Death With Dignity

“My life is only mine to give, not to keep.My life is give to me to love until the end. Love is dignity. I am facing death with dignity.”

Meet Lizz , fellow pilgrim & friend of mine, presently also 32, who is living with stage-four cancer. She used to be in the military. She is convert to Catholicism from Orthodox Buddhism. A pillar of strength and hope, she faces her future of unknowing and physical crosses with courage. Contrary to our culture’s acceptance of euthanasia as an option for ending suffering when staring death in the face, Lizz is confident that good can come from one’s suffering. She collaborated with Catholic filmmaker Chris Stephanick  to reach out and witness to this belief. It’s only a few minutes long!

little ones + the Rose of Mary

Today is a feast of our Lady. She has many, but this one celebrates and honors her conception without the stain of original sin- a great mystery to contemplate. It’s a huge feast in the church and we are all obligated to attend Mass if we are physically able. To honor her and to guide my little ones to God I lit a candle, picked some fresh sprigs of rosemary from our barren winter garden and placed them into a vase. (Rosemary, ros marinus, translates as “dew of the sea”. It is said that Mary spread her blue cloak over the plant and the little blossoming white flowers turned blue.) Rosemary is also known as “Rose of Mary”. We passed it around and each took a little whiff of the pungent herb. The children had sugar with their breakfasts. We all sang a hymn to Mary after our grace. That’s about all I can muster up these days, these exhausting mothering days when the days are flying by the children are pulling me a million different ways all the time. But  whenever I set out a white tablecloth and light candles for feast days I think to myself how blessed my children are to have inherited such a wealth of traditions, a rich faith and so much beauty in celebrations. Hazel June just today was playing with her play-mobiles and the words that flowed from her mouth came straight from the word-storage bank from readings and songs she has grown up with. “And then she came… over the hills, down from the the North country…” (part of the Visitation, possibly part of Bob Dylan’s song, girl from the North Country…?) Another time I overheard one of the boys saying, “he is hungry, and he eats crickets and locusts! But we want him to get to Heaven, where there are roses, and milk, and honey!” (St. John the Baptist & the Heavenly Jerusalem….) Oh, the sweet words that come from the mouths of babes.


Our Lady, pray for us! Prepare our Hearts for the Christ Child! 

Begin Again, a new film by John Carney

This movie. (!!) It totally knocked my music-loving socks off. In Begin Again, a depressed and worn-out Mark Ruffalo is an ex-record executive who is losing. it. Like, having a mental breakdown. But while drinking at a bar he hears living music. And the rest is history…. they go on to make an album together, pulling other musicians out of classrooms and studios. They record all over NY- under bridges, in alleyways, on rooftops. Just as John Carney‘s film Once celebrated the electricity and living-ness of real music, so too does his second film, Begin Again. In both films, he celebrates music, plain and simple. He shows the power of simple compositions in ordinary everyday settings; how raw brave voices can become powerful with some backup and motivation…. A real hit in my entertainment books, though surely not for everyone. What can I say, I love Indie films that aren’t just cool but that feature music and tell a good story. One of the best parts of the film? Craig Ferguson, who plays Keira’s best friend.. Such a cool dude.

Here is a song from Begin Again:

In case you never noticed the folks who won best original song at the Oscars the year that John Carney’s film Once came out,  here it is:

and another song from Begin Again….


Good Homilies

Sometimes, when I have a quiet moment around here, I will listen to Catholic talks or homilies while I am chopping vegetables, ironing shirts or whatnot. Father Lappe, a former pastor of ours, has a particular gift for delivering very good, clear homilies. There are dozens of them recorded from masses at Our Lady Star of the Sea parish where he serves now in Bremerton: a working-class naval shipyard town in the Puget Sound area of Washington state.  Our Lady, Star of the Sea, pray for us!

Father Derek Lappe’s homilies

Robert Redford in All Is Lost

I LOVE the art of film. I look for a story well-told, good cinematography, excellent acting. One of the actors & producers I do follow intently is Robert Redford. Though extremely political, I think I love him so much because he hits home for me; he dearly loves America and it’s land- he is an artist and loves the outdoors, he knows the Sierras and the Wasatch Mountain ranges, he’s a conservationist, (he also founded Sundance Film Festival,& Sundance Catalog) …he loves REAL life and just in general is a thoughtful, critically-minded, good, well-read guy- he quotes T.S. Eliot, Kierkegaard, Becket and more… and he even says “God Bless” sometimes… And interestingly, he is “over” his good looks and realized that it’s rather a cage..He is always growing. I watched this interview today while I folded laundry… This link isn’t all about politics, it’s more about him, his views and his acting. 

Last night I watched All Is Lost. “IS all lost?” he asks. I don’t have time to write a review of the film, but it was thought provoking, it lured the viewer in, and it was particularly touching because it was your good, everyday sailor out there on the seas, alone… making one decision at a time. It could happen to anyone.And of course it was impressive given his age. LOVED the ending. If you are detail-oriented, like me, and a color person, this will totally tickle that fun-bone. I am positive that he had a ton of say in the details- his ring, his cotton shirt, his sunhat, his maps…even in what color the lifeboat was to be!  I was in aesthetic heaven. And dang, he looks fit for being 77!! Way to go, Robert Redford, Thanks for another wonderful delivery of the human person while celebrating beauty.

Silver & Salt

Last month my husband and I flew to the state of Utah for a dear friend’s wedding.  With just baby Lester on our back and carry-on bags, we were free as birds to explore, rest and celebrate. ( I also had ample time to nerd out on Wikipedia to read up on the lake, the mountains, the climate…)

utah great salt lakeWe flew out of the Cascades, across the desert sections of Oregon and over the Great Basin, finally making our descent over the expansive Salt Lake. It glistened in the sun, shining white in contrast to the yellowish-brown surrounding mountains- with old sea lines stretched across them, indications of the fact that this land, in prehistoric times, was once under a shallow sea. The great Salt Lake was the deepest part of that sea, of course, because it is all that is left of that body of water now, with the inflow of the Bear, Jordan and Weber rivers. What was once under water is now a huge metropolis. This well-known lake is a “terminal lake”: a basin of water with no drainage. Saltier than the ocean, bathers feel incredibly bouyant. It is so salty that it cannot sustain most fish life. It is home, though, to millions of native birds.

I didn’t like Salt Lake City one bit. It was a bizarre, barren place, feeling empty and devoid of Life. And it wasn’t just because of the climate… My husband and  both felt it. I felt happy and revived, though, when we headed into the mountains.

Wasatch mountains
Wasatch mountains

We hopped into our car rental (which was a VW Jetta- we were stoked!) and drove up into the Wasatch Mountain Range: the Western edge of the rocky mountains and the Eastern rim of the Great Basin. “Wasatch”, in Ute, means “mountain pass”. While reading about the Wasatch range, I learned that this name’s origin is in the term “wasattsi”, Shoshoni for “blue heron”. We wound our way up until we came to the small town of Park City. I didn’t know that this was an incredibly famous place for snowboarders, mountain bikers and skiers. But yeah, Canyons Resort is quite the hot spot for these outdoor sports enthusiasts. Apparently the snow they get up there is some of the best snow in the states for skiing because it is just pure powder, thanks to the dry climate. At Canyons my husband was riveted by the mountain biking paths and bikers flying out of the forests… and we did hang out & have some very gross, low-alcoholic Utah- tasting beers (look up state alcohol laws) with some of them too- Let’s just say that they are a different crowd than my own… yeah. We will leave it there. I love everyone, duh. But… I don’t have to like them.

silver king '70s shot
silver king ’70s shot

Saturday morning we had breakfast downtown with some dear friends who were in town for the wedding also. They had driven through the salt flats and desert sagebrush country of Nevada… lucky ducks! Park City is apparently an old silver mining town. When silver, lead and gold was found there in the 1860’s, it lead to a mining boom; miners flocked to this little town to work there. And the silver mines thrived in Park City while in other parts of the world mines were depleted. The Silver King Coalition Mine became the richest silver mine in the world. Park City sustained a few fires in it’s history; in 1898 the town was almost destroyed. 34 miners were killed in a tragic mine explosion in 1904.  In the late 1850s the price of silver dropped so low that it became a ghost town. Interestingly, while they were still actively mining, miners were already using the underground shafts and trains to get up the mountain so they could ski down. So when the focus began to shift from silver to skiing, the trams that once hauled ore became ski lifts and began carrying people. Now, with over 1,000 miles of tunnels and old mine workings underground, beneath the now-ski slopes, it is a thriving ski resort town, booming in a different way…and rich as ever, still, bringing in an average of around $529,000,000/year! It actually “houses more tourists than residents”… (Thanks, Wikipedia!) It’s little old street is so picturesque, straight out of an old photo from the late 19th century. It’s now a modern-day tourist town with chocolate shops, postcard stores, restaurants, a cowboy shop with beautiful boots costing, on average, around $700 (they went as high as $1500!!) little art museums and such.  The Winter 2002 Olympics were held there, and it’s also the home for the Sundance Film Festival.

IMG_1678One of the best spots downtown was The High West, a fine whiskey bar featuring a classic Old Western saloon front.  Because they served food there in addition to drinks,  our children could come in with us. That was a real plus. There were amazing drinks, gorgeous thick, solid wooden tables with metal details, my favorite Tolix Marais chairs & stools and a counter-top dazzled with colorful bowls of fresh limes, lemons, oranges, ginger, mint sprigs and everything else you need to make delicious cocktails. This place also featured my favorite French Red Stripe table linens and an entire wall covered with mounted mason jar lanterns (with a candle in each) …! I was in absolute aesthetic heaven… Ah! And since we were there for a wedding, we had friends to hang out with-! So, right after the ceremony, with 2 hours to live, we headed down there at the suggestion of a friend and sat there in the side-patio of the bar, with our drinks, in the afternoon sunshine next to the fire. The fanciness! Of course, the way it is today is certainly not authentic cowboy. It’s totally put together by artists and whiskey connoisseurs for the tourists passing through. Back in the day of dirt-streets, horses, hard working ranches & the silver mining industry, though, you  can bet this was a very run-down, working-man hot spot on the edge of town. (Oh, and did I mention that they they had palette benches with red cushions around the fire? Sigh…)

My husband and I also had ample time to explore this little town all on our own, wandering and shopping. As I’m a cowgirl boot-wearer (even though my ranch-hand/farm-hand days are over) I just had to pop my head into Burn’s Cowboy Shop to see the gorgeous boots. My husband wanted to buy me a pair as a treat- just because we were on vacation together for the first time ever without (most of) our children. I declined, saying “oh, honey… you know that these are going to be at least 2-300 per pair..!”  That was when we discovered that no- my version of “expensive” was a bit off for this place. This is Sundance Film Festival land, Baby- this is movie-star, Robert Redford Sundance-catalog land. This is tourism! These boots were priced for people who have not a care in the world about money. 700$/pair for those, $1,000/pair for these… yep. We had a good laugh! (But I must say: they were VERY good boots, and gorgeous too. ) Later my husband did make me feel just plain beautiful; he treated me like his queen when he bought me a flowing white cotton  dress with lace detail, a new necklace and the most comfortable, thick, warm burgundy cotton wrap-sweater I’ve ever had, with arm patches and pockets. I was cozy and new-feeling for the rest of our trip. I want to live in it. It is now hand-washed and dried flat outside in the fresh air, and each time I wear it I think it gets better and better.


St. Mary’s of the Assumption

Park City is certainly not the first place we would have chosen for a vacation. I did know there would certainly at least be fascinating bits of history, geology and climate to discover… But we were surprised- we had FUN! It was packed with stuff to do and places to see. Their ceremony took place at Saint Mary’s of the Assumption, the oldest Catholic church in the state, nestled into a beautiful section of the farmland along the McLeod Creek. There is the saying around there that the Mormons kicked all the Catholics out of Salt Lake and they all came to Park City… ha!  The McLeod Creek and the Canyons Resort, where we were staying, is all in the same valley, part of the Snyderville Basin.The name comes from Samuel Snyder, a Mormon pioneer who opened a sawmill there in the 1850s. In fact, before silver fueled the economy, there was the lumber/sawmill and the stagecoach, mail and hospitality services. It wasn’t until 20 years later that the silver was discovered, then becoming the predominant economic driver of the area.

One day we took a walk along the McLeod Creek, taking us through wetlands, the old farm and through a gorgeous birch grove.  We started off in the parking lot on the East side of the road, crossed beneath rt. 224 and headed towards the the old McLeod Farm, including the most wonderful HUGE tree (I still don’t know what kind of tree it was…) right next to the babbling creek.  This spot would have been absolutely idyllic for our children to play in, because the tree’s branches were enormous, all coming from the base of the tree, like separate trunks- so ideal for climbing and playing in, like it’s own little house. (I missed my children immensely at that moment.) We then followed the path through a field dotted with sage, through wetlands and through the gorgeous birch grove, the trunks a glistening white and the foliage a fresh early-summer triumphant green. (The birch trees there are apparently beautiful in the fall, yellow & gold against the white mountains  lit up by the Autumn sunshine. In the wedding emails leading up to the event, there were pictures of the bride & groom walking through a gold & white wooded area, which alerted me to these trees…) We cut our walk short. I had forgotten a hat, and the wind was a bit fierce. We walked straight toward the highway, dodged across when no cars were there, and walked swiftly back to our little car in the parking lot. No time to be anywhere, no place to be… just together, living and exploring. It was amazing to have so much time to just BE. We watched the birds hop around in the creek-side bushes, we looked up the names of the plants and the creek. We changed the baby’s diaper, we looked at the clouds. We sat in the car together, letting it just run, while we listened to a good track. We gazed across the grasses to the East-facing church nestled so well into this landscape. Our Lady of the Assumption, pray for us! 

IMG_1630The reception was held at Canyons Resort where we were staying, but it wasn’t right on the main grounds; as is typical for weddings held there, we got to sip on champagne at the foot of the mountain near the white events tent while we, on the sidelines, watched a show in the plaza of the “resort village”. We then took the Gondola up to elev. 8,000 feet where the Red Pine events lodge was… We stepped off the car and voila: there we were with our cocktail attire, outside in the wind, with good company, a reason to celebrate, and an open bar with, once again, fresh, real ingredients- no nasty fillers & mixes. Oh, the hors d’voeuvres… ! The platters made their rounds: bacon-wrapped scallops, asparagus, crackers with cheese and fruit and capers and fish…  we washed these delectable flavors down with our first (oh yes, many more to come) cocktail, all while the afternoon sunshine slowly faded into the beautiful light of a mountain-top dusk. We then climbed the stairs of the lodge and, bride and groom both being teachers, we found ourselves seated around different tables which were elegantly and humorously labeled after rooms in a school: Teacher’s lounge, Library, Cafeteria, etc. (Of  course the families with many children children were seated at the table Kindergarten.) After a delicious salad, a clearing-of-the-palette-serving of a fruit ice with mint, and then a phenomenal main course, there was music, dancing and pie cutting outside in a white tent lit up with round, hanging white lanterns and strung lights.  It was spectacular!! We took pictures in funny costumes. My husband decked himself out in feathers and I wore some large sunglasses. We ate pie. We waved off the happy, beautiful bride & groom, wishing them well. On the way down we rode with our dear friends and a super-fun, cheerful couple who we met that very same hour. The three men chanted a drunken, happy song; it was about our ride down the gondola at night (it was so incredible to descend the mountain with the trees and ravine below us, and the lights of Park City aglow!!) with too many people…. Good times. Bed that night felt lovely.

salt flats
salt flats

Our trip came to it’s end back in Salt Lake. We drove back early in the day, to have some time exploring before boarding the plane. Once again, I became unsettled in Salt Lake and there was a pit in my stomach. Passing through, we noticed street signs that read “Zion Ave”. There was a “Zion Bank” too. There was a garden named “Gilgal Sculpture Gardens” where we took a breather with our teething baby. We accidentally chose a local hike that was a Mormon pilgrimage site. We carefully read every single plaque and every single stone, every single sign. I felt like i was on another planet. But apparently I was in the “promised land.” Lord, have mercy...I prayed the rosary as I climbed this “Ensign Peak”, offering it up for all Mormons and for this lost, dark, depressing city.IMG_1751 I inhaled the aroma of sage and savored the wind on my sweaty brow as s few raindrops fell.  Up at the top, I had a good view of Salt Lake, the city, and the salt flats and surrounding mountain ranges.  For me this was a time to simply stretch my legs, be with my spouse and pay tribute to the land of the salt that brings flavor to my table. Here at home, I have Sea Salt from the Jurassic era, mined from salt flats in this state where once, in Jurassic times, it was part of the salty ocean. It is delicious. It is what we use on our food. It is a beautiful pearly, sandy, pinkish, off-white salt with flecks of pinks, browns and grays.  Standing up top of this peak looking out at this salty land, I was thanking God for the gift of salt and for the flavor it brings to my table.


entrance to the cCathedral of the MadeleineIMG_1763Before boarding the plane, we had time to bolt over to the Mother Church for Roman Catholics in this state: the Cathedral of  the Madeleine. We pulled into the parking lot and Praise the good Lord (!), I could breathe again. Literally. I felt like I was coming into a sea of roses and Light after having been parched, in blackness, in a sandy desert. I entered into this beautiful (stunning!) cathedral at 3 O’Clock, the hour of Divine Mercy. You can guess what my prayer was!  And dear St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!  


Midsummer’s Gift: Corpus Christi

edith holden

This midsummer’s day was bursting with life.

“A cloudless sky; a world of heather, purple of foxglove; yellow of broom; We two among it, wading together; Shaking out honey, treading perfume. Crowds of bees are giddy with clover; Crowds of grasshoppers skip at our feet, Crowds of larks at their matins hang over, Thanking the Lord for a life so sweet.” -Jean Ingelow, from the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

I sat outside this lovely June day working on everything I needed to catch up on. From the moment I woke up till the moment I turned in just recently, daylight triumphed. There was even a “solar halo” around the sun midday! These days, especially up here in the North, are such a gift- they are very long! I sat on my porch writing, sketching, addressing, cutting, pasting, emailing, sipping tea, munching on food, and watching my children play baseball and play in the pool. My baby sat in the swing next to me while I nibbled on his toes. When he needed to move, I sat him down on the ground to let him crawl; He also chewed on twigs, wooden bracelets, a cloth gnome for teething babes… and he fussed, and I had to take breaks to hold him, to nurse him. My children fought, and I had to take the time to remind them to love one another and to work things out. My phone rang about 3 times this morning; I took the calls. My dishes piled up; I washed them. The laundry piled up; I folded it. And thus went my day… we try to do it with love.

Christ is with us. He gives us life and joy. He is the source of all good things. Today is Corpus Christi Sunday! This is when many Catholics, in all parts of the world, can be seen processing around the streets, singing songs and doing readings, stopping to kneel & say prayers. This is the day that we will  literally take our Lord’s body,  in the physical form of a host, and carry Him into the streets, the neighborhoods. He is the Light in our midst;  God is Love.


Life in Water

IMG_0227 I live in a little yellow house tucked away from the street. A passerby may glance down the long driveway, lined with tall plum trees, only to see the shed, garden pots, a sandbox full of metal trucks and buckets and shovels, and a big pile of brush. Little do they know that just beyond their scope of vision from the street is a lovely little shire with green grass, tall trees, little trees, and a garden. In the East-facing front yard, we have a lawn bordered with raised garden beds containing a few small trees, ground-covers, weeds, lupines, daisies, lemon balm and peppermint. The stones that make up the garden bed wall are covered in green moss, and, each Spring, ferns victoriously poke their heads through the stone cracks to see the light of day. The branches of our little trees are covered in a pale green moss. This land of mountains, lakes, rivers, pools, waterfalls, rainforests, volcanoes and saltwater is a GREEN, lush fairytale land. The forests are mostly made up of evergreen trees: Giant Firs, Cedars and Pines. When the deciduous trees (mostly oak, maple, aspen and birch) lose their leaves each Autumn, they reveal enchanting, bright-green, moss-covered branches.

The undergrowth is full of beautiful green ferns and mosses, and, in just the right spots, an abundance of diverse fungi… a mushroom-gatherer’s dream. Follow any river valley from the Columbia River up into the Cascade Mountains and you will find rocky cliffs, ledges and flats that are completely coated with moss, simply seeping with water. The Western Cascade Mountains reveal not only moss-covered rocks but evergreen forests, mossy oaks and green pieces of land. The prairies South of the Mount Saint Helens National Forest stretching to North Vancouver are green as green can be, too- scattered with grazing cows and horses. In the prairies stretching from the Willamette River Valley to the Coastal Range are sheep-pastures, farms, orchards, nut-trees and vineyards. House rooftops, if not properly maintained, can turn completely green due to accumulative moss over the course of many years. Some abandoned houses or fallen logs are rotted out and completely covered with mold and thick, spongy-looking moss. If we leave a wooden toy or bike outside for more than a couple of days, it will return to the house covered with black mold spots, much to my dismay.

IMG_0202 Why? The Western Cascade region gets about 150-190 days per year of measurable rainfall which can be, on average, just under an inch of water per hour. That means that about 6 months out of every year it is WET.  Though our summers are cool and relatively dry, in the wintertime our days are enveloped in water. The Western tributaries of the Columbia River are filled with pools, torrential rushing rivers and plunging waterfalls…your face will be wet with the spray, the mist, the water in the air. The coast swells with bigger waves and the surfers flock to the little wet coves beneath the grassy bluffs overlooking the rugged coastline.  Rainwater fills our gutters, hammers on the rooftops and patters on the tarp we have spread over the sandbox. Rainwater fills the soil; it splashes into ponds where ducks are fishing. It fills the rivers, which, in the winter and early Springtime, tear through the valleys with a force that is not to be reckoned with. The rivers rise up to 10 feet depending on the year. One cubic foot per second (CFS) is a flow measurement that means one cubic foot of water flowing past a specific point. On a particularly wet month last year, our local river was recorded at 20,000 cfs!Come Spring when the snowmelt drains into the high rivers, our children aren’t allowed anywhere near their banks until the waters have subsided.  In the wintertime, the rains here are relentless, coming down from the gray skies day after day in showers, sprinkles, drops and sometimes SHEETS. My three-year-old, in all earnestness, asks me: “Mama, why is it raining?” to which I respond, “Because the clouds are full of water…”  And indeed they are!
Oh, the skies are beautiful:  grays and whites and sometimes a pale heron-blue. Scattered showers and fleeting clouds cause the sky-lover to go into raptures.  On our West-facing porch there is a clear roof so that this winter-time bird-lover and cloudy-sky-lover can sit in the backyard while it mists or rains, and still sip his tea & read his novel outside, in the light of day… The trees drip, the gutters are loud; puddles fill the streets. Hundred-year-old fences and stone walls in historical towns along our coastline are glazed with a silvery-green moss, a sign that it is a place of dampness… the kind of dampness that gets into your bones and chills you more than any snowy, sub-zero winter does. It is the kind of dampness that weighs down your hair and makes your hands white & clammy. The kind of dampness that you can feel yourself inside of, it wraps itself around you, enveloping you in a still, cold universe where all sounds, be it the crow overhead, the flock of starlings in the bushes, the bicyclist around the bend or your friend crunching along on the path ahead all sound like they are right next to you.

IMG_0204The sky is so gray here and the lack of sunshine so common that my hair has turned from a blonde to a light brown since moving here 7 years ago. Many people have a severe lack their Vitamin D. To keep the blues away, (along with exercising and taking my vitamins) I have painted poppies all along the stairwell wall and birds on my kitchen cupboards. Lanterns are strung in our kitchen to keep our spirits happy.  Because of this “endless gray”, there can be found many colorful paint colors in the city of Portland, Oregon, reminding me of the cheerfully-painted doors in the similarly wet, lush, fertile, Northern land of Ireland. Surely this is no coincidence… folks of wet, gray climates must need color to cheer their spirits during the longer, darker months of the year. For this reason, our front door is painted a lovely marigold-yellow with a soft turquoise-blue trim. The same blue is on the entire porch framework. Rubber boots of all sizes, tiny to huge, line the porch wall… for puddle-stomping and watery treks, of course. Our boys put on their boots and set out into the neighborhood to find the deepest puddles of all, stomping and running and jumping as the rain thunders down on their heads. They stick their heads under the leaky gutters and hide under their tree shelters, coming back red with the cold and wet from head to toe. The rubber boots may as well be sneakers since they create such gigantic splashes. One of our favorite places to be is along our local rivers, the shoreline made up of river-stones in blues, greens and grays. Fishermen line the banks during the right seasons and we wade into the swirling, clear waters with our boots on, looking for beautiful stones and pebbles underfoot. Redwing Blackbirds and Finches sing their song over in the blackberry hedges along the shore, and we build cairns marking our river adventure. We drape lightweight cotton blankets over the yellow reeds growing up through the pebbles so that my babies can eat their picnics in their own cozy river-houses. Squirt-boaters with their helmets on get pulled under the water with the current, then pop back up to the surface like a cork out of a soda-water bottle. We make little boats out of walnut shells, a toothpick for the mast and a birch leaf for the sail. My children throw sticks and leaves into the currents, watching them bob along downstream, chattering about where they will end up… will they make it all the way to the Columbia? Perhaps even to the Pacific Ocean?

IMG_0191We do our errands in the town while the rain comes down, treating ourselves to bookstores and cafes. We wear lots of woolen clothing to stay dry, hunker down for bowls of hot soup and gather around fires. We cradle a hot mug in our hands, cozying up in coffee-shop armchairs, looking out the windows into the world of gray, watching a train pass by or the occasional barge transporting sawdust or lumber making its way down the Columbia River. Follow this Columbia through the coastal range out to where it meets the Pacific, and you will find yourself in the most navigationally- hazardous waters in the world: the Columbia River Bar. At about 2,656 feet elevation, this great river begins in the Rockies in British Columbia and travels 1,214 miles through desert and mountains. It drains nearly all of Idaho, large portions of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, almost all of Montana west of the Continental Divide, and small portions of Wyoming,  carrying with it tons of silt which it abruptly deposits onto the shifting sand floor at it’s Mouth just West of  Astoria, Oregon, colliding with the waters of the Pacific ocean. This collision of waters creates waters so treacherous that it has been responsible for hundreds of shipwrecks; hence it’s other title, The Graveyard of the Pacific. 

IMG_0250 We hike through the woods to cross over bridges above waterfalls. We run along the little trails finding sticks to take to the lake. The boys attach little ropes to the ends of their sticks and sit on the shore to pretend they are fishing, watching with admiration the nearby fishermen who sometimes kindly give them some bait, hook and tackle. We wade in the swimming holes, making paper boats. We jump, ankle-deep, into the waves of the ocean. We watch the canoes glide soundlessly across the lake in the Cascade foothills, which is surrounded by a network of trails. The boys collect driftwood from the shores of the Columbia and make rafts, singing sailor songs. We head up to Mount Hood and drive up dirt roads to go swimming in Alpine Lakes.

Water is not just a naturally abundant source here but a daily blessing and tool. Often, in the Autumn, we light a fire on our back porch in our chiminea, filling the air with wood smoke and warming our hands as we go between apple-processing tasks: Flats of apples getting sorted by little hands into two piles: bruised and un-bruised. The bruised apples go into the washing tub where little hands wash and hold, transferring them into the next flat, where they then get chopped up and placed into large pots on the stove. As the rains come down and geese fly overhead, our applesauce and apple butter simmers on the stovetop. In the summer we wash peaches in these same tubs. While my children splash in the warm pool I have filled for them by the blueberry bushes, I like to watch the sunshine hit the water which bounces off the peach fuzz.  My boys water the potted plants while my little 1 ½ year old patters around the room, bringing me items for the kitchen, re-arranging the magnets on the fridge, carrying her baby, singing her happy songs. We make pot after pot of tea, boiling the water, pouring the water, drinking the water. Throughout each day the table is filled with different spreads, one of them being palates (yogurt lids), brushes, and heavy cold-pressed paper for watercolor painting. Our 7-year-old tries his hand at some fantastic experiments with “fireworks”: a dot of thicker paint placed right in the middle of a puddle of water on the paper. When hitting the water, the color immediately spreads out in many directions creating a lovely star, or firework, effect. Beautiful! There is the washing of the floors. Homemade broth simmers on the stovetop; the kettle boils, the lentils are bubbling; and so steam fills the room, fogging up the windows. I fill up my kitchen sink with warm water, giving my babies cozy baths while I do my steam-ironing on cold mornings. Candles flicker on the windowsill and beyond this window are birds on the wet, dripping branches of trees, and rain-drops splash on the window. There is the washing of laundry and warm heavy quilts after a hot bath. I dip my hands into a tub of water as I center my lump of Stoneware clay on the wheel… I continue to wet my sponge as I form these bowls. When my children are thirsty, I give them water. When I wake, I wash my face, cleansing for a new day, a new beginning. We start our lives off in a womb filled with water. Water is in us, it is around us; it makes up more than half our planet. It waters our crops. It nourishes, it sustains. Water is essential for life: Life in our souls and life on our earth. This life in our watery land is fertile and good. The rains coming down touch to the roots of our souls, filling us with strength, for it is the Heavenly Dew, a symbol of blessing and fertility. Through water we are made new.


Modesty: The Fun, the Fashionable, the Sensible

Modesty: The Fun, the Fashionable, the Sensible

Em, a dear old friend from my Ohio days, lives in a beautifully-decorated cozy yurt in the woods of Maine; she is a writer, poet and blogger. She’s also a Byzantine Catholic and mama to a beautiful daughter named Yarrow. A few months ago she asked a handful of gals to contribute to a Lenten project: a discussion on modesty. “Modesty” is such a hot-button topic for so many Catholics… it brings out so many feelings: judgement of those who don’t have any sense of it, “immodest” gals being looked down upon… Some gals who were raised too strictly even feel rather wounded by their childhood restrictions on what to wear & what to not wear. So I decided to chime in on this discussion because I think of it as an important topic for Christian women! Here’s my post above, in blue…

A Spiritual for Easter Morning

marion anderson

My sister Abigail, who herself has a beautiful voice and is studying opera in the conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, emailed me:

“Next Sunday is not only of course Easter, but also the anniversary of Marian Anderson’s concert on the steps in front of the Lincoln Memorial. She was one of the greatest contraltos to have ever lived. She was supposed to give a concert at DC’s Constitution Hall, but was banned from giving the concert because only white people were able to perform in that hall. Eleanor Roosevelt then had the idea of having her concert take place in front of the Lincoln Memorial. She sang this stunning spiritual.”

beauty | pilgrimage | Light


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 793 other followers

%d bloggers like this: