Monthly Archives: July 2015

Maggie and I share stories.

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Now that Pearl’s family has moved to California, I have nearly half of my grandchildren within an hour and a half’s drive. It was so easy to pick up Maggie on the way home from the mountains, and to bring her here to spend almost a week with me.P1010015P1010096

First, though, the evening I arrived, her mom took a few of us to the Arboretum on the University of California campus in their town of Davis, so I could check out some of the many plants with low water needs. A rustic and rusty arch of shovels signals the beginning of this part of the gardens, with wide plantings of grasses and native California plants leading on into the Australian section, which is what I was most interested in. I have noticed in books that a lot of striking and unthirsty species come from Down Under.

Maggie had her camera, tP1010093oo, and found families of ducks to take pictures of. We didn’t spend too long, but I managed to take many pictures with identifying signs next to the plants that I liked, so I didn’t have to take the time to write down names.

I’m only posting a few of those, of the nicest looking, which I wouldn’t mind having in my new garden if I can find them in nurseries.

The next morning Maggie and I drove off to my town. I had downloaded Anybody Shining by Frances O’Roark Dowell from Audible on to my tablet so we could listen on the way home, which we did for about an hour, Maggie in the back seat because she’s a lightweight. We shopped that afternoon and evening, to resupply my fridge, and we watched “Cheaper by the Dozen,” under blankets on the couch.


Shopping took a lot of our time during the next few days, because we were planning a tea party that we held last Saturday, and also were having company on Sunday. Giving the tea party was the focus of our time together; Maggie came up with several good ideas before we even got home.

We planned and shopped and cooked and in the end we served: deviled eggs and mint chocolate chip meringues made by Maggie; two kinds of P1010119 crpscones with jam and creme fraiche; chocolate pastilles; ham and Swiss quiche made on puff pastry; fresh blueberries and raspberries; chocolate orange sticks; some fancy chocolate and sprinkle-dipped Rice Krispy treats we discovered on one shopping trip; and of course the tea, black and rooibos, and hot cocoa for little girls who preferred that. They all did.

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Eight of us ladies whose ages spanned the decades down to four years old enjoyed our party very much.  My little goddaughter Mary, four months old, was also present but not enjoying the goodies. The conversation was edifying and stimulating. I sent scones home to the menfolk, and that evening Maggie and I ate leftovers. P1010142 crp

We listened to more of our book on the computer and came to the satisfying end. The next day Maggie mentioned it in her own blog post. It is about a girl about Maggie’s age, living in the mountains of North Carolina about a hundred years ago, and her desire to have a friend. The history and the culture of the mountain people are the background of the story, in the telling of which the protagonist Arie Mae expresses her good heart and charming wholesome self through letters she writes to her cousin in the city. The descriptor “shining” she applies to at least two other people in the book, but Arie Mae herself is the truly shining character.

I made Maggie pause the recording so that I could write down a wonderful word of advice from Arie Manybody shiningae – but could I find the paper I wrote on, just now? No! So I washed dishes and listened again to the last few chapters of the book till I could find the place again.

A sub-plot of the story is about the more educated people coming from the city to write down the songs and stories of the mountain folk, to start schools, to help them in various ways. One conflict concerns the dynamic of the outsiders coming in with their ideas and advice for the people who get the feeling they are not appreciated for who they really are.

The way Dowell ties this aspect of the story in with Arie Mae’s growing friendships is delightful. She writes to her cousin, “It takes time to get to know people. You got to listen to their stories, and you got to tell your stories back. It all goes back and forth, back and forth, until one day you turn into friends. Until that time, I expect it’s best to keep your opinions to yourself.”

My Maggie and I enjoyed more stories together during her visit, in the form of two more movies: First “Hook,” which we watched here at home. I find that story delightful, but I think Maggie at her age couldn’t enjoy the Robin Williams character as well as I. And maybe the lost boys were too familiar in their exaggerated annoying boyishness to a girl with three older brothers. Then we saw “Inside Out” at the theater. How wonderful to go out to a movie, just us girls. We even shared a bag of popcorn. I am liking this new phase of grandmotherhood!

Soon after the opening credits we were amazed to find out how perfect “Inside Out” was for us right now. The main character Riley has a few big things in common with my granddaughter: They are both twelve, and each has just moved with her family across the country to California. So many good ideas, so much wisdom is in this movie, I think I need to see it a few more times to be able to think about it more. Movies always go too fast for me, and there is a lot of fast action in this one, too, so that I found myself several times musing over the possible symbolic significance of an event – musing for a few seconds – and then another metaphor would interrupt me to suggest itself in the next scene.inside-out-

Riley seems to be at the mercy of her emotions in this story; you might even say that the emotions are the real main characters, as they try to manage her life to make it good. What seems obvious to the ringleader Joy is that Riley needs to be happy, so Joy is always working very hard to program the right thoughts and memories into Riley’s mind to make her happy. The other emotions eventually find out that they have a role to play as well.

Both Maggie and I were uncomfortable with the implication that Riley’s decisions were based solely on her emotions, but there is a lot of truth to the way the thousands of memories in her bank could be used to cultivate various emotions. I loved the image at the end of the movie, after Riley has connected painfully well with her anger and sadness, and the islands of Family and Honesty have seemingly sunk into the sea — she ends up in the arms of her parents, being comforted. She has grown up a lot in the recent weeks and months and is stroncross Maggie July 2015ger than before, and I’m sure her parents are wiser, too.

My granddaughter who was sitting next to me in the theater had decided a few months ago that she wanted to be baptized in her church before moving away. Back then I couldn’t get it together to celebrate such a happy event with her across the miles, so this week we went shopping for the present I wanted to give her, and found this lovely cross that we both liked. It is a symbol of Something  deeper than a memory or an emotion, the great Story of God’s love and our salvation. I’m so thankful He is with us and for us as we go through all the trials that accompany every stage of life. He is the only one who really knows us inside-out.

Web Gleanings from July

Several articles I’ve read lately strike me as worth sharing.

Boredom is a topic that comes up a lot, maybe more so in summertime, when some people have more time to be bored.  In “The Quiet Alarm” Andreas Elpidorou explains why  “Boredom is precious, but there’s nothing particularly good about being bored. Its unpleasantness is no illusion, its subjective character no taste worth acquiring. We should give thanks for it – and avoid it like the plague.” 5161~Girl-Reading-Book-Posters

I’m not sure what I think about all of this; perhaps Boredom is so related to Time that it’s one of those realities that I could muse on for a long time and get more and more confused – but never bored! Read the whole article here.

The threat of boredom comes to mind when I think of cocktail parties, but David Brooks uses them as a metaphor for the exciting “online life” in his article “Building Attention Span”: “Being online is like being a part of the greatest cocktail party ever and it is going on all the time….” He says that “This mode of interaction nurtures mental agility,” or what he calls “fluid intelligence.”

He contrasts that with “crystallized intelligence,” which is what we get more of in offline learning, “…the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory.” This kind of learning leads to wisdom, and goodness knows we need that. Read the whole article here.

Fr. Stephen Freeman’s retheotokos Decani monasterycent article “Why the Orthodox Honor Mary” begins a discussion that continues in the resulting comments,  contrasting the humility and submission of Mary as something to recognize and emulate, with the actual veneration of her as an aspect of our worship of God.

A fascinating bit of Bible exposition is in the comments where Fr. Stephen explains Jesus’s words to Mary at the marriage of Cana, and the meaning that becomes clear when you see that they hearken back to the story in I Kings of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Read it all here. end on a lighter note, how about some coconut cake to have with your iced tea on a summer afternoon? (If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, even better – just make that hot tea.) This picture of Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Coconut Cake recipe, and the accompanying text, do encourage me that if I get back into the kitchen more, it won’t necessarily mean a lessening of my writing output. I do wonder what the form of the coconut ingredient is intended to be, but it would be fun to experiment with one of my favorite foods.

As I write, the sun has yet to emerge in my cool corner of California, but by mid-afternoon the situation will probably have changed enough that I could sit outdoors with some tea and some more reading material from which to glean. Happy reading to you, too!

The rain blesses.

My sister joined me at the cabin on Saturday afternoon (This was almost two weeks ago now – I have been writing these reports from home); it was the first time juP1000828st the two of us had spent any time together as long as we can remember – maybe since our younger sister was born! We didn’t have any real adventures, but we had a lovely time.

Unless you count losing our power as an adventure, but we are used to that. The cabin is off the power grid, but we have a solar collector and batteries that usually provide enough electricity for lights.

We were brushing our teeth, getting ready for bed, when the lights went out on Saturday night, and we never got the system going again. We think the batteries may need replacing. So we used lanterns and flashlights, and two dim gas wall lamps. The refrigerator runs on gas.

We read on the decP1000818k, until we got too hot, or too cold, or too sleepy. We cooked lots of vegetables, and Sister barbequed enough steak to make me happy for days to come. We talked about our favorite trees around the cabin, two of which I show here.

Storm clouds gathered all day Sunday, and we watched them eagerly, hoping some moisture would fall out, and in the late afternoon it finally did. Immediately the fragrance of the conifers and the duffy earth rose up and all around us and we felt better about everything. The trees were happy and able to exhale and share their essence again.P1000846

Monday I spent the whole day combing through the Sunset Western Garden Book and some books from the library, picking out the most flowery drought-tolerant plants that would attract bees, birds and butterflies, and making lists to prepare myself for an upcoming meeting with a landscape designer. She will help me with my garden at home, once the pool is gone and I am left with a vast dirt canvas on which to paint my garden art.

I know, that was a little odd —  you’d think I should have been focused instead on nature’s glorious garden all around me. But it helped me greatly to invest some time in that landscaping project so that my mind would not feel as chaotic and overwhelmed as my yard looks right now. The mountains were a restful place where I would not be distracted by any environmental mess.


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My sister anP1000823d I collected firewood from the stash under the cabin deck, and pushed and pulled it up the hill in a cart, to build our magnificent fires. She built one, and I built the next.

We read, and talked about our reading, and planned our next sisters cabin retreat, which will include all three of us at a different cabin in October. This place will be closed down by then, to protect it from the snows, which we pray will be heavy this year. Sometimes the cabin is completely covered in snow, just a bump showing under the white blanket.

Sierra or Whorled Penstemon - Penstemon heterodoxus 7-15 CR
Penstemon heterodoxus – Sierra Penstemon

The storm clouds had gathered again that day, and serious rain began to fall in the early afternoon, and continued all day and night. We were gleeful, as if our own skins haP1000849d been shriveled and were now plumping up again. We tried to take pictures of the wet skies. On our way to the firewood pile between showers I took a picture of the most common wildflower at the cabin right now, a tiny drenched penstemon.

Too soon it was the morning of our departure. It was certainly nice to have someone to work with, turning off the water valve and getting the cabin tidied up for the next family members who visit.

Once again, I departed late, but I didn’t expect to feel the need to take pictures on the way down, as I had done so much of that on the way up. I was really surprised therefore when the one-hour drive from 8,000 ft to 5,000 ft elevation took almost double that amount of time.

Meadow Goldenrod Sierras CLRd 7-15
Meadow Goldenrod

Now that I’m back home, I’m very glad I did stop a lot on that curvy road flanked by layers of wildflowers. Using my several wildflower guides I have identified three new flowers that I didn’t know before, or that I had wrongly named in the past, just from that morning.

The Meadow Goldenrod was popular with the bees. I had seen it in the meadow with the cattle on the way up, but here it was growing along the roadside.

Another plentiful flower along my course was milkweed. Like the goldenrod, it has a hundred miniature flowers making up its clusters, and the insects were feasting on nectar there, too. I think this one is Indian Milkweed, asclepias eriocarpa.

Indian Milkweed
P1000906 sneezeweed
Bigelow’s Sneezeweed

Years ago I had mistaken this next flower for something else. It is Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, which is an ominous name; one can imagine how it got that title. The blooms I saw were pretty far spent, but easily recognizable — and I actually was set straight on this one while perusing a guide from the cabin library.

So…the rain is blessing the forest, and the bees are blessing the flowers, and the flowers are blessing the insects with nectar.

It is comforting to remind myself of these things that were going on under my nose. At the time, I was hurrying down the mountain, to Pearl’s house, to get a granddaughter to take home with me. That will be the next chapter of my summer story collection.





Breathing in quietness.


At about 5,000 feet up into the mountains I usually turn off the radio or story, open all the car windows, and breathe deeply of the pine and cedar scents that are so exhilarating. They make me think, “Why oh why have I stayed away so long? How will I bear to go back down to the air of the flatlands?”

wallfower Dinky Ck 7-17-15

But this summer — it didn’t happen that way. At about 3,000 feet I got lost, or at least confused, by taking a couple of wrong turns. When I realized my mistake, it took me a half hour to get back on track. At 4,000 feet, even though it was still 86°, I opened the windows under tall pines, but all I noticed was my shirt hanging in the backseat, as a sleeve started flapping in the rear view mirror.

And I watched the thermometer drop 20 degrees in 20 minutes, as I climbed into the forest. I saw the elderberry bushes in bloom, those tall and friendly plants I’d learned about two years ago, and more than one upland meadow with black cattle grazing. Maybe it wasn’t late in the day for summertime, but I’d forgotten how the sun would go down early, because the trees are so tall, and the valleys deep.P1000783 I discovered that my jaw was sore – evidently I’d been clenching it, so there must have been some anxiety about the time underneath my excitement over all the irresistible photo opportunities.

Where the road crosses a bridge over a creek I stopped to catch the fishermen in the twilight, and found an orange wallflower, that lacking a wall, made do with a post.

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Leopard Lily

The thermometer dropped another twenty degrees in the last hour of my drive, as I got higher and higher and still obeyed the call of the wildflowers to stop and take their pictures — because after all, they might be gone the next time I passed their way! Their glory is short-lived, except for the Pearly Everlasting that seems to hang on and on making a white border by the roadside.

Leopard lilies bloomed in the wetter areas, but the penstemon and paintbrush grew right out of the granite gravel next to the pavement, where they also get the maximum of sun exposure.

paintbrush & penstemon
paintbrush & penstemon


And then, after a journey of eight and a half hours (it “normally” takes me six) during which the temperature ranged from 102° to 57°, I arrived at the door of our beloved cabin! I had by this time forgotten the advice of one of my friends, when I told her about my anxiety: “Breathe deeply when you get in the mountains.” I’m sure when I was sitting at home in the morning and read that message I must have thought, “Well, that comes naturally!”





When I unlocked the door and walked in, I noticed a new sign on the wall:

breathe at cabin 2

I obeyed that word, too, but I was only thinking of how I needed the conscious inhalation to help me relax. It wasn’t until I was lying in bed an hour later that it dawned on me I hadn’t smelled the trees. Was it the drought that was making them hold every droplet of moisture in their needles? Was I to spend several days in their company and never get that mountain perfume? Two years ago when I last was last here, smoke from a huge forest fire in Yosemite was filling my senses with the scent of burning trees.

view from deck

It was the bone-penetrating, soul-healing quiet of the mountains that most affected me during this visit. I was completely solitary for my first evening and morning, and that turned out to be enough time for an intense healing session.

I sat on the deck reading in the morning. Two birds twittered a call-and-response from one Lodgepole pine to another. Up there the sun is baking, and the altitude takes your breath away – or more precisely, takes the oxygen from your breath – and everything combines and causes a heavy sleepiness to fall on you…. Before noon I had to lie on my bed to take a nap. But in the cool of the bedroom I revived and didn’t sleep. I read more in George MacDonald’s Phantastes, the book that C.S. Lewis said “baptized his imagination.”

The protagonist of the story, who is exploring Fairyland, encounters a lovely and deep blue pool: “Led by an irresistible desire, I undressed, and plunged into the water. It clothed me as with a new sense and its object both in one. The waters lay so close to me, they seemed to enter and revive my heart.”

When in my imagination I experienced that Living Water with the swimmer in the story, it was as if the silence of the mountain morning were the pool of God’s healing presence for me at that moment. Then I knew another reality I had read about a few pages before in that book, “Tears are the only cure for weeping.”P1000831

One doesn’t like to imagine breathing water, and I hadn’t yet managed to detect that comforting mountain aroma in the air that I drank hungrily, but stillness and peace were in plentiful supply, and were oxygen for my spirit. That sort of peace is so unfamiliar, it is at the same time both soothing and thrilling.

I was soon to have more good company, both human and atmospheric, and I will tell more about that next time.