Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year Thoughts


I listened today to an interview with a woman who’d survived a plane crash that claimed the lives of many of her fellow passengers. She recounted how a man told her afterwards that God must have had a special reason for saving her, that there was still work for her to do down here. My immediate reaction echoed her own. She said:

“I was quite troubled. It felt like I was saddled with a lot of responsibility ... to figure out, ‘What is this work I'm supposed to be doing?’ And then the flipside is, God didn't have any more work for all those other people, and I don't believe that.”

She decided, instead, to try being grateful every day for what she did have so that she could live with as few regrets as possible. It was hard, she said, because she was not in the habit of paying such close attention to whether she told her husband and children all the time that she loved them. But then she’d think, “I might not come home at the end of the day,” and she knew it wasn’t so hard after all.

My own mother used to thank her God each night for the day just passed, remembering to include each one of us in her gratitude. She began each morning with a similar reverence and taught us to do the same. Though I don’t share her belief in one omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God, I still can see the benefits of gratitude, of wonder, attention, kindness, and appreciation.

I can’t subscribe to a deity who is circumscribed by human thought, whose borders are as narrow as our own. That kind of god frightens me as much as the idea of one so immense and powerful that to know of it would bring instant annihilation. I prefer to admit I don’t know for sure, that I’m open to suggestions, to discoveries, to experiences, to ever-widening horizons and to change. I choose to see an echo of the largest thing in the smallest, to recognize the life force in all things, and to be grateful for what I know I have—five senses that tell me how to survive in and enjoy my world, the ability to reason and explore and to think for myself, the chance to know happiness and love, sorrow and loss, and to know they are irrevocably linked because this is a world of duality, of relativity. It is enough. And because I could lose it all tomorrow, for today, like that plane crash survivor and my mother before me, I am grateful.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tis the Season


Christmas is coming. As a child those words thrilled me. It’s a feeling I still experience despite the fact that I've let go of any religious connection. There’s a sense of eagerness, of bustle, of anticipated sharing that permeates the very air. There are some things that are unique to the jolly season. Here are a few of my favorites:

SNOW… I know it falls and falls and FALLS, for months sometimes, but there’s something special about Christmas snow. Like millions of angels’ wings, the snowdrops tumble softly down, covering the bareness of early winter, transforming bushes and fence posts and last summer’s goldenrod into fairytale props. Christmas Eve snow surrounds streetlights like a nimbus and reflects in tiny glowing pools the reds and blues and greens of colored lights. Snow on Christmas Day lures me out of doors, sled in hand, just as it did when I was a child.

SCENTS… Bayberry candles and spicy cinnamon potpourri, warm apple cider and peppermint candy canes, wood smoke curling from chimneys, the sharp scent of freshly cut evergreens. And the foods! Roasting meats and savory stuffings, fruit pies and mince pies and mouth-watering tortes. Cookies frosted like fat snowmen, jaunty gingerbread men, lush dark fruitcake stuffed with fruits and nuts and soaked in brandy, eggnog, thick with foam and liberally sprinkled with nutmeg. Rich, buttery stolen studded with colorful candied peel. Plum pudding steaming hot and slathered with hard sauce.

SOUNDS… “I’ll be home for Christmas.” It’s almost impossible to not sing along with Christmas songs. The tunes are catchy, the sentiments echo the joy, and occasionally the longing, of the season, and because we hear them just a few short weeks a year, they hold their appeal. It doesn’t matter who sings them or how updated the rendition, the message is the same: ‘tis the season to be jolly—and generous and giving and loving and festive.

GIFTS… The meaning of Christmas can get lost in the pursuit of the perfect present if we forget that any gift can be the perfect one if we’ve put thought and care into its choosing. It isn’t the price or the quantity that determine perfection—it’s the heart behind the giving. Cost and size pale when compared to love wrapped in a homemade card or tied with the ribbons of sentiment.

FAMILY… Distance may separate family members—two of my children and my two sisters are far away in miles—but they can still live in our hearts. Often it’s one of the few times a year we make an extra effort to be in touch with those we hold dear if not near.

GRATITUDE… There is a profundity to the season, a reverent silence that invites us to reflect on who we are and what we have and why we are here. The deep and abiding need to find or make meaning in our lives finds one of its best expressions at this time of year. When we give of ourselves we find that we have been given ourselves.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Love Letter to My Daughter At Christmas



I wrote this letter to my elder daughter the year she moved to Florida. That was in 1992 but my sentiments have not changed in all these years.


Dear Jen,

The little people—that’s what your Pepere used to call you and your brothers and sister. Nothing pleased him more than hearing that the little people were coming to see him. Now the four of you are grown and on your own, scattered across the country from one coast to the other and nothing pleases me more than knowing any one of you is coming home, if only for a short visit. You are the first to be married and your new home is far from here. You will not be making the journey to be with me for the holidays.

It is almost Christmas Eve. The tree stands in its customary place, waiting for bits of colored glass and tinsel to work their magic. Each ornament I lift from its nest of tissue evokes some memory of Christmas past. Here’s the small blue angel your Memere gave you when you were just a toddler. With your gold-spun hair and your big blue eyes you looked like an angel yourself. “Let me do it,” you insisted, hanging the trinket on the highest branch you could reach.

Trimming the tree is a task for children. How your eyes sparkled, reflecting the lights your older brothers strung carefully among the branches. I lift a small elf out of the ornament box, a homemade dough creation given to you by your fifth grade teacher and think, “You should be hanging these on the tree, Jen.” Early Christmas morning I will get up before everyone else and turn on the tree lights, remembering the morning so long ago that you sat in your bunny-feet pajamas and gazed at the twinkling lights, saying over and over again, “Isn’t it pretty, isn’t it nice?” I will whisper the words softly to myself and think of you.

For more than twenty years you made Christmas cookies with me, decorating them with gobs of colored frosting and sugar sprinkles. Each year you became more adept at rolling and cutting and decorating. On each gingerbread man I make alone this year I will put a big frosting smile in memory of the little girl who helped at my side.

I hum along with the carols playing on the radio as I work and remember how we sang aloud every Christmas carol we knew as we baked or wrapped gifts or marched from store to store in search of the perfect present. How excited you were on Christmas morning when you and your brothers saw that Santa had come in the night. To this day there’s still a gift “from Santa” under the tree for everyone. This year your perfect present is on its way to you. I can picture the look on your face when you open it and will hear the echo of your voice—“Oh, thank you, Santa and you too, Mom!”—across the miles.

Isn’t it odd that a heart can ache and be joyful at the same time? We will all sit a little closer at the table so your place won’t look so glaringly empty. We will take turns talking to you on the phone, wishing you a happy Christmas. And I will wish this for you, my daughter, that all the joy you’ve brought me through the years will be returned to you a thousand-fold.

Love,
Mom

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Great Sled Race


Photo prompt from Magpie Tales 

When I was a child snow often fell over the Berkshires shortly before Thanksgiving. It would catch first along the hedgerows and in the tall dead grasses that lined the roads. Soon lawns and fields were covered with a thin blanket and we children began to get excited. Toward the middle of December, when there was a good six inches of snow on the ground, enough to slide on, my brother Frank would take the sleds down from their storage place over the garage rafters, oil the runners well and tie new knots in the frayed tow ropes. My sisters (who were twins) and I, well wrapped in snowsuits, scarves, boots, and mittens would tromp up the hill behind him.
West’s Hill was the best place to go sledding. The middle of the hill was quite steep, studded with large snow covered rocks that made marvelous jumps. We would plant our sleds at the crest, back up a bit to get a good running start, and belly flop on the sled, shrieking and yelling as down we sailed. At that bottom of the hill there was a barbed wire fence that Farmer West clipped in the middle. He made a loop of one end and hooked it over a fence post, allowing us to unhook it and fold the fence wire back when we wanted to slide. Most of the time we remembered to open the wire gate, leaving a space wide enough for two sleds to get through side by side. Now and then one of us lost a hat or felt the stern prick of the wire on the backs of our heads when we forgot.
The January I was ten there was over a foot of snow on the hill. We had a big race planned with the three West children who lived at the top. They had boasted that their three flexible flyers tied together could beat our new Christmas toboggan any day. We met at the top of the hill on a snowy Saturday afternoon to test their brag.
The wind blew the words out of our mouths as the twins and Frank and I argued over who would steer the toboggan and who would stand at the bottom of the hill to declare the winners. If the race was to be fair only three of us could ride the toboggan down the hill. The fourth would have to act as judge.
Frank dropped the toboggan down. He knelt on it and bounced it a little to wedge it into the snow, making sure it would not take off without us. One of the twins was elected to referee the race. She trudged disconsolately down the hill and stood with her back to us, pouting. The other twin and I took our places on the toboggan.
The neighbor kids’ three sleds were tied together. The oldest boy sat in front to steer, his brother sat on the middle sled, and their little sister brought up the rear.
“We’re ready!” Frank yelled down the hill to the referee.
She looked  up. She yelled something back.
“What?” Frank hollered, but the answer was indecipherable. She just stood, waving her arms and kicking the fence post.
“On your mark, get set, GO!” Frank bellowed and with a running jump, landed solidly on the back of the toboggan. I heard our opponents give a whoop as the three sleds took off beside us.
We plowed headlong through the snow that blew back in our faces, blinding us. The toboggan hit a boulder and veered off crazily, landing with a thump. The three of us shot up into the air and came back down with great emphasis. The bottom of the hill was coming up fast. My little sister suddenly leaned back against me.
“Hemph!” she shouted.
“What?” I yelled back?
She pulled her scarf away from her mouth. “Fence!”
FENCE?
The word was suddenly clear. In our excitement over the race, none of us had thought to move the barbed wire fence out of the way. Now a single strand of that wicked wire lay in wait across the path of our speeding sleds. The referee twin was frantically scrabbling with the loop but the deep snow had half buried the post and she was too little to budge the wire.
“Bail out!” I screeched, grabbing my sister’s shoulders, tipping us both to the right as hard as I could. Frank’s feet, hooked around my waist, came along and we spilled into the snow. Right beside us I saw three bodies catapult off the sleds and plunge into the snow in a wild tangle of arms and legs. The toboggan and the sleds went on down the rest of the hill without us. We lay for a moment in stunned silence then, “Tie!” hollered the referee in the direction of the empty sleds and she stomped off for home.

The winter of the big snow and the house where we lived. The hill was just up the road from here.



Thanks Hilary!

Friday, December 03, 2010


This day began with a hundred geese that rose from the pond at dawn and flew eastward into the sun, the light gilding their undersides. Their cries roused me from sleep, stirring some ancient longing to flee the coming cold. I look out my window at the colors of winter, the buff colored grasses, the shadowed woods, the trees inked in black against a steel sky, and watch the sun paint it all with a gold that spills slowly over the bare tops of the trees and into my yard.


Except for a few days last week when the temperature dipped into the 30s overnight, the weather has been mild. October was a glorious riot of color and somber November has so far boasted temperatures into the 50s. I set off into the early morning with only a jacket. Great drifts of mahogany leaves line the road and here and there a few bittersweet berries glow orange. The pond is a pewter plate, empty now of geese until the afternoon. The mornings belong to the crow and the jay, the chickadee, and the flocks of little purple finches that winter over. The cardinal that sings me awake at 4:30 on summer mornings is silent now, though I’ve seen him at the feeder, he and his dun-colored mate, eating the sunflower seeds I’ve set out for them.

The roadside brush is showing its bones. Great tangled vines of bittersweet curl over leafless bushes. Milkweed pods have dried and burst. I stop to release a last bit of gossamer fluff into the wind, sending the attached seeds on their journey, wondering, as I watch them lift and disappear, where the winter winds might take me. There are times when my life seems as insubstantial as milkweed fluff and I, too, am at the mercy of the prevailing wind.

By noon, the sun is still only a few feet over the horizon and as it descends into the afternoon, the air grows cooler and the wind quiets. By five o’clock the sky is violet and then gray. Night drops its cloak over the day and stars are visible by suppertime. I close the curtains against the dark and listen to the geese gabbling on the pond. One day soon they will fly south instead of east. Despite what the calendar says, that will be, for me, the day winter begins.







Thanks, Hilary!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Keep The Light On, Please

For Magpie #43
A few days ago, my former landlady came from Maine to visit me. It gets dark early and I'd turned on the outside light. "Ah," she smiled when she saw it. "You've got the 'Mother Light' on."

She explained to my puzzled look, "When my mother lived in your little cottage, she would turn that light on for me and I would think, Oh, Mom, I've just gone for a walk. I know my way back. But then I'd realize what she was doing. She was just letting me know she was there, as a mother should. I came to think of it as the Mother Light."

I thought about that, about ways that mothers light the way for their children and how we do it long after they are grown and no longer need us. My own mother used to leave the porch light on for me if I'd gone for a walk and darkness fell before I returned. If I took the car, the garage light was always on when I came home after sunset. She didn't need to do it. I was perfectly capable of finding my way in the dark. It was a courtesy and a small sign of mother love that kept her turning on lights for me long after I needed her to.

There was, as well, the light in her eyes whenever she saw any of her children, and the light in her heart that expressed itself over and over in countless doings for each of us. Never did we go out but that some light - porch, hall, stair - was left burning for us. And when she died, she left the light burning in our hearts so that we could see where it was we needed to go.

The physical lights of porch and stair are symbols for the mother light that shines internally, eternally. They say, I am here in a visual way, just as the spoken words resonate in a child's ear and heart. What better task for a mother to take upon herself than shedding light where there is darkness?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Keeping In Mind


What are we but our stories? Right now mine is all about family and missing them all over again now that I'm home and too much food and the stomach bug making its rounds and old friends, one coming to visit, the other making his permanent departure on Thanksgiving Day. I didn't get to say goodbye and though I knew his death was imminent, it still took me by surprise.

So, when I say hello from now on, there will be a hug goodbye in it for the people I love. I will try to remember to slip "I love you" into conversations more often, either by word or glance or a light touch on the arm while we talk. I will do my best to keep a smile on the other side of every frown, a keen eye out for fleeting moments, and an ear open for everyone's stories, for once the teller is gone, the story ends and becomes mere memory.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hooked

Two more American Sentences...



Not confined to heaven/earth/man, American sentences ramble.

And putting a fine point on perspective... 

Each of us sees our own small world from the center of the universe.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

American Sentence

Author Alan Ginsberg created his own version of 17-character Japanese haiku in his book, Cosmopolitan Greetings, calling the results "American Sentences."  One sentence, 17 syllables, end of story. It's easy to get hooked. Here's one of my own, written on a night when sleep would not come.




Dream


Lost in sleep, the body withdraws and slips into that ancient dreamtime.


Posted for One Shot Wednesday
photo credit: www.arcanefractals.com

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Repeat

I've posted this before so it may be on its way to becoming my annual Thanksgiving piece (until new grandbaby Ada is old enough to bake). Fia was three when this was written. She's now ten. Time has a way of slipping past us when we're not looking, doesn't it?




Beware What the Cook Won't Eat

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I’m making a pie. “Can I help?” asks my granddaughter 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 mine, Memere,” she says. “I just only like making pies. I don’t like to eat any.”





Fia at 3 and her Memere (at a dance recital - hence the hair bow)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ahoy Matey!


It’s been years since a ghostie or goblin or even a PowerRanger has darkened my doorstep; longer still since I’ve been one myself. But night falls earlier now, and a chilly wind is blowing. It’s almost time for the spirits to be abroad.

I remember only one Halloween night that every child on my street did not meet after supper to begin our siege of the neighborhood. Usually we planned our costumes for weeks before the 31st, discussing the disguising properties of masks over face paint, homemade outfits cobbled together from whatever we had or could pilfer from our parents’ closets versus store bought costumes we’d have to talk them into buying. But this one particular year, the year I was eight, a town party was planned, and we were all expected to attend.
When a ritual is interrupted, something changes. In previous years the matter of my costume was left up to me. This year, because of the party, and because the party had a theme, I was forced to narrow my choices. Children were obligated to dress as a book character.
When my mother told me this, my first thought was to be a pirate, a la the mustachioed, swashbuckling Captain Hook from Peter Pan. I was practicing my “Ahoy, Matey!” and swinging an imaginary sword over my head with gusto when she dropped the other shoe. I had to be a girl from a story.
There is nothing worse than having to be what you already are on Halloween. The one night I could be anybody or anything I had the imagination to disguise myself as lost all its magic. That settled it. I wasn’t going to any adult-planned Halloween party. I would go trick or treating by myself. I would be a lone hobo, face blackened with a burned cork, a mop on my head for hair, one of my father’s shirts buttoned over my own.
“Who are you going to get candy from?” my brother asked. “Nobody will be home.”
I hadn’t thought of that. Bad enough to have to tromp the street in the scary dark all alone. Worse still to do it for nothing.
The night of the party, my brother appeared as Captain Hook. He wore a black patch strung over one eye, a tri-cornered cardboard hat, and a large metal hook screwed cleverly into a cork projecting from one sleeve. I was in one of my school dresses, complete with white tights and my Sunday shoes. The only concessions to costuming were the two bright circles of pink painted on my cheeks and a braided wig of yellow yarn on my head. Alice in Wonderland had never looked so forlorn, I’m sure.
That may have not been the last town party, but it was the last one we ever attended. The next Halloween saw half a dozen ghosts, hoboes, and zombies (and one swashbuckling pirate) armed with paper sacks, knocking on neighborhood doors.

for Magpie #38

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Perfection


There is little that could make this day more perfect. I am on the feeling-better side of a nasty cold, I am clean after a shower that did not flay my over-tender, fevered skin, and I am sitting on my outdoor swing in the unusual warmth of a late October day reading a book so good that I must take occasional breaks to stare at the sky and let my thoughts wander where they will in response to the words.

I am exactly where I want to be doing what I want to do. I can watch the maple leaves turn yellow and drift down like gold coins, spy out rubies and sapphires hidden among the fallen and still-damp, sun-spattered leaves, and watch the clouds do their shape-shifting in a sky so blue it defines the color.

And, I had a burst of revealing insight: while I was wasting time pleading with the clouds not to rain, I was missing the enjoyment of being in a puddle of sunlight. How silly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gray Geese, Gray Days


I live across the road from a large pond. Early in the mornings now the water is the color of pewter and cold; the ripples on the surface look like shivers. Sometimes the sun dances there but it does not bring warmth, only a shimmering illusion.

Just before dusk several flocks of geese seek out the pond. With folded wings against rounded bodies, their heads dipping down beneath the surface of the gray water to feed, they look like floating rocks on sheets of metal. I sit on the shore and watch them. The cold, the geese, the dim, lowering skies all speak of solitude and silence and the relentless approach of winter.

One day I watched the geese descend, their ragged, raucous vees coming apart as they splashed down, their wings outspread, their feet extended to break the plunge. In the moment they went from airborne to earthbound their whole demeanor metamorphosed; wings folded and tucked they were not so much bird as buoy. They gabbled quietly as they floated. Now and then a single goose would stretch its neck to the sky and flap its ponderous wings, flinging bright flashes of silvery water into the air.

Warmth and sunlight will fly with the geese when they leave. The shortened days already begin and end with gray. Early in the morning before the reluctant sun opens its pale, distant eye, tree branches nearly bereft of leaf and color stand in stark relief against a powdered sky. I like these late fall days—the silence, the cold, the muted, faded colors. The days are like pearls strung on silver thread, each one rounded and yielding to the shadow of the next. I listen to the geese and I yearn not to leave, not to fly—I only want the moment to stay, to resist for a while the steady, insistent pull of the great seasonal wheel.



               Thank you Hilary!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Proust Questionnaire Revisited

Marcel Proust was a French novelist, essayist and critic. He is quoted as saying, "All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last," and "Our intonations contain our philosophy of life, what each of us is constantly telling himself about things," and "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." 

Dick at Patteran Pages recently answered some of the following questions. I remembered doing this once long ago and a commenter questioned: If you're answering Proust's questions here, why is Proust not mentioned as one of your favorite authors? I read Proust in college long ago and he turned out to be tough going despite the above pithy quotes. Nevertheless, here are my own answers to one of the questionnaires floating the web.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A comfortable place to rest when I’m tired, something good to eat when I’m hungry, sunshine on my shoulders, good company in small doses.

Which living person do you most admire?
Each one of my children, for different reasons.

What is your greatest fear?
Unbearable pain.

What is your favorite journey?
The one that takes me home.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Of the seven, diligence. I'm a big believer in frequent breaks, naps, and just sitting, staring off into space.

On what occasion do you lie?
When telling the whole "truth" would do more harm than good.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"Well, huh!" "And your point is?" "Knock it off!"

What is your greatest extravagance?
Books. Chocolate. Clothes. More books.

What do you dislike about your appearance?
Depends on when you ask that question. First thing in the morning? Egads, my hair! Middle of the day? Egads, my hair! Just before bedtime? Lordy, the bags under my eyes!

Which living person do you most despise?
That’s a strong word – I’m not fond of many Republicans at the moment.

What is your greatest regret?
Losing my home as a result of some poorly-made decisions.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My family, my kids and grandkids. My old blue sweater. My down comforter ☺

When and where were you happiest?
Whenever and wherever I stop and remember that I can be happy anytime. As a specific location? My old homestead on Silver Street.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Oh, to be musical!

What is your current state of mind?
Contentment.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I’d love to have both of my parents still alive and in good health. But if the question means, would I change anyone in my family, the answer is no – we’re a good bunch.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you suppose it would be?
A dust mote so I could dance in a sunbeam and travel the world on the wind.

What is your most treasured possession?
Family photographs. My books. Things my children have chosen as gifts for me over the years.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Hopelessness.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Kindness.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Kindness.

What do you most value in your friends?
That they ARE my friends.

Who are your favorite writers?
Richard Bach; Elizabeth Berg; Maeve Binchey; Deepak Chopra; Billy Collins; Annie Dillard; Rumer Godden; James Herriot; Barbara Kingsolver; Garrison Keillor; Anne and daughter Reeve Lindbergh; James Mitchner; Mary Oliver; Cynthia Rylant, Rumi; Anne Rivers Siddons; Amy Tan; Lewis Thomas; Margaret Mitchell; Tolkein; Neil Donald Walsch; Laura Ingalls Wilder; Andrew Weil and a host of others.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Anyone who tries to be a little kinder than necessary.

What are your favorite names?
No favorites, though I’m partial to Annie and Jake.

How would you like to die?
Quietly in my sleep while dreaming about something happy.

What is your motto?
Life is short but wide.

***

What about you?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Come on in and visit...
I came across an article recently that listed some small things the author was grateful for. I liked the way I felt reading it so I set about making my own thankful list, starting with the obvious – health, home, family, friends. But as I began to look around me, I realized that there are a number of actual things that, though I may have to dust or keep after them in some way, I am pleased to have. Here are a few.

Photographs: They are everywhere – on the walls, the fridge, my desk. They perch next to the books on the bookcase, decorate my nightstand, fill innumerable albums. The faces of my family and friends smile at me from every corner of my cottage, reminding me that though I may live by myself, I am not alone in the world.

Postcards: I often use them as bookmarks. To come across one unexpectedly is like making an unplanned visit. I re-read lines scrawled from Scotland, New Zealand, Costa Rica, New Orleans, Florida, California, Iowa, England - places my children or my friends have visited and thought to share with me. They’re the written equivalent of “reach out and touch someone.”

Books: Best friends in bindings, books are always there when you reach for them; steadfast, full of hidden depths and meanings revealed with every re-reading; repositories of information and insight; teachers, guidance counselors, comforters. One can never have enough books.

A lava lamp: Scoff if you will, but watch one in action and you will see a life lesson in the constant separating and reuniting of the lava ‘goo,’ a reminder that all of life begins and ends as part of the ONE.

Music: I used to own a phonograph and a whole slew of 45s but I traded them for a shelf full of CDs. Now my music comes from iTunes stored on my hard drive. I crank up the volume when I clean my cottage. Dusting is more fun when one dances with the dust rag.

Poetry: The written equivalent of music, poetry is an object lesson in “less is more.” It is distillation framed in discipline. If you want to see the essence of your days, write about them in verse.

Flowers: There are always flowers in my cottage. Geraniums bloom on the window sills, wild flowers in season come in with me when I return from my walks. I use flowers to gift a friend, celebrate an occasion, comfort the bereaved. Their beauty amazes me, soothes me, encourages me, delights me. First to greet the spring, last to celebrate summer, blooming even in the depths of winter, flowers are the finest teachers I know and the best antidote for whatever ails me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This Is War


I have a heart. I do. And it’s generally soft where small creatures are concerned. Except now, when with the whole outdoors to romp in, the meadow mice decide my house would make a wonderful “their” house and move in. I discovered droppings in my utensil drawer one morning when I reached for a can opener. Disgust is a mild word. I filled the sink with boiling hot water and an anti-bacterial cleanser. I put on a pair of rubber gloves and dropped the utensils into the foamy water. I left them there all day, then drained the water and rinsed everything in more boiling water. They gleamed and twinkled from the large bowl on the counter but I couldn’t help washing each one again before I used it.

I baited the small Have-A-Heart trap, set it in the drawer, admonished the cat to start earning his keep, and went off to work. The day netted nary a mouse. But much later, when the cottage was dark and I was deep in a dream about sea creatures about to devour me, I heard an unfamiliar noise. I sat up, my soft heart pounding, and listened closely. What in the world…?

Oh. I’d caught a mouse, that’s what.

Sure enough, in the morning there was a wee furry creature in the trap, its eyes bulging, its feet scrabbling on the slippery plastic floor. I carried it gingerly across the street and along the road toward the pond, scolding the whole way. I tipped the trap sideways, the door swung open, and the mouse fled into the undergrowth.

Where there’s one mouse there’s more so I baited the trap again that night, repeated the morning release and by the third morning and the third mouse, began to wonder if it wasn’t the SAME mouse. The next day I began the Mouse Deportation Program, driving each mouse ever longer distances in ever more circuitous directions until one morning, there was no mouse. Nor the next. I have been mouse free for three days now. I have grown used to reaching toward the bowl for utensils.

Still, this is war. Perhaps I will bait the trap one more time…

photo credit: www.coolnotions.com

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Waiting for baby...

My youngest daughter is about to have a daughter of her own. My bag is packed. My ears are straining toward the phone. All my attention is focused on the arrival of Adalina. I'll be back as soon as the new arrival has arrived!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Surrender

geese landing on the pond
 Dawn comes later these days and dusk settles over the pond far sooner than I’d like, but in between the days are filled with golden light. The trees at the far edge of the water are donning their fall colors. Suddenly the greenery of spruce and pine trees stands out, tucked as they are among the flaming maples and yellowing locusts. The air has a soft, waiting quality about it.

Acorns are dropping. They fall down through the canopy with sharp little cracks. Wild apples, too, are ripening and letting go, landing with soft thuds on the grass beneath abandoned trees. I leave the acorns to the squirrels but I polish the least wormy of the apples against the arm of my sweater and nibble slowly as I walk, always careful to make a close inspection before each bite. Wild apples always taste of sunlight and summer rain, as though both were stored just beneath the skin. Sometimes I can find enough unbruised fruit to make a pie or a batch of applesauce.

Geese are gathering on the pond every evening. They fly low over the road, their wings whispering, breaking the water’s glassy surface into brilliant shards as they land. They lift again in the morning when the mist is still thick, winging between it and the sun, only their voices revealing the secret of their flight. I hear them and feel my heart respond with an ancient yearning. I know the somber days will follow in their wake and I am reluctant to be left here to face the cold while the remains of summer are escaping on beating wings.

I am no longer wakened by bird song, though the crickets and summer bugs still sing me to sleep. When the late afternoon sun slants through the trees in transparent bands I can see innumerable insects dancing there, wings aglitter in the light as though each one were jeweled. I want to dance in the sunlight too, with jeweled wings that would lift me far and away.

Everywhere, the green and growing things are reluctantly letting go of their vibrancy. Grasses are turning buff and brown and sepia, corn stalks wave golden leaves, every tree save the evergreens boasts a different shade of crimson or yellow or orange. Milkweed pods grow thick as the leaves lose their green and with every breeze the colored remnants of summer swirl to the ground in surrender.

When I am tired of walking, I throw myself down in the crackling meadow grass, half drowsing in the warmth and silence, and watch the clouds tell shape-shifter stories. The rest of the world simply melts away and nothing is left but the moment – the sun and the grass and the wings and me.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Imagine That


I had a friend once who carried on imaginary conversations with God. She said he looked a lot like  Morgan Freeman, brought her coffee in bed, and spoke with her about whatever was on her mind. I'm not of any religious persuasion and don't believe in any single deity (though the notion of lesser gods doesn't worry me), but I often talk to myself when I'm alone. I found this post of a few years ago when those inner thoughts took the form of a conversation. I  thought it might be fun to show it the light of day once more before deleting it.

g: I know you don't like spiders but they make useful metaphors.
Me: Which metaphor is that? The one where life is compared to a trap? Or the one about tangled webs of deceit?
g: Neither. I was thinking more along the lines of a circle full of different threads...
Me: That's a metaphor?
g: Paths, choices, all connected, going around. A web is not a metaphor for life?
Me: No wonder I'm tired all the time. I'm going around in circles.
g: You think squares would be more productive?
Me: Those right angles would keep you on your toes.
g: Cut them off and what do you have?
Me: Is it as annoying being G as it is not being able to believe in you?
g: Said the spider to the fly...
Me: EVERYTHING is circular?
g: I count, let's see, more than 100 books on science and philosophy on your shelves and you're asking ME if everything is circular?
Me: Yes.
g: Yes.
Me: Not everything...
g: Oh?
Me: Not even all cells are round.
g: Oh please. Move a line around here and there (sorry) and what do you end up with?
Me: Can we talk about it more specifically?
g: When we get around to it...
Me: Not funny.
g: I screwed up somewhere. Most humans have such an underdeveloped sense of humor it's almost funny.
Me: Is everything supposed to be funny?
g: Humor is the great leveler. It also makes the world go round.
Me: We're going in circles here.
g: Exactly. It's a dance, you see. You all clasp hands and move in circles. Big ones, small ones, outer circles, inner circles. You change partners and go in concentric circles. You even invent circles (after you go round and round with problems and possible solutions). You travel in circles...
Me: Then why am I feeling so strung out?
g: A straight line is really just a stretched out bit of circle. You'll snap back. Think of the world you live in, the one you perceive, as the innards of a clock. You step on and off the various gears. When you're not paying attention, sometimes you step between the teeth and you think the world has changed. It's no longer going in circles. It's just you off-gear, though. And when you think about it, you're still going around, albeit in a more uncomfortable position.
Me: And to get back "on-gear," I...?
g: Let go of the edge. Life will fling you back up somewhere.

It was sort of like being in the middle of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.

Note*
“The biologist Stephen Jay Gould famously proposed that if we could "rewind the tape" of evolution and play it again, chance would give rise to a world that was completely different from the one we live in now. But the concept that chance reigns supreme may ring less true when it comes to complex behaviours. A study of the similarities between the webs of different spider species in Hawaii provides fresh evidence that behavioural tendencies can actually evolve rather predictably, even in widely separated places.” From The Worlds of David Darling. 


Photo credit: www.daviddarling.info/ images/spider_web.jpg

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Little Moments

One of my everyday little momentous moments

We all experience big moments that thrill us to the very marrow—births, weddings, reunions, reconciliations. It's the little moments however, the ordinary, ho-hum, didn’t-see-them-because-we-weren’t-looking miracles that make up our days. Here are a few of my favorites:


*Silence, broken by bird song or a child's laughter.

*Being kissed by a kitten. Or a child, a sweetheart, an old friend, a puppy (or a sunbeam).

*Finding money in my pocket unexpectedly.

*The first glimpse of a harvest moon hanging above the horizon like a glowing Japanese lantern, or walking along a silver moonpath on a snowbound night.

*Getting all green lights.

*Hearing a voice warm with love on the other end of the telephone line.

*Climbing between sheets that have been hung on a line to dry. It’s like falling asleep out of doors in the sun and wind. In fact, crawling into bed when I’m exhausted is such a marvelous moment that I try to stay awake long enough to relish its comfort.

*Opening a new book. Reading an old favorite. Making my own books. There’s an immense satisfaction that comes from making things from scratch.

*Feeling the weight of my grandchildren as they fall asleep against me. There is nothing more endearing than the faith of a child and nothing more rewarding than knowing you are trusted completely.

*Wearing my favorite sweater. The sleeves are stretched, the shoulders have been stitched and re-stitched and the color is faded from countless washings, but it is still the first thing I reach for when I’m chilly or in need of comfort.

*Facing a blank piece of paper. What better way to illustrate unlimited potential?

*Being the recipient AND the perpetrator of small kindnesses.

*Hugs.

*Dawn…not such a little moment, perhaps, seeing as it banishes night and gives us a new day every single time, but so often we miss it in our hurry to be doing instead of being. I want to be in that first blush of light when the morning is fresh and the world holds its breath. I want to be kissed awake by that first sunbeam. 

What are yours?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

C at age one

My youngest child, C, and I often exchange poems. She is about to have her first child. My hope is that someday her own daughter will write a poem for her such as this one that C wrote years ago for me.

You

There are parts of my childhood
I don’t remember—
Losing my first tooth,
Learning to walk,
Read,
Tie my shoe.
But my heart remembers one constant—
You.

Throughout the years I’ve learned
The world is full of—
Magic and miracles,
Light and laughter,
Struggles and solutions,
Obstacles and opportunities,
And through it all, my teacher’s been constant –
You.

Love and joy are wonders to give
And receive, too.
So from the heart
I give these gifts
To my one constant—
You.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Disguised

Me at age 6

 Running down the back side of a hill was a small stream that filled the gully left by the work crew when they widened the road last summer. On either side where the water had receded there were mud flats and beyond them, on the far side, the earth was cracked and craggy, looming up like miniature mountains, their tops rock-studded and grass-anchored.

Something inside me shifted. I was suddenly six again and imagining I was three inches tall, a trick of the imagination I often employed when I was young. I squatted my small self down at the river’s edge and stared up at the immense mountains on the other side. Grass grew past my shoulders and the river, fleeing downhill, was swift and deep and sparkling in the late afternoon sunlight.

I walked out into the soft mud and glanced behind me. There were my footprints, small and perfect, dissolving slowly in the wet earth. I looked about and found a twig. I scratched my name in the mud and watched the letters fill with water and fade like invisible writing. I looked about for a sturdy leaf to make a boat, wondering how long it would take me to navigate the river to the bottom of the hill.

Though the sound of a car brought me back to my proper size, I kept the sense of being a kid. I picked up a stick and dragged it along the pavement, liking the buzzy sound it made as it bumped along behind me. I walked the length of the gully to the bottom of the hill and there I knelt at the roadside. I put the flat of my hand in the gooey mud and pressed down, pulling it back with a squelching sound. I heard birds calling. Jays screeched in the distance and two ducks, flying low, quacked to each other. I flopped down in the meadow grass and swatted at bugs and watched the clouds change shapes. Blown by an invisible wind, they drifted above the trees and I watched until it seemed the clouds were standing still and the trees were moving.

I watched the faces in the cars that passed, solemn and serious, and wondered how they came to be that way, going home at the end of the day. Where was the happiness that came from listening to the birds, from seeing the fluttering green leaves of late summer? Where was the contentment of work well done, of supper waiting, and a vibrant sunset painting the sky?

I smiled at them and waved, a six year old disguised as a grown up, mud-splattered and dragging a stick. Some of them smiled back.



Thursday, September 09, 2010

Caught Between Sunrise and Moonset

Brian made a comment on my last sun/moon related post, saying one hardly gets to see the two in the sky together. What follows is an account of a time that happened.

moonset
I wakened in a moonbeam slanting through the still-dark sky though I could tell by the quality of gray that it must be after six a.m. The light came through the western window and lay in a contoured path over the quilt. I stretched my hand and let the moonbeam lay in my palm; to have closed my fingers over it would have extinguished its magic.

I reached instead for my robe and slipped down the stairs to light the kettle for tea. With mug in hand I went out into the early morning to watch the moon descend. Over my shoulder the eastern sky was just beginning to pale. I stood entranced, looking first in one direction and then the other, never able to see both the rising sun and the setting moon at once though I knew the waxing and waning lights were simultaneous and single-sourced.

It put me in mind of beginnings and endings, how one is always the source of the other. As I turned full circle in the chill dawn, watching the growing daylight dininish the moon's brialliance, I could see between surise and moonset the workings of the world; always, always the slow turn from beginning to end to beginning, on and on, the circle spiraling up and up without pause, always different, always the same.

My feet were touching ground they had danced on in childhood, but the grass I stood on then had died and renewed itself a thousand times over. The last of the pink phlox that bloomed bravely in the waning season of the border garden were descendants of those my mother planted, no longer connected to her hands save through my memory. Caught between daylight and darkness, I was made to understand the that the two exist simultaneously. It is only my limited vision that forces me to perceive one at a time.

The soft rush of traffic in the distance gradually became a muted thunder. Two cars passed me standing there, one headed toward the moon, the other into the sun. A few small birds twittered in the roadside hedge, crows called across the meadow and a small chill breeze brushed my cheek. I kept turning in awe, watching the light change the landscape into everyday ordinariness, realizing suddenly that it had been extraordinary all along.

Try as I might, I could only face one direction. The maples that fringed the feet of the western mountains glowed scarlet in the fading moonlight. The trees that protected the brook to the east lifted their spires into a rose-colored sky. For a moment, my entire world was awash in gold-tinged pink. The moon and sun faced one another, one haloed in mist, the other surrounded by pale light. Caught in the middle, I turned slowly, face lit first by moon glow and then by sunlight until at last I stood still, closed my eyes, and saw them both at once.

sunrise

Friday, September 03, 2010

Apple Time

Image from Magpie Tales #30


It’s apple time, and that makes me think of Mama and how the kitchen smelled of warm apples and cinnamon on late autumn afternoons. She was a wizard with pie crust and fruit, turning out luscious pies that never lasted past one dinnertime. My father would sing to her, "Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?" only he'd substitute apple as that was his favorite.

If there was an abundance of apples, Mama sauced some of them. Then she would make a second batch of pastry, roll it thin, trace the shape of a saucer in the dough with a sharp knife, and fold it over a generous spoonful of applesauce. She would let me dip a fork in the flour and crimp the edges. I happily sprinkled cinnamon and sugar over each turnover and could hardly wait until they were baked. Cooled and in hand, they were my favorite snack.

It’s been years since my mother and I worked together in the kitchen but it’s apple time, and in memory of her I am baking a pie. I’ve fetched her old paring knife from the drawer, taken my bowl of apples outside and pared a dozen of them while sitting on the dreaming bench in the late afternoon sunshine.

I’ve taken her old china bowl from the cupboard, the largest yellow one, and tossed the apple slices with flour and sugar and cinnamon. I’ve rolled the crust with her old green-handled wooden rolling pin, remembering the shape of her hands as she worked, and the look of her face as she blew a stray hair from her eyes.

The pie sits on the counter, redolent and delicately browned, steam spiraling from the vents cut in the top crust. It looks just like the pie in the “Billy Boy” song illustration. It looks just like a pie my mother might have made… and I have just burned my tongue.

The dreaming bench

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A V-8 Moment


The temperature has been hovering in the 90s these first couple of days back to school. Overheated classrooms with not a breath of air stirring does not offer the most conducive atmosphere for learning. Still, there are some funny little moments like this one.

As our class of 7 year olds was making its way to the buses a small boy suddenly remembered that he had horse back riding lessons that afternoon and thought his mom might be picking him up.

Me: Did you mother send a note?

Child: What for?

Me: Telling us that she was going to pick you up so we wouldn't put you on the bus.

Child: Nope, I don't think so. She just told me.

Me: What did she tell you?

Child: I don't know. I never pay attention to her when she talks at me in the morning.

Me: You don't? Why not?

Child: She never says anything interesting.

Me: Well, it might be interesting to know where you're going after school.

Child: I KNOW where I'm going after school. I'm going horseback riding. I just told you.

Me: But we don't know if you're going on the bus or being picked up.

Child: You don't?

Me: No - we don't have a note from your mom.

Child: I KNOW that. I already told you she told me.

Me: But you don't know what she told you because you didn't listen.

Child: Well, you wouldn't listen either because she's boring in the morning.

So, we went to the office, called Mom and ascertained that said child should go home on the bus.

Me: Please listen to your mom in the mornings from now on.

Child: Nah. I'll just tell her to write it all down for YOU.

Me: What if you forget the note?

Child: That's why they invented telephones!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Last Day Before Returning to Work


A day that begins like this

with the mist rising like ghosts

assembling along the treeline

and rising together to form a cloud


that turns gold in the morning sun...


 is filled with happy activities like decorating packages for a baby shower...




and ends like this...


is a good day!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Pacific Northwest Travels

Son B and I recently spent several days camping at the Hoh River Campgrounds in Olympic National Park in Washington State. We woke in the morning sheltered in the arms of mountains and listened to the sound of the rushing river while we breakfasted amid tall tree shadows and dappled sunlight. Waking up to this view was to wake happy. We often put our chairs in the grassy spot in the foreground and ate our meals surrounded by beauty. It was an unparalleled dining room.


The Pacific Northwest is unlike the East Coast in many ways. NW ocean beaches boast more fog and wind, the land leading to the beaches is steeper; often mountains have their toes in the water. These are headlands at Ruby Beach, WA.


We hiked for miles daily into the temperate rain forest. We were not eaten by cougars nor frightened by bears. The closest we got to an elk, angry or otherwise, was a fresh pile of trailside dung. We did encounter this little fellow...


 We followed the Moss Trail into Hobbit land. Most of the moss we saw was club moss that draped itself from the branches but one could see common witches hair and fairy barf if one looked closely!

To see the tops of the trees one has to lean back and look up, up, up. Most of the old growth canopy reaches 100-200 feet into the air and some of the trees have been standing 1,000 years. The silence below is punctuated with the cries of jays and crows. Deep in the forest the hush is palpable and in some places is so Hobbit-like you expect to see Frodo step out into the path.


Every day was an adventure from sunrise to sunset. To be out of doors for the better part of each day, to cook and eat in the sunshine and soft wind, to watch the sun sink slowly into the water, to count the stars and wish on the moon before bed is to be aware of one's self in the world.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Off Again!

Son B and his Momma at Crater Lake two summers ago.
I am away tomorrow for Oregon and a week with my sisters, then to the Olympic Peninsula, where whales, dolphins, and sea lions feed in the Pacific Ocean while deer, elk, cougars, and bears roam the meadows and mountains. It will be a week of rumbling along west coast highways with my eldest son, a week of no phones, no computers, no civilization except for the kind folks at our nightly campsites. Back the 25th.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Summer of Being Away

I feel as though I've hardly been home this summer. The moment school let out in June I was on the highway, speeding into summer activities. My oldest son came home for a visit from the West Coast. There were June birthdays, a weekend trip to Vermont, and days spent visiting relatives. I spent the first week of July taking care of a friend's house an hour from my own while they vacationed on the Cape. I spent the last week of July at my brother's house while they vacationed in Maine. It was not a hard job.

There was a pool...

A gazebo

and the little brook where I played as a child...


The old homestead where we both grew up was right next door.

There were black-eyed Susans in their yellow petticoats,

sweeps of delicate Queen Anne's lace,

and patches of sweet scented Joe Pye Weed.



In the mornings I walked a mile up the road and back before breakfast. My days were lazy, spent tending my brother's small vegetable patch, flipping through magazines, splashing about in the pool. Evenings I rode my bicycle up West's hill and on past neighbor's houses, past the old familiar meadows and woods that marked my childhood. It was both exhilarating and nostalgic. My dreams were restless and peopled with those now gone.

From this angle the hill looks mild, but my legs and lungs could tell you differently!

Every night the sun sank slowly behind the mountain. I watched it kiss the tops of the tall corn leaves and bless the trees as it departed, trailing banners of pink and mauve and gold-tinged purple as it set.
Sun saying goodnight to the trees.
Now I'm home again and catching up on my own garden. Many of the cucumbers found their way into jars of pickles that will taste of summer on a winter's day. There are beans in the freezer as well as Swiss chard and eggplant. 
I will be here until Thursday and then I'm off to Oregon to visit family there. When I return, summer will be over, my fridge will be full of tomatoes to jar, and school will be starting. My summer seems to have sped along as fast as the writing of this post!