Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Twas the Night Before

Twas the night before Christmas

And all through the house

Not a creature was stirring

Not even a…

Pardon the interruption, but it appears that the evidence is incontrovertible:

Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring
Not even the cat!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Chasing Super

     Sometimes I wake in the morning feeling like Superman's grandma.

     I saw these chocolate caramel marshmallow pops on Pinterest and thought they would make a fun table treat for the grandchildren on Christmas. I woke up yesterday morning feeling like Supergrandma, ready to tackle those haystack cookies that have eluded me in past years, and to make four marshmallow pops. Easy. I knew I could have it done by noon and spend the afternoon catching up on ironing.

     The haystack cookies came off without a hitch except that I hadn't read the recipe through to the part that says they need to be stored in the refrigerator. I put them in a box and stored them in the garage, because there was no room for them in the fridge with the Christmas ham hogging most of the extra space. Sometimes it is a perk to live in a climate that drops below freezing in winter--refrigeration au naturel.

     On to the chocolate caramel marshmallow pops. I bought Jumbo marshmallows and decided to make my own caramel from scratch because the store bought ones just don't taste like caramel anymore. I have a really good recipe from one of my sisters that is not difficult to make. The candy cooked up beautifully, but I accidentally flipped the whisk out of the pan while I was stirring and splattered hot caramel all over the floor and the front of my clothes, and burned my forearm.

     When the crisis was over, I dipped the marshmallows-on-a-stick into the carmel sauce and placed them on waxed paper to cool. Thirty minutes later, when I came back to make the chocolate, I couldn't pry the marshmallows off the waxed paper. Well, I tried my best, but it mangled the marshmallows. I guess I should have buttered the paper. There was nothing in the five recipes I looked at that said I should grease the paper, but they all used cheap caramels which, apparently, do not stick. Needless to say, the Mangled Jumbo Sans Chocolate Caramel Marshmallow Pops went into the kitchen garbage can.

     In my ill-judged attempt to leap tall buildings in a single bound, I had skipped breakfast and lunch and sustained myself on licks of caramel and a handful of peanuts. By two o'clock in the afternoon I was flagging and the ironing pile was untouched. I sat down to eat a plate of scrambled eggs and to take stock of my failure.

     The upshot of it all is that I remembered I am really more of a Clark Kent mild-mannered reporter kind of cook and entertainer, and I am fine with that. It's too exhausting chasing super. Besides, I make a good Snickerdoodle.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Holiday Sunset

     I walked out my front door into a wildfire sky a couple of weeks ago. As I stood on the porch incongruously shivering in the twilight, the sun fell behind trees burnt black with shadow and set the world’s rim aflame in madder and gold. I'd been trimming my house for Christmas, and suddenly all my attempts at ornamentation seemed common and small. You could warm your hands and soul before a sky that color.  

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Oh, Christmas Tree

     The Christmas trees I remember from my childhood are the ones my brothers would poach from the edge of the city dump after dark. Those illicit firs were irregular and fragrant and almost too big for our living room. We decorated them with colored lights, translucent glow-in-the-dark icicles, blown glass ornaments and dangling strands of silver tinsel. Years later my parents bought an artificial Scots Pine that could be taken apart and stored in the attic. It was a perfectly symmetrical pyramid of green plastic toilet bowl brushes screwed into a painted green pole. My father would lay fir boughs in front of the heating vents to scent the house with something more authentic.

     Our first year married, we bought a four-foot live Scots Pine at a local nursery for our Los Angeles apartment. It cost us a whopping eight dollars. It came dear because my husband was in graduate school and eight dollars was a third of our weekly grocery budget. We decorated it with ornaments from a ninety-year-old friend of the family who stopped putting up a tree after his wife died, and one ornament of our own: a little wooden train engine we bought in Carmel-by-the-Sea on our honeymoon.

     After we moved to the Pacific Northwest and started a family, we usually drove out to Christmas tree farms that lay at the foot of the Cascade Mountains to find our tree. Seven-foot Douglas Firs were the favorite, and we cut down our own for about twelve dollars. My dear husband would lead the girls and I up and down the aisles of sheared firs for what felt like hours, in search of a flawless specimen. Afterward, as we sat on the tailgate of our old yellow pickup truck with our hands thawing around steaming mugs of hot chocolate piled high with whipped cream, we soon forgot about the cold and the hike to the top of the mountain for that perfect tree daddy never found.

     Shopping for a tree in the Midwest came as something of a shock. We promised the girls that when we moved away from the Evergreen State, we would continue to buy a live tree. However, twelve-dollar trees were a thing of the past. Once, when we went looking for the tree farms rumored to be out west of the suburbs, we ended up buying a Fraser fir in an overpriced tree lot and nearly had to sell our shoes to pay for it. The following year, determined to find an affordable fir, we ended up in the Pepper's Bedroom City parking lot a little dispirited and disgruntled at the lack of ambience. But from then on, we were hooked on Fraser firs. Fortunately, we could find them at the hardware store for a reasonable price, and our kids never had to go barefoot in winter.

     The girls are grown now, and our oldest has a family of her own, but we still get a live tree. My husband is allergic to the mold and has to wear a particle mask to string the lights, but we can’t bear to buy an artificial one. I put the ornaments on, but the tree itself is so lovely that I would be happy to decorate it with just the lights. With the lamps turned down low in the sitting room of our home, I can imagine that I am stopping by the woods on a snowy evening to watch them fill up with snow. I can imagine that stars have fallen gently out of the sky like snowflakes to rest in the branches of my tree.

     Of all the deckings and fa la la's of the season, I believe our Christmas tree is the one trimming I would be hard pressed to go without.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bountiful Blessings

     Squirreled away on my bookshelf is a plain, brown composition book I use to number the blessings of my days and years. It is by no means complete. There are sometimes gaps of months in which blessings fall like leaves from the trees and are swept away and forgotten. A week or two before Thanksgiving I often read a handful of pages from my book in order to frame my holiday with something more than turkey and pie. May I share a few items with you?

 19.  eating fairy snow beneath the lamppost at twilight with granddaughters

 48.  this cocoon of grace I'm sheltering in until I'm holy changed

 65.  words

 92.  Eagle Nebula: womb of stars, cocoon of light

 99.  husband snoring in bed beside me

113.  the mistakes I've made as a mother that add depth to my counsel

170.  a good night's sleep

207.  graces so commonplace they lose their luster with the using of them

227.  grandchildren pretending to like my spaghetti when it has zucchini in it

293.  sitting on the grass with my grandson looking for shapes in the clouds

327.  the hidden work of God

     Counting my blessings has always been an effective way to change my perspective and cultivate a heart of gratitude no matter what circumstances I find myself in. A by product of all that gratefulness is often a burst of unexpected joy. How beautiful it is that we have a day set aside each year to celebrate the bounty and blessings given so gratuitously by our Maker.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014



Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a gratefull heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
By art.

He makes thy gifts occasion more,
And sayes, If he in this be crost,
All thou has given him heretofore
Is lost.

But thou didst reckon, when at first
Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
What it would come to at the worst
To save.

Perpetuall knockings at thy door,
Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
Gift upon gift, much would have more,
And comes.

This not withstanding, thou wentst on,
And didst allow us all our noise:
Nay thou has made a sigh and grone
Thy joyes.

Not that thou hast not still above
Much better tunes, then grones can make;
But that these country-aires thy love
Did take.

Wherefore I crie, and crie again;
And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain
Of thee:

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

~ George Herbert 1593-1633 ~

     This book was given to me by a friend who did not possess a love of poetry and, therefore, had no real use for the book. It is an old volume, the pages are yellowed and brittle, the book feels fragile when I hold it in my hands as though, at any moment, it might crumble into dust and scatter into the wind. There are several poems within it that I adore, but this one is my favorite. The passion it inspires outlasts the holiday and infuses the other days of my year with a gratefulness that strengthens with use and quickens my sluggish heart with a pulse of praise.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Moss Balls

     Midst all of the parcels coming to the house from my online Christmas shopping, I received one unexpected package. A box from Cedar Pond is always welcome and usually contains an offering from the bounty of the small gentleman’s farm my brother and sister-in-law own. Among other things inside my box, were three, wool-felted balls made by my sister-in-law from the shearings of her Jacob sheep. In her note she said: "I've included some moss-covered felted balls. I remember you saying you preferred them without adornment. Anyway, they're always good to use as dryer balls after the grandchildren throw them around the house."

     I don't remember saying I preferred them without adornment--although it sounds like me. I have a well-earned reputation for being a difficult woman to buy gifts for. I don’t mean to be difficult, and I hope that I am never ungracious, but I do have very particular tastes.

     All the more reason why I am so delighted when someone gives me a gift that I truly love. And I do love my new mossy wool-felted balls. They are a treasure to me on many levels, not least of which is the thoughtfulness that went into the making of them. Needless to say, I will not be using them in the dryer, and the grandchildren have plenty of other things to toss around the house. Instead, they are nesting in a wooden bowl on an end table and bleating little words of encouragement to my monochromatic sitting room.

     As I am a dyed-in-the-wool a pleasure shared is a pleasure multiplied kind of girl, I wanted to share my treasure with you, so that you could enjoy it vicariously.

     I am so pleased with my moss balls that I invited one to tea. Thank-you for your kindness to me, Kathy. You are more sister than law can make you.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Carpe Diem

     It rained in the morning. We hadn’t had any wet for weeks. The day before, my husband had watered the dry young boxwoods we planted this summer. I wasn't the only one waiting for rain. The birds were ecstatic, swooping through the yard on wings of wind and bobbing for seeds in the soft earth. The fat, red and gray squirrels scampered past my window sniffing for alms in the shape of almonds and walnuts I leave scattered on the deck, and then chased each other through the bare thickets and spreading yews in the back garden with a kind of gather ye rosebuds while ye may approach to the withering end of the year.

     It was a gray day with smoke steaming from the chimney across the way. I made berry muffins for breakfast instead of the usual toast or oatmeal because, besides the rain, cold was also beginning to fall from the sky. In our house, muffins are a comfort food. So was the deeply beefy brisket and barley soup I made for lunch. Cold weather pleads for the comfort of hearty food and hearth fires. Even so, my husband offered to barbeque the garlic and rosemary chicken breasts I was marinating in the fridge for dinner. Nothing but a foot of snow on the deck will keep that man from the barbeque. He was born in southern climes and possesses a carpe diem attitude to cooking out of doors.

     We have passed a lovely Autumn in Chicago. Bright days cool enough for a jacket, but warm enough to work in the garden, or go for a walk in the sunshine in order to soak up a portion of the season’s bounty. Days made to gather polished horse chestnuts newly hatched from their husks, windfalls of pinecones and sunburnt leaves. Moments ripe for plucking before the long, slow sleep of winter.

     My diem’s, however, were carped more by the mundane than the magical this fall, and I know that when the earth lies barren beneath a blanket of snow, and the view outside my window is bereft of color I will feel a pang of regret. Autumn in this part of the country is too brief to let fall to the ground untouched. It should be gathered in great armfuls before it is cast onto the fire or carted away to the dust heaps.

     As I pass through the autumn of my life, as this husk begins to wither, there remains yet within me the soul of a polished conker or of a burning leaf falling in its brief, bright arc to the earth. It is my hope and longing that I will seize these days with attention and intention and with all the unmitigated joy of a robin or squirrel on a rainy day in fall. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When the Frost is on the Punkin

     There is a different persona for each of the regions of the United States and the Midwest is no exception. American poet, James Whitcomb Riley, caricatured his native region in many of the poems he wrote over 100 years ago. "At his best, he captured a tranquil America, wholesome, eccentric, sentimental, bucolic." He was a celebrity in his time and, thankfully, his reputation lingers on. The following poem is a piece of Americana that often comes to mind at this time of year, and I revel in the quiet joy of it. It kindo' makes a gal wanta rise up on her tiptoes and doodle hallylooyer herself.

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,
And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,
With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

They’s something kindo’ harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer’s over and the coolin’ fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossums on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin’-birds and buzzin’ of the bees;
But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin’ of the tangled leaves, as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo’ lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin’ sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover over-head!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin’ like the tickin’ of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the celler-floor in red and yeller heaps;
And your cider-makin’ ’s over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With their mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and saussage, too! ...
I don’t know how to tell it—but ef sich a thing could be
As the Angels wantin’ boardin’, and they’d call around on me
I’d want to ’commodate ’em—all the whole-indurin’ flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock!

                                        ~ James Whitcomb Riley ~

Listen to Mr. J. W. Riley read his poem here 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Extraordinary Laundry


     I posted a photo of my laundry in August and shared a snippet of the inspiration behind it. Truth be told, it isn't the first time I have taken a picture of my washing and ironing. There are simply extraordinary moments in my ordinary days that capture my imagination. Sometimes it is the way the light falls in shadows across my floor, or the movement of leaves on the trees outside my window. Other times it is the pattern on the carpet I am vacuuming, or the color of the pine nuts I am toasting on the stove. Those moments stop me in my tracks, build into an ache of words. It is why I loathe busy. Busy bustles past me in a blur of necessity and those extraordinary moments get trampled on.

     Often, when words elude me, I snap a photo in a crippled attempt to hold on to something as insubstantial as smoke.

     All this to explain why I am posting another photo of my laundry. Perhaps it isn't as significant as a painting by Van Gogh, but it reminds me of one.

                         And truly, I reiterate...nothing's small!
                         No lily-muffled hum of a summer bee,
                         But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
                         No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
                         No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
                         And, glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,
                         In such a little tremour of the blood
                         The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
                         Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
                         And every common bush afire with God:
                         But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
                         The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries

                                      ~ from Aurora by Elizabeth Barrett Browning ~

Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stepping On Stone

     I laid this wool rug from Dash and Albert in my entryway some years ago and another smaller one in the powder room around the corner. It is called Cat's Paw. I suppose it is evidence of my hubris that I think it should be named something else. When I walk on it, I imagine I am crossing a brook of clear, sibilant water and smooth stones downstream from the village bridge where trolls hide in the shadows; or that I am simply strolling along the shores of Lake Michigan on a quiet summer afternoon.

     I would, therefore, be more disposed to identifying my carpet as Brookstone, Shingle or even Troll Foil. On the other hand, if Dash and Albert are thinking Snow Leopard, that's a cat's paw I can live with.

     As I am so fond of wood, stone and tile, the only other carpet in my house is in the family room.

     While this one does not kindle my fancy as wildly as the carpet in the entryway, still, if I were the Person In Charge Of Labels at Home Depot where we bought it, I would have named it Pea Stone or Garden Path. Then again, I could imagine myself running with the reindeer in the far north, or hunting foxes and wolves in the mountains of Mongolia with a golden eagle on my arm. Yes, that carpet is definitely the color of  Reindeer and the Altai Peaks.

     Surely, I cannot be the only one who thinks about these things.

Tundra Nenets reindeer herders by Bryan and Cherry Alexander
Reindeer photo by Lawrence Hislop

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sophie's Masterpiece

     Punkybean doesn’t like spiders. I don’t blame her; neither do I. But she loves stories. Me too. She asked me to read a picture book to her when I was over for lunch one Sunday afternoon, so we cosied up on the couch and read Sophie’s Masterpiece by Eileen Spinelli.

     Sophie is not an ordinary house spider; she is an artist, albeit a misunderstood one. No one living in Beekman’s Boardinghouse stops long enough to see the wonders she weaves; they are too biased against spiders to notice.

     When we finished the book, Punkybean and I decided that not all spiders are scary. If we ever meet one who wears socks as charming as the eight Sophie made for herself, and can spin a coverlet from strands of moonlight and starlight, snippets of pine, wisps of night, old lullabies and playful snowflakes, then she must be worth knowing.

     Just wait until my little granddaughter is old enough to read Charlotte’s Web.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Bouquet of Books

     I went to the library today for some books to read on an upcoming trip. Lo and behold, I stumbled into the last days of the Friends of the Library sale. I checked my purse but I only had ninety cents in cash; so even though the books were delightfully inexpensive, I only came home with two. I mentioned to my husband that I might stop by the library tomorrow afternoon to pick up one or two other books I had left behind for lack of sufficient funds. Even though it was dinnertime, he insisted we drop everything and return to the library immediately. An hour later, I walked out of the building with a smile on my face and four more books.

     "That was romantic," I said to my husband as we walked to the car. "I would rather get a bouquet of books than a bouquet of flowers."

     "I know," he said, smiling. "I know you."

     He does.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Picture Gallery - The Bloom is Off the Rose

     My red hair has faded to the color of pale champagne and my once creamy complexion is embroidered all over with spots and freckles. Slender is something I suspect will be restored to me only when it no longer matters.

     The bloom may be off the rose, but when I saw this picture in a magazine a dozen years ago, I recognized myself in the expression on the young woman's face and the attitude of her pause. When I read a book, I often look up between pages and paragraphs to think about what I have just read, to glance at the world, to see if what I am reading has changed the way I view it.

     And the roses, climbing up over the wall to catch a glimpse of what lies on the other side: the garden, the weeds, the lone lovely girl, and the book...ah, yes, the irresistible lure of the book. One solitary bloom has lost itself, literally and literarily in the pages of the book. That is me too. The metaphorical me.

     So I matted and framed the magazine page and hung it beside my desk to remind me that, even though my grandchildren do not recognize me in the photos I show them of my younger self, I am still the same girl.

Rose by Edith Prellwitz

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Little Birdie Told Me

     As I was cleaning our family room, this little bird banged into the french doors and fell onto the deck. She was obviously stunned, and I thought she might have broken a wing or even her neck. I went outside to check on her but all she could do was blink at me. So I sat down to keep her company while she recovered.

     We talked of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings. The conversation seemed to perk her up and before long she was turning her head to look at me. "Silly Nib," she seemed to be saying, "I've never met a pig who could fly." So that settles it: pigs definitely do not have wings. Birds, especially the little ones, always seem to know what's up. Not long after our chat she flew off, but I didn't catch her name. After digging around on Google for awhile, I found some of her kin. She is an immature chestnut sided warbler.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Living Cheek by Jowl

     One day, as I was weeding and trimming in the back garden, I put a rock on the corner of the deck to move round to the front of the house later and forgot about it. Now I can't bear to move it. Most days this little chipmunk comes to chirp with the birds, chatter to the sunlight or scold the wind. Sometimes he brings a snack and makes a picnic of it. I suppose he is the same cheeky fellow who bites into my half-ripe tomatoes clinging to the sagging vines and leaves the rest to rot on the ground. Grrrrr. But I so enjoy his company that I forgive him his greed.

     And besides, we should all learn to share...

Saturday, September 13, 2014


     I used to be a tomboy. I used to climb a lot of trees: the cherry tree in our front yard, the slough-skinned madronas in the woods above Deadman's Hill, the sky-high firs behind my uncle’s creekside home that swayed with my weight and the wind. When I wished upon a star, I wished for a green plastic army helmet and pistol to play commando with the boys, and my wish came true. I used to fish tadpoles from the swampy waters of Snake Lake and hold frogs with my bare hands in order to prove to my brothers that I was tough enough to tag along with them.

     I even captured a two-foot-long snake at the city dump to bring home as a pet. I carried it around by the tail and made my sisters squeal. It was probably a harmless snake, but it escaped one day from the makeshift terrarium I had built for it in the backyard. The next-door neighbor kids, newly arrived from a southern state and thinking it might be poisonous, crushed it with a rock. I feigned dismay, but was secretly glad to be free of the pretense. Ugh. Snakes. No quantity of tomboyishness could make me truly like them.

     While I built forts in the woods and played kick-the-can on summer nights, I also dreamed of pretty dresses, devoured fairy stories and played with dolls. And I never liked sports.

     Then I grew up, grew out of being a tomboy and into make-up and high heels. I floundered into flirting and dating. I enjoyed being a girl. I still like pretty dresses and being a girl even though most days you will find me wearing tee shirts and jeans, but the tomboy is still there, undaunted by the painted toenails, curling iron and silk scarves. I know it hasn't disappeared altogether, because even though I have lost my limber, I still dream of climbing trees.

Girl climbing tree by AlidaBothmaArt on Etsy