Midsummer’s Gift: Corpus Christi … and a yellow ride

edith holdenThis 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 do it with love.

Yesterday my husband surprised me with a gorgeous yellow bicycle.  I took it down the street and into the park; it was the smoothest ride… I don’t need a fancy 16-gear mountain bike… I also would not want a single gear. So this was perfect. Simple, 6-gear, half-road, half-city, bicycle. The last time I rode one… brace yourself; I am completely serious… was when I lived in Scotland, about 14 years ago, when I would cycle 7 miles to and from mass, on back rural roads lined with hedges just spilling over with wildflowers and sheep pastures  beyond. I mean, I’ve ridden around the block on my other bike here, but I haven’t gone on a ride, or taken a bike on any significant journey, since then. Back then I rode around the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland and also went on a 35-mile loop with my dear South African friend Karin… half of it was against the wind and we could barely walk the next day. What thrills! So I am particularly excited that my doors are open again to such adventures… especially if I get a baby seat. Plus, I never imagined I’d have a yellow one. I mean, I’d thought of chrome, or turquoise… but yellow is delightful, and now I’m in love. This bike is simple, good and cheerful. I can’t wait to find a helmet, a sturdy baby seat and a back carrier for groceries.

The most significant part of this midsummer’s day is that 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 the 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.”

Prayer in the Desert

Prayer in the Desert

Boy, there is definitely a reason my brother became a Dominican, the Order of Preachers… cause he’s got a real knack for public speaking! (He alwasy has, but he’s getting better and better!) This last day of Lent I listened to the talk he gave on prayer. Click “next” until you come to the talk on PRAYER. So good!

Pete Seeger: A Timeless Voice

 As I sat on the couch nursing my baby and sipping some coffee, my mother and I were texting this morning about various things…but the big news she informed me of was that Pete Seeger had passed away. He was a huge part of my childhood and has been part of my own children’s life ever since I became a mother.  A folk and peace icon and a social justice activist, his voice is legendary. It will be remembered forever and hopefully continue to be celebrated for generations to come. He was not only a banjo player but a gifted storyteller as well; my siblings and I all have incredible memories of his riveting story Abiyoyo. My children’s favorites include the latter as well as Sam the Whaler.  To pay him tribute and to understand what he stood for, read The New York Times article or listen to the NPR News headline. In remembering him today, I found a WONDERFUL old Rainbow Quest video (a television show from the 60′s featuring American Folk Music) of Pete Seeger, Johnny Cash and June Carter! Anyway, I am sure that he is on his way to make music with the angels now… God bless Pete Seeger!! Song Over Bomb! Make Music, not War… (Have got to make some bumper stickers… ha!)

Here also is a treat for the kiddos: live Abiyoyo; fun video with Pete Seeger’s voice telling the story of Sam the Whaler (though I do admit this story is better just listened to); and one of his best songs: Turn, Turn Turn. Most people recognize the Byrds version of this song, but it was written by Pete Seeger in the 50′s.Though in this moving video he can barely sing due to his older age, he does give a very good intro. One of my favorites, the lyrics of Turn Turn Turn are of course straight from Scripture (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8):

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.


Saturday Sunshine

Well, it’s about time for a quick Saturday report-

Earlier this morning I watched the sun fill the sky while I made my morning tea. Note, I made it, but I never got to drink it… that happens a lot! Two of my children got up way before I thought they would; (last night was their movie night so I figured they would sleep in… rats!) I made them breakfast. I nursed the baby, I changed him, I got going on some dishes from last night…then I swept the floors, washed the floors and nursed the baby again (and changed him again- duh, he’s a newborn)…and the early morning hours were gone. The sun filled the front yard and so, just to be in it, I put on my jeans and scarf and sweatshirt and I built a fire. The wood was damp, so it took a while to get it going, but within a half an hour of blowing, adding more kindling and everything else you do to a fire to keep it burning, I had a very warm fire crackling right out in front of my house in the winter sunshine. And I FINALLY got to enjoy a steaming mug of tea. There was birdsong, wood-smoke, children inside listening to bluegrass, and a NY Times travel section in my lap. I even got around to quickly doing a sketch in my sketchbook for some stories I’ve been writing. I love Saturdays!

Right now: I just nursed my baby to sleep and my sister came and picked up all the kids; she is now at the library with them… brave Aunt!! I cleaned my house this morning (of course it gets un-clean within just an hour, with five children under the same roof and a rather disorganized mama) and washed most of our laundry.  I COULD go fold it all and figure out dinner and put away loose odds and ends lying around the house. But all I really want to do is to sit here in this blessed sunshine that is pouring through my window. It’s rare to have sunshine in the darker winter months here. So when it comes out I need to just stop what I am doing, just to soak it in for a half an hour… or 5 minutes, or whatever I have– Sort of the way we Catholics stop to pray the Angelus. So that’s what I am doing: stopping my day to sit in the sun and type a few lines in the e world. I truly think that sunshine is a foretaste of Heaven. Perhaps that’s just because now I live under rain-clouds… I don’t know. Oh, hey- it’s 10 minutes later. I actually got up because the sunshine moved behind the tree. So I washed some dishes to catch the sun over by the sink-window. Yes, I know… I’m a nut, following the sun around my house and yard.

Later: The boys will be home in a blink of an eye, because time flies when you’re writing and emailing and making tea and then jumping up to console a waking baby. So, within about 10 minutes, I will be most likely folding laundry, giving my boys hugs, and asking them to read me their books they picked out from the library. Then I will probably let them watch the old Treasure Island. (Reading it aloud to them would be more edifying but because I am in survival mode I will let them watch it now and read it on their own later.) I’ve learned that filling myself up is just as important as pouring myself out.

While I was in the middle of writing this, my baby woke up and needed a cuddle. So I opened up an old book of Gary Snyder poetry that my dad gave to me. I found these lines from his poem, MARIN-AN. Oh, take me back to California to smell that Eucalyptus! Consider this poetry-sharing my Saturday ode to sunshine.

sun breaks over the eucalyptus | grove below the wet pasture, | water’s about hot, | I sit in the open window | & roll a smoke.

distant dogs bark, a pair of | cawing crows; the twang | of a pygmy nuthatch high in a pine– | from behind the cypress windrow | the mare moves up, grazing.


I’ll be back soon; I’ve missed pebbl-y, quilt-y little rambles!