Monthly Archives: September 2014

Not a full fennel failure.

fennel fluff 9-27-14My fennel experiment has taught me some things. If I had found Barbara Pleasant’s page on How to Grow Bulb Fennel much earlier than I did, I might have got a crop. She gets two crops every summer!

I think my effort failed for three reasons:

1) I planted too late. It would be better to set out seedlings when I had planted mere seeds.

2) My spot lacked sun. It was next to a fence that prevented the plants from getting sun before late morning, and then the zucchini plants nearby grew up and provided more unwanted shade.

3) I didn’t give the plants extra nitrogen when they began “to bulb.” Barbara says thafennel stems 9-27-14t is an important step to help them grow good-sized bulbs.

Barbara says that it took her three seasons to learn how to grow a successful crop, so that is a comfort. I intend to try again. But even if I didn’t have hope for the future, this summer’s crop is so pretty, I’m enjoying it as an ornamental. I’ll keep watching for the seeds to develop, and maybe I’ll be able to gather enough for my next fennel experiment.

fennel flower 9-27-14

Lin Yutang likes autumn best.

If you like thought-provoking quotes as much as I do, you might sometime run across one by the eloquent Lin Yutang. I find that I did have a quote by him about autumn in my files, so that is probably how he came under my radar recently, long enough for me to decide to borrow his book The Importance of Living from the library. It was in the closed stacks, and looks old and Chinese. But as Samuel Butler said, “The oldest books are only just out to those who have not read them,” and for me, Lin Yutang is definitely a new and exciting discovery.

I expected a small book of proverbs, perhaps, but The Importance of Living is a large conversational and philosophical treatise that I won’t be ableLin Yutang - Living to read in bed. I may have to buy a copy, because in the very first paragraph of the preface I found beautifully written lines that drew me in to his mind and his ruminations:

“Very much contented am I to lie low, to cling to the soil, to be of kin to the sod. My soul squirms comfortably in the soil and sand and is happy. Sometimes when one is drunk with this earth, one’s spirit seems so light that he thinks he is in heaven. But actually he seldom rises six feet above the ground.”

I opened the book randomly in the middle and there, also, his words were worth thinking about as poetry or motivational talk. Did someone very gifted translate the works of this Chinese man? No, he wrote in English in such a graceful way that it is pure joy to read him aloud.

Lin Yutang was born in China in 1895 of Chinese Christian parents. His father was a pastor and a very progressive, forward-thinking man who made sure that Lin learned his Bible stories and went to the schools that produced the best speakers of English. He eventually got a degree from Harvard and another from Leipzig University.

I began to read The Importance of Living aloud with Mr. Glad. I usually do the reading because I enjoy it more than he does, and I immediately noticed the easy flow of Lin’s prose and the equally smooth progression of ideas. Everything he says makes perfect sense given his worldview in 1937, and at that time he was no longer a Christian.

What happened? Mr. Glad and I were very curious, because we had information Lin didn’t have at the time; we knew that later in life he would return to the faith and live to write about it, in his book From Pagan to Christian. So we stopped reading Importance and started in on the book about his spiritual journey that he wrote about 20 years later.

Putting together what he says in the relatively little we have read of him so far, I can tell you this about Lin’s first change of mind: As soon as he came of age to notice, he realized that he had not received the usual Chinese philosophical or literary heritage, much of which was typically learned through the theater; the theater was forbidden to Lin and his siblings who were in some ways raised as Puritans. He hadn’t taken the time to learn to write beautiful calligraphy, either, so he found that he was by Chinese standards completely uncivilized. At this point the one very Chinese thing he did know was intense shame.

He felt he had to go back and learn to be an authentic Chinese man, and having learned as a child the diligence and study habits of a Puritan, he did a very thorough job of learning Chinese philosophy and literature, not to mention a stunningly broad understanding of Western culture. This knowledge base combined with the ability to think and write about all that he has figured out — or is figuring out, as the story evolves — makes him fascinating to me.

We haven’t progressed very far in either of these books, but having this articulate author “friend” to explain Chinese culture and history to me from the inside has given me an interest in that part of the world that I have always lacked. So I hope to read more, and I expect to have more to share. But for now, I’ll close with his quote from My Country and My People about the lin_yutangseasons of the year.

“I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its tone is mellower, its colours are richer, and it is tinged with a little sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring,nor the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content.”

This meditation seems to me an expression of a perspective that could be both Chinese, as he felt at the time, and truly Christian. I’m looking forward to reading more of the kindly wisdom of Lin Yutang.

Custard Show

3 custards Sept 14

Mr. Glad did love the flan I made, but turned down my offer to make more right away, because by his way of thinking the caramel part made them too sweet to enjoy often. I took up the challenge to make something just as yummy but less intense that way, and while I was at it I made variations on the theme with pumpkin and chocolate. Too experimental to tell about in detail, but it was easy, and they are certainly easy to eat.

Ántonia’s apple orchard

Willa Cather’s novel My Ántonia holds a special place in the hearts of both Mr. Glad and me, perhaps in our conjugal heart ? by reason of our sharing the story together more than once, and reading it on our own as well. When I’ve read it aloud it’s not uncommon for me to start sobbing at places in the narrative where the pathos hits home.

I was surprised to read recently a review in which the reader did not enjoy Cather’s writing, saying it was dry and lacking emotion. Those qualities might be why I appreciate her skill at capturing the story and drawing us in. Cather gives us the perspective of Jim, and we experience with him as narrator the various levels on which he is in love with our heroine and all that she represents, and he makes us fall in love with her, too.

Our differing response from the reviewer above probably has something to do with what we bring to the story. Though we haven’t lived in Nebraska or known any Bohemians, perhaps we are like Jim (and Willa Cather) in our grieving for the past, for the lifestyle of the pioneers and their farm life, for the good hardworking people we have lost; as I understand it, that was a theme that reappears in many of her works, but she accomplishes it without what might be called “emotional” prose. Mr. Glad and I both have farming in our roots, and our love for nature and the outdoors (and for people) is only encouraged and expanded by reading books like this.

I thought to transcribe some passages from the book on my blog, representative snatches for my own enjoyment and yours, as a way to savor again some moments from my reading experience, and perhaps introduce people who haven’t yet made friends with these characters and their world.

In the novel, there is no question but that Jim must leave the country life and go away to school and to city life. The passage below is from the last part of the book when he returns many years later for a visit, and I appreciate the way it conveys something of Ántonia’s character and also the mood of this season of the year.

At some distance behind the house were an ash grove and two orchards: a cherry orchard, with gooseberry and currant bushes between the rows, and an apple orchard, sheltered by a high hedge from the hot winds. The older children turned back when we reached the hedge, but Jan and Nina and Lucie crept through it by a hole known only to themselves and hid under the low-branching mulberry bushes.

“As we walked through the apple orchard, grown up in tall bluegrass, Ántonia kept stopping to tell me about one tree and another. ‘I love them as if they were people,’ she said, rubbing her hand over the bark. ‘There wasn’t a tree here when we first came. We planted every one, and used to carry water for them, too — after we’d been working in the fields all day. Anton, he was a city man, and he used to get discouraged. But I couldn’t feel so tired that I wouldn’t fret about these trees when there was a dry time. They were on my mind like children. Many a night after he was asleep I’ve got up and come out and carried water to the poor things. And now, you see, we have the good of them. My man worked in the orange groves in Florida, and he knows all about grafting. There ain’t one of our neighbors has an orchard that bears like ours.’

“…The afternoon sun poured down on us through the drying grape leaves. The orchard seemed full of sun, like a cup, and we could smell the ripe apples on the trees. The crabs hung on the branches as thick as beads on a string, purple-red, with a thin silvery glaze over them. Some hens and ducks had crept through the hedge and were pecking at the fallen apples.”

–Willa Cather