Friday, January 29, 2010

Hemming My Day with Quietness

H[er] thoughts said,
What if I have not much time to gather my portion?

His Father said,
Hast thou only one minute?
Hem it with quietness.
Do not spend it in thinking how little time thou hast.
I can give thee much in a minute.

~~ Amy Carmichael ~~
His thoughts said . . . His Father said
[emphasis mine]

Lately, it has been less than quiet around here. Storms and power outages joined by a phone outage (dare I admit that I actually enjoyed that outage?) took us by surprise last weekend. Then sunny skies made an entrance and I spun such wonderful plans of being in the gardens each and every day with plenty of time available for my regular baking and yogurt making and marketing and all the rest . . . but . . . SURPRISE . . . another power outage in the clearest of weather (How inconvenient!) just as Gary and Rachel and I made off for a trip in to “The City” an hour away for a re-supply mission. We stopped, returned home, set up the generator and awaited the return of the grid. I grimaced. I fretted. I had a timeline and it included a youth meeting for Lydia at 6 pm. How could we manage it all?

I plunked down in my favorite chair and stared out the window, a pout creeping over my face. I reached down into my reading basket and picked up a little blue volume of Amy Carmichael’s thoughts/prayers. I read the quote from above. I paused. I read it again. I set the book back in the basket and kept the furrowed brow. Gary came in to announce that the power outage could be an extended one. Either power or another update would be along in a few hours. Grrrrrr . . .

I gave up thoughts of making my Costco run. I resigned myself to a misaligned day. I made myself a cup of tea and a sandwich of butter and cucumber with a dash of dill. I slunk back down into that favorite chair. Gentle music emanated from the armoire, which cleverly hides all of my 21st century entertainment gadgetry in an antiquated cabinet now powered by another new-fangled gadget – the generator, but I barely heard it. I sulked as I sipped. Slowly my feathers unruffled as I began to taste the tea and sandwich basted in strains of Mozart and Grieg . . . slowly the bile receded.

One by one the children came through the sitting room, plopping into this comfy chair or that as we carried ourselves away on conversation and laughter. I completely forgot about my powerless situation as we spun ideas for the springtime gardens and delighted ourselves with plans for all the rest of the sunny days that would surely come our way as Winter passed the torch to Spring.

Refreshed by the nibbles and tea and laughter, we all set about preparing for another prolonged power outage. I set a soup pot to simmer filled with potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, and more. The girls made off to practice music and fulfill duties that require light. The day began to take on a new shape . . . a nice, peaceful shape hemmed in quiet rather than worry.

All at once my husband ran through the house at an excited pace. “Power’s back up!” he called in passing. “If we leave now we can still do the shopping but there won’t be time for a restaurant stop.” I jumped up, satisfied by the recent repast and thus willing to forgo the planned visit to the Olive Garden, and prepared to dash about in frenzy; but just as I began to wring my hands and wonder if we could manage it all, the words of Amy Carmichael’s Father echoed in my heart:

I can give thee much in a minute.

I had just enjoyed a timeless moment of tea and chat with my children that had found no entry in the To Do list. Then my carefully segmented routine for the day flexed most generously, just as He promised, and dinner had been prepared. I sighed. I paused to thank Him for the generous minute and I handed over my anxiety in exchange for peace.

The drive through the beautiful Sierra Foothills on a gloriously sunny day after days and days of rain, the fun of playing “merchant ship from afar” with Rachel, the joy of a trip to a BIG craft shop for a fresh supply of origami paper and yarn, and all in the company of my dear husband who set aside a pressing workload to join us . . . well, need I say more?

We arrived home in plenty of time for Lydia to make her evening meeting. Elizabeth had tidied the house most thoroughly and folded all laundry while here in charge of Wisteria Cottage. The pot of soup I set upon the stove had simmered into a delightful dinner. Matthew greeted us with a smile. All felt in order, leaving me with the peaceful gift of a free evening and plenty of time for more hemming of the day in quiet.

And so today I sit at the window, watching another storm roll in; but I’m not worrying, I have my basket of devotional readings, my teapot at hand, and a generous moment for stitching quietly. And I do.

* * * * *
The recent spate of power problems has flummoxed my internet repeater, thus I have sporadic and limited internet with a very weak signal. I had hoped to post the much-requested tutorial by Rachel regarding Claymation, but will hold off until I have proper internet access for including pictures. (You probably noticed this post arrived without an accompanying pic.)

Stay tuned for an exciting adventure into the mind of an 11-year-old, a blob of clay, and a camera. It’s fascinating!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just for FUN!

Ever wonder what a 38-hour power outtage
looks like around Wisteria Cottage?

Rachel's claymation video aptly captures just about every emotion
I experienced during that little "holiday" last weekend.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Friend Comes to Call

A friend came to visit this weekend. She picked an interesting weekend to show up – snowstorms pelted the gardens, a power outage rendered my simple weekend routine useless, and cold temps forced all to gather round the woodstove with projects and playthings in hand. I could have been slogged under with frustrations and irritations at the laundry piling up and the recesses of the house curling up from cold, but my friend came to serve and to share, not to take. You see, my friend came delivered in the postbox, wrapped between the covers of her latest book. Sally Clarkson’s Dancing with My Father arrived on a cold and powerless Friday and set about warming me up from the inside out.

Whenever a friend comes to visit, announced or unannounced, I like to prepare something special. If my visitor drives down the drive on a lark, I pop on the ever-ready kettle and rustle up a nibble of nourishment (sometimes as simple as a slice of bread dressed with fresh butter and a thin shaving of cheese placed on sprigged china). For those who call in a “reservation” I have spates of time smoothed before us filled with lavender-scented linens, welcoming roses in a vase, delicious meals all planned out with sweet desserts to cap off our time of lingering togetherness. Our stay-at-home-work-from-home lifestyle (abruptly required with the birth of my “special” twins so looooong ago – one of many blessings in disguise) furnishes the freedom to throw wide my arms and embrace the gift of togetherness when it blossoms unexpectedly. And so I do . . .

With Sally’s arrival on Friday I quickly introduced her to my stack of “friends” piled up near my favorite reading chair. I had so many little tasks to tackle while I juggled our family needs into segmented spates of time when the generator would hum and the machinery would spring to life, that I entrusted her to the company of poets, monks, and children on exciting adventures, all piled up neatly near the floral refuge.

And so I scurried away putting pots of soup on to simmer, placing eggs and butter and other cool-requiring goodies near the chilly windowsill, all the while thanking the Lord that I had baked four fresh loaves of whole-wheat bread just the day before. Gary and the girls kept the homes fires bright (I avoid wood-hauling with this delicate elbow), while Matthew adjusted his ever-compulsive tendencies to compensate for the loss of his music, computer, and video buddies which he regularly calls on throughout the day. As I fretted a bit over how to explain “no power” to a young man who often finds words a jungle of noise and confusion, I noticed that a greater degree of maturity had set in since the last “outage episode” as I witnessed Matthew regularly checking the light switch in his “office” as an indicator of computer availability. He remained calm and complacent in the necessarily quiet surrounds. Praise the Lord!

With meal prep doubled to last beyond today and children all engaged in reading, practicing, and working with the natural light of day, I felt free to ignore the laundry and vacuuming in lieu of a visit with Sally. I manually lit the gas ring (those assisting clickers need power) and set out the cups and saucers – oh wait! I only need one, don’t I? The kettle sang sweetly as I chose a robust Assam tea, knowing from previous bookish visits that Sally prefers a strong dark tea. With tea steeped and steady snowfall reflecting a generous amount of light into my favorite reading spot, I settled down and gently opened our visit.

Time always flies as we “catch up.” I have read all of Sally’s previous books (they sit upon my shelf inviting rereads while waiting for the day she is welcomed by my daughters as they seek to enjoy a mentoring visit along The Mom Walk or The Mission of Motherhood in the Seasons of a Mother' Heart). I “met” Sally through another “bookish” friend, Tina Farewell, who published a most delightful catalog, Lifetime Books and Gifts (sadly out of print these days), that read like a book of books and gushed with introductions to other like-minded folks reaching out to encourage those of us along the pathways of home education and home dedication to our Lord in a tumultuous time in our world.

Long ago Sally arrived on my doorstep all bundled up in a Whole-Hearted manual of educational ideas, tips, and inspiration that set my heart to racing. A kindred! Just like the big sister I always dreamed about! And she arrived just in the nick of time to help a faltering sister see the light through the exhaustion, frustration, and sheer sorrow-filled clouds that had overtaken my sunny approach to life and learning in our own Willow Cottage. Multiple closely-spaced kids (including twins with multiple handicaps), a husband working round the clock to find a successful source of support for his family, conflicted family members who just didn’t understand our choices, nosy neighbors who believed children should go off to school, and a host of burdens I carried from a difficult childhood threatened to sink my Good Ship Lollypop.

Enter Sally . . . one who has walked many of the same shadowed valleys, encountering similar ruts and pitfalls, yet hearing the same calling. A bit further along the road, she called back to me, “All is well! Grab God’s hand and follow! I’m here with God; it’s still dark, a bit scary, and pretty difficult, BUT God’s faithful. KEEP COMING!”

That first Sally Book served me well as I read it with pleasure, cried onto its pages when I needed a refreshing nudge to keep going, and always found a friend when I came to call.

A few years later, Seasons of a Mother's Heart arrived as I juggled five kids, incredible routines and therapies, our own business, and external family breakdowns. Once again I saw that I was not alone. Sally’s honest voice and keen eye for beauty found in the simplest things of life felt like a warm kindred hug. I read through the book in pieces at a cafĂ© near my daughter’s ballet studio. While Elizabeth stretched and danced, I sipped tea and slipped through the chapters; hearing once again that I did not stand all alone in a lonely meadow – others have passed this way before and survived in love and with joy.

Years flew. I moved.  She moved.  Life jaunted along and new books arrived from Sally’s pen. Emails went back and forth now and again (like the sweet note of love and encouragement Sally sent when I reached out in a time of grief following my son’s death) and the era of blogging dawned. I read Sally’s blog and even comment on occasion, but I cannot say that she even knows who I am . . . but that doesn’t seem to matter when a new book-bound missive arrives. Her open-hearted style pours forth the truth of a life lived in earnest for the Lord. Her kindred joys and triumphs mirror my heart. I’ve grown up with Sally as one of those blessed beacons around the shoals of time. She joins Edith Schaeffer, Amy Carmichael, Susan Schaeffer McCaulay, and a host of other caring sharing women who have mentored me along life’s path as I dance, tumble, stumble, regain, and dance again. It’s not a club . . . it’s a gift of friendship in print that I praise the Lord for.

And so this latest chronicle of Sally’s journey to live joyfully inspires me with each page turn. As a regular reader of her blog I have had the pleasure of praying for some of the very miracles and joyous occasions she recounts. Building upon her past sharing, Sally fleshes out even more of her precious person in this latest book, causing me to keep alive that flame of a dream that some day she and I will meet in person over a fragrant cup of tea and I will actually look into those blue eyes of hers and tell her how much she has meant to me in tough times and happy, as I thank her for the honest hand she extended in those pages she prayed over and labored to produce just for me . . . and so many more.

I’m happy to report that after about 38 hours of power-free living, our trusty lights sprung back to life. The laundry tumbles away and the vacuum roars to life, but I still manage to find snippets of time to carry on my “visit” with Sally. Though tempted to devour the book in one gulp, I have measured out the chapters in order to spread our time together over a slower, gentler space. I ponder her words, God’s Word, and my thoughts in journal. I remain “unplugged” from stress as I continue this weekend visit with my dear bookish friend.

I encourage you to get to know my friend Sally in your own special chair with your own cup of tea. For now, you’ll have to excuse me as I see her over there waiting patiently for me to close up this laptop so we can resume our dance of joy. I can hardly wait! I just love Dancing with My Father . . . and my friends. Take joy!

* * *


I found this waiting for me in my email box this afternoon:

Hi, Debbie,
What a fun, sweet post. I feel so honored. I so appreciate your reviews of me and my books and it encourages me to keep going. May the Lord continue blessing your ministry of writing life-giving words. I appreciate you.
Fondly, and blessings of His grace and peace,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gentle January

“Where has the time flown?” I wonder as I gaze out on the blustery day. Predictions for power outages and flooded creeks fill the headlines of our local paper, and yet I sit beside my fire in blessed coziness. It is good to be quiet in the midst of a storm. So it is with life these days . . .

January as a child signaled CHANGE in my home. My mother would pack away Christmas before the New Year arrived and set about remaking our life in the first month of the dawning annum. Often times that entailed a big move to a “fresh start” or at the very least we would evacuate our present life with a whirlwind cleaning frenzy complete with fresh curtains in the kitchen, fresh spreads on the beds. To a point I enjoyed the “carnival” atmosphere, but once I began my own life with my own address I abandoned that family tradition in favor of a very quiet entry into January.

Our tree stands tall and tinkling past January sixth, and then we celebrate with cocoa and treats as the ornaments come down to loving wrappers and snuggled-away safety until next Christmas. Once the last jot of holiday dust has been dispatched we arrange the furniture right back where it always goes . . . tradition. Books tumble from bedsides and closets (hastily hidden before the series of celebrations with guests) as we move back into our same-old daily routine. I love the same and the old . . .

The excessive feasts of the Nativity fade into hearty soups and crusty bread products; frothy cocoa mugs step aside as clear fragrant (calorie-free) teas take center stage in the slimmer days of January. Red and gold candles scented with spice burn low and sputter, only to be replaced with rich creamy vanilla pillars that burn brightly in the darkened eves. January seems to cry out for simple and quiet. We oblige with pleasure.

’Tis the season for beginning that series of books sitting in community upon the shelf. So Elizabeth has entered Jan Karon’s world of Mitford, while Lydia crosses the pond to Peter Mayle’s Provence; Rachel takes flight with C. S. Lewis into the wonders of Narnia and wins the prize for fastest devourer of a collection – two days per book with the final book just begun this morning. Hmmmmm . . . what will come next? Wizard of Oz? Peter Pan? The Five Children and It? The choices cheer from the bookcase, “Pick me!

I have fallen back to my beloved old routine of multiple reads on multiple topics all at the same time, though I struggle to finish Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – for me, something just lacks in the prose sprinkled with dullish essays of conservation and lack-luster recipes for garden wealth. I can’t get a visual of Barbara’s home or gardens or surrounding lands. Her family and friends remain sketches and their lives empty of color. I just want to cry out, “Barbara! I know full well what a ripe tomato looks like, now show me your life and loves in bloom and fruition.” But alas, the chapters drag on and I sputter along in my resolve to finish this book (my third attempt due to a friend’s gushing praise of it being “cute” – I find it bland). So, while my fingers linger on these required pages, my eye roves to the latest arrival from my mail-order treasure hunting of used books: another gem by Elizabeth Goudge. I am slowly filling my shelves with her gentle, picturesque novels sharing lively lives and colorful descriptions of the simplest of pleasures found in a day’s measure. I crave color and fragrance and windy wisps of prose that catch me up and carry me aloft into the writer’s magical world. A peek in through the windows to Miss Goudge’s world offers so much. Thus, I begin to cave to the temptation to set the Kingsolver book aside once again, trading plain cake for fancy flavor.

As for my most interesting read these days, The Music of Silence fills that spot. Benedictine Monk David Steindl-Rast opens wide the doors of his heart and shares the sweetness of a day punctuated by praise. His simple text, coupled with the famous recording Chant, unlocks the mysteries of a Catholic tradition I have never taken part in. My religion-lite upbringing followed by Protestant teachings beginning in the later teen years and then later-in-life reading about monks and nuns in novels and then biographies never fully explained the rich tapestry of prayer woven throughout the monastic daily life. Brother David has invited me in and I am savoring the experience. When I happened upon this fifty-cent book at the library booksale last month, I figured the cd made it worth the price alone – I failed to notice the treasure of experience that lay between the simple dark cover. The music of silence fits perfectly with my January’s pace.

Thus it goes in Gentle January around Wisteria Cottage. I haven’t posted much of late because I keep waiting for an “event” or inspiring photo shoot to replenish my blog trove of thoughts. The gardens slumber and I have taken this opportunity to rest my still-recovering elbow so that it returns to “normal.” To date I feel nearly 100% with no lingering arthritis or such, but I must admit that I relish the idea of taking just a bit more time away from stresses and strains at the elbow and the heart in this quiet, restful month. And so I rest . . . and read . . . and simmer . . . and smile.

Truthfully, the best tale to be told around here can be found in the cozy, snuggly pace of a family in hibernation. Well-fed, well-read, and very well by all accounts summarizes my time away. My camera lies fallow (a fact my children have noted with pleasure) while my journal fills up: So much germinating while hibernating. Spring-time plans for gardens and summer-time thoughts of dining from the bounty keep us from completely walling off tomorrow as we glide through another stormy, windy day of thanking the Lord for providing such peace and calm in the midst of a world tossed to and fro.

With prayers for all of you and prayers for those precious ones in Haiti, and prayers spoken from the heart of all matters, I have been hauling a bushel-basket of prayers to the feet of the Almighty these days as I pace my day with prayer times that my monk friend has inspired. He hears . . . He knows . . . He listens . . . all ways.

My computer also lies fallow much of the time these days, but I plan to step in to say “Hi” at each one of your lovely blogs in the coming days. The writing of letters, answering of emails, returning of phone calls, and commenting on blogs seem like the perfect activity for a Gentle January day.

Oh my! The power just flickered, so I must leave off the wandering chatter and post or I shall surely lose it all and spoil my “gentle” day. ; D

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Gift of January

Can you hear the quiet?

It’s the gift of January at Wisteria Cottage.

These chilly mornings beckon me to linger by the fire with a warm pot of tea and I obey. I lace my day with fewer tasks and greater spates of peaceful space. While so many others pin up a new calendar which opens the floodgates of new diets, exercise routines, cleaning frenzies, home remodels, and self-improvement regimes, I must confess that Wisteria Cottage quiets down almost entirely with the Gift of January. A gift of time to read, savor, dream, sort, wonder, and reflect. New ideas and projects come to the forefront naturally, most notably seen in the seed catalogs and garden plans that begin to litter countertops and tea tables, but the dreamy scope of possibility makes the planning of these goals more fun somehow . . . less a mandate. It works for us.

While I sit cozily in my favorite chair listening to Chant and reading gentle poetry at day’s beginning, my children tumble down the stairs sleepy-eyed and heat-seeking, book under arm. The Gathering Room becomes a haven in January. Empty teacups, rumpled quilts, and scattered crumbs from a nibbled slice of just-baked bread add a measure to the tidying up session which will ensue this afternoon, but for now I cannot see much beyond the beautiful Christmas tree standing tall, twinkling in competition with the frost-bitten gardens. We keep the Christmas celebrations flowing until the Kings arrive on the 6th of January. We discuss the journey between the Birth and the Epiphany. We question ourselves, wondering what it must have been like to be a Shepherd or a King on that starry, starry night. We spread out the Christmas season in the old-fashioned 12th Night sense. It serves us well. This tradition grew up solely in our little nuclear family, though our extended families pour all partying into the 24th and 25th with a race to take down the tree, stow the decorations, and get on with the new year before the clock strikes Midnight on the 31st. We prefer to savor the festive feeling and coast into the coming year on yet another gift: The Gift of January.

We rang in the premier of 2010, as Handel’s Messiah filled the airwaves with expectant joy, piecing together a puzzle depicting a Christmas-bedecked Victorian neighborhood all a bustle with holiday merrymaking. We toasted the New Year with fizzy sips of organic root beer. We made our way to bed in the wee hours of the morn with the satisfaction of knowing we had just opened a new gift – peaceful January has arrived.

Sweet friends, I bid you peace in the new year . . . tardy though this greeting arrives by the world’s pace. If you should find yourself in our neighborhood do not hesitate to stop in. We can easily move aside the books and quilts to make room for another soul seeking to put their feet up, hoist a china vessel, and gently glide along life’s path. Unlike Spring, Summer, and Fall when you will likely have to search for us in the gardens, Winter finds us cocooned by the stove in sweet accord.

Welcome January.