Yuletide Rant (Just A Tiny One)

Well, that's over. And it was splendid, really. But I can see why the Brits have Boxing Day, a day to recover one's wits; a day to lie belching on the couch whilst watching James Bond and eating left-over Roast Beast and Who-Hash.
Christmas at Rosa's was led up to by a frenzy of home-crafting, everything from felted soap to CD mixes & a Christmas poetry anthology. I still can't tell if the soap is crafty & interesting, or crafty and pathetic, the sort of thing you bring home from summer camp, along with the lanyards, God's Eyes, and macrame owls. It was certainly fun to make, if nothing else, although I felt a little bad foisting off my homemade wares on friends and family. I realized this year just how deeply ingrained it is to want to buy something from a store for people I love on Christmas. In the brilliant essay, 'Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter of Herodotus', C.S. Lewis describes the difference between the cultural holiday called 'Christmas' and the holy day celebrated simultaneously of the same name. I recommend this essay; read it here on: 'the weight of glory', an interesting looking blog around which I'll have a poke later...
Keep Christ in Christmas! A.K.A. Keep Saint in Saint Valentine's Day!
This idea of two different holidays happening on the same day is useful to me, especially when I hear people get all up in arms over keeping 'Christ in Christmas', protesting left and right over the expression, 'Happy Holidays' replacing 'Merry Christmas' in the marketplace. I think these people are confusing their holidays. One is the cultural Christmas, which has to do with feasting, family, gift-giving, and loving our fellow man (for this one time a year), aka 'the holiday spirit'. None of these things are bad, in fact, they're good, and they all have an overlap with the other Christmas, the one that is a religious feast day, celebrating the birth of Christ. But there is nothing intrinsically 'holy' about the first holiday, except as far as all acts of goodwill and charity reflect the One in Whom all goodwill and charity have their origin. And you can easily celebrate both, taking the good things from the former and applying them to the latter. But to be railing against those blasphemers at Stuff Mart for saying Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas is just a little misguided. I'd like to see that same energy go towards campaigning against slave trafficking, global poverty and eugenics. I am glad to separate the two holidays, I say let the Saturnalians have their day, and I'll have mine.
(But in case anyone wants to felt their own soap, I've included a link here.)


G and I were practicing 'O Come, All Ye Thankful', which she is singing with the rest of the Vintagelings at church on Sunday. The way she was sort of singing sounds instead of words made it obvious that she had no idea what she was singing. We got to the end, and I said, laughingly, "What in the world does that mean?" "I don't know!" she said, laughing. And then a reflective pause. "Maybe it's in Spanish!"


Rosa's Poetry Archives: Luci Shaw, Mary's Song

Mary’s Song
Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.


"The Christmas season is domestic; and for that reason most people now prepare for it by struggling in tramcars, standing in queues, rushing away in trains, crowding despairingly into teashops, and wondering when or whether they will ever get home. I do not know whether some of them disappear for ever in the toy shop or simply lie down and die in the tea-rooms; but by the look of them, it is quite likely. Just before the great festival of the home the whole population seems to have become homeless."
G.K. Chesterton, 'The Thing: Why I Am A Catholic

For thus said the Lord God, The Holy One of Israel:
in returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
But you refused and said,
"No! We will flee upon horses"-
therefore you shall flee!
and, "We will ride upon swift steeds"-
therefore your pursuers shall be swift!

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.
Isaiah 30:15,16,18


Hope You're Not Eating Whilst Reading This One......

"D took me to see his parent's grave. As I stood there the soil began to move and I saw something digging up from the middle of it. It looked like four fingers coming up out of the grave. I was terrified. And then I realized it was a crawfish." -L, Lake Charles, Louisiana.

This story was so gruesome that I hesitated to even retell it here. I guess I'm getting it out of the way. Anyone who knows me will know how hard it is for me to even look at this picture, and I am a little surprised that I could handle posting it. I know I'm being unreasonable, but somehow I just don't look at this and think, "Yum, dinner!" I think, "Ack! Run!" But truly, one of the reasons why I avoid eating shrimp/lobster/crab is because they seem like the insects of the sea. And apparently the crawfish is the missing link between earth and water. I always thought that crawdads live solely in fresh water creeks. At least that's what I blithely imagined when I heard tell of crawfish etoufe, or jambalaya; just one more funky crustacean that somehow passes for human food, never dreaming that they actually come from out of the ground. Apparently they're locally known as 'mudbugs'.

Oh, and then there's this one: "You got to suck de head on dem crawdads!" This was from a keychain B and I found in Opelousas, Louisiana. It featured audio files of various popular Cajun sayings, including this one, instructions on what to do with one of these little critters. (Although I would have said, "You got to t'row dem crawdads back!") It's actually useful information-if I was faced with one of these on my dinner plate I would have no idea how to begin. Apparently, the head also contains the pancreas, which has a lot of fat and somehow makes for a tasty dish. Mmm-Mmm!

When we visited 10 years ago we actually came across a family that was fishing for crawdads using leftover Thanksgiving turkey neck. They were on the little bridge that separates Avery Island, home of tabasco sauce, from the mainland. It was about as iconic as you could get without circling alligators and the soundtrack from 'Deliverance' playing in the background.

I don't know what's creepier about this story, the bottom feeder digging around in someone's grave or the fact that crustaceans can just bubble up from the earth. As a gardener, I was appalled, and newly resolved never to live there. Can you imagine? Merrily mucking about in the garden beds trying to get the spring's seedlings in the ground and who comes up for air? Mister Mudbug! Blech. I was told this story over Thanksgiving dinner, and my skin prickled and crawled for hours after....

(and thanks to jciv for this pic from a flickr photostream; it's the subject matter, not the composition that are hard to stomach!)


Louisiana Lagniappe

Well, we are back. And Susan Harwood is right, it is the land of myth and story. It's not for the faint of heart, or the vegetarian. Or the PETA supporter. But it has its own elixir that beckons and delights. On the evening of our arrival, as we drove down Highway 22, the fog was so opaque it was all but indistinguishable from the Spanish moss that hung from the oaks. We crept along, and signs would appear out of the mist, highlighting different aspects of the country we were entering: signs pointing to Rosaryville, signs advertising pirogue rentals (swamp boat), wayside pulpits by the truckload, signs for live bait and fried catfish. The swamps were full of thick, sluggish water and tupelo trees that were already gray-limbed and barren. The gators were all down in the mud, so we didn't see any in situ, only poor ole' Hardhide, who looked bored and irritable in his cement pond, the westbound train rattling past every few hours. G tried to entertain him by getting her finger stuck in the small gauge chicken wire surrounding his pond; she obligingly cried and wailed, and he looked like he might have perked up for a minute, but then B gave said digit a yank and the moment passed. I thought it was nice of her.
My neck was hugged by countless cousins on Thanksgiving Day, a humid day when the tables heaved with food, the turkey was deep-fried and the mosquitoes were sluggish with our blood.
I learned many things, and collected many stories, which I hope eventually to share here.
The whole week was amazing and bizarre and surprisingly full of sweet moments, literally (strawberry-filled beignets covered in mounds of powdered sugar) and figuratively (B's cousin casually tells us after dinner, "Y'all should come outside, there's something very interesting in the front." We dutifully file outside, I'm expecting some sort of critter: gator or swamp rat, but instead from around the side of the house comes a child-size ATV driven by a barefoot 3 year old, G is hanging onto her neck from behind and hollerin' at us, a huge grin on her face. They speed past us, wheels churning in the muddy clay.)
The racism was always there, just under the surface; although it did seem a little deeper under the surface than the last time I was there. Someone brought his black friend to the Thanksgiving celebration, something B said he had never seen before. B's mom drove us through her childhood neighborhood which included what had been the black school in her day. B's ancient and lovely Aunt Bernice taught in rural Louisiana from the 30's until the 70's. I asked her about desegregation and she told me some tales, voice lowered as if we were talking about something not quite nice. And apparently Obama won because, "all those black people voted for him." I'll try to share more stories when I get a chance.
A Family On The Verge
Unfortunately I am on the verge of a cold, as well as being on the verge of an Advent Party this weekend. Not to mention on the verge of a baby, next May. B is on the verge of a play that he is way heavily involved in, it opens next week. I don't know what G is on the verge of, besides literacy and then running for public office (actually, we're holding her back from that until she's at least 5.)

Oh, and visit Susan's Advent Blog! Pictures for Advent
And tell her Rosa sent you.


Louisiana Bound

So I forgot to mention that we're going to Louisiana for Thanksgiving. All of B's family hails from this murky Southern state, and the stories are legion: like the one about the baby alligators that crawled their way up the culvert from the Tangipahoa River into an uncle's pond. So of course he raised them as pets. And it was an amicable relationship until one of the puppies went missing.

I have a feeling Louisiana is full of this sort of thing: quirky, semi-brutal stories in which I laugh and then secretly thank God that I am only visiting. I know that sounds awfully cynical, and I really loved the last visit B & I made 10 (!) years ago. All of B's family are sweet Southern folk, very comfortable in their own skins, very welcoming and full of recipes for ice box lemon pie and fresh pork cracklins. Last time we were there I learned to play the Gut Bucket, and met the town's pet alligator, Old Hardhide. He lives in a cement pond, (behind bars) on the main street. From time to time Old Hardhide will die, and the locals parade him up and down the street in what is known as a jazz funeral, and then they get another alligator, and name him Old Hardhide. Sort of like Menudo.

We're spending one night in New Orleans, and I am rubbing my hands in anticipation of our visit to the legendary Cafe Du Monde, where the menu is: 1) chickory coffee 2) beignets (French doughnuts covered with powdered sugar.
The old trolley cars in the Garden District, the muffaleta sandwiches, I'm doing it all. I picked up a copy of Anne Rice's new spiritual biography Out of Darkness to read along the way, she's a New Orleans native. Ummm....anything else? I'm planning on drawing heavily on the pregnancy excuse when it comes to the local food. I don't know why Louisiana is so known for its bottom-feeder cuisine. Shrimp gumbo, seafood jambalaya, crawfish pie, fried catfish, I personally think these people need to eat a little higher on the food chain.....I am really looking forward to the big pile of cousins that G will get to play with as well as the pleasant jumble of folk that gather each Thanksgiving on Larpenter Lane.
I'll try to write some whilst we're there, otherwise I'll see y'all in a week!


PS22 Chorus covering 'There' by the Innocence Mission

It's the little things in life. And this week it's a cover of the Innocence Mission's 'There', a little jem off one of their earlier albums, 'Glow'. It made me so happy......


DowntownTM Versus The Organic Experience

Today we found ourselves in another universe: the East Bay. B had to pick up something in Concord for his boss and we ended up in Pleasant Hill, which we renamed Unnatural Hill. Not Unpleasant Hill, we settled on Unnatural. We were directed to what sounded like the downtown shopping district, but upon closer sniff turned out to be the latest incarnation of the strip mall, the Downtown _________(fill in town name here.) It looked like a downtown/city centre, street parking, sidewalks, restaurants, coffee shops and planter boxes. But I first noticed something was amiss when I realized that our footsteps were echoing as we walked along the clean, wide cement sidewalks. Although it was a lovely Saturday afternoon, and there were plenty of people around, it was oddly quiet. No, silent. No street musicians, drunks, preachers, petitioners, dreadies, Hari Krishnas or someone imploring you for a dollar. Besides that, the people all around us seemed to be talking in low, subdued voices, neatly licking their frozen yogurts and glancing silently around. All the stores were chains.We got some ice cream and perched on one of the grey concrete blocks that I can only assume were meant to be benches, but instead looked like inverted ice cube trays. It was pretty, pleasant even, we ate our ice cream in the warm autumn sun and watched G's chocolate mustache turn into a goatee. But it was eerie. Unnatural. I realized that all the banners up everywhere that urged everyone to "Shop Downtown!" were not in order to save the local businesses from the big bad mall, it was advertising for the updated version of the big bad mall.
The Organic Experience
Earlier that day we had a delicious & distended breakfast with family at the Palo Alto Creamery and then mosied over to the farmer's market. A string trio was playing silly songs for a gaggle of children who were dancing on the sidewalk and giggling. G bashfully joined in, and I stood back, watching and drinking in the moment. The flower stall down the street was brimming with Ammi majus and that lovely orange straw flower that I see this time of year, and can never remember the name of. Maple and liquidambar leaves spun lazy leaf circles on the cracked pavement, and a building across the street was all but engulfed in an elaborate tracery of vines.
The smell of basil and fresh baked bread was at once beguiling and comforting-(although I am still feeling a bit queasy over certain foods-sorry, tomatoes & leafy greens!) It was so utterly organic and infinitely familiar; I stood there, toe-tapping to the music, feeling happy and full of good food. Later that day, as we drove away from Pleasant Hill, I decided that in the end I was glad that its DowntownTM exists for those who want it, everyone should feel the way I felt at the farmer's market-like I was in my skin & could move adeptly through time and space in that environment. Like my cultural proprioception was regulated; I was at home and at peace.

Praise God from Whom all blessings flow! Praise Him, all creatures here below! Praise Him above, ye heavenly host-Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!*

*Known by G as the Soxdology.


Rosa's Memoirs:3-4

G spends a lot of time checking out kids when we are in public. On Tuesday we were at the neighborhood taqueria after voting and she couldn't stop looking at a boy over the top of her quesadilla. He was older than her, in grade school. She started big-arm waving at him as he passed by, eyes round and solemn. The way her head swivels around when she sees people her size reminds me a little of finding a fellow ex-pat whilst traveling abroad.
She seems to crave interaction with her peers, and talks endlessly of them: friends from church, preschool, the neighborhood. I don't know if I was like this, it's hard to remember being 3 1/2. But I think it was around this age that I began to notice the children around me. I remember Christopher Caspar, on whom I had a little preschool crush, at Mrs. Jaffee's Scary Preschool on the westside of Santa Cruz. I remember the girl with brown hair and fat pigtail curls who was my friend, and who loved Christopher Caspar as well. Maybe it was the aliteration. I have no idea.

There were some mean kids in our neighborhood, older boys who tricked me into walking on the red & white rock landscaped hell known as our next door neighbor's front yard.
This man was legendary on Getchell St. for being a gruesome old meanie, but the only evidence I remember of this is that he dared not to be at home on Halloween, his porch light off & the windows dark. I think these mean older kids were friends with my older brother and would play his Planet of the Apes game in the back shed, it's brown-grey weathered wood almost completely covered in nasturtiums and glistening snail trails.

This was the house we lived in when I decided to eat a snail. My mom found me with the snail in my mouth (it seemed like a good idea at the time) and quickly fished it out (still alive?). She also quickly washed my mouth out with soap (she told me later she was afraid that I ate some snail poision)- at Mrs. Jaffee's, however, kid's mouths would routinely get washed out for using 'potty language'; consequently I took this mouth washing as a punishment, and was mortally crushed.
Mrs. Jaffee's Terrifying Preschool (the official name, really) also holds the following ignominious distinction.................
Our preschool planned a field trip to near-by Natural Bridges State Park which hosts hundreds of migrating monarch butterflies each year. I was very excited to go; it was most likely my first school outing. I had a special lunch packed, clean clothes, special backpack, everything I needed. The morning of the field trip I woke up with my stomach churning with excitement. By the time I got to preschool, my stomach was in such knots from the excitement and anticipation that I got a horrible stomach ache and had to stay back at the preschool with one of the teachers while the rest of the school went on the field trip. I was the only kid. It was a sad, sad day.
Sorry, Mum, this post isn't meant to engender guilt! But it's still hard to drive down Fair Ave., and my stomach has a momentary little clench whenever I drive by
Mrs. Jaffee's Mean Lil' Preschool...


Rosa's Political Analysis

We Shall Overcome
I was in high school during the first Iraq War. On that January day when the U.S. invaded Iraq, 3 of our city's high schools spontaneously marched out of class, wearing black-arm bands, mourning the violence and loss of life; protesting our country's involvement in a war that seemed dubious at best. We ended up in a student-led rally downtown, holding hands and singing all the old protest songs. I remember feeling imbued with a sense of power, that we were 'the people', and that we could make a difference. A few days later, some friends and I joined the massive peace march in San Francisco, carrying an enormous (and de rigeour) tie dye peace-sign flag.
Rock the Vote(?)
Not long after I graduated from high school I was swept up in the whole 1993 Bush/Clinton election. I was a new voter, freshly registered with the Socialist Party-I had just read Steinbeck's In Dubious Battle-and I carried into the election that same belief that I could make a difference; ready to vote out George Bush, eager for change. MTV had that 'Rock the Vote' campaign, heavily endorsed by all my favorite bands. I am embarrassed by how much this influenced me. And then when Clinton won, I sat gleefully in front of the TV watching U2, REM & 10,000 Maniacs playing at Clinton's Inaugural Ball. I video-taped it, watching again and again Natalie Merchant & Michael Stipe singing "To Sir With Love"; it felt like a fresh (brave)new world.
Burned & Beleaguered
Well, most of the whole Clinton administration left a bad taste in my mouth, with the hinkey dealings, slippery words, multiple Whatever-gates & ultimate impeachment. My youthful political optimism was burned, and I was left feeling wary & beleaguered. And I've been in this place for the last however many elections, wistfully re-reading Jimmy Carter's books, choosing to write-in candidates rather than having on my conscience the guilt of voting for someone I didn't trust.
But I've always felt under-represented, more conservative than most Democrats but far too leftie to be a Republican. And I haven't come close with any of the other parties either, most feel so fringey & wild-eyed that I'd need a bunker, a shot-gun and a year's supply of emergency rations just to join.
Why I'm Not a Joiner
I was brought up in a non-denominational church, with independent-voting parents, in a liberal state (CA), in Santa Cruz, a town where 'organized religion' was generally not looked upon with a friendly eye. It's the sort of place where it's hard to walk downtown without being 1) handed sheaths of fliers for upcoming demonstrations/marches/rallies, 2) asked to sign several petitions, or 3) swept up in a Hari Krishna tambourine parade. And somehow I love it, it's my hometown. More importantly, Santa Cruz holds these two ideas at once: 1) progressive politics are in the majority, and 2) don't trust those in power. I've always found this a little ridiculous, with the bumper stickers that at once tout every liberal policy of the city council and also include, 'Subvert the Dominant Paradigm!' I don't know why but I find it endearing-maybe because it's so near-sighted.

Being a Christian has made me recognize this even more because often it seems that to 'subvert the dominant paradigm' means to follow Jesus. (I see a future bumper sticker!) And I think that's how it should be. I am nervous with the Religious Right, and political lobbies with lots of power and money in the name of Jesus, (who always disassociated himself with worldly systems of power.) It feels too much like Rome. Dr. Dobson makes me nervous at times. The American Family Association makes me nervous (and embarrassed.)
Citizen of Another Country
At church this Sunday, Josh Fox spoke about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the political arena, reminding us that we are first citizens of a heavenly country and that our eyes need to be on the One who will ultimately right all wrongs. This calms me, and speaks to that place that doesn't feel at home with any one ideology of the world.

So, it's been interesting with this election. I'd already decided to vote for Obama, mostly because I was heartily sick of the Bush administration, and Obama was interesting: a converted Christian with an inner-city social justice background, and a good author to boot. I liked that my friends saw him at a Swell Season concert in Chicago. I liked that he sounded like a normal person. But mainly I was 1) very tired of Bush's politics, and 2) willing to give the other version of 'The Man' (aka the Democratic Party) a chance. And he won.

And then today as I took G to the doctor (ear infection) I tuned into the BBC's 'World Have Your Say'. It was incredible. People calling in from all over the world, giddy and excited for my country. A woman from Bahrain called in to 'congratulate the American people on their vote'. Kenya has declared a public holiday. People from all over Africa were calling in, commending the US for the ability of both 'blacks and whites' to elect an African-American president, citing us an example to their tribe-torn nations. All over the world, the calls & texts poured in, people celebrating because of something that 'the American people' had done. And I was astounded.
Me: Stupid American
I guess I didn't realize how heavily I carry the guilt of being an American. I suppose living internationally during the first flush of the Iraq War, seeing the protests and near-riots as my president was all but booed out of London and hearing again and again the phrase "stupid American" really began to wear on me. I agreed with everyone mostly, but somehow that didn't help. To hear congratulations and 'well-done' from different people all over the world was surprisingly uplifting, and I spent the rest of the day with a dopey grin on my face. I was happy that for one day, my country wasn't the international whipping boy, and that a guy in Nairobi was having a celebratory pint because of something that I (in a small way) helped bring about.
Hopeful, Finally
Today I read a transcript of Obama preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia (where Dr. King was pastor) & it was outstanding. I am suddenly imbued with that initial sense of hope, not because I think that Obama is going to solve all our problems, but because he is out there, a follower of Jesus, working for the kingdom of God, trying to bring justice to the poor, speaking up for those who can't speak up for themselves. I admire him, and didn't think I could admire another president. I don't know what will happen next, but for the first time in a long time, I am (dare I say it?) hopeful.



The other day G was dancing around singing the word butterfly to herself. After a little while, true to family genes, she asked me why it was called butterfly. "What does the butter part mean?" she asked. I hied me hence to Walter Skeat's Concise Dictionary of English Etymology. This is what I found.

butterfly (E.) A.S. buttor-fleorge, lit. butter-fly. So called from its excrement resembling butter, as shewn by the O. Du. boter-schijte, a butterfly, lit. butter-voider.

I was dumbfounded. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that the butterfly was so called because of its scatological contributions. I never conceived that it would be named after anything other than its amazing beauty and lyrical flight. Even a nod to it's transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis to adult would be in order, one would assume.
Wingedfairy, Flower-sipper, Jewelwing, and that's just off the top of my head. Anything, actually, other than The Buttercrapper. How did this happen? Not to malign the Scandinavians, but this scene is all I can picture-done, of course with Basil Fawlty's accent from Fawlty Tower's hilarious episode, 'The Germans'-

"Hans Fritz, did you see zaat insect flying in ze air?"
"You mean ze little red one with ze black spots?"
"No, no-the one whose excrement looks like butter."
"O ya, ya. Now I know who you mean-ze little boter-schijte!"

The Divine "Doah!"
I can almost picture God in heaven doing a Homer Simpson impersonation, smacking His forehead with open Palm. Somehow it seems like we fell just a little short of our Adamic calling as Steward & Official Namer on that one...at least our language did......
So many other Indo-European languages have managed to capture the lilting & fluttering quality of the butterfly without once alluding to the color of its...leavings.
Here are some of my favorites:

flutura (Albanian)
papilio/onis (Latin) As in ancient Greek, the soul of a dead person is associated with a butterfly. The word 'pavilion' comes from this word as well, a tent or canopy referring to the spreading out of wings.
petaloudia (modern Greek) relating to the words 'petal', 'leaf', 'spreading out.'
mariposa (Spanish) from the expression 'Mari, alight!' Which apparently is present in children's songs and games. It might be from "Santa Maria, posa" Which translates, "The Virgin Mary alights" I suppose Mary had to sit down sometime, after chasing toddler Jesus around all day.

But see how great etymology is? It's all stories, and sends my narrative-driven mind off on a thousand rabbit-trails. An English etymology dictionary is far more inveigling than any internet search engine; and I don't come away from it stiff-backed & feeling like hours of my life have been irrevocably sapped.
Okay, Okay.....
I should add that the more research I did, the more I discovered various sources pooh-poohing (sorry) the butter-excrement theory. I found other explanations like that butterflies and butter-churning are both harbingers of spring, that many butterflies have wings the color of butter, or that the name derives from the old stories about fairies and witches stealing butter or milk at night in the form of butterflies. But I still think all these name definitions are pretty insipid, and miss the point entirely. Where do I write a letter of protest?

(And many thanks to pdphoto.org for the exceptional and-might I add-officially free butterfly photo, and thanks as well to Mr. Matthew Rabuzzi, armchair etymologist from Cupertino, CA for his outstanding article on the butterfly in Indo-European languages. Very comprehensive and well-written, and that's hard to find in internet articles these days.....)


In Other News....

Death Cab
We just got back from seeing Death Cab for Cutie in San Luis Obispo. It was a great show. We were hosted royally by Matt & Sada and spent the day indolently wandering around San Luis, a town which holds many memories of life in the 1980's for me, like seeing Ghostbusters in the theatre and buying white lace high tops with my step mom (which I promptly wore with my brother's Frankie Goes to Hollywood T-shirt; but I remember the awkward preteen self-consciousness most of all.) San Luis rolled out the red carpet for us, really showing off: there was Boo Boo Records & its next door neighbor Phoenix Books in all its rambling glory, where I picked up Barry Moser's beautiful version of the Bible designed with his stunning illustrations for just twenty little dollars. Can you guess which Old Testament-prophet-that-is-going-to-be-inside-a-cetacean-really-soon this picture depicts? Also the Mission, with its august & gnarled pomegranates & grape arbors-oh, and the ubiquitous coastal fog rolling in over the golden hills. In the afternoon, over said hills and up the coast a bit we watched a pod of dolphins feeding in the bay as pelicans circled and dive-bombed overhead, inviting themselves to lunch in a most loud and splashy manner. Driving home via Hwy 1 over the Bixby Bridge reading the last chapter of Perelandra aloud to B, dipping in and out of valleys and fog-shrouded cliffs with the sun alternately glinting and disappearing made me remember just why it is I have chosen to live on the central coast of California. I haven't seen Big Sur or the Los Padres National Forest since the forest fires this summer; it was good to see the re-growth already-lots of little red-flowered sticky monkey and small green coyote brush. I think the fog must have something to do with that, for we still haven't had the rains for which we have been longing.
In Which I Come Clean
Sorry for the silence. It's been quite an interesting last few months, and every
time I've managed to crawl to the keyboard to put something down on rosa, I've considered it a victory. I mean to say, I'm pregnant. Three months-full. And so far it's been different the second time around, fraught with nausea and long rides on what B calls the 'queasy train.' I've spent a lot of time working, chasing G or carefully not moving, trying with all my might to sort of gastronomically alight on one item of food that won't summon the dry-heaves. It's been...distracting, to say the least.
When I was pregnant with G I do remember vague stirrings of nausea and tiredness, all very novel; along with food cravings that were for the most part easy to satiate, except for the first few months when we were still living in Scotland and I craved fresh vegetables. Hah! If only I had craved deep-fried pizza, sausage rolls, Ribena and bacon-flavored crisps, with which our village was lousy. Och aye! The grease! But this, this is all about the sleep and the small pale nibbles on crackers, weak tea and retchings. It's gradually subsiding, and today I happily put away my lunch with nary a lurch. So hopefully it's past.

An unfortunate side effect of all this is how little I seem to want to write. It's been hard to even want to articulate life through the written word, not to mention how hermit-like I feel all the time. But I have been reading quite a bit: Willa Cather, Madeline L'Engle, Lewis; mainly books of the cozy-lit genre. I picked up a cheap copy of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, (a book Franny positively moons over, it's like me trying to talk calmly about George MacDonald) but the first few chapters have made me (you guessed it) queasy. See what I mean? I'll try again later, Fran, when I can look at the weird forked-tongue cat on the cover without wanting to heave.

You probably can't tell from all this that we are actually overjoyed with the prospect of an addition to our family. Of course we are. And it's interesting how it is in actual life. You hope and hope for an event, and are glad when it happens, but then have trouble seeing the 'roof for the trees', as my friend Gavin says. I'm trying to keep my head up, eyes looking to the hills, from whence comes my help......but if you could pray for me, I'd be grateful.


Rosa's Poetry Archives: Anne Sexton

Big Heart

"Too many things are occuring for even a big heart to hold."
From an essay by W.B. Yeats

Big heart,
wide as a watermelon,
but wise as birth,
there is so much abundance
in the people I have:
Max, Lois, Joe, Louise,
Joan, Marie, Dawn,
Arlene, Father Dunne,
and all in their short lives
give to me repeatedly,
in the way the sea
places its many fingers on the shore,
again and again
and they know me,
they help me unravel,
they listen with ears made of conch shells,
they speak back with the wine of the best region.
They are my staff.
They comfort me.

They hear how
the artery of my soul has been severed
and soul is spurting out upon them,
bleeding on them,
messing up their clothes,
dirtying their shoes.

And God is filling me,
though there are times of doubt
as hollow as the Grand Canyon,
still God is filling me.
He is giving me the thoughts of dogs,
the spider in its intricate web,
the sun
in all its amazement,
and a slain ram
that is the glory,
the mystery of great cost,
and my heart,
which is very big,
I promise it is very large,
a monster of sorts,
takes it all in-
all in comes the fury of love.

(from The Awful Rowing Toward God.
Thanks to Joann & Molly for introducing me to this little book.)


Vindication in a VW

Years back, when B was a student in his last gasp of community college, he was driving through one of the crowded campus parking lots waiting for a spot to open up. In the end he decided to just double-park our old red 1970 VW, 'Gunter', and wait for a student to leave. He waited in Gunter for a while, reading in the warm October sun until someone started to pull out. As soon as the car had backed out, another car zipped in and parked. A young woman in her early twenties got out and started to hurry away.
"Hey!" B called out the window, "I've been waiting for that spot for 20 minutes!" The girl looked at him and said, semi-indignantly, "Are you going to make a big deal out of this?"
To which B replied, "It just reflects poorly on you as a person!"
She paused a moment, and then huffed her shoulders, flounced back to her car, and pulled out.
No Esprit De L'escalier Here
I've always loved this story, for many reasons. It's funny that B pulled this out of his bag of retorts at that moment-it sounds like something that would go on a report card, like "You just don't apply yourself!" or "You lack follow-through!" What's even funnier is that it worked.
And there's more here too, about the dignity of being a person, an image-bearer of a holy (wholly-other) God. We do much to mar that divine image, small mean actions as well as global atrocities, and it's hard to respond with love to people whose resemblance to their Maker is fuzzy at best. And I think conscience does a lot to remind us to scrub our faces, as it were, in order to see in the mirror a reflection of the Creator (which is why that woman responded as she did.)
Up With Everyone, Not Just the Beautiful People; (Or: We're All Beautiful People)
When Jesus said, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another"he was giving us a holy charge-that we must continue to believe that the image is still there, under all that tarnish, loving each other, being 'Up With People' as the Elevens would say, believing that God is working out the details in all of us......
And I believe one of the reasons he calls us into a closer walk with His Son is so some of His goodness can 'reflect back on us as people'. Let it be so!
(Thanks to krazymalay for his beautiful pic. It makes me miss Gunter; he was a such good little car. RIP!)


File Under: Wish Fulfillment Part 2

Sub-file: Quest fulfilled And a sequel!
Also, many thanks to Philip Mason, who very nicely wrote in and let me know about the sequels to The Islanders. These books are hard to beat (and find!) I'm still looking for Operation Wild Goose and An Actor's Life for Me. The quest continues....!


Our Church Cafe: The Abbey

This was in a recent edition of The Metro, one of Santa Cruz's weekly papers, (employers of one of my fave local poet friends, The Molly, one of the Monday Night Poets).This cartoonist, Steve Decinzo, is known for his biting social commentary, which B says sometimes seems like in-jokes with himself. This one, however, is pretty funny, and fairly accurate. We were highly gratified to see The Abbey included, I think because it's located so close to the UCSC campus. I was even more relieved to see us come out unscathed, as Decinzo is not known for his tact, especially towards Christians.


Rain, or The Potential of, or The Dream Of

O Frabjous Day! Calloo! Callay!
I don't want to excite your anticipation too much, but I think it might rain tonight.
To really appreciate this moment, you have to understand that here on the central coast of California, we really have only two distinct seasons. Wet and dry. And we are in the last gasp of the dry season, when everything in the garden and forest around us is wilted, cob-webbed, and covered in dust & other bits of the summer's detritus. I think our last rain was at the end of May, and since then, what with a summer full of wildfires and hot winds, resevoirs are at a serious low and we are facing drought conditions. I think this might be my least favorite time of year, actually. I find myself daydreaming over memories of green moss, puddles of water and the sound of rain in the trees around me. The majority of our sylvan experience here is about the evergreens, (which means, for the non-tree literate, that they will not be losing their leaves this autumn); everything looks like it needs a good drubbing. I can't bear to hike in our redwood forest right now, too much dust and wilted foliage. Actually, quite a few California natives go dormant in the summer for this reason, to conserve water; the California buckeye, (Aesculus californica) for example.
Tourists: An Autumnal Caveat
This is the thing no one tells you about visiting our part of California this time of year: the summer temperatures extend into October, and the usually frigid Pacific Ocean is actually swimable sans wetsuit, but everything is just so dry & dusty, and besides, the locals are getting a little grumpy. I think it's the coastal fog that saves us, keeps us hydrated until the rains start up again around this time of year.
And so imagine my delight when a massive cumulonimbus began to edge its way across the afternoon sky yesterday. "Long time, no see!"

We ended up downtown at the Hula Grill tonight, feeling too tired to cook. I love the Hawaiiana thing, so fresh-faced and full of 1950's optimism, though a little heavy on the bare-chested hula girls for my tastes. Stylistically, it really manages to walk the line between sleek & clunky (all those bamboo picture frames and tikis.) It is, however, in marked contrast to real life in Hawaii, which in my experience was more about the white wicker furniture (I'm thinking of a really hideous combination radio/end table which was no doubt procured from a hotel auction); trying to find something besides white food to eat (pork laulau, sticky rice balls, rice pudding, poi,); avoiding the local 24-hour Jawaiian music station (mix between Jamaican & reggae-blech); gagging my way through endless glasses of syrupy guava juice; and being made fun of by fat local men in pick-up trucks. I didn't exactly fit in. Oh, speaking of clouds, let's not leave out mention of the little storm we encountered just months after moving in. Check out this wiki link, and read the section on Kaua'i, particularly regarding the aftermath, it is very accurate. Just a mite harrowing. It's fitting that I'm thinking about Hawaii tonight, we just got done with a visit from my dad & stepmom, who still live over there (G calls him 'Hawaii Grandpa'), and also because I'm thinking about rain. Kaua'i hosts the wettest spot on earth, the fabled Mt. Wai'ale'ale, (why-uhlay-uhlay). This means waterfall, which you will agree is an apt moniker when I tell you that it averages over 460 inches of rain a year. It rises up from the center of the island, and is usually accessed by helicopter, mountain goat, or menehune. The joke is that if you don't like the weather, either drive for 5 minutes, or wait for 5 minutes, and it'll change. No one carries an umbrella, not worth the bother of opening & closing it every 5 miuntes. I moved there right after high school and stayed a few years. I actually loved it, bad food & music aside. There's a lot to love. It is the home of the ukulele after all...and the opening scenes of Fantasy Island.

Oh, & one of my favorite little known things about Hawai'i is its state motto. It's much better written down, so you don't have to listen to my ridiculous pronunciation:
Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono. Which translates: The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness. Isn't that fabulous?
Hey-I gotta go, the rain's just starting........!


Happy Birthday, Mum!

Here's to you!



The Death of a Quercus agricifolia & Rosa's Poetry Archives: Jonathan Assink

I've mentioned a few times how our massive scrub oak is dying. We found out this summer, and we've been steeling ourselves ever since. It's particular malady is an advanced case of phytopthera ramorum, aka Sudden Oak Death. A lovely squashy old couch made it's way into our lives around the same time as the diagnosis and so much of the summer consisted of lying on the couch on our porch looking up through its branches; tracing the course of squirrel & stellar jay through its scratchy leaves and brittle twigs. That and taking little trips into its undergrowth, craning our necks around to see all its gaping cankers, oozing black sap. It feels so incredibly sad, this huge shaggy thing that has meant so much to us, has surrounded us throughout our courtship and married life, just silently dying, and there's nothing we can do. A few weeks ago I noticed that the leaves of one of the main trunks are almost all brown. When the canopy is all brown, we'll know its gone.
The Blight & The Bay
Phytopthera is a blight, related to the one that caused the potato famine in Ireland, which, coupled with the American Dust Bowl provides the best example of why not to practice mono-cropping. But I digress. So our oak contracted this disease through its proximity to the California Bay tree, which acts as a vector of the phytopthera, spreading to the oak through rain splashing from tree to tree. The sad irony is that when our oak is cut down, the only tree left in that area will be the bay tree and we'll have to keep it, as it will be the only screen we have from our neighbors.
The Wake
We decided that one of the ways we could enjoy our oak a bit before it goes is to invite friends over and eat out underneath it together. Thus, the first in our series of little dinner parties, commemorating A Good Tree. And we did eat outside, oak-arms enveloping us in the gentle Indian summer night. Joann, The Allens, Jonathan & Jon were all celebrants, presiding over the table filled with leek tarts, roasted veggies & other autumnal offerings. I guess they're all bloggers, but I don't think that's why I invited them. Anyway. A nice night. We'll have more as the months progress.
The Poem
Jonathan wrote a poem about our oak, which I thought was very nice of him. I promised to post it, so here it is.

Ode to the Death of an Old Friend

do you know you are dying
you don't look like you are
you look strong and healthy
your branches like arms
stretching to the heavens
maybe you are already on your way

do you feel the changes
maybe you are confused
maybe you think autumn is coming early
that it is the world
which is changing
not you

maybe you know
maybe you have heard
in the whispers of your visiting friends
in the feigning glances of passers-by
or in the wet eyes of your neighbors
or maybe you just know
as sometimes people do
take heart and know you will be missed
it may not be much comfort
but we will celebrate your last days
sit in your shade
and watch you sway in the cool breeze
and we will curse the sweet smelling assassin
who brought your demise
farewell old friend
you are leaving much too soon
-Jonathan Assink 2008

The irony here is that I have no photos to post as of yet of our oak. It's particularly ironic because Jonathan is our church's resident photographer. I'm a pretty wretched photographer, even with digital. It's not so much the aim, focus or f stops, (even if I knew what that was) it's the keeping of memory cards & charged batteries & camera & subject in the same place at the same time. But I'll try to post some pics soon. The above photo was disgracefully shanghai-ed from Heidi's blog, and much thanks (& apologies) to her. It shows B in our living room, looking very blurry after all that fine food.....


Little Whinging

There's so much going on these days, and it just feels like there's little time for writing, actually it's more like little room in my head for extra words and ideas. Last night for the first time in a long time I found myself in an utterly favorable place: G in bed, tea at hand, along with Dorothy Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon and Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto on the record player, with a comfortably scratchy rendering of Girl From Iponema. It was beautiful. And it lasted perhaps half an hour, and then I had to get up because something else needed doing. I don't like how autumn denotes change and therefore some sort of industry, back to school (i.e. work) and all the while the turn of the weather is calling me indoors to soups, slippers & sloth. I'm whinging, I know I am, and there's nothing for it except to immediately go and lie in bed and read. RX! Book! Bed! I go!


Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

An Aside
Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) was in a made-for-TV movie that was filmed in Santa Cruz in the late 80's. He played a teen-ager who got in a car accident and had amnesia, or something. My best friend at the time, Stacy, went with her boyfriend to the open casting audition at the Dream Inn. She wasn't auditioning, just biding time, waiting around, when the director noticed her and had her read for a role. In the end she got the part of Doogie's girlfriend, with a few lines and a couple close-ups. Apparently, he asked her out, off camera. She declined.
I always have a little warm place in my heart for ole' Neil, because of this, him a movie star and still getting turned down by girls. Sort of an under-dog thing. And now he's gay. I'm not quite sure where I'm gong with that. Anyway, in Dr. Horrible, he plays the singing evil villain underdog with such finesse. I loved it. We don't get much in the way of teevee up here in the woods, so this was fine viewing fun.

(Thank you, Heidi, for posting this on a paper elephant. It made my night.)


Consider the Nettles

I was at work today, in the playground area of the preschool where I teach. School starts soon, so there I was, with weed whacker (or strimmer, as it is known in the UK), gloves and Felcos. The air was close, wet, and cool. As I hacked away at a resisting clump of stinging nettle & blackberries, I was brought right back to YWAM's Seamill Centre, Scotland, in the Greenhouse Meadow, which once held the glasshouses for the Seamill Cooperative Home, the convalescent home for which the building was originally built. When you dig down into the soil of the meadow, you usually find broken window glass, remnants from the glasshouse roofs.
Nettle & Teasel
The Greenhouse Meadow is now covered with stinging nettle, alas, alas, and I really had no idea they could get so high, shoulder-height at least. Actually, they are one of the plants that are usually found in areas of previous human habitation, like fireweed and teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). Teasel was commonly used in the wool industry, to raise the nap on fabrics (or 'tease' the fibers.) Whenever we walk the train tracks from our house down past Roaring Camp to Santa Cruz we pass through the abandoned settlement of Rincon, now just a clearing, dotted here and there with large teasel clumps. Teasel is a sweet plant, and I always mean to plant some on the fringes of the garden. Nettles are another matter all together.

Today as I was hacking away at it, I couldn't help but admire it's smell, which is strangely quixotic, a blend of citrus, mint & something indefinable, sort of wet green plant matter. But they really are a scourge, and quite painful if you so much as look at them too closely. I don't care what anyone says, I know they're edible, that the taste of the young leaves is like spinach, and that a soup made from its young shoots is considered a delicacy in Scandinavia. It has amazing medicinal properties. But it hurts and is a major weed. The hurt comes from the plant's trichomes, little stinging hairs that stick in your skin and deliver all that lovely acetylcholine, histamine, and formic acid. But with all its herbal benefits, I'd say that if it weren't for the trichomes, it'd be on my list for the Abbey Garden in a minute. And did Eeyore eat nettles, or just thistles? Or both? I can't remember. Anyone?
Nettle Tea
Back in the Greenhouse Meadow, as the official
groundskeeper (or groondskeepahrr) I played around with different ideas on what to do with all that nettle. I found a book in the local used bookstore about strange organic home remedies in the garden, so I had my garden crew harvest big bucketfulls of nettles. We covered the buckets with black tarps and let them rot down for a few months. When we uncovered them in early spring the stink was just incredible. There is no comparison, except maybe to the droppings of a major carnivore. The book said it was because of all the calcium in the nettles. Personally, I think it was a sort of Picture of Dorian Grey experience, and the foul odor excreted by the rotted nettles was actually their evil nature distilled and hanging in the air around them. Except the plants aren't really beautiful enough to truly play out this Wildeian comparison.... Anyway. Where was I? We made a compost tea out of this concoction and used it on the outside planters, noses tucked well out of the way. The annuals loved it.
Thorns & Thistles
Today I ended up thinking about the Fall, and if nettles had these same hurtful properties in Eden, or did it change with the curse? I think of it in the same category of the 'thorns & thistles' God talks about as He curses man. Is it waiting for its redemption as well? If so, this makes it easier to feel compassion for the nettle, giant hogsweed, poison oak and all the other 'cursed' plants out there. I can see them all as my little brothers and sisters, as Chesterton wrote, we're all fallen; all waiting for the 'glorious liberty of the children of God.'
'For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.' Romans 8:19-21




As the bridegroom to his chosen,
As the king unto his realm,
As the keep unto the castle,
As the pilot to the hem,
So, Lord, art thou to me.

As the fountain in the garden,
As the candle in the dark,
As the treasure in the coffer,
As the manna in the ark,
So, Lord, art thou to me.

As the sunshine in the heavens,
As the image in the glass,
As the fruit unto the fig tree,
As the dew unto the grass,
So, Lord, art thou to me.

-John Taeder (1300-1361)
(photo credit: the inimitable Susie Stepka & her illustrious hydrangeas.)



We're staying the night down in Steinbecktown, and classically, I'm hiding in a half-darkened room, away from everyone. This is how I met my husband. He was reading The Sneetches aloud to the Elevens & Susie at a New Year's Eve party hosted by some friends of mine. He didn't really know anyone besides his small renegade group of friends who had crashed the party a couple of hours after midnight. So, they sat, in the corner, having plundered Tim's Dr. Seuss collection. From across the room, I saw them and thought to myself, "Now, that's something I would do!" So I went over to listen. And B thought, "Hey, who's that girl?"

But I'm not as introverted as some. I can carry myself through most social occasions, making small talk and schmoozing like a pro. But inside, I am becoming more and more tired until I have to slink away, on the pretext of a trip to the bathroom, or to 'look something up', or, like Raquel, 'to get something out of the car.' And I'm gone for hours. Usually reading, or in this case, writing. I loved nursing G because of this, and I'd always contend that God invented nursing for tired introverted bookish mothers. "G needs to eat!" I'd say, and we'd go off to some solitary place, book artfully stowed somewhere. One of the Harry Potters came out when she was only 5 or 6 months old and I stood in line at Bookshop with all the rest of Santa Cruz, quivering en masse with joy & expectation. I think it was Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince. Anyway, I read almost all of that whilst nursing G, and I almost gave myself carpel tunnel holding that massive tome with one hand. And it was worth it.

Now B is an extrovert. Not a raging extrovert, but the difference between us is pronounced. And we are comical together when we're tired. A few months ago we came home from church and both agreed that we were totally wiped out, just completely tired. I slunk to our room to read and take a nap. I came out a few minutes later, to make tea and there was B on the couch, going through the phone book, calling people and making plans! I think he actually had the phone on speaker phone when I came in, and said to me, "Honey-I'm talking to _________, when can we get together with them?" Which only elicited silent & frantic hand gestures from me, mostly of the hand slicing across the throat variety. But I appreciate so much how he can sort of carry us through a lot of social situations, and I end up with people I never knew I liked, even loved. We introverts have a big capacity to love people and have meaningful relationships, just on a smaller, one on one level. And I think B is gleaning this from me. (Not that extroverts lack that love, they have it in spades. But maybe have the tendencies to spread themselves too thin? I don't know. Any extros want to explain themselves?)
But meanwhile, I feel like such a weirdo. A total fruitcake. Like Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, or Heathcliff on the moors. I think I'd definitely be a cat in some other animal life, somewhere between the 'crawl under the bed when company comes' type and the 'sleep on the couch and let you pet me' type. Just don't expect me to do any tricks.


Rosa's Poetry Archives: Antonio Machado

Poetry group at my house tonight. I really needed this, this gathering of women, the reading of words & critiquing of each other's work; all of us serving as sub-creators (as Tolkien so famously put it). Tonight I was reminded again of how God continually invites us into this role, and the mighty act of subduing creation.

It turns out I really needed the laying on of hands at the end as well as Pablo Neruda's 'Ode To My Socks'. Which was so funny and wise. But it's not Neruda who makes a guest appearance on rosa-sinensis, it's someone else that Rae brought with her, in a quiet-looking, non-descript little library book. Which leads to some adage or another about books and their covers.....

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Antonio Machado

(and thanks to tintalasia for the lovely bee photo-keep it up!)

music for one apartment and six drummers

This is the first thing I ever watched on YouTube.


A Three Year Old's Eschatology

"Mommy, what will happen to us when we die?"
"We'll go to heaven to live with Jesus there."
"No, I mean what will happen to our HOUSE when we die?"
"Well, we won't need it anymore, will we? We'll be living in heaven."
"Yeah, heaven! And maybe there will be a dark cave there with no bears
and maybe God will have lots of movies in there!"


Travelogue::Genoa Part II

Train Station
I sat awkwardly on top of my luggage. We huddled in the corner, shoved out of the way of the busy foot traffic which clicked and clacked across the wet marble floor. It was a blustery December morning. The Genoa train station, (il stazione principe) was filled with busy Italians who no doubt were all en route to some fabulous holiday destination in the Italian Alps. We were there under orders. We got to the train station a few hours earlier, around 11:00 AM. The Genoa youth hostel (ostello per la gioventu-it's really fun to say) closed that morning, and we were going on something our leader Jody had heard whilst in prayer. "Go to the train station the morning the hostel closes. You will know by 1:00 where to go." We had little else to go on, so we set off for the stazione.
An Aside
It was an interesting situation to be in, and as I look back, the whole story seems so outlandish that it's hard to believe that it actually happened. I'm trying to remember, to recreate the emotions of that time. Most of all I remember the fear & excitement that coiled in my stomach like a double helix, inexplicably bound up with faith. It was all so surreal, and it probably helped that we were still jet lagged. But the story is true, and happened just like I say.
Prayer in a Circle
We stood in a circle and prayed something like this. "God, here we are. Please show us what to do." We waited, eyes closed, listening. Hearing the voice of God in prayer takes humility, patience, faith, and discernment. You must also be able to risk being wrong, keeping in mind that God's 'spoken' word will never contradict His written word, and He most likely will not be telling you to a) build a multi-million dollar Christian entertainment complex called Heritage USA or that b) He will kill you unless your television audience pledges money. (Hello, Oral!) Anyway, as I said, a modicum of discernment. So, where were we?
We heard nothing initially. We would get together to pray every half hour or so, and the rest of the time, I read, or walked around. I remember an exhibit on creches, in true Italian style-almost all were in caves, with the Virgin Mary prominently displayed, faintly glowing with lasers shooting out of her halo. Well, maybe not that last part.
A Word Unheeded
At last, when we prayed, two or more of us heard inside this phrase, "Come away and spend time with Me." Interesting, we thought. And how nice. But not very practical, it didn't include angelic beings showing up with train tickets. So we pretty much ignored it.
One o'clock came and went and still we waited. For a sign, for a word, something that would show us not only what the next step was, but that we were not completely crazy to believe that God would lead us in such a mysterious fashion.
In the early afternoon a few people heard "Wait for my messenger." Which sounded very James Bond, and got all of us excited. I imagined a tall, distinguished looking man, sort of an Italian Sean Connery approaching us with a discreet envelope full of lire, train tickets and an address for a small but significant church revival meeting where we were slated to speak.
The Messenger
Around 7 PM, something finally happened. We were camped out beside one of those ubiquitous machines one sees in a foreign public place, for phone cards, change, tokens for the WC or to breathe the air about you. Whatever it was, it was broken. In all my free time (ha!) I had taught myself how to say in very poor Italian, "The machine is broken." A man suddenly surfaced, trying to use this machine. "Mi scusi, Signor, la maquina es rotta!" I said, or something like that. He turned to me. Somehow he could tell I was not a native Italian speaker. (I can't imagine how, I had the Godfather accent, the NYC Italian hand gestures and everything.) He began to talk to us in English, asking us what we were doing in his fair country. We explained that we were in his country to do Christian ministry work, and he began to get strangely agitated. He was a small man, and looked sort of like Roberto Begnini from Life is Beautiful. He began to tell us about his son, and how he tried to raise him right, taking him to church so that he would learn good values. His English was much better than my Italian but his wording of different phrases was a little odd. He referred to his son as 'The Son' & himself as 'The Father'. As he spoke of his son he shook his head sadly, hunching his shoulders in that characteristically Italian way, palms skyward, and said, "Because The Son will never love The Father as much as The Father loves The Son." After he left, my teammate Ben looked at us, shaken. He said, "Guys, I think that was our messenger."
The Message
We realized, in a rush, that this was the message that God had sent us. When we gathered together again for prayer, the words flew at us, fast and sharp, going straight to the heart. The jist was, "It took Me stranding you in a train station for you to sit still long enough to hear that I love you and that's all that matters. You have fretted and worried about your circumstances and haven't sought Me, your Father who loves you. Don't worry about the rest! Come away and spend time with Me! That's the most important thing right now!"
Come Away
We all scattered to different parts of the station for an hour or so. I wrote, cried and prayed, feeling at once humbled and lifted up by this incredible lesson. It was interesting to note that even though our circumstances hadn't changed and to the naked eye we still had nowhere to go, we all felt oddly light-hearted when we came back together, like some sort of progress had been made. It was around 8 or 9PM, and the main terminal was beginning to close. We were herded into a smaller waiting room. To wait.
Last Train
We came together to pray every hour or so, with the preface, "God, we are so glad that we are Your children, and it's enough to know that you love us. If You want us to leave this train station, we'd be fine with that." Or something like that. And the interesting part, is that we meant it.
Finally at 1:00 AM ("...You'll know by 1:00"!) the majority of us heard the word, "Rome." The next (and last) train to Rome left in eleven minutes (that's right, one-one-one) so we hurriedly bought tickets. It was with a light heart and a head full of The Monkees 'Last Train to Clarksville' that I ran, backpack careening wildly on my shoulders, the weight (and the wait) of the last 14 hours slipping off me, to catch the last train to Rome.
Love: a life-lesson
I still have train station moments. When it feels like God has stuck me somewhere so I can learn the lesson again that I am His child first and foremost. That with Him, relationship comes first, not anything that I can 'do' for Him. And shouldn't this be our model with each other?

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." John 15:12

Next up: our travelogue continues in Rome.


Travelogue: Italia::Genoa

Part One: The Dilemma
It was a misty evening in early December when we first put foot to pavement in Genoa, Italy. Luminous in the fog & fading sunlight,the city rose before us; tiers upon tiers of palazzos & piazzas, winding streets & whiskered old men, just waiting to call us 'bella' and rain down unwanted kisses on our cheeks. (I didn't find out that last part until too late.) We'd booked into the local youth hostel, which sat on the uttermost tier of the city. We had just enough money to stay there until we were expected in Ljubljana, roughly 3 weeks later, where we were going to be working with a new church, teaching evangelism and prayer. We didn't know quite what we were supposed to do in Italia for 3 weeks, the five of us, except travel through it before reaching Slovenia sometime right after the New Year. We ascended the crowded hills, our bus actually scraping paint off its sides as it navigated the narrow city streets; walls looming. A few hours later we found ourselves pacing in the courtyard, shoulders hunched against the wind that blew in off the Ligurian Sea. The youth hostel, we discovered, was closing for the Christmas holiday just 5 short days hence. ("Buon Natale! Now get out!") We couldn't afford to stay anywhere else, so we paced, trying to figure out what to do. We prayed. And prayed. Over the next couple of days we kept praying, walking around Genoa's innumerable circuitous streets and alleys and asking God what we should do. I seem to recall a brief side-trip to il palazzo di Christopher Columbus, where I filched a rose from his garden and said, fist in the air, "That's for the Indians, man!"
Librarium Sanctum
There was a definite bite in the December air, so we sought out all the public indoor meeting places we could find, in order to pray. It ended up being libraries mostly; I recommend seeing a city primarily through its libraries. I will never forget the quiet rooms and black & white checked floors in the library in the neighboring village of Portifino, which couldn't be more Italian if it had Isabella Rossellini riding by on a Vespa, jaunty red scarf fluttering, bottles of vino askew. These prayer times seemed to set the stage for our entire time in Italy, although we little knew what we needed to learn before we could be led by the voice of God. We sat on rocks looking out on the Mediterranean and looked south to Israel.
It's weird to have several different strands of thought that I'd like to develop and then find myself unable to write about any of them. I don't know if its because my brain is full of other stuff or because I find my writing getting more and more self-conscious the more people I know are reading what I say. (How many people will read this word? Or this one?) As nice as it is to have readers, I find that I write much better when no one's watching. A few days ago I re-read a few posts from the early days of rosa-sinensis, and I liked them far more than anything I've written lately. Even this is feeling too introspective and self-conscious! Okay, so here are some of the strands of thought.
1.) Our oak tree. Its death seems iminent. It has Sudden Oak Death syndrome. A few days ago I noticed large brown clumps in the upper canopy. I hope it lasts into the rainy season, I want to see the viridescent moss glowing just one last time.
2.) Compost. A few people have been asking me composty questions so I thought I'd do one post and just direct them to it.
3.) Last Sunday's talk at church. It brought up so much in me that I didn't know was there. It's interesting what gets dredged up. I guess I have a story that I need to tell, if I can find the words. I predict a circuitous route. Which will be something entirely new for me!
4.) How I finally figured out what all the hoopla concerning Death Cab For Cutie is all about. They're great. I ended up with a copy of Narrow Stairs, and wow, it is good. It reminds me a little bit of The The with a little Sonic Youth sprinkled on top. I don't know why. I don't really have enough here to make a real post. So maybe it doesn't need to be included. Too late.


Rosa's Poetry Archives: Luci Shaw

Someone donated to the church library a book entitled "The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing"; edited by Leland Ryken. With reflections from JRR Tolkien, Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, George MacDonald, Francis Schaeffer, to name a few.
I decided that before I could in good conscience include it in the library collection I should be a responsible, discerning librarian & take it home and read it, much in the manner of my mother who would always take the first bite of whatever yummy treat she was serving us, "just to make sure it's not poisionous".
So I've been picking it up here and there to read different essays within, and all so far have been worth the read. I suppose I'll have to eventually give it to the library, since I'm sure other people want to read it-although it's been nice to consider the library as part of my personal collection; I always have had a hard time sharing, especially books (sorry B!)
Tonight I was reading an essay written by the inimitable Luci Shaw entitled, "Beauty & the Creative Impulse". Tucked in between the paragraphs I found a great little poem of hers that might have to show it's face at the poetry group one of these Monday nights. The more I read Luci Shaw's work, the more I like her.
And for some reason the picture of the maple achenes (the little brown winged seed things), pine needles and green lichen seemed to match the poem. Taken in Yosemite last weekend.

Diamonds That Leap

When the leaf fell and brushed my hand
I began to reverse the world. I asked:
What if this warped willow leaf, yellow,

scaled with age, could smooth
to a green blade, then flicker into
the knot of a spring twig, like

a grass snake's tail disappearing, slick
and chill, into his home? That one question-
it was a whirlpool, pulling in

others: What about a river?
Might its waters rush up these indigo
hills of Shenandoah and split to a scatter

of diamonds that leap to their rain
clouds, homing? Can a love
shrink back and back to like,

then to the crack of a small, investigative
smile? Could God ever suck away creation
into his mouth, like a word regretted

and start us over?

(-Luci Shaw. From Writing the River, Pinon Press, 1994)


KRSA-Song Dedications

Dedicated to Franny!
This song makes me happy.

Cemetary Gates - The Smiths


Goldenrod and the 4H Stone:: August in the Garden

It's an interesting time of year, August in the garden. This year I've really noticed the hand-off from flower to flower: the early spring ephemera blending into the climbing roses, then jasmine, clematis, gladiolas and other corms in June. A few weeks ago, the asteraceae family started to wake up and now they're carrying the whole garden: yarrow, dahlias, daisies, mums, sunflowers and in front of my first attempt at a wattle fence are my nod to the prairie states: black-eyed susan (rudbeckia hirta), echinacea purpurea and goldenrod (solidago canadensis). And those little daisies with their unwieldy Latin names that I can never remember. I think they're commonly called the Santa Barbara daisy; anyone want to help with the Latin?

Since the soaker hoses are finally fixed and I've added compost, things are losing that sickly gasping look. I'm able to be in the garden again, guilt-free, now that I don't imagine the plants looking at me imploringly like Oliver Twist with his headmaster, gruel bowl extended, "Please sir, can I have some more..."

Blooper's Reel...I'm recording some of my biggest garden mistakes of the year, the bloopers reel, to learn from and because it's easy to only list the highlights, and leave out the failures.

The hostas....I seriously miscalculated how much shade I have and the hostas all came up and then turned brown and crackly. In gardening parlance that means dead. The western bleeding heart (dicentra formosa) is looking pretty bad too, which I think speaks more to the oak tree above it being pruned last summer than anything else. So that's not my fault. But it still looks grotty.

The peonies.....I never got around to fixing the irrigation system in the garden, and tried to overhead water everything every few days. The peonies were a casualty, I've never grown them before and will probably not try again in this county, not without a really great watering plan, or a neighborhood boy to stand there with a watering can from noon until five.

The vegetable garden.....I've eked out a corner for some veggies, but I'm not really a veggie gardener. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty about this, esp. because I came into gardening from an "edibles" perspective with lots of thoughts about community development, food security and sustainable agriculture. I have a certificate from UCSC's Center for Agro-ecology and Sustainable Food Systems (one of the top programs in the world), but I am a lousy vegetable farmer. I always blame it on my location, but honestly, I have a hard time being motivated. The perennials are way more interesting to me, and I love supporting the local farmers in my area (over a 100 organic farms in SC county alone!) who are much better at producing amazing food than I am in my piddly little 6 ft. of space. So this year, I dried to a crisp a few heads of lettuce and slowly starved some basil and a few tomatoes. One tomato is fighting back, and has valiantly put out some hard green little fruit, but he is no match for me! By the way, I would still love to do some community development work, somehow growing food, (that desire hasn't gone away & it's still a thing I want to do), but not in my own garden.

So over all it's been a good summer in the garden and I've really loved my little space to plant in. It's going to be so strange & sad to see the oak tree go-it's got an advanced case of Sudden Oak Death brought on by phytopthera ramorum. I hate so many things about it, like losing all the lovely dappled shade that my hydrangeas, western bleeding heart, hellebores and wild ginger need. I'm not quite sure where they will get moved to, probably to the no man's land on the side of the house, we'll see....

Lathrop, here we come!.....And now we're off to Yosemite for a couple of days. We're camping tonight in Lathrop, CA. Of course I've never heard of Lathrop (on I5 near Stockton), so when I looked it up online, I was directed to the town's official website, which announced that today they are spraying for the West Nile Virus. Lucky me!

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.