Pug Meets Pig

You have to wonder about dogs sometimes: what matters to them, why they get excited about this but not that, how they process our interactions with them. For the moment, this is the dog I’m talking about. Coco, what’s going on inside that funny-looking head of yours?

up close.jpg

Samuel presents her with various challenges such as putting her in a closet…

in closet.jpg

… putting her in a box…

Coco in box (2).jpg

…and standing her on a bookshelf.

Coco on bookshelf.jpg

Does she care? Is she saying to herself (in whatever way pugs and other dogs say to themselves) What’s up with these humans? I was just trying to have a nice nap. Is there any good reason to be bothering me right now?

The questioning goes two ways. Much as I expect she is clueless about our behavior sometimes, about why or how she ends up in a closet or in a box or on a shelf, we are equally clueless about her behavior. Let’s go for a walk with her.

At this time of year my gravel road has lots and lots of fallen leaves along the sides. The cars going by, few as they are, must provide enough air movement in the right direction for the leaves to land everywhere except in the road itself. For whatever reason, these leaves are really interesting to Coco. There’s a treasure of a smell every few steps it seems.

But okay, let’s keep going because down the road a piece there are, right now, two very large and amusing pigs to visit.

pigs9.jpg

My neighbor Tracy’s very well cared for and fortunate pigs wander around their exceptionally spacious (for pigs) fenced-in area all day looking for acorns they missed or taking a snooze in a patch of sunshine. They seem to love visitors. You approach and they come. You are something to do, an attraction, a point of interest.

Hello! (I love this picture!)

pigs3

A few days ago Samuel and I took Coco with us on a walk. We were curious what would happen when the pug would meet the pig(s). Initially, what happened was exactly what you would expect to happen.

Uh, hello, what on earth are you?

2.jpg

The pig approached, and they sized one another up. You have to assume more olfactory activity than we could ever imagine (especially with a nose like that!), and who knows what, besides the intense and new smells of each other, they notice. Curiosity lingered a moment, then they both decided to get a little closer and the other pig joined the party.  Hmmm, similar nose, different color, different size, different ears!

Pig 1: Hey, sister, what’s happening?…. What IS that??

7.jpg

Pig 2: I don’t know. Looks like an alien. Vaguely familiar nose though.

Coco: I beg your pardon!

Pig 1: Why is it here? What does it want?

Pig 2: Doesn’t look edible.

Pig 1: What good is it if it’s not edible?

Coco: Hey, watch what you say about edible!

Pig 2: Gotta admire that nose though, smooshed flat the way a nose should be.

Pig 1: It has the nose going for it, I agree. Maybe it wants to play?

Coco: Oh, look, these leaves smell so marvelous!!

And off she went! No longer interested in pigs! Practically perfect pig pals, no less!

Pig 2: Was it something we said?

uninterested in pigs.jpg

Really, Coco?

Coco: If you knew how amazing these leaves smell, you would be on your hands and knees with me! I know that’s a pain for you, bending those ridiculous long legs so you can get to a reasonable height off the earth. The human design is so unhelpful when it comes to smelling leaves and other super important things. By the way, this is super important and I don’t mean to be rude but… busy here!

The preoccupied, party-pooping (possibly pampered) pug pursued personal priorities while these pleasingly plump, perfectly peaceful, pleasantly personable pigs at the pinnacle of their porcine pudginess pondered a plan to play! Positively perplexing!

Isn’t it the same among family and friends though? We get why the people we know or encounter do some things, many things even, but sometimes their behavior is incredible, bizarre, mysterious, absurd. Why, for example, do some people choose vanilla when chocolate is available? I will never understand!

I recently came across a marvelous, short Alain de Botton video about marriage and partnership that makes a similar point about confusing-behavior reciprocity, a.k.a. tolerating each other’s quirks. Why does my husband/ wife/ partner/ girlfriend/ boyfriend/ friend/ colleague/ neighbor/ dog (!) do [….X….]? Weird! Maddening! Crazy! Or maybe just Confusing. Inexplicable. Bizarre. Absurd…

The fact is: You see the other person’s issues much more plainly than you see your own. You have things to tolerate which do indeed get under your skin, and you forget that you (most likely) get under their skin sometimes too.

Why does Coco care more about the leaves than about the pretty pigs? Whoever knows! But she does, and from that moment forth, the pigs didn’t exist for her. Eh. Pigs. Smelled one, you’ve smelled ‘em all. So what. But these leaves!!

 

 

Inflatables, Ibises and a Swiss Cheese Plant

There are many things in this life that I will never understand. Blow-up lawn ornaments are one of them. Last week while in Lowe’s I could not help but see the selection for sale on the very high upper shelf in the – you got it – lawn care department.

lawn ornaments2.jpg

They have two dragons, one black cat looking evil (as evil as plastic can look), orange-rimmed eyes and something next to the purple dragon on the end that I cannot figure out. On another shelf they have a pumpkin carriage, a black spider (widow, no doubt), a haunted house and a green ghoula monster.

lawn ornaments4.jpg

The one that greets you – just imagine this in your neighbor’s front yard! – is this:

lawn ornaments3.jpg

Every town in America, sometimes every neighborhood, has at least one house with a variety of such “decorations.” It seems that Halloween is strongly vying for the #2 spot behind Christmas, when all manner of inflatable Santas, reindeer, snowmen, grinches, polar bears, nutcrackers, penguins and even nativity sets adorn front yards.

I have decided that I don’t have to understand or even appreciate everything. People have different eyes, different sensitivities, different preferences. Sometimes I go into a store and think: Who buys this stuff? But people do! And it’s not only what people buy. It’s the music they listen to, the foods they eat, the things that strike them as beautiful. It’s what they see, what they like, what they remember, what they want more of.

Some people will not look at Louisa’s gourds and think How beautiful! as I did when I saw them in August still hanging on their vine. Isn’t the shape magnificent? Traditionally, because a gourd’s shell will become as hard as wood, they have been used for bottles, dippers and musical instruments. People paint them, carve into them, display them. I am content and delighted to look at them hanging from a vine.

Louisa's gourds.jpeg

Some people will think Coco, the little black pug I get to laugh at every day, is ugly. I did. For a long time. Curiously, I also thought she was cute. I’d say How can a dog be ugly and cute at the same time? But now I don’t think she’s ugly. She wiggled her way into my heart and now I think she’s beautiful. Yes, beautiful! And still cute. I call her Cutie Pie.

Coco in garden (2).jpg

You can put a bunch of pillows on top of her and she will still just look at you like What? Is there a problem here?

Coco in pillows.jpg

See her in there? She doesn’t care!

You can put her on the rooftop of the chicken coop’s brooding box and she will not care!

Coco2.jpg

There are a lot of things that strike me that someone else might walk right by. I am drawn to form, pattern, color, character, authenticity and uniqueness with a curiosity that I suspect will never quite be satisfied. Last week this MO was confirmed in Galveston, Texas, at a place called Moody Gardens. Their “rainforest” is a bit imposing from the outside – a tall, glass pyramid amid lots of palm trees (this is not Virginia!).

top of rainforest pyramid.jpg

Inside I marveled at the patterning on this fish’s back. Do you think every one of its species has a different “fingerprint”? It’s like a maze, like the corn mazes people walk through or the ones in activity books that challenge you to get from Point A to Point B. Do you suppose there’s a way through this one?

fish.jpg

I don’t know what these birds are called, but there they were, right in front of us, looking as perfect as if they had been manufactured in a factory according to detailed specs.

birds.jpg

The shape of the one that sat so still, its distinct all-black and all-white sections so crisply divided, its unblinking eye with no shadowing, no lash, no imperfections – she’s amazing, but she doesn’t know it.

white bird (2).jpg

The gorgeous color of these scarlet ibises is like something off an artist’s palette. What do you even call that color? To me, scarlet isn’t the word you want. But the birds don’t care what you call them.

scarlet ibises.jpg

They freely walk around, seemingly oblivious to the humans observing their skinny legs, their outstanding posture, their disproportionate beaks. Why do those beaks have to be so long? Perhaps their food lives deep in the mud at the bottom of the pond?

scarlet ibis.jpg

I have to admit that the color of the palm viper is extraordinary, but I did not stare at it for long. The coils, the gleam, the idea of what it is capable of sent me on my way even though it is behind glass. I think people must be innately repulsed for good reason!

palm viper.jpg

Onward!

I do not want to be the one who feeds the mantas, but it was quite something to watch! The man who does this has been feeding them for five years! His hand is inside the glass.

feeding the mantas.jpg

How amazing is the patterning of this branch of the “rain tree”? It grows that way without any help from a computer program! Notice though that it’s not perfect. Some leaves are missing. If a person made this, or a program constructed it, you can bet that all the leaves would be there.

rain tree 2.jpg

Seen from below, with the sunlight framing it, this branch is to me even more amazing.

eain tree.jpg

The Split Leaf Philodendron or “Swiss Cheese Plant” is just plain funny! What reason could there be for the naturally-occurring holes in the leaves? To get more light to the leaves below it?

swiss cheese plant.jpg

On the sign in the lobby at Moody Gardens is a Kenyan proverb that says: Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.

To me this says more broadly: Keep your perspective. Be careful. Pay attention.

It gets me thinking about what an incredibly diverse and fascinating world we live in. All too often we get caught up in the everyday issues – bills to pay, things that break down, people who disappoint us. We forget to take notice of the miracles all around us all the time. Without our usually noticing it, there’s beauty: someone’s smile, the color of flowers, the rays of sun making speckled shadows. There’s growth: we don’t struggle quite as much with something as we used to, our work yields more satisfaction, our cooking is more delicious than ever! And there are simple and complex systems in every corner of our world that actually, consistently work! The lights go on when we flip the switch, fresh and wonderful food from around the globe is available in our stores, the mail arrives! Much as I will never understand it, even the inflatables in people’s front yards at Halloween and Christmas give (some) people something to smile about.

Besides all this and a thousand other things, there are plants in the world that look like swiss cheese! Just for fun maybe?

Take a moment today to look around and think about what you normally take for granted. You don’t need to make a list (though mine is very long!) but I think if we all spent a bit more time being grateful for what we have instead of lamenting what we don’t have, if we celebrated the good instead of bemoaning the bad, if we channeled our energies toward gratitude and service instead of anger and greed, think what the world would be.

Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange

I know there are people in the world who would feel, as I do, a twinge of sadness the day after a storm splits the gigantic chrysanthemum.

mum storm damage 10.12.jpg

Or who wish they could wander out to the garden to pick fresh oregano and purple basil for the homemade pizza about to go into the oven (see the basil in the box behind the rosemary?). Or who would like to make applesauce together from freshly picked heirloom Virginia apples. I suspect there are people who have some time – a few weeks or a few months – to explore a corner of the world that is surely different in some ways than their own and who wonder about my corner of Virginia.

I’m thinking this is Not-Your-Average Cultural Exchange.

There’s always something going on around here: planting, harvesting, building, cooking, baking, (eating!), trying, creating, discovering, resting, marveling, playing, listening, digging, watching, learning, discussing, fixing, pondering.

There are my various gardens with herbs, vegetables and perennials. I’ve moved the azaleas in between the crape myrtles in front of the fenced garden. Turns out, the neglected bush that just got dug up in the front corner of my house was actually two bushes. This photo shows them moved, with their fresh dirt around them, but not yet trimmed, staked or mulched. I did that later in the day, after taking the photo. I had to take the photo when I did, and you see why. I did not ask little Coco to park herself there to enjoy the sunshine…

azaleas crape myrtles Coco2 (2).jpg

We have got to do something about the blackberries that are going crazy inside the garden, and the tomatoes could be pulled and winter crops planted. The asparagus bed is none too tidy, begs for attention. One of the rudbeckia got smashed somehow and needs a little love. The front yard is a mess from the recent Big Dig, but soon we’ll be pouring footings and building a nice front porch.

My two custom-built chicken coops provide palatial accommodations for 29 interesting (some bordering on ridiculous) chickens. They need new mulch or straw when they’ve scratched through what we put down before, but they give lots of amazing eggs to make good food with! My lone araucana isn’t laying her greenish eggs any more though – could there be a reason? This black copper maran had a face-off with Coco yesterday. Both have curiosity, but the chicken less so. She just wants to get back to scratching in the straw. A white silkie came toward us to investigate.

Coco and chicken3.jpg

When the sun rises on a day with too much cloud cover, and it can’t quite get its rays to stream through the giant trees in my back woods, there’s always an otherworldly feeling and sometimes a glorious mist that sparkles on the leaves or in the air.

mist in trees.jpg

When the wind kicks up such that those trees can’t help but engage in a wild dance, it’s a sight. The not-so-manicured trails through the woods are a pleasant walk leading to the beaver pond with its lodge and dam. The beavers keep making their pond a little bigger. I don’t get down there often enough.

When a fox trots in a wide circle around the coops, wishing (you know it!) that there was a way to get to those fat and surely delicious chickens, it doesn’t know how its red fur shines in the sun. When guests stay at my gorgeous Airbnb cottage, they just might see a mother bear and two cubs walk through the yard. A few weeks ago, someone did.

Recently I was in Seattle and met several enthusiastic, capable au pairs. I got to thinking that some people who would like to come to Virginia for a little while (but don’t necessarily have a friend here already) might prefer a household without small children, and might prefer a country setting. They might enjoy getting to know the plants that grow in this climate, or the way we lay decking boards, or the vibe of downtown Charlottesville, fifteen minutes away. It’s a vibrant university town with great restaurants and shops, exhibits and lectures, sports and music events. The Presidential homes of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe are all within half an hour’s drive.

Over the years I’ve had short- and long-term visitors many times and would love to share my little piece of the world with some new friends. If you are thinking it’s a good time to do such a thing and have a little interest, you can let me know.

Coco, The Pug in Our World

It is usually not the best idea to give someone a puppy. That didn’t stop me and my sisters eight years ago from giving my dad the cutest little black pug you ever saw.

Coco in chair puppy (2).JPG

Why a pug? Growing up, we had always had German shepherds, beautiful, loyal, trainable dogs. First we had Jesse, then Adam. When Mom and Dad got a pug some years later, we thought they had gone foo-foo, but of course that was their prerogative. Foo-foo is an option. Daphne entertained them for many years. They loved her. They enjoyed her. Then she died and they said, That’s it, no more dogs.

A few years went by. Dad’s 75th birthday was approaching. One of us had the brilliant idea to give him a puppy, a pug again since they had loved Daphne so much, but a black pug this time. In retrospect I am not exactly sure how we justified this, since it is, I repeat, usually not the best idea to give someone a puppy. I think we said, Ah well, if he really doesn’t want her, one of us will take her. Not overly risky. We are not big risk-takers.

The little black pug was born in Virginia. It’s a 7+ hour drive from my home to where Mom and Dad lived in New Jersey, and at the time I had a job with crazy weekend hours. It was hard to find a time to drive up there to present her, which of course had to be a surprise. So this sweet puppy stayed with us for a few weeks. She was a neck-nuzzler. Fur like velvet. Puppy adorableness. How could he not like this gift?

Coco as puppy.jpeg

We finally arranged a time to visit, in no way hinting that we were bringing a life-changing animal. Samuel, still a teenager then, held her as we walked through the front door and greeted two very surprised people. Not only surprised, but resistant.

Dad’s exact (deadpan) words were, “You have got to be kidding.”

But she won him over quickly. Within 24 hours you couldn’t have taken that dog from him for anything (and whew! the plan worked!). They named her Coco after Coco Chanel. It warmed our hearts to see him cuddling with her and whispering silly nothings to her, though Mom had a little trouble with the new order of things. For her it was a Hey, remember me? situation. Wife of 50-some years, the one who takes care of you, the one who’s been here all along? But she let it be. His little schmoozer, his little gizmo was almost always curled up on his lap, scrunched between him and the arm of his chair, parked at his feet on the ottoman or sprawled across his chest with her head tucked into his neck. If she was not bodily next to him, she either 1. needed to go out or 2. had to be hungry.

My sister Lynn remembers that if Coco sat in front of him and stared unblinkingly at him while he was in front of the television, he would say, “She has to go out. Can someone take her out?” He said this even if she had been out five minutes before! Sometimes he himself took her out. It was hilarious to see him carrying the doggie poop bag dispenser on his wrist like a little purse. Only for this dog would he have done such a thing!

dad with Coco

My sister Joanne remembers taking Coco out one dark night, getting no farther than the driveway and hearing a growl which very well could have been a bear (not uncommon there) so she hightailed it back into the house. When she breathlessly explained what happened, she soon realized that Dad was not the least bit concerned that his firstborn daughter might have been mauled by a bear, but much more concerned that his little doggie might have met her demise. Is she ok? Is she ok?

He held her on his lap at the table while he ate. He fed her off his own fork! It didn’t even matter if friends were there. Lynn’s friend Tracy witnessed this off-the-fork thing too. Dad made sure Coco ate at 4:00pm on the dot because, I mean, look, anyone can see that dog is starving. That 22-pound dog! The vet was always telling them to put her on a diet. Mom tried, really she did, but she couldn’t stop Dad from giving her morsels of his own food or chips or peanuts or whatever snack he had at night.

This is the same man who trained our German shepherds to stay out of the dining room and living room (because those rooms had the good carpeting) and to stay in the yard without our having an electric fence. God help them if they crossed a paw over the line! Dad was an excellent trainer. He just didn’t apply it to Coco. And you know what happens when you let a dog get anything it wants. She quickly became a brat. Mom called her Brat-dog all the time. Dad didn’t care. He loved her just the way she was.

In this family photo taken three or four years ago, you can see who is closest to his heart. Let no one come between man and dog!

mom dad Lynn Joanne me Coco (2).jpeg

And no one did. She was with him till the end. After Dad passed away in February 2016, Mom preferred not to have to worry about walking Coco in the snow. Joanne was willing to take her to her home in Arizona. But Samuel wanted her. He had had a special attachment to her since she was a puppy. And because of him, only because of him, she is not a brat anymore! Coco’s transformation began in Burlington, Vermont. I said transformation and I mean transformation.

First of all, poor little baby who didn’t want to get her paws cold in the snow, sorry, this is Vermont in February and the ground is frozen. And she had to go out in the very early morning because his job started at 6am. Also her whole Oh listen, other people in the house are up, surely it’s time to get up – not a chance.  She learned to get up on Samuel’s timetable, not her own. She learned to sleep in her own bed. She went on walks measured in miles, not in how many houses you walked past. The extra poundage, the table scraps, the continual treats – those days are over, little girl. He put her on a steady diet of high grade dog food, makes her wait for her dinner until after he has had his (and it doesn’t matter what time that is), makes her sit and wait until he says “okay” before she can go to her bowl and eat, reduced the treat frequency to “occasional” and got her down to a swole 16 pounds. (I just learned that word. Swole is the new buff.)

Interestingly, in an age when mixed breeds are often in need of homes and it is a point of pride to have adopted one (and bravo to all those who do that!), Samuel felt looked down upon as he walked this purebred through the streets of Burlington. I told him to consider her a rescue and never mind about those stares. Mom didn’t want her, and even though Joanne was willing to take her, he is the one who gladly opened his heart and his home to her. I think she knows this somehow.

Oh, the bond they share. She snuggles down in the chair with him when he’s reading. She stays out on the deck with him when he’s doing his yoga. For three months of this year, Samuel was away and Coco stayed with me. Every night, to get her to come into my room (where her bed was) at bedtime, I had to pick her up and carry her in. Her bed is in his room now, as it was before he left. He just calls “Coco!” when he wants her to come to his room at night. And off the comfy couch she goes. Trots right in there. She knows who the alpha is. My human, I go with my human.

She adores him as she did my dad, maybe especially when he makes her look super cool,

Coco ingognito (2).jpg

and even when he lets little children (Piper in this photo) reach out to touch her pink tongue that doesn’t seem to fit in her mouth.

Coco Piper Samue; Nov 2017.jpg

It’s a different life with Samuel, certainly more active, possibly more amusing. Now you want me to do what?

Coco in box.jpg

And these chickens? she says. Why are they here?

in basement with chicken2.jpg

And here?

in basement with chicken 5.18.jpg

But she still finds the sun spots.

Coco in sunlight (2).jpg

And she still has one lap she loves more than any other. It’s a very good life for this little black pug. And we love her just the way she is.

Samuel and Coco on chair.jpg

The Certainty of Uncertainty

At the moment it’s very quiet here. The trees are not swaying, thrashing, bending. Not a leaf moves, even flutters. The ticking of one of my clocks I can hear. Coco’s sleepy breathing I can hear.

sleeping.jpg

That’s soon to change. If you couldn’t smell it in the air, you’d hear it on the news. We are in the danger zone of Hurricane Florence, though not as dangerous a zone as some are in. Will the pelting rain and fierce wind come? Yes. This much is certain. What’s uncertain is the storm’s exact path and intensity.

Will we flood out? Probably not, as my property sits up on a hill.

Will we lose electricity? Most likely.

Will one of my giant trees fall? Let’s hope not.

“The most precious thing about life is its uncertainty.”

Thanks to Paul Sunstone, I have been introduced to Kenko, a 14th century Japanese writer who produced, in his retirement, 243 essays collected into the classic “Leisure Hour Notes,” including the line above. Paul added, “I think that was what kept him from boredom.” He’s right. Uncertainty is as certain as death and taxes! And it does keep you on your toes!

Last night a young woman who lives along the Virginia coastline booked my cottage because she has to evacuate her area. She was not planning to come here this week, but wants to keep herself and her two dogs safe. The coast will get lots of rain and wind, so will we. Will she be safe here? One thing is certain: I will do everything I can to make sure she is. Starting tomorrow and until Saturday, Miranda will be next door. She – who was unknown to me 12 hours ago – will be my neighbor.

I love thinking of my neighbor as der Nächste, German for “the one next to me.” This doesn’t have to mean a literal “next to” – you can think of co-workers as neighbors, or friends you have contact with through email or texting or blogging, or the people you rub shoulders with in your community. But in the case of Miranda it’s literal, and neighbors look out for each other. Forgive my tangent, but if all of us would truly abide the “love your neighbor as yourself” command, imagine what the world would be like.

So while the storm looms and Miranda is here, much will be – hour to hour – uncertain. Knowing that you don’t know everything is the beginning of wisdom. True, true. But…if you know that you don’t know everything, but you also know that you know some things, you stand a better chance of getting through with less trouble. While storms do sometimes change course and turn out to sea, they sometimes don’t. We will do what we can to prepare. Then ride it out.

My little house in the big woods is as solid as a house on a wooden foundation can be, the wooden part being questionable, but we are getting to that.

9.11 delivery16 pre-delivery.jpg

The storm is still out to sea, but supposed to hit us at the end of the week. Ironically, this coming weekend had been set aside to begin “the big dig” at my house – a long-awaited project to investigate why my foundation seems to be bowing inward in one area (not a good sign) and then to do necessary repairs. I ordered the materials last week, a lot of materials because after the big dig we will replace the very old front porch. (I’m glad I ordered last week — what do you think will happen to the price of lumber after the storm?)

9.11 delivery9.jpg

The uncertainty of the storm puts us in a kind of holding pattern. Hold off on big dig projects and hold onto your hat! At the very least, cover your lumber.

9.11 delivery13.jpg

Will the bricks hold the plastic down in a strong wind? I hope so! How strong will the wind be? I am uncertain! With no wind blowing right now, that many bricks seems reasonable. Possibly I will find myself incredulous that I didn’t double this number or use cinder blocks as Sandy suggested. Maybe cinder blocks are a good idea after all….

Today, in the calm, various interpretations of battening down the hatches seem important, including making sure we have enough batteries for the flashlights and enough jugs of water in the event that my electricity goes out (in which case my water also goes out because electricity runs the pump). I have a gas cookstove in both the house and the cottage, so we will eat. And it’s a nice temperature outside so not having AC or heat will not be an issue. What am I forgetting?!

Uncertainty is part of the unboring path we walk. We can watch the news all day (you can, I won’t), we can change out the bricks for cinder blocks or go all out and just add them, we can stockpile supplies, we can put some milk in the freezer now so it’s maybe cold later if we lose power, but we can’t be certain what this coming weekend will bring.

We’re pretty smart though. We can have an idea. And we do. According to our best projections, we can fairly well know what won’t happen, what might happen and what will happen:

In my case the weekend will not include a large and loud excavating machine. Canceled that. Sadly, it will not include Joe, who will operate said machine (unless he comes around anyway, which is fine by me). We will not be

  • digging large quantities of dirt from along the front of the house
  • discovering just exactly what is the problem with the foundation and how extensive the fix needs to be
  • relocating liriope and azalea
  • mixing cement
  • setting footings
  • bracing posts.

We might be (this is the uncertain part)

  • hunkering down
  • watching the trees dance wildly (hoping that if they fall, they do so far from any structure or power line)
  • putting less-than-sensible chickens in their coop (because they are too dumb to go in by themselves!)
  • using matches to light the stove because the electric ignitor is nonfunctional
  • playing board games by lamplight as we wait out the storm. I have a couple of wonderful oil lamps that come out at times like this. Their glow, the swirly patterned shadow they make on the ceiling, their faint scent of burning lamp oil – all combine to create a scene that makes you appreciate what it was like for pioneers. We should do this on purpose now and then just to induce an extra prayer for those in the bucket trucks who keep our lights on, and this weekend in particular for those who will be out in this nasty storm getting fallen limbs off high wires as we sit inside checking our phones for notification that the power is back on.

We will be

  • taking care of one another
  • comforting the dogs who get unsettled in howling wind and torrential rain
  • keeping a close eye on trees, chickens and other outdoor things for signs of trouble
  • praying for safety for all those affected by the storm
  • staying in touch with other neighbors in case we can help in any way
  • enjoying good eggs! More on lobster yolks tomorrow! Oh, how tempted I am to give you a sneak preview, but: YOU are uncertain about lobster yolks (MY lobster yolks, at any rate) and if, to paraphrase Paul, uncertainty keeps us from boredom, I had best wait. Come what may, I aim to keep things unboring!

The Watermelon Graveyard

One thing I love about living in the country is that I can stand on my back deck and chuck my watermelon rinds into the woods. If I lived in a city, I couldn’t do this. If I lived in a developed neighborhood, or in an apartment building, or in a place with concrete rather than earth all around my house, I couldn’t. Please understand that I don’t have to chuck them. I have a legitimate way to get rid of trash. But I can chuck those rinds, so I do.

I also chuck the tea leaves out of my teapot behind the house. This requires less of a throwing arm and more of a sweeping fling, a technique I have pretty much perfected through years of practice.

I not only can chuck the rinds, I want to. Reasons abound. Among them:

Coco the Adorable, Samuel’s sweet pug, LOVES watermelon and eats more of it than you’d think she could. I, too, can eat quantities that would surprise some people. It’s a thing we do together. I no sooner take the beast of a melon out of the refrigerator and put the point of my biggest knife into it, than she is off the cushy spot on the couch she had been curled up in, seemingly fast asleep, and is at my feet with that face of hers staring up at me. Surely you won’t deny a nice dog like me a healthy snack??  She presents herself as if she is underfed, starving, neglected, pathetic – none of which she is, of course, but she does a mighty fine job of acting that way. I cave. You would cave too.coco begging (2).jpg

Our routine gave me an idea last year. If Coco likes watermelon, maybe other animals would too. If I have this many rinds from eating this much watermelon, I ought to think of a way to be smart about disposing of them. I do not exist to feed the wildlife in my woods, but I know that deer and mice and squirrels and whatever else are out there. And if I can make their day with free food AND get rid of bulky trash at the same time (without adding to the piles in the landfill) with no known reason why this is harmful in any way to anything, why shouldn’t I? It gives me a warm feeling to know that the wildlife can gnaw away to their heart’s content. Mind, I have never actually seen them do this, but I did check the watermelon graveyard for evidence the other day, and this is what I found:

gnawed.jpg

Looks gnawed to me!

The graveyard, yes. This is the full picture of that area.

watermelon graveyard.jpg

If you look carefully, you can see the rinds, old and new, among the broken, fallen branches which, granted, the wildlife have to maneuver their way through in order to get to said rinds. No one said it was going to be easy. The pinker rinds are from yesterday, the whiter ones have been enjoyed (let me hope immensely) by my resident wildlife.

I stand at this corner of my deck.

corner of deck.jpg

I bring my rinds and look out at this view.

rinds on railing.jpg

And I pitch them. It’s just woods, but it’s also a pretty steep hill that drops off quickly, steep enough to have to walk sideways up or down it at times, steep enough to have to hold onto trees for support at times. Walking down to the graveyard to get the photo of it was no walk in the park. Anything I throw from the corner of the deck in that direction is going to land partway down the hill. It’s far enough away from the house to feel “away” from the house, but close enough that I can reach it with a good throw.

I want credit for being smart enough not to invite wildlife to come too close to the house using food as an enticement. I want them to stay in the woods. I want to throw the rind as far as I can. Judging from the abundance in the graveyard, I have a fairly consistent range. I am not going to measure that. I don’t weigh myself either. I don’t need the number. I just know it feels like the right distance/weight for me, and that’s enough.

A good throw has its pleasure for me too. Many, many moons ago I played softball. I have no concrete evidence to support this next statement, but I remember my team making it to the all-stars tournament when I was probably 11. I was a pitcher, and you pitch underhand in softball (or you did back then) but you also have to know how to throw a ball overhand to get it quickly to the first baseman or whoever. My dad taught me how to throw a ball and I am fairly certain he had one goal in mind: Make sure this girl doesn’t throw like a girl!

I am not going to enter any throwing contests, but I can throw a ball. And if you can throw a ball, you can throw a watermelon rind, trust me. The rind is more fun to watch than a ball as it leaves your hand on its way to its final resting place in the woods for one good reason: it spins. You have to do it yourself to know how fun this is.

As you may have noticed, the graveyard also contains unwanted branches; these were cut from saplings closer to the house that I needed to get rid of. (You need only so many saplings near the house.) When I have to get rid of cut flowers that have seen better days, I make my way toward the graveyard and fling them in that direction too. The watermelon graveyard is a place of eternal rest (and decomposition!) for unwanted plant material.

Come to think of it, the tea leaves are what got me started with the idea to Give back to nature what nature produced. I get my loose Earl Grey tea at Foods of All Nations in Charlottesville. I put a teaspoon of leaves in the pot, pour in the boiling water, then use my nifty strainer. Some of the leaves end up in the strainer, but none of them in the cup – a great, well-tuned system. Most of the leaves stay in the pot. Cleaning up (later) means finding a way to get rid of whatever tea leaves and liquid is left in the pot. I don’t want to throw liquid in the trash can, nor tea leaves down my drain. The perfect solution seemed to be: Chuck them. Give the leaves back to the earth. Granted, the earth didn’t produce the tea leaves exactly here, but let’s not fuss about details.

The main thing is we ought to embrace the freedoms we have and celebrate them. Act on them, live them out, enjoy them, cherish them. I realize that chucking watermelon rinds would probably not give anyone else under the sun the thrill it gives me. I realize that there are other ways to get rid of loose tea leaves and that flinging them off my deck into my backyard will not matter one bit in regard to improving the soil quality (although maybe that’s why the weeds grow so well??). But I can chuck and I can fling! Not everyone has the freedom (and the right property on which) to do it. But I do. Yay! Other people have the freedom and circumstances to do other things that I can’t do. I hope they appreciate theirs the way I appreciate mine.

 

Passing This Way

When you are in someone else’s car, you listen to whatever music they have going. It’s great to let someone else do the choosing sometimes. Not being musically inclined except for liking to listen to it and sometimes sing along, I am continually astounded at the incredible talent and creativity of musicians. It’s amazing to me how they manage to stir up feelings and longings and memories and hopes from deep within you. And they do it in a way that is soooo pleasant!

Among the many songs I heard in the past few weeks, two struck me and have played over and over again in my head (parts of them anyway). From the Notting Hill soundtrack is Elvis Costello’s “She” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ttj0Kd6BWQU). It’s one of those songs that builds on itself as it goes along, with the strength of his voice adding increasingly more weight to the words*. This song reminds me that this kind of love – this deep, abiding, heartfelt love – is real, even if it is rare, even if most people don’t ever find the words to express what’s in their hearts.

A few days ago I heard Seals & Croft sing “We May Never Pass This Way Again” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vd6zYQPCgsc) and that one hit me hard. Here’s why.

I asked Eppie to stand in front of the elephant ear so that I could record how big it is in relation to how big she is. These plants just keep getting bigger and bigger. But as she stood in front of it, the leaves of the plant looked like angel wings to me, with the sun shining behind and through them and her sweet face radiating all that is good and fresh and wholesome. The photo captures a moment, as all our photos do, yet we know as we look at the photo that the moment is past. Less than a week later, the moment is past.

eppie elephant ear (2).jpg

When I heard the song, I thought: It’s not We May Never Pass This Way Again, it’s We Will Never Pass This Way Again. I hope that face looking up at me will look up at me again many times in the future (and I will cherish it just the same), but never again will it be Eppie’s just-turned-four face. She’s a little angel in this picture. She’ll be a bigger angel next time.

My son Bradley said to me recently that the harshest reality of adult life is how fast time goes. His own daughter Piper is now two and another (P2, he calls her!) is coming soon. How is this possible?! Here is Piper between Eppie and Rise during my visit to Vermont a couple weeks ago.

Eppie Piper Rise 1.jpg

 

Precious moments, these are. Precious little ones. Every now and then, or as often as you wish, it’s good to think about what you consider precious. Maybe the voice or touch of someone you love, or the way they say your name. Maybe the view you see when the sun rises in the morning. Maybe a person you have contact with every day who is remarkable without knowing it. Maybe your good health (or the aspects of your health that are still good!). Maybe the music that uplifts you. Maybe the bounty of your garden – these are the cantaloupes I harvested today from mine. Maybe the funny face of a little dog who has found a special place in your heart!

coco cantaloupes.jpg

 

My neighbor Jennifer asked Eppie the other day if she missed her parents. Eppie said, “When I am with Oma, I miss my mom and dad. When I am with my mom and dad, I miss Oma. I wish I could be with them both.” For my ears, those were the most perfect words she could have said in reply.

It’s a rather reflective day for me, perhaps you can tell. My darling granddaughters and I had two and a half weeks together, starting at their home in Vermont and ending at my home in Virginia – marvelous, precious weeks. But it’s the middle of August and they will be going to kindergarten and preschool very soon. As I think about how we will never pass this way again, I am less sad because of the certainty that we will pass another way someday (someday soon I hope!), and it will be equally wonderful to walk through those days together.

 

*She (lyrics)

She may be the face I can’t forget
The trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a Heaven or a Hell
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell

She, who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows in the past
That I remember ’till the day I die

She maybe the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough in many years*

Me, I’ll take her laughter her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
And where she goes I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is
She, she
Oh, she

 

*Somehow I always thought this was “the rough and ready years” (“rough in many years” doesn’t make any sense to me!).

The Flip of a Toad

Can a dog hear a toad through an exterior wall? Can she smell it? I wonder about that because last night Coco jumped off the couch around 10:15 and gave me the let’s-go-out look. She does not normally do this. Normally I tell her It’s time, c’mon and she gives me the do-I-have-to look.

I oblige when she asks because she knows her own needs. I soon realized that if she had a need, it was not a need to do business but a need to play. Either that, or the need to play immediately commandeered the need to do business.

Right outside the door, in the inner corner of the front porch against the wall of the house, was Mr. Toad. We can safely assume it was the same fellow as last time when we found him next to the planter box, which from a toad’s point of view is just as much a wall. He likes walls.closer eyeing (2)

Coco did not waste time but went right up to him and began the whole domination thing again. Do you see who’s bigger, Mr. Toad? I am bigger. Make no mistake about it.

domination (2)

Poor Mr. Toad. Trapped and timid, he stayed glued to the spot for a few moments, then did a remarkable thing when Coco leaned in a bit too far. He flipped himself over! (Okay, maybe toads do this routinely and I am as clueless about them as I am about backhoes and biscuit joiners, but it seemed pretty remarkable to me!)

flipped 1

Coco couldn’t stand it of course. She had to get closer.

begging.jpg

In case you have never seen what a toad looks like upside down, up close and personal, this is it. Complete submission. Please don’t hurt me. I’m just a little toad. I mean no harm.

flip close up (2)

This toad got me thinking about submission. Generally it gets a bad rap, but we do it all the time.

Submission: the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.

Life doesn’t work unless we yield to forces and authorities beyond ourselves.

  • Someone else designed and built the vehicle you willingly drive. You trust that it’s not going to fail or crash. Driverless cars will add another level of trust.
  • Someone else grew, harvested, transported and prepared the food you willingly eat. You trust that it’s not going to make you sick.
  • Someone else built the house you live in. You trust that the roof isn’t going to cave in and water won’t leak through the window seals and the electricity is safe.
  • Someone else guards your neighborhood or steps in when there’s serious trouble. You trust that you and your family can sleep safely at night.
  • Someone else cleans your teeth, prescribes your medications, oversees your medical situation. You trust that they will not hurt you.
  • Someone else watches your children, your dog, your elderly parents. You trust that they will take good care of those you love.

We are all a little like the flipped-over toad. His eyes are open, as ours should be. He is protecting himself as much as he can (limbs drawn in to cover his soft belly), as we do in our own way (whether we have soft bellies or not!). Why he chose to be on my porch instead of a potentially safer spot in the first place is another point we could ponder, but since we cannot ask him, and maybe it’s none of our business anyway, we will assume he exercised his best judgment at the time and that’s just where he landed.

Clearly this toad also understands that despite his open eyes and shielded belly, he is still highly vulnerable and, if toads can hope – a big if, I grant you – must hope for the best when the situation is precarious. So must we and should we, for we know that we in turn are watching someone else’s children or prescribing their medications or making their food or building their houses, and we know that we are doing it to the standards we would want for ourselves.

Remember not to be like the master builder who was at the end of his career and couldn’t wait to retire. His boss said to him, “I just need you to build one more house for me.” Reluctantly the builder agreed but because it was the last one, he didn’t care anymore. He went as fast as he could, took all kinds of shortcuts and did sloppy work. He knew there would be major problems with that house, but he didn’t care. It would be someone else’s headache. All this time, his boss did not see what was going on – he had always been able to trust this builder to do outstanding work. When the builder told his boss he was done, his boss reached into a drawer and handed him a key. “Enjoy your new home,” he said. “My gift to you for all your years of service.”

Coco would have stared at and possibly pawed at and tormented that toad for a long time, but at 10:15pm we are not out there for playtime. I tried getting her attention, but she just looked at me like Hey, busy here.

looking at me

I picked her up and brought her to the grass. She did her thing and back up on the porch she trotted. I was a little disappointed in her nose because she did not head straight for the toad that, same as last time, had not used his window of opportunity to make a mad dash for a place of safety.

Where is it? I know it’s here somewhere!

looking for it

There is no place to hide in the inside corner of my porch (unless you are a blue-tailed skink of course, in which case you have all kinds of options, plenty of cracks to slide into). The toad was still there, but had gotten braver in that half minute, had decided to forget the whole upside-down, evoke-pity thing.

He had flipped himself back over and was going to stand up to the giant.

right side up

Coco got closer. Here we go again. What is it?

The power (domination!)?

The smell (yum!?)?

The intrigue (hmmm….)?

The weirdness (what the…??).

closer eyeing (2)

Coco doesn’t know it, but sometimes she’s the toad. So she better watch out! (And I had better watch her!) Just yesterday morning, my Airbnb cottage guest said to me as they were leaving, “Look, I have to show you what we saw last night.” And she pulled out her phone and showed me a photo clearly showing…

owl 7.29

… an owl in a tree just next to my house. It is not a small one. It has a powerful grip and very sharp eyes. I suspect it would not dominate Coco in the toying, tentative way that Coco dominates the toad. It would simply eat her.

Is it altogether safe in the country? No. Is it altogether safe in the city? No. It is altogether safe nowhere. Are we always strong? We are strong only sometimes, and often only for a little while. Do we always have to yield to forces and authorities beyond ourselves? No. Like the toad – even when we are upside down – we keep our eyes open and our self-protection mode in place, and usually things work out. We do our best. We eat well, stay healthy, put our best foot forward, make good choices, associate with good people and contribute our bit to the well-being of our family and our community. We believe that (and for the most part it is true that) others are looking out for us as we are looking out for them. Like the toad in his vulnerable position, we sometimes just have to hope and pray for the best. I don’t know if toads pray, but I’m sure they would do that too if they could.

“C’mon, Coco. Leave the poor toad alone! We’re going inside.” Given the choice of staying outside by herself in the dark (not that I would leave her there!) or coming into the house with its cushy couch pillows, she made the smart choice. Good dog.

The Story of the Roast

We all fall into traps. One common trap is the Trap of Must. It’s the one that comes into play when something Must be done this way or Must be said that way or Must happen in this sequence. It could also be called the Trap of Habit. Some habits are not good. Some are. I have a habit of putting coleus in the planter boxes that lead to my front porch. I do this because they always do well there and look really pretty.

The coleus are the ones with the colorful leaves closest to the porch.

coleus

This goat has a habit of sticking his head up over the fence of his enclosure.

goat1.jpg

Why is he doing this? Because he wants food. His chances are better that someone visiting Yoder’s will come along and give him some if he sticks his head out and lets everyone see those big eyes. Experience has taught him this.

Coco has a habit of coming to you with her one-legged monkey (one-legged because she tore the other leg off), standing there, staring at you and expecting you to know what to do. Play with her. Just play.

Coco and monkey

The habit of play is good, assuming you make it a habit. Mom came with Jerry yesterday and taught me and Kaileena a new game called Phase 10. Sandy joined us even though he is generally very bad at games and habitually avoids them. (He ended up dominating completely!)

In it you have to put your cards together to make runs and sets such as a run of 4 like 2-3-4-5 (and they don’t even have to be the same colors in this game) or a set like three 10s or four 6s. Sometimes you want to make sets and sometimes you want to make runs, and sometimes a combination. The card on top of the discard pile might be just the one you need, but sometimes someone else takes it because it’s their turn or they put a card on top of it, burying it forever from usefulness. This is maddening of course.

Say you are on the “phase” of the game where you have to make one run of four and one set of four. Until you manage to make this, you cannot proceed to the next phase. As happens in games that involve some skill but mostly luck, you sometimes get stuck. Jerry found himself continually able to make a run of three or a run of four, but his cards did not seem to want to make sets. He cracked us all up when he blurted out (clearly without considering the alternate meaning), “I seem to get the runs easily.”

I plant the coleus because they look pretty, the goat stretches his neck in hopes of food, Coco comes with her monkey because she wants to play, and Jerry gets the runs easily!

playing phase 10

The world is complicated and our lives are full. We go about our days and weeks and years on autopilot sometimes. As long as those planter boxes are there, I will automatically think of coleus when the time comes to plant pretty things every spring. That goat will look longingly at every last visitor to Yoder’s: You have food for me, right? Coco will come to you at least three times a day with the monkey (or the fox or the giraffe or whichever toy she has not yet torn to pieces — and fyi, no matter what they are, they are all called monkey, no point confusing the poor dog). Jerry’s runs, even though they were by chance – to say nothing of hilarious – did happen over and over and somehow got me to thinking about habits, which is how I got to this topic.

Every once in a while, it is good to think about why we do what we do. Autopilot has its merits. We do a thing because we’ve always done it. We do a thing a certain way because we’ve always done it that way. We have enough to think about, too much to think about, and being able to do some things without really thinking about them is useful.

But not always. Sometimes we do things blindly with no good reason. We just do them because someone said to do it that way or we always just did. Which brings me to The Story of the Roast.

A woman was preparing dinner one day and her daughter watched her cut the end off the piece of meat before putting it in the roasting pan. The girl said, “Mommy, why do you cut the end off the meat like that?”

The woman said, “I don’t know. My mother always did.”

The next time the woman visited her mother, she said, “Mom, a question for you. Why do you cut the end off the meat when you make a roast?”

The mother said, “I don’t know. My mother always did.”

The next time the woman visited her grandmother, she said, “Grandma, a question for you. Why did you always cut the end off the meat when you made a roast?”

Grandma said, “My pan was too small.”

See? Blind habit. Only the first generation had good reason to cut the end off the piece of meat. Subsequent generations had different pans.

There might be very good reason for all of the things you do. There might not. Just think about it.

The Cookbook Comes Out

I grew up in the era of television commercials. One of my favorites was for Almond Joy and Mounds: Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t! I don’t eat nuts at all, and even if you took the almond off the top of the Almond Joy I would not eat it, though I am fairly sure it is exactly the same dark chocolate covered coconut underneath as Mounds is. I would eat Mounds endlessly if only there were not a price to pay for such a delicious indulgence.

I find it’s the same with living in the country. Sometimes you feel like going outside and getting yourself busy with something that is likely to involve wheelbarrows, garden gloves and sweating. Some days I wake up and can hardly wait to get out there. Yesterday I was so anxious to get going (on weeding of all things! It had rained, okay? and I knew the ground was soft, and I had guests coming, and it would get hot later…) that I got dressed in my grubbies before even taking the dog out, then just stayed out there weeding after she did her thing. She stood next to me for that hour with a look on her face that clearly said: This is not the way this works. We get up, we go out, I do my thing, we go back in, you feed me breakfast, then you do whatever else you want. What’s up with messing with the routine? Hungry here! Starving! Wasting away!

Needless to say, she survived the wait. When we went out after breakfast, she came again, this time standing there with the look that said: Yes, great, my belly is full, but do you really expect me to lay down on these stones? I went and got the old pink towel that doubles as a soft outside blanket for her (which of us is well trained!?), put it in the middle of the driveway where she would be near but not underfoot, and watched her lay down and look up at me with her That’s more like it face.

Coco on towel

But sometimes you don’t feel like going outside. Today I had no such drive. It was a pleasant morning just the same as yesterday, cool enough, calm, lovely. I wasn’t put off by the coyotes howling somewhere in the distance. I didn’t feel overly tired or sore. There is plenty to do out there (and there will be for the rest of my days!). But my inner voice said No, today is a good day to bake!

My 10-year-old great niece Kaileena is coming for a visit with her 4-year-old sister Brea, her mom (my niece Erika) and her grandma (my sister Lynn). I was thinking yesterday about what Kaileena and I will do together next week when the others have gone to North Carolina. I was thinking about baking. We will make pizza together for sure, and maybe crackers (some of you might remember my cracker post from a few years ago – I have a hankering for those again!).

But before they come, some baking would be good. Think about how you feel when you go visit a family member or a friend and they have baked for you or prepared yummy food of any kind for you. That’s how I want my friends and family to feel. Besides, good neighbors of mine brought me some scrumptious lemon bars this past Saturday and I want to give the container back, but with something in it. Many years ago, my friend Kim told me that she and her mom had a plate that went back and forth between them a number of times because neither one wanted to give an empty plate back to the other. I always liked this idea, so I will put something yummy in Jen’s container.

Like anyone who is comfortable in the kitchen, I have some old stand-by, tried-and-true recipes for sweet things that time and again I find myself falling back on. Why? Because they are good! Chocolate chip bars, for instance. Strawberry tea cake. Oatmeal cookies. Sour cream coffee cake – oh, with blueberries in it at this time of year! That won’t fit in Jen’s container very well though. And two children are coming…

I settled on chocolate chip bars, which I made countless times over the years, so many times that the recipe was clearly in my head. I said was because I was a little disappointed in myself this morning in that I was slightly unsure of the amount of butter (Rule Number One: Always use real butter). Being unsure meant that I had to take the cookbook out.

THE cookbook.

Back in the day everyone had a cookbook, everyone I knew anyway. Well, some people had a little file box with 5×7 recipe cards in it, but that system never worked for me. You write recipes on a scrap of paper sometimes, or the back of an envelope, and scraps don’t fit well in a file box. Here is one example from my book. Believe it or not, this is a recipe:

scalloped potatoes

Mario Da Silva was the Villa lunch chef at Keswick Hall for years. He verbalized this recipe to me and I scrawled it out (clearly in a hurry!). It says

Scalloped Potatoes (Mario Da Silva)

3 onions

chop fine

4-5 cloves garlic

fine chop

olive oil    saute    S&P

(What is the difference between “chop fine” and “fine chop”? You tell me!)

heavy cream

mozz cheese

when sticky    stop

parsley

set aside

slice potatoes

boil

 

in pan

spoon of sauce

layer

mozz on top

parsley on top

bake

That makes sense, right? I’ve made these potatoes several times. They are my mother’s favorite.  Mario now works as the Executive Chef at the Holiday Inn in Sarasota, Florida. If you are in Sarasota, go eat there. Trust me. I never saw a chef get more accolades! And he’s cute besides! (Hello, Mario and Mary!)

My cookbook is in a three-ring binder using plastic sleeves. That way, whatever slip of paper or card a recipe is on, I can find a way for it to fit. For the most part, the recipes written in the standard way, with a list of ingredients followed by instructions. The style of Mario’s potato recipe is the exception (you knew that).

I love so many things about my cookbook. Back in the day I had two smaller notebooks instead of one bigger one. I had one for BREADS CAKES / PIES COOKIES and one for EVERYTHING ELSE. Guess you know where my priorities were! I covered the notebooks the way we used to cover our schoolbooks with brown paper bags cut to fit, except I had book cover paper that had been a giveaway at a Ben & Jerry’s stand at the fair one summer in the mid 90s.

The paper was so colorful and fun. We lived in Vermont then and Ben & Jerry’s was still a local business. I loved my cookbooks covered in this paper:

ben and jerry 2

When I made cookbooks for each of my children about ten years ago, I didn’t have any more Ben & Jerry’s paper, so I scanned the last image in The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, retold and illustrated by Lorinda Bryan Cauley. It is one of my favorite images from when my children were small and I used to read to them (a lot).  I think it made a great cover for a cookbook.

towncountrymouse

The text just prior to this image says: “Then off he went to his snug little home in the fields, whistling a tune and looking forward to a good book by the fire and a mug of hot barley-corn soup.” The cozy chair, the tea kettle on the stove, the cinnamon swirl bread in the oven (just like I made many times!), the soft lighting … I can almost smell that bread!

Inside my cookbook is a collection from many years of trading and finding good recipes. Many are handwritten, which is precious in its own way. One look at the recipe and I know who gave it to me, even if their name is not on it. I see Lyn Boyce’s handwriting, my daughter Marie’s from when she was a teenager, my son Samuel’s, my mom’s, my grandmother’s, my sister Lynn’s, Kim’s, Claudia’s, Anett’s, Crissie’s, Marisa’s, Judy’s, Margaret’s, Eileen’s, and Mario’s (not quite as challenging to follow as my scrawl, but close!).

This is really good soup, by the way. Don’t you love it: “…PLUS 1 GALLON WATER… SALT PEPPER AS YOU WISH. AFTER EVERYTHING IS COOKED, JUST BLEND IT.” You know what that means, right? That means a blender, a few scoopfuls at a time. Did I mention that this is really good soup? And see, not everything in my cookbook has sugar in it!

Mario's yam soup

Handwriting is a reflection of personality and individuality, as unique to every person as their voice or their laugh. How blessed am I to have such a collection! I also see recipes cut from the side of packages or from magazines, printed from emails, hand-copied from other cookbooks, typed on an old typewriter. I see smudges, stains on the paper (from pre-plastic-sleeve days), translations (from some of the German recipes), even notes to me, like these:

Claudia's fettuccini (2)

Marisa's handwriting (2)

There is nothing in the world like the combination of good food together with friends and family. You can make all the amazing dishes you want, but if you don’t share with people you care about, something is missing. Sharing good recipes is not as fun as being with people you love and eating the food that good recipes make, but it’s right up there.

Back to the chocolate chip bars. The recipe (below) says Chocolate Chip Cookies. I haven’t made it as cookies in years. Bars are easier. You put all the dough (no need to grease the pan) in a 9×13 pan. I don’t know why it says 15×10 at the bottom of the recipe – ignore that! Spread it out and bake until golden brown on top, maybe 25-30 minutes, I’m not sure. You tell it’s done by the color, not too dark, not too light. When it has cooled, you cut them up however big you want them.

With bars, you also achieve a more reliable goo-factor — you know, when they are still fresh and the chocolate (which melts together more in bars) is so soft it’s gooey, even kind of a mess. Almost heaven. Almost because, like Mounds, there is a price to pay. Then again, life is short. Every now and then, by all means, pay up.

This recipe is so old, it’s from my pre-must-use-butter days. You see it calls for shortening, which I don’t even have in my cabinet any more. That’s part of the charm of it for me though. I look at the recipe and remember when I kept a cardboard can of white fatty stuff, and I used it! The flavor with butter is so superior, to say nothing of shortening being a mystery food for me, and I like to know what I’m eating: What is that white fatty stuff and what do they have to do to make it? We need to see our own progress sometimes to be reminded of how far we’ve come. It’s like finding some hideous shirt in my closet and thinking I used to wear that?! Then again, sometimes the shirt is hidden for a long time and years later I find it and say, Hey, look at that nice shirt! Maybe I’ll come around to shortening again too.

I always wondered about the half teaspoon of water – could it really make a difference?  What if the eggs are bigger than usual? Might that not be at least half a teaspoon of water difference in the overall amount of liquid going in? But I always put the water in anyway. Some things you just do.

This is the only recipe in my entire book with sections circled and numbered, which I clearly did after the fact. I think I did this in an attempt to tell someone (one of my children maybe?) what order to do it in. Sorry for any confusion. 1. Combine butter, sugars, vanilla and water and beat till smooth. 2. Beat in eggs. 3. Add dry ingredients (I never combine them first any more) and stir them in. 4. Stir in package of chips.

You can add a handful of old fashioned oats if you want. This adds texture and makes them a little easier to justify. A couple shakes of cinnamon is wonderful too. Or add some chopped nuts, let’s say half a cup, if you like nuts. Walnuts might be good, I’m not entirely sure. Nut-eaters could tell you better.

I could type out this recipe, but it wouldn’t be the same.

choc chip bars