The Icing on the Cake

I don’t mean Icing on the Cake in the figurative sense. You know, the way people say Oh that’s the icing on the cake when they mean the best part of an already good situation, something added that makes a thing better, an enhancement that you don’t actually need but takes the thing up a notch. Such as: My trip was already perfect in every way. The beautiful weather was just icing on the cake.

Notice that the phrase is not, generally, the frosting on the cake. There are exceptions of course, but the idiom that slips off the tongue for most people is the icing on the cake. The difference between icing and frosting is at the kindergarten level of understanding for pastry chefs and aficionados, but I daresay most people would be hard-pressed to articulate their particularities. That might be because the similarities are more striking. They both are 1. Sweet, 2. Spreadable, 3. Useful for enhancing/decorating/topping a cake or cupcakes.

Giovanna Zavell of Drake University begs to differ. She says they although they are commonly confused, they are in fact are “very different” and each have “their own personality.” Icing is thinner, glossier and gets a harder surface after it sets, as when you get eight inches of snow followed by a 40-degree day (so that the upper half inch or so melts) followed by a 10-degree day which makes that melted part form a crust on the surface that cracks as you walk through it. Icing is also called a glaze.

Frosting has more cream/butter, is fluffier and holds its shape. It is also called buttercream. You can spread it with a knife or you can squeeze it out of a pastry bag. Zavell says, “If you want my opinion, choose frosting. Always go with frosting.” But when it comes to food, there is really only one hard and fast “Always go with…” and we all know what that is. Always go with chocolate is just so obvious once you have tasted vanilla ice cream and then chocolate ice cream (I mean, seriously, who can argue with that?).

Now that we’re hopefully clear on icing vs. frosting (you will never mix them up again, right?), you will see that I am not focusing today on icing (though it’s what slipped out of my mind for a title (see how those idioms plant themselves deep in our brains and just spill out!), but rather on frosting. I ended up making two chocolate cakes recently, one for Sandy and one for John. On your birthday around here, you get the kind of cake you want, and both of them asked for chocolate, just sayin’!!

They wanted two different frostings though. Sandy, bless him, wanted chocolate. I know I will disappoint those who need/want exact instructions, but I was in a hurry that day and on autopilot. I mixed (with my new, handy-dandy electric mixer) half a stick of softened butter with some confectioner’s sugar (a.k.a. powdered sugar) (maybe two cups?), a few drops of vanilla, and enough milk (a teaspoon, two? three?) — oh and a couple heaping tablespoons of cocoa! — till it looked like this…

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…at which point I said to myself No, that’s too wet and added more sugar…

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…to make the right consistency. By right consistency, I mean it is not dripping from the beaters, nor is it so stiff that you need to be Hercules to scrape it out of the bowl and spread it on the cake.

Sandy did not want further decoration on his cake – no silly sprinkles, sadly no coconut and thank God no crushed nuts of any kind. So his cake looked simple and tasted yummy. You can’t go wrong with chocolate + chocolate.

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John, a few days later, wanted cream cheese frosting. For this (since I had better be a bit more specific), I checked with Fanny Farmer.

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I never put egg white in a frosting before! But hey, Fanny is reliable, and I must say, there was a nice fluffiness to this frosting when it was done. My mixer was wonderful again (what did I do without it??) and gives me the opportunity to show what I mean by drippy.

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This is what it looks like if you have not yet added enough sugar. It drips from the beaters and doesn’t hold the the beautiful shape of the beater swirls in the bowl. With enough sugar, it stays where it lands on the beaters, and the swirls hold their shape in the bowl. Gotta love those swirls!

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To frost the cake, first put a bit of frosting on the plate like this.

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That way, when you put your first layer of cake on the plate, it doesn’t tend to slide around as much. By the way, frosting a frozen cake is easier than frosting a non-frozen cake. So if you have time to plastic-wrap those layers and put them in the freezer for a while before the frosting stage, do that.

Frost the top of the first layer. Use a non-serrated knife if you want a smoother surface. Note: This does not have to look perfect. It’s going to get covered with the second layer.

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Add the second layer and frost the sides before the top. Note: This does not have to look perfect. It’s a homemade cake. Imperfections are part of the appeal.

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When you are finished, defy expectations (John didn’t specify further decoration either) and add some prettiness such as colored sugar. There is already so much sugar in this – what’s a little more? It doesn’t change the flavor (or irritate anyone who doesn’t eat nuts and then could not enjoy this cake). I happened to have purple sugar on hand, which is a little more festive than it being plain, but not over-the-top. I hope he approves!

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Straw Bale House: Part 2 (Site)

(This is the second of a multi-part series that will document the development of Lincoln and Julia’s property, the first having been entitled “Lincoln’s Pentagonal, Straw Bale Insulated House in Vermont.”)

Say you want to live in the country. You have been dreaming about and looking at properties for years. You finally find a piece of land that has privacy from almost every side and a river a stone’s throw away, yet is only a mile from town. You see the view, the potential. You see the price tag, and it’s doable. On this solid piece of earth, you imagine this here, that there, where the sun will rise, how far a walk it will be to that lazy river one fine day when you are all settled in. Images take shape in your mind. With a canvas, an artist can paint.

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There was snow on the ground when Lincoln and Julia first set foot on the land they would come to call home, land that would come to include their yurt, greenhouse, beehives, garden, barn and of course their pièce de résistance: a pentagonal, straw bale insulated house. In their heads and then on paper they drew up a rough schematic plan showing where everything would best be situated before they even closed on the deal. We’ll come back to this.

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Sometime later they calculated many years’ worth of firewood standing/leaning/lying on site (that would not have to be paid for by the cord) – maybe a lifetime’s worth if they were good stewards of the land. Bonus!

Was there any question that this piece of land was the right one, that buying it was a good decision? Any reason not to jump in with both feet? Absolutely. Skepticism was strong. Lincoln worried that his excitement might rose-color-blind them. He knew he’d be a fool not to ask: What’s wrong with it? What are we not seeing?

Snow is not unusual in Vermont in the wintertime, and it does present assessment challenges. For example, why is there a cattail here in what seems to be a clearing? How wet is it underneath?

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The cattail was worrisome. They talked to the neighbors across the street, who described the land as “kinda swampy.” It was, however, a swamp on a slope. Let’s think about that now (and think long and hard they did): A swamp on a slope can be only so bad and should be manageable. They decided to deal with it. So they worried as they dreamed and they dreamed as they worried.

Before making a decision, they walked the land again after a spot of warmer weather. If they had been excited before, they were even more so when they saw plainly in front of them all they wanted: river, rock, field and forest. They loved it in every way above all other pieces of land they had seen. The big piece of exposed rock overlooking the river put one word in Lincoln’s head: Swoon.

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They knew it was just land, land that dropped off at a steep angle from the road, land with no house (no dwelling of any kind), no driveway (barely a spot to pull off on the side of the road to park, so even an RV wasn’t a temporary option), no electricity, no well, no septic. They knew it would require countless hours of labor, more money than they at that moment could lay claim to and years of patience before the word finished became an accurate descriptor. Yet in they plunged!

Then winter weather kicked in again. Their first campfire says Determination loud and clear, but the first two weeks of snow and cold were the worst. In Lincoln’s words, “The first two weeks on the land sucked. Sucked bad. Probably why we take some other stuff in stride: nothing compares to how that was.”

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Nonetheless Julia’s TA-DA says Ours! as she shows off their first campsite.

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That first night inside the tent, with Rise at age four and Eppie at two, they began an adventure that will last for years.

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The yurt would go up first, becoming a temporary place to sleep, cook and plan the next stage of the ongoing, unconventional, ambitious project they set their minds to. My granddaughters will grow up watching their amazing, energetic, creative parents continually researching, learning new things, doing the next thing, discussing options, working, resting, researching more, learning more new things, meeting challenges, staying flexible, correcting mistakes – ever unfazed by inconveniences that many (most?) of us would not so gladly endure and with a measure of patience that comes with a prize. Three prizes really: peace, self-reliance (though they are forever grateful to all the people they have relied on) and debt-free ownership of their dream home.

On the one hand Lincoln would like it to be clear that they do not live on a massive bucolic estate, rather on “a haphazard swamp where everything is half built or falling apart or both!” On the other he holds fast to Gradatim Ferociter*: slowly, step by step, with ferocity.

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*coincidentally the motto of the rocket company Blue Origin

A Golden Visitor

It’s quite impossible to describe softness in words. Or curiosity. Or grace. The best we can do is give examples and hope that our meaning is clear. Yesterday afternoon all three of these words found a beautiful example in one incredible animal. Millie came to visit.

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Millie is a six-month-old golden retriever. She came with my Airbnb cottage guests Frankie and Steve, who graciously let me enjoy some time with her while they went off to an event downtown. What is it about a golden?

I have always been partial to them. For twelve years, this beauty named Candy was a big part of my world. She was a birthday present for Lincoln when he turned 12 and one of those loyal, gentle, intelligent, perfect dogs that come along now and then in this world.

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She accompanied me to school when I taught in an upper elementary Montessori classroom. As the classroom dog, she brought comfort and cheer to the students every day. I remember one fifth grade boy named Jay saying to me as he sat on the floor with her stroking her fur, “If you’re having a bad day, or someone hurts your feelings, you just go to Candy and pet her, and everything is okay again.”

She seemed to be seriously weakening in the fall of 2012. I had planned a trip and was going to be away for almost two weeks. One morning before I left for work, she was lying on her bed, hadn’t moved yet that day. I got down with her to stroke her lovely head before leaving as I always did. “Candy,” I told her, “you go before my trip or after, but not while I’m away, okay?” Later that morning, Bradley came to me in my office and said, “Mom, I’ve never had to do this before.” He had to tell me she was gone.

How does a dog get so attached to our hearts? I cannot say, but I knew Candy would forever be attached to mine. In her memory and honor, I named my property Golden Hill.

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It all came back yesterday when Millie arrived. I’ve had guests with goldens before but have not been able to spend time with them as I could with Millie. We spent hours outside. I sat with her on the deck of the cottage stroking that amazingly soft fur. We walked over to the coop, she staying right with me as a good dog does. I watched her stare at the chickens – totally, utterly intrigued.

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Around the perimeter of the coop complex she padded noiselessly and gracefully, as if seeing them from a different angle would answer the question written all over her gorgeous face: What are they?

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What are those noises they make? How do they balance those odd bodies on those two ridiculous legs?

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No, I mean seriously: What are they?

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Maybe if I get a little closer…

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Maybe not.

And this one, with the fluffy head… What IS that?

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So I let her inside to see what she would do. Her curiosity was just as intense.

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The chickens, as you can see, were not as interested in her as she was in them.

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Their MO was to get as far from her as they could. Clearly a face-to-face would not be possible without a little help. So I introduced her to them up close and personal.

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No, still no idea…

Millie may have remained baffled, but my day was completely wonderful – I got to enjoy this perfect golden for a few hours. She is and will undoubtedly henceforth be a joy beyond words to Steve and Frankie. I am so thrilled for them. It is not everyday that a dog like this comes into your life.

Batter Beauty

I am not being paid to say this, but I love my new mixer.* I haven’t had a hand mixer (that works) in at least ten years. I’ve had my hand, my wrist and a good whisk, yes. And I’ve had a powerful stand mixer, the kind you keep in the cabinet and lug out for big jobs. But I haven’t had that in-between, lightweight kind that’s as easy to take out from a drawer as a spoon is and that in no time at all whips up cake batter or heaven knows what else I will discover in the coming months.

For now, the cake batter has my attention. Chocolate cake particularly.

I do not consider myself artistic either on the being-an-artist side or on the recognizing-good-art-when-I-see-it side. The beauty/appeal of modern art, including pretty much everything in the Hirschorn Museum in Washington, D.C., touted “as a leading voice for contemporary art and culture,” completely eludes me. Nonetheless I stand ever in awe at sunrises and sunsets, smiles on the faces of children, majestic landscapes, creatures large and small, and colorful, delicate flowers. I think we humans have an intuitive sense of what is truly lovely, even if we each identify different examples, even if we can’t articulate very well exactly what’s amazing about what we are looking at. There’s something about shape, gleam, patterning, movement, authenticity and that very fine line between familiar and unique that catches our eyes.

The chocolate cake batter had me utterly entranced! And no, I was not under the influence of any mind-altering substance.

The mixer did it. The mixer has thin but strong wire beaters. They don’t look particularly powerful.

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But oh, what they do to cake batter!

Understand, I repeat, that I have not had an electric hand mixer in a long time. I have been managing just fine with the baby and the beast – my whisk and my stand mixer. So I was a little skeptical. I beat the butter and sugar together. Okay, nice. “Fluffy,” as recipes like to say.

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I added two beautiful eggs. (Look at those eggs, huh?)

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The butter-sugar-eggs combo developed a smoothness that started to look kinda pretty. But, hey, I’m just here to make cake, right?

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My recipe calls for the rest of the dry ingredients to be added alternately with the buttermilk. This is the recipe by the way: Best-Ever-Chocolate-Cake-From-Scratch. It might have been on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa tin years ago, but I cannot be sure. The chocolate cake recipe that’s now on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa carton (no longer a tin) is different. (My note of praise in the upper right hand corner was from when I made copies of my favorite recipes for my children and put together cookbooks for them, but that is another story.)

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Anyway, I got to the part where you add milk and then flour, then more milk and then more flour. That’s when it started getting interesting.

Do you see what I see? Do you see the swirls, the cake-batter-landscape of little hills and valleys and possibly river gorges cut through in an age gone by? The random spatters just above the land mass on all sides? Now watch. Depending on where the beaters are within the bowl and what angle you hold them, the batterscape changes.

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For the record, I love chocolate. Vanilla ice cream doesn’t hold a candle to chocolate. Cake of any flavor but chocolate is trying, I know, and I give it credit for trying, but the competition is simply too great. Chocolate wins for me every time. This fact could perhaps contribute to my increased delight as I went from the batter above to its better (i.e. chocolate) version.

If you decide to try this recipe, please note that even though the recipe calls for you to get to the stage above and then mix up the cocoa and boiling water into the positively glistening paste that results, I suggest you do that at the start so as to let that mixture cool a bit.

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And if you don’t already have a mini-scraper like this, you might want to get one, even if it is not as cute as this. I find this size comes in very handy.

You add the chocolate to the beautiful swirly batter in the bowl. (Just imagine how excited I was at this point anticipating! If the pre-chocolate batter patterns moved me as they did…)

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Here we go, folks! Let the marbling begin, even as you know that the two will become one glorious mixture.

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I just loved the velvety smooth, different-every-second designs in my bowl…

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…the way the light shone here and there…

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…the kaleidoscopic variance.

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Call me crazy (and you may be right), but I had fun making this cake! Beauty is all around, isn’t it?

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*My new mixer is a Kitchen Aid model KHM512MY in majestic yellow.

At 100

Yesterday as I stood in a parking lot and looked up, I heard a racket and saw many birds in the top of a tree. It was a tall tree! I suspect the birds were on their way somewhere en masse and saw this perfect stopping place, like a good park bench after a long walk. Oh, look, a place to rest our bones a bit. I can’t know for sure, but it seemed to me that on this very gray day they were loving their place at the top.

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Reaching great heights in another way are people who hit the milestone year of 100. On a weekly basis I read to Evelyn, who is 101. This week I happened upon a video called Life Lessons from 100-Year-Olds, about three people, each over 100: Clifford Crozier, 101; Amelia Tereza Harper, 103; and John Denerley, 102 and a half. What do they have in common besides the good fortune of having made it past 100 without incapacitating physical or mental difficulties?

Attitude, that’s what. Good attitude. I notice some common themes among the things they have to say about life.

Keep things in good perspective.

“I don’t have many failures,” Cliff says. “If I make a cake and it fails, I have a pudding.” I love this, especially considering how many cakes I have made that were not very good looking, or the time I forgot to put the sugar in the pumpkin pie! (We doused it with maple syrup and it wasn’t half bad!) This is Cliff. He also makes his own bread by hand.

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“Everything makes me happy,” says Amelia. “I love talking to people, I like doing things, I like going out shopping. I’ve got beautiful memories and can live happily because of my beautiful memories.” She also has no regrets, absolutely none. Can you imagine having a perspective that allows you to be that happy? To have lived that many years and not be dragged down by what-if’s and oh-why-did-I-do-that’s? To know you did the best you could and to be able to truly say: Everything makes me happy. This is Amelia.

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John keeps perspective by refusing to stay stuck in the past. While showing you his iPad, he says, “You’ve got to keep up with the times. What was good 80-90 years ago doesn’t work these days.” I wouldn’t think he necessarily means you have to be a tech whiz, but rather that you recognize the simple truth that some things do change – systems, procedures, styles, techniques – in a constantly evolving way, and it behooves us to stay with the program. We do best when we allow for a beautiful blend of old and new, classic and trendy, order and chaos, rock solid and on the edge. This is John.

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Evelyn listens carefully and always wants to be learning new things. We read through a comprehensive biography of Queen Victoria. “Who would have thought she would have a man like that in her life?” she said of John Brown, the unpolished Scot who became Victoria’s sole confidant in her later years. We are now into a rather graphic book about everyday life in pre-Civil War Charleston. “Isn’t that awful?” she says sympathetically when any of the characters fare poorly. Evelyn’s heart is tender, she doesn’t miss much, and she loves Coco!

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Be a good neighbor.

Amelia says, “A good idea is to behave well to other people, show them respect. And help them as much as you possibly can and it will be repaid hundredfolds.” Which of us cannot say, have not seen, that good begets good? It certainly might not be that you get back the very thing you give (you seldom do), or that you get something at the time you would think would be best (often we wait), but good comes around and multiplies, and there are more blessings every day than we could count.

“I think I’ve done all that I wanted to do, as long as I can be helpful and keep going. That’s the main thing.” Cliff knows as we all must come to know, that you can’t do everything. You know and spend time with a small circle of people (and hopefully you hold them dear); you travel here and maybe there too, but not everywhere. But it doesn’t matter. We do the next thing with the same full heart and soul as we did the last thing, and that leads to the next thing, and along the way we help as we can – and little else is needed for a full and rich life.

Stay strong (as strong as you can).

I love the vitality, the determination, the utter lack of dejected resignation that I see in these wonderful people. Evelyn enjoys a chocolate milkshake every day (and why not?!). “I don’t know why I’m still here,” says. “But every day I get up and it’s a new day…. Oh, Coco’s here! Come here, Coco!” She strokes this beautiful pug’s fur during the whole time we are reading, and Coco lays quietly at her side and loves every second of it. Maybe we never grow tired of stroking a beloved animal’s fur.

“I’m not going yet,” Amelia says. “I’m still strong. I’m very very strong. I never realized how strong I am.” At 103 she says how strong she is! I love how she then credits her mom and her mom’s cooking. “It’s all the food that my mother cooked and first of all grew in the garden. We always always had fresh food when we were youngsters, always. Straight from the garden, into the pan and onto the plates.” I’m sure there’s more to her longevity than this, but I too am a mom who worked hard to put good, fresh food on the table for my own children, and I will hope it has at least something to do with their good health.

Why not see that today is what we have, and embrace it? Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t here yet. “It’s just that you keep going. It’s only a number. 101 is only a number,” Cliff assures us. “And you live for the day. Be as independent as you can but don’t be reluctant to ask for help when you think you need it.” Independence and interdependence are not and do not have to be mutually exclusive. I imagine that when Cliff needs someone else for something, he remembers that others have in turn needed him, and I also imagine he shares the bread he makes! Respectful give and take creates the amazing community that community should be.

We seldom know what’s around the next bend in life, but movement forward is what’s important. John’s motto for life mirrors Cliff’s, though he takes the words directly from a Harry Lauder song: “Keep right on to the end of the road…” Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t think it doesn’t matter if you help your neighbor/ friend/ cousin/ niece/ colleague/ anyone (it matters!). Stay strong, keep a good perspective and live the best life you can live.

The Light of 2019

Last year during the week between Christmas and New Year, it was very, very cold here in Virginia, inordinately cold, exceptionally cold. We seldom get to single digits, let alone for a week straight. We took Katja, a visitor from Germany, to Washington, D.C. and walked from one end of the National Mall to the other. It was 4 degrees F (-15C) that day.

Just before Christmas we were in Vermont. I did not pay as much attention to the temperature because we were busy insulating Lincoln’s house and hauling household items up the snowy hill, but I do remember hearing it was 11F. That’s not as cold as 4F but it’s still mighty cold. Coco doesn’t like it. Poor baby. There’s not a lot of fur on her belly, and it’s very tough on her. She would much rather be tucked in.

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When we got home it was much warmer. It makes me smile to see her finding her spot outside on the front porch (that’s no closer to being finished than six weeks ago)…

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…or inside where the sun comes through my south-facing bedroom window.

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She finds and occupies the only bit of rug that also has sun in that room and has her trusty fox toy behind her. Now we’re talking! New Year’s Day in my neck of the woods is predicted to be sunny and 64F (17C). Ah, glorious sun!

If a patch of sun can make Coco so happy, imagine what it can do for you, what it does do for you without you hardly noticing it most of the time. Think about how you feel on a drab day vs. a sunny day. If you live in a place that’s sunny all the time, you may not be as aware of the effect that cloudy days have on your emotional well being. But winter is harder in places that get snow not only because it’s colder but also because there is less sun.

Imagine if we arranged our built spaces to take advantage of the sun whenever possible. One of my favorite books about the design of living spaces is A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. In it he suggests some examples to encourage indoor sunlight: “(1) a porch that gets the evening sun late in the day; (2) a breakfast nook that looks directly into a garden which is sunny in the morning; (3) a bathing room arranged to get full morning sun; (4) a workshop that gets full southern exposure during the middle of the day; (5) an edge of a living room where the sun falls on an outside wall and warms a flowering plant.”

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In Lincoln’s pentagonal house, he has chosen to put an oculus (which will become a cupola with functioning windows) in the center of the second-floor ceiling. Light will stream into almost every room of the house through this amazing component of his design.

This (in my woobly red line) is the oculus I’m talking about. Only some of that flooring will remain.

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Most of us are stuck with the house we have, the orientation it came with, the sun we get. But on this first day of 2019, I am thinking about what the sun does for us and how we can and should take advantage of it. Find a sunny spot to sit in if you can, even for a little while. Let the sun do its work on you. See what happens.

Beyond that, I think about what we can do for others by being “sunny” in our interactions. The expressions that come to mind and go hand in hand with this concept include:

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar – a favorite of mine because it’s true not only figuratively, it’s true literally. The image of a flypaper hanging from a ceiling in a cabin somehow resides in my mind. If the strip of paper were coated with honey, no way could a fly’s wings detach once they landed on it. What (very dumb) fly would land on a paper coated with vinegar? I translate as: You accomplish more by using grace and kindness than by being sour/vindictive/mean/angry/etc.

In honor of Mary Poppins, all the rage with Mary Poppins Returns being in theaters right now: A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. In the Julie Andrews original, she applies this literally, though why the children need medicine when they are not sick is beyond me. Nevertheless, my translation: The world can be a tough place; anything we do to make it better makes it better! Add an element of good to something that is unpleasant or difficult and you will find everything easier.

Lastly: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine! I was thinking today about how limited we are, how our sphere of influence is small, how many people there are in the world and how few of them we can in any way affect. So what? We don’t have to save the world (this has already been done), but we sure can make our own corners — and the corners of those we love and care about — less dark by our chosen actions.

Several years ago, I found the essay We Were Made For These Times by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves). It made me think about why I do what I do, what I think is important, what the future might hold. Maybe it speaks to you and helps you make 2019 a wonderful year in new and important ways.

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind.

Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails.

We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn’t you say you were a believer? Didn’t you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn’t you ask for grace? Don’t you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.

The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.