Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spilled Secret

Look at all those unsuspecting faces...
Several years ago my children and ex and I were living in the cellar while we built a log cabin over our heads. My sister and mother had joined us for Thanksgiving dinner and things were cramped in the basement. Two adults, four children and thirteen dogs (eleven of them puppies) were crowded into whatever space was left around the furniture and packing boxes. Add two guests and a twenty-pound turkey and something was bound to happen.

Dinner was nearly ready. Northern Vermont is cold by November so the kids and their dad were out gathering wood to keep the cookstove fire burning. The table was set, the potatoes mashed, the cranberry sauce chilled. I lifted the heavy roasting pan out of the oven and as I did, the bird took flight. It landed at my feet in a great splash of grease and slid with astonishing speed directly toward the mouths of eleven startled pups.

Mama dove for the bird, dumped it in the sink and furiously pumped water over it. Out of the corner of her mouth she said, “Don’t say a word and no one will know.”

Until today, no one has.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Even bad days come to an end...
This has been a day of damns. I woke, stretched and watched in disbelief as my toes curled one way, my heel twisted the other, and the muscle in my calf turned to a pillar of stone before my very eyes. I sprang out of bed shouting, "Damn! Ow! Ow! Ow! Damn!" The day went downhill from there.

The first pancake, not quite cooked through, tore as I flipped it. (Damn.) The container of raspberries stubbornly refused to open and then when it did it flipped over, spilling berries all over the floor. (Damn!) I had some data entry work to do at the home of a former boss and when I finished and got into my car to return home, I realized I'd forgotten my special chair cushion. I went back in the house and up the stairs to fetch it, apologizing on the way only to get back to the car and realize I'd left my tea mug in the office. I went back in, apologized once more, went up the stairs and fetched the mug. Half way down I remembered the calendars she'd given me that were still sitting on the edge of the desk. I trudged back up and back down again, feeling very disorganized and foolish. (Not exactly the way one wants to appear before an employer. Damn!)

Back home I collected my book and my outdoor swing cushions, thinking to enjoy an hour's worth of reading in the bright sunshine before lunch when I found the note I'd scribbled to myself about getting my flu shot and a pertussis booster. I called the doctor's office. "Come now if you can," said the nurse (damn) so I got back in the car and drove into town. The nurse was waiting for me with two hypodermics but the new receptionist could not figure out how to enter my Medicare information into the computer. She whisked my card out of my hand, told me to go on through and she'd have it figured out by the time I was done. "I'll have to give one shot in each arm," chirped the nurse. (Damn!) Back at the reception window the new woman was still struggling with my information. She searched for my card and couldn't find it. "Oh dear," she sighed, pawing through a slew of papers strewn across her desk. (Damn!) Finally another woman behind the counter located it in the copy machine. I took it and fled.

I opened the cottage door to the drool-inducing scent of pork cooking slowly in pomegranate juice and orange slices. Every week I try to take a ready cooked meal to my daughter's, saving her a day of thinking about, preparing and cooking dinner. I lifted the lid and inhaled. I took a fork and poked one of the sweet potato chunks swimming in the delectable juice. It fell apart before I could lift it to my mouth. (Damn.) The crockpot had been on low for a mere three hours. The recipe called for 6 hours of cooking. Nothing should have been fork tender yet. (Damn!) I took a slotted spoon and scooped the potato chunks out, mashing a few in the process. (Damn!)

I toasted English muffins with cheese and tomato for lunch. One tomato slice slid off the toast and spattered on my clean shirt. (Damn.) And my clean jeans. (Damn!) I'd already done two loads of laundry which were flapping on the line so I hand washed and wrung out the shirt and jeans and hung them on the line. No way were they going to dry before sundown. (Damn!)

The sewing project I'd put off for days sat waiting for me. I am making slipcovers for cushions that will make seating out of a long, low bench in my daughter's dining room. All that was left was to put a long zipper on one end of each cushion cover. To save money I'd cut two zippers from some old cushions. I set my sewing machine up on the kitchen table. I needed a magnifying glass to help me see the infinitesimally small hole in the needle. It took several minutes to thread the machine. More time was spent ironing seam allowances and pinning the edges to the zipper. A special presser foot had to be installed. Finally I was ready to sew. The fabric was thick and refused to be moved along by the ridges on the feeder plate. The thread gathered and bunched and broke. (Damn.) It took several tries to re-thread the machine. (Damn!) Half an hour later the first zipper was finally stitched in. I pulled the zipper closed and whoosh! The pull flew up the teeth and right off them, flung itself from my hand and came to a clanking stop under the refrigerator. (Damn!)

I did what any country girl does when things go wrong inside. I grabbed my sweater and went outside, stood in my fading summer-green-turning-to-autumn-brown yard and looked up into the huge blue sky. Great, gray-white, puffy clouds drifted before a high wind. The sun was setting in a welter of pinky gold. One wispy cloud looked like a small witch on a tattered broom. Chasing behind her was a dragon-shaped behemoth, gray-black along the edges where ten foot incisors loomed. I wondered if that poor witch was saying, "Damn!"

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Of Storms and Silence

There's a tiny goldfinch in the center of fallen leaves. See it?
It was a calm day, this day before the next storm making its way up the eastern seaboard. The sun smiled down from a cloudless blue sky. A small breeze danced with falling leaves. Frost made the grass underfoot crunch as I set out to see what the geese on the pond were hollering about. As I crossed the road a bright yellow leaf fluttered over my shoulder. But wait... leaves don't chirp! I looked down. There at my feet, half disguised by a thick pile of oak leaves hunched a tiny yellow finch. Hardly daring to move, I lifted my camera and snapped a shot before the little bird fluttered its wings and lifted off. Though they seldom frequent my feeder in the winter, I read that they stay here year round, braving the cold and snow and bitter winter winds.

Leathery oak leaves brought down by hurricane winds.
Leathery oak leaves have been blown from trees earlier than usual and litter the roadsides. We've had some very strong winds lately and more are due tomorrow night. Just two weeks ago the maples and beeches, the birch trees, walnuts, poplars, and hickories held their colors high. Then came Hurricane Sandy; wind and rain tore the leaves down and flung them far and wide.

Cold weather has bitten the heads off the last of the season's flowers. I spent the day cutting dead stalks, mulching the rosebush roots, filling the bird feeders, turning the mulch that's been collected over the summer. It was so fine a day that I sat on the patio with my afternoon tea, basking in the sunshine that bathed that sheltered nook. Warmer weather will follow the Nor'easter and by Monday the temperature will climb toward the 60s. It will be a welcome treat before cold settles in for the duration.

Garden beds readied for winter.
I love this time of year. I like the gunmetal smell of cold air, the constant conversation of the geese on the pond, the stark pen and ink sketches of leafless branches against a pale sky. I love snow and snowshoeing, hot chocolate and holiday meals, sledding down slippery hills, standing under the Wolf and Snow moons of January and February while stars sparkle like white Christmas lights against a darkened sky. Most of all I like the quiet, the gentle hush of winter mornings, the deep stillness of long nights, the soft whisper of falling snow. To love winter, one simply needs to listen to the peace.

Branches inked onto a sky canvas.

Sunday, November 04, 2012



The day is wrapped in clouds and cold
and so am I,
determined in my unhappiness,
marching up a mountain,
anger in every step.

And there, nestled in the shelter of a fallen log,
pierced by an errant ray of sun,
shines a violet,
a single lavender blossom,
an April treasure in November.

Growing by serendipity or design
what does it matter,
when an entire mood can be altered
by the sight of small purple petals?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Greatest of These...

Youngest daughter with the Bean and the Sprout.
 This is my youngest daughter's birth month. I remember her as a little blonde-haired girl with a jack-o-lantern smile, her tooth held tightly in the palm of her hand as she climbed the stairs to bed.

“How does the tooth fairy know my tooth fell out?” she asked, tucking it under her pillow.

“Fairies just know these things,” I assured her. “It’s their job.”

Late that night when she was sound asleep I tiptoed into her room and exchanged the tooth for a shiny quarter. “Understand sweet girl,” I whispered, “that fairies come in all sorts of guises.”

She was a serious child who asked why more often than her siblings. As my youngest, she and I spent whole days together while the older kids were in school. We would wander through the woods looking for elves and gnomes, flop down among the wildflowers in a meadow and cloud gaze, race rainstorms home across the hill and make angels when winter snows fell deep. She would look at me and wonder what held up the clouds, what made the snow fall down, and what caused the wind to blow. We would hold hands and together we’d look out at the world in awe.

In any relationship, the one who teaches and the one who learns constantly change places. Being a mother has allowed me to experience both ends of the emotional spectrum—deep joy and profound fear. There were times when I had to deliberately choose joy over fear or I never would have allowed my children out of my sight.

Now that this youngest child has two daughters of her own and as I spend time with them, I realize more than ever that choosing joy is the same as choosing love. If there is a constant in my life with my children and grandchildren, it is love—love without condition, without limit, and without end.