May 20, 2016
“What a disgraceful lapse! Nothing added to my disquisition, & life allowed to waste like a tap left running. Eleven days unrecorded.”
— Virginia Woolf, from her diaries
It’s been over a week since my last post. I’m sorry for the lapse, but I cannot promise more “disgraceful” gaps in the future. I am slowing down in my old age! Now that I am in my sixties, I get less satisfaction from checking lots of items off of an ambitious “To-Do” list. Those kinds of full days now tire me out. It’s been very busy at work lately because a nearby branch library is closed for renovations and upgrades, so many of its patrons are coming into the Greenwood Branch and our workload has practically doubled. In spite of the longer days, I’m just not motivated to tackle any personal projects when I get home.
In my mind, I frequently tell myself just to STOP. To take a moment and slow down. Breathe and think about what is important that moment, that day. And sometimes, indulging myself by curling up on the couch with a good book feels better than accomplishing something more worthwhile.
Right now I have about four hours before my sister and brother-in-law arrive for an overnight visit, and while I finish two loads of laundry, I plan to take out a large drawing pad and make some preliminary sketches of squirrels. They are so energetic and playful, I hope I can capture that spirit in this morning’s work. Painting and drawing always make me feel better afterwards. I bet that painting squirrel antics will enliven me even more.
Hope you have a great weekend!
May 12, 2016
“The real world, in my opinion, exists in the countryside, where Nature goes about her quiet business and brings greatest pleasure.”
— Fennel Hudson
I am drawn to the countryside. I love its “quiet business.” The pre-dawn hour is especially lovely. I enjoy pulling to the side of the road, turning off the car’s ignition, and sitting in the quiet, watching the world awaken.
May 11, 2016
“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”
— Pedro Calderon de la Barca
May 10, 2016
The Man Watching
by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly
I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.
The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age;
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.
What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.
When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestlers’ sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.
Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined to fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.
May 9, 2016
“The love of a practice, the effort of trying to master it, gives us a different portal through which to enter the world and, thus, another way both to see new places and to draw from our innate beings the things that are potentially contained within it.”
— An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery by Janna Malamud Smith
What a difference a week makes! This past Thursday a group of friends met for a second time in Kitty’s iris garden on Samish Island. Far more irises were in bloom, and I imagine next week’s garden will be even more profuse. I wish I could return again, but I fear my schedule is too tight in the coming weeks. There is always something wonderful and new to see.
“Our interest and competencies create the focus for our gaze, stimulate our curiosity about variation, allow us to seek and find fruit in what is initially an obscure grove.”
— An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery by Janna Malamud Smith
My eyes were stimulated by the gorgeous and varied colors of these magnificent irises. I am still not done painting irises this year!
May 8, 2016
“We think back through our mothers, if we are women.”
— Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
This Mother’s Day holiday started me thinking of things that trigger memories of my mother. Back in mid-August 2014, I wrote a series of blog posts describing my life through ten iconic objects. (You can link back to the first post in this series here.) I thought I would try the same exercise describing ten objects that I believe reflect my mother’s essence.
This was a surprisingly difficult assignment. Who was she really? I realize I do not have a very well-rounded picture of my mother. I saw her primarily as a homemaker with limited interests outside that sphere. To her credit, she did seem to enjoy many aspects of homemaking, but she did not do much else for fun or pleasure. I suspect that she was more fun-loving as a child and young unencumbered woman. Back in those days, she would go dancing, wear lipstick, and take pictures with her Brownie camera. When did she and Dad stop dancing? When did she lose interest in taking pictures?
- Flowers. My mother always had a huge kitchen garden and grew enough corn, peas, tomatoes, and vegetables to feed us all year long. But flowers must have fed her need for beauty, and she always had a few flowers growing in narrow beds alongside the house. Her favorite flowers were chrysanthemums.
But she did not make bouquets of cut chrysanthemums. The two flowers she did bring into the house during their blooming seasons were lilacs and peonies.
2. Homemade bread, kolachkies, and desserts. Certain foods are strongly tied to my mother in my mind — homemade bread and kolachkies, rhubarb sauce and desserts, cranberry marshmallow salad and assorted jello salads, rice pudding. Mostly baked goods, I notice! So one object that seems emblematic of her is her hand-written recipe cards. She kept a well-used recipe box and often tried new recipes that she discovered at baby and wedding showers and in women’s magazines. I suppose the hunt for new and different recipes showed her adventurous side.
3. Sewing machine. Mom sewed our clothes for many years. Each season we would get to pick fabrics from the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogues and she would make us at least one new garment — nightgowns, shorts and coordinating sleeveless tops for summer, corduroy jumpers and pants for school. When each of us girls moved away from home for college and our apartments, we each bought ourselves a sewing machine — it was that much of a necessary appliance in our house! Mom never did sew quilts, though.
4. Curlers, rollers, rat-tail combs, bobby pins. Mom was our own personal hairdresser when we were growing up. She cut our hair, gave us home permanents, and set our hair in metal curlers. She must have been very familiar with our heads! We girls all wore the same hairstyle — parted on the side with the rat-tail comb, a pin curl held with a bobby pin off to the side to keep our hair off our faces, and curls round our necks.
I remember Mom visiting her mother every weekend and Mom would set Grandma’s hair. When I was a teenager and Mom’s arthritis made it difficult to lift her arms, I — in turn — would set her hair in rollers every Saturday. This felt very natural to me after seeing Mom do her mother’s hair. I don’t quite know why I was “chosen” among my sisters to set Mom’s hair. For some reason this task fell to me. It did not feel like work. I think Mom appreciated this and wasn’t quite so critical!
5. Maytag wringer washing machine. I’ve written several times before about Mom’s Maytag wringer washing machine, which she used her whole life. She refused to upgrade to an automatic washing machine. I think she felt it wasted water. Mom did laundry twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Except in the deep dark days of winter, she line-dried the clothes. I still love the fresh scent of clothes and bedding dried in the sun.
6. Prayer book. Mom was religious and took time out every day to read devotions from her prayer book. She and Dad both oversaw our religious training. We prayed the rosary on our knees after supper every day. We went to church every Sunday and daily during Lent and the elementary school year. Mom drove us to Confession and catechism lessons as well. I hope she found solace in her prayer life. (It felt more like a duty than a joy to me, I’m afraid.)
7. Letters. Mom enjoyed writing and receiving letters from her children. Once we went off to college, and when my brothers were in the service, Mom wrote each child a letter every week or so. They were filled with brief summaries of what was going on at the farm, in the garden, with her family, or with the parish. Newsy, but not intimate. Mom had distinctive handwriting that I would recognize today.
8. Purse. Mom never left the house without her purse. She was of the same generation as Queen Elizabeth, but unlike the queen, Mom did not have a purse that color-coordinated with every outfit. She did, however, have a purse for winter and a different one for summer. By the time I was a teenager, my mother had given up wearing lipstick, so she did not need a purse to carry makeup. But I am sure her purses contained — at a minimum — a comb, her wallet, a clean handkerchief, and gum.
9. Checkbooks and farm ledger books. My Mom went to a business school in the Twin Cities after graduating high school, and before she got married she kept books for a company in Minneapolis. My mother was very organized and thorough and detail-oriented. She taught us kids to save our small allowances and deposit our meager accumulations in a savings account at the bank. When we got our first jobs in high school, she made sure we opened checking accounts and taught us how to balance them each month. She kept the farm’s accounting books for years. She made weekly grocery shopping lists, and as her memory started to go, it was heartbreaking to see her make endless lists to try to stay on top of things.
10. Curtains. My mother loved curtains and our house was always dark! The living room windows, for example, had pull-down shades, gauzy white curtains, and heavy drapes on the side. We didn’t need curtains for privacy since our farmhouse was far from any road, but Mom felt that pulling the shades kept the house cool in summer. (I am the opposite. I love the light and there are almost no curtains in my house!)
It is certainly my failure as daughter to have such a lopsided, singular view of my mother. She was not a joiner and did not participate in community or parish committees beyond the minimum requirements. She did not have a circle of friends, although I do believe she was close to at least one of her sisters and they chatted on the phone. I can’t remember Mom ever reading a novel, although she did subscribe to Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest. She went on occasional road trips with my Dad to visit their far-flung children, but when Dad would get out of the car to read the historical markers, Mom stayed in the car. I remember her remarking after the long drive to Seattle that if she never saw another mountain in her life it would be too soon!
I wonder if my mother had any regrets about her life. She grew up on a farm, but I think she enjoyed her brief working career in business. I think the demands of nine kids, a husband, working farm, etc. wore her out. I hope she was not disheartened by the trajectory of her life.
We were not the kind of mother and daughter who grew to be friends as adults. I know she had a big influence on me. I see her in some of my quirky ways of being — both positive and negative! I trust that she loved us the best she knew how, and I hope she felt our love in return.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers of the world.