28 March 2013

Traditions: Easter Eggs and Choreg on Choregshapti

Onion skin dyed eggs are a beautiful warm
brown.  Old tradition: rub crosses on them.
New tradition, use leaves to decorate.
I am like my grandmother in a lot of ways.  I am stubborn.  I’m a fighter…and a survivor.  I am a woman of faith.  But I am also like her physically too.  I have her coloring, and the older I get, the more I see her looking back at me in the mirror. And this morning, when I looked down at my dye-stained hands, I saw her hands.  And I flashed back to my childhood.  Standing in my grandmother’s kitchen with the light streaming in the window.  Seeing the colored eggs lined up on the yellow and black tile.  And watching her rub crosses on the newly-dyed Easter eggs.  My hands today look just like hers did then.  Starting to show age, not afraid of getting dirty, or working hard.  Nails short.  And dyed a little brown at the fingertips from dying eggs.

As a little girl, Easter was always an exciting time.  Usually on the Thursday evening, after going to church for the Vodnaluvah/foot washing, we would come home to dye our Easter eggs.  We had all those cool colors – the tablets that you drop in the warm water with a spoonful of vinegar, the little copper metal scoopy thing that looked like a bent paperclip, the white crayon for writing people’s names.  And every year, my little brother would always try to make a half and half egg and accidentally drop his still wet dark green egg into the beautiful yellow mixing the colors. That would get me so mad!  By the end of the evening we had a mess on our table.  But it was a lot of fun.  We were blessed to have my grandmother live right on the corner of our street.  She was over everyday, and she would bring over her carton of eggs, her special eggs, that she had dyed with onion skins. They were all one color – a warm dark brick color with crosses rubbed on them.  This was the traditional Armenian way of coloring eggs.  No gimmicks.  Just basic.  Simple, natural dye using what our people had. They were survivors.  Nothing went to waste.  The skins of the onions were used to color the eggs. 

Still doing the traditional onion skin eggs
but also trying other natural dyes like
red cabbage (blue) and beets (khaki)
I know now, that this simple gesture, of coloring the eggs this way, was her way of tying her back to her roots, her childhood.  A life that was uprooted by the genocide.  A childhood that came to an end all too soon when our people were forced from our homeland and made to walk through the desert.  She was a survivor. Although she never said it, I'm sure dying the eggs this way was an affirmation of her past...and her present.  Once I got married and left my family home, I started dying the eggs with onion skins.  It was a way to carry on the tradition. And when I had children, yes, I would still buy the Easter egg kits with the pretty colors, but I would always, always, do a couple dozen with the onion skins.  By then, my grandmother had passed away, and I was determined to keep that tradition to keep her memory alive.  And so my children grew up with this beautiful Easter tradition passed down from my grandmother. 

You all know about my empty nest.  Last October, my daughter Ani got married, and this was my first year in 25 years that I have dyed eggs without her.  Oh, she was still there…we were tweeting and texting back and forth through the process. We've always enjoyed dying eggs together. And we started a spin on the tradition a few years back…still dying with the onion skins but pressing leaves on the surface of the eggs to create designs or experimenting with other natural dyes too.  My husband came into the kitchen to ask if I needed help.  I didn’t have to answer.  He picked up an egg and worked beside me wrapping the leaves for the dye.  And as we worked, I started thinking about traditions and blessings and the past and the future.

Our family has another tradition too.  Choreg.  My mother - Mamajan -  is the choreg baker of the family.  People love this sweet soft roll that she makes at Christmas and Easter time.  It's really the best, and so good that it won a blue ribbon at the L.A. County Fair in the 60’s. As a child I would sit and watch her crank out the choreg, uniformly, one just the same size and shape as the next and placing my own wonky “s” shapes and “snail” coils on the tray beside hers.  Later, when I had children, they would go over to help her make choreg (or really just to play with the dough).  Years go by.  For the past ten years, Ani and Mamajan have been working together during the holidays to make the choreg happen.  My mom can no longer knead the huge amount of dough, and Ani has taken that over.  So this past week, my mom was asking about schedules, and when we could possibly find the time to make choreg this year.  It’s difficult, I told her, with work, Holy Week schedules, 
Mamajan & Ani
Baking Choregs on Choregshapti
life.  And then something beautiful happened.  On Palm Sunday, Ani asked Mamajan over to HER house…to make choreg together and start a new tradition.  And she also invited my two nieces to come, because it was time for them to learn too.  I watched my daughter carefully write down the list of groceries that my mother dictated to her from memory. And just today, 
Wednesday, they got to work and created tray after tray of choreg. Baking Choreg on Choregshapti.   Ani's are just like Mamajan's...and my niece's choregs were like my wonky shapes from when I was their age.

As a parent, I am so blessed to see this full circle. Young and old…the past and present.  Coming together. Traditions upheld, and new ones made. They bond us with our past, and create in us a sense of belonging, but they also help to bring familiarity to new experiences. And in a most beautiful way, they fill our hearts with the memories of dear ones whose presence is missed during these family holidays.

My beautiful choreg bakers:
Clockwise:  Madi, Ani, Mamajan and Nic
Wishing you and your family a very pomegranate Easter – filled with traditions, fresh choreg, dyed eggs and abundant with God’s blessings! Krisdos haryav e merelotz.  Ortnyal eh harootiunun Krisdosi!

You can hear an audio version of this post read on today's podcast episode of   "The Next Step with Father Vazken"

21 March 2013

The Journey Continues ...

Not I, nor anyone else can travel that  road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far.  It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and land."
- Walk Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Prior to lent, I started my year off with the “One Little Word” project.  I blogged about it…my word for the year being Balance.  But then early on in my Lenten journey, I decided that Balance just wasn’t going to work for someone like me that does so much teetering.  Lent gave me that focus to really hone in on me, my life, what needed tweaking now, and what needs sorting through later.  Balance had to take a back burner to PEACE.  And so a few weeks ago, I declared my new word for the year.  PEACE.  And my Lenten journey is helping me to achieve it.
One of the things I worked on(and am still working on), is keeping a check on negativity.  I don’t think of myself as being a negative person at all.  But there are things in my life that I would like to change, and sometimes these things are not entirely in my control.  Or maybe they are but they require patience (also not one of my strong suits).  This leads to a degree of negativity that tends to cloud over my days sometimes.  So I’ve really been trying to make that a focus, an awareness, on my journey.  So here's an example of how the scenario goes: I’m at work, feeling like a square peg in a round hole, and I start getting all dark inside, and that leads to a mental funk.  A few minutes later, I’m assessing the situation and stopping myself from going there (okay, I'm there, but stopping myself from going deeper in).  And I’ve been turning it around and trying to focus on the positive:  I am alive; We are able to pay the bills, We ate today… I am warm today. You get the idea.  And it has really helped me to work on the “peace” issue.  The problems might still be there…and it’s not that they’re not going to get a serious looking at, but being negative in light of so much positive is just not productive.

And the second thing that I worked on was gossip – especially being on the receiving end.  This one was difficult and I’ll tell you why.  Like vegetarianism, when you don’t partake in it, the person that you’re not partaking with feels that you are judging them.  And that’s totally not the case.  I have had to stop friends and say, “if it’s bad, please don’t share that with me…I’m working on it for lent.”  I didn’t say what “it” was.  Or in the event that we were in a group, and there was conversation going on, I had to stop myself from commenting…which again is viewed as you being aloof or not wanting to participate.  BUT, I have to say that the feeling afterward is one of exhilaration. I remembered back a few years ago when I was much heavier than I am today.  Because I wasn’t happy with myself back then, I was hyper critical of others.  Whereas now, the focus is more on self-improvement. The no gossip has also gone hand in hand with the no negativity thing.  Gossip is negative.  No room for it.  And both of those have made me much more peaceful inside.

My lenten journey has helped me keep my focus on things.  There is a LOT of room for improvement in my life.  I do still need to re-visit balance and patience, but I have a feeling that they will eventually come.  Even though lent is almost over, the journey is really just beginning.  Now it’s time to take what I’ve learned about myself, and move it forward. Of course, none of these are possible without prayer – a dialogue between myself and God which helps me focus and feel like I’m on the right track.  

This Sunday being Palm Sunday, I’m looking forward to taking communion again.  It’s been six weeks.  There’s a lot to atone for, and a lot to be thankful for. I hope your Lenten journeys have been fulfilling as well.  May God give us the strength to grow from what we have learned over this period of introspection, and to carry it forward in our lives.
You can hear this podcast read on epostle's weekly podcast, The Next Step with Fr. Vazken.  Click here to tune in.

Are you trying to get healthy?  Lose some weight?  Join me on "The Journey of the Pudgy Pomegranate" at www.pudgypomegranate.blogspot.com  

15 March 2013

Making a Difference

I watched this video this morning on Facebook and thought it was so beautiful - how one man made the difference, and ended up bringing the community together.  It's stories like this that bring out the best in humanity.

14 March 2013

Walking By Heart With God

When I was young, whenever we were supposed to learn something totally and completely, backwards and forwards, inside and out, my teachers would say we'd have to learn it "by heart".  An interesting way of thinking, don't you think?  Why not learn it by mind?  by head? or by brain?  I mean that's where the thought processes are, right?  But "by heart" meant more than just learning it like a robot...it meant embracing it, learning it with every beat of your heart, and feeling it coursing through your veins.  Okay, I'm being a little dramatic here.  We don't ever think about it this way when we're little, but you get what I'm saying.  In a nutshell, do your homework, really learn it, and be ready when you're asked a question about it.

I remember learning many things "by heart": the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord's Prayer in English, the Preamble of the Constitution, and later all the verses of Miss American Pie.

Growing up, we always prayed as a family at mealtime, and mom would tuck us in at night and say our prayers with us, and those were always learned prayers as well, except for the add-ins of people we would pray for, but in general, we would recite the Lord's Prayer in Armenian and later on the 15th prayer of I Confess with Faith - Bahaban Amenaynee or O Christ, Guardian of all.

As we grow up, we learn about prayer and talking to God not by heart, but  FROM the heart.  And this is how I spend my morning prayer time with God, in conversation.  Mostly listening to myself and trying to hear Him or feel God's presence. And this morning, not having anything to write about today in mind, I asked for guidance on what I could share with you.  And then I left for work.

I have made a habit of praying by heart when I am alone.When I was going through radiation therapy, I would recite the 23rd Psalm.  I had my rhythm timed just right so that when the machine started, I would start, "The Lord Is My Shepherd."  I would go nice and slow, and just when I would end with ..."and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever," the machine would click off.   I found this very comforting at a very scary and uncertain time in my life.  But I digress....

So I left the house this morning for work, and on my 6 block walk to the bus stop (in the DARK because of the new time change), I was praying the 24 "I Confess with Faith" prayers, and I got to prayer #9 and there it was again...the thinking with the heart thing.  Here it is:

"All Provident Lord, place your holy fear as a guard before my eyes that I may not look lustfully; before my ears that they may not delight in hearing evil words; before my mouth that it may not speak falsehoods; before my HEART that it may not THINK evil; before my hands that they may not do injustice; before my feet that they may not walk in the paths of injustice, but so direct them that they may always be according to your commandments.  Have mercy on all your creation and on me a great sinner."

And so there it was...you get what you pray for.  I asked for something to write about, and here it is.  And it made perfect sense.  To think with one's heart. Whether we act in joy or anger, the emotion comes from the heart.  The brain controls the physical functions of our bodies, but it's the heart that controls our actions.  Whether we choose to love or hate, fear or embrace, it's all tied in with the love we receive, the hurt we felt, the disappointment, the happiness, the joy and the sorrow...and it's the heart that controls all of that.

For me, there is a place for both - by heart, and from the heart - prayer.  The prayers that I have learned over the years are not a substitute for the conversations that I share with God in the early morning hours, throughout the day and late at night.  They have been a companion to me in the worst of times, and also in the best of days.   But they are a constant comfort, and they accompany the beat of my heart, and the rhythm of my footsteps as I walk everyday, by heart, with God.

To hear the audio version of this as well as other blog entries, tune into The Next Step with Father Vazken a weekly podcast about Armenian Orthodoxy and applied Christianity  at www.epostle.net

07 March 2013

The Right, the Left, and a New Look at Direction

Today was election day.  We voted for city officials.  It's always amazing to me how much junk mail is generated at election time.  Most of the time, I don't even look at it...it goes from mailbox to trash.  But all the junk mail and phone calls to vote for this person or that person got me to thinking about my own views, not political but spiritual.  And I started thinking about the Left, the Right and what makes them so.

One of the groups I follow on FB is called The Christian Left.  I can't say that I always agree with them, but for the most part, we are aligned in our belief that Christ and his teachings are all about love and compassion.  So what makes them "left"?  We tend to think of the left as more liberal; and the right as being conservative.  I even sent off an email to my brother and said, "We are the AOL - The Armenian Orthodox Left" because at our church - our many ministries focus on a more global outreach rather than the usual ethnocentric views of other Armenian churches.

The Left side tends to be more rebellious and radical in their ideas traditionally sharing and distributing the wealth more among the needy.  While the Right is more set in their ways, more about growing business and wealth.  And then there's the Christian Right.  The ones that give the rest of us Christians a bad name.  They're the ones that judge (even when we were told "Judge not lest ye be judged." Matthew 7); and they have a lot of  hatred in them (when they condemn those that are different from themselves).  And so what they are successful in doing is drawing people further and further away from Christ's teachings in the name of Christianity.  The way that I defend my faith when I explain their actions is by telling someone who asks my opinion in comparison to theirs? - Their Jesus is not MY Jesus.  I mean seriously...we believe that God is Love...Christ is love incarnate...so what Christ is commanding us is what our God is commanding us.  It's not  just some guy off the street telling us that we should love one another and care for one another.  It's God telling us.  And if God said it, then that's good enough for me!

Okay, so now, here's where it gets tricky.  So, as an orthodox Christian, I adhere to the teachings of Christ. We follow the rules of our faith - what I like to call "Applied Christianity".  We believe that Christ is love incarnate.  To follow His teachings is to follow a path of love and compassion.  We follow the fasting traditions and dietary restrictions of our faith. We feed and clothe the needy and care for those that are suffering.  So if the RIGHT is traditionally the ones that are supposedly "conservative"; then shouldn't we be more aligned with the Right?  It seems that it all got jumbled up somewhere.  The extremists should be on the Left as they've taken the tenants of Christianity and rewritten it to their own liking.  And then there are those of us that believe in the true message of Christ who are just practicing what He preached:  Love one Another.  Take care of one another.

So forget what I said about calling ourselves the  AOL - I think we should be known as the OAR - The Orthodox Armenian Right!   Just paddling through the flotsam in the sea of life!  We should strive to live our faith through action as Christ taught.  We are not so much conservative as we are traditionalists - Traditionally, our Christ was free thinking, a non-violent revolutionary, non-condemning, loving and compassionate and forgiving.  .  Those are the qualities that I work on following in my spiritual path.

So there it is.  Something to think about.  New definitions.  It seems to me that what was Left, is now Right; and what was Right is just, well...wrong.

03 March 2013

March: What Happened to My One Little Word?

Here we are at March already.  And I was looking back at the past two months in relation to my "One Little Word" that I chose - BALANCE.  This is the word that I'm supposed to be striving for this year..the word that is supposed to be my focus.  So here I am with two months under my belt and 10 to go for the year, and I'm thinking - Phhhhtt!!  I'm not balanced.  I'm not anywhere near balanced!  My life is too hectic to be balanced.  So by choosing this word, did I just end up setting myself up for failure?  And the answer is YES!     Not that anyone but me is judging my progress, but I'm finding it to be just one more pressure on myself.  Truly, juggling a day job, my prayer life, family, transitioning my mama to live with us, making jewelry, blogging, etc. Life is imbalanced, and seriously, I don't see balance in the near future.  There are never enough hours to the day, never enough hours to catch up on sleep (I average 4-5 hours a night) And so why not change the word?  Okay, I will!

So I am hereby declaring my word of the year to be ::::drumroll::::  PEACE!  So, you may ask, "Is there Peace in chaos?"  Yes!  There is!  As hectic as my life is, I am at peace.  Is there room for improvement? or did I just pick something easy?  Well, yes, there is major room for improvement, and this is why I chose this word.  As you know, we're in the period of lent.  And one of my challenges is to give up gossip (even being party to the listening of gossip - which is the hard one).  By eliminating this one thing, I have found in the past three weeks, that it is helping in the area of peaceful living....and this is going to continue with me after Easter as well.  Another thing that I'm focusing on is the negativity factor.  People that know me don't think this is an issue.  I am generally very positive when it comes to anything other than my own issues.  But inside myself I do have that little voice that always feels that I'm falling short - I didn't promote my business enough; I'm still at my day job; I am not helping enough people; my house is a mess, I didn't exercise...I didn't; I couldn't...etc.

I also realized that I started focusing on the word Peace back in September of last year when during my morning prayer I received a message regarding peace, and I am acting on it (but I'll write a little more about my progress with that prayer in the near future...because I am actively working on it but I don't want to come off as being preachy.) Click here if you'd like to read that blog post:  Pray for Peace. Believe Peace.  Live Peace. 

So I'm working on the negative.  And I'm trying to find my own inner peace.  That comes through prayer, conscious effort and acceptance.  Accepting the fact that I'm not perfect and that it's okay to ask for help when I need it.  It also comes from being okay with where you are in life at the moment - not looking to keep up with everyone else; not being concerned about possessions, and "Living Simply so that others can Simply Live."

So there you have it!  My new 2013 - One Little Word is "PEACE!"  I think it's a better fit for me, and something that I am truly passionate about.