Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Darkling Thrush

     I took my Christmas packages to the post office earlier this week. The line was long, of course, and moving forward slowly. I decided to pass the time imagining ways to make the wait more festive.

     Some Christmas music would be nice; played softly so that I would still be able to hear what the woman behind the counter was mumbling to me about “liquidfragileorperishable” and Priority Mail that couldn’t be guaranteed to arrive on the West Coast within the next eight days even though it had just cost me almost as much as the gift in the box to send it. I guess I am a little behind this year. I also think each of the postal workers should have a dish of peppermints at their station to hand out to customers who remain congenial throughout the waiting process. And the worker who decked herself in jingle bells and blinking lights should get a bonus in her paycheck. How about a tree in the lobby to welcome us? Or maybe a big blow-up Santa with a sleigh to drop our boxes into after we are done paying for them just to remind us who the real delivery men are?

     But what I was really wishing for was a flash mob. Well, maybe not a mob exactly, but a few talented a cappella vocalists who would surprise and delight us with Joy to the World and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. The customers inching around the edges of the post office in single file weren’t sullen, but we were all a little too somber for such a joyous season, a little too flat, verging on gray rather than a living green, or a red so resonant it could ring bells, or the glittering gold of jubilation.

     When I finished with my postal business I put on my coat and muffler and began to leave, but turned impulsively at the door, smiled and exclaimed, “Merry Christmas everybody!” A handful of the people still waiting in line responded in kind.

     I don’t know about anyone else, but I left the post office in higher spirits than when I arrived. My To Do list seemed shorter; my seasonal stress was shredded to ribbons; I turned up the volume on the Christmas carols playing in my car and sang to myself as I traveled from store to store; the snow falling softly from the sky felt like benign approbation. My gray had gone away.

     It reminds me of a poem I like that Thomas Hardy wrote for the Christmas of 1900:

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
When frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted night
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

     This aged thrush in blast-beruffled blue jeans has chosen thus to fling her soul upon the growing gloom, and the full-hearted song that trembles through me is rooted in the birth of Christ the Savior that is celebrated in hope throughout the world at the end of each year. This year no less than others.

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

High Jinks and Jollification

     We were in the car on our way to buy mint M&M’s and a space heater at Target when my husband said, “I’ll give you twenty dollars if you ask the electronics salesman where the doorbuster sales are.” It was already two weeks past Black Friday and Doorbusters were extinct for this year’s holiday season.

     Something came over me, I could feel it on my face: that wide-eyed, artless look of innocence that I inherited from my mother—my game face. 

     “Okay, I’ll do it.”

     “You can’t mention the twenty dollars,” he warned.

     When we entered the store I headed for the electronics department. Other than a girl behind the counter on the phone there were no sales personnel in view, so I waited patiently, trying to ignore my laughing husband hiding in the toy aisle. After a couple of minutes the polite and helpful girl on the phone said she would call someone to assist me. And she did…before I could back out of the prank and tell her not to bother.

     When I asked the polite and helpful young salesman who approached about the doorbusters, he just looked at me. I could tell that he was sizing me up, trying to determine if I was aged or just crazy. I looked him straight in the eyes, lifted my eyebrows a fraction and waited for his response.

     “Soooo…when you say doorbusters—“ he said slowly, diplomatically. By now my husband was rolling in the aisle, which was distracting and caused me to break character.

     “I’m sorry,” I said, no longer able to avoid grinning, “someone dared me to ask you that. I hope I didn’t take you away from anything important.” Since I am old enough to be his mother, maybe he forgave me.

     I got my twenty dollars though, that and my husband was still chuckling about it hours later.

     'Tis the season to be jolly. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

In Which I Boast a Little About My Craftiness

  1. 1.
    clever at achieving one's aims by indirect or deceitful methods.
    "a crafty crook faked an injury to escape from prison"
  2. 2.
    of, involving, or relating to the making of decorative objects and other things by hand.
    "the blogger displayed a few, very clever, crafty Christmas decorations "

         I do not consider myself crafty by any definition, I possess little to no talent for arts and crafts, but every year at Christmastime a dormant gene of creativity awakes and I make something. Just one thing. All by myself. No inspiration from Pinterest. No Martha Stewart standing over my shoulder to cheer me on.

         Dear gracious and supportive readers, is this annual seasonal effort not deserving of a little blog post boast?

         A few years ago I bought two artificial berry garlands and twined them together into a wreath to hang in my dining room. Perhaps, if I hadn't just mentioned it, you might have supposed that instead of making this simple wreath I possessed the ability to carve the oak leaf and acorn motif on the architectural artifact hanging on the wall beneath it. Not so.

         Neither did I throw this bowl on my pottery wheel or carve the ethnic Santa from a discarded bocce ball, but I did make the paper snowballs and the tablecloth.

    The green velvet cushions were made by Crate and Barrel. I made the mushroom-colored canvas ones last year out of stenciled placemats. I could have bought nearly the same thing already made up into cushions, but I didn't want to pay the asking price. If necessity is the mother of invention, then its stepmother must be thrift.

         This year's objet d'art was a little more challenging. It even required a trip to the craft store and a hot glue gun. The Christmas tree is made of book paper chandelier shades, a heavy wrapping paper tube, a craft cone and a wooden coaster.

         It is satisfying to envision something and then produce it with one's own hands even if the inspiration comes along only once each year. The crafting urge has already moved on, but I want to thank you all for allowing me to strut my stuff for a little while. You are too kind.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Home Again

     It was supposed to be a ten day trip to Russia. Instead of flying east through Moscow this time, he decided to take the more direct route west through China. We packed Christmas cookies in a tin for the bottom of his backpack and the grandchildren made paper ornaments to hang in his hotel room. Someone tucked a box of holiday candy into his suitcase between his pants. But then, after more than two days of travel, he was stranded in a backwater airport in Mongolia with a canceled flight, an expired temporary visa, no flights into Siberia for another two days, and no one around who spoke English or knew how to process his credit card. If not for the Russian girl who spoke both English and Chinese and took notice of his dilemma, who knows what may have happened.

     In the end he aborted the trip and came home. That is such a good word. After four days of global airport hopping he is home. Safe.

     There are some people in this world who demand to be bribed to do the job they are paid to do, and others who bend over backwards to help. My husband encountered both. I wish I could thank the Russian girl who interpreted for him at the airport, and the Chinese woman who accompanied him to the bank so that he could exchange his money to buy a ticket back to Beijing, and refused any payment for going beyond her job description.

painting by Lisbeth Zwerger

Friday, November 29, 2013


     It wasn't the deep-fried turkey that did it. Nor was it the cornbread stuffing, potatoes or gravy. And the pecan rugelach and chocolates went down easily enough. But afterward, when the feasting was over and the dishes were washed, as she battled the electric powers of young superheroes Flash and Misty in the basement, it suddenly occurred to her: Tentacle Woman needs a Tums.

illustration by Omar Rayyan  

Thursday, November 28, 2013


     I won't be chasing turkeys this year. I won't be washing, brining, stuffing or roasting any either. My hands smell of clementines and cinnamon instead of garlic, sage and rosemary. I was not up late last night pressing linens or setting tables. I made sweet rolls for breakfast this morning.

     Our daughter and son-in-law are hosting Thanksgiving in their home this year. On the menu is a turkey for the deep fryer and a turkey for the oven. We will have more than enough for our Thanksgiving feast. The Giver of all good things has been good to us.   

     We are deeply grateful for our plenitude.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Color Me Autumn

     My favorite color is green. Definitely and irrevocably green. Many years ago, when I asked my husband what his favorite color was he said it was autumn. I like this guy who thinks outside the crayon box.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lone Leaf

     This lonely birch leaf, loosed by the rain and launched by the wind, settled on the skylight of my bathroom window to watch me brush my teeth.

     Leaves live so briefly and in such crowded company they do not understand the notions of personal space or privacy.

Monday, November 4, 2013


     My mother took a botany class in college and became a self-styled naturalist. After we had all left home and started families of our own, she became a docent for the Snake Lake Nature Center. Mom enjoyed taking her grandchildren on walks around the lake, pointing out wildlife and teaching them the names of plants. She often quoted the old adage: leaves of three leave them be, to warn us away from poison ivy, and taught us how to identify deadly nightshade.

     One day as she was leading two of my nephews along a path through the wooded wetlands, she plucked a leaf from a plant, popped it in her mouth and began to chew. “Nettles,” she announced happily, “you can eat nettles.” Then her expression suddenly changed to one of growing alarm. “Wait…mah tong ith goin num!” Poor Mom, either she didn’t know or had forgotten that, while stinging nettles are edible, they must first be cooked or soaked in water in order to remove the plant chemical that makes them sting.

We miss our Mom.