Category Archives: creativity

Berries are also strange.

I still feel as though my new garden belongs to someone else. It has some lovely elements gl strawberry barrel crop just plantedand I’m awfully thankful that I was able to accomplish it, but the circumstances surrounding its creation were not ideal for creating the space I really wanted. Just starting out on my lonesome own, in my shaken-up existence without my husband, I knew that I did not like the old arrangement — that is, the swimming pool — that was obviously not Me, because it had never been. How to get what I did want, given the limits of my suburban lot and of my financial means, and most importantly, my mental wherewithal that had been reduced to Where?

My creative self was a room all in disarray from a crazy person rummaging around trying to find something. The cupboards doors left hanging open and random items spilling out or fallen on the floor: Oh, here is a piece of orange cloth…yes, that’s right, I like the color orange… and there is one of Pearl’s plums that are so yummy… get me a couple of those trees.

From a place of more understanding six months later I can say: I wanted to be plopped down into the gardens of an old Mediterranean villa where no plants were younger than ten years, and at least two full-time and expert gardeners and groundskeepers were always on hand to do the work, leaving me at leisure to walk or sit in the garden, to pray and read and watch the birds.

It helps to shine this light on the amusing and fantastical nature of my desires so that I can laugh at them and get to work on what is really here. One of the real tasks was planting the strawberry barrels. This was an idea that Landscape Lady found in a magazine and gave me the instructions for; I would never have conceived it myself, but it was an okay idea. It has been one of the few projects that I’ve completed almost entirely on my own, doggedly.

I shopped at several stores before choosing my barrels, and brought them home and sat them in the driveway with all the other junk and clutter that overflowed the demolition/construction area. Then began the string of dirt-moving episodes:

1) Reserve an appropriate portion of the dirt designated for the general landscaping by shoveling it into the barrels.

2) After several weeks, decide on a color to paint the barrels and the playhouse, and

3) Take all the dirt out of the barrels and put it on a tarp while I spray paint them on the dead lawn.

4) Until they get holes drilled, I don’t want to put the dirt back in, so I set them in the back gl IMG_0876yard to wait, and pull the tarp around the dirt in the driveway so the rain doesn’t soak it.

5) After two sons-in-law drill the holes on Thanksgiving weekend, I move the barrels to their spot by the playhouse and drag the tarp back there and replace the dirt — not before it dawns on me that the holes all around the sides for the strawberries to grow out of will be holes that the dirt will also flow out of. What? I look back at the article and see that it calls for non-soil planting mix. Too late for that, so I put some newsprint over the holes inside before I shovel the dirt in. Wait for February when bare-root plants are available.

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Bundle of 25 strawberry plants

6) Landscape Lady says that the soil for the drought-tolerant ornamentals is not rich enough for the strawberries, so before I plant I must dig in some compost. I put that on my shopping list.

7) February comes, and the bare-root plants are bought, but the nursery is out of the compost, so I shop at another store to get it. The bale is too heavy for me to lift into my cart, so I get help with that, but after I check out no one answers the call to help me, so I manage to tip it into my Subaru and then out again at home into my garden cart and into the back yard next to the barrels. Whew.

8) By this time I have read several articles about strawberries and barrels and I realize that I should have tackled this whole project differently (though if I had had that much sense back then, I would have said No to the whole thing). I need to take all the dirt out again and mix in the compost, and then add just enough back to come up to the level of the bottom row of holes, lay the plants on top of that with their bare roots extending toward the center like hair on a pillow, cover them up with enough dirt to reach the next level of planting holes, and so forth.

9) The old pap2016-02-16 10.47.31er blocking the holes has become mulch. I decide as I’m completing the project that I should have bought some peat moss to tuck in around the root crowns to keep the dirt from escaping, but now I’m in the middle of it, and just cut some new pieces of newsprint to go around the plants. I will get some peat moss later and tuck it in after the fact.

Part of the reason this was not as fun as I normally find gardening to be is that it is too contrived. Non-soil planting mix? Trying to defy gravity? But I did it, on behalf of that strange woman who was presented with this idea back in September and said, “Why not?” The woman I am would just throw some California poppy seeds around the play house and let them bloom where they will for the children to pick.

A few days later, rain has soaked the barrels and we’ll probably see more leaves poking out soon. The weather will cool again, but the temperature won’t drop to January levels, and in a few months there will be fruit hanging out of the holes. If the grandchildren aren’t around to pick strawberries, I’ll put out a sign for the blue jays to help themselves.

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Taken just now through the window and the raindrops.

 

 

He makes us stitch and sing.

I have an assortment of things to share, which I beliP1100820 Ps 23 hanging by Geve all flow from people’s creative impulses. So I’ll make that my theme.

When I was sorting and sifting with Kate I found some crafty things I did when money was tight. If you make presents for your parents you might inherit those same things after a while.

This was the case with wall-hangings I made 40 years ago, which came back a few years ago, but then got buried again until last month. This one speaks to me now, so I hung it over a knob near where I am typing at the moment. The scraps of fabric I used remind me of dresses I made for myself in high school and college.

 

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Another sort of scrap art is this large design in cloth that I found last month on the wall of a hospital corridor, when I was walking up and down with a post-surgical patient. That hospital has really nice art on the walls, and I kept thinking I should go on a picture-taking tour, but I didn’t. A close-up of this one shows the close quilting.

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I have to cregum art pastoraledit Chel at Sweetbriar Dreams for introducing me to Ben Wilson via her blog. This man paints miniature works of art on chewing gum that has been rudely and antisocially discarded on the streets of London. Igum art isle of wight liked this BBC video about him.

The art at right includes mention of the Isle of Wight, which reminds me that I didn’t tell you about the birthday party we had for Mr. Glad last month.

gum art bbc w hand

Our small group of friends and family sat around singing to guitars songs such as Dylan’s “Forever Young” and the Beatles’ “When I’m 64,” which gives you a clue as to which birthday my husband celebrated. Ever since then I can’t get that song out of my mind, including the stanza that goes:

Every summer we can rent a cottage in the Isle of Wight
If it’s not too dear.
We shall scrimp and save.
Grandchildren on your knee:
Vera, Chuck & Dave.

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P1100897crp At least I got a break during church this morning when other music pushed the torture aside. I went with Mr. Glad to his church which was meeting for the first time in a new place, and I took a few pictures of the window shades which I thought much better than a lot of modern church art I’ve seen. I of course prefer icons, but these images feel light and joyful, and are reminiscent of stained glass.

The last one shows the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, a reference to Christ from the book of Revelation. He is “The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” As all our arts begin with gifts God has given us, may their ends also be for His glory and in His praise.

Every branch He prunes.

I traveled over the hill to the nearby monastery one morning last week and pruned roses for three hours. The sisters who came to this place inherited a big garden next to the river, with many plantings they are learning to manage. Sister Xenia is the chief gardener, and she spends a lot of time on the job, but it’s not the only task she’s assigned, and she appreciates any help outsiders can give.

Frost had to be scraped off my car before I left home. It was still below freezing at that time, and I wore my denim skirt, leggings, work boots and a thick flannel shirt over one of my old turtlenecks. But after I’d arrived and started in with my clippers, it wasn’t long before a springtime breeze began to blow.

So many roses! And most of them are not in a location that is good for roses; they are in the shade too much. Each bush was a big challenge to my skill and art, presenting one or more problems including:

1) Too tall and leggy, with no buds down low that my pruning might channel the lifeblood to.

2) Too many large canes and branches crowding each other, so that I had to thin drastically, after deciding based on uncertain parameters which ones to remove.

3) Bushes growing too close to another type of shrub or tree, as in the case of the one pictured, where a Pittosporum has surrounded one tall rosebush.

4) Growing close to the path or over the sidewalk, catching on the sisters’ habits or poking passersby.

5) Dead wood

It really was a joy to have quiet time to focus completely on a project like this, and I needed every bit of my mental resources and powers of concentration to do the work. Also my imagination, as I tried to envision what effect my cuts would have on each bush in the next months and even years.

Afterward when I was driving home, I began to ask myself why I hadn’t prayed while working, and quickly realized that it had taken every bit of my attention and creativity to do the task set before me. Is it perhaps a little like restoring a painting that has been severely damaged… a little like designing a building that must be raised on top of living ruins?  I wonder that, having no real knowledge of those types of art.

One thing for certain, the glory of this art won’t show until after many weeks the plants produce the actual rose flowers. I have just decided that a visit to the monastery is necessary when that brilliance begins, because I’ve never even seen these bushes in bloom. In the meantime I’m posting some old rose photos from my own parish church grounds, to keep me happily anticipating warmer weather.

At about noon the nuns gather for the 6th Hour prayers, and when the bell rang the announcement I laid down my tools and joined them. There was my chance to pray and soak up the Spirit, and the spirit of the place, and to stand up straight for a while and breathe the incense.

I hadn’t pruned all the roses, but I ate lunch with the sisters and went home anyway, meditating on what made the experience so fatiguing. Does it cause God this much trouble to prune us, as the Bible says he does: “Every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2” Does He say to Himself, “I did the best I could, under the circumstances.”? Maybe we grow all out of shape in odd ways, not getting enough of the Sun of Righteousness.

Speaking of sun, it had brought the temperature up to 79 degrees that afternoon. We are all aching for rain here in the West, as we suffer a terrible drought that makes it hard to enjoy those lovely warm rays. The drought is like a dark un-cloud looming behind the sun. Now that I am invested in a few dozen rosebushes, I am a little concerned that some of them might not make it through a water-rationed cycle of seasons to next January when I will try to get back and minister to them.

As we anticipate a possibly very long dry season, my motherly/sisterly feelings are reaching out to the plants and animals, and I’m praying more intently in Divine Liturgy along with the deacon, “For favorable weather, an abundance of the fruits of the earth, and temperate seasons, let us pray to the Lord.”

The Music of My Life

The third chapter of The Hidden Art of Homemaking is the impetus for this post. It is titled simply “Music,” and continues the theme of how Christians might express their creativity in their varied and unique circumstances. I am participating in the discussion of the book on Cindy’s blog, Ordo Amoris. This is a long post and I apologize — you would be smart to skip it and go do something creative!

It might have been 30 years ago that I first read Hidden Art, and I wrote on the day of the author’s death how important it was in developing a vision for my life. At the time of its publication in 1971 I don’t think there was anything else like it, but feminists were writing plenty about the stifling life of the typical housewife. It was lovely to have laid out before me many concrete examples of interesting people and their home-enriching activities.

Just a couple of years later, Karen Mains wrote Open Heart, Open Home, which also contributed to my Christian vision, on the theme of hospitality. And I was married in the early 70’s, and enjoying keeping house and garden even before the children started arriving. When the house began to fill with kids, I never lacked for creative projects and plans.

But I hadn’t even read Schaeffer’s book yet. My young-married-childbearing years were overflowing with culture and creativity, and I could not relate to the reader Edith seemed to be writing for, someone who is frustrated, locked up, or unfulfilled (her words).

Only recently have I been able to look back over my life and see with more understanding (I hope) why the story reads the way it does. I needed time to think, and I needed to see more of the plot toward the end, before I could notice how the first chapters fit with middle parts of my saga.

Part I contained an excess of family drama, as we call it these days, emotional and psychological stress that I didn’t get any help dealing with. If you have a splitting headache it is hard to tap into your creativity. It’s the same with emotional pain, maybe more so when it isn’t diagnosed or even acknowledged, but stays like an always-freshening wound that makes you want to move as little as possible.

Me in Part II

What brought me into Part II was getting married to a good man and empowered to create my own story, free of distracting pain. The setting was calm and clear and full of the hope of the gospel. It was somewhat the opposite of what Schaeffer talks about, because being home was my obvious opportunity to do just about anything. I had had no lack of examples and ideas; actually, the hippie era for me segued into a homesteading spirit a la The Mother Earth News. And there were all the creative people I’d known growing up (just about everyone), while I was storing up tinder for my creative fires.

I see that I have mixed a few metaphors here trying to tell my story — or am I writing the score for the symphony that has been playing out? Though this chapter is about music, it seems as good a place as any to bring up what seem to me to be realities on which our artistic life is built. They apply to music, too.

I received little musical training as a child, and I had no career that I had to put on the back burner. But growing up in church was good ear-training, and even in the Girl Scouts and in public school we sang a lot. I was lucky to marry a musician, and by means of his guitar and my singing we filled the house and our children’s ears with music.

We sang in the car, using songbooks I wrote out by hand. We sang around the campfire. We parents sat on the bedroom floor and crooned lullabies to our children every night. And in church I helped the young readers to develop fluency while hymn-singing, running my finger along the page under the words while they looked on. But I don’t know how to read music.

At first there wasn’t money for music lessons, and I wept over the injustice of a world in which my firstborn had no opportunity for a more structured musical education. Then grandparents and great-grandparents stepped in and God provided a generous piano teacher two blocks from our house. From that time forth the provisions continued in various ways, so that eventually all of our five children learned to play at least one instrument. The photos are of them and a grandson enjoying their music. Two of our daughters became piano teachers in their teens.

But for many families, music is not something they can really accomplish. My parents could not provide it for me, but it all worked out o.k. Some women find that their distracting drama only starts when they marry, or when a child falls ill. There are women for whom getting through the day is like climbing a steep mountain, and while they might be relieved to stop and smell the flowers, it’s asking a lot to tell them they ought to get out the seed catalog and develop a plan for further landscaping. But I suppose they aren’t the ones reading Hidden Art.

When Schaeffer says things like, “Christian homes should…be places where there is the greatest variety of good music,” I balk at the word should. I don’t know how she might otherwise have presented a picture of what she considers the ideal home, but every time she says we should do this or that to develop our creative side — and in the short Chapter 2 she used the word nine times — I get annoyed that she is telling me what my Christian duty is.

To me that’s backwards, because I can’t recall ever doing one creative homemaking thing out of a sense of duty, though I firmly believe we are all obligated to do our duty. To fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man, according to Ecclesiastes (Not that we can even accomplish those basics on our own). It seems to me that the rest, the art and music and beauty, flow naturally from a human soul that is nurtured by God’s love — just as sap running up a tree trunk results in bright leaves and colorful fruit. The main thing is not to tell the tree to make fruit, but to keep the connection to the life-giving Fountain — Who is also the One who heals all those diseases of the heart that might hinder us.

What do you know — beauty in our life is one of the healing potions God provides. So if we start with small things that brighten our homes, say, singing a few lines from a hymn over the kitchen sink, or teaching a nursery rhyme to a toddler, just in response to the impulse, we are creating culture and feeding our own souls. It keeps the sap running, and the more the tree grows, the more sap and delicious fruit there will be.

Since Edith Schaeffer wrote this book and What is a Family, the only two of hers that I have read, thousands of families have discovered that homeschooling provides the opportunities to build the kind of family life and culture that the author presents a vision for. Just give us enough time with our children and all these good things are more likely to happen. The vision she sets forth was an ingredient in the soil that nourished my own heart and gave me the courage I needed. All the rest is in Part II, Part III, and still writing… Oh, and still singing new songs!