Monday, June 19, 2017

A Treasured Book




      He gave me the Bible for Christmas the year before we were married. A plain, brown cowhide cover back in the day when leather meant something good. We were newly engaged and in our last year of college. I read that Bible cover to cover five or six times before it began to fall apart forty years later, going all loose at the seams with pages beginning to slip and bits of the leather tearing off at the corners from wear. Like the Velveteen Rabbit. Like me. Well-loved and well-worn.

     So he bought me another one with a black calfskin cover like he had always wanted to give me. Leather so soft it feels as if it might melt between my fingers. I find myself caressing it just for the pleasure it gives my palms, feeling the hint of grain beneath the softness. The pages are tissue thin like the skin of an old woman, but smooth as silk. The volume opens as gracefully as a dancer and lies flat on the dining table. The real beauty of the book, of course, is contained inside the cover. “In the beginning…” I read aloud the ancient words of poetry. Moses’ words. God’s words reaching down the ages through men to men…to me as well. Words that have, many times, lifted me out of a deep pit or carried me through a dark night. Words that have translated and transformed me.

     It is undeniably the most incredible piece of literature ever written. Dozens of authors telling a seamless story through multiple genres over hundreds and hundreds of years. A love story. And, yes, the most incredible story ever told.

     It comes with a lifetime guarantee, both the story and the new calfskin cover. Both are gifts I cherish.


To see the binding process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6y3vUcG1wM

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Passenger's Photo Album - Japan






Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings,
Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (Who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

                                                         ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~

Friday, May 19, 2017

Celebrity Mom




     I stepped onto the train on a bright, May morning with my hair looking like a birch broom in a fit. The frivolous winds had played tricks on me as I waited on the platform for the train to arrive. I was traveling into the city for a visit with Whistler’s Mother. Anna Whistler does not seem to be the sort of matron who would look kindly on a woman appearing in public all frowsy and blown. I combed my fingers through my hair and fluffed my artistically arranged scarf, even though I would have it to do all over again after walking from the train station to the Art Institute where Mrs. Whistler was staying.

     Nevertheless, it was a lovely spring morning with wooly white clouds grazing in blue meadows overhead and gray, feather-footed shadows skipping over the ground. The trees along the track tossed their green heads at me as I passed. I envy them. Trees never look frowsy with windblown tresses.

     I had a new book to read. My anticipation was palpable. Eleven stops later, I had only finished one chapter. The words in that chapter were like a May morning: bright and fresh above with shadows running along beneath. I had paused repeatedly to look at the beguiling, bittersweet words in the same way that I look out the window at each stop on the line to watch passengers board the train. Boisterous Cubs fans on their way to a game; college students freed from the constraint of study; a few old ladies like myself, alone and silent or in chatty pairs; a noticeable absence of commuters.

     Lunch came first because Anna Whistler is a genteel but frugal woman and would not be serving tea. I sat at a tiny marble-top bistro table in my favorite Belgian café eating tartine: thin, chewy brown bread; wholesome turkey; slices of avocado, cucumber and radish; a sprinkling of rocket; a drizzle of dressing and a triple cornichon garnish. Oh, so yummy without a gram of guilt. I paused between portions to read a paragraph or two from my book. No matter how tempting, one cannot hold a paperback and eat fully loaded slices of tartine at the same time.

     We met after lunch, Whistler’s Mother and I. She lives in France but American Gothic went on holiday to the Musée d’Orsay and Mrs. Whistler came to Chicago. I had done some pertinent reading before my visit, so I knew the painting was much larger than I had always imagined it to be. I am already fond of straight lines, order and neutral tones, but studying the piece has built in me an even greater appreciation for it. Whistler disliked the Victorian sentimentality portrayed in the art of his day and never meant for the painting to be viewed as a portrait. It is more an arrangement of items, perhaps as one would view them in a still life painting. He did, in fact, title the painting: Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1. intending to reference the musical concept of arrangement.

     Whistler may have painted his sixty-seven-year-old mother without that sentimentality for either her age or widowhood that would make her seem other than she was, yet I cannot help but notice that the only colors in the painting are the warm flesh tones of her hands and face. And he gave her something to rest her feet on. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why the painting has become an icon for motherhood and will always be remembered to the world as Whistler’s Mother.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Meanwhile...



...life goes on for the robins nesting in a yew in the back garden.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Mourning Dove





     A few days later, my Noble Dove was back on the nest, preparing to raise another family. My husband saw her lay the first egg.


     When I checked the next morning she was gone. Well, most of her was gone. A neighbor told us they had seen a hawk lurking around their birdbath. 




     The male stood at the peak of the neighbor's rooftop calling and calling for his mate. It was heartbreaking; we could hear his mourning from inside our house. He never returned to the nest.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Family Portraits



     I made several attempts to catch a glimpse of either the eggs or the hatchlings of my Noble Doves. Just once, I was present for the changing of the guard, and I thought my curiosity would be rewarded; but the instant I was seen by the mama and papa they froze. I tried to wait them out, but they are more patient than I am. I wasn't able to greet the squabs until they were too big for concealment.


     And then they flew the nest...










Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Passenger's Photo Album - Australia






     On his way home from Papua New Guinea, the Passenger paused for a few days in Sydney. The iconic, shell-shaped roofs of the Opera House are meant to evoke the sails in Sydney harbor. They certainly do, but when I look at them I also see a cluster of upended fishing dinghies, or the thresh of wind in the waves.

     What do you see?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

These Hands




They drove the hammered nails into His hands,
His hands that shaped the hot sun overhead...

                               ~ from Sequel to Finality by Patrick F. Kirby ~


Friday, April 14, 2017

Tea and Coffee Down Under



     My husband arrived home from Australia just in time. I ran out of my favorite everyday tea bags two weeks ago. I can order them online, but the postage is too steep. So he brought me 5 boxes--that's 500 teabags--from Sydney.  He spoils me.

     My husband also bought a  Sunbeam coffee grinder in Australia to give to a colleague in Sulawesi.  Hmm. Interesting reading on the bottom of the box.



😏


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Incongruent



     As I walked down to the postboxes to retrieve my mail the other day, I noticed that hundreds of desiccating worms had been washed into the gutter by a recent downpour.

     I eat meat, wear leather shoes and go after the bunnies eating flowers in my yard with a BB gun like Elmer Fudd or Mr. McGregor...so why do I feel sad for these worms?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Noble Dove



     In spring and summer these pots on my front porch are planted with ferns. I empty them in the fall to grow stars in December. Come late winter they are empty again, awaiting the spring planting. Not so this year.


     This year a mourning dove has moved in. I often think of doves as silly birds. They build silly, impossible nests. This one is just a loose handful of birch twigs laid in a flowerpot. If not for the paper I stuffed in the pot to hold stars, what would prevent the eggs from falling through and smashing? Surely a sudden storm could scatter the flimsy thing to the twelve winds.


     When the dove and her mate first came to stay, the least bit of commotion sent them streaking for the garage roof or safety of the birch. Then, one day shortly thereafter, nothing could move either of them as they took turns warming the nest: not a delivery man knocking on the front door, a camera pointed too close, or a rude photographer trying to shift one aside with a twig to glimpse the eggs. Early in the morning or late at night, whenever I check there is a dove sitting stoically on the nest. Courage. Faithfulness. Patience. Not so silly after all.


Noble dove.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Reflection on a Bridge



     I took this photo of the reflection of a red double-decker bus in the windows of Parliment as I stood on Westminster Bridge in London. I was there. In that exact spot. And even though it was nearly two years ago, after the recent terrorist attack, one cannot help but think: "It could have been me..." 

     My heart goes out to all those who are unable to say that with me. 

     I am praying for them, for the suffering of the injured and the grief of those families who have suffered irretrievable loss. I pray for all those in authority who must respond to these unconscionable deeds with resolution, discernment and a measured calm. I am also reminded to pray for my enemies, for there is no more effective tool against terrorism than a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Blind Optimism



It snowed last night.


Wishful Thinking: The elderly birch in our front garden isn't dying.


Optimism: I won't be shoveling the front walk because it will melt by mid-afternoon


I am in training to become a Glass is Half Full kind of girl instead of the other way round. Even so, I will be knitting mufflers for the daffodils.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Shredding Stress



     I was feeling stressed about something the other day. It was the proverbial straw that was threatening to do unspeakable things to my poor camel's back. Stress has a way of making ordinary tasks feel overwhelming. Suddenly my laundry pile was screaming at me, and my calendar felt like a bag of bricks. I was beginning to unravel, so while neither of my responses to the laundry or calendar were rooted in reality, I did the only reasonable thing a girl could do at such a moment—I went to the basement to shred old tax documents.

     After half an hour of intense shredding, my equilibrium was restored. By the time the bags of scrap are carted away by the Recycler, there will be plenty of space in my soul to breathe, mop the floors and roast tomatoes for soup.

     We all deal with stress in different ways. Mine is to marshall the outside in order to manage the chaos within by tidying the kitchen, stripping my wardrobe of cram, or cleaning the crawl space in the basement of un-needed detritus. 

     So, whether it is a tornado warning, a disagreement, an unexpected hospital visit, or an aggravating news segment, you will probably find me in the basement shredding old tax documents...and praying, because there is no better way to manage stress than to put the matter into hands that can handle it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Kissing Frogs



     It was 1:00 AM and I wanted to finish my book before turning out the light, so I began skimming. That's never a good sign. After fifty pages, I decided the book wasn't worth the loss of sleep. In the morning I decided it wasn't worth the loss of time to finish the last seventy pages and dropped it into the library return pile. I felt cheated. I had neglected housework to read that book, but at least I hadn't gone out on a limb and bought it. I have made that mistake before, bet money on a book I haven't read, and it makes the keen edge of disappointment even more acute when the book turns out to be a bust. Two years ago I bought a popular historical romance with so much bust in it, I dropped it in the trash bin after reading only a quarter of it. There is a difference between trollop and Trollope--it's called codswallop.

     I have spent most of my adult life reading the classics, but, these days, I have been reading and buying more modern literature. By modern I mean books written in the last fifty years--the potential classics of the next century. The upside is that I have discovered some delightful new authors to populate my bookshelf and wax rhapsodic over when someone asks me to recommend a good book. The downside is the trash bin. And that feeling you get when a used car salesman gets the best of you.

     I realize that my personal taste in literature is not by any means the barometer of accepted opinion, after all, I didn't enjoy War and Peace or The Great Gatsby. Who will want to read my blog after an admission like that? But I know what I like and what makes a book worthwhile to me.

     And I also know that a girl's got to kiss a lot of frogs before she finds a prince.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

At the Glance of the Sun

   

     We were in the sitting room enjoying a cup of afternoon tea and a plate of scones when my husband suddenly rushed out of the room and returned with his camera. He spent the next few minutes snapping dozens of photos. It wasn't the dining room table or chairs he was photographing, nor was it the metal bowl full of paper snowballs; it was the late afternoon sunlight pouring in through the slats of the sitting room blinds that had caught his eye.


     There is more than one reason why I married that man.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Not Just a Wooden Spoon



     You may have noticed my bouquet of wooden spoons on the kitchen counter in a recent post. We were talking appliances at the time, and my spoons were content to bide awhile till I was in the mood to feature them in their own post. I keep them out on the counter because they remind me of the color of toasted pine nuts...too pleasing to stuff in a kitchen drawer.


     Many of these spoons have a story or memory attached to them. For instance, there is the olive wood implement my husband bought and has asked me not to leave soaking in the dishwater as it will sully its character; the other spoons do not seem offended in the least by this preferential treatment. And there are two, small, bone-handled spoons which have immigrated from Africa and are perfect for tasting the sauce or soup. There is even an interloper hiding among the handles which isn't a spoon at all; it is the beautifully grained cheese spreader I bought from a weekend craft market in a church courtyard in London. I rarely use it because I am afraid it will lose its tree smell. You would understand my reluctance, perhaps, if I told you that I go all goofy in lumber yards and stroll around sniffing planks like a cat with catnip.


     There are others as well, but the one I hold most dear is the porridge spoon. It really isn't a spoon, more of a spatula or stick. It was my father's and the only utensil he would use to stir his morning porridge. When I visited my parents and made breakfast for them, I would search their crowded kitchen crock for it to make their oatmeal. When I knew my parents were dying, I asked if I could have it. It is now our designated porridge stick and woe to the one who gets caught stirring garlic or onions with it.

     I found a fading date scratched into its handle: 1949. I know, without being told, it is my father's writing. I never had the chance to ask him what it meant, but I suspect it is the year he bought it. He died four years ago, but today is his birthday. He would have been 90. It seemed fitting, therefore, to mark the day with a remembrance of something we have shared.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Elephant Ride



     The elephant shuffled its wide, flat feet, snorting clouds of dust in the bare enclosure. There was nothing between me and the mountainous gray bulk, but its keeper—nothing to make a timid young girl feel safe from the wild impulses of the jungle creature. Tiny brown eyes, sunk in whorls of flesh as rough and seamed as tree bark, peered calmly out at me from a massive head, but the long, questing nose and ropey tail were restless. This elephant didn’t look nearly as civilized as King Babar did in my picture books, and I couldn’t imagine him wearing either a suit or a hat.


     I was anxious for what was to come, but a bubble of excitement kept me from turning around and running back to cling to my grandmother’s leg. My younger sister and I were going to ride the elephant, and instinctively, I felt it was the kind of thing I might never have the chance to do again.

     I had been envious when my older brother and sister had ridden the train to Seattle to spend a weekend with my grandmother; envious of the small cardboard suitcases they clutched in their hands; of the attention the conductor gave them as he helped them to board; of their smiling faces and exuberant hand-wavings at the window as the train pulled away from the station. All of that was gone now, eclipsed by an elephant.  

     It was the first adventure I remember having—something so out of the ordinary I would remember it for the rest of my life. Even though the elephant I rode was a tamed zoo animal, in my imagination it was a wild beast fresh from the jungles of Borneo; the kind I had seen in a book, hoisting logs with its trunk like a forklift.

     Years later, as I read about the treatment many such animals in captivity received at the hands of their trainers, I felt pangs of sympathy and regret, hoping my elephant had been spared; but the burden of knowledge did not rob me of the magic of memory. The joy of riding an elephant was wrapped in the innocence of childhood, and was the first of many windows that would open to show me that the world is a wondrous place.

Robert Bateman, artist

Friday, February 3, 2017

Smitten With Smeg



     I have a curious relationship with some of my small electrical appliances. I am as thankful for my food processor, blender and mixer as I am for my dentist or the teller who handles my house payment at the bank. They each provide a service that makes life easier, but one does tend to take them for granted.

     Not so the toaster and tea kettle. Those two appliances are like family. My fondness for tea and toast is so ardent that I have written poetry about them. There is no poetry forthcoming for their progenitors, but they are surely deserving of a blog post.




     When my friendly little red toaster stopped working properly a few years ago, my husband talked me into buying a brushed stainless usurper that glares at me from the kitchen counter like a one-eyed cyborg. It is a little disconcerting to wake up to a cyborg each morning, so when I decided to buy an electric tea kettle instead of heating water on the stove in my cheerful green Le Creuset, it was necessary to find a friendly one.

     I found Smeg.

     Six weeks later, it feels as if Smeg and I have known each other for years. Best of all, I think one of my tea cozies is smitten.



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Pumpkin Chronicles - Epilogue



     It has been day after day of sullen gray around here. But it has also been warmer than usual with not a speck of snow to show that it is winter. It brings the squirrels out of hiding to forage for food. My lovely pumpkin collapsed in the thaw, thereby thwarting its ill-fated attempt to reinvent itself as a Cinderella coach. All is not lost. In a final gesture of friendship, it surrendered its golden aspirations to the needs of the squirrel-folk. 

     Noble pumpkin.