Friday, December 30, 2011

When busily snapping photos and movies of everything Christmasy, especially grandchildren and decorations, I inadvertently caught my (distorted) documentarist self in a glass ball.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting the cookies ready - Christmas

from the family of Soldier's Joy

My mother-in-law introduced me to the tradition of having cookies at this season of year, and I have made an obsession out of it. I have been trying to cut back, because often in the last decade there aren't enough young or thin people around, people who eat cookies with abandon.

But preparing several kinds and stashing them in the freezer has become a tradition, and this year, in anticipation of having many potential appreciators in the house, I have been enjoying baking. There must be some connection to childlikeness there, but I can't get into thinking too much about it, because the cookies that are in the oven right now might burn while I am philosophizing.

So I will just give you some pictures and recipes for a few of the favorites we have discovered over the years. I wrote before with photos of Neapolitans. They are beautiful cookies and very nice to eat, too!


Bizcochitos are the State Cookie of New Mexico. They have anise and cinnamon and crunch, and many local variations.

Chunky Ginger Spice

Chunky Ginger Cookies are full of spice including ginger in the chewy crystalline form.

I have a whole book of Peppernut cookie history and recipes, given to me by a friend many years ago, but I insisted on devising my own recipe, which includes diced fruit-flavored gumdrops and makes cookies that are no bigger than nuts.

Diced Gumdrops for GJ Peppernuts

A couple of years ago I found Chocolate Macaroons on the Odense website. The only change I made from their recipe is to use extra-large egg whites. The dough seems to me a little runny (even when I tried adding a little extra flour) to be called "paste," but after sitting in the fridge overnight it was easily rolled into a ball that baked into a nicely shaped cookie. The main ingredient is almond paste, so if you like marzipan you will appreciate them.

This is my last post for Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas Party. I'm glad she hosted the party, because it gave me the structure I needed to get any blogging at all done in this busy month. Thank you, Pom Pom!

It's been very much fun! Merry Christmas to all! And if you have cookies at Christmas, please eat one of each kind for me.

Chocolate Macaroons

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Snowmen and Jello - Christmas

Two Glad Grandboys
While we are waiting for Christmas and preparing our gifts, and thinking about what Santa and our parents are preparing for us, children are lucky if we have some snow around with which to build a snowman or snowlady.

My own grandchildren sometimes have that. But when I was a child, I only had the beloved "Frosty the Snowman" 45 to play on my little record player.

It's the only record I remember from my youth until I bought such ones as "Like a Rolling Stone," and I listened to the Frosty tale over and over so that I can still hear the voice -- maybe it was Red Foley -- in my head. On the other side he sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The image below is not quite like what I owned, but it evokes the memory well enough.

I remain snowless, and don't mind a bit. Besides, I can watch "The Snowman" on video. Those who lack the technology for watching movies (and I know there must be some of those people still, though they are probably not the ones reading this) could read the wordless book The Snowman.

But the video is so enchanting, with its haunting tune. The first time I borrowed the movie from the library, it was a version with the song, but since then I have only found it with a purely instrumental score. We are all fortunate now, and I am more than pleased, because I can share with you what I found on YouTube, a clip that includes sung lyrics of "Walking in the Air."

When I turned fifty a friend took me browsing in a quilt shop to pick out a few pieces of fabric as a birthday present from her. Several prints called to mind images from the adventures of the snowman and his little boy, and I took rectangles of them home with a theme brewing.

I sewed by hand several potholders that I call my Snowman Potholders. Of course, they have nothing to do with Christmas, except for their frequent role in pulling pies out of the oven for Christmas dinner.

Waiting....We Orthodox are still waiting until December 25 (or January 7) for the feast and waiting to feast, because we are preparing our hearts, which are tightly bound to our bodies. But participation in the Advent fast needn't mean that children of any age must forgo all goodies. I made this festive rainbow jello for one Christmas Day, but while we are still fasting it seems to me it could easily be made with some soy or coconut milk replacing the small dairy part of the recipe.


1 (3 oz.) package (each flavor) raspberry, lime, orange, lemon, and strawberry Jell-O

6-1/4 cups water
1-1/4 cups evaporated milk

Dissolve raspberry Jell-O in 1 cup boiling water. Remove 1/2 of Jell-O to a bowl and add 1/4 cup cold water. Place into a 9-inch square pan. Place in refrigerator until slightly firm. To the remaining half of Jell-O, add 1/4 cup evaporated milk. Cool and place over slightly firm layer in pan. Continue procedure with remaining flavors of Jell-O in this order: lime, orange, lemon, and strawberry. Cool each mixture before layering. Chill completely. Cut into squares to serve. Yield: serves 8 to 12. 

Now I'm trying to figure out how to tweak this colorful recipe into a frozen dessert. It already has the brightness of Tolkien's wintery image, and I think I might attract my snowmen friends to my holiday table if I just advertise that for dessert we are serving a treat called "Northern Lights."

(This is the third in my contributions to Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas Party.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Beloved American Saint

It seems fitting that we commemorate St. Herman of Alaska on this date, when winter is making itself felt. I've written before here and here about Father Herman, how he spurned the cold, befriended the animals, and interceded between the Aleuts and the powerful people who would exploit them.

His is a good example in the Advent season, of how to keep our hearts and activities focused on the Kingdom of God in the face of distractions. And if we have a church service to attend where we can share in the Life of Christ together with Saint Herman and all the Cloud of Witnesses, we are very blessed!

I just learned (and am adding this paragraph to my original post) that today is also the anniversary of the repose of Father Alexander Schmemann, another shining star in our church family. This note about both men leads to further inspiration from and about Fr. Alexander, who rests firmly in the tradition of Saint Herman. I'm ever so thankful to have this coinciding of the celebration of two of my favorites.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Keeping More than Sanity

I was very blessed by reading a column from the "Living Faith" page of an Orthodox Church's parish website, about how to keep Christmas in a way that is more in keeping with an Orthodox Christian way of life than that of the dominant culture. I can't bear to leave out any of its very practical and refreshing advice, so I am passing it on in its entirety. If any one of us could implement even one new tradition from these suggestions, the Holy Spirit might enrich us through it.

Dear Baba,

We're going to begin Nativity Lent [Advent] in just a couple of days. My kids are already bouncing off the walls with excitement about Christmas, the stores are already getting decorated and I'm feeling lost in the holiday madness and we haven't even started Lent yet. How do we make it to Christmas and keep our sanity? - Overwhelmed

Dear Overwhelmed friend; First of all, come sit down and have a restorative cup of tea and we'll talk about some of the wonderful ideas that are out there. And please consider chatting with friends from church and see what other ideas they have for keeping things in their proper perspective. Remember as we approach the Nativity of Our Lord, that He was born in a simple cave and laid in a manger. I think it is not by chance that the first gospel reading during Nativity Lent is about the man who built bigger barns for all his possessions. It is a rather sobering start to the Lenten journey don't you think? We all have started putting such expectations on ourselves for over-the-top extravagance, so let's see where we lost the message in all that.

  • I have heard it often said that Nativity Lent is a time for us to prepare the cave within us for the coming of the Christ Child. As such, our lives should be simpler, quieter and focused on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The season has become so very noisy that it is harder and harder to prepare. And yet haven't you noticed how more and more people crave something besides the chaos? I think the most frustrating is the silliness of people deciding the 12 days of Christmas start December 13. Where on earth did that come from? We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas between the Nativity and Theophany. So here are some ideas to prepare for and then enjoy the 12 days of celebrations:
  • Be warned with children that anything can happen despite our best intentions. I know one mom who worked very hard through all of Nativity Lent to keep the focus on Christ. There was none of the craziness and none of the consumerism. On Christmas Eve when her 4 year old balked at going to church, she thought the lesson surely had taken so she asked him why he thought they were going to church. In all seriousness he replied "so we can pray to Santa for more presents." Nothing quite like children to keep us humble.
  • So please take all these ideas with a grain of salt remembering to not allow "simplifying" to become a huge, exhausting task. For starters, try to break Nativity preparations into smaller bites. There are many milestones along the journey that will make the Lenten journey meaningful and perhaps not so overwhelming. There are incredible saints commemorated along this journey to the Nativity like St. Andrew, St. Barbara, St. Nicholas, St Herman of Alaska, St. Ignatius and others. These are great stories indeed. Celebrate their feast days. It isn't a distraction and the focus won't be lost as their lives point to Christ.
  • Celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6. I know many families who have their children put out their shoes on the December 5. In the morning there are apples, raisins and various treats in their shoes and maybe a small gift. It is simple but a great milestone on the way to the Nativity. Some will do something in honor of St. Nicholas for a charity, perhaps volunteering at a soup kitchen or shelter. This is especially viable with older children.
  • At the beginning of Nativity Lent, I know a family that would set a basket by their icon corner. Pieces of yarn a couple of inches long were piled next to the basket. Over the course of Nativity Lent after evening prayers, the children would put a piece of yarn in the basket for every good deed they did on that particular day. They did so quietly and without fanfare. On Christmas Eve, the family would take the baby Jesus from their manger scene and lay him in the basket – a soft, warm place filled with good deeds for him to lay his head.
  • Pick a family secret pal; I've seen it called a Krist Kindl (Christ child). At the beginning of Nativity Lent every member of the family picks a name and it is kept secret. Little ones will need a parent's help of course. Throughout Nativity Lent they will leave messages of love and support in all sorts of places like in pajama pockets, lunches, in their socks. Getting creative is half the fun. Reacting jubilantly to getting "Krist Kindled" is equally fun. The rule was that even if you figured out who your Krist Kindl was, you wouldn't let on. On Christmas Eve the Krist Kindl's were all revealed.
  • You may also consider decorating your house closer to the Nativity and then leave the decorations up and the lights on through the 12 days of Christmas. In the old country, many decorate the house on Christmas Eve day and not before. That may not be feasible but definitely celebrate the full feast not just one blitz of opening packages on Christmas morning. You don't want to be sick of it all when the 12 days of feasting are just beginning.
  • Speaking of packages. There is almost a nauseating dizziness to ripping open the packages in a single frenzied rush don't you think? No one lingers over the gifts carefully and lovingly chosen, and then within minutes, they sit back exhausted and Christmas is over. Tragic I think. I know some families who open maybe a gift or so on Christmas Eve, a few more Christmas morning after liturgy and maybe another few Christmas Day night. For those with big hauls, I've seen parents spread it out to a gift a day over the 12 days of Christmas or at least a few days. Now granted, the obviously squishy package with socks or a sweater from Aunt Bertha will probably get relegated to last but still, each gift should be lingered over and enjoyed.
  • And absolutely critical to all of this: be in church. You should be there as much as possible throughout Nativity Lent and especially for the vigil on Christmas Eve and for Liturgy on Christmas morning. Put it in perspective and don't look at it as another thing on your to do list. The services are there to strengthen us, calm our souls and to give us the time to lay aside earthly cares. And best of all, we can commune with Our God. The gifts can wait a bit longer don't you think? It isn't all about Santa despite the opinion of a certain 4 year old. It is about the incarnation of Our Lord and Savior when He took on flesh and came and dwelt among us. We can be there. The last Gospel reading before the Sunday of the Genealogy of Our Lord (also known more humorously as the Sunday of the Begets), is about the King who has a banquet and invites many but they all have excuses. Let's not make shopping, parties and over the top consumerism our excuse to turn down the invitation to the banquet.
I love the words of the Nativity hymn. Nothing else need be said of the nature of the gifts all of creation offers:

What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, Who for our sakes hast appeared on earth as man?

Every creature made by Thee offers Thee thanks;

The angels offer a hymn; The heavens a star; The wise men gifts;

The shepherds, their wonder; The earth, its cave; The wilderness, a manger.
And we offer Thee a virgin mother.

O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!

With enveloping hugs;


St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Church
Written by Brantley Hobbs, 2008

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wait until after this date - Christmas

Tolkien's Northern Lights

One of our children has a birthday on Pearl Harbor Day, which is today. So as not to take away from the specialness of that child's celebrations, in the past we didn't get into the swing of Christmas until the 8th, and even St. Nicholas Day passed without any notice, because in that era even I wasn't cued in to feast days.

Now I'm thankful for that habit of delaying, which makes it easier to practice my present Orthodox unwillingness to jump ahead too much. And every day, every week in the church calendar holds a rich and festive remembrance of a person of faith or an event in our salvation history, so that the Waiting for Christmas period is full of bright days that make the time pass quickly. St. Nicholas, for example. But that holy man was at the center of much childlike fun yesterday, and we are moving on already!

Following our family traditions, then, Mr. Glad and I give ourselves permission to get and decorate a tree as early as tomorrow. Still I drag my feet, so as to nudge the bulk of merrymaking toward the Twelve Days of Christmas, the old-fashioned time to rejoice and feast. Our son-in-law fondly remembers Christmas in Ireland when for two weeks after Christmas many people were on vacation, and shops were closed. So much for the cash-register noise.

As we decorate the house, there are a dozen childlike joys to partake of, often involving memories of Christmases of 20 or even 50 years ago. And some of those are bittersweet, as memories can be. When Gus the Cat was still alive he made us laugh, the way he stalked the tree lights. This picture is a little bit sad for me, because we don't have him anymore.

I like the tradition of keeping back the Baby Jesus from the crèche until Christmas Day; the manger waits empty until then. But in my Nativity set, the baby is glued to the manger, so He is forced to "arrive" way early. At least, these Santas are alone and in this photo they are sort of in the dark so far. Their situation changes when the Light of the World comes to earth.

Some of the participants in Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas party have written about their own memories of Christmas when they were children. Though it didn't occur to my philosophical mind at first, it seems obvious now that what each of us retains with fondness of our own most distant Christmases Past will influence the definition of childlike for us.
Waiting for Christmas - GJ on the right.

The black-and-white photo below shows a glimpse of Christmas as it was for me before I can remember, and it was taken at my grandma's house in Berkeley, where we never gathered for Christmas the years that I can remember.

The important thing is that the picture is connected to my maternal grandma, and without fail we knew that Christmas had arrived when my grandma and grandpa's car announced their coming by the crunching of the driveway gravel, and the trunk was opened to reveal its overfull load of wrapped presents, pies and sweet rolls. My siblings and I helped carry all the gifts from that bottomless hole into the house, and we piled them under the tree, from which they spread outward like an extravagant wave across the living room rug. 

The pies and breakfast goodies were set out on the service porch where the temperature was cool enough to keep them for a day or two; after Christmas Eve dinner a slice of pie would always be set on the hearth so that Santa could have a snack that night when he stopped by.

My grandma and I are not in this photo.
The photo shows my mother at right, holding a doll that I imagine was given to me that year, when I was only two. I like seeing that my grandpa, my cousins and my spinster aunt were there with us. And my grandma's beautiful furniture that I loved!

Now about the colorful picture at the top of this page: I have an edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1999) of the collected illustrated letters that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas, and I'd like to tell about them even though I haven't even read them all myself yet, much less to any children or grandchildren.

For over 20 years the Tolkien children received letters from Father Nicholas Christmas, often near to Christmas Day, but sometimes as early as October 31st. For all the ice and snow pictured, the drawings give the impression of a very cozy group at the North Pole, including Polar Bear and other helpers.

illustration including Polar Bear

This year, several of my grandchildren will be around in advance of Christmas Day and for a full week ! so perhaps we can read a few together. Or perhaps not, as I already have a long mental list of all the lovely things I can do with the children whom I haven't had with me at Christmas for so many years.
Some of the pretty stamps

I'm looking forward to an abundance of time to "waste" just being together for the Blessed Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This year I don't have to have a long-distance Christmas relationship such as Father Nicholas Christmas had with the Tolkien children. But I bet I am just as busy as he before The Event as I scurry with my ribbons and lists around my cozy winter house.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nicholas

Bishop of Myra 
Defender of Orthodoxy
Holy Hierarch

Born c. 270 AD 
(the Ides of March) 
in Patar, Lycia, Asia Minor

Reposed December 6, 345 AD 
in Myra, Lycia

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Oh, Wind!

Right now the wind is blowing up a noisy gale outside. It was just getting going this afternoon when Mr. Glad and I were taking a walk in an old neighborhood in a nearby town.  We like to look at the gardens and the houses, like this one that seems to have been a church at one time.

When we left the restaurant where we'd eaten a lunch of doner kebab and Turkish coffee, we crunched through leaves on the sidewalk, and took pictures of a tree we didn't know.

Its graceful branches and smooth bark, holding up bright yellow leaves and pink flowers, put on a multi-layered show for us.


Mr. G. especially liked the door of this little white house...

...and I liked the way the tall green hedge in front of a large brick house had been trimmed so neatly as to frame the entrance like a picture. So I took a picture.

And that purple plant bordering the sidewalk...I think we have that at church, but I can't remember its name. It's the perfect complementing color.

Leaves began loosening from branches overhead and falling down on us, as the wind lifted my hair and stirred it into the mix. I had to watch my steps as we picked our way over frequent humps in the sidewalk caused by roots of trees with giant trunks, maybe older than the old houses.

On the drive back to our town the thermometer in the car told us it was 71°! My husband stopped by a store for a few minutes and I stayed in the car. I pulled out an old Bible that I keep stuck between the seats for times like this, and opened randomly in the Psalms, where I read,

Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;
Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.

Return unto thy rest, O my soul: for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
And it seemed that God was speaking from His written Word to elaborate on the exuberance of His presence in the wind and the trees, to remind me that the same Mover of winds is the keeper and Lover of my soul.

At least four poems, songs, and passages from books crowded all together in my mind, all about blowy days, leaves "falling down and down and down and down and down," and Wind as a playmate.

That wasn't the end of my windy mental explorations, but before I write any more on the subject I'll make an effort to gather my thoughts from the corners of my mind and bookshelves and the winter skies.

Waiting and Weakness - Christmas

Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco
The greatest pleasure and thrill of Christmas can't be had without a little waiting, something like children of yore had to do, when their Christmas trees weren't even ready for viewing until Christmas Day.

That thought is on my mind as I say Hello! to all the friends I see here at Pom Pom's Childlike Christmas (blog) Party, a party for which we can show up four times over the next month! I had barely noticed the open invitation, with no time even to lay a finger aside of my nose, when she added me to the published guest list -- I was signed up! I am happy to attend, Lord willing, by posting a blog each Wednesday.

It seems to me that the way we Eastern Orthodox Christians get into the Christmas spirit can be combined with the theme of children and simple pleasures that Pom Pom describes:

"Yesterday I asked my students, 'Why the big greed festival over the holidays? Aren't we fine right now? Don't we have enough?' ...Here at Pom Pom's Ponderings, we are going to think about the simple pleasures of the holidays, the childlike wonder that doesn't involve the ka-ching ka-ching of the cash register....four holiday Wednesdays of posts that attend to the simple childlike thrills of Christmas. ....that babe in a manger and the children He loves and cherishes."

The modern world likes to jump into Christmas immediately after Halloween or Thanksgiving, but the more traditional way to celebrate involves some Anticipation and Preparation. Children might think of it as Waiting and Getting Ready. Some of us have been in Advent, which we call the Nativity Fast, since November 15th.

I'm not experienced in helping children to forgo the treats that are pressed upon them in every shop and neighbor's house at this time of year, but even before I found the Church and its traditions I tried to keep the family thinking ahead to a special Holy Day, and not just because of the presents.
We need some weeks to sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel!" and for it to register in our minds that God's people had to wait many generations and thousands of years for the coming of the Savior. A little bit of suffering in the form of doing without the usual quantity of food, or rich foods, (in the Orthodox Church we eat less, and almost vegan, when fasting) can make it more real for us that the world before Christ was suffering under the curse of sin. We feel our own weakness, too, when eating less, and that can soften our hearts.

Why the photo of Holy Trinity Cathedral above? My church and sister churches sponsor Advent retreats every year, usually a day or half a day when we can hear a lecture and attend services together to help us focus on the coming feast in a fruitful way. Last year I went to one at Holy Trinity and took the picture. (By the way, I saw the same flowering plant at a winery last week and still don't know what it is.)

One children's book that might contribute to a child's understanding of time and the processes that are necessary preliminaries to accomplishing a goal, in particular a few points on the timeline of our salvation history, is The Tale of Three Trees, "a traditional folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt with illustrations by Tim Jonke."

Three small trees stand on a hilltop and dream about what they might do when they are grown. One wants to be a treasure chest, one a sailing ship that carries kings, and one just wants to stay where it is and point to God.

It takes many years for them to get big enough to be cut for lumber and fashioned into items that play a part in the earthly life of our Lord. The first tree is made into a manger -- and this first creation of wood that the Christ Child came in contact with establishes the story as one for Christmas.

All the trees feel initial disappointment and humiliation, none more so than the one that is made into a rude cross and used for violent purposes: "She felt ugly and harsh and cruel." But in the end all of the trees realize the blessedness of being used for the glory of God, and the young reader is reminded of the reason a Baby was born at Bethlehem.

Even our Lord Jesus went through a period of preparation, growing up as a man for 30 years before He began His ministry, but He surely wasn't idle during that time. As we wait for Christmas we can prepare our hearts by prayer and fasting and acts of love.

Those of us with families are blessed to have many possibilities under what might be the Acts of Love category. (They might even include some noise of cash registers, but I won't say any more about that at this party.) I know I have cookie-baking, doll-clothes-sewing, decorating and menu-planning and making up beds on my list.

The truth is, I'm not very good at being child-like before Christmas. I feel so many responsibilities that children don't have to concern themselves with, and I get pretty busy with all the fun type of preparations.

Somehow, though, all of that, when combined with participation in the church traditions and services, adds up to make me feel some of the longing and the weakness that are appropriate right now.

I'll post on Wednesdays more about some of the simple pleasures that our family has enjoyed over the years, even while remembering that the fullness of joy, the acting like a child, will start on December 25th. And won't it be wonderful!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two to Remember

Today is the birthday of C.S. Lewis, and that's a good reason to post a thought-provoking quote from him. Lewis was born in 1898 and died on Nov. 22, 1963, the same date as President John F. Kennedy and author Aldous Huxley. Peter Kreeft wrote a book based on his imagination of what a conversation among these three people might sound like if they met after death; it is titled Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley.

I don't think I've read that book yet, but today is Lewis's birthday. Maybe I'll read the book prompted by the date of his death before next November 22 and have some thoughts on it then. For now, I'd like to think on this:

  Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.

The first clause describes what characterized our family's Thanksgiving celebration so recently. The second describes what I have daily to turn from, to put off from my thoughts just as I might drop an icky thing from my hands, so that I can freely touch and hold, really be present with, what and who is right here now.

While I'm remembering people who inspire, let me not forget to mention St. Andrew The First Called, whose feast day is tomorrow. I learned last year about how he is the patron saint of Scotland. We don't have our priest-intern Fr. Andrew any longer but we are having Vespers tonight and Liturgy tomorrow for Saint Andrew all the same, which makes me happy right now.

In thinking about Lewis's quote above, I realized that one reason we plan for the future is just so we will be able to love and serve when the future has become the present. It's the way we can look ahead in love and faith and not in those other ways. But what a lot of Love I have to live in today.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kinfolk in November

The only theme that I can find in the photos I took this week is family togetherness, but the California weather was mild enough that I could add some shots of the various natural settings in which we happily congregated.

Many of us gathered at Pippin's place in the woods -- the resident deer clan showed up, too, and were gifted with potato peelings and runty pears for their Thanksgiving dinner. They also ate a quantity of willow leaves, sometimes from the patio table.

Snow had fallen Wednesday night and creatures were storing up for the winter, whether in fat or food or bedding. Pippin called me to the window once to see a squirrel chewing off grass and stuffing it into his mouth. Clumps of grass stuck way out on either side of his fat cheeks even after he rearranged it so as to fit more in.

He looked over our way and when he saw us staring he stopped work and stared right back for a minute, then figured he had enough for that trip and disappeared around a tree.

Arriving a day early meant that I had time to help bake pumpkin pies and read Sunset magazine to Scout.

Mr. Glad had put out a call for people to bring table games, and Soldier brought Jenga. While the pies were smelling up the house real nice I showed the little boy how to play and he immediately learned how to at least look like a serious contender.

When Pathfinder's group arrived Annie played the piano, and after dinner they revealed the darling candy-and-cookie turkey craft that they wanted to show the littlest cousin.

It really was a lovely and relaxed afternoon and evening, with plenty of time for various groups of cousins and uncles to play several games, listen to 49ers football, and scatter the deer when they went out back to throw the football themselves.

We ate pies baked by four different people for supper, and sang "O God Our Help in Ages Past" before we had to say good-bye by passing around kisses and hugs. Four of the Glad Children had been able to come and take this rare opportunity, along with a couple of spouses and five grandchildren.

The next morning we brought Kate and her friend home with us for a couple more days, driving through the patchwork of orange and brown in the Napa Valley vineyards on our way. Kate and Mr. G. listened to each other's iPod collections and I took the wheel for the windiest stretch of road so that I wouldn't get carsick.

Today we took them wine-tasting in another valley, where the scenery was rich and the weather was warm enough for us to sit outside for lunch. Strange, though, how the vines in my best photo from today have barely started to turn color.

This picture might make you think it's all tropical here. But the sun was slanted and we didn't feel exactly toasty. I was glad to come home and build a good hot fire against the cold. It's warmth is a better metaphor right now for the kind of love that binds our very God-blessed family.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Librarian of Antiquities

Last night Mr. Glad and I traveled with some friends to Berkeley where we heard a lecture by Father Justin Sinaites, who is the librarian for Saint Catherine's Monastery in Sinai. Those few words that name his job send me into a realm of thoughts which tumble over each other and in their layering seem too high for me. The history, the theology, the parchments...the prayers in the desert....

St. Catherine's was founded in the sixth century by the Byzantine emperor Justinian and is the oldest Christian monastery in continual existence in the world. The collection of ancient manuscripts there is surpassed only by that of the Vatican.

Currently Fr. Justin is in charge of the project of digitizing all of these documents and illuminations, including the famous Codex Sinaiticus, written in the 4th Century and considered to be one of the best Greek texts of the New Testament. The monastery's goal is to eventually make everything available in very high resolution, using such tools as one we heard about at the lecture, a donated camera that is "the size of a small room." This kind of sharing will also protect the valuables by minimizing the handling of the originals.

The librarian is a native Texan and the first American to be a resident monk at St. Catherine's, where he has lived since 1994. Before that he was a monk at a monastery in Massachusetts for 20 years. But in spite of his age, experience and technical modernity, he seemed to have a childlike joy about him when speaking about the history of God's dealings with men, and on the focus of the talk, the typology of the Bible and the Tabernacle in particular.

During his lecture he showed us slides from the 6th-century work  Christian Topography, which is full of illuminations of the tent that Moses was instructed to build according to strict instructions from God. Cosmas Indicopleustes, a man who had done quite a bit of traveling compared to most people of that time, wrote the book, and he included all these pictures of the tabernacle and its parts and contents because he was trying to conceptualize the world and was convinced that the Tabernacle was the key to understanding the whole universe.

I've heard about the symbolism of the Tabernacle in Bible studies and sermons throughout my adult life. Books have been written on all the meanings of the type of wood used, the colors, the candlestick, the carvings and the cherubim, the mercy seat. In the New Testament it is hinted that there is so much to be said about all of it that the apostle in his letter to the faithful doesn't have the time even to begin. We do know that it speaks to us of God.

Orthodox tradition sees the Virgin Mary as prefigured in the Tabernacle, because she mystically contained the Son of God, "Light of Light, True God of True God...of one essence with the Father." And Fr. Justin clarified, "The tabernacle did not confine God, but it was the dwelling place of God as an icon." So, too, we are all "called to be priests and to offer ourselves as vessels and lamp stands."

The bush at St. Catherine's
A few years ago there was an article in Parade magazine about Father Justin and the monastery, in which the burning bush is discussed. St. Catherine's is believed to be the site of where Moses beheld the glory of God in what some prefer to call the Unburnt Bush. Last night one of my former fellow gardeners at church took the opportunity to ask the monk what is the binomial, meaning the two-part botanical name, of the bush, of which we have a descendant living on our parish grounds; Fr. Justin said it is rare to have success rooting cuttings from the one at St. Catherine's.

Below is a photo I took of our burning bush. Its leaves are the larger ones in the picture, and the smaller grayish leaves and hips are of the Nootka rose that grows in a planter with it.

rubus sanctus with Nootka rose
The monks are happy at the potential for more widely sharing the manuscripts with scholars everywhere. And nowadays they welcome numerous tourists and pilgrims to the holy place itself, knowing that the God who has blessed it and them is the spiritual food people need. In fact, in the the last 50 years, as our lecturer put it, "The whole world has come rushing in." Especially in the winter months the monastery has as many as 1,000 visitors a day. The challenge is "to keep a spiritual tradition that was born in isolation when that isolation has come to an end."

If I ever journey to Egypt, I hope to join the masses thronging to that place.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Long and Boring Road

Our family loves the books by Byron Barton, like Trains and Machines at Work. Plenty of everyday and exciting things happen in these books, and the stories are told with few enough words that toddlers end up memorizing the text and can "read" the book to themselves or to others.
Along a Long Road seems like it is trying to be such a book, but I think it fails miserably. Unfortunately I don't have a toddler to try it out on. On second thought, I wouldn't try it out on anyone, because I don't do that. I have to preview a book and make sure that I like it before I will read it to a child, and I could barely get through this book by Frank Viva.

The picture book features stylistic pictures of the long road, made shiny by some plastic coating, and a very long man riding his long and stretchy bicycle. According to the text he rides and rides, “again and again.”

I haven't known small children to be very interested in bicycles. They like their trikes, and boys especially seem to love heavy road equipment, trains, and motorcycles. One more reason to pass on this book.

About the only thing both my husband and I liked was the picture of a pregnant woman whom the cycling man passes. I suppose there are plenty of items along the road that one could talk about with a child, but no story to keep the long road from getting tedious.

I quickly got tired of the man and his weirdly shaped vehicle, expressed in only three colors, plus black. The artwork reminds me a little of an odd and favorite book of ours, The Clock, by Esphyr Slobodkina of the abstract expressionist movement. Slobodkina is better known for her picture book Caps for Sale, but long ago I found a beat-up copy of The Clock, which is a captivating story.

Maybe Along a Long Road would be pleasing to a very early reader, or a delayed reader, who might be able to relate to the sign for lottery tickets or a distant view of a carnival, and who would find satisfaction in reading the words "again and again" again and again. Not that I can imagine a child like that. If anyone out there has had another experience with Viva's arty book, I would like to hear about it, even though I will soon take it back to the library for good. Give me Barton any day.