Monday, December 21, 2009

The Match Stick

There are some things that you have control over, and others that are so overwhelmingly out of your own hands that all you can do is have faith that you will pull through. For us, the difficulty is heartbreak like that which we have never known. We lost our baby boy, five months into the pregnancy. I am working through the grief day by day, writing about him, and learning to live with a sense of loss which I now fully realize may never dim. My family have been the legs on which I have stood for the past four weeks, and for this I will forever be grateful.
For others, the recession in which we find ourselves in has been like being placed in a deep pool of water and told to tread. We have no idea how long we are going to have to tread water because no one knows when this thing will end. We just know that if we are to survive, we have to keep treading. The recession hit us personally too, but I think we have reached a point where we are used to it. I say this because I have found myself in a position where I worry about others more so than ourselves. We are struggling too, but not in the sense that I have witnessed others. So many others have already lost their jobs, their homes, and in some cases their family due to the pressure of the struggle. This last loss is the one that bothers me most.
A few months back I was reviewing a Scandinavian cookbook and the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Little Match Stick Girl was mentioned in the book. I had not heard the tale in quite some time. Later that day, when the children were napping, I pulled the book off the shelf and read the story in its original form. It was heart wrenching. In it is the story of how a child is sent into the streets in the middle of a snowy winter with ragged clothes and no shoes to sell match sticks. She sells none and is met with a city of apathy. In vain she tries to one by one light the matches to keep herself warm. She envisions a stove, a magnificent dinner of Holiday goose, a beautiful soaring Christmas tree, and at long last her loving Grandmother- who is seen only as the little girl lights all of the remaining matches in an attempt to hold onto the vision of her loved one. The little girl dies of exposure in the streets. This is no Cinderella fairy tale with a happy ending.
I think this story struck me especially hard this year because of the plight so many families find themselves in this Holiday season. The dire situation in Wilmington, Ohio was aired for the world to see on 60 Minutes last night. This town is in our backyard here in Ohio and it has been especially hard to watch these hard working people struggle to maintain some sense of home the past year. Ten thousand lost jobs is going to take a long time to recover- if recovery is possible in Wilmington at all. I think to myself, despite all of our struggle, we have so much. I cannot help but think that this Christmas morning will be a difficult one for me to really enjoy- knowing in my heart that for so many this one will only exemplify how dire the situation is. It is awfully difficult to explain to a child why Santa did not come.
I urge you to do two things, and do them soon. Go through your home, each and every nook, and donate whatever you have that you do not need. It is best if you can put things directly into someone's hands that need them, but if you cannot, a local shelter is a good place to contact. Second, read the story of The Little Match Stick Girl. Tell it to your children and explain how difficult things are for some families even today. What this world needs most right now is a strong dose of anti- apathy. Children are the most giving of souls and if we can start with them there is always hope for our future.
Note: The illustration above is from a children's book by Debbie Lavreys and it tells the story of The Little Match Stick Girl in a way children can understand.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

We are all Christopher Columbus

You are preparing to set sail with your three ships and all of your crew. You are the lead and the one responsible for all of their welfare. What you know is that you are setting sail from Spain and the goal is to reach India. Most of the population, contrary to today's popular belief, know with some level of certainty that the Earth is round. Aristotle, way back in the third century BC has explained this to the world after observing an eclipse. Yet the belief in some circles still persists that the sailors would at some point fall off the planet into unknown oblivion. What if Columbus himself secretly harboured doubts about the roundness of the Earth? What if he would have had a tether to the dock in Spain on some mystical level, or a self imposed limit that "I will go this far but not any further" just in case? What if he had secretly thought they might all be wrong?

Imagine now you are a few miles from the New Continent but you cannot see it. You do not even know it is there. India's out there somewhere but your crew is anxious and worn out. You have secret moments of panic. What is out there? What do you do? What do you tell your crew?

We all know how the story ends. But I confess I have found myself in the shoes of Christopher Columbus for the greater portion of my life...only the stake was much higher than finding India, or a few unknown continents. My struggle was with God Himself. I was educated in religion quite thoroughly, from the time I was small straight through University and into my adult life through my own studies. And yet knowing all these things about religion still left a gaping hole. I harboured a fear somewhere deep inside that at my core I was an atheist. It was unthinkable and horrifying to finally acknowledge. It was not the thought of a non existent Afterlife that bothered me, it was much more profound than that. It was a bigger fear of losing all that was Good in the world as I had known it. These things that are Good, if you will, are our very own Markers- those things that bring you back into Belief that there is something Greater out there in the Universe. Seeing a living creature being born or going through the stages of death are two of these Markers that can serve to make you a Believer very quickly. Nature in all of its beauty is another. So are moments of Enlightenment between you and someone you love. But as much as I Knew, I could not shake the fear that I was deceiving myself. It was much easier to Believe than not Believe. Until I ran into a brick wall in the form of a four year old.

Death is hard. No two ways about it. Wren, who is now four, had to learn about death way before I was ready to have the conversation. We were faced with having to put one of our cats to sleep. I did not have the faintest idea how to explain this to such a young child. I did the unthinkable- I allowed her to be in the room as Gaston passed away. It may prove to be one of the best things I have ever done as a parent. It introduced very tough concepts into her world at an early age. Death. God. The Soul. Heaven. Permanence. Infinity. And there were very little worlds I could rely on to help me explain all of it to her. Over the past few years the topics have come up regularly. She is coming into full realization what the concept of imagination is and I knew this would be a struggle for her to reconcile with her view of what God, Heaven, and Afterlife are because she cannot "See" any of those. I kept saying to myself that if only I was not so limited by my words. And it was after thinking this a few dozen times that I had a moment of Enlightenment myself. It was not that I was a secret atheist... it was that I would not allow myself to acknowledge that a great part of my Faith I would never be able to put into words. I would never be able to rationalize it to anyone else, or myself for that matter. It was out of my Realm. It was God. It was all that was Good. A lot of it is beyond my scope- there, but I just cannot see it from where I stand.

Wren asked me tonight if God Himself comes to get you when you die. Minefield. I want to choose my words so carefully now that I realize how entangling they can be. I answered her in the only way I knew how- that it was a Surprise. A big one- perhaps the biggest one she will ever have. She is fully aware that parents sometimes die very young and leave small children behind, and this worries her. But she also knows that there is usually a natural progression where people grow old and die after raising their families. I explained it might be God, but there was also a very good chance it could be a Great Grandparent, Grandparent, or Daddy or myself. It all depended on the "when" part of the question. How do I know this I asked myself tonight? I just do. I know it enough to realize that I do not need the tether, real or imaginary, to guard me "just in case". Sometimes, like Columbus, you just have to set sail.

Note: The painting above is by Graeme Wilkinson. Acrylic on canvas.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Our Little House


Wren has adored the first four and we are saving the rest for Christmastime. Over the years I have stashed 1/4 scale dolls and accessories away in hopes of someday building a replica of the Little House home on the prairie. Finding things in this scale is quite difficult but I have found salesman's samples of household goods to work very well. Most are old, however I am always surprised to find that they arrive in good condition. Our plan is to gather all the items first- which may take years, and then build the house around the three rooms we complete. The original Little House had just a Keeping Room separated with a quilt for the parents sleeping area, a loft for the girls, and a lean to off the back of the house.

A lot of detail is given in the books about what the Ingalls had and did not have. Originally, I had planned to do a dollhouse a lot like that of Tasha Tudor's, but I feel now that there is a very valuable lesson to be learned from recreating the simplicity of a pioneer's life. It is a dual lesson in make-do along with a reality of how hard life was for people back then. Since we use wood stoves to heat our home, Wren is very familiar with the cast iron beauties, but learning that they also were responsible for heating all the Ingalls food and baking has been an eye opener for her.

The rope bed is not an unfamiliar concept as most of our beds have been on slats, one of them being a reproduction where the holes are visible where the ropes would have been. We used a sewing machine to make a burlap hemp tufted mattress, surely an extravagance in Laura and Mary's day as they would have most certainly slept on hay stuffed mattresses. A gingham sheet and handmade patchwork quilt provide the dolls with snug evenings. We have yet to find a sixteen inch Laura doll and hope to find one in blue. We will simply switch out the girls clothes to have Laura in red and Mary in blue, just like the books. These are the details that Wren picks up on. One of the neat things about our Mary is that she is wearing a simple bead necklace, just like the one the girls make for Carrie from the Indian beads they find with Pa when walking to the deserted Indian camp.

The girls have a pair of snowshoes and old wooden skis, both familiar concepts to Wren as we love winter sports. We sometimes snowshoe up the half mile to retrieve the mail at the road, and there are a lot of times that I would much rather shoe our way out than risk sliding off the road into the ravine or lake. Winter in the country can be a hair raising affair.
So our next book in the series is A Long Winter as we saved Farmer Boy for next summer. I think this will be a good story for the coming winter, as I do believe we are in for a long winter ourselves.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


There is something incredibly precious about little hands and little feet. I have wanted to document our children's' hands for some time now but did not want to do the traditional print in plaster. I also wanted to be able to show them how tiny they were in both the relation to each other and to us, their parents. We had fun doing simple paper outlines and had to rework them a few times to get them to nestle inside of one another. Then Wren picked out the embroidery colors for each of us, and an extra one for little brother or sister who is on the way. We stitched our outlines on to a hemp burlap and left the cloth in a painted embroidery hoop. The children liked to watch me stitch this up before bedtime- it was the same effect as knitting for them, calming and interesting to watch all at the same time. We will place the other little hand inside of Dane's sometime this Spring and then it will be complete. I have been using my 1960's sewing machine a little more as of late, but still find the method of hand stitching to be more soothing to the hands.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Apple a Day


Mother Nature has seen to it that we are being kept on our toes. What was a leisurely day a few weeks ago turned into an all out fiasco that had my six foot five husband and yours truly doing a jig dance of some sort while trying to catch a Brown Recluse before it sprinted into the plank flooring. My husband was lying on the couch and casually glanced toward the southeast window in the great room saying there was a spider web behind the curtain. I got up to examine the situation and knew immediately this was trouble. It was huge, tornado shaped, and disappeared into the hemp curtain. What was worse, it was just inches from our daughter's play kitchen. I motioned for some help and watched my husband's eyes grow big as he saw the full view of the structure. He pulled the curtain down from its place in one swoop because we weren't going to take any chances of this thing biting us as we fiddled with the web. Now the problem was coaxing it out, which was no problem at all as the thing sprinted immediately across the floor. I screamed scaring the tar out of both Wren and my husband. We threw the curtain back over the spider and my husband's size fourteen shoes called an end to the saga. The thought of that thing getting away was hair raising. I spent the next few hours looking for more webs. We found three on the back porch last week. I nabbed one in a beautiful Red Ware paper towel holder just this afternoon. I am over the spiders already. We have Wolf spiders the size of small rodents... this is the last thing I need. We began a quest to find a friend with Hedge Apples. We found a lucky owner and brought home a paper sack full. I was so reluctant to call an exterminator- I just hate the thought of chemicals. But I wondered about the Old Wives Tale of the Osage Orange. Would it really work? Well, let me tell you, after today's encounter in the paper towel holder, I dug into that paper bag faster than lightening. So I am about to find out. The fruits are hard and bumpy and it took a very large steak knife to do the job of getting one into six slices. They bleed a milky substance that is like glue, though they do not have a very pungent odor. If the scent can be described at all, it is like that of orange cleaning solution. The slices are resting happily in the tops of the windows on the main floor. We shall see how accurate the Old Wives really are. All I know is that if I have just a few more heart stopping encounters like the ones I have had recently, I am going to be sporting some Old Wives white hair! Just in time for Halloween...

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Wrinkle in Time


One of our trees begins to show its color so much earlier than the others. At first, we thought it was just a fluke that year, but each year it holds true to being the first to turn out its glory. Autumn is such a time for contemplation, and though it is still Summer, the weather here in the Ohio River Valley suggests otherwise. I have been under the weather myself the past month or so and my type pad has been quiet. I have not been in my kitchen nearly as much as usual, nor out in the garden. The past month has been one of gathering my children around me and enjoying time in our haven together. More on this later...
The changing leaves has me thinking almost daily about an event from my childhood. I cannot put the memory into exact context, and wonder at times if the memory is not a patchwork of many days that have lodged somewhere in the deep recess of my mind. We are no more than seven or perhaps eight, and there are two friends with me when we leave my house and trudge off through the backyard of my next door neighbour. Our destination is delivering something, maybe items from a school fundraiser, to the next neighborhood over. My two friends are just along for the stroll as they are not in my class. The neighboring yard is that of one of my best friends who is walking with me. There is the faint scent of leaves burning in the air, and also that difficult to explain aroma of leaf litter and mold that speaks to your senses about the beauty of nature. Our shoes drift through the reds, yellows, and browns of leaves newly fallen and their crunch is a sound that takes me back to school days even today. We hug the back corner of my friends log cabin home and come into our secret place. A place of packed earth floor and looping overhead trees, perhaps no larger than some one's living room but endlessly decorated with nooks and crannies that we could get lost for hours at a time in play. At night, this secret place was a spot you could just vanish into, your night tag friends passing within inches and never seeing you. But today we pass through and pop out into the next neighbor's back yard and make the short trek along the evergreens to the street of the next neighborhood. The two houses we are walking behind have a certain cottage feel and I always enjoyed looking at them. Both of our neighborhoods were true circles with perhaps forty or fifty houses around them. The people of these circles loved their gardens and in Autumn the remnants made for a beautiful setting. The house we are going to first is only a few houses down the circle. We walk up the drive which in memory is newly blacktopped, the smell of tar for some reason was quite pleasant. There is an entry porch with a rock formed wall to the right and a garden setting visible but private from the road to our left. The porch is inviting and I see slate tiles of many shades of gray underfoot. A dim light is on overhead as the dusk is coming earlier each day now. We ring the bell which goes resounding into the depths of the house. Footsteps come to the door and it is a lady in her midlife, not unlike most of our teachers at school. A warm smile and she bids us into the entry way through a wooden door and says she'll be right back after she retrieves her pocket book. The three of us say nothing- we are taking it in. The house is dark, not for lack of light, but in decoration, and it is the first time I realize dark can mean very comfortable. The smell of wood wax is in the air along with something coming from the kitchen which we can see from where we are standing. The kitchen has a lot of brick in which a huge range oven is encased and the casserole hidden somewhere inside. I notice a large collection of cookbooks and instantly recognize this woman as someone my Mother would like immensely. I associate rose hips and cloves and dried flowers with this brief visit, and copper pots, though I cannot guarantee any were there at all. The woman comes back with a check and we leave her the bag of goodies and promise to come back at Halloween. We left oddly satisfied walking along with a sense of the season. I remember nothing of the rest of those deliveries nor the homes we went to.
Why over thirty years later this visit seems lodged in my memory I have not the slightest idea. I recognize on some level that I found a kindred spirit to my own Mother who created a sense of home that has stayed with me. I also think this home in the next neighborhood over, in some ways, reminded me so much of my Mother's Aunt Florence's home in Zionsville, Indiana. This home had a large influence on both my Mother and myself, though I never realized it until much later in life. This visit has played about my mind the past month or so with odd frequency and I wonder if my friends remember this day the way that I do- or even remember it at all. What I know is that it has somehow played a role in my subconscious... and it is the memory which has made Autumn my favorite season of all.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Puffy Eyes

We have a ritual that if after our night time story, the children still have trouble falling asleep, I sing lullabies to them. Wren often chooses the songs in a small whisper, and more often than not, Puff the Magic Dragon is close to the top of the list. I grew up with this song sung by Peter, Paul, and Mary. I had it on a 33 and played it till I knew the lyrics by heart. Still, some thirty years later, it still chokes me up. It used to be that I could get all the way to the part where Jackie Paper grows up without my voice catching. But now that I have had Dane, it takes a lot less time to falter my voice. Wren loves this song so much. On some level, she understands it to be a right of passage. She knows that it is both happy and sad and wonders at how singing a song can make her Mama tear up so easily. Still, I sing it whenever she asks. But it always leaves me feeling a bit sad, especially now that I have my own Jackie Paper. If you haven't heard the song in a while, or perhaps never heard it the whole way through, here it is in written form. Sing it with someone you love.
"Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.
Oh Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee.
Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on puffs gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow wheneer they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name.
Oh! Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee.
A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.
His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, Puff could not be brave,
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.
Oh! Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee."
I have often thought about writing another happier verse to end this song, but it some ways it would miss the whole point of the song, wouldn't it? Our little ones grow up before our very eyes and this is what the songs authors, Leonard Lipton and Peter Yarrow, beg us not to miss. But... it is still so difficult to leave Puff in that cave all alone. I always hope another little boy comes along.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rescue Remedy


It's difficult to pass up a deal, more like a steal, when you are around furniture so often. We receive all kinds of calls about antiques restoration and end up going on a lot of "go-sees" to see if we can be of help. Often times, we are able to pick up things at good prices while we're out and about on these calls, and sometimes the odd item just leaps into our truck from the curb. These little chairs we picked up in Florida for a song. But someone had done that ever popular late eighties silk stripe dining fabric upholstery and it had been sitting there ever since. The seats were in pretty bad shape, and at first glance so were the wood finishes. But often times, all it takes is a gentle cleaning and wax to bring back the luster. It goes without saying, never refinish a piece that you do not know the value of. If it's old and/ or rare you will plummet the value by taking away the old finish. This presents a problem when you really wish to have a painted finish or different stain, but it really is best to leave well enough alone when it comes to woods. My husband is called in for repairs, great and small, and all the work is done with care to add value, not take it away.

These chairs just needed a good cleaning and simple Williamsville wax. I shed the old fabric, replacing it with a more homespun look to match our Saltbox style house in creams, eggplants, and reds. This is in part my summer education of soft restoration. I am diligently learning the trade of seat upholstery, wing chair upholstery, couch upholstery, shaker tape seating, and rush work- God help me on the last.
My Father in Law is a wonderful craftsman and at one time a skilled rush worker. It is like a bicycle, he can still do it, but he says it takes a great deal of painstaking time.

Here are the old and new versions side by side right before I get ready to tear into the second chair. These will go happily in our dining room as extra seating right next to our Windsors. I like things to compliment each other and a house put together over time never matches exactly. Next I am tackling a set of four ladder back chairs that have been in our family for ages. Their old torn rush seats are being replaced with Shaker fabric taping in evergreen hues. I cannot wait for them to come back into everyday use.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Close to the Clouds

For me, this place of intimate knowledge has been the area around Park City, Utah. For some years before I had children, I had the privilege of traveling into Salt Lake City in the Spring and again in the late Summer. I cannot say which is my favorite time of year- it is impossible to choose. I love traveling there alone, and I love sharing its infinite beauty with others close to me. My last trip there was special as I was three months pregnant with Wren, and figured it would be one of my last visits for a while. All the different times spent there blend into one long wonderful memory and it is sometimes a challenge to separate the visits into neat little chapters. Places you love do that to you...they increase your good feelings to such a height that it is almost as if you spend your time there in some sort of emotional nirvana. I would rush to the airport at the earliest flight time catching the plane at an hour before which I was usually ever awake just to make it into town by lunchtime. Once in that plane seat it was like my mind completely renewed itself because it knew what lay in wait. I stayed at the same little inexpensive inn every time I went. I adored the owners and it was right in the city of Salt Lake seated neatly below the university. I would fall into bed exhausted there and rise with an urge to run out the door and do it all over again. Most times coming off the plane I would pick up a four wheel drive vehicle and head straight out to Park City not bothering to even drop off my bags at the hotel. My usual lunch spot was always the same that first day- Main Street Pizza and Noodle for their bow tie pasta in a vegetable cream sauce. It was just the thing to energize a quick stroll through town and not heavy enough to prevent my indulgence in the most enormous caramel apple you ever laid eyes upon. A huge copper cauldron of hot liquid aroma lures you in from the sidewalk at the RMCF (Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory) in front of Dolly's Bookstore. Apple in hand, the stroll down Main Street is just that much sweeter. The altitude can get to you on the first day off the plane, especially when coming from sea level. I always try to get a good nights sleep and return to Park City the next day to meet up with a guide at Red Pine Adventures. There is no better way to explore the area around the Canyons than on the back of a large but gentle horse.

There are numerous footpaths that run along the mountain sides right in Park City. I developed an intense love for Utah's wildflowers along these paths and would often walk them until the sun began to fade away. Indian Blanket Flower, Columbine, Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, and Stone crop dance like an impossibly intricate Impressionist painting everywhere the eye falls. A quick jaunt up Main Street and out of town brings you to Guardsman Pass. Breathtakingly beautiful, it delivers you right up into the clouds. If you have a good vehicle this road will take you all the way out to Brighton and Big Cottonwood Canyon. Then just a few miles outside of Brighton is a little shining jewel. I never could pass Silver Fork Lodge without stopping in for a meal. Small in size but large in ambience, Silver Fork Lodge is a place frequented by true Alpine Lovers. It is a bit of the old Utah prior to the mayhem of the Olympics and the serious obnoctiousness that has become the Film Festival. Both Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood Canyons offer unbelievable scenery and the chance to hike, boulder, and climb your way into physical exhaustion...the good kind. Keeping the windows down allows you to hear the rushing of the snowmelt in the creeks, and provides the opportunity to stop and watch the dance of a flyfisherman casting his line above the sparkling water surface.

My permanent choice of staying at the City Creek Inn was made after the first time I checked in. It lies at the heart of everything. One route leads out of town and toward Park City, another leads into that heavenly drive along the Cottonwood Canyons, and yet another leads to the impossibly beautiful Sundance Resort owned by Robert Redford. It is possible to travel to Sundance along two routes, one being the highway which takes you past amazingly high waterfalls and a lazy floating river. The other, and it is a bit of a secret, is to travel the back route in summer via the Timpanogos Cave winding road. You will be stopped at a certain point well into the route and it is extremely important to tell the Ranger that you are just passing through. Otherwise they politely tell you to turn around. It is an incredibly remote road which is closed at first snowfall until well past Spring, and passes right through a private camp before landing you on the entry into Sundance. Sundance in the summertime is a marvel, and far too beautiful to put into words. Lunch at The Foundry is a perfect way to ease into the day. Wood fired pizza can be devoured and the extra wrapped up neatly in your knapsack. The chair lift will take you to the top of the mountain, but I much prefer to hike it along Stewart's Falls and into the valley of Mount Timpanogos. This valley is remote in every sense of the word and I fully expect to come nose to nose with an ambling black bear here someday. The valley leads into a thickly forested area along a winding path, from which if you know what to look for, you may catch a glimpse here and there of Mr. Redford's main house. I think he is fully aware hat he has landed in heaven a bit early. From here, you can catch the chair lift down or simply follow in the well worn paths of the mountain bikes. I have not been as lucky as my friends whom I have sent to Sundance, who on their first day were served ice cream from the Sundance Kid himself and asked to join him at his table for dinner. Their German heritage was a plus as Mr. Redford's wife is of German descent, and he was grappling to learn her language. I have to say this made a huge impression on my friends who on the same trip bought an alpine house up the road from Sundance. I think he, and the place, have this effect on people.

I have hiked areas in the Wasatch Mountains that make you feel like you may just be the last living person on Earth. You may see and near no one, or you may come around the bend and find yourself in the company of a Mama moose and her little one. I met these two way up in the mountains above Jordanelle Reservoir. I had heard of the dangers of moose, but this one seemed unfazed to share the trail with us. Nevertheless, I gave her a lot of space. Each trip into the wilds here demands that you prepare to be there for days, even if your intention is a few hours. Weather here in the mountains can change on a dime leaving you stranded in a pair of shorts at freezing temperatures if not careful. It is this volatility that makes the area so rugged and awe inspiring. It is also one of the main reasons I will wait until my little ones are a little older to return to my beloved Utah. I once foolishly asked a Ranger if there were accidents with children along these impossibly steep and high altitude footpaths. Only a few times came the reply, but that was enough for me.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Mid Summer

And while it can be overwhelming to take it all in, because I know not all of it will ever really get finished, it is hard to be disatisfied with the beauty that is everywhere I glance. There is quite a bit of painting to do on garden accessories that have been weathered and worn, but then it occurs to me that their patinas really look quite nice. To the back of the list it goes. I notice a furry bee climbing about the metal bees on the red wood heart. How appropriate, a bee house in a bee.

The Gay feather has opened in its characteristic top to bottom fashion and its cheery purple flowers are keeping the sandbox company. At their feet is the fuzzy Lamb's Ears that the children love so much to touch. Children of yesteryear used the soft leaves as bandages on scrapes and cuts. Wren tries to convince me to try this each time we need a bandage.

The Day Lillies are still putting on their spectacular show, though their gardens need weeded yet again. We manage to pop off the wrinkled blooms as we come and go sending them back to the soil to provide nutrients for next years blooms. I notice the fishing net in the rocks of the drive and think of the three eager faces peering out from the glass in Wren's aquarium. We "borrowed" them from the pond after returning our last critter to the water. We will miss him, as he was a large snail, and did a superb job of keeping that aquarium crystal clear. I believe our new friends are tiny baby bluegill. They'll visit for a few weeks and go back home to grow as large as their friends.

White Zinnias have bloomed in a sky blue crackled pot. More are coming into bloom and I am hoping to see that beautiful shade of chartreuse that only a Zinnia can conjure up. Huge dinner plate sized Dahlia's are reaching for the clouds behind them nestled in the tall green grasses. The day we see their flower buds will be an exciting day.

Purple Cone flowers that were planted after the deer ate so many of the seedlings are coming into flower all along the path to the herb garden off the southwest corner of the house. The little seedlings that were not eaten are still so small. Perhaps they are putting down roots and we might see this display multiply greatly next year. The first blooms were those huge cones that measure two to three inches up in dome shapes with their pale purple petals pointing slightly downward. The sight of these always makes me think of Thumper in Bambi. Our own little Bambis are enjoying the green beans and carrot tops in the garden. There are lots and lots of deer this year after many months of hardly seeing any at all. Their shy manners and coy stares make everything here in the land seem in balance once again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Birthday Dreaming

and our baby will be four. This time last year we were so busy preparing for Wren's third birthday party. We had a Winnie-the-Pooh party and there had been so much to do. I really cannot imagine doing something like this every year because of the time required to prepare, but we had so much fun that I know we will do it again in the near future. We kept the party smallish, having about eight children and their families. Each child- and this was really the fun part- received a hand embroidered Rabbit with his or her name and a hand embroidered little tee shirt with one of the Hundred Acre Wood characters. We had found iron on tee shirt decals in pastels and cute little Winnie the Pooh material gift bags to hold them. The Rabbits have adorned our Easter baskets since the birthday.

Wren and I made the pinata in the design of a honey bee after some trial and error and literally stuffed it full of candies for the big day. We painted the bee, and also a large tag board of Eeyore for a Pin the Tail game. Little braided tails were made out of knitting yarn and tied with red bows just like in the Pooh stories. Kids drew Pooh sticks to see who would go first. Eight children ranging in age from one to six were hilariously funny to watch during the games and most were played in some fashion other than what was planned which made it all the more humorous. Kids also took home a handmade coloring book with all the Pooh characters to remember the day. We had stacked up quite a few Winnie the Pooh items from the bargain stores and I was amazed at the prize bags that each child was able to take home. It had hardly cost anything at all to put those together and yet the children had so much fun with them.

Wren wore a vintage 1970's Sears Winnie the Pooh dress that was nearly identical to one I had as a child. She still calls it her Pooh Party Dress.

The cupcakes were lemon and chocolate flavored with lemon drop bees atop. A super chocolaty cake was served for the adults and the recipe came from the Pooh Party Book which was published in the 70's. The ingredient list was downright scary with cocoa, chocolate syrup, and chocolate bars but it all seemed to bake right into one of the most moist cakes I have ever eaten.

An over sized Winnie the Pooh was at the helm of the sweets table. Winnie's signature red balloons were throughout the house and a vintage child's Pooh bed sheet made a wonderful table covering.
We spent a lot of that glorious day outdoors eating chicken salad croissants and potato salad. The sounds of the children laughing that day is something I will always remember. This year we are taking Wren someplace special for the day. It will be her choice- the zoo, aquarium, museum- in either Cincy, Columbus, or Indy- the city is also up to her. I just cannot believe she will be four in one month. How time flies when it is spent with such special little people.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Home Away from Home

Sometimes it is a difficult thing to go back to the places of your childhood. Decades pass and things change... it is inevitable. One of my best childhood friends had a campsite at Sandy Pines in Michigan. She would take turns taking all of her friends up there on summer vacation, though I have to say I went a lot. I may have had more than my fair share of turns, and boy, I am grateful. Sandy Pines is etched in my memory for so many reasons. Back then, in the late 1970's, Sandy Pines was a place of dirt roads, limited electric use, and small campers. Sure, there were those members sporting double slide outs on their motor homes and they seemed to be camping in expansive luxury. But back then most of us were sleeping in campers that were designed for people who really liked each other. Once you arrived at your campsite after driving what seemed like days, the car pretty much stayed put. We walked a lot more back then- miles even along those dirt roads that were more like sheltered paths under green canopies. If we were lucky, we got the golf cart. This was like being allowed to drive the family car without a license! Our site was on the far end of the resort. We had the best of both worlds because we had the outdoor pool, the huge dangerous hill that was a thrill to race down with the golf cart rattling the whole way, and- and this is a big one- that wonderful feeling that you had to take some huge adventure if you needed to do the slightest thing like run for marshmallows after nine pm. It meant one heck of a long scary golf cart ride clear to the other side of the resort where the general store and gas station were. We volunteered to run every single errand back then. My favorite part of that long trip to the other side occurred as we shot out of the woods and into a clearing that jogged around Lake Monterrey. Light played off the surface of the water, and the road here was always a little more sand than dirt which made it appear oddly pink as the sun went down. The little chapel stood on the shore here and it was always so peaceful. Life was so incredibly simple on these days at Sandy Pines. Breakfast was eaten on the run, lunches were often hot dogs or grilled hamburgers eaten on those few minutes out of the pool or lake, and dinners- well, this was a whole other story. My friend's Dad was one heck of a cook. I marveled at these dinners made in this tiny trailer by this huge man who looked every bit the part of Yule Brenner in The King and I. I tasted foods on those trips that have become some of my favorite foods today as an adult. Back then I suffered my way through it but I knew on some level that someday I would appreciate these strange things that showed up on my plate. At night we would unroll what seemed like fifty pounds of sleeping bag that had belonged to my friend's older brothers when they were Scouts. Bless those poor souls for having to hike with those bags because they had to have weighed in as much as the kids. Those bags were Army green cotton with flannel plaid linings. We'd get in them and pray for rain. There was nothing like going to sleep with the sound of rain hitting a metal roof just inches over your dry head. Those sleeping bags smelled musty and I can sense it just sitting here writing about them. Our prayers for rain were often answered and I am sure that is mostly to blame. "Yule" was a loud snoring sleeper and having to get up and go to the bathroom at night was a terrifying experience. You had to navigate your way to the end of the camper through a path that couldn't have been more than ten inches wide. Getting past the snoring gentle giant in the complete dark was scary indeed. No matter what you did in that camper it was so easy to wake people up, and I knew if that snoring stopped I had interrupted some one's nice deep slumber. What fun those days were. We were so young and carefree. Bug bitten and sun burnt and so happy. My friends parents are now gone as is the campsite. But life is odd, truly. One of my favorite aunts decided to get a summer place in Michigan a few years back. We had talked about all the work they were putting into their place and how much they were enjoying their summers. What I didn't know until later was that my aunt was spending her summers at my childhood haunt. It is her place now. So much has changed. Paved roads, lots of entertainment, and even condos were built. But I am sure the essence remains the same. She has asked me up for a visit and I cannot wait for her to show me around. My Sandy Pines is gone, but hers is very much alive. And like good family genes, her present Sandy Pines will have enough of the old Sandy Pines to stir up all of those old childhood memories that I hold so dear. To you Floyd, Ruth, and Kristina- thank you for all those days in the sun.

Note: The above painting by Paul Turner Sargent captures the Sandy Pines of yesterday with amazing clarity.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

One Beauty Finds Another

"What's that?" she whispered. I gasped too. It was beautiful, almost too pretty to be real. With a wingspan of over 4 inches across I thought it was a paper toy at first. Then it fluttered. Oh no, had I caught it in the door? I quickly bent down and looked the critter over for injuries, and luckily found none. But it seemed disoriented and unsure of where to go. It seems as if it had spent the night lodged between the door and the screen and was working out some wing cramps. We marveled at the colors and patterns at play on the wings and the fuzzy orangeness of its large body. As I snapped a photograph it suddenly took flight. What was it? I felt sure it was a moth. A quick reference check turned up that our critter was a Tulip Tree Silk Moth. The markings were unmistakable. Ours seemed to be a male. They search out females in the evening hours in order to mate. What a treat it was to be able to see one of these creatures up close. I imagine he is off looking for females somewhere and trying to find a less dangerous place to recuperate after another amorous evening!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lily Love


For the past few years it seemed like the only lilies we had were the common orange day lily found along every roadside here in the Ohio River Valley. We had a yellow peek through here and there- that was until the whole clump of yellows was accidentally hit with a golf cart last year. Whether it is some blessing in the weather this year, or some unknown garden tonic bestowed by fairies in the night, we cannot for our lives figure out where all these colorful lilies have come from. What was once an orange display of beauty is all of a sudden a rainbow of different shades of reds, yellows, whites, pinks, and oranges. It is simply amazing.

The name day lily implies that the flower only lasts a day, and despite having read this on numerous occasions, I can say with certainty that the flowers last much longer.

The colors are endless in how they combine. This one with its creamy petals and maroon center tinged with chartreuse is a favorite.

This was our more common color, and still the orange variety is our most prolific.

A buttery yellow specimen.

This one is magic, such a deep maroon that it nearly appears black.

Whatever has happened with the lilies this year, we hope it continues. It is wonderful to come and go along the walkway and see such a wide array of flowers. I think I'll just go on letting Wren think it was the fairies. Who knows, maybe it was.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Angel Face

Wren had her first role in a special wedding last weekend. She shared the honor of being a flower girl with her cousin who is just about the same age. The girls were so precious and took their jobs so seriously. Pictures from the day tell the whole story of how the girls felt like little Princesses in their twirly dresses. Wren's favorite book of the summer is Angel Face by Sarah Weeks and David Diaz. I couldn't help but think of this story as I gazed upon this sweet face throughout the day.

"Angel's eyes are dusty almonds,
Angel's mouth's a mango sliver,
Angel's skin is steeping tea,
Angel's hair's a rushing river.
You would know it any place...
my Angel's Face."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reflecting on Tasha Tudor 1915-2008

a lot
I found I had a difficult time choosing a picture to accompany this letter. So many of Tasha's photos depict her in the Autumn years of her life after she had gained so much notoriety in her art. And though I greatly admire Tasha's art, it is her life than I admired most. Not the life of travel when she was promoting her work, but the life I can only imagine that happened when she was alone or with loved ones. This is the most intimate portrait of Tasha that I have ever seen, and can only think Nell Dorr to be the photographer. I can hardly imagine anyone else so close to Tasha to capture this picture of a young nursing mother. It is such a rare depiction of her life and must have been taken in the late thirties or early forties of the 20Th century- which is in itself somewhat astonishing. Which of the four children this little beautiful babe is I do not know. But it is heartbreaking in so many ways with everything the family is going through with settling the estate of Tasha Tudor. What is evident to me is this. No matter what happened to cause the family to break apart as it has, Tasha loved her babies. It is written all over her face. The stress and trials of bringing up four children after she left her husband, I cannot even begin to imagine. Her art paid the bills. Perhaps this is the reason I feel more attached to her daily life than her art. In my head, it seems that for her it was a means to an end. Tasha was extremely protective of her private life and had a very structured life. To the casual onlooker it may not have seemed so, but for any modern person to shun all outside forms of media takes great discipline. No television, radio, or Internet. No reading other peoples Blogs, joining Facebook, or writing emails. It may seem like she didn't care about the outside world. To me, it seemed like she cared about her inside world more deeply than to let the outside world get in the way. This is the notion that has been tumbling about in my head for the past months. I write on this Blog to those I care deeply about, and maybe to those who find some sort of shelter in a common soul. I can relate on so many levels to Tasha wanting to shun the outside world. Sometimes contact with people outside your protective circle can be more hassle than what it seems worth. The bottom line is that we often do not see the world the same way. These can include people we do not know, but it can also include those who should be most close to us, but for one reason or another are not. I would like to be the type of person who could overcome any transgression. I can forgive any hurt, but I cannot say I am able to readily give the other cheek for another slap, so to speak. Maybe this is how it was for Tasha and her family. Whatever is said or written, one thing I believe is true. Her family and home place were her world. Taking care of her gardens, animals, and art left little time for wasted energy. Those who loved her knew where to find her. I wonder at her feelings of sentimentality towards the end of her life. Was this the reason she entrusted one child to the bulk of her life? In her heart, was he the one who most understood her? I did not know her so I cannot say. But I can say that we can empathize with someone we do not know, and I think this is entirely possible. A home takes a lifetime to build up and can be torn to pieces in a matter of months with the right attorneys. If you think I am speaking of brick and mortar, think again. What is at stake here in Tasha's world is much more than her home place. It is a way of life that thousands cling to for strength in navigating a world far to concerned with the lives of other's. She remains a strong reminder for many of us that our life happens in the rituals of each and every day. If we become too engrossed in the lives of others, or in world events, we find ourselves at risk of losing touch with our own. Take Peace, dear Tasha. We miss you.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Paring Down

Lately I am
that what
I want
most for
my family
is room
to breathe.
I have had this vision of emptying the house down to the bare walls, putting everything out into the yard, and slowly putting only what we need and regularly use back into the house. For months now we have been cleaning out corners and cupboards and letting go of things. Once you have a little space that is pared down and feel the openness and simplicity, it becomes fairly an obsession to spread the effect around. Decorative things have been the first to go. If we cannot use it for something as well as admire its beauty, it is out the door. What is left is taking on greater meaning as we finally begin to notice things.

We had curtains in the great room that were Colonial swags. They did not match our saltbox, and worse, they did nothing. They offered no protection from light or cold as they could not be lowered or drawn. I had a roll of fabulous hemp fabric just sitting around in a closet and we are in the process of changing over all the curtains to a simple rod pocket and iron pull back style. The one window that is finished is blissful! Wren can play in her kitchen in the hot afternoon sun and barely notice the glare from the windowpanes.

We had a lot of pottery displayed about and it was collecting a lot of dust. If we cannot bake with it, put flowers in it, or store something in it, for the most part it left the house too. What we are left with are small groupings that work well together and get a lot of use. I appreciate the workmanship a lot more and notice how the colors change throughout the day.

All of a sudden I see things differently. I love old worn leather and the pieces we have are so comfortable. They now stand out in the room as main focal points because so much of the other clutter has been cleared away.

A hat stands ready at the front door stair banister and a little saddle pouch hangs over the rail. Wren likes to take these items and put her little treasures in the pouches and play cowgirl in the hat. An old saddle sits atop an ottoman nearby and every child who comes to our house loves to ride this imaginary horse.
I am amazed by how little we need these days. We have always needed so little...we just got a bit lost along the way. I still have months of cleaning and giving away to do, but there is light in the tunnel now in so many areas of our home. It feels wonderful with each new day of paring down and my burdens are getting lighter and lighter. It gives me time to think about those things in my home that matter three family members. I hope they remember these times of letting go of things and I hope it sticks with all of us. What we enjoy more than ever nowadays is our time together, and that's something worth collecting.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rainy Days

The rain of the past few days is giving everything a jump start in the vegetable patch. Pumpkins are in flower and sending forth their curling tendrils.
The yellow squash is in flower and has thus far escaped the borer that devastated our crops last year.
Brussels Sprouts are happy for the cooler temperatures and becoming strong and sturdy plants in an amazing shade of light blue.

Some of the tallest Marigolds I have ever grown are nestled among the tomato plants. Their scent hits you as soon as you come within sight of the garden.
I cannot
my eyes.

Despite the fact that I have about a lifetime's worth of weeding...and the rains are bringing forth yet more weeds, I somehow cannot be bothered with or stressed by the fact that I may never catch up. Days like these are wondrous here in the Valley. The temperatures are cool, you can smell new green growth in the air, and everything is covered in a fine blueish mist. There must be five colors of flowers bursting on the largest Nasturtiums I have ever seen. They are running a muck in the pumpkin patch and gourd patch.

The Birdhouse Gourds are growing before my very eyes and tomorrow I will place another support on top of this one which will let them climb to a height of six feet- which still may not be enough!

Delicate lettuces are coming in every day as the new seedlings try to gain a foothold in their peat pots. These lettuces are three year old plants and just put forth new growth every season.
Apples are coming in on the tree and are just loving all this rain. It is not unusual to spot a tawny fawn and her parents nibbling on the new fruits.

The hay is getting wet this season. The horseman is not too happy about this but the cut was timed wrong. Most of it was salvaged and the rest left uncut until we dry out. I can hardly blame the cutter, however, when for so long rain was in the forecast and did not arrive. But he took a chance and cut over the weekend and it has poured down rain- and hail- ever since.

Market beans are coming in after a very precarious start. We lost an entire seedling run and the second did not look to be faring any better. But most survived and are now putting on vigorous growth.