Tag Archives: monasteries

A happy hodgepodge.

Today was Goldfinch Day in the garden. It could be they were celebrating the rain; I know I am, for several reasons, not least that it’s warmer when it’s raining, and right now I have so many open spaces in my ceiling upstairs, it’s quite drafty when the wind blows through the attic. We had a very cold night and two or three suddenly wintry days.

A male goldfinch announced their event to me when I was standing near the sliding glass door: he flew right up to the glass and hovered, went away, came back two times looking at me. You say he was seeing his reflection? Well, whatever he thought he was doing, he did draw my attention to the dozens of goldfinches feasting, at the feeders and on the ground. I guess when they heard I was catering their convention, everyone wanted to come. I also stayed around so long I was almost late for church. I was trying to be the photographer, but they make it difficult by being so shy. And the rain that made their yellow brighter to my eyes only dulled the scene as a whole, and they look gray against the wisteria leaves.

It took me ages to get dressed for church; I was trying to find the boots I bought last winter, which were stored away “somewhere,” many moons ago when I was so certain that the remodeling project would be complete before another winter came along. I finally found them, and then other parts of my outfit. I am temporarily between dressing tables and have been just wearing the same earrings every day.

Granny Marigold asked how it’s going, the remodeling. A huge thing is that the floors are scheduled to go in a week from tomorrow. That means an incredible number of tasks need to be wrapped up in the next five days, if it’s all to be in the right sequence. My plumber doesn’t see how it can happen. He told me that gently when he was here this evening planning his part of the job; I was really glad he stopped by when he happened to be in the neighborhood. It seems he doesn’t use email anymore, and I’ve been writing him urgent emails. I’ve known him for almost 30 years, since he was in high school; we talked about his parents and his children before he left. He lives with his father and his son, and all three are named James.

Here is the floor plan of the changes in my upstairs. Three new rooms are being created from one very large room that had never had much done with it. Maybe because the original builders saw that they didn’t have enough support to bear any more walls; one unfortunate time drain has been the addition of great beams to floor and ceiling of the room, what the contractor kindly calls “deferred maintenance.”

My master bedroom, bath and closet are at the bottom of the drawing. The new walls are shaded dark. The door has been cut that will open my bedroom to the sewing room, and all the framing is done. A few pictures from the last year, in chronological order:

First, after removing the “popcorn” ceiling, and when they began to add support in the ceiling for the new walls:

The first of my two new windows framed:

How it used to look between my closet and bathroom (although not quite that crooked):

How it looks now:

They have put up plastic film in that new doorway temporarily, but it doesn’t keep out the cold. I’m so glad I thought to hang the sheet on a spring rod, because it’s always warmer on this side when it’s pulled closed.

Below, an example of the extra support that has been added to that end of the room, where the weight of the roof was not resting on enough beams that went straight to the foundation. When the team was looking at the situation and brainstorming what to do, one contractor who works for my contractor said to me, “You’re learning how not to build a house.”

No one worked all these four days of the Thanksgiving weekend. On Thanksgiving I did two things I’d never done before on that day: First I went to Liturgy, which was quite lovely, and I took my new friend Kay who I’ll tell you more about sometime. Afterward, we went shopping at my favorite market that has a vast deli section, to buy a few things to take to the feast we were attending, at the little monastery in town 🙂 I’d never had Thanksgiving at a monastery before, either.

Maybe twenty-five people were there. They are on the old calendar, so they had just begun their fast. Unlike many Orthodox, they do not bend the rules, so we had no turkey, and I didn’t miss it. We had various sorts of fish, and so many many different dishes that people had brought, or the nuns had made. One of my favorite things was the beautiful salad I had bought at the market. It was crunchy and pretty and everyone loved it: Mango and Jicama salad, those two ingredients cut in long matchsticks, with Chinese cabbage and cilantro and strips of sweet red pepper. It was lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.

Before we came home the nuns gave us boxes and bags of pineapple guavas from their hedge and trees; as we went to our car we saw just how prodigious a crop they have. Theirs are certainly situated better than mine, none of which ripened this year.

I didn’t go to the Christmas bazaar that was at my church on Saturday, but there were a few things left that we could buy today during the agape meal, like this origami garland that I hung as soon as I got home.

After selling items at a discount for a while, they eventually were giving stuff away, at which point I accepted edible goodies, which I have put away for Christmas. Who knows if I’ll find time and concentration to make my own cookies this year.

 

I had many things to carry to my car, and it was raining, so I dug the napkin bag out of the trash to carry stuff in.

How was that for a hodgepodge post? I guess it’s only fitting that I publish at least one that reflects the scattered and nearly chaotic style of my life right now. As soon as those floors go in I will be sharing that bright news immediately!

Lavender and little scythes.

The nuns at a nearby monastery harvest lavender every summer at various neighbors’ properties up in the hills and mostly at the end of long unpaved and/or winding roads. They had asked the young people from parishes in the area to help them today, and when some families had to back out at the last minute, several adults including me pitched in.

I had to get up before 5:00 to get fueled up and make the drive to arrive early enough for the sisters to give us a hearty breakfast. But even before that, we learned that Mother Anna who recently fell asleep in death had still not been buried, and we might go into the church and say good-bye to her. Mother Angelina was reading Psalms at the head of the casket when we went in; we all filed past and kissed the little icons that were next to her, and the Gospel. It was sweet to have this opportunity.

After breakfast and chatting we caravaned to the first and most scenic spot, where we picked from a big clump of lavender bushes stuck in a low spot among olive trees at a vineyard. We were given little scythes, which seem the perfect tool for any bush you want to grab hunks of and slice off, to shear it. I plan to get one for my own garden right away, so I can give a break to my finger joints.

As we were packing tools and water, and applying sunscreen and bug spray — the sisters said they had been “chewed up” by chiggers one year — Mother Tabitha was on the phone a lot trying to arrange for Mother Anna to be buried this afternoon.

One of the lavender friends, with the most to pick, cancelled our visit because they didn’t think their insurance covered children on the property, and they had seen a few rattlesnakes lately. But the monastery had already this season delivered 200 pounds of lavender flowers to the distiller, so they were not worried. Some of what we were tackling was past its prime and too dried out to use. We sheared it off anyway but put it in the discard pile.

We eventually filled the back of a pickup truck with the blooms. Bees were thicker on them in the truck than they had been in the field. The farmer lady gave us plums and peaches for a snack, and insisted that the sisters take buckets of dahlias and gladiolas for the burial of Mother Anna.

The second, smaller harvest was at a house that had barely missed destruction in the fires of 2017. Most of their lavender bushes, which had formerly lined the long driveway, had burned and not been replaced. To the south and to the north, close to the front and back of the house, were patches of blackened trees where the wildfire had swept through erratically.

Soon we were headed back to the monastery, hot and dusty, and again they fed us very well! But Mother Macrina drove the pickup load straight to the distiller, to have its essential oil extracted. The by-product hydrosol, the lavender water that is left over, they also use, to make sprays good for cleaning and dusting, and deodorizing. Next time I have a chance, I’ll buy some lavender products from them. And maybe tomorrow I’ll look at my own lavender bushes and see if they are ready to harvest!

Spring Zoë

When the sun was just rising above the groves I drove away from my sister’s house and about an hour north to visit the Monastery of the Theotokos the Life-Giving Spring, which is nestled in the foothills at about 2,000 ft. elevation. It was Sunday morning and I wanted to attend Divine Liturgy there; the service was starting at 8:30.

Christ’s mother Mary is called the Life-Giving Spring because of course Christ is Himself the Water of Life. Just as the name of our first mother Eve means life in Hebrew, Zoë means life in Greek. There is an icon associated with this name of the Theotokos, and a feast day on the Friday following Pascha.

It was a beautiful drive, especially as the road climbed very gradually into green hills scattered with large patches of lupines and poppies. This year California’s Central Valley received more rain than usual, and the landscape is still gentle and lush everywhere. Many of the plants that will eventually be stickers and thorns are still pretty wildflowers.

I had reserved a room for the night at St. Nicholas Ranch retreat center just next to the monastery, and I parked my car there and walked through the gates and up the hill to the monastery itself. I had never visited here before, and didn’t know that this little hike would right away give me the opportunity to take pictures of wildflowers. 🙂

Then I entered the courtyard of the church, through a hall lined with mural icons of saints, in process of being painted; once I saw two of the sisters painting when I passed through. The courtyard has four planters with walls on which one can sit. They are filled with many ornamentals, but especially palms and bugleweed, a species of ajuga, which right now is in full bloom, its blue spikes standing boldly up from the mat of green leaves.

On my drive to the monastery I am sorry to say I had wasted time in my too-frequent mental lament over the unsightly palm trees that dot the landscape in the warmer areas of the state. Of course in their essence they are not ugly, but the way they have been used makes them appear that way. I think sometimes it is because they aren’t incorporated into any symmetry; or they stick up in an ungainly way out of context of their setting (for example, in Northern California where I live, and where conifers naturally and more healthily grow), often as a solitary botanical oddity. The majority are also not maintained and many have more dead fronds than living ones.

Here at the monastery I was given a huge gift, in encountering palm trees in all their glory. Many species of palms have been incorporated into the landscaping, and someone obviously gave thought to how to arrange them in the most beautiful way. Gardeners care for them and trim the dead fronds. My feeling about them has forever been altered, now that I’ve seen palm trees as they certainly were meant to be.

On one side of the courtyard is the church, where I spent the next couple of hours settling my spirit that had been jangled by all the activity of getting there. What a magnificent temple! The nuns’ singing transported me to heaven, by way of Greece. The whole service was in Greek, though the Gospel was read in English also. At least 50 other visitors were there with me, including several families with young children; I heard that they come from all over the world, and I personally met people from British Columbia, and from various points in California that are several hours away. I had words with a monk who I think  was from Greece, judging from what he said to a question, “I don’t know, I don’t speak English,” and from how another person translated for him so he could answer me.

After the service we walked across the courtyard to the dining room where dozens of visitors ate lunch provided by the sisters. It was the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, and the story of her life was read to us from a perch high on the wall above, as we ate in silence in the trapeza style of Orthodox monasteries. We filed back into church to complete our meal with prayers, and then thick and sweet Greek coffee was served in the courtyard.

After a little coffee and cookies and socializing, we were invited to another room to hear a talk from (Korean) Father Gregory on St. Mary of Egypt, in English. It was very encouraging! Her life and example of repentance illustrate spiritual truths that I have been hearing from every direction in the last couple of weeks, and which I hope to consider altogether and write about later.

I shopped in the bookstore and bought a little icon of St. Porphyrios, who has blessed me so much this Lent through the book I’ve mentioned here, Wounded by Love. And then I returned to my room for a rest before Vespers which was to be at 3:00. The next string of pictures starts with a view of the monastery from just outside the window of my room, and includes scenes from a stroll around the property that evening.

It was a deep and quiet sleep I fell into that night after spending the last Sunday of Lent at this special place. I skipped the morning service that was to be at 3:00, and walked up the hill again for for a lovely breakfast, which I shared with only two other women, as most of the visitors had departed the day before.

I want to tell you about the hearty breakfast menu: On the table waiting for us was a bowl of cut-up grapefruit; a dish of rice and white beans lightly flavored with tomato and other good tastes; oatmeal cooked with cashew milk and fruit – we thought dates and blueberries and maybe figs; cookies with molasses; good bread; peanut butter; and a bowl of walnuts in their shells.

Down the hill again, and I packed my car for the drive home, full to the brim of blessings from my oh so brief, introductory sort of pilgrimage to this holy place, and already imagining my return. But before I descended to the valley again I had one more stop to make, about which I will tell you in my next post.

Roses, a towel, and Isidora.

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.

isi cistus church 5-17
cistus at church

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.

Icon over the church hall porch

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 thisidora-of-egypt-frescoe 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?”