This day being the Church New Year, it seems good to imagine ourselves as pilgrims setting off across an ocean of calendar days stretching away in the distance far out of sight. Each date is a commemoration of people and events that still impart God’s love and providence to us, “whatever storms or floods are threatening.” Each rotation of the sun is a reference point on our life’s journey, and I’m glad for the chance to be in church on this feast of the First One; our parish will be singing the hymn of thanksgiving, “Glory to God for All Things.”
Roger and Izzy had to leave early morning to catch a flight in Los Angeles this afternoon. When you are traveling with a toddler you need to give extra time for stopping proactively at places like parks, and time for unexpected events of various sorts. We mostly said our good-byes to them last night. So they weren’t there at breakfast when the remaining six of us gathered for the last time.
During the months that I’ve looked forward to this family time at the cabin, my mind has been buzzing with ideas of things I’d like to say, topics I wanted to discuss with my college-age grandchildren while we were together day in and day out. I didn’t really trust those ideas, because I’m not the kind of person who brings up topics for discussion! The phrase “some spiritual gift” vaguely expressed what I wanted to give in person, separate from my ongoing prayers for them.
As the week went on, the fantasy faded, and I just enjoyed them immensely, and loved listening to them and being with them. We got to know each other a little better. Philosopher’s girlfriend C. I had never met before; I quickly fell in love with her.
This morning I discovered that the new prayer book from St. Tikhon’s Monastery includes the “Akathist Hymn of Thanksgiving: Glory to God for All Things.” As I read this prayer alone on the deck, it dawned on me that sharing it might be a kind of “spiritual gift.” After Nate blessed the food, and everyone was beginning to eat, I read several portions, beginning with these:
“I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now, Your love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity. From birth until now the generous gifts of Your Providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You, who call upon Your Name.”
“O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest. Breeze full of scents — mountains reaching to the skies — waters like a boundless mirror, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of Your tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love. Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last forever in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, rings out the cry: Alleluia!”
This thankful spirit was expressed by the three teenagers who wrote in the cabin guest book before they left for home. Excerpts:
“The cabin is such a sweet place to simply be, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do that with so many people that I love.”
“I’ve never seen so many stars so clearly, nor have I been able to see the Milky Way. The Sierras are a wonderful place to be! …This time being up here, I could really take in the smell of the pines, marvel at the granite domes as the sun sets on them, enjoy the clear blue water of the lake, the cool nights and breezy evenings… and enjoy being out in the less-altered land of the beautiful world God gave us….”
“There is so much peace at this cabin to the point where it feels like an oasis. When I figured out that there was no service at the cabin I was nervous. I quickly realized, though, that having no connection to the rest of the world is part of what makes this place so special.”
“You have brought me into life as if into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavor and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on your earth. It is a pleasure to be your guest.”
“I see Your heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious You are, radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side: Your right arm guides me wherever I go.”
If you look closely at the railing in the second photo from the top of this post, you might be able to see the green fencing that has been installed over it, for the protection of little ones and the peace of mind of their elders. Lora could freely run around in and out of the cabin at will, and she did. I held her up above the railing so she could throw seeds down to the chipmunks that scurry around under the deck.
There have been lots of changes and improvements at the cabin since the last time I was here, including a new generator to replace the WWII veteran, and a new propane stove. The old one I think was the original stove installed in the cabin when it was built in the 1950’s. The thermostat was broken, the burners often had to be lit with a match, and the oven door would fall on your feet if you didn’t hold it up when looking inside.
Pearl made good use of it all week to make fabulous meals including shakshouka, a dish I’d never heard of. She had eaten it in Israel, and brought all the ingredients up to the cabin to try making it herself for the first time. We ate it for breakfast, including pita bread she made from scratch that morning.
And “the kids” made dinner twice. An addictive dish Izzy contributed was rice cooked with butter, lime, and cilantro. This experience of having other people cooking for me every day was pretty wonderful!
Last night Nate and Philosopher were gone fishing for a few hours, and they came back with six rainbow trout. This made Lora extra happy and she hugged herself again. The trout were featured at breakfast this morning while we contemplated God’s providence.
On this departure day of my family, a huge blessing has been bestowed on me in the clarity that this prayer hymn provides about spiritual gifts. I felt and experienced and learned again what I had somewhat forgot, that the most precious gift we can give each other, out of that abundance that has been given to us, is LOVE.
“Glory to You, ceaselessly watching over me. Glory to You for the encounters You arrange for me. Glory to You for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends. Glory to You for the humbleness of animals which serve me. Glory to You for the unforgettable moments of life. Glory to You for the heart’s innocent joy. Glory to You for the joy of living, moving, and being able to return Your love. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.”
(If you squint, you might see me walking in the middle of the picture.
Izzy took the shot on her way up Gumdrop.)
The highlight of our Thanksgiving season was a visit from Kate and family, including that baby I met back in January, who came from India this month for various family get-togethers and his baptism. Glory to God!
He and Kate and Tom did land first in Colorado to meet our newly relocated clan family, a few days after I’d come back here. So I wasn’t present when Raj encountered snow.
Two days after my return, my part of the state was inundated with smoke and ash from the Butte County Camp Fire far to the north, and the day of Raj’s baptism far to the south I was not physically present. My friend and I were here in what looked for a few days like a thrift store, organizing donations to the fire victims. Myriah did not lose her house, but she did certainly lose her home.
As soon as Myriah drove on to the disaster area with lots of sweaters and socks and new coats, the Glad Group began trickling in, starting with Pearl’s family from Wisconsin and San Diego, and continuing with Raj and his parents, then Pippin’s people from northern California. Everyone wanted to meet Raj! And of course, to see his parents whom they’d been missing for a year and a half.
Until Wednesday, the smoky and cold air had continued to hang over our county oppressively. Then RAIN, glorious and cleansing, fell from the skies, and overnight the Air Quality Index fell from the 160’s (similar to what I experienced in Mumbai last winter) to below 20. All day Pearl and I baked pies, and yams in orange sauce, and prepped the turkey dressing. With the rain came milder temperatures overall, so we had to leave the door and windows open at times to vent all the oven and stovetop heat, and for two days we had the comforting background music of steady pattering and drumming. Pearl took lambs’ ears and dodonea from my garden to add to spider mums from Costco and created table decorations for the feast.
I had braved the smoke one day, wanting so much to get Pippin apples for pies, and drove a half hour to our favorite apple ranch where they still had stock of four varieties. I brought home Pippins, Romes, and Pink Ladies. It is still a sadly nostalgic thing for me to go there alone, but I am trying to embrace the joy of having such a rare and wonderful farm to go to, where I can find two or three dozen different varieties of apples over the course of the season. It makes me want to embrace and cherish apples more actively, too!
I looked and looked online to find a recipe for pumpkin-chocolate-chip muffins, the hankering for which had come over me when thinking of how to get ready for my crowd. I discovered just in time that I had my own “best” recipe right here on my blog. It made a generous batch, enough for everyone to enjoy while waiting for the primary offerings of the feast.
When the rain stopped briefly we looked at the newly-washed and radiant garden, and breathed in those scents that are like an autumn feast in themselves. A whole flock of bluebirds visited the fountain for baths and we wondered if they were washing off soot. My fava beans that sprouted when I was in Colorado are doing great. I cut a butternut squash down from the trellis to roast for soup, and Ivy found giant fruits on the arbutus (Strawberry Tree).
After everyone had arrived, the “usual” fun began. This time, I think the unique circumstances of my recent sojourn in Colorado, followed by the fire and smoke, followed by the rain that kept me from walking, all contributed to lack of sleep, so that I felt alternately flat and in a hole — maybe in a flat-bottomed hole? — for days. But I did manage to take a few pictures, so now in recovery I have the vision to see them as a cohesive expression of a moment in our Glad cultural history.
The Usual included wrestling and snuggling and staying-up-too-late-talking with brothers, daughters, aunts and uncles, and all the assorted kinfolk that one only sees once or twice a year anymore. Oh, it is hard being scattered over the continent and globe!
I didn’t have it in me to go with everyone to San Francisco, the aquarium etc. at the Academy of Sciences on Saturday, and to Fort Point, so the smiling picture of Raj I also stole. But Sunday after church Kate’s and Pippin’s families and I did go to the redwoods! It was a dreamy time to go, almost winter and after several steady downpours had removed every trace of dust from the big trees, and both Pippin and the Professor helped me in my ongoing botanical studies.
I learned that the lichens that hang from the trees like tresses are lichen fruticose, and that the needles in the tops of the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) resemble those of their cousins the giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that grow naturally in the Sierra Nevada. Big leaf maple and hazelnut trees made splashes of light and color in the groves that were dark in midday, the close canopy blocking the light from way up there. We made little impact on the deep quiet of the woods, strolling on the duffy paths — but that atmosphere was broken by a big crash and boom, the sound of a tree falling somewhere in the park. If everything hadn’t been thoroughly wet, we’d surely have seen some dust raised by that event.
When Raj was carried into my house last week and met the third or fourth new crowd of relatives in a fortnight, he did respond to my face and voice with a sweet smile. Perhaps the FaceTime sessions truly did help him to remember my voice, adding to whatever deeper memories were embedded from those newborn lullaby sessions with me nine months ago.
Now Pearl’s and Pippin’s families have departed, but Tom, Kate, and Baby Raj will be with me for a few more special days. A good rest and a forest walk have perked me up quite a bit, so I have hope of making the most of the rest of this week and entering into the joyful work and celebrations ahead.
I will close with a few lines [surprised to see that out of all the many stanzas we used, I chose the same lines three years ago to share here] from the “Akathist of Thanksgiving” that we read together on Thanksgiving evening, and which express my mood right now:
I was born a weak, defenseless child,
but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me.
From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path,
and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity;
from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence
have been marvelously showered upon me.
I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee,
who call upon Thy name.
Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise.
We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue,
where in the azure heights the birds are singing.
We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest
and the melodious music of the streams.
We have tasted fruit of vine and the sweet-scented honey.
We can live very well on Thine earth.
It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.
The air above the beach was cold and still Saturday afternoon when I drove over with a collection of family members for a picnic and a stroll. Our shadows were long, because in the morning I’d kept everyone busy doing repairs and assembly and various other jobs for me. It’s not often one has two handy and willing sons-in-law on the property at once, not to mention their wives whose presence holds me up in every practical way.
But get away we did, and the first order of business on arrival at the coast was to eat our late lunch of sandwiches and Jelly Bellies, on this promontory along the Kortum Trail in Sonoma County.
About seven bodies were squeezed on to a little picnic cloth, so I sat nearby on something passing for a tussock and examined the tiny vegetation around me, plants that get walked on frequently, and have to make do with fog for precipitation these days. Their roots must be even sturdier than their micro leaves.
Thin blue sky, the open and fresh air, wide sweeps of dry grasses and bushes leading up to the hills and down to creek beds….the children scrambling on rocks and cliffs, a centipede in the path, the gorgeous ocean….We walked along the bluffs trail for a while, then returned the same way, and even little Ivy didn’t need to be carried, though she often liked to walk along with me and hold my hand. In her aqua fleece (as at top) she makes a bright spot against the grey-brown landscape in many of my pictures.
Before we got back to our cars, the sun had set.
I used my camera liberally all day, then came home to discover that my lens had a smudge on it, smack dab in the middle where I focused most of my shots. I’ve done a bit of cropping, but that doesn’t always work, so I am sharing some of the smudged pictures anyway. If you see something fuzzy just pretend it is an unseasonable wisp of fog.
Yes, we had gathered for Thanksgiving and this was the overflow. It was the happiest of long weekends, stretching out for me from Wednesday through Sunday, with Kate and Tom coming from D.C. first, and most of the other children and their families gathering for at least the day at Pearl’s new place in Davis. She hosted 22 people for a fine dinner. Kit was with us, and two other extra guests on top of the kinfolk.
Her tables were beautiful, with fresh lemons and limes from the garden, and the lemon tree shining through the window, too.
Before we sat down to dinner Soldier and I stood and read alternate stanzas for the group, selected from the Orthodox hymn of thanksgiving, “Glory to God for All Things.” It made me very happy to read verses like the following with my friends and family who are all of this mind and heart:
I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.
Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.
Another highlight of the holiday was gathering in the living room after dinner to talk about the dear person who was missing this year, and share stories about him, stories from his sister, his children and their spouses, and from me. This was my idea, because I knew that many of us would be acutely aware of his absence, and it seemed only right and helpful to bring that part of us into the open — I think I’m not the only one who is comforted by hearing other people talk about my husband.
One of my stories was about the apple pies I had baked this Thanksgiving. After we married, it was probably in the 70’s that I made my first pies, for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Early on my husband had told me about how his grandmother, just before she put her fruit pies in the oven, would sprinkle sugar on the tops. So I did it as well, always, and he liked that I kept the tradition.
Last Wednesday I had been running all day, cooking and greeting guests and making gardening decisions. The pies were the last thing to get done, and by the time I was assembling them everyone else in the household had gone up to bed. When I came to that last step, it crossed my mind that the sugary finish didn’t matter now, he wouldn’t be eating the pies. Maybe I shouldn’t bother.
But it only took a split second for me to know that I did want to bother, for his memory and for him. “This is for you, Mr. Glad,” I said, as I brushed on some water, and then scattered sugar from a spoon. When we bit into them the next afternoon we found them to be really good pies. They were a bit lopsided with drooping crusts, but that is also traditional with me.
From Wednesday to Sunday I got help with a slew of household tasks — or more precisely, my family completed these tasks without any help from me! Some of the work that was done:
Watering new plants.
Assembling quilt rack.
Assembling a floor lamp.
Hanging mini LED light strings.
Rearranging bedroom wall decor.
Troubleshooting my laptop, desktop, phone, and Kindle — yes, all of them!
Drilling 2-inch holes in half barrels for strawberry plants, then moving dirt and filling the barrels.
Repairing the curtain rod in the playhouse.
Fixing a door latch.
I’m sure I’ve ungratefully forgotten to list just as many other tasks that they did. In recent weeks friends and family have accomplished many more jobs that could fill out a very long list, too.
Other satisfying recreational and/or heartwarming and bonding activities we enjoyed:
Six women cleaning up the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner – so much fun and togetherness!
Ten people sleeping in my house for a couple of nights, and children’s happy voices.
Introducing Scout and Ivy to the playhouse. Ivy was overheard saying, “Grandma built this playhouse just for me!”
Pulling the children up and down the street in the new cart, because the back yard paths aren’t ready yet for the kids to play with it there.
Cooking more meals together, and picnicking on the bluffs at the coast. I made another batch of sticky rice and Kit whipped together a rice snowman to delight us and to decorate the table.
Reading before sleep with Maggie beside me in the bed, each of us engrossed in her own book.
Playing dead bugs: When I reminded Kate and Pippin how to do the dead bug position for back health, I demonstrated with my calves resting on the couch. ( I just learned by way of images that no one else does it this way.) Soon the children joined in and lined up next to the grownups. Ivy couldn’t do it properly that way because her legs just stood straight up with knees locked against the front of the couch.
Playing the spoons, with inspiration from Deb “Spoons” Perry. The children continued with the spoons into the next day, and Scout almost took a pair of my best teaspoons home with him.
Clapping: Kit taught us the cups-and-clapping game, which was very satisfying to play or merely to observe. I could have watched all night. The little children were mesmerized by the cups game, but found it far easier to keep clapping their spoons together trying to keep time.
My favorite video that inspired us that evening doesn’t even have cups. It is a clapping song that was very satisfying to me because the message of its lyrics seemed to sum up the net positivity of my first Thanksgiving as a widow. The celebrations were both harder and easier than I expected. If you watched the YouTube video I linked to above you’ve already heard the words, in their upbeat musical context, but here they are plain for posterity.
I’ll think of you as I go, so when I leave, you’re not alone;
and no matter where we are, we will never be that far
‘cuz I will think of you as I go.
I’ll think of you as I dream,
so when it’s dark, you’ll be with me,
and no matter where we are, we can look up to the stars
and I will think of you as I dream.
I’ll think of you when I’m down,
when my heart is on the ground;
and I will never lose my way even when the skies are gray,
‘cuz I will think of you when I’m down.
(refrain) O it’s a long and winding road, but you don’t have to walk alone,
‘cuz no matter where we are, I will keep you in my heart
and I will think of you as I go.