Guy on Window

Bizarre as it was – the sounds, the images, the mind associations – no one flinched. No one asked for an explanation, no one cared. We all just carried on as if there weren’t a guy on the window, as if a guy on the window happens every day. Let’s take GUY ON WINDOW one word at a time.

GUY: Guy refers to a male generally, unless it’s used in the “What do you guys want to drink?” colloquialism, but that is a different conversation. I am from New Jersey. When we say “I know a guy” it means “I know a man who does X [and I can talk to him about doing X for you].” I have often been amazed at how, for the most part, even from afar (though this is not foolproof of course), we can instantly tell if someone is male or female just from how they stand or walk or gesture. We don’t need to see their face. We don’t need hairstyle or other typical gender signifiers. They can be bundled in bulky clothes. Something about the image tells us “male” or “female.” I’d put money on it: this was a guy on the window.

ON: On is a preposition that implies adherence to or connection to another object. According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, “on” means “in or into a position covering, touching or forming part of a surface” as in

“a picture on a wall

There’s a mark on your skirt.

the diagram on page 5

Put it down on the table.

He had been hit on the head.

She climbed on to the bed.

What you don’t see here in this list of possible uses for “on” is “guy on window” or even “there’s a guy on the window.” Because it’s unusual. When I say on, in this case, I mean in-a-position-touching-the-surface-of-[the-vertical-third-floor-window].

WINDOW: Windows are generally glass and generally flat planes. This one was. Sometimes they open to let in air, and sometimes they are sealed shut. The kind in office buildings, especially on upper levels, are usually sealed. This one was on the third floor, and it was sealed. Windows need to be cleaned now and then. This one apparently did.

Of course we weren’t sure what was going on at first. At first all you saw was a foot.

guy on window1.jpg

I was waiting for my mom to get through her appointment with the eye doctor.  There are many aspects to the appointment – various tests and various waiting periods. When you go there as the driver, you know it will be a while. Last time it took almost two hours. This time was better, only an hour and 35 minutes. Still, that’s a lot of time to observe what is going on.

Those of us sitting in the waiting room had heard water being sprayed. We had seen water streaming down the window. Someone new walked in and said, “Is it raining?”

No, not raining, but oh, look, there’s a guy on the window. Yeah, so, a guy on the window. Big deal. He has the right equipment. The water he uses to clean the windows with comes out of the nozzle because it is hooked up to a system that supplies it. He is agile enough to manage this job. He is strong enough to hold everything. He is not afraid to be up that high, though he is strapped in somehow I’m sure. He is paid enough for him to want to do this work. The businesses in this building are doing well enough to pay someone to wash the windows. The building is well made so that no water seeps through. Etc!

So much has to be in place just for this one guy to clean the windows!


I thought about this today while Samuel and I were driving to Vermont. It took 12 hours, the first five of which were in horrible rain. Despite the rain and the accompanying driving conditions, we realized that it’s remarkable to be able to drive 650 miles in one day. Like the guy on the window, so many factors have to be in place for this to happen: We have to have a car that runs, money to put gas into it, good health to be able to make a trip. The roads have to be in good repair, we need to be able to find the gas to put in the car, so there must be gas stations along the way. The state borders through which we travel (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont) – indeed all of the states in the US – allow free travel – no border stops, no restrictions, just keep going. We have jobs and schedules that give us the time to travel. Etc!

And because of all of this, now I get to spend several days with my sweet granddaughters and help my son and his wife with their new house – his straw-bale-insulated, pentagonal house on six rural acres in Vermont, which I will tell you more about soon.

In the meantime, remember that the things to be grateful for never end.

When I Grow Up

As we left Lyn’s house in Vermont last week, she handed me a jar of cookies, homemade maple cookies, homemade by Lyn herself of course. My heart warmed on seeing that jar, wrapped up pretty with beautiful, delicious cookies inside. It was my jar and she was, on the surface of it, giving me my jar back. This past winter, I had used it to give her some of my Virginia applesauce. In Lyn’s book, you don’t return the jar empty, or the container, or the plate, or whatever was used to give you a gift of food. You give it back with something yummy. It’s a thing. It’s a wonderful thing.

cookies from Lyn Boyce.jpg

This is Eppie, who might not remember this jar of cookies, but I hope she will always give something back in a similarly beautiful way. I hope when she gets older, she meets a dear lady who becomes for her as Lyn has been for me.

Lyn B2

This is Lyn. I want to tell you what she did to my stove. In my early twenties, our first house had an old electric stove in the kitchen that was, well, gross. It’s one thing to make a mess yourself and clean it imperfectly, but someone else’s mess, someone else’s baked-on spills, someone else’s goo dripping down that narrow space between the side of the stove and the counter – that is just gross.

The man we bought the house from had left a tea kettle sitting on the back burner, which succeeded in hiding the fact that there was no coil under it. Discovering the missing coil and realizing his deception was disappointment enough for me to have talked about it, and in telling the story, I must have mentioned that the stove was not exactly appealing in its present condition. I might have used the word gross. Lyn said to me, “I will come and clean your stove.” Being five months pregnant at the time, I did not argue.

Neither did I have any idea what she meant by “cleaning” my stove. She showed up in work clothes and over the course of two and a half days, she took that stove apart – screw by screw! She scrubbed and polished every piece individually, so that all old grossness of any kind that might have remained lodged between two pieces was able to be removed. Then she put it all back together.

I never saw a person clean anything so thoroughly, to say nothing giving two and a half days of their own time to do it. The stove was an ugly color, that goldish tone that was popular in the 1970s and remained in many kitchens until those stoves one by one kicked the bucket. But despite the (soon replaced) missing coil, it worked, and I was not going to have a new one any time soon. By the time Lyn got through with it, that stove was shining like new and not nearly as ugly. In fact, I could not help but smile when I looked at it. I remember being awestruck at her willingness to ensure that I would have a clean stove.

What a gift she gave me! Who was I that she would do this for me? Why she would go out of her way and work so hard for me like that? And how could saying “thank you” even come close to expressing my gratitude? In my twenty-something, bumbling way I asked her, “What can I ever do to repay you?”

She didn’t miss a beat, but replied gently, “Someday, someone will need their stove cleaned. You clean their stove, and you have repaid me.”

I like to think that anyone would have realized at that moment what an extraordinary human being she is. I did think that. But my thought specifically was – and still is – “When I grow up, I want to be like her.”

It wasn’t just the stove of course. It was cookies coming to me or coming back to me, time and again. It was hours spent listening to me working my way verbally through some perplexing issue or current crisis. It was a lot of kind questions that made me think she genuinely cared about me, though I still didn’t know why she would. Her amazing generosity and warm welcomes were love in action and made me feel loved, to say nothing of her maple cookies, apple squares and buttery turnips! Lyn made the best turnips I ever had! One Christmas after moving to Virginia I was feeling especially homesick for Vermont, which perhaps she knew and perhaps she didn’t. She kindly sent a box of her apple squares, wrapped well for the journey. But to fill the small bit of empty space in the box she did not use Styrofoam peanuts or newspaper. No, she thought to cut some sprigs of a fir tree so that when I opened the box, the pine scent brought me back to Vermont instantly.

I could go on, but perhaps you get the idea that I love and admire her very much. May every woman have such a woman in her life! May every man have a man so worthy and respectable as to inspire the same kind of hope, the kind that says I want to be like that someday! The vision of that someday will stop us short when we are tempted to be lazy or unkind or bad-tempered. The vision inspires. Like the ripples in a pond, the actions of people like Lyn inspire our own actions which hopefully in turn inspire someone else’s actions. In a few years when I show Eppie the photo of herself with the jar of cookies, I’ll tell her what it’s all about. Maybe she’ll get it. Or maybe someone will clean her stove, so to speak.

May we all have people in our lives to admire, to emulate, to learn from – people of such shining, wonderful character that your own life is richer just knowing them. Let us never forget how important we are to one another, how important our actions are and how far the ripples reach.

The Maze of Life

I love it when people find ingenious ways to make money using what they already have. For 20 years a farm family in Vermont has been planting 24 acres of corn, cutting an intricate maze into it, charging admission and making untold numbers of people thrilled that they found their way out! Here is a previous year’s maze to give you an idea of what they do.

maze1 (2).jpg

There is a boat and a bridge in this one; a boat and two bridges in the next.

maze2 (2).jpg

Perhaps it’s hard to understand the scale from the aerial photos. What it looks like from atop one of the bridges is this:

long view.jpg

That’s a boat way out in the distance. The corn is taller than all but the tallest people. And even if you were a giant, it would be hard to see which path to take.


There are a lot of pointless loops and dead ends. There are “guides” posted on the bridges, wholesome yet also rather smirky young people who may or may not steer you right, and they will tell you they may or may not be steering you right! (I may be reading the smirky into it.) There are two “frustration bells” located in random places just to give you something to do when you feel like you are going in circles. There are numerous paper punches mounted on stands that all make a different shaped hole in the card they give you to punch: star, apple, boat, teddy bear, umbrella, hand moon, leaf, etc. Mine looked like this by the end.

card (2).jpg

You are supposed to punch the card every time you come to one, and when you are all done, you “compare your sequence of punched shapes to their locations marked on the aerial photo in the admissions booth to see how you solved the maze.” Let’s just say I used the card as a way to feel like we were making some progress. If you come to the same hole puncher twice, you are really in a loop! We only did that once that I remember, but I was piggy-back-carrying my almost six-year-old granddaughter a good deal of the time, so forgive me if my memory is a bit fuzzy on the details.

We were fortunate during our trek last week to have a scout in our party who often went on ahead and checked to see if we all should keep going that way or try another direction (thank you, Lincoln!). Nonetheless I am sure the nine of us went under one of the bridges at least three times. We discussed what mistakes we might have made. We tried to intelligently choose the next direction. On my own I would not possibly have made it out of there in the two and a half hours it took us.

I should have had a clue it was going to be as challenging as it was. Just getting to the place feels like going to the middle of nowhere.


You are on a dirt road (not that that’s unusual in Vermont). Finally you see the sign that says M [ear of corn] Z E 627 feet. 627 feet?? That’s your clue right there. This going to be fun!


Parking is easy. There are goats to visit,

Lincoln and goat

toys to play with,


and all kinds of fun things to do before entering the maze itself.


It’s no wonder people love coming here. Kudos to the owners/designers who give us not only a fun and challenging way to spend time together. They have also made possible an experience that fabulously parallels real life, whether anyone but me thinks about it that way or not. How is a maze like this NOT a parallel of a person’s lifetime?

We come into it, we bumble around (fairly clueless), we think about it, we rest, we have a snack, we try again, we note the milestones, we carry the little ones, we share stories, we slow down for the slower ones we care about (or they slow down for us!), we feel a bit of success, we marvel at the complexity, we get dirty, we keep going, we get help (or not, as we choose), we discuss our options, we go the other person’s way sometimes, we laugh, we leave clues for other people and hope it helps, we get frustrated (not that bridge again!), we make progress, we get tired, we sense we are getting to the end, we celebrate, we finish and we sit down!

Seems about right to me. Some people bumble more than others, some have more successes, some carry little ones more often, some get dirtier. But all in all, life is a maze. We don’t know what’s around the next bend, we don’t know how long it will take us to get through it, we don’t know what our path will be until we start going along. We back up and start again sometimes. We experience surprise, frustration, challenge, relief. We keep going.

I am in the middle of my own maze as you are in yours. Don’t you love 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


set aside

slice potatoes



in pan

spoon of sauce


mozz on top

parsley on top


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.


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