Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Cranberry Orange Relish

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I will post a most excellent cranberry relish recipe that has become a staple around the holidays at our house.  I got the recipe through daughter Lindsey after I tasted it at her house a couple of years ago.  No more canned stuff for me.  Enjoy!

1 bag of fresh cranberries (4 cups or so)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup water
1 whole orange, unpeeled, seeds removed
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup crushed pineapple, drained
Rinse cranberries and set aside.  Bring sugar and water to a boil.  Meanwhile, place orange (I cut it into several sections first) into food processor and process the smithereens out of it.  The original recipe said to chop it fine, but I figure who wants to get a chunk of orange peel in their first bite?  Add this pureed orange substance, cranberries and spices to boiling sugar water and simmer over high flame, stirring frequently, until berries pop open.  This took the better part of an hour for mine.  Stir in crushed pineapple.  Cool and serve with your turkey.  The next day smear on your bread when you make your turkey sandwich.  It’s also good served on scones for breakfast.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Joy (three)

Many of you know that I celebrate the entire month of November as my birthday month.  I never understood the philosophy of "Don't make a fuss over my birthday....it's just like any other day."  Where the heck does that come from?  Why not celebrate that we are alive?  Why not stand up and cheer that we have lived another year?  I jump up and down and announce that it's my birthday to anyone who will listen. 

To that end, I hosted a birthday celebration weekend.  Daughter, Aubrey came with her husband Brad who is recently back from Iraq.   

They brought grandsons Jake and Christian. 

Making chicken soup
 Youngest son, Casey and his wife Kylene also came with Miss Margot in tow. 

And as a bonus, Noel's daughter Lisa brought our new little grandson, Luca. 

Champagne poached salmon with vanilla sauce...yum!!!

We prepared and ate tons of food, Aubrey made a cake that took hours of work and was sprinkled with lots of love, Kylene cooked some kick-ass chicken soup and we even had a wine-tasting (the bottle of wine cost more than fifteen whole dollars!) 

Pumpkin brandy cake
I put out my beads and jewelry stuff and everyone made me a special piece of jewelry. 

As you can see, Aubrey and I practiced using our new cameras.

Jake and Aubrey

Games were played, books were read, hands were warmed by the fire and the sound of laughter and children's squeals of delight rose to the rafters. 
Margot and her Uncle Brad

Noel getting some baby snuggles

In other words, it was a simply perfect birthday.  Good food, handmade jewelry, grandchildren's laughter...these simple things bring me infinite joy.

Here's wishing you and yours a simply joyful holiday season.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

As is her custom at this time of year, my sister-in-law Joey has been busy constructing a new, incredibly creative, exceedingly bulky, contest-winning costume.  It’s always a treat to see what she will dream up.  How she gets these ideas is beyond me, but I suspect they are often fueled by too little sleep and too much coffee.  I’d been wondering for several weeks what her offering for 2011 might be, but I’ve learned not to ask.  It’s often a secret.  Besides that, I like to be surprised come Halloween night. 
But, the surprise we were handed this Halloween was not about her costume.  Instead, her early morning call last week was about her dear husband Bruce.  It seems that he had returned from a weekend of hunting and went to bed, knowing that he needed to rise early in the morning for work.  But, about two o’clock in the morning, he awoke with tingling arms.  He tried to walk it off and took some aspirin, but he wasn’t any better.  He woke Joey who wisely rushed him to the emergency room at the local Whitefish hospital.  He walked in under his own power, but right there and then on the emergency room table he experienced a full-blown, massive and very terrible heart attack.  To the horror of the attending personnel and his loving wife, his heart stopped beating.  I can only imagine the frantic moments that ensued.  Joey can’t describe it without choking up.  She tries to tell us how the doctor said, “We’re losing him!”  She tries to tell us how the nurse and doctor had to shock his heart back to life.  They attempted once, twice, again, again, and yet again.  Each time his body rising off the table and falling lifelessly back.  Another nurse hugged Joey as they prayed for Bruce.  There’s a limit, you know to the number of times they can do this shock treatment.  There’s a limit to the number of joules of energy a body can stand, a limit to the number of shocks; a limit to the recovery a heart can make.  But, apparently there wasn’t a limit to the number of angels who filled the room as the nurses and doctor worked.  And then, on the sixth try…his heart started beating again.  A frenzied ambulance trip to a hospital in Kalispell ensued and an emergency ‘stent’ placement to free the flow of blood and keep the blood vessel open was performed.  The entire episode was over in an hour…one quick, yet agonizingly slow hour.
Bruce is recovering now.  He doesn’t say much, but his gratitude at this chance to live longer on this earth is evident.  His eyes are a bit softer, his voice is more thoughtful; his hugs a little longer.  He has nothing but praise for those who saved his life, including his wife.

Well, we did go out “Halloweening” with Joey Monday night.  Bruce wasn’t able to come with us, but we celebrated with gusto, partly on his behalf.  I shake my head in wonder as I recall Joey’s costume that she has been constructing for days before Bruce’s heart attack. 
She was a walking box of chocolates.  As she twisted this way and that to show off all sides of her box, she said, “It’s just like Forrest Gump said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.’”

Well, she’s right.  We don’t ever know what life has in store.  It’s always a good reminder that as much as we plan, scheme, dream and cling to our routines, that we don’t really have any idea of what tomorrow will bring, or if, indeed we will have any tomorrows. 
I’m just very grateful and happy to say that our little box of chocolates here in northwest Montana still contains Bruce.  He’s a gentle, loving, talented and loyal soul.  If you don’t know him, you’re missing out.  I’m also grateful that Joey chose him as her particular “sweet” years ago.  It’s pretty obvious that she is still very happy with her choice. 

We are too, Joey.  We are too.

Noel, Joey (she's under there...trust me) and me

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back to the Land

I heard a bleating just outside the window this morning as I was working with one of my children.  His parents recently moved to a house with a bit of acreage.  They told me that they bought a goat to eat down the weeds on the property so they don’t have to mow.  I cringed.  Just hearing that bleat brought back a flood of memories.  Maybe I should tell them that goats are more trouble than they are worth.  Maybe I should also tell them that chickens and pigs and ducks and turkeys are more trouble than they’re worth too.  I have a little experience.  I could speak from hard-won knowledge of the whole affair. 
Oh, the stories I could tell…
 It was about thirty years ago when my former husband Jon and I decided that we were meant to live closely to the earth and purchased a broken down house and various broken down out-buildings on eight acres.  We were convinced that we could garden and raise animals to support ourselves and our children in a very healthy lifestyle.  What we lacked in knowledge we definitely made up for in enthusiasm. We devoured each issue of “Mother Earth News” and committed ourselves to organic, back when organic wasn’t trendy.  One of our first purchases for our mini-farm was a large white goat named Melissa.  As far as goats go, she was a good goat and gave almost a gallon of milk every day.  We were over the moon with excitement and I remember Jon milking her that first day.  I could hardly wait to taste this wonderful nectar and drank a huge gulp while it was still foamy from squirting into the new, galvanized bucket. 
Oh.  Oh my.  I guess I didn’t realize that goat’s milk does not taste like cow’s milk.  Well.  I’m sure that I will get used to the aftertaste.  I mean.  Even cow’s milk has an aftertaste, it’s just that I’ve grown up on it and gotten used to it.  Perhaps if I chill this stuff really, really well it will taste better. 
Well, maybe not.  
It had a taste reminiscent of thistles mixed with rust and a hint of fetid, rotten mushrooms.  It made my lips purse, my tongue retract and my eyes cross.  I found recipes for goat milk cheese and tried using it in cooking and baking.  Unfortunately the taste came through in all of the recipes even when I tried to mask it with huge quantities of garlic, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  We soon had many glass jars filled with the stuff in the refrigerator.  Melissa kept up with her commitment: a gallon every day.  The fridge could not hold all of it and no one was drinking it.  The kids were supposed to…after all, they hadn’t grown up on cow’s milk because they hadn’t grown up yet.  They were supposed to drink it by the glassful, producing milk mustaches that they would swipe away with the backs of their hands revealing huge smiles of bliss.  “More, Mommy”, they would say. 
I cajoled, threatened and bribed, but to no avail.  They didn’t like the sh__ either.  Meanwhile, the refrigerator was overflowing with Melissa’s milk.  I started marking each gallon with the date and guiltily dumped the oldest gallon down the sink every day.  But always, I had the hope that if we just gave her the right food that her milk would turn into the sweet, nourishing liquid we couldn’t get enough of.  Just in case, I started scouring the newspaper every day for someone selling a milk cow.
Meanwhile, we planted a huge garden.  My latest issue of “Mother Earth News” recommended digging blood meal into each hill and row as a natural fertilizer.  Unfortunately, Grady our animal shelter adopted dog didn’t read that particular issue.  He smelled the blood from the blood meal, was convinced that each hill and row contained untold decaying delights and gleefully dug up every seed and plant.  We patiently re-planted each row and also included our tomato and pepper plants.  That was just before a freak June frost.  We didn’t know much back then, but we realized that nothing was going to grow on our expensive, organic and black, wilted plants.  We persevered, however, and after re-planting yet again were delighted to see nubile green shoots emerging from the earth. 
Everything will come out fine.  Each tomato plant will produce so many tomatoes that I won’t know how I will deal with them all.  All of this work will be worth it when I eat that first sun-ripened and sweet, juicy tomato.  I’ll have so many I will have to can them.  I’ll make sauce and stewed tomatoes.  I can just see the rows of glistening jars now.  And the salads we’ll have!  Our own tender lettuce and spinach.  Carrots pulled from the earth and washed on the spot from the garden hose, presented to the kids.  They won’t be able to resist.  I will teach them to love vegetables from the very start.  Oh my, the bliss!
One sunny morning I merrily grabbed my basket and went out to pick some lettuce for lunch.  But, as I entered the garden I stopped short.  Pretty much everything had been devoured by deer in the night and they had trampled what they hadn’t eaten.  We had adopted Grady from the animal shelter to scare off the deer, but unfortunately every time a deer entered the yard he cowered under the deck. 
Oh.  Oh my.  Oh dear.  Oh crap.  No tomatoes warmed by the sun.  No carrots rinsed at the garden hose.  No peas to shell or corn to shuck.  Damned dog!!
We bought chicks at the farm and feed store and had a great time raising them in a cardboard box by the wood stove.  We moved them out to one of the small out-buildings after the weather warmed and had rosy visions of gathering eggs each morning for our breakfast.  They were getting larger every day and I loved seeing them prance around the chicken yard pecking at the earth.  I was concerned that they seemed to eat quite a bit.  Their food was not cheap.  At the time I think eggs were about fifty cents a dozen and I started adding up the cost of the chickens and the food and the fencing for the coop in my head.  I wasn’t sure how old they had to be in order to start producing eggs, but they were starting to squeeze our budget.  But, in the end my concerns were unfounded.  The neighbor’s dog got into the chicken yard and they met an ignominious and untimely death. 
So much for the eggs.  I’m starting to think maybe that this “back-to-the-land” stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Maybe I’ll try to look on the bright side…I won’t have to worry about buying expensive chicken feed.  Damned dog!!
We did have a surviving chicken because he wasn’t in the chicken coop.  He had bonded with a duck and a turkey because for some reason that I don’t remember they spent their babyhood together in the same cardboard box.  I also don’t remember the idea behind the duck.  Anyway, they went everywhere together and it never ceased to bring a smile to my face to see this odd trio bopping around the yard.  I was worried that I would have trouble eating the turkey for Thanksgiving since he seemed more like a pet.  Unfortunately, the duck would often go for a swim in the nearby creek and then cuddle up with the chicken, causing it to catch cold.  The chicken hacked and coughed and shivered until one day it simply keeled over.  Honest.  I’m not imaginative enough to make this stuff up.  The turkey turned up lame one morning, who knows why, and the wound wouldn’t heal.  When we finally decided we had to butcher it, the wound was infected rendering the entire turkey useless. 
Well, I guess it’ll be bologna sandwiches for Thanksgiving this year.  No vegetables from the garden, no eggs, no chicken.  I guess I could drink some of that damned milk.  Ugh! At least my concerns about eating our pet turkey were unfounded.  I guess I should just stop worrying.  I’m just pleased the Jon put an end to its miserable existence.
Even though I considered myself to be pretty smart, I was quite surprised when Melissa’s milk dried up.  I clearly had not thought this whole process through.  I guess I just figured she would keep on producing forever so that I could continue to put in the jars, date it and dump it. I was getting pretty good at it by now and my conscience bothered me less and less.  I was secretly pleased that she wasn’t producing any of the noxious stuff, but Jon said that we needed to breed her so that we could get more milk.  There was no sense in feeding a goat that we couldn’t milk.  So, in order to keep the whole process of squirting, jarring, chilling and dumping going, we would have to find a billy goat to breed her.   I didn’t know where to rent a billy goat, but somehow we acquired one for two or three days.  I remember that we had to go pick him up and we tied him in the bed of our old rattle trap pick-up to bring him to our rattle-trap farm.  When we got home with him Jon and I just looked at one another, each expecting the other to know what to do.  The stinkin’ goat was probably chuckling to himself as he watched our dilemma.  And I’m not making anything up when I say “stinking.”  Have you ever smelled a billy goat in rut?  All I can say is that the smell is indescribably putrid.
We finally decided to tie him in the field and introduce him to Melissa.    We led him (by a very long length of rope) into the field and stood back to watch the whole process.  I’m not sure what we expected but the two goats totally ignoring each other was not on the top ten list.  So, we retreated to the house to watch through the window thinking that perhaps they were a bit shy about “doing it” in front of us.  Well, we never did witness any coupling, but gladly returned the billy goat in a few days feeling sure that they had at last done as nature intended sometime under cover of darkness.  I will say that the rank smell lingered for weeks.  While airing out the barn and burning the rope we tied him up with, we sat back to watch Melissa’s growing belly and to wait for a new kid, eager to teach our children about the miracle of life. 
Nothing  happened. 
Okay, so we have no baby goat.  No more milk (thank heavens.)  I’m not sure what happened, but I think it must have been due to that horrendous smell.  How could Melissa stand being near him?  Oh well.  I think I’ll check the ads for a milk cow one more time.
As I look back I’m amazed that we just kept going.  We got more animals, they ate more feed, they came to horrible ends and we had nothing in the freezer to show for our work.  I don’t ever remember eating anything out of our garden.  But, I think it was a nighttime phone call that was our true wake-up call.  Our closest neighbor called around midnight, waking me from a sound sleep.  “I think something’s getting your goat,” he said. (I did not laugh at his joke.) “It’s making a horrible racket.”  Jon worked nights in those days, mostly to buy animal feed, and so I left my sleeping babies to head down to the barn and investigate.  About halfway there I woke up enough to be a bit scared and I picked up a 2 by 4 about two feet long in order to defend myself.  By the time I got to the barn I was sufficiently awake to be truly scared.  I peeked through the chicken wire covered window long enough to see that Melissa was okay and high-tailed it back to the house.  The next morning we found a freshly killed deer just around the corner of the barn.  A call to a guy at the Fish and Game revealed that it was a classic mountain lion kill.  He said, “You probably scared it off when you went to check on your goat.  You people who live so far out should really be more cautious.” 
Okay.  Now I am scared.  And frankly, I’ve had it.  I could have been attacked!
I started scouring the want ads again, but this time I didn’t want a milk cow.  I looked for townhouse apartments instead.  I wanted a stove that heated up with a turn of the knob instead of a trip to the woodpile and a match.  I wanted heat that magically came through holes in the floor.  I no longer cared to feed animals when my children went hungry.  I wanted to walk to the corner grocery store instead of making a “trip to town” in our rattle trap broken down pickup that was literally held together with wire and duct tape.  In short, I wanted my sanity back.
Jon and I put an ad of our own in the newspaper that read something like this:
Family home, barn and several other out-buildings on 8 lovely acres next to Forest Service wilderness.   Comes with a Model B John Deere tractor, garden tiller and other farming implements.  Large, fenced garden area to grow your own vegetables.  Also comes with livestock, negotiable.  Give up the rat race and enjoy getting back to the land!!
We were astounded at the response to our ad.  The telephone rang day and night and there was a small bidding war for our property.  Eventually, the winner was a wonderful, young couple with two children who were so enamored with the place they could hardly wait to move in.  That was fine with us, because we could hardly wait to move out. 
As we drove away with the final load, they waved to us with exuberance.  I wished them well, but I really felt a bit guilty.  Instead of giving up the rat race, they were literally moving into a rat race.  I figured that I might call them later to tell them where to find the rat traps and just how to bait them with peanut butter and dog food.  That was very hard-won knowledge.  I also wanted to warn them about early frost and marauding mountain lions and the neighbor’s dog.
But some lessons are just better learned firsthand…

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pork Roast with Hard Cider Gravy

The weather definitely turned to Autumn here in Montana.  This time of year my thoughts always turn to cooking and baking.  I love soups simmering on the stove, bread baking in the oven, baskets of shiny apples on the counter and hot, spicy drinks.  I also like simple, hearty, down-to-earth foods.  This recipe certainly fills the bill.  I got it off the Food Network, changed it up a bit and loved the result.  I served it with a pilaf made from bits and pieces in the fridge, but it would be great with roasted or smashed potatoes.  The sauce would make a hunk of cardboard seem tasty.  By the way, I love, love, love this Hardcore cider.  I found it for $5.55 per six pack (for you folks that are close, it's at Super 1) and like it better than Hornsby's.  And since the recipe only calls for one bottle, and there are five left... Well, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to clean out the fridge.  Can't have stuff like this in there for too long.  It might mold or something.

3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 ½ pound pork loin roast, trimmed and tied
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 onion, peeled and sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 bottle (12 oz.) hard cider
Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of butter.  Season the pork generously with salt and pepper.  Mix cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and rub over the roast.  Sear roast on all sides in the hot pan until golden brown; set aside.  Add the onions and apples and season again with salt and pepper.  Cook, until they begin to caramelize, then pour in the hard cider and scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a simmer and nestle the browned pork roast back into the pan.  Cover with a lid and put in the oven to braise until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F (30 – 45 minutes.)
Remove the roast from the pot and transfer to a carving board; tent with foil to keep warm.  Transfer the contests of the pot to a food processor or blender and puree, then return the puree to the pan.  Alternately, puree the contents of the pan with an immersion blender.  Bring to a boil, adjust seasonings then reduce the heat to low and add more cider if the gravy is too thick.  Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, whisking constantly as it melts.  Remove from heat when the gravy is smooth and shiny and the butter is completely melted.
Meanwhile, slice the pork roast and arrange on a serving platter.  Serve with sauce.
Note:  I might add a splash of brandy along with the cider next time.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bench Seats and Other Signs of Love

I was driving just now, lost in my thoughts.  Actually, I was in a grumbly, “poor me”, what-a-lousy-day kind of mood.  It’s been a hard morning.  Sometimes I feel like the harder I try to coax skills out of the kids I treat the more they hide their talents from me.  One child after another challenged my patience.  At any rate, I wasn’t exactly perky.  Driving along in the right lane, I was passed by an old, green sedan that my brother would call a “land yacht.”  You know the kind…a foot or two longer than anything else on the road these days with a long nose and a longer trunk.  It was driven by a silver-haired man and seated smack dab in the middle of the front seat was his lovely, silver-haired wife.  Boy, what a flashback to my childhood when bench seats were the norm. 

Our '56 Nash was grey on the bottom and hot pink on the top.

 I remember our old hot pink and grey ’56 Nash.  A full-grown person could lie down in total comfort on those over-stuffed, luxurious bench seats.  They were just as plush and about as big as our living room sofa. 
I loved those old bench seats.  You could switch drivers just by scooting over, and before seatbelts and car seats they gave oodles of room for one or two kids sitting beside Mom and Dad.  Bench seats also used to provide the perfect barometer of how far a courtship had progressed.  A polite young man would let his girlfriend in on the passenger side of the car.  He’d then walk around and open the driver’s door only to find that she had scooted to the center of the car and was sitting there, demurely waiting for him to climb in beside her.  Both would wait breathlessly for thighs to touch.  Oh my!  What a thrill!  This was sign language for, “Let’s go steady.”
I smile when I remember the sight of that green sedan as it floated by (what was it about the suspension in those days?) and I honor this couple for their insistence in sitting beside one another.  They’ve maintained this commitment through the years, possibly refusing to drive a new model in this era of bucket seats and consoles.  I imagine them at the car lot, looking in the window if first one car and then another.  After a thorough search they both decide that the old car will do another year or two.  They simply can’t give up the right to cuddle as they drive.  How long has it been, anyway?  For fifty years or so they sat beside one another as they travelled down the road, ever since that first day when she scooted across to be near him.  They drove away from their wedding in an old sedan, the shy, young bride nestled by her handsome groom.  Later, three little heads popped up from the back seat to see their folks side by side, providing a barometer for their children.  Mama and Daddy are cuddling as they drive again.  All must be well with the world.  And always, the passenger seat is empty…well, except for her ever-present purse. 
And there they were today, thighs still touching as they navigate through their lives.  The back seat has long been empty as their children now have their own children.  But, still they proclaim to each other and to all those who are observant that they are a team. 
I wonder, what do I announce to the world when I am out with my dear husband?  What do those who are observant witness when they see my actions?  I remember sitting with a latte in Starbucks a few years ago.  I looked up from the book I was reading to see an older couple seated nearby at one of the tiny bistro tables.  No one spoke as they drank their coffees.  Every so often I glanced furtively in their direction.  They avoided eye contact for about twenty minutes and I remember being astounded at how bored they seemed being in each other’s company.  I wondered what had happened through the years?  Were they really that disinterested in each other, or was this just their routine? I do know that I vowed to myself that I would not end up like that.  
And now I think of how often Noel will seek me out when we are at a party just so that he can stand next to me.  And I remember that last weekend when we were at a slide show of Glacier National Park pictures he leaned over several times to kiss my cheek or touch my hair.  We often looked at each other in shared amazement at the incredible pictures on the screen.  And we giggled together as the lady behind me commented loudly and persistently on each image.  I like to think that we show our commitment to each other when we are home and when we are away.  Little signs of love proclaim to the world, but more importantly to each other that we are a team.  A small caress, a sidelong glance, a quick smile…these are more important to me than a dozen roses, a Valentine or an elegantly wrapped present. 
And even though I can’t snuggle up to him as we motor down the highway because of that darned console, I think he knows this...I would if I could. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Present

I wrote this as a submission to Oprah's Life Class about the book "A New Earth".  If you haven't read it, I would highly recommend it.  Anyway, the question was "How has your ego blocked you from living your best life?"  I will submit this, but it's too long (2000 characters maximum).  I have a hard time editing. 

I love to sew.  And over the years I’ve gotten quite good at it because I made my own clothes, my children’s clothes, and a myriad of curtains and pillows for my house.  I’ve made couture wedding dresses, bags to hold life preservers, linen napkins and belts.  I’ve tailored jackets, altered skirts, and quilted baby blankets.  Through it all I’ve not only developed great skill, but I’ve also become addicted to seeing the responses of those who view my efforts.  “You just whipped this dress up for the party?” they say. 
“Oh yes,” I respond as I look down demurely.  “It was nothing.” 
“You’re incredible!!  I could never do anything like this.”
A smile will cross my face as if to say, “Yeah, I know.  I’m great. I can pretty much make anything out of nothing.  I am soooooo creative.”  My ego puffs out its chest grandly and with a toss of its head I’m off to find the next victim whom I can impress with my exceptional skills.
And yet….I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two over the years, not only about sewing, but about being human. 
This morning I awoke early to a quiet house.  A perfect time to steal downstairs to my sewing room and make a bonnet for my dear granddaughter Margot’s first birthday.  I’ve selected an old-fashioned prairie pattern and am making it out of a modern, dotted cotton.  It will be adorned with the same lace from her mama’s wedding dress.  Just looking at the combination makes me smile.  I go to the sewing machine that was my mother’s.  I love the hum of the machine as it travels along the fabric.  I watch my hands as they guide the lace and cotton.  I marvel at the transformation from two-dimension to three and the way the ribbon pulls through the lace to gather it just right.  I am lost in the process of folding, ironing, sewing and cutting.  I am filled with gratitude to my mother for teaching me this wonderful skill and feel her spirit guide me as I sew.  I imagine Margot and how beautiful she will look in this bonnet as she stares at me in her soulful way that only Margot can do. 
And not once, do I imagine someone saying, “Oh, I am so impressed by your skill.”
Finally, I am learning that it is so much more gratifying to be lost in the present than to be lost in thoughts of how others will respond to me or what I accomplish. 
Finally, I can enjoy the sensory experience as I watch the fabric respond to my hands, listen to the scissors snip the threads and feel the tug as the machine pulls the lace. 
Finally, (and maybe for only a moment) I can be free of my starving ego and simply enjoy the here and now. 
Finally, I am here where I ought to be.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Joy (two)

I'd often call my mother when my kids were fussy or sick.  "What should I do?", I would ask in a plaintive, whiny voice. 

Her reply, in a matter-of-fact voice, would invariably be, "Give them a bath."

Casey, Aubrey and Joe in an old wood-fired hot tub (1986).
Joe (1979)

In the bathtub...why did they always line up according to age?

It usually worked to calm us all down.

I guess I took this to heart and maybe I expanded a bit because it's interesting how many of our family photos involve children in water. 

Grandson Jake, a water gun and a wash tub...a winning combination (2005).

I was thinking of this when granddaughter Margot visited a couple of weekends ago.  I cleaned out the old wash tub, Casey filled it with water and let it warm in the sun, and in she went. 


Simple Joy.

I wonder...what brings you joy?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Joy (one)

Way back before the beginning of time when I was eighteen years old I decided to make a baby quilt.  I was renting a room from a couple who had a small child.  Caroline, the wife, had a quilting frame and she suggested that I use it to make this quilt.  It was the only thing I've made that was totally hand-quilted.  Soon I was married and had a child of my own...Joe. 

A couple of months ago I was rummaging through a box and found that quilt.  Yessiree, it looks like it was made in the 70's.  Groovy!
It survived my three children, but the binding had been mostly ripped off in the process.  I decided to restore it and went in search of matching fabric for the binding.  Surprisingly, I found it.  I cut new binding and sewed it on by hand while Noel and I were flying back to Maine to see our newest grandson, Finn.

Now my first-born son has a first-born son and the quilt was handed down to him.  Perhaps it will survive even another generation.  Perhaps not.

All I know is that giving it to Finn brought me great joy.

I wonder...what brings you joy?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

How to Have a Perfect Sail

Preparation for a Perfect Sail:
1977:  Give birth to a son, Joe who has the patience of Job and who has inherited the love of working with his hands.
2001:  Joe marries Katie.
2002:  Joe and Katie move to Maine so that Joe can apprentice in wooden boat building at the Atlantic Challenge Apprentice Shop.
2008:  Joe and Katie buy Robin, a 40-foot ketch that has been badly damaged when “she parted her mooring” in a storm.  Restoration of the boat begins.
2009 - 2011:  Restoration, rebuilding and refitting continues (and will continue for all time.)
2010:  Shelley gets a Southwest Airlines credit card that gives one free round-trip just for signing up.
2011:  Shelley encourages Noel to also get the credit card so that he, too can get a free flight.  He does.
April 2011:  Joe and Katie give birth to their son, Finn.  Noel and Shelley have the perfect excuse to use their free flights (as if they needed one.)
Execution of a Perfect Sail
August 2011:  Noel and Shelley fly to Maine.  Noel spots whole lobster at the store in Portsmouth, New Hampshire for $4.99 per pound!  He pairs it with corn on the cob.  Joe, Katie, Finn, Noel, Shelley, the lobsters and the corn board Robin in Rockland Harbor and set sail for a two-day journey on a lovely, blue-sky day.  

The new little family.

We're heeled over pretty well here.
It truly was perfect.  And it was only 33 years in the making.

Joe had to repair a light.

Finn Taylor, the First Mate.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Rules of Engagement

I was deeply engrossed in the SkyMall magazine, contemplating ordering a toilet paper holder in the shape of a very long-necked giraffe when Noel leaned over.  “You know,” he said “we have a four-hour layover in Las Vegas.  Why don’t we find the city bus and ride down to The Strip and have some fun?  It’ll be better than sitting in the airport.” 
“You’re kidding, right?  The pilot just announced that it’s 98 degrees there.  I can’t imagine anything worse than traipsing around in 98 degree weather with my carry-on and then having to get back on the airplane for six more hours.  Besides that, we were just there a couple of months ago.”
“No,” he replied, “it’ll be fine.  We’ll jump right on the bus and go to a casino and stay there.  It won’t be hot at all.”
I hate it when he says “It’ll be fine” because it usually isn’t.  I was certainly not convinced about the ‘fineness ‘ of this plan and hoped that he’d give up the idea.  I knew he wouldn’t, but somehow hope always springs eternal.  And then, those hopes were completely dashed when the first thing we encountered as we got off the plane was a luggage locker.  He figured it out, our carry-on bags went in, and we were off in search of a bus within five minutes.  And we only wandered around in the searing heat for about ten minutes before we found the bus stop.  At two minutes before one o’clock we approached the bus.  It left at one o’clock.  As I sat down I thought to myself, “Maybe this will be okay after all.”  I leaned over and said, “The first thing I need is a glass of water to take my headache pill.”  I’d had a migraine for two days and it had taken on a life of its own. It was not happy about the blinding sun or the heat. 
“Sure,” he said.  “No problem.”
Well, we got off the bus by the MGM Grand and wandered around in there for a while looking for a restaurant, but found nothing to our liking.  I was in search of a salad.  Noel wanted a drink.  Everything was too fancy or had too many people.  Back out on the sun-baked street we went up and down escalators, over sky bridges, located the return bus stop for later and then finally into the Tropicana.  Surely there would be something in there.  We went up and down more escalators, down hallways and through the casino floor and found nothing open except a Starbucks and a pizza place.  By now my head was throbbing with the addition of the noise from the slot machines.  Noel announced, “I’m just going to wait until we get back to the airport to eat.  Let’s go find that drink.”  I made some sarcastic comment under my breath about how I wished I was still at the airport and turned to follow.  I had thrown away the breakfast I’d ordered from the fast food place that morning, declaring it “Not fit to eat.”  I hadn’t snacked on the plane either.   By the time we got to the lounge I was in a distinctly sour mood.  I felt like snapping and whining and throwing a fit.  Instead, I dutifully followed Noel to a bar near the gaming floor of the Tropicana.
And then the bartender approached.  His name tag announced that he was Eddie.  I had scanned the bar menu and noted a list of exotic cocktails, but I thought I’d probably just order a beer and looked for the cheapest option.  So, I was very surprised when these words escaped my mouth:  “Hi Eddie.  I am really treating myself today and would love a cocktail.  Would you recommend the pomegranate lemonade?” 
He rolled his eyes in a gesture of sublime pleasure and said, “Oh yes!”
“Well, that’s what I’ll have then.  And a glass of water also, please.”  I smiled at him with my biggest grin and he returned the favor.  I liked Eddie immediately.  He would be my savior.
And I sat there in the cool, dark lounge and watched Eddie’s every move as he made my twelve-dollar cocktail.  I’ve never had a twelve-dollar cocktail in my life, but I figured I may as well splurge, since this was lunch.  Noel just sat there casting surprised sidelong glances at me. 
And then the pricey concoction came and it was truly sublime.  Just gazing at the tapered glass rimmed in sugar with the deep red liquid and floating pomegranate berries gave me pleasure.   But I must say that the cold water and the chance to take my medicine was just about as wonderful.  Between the Grey Goose vodka and the Imitrix I began feeling a whole lot better.  I decided that I could traipse around on blistering pavement under an unrelenting sun more often if that road led to Eddie and a pomegranate lemonade. 
In between sips of this delicious nectar we chatted with each other and with Eddie as he went about his work.  He was an exceptionally nice man with an accent that I couldn’t readily place.  As we turned to leave, I impulsively said, “You know, we’re just on a quick layover.  We’re on our way to see our newest grandson in Maine.”  His eyes lit up and he said, “Please wait here.  I have something for you.”  He rummaged around beneath the counter for a minute or so and produced a lovely, wooden toy car.  “Please give that to your grandson for me.”
Now, I’m not sure how he came to have that toy behind the bar, but that simple gesture made my day.  As I hurried off to show Noel my unexpected treasure I marveled at how quickly a human exchange can alter a mood or the course of events.  Thank you, Eddie, for willingly becoming my savior when I sorely needed one.  Thank you for engaging me in conversation and making me think about something besides myself.  Thank you for reminding me to be kind even when I have a splitting headache.  Thank you for the little toy.
I read somewhere that even during a short exchange you should look at people long enough to tell the color of their eyes and whenever possible, call them by name.  Smile.  It makes a huge difference.  We all want to be recognized and acknowledged and when we make the effort, the pay-off can be magical.  And now, as I write this, my headache is completely gone, the little car is tucked into my bag at my feet, and I am imagining myself presenting it to my new grandson.  I smile.
A simple exchange of more than words.  A simple gesture. 
Life can be simply wonderful, can’t it?