Monday, July 30, 2012

Random Thoughts

 A strange little circular breeze blew overhead at dusk. It ruffled the leaves of the birches on the front lawn, raced southward to set the leaves dancing on the maples, left them abruptly to tickle the ash trees west of the house, then headed north to make the pine boughs sway. In a moment all was again still, except for the bats galloping about the darkening sky, gulping mosquitoes.

I tried to capture the rising moon with my camera. All around me the summer bugs were making a racket. Katydids rubbed their forewings together and crickets (from the French word criquer, meaning "little creaker") chirped their mating calls. Did you know that when the male cricket chirps, he's actually lifting his wings and pulling the file of one wing across the scraper of the other? The sound is amplified when the thin, papery portions of the wings vibrate. I think I would have called the cricket violinista poco - Spanish for little violinist.

Wednesday begins the last month of summer. The humidity has broken temporarily though the temperatures are supposed to climb a bit during the week.  We've had some much needed rain and the garden is showing its appreciation by drowning me in cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. I show my appreciation by savoring both.

I celebrated Monday by baking a rustic blueberry/peach tart. Come, I'll put the kettle on and we'll have tea and dessert while we watch the day end.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Late Night Thoughts

The cosmos, courtesy of NASA
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.

Brian Greene talks about the multiverse vs our current view of the universe.

Staying up late has its advantages. I get to watch NOVA! I hope no one presses the rewind button too soon. I'm not done messing about with this world yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Retirement, Phase II

Crepes and berries to start the day...

I did something today I have not done since I was in my teens - I slept past 8 a.m. I did wake at my customary hour of 5:45 but it was storming out and I let myself sink back down into sleep and curious dreams. When I finally opened my eyes again, the sun was shining. I stretched, looked at the clock, and did a double take. The hour made me think of my mother who, after the last of us left home, took to sleeping in. When I remarked on the late hour she rose, she shrugged and said, "I'm simply catching up on twenty five years of missed sleep!"

Yesterday I worked on the Bean's Christmas gift. I've spruced up a rescued wooden cradle with decoupage art and some handmade bedding. All that's left is to piece the miniature quilt together and make a pillow.  I'm waiting until I have a few more sewing projects ready before I haul the machine out.

There were some holes in the back of the headboard that are hidden away now.
There's lots of garden work to do but I am waiting for the heat to break. The sky looks like a watercolor wash. Great gray clouds are piled on top of one another, each one threatening rain or thunder or both. Once this stray storm has cleared, the day promises to be less humid. The intense heat has rendered me useless. I've done no painting since the kitchen cupboards, not because there's nothing left to paint (heaven help me, there's the entire cottage interior!) but because I could not summon the energy to do the required prep work.

Phlox and lilies and roses, oh my!
My patio garden is blooming furiously. Every day a few more cherry tomatoes ripen. I've eaten the first cucumber and the first green pepper. There may not be enough produce to put up for the coming winter - this garden is far smaller than the one I planted at the farm - but there's enough to share with the neighbors. Next year I will plan more carefully; an article in Organic Gardening shows how to plant in a small plot for a large yield.

Cukes and tomatoes, potatoes and beans, peppers and swiss chard make plenty of green!
The summer is slipping by so quickly. It still has not sunk in that come September I will not be back in the classroom. I'll be here instead with a paintbrush in my hand and a smile on my face.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Retirement, Phase I

My beloved cottage.
There have been a number of cottage projects over the past several weeks. The kitchen cabinets got a much needed overhaul, the bathroom walls got a new coat of paint, curtains were replaced, the bed got a new mattress, and the patio became a jungle garden replete with herbs, tomato plants the size of trees, and even a potato patch. The next great undertaking is to re-shelve the storage closet.

When the cottage was built it, was an addendum to the main house, connected to the same with a short but wide hallway. The new landlord has since walled off the door at his end and I was allowed to turn the hallway into a storage area. A kind but inept fellow offered to put shelves on the two long walls and for a while that sufficed. The materials he used were not meant for the long haul (or the influx of contents) however, and last year began to sag dangerously. I fully expected to be awakened some awful night by the crash of all my dishes, glass vases and sundry pans, boxes, bags, and crates stored there. Last summer my friend J and I braced the stronger of the shelves and unloaded the others. Free of their burden, the flimsy things collapsed, giving both J and I good smacks on heads and ankles.

This summer I have hired a bonafide carpenter to build new shelves of sturdy wood to replace the over-stressed press board. When he came to take measurements and discuss design, he stood at the open doorway and scratched his head. "You've got the proverbial ten gallons of shyte in a two gallon bucket," he observed.

How right he is!

The new closet design calls for a rod at the back for off season coats with a shelf below for footwear. Shelves will vary in height; there will be a place for my sewing machine, my art supplies, my dishes and vases, the vacuum, the suitcases, and all the odds and sods I've collected over the years and don't use often but can't do without. Construction starts next week. I will have to unload the closet before he begins so if you don't hear from me for awhile, it's because I'm buried somewhere under all my stuff!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Close to pond’s edge,
Their toes in the water,
The trees stand in their green dresses,
waiting, arms extended,
for the night.
Oh! the dance of sunset and trees,
the breezy dip and sway of branches,
The long, slow glide of light
down limb and trunk.

Come On Home

Both photos of Parker taken by my photographer friend, Dave Bushell

Ten years ago my youngest daughter came home to regroup and get her feet back under her. She brought her cat, Parker, with her and immediately he became an honorary member of the farm next door. He loved this place - the wide expanse of green meadows, the surrounding woods, the chicken houses beneath which rats dwelt, the other cats, all but the one male called Fluffers. Fluffers was a Maine Coon cat as was Parker, a gentle breed, all long gray fluff, big green eyes and sweet disposition. The two fought but not often and not to the death. When Fluffers passed on, Parker became the dominant cat and acted every inch the King of his Domain.

When Daughter found a job and a new dwelling on a busy main street, she asked if Parker could stay with me rather than force him to become an indoor cat. I was only too happy to have a grandcat. He would be miserable without his woods and fields, his freedom and his harem. We slid into an easy routine. He spent most nights out of doors hunting with one of the farm cats. If the weather was nasty he slept in the hay barn near the sheep. When it was clear, he slept on the farmer's porch, curled in a gray ball on one of their cushioned outdoor chairs. If it was raining in the morning, he would lay just inside the door of a hay-filled old doghouse set on the hill behind the house just for him, watching and waiting for me to waken. The moment he heard me in the kitchen he made a beeline for the front door.

As Parker aged, he took to climbing into my lap whenever I sat down to read or watch the news. If I was out of doors, he sat on my lap while I ate dinner on the patio or napped on the outdoor swing. He loved to curl up behind my knees when I went to sleep at night but not before lying on my chest, his eyes gazing into mine as I scratched behind his ears and rubbed his velvety nose. I would talk, first about him, what a good cat he was and how handsome and sweet. Then I'd tell him about my day, about things I was thinking and feeling. He'd build up a mighty purr and roll over for a belly rub. There was nothing that a good belly rub could not fix. He still insisted on going out at night but not until four a.m. when I would crawl out of bed in the dark and open the door.

When I took trips to see my children and the grands he would climb into the open suitcase on my bed as if to say, not without me you don't! On the day of departure he'd turn his back on me and huff off. "Mind the house. I'll be back," I'd call to his departing form. When I returned, he'd curl around my legs and trip me up until I picked him up and assured him I loved him and would always come back. The morning I left for Daughter's wedding, he gave me his customary stink eye and strolled off toward the farm. "I'll be back," I called as I dragged my suitcase to the car. He never even turned his head.

Five days later, I wasn't back home for more than a few minutes when the phone rang. It was J from the farm and her voice didn't sound right. "I hate to tell you this," she began, "but Parker's been missing since Friday." She hurried on, "Of course, that's only two days ago and he could show up at any minute. It's been awfully hot. Maybe he's just gone into the woods to cool off. I checked with the neighbors but nobody's seen him. I'm sorry."

I launched a systematic search. I checked with the nearest neighbors to see if he'd gone into a garage and gotten trapped. That had happened once before and it was three days before he was able to get out. I tromped the woods and fields where he loved to roam, calling his name. I rode my bicycle a mile in either direction of the cottage, checking the roadsides. Nothing. No cat, no tell tale scent of decay. Nothing. No deliveries had been made in my absence, though the idea of his climbing into a vehicle seemed ludicrous. Parker hated being in the car. J and I discussed the possibilities. We live in an area that supports foxes, large owls, and hungry hawks. J has lost chickens to all three. Parker was big and gray and bunny-like. He was an older cat, going on 13 and growing thin. Though his last vet checkup hadn't indicated any problems, I'd noticed that he was losing weight. He'd thrown up on my bed while I was gone. Perhaps he'd just gone into the woods to die. The loneliness of that thought undid me.

It's been two weeks now. Every morning I check the doorstep but Parker isn't there. I look up while reading a book, thinking I see him on the lawn but it's only one of the farm cats. I hear a cry and run to see but it isn't him. My imagination puts him in his favorite places - the front step, the outdoor swing, the chair on J's porch, the foot of my bed. I wake in the night, thinking I feel his weight on the blankets. I weep.

I haven't given up hope that he'll return but every day that passes makes it seem less likely. If you see my big ol' Parker kitty, tell him to come on home.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

And The Wheels go Around...

The lettuce fields up the road that supply local restaurants and private customers all summer long.

The lettuce pickers are out early today. The men with their bare backs already browned by the sun, and the young women in tank tops, their long hair tied up on top of their heads, stoop over the rows as they harvest the young leaves. I wave, feeling mildly guilty that they are so hard at work while I ride by on my bicycle in such leisurely fashion.

Seeing them puts me in mind of all the jobs I've held since I was eleven years old; the housecleaning and babysitting I did to earn money for school clothes and 45 records and candy at the Five and Dime. I remember the crewel kit shop I worked in as a young mother, designing flowers and cutesy animals that were printed on cloth and packaged by a cadre of young women for a pittance, and the horrible job behind the lunch counter at a drugstore or the equally horrible stint as a hardware store clerk. I never could agree that the customer was always right.

I thought of how I worked my way from a teacher's aide to the secretary of the Vermont graded school my children attended, how the principal arranged for me to take typing classes before school started so I could better my salary. When I moved back to the flatlands, I was offered a job in the computer lab of a Connecticut school because I was the only applicant willing to work for the salary they offered. That I didn't know much about operating computers was less important. The classroom teacher arranged for me to monitor the before school computer program, saying prophetically, "The kids will teach you what you need to know." She was right, and I went on to take over the adult education classes in computer a year later. After I earned a Masters degree in writing, I taught writing classes through the community college. At the same time, I worked as a publicist for a non-profit organization and wrote a weekly column as well as news and feature stories for the local newspaper. When I retired this past June from the public education system, I had 55 years of working for pay under my belt.

Now I'm pedaling my bicycle as the sun rises, knowing that I have the whole day ahead of me to fill with chosen activities. My mile-long bucket list stretches out before me like a blue highway on a map. I wonder if the young people bent over the lettuce rows contemplate the day they will be retired, or if the long days of field work seem as endless as the years now behind me.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Good Intentions

Mist still asleep on the pond.

Ah, the best laid plans, etc. Upon retirement I thought to make an early morning routine of yoga stretching and a three mile bicycle ride before thoughts of breakfast and the heat of the day shoved me back indoors. I'd wake with such good intentions and then see the unfinished wedding dress hanging on the closet door and before I knew it, the sun was high, the day was hot, and it was time for lunch! Or I'd look at the dingy kitchen cabinets and see the paint can waiting stoically and I'd find myself thinking, just one cabinet at a time. Next thing I knew it was supper time and I was surrounded by wet paint and piles of cabinet detritus.

Now the wedding is a week behind me, the kitchen cabinets are put back together, and though my list of projects looms larger than ever, this morning I actually pulled on a pair of shorts, dragged my bicycle out of the garage, and pedaled off into the 6 a.m. sunshine. The air was a lot cooler than yesterday's 90 degrees. Small clouds that bedded down on the pond were astir and rising, birds chirped and sang and buzzed the meadow as I rode past. A small dog yapped a greeting (or a warning) and a neighbor raised both a hand (and an eyebrow) in recognition.

I pedaled up small hills, along straight stretches and around corners, thinking morning thoughts, watching the day stretch itself and wake up. Finally my empty belly and my aching legs made me turn around and head home. I still haven't gotten to the yoga stretches. Maybe I'll fit them in tomorrow before I get on my bike (and before the lure of unread blogs drags me to the computer).

Now I'm off to make a wee mattress and some bedding for a doll cradle I found for the Bean. Then I have patterns for some summer pajamas and a sundress or two. The cottage's interior walls all need painting as do bits and pieces of furniture. I'm working on a new poem and have volunteered to help out one day a week at the Senior Center. I'm writing a memory book for my older granddaughter S's October birthday, and hunting down ancestors on Perhaps some of my projects will be finished in time for Christmas!

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Summer Notes

Sunrise over the pond.

It has been a time of littles, of sunrise walks, goslings on the pond, spiderweb-caught dew: of endings - the end of school, the end of the 6 a.m. alarm clock - and beginnings: the beginning of summer, the first spinach and lettuce from the garden, the first succulent asparagus spears, the first days of bicycling in the early morning before the day's heat builds and again in the evening when it begins to wane.

It has been a time of bigs - my youngest daughter's wedding, the announcement of another grandchild due in September, my own retirement after eight years at the local elementary school and thirty-odd years in various school systems, too-short visits from loved ones who make the trip east from the Oregon coast just once every few years.

There have been days of drought and hot humid afternoons that suggest storms that seldom materialize. Over other parts of the country thunderheads pile up, bruised and purple, collide and burst, bringing high winds and hail and torrential downpours, and thunder that does not stop, lightning that sets fires. Here we must water our gardens and hope they produce. My little patio garden is thriving but the farm garden has wilted under days of punishing heat.

I am dazed and tired and ready for summer with its somnolent days and fan-brushed nights. I will let the birds wake me far earlier than any alarm clock ever did but much more naturally, let the fact that I'm retired sink in, let others make plans while I nap in the long afternoons, and come here to read up on all of you now and then.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


Monday, June 25
Ironing day. Fifteen tablecloths, 36 napkins, and a last minute pressing of the wedding dress. The temperature outside was in the high 80s. Inside, the thermometer was set to hell.

THE dress. It had satin covered buttons on the placket and a feather stitch-trimmed organdy sash. The Bean wore a matching sash on her little muslin dress.

Tuesday, June 26
Packing day. It took three trips from car to garage, unloading everything that lives in the trunk of my car, then five trips from house to car, loading everything I was to carry to the wedding.

Wednesday, June 27
Airport day. I picked my daughter up at 10 a.m., jammed her suitcase in the one available empty spot in the back seat and off we went to C's house. The bride-to-be was in a well-controlled dither. Taped to the dining room wall were large sheets of paper covered with wedding details. Together we checked off J's arrival. One more airport run was scheduled for Wednesday, and three more headed Fridays' list. We piled back into the car with Mama and baby and went off on a grocery shopping expedition. By Friday there would be ten people in the house to feed.

The "wedding wall" - who, what, when and where, all spelled out.

Thursday, June 28
Never was there such a hurrying from one detail to another, never was there such a marathon of cooking and cleaning and making of beds. Never were there so many trips from the house to the store to the center where Friday night's festivities would be held, to the wedding site where the tent was being erected. Never was there such a long night of fashioning wildflower seed-filled burlap bags for party favors, arranging of flowers in coir pots, printing of menus and calligraphing of place cards. Never was there so much banter and laughter and camaraderie.

Each little burlap bag contained a packet of wildflower seeds for the guests to take home.

 Friday, June 29
After downing numerous bowls of cereal and washing a sink full of dishes, one carload of house occupants headed to the mall for last minute purchases. Another headed to the wedding site to set up tables and chairs and arrange hay bales for seating in the meadow where the ceremony would take place. I stayed back in the suddenly quiet house to mind a sleeping baby.

In lieu of a rehearsal dinner, a help-with-the-wedding-crafts night was held at the local civic center.  All the guests helped to twist wire around the mouths of canning jars to make candle and flower holders, pulled tissue paper leaves to create giant white flowers, tied printed cards to burlap seed bags and ate chicken enchiladas followed by ice cream (to soothe hot throats).

Hard at work making giant tissue paper flowers.
Friday night cooks heat up the kitchen.

The three airport trips netted five more people so that night my sisters and I took ourselves off to an inn nestled among the trees in the next town over. One sister read directions while I drove. It's a good thing my car has a reverse gear. We got lost no less than three times before finding the place. The building had once been an old mill and we fell asleep to the music of water of water sliding over an enormous rock dam.

An old mill building renovated and turned into an Inn.

Flanked by my sisters who are twins.

Saturday, June 30
The rush was on. Everyone headed for the wedding site to help set the tables for the wedding feast, decorate the tent and the ceremony site, hang Chinese lanterns from trees and canning jars full of flowers from shepherd's crooks, cover hay bales with blankets, and practice the march from the top of the hill to the arch where the families would join. From 9 till noon we worked, transforming a meadow into a fairyland, ordinary tables into works of art, and ourselves into sweaty messes.

Back at the house we cycled through the shower, shouting, "Your five minutes are up!" to anyone behind the closed bathroom door. The bride and the Bean and I climbed the stairs to the guest house on the wedding property and changed into our finery there. I felt tears spring to my eyes as I helped C with her dress. The Bean wriggled and squirmed and refused flat out to put on her shoes. "No no no no no!" She was so adamant that I carried her, barefoot, to the ceremony.

Promptly at four, C, her dad and stepmom, one of her brothers, her sister and husband, and the Bean and I started down the hill. My oldest son stood halfway down the grassy slope, waiting for a signal. Through the woods we heard the beating of a drum, calling us down, calling C to A. B's drum answered, "Boom boom, boom boom!" Down we went, getting closer and closer to the white wooden arch that stood serenely in the sunlight before the seated guests. The justice of the peace wore a bright blue shirt that glittered in the light. With a crescendo of drumbeats the couple met and approached the arch. For a moment there was no sound but birdsong and the gentle sigh of the wind in the pines. Then began the service that would unite them officially and the vows that would unite them emotionally. A promised to work at being the best husband and father he could be. C promised that she wouldn't be a grad student forever. There were tears and there was laughter and finally a great cheer arose as they were pronounced man and wife. Afterwards, we all trooped back up the hill to the celebrate with food and wine, laughter and dancing.

Boom boom went the drums, calling us together!
Food, glorious food awaited us at the top of the hill.
In addition to the three wedding cakes (lemon, coconut and chocolate) there were several pies, one of the bride's favorite desserts.
Grilled lemon garlic chicken or tofu, leek and herb rice pilaf, grilled squash with peppers, mixed greens salad and assorted artisan breads followed by wedding cake and pie!

 Sunday, July 1
All good things end. Laughter can turn to tears at the turn of a car wheel bearing loved ones away. Hellos become goodbyes too soon. Hugs are more poignant, promises to call sound choked and sad. But the memories, oh! the memories are balm to the aching heart. Here we are all at the hall on Friday night, sharing the cooking and craft making and eating and the washing of seemingly hundreds of dishes, all to the sounds of laughter and good-natured teasing. There we are bustling about setting the wedding tables with my grandmother's tablecloths, folding napkins that haven't been used in decades, laughing off how hot we are and how buggy the meadow grass is. Here are all four of my children together in my company again for the first time in years and all three of my grandchildren in my arms. There's A, resplendent in a white shirt holding C's hands, telling her he loves her, loves the little family they've created. Here I am tying C's sash and giving her a kiss. There's the Bean, struggling out of her little dress and dashing off in just a diaper to join the kids cavorting outside the tent. There are all the relatives and friends gathered together to honor the bridal couple, raising their glasses in a toast to love and continued happiness and a future filled with joy in one another.

My four children and my newest son.
Memere and her delightful grandchildren.

Happy little family

And here I am again, alone in my little cottage, all the anticipation and work behind me and my own life in front of me. It was a splendid wedding. Now, for the next adventure!