Wednesday, January 28, 2009

No Rest For the Weary

Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Sweep on Wednesday
Mend on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday

I came across this list the other day and it made me wonder if we’re really better off now than we were 100 years ago when that was written. When I was a child, the weeks still had a rhythm like the one above, though with minor changes. Because she had a washing machine, and we apparently had a lot more clothes than the composer of that list, Mama washed twice a week. She did a white wash on Monday and a dark wash on Wednesday. She ironed two days a week, too, putting the flat linens through the mangle on one day, and smoothing the blouses, shirts, trousers, and dresses with a flat iron the next. On those days, the kitchen smelled of pressed sunshine and starch.

Sweeping was an everyday occurrence. There were four of us kids plus a dog and a cat and we all left evidence behind us. A thorough house cleaning took two days, not one, omitting the mending day, which was fine with Mama. She hated sewing and the thought of spending a whole day with needle and thread would have sent her screaming into the wilderness. Twice a year - in the fall, and again just before the snow melted - the house would be turned upside down and inside out. We kids would be pressed into service, moving furniture, hauling rugs outside to be beaten with brooms, polishing the silver that otherwise stayed wrapped in a cloth waiting for company to come to dinner.

Saturday was just one more baking day in the week. There were always cookies or brownies or cupcakes waiting for us when we got home from school but Saturdays were reserved for bread-making. The dough would rise in the big yellow bowl on the open door of the gas oven and Saturday supper would be accompanied by thick slices of warm bread slathered with butter. Sunday mornings were a bustle to get the roast and the pie in the oven and all of us to church, but Sunday afternoons stretched themselves out like long naps.

Nowadays, my verse looks like this: Work on Monday. Work on Tuesday. Work on Wednesday. Work on Thursday. Work on Friday. Chores on Saturday. Bake on Sunday. The pile of laundry is taller than I am, the breadbox is empty, the floor needs a good scrubbing, the grocery list is as long as my arm, and I can’t even find my iron.

Save me from progress! I am nostalgic for the old days when a verse could give order to the week and end with the wonderful word “rest.”

photo credit: Mandy's Photos

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Just a Few...

The other day I came across a filler piece in a magazine, a brief list of the author's favorite things. It was a telling list, and I thought, an interesting way to describe ones' self. What's on your list? Herewith is mine.

Sunrise. (I may as well begin at the beginning.) There's something magical about those first rays, the way the light reaches up, as though the day was stretching, flexing itself, opening its eyes. I like to watch the sky lighten while the earth still sleeps in darkness, see the horizon turn pale gray, then paler blue, then palest yellow at its eastern edge until the ball of the sun bounces up and over, spilling brightness everywhere.

Family, friends, folks I haven't met yet.

Hats. Hats with feathers. Hats with flowers. Hats with wide brims and trailing ribbons. Warm fleecy hats and sailor hats and baseball caps with the bill pulled down.

A mug of hot tea, sweetened with honey and liberally lightened with milk.

My snuggly blue sweater, the one with the shapeless sleeves and the raggedy cuffs. It's the first one I reach for if I'm feeling chilly or when I need a hug.

Flowers-lady slippers that peer shyly from the woodland floor, pepperminty phlox and purple violets, the sweet white bells of lily of the valley and the smiling faces of pansies, blue chickory that nods among the stately white blossoms of Queen Anne's Lace, elegant lilies, graceful iris, the bright yellow skirts of forsythia.

Sun dappled green is one of my favorite colors. So is robin's egg blue and sunset pink, purple the shade of a Scottish thistle, baby yarn yellow and every shade of gray.

A glimpse of wild things - fawns in the meadow at twilight, a startled coyote, turkeys fanning their courtship feathers, a red fox leaping for out-of-reach grapes, an owl drifting silently through the trees.

Warm fuzzy mittens.

Crisp apples.

Rainy days. I like being out in them. I like coming in from them. I like long, slow rains that fall from quilted skies and hard wild rain that falls in wind-driven slashes. I love to fall asleep to the patter of rain on the roof, like to press my nose to the window as it weeps raindrops.


Holidays. The warm scent of pumpkin pie and roasting turkey, presents and paper and ribbons and bows, decorated trees, eggs the colors of Easter, the bustle, the preparation, the excitement, the gathering of loved ones.

A blank sheet of paper. You never know what will appear there until the first word is written or the first line drawn.

Crayons. Felt-tipped markers. Long sticks of colored chalk. A newly sharpened pencil. Watercolors all misty and pale.

Toast with butter and cinnamon.

Brooks that tumble over rocks with a splash, wide green meadows, the very edge of a forest.

Trees. Sitting under them, hugging them, climbing them, talking to them, leaning back against them to dream.

Ripe blackberries, sun-warmed and succulent.

Solitude. Companionship. Sharing. The sound of laughter. The relief after tears.


Hot fudge sundaes. Rare steak. Cold lima beans.

Lighted windows at dusk.

Holding hands.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vive la Difference!

Gary of Follow Your Bliss recently posted (among other observations) about the difference in boys' and girls' writing topics. It reminded me of this experience...

What I Learned at Camp (an excerpt from the original column)

I spent four weeks at summer camp this year. The subject was computer journalism. I was the teacher. Here's what I learned:

No matter how you word it, if the course description has the word computer in it, at least half the kids are going to think "Games!" and are going to be mightily disappointed to find they have just signed up for two weeks of writing.

"Writing? But it's summer!"

"What, you can't write in summer?" I ask.

"I don't want to write in summer!" Eyes roll back in the head, hands clutch at the stomach, a grimace contorts the mouth and the child falls to the floor, feigning death.

So we play writing games. I tell the children to type a sentence on their computer and then move back to the next seat. Each time they move, they must write a sentence that makes sense with the others so the end result is a coherent story. The girls write about flowers; the boys turn them into man eating blossoms that devour whole cities at a gulp. I look at my assistant Connie and we share an "uh, oh."

A child's imagination will reflect his world.

If you don't believe that, you should try playing story rounds with a group of kids. Take an ordinary object, a pine cone say, and give it to one child. Explain that s/he must make up a sentence about the cone and then pass it to the next child who makes up another sentence related to the first. The object is to end up with a story about a pine cone.

"Once there was a little girl who had a pine cone."

"Yeah, and the pine cone grew to be huge."

"Yeah, and it was a man-eating pine cone and it ate the whole town!"

"And then the pine cone took over the whole world."

"Wait," I plead. "Could a pine cone really do that?"

"If it was on drugs, it could."


The cone is passed one last time. "After the pine cone took over the whole world it became a nice pine cone and gave everyone an ice cream cone."

Guess which gender the last sentence was written by...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An Interview

Barbara asked me these five interview questions for a meme that's making the rounds:

1. If you had $1,000,000, what would you do with it?

Half a million things! Like establishing scholarships at the local high school and the four colleges my children attended; helping the fire station buy a new engine; giving gifts to the local library, the hospital, the police department. I’d help stock the food pantry every month and create funds for my children and grandchildren. I’d love to buy back my old homestead and start an organic farm where townsfolk could participate. Maybe I’ll need more than one million…

2. What have you learned from your children? What do you think they've learned from you?

My children have taught me patience, persistence, and the meaning of true love. From the oldest I’ve also learned a lot about respecting the earth and the importance of living green; from my second son I’ve learned how to see the possibilities in a predicament; from my elder daughter I’ve learned how to survive with a smile, and from the youngest I’ve learned how to believe in myself. And what have I taught them? I hope they’ve learned to see the possibilities in each morning, that everything changes and that’s okay, and that if they make sure they are the cake, everything else can be frosting.

3. What living famous person would you most like to have as a dinner guest, and why? What would you serve?

I’d love to talk other dimensions with author Richard Bach. If he couldn’t come perhaps cartoonist Bill Watterson would and we could talk Calvin and Hobbes. I make a wicked good chicken potpie using vegetables I put up from the garden. I’m not much good at formal dinners. Or maybe Annie Lamott would come and we could talk writing over a piece of homemade lemon meringue pie…

4. If you could re-do one thing in your life, what would it be?

If I redid one thing, everything would change. I am trying harder to make wiser decisions about men and money.

5. What are you most looking forward to when you are able to retire?

Not having to go to work! I don’t mind working and I like being busy but I hate that morning alarm and the ensuing rush. I have a long bucket list (travel here and abroad, write another book, publish some poetry, draw and paint, volunteer to hold babies in the nursery of a hospital, tell stories at library hour, spend more time with my grandchildren, etc.) so I doubt I’ll be bored.

Now, if you’d like to answer interview questions of my own devising:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick what they will be.)
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview
someone else.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask
them five questions.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Don't Get It

A few days ago, a commenter on one of my posts said, "The beauty we see in nature is partly something we have "learned" to see, I believe."

I answered with a cautious maybe. Then someone sent me an email with the Washington Post story of renowned violinist Joshua Bell who, without advertisement of any sort, stood one rush hour morning in DC's L'Enfant Plaza metro station and played six of the most beautiful pieces of classical music ever written on one of the most valuable violins (a Stradivarius) ever made.

It was a social experiment conceived by Post staff writer Gene Weingarten to see if people would take time in their everyday harried, hurried lives to pay attention to beauty. Of the 1,097 passersby, one man stopped for three minutes to lean against a wall and listen and a three-year-old boy, hustled along by his mother kept looking back at Bell. Only one woman in the Plaza recognized Bell and she, too, stopped to listen. A few people tossed money in the open violin case at Bell's feet. The man who sometimes earns $1000 a minute for his talent, netted $32 and change that morning.

The entire article made me feel discouraged beyond measure. The description of the line of folks at the lottery ticket machine shuffling forward without even noticing the musician made me sad and the mention of the fellow listening to a song on his ipod about severe emotional disconnect and the failure to see the beauty of what's right in front of his eyes (Calvin Myint's "Just Like Heaven") made me feel worse. But this line made me feel nearly hopeless: "Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away."

I bought a copy of "Cricket in Times Square" for my grandson's Christmas. In the movie, the whole of the listening area (a subway in New York City) is affected by the music the cricket plays. In a moving scene that never fails to bring tears to my eyes (I bought a copy for myself too, just to hear that music), people of all walks of life paused and listened and were momentarily changed. It's what Weingarten and Bell expected to happen, I think - that recognition of something so beautiful it halts a person in mid-step. Weingarten goes into the reasons why it didn't happen and all of them are discouraging. (For the full story, Google Washington Post and look up Pearls Before Breakfast by Gene Weingarten.)

I've often thought of humans as odd and incomprehensible beings. We are able to create works of astonishing beauty which we then ignore; we make great speeches about love and human rights and peace, then we plan and execute wars; we often save our appreciation of life itself for life's final few moments.

My cautious maybe of above is still cautious. I think, as much as we train ourselves to see beauty, we also train ourselves not to. Immanuel Kant says beauty is part measurable fact, part opinion, with both being colored by the observer's immediate state of mind. One must be paying attention to beauty, it seems, or at least to the possibility of beauty, in order to see it. Apparently, many of us would rather chain ourselves to something else. Call me Pollyanna if you will, but since I have my druthers, I choose on the side of beauty.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Idle Thoughts on a "Snow Day"

In 1953, the year I was seven, my mother gave me a scrapbook full of pictures she'd cut out of magazines and newspapers of the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II of England. I clearly remember gazing in awe at the photos of the dazzling young woman clad in an enviably pouffy dress, an ermine trimmed robe and a jeweled crown atop her regal head. She looked enough like my mother to my young eyes that I went to Mama with scrapbook in hand and asked if I could try on that crown.

Ever after that, I thought of my mother in terms of queenliness. She had a dancer's grace, wore her clothes beautifully, looked marvelous in hats (which I sometimes borrowed, pretending they were crowns), and ruled with intelligence and wisdom (albeit with a touch of severity).

Recently I came across this photo of Elizabeth. I can still see a slight resemblance. My mother has long since passed - she would have been 92 this May. The Queen will be 83 in April. The scrapbook disappeared long ago but my delight in thinking, even for a few giddy, childish moments, that my mother was a real live queen has not much abated.

photos of the Queen from, Annie Liebowitz

Saturday, January 03, 2009


The pond across the road from my cottage. It is one of nature's ever-changing paintings.

Theelementary posted a delightful piece of writing about looking at familiar things from a different perspective. It reminded me of a post I wrote two springs ago. (You'll notice a reference to greening grass and budded branches. We're a far cry from that at the moment as more snow is falling.) Anyhow, in the interest of recycling, here it is again.

Ancient wisdom suggests we look at each day not as if it was our last, but with new eyes, as if every day was our first. Finding that thought compelling, I step out into the sunrise and am struck by the beauty and the mystery of everything around me. What would it mean to see grass for the first time, green and growing, each blade individual and new, rising from the dried and tangled mat of last year’s growth, yet each shoot blending and waving with its counterparts until they spread out before the eye like a verdant sea? Imagine the wonder at touching a bare foot to the dew-drenched stuff, seeing an imprint dark and mysterious appear, then watching it fade as though you did not exist as the sun rises and drinks the condensation.

What of the lilac tree by the door, its trunk gnarled and twisted, the bark rough and scaly, the branches dusted with the bright green of spring-coiled leaves waiting to open? If you had no word for tree, no language to describe the budded arms that would soon be brimming with lushly scented flowers, wouldn’t the wonder of it all sweep you away?

I leave my yard to walk along the edge of the pond in the growing light and watch the sun coat the ripples with silver. Last year’s dried oak leaves dance toward me in a sudden gust of wind even as this year’s prepare to unfurl. I look up and my eye is caught by the movement of small birds high over the pond, swallows perhaps. They are too far up for me to tell, but their joy is clear as they swoop and rise and sail out over the water and back, diving and skimming and soaring again and again. The sun touches the undersides of their wings so that they seem to float on feathers of pure light.

The wind swoops through the tops of the pines, rushing from one to the next, whispering green secrets. The boughs rise and fall as though breathing and I am caught up in the sound and the rhythmic dance of needles against sky. Then the wind is at my feet, whirling the loose sand into miniature cyclones before blowing off across the open fields, losing itself in the woods at meadow’s edge. Later in the afternoon and into the evening as the light wanes and the day’s colors melt into darkness, I will walk once more beside the pond, watching the water, different water now, new water, make its way to the falls. I will understand again that nothing lasts, though nothing appears to change, and tomorrow and tomorrow I will see again with new eyes the same ordinary things.