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Issue 9-06

Resurrection: Counting-Out Exercises

Observing Resurrection is mostly a counting-out exercise: One, two—this is alive and filled with bloom. Three, four—these are growing. Five, six—the soil is rich and eager to give life. Seven, eight—the rains water the earth, mists rise from the soil. Nine. Ten.
This is the time of year, of course, when all things come to life again. I find myself walking the garden morning and evening, checking which plants have survived the winter, which are still dormant, and which are thriving, having grown during and despite the harsh winter—in the frozen ground, beneath the frigid ice and snow.

Right now, David and I are mostly cleaning up after the cold months. I’ve moved the patio table and chairs to a corner under the lilac bushes, which are eagerly anticipating their call to center stage. I’ve marked the big tree, now dead, that needs to be chain-sawed and hauled to edge the end of the driveway parking area. And when I get tired—we are also involved in a project reclaiming the basement—I luxuriate in the graying string hammock to which I’ve attached a cord that loops to the tree so that when I lie down, after giving it about three pushes and hauling my feet up, I can then yank hard on the upswing and perpetuate the back and forth sway. Prone, I gaze upward to the treetops of the gardens. I measure the blue of the blue sky—what hue is it today exactly? I catch the flight of the birds. I watch the swaying of the limbs of trees in the wind. In my eyes, I balance the mass of light and shadow.

Gardening is mostly a matter of remembering. I mark where the jonquils now grow in the woods and vow to stick stakes in each clump so I know where to plant a couple hundred more come fall. Now is time to place the small plastic green pots (with a twig stuck through their upside-down holes to hold them steady for fall planting). I need to order more White Emperor tulips for under the apricot tree, more Apricot Beauty tulips for the hosta box, and more Negrita, the almost black/purple tulips for the far back garden (so far back only my neighbor can really enjoy them). How many marking sticks will I need?

I must remember to tie inauspicious ribbons on the shrubs I have planted, the viburnums and the hydrangea, so that when David gets frisky with the hedge clippers, he won’t cut down what I have so carefully put into the ground (and don’t quite remember where I planted them).

This year I need to make better gardening notes. Last year I was too busy gardening. The beds are all named for clarity’s sake, i.e., the Garage Garden, the Fountain Patio, the West Herb Bed, the Tree Rings, the Back Patio Garden, etc., etc. But what plant have I put where—exactly? And who gave me which plant?—half the fun of gardening is sharing surplus and receiving someone else’s. (Mary Socal’s Michael’s Archangel ground cover is thriving; her four Rose of Sharon bushes took after I transplanted and staked them this fall.) I have one notebook, arranged by beds, which tells me what grows where. In each section I’ve three-hole-punched articles that deal with each kind of plant—“Well Trained Climbers,” “Raising a Clematis,” “Caring for Epimediums,” “Drying Herbs”—these become my reference points after I have forgotten the garden over winter.
I’m hoping to hold a plant sale this spring, so I hauled two large bags of potting soil from Menards and will begin to fill them, hopefully this week, with the wild overgrowth of Russian windflower, with divided hostas, with shrubs that are threatening to overtake their corners and with filipendula, which has finally decided it likes its spot and is threatening to overwhelm that bed.

It doesn’t look as though the monarda I transplanted is going to come up—I should have waited to divide and move it this spring. The ferns are unfurling, however, and are threatening to walk subterreaneously to places where they were not appointed (like the gravel driveway). Counting; counting—how is the flowering quince doing?

Resurrection is on my mind; things coming back to life. It is all around me—verdant, thriving, hobnobbing in the soil, gossiping with familiar biological neighbors who have been underground all winter. The rose plants are looking a little sad, but the new fern bed gives indicators that it’s happy, and after David cut out the wild honeysuckle and wisteria, I actually have the makings of a fairly substantial wildflower woods. I can see the mayapple bed, the woodland geraniums. I brush my hand against all things new green—an unconscious blessing. Next week: fingers in the soil, in the dirt, in the clay, and in the loam; more naps in the swinging hammock to ease my muscles.

Easter was supposed to be quiet this year. Only one of our extended families was in town—our son Jeremy, his wife Angela and the little ones, Eliana and Nehemiah. I’d do the table and the meal, and in exchange, Jeremy would plan a rather smallish Easter-egg hunt. On Friday, I called him: “Oh, Joel and Laurie are back from Easter vacation a little early. Joel and Dad will pick up a few more things for the hunt.” We try to hide little gifts and foodstuffs that are healthier than candy treats (yesterday, long after the Easter date, I found a forgotten can of Chef Boyardee SpaghettiO’s in an outdoors basket!) That meant three more at the table. Randall and Carmel with their three offspring are in Phoenix—no chance of them coming back. Too far. But David and I put an extender in the table.

I set it for eight, with the pink mats and matching napkins dominating. Cut-glass bowls and vases, glass candlesticks and pressed-glass objects marched down the center of the table—all filled with a collection of intricately painted Ukranian Easter eggs (“Where did you find these, Mom?” a son asks every year. I don’t remember. I know I found them when they were cheap, buying a few each year during after-holiday sales.) I pulled out the flowered English bone-china cups, which I only use during the Easter season. If you hold them to the light, their sides are translucent. Then I polished off the color scheme with the salmon-pink goblets that catch the sun and throw blocks of light on the walls.

I cooked a traditional menu:

Easter Dinner Menu

Leg of Lamb With an Oregano-and-Lemon Crust
Chopped Mediterranean Salad With Green Olives
Cauliflower With Cheese Sauce
Long-Grain Rice
Great Harvest Bakery’s “Bunny Bread”
Homemade Cheesecake With Michigan Blueberry Sauce
Angela’s Easter Cake With Eliana’s Sprinkles on Pink Frosting

An hour before dinner was ready to be served (a late-afternoon dinner; these days we build schedules around nap times), my daughter phoned. They were almost home from Springfield, IL, where they had been with her husband’s family for the weekend. “Is there still time for us to come for Easter dinner? I told Doug, ‘I haven’t had Mother’s leg of lamb for so long, I can’t remember when.’”

A pause: could I get everyone around the table?—nope! Would there be enough food?—yes, indeed, but there wouldn’t be many leftovers. “Oh, come,” I replied. Our smallish celebration was turning into a festival. “Just bring your folding chairs and a card table. I’ll get out two more Easter baskets. Dad is running out of the house right now to pick up a few more items. We’ll delay the Easter-egg hunt until you get here.”

So, we celebrated Resurrection Day. The male lineage hid enough stuff for eight kids in the backyard. (Where did it all come from?) Baskets were filled. Cheeks were rosy. Smiles abounded. Josie (age 13) dubbed it, as she is prone to do about many things, “the best Easter-egg hunt—ever!” Eight adults filled the dining-room table. The big kids entertained Elle—age two—at the little table. Her attitude is definitely one of, I’m here. Let the party begin! She even punctuates her baby toddler sentences with “ta-da!” and extends her arms for applause. Laughter and second servings and a hungry family raving about the dinner. Second helpings and nothing left but lamb leg bone. Easter cookies brought by Uncle Joel set on the card table after dinner and frosting and toppings (in the living room!) being spread on the bare cookie tops—and the carpeting!

By this time, as many of you can imagine, I am a pretty tired lady. Satisfied?—yes. Content?—oh, to be sure. Happy to have almost everyone around me?—absolutely. Now, let them make conversation. Let someone else serve second cups of coffee. Let another crew clear the table, put the food away and do the dishes. I have been on my feet for two days straight—I can do no more. I am counting out. I know at my age how precious, how rare, how wondrous these gatherings are. I know that Death or disability or job relocations can end them, how few years there are left. But my offspring, ages 7 to 48, do not know yet; they are not aware of the counting down that is life’s unfolding.

Sitting at the cookie table, oohing and ahhing over creations, I look into the dining room to see little Nehemiah, who by now at seven months is a pretty good little scooter—push with those little fat heels, scoot a couple of inches (for now his momentum is all backward) under the table. Push more; scoot again. He is lying on his back, looking up at the underside of the table, kicking his feet, laughing—and clapping his hands.

Resurrection is on my mind.

And I am counting out: One, this life; two, this life. Who is well? Who seems to be struggling? Three, four: Is their work giving them satisfaction? Do they need to be moved to another location in order to thrive? Are the grandchildren discovering their latent competencies? I keep a kind of growth watch morning and evening. Most of all, beyond the benign neglect, I resemble the baby Nehemiah. I’m just a happy woman, scootched under the canopy of heaven and looking up, kicking my heels, laughing—clapping my hands. Clapping.

Karen Mains


"Read and Intercede" Book Group
for Couples & Singles

If you are eager to be part of the lively intellectual and spiritual exchange this kind of book group affords (and you live in the nearby western Chicago suburbs) please contact Judy Duncan at . She will be happy to give you details and directions to the home of Bruce and Judy Duncan in West Chicago.

BLOG: Gettin' Thru the Days

In order to build the Internet presence of the ministries of Hungry Souls, which is mostly a science of how search engines pick up certain keywords and phrases, Karen Mains is blogging. Actually, because she feels called to write out into the culture, this blog is geared to Internet browsers of all kinds who are at a point in life when it takes everything they have just to get through the day. This is not as overtly spiritual as the Soulish Food e-newsletters, though the spiritual threads are not covert. The blog is simply slanted toward another readership. However, if you are at a point when just getting through the day is harder than it should be, you may want to check out this blog at Gettin' Thru the Day begins with blog 2-62. Karen is writing a few blogs on nonviolent communication.


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Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"Resurrection is on my mind; things coming back to life. It is all around me—verdant, thriving, hobnobbing in the soil, gossiping with familiar biological neighbors who have been underground all winter."


Paradise of the Blind
By Duong Thu Huong

Back-cover copy:

A rich, sensuous journey through a Vietnam rarely seen by outsiders, Paradise of the Blind tells the story of three women fighting to maintain their dignity under a government that discards old values and tears families apart. Hang, a young girl growing into womanhood in the Hanoi slums, finally learns the truth about her father's disappearance and death during the era of government-imposed land reform. Meanwhile, Hang's self-sacrificing mother, a struggling street vendor, watches helplessly as her life is shattered by the political machinations of her own brother. And the mysterious Aunt Tam, who has accumulated wealth and bitterness in equal measure, fights for her niece's loyalty -- and future.

Long banned in its own country, this moving novel captures the hunger, pride, and endurance of ordinary people in a land of intoxicating beauty ... as it provides a rare, insightful look into a changing Vietnam.

Karen says:

Judy Duncan picked this book (about which I had heard nothing) for our "Read and Intercede" group. Without a doubt, it is one of the most exquisitely written works I’ve read recently. Not only does it expose the reader to a rare picture of a time in Vietnam, it dips into the lives of people about whom most of us know little. Despite the grim environment of this historical context, this is a beautiful story, beautifully told. A great suggestion for the summer reading list (you do have a summer reading list, don’t you?).

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