a journal of...

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

A little November chill

Good morning.  It's early, I know...dark still here, with the moon a bright-white (nearly) round companion in the western sky. 

It's cold, too...31 F, promised to dip to 29 in the next hour or so.  Fleece jacket and wool socks on, I walked out into the clear air to pull the trash bin out for pickup and gather mail, and stopped for a few minutes, enjoying dark, cold, moon.  In a little while, when it's lighter, I think I will get out again to walk.  My favorite times to wander out this month have been at twilight, but this morning, dawn entices me.

This is Thanksgiving week, the children home from school for their fall break and the holiday, so it's quiet, no early busses' yellow rumble.  One or two of the families on the street have left already for visits to relatives, but most of us remain in situ, planning holiday gatherings in small, familiar numbers.  I, who happily used to gather tables full of celebrants, have come to like the gatherings of half a dozen inside.

Inside on ordinary days, the tasks draw winterish...sewing to knitting, garden work to kitchen work, reading and movies to...more reading and movies.  Music tunes-in more contemplative, less jazzy.  The Farmer's Market sprouts greens, thick-skinned vine crops and crafts, fewer delicate fruits.  Summer herbs move to warmer interiors.

There's more regular time for art, too, thanks to a weekly visit from Josephine, who paints with me for a few hours.  Though she's the younger, I watch her precise drawing (she likes to invent new dresses for characters from  shows) and her slashes of color that grow into organic abstracts.  When two of us paint, each in our different ways, we open new vistas to each other.

Josephine, painting 1

Yesterday, for instance, she watched me tapping my brush over the collage I was working on to make tiny gold splatters.  "How do you do that?" she asked, and suddenly her painting was splendid with silver and red fireworks.  In turn, those same impulsive strokes inspire me to be wilder, too.

Josephine, painting 2

Talking while we work, we manage to shift our left brains to right, distracting our hands from depending too much on the conscious.  It reminds me of one of my best art teachers here in town, Betty Bell (talk about an artist who reveled in color!), who would move around behind us, chatting away about anything but art...rumors, travel stories, romantic disappointments...to which we listened while our hands and eyes went their surreptitious way.  Now and then she would stop and point to what we were doing...."Look!  That's just like the stone wall in Florence...maybe just bring your strokes out a little to shade."  or "Now how did you get those wonderful greens?  If you flipped lines here and there..."  At the end of class, we'd look across the room at the work we'd created, hardly recognizing the promise she'd hinted at, which, often unwittingly, had come true.  I miss her.

Betty Bell, Gathering by the Water

Thinking of that freedom of hand and eye is like this morning's clear bright cold, being out in the first air, reft of any busy-ness, open to possibility...

 ...my Thanksgiving wish for you all.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Time, you old journeyman...


Time, you old journeyman, will you not stay/Put up your caravans just for one day?

Sometimes, old poetry comes in handy...you know, the sort you memorized in school because it rhymed and sounded like it meant something, though you had no clue what.  At that age, time had yet to make its deep mark on you; history was about fact and figura, some bella and some mala.   You beat the hours getting to school and work on time, and the minute when finally they let out, or making it to games for the start and parties suitably late to be noticed.  But the lines of those poems ring in your ears over the centuries, quoting or misquoting, and come forth when finally they fit the moment.  As above.

mother nature, father time

These past weeks, Time (old Nemesis, even in my young days) takes its rhythms from the fast-falling leaves.  On my ground, given its tree population, they come down like hard rain.  I'm thankful my yard has no grass for me to mow, but the barrage of Fall  makes up for that.

Raking leaves is actually one of my favorite chores on these beautiful, cool, clear (but  alas, still dry) days; I feel the breezes throw down their giant confetti, and something in my blood quickens.  My energy is up, true, but, taking on their pace, I find myself rushing through each day.  I seem to be in a race with Time.

For instance, it's still two weeks until Thanksgiving, and already I am buying squashes, persimmons, pomegranates, and cranberries, putting up soup stock, vegetables, chickens and breads in the freezer, and dreaming up a menu for a dinner it isn't even my turn this year to make.  I rationalize it by thinking, oh, but there's always Thanksgiving Friday...I can invite the neighbors in for leftovers.  

Not that I'm going to have leftovers; this year I'm a guest in somebody else's house.  No matter, I can always make some up, and maybe the neighbors will bring some of theirs.  Each day, I've been trying new recipes or new ways of doing old recipes for the holidays, experimenting with things like farmer's lettuce saute'ed in butter, butternut squash and multi-grain dressing (I can add sausage for the boys' tastes), shrimp in avocado and lime.  I made a pumpkin bread with chocolate chips (that went in the freezer, too)...I'll plate it with a drizzle of chocolate-cinnamon sauce.  (I tried a sauce of apples and cinnamon, testing it on Cathy and Steve the other night, but it wasn't quite...quite.)  I'm also thinking about Kevin's Cranberry Clafouti, posted just today...what do you think?  The universe of Fall food ideas is becoming my siren song.

Cranberry clafouti @Kevin, A Garden for the House
Other rushes clutter the days...don't tell anybody, but I've already bought 90% of my holiday gifts.  Evenings, I tear through books faster, flip faster through old favorite movies, and make list upon list for things not due til December or farther. 

I've been piling on activities for my new volunteer job with PORCH, collaborating with Helen and Joanne, the more seasoned veterans, on new approaches, planning future events, and watercoloring thank-you cards I leave for our generous neighbors.

Though the days are shorter, I'm walking longer, in the over-bright slant of sun that has me shading my eyes from first to last light.  With every step, I'm watching Time not only empty the trees, but also harden the ground, bare roots and glaze stones.  

It's a lovely season, no doubt about it, probably my favorite of the four.  A  season of holidays...each to anticipate, each to make a do about, each some good to celebrate.  Even the days afterward are minor holidays in themselves...Thanksgiving Friday (no, I don't mean the mad bargain shopping, though I gather that's fun for some), the seven more days of Chanukah (my spiced apples are already made...see above), the week between Christmas and New Year when we travel or lounge the days away watching gifts appear and disappear.

But this racing of days and hours...November...what's that about, I wonder?   At my age, at this time of year, ought I not be dragging my heels, pulling my adversary back into a civilized strut? 

All I can think of is that essay we used to teach from the freshman readers, the anthropologist Loren Eiseley's rendering of evolutionary history in terms of a single day...the slow-w-w hours before earth is formed, the slightly slow-wer hours where oceans and rivers stabilize, pushing continents around, growing plants, the slow disappearance of dinosours and ice shouldering its way south...and then, as humans come on the scene,  the milliseconds of fast frenzied destruction, the last century,  leaving you breathless.

Or there are Shakespeare's lines  ...when yellow leaves or none or few do hang/ upon those boughs which shake against the cold....

Anyway, if you happen to understand this November clearer than I, please clue me in.  I've been too busy chasing these leaves around to think calmly about it.

Spiced Apples 

                        8 large apples (the soft ones don't work well), peeled, cored, and chopped

                        1/2 cup apple juice

                        1 tsp cinnamon

                        1 slice of lemon peel

                Cook apples slowly in the juice until soft.  Stir in cinnamon and lemon peel.  Let sit for a few minutes to cool before putting up.  

Will last a few weeks in tightly lidded jars in the refrigerator.  If you make bushels of them and want them to last all winter, you can seal them properly in hot water.  If you pack them in smaller jars, they make pretty gifts, too.                        

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Gardens in Fall

Empress of China dogwood

It's garden season around here, Fall being the time, a bit frenzied as the cooler weather sets in, when shrubs and trees find their stations in new ground.  The winter will close them over so that they will settle in root first, making themselves at home, taking up whatever nutrients they can before the effort of spring leafing and flowering.

There's a lot of plant-trading going on in our neighborhood as people re-envision or prune back, pulling out overgrowth and gifting to other yards. A neighbor coming across the street carrying clumps of grasses or hefty hellebores is a familiar sight.  Or you just might find an anonymous offering in your yard.

Clump from neighbors

It's also open-Garden season, where flocks of us lesser mortals descend on the ripe autumn yields of those with exceptionally beautifully landscaped estates, admiring and hoping inspiration takes root. 

Montrose, for instance, opens its Hillsborough gates only once a year for one day to general visitors (though you can arrange guided tours at certain other times), so this year I made sure my calendar was cleared for the event.  Nancy Goodwin, who with her husband, bought the once colonial plot four decades ago and transformed it into soft rolling hills of grass and matched plantings around a lovely old white house with beautifully wrought iron fencing.  She was there in her gardener's weeds, chatting with folks in her soft charming way.  

The garden has become a foundation now, so to help support it, entry has a small fee and there is a plant sale, this one well attended.  Children ran about, gardeners sniffed and selected, others out for a day trip, roamed the paths and lawns.  I came home with several new small plants to try and a fig tree for Joseph's yard which had four small figs, one already half ripe, clinging.  He has the sun for it; I don't, alas...maybe he'll share the fruits next year.

The other day, my neighbors Cathy and Steve, always up for a gardening adventure, drove out with me to Tom Krenitsky's privately maintained magnolia farm in the country.  For nearly 30 years, Tom has been propagating and growing not only magnolias but all manner of trees and shrubs, some quite rare, others hybridized into new and sturdier creations.  His many trips abroad in his career days came with chances to find rare and unusual specimens to bring home.  Several arboreta from here to the National in Washington have been the grateful recipients of his work, and he of theirs.

I'd met him some months ago through our mutual friend Jim Elder, who seems a magnet to draw all kinds of interesting people, and Tom, after hearing my sad story of the trees I'd lost this summer, offered me a few of his magnolias as substitutes.  "They'll do fine in the holes you made for the old trees," he told me with the confidence of one who clearly has no clue what an bungling amateur I am.  "Come out and I'll pick some for you from the nursery."   Since his kind offer could include another invitation to his gardens, I was doubly grateful.

I'd visited Tom's 84 acres once before, so I knew how stunning they were.  Not manicured or clipped, but kept a naturally lush landscape, they wind around the waters of ponds and streams, huge lichened rocks shouldering the landscape, trees of all shapes and dressings looming over all.  Tom places and plants and tends with care, but he allows his growing things a sensible independence: "What grows, grows, what doesn't, doesn't."  

Here and there among the greens Tom has inserted architectural remnants, to give focal points to the plantings.  Columns apace along the paths, winged grotesques, a Buddha which overlooks the bamboo grove...there is Romance about the place...the 19th century ideal that Wordworth and his sister Dorothy throve on. I couldn't wait to see Cathy and Steve taking all that in, for they are, among our own much smaller neighborhood plots, the prize architectural gardeners, building by hand terraces and berms to harness our rocky, resistent ground and planting (and replanting) to make manifest the garden dreams in Cathy's mind.

Cathy and Steve, front garden (so far)

So we rode out to meet Tom at his entrance, where stone lions greet, and rode behind him along the windy trail to his sheds.  After a few tries, he found a running cart for Cathy and Steve, and took us on tour, giving names, histories and recollections to what we saw.  

There is so much to see.  One visit is never enough.  As we rumbled along the rutted paths, I remembered some of the wild sites, but found new ones to impress.  We walked, too, through the long walled garden (it reminded me of the one at St. Gaudin's with its distant white statuary at far ends).  We wandered through the camellia garden, and then to the smaller more open groves where he pointed out sun-loving vines, succulents and late blossoms, Tom patiently fielding questions about plant names and growing conditions, differences and similarities among the species.  He has an enormous range of garden knowledge.

In the midst of all this wildness, he has opened a space where he's built three separated cinderblock one-room "houses"...a kitchen, a "necessary", and a living room with fireplace "to keep myself warm while I'm out here".  Vines crawl up and around them with shrubs hugging their sides, while inside each art covers the walls.  The adjacent patio where he served us tea overlooks one of the ponds where on my earlier visit long boundaries of small yellow lilies hugged the edges.  It's a homey, elegant sort of camp in the midst of the garden.  His own residence is in town, but he works at the garden most days, all day.  His children, mostly grown now, and his garden are clearly his life.

We'd have happily spent hours more there, but we all had appointments to attend to.  Our last stop was the nursery, where Tom picked out not only my magnolia ("Just one to try out!" I begged, knowing I hadn't anywhere near his prowess) but also four or five others, loading the bed of Steve's truck even as he talked us through them.  His garden, his passion for the work, his skill, his generosity are care in person.

After Monday night's long-awaited rain (goodness!  Rain seems ever to drip over this blog, too, I'm realizing...waiting for, wishing for, finally a drop or ten), I woke this morning to a yard leaf-sogged but happy, and went out to dig Tom's gifts in, hoping they take well in my ground, too.  

There is my new magnolia...keep your greenest fingers crossed that it thrives even under my care and my root-rock-clay ground.

Saturday, October 9, 2021


Rain after dark

 Waking early,  the sound of rain cohering with the dark, I send a message of gratitude for this gift from the skies to my hardened ground, and then begin to scan, mentally, the yard, wondering what might have been left out in it: the car windows open or some cushion soaking?  Not from worry, exactly...just a habitual sense of where things are at this moment, of pulling in or taking out, if necessary.

Or so I think.  I do remember a newly opened bag of organic soil behind the new Empress of China dogwood I brought home last week (a gentle trade for all those trees that died in summer) and put in a large pot on the far side of the yard to await its final planting by some as yet unnamed gardener, as it is too big for me to dig in myself.  It's a lovely tree, with hundreds of tiny buds between elongated leaves...not the dogwood one usually sees...promising to ripen into lots of small flowers in a yard like mine, partial shade to a few hours of sun.  I fervently wish it well.

Empress of China dogwood (at garden center)

So I get up, put on my raincoat, find a tarp in the shed, and walk out in the dark to cover the soil.  Finding nothing else to save from rain, I stop for a while and listen to it, watch the glistening in the dark, on leaves, on the shiny metal of my car caught in the still-bright lamplight on the street, on the flagstones and tree barks.  

It's not so much this task which has drawn me out, I realize, but the rain itself.  The bag of soil was only an excuse to be out in this early air, be out in the cooling-down that rain brings.  So I don't rush back into the house, though under my hooded coat I am still in my nightgown.  Carefully I pick my way across the front of the house, almost, but not quite, tripping over a stone I will ask Alexander and his friend Louis to dig out for me. (And thank you, stone, I think, for not tripping me, as grateful for that as for the rain.)  

Instead, I stay listening from the porch, cup warming my hands. There are many shades of light that manage to transform dark...if only I could turn that into a piece of art, to hold it, the thought and the light-frought dark itself, in something more than a memory.  Before waking, I dreamed (the dream itself is gone now) that I told myself something important...what was it?...oh, that I am better beginning things than finishing them.  (Well, I knew that.) If I sit here in the dark, rain alone attending (or attending alone this rain), will more illuminations come to me?  These days, introspection...the need for, the ground for...seemS more dire.  What I have to learn yet, to yearn after...surely dreams cannot hold it all.

At first there is only the sound of rain accompanying me, but then, at odd intervals, a sound like thunder rumbling, though more muffled, not sharp-edged like thunder, sets me wondering.  Nothing like lightning appears. The rain is too soft for that.  Maybe a plane?  But the growling to last that long is strange, like plane after plane, and anyway, it isn't often we hear planes going over head; a helicopter, yes, going to and from the medical center pad, but it isn't a sound like a helicopter.  (And a whole raft of planes...why?)

There is no wind, either.  The rain falls, almost gently, not needle-hard, straight down.  The back motion-light goes on...maybe a deer or rabbit, picking carefully her time to venture nearer my herbs.  Another car, tires hissing on the blacktop, this time from the main road going downhill, sets me wondering about its destination.  Perhaps a farmer about to set up at the Farmer's Market.  Someone opening the drug store at the corner.  Someone driving a young one to the Y for swim team.  Or going to Saturday work, not perhaps happy with rain, but bearing with it to get where they need to go, glad it's not a storm they need to drive in, or weekday traffic.

Or someone who, like me, is just awake early, going for coffee or an errand they made up just to be out.  Being out in it, accepting what rain and its dispersion of light offers, is a way of being inside oneself.


I look across the street, and next door, but there are no windows lit yet.  It won't be the distracting glare of daylight, inside or out, for a while yet. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Celebrating Fall and life

About age and the seasons, the seasons aging us, age seasoning us, we can be sure.  This fall, we see both in its most vivid colors.

 My Aunt Sadie, the youngest of my mother's siblings, turned 99 last week.  She's a lovely and loving, smart, bright- and sharp-eyed wonder at any age, so my sisters and I decided to join her in Hershey to hold an all-too-infrequent sisters weekend and to celebrate with her.

It's needless to add that reunions in the current pandemic give us pause, but we are careful people (even among the not-so-careful/caring folks we were disturbed to find in our travels) and  made it our objective to keep Aunt Sadie and her family safe as possible.  A 99th birthday is hard to let pass by.  And she is very dear to us.

To say that Aunt Sadie was delighted seems not to do justice to her joy.  "This is wonderful...the best birthday ever!" she kept telling us, from our first surprise knock on her door to the very last wave as we left four days later.  It's difficult for many people to handle isolation in the kind of senior community where she lives.  One Covid patient  among them shuts them in their rooms for the duration.  Fortunately, there were no cases that weekend, and she could go and come as she pleased, as could we, as long as we followed the health precautions strictly.  We were glad to oblige.

So her birthday was the best possible.  Barbara, her daughter who lives only a few minutes up the hill, and her husband Bill were generous hosts, and we spent dinners there after long day hours in Aunt Sadie's apartment, sifting through her treasure trove of old black and white family photos, mementos, memories.  Having Aunt Sadie to identify people long gone before us was invaluable...she is the last of our parents' generation to ask questions of, and fortunately for us who, as most people find themselves doing, have neglected to ask enough questions when our elders were available and willing, she has the mind to do so.   We are already planning to celebrate her 100th in style, and I, for one, am hereby warning the world to step up its game to allow that.

Barbara, ever attuned to Aunt Sadie's requests, baked a peach and whipped cream sponge cake (her first); it was the favorite of our great-aunt Ernestina, a light, fluffy, delicious concoction. 

Then, brave woman, she turned her kitchen over to us to produce Aunt Sadie's other wish...a dinner with eggballs...another family favorite one doesn't find on senior dining menus.  It never comes out quite the way our grandmother made them, but my sister Eileen's version is just fine, a memory of taste and heritage sprung into the present for us.  (This time, for a few of us, she made them gluten free.)  Here's the recipe, a good one to celebrate Fall.

We had texted each other earlier for ideas about gifts...whatever does a woman 99 need? ...and eventually we brought books to read, a bag of puzzles (she's a whiz at them as at crosswords), bright fall mums, scented lavender soaps and hand cream, and from Barbara a huge bouquet of red and white roses.  

Driving her back to her apartment, we looked at the sky and saw the fall moon rising, the brightest planet next to it.  Fitting toast indeed.

Happy Birthday, yet once more, Aunt Sadie...you are my inspiration and my vision of what, I hope happily, to come when I grow up.