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 d├ęcor 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


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.


“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.

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.