Saturday, November 29, 2008

more Walden Pond, less Wal-Mart

Maybe this last Saturday in November included, for you, at least some small square of time in which to rest, reflect, daydream. Perhaps there was a quilt involved, some rain pattering on the roof, muted sounds of the Florida/Florida State football game on television.  Quiet enough and you might've even experienced the nearly imperceptible shift of November tipping toward December, of holidays into high gear.  Today was a good day to get your heart around how you want the season to unfold.  To contemplate how to journey through this time of the year deliberately, to coin Thoreau's term, instead of on auto-pilot.  To make it a little more Walden Pond and lot less Wal-Mart.  It's about being mindful, I think Henry David would say.  And I've a mind to agree.  

{Thanksgiving:  cold pumpkin pie for breakfast . . . great big Dagwood sandwiches for lunch, made from leftover turkey, stuffing, cranberries and sweet pickles and all the fixins' . . . Yo Yo Ma songs of peace and joy}

Thursday, November 27, 2008

the stuff(ing) of life

Did you have a Norman Rockwell day?  By that, I mean an idealized, fantasized, movie-set version of Thanksgiving?  We stopped trying to force those after Dad died and now just do our darndest to savor the sweet small details and enjoy what we do have: the cheese straws coming out of the oven right when we arrived at Blossom Street, all of the great guys gathered 'round the turkey fryer, Michele's artistry, mom's poignant memories of being a young Air Force wife, Aunt Neen giving us the softest slippers ever which are right this very minute on my feet.  

My lovely, imperfect holiday began Thanksgiving Eve morning when I burst into tears at the food drop-off at the middle school.  Nearly 3,000 cans had already been collected in November, yet there they were, teachers and parents and students, gathered on a precious day off to fill as many trunkloads as possible with turkeys.  Just got to me.  Had to drive away without a complimentary doughnut because I didn't want to blubber in public.  So much need.  So many good people. Then another trip to the pediatrician (worry, worry) about the strep infection that won't go away. And lingering sadness about Alice next door who has Alzheimer's.  There's no holiday from a lot of what we carry in our hearts.  No vacation or even an occasional day off.  But on unseasonably warm and sunny, laughtery, delicious days like this one, it doesn't ache quite so much.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

"We give thanks for the treasury of memory that is our life." - James Howell

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for Loaves & Fishes, the emergency food pantry in our community . . . having the best co-workers . . . driving against traffic in rush hour}

Monday, November 24, 2008

winging it

Want to add a half hour of dearness to your Thanksgiving week?  Nothing will do so quite like watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.  I adored it when I was little, but it's only as an adult that I can truly appreciate the hyped up holiday expectations, the best laid plans gone awry, the toast and jelly beans menu, the day that's not what anybody imagined but turns out special all the same.  Trust me when I say the tablecloth ironing can wait. So can grating the coconut for the ambrosia.  Carve out a bit of time to enjoy this annual rite of November.  You'll be thankful you did.  

Sunday, November 23, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for a friend who doesn't have two nickels to rub together, yet manages to lessen the load for those without two pennies to rub together . . . 'We Gather Together' and 'Over the River and Through the Woods' . . . for pumpkin soup made with ginger, curry and a dash of cayenne pepper}

Saturday, November 22, 2008

bittersweet November

Bittersweet is a native vine that wraps around trees in the North Carolina mountains, its orange and yellow berries bursting open in autumn to provide a feast for songbirds and a cheery glimpse of color against an increasingly spare landscape. You'll see it coiled into wreaths and around pumpkins at this time of year, too, and mixed with chrysanthemums and yarrow in arrangements that grace the Thanksgiving table.  

Come to think of it, what better metaphor for Thanksgiving than bittersweet?  Because, if you've done any living at all, the holidays are a cumulative feast of memories both bitter and sweet.  And they show up every year, invited or not, along with the stuffing, the pickle tray, the cranberry relish with bits of orange.  Think of pine cone turkey place cards, parades, football rivalries, the baby's first Thanksgiving, a long distance phone call that makes your day complete.  Swirling like autumn leaves are also memories of when you couldn't make it home or perhaps didn't have the heart to be there, the year there wasn't enough money to fill the grocery basket, relatives who didn't try hard enough to get along, the achingly empty place at the table.

This may be a year in which it's difficult for you to muster gratitude.  Or maybe your cornucopia runneth over.  Either way, when the fourth Thursday in November arrives, be assured that the memories will, too, their baggage of joy and sorrow and wistfulness in tow.  Especially at Thanksgiving, I remember my husband's great aunt who lived out in the country near Raleigh.  We stayed overnight at Aunt Jane's ghosty farmhouse the summer he took the Bar exam.  She taught me how to make a piecrust from scratch that day and that night we sat in rocking chairs on the front porch, watching for his headlights down the long driveway.  Every year, Aunt Jane mailed us a box of pecans gathered from beneath the huge tree in her yard.  I can picture her now in a flowered house dress and sweater, stooping to collect nuts that would fill a homemade piecrust.  She's been gone quite some time, but not a Thanksgiving goes by that she doesn't reappear, as sure as Mom's china with the turkey pattern.

Just last week there was a knock at my kitchen door and it was Kathy, the wonderful person who helps out next door.  "These are from my tree," she said, holding up a bag of pecans.  "I thought you'd like some." The kids are going to shell them while I dig out my cousin Kay's recipe for sugared pecans, to pay homage to another person dearly loved and missed, but with us in memory.  They'll be a perfect complement to our Thanksgiving menu:  to the bitter, to the sweet, to all the flavors of life.  

© 2005.  Essay first aired on North Carolina's NPR station WFAE 90.7

Friday, November 21, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for the stark beauty of gardens in winter . . . people with a gift for listening . . . Malcolm Gladwell: thinker, speaker and writer extraordinaire}

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for a house that welcomes you home after a long day . . . weekday lunch at the House of Prayer . . . a guitar teacher who makes house calls}

of compassion and cranberries

Some people fall terribly and utterly through the cracks in life. Blessedly, there are others devoted to filling in those cracks.  Like my friend Kathy, who organized a Thanksgiving luncheon attended by many hundreds yesterday to benefit the hungry and homeless of Charlotte.  Special guest Liz Murray has known both sides of the abyss, surviving a desperate childhood and homelessness to graduate from Harvard.  Lovely and sad and brilliant and hopeful, she spends her energy now showing and telling people who have slipped through the cracks that it is possible to endure a terrible past, overcome a stark present and go on to thrive.  She ministers to the people who want to help, too, assuring them that no act of humanity, however small, is ever wasted.  Her message was the essence of Thanksgiving itself, where blessings are spoken and there's room for everyone at the table.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for blessings, big and small . . . the annual high school Powderpuff football game and hot chocolate afterwards . . . bright red rick rack embellishing a brown sweater}

Monday, November 17, 2008

stamp out loneliness

It literally took seven minutes to speed type a two-pager to Aunt Jennie this morning.  Soon, on Thursday probably, it will arrive at a high-rise apartment building for the elderly in Utica, New York.  I think she will be glad to find it there in her lobby mail slot, amid the drug store circulars and medical bills. I know I was glad just to think of her and fill her in on the silly goings on around here.  Made me happy.  According to the United States Postal Service, less than 3% of first-class mail today is personal correspondence.  Instead, thoughts rocket around the globe at the speed of technology.  Yet we're more lonely and isolated in our hearts than ever.  Which is why a letter . . . is somehow better.  
{Thanksgiving:  for an arrangement of fallish hydrangeas and rosemary branches . . . my sister's Scorpio and topaz November birthday . . . teenagers spending a weekend 'on God's time'  and a parent determined to learn to live that way, too}

Sunday, November 16, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for the design wizardry of Tony Duquette and a stupendous new book about it . . . Bond, James Bond . . . the sweet Thanksgiving tree on Laurie's kitchen table . . . }

Saturday, November 15, 2008

reading music

There sits an upright piano in the family room whose keys have been banged upon by a child or three, whose only melodies have been a carol or two, and on whose bench today there rests a lacrosse stick.  It is not a useless object, though, because the music stand gets plenty of play. This is where a changing vignette of children's books is displayed, pulled from brimming shelves in certain seasons of the year or at complete whimsy.  Sometimes it's a treasure trove brought home from the public library.  Current theme:  Thanksgiving. It's amusing how often certain people who have not checked a picture book out of an elementary school library in over a decade will pick up one of these gems and settle on the couch in the late afternoon, waiting for the baked ziti to come out of the oven.  From the kitchen, you can hear pages turning.  A contented sigh.  Music to my ears.  

Friday, November 14, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for luscious Henri Bendel candles, especially 'Fig' . . . not giving in to franticness . . . when plans go out the window and it all works out anyway}

Thursday, November 13, 2008

frost is on the pumpkin

There inevitably comes a time in mid-November (today, actually) when the possibility of enjoying one more Indian Summer afternoon fades away and winter begins asserting herself. No more running outside for the newspaper at dawn without a coat and slippers. There's frost on the pumpkin, on the windowpane, in the air at the bus stop.  But before nature completely gives way to snow and bare branches, there are leaves to rake, pies to bake and thanks to give.  Then on to the twinkling lights and pine-scented perfume of the holidays. Woven throughout these and all of our days, there are people to love, work to do, help to offer, hearts to soothe and a world to hold dear.  In every season of life.  
{Thanksgiving:  for pomegranates and pears . . . flannel sheets and soft wool blankets . . . a mural depicting the first Thanksgiving, painted on a long sheet of butcher paper by the fourth grade class}

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for the honor roll of veterans in my own life . . . Dad, Uncle Louie, Uncle Dante, Uncle John, Uncle Victor}

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for Wolf Kahn's dazzling paintings of barns in vibrant colors . . . From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler . . . watching Henry Orient movies with my little brother}

a time and place

Austin Angle taught art lessons at her house a block from the bayshore.  The Bourkard's lived across the street and paid $1 an hour for babysitting.  Laura Ellen Weeks was the principal at Dale Mabry Elementary where there was a great spring carnival with a cakewalk.  Father Mangrum was large and in charge at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, which had an amazing Christmas bazaar.  Alessi Bakery made scrumptious eclairs and napoleons.  A shop nearby sold Beatrix Potter figurines. We were going to marry the Alexander brothers who lived around the corner.  Every February, pirate ships sailed into the bay.  

Monday, November 10, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for Habitat for Humanity . . . a new friend whose grandparents are from the same part of Italy . . . two turtles sunning on a rock in greenway creek}

Sunday, November 9, 2008

reading: a primer

Mom was studying children's literature in graduate school when I was what experts call 'an emergent reader.' So just as we were sounding out vowels at Lakemont Elementary, and seeing Spot run, I was coming home to Where the Wild Things Are, The Snowy Day and Sam Bangs & Moonshine.  At the supper table we learned about the Caldecott Award for the best illustrated book of the year and how Ezra Jack Keats made history when he won.  Some of the deepest truths of life can be found in picture books, conveyed in clear simple language with unique and even transcendent art. Which is exactly why children love them so.  And so will the child in you.   

Saturday, November 8, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for an it's-the-weekend feeling . . . having the great dictionary Mom used as a college professor . . . the ginkgo tree on the lawn of Christ Episcopal Church, a sight to behold}

Friday, November 7, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  orange slices for the football team at halftime tonight . . . a pound of pumpkin spice coffee for the afternoon cuppa' (thank you, Sandy!) . . . a new pack of Sharpie markers and all the implied possibilities}

ina + jeffrey: a love story

There's a new Barefoot Contessa cookbook out and you'll love the vibrant look and feel of it.  You'll love the fresh, simple recipes for Cape Cod salad, Tuscan lemon chicken and roasted pears with blue cheese.  You'll love the tips for boosting flavor and baking better.  But what I'm most enamored with is the decades-long love affair between Ina and Jeffrey Garten.  It's the saffron thread weaving through her books and tv program.  She still gets giddy when he walks through the door.  He thinks she hung the moon.  In print and on camera, there's just no denying their genuine affection for and kindness toward one another.  We're talkin' role models here!  I'd like to have them over for dinner to discuss this.  I'll make Ina's wild mushroom risotto, roasted carrots and maybe even the apple dried cherry turnovers.  If she'll share the recipe for lifelong love.  

Thursday, November 6, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for waking up to the sound of an owl outside . . . when a child recommends a book to you . . . beautiful and inspiring work space}

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

first puppy of Pennsylvania Ave.

While the President-elect tends to pressing matters of state, it's time for the citizenry to step up its support wherever possible.  To this end, I pledge my effort in guiding the decision regarding the new first dog. My vote is for a Labrador Retriever puppy in the White House come January, the perfect, playful companion for the new first girls. Can't you just see it somersaulting across the lawn at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?  Fetching The Washington Post from the curb? Yes, the first lady will need to keep her shoes out of chewing range, a minor trade-off for this breed's protective nature, which rivals that of any secret service. I'm sure there will be dissenting opinions and I truly respect other views, but you just can't top a Lab for love and loyalty. Which would make one a pretty fine mascot for the country as well.  
{Thanksgiving:  for staying up way too late to watch election returns . . . waking the kids up in the morning with news of a new president . . . no more political ads!}  

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

chime in anytime

Isn't it funny how we often do something for one reason and what comes out of it ends up being something different altogether?  I'm talking about a small wind chime I hung from the camelia tree many moons ago, thinking it would be one more way to remember someone whose voice had always been a clear bell of goodness and guidance. I'd stop and think of Dad whenever the wind rustled the branches just right and I was being quiet enough to hear the chimes. Then one day I noticed that the chimes seemed to ring uncannily at crunch times and even on ordinary days when I really needed to hear from Dad the most. It's said that heaven is at hand.  On a windy November morning, it certainly does feel that way.  
{Thanksgiving:   for the excitement and energy of a presidential election day . . . freedom to vote, to speak, to write, to live a full life . . . fascinating American history}

Monday, November 3, 2008

{Thanksgiving:  for saints remembered . . . any writing by Kathleen Norris . . . Anslee’s pumpkin squares}

Sunday, November 2, 2008

time for a change

We got the gift of an extra hour today.  I spent mine reflecting on the rocky relationship most of us have with this thing called time.  And how I seem to feverishly maneuver between re-living the past and worrying about the future, never quite being in the moment.  Right now is an excellent time to re-set the internal clock to an eternal one.  Where the measure of days is determined not by the hands of a clock or the squares on a calendar, but by how we honor the hours we're given and how much love we fill them with.  I will have to practice for the rest of my life to master this.  But thankfully, it's never too late to begin.  
{Thanksgiving:  for falling back a serendipitous hour of daylight savings time . . . the vintage aura of the notions section at Hancock's Fabrics . . . a teenage Captain Underpants at the costume party}

Saturday, November 1, 2008

got gratitude?

Mouths to feed, a job to tend, library books due, dog overdue for shots, a mysterious leak underneath the washing machine. Like everyone else, I’ve got all I can say grace over. But do I ever really stop to say it? There’s no better month than November to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, to live the season of Thanksgiving literally. Because whatever your daily round looks like, there are dozens of times in it where life offers up some moment of grace worthy of a thank-you.  It doesn't have to be a lottery win, either:  the school bus driver who’s always on time, getting the bills out on time, time for an extra cup of coffee. Thank you! Just say it. Even better, write it down. Then you’ll have something tangible to refer to when you hit a bleak patch.  And it's bound to make you thankful all over again.