Thou wast transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God,
showing to Thy disciples Thy glory as each one could endure;
shine forth Thou on us, who are sinners all, Thy light ever-unending
through the prayers of the Theotokos. O Light-giver, glory be to Thee.
Troparion for the Transfiguration
In the Orthodox Church, we prepare for major feasts both spiritually and physically. And so we have Great Lent, but we also prepare decorated eggs and festal foods for Pascha. We have the Nativity Fast, but we also make treats and prepare presents for Christmas. On the Feast of the Transfiguration, we prepare baskets of fruit to be blessed.
Each Feast reminds us somehow of the others. Even though the Theotokos is not in the icon for this feast, it falls during the Dormition Fast, and it reminds us of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple. On that occasion, her father, St. Joachim, gave candles to all the little girls for them to hold as they accompanied the Theotokos to the Temple to live. On this feast, Christ took two trusted disciples up Mt. Tabor with him so they could understand that He is the God of the living and the dead, with Moses and Elijah appearing.
In the Church, we bless things. We do not believe that matter is evil. We bless water and we bless our homes with that water. We bless the ground and the harvest. We bless our vehicles and our journeys. We bless marriage and the children who come from it. And so during this season of fruitfulness, we gather and bless fruits. But just as preparing your house to be blessed or child to be baptised may not be intuitive, there is an art to preparing fruit to be blessed.
The late archpriest Roman Lukianov was my parish priest in Boston. He often drove me back to college after church, and took me on hospital visits and to nursing homes both because people needed a visit and because he knew that my fiance was a seminarian. (In the Orthodox Church, one should be either married or a monk to be ordained priest.) He also taught me how to cut the grapes for the basket of fruit to be blessed so that the priest doesn’t hand people either a whole bunch of grapes or a fistful of loose ones. Later, when my husband was sent to his second parish, the late archpriest Theodore Shevzov insisted on washing grapes a special way to remove all pesticides, and taught me how.
And sharing the good things are important. So, here is how to prepare a basket for Transfiguration.
Preparing fruit for the basket to be blessed for the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord.
Step one: Clean the sink and fill it with cold water and a teaspoon or so of baking soda. The baking soda is to clean any residual pesticides off the grapes.
Put all your grapes in the sink and add more water if needed. Let them sit there while you do other things.
Carefully rinse the grapes in cold water and let them dry.
Prepare a place to put grape clusters, a strainer and bowl for loose grapes, and a good pair of scissors, but not your sewing scissors.
If you have a strainer to put over the drain, use it.
Cut the grapes into clusters and lay them out to dry. Throw out any nasty grapes and all the leftover stems. (Save the loose, single grapes for the Karnauch Family Transfiguration Dessert. Details to follow.)
Line your basket and one to give away with a clean towel, both to absorb water and to keep the wicker from scratching the fruit. Arrange the fruit as nicely as you can with the understanding that the baskets will shift en route to church and that we never fully obtain perfection in this life.
Cover the baskets with something pretty but not your Pascha basket cover because you don’t want grape stains on that. Put them somewhere safe near the door and buy a small candle to put in the basket when you get to church.
Don’t light it until the baskets are to be blessed.
Some parishes only bless grapes, other bless apples, etc. as well.
Karnauch Family Festal Dessert:
The Karnauch Family of Houston introduced us to the simplest and most wonderful dessert for the feast.
You spread a little honey on a plate.
You take the bowl of cold, loose grapes out of the refrigerator.
And you dip each grape in honey before eating it.
Best served when you have friends with whom to talk and share.
And a Story:
God does all things for a reason. One year when my children were all home, we were running VERY late and I couldn’t find any of our nice towels or basket covers. I made my cross and tore up an old white sheet from the rag bag and used part for lining the basket and part for covering it, because the higher value was to be at the service on time. The fabric was soaked, because I didn’t have time to drain the fruit properly, and I was mortified.
When it was time to bless the fruit, some latecomers shoved the baskets that had been placed on the tables earlier into my basket, with all the candles lit, and the corner of the sheet I used caught fire. Before I could react, however, the flame hit the soggy part of the sheet, the fire sputtered and died, the service went on, the fruit was blessed, and it was delicious, and it was a feast.
Come to church. Bring what you can. And if all you can bring is yourself, that is enough. Just come.
Life has been complicated, and while I have many first drafts of posts on file since October, none were worthy to go up yet. My thoughts were too scattered and cloudy, as has been my heart. I traveled a bit. I drove to Boston to have a turn taking my sister with cancer to one of her chemo treatments and saw some of my adult children and siblings and their children en route. We’ve been blessed with more grandchildren, I’ve reconnected with old friends both online and in real life, and for this year’s plot twist, after I had been told that I had more basal cell carcinoma on the bridge of my greatly changed nose and to expect surgery, I was called in, instead, by my two awesome doctors for a second opion biopsy today because they looked again at the slides, conferred, and had doubts that it was that bad. It may be something easier to treat.
I thought I was reconciled to more of everything that recovery required this past year — scraping, slicing, and bandages; surgery and recovery; sleepless nights in the recliner downstairs so neither my husband nor I undid my stitches; numb minutes watching strange animal videos and old sitcomes while not being able to wear my eyeglasses to read. This isn’t exactly a complaint. I’m not especially brave or stoic, but when the choice is death or discomfort, I will celebrate discomfort as the much better outcome. Cheerfulness is a Christian duty, and courage can be contagious. It can even spread from person to person but also within us, unannounced. That was my aim, but I have been strangely subdued. I hadn’t realized that, like the smoke from Canadian wildfires, the anticipation of going back down the rabbit hole of Treatment had tinged my world view and kept me from making solid plans.
but this new development has made me feel like Mole casting aside his paintbrush at the beginning of “Wind in the Willows.” All of the sudden I am writing again, I am editing things and creating canva posts, and looking at new submissions to the press where I work and I plan on going back to camp, after three years away, to help once more in the kitchen to work with friends and family. I am looking forward to this, and have been in training in my own kitchen so I can prepare fruits and vegetables and clean pots and pans cooking for so many more than two. This is much better than whitewashing.
When the essays that were percolating in my brain are fully brewed, I will share them here. In the meanwhile, just a short slice of life, some talk in the car between my husband and me. His Russian is better than mine. What you have to know is this: the Russians have a saying, “первый блин комом,” meaning, “the first pancake is lumpy.” I use it a lot when I cook, and when I write, and even when I sing. And now I am contemplating all the many lumpy pancake varieties I can create.
Conversation in the car on the way to the doctor:
Me: “Sweetie, if one were to write ‘первый блин’ in English transliteration, how would one do so? He: “Let’s see…. ‘p-e-r-v-y b-l-i-n.'” Me: “Aw. Not ‘p-e-r-v-i-i?'” He: “No, it’s ‘ы’ and not ‘и.'” Me: “Drats.” He: “Why?” Me: “Well, you know how I’ve just tried making saurkraut, and my pickles and all sometimes come out great and then other times do not?” He, cautiously: “Yes….?” Me: “Well, it occurred to me that someday, when I get better at it, I could start a food business, and call it Pervii Blin Productions, but if I spell it the other way they people will think I mean ‘pervy’ in English, which is altogether different, and then I may as well call it Enron or something. He: “It’s unfortunate, but, yes.” Me: “And also, First Pancake Productions just doesn’t have the same ring to it.” He: “Alas, no.”
Back to the proverbial drawing board. I am impressed at the fact that for the most part he kept his eyes on the road.
My children introduced me to the concept of “nose goes” when I said, “Someone needs to take out the garbage.” (I used to say “We need to take out the garbage,” but my youngest coined the term “the Communist We” to describe such use of the word.) One son called out, “Nose goes!” and all four children put a finger to the side of his or her nose. Last one to touch his nose had to do the deed.
As a mother I found the concept annoying, because like the allegedly silent game “Mum Ball” played at indoor recess it led to more heated discussions than active cooperation, but it’s a wonderful concept to indicate that there’s something that has to be done, and you don’t want to be the one to do it. I have pulled it on my husband more than once.
The phrase becomes way less whimsical when you apply it to your own nose.
My nose has been bleeding on the outside when I take hot showers since I was fourteen. Since it usually healed by the time I was dressed, I thought nothing of it. As I grew older it took longer to heal, and lately it didn’t heal at all. It took a year and a half for me to see a dermatologist because three of them left their practice, one at a time, within a week of my scheduled appointment. I finally found a dermatologist, on my own, who is on my insurance but not attached to my primary care doctor’s hospital. Her office is beautiful, with purple flowers and green vines painted everywhere and interesting things to look at on the ceiling. And her manner was forthright. She stuck me with needles to numb my nose, scraped off the pesky cells, and cauterized all the points that were bleeding. For a day and a half everything I ate tasted like barbecued me. “It looks like you’ve had this for a long time. It’s probably going to turn out to be cancer. And you will need to talk about what to do next with another dermatologist.” The biopsy proved her right — I had basal cell carcinoma. “You will need MOHS surgery,” she said.
Basal Cell Carinoma
Basal Cell Carcinoma is cancer, but it’s the best kind of cancer, in that they can do something about it. The dermatologist affiliated with the hospital my doctor uses was going to do a simple MOHS procedure, where each layer of skin is scraped and examined. But that morning, I had three new lesions on my nose. So she took biopsies instead. These proved to be more basal cells. And so she set me to the surgeon.
Lack of Sugar
The surgeon she sent me to is young, and attacks cancer ruthlessly. “I don’t sugar coat,” he said. He told me what he would have to do to fix this mess, and what I would have to do to prepare. He will take cartilage from ears and use it to support skin from my cheeks or forehead to cover the nose after the middle doctor removes all the cancer. Day one is removal of cancer in the dermatologist’s office. Day Two is reconstruction of the nose, followed by 23 hours observation, at the surgeon’s hospital. But I would have to do my part to lower my A1c, and furthter he expected me to walk at least an hour every day so I would heal properly, “and not risk the chance of profound disfiguration” from poor healing.
In the days and weeks that followed, I was more careful about what I ate and took what I called “forced marches,” outdoors when the weather was good and indoors at the store or gym when it was too hot or rainy outside. I did this at home. I did this when we went to Honduras to meet my son’s fiancee’s family. I did this at airports. And it worked.
Cleared for Surgery
I am cleared for surgery, removal of the cancerous cells on 8/4 and reconstruction of my nose on 8/5. Prayers most heartily welcome.
With some trepidation, I told the son who is to be married about my upcoming adventures. He put his arm around my shoulder, looked me in the eyes with great empathy, and said, “I’ll give the doctor fifty dollars if, in the middle, he says, ‘I’ve got your nose.”
My Nose, Though…..
I made the mistake of doing an online search of images for this procedure. The before pictures all look rather like me, with more or less damage. The after pictures are truly reassuring, with the faces looking normal, perhaps with a thin scar. But the middle? The photos of faces in the middle of the procedure look like line drawings of gremlins and goblins from German fairy tales from the nineteenth century.
This would all be easier, I suspect, if the cancer were someplace that my clothing hides. This is the nose that my siblings and cousins share. This is the nose that my father stroked and my uncles “stole,” that siblings tried to nurse when Mom was out and which countless wrongdoers have accused me of sticking where it doesn’t belong. (They were, of course, wrong.)
And this is the nose that was beeped.
“A Beep on the Nose”
I won’t give his name, not online or in person over beverages, because he and I are both grandparents now and he is a grizzled clergyman and I cling to whatever gravitas I can still muster. But when I was engaged, almost forty years ago, my fiance took me to the Blini Dinner Dance at a Russian parish near New York City. Blini are the pancakes that Russian Orthodox people make before Lent starts, and the parties surrounding them are often elaborate, with many rich toppings for the pancakes (smoked salmon, caviar, chopped onion, melted butter, sour creme, pickled herring, and more) and the last real parties before Lent. This was a glorious celebration, and by the end not everyone had danced off the vodka they had consumed.
A young seminarian who had been at school with my now husband and my older brother came over to me at the end of the evening. He was very, very earnest, and was weaving a little. “Anna!” he said, “I know that you love George, and you both are getting married, and I respect that, but I, I just have to do this. I’m sorry, but I have to.”
You know how the responses to trauma are flight, flight, or freeze? Reader, I froze, wide-eyed paralysis. I had no idea what would happen next.
He gazed at me steadily. He leaned in closer. He stuck out his index finger and reached for the tip of my nose.
“BEEEEEEEP!” he said.
I didn’t think I could open my eyes any wider, but I did.
And then I did get the reference. He was a dear boy. And now he’s a dear man.
But, my father was careful not to let me spend too much time with the seminarians, and I didn’t know all the names of my brother’s classmates and friends. And I couldn’t tell, at the time, who this one was.
Fast forward several years. I was very married, and pregnant with our second child in three years; I felt like an ugly troll. My oldest was still a baby herself. But the youngest of the bishops had come to our parish in Boston for a feast, bringing with him the youngest of the deacons, newly ordained. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in the service, between my daughter and the usual pregnancy complaints, but at the end of the meal after I stared hard at the deacon. If I could picture him with a little less beard, he might have been the one who beeped me. But I couldn’t be sure.
The bishop blessed us all and left, and the deacon was still gathering the bishop’s things to load into the car for the ride back to New York. He came over and spoke to me kindly, with greetings and kind things to say about my daughter and husband and parish. And he paused.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” he asked.
“I…. I don’t know,” I stammered.
“That’s okay,” he said, good natured. “Just one more thing.”
His eyes flashed. He reached in.
Well, glory be to God for all things.
So, nobody should beep my nose for a while after the surgery. I can’t use my CPAP mask and for now I can’t take any pills or vitamins that are blood thinners and I am sure I will receive new restrictions in the days to come.
And frankly, I am not sure if I will be healed by my son’s wedding in September. I offered to reschedule the surgery, but he said, “Mom, it’s cancer. We want it gone. And we want you around for a long time.”
I offered to stay home but he scoffed at that. So now I am playing with ideas for what to do to hide the healing process, if I still look like a troll in September. Etruscan helmet? Face mask? Veil? Fabulous hat with a blusher veil? The answer will come. (I do have some friends who are beekeepers…..)
There are things we get to choose in this life — whom to marry, what to read, how to look at a problem — and there are things where our choices are limited. The cancer is there. I don’t want it there. It has to come off. And if it means surgery, thank God I can have the surgery. And if, in the end, I am changed, it could be for the better. And yes, I do know that I could look like Voldermort if this goes way wrong or like a Bejoran if the worry lines on my forehead are too deep. But I can’t afford to think about it. Sometimes thinking makes things better. But sometimes it’s not good. The late Fr. Theodore Shevzov told me, “I got to be a certain age by keeping straight in my mind two very different things — things over which I have some — SOME control, and things over which I have no control whatsoever. For things over which I have some control, I have a duty to exert myself. But for me to concern myself over things over which I have absolutely no control whatsover — already, this borders on sin.”
Nobody wants to border on sin. Especially when one is going to have real surgery for the first time. And so let me focus on getting exercise, preparing for surgery, keeping my sugar levels down, and saying something kind to everyone before the doctors get started, just in case.
Thank you for your patience with me and my sporadic and often rambling writing. God bless. We will keep you posted.
Looking Out from My Nice Warm Living Room, photo by the author
When I was a student, we listened to the radio for Jess Cain on WHDH to call no school for Boston, as part of a long list of public, private, and parochial schools who cancelled classes for the day. (The S’s were long, because of all the saints.) Snow days meant shoveling snow first and then playing in it. Other times when school was cancelled, as for the Teacher’s Strike, my parents created assignments for us, forcing my younger brother and me to learn a song in Spanish from an album they checked out from the Boston Public Library. My high school cancelled classes for only ten days during the Great Blizzard of ’78, and then only because the T, Boston’s subway system, was not running. When the trains were running again we were back in class.
We had one snow day when I was at Wellesley. I was supposed to meet with a visiting professor, the ever-memorable Dimitri Obolensky who I only later learned was also a prince and, later, a knight. I was taking two classes, through the Religion Department; “The Making of Eastern Europe, 800 – 1100 AD” and a three hundred level course, “The Mission of Cyril and Methodius to the Slavs.” The meeting was to discuss my paper on the Bogomils. But the snow changed all that.
We had a beautiful, empty day in front of us. I was one of 54 freshmen in Shafer Hall, and we were something of a giddy pack. about to run in five directions. Some students were going to go “traying,” sliding down the hill near Severance. Others were gathering in the rec room with its orange couch to watch television. Some were gathering in the more formal living room, with its good couches, framed paintings, and shelves of books. A group of Hawaiians were going to build their first snowman. I was contemplating having Constant Comment Tea and reading something non-academic, and both thoughts were delicious.
However, I was thwarted. Boston, where my family lived, of course cancelled school. The town of Stoughton, where my father taught high school English, had also cancelled. Dad called to make sure that the dorm had electricity and food — I am pretty sure he would have brought me home otherwise, storm or no. I assured him that I was fine and told him that I guess that means I wouldn’t be meeting with my professor.
Dad exploded. He knew that Professor Obolensky had translated the much beloved “Penguin Book of Russian Verse” which both he and I had both worn out with much reading, and that the professor was visiting from Oxford. “That man,” Dad said, “is a professional. He will not care how much snow there is. He will find a way to get there and you had jolly well better be waiting there when he comes!”
I doubted it, but I knew my father was serious. I grabbed my research materials and bundled up and trudged to the Religion Department, which was empty. But there were cups and tea bags and a means of heating water. I took off my snowy clothes and boots and made a cup of tea, settling into a couch in my stocking feet, when the doorway was blocked by a tall, snowy being. Professor Obolensky had somehow borrowed a pair of snowshoes from another professor, because our meeting was that important to him. He was dressed, as Russians are, appropriately for the weather, with a huge hat, a muffler, gloves, and an appropriate overcoat, all covered with snow. “I am rather proud,” he said, “that I only fell three times.”
I jumped to attention, offered him tea, and scrambled to put my thoughts in order. Later I did write the paper. It turns out that the best book on the Bogomils was written by Prof. Obolensky himself, which made quoting him problematic. Do I write, “As Obolensky writes,” as I would of any other author? That seemed presumptuous. Do I write “As you write?” That would be brown nosing. After much tea, prayer, and thought, I wrote, “As one author puts it,” and put the name of the author and the book in the footnotes. Professor Obolensky returned my paper to me with a good grade and a wry smile.
I got married, had children, moved to Texas, and had more children, and no snow days, although a few days were lost to the after-effect of hurricanes. By then we watched the television for storm coverage, so there was no waiting by the radio. But when we moved to Boston, my children were thrilled with three new discoveries: delayed openings, Jewish holidays off from school, and snow days. I didn’t need to listen to the radio or watch the names of school districts scroll across the television screen. I could lie in bed and listen to the cheers or moans from upstairs.
Then I became a substitute teacher, and I listened to Jerry Kristafer on WELI and then Tony Reno on WICC with the keen interest that I had in Jess Cain’s list. Whatever children were home and I shouted when “Stratford” was read from the list, whether for delayed opening or no school at all. There is no age at which it is not wonderful to be given the unexpected boon of a free day. When everyone was finally launched and we moved to Ohio, I thought those days were behind me.
However, I was supposed to have an operation for cataracts on Thursday, and I spent most of Wednesday going through the pre-op physical, blood work, etc. that surgery entails. I understand that the operation is for the best, that it is a blessing that we live in a place where I can have it done, and that I will be so much happier after it is over. But that is then, and this is now. Now I just try not to think of Locutus of Borg.
But as I drove around from the hospital to the pharmacy to the gas station to the grocery store, signs on the road warned of bad storms ahead. The radio announced that the Governor asked everyone to stay off the road tomorrow. It rained Wednesday. It is supposed to snow, extensively, on Thursday, melt a little on Friday and then re-freeze. Good weather for reading at home.
I had my phone’s ringer off and I try not to check it when I drive. When I got home and looked at the phone, I had a message — surgery is postponed because of the weather. Internally, I did the Happy Snow Day Dance. Externally, I made supper. But I smiled while making it.
Thursday I get to sleep in, eat breakfast, wash my hair, get water in my eyes, and, yes, help dig out the cars. The surgery will be rescheduled and then I will enjoy the benefits that come from no longer having cloudy vision. But I can hear the rain outside my window getting ready to transition. The thermostat is dropping. By the time the sun is up, I can sit inside and watch the flakes fall out there, where I will not be. It is a huge inconvenience and a big disruption. But it is a glorious boon.
Writing Prompt: Write about a snow day in your past. You could write a poem, like “Snow-Bound” by John Greenleaf Whittier, set in a time when the snow plows were pulled by oxen. You could write prose for children, like “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Use detail. What did you wear in the snow? Mittens or gloves? Or unmatched socks on your hands, because you had no gloves? Were you allowed to frolic or forced to stay inside — or did you have to shovel?
Did you shovel for money? What did you do when you came in? Did you miss school or were you glad for one day of respite?
Use details, colors, textures, smells.
If you have never seen snow, you could write about what you imagine doing.
I feel like I was out in a field some place warm, picking flowers, and a friendly but distracted bovine knocked me over.
I am lying on the grass, not in a cow plop but near enough to smell it, and grateful to be able to smell, staring up at the sky and thinking of all the things the clouds look like.
Yeah, I may just have a fever.
I don’t think I have the disease that is going around, I think I got ground down. My list of newly departed to pray for is unusually long, and includes two priests and two strong women of prayer whom I really love. I think when I get too sad my body makes me go rest. My brain doesn’t know how to do that, and I have weird dreams.
When my brother died, I got swine flu. My husband and all the sons who were home brought me liquids and pain relief and folded damp face cloths to put on my forehead, and a Cuba Libre, at my request, when I couldn’t get warm any other way, and things to read, which I let sit near me as once did my dolls and teddy bear.
My husband is also sick, this time, and we are taking turns being the one who is up. I was able to make pot roast and beef and barley soup. He was able to get the dishes into the dishwasher. We are a team.
But for something to write about, you really can’t beat fever dreams. We are not supposed to put too much stock in dreams. but I find they can show me what’s on my mind. When we lived in Texas, where there were cows near all the oil pumps for tax reasons, we didn’t have a dining room, my sister-in-law\s family moved from Houston to Palestine, and our parents were in Boston and Michigan. Then my dad died. Some time thereafter, when I was sick, I had a dream that all my relatives were coming in the door carrying chairs, for Sunday dinner in my dining room. I could not be happy. My aunt Rita was among the last to arrive and said, “Aren’t you going in?” I told her that if I went in there, I would have to remember all over that my dad had died. She shrugged and went into the dining room and I woke up and sobbed.
I needed to sob. I hadn’t done that.
Nobody handles dreams like “The Sopranos.” The show is brutal and their language is terrible. It is a series about how being in the mob ruins everyone in it and around it, and so some of the dreams are about hell. I used to watch the show to learn about good writing, and then I took to writing about it when I was angry at someone, to remind me where anger and vengeance lead. When I am sick and can’t talk to friends about books or movies, I watch YouTube videos that discuss aspects of plot and character development from the series. Also, it reminds me that I might be sick but at least I don’t work for the mob in New Jersey, so there’s that.
As I mentioned, I may have a fever.
Writing prompt: What weird dreams have you had, and what have them led you to realize?
Dreams can lead to change.
When I was pregnant with my first child, we bought one dozen cloth diapers, and my husband thought that would do. I didn’t. I had a dream that I had sextuplets and they were crying and I realized that I could change each child once and then we’d be in trouble. So we bought more diapers.
Dreams can be nightmares, but they can be refuge.
If your dreams take you to a good place, and bring back good memories, write about it so you will have something to think about in bad times. The martyred Tsarina Alexandra kept a scrap book of poems and thoughts to read over during difficult times. I have a “comforting images” section of photos on my personal Facebook page, icons and photos that remind me of what is good.
If your dreams are scary, what are you afraid of? With whom can you examine it? Never go swimming or spelunking alone. Have a friend, a counselor, a priest, or someone else whom you trust go in with you.
If you write fiction, what do your characters dream of?
In “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” the ship goes through a fog where everyone’s dreams seem real. It sounds like a beautiful thought, until you remember what you have actually dreamed.
On the Julian Calendar, 2022 has not yet began. There is still time to think about what you want to change in the new year. Keep a notebook and pen by your bed and write about the dreams that come of their own accord. And then, do some editing. You don’t have to believe everything you think, or accept every thought that knocks on your door. Keep what is good and laugh off the rest. Write about the dreams you really want to pursue. God endowed us with free will. Think about what you want to work toward, and what you wish would go away. God gave us all gifts. Sometimes we have to hunt for the best place to use them.