Tag Archives: beans

Shucking beans with women friends.

I have been so busy with many things inward and outward, and I’ve wanted to write about all of it! Experiences of hiking or reading, or discovering connections between the people I meet on the street and those in my books; learning how the wrong ideas of a thousand years ago have brought us to the society we have today, and about how the small and strong actions of good people likewise have a long trajectory…. When I can’t gather my thoughts about even one part of it, and put them into a tidy or untidy blog post, I remain unsettled and confused at some level. The experience lacks a certain completeness.

Lots of bloggers I know seem to be writing fewer posts lately; I wonder if they feel the way I do. I think that after a period of upheaval or change or busyness, after reading and participating in family or church feast days, or traveling — one needs a time of quiet and retreat when not much is going on, in order to process what happened. But during most of this year, there are new loose ends — discoveries or disasters or directives — every day or even more often. When I start to organize a few thoughts, suddenly another one pops up and throws my mind into disorder again.

But today — maybe I could write about today, its beautiful and specific concrete things especially, with my apologies for those two whole paragraphs above which I devoted to vague intangibles. I shucked beans this afternoon, at the invitation of Cathy, who wanted some company to shell the harvest of what she and her husband had raised this year. He is Mr. Greenjeans whom I’ve mentioned several times, but I don’t think Mrs. Greenjeans is the right name for her.

Anyway, this is exactly the kind of activity, or one of the kinds, that I have been wanting to do more of. It was the perfect opportunity to get some work done and chat at the same time. In order to get us away from the category of current events that cause our heart rates to rise, I told her about two of the books that I have been enjoying lately that are in a category together. Here I want to mention only one of them, Greek to Me, by Mary Norris.

Mary Norris

The first coincidence having to do with that book was this morning when I returned from errands and saw a strange couple walking their dog on the sidewalk opposite my driveway. We got to talking and introduced ourselves from that distance, and they told me the dog’s name was Athena. The man noted that often they remember dog names better than human names, and I said that I would probably remember “Athena,” having just been listening to stories about Greek gods two minutes before.

Aphrodite

Mary Norris’s book is not only about Greek gods. It’s about her love affair with everything Greek, and her study of modern and ancient Greek language. She narrates her own book on Audible, and I do love her voice, both her writer’s voice and her physical voice. I first encountered it listening to her first book, Between You and Me, which she also narrated. She tells very personal and often amusing stories all through, about her Catholic childhood and emancipation and her various adventures in language learning over the decades.

Psychotherapy helped her to deal with childhood trauma, but so did immersing herself in stories of Mount Olympus. One of several pilgrimages culminated in her skinny dipping on Cyprus, off Aphrodite’s Beach, as she believed it to be, in hopes that seemed not entirely self-mocking, that she might become more beautiful in those mythical waters.

As Cathy and I shelled black, cranberry, tan and white beans into bowls, I played a little bit of Mary for her from my phone. Cathy told me fascinating stories of her own months-long stay in Greece way back when, about the time that I also was a wandering baby boomer. But my travels were not so deep or wide. And not in Greece.

Cathy tried to describe the sunlight in that land, in words very similar to those Mary Norris had used in trying to express its unique softness. Mary wrote that she wasn’t sure that she herself was changed by Aphrodite’s waters, but she saw everything from then on as though more clear and sparkling. Both of those women renewed my own desire to travel in Greece; some of you might remember that my late husband and I had booked travel to Crete when he became ill, and we weren’t able to go.

I might not be any more likely to get to Tennessee, but if I do, I want to visit the replica of the Parthenon that is there, which Mary Norris tells about in her book. The story of its statue of Athena, the long process of collecting funds for it, then figuring out what it should look like, details about the sculptor and model and why certain design decisions were made — all of that was fascinating to me. I didn’t know this replica existed, and I haven’t researched anything about it since this morning when it came up near the end of the book. Have any of you seen it? Please tell me what you thought.

There. I’ve managed to tell you about one book, one part of a day, and one fun activity I engaged in, with a few women companions. Yes, there was at least one more at that table with Cathy, Mary and me. She’s part of the story I hope to tell another day.

A bean. A life.

It’s been a long time since my first posting of the poem below. I thought of it this morning when I was sorting my Painted Lady beans. October is the month to clean up all the leftovers of summer plants and visitors. It probably won’t surprise you to know that little boys left dishes in the playhouse sink!

Last week four helpers came for a long session of work, and the youngest of them washed up those dishes; now I can put them where the winter wind won’t drop leaves and dust and rain on them, when it blows through the paneless windows.

They also finished up tasks relating to those runner beans, removing the last of the vines from the trellis, and shelling the beans into a big bowl.

Then it was my turn, to take out the biggest pieces of stem and pod so that the beans could simply be washed when I’m ready to cook them. But no sifter or screen that I could find had the right size holes.

When I was dusting this morning I hit upon the idea of using a microfiber cloth to spread the beans on, thinking it might reach out and grab all of that litter. It worked beautifully. I spread a layer of dirty beans on the cloth, and then moved the beans off, leaving all the detritus behind. The shriveled or undeveloped beans were left with the inedibles.

 

A WOMAN CLEANING LENTILS

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

— Zahrad

There is a book we’ve had for years in our parish bookstore, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. I might even have it in my house by now, but I haven’t read much of it. One might think its message is similar to “The Power of Positive Thinking,” but it’s not. It’s more like what the Apostle Paul said:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

That book is a collection of teachings from Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, such as:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”

“We need repentance. You see, repentance is not only going to a priest and confessing. We must free ourselves from the obsession of thoughts.”

“Freedom belongs to God. When a person is free from the tyranny of thoughts, that is freedom. When he lives in peace, that is freedom. He is always in prayer, he is always expecting help from the Lord—he listens to his conscience and does his best. We must pray with our whole being, work with our whole being, do everything with our whole being. We must also not be at war with anyone and never take any offense to heart.”

Quietly thinking, letting words come to one’s mind, sorting them out — it sounds like a wholesome and meditative activity. But how many pieces worthy only of the garbage might we find in the bowl of a lifetime — or merely a certain calendar year — stones and shriveled things, and who knows what words and whole tirades and laments that might pop into one’s mind?

When they do, it’s better to grab them, to be like a microfiber cloth. Keep only the beautiful, smooth and thankful legumes on which your soul can feast and grow strong. Every lentil can be like a knot on a prayer rope, bringing the sorter closer to her Lord, Who is her Life.

A song and a sermon of beans.

While some of us are still gathering in the harvest, I don’t think it’s too late to post about my garden beans. I have been working on a bean story since last summer, which I thought would be the end of my pole bean career, or at the least, the end of growing my favorite Blue Lakes in two-foot high vegetable boxes; I found myself swaying and tottering as I would stand in the boxes in order to pick them, trying not to stand on the basil plants, and it was unnerving.

So this year, I grew bush beans for the first time ever, but they were terribly disappointing. They had a very short peak of productivity, and instead of the fear of breaking my back falling out of the planting box, I knew the reality of slow backbreaking labor, bending over the jungle where the beans were even harder to find than when strung up on twine. I’m going back to pole beans, and will just have to figure something out to make picking safer.

More recently I harvested the Painted Lady perennial runner beans that I’ve told you about a few times. This year they produced so heavily from the five or six plants in the corners of my boxes, that I have enough to make a pot of soup, and I plan to create a recipe just for them.

In the time of harvest I found that Les Murray wrote a poem about beanstalks. In the title he mentions broad beans, which is one of the names I’ve heard for fava beans, which I also grew this year. However, his description of his beans does not match what I know of favas. It sounds more like regular green bean pole beans. So maybe in Australia they use different words. In any case, he highlights many aspects of this favorite garden vegetable in a joyful and celebratory way.

THE BROAD BEAN SERMON

Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade
without belief, saying trespass against us in unison,
recruits in mint Air Force dacron, with unbuttoned leaves.

Upright with water like men, square in stem-section
they grow to great lengths, drink rain, keel over all ways,
kink down and grow up afresh, with proffered new greenstuff.

Above the cat-and-mouse floor of a thin bean forest
snails hang rapt in their food, ants hurry through several dimensions:
spiders tense and sag like little black flags in their cordage.

Going out to pick beans with the sun high as fence-tops, you find
plenty, and fetch them. An hour or a cloud later
you find shirtfulls more. At every hour of daylight

appear more that you missed: ripe, knobbly ones, fleshy-sided,
thin-straight, thin-crescent, frown-shaped, bird-shouldered, boat-keeled ones,
beans knuckled and single-bulged, minute green dolphins at suck,

beans upright like lecturing, outstretched like blessing fingers
in the incident light, and more still, oblique to your notice
that the noon glare or cloud-light or afternoon slants will uncover

till you ask yourself Could I have overlooked so many, or
do they form in an hour? unfolding into reality
like templates for subtly broad grins, like unique caught expressions,

like edible meanings, each sealed around with a string
and affixed to its moment, an unceasing colloquial assembly,
the portly, the stiff, and those lolling in pointed green slippers …

Wondering who’ll take the spare bagfulls, you grin with happiness
– it is your health – you vow to pick them all
even the last few, weeks off yet, misshapen as toes.

-Les Murray

Spanish Musica pole beans 2018

Eternal Memory

gl P1030780 koliva 3-24-16With my family and friends I have memorialized my husband in many ways in the last couple of weeks. The evening of the day that we decorated the grave, we had a short memorial service for him at my church. Ivy stood right by me holding her candle straight and steady for the whole fifteen minutes. After we sang and prayed together, we ate koliva together in his honor. “Eternal Memory!”

I’m not going to post a picture here every time I make one of these bowls of ceremonial boiled wheat, but this first anniversary was the Big One for me, so it bears telling about. I wanted to use blue Jordan almonds to decorate, but they were not to be found in the usual candy stores, so I put M&M’s instead, along with white almonds. Maggie helped me with the tricky job of placing candies on a bed of powdered sugar.

On the following weekend the agape meal I had committed to was accomplished. When I mentioned it two weeks ago, in the same post I put a photo of a big pot of soup I’d made, which I think was confusing; that soup had nothing to do with the agape meal that was to come. My menu for the meal that needed to feed about 100 people was: (What I call) Greek Beans, Cottage Fried Potatoes, Cabbage Salad with Tarragon and Toasted Almonds, and vegan Chocolate Carrot Cake.gl P1030804

I used about 15# of cabbage and 50# of potatoes, 20# of Great Northern beans, and about 10# of carrots for the cake. Six dedicated and necessary friends from church helped me both Saturday and Sunday, out of love for me and for my late husband. It was the first time I’d ever organized something like this, and the project filled my mind for many hours over the preceding weeks, as I scribbled my recipes and math problems and gl P1030815 Greek Beansshopping lists on a sheaf of papers I tried to keep all together.

Several things didn’t work exactly as planned – when dealing with large quantities not only the quantities have to be adjusted, but cooking times and methods. Now I know!

Too many finely grated carrots were accidentally put into the cake batter, we couldn’t tell exactly to what degree, so I just gave the four sheet pans longer baking time and we had delectable brownies instead of cake.

In the morning before we started cooking I was jittery, and glad the day was finally here when I could start this last big effort. As I expected, once I got to the church kitchen and my crew began to execute my plans, the whole event was a lot of fun. The food got rave reviews, too!gl P1030833crpAnd now the big One Year milestone has passed. These various commemorative events and tasks have helped me so much to focus my grief and prayers in a community-oriented and practical way. Can you believe that I had joy as well as grief? I didn’t have a minute to spare for brooding, but at the same time I was not distracted from the anniversary, but rather able to keep it in the most satisfying way — I’m very thankful.