Monday, January 26, 2009

A Few Very Simple, Very Nice Things for Today...

An old, recycled, summertime blog photo, but a cheerful one for a winter day, I think! :-)

I've been out of town for several days. I thought I'd finish a post I started writing last week (I have a few things bouncing around and some questions I'll answer in the next day or two), but it's really hard to find time to write much of a post. And, anyway, I felt like putting up something specifically having to do with today. So, here are just a few simple, ordinary things I've enjoyed so far:

1. A good cup of coffee.
I've always loved the smell of coffee. When I was in first grade, my teacher kept a large thermos on her desk, and every morning, after we'd said the flag salute and had gotten to work, she'd sit down at her desk and pour herself a cup of coffee. I loved the smell of fresh coffee so much that I'd strain to think of questions to ask the teacher just so I could go to her desk to stand in the aroma that was wafting from her mug. And, over the years, when I'd visit Grammy and Grampy's house, every time I'd walk into the kitchen, I'd give their coffee container a big shake and take off the lid to enjoy the lovely smell that rose from the can.

When I married Mike, he drank instant Folgers coffee. I didn't drink coffee then, but I knew that what he was drinking didn't smell as good and couldn't possibly taste as good as the coffee I'd always liked smelling, so I went off to our really great local kitchen store to surprise him with a coffee maker. After talking with one of the owners, I came home with a French press, a grinder, and a bag of good coffee beans. As I experimented with making coffee in the press, I'd always pour myself a little bit of coffee in the bottom of a mug just so I could monitor and analyze it in order to adjust the proportions and grind for the next brew. As I was learning to make decent coffee in the French press, I was also learning to like it. Gradually, I began pouring more and more coffee into my mug, until, one day, I realized I had become a coffee drinker. It didn't start in Starbucks or in any other coffee house; it started in my own kitchen, and I've enjoyed drinking coffee ever since, especially when it's brewed in a French press.

Anyway, Mom and I went to Eugene this past week for several days, and I picked up a bag of Stumptown Roasters' Sumatra coffee beans to bring home. This morning I ground the beans and brewed a pot of the coffee in my French press, and mmm, it was nice.

2. Green & Black's dark chocolate with Nourishing Traditions peanut butter. This might not sound good, but to one who adores peanut butter and chocolate, it's a real treat. I've always loved peanut butter-chocolate desserts. My dad perpetually kept a bag of miniature Reese's peanut butter cups in the cupboard in his office, just for his kids and grandkids to raid, and I'm pretty sure I ate more than my fair share of the little candy pieces. We finished the last bag of Reese's cups in December, and we left the empty bag in the cupboard. No one wants to throw it away, and it keeps reminding me of another sweet thing about Dad.

When I was at my sister's house this past week, I tasted her "peanut butter." It's made from the recipe in Nourishing Traditions, consisting of peanuts, virgin coconut oil, a bit of honey, and salt. Yum. It tastes really, really good, so I made some right when I came home. I was thinking this morning that the peanut butter tastes almost like candy, and then I got the brilliant idea to put some on a little piece of dark chocolate. Brilliant, if I must say so myself. A nice little snack.

3. Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. Thanks to Aaron for introducing me to this French composer and his music. Actually, thanks to Aaron for introducing me to much of the music I love-- Arvo Part, Messiaen, Sigur Ros, others. When Aaron was here during his college Christmas break, we went to the library. He checked out this CD for me and insisted that I should listen to it because he was certain I'd appreciate it. I've been listening to the CD again today (no, it's not overdue; I renewed it), and I do indeed love the music.

Quartet for the End of Time was written when Messiaen was in a German POW camp during WWII and was first performed in 1941 in Stalag 8-A by Messiaen (at the piano), along with a violinist, a clarinetist, and a cellist. The eight movements of this quartet are based on Revelation 10. Messiaen is a Christian composer, and this is a very lovely and hopeful Christian piece of music. In light of Messiaen's situation when this music was written, its hope, joy, and faith in God is striking.

Messiaen has written very brief notes on each movement-- just enough, in my opinion. I appreciate enough commentary or explanation to inform and enhance the listening, but-- while I recognize that others do seem to enjoy and benefit from it-- I've never much liked lengthy, academic analysis of either music or literature. This isn't because I'm lazy and don't want to put my mind to it; too much analysis simply spoils a thing for me.

I may not fully comprehend George MacDonald's meaning, I suppose, but, in music and literature, I'm with him when he says, "Analysis is well as death is well." I remember hearing that music analysts, despite much study and analysis of the music of J.S. Bach, simply cannot put their finger on why his music is so moving and powerful. I prefer to leave it that way. I love Bach. His music strikes me mysteriously beautiful, yet full of clear meaning. It seems hopeful, joyful, real. True. William F. Buckley, and many others, have said that the music of Bach alone is proof of the existence of God. I think there's something to that, but I certainly couldn't explain it! :-)

(I've also been enjoying another CD today-- "Christ is My Hope" by The Innocence Mission.)

4. The pajamas Aunt Cherie sent me in the mail today. I only have one aunt, and I'm lucky enough to have gotten the best one in the entire world. I'm talking about Aunt Cherie who lives on an Alaskan island-- my mom's sister-- who happens to be a wonder woman of good cheer, humor, and thoughtfulness. And she's also is a total blast to hang around with. Cherie must have taken note of my pathetic-looking "pajamas" when she was here in December (how could she not have noticed?!) and taken great pity on me because she sent me a fun set of "Life is Good" pajamas. You know the company? The one with the motto running round their tags that says, "Do what you Like. Like what you do. Optimism can take you anywhere."? All I can say is when I head to bed tonight, I'll do it in fine, optimistic style.

5. A couple of good books. I'm actually reading several good books right now, notably Alice in Wonderland (finally, huh, Aaron?)-- I won't comment on this book now because I want to say something about it in another post specifically for my niece, Nicky. One of the books I'm reading today is Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris. I've been interested in the topic of acedia ever since I was first introduced to the concept in a First Things magazine article. I'm only at the beginning of the book, but I really like it so far. I hope I'm not speaking too soon, but I think Acedia and Me might appeal to those who have jobs or responsibilities that are done over and over again, day after day-- tasks or routines that require a bit of discipline or a determined willfulness to press through at times. Motherhood can occasionally be this way, for some of us. So can homeschooling. Housework. A job we don't like. A job we do like. Anything! Those who struggle at times with lack of motivation, melancholy, mental and spiritual lethargy, or even depression might find the book interesting and possibly even enlightening. Probably everyone faces some struggles with the over and overness of daily life at some point, but, even if this isn't the case, I think the book could be interesting for anyone.

I hope you're enjoying the simple, nice things around you today.