A Rest on the Beach

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Feet in a hot tub.

feet in spa.jpg

Feet in the sand.

feet in sand cr.jpg

A warm breeze. A few collected shells.

shelll collection.jpg

Nice conversation. A gorgeous sunset over the ocean. (Guess where I am!)

sunset

A breathtaking view from the hotel room. And water – what is so peaceful about water (when it’s not, of course, in a violently raging storm)?

view from room

How is it that we sometimes don’t know what we need until we get it? Or, in my case, until we are gifted it. I am careful of the word “need.” I do not “need” (though I am loving it!) a few days at the luxurious Lido Beach Resort in Sarasota, Florida, in the company of my amazingly generous college roommate (thank you Dina!) and her wonderful family (hello Fred, Debra, Luana and Brian, Walt and Jené!).

group

What I “needed” was a rest – the I-do-not-have-an-agenda kind of rest, with all the relaxation, perspective and refreshment a good rest brings. It does me good to get outside my ordinary everyday world (much as I love that too), to eat other foods (“Fin & Crab” was outstanding tonight), to talk about other things, to see other sights.

What a godsend of a place for a rest! I am reminded that some people like to fish on the end of a jumble of rocks…

Walt fishing2.jpg

…or think giant rubber duckies are cool…

rubber duckie

…or make impressive sand animals (is it a manatee?)…

sand manatee2.jpg

…or write their feelings with excellent handwriting (sandwriting?). I love the beach too!

I love the beach.jpg

I get to see for myself some of the wildlife that could be chosen for nature programs like Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II (exceptionally well done shows). These, as Fred so kindly looked up for me, are Royal Terns.

terns in water

We wondered if the ones with all black feathers on their heads are the males and the ones with only partial black are females, or vice versa. The color of their beaks made me imagine a paint color card – the kind you see at Lowe’s – with Royal Tern Beak Orange on it. The birds stick together (for safety in numbers?) and don’t let you get too close. In the water against the setting sun they are some kind of beautiful.

terns in water at sunset.jpg

On the sand during the day they are harder to spot.

group of terns

They clearly have one or two self-designated “spokes-terns” that do all the squawking for all the others (on which point you will have to trust me). I suppose it’s also possible that they had some sort of in-house competition for loudest/most obnoxious squawk and those that won need to continually prove their superior skill.  Yes, yes, everyone on the beach hears you!

The Royal Terns undoubtedly have various other fascinating characteristics that the nature show producers would call attention to. Maybe they dive bomb their prey. Maybe they mate for life. Maybe they are fashion divas and change their feather colors with the changing seasons. I will wonder – and likely remain ignorant – because hey, so many shells, so little time!

shells on beach cr.jpg

Do you think this little lonely beauty is unbroken?

water rushing over sand.jpg

A Skink in a Log

When your alarm goes off at 435am so you can leave for the airport by 515, it’s very dark outside. It’s hard to get up. Your eyes resist opening. They slit open only enough to deactivate the alarm. You roll over and tuck in again. Just a few more minutes, you think, just a few.

No. Today is Travel Day. Time to get up. Now.

That’s just how the skink must have felt, the one we found inside a cut log this weekend. The one we woke up.

If you have ever wondered what the inside of a tree looks like, look on the outside for clues. If you see a lot of holes, especially large ones – fist-size or bigger – worry. If you see squirrels and birds disappearing inside those holes – worry more. You might have a tower filled with condominiums for your local wildlife. If that tree is anywhere near your house, call someone to come take it down.

The 80-foot (or so) tree that stood about an arm-spread from the back corner of my house, right next to my bedroom, was one such tower. Last winter a professional climber lopped off numerous branches while hanging from a rope tied to the jib of a 40-ton crane. Do you see him up there? He’s just under that heavy ball attached to the rope that’s attached to the jib.

20180206_134411.jpg

Then they felled the tree. Afterwards he said to me no fewer than four times, “You are so lucky that tree didn’t fall on your house. You are so lucky.”

The cut branches revealed all stages of disintegration: some entirely without a core, some with wood fluff that fell out like finely shredded Styrofoam, some with spongy innards, not yet dry enough to slough off and out. I was so lucky.

20180206_141512.jpg

Some of this wood we cut up right away for firewood. Some of it sat in a jumble near the garden, waiting, aging, drying some more. Fourteen months later it was time to split and stack the rest. I’m good for rolling cut sections toward the cutting area and for picking up and stacking the cut pieces. Samuel swings the ax.

Samuel1cr.jpg

“Hey, look. Is it dead?” He brought over a split piece to where I was wrestling with nasty, thorny Virginia creeper. Do you see the little fella with the unmistakable blue tail ?

skink1cr.jpg

The aptly named blue-tailed skink seemed to be sleeping. Do skinks hibernate? The impact of the ax, the sound and disturbance of the cracking, the force of the split log falling to the ground – none of this disturbed him. He snoozed soundly in his little crack, hoping perhaps that it isn’t spring just yet.

Awwwww – just a few more minutes??

No. Sorry. Today is Wood Splitting Day. Time to get up. Now.

The fresh air must have roused him. Off he scampered, easily disappearing among some dead leaves. Within minutes Samuel spotted his compatriot, a little brown lizard way better camouflaged and surely able to claim a better name than “little brown lizard” but sadly I don’t know my woodland wildlife well enough. See him just below the toe of Samuel’s left boot?

lizard4.jpg

Two lizardy creatures awakened to Spring 2019 before our eyes! That’s not a thing you can say every day.

Fang??

Everyone needs a job. Everyone’s got a job. Think of it this way:

“See, I think there’s a plan. There’s a design for each and every one of us. You look at nature. Bird flies somewhere, picks up a seed, shits the seed out, plant grows. Bird’s got a job, shit’s got a job, seed’s got a job. And you’ve got a job.”

So says the caring old woman Inman meets in the forest in the film version of Cold Mountain.* I recalled her words yesterday as Samuel and I walked with his ridiculous little black dog on a leash into the health care unit to visit mom.

Coco’s got a job.

We had hardly stepped off the elevator when a resident in a wheelchair noticed her as she was sniffing along the floor (imagine the assault on her senses!!), oblivious to the turning heads and sudden smiles she invokes. “Oh, look at that!” exclaimed the man, clearly enamored and delighted with the unexpected encounter. I stopped and let Coco investigate his chair and the floor around him more thoroughly so he could study her comical shape, flapping ears, short legs, tight body and smooshed face with some leisure. She’s lean for a pug, with well-defined shoulders that taper such that she could boast a waistline if she could boast. Her fur covers her frame as tight as sausage casing, her face says “what?” flatly, her brain is clearly clueless as to why the humans around her are so intrigued.

You’ve seen this silly face before, this sleek body.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s ridiculous. Mom likes to say she’s ugly enough to be cute. My favorite photo is with incognito Samuel. I think it’s her best what-face.

Coco ingognito (2).jpg

Jim in the wheelchair smiled big, asked her name, told us about the dog that comes special to visit him sometimes. I picked Coco up and brought her closer to him. What is it about an animal’s warm, lovely, silky fur that is so soothing? He reached for her head instantly and stroked around her velvet ears several times. Much as I wanted to give him a little more time to enjoy her softness, her silliness, her perkiness, her ridiculousness, delighted as I am to provide him these bright and pleasant moments, Samuel’s time was limited. Thinking of Mom’s recent back surgery and ongoing recovery, I closed the conversation with a well-wish. “We’re off to visit my mom. I wish you all the best in your own recovery.”

“Oh, I’m here for the rest of my life,” he said with as broad a smile as he’d had for Coco. “I knew that coming in.” Oh! How I wished protocol didn’t prohibit me from giving him a hug!

Coco’s job is to make people smile. She doesn’t even have to try. Walk her through a health care unit where some people are hurting, some are sad, some are harried, some are lonely – and a remarkable, involuntary thing happens. People smile. They stop in their tracks and smile. Coco doesn’t smile, mind you. She just sticks out her tongue. People smile. Starting with Mom.

grandma and coco.jpg

We prepared ourselves for a little jaunt and got on our way with Miss Princess perched on a pillow on Mom’s lap. One man we passed in the hallway on our way to the courtyard looked down, beamed, pointed, laughed and said, “Fang!” Somewhere in his memory bank lives a dog named Fang? Or she looks like she has one? (One fang?) Maybe her tongue incessantly sticking out to one side looks like a fang? We had no time for the backstory but ….  Fang??

Smiles happened every step along the way. Long hallway, elevator, lobby, mail room, corridor leading to courtyard… Every step brought smiles.

Every step except one. You know as well as I do: There’s a grump in every group. Along came Kathy, hunched and cranky. She scrunched up her nose (unknowingly imitating Coco?) and peered toward the object on Mom’s lap as if her disgust reflex had sent a red flag up the pole, the unspoken question being “What is it?” Mom volunteered, “Her name’s Coco.” Grumps are good at grunting, and that’s about all we got in return, making us eager to part company. Grumpy, Grunty, Crusty Kathy shuffled off, obvilious to the pall she took with her, and Mom and I proceeded to the courtyard.

grandma 3.24cr.jpg

No one is under obligation to like this dog, pet this dog, smile at this dog. But most do. That’s what makes me think Coco has a job whether she knows it or not. Which makes me think we all have a job whether we know it or not. We might think of a job as the work we get paid to do, or got paid to do, or wish we got paid to do. But let’s hope that’s not all it is. Let’s hope that no matter how we occupy our days, we take a lesson from Coco and somehow bring what she brings – at least here and there – into the often hurting, sad, harried and lonely days of others. Who’s to say even Crusty Kathy didn’t grin as she walked away from us? I’d like to think so! Coco surely worked her magic even if we didn’t see it. 

__________________________

 

*Charles Frazier’s outstanding Civil War novel is one of my all-time favorites for not only its story line, but mostly for Frazier’s artful and amazing era/person/region/situation-appropriate use of English. This quote is not in the novel. The old woman, given the name Maddy in the film, says it as she mercifully slaughters one of her beloved goats to provide a meal for Inman, the main character, a soldier on the run, perhaps to lessen the blow of her sacrificial act for today’s sensitive viewers, perhaps to give him a gentle reminder, a renewed understanding of the why of his heart wrenching journey. In the book she remains nameless but infuses her time with Inman with many other thoughtful, wise and helpful words. Do get yourself a copy and slowly work your way through this exceptional book.  Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier, Random House, 1997

The Journey Part of Journey Cake

My mom had surgery two days ago, vertebrae-fusing back surgery that went very well (she was walking within four hours!). I wanted to bring her some breakfast yesterday. We all have our go-to recipes, right? Quick, easy, tried and true? One of mine is Johnny Cake, also known as Cornbread, also known historically as Journey Cake. I love my recipe. Last summer I added fresh summer sweet corn sliced right off the cob and made it into “corn muffins at their best.”

This morning I wanted to make it in my cast iron pan instead. The crust comes out so well this way. If you look carefully, you can see the steam rising from this piece I cut for my own breakfast.

johnny cake (2)

Some things you stop seeing after a while, but when I looked at the recipe, I realized anew that it is called Johnny Cake. That’s how I knew it as a child. “Corn Bread” is parenthetical.

recipe cropped_LI

Somewhere along the line, “Journey Cake” morphed into “Johnny Cake.

I’m glad it did. No way could my version rightly be called or even thought of as a cake you could make on a journey. Think covered wagon journey. Think doing-the-best-we-can-with-limited-supplies. On such a journey (at least in my 21st-century imagination) the chances of having flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, eggs, milk, butter AND maple syrup at the same time, to say nothing of the proper pans and cooking fire/oven, seem super slim. Maybe they had a cow tied to the wagon (they would need her when they arrived in Oregon); maybe they had some laying hens, though I expect those became dinner when wild game was hard to find. But baking powder, maple syrup, white flour – no way. I expect they felt right grateful to have cornmeal, water (maybe milk), some salt and a little fat for frying the cakes (think cornmeal pancakes).

I for one am very glad to have all the ingredients at my fingertips.

I get to:

1. soften the butter in the microwave to the perfect melted-but-not-hot stage (30 seconds, then work the back of a spoon against any parts remotely still solid);

butter in bowl cr

2. put the pan in the preheating oven with a pat of butter in it, let the butter melt, then tilt the pan this way and that to evenly distribute the hot, melted butter and feel the solidity of the pan, watch the different paths the butter takes, admire the ways the light glistens. (We all have our thrills, okay?)

butter in pan2.jpg

3. look at the eight ingredients in a bowl, as yet unmixed, and anticipate their utter transformation;

ingredients in bowl.jpg

4. blob the batter into the pan and think about what happens to it in the heat, how the batter finds the corners and changes consistency during baking (I do smooth it out a bit before putting it in the oven);

batter in pan

5. enjoy the lovely crust, buttery because of the butter I melted in the pan and as dark as I choose to let it become.

johnny cake in pan

Step by step a thing takes form, simply becomes. It doesn’t matter if it’s the cornbread I’ve made for years or the Ligurian Lemon Cake I found on a found on a fellow blogger’s site recently (doesn’t that look good?!). It doesn’t matter if it’s a friendship or a project. Step by step we walk our unboring paths, touching and serving one another in ways we know and in ways we don’t know.

There were numerous high points with yesterday’s breakfast, including softening the butter, tilting the pan, blobbing the batter. Another was the steaming piece on my plate, fresh out of the oven, drizzled with honey. The best was packing up a basket to take with me to Mom at the hospital. Other people bring flowers – daffodils, begonias and a sweet pink rose adorn her room – but I bring food. How many chances like this do you get? To bring someone a piece of comfort, a taste of home?

I wish the person who wove my pie basket could see how its size and shape were perfect for a large square of my Johnny Cake/Journey Cake/Corn Bread (whatever you want to call it), a wedge of quiche, a couple of real and pretty plates, silverware wrapped in soft napkins, butter in a little dish, jam in a jar and a small cotton towel to serve as a tablecloth. “I feel like I’m in a hotel,” Mom said. My local hospital is great, but they have their limitations 😊.

For me, the journey part of Journey Cake – the journey part of anything – is the fascinating (if at times difficult and maddening) step-by-step that we experience every day.  Any journey has something (or someone) about it that’s wondrous or intriguing or funny or satisfying or lovely. I do not want to overlook that something. The process gets you – if we may borrow images from our pioneer forebears – down the next path, across the next river, over the next mountain. I want to go today where I haven’t been before, do things I couldn’t do yesterday, learn something new, see something in a fresh way. I also want to relish the familiar, embrace those I love, hold onto what matters. Yesterday I got to bake something I’ve baked a thousand times before, enjoy the process, present it in a different setting and watch it work its same old magic – oh, yay and oh, yum!!

Mom is in the hospital after back surgery. She’s not overly comfortable but is facing the mountain in front of her like the champ she is. Each little part of her journey, each big challenge and each little victory, makes her stronger in some way, better equipped for the next step. Whatever I can do, each tiny way I get to serve her – these become steps in my journey, the very journey that I will one day walk through in my memory, like a movie of my life. I want to enjoy the show!

Yummy Yammy Cheesy Galette

When you first come home from having been away for a week, there’s not much in the fridge. But I did not feel like going shopping yesterday or today, and anyway I was playing tennis this morning, then flipping the cottage, then waiting for guests to arrive – honeymooners(!), repeat visitors Sally and Ryan – how wonderful to see them again!! I was wrapped up in Sarah’s book for many hours as well (while waiting for Sally and Ryan), so it was after 6pm by the time I thought about dinner. Earlier I had taken a chicken out of the freezer, thinking to roast it, thinking we haven’t had one with a teriyaki sauce in a while and that might be nice, but it was too late for that. Maybe tomorrow.

Hmmm, very limited choices then. I could always make mac and cheese but didn’t feel like that either. I said to Samuel, “Can you make a dough?” He is good at making dough even if he would rather amuse us by hemming Coco in with pillows and blankets on the couch, from which she did not care to move so we concluded that she liked it.

Coco.jpg

By “dough” he knew I meant a pizza dough. I knew we didn’t have any mozzarella so a conventional pizza was out of the question, but my daughter Marie has a recipe for a savory galette that came into my mind. Only it’s been five months or so since I made it at her house and couldn’t remember it well.

I remembered her recipe started with a pizza-crust-type crust. Thus the dough I asked Samuel to make.

I remembered it had butternut squash, but I didn’t know I had one/forgot I had one/didn’t see the one I had till I was all done. But I knew I had yams. That would work.

I remembered it had fresh sage. I knew I didn’t have that, but I do (always) have dried sage.

I remembered it had fontina cheese. I knew I didn’t have that, but I did (miraculously, considering how nearly-empty my cheese bin is right now) have asiago. That would work.

I knew it didn’t have ricotta cheese on it, but I had some of that, and thought it might be good to include.

It might have been good to look up Marie’s recipe then and there but I didn’t (or I would have added more onions).

Samuel made the dough, a regular pizza dough. He grated a big chunk of asiago. I cut up two big sweet potatoes (a.k.a. yams) into small cubes and put them in my cast iron skillet in butter and a bit of water over a medium flame to roast (forgetting that Marie’s recipe calls for the squash to be oven-roasted), then remembered the half onion sitting in my fridge and something in me said Add the onion to the roasting yams. I sliced it up thinly, added it to the yams in the pan and covered the pan till the yams were soft, stirring them once or twice with a good spatula; they were done in about ten minutes.

Samuel rolled out the dough, I put olive oil on it and spread it all over the surface with my hand (just enough to cover the surface, not enough to pool). He then salted and peppered the surface. I put small dollops of ricotta cheese on next, using teaspoons to push grape-sized blobs onto the dough (you see the white blobs?), reasonably spaced. Cooked yam cubes and onion slices went on next (well distributed of course), then some dried sage, then the asiago.

yammy galette cropped.jpg

Into a hot (450F) oven the two galettes went for a good half hour until the crust was nice and brown. It was totally delicious. The combination of cheeses with yams with the sage and onion – oh, yummy! Did I need two pieces?? I enjoyed two pieces! And the crust this time! The crust was especially good. We think it might be because Sandy bought King Arthur bread flour last time I was out of flour, which has more protein, which is supposed to make a better crust. We agree it is better. If you can, buy this kind of flour for your crust.

cooked yammy galette.jpg

After we chowed down on this delicious stuff while enjoying Iron Man 2, I found Marie’s recipe, which I will happily share because 1. It has actual measurements and 2. It serves as a springboard to my altered version. You will see that the “pastry” for Marie’s Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion Galette is not a pizza dough. I guess I forgot that too. There are various ways I veered from this recipe. But the basic idea is quite the same.

butternut squash and carmelized onion galette cropped.jpg

It all goes to show that you can look and see what’s in your fridge and maybe not have to go to the store in order to make something yummy for dinner!

A Mad Dash and the Value of Fantasy

At the end of the day yesterday, a beautiful March day in Vermont that climbed past 50 degrees F, a day we had watched the ice in the Winooski River breaking away in pieces…

ice in river.jpg

…Mom and I were scheduled to fly back home.

When I am sitting in an airport waiting for my flight, and in taxis the plane I will soon be on, and off come the passengers who have arrived at their destination, I feel envious as they walk past me. I want to be them in the sense of I want to be arriving, not leaving. I want the travel part of my trip to be over. It’s great to spend time with the people I love who live far away, it’s good for the soul to see other hillsides and travel other roads and gain new mental images of the ever-changing world, but I wish I could snap my fingers at the end of that and just be home.

Some trips are smooth and easy. The flights run on time and are reasonably unbumpy, and there is enough time to get from Plane A to Plane B without undue hurry or worry. Coming home yesterday was not that kind of trip.

In Burlington Mom and I heard over the PA system that anyone with a connection in Philadelphia would miss their connection because of weather issues, so they might as well find accommodation overnight and try again today. Our connection was in Washington DC, but what weather could affect Philly so as to delay or cancel all connecting flights but not affect DC?? We don’t know and can’t know, but the announcement did not make us feel better about getting on a plane.

Then we were told that the plane that would take us to DC would be landing in Burlington at the same time as it was supposed to take off to DC, and in fact it landed more than ten minutes after that, delaying our start by a good half hour. Try as they did to make up for the lost time, we landed in DC at the same time as our connector was supposed to be taking off. That is, we arrived in DC at 10pm and our subsequent flight to Cville was scheduled to take off at 10pm. We were in row 6, which got us off the plane quicker than if we had been in row 22, but still I had serious doubts. When I showed the flight attendant my boarding pass for the next flight and asked her if we were going to make it, she said to ask the person at the bottom of the stairs. He said You will make it.

What does he know? I led Mom, who is not walking fast these days, across the tarmac toward the door he indicated, and immediately found someone who looked like she worked there and said, “I need a wheelchair for my mother!” I realize in retrospect I did not say it calmly and politely. I did not ask. I said it emphatically, being worried (very worried by this point) not only about our flight but also about Mom going faster than she should or could. To their credit, they moved fast to get her a wheelchair, being prodded, possibly, by the panic in my voice. We went as quickly as possible – the wheelchair driver assuring me all the way that we would make it – all of one gate past the one where we disembarked, watched the guy at the desk say into a phone, “Two more for Charlottesville” (as in “Don’t close the door just yet”) and hustled out the door, across the tarmac and onto the plane. Then they closed the door.

Whew! Once we were in our seats, the reality of the close call hit us and we both felt very grateful for the help we got. Mom worried that her inability to move fast had added to the stress, but I told her that having an 84-year-old, less-than-speedy travel companion came in handy. If nothing else, it called attention to our plight. We were on the plane and that’s all that mattered. Time to relax, right?

You bet. Time to resume The Turning by Sarah Silvey, a new fantasy novel I can hardly put down. The part of me that loves invented characters and their corresponding powers, deeds and foibles – yes, the same woman who loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Aquaman, The Avengers and all the rest – switched on as soon as I started reading it. Sarah’s fabulous characters and intriguing storyline picked up my exhausted self and plunked it squarely into an imaginary world with far greater challenges and gave me somewhere else to reside temporarily after the harrowing gate-to-gate mad dash. What is making our flight to Charlottesville by the skin of our teeth compared to trying to stop an evil “Other” who can obliterate a small town by commanding the river to overtake it in a flash flood?

The Turning.jpg

The Turning starts with a young woman named Sienna who is vaguely aware of her unusual abilities, including being able to know what people are thinking. Her village is small, her job of ferrying people across the river is simple, but trouble starts when the blue-cloaked woman with a frightening aura crosses. Enter a brave knight of the Darcean Order who cannot stop the flood but saves Sienna from it, mutants with creepy eyes and grossly misshapen bodies, ordinary folk who chatter cheerfully and care about their companions and a rat-faced villain gathering the mutants for purposes of subterfuge, and you can imagine my current dilemma. I’m home, yes, my bags are unpacked, yes, but it’s time for dinner and all I want to do is read! Brennan, the knight, explained the backstory this way:

…“He was the first Other. Fifteen hundred years ago, Azar united the lands to the east of the desert with his power. He named it Azaria, and together he and his queen ruled the people, masquerading as gods.

“Nobody denies that the things they did were magnificent. Through their power, they made the roads and buildings, many of which were so strong that they are still standing today. By their influence, the yield of crops magnified a hundredfold. Nobody had to work; they only had to worship the Azars and obey their rules.

“Lots of people see these relics and yearn for the wealth and glory of the past, but they have forgotten the Azars’ cruelty. They murdered people for entertainment, made them into slaves, sacrificed them as their divine right. They were depraved. People were forbidden to read and write, to question their god-kings, to meet in secret. Others were employed by Azar to watch the people for rebellion, and any independence of mind or deed was found and crushed. The easy lifestyle and propaganda promoted by the Azars made the people bland and ignorant.

“The Others were insatiable. Masses of people were slain in battles for supremacy between members of the Azar family. Others ruled the cities as well; they played mayor or magistrate, wallowing in luxury and using their power to work their way on people.

“For five hundred years the descendants of the Azars ruled Azaria in blood and wealth, until an assassin found his way into their palace undetected and killed the last king and queen where they slept in their beds. The empire fell apart. Without their gods, the people were lost. They lived in the houses that still remained, but they didn’t remember how to work or think or fend for themselves. Lots of people died, but slowly they learned to survive on their own again, by their own rules, through honest means.

“Today people look at the skeletons of these buildings and they fantasize. They hear tales of gods that walked among men, abundant food, easy lifestyles, and they yearn for those days to be back again. But below the earth, where they cannot see, are the skeletons of the people whom these so-called gods trampled in their lust and greed.”

The evil empire has fallen, its inhabitants are “free again, along with all the responsibility and suffering which that entailed,” but their own history, their own shackles, their own pain, which should guide them to create a better tomorrow, has “drifted into the mythology of the gods. Azar’s name and his power are all the truth that is remembered.” Sienna wonders, “How can people have forgotten something so important?”

Indeed! Why do people forget what’s important? Bravo to Sarah, a fine young writer who gives us not only an engaging story but also a striking window into the risks of allowing ourselves to be led by those who do not, despite appearances, have our interests in mind, but rather, strictly and only, their own power and gain. Oh, and don’t forget how we ourselves, with whatever we uniquely bring to the table, can affect the outcome. Will Sienna develop her own powers and help Brennan take down the evil Others? I hope so, but how will she do it? I don’t know yet, but I suspect I’ll be up till all hours tonight finding out how the story plays out. You’ve got my attention, Sarah, and your wonderfully written story not only entertains me, it conjures up the parallels we all face.

Is there evil in our world too? Undeniably. Are we, to our ultimate detriment, being led? Sometimes. Can we battle all the wrongs? Hardly. Can we think for ourselves, develop our own strengths and avoid some of the downsides of those who would rule us? Of course we can.

May we never forget what’s important and always work for good. And may a good book always serve to take us to worlds we would otherwise not go, and in doing so, help us relax, make us think and/or bring us a fresh perspective on ourselves and our own world. Thank you, Sarah.

Girls and Aprons: Straight Out of Another Time

Two little girls. My world is more wonderful this week because Rise and Eppie are here. By the time they are six and four, there’s more they can do on their own. I do not have to accompany them to the chicken coop every time, but can suggest there might be eggs, and off they go.

If you look carefully, you can see the chickens at the door of their run waiting for Rise. Food! Food! Humans approaching! They bring food! Not this time, ladies!

Rise walking toward coop.jpg

That’s my hat she’s wearing, and she loves it because it’s purple. The love of purple applies universally. In other words, if it’s purple, she loves it. This one is especially appealing because besides being purple, there’s a flower on the side. She likes it so much, she wears it indoors sometimes.

girls.jpg

(Yes, that’s Edward Tulane sitting on the table next to Rise on my raccoon skin. They loved reading through it with me the first two or three days they were here. Imagine, as soon as Edward was thrown overboard, Rise said, “I want him to get back to the little girl!” Do you remember what happens at the end of the story? Do you think the author anticipated that a six-year-old would want that?)

On another day, a colder day, Rise got the first 13 eggs of the day and Eppie went out later by herself to get one more. (Don’t rush me! Don’t rush me! one hen said.) Yes, another hat of mine under her hood. If you are an Oma, it is best to have a selection of hats available when the little girls come to visit.

one of fourteen eggs today.jpg

There’s nothing like a good Ravensburger puzzle to occupy Eppie for a few minutes. She had both 20-piece puzzles together in no time. (I have a puzzle with chickens on it. Imagine that!) I hope kids everywhere are still doing puzzles. 

puzzle.jpg

I hope they are still eating apples too. I cut up two different varieties and put them in separate bowls and suggested they might do a taste-test to see how they compared. Rise said one was tart and one was sweet. Fair enough. Looks like they each found a favorite.

apples.jpg

Eppie likes reading aloud whether anyone else is listening or not. My mom gave them a marvelous reprinted Dick and Jane set for Christmas, which has adorable drawings and easy story lines. Here she is reading Green Eggs and Ham without prompting. Once in a while she needs help with a word. But only once in a while.

reading.jpg

“Oma, I found paint downstairs…” Ah, yes, children’s paint, supposedly washes out of clothes. But let’s not take that chance. I pulled out the aprons I still had from when my own kids were little, set an old shower curtain liner on the floor and gave them gloves to wear (which did not work on Eppie at all and I had to take them off and take my chances on how well the paint would wash off skin – it did!).

painting.jpg

After this, they did not want to paint again but Rise wore the apron nonstop. I didn’t realize till later that she was wearing it in this photo of all of us.

girls and Oma cropped.jpg

Which got me to thinking. Of course. She should have one of her own for when she goes back to her house. They both should have one. While Eppie was sleeping one day, Rise and I went into my newly reorganized fabric scrap boxes (I knew I did all that last week for a reason!) and found some pieces that would be big enough for an apron. Rise settled immediately on a pale pink calico, but we didn’t want to decide for Eppie, so we found several. Eppie chose blue over green, which was a surprise.

Today was a good day to sew. While they played quietly in another room, I got to work, modeling the new ones after the old one. The girls were right there to measure when I needed, so it was easy. Waist to knees and height and width of bib, that’s all I need. The rest was gathers and ties. The girls were a little too quiet at one point. Hmmm. I found an abandoned mess of crayons later. When I asked about it, they said, “Oh, we like to clean!” Good thing, because I’m not cleaning it up.

mess.jpg

They were tickled with the aprons. And I was tickled when Kim said (in response to this photo I sent her), “Oh gosh – straight out of another time.” Indeed they are, though I didn’t think about the fashion era they represent until she said that. You see, girls (these girls anyway) love twirling, and if the skirt is full, the twirl is greatly enhanced. And the ties are long enough to make a bow in the back. Rise always wants a bow.

new aprons.jpg

If you know anyone who wants one (and I don’t mean Coco!), just let me know 😊 All I need is measurements!

I’ll Get Around To It

How many times have we set something aside that needs doing and thought: Yeah, someday, not today, but someday I’ll get around to it. Life is busy, we are bombarded with demands constantly, “stuff” clutters our attics, basements and closets. The jobs of sorting, organizing, fixing and refurbishing often don’t make it to the top of the list. Yet some things are hard to throw away. Some get buried, covered, boxed up or otherwise hidden. Some are just waiting for their day.

Ten years ago I worked at a restaurant where Laguiole steak knives were part of the tableware, appearing only when someone ordered an expensive steak. The type we had were sleek, elegant, wooden-handled and costlier per knife than the steak. I remember the servers carefully polishing the sharp blades and setting them side-by-side in perfect rows on napkin-lined trays in preparation for dinner service. Laguiole’s signature bumblebee, affixed at the uppermost portion of the handle, seemed to all of us a mark of authenticity.

15 cropped.jpg

(Little did we know that there are no regulations prohibiting the use of the Laguiole name or bee on cutlery. Imitations abound. Chances are decent that the ones I have are not authentic knives from the village of Laguiole in the department of Aveyron in France. For my knives and their purpose, does this matter? Probably not.)

If you have ever worked in a restaurant of any kind, you know that some people are more careful than others with plates, glasses and silverware. Some are gentle, some bang things around. Some have a better sense of the replacement cost of such supplies. Some understand that certain items are best washed by hand rather than put through the high heat and pressure of an automated dishwasher. Some forget they have been told not to put the wooden-handled Laguiole steak knives in the dishwasher.

Ours got bad. Their fine finishes were blasted off and they began to look shabby. A restaurant serving roasted rack of herb-cured lamb with pomme purée or king salmon “sous vide” or classic iced grand marnier soufflé cannot expect guests to use shabby knives. As a manager was about to throw them away, I asked if I could have them. Sure, he said, why not?

I promptly wrapped them in a napkin, bound it with a rubber band, brought them home with the very good intention of refinishing those handles, put them in a drawer and forgot about them for ten years or so.

Oh, look, those old steak knives! While rummaging around in a drawer recently for something else I hadn’t been able to locate in a while, I came upon the knives. They looked as shabby as I remembered, but my intention was revived. Today seemed like a good day to remedy their finish. (Perhaps the doll mender from the story of Edward Tulane was whispering in my ear?)

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. Eppie was sleeping off a sickness, Rise was amusing herself with learning how to braid, practicing with shoelaces and clothesline, which work well for this purpose, in case you wondered.

braiding.jpg

I had a few moments for a little job so I went to my shelf of paints where a can of marine grade polyurethane sits front and center. In the last few weeks I used it on some funny little garden signs that are not yet finished and I lightly sanded and then refinished the ash handle of a very fine Smith and Hawkin garden fork that Peggy gave me (and doesn’t that look nice now, thank you, Peggy!).

I nabbed the poly, found some super-fine-grit sandpaper, laid out the steak knives, prepared a small old brush by snipping off the tips of its bristles (that somehow had dried paint clumped on them),

13.jpg

sanded and dusted the knife handles, then devised a way to prop them to dry. A cooling rack set up high and anchored with a bear-shaped jar of vinegar worked beautifully. Imagine my delight as I brushed the first strokes of poly on the parched wood. Look at that rich color!

8_LI.jpg

Polyurethane can bring out the gorgeous grain in wood the way salt brings out the amazing flavor in food. See the difference between done and not-yet-done in another way? These two are propped in my makeshift drying rack.

1.jpg

Completing all five gave me a sense of accomplishment that the ten-year delay on this job only heightened.

16.jpg

There will always be more undone than done in my world, always more to do than I have time to do, but the truth today is that I DO sometimes get around to the things (some of them anyway, a small fraction of them anyway) about which I seem to be always saying: I’ll Get Around To It. And when I do, it’s a victory like no other.

Do I need these steak knives? No. Would anyone else like them? Maybe. Was this a necessary task? Hardly. But seeing the wood go from sad, rough and dull to smooth, shiny and richly colored was a thrill. Knowing the knives have life and use yet in them and that someone may be glad to have them makes me smile. Making a checkmark on the mental list I keep is also satisfying (even if I did forget I had them!).

Remember that old saying “You can’t please all of the people all the time”? Personally I think it’s ok to settle for pleasing a few people as often as I can because my experience tells me it’s better to devote my energies to fewer people for maximum effect than spread myself over many people to little effect.

Along parallel lines, I’ve also always told myself: “You can’t tackle all the little jobs all the time.” They will wait for their day. I settle for small victories when I can – a little job here, another little job there. Over time I chip away at my list, even if more things get added to it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I sometimes even find some little treasure hidden in a box, or something I can finally bring myself to part with – like these knives that need a new home…

Anyway, now I can say I Got Around To It!

A Twist on NIMBY

I don’t always stay right on top of catch-phrases. Somehow I missed NIMBY until not long ago, though it was first used in 1980 (!). It encapsulates the concept of opposing development, even development of worthwhile projects, unless it is happening somewhere else, thus Not In My Back Yard. Examples abound. Everything from nursing homes to bike paths to power plants to sports stadiums to cell phone masts – all of which are indispensable and/or desirable in today’s world – are certainly best located in somebody else’s back yard.

The property I can see from my own happens to be surrounded by land that is under conservation easement. When I look in any direction, all I see is woods and mountains. I didn’t have anything to do with this but am the grateful beneficiary of someone else’s efforts to protect the natural area within my view. This morning as I stand on my back deck, this is what I see. It wouldn’t be everyone’s idea of a peaceful and lovely February morning, but it fits mine.

morning 2.27.jpg

What is it about us humans, though, that can be on the one hand so very content with what we have and on the other intensely desire what we don’t? I’m talking about what could be called YIMBY (YES! In My Back Yard). Here’s the thing: As much as I (on the one hand) love, love, love where I live, and as exceedingly grateful as I (on the other hand) am to have the time and resources to travel and visit my beloved Rise, Eppie, Ellie, Nelson, Piper and Zoe in their homes now and then, I wish they were, yes, in my back yard, more often. I wish they didn’t live SDFA (So Damn Far Away). I wish getting to them and my own grown children didn’t involve SLAROP (Security Lines And Rides On Planes) or ELTIC (Exceedingly Long Trips In Cars). I wish they were CETHOFAT (Close Enough To Have Over For Afternoon Tea).

I wish for a lot, I know. We do what we can and I try (really I do!) to see the upsides of being APRA (A Plane Ride Away).  Last week in Boise we made a snowman…

Ellie and snowman.jpg

… and enjoyed outstanding croissants from JanJou Patisserie (those on the left have chocolate chips in them!)…

croissants at JanJou2.jpg

…and in Seattle watched colorful fish at the aquarium…

Zoe at aquarium.jpg

…and saw a painted lady in the street.

lady in street.jpg

All of this, and many more special and wonderful moments happened last week: Nelson (16 months) danced in front of the TV as Dick van Dyke danced with the penguins in Mary Poppins and tried to add Cheerios to the meatloaf mixture. Piper (2 1/2 years) killed us all during a round of her new Memory game and sat angelically through her first stage play. Ellie (3 1/2 years) made chocolate chip cookies with me, enjoyed her first reading of One Morning In Maine (thank you, Robert McCloskey) and made us all play dead! Zoe (5 months) studied and taste-tested her first crust of bread before throwing it to Zadie, happily waiting below (how do dogs know that when there are little children in the picture, food will fall from the table?).  All of this builds the gigantic and fabulous memory bank that is unique to me. I like being In Their Back Yard, I do. I just also like Mine. Theirs and Mine are just so far apart, and the occasions so infrequent. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so conflicted about something, and day to day I’m working out how to manage it all – the feelings, the logistics, the upsides, the downsides. This seems to be the best we can do in most any situation – try to figure it out day to day, try to make each day the best it can be.

Tomorrow will be a lovely day! Rise and Eppie are here for a visit (first time in six months, super exciting for me) and we are going to enjoy the sun in my back yard, visit the silly chickens, play with Coco, read about Edward Tulane and see what’s coming up in the garden. Maybe we’ll bake cupcakes, or do puzzles, or play games, or make something pretty, or… it really doesn’t matter, does it? Spending precious days together is what matters. Life is short. We are so blessed. Never forget that.

Rise and Eppie in Harpers Ferry.jpg

 

Foo-Foo-Fication

I learned a new word today as Samuel and I started out on a walk with Coco. I put the hyphens in the title for clarity, but probably they don’t belong, and probably foofoofication isn’t in the dictionary.

This funny new word came up because it’s a beautiful sunny day after too many cloudy days, a good day for a walk with the dog.

This dog loves the sun. She likes it indoors by herself

Coco in the sun cropped.jpg

and outdoors anywhere near her favorite human.

Samuel and Coco in the sun cropped.jpg

She doesn’t care if he is paying attention to her or not. All right, maybe she cares sometimes. But in general, if there is a sunny spot, she’s going to find it. So let’s take advantage of a sunny day and get us all a little exercise.

Oh, but where’s her leash? I’ve been out of town so I don’t know. It could be hanging up on a coat hook. It could be in one of the drawers in the foyer. While we rummage around, I see the leash I got from Jerry a few weeks back when I went over there with her but without a leash (just forgot, it happens). Jerry had said, “Use this one,” and pulled a perfectly fine leash and collar (left from his dear corgi) out of a drawer in his foyer.

See what I mean: a perfectly fine leash and collar.

alternate leash.jpg

No, we can’t use that, Samuel said.

Why not?

Foofoofication, he said.

Are you kidding me? What’s wrong with this leash?

Come to find out (and you learn something new every day, don’t you?) it’s not about what’s wrong with Jerry’s leash. It’s about what’s right about Coco’s leash, which by that point in the conversation he had found (hanging on a coat hook).

Coco's leash.jpg

This is rope, he said, with an emphasis on rope. I’m sure you can see that. Coco’s black leash is a piece of rope fashioned into a leash. The alternative, a vaguely feminine-colored purchased leash, is obviously inferior and unacceptable.

How could I not have anticipated this? How could I have assumed that the choice of which piece of equipment to use for this walk matters? Both exist exclusively for making sure you have control of a 16-pound, arguably foo-foo dog, in this case along a road which offers lots of woods on either side but only the slightest chance of seeing another human. But one choice is made with rope, not some skinny, shiny, ribbed nylon. Samuel already has Coco, whose origin story (as they say with superheroes — have I been watching too many of these movies??) was told in another post. He can’t possibly go any farther down the foo-foo road.

While I laugh inwardly at the silliness of today’s leash selection, I look down at said cutie pie, attentive and hopeful as always, surely singing (in her funny little head):

There might be food,
there might be food,
if I am cute enough,
there might be food!

Coco on window seat cropped.jpg

And I think about the material things that I myself have an attachment to, some for reasons I couldn’t even say, such as the cup I like best for my tea in the morning, the scarf I grab most of the time, the furnishings and artwork I’ve surrounded myself with. Maybe some people would think the stuffed lamb propped against a pink lacy pillow on my bed is foo-foo.

lamb on bed.jpg

All right, yeah, that probably qualifies.

Until this moment I never thought of it that way. I just like the lamb because my daughter Marie gave it to me. It seems my foo-foo line is in a different place than Samuel’s.

The subject of foofoofication makes me think about those lines, about how we all draw different lines in different places, reserving the right, of course, to redraw our lines on a whim. I think about the complexity, the hilarity, the wonder of us humans. However do we manage to get along as well as we (usually) do??