Sunday, March 31, 2013

Who Put the Bunny in Easter?

If you missed this post last Easter, here is an updated version with new photos.
It seems that Easter bunnies, colored eggs, candy, baked goods, and sunrise services 
are another example of pre-Christian pagan traditions retained in newer Christian ones. 
For example, according to DNews Editors at this link: 
the tradition we call Easter began in the 13th century in pre-Christian Germany 
with the worship of the goddess Eostra. 

I think Wikipedia explains this connection better 
because they have extended quotes from Jacob Grimm, 
commonly recognized as the compiler of fairy tales, 
but also a philologist, a respected scholar who studied language and learning. 
Here is Wikipedia's excerpt from Grimm's 1835 "Deutsche Mythologie": 

Ostara, Eástre seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted by the resurrection-day of the christian's God. Bonfires were lighted at Easter and according to popular belief of long standing, the moment the sun rises on Easter Sunday morning, he gives three joyful leaps, he dances for joy ... Water drawn on the Easter morning is, like that at Christmas, holy and healing ... here also heathen notions seems to have grafted themselves on great christian festivals. Maidens clothed in white, who at Easter, at the season of returning spring, show themselves in clefts of the rock and on mountains, are suggestive of the ancient goddess.

and as for the eggs, candies, and pastries, Grimm writes: 

The heathen Easter had much in common with May-feast 
and the reception of spring, particularly in matter of bonfires. 
Then, through long ages there seem to have lingered among the people
Easter-games so-called, which the church itself had to tolerate: 
I allude especially to the custom of Easter eggs, 
and to the Easter tale which preachers told from the pulpit 
for the people's amusement, connecting it with Christian reminiscences.

Grimm comments on further Easter time customs, 
including unique sword dances 
and particular baked goods, calling these pastry of heathenish form

I wonder if Grimm was thinking of something like this 
bunny cake. I make it for Easter occasionally
because it reminds me of baking with my mom.

 But where is the Easter bunny in this historical perspective? 
Here is some information about the egg-bringing bunny 
I found on a web site called I Love India (of all places). 
The link no longer works, but here is what it said when I accessed it in April 2012:

Eostre, the goddess of the dawn and fertility, 
found an injured bird one bitterly cold winter, so she changed the bird 
into a hare so that it could recuperate better. But the transformed hare retained 
some of its true nature--the egg-laying part. After the hare was well again, 
it always layed eggs and colored them to give to the goddess as a gift of gratitude. 

I like that explanation, and it's as good as any that I've heard.
Much of the Easter tradition is rooted in concepts of fertility, re-birth, and joy.
But whichever tradition you ascribe to, 
Easter is a lovely way to mark the new life of spring. 

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Eggs by Fabergé

Writing about geese and golden eggs so near Easter
reminded me of the Easter Eggs created by the House of Fabergé 
for the ill-fated family of Czar Nicholas II in Russia.

Rose Trellis egg, photo from

The first time I heard of the Fabergé collection,
I was captivated by the idea of a jeweled egg.
So when I discovered that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
in Richmond, Virginia
had a few of the Imperial Easter eggs in its Fabergé collection,
I was excited to go see them in person.

It's been a very long time now since I saw them,
but I've never forgotten how elegant they were.
The craftsmanship is meticulous.
The one I recall with the most clarity
 is the white enamel Imperial Red Cross Easter egg
made for the Dowager Empress Maria.
When opened, it reveals miniature portraits of the Romanov family.

Imperial Red Cross Easter egg, © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Please click here for full photo credits: 

The eggs in Richmond, Virginia are exquisite, 
but they are more gilded than bejeweled. 
I expected them to glitter 
from thousands of tiny diamonds and crystals.
I admit to being a little disappointed that the reality didn't match my imaginings.
Even though they don't sparkle, they are breathtaking.
One, the Imperial Czarevich Easter Egg from 1912,
 is crafted of gold and lapis lazuli:

© Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Please click here for full photo credits: 

This Fabergé collection is currently on tour,
according to the VMFA website
and won't reopen for some time, unfortunately.

The first Imperial Easter egg was commissioned in 1885
by Czar Alexander III as a gift for his wife Czarina Maria.
After Czar Alexander's death, his son Nicholas II continued the tradition.
All together, 50 Imperial Easter eggs were made.
Ten are in the Kremlin, eight are lost (
Here's one called the Lilies of the Valley Easter egg:

Lilies of the Valley Fabergé egg

This one is called the Spring Flower egg:

The Coronation egg opens to reveal a tiny gold coach:

They are excessive of course, given the contrast 
between the opulence of the monarchy 
and the wretchedness of its people.
But now, decades later,
they can be appreciated as undeniably beautiful works of art 
given by a monarch in celebration of love, tradition, 
and the symbolism of  Easter.
And, although he didn't realize it at the time,
 an enduring gift to the rest of us.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Geese, Sunshine, and Other Things

Yesterday and today, sunshine has once again lit the corners of the Shire.
Temperatures are still cooler than normal,
but the sunshine has encouraged many of the flowering trees to finally open.

After I wrote the blog about the Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs,
I seemed to see geese where ever I went.
In recent days, I've had occasion to drive by a large open field
and it has been populated by hundreds of geese
greedily plucking insects from the grass.
The sight was surprisingly calming.

Then today I was back and so were they. 
The time of day was much earlier 
and they seemed to be just waking up to bask in the sun.

photo courtesy of

And today is the culmination of a work project 
that has taken a lot of my free time lately,
and also the beginning of Easter weekend.
This is one weekend I won't have to spend working at my computer,
and I hope the break will renew my lagging energy.
I hope to bask in the sun like the geese and take my time.
So these weekend hours will almost be like a new beginning for me.
New life...isn't that what spring and Easter are all about?
I think it is. And that's what I wish for all of you.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Aesop's Fables

The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs

Yesterday I shared one of my favorite tales from Aesop's Fables. 
I decided to share another today, 
one that I remember my mom reading to us when we were small:
"The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs."
I think of it from time to time mainly because my neighborhood
is one populated by a good many geese 
with their tiny yellow goslings each the spring.

photo courtesy of

One day a countryman going to the nest of his Goose found
there an egg all yellow and glittering.  When he took it up it was
as heavy as lead and he was going to throw it away, because he
thought a trick had been played upon him.  But he took it home on
second thoughts, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg
of pure gold.  Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon
became rich by selling his eggs.  

photo courtesy of

As he grew rich he grew greedy;
and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he
killed it and opened it only to find nothing.
And the moral of the story is:
Greed oft o'er reaches itself.

Good advice, even after all these centuries.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Crow and the Pitcher

Yesterday, March 26th, was the anniversary of William Caxton's 
first printing of Aesop's Fables in English.
According to the BBC online site, 
Caxton was the first to own a printing press in 15th century England.
He helped revolutionize the dissemination of the printed word
by printing hundreds of titles and translations during his lifetime.
His first printed book was his own translation of
The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye.

image from

So in honor of William Caxton's publication of Aesop's Fables,
here's one of my favorite fables, "The Crow and the Pitcher"
which appears on the website

A Crow, half-dead with thirst, 
came upon a Pitcher which had once  been full of water; 
but when the Crow put its beak into the mouth of the pitcher,
he discovered there was very little left in it,
 and that he could not reach far enough down to get at the water.
He tried, and he tried, but at last had to give up in despair.

Photo courtesy of

Then a thought came to him. 
He took a pebble and dropped it into the Pitcher.  
Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the pitcher
and again and again he repeatedly dropped pebbles in to the pitcher.
  At last, at last, he saw the water mount up near him,
and after casting in a few more pebbles
he was able to quench his thirst and save his life.
And the moral of the story is:
Little by little does the trick.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Snow White?

White Snow and a Frozen Spring

Yesterday had to be one of the coldest days of the year.
The wind coming off of the Lafayette River near where I work
was relentless and utterly frigid.
As I was heading to my car,
I realized that a wind like that 
shows no respect for those attempting to walk against it.
Oh, Spring. Where are you??

I'm not the only one who wonders.
Here are a few things I found on Facebook 
that made me laugh about our frozen spring.

Cartoon by Glenn McCoy,

I don't know who put this next one together, 
but I thought it was also very funny:

I know we all want this season to unfold,
as captured in this photo by Michelle Truex:

But if it had, we would miss the kind of beauty
 found in Jeanne's Snow Garden.

Jeanne is a friend of mine who posted these photos on her Facebook page.
They are of her garden after the recent spring snowfall.
Jeanne's garden is beautiful in any season.
Every path reveals a delight for the senses.
I would love to have a similar garden at my house,
but I don't have Jeanne's way with plants and flowers.

photo courtesy of Jeanne Reeves

This one is simply magic, like a scene from a fairy tale:

This morning when I went to read my "must read" blog,
Must Love Pekes, available here: 
I discovered that Linda had also been captivated
by the beauty of Jeanne's garden of snow.
Linda's blog contains an extra bonus:
adorable pekingese exploring the snow.
And what garden--snow covered or not--is complete 
without a pekingese or two strolling along its paths?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Crabapple Trees and Late Spring

Yesterday I noticed geese eating clover blossoms.
And a few blocks from there, 
crabapple trees were just showing their first blossoms of spring.
Of course, here in the Shire
I was seeing it all through a heavy soaking  and very cold rain.
But in Richmond and parts north, any blossoms they had so far
lay covered in heavy snow.
Such is spring sometimes.
The following revisits a blog post 
about crabapple blossoms  from a year ago.
Given our wintery and  unspringlike weather,
it seems particularly appropriate for today.

The flowering crabapple trees 
frost the landscape with their snowy white blooms.

People love them for their profusion of flowers.
But up close, they are even more beautiful,
with sturdy branches that beckon us in
and invite us to climb up
and sit awhile among their sweet blossoms. 

They remind me of the story "The Selfish Giant" by Oscar Wilde.
It's the story of an ogre with a beautiful garden,
but he didn't want to share it with anyone.
He chased the children away so he could have the garden to himself.
But one year, Winter stayed and Spring never came.
Snow and ice clung to the branches of the trees,
the cold wind blew,
and no flowers emerged from the grass.

Without Spring, the selfish giant grew old and sick. He knew he was dying. 
One day he looked out and saw a small child
standing in the cold and ice, trying to get up into a tree.
He was overcome with sorrow for what he had done,
so he ran out and lifted the child into the tree.
And suddenly ...

"Through a little hole in the wall the children had crept in,
and they were sitting in the branches of the trees.
In every tree that he could see there was a little child.
And the trees were so glad to have the children back again
that they had covered themselves with blossoms ... ."

Here's to the gladness of Spring--
whenever it gets here.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday

The Palm Tree

Since this is Palm Sunday, 
I thought it would be interesting to read a little about the 
significance of palms.
I found a book on Google Books called 
Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible,
edited by David Noel Freeman,
Allen C. Fyers, and Astrid Biles Beck.
There are entries explaining  the Palm Tree and Palm Sunday.

photo courtesy of

The Palm Tree referred to in the Judeo-Christian bible is a tall date palm, 
phoenix dactylifera, and is said to symbolize 
"grandeur and steadfastness."
Well before the association with Jesus and later Holy Week observances,
 palm tree fronds and branches figured prominently in celebrations
like the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
In Egyptian culture, the palm branch symbolized eternal life.
And the Dictionary says that following the Maccabean Revolt,
palm branches were used for ritually sweeping out and purifying the temple 
after its defilement by the Seleucid Army.

A palm branch in a Roman mosaic,
image from "Palm Branch" search,

The palm's association with steadfastness and immortality 
appears to be well placed.
I read on that a Judean date palm seed 
was successfully sprouted after more than 2,000 years of "accidental storage."
That's a long life.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday fronds,
photo courtesy of

I also found a few interesting details about the different names for Palm Sunday.
According to this link: Palm Sunday,
some cultures celebrate Palm Sunday as "Olive or Branch Sunday,
Sallow or Willow, Yew or Blossom Sunday,
or  Sunday of the Willow Boughs."
And another name, Fig Sunday, 
in cultures where eating figs is a traditional food for the holiday.
I would think it should be dates, but I don't recall any special food 
with dates or figs being served as Palm Sunday fare.
All the special foods were reserved for Easter,
which comes next week. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Eternal Spring

Come gentle spring!
Ethereal mildness, come.
                   ---James Thomson

Yesterday the sun was shining
and I had high hopes that I would start to see 
flowers and trees blooming in profusion
as one sunny day unfolded after another.

photo courtesy of

Alas, this morning brings another chilling cold, gray, and overcast day.
So today, the Still Waters blog juxtaposes photos of the spring we long for
with a profusion of quotes about the other spring, the one we're getting so far.
Because in my reading, it has become clear that there are two kinds of spring:
the one that unfolds gracefully and gently, 
and the other one that comes in fits, starts, and tantrums, like a cranky toddler.
I think we all know which one we're having.

photo courtesy of

Mark Twain:
In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six
different kinds of weather
inside of four and twenty hours.

photo courtesy of

Chinese Proverb:
Spring is sooner recognized by plants
than by man.

Author unknown:
Spring ...
wind and rain and other sorrow
warm today and cold tomorrow

photo courtesy of

Henry Van Dyke:
The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.
The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.

I hope we only have to wait a month.
Until we know for sure,
we'd best follow the sentiments of  Victor Hugo:
winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cold and Snow

A lot of people like snow.
I find it an unnecessary freezing of water.
                                       --Carl Reiner

"Where for art thou, Spring?"

I have been accused of thinking of the weather too much.
I admit I'm guilty.
Weather affects my mood and always has.
Cold, cloudy, gray weather renders me practically immobile.

photo courtesy of

 I do enjoy seeing softly sifting snow and bright red cardinals and juncos 
with their feathers puffed out--
but better in winter, not as much in early spring.

photo courtesy of

And I do love the way the sunlight reflects off an expanse of fallen snow,
making it look as if one is witnessing acres of diamonds and tiny gems.
But having to retrieve my gloves and scarf on a Spring day
because it is snowing outside 
(yesterday, you know who you are)--
this does not make me happy.

photo courtesy of

But there are two singing wrens outside my window this morning,
a long mourning dove has settled on the roof of the bird feeder,
the sun is shining once again,
and the vicious March wind has departed.

photo courtesy of

I have a small china mug that bears this quote:
"Happiness is found in little things."
That's a good thing to remember while waiting for spring to really arrive,
even if it comes only one flower at a time.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring has Sprung

It's March 21st, 
so we can safely say that spring has finally sprung--or has it? 
For this morning it is a windy, chilly "feels like" 30 degrees.
Those notorious March winds have arrived in full force.
At least they are making my wind chimes ring.

photo courtesy of

I came across this website:
that had an article about the change of seasons.
The main thing that caught my eye was that technically,
we only had 88.99 days of winter in the northern hemisphere this year,
compared to 92.76 days we can expect for spring.

photo courtesy of

Is there someone we can talk to 
about not getting our full count of sunny, warm spring days?


Last night I celebrated the arrival of spring
by attending a violin concert given by Pavel Ilyashov,
who performs with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
He played a Bach piece from a reproduction of  Bach's original handwritten music,
which is remarkable not only for its complexity,
but also for the fact that Bach didn't have cross-throughs and corrections
in his manuscript as other composers do.
Here's a sample: 

Sitting with my eyes closed, listening to a masterful violin concert,
feeling the music fill the room--
what a wonderful way to welcome spring.

photo courtesy of

I wonder if I could come up with 91.76 more ways to celebrate
the gentle days of spring.
I may not find that many ways,
but it will be fun trying.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rain Garden

Rick's Rain Garden

We know a beautiful soul has walked the earth
 because they leave us with beautiful memories.

When I read the above lines on the internet some time ago,
I thought of my brother-in-law Rick, who would have been 51 today,
the first day of Spring.
Rick taught us a lot about caring for other people 
and about stewardship of the earth.
He loved nature and served on the Board 
of the South Grand River Watershed Alliance (SGRWA) in Missouri.
One of the projects Rick helped to build was a rain garden.

Here's a description from the Missouri Botanical Gardens web page
about rain gardens:
A rain garden slows the flow of rainwater runoff by using elements
similar to those that occur in nature:  plants, stone, shallow swales
and depressions that catch and hold rainwater.

And in a fitting tribute to Rick's memory, the SGRWA 
is establishing a rain garden in Raymore, Missouri dedicated to Rick.

This rain garden photo is from

A rain garden sounds like a magical, peaceful place,
and its artful arrangement of native plants makes it beautiful.
The rain garden is both an aesthetic undertaking 
and, as the Botanical Gardens description attests,
 one that serves an important environmental purpose.

For example, the rain garden that Rick helped build
was designed to catch the run off from a parking lot.
Rain water from the parking area was cutting a trench across the lot below.
By planting a rain garden filled with deep-rooted native plants,
the water was held in place until it could leach slowly into the soil.

Rain garden photo is from

I love the way a shallow of muck like this:

photo edited from one on

turns into a rain garden like this:

and this:

Rain garden photo from

It just takes a vision of what can be when we work together--
something that Rick understood better than most of us.
Happy Birthday to one of the finest men I knew.
If you would like to contribute to Rick Lincoln's Rain Garden,
please contact:
 Doris Sherrick
10807 E 205 Street
Peculiar, MO 64078

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Miracle Staircase

St. Joseph and the Miracle Staircase of Loretto Chapel

photo from

March 19th is the day the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano Mission,
or at least to the high rise office buildings nearby
(see the Still Waters blog post for March 19, 2012).
In the Catholic religion,
March 19th is also the Feast of St. Joseph, the carpenter,
who was the earthly father of Jesus of Nazareth.
St. Teresa of Avila believed that St. Joseph interceded
on her behalf many times.
This may explain the modern practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph
in the yard of a house one wishes to sell.
St. Joseph's reputation for intercession may also explain
 why the sisters of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico
prayed for his help in the 1870s when they needed
someone to build a staircase that could reach
the chapel's 22-foot high choir loft.

photo of choir loft and staircase from

The carpenters who built the chapel told the sisters that a ladder
would have to be built to access the choir
because a staircase would take up too much space in the small chapel.
But a ladder would not do, so the sisters began to pray.
On the 9th day of their prayers, a man appeared with a donkey and some tools
and asked the sisters if they had any work.
Months later the sisters had a beautiful spiral staircase,
but the man, his work finished, had departed without asking for pay or thanks.

Loretto Chapel staircase
photo from

The staircase is a work of art and incredible craftsmanship.
Besides its having been built by an unknown carpenter,
the staircase has no visible means of support, has no nails,
and is made from a type of cold-climate spruce wood
not native to New Mexico.
It has never been more specifically identified.

Loretto Chapel staircase
photo from

I have been to the Loretto Chapel and seen the staircase.
It was a hot day when I visited, but the the sandstone walls kept the chapel cool.
The chapel was dimly lit, but the white Gothic-style altar  glowed.
The dark wooden staircase really stood out in contrast to the rest of the chapel.
Flickering candlelight, cool quiet, a mystery staircase
that some believe was crafted by St. Joseph himself--
all added up to a beautiful respite from Santa Fe's summer heat.
But the best part of the experience was seeing the miracle staircase in person.

The staircase was originally built without railings;
those were added for safety reasons some time after construction.
The following image is on a postcard that is sold in the museum gift shop.
I copied it from
The blog can be accessed here for more photos of the staircase:
The Carpenter and the Staircase

I love the legend of a mysterious stranger who appears
in answer to a prayer.
I read once that the universe is full of helpers and friends.
And maybe too, an occasional angel that arrives just when we need one.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Signs of Spring

Spring may be arriving on Wednesday,
but yesterday's weather here in the Shire was all Winter with a capital W.
I went outside with my five pekes a couple of times,
and it was too cold for me.
But I was encouraged to see signs of spring 
struggling through the veil of winter.

photo courtesy of

It's not snowing this morning, but the sky is dark, the rain is coming down.
Even the squirrels don't want to come out of their nests.
So Sunday's chill foretold Monday's gloom.
It is still very winter-y here and spring seems slow to arrive.
But it will get here.
Fortunately, there are daffodils with heads gently bent to cheer us.

photo courtesy of

And there are other signs of spring here and there.
The first thing I noticed yesterday was the blue hydrangea seedling
I had intended to plant last fall but didn't get around to.
It has two green leaves just beginning to emerge.
That made me happy because I wasn't sure it would come back 
after my neglect and winter's chill.

photo courtesy of

And next to the hydrangea, the violets that were so early in January,
but then disappeared, are emerging again as tiny green shoots.
Maybe this spring I will have enough violet blossoms to make a tiny nosegay.

And my potted oregano plant somehow managed to keep itself alive
through the long dark days of winter.
In fact, it looks quite lush.

Oregano from summer 2012

And my beloved sweet bay magnolia tree
is showing tender pale green leaves at the ends of its branches.
They are not yet as full as the 2012 photo below,
but a few days of sun and warmth should do it.

spring 2012

With this lengthy winter and reluctant spring,
I take comfort in this quote by Shelley 
from his "Ode to the West Wind":
If winter comes, can spring be far behind?