Tag Archives: grandchildren

Of course goblins can’t hurt him.

While at Pippin’s I had the great satisfaction of reading Christmas stories for a total of several hours during my stay. The genre seems most appropriate for reading aloud, but when we have our larger family gatherings, there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity for it. Meanwhile, my collection grows.

Recently I acquired Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien, though in this case I think “recent” means 10-15 years ago. I’d glanced at them myself, but I think I was waiting to share the experience — to peek in on the Tolkien family and the stories that Tolkien the father created every year for his children. He wrote and illustrated them for over 20 years, starting by writing to three-year-old John, and continuing until he was only writing to his fourth child, Priscilla, with hopes that she will be hanging up her stocking “just once more.”

It is particularly interesting to me how Father Christmas refers to world events, in terms that place them in the context of the ages-long attempt of evil spiritual forces to destroy humanity once and for all. He first mentions goblins in 1932 and ’33, after he has written letters for about 12 years, and his goblins remind me of those in George MacDonald’s stories. They are a nuisance, and sometimes very scary  —“Goblins are to us as rats are to you,” — but if you stand up to them they flee. They have no real power.

Most of the letters from the North Pole are about the mischief and adventures of all the people and creatures who live there: elves and snowmen, reindeer — and the North Polar Bear, who drew a bath, climbed in, and fell asleep with the water running, flooding the cellars full of toys.

But in 1932 the same bear had an encounter with a goblin:

“…he smelt a goblin! and became interested, and started to explore. Not very wise; for of course goblins can’t hurt him, but their caves are very dangerous.” In the next letter things are still heating up:

“Another Christmas! I almost thought at one time (in November) that there would not be one this year. There would be the 25th of December, of course, but nothing from your old great-great-etc. grandfather at the North Pole.

“Goblins. The worst attack we have had for centuries….”

More than once he mentions the last worst battle with these creatures, “the goblin-war in 1453, that I told you about.”

From then on the goblins show up regularly. The children are old enough to understand about the world situation as it affects them, and in 1940 F.C. writes more plainly, “We are having rather a difficult time this year. This horrible war is reducing all our stocks, and in so many countries children are living far from their homes. Polar Bear has had a very busy time trying to get our address-lists corrected. I’m glad you are still at home!” 

The text of the 1935 letter above reads: “[North Polar Bear] says that we have not seen the last of the goblins — in spite of the battles of 1933. They won’t dare to come into my land yet; but for some reason they are breeding again and multiplying all over the world. Quite a nasty outbreak. But there are not so many in England, he says. I expect I shall have trouble with them soon.

“I have given my elves some new magic sparkler spears that will scare them out of their wits. It is now December 24, and they have not appeared this year — and practically everything is packed up and ready. I shall be starting soon.”

I’ve interspersed Tolkien’s illustrations with the last images from my northern adventure. Pippin and the children and I walked by the lake, and the stream flowing into it. We came home and snuggled again on the couch, with cats, and finished the last letters. I think we were all sad that the Tolkien children grew up!

Splash of fall – then Christmas.

The dwarf pomegranate bushes that are at the four corners of the fountain, are just now at their most beautiful. You can see how they contrast with the dark corner where the greenhouse spends winters, in the shade of my tall house. In spite of that darkness, I have hope for a more favorable growing environment in the greenhouse, because I got it wired with outlets for heat and light and even a breeze when needed.

Many unripe figs  held on to the tree, until they turned purple from frost and had to let go.

The day after I took this picture, I drove north to Pippin’s, for a sort of early Christmas. Here there is also some color — mostly forest-green and white; the snow began to fall just as I was arriving! But also some bright spots like this pumpkin.

The snow on the road turned to ice, sending one of our vehicles into the ditch. It wasn’t mine, and I didn’t hear about it until everything was resolved. Pippin baked a pie with Honeycrisp and vowed Never Again. Pippins (the apples) are the best! But the deer relished the peelings; I watched the doe repeatedly kicking one fawn away from the bowl in which they had been served. Other humans liked the pie very much and it was beautiful and tasty — just not appley enough.

We had the best sort of evening with a few family members I haven’t seen since last Christmas, and even sang carols — for a blessedly prolonged while. (We had already sung “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” around the Advent wreath before dinner.) Enough of us could carry a tune and even lead off, that the two pianists present were glad to be able to sing rather than play, and it was truly joyous singing.

The cousins made paper airplanes together, and Scout told his uncle all about the latest novel he is reading. He also played his newly learned guitar piece. He has been busy cutting Christmas trees in the mountains and then selling at the Boy Scouts’ lot, and their tree was one of those. It is so pristine and elegant, and pointing straight to the heavens, that I could not believe it was real. It is a red fir.

Several of our group have been working really long and odd hours lately, and it seemed a miracle that the logistics worked out for us to be together. I am joining two church school meetings on ZOOM in two days, which meant that both teachers of our high school class and the special guest we had were all participating from a distance. If we weren’t meeting online I’d have had to get a substitute. So that worked well, too.

Too soon, I’ll be driving back down the road and home again, and will proceed with Advent. I think I might add to my preparations a new tradition, and start singing remotely — but oh, so closely — with my family, a nightly round of  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Ivy, Nicholas and Keith.

Last week I made a quick trip up north to be with granddaughter Ivy on her eighth birthday. At first I thought I would be driving out of our newly cleared and clean spaces into the smoke again, but the skies turned blue there, too.

…Until the evening before I came home, when we went to a lake and it was a little smoky again. But we pretended it was from campfires.

I taught Jamie how to use a needle and thread, and Ivy the blanket stitch. They were very intent on their work and did not want to stop even when Grandma had to go on to other business. I can understand; it really is fun to make lines and designs in different pretty colors while you chat with fellow stitchers.

I gave Ivy her Aunt Kate’s childhood sewing basket which we sorted and organized together; from we don’t know where Kate had acquired many little wooden spools of bright silk thread, the colors of which Ivy began to name on the spot: Cold as Steel, Easter Egg, Pumpkin Pie, Red Osier (which I learned is a species of dogwood), Gold Mine… and many more. I didn’t want to stop sewing myself to write them down. Those silks turned out to be tangly and not very strong, so they were abandoned in favor of the modern spools and adequate colors.

Hoping for someone to bring down crabapples.
Jamie’s desk that serves as the top of a cave.

The last morning, minutes before my departure, I visited Pippin’s always fascinating garden that is mostly behind a tall deer fence. The zinnias are outside, because the deer don’t always eat them. But the dahlias must be inside, because the deer would always eat them.

Tired of fighting aphids and rats who attack my vegetables, and inspired by this celebration of a showy species, I began to think of growing some in my planter boxes next spring. Keith H, above, and Nicholas, below, particularly captured my heart. I used to grow some gorgeous dahlias here, but didn’t really have adequate space in the previous setting, and eventually gave them away.

It only took a little bit of reading about dahlia culture to make me realize that I don’t need another project. No, a much nicer plan is to take the easy and fun route, which is Highway 5 all the way to Pippin’s every fall, where if I time it right I might take in a birthday or two and a dreamy visit with her beautiful garden.

The world that lives in me – and us.

Pippin once upon a time.

“I wish you many years — but not for them to be too happy, because happiness in the world isn’t really so healthy. When a man is too happy in this world, he forgets God and forgets death.” 

— Elder Paisios 

It is customary in the Orthodox Church to wish people “Many years!” or to sing the whole hymn, “God grant you many years…” (x3 of course) on any happy occasion such as an anniversary or birthday. Three birthdays of my children and grandchildren are coming up this week and next, so the quote is timely.

We visited our favorite apple ranch.

 

 

In the last ten days Soldier’s family and I did not think much about death, we were so happy together. Still, we didn’t forget God for long periods, because we know to Whom to be thankful. The children and their liveliness was the focus of our attention. When fear grips our hearts over what deathliness they will have to encounter in the future, we try to pray….

They departed yesterday, and I don’t know when I’ll see them again. Kate and Tom are in Panama, very securely quarantined there for their jobs, I’m afraid. I see their family on FaceTime. I don’t plan to visit Pearl in Wisconsin in the next months, because I already went there in fall and winter, and would like to experience that part of the country in a different season next time.

Pathfinder is in the middle of smoke; no one would want to go there unnecessarily. It’s kinda smoky where Pippin is, too, but I hope to go next week anyway, to be with Ivy for her birthday; I missed it last year.

Picking raspberries in Mr. and Mrs. Bread’s garden.

Pippin brought her three down last weekend to see their cousins.
The kids gathered around the Lego bin right away.

We went to the beach again,
a different one with lots of marine plants to identify.


The sky was not orange that time.

Turkish Towel on the right.
Grape Tongue kelp
Chain Bladder Kelp and Ostrich Plume Hydroid

One of those nights at bedtime Ivy asked me to fasten her nightgown in the back — the one I originally made for Aunt Kate decades ago — but only one of the three buttons could reach its buttonhole. Next morning we agreed that I would sew her a new nightgown, and we sat browsing flannel prints at my desktop; she started with the idea of a pink flowered nightie, but when she saw the cats, she changed her mind. I ordered the cat fabric.

“The Socialist saw plainly the rights of the Society; the Anarchist saw the rights of the Individual. How therefore were these

— Robert Hugh Benson

Liam found a California Sister butterfly (some might know it as “Arizona Sister”!) and when Ivy said, “Can I have it?” he let it crawl onto her hand.

“One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the marketplace.  One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.”

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Also while six grandchildren were on the premises, four of them helped Soldier to stack a cord of oak firewood. I had on hand children’s gloves for such a time as this. Even four-year-old Brodie was a willing worker who did not tire easily; he lugged logs for quite a while before he even interrupted his flow to put shoes on.

My son shopped all over town with me, considering which wood stove I should buy to replace my current one that is dying. It was so helpful to have help in choosing such a big item. It’s scheduled to be installed before winter.

“The family is the test of freedom;
because the family is the only thing that the free man makes
for himself and by himself.”

— G.K. Chesterton

Recently I got the bright idea to do as my grandfather had done when I was in my teens: Once when we were visiting him he told us four children, of whom I was the oldest, that we might take home and keep any four books from his vast shelves. I still own my four books. My own shelves are loaded with titles that I know my grandchildren of various ages would enjoy, but they aren’t ever around long enough to think of perusing  the shelves.

Previously gifted.

So I told them the same this week, Please take as many as four books home with you. Two immediately wanted Socks for Supper.

The younger children who aren’t fluent readers needed some help to choose books that they didn’t already have at home, but in the end everyone took at least one. No one took four, which was interesting; maybe they aren’t developing their grandmother’s book gluttony. Does it surprise you that I just ordered replacements for two of the books they took?

Jamie’s pick.

Scout carried off dog stories by Albert Payson Terhune, and a cookbook. Liam took Finn Family Moomintroll, Rockinghorse Secret, and The Five Sisters, which I recently bought but hadn’t read. Laddie settled on The Pig in the Spigot, even though the illustrations are weird, we all agree.

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”  -C.S. Lewis

One of the last jobs we worked on together was dehydrating a few of the apples that we’d bought at the farm. I cored them, two boys sliced, and one arranged the slices on the trays. The fruit dried all through the night and the rings were packed into bags to take on their journey home. Good-bye! Good-bye! and Godspeed!

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye
and put miles between you,
but at the same time you carry them with you
in your heart, your mind, your stomach,
because you do not just live in a world
but a world lives in you.”

Frederick Buechner