My Thanksgivings

DSC_2423I’m thankful for the gloaming,
old hymns in minor keys,
For Reepicheep the Valiant
and our comfortable Jeep.

Forgiveness for besetting sins;
wood that crackles while it heats,
Bach’s glorious Passacaglia,
fresh mint in my smoothie.

For long long-distance phone calls,
long interlibrary loans,
long BBC programmes,
long tables set with love.

I’m grateful for grandsons, boisterous and brave,
for solo granddaughter’s exuberant cheers,
for garlic in olive oil, for book-lined walls,
for Welsh men’s voices, giving me thrills.

Pumpkin soup, spicy cauliflower,
Billy Collins’ poems, a good red,
Jack Johnson on a Friday night,
and uninterrupted sleep.

Truth, beauty and goodness,
goodness and mercy —
a life bejeweled in mercy.

For bedtime laughter,
down comforters,
freedom from debt.

I praise God for reconciliation,
John Rutter and
friends who want my books.

For the long lens,
Hand-painted cards,
alliteration and articulation.

For the befluttering be-prefix,
Besotted am I—beguiled—,
Bespectacled, bestowed,
Beholden, begladdened,
Beloved.

Extended family, a wedding in Maine, lingering memories.
Gathering from distant corners,
beauty bedecked with generosity.

Reunions:
Finding new friendship with old friends,
Finding old friendship with new friends,
kinship renewed, connections rekindled.

For a sister who suffers
Yet bears it with grace,
choosing silence
When tempted to complain.

Pesto, bubble wrap, a man and guitar on a stage,
Asparagus, steam, good water from the tap.

Sons who move in with their elderly mothers,
Daughters-in-law who joyfully rearrange life.

I’m thankful for the death of death,
for mingled tears, for clean grief.
For new widows who’ve discovered joy (!)
in the suburbs of sorrow.

Asian noodle salad, cilantro, Athanasius.
I will always be grateful for Athanasius.

I give thanks for comfy sweaters, for jeans that fit,
Direct communication and southern windows.

For a working esophagus, for toenails and elbows,
For friends who travel and post pictures,
Different cultures, different customs,
same humanity.

Countless gifts of love.

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Between Silk and Cyanide, A Codemaker’s War

“Put down on a half a sheet of paper what difference silk codes would make to our agents.”
“Half a sheet at most!” echoed Davies.
‘I think it could be done in a phrase, sir!’
‘Oh?’ said Courtauld. ‘We’d be interested to hear it.’
‘It’s between silk and cyanide.’

“This book is not a casual read,” I thought, as I waited for my tire to be repaired. A gargantuan TV, three feet away from me, was blaring the Country Music Awards; I was mouth-breathing, an inefficacious strategy to ignore the overwhelming smell of rubber, and reading three times a paragraph on coded message, attempting to comprehend it. After failed attempts at deciphering acronyms, I made my own code on the inside cover with their meanings.

84-charing-cross-road Knowing the author, Leo Marks, was the son of the owner of the bookshop made famous in Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Roadwas a big draw to this book. There are many references to the bookshop; it would be helpful, but not essential to have read it first. Although Hanff’s story is set after the war, knowing it provides a fun context.

At twenty Marks begins fighting the Fuhrer with his cryptography skills. He trained agents headed for enemy territory to send and receive messages in a code based on a famous poem the agent had memorized. The problem with poem-codes is that the enemy cryptographers could break the code if they figured out which poem was used. If an agent was captured, he or she would swallow cyanide to keep from telling secrets under torture. The enemy would often continue sending and receiving messages, concealing the knowledge of the capture.

Even as an understudy, Marks understands the the system’s vulnerability. He begins writing original poems for use, a few of which have become famous. Over time he threads together a remarkable innovation to use a one-time, disposable code printed on silk, easily burned after use. This book is the story of his failure and success to spin his silk idea to his superiors.

Marks’ agility with language delights.
→ As a boy he studied the mating habits of the alphabet.
→ A superior officer had a knack for switching on silence as if it were air conditioning.
→ He writes about a desk so small, it was like keeping vigil on a splinter.
Could we have a quick word? He was a verbal weight-watcher.

Marks relates the story of his intelligence with self-deprecating jabs.

The need to justify and its sister frailty, the need to boast, were lethal weaknesses in SOE, and the shock discovery that I was prone to both started me worrying about the coders of Grendon.

While his acute concern and the initiatives he made to protect the safety of the agents shows remarkable maturity for a young twenty to twenty-three year man, the bawdiness that occasionally pops up reminds the reader that he was indeed still close to adolescence.

The story of the code-war fascinated me. I enjoyed the book more after I stopped trying to be an agent in training, when I kept going after I read the explanation without understanding. <grin>

On Christmas Eve, 1943, Leo Marks got word that his girlfriend Ruth had been killed in a plane crash in Canada. He wrote this short poem, which he later gave to an agent Violet Szabo. Wikipedia tells me this poem was read at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours.

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is your and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause.

For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

The Bookshelf Project

DSC_1834I blame the movie Julie & Julia. Do you know how many times I’ve thought about cooking through every recipe in one of my 46 cookbooks? It messes with my all-or-nothing propensities. So many times, I’m browsing among the books and think: wouldn’t it be fun to read exclusively from this shelf until I’ve read everything?

The all-or-nothing system hasn’t been good to me. Because, you know, the nothing side hits the playground pavement with a bang and the all side is swaying, suspended in the air above the teeter-totter.

So I made a bargain. I eyed the shelves and did the math. What if? I whispered to myself. Stop! the other me warned. No, this is reasonable, I countered. What if I committed to reading one book from every shelf on the big white bookshelf? There are 30 shelves in total. Subtract three that hold CDs, Audio books, and DVDs. Subtract the one narrow shelf about which I can say, “I’ve read them all.”

26 books from my own shelves. That’s about half of the number of books I read in a year, so it allows room for the books in other rooms in my house, on my Kindle, or yet to be published.

I’m not going to decide which title on each shelf right now. I’m a bit schizophrenic in my reading. When I am mindful of how little time I have left on the earth, I determine to only read the best books. When I think about making room on the shelves, I read the book I want to read, but don’t think I’ll want to keep. And when I don’t want to work, I go for easy reading.

And I won’t shelve a new book, so I can say I read it off my shelves. Dirty pool!

So here’s a glance at my options:

DSC_8173There are two shelves of history. On the top shelf I’m inclined toward The Pity Of War: Explaining World War Ior The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill.

On the lower shelf, it’s an excruciating decision. McCullough’s book on the Brooklyn Bridge, Barbara Tuchman, Stephen Ambrose or Paul Johnson?

DSC_8174Oh, man. Several titles on these two shelves come highly recommended. The Widow of the Southis set in Franklin, TN. I want to read The Monuments Men before the movie comes out this year.

DSC_8175Two sets of Churchill to choose from: I’ve read A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and would like to re-read them. But Edmund Burke  beguiles me.  Three sets sit on the bottom shelf: 13 years of Cook’s Illustrated, a set of Dumas and a set of Dickens.

DSC_8176Short biographies, a collection of collections, and Willa Cather.

DSC_8177Small books with short stories and gorgeous books about Britain with watercolor plates.

DSC_8178Business and culture.

DSC_8201Classics. My husband and I are enjoying A Study in Scarlet, so we may well continue with more Conan Doyle. But I’ve never read Kimso I may choose Kipling.

DSC_8180Education and Witold Rybczynski.

DSC_8181I insist on reading one science book a year, weak as I am in science. I highly recommend Microbe Huntersand Longitudeif you need your science in narrative form. I think Lives of a Cellis calling my name.

DSC_8182Oh to have room to store my beloved Penguin collection upright! Whoever invented orange covers ought to be shot. I would love to read all those orange Trollopes so I can be done with them.

DSC_8183These two shelves are at the center of my collection. Deep. love.

DSC_8184More groups of authors that I love.

DSC_8185This shelf is a pass on my read-from-my-shelves project. Jan, Anne, and Mma.

DSC_8186Foodie books!

DSC_8187More foodie books.

DSC_8194True story: it’s easier for me to read about various methods of eradicating dust bunnies than to bend over and pick up the dust bunny.

DSC_8195Books on writing and books on books. Pure deliciousness.

DSC_8196Music. Poetry.

DSC_8198Art.

Children’s books, theology, travel and memoirs have their own bookcases. But they will have to get in line.

Intentional reading: the good life.

Hey! You with the eye for interior design? What would you recommend for the tops of my shelves? I’ve thought about framed photos (in matching frames) but I’m afraid they will make it too busy. Woven baskets? Eclectic collection of pottery/baskets? Empty? Your opinion is welcome.

A Song of Home

 

 

Were I to make a poem of a day
Of housework, I’d not write of dust and brooms
So much as of the sun in spotless rooms,
Of bowls of freshly cut sweetpeas—I’d say
Less of vegetables and kinds of bread,
Of endless dishes washed and scraped and dried,
And more of children’s hunger satisfied—
I’d tell of warm soft lips on mine instead.

O more than ceaseless duties I would sing
Of happy hearts and of contentment, of
Ambitious dreams—yes, more than anything
I’d tally every blessing, wherein love
Is greatest of them all: is the leaven
Exalting toil, turning home to Heaven.

 

poem by Ethel Romig Fuller
from Kitchen Sonnets

Thank you, Carmon, for pointing me to Oregon’s third poet laureate.

Closing Thoughts

 

She is depressed.  The d’s—disappointment, discouragement, dejection, despondency, despair—plague her. And Death, the big D, is staring in the window, eager to devour. 

I longed to encourage her. I looked for the right words. I had in mind the last verse of one of the psalms, about hope.  Flipping through the psalms, it occurred to me that the closing thought of many psalms are precisely what we need to hear in the closing chapter of our life. The perfect orientation. The reminder of where our strength lies. Solid truth. Something to grip.

Here is a sampling:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. [23]  

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. [42]

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. [100]

In peace I will both lie down and sleep:
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. [4]

Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name!
The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me. [142]

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord. [27]

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever! [118]

I will thank you forever, because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly. [52]

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth. [124]

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. [33]

For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death. [109]

O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you! [84]

Bless the Lord, O my soul! [103]

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! [150]

Is This the Face?

Jesus on the Cross, Rembrandt

Is this the Face that thrills with awe
      Seraphs who veil their face above?
Is this the Face without a flaw       
      The Face that is the Face of Love?
Yea, this defaced, a lifeless clod,   
Hath all creation’s love sufficed
Hath satisfied the love of God,       
     This Face the Face of Jesus Christ

Christina Rossetti

Wisdom

 
Wisdom

When I have ceased to break my wings
Against the faultiness of things,
And learned that compromises wait
Behind each hardly opened gate,
When I have looked Life in the eyes,
Grown calm and very coldly wise,
Life will have given me the Truth,
And taken in exchange–my youth.

Sara Teasdale