All posts by GretchenJoanna

About GretchenJoanna

Orthodox Christian, widowed in 2015; mother, grandmother. Love to read, garden, cook, write letters and a hundred other home-making activities.

The beauty of souls and red rock.

Colorado Springs – I am still here with Soldier and Joy’s family, but having a quiet and slow morning, as Joy has taken the children to visit an old friend she ran into at church. Today is cold again, after a week of warm and sunny weather, and the winter season will settle in before the end of the month with freezing temps every night. The town lies at 6300 ft. elevation, with Pikes Peak in view, so one would expect a mountainous feel to the air and the seasons.

I’m a little homesick for my usual mild climate and the abundance of beautiful plants all year long. This Airbnb house is in a neighborhood that appears a little drab to me. Is the relative dryness of the region the region the reason that the leaves on the trees don’t turn beautiful colors, but merely shrivel and lose their color before falling? Out the window we see a broad and flat expanse of dirt and dry weeds between 40-yr-old housing tracts, where it seems more houses are now going to be built, so if you are a little boy who likes to identify excavators and cement mixers you will enjoy that view. I tire of it and lift my eyes just a bit to the large sky, and one morning, there was a sunrise palette.

All the males and I went on an outing to Manitou Springs on the weekend, where more than a hundred years ago bricks from ancient Anasazi ruins in the Four Corners area of the Southwest were used to build a full-size replica of cliff dwellings. It was fun for the boys to walk through the passageways and explore rooms cut into the rock, and there was even a small arrangement of native plants by way of a botanical garden for me to investigate while they went through the dwellings a second and third time. I love that red rock!

The natural beauty I have most appreciated has not been of the broad landscape, but what I’ve found close up, like the above, and the ubiquitous junipers and blue spruce that will stay fresh and green all winter, and which are a  clean contrast to the nearly aways blue sky. The town is known for the way the sun shines all or part of the vast majority of days. Yesterday I had the boys to myself for a few hours and they ran outside on the green grass; we scooped up leaves with a snow shovel and I taught them to run and jump in our little pile. The leaves smelled sooo good.

The most sublime images of creation I encounter day by day are the humans, with their souls that glow with the life God gave them, and who have the potential to be changed into His likeness as they follow the desires of their deepest longings. I am in awe of the parents’ conscientious care of the children, the thousand responsive decisions they must make every day about how to answer questions, how to deal with squabbles and tantrums and meltdowns — after they have already made many intentional and pro-active planning decisions.

I know, I also used to do that same job day after day, and I wonder at the person I was! It’s all of God’s grace, that we have the strength to do it again the next morning, and that the children grow up at least somewhat prepared to live without the constant supervision and training that they need early on. If they can learn to return to God time after time after time, to receive forgiveness and everything else they need, that will be the best thing.

The singing life with boys.

I landed in Colorado with Soldier’s family four days ago. The airport and airplane were fun for me and the boys because it was their first experience, and because it was a short trip, to and from smaller airports and on Southwest Airlines which seemed to me much more easygoing and helpful than my usual United travel.

We have been in this Airbnb house in Colorado Springs for four nights. It has plenty of room for three wild Indians (as my mother’s generation would have called them, but I try not to) to race up and down stairs and roughhouse, yelling, shouting, and laughing. If I can get them to sing with me it’s sometimes possible to channel this exuberance into plain laughing, which carries less risk of maiming. 

Sing Through the Seasons from the Plough Publishing House has been for our family a wealth of children’s songs that are joyful music for all ages. I have been singing many of the original 99 songs of the first edition for over 40 years, but I’ve never introduced so many in as short a span as during this last week.

I found a copy of the later edition I had bought used, and brought it along in my suitcase, and the three brothers and I have sat on the couch for long periods singing, “Nibble, Nibble,” “Where Are the Froggies When the North Wind Blows,” and many other favorites. “Trot Along, My Little Pony” by Marlys Swinger was a lullaby I used to sing to the babies, leaning over their cribs to pat them to sleep. Even 2-yr-old Brodie sings in his husky voice with “Nibble, Nibble,” and anticipates the ending when he can chime in with, “And the rabbit in my heart is you!”

Last night while the boys were waiting for dinner I taught them “Three Little Puffins.” They giggled through the song at the idea of puffin birds stuffin’ themselves with muffins, but the giggles turned to hilarity when I started calling them my own Three Little Puffins.

We’ve been on a walk around Palmer Lake just to the north of us in the community with the same name. A few bits of snow were still on the ground from Sunday, the day we arrived right after a snowfall, and I wished I had brought my wool scarf against the wind. We “did school” the very first morning here, because their mother Joy is incredibly organized, and have watched videos on Grandma’s laptop about Deep Sea Fishes, Dragonflies, and How Deep Can We Dig Toward the Center of the Earth?

At the closest public library, in Monument, Joy was able to get a library card, and we brought home lots of books. Not only that, but behind the library is a lake or pond where ducks swim, and the librarians give free cups of cracked corn for feeding the ducks.

At this house there are toys and games; Liam found a turntable Scrabble board and tiles, and wanted me to play with him. I would rather play Bananagrams, but most of his family’s belongings are in storage, so we don’t have that game here. Yesterday he and I drove to Walmart to pick up a few things, including Bananagrams, but the store had just stopped carrying it. I told the salesperson, “I bet Target has it!” We substituted a bunch of bananas, and a new Scrabble game that had all its parts. Liam took to this more complicated word game with enthusiasm. We love words!

I am nearly hoarse from all the singing and reading, but still want to do more, and usually at least one of my “puffins” is more than willing. This evening while dinner was cooking I read to dear Brodie four of his favorite books, including What Do You Hear, Angel?, by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson. It has plenty of repetition to please the child’s ear, but the message conveyed is a fundamental truth of the cosmos that is lifelong sustenance: Things seen and unseen are singing the same song. The illustrations by Masha Lobastov confirm that idea with images of a happy child engaging with, you might say, earthly and heavenly messengers.

That’s what we are living every day.

 

 

 

I forgot that story already.

If only I were better at writing funny stories – I’ve had such good material for them the last couple of weeks! When the “funny” things are happening — i.e., the crazy days when I lose my keys, forget my phone, break a crown on my tooth, spend half the day on a cooking project that turns out barely edible, spend the other half driving back and forth to appointments or making fruitless business calls, and at the end of it all get stood up by my computer guy — my writer’s mind tries weakly to do its usual thing of organizing chaos into sentences, but only in synaptic spasms. And what exactly is humorous about this, anyway…? The exhaustion is total, and I only want to go to bed early.

The next day, if it is a recovery day — and I definitely haven’t had enough of those lately — I often do realize the hilarity of life, in retrospect. But I’m not a comedian, and when I start to relate my wonderment at how many things can go wrong, or I should say, how inconvenient adventures can be, it just sounds like a complaint. And if I did write my funny story, where would I put my beautiful flower pictures?

I thought of this once more after Columbus Day, which was fairly long and involved with things not going as planned. And I was feeling the deadline I was under, to leave town, and to get all my affairs in a good state so I could be away and not worry. When the problems were solved and I was all alone again, I found rest in writing about how a poem and my garden worked together to give me the needed R&R. I guess trying to write a funny story would be too challenging, a chore I don’t know how to tackle. My garden is easy, and writing (anything but humor) is my favorite kind of work.

I soon forget the germs of those funny stories, because they are so quickly superseded by compelling tales of birdsong and burst milkweed pods, babies dropped fresh from Heaven, and bread dough rising.

Clara

Oh, but I have to tell you why I am going to be away from home! I am right now flying to Colorado with that new Baby Clara herself. Don’t worry, her mother and her brothers are with us. Clara’s father will meet us at the airport, and I will stay to help them out in their new town for a while. More stories are on the way.

The sweetest flower is here.

This morning I wished I had gloves on my hands, as I looped my loop through the fog that was lifting as I went. It was the time when many mothers are walking their kindergarteners to school and pushing a younger child in a stroller. Middle-schoolers congregate in the saddles of their bicycles, and then speed off at the last minute to get to class on time. I encountered four neighbors with three dogs, Nino, Corky and Maverick.

And flowers! Maybe because the edges of the walking paths were sheared in September, a few Queen Anne’s Lace flowers have opened near the ground. This thistle caught my eye, the first I had seen all year, contrasting in color and development with pyracantha already in the berry stage. Above it, the shrub with yellow flowers is one I don’t know, but it looks like it may originate in the southern hemisphere… I say that only because the leaves remind me of bottlebrush. Does anyone know it?

Less exotic is the lower creek path and the creek, seen from the bridge, my “same ol'” favorite scene.

Birds are very busy in the runaway tangles of berries, vines and ripening seeds, such as in the patch of sunflowers in my front yard. I wish I knew who the little ones are that flit about there every day and fly away as soon as I get near.

I am listening to One Wild Bird at a Time by Bernd Heinrich, a man after my own heart, who spends days and weeks at a time in every season, tracking the behavior of birds in the Maine forest around his a cabin. He climbs trees to look into nests of woodpeckers and digs in the snow to count the fecal pellets of grouse, keeping detailed records in hopes of solving what to him are fascinating Why questions of the avian communities and society.

I also find this kind of detective work much more compelling to engage in or to read about than the kind of mystery novel many people enjoy, Agatha Christie or P.D. James or the current favorites. I don’t have the time Mr. Heinrich does to follow the owls and nuthatches through the woods, or to befriend and tame a starling; I also don’t have the vast background knowledge of birds and insects that informs his research, so I really appreciate his sharing the joy of his lifelong love in action.

Busy as my days have been, full as my house already is with books, when I returned a book to the drop slot at the library I succumbed to the temptation to look into the five ! 4-foot cube containers of books out in front, evidently what was left over from a book sale, books that were intended for thrift stores but — the truck had broken down, or what? We who were rummaging through only knew that the library staff had told us to take what we wanted, and yes, for free.

Wouldn’t you also have at least looked? I don’t know how much time I spent there, and I don’t know if it was the right thing to do… It was a strange situation, to be outdoors where several of the people were chatting as they tried to dig down at least a couple of feet toward who-knew-what treasures, the deepest of which were completely out of reach, unless someone wanted to dumpster dive.  One woman said, “These are some great books!” and later I heard, “These are all worthless.” Another seeker examined one volume after another and said to whoever would listen, “I never look a gift book in the mouth,” which seemed not the right proverb for what she was actually doing.

I talked to a third-grade girl who had come to the library with her grandfather. I showed her a few books I thought she might like, including Lemony Snicket and Beverly Cleary. She said about Cleary, “I only read the new books,” and told me she was looking for books for her baby sister.

I still had a bag of books in my car that I had taken from a box at church, left by a friend who used to sell books online and now is joining a convent. The picture above shows most of what I brought home from the two sources, less a couple of cookbooks I’d already put on the shelf; the book at the bottom right with the embossing worn off is How Green Was my Valley.

The Art of Loving I have an interest in because I had read it on my own in high school, and then at an interview for a college scholarship the interviewer wanted me to talk about why I liked it; I was completely unprepared for that and dumb. (I did get the scholarship anyway.) Many of these books I chose thinking of the possible interest of various of my very large and growing family. But I suspect I will end up giving at least a few to the thrift store myself!

I’ve cooked a couple of new things lately, first, some homemade dry cereal as inspired by Cathy and adapting the method she uses, developed by The Healthy Home Economist. I’ve made two batches now, and I really like it. I decreased the amount of maple syrup in my second batch and used both chickpea flour and rice bran in my recipe, and it was still good 🙂 Cathy’s picture made it look very good, and mine doesn’t seem as appealing visually, but here it is.

My housemate Susan taught me this summer to enlist the aid of Saint Phanourios when I lost something important.  The second time it was my keys, including the remote key to my car, that I lost, and when I found them I decided to bake the traditional cake in his honor, for both findings. It’s a yummy spice cake that Greeks might eat at any time, baked with orange juice and zest, and walnuts.

I was anticipating the arrival of grandsons Liam, Laddie, and Brodie this week, and decided to revive my traditional Oatmeal Bread recipe to serve them, which was our sandwich, toast, snacking bread for twenty years or so when we fed a houseful of us. For a time Pippin was the baker. We had to turn out a batch of five loaves a little more often than once a week. (Not quite as often we added a batch of the sourdough bread.)

This is Liam giving a sniff to the loaves that had only just come out of the oven when they arrived, with their mom and tiny baby sister — ta da! — Clara. She is my favorite fall flower of all.