Category Archives: friends

Busy being alive.

It was a drippy and drizzly morning when I drove to the post office to ship Christmas presents to a few of my family. I thought there would be a long line, so I gave myself plenty of time, because I wanted to go directly from there to the cemetery in time to pray with a friend at her husband’s interment.

But few people were at the post office, and three workers, so I finished that business and was out the door with time to spare. Before I got my car door open a man with a long and full beard said, “Hi, Gretchen!” but I didn’t recognize him behind his face mask. Actually, I wouldn’t have known him without the face mask, because I hadn’t seen him in six years, and never with such facial hair. I had to ask, “Who are you?” and as soon as he told me his name I gave him a big hug and a kiss. Mike doesn’t live in my town, but the last time we’d met was in the same shopping center, the year in which we both lost our spouses. Back then we weren’t in the talking mood, but this time we stood in front of the post office and caught up for half an hour. He told me that recently he has fallen in love — with the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom! What a joyous meeting we had.

I had another visit with friends yesterday, for which I made a big pot of chili beans; this afternoon a little tea time with a sister from church when I got back from the cemetery; and last week, a walk with two friends. It’s still fall here, but the colors are all turning to browns and grays, so I was surprised to see this mushroom, the brightest I’ve ever encountered. It was one of several of its kind popping up under bushes.

Some of my family are expected to arrive next week for a nice long Christmas visit. I need to hire a Christmas elf assistant, to help me accomplish all my projects — but that doesn’t sound likely, so I cheerily push one thing after another on to the list of what we can do together, after they arrive.

And for this month, our church women’s reading group has picked a great pair of books: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. I am just amazed at us! Last month when Pippin’s family was down for Thanksgiving, the Professor and I were sitting around chatting about church history and doctrine, and he shared with me a paragraph from the first chapter of On the Incarnation. My response was that it was crystalline. That’s probably the first time I ever used that word, which just popped into my mind — that’s what Athanasius will do! And I told the Professor that since I was soon to start reading the book again, I would be sure to post that passage on my blog.

Beginning to read St. Athanasius again has been soothing and encouraging. I got the idea of posting a series of excerpts this month of Advent, when we anticipate The Incarnation. But as I looked over my past blog posts to make sure I didn’t repeat myself too much, I discovered that I have already posted that very paragraph the Professor read to me, plus many more long and short quotes. Maybe I will find something different, but not likely a series.

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos. I’m looking forward to attending Liturgy for the feast. I feel very happy at the moment, thinking about it. The world is full of trouble and strife and unknowns, questions about what governments will do, and what I should do. But for at least many hours of every day, I know what to do, and I do it — one thing after another. My mind gets distracted constantly, but often when I bring it back to here and now, a great gush of joy falls on me, knowing that I am alive.

Savoring the togetherness.

Deer on a coastal rock.

I hope you have people to love, and those who love you. Every conversation with a neighbor or hug from a grandchild feels more precious to me as the days go by; before November winds all the way down I want to share a few scenes and moments that have been to me infusions of grace and joy in the midst of “interesting times” in the world.

It was almost a month ago that my neighbor Kim had a dinner party for several couples and one widow (yours truly) on our block. It was a very restorative and healing time, I think for all of us. Several of these people I had hardly seen for two years, though they live just a few doors down. Half of them had known my late husband.

After we were seated around a long dining table, our host gave a surprising toast to “The first of many more post-covid neighborhood parties!” All cups were raised, and the general tone of the ensuing comments, and the whole evening, was of holding on to our humanity and neighborliness as much as possible, no matter what comes. No one went home early that night; we sat around the gas firepit, or stood in the kitchen, chatting and sipping and savoring the togetherness, acting out the toast for a few blessed hours.

Closer to Thanksgiving, I returned to the beach with a former housemate who accompanied me three years ago just before she moved to New York. Our time there was refreshing and sweet; instead of the scores of seals we’d seen that time, gulls by the hundreds were swooping and gliding back and forth where a river empties into the sea.

We watched them, and the waves, while sitting on a log. When it was time to go, we climbed up a sand dune and tromped back to the parking lot, weaving through clumps of grass in our bare feet.

A few days later, who should arrive but my dear daughter Pippin and her family. They came in stages; when only three of them had got here, we went for a walk in the hills. It was the first time I’d been with Pippin in that particular park since the day Jamie was born, lo these many years ago, the  day after my husband’s funeral. So Jamie had been along, too, and maybe the jostling of that walk in springtime had prompted him to start his journey into the outer world.

This day, he was climbing trees with Ivy. First they climbed a Valley Oak, then a Buckeye (horse chestnut), and finally a Bay (Laurel) tree. Pippin joined them up in the bay.

We noticed many little trees and shrubs that were fenced in by wire cylinders, presumably against nibbling by deer. From a sign, here is a list of species that have been planted in the last ten years:

Later we worked on pies for our feast, and the children had the idea of making gluten-free pie-crust cookies for Uncle Steve, for whose sake Pippin was making such a dough for a pumpkin pie. I assembled the fourth version of my famous Grapefruit Gelatin Salad, which after ten years I am still refining to accommodate the changing ingredients available in the stores, and the loss of my favorite, odd-sized dish I always used for it. I’ll pass the recipe along when I fix it so that it fits in one 9×12 pan.

Our long weekend was very full, starting with Divine Liturgy on Thanksgiving morning, and including two (food) feasts, the little hike; and a busy afternoon, when Pippin and the Professor helped me to sort through old camping equipment, put hardware cloth over my planter boxes where the birds have been pecking, and hang fairy lights in the living room.

This little report covers only a small fraction of the loving friends and family who have made me feel the solace of God and the blessedness of the world. I reconnected with old friends and drank tea with many others. It has been a good month in important ways. May God keep our hearts during the next one and bring us with joy to the Feast of the Nativity of Christ.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” I John 4

Mostly agricultural and culinary.

My parish has a team of bakers who prepare not only the loaves that eventually go into the cup of Holy Communion, but two other forms used in other ways in the services. There are several people who take turns making the dough in the church kitchen early in the morning on baking days, and different people who finish the process, shaping, baking, bagging and finally storing the loaves in a freezer. These top two pictures are of some exemplary loaves we’ve made recently.

This morning I was on the baking team, and when I turned the dough out of its big stainless steel bowl and began to handle it, right away it seemed to me that it had already been kneaded too much. Those of you who make bread know that kneading develops the gluten and makes the dough stretchy; but did you know that if you go on working the dough too long, the molecules of gluten get damaged, and there is no repairing them? The dough begins to tear instead of stretching, and the resulting loaves do not look smooth but rather lumpy.

I don’t recall how the texture of the baked bread is affected by this problem. I read that the loaves will be heavy and dense, but my finished loaves didn’t seem to be much smaller than usual; we don’t sample them, but we can get reports from the priest as to the quality when he cuts it in the altar, and I will be sure to do that next week.

When I was finished with baking for the morning, it was lunchtime, and I stayed on the property to eat the food I had brought to sustain me during the afternoon when I needed to run several more errands. The air was cool and still; I sat at a table in the garden and read the story of St. Gabriel of Georgia who was commemorated today.

I admired the layout of the fruit trees and ground cover that have replaced the lawn. Roses and other flowers had been drizzled on for a few days and were sparkly, especially when the sun came out from behind the clouds, just as I was leaving.

Two of my afternoon stops were at friends’ houses. First my godmother, who with her husband plants a huge garden every year, and they wanted to share their harvest of pie pumpkins, since I didn’t manage to get any from my own garden this year. If it hadn’t been so muddy from the heavy rains we got, I’d have wanted to walk up and down the rows there, because I know it smelled good; instead, I stood gazing out over the landscape of soggy tomatoes fallen from their vines, spied the remains of the pumpkin patch in the distance (all the fruits had been removed), and passed through a field of tiny green blades of freesia sprouts.

From there, I drove west to where my friends Mr. and Mrs. Bread live and keep a charming homestead that my late husband used to say evoked a French country garden. Mrs. Bread and I have traded many plants over the years, sometimes things that we have grown or propagated ourselves. Lately she has grown apricot trees from pits, and she gave me one of those, and a Meyer lemon tree she started!

I feel lucky that the trees do not need to go into the ground soon, though one of them might benefit from a larger pot. The fact is, it will be a squeeze to fit them in here, but I know I can do it if I have a year to figure out the puzzle challenge. I’ll have to show you a picture of my new little trees later; it’s dark now, and my day is coming to an end. It was a little bit of commercial, but that was of relatively little interest. The agricultural and culinary aspects of the day were the fun and satisfying parts — and I was glad for the hagiographical introduction to Fool-for-Christ Gabriel, too. Glory to God for all things!

San Diego flowers and freeways.

It’s been a week since I departed on my trip, which took me first to my childhood home and family that I wrote about in my last post. After a very full day there, I drove to the San Diego Airport, where I fetched Annie. She and I spent the night slightly inland, where the most temperate marine breezes blew through the windows that our hosts like to leave open as much as possible. We were wined and dined along with other guests including their daughter whose birthday it was. We slept like logs.

San Diego freeways had a good reputation in my mind, even before I drove them a bit six years ago with my husband. When I’m whipping along where frequently there are four to six lanes — sometimes seven! — in each direction, and merging and exiting and noticing other freeways crossing above and below, it seems that much of the land must be covered with them by now. But no, it’s a large county, and there is lots of the sunniest part of California territory still left to walk on, closer to the earth and at a more human and humane pace.

Our first full day we drove to my cousins’ place in Vista, even more inland and at least ten degrees hotter. I first saw their property six years ago with my late husband, and was looking forward to the tour that Joe might give us again of all the self-started trees that he calls “bird drops,” and the succulents and cacti that thrive in that climate, like the tree-climbing cactus above that found a post supportive enough.

By late Friday afternoon Annie and I had made a big loop-de-loop, stopping by her great-great grandparents’ graves that I had last visited in 2015, and we ended up at the condo where most of the groom’s (my daughter Pearl’s) family from Washington and Wisconsin were staying. We joined a group weighted strongly to the young: five or six of my grandchildren and their significant others between the ages of 17 and 24. Toddler Lora, my great-granddaughter, was the youngest in the group. I slept in another Airbnb close by — with plumeria near the front door — and hung out with them a lot as we got ready in various ways for the wedding that was Sunday.

That first evening in Encinitas the boys had groomsmen events, and the females gravitated to the beach, which we got to by jaywalking across a busy street, picking our way over the railroad tracks, down through a gate…  then a run across four lanes of the coast highway and on to the path descending to the rocky shore. Dozens of surfers were silhouetted against the setting sun. I was the only one of our group who kept farther back from the edge while I took my views and pictures; the others all had fun getting drenched to some degree by the surf breaking right there. The next morning boys and girls alike were out early to surf and swim.

That was the day that I went south again to meet in person for the first time two long-loved blogging friends. Emily’s large family will soon be moved from Coronado where she has been cultivating a beautiful garden for several years. It was one son’s birthday at her house, too, but no one seemed to think it strange to have a strange grandmother drop in. Emily sent me off with bags full of starts of many of the succulents that grow enthusiastically all around the house and pool. It was delightful and really heartwarming to meet in person six of the family who were just as happy and gracious in the flesh as they appear in the tales and pictures I’ve been enjoying for so long.

Sara lives about a half hour mostly east of Emily, on a hill with a wide view, and the perfect patio and small waterwise garden in which to sit and take it all in; huge jacaranda blooms show in the tops of the trees from their steep hillside below. But first, we went to lunch, and she took me to the water conservation garden nearby. I had inconveniently come in the hottest part of the afternoon, but we wore our sun hats and strolled in a very leisurely way among the paths.

The garden has been there long enough for the Australian trees to grow to great heights. There was a butterfly garden/cage where evidently those creatures weren’t bothered by the heat. I took so many pictures! My heart was overflowing with flowers and plants way too many to process or learn much about, but because I was discovering them in the company of my friend I was content to let them remain a somewhat anonymous backdrop to our time together.

I had wanted to sit for a spell on her own patio, too, which we did, and I got to chat a little with her very kind husband. Sara gave me gifts of printed prayers like this beautifully illustrated one:

After I said good-bye at their door, on my way to my car, it was then that I spied this gardenia, a rare encounter for me, and it immediately seemed the perfect emblem of Sara and her blogger’s voice that is such a refreshingly sweet and reserved one in this noisy world, saying, “Here is beauty: look!”

My grandson Pat got married the next afternoon! His whole family was handsome, and we sang all the verses of “Be Thou My Vision” during the ceremony. The choice of that hymn tells you a lot about the bride and groom. May God bless them!

The day after the wedding was our last day of San Diego freeways, at least for a while. I was driving on them for about three hours before we got out of the county and on our way to my mountain cabin. Daughter Pearl rode with me, which made the day pass very pleasantly, in spite of it consisting mostly of driving, at least half of it on freeways, for twelve hours. But as I write, I am in recovery, and composing the report on this next portion of my outing, the vacation part! First installment coming soon: Summer in the High Sierra…