Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunshine on my shoulders...

and leaning against the trunks of winter-bare trees...

gilding the undersides of the oak leaves that cling until January winds blow them far and wide...

Making pen and ink sketches of solitary elms...

and a watercolor of the pond.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Live the question, be the answer

The old homeplace...

I came across this list of questions recently. I like lists. I like the places questions like this lead me. I like rereading the answers years later and comparing then to now.

1. A person opens a fortune cookie ~ what does the fortune say that you have written?

Your good is coming to you now. I like that phrase - it can mean all manner of things from what's good for me to what I think is good. Covers all bases.

2. You are having a long lunch at the TimeTravel Diner ~ what three people from history will be joining you?

General James Longstreet (he’s a relative and we can talk strategy), author Richard Bach (so we can talk about Illusions), and Albert Einstein (so we can talk about everything).

3. What has been the primary area in which you have worked and what other job would you be most interested in pursuing?

I am an author and a teacher simultaneously and have been for years. I’d like to be retired with time to sleep in on rainy mornings; I'd like to get in my car some day and just keep going until I tire of traveling, then I'd like to come home and rest; I'd like to search for rare, unnamed plants in the forest and get paid for it; I'd like to learn to play a musical instrument and jam with fellow musicians late into the night; I'd like to play one whole day with a bunch of three year olds. I've been working since I was eleven - now I'd just like to be a volunteer rather than pursue any one job.

4. The last thing you had to eat was what?

A piece of pumpkin pie.
Well, that was this morning when I started this. Now it's past dinner time and I've just polished off a few Thanksgiving leftovers.

5. What has been the most memorable musical performance you attended live? When was it?

I watched Arlo Guthrie (who lives down the road apiece) perform a long, long time ago. He sat at a piano on a stage in a small theater in Vermont and the audience danced in front of their seats and in the aisles and in front of the stage and in the back of the theater and out into the streets.

6. Your favorite fragrance is what?

The earth after rain, the scents of most flowers, almost anything on the BBQ. (I am allergic to most perfumes.)

7. What happens to you when you die?

You change form. All that electricity that keeps us alive has to go somewhere...

8. What do you collect?

Mixing bowls, old kitchen utensils, books, friends, ideas.

9. You have the opportunity to spend one day anywhere in the world ~ where do you go?

Somewhere cool and green and shady. Home - I'd love to go back to the old homeplace but for far longer than a day. I want to stand again on Bredon Hill in Birlingham, I want to see the French countryside and spend time in Italy. But if it's just one day, let me go back home.

10. The thing you find most interesting in nature is what?

That it exists at all. The known world is so intricate, so interdependent, so varied, so bent on surviving, and yet everything is crawling, flying, walking, swimming, and hithchiking to its death.

11. Given the opportunity to order one meal {Your last?} ~ what do you have to eat?

If it was my last meal and I knew it, I wouldn’t be able to swallow so that’s a moot point. Now, if you’d asked, “Given the opportunity to have my favorite meal,” I’d have said whatever I happened to be eating at the time. I love food (except for avacados and artichokes. And fishy fish).

12. The first thing that comes to mind when you see the word romance is what?

The word, 'novel'. Maybe I've been living alone too long?

13. You are getting a tatoo {or another one}? Where are you getting it and what will it be?

No, I’m not. I never did see the point of marking or marring, or decorating the flesh. Except for clothes, of course. But I wear no makeup, no perfume, no jewelry, no tattoos. I would have made a good Quaker, I think.

14. Friday night, what is your favorite thing to do?

Depends on the hour and the company. That goes for any night now. Friday night when I was a teenager was something to look forward to. There was no homework, no school the next day. It had the aura of freedom about it. Anything could happen on a Friday night.

15. The last television program you watched was what?

I have a TV set for watching videos and DVDs and though the landlord hooked me up with cable last year, I rarely watch anything other than the news and old Seinfeld and MASH reruns.

16. What do you find most confusing in life?

I’ve read several rational explanations about how life started on earth but I still want to know why. I've read any number of explanations for that, too, but they are all wanting.

17. What question do you wish had been on the list? And what is the answer?

Do you think life has meaning beyond the urge to continue?

Only the meaning we ascribe to it. There are so many ideas about that. It makes life interesting if not comprehensible.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Beware What the Cook Won't Eat

I'm off to visit family for a few days. This was written long ago when my granddaughter was small (now she's 9) and I knew next to nothing about blogging. I posted half a dozen entries in one day and this one got lost in the shuffle. Because of the time of year I am trotting it back out.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m making a pie. “Can I help?” asks Fia. At three, she’s interested in being part of any cooking going on.

“Sure,” I say and we push up our sleeves, haul out flour and sugar and spices, find the rolling pin and two pie plates (one for each of us) and get to work.

She clambers onto a kitchen stool and leans her elbows on the table. “One, two, shtree,” she counts as we measure half-cups of flour and shortening into a bowl. I cut in the shortening, add the water, and mix the dough into a lump. I pull off a small piece and hand it to her. She presses it between her small hands. “We’re making pies, right Memere?” she beams. “I love pies.”

She nibbles a bit of the dough and makes a face, then watches as I sprinkle flour on the table. “Uh oh,” she says. “Memere, you’re supposed to put it in the bowl.”

I explain that I need it on the table so that when I roll out the crust it won’t stick. “Oh,” she says and helps me by spreading the flour all the way to the edges of the table and onto the floor.

I let her use the rolling pin first. Her small ball of dough rolls right around the pin. She picks it off, balls it up, and starts again. While she is busy, I measure pumpkin, milk, and spices into another bowl.

“Let me do it,” she begs when I take up an egg to crack. She whacks the egg on the edge of the bowl and drops the whole thing in. “Ick,” she says. I pick out the shells. When I hold the second egg out to her she shakes her head.

She scrapes her pie crust off the table and plops it in her dish, then kneels on the stool and puts her whole weight on her hands as she presses it flat. “How’s this?” She holds the plate up for inspection. The dough falls on the floor. She scrambles down, picks it up and blows on it. Flour dust puffs into the air. “It’s okay,” she assures me. “It was on the floor for not even one minute.”

I roll my own crust and fit it in the plate, crimping the edges carefully. Fia watches, then tries to crimp her own crust. When she is through, there is just room in the center for a dab of pumpkin mixture. I pour the remaining pumpkin filling into my pie shell and slide the pies into the oven. Fia helps me set the timer.

The kitchen looks like the aftermath of a fight in a flour mill. There is white dust on every surface, bits of sticky dough on the table, the floor, and Fia's chin, and spatters of pumpkin on the table and the stove. We fetch the broom and the dustpan. I sweep while Fia wipes off the table. I sweep again. When the last dish is dried and put away and the floor is clean enough to eat from, we turn on the oven light and check the pies.

“They look delicious,” I say to Fia. “We can eat yours tonight and save mine for Thanksgiving dinner, okay?”

Fia looks at her pie. She looks at me. “You can have it, Memere,” she says. “I just only like making pies. I don’t like to eat any.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One November Morning

The early November air is mild and sunny. There is something about Indian Summer weather that feels like a reprieve, a reverent moment handed out before everything goes all cold and white. What's left of the bright leaves spiral down in a soft wind that, in the shade, has a bite to it though the sunshine where I sit is pure, warm gold. The blueberry bush at the corner of the house has gone all crimson. Amid the pines in the back, maple leaves blaze like yellow flames.

It has been a long, sweet fall, broken only by a rainy spell in October.

I puttered in the garden a short time this morning, pulling dead squash vines from the fence and yanking up withered pepper plants and eggplant stalks by the roots. When the wind stops blowing, I will rake the leaves and bring them by the wheelbarrow full to mulch the garden beds. In the flower garden, the rosebush by the door is still blooming.

The roadsides, however, are bereft of flowers. Only the skeletons of Queen Anne’s Lace remain. When the snow comes, the small brown seed cups will collect the flakes and offer them up like gifts.

Too soon the warm sun drops behind the western mountains and dusk falls, leaving only the cool breeze and the drifting leaves behind.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Eggs-actly (a re-run)

My neighbor sells eggs. Often I go over and fetch a dozen out of the fridge on the back porch and leave my money in the bucket. Other times I wander into the henhouse with an empty carton and fill it with eggs lifted straight from the nests. Each small, warm oval rests lightly in my hand, a marvel of packaging and design. The hens cluck and fuss about my feet, the sun slants in the windows, filtering through the raised dust like rays from heaven, and the little enclosed world of egg production seems a place of warmth and rightness.

Tonight while I was contemplating what to make for dinner there was a knock on my door and there stood my neighbor with a carton in her hand. She set it on the counter and lifted the lid. In each of the twelve rounded cavities rested an odd-looking egg.

“I can’t market these,” she said, running her fingertips lightly over the shells and picking up one of the eggs from its resting place. It was bulbous at one end, as though the hen had given an extra hard push at laying time and then got up too soon. I had to chuckle. Each egg in the carton was just slightly askew, as though the idea of “egg” had been vaguely misinterpreted. One had extra chunks of calcium attached in an irregular pattern like some kindergarten child had made it with too much glue and enthusiasm. Another had an elongated end, a third had striations around its middle like a fancy, tooled chair leg. Two of the eggs were colored a pale bluish green and another two were so small they lolled in their hollows with room to spare.

“You see?” said my neighbor as I peered into the box. “None of these are ‘perfect’ so I can’t sell them in the store. Most people like their eggs to be….well, egg-shaped and these…” She looked at me and grinned. “These are kind of like you and me—recognizable but just a bit off center.”

The idea of imperfectly shaped eggs being somehow inferior and less appetizing or marketable seemed suddenly silly. After all, how many recipes do you know that call for unbroken eggs? Once the shell is cracked and tossed, who would notice its weird shape? And the outer form of the shell has no effect on the taste or nutritional value of the egg itself.

Looking at those eggs made me wonder about our perceptions of perfection. Whose ideas of faultlessness do we carry around in our heads and why do we subscribe to them? What constitutes our personal definition of perfection and does our idea of that change over time? Further, if we change our thought or expectation or desire, does that change the rightness of what we once held to be ‘perfect?’

I refrigerated all but four of the eggs. Then I fetched my recipe book and a bowl, cracked the four eggshells against its rim, and whipped the contents with milk and sugar into the smoothest of custards, which, when baked, turned out just perfectly.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


For a while, the pond across the road was crowded, covered, awash with geese. Some days there was hardly any water visible between their bodies, and scarcely any silence between their calls. Periodically they arose in vast numbers and winged their way over my cottage, their bodies drawing flickering black lines in the sky like writing I couldn’t read. A few hours later they would return, having filled their bellies on corn gleaned from harvested fields. Lately, though, the pond has been quiet. Cold weather has driven the geese south and now the only sounds come from the small birds that winter here – the juncos, the sparrows, a few starlings, some nuthatches, and a pair of cardinals.

The afternoon sun hangs low in the sky and where the shadows gather the air has a bite to it. The wind whistles sharply of mittens and overcoats and scarves wrapped snuggly around the neck. Oak leaves skitter and dance to this new wind’s tune, and sheets hung out to dry snap smartly. When it rains it pours, but the gray, dismal days are interspersed with blustery ones when every cloud is scoured and swept away until all that’s left is pure, clean blue.

I like best the bright blue days. The sun rests on my shoulders like a warm hand, and I seek out some secluded, wind-blocked spot where I can rest my back against a tree and watch the light dance across the water in silver slippers. It is in such moments that I sense the poetry of life, the way everything moves to a rhythm – the breeze, the daylight, the season – until my heart picks up the steady measure of the universe and beats in time.