12/1/2018: Ukrainian Music: Yuriy Fedynsky (Юрій Фединський)

Photograph from Thomson Reuters, Business Insider article 8.24.18

Yuriy Fedynsky  builds, plays, and teaches traditional musical instruments. With a  background in classical piano, living in North Carolina he heard his grandmother and mother speak Ukrainian, and felt inspired to learn the language and to travel to Ukraine to reconnect with the family’s history. There he learned about traditional instruments like the torban, kobza, and bandura, played with techniques and repertoires in danger of being forgotten entirely. He began searching out any surviving examples of these instruments as they existed a century ago, before the development of factory production, steel strings, and modern music styles. He apprenticed as an instrument maker, and began collaborating with traditional musicians. Now in Ukraine he teaches instrument making and music, and researches traditional songs and styles of playing. Along the way he has created a new life as what he calls a repatriot. It’s someone who has not bid farewell to America, but who has created a new family and settled roots in the original homeland — rebuilding a small house, setting up the workshop, and now raising food on their farm. 

In this video clip he talks about his work, and with Mrs. Fedynsky performs an akathist-style hymn “Iисусе Прекрасный,” or Jesus Most Beautiful (The words are from Psalm 4 by Dmitrii of Rostov):
Fedynskij Music Workshop in Kriachkivka · Ukraїner

This autumn Yuriy has been touring across America with a sample of all three instruments, playing at small church and home concerts free of charge, supported and promoted by spontaneous American hospitality as he takes himself from town to town. At a cozy meeting for local Ukrainian speakers, he demonstrated a full range of styles and songs, and explained the instruments’ acoustic properties, historical connections, and place in Ukrainian society. We in the audience were spellbound at his celestial music, soaring vocals, cultural knowledge, and story telling. The one-hour concert ran over two and a half hours; Yuriy was all delighted sweetness and good humor as we badgered him for more songs, bombarded him with questions, snapped up his recorded CDs, and tried playing the instruments ourselves. (One knowledgeable audience member even brought his own bandura, and the two performed a lovely spontaneous duet.) Listeners came away discussing their eagerness to follow his work on Facebook, and watch for his next tour.

What a blessing! We experienced a radiant artist — someone alight with purpose in his faith in God and service to his family, to his adopted village, to Ukrainian culture, and to his students from around the world. His vision, and his parting wish for us, was that we would go and be part of this worldwide movement: people from any country who resurrect traditional cultures and handwork to connect with and heal their own communities.  

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11/30/18: Manger Scenes

There’s an exhibit in town of 500 or so Nativity scenes from 120 countries. Some are family heirlooms; many were brought back by missionaries the world over. I walked in out of a windswept rain for a look, and gosh — what a sight. The hall glowed with warm color, papered over with countless Nativity Christmas cards. Then arranged by continent on several tiers of velvet-wrapped shelving, the creches were all flocked in together, all perfectly arranged, in a pageant of colors and textures. It’s one family’s labor of love for the past 27 years; generations of relatives store the pieces all year in their homes, then spend days of work with setup, arranging, and greeting the visitors with sugar cookies and tea.

Some scenes looked especially valuable, in cut glass and ceramic and metal. But most were handmade with materials and costumes and styles of their countries of origin. That sincere integrity, bringing the best one has to offer, gave the exhibit its emotional appeal.

Comic book art from what we as kids called “the funny papers.” The Gasoline Alley strip has been running since 1918.
nativity 2

String, either fine crochet or perhaps the kind of hand-tatting done by my grandmother with a small tatting spindle in hand.nativity 5

Nuts, pods, dried flowers
nativity 3

Amish Baby Jesus all swaddled in his black suit and little black hat. The practical Magi bring gifts of milk bottle, vegetables, and a chicken. Amish dolls are made without faces; that honors the First Commandment warning against graven images, and just might give little girls more scope for their imaginations.
nativity 4

Lesotho woolen work, and what looks to me like an Ethiopian icon with Amharic lettering:
nativity 6

It was good to see and ponder such a fond custom, reworked and interpreted with a fresh eye and sincere handiwork from so many traditions.

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Back Through the Looking Glass

Thanksgiving Day was fine.
Going to church, gathering fallen leaves and flowers to make little bouquets for the neighbors, writing holiday cards, learning a new Sacred Harp song (“Sweet Solitude,”  Hannah More, 1835), learning how to tune & play a scale on a mountain dulcimer, brisk walk to the cemetery in hard rain, dinner, then tucking into flannel jammies with a rediscovered book that I loved as a little girl, about Catholic saints.

Then over the weekend a confetti of invitations rolled in. Lots! Out of nowhere!
There wasn’t even time to take in all that popularity. So I went to just three occasions, with beautiful families in beautiful homes. I got to go and watch friends in really solid marriages, and their parents and kids and friends flocking in together with kisses and hugs and telling their stories and joking around. The food was great; how do people think up such wonderful recipes? And the homes were a treat to the eye, photos and heirlooms and artwork and china and silver and carpets created and handed down for generations.

Then it was back here to Tuffet Central, to think it all over.
After being in among these couples and witnessing a little of life in community, now even three days later it’s still an adjustment being alone again. It’s making everything feel hard; waking up and going to work and going to sleep and getting the chores done. I went diving in to the holiday sweets all over the office, and a lot of health progress went right out the window.

Gee, where’s the lesson in all this?
To dress up and appear at these wonderful occasions and to support my friends at their life celebrations and to be grateful is a real gift of God, part of healthy mature living. Maybe healthy and mature people can do it all the time. It was beautiful, but somehow I forgot — socializing is not companionship. They’re two different things. Maybe for a little while I shouldn’t go through the looking glass and watch other people’s family holidays.

By tonight I needed drastic cheering up. So I visited a new library for some good books, then came home and fixed a cup of green tea, and cooked up lunch for tomorrow — greens & vegetables with a dab of tinned salmon and some extra ginger and garlic and tomato sauce. While it cooked I practiced my new song.

Say, maybe I’ll take the new song and the bowed psaltery to work tomorrow and try playing it where the acoustics are good, in our parking garage. Then I’ve been wanting to start a holiday gift basket collection for our wonderful cleaning crew who work so hard. There’s an essay to finish for the colleague I’m nominating for this year’s achievement award. Then there’s a neighbor nearby who lost her husband, I’ve been meaning to write her a letter and enclose a photo of her lovely Memory Garden from last summer.

There’s no better day for it all than to start right in tomorrow.

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Thanksgiving 11.22.18

The day began with gentle sunny breaks for the walk to church.
This afternoon was supposed to be a long prayer stroll along the shore. But half an hour away from home the wind rose and grew chilly, and the heavens opened.
At the cemetery, this Pieta memorial with Ginkgo tree looks surprisingly serene, considering how hard the rain was falling.
Thanksgiving Walk 11.22.18

To take the picture I pulled my rain slicker hood far up and out, then positioned the cell phone inside the slicker so that only the camera lens was peeking up and over the collar of my sweatshirt. After that one snapshot, the downpour was getting stronger. I hurried for the bus stop to keep the phone from getting damp in my waist pack. What a pleasure to get home to dry clothes.

Here is Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving 11.22.18
My wonderful enterprising Chinese-American neighbors planted potatoes last spring in our community garden. Then they invited me to join in for the potato harvest. We picked a shopping bag full, and then in great good humor they handed the bag to me and cheerfully refused to take any potatoes for themselves! With careful washing and trimming, and some steam, these turned out tender and very sweet. The other bowl is Brussels sprouts, with a portion of red beans, red cabbage, and daikon radish pickles. There are sweet potatoes steaming up right now. Then for dessert there are dried fruits and nuts, clementines, and some dark chocolate. Now to knock on my neighbor’s door and invite her to come share…

Wishing everyone a beautiful blessed holiday…

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Fast Food

“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
— Letter to the Hebrews, 13:2

The fast food restaurant has always been around, I suppose, with its franchises and logo and color scheme and ads. It never dawned on me to notice, or to walk in. Well, until last week.

I needed a public rest room in the middle of the city. Surprise! Public rest rooms aren’t really around any more. And this was after 5:00 on Veterans’ Day, so a ten-block round trip expedition determined that even the public library was closed. Hm. I hiked past chic shoe and jewelry shops, wondering what to do. I could walk a mile over to the room where I was staying, and then a mile back. But I was already running late in an unfamiliar neighborhood. It was getting dark and cold.

(Later, a wise local gave me a tip: just stroll casually in to the rest room at any fine hotel! But at the time that didn’t dawn on me.) Instead, I spotted the fast food restaurant and walked in, and up to the hard-working Counter Associate.

“Hello,” I greeted him. “Can I just, like, buy a $5 gift card and go use the rest room?”

“Excuse me please?” the young man asked, with just a hint of lilt in his intonation. Courteous, attentive, pleasant looking. Bright intelligent eyes clicking through my enigmatic question.

No wonder. I realized to my chagrin that my question did not in fact make intuitive logical sense. (The lady wants a gift card for the rest room? Is our bathroom full of GIFTS?)
I tried again. “I would like to use your rest room. But I do not need to actually buy anything. So may I just buy a gift card instead?” It’s understandable that businesses spend time and money cleaning their premises; they need to save the rest rooms for people who are actually customers. Besides, a gift card would be useful for any of the many people outside, sitting on the street, asking for pocket change.

The young man made a snap decision. At a low discreet angle he showed me a laminated card with four digits, then pointed upward and over. “Code, for upstairs,” he said. Lilt of intonation again.

I made a snap decision too, about his intonation. Was that Slavic? Maybe. Was it polite to ask? Maybe not. This may have been wrong on my part, it may have been tactless even, but I switched to Russian. “Góspodi Vas Blagosloví, Lord Bless You,” I said, clasping my hands, and ran upstairs.

Soon I was back downstairs. Before heading out the door I caught the young man’s eye over the waiting line of customers, and waved goodbye.
He motioned me to stop. With a quick word to his co-workers he sped through the restaurant to catch up with me.

“Please, about the code,” he apologized, in clear cultured very polite Russian. “We are not trying to make things difficult for anybody. It is just that there have been incidents with people using the bathroom. People who have serious difficulties.”

“Vsio poniátno, totally understandable,” I said, thanking him for his help.

“Now. Look,” he said quietly. “What can I bring you? Coffee? Some food?”

“What?? Oh! Why — no, I’m fine. Honestly. That was all I needed.”

“Seriously,” he assured me. “It’s really all right — I’ll pay; it’s my treat. Anything you like! Please. Come; sit down, have a hot meal.”

At first I felt mortified for troubling him. But mostly I was profoundly touched. What royal hospitality, from a hard-working person to a total stranger!

That was a long day, by then. All-night plane flight, jet lag, a plumbing overflow that required all my cleverness to set right in the house where I was staying, eight hours of walking, running four hours late for a dinner invitation in the suburbs, a cell phone that had just died (containing the directions I needed, to find the friends in said suburbs), an hour spent looking for a rest room, a head cold coming on, temperature falling fast, and now standing here in my favorite travel clothes — comfy hem-frayed hoody sweatshirt, and jumbo khaki duffle bag from the Army Navy surplus store that closed in 1984.
No wonder this attentive tactful young man thought that the older lady might be a little down on her luck but was too proud to admit it!

(Next day I telephoned Corporate with the store number and address, to name and praise their young colleague. I post-mailed them a thank you letter too, for his personnel file. True, for his sake I changed the story a bit, telling them only that I went in asking for directions, and that he took me aside to make sure that this slightly distraught traveler was okay and didn’t need him to summon further help. I added that I work in medical education, and that this man’s vigilance, respectful behavior, and quick thinking were just the qualities taught by our faculty to future health care providers. And after a quick look through their company story and food philosophy, I promised them that on my next trip in the spring I’ll go back to that restaurant and will actually buy myself dinner.)

But meanwhile, feeling deeply blessed by this astonishing kindness, I thanked the young man profusely, took a good look at the name on his badge, excused myself, and galloped off toward the subway.
Then, just before running in to the station, I suddenly remembered: in my pocket was a little souvenir from home, a keepsake for my hosts in the suburbs. What good luck!
I ran back to the fast food restaurant.
My benefactor was still at the counter, poetry in motion, whipping out beverages and burgers.
I waited in line for my turn.

Vot moi spútnik, Here is my traveling companion,” I explained. “And now, it can travel with you.” I slipped him the little gift face down, then backed off into the crowd.

He picked up the keepsake and turned it over, and blinked with wide eyes.
It was the Russian Orthodox icon of the Trinity, by Andrey Rublëv. It was sealed with the label Spasí i Sokhraní, Save and Protect, and a Trinity prayer in Slavonic. The icon portrays the three strangers in Genesis 18, who visited Patriarch Abraham. Abraham welcomed them in, not knowing he was really entertaining three angels.

That little icon found the right home. It’s a symbol of hospitality at its purest (which just happens to be a classically Russian national virtue): an attentive look, a kind word. Side order of fries, offered from a generous heart.

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How Was Your Weekend?

The Question. It’s all over America.

And every region has its own. It’s the first thing people ask, right after saying hello. They can ask the same familiar folks day after day, or use it to establish a relationship with a person they’ve just met. James and Deborah Fallows give regional examples of The Question in their book Our Towns. (My favorite was “How’s your mama & them?” in parts of Louisiana where there is a chance that a new acquaintance might actually know your mother.) When I visited rural Maine, it was “Got family here?” In Kansas, church-going people have asked me “Where do you fellowship?” In Boston there was “How was the parking out there?” or “How ’bout them Sox?”

At our office, it’s “How Was Your Weekend?”
The point seems to be “We all made it back! F Troop all present and accounted for.” It’s a light friendly ritual.

Does anybody else have a hard time with this?
Me, on Monday morning I show up and log in — completely absorbed with plans for the day and week, spreadsheets and priority lists and process management procedures.

Then, someone with the best intentions asks “How was your weekend?”
My chain of thought snaps. Looking up from a spreadsheet, I give the questioner a perplexed look. Weekend? Which time interval from Friday evening to Monday before breakfast? How much detail would people like? In what amount of time? What level of factual or emotional honesty? What would they like to hear?

Etiquette says that all I have to do is smile. Say that it was nice and restful.
Except around here, “Fine, thank you,” is not enough of an answer.
The followup will be “Did you do something fun? Spend it with family?”
And in these parts, the questioner will share that he/she and his/her spouse went hiking, or rock climbing, or kayaking, or skiing. (It’s a big outdoorsy town. People run around excelling at sports I’ve never even heard of.)

And to be fair, on Mondays it is a blessing just to have a conducive job, with co-workers who are friendly and who greet me.
So to hold up my end of the dialogue, sometimes on Sunday I rehearse a news bit to offer. “Thank you; I updated my advance directive medical paperwork. And you?” Usually that sort of pastime earns a laugh and perhaps a concerned look. So sometimes I try asking The Question first. Then I can just take in the gladness in stories and photos of real people with real lives: the new baby, the family reunion, the overnight boat cruise and B&B with someone special, the movie with the grandkids. And even when their lives have troubles, everybody shares it together. It sounds like a good way to live.

I should have this ritual down pat by now.
But every Question brings another cold chill of sadness, and anxiety about not fitting in to office conversations. And my every smile and “Fine” reply feels like another layer of clear turtle-wax, burying over a personality that would like to be real. Some day if an actual potential let’s-do-everyday-life-including-weekends person ever shows up, how will he or she even know that under all this clear wax varnish there is me?

The other day, a super-bright enthusiastic new young colleague asked me. But this time, the high-gloss smile cracked under the weight of accumulated truth.
“Sad. Weekends are hard. I’m sorry; just trying to focus on Monday here.”
“Okay OKAY!” He hurried away, and I felt sorry for saying the wrong thing and making the office a little less bright because of it.

And now, by repeated popular demand, here is my weekend.

One new social gathering or more, to strike up conversations with new people and take an interest in them.
Chores: grocery shopping, cooking, ironing, balancing checkbook.
Long walk.
Getting ready for Monday.
Research emotional intelligence and social bonding, and how to get some.

Then, bedtime before the leaf sweeper truck passes by the window at 8:45 pm.
The leaf sweeper is a mournful sound. It marks the end of the weekend, and the end of one more chance to forge new permanent social connections. So the idea is to be in bed and halfway asleep before the leaf sweeper passes by.

Now there’s an answer: “It was great, thanks. This week I beat the leaf sweeper!”
How would that sound around the water cooler?

Update: After writing this I went to work early next day.
One of the top brass authority figures was there early too. He’s a military officer retired, tall imposing yet friendly guy who walks super fast leaning forward like he’s braving a head wind. He said “How was your weekend?”

For some reason, this time I actually answered the question, throwing my hands in the air and getting vehement about life and the meaning of it all.

He surprised me then. He stood there with wide eyes and listened to the whole outburst and said “That sounds very hard. I am so sorry.”
I went over and gave him a slappy patty shoulder hug.
He said “That was actually the idea I had in mind too. Everybody ought to get a hug sometimes.”
I thanked him for listening.
He said “My first reaction was ‘Gee, I better make sure I never ask her THAT again.’ But you know what? After talking to you, I will be here at the office on Monday mornings to ask that same question every week, just to check up on you and see how you are doing.”
He probably will, too.

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Comforts of Home: Women Who Neighbor Women

Beguine Women lived in Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium starting in about 1150; the last traditional Beguine was apparently Marcella Pattyn, who died in 2013. Beguines were single Christian women. Because there were far more single women than single men, and because convents required a high dowry, these women joined forces to neighbor in together. They built and maintained their own homes in walled communities. They were prosperous businesswomen, plying their skills in wool and linen and silk — carding and felting, spinning, weaving, sewing, knitting, dying, embroidery. Beguines were highly respected pillars of the community. They supported the local regions with money and crops, nursing, herbal medicine, shelter, and handcrafts.

The women’s autonomy, their independent communal devotions, and their personal mysticism drew persecutions from the Catholic Church. Their affluent trade was shouldered aside and ended with the Industrial Revolution and with all-male craft guilds and monopolies on the textile markets.

But now, women in Germany have re-established a secular sisterhood model of their Beguine heritage. Inter-generational housing developments gather single women of all ages, pooling their resources to live together and care for one another.

Why can’t American women do this?

That question came to mind at a local church during Lent. I was helping the ladies at a local church serve a dinner before the Lenten service. We finished cooking, and sat down for a break before serving the congregation.

The kitchen brigade ladies are active independent retired Christian women. They have raised their families, cared for their husbands in their last illness, seen the children move away, and now live alone in roomy family homes. While we ate our soup, each woman confided how it feels, to manage a fixed income while watching property taxes soar, and to see their old neighborhood communities break up and disappear, replaced by mushrooming multi-story apartments for young high-tech workers.

The women exchanged heartfelt questions. What about repair expenses and heating? What about the new world of break-ins and car prowling and vandalism and empty houses with squatters, on streets that used to be safe, with neighbors who used to be friendly? How do they cope with living alone with no interaction but the internet and the cat? What if one of them fell on the cellar stairs, or got sick?

What a revelation for me. As a girl, I was programmed to find a prosperous husband, buy a home, and raise kids; the promise was that then a women would always be secure and cared for. Now as a single woman with single girlfriends, those of us Left Behind by the Rapture, who never landed husbands at all — we have the same conversations. We talk about our fear of being priced out of our little apartments. Or falling on the stairs. Or getting sick.

So at this church supper team, I asked the women some questions of my own. What if each of these home owners takes in a mature single woman (say, me) to rent the basement? We can all pool our incomes, talent, companionship, life experience, housekeeping, hospitality skills and nurturing. Then, since a bunch of these houses are near the church, we can form neighborhood networks. If one homeowner has a grandchild who needs that basement, then the renter can just move to another house within the network. Someone like me with virtually no belongings, I could move four times a year; then the homeowners could have an interesting guest for 90 days, make some cash, and then have their house back in three months. And all the while we could all visit one another to lend a hand or just a little company where it is needed, day or night.

That’s what I said to the church women at the table.
They just stared at me. No reply. Nothing.
They looked scared. Was I going to show up at the door with a bindle swag?

“But Mary,” people tell me, “there are internet services for this.”
Yes there are. We can pay a nationwide agency to collect all our personal data in The Cloud, and sell it to heaven knows whom, and choose our companion for us.

Or, we can do it ourselves. We women can organize and choose our own households, based on existing friendships.
But to do that, we women have to take other women seriously.
And to do that, we women have to take ourselves seriously as well.
After a lifetime of mothering children and husbands and bosses and dogs and yes our local congregations, we older single women are absolutely terrible at paying true deep engaged attention to our women friends and their thoughts and feelings and wishes and gifts. Or our own.

Just now for cheering inspiration I looked up OWL, the Older Women’s League, to see what they are doing about this. Well, the national (and our local chapter) are now out of business. Has the country run out of older women?

Maybe it’s time to visit Germany. Hm…
Sisterhoods, Germany

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