Saturday, December 25, 2010

I am Ridiculous Because . . .

  • The battery on my old toothbrush conked out two days ago. I had already bought a new toothbrush to put in my Christmas stocking (hey, someone has to do it!) and I wouldn't let myself open the new toothbrush, because I had to wait till Christmas, duh!
  • I had Logan take the turkey out of the freezer and set it in the downstairs refrigerator Tuesday morning so that it would have the required four days to thaw. I never once checked on it. Logan is very reliable. However, the refrigerator is not. Apparently it is set way too cold. At seven this morning when I went to put the turkey in the oven, it was still frozen. Fortunately, for the first time ever, I had decided not to stuff the turkey, but to make a separate dressing instead. The rock-hard turkey is now in the oven, complete with its paper-wrapped giblets, which I could not pry out of the neck cavity. I'm not sure when we will eat.
  • I've been up since 4:30, too excited to sleep, last minute cleaning, wrapping one more gift, finishing stuffing stockings, folding one more load of laundry. I'm excited and happy, humming Christmas carols under my breath as I flutter through the house in my nightgown.
  • I think seventeen people will show up today -- maybe a couple more or less. And yet, I feel it is a small gathering because of all those who won't be here. I'll miss Casey, John, and Sadie, my sister Valery, Colleen and her boys Robby, Billy, and Danny, Grandson Tom, his wife Nichole, and Mallaika, Rick and Kathy, and Hollis and Jason and his family, and Lynnette and Scott and family, and most of all, Ken and Robin.
  • It's snowing and I'm thrilled -- I guess we do have a white Christmas after all.
  • Some absent family members will be represented through tradition: Robin is here through the chocolate coins in the stockings, my dad lives through his crab salad, and my mother's legacy is clam dip. I'll serve Aunt Helen's cranberry sauce in my grandmother's cut glass bowl. Colleen's tradition is cookies, but we already ate all of them.
  • People came, we ate, we exchanged gifts, and I came down with a rotten cold right in the middle of the celebration. I was fine this morning and now, ugh! And the turkey didn't get done. But, there was enough that was done, and everyone brought food and it was all good.
  • And now I'm going to bed -- I hope I didn't infect anyone, I had no idea I was sick!
Ben and Logan, Kevin and Rachel share clam dip before dinner.
Logan poses with poster and letter from Alfonso Salazar, a high school friend of Robin's (Berryessa Art and Wine Festival with Red-headed flute player, inspired by Robin)Ben with his poster

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Shopping

Shopping at out-of the-way places and avoiding the mall are perpetual goals of mine -- especially at Christmas time.
Jim Blansit's distillery in Taney County certainly meets those criteria. Here he is leaning on his copper kettle -- a piece of equipment that qualifies as art no matter what it's function.
Oak kegs imported from Europe age some of his rum and corn whiskey.
But this bottle of Everclear, Moonshine, or White Lightning has never spent a moment in a cask -- clear, distilled corn squeezings ready for drinking the minute it comes out of the pipe. Who do you think will be the recipient of this special gift?

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Love Winter Because . . .

  • The possibility of a SNOW DAY hangs in the air. Yes, of course we know you have to make it up at the end of the school year, but it's worth it! Up early with a long full day ahead and no school! The kids are out to the local sledding hill at first light and back within an hour with red cheeks, hands, and snow crusted feet which shed all over the entry hall. And for Grandma, no obligation to go anywhere, everything is canceled because it's TOO DANGEROUS to drive. Crank up the gas fireplace, gather up the warm throws, stack the books on the end table, and settle in, no obligation to go out, so I have a hot toddy with the evening news. We haven't had a snow day yet this year, but the season is young.
  • The bare trees reveal secrets they've shrouded all summer. The true shapes of the trees are revealed making it much easier to distinguish hickory from sycamore, ash from oak. Empty birds' nests safely hidden while holding eggs and cradling chicks, are now in plain sight. I wonder how some very large nests high in the slender branches that must belong to either raptors or small mammals survive the 50 - 60 mile per hour gusts we often experience. The bald eagles return for their winter visit and can be seen high in trees near the water, scouting for their next meal.

  • ICE! The very word strikes fear. One slip and you could end up in the hospital! Cars spin out all over the place, into ditches and into each other. But it fascinates me. Ice storms bring down trees, power and telephone lines, but they also gild every surface with silvery beauty that glistens in the bright sun that follows a storm and turns the whole world into a magically beautiful place. I love watching to see if the river has frozen and to watch the confused ducks walk on the surface they expected to swim and fish in. At the beginning of the season, I set a pan of water on the deck at night to see how thick the ice forms. I keep a steady eye on the thermometer, watching for lowest readings of the season.

  • Warm weather food. Cozy smells, cinnamon and crock pots full of all the veggies left in the refrigerator. (Favorite recipe: half pound of small-cubed chicken or pork, half pound of sliced any kind of sausage, a box of chicken broth, a big can of diced tomatoes, a can of cannellini beans, leafy veggies [bok choy, spinach, tat soi, chard] and root veggies [turnips, carrots, potatoes, beets] and maybe some acorn or butternut squash. I just clean out the refrigerator until the crock pot is full.) The kids used to grumble a bit, but if I serve some fresh hot biscuits, rolls, or garlic bread, they love it! And I can't believe they eat turnips without a murmur. I have learned to tolerate them and even like the milder Japanese variety. Molasses/ginger snaps, snickerdoodles, apple pie, home made apple sauce fill the air with cinnamon goodness.

  • Christmas. All of it. The excess, the gifts (giving and receiving) the home decorations, the food, the music, the company, the parties, the traditions -- both religious and secular. Advent calendars (couldn't find any this year!) Next year I will make quilted "permanent" ones with pockets to be filled with goodies for each December day. Advent candles -- this Sunday will be the last candle -- symbol of Joy. The Christmas programs at school. Ben's madrigal last night was magnificent. Could only have been better if I had been able to see him well enough to get a decent picture. But with a couple hundred kids on the stage, it's hard to pick out one special boy who looked great and sung his heart out. I'm always struck by the thought that singing is so good for one. I'm convinced it promotes good health and clear thinking. And brings Joy to the World!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh My Stars!

Football pictures were taken after the end of the season, so the uniform isn't quite complete -- no cleats or long socks, just legs covered with lots of long blond hair! I really like this picture, it's very typical of how he looks these days. I already miss football season and going to his games. I love watching him -- he seems so confident and comfortable with himself.

Here's the other star in the family. This picture was taken today (12-15-2010) just minutes after I finished sewing this costume for the Christmas madrigal Ben is singing in tomorrow and Friday. It was finished just an hour and a half before the dress rehearsal. I had worked on it nearly every waking moment for a week and a half and spent close to $200 on it. I kept thinking something was wrong, I wasn't getting the whole story. How could everyone in the choir come up with a costume given the cost and effort I was spending? Well, in fact, they didn't. I guess I'm guilty of overkill. When I dropped Ben off tonight, I noticed most of the kids were just wearing black pants, a muslin peasant shirt and perhaps a bright scarf around their waists. Ben may well be the best-dressed of them all. I hope he isn't uncomfortable because of it -- I'm sure I'll get a full report tonight when I pick him up. Oh, well. It's a great costume and I had a lot of fun making it.

By the way, I now have a new phone number due to a snafu when I transferred service from one carrier to another. If you need my number, drop me an email or comment on the blog.

My Favorite Centenarian

I haven't had time to post -- I've been shackled to my sewing machine working on Ben's costume for the Christmas Madrigal. Tonight is the dress rehearsal and if I don't spend too much time at my computer, I'll probably finish the outfit in time. With good luck, I'll also have time to get some pictures before he heads out. If he gets out -- there is a possibility of an ice storm today and I don't go anywhere on icy roads.
I could not let the day go by without acknowledging what would have been Aunt Helen's 100th birthday. Here she is enjoying her favorite hobby with her favorite person. She lives forever in my heart!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas Run-up

  1. A little bit of shopping - mostly online with a severely curtailed gift list.
  2. Sewing like crazy - items for church bazaar.
  3. Frantically making a renaissance costume for Ben's Christmas Madrigal choir concert -- it should be done this weekend -- must be done this weekend the concert is the 16th!
  4. Parties - after several years of no parties, suddenly four are on my calendar -- two down, two to go.
  5. Ben's Christmas band concert (tonight) it was wonderful. Ben played the plastic bag and a sheet of red poster board. (Here wearing "A. Eagle" hoodie and playing plastic bag percussion.)
  6. Ben's Christmas Choir concert.
  7. Community service - packing food baskets -- they were willing and fast workers -- and then they got to eat some of the leftovers!-
  8. "Adopting" a family through "Least of These" and shopping for gifts.
  9. Planning Christmas menu.
  10. And ta-da! getting our family Christmas present early -- Ben set it up and it works!

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Must Have Something in My Eye

Sure, it was a school assignment, they were supposed to write a thank you note to someone important in their lives. But man, oh man, he really got to me. A kid shouldn't have to be thankful for this stuff -- doesn't the universe owe it to him? I am so thankful he is such a wonderful, sweet, caring, aware soul.

And this -- I put this year's school picture in the frame and realized there are only two empty slots. Wow! That really gets to me. I am so grateful for these young men and cannot imagine my life without them. Yet, they will be launched before too long.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Report

The cast of characters:
Jerry, John, Logan, Lars, Ash, and Ben
Casey, Alicia, Melody, Kerri, Nikki with Nacho, Jan with her dog, and Krista
Amanda, Julia, Steve, Sadie, Adam, and Nick

the menu:
Lacquered turkey a la Martha Stewart (Divine, darlings)
Mashed potatoes
Roasted Veggies
Green Bean Casserole
Chinese Chicken Salad
Jello Salad
Sweet Potatoes
Home made rolls
All kinds of gorgeous tarts and pies for dessert
Sparkling Cider

The ritual:
A reading of the history and meaning of Thanksgiving
including a round of spoken gratitudes
a round of what we hope to accomplish in the next year
a candle lighting and extinguishing ceremony

The oldest person in the room was the designated candle lighter and the youngest was the extinguisher. The honors went to me and to Adam.

It was a wonderful evening. Tonight I'm finishing off my share of the leftovers (veggies) by cooking them into meatball soup. And it's time to eat again!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Cats are Out of the Bag and Other Weather News

Here's a quilt I made for Amanda and Ashley's joint birthdays (November 24 and 27). When I first saw the pattern over a year ago, I knew I had to make it for them -- cat lovers (and owners of four) that they are. When I got the quilt assembled, it looked blah, there wasn't enough contrast in some areas, so I set about to compensate. Once I got started, I couldn't stop: buttons, ribbons, sequins, beads, and little articles of clothing found their way onto the quilt. Here's the closeups and an explanation of each cat's persona:

"Will belly dance for Pounce"

Fifi the French Maid
"Voulez vous coucher avec moi?"

Plain Jane
"Do you like my basic black and pearls?"

Tina the topless dancer
"Watch me twirl 'em!"
“Diamonds are a

cat’s best friend”

Horatia Algeria
From rags to riches

Dora Deff
"Dinner at eight? I thought you said dinner for eight!"


“I’m just a plain and simple old-fashioned girl cat”

Carmen the Flamenco Dancer
"Stomp your booties!"

Desiree the Mardi Gras Queen
"Show me your boobies!"

Sandy Barbara
"Welcome to my litter box"

Ali Khat
the Pimp
Notice that each of the "girls" has a heart of gold.
I know weather reports are boring, but the last 24 hours have been extraordinary, even for this part of the country which often experiences extreme weather. Here's this morning's exhibition. It was delightful -- no ice, clear roads, and a gorgeous dusting from fat, wet flakes.

Thanksgiving report tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Creepy Weather

It's 70 degrees at nearly ten o'clock on the evening before Thanksgiving.
Here's what NOAA has to say about it:


Tomorrow it is supposed to be winter -- temperatures could
go as low as single digits.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Deer in the Headlights

On the far left, Ben totes a marching marimba. He was surprised to see me in the area where the parade was forming, hence the startle reflex. I found a spot that allowed me to sit in the car and read my magazine after taking this picture. I've seen enough of the local Christmas parades. They are long on old people in old cars, and pretty young girls freezing to death while perched on the top of the back seat of convertibles. Then they hurl hard candy at you, hard. It hurts. I am too old to think it is fun. And OMG, the traffic. They come from miles around to see this parade -- the population quadruples for a couple of hours. I don't get it.

Fortunately, it is still fun for Ben. He was so enthusiastic about carrying the marimba for this occasion that he practiced by marching a mile yesterday while carrying the marimba on his front side and his 50 pound backpack on his back. He thought it would toughen him up for the parade this evening. I guess it worked. He said the march tonight was much easier than yesterday's drill.

And speaking of drills, the driving lessons are going well. We go out every day and he is now driving on the road, he's mastered the route to and from school, is gaining confidence, and I'm unclenching a little.

Here's a table runner I made from fabric left over from another larger project. I'm calling this piece "Stars Over Ozark" and it is going to be a prize awarded to the person who sells the most raffle tickets for the quilt (Stars Over Mozambique) I donated to the church as a fundraiser for the Mozambique mission project.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Lesson #1

Ben had his first behind-the-wheel driving lesson today. And I had my first lesson as a driving instructor. Ben did very well and I didn't do too badly. He asked great questions and did well at moving forward slowly, backing, turning, etc. All within a safe, large, empty parking lot. I don't think he's ready for the real world yet; I know I'm not! But, I know I'm ready for him to learn -- this family needs another driver!

Notice the fall foliage on the trees in the background -- November 13 and the colors are still coming! They say the wooly bear caterpillars are extra fuzzy this fall. I'm ready for winter (but not ready for driving on ice!).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Think That I Shall Never See . . .

Dogwood, November 9, 2010

I love the dogwood tree in front of my house. I chose to plant it there because it is native to this area (the state tree) and I thought the protection of the house would fool it into thinking it was growing in the understory, its preferred niche. For a couple of years, I feared I was wrong. It just didn't do very well.
This year when I saw these buds (look closely, or click on the picture to enlarge it) forming on the branches in August, I panicked. I was sure my tree was out of phase, trying to bloom in the wrong season. After a bit of hasty Google research, I learned it was normal. The next season's blooms set in August. I had failed to notice this before because the tree had failed to set a significant number of blossoms -- twelve the first year and ONE the second year. It flowers on my birthday (April 18) which I take as a special gift and I can't wait till next year. The branches carry way too many blossoms to count! Joyful abundance!

I watch the tree very closely. Typically, I spend hours sewing each day, sitting at my machine in the dining room, looking out the window at the dogwood. It gives me great pleasure and many peaceful hours. But, like the fisherman's wife, I am never content for long. Now, I wish for a nest of birds to grace my tree in the spring.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


I was driving through the Sonoma hills toward the coast with a old, old woman in the passenger seat. We were driving around the edge of the ranch she settled on when she came to this country as a bride from Italy. The car crested a hill and the Pacific Ocean spilled into view. She sighed deeply and said, "every time I see this, I'm happy I'm alive."

I was riding through the Ngong hills in Kenya with a middle-aged white man at the wheel. When we crested a hill, passing his home, the grand vista of the Rift Valley unfolded. He said, "every time I see this, I get so happy it hurts."

When I head home along the road that leads to my house and crest the last hill, I see the pasture and barn on my right bordered by a row of black walnut trees. I want to sing, to yodel, to shout. I am so happy I came to live in this part of the country.

I love watching the walnut trees standing sentinel to the changing seasons. I always check to see whether there are cows in the pasture and wonder where they go when they are absent. I thought I would hate being landlocked and mourn proximity to the ocean. I don't; although I must admit it pleases me to visit occasionally so I can check to see if it is still there, that the tides are still at work.

These sensations I choose to call "capacity for joy" and I am so grateful they exist in me. It is a gift, nothing I sought or deserve. If you know what I mean, then you also have it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pix Galore

Wearing this uniform, participating in band events all over the state, and traveling to Disney World results in a hefty price tag. State tax dollars, an annual activity fee paid by the parents, generous donations, and FUNDRAISERS keep the organization marching. As he does in most activities, Ben overachieved at this year's fundraising frozen food sale. He sold 63 orders for a gross of $813.50. Selling is the easy part. Storing and delivering are the real challenge. The food filled both freezers of my two side by side refrigerators and delivering racked up approximately 200 miles, all with the city limits of a town with a population of 10,000. I'm not complaining, I'm just glad it's over. Ben did an outstanding job of managing the whole process. Once again, I'm proud of him.
Here's Valery performing a wildlife rescue at Wilson's Creek Battlefield. This little guy was on the road, so we stopped and she moved him to safety. (Now, wash your hands, Valery!)
Although I finished this quilt barely in time for Halloween, I doubt that I will get it hung up in time. I've chosen a wall where I will hang my quilt du jour (or maybe quilt de la saison), but now I must find someone willing to put up the hanging hardware. Any volunteers?

I had to stop several times yesterday on my way home from a frozen food delivery to take photographs of this amazing sunset.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October Birthdays

Nichole Paine, October 9
Nichole's birthday was earlier in the month and this past Sunday, they celebrated Mallaika.
Nichole is helping Mallaika read the label on her birthday quilt. Mallaika's birthday party with a dozen squealing five year old girls had just wrapped up. She was pleased with her "blanket" and put it on her bed right away. She also liked her tooth fairy pillow case from Logan (and the dollar tucked into the tooth fairy envelope). Via Skype, I got to visit their beautiful new home. Nichole has done a great job furnishing and decorating it. I also got to talk to/see grandson Tom. They have settled nicely into becoming a regular middle class family -- graduating from starving student mode.

Mallaika Paine, October 15
Here's the birthday girl just before breaking into a dance routine for the camera.
Valery Goodell October 25
Valery and I celebrated her birthday at lunch with Steve and Julia. (And then we celebrated again at dinner with pumpkin pie standing in for birthday cake.)
Jack and Abby Brown, October 25 (two years old)
Valery and I spent the weekend in Des Moines while Ben went to a band festival in Saint Louis and Logan spent the weekend with Steve and Julia. Valery's friend, Kelly, moved to Des Moines early in the summer, and Valery needed to see where they sleep. Seeing where people sleep is a "thing" in our family. When someone dear moves away, we are unable to rest well until we know where they are resting. Think about it, you probably feel the same way.

Other noteworthy October birthdays: Robin's was October 8, she would have been 49; Ken's was October 18, he would have been 61; and my dear friend Nancy's birthday is October 21, she is timeless, perpetual, eternal, and I love her so much, I'd never tell her age, in fact I'm not sure how old she is.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Our Hero

Valery arrived just in time to join me and Ben at Logan's football game Tuesday evening.
Our hero, number 66 hustles for some reason or other -- doesn't he look great?
He still looks great, even when he is tired, sweaty, smelly, and defeated (barely -- it was a great game!).

Monday, October 18, 2010

And the Band Played On

This blurry grainy image was captured just before the battery died on my camera. Ben is playing vibes -- the blisters on his fingers caused by playing with four mallets have turned into callouses, but, the season is drawing to a close, only one more game, one more competition, and the Christmas parade before the uniform goes into mothballs till next year. And then we gear up for Winter Drum Line and the Spring Concert Band followed by Summer band trip and camps and so goes the merry-go-round.

We spent a quiet weekend even though we were hosts pro tem for foreign exchange student, Lars (from Bremen, Germany). He's very low maintenance, so put no extra demands on us -- keep him fed with bread and water and he's happy. Friday night he was honored at the football team for his participation on the swim team. It's his first year ever on a swim team and he has been consistently beating his own best times. He's a very nice and bright young man; it was a privilege to have him here.

And Tomorrow! Tomorrow Valery arrives! We'll have a very busy week and we both already wish she were staying longer. Her plane comes in around five and I'll rush her off to Logan's last game of the season.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wishing Well?

The person who assaulted my grandson last October has been released from El Dorado County Jail and been booked by Placer County on charges of transporting and selling narcotics. He's held without bail and is scheduled for trial October 21. I'm guessing that will be a preliminary hearing and the process will drag on for a while. I find myself wishing that he will be convicted and that this will constitute a "second strike." I want him in prison.

Then I start to feel bad and wonder if wishing ill for someone will poison me. But, am I wishing ill for someone, or wishing for the safety of others? I have never seen the young man; I've seen his booking photo and Colleen has reported on his conduct at various court proceedings. My reaction to the vacant look in his eyes was that he had no soul. What I construe from Colleen's reports is that he also has no remorse. I'm not sure that there is any benefit to returning him to society.

I am as sick over his lost soul as I am over the injuries to Danny and by extension to Colleen and all the rest of us who love Danny. The perpetrator is only nineteen years old and was once someone's darling baby boy. His mother is still involved in his life and did appear at the last one of the court proceedings. She did tell Colleen she was sorry, but I got the feeling there is not a strong connection between the mother and her son.

I am concerned about the long term affects of the attack on Danny. Will he become jaded? Insensitive to his own pain? Will he somehow gain something from it? Will he be safe and avoid dangerous situations? I am so grateful his physical mending went well and pray that his soul mends equally well. He is a beautiful, sweet, gorgeous, lovable, young man with wonderful potential.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Day Late

This cake commemorates Robin's 49th birthday. I tried (with Kevin and Colleen's help) to remember her favorite cake. Together we thought of German's Sweet Chocolate Cake, cheesecake, carrot cake, and Peter's (bakery on Alum Rock Ave., San Jose) burnt almond cake. So, I thought I would try to make a burnt almond cake. This one isn't bad. I think Peter's just uses toasted almonds splattered on the top and sides -- my recipe had you make burnt almond brittle and crush it -- way too much work! The custard frosting is a blend of vanilla custard and whipped cream, very yummy. It was so much work that it took me until today to finish putting it together.

I don't remeber many of her birthdays and that makes me very sad. Of course, I vividly remember the first -- the day of her birth -- at the Naval Hospital on Whidby Island, Washington. I recall someone, a stranger, standing at the nursery window looking at the three babies behind the glass, pointing to Robin and saying, "that's the prettiest one." I felt like I had won a prize.

We spent several of her birthday weekends camping at Morro Bay, feasting on clam chowder and abalone. October was the perfect time of year on the central coast. Our friends, the Matthews (Nancy, Herb, Seth, and Sam), usually joined us on those trips.

We celebrated her 21st birthday at a rented cabin at Lake Tahoe. My wonderful friend Nancy brought the birthday cake for that event -- a cake with a bottle of champagne planted in the middle of it. Robin's dear friend Alice joined us for that celebration.

It's hard to write this and to pull up those memories; I get lost and overwhelmed.