January 29, 2016

this beautiful world...

Whoo-hoo....the weekend is fast approaching!  A few more hours and it will be "date night".  As we have matured (we have wisely decided to not ever use the phrase growing older) going out on Friday nights has lost a bit of its sparkle.  Crowded, noisy bars/restaurants full of incredibly young people has lost its allure. But hanging out at home with my best friend?

That never grows old!  Nor does a lovely bottle of wine, a wedge of my favorite British Wensleydale cheese studded with cranberries, and long, rambling trips down memory road with soft candlelight casting shadows in the room and one of our beloved LPs playing in the background.

All that's left is to decide which album to choose first....the Stylistics? Fifth Dimension? Neil Diamond? Chicago? Or a little Simon and Garfunkel to put a happy smile on my face?

I'm sure laundry and grocery shopping will appear somewhere on the radar this weekend, but for the most part I plan to CRAFT.  This time of year always gives me a bit of cabin fever, and home projects keep me busy and not missing my back deck and garden quite so much.  And right now the projects are piling up!  I have three special birthday gifts I hope to complete this weekend, plus I finally found the perfect fabric for new family room window valances.  But, my friends, you know how it goes!  If you Give a Mouse a Cookie....you'll also want to paint a couple of walls to match the valances!  I also need to finish a baby cap I'm knitting, order yarn for a new baby blanket, and finish a special quilt for Lily.  I have more than enough to keep busy until I can get outside again.  Of course, my brain is swirling with ideas for my garden and side deck as well...!!

But I'll be sure to slow down Sunday evening in time to watch the next episode of Downton Abbey.  I have had such fun the past few weeks trying new recipes and sipping tea in style while watching this wonderful Masterpiece Theater production.  I guess it's time to crack open the cookbooks and find the perfect recipe for this weekend!

And because I am so very lucky to have someone special to hold hands with tonight, I thought it was the perfect time for another incredible love poem by Mary Oliver, A Voice from I Don't Know Where.

It seems you love this world very much.
“Yes,” I said. “This beautiful world.” 

And you don’t mind the mind, that keeps you 
busy all the time with its dark and bright wonderings?
“No, I’m quite used to it. Busy, busy, 
all the time.” 

And you don’t mind living with those questions, 
I mean the hard ones, that no one can answer?
“Actually, they’re the most interesting.”

And you have a person in your life whose hand 
you like to hold?
“Yes, I do.” 

It must surely, then, be very happy down there 
in your heart. 
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”

January 27, 2016

Cold blows the wind from east to west...

I have to agree with Robert Burns this time of year---up early in the morning is not for me, when the hills are covered with snow!  And yet, here I am, again, up way before dawn, peering out into the blackness and wondering if there will be even a hint of sunshine to offer hope on another dark January day.

We had a few more inches of snow the last two days, resulting in pretty scenery outside my door:

and visits from a few intrepid souls that don't seem to mind the wind as much as I do...

We have had coyote sightings the last couple of weeks in our neighborhood, and every morning I peek outside to see if there are any unfamiliar paw prints in the snow.  So far I haven't glimpsed them, but since I've seen raccoons, ground hogs, wild turkeys, deer, and a gorgeous red fox in my yard over the past few years I bet I'll catch a glimpse of them at some point.  It still amazes me that I have so much wildlife in the heart of the city!

But a glance out of my kitchen window this morning as I quietly make the coffee shows only darkness and more snow, so I'll turn to the warm and steady glow of a candle  instead to light my way towards morning.  Cold winds outside, but warm hearts inside!

Up in the Morning Early
Cauld blaws the wind frae east to west,
   The drift is driving sairly;
Sae loud and shrill’s I hear the blast,
   I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

Up in the morning’s no for me,
   Up in the morning early;
When a’ the hills are cover’d wi’ snaw,
   I’m sure its winter fairly.

The birds sit chittering in the thorn,
   A’ day they fare but sparely;
And lang’s the night frae e’en to morn,
   I’m sure it’s winter fairly.

Up in the morning’s no for me,
   Up in the morning early;
When a’ the hills are cover’d wi’ snaw,
   I’m sure its winter fairly.

And no matter how hard the cold wind blows, or how loud and shrill its blast, let's still remember that 
Today is a Good Day for a Good Day!

January 22, 2016

Suddenly sixty...

Good morning!  Don't you love Mary Oliver's quote?  I've been doing a lot of reflecting over the past week on my own wild and precious life, and I simply can't believe how fast the trip has been.  One minute I was this little girl...

then in a blink of an eye I was heading off to college...

followed in rapid order by marriage, a beautiful family, several career changes, and then I woke up this morning to discover I am...

Oh my.  My last decade had its full share of ups and downs---I lost my beloved father and uncle, several aunts, and my sweet shih-tzu Belle.  I was diagnosed with a chronic disease, battled cancer, and watched two dear family members battle it as well.  We endured job downsizing, and I changed careers mid-life, not an easy task.  I can truthfully say I did not always have my act together...

“I had it together on Sunday.
By Monday at noon it had cracked.
On Tuesday debris
Was descending on me.
And by Wednesday no part was intact.
On Thursday I picked up some pieces.
On Friday I picked up the rest.
By Saturday, late,
It was almost set straight.
And on Sunday the world was impressed
With how well I had got it together.” 
~~Judith Viorst

But for all the stressful times, there were so many joy-filled days.  Three of my children graduated from college, two of them married the loves of their lives, and my other two sons fell deeply in love with wonderful women.  My marriage flourished and my friendships grew deeper as we all came to realize how fleeting life is and how much we need to embrace each day as a gift.  I've spent time with my beautiful mother, with my extended family, and we welcomed our beloved grand-daughter into the world.  I camped, I hiked, I gardened, I crafted.  We all gathered to create family memories that I will cherish forever.  And I started this blog, which has brought me so much satisfaction and new friendships as well.  And for all these reasons, I face this new decade with joy and profound gratitude.

We recently watched the movie The Bucket List, and I loved a conversation towards the end of the movie about the ancient Egyptians belief about death.  When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions. Their answers determined whether they were able to enter or not. ‘Have you found joy in your life?’ ‘Has your life brought joy to others?'

"Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled ---
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even 
to float a little
above this difficult world."

~~Mary Oliver

I hope as I continue on my wild and precious journey, that I can remember to enjoy the little things, to be both a receiver and a bringer of joy, and to never stop being dazzled.  And with those hopes firmly in place, I am ready to face this new decade.

Today is a good day for a good day!

January 20, 2016

Seriously, when you start to write the name of your blog---that THING you've written for almost four years, and sweat and cried over, trying to find just the right poem, just the right picture, and just the right words to make your post as good as it's gonna get---and you can't REMEMBER THE NAME OF YOUR BLOG you know something's wrong.  As in, I need to write more posts (I've been really slacking off lately!) OR...I'm growing older and hence more forgetful. 

Oh right, that's the name!!
Let's go with slacking off, shall we?  Because the subject of birthdays is just a tad TOUCHY this week.  January is a lovely month for birthdays---three of my very dearest friends in the whole wide world (no exaggeration!) have January birthdays.  They are all amazing women.  One started a new career in the last few years, studying in Italy and becoming an expert bow rehairer and restoration specialist.  She and her sister have opened their own studio and work is steady and satisfying.  I am in awe.

Just in case you have a violin bow that needs rehairing, you can check out her work at Con Brio Studio
Another friend is incredibly talented and turns out amazing creations with her trusty sewing machine.  She is so creatively brilliant, and wickedly funny,  that she boggles my mind.  I am in awe.

Cloth elephant created for a client in memory of the her mother.  The mother loved elephants and this one was made from a piece of her mother's clothing.  What a treasured keepsake!
My best friend is an amazing mother.  We both read, and re-read, and then read yet again, The Family That Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss in junior high and dreamed of being mothers.  I dreamed big (4 children) but she dreamed bigger (6 children), three of whom she and her husband adopted out of the foster care system.  Every time I'm tired or frazzled, I think how she still has to face slumber parties, birthday parties, middle school, the teen years, dating and college with her youngest three, I. Stand. In. Awe.

Celebrating my 18th birthday with my siblings and my best friend, 1974. Check out our cool shoes!
I have a special uncle that shares my best friend's January birthday.   I also have a cousin that celebrates her January birthday in style---teaching zumba classes in a tutu!  Whoo-hoo, that's the spirit!
Happy birthday to a seriously cool cousin!
And to make January even sweeter, we can also celebrate some of my favorite writers' birthdays!  JRR Tolkien, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack London, Lewis Carroll, and last, but certainly not least, AA Milne.  Does that mean it's Winnie the Pooh's birthday too?

I would much rather celebrate Pooh's birthday than face the fact that not only am I turning a year older later this week, I am turning a new decade.  That sounds rather daunting. Dang, truth be told, that just sounds rather old.  How on earth did that happen?  Wasn't I turning 14 just last week?

Egad. The saving grace in this picture is my adorable pink skirt...I loved that skirt!!
I'm all for celebrating my friends' and relatives' birthdays but turning another decade?  As Scrooge would say, humbug. But if I must age, I'll try to do it with grace, and of course with profound gratitude that I am alive and able to blow out the candles and make a wish...

For K.R., On Her Sixtieth Birthday

Blow out the candles of your cake.
They will not leave you in the dark,
Who round with grace this dusky arc
Of the grand tour which souls must take.

You who have sounded William Blake,
And the still pool, to Plato's mark,
Blow out the candles of your cake.
They will not leave you in the dark.

Yet, for your friends' benighted sake,
Detain your upward-flying spark;
Get us that wish, though like the lark
You whet your wings till dawn shall break:
Blow out the candles of your cake. 

~~Richard Wilbur 

Let's all find something to enjoy today about our "grand tour" and always remember...
Today is a good day for a good day!

January 13, 2016

Eek...there's a mouse!

I know it's almost mid-January, but since I was sick part of December I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to all the holiday fun.  I thought you might enjoy peeking in on an adventure I had right after New Year's Day, that combined a mansion, two lovely girls, and more than a few mischievous mice.  Here's how the story goes...

Ever since my daughter started college in Oshkosh, WI, we have planned to go to the special holiday exhibit of The Nutcracker at the beautiful Paine Art Center.  But December always got so crazy busy that each year we'd end up promising each other that "next year" we'd squeeze the exhibit in.  "Next year" finally arrived the day after New Year's Day and my daughter and my son's girlfriend and I set off to explore the exhibit. The Paine Art Center is a beautiful building with special memories--my daughter and I enjoyed a Norman Rockwell exhibit a couple of years ago, her wedding photos were taken in the beautiful gardens there, and this past fall my husband and I thoroughly loved its special Downton Abbey costume exhibit this past fall.


We weren't quite sure what to expect with this special holiday exhibit, although we knew based on previous visits that it was sure to be spectacular!  The Nutcracker has very special memories for my whole family, and I'll write more about those sugar-plum sweet memories later this week.  I can't wait to show you some of the stunning displays!  I thought it might be fun in this post to focus on all the little mice that were displayed so cleverly throughout the house.

If you brought children to the exhibit, they could go on a "mouse hunt" to see if they could discover all the little figurines.  I can't wait to introduce Lily to this wonderful holiday exhibit! Today's poem features a few of the verses from Wong Herbert Lee's delightful book, Eek, There's a Mouse in the House!  And at the Paine Art Center, that was Eek! many times over!!

There's a mouse in the house!

There's a mouse in the house!

Send in the cat
To catch that rat!

Uh-oh, the cat 
knocked over a lamp

Send in the dog
To catch that scamp!

Dear me!
The dog has broken a dish
And now the cat is after a fish!

Send in a hog
To shoo that dog!

Oh my!
The hog is eating the cake
Sending the hog was a big mistake!

And to top off our very special tour, we ended up in the Sugar Plum Fairy cafe (aka the Garden Conservatory) with an extra special treat!  

May your day be as scrumptious as this beautiful cupcake!
And please remember...
Today is a good day for a good day!!

January 11, 2016

...the guest sits smiling and sips her tea

And unbelievably, somehow it is January.  Fall is now nothing but a blur, and December was definitely a whirlwind, with a visit from my mother, a nasty bout of food poisoning, and all of the Christmas preparations on top of work.  The holidays were lovely and the memories are sweet, but I must confess to looking forward to this new year.  So far it holds only happy plans and the year is sparkly new and full of promise.

One of the very best things about January is, of course, the return of Downton Abbey!  Oh my, how I've missed this series.  And oh double my, what am I going to do once it ends??!  I am glad that its creator, Julian Fellows, is wrapping up this delightful series before it runs out of steam, but I know I'm going to miss it dreadfully.  Last week when the opening credits began with that distinctive piano music and the camera zoomed in on the house (mansion? abbey?) I must confess tears sprang to my eyes.  I get a little over-excited sometimes...

...because everyone serves tea and sherry during Downton Abbey, right??
And since I've been adrift since the finale of the British Baking Show, lost at sea without any baking inspiration, Downton Abbey couldn't have arrived at a better time!  I turned eagerly to my shelves of cookbooks and chose a new one, English Tea & Cakes, to provide a lovely repast during opening night.  So far I'm really impressed with this cookbook--the recipes are easy to understand and fairly simple.  The author was kind enough to provide UK to USA conversions and definitions in the glossary, which is really helpful.  Since I discovered I can't buy "mixed spices" here, I made my own for last night's tea bread---it's a lovely mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice, ginger, cloves, mace and coriander.

My first try was a Manchester tart, with a pie crust bottom spread with apricot jam and a tasty filling, and then topped with meringue.  My family all agreed it was a keeper!

Last night I tried another two recipes from the same cookbook--this time we enjoyed Florentine slices, which have a chocolate layer on the bottom (instead of a flour based crust) that is then covered with a mixture of eggs, sugar, spices, dried fruit and coconut.  Baked and then chilled, the slices were delicious!!  Along with the Earl Grey tea I also served a yummy blackberry tea loaf, flavored with molasses and my special mixed spices.  

And to make the night even more festive, I used the beautiful Blue Willow  tea cups my husband chose when we were visiting Harrods a few years ago.  What a great way to finish the weekend--special memories--delicious food--and wonderful entertainment!!

Since I seem to be stuck on all things British with this post, a nice English poem seems just the cup of tea  today (I know, I know, but I couldn't resist!).  Considering all the twists and turns of love at the Abbey, both upstairs and downstairs, this poem by Thomas Hardy seems rather apropos...

    At Tea 
    THE kettle descants in a cozy drone,
    And the young wife looks in her husband's face,
    And then in her guest's, and shows in her own
    Her sense that she fills an envied place;
    And the visiting lady is all abloom,
    And says there was never so sweet a room.
    And the happy young housewife does not know
    That the woman beside her was his first choice,
    Till the fates ordained it could not be so....
    Betraying nothing in look or voice
    The guest sits smiling and sips her tea,
    And he throws her a stray glance yearningly.

Have a lovely start to your week, and please remember...

It is a good day to have a good day!!