Thursday, December 27, 2007

Packing Peanuts

I received a chickadee winter roosting box for Christmas (something I have been pining after for a few years.) In the box were the ubiquitous packing peanuts, but this time with a twist! The box was packed with new starch peanuts. They are 100% biodegradable. According to a slip of paper in the box “Just a little water will dissolve them right before your eyes. They are environmentally friendly; water soluble; safe and easy to use; durable yet lightweight and best of all suitable for composting." I picked one up and stuck it under running water and lo and behold it dissolved. Finally someone came up with a fabulous solution to the packing problem. Drs. Foster and Smith puts its money where its mouth is when caring for the environment. I like that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Old Time Ghost Story

Every holiday visit inevitably leads to “do you remember when?” and talk of the past. This holiday was no different. All the cousins were talking about genealogy. We are all going to work on Ancestry.com to pool our knowledge. In the discussion of who knows what piece of family history; my mother tells this story.

“Charlie!”

Grandpa Charlie sat straight up in the middle of the night and looked around. “Davey?”
He got out of bed.

Grandma Lizzie rolled over. “Charlie, what’s wrong?”

“I just heard Davey call my name.”

“Charlie honey, that‘s not possible. Your brother lives down by the river. It would take days for him to get up here on horseback. Come back to bed.”

“I tell you, I just heard him call my name. He must be outside.”

Grandpa Charlie went outside and started to search the farm. Grandma Lizzie stood at the door with s shawl wrapped around her and looked out. She was scared. She had no idea of what was going on.

Grandpa Charlie finally came back to the house alone and perplexed.

“I can’t find him. It is strange. I heard him speak to me clear as a bell.”

Lizzie finally got him back to bed. Several days later they got word that the night Davey spoke to his brother was the night that he committed suicide by drowning himself in the river.”

I looked over to at my mother and then at my cousin Lynn.

“I never heard that story before.”

“Funny, I haven’t thought about it in years. I happened a long time ago. It is just a story that my mother told me about a funny thing that happened to her parents.”

These are the kinds of stories that need to be written down. I encourage you to talk with your aging relatives to get them reminiscing. You never know what will come up.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Living with trains


I awoke in the pitch black to the drawn out wail of a train whistle in the distance. The whistle grew louder as the train made its way toward town; then faded away and sounded again. If the weather is good you can hear the engineer blow the whistle 3 times for each crossing as the train moves through the 5 crossings in town. I lay in bed counting them off--Industrial, Main, Maple, Cherry, Raymond. The train faded into the distance as the clock on the courthouse bonged three times. I turned over and went back to sleep.

I grew up in a farming community. There is a grain elevator in the middle of town next to the train tracks. All of the farmers would come from miles around to drop off their grain in the fall. (Farmers get paid more for their grain if they take it to an elevator that has an adjacent track rather than a local elevator that has to truck it out.) Their tractors, trucks, and wagons would line the streets as they waited to be weighed. The elevator is still being used and the farmers still come. But now, more than grain leaves the community since manufacturing has come to town. Moving things by rail across the flatland is growing again with the price of gas being what it is.

As a result, waiting for a train to pass is part of daily life here. Trains come and go regularly throughout the day not just at night so if you need to be somewhere in a hurry on the other side of town, it is key to plan ahead or allow extra time or you will have to wait. The train tracks circle the town; you may even have to wait more than once on the same train. Sigh. Most annoying.

Trains in the day are different than trains at night. There is something lonesome about the whistle of a train in the darkness. I don’t know if it’s the tone or the sound of the whistle as it moves off. The romance of riding the rail is long gone but the feeling the whistle evokes is still there in this day of air travel.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Favorite Christmas Carols

I have been asking people what their favorite carol is. Here is the list so far:

O Holy Night
Adeste Fideles
Ave Maria
Jingle Bells (my 6 year old neighbor)
Silent Night
Away in the Manger (2 votes)
Bing’s White Christmas
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
El Burrito de Belen

Mine?

Good King Wenceslas. It is a feel good song about giving.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither."
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Leave your favorite in the comment box.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Cruising the streets



One of my favorite things to do at this time of year is drive around the neighborhoods to look at the Christmas lights, although perhaps I should say displays. Lord knows they are bigger, bouncier and more animated than ever. After dinner with friends last week, we drove on snowy roads listening to Nat King Cole sing Yuletide carols. We crept along admiring and often laughing at what people had done to their homes.

Some houses had no decorations that we could see. Others were subdued with only a lighted tree in the window. Most of them though had some outside lights. There were the ubiquitous white lights everywhere from icicles to those shrub nets. One house had an enormous lighted palm tree. (We actually stopped and backed up to get a better view.) Many houses had articulated reindeer or angels. We paused to see if they would move or not---whooping in delight if the angel’s wings flapped or the reindeer munched the snow. The little girl in me still prefers the multi-colored lights. It is so much prettier in the black and white winter night.

I have to confess that I dislike the craze for inflatables. But my friend in Minnesota had a good point. They do look nice in the daytime when the holiday lights are not on. Most of the blow-up ornaments are holiday specific. The snow globes are even clever. I have seen one left over Halloween inflatable of Garfield and a random Scooby though. Odd. Why would you still inflate them?

My house? Well it has candles in the windows and the tree upstairs this year. The tree will come down after Epiphany but I will leave the candles in the windows until late January.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers




Scraaaape.

Scraaaape.

My sister looked up. If you have ever shoveled snow, you know the
distinct sound and rhythm of a shovel scraping blacktop. The room
was dark except for the TV and the multicolored twinkling lights from
the tree in the corner.

Scraaaape.

Scraaaape.

Who is shoveling after dark? She looked at the clock. 8:30. She
pushed back the insulted drape and peering out in the darkness. She
saw a dark form shoveling the driveway at the old man's house next
door. Hmm. It must be his daughter. She looked over to her boyfriend.

"Wanna get cold?"

They both shrugged into their coats, grabbed 2 shovels and went
around the house.

"Want some help?"

The person shoveling stood up. It was not the daughter but a man
from up the street.

"Sure!"

My sister and her boyfriend started to shovel. The man up the street
continued to shovel. The snow was heavy and wet. The 6 inches had
turned into 4 with the rain. It was hard work.

"It is like shoveling cement." The comment hung there in the stillness.

A few minutes later a man from several houses down the street showed
up having heard the sound of shoveling in the darkness. He started
to shovel too. The four strangers worked for half an hour together
in the darkness. They finished the driveway and the walk leading
to the house. They also cleared the sidewalk in front of the house.

When the job was done, they all met at the end of the driveway and
introduced themselves. Strangers, neighbors, and now friends.

Kindness is still alive and well in the flatland.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Up with the Peak

“Up with the Peak!” shouted the captain.

I looked up at the mast. I had opted for the peak line because it looked easier. Now it looked formidable. I planted my feet more firmly, changed my grip and started to pull. It took a while for me to get the rhythm-not too fast, not too slow. Hand over hand; it was easy until the sail started to rise.

“Up with the throat!”

The un-showered barely-caffeinated sailors on the other side of the boat started to heave.

“Way hey, up she rises. Way, hey up she rises…” the mate started to sing.

We heaved, pulled and struggled to raise the sail, two lines of strangers working for a common goal for the first of many times.

“Way, hey, up she rises, earl-eye in the morning.”

“Early, indeed,” someone behind me grumbled.

And it was true we had only had coffee. The rule was, first the sail, then breakfast. The smell of bacon cooking on a wood stove first thing on a chilly morning on the water was the incentive we needed. Such anticipation. My stomach growl in response. But first, the sails.

First one mumbled voice joined the song, then another. Soon we were all singing lustily.

“Way HEY, up she RISES, Way HEY, up she RISES.”

The rhythm of the song matched perfectly with the pull on the line.

With the sail high above us, we had such a sense of accomplishment. The crew quickly moved to tie it off. We moved down to the next mast.

“Up with the Peak!”

Now, we knew what to expect.

It was our first day on a weeklong windjammer trip in the Penobscot Bay. Two friends and I wanted an adventure, so in the depth of winter we decided to go sailing. We researched the options and chose the J&E Riggin out of Rockland, Maine.

The boat left the first week of June. The very first time the schooner was going out that summer. With only 8 passengers, we had no option to sit around, drinking coffee while others hauled away at the lines. We were the crew! We loved it. This is what we came for.

The trip was fantastic. I have fond memories of the smell of wood smoke from the stove in the galley; the taste of milky fish chowder eaten on the deck in the chilly air; the feel of the boat running in the wind, water rushing in the scuppers, with us hanging onto anything we could; going ashore to come out of the little store to be completely shrouded in fog, and eating lobsters and clams dumped from their seawater bath onto cold Maine island rocks.

I have gone windjamming many times since then on different boats in many different places. Any time there is a tall ship, I will be the first in line to buy tickets—all because of my experience raising sail the first week of June, 1983.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Window Watcher

A lively discussion of politics, with occasional asides on the folly of creating a résumé for a pre-schooler,  torture, homogeneous societies and 1984’s Big Brother were swirling around but I was no longer listening.  A movement in the tree outside of the dining room window had caught my eye.  I scanned the tree where I had seen the bird fly.  Sure that it was a Downy, I was looking for the familiar black and white.  It did not re-appear.  I took a sip of coffee and tuned back into the conversation.

It was one of those raw dreary gray winter days. The book group meeting last week had been postponed because of a snowstorm.   This week there was talk of an ice storm but we had come to Molly’s to talk about 1000 Splendid Suns anyway.

I looked out the window again checking for signs of precipitation.  At the first drop, I was prepared to bolt for the mountain in the hope of beating the storm. 

Again, I saw something.  I watched for it to come around from the backside of the tree, expecting to see the Downy Woodpecker.

“BROWN CREEPER!  There is a brown creeper.” 

Many of the women in my book group are also birders.  They jumped up and came around the table to look out the window too.  The small brown bark-colored bird obliged with a slow spiral up the tree and out onto a slanted branch.  Everyone had good looks.  

I am fond of Brown Creepers.  There was a time when I rarely saw them.  But living on the mountain I see them frequently, most often in winter, usually in the woods, and sometimes in my backyard.  I had never seen one in a suburban neighborhood.  It was not a life bird or even a year bird, but it was definitely a good bird for a raw day in winter.  

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Christmas cop-out ?

I used to think that giving a gift card was a cop-out.  For that matter, I used to think using the gift bag instead of the beautifully wrapped gift was a cop-out.  But NO MORE!

I have been migrating to the gift bag for a few years.  I had not noticed how far until I went for the Christmas wrap only to discover that I had NONE.  Absolutely none.  Not even a scrap.    There are bags of bows, piles of tissue paper in every hue and miscellaneous gift bags in random sizes but not the tiniest square of holiday wrapping paper anywhere.  I scrounged around in the library closet, where I keep all the wrap.  I riffled through the gift closet thinking I may have stashed it there.  I even went downstairs to the hall closet where I keep the paper shopping bags.   Nada.  

I wandered around the house perplexed.  Why was there no wrap?  As I passed through the kitchen, the phone rang.  It was my sister.  “Mom bought David a gift card to Walmart. It looks like everyone is getting a gift card this year, so we need to think about good stocking stuffers.”

Ah, the gift card.  Every store, restaurant, gas station, and supermarket has one.  There is even a display rack of cards at the local A&P.  It is convenient, less nerve-wracking and better than giving cash (the ultimate in cop-outs.)  I have finally embraced the gift card.  Let them buy what they want.  Let them spend their own money on gas.  Let me buy what I want.  For that matter buy me a gift card for gas.   And don’t bother wrapping it, just put it in a gift bag with a little tissue so I will be surprised.  

   

Monday, December 3, 2007

Comfort Food

A Throw-together Beef Barley Soup (with mushrooms, because I had them in the fridge.)

Chop up an onion (you can use half, I usually use the whole thing. I don’t like having all those forgotten onion halves living in baggies and cluttering up the fridge) brown it in canola oil. Meanwhile chop up 2 portobello mushroom caps and toss them in the pot too. Continue cooking on medium heat. You may need to add more oil. Check it. Stir occasionally.

Cut the beef into 1-2 inch chunks. (You can use whatever type of beef you want. I usually use London broil. I know, it’s wasteful, but I hate beef fat and all that nasty sinew.) Brown the beef.

Once everything is browned. Add 6 cups of water or beef broth. If you are using water (which I do all the time) add 1 beef bouillon cube for every cup of water. I put in 3 bay leaves, NO salt (you are getting it from the bouillon or broth) and about 1 cup of hearty dry red wine (I usually pour myself some at the same time.) While this is cooking, soak anywhere from 1/3 to ½ a bag of barley in 2 cups of water. (I like my soup thick, so I add a lot of barley.) You may want to skim off the ugly brown foam as the meat cooks.

After the soup cooks for about an hour (test the meat for tenderness) add the barley. Cook until the barley is done. This depends on how long you soaked the barley and the condition of the grain. It could be anywhere from ½ hour to an hour. The house should start to have a rich beefy smell. Carefully taste the soup. It is tastes lame; it could be the cut of meat, or the wine. Try adding black pepper and another glug of wine, it will perk up. If you think it needs salt, be careful, you can’t take it out.

I make this all the time. It is perfect for a snowy day.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Rotten Hippopotamus

Long ago in a fever-induced state I declared that the medicine I had been forced to swallow tasted like rotten hippopotamus. My little sister agreed. We called it RHM. Whatever that medicine was has been lost to time and childish memories. (I am not even sure why we had to take it.)

Sissy called to tell me she had a bad head cold, needed a nose mitten and generally felt it was an accomplishment to get out of bed and lie on the couch. I asked her if she had taken anything. She said she had tried something new. You are supposed to dissolve it in liquid and then lick the spoon. When I asked her how it was, she said it tasted like RHM. Ah, good old RHM. I have not thought of that for years and years.

You know those medicines that are so foul-tasting that you have to take them leaning over the sink because you are not sure if they will stay down? The one that comes to mind, for me, is Nyquil (the green one not the red one. The red one is RHM with a cherry overlay-far worse. I have broken a sweat just thinking about it. shudder.) DayQuil does not work for me. Neither does the stuff in the capsules. Plus they changed the original formula for Nyquil so not only does it taste like RHM it doesn’t work either.

Sigh.

I hope my immune system is up to snuff this year. Excuse me; I gotta go wash my hands, again.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Christmas Tree Compulsive


I can’t remember why I started to do theme trees. I supposed I thought everybody did. My mother collected angels as far back as I can remember; over time our Christmas tree became completely filled with angel ornaments. In High School my best friend’s family also did theme trees, but their theme changed from year to year, that intrigued me.

I would go into people’s house and look at their trees and try to guess the theme only to discover that there was no theme. Their ornaments were either handed-down over the years or purchased on sale after the holiday. Apparently having theme trees is unusual. But I love them.

I have a theme every year. I have done glass candy, birds, Great North Woods, winter, fish, only red bows, fruit and vegetables, gardening, cookies, ice storm, flowers, colors, friendship, international, Victorian, WWII, handmade, etc. I collect ornaments over time as I see them or they are on sale. I hold on to them until I have enough to pull together a theme. As you can image I have tubs and tubs of ornaments.

This year I am re-using my Winter Wonderland theme. (white lights, crocheted snowflakes, little felt mittens, sweaters, hats, snowmen, sleighs, snowshoes, skates, a few polar bears, and the tree-topper is a toboggan hat I bought in Alaska.)

How do you decorate your tree?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Gift closet.

In my travels throughout the year, I pick up gifts as I see them for my family and friends. The trick is to remember that I bought them, where I put them, what gift was for which person and why did I think it might be right for them. To make it worse, the gift closet is in the studio and frankly I hardly go in there any more.

This year I am on top of it. Whew. There is the cutest little thing I bought in Tucson. A food item from Alaska I dragged all the way back in my luggage. (Oh, and speaking of Alaska, Gale, I am keeping the toboggan hat for myself!) But there are still gifts in the closet that I have no idea for whom they were intended. And to be perfectly honest…there are also gifts that I was given that might…ahem…find new owners.

I am not opposed to re-gifting. We have all done it. We all receive things, we smile and say thank you and then on the ride home shake our heads in disbelief. What could have possessed them to think that I might like this whatever it might be? This year, you will be happy to know, no re-gifting from me (not that I have ever done that, of course.). All of you reading this can breathe a sigh of relief. I even bought the gift for the Yankee Swap at work.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Food Glorious Food

I am a cookbook lover. I get ideas from them and find them comforting. I read them on snowy winter nights tucked into my flannel sheets, dreaming of exotic smells in far-flung locales. I browse them on summer weekends as the scent of charcoal and cooking meat wafts over the arborvitae hedge. I plan menus from them for summer parties that will go long into the night. I try new recipes on long-suffering friends, family and neighbors (luckily for me they are broad-minded and willing to try anything--mostly.)

I love to cook but I am also out there at the edge. In addition to reading about classic Euro-based cuisine, I read cookbooks from cultures other than my own. With a glint in their eyes and drool on their lips, my friends bring me cookbooks and spices from their world travels.

I am fond of throwing theme parties with food, music, and décor from one country or another. (I posted before about the Moroccan Kasbah party). All of these ideas come from idly browsing cookbooks.

I give you a partial list of some of my favorite cookbooks and encourage you to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book. Or put one on your Christmas list.

Tess Mallos. Cooking Moroccan.
Madhur Jaffrey. Indian Cooking
Lidia Bastianich. Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen
Jacqueline Clarke & Joanna Farrow. Mediterranean Cooking
Nancie McDermott. Quick & Easy Thai
Rick Bayles. Mexico, One Plate at a Time
Marcella Hazan. The Classic Italian Cookbook
Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Hot Sour Salty Sweet.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Do you see what I see?

I happened to glance out the kitchen window to see one of our big black neighbors. I looked around frantically for the camera (which is always in some other room), remembered it was upstairs in the library, dashed up the stairs, grabbed the camera and pounded back down to see it moving off through the trees. I zoomed and got this lousy shot. But you can see it's a bear, right? Ha! I am vindicated. All you non-believers out there, honestly.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tonka




I had been in the flatland for Thanksgiving. I walked in the house to hear the phone ringing. I dashed up the stairs leaving my luggage in the basement.

“Hello”

“Hi B, it’s D. Do you want a cat?”

“No, I already have 3. What cat?”

It was the usual convoluted story. Her friend Lisa’s neighbor had noticed a little cat huddled in a window well of their apartment building. It had been there a few days. It was November. It was cold. She called Lisa. Lisa called D. D had worked at the local animal shelter and still knew someone there. But first they took the cat to the local pet superstore for their adoption weekend. Neither one of them could have another cat. The store could not keep the cat overnight.

“ We just need some place to keep it overnight.”

“OK. Come on over.”

“We are on our way.”

I had a sinking feeling. I am a sucker and a softie. I knew the minute I saw it; it would end up living here. I vowed to be tough.

When they came in with the carrier and opened it in the basement the little cat popped out and went right to the litter boxes. He then walked around the basement sniffing invisible and random spots.

I could not leave him in the basement; the other cats needed to get to the litter boxes. We gathered him up and put him upstairs in the studio. The resident cats pawed at the door. They sniffed and howled at the door. The little one wolfed down some food, used the litter again and hid under the loom his back to the door although his ears would flicker at the din going on.

That was 2 years ago this past Thanksgiving.

All the beasties get along now and Tonka has turned into a sweetie. He is still timid and will hide if someone else comes in the house so you will not see him until second or third day of your visit.

Friday, November 23, 2007

There isn’t enough room in the oven




I have been listening to food talk for weeks. The menu options for Thanksgiving have swirled around my office, my house, even my car.

“Roasted brussels sprouts or steamed; should we have rolls or not; there isn’t enough room in the oven for roasting fennel; I tried something new; No green beans this year; my son wants fettucine alfredo; my sister is serving quail and pheasant instead of turkey.”

All this, and I am not cooking. I love to cook and I entertain a lot, but not at Thanksgiving. I have a close group of friends and I know their extended families well. I am blessed to be invited to someone’s house every year.

This Thanksgiving I spent with the Malkins. The food was excellent, the wine free-flowing, the company congenial (maybe a result of the wine…) and the kids well-behaved. I was the happy recipient of the most amazing soup with small floating raviolis to take home. I left as stuffed as the bird. On the ride home I listened to the first of many Christmas songs on my ipod. Happy sigh.

The holidays are upon us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Read to me

"Then Beo was king in that Danish castle
Shild’s son ruling as long as his father
And as loved, a famous lord of men.
And he in turn gave his people a son,
The great Healfdane, a fierce fighter
Who led the Danes to the end of his long
Life and left them four children,"

I first tried reading Beowulf when I was in my early 20s. Being a voracious reader, I assumed I would have no problem, however difficult, awkward or epic the story. At that point I had already read most of the classics, including The Iliad, The Odyssey and other long involved epic tales.

I was wrong. I could not find a rhythm in the reading. I would crawl into bed at night and struggle for an hour before putting it aside.

One night, I heaved a sigh and slapped the thin paperback on the nightstand. My boyfriend at that time looked up from reading the Canterbury Tales (he was in an Old English class) and asked what the problem was. I cursed Beowulf and its unknown author.

Beowulf is meant to be listened to, not read silently, he told me. He picked up Beowulf, opened the book to the beginning and began to read aloud.

What a difference!

As I listened to the tale of kings, and battle, monsters and glory I was one with all the generations of people who have listened to the telling of Beowulf. We finished the poem in two nights. When the story was done, I heaved a sigh of contentment for a story well told but sad that it was over.

On my way to the airport last week, I noticed that there is a movie version of Beowulf in the theaters. The name brought me back to 2 cold winter nights many years ago when I finally understood the power of the spoken word. I intend to see the movie; it is getting good reviews. I am thrilled that such a long-standing classic is being introduced to yet another generation of people in a way that they can appreciate.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

City sidewalks, Busy sidewalks

I stepped out of the hotel into the bustle of Michigan Avenue. In the air there was a feeling of Christmas. I could see it. I could feel it. There were crowds of people clutching shopping bags in both hands crossing the street. There were Salvation Army bell ringers wearing their Santa hats. The stores were decorated with Christmas trees and garland, their windows filled with manikins in finery, outerwear or the latest fashion. The shoppers were strolling bundled against the cold wind with their children peeking out of their wrappings. I joined the flow; let it draw me up the street.

The excitement on the street was palpable. The Lights Festival would start at 6pm. It is the only parade I know of that is at night. The kids on the street were laughing, people passing them by with smiles. Excitement was building. Santa would be there of course, but best of all, Mickey Mouse would wave his wand and the lights along the avenue would magically light up.

I had been struggling. The holiday season was approaching and I couldn’t get with it. I don’t know if it was the warm weather, my crazy schedule of late or the general humbug that was going around. I had heard many people say they were not in the spirit. Well, my friends, I found mine on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

People on the Wall

“Hmmmm, funny.”

I looked up, “What’s funny?”

“All of your art has people in it.”

“Get out, does not.”

“All except for 3 pieces. And they are all women.”

I walked over to stand beside my friend in front of a big piece of Peruvian art called the Tres Hilanderas. We both looked at the painting.



“It's sorta primitive yet modern. I really like this piece. ”

“Yeah, me too.”

"My art is not are not all women though."

"OK, you have the male nudes in the bathrooms."

"Well, where else would you put them? The one in the guest bath is an antique student sketch!"

We walked from room to room looking at the art. You know, she is right. I never occurred to me. I have populated my house with people from all over the world.

I love original art and beautiful fabric. I scout out galleries in my travels and almost always buy a piece of art whenever I am abroad. I have paintings, handicrafts, sculptures, fabric, and fiber art. This eclectic mix speaks of my life’s journey. If you want to know me, look at my art. What do you have on your walls?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Winter Finch Invasion.

“I had 4 Pine Siskins.”

“I had 12 Pine Siskins and a male Purple Finch.”

“I got both House and Purple finch, great for comparison AND a Red-breasted Nuthatch.”

“Millie, had Evening Grosbeak.”

All eyes turned to me expectantly.

“The bears haven’t gone down yet. I haven’t put out my feeders.”

They turned away with pitying looks.

Argh! This is annoying. Everyone else is seeing great winter finches at their feeders. I have not seen a Pine Siskin in 15 years; an Evening Grosbeak in 10; or a Purple Finch in at least that. (I have seen Red-breasted Nuthatch thanks to my friends that do have feeders out.) But that’s it.

Here in the Mid-Atlantic the buzz among birders is about the winter finch irruption. This is supposed to be the biggest flight since the late 90s. The tree seed crop has failed in Canada’s boreal forest. The birds are leaving and arriving at feeders down here.

So, hang up your feeders, we are expecting guest from out of town! I am hoping for frigid blasts of cold arctic air so the bears will den up and start their winter snooze, and then I will join you. Until then, tell me what kinds of birds you have at your house.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

White on Red





I woke up this morning to a world transformed. Three inches of snow covered everything. Every twig on every branch on every tree wore a coat of white. The snow weighed down the trees, grasses and shrubs. It was heavy and wet. The red leaves of the maple were a startling contrast to a world made white. I don’t know if I have ever seen snow on autumn leaves.

This is the earliest it has snowed on the mountain in the 7 years I have lived here. If this is a harbinger of things to come, we are in for it!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Golden leaf


A Live Oak Leaf

How marvelous this bit of green
I hold, and soon shall throw away!
Its subtle veins, its vivid sheen,
Seem fragments of a god's array.

In all the hidden toil of earth,
Which is the more laborious part-
To rear the oak's enormous girth,
Or shape its leaves with poignant art?

Clark Ashton Smith

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wordless Wednesday


Every Baby Has a Story bus tour is stopping in 16 cities across the country. http://www.everybabyhasastory.org/

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

All for the Want of a Horseshoe Nail

I wanted to put up new cellular shades to keep out the icy drafts. The old ones were dingy and disgusting. Well, when we took down the old ones, I noticed how dirty the curtains were. So I took them all down and put them in the laundry. Once the windows were bare it was startling how dirty the glass was. So we had to wash them before we could go any further. Once the insides were sparkling, the outsides looked awful. When I went outside to wash the outsides, I had to remove the screens and hose them down. As long as I was outside with the water on, I might as well water the mums in the pots and start bringing in the garden furniture, birdbaths, and yard art. All of this before 10 am when I finally sat down with cup of stone cold coffee.

But now that it’s done. It looks great and I feel much better. My mother always did spring and fall cleaning. Now I can see why. My sister helped me and commented on how one thing always leads to another.

Sometimes when the job is overwhelming, I start with a small piece—a tiny corner that I can manage. Soon enough the house is clean, the project completed or the weeding done because one little step leads to another.

I am reminded of the rhyme of the horseshoe nail.

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For the want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For the want of a rider, the battle was most.
For the want of the battle, the war was lost.
For the want of the war, the kingdom was lost.
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Thank You

“What do you say?”

Thank you.

We were often reminded as children. As adults, do we say it as often as we should? Are we grateful for what others have done for us? I think so, but do we take the time to let others know how we feel?

When I was cleaning out a junk drawer the other day, I found a Gratitude Book that someone must have given me. It is a small lime green notebook with blank pages. I opened it and read some of what I had written. While it was nothing earth shattering, it did give me pause. Let me share some of it with you.

The Saturday morning call from my sister-regular as clockwork
A fat yellow cat to warm my feet
Flannel sheets on frosty nights
Laughing with a friend until I cry
Compliments from a child
Working a job that has direct impact on people’s lives
The engine light coming on a mile from the dealer
Visiting India with a friend who was born there.
Spying a new bird for the first time
Living on the mountain in a summer heat wave
The neighbor snow blowing my driveway
Random acts of kindness
Friends who have known me for 30 years and still love me
Discovering a flat tire while still in the garage.
Surprise check in the mail

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have been thinking about how grateful I am for all that I have.

Instead of counting sheep, I count my blessings. I do it every night.

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What's for Dinner?

I hate leftovers. Ok. I've said it.

I cannot tell you how many times I end up looking in the fridge for something to eat and shutting the door only to be standing there again within an hour. I am just not in the mood for whatever is in there.

This is huge problem since I love to cook. I have tried to fool myself by waiting a few days and then “discovering” them in the fridge. I have tried telling myself it is really better the next day. I have tried buying extra Chinese food to have something to take for lunch. (This works so long as I have not opened the little white carton.) Mostly I end up throwing everything away at the end of the week. What a waste.

The best ploy is cooking on the weekend and freezing everything in little baggies. This seems to work for me. For some reason I do not think of all those little baggies of dinners and lunches as leftovers. I see it as time saving, cost-effective--frugal even.

Sigh. Who am I kidding? It would have to be in the freezer for months to cross over the leftover line.

What do you do about leftovers?

Thursday, November 1, 2007

November is Prematurity Awareness Month.

Do you know someone that had a baby born too soon?

Prematurity is the leading killer of America's newborns. Those who survive often have lifelong health problems, including cerebral palsy, mental retardation, chronic lung disease, blindness and hearing loss.

Prematurity has been escalating steadily and alarmingly over the past two decades. In 2004, more than 500,000 infants were born prematurely, the highest number ever reported for the U.S. In 2005, the United States as a society paid at least $26.2 billion in economic costs associated with preterm birth (medical and educational expenses, loss in productivity).

Preterm delivery can happen to any pregnant woman. In about four out of every 10 cases, the causes are unknown. It is important to learn the signs of preterm labor.

The March of Dimes has taken on this devastating problem—to find out what causes it and how it can be stopped.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Howl

My family has a tradition of throwing Mystery Dinners. No. There isn't any murder.

How it works is that after the guests are seated, they are given a menu from which they have to select 4 courses of 4 items each. Included in the selection is the first course, main course, dessert AND the utensils and napkin. If you end up with the soup, a knife, an olive and a piece of pie, oh well. You do not get another course until you have finished the first one. It has led to much buffoonery and hysterics.

I give you a Halloween Howl Mystery Dinner.
Elphaba’s Ride
Died So Young
Crusty Shroud
Stained Harvest
Bleeding Ground Dweller
Mummy Remnant
Zombie Snack
Poltergeist Musical Instrument
Ripper’s Victims
Every Devil has one
Terrifying Tidbit
Mold in the Making
Cauldron’s contents
From the Grave
Full Moon Rain
Mackie’s Back

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Stangler


In the cloud forest of Costa Rica, a sticky seed landed in the moist upper branches of a tree. It lay there innocuous. A sudden breeze ruffled the leaves making the tree shudder. From the canopy a bird took off squawking.

The seed stayed.

In the humidity of the forest, soon the seed’s roots trailed down the side of the branch, as it also reached for the sunlight far away.

This was no ordinary epiphyte. It was…a Strangler.

As the tree grew so did its guest. Like a constrictor, the roots wrapped around the tree--shading, squeezing, crushing, girdling. Killing.

In the end the host tree died and the Strangler Fig stood alone triumphant, a columnar tree, where another tree had once been.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wordless Wednesday

I find this sign amusing. Maybe it's the Ritz cracker.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Clinton Road

She pushed my head forward, a drop ran down my cheek. I could feel cold steel against the back of my neck. She began to snip and little pieces of me began to fall.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” She asked.

“Why?” I asked

“Have you ever been down Clinton Road?”

“Yes, I go up and down it all the time. It’s a very pretty road through the forest .”

“It’s haunted, you know.”

“I’ve heard something about that,” I mumble.

“Listen.” She said.

One time, when my husband and I were first married, we were coming home up Clinton Road after a party. It was late. We were arguing. I made him stop the car and I got out, thinking I would walk home. He sped off. As you know Clinton Road has no streetlights. It’s just a twisting, road through a dark forest. There were weird sounds coming through the woods. It was creepy. I was beginning to regret the decision.

As I plodded along, stumbling in the pitch black, headlights suddenly came up behind me. The car slowed to a crawl and the couple in the car asked if I wanted a ride. I told them no and they drove off. The whole thing scared me. Shortly after they left, my husband came back to get me. I told him about the car that stopped. He looked at me shaking his head. He told me no car had passed him on his way back to get me. I insisted there was a car. He insisted that no car passed him. We were at a draw. If no car passed him, then where did it go?”

I glanced at her in the mirror.

“So what happened?”

“Nothing.” But let me tell you, I am glad I didn’t get into that car.”

She spun me around.

“What do you think?’

I looked in the mirror, shaking my new 'do.

Chilling conversation to be having with someone wielding a scissor and coming at you from behind.

Before moving north I had never heard of Clinton Road, or the strange stories and weird things that supposedly happen there. There are many weird tales of ghosts, demons dogs, murder, Satanism, even KKK meetings.

I can tell you that it a gorgeous ride in the fall with the sunlight turning the trees into a golden tunnel, but creepy at night. I drive through there with my windows rolled up, headlights on bright, music on the radio. I have never seen anything and I don’t want to.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Want to be my neighbor?


“Timmmm Berrrrrrr!”

I always wanted to say that.

But it is generally more of a “Look Ouuuuuut!”

My family drove from the flat land to pick up some things from here than need to go there. (Remember the lawn mower?) While they were here, they helped me take down some trees-dead, skinny, too-close to the house, kinds of trees. I say they helped me, when all I did was point out the trees to go, try to stay out of the way, carry the logs to the woodpile and move branches. Dave even split the wood. We ended up taking down 10 trees and you cannot tell.

They left today for the 10-hour drive back to the flatland. As I tidied the house, I fell to thinking about what a tremendous help it was having them here. How I do not have very many people close by that I can rely on in a pinch. I do not know anyone that would come and spend the whole day taking down trees. It is hard dirty work. Having help is better than any kind of material gift. I am so thankful.

Being part of a community whether family, friends, congregation, or club is something that I think we are missing these days. I, for one, live far from friends and family. But many people speak of the lack of community, even the yearning for it. We are all working, commuting, stretched too thin. How did we lose our sense of community? How do we get it back?

I have tried to develop a community with the neighbors on the street. It is working on a small scale. It is not just about throwing dinner parties once in a while or borrowing an egg; but about helping each other out. It is about comfort, trust, and caring. But it also about asking for the help. This is something I am not good at. I am trying to get better.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wordless Wednesday



"Leaflets 3, let it be."

Poison ivy turns the most beautiful color in the fall.

Monday, October 15, 2007

There and back again

After the last day and a half of lashing rain and driving wind, the storm passed sometime in the night. I woke up this morning to a sunny 40 degree day. I was drinking coffee and walking the yard looking for storm damage when I heard "ol' Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody". I don't normally have White-throated Sparrows here on the mountain, so I crept around the side of the house to spy a small flock of assorted Sparrows and Juncos. They were picking through the leaf litter and flitting in and out of my arborvitae hedge. This flock will likely move on. But the Chipping Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows and my old friends the Juncos will be hard on their tails.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ka-Boooooom

I reached down to pull up the comforter; too cold to get out of bed to close the window. Brrrrr. While only open a crack against the lashing rain, the wind still swept across the bed. As I started to warm up and uncurl, the bright cherry glow of the clock winked out and the room was plunged into darkness.

The storm raged on. I listened to the wind slap the wires against the house right above my bed; then stroke and thrum the shutters, siding and wires leading to the house. It howled, shrieked, banged and threw itself against the house. Ah, the west wind is back for the season. Its return means winter is coming as much as the chill in the air and the colors of the trees.

Thunder shook the windows and walls. I waited for lightning. The cats pressed against me.

Lightning flashed, lighting up the room. I counted. 1-2-3. BOOM! The thunder rolled across the ridge tops and echoed in the valleys. After awhile there was another flash of lightning. I waited and counted. 1-2-3-4-5. One number for every mile distant. Perhaps not the scientific method, but one I have always used.

Good. The storm was moving away.

Flash! 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. BOOOOOOOOM. The thunder lasted so long I started to count for it too. I could actually hear it playing with the mountains and rolling across the state line. Being high on the top of this mountain, it would make sense that you could hear more. I have just never noticed.

The lights winked back on. The rain drummed on the roof. The wind still thrashed the trees. I was snug with my kitties. There is nothing like the sound of rain to lull one back to sleep.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wordless Wednesday



I won't be buying any this year. Pity, I have always hung some on the door. Bad squirrels!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Apple Pickin’ Time




“Excuse me, How do we tell which apples are which?”

The man glanced our way from the line of cars he was directing.

“Those are Empires and Red Delicious and over there are the Macs.” He waved his hand vaguely at rows of trees. When a car started to follow his pointing finger; he turned back with a wave of his red flag. We all nodded smilingly.

“Thanks.”

We stood indecisively with our empty red bag in hand.
“Did you get it?” we whispered to each other.

“I think the Macs are over there.” We walked across the field through the cars. There were people everywhere lugging bulging red net bags of apple back to their vehicles. We walked further into the rows to the trees that had not been stripped. There were mounds of apples all over the ground under the trees.

We started to pluck apples from the trees. For each one we pulled, as many fell off the tree. We picked up the ones that we caused to fall. No wonder there was so many on the ground.

We wandered from tree to tree and row to row tasting as we went. It soon became clear that we had no idea what we were picking. We argued about varieties, but I think we got Macs, Empires, some Red Delicious and a few Jonagolds.

The visitors from the city took the bushel of apples home. I am holding out for the Crispins, my favorites. They are almost ready for picking. I am such an apple snob.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Intruder Alert

The body lay half stashed under the radiator in the entryway. There was blood smeared on the floor. I only noticed it when I was about to leave for work. I threw open the door to the basement and pressed the garage door button. As the door flew back, I saw out of the corner of my eye, a darkness that should not be there.

I walked over and bent down curiously.

Murder in the night! I had not heard a thing. No shrieks, cries of pain or maniacal laughter.

I called all of the house mates together. There were 4 suspects-the Polish princess, the blonde good ol’boy, the aerobic instructor and the new kid. I questioned them each in turn. Mum’s the word. I could not get anything out of them.

I took them to the scene of the crime and pointed out the evidence. I inquired about their alibis. They all looked at each other. Nothing.

I looked around the house for clues. How did the victim get in? Where was he killed? Where was the other half?

Ah yes, I neglected to mention; there was only the lower half of the body.

I decided that I needed to dispose of it and let bygones be bygones. Burying it seemed a little extreme. I scooped it up, flipped open the garbage can and tossed it in.

I pondered on the drive to work. Who could have done such a thing? Would I return home from work with a kitchen ripe from a rotting body in the garbage? Why was it half eaten? Why eat it at all?

The Polish princess is old and frail, delicate and unassuming. It surely could not be her. But it could be an act. She went through a difficult time and is demanding as a result. Hmmm.

The good ol’boy , I thought was too happy go lucky, even lazy and did not have the gumption nor the tools for the job. Nope, probably not him.

The aerobic instructor on the other hand has the speed and agility. She could dart in and do the deed before the poor victim knew what hit him. A possibility, but she is scattered, a bit of an airhead and does not like to get dirty. I just could not see her as a murderer.

The new kid, on the other hand has street smarts. He is a young, tough, and understands how to use weapons to his advantage. He also is too curious for his own good. If there were a house invader, the kid would definitely be the one to ‘take care’ of it. I am OK with dispatching intruders but did he have to eat half of it?

When I came home from work, I examined the housemates carefully. No mouse breath on anyone. Every whisker was neatly washed and in place.

I shrugged and decided it was unlikely to happen again. (I have had mice in the house but it was years ago in a harsh winter. That was the year that GusGus was living in the pantry. I think he and the cats were in cahoots.)

Life was back to normal. It was a fluke.


Then, there was a second victim! (Isn’t there always a second victim?)

I came home not a week after the first incident to find another hapless intruder mutilated. This time in the dining room! And he was not dead, just mortally wounded.

As I flipped on the light in the kitchen, the aerobic instructor, Miss Winkie, dashed around me and into the dining room. She proceeded to lick the victim. I did not realized what it was. Again I thought it was some kind of string toy.

I stepped onto the hardwood floor of the dining room and peered down at it. OMG! It’s a snake. When I turned on the overhead light, all of the cats were huddled round it. They sniffed it like they had never seen it before. It was not a garter snake. It had spots not stripes. I stepped back. Winkie stepped back in. She wanted it.

What to do. What to do. I do not know my snakes very well. I had never seen one like this. As I was hunkered over, pushing the cats away; it moved its head a fraction. Oh no. Not dead.

About ¾ of the way down its body the cats had crushed and chewed on it. I wondered randomly if it could grow its tail back. It was not flicking its tongue out. It looked at me. I looked at it. I was alone in the house with 4 cats and a mostly dead snake.

I decided this one needed to go outside. I could not throw it in the garbage. I unlocked the side door, got the dustpan, brushed in the little snake. I took it outside and shook it gently onto the rock wall.

I now think the murderer/protector of the innocent is Winkie. She had been a 3-year old stray when she was invited to move inside. The street kid, who I wrongfully blamed, had been a kitten. I am not letting him off the hook completely. But I think the snake was definitely hers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Wordless Wednesday



Kick off your shoes and join me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Bermuda Longtail

“White birds! White birds!” I lunged and staggered out of the surf. Without my glasses even the beach chairs were a blur.

“Where? Where?” I yelled as I groped toward where I thought my chair was.

I found my glasses and whirred around. My sister was pointing up at the rocks that protected the bay. Sure enough. There were 2 white birds, wheeling and darting around the rocks. I squinted against the morning sun. The birds winked in and out as they turned and the sun flashed off their wings. They were far and the binoculars were in the hotel room. Of course.

I shaded my eyes with my hand and watched as more birds joined the original 2. Soon there were 6, then 9, then 13.
They weren’t behaving like terns or gulls. Could it be?

We both stood there shivering in our swimsuits facing into the sun, hoping and praying that they would come closer to shore. I needed to see the tail. As more birds joined the throng, a few came closer. We could see the black wing tips and wing patches. But I wanted to see the tail. Finally, one bird wheeled off and flew in front of the black surface of the rock. We could easily see the tail streamers and the black markings on the otherwise white bird. Ah. Thank you.

The White-tailed Tropicbird, known locally as a “longtail” breeds in Bermuda. But it was late September; the season was over. An otherwise abundant bird was not common at all. The birding deities smiled on us on our last day on the island.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What did you bring me?



In the land of pink houses, pink beaches and pink shorts shopping is de rigueur. I wandered aimlessly though up-scale jewelry stores, high-end clothiers, perfumeries, and liquors shops searching for something to take home. Nothing seemed right.

As I went in and out of the stores, I pondered. Why are we compelled to buy souvenirs? What is the perfect souvenir? What would remind me of this place? Is the souvenir something for me or do I want the guests in my home to comment on it? Is there an expectation from folks at home that they will receive something? Is it about the experience or culture of the place?

I gave up buying and gifting T-shirts years ago. I don’t like little bric-a-brac with the name of the locale on it (dust collectors, as my mother would say.) I usually look for something that has a cultural component. Music. Specialty food. Art.

In this, I found Bermuda disappointing. I heard no local music-the radio played top pop US hits. The food catered to the US palate-nuf said. I did go to some galleries; there is art on the island, but none of it (with one exception, a print) spoke to me.

So, I came home with 2 small rum cakes (1 for the office and 1 for the freezer), a long-sleeved shirt from Dolphin Quest and a five-dollar Bermudian bill.

I have traveled a lot around the world. Maybe I am jaded. When I leave the country I would rather have a “foreign” experience and not feel like I have never let the US. Must we export our culture to other places? Sigh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mystery Caterpillar



Anyone have any idea what this is? It is smooth, plump and about 3 inches long. It is hanging onto a Russian Sage bush. It has been moving around from branch to branch for a week. It does not appear to be eating it. No chrysalis yet. Some sort of moth?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Hunting and Gathering

I read a WONDERFUL book by Anna Gavalda called Hunting and Gathering. I absolutely loved it. I read half on a plane to Phoenix and finished it while I was there.

Originally written in French, the story takes place in Paris. There are 4 main characters: Camille an artist who cleans offices at night and lives in a garret, Philibert Marquet de La Durbelliere a stammering aristocrat who rescues Camille, Franck an obnoxious womanizing young chef who cooks like a dream and is Philibert’s roommate and Franck’s grandmother. They all end up living in the same apartment.

Funny, engaging, well written, with fabulous dialogue. You will care about the characters right away.

I have not read a book in a long time that I could have easily read in one sitting and was sad to finish

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wordless Wednesday



Why Cowboys jingle when they walk.

The round thing is the rowel, but I do not know what the jingley things are called.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The present

Karen looked out the window. She could see Chester coming across the lawn. He had a present. He often brought presents. She sighed and wiped the suds from her hands. Not again….

The move to the country had been draining for both of them. There had been three moves in four years--first the house, then the apartment, and now this place in the country with 5 acres. The apartment had been nice and big. They had lived there alone, developing quite a rapport. When the apartment building was sold and they were evicted, it was devastating. But that was behind them now. There were finally settling in to country life.

The property bordered a small marshy area, where they could hear peepers in the spring. The first time she noticed the sound, she had no idea what it was. She had even called her mom and held the phone out the window, both of them wondering at the cascade of sound.

The same thing happened with the birds. They were very different from the city birds. She loved watching them. She loved listening to them in the early mornings. When she couldn’t sleep in the depth of the night, she would lay awake eavesdropping on the conversations of the Great Horned Owls. She would try to pick out the different bird songs. She went out and bought 3 different kinds of birdfeeders. She loved the birds. Chester loved the birds too.

Chester loved all of the outdoors. He loved the woodland creatures. He loved roaming the property. He loved napping in the shade of the trees. The outdoors was so much more interesting than the indoors. He was happy. When he came back from his jaunts, he often brought something back.

Karen opened the door and stepped outside to see what it was this time. She saw something brown. Crap. It was a bird. Huh. It was a full grown robin! How had he caught it?

“Come here, honey. Let me see.” Chester came up to her. There was a gleam in his eyes. He burbled with happiness. As she bent down to see, she noticed that the robin’s eyes were open. The robin blinked at her. It did not struggle, but lay quietly. She carefully, pried opened Chester’s mouth and the robin flew off, unhurt. The robin sat in the tree across the lawn and started preening. Chester glared at Karen lashing his tail. Karen raised her finger and tenderly bopped him on the nose. “Don’t bring anymore presents!”
He was a pain, but she loved him dearly. Bending, she stroked him from head to tail before picking him up and carried him back inside. There were dishes to finish. The view of the robin still busily cleaning his feathers was the best present. She stood for a moment with Chester in her arms and smiled at the robin. Then she closed the door.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Wine tasting


I walked up to the door, a half an hour late to the party, hoping my offering was still cold enough. It had taken me over an hour to get there. We were 9 people gathered at a friend’s house to celebrate the last days of summer and taste wine. Planned months in advance we were to taste Sauvignon Blanc, a perfect summer sipper. (Never mind that the temperature was to dip into the 40s.) Everyone was to bring a bottle. I had dashed to the wine shop in the morning and agonized over the selection not knowing what to pick. I knew I wanted a NZ wine from Marlborough. In the end, I randomly picked. It had a funny label.

The host relieved me of the wine as soon as I came in and taped a piece of paper with a number to the bottle, covering the label. We were handed pencils and a scoring sheet. Our wine glasses had our names on paper skirts.

We tried the first wine and looked nervously at our score cards. We were to rate each wine according to color, nose, legs, 1st taste, finish and an overall rating. The scale was 1-5: 1 was rot gut and 5 was melt in your mouth. We peered, sniffed, swirled, swished and sipped. What we found was that everyone’s palate is different. Something that I found awful, someone else liked. It is totally subjective.

There were 6 wines. I’ll skip ahead.

The favorite wine was a NZ 2006 Monkey Bay (the one I brought-wahoo.). The 2nd was a Francis Coppola 2005 Yellow label. There were 2 Australian wines, another New Zealand, and a Chilean. Some people had read up and made their selection based on reviews, while others picked theirs because the host and hostess are movie buffs. As I mentioned I liked the label.
We talked about trying Rieslings next time or Syrahs. It was a fun evening and we all learned something, laughed a lot, bluffed our way through the herbaceous versus fruity nose and made jokes about stubble on the legs as they were not smooth enough.

Have you hosted a tasting? How did you do yours?

Friday, September 14, 2007

September

The light has changed.
Even with the visor down
The sun’s dying embers burn my eyes as I drive into the west.
The creep of darkness has begun
and will not end until the brittle cold of the longest night.

Leaves are changing
Sun kissed touches of gold and red decorate the hillsides
Glowing in the long light,
Splotches of nature’s paint that will soon run together
then turn brown and fall away.

There is a chill in the air
The kitchen floor is cold now in the morning.
When I skip across it in my robe longing for the first sip of morning’s heat
I am still warm from the comforter pulled up in the night
My bare feet are icy.


Change is good, it is inevitable.
It comes on so slowly that we do not notice
until
one day it seems to have happened over night.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Wordless Wednesday



I have never seen a purple cactus before. This is its actual color.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, 2001.

Six years ago today.

The day was bright and sunny; warm for the time of year. I got ready for work, even left a little early. My commute is usually about an hour, give or take 10 minutes. I had been listening to David McCullough’s biography of John Adams on tape in the car. I pulled out of the driveway, switched off the radio and put in a tape.

Traffic seemed a little heavier than usual. As I got closer to the Tappan Zee Bridge, I remember thinking something must be happening on the GWB. Traffic is often heavy if there is an accident on one of the other bridges. But it was not stopped, only slow.

When I pulled into the parking lot at work, I saw one of my staff pacing and smoking a cigarette. I pulled up along side of him and laughingly rolled down the window.

“Hey, if you have nothing to do, I can give you work.”

He shot back, “What are you talking about. How can I work after what happened?”
I must have looked quizzical, because he followed up with “A plane has just hit the World Trade Center.”

“Get out.” I said. I drove up the row and parked. He met me as I walked toward the office.

“Didn’t you hear it on the radio?”

“No, I was listening to a book on tape.”

I went inside and the office was in an uproar. I cancelled my morning meetings and joined the rest of the office staff upstairs where the Media folks had set up a TV. We all huddled around watching the news as it was unfolding. We watched in horror as the buildings collapsed. We saw people jumping, running, and streams of smoke and paper and ash everywhere.

This is something I will never forget for the rest of my life.

When Mayor Guilani shut down the City, we all wondered if we could get home. People on the east side of the river offered up their homes to those of us who didn’t live close. The Foundation President closed the office. I decided to make a run for the bridge. I figured I could always go north if I had to. There would surely be a bridge open somewhere. The thruway was almost empty. I tried to dial out on my cell, knowing that my family and friends would be looking for me. Many people in the flatland and even those in NJ have no real grasp of exactly where I work and its proximity to the City. The circuits were jammed. I just kept hitting redial.

As I crossed the bridge, I looked down river and I could see pillars of smoke rising. It would continue that way for a long time after the buildings had collapsed.

The office was closed the next day. I went to visit my friend Louise for her birthday. I will never forget her birthday again.

Two other memories stand out.

I sat on my front lawn with my neighbor on a clear sunny day the following weekend. We marveled at a sky with no planes. We talked about what was happening and what it meant to us.

I also remember the 2 pillars of light that honored the twin towers. We could see them from NJ. It was awesome.

What were you doing on September 11th ?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bird Condo



The Saguaro (pronounced sa-wa-ro) cactus only grows in the Sonoran desert. They are symbols of the west. How many times have you seen greeting cards, cookie cutters, sun-catchers, and any number of items in the shape of a saguaro? I think I even have a cast iron cornbread pan with those shapes. On my last trip to Arizona, I really wanted to go to the Saguaro National Park to see them. Lots of them.

They are very slow growing; not reaching adulthood until they are about 125 years old. Birds use them to nest in. Gila Woodpeckers and Flickers peck away at the flesh to make a nest hole that they only use for 1 year. The next year they will start over. Leaving the old holes to be used by other birds. Inside the cactus it can be 20 degrees cooler in the summer or warmer in the winter than the outside air. Some of the big saguaros have so many holes they look like apartment buildings. I looked in many, many of those holes hoping for an Elf Owl.

Sigh.

No luck. But I will be back.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Panting in the heat


I took off my hat to wipe my forehead. I could feel the trickle of sweat slide down my neck. I love the heat, but 112F was even too much for me. I had decided to take a walk on the interpretive trail in the early part of the day, knowing that it would be brutal in the afternoon sun. As I walked along the path I looked for movement in the Mesquite and Cottonwood trees. There were Verdin fledglings flitting in the trees and Wilson’s Warblers beside the river. A Roadrunner dashed out to snatch a butterfly. I saw a covey of Gambel’s Quail poking along the shrub line. As I continued along the 2.5 mile path, the heat began to build and I realized that I had not brought any water. Rats. I decided to turn back.

I was not birding on the way back but striding along. I was hot, sweaty and thirsty. It was only 10 in the morning and already the sun was beating down. I had been out about an hour. I was thinking about a nice cold glass of water and a shower. I approached a shady spot and stopped to fan myself with my hat. In the tree was a Great-tailed Grackle that appeared to be panting. It’s beak was open. A hummingbird zipped past and landed in the shade of the tree too. It was also beak agape and its tongue was hanging out. Interesting, I never knew that birds could pant; or would pant. On the mountain, we do not have sweltering hot days.

In the 4 days I was in the desert, by the afternoon, most of the birds I saw were all panting. I saw this in small passerines, a Roadrunner, woodpeckers, as well as a kestrel perched on the logs outside my balcony. Have you seen this?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Haunting Hotel

We stepped into the cool dim lobby from the blazing white heat of the Arizona sun. After an afternoon of poking around in antique stores, galleries and shops, it was a welcome relief. We stood for a minute to let our eyes adjust and take in the Victorian opulence of the room. The Copper Queen Hotel opened its doors in 1902 when Bisbee was a bustling city. It is a famous hotel for many reasons. We spontaneously decided to spend the night.

As the woman behind the desk was checking on availability and looking for keys (yes, they are still using keys) a notebook lying on the counter caught my eye. On the cover in black marker were the words Ghost Register Vol. IV. Apparently the hotel is haunted and people write their experiences in the register. I flipped open the book randomly to an entry in 2005. A family reported that they heard someone walking along behind them in the corridor, when they turned around there was no one there. Later that night the key to their room disappeared and was found under the bed. I closed the book and shrugged.

Huh.

We went upstairs to visit room number 301 and 406. Room 301 was lovely; two beds, blue and white striped wallpaper, claw-foot tub. It was fine. We moved on to option 2. When we opened the door to room 406, the Teddy Roosevelt room, we heard water running. We looked at each other. Was someone already in the room? Dave shouted out a "helloooo". Nothing. He went in and found the water was running from the faucet in the tub. Odd. There was no one in the room. Why would the maid leave the water running???? When we went back downstairs we mentioned it at the desk. She poked her head in the back office to report it and then asked if we had turned it off. We looked at each other bewildered.

We opted to stay in 301.

I picked up the Ghost Register and took it over to an overstuffed chair. Perhaps there is more to this. I flipped to the most recent entries. Some people had experiences, some had not. Some were clearly disappointed. Others were nervous and scared. Then I saw an entry from August 25, 2007. The Sims family was staying in the Teddy Roosevelt room and “water in the bath tub turned on by itself.”

Huh.

I re-read it out-loud. Had we had a ghostly encounter?

We speculated about it over dinner at the Bisbee Grill. After a stroll around the quiet historic section of town we went back to the hotel. I didn’t see or feel anything out of the ordinary. The television in the room did not seem to be working very well, but that could be the remote. The TV's snowy reception I would report in the morning.

While the beds were very comfortable, we slept fitfully. The room was sweltering one minute and freezing the next. For my part, I assumed it was my personal summer issues. But Dave was miserable too. The air conditioner seemed to be working fine. Odd. Maybe we were dehydrated or had had too much wine.

While we did not see or hear anything specifically; I do think there is something going on there. I mentioned the temperature fluctuation in the room to the woman at the front desk. She shrugged and said that it happens a lot. She handed me a flyer on the ghosts when we checked out.

“There are 3 resident ghosts at the Copper Queen Hotel. The first, an older man, tall with a long hair and beard, is usually seen wearing a black cape and a top hat. Some claim they smell the aroma of a good cigar either before or after seeing him. He appears in the doorways or as a shadow in some of the rooms in the SE comer of the 4th floor (near Teddy Roosevelt’s old room).

The second and most famous is a female in her early 30s by the name of Julia Lowell. The story goes that she was a lady of the evening on Brewery Gulch and used the rooms in the hotel for her clients. She supposedly fell madly in love with one of the gentleman and upon telling him, he longer wanted anything to do with her. She then took her life at the hotel. Her presence is felt on the West side of the building on the 2nd and 3rd floors. Some men report that they hear a female voice whispering in their ear. Others claim that she appears in the shape of bright white smoke. The room where she practiced her profession is now named the Julia Lowell Room. (315).

Our third and the youngest ghost is a small boy age 8 or 9, who drowned in the San Pedro river. It is believed his spirit found its way to the hotel because a relative, perhaps mother or father was employed here at the time. He is the most mischievous of the 3. Guests on the west side and also the 2nd and 3rd floors report objects in their rooms moved from one table to the next. A few have reported that you can hear his footsteps running through the halls and sometimes his giggle. Others claim that he is connected with bath water. He is never seen, just heard.” (this is an excerpt from a handout at the Copper Queen).

I encourage you to visit. Let me know if you experience anything. And don’t forget to write it in the Ghost Register.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Oscar



I pulled up to the house and re-read the directions. Huh! Looks right. I glanced around. I didn’t see any cars. I prayed they were home; I did not want to make this trip again.

I got out of the car and walked toward the house. The walk angled around to the back. As I approached the backdoor a large Dalmatian lunged out of its house and strained at the end of a chain barking ferociously. I stepped onto the grass to be further away from the jaws. Definitely not friendly. When I rang the bell more barking ensued from inside.

The door was flung open and a large black sheep took up most of the doorway. It took one look at me and started to bark in tandem with the Dalmatian outside. I looked on bewildered. A woman’s hand pushed the sheep out of the way as she peered around the door.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“Hi. I called. I’m here to see the cat.”

“Oh yeah, come in. My husband’s not home right now.” I stepped into the kitchen.

She was holding the big black dog by the collar. “Why don’t you go into the front room?”

I looked around uncertain.

“Just step over the baby gate. I’ll get Scooter.”

The formal living room had been freshly cleaned. The lemony scent of Pledge still lingered in the air. I sat gingerly on the edge of a chair looking around. The woman tromped down the stairs with a large yellow tabby cat tucked under one arm. She handed him to me. She opened her mouth to say something but at that moment the phone rang. She hurried off to answer it and left me alone with Scooter.

I sat and stroked the big cat. I could feel him trembling every time the dog barked. He was such a love. He didn’t hiss, or squirm or claw. He was clearly miserable living in chaos.

The woman popped her head back around the door.

“That is Scooter. My husband’s parents moved to Florida and didn’t want to take him. They took the dog though. So Jimmy took him. But it is not working out here. There are the dogs, we also have 3 other cats and my daughter is 4. I think there is too much activity here. He is living under our bed and never comes out.”

By this time the cat was purring and butting his head against my hand. I looked down at him. I absolutely could not leave him here. I stood up.

“I’ll take him with me.” I gave him back to her to hold. “I have a carrier in the car.” I hurried out past the still-barking dog. I grabbed the carrier from the car, hurried back inside, stuffed in the bewildered cat and got out of there as fast as I could.

He just sat huddled in the carrier all the way home. When I reached home an hour later, I brought in the carrier and gently put it down in the basement next to the litter boxes. When I opened it, he crept out, sniffed the litter box, and then bolted up the stairs.

He spent the next 3 weeks hiding in the 4-inch space under the couch or squeezed between the couch and wall. I changed his name to Oscar because he was such a wienie. But everyday it got better. I adopted 2 other abandoned cats. Bourka you have already met and I will blog about Winkie in the future. They were as timid and traumatized as Oscar.

That was 4 years ago this month. Look at him now. He sleeps on the furniture not under it. If you are here long enough, he will be sitting on you. He is a different cat now-confident, loving and a perfect companion not only for me but also for the other 3. You remember there are 4 right? Stay tuned….