Monday, December 24, 2012

Silent Night, Holy Night

May the Prince of Peace come to your door this year

art credit, Susan Jeffers

Monday, December 17, 2012

Great Grandfather Claus

     My grandparents immigrated to the United States from Norway, and my father claims that they are descendants of reindeer herders far to the north in the arctic lands that lap the Barents Sea. It is a land of midnight summer sun and a darkness in the heart of winter made bearable by swarms of stars and the cryptic dance of solar winds; a mountain-crowded landscape of deep snow and quick crops, glacial fjords and ice-sculpted valleys where nomads live in close communion with the swing of the seasons and can hear the call of the wild from out of the mists of myth.

     These are my antecedents, I carry them in my bones and even though it hasn’t been proven, if you climbed further up in my family tree I think you would find that I am related to the Merry Old Elf himself!

     If you have seen Miracle on 34th Street, you know what happens to kindly old men who claim to be Santa Claus, so you might think I am daft to claim kinship to that jolly saint of Christmastide, but there are indicators impossible to ignore: 

  • My grandmother’s name was Elfrieda
  • My favorite color is green
  • I wilt in the heat and thrive in cooler climes
  • I express my love and affection for others by giving them gifts
  • My favorite holiday is Christmas
  • I often prefer the company of children to that of adults
  • I spend far too much time wrapping my Christmas gifts
  • If either of my brothers put on a red suit, most children would think they were looking at the real thing
  • Along with all of my siblings, I have an insatiable sweet tooth
  • I don’t look like an elf, but I am told I have hobbit feet
  • My heart soars at the first snowfall of the year
  • With any exertion my cheeks bloom with roses, my face is naturally broad and as the years go by, I can’t seem to shed that bowl full of jelly

Do you see what I mean? Impossible to ignore. Ho Ho Ho…

Merry Christmas.

reindeer photo credit: Daisy Gilardini

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fly Away Home

     My mother would have been 85 years old today, but she passed away at the beginning of November. Long ago, she bequeathed to me her love of books and storytelling and encouraged my need to write. My dear mom also possessed a child-like appreciation of the world around her and a quirky imagination. I am so grateful that I was able to fly home to Washington beforehand to share in the last days and moments of her life.

     As those of you who have said good-bye to loved ones already know, we find relief from our grief in the stories that we tell about them. My niece, Jacqualine, shared the following memory with us:

     It was a large family gathering, most likely Leif Ericsson day. There were tables laden with all sorts of tasty food and desserts. The great-grandchildren were running around playing with their toys, and everyone else had settled down with a good meal.
     I was relaxing with a plate of lefse, when Grandma came and sat beside me. 
     Around this time she had begun a special diet, so I wasn't surprised to see her with a napkin full of vegetables in her hand instead of dessert. However, I did think it a bit curious that she seemed to be munching away without touching a single carrot.
     So I decided to watch.
     When she thought no one was looking, Grandma reached under her napkin and pulled out a cookie.
     "Grandma," I said pleasantly scandalized.
     She just looked at me with a mischievous smile and a twinkle in her eye, and then in one quick motion popped the cookie into her mouth. She chewed happily, and all I could do was shake my head and chuckle.
     This is how I learned the top-secret napkin trick, which is very useful if you’re in the business of smuggling treats.
     I’ll see you in heaven Grandma. Make sure you save me a place in the choir.

     Yes, that was my mom. I couldn't let her birthday pass without writing something in her memory:

Fly Away Home

Her hands are smooth, now
She stoops to tie a child’s shoe
Golden light above, golden streets
Beneath her bended knee.
Do you remember me?
She follows the line of my asking
Follows the line of my ageless frame
From lowly foot to eternal eye.
Ah, you’ve come home at last.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Walking on Water

     I grew up on the Puget Sound. Winters were mild. Summers were full of rain. But there was one winter with a succession of days so cold that nearby Snake Lake froze over. My father, who was born in the neighborhood, said it used to freeze nearly every year when he was a boy. He bundled us all into the car and we drove down to the lake. It was such a peculiarity that dozens of other families were already there ahead of us. Some of them even had skates. It was a beautiful sight, just like a scene from a Christmas card.

     Other than a frozen mud puddle here and there, I had never walked on ice. I slid down the bank with my brothers and sisters and stepped onto the edge of the small lake. I wasn’t more than eight years old and the whole idea of walking out into the middle had me frightened. I wasn’t afraid of falling down, I was afraid of falling through. Even though there were lots of people scooting back and forth across the ice, I dabbled around the edges. I wasn’t an adventurous child.

     Then my father came along, took my hand and led me across to the other side. I remember holding tightly to his hand and sliding the soles of my shoes carefully across the uneven surface. There were twigs and leaves trapped in the ice; maybe there were fish and frogs watching me from below. I imagined myself gliding and twirling effortlessly like Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, but I felt more like a tottering, newborn colt just learning to walk. The lake was surrounded by evergreens, leafless scrub, and thin, frosty, winter air. There was an undercurrent of shared excitement and, best of all, the inimitable wonder of walking on water. I was still afraid that the ice wouldn’t hold me, that at any minute it might crack and the dark water would swallow me, my confidence in the ice was thin because I'd had no experience with it, but beneath the fear was the strength of my father's hand and the solid trust I had that he would rescue me from danger. If not for that trust, I would still be dabbling around the edges.

art credit Paul Gauguin

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Threshold of Christmas

     It falls every year like first snow. We stand on the threshold of December and step into the wonder and mystery of Advent. Be Adventurous...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Story Within a Story

     Perhaps you might enjoy a short excerpt from the fantasy novel I finished writing a few years ago...

     As they sat together that night in the circle of firelight that drew them all into its warm embrace and sent their shadows leaping away behind them, Miri said, "Aelynne, you haven't told us any tales yet; surely you must know one that none of us have heard."
     "I didn’t think it would please you to hear about the heroes and battles of the Realm, and the tales I was told about the Lordly Ones when I was a girl, you already know."
     "But you’ve had adventure," Miri coaxed, "and before you were a priestess you were a lord's daughter. Tell us something about yourself."
     Aelynne thought a moment. "I was a pig-girl first of all," she began, "and my Huldre was something of a féyri woman herself. Her greatest grandmother, Wyndolen-hée, lived in the time when the Realm first came up from the south to battle the féyri-folk." 

     Those were the days when the kings of the south liked nothing better than to battle.  They fought among themselves until there was only one king left. Then there was peace for awhile. But the king of the south soon grew restless with nothing to do but eat, and drink, and ride his war horse back and forth over his great conquered land, so he gathered his men together and sent them north to see if they could find any new king for him to fight. 
     Until those days the Féyri had been secure and prosperous, so there were many villages in the woods around Aeltre, flung out from the city like scattered corn at planting time. Then the Realm descended on Calantha like a hawk upon sparrows and all along the way, the fighting men left trampled corn and cabbage plots and smoking cottages behind them. Fey and feya alike felt the bite of iron forged in foreign fires, but many of the children were sent away south for slaves—especially if a girl were pretty or a boy had a strong arm.
     Wyndolen-heé—who was not so young as some, but pretty enough to save her neck—was not the kind of girl a man could make a slave of if it were against her will. She stood in the middle of the steading-yard with her father's cottage and outbuildings burning around her, wielding a rusty sword and shouting insults at the men who had come to take her away. Of course, they were grown men hardened in battle and she only a young farm-girl so the shouting did not last long, but when the men came near enough to take her she turned the sword on herself saying, "I'd sooner perish!" and they saw that she meant it.
     The captain of the band, who had fought in many outflung parts of the realm before this but had never yet seen a girl of such pluck and beauty when her fire was up, stepped forward from the rest. “Wait,” he said and held up his hand to keep the others back, “before you quench the flame that comes out of your eyes and into my heart like sword thrusts, and the light of you goes out of the world altogether, will you not hear me speak?”
     Then Wyndolen-hée paused with the blade pressed to her breast to listen, for none had ever spoken thus to her before. And she paused to listen because of the look in the captain's eye when he said it.
     “Take me instead,” he said, “and when the fighting is done, I will come back to you. I will build you a new cottage, plant new corn, and give you sons and daughters to heal the hurt of your father's dying. And before you say to yourself, 'this man is my enemy and the thing that he is asking is only another kind of slavery and also worse than death,' remember these two things:  a man must obey his king whether he will or no, and there can be no slavery where there is love." 
     Here the captain paused and captured the eyes of Wyndolen-hée, holding them with his own so that she could not look away. "Yet, should it still seem loathsome to you to give yourself to me instead of the grave, then before you strike yourself, have mercy on the heart-wounded and strike me first, for I swear to you that from this day forward I am yours in life or death."  Then the captain drew his sword slowly and carefully from its wolfskin sheath and knelt before the farmgirl, laying it at her feet. As he bowed his head, his dark hair fell forward above his shirt and leather hauberk, laying his neck bare to her own weapon.
     With both, white-knuckled hands gripping the hilt, Wyndolen-hée lifted her father's heavy sword above her head, and for all that it was ancient with rust, it would have severed bone from sinew well enough to leave the captain bleeding in the dust when the rest of the fighting men marched away. She raised it against him because of the ache that he and his kind had left in the smoking ruins behind her. In the instant before the sword came down, however, something stayed her arm, something deeper than the ache, something stirring nameless within her. The sword fell from her bitter grasp to the ground, and a moment later, she fell too—into the arms of her enemy, weeping for all she had lost and for all she must give up to get some of it back again.
     The captain was true, and when the last of the great cities of Calantha had been subdued, he came back to her and made her forget her weeping. But the one thing she could not forget was that she was now a stranger in her own homeland, for most of her people who had not been killed in the warring had vanished away up north into the wasteland of the high country. Indeed, she did not want to forget, and neither did she want her children to forget, so she spoke to them often of her kindred, and she spoke to her grandchildren as well. Some of the tales she told were believed and some of them were not for they seemed too marvelous to be true, but whether or not they were believed, the children of Wyndolen-hée told the tales to their offspring, so that, after long and long, my Huldre came to hear them. Then, because Huldre did not have any children of her own, she told the tales to me. So it was I came to hear of the Féyri, and all the time I was listening to them, I never imagined that they were my own stories as well."

     No one spoke for a moment.  Then Gynlon laid another log on the fire, sending sparks upward into the clear night like a burst of new stars.  "The captain was a clever man," he said as he sat down again.
     "He was love-struck!" Miri protested.
     "It would seem he was both," Calder said and began to tune his harp.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits..."
Psalm 103:2

The Prayer by Vincent Van Gogh

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Il Divo

     I sat alone in the car in the grocery store parking lot waiting for my husband to return with a roasting chicken and loaf of french bread for our lunch, when I suddenly heard singing. I looked around to see where it was coming from. The music wasn't that primal base so many enthusiasts seem to enjoy sharing with the rest of us, beating its way through walls and rattling windows till it pulses inside your bones, and the singer wasn't the usual rap or rock star. The driver's-side window in the car next to me was lowered a few inches and a middle-aged, ethnic-looking gentleman was listening to opera. Something Spanish or Italian, I think. It isn't often you hear opera played loudly in the grocery parking lot, so I rolled down my own window to listen. Then I smiled. The man was singing along. He was no Pavarotti, Carreras, or Domingo, but he was enjoying himself.

     It was a dust of snow moment.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Drop in the Bucket

     We were not in the habit of leaving our doors unlocked at night. We didn't live in that kind of neighborhood. But then someone let the cat out and forgot...

     When I was in high school I shared an upstairs bedroom with my older sister. Late one night after everyone had gone to bed, I awoke suddenly, sensing something was wrong. I heard shouting downstairs and scrambled out of bed three steps behind my sister. We tried to open the door at the bottom of the stairs, but someone on the other side slammed it shut against us. I smelled smoke. I was scared. One of my worst fears had materialized; our house was on fire! I didn't know what to do, so I did the first thing that came into my head: I ran back upstairs to the bathroom, emptied the trashcan onto the floor and began filling it with water.

     Everything else is a blur, but when the smoke had cleared—literally—I was standing in the diningroom in my pajamas hugging an empty trashcan as firemen sucked smoke from our house with their equipment. Somehow, the armchair in the corner of the livingroom nearest the front door had caught fire. Somehow, my dad had managed to drag the burning chair outside onto the lawn before the rest of the house caught fire. The carpet was ruined and there was smoke damage but that was all; except for a little singeing, not even my dad was hurt. There had been seven of us asleep in the house that night; it could have been so much worse.

     It wasn't the first fire in the neighborhood that year. Several garages had already burned to the ground and arson was suspected. Even so, I was called out of class one day at school for an interview with the fire marshal. He asked if one of my siblings or I might have been sneaking a cigarette and left it burning near the chair. Most of us had tried smoking at one time or another, but none of us was stupid enough to light up anywhere near home.

     A few weeks later the house across the street caught fire during the night. Investigators determined that the livingroom sofa was the source of the blaze, but the neighbors were smokers so it remained uncertain whether or not arson was involved. Then one morning as my dad was leaving for work, he found signs of a fire just inside our garage door. The door was closed and the fire had died out before it had done any real damage. It appeared to us that another arsonist plot had been providentially foiled.

     I am glad to say that the man responsible was eventually caught in the act of setting fire to a shed in broad daylight and was arrested.

     I think back to that small trashcan full of water, that drop in the bucket I had grabbed in order to help put out a fire; if our house had been ablaze it would have been useless no matter how good my intentions were. We are a family of gospel faith so, naturally, we give God the credit for our preservation. We are all grateful that He spared us. It is the kind of experience that has given me pause over the intervening years to consider the weight of my life. In the end, will I have spent it on things that matter? So it is that I pursue a grace-filled purpose in the hope that my drop in the bucket may one day become a flood.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


     The Tower of Flints...patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadows.

                                                      ~ Titus Groan by Mervyn Peak ~ 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Autumn's Comma


     Fall often comes as a comma in this neck of the woods; some years you hardly draw breath before it moves on. I feel almost resentful when summer burns late into October, or an early freeze strips the last of the leaves from the trees and shudders snow onto naked pumpkins lying hopeful in the fields. At the same time, it is the very brevity of the season that makes my pleasure in it so exquisite. I feel its colors. I think in its superlatives.

     Summer’s heavy warmth withdraws, and nighttime frost-falls kindle the fires of burning bush to a crackling scarlet. Flamboyant maples and sumac flout the monochromatic schemes of evergreens and shout their calliope colors into the wind. A few ragged, yellow coins still flutter from the branch tips of the birch at the front of the house, a cushion of gold collects on my garden bench, a carpet of gold covers the lawn, and I feel as rich as a king in the Midas-touch of autumn.

     I walk out for a jacket and scarf stroll at sunset, the light-fingered winds twitching at anything that isn’t tied down or buttoned up. A pale half-moon creeps across the sky with one, wide eye peeking out at me from behind earth’s shadow. Down the street a young boy throws handfuls of leaves over his head, again and again, watching them drift to the ground like ash. There is joy in his face. Long ago, I used to do the same, so did my girls; it’s a legacy of childhood like making snow angels in winter and sucking nectar from clover in summer. Just as I round the bend on the last stretch toward home, the embered sun dips below the world’s rim, a glow the color of autumn still smoldering in the sky. I hear a flock of geese crossing low on the horizon, trumpeting their lament to the dying light.

     These are hot chocolate days punctuated by nutmeg and cinnamon moments. In the chill, early morning, I stand in a stream of amber sunlight slanting through the kitchen window and feel it pour over me like maple syrup. Soon, warmth will become a crop to harvest, something to bake into stews, pies and bread, or tend in the grate, or pull up to my chin at night.

     I soak it all in—the color, spice and warmth—garner its gifts, wrap it close like a cloak, drink up its dregs to the very last drop—and then step into winter… 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Up Too Early

     I was up at 3 am to see my daughter off to work and my husband off for another trip to the orient. Ours seemed to be the only lights showing through wakeful windows. Too early for industry, I sat in the kitchen sipping tea, eating buttered toast and reading poetry. Mostly Emily Dickinson. You’ll like this one, I think:

Ribbons of the Year—
Multitude Brocade—
Worn to Nature’s Party once

Then, as flung aside
As a faded Bead
Or a Wrinkled Pearl
Who shall charge the Vanity
Of the Maker’s Girl?

The house was so quiet I could hear dawn break. Then I went back to bed and slept like a slattern until 9 am.

When I awoke there were rag-ends of poetry fluttering around in my head, so I pieced some of them together to make a little patchworked poem for you:

Autumn Leaves by Mark Karrass

Wet winds flap their weighted wings,  
And flocks of colored quills             
Leap into the sky                              
A bright-pinioned swirl,                     
Brief twirl, and leaves fall like         
Feathers across the crowded lawn.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hydroponic Biscuits

     My husband and I were visiting family in Southern California last week. We drove out to the Santa Rosa Valley one morning to see Uncle Pete who lives on a small ranch at the brow of a hill overlooking a park of eucalyptus trees and avocado groves. It had been brutal all week in the valleys with temperatures over 100º but the ocean breathed gently across the hilltops and lifted the burden of heat for the day.

     My husband’s uncle raises quarter horses in Oklahoma and keeps several palominos and bays on his California property. Most ranchers are dependant on hay for fodder to feed their livestock, but hay has recently gone from $150 to $300 per ton because of widespread drought conditions in the United States. It makes it difficult for even the backyard horseman to keep many animals.

     Uncle Pete hasn’t got pasture on his ranch so he bought an Australian-made hydroponics unit from a farmer in Bakersfield who couldn’t figure out how to keep the sprouts he was growing from molding. We drove golf carts down the hill from the house to the horse corrals and stood beneath the cool, breezy shade of eucalyptus trees, listening to the 81 year-old great-grandfather describe with a lingering trace of Oklahoma drawl his trials and errors as he tinkered with the unit over the past six months. Then he demonstrated how he grows the luscious green barley mats he calls "biscuits" that account for two-thirds of his horses’ diet. He couldn’t produce enough feed to sustain them with the single unit, so he built another one himself for a fraction of the cost. The new unit isn’t climatized and hasn’t been tested through the winter, but I am still impressed.

     The whole process is rather too labor-intensive for a man of Pete’s age, so his next challenge, he says, is to make it easier. He’s not an armchair man, and he’s still got the curiosity, ingenuity and drive of a self-made man, so I think he’ll do it. Maybe someday in the future school children will be reading about Eli Whitney's cotton gin and Hydroponic Pete on their iPad textbooks.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Blah Blah Blogging - I Swear I'm Not Swearing

     It has been explained to me but I still don’t like it. Sometimes when I post a comment on another blog, Nib’s End shows up as Nib's End. My husband says it is because my computer does not speak the same language as your computer. But it looks too aggressive, too vulgar. It says: “I’m Nib freakin’ End! Now deal with it!” I hope you know by now that I am not that harsh, and I am definitely not in the habit of cursing either friends or strangers.

Le Pouce - Paris
     When we were in São Paulo last Fall, my husband and I went to dinner at the home of one of his colleagues. Our host made us pizza. He made everything from scratch and baked the pizzas over eucalyptus wood in his brick oven. When he asked me how I liked my meal, I gave him the “O.K.” signal. I don’t know much Portuguese, but I do know how to say muito bom—very good. If my mouth hadn’t been full, I would have told him that it was the best pie I had ever tasted and that, going forward, it would be the standard to which all subsequent pizzas must be measured. Too late. In Brazil that particular hand gesture is obscene. It does not mean okay, very good or anything even remotely positive. I should have given him a thumbs up. Thankfully, he saw the horror in my face as I realized my indiscretion and he smiled indulgently.

     It isn’t the first time I have been dependant on the indulgence and grace of others as I negotiate the gaps between cultures.

     The blogoshpere has been around a long while now, but I am still a novice, a visitor to what sometimes feels like a foreign country. I am still learning the culture and the language. People from all over the world are interacting with one another on a daily basis. In the process, I suspect that toes sometimes get stepped on. I beg your indulgence if I ever step on yours.

     In many ways social media seems like a free for all—all the more reason to subscribe to some form of etiquette—but most of the web logs I have visited are being written by kind and decent people who wish to be courteous to one another. Irish Mise over at Pretty Far West defines Blogtopia as “a place where everything is lovely, even if it isn’t, and everyone is charming and supportive and has written a little poem.” Mise seems like the kind of woman who would smile indulgently at me if I inadvertently flipped her the bird. And if it looks like I am swearing at her when I leave a comment on one of her posts, she has been too gracious to mention it.

     So then, despite the impression that Nib's End might give, I too will subscribe to an etiquette of grace.

photo credit Robert Harding

Monday, October 1, 2012

Blue Day

Blue skies smilin' at me
Nothin' but blue skies do I see...
Blue days, all of them gone
Nothin' but blue skies from now on

~ Willie Nelson ~

  We spent the day in the city on fruitless passport business, but despite the bureaucratic effort, the day wasn't wasted. Not even the trip to the federal building was wasted. I quite enjoyed eavesdropping on the other petitioners: the recent college graduate who needed a new passport because his had been ruined in the wash; the two little girls holding dolls who had been promised a visit to the American Girl store; the woman who had returned, this time with her wedding certificate; people traveling to London, Greece, Norway...

     Afterward, my husband and I strolled hand-in-hand along the river. From time to time we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, letting the foot-traffic flow around us, to admire the towering architecture or the Picasso in the plaza even though we have seen them many times. We went for lunch at a favorite restaurant and ate chicken picatta and beignets with raspberry sauce. It was a lovely fall day with a sky that looked like it was trying to hang on to the heels of summer.    

     "What color would you use to describe today?" I asked my husband as we walked up the Avenue in the shade of skyscrapers. I held my persimmon-colored wool jacket over my arm because the afternoon had turned warm.

     "Bright blue," he said after a moment.

     I smiled because he is so willing to play these games with me. "Me too," I agreed, "only I was thinking sky-blue."

     It could have turned out otherwise. The day could have shaped itself into another shade of blue entirely no matter what color the sky. After all, we had arrived at the passport office late and out of breath only to find out that we had been misinformed about the required paperwork. Then, after walking a long, long way, the restaurant we had wanted to try for the first time was closed. And our feet hurt. But the late September sky had infused us with its essence and despite the setbacks, it was impossible to feel anything but a blithe, bright blue. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pumpkin Patch

     You know it is fall when the pumpkins in your garden begin to ripen. The thing of it is—I didn’t plant any. Still, there they are growing on the slope that used to lie beneath the shade of a spruce: ten, perfect mini pumpkins. Until the devastating storm two months ago, there wasn’t a spot sunny enough to grow them. We almost didn’t notice them amidst the bumper crop of weeds. We’ve been distracted with roofing and siding and haven’t had the inclination to garden in this summer’s drought and heat. Now that the heat and humidity are beginning to wane, however, I am out in the yard on my hands and knees most days patiently making room for next spring—she’ll need a landing strip.

     Now and then, I’ve been tempted to grumble as the Aftermath continues to eat up our days, but those pumpkins make me smile; they remind me that I am not the one in control; they remind me of the unexpected blessing and bounty I have received this summer. There are also some wild violets growing on the slope and a single stalk of corn growing beside the driveway. I didn’t plant those either. Each of these surprises brings me joy and lifts my heart like a promise.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Summer Set

It was a yellow summer
With dreams the size of shade.

The Sower by Vincent van Gogh

Monday, September 17, 2012

Soda Pop

     Soda pop is a daily fixture in American life, but when I was a child it was a treat. I was raised in a middle-class home, but with six children and a modest, single income, my parents weren’t able to provide a lot of extras. We always had shoes on our feet, food on the table and presents under the Christmas tree, but a trip to McDonalds was rare. So was ice cream. I was envious of the huge round tubs of Neapolitan my cousins always seemed to have in their freezer. My father made a batch of his own root beer one year and bottled it in brown, recycled glass bottles. We had floats all summer long. Every sip of root beer I’ve had since, tastes like that summer.

     One year we took a road trip to visit my great aunt and uncle in Idaho. On the way, we spent a night in a motel. Mom and Dad slept in the double bed while the rest of us slept on the floor. It was an adventure. I'd never slept in a motel before. Next to the manager's office there was a vending machine with cold bottles of soda pop, and my dad let each of us buy one. Of all the memories I have from that trip, having a bottle of pop all to myself remains the most prominent.

     All these years later, plastic liters and aluminum cans of fizzy drink seem commonplace. I don't often drink the stuff, but occasionally I buy a soda in a glass bottle with a metal crown cap. I drink it cold, straight from the bottle, and it still feels like a luxury.

Soda Pop Song

Soda pop, soda pop
So so so soda pop
Soda pop, soda pop
So so so soda pop

I like my Ginger Ale
Root beer and Bubble Up
Pepsi really pours it on
Dr Pepper picks me up

Fresh up with 7 Up
Soda Squirt, Crush a pop
It hasta be Shasta
Red Bull will make you hop

Things go better with a
Can of fizzy soda
I’d like to buy the world
A Coke Coca-Cola

Soda pop, soda pop
So so so soda pop
Soda pop, soda pop
Sing sing a soda pop…

~ Nib of Nib's End ~

Silly Nib likes to sing this to the tune of the 1950's song Lollipop Lollipop or just rap it out like a pop star.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Head in the Clouds

     One of the perks of my husband's job is the frequent flyer miles he accumulates. He used some of them to get me an iPad for our anniversary this year. Dear man, he’s given me a boost into the twenty-first century. I don’t twitter, tweet, text, tumble or pin; I don’t even have my face in a book, but I now have my head in the Cloud. And I am not alone. Apparently, there are a lot of people in the Cloud with me. You might even be one of them. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

     Being technologically challenged, I don’t pretend to understand the workings of this Cloud, but I don’t have to know how it works to enjoy its benefits. Still, I am a little nervous about using it. Can it get so full it starts to leak like raindrops from a nimbus? Or does it keep expanding like the ominous phenomenon generated by the FLDSMDFR in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs? If so, is that a good thing? Is this storage depot as vaporous as a cloud and as easily penetrated? I don’t suppose my intellectual property is worth much, but it is mine, and I don't like anyone going through my purse without asking either. Perhaps all of these questions are silly and simply a reflection of my woeful ignorance. Perhaps I should relax and join the throng:

Three cheers!
I Cloud
You Cloud
We all crowd the iCloud!

     Yes, I am speaking tongue in cheek. I think technology is wonderful and I would rather do with it than without it, but I also think, and believe many would agree with me, that too much of a good thing can turn a blessing into a curse. After all, the tendency to overindulge is part of human nature. If you have any doubt, just ask the folks of Swallow Falls.

     I already spend a lot of time with my head in the clouds so, in some ways, this isn’t anything new. Daydreaming comes easy when I'm a passenger in the car and the scenery is mostly billboards, or when I forget to bring a book to read while waiting for the dentist. I like where floating in the stratosphere takes me, the flights of fancy into other realms, the high-hearted pondering of the spirit as it wings its way heavenward like the ascendant lark. At the same time, I understand the need for coming "back to the furrows dip". Sometimes I need to pull my head out of the clouds and pay attention, listen to the voices next to me, or just be present. It's lonely sitting next to someone who is a million miles away. 

     Most of life happens in the furrows dip. That's where the crops grow. But they are watered from above. All we need to make this trying-to-move-with-the-times grandmother happy is a little perspective from both angles.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Its a Jungle Out There

     My husband was outside in the dark watering the lawn one evening while I was in the house reading. He hadn’t been out there long before he came in and said he would finish watering in the morning. Coyotes were nearby yipping and howling to one another, and he didn’t want to surprise one in the darkness. Probably a good decision. Over the years we have had encounters with deer, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, ground hogs, wild turkeys, possums, skunks, raccoons, feral cats and even a rabid cat. We have our share of wildlife even though we do not live in the wild.

     Several years ago, my globe-trekking spouse went to visit friends living in a remote Indian village in the Amazon jungle. He flew in by bush plane and landed on a grass airstrip. Immersing himself in the surroundings, he bathed in the river with the piranha and stingrays, and ate tapir and crocodile for dinner with our friends. It was difficult, at first, to fall asleep at night because he was unaccustomed to the relentless jungle noise.

     One evening, after visiting with our friends in their bungalow, as he made his way through the darkness to his own quarters, he heard a noise that sounded like a baby crying. The crying continued at intervals until he drew near the small house he was staying in. Then it turned into a hair-raising roar. Needless to say, he retreated. Quickly.

     A cougar had been foraging from the village chickens for weeks and, after my husband returned home, we heard that one of the Indians had shot and killed it. If you are a native in the Amazon jungle, killing predators is allowed, you don’t need permission to do it—it’s a matter of survival. Here in the suburban jungle, however, we just keep our distance.

photograph by Tim Knight

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Budding Chef

     I was in the greengrocer section of the market today when I noticed a little boy of five or six shopping with his mother. He put his face in the produce in order to smell it as he walked along: lettuce, cilantro, parsley, dill, celery... "Mommy, this stuff smells yummy!" he exclaimed with delight. It gave me such a lift to hear him say it. I saw the boy’s mother in the parking lot as I was putting my cart away and mentioned it to her. She said they grow herbs at home, and he likes to smell them too. When I observed that he might grow into a fine cook someday, she told me that he already loves to help in the kitchen.

Jamie Oliver

I may have just met a budding Jamie Oliver.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tying the Knot

     An older British gentleman, my husband's acquaintance, came to see us one evening several years ago. After dinner, when I asked him if he would like a cup of tea with dessert, he hesitated. I understand that Americans have a dreadful reputation in England for making tea so I described how I would prepare it for him. He acquiesced. Then I made a cup for myself. I used to be too impatient to wait for the tea to cool so that it wouldn’t burn my tongue—fancy that, an impatient American—and I put an ice cube in it. I thought it might amuse our guest to see my little idiosyncrasy, so I showed it to him.

     He was more than amused. He pulled a white handkerchief from his pocket, chuckling, and tied a knot in it to remind himself to write about the incident in his journal when he returned to his hotel. Apparently, he kept a record of all the oddball things Americans do to share with his cronies back home.

     I was absurdly pleased to have made the list.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Alas, Poor Yorick!

     I dreamed the other night that I was trodding the boards in a local theater production of Macbeth, and landed the leading role as Hamlet, Prince of Denmark! I stumbled over my lines at the beginning of the first act but ended eloquently enough to garner the admiration of my fellow actors. Then came Intermission. Among the admirers crowded around the conference table in the break room was Johnny Depp. He was so impressed with my performance that he asked to read lines with me.

     Fortunately for me the intermission was a long one—several hours long; I couldn't remember any of my lines for the upcoming acts, I couldn't even remember rehearsing them. I was basking in borrowed glory. Thankfully, I awoke from my dream before the intermission was over with the phrase "Alas, poor Yorick!" on my mind, and only a vague uneasiness about the forgotten lines.

     They say everyone has their 15 minutes of fame. I think that was it for me. You might say it doesn't count because I dreamed it, but isn't fame as immaterial and illusive as dreams? It seems rather fitting, then, that my 15 minutes were something conjured by my subconscious.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
                                                                   ~ The Tempest ~

Painting by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Blah Blah Blogging - What I Ate for Lunch on Thursday

     On Thursday morning, as I was making the bed, the telephone rang. Lo and behold, it was the Townhouse Café calling to say their chef was making cream of celery and apple soup that day! Four months earlier I had put my name on a list for cream of celery and apple soup fans. At last the anticipated day had arrived. I was told that if I couldn’t make it in that day, I could still have some of the specialty soup on Friday even though it wouldn’t be on the menu. For a moment I was conflicted: Should I go eat soup with the vulgar herd on Thursday, or wait and sup with the privileged few on the following day? I decided to shove vanity aside and go for the sure thing. He who hesitates could end up soupless.

     I find it intriguing that so many folks in the blogosphere want to show me photos of what they have eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Now here I am sharing my lunch with you. Sort of. You don't get to taste it; you just get to see how pretty it was and imagine how good it might have tasted. I can't even give you the recipe because I don't have it myself. All I can tell you is that it had celery, apples, garlic, cream and white wine in it and that it was lip-smacking delicious–I would have wiped the empty cup with my fingers and licked them if there had been no one to see me do it. I paired my serving of soup with an apricot chicken salad sandwich and terra chips made from root vegetables. Perfect. I'm not a soup sommelier, but I am beginning to feel like one. And I am convinced that if you cannot sit across the table slurping a cup with me, you will still enjoy my cream of celery and apple soup vicariously by looking at my photos and reading about it.

     After all, as it says in my by-line, "a pleasure shared is a pleasure multiplied..."

     Or is it?

     You may find this all so blah blah blasé, jaded by the plethora of food posts in the blogosphere. You may be critiquing the quality of the photo my daughter took with her phone or my blog format. You may even feel slighted that I didn't invite you to lunch. On the other hand, you may feel so inspired by my zest for cream of celery and apple soup and my description of it that you run to the grocers, buy the ingredients I've mentioned and figure out how to make it yourself. If you do, could you send me a photo and the recipe?

     And I am not really sharing my lunch with you, am I? I'm sharing an experience. To those of you who are passionate about food, that could be just as interesting as the time I was kidnapped by pirates and returned home wearing an eye-patch. Arrrgh!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Queen Anne's Lace

It is that time of summer when the waysides are tangled with some of my favorite wildflowers. I am distracted by them. I slow traffic and nearly drive off the road into ditches. In my humble opinion, no formal gardens can outshine these weedy wonders.

Portrait by a Neighbor
Queen Anne's lace

Before she has her floor swept

Or her dishes done,
Any day you’ll find her

A-sunning in the sun!

It’s long after midnight

Her key’s in the lock,

And you never see her chimney smoke

Till past ten o’clock!

She digs in her garden

With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce

By the light of the moon.

She walks up the walk

Like a woman in a dream,

She forgets she borrowed butter

And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place,
She leaves the clover standing

And the Queen Anne’s lace!

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay ~

Someone Nibbish
blue-eyed chicory and Queen Anne's lace

She sweeps in her pajamas
Writes stories while in bed
Eats apple pie for breakfast
Before the household’s fed!

The sun is shining brightly,
She lingers in the house,
But when the rain is falling
She skips out for a douse!

When you stop to borrow sugar
She invites you in for tea,
Serves tasty little nibbles
Then chatters endlessly…

Smiles mildly at the roses
You brought her for the vase
Then swoons at blue-eyed chicory
And at the Queen Anne’s lace!

~ Nib of Nib's End ~                

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stone Cottage

     Someday I will live in a stone cottage. It is a small house, easy to keep, leaving me time for baking cakes, writing stories and dreaming in the garden. The windows are deep enough to hold a pot of violets or set a pie to cool on the sill. I will always take time for tea. You are always invited to join me provided you leave your muddy boots on the threshold. My cottage is invariably tidy except for the books strewn about, the dozen pair of eyeglasses I keep close to hand in order to look at your photos, and the crumbs under the kitchen table from the cookies I give to the children who visit. The violets on the sill I have dug from the birchwood up the hill, and the berries for the pie were gleaned from the hedgerows. The sheets on the bed have been dried in the wind and there is lavender from the garden under the pillows. If you happen to spend the night, you will be wakened in the morning by the songs of robins or of wrens in the tree outside your window, the rich, sharp smell of coffee, and muffins baking in the oven. You may eat as many muffins as you like; there is time enough to make more. 

     I walk out every day, in the woods, down the lane, or along the bridlepath beside the brook. I go even if it rains because I like my flowered umbrella and wellies and don't mind showing them off. I splash through puddles instead of going around them, stop often to watch the day unfold, and nurse a fond regret that I am no longer spry enough to climb the trees in the wood. If you see me coming down the lane, you will abandon your good intentions for the hour and join me because we are two of a kind. Of course, it is always good to come home again to the quiet welcome of my cottage where my larder and cupboards are crammed with the simple goodness of life.   

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fairy Wing

    Girlybird and I were sitting in the backseat of the car talking about this and that when I plucked a piece of something white from her hair. It was a small, gauzy thing shaped like a leaf or flower petal.

     “It’s a fairy’s wing,” I said.

     My granddaughter looked at me with a skeptic’s eyes, doubt forming on her tongue. Girlie is six and doesn’t believe the Easter Bunny is real or the Gingerbread Man was seen running through her school chanting, “Run, run as fast as you can…” We talked about butterfly wings for a minute.

     “If you rub the dust from a butterfly’s wings you can hurt it,” I said, examining the scrap of white in my hand.

     “I know, Grandma, that’s why I never touch them.”

     “I wonder if it is the same with fairies…”

     “They have pixie dust on their wings,” she lisped through the double-wide gap in her front teeth.

     “Yes,” I said, smiling, “pixie dust.”

     “Didn’t you touch the Toothfairy’s wings?” She knows the story about Gossamer Toothfairy dropping by for tea when her mommy’s teeth went missing. Was she testing me?

     “I didn’t think it would be polite,” I said, holding out the fairy-wing in the palm of my hand. “This one looks so small it must belong to a child. Maybe fairy children lose their wings and grow new ones as they get older just like you lose your teeth.” Girlie’s eyes were beginning to shine. I talked about finding bits of colored shell from robin’s eggs scattered on the ground in the spring; told her that mother birds protect their babies from hungry animals and naughty children by dropping the broken pieces far from the nest. “I wonder if that is how this wing got caught in your hair; maybe a mother fairy was flying past and dropped it.” I paused, considering. Timing is delicate when dealing with a sagacious six-year-old. “Maybe it’s not a fairy wing;” I said casually, letting a shred of doubt creep into my voice, “maybe its just a piece of that flower you have clipped to your…”

     Girlie snatched the wing from my hand before the bubble of possibility popped. “No, Grandma, it’s a fairy’s wing,” she said in a determined voice that dared me to contradict her.

     Sly grin. That is as it should be. I didn’t con my granddaughter, grandma’s no grifter; I just think children should believe in the unbelievable, and anything I can do to encourage her to suspend her disbelief is part of my job.

     And who knows what things may be true that we have trouble believing in?

Illustration by Arthur Rackham 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Buckwheat Pancakes

     Some folks like buckwheat pancakes. My mother-in-law does not. She was in North Carolina visiting a nephew last week, and he made his signature buckwheat pancakes for breakfast one morning. Mom, who is nearly eighty years old and wouldn't hurt the feelings of a flea, tried to speak well of them, tried valiantly to make them sound like a culinary treat, but I’ve eaten those pancakes and I called her bluff. She admitted to me that she nibbled around the edges until her nephew turned his back, and then tossed them out the open kitchen window. She was sure the squirrels or birds would find them before he did and destroy the evidence.

     I’m still laughing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Collecting Thoughts

     I don’t think of myself as a collector. So why do I have more teapots than I can use? And there is a bird ornament of one kind or another in nearly every room of my house. My decorating style is somewhat spare…until it comes to my walls; I have to discipline myself not to cover every available space with a piece of artwork or something architectural. I do own a lot of movies, just over a hundred. I used to think that was excessive until a lady I worked with told me she owned close to six hundred. I love books, but I do not collect them promiscuously—although I probably would if there were a room in my house for a library. Most women collect shoes, but nowadays it is difficult for me to find attractive footwear that will fit my hobbit feet.

     If someone were to ask me what I like to collect, I would say: Thoughts, I collect thoughts. I keep thoughts for blog posts on my computer; I keep thoughts for stories scribbled on scraps of paper and stuffed into notebooks; I keep thoughts of my reflections on the meaning of life in a journal. And I don’t just collect my own thoughts: I have notebooks for interesting quotes, notebooks for poems and passages I like, and bookmarks for the blogs I read.

     I also spend a lot of time staring out windows or off into space looking for thoughts. Some thinkings are as delicate as moth wings and need a butterfly net to catch them before they flit away and are lost forever; some I can chase down and grab by the heels like the wayward shadow in Peter Pan; others I wrestle out of thin air and pin to a page in bold, black type—I’ve knocked the wind out of some of those, and they don’t always recover. And there are those thoughts I have gone to a great deal of trouble to hook only to find there is nothing much to them, so I throw them back, give them a chance to mature.

     At my age I lose some of the thoughts I have gathered over the years—they wander off and I can’t find them—but I have learned that if I leave them alone they usually come home wagging their tails behind them.

     My collection of thoughts is not something I horde; it isn't so valuable I need to keep it locked up in a safe place, but I try to be judicious and gracious with the ones that I share. It’s one thing to show someone your stamp or button collection, another thing entirely to expose them to your thoughts. This is the spot I choose to display some of my collection, this blogspot, and I hope visitors to my store of stories, my museum of memories will find something to please them.

Watercolor by Fran Evans for Two Bad Mice