Thursday, December 20, 2018

Homemade Christmas

     I love handmade and homemade goods. I enjoy giving and receiving them. Aside from Advent, my favorite Christmas preparations are making gifts and admiring the beautiful things that have been given to me over the years. Here are a few photos of this year's handmade Christmas.
     When our girls were little I made each of them a simple Christmas stocking. Claire's was sewn with quilt squares because I was into quilting back then but the rest have been applique. This year I finally got around to making the youngest two grandchildren their stockings. Now I am finally all caught up!

This dear little snowgirl with adorable hat and tiny pompom was made by a hooking friend who is ninety four years old. Louise is prolific in her handiwork and everything she makes is creative and beautifully done. Each month, everyone looks forward to seeing what Louise has made.

Daughter, Chelsea hand stitched this sweet little scene for me this year. The colors remind me of a snowy day.

Handmade items include yummy food creations, too! I love to make and receive goodies from the kitchen. Each year I make gingerbread for our family and some extra to give away. In years past I've given and received breads, cookies, apple butter, canned fruits, relishes, jellies, and delicious liqueurs.

I'm still sewing and hooking Christmas gifts that I can't show yet : ) Today is the last day of school before Christmas break so I need to go eat my Wheaties to prepare for how this day is going to be!
One last thing I wanted to share... We get all kinds of notes from parents each day. Some are on pretty stationary, others are on food stained worksheets. I guess you could call this "handmade stationary". This one came across my desk the Friday before our big snowstorm. When I first saw the front I thought, "This parent was in a real hurry!" Then I turned it over and smiled. I'm not sure if it was a coincidence or intentional but, it's one of my favorites.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Snow Day!

     We had a perfect snowfall this past Sunday. It was a large storm by Virginia standards and it left us with somewhere between fourteen to eighteen inches of fluffy, sparkling, perfect-for-packing, snow. I am contented that, at my age, a snowfall is still magical. It makes my insides leap with joy and excitement to anticipate its arrival, see it falling, and know what activities it brings.
     This snowfall began overnight as we slept. Perfect magic snowstorms begin this way so that when you wake up and look out the window, BAM! there it is. It came down softly but steadily and I went from window to window gauging its depth near trees and landscape as it piled up. Everything about the day slowed down to a peaceful pace. All events were cancelled and only the sturdiest of vehicles could have made it up our mountain. We were shut inside under a blanket that absorbed all sound. The heavy clouds created a weak, gray light such that we left reading lamps on and candles flickering all day. (If only we had a fireplace!) We lit the wood stove in the basement and I roasted a few marshmallows while I toasted my toes near the fire on and off throughout the day. I made soup, I hooked on a rug, we read a lot, and we looked out the windows. There was no need to do a thing nor even contemplate shoveling snow until it stopped falling, which wouldn't be until the next day. Some might consider this confinement but I call it freedom.
     Who would think there could be so much beauty in a simple black and white landscape? The snow wipes out all the details in the grass and field, thereby improving the details visible everywhere else. We now know the movements of the deer at night because we can see their tracks crisscrossing the fields and notice the congregation of tracks under the cedars where they must bed for the night. The birds are more visible darting from tree to tree. Some tracks leave me guessing as to what animal may have been running or leaping by the looks of it. Every little sound is suddenly amplified by the silence of everything else.
     Tomorrow will bring the sun and the job of digging out. But, for this day, the snow has given us permission to do not a thing. Simply enjoy.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Dried Fruit Dram

     It's been such a long time since I last posted here and so much activity has taken place that I don't know how to recap or pick up where I left off. So, I'll just start anew!
     Winter is nearly upon us and the evenings are now long and dark. Each evening I make a ritual of  turning on certain lamps, pulling shades and draperies closed, and lighting a candle or two for glow. It has been hard to adopt any sort of evening schedule since it became dark because I mainly long to go to bed at 7:30 and I struggle to stay awake until a decent bedtime hour. If I try to read or watch a movie, I end up dozing off anyway. On this schedule, I wake up any time from 2:00AM onward. Today I am up at 3:00AM. Perfect opportunity to blog! (I will nap later.)
    Last evening I made another recipe of Nigel Slater's apricot, orange, and anise drink for winter. The recipe is contained in his book, "The Christmas Chronicles". It's a wonderful, sweet little drink that warms your throat as it smoothly slides down. I have a favorite, pretty glass that I sip from and it's a nice pleasure on a cold winter night. As the dram ages and as you get to the bottom of the jar, the gold liquid becomes thick like nectar. The apricots are also a delight to eat after they've soaked up the brandy. I double the recipe so there is plenty for sharing.

Enough for 20 small glasses
dried apricots - 500g
an orange
whole star anise - 4
brandy - 300ml
granulated sugar - 150g 
sweet white wine - 300ml 
Put the apricots into a stainless steel saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, slice thin strips of zest from the orange and drop them into the pan. Add the star anise, brandy, and sugar and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
into a sterilized jar, spoon the apricots and star anise, then pour in the liquor (breathing it in at this point is highly recommended) and top with the sweet white wine. Seal and place in a cool, dark place for a good fortnight (better still, a month) before pouring the golden liquor into glasses.

     Aside from working and hooking, I have two small sewing projects to complete for Christmas. I am also reading too many books at one time. In addition to The Christmas Chronicles, which is easy to pick up and put down at leisure, I am reading "The Seven Storey Mountain" which is an autobiography of Tomas Merton and very good. I am also listening to "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon on Audible. I tried watching the series last year but found it too violent. Now, I find the book too sexy. (This is my official book review, Claire) It's much more intimate than I care to hear and, for me, a distraction from the historical fiction by an author who is otherwise a fantastic storyteller. I'll finish this first book in the series of eight but I doubt I'll continue with the rest. I just don't care for romance novels. I'm also reading "Lectio Devina of the Gospels" each day along with a couple of seasonal meditations for advent. My books migrate around the house with me to different chairs, depending on my mood. All the while, Henri follows me around like a shadow. : )

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Our Town on Halloween

     Our little town has a court house, a jail, a post office, and a library. It also has a bank, two "events" venues, five churches (one of which is for sale) and zero traffic lights. Several of the houses were originally log cabins and date back to the 1700's. I have friends who live in two of the log cabin houses and they are always fascinating to be within.
     Our little town does Halloween in a big, small-town-America way. (They do Fourth of July fireworks, too but that's for another season.) Between six and six-thirty on October thirty-first, families and children start gathering in the courthouse area on Main Street. Yes, we have a Main Street in our little town, too! The police have blocked off Main Street and before long, hundreds of folks have gathered. Children dart to and fro between grown-ups' legs, wide-eyed babies sit in strollers or are held in arms, staring at the colorful sights. Many grown-ups have donned costumes and everyone is smiling, feeling festive, and expectant of a good bit of candy. While we wait, each family attending has brought a bag of candy to donate. Volunteers gather the bags of candy into large, black garbage bags. Then they rush around town, redistributing the bags of candy to homeowners. This way, none of the homeowners will go broke buying and handing out Halloween candy to the hundreds of trick-or-treaters who have descended onto the town this night. It's a brilliant scheme.

This was a big puffy dinosaur on the left. I kept seeing this child's costume throughout town and it was a comical sight. As he ran, the head and arms flailed side to side.

     It's granddaughter Violet's first Halloween to go trick-or-treating. The weather is so balmy and beautiful this fall evening that we couldn't wait to meet up and walk around town. We see many folks we know and there's a general visiting going on as we mill about. Finally, the policeman announces on his bull horn that the parade may begin! The crowd begins moving en masse down Main Street. Children break off and run left and right up to houses as it begins to quickly get dark. Houses have their lights on so it's easy to tell which homes are giving out candy. Most folks are sitting outside on their porches, enjoying the warm evening and taking in the sights while they give out candy. Many houses are decorated with lights and pumpkins and spooky spider webs. Violet has a tight grip on her little pumpkin bucket and soon it's filled with several pieces of candy. We continue along a few blocks and stop at friends' homes. At these homes we're given a hug along with our pieces of candy. Steve and Jared see a few old co-workers and stop to chat here and there.
     After a while, it begins getting late for the littlest trick-or-treaters. Violet is given her first piece of chocolate at which point she grips her candy-filled pumpkin bucket tighter and won't let go. She has discovered chocolate! As we depart back up Main Street, there's an ambulance being used to block the road. Several volunteers stand around a gurney. As we get closer, we see the gurney is piled with candy. The friendly volunteers scoop up a big handful of candy from the gurney and dump it into Violet's pumpkin bucket. Wowee! What a way to end a perfect Halloween.

Violet and Audrey

There was originally a structure enclosing this chimney. The building was renovated and the fireplaces (there's an upper and lower) are still used outdoors.

Lots of movement in the darkness.

I loved this scene. This was on a street corner.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Gathering Bittersweet and Beautiful Walks

     Audrey, Violet, the dogs, and I have been taking some nice walks lately. We went directly from the heat of summer to very chilly days. My phone takes awful photos but, I love this picture of Violet. She's using her new walking skills and is carrying a bouquet of grass.
     It's a pretty good year for the bittersweet. We pick very little and leave plenty on the vines so they will keep growing. We spotted a sweet, little nest in one roadside hedge.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Reactivation of the 551st Parachute Infantry Association

     Most people already know that my dad was in the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, A Company in WWII. The battalion was decimated during the Battle of the Bulge and the few survivors were dispersed among the 82nd Airborne for the remainder of the war. (The 504th PIB, E Company for my dad.) The 551 paratroopers held their bond very close after the war and the 551st Parachute Infantry Association was formed in 1979 as a way for the veterans to keep their memories and their bond alive. Only five veterans from the 551st are still alive, that we know of, and the association became dormant over the last decade or so. With the passing of Col. Doug Dillard last year, his daughters resolved to honor their dad by reactivating the association and reconnecting the families and interested friends of the battalion.
     This weekend marked the first meeting of the reactivated 551st Association and we were invited to Fort Benning to reacquaint or become newly acquainted with the other members and to see where many of our fathers and grandfathers trained in 1943-44. The Airborne School is still located here and we were treated to a tour of the grounds, a chance to watch the graduates make their final jumps for graduation, and lunch in the mess hall, which was excellent by the way. (Steve even had a lobster tail.)
     It took a little finagling to actually get to Georgia and Alabama with Hurricane Michael showing up when it did. Many of us had to rearrange our travel in order to skirt around the hurricane or try to get ahead of it. One family drove right through it. As Michelle Dillard said, "You can''t keep a GOYA bird down!". Yes, our fathers did instill a bit of toughness into our spirits.
     So far, the highlight of the weekend was gathering at the drop zone field and watching paratroopers make one of their five mandatory jumps for graduation. They dropped from the plane at about 1200 feet with chutes immediately opening in front of a brilliant, blue sky. The plane made three passes and dropped about thirty paratroopers with each pass. The parachutes floated down so peacefully, they reminded me of dandelion seeds drifting on a breeze. My romantic vision was dispelled by someone reminding us that each parachute basically held a well trained killing machine. Well... yes. By the way, I definitely saw at least one female in there and I was impressed.

     After jumping, the soldiers are required to run back to the gathering spot. At one point, I glimpsed a soldier running with his head down and it reminded me exactly of my dad. He had a habit of jogging from point A to point B. For example, he would run to the mailbox or run up the road when he'd catch a ride home from work. Sometimes I run to my mailbox or out to the compost pile in memory of my dad. I think it was one of his small ways of staying fit.
Today we saw about 100 paratroopers jump. Imagine almost 900 dropping at once as pictured here.
     I shared with another GOYA's daughter about how emotionally draining it is to explore this past. We find all of this history packed away and we're amazed at what we see and find. It's exciting but, at the same time our hearts are heavy with ache and awe. We share tears and most often we hear one another say, "I didn't know. I had no idea" For me, it's impossible to effectively live in the present while exploring this past. I'm too closely connected to it and I can get so deeply in thought about it that I'm not able to dabble in some research and then fifteen minutes later, surface and go grocery shopping and smile at people. I've learned that I have to prepare my heart and mind for when I open that box because it's going to hurt and I will be distracted from the present. I guess my goal is to one day be able to examine all these bits and pieces without it hurting so much. I'm beginning to understand better why my dad didn't talk about it. I think there never was a day when he could speak that portion of his history without it hurting simply too much.
    For those who wish to know more about the 551 PIB, a new website is under construction and I'll share that when it's up and running. Memberships will be available at varying levels along with a newsletter and various items for purchase. A new printing of, "The Left Corner of My Heart" by Dan Morgan is also available and folks will no longer have to hunt down a copy on ebay for $600! I also highly recommend Gergory Orfalea's book, "Messengers of the Lost Battalion".
     We are dedicated and honored to keep these brave soldiers' memories alive after history almost erased their battalion from the records. They were a battalion of elite trained soldiers who some called misfits and whom no one thought would ever succeed a mission. They in fact succeeded in every way, sacrificing their lives to the end.
A C-47. There's a jump tower in the background. The train cars that the plane is shown pulling represent how many gliders the plane towed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Summer Turns to Fall

          At my job, I have to write the date dozens of times each day. Every day of every week of every month I watch the days tick by; 1, 2, 3, 4, 23, 24, 25... It's hard to not be aware of the passing of time. Summer has passed into fall, so says the calendar anyway. We were able to turn off the A/C about a week ago and now we mainly keep the windows open in varying degrees to cool or warm the house. It's much more pleasant this way. We go to work, we putter around the house, we talk about the future, cycle and repeat.
     Within these daily cycles area a multitude of minor cycles. The cycles of meals, friends, hobbies, trips, etc. Outside the daily cycles are the larger cycles of seasons, sicknesses, life. In my mind I see the varying cycles like wheels within wheels, all beautifully turning and swirling into a choreographed pattern that makes up our lives. Some days it feels like the wheels aren't turning at all. When Steve traveled this week and I was home alone, time felt like it stood still. I roamed around the house, unable to get inspired to do much of anything. I decided that trying to get reach a live person on the phone with Bank of America to sort out an extortionate fee that they charged would be a good hobby for the afternoon. I spent a total of four and a half hours on hold or waiting for a call-back. Finally, at 8:30 that evening, I spoke with a delightful young man who listened to my problem and ended up entertaining me for several minutes. His first name was Christian and he a wonderful, playful sense of humor. I think he broke a few rules to resolve my complaint. How oddly wonderful for two complete strangers to interact for a few minutes, never to meet again yet leave a lasting impression like that. I thanked him for his sense of humor and for entertaining me. I told him I was going to say a prayer for him that night and I did.
           Sometimes I wait for time to reach an opportune moment to perform a certain task. Sometimes it's waiting for the right time of day to phone someone or catching Steve in the right mood to discuss a project that I think he might reject : ). Other times, it's waiting for the weather to be just right to walk Henri or work in the garden. I was certainly waiting for that swoosh of cool weather we expect each fall and which still hasn't arrived. Last Saturday I decided to get outside regardless of the weather and do some transplanting and general garden clean-up. It was hot and humid and less than comfortable but, I got the job done. Once back inside, I showered and that turned out to be a refreshing reward for all the toil and made it all worthwhile.
The new border in fall.

Coaxing these beauties through a hot summer in hopes they'll bloom through Christmas.

I started a lot of yarrow from seed in pots this summer and transplanted them to the border.


Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Blue Ridge Parkway: Blowing Rock, NC to Roanoke, VA

View of Bass Lake from the front porch of the Moses H. Cone home.
     With the approach of the long holiday weekend, we came up with the idea for a spontaneous road trip to Blowing Rock to visit Tess. It's a fun area to explore now that we've discovered it. As we drove the two hundred miles southwest, we could see the thermometer reading in the car drop from the upper 80's to a final temperature of 67 degrees. What was a welcome relief from the heat and humidity we've had to live with for weeks on end! I like this sub-climate in the North Carolina mountains. It's always much cooler than Roanoke and I understand why all the travelers flock to these mountains in the summer.
     Blowing Rock was bustling with activity. With some effort, we found a place to park and made our way to a little cigar shop tucked on a side path in town. Steve and the clerk, a psychology senior at App. State, got chatting and we all sat in the leather upholstered chairs and visited for about an hour while the guys smoked and we waited for Tess to finish her shift at work. After a bit, we headed over to The Speckled Trout and enjoyed a pleasant dinner with Tess on the front porch of the restaurant. Tess and I had almond crusted trout and Steve had a bison steak. Afterward, (but not before stopping for an excellent ice cream cone at the ice cream and fudge shop) we made our way to Tess' apartment and visited for the evening. She led us on a shortcut that consisted of switchbacks and drop-offs. I could not take my eyes off the road for one second so, Steve fed me spoonfuls of my one scoop of pistachio and one scoop of caramel sea salt ice cream while I kept both eyes glued to the road. That night we slept with all the windows open, breathing in the fresh mountain air and listening to nothing but the stillness of the woods at the base of Grandfather Mountain.

Moses H. Cone house built in 1901.

Tess took a lot of posed pictures of us but this is the one I like best. It represents Steve's tolerance (and secret inner joy) for my goofiness.
     The next morning Tess suggested a short drive onto the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the Moses H.Cone house and memorial park. We popped into the supermarket for some lunch items to take along for a simple picnic. Again, with a little patience, we secured a parking spot amid the crowds who were all on a similar outing as ourselves. The Moses H. Cone park features a gorgeous home built in 1901 by Cone. There are twenty-five miles of carriage roads for hiking and horseback riding, and views that were absolutely spectacular. I could have stayed and sat all day with that view. It is unfortunate that the house is used as a gift shop only. I would have liked to tour it as a furnished home/museum and seen it kept in better condition even if it meant paying a fee. The beautiful windowed sun porch is used as a sewing room for a crafts person and the paneled dining room contains modern benches with a big screen TV. The second floor is off limits. We explored and walked a path for a little bit and then drove to another picnic site a few miles away. Again, there were crowds and crowds of people but it was still pleasant and relaxing to be outdoors and on a picnic.

     We found a patch of grass with a boulder or two for seating and set up our cooler as a table. Lunch was one of our favorites, cheeses, thinly sliced salami, apples and grapes, and crackers. We even threw in a box of Entennemen's little apple pies for dessert. The park was crowded with families and couples picnicking for the day. There was a little stream running through where children played. Outdoor grills were smoking and the air was filled with good smells of grilling food and campfires. It all reminded me of our many annual picnics at Thatcher State Park in New York when my parents were still alive. Every Labor Day we packed up our little family, along with lots of good food, and met my sisters and parents, and sometimes friends for a day of picnicking and hiking the Indian Ladder Trail. Our little picnic of three was enough to bring back all those good memories.

Our impromptu picnic was delicious!

Parkway Views
     In the afternoon, we dropped Tess off and said goodbye. We decided to drive all the way home on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Part of this decision was to avoid the heavy traffic we expected to encounter on I-77 and I-81 and the other part was our curiosity and desire to try something out of the norm. At a maximum allowed speed limit of forty-five miles per hour with no commercial vehicles or trucks, the drive was most relaxing. The Parkway is well maintained with mowed grass easements and not a speck of litter in sight. Of course, the views are stunning and there are lots of places to stop and walk around. We made one stop at a tiny cabin built in 1876 by the Brinegars. I enjoyed this homestead just as much as the Cone mansion. I told Steve I thought I could live here, even without electricity, as long as we had strong oil lamps for reading, etc. It was beautiful.
Brinegar cabin built around 1876

I imagine having a little chair on this porch. A place to rest.

The cabin's view

     All-in-all, what normally would have taken us three hours to drive from Blowing Rock to Roanoke, took us five. We did stop for a good spell at the cabin which added some time. Traffic was practically nil. We encountered a few cars and as many motorcycles. It was cool enough in the mountains and our speed was slow enough that we drove with the windows open for a little while. We returned home to a very happy little dog and hot and humid weather. It was worth the miles to see Tess and to spend some time in the cooler outdoors. I love taking drives and picnics so the Blue Ridge Parkway is the perfect outlet for such activities.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Is There Anything To Do There?

     Someone asked me upon our return from vacationing in Maine, "Is there anything to do there?"I stood speechless for an eternal moment as my mind swirled with thoughts. I could list all the wonderful things there are to do on the New England coast or I could give my honest answer which is, "Why would anyone want to do anything? It's a vacation." I suppose Steve and I feel like we're so busy during the other fifty weeks of the year that we agree a vacation should be about relaxing and doing nothing. That doesn't mean we actually do nothing. We did plenty. But only if it felt fun. : )
     We rented the big house on Simpson Lane again. This time we shared it with Steve's four brothers and their wives. It was a fuss-free time and everyone spent their days as they wished. We came together mornings and evenings and shared most meals as well as a few outings. We could not know  last winter when we planned this trip that it would fall one week after my mother-in-law's passing. So, it was fitting that the brothers had this rare occasion to spend a wonderful week together at this moment in time.
     While there isn't much to do in Maine (?), we managed to have a really great time. Chelsea lives close enough that she and her family visited us for a day at the beach three times. I had breakfast with a friend whom I met when we lived in Maine in 1986-87 and who still lives there. The brothers and one wife chartered a fishing boat for one afternoon and brought back dinner in the form of a large, striped bass. That one fish fed nine people! We dined on seafood almost every night, including thirty-five lobsters at the house. We walked on the beach mornings and evenings. We played BINGO at the local firehouse on the one rainy evening. It was fun chatting with the locals while we played. One sister-in-law and I spent a day at Boothbay Harbor popping in and out of shops, dining haborside and exploring a bit of the coastline. On Sunday morning, we walked a half mile to a pretty stone church built around the turn of last century. They hold church services only in the summer. We chased seagulls, drew pictures in the sand, played in tide pools, interviewed a metal detectorist on a rocky beach, played Bocce ball and paddle ball, surfed the waves, hunted rocks and shells, built pools and sandcastles, ate taffy, got sand in our swimsuits, and watched the boats in the harbor come and go.
     It was a challenge to adjust coming home. I looked up real estate in Maine and New Hampshire on the internet the day after we got home. I assume this is what most folks do after vacationing in their favorite place. The desire to run away and live on the coast of Maine will wear off soon enough, especially with school starting up next week. Or maybe it won't wear off and I'll be dreaming of New England all year until we can travel again. Either way, the memories are here to stay.

The house on Simpson Lane

The harbor boat club across the fisherman's foot path in front of the house.
Charlie plays in a tide pool.

Steve and brother Luke played paddle ball.

Hugo during a golden sunset on the black sand at the harbor beach
Sister-in-law Veronica fishing at our favorite beach.

The footbridge across Boothbay Harbor. Built in 1901.
Coastline at Boothbay harbor.
Pop and Hugo draw pictures in the sand.
Dodging the rain and watching taffy made in town at Goldenrod Kisses before we played BINGO. The husbands were good sports and played too. Sisters-in-law Joyce, Veronica, and Fran.
My favorite past time, collecting tiny shells and sea glass.
The tiniest bits of perfection in a little antique bottle.

The final brothers' photo before we all drive back to our everyday lives.