Welcome to Lydia McCauley's Garden of Simples Blog

The highest reward for a person's toil is not what they get from it, but what they become by it. - John Ruskin

Lydia McCauley and Kurt Scherer are owners of STONEHOUSE ARTIFACTS, offering Treasures from Colonial India. Online Here.

Our shop is located in Bellingham, Washington. We welcome you to come and visit our small estate, enjoy the grounds and share a cup of Chai.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Santa Lucia, The Return of the Light

+++  This is a re-post from a few years ago  +++

Celebrating Santa Lucia Day, December 13

Happy Santa Lucia Day. I love this day in December. Lovely memories... When my daughters were young we used to celebrate it by getting up really early in the morning and baking some rolls. Then we would arrange a tea tray with a beautiful cloth, teapot and the baked goods. One of the girls would don a candle wreath on her head (we actually lit the candles), wear a white nightgown and a red ribbon, climb the stairs with tray in hand, and serve each person in bed. I always followed them up, checking for hair fires and dripping wax.

Somewhere deep in my genetic recesses I felt that the light began to return on December 13. I thought that perhaps I was imagining it, but come to find out it's true. According to Katherine Swift in THE MORVILLE HOURS, daylight begins to "draw out again... Though the solstice is not until the 21st, from now on the sun will set a minute or two later each day. There is no net gain in daylight hours for another week, as the sun will go on rising later until 30 December." She goes on to say that before the reform of the calendar, St. Lucy's Day coincided with Winter Solstice.

Here's a few family photos from our Lucia days. And a few earlier winter ones. Where did the time go?

And here's one of the old snow guys. Looks like we used most of the snow in the front yard to create him. Oui! Oui! Joyeux Noel!

Happy return of the Light and Happy Christmas to all!

13 December

It was commonly believed in Scandinavia as late as the end of the 19th century that this was the longest night of the year, coinciding with Winter Solstice.  The same can be seen in the poem "A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day" by the English poet John Donne.
While this does not hold for our current Gregorian calendar, a discrepancy of 8 days would have been the case in the Julian calendar during the 14th century, resulting in Winter solstice falling on December 13. With the original adoption of the Gregorian calendar in the 16th century the discrepancy was 10 days and had increased to 11 days in the 18th century when Scandinavia adopted the new calendar, with Winter solstice falling on December 9.
It is very difficult to tell the exact date of the Winter solstice without modern equipment (although the Neolithic builders of the Newgrange monument seem to have managed it). The day itself is not visibly shorter than the several days leading up to and following it and although the actual Julian date of Winter solstice would have been on the December 15 or 14 at the time when Christianity was introduced to Scandinavia, December 13 could well have lodged in peoples mind as being the shortest day.
The choice of 13 December as Saint Lucy's day, however, obviously predates the 8 day error of the 14th century Julian calendar. This date is attested in the pre-Tridentic Monastic calendar, probably going back to the earliest attestations of her life in the 6th and 7th centuries, and it is the date used throughout Europe.
At the time of Saint Lucy's death, Winter solstice fell on December 21 and the date of the birth of Christ on the 25th. The latter was also celebrated as being the day when the Sun was born, the birthday of Sol Invictus, as can be seen in the Chronography of 354. This latter date was thought by the Romans to be the Winter solstice and it is natural to think of the sun being born that day. Early Christians considered this a likely date for their saviour's nativity, as it was commonly held that the world was created on Spring equinox (thought to fall on March 25 at the time), and that Christ had been conceived on that date, being born 9 months later on Winter solstice. - Wikipedia

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mary McCauley, Needle Felted Wool Sculpture

Mary McCauley makes the most wonderful wool felted sculpture. The thing about it is, these animal sculptures seem to have real life. I mean it's as though they have a spirit. I'll attribute that to Mary, who has been drawing, painting, sewing, whittling, beading and shaping materials for dozens of years. Now her felting needle leads her hands into creating specific dog breeds that look so real - they are real.

She first began to study art while in high school, enjoying pencil drawing and learning to hand build and throw pottery. I remember one of her pieces from that time. It was a wonderful African water vessel with a woman's head on the top. Seems she had the gift of creating spirit from the start.

While living in Alaska, Mary collected pieces of fur and leather and began to sew them into hats and gloves. Later she hand-made moccasins (called Mary's Mocs) and leather-bound journals of buffalo, elk, deer, and boar hides. This led into the Mare's Bears phase of designing and sewing stuffed bears of all sorts. She also worked with FIMO for a while, continuing her desire to shape and form.

About a year and a half ago she found a little book by Nobuko Nagakubo called Fleece Dog in a toy store right here in Bellingham. Mary told me, "I thought needle-felting looked really fun and the subjects that I could felt were endless. I bought wool and a needle and went to work. It is what I do in the evenings while I am resting, like some people do with knitting. I love felting all kinds of critters. Animals have always interested and inspired me."

When I asked Mary what she liked best about creating things, she replied, "It feels good to work at something and see immediately the product of your labor. I do it because I like the result, the little woolly creatures. It also feels good when others like them and appreciate them as gifts."

I'm really proud of my sister and her talent. She brought several of her animals with her to a family reunion this Fall. Each of us got to pick one or two of them to take home. Here's a photo of my pick: two curious Meerkats. They grace my piano and help me to practice!

If you'd like to get in touch with Mary about her sculptures (yes, they are for sale), here's her email: marymccauley59@gmail.com

Here's Mary (on the right) and Charlia happily driving our sister's Mini through the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Fabric Tells Me What To Do

Tone Piper has been sewing since she was nine years old. She was born in Oslo, Norway, and her grandmother was a professional seamstress. Her mother sewed too, perfectly always. Tone started with doll clothes and gowns, then moved on to making her own clothes. As her own family grew she sewed all manner of garments for them, including costumes and prom dresses.

"The more experience one has using different kinds of fabrics, the more skilled one becomes." She draws inspiration from the fabric and with a twinkle in her eye says, "it tells me what to do. I love fabrics. I impulse buy something that I really like. I usually don't decide on the design until I have the fabric."

Then she turns it into a wonderful piece.

Such as this wedding dress for her daughter Cassiopia Piper (who will take on the new name Cassiopia Coyne on October 10, 2009). Cassy is a talented actress/dancer who lives in New York City. She acquired seventeen yards of designer silk blend fabric, which she sent to her mother, knowing that Tone would come up with something beautiful for her wedding.

She did.

As I write this, I can see Cassy in it, waltzing around on the dance floor like Cinderella. And Tone enjoying the fruits of her labour(s).

When asked what designing and sewing brings into her life, Tone replied, "joy, peace, a sense of centeredness, focus. It has given me self-confidence in general."

That joyous sense of confidence gets transferred to the lucky people who wear Tone's designs. She has sewn several pieces for me, and I love them all, especially the ones I wear for concert performances.

Hey... who is that behind the dress form? How did he get in here?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Capturing the last of Summer, a Goldenrod Dye Pot

A friend and I spent the day doing a Dye pot, that is dyeing wool from natural plants. We gathered goldenrod and tansy, those ochre-gold pungent herbs that bloom late in the summer season. It's a joy to pick them, to smell them, and then to stuff them into old pantyhose and drop them into a canning pot of hot water to steep. The hardest part was finding the old pantyhose - it's been a while since I've worn them. We let the water boil. Marya commented that it looked like we were trying to make Haggis. Indeed, the little stuffed britches full of botanical matter resembled what I've seen but never tasted of that Scottish...umm...delicacy.

We began by washing the wool with gentle soap, taking care to use lukewarm water at first, then adding more hot gradually. We added some borax to soften the water and let the wool sit in the bath for a spell. We had to mordant the wool with aluminum sulfate and cream of tartar. This took about an hour of simmering heat on the stove. It looked like noodles cooking. We poked it, but never stirred. Wool doesn't like to be agitated or to have an extreme change in temperature. I don't either for that matter.

It was time to add the wool skeins into the haggis pot. One by one we fished them out and in. They caught the color almost instantly. We cooked them for over an hour. They gradually grew to a deep yellow.

It was getting on in the day so we decided to rinse them in a clean pot of hot water and added a slight bit of vinegar to set the color. The rinsing seemed to fade the color just a little, which was sad. We hung the skeins outside on a stick between two chairs. It's important to dry them in the shade, so that's what we did. To our delight, the yellow seemed to brighten as the skeins dried. It's the color of late summer and I like it.

Marya is going to knit a blanket for her lovely boy, Kristijan. I wound my yarn up and put it in a basket, along with other yarn dyed from previous summers. It will eventually become someone's scarf. Someone who might enjoy the sight and fragrance of summer's end during the cold grey of winter.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mammoth Lakes, California

This is a journal entry from July 10, 2007 while we were visiting Yosemite.

I loom about the world
forgetting to follow my breath
I walk dizzy in the heat
I muddle about

We trek together
It's important to walk together
but not easy
takes patience

We wind about
though old forests
granite stones
heavy on the earth

Coming to the river
cool water dances
bouncing downward
flowing cold

One puddle
in the rock
holds pebbles
so clearly they lie
so bright the light
enlightens the water
and even though
I cannot see my reflection
I see my Self
in that
I am That.

This is a photo of Hannah and Lucas, our daughter and son-in-law, ever the enlightened jokesters.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's All So Fine When You Are At The Clothesline

I've always had respect for laundry. I mean, I like laundry. It's sort of sacred to me. Hand washing, hanging clothes to dry, pressing linens. It's odd because I certainly don't feel that way about other "household chores" such as vacuuming or doing dishes (although, come to think of it I have some delightful times just thinking at the sink). At our house laundry piles up long about Thursday or Friday. It gets divided into whites, colours, delicates. The sheets get pulled from the bed and thrown in.

In warm or sunny weather the clothes get hung outside on an umbrella looking line. You know, the old fashioned kind. It took us quite a while to locate one. We store it away in the winter and joyfully bring it back out in the spring. That's when the first swallows are returning, and the catkins are hanging from the big leaf maple. One can notice things whilst hanging out clothes on the line. There are small and dear Savannah sparrows that sing in our meadow, "sweet bird, sweet sweet bird, pretty pretty pretty." I've seen murders of crows flying in circles above the hay fields. And hawks, eagles, even owls going by. As you pin the linens on the line the sky shows through, very blue. Sometimes clouds. It's all so fine when you are at the clothesline.

There's that fresh scent that comes from being aired outside. Everything is crispy and cleaner it seems from the sun. Now, towels have their own way of becoming stiff and uninviting. It's just the way they are. However, the exfoliating advantages from a towel on the line can be recommended by some. And by day two of using them they usually soften up.

Early this spring I was hanging some clothes in the wind. I kept hearing a distant flute in a simple combination of notes. Over and over this little ditty kept playing. Was it a neighbor practicing a penny whistle? How quaint I thought. We have neighbors who practice the whistle. But it kept happening every time it was windy. I finally figured out that these little holes on the clothesline pole were making a little tune. A musical clothesline! I loved it even more.

One thing about being a laundress is you may find treasures that come from the pockets of the laundry. Sometimes it's only nails or screws, or the singular earplug. But last week I hit the jackpot. Seventeen dollars! Thus the dilemma, does one get to keep the money?

A long time ago people used to dry laundry over lavender bushes.

Here's a dictionary reference for lavender:
c.1265, "fragrant plant of the mint family," from Anglo-Fr. lavendre, from M.L. lavendula "lavender" (10c.), perhaps from L. lividus "bluish, livid." Associated with Fr. lavande, It. lavanda "a washing" (from L. lavare "to wash;" see lave) because it was used to scent washed fabrics and as a bath perfume. The meaning "pale purple color" is from 1840.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper

It's raining today and the clothes are in the dryer, but maybe I'll try draping them over the lavender next week. What could be better?

Happy laundering to all, and to all a good day.

Photo of Meadowhouse by Mary McCauley

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Lunchmaid and Willow

Our story begins at the end of Willow's life of thirteen years.

Willow Violet Scherer, born April 1.
Grandest kitty in the world, princess kitty, best kitty that ever lived.
Found at the pound from a ferral mother.
Named by Hannah at the age of eleven, while looking at a blue willow-ware platter.
Lover of Wisteria and Ocean Spray, Hostas, and Cat Mint.
Beloved by her family.
Bonded by life and death to the Lunchmaid

The Lunchmaid was accustomed to feeding Willow every afternoon. A little 'wet' food and a little 'dry' food in her little willow ware and glass bowls. Willow would come inside from her daily rounds of hunting grasshoppers, lightly making her way back to Yellow Lily Pond, napping under the cedars, and generally sitting, simply viewing the world under the ocean spray that arched its branches over the entrance of Willow's Path.

This went on for years until one day Willow did not want to eat. And she didn't eat for several days. And she didn't drink from her little bowl. Nor did she prance about anymore. So, the Lunchmaid put Willow in the car (Little Stuart - an Austin Somerset with a big steering wheel. He was made in England, but felt himself to be Scottish at heart) and proceeded to drive all the way to the Vetenarian's house away into the countryside with Willow in her lap, strangely quiet.

At the Doctor's first glance Willow simply needed some rehydration. A further exam determined a tumor in her tummy. The Lunchmaid put her back into the car, on her lap. When out on the road home, the Lunchmaid's tears began to fall and a hollow sound came from her body, a deep sorrow poured from her heart. Willow heard her mourning and laid on her lap in a knowing kind of silence. The two would soon part.

It happened that the weather at Yellow Lily Pond was quite warm and all the doors and windows were open in the house. Willow did not have the strength to walk outside, so the Lunchmaid would carry her gently down to the pond to catch the gentle breeze. They would sit together and listen to the frogs and birds. Willow would make her way to the edge for a small drink.

The Boatman's hostas were fully leaved and provided Willow a respite from the heat. There she lay where she once played Tiger in the perennial garden next to the house. She barely moved.

Meanwhile, the Boatman was busy being a carpenter, building a very fine house further down the road. The next morning he bought a piece of cedar to form a small casket for his beloved kitty. He cut the pieces and nailed them together at about three in the afternoon. It hurt his heart to do so, but he wanted Willow to have a beautiful box that water could not penetrate when put in the ground.

That afternoon was a blessed one for Willow and the Lunchmaid. Again they visited the pond and Willow drank a sip from it. It was as though the organic green of the water was the only thing that could sustain her, and she toddled to the edge, with the Lunchmaid carrying her back, so as not to topple over. A great silence fell over the pond. No frog, no bird, no wind.

They went back into the house. Willow began to cry, the first sound that she had made in days. The Lunchmaid sought to comfort her. And then something happened. Willow rose up on her forepaws and stretched her head back and let out a wild kind of howl. Something primordial, something so deep and real that the Lunchmaid began to chant. She began to chant a song of death, a song for God to take the soul of her Willow. For angels to take Willow across the great waters. This is a chant that the Lunchmaid had to sing, and she made up the words and tune as she went along. Just then Willow took a breath. She took one more deep breath and all of the air went from her body. Her head rested on her paws. Her spirit was gone.

The Lunchmaid was afraid to touch Willow's body. She sat in front of her in awe. Life to death.

A few minutes passed and the Lunchmaid heard a knock at the door. There stood a friend who she had not seen for many months, bearing a basket of freshly picked strawberries and some whipping cream. The Lunchmaid brought her over to Willow's body. It was then that the telephone rang. It was the boatman and he had just finished putting the last nail in the coffin a few minutes before and was on his way home.

Beautiful white linens were wrapped around Willow's body as she was laid out. Candles were lit on the dining room table around the open casket. Potpourri was sprinkled inside. The cream was whipped, the berries eaten, wine was opened, and stories began to flow from the three at the table.

Another knock at the door and a friend from far away stood with four children in hand. In they came to see the beautiful kitty. They petted her, they said a blessing for her. They ran outside to find daisies, clover, and other wild flowers which they made into necklaces to place around the head of Willow. Now her casket became a bower and joy was all around. Joy stayed throughout the evening as another friend came to view the body. And the candles burned. And the Lunchmaid and her Boatman slept until morning.

And the next day was the burial. Early morning sun was pouring through the grand firs. The Boatman so carefully dug the plot of soil, deep, deep enough very near to Willow's Path. Together the two closed the lid and nailed it. The Boatman asked the Lunchmaid to say a prayer and silence and joy were present. Willow was lowered into the ground, and yes, next to Lady Guinnivere Pig ( a beloved Guinnea Pig, a story for another time). The earth covered her casket. The sun sprayed down upon it. Ocean Spray was laid upon it.

Let the wind say Willow
Let it say Beauty
Let the portals open
and freely pour out
and pour out Life,
The preciousness of it.


Click on this post's title and find a link to QUIETING. Song number 6 - Willow - was written the week that she died.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Contemporary Mass

Lydia McCauley, Composer

A Contemporary Mass Setting

Commissioned by
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Bellingham, Washington
Frederick Frahm, Director of Music

A new Mass setting is being sung at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bellingham, Washington. MISSA AZZURRO VERDE, commissioned by St. Paul’s in 2006, is used in the nine a.m. less formal Eucharist service, and is supported by an ensemble of vocalists and musicians with flute, guitar and piano.

Composed by Lydia McCauley, professional musician and co-owner of the independent music label Brimstone Music, “Missa Azzurro Verde” (mass of blue and green) is a tribute to the heavens and the earth meeting as one in unity. The Mass includes settings of the Kyrie eleison, Gloria in excelsis, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. There are also optional settings of the fraction anthem (Pascha nostrum) and the Trisagion.

Frederick Frahm, prolific composer of organ works, chamber music and choral scores, asked Lydia to compose the Mass for a contemporary Eucharist in her simple songwriting style. He mentored her through the process, engraved the music, and arranged the keyboard setting of the Sanctus. Lydia was deeply honored to write music for a church congregation and to be tutored by a master such as Frahm. [Learn more about this composer at http://www.frederickfrahm.com]

Missa Azzurro Verde is set for Congregation, Choir, Keyboard and Guitar. It includes a pew score.The Kyrie and Christ our Passover are set in a minor key and may be performed unaccompanied as plainchant, with or without a faux bourdon. The contemplative settings of the Trisagion and Agnus Dei incorporate Lydia’s love of Celtic and Appalachian music, which grows full with joy in the Gloria in excelsis
and Sanctus. Performance licences for the Mass are available from the composer.

Lydia McCauley is a singer, pianist, and composer whose music is influenced by Folk, medieval, and Classical genres. She began studying piano at age five, grew up singing in choirs, documentedAppalachian Folk music in college, and maintained a piano studio while raising a family. She has released six full length albums on her own music label, and has been touring the U.S, and Canada with her ensemble of musicians for ten years.

Lydia’s album cut “Kyrie eleison” from The Beauty of the Earth recording is currently featured on Jet Blue, Frontier Airlines, Musak, Sirius Satellite Radio, and Martha Stewart Living. [For more information visit her website at http://www.LydiaMcCauley.com]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Dalai Lama

Kurt and I spent most of this winter in India. We stayed in the South for one month, then travelled in the North through Rajastan, the Punjab, and into the Himalayan foothills to the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We were there for the 50th Anniversary of the Chinese takeover of Tibet. The photos above are from the temple just outside of The Dalai Lama's residence. It was truly a wonderful thing to hear The Dalai Lama speak, to hear him chant in the temple, and to simply be in his presence.

Recently I received an email from my daughter's husband's sister's husband. (Did you get that?) He is currently attending MIT and had the opportunity to hear The Dalai Lama speak on April 30, at the Inaugaral Event for The Dalai Lama Center For Ethics. Here's what he had to say about the event:

"It was very interesting to hear him speak. His English is a bit hard to understand, but he seems to be a very genuine and humorous person. He came to MIT for the opening of the new Center for Ethics and Transformational Values (http://www.thecenter.mit.edu/) that he is setting up in cooperation with MIT. Basically, the institution is being established to explore how compassion can be taught in a formal sense to non-religious people. He believes our global economic recession was proceeded by a recession in ethics and values. He does not feel he needs to promote Buddhism, rather he hopes that compassion can be taught. He feels MIT can help finds ways to do this. He clarified his definition of “secular” as one who has respect for all religions rather than one who rejects religion (the MIT center is secular). He accepted the fact that a growing portion of the developed world is becoming secular and that their needs to be a way to instill compassion and values into this portion of the world. He does not feel that everyone in the world needs to become a Buddhist and that other religions can serve a purpose for others. He is a surprisingly realistic leader. He accepts the reality of history, while hoping for a better future. He hopes for a more democratic United Nations (indicating that the Security Council was not ideal). He stated that if he were able to return to an autonomous Tibet (clearly stated as not independent) he would not serve as its leader. He feels the people in Tibet, who have suffered through oppression, would best lead their own region. He hopes for a demilitarized world, but understands that it is not realistic in the short-term. He indicated that the individual should be disarmed, but seemed to feel that inter-country conflict may be necessary. When questioned by a student who asked about the moral conflict of working for a defense contractor, he affirmed that people kill people, not weapons. Implying that some weapons and violence may be necessary as long as it kills the right people, but he also feels this line of thinking is unrealistic. He never gives clear-cut answers, but his responses usually guide you in a direction." - Matt Thompson

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beautitudes and Blesseds


Blessed are the cottonwood seeds, they care not which way they fly.

Blessed are the hawthornes, producing sweet joy in May.

Blessed are the winds, bringing new seasons.

Blessed are the rains, watering the dry places.

Blessed are the clouds.

Blessed are you, when you find your home here on earth.
When your very breath is a guide.
When you and your children are free to be yourselves.

Blessed is the world and everything in it.

Blessed are the empty vessels, they shall forever be filled.


Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

They shall be like a tree standing by the water.
They shall be like a well, drawing deep.
They shall be like a child in a womb.

They shall be forever changed by sadness.
They shall be made golden.
They shall walk in green pastures breathing the very breath of God.

L. McCauley