Ponder this:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This Christmas

This Christmas season, I'm suddenly aware of the sumptuous luxury that surrounds me. I go through my days, month after month, not really taking note of the random comforts in my world, but I notice now. And once I begin to notice, I can't stop noticing.

I'm grateful for Husband, who works energetically, tirelessly and mostly cheerfully, to improve our home and make it more efficient and warmer in the cold season and fruitful in the warm season.
I'm thankful for my two fuzzy girls, Molly and Peep. Best of friends to each other and to us, each day they reveal another Incredibly Cute Pose or a new facet of personality. When I think of what might have happened to Peep, had a sheriff's deputy not found her sitting quietly by the side of the road . . . or how lucky we are to have been granted the gift of Molly, who was living a thousand miles away, waiting for someone to want her . . . they both seem like meant-to-be miracles.
I live where, on my way home at night, I don't have to battle traffic, or wait for traffic lights to change. Sometimes I need to decrease my already slow speed to let a couple of deer get all the way across the road so I can pass. That isn't a hardship. It's a pleasure. They're pretty and fit and healthy and graceful . . . like smooth sculpture moving from woody roadside to woody roadside.
I live on land that we almost had to sell in financial desperation, but we made it through.
I live in a house that we weren't sure we would ever be able to build, but we did.
I look through windows taller than I am, at fields as large as the beloved fields of my lost childhood home. The trees that wave their tips in the way-up-there-wind are as tall and as forever as the trees I watched at age seven from my bedroom window or from a seat on a stone wall built by my ancestors' hands in seventeen-hundred-something. My skies are wide and changeable, glowing blue and white or orange and that magic pink-gold of sunset . . . and even now, when day after day, the sky is one smooth blanket of pale pale gray-white cotton, it is more beautiful to me than any skyline filled with buildings and rooflines.
I have a job where everyone is friendly with everyone else. That wasn't the case until only a few months ago: more evidence that my world is moving in a good direction. Our group now jokes and laughs together, works together to solve problems that often aren't even really problems but only quirks. The new philosophy is that if whatever seems to be awry is not fixed within the next two hours, no one will die. Truly, a change for the better for all of us. Thank God.
I have a vehicle that gets me where I want to go, the means to buy things that I need and want. I have enough leisure to knit, to nap, to read. I have warmth and light and comfortable and suitable clothing. 

How blessed am I with all this.
Even if I wish for sun in my eyes in the mornings, and even if it feels like bedtime every day when I get home from work in the deep dusk of December . . . I am blessed.
And I am grateful. 

I think that I might be growing more and more pagan as I age, but still, the Christmas season is a good time to count our gifts. These are some of mine.

And I am grateful.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Thank God I didn't choose to do an afghan!

Last summer (or perhaps even last spring) I saw a pattern for a pretty little scarf, to be worked in pale blue/periwinkle mohair yarn with sequins. 
A perfect color for coworker Phyllis' eyes.
Tiny yarn with tiny sequins. 
On size 7 needles. 
Only thirty stitches per row, and follow the pattern until your skein runs out. 
How hard could that be? one would ask.

Yesterday I started it. The size 7 needles I chose were pale gray. As the daylight grew dim, the pale blue/periwinkle stitches grew more and more indistinct on the pale gray needles, until I could hardly see, by the light of two lamps, where to K2tog and where to YO. Before I went to bed, I looked to see if I had any better-colored size 7 needles. I had the magnifying glass out and was standing directly underneath the lamp, and my poor tired eyes could not see the sizes embossed on the ends of the blasted needles. It was clear that the pale gray size 7 ones would not do, no matter what, anyway, so I ripped it all (the one inch I'd managed) out and determined to start fresh this morning.
By feel, I chose a pair of emerald green needles before I went to bed. I figured they were size 8 or so. 
So be it.
This morning I could see that the pattern was working out to be a little larger than it was yesterday. That made sense. Except that, in the daylight, I could now see that the green needles are size 6, not 8 . . . so why would the work be larger instead of smaller? Go figure.

The big news is that I can actually see the stitches against the needles; there is a fine level of contrast. It's coming along swimmingly.

None of it matters anyway: it's a scarf and needs not fit any part of the body.
I still wish I'd started it two weeks ago, though.

Monday, December 15, 2014

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Monday miscellany

An observation: A dead, dry, curled leaf being windblown this way and that on a narrow dirt road can appear to be an indecisive small rodent. It's a misperception that has caused my stomach to leap to my chest many times as I hie down the road in the car early in the mornings. It's my opinion that the squirrels and rabbits and voles and chipmunks, and all their ilk, deserve their space in this Eden just a little more, perhaps, than I deserve mine. To harm them would be the ultimate in bullying acts.

My pets are beloved mostly because they don't tire of my attention. I am happiest when I have a love object upon whom I can heap hugs and kisses, into whose eyes I can gaze for lengthy periods of time. Husband will only sit still for that kind of thing for just so long before he feels the need to go insulate a window or plow a driveway, so it's good for me to have Peep and Molly with whom I can be a complete sap. A local groomer likes to include pet-related quotations in her ads. I stopped reading those ads, and decided I would never patronize her shop, when I read, "Cuddling: holding your pet hostage and telling yourself that he likes it."

avaOften, my coworkers and I say, "I'm tired of this cast of characters." We're referring to the powers that be and/or any of the other regular players in our office life. I have given some thought to making a list of all those characters and going down the list, writing a little piece about each of them. It would provide enough blog fodder for months, if not years. And, like pet-cuddling, it might be therapeutic for me.

The picture is Ava Crowder, during her prison stint in Justified. Sometimes my coworkers and I wear that exact facial expression.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

John Adams (HBO 2008)

Saturday night we watched the first two episodes of the  2008 HBO series "John Adams." John Adams was the first vice president, the second president, the father of the Adams dynasty. I remember seeing his wife Abigail's dresses on display, among other first ladies' dresses, and thinking she was impossibly small. When was that? Could it have been when I was twelve and we were visiting Washington, DC? It doesn't matter . . . not when I saw the dress, nor anything about Mrs. Adams' dresses. When I was very young and learned the history of the United States (our history was a huge deal back in the 1950s, maybe not so much now) I came away with the impression that the colonists knew they would end up being an independent country, and there was just all this red tape to go through . . . battles and stuff . . . before it all got settled. 

The show's second episode ended with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Right after the Continental Congress' vote to declare independence from England, all the members were silent for a while, looking around at each other, apparently contemplating the treasonous act they'd just performed. I know it's dramatized, but it seems likely that those men must have spent some long moments considering the uncertainty of their several and collective futures. It had never occurred to me that they had any measure of doubt or fear, but of course they would have, wouldn't they? 

Most of these good shows already have been seen by everybody in the world except me, but I do recommend it. The cast is great. Paul Giamatti, Laura Linney, David Morse, Tom Wilkinson, Boris McGiver. 

Mr. McGiver has only a small role in the first episode, but he is a personal favorite of mine.  I like his face.

Friday, December 12, 2014

One hundred days until spring

I have a hard time with the wood-ash color atmosphere of winter in the northeast. In years past I tried to develop an appreciation for the beauties of the season, taking photos of snowflakes and such. That helped, but still . . . it never let me forget that I was in the midst of the Cold and Dark Season. This year I'm doing something different: I'm living in the past. Or the future, if you prefer. To wit, the following:

Looking at sunshine and green is making me feel as if I might live until March 21, 2015.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Giving thanks for surviving Route 10 after dark

On Thanksgiving we went from our home, in the northeast corner of our county, to dinner at an inn in the northwest corner of the county. If a person were to research New York State Route 10, he could read all about where it goes and what other routes merge with it. All you really need to know, if you're going to travel on Route 10 after sunset, is that it is DARK
It's a little country two-lane road, paved, but effectively shoulderless, with lots of blind curves. 
No sidewalks, no bike lanes, no jogging lanes. 
Not a lot of wiggle room in either driving lane.
No street lights and, since the houses are very few and far between, not much front yard lighting either. 

To illustrate, here's a picture of the beautiful countryside we passed that afternoon as we drove to dinner:

And yet . . . and YET . . . on Thanksgiving Day, an hour after sunset, in the thick woodsy wilds at this globe's 42nd parallel north in late November . . . we passed half a dozen joggers swinging along jauntily in the [perhaps] eighteen inches of snow-covered space between driving lane and four-foot-deep ditch or brush-covered earthen bank. 
All of them were dressed head to toe in dark colors, with only their faces uncovered to reflect the light from our car's headlights. Not a strip of reflective tape, nor a little light anywhere to be found on their bodies. 
From my seat in the car, it was like having ghostly figures appear in a haunted house:  nothing, nothing, nothing, movement, movement coming, turning into a human and then gone. 

I am left believing that people who jog at night wearing black spandex and black caps and black gloves and black footwear have their priorities somehow awry.  If I were a jogger, drivers would be able to see me coming from half a mile away. I would be decked out in battery-operated multi-color flashing lights. I would look like a smallish traveling carnival. Drivers would slow way down, fearing that that they were about to come upon some spacecraft, glowing there up ahead. I would be an oddity, but I would be visible.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Wood stove versus forelimbs and other body parts

Every year I enter into an inexorable battle with firewood and the wood stove.  There is a fatefulness in my approach to the season. I know I'm going to suffer somehow in connection with keeping the home fire burning, but I don't know, in advance, what form the injuries will take, or the frequency. Don't tell me it's merely a matter of paying attention: It's all chance -- or in the hands of gremlins and goblins.

One year, you might remember, I dropped a very heavy piece of firewood onto my stocking-footed big toe, breaking the nail and leading to a long firewood-related association with my podiatrist. That was due, I admit, entirely to my enthusiasm for getting the wagon loaded and the firewood into the house, mistimed to coincide with my half-asleep just-home-from-work state of consciousness. I still bring in firewood as soon as I get home from work, with my eyes at half-mast from the relaxation of escape. I still pitch it, piece by piece, into the wagon with some speed and vigor. The evidence of having learned from my errors is this: I wear shoes now while I do it. Who says you can't teach an old dog?

Once the wood is indoors, in the woodbox next to the stove, there remains the challenge of getting it into the stove. Challenging enough when it's a cold stove and a yet-to-be-born fire. The new stove has a much bigger opening than the old one, but when the chore is to add wood to a nearly molten stove, the door to the firebox still seems to shrink by twenty or thirty percent.  Picture John Tenniel's Father William-shaped me bent double, head down and angled on my neck, trying to see inside the stove so as to aim the log. My face glows red, my hands hold a small oddly-shaped log that must be inserted at an exact angle so it doesn't get stuck half in and half out. (I've done that, too, and had to wait until the inside end burned enough to jam the rest of the thing in.) Last year, or the year before, I accomplished, by accident, something I would not have been able to do with days of planning. I managed to burn the very same spot on back of my forearm, five inches above my wrist, not once and not twice, but three times. At least one of the burns landed on top of a burn earned only the day before. I thought the scar, once it became a scar instead of an oozing wound, would last forever, but I can hardly find it now.

Last night I was extraordinarily mindful while I attended the fire. I had just drunk a cup of coffee spiked with Hershey's powdered cocoa, sugar and milk (delicious!) and my eyes were as wide open and alert as ever they get. The wood in the stove had burned down a good deal; there was a lot of room to add the planned few logs. I chose, from the woodbox to my right, a diminutive piece of firewood. It was triangular and, at its widest point, six inches in diameter. I  slid it with optimistic rapidity into the pulsing, glowing red maw. The far end hit a snag, causing the near end -- the one in my fingers -- to ricochet downward. 
Toward the red-gold coals on the floor of the firebox.
Thank goodness for caffeine and whatever it is in cocoa that's like caffeine but isn't. I was alert! My reflexes were onboard and active! The message from my eyes ("Fire!") went to my brain and the brain quickly sent back the message: "The fingers will melt! Away!"
My forearm jerked upward, away from the viciously blazing coals. Excellent. No burning flesh on the fingertips.
The back of my hand met the top of the opening with the force of a Bjorn Borg backhand, causing immediate swelling. And pain. Exacerbated by the fact that the cast iron around the opening was nearly as hot as the coals from which I was in flight.
This latest mark is an inch thumbward from my wrist, and is spectacularly bruised and puffy, with a nicely ruffled edge of melted-and-set flesh on one side. It's only about an inch long, and it's in a spot that doesn't get a lot of friction in my daily life, so it isn't so painful -- only yet another scar in my annual battle with the wood stove. 

It's only late November. 
Wood stove season will go on for another four months, at least. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Speaking of dialects

I've been thinking about how much I love listening to and practicing accents. I think that some people are good at dialects and some aren't. I think it's a right brain/left brain thing, something along those lines. Just as some people can draw and some people can't.

A few Thanksgivings ago, my sister got down my book of Uncle Remus stories. I know they're politically incorrect now, but I remember my mother reading them to me in the afternoons after Lunch, before Nap, and I like the tales, so I keep the thing on the shelf.

When I was little and we lived on the farm that my grandmother's grandfather had built, there was an old old wicker wheelchair in the barn. The wicker back and seat were all broken and curled outward, and it had been a long time since the axle had received any attention. One summer we dug it out and spent what seems like weeks wheeling each other around in it. I got way more rides than my sister did because she was bigger and I was too weak to make the thing move forward empty, almost, never mind with her in it. It was a rough ride, and I was little. I remember holding on for dear life so I wouldn't bounce out as my sister rolled me across the yard. Sometimes it felt as if she wanted me to bounce out.

Imagine sitting in that antique wheelchair. 
Now . . . make the wheels square instead of round. 
Imagine yourself sitting in that broken out seat while someone, perhaps a brutish older sister, pushes you across uneven ground. 
Can you feel that?

That's what it sounded like when my sister read aloud, to all of us, from The Complete Tales of Uncle Remus.


I wrote this post and then left to go to the store. On the way there, I heard a radio program about Sarah Jones and her one-woman show wherein she becomes many different women, at least to the ear. Sometimes I think ideas float around in the atmosphere and land in different places at the same time. How else to explain that particular coincidence?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mrs. Cole

Mrs. Cole was born and raised in a certain part of London, but has lived in the US nearly all of her adult life. Still, she has her accent -- when she says her name her lips make a perfect round O -- and I love to see her. Not only for the accent, but because she is A Character. 

The first time I met her she came in absolutely ranting about the village's quarterly charge for refuse collection.
"Why, I never! In LONDON we never 'ad to pay a PENNY to have the trash collected. We putTit out and it wenTaway!" 
Her jaw was dropped and her blue eyes were wide. Her thick brown and silver hair vibrated in a fat bun. Despite her outrage I could see that some of her bombast was simply for the fun of having her say. I went to the counter, stood to one side of Phyllis, who was taking the begrudged payment. I just wanted to watch. I love accents and I love characters, and I was delighted with this particular show. The third or fourth time she said something about how much better the London system was, I couldn't help myself . . . I offered: "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa, but y'came 'EEEAH, DI'N'Tya?" 
Her head whipped toward me, her face agape. I do believe she thought I was another import. If I had thought I would be able to maintain the dialect, I would've continued, but I couldn't do it. 

She was in the other day to pay the same kind of bill. She had her pug dog with her and we had a lovely long chat about how wonderful dogs are. 
"I wouldn' say this to EV'rybuddy, you know . . . but there ARE times when I like him BET'a' than I like the kids!" and she . . . chortled.

I do love to see Mrs. Cole. I replay our conversations for days afterward, trying to mimic her vowel sounds. 
"I 'ad decided I wouldn' getTanother dog, because . . . after all . . . I'm AYTEE years old. But I saw him and I 'ad 'im named within thirty seconds!"
A woman after my own heart.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Sunny fall afternoon: free association

I am trying to sit outdoors to enjoy the bright blue sky and sunshine; the breeze is just strong enough to keep an edge in the air. Still, I sit for a long time at the picnic table, the last page of my book read and flapping in the wind, a glass of ice water near my elbow, my eyes closed. I am dazed by this head cold that wants to become bronchitis, dazzled by the sun on the fluttering birch leaves as yellow as the sunshine itself. The leaves on the volunteer poplar behind me applaud each draft. Molly is lying on the lawn twenty feet to my right, Peep is lounging with me on the picnic table, occasionally stretching, rolling and twisting just because she can, gazing at me from flirty golden eye slits.

The grass of the lawn and the hay field beyond is so green, vigorously green, a sturdier green than it was in June. Everywhere, dots of brown and gold leaves. The sun on my face feels so good. Through my closed lids, the sun makes all those little blood vessels into the image of a holly bush.

When I was little, we had a book of bedtime stories. One of the stories was a tale of how holly leaves got to be prickly. I remember the simple line drawing of holly berries sliding down the snowy hill on the nice smooth leaf sleds. The leaves got battered and curled at the edges, and the holly was forever after cursed with rough, prickery leaves. I have a former friend who has a holly bush at her house. 

She's a former friend because she disapproves of my dog's lifestyle. Molly is free to come and go as she pleases. Usually she prefers to stay near us, on the lawn or indoors. We have no neighbors, only empty hay fields, stone walls, woods.  In the mornings while Husband and I get ready for work, my girl has her route to travel to check out the morning news. I'm not sure of its exact course, but I know it includes checking the old orchard for bunny trails, and winding in and out of the evergreens along the upper driveway to see who passed by overnight. She's usually back from her rounds in time for us to get her indoors before we have to leave. One morning last fall, she was still out and about, not in sight. I waited, and waited, and called and walked around the field and she didn't turn up. I wasn't happy about it, but I had to go to work, so I left. 
And worried all day. 
When I got home, she sprang out of the arborvitaes in front of the house and greeted me joyfully, none the worse for wear. She was tired that evening, but she was unharmed. I related the story to my friend by email and did not hear from her for a long time. After I had prodded her a few times, she sent me a Dear John letter, saying that the story of Molly having been outdoors all day had so upset her . . . and I must have known it would upset her . . . and we just don't understand each other and so that's that. Her dog has a nice cozy life in the suburbs with two twenty minute walks per day on paved streets, and a nine hundred square foot fenced back yard to explore.

I'm happy for my friend and her dog. They have their routines and they are just as wild about each other and their lives as we and Molly are about ours. I have a great deal of respect for Molly's knowledge of what's going on out there and I'm sure that, at any given time, she knows more than I about what wild things might be around . . . and who to tangle with and who not to. I'm not afraid of the wild things. I'm not afraid of the big empty spaces. My friend used to bring her dog out here to the fields for long country walks. She was always careful to carry a big walking stick in case she met up with a rabid raccoon. When she told me that, I just looked at her, all blank in the face. Yeah, well, I guess there could be a rabid raccoon around someplace here, but I've never seen one, and I've never worried about having to fight one. Hell, I'm the one who stood underneath a fisher and took pictures of it while it growled at me and switched its long furry tail. I wouldn't do it again, probably, but at the time I didn't know how vicious the things were. When I was little, my parents told me over and over that wild animals wanted to stay away from me more than I wanted to stay away from them, and I believed it and it's been borne out by experience. The exception to the rule is the odd coyote who'll sit in a field and stare and stare at us. It only happens every few years, and I don't get a feeling of menace. I think that when they do that, they're just curious, scoping out the competition for rodents. If we walk toward them, at about a hundred feet, they turn around and slowly trot away. 

I have other coyote stories, and other wild animal stories, but this story is just about how people and their dogs live different lives. Just like every marriage is different, every dog/person partnership is different. I know Molly is absolutely in touch with all of her dogness, and she's living the best of a wild life and a pampered life. I don't think my friend's dog is unhappy, but I'm pretty sure Molly wouldn't trade places with her. 

Even if she has to hunker down in the arborvitaes on the occasional day when she stays out playing too long. 
It isn't an issue too much anymore. See Approaching the Autumnal Equinox, second paragraph.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Beautiful Molly

It'll be a while before Molly and I roll around in the grass of a warm afternoon.
This is what it was like a few weeks ago.

Noble canine looks west

Noble canine looks south

Molly with a cherry tree growing out of her shoulders. Earth Mother.

Happiest dog in the world. Just look at that smile.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Court People

I have written before about the Court People, about whom we say, "If they could read, and follow directions, they wouldn't be going to court."
So typical, this story: Man threatened to burn baby clothes

Why didn't he just burn them, or throw them away, or mail them to her, or do one of any number of other things, instead of threatening to burn them?
Why didn't the ex-girlfriend just go get the clothes instead of calling the police?
How long had the clothes been there? The child surely would have grown out of them soon anyway.

Is there some logic here that I am missing?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Seasonal [and other] observations

Now comes the season of the woolly bear migration. Or, rather, The Great Woolly Bear Dispersal, since they are all crossing the roads, but about equally in opposite directions. Just now coming back over the hill from the supermarket at thirty miles per hour, I watched carefully not too far in front of my car for small moving things and swerved this way and that way so as to avoid squashing any of the little guys. At one point I was faced with a Sophie's Choice -- one caterpillar heading east, the other heading west, and in such proximity to each other that if I saved one, I would obliterate the other. The only thing I could do: I stopped the car until they were out of my path. I'm glad there was no one driving behind me. I have seen bumper stickers that say, "I brake for fill in the blank" but none of them say "...woolly bear caterpillars." If there is one, I should avail myself of it.

I have stopped picking tomatoes. I feel a little guilty about that, but I can pick no more. Husband has noticed the abundance of red globes remaining in the garden, and has brought in his own piles of the things. 

He is making fresh tomato juice, a monumentally delectable item that I have never tasted before. It involves the food mill, and lots of patience. Too much fiddling for me; I just want to get to my book. But he doesn't mind, and I am glad to do the Wifely Praise part of the operation. The Wife Rule Book again, you know.

The soapstone stove's installed and operational. Notice, please, that we ordered it in brown metal rather than black. My choice because the brown is just about the same color as the ash and dust that will inevitably accumulate on the thing. Once it's rolling for the season, it will be too hot to dust or wash, so we might as well have it filth-colored to begin with.

Sweet Young Thing, my new morning boss, is still a refreshing change from Jane the Tyrant. I do find, howsomever, that she is one of those who get their talking points and marching orders from Rush, Sean, and Glen. 
"...all those people who are making us the minority!"
"The only reason Obama got elected was that he got all the blacks and Puerto Ricans to vote."
I wanted to say, "HOW DARE THEY!" but I did not.
I foresee June keeping her mouth shut in the area of political discussion. Friday morning I came about as close to getting into it as I hope ever to do. New Boss was lamenting the abundance of other-than-Caucasian students at the local college. She went on with such . . . vigor . . . about other cultures ruining "ours" that I finally asked, in a mild and curious tone, "I wonder why our culture can't withstand that influence?"
A pause, and then: "I don't know."
"Well," I said, "maybe it'll make you feel a little better to know that four of them were just murdered in Guilderland."
"Oh! That! That was terrible! There were children!"
I have yet to nail down the age at which but what about the children! cuts off and veers into . . . distaste, or how long people have to be in this country before they're acceptable.
Okay. Enough of that incendiary writing. Back to the safely prosaic.

Molly had fresh rabbit for breakfast this morning, and eschewed her kibble as a result. It's good she doesn't want to overeat. She took the bunny leftovers to the garden and hid them. Husband walked down to see if he could see how much was left. I watched the two of them from the upstairs bedroom window and saw Molly pretending the hiding place didn't exist ("Let's go down this way, Dad!") and Husband looking, looking, as Molly stood by, her tail wagging feebly, apparently hoping he would not find and steal her cache. He did not find any evidence of bunny remains and the two of them returned to the lawn with one of them vastly relieved.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Things I have learned this summer (and previously)

Unfiltered, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is good for what ails me. One tablespoon in a cup of warmish water two or three times over the course of a day. My mother's mother kept a cruet of vinegar on her kitchen table, with a piece of stuff that looked like brushed suede floating in it: the mother. Apparently, the mother is the key ingredient. 

My cousin and I at Nana's table, circa 1963
Gloria: What is that?
Me: Vinegar.
Gloria: What's floating in it?
Me: Mother.
Gloria: When did she die?

Cantaloupes are ripe for about fifteen minutes before they turn rotten. Imagine our disappointment. We've grown cantaloupes other summers, but never had so many that we had to worry about not getting them all eaten in time. The ones we did get were so good they nearly blew off our heads.

If you have a dog, it is Good to have Family Howls from time to time, as greetings after separations, or for random bonding purposes. All of our dogs have enjoyed Family Howl sessions, and each has had a different singing style. Molly has the most beautiful contralto voice I have ever heard. Low and long and resonant, it makes me think of whale song.

Husband is the strongest man I know. He recently installed an eight-hundred pound soapstone wood stove with virtually no help, other than to get the thing through the doors of the house. I tried to be as small as possible so as not to be in the way of his progress, but stayed within earshot in case a call to 911 would be needed. In the end, my sole physical contribution ("physical" as opposed to near-constant encouraging and admiring comments, as learned in The Wife Rule Book) was to drop to my knees and pull out the wooden pallet while he lifted the thing when he got it into position on the hearth. It's been a week since the events and his back, legs, neck and arms all seem to be functioning normally, so I'm feeling a little relieved. We haven't fired it up yet. It will never be this clean again once we start having fires in it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Approaching the autumnal equinox

Let me write this and see how it looks: I think I'm finished with tomatoes for this harvest. Not that the good beauties are all out of the garden . . . there are probably another few bushels out there. But I think I'm done, as in stick a fork in me done. The gallon bags of frozen tomato are not innumerable, but they are plentiful. At least a dozen and a half of them in the chest freezer, a few more cooling in the refrigerator to be removed to that semi-permanent storage. I think it might be enough.
Yet, still, it feels like a sin to let that fruit just rot out there. 
I don't know.
I might not be finished yet.
Maybe after some time doing something else. The corn stalks still have ears on them. It will be tough, but still, with the taste of sunshine packaged up in each big fat yellow kernel, better than anything from any store. 
The basil and parsley have been rinsed and bagged and frozen. I did the basil wrong, put it all, chopped up, in olive oil, in one bag and flattened it out. I should have made little balls of it and frozen them individually. But I believe the day that I did that my back felt as if it were about to crack in two if I stood much longer (a legacy of my waitressing years) and I preserved the stuff as quickly as I could so that I could bend without breaking. 

Twice last week, Molly conned me into unplanned morning-quickie-rides in the car. She knows (of course) the angle of the sun when it's time for Husband and me to leave for work. If we do not plan carefully, she might be outdoors at that time. If she's out of sight, it's a given that we must undertake the ruse of pretending to leave for work, leash looped around neck, and, upon spying her as she pops bright-eyed out of a hedgerow, stopping, inviting her into the car. She's thrilled, of course, and settles down in the passenger seat to stare out the windows, an intent tourist, as we drive out one driveway, down the road, and into the other driveway. Now the leash around her neck, we exit the car and prance to the door of the house for a cookie and a shutting away. If she only knew how fervently I wish I could stay with her.

Peep couldn't care less about when we're leaving; she comes and goes according to an unknowable to humankind happy-cat-living-a-country-life schedule. She brings us white-footed mice and other delicacies and leaves them where we will find them on our way to the door. On occasions when Peep has an active hunt in progress and Molly is around, Molly takes over and Peep gives up and leaves her to it. Several days ago, I tried to save a chipmunk from my pets, and managed only to get it to a hiding spot where it spent a night and was discovered by my beloved predators the next day, killed, and disposed of. I should have stayed out of it. The poor thing probably spent a night of painful misery, huddled in the tall grass around the wellhead, instead of having been relatively speedily dispatched in the way of Nature.

It is warm today. The high temperature forecast to be 82 degrees, with 10% chance of rain. A summer day! 
Maybe I'll start the fire under the big pot full of water, put on my sneakers and go out and pry some ears of corn off the stalks. 
This is good work that I'm doing, not least because in the dead of winter I will be able to sit quietly with my book and think about how comfortable it is not to be picking and hauling and boiling and cutting and scooping. I'll just be fat and happy, eating the fruits of the labor. That will be a change, won't it? from my usual mournful wailing about the Dark and Cold Time.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Gratitude, supplication, memory, respite

Thank you for all the tomatoes and corn and beans and parsley and basil and carrots and cantaloupes and all the rest of it.  And thank you for the good Husband who sited the garden so it got watered naturally and plentifully, and sun from rise until set, so that each plant has, completely naturally, begotten more fruit than any of its kind ever before in the history of the Earth anywhere. 
I am ever grateful for Thy bounty.

Now please send an army of harvesters with strong legs and arms and backs to tote all this generous goodness from the garden up the hill to the house, to trim off the bits of tomato that I don't want, to hold the plastic bags for pouring in the crushed/blanched/pureed/cut stuff for the freezer. I need help. 
You can't rush this process. You can bring in two hundred tomatoes but you can only cook down just so many at a time. You can't cut kernels off ears of corn too quickly or you get pieces of cob in with the kernels. Certainly not harmful, but if I'm going to the trouble, I might as well do it carefully. I almost begin to sense a genetic memory of women coming together to help each other put up their harvest. And summer kitchens.

In my Childhood Farmhouse that my father's great-grandfather built there was a summer kitchen elled off the back of the house. I never saw it in use for canning and pickling and all that they used to do; in my time it was where the player piano and the fifty or so rolls of music lived. My sister and I would pump the pedal and watch the keys go down all by themselves while we listened to The Sidewalks of New York and other hits. The paper had held up pretty well considering it was all just stacked in unprotected rolls on top of the piano. Where there was a small tear here or there, there would be an odd note.

And now there's just me, coming home from work and gazing at the ripe tomatoes shining like Christmas lights on the drying-down plants. The things taunt me until I grab the basket and hie myself down to retrieve as many as I can carry back. And while I'm there, take the shears and bring back some herbs for sauce. Make supper while I'm "putting up." 

Husband rolls in as dark comes down. His work days (for money) start and end quite a bit later than mine do and he gets to come into the house all filled with good smells. If I could stop working and be home all day, I could get it all done in good order. Of course, I would need to, since we'd be a lot little bit poorer...

Why does everything have to come ripe all at once...?

So. This morning at 4:30 I was wide awake and excited and trepidatious about spending the whole day carting and boiling and steaming and trimming and bagging. And I managed to get three gallon size bags of corn into the freezer. And then I had a hair appointment. And it started to rain. And it's cold all of a sudden after ninety-degrees last week! Today's been a bust, pretty much, for food storage. 

But it's been a great Book-And-Nap Day. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Blogger goes auto-pilot!

That hugely uplifting post that appeared yesterday was posted all on its own. I had posted it probably a year ago, and would not have chosen it for my reappearance message. If Blogger's going to re-post my posts, I wish it would choose happier ones. So now I am forced to reveal to you that I live and breathe, still, and my brain continues to churn out thoughts the way a sausage grinder churns out chopped meat for packing into tubes whose origin I shall leave unmentioned. Let me add that I am delighted to know that a few of you have missed me and still remember me after my long abandonment of you all. Really, you can't know how nice it was for me to see notes from you!

A few bringer-up-to-daters:

  1. Husband remains the answer to my long ago prayer
  2. Molly and Peep are still our beloved furry babies
  3. I'm still working for Small Pond, although . . . 
  4. Morning Boss has left the building! She of the shrieking complaints about my breathing, my dewy hairline in the eighty-degree room, my inability to divine how to perform tasks previously unseen . . . is gone to work at a larger pond, replaced by a Sweet Young Thing who chatters out her every thought. And so I say to you all, as others have said again and again: Be careful for what you wish. I wanted conversation. Boy, have I got conversation now.
  5. Afternoon job, downstairs from Morning Job, continues comfortable and happy.
Husband and his friend installed a vegetable garden hundreds of feet long and thirty feet wide. He planted kale, brussels sprouts, romaine, leaf and other lettuces, green and wax beans, cantaloupes, cucumbers, summer squash... But the stars of the show are the seventy-two tomato plants. Seventy-two. They all bow down under the weight of clusters of tomatoes like giant-sized green grape bunches. Some of the fruits have grown between the plants' stalks and the stakes that hold up the plants. Those must be pulled out two-handed, and often break in two at the division of the two halves, somewhat unpleasantly reminiscent of the division in a human's backside. Molly gets those broken ones. Molly likes to help garden.

There is a black chow chow wandering the hillside, chasing cows. The dog control warden is aware of him but as yet unable to lure him (her?) into a crate for carting off to the shelter. The dog has been in our field early in the morning, sleeping . . . has trotted down the country lane ahead of my car and then off into a field . . . sooner or later the poor thing will need to give in to the dog warden's temptation or, I fear, be shot for chasing those cows. A hoof to the head is as likely as the shot, and devoutly to be wished avoided.

We also have a black and white cat skulking around the fields. It yowls at some point nearly every night, and Peep and it have had words, although no combat. As yet. I have only seen the thing at some great distance and it appears to know what it's doing in the hunting department. 

For both of these wandering creatures, winter will be harder than they now imagine. If they imagine it at all. Doubtful.

So, please . . . be reassured, those of you who feared that I might be weaving the noose to end it all. Life here goes on, summer has been a pleasure, yet again, and I continue fatter than ever and as happy as I am wont to be.  The sadnesses of my young life always underlie everything in my brain and heart, but they don't consume me so much as it would appear from the 8/31 post.

Now that Blogger has yanked me back into circulation, perhaps I'll be more fruitful. I would hope, however, that I shall be less fruitful than our seventy-two tomato plants. Nobody's computer could download posts of that size.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Confession and three references: a fable, a novel, a poem

Most of the time I'm not great at expressing sympathy. When my mother's last sibling died, I told her the news as I drove down the road with her in the passenger seat. My sister was downright scandalized. That's the way you told her? she cried. Mom hadn't been in touch with any of her five siblings in years, I didn't think she'd care that much. And, you know, she was schizophrenic who'd been treated by EST. And she was drunk most of the time, so her emotions were pretty deadened. I told her in a kind tone, and held her hand, but I couldn't make the announcement like an actor in a soap opera. My sister's style is very soap opera: gather around the table, take hold of a hand, speak as if to a four-year-old. I can't do that. I think it adds an unnecessary level of drama to an already dramatic moment.

In my world, the sky fell long ago, and Life itself blew out into minuscule triangles of bright glass, sharp colors all flying silently into black empty space. 
Where's Mom?
Dad took her to the hospital. Don't ask when she's coming home. 
I stood in Void, learned to pretend that there were other people around me, that things happened, that Life still existed in some way. A way different from what I had known before. Maybe what I had known before hadn't been real. In any case, the sun kept rising every morning and I went on breathing, keeping quiet, staying small. Three years later came the sunny last morning of August...

Two months after my tenth birthday, my mother got me up, told me I wouldn't be going to school, fed me toast for breakfast and drove me to my father's sister's house five minutes away. We were walking to the house when I stopped and said, "Mom. What's going on?"
And she stopped and in a shaky voice, said, "Oh, baby, can you take it? Daddy's gone."
"He died last night."
And that was it. 
We went into the house. My mother said, "I just told her." My aunt hugged me and they sent me into the living room to sit alone on the couch while they talked.
We spoke of my father perhaps five times all the rest of her life. 
Dad didn't like me very much, did he.
Oh, he thought you were great!

Illustration for the story "Chicken Little", 1916

Josephine Hart's novel, Damage, includes this, which I might have wrong in a word or two, but not in the concept. "Damaged people are dangerous. They have survived and they know you will too." If your life goes to hell, you'll keep breathing too. And you'll make up your own world where nothing really matters. Love doesn't matter. Promises don't matter. You'll have to keep acting right . . . tricky because everybody you make up in your pretend world has a different idea of right . . . but in the end, "right" doesn't matter either. Because even pretend worlds blow up into weightless confetti and disperse in the vacuum that remains. 

Who Hurt You So?  
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Who hurt you so,
My dear?
Who, long ago
When you were very young,
Did, said, became, was…something that you did not know
Beauty could ever do, say, be, become?–
So that your brown eyes filled
With tears they never, not to this day, have shed…
Not because one more boy stood hurt by life,
No: because something deathless had dropped dead–
An ugly, an indecent thing to do–
So that you stood and stared, with open mouth in which the tongue
Froze slowly backward toward its root,
As if it would not speak again, too badly stung
By memories thick as wasps about a nest invaded
To know if or if not you suffered pain.
It's commonly repeated that the loss of a child is the bitterest loss. 
I think everybody's worst loss feels like The Worst Loss That Could Ever Be. 
And there are children whose souls died years ago. They breathe and walk among you.