Tuesday, December 27, 2005

annunciation, through the eyes of my daughter

Sunday, December 18, 2005

church newsletter magi

My priest asked me to write an “advent reflection” for the church newsletter, and this is what I submitted, after forgetting at least twice, after a deadline was extended for me.

I am thinking about those Magi.

Advent is the season of waiting and preparation, two activities for which I am ill-suited, if my day-to-day life is any indication. I can barely keep the laundry up-to-date and the pantry full enough to feed my small family, and I often lose track of the chores on my list, and then I lose the list, too. So when I ask how to prepare for the Christ child to arrive in my life, anew, and how to prepare for the Parousia, that future coming of God to complete the work of creation, the people who capture my imagination are those mysterious magi, about whom we know so little.

What kind of people watch the sky so closely that they know nearly two years in advance when the paths of several stars will meet? What kind of people are so learned that they can read the meaning of such things? What kind of people know a good thing is coming, know it so deeply they will sell whatever it takes to gather money and resources to make a journey so risky, halfway around the known world? These are wise men, we are told, wise enough to know they might lose their lives in the process, in a foreign land at the hands of strangers. What does it mean to be so hopeful and so ready?

The Magi invested their whole lives, their minds and hearts, watching for something life-changing. Years later, perhaps after these students of the sky were long dead, Jesus spoke the parable of The Pearl of Great Price, about a nutty guy who gave up everything he owned—and one would assume his livelihood as a pearl merchant, too-- to obtain a pearl he never intended to trade, just for the beauty and perfection of the thing. I wonder if Jesus was remembering a story his mother told him about sky-watching travelers from the East, who knew about Jesus’ coming birth even before Mary was told by an angel. They packed frankincense and myrrh, which are beautiful, and about as useful as a pearl to a baby whose parents are on the run.

When I think of the dumbfounded shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem, I see someone more like myself, but both the unprepared shepherds and the brilliant Magi yearned for the world to make some sort of sense, yearned for God to show us more clearly what life is about.

Perhaps I do have a gift for Advent: I am yearning for the fullness of God’s kingdom to take hold of us all and sweep us into that place where there are no more tears. In the words of a popular song, I am yearning for that place where the streets have no name. Tell me what you are yearning for, and perhaps we can get ready for that place and time, together. What if we were preparing for a long journey, one that could take years, and we wanted to bring the best of ourselves that we could offer? What if this journey required commitment, sacrifice, cunning? What if this trip might be the very best moment of our lives?

A blessed Advent to you.

Monday, December 05, 2005

journal cover to inspire

taylor's treasure bag, recycled wool

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

intimate knowlege of...

I know way too much to be in this relationship. I have an intimacy problem: too much intimacy. Intimacy with organic produce.

Looking at my simple supper, the baby carrots are from Deep Roots Farm, in Vermont. I can similarly name the growers of the mostly gorgeous Boston lettuce, and the source of the Roma tomato. I know when they arrived at the organic grocery store where I work. I know the number of days I hauled them in and out of the walk-in cooler. I know why these vegetables were demoted to the “free” bin in the staff refrigerator. The chipotle ranch dressing gives a smoky kick at the end, which I love—that’s the one item I paid for in this dinner salad.

The stew is made with grass-fed beef and organic beef broth, both of which were pricey, but my employee discount comes in handy. The oregano, sea salt and thyme were practically free. Garlic and onions, well paid for, potatoes free. Red lentils thicken the broth, but they dissolve and no one knows of their presence but me. They cost pennies and impart a rich flavor.

Can I tell you a secret? I hate grocery stores—mine is a special exception. Prices of items go in one ear and out the other, or at least they did before. Now I know that the supermarket charges 75 cents more per pound for organic apples than my store, and I know because it’s my business to know, and because my store was short on apples when I needed to bake pies. I still hate the supermarket—that was my one trip since September. I love my little store, the sunlight streaming in the downtown windows and the funky music, depending on which staff person chooses it. I love the scent of the soaps near the cash register. I secretly love sweeping the amaranth grains off the floor with the big push broom.

Next secret? I detest dealing with produce. How can vegetables be so damned needy? I resent the rainbow chard for wilting and the bruises on the oranges, and the lettuces are like little neurotics, needing infinite care. Every item of produce is filed in its respective box overnight, me hauling it up and down, bundled in my sweaters in the big refrigerator. Every basket and bowl is washed, then the sinks and surfaces. And in the morning, wilty items are trimmed and soaked and primped, and it all starts again.

Now and then, though, some noxious produce chore makes me happy. Like today, when Kate tossed all the celery in the staff “free” bin, as it looked like it had been run over by a truck. I removed the outer layer of stalks of one bunch, intending to take it home, to find the celery hearts were quite sturdy and delicious, so I “redeemed” seven of the twelve pounds of formerly trashed celery. So no free celery today. I buy a bunch, instead, but take with it two free pounds of butter and some dated milk. And three chocolate-covered espresso beans that were “returned” by a customer.

I admit I have some reservations about bagging groceries, the one job I hoped to escape when I left my tiny hometown as an eighteen-year-old. I miss my work from last year, serving college students. I miss the prestige of a high hourly wage and I miss the way my schedule allowed me a few hours alone every day. That’s the downside.

But there is a third secret: it does not all even out in the end— even if I pay well for my food, I win, in every circumstance. It’s all such a gift, really good employers, really good meals made from really good ingredients at my intimately-known table. I toast my work life with a mug of hot cider, slightly past the “sell by” date and deliciously free.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

mandala coloring supposedly helps one to concentrate, and I am waiting for the benefits to kick in. any excuse to color...

amaryllis mandala

Saturday, November 12, 2005

mexican lantern close up

mexican lantern

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

lantern walk weather report

The boy’s kindergarten celebrated The Lantern Walk last night, on a mild November evening, stars clear and crisp as we sang our way through the woods and meadows. Children make and carry lanterns—lit candles housed in punched tin or golden paper, dangling on a handle made of “finger-knitted” yarn. They are like every other set of kindergarteners, giggly and prone to start silly pushing matches, like tumbling puppies, but then they hush themselves and sing, tiptoeing through the branches. After so many ineffective introductions so many other evenings, the boy “sees” the Big Dipper, and asks in a whisper if there are more constellations he can learn, too.

The evening is not without glitches: the boy hurts his hand while rough-housing before the candles are lit, and I see the swelling by flashlight, some bone-deep hurt we will watch for signs of bruising. He also gets angry enough with my pace that I think he might pull me right down onto the ground and stomp on me, though he did choose me to be his walking partner, and not one of his classmates.

The girl chose another friend her own age, and they sang in their lovely voices, so clear. When we returned indoors for hot cider and treats, another mom and I noted how the older siblings of the kindergarteners interact like fraternity brothers, so confident and interrelated and full of warm laughter and inside jokes.

The boy’s stubbornness and little wound cannot mask his long-lashed beauty. The girl is so at home in the world, in a crowd or on her own, that I often wonder who this exotic creature is, where she came from, as I stand across the room from my eight-year-old.

This night hardly seems related to last, with a biting wind and cold rain, threat of snow. We rushed home in the cold to steaming plates of French toast and bacon, comfort food for me, as the tail end of a headcold lingers. Soon I will need to go out in the rain and remove the wooden “welcome” wreath, as its banging against the door will keep the children from getting to sleep. We will finish off the evening with hot chocolate and one more piece of Halloween candy. I would worry that I’ve fed them far too much sugar, except I am too tired to worry, for now, and too happy with the taste of nutmeg and maple syrup. 

The “take” from the staff room at the store today is four pounds of red potatoes, a fennel bulb on its last leg, and a tub of organic sour cream—though I just made potato-fennel soup two weeks ago, many mouths were fed and I didn’t get seconds from that batch, so I make another pot tonight during bathtime. And the recipe calls for sour cream on top. I dose my cup of soup with cayenne, to help my suffering sinuses. Children are laughing that I drink soup while they drink cocoa with marshmallows.

Maybe two years ago, when people would comment how I would miss those parenting days when the time passed, I would nod and manage a smile while I disagreed silently inside: ages three and five, ages four and six, those were very hard parenting years with almost a desperate need for assistance and breaks from the sibling battles, and I don’t miss much from those days. Some developmental stages bring out the resentful beast in me. But these days, this last year of days, these I will miss, childrens’ faces full of wonder and often full of affection.

I drove children to school on Tuesday, a rare occasion as Scott usually drops children at the school door. I’m not necessarily very friendly or kind in the morning, so it’s good I am not often the chauffer, but with a stiff cup of coffee, I tried to be chipper.

“Two, four, six, eight!” The girl began from the backseat.

I asked, “Someone you appreciate, dear?”

“You, Mama, I appreciate you.” I laughed, surprised.

“What do you appreciate?”

“You made us breakfast, Mama,” she replied, though I make breakfast everyday and this morning was nothing special.

“And you made us to be borned,” added Brendan, “which is very important.”

I managed to exclaim a big thank you before the conversation veered off into why mamas give birth and daddies do not, but for that little moment, making them to be borned seemed very important indeed. We take our cheers where we can get them, small lights in the darkness, warm laughter in the cold, winter coming on. They are asleep in the next room, now, having almost (almost!) put themselves to bed, a good, good night.

Monday, October 31, 2005


pumpkin suffering weather

When my children were small, I celebrated candle-lit pumpkins with elaborately carved starry night scenes, always created the evening of Halloween, when the skies were still too light to trick-or-treat. There are enough pumpkins with faces, I surmised. I also worried a face might scare little ones, coming out of a pumpkin. And I just like being different.

I arrived at my friend Liz’ house to find my son elbow deep in pumpkin seeds, tongue sliding out of the side of his mouth in deep concentration. He had cut the front of the pumpkin “with some help,” after carefully making a paper pattern, then he was going at some designs on the backside of the pumpkin, all by himself. He also ingeniously cut a slot exactly the size of a tea light candle at the back of the pumpkin—I’m thinking he should patent his design. My daughter carved her own pumpkin in school, also, with the help of a fifth grader. I am a bit stunned to be so uninvolved in the process! What a strange sensation! I sat down with a bowl of carrot soup, to watch the progress of the children with their carving tools.

How different the world is, everyday, with children who are able to find other assistants for their projects, who can do so much by themselves!

I had just begun to miss my nightscape-carved pumpkins the boy asked to light the candle in his jack-o-lantern and turned the face toward me: a toothy smile, like any jack-o-lantern, with a moon for a nose, and two stars for eyes. “I made the picture myself,” he says. “Just the way I wanted it.”

Friday, October 21, 2005

the real story

She would come early to church, or late as the case would be, and while she was well-dressed, sixty-something, she looked for all the world like a stray cat, too skinny, hungry and big-eyed, more fragile than a person ought to be. I loved the way Elaine climbed into a pew, slipped off her shoes and hugged her knees to herself, staring off into the rafters regardless of what she had walked in on. It seemed as if perhaps she had never been in a church before, though that is hardly possible. Her posture reminded me of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet and drinking him in.

That church was in the center of town, and my husband and I called it The Church of the Broken People. Our congregation attracted the newly divorced, a good indicator for a place that claims healing is possible. Elaine wasn’t the first to discover the miracle of it, the warmth of that church at that time, but she embodied the experience of being left behind, forlorn, bereft, like no one else. Starved for goodness, she responded with gratitude to any drop of goodness that could be found, and she found it in the architecture, in the way the light streamed in the window, in the smallest hello.

Prior to the weekly worship service, St. John’s Adult Forum was truly a forum—what we lacked in racial diversity was made up in theological and class diversity, and what congregants believed covered a remarkably broad range. One Sunday, I lead a discussion titled “What is the Bible,” which I introduced with a group cheer:

WHAT is the Bible,
what IS the Bible,
what is THE Bible,
what is the BIBLE—

I made them shout this just to make a ruckus and to loosen up our tongues for the tough questions and differences ahead. I began with a blank flipchart and asked people to tell me what was the biggest, gnarliest question each held in regards to the Bible and modern life. Elaine practically stood out of her seat, shaking with her question when I nodded to her to speak: she blinked as if she might cry and whispered,

“What if… what if it’s real?”

I felt chills as she said it, blood rising to my face in a great rush, and I paused at length to let the question sink in. “Now that,” I nodded, “that is the best question of all, isn’t it? What if this story is true, what if the ending is really good, what if God really cares about us the way this book says, from creation until the end. You win, Elaine! Write that one down.” We proceeded to have the kind of rich, wild discussion one would expect in an Episcopal church where not everyone believes the same thing about the Bible. And every time I saw Elaine after that, I thought of that moment, of magic and vulnerability and grand insight. Every time I saw her I wanted to congratulate her.

Years later I worked in a college office building where Elaine also worked, whole and generous-hearted and capable, not a stray cat at all. And I mentioned Elaine to Gretchen, another member of that community, from that time.

“Now, Elaine, she is a case isn’t she? She never seemed to concentrate on a single word said in church, lost in her own little world. I remember one day she asked in Adult Forum what if the Bible was real, and I wanted to shake her and say, if you’d just pay attention, maybe you’d find out!”

And now it was time for me to be astonished, again, blood rising to my face again, but this time in bewilderment.

“Did you see her face when she said it? You didn’t feel how deep this question was, for her?”

“Deep? The opposite of deep. I just gave up on her. How can a person like that learn anything?”

Now I was discouraged. How could anyone see Elaine that way?

I know my experience. I was present in the room in that Adult Forum, wondering if the Holy Spirit would whisk us all away on a big wind—so was Gretchen, present in the room and permanently discouraged, writing off Elaine as too far gone. You are reading my story, not Gretchen’s, so you will think my side more likely. Which is true?

I am intrigued. It’s perception, interpretation. It’s what we are ready to see. It’s where we have been, along the way, and Gretchen has certainly been some places along the way to see suffering. She is not shallow, not blind at all. I remain convinced of the fire inside the question, convinced I have something to learn from Elaine, to be Mary at the feet of Jesus. But the other perception? I need to know that, too, that mine are not the only eyes in the world, mine not the only view.

Perhaps the lesson for me, once again, and again and again, that others see things differently, feel things differently, even when the Real Version is as plain as the nose on my face, to me. The disparity is unsettling, discordant. And as a writer exploring my own past, this disparity is important. Is my version true? Has my memory embellished it?

In the case of Elaine, she seems vibrant, now, and thrilled when I bring her a yellow tulip for her office. As for me, I laugh and shake my head. Regardless, I like my version better, and I’m sticking to my story.

What if it’s real? Isn’t that the best question of all! What if.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

houseboat in the pussywillow Posted by Picasa

Children have built a houseboat, they tell me, in the pussywillow tree. Their busy laughter has charmed me for hours, the past few afternoons of clear skies. I peek out to find they have strung watering cans and baskets and sand shovels onto yellow yarn, dangling each from tree branches. They are checking to see if their "traps" have any lobsters, good New England fisher-folk. I see a plastic rake up there. I don't ask questions. They are happy, in the fresh air, making a world of their own choosing and their voices are the kind of music one imagines with the words "happy childhood."

Yard sale today at our church, and my take is a giant bag of treasures: three barely worn pair of boy’s sneakers (50 cents each), two quilted pillowcases that will make lovely doll blankets, a well-built hole-punch, a skateboarding helmet. Two high quality baskets, a stack of saucers, a water-filter pitcher in much better shape than our current one, a “salsa maker” that doubles as a child-sized salad spinner. A glass butter dish, an alternative to our everyday Tupperware butter dish. Two great picture books. A child-sized teapot. Extra-bulky wool yarn in blue, the color I always neglect. A wire basket for fruit. Everything in the giant bag seems letter-perfect for our needs. I even found a book I was wanting in the dollar pile. “Oh, that’s marked down to a quarter now,” the saleslady said. I pay my Sunday school girls twelve dollars for the lot, two happy hours pass. I am surprised the children have followed my instructions and have not removed the salad spinner to the yard with the other houseboat needs.

The big frost will come soon. Yesterday I spirited children outside in order to plant the rhubarb starts, the anniversary gift hydrangea and foxglove, the wildflower seed. I weeded for two hours, trimmed perennials, mowed one last time and moved a few strategic plants—no use trying to keep anything alive where the children jump out of the tree. I potted some more delicate herbs and brought them to the porch. I potted two wayward tomato seedlings complete with tiny tomatoes on them, hoping. I am a sporadic gardener, but I hate to lose anything good. The boy was completely absorbed in sifting one shovelful of compost, then he left the other twenty shovelfuls where they spent the entire summer—I understand that. That’s how I garden, too.

The clocks will change soon, but already the children are ready for sleep when the skies turn dark, pleasantly early. We need candles for dinner, and we watch the sunrise at seven a.m., late.

In this October full of hurricanes (they visit here, too, though we have escaped the devastation, for the most part), our little three rooms with a fabulous view seems like a houseboat of sorts, too. Some days I have wondered if we would float away with the rain, after the long, sunny September. We have begun the season of soup-making and I am glad for my work at the organic grocery, where I haul home bags of slightly dated and wilty items, still delicious but no longer quite as beautiful or fresh as it needs to be.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

rainy saturday weather report

Yesterday and the day before reminded me of my students in the Pacific Northwest, blinding sunlit heat interspersed with rogue patches of freezing, dripping fog—weather as an embrace of polar opposites. As I squeezed in a twenty-minute beach walk, wind was beating the fog back toward the sea. I heard maniacal laughter emitting from a cloud, wet suited surfers appearing and disappearing a few feet away from me.

It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, today, and the weather report says when the rain ends in a few days, the long, endless warm season will be over. Children decided, against my recommendation, that this is a perfect brownie baking day. The soup pot is bubbling, soup made from roasted chicken stock from last May’s rainy season.

At some point, multitasking is another word for chaos, as the boy insisted his grilled cheese sandwich be eaten even though he was in the middle of chopping potatoes for soup. I was wrestling with the computer: I am trying to lighten my backpack by using the Palm Pilot more effectively, so I was downloading tide charts and the lunar calendar, searching for the church calendar and lectionary online, too. Somewhere in there, I waltzed to the stove to stir the soup, and I realized a third of my wooden spoon has burned off or is still somewhere in the soup, disguised as a piece of chicken or potato.

The cook and developmental psychologist’s dilemma: do I tell? If I tell a nearly six-year-old that there may be a charred piece of wood in his soup, he will be looking for a charred piece of wood in every bowl of soup until he is twelve. If I tell a nearly eight-year-old that there may be a charred piece of wood in her soup, she will tell me she didn’t want my homemade chicken soup anyway, that in fact all chicken soup is yukky and she hates it, that she won’t eat one bite except maybe the carrots. (I always quadruple the carrots in the soup, for this very reason.)

On the back burner of my mind, behind the baking brownies, the six-year-old dishwasher splattering, the eight-year-old arranging miniature dogs on the windowsill, the husband looking for a missing car registration, I marvel the funny irony of a tide chart on a handheld computer. The world we live in! I am trying to figure out nature by looking at a computer! I adjust the screen display to my exact beach location, which changes the time of high tide by two minutes, corrects the whole chart to match the yellowed fold-out paper tide chart from my local hardware store, which lives on the refrigerator until it is too stained to read. Our favorite beach all but disappears at high tide, so there is a practical purpose to this function. And outside of the practical, my Palm offers me a “you are here” arrow on a beautiful color graph, and the times of sunrise and sunset, to the minute. I hope to download a calendar of meteor showers and astronomical events, too, and Jewish holidays. And the pattern for the sweater I am knitting. I am too good at losing little slips of paper and forgetting details of upcoming appointments, and if I fill the Palm with fun information, I will look for these necessary factoids more often.

It’s the “to do” list I use most often, the antidote to all the paper lists I promptly forget and lose as soon as I write them. Don’t forget: the windshield needs replaced. The valve on the washing machine, too, and it’s time to sign up to take flowers to the girl’s classroom. Don’t forget visitors and trips that fill October, don’t forget that the boy is expecting a birthday party this year and the girl wants a fuzzy black bat costume to match the boy’s fuzzy black bat costume, so buy another yard of black fleece and find a black hat for ears.

Don’t forget… don’t forget autumn is the most beautiful season of the year, my favorite. Don’t forget that it’s time to visit some of our friends who are getting very old, don’t forget that time passes so quickly and they may need our affection to get through the winter, though they would never ask for it. Don’t forget to walk, while the streets are still easy to maneuver. Don’t forget that everything will seem too busy, very soon, as if everything is leading up to the holidays. Don’t forget to breathe deeply the ocean air.

The tide chart is complete and correct, the lunar calendar is left to figure out. The soup is steaming and good enough for two bowls. “Watch for bay leaves,” I warn, deciding that is all the information they really need on an unhurried day to slowly eat soup.

Friday, September 30, 2005

turtleneck weather

Today I got out the standard winter uniform, my favorite black turtleneck and jeans. I can’t make the move to socks, yet. Autumn is my favorite season of the year, but I find myself as reluctant as the weather to go in that direction.

We have been on the Extended Summer plan, here in New England, and the temperatures last week, the third week of September, were still just near eighty, with a lovely ocean breeze. The evenings began to cool and I scrambled to find jeans, socks, dormant since May, smelling of the dusty back corners of the dresser. Today the thermometer will not reach seventy, and I see autumn decorations on doorsteps, pretty gourds and pumpkins and corn stalks. Our stoop is decorated with the beach gear, unpacked from the car trunk but still in a state of shock that we would put boogie boards and swim noodles and digging gear away in the attic. The ocean has been ice-cream headache cold for almost two months now. But the first red-tinged maples are just beginning to turn, today.

I worried, two weeks ago, about the boy’s transition to school, but it has been miraculous, really. Not only have there been no tears at drop off, but he dresses himself and helps pack his lunch, waits by the door eager to go. I hear exciting reports at the end of the day, and he sings spontaneously. So it seems our whole family has turned a corner, and I have turned a corner: Scott and I are no longer our children’s whole world, and though we are no less central, we will never be their whole world again. I feel incredible relief, and it’s a little strange and disorienting, too. I can focus on some other things, with no guilt whatsoever. I can work. I can write. In fact, I have been happily writing this past week, and will have some new stories finished, soon. A customer entered the store and said something about “near-death experiences,” at which point I began muttering, “Does anyone have a pen, please,” an irresistible topic needing a piece of paper…

We pass a beautiful marshlands on the way home from kindergarten, and there are a dozen hawks circling. The boy asks me about what they are doing, and I say perhaps a large animal has died, large enough to provide food for a crowd of hawks. “I know!” he says brightly, “A mama and daddy hawk invited all their grown up kids home for a feast! They have so much food, that they want to share!”

He’s going to be alright, this guy. I’m going to be alright, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

are we there yet?

Six weeks ago, I watched the sun rise between the twin lighthouses, thinking of Stonehenge and how lucky I was to catch the right day, sun rising at five-something a.m. Today on the same beach, lazy old sun wobbling over the horizon a good forty-five degrees south, now right of Salt Island, and the clock ticks six-twenty-five. I turn tail and run for the car, the wake-up call for school will be a few minutes late today.

There are enough eggs for the travelers, but not enough for my breakfast, too. The family is already awake and percolating. It’s the first “full” schoolday for the boy, who will leave shortly with everyone else, and the quiet, the long-awaited quiet, will be worth missing a few eggs. I have a tiny little stash of dollars in my wallet, and I am considering the local café breakfast special, crabcakes and eggs. Perhaps I will just remember the one time I treated myself to it, decadence on a breakfast plate. If I told the price—well, it is a remarkable breakfast, here in the most expensive place on earth.

Both children run to do the one morning chore, watering their special plants. They check off items of the boy’s list: a small blanket and pillow. We find the pillowcase in the cedar chest and anoint it with a few drops of lavender, which is said to help children rest. “Yum!” they hummed, so I put a drop to my finger and anointed them, too, a touch of lavender to the temples, the chest. 

He has been looking forward to this day for awhile—local schools began three weeks ago and my daughter began last week. He has long been jealous of the school’s aftercare program for kindergarteners, though each day last year began with weepy, dramatic partings at the door, and twice I was called to remove him, as his frustration became violent. Yesterday we were talking about the tears, and he said, “Sometimes the crying just happens to me. I don’t know why; it just comes.” We talked about ways to be sad without crying, ways to do something joyful when the tears seem close. I am envisioning a peaceful transition, envisioning bravery for all the tasks so difficult for him (using public restrooms, settling into a quiet time, eating lunch without incessant talking, asking for what he needs).

I am thinking of Brother Lawrence, today, and forms of prayer: walking, serving, anointing, envisioning. We had a few minutes of hugging and holding, too, before the percolating boy posed for first day photos and ran to the car.

In a few weeks, I will settle into this schedule and when I sit at my writing desk, words will be flying. I’m a territorial kind of person, quick to love something as soon as it feels like “mine.” I remember color-coded, illustrated semester schedules created in my college and RD days, and now I can barely maintain the family calendar! But I remember the feeling: at last, this is what my life looks like, mostly.

Last year I wept over the first day of school because I longed to hear the thoughts in my own head—I wept because I missed my own company so much. I wept for relief. Today I might just weep because I have been working so hard, such crazy hours, and again I have had little quiet or peace for a month. I might nap. I will walk and think and be lazy. Funny, it’s my day off—a mom’s day off. I will have a day off next week, too, and two mornings. I pick up the children this afternoon and drop them with The Dad, then I head off to the organic grocery (we get our first shipment of produce today!) so I will feel like I have the entire day off!

I don’t weep because I miss my children, or because I don’t know what to do with myself. I get weepy now and then when I am with my children, my heart is so captivated by them, when they are not making me crazy. And I know exactly what to do with myself—it’s a poor analogy, but my image is of Nehemiah, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. I am rebuilding the walls of my spirit, my strength, and finding what gifts are within. Such good surprises, so far—I am looking forward to what’s next. I’m looking forward to… to right now.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

peas in cream sauce, comfort food I

This is not really a cream sauce—it’s a simple white sauce with frozen peas thawed into it. Simple ingredients and patience, well worth the simple and delicious result. This is my grandmother’s recipe, and it made my brothers and me roll our eyes and rub our bellies in anticipation.

Equal amounts of real butter and white flour (start with a tablespoon of each, and see how it goes.)
Whole milk, a few cups
Frozen peas, a small bag
Sea salt to taste
Fresh ground pepper

While the butter begins to melt in the pan, measure out the flour—whisk in and watch: if there is more butter than the flour can absorb, you will need a sprinkle more of flour. If dry flour will not incorporate into the paste, add a touch more butter. Cook for a minute, whisking, and don’t worry if the mixture gathers onto the whisk while you are stirring. (If the butter has browned, if the paste browns, you will have to start all over—but it’s only a little butter and flour, right? No problem.)

Add a splash of milk, and you will see a quick paste form. Add a second splash and incorporate, continuing to add a quarter cup or so at a time until you have a thick “gravy.” Place a “flame tamer” under the pan to keep sauce from scorching.

Sprinkle in the frozen peas and stir. Cook until peas are thawed and green, stirring occasionally. Add a half teaspoon of sea salt, to begin. A steam will begin to rise before bubbling commences, and this is a good time to serve it. Taste the sauce and you will see how perfectly sweet your peas are. Bring the pepper to the table.

To be completely decadent in a Midwestern fashion, serve with mashed potatoes. It’s a starch-fest, a beautiful thing. I am no good at fried chicken, but if you provide that, I’ll bring the peas and potatoes, so we can get all of our high-fat foods and starches in one delicious swoop. Leave a few days for recovery.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

for pay

Scribbled on the back of a bank deposit envelope, while waiting for the store’s deposit to be processed, a list of odd tasks from job descriptions in my life:

Unjam the bowling pin setter (wielding another pin like a bat).

Guide cave expeditions for large groups of small kids. Hide the bats from view.

Artfully rearrange a rotating display case for Parker Bros’ annual unveiling of new games, with a script timed to the second. Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain with her hair on end!

Glaze and weatherproof old-fashioned pulley-weight windows.

Play victim for emergency cut-away rescue on a ropes course.

Give participants a helpful shove off a forty-foot high ropes course platform. Use a stepladder to remove participants from the forty-foot Tarzan swing.

Shake the”thunder sheet” to approximate a storm from backstage of a play.

Crush ten pounds of garlic with a French knife. “Smaller,” my student supervisors said. “Much smaller.”

Arrange a campus-wide discrimination of blue-eyed people for a racism simulation.

Write letters.

Pick apples on a high bluff, in the company of students from Namibia, Korea, Germany and Japan.

Sleep in the home of an elderly woman struggling to keep her independence.

Prevent children from sledding down the highly attractive lawn of a historic museum.

I have been a live-in tour guide for a historic home. I have nannied. I have sold books for a mail-order catalog, catered small-town events with my grandmother, served my favorite tabouli and pineapple-mint salsa to my supervisor’s dinner guests. I have temped. I have bussed tables and made milkshakes, and I have cleaned practically anything that needed to be cleaned. I have painted buildings. I have been guided to the top of the steeple of Mt. Lebanon Presbyterian, with an amazing view of downtown Pittsburgh, by a janitor whose graces I earned. I have dusted silverwork tooled by Paul Revere and paintings by John Singer Sargent. I worked as a telephone operator on one of those ancient plug-cord phone systems. I worked as a phone receptionist while recovering from dental surgery! I have played a lot of silly games and a few really good serious games. As a dorm director, I wandered the halls of my building, chatting with people. Library, post office, chapel, snack bar, yacht club, YMCA, bank, teacher of English as a Second Language, scrapbook design teacher, Sunday school educator, writing tutor.

And I am learning, now, how to use a cash register, how to use a pricing “gun,” how to straighten rows on shelves, how to multitask in public. Always, I am learning to listen with more sensitivity, to talk less. I’m learning not to start making birthday presents for childrens’ friends while running late for work. I’m learning how to “see for myself” what needs to be done to make the store just right. Secret: it’s pretty fun!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

reclaimed shelving

This is a piece I intend to send to the editorial page of the local paper, once I've passed it by my employers for an okay.

I am up to my elbows in this strange black grease. The posts for the kitchen shelves are marked inch by inch with a number, and the highest number is 84, so 84 times I press my rag-covered thumbnail into each groove while spinning the pole with my other hand. Eighty-four little globs of ancient grease evicted, eighty-four grooves disinfected. There are sixteen poles, for four sets of industrial wire shelving. There’s no need to do the math: each groove needs to be clean.

In a twist of irony, the expanding Common Crow store purchased kitchen shelving from what was once McT’s, so you get the picture: I am removing years of cooked-on airborne grease from hamburgers and onion rings, fishermen’s platters and French fries. I am reclaiming shelving from a carnivore haven in order to serve customers shopping for organic groceries, including (but not limited to) vegetarians and vegans. Now, I am a carnivore, in fact an omnivore if you get right down to it, but I certainly don’t want any remnants of my last burger at McT’s to contaminate my current groceries. So I clean. I believe in recycling. So I clean some more.

My mother created two cleaning aprons for my husband and me to organize our housecleaning efforts when we were first married. I sent her a picture of the apron I wanted, with pockets for my cleaning razor and my putty knife, with loops for my spray-bottles, with a pocket the size of a gallon bag for trash and, in this case, congealed brown bits. For a joke, she designed these aprons in a Mickey Mouse print, so we would have more fun, I suppose. I did not ask her for aprons because I love to clean—I asked her for aprons because it is the kind of practical project she would love, a practical way to serve us. Scott’s apron is gathering dust on the hanger, but I will need his when I wear out my scrubby sponge pocket.

My first full-time job was serving on the work crew of a summer camp in northern Indiana, and all of us got to try a hand at every kind of chore: chopping wood, raking the beach, digging postholes, and of course, cleaning. Lorraine was my beloved supervisor, and she taught me how to clean every kind of surface that could ever need to be cleaned. I did not love cleaning then, either, but I loved working with my crewmates, and the sooner the work was done, the sooner the staff went swimming in the camp’s lake. I did not want the staff to wait in the truck until I cleaned the oven again, more thoroughly, so I learned my job, well.

At that time, also, I did not like to do cleaning tasks on my own—it felt like being banished and missing the action I felt sure was happening somewhere. Now is different. I am the mother of two small children, and doing any task without interruption, until the project is completed… well, it is so rare that it practically sets me to reverie just thinking about it. I could think my own thoughts! I could sing, if I want to!

I can see Pat and Kate, the owners of the Common Crow, are concerned I will feel insulted by the nasty cleaning task, or perhaps desperate to be stuck off in the new store working endless hours alone with my cleaning fluids and putty knife, but I don’t mind. I couldn’t do this every day, but it’s good work, work that needs thoroughness and patience and elbow grease. It requires a ridiculous amount of time, and to be honest, there is no hourly wage that could pay enough to do this work. It takes a bit of love, a bit of singing, a putty knife. I have all three.

Eight hours pass and I have used two ragged bathtowels, two scrubby sponges, two microfiber cleaning cloths and two bottles of heavy-duty cleaner. The underneath sides of the shelves are the worst, hiding a black mold, as well as the other stuff. My cleaning razor definitely needs a new blade and the entire cleaning apron needs a good wash to be freed from the smell of old grease.

There are good shelves here, for vegetables untainted by cooking grease. Or organic meat. I go home to shower off the gooey globs and wash my hair with some organic lavender shampoo from the store’s sample basket. I emerge to find a long thank you message on the answering maching from Kate for my heroic cleaning effort. The new and expanded Common Crow will open in a few weeks, and I’ve given a good effort toward the move. I play the message three or four times and sit down to a nice dinner my husband has grilled for me: hamburgers, thick and juicy, dripping with fat, just the way I like them.

Friday, August 05, 2005

weather report, august 2005 diary

an article on "how to blog" said never, never talk about the weather. "But you don't live where I live," I reply in my head. The article also said to be sure to break the rules...

The month of August has never been so beautiful, not for all the summers I can remember (outside of the Colorado Rockies, in which August is actually akin to autumn in the rest of North America, so that’s cheating…). We have spent the last two summers away from home, and the sweetness of this summer at home seems new and luxurious. The day’s harvest: the last handful of raspberries, a bouquet of black-eyed susans, a spray of spearmint for my favorite iced tea.

Generally, I agree with Robert Farrar Capon’s assessment that August is Hell, that direct all-day overhead lighting looks bad on all but a few human beings. Waking with a shine on my face before I’m even out of bed seems an ill omen of the day to me. But this August is different. The locals will complain it is too cold, it is not summer at all. I say let them. The thermometer has barely grazed eighty degrees and the breeze is endless goodness, coming off the ocean. And somehow in all this not-too-hot weather, the Atlantic is at its warmest, quite bearable. Last night the kids and I packed ourselves home from the beach when the sun dipped too low, seven-thirty.

The printer is spitting out instructions for lanyards made of “boondoggle” or “gimp,” to which my children were introduced at summer camp. ( www.boondoggleman.com, if you want to play, too.) Yesterday, the counselors divvied up supplies to children and we will be boondoggling for awhile, my Madeleine thrilled to make bracelets, zipper pulls. I laughed when I saw it—summer camp thirty years ago relied on the same kind of projects, and of course with a quick refresher I find it delightful, too. I think of Billy Collin’s poem about making his mother a lanyard at camp, feeling sure it was an equal exchange for all she had given him thus far… The boy’s teenage counselor gifted him with a book of paper airplane designs, and he said thank you by diving headfirst into the tall boy’s belly, an earnest goodbye.

The boy also rode his first wave yesterday, on a borrowed boogie board. Two years ago the boy had a three word vocabulary, and last year his conversation was still low-key, particular to just a few settings. Now his words flow, sometimes maddeningly, at me in endless streams. How delightful to hear him talking to the waves, to his borrowed boogie board: “I am waiting for The Big Wave. Are you The Big Wave? I will wait. It will come. I am waiting. Waiting. There you come. Let’s go.” Throws himself, kicking like mad, onto the board and onto the wave, which takes him all the way to shore, his dark eyes blinking out the spray. He is still not interested in water in his face, on his face, but he may get past that very soon.

And while my two built a sand bakery with their pal, Taylor, I practiced solo Frisbee, the disk soaring back to me in the strong wind. Boomerang exhaustion, perfect end to a day.

I am an imperfect parent, too often irritable and flying by the seat of my pants. Writing seems like an exercise in narcissism, often tempting me to leave all the undone projects still undone in order to noodle with words. But oddly life-giving, too. At its best, it is an act of gratitude, of weaving this life all together, better than boondoggle. I am thankful for this day, thankful for these children on this beach, thankful for my husband down the highway tutoring teenagers in reading skills, all of us giving life to our work, big and small.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

growth spurt

My son and my daughter are having a summer growth spurt, and sporting their sun-blonde locks and lanky tan legs. They have recently begun sleeping late for the first time in their desperate parents’ memory, and when I wander in to wake them, I pause for a glorious moment to memorize them anew. When the boy sleeps curled up in fetal position I can see the day he was born, the moment we first locked eyes. His head was strong, and he held my gaze in his first minute of life. He stretches in his sleep and a transformation occurs: his legs are hanging over the end of the bed, for heaven’s sake! In our neighbor boy’s hand-me-down boxer shorts, he suddenly flops at a considerable length and I see him as a teenager, struggling to consciousness, fighting for another hour of sleep.

The girl, too, so long and brown, her sleeping face a definition of serenity, shape-shifting from the baby in the crook of my neck to the girl who refuses a teddy bear, who trots along in Birkenstocks. Her favorite stripy two-piece bathing suit is by no means skimpy, but it foreshadows some time long from now when she will be off to the beach with friends, and without me. Her confidence and social life are practically that big, already.

Summer is a part of the long season called The Season after Pentecost, in both Jewish and Christian traditions. In the Christian church, we dress the sanctuary in green for the long growing season. My favorite parable is practically a one-liner, “The kingdom of God is like seed thrown on a field by a farmer who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—the farmer doesn’t know how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. One day he wakes and the fields are ready, and he reaps the harvest!” Mark 4:26-29. There is no mistake to be made in this parable about the quality of the farmer’s actions or motivations forcing the result. It’s more like, that’s just the way the kingdom of God is, or that’s just the way the universe works from the beginning of time. Throw some hope in, and see what happens.

Not every day feels so blessed and lucky as a summer day with two lovely children sleeping in. But today feels that way. From seeds to sprouts and beyond, they grow like stalks in the sun. Throw some hope in—such good results.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

modern farmland

“If you’re traveling Interstate 70, drive north a ways and stop by Farmland, Indiana.”

“Well, what’s there to see?” asked Blair, a retiree who spent her summer vacations meandering by car.

“Nothing much. It’s a one-horse, no stoplight town. Grocery store has a great ham salad, fresh on Thursdays and made personally by Bob the Butcher, who guards the secret recipe.” Blair made a note: Thursdays, grocery, Farmland, Indiana.

Weeks passed and she returned. “Bob the Butcher says hi!” she laughed. “He introduced me to everyone in the store, AND he called your mother.”

“I know! If she had been home to answer the phone, she would have dropped everything to come meet you. She called me as soon as she got the message.”

“I couldn’t remember your maiden name, but that didn’t seem to matter. Only one Denise in Farmland, Indiana?”

“Two, but the other one moved to Farmland when I was in high school, so she would be noted as ‘the other Denise.’”

When I consider my small town heritage with any depth, I am still startled by my view of the world as a child. The first day of school each fall, my brothers and I would report if there was a new person in our grade level. The assumption was that a “new” classmate happened rarely and was a special event. The assumption was that we all knew who the rest of us were, and this new person would be exotic, rare, unlike anyone we had ever known. Small towns offer no anonymity, and the scrutiny must have been painful to newcomers. It was such an adventure to think of someone having a fresh start, of people forgetting mistakes of your kindergarten experience, that I was often jealous of new students. How nice it must be to be new!

Luckily for me, “uptown” Farmland now has a booming business district, right in the middle of what has been designated Historic Farmland, where new cobblestone walks and old-fashioned looking streetlamps have replaced the bland and broken fixtures of the 1960’s. The four blocks of three-story brick Victorian buildings have never looked better, and due to the upsurge of tourist traffic to this rural icon, the town still functions as a town. Shopkeepers chant the motto, “It’s the only Farmland in America,” as some clever marketer indeed discovered that there is only one incorporated town in the United States named Farmland. Farmland USA—buy the merchandise. Many similar towns in rural Indiana have barely held on.

My town has a boutique gift-shop with hand-dipped chocolates like my grandmother used to make for Christmas, but you can buy one any day of the year. A stained-glass window craftman moved onto Main Street while I was still in school, and we all shook our heads, “He’ll never make it. Where does he think he is?” At the time that store opened, the “Five and Dime” had just boarded up, and Bailey’s Corner Drug Store cut back its menu and serving hours. But the store displays gorgeous work, just as it has for twenty years, right on Main Street in a store full of sunny windows. Across the street is a florist. A florist, in Farmland! A “country store” filled with country-ish things a little cornier than the former “Five and Dime” would stock. It’s a little insincere, but I will cut them some slack. Bailey’s has been transformed into The Chocolate Moose, a full-scale ice cream and soda shop, which added even more twisty-barstools and removed the pharmacy and magazine rack, and all pretense of being practical for anything.

The crowning additions as of my last visit to Farmland are the Farmland Cultural Center, a gallery of antique photos of famous houses and people in Farmland, AND the freshest oil paintings of town landscapes by a Mexican-American artist named Angel Mercado. And Main Street Coffee, which roasts its own blends of coffee in the windowed showroom by the coffee bar. The store sports the original pressed tin ceiling and polished wood floors—a Bostonian coffee shop would be jealous of the space and light, the gallery displaying paintings in the adjoining room. And the coffee is amazing.

What all of this means to me is that people no longer must leave Farmland to make an income, are no longer consigned to bag groceries if they wish to stay in town. It also means that factory jobs twenty minutes away are not the only employment. Bob the Butcher is long retired, and he did not share the recipe for his ham salad, though the grocery store still operates, with its Red Gold Tomatoes mural adorning the outside wall.

I am not sure how I feel about all of this movement to “upscale,” to luxury treats and luxury experiences of small town life, versus the hardware store and dusty feed mill so necessary in the past. I am not sure how I feel that my dad had never been inside the coffee shop, though it had been bustling for a year and he does like coffee. He does not feel it is “for him,” but for some unseen wealthier class who must be visiting from somewhere. The gift shop with the hand-dipped chocolates—has he been there? I am glad there is a hip little group of adults there, my age and successful enough. I saw a DVD for sale called Fright in Farmland, a pulp horror flick playing on small town themes and inside jokes. It starred some men who had been popular in my high school years. Like my father, I didn’t buy it, though it intrigues me. It seemed like it wasn’t for me. But the coffee, now that’s for me, and the chocolate shop offers flavored iced tea samples that make me want to shop all day. For postcards of Farmland, at $1.50 per card.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

grilled fajitas

Only one entrée is worthy of the first night out on a camping trip, and my family has come to expect it: grilled chicken fajitas, with all the trimmings. Throw plenty of flattened boneless breasts or tenderloins, depending on thaw time, into a Ziploc bag with olive oil and lime juice, with a crushed clove of garlic, plus a pinch of sea salt and pepper and freeze the Ziploc as flat as you can. Double bag the whole shebang and pack it when you leave. As the chicken thaws in your backpack or cooler, the acid in the lime juice will partially “cook” the meat, saving you from salmonella and allowing you to transport raw poultry for a few hours. (If you die from food poisoning as a result of this recipe, please do not leave my web address lying around on your kitchen counter. I’m not sure why it works—it just does.) Grill the sliced red peppers and onions over the fire or on a griddle while the chicken cooks. Throw the tortillas on for a minute, while you slice some jack cheese. Add black beans, sour cream, your favorite salsa. Add cerveza, if you have packed it.

If you are seriously backpacking, there are ways to reduce the weight and bulk of some of the trimmings, but then, it’s your first night out—celebrate this one luxury with gladness before you begin the mixes and rations. There will be no leftovers, trust me.

Pat Coleman taught me this trick when we worked together as RDs, and I see his smiling, ornery face every time I make this meal. (While dying of food poisoning, perhaps you could invoke his name, not mine.) I would love to sample this year’s vintage of his homegrown salsa, too. Happy grilling, Pat.

Friday, March 11, 2005

inanimate objects that inspire affection

Robert Farrar Capon describes the universe being about as necessary to God as "the orange peel in God's closet-- He keeps it because he likes it." Somehow the picture in my mind is a long twisting orange peel, all in one piece, which is, of course, the way I peel an orange when I am paying attention and the peel is just right. I imagine the nail in the closet, the peel dangling right next to an extra key for something, emitting an aroma sweet as orange but bitter to the taste. With that image in mind, God's great affection for small, dear things, I love to consider the small things so endearing in everyday life. I write this list with Cat Stevens' "Oh, Very Young" playing in my mind also, such a lovely ode to a pair of favorite jeans. And is it Zephaniah or Zechariah who says that even the cowbells and the pots and pans will be inscribed with "sacred to the Lord" in that good time when the leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations?

It is the long and winding end to winter, and inspiration is low. How good to think of life's small sweetnesses, little graces that keep us going. Here is my odd and on-going list of things I like:

1. my 1996 Jetta

Imagine a ten-year-old car with working accessories and 35 miles per gallon. I haven't loved any automobile so much since my first 1986 Sentra, and this car is much peppier and more comfortable, while still being the size of tuna can. In the past two weeks, it has taken my family on a major road trip and has endured coffee and orange juice spills in areas completely impossible to clean. Still, I will try, as it's the nicest car I've ever owned.

2. my Blunnies

Blundstone Australian workboots in "stout brown," which is almost black, and round toes (neither square nor pointy), AND waterproof. Blunnies have these ribbon tab pulls to tug on and off, and they manage in snow, mud, rain, shorts. Got mine on eBay for $80, shipped from Tasmania with a toy koala...

3. hand-knitted earflap hats

"The Acorn Heads," my childrens' friends call them in winter, with their nut-brown hats dangling braids of yarn.

4. my bay window

This window turns my tiny condo into a sunny treehouse with a view of the harbor.

5. block crayons

I love crayon rubbings, and I love bright colors. I need to color more with my children, but when I do, my pictures go right onto the refrigerator, with magnets.

6. Pampered Chef garlic press

Pay the $20 for it. It's worth its weight in gold.

7. sandalwood oil

In various periodicals, I have seen sandalwood described as a) a mosquito repellant, b) an anti-depressant, and c) an aphrodisiac. What more can a gal ask for in a scent? Practical and gorgeous-- my friend Elizabeth says I smell like a hippie. "But that's good," she adds.

8. girl stuff-- a beautiful red bag, a burgundy scarf, my favorite earrings

The bright red Slovakian bag is lined with suede and trimmed with leather, a gift from my husband that I felt I did not deserve. The black and burgundy batik scarf is from my brothers, long ago, the first article of clothing anyone chose for me that I liked. Neither the bag nor the scarf match each other nor the favorite earrings, so of course I insist on wearing them together. It works.

9. microfleece long skirt

Looks like formalwear, wears like pajamas. I like that in a clothing item.

10. digital camera

When the children look lovely but the parents look exhausted, why not cut out the parents and look at the photo of the children? Scott and I should keep files of joke photos titled, "Foreheads" and "Chins," "Bad Hair" and "Bad Angle." But we don't-- we have a delete key.

Perhaps you will think of some inanimate objects you like. Let me know. And survive winter.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


In September, my son Brendan began half-day kindergarten, and my daughter Madeleine is in first grade, affording me a dozen or so hours per week for the first time in my years as a parent. Last summer, I envisioned these school hours as a window to "weep endlessly, waste time frivolously, and write like there's no tomorrow." Excessive, yes, but I need to make a break from what was "before," to serve the ideas brewing in my head all those years when I could not find a moment of quiet and a working pen at the same time.

So this is how it goes: each morning I can, which is to say each morning without great quantities of undone chores and errands, I make myself a breakfast of over-easy eggs, sprouted raisin toast with butter, and hot coffee (which I will drink while it is hot, thank you very much), and then I sit down with my pen and journal, or move to the computer to toodle with words. Most mornings I am hard-pressed to pick up kids on time, I am so excited about what yarn I am spinning along...

I began by filling a journal per month, and by writing to a long-lost friend-- a friend who traded letters with me for nine years, but with whom I had lost touch. This friend asked me a simple, "so what do you want to write?" on a day when I needed to drive a startling number of hours, and by the end of the car rides, a plan became clear! I want, mostly, to write personal stories in a way that helps me "knit it all together," to see my life as one piece and not so many fragments. I need to start small-- I'm still adapting to this sort of self-exposure, and I will need a thick skin if I ever decide to publish anything. I began to write a few other friends, as well, and with each story comes more stories.

I have not written for an "audience" of more than one person since my high school newspaper days, but in November I submitted reminiscences of my college ministry days to my illustrious first employer, for its alumni website. Each month a new story is posted, and if you email me, I will put you on my "alert list" when a new column comes out, or send you the archive link.

Gratitude is the center point of my "campus ministry days" writing, and with the rest of my writing I am thinking of "cairns"-- cairns are small stacks of stones, serving as markers for a path, sometimes a path above treeline, where there are few landmarks for a return trip. The first cairn I laid eyes on (Colorado, 1981, hiking with my roommate Anne) also reminded me of stone altars in the wilderness-- a sign that something important happened, some event worth honoring.

So. Blogging. Seems a little crazy, like the sound of one mouth talking or better, the sound of one pen scratching. "A commitment to writing," of sorts. But now you'll know where to find my writing, if you wish. More stories will be posted shortly-- I am just getting started.

Monday, February 28, 2005

cold hike, hot cider Posted by Hello

recipe: Snow Ice Cream

There are as many recipes for Snow Ice Cream as there are parents who allow their children to eat snow. This recipe is an adaptation of the recipe I ate as a child in Indiana. I am stunned to find that no one in New England seems to have heard of Snow Ice Cream, and so I share this recipe, here:

Denise's variation of Snow Ice Cream
One large bowl, approximately 1 1/2 gallons of the freshest fluffiest snow
One small pitcher, approximately 1 1/2 cups of milk flavored with a teaspoon of vanilla
(cream is marvelous, if you have some)
One sifter with a cup of powdered sugar

Give each diner a bowl and two spoons, and fill each bowl with fluffy snow. Have each diner pour a small stream of vanilla milk around the edge of the bowl, then sift sugar "like snow" over the top-- and stir/toss with spoons, gently. It ought to taste just right. You will figure out the proportions as you go. It's worth an experiment or two.

Eat it all-- it will not keep.

My mother's variation was to mix the giant bowl of snow herself, but I have the feeling that ravens are circling, shrieking, "NOW! I want it NOW!" while I am stirring this way, so I have made the process a self-serve one. My mother also used granulated sugar, which sometimes made my teeth hurt. Maple syrup is good, but it doesn't "snow" down from the sifter and I am stingy with my syrup! And I found a sweet child-sized sifter at a yard sale last summer, which is perfect.

Bon appetit!

edible modeling clay

Preparation note: make sure decorators have eaten a snack beforehand, or soon you will have no more clay for modeling!

One box of powdered sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup of butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp Peppermint extract (experiment with other flavors, almond, lemon, vanilla, but this one is delicious.)

Wilton paste food colors or any other intense food colors

Mix all ingedients but the coloring. Divide into small bowls, perhaps five: primary colors, plus white, plus green. Dough gets stickier as you work with it, but hardens a bit when refrigerated. Put out small amounts of colors, first, to get tiny decorations vs. baseball sized creations. We started with snowmen and Christmas trees, then moved on to playground equipment and landscapes.

So, let them decorate cake themselves! I baked one layer of chocolate cake, plus one set of chocolate cupcakes, and provided a sifter full of powdered sugar "snow." The birthday girl was thrilled with a settle-down project at the end of the day, and she made candle holders for her seven birthday candles-- miniature wreaths with holly berries.