a journal of...

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017


Today is the day before the new year, a Sunday this time.  I walked into Whole Foods this morning, and was politely arrested by the cashier for trying to buy a bottle of Prosecco before 10 am.  (If you're not from this state, don't ask.)  This morning, feeling the new year's chill, I wanted to pull the holiday season tighter around me like a warm coat, keeping happy anticipation for one more day.  Partly it's the fault of the calendar...a holiday like these winter favorites coming on a Monday throws us all off...Monday, we feel, is the start of the workday, not the holiday itself.  Surely, we think, there should be a weekend to follow, at least to allow us time to recover from the carnival atmosphere of more than a month.

All December, we've had quite a time around here, counting candles, presents and heads, wrapping lights on wreaths, gathering at one holiday table after another, at each one celebrating the day and each other.  Thereat, we all have our favorite ceremonies, songs, dishes, and we value the chance to share them as well as indulge in them, learning new ones as much as resurrecting the old.

A friend wrote me a few weeks ago, "What are you celebrating this year?"  "Everything!" I told her, and we laughed over the web.  Families being what they are, wide-reaching and multi-cultured, variably believing and remembering and keeping, there is always something to celebrate for and with everyone.  I, for one, am even more in the mood to do so, considering the wet blanket this past year's grinches have thrown over inclusiveness, not to mention over common decency and basic respect for the humanity in all of us.

So though tonight, New Year's Eve, I will be staying home out of the fray as usual, I'm ready enough to celebrate in situ the potential for good that a new year brings, the hope that in 2018 we will awaken to remember who we are at our best, both individually and socially and globally. 

Anyway, in honor of my Scotch uncle's residence here, I decided to make tonight a sort of Hogmanay fest, beginning at dinner time here, and continuing for as long as any of us can stay awake.  Fortunately, Scotland is five hours ahead of us in time, so 7 pm will find us beginning our Auld Lang Syne verses, and calling his Glasgow family across the pond to wish them well.  Then, here, while others are watching the ball drop and the fireworks flicker and spark over the trees outside the front window, our household (and apparently most of the neighbors', too) will be comfortably tucked away in sleep.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Scottish customs, let me explain that Hogmanay in its own country is not the retiring feast we are set to practice here.  The Scots begin early and last days eating, drinking, singing, and, just at midnight, going out for First Footing, a walk from house to house offering New Year greetings and begging another dram of whiskey from each.  It's apparently a merry time for all, and reminds me a little of the New Year's Eves of my childhood, at my grandmother's (all festivities happened there), when we ate at least seven courses of seafood for hours (I truly, even hungrily, miss that part) until the moment, counted down in two languages, when even children were cheerfully gathered to the front door to wave noisemakers and sweep the old year out...oh, yes, with a new broom, quite literally.

Food still being the center of any festivity, for our Scottish New Year, I've been looking up Hogmanay dishes.  Hence the early trip to the market to get some ingredients I don't usually have on hand.

Here is a full Hogmanay menu from The Spruce site:

Smoked Salmon
Cock-a-Leekie Soup
Venison Pie
Cullen Skink

Trifle or Cranachan


Not finding sheep's intestines at WF was, I admit, a relief, though a decade ago, I had tried and quite enjoyed the haggis in the Edinburgh pubs.  Smoked Salmon?  No brainer.  Cock-a-Leekie sounded not only doable but delicious, as did the Skink...I'm always up for a good hearty soup.  Venison Pie made me yearn for the freezer full of tenderloin and shoulder meat I could once upon a time reach into for such a delicacy.  (Alas, I'm no longer a meat-, even a game-, eater.) 

But 'tis the season:  out with the old and in with the new.  The Cullen Skink won out for our main dish this evening.  Orange curried carrots for a side, smoked salmon made into a paste with hard-boiled egg and green onion, some nuts and grapes.

And dessert.  Each year, my aunt used to make a wonderful Trifle for our holidays, and that would be easy to replicate now, especially after the major gift-giving of this month and last...the liquor cabinet is replete with the stuff that gives that elegant dessert its best flavor.  But, as, interestingly enough, my uncle had never heard of Cranachan...raspberries (Scottish raspberries) and cream...I thought I'd try that instead.  And Shortbread?  I certainly didn't have to go to the store for that...I'd made another batch only last night.

As for liquid refreshment, see previous paragraph; we'll hardly miss the Prosecco.  Along with the holidays' gifts of single malts and various wines, we'd also been presented with home made cream liquor from the friend of a friend, and so we're good, as they say.

Well, as it's past midday, I'd better get to it.

I'll let you know how our Scottish New Year goes.  Meanwhile, a very good new year to all of you.  In whatever tradition you celebrate, may the good in you be the good for all of us.  We're all counting on it.

Yours aye...

Friday, December 15, 2017

What she carried

 Tonight, looking for a photograph I knew I had only recently put away somewhere, I opened the drawer of my aunt's dresser and found her pocketbook, which I'd forgotten in the more immediate business of closing her life.  The photo search instantly abandoned, I brought the purse out and began to go through it, thinking at first only to keep important documents (if any) and sort the rest.  But as I pulled out its effects, the discoveries within drew a picture of Aunt Vi that made me smile, and then wonder.

One's purse, after all, is the catch-all of our personalities and practices, so individually, so personally it characterizes us.  We might choose the outward appearance of one carrier over another, on one day or another, to match an outfit or suit an occasion, but the inside contents will always remain pretty much the same.  We carry what we need; we carry what we are.

Women's purses are sort of like men's pockets, only different.  They are more private, for one thing.  They contain the necessities of both genders, of course...wallet, keys, handkerchief (if we are of that age), change, perhaps the latest credit receipt, and probably a cell phone.  But women carry so much more; their necessities go beyond the businesslike chambers above to include not only the ways to get in, out, and hold of, but also the ways to be what we are...and often what other people need and are, too.

As I thought about this, I imagined the story that my aunt's purse would tell about who she was.  Pushing away (for now) its adjacent thought...what would my purse tell about me?...I began to put the pieces of her possessions together as if it were a puzzle I could construct.

First, the outside open pocket:  her clip-on sunglasses, essential for facing the brightness of a day as her eyes grew more dim; her plastic raincap, to pull out in such emergencies as a sudden drizzle. An address book, a bit ragged from thumbing.  In the zippered pocket, a comb, of course, a pack of throat lozenges, and a small key it took me a minute to recognize...the key to the jewelry box she kept on her dresser, though I doubt it had ever been locked.

There was a wallet, certainly, with a few dollars and coins for the weekly hairdresser and manicurist appointment.  There were the usual ID's, the first of which was the non-drivers identification card we'd applied for when they first moved here three months ago.  It made me think of its predecessor, the full drivers license from her previous home state; a clerk of which  state had obliviously renewed it, although my aunt, at the counter in front of her, had to ask for help from the man behind her to find the line to sign her name and besides, she had wisely given up driving years before.  How we laughed about that!  "Well," she rejoined, "at least people will know who I am."

Behind it were two copies of a social security card, the topmost one issued with her married name, and the undermost issued her originally on today's date, actually, in 1936.  Being an accountant by trade, she kept her paper copies carefully...indeed, there is not a crease on the original, though the paper has understandably grayed some.

Her health insurance cards (unlike my own) likewise showed no distress, though she must have pulled them out for twenty or more appointments a year over the last thirty.   A credit card, a privilege card from the Hallmark store, her also-newly-minted voter registration card, and her vision-surgery cards took up the remaining slots.

Except...stuck in a side slot was a yellowed plastic wallet folder with photographs:  showing from one side my grandparents (her parents) in their 1956 passport picture, taken for their first trip abroad, and from the other side, my cousin Nancy, her godchild, in a school picture I'm pretty sure, shining her characteristic smile across the decades.

It was a curious, almost portentous, time to find Nancy there, as she had passed away two years ago on Christmas day. This portrait reminded me of the happier, younger, healthier years of her life among us.  How hard her parents worked to bring her those years, how essential she had become to the liveliness and determination of all of us, in some inexplicable but assuredly felt way or another.

Between those photos, there was a third, a small snapshot of another niece, my cousin Donna, in her habit, probably taken when she entered her order, also smiling broadly.  Certain and composed, it was clearly a souvenir of how much Aunt Vi had enjoyed attending the ceremony of her initiation in St. Louis, and the time they'd had in that city.  As in fact she had enjoyed every one of our ceremonies, wherever they were, whatever they were, over the years.

Under the photos, two charms...the encrypted penny her brother had passed to her, "so she wouldn't ever run out of money", and a coin minted by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; she must have visited that shrine long ago in New York.  And by them you would recognize her two priorities for security...comfort and faith.

Under the wallet, a small Swiss army knife, for who knows what emergency (well, it did have a nail file), and a small flashlight for dark restaurants.  At the bottom, a piece of white coral, shaped like an angel and encased in clear acrylic, seemed an obvious keeper.

But her wallet wasn't really the first thing I had removed from the purse..excuse me, pocketbook  (as in, where is my pocketbook?  make sure I have my pocketbook...George, hold my pocketbook!) as I delved into the main compartment.

It was the small clear box that went everywhere with her. On any trip, to the grocery down the block or to Florida down the coastal road, you could be sure she'd ask, "Do you want a TicTac?" Yes, she did often find her mouth in need of refreshment, and so assumed that surely someone else in the car did, too.  I learned after a while, to my relief, that the offer wasn't, in fact, insinuating anything about one's breath.  She just wanted to make sure that the others were comfortably driven, too.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Winter Moon

A cold drizzle has fallen since daybreak...perhaps even longer through the night.  Yesterday there was a rasher of snow; the dusting is melted now, giving up its ghost despite the "winter storm warning" sternly appended to the local weather report for today.  

But it's a good time for writing out the holiday cards I've painted, collaged, and sewn; even watching the unchanging scene outside the windows reminds me that inside it's warm and wafting the beginnings of the more glowing holidays.

While the outside of the cards have been a pleasure to do, the inside, the verse I usually include, has come harder.  Not only the weather, I suspect, but the despairing news from across the world, and the feelings of helplessness in the face of so much deliberate and hateful ignorance, have kept me from seeing how even as peaceful a scene as I painted would translate into words that inspired hope.

But late this morning, sitting down with firm intention (and spurred by my uncle's pacing to get them into the mailbox), I took the printed image and wrote from its cue.  Only a segment of the poem that ensued will appear on the cards, but somehow I didn't want the whole to be tossed aside.  In some lights the latter stanzas may seem redundant (not to mention not quite a holiday message of cheer, except for the dogged traditionalists of Chanukah), but seen in another light, they're at least what I mean.

Well, you all see what you think.

Winter moon

In the shadows, peace winters
while its roots ingest the cinders
of the earth’s strength.

We wait, longing, to be willed
its fortune…how can it, we ask, chilled 
and hungry, leave us stranded so long?

In its bed, hope and knowing 
listen for signs of our own growing, 
believing that good will light us again.

This raw season, as the cold looms,
the darkness of all but one bright moon
waxing and waning over the landscape

we once called home... can it nourish
us, too, bereft as we are, unlock our courage
and carry us forth to break its insidious spell?

                                                            r           12 09 17

P.S. Now that I've written this, outside the window it is indeed beginning to snow again, thicker than yesterday, though so far disappearing on impact over the roof, street, and mulched leaves.  It's cold, but not cold enough, I guess, to keep the beauty of a winter storm, just its illusions.  (I'm in a mood, aren't I.)  

My sister, on the other side of the state, sent photos of her snow-draped landscape this morning, no doubt to show us that somewhere, beyond the dull wetness, loveliness reigns.