a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

In case you're wondering...

The Memorial Day party at Cathy and Steve's was perfect, of course.

If I were giving a prize for the most delicious taste (difficult among the great foods the great neighborhood cooks assembled), my first would go to this dessert, which Yvonne Ng brought.  She kindly sent me her recipe, which I had practically demanded, and thought I'd share the treasure with you.  (I'm sorry...I don't have a picture, because I and others, apparently, ate it up too fast.)


Flourless Nut Roll

The cake is so simple, if you have an automatic beater.  

Nine (9) eggs total (you can vary the number of whites and yolks)
No more than one cup of sugar (I used half at most)
One (1) cup of nut flour (I do not like the store bought nut meat, so I grind my own, making sure it's not ground into powder, so you can still taste the nut)

On high beat the egg and sugar for 20 mins, until a huge rise.  Stir in nutmeats, slowly...you can mix it by hand if you want to.  Try not to disturb the volume much.

Line a 12 x 18 pan, or smaller, depending on your volume, with parchment paper that has been greased.

[Pour in mixture gently.]

Bake at 350 F oven for 10 minutes to start, and keep testing with a knife tip.

When done, flip it over onto a towel/cloth lined with powdered sugar.  While still very warm, roll the towel/cloth to make a roll cake.  The trick is rolling the cake.  Please read "roll cake" online.  Mine is very random.  I find that using towel or fabric to roll is the easiest.

When cooled, unroll to put in a filling of whipped cream and jam or preserves or fresh fruit, like peaches.  I used peach preserve and peach.

For easy slicing, freeze the cake first.

You can also just do a sheet cake by cutting in half and sandwiching the filling in between.

Yvonne served it by cutting into slices and putting each slice in a fluted cupcake paper, easier to pick up and eat.

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Now that I'm thinking about those other desserts, I'd also have to give a prize to the Berry Tart that Artie Dixon made.  I don't have the recipe, but I know the secret ingredient:  she went to a farm and handpicked the strawberries, at least two quarts, it looked like.

Or maybe I shouldn't bother with prizes...there were way too many other dishes I prized, too.  I should just get the recipes for all of them.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Memorial Day

On my way to swim this morning, later than usual because of the pool’s holiday hours, the first drops fell on this Memorial Day, and have fallen pretty much since.  I’m watching it as I write, and noting that the soft, soaking rain may not quite get everywhere.  Now that the trees have ripened with leaves, even a hard rain doesn’t reach under some plots, including the far slope (my gardening nemesis) where I’ve newly transplanted some variegated vinca I found sprouting in a back corner of my lot that I rarely bother with.  You can imagine how contrary it felt to be out in my raincoat watering the newcomers while it rained.

The birds, sans rain gear, are busy, darting from tree to tree, nesting and feeding.  Last night, I saw the first fireflies, so both the weekend and nature are in sync for once.


Rain or not, we’re looking forward to this evening’s neighborhood picnic at Cathy and Steve’s.  My shrimp salad is in the frig, as is the iced tea I promised.  C and S are as ready as you can be in such weather…a tarp hung across the back deck and stations for drinks and food (there are a lot of really good cooks among us) set safely in their great room, through the screen door. The thing about their open houses is that details matter...the lighting adjusted, the garden clipped and spruced, the weather considered...even the color of the forks in a particular holder.


Since Christmas, tiny lights have been strung across the ceiling, and at five o’clock exactly will reflect on the windows as if they’ve simply crawled outside and draped themselves across the yard, too.  The neighborhood children will have to make do with muddy clothes; they won’t want to stay in when there are climbing forts, slide and zip line to entertain them...Steve's idea of the perfect back yard for the young.  I doubt that any of the neighbors will think the rain a deterrent.  Cathy and Steve know how to do a party.


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Memorial weekend means summer has arrived, so I’m making lists for what's become our annual June trip to the shore, gathering things for a few weeks there.  ETD is still 10 days away, but at least three times a day, my uncle will ask, So we’ll be leaving soon for the shore?  Partly because he’s a closer by nature (events once spoken need to happen now), and partly because the shore is the one place he still has left of his life with my aunt, he’s anxious to be on our way.  Just before lunch today, in fact, he asked, as if to confirm a certainty, whether we’d leave this evening.  I reminded him of tonight’s picnic, but instead of being puzzled, he simply nodded, accepting the overlay his memory routinely performs these days.  We are going to walk across the street for the picnic, but in his mind we might as well be on our way to the shore.  Memorial Day, indeed.


I can’t blame him; I’m looking forward to it, too.  As usual, the whole time we’re in residence, people will be dropping in to visit or stay.  It’s the way the house has always been.  The thing about the shore is:  you arrive, and everyone else piles in, by invitation or spontaneity.  Let’s take a ride down to Lavallette, someone says, and soon they are at the door, often with a box of our favorite pastries or a basket of corn or tomatoes.  It’s one of the pleasures of settling in to that place of gathering, no one on a schedule, everyone there for the pleasure of it and the chance to relax together.  


The other pleasures?  You’ve heard them before, and not only from me:  the sound of the ocean at night, and the sun rising up into the window in the morning.  An early (or late) walk along the boardwalk or sand, the ease of everything one needs pretty much in walking distance...and needs there are few.  The voices of people passing on their way to the beach, of children shouting, of the lifeguards' whistles.  A house where the sameness of life over the last 70 years, whatever other change generations (or hurricanes) bring, is a deep breath.  It’s what my mother used to call Easy in, Easy out.  It's no different than others' pleasures at a beach home, a mountain home, a lakeside or desert retreat.  But this one is ours.  

People are kind to wish us good weather, but, frankly, it hardly matters.  I’m taking a pile of things to read (there’s always the library a few blocks down), some needlework, and my paints, this year for me and for Alexander.  And my raincoat.  You can walk in the rain there.  Take the kids to the 5 & 10 for a new game or puzzle.  Go for ice cream.  Play ten games of ace-picks-all or gin rummy.




Or sit at the window and imagine the churn of the waves speaking poems to you.



If this sounds a bit too ideal to be true, you’re right to cast some salt on it…the truth is, it’s mostly like that in reality, given an entanglement or two, but since we haven’t actually arrived there yet, my anticipation of the truth of summer is doing the talking. You know how that goes...or if you don't, perhaps you'd like to meet us there and find out for yourself.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A word about the nothing of something

It's been raining for three days now, on and off, a drizzle here and there during the day, a downpour late at night or early in the morning.  The reports gloomily predict the same for the next week, and hold up as the bright spot the mid-seventies temperature, cooler and lighter than the eighties we'd otherwise bear.


Meanwhile, I have been slowing down, sitting on the porch with my cup of hot water in the early mornings, after my swim, and then later after dinner until the dark comes, enjoying the sound of rain or almost rain and the light scent of the gardenia my kind sister-in-law Sue gave me for Mother's Day.  This morning I opened my eyes and didn't pull on my suit as usual...my swim, for once, didn't seem to matter; instead I pulled a book of Hawaiian stories down from the table behind me and began it over again, though the marker I'd left in it was already past the middle pages.  This time I read word by word, catching images my eyes hadn't taken in the first time.  When I got up an hour later, my side a bit pinched by the way I'd been holding the book, I thought of several errands I could do before I had to set out my uncle's breakfast, but my new mood talked me out of those for the moment.

It's not a bad thing to unload the requirements of one's life every now and then.  This minute I am hearing the yard-trash truck lumbering up the street below my house, and it's not bothering me too much that I haven't taken the bin full of tree debris out to meet them...nice people who greet me with a cheery good morning every week, and don't mind if I have forgotten to dump the rainwater out of the bin first.  It'll wait til next time.

So instead I've begun this post, for the first time without a title.  I'm usually centered about that, not always knowing what it will become but always with a phrase or word that seems to unlock my word-hoard, as the Beowulf translations call it.  It's not that I'm floundering here...in fact, only yesterday I had a perfectly good idea of what I wanted to impart this morning, and eventually I will get to it on this page, but first this rainy-weather wandering through the land of the slow riser.

My neighbor will appreciate particularly appreciate this, since she claims to enjoy taking the morning bit by bit, her robe tucked around her, her coffee in hand, hearing or reading the news, clearing her energies for the busier parts of the day.  My feet usually slide off the bed and onto the floor in one quick direction after another; morning is my get-things-done time of day.  Right now, on her wave length, it feels restorative.  In a minute I will go down to get my cup and sit on the porch, pondering whatever, and accepting whatever the day brings, without much guidance from me.

But back to what I originally had in mind to relate here.  Though it has nothing to do with slow mornings or letting go, I realize now that there is a sort of thin thread between them...perhaps you will see it, too?

I was going to call this post Cats and Boys.  Two days ago, coming back early from the pool, the ordinarily traffic-clogged road in front of the middle and elementary school was emptied by the state teacher's determined march on the capital, and with the lane to myself I passed a young mother on one side of the street, holding in her arms her boy child, who was intently watching a huge construction site rumbling into motion on the other side.  The mother was pointing across, and the boy...the baby boy, no more than a year at most...had his eyes fixed on the huge yellow machines rolling and crumbling and dumping and piling the (notorious) henna'd clay, in preparation for something not yet identifiable to be built.  I wish I'd had my camera ready to take a picture. 

And yet, I already have a picture, indelible. 

Are you grinning yet, those of you with boys raised on torn-up street-corners, in formerly vacant lots, along wire fences looking in at those mechanical creatures that, no matter how earthbound their jobs, fascinate small eyes for hours?  Can you feel the weight of the child in arms, held high enough to see the goings-on, to lean forward eager for the next lift of the crane or digger arm?  And who, though he might have few spoken words in his vocabulary beyond dada yet, can still manage to distinguish aloud between an excavator and a bulldozer?  That look on their faces, concentrating so hard on the slightest movement of wheel in muck, eyes roving back and forth to detect practically before it happens the next big dig.

It made me laugh out loud, remembering how many times, over two generations, we counted trucks on the road or managed to entertain a fussy boy by strolling him down to where the workmen had dug into their day.  The road pavers, cable and pipe layers, the yard trash people, the recycler, the garbage men, rolling down the street in front of the house...how, from East coast to West and in between, we'd race out in time to meet them, and once or twice even "help" the agreeable handler, no doubt a parent of a boy himself, push the button to pick up and dump the containers. 



If you need a jog of memory, here is the link to the Excavator Song, now conveniently on YouTube in case there is no construction site handy when one needs it.  It is guaranteed to stop children mid-fuss.

It's not, of course, as good as the real thing in motion.  But it has the advantage of a song which will fill your head for the rest of the day.








Saturday, May 5, 2018

Art with Alexander

I never feel age...If you have creative work, you don't have age or time.
--Louise Nevelson

I have been reading a (rather pedantic, I'm sorry to say) life of Louise Nevelson, the sculptor who worked most of the 20th century on large constructive walls you can find in museums and public spaces, and while you may look askance at those installations (for her work, the perfect word), they are impressive not only in their scale but in the straightforward lines, shapes, and blackness.  In them seem embedded her immigrant background, her upbringing in a family caught in the first generation dichotomy between old country ways and new social adaptations, not to mention the fierceness of her intentions for art.  She made her place among other modernists (I'm sure the art history people would categorize it as something else, but it is so evocative of what we think of in ordinary life as modern, so I use that term deliberately)...Albers and Calder, Frankenthaler and deKooning...and was known to be as flamboyant and extravagant in her personal style as any wild rock star, not that that's the point here.  She made her mark, pulling people into her endeavors, crises, complications, and mostly her work.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post:  Alexander and I at work at art.


Like Nevelson (and me), Alexander is a builder with found materials:  outside he chooses sticks and branches, which become, with a little tape and glue, sculptures on their own.  This one is the tree he made at my sister's house last weekend; it began with a load of yard trash from her neighbor's fire pit and though he wanted to make the wood into a fort, little by little its inherent intention became clear...it might be a totem (he'd been admiring my brother-in-law's miniature American Indian set from his childhood), but eventually it got to be a tree...a tree made out of leftover tree parts.  He wanted to bring the graceful twig art home with him, but I convinced him we would make another when we got back here, and besides, his favorite great-aunt went gratifyingly crazy over it.  So, apparently, did her flowering vine, which you see clings charmingly to it.

Inside, he scours the studio for interesting scraps...clock parts, copper shavings, rusted wire and tools...and invents new life for them.  Last week, Alexander came over for a long afternoon and evening, and so we had plenty of time to do lots of creative things.  After we shopped, made cookies (of course), invited our neighbor Louie over for a session with Legos on the porch, had snacks and supper, we settled down to painting.  Though up to now, his art work has been mostly lines and geometric shapes, you can see that these days he is into picasso-like images, with stories behind them.  He likes colored paper and watercolor, and talks nearly the whole time he is working.  It's a lot of fun to engage in art with him, and even moreso to learn all kinds of things, including inspirations for more art.



For instance, as the painting (of palm trees) last week went on, the paintbox got pretty much drowned with the excess water he had been lavishly dipping into it, and so I placed a paper towel over the box to soak it up.  Pulling up the towel, I showed him the imprint it made...two rows of color blinking back at him.  He was excited..."Let's make more!"  So I got some white paper, and an enameled pan, and squirted some paint on it...or rather he did...in blobs.  We put sheets of paper over it, rolled them with a brayer, and saw what designs ensued.


Yes, yes, we know everyone knows this simple trick of printing; we'd done it on a previous visit with a pan of gelatin, too.  But through Alexander's eyes and hands, old hat becomes new again.  He found stories in it and shapes...see the turtle? And the designs were so interesting, I decided to use them for cards.  Here are four that became of his impressions, enhanced with handmade paper scraps, a bit more paint, pen and imagination.  I have to say I'm pretty proud of them, and him.






So nice to work at art with a kindred spirit!


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Foundlings, or How Does Your Garden Grow?




The past few days, after a minor cold spell, have been too beautiful not to be outdoors.  My uncle and I were on a short walk down our neighborhood street last week, when I discovered a small elegant purple flower popping up all by itself in the otherwise barren desert of the lower end of my front slope.  On closer inspection, it turned out to be a dwarf iris (the crested variety, I found out later); I have no idea how it got there.  I may have planted it myself from neighbors' gifts a year or two ago, or perhaps it's been hiding out for years before my coming, waiting for enough gumption to show its face.  It may soon have some company, for I also noticed nearby one or two of the same sort of leaf croppings breaking through the clay. 

After a really weird cold-hot winter, it at first seemed that I had lost quite a few of the small perennials I'd been in past years trying to make into a recognizable garden.  Of the hellebores (deer-, drought-, neophyte-resistant), famed for taking over whole plots (at least in other people's gardens), only one plant returned; same with the heuchera.  Of the ferns, so joyously returning each prior year, nothing was left. From an aesthetic view, April seemed more like February than spring, although the earth was warm enough.


So in the last weeks, I have been digging in about a dozen or so new varieties, hoping they are sturdier ones.  Some came from the garden store, some were gifts of pitying neighbors, some culled from the sides of the road. Last week, just as a huge storm was forecast, I'd hurriedly put the last of them in so that the rains would settle them, and enclosed them in small circular rock "terraces" to hold the water back from rushing down uselessly past them into the street.  Alexander helped me put down some mulch in the most vulnerable areas.  It seemed to have worked.

Since then, each time I pass by the slope, I notice evidence that I may not have lost as much as I thought.  Here and there, a cluster of violet appears, and with them, amazingly, a few of the hosta leaves from the plants the deer chomped off last year the day after I planted them.



 Ditto the Solomon's seal and the liriope which had met the same fate.  Even the eaten-to-the-root hydrangea has small leaves shouldering up from an inch or two under the dirt.


What kind of living thing voluntarily rises again, knowing it will be devoured before it matures?  But here, bravely, these specimens are trying again. And talk about determination:  vines from way back of the house have crawled 50 or more feet underground to pop up like sunbathers on a popular beach, spread from one end to the other along the curb twice that length.



Like the dwarf iris, there are as well things I've never seen before.  Consider the lily, or something like it (see below; you can tell me what it is), which seems to be establishing itself quite prolifically all along the slope.  Invasive or not, its bright green tiered leaf makes me admire its spunk.


On the other hand, that English ivy also traveling from its tangles back there, and the million small maple sprouts that seem to want my yard to rival Lost Maples forest, I can do without...I foresee hours of tugging and pulling as the weeks ascend into summer.



Fortunately, there are gifts that bloom in larger measure:  look at this dark iris I have watched since its bud, today in full flower...if the only one to bloom of all those I planted.  Whatever else happens in the garden, I have this moment of pride and amazement.




I'm thinking that my feeble attempt to design this plot might be futile, considering the larger plan organized by things beyond my sight.  Each day, I see what will return or move in on its own, and besides, I am lazy enough to have the sort of yard that accepts orphans and interlopers.  Before I make any more guesses about what will work where, I will need to see what these foundlings make of themselves.  There is a lesson in there somewhere about the degree to which resilience depends on patience, perhaps even more than fortitude.  And another lesson about giving up on nature, plant or human, too soon.

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Miracles



                                  for A_

It is a long flight between 
    hope and blessing
the promises we string together

like pearls
clasped around our hearts

each begun with so tiny
a grain
of willfulness
(or something like it
virtue perhaps
good)
we hardly noticed 
we embraced

night after night we whisper
persist in believing
(oh! the longing, the pulse,
the ache for grace)

One by one, they strengthen
and shine
until they become us
adorned in faith.

                                               r   04 18

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pictures of April


The trees resolve


to endure for now


 they will leaf out in April




and I must be as patient as the trees




Sweet breath drifting through the windows:


perfume of memory



...what we don't quite see comforts us



[selected words from "The Months", a poem by Linda Pastan]