Wednesday, November 28, 2007

From All Over the Map

It's multitasking night at Chez Redblur. As I sit typing, I've got a copy of last year's homemade Christmas CD burning, the gingerbread is baking, Dear Daughter is doing homework and making two stuffed rabbits and an otter dance and sing to the music. I'm probably overclocking my cute little speakers, but Rufus Wainwright singing Ramsey Lewis just makes me swoon.

Things that make me laugh in the grocery store:

and, inexplicably, this:

Something about the word "frank" just makes me giggle.

Okay. I'm done now.

I had help, you know, with the gingerbread. Every holiday kitchen needs a cute little elf like this:

An Autumn Prayer

For little grey squirrels,
paws clasped as in prayer across taut white bellies,
poised by the road, chewing contemplatively,
gazing toward winter,
good Lord,
are we thankful.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What I'm Learning These Days

1. Helen Mirren and Julie Walters are beautiful women of a certain age, and role models for how I want to grow older (actually, I already knew this, but it's worth including).
2. No matter how many friends I make, my best friends will always be my sisters.
3. My other best friends aren't intimidated or hurt by that statement, and know exactly who they are and why I love them.
4. I'm really stronger than I ever imagined, both physically and emotionally.
5. Occasionally I really do know what I'm talking about.
6. Two quarts of steaming turkey broth will absolutely not fit into a one-liter measuring cup, no matter how badly you need for it to at the moment.
7. It's good to just shut up and listen sometimes.
8. Love comes in a wonderful array of shapes, sizes, colors and seasons.
9. Relearning how to play Baroque music on the piano (with laughably tiny hands for an adult) is worth every moment of effort.
10. Homemade whipped cream tastes really good out of the bowl with a serving spoon.
11. Walking around the quad in the afternoon sunshine saying the Rosary out loud is a beautiful and peaceful way to spend 20 minutes.
12. Carolina bluebirds flitting about an oak tree on a brisk November afternoon lift my spirits.
13. A foolish consistency really is the hobgoblin of little minds.
14. It's okay to make mistakes, but it's preferable to learn from them.
15. Holding one's impetuous tongue when confronted with a derisive and selfish remark is an art form, and one I should practice more often.
16. Praying for someone else's hurt and need makes ME feel much better.
17. More to come...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Way Things Are

Happy post-Thanksgiving Sunday, all. It's raining here; the kind of soft, susserating rain that wakes a sleeper gently, and provides a perfect soundtrack to continued dreams. We're having a slow start here at the ranch. Dear Daughter returned, a bit unexpectedly, last night from her holiday trip to New Orleans. I was in my beloved midtown with two most excellent friends, listening to three brilliant singer-songwriters ply their craft. The venue, aptly named "Otherlands," is an independent coffee shop that's been around for about 15 years now. An oasis of peace and comfort in an already-warm and funky neighborhood, it's the perfect spot for gathering, listening and contemplating.

I ran into several people from my past last night. It was so good to see familiar faces and talk of good days from a while back. I don't want to live in the past, but it's often pleasant to pay it a little visit. While I wouldn't be 23 again for anything, I like remembering that who I was then wasn't such a bad person after all.

After picking up Dear Daughter, we went back and caught the last of the show. We were up too late, but the music and company were excellent, and it's a day for reflection. It was so good to have her with me--she regaled our table with a middle-schooler's observation of breakfast at Commander's Palace, hugged the necks of people she loved and was cheerily polite to new friends. She nestled in my arms (not an easy feat for someone only three inches shorter) and snuggled while the music played on.

Today is a day to wrap up Thanksgiving and look forward to Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. I'm sorting through laundry, books, turkey leftovers, assorted memories and burgeoning plans. I have a new book of Scarlatti arrangements. I'm making a CD for a co-worker. The sponge is set for the Swedish rye bread.

I have things to do. I have a place to be.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Our Lady of the Easy Bake Oven Rides Again

There's an old saying that when the going gets tough, the tough get baking. Well, maybe no one ever actually said that, but perhaps they should have. I guess I just did. Perhaps it's fall, perhaps it the stuff swirling around in my life, perhaps it's some primordial need to create, but ever since Flash the Food-Porn Mixer of Doom came into my life, I've been on a baking spree. My current medium is bread, although the girls did make two exceptional pumpkin pies on Saturday.

Since October, I've made olive bread, herb bread, cinnamon rolls (admittedly, these didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped) and pita bread. I've fed the family, the neighbors, our friends and a huge gathering at work. There's something very satisfying about the making and baking of bread, no matter what the occasion or the type.

Every culture, in every land, across history has had some form of bread. It's the most primordial of foods. A simple carbohydrate, it provides quick energy, along with a handy platform for all kinds of goodies such as butter, cheese or Parma ham.

But bread provides more than just nutrition--it's the most basic of comfort foods. Warm and yeasty, fresh-baked bread fills the house with an odor and a feeling. It says, "Come in, sit for a while. Warm up and visit. Tell me what's on your mind."

Sharing, or breaking bread with our fellow travelers on the planet is an ancient tradition. It's a sign of welcome, a message of hope, an acknowledgment that we should continue onward. In most Christian faiths, it's the ultimate symbol of love, in the Presence at the Eucharist. Tiny wafers of--you guessed it--bread, become the body of the risen Christ and feed not just the human body, but also the human soul, with a bit of gluten, a drop of water and a world of love.

I tried out my new baguette pans tonight. Too bad Blogger hasn't figured out Smell-o-Blog, because this, my friends, smells divine. I wish you all were here to try a bit of this--it's still hot and crusty from the oven. I'm dancing with joy over two simple loaves of bread. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Tonight, I have fresh bread.

Illuminated Tree

I'm being lazy. I researched these trees in hopes of finding some information on why exactly they make my heart sing. There's got to be something, but perhaps it's just the way they turn such a luminous and happy yellow in the fall. I can't get past the sight of a ginkgo (sic) tree in November. This photo was made on a not-quite-rainy day.
The world is so perfect--Nature saves the very best for last. Just as those sweet, delectable thoughts of the day come to us in the close of the day, just before sleep, Autumn closes with the last bright bang of color and surprise. This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Defining the Word

Main Entry:

Inflected Form(s):
plural in·ter·stic·es Etymology:
Middle English, from Latin interstitium, from inter- + -stit-, -stes standing (as in superstes standing over) — more at superstition
15th century
1 a: a space that intervenes between things; especially : one between closely spaced things b: a gap or break in something generally continuous 2: a short space of time between events

For those of you who have been paying attention, the 8-ball has spoken. I'm worried and scared and all those good things, but at least I see more clearly now.

For those of you who have not been paying attention, well, it will be revealed in due time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans' Day

Today is Veterans' Day, commemorating the signing of the Armistice in 1918 ending the Great War, now known as World War I. The conflict that in four brief years killed nine million soldiers, five million civilians and wounded at least 21 million soldiers and civilians officially ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It began in 1914 with two shots fired into the chest of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist who felt rather keenly the disenfranchisement of his country by Austria and Germany. Veterans' Day was created so that the world would never forget the suffering and loss caused by those two shots.

Today, we remember.

My dad served in the United States Army as part of the Allied Occupational Force in Germany following World War II. Given the year was 1952, technically he was called a Korean War era veteran, although he served only in Europe. He was drafted and answered the call. He served a little less than three years, not with any particular distinction, but with the honor and integrity a young man developed in the 1940s growing up in a small Midwestern town. He came home with a scrapbook full of photos, propaganda leaflets, train tickets and pressed leaves. We still have his dog tags somewhere.

Today we planted the flag of our nation and the flag of the United States Army on his grave. They looked nice in the autumn sun. A gentle breeze was waving. We talked to him and about him. We wished he would come back home.

I know there are millions of others just like us who wish their veteran was home, safe and sound. Growing up we knew so many men and women who had served in the armed forces. These were ordinary people who responded to an often extraordinary need. Some came home to parades and celebrations. Some came home to honors and fame. Others came home to derision and violence. Others came home shattered by wounds and trauma. Some didn't come home at all.

I don't have any poppies today, but I wish I did. Maybe I can find some VFW member tomorrow selling them outside a grocery store. Tonight I'm thinking about all of the veterans I've known and know, and sending them a wish for peace and a sincere thank you. Here are just a few names. Remember them. Remember your own. Just remember. Never, ever forget.

John Douglas
William S.
John R.
Rich J.
John L.
William A.
David C.
John Z.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Happy Birthday to the Corps

Today is the "birthday" of the United States Marine Corps. I wanted to blog about this, but I'm running out of time to do so properly, so I'll have to be brief. I spent a good part of day enjoying the November warmth outdoors at Navy Lake with Dear Daughter and Grandbaby Riley. Fifteen years ago we wouldn't have been able to get a parking space. Today, there was no one there but us and three other children with a conspicuously absent parent.

Anyway, congratulations and a big "oo-rah" to a branch of the service that holds a special place in my heart. All of the Marines I've ever known have been persons of honour, courage and integrity--all three in the extreme. Our nation is fortunate indeed to be home to the Corps. Tim, Rich and Steve--best wishes to you all on your big day.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Niceness Really Does Matter

I'm remiss in writing a thank you note, so today is the day to catch up. On Halloween, the Headmistress of St. Daniel the Stylite Academy (aka Fine Old Famly) presented me with a Niceness Matters Award on her blog. And this is a very nice thing, not only because I'm humbled to be the recipient, but because it's just nice to hear that someone sees something good in amongst all the mayhem I commit on a daily basis. I want to be nice, but what I usually end up as is impetuous, rash, petulant, cranky and overstretched; all of which tend to feed off of one another until I feel like just about anything but nice. However, the daily example set by the members of FOF make me want to try harder, and perhaps on some small scale I'm succeeding gradually.

The nature of the Niceness Matters Award is that each recipient is to pass it on to someone else who exhibits qualities that are nice. My nominee for the next award is Redneck Mother, who lives and blogs in Texas about her two kids, Rocketboy and Hurricanehead; her husband Hombre (whom I gather is also a writer); homeschooling, organic gardening and raising chickens.

Now, I've never actually met Redneck Mother (I've never actually set foot in Texas, although I've logged about 48 hours in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport), and I can't even remember how I stumbled across her blog. It doesn't matter. She's a good writer, and by all appearances, a very good mother, teacher and home farmer. She does everything with a passion and fire that is consistent and powerful, and maintains a lively sense of humor, even when recounting issues that just aren't funny at all.

I always enjoy her blog, and often learn something new, including what happens when a child mistakes neosporin for hair gel, and how to build a solar oven. She loves her Hombre, her boys, her chickens and her place on the planet. And that, folks, is pretty darn nice.

A Poem I Wish I'd Written

"The Necessary Brevity of Pleasures" by Samuel Hazo, from A Flight to Elsewhere. © Autumn House Press, 2005.
The Necessary Brevity of Pleasures

Prolonged, they slacken into pain
or sadness in accordance with the law of apples.
One apple satisfies.Two apples cloy.
Three apples glut.
Call it a tug-of-war
between enough and more than enough, between sufficiency
and greed, between the stay-at-homers and globe-trotting see-the-worlders.Like lovers

seeking heaven in excess, the hopelessly insatiable forget how passion sharpens appetites that gross indulgence numbs.Result? The haves have not what all the have-nots have since much of having is the need to have. Even my dog knows that - and more than that.He slumbers in a moon of sunlight, scratches his twitches and itches in measure, savors every bite of grub with equal gratitude and stays determinedly in place unless what's suddenly exciting happens. Viewing mere change as threatening, he relishes a few undoubtable and proven pleasures to enjoy each day in sequence and with canine moderation.They're there for him in waiting, and he never wears them out.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl

Last night was Dear Daughter's birthday slumber party. As birthday slumber parties go, it went rather well. We had a small but select group of kids (totaling six, including the Birthday Girl) and rented a small cabin near the base where I work. These cabins used to be officer housing, so properly titled, they're really small houses, but they're remote enough to be exciting, but modern enough to be convenient.

We were right next door to the base stables, and in the late evening the herd of horses came over by the house. The kids were delighted to see them, and given that it was a lovely, brisk fall evening, the horses were frisky and enchanting.

Today, we were just tired. Even the best slumber party (and this one ranked pretty high up there) can leave you simply exhausted. Combine it with the end of Daylight Savings Time, and you have a recipe for a long, tiring day.

Dear Daughter and I took a nap in the early afternoon, and upon awakening, we headed for a local park to throw bread to the most ungrateful gaggle of Canada geese we've ever met, followed by a tramp amongst the trees. We walked and talked in the autumn afternoon sunshine and I realized there's really not much that beats a quiet walk in nature with someone you love, whether it's your dear child or your dear loved one or a dear friend. We looked at trees and talked about the differences between fruit and nut trees. We picked up some litter. We looked at birds.

We took turns using the camera, and twice while she was shooting, I whipped out the cell phone and caught her in full artistic action. I love watching her frame up shots and hearing what's important to her. Her mind works so beautifully and quickly when we're outdoors. I would give so much to be able to chuck my job and home school her, outdoors as much as possible.

Anyway, here are two shots from the day. What a great one it was.