Thursday, December 28, 2006

One Lovely Book

I discovered a wonderful book this Christmas. I guess it's true, for better or worse, that we buy gifts for others that we'd love to receive ourselves, allowing for our knowledge of their tastes, of course. So, after I'd picked it off the shelf in the bookstore, and read enough to love it, I had to decide whose gift it would be. Hmmm.......several people came to mind, but I settled on S, my little four year old granddaughter. It's not the kind of book a four year old could read by herself. But I didn't buy it with that intent. I bought it so that my Oldest Son could read it to his daughter. Because he will love it too.

OS has been passionate about books all his life [30+yrs.?Aghhh!]. The depth and breadth of his interests is astounding. DIL despairs of ever getting his book collection under control.....Their daughter, S, is a bright, highly imaginative child [who me? bragging? no.o..o...o! just stating the facts...] who already shares her Daddy's addiction to books and stories.

The book in question is "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane". It was written by Kate DiCamillo, of whom I am extremely jealous.......because I would like to have written it. It's charm is enhanced by Bagram Ibatoulline's lovely, old fashioned illustrations.

And then I was shopping again. And bought another copy. For another relative. A relative who is the same age as me. Stay tuned for a report on whether or not I scored a coup.

It is an acknowledged fact in our family that the penny drops slowly with me. Turns out Kate DiCamillo is probably familiar to many eager readers. She has other books up her sleeve --- Newberry Medal and Honor books. And one of her books was a National Book Award Finalist. Now that my head has been pulled out of the sand, one of my New Year's resolutions is to read everything she has written. Because I love how she writes. This resolution should ensure that I'll be off the streets and unavailable for trouble-making of any least in January. So, tell me, what wonderful and enthralling books did you discover this Christmas?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Merry Christmas, One and All

It was a lovely morning and the sun beckoned me to walk out back, among the pine trees. Not the most beautiful trees in the world, like telephone poles with a few wisps of green, way at their tops. The payoff is underfoot. I strolled along the soft piney pathways carved out by YS and his friend , John Deere. The air was a warm hug around me, the little breeze delicious. And once again I thought, "there's no place like home."

I've always hankered for a Norman Rockwell sort of life. You know the one, with the old homestead, where all the children grew up, and to which they flock back at the holidays, offspring in tow, to gather round the groaning table....And hark! I hear the OC groaning too, in exasperation. Option #1 : Stop lurking! Option # 2 :Bear with me while I indulge my little fantasy!........The NR grandparents are portly [we're not], and jolly [hmmm]. They've got their **** figured out, and don't visit their angst on the younger generations. They love all their children and grandchildren, regardless of long hair or piercings, or strong opinions or outlandish choices in clothing..... The grandchildren run and jump and laugh, and swing on the same swing, under the same old oak tree that Mama and Papa swung on in their day.....ok, ok, even I'm laughing now.......

At the back corner I walked in under the graceful, whispering shade of the Budda's Belly, pride and joy of the OC and YS both. They brought it home five years ago in the back of the car, a mere sapling, and now it reaches thirty feet into the sky. Up front, near the road, another variety of bamboo flourishes, lower-growing and spreading, beloved by quail and other shy creatures. Along the side of the house I come to YS's pepper patch. The boy has a green thumb--from farmers on both sides---Ukrainian and Irish both, perhaps? The plants are past their prime now, and probably need to be pulled up, but skinny peppers, like miniature red and orange lights, still cling to their tired stalks. A few yellow blooms still swagger, nearby, on the bedraggled marigold plants.

The azaleas are blooming by the front door, blazing red, just in time for Christmas, and behind them, bunches of red berries hang on the tall nandina. But best of all is the maple, between the front porch and the road, half of its beautiful foliage already deep red.

"He that planteth a tree
is the servant of God;
He provideth a kindness
for many generations,
and faces that
he hath not seen
Shall bless him."
My boys, on this score alone, have secured their places in heaven. Over on the opposite side from the pepper patch, in a shady little grove, a camelia is blooming---beautiful creamy white blossoms---what good, after all, is red without a little Christmas white to set it off?
So it's not a NR homestead, and it's not the Lake Isle of Innisfree, to which, in lonely moments , my heart often flies. Nor is it exactly a small cabin "of clay and wattles made". We don't have "nine bean rows " here, nor " a hive for the honeybee". But peace does "come dropping slow", and I realise maybe I've come to love this latest "home".
Holidays make of me a worse emotional wreck than usual. I miss the children my children used to be. It all went by in such a blur, too fast, before I had a chance to savour each one of them.....and then they were gone.
My eyes, like the rims of overflowing buckets, carefully carried over uneven terrain, can spill over at any moment....sending the menfolk running for cover. Best to talk to her only of the weather, or politics, or bills to be paid, or the aged and infirm drivers out there on the roads, endangering the rest of us........just don't get into any family drama.....please.
I need to get comfortable in this new Phase.....After all, isn't this what I dreamed about all those frazzled, child-raising years? To not be needed so much and so constantly; to not have to have all the answers; to, once in a while, have a moment to daydream, all by myself, without the chorus of " mommy, mommy, mommy!"
"you may give them your love but not
your thoughts,
for they have their own thoughts."
"their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams."
And so "I will arise and go now", to the kitchen, to count my blessings, and banish that persistent Grinch to his dark corner, and set to baking....
I wish for peace in the world at Christmas; peace in my family and in yours; peace for my children and their families; for my OC and YS, who I'll be so glad to have home; peace for my scattered friends everywhere, and for all my lovely new blogger friends. A merry and peaceful Christmas to one and all!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reindeer Droppings

These not my favourite Christmas cookies, but they are my California Girl's favourites. So I try to send her a box of them every year. Obviously I'm a little behind the curve this year, but I hope to take them to the P.O. this afternoon. The original name was less than inspiring, so I renamed them, as I only make them at Christmas, and this is what they look like.....They are easy and quick to make. They just need time in the fridge before packing and putting on Santa's sleigh, slapping Rudolf on the rump and telling him you have faith in him that he can gallop through the sky fast enough to get them there by Christmas.

Reindeer Droppings

1/2 cup of butter [1/4 lb.]
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa[unsweetened]
1/2 cup milk

Mix all the above in medium saucepan until butter is melted. Simmer for one minute.
Remove from heat and stir in:

3 cups of quick cooking oatmeal
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup of peanut butter [smooth or chunky] ---optional
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup of nuts [walnuts or pecans]
You can throw in a handful of shredded coconut if you wish [I don't]

Drop by teaspoonfuls on a wax paper lined cookie sheet. You can put them very close together as they won't be growing. Lightly cover with more wax paper. Chill in fridge. Contact Rudolf, as detailed above. Wait for call from California. Expect to have difficulty understanding what C.G. is saying as she will be speaking through a mouthful of fudgy reindeer droppings, her idea at Christmas, of what home tastes like. Happy Christmas C.G. Wish you were here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It's All About Love, Actually

Home again ,Home again, Jiggety jig. To find that the calendar apparently didn't stand still in my absence, leaving me barely a week to get it in gear for Christmas. Wrote and mailed a couple dozen cards and went with Youngest Son to find a Christmas tree. Intended to bake tonight, but was feeling a little grinchy, and virtuous about above modest accomplishments, so rented a movie and vegged in front of the telly instead. But not just any movie. I've noticed in many blogger profiles that "Love, Actually" crops up regularly as a favourite movie. I've been curious......

Nothing compares to the luxury of having the house to yourself, abandoning the "should do's" for an evening, and giving yourself over to total immersion in a sloppy love story. They're the best kind, right? There just isn't anything tidy and unsloppy about love or about life. I sniffled and sobbed and empathised freely at all the sniffle- and sob- inducing parts, without fear of masculine ridicule [the cat doesn't count].

It turned out to be a very Christmassy kind of movie with a great cast. Emma Thompson is an awesome actress; of course I bawled when she found out that the beautiful necklace she'd thought he'd bought for her, was actually for her husband's secretary. And what woman, no matter how practical and down to earth, doesn't sometimes daydream of being thought beautiful, instead of damned with the"faint praise"of being adequate? Hugh Grant is no Laurence Olivier, but he is easy on the eye, and reminds me of my Britboy, whose current English lass's name also happens to be Natalie!

And I realised why I've been feeling Grinchy. Christmas is supposed to be about love, n'est pas? But where is it? It's not apparent in the horrendous hordes of cranky drivers; nor in the endless snaking lines at the post office; nor yet in the obnoxious, shouting , mind numbing ads on tv, exhorting us to buy more, more, more. That's easy enough to take care off, and I do--by clicking the "off" button. The commercialization of Christmas gets me down. What happened to the little baby in the stable in Bethlehem? He hardly gets a look in any more. If anything, the other guy, the one with the horns and the pitchfork and the pointy ears, has the upper hand, as greed and materialism spin out of control.

As I watched and empathised, I marvelled at how wonderful movies are. All the problems and misunderstandings are cleared up nicely and tidily in the appointed two hours and thirty five minutes. I, unfortunately , am left with my still-messy, unsorted-out life. I can't afford to hire the best scriptwriters in the land to write my lines for me . I have to blunder through scriptless, adlibbing [and not well] as I go. A bull in a china shop looks dainty by comparison.

Gradually the grinchiness melted away. Pictures from the past month flitted through my head; SIL on the basement floor, rolling around with his Daddy-adoring sons, our grandsons; my DD making sure a delicious and nutritious dinner was ready and waiting for her boys, big and small, on the evenings she had to work; both doing a loving and conscientious job of raising their sons ; Oldest Son and his family, same thing, different style--home after a long day at work, not to a comfy chair and slippers and oblivion, but to work of another kind, being there for bathtime and storytime and climbing-all-over-Daddy-time, and soothing tears and calming tempers, and rocking over-tired little people to sleep, just barely sooner than he falls asleep, exhausted, himself; my California Girl, handed back to me after talking to her older brother -- brave words not quite hiding the tremor in her voice that tells me she wishes she weren't quite so far away, so she could see her siblings, and niece and nephews once in a while; my DIL, as happy and excited as her children in their wide-eyed wonder when she turns the Christmas tree lights on; the OC all spiffy for his office Christmas party; and YS, there to meet me at the airport, whisking my bags into the boot; the marvel of everything looking so nice in the garden and the house, due to his TLC while I was away.

Such a cheerful positive, happy movie. It cheered me right up and made me realise that love is all around us, actually.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Driving Through Winter to the Promise of Angels

Sunday was a beautiful day, as I set off on a four hour trek from Buffalo to Albany, to visit oldest son and family. True, it was cold, but the sun shone, and the sky was blue. Naked trees , like sentries, stood guard along the highway, rifles pointing skyward.

Upstate N.Y. appeals to my Irish eyes, and I understand why so many of my countrymen settled here. The rolling hills and green fields, albeit presently fringed with snow, remind me of the green fields of home. The wintry sun gleams off grain silos and farmhouses, and the lovely old red barns make my fingers itch for a pencil or some charcoal.

Lazy jetstreams crisscross the blue, and I wonder , as I always do, where all those people are going.......Black deer on yellow signs leap from the shoulder, shouting their soundless warning, "watch out for us!" And then, the surprise of a black kitten with a white shirt, sitting in a snow-speckled field, head cocked curiously to one side, watching the cars speed by. I sent him a mental message: "Dear little kitten, don't step out here, go back to where you came from."

The ever- present highway patrol were in evidence, hiding in low- slung ditches, waiting to pounce on the heavy of foot. No, they didn't catch me [I'm the gngerbread man...]

Needing to get gas, I took an exit through a tunnel of rock, where five to six foot long icicles hung, far from the reach of the sun......"When icicles hang by the wall , And Dick the shepherd blows his nail...And Tom bears logs into the hall, And milk comes frozen home in pail...."

Closer to Albany the trees were more graceful, sporting lacier silhouettes against the dusky pink sky. I took the wrong exit, of course, and got lost. Wouldn't want to tarnish my reputation by getting it right first time.....But, finally arriving, I was rewarded with curly-haired , blue eyed smiles and hugs from two little angels, and who wouldn't travel to the ends of the earth for that?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Weather Wimp

It takes about two and a half hours to fly from Tampa to the Frozen North. Considering the weather we had taken off from, the pilot was hesitant to hit us with the weather we were about to land in, but it's part of his job, so he did . The information included the words "high winds" and "snow flurries", which was greeted with a low rumble of discontent. But what are you gonna do? I dug my high necked woolly sweater and scarf out of my carry-on bag, and broke out in anticipatory goosebumps.

Walking out into the teeth of the icy northern air I was glad I'd remembered my all-encompassing woolly coat, and mad that I'd forgotten gloves. When you live in Tampa, gloves are not at the top of your must-have list. I did have sunglasses, which serve two purposes: protection from the blinding snow glare and from having your eyes bombarded with tiny ice particles.

Frozen fingers fumbled with rental car keys and got me inside, just moments before I turned to a block of ice. With the heat on high I sat, shivering, while body parts thawed. And it occurred to me that my winter coat wasn't the only thing that had been in mothballs for the last five years. My winter driving skills have been in long term storage too.

I inched tentatively out onto the road, wondering if it was icy. The natives were whizzing by at alarming speeds. They knew the roads were dry. I wasn't going to take their word for it though. Better to irk a few natives than to find out about ice the hard way. Confidence grew as I buzzed along. It wasn't so bad after all. Mercifully, I remembered the way to the OC's digs. Where it was warm.

What is the first thing an Irishwoman does after being gone from home for several hours? Puts on the kettle and makes a cup of tea! And he didn't just have Lipton's, he had Barry's, bless his heart. And what does an Irishwoman crave to go with the cup of tea? Company. But one can't have everything, he'd be home by and by. Meantime, safe arrival, in out of the cold, with a cup of hot tea ---no complaints from here!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Words can be Poison

Checking my due dates on the library web site today I clicked, while I was there, on Pulitzer prizes for fiction and discovered, to my surprise, that "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson won last year. I was surprised because I had checked it out a few months ago. I didn't realise at the time that it was a Pulitzer prize winner. It just sounded interesting. But it didn't hold my interest. I never finished it . In fact I found it a little weird. Which probably says more about my pedestrian tastes [ the rarified air of Pulitzer prize winners being too rich for me] than anything negative about the book. One passage, actually several, did, however, make enough of an impression on me that I wrote it down in my trusty little notebook. And it was this:

"A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine. Above all, mind what you say.
'Behold how much wood is kindled by how small a fire, and the tongue is the fire'---that's the truth".

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Thought for a Sunday Morning.....

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Maya Angelou
Amen to that.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What Child Is This?

Standing in the middle of my closet this morning, wet hair dripping into my eyes, I drew a blank.

"Why are you in here?" I asked myself.

"What are you looking for?

Who let you in?

Who are you anyway?

Name, rank and serial number?

Who's your Daddy?

Why doesn't he come and take you home?

Don't you know it's dangerous in here?

Can you count to ten?

Can you walk along this straight line without falling off?"

So many questions! The light finally came back on in my head, I found what I was looking for, put it on, and went to meet the YB for a wonderful concert of Christmas music, performed by the Mostly Pops Orchestra. If I had to chose my favourite of all the pieces they played, it would have to be Coventry Carol. Why is it that Christmas carols can leave me smiling one minute and blinking back tears the next? Memories, I guess.