Monday, November 28, 2011


The turkey has been devoured, the china has been washed and dried and returned to the cupboard, the lace tablecloth is freshly ironed and replaced in its drawer. My little cottage is quiet. We had a marvelous time as we cooked together, said thanks together, ate well, and laughed much. The phone rang often as distant family members called to say Happy Thanksgiving. 

Today I took a long walk in the late November sunshine. The trees are showing their bones; the landscape is painted in muted shades of buff and brown. Now at twilight, the sky is blanketed in a quilt of dove gray. The air is damp but still unseasonably mild. We are headed toward the longest night of the year after which the light will begin its slow but steady increase. Now is the time for hunkering down. For me, winter is not a season of death so much as one of rest, a time to withdraw and be quiet, to renew ones' self.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


I've posted this before so it may be on its way to becoming my annual Thanksgiving piece (until one year old grandbaby Ada is old enough to bake). Fia was three when this was written. She's now eleven. 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 pieces of shell. 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)

Thanks, Hilary!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bits and Pieces

New vegetable bed at far end of patio
Following a couple of chilly, rainy days the sunshine and warm temperatures lured me out of doors. I had morning tea on the patio and afternoon tea on my outdoor swing. Between those cups, I dug three new garden beds, hauled boards and stakes and mulching hay in my little Garden Way cart, and put away all the bits of decoration that make the patio such an appealing place all summer.

Little red counter top, soon to be green
French country curtains with red accents
The cottage is getting an overhaul, too. My tiny kitchen will get a gradual color makeover. The red linoleum counter top will soon be replaced with a one piece laminate in gray green. New gray green curtains will replace the French country print doing present duty. A lacquered red basket that sits atop the fridge and holds dry goods has been painted green. It's exciting to watch my little place take on a new persona. Funny - red is one of my least favorite colors yet I've lived companionably with my little red countertop for ten years. Any nearby red accent popped out - the dry goods basket, the red vinegar bottle on the windowsill, the curtain borders and the red cardinal sun catcher. When I set the new green countertop over it to test the color, every green accent caught my eye. And green is my favorite color.

Once red dry goods basket
 When all the work was finished, I sat in the pale November sunshine to drink my late afternoon tea. There is great satisfaction in accomplishing tasks that make life more pleasant. Come spring, I will plant vegetables and herbs in my new garden beds. By that time, my cottage should be painted and I will be enjoying a new ambiance. Sounds like a great way to start my new retired lifestyle.

My summer outdoor room will be one of my retirement hangouts

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Heaven Right Here

A fine rain has been falling hour after hour. Everything is sodden; tree branches weep tears from their twig ends, fallen leaves lay in soggy heaps, the grasses have laid down in misery along the roadsides. Even the sky has failed to brighten and at 4 p.m. is the same colorless, pale grey that I woke to this morning. Most of the hardwoods are bare now save for the oaks that cling tenaciously to their leaves. We are mid-November and still the air is mild. Every day the weatherman reminds us that we've lost two more minutes of daylight.

One day last week the sun was shining, sifting through the yellow leaves that still clung to some of the larches. Being among the tree trunks in that light was like being in one of nature's cathedrals. There are soaring arches, a sense of peace, and a pouring down of leaf-stained light.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Watching Her Grow

She even reads Mama's books and the mail!

Like Memere, like granddaughter. Baby Bean loves to read. She pulls all her brightly colored board books off the shelf, leans over them, and runs her fingers under the titles. She murmurs significant little sounds complete with inflection, then looks up to see if I've understood what she's just said. "Good job, Bean!" I exclaim and she grins and claps her hands. Then she takes another book, squirms her way into my lap and repeats the process.

She has begun to make important associations. Yesterday we were playing with her jack-in-the-box. She doesn't care about the music. She likes, instead, to press the button keeping the lid closed and pretend to be surprised when the clown pops up. "Ooops!" I crow every time. "The clown is out!" Then over and over I stuff it back down saying, "Get in there clown."

When she tired of that she grabbed some books and handed them to me. One of them was a Sandra Boynton book called Opposites. There was big, small, short, tall. Then, "in, out," I read, following the words with my own finger. She looked at me, a long solemn look, then she crawled off my lap and grabbed her jack-in-the-box. With her tiny forefinger she popped the button on the lid. Out popped the clown. It took a moment for the light to dawn but then, "Oh!" I exclaimed. "You smart girl!" She grinned her 8-toothed grin.

She's on her feet a lot more, taking tentative steps on her own but much preferring to hold my finger as she goes from the toy-littered living room to the kitchen to watch Mama cook or into the bedroom to empty the clothes from her dresser drawer or outside to watch Papa chop wood. She feeds herself tiny bits of food with a loud, running, "Mmmmmmmmmm" that doesn't stop until she is all done, which she indicates with sign language. She's also learning Spanish and will respond to words and instructions in both that language and English.

When it was time for me to leave, she reached out to me from her perch in Papa's arms. I said sadly, "Memere can't pick you up. I have to go bye-bye now." She leaned back against her father and looked at me sorrowfully. The she lifted her small hand and waved.

It's awfully hard to drive when I'm crying.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Taking up the challenge...

Then husband and our 4 kids in 1974

Friko mentioned at her blog that she has undertaken memoir writing and apologizes that her blog postings may become more sporadic as she immerses herself in her new writing task. Her post encouraged me to shake off the complacency I'd adopted toward my own foray into memoir writing. Below is a piece that appeared in the paper when I was still writing a weekly column. It seemed a good time to trot it out again. Perhaps, like Friko, if I say here that this is what I intend, I will find it easier to continue than to admit defeat publicly.
My son and daughter-in-law gave me a book one Christmas called "The Story of a Lifetime." Its lined and empty pages are headed with questions about ancestors and heritage, childhood days, education, work, marriage, beliefs, values, regrets, mistakes, milestones, favorite things, and lessons learned. It ends with a couple of additional pages on which to note how things have changed over a single lifetime. When all the questions have been answered, the book becomes a gift again, returned to the givers as a treasured family record.
It may be years before they get it back. The very first question about emigrating ancestors sent me to the safety box to dig out the notes my mother had written about her French lineage (written in French, of course). Some of her relatives left France in the 1700s to settle in the town of St. Bruno, located in the Province of Quebec, Canada. In the early 1900s, several of the younger family members came south to the United States. Both of my mother’s parents settled in Massachusetts and were married a year after my own father was born. My father’s father came to New York from Montreal, though his roots were English. He married a woman whose direct ancestors included General James Longstreet of Civil War fame, and a full-blooded Chippewa great-great grandmother. I didn’t learn this last fact until I was well into my 40s, after years of pretending to be a Native American, of learning to walk toe first so as not to snap twigs underfoot, of making prayer circles, of feeling a powerful kinship with the earth.

The next set of questions deals with inherited traits. How am I like my grandparents, my aunts or uncles or cousins? What of my parents do I see in myself? I have inherited artistic genes from both sides of the family – my mother’s aunt was an artist, as was my father’s great uncle. I see in myself my Peperé’s insatiable curiosity, my mother’s wry wit, my Uncle Pete’s humor, my cousin’s innate sense of poetry. We are all such hodgepodges, our DNA twisting through centuries of traits.

There are pages and pages to fill out about my parents - what were they like, how did they meet, what did they do for work, what sort of parents were they? Each question is a story all its own. There’s a section to record events from my childhood. Where did I go to school? Who were my best friends? What is my happiest memory? Did any tragedies occur? What was I frightened of? There are pages for recording my memories of growth and change from childhood to adulthood, my work experience, my own marriage, my reflections on my children, my religious and spiritual experiences, and my basic life philosophy. I will be at this forever, at the very least.

One page toward the end asks: How do you hope to be remembered? It reminds me of the epitaph game we used to play as kids; here lies so-and-so, followed by some clever, often derogatory witticism. My kids, playing the game once while helping me cut grocery coupons from the newspaper, quipped, “Mom’s not here, she’s gone to heaven – she had a coupon.”

I would not mind being remembered for my frugality. It would please me more, however, to think I am creating a legacy of continuity. All that I am has come to me from others, and will pass through me to future generations. I want my own grandchildren to inherit more from me than genetic predispositions. With this book, I can offer them the heartbeats of a lifetime.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

In the midst of worry...

...six little things I'm happy about.

1. the sun rising into a porcelain blue sky, its rays reflecting off the feathers of a hundred winging geese

2. a mug of hot, sweet tea and a warm croissant drizzled with honey

3. a poem by Hafiz that speaks of life as a rowdy and joyful parade

4. being absolutely sure that I am loved

5. a vase of small, pink roses that survived the frost

6. waking this morning still able to see and hear and walk and smile

Thought for the day...

My youngest daughter, who is already fighting an autoimmune disease, has just been bitten by a tick. I go to sleep thinking about her and wake with worry. She is a busy young wife and mother, is preparing her dissertation for a PhD in Higher Education, and is holding down two jobs. My admiration for her knows no bounds.

In any relationship, the one who teaches and the one who learns constantly change places. I am being taught now how to have faith; faith in my daughter's ability to survive and faith in myself as a deep well of strength. Being a mother has allowed me to experience both ends of the emotional spectrum—deep joy and profound fear. There were times when my children were small that I had to deliberately choose joy over fear or I never would have allowed them out of my sight. I am coming to realize that choosing joy is the same as choosing love and if there is a constant in my life with my children it is love, love without condition, without limit, and without end.