Finally Summer

Supper was ready, but we were not yet ready to eat.

We went for a walk to celebrate the last of the light of the almost longest day, then came across the concert on the green, first time I ever went, even though we’ve lived here seventeen years now.

The Frank Porto band was playing in the gazebo, and singing some great numbers — “Close to You,” “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” “Sweet Caroline.” We had been sitting on a bench across the street, and I put my head on his shoulder and sang the lyrics since we were too far for him to hear.

Then we crossed the street and were closer for the last few songs, ending with “YMCA,” and it was over and we sauntered toward home talking of everything and nothing. The sun was setting, and people were folding their chairs and rounding up children.

As we passed the corner he pointed out the Tree of Heaven and told me its history — tall, distinctive, invasive, pervasive — and we inhaled its scent, and I dropped my head and smiled and he lifted his and did the same, and it was night, and we were almost home.

A Blessing to Somebody Else

The downside of losing weight is that the outfits that I bank on wearing for special occasions or even for certain cleaning tasks just don’t fit any more. We’ve been together for quite some time, my clothes and I, and it’s hard to part with the stable of dependable choices.

So I make myself remember.

The school where I taught, in Texas, back when my children were younger, was having a sale, and I was shocked at the beauty of an item that one woman donated.

“You’re donating that?” I asked.

She said, “I am. I had it, and I loved it, and it was a blessing to me. And now I’m going to let it be a blessing to somebody else.”

And now, when I am reluctant to part with something — clothes I loved but have undergrown, books or toys that no longer interest anyone in our home, things that I bought in error or that don’t quite fit the need I got them for — my husband will encourage me to donate it. “Let it be a blessing to somebody else, ” he says, with a Texan twang.

And, may it be so.

Radishes

April is National Poetry Month.

When my children were younger, I went through a phase where I tried to get them to appreciate poetry by reading it to them at the dinner table. They were, at the time, the opposite of appreciative. It’s not that we didn’t read at the table — my husband had moved bedtime stories to dinnertime as their tastes went from Richard Scarry to “Lord of the Rings.” But they wanted stories, not poems. And especially not the poem that I tried to make them love.

I had chosen a Japanese poem, “The Man Pulling Radishes,” by Kobayashi Issa, who lived around the time America was founded. It’s a simple poem, not even a haiku (at least in English), but it encompasses so much. The translator, Robert Hass, is still alive, and I don’t know enough about copyright law to know if I can post his translation here, but it’s absolutely beautiful. Here’s a link.

I love the poem because in three short lines, Issa (and Hass) accomplish and teach so much:

– The man pulling radishes had nothing to use but the radish, but
– the man seeking his way didn’t know where he should go, but the man pulling radishes did, and yet
– the seeker will continue on his way, and the man with the radishes will keep pulling radishes.
– Sometimes all you have is a radish. God will make it enough.
– Even though all someone has to point the way is a radish, it’s enough to get you started.

Radishes are easy to plant, and are one of the first things to come up. And so this might set the time of the encounter for us — early Spring, and the seeker is out seeking, and the man who planted the radishes is harvesting them. Each of us has a task.

My children’s reaction, though, was horror at the idea of me reading poetry every night during great story time, followed by derision of the poem for its brevity and content. Radishes became a running joke. When they encountered a bad poem at school, they’d shake their heads and say something about it being worse than radishes. When my mother-in-law gifted me with a GPS, a glorious day for everyone I’ve ever driven anyplace, they joked that now I don’t have to ask men pulling radishes. Whenever I served radishes, they quoted the poem, and rolled their eyes. They brought me radishes on a plate when a poem I was working on was not going well. And when they learned that a place called “Radish Magazine” reprinted my Guy Soup recipe but that I had signed away the right to a reprint fee from the place it was first published, their laughter was complete. Mom and her radishes. The irony was that yes, I had been trying to point the way with the radish poem. Instead, I was afraid that I had ruined poetry — and radishes — for them forever.

But then something amazing happened. Their adolescence (April, 1999 – June 2014) ended, and they became lovely adults, some of whom appreciate poetry. And my adult daughter chose this very poem to post on her Facebook page for National Poetry Month. “Today’s poem is beautiful both in its simplicity and in all the years of solid joke material it’s brought us since its Lardas Family debut. This one’s for you, mom!”

Well.

Plant those seeds, whether radishes or love of poetry. When you harvest them, you can point somebody’s way.

 

Larks

Today is the halfway point of Orthodox Lent, and is the feast of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. These were soldiers serving under Agricola who chose to suffer death by standing in freezing water rather than give up their faith. The Romans ordered heated baths to be built to entice the Christians to relent and accept the pagan faith, and one of the men who would be martyrs stepped out of the water to become warm, betraying his faith in Christ. One of the soldiers guarding the martyrs saw forty crowns of martyrdom descending from Heaven, and stripped, ran into the water, and joined the Christians in order to claim the rejected crown. The martydom served as his baptism.

This is the time that the larks return in Russia, and so to commemorate the saints, and to rejoice in the Spring, Russians make a vegan treat called “Zhavoronki,” or “Larks.”

My recipe follows.

The feast of the forty martyrs was the first time I ever went to Orthodox vespers, and my goddaughter Emerald is named for one of the martyrs, Saint Smaragdus, whose name means “Emerald.” I love this feast because of the bravery of the martyrs, their contagious love for Christ and each other which spread to their pagan guard, and I also love the ideas of the birds returning. My favorite Shakespearean sonnet is number 29, in which, when the speaker remembers his loved one, his heart “like to the lark at break of day arising/from sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate.”

The poem continues, “For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings/ that then I scorn to change my state with kings.” I like making the larks, then, for my husband, whose love makes everything better. When I grate the orange peel that goes into the dough, I remember that the next orange peel I grate will be for my cheese pascha that I will make for Easter. For today, the whole kitchen fills with a yeasty, wonderful smell. Winter is on the run. Lent is halfway over. The crowns of victory are near. Whether the buns come out beautifully, like my friend’s zhavoronki above, or more like Mothra, like mine, below, from 2011, the making, baking, and sharing of zhavoronki brings us closer to light, Spring, and the Resurrection.

Photo credit: Ann McLellan Lardas

Here’s the recipe. Be uplifted!

Zhavoronki – Lark Buns
Serves 40
• 6 cups flour
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 sticks margarine
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 2 cups warm water
• 1 package dry yeast
• orange zest, to taste
• raisins, for eyes
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Mix the warm water, yeast, sugar, and enough of the flour so that you have a batter about as thick as sour cream. Let the batter sit until it has risen slightly and is bubbly.
Add the rest of the flour, the margarine and the orange zest (if using). Knead well (about ten minutes). Place in a greased bowl and let rise until doubled in size.
Using a knife or pastry cutter, divide the dough into 40 pieces. Roll each piece into a long hot dog shape. Tie each piece into a knot. Make one end into the shape of a head for the bird by pinching a beak. The other end will be the tail feathers … with a knife create that look. Put a raisin on each bird for the eye.
Place on a greased baking sheet and bake for 20-30 minutes at 325 degrees.