Sunday, December 27, 2009

Three 2009 Booklists

I compiled these lists after reading that semicolon is putting a new twist on the first Saturday Review of Books of 2010. Normally one links to a book review on one's blog, or goes to the Review to read miscellaneous reviews. But this time you link to a list of books. I didn't have one, but it sounded like a good idea. So I made three. None is in chronological order.

Making a list of books is way easier than writing a review, and I find the idea of doing something easy to start the new year quite appealing! I will get on with writing some reviews after I finish celebrating at least 12 Days of Christmas.

Books I completed reading in 2009:
  1. The Birds Fall Down by Rebecca West
  2. Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful by Alan Paton
  3. Long Ago in France by M.F.K. Fisher
  4. How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher
  5. The Folding Cliffs by W.S. Merwin
  6. Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff
  7. M.F.K. Fisher and Me by Jeannette Ferrary
  8. The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton
  9. The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia by Esther Hautzig
  10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  11. Bread and Water, Wine and Oil by Fr. Meletios Weber
  12. Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge
  13. A Good and Faithful Servant (Saint Innocent) by the University of Alaska
  14. At Large and Small by Ann Fadiman
  15. Pig Tale by Verlyn Flieger
  16. Towards the Mountain by Alan Paton
  17. Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney by Paul Johnson
  18. The Inner Kingdom by Bp. Kallistos Ware
  19. The End of Suffering by Scott Cairns
  20. Living With the Laird by Belinda Rathbone
  21. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Books I got into but eventually abandoned:
  1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  2. Diary by Anaïs Nin
  3. Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home by Lynn Freed
  4. Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee
  5. Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee
  6. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
  7. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
  8. The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

Books I am still reading at the end of 2009 and plan to keep reading:
  1. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton
  2. Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Michael Pomazansky
  3. The Winter Pascha by Fr. Thomas Hopko
  4. For the Time Being by Annie Dillard
  5. Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ by St Maximus the Confessor
  7. Mary Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan
  8. Byzantium by John Julius Norwich
  9. Sister Age by M.F.K. Fisher
  10. The Hacienda by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran
  11. The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language by John McWhorter
(The photo was taken in Chinatown earlier this month.)

    Wednesday, December 23, 2009

    Near Nativity

    This fresco of the Nativity of Christ is on the wall at church, where I was blessed to attend Matins this morning. It was dark at the beginning of the service, with only a few candles burning. I held a candle to light The Six Psalms as I was chanting. As the service progressed, and light came through windows, this icon and others were revealed more clearly.

    Our Flower Lady had brought buckets of white, red, and pink poinsettias, and garlands of berried branches to adorn the church. The chandelier was strung with fir branches and ribbons. Altar cloths are bright satin red.

    I wanted to take pictures to capture the beauty, but then I realized that the impression is not only visual--the sensory input is part of it, through the sights I describe, the sounds of the hymns, the smells of incense and beeswax. But what really makes it worth passing on can't be carried over to mine or anyone's next moment, and that is the presence of God.

    Merry Christmas!

    Monday, December 21, 2009

    Neapolitans--the cookie

    I've made these exotic Italian cookies the last two Christmases before this one. Not this year. But they are so pretty, I'm going to post the photos for your enjoyment--and the recipe, too. I got the recipe from a library book ages ago and don't know where to give credit.

    I looked at scads of other Neapolitan recipes on the Internet--I forget why--and they were all dreadfully inferior. This one uses two different doughs, each with many tasty ingredients, whereas the others I saw used just one fairly simple dough that just had different food colorings added. This one also has no food coloring other than what is in the candied fruits.


    These Italian cookies present an interesting way of making icebox cookies. They are dramatic and unusual. You will make two entirely separate recipes for the dough—and it must chill overnight.


    3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

    ¼ tsp. salt

    1 tsp. baking soda

    ½ tsp. powdered cloves

    ½ tsp. cinnamon

    6 oz. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate morsels

    ½ pound (2 sticks) butter

    2 tsp. finely-ground coffee beans

    1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed

    2 eggs

    5 oz. (1 cup) green pistachio nuts

    You will need an 11x5x3” loaf pan, or any other loaf pan with 8-9 cups capacity (or use two smaller pans of equal capacity—two medium loaf pans worked for me). To prepare the pan: Cut two strips of aluminum foil or two strips of wax paper (see Notes), one for the length and one for the width; they should be long enough so that they can be folded over the top of the pan when it is filled and should cover the whole surface. Place them in the pan and set aside.

    Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, cloves, and cinnamon and set aside. Grind the chocolate morsels in an electric blender (or they may be finely chopped, but they must be fine or it will be difficult to slice the cookies), and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer cream the butter. Add the coffee and brown sugar and beat well. Add the eggs and beat to mix. Beat in the ground chocolate. On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until blended. Beat in the nuts.

    Transfer the dough to another bowl, unless you have another large bowl for the electric mixer. Set the dough aside at room temperature and prepare the following light dough.


    2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

    ¼ tsp. salt

    ¼ tsp. baking soda

    ¼ pound (1 stick) butter

    1 tsp. vanilla extract

    ½ tsp. almond extract

    ½ cup granulated sugar

    2 tablespoons water

    1 egg

    3 ½ oz. (3/4 cup) currants, unchopped, or raisins, coarsely chopped

    Finely grated rind of 1 large lemon

    6 candied red cherries or maraschino cherries, cut into quarters

    6 candied green cherries, cut into quarters

    Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside. In a clean large bowl of the electric mixer, with clean beaters, cream the butter. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, the sugar and water, and beat well. Add the egg and beat to mix. On low speed gradually add the sifted dry ingredients, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until blended. Mix in the currants, lemon rind, and both kinds of cherries.

    To layer the doughs in the prepared pan: Use half (about 2 ¾ cups) of the dark dough and place it by spoonfuls over the bottom of the pan. Pack the dough firmly into the corners of the pan and spread it as level as possible. With another spoon spread all of the light dough in a layer over the dark dough—again, as level as possible. Form an even top layer with the remaining dark dough. Cover the top with the foil or wax paper and with your fingers press down firmly to make a smooth, compact loaf.

    Chill the dough overnight in its pan(s) in the freezer or refrigerator.

    To bake the cookies: Adjust two racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 400°. The cookies may be baked on unbuttered cookie sheets or on sheets lined with foil--or parchment paper, as I used. Have the sheets ready.

    To remove the dough from the pan: Use a small, narrow metal spatula or table knife to release the dough from the corners of the pan. Fold back the foil or wax paper from the top of the loaf of dough, invert the pan onto a cutting board, and remove the pan and the foil or paper.

    With a long, heavy sharp knife cut the dough in half the long way. Wrap one half and return it to the freezer or refrigerator while working with the other half.

    With a very sharp knife cut the dough into slices about ¼” thick. Place the slices 1 to 1 ½ inches apart on the cookie sheets. (It's best to use insulated sheets to prevent burning.) The second half of the dough may be sliced and baked now or it may be frozen for future use.

    Bake for about 10 minutes, reversing the cookie sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary during baking to insure even browning. Bake until the light dough is lightly colored, but watch them carefully—the dark dough has a tendency to burn.

    With a wide metal spatula transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

    NOTES: The original recipe said that if the dough crumbles when you slice it, it hasn't chilled enough. But as mine had been in the freezer overnight, I didn't have this problem.

    If you use wax paper instead of foil, each piece should be folded so that it is two or three thicknesses. Wax paper is weaker than foil and a single layer would tear.

    I loved these cookies, but both times I made them the house was full of about ten other kinds of cookies with more gooey and rich ingredients, so these didn't get the appreciation they deserve--that is, until I gave some to the choir director at church, who has Italian heritage, but no source for such cookies. He was so thrilled, I ended up giving him a few dozen.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    San Francisco Christmastime

    Yesterday friend K. and little T. and I went to The City for the second of our annual Christmas outing.

    First we stopped by Union Square to see the Christmas tree. My photo is from last year, but this year's looked just the same. And this year the giant tree was an "85-foot Shasta White Fir from the Carlton Tree Farm in Mount Shasta."

    The St. Francis Hotel features an elevator with windows looking out on the Square, so we rode up to the 31st floor and down several times.

    Then on to lunch at the famous John's Grill. The restaurant has good food, and a replica of the maltese falcon from the movie by that name, hearkening to a scene from the movie shot in the restaurant. A couple of years ago the "original replica" was stolen, so this one is new copy.

    John's Grill is a favorite spot for politicians to meet for lunch, and you can see framed photographs of various famous people all over the walls. Right above our table was a picture of our former-maybe-future governor with a past owner in 1984.

    We rode the cablecar  as we did last year. This time T. was happy to watch the guys adjust the cables at the end of the line and push the car into position for its return ascent.

    After a steep ride that had T. and me hanging on to our post and sliding down the seat nevertheless, we arrived on Nob Hill, where after the 1906 earthquake and fire, big hotels were built and named after the wealthy people whose mansions in that neighborhood had been destroyed. I enjoyed the grandeur of the Fairmont Hotel, its spaciousness and the marble columns.

    Even the gingerbread house was on a large scale, and made with real gingerbread and gumdrops, half a ton of ingredients and days and days of work. I was impressed by the silky evenness of the ribbon candy, as I've recently been on the hunt for some for my father-in-law. What I found in the supermarket is downright ugly compared with this.

    It smelled rich and gingery, too!
    We were on our way to Grace Cathedral, also on Nob Hill. The original church was also destroyed in 1906, and the new cathedral not complete until the 1960's. K.'s parents were married here.

    The crèche was my favorite part of our time in the cathedral.

    Chinatown brought us back to the hustle and bustle.

    This year's oddity was these dragons made out of rope...
    ...and in another window, this year's winner of the Christmasy Shoes contest.

    Last year I snapped pigs resting in a Chinatown window. They were there again yesterday--or had they ever left? Those pigs prophesied of this morning, when I slept late, dreaming that I was writing a novel.

    A relaxed outing, a lazy's the last I'll see of those for the next week. I'm going to enter the fray in earnest, now.

    Homesick in Our Homes

    Christmas Poem by G.K. Chesterton

    There fared a mother driven forth
    Out of an inn to roam;
    In the place where she was homeless
    All men are at home.
    The crazy stable close at hand,
    With shaking timber and shifting sand,
    Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
    Than the square stones of Rome.

    For men are homesick in their homes,
    And strangers under the sun,
    And they lay their heads in a foreign land
    Whenever the day is done.

    Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
    And chance and honour and high surprise,
    But our homes are under miraculous skies
    Where the yule tale was begun.

    A child in a foul stable,
    Where the beasts feed and foam;
    Only where He was homeless
    Are you and I at home;
    We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
    But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
    In a place no chart nor ship can show
    Under the sky’s dome.

    This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
    And strange the plain things are,
    The earth is enough and the air is enough
    For our wonder and our war;
    But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
    And our peace is put in impossible things
    Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
    Round an incredible star.

    To an open house in the evening
    Home shall all men come,
    To an older place than Eden
    And a taller town than Rome.
    To the end of the way of the wandering star,
    To the things that cannot be and that are,
    To the place where God was homeless
    And all men are at home.

    Thanks to semicolon where I found this poem today, a good reminder of important truths of the season.  This Advent period is when we remember how we are "homesick in our homes." The reality of that estrangement and fallenness and longing is a good bit of why we get physically sick, or sick and tired of various features of our earthly life.

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

    Tuesday, December 15, 2009

    Colorful, Loud, or Quiet Traditions

    It wasn't unusual to hear sirens in the neighborhood this evening. We aren't far from the thoroughfare down which most fire trucks travel on their way to emergencies. But from the kitchen the sounds were a little different this time, and I wondered if there was an emergency on our street, so I went out front and indeed, there were the flashing lights, just two houses down.

    Next door I could see the shape of my neighbor, so I crossed the grass and asked her what was going on. It's Toys for Tots, she said. They do this every year. The fire truck leads a procession including Santa and reindeer, and makes stops in different neighborhoods each night to collect toys for needy children. The well-off neighbor tots were running out of their houses to donate gifts and get a chance to hop up in the sleigh for a picture with Santa.

    Sure enough, I read the several days-old newspaper when I came back indoors and found out that this has been going on under my nose--or in my front yard, to be exact--for many years. I'm embarrassed to let on how out of touch with the town events I am. My nose was in a book or sniffing a pot of soup, I suppose. Or maybe we were driving around town with the children to see all the houses with their fancy light displays.

    I have been enjoying the beginnings of decorating. So many of our beloved tree ornaments have been gifts from someone, and I usually can't remember who! The little Czech doll at top I know came from our dear little Czech lady friend, no longer with us, and the the lamp-shaped glass ornament is very old, having been used by B.'s family for decades before it came to our house.

    When the children were young, they and I would make various kinds of ornaments, and one of the early projects was a choir of angels made from wood shavings. They have been very durable and the largest always graces the top of the tree.
    But for the last several years my favorite ornaments are real or glittery glass pine cones, and birds, like this staring owl given me by H. Much if not all of his plumage is made of bark and other plant fibers; she's also given me wooden birds whose feathers are real feathers.

    So...I've gotten started installing our traditional and longstanding Christmas decor. I hope soon to show my newer cozy and festive elements. And I have to say, I've been enjoying looking at photos of Christmas all over Blogland. Thank you all!

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Silence and Music

    My last post remembering Saint Herman prompted Pom Pom to ask me if I had read The Music of Silence, book she had just received in the mail. I haven't read such a book, so I googled it and immediately have several tangents to run along now. I don't know if she meant this memoir of Andrea Bocelli, or this one about singing the Hours or services of the church through the day in Gregorian Chant.

    One reviewer wrote of the latter book, "Nothing is as ordinary, or as sacred, as time. Far from being an infinitesimally small unit of measurement or a means of separating one event from another, time provides the means by which the still, small, silent voice of God may be heard."

    Silence....hmmm....I know so little of it.

    When I read about music, silence, solitude, it can be an inspiration and a reminder, but my readings and thinkings are typically like so many rabbit trails, to use a term that hints at the fun of scurrying from one author or thought to another. A rabbit is doing what he was made to do, and glorifies God by it. I was made to live by the Holy Spirit in communion with my Creator.

    So I need to STOP on the trail and pray--and maybe even get off the trail sometimes! It wasn't books and ideas that made it possible for Father Herman to sing with the angels. It was prayer. The kind of prayer St Isaac of Syria is talking about when he says, "The wisdom of the Holy Spirit is much greater than the wisdom of the entire world. Within the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, silence prevails; the wisdom of the world, however, goes astray into idle talk."

    My mind is given to talking idly with itself. So much of my remembering of my Savior is like the awareness I might have of an earthly friend when she is in the room with me, but I am not paying close attention. I might hear her talking without really listening, I might even speak with her--but not make eye contact.

    Don't we all have this weakness in our human condition, worsened by modern life, that we can't settle our minds down firmly even when in prayer? Abba Dorotheus of Gaza said, "Just as it is easier to sin in thought than in deed, correspondingly, it is more difficult to struggle with thoughts than with deeds."

    But as C.S. Lewis said, "Virtue--even attempted virtue [I hope this includes attempted prayer]--brings light; indulgence brings fog." So I will keep struggling in prayer, to push past the distractions, to listen for the Silence that is God's music.

    It's not the wonderful blog posts and the writers of them that are my problem. Nor my own writing, because just the discipline of organizing the chaos at least gets me on the road to taking every thought captive to Christ, though my readers might legitimately question how often I get to my destination. With God's help, I know His presence and see His working in the world by the goings-on of the blogosphere and the piles of books throughout my house. Glory to God for all things! Lord, have mercy!

    One more rabbit trail, leading quickly to the spot where all those paths ought eventually to end up, was posted by hiddenart this month, a poem by George Herbert:


    The shepherds sing;
    and shall I silent be?
    My God, no hymn for Thee?
    My soul's a shepherd too;
    a flock it feeds
    Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
    The pasture is Thy word:
    the streams, Thy grace,
    Enriching all the place.
    Shepherd and flock shall sing,
    and all my powers
    Outsing the daylight hours.
    Then will we chide the sun for letting night
    Take up his place and right:
    We sing one common Lord;
    wherefore he should
    Himself the candle hold.

    I will go searching, till I find a sun
    Shall stay, till we have done;
    A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
    As frost-nipped suns look sadly.
    Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
    And one another pay:
    His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
    Till ev'n His beams sing, and my music shine.

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    St Herman

    On December 13th we remember the repose of St Herman of Alaska, a monk who was sent from Russia to America in 1794 as part of the original Russian Orthodox mission to Alaska.

    Many stories of his more than four decades there can be found here, the following among them:

    The Aleuts related that when Father Herman was still alive and lived on Spruce Island, the local inhabitants used to go to the Elder for some reason or other. And more than once it happened thus: They approached the chapel where he celebrated divine services, and they heard superb choral singing, a multitude of voices singing. They wondered where the people had come from. And all this time the singing was clearly audible, and such harmonious, sweet singing . . .

    They opened the door into the little chapel, and there Father Herman stood alone reading, chanting half aloud, celebrating the Lord's service. And of course he was alone and there was no one there with him. ... And such a thing was noticed more than once. It was angels of God who sang praises to the Lord with him.

    The biography of Father Herman records the following incident. The Elder was asked: "How do you live alone in the forest, Father Herman? Don't you become bored?"
    He replied: "No! I am not alone there! God is there, as God is everywhere. Holy Angels are there. How can one become bored with them? With whom is it better and more pleasant to converse, with men or with Angels? With Angels, of course!"
     I am most familiar with this quote from Father Herman, which is included in the icon of him in our church and is worth meditating on the year round: "...let us make a vow to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this very moment, we shall strive above all else to love God and to fulfill His Holy Will!"


    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Bird Food Improved Upon

    I am inspired by a blog on Brussels sprouts and peanuts here to prepare the recipe posted. Also to tell you my own story of birds and sprouts. Missing from my story are the peanuts.

    This is what the vegetable should look like before it is harvested, but my own try at growing these impressive stalks didn't work out as planned. At the time when little buds should be growing into big sprouts, there was nothing but  big, bare stems. Could the flocks of quail who frequented our back yard have anything to do with this? I knew they ate the leaves on top....

    Eventually I took the time to examine those stems up close, and there were indeed little sprouts on them, the size of pinheads, and never able to grow larger. My plants had been so starved by the constant bird pruning that they had nothing to put toward production of fruit.

    I love to cook Brussels sprouts, and even B. has overcome his off-putting childhood initiation so that now he happily eats them. Cooked, mind you. Once as a little boy he was accompanying a farmer friend of the family on a walk through the vegetable garden when the man plucked a sprout off the stalk and handed it to young B. saying, "Here, try it, it's a Brussels sprout." B. obediently chewed the raw sprout and found it the most horrible thing he'd eaten in his short life.

    It took many years for him to get over that first taste. Sprouts are so darling and yummy, though, that simple steaming has been enough preparation to suit us most of the time. After I got married I learned to cut a deep X into the base of each sprout before dropping it into the steamer basket. That lets the inside leaves cook along with the outside, so you aren't left with a choice between mushy outsides or crunchy centers.

    Now I'm off to the market and will certainly bring home some Brussels sprouts. I'll let the birds eat the raw, and will serve mine cooked.

    Sunday, December 6, 2009

    Good-bye, Gus

    Our first cat we had 16 years. This is his photograph when a kitten. I'm sure you are laughing at my attempt at animal photography. We named him Custard, which shows I didn't know anything about custard pudding. My neighbor said, "He's an eggy custard, isn't he?" I was pregnant with our firstborn at the time.

    This second photo shows how the baby and Custard got along just fine. But Custard was always in the background, and not demanding or very important to our lives. We had human children keeping us busy and happy, five of them by the time he died.

    Then this cat moved in. We found out about a year later that she actually lived just down the street and only wanted to sojourn with us while giving birth.

    Aren't her kitties darling? The father was a Turkish Van. We decided to keep the fellow in the middle of this group, and named him Mackenzie. This was before all Mackenzies were girls. He reminded me of a polar bear and therefore the name of a river in snowy country seemed right for him.

    The whole family adored Mac, but he was always skitterish, not often cuddly. The older he got, the less he liked to be petted. He stayed outside most of the time and often sat on the rabbit hutch, facing the corner of the back yard fence, where he seemed to us to be in deep contemplation. If you look carefully at left, you can see his mostly white shape lower center.

    By the time Mackenzie died of old age, all our children were moved out of this barn of a house, and we thought a new cat or two might add a little warmth. At the feline rescue center we visited both the adult cat room and the kitten room. We sat down and waited to see if any cats would be friendly and affectionate.

    There was one in each room that came right up to us to be petted, and they were both very pretty, so we took two cats home!

    With Gus and Zoë we had five golden months. We laughed at their romping, and one of them was always happy to snuggle if we wanted.

    Then when we were out of town, Zoë was hit by a car and killed. She had been our favorite, serene and attentive, so we were terribly sad to lose her, after having her so short a time. But we still had Gus, who at the loss of his friend became a little less the wayfaring adolescent and liked nothing more than to sit on a lap for hours at a time.

    He was unusual in many ways, but one odd thing was that he loved to hang upside-down on/from my lap and be brushed with the wire brush. You could scratch and scrunch his fur and flesh till your arms ached, but he would want still more lovin'.

    Last week Gus met the same fate as Zoë, only a block from our house. I'm ashamed to tell this; I can see in hindsight that neither of these adopted pets was ultimately suited to the minimal arrangements we'd made for them when we were traveling. It must be that they didn't have enough sense of home, when we weren't here.

    So we lost Gus, who everyone agrees was the best cat there ever was; and we lost our confidence about owning another cat. Our grief is sharpened by a conviction of irresponsibility. There are various reasons we'll postpone the decision about whether to get another pet. In the meantime, our drafty house is a bit colder again.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    In which I am given a prize for my Scribbling...

    Deb on the Run gave me the Superior Scribbler Award while I was across the country and couldn't properly respond. Now I'm home and can say THANKS Deb! Deb's own blog is one of my favorites, but I guess I can't just problem, as there are several others I'd like to announce.

    But first, here are the rules, for those of you I'll list below:
    1. Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
    2. Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
    3. Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
    4. Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor![anyone can go there and check out the 1343 ! winning blogs that are linked so far. You might find a new one to love.]
    5. Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.
    And now the awards, to a few of the blogs I like to read regularly:

    • My friend Jeannette at Bread on the Water posts thoughtful musings full of hope and beauty.
    • Gigi at Firefly Cottage writes about homemaking, including wonderful pie recipes.
    • The blog name Happy at Home attracted me when I first saw it, and Laurel's loving descriptions of her family life keep me coming back.
    • Koinonikon is the name of Margaret's blog, where her careful writing about the working out of her salvation is a joy to read, and always instructive.
    • If you get me mixed up with the blogger at Lifenut, it is only because her name is Gretchen, too. She is witty and wise and I laugh out loud reading about her family-full days.

    As to my own writing, the name Superior Scribbler pleases me very much, as the "Scribbler" part matches my self-concept and attempts to join in that Great Conversation we humans are having. Thank you all for being here in It with me.

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Hymns of Thanksgiving

    (I know it's a bit late to still be talking about Thanksgiving, but I couldn't get a good Internet connection until now!)

    "We plow the fields, and scatter
    The good seed on the land...."

    Those lines on Semicolon's blog immediately brought the tune of the hymn to my mind, and reminded me to bring out the hymn booklets I made a few years ago as a way to bring the family together before the Lord later on Thanksgiving Day, after we have eaten the bounty for which we gave thanks.

    Another hymn in that small collection is "We Gather Together," which always reminds me of the children's book Cranberry Thanksgiving. I read that so many times I got sick of it and gave it away, with regrets following. The story tells of love generated among hostile neighbors over turkey dinner and singing of that hymn together.

    A recipe for cranberry bread is a focus of the tale, and I'm sure it made for some vicarious experience for our children, who didn't eat cranberry bread, or any bread for that matter, at Thanksgiving. In our house it was pies, pies, and pies, with the cranberries found in a big bowl of homemade sauce.

    This year was my first Thanksgiving celebration not in California, as we are at Eldest Daughter's house on the East Coast. But thanks to a blogging friend's reminder, I brought those hymn booklets with me for a taste of home. We sang with at least as much cheer and gusto as the fictional characters!

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    Putting Books on Shelves, Taking Them Off...

    Earlier in the month I told how I got worked up when parts of my book order began to arrive in the mail. I admit, I do feel a bit sheepish, buying more books and telling about them, when there are plenty of good ones already on my shelves. But that's me, a glutton.

    These are mostly used, almost all from different sellers, and the shipping totalled way more than the books themselves. Most of the titles have been on my wish list for months or years, and I know that some of the books, now that they are in my possession, will sit on the shelf for at least months, more likely years, before I get to them. But they have a better chance of being read now.

    Not to mention, they are now available for me to remove from the bookcase briefly, to open and lovingly turn a few pages--even when there isn't time to give my full attention to the contents. Winston Churchill gave an admonition to book-lovers to do just that. I read the saying in a London museum, and it appears I'll have to return there if I am ever going to find it verbatim.

    In some cases it is a mystery how I heard about the book or why I wanted it. The Golden Book of Writing looks valuable, and I can always use help in that department, but it will have to remain uncredited as far as who recommended it. Maybe it was my friend at who always says, "We have recommendations for you!"

    John McWhorter has been interviewed a couple of times on Mars Hill Audio, so I've been familiar with him and wanting to read more from his mind. Linguistics is a subject that grabs me ever since I was privileged to take a tutorial in the subject as a freshman in college. Perusing the titles of McWhorter's bibliography feeds my book greed.

    Dana Gioia is another author whose acquaintance I first made through MHA, and I mentioned that meeting here already. I only owned one book of his poems before--now I have two, and two collections of essays. Disappearing Ink is a collection of essays subtitled Poetry at the End of Print Culture.

    Kristin Lavransdatter I loved so much that I snatched up sets whenever I'd see them, in the old translation that so many people despise--I didn't. But now I want to read it in Tiina Nunnally's rendition.

    Because I dearly love my friend, whom I will call Bird, I bought The Lady's Not for Burning, a play by Christopher Fry. Bird is 98 years old, and this play is one of her favorite pieces of writing, I think partly because it was something she enjoyed with her late husband. Bird is terribly hard of hearing, but she can hear me when I sit nearby and we talk about how thankful we are to God for many things. She is a little worried that her eyes will fail her and she won't be able see the print on the pages of her books; I told her I will come and read to her then.

    I think she would really like Kristin Lavransdatter.

    Friday, November 20, 2009

    That Temple You Are

    We have begun the celebration of the Feast of the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, focusing on an event that is not mentioned in the Bible, but is a story with important meaning.

    As Fr. Thomas Hopko explains in The Winter Pascha, "Its purpose is not so much to commemorate an historical happening as to celebrate a dogmatic mystery of the Christian faith, namely, that every human being is made to be a living temple of God.

    "The festal event is that the three-year-old Mary, in fulfillment of a promise made at her conception by her parents, Joachim and Anna, is offered by them to God in the temple at Jerusalem."

    And in the next chapter, "In the Orthodox Church the Virgin Mary is the image of those who are being saved....she shows how all people must be when they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit as servants of God and imitators of Christ."

    Lord, may we by your grace imitate your Mother in her glad obedience, and also by your grace live as becomes temples of your Holy Spirit.

    "For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are."  I Corinthians 3:17

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Psalter and Soup

    This Advent season I'm participating with other women, organized by Sylvia, in reading the Psalter every day for the 40 days. Our Psalter is divided into 20 groupings each of which is called a kathisma, and every woman will read one per day.

    There are more than 40 of us participating so that the whole book of Psalms will be read twice a day. Everyone who perseveres will end up having read the Psalter through twice before Christmas, as well! What a joy it has already been.

    I'm also trying to read The Winter Pascha by Fr Thomas Hopko, which has 40 readings about this period in the church year that has similarities to Lent and Pascha. I read two days' entries and now can't find the book, so we'll see how that goes....

    We just got a good rain and everything is washed clean, the sky is blue, and the snowball bush is showing its glory.

    It's the season for soup! It's easy to make a lenten meal in the soup kettle, and today I am putting in three kinds of beans and some winter vegetables.

    I don't often buy parsnips or turnips. When I used to read Down, Down the Mountain by Ellis Credle to my children, the vegetables the characters are so fond of must have seemed as exotic as boys and girls riding barefoot for lack of shoes to wear.

    In the story, the mountain children carry a bagful of turnips down to the town, turnips they themselves planted and tended lovingly, in hopes of selling them for enough money to buy shoes. But everyone they meet along the way is hungering and thirsting for just such a delicacy, and when they arrive in town they discover that only one turnip is left in the bag.

     I'm afraid that after my first 15 years of family cooking, with its centerpieces of lentil soup and bread, I might have inadvertently started cultivating a taste in my family for fancier food. Fast periods are a good opportunity to repent and reform.

     But this plain food tastes pretty fancy after all.