Archive for 2007

Lena Mae’s books

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

lena mae.jpgMy husband adores old books every bit as much as I do. Someday, I fear, the very rafters of our house will bulge with loved acquisitions. But even he looked askance at some of the derelict volumes I carted home from the dispersal of my grandmother’s house. Ex-libraries, with yellowed pages soft from use and split spines and frayed corners. Heavily-taped tomes whose hand-written titles were barely legible. Water-marked and sun-bleached. But I simply couldn’t leave them behind. Passing them by with an armload of gorgeous, well-kept, stately old books I felt a pang of guilt, and would invariably stop and add a few more to my already teetering pile.

“We’re not running a half-way house for wayward books,” he reminded me with a grin. I nodded agreement. But these were no ordinary cast-offs. All of the flyleaves were inscribed with the familiar scrawl of my great-grandmother, Lena Mae. Most of them bore a penciled note as well of the date (or dates) of reading, and perhaps a few page numbers of particularly esteemed passages. These were her books, her foster children, as it were. These she had rescued from rubbish heaps and library purgings and given a place of honor among the fine and beautiful ones that already filled her shelves.

Her family said of her that she believed there was never a boy or a book that was beyond help. Having lost her only son at the age of nine she was known all her life for her fierce tenderness towards the male race, pampering the boy grandchildren with a delightful shamelessness. But she was equally shameless in her defense of books. In her mind it was a mortal sin to throw away a book, right up there with dancing and playing cards on Sundays. Books that had fallen on hard times were no more to be censured than a genuine lady or gentleman of reduced means. If the message housed between the covers was still legible—and worthy to begin with—then it found safe refuge with her.

Looking over her cherished books—and I have many of them now, not only such orphans of the storm, but lovely poetry and gilt-edged novels and college textbooks—I am struck anew with the living personality of this woman I am so proud to call my great-grandmother. Though I never knew her, the legend of Lena Mae’s indomitable zeal to enhance and improve the lives around her is as vivid to me as if I had read it in one of these volumes she unknowingly left to me. And no method of improvement seemed so effective to her as the art of reading. Whether it was her marked and worn Bible, or the newest Grace Livingston Hill, or a treatise on the periods and characteristics of antique furniture, Lena Mae was seldom seen without a book close at hand.

Almost fifty years after her death my great-grandmother is remembered with fond respect in a bustling little Southern city that still bears the obvious traces of her loving industry—not the least of which is our library itself. From a humble beginning in an old house on A—– Road to a posthumous dedication of a room named in her honor in the new city library, Lena Mae was the very heartbeat of the vision to bring the pleasures of reading to the whole community. lena mae3.jpg

But she didn’t limit herself to merely such large-scale undertakings. After her girls were married and gone, she turned what was once the front bedroom of their house on Love Street into a library of her own. With beautifully-carved walnut cases lining three of the walls—themselves refugees from a fire in a neighboring drug store—and a massive bust of George Washington presiding benevolently over all she created her own little sanctuary of reading and refreshment. The aforementioned urchins ranged alongside her prized Shakespeare collection. The Poor Little Rich Girl sidled up to Ben Hur; Sir Walter Scott rubbed shoulders with Thornton Burgess. All of these were at the disposal of her many friends; and she leant them with the same grace with which she set an extra place at the table every Sunday and made room for the extra young girl that was invariably living with them. (“Come home with me,” Aunt Sara told a little classmate one day who had lost her mother to illness. “Mamma’ll let you live with us.” And she did, of course. Though not a ‘boy’ or a ‘book’, orphaned little girls had a sure claim on Lena Mae’s tender mercies.)           

In a day when few young women received a higher education, my great-grandmother left her home in S—– at the age of sixteen and entered Young Harris College in the mountains of north Georgia. Accessible at times only by ox carts which alone could traverse the winding, muddy roads, Young Harris was started by a circuit-riding Methodist preacher in the 1880’s, and was well-established as a liberal arts school when Lena Mae entered in 1904. She distinguished herself with an unquenchable passion for literature and poetry as well as a position on the renowned debate team. I love thumbing through her textbooks, coming across notes from a lecture on foreign policy or poetic structure. But most of all I love the old photographs we have of her college days, such a bright-eyed lass with high-piled hair and a twinkle in her eye every bit as disarming as Anne Shirley’s! I think I feel closest to her in these dim, time-darkened pictures. I can almost feel the flush of her optimism, her rose-tinted hopes for the future—both her own and that of children yet to be born.

Life had such joy in store for Lena Mae. An elopement with her true love which led to a marriage of devotion that lasted over sixty years. Three beautiful daughters and a home that rang with their laughter and high spirits. A community that loved her as much as her boundless heart loved it.

lena mae2.jpgBut there were devastating blows, as well, bolts from the blue: she lost her first little daughter to meningitis; years later typhoid took her beloved son and father and endangered the rest of the family when my grandmother was an infant. You can almost see a shadow cross the kind brown eyes in the photographs from this time, a slight sad droop to the ready smile. Yet even as she staggered beneath such providences she acknowledged them as the ministrations of a loving God. And not once did she turn her eyes from the needs of those around her. Her own sorrows only seemed to make her that much more aware of the hurts of her friends and neighbors. She struggled along with everyone else to make ends meet during the Depression, but her children never knew anything but safety and comfort, though a line of hoboes beat a constant track to her back door. Even after times got better, my great-grandfather would often come home from work to find that his best suit had been given away—yet again—as some poverty-stricken member of the community had died with nothing to be ‘laid out’ in.       

And, as always, after bodily needs and spiritual needs had been tended to, she ever sought the betterment of the soul by way of great literature. Her adoration of Shakespeare became a family by-word. When her children were small, she started a Shakespeare Club for the ladies of S-
—- to read and discuss his plays. I can picture them all now, in their black brocade dresses and pearls, sitting primly in the Green parlor tossing about such grandiloquent phrases as O for a Muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention! or May the worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul! in genteel Southern drawls. Lena Mae’s devotion to the immortal bard was a sacred thing, almost a family treasure—as a child, my mother was dismayed to find that ‘Uncle Will’ was not her uncle at all, not even a tenuous relation, much as the friendly reverence offered towards his memory otherwise implied.

Someday when my own children ask for something good to read I’ll pull down one of those ragged old volumes of Lena Mae’s. I’ll tell them of the great lady they belonged to, and of all of the other little children who have read and loved them before. And I’ll whisper a silent prayer that this blessed heritage will work its influence yet again on young hearts and minds.  

originally published in Inkblots Literary Magazine 

Continuing Education

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

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Aren’t you bursting with butterflies
on the fourth of September?

Like you’ll have to get on the bus
in your tartan dress, with your lunch box.
Though your body is twenty-nine.
Though your mind is an old thing.

Karen Peris, Beginning the World 

            As a child, I always felt a sweet rush of excitement, a thrill of unknown things to learn and to do, with the first breath of eleagnus on the air. The silver-leaved shrub would tip out its scent from cups of tiny, hardly-perceptible speckled blossoms, and one late summer afternoon its fragrance would come wafting into my play, faint and elusive, quickening my heart with hints of the yet to come. If I doubted it one day, it was stronger the next. It meant September: school days and cool mornings and new books. And always it pierced my heart with a strange joy.

            It still pierces my heart, but the joy is a familiar thing now. Sitting on the front porch, I’ll notice one afternoon that the shadows on the lawn have shifted slightly, that their angle is lower and longer. And just about the time I’ve ceased to look for it, that lovely, winsome scent will come slipping over the pasture, wavering on some slight breeze. The first glancing whiff is cause enough for one of those homely little annual celebrations that make the year a gladsome thing. I smile and close my eyes and think of all the wonderful things I want to do, of the limitless possibility of life. Of all the books I want to read and the places I want to not just see but live in—be alive in—if only on visits.

            September does that to me. I want to read and study and learn as much as I ever did. To set goals and make schedules. I want to broaden the borders of my mental horizons, feed my soul upon the wisdom of the ages. Since my schooldays were left behind I’ve realized what tenacity is required to continue your own education beyond the accountability of classes and curriculum. It’s so easy to get caught up in the revolutions of our spinning society, churning out our quota of industry, till we’re much too tired—and too busy anyway—to think of indulging in the extravagance of self-education. But is it really all that modern of a problem? In 1836, Eliza Farrar urged, “Self-education begins where school education ends.” Perhaps the cultivation of the mind has always needed validation, along with all the arts. Perhaps beauty has always striven with productivity.

            A few summers ago, during a soulful reading of Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy, I found my heart completely taken by the account of the Oxford years that he and his wife experienced: reading by the Thames, having lofty discussions on prayer and Christianity, rubbing shoulders with—actually becoming quite devoted life-long friends with—C.S. Lewis. A fierce longing for all the ‘intellectual pleasures of the senses’ leapt like fire within me, and at the counsel of a wise older friend, I realized that I needed to give place to these sweet desires among all the other loved duties of my happily-married life. In good faith, I used birthday money to order a box full of new books: Dorothy Sayers, Charles Williams, G.K. Chesterton, Madeleine L’Engle. And when they came, I tore through the wrappings and went over them with reverent hands, savoring the anticipation of the riches they held. It was greater than a feast spread before me there on the kitchen table.

            Not long after that, my sister called with a Proposition. Barely six months out of college, she was feeling much the same way as I was. She was yearning for the mental stimulation of days not long past and for a companion in her scholarly ambitions. And so she suggested that we convert our standing Friday morning coffee date into a more serious endeavor: what Liz’s boyfriend, Dave, termed Smart Time but what we preferred to distinguish as Study and Reflection.

            Thus we took ourselves in hand that autumn, convening weekly over books and notebooks and steaming mugs of something delicious. We started with T.S. Eliot’s Choruses from ‘The Rock’, and moved on from there to the Monna Innominata of Christina Rossetti. John Donne and George Herbert next took their places. Conversation flourished, bearing the fruit of beautiful words and ideas that seemed to enliven the very air between us as they flew back and forth across the table. At times we would celebrate the sheer delight of our endeavors with a Proper Tea, complete with scones and blackberry tarts and cucumber sandwiches, lifting our delicate cups with a respectful air, as if paying homage to our noble undertaking.

            By late October we felt inclined to tackle a large-scale project, namely, Dante’s Divine Comedy. It had been quoted from so often by the authors we both loved, referred to with such alluring incidence in the Charles Williams book I had just finished, that we felt it was high time we went to the source. And in our minds—barring the original language—there was none other than Dorothy Sayers’ immortal translation, towering above all others with a brilliance and beauty seldom seen in interpreted works, and a passion of Christian devotion that shot through both notes and text like flashes of summer lightning.  

            We were quite serious and studious about it. We read every word of the introduction, grappling with the world of the Guelfs and the Ghibellines, seeking to understand the time in history from which this monumental work had sprung. We flipped madly back and forth from the text to the glossary. And we both cherished the disarmingly friendly wisdom of Sayers’ commentary.

            It was such a stimulating time—we were often almost giddy over the insights we were discovering amid the allegorical images—that we sometimes got rather keyed up over our discussions. I recall one time in particular when we had met for coffee at the shop Dave’s brother managed. We were sitting in the window talking feverishly, notebooks spread on the table before us and the Inferno bent open on its paper spine, when he sauntered over to see how we were.

            He clapped his hands and rubbed them together with his charming smile.

            “And what are you two lovely ladies discussing this morning?” 

            Liz didn’t miss a beat.

            “Hell,” was her curt reply with an almost frantic sip of coffee, her eyes still bent on me.

 &
nbsp;          I’m afraid he was more than a little taken aback.

            “We-e-ll, then, I’ll leave you to it,” he said, edging away with an aspect of attempted nonchalance.

            Perhaps we had gotten a little carried away.

            But I yet bear in my heart and mind the wealth of those days. The satisfaction of making time in a full life for the pleasures of serious reading. The glad identification in another’s eyes, the widening perception of another’s viewpoint. And the beautiful assurance that the lifelong pursuit of knowledge is indeed a worthy chase. We may not have been at Oxford, spread out on blankets in Christ Church Meadow or studying in the Bodleian. But the riches were ours all the same. And I seriously doubt that at that season in our lives we could have been one bit happier.  

Okay, I know that I’m way behind the times…

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

…but I have been out of the country!! ;)

Imagine my delight, then, in the first surreal elation of homecoming, to learn the glorious news of our dear friend, Victoria magazine!! For those of you who are still in the dark, allow me the pleasure of bearing the glad tidings:

Victoria is returning!!

As of November 2007 the exquisite pleasure of a new Victoria in the mailbox will be ours once more! I can still hardly believe it. I don’t care two figs for ‘regular’ magazines. They take up space and create guilt by lying unread on the coffee table. And when I do flip through them they tend to create even more guilt over all the nifty projects I could be doing and the elegant (and expensive) meals I ‘should’ be preparing, not to mention the unlived-in perfection of the rooms and living spaces. But Victoria is a different matter altogether. The sheer beauty of the photographs nourishes my very soul–it’s the reason not one of my issues since February 1989 is missing from my collection. Victoria always employed a staff of gifted writers, as well, including such notable writers-in-residence as Madeleine L’Engle. It was a history lesson, a feast for the eyes and imagination, and a host of dream-come-true ideas for romantic living–especially for such a starry-eyed teenager as I was. (For the record, still starry-eyed, though no longer in my teens… ;) )

Before we went overseas I knew exactly which issues to consult in planning our trip. I flipped through them madly, joyous with anticipation. In her tender and frequent homage to the Blessed Plot, Victoria gave me so many coveted glimpses of the England of my heart, thus fanning the flame of desires I seem to have been born with. And it’s all there, just as she promised. Images from her pages of rose-covered cottages and clipped yew hedges and stately gardens mingle happily and harmoniously with my own lovely memories now. And to be greeted upon my return with the unexpected, unhoped-for word of her revival–this was joy indeed!

One of the dozen or so posts I had in drafts before I left was a rather dejected harking-back to the Lament I’d written over a year ago bewailing the loss of Victoria. Of all the pieces I’ve ever written none has generated more feedback than that one…comments just keep trickling in, including one from a Very Special Visitor (I’ll see if you can pick it out ;) ). But now, instead of a complaint, I have an action item for you: Go straight over to the Victoria website and sign up for the premiere issue! Let’s show the publishers (Hoffman Media teamed with the original Hearst Publications) how thrilled we all are. I read a press release that said they were hoping to draw 250,000 subscribers at the outset and I’m thinking that with all the buzz among like-minded web journals we can help! :)

 

Now, go subscribe!

 

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Lower Brockhampton, Herefordshire 

There and back again…

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Well, after a WordPress update, a browser upgrade, a new laptop and an idyllic Maytime sojourn in England, I am back!

Philip and I have just returned from the most special trip imaginable. It really was a pilgrimage in many ways, as I am sure all lovers of English literature and culture can understand, and I am positively overflowing with the beauties I have seen and experienced. And though my body still seems to favor British time, and I’ve noticed a disconcerting instinct to drive on the left side of the road, I’m slowly readjusting to Stateside life. I’ve been wading through the calls and emails and comments and bills that have accumulated over our absence, and labelling pictures and adding the last little notes to my journal (I filled up a whole notebook!). And wondering wherever to begin this post.

But that’s just it–it’s the beginning. I couldn’t confine our experiences to a post, or a series of posts or a book! I wish that I could just sit down and recount the sum total of the Lord’s sweet blessings–blessings that nearly broke my heart at times. I hope to give a few bright glimpses of His goodness; bear with me if I wax sentimental in the weeks to come. There’s a curious sense of homesickness that clings to every memory I have of England.    

So here’s a little start…enjoy the fruits of my husband’s skill with a camera!

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Is there anything in this world more enchanting than the prospect of an English lane? 

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Unless, of course, it’s the villages they lead to…

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The bluebells bloom in early May and the air was heavenly with their scent. Here we’re high above the sea in Western Somerset and have just happened upon this fragrant pool of them. Their aroma was one with the spring breezes. The beauty of the scene brought tears to my eyes…

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Taking the water at the Pump Room in Bath. ;) It tastes awful, so I reasoned it must be good for me! And, besides, if Anne Elliot and Catherine Moreland did it…
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Most of the time we stayed in self-catering cottages. This is the farm track leading to our first little ‘home’. It was situated in the heart of a working sheep farm and at night we could hear the lambs and ewes bleating through the open windows.

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Our fairy-tale 15th century miller’s cottage. We learned that this tiny house was at one time occupied by the miller and his wife and their six children! There were rose vines clambering over the door and windows, and forget-me-nots and ferns grew with abandon all around it. Complete with an inglenook and a pokey stair it was more than heart could wish.

To be continued… :)

One last thing…in the flurry of getting ready to leave last month I neglected to acknowledge the very kind and gracious nominations of four ladies I admire for the ‘Thinking Blogger’ award. Many and blushing thanks to Alison of The Autumn Rain, Sallie at A Gracious Home, Brenda at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me and Tonia at A Study in Brown. I truly appreciated the sweet things that you said. :) You have all inspired me towards beauty and truth and I thank you. 

And all forlorn

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

We had an absolutely blighting frost this weekend, and much of the tender new growth that was last week so fair and fresh has blackened hopelessly or hangs limp upon shivering boughs. Where has our lovely spring gone? On Easter Sunday I wore a wool suit and fur in place of the white English net tea gown I originally had in mind!

As I wandered about the yard yesterday morning surveying the damage, I couldn’t help but ask the Lord why He had allowed it. After He had taken such pains to make everything so beautiful, why send such bitter weather to destroy it? I mean, I’m enough of a Southern girl to have a healthy respect for our notorious bursts of ‘blackberry winter’—I’d never consider setting out anything remotely tender before Tax Day. (As it is, I’ve been hustling seed flats and small potted foxgloves in and out of the basement for nearly a week now as our nighttime temperatures would kill them rather than ‘harden them off’.) But it broke my heart to see the curled leaves on my hydrangeas, the dejected and lifeless buds on the Confederate jasmine, the withered remains of the bright new growth that had once clothed the majestic old crepe myrtle that nearly fills our side yard.

There was such a depressing sobriety to the scene, a strange and brooding sense of things beyond my control. Philip and I had covered up everything we could, racing about in the windy dark, throwing every spare sheet I owned over gardenias and roses all in bud and tender summer forget-me-nots that our late warm weather had charmed into believing it was May…

But there was nothing I could do besides—except hope and pray, which I did with a right good will! And, after everything, be grateful for all that was spared: the slender fingers of green on our beloved willow tree out front, my stout-hearted little sweet peas, the raspberries that were just leafing out, the irises with their swollen purple buds. The summer phlox—queen of my garden—the poppies and cranesbill and hollyhocks. I felt I loved them more than ever in that still grey morning.

He hath made everything beautiful in its time. I felt the truth of those words, the consciousness of God’s sovereignty, rising in my heart as surely as the sap was rising in the growing things all around me—green and otherwise. He had done it before and He would do it again. All manner of things would be well. I thought, whimsically, that I knew what those frost-burned creatures would say, had they power of speech—or, rather, what they were saying, perhaps, could I but hear their language:

Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him…

For it’s still spring. The quickening life is yet abroad and new growth will replace that which has been allowed to die. The same God that restores a life blighted with disappointed hopes, that heals a broken heart, that binds the wounds and dries the tears of His beloved people, will send His rains and His sunshine once more upon the earth. And this spring, the only spring we have in our possession, will be beautiful in its time.

Christina Rossetti’s Another Spring has always held a solemn charge for me to live in the present and cherish the joys of today. Perhaps this spring it is most applicable of all…

 

If I might see another Spring

I’d not plant summer flowers and wait:

I’d have my crocuses at once,

My leafless pink mezereons,

My chill-veined snowdrops, choicer yet

My white or azure violet,

Leaf-nested primrose; anything

To blow at once, not late.

 

If I might see another Spring

I’d listen to the daylight birds

That build their nests and pair and sing,

Nor wait for mateless nightingale;

I’d listen to the lusty herds,

The ewes with lambs as white as snow,

I’d find out music in the hail

And all the winds that blow.

 

If I might see another Spring—

Oh stinging comment on my past

That all my past results in ‘if’—

If I might see another Spring

I’d laugh to-day, to-day is brief;

I would not wait for anything:

I’d use to-day that cannot last,

Be glad to-day and sing.

 

Holy Week

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

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My husband and I were both raised Baptist. We never observed Lent or carried
palms on Palm Sunday or went to Maundy Thursday services. Easter Sunday was,
always has been, a day of bliss-I remember a few precious little sunrise
services we held in the backyard with some of our dear friends growing up,
and I will always associate the almost raucously glad singing of He Lives
with the happiness of Resurrection morning! :-) But in the Baptist church we
never really observed the full scope of the Church calendar, and perhaps
that’s why all its imagery and symbolism has such meaning for us now. It all
seems so fresh and poignant, so heavy with significance.

We attend a Presbyterian church-with occasional forays into Anglicanism when
our High Church yearnings mount to a certain point-and the everyday liturgy
is wine to our souls. And I am very much looking forward to our Good Friday
vespers in which our little choir will be performing Theodore Dubois’
exquisite The Seven Last Words of Christ. This will be my first donning of a
robe as I’m new to the choir, but I am told that it is a very moving service
indeed, conducted by candlelight which is slowly extinguished as the lessons
are read. At the end, we will be almost whispering Christ We Do All Adore
Thee from the back of the sanctuary and the evening will come to a close in
darkness and silence.

Between this and the Lent carols and songs I’ve been working on with my
friends I’ve felt the ground of my heart being slowly and thoughtfully
prepared for Easter. It just seems to me that without the weightiness of
some of these Church traditions-the delving into the sorrow of Christ’s
sufferings, this brooding upon the Cross-we lose so much potential for the
joy of what it all really means. Sadness gives context to our blessing and
gladness; darkness gives way to light just as winter gives way to spring and
death is swallowed up in victory! Weeping may endure for a night, but joy
cometh in the morning.and never morning dawned that those words were more
true than the day the women found our Saviour’s tomb empty!! Jumping into
the victory of Easter morning without the reflective remembrance of Lent
almost seems like eating dessert first.

Yesterday afternoon we listened to the third section of Handel’s Messiah, ‘A
Hymn of Thanksgiving for the final overthrow of Death’, with the libretto on
the laptop before us. It was to me the very music of Heaven-and, as always,
a great wonder that God in His kindness should endow a mortal man with the
ability to set His words to harmonies and choruses that break the heart with
their triumph and beauty. Listening to the Messiah is one of the most
worshipful things I can imagine. Except for singing it.

I wish you all a very Christ-filled Holy Week.

Houseguests

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

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We’ve just had the pleasure of hosting our beloved friends Joel and Lauren for the weekend. And these are not just your ordinary houseguests. Here’s what we did while they were here:

   ~Wired our new sunroom/keeping room for electricity (seven outlets!!)
   ~Installed insulation and tongue-and-groove paneling in the same room
   ~Put out twenty bales of pinestraw
   ~Laid my garden path with pea gravel
   ~Went to Home Depot for more pinestraw and pea gravel
   ~Trimmed dead branches out of trees
   ~Cultivated and fed 12 rose bushes
   ~Fed 14 fruit trees
   ~Repaired our front screened door with brand new screen and hardware cloth which will (hopefully) be doggy-proof

And that’s not to mention the four meals we shared together, the stimulating conversation, the swapping of ideas and book recommendations, the mutual edification that took place all weekend. They left us both bone weary and spiritually refreshed. And absolutely thrilled over all the work that had been accomplished around here. After having been very sick for over two weeks (hence my long silence!), it was especially wonderful and invigorating for me to see such ‘beautifying’ going on everywhere I looked. This morning I wandered about from window to window, smiling and offering happy little prayers of thanksgiving at all the pleasant sights that met my eyes.

We have been swapping work weekends with Joel and Lauren for years. We both live in old houses that require tremendous energy and upkeep (we feel a deep sense of responsibility that we talked them into theirs in the first place ;) ). And we absolutely cherish each other’s fellowship. My husband grew up with Joel, but Lauren was one of God’s precious presents to me when I married Philip. I recognized a kindred spirit in her right away. I don’t know whose idea it was at first to transform our weekend visits back and forth into This Old House, but it had to be one of the best notions of the century. (I hope it was mine.)

We’ve painted, weeded, caulked, wired and hammered. Philip has helped Joel build a window seat with a toy box beneath. Lauren has emptied my ironing basket more than once and made a big dent in my mending. Joel helped install a paneled ceiling in our den. I’ve planted flowers and vegetables and herbs in Lauren’s garden. There is evidence of their craftsmanship in almost every room in my home: curtains, upholstered chairs, a bricked hearth… Even the barn has had its day. And out in front of our house there’s a lovely, spreading cherry tree that’s growing up with their oldest child, as Lauren helped me plant it when she was pregnant.

But the best advantage of all has been that of ‘iron sharpening iron’. We’re polishing our tools together for the real things in life: our marriages, our families, our homes and our ministries. Every conversation seems so important because our time is brief and we don’t have the luxury of day-to-day contact. I am always challenged to be a better wife, a more artistic homemaker, after being around Lauren for a weekend. Together Philip and I are inspired by their example to shed unnecessary encumbrances and invest our lives in the Kingdom.

We’re already looking forward to the ‘fall session’! :)

 

This and that…

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

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Here are our new babies—ten in all! There are few things in the world as sweet as baby chicks. We always have so much fun when we have a new brood of them…and I spend an inordinate amount of time leaning over the brooder, feeding them out of my hand, picking them up and kissing their downy little heads. And telling them all about their big sisters out in the hen house who are (not so) eagerly awaiting their arrival. ;) It will be a good five weeks, yet, before they’re big enough to move into a house of their own. So, for now, I am loving every moment of chick-hood. It’s hard to believe that this is our fourth brood. I remember coming home from the feed & seed seven springs ago with a cardboard box full of fluffy, peeping Rhode Island Reds and absolutely no idea what I was doing! I’ve learned a lot about chickens in the mean time—and everything I have learned has made me love them. And smile a thanks towards God for making these funny, quirky, sometimes ridiculous, always entertaining creatures. And for allowing me to raise them!

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With chicks in one basement and seedlings thriving under lamps in another, it’s starting to feel like spring is really around the corner! It’s hard for me not to be impatient, not to be disappointed that the peas I planted in the garden Saturday have not germinated yet! But remember my sweet peas? They’ve all sent up slender green stalks topped with leaves folded like a newly-emerged moth’s wings. Soon those delicate trailers will begin groping for the picket fence. And one magic day not too far in the future, I’ll notice that the tops of the vines are drooping with tiny, pale buds. I can’t wait…

Did anyone see the lunar eclipse Saturday night? We didn’t even know that it was happening, but were fortunate enough to be driving to a dinner party that evening with a full and open view of the skyline.

“What’s wrong with the moon?” I asked my husband. For only the tiniest crescent of what I knew to be a full moon was visible in the darkening sky. With that wonder in the east and the stain of sunset in the west, it was a sight to take your breath. We stared in wonder as we drove along, the book we’d brought to read out loud lying forgotten in my lap. By the time we reached our destination the sliver had grown to a good-sized wedge. It was so weird and lovely to think that we were making that shadow on the moon.

 

Midwinter spring is its own season…

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

I’ve had that line singing in my head all this past week of cool radiant dawns and soul-warming mid-days and chilly pink dusks. This lovely, fragile time is like the world standing on tiptoe, holding its breath, flushed with the anticipation of all that is to come. I still need my sweater to walk the dog in the late afternoons—five o’clock, the sweetest, freshest hour of all—but the sunshine, not as pale as it was a week ago, rains down on my eager face and bare head like a blessing from heaven.

The trees around the house and down through the woods have been a wild symphony of birdsong. The robins and cedar waxwings—those dashing cavaliers with their black masks and coats of dun-colored velvet—have been gorging themselves on the big holly tree in the backyard and making quite a fuss about it. Philip absolutely cannot keep the bird feeder filled for more than a day or two at a time, owing to all the ‘weary little wandering wings’ that have made this their place of refreshment.

One morning last week when I went out to feed the chickens, I stopped in the middle of the yard and gasped with a catch in my throat. For the walnut trees around me were full of the music of Jekyll Island, after home (and England) my favorite place on this earth. I closed my eyes and saw the golden marshes, the moss-hung oak trees, almost felt the warm, humid, salty air on my face. And when I opened them again, the flash of scarlet I glimpsed as a flying form darting overhead assured me that I had not been mistaken. The red-winged blackbirds were here en masse. Several days later I watched a black host of them startle to life from one of the trees as if by some mystic signal and head south. I watched them go with a genuine heaviness in my heart—their music had been such a stabbing pleasure. I look forward to greeting them again this summer on the Island.

But there are so many other miracles abroad. The willow tree we planted last spring is covered with millions of tiny green tufts. The pear trees have velvet buds of pearl and grey that will not be buds many days longer, and my husband brought me a handful of golden jonquils the other day, their fragrance as aerial as the spring itself.    

I’ve been sick the past few days, but a friend wisely reminded me that my body needs the vitamins from sunshine to assimilate all the vitamins I’m popping in my mouth by way of multis and Juice Plus…and so I’ve been sitting on the patio with my lunch and my book and soaking up all the goodness of my Father’s beautiful world. All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres… 

Jane Eyre

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Sharing a loved book with a beloved person is one of the sweetest pleasures I can imagine. That’s why reading Jane Eyre with my husband this past month has sent my cup of joy spilling over the edge. Though I could never forget my first passion for this masterpiece—my initial reading was at fourteen and I flew through the second half in one night in an absolute fever of impatience to see how it ended—I felt its majesty dawn on me afresh after all these years as a wholly new thing.

Jane Eyre is an untarnishable, unfading beauty of English literature: this I knew right well. But to hear the mighty words slipping off my own tongue, hanging breathless in the air between us for a fraction of a second, was to give them a life even I scarcely imagined. I found myself alternately amazed, shocked, delighted; “surprised by joy, impatient as the wind…” We have spent some lovely winter evenings over this book, sitting by a crackling fire. And equally lovely Sunday afternoons, a tea tray before us bearing a pot of the much-cherished tea room blend my mother brought me from England—reserved for only such worthy occasions. (Philip said he loved my ‘St. John voice’—I infused it with all the pomposity and cold dignity I could muster, almost looking down my nose at him as I read!) And now that we’re done, I think we’re both a little let down. I’ve about stopped dreaming about it at night. But we haven’t stopped talking about it yet. And this weekend, both of us being subject to nasty colds, we holed up and watched 5+ hour 1983 BBC movie version, in my opinion the definitive as far as accuracy to the text, however lacking it may be in cinematographic beauty. But the various film renditions of Jane Eyre, and my very decided opinions on them, are another post altogether and will have to wait for another day. :)

Last week I had the privilege and delight of attending a ‘drawing room’ lecture on this most beloved book and the excitement of it all still stirs my heart. I listened—first to a brief sketch of the lives of the Brontes and then to a discourse on the Biblical allusions of the text, the magnificent and brilliant super-structure of the plot—with a soaring mixture of elation and aspiration. It seems such a humbling thing, a thing to be cherished and grateful for, that Charlotte Bronte should have given to the world a gift such as this book most surely is. That there are books like Jane Eyre in the world seem to me a token of God’s love: in his liberal bestowing of both the creativity to write it and the eager minds to feast upon it. His riches are everywhere, truth and beauty and goodness shining out in radiant gleams from art and music and literature. I feel almost giddy at the thought of all there is to see of him in all that I love in general and in English literature in particular. It makes me want to lift my own little voice, like a wren among nightingales and larks. 

God forbid that there should ever come a day that girls are not reading Jane Eyre. Men and women, too, for that matter, but I think primarily of its noble influence upon young minds. I know its ideals somehow became a part of me back when I was fourteen, without my even realizing it. And as a woman I’ve had my faith immeasurably strengthened by it. I feel simpler, broader, more resolute for the time I’ve spent pondering its verities. Thank you, dear Charlotte…with all my heart.