Tag Archives: limitations

Poetic cooking while in fetters.

coconut curry with garbanzos

Since my husband’s death three years ago I’ve had three long-term housemates. Two of them have moved on, so that Susan and I are the only ones here, just two of us using the cupboards and large freezer space. This situation dovetails with my own less-burdened mind, which  now is able to grasp:

Yes! The obvious thing is to clean out the larder, use up the food, and start planning and cooking interesting meals with all the bits of this and that squirreled away. Facing up to what is unusable is part of the process; the soup that got lost in the back of the freezer for too long is one of the hidden costs associated with huge life changes, and is not a cause for guilt.

kasha (buckwheat)

Chesterton’s wisdom on creativity always helps me: Thrift is the really romantic thing; economy is more romantic than extravagance…  economy, properly understood, is the more poetic. Thrift is poetic because it is creative; waste is unpoetic because it is waste. It is prosaic to throw money away, because it is prosaic to throw anything away; it is negative; it is a confession of indifference, that is, it is a confession of failure.

The most prosaic thing about the house is the dustbin, and the one great objection to the new fastidious and aesthetic homestead is simply that in such a moral menage the dustbin must be bigger than the house. If a man could undertake to make use of all things in his dustbin he would be a broader genius than Shakespeare.

Another development since I returned from India is that I can’t go back to the weird eating habits I had fallen into as soon as I no longer had anyone to cook for routinely. Eating normally and very tastily for eight weeks cured me forever, I think, of my go-to frozen chopped spinach that I had been eating as the main part of every meal. Yesterday I used the last of it with a little container of likewise defrosted meaty red sauce and a (fresh) egg, to make a perfect breakfast:

These limitations I have placed on myself made me remember other things Chesterton said about art and painting and limits, and that led me on an interesting path through fields of quotes on the topic. Talk about limits and people will argue that they only exist in your mind, and must be “dropped,” if you are “to go beyond them into the impossible.” Even Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “The vistas of possibility are only limited by the shortness of life.” But he wasn’t trying to get dinner on the table in an hour.

Modern man seems especially prone to this delusion, but there are many sage exceptions, like Robert Browning: “So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!”

In matters of food and cooking, even if you had unlimited money you have limited time, and limits on whom you might find to prepare the ingredients, the choice of which is always limited to some degree, and on and on. I know you all know these things; this is my philosophical rambling you’re reading.

“Untitled” by Richard Diebenkorn

I am not advocating for an unhealthy fear of trying something new, but actually the opposite. As George Braque said, “It is the limitation of means that determines style, gives rise to new forms and makes creativity possible.”

And though Richard Diebenkorn was talking about painting, this word from him is empowering when considered at the beginning of any creative work: “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful, the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles.”

Yesterday I found several very ripe bananas in the freezer, and I did not want to waste them, even if their monetary value at purchase was minimal. You can imagine what they looked like after being there for a while; I’m sure I couldn’t have found a neighbor who wanted them. Anyway, part of my “style” is to stay home. I avoid going shopping, and knocking on doors for any reason. If only I had got my hoped-for worm bins set up, I would have given them to the worms!

But various baking supplies were sitting in the refrigerator begging to be used, so I put everything together into an unusual banana bread. It started from a “paleo” recipe with almond flour, but when I substituted egg replacer for the eggs I created a Grain-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.

It is a work of super enjoyably edible art!

Real needs are not far from us.

Van Gogh – The Good Samaritan


I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know. God may call any one of us to respond to some far away problem or support those who have been so called. But we are finite and he will not call us everywhere or to support every worthy cause. And real needs are not far from us.

-C.S. Lewis

In this new era, quotes with gnomes.

gnome gnotebook 1st page 2015

It was only a few weeks ago that I told you about my late friend Bird’s Gnome Gnotebook, the contents of which I was so glad to receive in the form of a fat photocopied packet. One of you alerted me to the fact that one can buy empty versions of these notebooks online, and I quickly sent off for one, as a remembrance of my beloved friend.


And to keep quotes in, of course! Anastasia recently shared this fun Ogden Nash verse (above) and I copied it at the bottom of the first page, where the gnome sits with his nose in a book. These contemplative gnomes will keep company with whatever I write here, on every page.

I must have a thousand quotes in computer documents, and another few hundred on papers bursting out of a manila folder. For years I used some very efficient software to help me in sad face outlinemy collecting, called Smart Quote Organizer. But it eventually proved too hard for someone with my lack of computer savvy to maintain; every time we got a new computer or made major changes, I almost lost that data. Finally I did lose it, I lost all those hundreds of good quotes and was fairly deflated — for a few minutes. I realize that even the most excellent examples of pithy sentences are just representatives of truth and wit and wisdom. The substance remains with humankind. But I decided to return to more primitive methods of storage, while not abandoning my simple Windows document folders.

At left is a page in quotes money qbmy first quotes notebook, which I arranged alphabetically in subject categories. Some pages are full and some are still completely blank, so I probably shouldn’t give up on it yet.

Of course I wouldn’t think of giving up reading it. Just now the words on this page with the heading Money have made me muse on whether I have violated any of my principles by spending on my new (technically “used,” though not written in) Gnome Gnotebook. I don’t think so.

Bird didn’t have her jottings in any particular order and I don’t plan to worry about that with my new book, either.

P1120375 old quotes crp

Above is the old notebook with the quotes all hidden inside, waiting to be pored over and contemplated. And here is another page from that book. Clearly I gave more attention to good handwriting in that previous era a decade ago, which is about when I started using this book that was gift from son Pathfinder’s family.

quotes life & limitations qb

Many of these quotes on Life and Limitations immediately apply themselves to what could be called my hobby of collecting quotes – especially the reality of limitations. The Bible says that “of the making of books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12), and I don’t think I will run out of (quality – they must be quality) quotable excerpts from those books, or other writings or speeches or folksy proverbs.

I, however, am very limited in my time, my life span, and yes, my mental abilities. I am limited in how many quotes I can publish on my blog and still maintain good standing in the eyes of my readers. So that’s all for now, folks. Have fun with these!

Washington – Homesickness Cured

In an essay titled “The Inside of Life,” G.K. Chesterton said that he envied Robinson Crusoe being shipwrecked on an island. He talks about “the poetry of limits,” which I am learning is the category where my own favorite life-poems are found. I found another one just last week.

At the beginning of our trip to Washington I was homesick — the first time I recall being plagued by that feeling when actually away from home, though I probably did complain over it right here at the peak of our remodeling project.

There’s never been a year when I took so many trips as 2010. It’s one of those things that is really different about my life nowadays and that I’m learning to adjust to. I’m just a homebody threatening to turn agoraphobic if I get pushed too far. The good old days were the ones when our family’s only car was not available to me and I didn’t have the option of driving to town. I “had to” stay home.

Time wasn’t enough for me to do a proper job preparing for our trip. As G.K.C. also says in that essay, “Life is too large for us as it is: we have all too many things to attend to.” I didn’t seem to have the right clothes, but when I noticed that, it was too late to buy or sew the right ones. I was self-conscious about looking odd until the day I could put on my hiking boots and paint-spattered fleece for the trail.

I always like to write postcards when traveling, so I packed a list of addresses along with some stamps into a zippered pouch along with my pocket calendar and a little prayer book; then the whole thing got left at home in the flurry of departure. All week I wondered if I had lost it at the airport or somewhere on the way, and I felt a bit lost without those props to my usual routine of being me. I couldn’t remember the addresses of most of the people I wanted to favor with a picture and note.

The first night of the journey we stayed with B.’s cousin and her husband who have a house looking out on Hammersley Inlet. They are warm and loving, and I was glad for the time to get to know them better.  It was rejuvenative to walk along the shore and collect large oyster shells, in the company of someone else who appreciated their beauty. Anne didn’t think it strange that I deliberated so much over each one I picked up, and she actually seemed to like talking about the reasons why one or another would be more worthy of carrying around for the rest of the trip. After washing three of my favorite potential soap dishes in the kitchen sink I forgot to take them with me the next morning. Somehow that was o.k. The collecting had been the important part.

We walked with our Bremerton friends also, in the forest nearby, where my beloved “May” showed me piggy back plants, and filbert nuts hanging on the tree; a hazelnut went into my pocket and made it all the way home.

Just making the acquaintance of these tangible natural artifacts was comforting. If I had to leave their territories so soon and move on like an unwilling gypsy, at least I could snap a picture, or kidnap a small nut, to prolong the connection.

On our way to the Lake Quinault Lodge we got lost and spent a couple of hours getting back in the right direction. Rural Washington doesn’t have as many road signs as one could want, and of course, there are all those waterways that confused me when I was trying to be B.’s navigator. Robinson Crusoe didn’t have all this complexity of terrain, and what he had to deal with, he also had time aplenty for. Again, from G.K.C., “What dullness there is in our life arises mostly from its rapidity: people pass us too quickly to show us their interesting side.” Canals and roadsides, too, I find.

We had a reservation for three nights where B. had stayed with his family long ago, a classic inn built in 1926.  F.D.R. also stayed here in 1938 when he was considering whether to make a national park on the Olympic Peninsula. He decided yes, and the rain forest was preserved.

Olympic National Park is kind of like a wheel with spokes going in, but no hub; we had to drive long distances from the outer rim of the park into the choice areas. On the way along the rim to our first spoke, we spent time on Ruby Beach, where the surf crashed and the air was bracing. Just now I was wondering how it compares with the eastern coast in latitude, and after a bit of hunting and pecking around the Net I can tell you that it’s similar to Prince Edward Island, and still well south of the British Isles.

My attention was quickly drawn downward to the smooth and varied pebbles comprising the beach, and I picked up one after another as I noticed their peculiar colors and patterns. Quoting Chesterton, “This desire to be wrecked on an island partly arises from an idea which is at the root of all the arts–the idea of separation.” I removed some of these stones from their vast and cluttered background so I could consider each individually. And I myself had been separated from all my home responsibilities and from all but one talking human. No multitasking necessary.

In that essay that I had read only recently, Chesterton uses literature as a specific example of the artistic principle he’s considering, but it seems to me it is broadly useful for explaining why some activities are just as bracing to my mind and soul as that ocean air.

According to this idea, one appeal of reading a novel is that the number of people we meet there is limited. “Romance seeks to divide certain people from the lump of humanity, as the statue is divided from the lump of marble. We read a good novel not in order to know more people, but in order to know fewer….instead of this bewildering human swarm which passes us every day, fiction asks us to follow one figure (say the postman) consistently through his ecstasies and agonies. That is what makes one so impatient with that type of pessimistic rebel who is always complaining of the narrowness of his life, and demanding a larger sphere. Life is too large for us as it is….All true romance is an attempt to simplify it, to cut it down to plainer and more pictorial proportions.”

Topographically, logistically, socially, the greater Seattle area is way too large for me. Its vastness and complexity weigh on me like an overcast day. Walking with one or two friends is good — more circumscribed and easier to enjoy. But a small pebble is just right. I stuffed my pockets with pebbles, and breathed as heartily as I could of that oxygen-rich and moist air. I sat on a log and did not want to leave.