Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Morning Cuppa and a Christmas Cookie

Quiet reigns.  Peace floods each corner of the cottage.  Covers stir.  The teakettle sings “Good Morning!” as it does each morn, but somehow it feels different today.

The rains have broken and the sky shines with the brilliance of a sun sorely missed of late.  Droplets dance on the barren tree limbs like a dusting of diamonds, while a sprinkling of red berries call birdies to feast with abandon before the next chill wind blows.  Like a child, I secretly wish for a “White Christmas” despite weather predictions of soggy at best.  The warm inviting sunshine snickers at the thought of snowflakes, but I remain open to all possibilities.

Possibilities . . . such a delightful word, so ripe like a sackful of Santa’s toys or a stable brimming with hopeful celebrants. 

Our Christmas celebrations this year remain a mystery of possibilities because I have made good on a promise to open wide to the freedom of serendipity.  My New Year’s resolution for 2011 can be summed up in one word:  Serendipity.  And as has become tradition, I “try on” the coming year’s resolve like a party frock before the big event just to make sure it fits and all.  Thus far it fits like a dream!  : D

In years past I meticulously planned special moments of joy and fun.  This year a tumble of unexpected (and not wholly pleasant) events made planning far too challenging, so I tossed the planning guide aside and decided to try something new:  Just go with the flow.  Picture a woman slipping off a familiar perch of rock down into a serendipitous raft passing at just the precise moment to catch her up and carry her downstream over rills and curls, eddies and swirls.  A bit scary?  You bet!  Fun?  When I catch my breath from too much laughter I’ll let you know.  I’ve never laughed so hard, slept so peacefully, eaten with such relish, and danced with such joy.  Each morning I arise, put on the kettle, grab a treat (just one won’t hurt a bit), and soak up the quiet time of praise with my Lord, as I await the day’s unfolding with a child-like sparkle in my eye.  What will today hold?  I have no idea . . . and I giggle.  I unwrap each moment like a child beneath a gift-laden tree.  Unable to “predict” anymore, I just tear away and take a peek.  Truly the adage “Today is a gift, that’s why it is called the present” sums it all up beautifully.

Impromptu dinner parties happen with the laying of an extra placesetting and the lighting of candles.  Voila!  Instant party!  The chili stretches to fill all the bowls like a widow’s blessed oil. 

A “Cookie Bake Day” invite to one of Rachel’s friends became a rollicking adventure in cookies, frostings, red hots, sprinkles, and more as her mom decided to stay rather than complete her To Do list for the day.  Mixers whirred, tasting tongues lapped up buttercream, and jolly holiday music danced above the sugar-plum elves.  We laughed away the weariness we shouldered at the start of the day.  As we removed aprons, swept up sprinkles, and collapsed into comfy chairs for a restorative cuppa tea (and a cookie, of course) we KNEW we’d spent the day well despite the fact that our lists lay idle and unmarked.  Tomorrow will be soon enough for dusting.

As The Day of Christmas approaches we already have numerous celebrations under our belt.  We’ve celebrated St. Nicholas Day and Hanukkah, Santa Lucia Day (Rachel’s birthday) and even watched for a lunar eclipse on the Winter’s Solstice (cloud cover prevented the tiniest of peeks).  Premiering films The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Tron caused our family to uncharacteristically journey to the theaters and don funny glasses.  Puzzles and games stack up alongside books and dvds as we play each and every day.  Even practice times for upcoming Christmas performances become a celebratory event as I mute the ongoing cd carols and pause to enjoy the heavenly sound of a harp singing joyfully about that Holy Night wherein Away In a Manger lay our greatest gift of all:  HOPE.

We have but a few days left till the world explodes in a unified shout of “holiday” cheer, but as usual we dance to the beat of a different drummer (he gets quite a workout around here) and have been celebrating non-stop these past few weeks.  I read that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  I think we have just crossed the threshold of day 21 and now habitually celebrate daily.  I think I am well on my way to enjoying 2011:  The Year of Serendipity.  I’m so glad I’ve given this bold resolution a trial run during this advent season.  Who knew one could find so much fun and pure joy in each day? 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Wonder

. . . he that is of a merry heart
hath a continual feast.

Proverbs 15:15b

* * *
I do hope your Christmas has plenty of Merry Heart and Continual Feasting in it as this week rushes by. 
enJOY!  : D

Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Letter from Lydia

Dear Friend,

 I love Christmas. Every ornament placed on the tree holds some sort of happy memory for my family. We call it our memory tree. All of the decorations are set out and ready to help us celebrate one of the happiest seasons of all.

I’ve been spending several afternoons and evenings behind closed doors making Christmas presents. I always like to make home-made presents for people at Christmas. Normally I don’t really get into doing a lot of crafts or projects, unlike my sisters who always have something they’re working on. But every year in December, I become infected with the wonderful Christmas spirit and my crafty, artistic side leaps into action.
However, one crafty thing I love to do all year round is knit. I like to knit hats, scarves, and I’ve even knitted a purse (it came out little lopsided but I’m still working on those). I first learned to knit a year ago in august. My Mom, my sisters, and I went to have tea with a friend and she taught us how to spin wool into thread and to knit. I did not really enjoy spinning but I fell in love with knitting. I found it difficult at first but after a few days I improved and my project (I started with a scarf) slowly grew. Now I can knit with very little effort and sometimes I can’t decide whether I want to spend an hour knitting or reading.
I also love to read. Two of my very favorite books in the world are Gone with the Wind and Up a Road Slowly. What is more fun than getting lost in a good book? Well, I suppose other people could think of things they would rather do. I even would sometimes rather spend time writing or just daydreaming. Reading novels always encourages me to write, especially when I read books about writers, like Up a Road Slowly or Emily of New Moon. It’s always encouraging to read those books and see that the dilemmas and problems I come across in my writing are normal for a writer and can be overcome. I wonder where these authors get their ideas, what inspires them? I get many of my story ideas from just daydreaming. There is a swing set in our gardens near the pond and ever since I was very little I’ve loved swinging. The motion of swinging and the beauty of being outside stimulates my imagination. I always love to swing as the sun goes down. I like to think about fantasy worlds, days gone by, and days to come. What will the future bring my way?

Sometimes I look forward to falling asleep at night and dreaming. The other night I dreamt I was on the beach right as the sun was setting into the ocean. All of the golden colors, the pink and yellow and orange that lit the sky and reflected on the bluish gray sea, painted a breathlessly beautiful picture that I still see clearly in my mind. I woke up longing to be at that beach, walking barefoot on the sand with the ocean roaring beside me as the sun goes down.  Next month, my Mom and Dad plan to take my brother, younger sister, and me to the beach in our motor home for a few days. I look forward to smelling the salty sea, hearing the ocean roar, and watching the golden sunsets.

I wish everyone in the world sweet dreams, a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.  

 I so enjoyed being the hostess at our family's  
Colonial Williamsburg table setting 
at our church's annual Ladies Christmas Tea.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Wonder

And all they that heard it 
wondered at those things 
which were told them 
by the shepherds.

 And the shepherds returned, 
glorifying and praising God 
for all the things 
that they had heard
and seen . . .
Luke 2:18, 20

Join others in celebrating the Spirit of Christmas at 
Spiritual Sundays.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On a Quiet Hillside

 * * *

The house glows with the beauty and joy of Christmas.  A simpler approach this year left some of the glitz and glitter in the box to save for another year.  Carols hum dreamily on the playstation3.  Last year Gary replaced my 200-disc-changer with the PS3.  I pouted and mourned the loss of the familiar but ailing player . . . until I got the hang of the new gadget.  A year later I have loaded nearly every cd we own (MANY!) into the slim little box and labeled them by genre.  Now with a few button pushes I can choose an artist, an album, a genre, a track . . . the list of options just goes on.  My favorite choice?  Genre SHUFFLE!  By selecting Christmas genre and Shuffle we have every album randomly accessed.  It’s like I have my own DJ.  It drives my kids a bit bonkers to have a snippet of Handel’s Messiah follow Judy Garland’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, but I think it feels wonderful to “shake it up” a bit.  It’s like having a smorgasbord of music (and you know how I like choices). 

My love of variety spills over into our celebrations as well.  No single “Tradition” exemplifies our Christmas.  Some years we pick a country and celebrate as they do.  We’ve celebrated in all the ways of our ancestors, including:  Germany, England, Norway, and France.  Other years we agree on a theme such as “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  (Some of you may remember that as I blogged it – see the Christmas archives for some fun photos and reminiscences.)  Each year our menus change as do the guest lists, with some years finding me stuffing tables into little-used corners as we accommodate a crowd, while a different year includes a quiet candlelit meal for just this family.  Sometimes we dine buffet style, other times in elegant courses of five or six.  Whereas the Thanksgiving menu and traditions rarely vary, the Christmas month has no road map.  We like the adventure of Christmas as we journey to the Stable each year to pay homage to our King.  That has become our sole tradition.

This year we will celebrate without extended family as they all have other engagements.  Though we will miss everyone, the gift of a quiet Christmas is a rare treat indeed and we intend to celebrate it joyfully.  The early part of the December month hangs heavy with birthdays, teas, and all manner of gatherings, but the last stretch lies calm and quiet like a shepherd’s plain in Bethlehem.  The still, silent nights will leave us time to hear and see and receive Christmas as the shepherds did so long ago.  I have no idea what will transpire.  Will a chorus of angels break through the night sky?  Will we be treated to a warm and cozy togetherness such as Mary surely smiled to receive on that birth night so long ago?  Regardless the details, our calendar will remain intentionally open to the unexpected, unplanned, and most welcome miracles of this precious season.  We shall come to the cradle with open eyes, open hearts, and open days to celebrate the newborn King.

Being largely “unscheduled” this season I have already seen a rare gift in serendipity.  At the library’s monthly booksale last Saturday I came across a book of eight Hanukkah tales by Isaac Bashevis Singer.  I added it to my bundle; at a mere 50 cents I couldn’t resist the pristine hardcover book with a child’s name self-scrawled on the inside cover.  The little book of tales fell among cookbooks, classics, and even a Colonial Willliamsburg Christmas craft book (Lydia’s tea table next Saturday will be decorated in this style – how wonderful to find a step-by-step craft guide for that fruit pyramid we are planning to make).  I always find the most wonderful treasures as I hunt the shelves and tables of donated books.

Once home, I brewed a pot of tea and set about sorting and leafing through the stacks of books; like our music, I sort books by genre – how else to find anything in this cottage of books!?!  The Hanukkah tales fell into my hands right away and I made my way to the cozy chair for just a peek.  I ended up reading some aloud, wiping tears in between the memories of God’s miraculous ways in the life of His chosen people.  I had expected an informative book about the events of the temple and the oil and all the other bedrock traditions of Hanukkah, but what I found surprised me:  Memories woven across eight nights to inspire families to gather, remember, celebrate, and endeavor to be instruments of God’s miraculous ways. 

The recollections of hardship, suffering, loss, grief, and destitution mingled with laughter, games, and feasting all wrapped in the warm glow of candles burning in the window or by the doorway to invite others to celebrate.  Memories of a Grandpa played out alongside other fairytale-like miracles of rescue from starvation, loneliness, and even Nazi oppression.  Among the tales wafts the memorable smell of latkes frying in the oil.  Latkes!  Potato Pancakes!  Yes!  My memories dance with remembrances of Gary’s Grandma Walpus standing over a hot pan frying shredded potatoes into a crispy cake to dress with applesauce. 

Though not Jewish, she came from the Old Country (first Prussia, then Germany, now Poland – man messes with borders so often throughout history, doesn’t he?) and brought delicious recipes that she taught to her daughter and even to me, her grand-daughter-in-law.  Though there flows no Jewish blood in either of our families, I do have a tiny delicious connection to Hanukkah and it has been YEARS since I fried up a batch.  

As I told the children of my potato-pancake memories they begged me to make a batch.  (I confess the oil splatter messes up everything and I do not like that – but as the Hanukkah celebration makes oil the star, how can I resist?)    

“How about if we celebrate the last night of Hanukkah with some Latkes, eight candlesticks in a row (with one more to do the lighting), and a few more stories from this book?” I asked. 

“YES!”  They chimed. 

“Can we play the dreidel?” asks Rachel, hoping for a chance to enjoy a favorite (and often times ONLY) game played by Jewish children. 

(Where will I find a dreidel in Grass Valley?  We have but one toystore in town and no synagogue that I know of.  Could be a challenge.   Hmmmmm . . .)

And so an empty spot on our calendar will become a sympathetic celebration of Hanukkah.  I do not know all the details and am not even attempting to celebrate Hanukkah “correctly,” but rather in spirit – the spirit of Christmas that seeks to bridge the world with Peace and understanding; the spirit of Christmas that sent a babe to a manger for all to meet in a common place and find hope, peace, and so much love. 

I can already see that setting out to spend these Christmas holidays on a quiet hillside above the fray will yield most wondrous results and memories, and quite possibly add some new traditions to these days as we pause to ponder and wonder and celebrate the God King come to earth as a child:  The True Gift of Christmas.  

* * *

* * *
Until next I write . . . Shalom!  


I just got home from the local bookseller with dreidel in hand.  Much to my surprise I do manage to find everything I need in this little bit of a town -- even a Jewish Hanukkah top!  (Now I'm off to read the instructions and practice a bit before the kids discover my success.)  : D

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sunday Wonder

 One king held the frankincense

 One king held the myrrh

 One king held the purest gold

 One king held the hope of the world

from One King
Written by jeff borders, gayla borders, lowell alexander

* * *

Do you ever wonder what happened to those gifts the wisemen/kings brought to Jesus? 

Did Mary and Joseph use them to finance an escape?

Did they get lost in the shuffle somewhere along the way? 

Did they hold onto them until Jesus came of age and then step aside lovingly to watch him share it with those in need?

Were the gifts on prominent display in the rustic village home of a carpenter?

Or did Mary seal them away as a “nest egg” to be hatched upon Jesus’ marriage?

Did she leave the cross on John’s arm that fateful day, returning home to a hope chest wherein she had loving stored those precious gifts, only to hand them over to another Mary for the embalming of this precious son?

Did it ever strike anyone odd that the gifts foretold death? 

Has anyone ever gifted a newborn babe with embalming ointments?

Have you ever wondered . . . as I so often do?

*To enjoy a gathering of spiritual thoughts please visit Spiritual Sundays

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Presence


December has arrived.  

Peace reigns in our home.  

A gentle transformation takes place  around here
as buds of beauty unfurl from roots sunk deep into our hearts.

* * *
“He is coming.”
“Prepare ye the way.”

* * *

Preparations begin with flashing needles that knit hearts and hands together for a gift to wrap around a loved one.

Preparations begin with carols in hand and strings tuned up to plunk or plink as a prelude to concerts shared.

Preparations begin with furniture shifted and books relocated to feather our nest with spots for gentle reading this advent season.

Preparations begin to sparkle, twinkle, ring, and sing out with 
the joy of the season . . . the joy in the reason.

* * *
“It’s here!”
“Christmas arrives!”
“Get up and dance!”
“Sing sweetly!”
“Christ is born!”

* * *

Around Wisteria Cottage the girls plan and prep behind closed doors.  “Don’t come in!” I hear as I tap.  “Okay . . . you can come in now,” follows a bustling and bundling away of hidden treats.  Gary hauls boxes to and fro as Pilgrims pack and leave to make way for the Christ Child.  Matthew partners with us in the celebrations as he conquers his autistic need to be alone and joins in the fun as we dance to the delightful Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack (his favorite).  I slip off quietly with pen in hand to drink deeply of the peace and joy and love flowing freely in this home.  Though great losses have rocked our world through the recent years, a house built upon The Rock withstands the storms; and the family within the standing home rises up to celebrate in the midst of the torrents.

Once I thought Christmas needed to be planned, orchestrated, budgeted, and executed like a battle.  I fortified against commercialism and dilution by immersing my family in pageants, programs, parties, and all manner of participation to celebrate the Christ Child’s birth, lest any forget and just make merry.  I exhausted myself and often missed the “Peace on Earth” part.

I no longer work to celebrate.  I simply do it.  I simply pause to ponder all the memories and happiness and sweet joy stored up in our traditions.  I no longer fear I will “miss” something as I stop and kneel in the presence of a season filled with so much to ponder.  I wonder as I wander . . . and it is wonder-filled.

We call our Christmas tree a “Memory” tree and we laugh and joke and even wipe away the tears as we unwrap each bauble infused with a meaning all our own.  

* * * 

“Baby’s First Christmas!” . . .  we tell our stories.

“The very first ornament mommy gave to daddy before they were even married!” . . . we tell the story. 

“The Baby Jesus in the manger!”  . . .   we tell HIStory.

* * *

I no longer worry about missing something at Christmastime for I know full well that a Christmas without a tree or a wrapped gift or even a Crèche would still fill us to overflowing with pure delight in gathering our hearts together (even distance between cannot deter us) as we celebrate with the true Presence of Christmas.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Wonder

And they did all eat, and were filled . . .
 Matthew 14:20a

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Letter From Lydia

November 19, 2010

Dear Friend, 

I was wondering who might find and read this letter; I’m so glad you did. I do so love to write letters, there’s something old fashioned and cozy about receiving an envelope, stamped and addressed to me, that always fills me with excitement! Who could have written to me, (of course that question is quickly answered once I read the return address) and what do they have to say? Most of my letters come from friends in faraway places whom I rarely see and their letters bring me such joy and fun as I relish every handwritten word on the page. After they have told me all the news in their lives, I quickly pull out my paper, envelopes, and stamps and spend a good hour or so writing a reply. I include all of the latest news: the new projects we’ve been doing, my younger sister’s latest invention, and I can’t forget to mention the egg count and behavior of our chickens.

     After the letter is finished (I give it one last read over for spelling mistakes), I fold it, seal it in the envelope, and address it to my friend, (did I forget the stamp?) and send it off. Like a small child, I grow excited whenever my Dad brings home the day’s mail, in hopes that there will be another letter addressed to me.
     As we come to November, letters turn into holiday greetings as we receive Thanksgiving and Christmas cards and yearly Christmas letters. Is it already November again? Thanksgiving is less than a week away!? I’m practically still full from last year’s holiday feasts. How I love to celebrate with food; I have a particular weakness for pies, sweet potatoes, and stuffing, my three favorites. The whole house always smells so delicious on Thanksgiving when my Mom spends most of the day in the kitchen cooking a fabulous meal, and our stomachs, undoubtedly, will start growling prematurely. We are always anxious to sit down, in the same candlelit dining room we’ve eaten in for so many holidays, and give thanks that we’ve managed to control our hunger until dinner. It’s always well worth it.

     This evening, we’ve seen our first snowfall of the season. Strange, snow does not usually fall this early. However, strange things have been known to happen around here. I guess that’s just part of my life. My Mom has always said, if someone was to film our life and put it on TV, people would think it was staged. I guess not everyone spends their days chasing annoying roosters and competing in domino tournaments. I sure do (although, I’m afraid of the rooster so I carry a broom with me at all times while shooing him out of the garden).

Wishing all the joys in life to my new friend.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Wonder

Therefore let us keep the feast, 

not with old leaven, 
neither with the leaven of 
malice and wickedness; 

but with the unleavened bread of 
sincerity and truth.
I Corinthians 5:8

Friday, November 19, 2010

Beyond Fried Green Tomatoes

“Snowfall possible this weekend!” Gary cries out.

“Yippee!” goes up a chorus.

Gasp!  “Tomatoes!” pipes up Elizabeth, turning to Rachel, “Tomorrow we harvest the rest, okay?”

Rachel nods enthusiastically; Lydia looks on without a shred of interest, preferring to write a poem or play a tune – both involve clean hands.  ; )

And so the gardeners head out after all hearth chores have been completed.  I set to pruning yet another stand of roses, while the girls swarm about the heavy laden tomato plants. 

“So many that didn’t ripen,” sighs Elizabeth.

“We’ll find a use for them,” I sing out in the warmth of an autumn afternoon bathed in jewel-toned hues of gold and pink and fierce hot reds and oranges blazing a beautiful farewell.

Later as we sort and wash colander upon colander of green, orange, yellow, and red tomatoes.  I toss out ideas. 

“We could have fried green tomatoes,” I say, looking over the smallish globes with a skeptical eye.  “On second thought, maybe not,” I add as I calculate how many hours I will be standing over a HOT stove frying up finger-tip sized green tomato slices.

I dry my hands and make my way to the cookbook section of our library and plop down within easy access to every “country” cookbook I own.  (Please don’t ask . . . it’s MANY!)  Questing for fried green tomato recipes would have found me immediately victorious.  Every home-making cook and a fair portion of “chefs” offer a favorite way to bread and fry the immature tomatoes abundant at season’s end, but very few move beyond the frying thereof.  I pull out my trusty copy of American Country Cook by Pat Katz (purchased as a bride scouring a sale table at a discount chain).  This ranks as my favorite “basics” cookbook.  She covers an abundance of veggies, fruits, meats, and all the ways to prep and save them.  Pat has been a true blue kitchen mentor for me.  

I settle down and read away, “Hmmmmm, a whole section entitled ‘Tomatoes, Green.’  Excellent!  Let’s see . . . Green Tomato Curry, Green Tomato Hot Sauce, Green Tomato Cookies – hey, that looks interesting!”

“What!” gasps Rachel.  “Are you serious?”

I nod and read on, “The recipe calls for Green Tomato Mincemeat.  What is that?” I say as I begin flipping back a page or two in search of the earlier recipe.  By now the girls are blanching a bit at the thought of green tomatoes, raisins, etc. put into a cookie and passed off as dessert.

“Well,” I sum up, “I don’t like raisins (don’t have any either), don’t care for those fruit peels either, so I’m going to have to modify this whole recipe.”  And back to the kitchen I dance with cookbook in hand to stand before an audience of mild skeptics who were really hoping for some dessert tonight.

After sorting the tomatoes into categories: ready to ripen on the counter, suitable for frying, and "other"

I heft the big bowl of “other” and load it into the food processor for chopping.  Two batches in my 16-cup bowl, lightly pulsed until evenly chopped but mush-free,

and then I set about chopping a batch of apples (peeled and cored) to the same texture.  Combining the 2:1 mixture of chopped “stuff” I add a cup of blackstrap molasses, ¼ cup lemon juice, and ¾ cup apple cider vinegar.  Now for the spices . . .

I look at the quantities and KNOW instinctively that this will not have the deep spicy tang I seek, so I add the requisite 1 Tb cinnamon, ¼ tsp allspice, ¼ tsp cloves and then add some more (I nearly doubled the quantities).  I stir and taste this rather unattractive glop, and opt to add a generous dollop of strong bourbon vanilla.  I taste.  It still tastes . . . ummmmm . . . ODD with a touch of bitterness.

“Only time will tell,” I shrug as I turn on the heat.  I bring it to a boil, and then return it to a simmer for about an hour.  In the final minutes of cooking I turn up the heat to reduce the mixture to a nice thickness.

By now the house smells absolutely Holiday-Fantastic and everyone “MMMMMs” and “AAaaaahs!” their way to the kitchen.  Gary even walks in from next door (his office resides in the guest house) saying, “It sure smells good in here!”  And it does!

Now, I have a vat of “Tomato Mincemeat” simmered to perfection, but I am out of time for cookie baking as I really need to top the chicken stew with herbed dumplings so that we can eat around six.  What to do with this mincemeat?

“Let’s do some canning!” pipes up Elizabeth.

“Okay,” I respond, less than certain that my mere four-burners can adequately accommodate a pot of chicken stew, a pot of chicken-bone broth simmering, a pot of mincemeat, AND the GIGANTIC canning pot.  But, we give it a try and it fits . . . barely.  So she sets to boiling the water whilst I ladle out one heaping cup of mincemeat for a pudding, ladling the rest into sterilized pint-sized canning jars.  I fill five jars and she processes them while I set about adapting my persimmon pudding recipe for the mincemeat.

I reach for my trusty copper recipe box (a wedding gift) and dig out the “family” recipe for persimmon pudding.  (I admit this came from my sister-in-law’s grandma – sadly, my mom always baked a Mrs. Smith’s Apple Pie from a box, hence she neither needed nor had a recipe box.)  2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup milk (I use up the last of the cream in the bottle and add whole milk for the balance), 1 cup green tomato mincemeat, 1 tsp (or so) vanilla, and one egg all whisked together.  In goes ¼ cup shortening and since the mince is still warm it melts into tiny pellets; usually I have to whisk a bit to disperse the shortening.  Now to add the dry ingredients: 1 cup flour (I use freshly-ground whole-wheat pastry), 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp cinnamon (or so – we are cinnamon lovers around here).  Mix all together and pour into greased pudding bowl (or any baking dish – you decide what shape you desire, but keep in mind a shallow dish will bake faster than a deeper pudding bowl) and bake uncovered at 350 F for about 50-60 minutes.  Underbaking yields a gooey pudding, longer bake times result in a moist steamy cake – you decide.

While the pudding bakes away I whip up a batch of herbed dumplings (just a biscuit recipe with a handful of herbes d’Provence tossed in for fabulous flavor).  I top the bubbling stew with dough globes and replace the heavy lid on that gently steaming pot.

Whew!  Now I turn back to watch Elizabeth hover over the waterbath canner for the requisite 10 minutes and then hoist out her first batch of canned goodies.  She worries and thumps tops and frets a wee bit more before setting them to rest for 12 hours.  I tell her to stop worrying for we will gladly eat up any non-sealed jars.  (As I write this I count 100% success!  Way to go Elizabeth!)

Finally we sit down to a lovely dinner of chicken stew with herb-a-licious dumplings

followed by the most amazingly flavorful Green Tomato Mincemeat Pudding!!! 

I have adapted that persimmon pudding recipe to make gingerbread pudding, sweet potato pudding, pumpkin pudding, and more, but I have to say the spicy kick of that green tomato mincemeat wins the prize.  The family begs me to WRITE DOWN the recipe immediately so there’s no chance of forgetting it.  (Elizabeth gets up from the table amid mouthfuls and runs for pen and paper.)  I decline, preferring to savor my portion of pudding in the moment, vowing to record the recipe here on my blog in hopes of inspiring y’all to move beyond fried green tomatoes into the realm of Green Tomato Mincemeat and more. 

What do you do with a bounty of green tomatoes at season’s end?  I’ve got another lot waiting and I’m thinking green tomato relish.  What would you do?

* * *

The comments you have been leaving are so precious!  Thank you!  I intended to reply individually via email but Yahoo refused to take my text.  Hrmph!  But then I figured you’d all like to share in the newsy bits. 

As for the pot of soup simmering away at the top of my last post, that would be a Stuff 'n Nonsense soup that came from leftovers in my fridge – some rice, a few carrots, some collards, a zucchini, half a package of bacon, some leftover butternut squash pasta sauce (you can find it on the shelf made by Dave’s Gourmet If you don’t want to process the squash yourself – I bought a 3-pak at Costco on a lark and now it is a staple in my pantry), an apple, a can of diced tomatoes, half an onion, some thyme, and that’s about all I remember.  It was DELICIOUS!  Pair this with a good whole grain muffin like carrot/zucchini and a few slices of sharp cheddar cheese and you have quite a delicious feast on a cold evening.

Dear Miss Hostage (Jeri), thanks for introducing me to Jamie Oliver’s Revolution.  Clearly, I’m a kindred!  Yes, let’s cook and share, and teach, and inspire!  I have reserved the book at the library.  I’ve only seen one Jamie Oliver program years ago.  I thought he was adorable as he cooked a feast for his expectant sister in his slim-sized kitchen.  I look forward to reading more.  I was a big fan of the Slow Food movement when it emerged on the scene several years ago, but sadly it got too bogged down in politics for my tastes.  I wish Jamie success in his revolution and I have my wooden spoon and whisk at the ready!

And finally, as for the fungi study:

 It continues around here.  I have some of the oddest bits of “growth” littering my counters and tabletops.  Rachel “nature walks” daily with her eyes glued to the undersides of leaves and the earth-level bark of trees. We have watched dvds and perused books.  They all agree:  Nobody wants to be the one to say, “This is safe to eat.”  They all balk and say, “Many of these varieties are edible and delicious,” but they fail to pinpoint the safe ones, begging off with the disclaimer that videos, photos, and even YouTube fail to accurately depict the specimen and therefore it is dicey to decipher the green-spored cap of culinary delight from the green-spored cap of emergency-room invite.  When I find an expert I’ll be inviting him for a walk and a dinner . . . until then we’ll seek, study, and photograph the mitochondrial wonders, but I shall NOT be serving anything that didn’t pass through the watchful eyes of David, my green grocer.   : D

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


“Homestyle Potatoes” read the menu.

“What’s ‘homestyle’ mean?” Rachel asks as we sit at a posh little bistro table under a chilly SoCal sky on our first morning in Disneyland.

“Fried.  Probably deep-fried.” I reply.

A perplexed look crosses her face.  “Fried?  Deep?  What’s that?”

“The potatoes are fried in a vat of oil, like french fries.”  I answer. 

“Since when does anyone get that at home?” she mutters.  “Sounds like a donut, which we also never get at home.”

I must pause and confess that I have raised my children without donuts or french fries.  Period.  When once a friend offered Elizabeth (then 5) a donut she politely declined and then stated flatly, “Donuts make your heart explode.”   ‘Tis true.  I am so heartless as to barricade my home from such things for reasons of health and maybe something more.

As a child I grew up on cold cereal, donuts, burgers, fries, and all the rest.  “Home” style in my home meant Betty Crocker or Mamma Celeste or (on really flush days) Stoeffer’s.  My mom worked.  My grandmother worked.  And they didn’t cook.  I didn’t know anybody that cooked, save a temporary boyfriend of mom’s who threw a steak on a BBQ to impress us.  A sleepover at “Nonie’s” (my grandma was too modern to go by "grandma") included a dinner of Swanson’s frozen macaroni and cheese – and I loved it!  A sleepover at a best friend’s house included frozen or takeout pizza.  I never SAW anyone cook except for my great grandmas (each affectionately referred to as “Mammy”) in South Dakota.  They grew gardens and baked bread and all the rest.  BUT, they were pioneer women and poor.  They lived in old houses, wore old-fashioned clothes (with aprons), and had old-fashioned lives.  They didn’t have all the “choices” my mother and grandmother did, or so my mom and grandma said.  My mammys lived as they always had – as they HAD to, not as they CHOSE to.  I accepted this as fact and went back to munching on my strawberry frosted/sprinkled pop tart.

As I grew up I developed all kinds of stomach troubles.  The doctor’s attributed it to family upheaval, new schools, stress, upset.  “It’ll pass,” they assured, “Just make her drink this before each meal.”  (Yes, it was ghastly and I chose to avoid eating and became skinnier and skinnier with stomach pains.)   By the mid-teens I had an ulcer and my mother had a nervous breakdown.  The chalky stuff didn’t seem to help one bit.

Later I took a trip to visit my “Mammy” back in South Dakota.  I stayed a mere week or so, but it felt like Heaven.  I sat in her kitchen nibbling ginger cookies and sipping tea (both to be avoided per doctor’s instructions).  All the while Mammy bustled around in her home-style kitchen, which I noticed lacked “style” and “flair.”   It looked nothing like the kitchens gracing the latest magazines on our coffee table at home.  Nor did it resemble our all-electric-with-microwave-and-dishwasher kitchen in our latest apartment.  I never even saw anything like it on TV, except maybe Ma’s Little House kitchen – which was not really a kitchen at all, was it?

“Why haven’t you updated your kitchen, Mammy?  It’s really old?”  I queried.

[Laughing, her wheezy, eye-squinting laugh]  “I have an updated kitchen.  See this faucet?  And over there is the bathroom.  Child, when we moved in here I had no indoor plumbing.  I’m just fine with how this is.  It suits me well”  

She went back to the sudsy water in a tub placed in the sink and I continued mentally redecorating the hodge-podge kitchen.

That week I spent with Mammy found me at table five times a day (Breakfast-Dinner-Teatime-Supper-Midnight Snack . . . at midnight!).  I ate all manner of soups, stews, breads, cheeses, cakes, etc. made right there in that old-fashioned kitchen, and I never drank a bit of that icky white stuff.  Surprise!  My stomach eagerly accepted every morsel without a single prick of pain.  I even gained a bit of weight which made my Mammy smile with that crinkly-eyed grin.  In her home-style kitchen Mammy churned out wondrous smells and fabulous tastes like rhubarb dumplings -- which I balked at trying (rhubarb?  Ewwwww!) -- but which sent me over the moon when I relented and tasted.  Too bad she never wrote down the recipe, for my youthful memory failed to log it all in despite the fact that I watched her every move as she stirred and tasted and added and stirred some more.  Home-style cooking in that Home-style kitchen suited me well.

Time passed.  I left.  The pains returned.  The doctor’s called it stress.  I drank the white goo.  I lost weight.

More time passed.  I went to Norway for a summer and lived a life without pain as we dined on fresh foods around a family table.  I gained 25 pounds along with a new perspective.  The pains were not to return . . . I was determined.

I returned to the US with a new diet plan and despite snickers and chiding from peers and parents, I avoided the typical diet.  Donuts and fries lost out to weedy salads (really hard to find more than iceberg back then) and stinky cheeses for a while, but I couldn’t afford to eat well on a school-girl’s salary.  So I succumbed and . . . well, you can predict . . . the weight left and the pains returned.  My current style of eating was killing me.  I knew had to change.

Looking back, going “natural” couldn’t have been more UNnatural.  I read.  I studied.  I experimented.  I failed miserably.  (Just ask Gary about the potatoes-and-kale flop, or better yet, the brussels-sprout-potato potage -- from a monastery cookbook -- that looked like dishwater and tasted worse.)  I sought out the tiniest markets that offered the most natural ingredients.  I had to find my way back to home-style cooking, and the road led away from the golden arches and the SUPER markets down an overgrown and seemingly forgotten path.

When my boys were born in a dire state I found even greater impetus to go all natural.  I forged ahead and foraged for deeper knowledge of food and health.  I found it.  I made it my own.  And so my children have grown up with an old-fashioned “home”-style because of my choice.

The last time I saw my Mammy I sat in her kitchen and nibbled ginger cookies over a cup of tea (Lipton’s, always Lipton’s flo-thru tea bags) as she bustled around in her home-style kitchen.  I smiled and remarked that I loved this kitchen so much, I wouldn’t change a thing!  She winked and smiled with the crinkle.  Home-style had been here with her all the time by her choosing.  (My mom was wrong.)

Home-style means different things to different people and the food industry has exploited it to include french fries and donuts that no home could (or would) produce.  But as I watch my daughters leaf through my cookbooks and hastily-scrawled recipes, or watch over my shoulder as I season my chili with Worcestershire sauce (my secret ingredient from a small producer who uses no high fructose corn syrup), or triumphantly grace the table with a new creation all their own, I rejoice in our Home-style.  Surely my mammy looks down from Heaven with a knowing smile that crinkles with joy as she sees us choosing a home-style just as she did. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Taking the FUN Out of Fungi

 Crisp.  It is definitely "crisp" around here these days.  Chilly nights demand a blazing fire, yet afternoons of golden sunshine entice me to believe in the "option" of a sweater.  Last week we left for Disneyland in a torrent of rain, returning days later to clear and crunchy whispers announcing, "Fall has come . . . let's celebrate."

And celebrate we have.

Before my sweet sister departed we whipped up an early Thanksgiving meal and reveled in overly-filled plates of herb-y stuffing, creamy mashed potatoes, "sweet" potatoes, and all the rest.  Naturally we followed the plenteous meal with pumpkin pie topped with silky whipped cream.  What a way to spend a Saturday!

Games, games, and more games filled the day into evening.  We even made a game (tried anyway . . .) of tidying up the kitchen.  While the glutted dishwasher hummed we played Mexican Train Dominoes and Phase Ten cards and "Ultimate" Sorry (our ruthless reworking of the traditional rules), all the while laughing ourselves silly.  Laughter burns calories, right?  We needed to work off that lavish feast somehow and it was too cold for a walk.

For years I dreamed of walking the property in search of edible fungi to add to our Thanksgiving feast.  And every year my family groaned and voted "No" when I waved the business card of some fungi-expert-for-hire.  "Where's your sense of adventure?"  I pouted.

* * *

Now, leaves litter my deck in tattle-tale fashion.  "All dining indoors!" they seem to herald.  *sigh*   The glorious gem-colored leaves number fewer after each succeeding blustery day, hinting that soon the barren limbs will eclipse the riot of color, offering space for memories and dreams in the emptiness.  Winter time:  hibernation, slumbering thoughts, and nurturing ideas -- that time fast approaches, so run and play and jump in these rich afternoons while they last.

And so the dance of autumn picks up the pace around here, with all those ideas and traditions of the pending holidays rushing to greet me.  Absent among the traditions is the mushroom walk.  I gave that idea up years ago.  But . . .

Yesterday Elizabeth gleefully announced the return of the fungi as she proffered a big, brown mushroom for all to admire.  Her reading of Michael Pollen's The Omnivore's Dilemma has inspired her to hunt for edibles in the woodlands around our cottage.  (Sound familiar?)  Recently she unearthed a nodule-like growth while digging and wondered if she had found an elusive truffle.  Since it was beneath a pine tree rather than the requisite oak and smelled decidedly un-truffly, she cast it aside and kept digging . . . but the idea of foraging for food continued simmering in her fertile mind.

* * *

[Setting:  Crisp fall afternoon.  Day's end complete with chores like putting the chickens to bed and taking that final sweeping view of the beauty of these homelands.  Pink-cheeked, my agri-fairy daughter bounds in.]

"Doesn't it look good?  Do you think it is edible?"  She queries most excitedly as she shows off a large brown mushroomy growth newly plucked from the plush carpets surrounding our cottage.  "Dad said he wouldn't want to eat it, but that it is probably of the edible sort."

I curl back my lips and shake my head.  "Nope!  That looks decidedly like a toadstool to me.  Get it out of here!"

"What does a toadstool look like?" she persists.

"That!" I shoot back abruptly.  "Out with that!  Ick!"

"Oh . . ." she grumbles as she leaves me to sterilize my kitchen.

* * *

Later, she returns with "fungi" still in hand.

"Isn't there a place I can verify whether this is edible?  Didn't you have the name of a guy who specializes in fungus walks followed by a feast of hunted treasures?"

"I did have that guy's name, but last I read in the paper his nature hike with clients landed some in the hospital with poisoning."  I reply.  "I tossed his card and gave up on that idea."

"Hmmmmmm . . . " she retreats.

* * *  

Entering with said brown morsel (I did not say "Morel," mind you, as I am well aware of their appearance and deliciously edible nature -- this was no morel, I assure you), she persists:

"Do you have any reference books about mushrooms and foraging?"

I direct her to the appropriate shelf and she peruses, only to come away with the firm caveat to VERIFY before eating.  Ho hum . . . back to square one.  In the meantime she is potentially dusting my house with poisonous mitochondrial spores.  I grimace.

* * *
I remember a dvd Gary purchased on one of our trips to the coast.

"Dad bought a dvd years ago all about mushrooms and fungi.  See if it is out in the cabinet."

Elizabeth dashes away.

* * *
She and Rachel absorb every detail from the screen while I hear Lydia rattling around upstairs -- completely uninterested in The Case of the Mysterious Mushroom.

* * *

Later I open the trash compactor and find the lone mushroom cast away.  I gawk and shudder.

Elizabeth walks in casually, "Yeah, you were right.  The video said that was probably one of the most poisonous mushrooms around.  Guess that's why the chickens haven't eaten them.  It starts out as a cute white button mushroom . . ."

"Like those cute fairy rings all over the place?" I interrupt.

"Yep, just like those, but then it grows tall and spreads out into this brown cap with a veil hanging down on the underside,"  she says as she retrieves the brown blop from the bin.  "I wasn't sure this was poisonous 'til I saw this veil thing.  See it?"  She points to a rotten bit of sludge draped on the underside of the rapidly rotting thing.

I nod and turn away.  "Get that out of my kitchen!"  I gasp. 

End of story.

* * *

Not the end of the story, after all.

Later she is once again parading around with that deadly bit of slime (it had begun to look quite frightful by this time) intending to take some sort of  "silhouette" of its spores AND IT WAS LAYING RIGHT ON MY NEWLY CLEANED COUNTER!!!

"Don't worry," she says dryly, "The video guy said you can't get hurt by touching the mushroom."

"Yeah," chimes in Rachel, "Just relax mom."

I stand there staring at a deadly mushroom on my counter -- a counter whereupon I recently prepped veggies and meat for a delicious dinnertime stew (with chocolate in the sauce: yummy!); a counter whereupon burritos are often crafted and eaten by the dozens on Matthew's "hungry" days; a counter whereupon bread is kneaded.  I abruptly order this woodland sprite and her unsavory growth from my kitchen!

Amidst the rolling of eyes and the groaning I return to the counters and wash them again, all the while reminding myself that homeschooling comes in all shapes and sizes . . . and potencies.


Now, where were those cute button mushrooms I bought the other day?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Taking Stock, Making Stock, Stocking Up

‘Tis November and the leaves participate full swing in the pageantry of fall’s display, yet the praying mantis waddle around in a swollen state seeking to lay an egg sac more than a month or two later than usual. Odd. The jewel-toned trees sway and dance in summer-like days of clear blue skies filled with a warmth that invites us to dine out of doors in November. Strange? Or a gift? The plethora of tidying up chores in the garden have become easier in the languid summer-ish afternoons, but absent the crispness of true autumn hints I find myself unmotivated to prune, plant, or rake. We haven’t christened November with a bonfire to burn the twigs of the past year whilst we roast potatoes and eat “hobo stew” wrapped in foil and nestled amongst the vibrant coals. And where’s the fun of roasting a gooey marshmallow on a warm afternoon?

Butterflies flutter, hummingbirds hum; children lose themselves in a web of beauty and delight among the blooming flowers and the buzzing bees. Did the calendar get flipped prematurely? Why do I feel caught off guard every time I walk up the pathway to the front door and see scarecrows and fat buttery pumpkins lying so abundantly at the threshold? Who wants to count beans and wheat sacks? Who feels like accounting the remains of the pantry before listing the needs of a large family with plans to eat regularly through the winter months? Not me, it seems.

While Elizabeth fills in her farm journal with the many details of raising and harvesting from our lands and hands, I linger over a summery read of sailing from Toronto to Grenada and back again. The balmy prose and tropical menus found therein set me to thinking of mangoes and fresh conch on a beach rather than stews and pot au feu simmering gently through a snowy afternoon. I have yet to replace my fluttery skirts of summer with the denims and such to ward off the chill. Though I recently bought several pair of cute leggings and footless tights for that extra bit of warmth, I haven’t even cracked the packages yet.

I want to suspend myself in a bit more sweet repose framed in days of simple salads and filmy afternoons that reach forward into the eve with an ease that gives me freedom. Maybe freedom is the key. I freed myself of many “musts” and “shoulds” this summer. I filled copious journals with leavings and leftovers that needed a final resting place so that I could dance without added burdens. Life holds enough weight just in the daily doings in the bosom of a family, not to mention the ongoings beyond the garden gates; thus I needed to “lighten up” and “let in the light” where cobwebbing held the dust. I guess you could say I had a summer of spring cleaning and now I want to dance in the lightened space before the clouds of winter bring me inside for winter’s dance. Funny . . . I usually beg for relief from summer’s heat and anxiously await the first frosty flakes of winter. Not so this year . . .

But, life demands attention, or so it seems as the two little roosters from last spring’s clutch prance around and spar with every intention of “taking on” Bob for premium rights. The laws of nature and animal husbandry demand a reduction of leadership. Elizabeth’s course of study compelled her to carry out the necessary tasks assisted by a friend in search of natural education. I settled in to my own education, reading up on the proper procedure for preparing chicken feet for stock. Who would have thought that those prehistoric looking parts could yield such luscious culinary results? But I digress . . . At day’s end we gathered at table and celebrated another milestone in Elizabeth’s education. Not quite like having cake and tea after a harp performance, but the glow of achievement looked the same on her pretty face. Goals set, challenges faced, knowledge gained . . . education as it should be . . . acquired for life.
As we gather this year’s memories like ripened fruit we celebrate life lived and life dreamed of. As we take stock of the pantry we see what has been eaten and what lies waiting to be the makings of tomorrow’s celebrations. (Yes Rachel, that lone can of squash puree can become something to celebrate.) “Each day has something to be celebrated,” I sing out to my children every day. (Yes, they roll their eyes and smile.) Sometimes only a simple dish of chocolate squares passes from hand to hand around the table as we smile and savor its sweetness in the midst of sorrows or pain, but we did, indeed, find some sweetness in a day to celebrate together. I know not all days are sunny, but I have learned that the sunshine we store up in our pantry can see us through the tough times. (It sounds cliché, but that makes it no less true.)

And so we will continue to do autumn’s chores despite the carefree dressing of another summer-like day and the call to play, which has become a SHOUT around here as we prepare for my sister’s arrival late tonight. After a couple of days celebrating around here we will pack up a few summery items and take our celebrating ways to Disneyland early next week. I can hardly wait! Our months of planning and anticipation wind down to just a few more hours . . . just a little longer. How will I ever manage today’s chores?

So, I will be gone for a time of play but will return with more to share, more to celebrate, more to dance about. I will be stocking up on as many smile-worthy memories as my heart can carry. When I return I will also be wending my way around the blogdom “finding” you all again – yes, FINDING, as my newly revived computer received a new browser which came with an empty space where all my blogs used to reside. GRRRRRR! Those of you who left comments have left a trail to your place – bless you. The rest of you must be found the old-fashioned way. A nice blustery day would afford much opportunity for my fingers to do the walking, but as I have already said, we’re still enjoying summer. Enough said. I’m off to vacuum, count, and PACK!!!

See you later . . . : D

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Smile Making

The other day we began talking about our upcoming trip to Disneyland and I mused about all the wonderful “sights” we would be enjoying. Elizabeth looked at Lydia and said, “Tour Guide Barbie just showed up.”

Rachel looked up from her latest “project” and said, “Guess I’d be Nerd Knowledge Barbie.”

“YEP!” we all chimed in.

[This shouldn’t come as too much a surprise since I married Nerd Knowledge Ken with the bonus entrepreneurial accessories and she’s a chip off the old block, if there ever was one!]

Judging from Rachel’s latest “fun” read and the artsy-craftsy expression it inspires in the doodles of her free time after she finishes schoolwork:

coupled with the fact that she thinks safety glasses and a test tube make sensible fashion accessories . . .

I’d say she’s well-qualified to launch the Nerd Knowledge Barbie line.

It gets even better! Rachel's Nerd Knowledge Barbie could be friends with Computer Engineer Barbie who makes her debut on December 15th according to

I expect to be hearing from Mattel any day now!

When I do, I will definitely tell them they need to expand the line to include a Makes Me Smile Every Day "Mom" Barbie waiting in the wings.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


My computer took a vacation (causing me untold irritation), but a young man with essential skills came to my rescue.

I shall be waxing eloquent with glimpses from among the wisteria and the roses in the coming days.

So much to share . . . so much to savor as we take an accounting of the past season -- taking stock and stocking up. There have been roosters butchered, final produce harvested, and new goals set. Many a teapot has been drained, many a new book has been cracked as we wind down from Summer's fun and prepare to tuck in for Winter following Autumn's gentle harvest dance.

Come join me as we celebrate life here at Wisteria Cottage with a new header, a newly fitted computer, and a renewed sense of joy.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Suppose . . .

. . . it were just a cosmic chance for two girls to be set side-by-side for a summer's spate -- a thread of common language and little else to hold them. It could have been by chance, but as the season unfolded and enfolded them into friendship and sisterhood that crossed oceans, endured silence, flourished in letters, and flowed vividly through the years the chance of chances melted into a design of love. A name drawn by lottery concealed seeds designed for the heart.

Just last week the rainy skies of fall (which had literally thundered in!) broke wide into smiles of summertime's rich sunshine that nearly matched the smile I wore as I greeted my Norwegian sister Mimmi, her daughter Siv, and my precious "Mamma."

An earlier email informing of flight info also pleaded for a bit of warm sun, as Norway had been bypassed by summer this year. This simple request prompted prayers on my part for clear skies of the former season while my dear "sister" and family visited. Did chance swing by again? I never bothered to wonder as we dined out of doors on artichokes and apple pie, discussing Nordic summerhouses and fjords, clothed in gauzy skirts and sleeveless tops -- surely my prayers had been heard by a designer rather than a will o' the wisp wind.

Grass Valley, Roseville, Lake Tahoe, and San Francisco -- it mattered not where we traveled -- the sun joined us every day. Yet, on the day of departure the clouds gathered above and sweaters rescued chilly arms. The day after they left I awoke to the pitter-patter of raindrops and a quiet coffeepot. No sun in the sky, no strong coffee calling out, "Come and play!"

I contented myself with warm memories as I sipped tea and wondered whether our plans for a midsommer visit to Norge next summer will come to fruition . . . and after that a meeting up in Southern California, then Florida, Italy . . .

I finished up my tea and set about praying -- leaving nothing to chance. : D

Past posts about my Norwegian Connection can be found here and here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I've Been Away . . . So Long . . .

. . . among friends and family.

It is so good to be loved.

* * *

Oh, the comfort,
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person;
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but to pour them all out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together,
knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then,
with the breath of kindness,
blow the rest away.

~~ George Eliot ~~

* * *

And the gentle breeze of such love
has blown me back to the blogdom
to share amongst the loved ones
known to me and not yet known.

After a time of extended quiet
my heart runs freely
with a net trained to find
words and glimpses of life among
the wisteria and the roses
and share them
with gleeful abandon.

I've repaired my computer glitches.

I've rested my heart in a summer of sweetness.

I've returned to dance.

Shall we dance?

: D

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dusty Treasure

* * * * *
Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!

~~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~~
from “The Starlight Night”

* * * * *

A rediscovery. Buried treasure from long-ago, unearthed most unexpectedly; savored most deliciously on this sweet summer’s day. I hear the poet cry “look!” and I stop to “look” . . . and then I “see.” I see with my eyes, ears, and heart. There are fire-folk sitting in the air, and I’m not alone in seeing it.

Today a scant bit of poetry nestled in my morning reading launched me on a journey back in time to renew an acquaintance. In my days at university I chanced by print to meet Gerard Manley Hopkins -- monk, professor, poet. In my rush to mingle with the “Lost” of a generation led by Hemingway and Fitzgerald, I nodded courteously to poet Hopkins and hurried down the path of learning and letters. Today the lines of beauty I stumbled across by chance sent me searching for my old Norton Anthology of English Literature.

I know I met G. M. Hopkins once upon a time, but where is he to be found now? Where can I find that quiet monk-professor who once burned all of his poems upon entering the Society of Jesus, fearing they would not meet with approval? And where can I find that monk’s body of work that lay unpublished (intentionally so) until nearly 20 years after his death? “Where is he?” I mutter as I scour the dusty shelf allotted to poetry, largely unread these days judging from the uniform film Time placed atop each volume. Each volume that has been lovingly packed and carted with me from one address to another as I graduated, married, set up housekeeping, moved, birthed babies, moved again, birthed more babies, and moved again. The poetry books settled comfortably into a bookcase and set about the business of aging beautifully and peacefully . . . until today.

Blowing puffs of dust, prying thin volumes away from thick, rustling pages dormant for years, I cringe at the shameful neglect. On occasion, when a fevered child suffered through the night, I would carry them away on the worthy words of Wordsworth or Keats, Shelley or even silly Mr. Carroll, but Gerard Manley Hopkins remained at rest. And the looking goes on.

A-Ha! The anthology appears and my memory guides me directly to the time period hosting Hopkins ’ offerings. I peruse the bio and breeze past the literary style notations – deeply ingrained from years of university work, I need not review – and reach out to grasp the meat: the poems. Dancing through the sprightly verses I skip over the footnotes included to define troublesome words (such as enlightening the reader that the “oil” referred to comes from an olive rather than a tanker – would one ever confuse the two herein? I hope not!) and journey up and down and all around with my monk friend as guide and songmaster in praise of the Lord’s amazing canvas – our world.

I read . . . I know . . . I smile . . . I see . . .

I lie back in the grass and seek the treasured gems dropped from heavenside down to this tarnished Eden that Hopkins sees so clearly. Even death and pain find beauteous glint from poet’s pen. I read . . . I read . . . I read long into my day.

Unlike the hurried introduction so long ago, today I linger and walk stanza by stanza through the wonderment and praise. Whereas I knew nothing much of monks when we first met, I have since undertaken many a reading voyage hosted by monks (such as Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen), as well as followed pilgrims through the pages of recorded retreats and solitary stays in monasteries world-wide. I now greet Hopkins the monk comfortably, as well as Hopkins the poet. Those days of yesterday, when I wondered why someone would destroy their work, have been replaced with a pilgrim’s knowledge; a pilgrim knowing that sometimes SELF destroys a poem or thought as surely as a match.

I once knew someone who wrote a book. Upon notification of intent to publish, the company sent the author a list of things to “add” for completion of the book. The list called for “salty” language, snippets of sensuality, etc. The book remained clean and unpublished in the author’s possession.

Years later, lying in a hospital bed, the author revised his tale, intending to reach a younger audience. I saw the excitement in his eye as he worked anew on his book. Publication would surely happen this time around . . . or so I thought.

The man healed, left the hospital bed, and lived the balance of his life with fresh vigor. I never saw the book again.

In declining health at the end of his life I inquired about “The Book,” hoping to self-publish this achievement for his grandchildren to enjoy.

“I destroyed it,” he said matter-of-factly. “I feared that someone may think that Science could replace God and I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want to lead anyone astray, so it’s gone.”

Simple. Truthful. Pure. Good.

I had always anticipated reading this book as a way of knowing more about this unemotional, enigmatic person. With so little on display to be observed, I longed to read from the inside. I never did get that chance, but the brief exchange regarding the book’s destruction told me volumes.

As this summer’s day passes from dew-kissed morn to dappled afternoon, as I seek respite from the heat until the twilit sky ushers down the velvety curtain of a star-spangled night, I will marvel and delight in the lingering words of Gerard Manley Hopkins as he weaves a tapestry of poems bound in parcels addressed to a magnificent God. I read. I nod. I delight.

I’m so glad I paused to meet up with this poet over a cup of tea as he guides me through nature’s beauty: simple gems dropped heaven-side from the hands of God to bury in Eden ’s dust as treasure for this seeker.