Category Archives: work

We’ll make fire our business.

This morning Liam and I squeezed in one game of Bananagrams, while his parents were making the rounds of all the rooms to find stray items not to leave behind. The grandchildren also stuffed their backpacks, and found space for last-minute offerings I made: their choice of a matchbox car and a book from my toy area/children’s library.

Liam chose one of the two remaining Sugar Creek Gang paperbacks, and Laddie combed through shelves and baskets looking for the hardcover Velveteen Rabbit, which he and I had enjoyed together last week; he finally did locate it. Brodie debated between The Little Fur Family and another book about a small animal, but after I encouraged him to take the classic, he happily went home with that superior and more traditional story. Clara finally settled on The Fox Jumped Up One Winter’s Night, after which you could hear young and old voices singing the story upstairs and down as she packed it into her bag.

Having watched Clara managing all the stuffies and several baby dolls over the last ten days, I was pretty sure she might like to take one home. I offered her the bear she had named Gingerbread. Their relationship hadn’t started well: she showed him to me twice early on and told me that he was “mean.” Laddie thought she might have had that response because of the placement of his eyes, closer together than other bears we compared him to. A few days ago he and I decided to put a blue ribbon around Gingerbread’s neck, and after that he became a favorite of Clara.

She was overjoyed when I told her she might take him home and keep him.

This afternoon my dear children departed for their home in Colorado, leaving the house strangely quiet and a little sad. I ate lunch and took a walk. The air was crisp and cold, and I began to cheer up right away. But maybe I was wearing the “wrong” shoes, because my feet began to hurt, and I returned home.

Soldier and Joy and the two older kids had been organizing, tidying and cleaning since yesterday, and before they left they got the dishwasher running — and the bathroom floors cleaned! There was nothing urgent for me to do, so I relaxed and caught up on blog-reading, as the furnace blew noisily trying to heat up this barn of a space. The idea of building a fire did cross my mind, and then it doubled back and crossed by again…

But I was beginning to feel the delayed fatigue of the last two weeks, and I didn’t want to pay attention to that thought. Until I read on an unfamiliar blog:

If the world is cold, make it your business to build fires.
~Horace Traubel

Ha! Well, okay. I left this frigid computer corner to bring in a few logs, and as I spied the stack of kindling next to the stove, I recalled the time last week when I was surprised to find Liam all by himself in the garage, splitting sticks with the little hatchet, a big pile accumulating in front of him. I will be appreciating his efforts for a while to come.

Now it’s nearly my bedtime, and I have got the house cozied up. I’m thinking of lots of little ways that multitudes of people around me have been making it their business to “build fires.” It might just be sparks of kindness here and there, seemingly timid flames and ineffective; but so easily they can ignite a bonfire that will warm a whole village, and lessen the gloom of winter. Here’s to love!

My birthwort is modest.

I’m plant-sitting for a friend who is between lodgings, and one of the specimens in my charge is a pot of healthy nettles. The owner told me to be sure to snip and eat the leaves frequently, because she (the plant) likes that.

Yesterday I stayed home all day, and accomplished a lot of little tasks, including much puttering and pottering outdoors. Though at first I just sat in my corner by the guava and the olive trees, while eating a late breakfast, because the whole Creation had pulled me out of the chilly house into the garden to soak up its benefactions and warm my blood.

We have entered the season when I leave the garden hoses lying around untidily; it adds “human interest” I’m sure. All the lightweight collapsible hoses I invested in got leaks, and I have gone back to heavy and sturdy hoses that last. They are good for strengthening my arms, which is something Proverbs 31 tells us women to do anyway. The bushes with the new leaves that glow like the sun are dwarf pomegranates.

Nutmeg-scented pelargonium in greenhouse.

The day before yesterday, I had told myself, “You only have to do one thing after another — and keep doing it — and in that way you will make a dent in the disorderliness that represents a disheartening backlog of work. Even a little improvement will ease your load!” Of course it helped that I ran no errands at all and in that way avoided having any of those transition times coming and going, which seem to confuse my mind.

First thing: feed the poor lemon tree. I was taught not long ago that it wants feeding four times a year, and after I fed it only two times last year it gave me a good crop. Then I “paused,” and don’t know when it got its last feeding. Now I have set an alarm in my phone to remind me. After the feeding, I gave it a little trim, mostly on top. The photo is “After.”

Near the lemon tree is my little California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica, which I mentioned here recently. It is growing a lot and has several flowers and many new leaves. I read quite a bit about it last night and learned that it is native only to Northern California. It’s very modest compared to showier species of Dutchman’s Pipe, but it is exotic enough to me. I kept wondering what the flowers would look like when they open, but it appears that this is it! If you think it looks carnivorous, you are not alone; in the past people did think that, but it seems they trap but don’t eat:

“The flowers have an unpleasant odor which is attractive to tiny carrion-feeding insects. The insects crawl into the convoluted flowers and often become stuck and disoriented for some time, picking up pollen as they wander. Most eventually escape; the plant is not insectivorous as was once thought. Fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae) may prove to be the effective pollinators.”

They call this “pollination by deceit.” The flowers dry up and crumble and thereby let the insects out to do their bidding. There are over 500 species of Dutchman’s Pipe, known as birthwort, or Aristolochia. Equally exotic and gorgeous butterflies lay their eggs on pipevines all over the world. Do you have any growing wild in your part of the world? Here are some from Sumatra and Brazil:

The flowers are known to have a bad smell, but mine are few and hard to get at, so there is not enough scent for me to notice. It dawned on me that if a Pipevine Swallowtail laid eggs on my plant, and caterpillars hatched out and began eating, they would die of starvation very soon, and I would be sad about that. And if my plant gets so robust that it covers the fence and draws lots of butterflies because its many flowers are exuding stinkiness… well, that would be a mixed blessing. I guess I’ll just wait and see what happens.

Perennial Showy Milkweed coming up.
Yellow Bush Lupine background, lavender at right.

In the meantime, I took a whiff of these geraniums who are also in my temporary nursery section; they only smell delicious. For dinner I cooked up a modest mess of nettle leaves.

Where modesty was never meant to be.

Chesterton in Brighton, 1935

“Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason…

“The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy