Monday, January 30, 2012

Honey and Rest

For a few days I've been under the weather, miserable with those common winter cold symptoms. But no, not miserable! God has given me many joys: happy family news, hugs, music, the comfort of friends and grandchildren, and the loving attentions of my husband.

I had to bow out of several duties and other people were able to take over for me. It is annoying to be weak and disabled, but if I can give in and give up, and see the situation as just a more blatant expression of my usual stance before God....probably I need the reminder.

It seems the perfect opportunity to read All Those Books....but I am so dull of brain, nothing is easy enough, or if it is, it's too boring to be worth turning the pages. So I've been typing more of Aunt Ida's letters -- a lot of them. And I thought I might take some more snippets and make of them a fun blog post. But staring at the words doesn't magically organize them into any kind of order.

Next I browsed through the quote files a bit, and I see a short one I can handle. It relates to some things I have been doing, or at least could/should do. I can enjoy the sky from where I sit; I was greatly soothed by a hot shower and continue to drink mug after mug of tea or hot water. Sleep has been delicious, aided by various drugs -- thank God for them.

And after reading the lines below, I branched out and added to my steaming drink -- which sits now nearby -- some fresh lemon juice and honey.

Something of God...flows into us from the blue of the sky, the taste of honey, the delicious embrace of water whether cold or hot, and even from sleep itself.
-- C.S. Lewis

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Bee and Rain

Today in the Orthodox Church we remember among others St. Ephraim (or Ephrem) the Syrian, born in the early 4th century, a theologian and prolific writer of hymns. His prayer we pray daily during Lent.

 A book of hymns and meditations by St. Ephraim was collected by St. Theophan the Recluse into A Spiritual Psalter. I would like to spend some time in this book, especially after reading today's entry in The Prologue of Ohrid, where there is a hymn to Ephraim by St. Nikolai opening with the words

Ephraim's heart burns
With love for Christ,
And Ephraim's tongue speaks
Of the pure wisdom of the Gospel.
Ephraim, the honey-bearing bee;
Ephraim, the fruit-bearing rain!

Just as God sends the bees and the rain to work for our joy and profit, so He sends people like this man. I'd like to keep that image of a buzzing and busy bee in my mind a while; let me drink holy nectar and refresh others the way God uses His creatures and creation to constantly renew my spirit.

And for today, one morsel of honey from this holy bee:
The hutzpah of our love is pleasing to you, O Lord, just as it pleased you that we should steal from your bounty.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I Met The Bard at La Casita

Not long after I met my husband, I spent some time with his family at their cabin in the woods, a humble place called "La Casita." Later on we took our honeymoon there, and over the years we often visited with our children, using the little house as a base for exploring the redwoods and the beach.

On the knotty pine walls were various odd and antique-y pictures and hangings, things that were too tattered or for some other reason didn't fit the decor of people's everyday homes, and one of those was a framed verse by Robert Burns.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some would eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

I was charmed by the little yellowed plaque and the thought behind the verse, and always thought that I would like to embroider it to post in my own house. I never did that, and when the cabin was sold and the old hangings became available for the taking, I didn't even take them. I think that verse had lodged itself in my mind and heart so firmly that the original sighting was superfluous.

Today is the birthday of the poet, a good day to hear him giving thanks and to say about him "let the Lord be thankit."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Rain, Soup, and Someone

Thanks to Maria, I found a poem that captures a little of how sweet it is to have rain splashing against windows -- that is, if you have no lack of life's other little or huge blessings, like a Beloved Someone for whom you can warm up a bowl of soup, as I did this evening for mine. I am the Empress.


She sends me a text
she’s coming home
the train emerges
from underground

I light the fire under
the pot, I pour her
a glass of wine
I fold a napkin under
a little fork

the wind blows the rain
into the windows
the emperor himself
is not this happy

~ Matthew Rohrer

Friday, January 20, 2012

Rain Songs

Rain is falling and I'm happy. Recently I refreshed my memory bank of rain songs by means of the recording, "Rainy Day Dances, Rainy Day Songs," by Patty Zeitlin and Marcia Berman. We used to borrow an LP from the library when the kids were little, and the songs have lodged in my mind forever.

On the recording there was also an instrumental tune, "Over the Waterfall," played on the hammered dulcimer. I can't find anything on YouTube by the musicians who gave us this collection that so blessed my children and me, but I did find a similar, simpler rendition.

I loved the silly dancing and singing we did to songs like "I Don't Care if the Rain Comes Down," "Windy Day," and "Why Can't I Play in the Rain?"

I bought my CD copy of the album from the Bullfrog Ballades site, where you can also hear samples of the songs. Today I'm having a lazy day being thankful that God is watering the earth again, as I let my thoughts slosh about in rainy images like this one of me (on the left) with my sister a long time ago. If you can't play in the rain, perhaps a puddle will do.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lemony cookies are good any time....

Last week I finished baking the last of the Christmas cookies. Encouraged by the happy eaters of the Lemon-Poppyseed Sandwich Cookies at previous holiday gatherings, this year I had made a double batch, and then ran out of time to complete more than half of them. The remaining dough and filling waited in the fridge until I got back some strength, and a plan for where to send the finished product so that I wouldn't eat them all myself.

With so many young, even teen-aged, folk around here at Christmas, I expected to see the cookies go faster than they did. But never during the week of feasting did I spy anyone who might vie with me for the Cookie Monster title, and there are certainly no other contenders remaining in this house now. So when I found a willing person to be my delivery man, I sent them to Soldier and Joy.

The recipe (based on this one at Epicurious) starts with sugar cookies that are heavy with poppyseeds and two sources of lemon flavor, and finishes with the crunchy cookies enclosing an also lemony cream cheese filling.

At the site one can read comments from many readers detailing what happened when they tried the recipes, and the various changes that we daring cooks insist on making.

Most people who had made these cookies thought there should be more filling than planned for in the recipe as given, and I also ran out of filling at my first trial, so this year I doubled the cookie part, but tripled the filling. Not that it's a problem to have leftovers of either. The cookies are wonderful by themselves, and the filling would be awfully nice spread on toast.

The majority of bakers also liked the cookies better after they had sat in the refrigerator and softened up, though the original recipe said to fill them not long before eating to keep the cookies crisp. I prefer them soft, as did most of the people I fed them to. They are good straight from the freezer, too, I found out!

Here is my version with the extra filling, and a couple of other changes, cut in half so that no one has to assemble 60+ cookies to find out if she likes them.

Lemon-Poppyseed Sandwich Cookies


2 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

4 teaspoons grated lemon peel

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon lemon extract


12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon lemon extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Mix flour, salt and baking powder in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light. Gradually beat in sugar. Beat in egg, then poppy seeds, lemon peel and extracts. Mix in dry ingredients. Gather dough into ball, divide into two parts and flatten each into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 2 hours. If wrapped well, it will last in the refrigerator over a week.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter 2 large baking sheets. Roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Using 2-inch-diameter cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Arrange cookies 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Gather scraps; reroll and cut out more cookies.

Bake cookies until edges just begin to color, about 18 minutes. (If you use insulated sheets as I did they might take longer.) Cool cookies on sheets 3 minutes, then transfer to racks and cool completely. Repeat rolling, cutting and baking with remaining dough. (Can be made ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 1 month.)

Beat all ingredients in large bowl until light and fluffy. Spread 2 teaspoons filling over bottom of 1 cookie. Press second cookie, bottom side down, onto filling. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling. (Can be made ahead. Cover and chill.)

Some of the cookies in this later batch are a bit wrinkly, a result of the dough having dried out a little. I did add a few drops of water when I re-rolled the scraps and that helped them look better. But the wrinkly cookies were otherwise fine.

After my last post featuring a photo of lemons, Jody asked how I like to use these fruits. I consider myself a good person to ask, because my father raised not only oranges but lemons, and until a few years ago when someone very stupid -- yes, I mean it -- took out the two large trees that remained from ten acres of lemon grove, I used to have as many lemons as I wanted for free.

Lately I've been using a lot of lemons just to add the juice to hot water for drinking on cold days. But of more elaborate recipes, some that I've loved over the years are Lemon Curd, Greek Egg-Lemon Soup, Lemon Chicken, and Lemon Pudding Cake. And now -- Lemon-Poppyseed Sandwich Cookies!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Sunshine Bounty

Our neighbor Elizabeth stopped Mr. Glad and me as we were walking past her house and gave us these lemons that she had just picked.

Citrus fruits are like a long-term investment that God makes on our behalf, pouring light and heat into the fruits over several months, then rain for another while, as we work and play through Spring and Summer and Fall.

Then comes the time of year when light is weak and slant. We need extra vitamin C in our diets, and some color in our field of vision. Well, aren't we lucky. The activity in the account we probably weren't thinking about bears a dividend of sunshine.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ida's Letters - And who was she?

Ida was a great aunt of my husband's, whom I met once when she was old and senile, but cheerful. 50 years before that she had traveled from California to Panama and Peru as a missionary, and the gifts she brought home long ago have decorated our houses over the decades and made her name a household word. Like this carved gourd:

Recently I came into possession of several packets of the letters she wrote home from 1919 to 1922, when she was in her early 30's. I am spending many hours of these winter days typing Ida's words into computer documents so that this little bit of family history will be accessible to whoever is interested.

Ida wrote to her mother as she was preparing months ahead:
Florence Fletcher is making me a couple of skirts and a dress and I have enough waists and underclothes. You know things mildew down there so I’m taking only just what I need and no more. I’ll have to hang everything that I possess in the sun every week so I won’t want a couple of trunks full of things. Picture me dressed in white every day, just like a real lady. When my corset covers wear out (I have 6 good ones) you can make me some more.
Now don’t worry about me. I’ll get some fish berries and flush and won’t even be sea sick. God will lead me there safely or he never would have called me to go so you just rest easy in the Lord because that is all there is to do.

The night before she departed from San Francisco:

My war stamps will bring me $42.90. I had to wait 10 days so they (post office) are going to send me the money. My ticket will be $114. The fare is $152 with a 25% discount for missionaries. So you see I have plenty of money.... Sent my trunk to-day and to-morrow a.m. Sat. I go up to the city on the 7.20 train. I’m taking my rattan suit case and then 3 suit boxes done up in heavy paper with a shawl strap. Have practically all of my clothes with me.

She makes me laugh out loud, the funny way she relates her responses to the people and culture she encounters. And I admit that some of my laughter is over her less-than-charitable opinions which I would be unkind to publish. But here's a fairly innocent clip from Panama, less than a month after she'd left home:

I’m sick of cockroaches but I do have many in my room. But ants and cockroaches have complete possession of our kitchen. Our girl is so shiftless and it doesn’t seem to be any body’s business to make her clean up.

There is no such thing as wall paper here. It wouldn’t stay on the walls – too damp – Nearly all the houses are ceiled, sides and all and painted in a most hideous shade of bluish pea green. The kind that makes you crazy. They are strong on red too. You’d think it would make them hot to look at it.
I like the spirit of someone who writes things like, "Don’t worry about me because you know I’m always happy anywhere and I sleep and eat like a brick, as per usual." So I'll likely have more expressions of her verve to pass on as I go along with Ida on her South American adventure.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

for January's low days

This is what I was thinking about last January, this season when hearts can feel weak in spirit. I found better words than my own in George MacDonald's A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul, and they are a comfort and encouragement to me again this year.

It seems that the focus of this long poem about his relationship with God is approaching death. And isn't this time of year, when the world of nature is in many ways dead and awaiting resurrection, as good a time as any to meditate on our own death?

To live by the power of Christ's resurrection, we must pray. Nothing could be harder than this, so the fathers all tell us. But the way the poet describes a small breakthrough, a moment of God's life-giving presence, gives testimony to the rich reward if we don't give up. 

Sometimes I wake, and, lo! I have forgot,

And drifted out upon an ebbing sea!

My soul that was at rest now resteth not,

For I am with myself and not with thee;

Truth seems a blind moon in a glaring morn,

Where nothing is but sick-heart vanity:

Oh, thou who knowest! save thy child forlorn.

[and then this]

Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray—

For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife.

Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest

May fall, flit, fly, perch—crouch in the bowery breast

Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;—

Moveless there sit through all the burning day,

And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tree Collard

Overall the plants in my garden look as though the gardener has been absent. Too true -- and the sky is lacking rain. So I at least did take the hose to everything yesterday, and found one "tree" that seems to be thriving under neglect.

It's the tree collard that a dear friend gave me. I knew that these perennial vegetables grow very long and tangled stems, so I had planted it in a corner of my cramped yard, out of the way of annual beds.

My photo doesn't show much of the curly stalk, and the pictures I found online are of plants that grow tall and straight, not like the more recumbent ones we seem to have around here, which get very complicated twining around themselves. The trunk-stem gets longer and longer and the leaves grow mostly at the end of it.

If I had more room I'd love to have a large plantation of these hardy greens.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Theophany Worship and Doctrine

Today the Orthodox Church celebrates Theophany, about which I have posted a time or two in the past. This year I found a blog by a young woman in Greece who has posted a rich mix of photos, videos and accounts describing the celebration of this feast around the world, and its meaning for us.

It all well illustrates the message of this short quote from the newsletter of my parish:


“In the Tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church, doctrine and worship are inseparable. Worship is, in a certain sense, doctrinal testimony, reference to the events of Revelation. Thus, ‘dogmas are not abstract ideas in and for themselves but revealed and saving truths and realities intended to bring mankind into communion with God.’ One could say without hesitation that, according to Orthodox understanding, the fullness of theological thought is found in the worship of the Church.

This is why the term Orthodoxy is understood by many not as ‘right opinion,’ but as ‘right doxology,’ [that is,] ‘right worship.’”

—Archimandrite Zacharias, Ecclesial Being, pg. 88.
Those movies of people diving into icy waters make me consider in a more bracing way the scriptural exhortation to "present your bodies a living sacrifice...."

Some friends of ours celebrated Theophany at our Northern California beach last year, where the current brings chilly water from Alaska, giving the children who dove for that cross a bit of the experience of their fellow Orthodox in colder climates.

To all who celebrate in worship and truth, a most blessed feast!

Mosaic from Ss. Constantine and Helen Orthodox Church
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lucy gets new clothes

Lucy on Christmas 2010

Lucy would call me "Great-Grandma" if she could talk, but I don't expect that ever to happen because she is a doll. She belongs to my granddaughter Maggie, and once before her picture showed up here, modeling clothes that I made.

This year I made some more outfits for Christmas presents. When the family flew across the continent to California Maggie couldn't fit Lucy into her carry-on, so her Aunt Kate's doll Felicity who still lives with us modeled the new togs the night before Christmas.

I only got two outfits done in 2011: black silk pants with a corduroy jacket (McCalls 6137); and a cowgirl skirt, blouse, vest and boots (McCalls 6257). I guess the boots are really moccasins, because I didn't want to put foam board on the bottoms as the pattern called for.

Everything was made out of used clothes, either my own or things I found at the thrift store, such as a leather skirt that worked nicely for the vest and boots instead of the faux suede that had been suggested on the pattern envelope.

While she was visiting here, Maggie had Felicity wear all the clothes, and she brushed out her hair and braided it nicely as well.

But as soon as Maggie returned home, it was time for Lucy's 4th birthday party, so she wrapped the new clothes in pretty paper and ribbons, and a tag attached, "From Great-Grandma." They were presented to Lucy along with chocolate cake for the occasion.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday, Lucy!

After the holiday I got word that a new (18-inch) "great-granddaughter" has arrived in Annie's house, and her name is Elizabeth. I don't think I'll stop sewing doll clothes anytime soon!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Walking in 2012

I don't take walks by myself anymore. At least, I didn't for a long time, but maybe that is changing. Yesterday I asked Mr. Glad if he would like to go for a walk, and he quickly answered, "No, you should go for a walk; I am going for a bike ride; and it's going to be dark soon."

"But I don't want to take a walk by myself," I whined.

"Just do it," he said simply and authoritatively. "You need to get outside." I had been away from the house a lot over the last few days -- in church, in our church's new hall setting up our new bookstore, in church again...but out of doors very little.

Oh, why not? I thought, why not just follow my husband's advice, go for a walk by myself, and start two new trends in 2012? Some time in the last few years I got impatient with walking alone. I don't like exercise for its own sake; I'm lazy in that department. Walking is time-consuming, and if I walk on the treadmill at the gym I can get a better workout while distracting myself with interesting articles in magazines at the same time.

My memory was not serving me well, I discovered as I set off down the street and on to the bike-and-walking path two blocks away. Walking all by one's lonesome in the outdoors can serve many purposes, if Getting Things Done is the aim.

I didn't have my camera last evening, which caused me to remember right away why I don't burn so many calories when no one is along to keep me moving: I want to stop all too often to examine a flower or new redwood needles, and often to delve more deeply and longer by looking through a lens in order to get another slant.

On this, my first solitary walk of a new year, I particularly noticed the thickly blooming berries on the shrubs that the city must have planted long ago. Every Christmas for 20 years various ones of our family have come here to snip a few branches for decorating the house. Even last week -- oops, the week before that -- Pearl had taken her children on a walk and returned with a bag full of cedar and redwood branches, and many sprays of berries.

Because I didn't have my camera, I walked very fast and came home in about 15 minutes, grabbed my pruners and a bag and walked right back to the path. I carried home several branches, and re-supplied some of my tabletop displays with fresh berries to get us through Theophany.

Today my husband and I took a walk together, into the center of town to Starbucks and back -- one of our new jaunts together since he retired recently. Later I went by myself once more, down to the path along the creek to snap some photos of those berries that are so striking in the winter.

As I set off I realized that what had seemed like a good use of my time, avoiding these more leisurely walks, has been a missed opportunity. When walking "alone" one is never alone, because God is everywhere present. There are the trees and bushes, the sky and the birds and sometimes friendly strangers walking often beautiful dogs.

The "distractions" of nature and real people are not nearly as diverting from prayer as what I do at the gym, and my strenuous indoor workout turns out to be no substitute for the much more soul-profiting outing that I can otherwise get -- and I don't even have to drive the car.

Whether I'm happy or sad, it's almost impossible to go walking without remembering my Divine Companion at least part of the time, talking to and listening to Him. I'm thanking God for giving me the idea for one more way to avoid the winter blues.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Saint Seraphim of Sarov

January 2nd is the feast of St. Seraphim of Sarov, the patron saint of my parish. It is the day he reposed (died) in the Lord in 1833. It's lovely how our celebration of his bright life comes right in the middle between Nativity and Theophany festivities, and in the dead of winter. Some pictures of Father Seraphim show him in a snowy forest, and many sayings of and about him talk about the warmth of prayer and of the Holy Spirit.

Here in the Northern Hemisphere we need all the heat we can get right about now. Most of us have been extra elated and/or exhausted by our holidays, leaving us vulnerable to emotional ups and downs. I know that in the last couple of years, the doldrums of January got a hold on me, but this year I intend to fortify myself and resist the downward pull by various means. When the earth is dark and cold it's clear how earthly, not heavenly, is my own self. But the Light of the World has come, and with some effort I hope to rest more constantly in the sphere of His brilliance.

I've been hunting around the Internet for more quotes from St. Seraphim to add to my treasures, and found on this blog a list of "Ten Counsels of St. Seraphim," of which the quotes on Despondency seem to the point:

Just as the Lord cares for our salvation, so the devil, the killer of men, strives to lead man to despondency.

When despondency seizes us, let us not give in to it. Rather, fortified and protected by the light of faith, let us with great courage say to the spirit of evil: "What are you to us, you who are cut off from God, a fugitive from Heaven, and a slave of evil? You dare not do anything to us: Christ, the Son of God, has dominion over us and over all. Leave us, you thing of bane. We are made steadfast by the uprightness of His Cross. Serpent, we trample on your head."

Father Seraphim spent many years alone in the forest, learning to pray and acquiring the Holy Spirit, after which he returned to the monastery where he spent many more years counseling and healing the crowds who lined up to see him every day. He "gave them the Lord" as I've heard people put it.

Communion bread
One meeting and conversation that Father Seraphim had with his friend N.A. Motovilov tells us quite a bit about him and is quoted at length here. Father Seraphim talked much about our need to "acquire the Holy Spirit Who acts within us and establishes in us the Kingdom of God."

That is certainly what I need. Even now, after much excitement and little sleep just in the last few days, I feel that earthy heaviness mocking my faith. But with God's help, and by the prayers of Saint Seraphim and all the saints, I hope to get the blood moving in my lazy soul, trample more often on that ugly head, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until I reach Springtime. 

St. Basil the Great

Today we celebrate, among other events, the life of St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Cappadocia in the 4th century. These passages from his writings form a fitting exhortation for this season:

Man was made after the image and likeness of God; but sin marred the beauty of the image by dragging the soul down to passionate desires. Now God, who made man, is the true life. Therefore, when man lost his likeness to God, he lost his participation in the true life; separated and estranged from God as he is, it is impossible for him to enjoy the blessedness of the divine life.

Let us return, then, to the grace [which was ours] in the beginning and from which we have alienated ourselves by sin, and let us again adorn ourselves with the beauty of God’s image, being made like our Creator through the quieting of our passions. He who, to the best of his ability, copies within himself the tranquility of the divine nature attains to a likeness with the very soul of God; and, being made like God in this manner, he also achieves in full a semblance to the divine life and abides continually in unending blessedness.
He Himself has bound the strong man and plundered His goods - that is, us, who had been abased in every manner of evil - and made us into vessels fit for the Master’s use, the use of our free will being made ready for any good work. Thus through Him we have our approach to the Father, Who has transferred us from the dominion of darkness to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

In consideration of all this, I wish you a bright and happy New Year!