Sunday, October 31, 2010

Journal of October Trip South

As we were getting ready to go on a weekend trip, I was more calm than usual, because we'd only be gone one night, then home again. And it appeared to be the last trip I would make for months to come. The occasion was a gathering with my sisters and brother, in a countryside place spread with orange groves. One brother and sister live within a couple of miles of each other, but with mailing addresses in different towns, and neither of them close to even a village. We drove south, instead of my more frequent northward to Pippin's, but about the same distance, 5+ hours.

B. and I stayed overnight with my brother, who lives in the house my dad built over 50 years ago, where I mostly grew up. This morning I got up early and sat in a big stuffed chair in the living room, tucking my feet under me the way I used to as a girl. The house feels so quietly solid. It's a wood-frame stucco house on a concrete slab, and you never hear any creaks walking around the ranch-style layout. A big picture window looks out on the foothills that are dotted with oaks, and behind them shady layers of taller and taller mountains forming the Sierra Nevada. Curving grids of trees like dark green pom poms hug the lower slopes nearby. The first time I went home after living in Northern California for a while, I was struck with how short all the orange trees were, not even as tall as nut trees or peach trees, but certainly dwarfed by the Coast Redwoods and other tall trees we have up here where the rainfall is doubled.

The net effect is of a lush but flattish scene, house and orchards keeping close to the earth. The sky is bigger therefore. This October we got quite a bit of rain; all the autumn landscapes were more beautiful having been washed by the rains, making every tree and bush stand out brightly against the background of greening fields. I had my usual thrill of watching the cloud performances all the way down and up the center of the state. We saw black cattle grazing in a pasture, and in the middle of the herd, a white egret standing at attention.

Over a big dinner, we siblings talked about our mountain cabin and how to manage things as the new owners since our father passed it to us just over a year ago. We hadn't all been together for more than a year, and we aren't big phone or e-mail users, so we had a good time catching up. We always have to hear as well the news of our mutual old school and neighborhood friends, and the goings-on of the farming community there.

Some citrus crops are being picked already, by crews of Mexican farm workers. And olives are at the peak of harvest in the same general area. Cell phones have created changes in the way the picking crews operate. You might say they have created some degree of anarchy, or at least free-lance options that didn't exist before. My sister Farmer Woman told us about how some growers were having difficulties getting enough pickers for the oranges, because they could make more money in olive-picking, at least until the frost cuts off that opportunity.

Because of the shortage, a crew was enlisted one day to drive down from the county to the north, in several cars. At least one car-full never arrived, because on the way someone got a call on his cell phone with a tip from a friend, that a different grower was paying $1 more per box, so they detoured that way. This sort of thing happens all the time now.

Dinner was over, and we were sitting lazily around a big table when Farmer Woman's cell phone rang. The screen said it was her nephew, our Soldier, who was calling. As she talked to him it became apparent that he and Doll were in the area, too, having been to a wedding nearby. Neither of us had told the other that we were making a trip down there this weekend, so it was a pleasant surprise for everyone when they were able to join us for breakfast this morning, and a bigger family get-together than they had hoped for.

After that, they took off northwesterly, and we more to the north, but evidently we both wandered around the next city of over 100,000 population for a while, getting fueled up or something, because when we were leaving town, there we were driving alongside one another. Twenty minutes later, merging on to the interstate, we were right behind them. It was the kind of happenstance that would make a child happy, and it did me, too.

On the way home I read the Forward, the Introduction, and the Preface to a book by Leon Kass that I plan to write about at length later on. It's philosophy, and as I had nothing much else to do, I could put the book down every few minutes and chew on the ideas. I read it two years ago and might need to read the whole thing again before I'll be able to know and express why I love it so much.

Then I dozed for a while, and when I woke up B. was playing parts of his IPod collection. I asked again, for the fortieth time, "Who is singing that song?" It was Police. So I worked on a mnemonic that would make me learn this fact for once and forever. They were singing, "There's a lttle black spot on the sun today," so I imagined that the black spot was a black Police car driving around. I watched them in my mind for a few minutes, and then on the IPod they were singing a different song, "Every little thing she does is magic," very ardently, so I amplified my image so that the Police car driving over the sun's surface was full of Policemen who were loudly singing these very words about a magical woman. I can't lose it now.

Getting closer to home, I was more and more excited about the beauty of the world. Rows of eucalyptus trees form windbreaks here and there, and beneath them the colors of a dahlia farm don't seem to have faded in the rains.  On the slopes in our county it's the vineyards that catch your eye, and they are starting to turn gold and orange. Flocks of starlings were swooping like fluttered polka dots. I understand that they are eating insects as they do their dances. That reminded me of my book, which is about eating, nature, our souls, the unity of reality. There is a wholeness to life, because God in His Holy Spirit fills all things.

I guess that's the reason I'm content to write about our trip without trying to find a theme for it. The entire weekend seems of a piece, a large piece of joy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Chesterton Blog

I've recently been browsing on this helpful blog, The Hebdomadal Chesterton, the purpose of which is to provide us with longer portions of G.K. Chesterton's writings than the thousands of one-line quotes one can find online. The host takes passages from many different books by Chesterton.  I just read "Too Liberal to Be Likely," which is still quite current, though written in 1925. It consists of a paragraph from The Everlasting Man, a book that got my head spinning delightfully God-ward many years ago when I read it the first time.

Hebdomadal, I learned, means "appearing weekly," which the posts seemingly fail to do, as I look at the dates on the archives. But that's not much of a problem, when G.K.C.'s ideas are so richly provoking, and keep the mind busy for much longer than a week at a time. And if one is hungry for more, there are several links to other places where similar nourishment can be found.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stories of English - Wordstruck

A friend gave me a used paperback copy of Wordstruck, a memoir by Robert MacNeil, of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour that he hosted in different formats from 1975-1995 on TV. I had heard his name during those years, but our family didn't watch television, so we didn't pay attention until he co-authored the book The Story of English in 1986. It was quickly made into a TV series that we watched on our video player at home some time later.

I have often thought of renting the films again, because they were so fascinating in our fairly brief viewing. Now I find that Netflix doesn't have them, and they are out of my price range to buy. There are some excerpts on YouTube.

Wordstruck chronicles MacNeil's life up until the time he wrote the book in 1989, focusing on his love for the English language, including an account of the early influences that he thinks may have encouraged it. On the first page he describes an evening in chilly Nova Scotia when he was still a little boy, his mother reading to him while he snuggled in his pajamas on the sofa. She is reading the Robert Louis Stevenson poem "Windy Nights" that I read year after year to my own children -- so I knew from the beginning that I would enjoy considering the author's family life.
His parents loved books, and books were the main diversion of their life as "members of the large, scraping middle classes." Mrs. MacNeil's voice "was multi-hued, like glass fused of many bottles in a fire, with wisps of Lowland Scots and Highland Gaelic, Irish, Hanoverian German, Acadian French, and the many flavours of English deposited by generations of British soldiers and sailors," and "She sounded enthralled, as full of wonder and close-rivetted attention as I was."

And for MacNeil's father, "Whatever he was doing, his books were a constant; even when he was short of cash for anything else, like paying bills, books appeared. In fact, he used books to hide the bills he couldn't pay. Occasionally I found little nests of them when I pulled out a book. My mother said scornfully that was Irish--dealing with unpleasant reality by putting it away somewhere, out of mind. She never knew which books to look behind. It made her both furious with him and tender."

"He always wrote on the flyleaf of each new book the date and where he was, so I can follow him: reading Chesterton just after they were married in November 1929, Scottish poets the following spring, Conrad through the early thirties, and Proust at sea in wartime...." Ah, what a life people lived before television!

MacNeil the Shakespearean actor explains how the words and rhythms and story of a poem like "Windy Nights" were so effective at training his mind to appreciate poetry without him being aware of anything except that he didn't want his mother to stop reading. His grandmother loved that one, too, and made him memorize it on walks through the public gardens.

Stories of Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels, Winnie-the-Pooh and Peter Pan; authors like Kipling and Dickens--they all contributed to a rich mental landscape, as words and word patterns populate the mind:
 "They accumulate in layers, and as the layers thicken they govern all use and appreciation of language thenceforth. Like music, the patterns of melody, rhythm, and quality of voice become templates against which we judge the sweetness and justness of new patterns and rhythms; and the patterns laid down in our memories create expectations and hungers for fulfillment again. It is the same for the bookish person and for the illiterate. Each has a mind programmed with language--from prayers, hymns, verses, jokes, patriotic texts, proverbs, folk sayings, clichés, stories, movies, radio, and television.

"I picture each of those layers of experience and language gradually accumulating and thickening to form a kind of living matrix, nourishing like a placenta, serving as a mini-thesaurus or dictionary of quotations, yet more retrievable and interactive and richer because it is so one's own, steeped in emotional colour and personal associations."

Obviously MacNeil's mind has a very thick matrix, and the book is full of his sharing various experiences of his life in all its cultural wealth, riches I think are made more valuable by being able to speak and write articulately about them from a broad knowledge background.

So far I've just drawn from the introductory chapters, but there are a few incidents later on that I want to mention. During WWII when he was still a boy, MacNeil paid ten cents for a tour of a captured German fighter plane, and while he sat in the cockpit the inspection of the inside "convinced me that Germans were real people, human beings....The few instruments had German labels and the realisation that the man who flew this had to be able to read the words which I could not made him intelligent, alive--a real person with a name. So were the Germans who had designed and built this beautiful machine, even if it was no match for our Spitfires, of course."

From singing in the choir in the Anglican Church:
"There was poured into the porches of this child's mind a rich echoing soup of sound which made literal sense only when recollected years later. If scientists could examine my brain, as they do the contents of murder victims' stomachs, they would find that I had gorged myself when young on plum puddings and fruitcakes of this seventeenth-century prose; each word simple in itself, the combination rich and fruity, loved for the taste on the tongue, through years in the digesting; words for their own sake. That was particularly true of the often-repeated passages from the Book of Common Prayer, paraphrases of biblical verses that constitute English worship since the sixteenth century."

"All this exposure to the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, and the hymns seasoned me with the words and the forms that had launched British navies and armies into battle and imperial civil servants on their missions; the words that had christened the babies, married the daughters, and buried the dead of the Empire....It was like the tannin of English tea staining our souls for life. You do not lose it ever."

God willing, His words have not stopped their work on the soul of this man who loves them so dearly as mere words, and not for His meaning that they carry. MacNeil tells us also about many of his favorite non-church words, like reek, and how they came to be and to change over time. He says of Old English: "The words are usually small, like nuts, with strong vowel sounds for flavor and a hard shell of consonants."

In school the author was good at public speaking and reciting poems, and acting in plays. Then at seventeen, he fell in love--with Shakespeare. "On a winter afternoon in 1948....I didn't find God but I found William Shakespeare, a piece of God's work so extraordinary that he comes close to divinity itself."

"The ironic cast of Shakespeare's words released me a little from the prison of my self-absorption, and hooked me into a wider, grander scheme of things. They made me larger, freer."

Of course, it is the language and literature of Shakespeare that MacNeil loves -- but he also loves every other variety of English from limericks to slang. Being the author of The Story of English, he's not afraid to acknowledge that language is always changing, and quotes Otto Jespersen, who wrote in 1905, "The English language would not have been what it is if the English had not been great respecters of the liberties of each individual and if everybody had not been free to strike out new paths for himself."

There are some changes that do concern MacNeil: he wonders if we are losing our ear for the language because we have consigned good English to the printed page, and also started to depend on computers to choose our syntax and vocabulary. This makes us "more remote from the sound of our language, and therefore from a feeling for the weight of words."

"There must be some living connection between the weight of words and truth....Today, it seems, words increasingly mean nothing to the person using them....The public words of public men seem to be used increasingly like aerosol room fresheners, to make nice smells."

It was a very agreeable acquaintance to make, of Robert MacNeil and his love for the English language. I do like him, and spending time with him I was reminded of my own efforts to give my children a rich literary diet in their youth. I certainly did love to read to them; I even made them memorize poetry. But I know I haven't loved the language as much as this man.

I'm impressed with his writing skill and glad to meet someone who rejoices in so many aspects of his humanity, but it is the Creator of us humans who ultimately deserves our adulation and love. For a fact, Shakespeare and even Robert MacNeil are examples of God's handiwork and make us know something of the divine, because they are made in God's image. I can't revel in the language very long before I start to praise the God who gave us the gift of language and speech. 

Just thinking about speech and language brings Psalm 19 to mind. I pray that the literature of the Psalter is a powerful part of the matrix of my own children's minds and hearts -- now I feel that we didn't read from it enough. Here is part of that particular psalm to help me bring my review to an end:
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
....Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How Not to Use the Vernacular

In those long-ago days when new cars had built-in cassette players and we were a large homeschooling family, I invested in a set of tapes of the New Testament, narrated by Alexander Scourby. Those were the only straight readings of the Bible I heard until last week, when I popped The Message into my CD player.

Eugene Petersen is a man whom I admire and respect. The first I ever heard his name was as the author of a book with a compelling title, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. To hear him speak, as I have recently on the Mars Hill Audio publications, is to know that he has received a goodly share of grace and wisdom from God. In introductions to the recordings he explains that his motives for writing The Message paraphrase of the Bible were to make it accessible to the everyday English speaker as a "reading Bible," to introduce them to God's words and God's ways, with prayers that they would go on to read a study Bible, and learn to participate in the life of God.

A couple of years ago I read a few passages in the printed version of his translation, as he loosely calls it, and was neither impressed nor offended. But I'm past the stage of needing an introduction, so I didn't pay much attention. I bought the recording because it was the least expensive experiment I could make in a newer format, and I didn't imagine that the experience would be so far removed from listening to Alexander Scourby.

It was only a year ago that Scourby read the entire gospel of Matthew to me while I was driving to the mountains and back in my old car. It was a flood of God's blessing to hear that much of the earthly life of my Lord -- His words, His being the Word -- in one sitting, and I thought my heart would burst with the overflow. The several hours' drive was over before I knew it.

But the narrator of The Message series makes me remember why we always chant or sing the Scripture in the Orthodox Church. The first portion I listened to was Matthew's gospel, in which John the Baptist and Jesus appear early on, and the narrator gives them the voice and intonation of an actor over-dramatizing his role. In tone, it is so not the vernacular, unless you are a football coach at half-time when your team is losing, or a political talk-show host on a rant. To have the words of Christ spoken that way is to make Him out to be a cheerleader or an ad-man. Even the most Pentecostal preachers I have heard do not speak with such urgency through their whole sermon.

If only Eugene Peterson had been the one to read aloud his rendition of the Bible. He would not have been capable of such a style, nor would he have thought it necessary. He knows that the words of God do not need hepping up. Let your yea be yea and your nay, nay. But he speaks more slowly even than Scourby, whose pace sacrifices speed to dignity.

I had to dig out our old cassettes to check who the narrator was, and then I googled his name. Wikipedia says, "Although Scourby made voice recordings of over 500 different books, he considered the Bible to be his most important," saying " ' is the one book that has the power to inspire, encourage, comfort and change the life of the person who hears it.' "

The Orthodox believe that worship services should be in the language of the people, the vernacular, so priests and missionaries through history made great efforts and sacrifices to translate the Bible and prayer books. St. Innocent is one I have heard the most about; he traveled by kayak all over the frozen north to minister to the native peoples of Alaska, and learned several languages besides his native Russian.

But we do not read the Scriptures aloud in church in the tones of our everyday speech, even though the words are in our respective languages. If you do that, it is nearly impossible not to emphasize one word over another and lend changeable meaning to the sentences depending on who you are and what assumptions and personality, not to say errors and misunderstandings, you bring with you. The only way to let the words speak for themselves is to chant or sing them without emphasizing one over another.

Scourby was Greek and baptized Orthodox. I wonder if he had a sense of how to read the Bible from hearing it chanted or sung in his youth. His reading resembles the way many ministers in Protestant and even Evangelical churches used to read, and I'm sure some still do, not with a lot of expression, but clearly and reverently.

And why did someone decide to intersperse jaunty electronic quiz-show music in between some tracks? Is that supposed to be the vernacular as well? Petersen says that he wants people to become familiar with "the way God speaks," and he wants us to be mindful that God in the Incarnation did not take "the role of a sophisticated intellectual." The style of The Message's narrator may not be sophisticated, but it is affected and distracting. 

Not that I would give anyone even Alexander Scourby's Bible readings with the thought that they could know from them alone what Petersen calls "God's grand rule of love and justice." God has spoken through His Son, the Word, and the words of the Bible testify that it is the Church, not the scriptures, that is "the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:23) The Church is the only context in which one can learn and live the full meaning of Holy Scripture.

The Scourby readings were, it seems until recently, available for listening for free online. They have been replaced with readings by another man; I haven't tried them yet.  Audio-Bible provides those new readings online and sells recordings of Alexander Scourby's Bible in various modern formats. I can see making that investment at a future date. And for the present, I have a portable cassette player for playing my valuable antiques.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Essential Aromas

When Debbie at Artful Aspirations posted about her sweet-smelling bush, I suspected a near relation, perhaps even a twin, to my Osmanthus fragrans. She said she bought her plant because of its common name Tea Olive; I had only known mine as Sweet Olive.

Not many days later M.K. at Through a Glass, Darkly, who was not a follower of Debbie's blog, posted photos of her "holly bush," with descriptions of its "heady and rich" scent reminiscent of gardenia.

The challenge of describing various scents is always of interest to me. I wonder if an individual flower is easier to pin down than a whole rain forest. We usually have to say that any given smell is something like another. Having grown up in an orange grove, I didn't confuse osmanthus with orange blossoms, but upon my first encounter I did envision some woman along the route of our neighborhood stroll setting an apricot pie to cool by the window.

Surely osmanthus is its own heady aroma that nothing else is quite like. Last year, at the end of a post about how various other scents link to my grandmother, I tried to describe its effect on me.

One website that sells many essential oils for their aromatherapy benefits describes Osmanthus fragrans as "Friendly, lively, intriguing, what's new, what's next, early morning excitement, setting out on a whole new journey."

Peet's has blended a black tea with osmanthus blossoms, which might add some extra excitement to those mornings when I choose it over plain black or green.They say "its pleasant aroma could be described as a combination of apricot, chamomile, and orange flower." They don't make it all year long; stocking up would be necessary if you want to be assured of having it when you want.

After she heard about osmanthus, M.K. began to wonder if her hollies might actually be Tea Olives. In the meantime I had been reading about fragrant holly bushes and found that there are hundreds of types of holly, and some of them do look a bit like osmanthus. One osmanthus looks so much like holly that its common name is False Holly. Wikipedia mentions that osmanthus flowers can be various colors, even dark orange, and that in China it is traditional to mix some osmanthus jam into millet gruel.

You can see on that page a photo of an orange-flowered osmanthus taken in Japan. All of the photos here on my blog were taken just this week in my yard.  B. and I planted the bush about 20 years ago on the advice of  horticulturist friend. If we had known how big they get, we'd have started it out farther from the house.

Wikimedia also has this whole page of related photos.

Some of my other favorite botanical scents are lemongrass and rose geranium. I have a big bush of the geranium in a pot on the patio, and in my cupboard some essential oil of lemongrass to add by drops to hand soap. So far I've only enjoyed my osmanthus when it happens to fill the air with its essence, and that occasion always takes me by surprise and humbles me by the extravagant gift. "The osmanthus is blooming!"  I will announce, if someone is around. This happens at least twice a year; do I really need the oil extraction at other times?

The people on the planet of Perelandra in C.S. Lewis's novel by that name had an admirable way of making the most of every experience. They considered an actual event in time to be only the smallest part of anything that they did or that happened to them. The anticipation was also to be enjoyed for all it was worth, and the memory of the incident or act would be savored into the future. In this way even the most lovely and desirable events were completely satisfying whether or not they took place more than once in a lifetime.

When one comes upon a strong aroma, say, walking into a house where bread is baking, or walking out one's front door to the scent of osmanthus, if the stimulus continues for a time the olfactory receptors get desensitized or something; in any case, you stop noticing, until you go out and come back again. So I don't know, if I had only smelled osmanthus once, if I could have made much of the experience. I'm not too good at paying attention, if that's what's necessary.

But I've had decades of being enveloped by the sweetness and the love that the Sweet Olive aroma signifies to me. I think I'll just try to bask in it for a few seconds longer next time I pass by, or sit on the step and drink it in as long as my nose will keep sending the message to my brain. And if we move to a colder climate I'm sure I'll be busy enough sniffing the air in that place without trying to import gifts that belong to the memorable past.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Owls, Lepers, and More Around the Net

In just two days' tootling around some of my favorite places on the Internet I have found items worth sharing in several categories: humor, animal photos, Bible study, a recipe and a quilt -- just a sampling of this week's surprises in that wide world.

Gumbo Lily shows photos of the darling owls in her own back yard. She often encounters wildlife to capture with her camera, illustrating the ranch life she captures with her pen (um...keyboard).

Angie got me laughing again, this time about Internet spam, of all things. Spam with a Scottish twist.

M.K.'s recent post To Touch a Leper, got me thinking on the wonderful and mysterious fact of Christ's life and how it is health and cleanness.

A quilter-blogger Who Loves Baby Quilts and doesn't own a sewing machine made a sweet mini quilt she refers to as a mug rug. Now I know what to call my own treasured little rug given to me some time ago. I'm showing both sides, which I have tried to keep pretty by not using it when my mug contains cocoa.

Last, a simple and simply yummy-sounding Greek dessert that requires not much more than opening a container of good yogurt.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Metaphor and a Journal - C.S. Lewis

Because I was helped on my journey to Orthodoxy by Touchstone Magazine, and certainly also by C.S. Lewis, my eye was caught this morning by word of a debate on the extent and meaning of Lewis's metaphor of a house with rooms, in his book Mere Christianity. The subtitle of Touchstone is A Journal of Mere Christianity, so it is understandable that the editors would have an interest in keeping true to a proper understanding of the author. By the way, the current issue of the journal features an article on how the new Narnia films "Subvert Lewis's Hierarchical World," and another article reviewing a book that treats the development of the author's view of women. Those are both available for reading on the website.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chocolate & Pumpkin & Spice

Everyone, it seems, is talking and writing about every variety of pumpkin bread possible, which they have baked and posted recipes for, and the (pumpkin?) seed sprouted in my mind and bore fruit last night, when I put all these ideas together and came up with my own batch that was pretty much perfect. My thanks to all of you who made my mouth water and my imagination start working.

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins
This made 30 smallish muffins and two mini-loaves

3 1/2 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 29-oz can pumpkin (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups Ghirardelli 60% cacao chocolate chips
3 cups toasted walnuts, chopped

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a medium bowl; whisk to blend. Using electric mixer, beat pumpkin and sugars until blended. Gradually beat in eggs, vanilla, oil and ginger. Stir in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately in 3 additions. Stir in nuts and chips last.

Fill lined muffin cups 3/4 full with batter; likewise mini loaf pans that have been greased or lined with parchment.

Bake muffins 30-45 minutes depending on size of cup and whether your oven is convection, until a toothpick comes out clean -- though it can be hard to tell with all that chocolate in there! Bake the mini loaves about an hour. Cool in pans.

Upon eating the first muffin I thought I hadn't put in enough spice to suit, but today they were the perfect combination of tender and moist, with lots of soft dark chocolate not quite melted in, and dreamy flavor, probably just the right amount of spice. I wouldn't mind if they had still less sugar, but I'll be cautious about changing that ingredient too much and maybe not liking the resulting change in the crumb texture.

I took this recipe at for my jumping-off place, after reading all the reviews that told the many ways people changed the original. I mostly combined many of their changes to customize mine; and I was in such a hurry to get my loaves and muffins done before my bedtime, I forgot to take a picture. This tiger does have something to do with the recipe, because he was carved from a pumpkin by Pippin some years ago.

After B. and I enjoyed my creations with breakfast, most of the remainder went into the freezer to bring out when there are more people around to enjoy them. I hope that will be soon, but I've had my fix, which I think will keep me for a while. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fall Garden Report

My husband and I have been cleaning the yard up this week. I'm putting in some greens for the winter, and some cooler-season flowers, and we are already talking about how to improve our harvest next summer. So I thought I'd write notes about this summer's results.

Butternut Squash:  6 fruits (two of them pretty small) from 16 plants. Considering we didn't have a warm summer that isn't too bad. (My best year was 10 larger fruits from 20 plants.) But, also considering that B. doesn't like squash, I might give that space to tomatoes next summer, when we will be making the Concerted Tomato Effort. The butternuts in the store aren't as good, but I can live with that.

Tomatoes: We grew 8 plants, 8 different varieties this year. Terrible year for tomatoes, but the scorecard for the various ones:
     *Early Girl: Still the most dependable, and the flavor in September can't be beat. I want to plant two of them next year.
     *Grape: This is the 4th year I have grown these, and they are wonderful in all the usual ways, except that this year for some reason the fruits were tinier than grapes.
     *Green Grape: These were vaguely grape-shaped, but huge for a cherry type, more like a small plum. The flavor was good and they were healthy and productive, so I might plant them again. I like having a green cherry for the color in salads and such.
     *Andy's Polish Pink: We got at most 3 good fruits from this plant, and when we pulled it up, its roots were not deep. Early in the season the tomatoes were mushy. It's not worth trying again to see if more heat would improve them.
     *Faribo Goldheart: The few fruits we got were tasty and beautiful orange tomatoes. A couple of them were the largest of all our tomatoes this year. Worth trying again.
     *Orange Fleshed Purple Tomato: I picked this up at the big box store, part of their effort to stock a few heirlooms. It didn't make many tomatoes and they were so disappointing--now I forget all the reasons--that we pulled the plant out early.
     *Yellow Cherry: This has been the best of the lot this summer. It's quite a bit like Sungold, but its skins aren't so thin. It's been a good producer and very sweet.
     *Black Cherry: It was hard to tell when these were ripe, and when they were, they quickly got soft, and their flavor was blah, so I don't want to plant them again even though the bush was productive.

Peppers: Nothing produced well, of the Anaheims or Pimientos or the other two interesting ones. But they were in a spot that didn't get enough sun. More and more of the garden is like that, unfortunately. B. wants to plant Pimientos again next year in a place where they did really well in the past.

Basil and Arugula: Always easy, and did as well as usual. Actually better--last year the basil seemed to suffer, maybe from too sunny a spot. This year I put it back in the old place, where it gets no sun until the hottest afternoon rays. The picture is of arugula seeds I collected.

Lemon Cucumber: We got enough for our use, which is very minimal. I may not plant these next year because they are available locally at the market, and we need the space for other things.

Green Beans: Blue Lake are the best! We got a good amount, and since we love them so much, we will probably plant them again, and maybe in the same spot, as it is one of the few places where the runners can't disappear into a tree or the neighbor's yard.

New Zealand Spinach: Some of these starts I planted in a too-shady spot, and they never really grew. The others were in a place that gets sunshine all day long, and they grew vigorously, but the leaves are small.  The stems are tough on this plant so I haven't bothered to use much. I'd like to try this old favorite again next spring, in a place with a little shade.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Washington - The Rain Forest

The rain forest surprised me. It wasn't chilly, even though it was cool; perhaps the humidity served as a blanket. The towering complexity wasn't too overwhelming, because my camera helped me to isolate and literally focus on various particulars.

My favorite plants were the exotic fungi, because they stood out from the multitude of mostly green colors.

They say there are several thousand plant species in there, and I imagined it would be a trial to take a day hike through all that jumble and jungle of green sameness. Instead, it was strangely invigorating. Is there more oxygen than average in a rain forest, what with all those plants exhaling? It was as exciting as the beach.

We had the slightest drizzle as we entered, but not enough to warrant covering my head. Even that amount of moisture waned and my hair didn't get wet -- only pleasantly fluffy, a welcome relief from the usual flat.

Autumn was beginning to give some color accents, especially in the form of the big leaf maples that arch throughout the canopy and drop their leaves over everything.

Hoh....the very name of this forest is like a mother's calming hush, or a version of the meditative Ohm. I got to thinking of the shape of the letters themselves as the circumference of a Sitka Spruce trunk with branches on the sides. It seems that just the word has endless possibilities, but in any case Hoh seems to be the only name possible for this place, so quiet and deep. The Hoh River runs through it.

Wherever a stump stands, several plants will use it for a seedbed, so that a conifer, a fern and a deciduous tree will often make a bouquet on the stump. But a log lying horizontal becomes a pasture of low and thick lichens and moss.

These gray leaf lichens were lying all around, as well as growing on trees.

The brightest fungus I saw might have been this yellow one.

This area of the world boasts the tallest (Sitka) spruce tree and the tallest (Red) cedar tree in the world. I couldn't guess what most of the evergreens were, their lowest branches were so high up, and everything blanketed with spongy green lace. But I think this one is a Douglas-fir (it's written like that because it's not a true fir.)

 Leafy lichens abound. I guess this is one?

I was surprised when B. said we should turn around and go back out. We'd been hiking two hours and it didn't seem to have been more than about 40 minutes. By that time I wasn't living in the moment, though. Time was flying because I had caught a whiff of the moist rain forest scents. Funny I didn't notice right away. But when I did, I couldn't just enjoy the mystery and deliciousness of these smells, but I had to start thinking about how I would describe them, if only to myself, so I could remember them.

I will probably never come back here! was my thought, and I will never smell this again. So why did I waste time thinking about it, I now wonder. Why not just drink of the thrilling sensory Now? And why were the disciples not content to just be in Christ's presence at His transfiguration?

They were trying to make provision for the future, and prolong the experience, as I was hoping to provide myself with some words to take with me. I couldn't hope to make the moment last, as we were walking fairly briskly by then, getting closer and closer to the outside where the opportunity would be gone.  I was lagging behind and noticing that the mix of wild aromas changed with the changing terrain, but they were always bewitching. Do people get addicted to smells? It could happen here.

 Time was running out, and it did run out, ten days ago now. I kept thinking about the words for several days, but as expected, there was no way to improve on whatever poor metaphors I came up with while my senses were being bombarded. 

The smell of the rain forest was something like eating a cookie fresh from the oven, a cookie made of fermented wild mushrooms and hazelnuts, with one's head in a bucket of vanilla ice cream.

This was a new smell for me, with no links to my grandmother or anything in my past. There was no way to focus on it the way a camera helps one to focus visually -- and no way to deliberately preserve it, though my mind has no doubt filed this input in a purer form than the silly image I worked so hard to invent. Perhaps elements of that exotic forest atmosphere exist elsewhere, and if so, they might someday come to me on a moist breeze and I'll be taken back to the Hoh.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Washington - Homesickness Cured

In an essay titled "The Inside of Life," G.K. Chesterton said that he envied Robinson Crusoe being shipwrecked on an island. He talks about "the poetry of limits," which I am learning is the category where my own favorite life-poems are found. I found another one just last week.

At the beginning of our trip to Washington I was homesick -- the first time I recall being plagued by that feeling when actually away from home, though I probably did complain over it right here at the peak of our remodeling project.

There's never been a year when I took so many trips as 2010. It's one of those things that is really different about my life nowadays and that I'm learning to adjust to. I'm just a homebody threatening to turn agoraphobic if I get pushed too far. The good old days were the ones when our family's only car was not available to me and I didn't have the option of driving to town. I "had to" stay home.

Time wasn't enough for me to do a proper job preparing for our trip. As G.K.C. also says in that essay, "Life is too large for us as it is: we have all too many things to attend to." I didn't seem to have the right clothes, but when I noticed that, it was too late to buy or sew the right ones. I was self-conscious about looking odd until the day I could put on my hiking boots and paint-spattered fleece for the trail.

I always like to write postcards when traveling, so I packed a list of addresses along with some stamps into a zippered pouch along with my pocket calendar and a little prayer book; then the whole thing got left at home in the flurry of departure. All week I wondered if I had lost it at the airport or somewhere on the way, and I felt a bit lost without those props to my usual routine of being me. I couldn't remember the addresses of most of the people I wanted to favor with a picture and note.

The first night of the journey we stayed with B.'s cousin and her husband who have a house looking out on Hammersley Inlet. They are warm and loving, and I was glad for the time to get to know them better.  It was rejuvenative to walk along the shore and collect large oyster shells, in the company of someone else who appreciated their beauty. Anne didn't think it strange that I deliberated so much over each one I picked up, and she actually seemed to like talking about the reasons why one or another would be more worthy of carrying around for the rest of the trip. After washing three of my favorite potential soap dishes in the kitchen sink I forgot to take them with me the next morning. Somehow that was o.k. The collecting had been the important part.

We walked with our Bremerton friends also, in the forest nearby, where my beloved "May" showed me piggy back plants, and filbert nuts hanging on the tree; a hazelnut went into my pocket and made it all the way home.

Just making the acquaintance of these tangible natural artifacts was comforting. If I had to leave their territories so soon and move on like an unwilling gypsy, at least I could snap a picture, or kidnap a small nut, to prolong the connection.

On our way to the Lake Quinault Lodge we got lost and spent a couple of hours getting back in the right direction. Rural Washington doesn't have as many road signs as one could want, and of course, there are all those waterways that confused me when I was trying to be B.'s navigator. Robinson Crusoe didn't have all this complexity of terrain, and what he had to deal with, he also had time aplenty for. Again, from G.K.C., "What dullness there is in our life arises mostly from its rapidity: people pass us too quickly to show us their interesting side." Canals and roadsides, too, I find.

We had a reservation for three nights where B. had stayed with his family long ago, a classic inn built in 1926.  F.D.R. also stayed here in 1938 when he was considering whether to make a national park on the Olympic Peninsula. He decided yes, and the rain forest was preserved.

Olympic National Park is kind of like a wheel with spokes going in, but no hub; we had to drive long distances from the outer rim of the park into the choice areas. On the way along the rim to our first spoke, we spent time on Ruby Beach, where the surf crashed and the air was bracing. Just now I was wondering how it compares with the eastern coast in latitude, and after a bit of hunting and pecking around the Net I can tell you that it's similar to Prince Edward Island, and still well south of the British Isles.

My attention was quickly drawn downward to the smooth and varied pebbles comprising the beach, and I picked up one after another as I noticed their peculiar colors and patterns. Quoting Chesterton, "This desire to be wrecked on an island partly arises from an idea which is at the root of all the arts--the idea of separation." I removed some of these stones from their vast and cluttered background so I could consider each individually. And I myself had been separated from all my home responsibilities and from all but one talking human. No multitasking necessary.

In that essay that I had read only recently, Chesterton uses literature as a specific example of the artistic principle he's considering, but it seems to me it is broadly useful for explaining why some activities are just as bracing to my mind and soul as that ocean air.

According to this idea, one appeal of reading a novel is that the number of people we meet there is limited. "Romance seeks to divide certain people from the lump of humanity, as the statue is divided from the lump of marble. We read a good novel not in order to know more people, but in order to know fewer....instead of this bewildering human swarm which passes us every day, fiction asks us to follow one figure (say the postman) consistently through his ecstasies and agonies. That is what makes one so impatient with that type of pessimistic rebel who is always complaining of the narrowness of his life, and demanding a larger sphere. Life is too large for us as it is....All true romance is an attempt to simplify it, to cut it down to plainer and more pictorial proportions."

Topographically, logistically, socially, the greater Seattle area is way too large for me. Its vastness and complexity weigh on me like an overcast day. Walking with one or two friends is good -- more circumscribed and easier to enjoy. But a small pebble is just right. I stuffed my pockets with pebbles, and breathed as heartily as I could of that oxygen-rich and moist air. I sat on a log and did not want to leave.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Washington - Water and Other Themes

My dear husband conceived the idea of going to the state of Washington for a week, to visit the Olympic Peninsula as he had done with his parents as a boy, and also to see some friends and family who had moved there since our last visit. I'm always a bit overwhelmed by the water, water everywhere aspect of that area, and not because of the water itself.

It's just that the many canals, sounds and straits around Seattle and northward to the Canadian border make me even more likely than is my usual disorientable self to lose track of where we are. I have studied the maps more than most people are accustomed to doing in this day of GPS and cell phones, but I still feel pretty hopeless about it. We are always looking across some body of water or other, and I never know what it is or what I am seeing on the other side.

It's beautiful, all that water, and so refreshing, as long as I don't let myself get discouraged when B. wants me to know that those are the San Juan Islands, or that is the Hood Canal. But being overwhelmed by water might be a good thing, if one isn't drowning.

I kept thinking of my church's teaching that water is the substance representative of all Creation, so that when Christ was baptized in the Jordan he was actually baptizing the Creation and blessing it. In Bremerton the Harborside Fountain Park highlights the city's maritime and shipbuilding history with a multitude of fountains, surrounded by constant views of waves, and boats sailing, which canal is that?

Spray from fountains was blessing me, and the waves and moist air were full of the kindness of Him Who alone is holy and blessed in Himself. I can't intellectually comprehend what my Father has done any more than I can find my way around Puget Sound, but I can receive the blessing anyway.

The forest is imposing wherever the water is not. Lush conifers for Christmas trees, tall, tall Douglas firs and spruces for telephone poles and lumber, lots of lumber for all our houses. This western part of the state is known for high and frequent precipitation to keep all these trees happy, though when the sun doesn't shine for days, some humans get SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) apparently for lack of sunlight, especially in winter when the days are also shorter.

Amazingly, we didn't have to worry about that, because aside from some morning fog and clouds, and the slightest drizzle, the weather was favoring our touring of the area and taking pictures. I never pulled my rain jacket out of its pouch, even in the rain forest!

Spending days in this part of the country brought to my mind images from a National Geographic children's book, Three Little Indians, which we read many, many times to our children in the 70's and 80's. One of the children featured in the stories of three Native American tribes was Center-of-the-Sky, a Nootka of past eras of the Northwest. The dark skies and high surf of the paintings, along with the idea of fish as a staple of the diet, came back to me on our trip, when two of our hosts served us salmon, which might be the quintessential food of the Northwest.

Years ago when I read a story of Lewis & Clark to the children I was saddened to hear that when the party of mostly Midwesterners got to the Pacific Ocean, hungry and weary, they found a plenitude of fish, but didn't like it. They had to trade with the Indians for some kind of meat they were more accustomed to. I suppose they were o.k. with berries, those dear little fruits that abound here. B.'s cousin Anne told us that in her neighborhood in Shelton the women will go berry-picking together to make the time pass more quickly as they tediously fill their buckets with tiny huckleberries or blueberries for pies or the jam pot.

We enjoyed berry cobbler and berry crisp cooked by our hosts, and I took pictures of snow berries, but they are such a bright white they sabotage the photos. We encountered what was probably the Pacific Blackberry: "This is the only native blackberry in the Pacific Northwest, has excellent flavor, and is the ultimate source of several horticultural varieties, including marionberries, loganberries, and boysenberries."

Mushrooms are prolific in Washington's woodlands; they get nutrients from the tree roots. October is a good time for harvesting the ones called chanterelles, and one humble café where we ate was featuring wild chanterelles deep-fried. I didn't want to miss the chance to try these exotic fungi, so we ordered a plate of appetizers. After downing the lot, we doubted that was the best way to present their subtle flavor.

Abundance would be the overarching theme here, where God has blessed so richly in nature and the natural products that we all depend on so much. Our friend C. asked how we liked their state, and I had to think a while before I said, "I'm afraid there are too many trees for me."

Too many trees!? How could one find fault with that? Western Washington seems to be almost the opposite of the desert, the symbol of want and dryness. But creatures are provided for even in that arid place, and I might still prefer it, with its abundance of sky and sun shining out of it. For the remainder of our vacation, though, I found plenty in this wet and wild land to nourish my soul as well as body.

Laid is a Word You Should Use

In the process of slowly writing blogs about my recent travels, I'm going to just stick a quick post in here on a completely different topic. Most blog writers are interested in being good writers, so I know you won't be mad at me if I point out a grammatical error that I've only started seeing recently. If you make this error, know that you are in good company with Tiina Nunnally, acclaimed translator of Kristin Lavransdatter. I was surprised to see that she was also confused (several times, so I know it wasn't a typo) on
Lie and Lay.
There are two verbs, to lie and to lay.

Lie is what you do on a bed, or a beach, to rest, or with your lover. Or what anything can do, remaining in a place. (It's also when you tell an untruth, but that doesn't get confused, as far as I know, so I'm not dealing with it now.)

The verb has present and past tenses, of course:

Present tense: I lie on the beach, you lie, he lies, they lie. Lie down, Fido! He was lying there asleep for hours.

Past tense: I lay on the bed yesterday, you lay on the bed yesterday, he lay on the bed, etc.
Past perfect: I have lain on the bed every night, etc.

This is called an intransitive verb, which fact might help someone to understand the difference between it and to lay. That means that there is no action transferred to an object. You don't lie something, you just lie, period.

Lay is a transitive verb, meaning you do it to something. You might lay the napkin on your lap, or the platter on the table.

Present tense: I lay my head on the pillow, The hen lays an egg, Now I lay me down to sleep.

Past tense: I laid my head on the pillow last night, and my mother laid a quilt over me. The hen laid an egg.

Past perfect: I have laid a blanket on the baby every naptime.

The slang about getting laid, etc. is an irregular usage, and I wonder if it may be the reason people avoid the word laid? This is the new error I am noticing, as in Kristin Lavransdatter, when the translator wrote something like, "He lay his trousers on the bed." Ouch. You can see that there is never a case when that would be correct.

The problem many people have had for ages is saying lay when they should say lie, as in, "Lay down, Fido!" Ouch. That has possibly become more common than the correct usage, I'm afraid. Oddly, it's the very people who would never make that mistake who are avoiding laid, which can't be avoided without making me say Ouch.

The only reason I know these things is because as a child I had to memorize verb tenses. Maybe that tradition was fading out soon after, but for any of you who were shortchanged in school, you could revive the tradition to help yourself. Do it like this:

In a sing-song kind of way, if you like, for To Lie, say:
I lie, you lie, he lies, they lie;
I lay, you lay, he lay, they lay;
I have lain, you have lain, he has lain, they have lain.
Or just the short version : "Lie, lay, lain"

And for To Lay, you could just remind yourself: "Lay, laid, laid."

If you are still confused, you see how others explain it here or here.

Laid is really a fine word. Don't neglect it!