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 ~