New Year, New Beginnings

For almost exactly six years, I was a member of Emmanuel Covenant Church in Glendale, Arizona. I became a member on my husband’s birthday, December 31, 2006. The church completed its final worship service on the 30th of December, 2012. We missed that service, as we were on a family vacation in the mountains, but we did mark our final service with a photo taken in the same place where I became a member, where we were married in 2007, and where our children were baptized in 2008 and 2010. Being somewhat sentimental, I even wore the same dress that I had worn to our wedding rehearsal years ago. (I stopped short at replicating the outfit entirely, but even that took restraint.)

Final Sunday at Emmanuel

As you can see, we even smile Russian style.

As an army brat, I have never lived in one place long enough to worship there for six years. Emmanuel was my church home far longer than any other church has been, and it is sad to leave. Our new church home will be King of Kings PCA, and in many ways it represents a great continuity. In fact, our former church has merged with King of Kings, and many of the same voices will sing praises with us each Sunday. Still, I can’t help but think of the families who have chosen another church home, and how we will miss them.

Reunited and it feels so good.

Reunited

We didn’t take toys on our trip, for fear of leaving or losing them. Luckily, there were plenty of toys at the cabin and everyone was properly diverted in between trips to go “snowing.” Nevertheless, on the drive home, the boys began to ask about their new Steiff chimpanzee and gorilla … and were delighted to find them still here, waiting for them.

The Blank Page

2013 is a book yet to be written, and I have always been paralyzed by the blank page. Thankfully, it is easier to continue living day by day than to continue writing through a block… but still I wish I could sneak a peek ahead and read the outline.

We returned today from a lovely family celebration of the New Year (and my husband’s birthday) in the mountains of Arizona. The boys enjoyed the idea of snow far more than the experience of being cold. I can’t blame them – they are, after all, little desert scorpions. Those of us who knew snowy winters as children relished the experience. My mother-in-law, who lived much of her life in Moscow, particularly loved to go for walks, multiple times a day. She told me that she was imagining her mind contained a little camera that could capture these moments and play them back to her. I could have whipped out my iPhone at any time and “captured the moment,” but it’s never quite the same as experiencing life first-hand, unedited and raw.

After a blissfully uneventful trip home, we discovered that our boys are battling right and proper little man colds. Sigh… and so it begins. Welcome, 2013. Take off your shoes and stay a while.

Blogging from the iPad

It feels a little like Christmas. I’ve just opened up the snazzy white Apple box that has been sitting in my husband’s desk for months, while we pondered whether a bluetooth iPad keyboard was something that we really wanted and needed. To be honest, for a long time, we didn’t. Circumstances have changed, however: I’ll be traveling to Germany for over a month without my behemoth 17″ MacBook Pro. During that time I’ll be completing my first Coursera course and beginning my second (and possibly even third, time permitting). I’ll need to be able to write essays and participate in forum discussions. These tasks would have been odious using the on-screen keyboard, but with this sexy little bluetooth keyboard I’m excited for the challenge. The current set-up isn’t quite what I’d imagined. I was hoping more for the cover/keyboard combination of the Zaggmate, which seems more stylish and integrated. But then, Mama’s iPad is also the “family” iPad, and without the trusty Otterbox Defender cover it’s worn since day one, we would have had ample cause to use our extended warranty. As it stands, this works quite well. The Otterbox also serves as a stand, and the keyboard can be held in whichever way I choose. Perhaps the iPad’s more limited ability to multi-task will help keep me focused on the task at hand.

Of course, that may only work while traveling … because just now, in that space between the first paragraph and the second, I left my desk to go to my laptop in the kitchen. From there I was able to Google Chat with my husband and browse the Facebook pages of my college friends far more easily than I could on the iPad. Apparently, I still see the iPad as being “deficient” in this manner … but when I think of the sort of scattered thinking my previous browsing habits have created, I wonder if this might not be the superior alternative, after all. Of course, I still dream of the iPad / MacBook Air hybrid to come. Some day! Until that day, I am eager to try my hand at going “iPad only” during my stay in Germany. As an added bonus, my laptop won’t have to suffer the indignities of travel. Let’s not get into what happened the last time my (previous) laptop encountered the TSA.

(Incidentally, I am also trying out various blogging apps, beginning with the “native” WordPress app. I had read reviews of it being buggy, but thus far it has worked well. Next up: Blogsy.)

You Can Never Go Home Again

I am sitting in the more formal dining room, rather than the living room, because it is the room with the best light, and because it is not as cluttered with the paraphernalia of boyhood. I often find that I can breathe better in this room, perhaps even think better. There are two young persons (allegedly napping) down the hall. It surprises me that lately it has been my two year-old, rather than my four year-old, who has been fighting the midday nap. It does not surprise me that this agitates me beyond belief. I’m selfish like that: you see, the hours between 1 pm and 3 pm (or even 4 pm, if God is being particularly kind) are MY TIME. My husband is still at work* and the boys are resting. This is the time I get to myself… to do what I please.

And lately, it pleases me to read books about the post-Roman world of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. I know, right? I’m not precisely what you might call a medievalist. If I had to pick my favorite time period, it would be the world on the cusp, just before the Age of Steam-Driven Empires, and just until the first great war. The 19th century, if you like, though my interest reaches a bit before and bleeds out somewhat into the 20th. Change was in the air, and not all of it for the better. But for now, I’m immersing myself in the world of Constantine and Charlemagne, and all because of the Yale Open Courses and a former professor, Paul Freedman.

I am thirty-two, and at present am employed as the Chief Domestic Diva (read: stay at home mom) of the Markov Family. Probably not what was expected of me when I entered Yale University as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman. In fact, though I always knew that I wanted to be a mother, I know that I didn’t think through what that would mean for my “career path.” (At this point in my life, you see, that is the sort of thing one puts in quotation marks.) I have been thinking ahead lately to a time when my boys are in school and I would like to re-enter the workforce, and though I am not sure precisely what I would like to do when that time comes, I know it involves some sort of teaching and writing. Having gotten that far, I came to the conclusion that the best mode of preparation was to do a great deal of reading and studying.

I lack the time and discretionary income to do advanced degree work, even from home, but we do live in a marvelous age of free online university courses, and so I decided to begin with a professor that I knew I liked, studying a time period that seemed interesting precisely because it was such an unknown. Most of us, let’s face it, still carry around that horribly inaccurate image of “The Dark Ages.” I also enjoy my readings because they are not focused on: nutrition, childrearing, or housekeeping. It seems as though nearly all of the reading I have done over the past six years has been such practical fare… and while that has its place, I (as a graduate of the Humanities program at Yale) am delighting in learning for its own sake.

All that being said, it is becoming increasingly obvious that you can never go home again. Make no mistake, sitting in my air-conditioned dining room in Arizona I am not “getting a Yale education from home.” Anyone who listens to these lectures and thinks that is deluding themselves. The real Yale education, as I experienced it, had far more to do with the discussion sections so casually mentioned in the lectures, office hours with the professor, and of course extensive reading of the sort of books one does not find in the Phoenix Public Library. Then again, I have opportunities I did not have then: I have time to listen to lectures repeatedly, and to supplement other lectures and books (in this instance those from the Teaching Company’s Great Courses series). I am able to read entire books if I want to, not the section that is photocopied into the Course Reader. (The “luxury” of not having the reader available to off-campus students is that we must purchase every book.)

While I don’t have access to the professors and graduate students I used to know, (nor even the suggested paper topics for the course, which are not among the materials supplied by Open Yale Courses) I do have the skills acquired over the years of writing research papers. If I find myself so inspired as to write an essay, I’m sure I can cobble together my own topic and bibliography. More likely I’ll keep extensive reading journals (having just re-read How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren) and process my responses on this web site.

I am different now than I was in 1999 when I first entered Directed Studies, a freshman-year intensive study of the Western Canon. Life has changed my perspective: I am a Christian, I am a wife and a parent. This and many other factors will play into my readings as I work my way through the “Great Books” again, but I am not afraid. Any book truly worth reading is worth reading again, and worth reading properly. If I have any goals for this period of “Self-directed Studies,” it is that I wish to know that I have read, understood, and engaged with these books in a way that I was not at leisure to do while I was a student at Yale.

* Today it happens that he is overseas, but I am speaking in general terms.