Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Notes

This stack represents the top of the current pile I've been working on. Any guesses as to which one I've already abandoned? I'll start from the top. At Large and Small by Anne Fadiman was a gift from H. We had both enjoyed her earlier book for readers, Ex Libris. She specializes in the personal essay and does a fine job of it, but I like the first book better; this one ranges over topics not so interesting to me. At least it is a small and lightweight book, which makes it possible to read while lying down just before the eyelids get heavy.

Creators is the first book by Paul Johnson that I have actually completed, though I've started in on two others by him. It is a collection of essays on famous creative individuals "from Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney." be exact, I didn't complete the book; there were a few in whose stories I couldn't drum up enough interest at bedtime. The chapter comparing Picasso and Disney was certainly thought-provoking. Johnson thinks that the ideas of Picasso will fade and be outmoded, while those of Disney will endure--not because Picasso was so selfish and violent and Disney a maker of "family movies," but for an entirely different and more fundamental artistic reason, which I don't want to give away here.

I learned a lot more about many people in this book: T.S. Eliot, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, J.S. Bach, fashion designers and landscape painters. How does Johnson know so much, and how can he be so opinionated? He is easy to read, and refreshing in his willingness to tell you just what he thinks, and to not be politically correct, either. This book is one of a series with two others: Intellectuals, published many years ago, and Heroes, which has come out since. Some critics thought Intellectuals somewhat of a downer, but these last books should make up for that.

My friend K. lent me The Folding Cliffs. It's not a book I'd have ever picked up otherwise, written as it is without any punctuation and me a member of the Apostrophe Protection Society. Is this even English? I guess it is, as I am able to read it, though it is definitely a variant form. In this case it is worth the trouble, though I'm not ready to tackle Merwin's other poems. Here's a sample from Cliffs:

The story is as captivating as the imagery, and I certainly won't abandon this one, even if it takes me a year of little snatches. I like the way the words flow as soothingly over my consciousness as the stream over the narrator's body.

Steinbeck's novel East of Eden was recommended to me by two friends, so I was happy to find it in the used book store. I've read almost half of it, and enjoyed several of those hundred pages. But this is the one I'm quitting. B. says I could write a dissertation on "What Can Be Learned of Steinbeck by Reading Half a Book"; I gave him my whole dissertation while cooking dinner after my decision to quit, but I will spare you readers. It boils down to the reality that life is short, and there didn't seem to be anything to be gained by continuing with Steinbeck. There has always been something missing between him and me. Perhaps this time would be different, and I'd be surprised and gratified if I'd finished it, but one can't have everything in life.

The Hacienda by de Teran is a re-run for me, but now B. and I are reading it aloud together. It's a fascinating story of Venezuela in the 1970's and the author's experience--how she got herself into a mess and lived in a primitive society for quite a while before escaping for her life. I've read a couple more books by this author and she tells a good tale--the ones I've read were the autobiographical accounts.

I love to read on a airplane. There is not much else to do, usually, so hours can go by without the attention being distracted. The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton I took on my last flight as a treat I'd been long waiting to enjoy again. It was the kind of book that, the first time I read it, I knew to be the kind you have to read at least two or three times if you hope to get near the bottom of it.

Before our plane taxied down the runway I was well into the first chapter. My seatmate, who had initially seemed reserved, interrupted my reading to tell me that he much admired Chesterton and that particular book. Over the next ten or fifteen minutes we chatted on the subject of good writers, Christianity, how books had changed us, etc. And we still hadn't taxied anywhere, because as it turned out, the plane had a mechanical problem which ended up delaying our flight for three hours, by which time we'd all disembarked and my new friend had got a different flight. I was quite pleased that the Lord had given me a short and sweet discussion time and a long and sweet reading time, all on the same leg of the journey.

Richard Wilbur may be my favorite poet. K.'s having introduced me to hers jogged me into digging out Wilbur's poems again, which are so varied and beloved, I will have to write one or more posts just on him.

Now that there aren't any travels in my near future, there might not be many new books begun, either. But as you can see, I've still plenty to keep me busy.

Good-bye to Pascha

Today is the Feast of the Leave-taking of Pascha, and this morning for the last time we sang in church the many variations on "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death," and other such hymns reserved for this period after Easter continuing almost, but not quite, to Pentecost. Before we get to Pentecost, we have the feast of Christ's Ascension, and tonight that feast will begin.

But it is still today, so I am posting a picture of an icon of the angel telling the women at the tomb, "He is not here; He is risen." As one hymn says, "Why do you seek the incorruptible amidst corruption?"

Truly Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

More on Remembering

This morning I read about Pioneer Woman's cemetery that her family takes care of here and I wanted to give you that link. She has a lot of photos. I enjoy her whole multi-faceted site very much so this is a good chance to share her with you.

And I forgot a couple of photos I wanted to include in yesterday's posting. Below is a picture B. and I took several years ago in Jackson, California--in the "Gold Country" foothills-- of an Orthodox church and its churchyard.And this one I haven't personally seen, reportedly from the 17th Century, in Maine. It doesn't look that old...perhaps the grave is old, but the headstone is newer. In any case, it is an interesting work.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembering the Dead

Our family has never tried to analyze what draws us to cemeteries. But our photo albums and memories are full of pictures from wandering through many such places all over the world. Last December I snapped this photo of our soldier son at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, near San Francisco. We had some time on our hands and we noticed this vast military cemetery nearby, so we decided to stop in.

In England, H. and I visited ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury and the 8th Century graveyard where some Orthodox Christians just happened to be visiting a particular grave that day. I took it as a special gift from God that they could show us the marker where St. Theodore (AD 602-90) had been buried. He came from Tarsus at the age of 67 and was one of the most important archbishops of Canterbury, and a link between East and West.

We also visited the grave of Winston Churchill near Woodstock, Oxfordshire. How wonderful to be able to put flowers on his grave (H. thought to do this, not I), to be close to him in a quiet churchyard with no crowds pressing.

But most of it is just history of everyday nobodies like us. Even in "historical" cemeteries the dignitaries who are buried there become less famous with every passing year, as the generations also pass and the descendants don't remember very far back. So perhaps it's not just history that is appealing. I can't speak for anyone else in my family, but for me there is some blessing in being reminded of the death that lies ahead for all of us, and a feeling of connection to those who have "passed over" to where they know a lot more now about Who God is and what Life and death are all about.

Aries Clifton Bradshaw Jr. (photo above) is buried at the Golden Gate National Cemetery. In the Orthodox Church we pray for the dead that their memory would be eternal. Considering how people are not good at remembering, it appears that if anyone is going to remember us eternally it will have to be God Himself.

This fact was referred to today at a Memorial Day celebration I attended, where in a prayer given by a creaky-voiced elderly man I caught a few words about those sailors who have sunk into the deep "where only Your Name goes." We were at the rural cemetery, and this year the historic societies were dedicating a new flagpole. There were things for sale: homemade pie with milk--how homey!--and rosebushes propagated from vintage varieties that have grown in the cemetery for many decades.

Women dressed in Civil War era costumes laid wreaths in honor of those who had died in service to their country. For over a hundred years Decoration Day (the previous name for Memorial Day) has been kept by similar ceremonies in this place.

So many of the graves here are old and abandoned, and the historical association has set up a program by which one can adopt a grave. At least 40 of the gravesites now have been adopted by people who keep the weeds down and might also plant some native plants for beautifying. I would love to do this! It is a rural cemetery, with headstones and crypts scattered all over hilly terrain covered with oaks and wild grasses. Not the sort of place with acres of lawns and flat markers that can be easily mowed over.

Headstones are not allowed in most cemeteries nowadays. This picture of a lawn is where my paternal grandparents are buried. It is a nice "memorial park" surrounded by orange groves and with shady oaks. My grandmother died 20 years before my grandfather, and he planted and tended roses by her grave, until they were banned in favor of the flat look.

All through history, Christians have buried their dead. The incinerating of human bodies, dead or alive, has most often been done in desecration of one's enemies. I don't like the flat and somewhat boring grave markers, but they are better than having one's remains scattered to the four winds. They are at least marking a grave, where those left behind have honored their dead by making a place for their bones, planting them in the earth as the Bible describes it, as our Lord was planted.

(This infant headstone is in Jacksonville, Oregon.)

Those who will to have their own selves cremated--well, as my former landlady would say, they aren't going to escape being raised to Judgment. Or as I would say, God won't have any difficulty in remembering them.
Today's ceremonies ended with the playing of "Taps," whose words (unsung, except in my mind) made the closing prayer that always brings me to tears of thankfulness and hope:
Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lake,
From the hills,
From the sky.
All is well;
Safely rest;
God is nigh.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Plum Tickled

Two years ago Pearl gave me some oriental poppy plants for my birthday in March. The variety was Patty's Plum. I looked up the picture on the Internet after I planted my three robust roots in a likely spot, where they would get the needed amount of sunlight.

The first year I was devastated when they leafed out and looked healthy, only to die back without producing anything more than the thistly-looking leaves. Then at church I noticed that poppy plants do that. So I hoped for next spring. Perhaps I had put them in the ground too late.

Last spring they came up nice and early, but produced not a bud. Did they need more food? Now I can't remember when or what I fed them since last spring....anyway, they died back again, but this spring, what did I see but big fat buds on one of the plants! Here you can see the pod-like coverings starting to fall off.....

to reveal the papery purple petals of my first batch of Patty's Plums. I notice that in the photo they really look like red plums, but in actuality they are more violet than my camera shows.

Why did only one of the plants bloom? Will the other two make flowers next spring? Stay tuned....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

May in the Garden

Husband said the last post was heavy. It was definitely text-heavy. Sorry about that; I'll try something different. What could be lighter than tiny leaves pushing out of the ground, and flowers in bright colors? Butternut seedlings above.

I love the way the pincushion flowers contrast with the lambs' ears.

A week ago--here is the mini-teepee where we planted Blue Lake Beans. Gus doesn't look pleased to have his picture taken. Everything is growing so fast--look!

Here are the cute little bean seedlings just before dusk tonight. Rhododenron blooms are about to open, above the recumbent campanula.

I should have filled the birdbath before snapping this photo. That's oregano and lemon balm underneath.

Lamium carries all its own contrasting patterns and colors in itself.

And the next pic is of aloe saponaria, above calendulas and columbines.

Spring is bursting out all over!

Crude Classifications

Friends of mine have had relatives who died leaving a house full of stuff, the junk all mixed in with the valuables. Someone has to put order into the mess and dispose of it. In one particular case, my friends were the only family members willing and able, so they spent two or three whole weeks working full-time to sort through the clutter.

One room in my house, plus several boxes and drawers, nooks and crannies elsewhere, are in need of similar treatment, but I am not dead. If I were dead, it would certainly be easier for someone else to sort through things and quickly figure out that a large part could go in the trash. After all, I don't have money stashed between the pages of books or in amongst old newspapers, as my father did.

The things of value--well, I just know there is someone in the world who would want them, if I could only locate that person. I also know that I myself want some of the items, but I can't find them right now, and I've forgotten what many of them are....

Faced with this kind of meandering mind, another friend found herself almost wishing (to actually wish it would be an outright sin, so I'm confident that her thoughts were more along the line of vain imaginations, as in counting the serendipitous blessings of something bad happening) that her house would burn down, and reduce the quantity of goods over which she was responsible.

"Crude classifications and false generalizations are the curse of organized life," said George Bernard Shaw. Whole housefuls classified as "Gone" would be too crude, I'm afraid. A more practical outworking of acquiescence to life thus cursed is the three-box system, by which one sifts one's possessions into one of three boxes labeled "Toss," "Give," or "Keep." If I could do that, it would at least be a step in the right direction. Later I could sort the "Give" things into about twenty sub-boxes--or maybe reconsider and start another "Toss" box. T.S. Eliot said that "Success is relative: it is what we can make of the mess we have made of things." I know without a doubt he wasn't talking about women's work, but it is a comforting thought.

One large group of belongings is my collection of quotes, some of which you see popping out on this page. Quotes are small and tidy things which is why I have been able to keep them corralled in just four places in one room: a folder in a drawer, books on a shelf, favorites in a small notebook, and digitally on the computer. They are legion and yet not overwhelming in physical size, so I spend enough time with them to keep them disciplined and fairly at-the-ready. See here, I have put several of them to work helping me to tackle my mountains of clutter.

I even managed to cut this blog down from the unwieldy treatise on life that it was originally going to be, and am hopeful about boxing up more of my world into bite-sized chunks for more enjoyment in the future.

As Martha Stewart says, "Life is too complicated not to be orderly."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Oregon Trails Weekend

Over the weekend we drove north to see children and grandchildren. First there was a drive of many hours to arrive in time for a baseball game in which C. played Friday evening.

Next morning, following the ballet lesson of L., seven of us packed into the van to drive two more hours farther into Oregon for a double-header baseball game at Glide. The weekend was heavy with baseball.

Daisy chain bracelets are a nice ball field pastime.

After the games, we stopped by Colliding Rivers, where Little River and the North Umpqua have a head-on.

Then dinner, and driving, driving, so late that all the children and one grandpa were asleep when we got back.

And on Sunday, back down into Siskiyou County, CA and the beloved Mount Shasta. It so dominates one's consciousness with drama and size--it's no wonder people tend to think of it as magical and spiritual in itself.

The lupine bushes are also large up there. B. took these with Mount Eddy in the distance.

Thanks be to God for families and love and cars to drive so we can visit. Thanks for safety and for a home to come back to.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ice Cream Spoons

On Mother's Day we had ice cream for dessert, and I remembered to use the ice cream spoons to make it more festive. They belonged to my maternal grandmother, and when as children we were given ice cream at her house she always insisted on getting this little box out of the buffet so that we could partake in the most exalted and tasty fashion. Because, as everyone agrees, ice cream really does taste better when eaten with the spoon designed just for it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Death and Love and Prayer

The day following my last post, my father became very ill, went into the hospital, and departed this life all in the course of that one day. I had just quoted the Church's hymn about Christ's victory over death, and immediately I was clinging to the broadest possible meaning of that fact. In the morning I was tending the rosebushes and remembering my mother, who had passed over to "the other side" nine years ago that day, when I got the call from my sister that Daddy was going to the ER. The whole day then was infused with a heightened awareness of death and the grave that kept me turning to the One in Whom we are not ultimately separated by death. Before the day was over my remaining parent was gone from this world.

I am not about to consider either of them absolutely cut off from me and their fate finalized. Many would say that the dead are beyond help--they had their chance while they were on earth. How do they know? God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. He is beyond systems and protocols, beyond time, a Trinity of persons full of love and mercy, and we humans are all connected in our need for Him and for His forgiveness. So let's stand together and pray for one another.

Father Alexander Schmemann in Great Lent writes, "Praying for the dead is an essential expression of the Church as love. We ask God to remember those whom we remember and we remember them because we love them. Praying for them we meet them in Christ who is Love, and who, because He is Love, overcomes death which is the ultimate victory of separation and lovelessness."

I prayed today for my father--and for many other dead--with the Akathist (Hymn) for the Departed, a prayer that accumulates metaphors and phrases attesting to the ocean of forgiveness that is in our Lord. "...behold, Thy cry from the Cross for Thine enemies is heard: 'Father, forgive them.' In the name of Thine all-forgiving love we make bold to pray to our Heavenly Father for the eternal repose of Thine enemies and ours.'"

Besides enemies, the prayer lifts up to God for his mercy those who died in various ways, who had no Christian burial, the young, the hardened sinners, the innocent who suffered, those who made the innocent suffer, and on and on. Not one of us is righteous before Him, after all.

Are we not encouraged by Christ's parables to be persevering in asking for what we want? And if we love people, we want very much for them to be forgiven and to live eternally in God. We would hate to give up easily, to write them off, if there is one more thing we can do. Christ has trampled down death by death. Let's show love to our fellow humans by carrying their pallet down through the roof tiles, so to speak, to Christ, to the Holy Trinity.

The Akathist continues: "May the Divine Lamb be their perpetual light. Grant, O Lord, that we too may celebrate with them in a deathless Passover. Unite the dead and the living in unending joy."

Christ is risen!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Deathless Life

When Thou, the Deathless Life, didst go down to death, then didst Thou slay hell by the lightning flash of Thy Divinity. And when Thou didst raise the dead from the lower world, all the powers of Heaven cried aloud: Christ our God, Giver of Life, glory to Thee.
from the Troparion, Sunday of the Myrrhbearers

May God slay all vestiges of death and hell in us, by the same power that raised Christ from the dead. Christ is risen!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Joanna and the Beanstalk

About this time in the last couple of years I was planting some of these large pole beans called Painted Lady. It all started one springtime when my friend L. asked me to come to her house and see the puzzling beans that had been growing there after having arrived from she-knew-not-where.

When I saw them, there was new spring growth of runner beans with large leaves and gorgeous flowers, and there were some pods left on the vines from the previous fall. Inside the pods were large speckled dry beans. I had never seen anything quite like them.

I went home with a few of the beans for seeds, and searched online garden sites for plants that matched the description.

It didn't take long before I found identifying pictures and information stating that these are the only pole beans with a bi-color flower. They are called Painted Lady after Queen Victoria I, who earned that nickname for wearing a lot of makeup.

There were sites where one could buy some seeds. One woman was selling a packet of five beans for a tidy sum. But I got mine for free! I planted them pretty soon, but it was too late in the season for them to do anything but make a few flowers before they were cut down by the frost. L. had more beans again that summer, though, and she gave me more, which I planted earlier and more successfully, as you can see by the photos.

Not only did my second planting grow well, but the plants I had started too late the previous year sprouted again--they are perennials! These beans are too good to believe. Who ever heard of a perennial runner bean?

Everything about Painted Ladies is large. The flowers, the leaves, the pods, and the beans. The vines want to grow to the sky. I strung jute twine vertically along the fence, tied loosely at the base of each plant, for them to hang on to as they twisted upwards.

We never solved the mystery of how they got started. The seeds seem a bit large for a bird to drop in, and L.'s neighbors don't garden. In any case, I felt magic. The fairy-tale seeds grew vigorously and rewarded me with the harvest in the top photo. I wanted to share the bounty and the adventure with my gardening friends, so before I cooked any of my pile I measured a bit more than five beans into packets to give away.

The beans when cooked have a typically mealy texture, and not a strong flavor. The skins are somewhat chewy. I've just used them in soup.

This week the rain or drizzle has been constant, and forcing us to put off planting the garden. I've been thinking a lot about how much work there will be when the ground dries out just a bit. But just writing about this happy gift makes me remember the surprises that make me glad to be out there doing my part to be ready for heavenly blessings.

New Old Hutch

This hutch is a treasure I recently inherited from my grandparents. The sticker on the back says it came from Bernhardt Furniture in Lenoir, North Carolina. It was sold through Bullocks in Los Angeles, so I'm guessing it was bought in the middle of the 20th century, when Grandmother and Grandfather lived for a time in southern California.

It's not in a style we have anywhere else in our house--and we have several "styles"!--but I think it will do very nicely as a storage for my tea party supplies, and it looks much prettier than the hodgepodge of storage units that were stacked in that spot previously.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


The frittata is the easy way to make an omelette. I can't remember the first recipe I ever saw for this dish, but I doubt it was authentically Italian, as the name might imply.

Over the years, in any case, I've evolved my own basic recipe, which is to fall back on if I go too long between frittatas and can't remember the proportions.

Today is Cinco de Mayo, so even though I've already published two posts today, I'll try to get this one out there and be timely for once. I forgot about the holiday for most of the day; our family hasn't usually celebrated it though the festivities are all around us here in California. It was pure happenstance that I decided that the frittata I was planning for dinner would be made with Tex-Mex flavors. Then after it was in the oven someone mentioned the holiday, and I was very pleased with my unconscious "choice." When I saw how lovely the pie looked, I whipped out my placemats that might actually look more South American than Mexican...but in any case, they looked more fitting than the everyday ones.

But back to Italy, where they have this tradition of combining eggs with vegetables and cheese in an oven-baked pancake. If you use a cast-iron skillet the result is rustically beautiful, so I always like to put it on the table for everyone to see, and cut it into wedges there.

Eggs are so nutritious and inexpensive, I like to make an egg dish for dinner once every week or two at least. Most people who eat at our house these days don't have eggs for breakfast very often, so it's not redundant to eat them in the evening.

This recipe can easily be stretched for more people, or adapted to what you have and like, by adding more eggs or vegetables, cheese, cooked potato, herbs & spices, etc. It is hard to ruin it and I rarely measure out the ingredients, except for salt, which I keep consistent at 1/8 teaspoon for every 3 eggs. This example has an Italian flavor, but you could make it Mexican, Chinese, or Middle-Eastern with a few changes.

Spinach Frittata

1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed & drained
12-13 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon oregano
black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 10-12” cast-iron skillet (or other pan of your choosing) with butter or olive oil and let it get hot in the oven, if you like, while you prepare the batter. Beat all ingredients together and pour into the pan. Bake until eggs are set and top is golden brown, 15-30 minutes depending on your pan, etc. Cut into wedges or squares to serve.

Obviously this makes enough for a big family. I usually incorporate 1-2 eggs per person, depending on their size or appetite, and sometimes add an extra one or two "for the pot," because if there are leftovers I'm happy to eat a slice for breakfast. The amount of spinach is plenty for the quantity of egg, but sometimes I use just as much spinach with only eight eggs. As I said, it's hard to ruin it. I've made versions with added ricotta cheese, crumbled bacon, and leftover greens that had been cooked with onion and garlic. And I served one at a tea party once so that we wouldn't overdose on sugary stuff.

Tonight, for my Tex-Mex Frittata ( I think the Hispanics have something that uses similar ingredients but not baked in this form, so I don't want to use their term) I used:
  • seven eggs
  • about a cup of shredded cheese, mixed jack and cheddar
  • about 2 oz. of canned diced green chiles
  • some vegetables I'd sautéed--sweet red pepper, garlic, scallions, cilantro
  • salt, chili powder and cumin to taste

After I'd heated some olive oil in an 8" cast-iron skillet, I poured in the egg mixture and put it in the oven at 450° this time, because that's the temperature that was dictated by the recipe I was trying out, Crash Hot Potatoes, thanks to Pioneer Woman at . The guys really liked these potatoes, which you can see in the photo above.

If, in addition to your veggie-laden egg pancake, you serve a steamed vegetable on the side and a tossed green salad, you might almost make up for the rest of the day when we tend to have so few vegetables. And as my husband is always reminding me: Though "experts" may debate about what is the healthiest diet, high-carb, low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar, etc., everyone but everyone agrees that we should all eat our vegetables.

Short-lived Brazilian bloom

I have a Brazilian friend whom I first met when she was the American Field Service exchange student in my high school. So it's been a long time! We were kindred spirits from the start. Nowadays we can enjoy our friendship online, and keep more current with one another. I can even enjoy her husband's little window garden and this gorgeous cactus flower that blooms just once a year, and the flower lasts only 12 hours.

The cat's name is Branco. I get the feeling he doesn't know that the flower is the focal point of this shot.

A Poet and Some Poetry

I'd like to tell about Dana Gioia, who has been a great blessing to me by his writings and other contributions to the human community. He is a poet and literary critic, and served for several years, until a few months ago, as Chairman of our National Endowment for the Arts. If you are interested in poetry or arts education you may already be familiar with him. If not, you can read more here: . The way in which I first met him might best be told through excerpts from the letter I wrote him in the spring of 2002:

Dear Mr. Gioia,

I was driving down [the street] one day listening to a man on my Mars Hill Audio tape talk about poetry. When the man mentioned that he lived in [my county] I nearly ran through a stoplight, so great was my wonder. That man, of course, was you. Since that day I have borrowed two of your books from the library, and bought Can Poetry Matter?, which I am still reading. I am delighted to have you here..., contributing to the literary wealth of the area, and even if I never get to meet you, I consider you a friend and teacher.
...We always had our children memorize poems as part of their lessons in humanity as well as literature, spelling, and diction. One of our daughters took up this project on her own and memorized “Horatius at the Bridge” when she was about twelve. Recently on a long car trip my husband asked if one of us might have some poetry to recite, and she revealed that she had memorized “The Walrus and the Carpenter” while also working on her degree in biology.
...I recently read an article by Steven Faulkner in an old Touchstone magazine, “The Workshop of Worship: On Recovering Poetry for Our Children.” In it he laments the loss of poetry as a way, as Plato said, “to bring order to their wild little souls.” Do you have children? If so, you no doubt make good use of this activity! I must admit I had never thought of it the way Plato does, but reading Faulkner’s essay relieved me of my guilty feelings for not doing much more than introducing our children to the sound of poetry.
He points out that the youngest will have no idea of the meaning, anyway, but that is not important. It is the rhythm and music and dance of it that educate, and it is a shame, he says, if someone first learns poetry by way of analysis of its meaning. I am curious as to whether you know of Faulkner and of Touchstone magazine? I imagine a network of people in the poetry world who nurture and inspire one another, but I can’t know how wide-reaching it is. And how about Mars Hill—do you have a subscription to their audio magazine? It’s partly the chance to hear the audible voice of thinkers and writers that makes me love those recordings; it’s sort of like eavesdropping on some brainy people sitting at a café.
Since that first discovery of you and your books, I have heard the Mars Hill segment you did on Longfellow, too, and I was encouraged to leaf through all the anthologies in the house to find his poems to read. Then I realized anew just how important it is to read poems aloud — I seemed unable to attend to them, just sitting alone and reading silently. So I must eat my dinners quickly and read to the rest of the family while they finish; and my younger daughter and I read aloud together during our “school time” in the mornings.
I have always loved poetry, enough that it makes me sad to think how little I have read....I am glad you are boldly and eloquently bringing light to [the current disinterest in poetry in the general population], and even entering into discussion on the topic at [a local bookstore], I see! I hope to be there on the 12th to hear a talk that will probably be way over my head, but will be exciting nonetheless.
In the last few years I have become acquainted with the Eastern Orthodox Church and their richly poetic liturgy, as well as prayer-poems of some of their monastics. Perhaps that has influenced me to pursue poetry generally. This morning I read this, from Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich (translated from the Serbian):

I repent for all the slayers of men, who take the life of another to preserve their own. Forgive them, Most Merciful Lord, for they know not what they do. For they do not know that there are not two lives in the universe, but one, and that there are not two men in the universe, but one. Ah, how dead are those who cut the heart in half!
I repent for all those who bear false witness, for in reality they are homicides and suicides.
For all my brothers who are thieves and who are hoarders of unneeded wealth I weep and sigh, for they have buried their soul and have nothing with which to go forth before You.

....Would you ever consider teaching a class on poetry appreciation? ....And do you have any ideas for me on the best way to organize my own reading of poetry? If you think nursery rhymes and such are foundational, I probably have that part under my belt!
By the time he received my letter it was the afternoon of the mentioned event, and he phoned me right then to tell me that yes, he would be glad to help homeschoolers. Also, in answer to my last question, that I might like to read the poetry textbook he had co-authored with X.J. Kennedy, An Introduction to Poetry.

After that I met him a couple of times before he moved to Washington, D.C. in the service of the nation's art programs, intending to come back to California in two years. The poetry appreciation group never materialized, because I couldn't drum up enough interest.

Just last month H. gave me a book of Gioia's poems, and as I read an old favorite, "California Hills in August," I was reminded of part of another letter I wrote to Dana Gioia a bit later:

Oh, I just noticed that your poem “California Hills in August” is in the Introduction to Poetry. I think it was the first of your poems I read. I love it because I grew up surrounded by those hills..., and I tromped around on that stickery grass and sledded down on old ladders, trying to avoid the cow pies. I think, though, that all the time I was gentled by it, as I think you convey. The child just gives in to the heat and drought and lives fairly contentedly as one more creature in the ecosystem.
Here is the poem, from Daily Horoscope, which you can also read on his website:

California Hills in August

I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion,
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain –
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

©1986 Dana Gioia

Monday, May 4, 2009

Family Fun

Thought I'd post a few representative glimpses from my recent trip to see family in the East. Some things we did while I visited:


Every night at bedtime someone reads from the Bible to the younger grandchildren. I got to be that one a few times. Now even they are old enough to want to read aloud themselves to someone, and I provided a listening ear to many chapters of The Magic Treehouse stories.

"Rikki Tikki Tavi" by Rudyard Kipling, I was thrilled to find in an anthology in the house, and gladly read it aloud to W. It is part of the Jungle Books, and great fun to read aloud.

I read The Red Clogs to F.; it is an old story about childhood deception involving some muddy shoes. And part of Leif the Lucky to W.


F. and W. and I made Snickerdoodles, and one night the German student A.K. took it upon herself to make Goulash Soup and yeast bread, for which she needed a bit of help. That was a yummy dinner!


I helped A. by planting a strawberry tower using three pots she had around.

She was preparing some large areas of the back yard for seeding a lawn, and when the seed had been raked and rolled in, we spread straw on it so that the rain won't disturb it before it sprouts.

I enjoyed the blossoms on A.'s two apple trees, a Newton Pippin and a Fuji. This one is the Fuji.

Play Games

The grandchildren taught me once again how to play Mancala, and one day I played a couple of hours of a new version of Monopoly with W., aged seven. It's not like it used to be, folks. Three times I landed on a square (see photo) that insisted I owed a fortune in just the interest on my credit card debt. I did not like that one bit, even if I did collect $2 million passing GO. It was fun to own several baseball parks, I will admit.

I helped F. and W. to play Twister, by spinning the arrow, and I took lots of photos of various grandchildren playing soccer or riding their bikes, skateboards, "rip sticks," and scooters. There was basketball, football, and mercifully little electronic gaming this time.


There were domesticated reptiles and mammals in the household, pets to admire. Also this frog, a discovery of an afternoon who found himself in a precarious spot. I believe he did survive and return to the woods.
Here is a 5th-grader grandson at work knitting a scarf, with his Easter basket gift to his mom by his side. They knit once a week in the classroom, but he takes the idea much further.

So many other household activities I was able to enjoy there, a hanger-on hanging out. I'm so thankful for the welcome, for the love, for the blessing of my husband to be gone for a spell.
Of course, thankful to be home again.