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:
grandmother’s name was Elfrieda
favorite color is green
in the heat and thrive in cooler climes
express my love and affection for others by giving them gifts
favorite holiday is Christmas
often prefer the company of children to that of adults
spend far too much time wrapping my Christmas gifts
either of my brothers put on a red suit, most children would think they
were looking at the real thing
with all of my siblings, I have an insatiable sweet tooth
don’t look like an elf, but I am told I have hobbit feet
heart soars at the first snowfall of the year
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…
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:
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
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.
Perhaps you might enjoy a short excerpt from the fantasy novel I finished writing a few years ago...
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."
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
you’ve had adventure," Miri coaxed, "and before you were a priestess
you were a lord's daughter. Tell us something about yourself."
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."
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
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.
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.
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?”
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."
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.
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."
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.
was love-struck!" Miri protested.
would seem he was both," Calder said and began to tune his harp.
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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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—
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
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
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.
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
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.
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,
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
"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
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
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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 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.