Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spices and Summer

This summer is very busy:

1) We are pretty much finished with the actual remodel work on the kitchen and downstairs, so now we have to move everything back into place.  We knew there were some young men in a family down the street, so B. and I went to see about hiring one to help move furniture, and they invited us in for a visit. Their house has the same floor plan as ours, and their kitchen still has the old dark brown laminated particle board cabinets! Coming back home to the light and cheery changes here made me very thankful.

My newly revised kitchen has some pull-out trays in one cabinet, perfect for storing my undisciplined collection of spices and other seasonings. Now I can see clearly what I have, without having to stoop or kneel on the floor to look in the back of a low cabinet. Just in time for old age! Many of my odds and ends of containers of spices and herbs already had labels on the top, so I only had to add a few more to complete that convenient aspect of the display. It seems to be the only thing all the bottles have in common. You know you can click on the photo and make it larger if you want to see my weird library of flavors.

The upper tray is shallower so I put the shorter containers there, alongside my box of teabags that I bring out for guests to choose from. On both trays I tried to have the spices on the left and the herbs on the right, but I wasn't very strict about it. Since I don't make gallons of soup every week anymore, the large containers of seasonings aren't necessary, and I will convert to smaller ones gradually as I use them up. It was buying these ingredients in one-pound packages through our food co-op that led to keeping generous quantities. Two or three times kind friends have given me collections of spices as gifts, which only encourages happy expansion.

2) We are going on the second extended-family vacation of the summer, leaving this weekend, this time to an area near Bend, Oregon called Sunriver, where daughter Pearl's family from the East are renting a house for as many of us as can make it. We'll stay most of a week, and have plans for visiting Crater Lake, hiking, river rafting, swimming and fishing--though not all of us want to do all those things.

3) After the Oregon fun, Pearl and some of those grandchildren are staying at our house for a few more days. Just in time we are getting boxes and downstairs furniture out of the bedrooms upstairs so they won't have to camp midst the chaos. They won't care if the pictures aren't back on the walls; the swimming pool is still in its place.

4) I have been reading a lot, since I discovered that some books actually do stay open on the treadmill shelf at the gym, and do not fall off. The Cairo Trilogy was like that, all three volumes just the right size and shape, and old enough that the binding wasn't too tight. If only I could write reviews while walking fast uphill, but just underlining passages is risky enough. If I'm lucky I just end up with very wiggly lines all through the book, but occasionally I drop the pencil or the book and make an embarrassing ruckus.

There is so much I want to muse about while writing blogs on these books. I hope the summer isn't too busy for that.

5) Son P. is getting married this summer! He is the 4th child, and the 4th to get married. I started to say they have gone down in order, but I should say that they have gone up to the altar in order. I think this couple won't have an altar, though, as their wedding will be outdoors. We are as thrilled as can be about our soon-to-be daughter-in-law, whom we have known since she was a darling baby. Glory to God!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Heathenish Noise

Why does that adjective heathenish come to mind? Maybe because peace and quiet are hard to come by anymore, and seem to require diligence and mindfulness. The current practice of designing alarms into every machine makes no provision for our need for refuge from the noisy world that is often right outside the door. They are uncivilized in that way.

My house is starting to resemble a hospital emergency room, with all the many and varied BEEPs signifying matters that need to be attended to. As in the ER, the matters are not usually life-threatening, and the messages might just be that things are working as they should. The oven beeps to let me know it has reached the desired temperature. My car beeps to tell me it is locked.

My new refrigerator beeps if I leave the door open longer than one minute. This is less of a problem now that it's been moved into the kitchen where it belongs, but it was a constant annoyance during remodeling when I would go out to the garage to get some cold item and find that by the time I arrived, I'd have forgotten what I wanted, and stand staring into territory that was also unfamiliar. Or I was trying to figure out whether moving a shelf would improve the organization, but the psychic tension of waiting for the beeping to start was almost worse than the beep itself, and would make it hard to think calmly.

My old appliances did beep once to tell me when the timer expired, or when the microwave turned off. The new ones never stop the infernal beeping until I do something about it, like open the microwave or press a button on the stove. And all this for my convenience, I'm sure. Though I would rather risk my mug of tea getting cold in the microwave than have one more seemingly gentle alarm. All these many small beeps are like a constant and aggravating sound of dripping, or like the raven quoting "Nevermore," that threaten to take my sanity from me.

This morning as B. and I were standing in the kitchen, I heard a beep so faint I thought it must not be in the same room. Perhaps it was from a neighbor's house...but when I stuck my head out the back door, there was quiet. I walked toward the garage, and it got louder. Oh, no! The washing machine had stalled and was flashing a new error message along with a frequent beep, just minutes after I'd canceled the Sears repair request because the other error message was in remission.  

I was getting ready to have a friend for lunch for her birthday, even though the house is still in great disorder, but all morning I dealt with the washer. Decided to call a different repair person, because I had had enough of the impersonal (and also heathenish) Sears telephone system. Then I had to be sure I kept the washer malfunctioning so that the repairman wouldn't come for nothing. That took so much time I had to drastically alter the menu. Also, I don't know what box my baking pans in, so I realized I can't make banana bread yet! I don't know where the citrus juicer is, so bottled lime juice instead of fresh lemon juice went into the kale chips.

I was getting items from the fridge to start lunch when the microwave beeped, because I'd put my tea in there to reheat after it was forgotten in the flurry over the washer. So I went to take it out, but I must not have shut the fridge, and that started beeping. Shut that door...o.k....Now go out and check on the washer, to see if it will start now that it's cooled a bit. No, it won't start--but the beeper is working great.

When I came back in the kitchen there was, I hate to say it, a new and different beep happening. God, help me! This one was very fast and furious. Was it the refrigerator telling me that it's too hot, perhaps? No....How about the stove? Is something burning, or shorting? This beep sounds so urgent. But it seems to be between the fridge and the the drawer.  Oh. It is a comparatively old-fashioned electronic timer that must have been accidentally bumped when I shut the drawer. Simple to turn off.

I wonder if anyone has done a study on how this uncivilized beeping affects the health of humans? For myself, it seems certain it would make me sicker if I had to be in the ER hearing all those sounds. Can't we have ring tones, say, of Pachelbel's Canon, or a few notes of other good-mood music?  

Perhaps the situation has generated a new kind of business opportunity; if I look in the phone book maybe I can find a listing for someone who will disconnect all the beeps that are getting on my nerves. The old-fashioned people noises we heard camping last week in Yosemite--I didn't appreciate them enough.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yosemite Familiness

Probably it never happened before this, that we camped in Yosemite two summers in a row. But this year and last, we have been that fortunate. The park is so vast and varied, one could easily stay a month and never get bored; our ancestors often did just that. This old photo from before 1930 shows my mother as a child there.

Nowadays there is a one-week limit on camping, and it's a rare person who can do the phone work and combine it with luck enough to secure a site or a cabin in Yosemite Valley, where whole campgrounds have been eliminated since our little family started camping there in the 70's. Nature Girl's mother-in-law is one of those dedicated and generous people, and this year B. and I benefited from her labors and came along as the second set of grandparents, joining Baby C. and his parents.

Being there in June meant that we got to see a different batch of wildflowers from those in July. All along the Merced Canyon coming in from Mariposa, the hills and roadsides were covered with these flowers that I am pretty sure are Farewell to Spring, otherwise known as Dudley's Clarkia, a type of clarkia that reportedly only grows in California. Clarkia is named after William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and I wasn't surprised to learn that it is in the evening primrose family. It reminds me of the Mexican Evening Primrose by my driveway at home.
 The massive rock that speaks to me of God took my breath away as we entered the valley, and this time I took my own photo.

All six adults in our extended family group were veteran campers with hearts thankful to the Creator for lavishing such beauty on us. One grandfather prayed thanks for the "familiness" we were enjoying and when I heard the word I knew it would be in the title of my blog.

The first day some of us went on an expedition to gather firewood in an area that had been severely burned in 1991.  N.G. took pictures of Baby C. sitting in the middle of acres of purple lupine, and later we went into the woods and found the colorful Harlequin Lupine as well--two sisters in that family group.

That afternoon the same group of us hiked past Mirror Lake to Hidden Falls. The last time I had seen the lake it was just a swamp full of horsetail and other such stuff. But this year every body or stream or fall of water in Yosemite is at its fullest and highest, and many families with children were playing in the sandy boulder-studded water as we tromped past.

Rattlesnakes! We saw two on the trail-- One crossed silently, completely ignoring us. But the second one shook his rattle as he slithered into the leaves. I took his picture, too, but he is well camouflaged.

Hidden Falls wasn't easy to get to, not with my stiff and unreliable joints and sinews. There was much clambering up steep hunks of granite and even some log-walking, but before long we came to the spot on Tenaya Creek where all my senses were bombarded.

There is little dirt in that place; towering all around are trees with thick trunks, growing out of granite slabs and boulders as big as houses. And water, torrents of it this wet year, pouring off the top of more speckled gray rock in falls that remained hidden somewhat behind huge craggy stones. The water's roar echoed off all the rocks and made talking nearly impossible, and the brightness of the white foamy water glared somewhere out of every photo frame.

Baby C. had come along in the backpack. His parents sat him down in a flat place next to the falls and me, while they tried to scramble a little higher, and C. started singing and squealing. He liked the excitement in the air, I think, all the fine cold spray and the tempest blast of sound. Clean and fresher than anything.

All the waterfalls are exciting this rainy year of 2010.  B. and I hiked together part way to Vernal Falls, and I read a book while he completed the ascent to the top of the falls. High steps are cut out of the rock next to the canyon, where spray from the waterfall drenches the hikers on the Mist Trail, some on their way back from the summit of Half Dome. We have hiked the Mist Trail several times as a family, but this year my knee hurt just thinking about climbing those steps. The photo above right is of Nature Girl on that trail, aged three, with her papa.

It was a new kind of camping for us, in Housekeeping, where you get three walls surrounding beds with mattresses, canvas roofs over your head, electricity in your cabin and patio area, and hot water in the restrooms nearby. Not like our tent camping at Crane Flat in the past, pictured.

Cooking was fun, shared by the three women. I had a new and hot propane canister stove to replace our old one that was of a kind that we had to pump what seemed to be every few minutes, and even then the burner farthest from the tank never got very hot.

N.G. made a version of Power Pancakes with blueberries. No one had brought a large enough bowl for the batter so we made do with a dishpan.
Baby C. missed his routine, and seemed to get more overtired and cranky day by day. This is a shot of him sleeping early in the week, after being lulled to sleep on a wheeled walk. He often enjoyed his outings in the baby backpack, with its pauses next to trees and rocks where he was given time to feel the textures.

Our last full day in the park B. and I went with our daughter to Taft Point. It's a short hike after you drive up toward Glacier Point for an hour or so. Still, the trail involved a bit of "boulder-hopping" as I heard it described. The streams are full and the distances between the rocks that stick up sometimes require a leap. It's not that the water is deep; I could have taken off my shoes and walked across if I wanted to lessen the risk of wet boots or a sprained ankle. I managed without doing that--but on the homeward crossing, it took me about half a minute to coordinate my eyes, legs and courage and figure out how to spring--or lunge.

From Taft Point you look down into Yosemite Valley where the Merced River is snaking along, and across the canyon to perhaps the most thorough view of  Yosemite Falls possible. The day before, we had stood at the bottom of that waterfall; the experience from Taft Point is much quieter and drier.
You can also see down to El Capitan, that mass of rock one often sees from the bottom on entering the valley. It's in the upper center of this photo, sloping down to the trees.

We ate our trail mix and crackers sitting on the rock slabs, and let C. out of the pack to wiggle his toes in the granite dust.

So many wildflowers up there remain a mystery to me, even though I have prolonged my vacation (Yes, yes, I know, I should finish putting my kitchen back together or prepare for my soon arriving house guests.) researching them online and writing this blog.

The curious specimen here, for example, has the look of a Longhorn Steershead--the descriptive common name of a flower, Dicentra uniflora--but it doesn't have the leaves to match that identity, which would be a relation of Bleeding Heart. Is it an imposter steer? How could there be two flowers so similar, that are not at least in the same family? Those blade-like leaves must go to something else...but where are steershead's leaves? Very odd. But I can't let that problem distract me from the main point of this flower: God is amazing!

I saw chamomile ready to bloom, and the tiniest alliums: each plant consisted of a single thin stem that I'd have thought was a frail blade of grass sprouting out of the sand up there where there is only wind and rock and sun. But at the tip of a few "blades" were the remains of a half-inch spherical tuft, lying down on the ground at that point because the thin stem couldn't bear it up.

These leafy plants at left were scattered profusely over the meadows and forests at about 7,000 ft.; when the buds open they will make for a lot of color--we think yellow--and then they will really be attention-getters.

After taking in the views from Taft Point we hiked back to the road and drove on to Glacier Point, the most popular viewing spot in Yosemite National Park. No matter how often I visit the park, I appreciate the broad perspective. You can see where you camped or hiked over the last few days when you were down in the trees. 

At Glacier Point the people-watching is unbeatable, because the population is international (Yosemite belongs to the world, or the U.N., or something, after all, which doesn't please anyone I know), and there are so many people. After driving up the mountain all that way they aren't in any hurry to leave, so everyone can watch everyone else as well as the scenery. We wondered if this pink-and-black woman might be on her honeymoon...anyone have a guess as to the origin of what looks like a traditional costume?

I didn't know what a ghillie suit was until I asked Moss Boy if I could take his picture, and why he was dressed like that.

"I love your dress," I said to the woman with the long yellow costume. It was also quite pretty from the front, as was she.

Baby Girl was dressed in our family's traditional outdoor clothing when we took this picture of her at Glacier Point nine years ago.

But Glacier Point was not the last view; we always love to see things from Washburn Point as well; it's just a bend or two of the road back from Glacier Point. Additional exotic members of the Family of Man could be viewed there, like Hasidim taking pictures.

What first caught our ear was a shiny man standing on a prominence and turning to and fro, singing over the treetops an Asian style of chant, a cell phone in one hand and a camera in the other. Two or three other men--one dressed all in black-- and four women were singing nearby at the same time, and the women were tapping their feet.

 I asked one of the women, when she was finally walking back to the parking lot, what she was singing about. She was beaming smiles as she said, "Oh, I sing to myself." I didn't want to pry, but she didn't seem in a hurry to get away, so I pressed, "What were you singing about?" She was happy to tell me, "About mountains, high, lonely."

There is no last word that seems to fit after that, unless it would be Psalm 104, revealing to us our Lord,
Who walketh upon the wings of the winds....The mountains rise up and the plains sink down, unto the place where Thou hast established them....He sendeth forth springs in the valleys; between the mountains will the waters run....He watereth the mountains from His chambers; the earth shall be satisfied with the fruit of Thy works....How magnified are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all; the earth is filled with Thy creation....

Friday, June 11, 2010

Censure or Repentance - Father Moses

 From Father Moses of the Holy Mount of Athos:

An offspring of [the sin of] pride is censure, which is unfortunately also a habit of many Christians, who tend to concern themselves more with others than themselves. This is a phenomenon of our time and of a society that pushes people into a continuous observation of others, and not of the self. 
Modern man’s myriad occupations and activities do not want him to ever remain alone to study, to contemplate, to pray, to attain self-awareness, self critique, self-control and to be reminded of death. The so-called Mass Media are incessantly preoccupied with scandal-seeking, persistently and at length, with human passions, with sins, with others’ misdemeanors. These kinds of things provoke, impress, and, even if they do not scandalize, they nevertheless burden the soul and the mind with filth and ugliness and they actually reassure us, by making us believe that “we are better” than those advertised.
Thus, a person becomes accustomed to the mediocrity, the tepidity and the transience of superficial day-to-day life, never comparing himself to saints and heroes. This is how censure prevails in our time – by giving man the impression that he is justly imposing a kind of cleansing, by mud-slinging at others, albeit contaminating himself by generating malice, hatred, hostility, resentfulness, envy and frigidity. Saint Maximos the Confessor in fact states that the one who constantly scrutinizes others’ sins, or judges his brothers based on suspicion only, has not even begun to repent, nor has he begun any research into discovering his own sins.

Thanks to the rector of our parish for posting this passage in the church bulletin.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Blogs and Babies

Before I was married I didn't keep a journal, at least not after the 5-year diary attempt in adolescence. And newly married, before children, I limited my writing to letters and sermon notes. It was only after having a child or two that I wanted to write at all, and I don't understand all the reasons for the delay, but I used to think it had something to do with types of mental or creative energy.

I noticed after two or three pregnancies that I had no urge to write while I was pregnant. There are five long blank periods in the recorded history of my thoughts, scrawled in a mishmash of notebooks and stored in a box on a shelf. Much of my journaling over the years was filled with angst over church tensions or worries about whether I was being lazy about finding a "ministry" other than my family. I wrote long lists of what I had accomplished in a typical day followed by the lament, "And it wasn't enough!"

What was it about carrying a child in my womb that eliminated the need for hashing everything out with pen and ink? Perhaps it wasn't anything to do with the creative aspect of my participation in a magnificent process of nurturing a new and unique person--though my writing had been potentially creative in helping me to make sense of my world.

I started to write this blog about the similarities with my current life, where I am participating in a months-long creative work--thank God it isn't nine months--and don't have the thinking power to devote to any questions other than towel racks and paint colors. It's only with great faith that I can imagine having anything significant to say ever again.

The idea I started with when I sat down just now doesn't stand up to more scrutiny. Maybe my intellectual life 30 years down the road is entirely different. In the former time it was in a somewhat dormant stage, really, as I reminded myself in a recent post. The simple reality is that being with child made me happy and content. Maybe it was hormones. In any case, I didn't need to write.

Now it's that I can't think well, that prevents me writing as I've become accustomed to. I hope it's just a matter of distraction and overload, and that I will return to a version of my old self within another month or two. Already I have started sleeping better; it happened when I got the appliances into the kitchen. Family get-togethers and summer vacations will delay putting everything else back in place, but when the day comes that I don't have to be ready at 8:00 in the morning for invading construction workers, it will be the beginning of my full return.

No, no, I mean the beginning of the next phase of my life. I know I can't even return to last week, much less last year, intellectually or creatively or any other way. There's always something new replacing something old, some loss and some gain. Today we moved the old furniture on to the new wood floors, and it all looks pretty, but we have lost some quietness from having (dirty) carpeted stairs.

The disruption has forced me to thin out my belongings, and take stock of how I actually use my kitchen. Having canisters of flour and sugar on the counter doesn't make sense for someone who rarely bakes anymore. Maybe stress and insomnia and change will blow some cobwebs out of my mind as well, to make room for fresher and clearer thoughts that I can type into blogs on my computer when it is re-installed in the room with the pretty new floor.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Long Doll on the Straw

 The latest charming doll lady I saw was at an outdoor event where we sat on straw bales and listened to Patrick Ball play his mesmerizing Celtic harp.

On the row of bales right in front of us was this dolly, alongside her Little Girl and the Girl's mommy and daddy. I couldn't decide if she was a gypsy or a babushka, but she made me want to sew a doll and dress her in a flowered skirt and a blouse with full sleeves.

Beyond the Girl in the top picture you can barely see the harpist's face up on the stage. I never got to see Long Doll's face.

She was wearing a head covering like many other people that evening, because the wind was blowing through very cold! Yes, even in the Merry Month of May.

Once the Girl grabbed her doll and I got a blurry shot of her willowiness. But she was right away tossed aside.

Long Doll seems to have fallen right asleep where she landed.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Iconic Book Covers

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall
 by Winston Graham
The Informer by Liam O'FlahertyA Wizard of Earthsea by Ursla le GuinThis link may not work for very long, but it is to a page on Alibris of "50 Iconic Book Covers." I am so fascinated by the artistic collection, I hope others can see it.

I needed a reminder to take time and appreciate the art of dust jackets. I haven't read any of the three I've pasted pictures of, but their covers alone do draw me to them.