Monthly Archives: May 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Chesterton!

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite thinkers and writers, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, born in 1874. Not having time for a long exposition on what I love about him, this year at least I will have to be content with posting five of the many, many clever and telling quotes for which he is justly famous and very useful, too. At least four of them are from four different publications. Thank you, GKC, and I pray you are enjoying rest with the blessed.

Women have a thirst for order and beauty as for something physical; there is a strange female power of hating ugliness and waste as good men can only hate sin and bad men virtue.

Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of man, and is producing faster than he can think and give thanks. (1902)

My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.

Comforts that were rare among our forefathers are now multiplied in factories and handed out wholesale; and indeed, nobody nowadays, so long as he is content to go without air, space, quiet, decency and good manners, need be without anything whatever he wants; or at least a reasonably cheap imitation of it.  (1933)

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.

Wet Drive on Pentecost Eve

I came home yesterday so that I could make it to Pentecost. Vigil last night was wonderful, of course. But today I am sick and had to miss the feast. Being kept at home has given me a chance to put up some photos and share the sights of my drive.

While still on the flats I saw acres of alliums under a sky as white as their flowers, with drops of rain starting to fall out of it. They are onions, yes?

After it began to rain in earnest I noticed the yellow lupines covering the hillsides, where blue and purple ones had been last month. I had to hold the umbrella over my camera to get these photos which show the flowers fuzzed-out by the effects of wind as well as waterlogging.

Only three minutes to snap my pictures, but ten to try scraping my shoes of the mud they’d easily picked up on the side of the road, enough to throw a large vase.


Farther down the road clover and vetch are in flower together.
That soil should hold plenty of nitrogen!

On the home front, the amount of rain we’ve had so late in the spring has made a big difference in the landscape. The roses are huge, and the old seeds I threw into the ground without much hope sprouted quickly and are growing fast. Natural sprinkling is more effective than me holding a hose. The temperatures have been low, with wind, too, so mildew hasn’t been a problem.

I never feel right complaining about wet weather in California, seeing as we grow so much of the nation’s fruits and vegetables on land that doesn’t get rain for several months of the year. Even if we got several years like this, it wouldn’t change the basic arid climate. Every refreshing shower postpones this summer’s inevitable drought.

Snow and Birds



On the way up to Pippin’s place this week I stopped in to see my friend Myriah. She lives in a low mountain region where the street names are Quail, Pine, and Towhee. Tall conifers fill all the yards in her neighborhood.

But I didn’t spend any time outdoors that afternoon, because of drenching rain. We stayed inside and I got to meet her miniature parrots that I think are called parrotlets.

She gave me bags full of fabric from a gift that an elderly friend had made to her. I don’t know how I will manage to make use of it–yet. But I got ideas, looking at her inspiring quilts.







Driving down to the valley again, I came into sunshine, and the air was warmer. Then at Lake Shasta, fuller than I have ever seen it, buckets of rain made driving hard at any speed. It was awfully cold here at my destination, but it didn’t snow, until this afternoon. Light slushy snow, then what Pippin calls popcorn snow, a sort of cross between hail and snow. This is a view from across the street; it’s only dark because of the clouds.

The snow paused for a spell, and birds came to the feeder! I didn’t see them, of course, until Pippin pointed them out to me, just a few feet on the other side of the window above my sinkful of dishes. We took pictures of the Black-Headed Grosbeak and the Mountain Chickadee. The Grosbeak was a bird she hadn’t seen before this spring.

My daughter and husband haven’t lived here a full year, so every time something comes into bloom or loses its leaves it is an event.



Everything was so different at my first two visits especially.

The crabapple trees in front are covered in flowers now.
And one of the birches uprooted in the very rough winter.











I’m wondering if this is a quince brightening up the roadside.



I built a fire in the stove this morning, as it was colder than yesterday. And the cats seemed to enjoy it. They slept in nooks and crannies all around the warm room.

Pippin made us some kale chips tonight. I’m not sure I’d ever have tried them if she hadn’t demonstrated how easy they are:



Take a bunch of kale, wash it and tear approximately 2″ pieces off the stalk. Dry them in a towel or salad spinner, and put them in a bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bake in a 350° oven for about 12 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

She thinks you should try to cook the kale on parchment paper as her original recipe directs, but she hasn’t always done this. The kale comes out looking brownish-green, but it is crispy and light and flavorful. One person could easily eat a whole bunch this way. We don’t know how much of the nutrient value is retained, and I haven’t researched what anyone else says about that.

When I get home again I will be in the midst of the disarray that seeps into my mind and makes me incapable of writing more than one coherent sentence per day. It’s been nice to relax away from the home that is not homey, and play with Little Scout, who’s seven months old now and lots of fun. While he napped I read and wrote, and even laid away a draft for a little blog I can post later if I feel like it.

Cairo Trilogy – Intro

Cairo Trilogy covers

The most fun I had in high school was learning French. But writing a paper on existentialism for my English class, inspired by the books my French teacher had lent me, was the most fascinating work I did. Looking back, I can see that my love for philosophy was born then. Recently an old school friend told me how jealous she was when the teacher raved over my paper. I didn’t save it, but I can’t believe it was very good; Mrs. Sanders probably just wasn’t used to such a heady topic even being introduced in our farm town.

In my paper I compared Kierkegaard and Sartre. I was a Christian believer at the time and relieved to find that there was an existentialist philosopher who named the name of Christ. When I got to college I found that Francis Schaeffer thought Kierkegaard misunderstood The Faith if he believed it required a “leap of faith.” At the time I wasn’t comfortable with the world of philosophy and wouldn’t have said I loved it. I was trying to love Christ in a fairly pietistic way and didn’t have a clue as to how to engage Christianly with the humanities. I did enjoy hearing from and reading various theologians and didn’t realize the divergence among them until after I was married.

When I became a wife and mother I began to focus on reading children’s books, and teaching children practical aspects of the faith. In the 1980’s two girlfriends separately and in different ways made me realize the importance of the historicity of Christianity; soon I was sitting up in bed every night reading Chalcedon magazine and happily listening in on The Great Conversation that humans are always having. The many writers for the publication saw the whole of history and philosophy and were not afraid of it; they had confidence that God in Christ had it all wrapped up, even if they didn’t.

Reading this point of view was amazingly encouraging and relaxing. It seemed to really help me go to sleep at night, to leave all the details of running a household and family outside the door and try to stretch my mind to understand why the French Revolution happened, how Romantics skew the Gospel, or why Chalcedonian Christology is pertinent today. It was comforting to drift off like the child who doesn’t know what his parents are talking about, but who feels safe in her bed. God is omnipotent and omniscient, and I will never be, so I rest in Him.

Somewhere I read that people who enjoy thinking are not always the best thinkers. Maybe that means not the most efficient, or logical. I don’t often have anything to show for all the eavesdropping I’ve done, listening to the Good Thinkers. In the world of philosophy I resemble my own Baby Girl when she was old enough to talk, but not old enough to grasp what the other six of us were discussing at the dinner table. She wanted so much to be in on the lively talk, and would look from one to the other of her family, and when she heard a phrase that she could link to something she knew about, she would quickly interject a comment that was rarely on topic.

Three years ago I became a child in the Orthodox Church, and now I am even more ignorant, as what I know has shrunk in proportion to the vastness and connectedness of God’s World as it is perceived by our theologians and lived by the saints. Categories and schemes I had gradually come up with aren’t as helpful as they promised to be, and in my imagination I am catching a phrase of conversation, or a glimpse of Life, of how everything is summed up in Christ; God in Trinity is simple and whole. I have been learning that God didn’t mean for us to suffer all these separations or distinctions between soul and body, between mind and heart, and between thought and action.

While I was beginning to find Christ in His Church I was also learning that ideas can’t be separated from people. No one can be labeled solely by what philosophy he espouses this week. A philosophy does not have an existence in itself but is humans thinking in a certain way. The Kaiser Permanente billboards that have a cyclist telling us, “I am not my bad knee,” and a chubby woman saying, “I am not my weight problem,” help us understand that people are complicated. Kierkegaard no doubt would like to defend himself on a billboard saying, “I am not existentialist philosophy.”

When I began reading The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz I was immediately captivated by his writing, and I suspected that I was going to find it multi-layered with meaning. I read about Mahfouz a bit online to give myself a head start. He was a philosopher, and some have referred to “existential themes” in his works, so I have been reading with an eye to letting him tell me what existentialism is. All I could remember from my sketchy term paper was the buzz-word “authentic,” and one word doesn’t make for a definition. My paper on the topic couldn’t have been very good because I didn’t have much intellectual preparation for tackling it. Kierkegaard himself wrote volumes of philosophy that pretty much started that branch of The Conversation, and generated many more books by people discussing and debating his ideas.

A definition of philosophy that sticks in my mind is “people seeking to know how to live the good life.” Mahfouz’s writing is full of such common humans, some of whom think harder about it, or have more success. I am reminded of the saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” The characters I have met in The Cairo Trilogy are enriching the world of my imagination as I get to know their various personalities and see how they respond to the challenges of their culture and the political situation they have to deal with. None of them would put himself in a neat box with a label on it, and that’s why it takes three novels to tell their story.

mahfouz picAs I write this introduction, I haven’t yet come to the end of the third book. Calling this post an introduction almost commits me to writing more about the novel, but it seems an impossible task for me to even appreciate the scope of what Mahfouz has done, much less give a just report of it. Mahfouz spoke more than once while he was alive about the primacy of politics in his life, and if I knew more Egyptian history and were more politically minded, no doubt I could glean more meaning from the story. That’s just one example of how my review will be skewed and lacking.

But the book is so wonderful that it seems unkind to not tell about it, and it does stretch me to make the effort. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the actual review. You might have time to read the book yourself while you’re waiting.