Monday, May 31, 2010

Wandering into Urban Homesteads

God willing, today was the last day I will have to live out of my car. The floors took two weeks instead of one. In the meantime I have forgotten how to keep house--having a thick layer of fine wood dust on everything each night has beaten me down--and haven't learned how to be a gypsy. I've been leaving the house at 9:00 and wandering around the county doing little errands or some shopping. I can take all the time I want to try on clothes or look for that special title at the library's used book store...

But today, Memorial Day, the library was closed, and there was no place to be. My bed, my computer, and some vegetables were what I longed for. I have lost all my sociability and courage and just want to be a housewife hermit for a few months.

But before today's last straw, some outings I enjoyed were gardening at church, and having a long-overdue chat with my priest; sitting in Starbucks on a day of pouring rain and drinking the largest Café Mocha I've ever indulged in; and visits with crafty gardening friends.

K. and S. got more chickens, and a hive of bees! They are growing everything from parsley and onions to raspberries and blueberries. K. has been knitting sweaters and socks. It was lovely to catch up on their homesteading developments.

One night we visited with our longtime friends who I will call The Artist and The Hermit, Art and Herm for short. Herm is one my best-ever book friends; we never have enough time to sit by a fire in winter, or on the patio in summer, to talk about our reading and how it is all connected. She and B. never tire of sharing music from their old and new favorite musicians. 
Art creates beauty, whether it's in his sketchbook or the garden. Among the santolina, lavender, germander and California poppies he had this yellow-flowered giant I wasn't familiar with. He said it was sage, and wanting to know just what sort, I went home and researched it online.

It didn't seem to be in the salvia group, so I set several of my botanical sleuths on the chase and found out that it is Jerusalem Sage, not a salvia but Phlomis fruticosa. I also learned that Salvia and Phlomis are both members of the Lamiacea family, also known as the mint family. 
In addition to propagating unthirsty plants such as the ones that populate the textured garden in their front yard, he has created a clever drip/wicking irrigation system that gets the needed amount of water right to the roots of his back yard vegetables. In the photos here, if you look closely you can see that the wick goes into a piece of hose carrying the moisture deep to the root zone. The paper bag that normally hides the water pot from the sun has been lifted briefly for me to see it.

Writing about these inspiring gardens and people I love is helping bring my most stressful day and fortnight to a better close than I thought possible when I sat down here an hour ago. Just remembering gardens and books and good friends is soothing and healing.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Chesterton!

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite thinkers and writers, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, born in 1874. Not having time for a long exposition on what I love about him, this year at least I will have to be content with posting five of the many, many clever and telling quotes for which he is justly famous and very useful, too. At least four of them are from four different publications. Thank you, GKC, and I pray you are enjoying rest with the blessed.

Women have a thirst for order and beauty as for something physical; there is a strange female power of hating ugliness and waste as good men can only hate sin and bad men virtue.

Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of man, and is producing faster than he can think and give thanks. (1902)

My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.

Comforts that were rare among our forefathers are now multiplied in factories and handed out wholesale; and indeed, nobody nowadays, so long as he is content to go without air, space, quiet, decency and good manners, need be without anything whatever he wants; or at least a reasonably cheap imitation of it.  (1933)

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Wet Drive on Pentecost Eve

I came home yesterday so that I could make it to Pentecost. Vigil last night was wonderful, of course. But today I am sick and had to miss the feast. Being kept at home has given me a chance to put up some photos and share the sights of my drive.

While still on the flats I saw acres of alliums under a sky as white as their flowers, with drops of rain starting to fall out of it. They are onions, yes?

After it began to rain in earnest I noticed the yellow lupines covering the hillsides, where blue and purple ones had been last month. I had to hold the umbrella over my camera to get these photos which show the flowers fuzzed-out by the effects of wind as well as waterlogging.

Only three minutes to snap my pictures, but ten to try scraping my shoes of the mud they'd easily picked up on the side of the road, enough to throw a large vase.

Farther down the road clover and vetch are in flower together. That soil should hold plenty of nitrogen! 

On the home front, the amount of rain we've had so late in the spring has made a big difference in the landscape. The roses are huge, and the old seeds I threw into the ground without much hope sprouted quickly and are growing fast. Natural sprinkling is more effective than me holding a hose. The temperatures have been low, with wind, too, so mildew hasn't been a problem.

I never feel right complaining about wet weather in California, seeing as we grow so much of the nation's fruits and vegetables on land that doesn't get rain for several months of the year. Even if we got several years like this, it wouldn't change the basic arid climate. Every refreshing shower postpones this summer's inevitable drought.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Snow and Birds

On the way up to Northern Nature Girl's place this week I stopped in to see my friend L.K. She lives in a low mountain region where the street names are Quail, Pine, and Towhee. Tall conifers fill all the yards in her neighborhood.

But I didn't spend any time outdoors that afternoon, because of drenching rain. We stayed inside and I got to meet her miniature parrots that I think are called parrotlets.
 She gave me bags full of fabric from a gift that an elderly friend had made to her. Of course I don't know how I will manage to make use of it--yet. But I got ideas, looking. Her quilts inspired me.

Driving down to the valley again, I came into sunshine, and the air was warmer. Then at Lake Shasta, fuller than I have ever seen it, buckets of rain made driving hard at any speed. It was awfully cold here at my destination, but it didn't snow, until this afternoon. Light slushy snow, then what N.G. calls popcorn snow, a sort of cross between hail and snow. This is a view from across the street; it's only dark because of the clouds.

The snow paused for a spell, and birds came to the feeder! I didn't see them, of course, until N.G. pointed them out to me, just a few feet on the other side of the window above my sinkful of dishes. We took pictures of the Black-Headed Grosbeak and the Mountain Chickadee. The Grosbeak was a bird N.G. hadn't seen before this spring.
My daughter and husband haven't lived here a full year, so every time something comes into bloom or loses its leaves it is an event. Everything was so different at my first two visits especially.

The trees in front are covered in flowers now.
And one of the birches uprooted in the very rough winter.

I'm wondering if this is a quince brightening up the roadside.

I built a fire in the stove this morning, as it was colder than yesterday. And the cats seemed to enjoy it. They slept in nooks and crannies all around the warm room.

N.G. made us some kale chips tonight. I'm not sure I'd ever have tried them if she hadn't demonstrated how easy they are:
Take a bunch of kale, wash it and tear approximately 2" pieces off the stalk. Dry them in a towel or salad spinner, and put them in a bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bake in a 350° oven for about 12 minutes, stirring a couple of times.
N.G. thinks you should try to cook the kale on parchment paper as her original recipe directs, but she hasn't always done this. The kale comes out looking brownish-green, but it is crispy and light and flavorful. One person could easily eat a whole bunch this way. We don't know how much of the nutrient value is retained, and I haven't researched what anyone else says about that.
When I get home again I will be in the midst of the disarray that seeps into my mind and makes me incapable of writing more than one coherent sentence per day. It's been nice to relax away from the home that is not homey, and play with Little C., who's seven months old now and lots of fun. While he napped I read and wrote, and even laid away a draft for a little blog I can post later if I feel like it.

Cairo Trilogy - Intro

The most fun I had in high school was learning French. But writing a paper on existentialism for my English class, inspired by the books my French teacher had lent me, was the most fascinating work I did. Looking back, I can see that my love for philosophy was born then. Recently an old school friend told me how jealous she was when the teacher raved over my paper. I didn't save it, but I can't believe it was very good; Mrs.Sanders probably just wasn't used to such a heady topic even being introduced in our farm town.

In my paper I compared Kierkegaard and Sartre. I was a Christian believer at the time and relieved to find that there was an existentialist philosopher who named the name of Christ. When I got to college I found that Francis Schaeffer thought Kierkegaard misunderstood The Faith if he believed it required a "leap of faith." At the time I wasn't comfortable with the world of philosophy and wouldn't have said I loved it. I was trying to love Christ in a fairly pietistic way and didn't have a clue as to how to engage Christianly with the humanities. I did enjoy hearing from and reading various theologians and didn't realize the divergence among them until after I was married.

When I became a wife and mother I began to focus on reading children's books, and teaching children practical aspects of the faith. In the 1980's two girlfriends separately and in different ways made me realize the importance of the historicity of Christianity; soon I was sitting up in bed every night reading Chalcedon magazine and happily listening in on The Great Conversation that humans are always having. The many writers for the publication saw the whole of history and philosophy and were not afraid of it; they had confidence that God in Christ had it all wrapped up, even if they didn't.

Reading this point of view was amazingly encouraging and relaxing. It seemed to really help me go to sleep at night, to leave all the details of running a household and family outside the door and try to stretch my mind to understand why the French Revolution happened, how Romantics skew the Gospel, or why Chalcedonian Christology is pertinent today. It was comforting to drift off like the child who doesn't know what his parents are talking about, but who feels safe in her bed. God is omnipotent and omniscient, and I will never be, so I rest in Him.

Somewhere I read that people who enjoy thinking are not always the best thinkers. Maybe that means not the most efficient, or logical. I don't often have anything to show for all the eavesdropping I've done, listening to the Good Thinkers. In the world of philosophy I resemble my own Baby Girl when she was old enough to talk, but not old enough to grasp what the other six of us were discussing at the dinner table. She wanted so much to be in on the lively talk, and would look from one to the other of her family, and when she heard a phrase that she could link to something she knew about, she would quickly interject a comment that was rarely on topic.

Three years ago I became a child in the Orthodox Church, and now I am even more ignorant, as what I know has shrunk in proportion to the vastness and connectedness of God's World as it is perceived by our theologians and lived by the saints. Categories and schemes I had gradually come up with aren't as helpful as they promised to be, and in my imagination I am catching a phrase of conversation, or a glimpse of Life, of how everything is summed up in Christ; God in Trinity is simple and whole. I have been learning that God didn't mean for us to suffer all these separations or distinctions between soul and body, between mind and heart, and between thought and action.

While I was beginning to find Christ in His Church I was also learning that ideas can't be separated from people. No one can be labeled solely by what philosophy he espouses this week. A philosophy does not have an existence in itself but is humans thinking in a certain way. The Kaiser Permanente billboards that have a cyclist telling us, "I am not my bad knee," and a chubby woman saying, "I am not my weight problem," help us understand that people are complicated. Kierkegaard no doubt would like to defend himself on a billboard saying, "I am not existentialist philosophy."

When I began reading The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz I was immediately captivated by his writing, and I suspected that I was going to find it multi-layered with meaning. I read about Mahfouz a bit online to give myself a head start. He was a philosopher, and some have referred to "existential themes" in his works, so I have been reading with an eye to letting him tell me what existentialism is. All I could remember from my sketchy term paper was the buzz-word "authentic," and one word doesn't make for a definition. My paper on the topic couldn't have been very good because I didn't have much intellectual preparation for tackling it. Kierkegaard himself wrote volumes of philosophy that pretty much started that branch of The Conversation, and generated many more books by people discussing and debating his ideas.

A definition of philosophy that sticks in my mind is "people seeking to know how to live the good life." Mahfouz's writing is full of such common humans, some of whom think harder about it, or have more success. I am reminded of the saying of Philo of Alexandria, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." The characters I have met in The Cairo Trilogy are enriching the world of my imagination as I get to know their various personalities and see how they respond to the challenges of their culture and the political situation they have to deal with. None of them would put himself in a neat box with a label on it, and that's why it takes three novels to tell their story.

As I write this introduction, I haven't yet come to the end of the third book. Calling this post an introduction almost commits me to writing more about the novel, but it seems an impossible task for me to even appreciate the scope of what Mahfouz has done, much less give a just report of it. Mahfouz spoke more than once while he was alive about the primacy of politics in his life, and if I knew more Egyptian history and were more politically minded, no doubt I could glean more meaning from the story. That's just one example of how my review will be skewed and lacking.

But the book is so wonderful that it seems unkind to not tell about it, and it does stretch me to make the effort. But don't hold your breath waiting for the actual review. You might have time to read the book yourself while you're waiting.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

May Miscellany

I've been wanting to write a blog post about all the various goings-on in my life lately, but haven't found a way to write all the loose ends together.

One dumb idea was to use the theme of Lines or Separations, Old and New. Oh, my, that was unwieldy. But a few pictures that I found might have worked with that theme.

In the back yard pool the plumbing got completely blocked with matted spruce needles from the neighbors' tree. We had to call a repairman, but by the time he arrived and blew out the plug with CO2, B. had mentioned our problem to the neighbors and they cut down the tree! I hope they will finish off the tall stump soon.

Even now this oak hardwood is being turned into floors in our house, but I took the photo when it was sitting in the family room acclimating for two weeks.
I noticed how the lines of iron railing make an X over the stairs, as though to signify that they will not exist in their same form after they get some of that beautiful oak covering them. But in the meantime my elbow complained from pulling staples out.

The most troublesome line of all is this one, below, on the ceiling that flows without a border from the family room into the kitchen. The kitchen has satin paint but the family room has flat paint. I've been working hard, on a ladder several times with a brush or a little roller, painstakingly trying to get a straight line between the old textured kitchen surface and the new smooth family room ceiling. I'm not yet finished, but I hope all that's left is to roll once more some flat paint on the family room side.

It never occurred to me to have a complete hiatus in my doll-making efforts. I wanted some wool for stuffing the dolls. It is a long story, and I can't decide if it is horrible or hilarious, but in any case it is too painful to tell, how I ended up with ten pounds of raw and dirty sheep's wool that is so full of foxtails that no one would believe it. Nature Girl says that if one wants foxtail-free wool one probably has to get it somewhere besides California. But I'm not asking for that; I'd just like some 90% cleaner than what I got this time.

My first picture of the wool shows it at its most appealing. If you click on the photo you can see close up the lines of golden lanolin.

I have spent hours pulling out foxtails, and I thought I got them all out before washing it, during the skirting process, but afterward I discovered a million more, and that was just in a pound or two of the wool. The next two pictures show my post-washing sorting project, and a wad of stickers I removed with wool fibers still clinging. Now I have to wash it again to get out the dirt that the hidden foxtails held on to through the first three washings.

Before I leave this topic, I have to say that I love the wool, even though I got a bad batch. Working with it before washing, I couldn't stop sniffing at my hands with the good-smelling lanolin on them, and they felt so soft, too. Now that the lanolin is out, the wool is white and fluffy where it isn't still dirty. Makes me think that spinning would be satisfying, too. 

When I had my new stove functioning for two weeks I baked the last of the butternut squash from last summer.

And now that the stove is in the living room while the floors are being laid, I ran over to Wal-Mart and bought a GE electric kettle so I can make tea. That's it sitting on the new kitchen counter.

Since I didn't want to be in the way of the floor guys, I spent a long time at church one day, making communion bread, taking inventory in the bookstore, and removing several monster wheelbarrow loads of a pretty plant that had taken over one perennial bed.

When the plant is blooming, you get an impression of purple at the tips, but they droop down a bit, so it's vague and not eye-catching. When I cleaned up some of the mess I found these flowers that had fallen off, lying on the blacktop like flower candycorn.

May has been mostly cold and wet, with a few sunny and warm hours to encourage seeds to sprout. The gardens have some lush growth of certain plants, and the largest snails I have ever seen. I was able to fit in another trip to see Seventh Grandson, and as I type he is sitting on The Quilt playing with his toys.

Doesn't the Bible say something about lines falling in pleasant places? I could have used that verse, wherever it is, if I'd made this post all about lines.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Lullaby Sound

My definition of lullaby presupposes a woman's voice, though I will allow for poetic license in lines such as "The rain made a lullaby sound on the roof," which phrase I'm pretty sure stuck in my mind from reading The Maggie B. a hundred times. But some people must think a lullaby is anything boring enough to make a child flee in desperation to the Land of Nod. That is my conclusion after listening to a recording titled "Lullabies" in the car today.

Before I set off this morning for a long drive, I rummaged through the box of CD's temporarily in storage during the remodel, and spied two collections of such songs, which made me think, "Why not brush up on your lullaby repertoire?" So I brought them along, and as I was listening to the Lifescapes CD I realized that it was for the first time.

When I had babies in the house, I never thought of playing a recording for them at bedtime. When I borrowed LP's from the library or bought lullaby songbooks it was so that I might discover a new soothing melody to croon myself. For years B. and I would sit on the children's beds or on the floor at night and sing to them for a long time as they drifted off.

I did know a grandma, long before I was a grandma myself, who played recorded music for her grandchildren in their beds when they came to visit, but at least it was of a woman singing sweetly--if maybe a little too sweetly for my taste. One young mother filled me with dismay, and pity for her children's impressionable souls, when she complained that she couldn't get her kids to settle down unless she played the "Christian rock" radio station at nap time.

My own children had their father and me to sing to them, or they had silence, or in the case of one baby, she got to the point where she groused at me when I stood by her crib singing, and when I gave up and left the room, she contentedly babbled herself to sleep.

Some favorite bedtime songs that come to mind, of the family collection, were: the Italian "Nina, Nana, Cocolo Della Mama," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "All the Pretty Little Horses," "Summertime," "Hush, Little Baby, Don't Say a Word," and many Psalms that had been put to folksy tunes by Jesus People. "Trot Along, My Little Pony" was a huge favorite. My most recent acquisition is "A La Na Nita Nana," which may actually be a Christmas song, but I think babies don't mind.

I didn't pick up any new ideas from the Lifescapes anthology. There were many traditional lullabies that I already knew, but bereft of any lyrics, and with minimalist and s-l-o-w string renditions even on "Dance to Your Daddy." I hit the skip button many times because I couldn't stand the dragging sensation, kind of like being tranquilized by annoyingly tasteless sweets.

The last fifteen minutes of the CD is pretty much equally divided among non-tunes. Not rain-on-the-roof, but "Running Water," "Womb," and "Heartbeat." Running water I didn't think was a good idea. It immediately made me think of the bathtub overflowing, and I wondered how was a child eventually to learn to be alarmed at the sound of water trickling in a house? Womb sounds were not so boring, but reminded me of a recording of humpback whales we once had, and whose songs I found more lovely. "Heartbeat" was, of course, tedious to an old woman, whereas it might be comforting to an infant. Perhaps the producers put five minutes of an adult-speed beating heart at the very end, thinking that if nothing else had lulled the baby to sleep after the first tiresome hour, that fundamental lub-dub might do the trick.

It's likely that these sounds would calm a child, especially if the same recording were played every night. That could be true, though, of many sounds coming from a machine. It seems right to give my children what I myself like and what seems most wholesome. In a real live human voice you can be embraced and loved even after you are in your cradle. If the babies could tell us, I think that is what they would say.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Leavetaking of Pascha

Tonight at church we have a short service, Matins for Leavetaking of Pascha. It's the last time we will sing all the wonderful jubilant Paschal hymns, and cry, "Christ is risen!" many times. Tomorrow is the actual day, followed quickly by Ascension.

In this icon you see our Lord bestowing life on those in the tombs, delivering souls from hell, "trampling down death by death."

I'm so glad to be able to attend, and feast my soul on these fundamental glad tidings. Christ is risen, indeed!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My Famous Pipe-Smoker

Pipe tobacco was what my siblings and I gave our father for Christmas year by year. He smoked his pipe every evening while reading after dinner, and when my grandfather was visiting, they would settle down in armchairs side-by-side and smoke together.

My understanding of the health risk is that it is significantly less than cigarette-smoking, because one doesn't inhale very much. Those who smoke a pipe testify that it is incredibly relaxing, and the practice has even been prescribed as a treatment for anxiety disorder.

I can see how the habit might preclude other worse habits from developing, such as overeating, hurrying and worrying. My father lived to the age of 90, but to make a full disclosure, I must say that he stopped smoking a pipe when he was in his 50's. Grandfather (his is the arty pic below) also lived past 90; he stopped when my father stopped, as he no longer had a smoking companion.
That pipe-smoke smell is one of my favorites from long ago, but one that I haven't encountered for many years. Let it here be noted that if any of my sons or grandsons take up the custom, I will start making gifts of tobacco again. This offer doesn't apply to the girls.

I recently discovered a blog honoring  Famous Pipe Smokers , hundreds of them, from Clark Gable to Winston Churchill and Oscar Peterson. None of the fascinating photographs of these people pipes-in-mouth is as charming to me as the one of my sister and me on the lap of our dear pipe-smoker. He is not likely to be noted with the celebrities, but he is the most famous to me.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Snap, Crackle, Wisteria Pop

As Husband and I were lingering over our soup this evening, the sharp cracks began to interrupt our conversation. Our wisteria is at the peak of bloom, but some seed pods from last summer are hanging on. Just now, after a winter that was wetter and longer than usual, followed by several windy and warm days, they are exploding and shooting their seeds across the yard.

I went outside just before the sun went down and caught some pictures. Here is the evidence on the patio, along with fallen blossoms.

This picture shows two pods, one unopened, and one and seemingly just waiting for the wind to bring its seeds down.

At right, one seed sticking out from its pod, holding on by a thread.

It must be a complicated formula that tells the pods when to burst open, or a certain number of hot and cold contractions, combined with humidity, that determines why some shoot in the spring, and some in the fall.

One September our neighbor whose yard backs up to ours phoned us after dark and said, "I am really afraid; it sounds like someone is shooting at my house!"

We told her it was the wisteria. Hers always blooms way earlier than ours in the spring, being on the east side of her house, while ours is on the west, and in its own tardy micro-climate. They probably do their seed-scattering alternately as well.

We are kept busy pruning or sweeping, smelling or listening to this vine through all the seasons of the year. It's a great back yard resource!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Down Day

A nearly sleepless night following an exhausting day yesterday, made for a day where I felt dreadfully slow, and sickly in various ways, and wore my dunce cap all day, too. I lack good judgment when my body is this tired. That is, I can't think well enough to know how to minimize the bad effects of extreme fatigue, and decision-making is a challenge. Last time this happened to me I went shoe-shopping because I had a birthday discount coupon at my favorite store, and I ended up spending a lot of money on the wrong thing, and could not get it back.

So at least I knew enough not to go to any stores. But I didn't take a nap, because I thought, "Naps don't usually work for me." Now I think it would have been worth a try. I didn't spend any money online, either, so that was good. I managed to come up with some short comments on other people's blogs, but I couldn't write anything long and thoughtful, so as to make progress on my book reviews, for example.

I accomplished about a tenth of what I'd put on my to-do list yesterday. I stayed home and did a little laundry, a little sorting of this and that, and I deadheaded the tea roses. I also picked a couple of rosebuds to add to this bouquet I started yesterday, from some of the things blooming in the yard.

Now I have taken my Benadryl, to make sure that I sleep deeply. I had to take it early, because it takes a good twelve hours to get out of my system. Tomorrow has its own long list of projects and I don't want to risk another day down. Thank God I can afford to have a surprise slow day and not make a lot of people suffer for what I didn't do.

If this quote from Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, is true, "God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind that I will never die," then I will wake up again tomorrow and be delighted to see that my dunce cap is no where to be seen.