9.26.2007

Message from the Frontier State

It's hard work being on a cruise. First, there's all the decisions. Like, should we have dinner on the Lido Deck (Deck 9) at the buffet-style restaurant, or fancy sit-down dinner at the Vista Dining Room (Deck 3) or just mojito shooters at the Crow's Nest (Deck 10?) Maybe I should just stay in and order room service.......just like yesterday, and the day before that. There's just so many ways to get fat in one week! And then there's the outfits-the glitter or the velour track suit? Decisions, decisions. .....
But Alaska is just so fabulous. Right now I'm in the hospitable home of the Mahle's, native Alaskans who kindly spent the afternoon showing off their capital city, Juneau. We climbed the twisty streets to the local Orthodox church, to see where my old friend Cana came to meet her long-distance love, Basil, and had mango waffles and Americanos in a homey coffeehouse.
We cavorted around with the Mendenhall Glacier, icebergs, sock-eye salmon and all, and even managed to run into a BLACK BEAR, which made all my Alaska dreams come true. Yesterday was spent in Glacier Bay, up the Johns Hopkins and Tar inslets, communing with the mighty Marjorie and Grand Pacific glaciers. Glaciers are the color of a blue Slushee, with Oreo cookies crumbled on top. Their tops are covered with seracs, beautiful towering spires, jagged and crowning. The whole bay was silent, looming and majestic. The silence was broken only a couple of times by loud cracks in the glacier, when we would all stand together, breath held, on the Promenade Deck, waiting for a possible glacier-calfing. (This is how you get icebergs.) Tomorrow it is Sitka, and the next day is Ketchikan. We're all having a great time, and Alaska is glorious.
And lastly, a quote by Mark Twain, the master of understatement:
"A man who keeps company with glaciers
comes to feel tolerably insignificant by and by."

9.21.2007

Pinetoast

Welcome Pinetoast to the blogosphere! He's starting off chronicling our unlikely adventures on a cruise, of all things. Only the love and deep pockets of a parents could get us on board this beauty, the Noordam. We leave in two days, and nothing is ready. Laundry is undone, suitcases in a mournful slump in the Blue Room (office cum garbage tip), hair uncut, G's thinking about getting sick, my eyes are crossing with sleepiness. I was so happy to see Piney want to blog that I dropped everything to sit down and give him a proper (if not cross-eyed) welcome. Go check it out! This is the best way, maybe, to hear about our cruise. I expect ole Piney to be spending plenty of time in the internet cafe aboard the ship, while I am doing latch hook rugs, line-dancing classes and shuffle board competitions. Sounds like a blast. A good way to celebrate Mum's 60th birthday, splashing out by taking her kids on a cruise to Alaska. The Great White North, Piney calls it.
For the record: books I am bringing on our trip:

1) trying to read more of the Good Book

2) The Treasure-Seekers by E. Nesbit (E. Nesbit is a rare jewel well worth finding. This book is hu-larious.)

3) The Railway Children by E. Nesbit (A very satisfying and cozy sort of book.)

4)Blessed are the Cheesemakers by Sarah-Kate Lynch (untried territory, trusting to Mum's good taste.)

5) The Tea House on Mulberry Street by Sharon Owens (definitely of the Rosamunde Pilcher/Maeve Binchy School of Literature, good cruise fodder.)

I have vague feelings that I should be reading The Call of the Wild, but that just sounds too much like school for me to bother with.

This is it so far, and I'm a little nervous about how short this list is. What else should I bring? (*worry*)
If all goes according to plan, we'll be visiting the mighty Mahle's, our friends and neighbors from the Seamill Centre, in North Ayreshire, Scoland. (We lived on the same hall.) They live in Juneau and we are so glad to spend the day with them there. Okay, my eyes can't focus any longer. Time to say goodnight.

9.19.2007

Gone Again Is Summer, The Lovely


i stood in the garden,
face held aloft,
nose slightly twitching
at the change
borne on the skirts of
the wind that came
billowing through the trees.
sweeping away
the detritus of summer:
oak leaf, cob web, grey twig,
dust upon dust.
Like so many unwanted nannies,
clutching hats and
inside out umbrellas,
taking their leave(s).
In earnest does God keep His House.

(Okay, so Shelley said it much better:)

O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver, hear, oh, hear!

-Percy Blake Shelley (1792-1822)
photo credit: etolane

Morning Prayer

O Jesus Christ, all thanks be to thee
Who has brought me safely through last night,
To the morning joy of this day's light,
To win everlasting life for me,
Through the blood that thou didst shed for me.

O God, for ever praise be to thee,
For the blessing the bestw'st on me-
For my food, my work, my health, my speech,
For all the good gifts bestowest on each,
O God, for ever praise be to thee.

I pray thee now to shield me from woe,
From sinning, this night to consecrate,
God of the poor, and I poor and low,
O Christ of the wounds, thy wisdom great
Along with thy grace on me bestow.

May the Holy One make claim on me,
And protect me on the land and sea,
Step by step leading me on my way
To the City of everlasting day,
Peace to the City that lasts for aye.

-Poems of the Western Highlanders

9.17.2007

My New (So-Called) Life

There's so much going on right now. I am so tired! Today, I fell asleep in traffic -no, I wasn't driving-and when I close my eyes to pray over our dinner, my eyes go all unfocused & bleary when I open them. It reminds me of when G was an infant.
Today was the first day of my new life, the day I officially re-entered the workforce, after nearly 4 years since my last 'proper' job . Now I trot off, with G in tow, to a preschool in our nearby burgh, where I am a teacher. This is a job I had in a previous life, when I was young and carefree (married with no children). I really liked it back then, and I hope I can do it again. This work scenario has so many great things going for it; for instance, we can stay a one car family, as my commuter car is a jog stroller. Nice. Also, we don't have to pay for childcare, which can really be the thing that swings the whole deal. (You have to make sure you make enough money to pay for childcare, and then enough on top of that to make the whole thing worthwhile, otherwise you are just working so you can afford to pay for childcare.) So. It's not the garden dream job that I'd coveted (they never called me back, but who needs them anyway? Nyah.)
So, I taught preschool all morning, and then came home to CB waiting on our doorstep. CB is our new little baby friend who comes over 3x a week in the afternoons. This is another job, one that again, has zero commute and no childcare costs. So far so good. B and I figured out that we're working 4 jobs between us. Which sounds sort of dreadful, but it's not so bad so far. Talk to me again in a couple of months, and pray that you don't find me drooling & gibbering to myself in the corner.
God grant me strength!
Oh, and next week we're going to Alaska. Aboard this tiny ship. I hope they don't ask me to row.
(Thanks, Mum!)

9.13.2007

Swallows and Amazons Forever!

I 'd have to say, in response to Franny's blog, that if I were able to pick books to bring on a desert island, it seems most prudent to bring along picks from one of my favourite genres, the juvenile adventure. The seminal series of this genre would have to be Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. What makes these series so great (and so particularly handy) is how they spend so much time describing how to do things. Swallows chronicles the Walker children and their boat (the Swallow) as they sail on one of the northern lakes in England, possibly Windermere. They spend the summer on an island, and do battle with the mighty Amazons, two girls who live across the lake. They declare a truce and spend the rest of the summer camping, whittling, spying, and eating pemmican, whatever that is. There's loads of unintelligble sailing jargon, all tacking and jibs & hoisting main sails. It is enormously satisfying in much the same manner as Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows & E. Nesbit's The Railway Children.
The Islanders
When we were moving to Scotland, I was bemoaning to Eleven that I didn't have anything to read on the plane. She turned up at my door with a real gem, one of those "Where have you been all my life?" sort of things, (like Sufjan Stevens and Nutella.) I'm talking about Roland Pertwee's The Islanders, set in the West Country (Devon?) of southern England, sometime soon after the first World War. A generous, slightly eccentric old man gives a teen age boy and his two friends the run of an island on a river, somewhere on his massive estate. They can live there and come and go as they please, but they have to live by their wits, and by the work of their hands. What ensues is a book full of adventure, and much practical instruction, perfect for the next time I need to hunt my dinner with a rifle, lash logs together to make a raft, ride out with the neighborhood Hunt, or outwit the Gypsy kids that are poaching fish. It is such a cozy and satisfying read, as I said to Eleven, it was like eating lots of toast with a big mug of sweet milky black tea. **fake Scottish burr** Och aye! Verra verra cozy. I wanted to curl up in it. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to find, but I always ask for it when I'm at good bookstores. ( Recent attempts include: Bell's Book's- Palo Alto, The Linden Tree-Los Altos Hills; but I struck out, alas.) I suppose I could try searching for it out in cyber space, but I like having a quest. Many things are very easy, these days; it feels good to have something that I can't instantly access. If you run across a copy of it, I'll pay you handsomely for it! At any rate, check out Arthur Ransome's wiki entry, because it is fascinating. A surprising tale full Russian expatriates, smuggled diamonds and MI5 British Intelligence.
Little House
I add Little House books because of their endless & interesting descriptions. Pa making a door for their log cabin, Alonzo and his sister during the harvest on the family farm, all of her books describe life at that time with such vivid and yet practical prose. I found her detailed descriptions of tasks oddly absorbing when I first read them, and I used to imagine that I was with Laura and Mary in their earthen home in On the Banks of Plum Creek.

All these books rank high on my list of cozy literature...I mean, sure I want adventure-but do I have to go outside?!!

9.06.2007

Alone!

I knew my poor little introverted self was sorely suffering when, after getting in the pool with G & grandma yesterday, I swam out to the deep end and floated there on my back, all the while exulting silently, "I'm alone! Finally, ALONE!" So, G is staying not one, but TWO nights in Steinbecktown, and I am alone in a very quiet house.
My little G is fabulous, stupendous, and I love her fit to burst. She is also very very vocal (I mean she is a real gibber machine ). And at such a volume-her Papa plays with her sans hearing aids. She is all about gathering information right now, piecing her universe together, but while B has the patience to explain all manner of life to her, I weary of it.
But......Why?
"Why? Why?" is her sing song chant, all the live long day, and I feel like Bill Nye the Science Guy explaining why she can't play with the electrical cords ("because the ekeltricity will come and get you!") and why the ice melts all over mommy's bed when she leaves it there (grr!) But when I get to the end of all my patient explaining, usually there is still one last, "Oh. ..........Why?" that lets me know that although she sometimes has words beyond her tender years, she's without a lot of the reasoning that is required to fully absorb the answers to her many questions. I mean, she's still only two and a half.
Lately I've heard of friends who have really been struggling with the health of their daughter, and I know I have so so much to be thankful for, not the least that my little lovey can speak at all. What's the famous prayer? "God, give me the strength to endure my blessings?" So, I'm trying to take a lot of deep breaths, and to share the joy of life with our little Investigator (hence the trips to grandma's) and to remember that this too shall pass-probably much too soon.

9.03.2007

Tuesdays With Milton




Alcaics

'O mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies,
O skilled to sing of Time or Eternity,
God-gifted organ-voice of England,
Milton, a name to resound for ages;
Whose Titan angels, Gabriel, Abdiel,
Starred from Jehovah's gorgeous armouries,
Tower, as the deep-domed empyrean
Rings to the roar of an angel onset-
Me rather all that bowery loneliness,
The brooks of Eden mazily murmuring,
And bloom profuse and cedar arches
Charm, as a wanderer out in ocean,
Where some refulgent sunset of India
Streams o'er a rich ambrosial ocean-isle,
And crimson-hued the stately palm-woods
Whisper in odorous heights of even.'
-John Milton
photo credit: David Stepka

What I Am Currently Reading, Because Lists Are Fun; An Addendum

The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien
An Experiment in Criticism by CS Lewis
Behind the Lines by AA Milne (poems written during the first 9 months of WW2)
Morning By Morning (daily devotions) by Charles Spurgeon
Gospel of St. John (so far, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus at night about birth, wind and snakes.)


Books

I like CS Lewis' description of a 'literary person' that I read today: "..the first reading of some literary work is often, to the literary, an experience so momentous that only experiences of love, religion, or bereavement can furnish a standard of comparison. Their whole consciousness is changed. They have become what they were not before......scenes and characters from books provide them with an iconography by which they interpret or sum up their experience. They talk to one another about books, often and at length." ('An Experiment in Criticism').

I was terrible at sports, shy, gawky & pale in a school full of future Baywatch extras. Picked Last For Kickball could be my epitaph. Somehow I discovered that I liked to read. Finally something I was good at. Besides, it took little coordination to hold a book, and I could stay inside, away from the great eye of Phoebus that would burn my Celtic skin and make my squinty near-sightedness even more pronounced. (I was classic Indoor Girl, and Indoorness is one of the first things that endeared me to Pastor Dan, the ultimate Indoor Boy.)
So, books. This became my identity: book plates, bookends, book store gift certificates, these made up my Christmas haul each year. And I was fine with that-heck, I was grateful for the identity; glad to have some sort of label to hang my hat on....
It was mysteries at first: Bobbsey Twins, Encyclopedia Brown, Three Investigators, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew.These led into the harder stuff: Agatha Christie in fifth grade and then Stephen King at my dad's house in the summer (reading The Shining at night at your dad's house in the woods is a real mistake.) And then to my dad's trashy pulp fiction; one summer my grandpa found me reading Jackie Collins and dragged me down to a bookstore and filled my arms with P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves & Wooster novels, as well as Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventures. (Thanks, Grandpa!)
In high school it was the Beat poets (Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, et al) with many trips to the fabled City Lights Bookstore in SF and surrealist writers like Paul Bowles, Camus and the one about the guy who turns into a bug.........oh, and Oscar Wilde b/c of Morrissey (what a poser I was!) J.D. Salinger, O. Henry, and for some reason, Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel were all favourites.
I've long loved children's literature, particularly the juvenile novel, or what I used to call 'chapter books' when I was first reading them. Madeline L'engle is good for dozens of these, and I once met one of my heroes, Beverly Cleary, at a book-signing in Carmel. Oh the Judy Blume books that I've pored over! All about bras, periods & other subjects of preteen angst.........
In all this I never considered myself 'literary'.... probably because I'd never read Anna Karenina, or Wuthering Heights and didn't particularly want to. I just liked to read.
It's somehow a relief, this Lewis quote: what makes a person 'literary' depends more upon your personality than about your *sniff* literary pursuits.
So by now I've figured out that God speaks to me through story, through words and allegory, and I see now that all along He was waiting for me to read with "eyes to see'-to read through the words on the page as if they were windows looking into another place. I like Dr. Mullholland's exhortation in 'Shaped By the Word': to approach the Scripture with awe, and think of it as iconographical, as a window into heaven, so that through our reading of the Word we can get a glimpse into that Other Place. How good of God to speak to us each in turn, in the way that we can best listen.

9.01.2007

Fresno, Soybeans, Citrus Trees and the Dead


I keep forgetting to chronicle the first part of the June Lake/Yosemite saga: our visit to Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno. We first saw it sometime in June, when I stood forlornly outside its closed gates, trying to wheedle an entry out of a leathery old guy who was watering the roses. No luck.
So we returned.......and it was everything I imagined, even though seen through the lens of an over-tired, tantruming two-year old and a tour guide that kept laying a hand on my shoulder as he made a point.
The Italians and Their....Soy?
Upon learning that I was an organic gardener, he stepped a little closer and asked me, in an intimate, confiding tone, "Tell me, what are your opinions on..... soy?"
"Er.....soy? As a protein substitute? As a cover crop?" I stammered, edging slightly away. I then-reluctantly- got into deep waters about the dangers of soy as a single source of protein for vegetarians, a subject that I knew more about as a Santa Cruzan than as an organic gardener. He was an interesting guy, round, Italian and sweaty, the great-nephew of Baldasare Forestiere, the creator of the gardens. He was all professional tour guide, soft-spoken, but so charismatic I found that I didn't want to let him down; (even though organic gardening has little to nothing to do with soy, other than that it is a legume, and therefore able to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil-but I don't think that's where he was going.) Anyway, I found myself repeating things I'd overheard in line at the local health food store, and by the end of this stressful conversation, I was all but quoting bumper stickers. A breath of relief when the tour started and he released my shoulder from his meaty grasp.......
Not unlike Roman catacombs........
But the gardens! I loved it. There were tunnels upon tunnels, to compete with the smials of Hobbiton, and everywhere, the lovely mellowed orange of Fresno's hard pan. The arches were beautifully constructed, not unlike Roman catacombs, or some of the work we'd seen in the cloisters of abbeys in England. We were underneath a 10 acre fruit orchard, with pomegranates, grapevines, citrus and my one of my favourites, the fejoia sellowiana, (pineapple guava) which I found reaching up underground through round holes in the earth's crust. These Forestiere planted 60 years ago in round raised beds and then trained to grow up through large holes in the ceiling of his underground complex. These trees reach up 6 or 7 feet before throwing their branches to the sky, like moles coming up for air. It's just incredible.
Back in the day, Baldasare's orchard sat in a remote stretch of countryside outside Fresno, but now it is on busy busy Shaw Avenue, right next to In-N-Out Burger and some strip malls that had been thrown up (ha ha) within the last 10 years: you know, petcostarbucksjambajuiceofficemaxchili'sappleby's, etc. The new Fresno. I hope the right people recognize that although this garden is a piece of ephemera, it's sure to outlast its bland, throw-away surroundings. A testimony to one man's ingenuity, perseverance (he dug it all by hand over a period of 40 years) and seeming desperation to get out of the heat. I also like that he just did it because he wanted to; he seemed like a right salty old bachelor in the end; like an underground king of the mountain.
Sufjan, Scrabble & the Dead
We stayed the night with Neb & his lovely bride Danielle in the much more interesting Tower District where we were feasted royally. G & I sang songs to the moon through the branches of a stately & august orange tree. Later, we sat over a meditative game of Scrabble, drinking something dark and made with hops and listening to Sufjan Stevens' stupendous Seven Swans. Who knew such a night could be had in Fresno?
Oh, and after the gardens, we met Neb at his work-a local funeral home. G & I played in the chapel (hide & seek) whilst Neb took B on a tour "behind the scenes" where apparently they saw all the things you would expect to see behind the freezer door at a funeral home. As we followed Neb home, B announced to me, oddly upbeat, " I saw dead people today!"
We left it at that.

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.