Parish Picnic


Every year in early June our church holds Sunday service outdoors, with plenty of singing and clapping, followed by face-painting, balloon sculptures, moon-bounce, and frisbee, accompanied by a vast spread of grilled hot dogs, potato salad, watermelon, and brownies. That’s my kind of Sunday worship. During the homily, as I sketched the father and daughter in front of us, the priest spoke about father/daughter relationships (next week being Fathers Day), and the pair exchanged an affectionate nudge.


Queen of the May


Since the 16th century, May has traditionally been the month of the Virgin Mary in the Catholic church. When I was a girl, on the first of May the entire population of our Catholic school lined up for a procession to the grotto at the far end of the school campus, where the statue of Mary presided serenely, unperturbed by our playground misdemeanors, as the ideal mother would be. While we sang hymns, some lucky pre-selected girl (never yours truly) stepped forward to place a crown of flowers on her plaster head. Just one of the many pagan customs that have kept me in the church.




The dates of Passover (Pesach) and Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), are both related to the arrival of spring and the phases of the moon, connecting their celebrants with humanity’s remote ancestors, to whom knowledge of the seasons and the heavenly bodies was not merely interesting but vital for survival. Passover begins on the 14th day of the Hebrew calendar month Nisan, which is also the date of the full moon following the vernal equinox; Holy Thursday falls on the Thursday before Easter, which is the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. (Whew!) It sometimes works out that they fall, very satisfactorily (to me, anyway), on the same day; Holy Thursday is, after all, the celebration of a Passover meal.

For a painting and a poem about Holy Thursday, please see Holy Thursday.



According to tradition, today is the feast of the Annunciation, the day on which the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce an unexpected little surprise that was to arrive on Christmas Day…EXACTLY nine months later. Unlike most of the rest of us moms, Mary was apparently not fated to go into premature labor or run weeks past her due date, thus alarming midwives, spouse, and relatives.

In Sweden, this day is celebrated with waffles. You may ask why we celebrate the pregnancy 2000 years ago of a nice small-town Jewish girl with a medieval Dutch cake? Well, as the story goes, in Sweden, the Feast of the Annunciation is called Vårfrudagen, or “Lady Day.” Which is similar enough to Våffeldagen, “Waffle Day,” to cause a little confusion on March 25th and launch an annual tradition. It’s a confusion we are happy to perpetuate in our household, despite its being the middle of Lent. It IS the Annunciation, after all.


This image is available as a high-resolution print on 8.5″ x 11″ archival paper.

In the Stable


For a long time I wanted a Nativity scene, and several years ago I suddenly realized I might make one myself from stuffed wool felt. My delusional scheme was to create one figure each Advent until we would eventually have a vast elaborate setup resembling the creches of Italy and Provence and the angel tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Except in wool felt.

However, once I had completed the Holy Family, a donkey, a shepherd, and a sheep, and my husband had built a stable from branches and a lovely fragment of bark (thanks, Leah!), the time available for handwork had pretty much evaporated, aside from necessities like sock-mending and the occasional Halloween costume. Perhaps one day…

I wish you all a joyful, loving, and peaceful Christmas.



Veterans Day/Martinmas


Today is Veterans’ Day, instituted first as Armistice Day after WWI, then Veterans’ Day after WWII (although my mother occasionally still called it Armistice Day) as a tribute to veterans of both world wars. It’s also the Feast of Martinmas, which is less well known in this country, although having been raised Catholic I grew up familar with the story of Saint Martin of Tours. It seems somehow fitting that Veterans Day is celebrated on the festival of a former Roman soldier.

Martin was born in the 4th century in what later became Hungary but what was then Pannonia, a province of the Roman Empire. His father, an important officer in the Roman army, naturally expected his son to follow in his footsteps (Martin had been named for Mars, the god of war, presumably to encourage that military spirit). But apparently young Martin was an easy-going, sociable fellow, more curious about strangers (and generous with handouts) than aggressive toward them, so to get him into the army his father arranged for his kidnapping and forcible enlistment by his soldiers, hoping that Martin would grow accustomed to military life through daily exposure. I bet Dad didn’t get many loving letters from the front. Today this method of recruitment is frowned upon.

However, there was Martin, a soldier at last, obliged to serve the Emperor for three years, outfitted with a Roman uniform and a sword. Even in the army, Martin was open-handed, and his military salary usually found its way into the hands of the unfortunate. His unit was sent to Gaul, as part of an ongoing attempt to civilize the native barbarians. Civilization in Gaul was eventually attained at a level far beyond their wildest dreams, but that’s another story.

One winter day, the story goes, Martin arrived at the gates of Amiens, where he encountered a poor ragged beggar shivering by the side of the road. Martin had already given away all his extra clothing, but, taking pity on the beggar, Martin unsheathed his sword and cut his warm woolen (army-issue, uh-oh) cloak in half and wrapped one half around him.

That night, Martin dreamed that Jesus appeared to him wrapped in Martin’s half-cloak saying, “Martin has covered me with this garment.” This made him determined to leave the army permanently, at the end of his term. When he attempted it, however (inconveniently during a barbarian invasion), he was accused of cowardice, in response to which he offered to advance alone against the enemy. Instead he was imprisoned. Eventually he was released at the conclusion of an armistice, and was finally able to pursue his vocation, settling in Gaul, founding an order, living very simply and developing a reputation for feeding the hungry and healing the sick.

Over the years our homeschooling group has celebrated Martinmas (sometimes in combination with Diwali, Festival of Light, which can occur at around the same time—this year it falls on the 12th) with storytelling, a night-time walk in the park carrying lanterns and singing songs about light, and afterward gathering to share dessert. Happy Martinmas! Happy Diwali! Happy Veterans Day, everyone!

this is the garden

In honor of Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), whose birthday it is today, a painting and a poem.


this is the garden: colours come and go,
frail azures fluttering from night’s outer wing
strong silent greens serenely lingering,
absolute lights like baths of golden snow.
This is the garden: pursed lips do blow
upon cool flutes within wide glooms, and sing
(of harps celestial to the quivering string)
invisible faces hauntingly and slow.

This is the garden. Time shall surely reap
and on Death’s blade lie many a flower curled,
in other lands where other songs be sung;
yet stand They here enraptured, as among
the slow deep trees perpetual of sleep
some silver-fingered fountain steals the world.

—ee cummings

Stairway to heaven


After a steep uphill trudge to a mountainside shrine, the rewards are worth the trek: the celebrant’s inspiring and funny thoughts to ponder; singing together among the birds and trees, everyone speckled with sunlight filtering through the autumn leaves; and at the end a quiet, inexpressibly affecting service for healing of body, mind, and soul.

This image is available as a high-resolution print on 8.5″ x 11″ archival paper.