Tag Archives: zinnias

Books and Bouquets

Hello, my Dear Readers!

Life has been messily, exhaustingly, gloriously busy — and often fun. As a result, my house is messy, my body and mind have been weary, and I have seen many glimpses of the glory of God and His world.

Flowers, flowers, flowers! In my own garden I have sunflowers; in addition to the usual Delta species, I have “Autumn,” which seem very like in branching habit, but with more variety of color and shape of bloom. The tallest plant this year is an “Autumn.”

These shots from the front yard are just before we sheared the teucrium, so it was getting shaggy and with fewer and fewer flowers for the bees. Between the sunflowers and the asparagus let go, it’s a jungle out there for sure. Each successive summer the jungle is thicker, because the asparagus crowns deep under the soil are bigger. They send up more and fatter stalks every spring, which after two or three months of harvest I stop cutting as spears to cook and eat. They turn into  ferns, occasionally 5 feet high, and those green bushy parts carry on photosynthesis for months, growing the crowns even bigger.

There were plenty of flowers on the Feast of the Dormition yesterday, to celebrate Christ’s mother. We always have flowers, and extra for feasts, but the tradition is to have extra-extra for Mary:

I’ve been to the beach alone and with a friend; I’ve walked in the neighborhood, ferried friends all over two counties, and bought a new phone.

Our book group met yesterday, in a living room this time, because of heat and smoke; the smoke is still not from any wildfire nearby. We had lively discussion, mostly about A Long Walk with Mary, by Brandi Willis Schreiber, which I hadn’t read. The ways that the book had engaged such diverse women made me think I might like to read it myself in the future. We also talked a lot about what to read next, and we could not decide. No one wants a story so light as to be fluff, but they feel an avoidance for anything melancholic or gloomy right now.

One highlight of the book club event for me was afterward, when I got to visit the host’s garden for the second time. What a collection of flowers she has! I took a few pictures in the garden, and then she sent me home with a bouquet’s worth, plus several ripe tomatoes. My own tomato plants are puny and not very productive, and I have few flowers here that are good for cutting, so I was most grateful. She has two unusual and charming forms of zinnias that I would like to grow myself:

But I do have wisteria, at its most lush right now, making deep shade on the patio. Bees are happy in my garden, shown here on the apple mint that Mrs. Bread gave me, which has grown by leaps and bounds. The tomatoes below are the Atomic Grape variety, which are grape-shaped, but much bigger than any grape you ever saw. They are very tasty.

I’ve still been reading a lot. I abandoned a couple of books I’d started, and picked up new ones. Many times I have enough of my wits about me to read a book, but not enough to write about it. So I keep reading…. Lately the weather has been just the right amount of warm that it is the perfect thing to leave the too-cool house and carry my book and my lunch out to the garden. After a while I return to refill my big glass of iced something or other, and back out again to read a while longer. It doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, it’s the perfect summer treat.

God bless you all and your own summer days.

I do like a little hen indeed.

“We kept good hens out in the back, brown and white, and some good layers from my father’s sisters that were black. There is happy our hens. All day they peck for sweet bits in the ground, twice they come for corn, and in the mornings they shout the roof off to have you come and see their eggs. And no trouble to anybody.

“I do like a little hen indeed. A minder of her own business always, and very dainty in her walk and ways….”

That is a clipping from How Green Was my Valley, by Richard Llewellyn, which I am currently reading/listening to. The narrator is Ralph Cosham, whose rich British voice perfectly accompanies the author’s prose to double the amount of atmosphere evoked. What a wonderful story! I’d never read the book before, and I’m not sure I ever saw the movie. I have probably seen fewer movies than anyone I know.

Many such short passages make me wish that I were reading the novel in print, so that I could underline them, and have an easier time copying them to share. But I’m not, so I won’t. Instead, I hit the replay button from time to time and pause whatever I’m doing to listen more carefully, in love with the sentences and the scenes and the Morgan Family.

Probably because of all the people I know who during the pandemic especially enjoyed their chickens, or started keeping chickens for the first time, I also began longing to have chickens again. I walked around my property eyeing every nook and cranny, but concluded once again, sadly, that every spot is taken. Any ground not being used by plants or furniture or greenhouse did not qualify on account of being sweltering hot, or too close to the clothesline, where I wouldn’t want chicken dust.

If I had found room I could have taken quick possession of the healthiest year-old hens you ever saw, Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks, that one friend had to give away, a flock of ten that he had acquired as day-old chicks during covid. I did get to eat eighteen of their eggs; they were the best I’d ever tasted, and I have tasted lots of home-raised eggs.

Instead, I sent word to friends all over the county (and into the next county), everyone I could think of going back 40 years that I’d ever known to keep livestock. I finally found a good home for those girls. And for myself, I will go back to my dream and plan of raising worms. I do have the perfect spot for them, whom I imagine are the tiniest breed of livestock….

You would think that in thirteen years of keeping chickens I would have a few good photos of them, but it was in the days before digital cameras, and I couldn’t waste film on targets that moved the way chickens are likely to do. But I did locate this one above, the three older children in the 80’s, each holding one of their pullets. It’s almost the opposite of the kind of picture I wish I had, because adolescent chickens are inelegant, and these that you can barely see in the shade are definitely in the gawky stage. But it does show that we enjoyed our hens.

Until yesterday our area of California had been miraculously, blessedly free of wildfire smoke. Smoke from our fires out West was drifting all the way to the East Coast, and plaguing most of my children and many friends on the way — but not coming here. But yesterday it arrived. I don’t know which fire it is from. Once again, I have friends who lost their home, this time in the Dixie Fire 200 miles north of me. I’m sure that the personal connection increases weight that was already on my heart; I’m finding it hard to focus on anything and apply myself. It is some sweet relief to see in my mind’s eye the dainty hens in the Green Valley, when I visit vicariously in the coal mining town in Wales.

Another heartening little thing that surprised me today was a volunteer zinnia. I still haven’t cleaned up my planter boxes where most of my vegetables usually grow. In one box the parsley, hyssop and chamomile have all grown into a seedy jungle, and in the other a single zinnia plant sprouted in secret under the squashes and Painted Lady beans and grew up spindly toward the light.

May the Lord’s grace light our way and warm our souls.

But for you who fear my name,
the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.
You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Malachi 4

Cake and flowers for the inconvenienced.

In the midst of destruction, smoke, fear, and drama of the worst sorts, I rested for most of last week as though at a peaceful (indoor) oasis, with my dear friends. First it was the two evacuees, and then a third who was merely on her way home to Ohio. After all were gone, I hurried to prepare my part of a church school lesson, attended Liturgy…

…and a new week had begun. Whoa! While I had my head turned, a new season had suddenly arrived. The nights are cooler again, the sun is slant. When the wildfire smoke thinned out a bit, I could notice the fall feel of the air, and skies turning from orange to blue. It made me weep with relief.

The butternuts needed to be brought in, the zucchini yanked out, and a general clean-up begun. I had planned to plant peas in September; now I hope to do it before the first week of October is gone.

The zucchini plants were disgusting; for many weeks the white flies have flown up in a cloud every time I rummage around to pick the perfect fruits; those insects are still present, and now ashes blow and drift down wherever I move a stem of salvia, or a fig branch.

I try not to keep talking about cinders, but they have gone from being an unusual element of the weather to being constant, and hard to ignore. When it doesn’t include smoke and ashes I find the weather to be always interesting, but in a more satisfying way. Of course, I am merely inconvenienced; those of you who experience tornadoes, hurricanes and floods have your own reasons to not be exactly “satisfied” even with more natural weather made up of rain and wind.

When the zucchini was gone this flower was revealed, its bloom pristine though its leaves are sooty. My Seek app can’t identify it, and I don’t recall seeing such a plant here before.

The two 4-inch zinnia starts I planted in June have grown gloriously bushy. It took me months to get around to deadheading them; this week was only the second time. A few flowers had formed seeds, which I scattered in hopes of finding some sprouts next spring. But they are likely hybrids, so who knows?

The figs keep coming, and I plan to make this autumn cake again. But I can’t eat the whole thing… who is in my “bubble” that I might invite to share with me? I could give the whole cake to a neighbor! Actually, I had thought to make two, and already planned to give one to a neighbor…. I don’t have my thinking cap on right now to work out this problem.

Because while I was typing, the smoke thickened. I have shut the windows, taken the laundry off the clothesline, and turned on the air purifiers again. Since I did make a little start in the garden, and brought in a few of the red zinnias, I am content. If no new fires start, we can expect the skies to clear more and more, just in time for cold weather and wood fires in the house. I hope.

I know that many of you pray for us who live in wildfire country, for the firefighters, for rain. Thank you!

Annus est Christus.

Much earth and earthiness, fruitfulness, and aromas from it all, here on September 1st. I have been gardening a lot, soaking up the heat, collecting seeds, and ripping out vegetables that are done in by “pests,” those other hungry creatures who enjoy my garden. In a few days, God willing, my Monarchs will emerge from their delicate green chrysalises. In the meantime, other insects have been patiently posing for me.

I keep buying plants, and sticking them in the ground or in pots. Lots of perennials that will go dormant in a few months, but then they will be beautiful in the spring. I’m planning for another year in the garden, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

This nursery in the country that I rarely visit, I managed to drive to yesterday; they specialize in edible perennials and pollinator plants. I bought five unusual plants, which I’ll have to tell about in a separate post. One lovely thing  I saw but didn’t buy was this passion flower that has decided to grow all over the mesh ceiling of the nursery.

In my own space, Alejandro spent a couple of hours trimming the lamb’s ears back to the steel edging of the paths. If we let it, it would grow all the way across the path, living a dry existence in the bark mulch, waiting for winter rains. I like to have my helper come at a time when I also can be working in my garden, and for some reason we seem to get more than double the work done. The other day he told me that my plum trees seem very likely to bear next year, judging from all the fruit spurs on them. 🙂

That mantis praying makes me want to tell you that it’s the beginning of the church year! Why, you may ask, does it start now? Why, because of Rosh Hashanah! I had been thinking a lot about this special day in preparation for teaching 7th-10th graders this morning, and then in today’s homily we were given a heavenly vision of this church calendar year and its cycles within cycles, with Christ at the center.

One book I used to prepare my lesson is The Year of Grace of the Lord by A Monk of the Eastern Church. He says, “The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man. According to a medieval Latin saying, the liturgical year is Christ himself, annus est Christus.”

Our homilist taught us about how we humans, along with angels, were made to live in a created eternity, something different from the unchanging, eternal nature that characterizes the Holy Trinity. But since the fall of mankind into sin, we find ourselves in a linear, world time, a fallen time that carries death in it; we are born, grow old, and die.

But we don’t have to live there exclusively; in the Church Christ gives us Himself by many means, including the daily, weekly and yearly cycles of prayers and hymn-filled services, feasts and saints’ days. The calendar brings the heavenly realm down and puts it into fallen time, where it is possible for us to enter in and live. We often get a taste of this kind of life at Pascha, but it is happening all the time.

I love the church calendar, and have always reckoned it a great gift — that is, since I found the Orthodox Church. It was August twenty years ago that I was invited to a women’s retreat at a monastery, and the brief immersion into the daily, weekly and festal cycles of worship — eleven services! — made me feel that I’d found my true home. Here was a way to live with Christ!

It’s more helpful to think of the church calendar not as the paper type with boxes for each day, but as circles and cycles and rhythms, some following the cycles of the sun or the moon, some celebrations fixed on the linear calendar and some moving with the changes of the earthly seasons. Jesus Christ entered our linear time, where He lived through 33 years of Jewish festal seasons; through the church calendar we can follow Him through His life, death, Resurrection, and the birth of His Church, and use it all to unite ourselves to Him day by day. 

I think August and September might be my favorite months of the year. We’ve had other traditional, seasonal events, like barbecues at church – yum! Green beans from my garden slathered with pesto from my garden, and Gravenstein apples, harbingers of fall. September is the month that I love most to go to my cabin in the mountains, but this year is full in ways that prevent that. It’s really a year of preparation of my house, so that I can, if possible, live here for a long time to come, and continue to make it a hospitable place for my family and others whom the Lord brings.

“We can only see a short distance ahead,
but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
~ Alan Turing