Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gardening Notebook

As long as I've been trying to grow things I've been using pencil and paper in my planning and sometimes to record how long seeds took to sprout, or what date the tomatoes got ripe. I had a box in which I kept articles from Sunset and Organic Gardening, and that box still is overflowing into a closet somewhere, full of ideas I mostly did not use.

A few years ago for my birthday a friend set us both up with pretty binders and colorful pages to go inside, all ready for garden-type information. At first I used lined pages to write lists of plantings and dates, but lately things have degenerated to the point where I just put my tags and labels under the clear sticky page-covers.

This has turned out to be the most successful way to keep track of what is what in the garden, and how long it's been growing there.The pockets can hold those articles I've clipped, or a few seed packets.

It's still a bit messy and chaotic, which seems increasingly to be my style. If I try to do things neatly and orderly they never get done. Even the creating of this notebook was a little too much like Kindergarten and I felt rushed and inept while we were putting the pages together, but now that I've figured out how to make it mine, it works!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gardening? I'm on it!

pimiento peppers with nasturtiums
I thought I would skip this week's discussion of The Hidden Art of Homemaking at Ordo Amoris, because what on earth -- or about growing things in the earth -- could I possibly say, that I haven't said in my 115 blog posts that already have the tag "garden"?

But this chapter comes in springtime when it's hard not to talk about gardening. I'd rather be in the garden doing it, but what do you know, it's raining as I begin this ramble. And I happened to run across a couple of other blog posts as reminders that I haven't covered every aspect of the subject.

kale with Mexican bush sage
The spiritual aspects of gardening are well treated by Vigen Guroian whose book is excerpted in  this blog. But I have a hard time making myself read about gardens or gardening, and if I wanted to convince a non-gardener to give it a try, I would just have them work in my garden with me a few times, and hope that they might by osmosis come to see the fun to be had.

If you don't have a yard, as Edith says you can have a pot of something, and if you don't want that, you can grow some sprouts on your kitchen counter. There are so many kinds of sprouting seeds available that you can grow a tasty and gorgeous salad in a week or so.

I do love to visit other people's gardens and even look at pictures of my own yards of yesteryear, so I looked long enough at this Garden Rant post to see that it was about the gardener's dismay when he realized that he had planted a dreadfully monochromatic and inartistic design.

His problem is the flip side of what I am careful about, the planting of clashing colors. What? you say, echoing my husband, don't all the colors go together, as in God's creation? It doesn't seem to work that way in my gardens. Magenta flowers have caused me problems in the past - they don't look nice with some of the red flowers nearby.

Once a bunch of bright red-orange flowers pretty much spoiled the look of my pale yellow and pale pink roses when they sprouted up in between, while the lavender bush in the same spot blended in nicely. So, I try to avoid mismatches and matchy-matchy. Most of the pictures I'm posting here are of nice contrasts in my own garden, but the one below is from our friends' neglected beach cottage yard. It's surprising how glorious these bright and wild colors look together. In foggy coastal areas it seems that whatever flowers you have are a welcome brightness, and they always steal the show by contrast with the white or grey skies.

Click on this scene so you can see it really really big!

Here's a much quieter scene: Greyish Lambs Ears make a soft contrast to almost any bright color, as with these pincushion flowers.

And even the magenta rhododendron is nice with blue campanula. I have learned to think of my garden beds as individual paintings, each with its own color scheme that may change somewhat with the seasons. Some have magenta, while some on the other side of the yard have red.
unusual California poppy with Hot Lips salvia

Either color can go with yellow or orange or blue...

It's fun creating landscapes, if you don't mind surprises, and  w - a - i - t - i - n - g  for things to grow and bloom, and sometimes having to re-do your design or be happy with a missing part that died. If you take pictures or actually take paints to paper and save an image of way your plants' colors and textures have miraculously blended to become Beautiful, you can remember and enjoy your past gardens for years to come.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

May the pots never grow cold.

About 30 years ago we owned a modular house whose many large windows were covered by the original fancy draperies, so that when the curtains were closed they covered most of the expanse of three walls with nubby gold curves. The walls were thin particle board painted to look like wood, as you can see in the photo - but I didn't mind those as much as the drapes. I would have preferred something more rustic and casual and of another color to go with the country setting, but even if we'd had the money we couldn't have justified spending it to replace Perfectly Good high-quality drapes.

It was a recurring temptation to me, though, to stew over how ugly and Not Me they were. This was tiresome, and eventually my better self convinced my offended self to stop, using this argument:

What is your purpose in life? To love God and be useful to Him.

What is the most important way for you to do that? To love people.

Do you need pretty and tasteful drapes in order to love people? No, I answered. If someone who comes to my house sees my drapes and not me, I can't help that. If they need my hospitality and friendship they need it from me personally, and God will just have to use me in spite of this ugliness in the room. (Which of course was not a universally recognized ugliness anyway.)

Those of us who have read any of Edith Schaeffer's other books know that she by her life and words demonstrated the importance of love and hospitality. Her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking, which is the subject of a book club hosted at Ordo Amoris, I do not take as contrary to the rest of her life and work, but complementary to it. Some of you may not have read the other books like What is a Family? Partly from reading it I am pretty sure that if she had to choose, she would herself rather have been a resident or guest in a plain and even ugly house run by a warmhearted woman than in an artistically decorated dwelling with an unkind or angry soul. We've all heard of and perhaps had the experience of going into a house where the decor was shabby or messy but you wanted to be there because it felt like home -- welcoming and nurturing. Mother Teresa's saying fits here: "Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do... but how much love we put in that action."

I think Edith's own houses were like this, because she was that kind of woman, and likely much more than I myself am. But I have it as a vision to be like that, and am inspired by quotes that speak of a woman being able to make a home wherever she finds herself, of a woman herself being the heart of her home....but I can't find any of those at the moment. The line that has intrigued me for years now is from the Santana song "You've Got to Change Your Evil Ways," from the perspective of a man who is dismayed by his woman who's gadding about all the time:
When I come home, Baby,
My house is dark and my pots are cold.
These are just signs to the poet that there is no woman at home to welcome him.  The verse reminds me of advice I read to housewives who haven't figured out what to make for dinner, but who want to do something to give their husbands a good feeling when they come in the door after work: While you are getting your act together put an onion in the oven to bake so that he will get a hopeful olfactory signal.

A message I get here: A woman conveys her love and hospitality by these simple modifications to the environment: opening the drapes or turning on the lights, cooking something in the kitchen, and in both ways warming up the sensory atmosphere. If she has a kiss and a smile for her family and guests all the better.

The last few years when my husband and I live here alone, I notice that I am the one who thinks about light control. In that photo above you can see all the light that came into the humble house with the gold drapes. It was the best feature of the house, as I was later to discover, when I wanted our new house to have as much light -- it was not to be. The photo was likely taken in the winter, when we would open the drapes wide and let in all the warming sun.

In our area we can get along pretty well in summertime without air conditioning, if we manage the windows and window coverings: At night open all the windows to let the cool air in; in the morning close everything up to shut out the sun's rays, and leave them that way (and the house kind of dark!) until the air inside gets as warm as outdoors -- then you may as well get any breeze that might stir, and be ready for the coolness to enter as soon as it arrives.

In Spring or Fall our present house doesn't get very hot, so in the mornings I like to open the blinds and let the sun in as soon as I come downstairs -- but my man never thinks of doing this. For my mind, sunlight is the very loveliest decoration. And at night, I like to close the curtains or blinds so as to feel sheltered against the world. This also seems to be, in my experience, a homemaker's impulse.

I have learned to do many artful things in my houses over the decades; I have arranged and painted furniture, swept the floor, bought bedspreads and embroidered Bible verses to hang on walls that I painted, but those things aren't more important than the light-monitoring I do. I also tend the fire in the stove, and light candles, and keep the pots warm.

While you're working on the outward appearance of your home, attend also to your heart and keep it warm with prayer. If the family members are getting snappy or sulky, take a prayer break together and ask God's help - then sing something to warm up the atmosphere. I like this quote that Debbie posted, by Laura Ingalls Wilder:
Let's be cheerful! We have no more right to steal the brightness out of the day for our own family than we have to steal the purse of a stranger. Let us be as careful that our homes are furnished with pleasant & happy thoughts as we are that the rugs are the right color and texture and the furniture comfortable and beautiful.
Thank God for making Edith Schaeffer the kind of woman who could pass on to us a bright homemaking heritage.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The parasitic snow plants are blazing at Tahoe.

Mr. and Mrs. C. invited us to their cabin again on the south end of Lake Tahoe. At 6,000 ft. elevation it's still pretty brisk in May, but the sky was SO blue, the lake was SO blue, and the air was dry, full of the smells of pine trees and cedars with some wood smoke thrown in. I breathed deeply.

Here is a map if you need to get your bearings. The lake itself lies on the Nevada-California state line. We usually approach from the southwest and drive through the state capital of Sacramento to get there.

I had escaped the world down below where picture storage was one of the many time-consuming computer problems that had recently worn me out, and I arrived with a reluctance to use my camera. Of course that didn't last long, especially when wildflowers are out. May in the Sierras brings flowers you can't see in the summertime, so I had to seize my opportunity, didn't I? My other blog posts about the Tahoe area have different photos from what I came away with this time.

Cascade Lake in foreground, Tahoe in distance.

We hiked to the top of Cascade Falls one day. It drops and flows into Cascade Lake which lies just south of Emerald Bay, a little higher in elevation. This picture was taken from a granite shelf looking as straight-down as I could manage to the bottom of the falls.
Sticky Cinqefoil
                      This looks to me like some kind of buttercup but I haven't found it in a book yet. (Update: I added the caption after one of my readers enlightened me.)

The Snow Plants have popped up all over, here and there on the floor of the conifer forest, with no leaves. Mrs. C. was coveting one, wondering how she might get a specimen to grow near the cabin, but what I found out on Wikipedia when I came home makes me think that would be near impossible to make happen.


The snow plant is sarcodes sanguinea, the only species in the genus sarcodes, in the heath family. It is unable to photosynthesize its own food, "...a parasitic plant that derives sustenance and nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that attach to roots of trees." Now I can imagine the roots of these bright plants extending deeply into the world of tree roots. If we are lucky, perhaps the right conditions will in the future concur and surprise Mrs. C. with a burst of red.

A lagoon by Kiva Beach

Another color that got my attention was the sand around Lake Tahoe. We took the yellow lab to swim and fetch and I sat on the shore and considered how all the grains of sand were warm golden tones, not like any ocean beach I've seen.

 Wooly Mule's Ears, also known as mountain mule's ears, were in bloom, and I got a photo of them as in a perennial bed planted by Mother Nature, with a border of Squaw Carpet in front.

Wyethia mollis and Ceanothus prostratus

Here's a nice flowering bush that I don't know. Maybe someone reading this knows this plant? It grows in the forests on public land and in private yards. (Update: the same reader in a comment below is kind enough to tell us that this is Western Serviceberry.)


Did you ever do a Google image search of "lichen"? Amazing, amazing plants. Here is one of the more subtle designs, which we saw on a rock at the top of Cascade Falls, a lovely arrangement of vegetable and mineral and just one example of how God's artwork is splashed all around the world for our pleasure and His glory. Thank You, Lord, for the refreshment.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I did it for love of manzanita.

I am reposting this story from two years ago for the Hidden Art of Homemaking discussion at Ordo Amoris. It's about one of my projects that illustrates some of the difficulties and satisfaction of interior decorating.
A botanical theme has emerged.

Decorating is a homemaking job that I wish I could get over and done with and on to other things. This post is about how the realization of that wish is a long time coming. On one level the story bores me to death, even though it's my own house I'm writing about, the house I've been investing in for 20 years. That should warn most of my readers to leave right now and go read something more entertaining.

What's makes me want to tell this too-long tale anyway is the way it illustrates how an incredible amount of mental and physical labor can go into what seems a simple project. I suppose I'm not used to this precisely because I'm not into home decorating and haven't applied my perfectionistic creative energies to it so much before. In a way it's a larger-scale version of my doll clothes effort: what I envision doesn't come in a kit.

If I could make a kit out of it no one would buy it. It's just the best that we could do given our priorities, and with a tract house that doesn't have enough walls to be cozy or enough windows to brighten the view. The story I tell is also amusing if one considers the output of my mental energies compared to the mediocrity of the results.

G.K. Chesterton said,
It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can. 
I'm not sure what all G.K. meant by that, but he does seem to give me liberty, and even to tell me it is my duty, to spend time on my house and property with the purely physical and aesthetic aspects in mind.

One year ago
So, I push on. Last year we changed the arrangement of the living room furniture so that the pictures on the wall didn't work anymore. It seemed that the painting that used to be above a couch was too "heavy" after we moved the piano under it. It was then the largest wall item above the largest piece of furniture. Also, the TV had come out of the closet and found a new and permanent place in a corner, and the emptiness above it bothered me for months while I tried to figure out what to put there.

The first thing that came to mind was a manzanita branch such as I remembered my grandmother having in her living room for a while, a natural curio of sorts. Hers had sat on the coffee table, I think, but mine would hang above the TV to fill some of that airspace and balance out the piano nearby. (We'd need to get a smaller something to put above the piano, too.)

I started looking online for manzanita, but I found only small and twiggy, pale specimens, for use in flower arrangements. So I gave up for a while and spent hours looking for a decorative mobile. Nothing pleased. By that time we were in the middle of the remodel, so it wasn't urgent.

Then in April we went north to Pippin's place, where the previous winter's record-breaking amounts of snow had piled up everywhere. As we walked through her forest we saw several manzanita bushes with large branches broken off. My mind started twirling around the idea that I could prepare my own decorative branch. The others helped me choose a couple that might work and we hauled them home.

Nine months ago
I still didn't know if I could accomplish what I envisioned; I've never been one to do woodworking of any sort. I knew enough to trim off the flowers and small twigs. Then it occurred to me that wood needs to dry out before one can work it. I read that manzanita tends to split, so people have trouble making furniture out of it. Maybe my branches would split too much as they dried?

I left them sitting around in the garage for a couple of months and they only split a little bit. On the Internet I read somewhere to paint them with Danish oil to preserve the wood, so I did that. And one of my children said I should stain the trimmed ends of the branch so the whiteness of the wood wouldn't distract from the lovely smooth and dark bark.
I think this is the one I didn't use.

It was B.'s upcoming birthday party that put the fire under me to get the chosen branch up in the corner. We bravely screwed two hooks into the smooth new ceiling, and I painted them white so they would fade into the background. Then three strands of fishing line were tied to those, and to the branch.

Soldier was here and helped me position it just so; he's tall and strong and could stand there calmly holding it in midair while I fumbled with the almost invisible threads. Then voilà! At last, that one part of my decor was in place (now we only had to ignore the empty space above the piano) and all our party guests could admire it. I began brainstorming on a solution to that remaining space nearby.

Three weeks later I dusted the manzanita with a feather duster and the next morning it crashed onto the TV and to the floor. Nothing was harmed. Guess we needed stronger filament. It took me about two months to get to the store to buy it. Then it took another month before B. and I could make ourselves re-hang the branch. See what kind of do-it-yourself-ers we aren't?

I was sure I knew how to orient the branch, the way Pippin had told me to, but after B. and I got it centered and hung and he'd gone bike-riding, I realized by looking at previous photos that I had it exactly backwards, and it truly didn't look the best. I tried just flipping it over, and that sort of worked; I only had to re-tie one filament, and we were o.k....except that now the branch was a little closer to the ceiling than ideal, and the top of it was vaguely lined up with the curtain rod, which didn't look right. I suffered with that all through Christmas, trying not to care. Of course most people said it was fine because no one wanted to go through the difficulty of doing it over.

I had to buy a piano lamp before I could decide what would go behind it; our old one was shot. Piano lamps are expensive! The cheapest one I could settle on was out of stock for a few weeks, so we waited on that. I had looked at so many paintings or other wall decorations, many hours of browsing over several months, and found nothing I wanted enough to spend money on.

So I thought I would saw and paint some wooden birds to hang up there...they needed to be warm and colorful, because the corner with a black TV and a stark naked branch turned out surprisingly modern and chilly. (Maybe what I need is a branch about five times that big, just sitting on the floor behind the TV and reaching toward the ceiling...and permanently trimmed with Christmas ornaments...? )

But then we must return to how I'm not a woodworker, or a painter for that matter. I think it was on New Year's Day that I felt desperate to make some progress; I decided to spend money and get something. B. and I knew we needed color there, and we knew the parameters of what the measurements needed to be. I bookmarked some paintings, and when B. came home from watching a football game we chose one and ordered it. Whoopee!

The painting arrived and sat on the floor near its destination for over a week. I knew we needed to be in the right mood to even talk about putting it up. In the meantime, one day I got a burst of courage and all by myself re-did the lines supporting my manzanita. I think it might be as much as an inch lower. A most satisfying inch.

Last week we hung the picture. Those are giant poppies providing the splash of color. I hope Mr. Chesterton is happy and won't mind if I get back to my sewing and reading now.

Friday, May 17, 2013

I might have found a lotus.

Recently on a walk through the neighborhood I noticed a pretty little weed flower by the path, and remembered having photographed something like it in the past. A few minutes after returning to my computer I saw Nature I.D.'s blog post "lots o' lotuses," and the pictures looked so much like the plants I had just seen. Here's one of Katie's photos:

Today Mr. Glad and I were out in a different part of the neighborhood, and there was my flower growing in a sidewalk crack. I grabbed a bunch and brought it home. Here is its picture. I don't have time to research this thoroughly right now but I'm putting up my pictures for Katie and anyone else interested to see. They are cute little flowers in any case and a welcome break from ugly thistles and puncture vines.

It just occurred to me that it would be fun to document all the weeds that grow through the different seasons around here, when they catch my attention. But I also thought of doing a similar project in my own yard, with the beloved plants that I cultivate. And the latter sounds like more fun for a starter.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stages of Flowers

This evening I brought in a few stems of Cécile Brunner roses to decorate my windowsill. I notice that a couple of the roses have buds sprouting from the center of the flower, and I don't think I've seen that phenomenon before.

Actually, this one seems to have two buds coming out.

My godmother is collecting rose petals for throwing at some point in her daughter's upcoming wedding. As I have to be out of town and will miss the event, it made me happy to be able to contribute some petals, which I acquired by picking spent blooms from another friend's prodigiously blooming bushes. It took me about a half hour to collect a couple of grocery bags full, and another hour to sift through and take out insects and stems. I set them to drying in an ice chest and a big tub, and while they sat in the sun the remainder of bugs seem to have departed. A few times a day I am stirring them.

The Patty's Plum poppy that Pearl gave me years ago has three blooms this year! I may have already put up a photo of one. But this third flower is the prettiest yet. The plants stand about a yard tall.

Kate sent me a pot of Lily of the Valley bulbs for Mother's Day. Less than a week later they are already a couple of inches high. I have Miss Grenadine keeping me company on the windowsill above the sink these days; she can help keep an eye on the shoots.

All over the garden I've been digging holes and putting in various other flowers: zinnias, mimulus, mixed colors of California poppies, African daisies, lobelia, morning glory. In a few weeks I should have more flowery pictures to show. I've been putting my tools away every night and have swept the patio. Everything is ready for you to come and visit my garden!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

We rejoice with the dead and scatter eggshells.

Grave with exuberant rockrose
Today is Radonitsa or The Day of Rejoicing, Tuesday of Thomas Week in the Russian tradition, though some Orthodox churches visit graves on Thomas Sunday. My parish doesn't have a churchyard (yet) so we don't have a gathering in the church with traditional foods, as is the Old-world custom. But several of us joined nuns from the nearby skete at a cemetery not far away and sang a service of remembrance, alternating with joyful Easter hymns. It was a warm day on a dry hill; the sun was toasting the weeds underfoot and making them smell like cookies in the oven.

The Resurrection icon at top shows several elements that signify the ramifications of Christ's rising from the dead, and every version shows in the center Christ pulling Adam and Eve from their tombs, from Hades. David and Solomon and Abel and John the Baptist and others are featured - we all are raised with Christ, as the church books explain:
Having previously celebrated the radiant feast of Christ's glorious Resurrection, the faithful commemorate the dead today with the pious intent to share the great joy of this Pascha feast with those who have departed this life in the hope of their own resurrection.
This is the same blessed joy with which the dead heard our Lord announce His victory over death when He descended into Hades, thus leading forth by the hand the righteous souls of the Old Covenant into Paradise. This is the same unhoped-for joy the Holy Myrrhbearing Women experienced when discovering the empty tomb and the undisturbed grave clothes. In addition, this is the same bright joy the Holy Apostles encountered in the Upper Room where Christ appeared though the doors were closed. In short, this feast is a kindred joy, to celebrate the luminous Resurrection with our Orthodox forefathers who have fallen asleep.

My own parish comes out of a Russian tradition (though we are presently mostly Americans without Russian ancestry, and part of The Orthodox Church in America.) So we keep this day, which even St. John Chrysostom mentions in the 4th century. After the short service we all walked around scattering eggshells on graves and calling those who have fallen asleep, "Christ is risen!"

The Theology of Beauty

I'm re-posting this part of book review from 2012 as a contribution to the discussion of The Hidden Art of Homemaking on the Ordo Amoris blog.

Possessing Beauty

No changing of place at a hundred miles an hour will make us the one whit stronger, happier, or wiser. There was always more in the world than men could see, walked they ever so slowly; they will see it no better for going fast. The really precious things  are thought and sight, not pace. It does a bullet no good to go fast, and a man, if he be truly a man, no harm to go slow; for his glory is not at all in going, but in being.
      --John Ruskin, quoted in The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

John Ruskin
Ruskin is one of the "guides" the author takes as a teacher in his study of this art of travel; this particular guide yearns to give us his students the tools to understand and possess beauty. Ruskin believed that we can only understand beauty by paying close attention to it, and that attempting to describe nature through writing or drawing was the surest way to focus the mind sharply enough.

On the topic of drawing Ruskin published two books in the 1850's and gave lectures in London, but the point of his instruction was never to produce students who could draw well. He wanted to teach people to notice, and to "direct people's attention accurately to the beauty of God's work in the material universe."

Right here is a good place to propose that we who believe in God the Creator also take as our teacher John Ruskin, rather than Mr. de Botton, because I doubt that we can learn much directly on the subject of beauty, especially on how to possess it, from a man who doesn't understand that beauty, and in fact all that he possesses, are gifts from his Father God.

De Botton's most recent book is Religion for Atheists, which he wrote from the conviction that a disbelief in God should not prevent atheists such as himself from making use of various aspects of the major world religions to better their lives. No doubt many professing Christians have a similar pragmatic outlook, and are missing out on the essence of the faith, Who is Christ Himself, the Bread of Life, the Glory of God the Father.

In musing about the beauty of God, I came upon a website with that title, featuring quotes from Jonathan Edwards. Many people have caught a bad impression of Edwards from those who speak of what they know not, but long ago I learned that the most frequent word in the preacher's sermons was "sweet," in reference to God and fellowship with Him. It's not surprising that he had something to say about beauty as well. (The following paragraphs from Edwards were taken from his writings "The Mind" and "True Virtue" and bundled on the webpage with the added headings.)

God is Beautiful: "For as God is infinitely the greatest Being, so he is allowed to be infinitely the most beautiful and excellent; and all the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation, is but the reflection of the diffused beams of that Being who hath an infinite fulness of brightness and glory."

Jonathan Edwards
Beauty is a kind of consent or harmony: "[Beauty is] a mutual consent and agreement of different things, in form, manner, quantity and visible end or design; called by the various names of regularity, order, uniformity, symmetry, proportion, harmony, &c. . ."

“One alone, without any reference to any more, cannot be excellent; for in such case there can be no manner of relation no way, and therefore no such thing as Consent. Indeed what we call One, may be excellent because of a consent of parts, or some consent of those in that being, that are distinguished into a plurality in some way or other. But in a being that is absolutely without any plurality, there cannot be Excellency, for there can be no such thing as consent or agreement.”

Love is the highest kind of beauty: “The reason, or at least one reason, why God has made this kind of mutual agreement of things beautiful and grateful to those intelligent beings that perceive it, probably is, that there is in it some image of the true, spiritual, original beauty, which has been spoken of; consisting in being’s consent to being, or the union of spiritual beings in a mutual propensity and affection of heart. . . . And so [God] has constituted the external world in analogy to the spiritual world in numberless instances. . . . [He] makes an agreement of different things, in their form, manner, measure, &c. to appear beautiful, because here is some image of an higher kind of agreement and consent of spiritual beings.”

“When we spake of Excellence in Bodies, we were obliged to borrow the word Consent, from Spiritual things; but Excellence in and among Spirits is, in its prime and proper sense, Being’s consent to Being. There is no other proper consent but that of Minds, even of their Will; which, when it is of Minds towards Minds, it is Love, and when of Minds towards other things, it is Choice. Wherefore all the Primary and Original beauty or excellence, that is among Minds, is Love.”
God is beautiful because He is a Trinity: “As to God’s Excellence, it is evident it consists in the Love of himself; for he was as excellent before he created the Universe, as he is now. But if the Excellence of Spirits consists in their disposition and action, God could be excellent no other way at that time; for all the exertions of himself were towards himself. But he exerts himself towards himself, no other way, than in infinitely loving and delighting in himself; in the mutual love of the Father and the Son. This makes the Third, the Personal Holy Spirit, or the Holiness of God, which is his infinite Beauty; and this is God’s Infinite Consent to Being in general. And his love to the creature is his excellence, or the communication of himself, his complacency in them, according as they partake of more or less of Excellence and beauty, that is, of holiness (which consists in love); that is, according as he communicates more or less of his Holy Spirit.”

Jonathan Edwards did not have a perfect understanding of Trinitarian doctrine, but I am still very blessed by his giving glory to the Holy Trinity for Beauty, which of course can have its source and perfect demonstration no where else. For readings on the Holy Trinity I commend to you these pages.

Above a storefront in Carmel, California
Now, back to the subject of travel...I suppose no one wonders what all this beauty-talk has to do with our goings, because don't we all like to look at beautiful things when we travel? And when we have to move on, we also like to keep something to take home with us. How to not lose everything of the experience of a new place?

De Botton suggests three ways that we often try: 1) Taking pictures with a camera, 2) imprinting ourselves physically, as in carving our names in a tree trunk and thereby leaving a bit of ourselves behind, 3) buying something, "to be reminded of what we have lost." And none of these actions can have as much effect on the whole person as drawing.

In explaining his love of drawing (it was rare for him to travel anywhere without sketching something), Ruskin once remarked that it arose from a desire, "not for reputation, nor for the good of others, nor for my own advantage, but from a sort of instinct like that of eating or drinking." What unites the three activities is that they all involve assimilations by the self of desirable elements from the world, a transfer of goodness from without to within. As a child, Ruskin had so loved the look of grass that he had frequently wanted to eat it, he said, but he had gradually discovered that it would be better to try to draw it: "I used to lie down on it and draw the blades as they grew -- until every square foot of meadow, or mossy bank, became a possession to me."

De Botton chronicles his own efforts to follow Ruskin's advice, and when he attempts to draw a window frame in his hotel he finds that he had never actually looked at one before, in all its complexity of construction.

Many passages in the book also paint exemplary word-pictures, such as a paragraph on olive trees, of which the author at first "dismissed one example as a squat bush-like thing." On closer consideration, with the help of Van Gogh's art as well as Ruskin's tools, he sees the trees in all their magnificence, telling us that "the taut silvery leaves give an impression of alertness and contained energy."

There is another way that this description by de Botton follows Ruskin: in his anthropomorphizing of natural objects, attributing to them qualities that only humans or at least animals would actually have, and feeling that "they embody a value or mood of importance to us."
In the Alps, he described pine trees and rocks in similarly psychological terms: "I can never stay long without awe under an Alpine cliff, looking up to its pines, as they stand on the inaccessible juts and perilous ledges of an enormous wall, in quiet multitudes, each like the shadow of the one beside it -- upright, fixed, not knowing each other. You cannot reach them, cannot cry to them; -- those trees never heard human voice; they are far above all sound but of the winds."
My two-year-old grandson Scout is already a traveler following in Ruskin's (and his mother's) footsteps. He loves to hike and to stop and look at everything. On a recent outing he said, as he wandered off, "I'm going to climb up here, Mama, and the rocks will take care of me..."

That's what I call the spirit of good old-fashioned traveling. Not the sort that Ruskin himself decried, in the 19th century: "Modern travelling is not travelling at all; it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel." 

When I am loaded on to a jet plane, I confess to feeling a bit like a parcel squeezed into a big crate of parcels. But Ruskin, and yes, even de Botton are helping me to be a more joyful and observant traveler, even if it's only on a trip down the neighborhood footpath.

Before I had read just the small number of Ruskin's words that are in The Art of Travel, I didn't have the nerve to try my patience with drawing anything. But the man who wanted to teach me to notice has given me a vision of myself drawing a flower or a rock or a building. On my last car trip, I was even so bold as to pack into my bag a box of colored pencils.

(This post is part of a series on the book The Art of Travel.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hans Christian Andersen on Greek Easter

Hans Christian Andersen's travel memoirs from the 1840's, when he witnessed both Roman and Greek Easter festivities. He did love the Greek way:

Day and night the church was filled with people. The King, the Queen, and the whole court were there on the midnight before Easter Day: the priests stood praying and mourning around the flower-filled coffin; the whole congregation prayed in silence. The clock struck twelve, and at the same moment the Bishop stepped forth, and said: "Christ is risen!"
"Christ is risen!" burst from every tongue. Kettle-drums and trumpets sent forth their strains; the music played the liveliest dances! The whole people fell on each other’s necks, kissed, and joyously cried, "Christ is risen !" Shot after shot was heard outside; rockets darted into the air, torches were lighted, men and young lads, each with a candle in his hand, danced in a long row through the city. The women kindled fires, slaughtered lambs, and roasted them in the streets. Little children, who had all got new fez and new red shoes, danced in their shirts around the fires, kissed each other, and exclaimed like their parents, “Christ is risen!” O, I could have pressed each of these children to my heart and exulted with them. "Christ is risen!” It was touching, elevating, and beautiful. 

Read the whole thing here.

(In California, as the clock struck twelve.)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Music of My Life

The third chapter of The Hidden Art of Homemaking is the impetus for this post. It is titled simply "Music," and continues the theme of how Christians might express their creativity in their varied and unique circumstances. I am participating in the discussion of the book on Cindy's blog, Ordo Amoris. This is a long post and I apologize -- you would be smart to skip it and go do something creative!

It might have been 30 years ago that I first read Hidden Art, and I wrote on the day of the author's death how important it was in developing a vision for my life. At the time of its publication in 1971 I don't think there was anything else like it, but feminists were writing plenty about the stifling life of the typical housewife. It was lovely to have laid out before me many concrete examples of interesting people and their home-enriching activities.

Just a couple of years later, Karen Mains wrote Open Heart, Open Home, which also contributed to my Christian vision, on the theme of hospitality. And I was married in the early 70's, and enjoying keeping house and garden even before the children started arriving. When the house started filling with kids, I never lacked for creative projects and plans.

But I hadn't even read Schaeffer's book yet. My young-married-childbearing years were overflowing with culture and creativity, and I could not relate to the reader Edith seemed to be writing for, someone who is frustrated, locked up, or unfulfilled (her words).

Only recently have I been able to look back over my life and see with more understanding (I hope) why the story reads the way it does. I needed time to think, and I needed to see more of the plot toward the end, before I could notice how the first chapters fit with middle parts of my saga.

Part I contained an excess of family drama, as we call it these days, emotional and psychological stress that I didn't get any help dealing with. If you have a splitting headache it is hard to tap into your creativity. It's the same with emotional pain, maybe more so when it isn't diagnosed or even acknowledged, but stays like an always-freshening wound that makes you want to move as little as possible.

Me in Part II
What brought me into Part II was getting married to a good man and empowered to create my own story, free of distracting pain. The setting was calm and clear and full of the hope of the gospel. It was somewhat the opposite of what Schaeffer talks about, because being home was my obvious opportunity to do just about anything. I had had no lack of examples and ideas; actually, the hippie era for me segued into a homesteading spirit a la The Mother Earth News. And there were all the creative people I'd known growing up (just about everyone), while I was storing up tinder for my creative fires.

I see that I have mixed a few metaphors here trying to tell my story -- or am I writing the score for the symphony that has been playing out? Though this chapter is about music, it seems as good a place as any to bring up what seem to me to be realities on which our artistic life is built. They apply to music, too.
I received little musical training as a child, and I had no career that I had to put on the back burner. But growing up in church was good ear-training, and even in the Girl Scouts and in public school we sang a lot. I was lucky to marry a musician, and by means of his guitar and my singing we filled the house and our children's ears with music.

We sang in the car, using songbooks I wrote out by hand. We sang around the campfire. We parents sat on the bedroom floor and crooned lullabies to our children every night. And in church I helped the young readers to develop fluency while hymn-singing, running my finger along the page under the words while they looked on. But I don't know how to read music.

At first there wasn't money for music lessons, and I wept over the injustice of a world in which my firstborn had no opportunity for a more structured musical education. Then grandparents and great-grandparents stepped in and God provided a generous piano teacher two blocks from our house. From that time forth the provisions continued in various ways, so that eventually all of our five children learned to play at least one instrument. The photos are of them and a grandson enjoying their music. Two of our daughters became piano teachers in their teens.

But for many families, music is not something they can really accomplish. My parents could not provide it for me, but it all worked out o.k. Some women find that their distracting drama only starts when they marry, or when a child falls ill. There are women for whom getting through the day is like climbing a steep mountain, and while they might be relieved to stop and smell the flowers, it's asking a lot to tell them they ought to get out the seed catalog and develop a plan for further landscaping. But I suppose they aren't the ones reading Hidden Art.

When Schaeffer says things like, "Christian homes places where there is the greatest variety of good music," I balk at the word should. I don't know how she might otherwise have presented a picture of what she considers the ideal home, but every time she says we should do this or that to develop our creative side -- and in the short Chapter 2 she used the word nine times -- I get annoyed that she is telling me what my Christian duty is.

It just seems backward to me, because I can't recall ever doing one creative homemaking thing out of a sense of duty, though I firmly believe we are all obligated to do our duty. To fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man, according to Ecclesiastes (Not that we can even accomplish those basics on our own). It seems to me that the rest, the art and music and beauty, flow naturally from a human soul that is nurtured by God's love -- just as sap running up a tree trunk results in bright leaves and colorful fruit. The main thing is not to tell the tree to make fruit, but to keep the connection to the life-giving Fountain -- Who is also the One who heals all those diseases of the heart that might hinder us.

What do you know -- beauty in our life is one of the healing potions God provides. So if we start with small things that brighten our homes, say, singing a few lines from a hymn over the kitchen sink, or teaching a nursery rhyme to a toddler, just in response to the impulse, we are creating culture and feeding our own souls. It keeps the sap running, and the more the tree grows, the more sap and delicious fruit there will be.

Since Edith Schaeffer wrote this book and What is a Family, the only two of hers that I have read, thousands of families have discovered that homeschooling provides the opportunities to build the kind of family life and culture that the author presents a vision for. Just give us enough time with our children and all these good things are more likely to happen. The vision she sets forth was an ingredient in the soil that nourished my own heart and gave me the courage I needed. All the rest is in Part II, Part III, and still writing... Oh, and still singing new songs!

Friday, May 10, 2013

little goats now in the spring

The hymns of Pascha and Bright Monday are playing themselves in my mind every day, all day long, like heavenly prayers. Christ is risen indeed! And my house is filled with honeysuckle scent, as a consequence of a long gardening party I've been having with myself.

I've been on my hands and knees in the dirt quite a bit this week. Above you can see one perennial bed I've been thinning and re-planting. Eleven tomato plants have been tucked into various places all over the yard, and in order to make a sunny home for one of them it was necessary to severely prune the honeysuckle vine that was starting to bloom profusely. Beforehand, as I walked past it several times, the sweetness almost made me woozy, and reminded me of the lilies in church on Holy Friday, as at a funeral.

I couldn't bear to throw all the prunings into the yard waste bin, so I cut carefully and put the trimmings in three vases to enjoy indoors. There were still so many left, I filled another jarful to give to a neighbor, but it's still here, too. Even though the petals are drying and starting to fall on the table, all of this flowery flavor is still permeating my days.

A wonderful story was passed on to us on the blog Mystagogy, of the Athonite monk Elder Porphyrios (1906-1991) who on a Bright Tuesday visited his cardiologist, overflowing with Easter brightness and quoting a hymn:

What happiness is in the Resurrection! "And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause." Have you ever seen the little goats now in the spring who jump on the grass? They eat a little from their mother and begin to jump again? This is what it means to leap - to jump. This is how we should also jump for unspeakable joy at the Resurrection of our Lord and our own.
It is a sweet and not long anecdote you can read here.

There is this lightness and heavenly singing, but pressing in on all sides, sorrow and pain. In the lives of extended family, and friends near and far, things happen even in Bright Week that reek of death. A husband commits suicide, a child dies suddenly and mysteriously, a sweet woman becomes incapacitated with irrational fears....

How to make sense of it all? How to carry the joy along with the burdens of the people you love? It probably requires a measure of the Holy Spirit I haven't acquired in order to do a good job of it. My joy is often a shallow emotionality, and certainly my burden-bearing is hampered by laziness and the distraction of my own burdens that I needlessly carry.

Or is it needlessly? It was only a short time ago I was ruminating on the yoke of Christ -- and He did say His burden is light. He was exhorting us to take up His yoke. I want to "be there" for people who are hurting, and often the only thing to do, and it's not minor, is to bring them to God's throne in my heart and prayers. If I will just stay there I should be able to hold on to this sweetness and Light as well. 

Christ is risen!