Friday, April 30, 2010

Memory and Memory Eternal

My father-in-law has been forgetting things. In fact, in the last many months he can't remember most events longer than a couple of minutes after they take place. If they happened 60 or 80 years ago there is a good chance that he will remember them, but what one would call his short-term memory, that which he is losing, is broadening in scope. Ten years ago he often told us stories about things that happened 10, 20, 30 years previous, and I heard some of those stories enough times to remember them myself.

One had to do with his old leather jacket. We were at the assisted-living place where he lives, about to go out to dinner, and I wanted to take his recent favorite jacket home to launder, so I handed him another old favorite to put on. As we took the elevator down and signed out at the front desk, he got several compliments on his appearance. I told the concierge, "He and his cousin both bought leather jackets in Spain when they were on a trip there together more than 30 years ago."

"I did?" he chuckled. "I'm glad you remember these things." I remember some other stories he used to tell, but lately I hear new stories, from further back. Even his daughter was surprised to hear, when the conversation at a Christmas gathering turned to pets, "We always had fox terriers." She didn't know anything about a fox terrier tradition, because the dogs of her childhood were dachshunds and schnauzers. But W. was referring to the first dog he remembered, when he was a boy, named "Spot." And he's told us a few times since about Spot.

When we passed a purple house on the way back from a doctor's appointment one afternoon, he said, "That reminds me of a woman in our church who we always called 'The Purple Lady.' Everything she had was purple. I haven't thought of Mrs. Finnegan for a long time." That was a church of his childhood, 75 yeas ago. It's as though the loss of one data set has forced his mind to resort to a long-neglected mine of memory if it wants to keep busy.

One tale that is like the overarching First Story of his life, sweetly involves his wife, my late mother-in-law. And it happened when he was only about five years old, so I hope it will be the last one to be forgotten. Their families were friends--an aunt and uncle had even married--and they lived only a couple of blocks from each other. W. came by and walked F.K. to school on the first day of Kindergarten. They were always companions, never dated anyone else, and married when they were 21. The picture was taken in 2nd grade, cropped from the class photo where they were sitting next to each other.

W. has some good habits, which trump the rational; that is, he doesn't have to remember to do these tasks. On another laundry-gathering visit, I asked him to take off his clothes and put on clean ones right then, so I could take the dirty ones home. When I came back into the bedroom, he had neatly folded the pants and hung them back on their hanger on the doorknob, and hung up the shirt likewise. Because he always does. And he had already forgotten why he was changing his clothes in the middle of the day.

He has a habit of being friendly and gentlemanly, so that he kept trying to help ladies scoot their chairs up to the table even when he was becoming unsteady on his feet. And he cracks really funny jokes--new ones--in the emergency room or anywhere there are people, strangers or friends.

God only knows if I have any good habits that will remain when I lose my mind's faculties. How many pair of pants needed folding before it made a habit that endured? If I start now, building the habits I think might serve me, or God, is it too late?

I once heard Wynton Marsalis exhorting young people about the power of the daily habit of practicing their musical instruments: "Every day you go around making yourself into you." We are not what we dream of being, we are not our vision of ourselves, or God's plan for us, but a collection of usually little, seemingly insignificant acts that add up to a unique person.

I see people I love weaken and become confused by the afflictions of age and the loss of memory, like Vivian, who asked her daughter, "Am I myself?"

"Yes, Mom, you are."

But there are people who don't seem to know themselves, and certainly multitudes who have forgotten their own important stories. One aunt of ours thought she was in her right mind, but did not recognize her own daughter, and told her she was an impostor. 

The possibility that I might forget important people, forget who I am, is certainly disturbing. It happens to a lot of people, being another way we are not in control, even of our own memories.

The scariest thing imaginable is to forget God. When Christ said to "take no thought for the morrow," surely this thought was included! I have to quickly move on, and rest in the belief that it's more important for God to remember me, than for me to remember Him. And I pray He will not soon forget someone who has tried to "stick to Christ like a burr to a coat," as Martin Luther's wife Katharina is said to have resolved.

Recently I read Tolkien's "Leaf by Niggle," which added a new dimension to my musings on this mysterious unknown toward which we are all headed. Niggle and his art are eventually forgotten by everyone on earth, and what he accomplished in his life "down here," which was always less than he should have done, and always incomplete, has faded somewhat from his own memory. God remembers him, though, and makes use of Niggle in surprising and grand ways. What Niggle learns of Love becomes a story, a work of art and even a spiritual retreat, called by his own name, that continues to benefit souls out of time.

In the Orthodox Church we sing a simple hymn, "Memory Eternal," at the end of memorial services, and in me it is a prayer for just this wondrous kind of thing God can do, to wrap us up in Himself and carry us through whatever shadowy places we encounter, whether in our minds or along our pathways, until our minds and hearts, and all things, are made new in that heavenly and everlasting Kingdom.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cats, Chickens, and Tree Houses

It all started when one of my grandsons was beginning to read "chapter books," a category of literature I hadn't known by that name before then. He didn't start with The Boxcar Children as my children did; what got him excited was a series about talking cats. I wanted to be able to chat with him about his reading so I got my hands on a copy of Warriors, a series by Erin Hunter. I did get pulled in to the politics and magic of wild cat clans made up of individuals with names like Ravenpaw and Bluestar, clans that fight territorial wars and look down on "kittypets," their derogatory name for tame kitties. Hunter has written 19 books in this series so far, but perhaps Grandson B. grew out of them; he hasn't gotten around to reading the last story.

Another grandson, in 2nd grade, recommended the Magic Tree House Mysteries by Mary Pope Osborne. 28 have been published at this writing, and he's keeping up. I let him read several chapters out loud to me a year ago, and then I came home and read one of the series myself. Through time and earth travel that happens when they are in their tree house, the two children enter into historical events great and small all over the globe, in many different eras and cultures. The format is a vehicle for learning lots of social studies and even science trivia.

My most recent exploration of children's literature came as a result of blogger contacts, where I heard about the books by Frances O'Roark Dowell. The two I've seen so far use a conversational first-person style that reminds me of The Sugar Creek Gang books of yore. In Chicken Boy the main character is a 7th-grader from a decidedly dysfunctional family; he spends the latter part of the book in a foster home, even though the reader has become sympathetic to the good hearts and potential of the family members who are neglecting Chicken Boy.

I liked the grandmother, and Boy's school friend who gets him involved in a science project to prove that chickens have souls. A bit of philosophy hooks me in, especially when added to the fact that Boy gets several chickens to raise at Grandma's. Grandma and Friend have a discussion on this question of souls, and Grandma concludes, "I'd believe a tree had a soul before I believed a chicken had one."

Overall Chicken Boy is full of hope. Our 7th-grader gets over some of the major obstacles of entering junior high without a supporting family, by having kind friends and teachers and extended family. Even before Social Services enters the picture, you get the feeling he might make use of limited resources and succeed in life. Instead, the foster family provides a refreshing and not unrealistic option in his case, and it is hopeful as well. At the end of the book we don't know if and when the original family will come together again.

Why do some children read Warriors and some books about foster children? It is heartening to think that borderline neglected children are finding Chicken Boy in the school library and taking it home to read. It could give them ideas for making the most of adversity, and ease some anxiety about the future. If just one child is uplifted by this book, the author will have accomplished a great blessing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bit by Bit Remodel Report

This picture shows the living room while Armando is refinishing the ceiling. Last week I painted the family room ceiling three times, in order to get a primer coat and two finish coats on it.

I do love painting, though I am as slow as molasses in January. My tutor in the art was my friend L.M., ten years my senior, lo these 30+ years ago working on a church project. After we moved here she visited from New Hampshire and helped me paint my own walls. Naturally I always think of her when I have a brush in my hand.

My new stove is in, and the sink, so I heated water for tea this morning and washed a sinkful of dishes. That felt good.

Yesterday I worked at cleaning up the garden and planting the remainder of the things I bought two weeks ago, because rain was forecast for today. I brought in some lilies in honor of the milestone of usable counters and sink.

This window will be getting some wood trim, and before the end of May I'll have more progress to report and broader views to display of our beautifying efforts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Waterfall with Train and a Dipper

Over the weekend Husband and I enjoyed a trip together to visit the Northern Nature Girl and her family; this time it was a short vacation, not the grandma-only working visit. Though I must say I prefer not to split life into such categories; I like the attitude that we tried to take as homeschoolers: Always on vacation, always in school. When traveling, I always learn things, whatever you call it.

We were in too much of a hurry on the drive up for me to take pictures, but I have to at least mention that my eyes were sated with lupines, great spreading fields and banks and roadsides full of them, on and on for two hours. The farmland, once we got toward the center of the state, was impressive with plantations of tiny tomato plants, onions in rows, and clouds of wild yellow mustard filling the ditches and anywhere the fields hadn't been plowed.

A smudge on my camera lens turned into a glaring spot on most of the photos I took (and yes, it was the real reason, I know now, for the mysterious brightness of that calendula I posted a while back), but we will just have to overlook this imperfection when it shows up, as in this shot showing how my socks happened to match the tiny violets that have sprung up all over N.G.'s back yard.

Four cats still co-exist in the household, where they line up for meals twice a day. The big eyes belong to Little Cat.

A highlight of the weekend was seeing some waterfalls that flow year-round. Near the parking area from which one sets off for the falls, we had to wait for a train to pass over the crossing, before we could get to the other side and leave our car.

Everyone thought that someone else had put the diaper bag and the baby backpack in the car, but no one had. We did without, and took turns carrying Baby C.

We had to walk close beside the railroad track for a mile to get to the scenic spot. As soon as we began hobbling over the rocky slope next to the rails, the train that had just passed reversed direction and slowly came back alongside us hikers. If I had any hobo blood in me, I'd have wanted to pull myself right up and go somewhere, anywhere, just for the romance of it.
The train was remarkably quiet, rocking gently on its tracks. Our boots made more noise crunching on the largest gravel I've ever seen. After five minutes or so of this unreal intimacy with the looming cars, they had rolled away behind us, and we could see the Sacramento River, down the mountain where the train had blocked our view. 
We looked back to see this image of the locomotive backing away behind us.

The falls come right out of the hillside, not from a specific creek or spring, and fall into the river, which bends into a curve at that spot, so that it's not possible to catch the whole span of water falling. It's even hard when you stand in the middle of the river downstream, as we learned from one who has done it. So my photo shows about 1/4 of the total waterfall. 

N. G. notices birds. She pointed this one out to me after she'd been watching him for a while. She'd also seen his kind before at this falls, and was pretty sure she'd seen it go under the water. When we got home she looked him up in the Peterson Guide and found out he is an American Dipper or Water Ouzel. And they do walk on the bottom of streams! My picture didn't come out as clear, so I give credit to my daughter for this one.

Hmm...well, my picture is so different, I think I'll post it as well. Click on it to enlarge it or you might miss my guy in all the glitter of the water spray.
John Muir called this bird the Waterfall Hummingbird, and wrote a lot about it. This illustration comes from his writings, and I assume is by his hand.

I never know what I will learn when I'm with N.G. We looked at the cedars growing around the falls, and she showed me that some of them were Port Orford Cedars, which love shade and water. Their needles are softer and finer than the incense cedars that are more common.

The contented Grandma and Grandpa are walking back along the tracks in the westering sun.

I learned the name of a brilliant bush that startled me several times on my journey earlier this spring driving this route, it was so dramatic popping out of the grey-green hillsides. N.G. told me it is Redbud.

Frequent sightings of Redbud cheered our way home again yesterday, and we weren't too hurried to stop and capture it in one dimension.

It was a very full weekend. I haven't told half of what I saw and heard--but writing this fraction in a blog I hope will help at least some of it stick with me a while.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Streets of the Modern Wild West

In my neighborhood there is a residential street named Filament. When we were first house-hunting here I thought how humiliating, to have to have one's address be on "Filament Street." That is not bad at all, I have now discovered.

How would you like to live on Deny Court? I'm not sure if I'd prefer to live there rather than on, say, Pretentious Way. I'd like it better if it were Denial Ct--that is something I can get my mind around, and most people who live in houses have to be personally familiar with the attitude.

In any case, I'd consider it risky to look for a house to buy, in some of the areas of Greater Sacramento where these and other strange names for streets are found. I might fall in love with a house on Elude Ct., and if it were a bargain, I would feel a lot of pressure to sell my literary soul for it. Do good deals tend to come up more often on streets with names like Image, Essence, Adorn and Agree? Perhaps if the quality for which the street is name is positive, like Esteem Ct. or Acclaim Dr., the houses cost more, not less.

Are the houses on Pretentious Way really so? Or are the people who live in them? Perhaps the residents are only illiterate foreigners. Forgive me, but I really can't imagine. Many questions present themselves, such as, What sort of qualifications does one need to be a street-namer? I suspect that the naming agency nowadays pulls words out of the dictionary by means of a computer database.

As I think about it, many if not most street names that we are used to are concrete nouns, or common or proper names after plants and people, places or events. When you start having words for intangibles, or verbs and modifiers, it is bucking the sensible tradition and causes confusion in the mind every time you turn into your lane.

I didn't like it when streets in new developments were called "Mountain Ave" or such like, even though there was no elevation even in sight. But at least we know what a mountain is, and it is a simple concrete and neutral thing.

But to live on Proper or Refined or Benevolent: it does sound as though the street, or the houses-- or the people?--are being described. I don't like that. These are all the true names of real residential streets I am listing!

Streets with number or letter names should be considered more, if they are running out of ideas. The picture is of the road on which my childhood home was located, and it had a number for a name. But this is the age when a lot of people make up new names for their children, and perhaps that is the next thing to look for in street names. It will happen in California.

There are also streets named for general categories. The typical School Street or University Ave usually refer to a specific example that is nearby, but one doesn't usually run across Savant Drive any more than you would see a street named for houses, students, or cars. We might just as well have a street named Avenue, though I didn't see that one. I did see Component Way, which goes into the same pocket of my mind as Filament Ct.

This aspect of our culture is so vast and jumbled, I am getting more confused and bored as I ramble on. Let me just say that if have to move to Sacramento, the street I will look on is Clarity Court.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not the Camp Cooking I Love

For a few weeks now I have been cooking with a microwave, electric skillet and toaster, set up in a corner of my living room. Sometimes I wash up in the little bathroom sink, and lately I've had my old sink set up on plywood, without counters on the sides.

When I got all organized and ready for the demolition of my old kitchen I thought positively about what I might accomplish with minimal equipment, and was undaunted. After all, I have cooked on a camp stove year after year, and washed up tin plates without any kitchen at all. We often needed to hide our food from bears between meals, but the dishes we ate around picnic tables were tasty and I enjoyed putting them together.

It hasn't been at all the same here. The most obvious difference is that we must cook and eat in a dimly-lit corner of the living room. No trees, no fresh air that whets the appetite. The scenery is also blighted by over-crowding--extra furniture in disarray close by, all the dishes and condiments and dishtowels stacked around instead of stowed away in camping boxes.

But another kind of space is lacking, the mental and emotional refreshment that comes from being away from home and with greatly reduced responsibilities. Some years ago I discovered that when I'm camping outdoors or even in a cabin somewhere, after a few days of rest and relaxation, the creative urges surface and want to be expressed. I learned to bring along some ingredients that might take extra inventiveness or work to make a meal out of.

The ability to focus my mind on cooking at this time is completely lacking. There are too many decisions to muddle over, walls to wash, important papers to hunt around for. A storm has hit my artist's studio, as it were, and the tangible and intangible tools aren't where they need to be; the artist is disabled. If I get through this without getting depressed it will be enough to show for my work.

It's a good thing we are coming to the end of the worst period of remodeling. In the next few days the stove will be hooked up, and the sink. The counters are in, so there will be a place for rolling out pie dough! Next month we'll be kicked out for a few days so that floors can be put in, but I have already started stowing some clutter away in the new drawers.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April Garden Sightings

All the cleaning up young C. and I did last week has made it easier to see that there are still lovely things in the garden; the weeds did not smother everything. After planting half of last weekend's purchases today, I took a few pictures, trying to avoid the large portions of the yard that are still a terrible mess.

People often give cyclamen for Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, and other springtime events. Over the years I've received many, and at some point I started planting them in the garden under the pine tree, next to the rhododendron. This Woodland area is about half the size of my kitchen, but it seems to be plenty of space to grow quite a few shade-loving plants.

Moving out into the sunshine, this salvia with broad leaves is growing next to the lambs ears. Nurseries are always selling new species of salvia, and it seems I buy one every year or so. Some don't make it, but this one survived the recent cold winter.

Both of the columbines we planted many years ago volunteered to make new plants way across the garden, in a shadier spot next to the lamium.

Next to the original columbines, wintered-over calendulas throw up a defense against my garden's threat of blue-and-pink monotony. Yes, they were very bright, but I didn't expect the photograph to reveal them shining like the sun .

Friday, April 16, 2010

I've Made More Doll Clothes Than Dolls

Three times I've made sets of clothes for store-bought dolls, not counting the ones I made for my own Barbie doll when I was nine or ten. (I can still picture those crude trial-and-error shirts and dresses that never fit very well.) It would be nice to make some more, and maybe I will, when I get the sewing room cleaned up. Well, then, why am I not in there this moment working on that? I'm tired, and need to rest a bit on my laurels, even though they are old laurels by now.

I did make clothes two years ago for a granddaughter's Götz toddler doll. The doll is wearing her original outfit above.

I took my patterns from Joan Hinds's Sew Baby Doll Clothes. First I sewed some overalls from a Hannah Anderson skirt I had found ages ago at the thrift store, and got the hat trim from my scrap bag--or I should say, one of my many boxes of scraps.

A checked dress started out as another thrift store find, a man's shirt that B. decided he didn't want. The fabric was in great shape, so I couldn't throw it out.

Finally I made a nightgown with a pink fleece blanket and pillow to coordinate with both.
When I last saw this Doll Baby, she was dressed in one new outfit and had lent another one to her sister. They were lying together in their cradle, so endearing that I resolved to go home and sew more clothes. There were other scantily clad dolls lying around who tugged at my heart. But I went home and got distracted by other projects and haven't sent any care packages to the doll family to this day.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Surprise South American Doll

I have made a few dolls in my lifetime, and my plan is to make at least a few more if God gives me the years. I'll have to drum up the discipline myself, to go with my imagination. In the meantime I enjoy the ones I own, and want to memorialize them by posting their photographs here.

This knitted lady was given to me some years ago by the same daughter H. who gave me the last doll I wrote about. Rocío, as I have now named her, after a former neighbor, first gave me the impression of being from Scandinavian or northern territories, but I have been straightened out as to her ethnicity: she comes from South America--as H. calls it, "the llama/alpaca regions of the world." That explains her sandals, which are like some I found today on a website that sells Peruvian dolls.

She is carrying her child in a sling on her back, and both Mom and Baby have hats with long tails.

Here you can see Baby Eva peeking out from behind her mother. I don't know why I think the baby is a girl. Maybe because H. is a girl whom I used to carry on my back.

I persuaded the mom to lift her skirt a bit so you can see the detail of her knitted petticoat. That's likely why she is looking so uncomfortably off into space.

This pose highlights her thick black braids that hang down. I did see online a couple of instances of headgear like hers on Andean dolls, but not one with her neutral colors, unusual in a land where bright colors are the rule, often contrasted with a black bowler hat.

You'd think Rocío's black braids would have tipped me off that she is not European Nordic, but the truth is, I never until now examined her carefully or thought about her details--only fell in love at first vague impression.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring Plants Come Home

It was a bit of a drive this morning, to get to the spring organic plant sale at an "ecology center" I'd never visited before. My main reason for going was to get tomato plants that are grown and tested in a place that is of a similar climate to us; I don't want another Pitiful Tomato Summer. Oh, our tri-color cherry tomatoes saved us last year, but all the space and attention we gave to the regular tomatoes was not equal to the reward.

I was a little puzzled as to why they were having their sale so early; we never plant tomatoes until the first of May. But I thought I could just keep the plants under cover for another couple of weeks. As it turns out, I won't have to do that, because when I arrived at the sale right after it started at 9 a.m., I couldn't find what should have been a giant collection of tomato plants. "We will sell those at our next sale, May 1st," a staff person told me. Aha! I hadn't nosed around long enough on the website to learn all I needed to know.

My trip was not for nought, however. I'm glad for my error; otherwise I wouldn't have bothered going there. I'd have missed the lovely drive under clouds, along fields spotted with Spanish Broom. This plant always reminds me of a time when H. was a toddler and I'd pack her on the back of my bicycle in the mornings to ride for a few miles along banks of broom in bloom, our heads filling with the sweet scent as we breezed by.

Today I also saw one of the remaining fields of fava beans. I love how these grow almost secretly all winter, and then when we emerge from our winter dens they are already tall and robust. Along with asparagus and artichokes, they used to keep my former (bigger) garden busy until we were ready to plant more tender things. I forgot to take my camera, so I found the fava pic on the Internet.

Even though there were no tomatoes, I found several enticing items to spend my money on, what with so many healthy looking young specimens spread out on tables under trees.

As long as we've lived in our current place, I have been unsuccessful at growing New Zealand Spinach from seed. Though it's not a true spinach, I really appreciated it in the past for the way it grows all the hot summer long and is handy to toss into any dish where you want the flavor of spinach. As I recall, I mostly used it in Creamy Green Soup, a Laurel's Kitchen cookbook recipe. My gardener-heart rejoiced to see a six-pack of my old friends, so I snatched that up first thing.

After a friend gave me a cutting once, I had rose geraniums propagating all over the yard for several years. But they had all died; I brought this one home to parent a new generation.

I bought some bachelor's buttons, which I don't recall growing before, and a Hummingbird Sage, which I might plant at church instead of home.

And three little pots each holding a different type of flat-leafed parsley! In the picture you can see a fourth little pot on the left, of Copper Fennel. Don't know what I'll do with that, other than chew on the feathery leaves if there are enough of them.

To get back to my car, I had to hike up a steep hill, carrying my box of plants. That was a good thing; I knew at the outset not to choose too big a box, or I'd have to make two trips.

Close to the plant sale is a nursery that I don't get to very often, so I had to stop in there, to see if they had snapdragons and stock in the colors I wanted. They did! And they had several other things that begged to go with me, which I was kind enough to arrange.

When I got home I took a picture of the whole caboodle. Oh, but that was after I stopped at another nursery closer by, just to see if they had any taller snapdragons yet, which they didn't.

Rain was beginning to fall, so I decided to just go home and write my report on my morning. I've been up since B.'s alarm went off at 5:20, and before I went plant shopping I swam at the gym. So I'm almost worn out already.

Yesterday my young church friend C. worked with me in the garden here for almost two hours, and it helped me tremendously to have a willing and diligent companion as I broke through the months-long growth of mammoth weeds.

C. carried dozens of loads of pulled weeds to the garbage can, and cleared layers of pine needles from the path and off the cyclamen and manzanita. He never stopped moving, even while he told me all about his favorite books and movies, and about cartoon characters he has created. I'm going to try to have him at least twice a month, as a concession to my aging body that hurts and slows down when I abuse it by stooping, pulling, hauling and pruning for more than a couple of hours at a time. He might help me with housework, too. But this week we stuck to the garden and even planted some lilies.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

An Olive Tree is More Than Interesting

In a recent post I said that my birthday olive tree was "an interesting gift." I suppose it was because I was dead tired that I couldn't think of a more telling word. I'm embarrassed to use such an uninteresting word as interesting. Ugh. The truth is, to receive the gift of an olive tree on the occasion of getting older made a huge impression on me. If I hadn't needed to finish that post quickly and make dinner...well, enough of the excuses.

I love to look at these trees, so as I was browsing them on the Internet I pasted some pictures here. Vincent Van Gogh painted several scenes of olives.

A post about olive trees was one of the first in my string of blogs. And recently on my tree-rich trip I saw old California orchards. My childhood was near the groves that made Lindsay Ripe Olives famous, though as I have mentioned, I don't like the fruits, and my family never had an olive tree on our property. Olive oil gelato? Very West-Coast, and I would be willing to give that a try.

You can adopt an olive tree growing in Italy, like the one at top, and then receive its produce for a year. I suppose you have to adopt it, or a different one, again the next year. Not very good parenting.

Montenegro is the home of this pocked giant, which is reputed to be 2000 years old. The longevity intrigues me, along with all the Biblical references, which I haven't even begun to think about. Mention of them often goes along with general descriptions of abundance and productivity of gardens, and with pomegranates and figs and vineyards.

There's a story of the olive tree who was asked to be king, and the olive branch in the dove's mouth after The Flood. Doors for the Temple were carved in olive wood. Many people make reference to it being the tree of Peace, and God knows I need that--I need Him.

What does it mean, "I am like a green olive plant in the house of my God." ?  It means alive, if it is green. Let me flourish in Your House, O Lord. Let me live in You.

Getting back to the trees themselves, the grove I would most like to visit is this idyllic one in Turkey , the fifth-largest seller of olive oil in the world-- but trying to get to second place. Olive oil I do much appreciate, and can imagine having a picnic on the warm yellow grass, of bread dipped in oil, sitting on a blanket under the sun. Once during my sojourns in that very country, I helped women in shalvar* gather olives from the ground where they'd fallen. I even sampled one of the wrinkly brined olives they cured in flat pans spread around under the trees, and had to restrain myself from immediately spitting it out.

*(I tried in vain to find a picture of these baggy pants that so many women still wore in Turkey in the 60's and 70's. These days a version has become high fashion, and the ones worn by chic models are not the ones I saw and wore. Perhaps this will be be the subject of a future post.)

The Garden of Gethsemane figures prominently in the events of our salvation history, into which we entered last week through the services and events leading up to Pascha. And this tree lives there. What if it is also 2,000 years old?

I planned to post this blog before Pascha, but now here we are post-Gethsemane, post-Golgotha. Wherever olive trees, any trees, are living, this week they are dancing.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bright Monday--Christ is Risen!

Today is Bright Monday, one of the many "most blessed" days of the church year. Our temple was beautiful in the morning light, and in the light of the parishoners' peacefulness, decorated with white Easter lilies and the priests in white vestments, the altar open and letting more sunshine from outside flow into the nave. Wide beams of fuzzy sunlight also streamed down from the windows just below the dome, when thundershower cells were not passing by, and all the candles on the chandelier were lit, even though they weren't "needed." Here is a zoomed-in glimpse of my view.

I love that in the Orthodox Church we have a whole Bright Week to bask in the high joy of Pascha, before we descend slightly into the lesser heights of the 50-day Paschal season on our way to Pentecost. Throughout this period we get to greet each other every day not with a mere "hello!" but with that proclamation that is shouted in many languages on Pascha night, "Christ is risen!" Fr Stephen posted a lovely short video on his blog, one that captures the pervasive blessing of Christ's Resurrection.

He also posts a translation of the words sung in the film, and though I don't know how to link to the video directly, I can at least put the words here:
People rejoice, nations hear:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Stars dance, mountains sing:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Forests murmur, winds hum:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Seas bow*, animals roar:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Bees swarm, and the birds sing:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Angels stand, triple the song:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Sky humble yourself, and elevate the earth:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Bells chime, and tell to all:
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
Glory to You God, everything is possible to You,
Christ is risen, and brings the joy!
In my parish we had nine services between Holy Thursday and today, Bright Monday. I made six of them this year, and I doubt I've ever attended more--even though this year I felt the strain of trying to navigate my daily path through my strange house (torn up for remodeling) and several children coming in at various times for an Easter reunion of sorts.

Tonight I am filled to the brim with all the love of my children and husband, and thankfulness that they all wanted to be here and be together... and filled with Paschal joy, too! I noticed that even the sorrowful days leading up to Sunday have their own joy in anticipation of Christ's rising from the dead. For example, these words from a hymn: "We worship Thy passion, O Christ; show us also Thy Holy Resurrection."

Holy Friday is to be a day of strict fasting and quietness as much as possible, remembering His suffering and sacrifice, and because I had non-Orthodox family around I couldn't plan ahead as to whether I would attend all the services that day: Royal Hours, Vespers of Holy Friday, and Matins of Holy Saturday. In the end, I wasn't needed at home, and I realized that the best way to remain prayerful that day was to remain in church! So I spent most of the day there, and it was probably the richest Good Friday I've ever had. Not until I attended my first of these longish services that dwell deeply on the Cross of Christ did the event and its significance really sink into my heart.

The Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday features 15 readings from the Old Testament, some of them pretty long, like the whole book of Jonah. And two or three of them feature extended congregational singing of choruses. Then--a baptism! It was in the middle of this service that I was baptized into the church three years ago. After I have listened to so much history of God's dealings with His people, the baptism ritual is quite overwhelming. Just as God is lavish in His grace and forgiveness, His provision for our salvation, the ceremony is an extravagance of olive oil poured in water and holy chrism anointing hands, feet, ears and head. The "newly illumined" parishioner wears a white gown and carries a candle, wearing a cross that has also been dipped, baptized in the font.

I did happily remember my own baptism (that's me in the photo), but it wasn't only a personal nostalgia that brought me to tears; much more than that it was gratefulness for the whole plan of God, executed in a saga of faithfulness that we can't even comprehend, much less tell adequately. If, as the apostle says in John 21:25, "...there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen."--then we also could not utter enough words to proclaim the implication of baptism, much less do a thorough job of "praising the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" Ps 107:8

Listening to the Orthodox prayers and hymns, it seems that the Church is trying anyway. A stranger to these proceedings might think that the priest goes overboard in prayers for the new member and prayers of thanksgiving to God. Part of me also thinks this, sometimes, at various services, it is true. But the other part of me says, "Hasn't God filled our cups to overflowing? Didn't he do everything He could to save us? Remember yesterday--Good Friday? Are you so soon bored with thanking Him?"

Truly the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Which is why I didn't even go to the glorious Paschal Matins and Liturgy at midnight. We were going to have a big family gathering in my house-with-no-kitchen the next day, and I was already worn out, so I needed to sleep that night. That Vesperal Liturgy is the beginning of our Resurrection celebrations, though, as in the middle somewhere we change the vestments and altar cloths to white, and we partake of Holy Communion, always a festal event.

While many of my family went to a brunch Sunday morning, I made signs for the bare walls in the living room, using crayons on some remnant rolls of newsprint I got about 30 years ago from the recycling center. Of course, they said, "Christ is risen!" and "Indeed He is risen!" I had brought in enough calla lilies from the back yard the day before to fill three vases stuck around the room amid the camping clutter and oddly-arranged furniture.

It was a blessed day of feasting and reunion, with yummy things from the deli. This morning was the buoyant liturgy , and now I will hope not to deflate too quickly, but to float airily on through this Bright Week.