Gerard Manley Hopkins