Category Archives: friends

In-between December days.

The first half of the week was a flurry of activity: First a Santa Lucia Eve procession that I was invited to, with a few families I have been getting to know because of my involvement in a homeschool group. With the eldest girl wearing a wreath studded with candles, we processed through the neighborhood singing “Santa Lucia” in Italian — I admit I was only humming the tune because I haven’t become that involved to have learned the words in Italian or even English. Then back at the house, we added “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) in the original German. Tea and Santa Lucia buns in their delicious quintessential selves finished out the evening’s simple program. I took the picture three days later so the greenery is a bit dried out.

The next night our women’s book group at church got together. Originally that meeting was to be a soup dinner for 10 at my house, but the time and place got changed because of a funeral; it was a big relief for me, because as soon as December arrived, I couldn’t imagine getting ready for a party at the same time I was getting ready for a trip, which this year is the case: I’m headed to Soldier and Joy’s for Christmas.

At the first part of the funeral, in the evening.

I made split pea soup, and we had a very festive group and evening, eating fish chowder, pumpkin soup and lentil tomato soups as well — plus accompaniments. Of course, cookies and vegan brownies, too! I don’t think I mentioned before what books we have been reading this time. They were Strength in Weakness by Archbishop Irenei Steenberg, and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I’d been wanting to gather my thoughts on The Secret Garden for about five years, so this was the impetus I needed to buckle down. I’ll share more about my resulting amateur analysis in the new year.

By Julia Morgan

Thursday I attended a tea party of about a dozen ladies and girls, several of whom I was meeting for the first time. Many of them are very accomplished, cultured and educated, and there was lots of fascinating conversation about our personal histories, world events, information about our local towns and the architecture of particular houses that were built by a relation of the woman sitting next to me. She was the only one there who is older than I, and she has been involved in our town’s history from way back, and continuing.

It was while this talk was flowing around me that the name of Julia Morgan, architect, made me pay closer attention; a bit more information about the time frame in which she worked, and I began to wonder if my grandfather was one of the contractors that she worked with in the San Francisco Bay Area; she designed more than 700 houses in California. I will be doing more research on that, but in the meantime I show you these photos of the Berkeley City Women’s Club building, in which my grandmother (on the other side of the family) was very active, and where she took us swimming when we visited her. That building has been called a “little Hearst Castle,” referring to the real (huge) Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, the estate that Morgan designed with William Randolph Hearst.

Since the tea party I have switched gears and stayed home, slowly working on wrapping presents, packing bags and organizing my thoughts in preparation for my departure. One by one little things that need to be done come to mind and I do them, or write them down. It is not very systematic, and the whole process seems to require frequent attention to everyday tasks like building the fire and tending the frozen fountain. I guess it’s because I’m not systematic that I require banks of time for the creative flow to happen. As I am fond of quoting G.K. Chesterton:

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind
that makes me unaware of everything else.”

Even things I’ve been procrastinating on for months must be put off no longer, whether or not they have anything to do with the trip — like making a phone call. My daughter Kate says everyone does the same at the end of the year, finally sending in reports or contacting loved ones, I guess because they don’t want to come back from Christmas break with “old business,” whether it’s work or family related, dutiful or joyful.

Now that I’ve procrastinated enough to get another unnecessary thing done, the writing of this post, I will have to hustle a little bit and fold the clothes I laundered, to figure out what to take with me. Before I know it, these in-between days will have ended and I’ll be boarding an airplane and on my way to a happy reunion with several of my dear family. I hope that on Christmas Eve we will sing “Stille Nacht.”

Plums and logs and good intentions.

Originally I’d wanted to use my own and other local plums to make this cobbler recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and I wanted to take it to a party that mutual friends hosted, for my friend David’s name day a couple of months ago. Time did not permit, so I thought for at least a minute that night about doing it for his birthday instead, which I knew wasn’t too far off. But so many thoughts like that, representing good intentions, get lost forever in the chaotic ocean of my mind. And I didn’t know his exact birthday.

Last week when David agreed to stack my firewood, the idea of baking him something by way of a thank-you gift did not even occur to me. I was not operating in my preferred realm of the kitchen and the hearth united, but was thinking of a dozen householder tasks needing done, the sort I can’t confidently do anymore. So when David arrived, I had a couple more jobs for him before he could even start the real work.

The day before the wood-stacking event, I saw a picture on Elizabeth’s blog that puzzled me; it seemed to be a dessert. I asked her about it in a comment, and she responded right away telling me that it was a plum cake that she has made before. That formed a link in my mind to the remainder of a large package of plums from Costco sitting on my kitchen counter. I saw her reply the next morning and tracked the recipe down to the New York Times. And I realized that I had the exact number of plums I needed to make the cake. Only then did it occur to me that I could give it to David; he wasn’t coming until the late afternoon, so I had time to bake it.

To the recipe as given I added some sliced almonds and a little almond extract, and used 3/4 cup of sugar. Elizabeth told me she uses only 1/2 cup. Mine was a 10-inch springform pan and the recipe called for 9-inch; I think the resulting shallowness made the cake want to fall apart when I was transferring it to a plate.

David came, he worked and worked, and was dripping with sweat by the time the job was done. Because of the way that my utility yard is crowded right now, he had to make two tallish stacks.

He took the cake home, after telling me that it was his birthday!
Many Years, David! And many logs!

I hear the doors clicking shut.

This morning I attended the memorial service for a dear woman whom I met on our first day in this county in which I still live. For some years our husbands were in leadership together in church, and in spite of a notable age difference we couples remained good friends for the whole 49 years leading up to now, when neither couple remains as a couple earthbound.

We used to make these friendship quilts.

Many of the people whom I saw today, I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years, back when we were in the same homeschooling community. In some cases, it took a few seconds for us to recognize each other’s faces that were so familiar, though mysteriously strange at the same time.

As I was driving to the event I began to feel the weight of the accumulation of changes among all of us, especially the losses. After decades of living, we have racked up disappointments, heartaches and traumas. The days we lived back then, whether happy or sad, are not to be lived again. The “loss” of my friend Martha seemed to my melancholic mind a sort of culmination.

But once I arrived it was impossible to retain that melancholy; Martha’s love for God and for us continues to encourage us. Everyone I talked to knows “that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Even the ones among us for whom heartaches are fresh and ongoing spoke of this truth, and of the increases in grace and mercies they have known, and of their Blessed Hope. The last hymn we sang together was “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Friends from back then who are grandparents now.

It’s only been two years since I first posted the poem below, but I wanted it again today. Of course Martha is not a loss. She is one of whom Christ said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” And as for those heartaches, etc. — it’s not over till it’s over.

EVERNESS

One thing does not exist: Oblivion.
God saves the metal and he saves the dross.
And his prophetic memory guards from loss
The moons to come, and those of evenings gone.
Everything in the shadows in the glass
Which, in between the day’s two twilights, you
Have scattered by the thousands, or shall strew
Henceforward in the mirrors that you pass.
And everything is part of that diverse
Crystalline memory, the universe;
Whoever through its endless mazes wanders
Hears door on door click shut behind his stride,
And only from the sunset’s farther side
Shall view at last the Archetypes and the Splendors.

-Jorge Luis Borges
translated by Richard Wilbur

Raised by their heat and light.

HE WANTS NOT FRIENDS THAT HATH THY LOVE

He wants not friends that hath thy love,
And may converse and walk with thee
And with thy saints, here and above,
With whom forever I must be.

Within the fellowship of saints
Is wisdom, safety and delight;
And when my heart declines and faints,
It’s raisèd by their heat and light.

As for my friends, they are not lost:
The several vessels of thy fleet
Though parted now, by tempests tossed,
Shall safely in the haven meet.

We still are centred all in thee,
Though distant, members of one Head;
Within one family we be,
And by one faith and spirit led.

Before thy throne we daily meet
As joint-petitioners to thee;
In spirit each the other greet,
And shall again each other see.

The heavenly hosts, world without end,
Shall be my company above;
And thou, my best and surest Friend,
Who shall divide me from thy love?

-Richard Baxter 1615-1691