Friday, December 21, 2012

Milk and Elves

We have only three days left until Christmas eve. Three days to make pierogi, finish shopping and present-making, and finish my pre-Christmas cleaning. Cleaning before Christmas is essential - a clean house on Christmas Eve will make everything easier throughout the year. I also wake up especially early on Christmas eve, and avoid as many frustrations as possible to keep the year peaceful and to keep myself from sleeping late all year long. There’s a lot of pressure packed into one day, so today, while I can, I’m going to put my feet up and drink some ‘magic milk’. I don’t have a consistent recipe for my magic milk - a drink I discovered at a cafe in my hometown. They used milk, almond milk, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, and vanilla (I think). I use whatever I happen to have. Today it’s a small pot of milk, with almonds, a vanilla bean, cardamom, nutmeg, and just the tiniest amount of cinnamon steeping together on the stove. When it’s hot, but not boiling, I take out the almonds and the vanilla bean, froth the milk and pour it into cheerful blue and white cups.

I’m rereading a story my husband read to me last weekend - "The King of the Elves" - about a tired old man who lends a hand to a troop of tiny elves and ends up their king. I loved the whole of it - from his desperate attempts to explain his new role to the other men to the needy, peevish uncertainty of the elves. It’s a story ideal for reading aloud in the evenings - not too long with visually satisfying characters and just enough excitement. But nice for quiet reading as well, on a Friday afternoon while snow blows outside and hot milk steams on the stove.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflection: Art and Motherhood

The week off has been good for my writing, and for the Christmas projects, now almost done, Yarrow's red dress is only waiting for embellishment. I drove everywhere Friday, picking up the meat, storing it, bringing my husband to and from work, yet somehow I spent most of the day in happy ignorance. When I learned what had happened I was overwhelmed. My prayers go out for all those poor babies, their families, and for the killer.  I was more than usually grateful for my quiet home, for a weekend - extended by storms through Tuesday,  for the wood piled high beside my stove, and for lots of time to think.
In times of reflection, I often retreat into Rilke whose poetry captures so perfectly all the nuances of the soul.  Rilke, who believed that women artists should forego motherhood for the sake of their art, that the creation of art was incompatible with motherhood. I've been thinking of this often - he believed this, primarily because he saw motherhood itself as an artistic path, and felt that each artist must commit himself (or herself in this case) to a path without dividing the creative passion. It is one of the reasons he also struggled with faith.
I can see the either/or aspects of art in motherhood, but I think there is room for them to coexist. The artistic life is a challenge to anyone who pursues it. Unmarried, an artist has more freedom and fewer distractions than married - if like a priest he is able to give his art a position of primacy. Married, the artist has more to overcome: I know that one of my primary distractions is my housekeeping. I don’t like to work, and often I can’t work when things are out of place. Some days the house is a constant frustration, failing my ideal again and again until it’s time to make dinner and go to bed - unorganized firewood really shouldn’t prevent me from working, but too often it does, and once the firewood has been rearranged, the bits of wood need to be swept up, and then the rugs should be shaken out, and then the disorder of the yard comes to my attention, until the stove needs to be tended again - leaving tiny bits of wood on the floor again and leading me to notice that the walls really are dirty…

Motherhood, of course adds to the distractions of the married artist - now in addition to this particular artist's intense dislike of mess, there is a mess-making little one: destroying the neatly swept piles of tiny wood-bits, delighting in destruction, and encouraging the dog in her evil tendencies - Rilke never mentions the effects of a dog on the artist, he should have, they’re even more distracting - children may possible nap or play quietly at the right time, a dog is designed by nature to discover a menace hiding in the trees every time the artist settles down to work.

I do think that Rilke missed the art producing aspects of motherhood. The inspiration children bring, and the possibility that each daily task - whether mothering or straightening the rugs which the dog insists on putting out of order - is capable of producing beauty, nourishing the artist’s other children : her poems or pots, canvases or stories. It may be that I just don’t like seeing limitations in life but I believe that art and life and faith all feed each other, and I hope that, while I may lose the moments that might have been spent writing or throwing feeding croissant dough to Yarrow, who can’t help but share with Luba, the long, lovely days when nothing is written are more creative than all the hours spent scribbling when I was single and free to ignore everything for the sake of a line.
Any thoughts of your own to share?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tea Retreat

Jenna and I are retreating from our discussion for the season. We have plans to pick it up - less often and refreshed, after Christmas. For the rest of this month, I’m pursuing other projects. Christmas is fast approaching - I have a little dress to make, presents to wrap, pork to collect from the butcher, and so many winter plans to bring to fruition. We have an icy layer of snow on the ground, it’s a loud walking under the stars, when everything else is silent.

I’m planning my own retreat from Cyganeria for a week or so, because our last discussion of the distractions inherent in our technological world has reminded me of my own tendency to become absorbed in the world online. So I’ll be writing more, praying more, reading more, and putting my snow-covered yard in order this week, all while hopefully building those daily habits of beauty that I so desire to make a part of every moment.

Enjoy a week of tea and reflection, with a good book or two, and some homemade croissants. A delightful accompaniment to snowy afternoon reading is a drink called London Fog: early grey tea, steamed milk (or light cream) and just a hint of vanilla (I like tossing half a vanilla bean in the milk as it heats on the stove). It’s lovely with croissants, or Russian tea cakes (if you don’t put any sugar in your tea).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Delayed Discussion - More on Books

I’d like to continue last week’s conversation on the importance of books. Jenna’s response last week was delightful, and I couldn’t help but think it over again and again, along with the comments George left on my own post. Jenna is right, we don’t need books themselves anymore than we need writing at all. We exist without them, but do we thrive without them? But printed pages and pretty bindings have as much to do with aesthetics as practicality. We are creatures made for beauty and substance - for an experience that unites the senses, as a good book does.
I realize that I’m biased. That, while I’m not anti-technology, I’m also not a lover of all things new. And ebooks are completely impractical in my life, more so than my little laptop and my solar-powered Christmas lights. But that’s one of the glories of books themselves. Physical things, requiring nothing but a willing mind, they transcend so many boundaries. I can lend and borrow books, I can nestle beside my window with a book and not worry about finishing it before the battery dies. And I worry a bit, because now, when we travel, people bring along an ipod packed with days of music, a ebook loaded down with potential, and there is less and less space for human contact. When I travel, and am tired of Rilke and whoever else I’ve brought along, I’m forced to see the people around me. I’ve had my palm and birth-date interpreted by an Indian musician, I’ve listened to a paroled drug-dealer tell me all about his adorable pet bunny, eaten grapefruit in the rain with a man who ‘just needed a million dollars’ to make his life right, and laughed with a drunk Irishman on his plane-ride home. Each conversation started because the few books I could pack didn’t hold my attention and the world woke up around me. If I’d had my entire library along, they would never have been, and I would be without those people in my mind.
I know that the loss of human contact in our culture is not the fault of the ebook, and I have no problem with it’s existence, I just worry about it’s effect. George, Jenna, does this worry you at all? What do you think, everyone, am I just ridiculous to want a physical thing that can be asked about and then set aside? Is there a way to share ebooks? Do you ever regret having too many choices?

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Tomorrow is the beginning of the new liturgical year; yesterday was the feast of St. Andrew, the end of the old season. I love St. Andrew’s eve, but tend to forget him on his day; the eve is full of mystery and hints of the future, the day is a reminder that all things pass away. On the eve of St. Andrew (Andrzejki) tradition calls for dripping wax into a bowl of water by moonlight and reading the shapes to find out what will be. Dreams are important on St. Andrew’s as well, and I’m grateful to have had good ones this year, it gives me a good feeling for the coming year. My dreams have been rambling and uncertain in November, they leave me unrested and unprepared for dawn; but Saint Andrew’s eve brought hope and peace.