Thursday, June 30, 2011

Quote of the Week - The Cost

"Push back against the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don't realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross"

       -from The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O'Connor

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Dream of What's Real

It was about 40 years ago I had a dream that I know was from God. I don't remember any since then about which I felt such assurance. Many dreams I have are mild nightmares of household disasters, though I have also experienced dreadful nightmares that left a cloud over the first hours of the day.

This dream was of a garden. I was walking in a lush and green garden, where birds were singing and flowers were blooming. Cool lawns stretched between all the most fitting tall trees and flower beds, everything breathing with new life. The air was warm and balmy -- it was obviously Spring or early Summer. As I followed the paths and took in the beauty I felt very happy and peaceful, but I didn't think of taking a nap on the grass, because the atmosphere of the place made me feel too alive and awake. Then, the words were spoken, "This is your heart." And I woke up.

I can well recall the sweetness that filled me as I lay in bed in those few minutes after waking, knowing that God had given me a taste of His presence. That lovely feeling stayed with me all day. I told a few people about the dream, and was often encouraged by it in a vague way. There was no clear doctrine to hold to; it was more like a promise.

This morning when I woke I got to thinking about that garden, and how it might still have something to teach me about prayer. It is possible, the fathers teach us, to always live in the garden of the heart, where God and His love are constantly available to us, even when our minds are required by the everyday cares of life to be busy elsewhere. We can live in that garden even when our earthly houses and treasures are in ruin from earthquake, or when we walk in the front door to find that thieves have stolen us blind. The Life that we absorb through our pores in that place can energize us to do the necessary work of repair and healing.

In the last week I've been hearing a bird song in the backyard in the mornings, but it was not my robin whom I wrote about before, a messenger of comfort from just a few years ago. I strained to hear that robin's chirp that means so much to me now, but he was not on the airwaves. Lo! this morning before I got out of bed there he was, and he started in. God sends birds like angels.

"The kingdom of God is within you,"  said our Lord. The robins and other angels are there, nearby where He makes us to lie down in green pastures under heavens that declare His glory, and where nothing can separate us from the Love of God.

Chartwell, Kent

Monday, June 20, 2011

Brilliant but not blotchy helianthemum

My heart was set on a Chocolate Blotch -- it is a variety of the little shrub helianthemum. After browsing nurseries both local and online, I became 95% sure that the one I have growing at church is that type, not that the name made any sense.

These plants are a genus in in the family Cistaceae, as is the cistus, which I'm also fond of. They are both called rockrose, but that confuses me, so this is one case where I think I'll stick to the botanical name.

Whatever its name, I couldn't find one to buy. And I love the way it trails over the side of the half barrel as in this photo where it is way in the background behind the poppies and everything. I wanted one for my garden at home, but my hope dwindled and I cultivated contentment instead of a shrub.

Then when I was fussing over these church plantings recently I noticed that the plant with deep orange flowers was trying to take over the container, not just spreading its branches but sending down lots of new roots, so why not cut it in half and take some home?

I did that just before I got sick, and the clumps of roots sat in a bucket on my patio for several days. I knew they had to be planted before I went to Monterey, so on the eve of my departure I went crazy with pots and trowels and Supersoil.

There are two colors of flowers that cause pain to my sensibilities when they are planted near each other: orangey-red and fuschia. My backyard rhododendron is fuschia, but it is in a corner with only blues close by.

The deep clear orange of this shrub seemed to me just what I need to bring balance to the many places crowded with blues and lavenders, and it won't confuse things by adding any red tones.

My color ideas are no doubt strange; my husband says that all the colors in nature go together. But one year I had some red-orange bulbs blooming next to the yellow climbing rose and when I looked out the window it seemed to me that the two plants were spoiling each other's beauty. So I dug up the bulbs.

I trimmed the divisions of my helianthemum prize back quite a bit, and planted one clump in the middle of the lambs' ears and pincushion flowers, next to the lavender and the oregano. Four Oriental lilies have now pushed up in the back of that bed, where it seemed a few weeks ago only one would grow; I had thought that I planted my big bag of bulbs from Costco so late that most of them must have rotted.

I wasn't in too big a rush that I missed noticing that nasturtiums are coming up here and there, glory to God! Last year I tried various colors of many varieties, plants and seeds, hoping that some would naturalize.

As I was writing this post I looked some more for photos of "my" rockrose, and this time I found many more and helpful photos, broadening the possibilities to include Welsh Flame and Henfield Brilliant. A good photo explains why the name C. Blotch, and makes it clear that I don't have that. After clicking back and forth among pictures and sites, I'm now 95% sure I have a Henfield Brilliant. This garden detective work is my kind of fun!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cherries the birds didn't get

Thanks to blogging friends, I was prompted to take notice and learn about my food today. Strawberry Lady suggested we eat cherries, so naturally I took a picture first. The Rainier cherries I bought at a roadside stand this week in the land where we also grow asparagus, artichokes -- and yes, strawberries! -- were selling for $6 for a large basket, the same as Bings.

But in Japan, they have been known to pay for Rainiers (gulp) $5 per cherry...? And birds eat as much as a third of the crop before it's picked, so they also must think they are pretty special.

Now I'm glad I bought the Rainiers and got such a good deal. The small hut with the big signs was just off a four-lane highway, and the trucks carrying all our luscious California produce were speeding by. As the wind blew me across the dirt toward the fruit it took all of one second for my hair to become a tangled web across my face, but I found my mouth and sampled both cherries -- and that's how it all happened.

I bought strawberries, too, Mags, but in this case,

They can't compare
To the Rainier rare.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fast Trip South

Soldier and Doll welcomed me to stay at their place overnight so that I could be at my son's graduation from a 16-month course at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey early in the morning.

lupines and more
As I backed out of our driveway at the beginning of my trip, the car thermometer registered 91°. On the Golden Gate Bridge it was 61°, in Santa Clara County 94°, and by the time I got to Monterey, back into the low 60's. I kept busy putting the car windows up and down and the A.C. on and off.

After dinner that night we walked on the boardwalk at Asilomar Beach, and took pictures. We definitely needed sweaters out there.

Some of the large Presidio herd of deer were relaxing near the gate next morning and did not pay much attention to our important event.

Soldier graduated with honors from his program, and after the ceremony and picture-taking with teachers we went out for omelettes and waffles. Before I knew it, it was time for me to pack my sleeping bag in the car and drive through the bands of warm and cool again to come home!

Today I'll be back at my usual tasks -- I mostly wanted to put up a few pictures to remember my fast trip.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Not long ago and not whimsical

When I am confined to bed with a malady that makes my head feel like an overgrown cabbage, why not read the novel about Poland that has been waiting on my TBR list for at least a year? It's a book that won several minor awards, including the Hemingway Foundation/PEN prize in 2010.

Long, Long Ago and Essentially True exceeded my expectations; I don't remember what I read on someone's blog that got me interested, but when the book arrived and I saw the fanciful flowery cover with notes using the words "whimsical" and "romance" on the same page, I'm afraid I unconsciously relegated it to a genre of Light Reading.

But a story of Poland from the 1930's to about 1990 is painfully full of war, tyrants, secret police, lies and alcoholism. Wives and mothers can't even mention their men who went missing years ago; their grandchildren grapple with the generational ripples of all the wounds and deaths and separations both social and physical. I had to look up the word whimsical just now to make sure of my understanding, and no, the author Brigid Pasulka never gave the impression that she was trying to be "playful, erratic or fantastical" with her subject.

The opening chapter that tells about an upright young man named Pigeon might make you think it's all light and charming, and perhaps to some reviewers the idea of such a hero with old-fashioned morals seems like a fairy tale. He is a shining example of the classic Pole who has Golden Hands that can make or fix anything. And he loves Anielica, a sweet girl who will soon suffer much with and for him, including the long postponement of their wedding -- but that turns out to be the least of their sorrows.

The novel alternates chapters about teenagers growing up during the war years with those about their granddaughter in the late 20th century. Her life, also, is nearly wrecked by many of the same old misfortunes as well as some newer ones, like drug-dealing boyfriends. Funny moments and comic aspects pepper her story, as they did her grandparents'. Being able to appreciate the comedy is one way to deal with the heartache; that doesn't make the story a piece of humor.

The book was just serious enough and just long enough to keep me turning the pages and to distract me from my painful head, and I did not predict the ending that lifted me out of the general bleakness that was trying to smother the characters all the way through. The Polish people had several years of trying to survive and even fight against the Nazis, and then could barely catch their breath before the Soviets took over and they had to quickly shift gears and learn how to cope with a slightly different oppression, the effects of which stretched long into the future.

Through it all the protagonists in this story, the grandparents and the parents and grandchildren, fight to stay together and to protect one another. Bribes and lies and dreadful compromises at times appear to be daily necessities, but the characters' love and perseverance keep them from the despair that lurks around the corners of their houses like a traitorous neighbor. The moral quandaries that they experience are neither explored in depth nor treated flippantly.

The author, I read on the cover, spent a year in Poland learning the language and the culture of her ancestors. She uses often untranslated Polish words lavishly throughout the story, and they aren't always easily deciphered versions of English words, so I was frequently left wondering what I was missing, not having a Polish dictionary handy. Nor did I want to look up the many references to obscure events in Polish history which the characters mentioned. But those are my only complaints.

In the middle of meditating on the history and people of Poland (and after rising from my sickbed) I read this poem that Maria posted last week, by a Pole who would have grown up during the Soviet era. The images the writer conjures up, of a field mouse, a tree, "A grass blade trampled by a stampede of incomprehensible events," lined up very well with the impression I got from this debut novel, of a brave people surviving by means of the virtues of their humanity, which is the grace of God.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ascensiontide Showers of Blessing

This short season between Ascension and Pentecost -- it just seems natural to call it Ascensiontide, even though, until we get to Pentecost, we are still in Eastertide. These ten days are a subset, maybe. All this is The World According to GJ, and probably not kosher -- oops, I'm getting more faith traditions mixed up in there.

That I am confused is not surprising, considering how wild and unusual my last two weeks have been, with a heavy amount of visiting with several friends and great busyness leading to brain fatigue. Thank God He gave me the strength to enjoy all the extra love and liveliness in the house. So much has been going on, I wanted to give a brief report of highlights.

plants still waiting to go into the ground....

Rain. It kept us from going on the walks I had anticipated, and also relieved everyone of irrigation duties.

blue lake pole beans

Very odd to get so much rain here in California the first week of June. Most plants don't mind it, but the basil looks nigh unto death, waiting for summer. Here are the happy beans instead.

mystery bush

Hard as it is to believe, it appears that the rain has finally ceased. No one dared complain about last week's lack of blue skies, here where an excess of water can can only be counted a blessing, and where tornadoes are rare.

My friend May and I drove over the mountain several times to see our elderly friend Jerry.
close-up of bush

Hail battered my car on one of our trips to his house, but on the way home later on we saw a bush we didn't recognize by the side of the road and stopped to get its picture. Can anyone identify it right off?

Jerry's walnut tree and vineyard
Jerry and his late wife lived all over the world before settling in wine country to try their hand at being vintners, and they brought seeds and plants from many countries to plant here. It's sad, though, to see the garden in disarray, lacking the care of Mrs. Jerry.

Some flowers and trees keep going in spite of neglect, like these orchids, which grow outdoors through the winter.

toasted sesame seeds
I had fun cooking for extra people. We ate Lemon Pudding Cake with Raspberry Sauce, and some Sticky Rice with Mango. Also fresh oatmeal bread, and Duk Guk, a soup whose name does not make you think nice things, but Guk is the word for the odd Korean rice cake ingredient that I like a lot -- so much that I probably should not keep it in the house.

I toasted sesame seeds to make Lemon Sesame Dressing for the piles of green salad everyone consumed. Maybe after Pentecost I can post some recipes.
through the monastery gate

koi pond at monastery
In the evening of the Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost, I went to the Holy Assumption Monastery for a Family and Friends event.

First there was a lecture on "The Power of Bones," referring to all the Bible references to the health that can be in our bones, and to the proper and reverential treatment of human bones. It was a prompting for us to consider in light of Holy Tradition our often irreverent modern funeral practices; I'm sure that in the future I'll have more to say on this general topic that pertains to all of us.

Not long ago Gumbo Lily posted a blog about where her blog name comes from -- it's actually the name of a flower that grows on the prairie. For her I am putting up this picture of the cousin to her gumbo lily, our Mexican Evening Primrose that grows happily in a rocky spot between our driveway and the neighbor's. It gets by in the dry summer with only a couple of waterings, but it didn't mind the good Spring soaking.

Mexican Evening Primrose

I can't tell about Ascensiontide without mention of the rejoicing to my spirit from having the festal hymns playing in my mind ever since last Thursday. In our daily prayers we have left off beginning with, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death...," and we aren't yet returning to, "O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth...," because we are still looking forward, liturgically, to the descent of the Holy Spirit.

So we are singing, during these ten days, about the event described in this way: "And it came to pass, while He blessed them, he was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." (Matthew 17) The troparion hymn goes like this (now imagine me waking to it and falling asleep in the same joy!):

Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God,
Having gladdened Thy disciples 
with the promise of the Holy Spirit;
And they were assured by the blessing
That Thou art the Son of God,
the Redeemer of the world!