Saturday, March 27, 2010

Week Full of Big Events

The kitchen was gutted on my Big Birthday, leaving us to camp in a corner of the living room with an electric skillet and microwave that more than once have overloaded the power strip, so I have learned to take turns, at least until Sergio and Jorge and Edgar finish the electrical work and turn all the circuits back on.

Paper plates are the most uncivilized and literally distasteful thing about this week; I never use them even when we camp in the wilderness, so why should I have to in my own house? Must retrieve some real plates from a box for tonight, so the food will taste right again.

As we were dealing with rain and illness, the weeds were taking over the yard. Still, ranunculus do grow tall, and these showed above the robust sea of green. One Big Event this week was the pulling of all the weeds in this bed, accomplish by moi.

Today is a wonderful commemoration of a resurrectional event, when Christ raised Lazarus, so we have Lazarus Saturday, with celebrations. After the Liturgy, there is a clean-up effort to get the property and buildings all beautified for Holy Week and Pascha, but I didn't go, because I did my such prep work at church yesterday.

After shopping for plants and dirt, I planted all new plants in nine containers, ranging in size from half-wine barrels to smaller clay pots. That might not have taken five hours if I didn't have to start by emptying three of them, heavy with old dirt, into my wheelbarrow, which I labored to drive what seemed a quarter mile to the dump pile. Then I loaded up some compost from the other side of the pile to put in the bottom of the containers. I went the long way around buildings if it helped me to avoid steps--I didn't like trying to do wheelies.

The huge bags of Supersoil I'd bought to top-off the containers were almost too weighty for an old woman. But I had heaved and dragged all four of them into my car earlier, and I managed again, to get them into the wheelbarrow, then out of the barrow on to the ground so I could grab double-handfuls of the rich stuff and nestle it around all the little flowers. The picture shows the three old medium-sized wooden containers that I'd moved from one area to another. Though the weather was perfect for gardening, it was too bright for good photography.

After weeding some, and cleaning up all the mess, I was surprised at how sore and tired I was. I went home in time to clean up and recover a bit, and return for Matins of Lazarus Saturday. The church had been decorated, while I was decorating the gardens, and was full of calla lilies, with palm fronds on the chandelier.

Today B. and I worked at home, and I tackled the back yard. The mass of weeds is ten times that of the front yard, but I rested at one point by this table, looked at the "trees" instead of the looming "forest," and thanked God for the strength to work, and for the spring flowers. This pot of nemesia that one friend gave me, I'd like to put in a pot so it can spill over the sides.

The children and husband and friends were so good to me for my birthday. One interesting gift I received was an olive tree, hand delivered from Oregon by my son and decorated with drawings by the grandchildren.

I'm going to buy a big pot to put it in, and remember that "I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever."
(Psalm 52:8)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

North Coast Beauty

To celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary, B. and I spent a whole day on an outing to coastal places.

We stopped at this spot by the Navarro River and wondered at the water color.
It was chilly under the ramrod-tall redwoods there, but on the whole, the day was unseasonably warm for the coast, and we thanked God for that extra gift.

  After a long drive through spectacular landscapes we reached the little artsy town of Mendocino. First we ate lunch, which provided respite for the visual senses, while we indulged our taste buds.

There's lots of nice driftwood on display in the town --see the faces?

One of the first shops we visited was full of kaleidoscopes that were amazing works of art and engineering, some priced at well over $1000. Looking through just one kaleidoscope gives the aesthetic mind a lot to ponder.

In other art galleries we feasted our eyes and fingers on wooden bowls and buffets, ceramic platters and sculptures, quilts, and paintings of the landscapes that are beloved by us after living in Northern California for most of our adulthood.

To think of all the craftsmen making these lovely things, it made me glad.

 I snapped this hand-carved wooden Noah's ark in one window...

...mostly because I loved the sea otters,
in a characteristic pose with little "abalone" shells on their chests.

We wanted to go out on the bluffs to look at the flat ocean, because by then we were experiencing Art Beauty Overload.

Maybe it is because we aren't used to protracted active examination of the visually sublime. I usually have lots of work to do and break it up by occasional joy in one flower or tree.

Any one of these objects might be more satisfying if you could sit and hold it a while, or put it on your wall to befriend slowly. The whirlwind tour of so much creativity makes for too much to actually "take in."

Outside again, I did have work to do, trying to get good pictures of the world around me, adding my own sub-creative endeavors to my Father's.

Anatole France said that "Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another."

Studying is a kind of work, and I already know more about the plant world than the art world, providing some foundation for further study and making it easier on my brain to examine the flora of Mendocino than the things in galleries.

Mustard trees like these above could easily hold birds, as mentioned in the Gospels. Their "trunks" are sturdy enough to survive the blustery winters out there above the surf, and in the spring they scatter their yellow cheer all over the rough brownness.

Surely the dark bushy stuff can't be broom....wish I could get closer to look better. It would be a lot shorter and denser than what we see inland. But so many plants on the coast do seem to squat down close to the ground to brace themselves against the wind.

Lupine plants are spread all over the fields, not blooming yet. I think they will be blue when they come out. The giant yellow lupines we often see on the coast stand three feet tall. They haven't flowered yet, either, but on our way out we passed large patches of purple lupines along the road--a medium-sized variety.

A little iris nestled into the tangle.

We took the long way home, which included hours of driving along the cliffs, with repeated vistas of cattle grazing below a backdrop of dark forests and clear blue sky, and redwood stake fences running along the highway intermingled with stands of spreading cypress trees.

These sights became familiar enough after a while that they were comforting and not so overwhelming. Look at the steers--they are doing their work, so they can bear the view without it tiring them out.

During part of the car trip, we listened to a whole disk of George Gershwin, which was another relaxed intake of beauty and appreciation of artistry, this time through the ear gate. At home, I never give my full attention to the music that might be playing, because I have too much else to think about. Sometimes we were in silence, just enjoying the sights. And for some hours B. played many of his iPod songs that I like, and we even sang along together with tunes that have accompanied us through our married years.

It was a splendid day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bread and Flowers

This morning I joined a team of bakers in the church kitchen to make communion bread, called Prosphora in the Orthodox Church. Prosphora is Greek for "that which is offered." We were making three sizes of bread loaves today. All the many services around Pascha mean that we need to have a good supply ready in the freezer.

Each loaf, large or small, is made in two parts, which are joined top to bottom and baked together to show the unity of the human and divine natures of Christ.

Here they are rising under towels, with icons of famous monastic Prosphora bakers in the background.

We don't make much use of knives in our baking, but I always like to look at this interesting collection.

Going into the oven...

...and a spread of little baked loaves.

Today it was my job to make some larger loaves, called "lambs." While they were cooling, I went out into the garden and sat on a bench to eat my lunch. 

   With all the rain and our sicknesses and remodeling, I have begun to miss my gardens. At church, I worried that if I ever did get back to tending the plants, the rosebushes and lilies might cry out, "Who is this stranger?"
  That didn't happen. Before putting away the bread I pulled weeds for an hour, and everyone seemed to like the TLC. This succulent even showed me its darling blossoms.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cubbies and Holes Question

When we were at the furniture refinishing shop the other day the owner showed us this piece that he is currently working on for other customers (who, it turned out, are members of our family!). No one knows what it was designed for. The holes in the bottom of the compartments are too big for shot glasses, and I think too big for egg cups, also. When it was found, some of the cubbyholes had labels attached in front, listing some of the United States. But you will notice there aren't enough spaces for all 50. 

Does anyone out there have an educated guess as to the intended purpose of this furniture?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Meeting on the Bike Path

A brisk walk before 7:00 a.m. was just what I needed, I thought as I pulled on my clothes and quietly left the house yesterday morning. There was frost on the rooftops as I headed down the street to the bike/walking path a block away.

No sooner had I reached it but I overtook my neighbor and his dog, whom I've seen walking these paths for over a decade. Our relationship demonstrates the way friendship sometimes develops by baby steps, or maybe I could call them old-man-walking-old-dog-steps.

I don't remember him from the first five years that we lived about six houses down from his, though I spent a lot of time on our wonderful paths that run along all the creeks through town. We were both busier, I suspect, and moving faster.

Ten or fifteen years ago I started noticing him with his dog. The dog was never in a hurry, and the man hunched a bit and shuffled, stopping and starting to avoid stumbling over his companion. He didn't often look up at me when I drove past or when I met them strolling the other direction, but if he did, we would smile at each other.

A few years later I got a chance to speak to him a couple of times, and I told him that I lived just down the street. I didn't say anything about how his yard was always neglected and full of tall weeds. Earlier on I had thought of bringing him cookies or offering to do some yard work, but once or twice I did see a woman there who I thought to be his daughter. Maybe it was she who planted some petunias one spring.

On this day, I had my perfect opportunity. Our relationship had progressed through the smile stage, into the speaking stage, and now, it seemed natural to slow my pace to theirs and say, "Good morning!" We started talking about his dog with the beautiful champagne-colored coat, a French sheepdog he'd gotten at the pound 14 years ago. "His name was Ben when we got him, but I changed it to Spunky."

Somehow the conversation turned to politics--it wasn't my doing! I walked alongside and followed their route, across this bridge, at which point Spunky stopped, changed direction, and was ready to go back more in the direction of home. That was as far as was his usual, his owner said. The whole hour I was with them I had to watch out for the leash and dog as they kept crisscrossing the path.

My friend told me about his childhood in Pittsburgh, PA, how he realized that if he didn't leave shortly after high school, he'd be working in the factory forever. So he left, and he joined the Army, and traveled, but didn't fight in Korea after all. His traveling gave him a different and broader perspective on the world from the average person, he believed. He recommended that I read The Economist, and told me about the three periodicals he reads to help him decide what companies to invest in.

Old men are often fun to talk to, especially if they like to talk about their lives and will carry the conversation. Then I can just show my interest and listen. Often they have a refreshingly old-fashioned outlook that I rarely encounter anymore. My neighbor doesn't care that his jeans have a hole in the knee, or that his jacket is dirty. He had enough manners to pause in his story and ask a question about me or what I thought, but he wasn't pushy if I didn't talk much.

Eventually we got back to his house, and stood in the driveway for another ten minutes chatting about the Middle East and other places he had visited, and about how he has lived in that house for 38 years. I pointed out my house. He looked at Spunky, who had settled down to rest on the pavement, and said, "I have to get him inside," but just before that I had introduced myself and found out that the man's name is Ray.

My time was used up, it was nearly 8 o'clock, so I just walked quickly around the block and went home to tell B. about my new friend.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Trains and Stations

Lying in bed at night as a child, I used to hear trains pass less than a mile away, as the whistle blew at the intersection where I also would catch the school bus in the mornings. We were out in the middle of citrus orchards, on a dead-end road, so there was little else to hear at night. The coyote howling was a different tone from the locomotive's warning. Now that my daughter lives where trains toot-toot as they go by many times throughout the day and night, I find that the sound still strikes a chord of comfort and regularity.

While we are busy about our work and play and sleep, thousands of people are being diligent to do their jobs driving the trains, loading them, keeping the schedules updated, whatever all is necessary. I know so little about it, it's like magic.

Books I enjoyed with my children fed this romantic feeling I have: The Little Red Caboose, The Boxcar Children, The Railway Children, even The Narnia Chronicles with its train trips here and there during holiday. Children and trains.

When I was still a young child I was allowed to ride the Santa Fe with just my two sisters, four hours to my grandmother's house, which no doubt also makes me love trains, and the train stations just as much. Excitement and heightened emotion pervade these meeting places of people who might be returning from exotic and faraway lands, or perhaps are just now being reconciled face-to-face with kinfolk after years of estrangement....One never knows all the stories, one hardly knows all that churns in one's own heart at meeting one's own people.

When I rode the train, it was to visit my most dearly beloved maternal grandparents. I can see in my mind's eye, just as I saw them from the train window before they could see me, Grandma and Grandpa, standing in the crowd waiting for us. We climbed down the steps and went to them, and got a kiss, and Grandma's warm hands in ours (those were the days before hugging was expected), and her remarking how cold my own hands were.

There is mention of British trains and stations, even Victoria Station, on this blog recently. I've been on some British trains, and the last time I was on that island, my hotel was quite near Victoria Station, which was awfully modernized from the first time, and certainly a different world from what lives in my memory and heart's imagination. When you can't even throw your own trash away, but must hand it to someone walking around in a sort of spacesuit, it feels like a new age, and not of flower children.

One recent sight jived with the old world, though. Driving through the mountains of forests last week, I looked down the wooded slope at a railroad track snaking along a river, and thought I caught a glimpse of the little red caboose.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Snow and Smells

I agree with Alana about bad smells (and thanks to Marigold for the link), but because my blog's subtitle doesn't include "things I dislike," I don't want to spend too much time on this topic. Those offenses I like to nip in the bud, but it's not always possible. When we moved into this house 20 years ago I began to strip it of the smell of cigarettes, and it took a few years before people started to say that the house smelled as mine ought--whatever that meant.

But that odor was released again and assaulted my sensibilities this week when B. and I went at our ceilings with a will and removed the decades-old acoustic junk, a.k.a. popcorn or cottage cheese, stuff I hate because it can't be cleaned. Perhaps because I clean so infrequently, I'd like to do a thorough job of it. At least that dirty thing on the bottom of the room, the wall-to-wall carpet, can be replaced when one wants to remove everything that offends.

On the other hand, I grew up in a house filled with the smell of cigarettes, so I don't think of it as vile, exactly. All the time I thought it was gone, it was probably melding with the me-smells (what are those? cookies and eggs, lemon oil polish and grapefruit dish soap?) the way my mother's heritage melds with other parts of me. Now that it is more gone than before, the house will smell different again, like the new me.

Spring winds are blowing away everything stale in the olfactory department, I think--at least in my marine-temperate zone. But one last picture reminder of the piney forests about 3,000 feet higher up: these gumdrop-colored houses that got a recent blanket of smoothing snow all around, reminding me of candy decorations on gingerbread, and royal icing.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tree Friends on the Way

The trees kept calling to me to stop and take their pictures yesterday, turning what should have been a five-hour drive into six hours. I think it's just been too long since I took a walk in the forest, and when I saw some old friends, it wasn't possible just to give a glance and continue on my way.

The buckeye first caught my eye; it's a tree I dislike at other times. In the late summer, when the world is full of lush greenery and flowers, its leaves turn brown and spoil the landscape. But when humans are saying, "I'm ready for Spring," and it's still February, the buckeye, or horse chestnut, puts on its party clothes way ahead of time and is, for a while, the prettiest one.

The California Bay Tree is dear to my heart. Until I moved to Northern California I didn't know anything of it, though I had probably at least heard of bay leaves for cooking. Since then I've seen what may be the biggest bay tree on earth, and I've stuck many a spray of leaves into my flour buckets to keep out bugs. In Oregon they call this tree the Oregon Myrtle, and some people know it as Pepperwood. The usual leaves you buy in a jar for cooking are milder and come from a different tree altogether--though the California "bay" leaves that I can gather on my walks  have been good enough for this culinary make-doer.

Here's another picture of the bay with a live oak backdrop. Which live oak? I couldn't tell you. Once I decided I would learn about all the oak trees in our area so I could know what I was looking at, and I brought home a stack of botanical books from the library. I quickly discovered that if I took on that project I wouldn't have time to look at any other trees, much less cook meals or do laundry. My daughter told me it was a live oak--otherwise I'd have left out this picture.

This bay tree has full flowers on it...which makes me wonder if some are male and some female; but the Wikipedia article on this species doesn't say anything about that.  
The handsome Pacific Madrone trees, which I've always known just as Madrones, it turns out are related to the Strawberry Tree in my own back yard, as they are both arbutus.
I have to give two photos to fully show the beauty of the leaves and smooth orangey branches.

 I emerged from the forest into the broad Central Valley of California, to the lovely display of barely pink almond blossoms. These are younger trees than the ones I photographed last month, but in the same neighborhood.

And the clouds, and the blue sky! Going north on the interstate, with the wide flatlands spreading out on either side of me, the ceiling was huge and broad. Dark clouds piled up like stair-stepping plateaus, and then disappeared behind me. I so wanted to catch their drama with my camera, and I'm ashamed to say I'd probably have tried while zooming along the freeway, but by then my windshield was too buggy.

I had to find a likely exit, where there would be a nice view, and a place to park. The first public rest area had a tall chain link fence all around it and not a very good look at the sky, but even the scraggly eucalyptus seemed lovely to me that day.

The almond trees gave way to old olive orchards, and I do love olive trees, so I stopped at another rest area that had been plopped into the middle of an orchard. I wandered around for quite a while, admiring these old stalwarts. Olive trees can live thousands of years, but these are probably just over a hundred years old.

There is so much to be said about trees. Right now it's probably enough to quote Psalm 1, which says of the man who delights in God:
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water, 
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
Lord, water me with Your mercy and make me like my tree friends.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Readers and Doers

Janet has a discussion going on about reading and what our reasons are for doing it. I've been thinking a lot about the decrease in the habit of reading among Americans, which was discussed recently on a Mars Hill Audio interview with Dana Gioia.

Gioia was Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts when the agency did a large survey of the nation's reading habits. We've known for decades that people are reading less...and less...and less. Isn't this interesting, when a bachelor's degree is becoming more common? Just this week I heard of a young woman who has a degree, who flat-out refuses to read anything, saying, "I don't read," at the same time she declares that she must need to get a job, she is so bored. This in spite of having a lively young child.

The phenomenon links right in to another observation by a college professor I also heard on Mars Hill, that the vast majority of students of "higher education" today do not connect their studies to their life outside the classroom. When they are with their friends, they would never think of discussing a novel or wonder how the wisdom of the ancients applies today. Is reading a task they have only ever done to pass a test or please a teacher? One doesn't want to call what these people have undergone "education."

Still, there are those of us who read, and not out of duty! Not for escape, either. As it turns out--and this surprised Dana Gioia--people who have a rich internal life with books are more likely to be involved in their communities and do volunteer work than non-readers. Reading is not truly a solitary activity, because the reader and the writer are interacting, and as the reader's interior world is enlarged, his engagement with his fellow humans broadens accordingly.

The research gives a lot to think about--and I would write down my thinking, too, if I weren't embarking more intensely now on a very different sort of work, that of remodeling our kitchen and downstairs floors and ceilings. Just look at this bookcase that has been denuded! A pitiful sight.

It marks only the beginning of the destruction and deconstruction and disorder around here. My computer will be moved to another room, not as handy. I will be packing and packing, and scraping and painting, and cooking without a kitchen. Then I will be unpacking and setting up my home again. Though it's certain I won't give up reading altogether for this while, I must think of the next few months as more in the realm of doing good in "my community."

Every Lent presents a new challenge, because even if our circumstances or station in life might be the same as last year, rare enough as that is, we as individuals have changed from last year's season of the fast. As I heard the exhortation at Matins this morning that we would show compassion on the needy, it confirmed the idea that had been growing on me, that this house project is not this year's distraction from Lent, but provides a perfect setting for me to learn compassion.

Having my house torn up and chaotic, wondering which task I should do next and where I stashed the item I didn't think I would need but now I do--all this causes me anxiety. But my poor husband suffers more, I am certain, and he needs me to show compassion and patience and love.

It wouldn't hurt me to pray the Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem throughout the days of my opportunity:
O Lord and Master of my life!
Take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle talk.
But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King!
Grant me to see my own errors and not to judge my brother;
For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.