Saturday, March 28, 2009

White space--not

On the map the amount of white space is remarkable, so close to the Los Angeles Basin. Highway 5 runs south from Bakersfield, out of the fertile Central Valley where there are numerous towns with their red dots and names crowding each other and confusing the reader. Just over the Tejon Pass, still ahead, there was, of course, a foreboding chaos of metropolis. I had just been thinking that this relatively blank area we were coming to was that way because the soil must be too poor to make irrigation worthwhile. Evidently there isn’t water for residential development, either.

Then I glanced up from my map study, and saw not white space, or even the brown tumbleweeds I expected it to represent in reality, but the most brilliant purple and orange swaths of color spreading out and away for miles of flatland, on both sides of the freeway, wildflowers that take advantage of the lack of roads and suburbs, make the most of the small amount of winter rainfall, and turn the brown expanse into a stunning display of God’s lavish strokes. B. said it looked like a computer-generated photo, because the colors were too bright to be real, and you could not get the third dimension; from the distance and elevation from which we were speeding along, the flowers looked all the same height. And there was nowhere to stop and take my own photo! I’ve looked online for pictures and they are all taken in the hills closer to the pass, but this one shows the species of flowers we were probably seeing, California poppies and a kind of lupine.

I’ve been through this area before and seen the spring-green hills covered with flowers of many kinds. You can see photos at or . In our family, we love maps. But they can only show you so much!

Springtime Explorations

In March we made a car trip that took us as far as Arizona and Utah. Many of the following entries were conceived during that time, rich as it was with opportunities to think and respond to the varied stimuli. Unfortunately I don’t have the means to communicate while on the road, so the written creations are coming belatedly.

Friday, March 13, 2009

St Ephrem

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian

O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother;
For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Soul Exercise

A freezing morning-- but after lying awake for three hours and praying for part of the time, I thought I heard Him call me to Matins, so I scraped the frost off the car windows and drove down the road. Those special Lenten morning prayers were the foundation of my athletic effort today, my Wheaties. What—did I say athletic effort? It has been said that Lent and its ascetic labor is spiritual athleticism. When I meditated on that idea for a while I found some peace and patience for the journey. For if the Church generally, and Lent, provide these exercises for the soul, I might think of the whole program as a large gym with every kind of equipment to help me in my workouts. Some days I might use the treadmill and the upper-body Nautilus machines. Other days I might attend a Yoga class, or swim in the pool. Some days I might stay home and sleep.

I’m an amateur. Not only that, but I have severe handicaps. But the Master Teacher doesn’t let me get away with anything. I might have trainers who can show me what a helpful course would look like, but when it comes down to running an extra five minutes today, or in the Lenten case praying an extra five minutes, or eating five fewer bites—then only He knows if that was a big advance for me, or if I am still being too easy on myself. He can reveal to me how lazy and gluttonous I am, how I cater to my weaknesses and make provision for them. That’s why it doesn’t help at all to compare my progress with anyone else’s. The Lord knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. But He is our biggest encourager, He is the Prize itself, Whom we want to know more intimately. So we press on.

I’ve learned very well how lazy I am at the local (earthly body) health club. But I also know that just getting on the treadmill and walking slowly, on those Slow Days, is better than languishing at home. Every little step forward is at least in the right direction, aiming for the healing of my soul—and here I have introduced the overarching metaphor, of the Orthodox Church as a spiritual hospital. It has all the best treatments and medicines one needs, including this 40-day "Fitness Challenge” to prepare us for the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. With patience let us run the race that is before us—even if, like me, you will be the tortoise bringing up the rear--by God’s mercy and grace.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pruning and Cats

Last year at this time we still had Kitty Zoë. Here she is beautifying the prunings from the cherry plum tree. That tree is the most vigorous grower of anything on the property, which means that my husband has to climb up in the branches and prune it back with a variety of tools. I hate it when he does that; I usually stay in the house and pray.

We had only had Zoë and Gus for a few months when she was hit by a car. Gus then had a personality change and became a wonderful guy. Until that point he had let Zoë be the charming one.

The sad thing is, he has no one to play with anymore, and we don't get to watch the two of them scampering and scuffling together. I'd kind of like to have a second cat, in hopes of having that experience again. But that's greedy; Gus does the job of keeping us entertained and making the house a more warm and lively place, now that there are no children here. A baby in the house is the best thing for keeping one's priorities straight, for slowing a person down. But a cat is second-best.
One last picture of Zoë as she was decorating the Lambs' Ears. I haven't been able to catch Gus in the garden, as he is always chasing leaves or butterflies. Say, perhaps I do require another cat to fill that role!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Green Olive Tree

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
Psalm 52:8 (Or 51:10 Septuagint)

This has been one of my favorite Bible verses for about 20 years, so it seems doubly appropriate to put alongside the picture of olive trees and daffodills in front of my church. Olive trees always make me glad, and I haven't thought enough about why. I don't like olives, but olive oil has been a staple throughout the world from antiquity, and when I look at the trees I feel my connection to all the people who have been nourished by them for thousands of years. Not only that, but the trees are known for their longevity in fruitfulness, a gift of God that I covet.

This morning the sun was shining when I came out from Matins, and I was ready with my camera. Everything was sparkling from all the rain, and there were the tiniest baby green leaves on shrubs, which of course could not be captured in any way--but they were what prompted me to look in my purse to find my camera.

You can see that some daffodills are hanging their heavy heads down because they couldn't drink fast enough.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sweet Potato Pie

The following all took place in January, but until now I had nowhere to tell about it:

Leftover Thanksgiving yams were waiting in the freezer. They had been cooked with orange juice, butter, and a little brown sugar, and were carrying a label: "sweet potato pie?" At the time I squirreled them away I had the thought to layer them with black beans somehow in a savory pie. Today there was some creative energy to apply to the seed of an idea. I made a pat-in crust using spelt and barley flours and some dried mashed black beans (a kind that is designed to make instant black beans when you pour boiling water over them), and added some black pepper to the crust mix along with olive oil and half-and-half.

To the yams I added eggs and cream, and beat them up not too smoothly. Put the filling into the patted-in crust, and baked it at 400° for about 35 minutes, until it puffed up. Had it barely warm for dinner and I liked it a lot. The crust was more crunchy than flaky, and it was savory--the black bean mix must have had salt in it-- and the filling had a nice texture and wasn't too sweet to serve as a side dish. It was smooth and creamy and a pleasant contrast to the crust.
By the way, that pat-in crust, originally from the Amish, I have made in several variations and it is always good. I have made it a Lenten pie by using almond milk and walnut oil. I didn’t measure any of the filling ingredients this time, but I can give you the basic crust recipe here:

Pat-in-Pan Pie Crust
Single-crust 8-9” pie
Quick, crisp, but tender
(can’t be rolled)

1 ½ cups plus 3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons cold milk

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in a pie pan and mix with your fingers until blended. In a measuring cup beat the oil and milk with a fork until creamy. Pour liquid all at once over the flour mixture. Mix with the fork until completely moistened. Pat the dough with your fingers, first up the sides of the plate, then across the bottom. Flute the edges.

Shell is now ready to be filled. If you are preparing a shell to fill later, or your recipe requires a pre-baked crust, preheat oven to 425°. Prick the surface of the pastry with a fork and bake 15 minutes, checking often, and pricking more if needed.

For a 10” shell I used:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup oil
3 tablespoons milk

There you've got a wholesome-looking bunch of colors on one plate.