When you have washed the dishes and are letting the dirty water drain out of the sink, remember Saint Isidora, who is commemorated on May 10. Today I thought of her when I had occasion to wear a kitchen towel on my head; I have posted her story below.
I had scheduled an oil change for my car this morning, and planned to drop it off at the mechanic early enough that I would have time to walk the mile to church, and join two other women to bake Orthodox communion bread called prosphora.
Because I was plotting about how long the walk would take me, what time to leave home, etc., I forgot to bring along the bandana I always wear to keep my hair out of the dough. When I arrived on the property I took some flower pictures and then hunted around for a substitute. I couldn’t find a spare scarf in the church or in the lost-and-found, but there was the stack of frayed but clean terrycloth kitchen towels in the corner of the kitchen, and a safety pin in a drawer… Ah, I thought: Isidora was known to wear a rag on her head, so I will do this in her honor.
The following is from the website of the Orthodox Church in America:
Saint Isidora, Fool-for-Christ, struggled in the Tabenna monastery in Egypt during the sixth century. Taking upon herself the feat of folly, she acted like one insane, and did not eat food with the other sisters of the monastery. Many of them regarded her with contempt, but Isidora bore all this with great patience and meekness, blessing God for everything.
She worked in the kitchen and fulfilled the dirtiest, most difficult tasks at the monastery, cleaning the monastery of every impurity. Isidora covered her head with a plain rag, and instead of cooked food she drank the dirty wash water from the pots and dishes. She never became angry, never insulted anyone with a word, never grumbled against God or the sisters, and was given to silence.
Once, a desert monk, Saint Pitirim, had a vision. An angel of God appeared to him and said, “Go to the Tabenna monastery. There you will see a sister wearing a rag on her head. She serves them all with love, and endures their contempt without complaint. Her heart and her thoughts rest always with God. You, on the other hand, sit in solitude, but your thoughts flit about all over the world.”
The Elder set out for the Tabenna monastery, but he did not see the one indicated to him in the vision among the sisters. Then they led Isidora to him, considering her a demoniac. Isidora fell down at the knees of the Elder, asking his blessing. Saint Pitirim bowed down to the ground to her and said, “Bless me first, venerable Mother!”
To the astonished questions of the sisters the Elder replied, “Before God, Isidora is higher than all of us!” Then the sisters began to repent, confessing their mistreatment of Isidora, and they asked her forgiveness. The saint, however, distressed over her fame, secretly hid herself away from the monastery, and her ultimate fate remained unknown. It is believed that she died around the year 365.
I have seen this icon for years in the church, but only recently did I get a good enough photo to think about putting up here, and then I read about Isidora just a few weeks ago, close enough to her feast day that I waited to share it now. But who knew that I would so conveniently find another connection to the saint? My fellow bakers smiled at my enthusiasm and immediately asked, “What’s for dinner tonight?”
I’m having that feeling of Too Muchness. I’m trying to reject it – it’s only a feeling. What is truly required of me? Jesus told Martha that only one thing is needful, and that her sister Mary had chosen that “better part.” What was Mary doing? Listening to her Lord.
I can’t listen to Him and entertain these depressing thoughts at the same time. If hear Him correctly this afternoon, He is telling me to play Bing Crosby singing “Silent Night” and “Frosty the Snowman,” and to write down some of the things in my life that are threatening to overwhelm me. It seems to calm me to take control by putting all the craziness into sentences and paragraphs, where it doesn’t loom so vague and impossible.
Also, writing it down shows me that in the balance the crazy aspect weighs a lot less than the obviously good and wholesome, the things that are easy to be grateful for and happy about. I took some pictures of the garden and grandchildren and such beautiful things to intersperse among my sad tales. That way you have the option to just scroll through the pictures — if you even have time to be here this Month of Too Much. 🙂
The first photos are of my church at night, when a performance of choral Christmas music was performed here and special lighting was set up outside. Inside, also , we had all the electric lights turned on before the candlelight performance began, and I was wearing my glasses, so everything looked very bright and clear! Normally for evening services we only have candlelight.
I had returned from my travels in time for Thanksgiving, but because it took me so long to finish my travelogue, I failed to show you any pictures of our festivities.
We feasted at Pearl’s in Davis, but the next day all the littlest grandchildren were here with their parents, and the weather permitted them to play out in the garden and to make gourmet salads and casseroles using various approved cuttings from various plants including cherry tomatoes, yarrow and nasturtiums.
I had bought junior-size lawn rakes which Scout and Liam were eager to use to help rake up the pine needles that continually blanket the ground. Ivy and Laddie enjoyed using the heavy equipment in the gravel utility yard. And Ivy took her alligator on a culinary tour to feed it different flavors of leaves.
While both families were packing up to go home, Jamie was sitting in the entryway in this sweater I had just given him. It was knitted by his great-grandmother for her first granddaughter Phoebe. Then my children wore it – at least a few of them – a lot before I accidentally shrank it and made it into this boiled-wool sweater that actually fits, and complements Jamie’s fair coloring. Perhaps he has made use of it this month in their snowy weather.
At the end of November asparagus crowns arrived in the local nursery, so I took a couple of days to prepare the two areas in my front yard that had been reserved for this one vegetable crop. Preparation means, in this case, digging out a foot of dirt. It was loose, imported loam, but it was wet, and represented a lot of shoveling.
I started to carry the dirt in buckets to the other side of the driveway but quickly realized that I’d never get the job done that way, so I hopped in the car to drive to the hardware store to buy a wheelbarrow. It didn’t make the job much easier at first, because the tire was too low on air. My bicycle pump wouldn’t work. So I plugged away, on the lookout for my neighbor Dennis to come home from work, and as soon as I saw his truck I was over there begging for help. Whoosh, his airless pump did the trick.
After two days I wasn’t quite finished with two beds of similar size. I knew I needed to take a day off, though, because my back was tired. Turned out it was more than tired – it was truly “out,” and I was laid up for several days and missed church and a St. Nicholas Faire and baptisms and a special dinner. Kit finished the last of the preparation for me, and I ordered a kneeling chair such as I used to sit/kneel on 15 years ago to spare my spine.
Then Monday my back was 90% better! I put the asparagus crowns in the bottoms of the holes, and covered them with a couple of inches of dirt. Maybe it was because I was racing against the coming rain that I forgot to take a snapshot of the stages of planting. Here is a photo from online showing how they look just before being covered with soil. I planted 35 crowns.
Now that bed looks like this:
Those brown hoses are the irrigation lines that will lie on top of the soil, under the mulch, when I am all through putting the dirt back. Most people fill it back in gradually, but one expert gardener I saw online seemed to think it didn’t matter and he replaced it all at once.
Here is a sort of blank place in the front garden, where I plan to put a bench under the osmanthus. Maybe I need to cut out some more low branches first. I will sit there in nice weather when I’m feeling friendly, and call to the neighbors who walk past.
My kneeling chair arrived, and I managed to assemble it by myself. That’s the second item I have put together now! But the replacement casters I bought to protect my wood floors didn’t work, because they needed to have threaded stems. So I boxed them back up and took them to the UPS store, and today the next set of casters arrived and they did work. Here is my chair, which I quickly amended by putting a memory foam pillow on the kneeling pad, and even that is not friendly enough to my shins – so I am working on my technique for kneeling on this thing, even as I type. I was not so delicate 15 years ago!
After I planted the asparagus it still hadn’t started to rain, so I reorganized the woodpile. I have eucalyptus and oak now, in different stacks. I got them separated more cleanly from one another and filled my firewood rack in the garage with both kinds, and I covered the rest completely with tarps. In the course of this work I found where the rats (before I got rid of them) had made nests reminiscent of Brambly Hedge in a sort of multi-level apartment arrangement. They had chewed up some of the old tarp for their nest.
This morning when I was lifting a bag from the coat rack on the wall, the whole thing started coming off and one screw came out of the wall. I tried and tried to put in a new drywall screw, but nothing worked; the hole got bigger and bigger. I watched some YouTube videos on different types of fixes using even more types of screws I didn’t have. I decided to make new holes just above the present ones, but I didn’t have two of the best kind of screw anymore, because I had wrecked them. After spending an hour on this unexpected project I had to admit to myself that I needed to hire a handyman to do the job for me. I don’t really have anyone I’m used to calling, and I dreaded making the arrangements.
But I had to postpone thinking about that – I must run some errands. I left the mess on the table, and went out the front door. At the same time my new neighbor went out to his car a few feet away, and I remembered that he is a handyman, and he has been very friendly to me, so I asked him if I could hire him to fix this little problem. He said sure! And he will come tomorrow. I argued with him when he said it is such a little job he won’t charge me. I told him I will be home all day because my daughter and granddaughter are coming to bake cookies, and his face lit up. “Cookies? You can pay me with cookies! Seriously.”
So that tale of woe has turned into a happy thing, a chance to get to know my neighbor, and even feed him! I was able to feed more people this week: First, DIL Joy’s mother, whom I took out for her birthday; she grows micro greens and petite greens to sell to fancy restaurants, and she gave me a pot of petite kale greens for salad snipping.
Pathfinder was on a business trip that brought him into town on his very birthday, so we went out this week, too. The year he was born he was my best Christmas present by far. And I’ll get to see him and his whole family in just a fortnight, for Christmas. It looks likely that all five of my children will be here then! The first time since their father’s funeral – It makes me cry to think about it. I wonder if we can manage a thing where they all gather me in a multi-hug?
Yesterday my friend Tim, who was a pallbearer at Mr. Glad’s funeral, came over for along-overdue visit. I fed him soup and fried bread, and strong coffee. We sat by the fire, the first one I’d made this season, and talked and talked. Now that felt very normal and necessary. I’ve been working so long on this post, I didn’t make a fire this afternoon, and I’m getting chilly here in my corner.
Though I haven’t got my tree up, or added more strings for the peas to grow higher on, or written many Christmas cards, I did put a big wreath on the front door. One step at a time, and one word at a time, I’ll do all that’s necessary. And Christmas will come. O Come, O come, Emmanuel!
One thing leads to another. I had the sudden and unusual urge to clean my shower door this morning, and ended up spending hours on the bathroom, the bedroom, the laundry area in the garage…. I made myself stop at six o’clock so I could take a walk, which was a more of a chore than some evenings, because I had already been on my feet most of the day.
Even so, I didn’t want to take the shortcut, because the sight of the slant rays through the redwood trees at the park is not to be missed. This is where my children played soccer and softball, and climbed those trees, before they were trimmed of their lower branches. I like experiencing the park this way more than the former version, when we used to stand around shivering on the damp sidelines to watch an hour of soccer.
But getting back to earlier in the day: Before indulging in the flurry of vacuuming and scrubbing, I had followed other, quieter prompts, in the realm of poetry. I was reading some recommendations for anthologies, when the collection Come Hither showed up on my mental path. This was probably the first book of poetry I ever bought. We were homeschooling and I had borrowed Walter de la Mare’s anthology from the library. But I couldn’t renew it forever, and it was clearly a book that one would like to delve into forever. So I splurged on a copy of our own, and my students would leaf through its pages week by week to find an appealing poem to memorize.
In the last months I had forgotten about this book; I knew it was in the spare bedroom on a shelf full of poetry books, and I made a note to myself to get it down and enjoy it again. After this evening’s walk I did that, but I had to limit myself to reading only the first poem, so that I will get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight. I also discovered a wonderful article by David M. Whalen, about the anthology and its editor: “Walter de la Mare’s Come Hither.”
He explains the frontispiece address to the “Young of All Ages”: “Anthologies of children’s verse usually fall into sentimentality. They reflect their editors’ attempts at indulgence in feelings that have become unreal to editors and readers both. Come Hither: A Collection of Rhymes and Poems for the Young of All Ages is markedly free of this blot as de la Mare, a Twentieth-Century British poet and author, never left behind the numinous sense of mystery that characterizes childhood.”
British author Alice Thomas Ellis is quoted in the article as saying that if she could have the Bible and Shakespeare and one other book, when stranded on a desert island, the third book would be Come Hither. The copious notes alone I find fascinating; they are obviously written with the older and even oldest Young in mind, and they lead me always to one more musing .
Here is that first poem of the collection. As the turning of the page will reveal a different offering, and another following that, I feel certain that I will have more to share with you in the future. But as Whalen points out, this one poem already contains everything.
THIS IS THE KEY
This is the Key of the Kingdom
In that Kingdom is a city;
In that city is a town;
In that town there is a street;
In that street there winds a lane;
In that lane there is a yard;
In that yard there is a house;
In that house there waits a room;
In that room an empty bed;
And on that bed a basket–
A Basket of Sweet Flowers Of Flowers, of Flowers; A Basket of Sweet Flowers.
Flowers in a Basket;
Basket on the bed;
Bed in the chamber;
Chamber in the house;
House in the weedy yard;
Yard in the winding lane;
Lane in the broad street;
Street in the high town;
Town in the city;
City in the Kingdom–
This is the Key of the Kingdom. Of the Kingdom this is the Key.
The days surrounding and including Christmas Day have been full and flowing with love and friendship and good times. It feels like a river in which I am dreamily floating along, but somehow not up to speed, not able to live up to my expectations for myself or participate in all the activities planned by others that I’d like to. For example:
Cookies: I bought almond paste, but didn’t bake any cookies. Instead, I’ve been nibbling away at one log of paste, and thinking of making stöllen with the other package. Pearl and Joy brought plenty of cookies, so no one was lacking in that department.
Scout gave me nut brittle and chocolate-dipped pretzels he had made, for when the cookies run out.
Christmas Dinner: I marinated my becoming-traditional leg of lamb for Christmas dinner, with rosemary and wine and garlic. Then on Christmas Day I overcooked it!
It was a great feast that day, with lots of vegetables: roasted butternut squash from my garden, sautéed mushrooms and sweet red peppers, creamed spinach — plus tamales! I guess we were trying to keep track of too many courses at once. Most people loved the lamb anyway, and I will make lentil soup out of the leftovers.
We ate at the big table using all of its leaves, covered with a new green tablecloth I got on Freecycle, and a new table runner that carried the theme of my evergreen tree with its birds.
Decorating: I’m tired of some of my decorations; I’d like to get some good quality faux greenery to hang on the railings in the future. This year I hung tiny LED lights on the manzanita branch and they were pretty, but a real chore to manage; I think I’ll just take them down now that the first batteries wore down, and be low-tech with my branch in the future. This year I didn’t put any lights around the kitchen window, so I’ll have to get in touch with other sources of winter cheer.
Caroling: Sixteen of us were here for our usual Christmas Eve festivities, mostly squeezed into about six hours during which families arrived from other towns, unloaded their cars full of children, food and gifts, and for some, sleeping gear; prepared and ate dinner; arranged ourselves and our presents around the living room and took turns opening gifts in a civilized and grateful manner; re-grouped to eat cookies and eggnog and put some children to bed; departed to our rooms or other houses and towns very late…
That wasn’t enough time to sing carols, which was a disappointment to many of us, but with the little children’s needs… Just now thinking that perhaps I could plan an easier meal somehow next Christmas Eve, so that we could sing carols before dinner?
The day after Christmas “we” did make giant snowflakes, with instructions from Kit. And we did read Christmas stories, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. So it was different, but very nice. Some of us took a walk on Christmas Day, and others a longer hike the next. Soldier made more finishing touches on my greenhouse and the playhouse, and I began to clean the patio. I held Jamie a lot and he fell asleep on my chest as we sat by the fire.
Cleaning: This is the second year in a row that I didn’t get around to dusting the living room furniture before the festivities! On Christmas morning when I was alone downstairs I noticed the dust on the piano… I’m lucky to be in a family where probably no one noticed things like that, especially with the humans and torn-up wrapping paper filling the space and all over the piano and other furniture…
It’s been cold, but that didn’t prevent Scout and Ivy from playing in the fountain from which the ice had only recently melted. One night an action figure got frozen in up to his waist — he was the same guy whom I’d seen underwater in the tarps that covered the planting boxes until last week.
I’ve spent a lot of effort morning and evening the last few days covering the lemon tree, melting ice in the fountain, and going out before sunup to survey the estate.
Only concern for my fountain could get me to do that! I was rewarded by seeing the various plants with their frosty crystals. The Iceland poppy shrivels to a bright crisp when it’s 27°, but by midday it relaxes as the thermometer rises, and sways gracefully again.
Tonight may be the last of the freezing temps for a while; I will go out soon and turn on the fountain to run through the coldest hours in hopes of keeping the water in the pipes from freezing completely.
In this new week we are looking forward to our parish feast day, and to Theophany. It’s good to be carried along on that river, the flow of the church calendar that keeps me centered on my life in Christ. I am thankful this Christmas, for Him and for all His gifts.