Well, I did it! I wrote every day from early October to New Year's Day 2010. Now I will write for fun when I feel like it and see where that gets me. Cheers to all my small-blessing-appreciating friends!

Saturday, October 31, 2009


One delightful characteristic of young children is the facility with which they pretend. One of our sons had an invisible friend named Memo, pronounced Meemo.  He was delighted when he discovered that we had a little book with his friend's name on the cover.

Halloween was a big deal at our house; the young boys became hugely excited by the costumes that I concocted. I can tell you, painting chain-mail rings on long underwear is no trivial task. Once I sewed matching dinosaur costumes with spikes and big stuffed tails. Our younger son loved his outfit until he saw himself in the mirror. Terrifying! It looked so real to him at that age that it somehow crossed the line from pretending to some sort of reality.

The younger son almost always wanted a matching costume to his brother, so we had the Grim Reaper and the Grim Reaper's assistant, and the Knight and Squire. As the boys grew older, this coordination of outfits extended to include friends.  For several years they were a small mob touring the neighborhood as a company of medieval fantasy characters.  There were problems like furry hobbit feet absorbing massive amounts of water and the wizard's tome (a dictionary) becoming too heavy, but they were all so excited to be pretending that one year they forgot to go to the neighbors' houses until reminded. Oh yes, candy.

I dress up every year too. Why should the kids have all the fun? This year I am a cat, last year, a pirate. Our young helpers always dressed up too, sometimes at the last minute. (We enlisted helpers because we typically get well over a thousand Halloween visitors.) My husband makes wonderful costumes out of kitchen utensils.

We as grown-ups become so set in our identities that we forget to pretend or even act silly. This wonderful skill often goes dormant, except in those precious souls who act or dance or tell stories. Let's remind ourselves to let go of our dignity once in a while and let our imaginations play.

Friday, October 30, 2009


With all the concern about hand-washing to prevent flu, I am somewhat more conscious of soap these days. Arguably soap is a rather important blessing, but it is one of those things that is  just "there," not considered. It is actually a very curious substance. Every soap molecule has two ends: one end sticks to oil molecules, the other to water molecules. So when we rub soap on our hands, the little bits of oil on our skin become surrounded by soap molecules,with their oil-attracting ends stuck. This is called emulsification.  Then along comes the water, grabbing the little porcupine of oil and soap by the water-attracting ends and whooshing it away. What an amazing process!

According to wikipedia, the earliest mention of soap-like materials is around 2800 BC and a Babylonian clay tablet exists from 2200 BC giving a method for making soap. Eventually soap-making became one of the precious skills of the homemaker, although fancy soaps were made by skilled artisans. It wasn't until the late 18th century that commercially manufactured soap became more common, along with increasing public awareness of the role of hygiene in health.

If you wanted to make simple soap, you would need to get some lye - nasty alkaline stuff. It was obtained by leaching water through ashes. Then you would boil the lye with any kind of oil or fat until the mixture saponified - a sort of curdling that binds together the fat and alkali into soap molecules. If you used enough fat, the lye would be all bound up and wouldn't eat into your hands when you used your soap. Soap can also be made without boiling, if you follow an exact recipe and know the strength of your lye. I can imagine scenarios involving a campfire, rain and spilled grease that might have led to the discovery of soap.

Now we have every sort of soap from artificial detergents for every purpose to elegant hand-made bath soaps scented with cinnamon or sage or whatever. But I am enjoying thinking about a determined colonial home-maker, well-aproned against lye splashes, carefully stirring her pot of soap over the fire.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Candle Light

As the nights close in, we once more enjoy the magic of candle light. We differ from many families in that we are able to have a sit-down dinner together most nights and always burn candles except during the summer.

For us, lighting the candles sets the dinner hour apart from the rest of day. It is a time for conversation and relaxation; a time for paying attention to each other, not to the distractions of life. Candle light is romantic. It warms and softens skin tones, and softly shadows and highlights hair and eyes.  It doesn't glare and makes food look appetizing, sending intriguing glints through wine and onto silverware. It encourages us to linger and enjoy each other .

Then with the ritual snuffing out of the candles, everyday life returns, and the washing up.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Intimate Faces of the Garden

I like gardens with secret places, fairy houses, and unexpected inhabitants. Gardens should not only have gorgeous vistas, but should encourage one to look closely.

Tim loves to put miniature animals and buildings in his rock garden, like this prowling leopard. They encourage us to stop and really see. Then we notice the details and textures of the plants and the harmony amongst the parts. 

In our garden there are things heavenly and delightfully horrible.

Just as a path invites us to wander, our garden characters reward us for looking more closely.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Sound of Rain

The rain sounds so nice. Its continuous murmur rises and falls with the intensity of the rain, punctuated with drips and the gurgle of the (unclogged) gutters. Storms are exciting, but this rain is an adagio. It calms and soothes; it is the kind of rain that is good for sound sleeping and thoughtful activities and loved by plants.

It falls steady and slow, allowing the summer-dry ground to soak it up. The trees hold out their twigs and remaining leaves as if letting the rainwater run through their fingers, precious substance that it is. On our drive through the rainy Cascades last week the great fir forest was rejoicing in the wetness and mist. Some of my readers may not be in the Pacific Northwest - odd thought that. Our summers are very dry and sunny - that is the well-kept secret. My first summer here I was out with my backpack every weekend and never got wet!

Now the streams and rivers are rising from their summer lows as the groundwater levels rise. And for the mountains there is a prediction of snow. When next the "mountains are out", we will see glistening white tops. That snow, feeding the mountain glaciers and melting slowly in the spring, is what keeps our mountains green, our rivers flowing,  our fields and vineyards fruitful, and our tap water delicious.  My friends, do what you can to prevent climate change - there is so much at stake.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Home Copiers

At risk of trivializing the idea of blessings, I write today about home copy machines.  My husband has a collection of antique cello music. He was contacted by a musician in Spain studying some Spanish composers whose work is represented in the collection. I just finished copying some fragile old music here in the comfort of my home, with the calm golden garden just outside. So much more pleasant than trekking to the copy center in the rain!

I am of an age to remember the odd, sweet smell of mimeograph copies - the blurry purple pages  of pop quizzes in school. Modern copy machines were a wonder, even the asthmatic one in my office, back when I was working as a hydrogeologist. This machine wheezed, rocking slightly back and forth; at intervals it sneezed, blowing a small cloud of black dust out the back. When my sons were in high school I helped out in the book room at school. Part of that job was operating an enormous high-capacity IBM copy machine. The amount of paper used defied description.

Indeed, I noticed when I was working that, as copy machines became omnipresent, we began to substitute making a copy of an article for actually reading it. Accumulating huge files of paper was equivalent to controlling a body of knowledge. The internet and gigabytes and terabytes have changed that. Now an unimaginably large amount of knowledge is out there (where is there?) and even books are threatening to become obsolete.

It hasn't been so long ago that we never imagined having a home printer/ scanner/ copy machine, much less using it for homely things such as to copy a recipe for a friend or to enlarge a drawing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Having only One Car

Obviously having a car at all is a blessing in terms of the comfort and flexibility of travel that it affords. I grew up in suburbia in the 1950's. Cars were a very big deal! My father did his own maintenance of his cars (note the plural). He taught me how to change spark plugs, drain oil and adjust timing. When I was still a child, he would ask me as we drove along, "If the car stopped now, how would you figure out what was wrong with it? What would you do first?" His love of cars rubbed off on us kids. My brother became a fine mechanic, going on to work on aircraft. I have owned some fine automobiles, and always had one for my own use. It is easy to take for granted.

Last year Tim and I decided that we really didn't need to have two cars. We sold his beautiful Saab and kept the Prius. The decision was based partly on saving money, but more on how we felt about the earth and trying to live a sustainable lifestyle. Yes, having to share one car is sometimes inconvenient. It requires a lot more communication and planning.

The small blessing that has emerged from this choice, and perhaps it is not so small, is mindfulness. I became much more aware of the trips and errands with which I thoughtlessly added up miles of travel. The habit of combining errands, as well as doing more on foot and by bus, is slowly becoming part of me. This awareness can apply to many more choices we make, to more mindful living.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Think of Me

I hesitate to write about tea, because it ranks as one of the larger blessings for me.  Teacups are something else. I could drink tea from a Hello Kitty mug if I had to, but my collection of teacups are small blessings. Someday  I will share my crazy lusterware cups, but for today...  behold a very sweet and rather homely member of my collection. This is a very small "tea party" cup that my Grandma sent me from England.

My father's mother came along with our family to United States in 1952. Her beloved young husband had died in the influenza epidemic in 1921, leaving her with two small sons and no money. Grandma eked out a living mending clothes in her small Yorkshire coal-mining town. One of her sons, my Dad, made his way through medical school on scholarships and won a position as an exchange student to the U. S. That changed Grandma's life forever, because he returned, engaged to an American girl.

Since I am not writing a biography, we will skip ahead to the time my parents and their little girl and Grandma picked up and moved across the ocean. Grandma never became an American citizen. In the following years she often lived with us. She is euphemistically described as "difficult", but was very kind to me.  Grandma made extended visits to England over the years. Each time she would send me a little teacup. This little green and white cup with comical feet is one of my treasures because I consider it a window into the heart of a woman who loved me in spite of being "difficult". The back of the cup has the words, "Think of me".

Friday, October 23, 2009

Comfy Mattress

Tim and I have noticed that the ground has been getting harder and harder. Once a thin mat was adequate for camping. Our sons could sleep on anything. As the years went by we bought thicker,  more high-tech camping pads. Then came the big step to an actual air mattress, one of those thick bed-like ones, but it was cold to sleep on. Now when we camp, we sleep on the thick air mattress with a wool rug on top, and are seriously thinking of bringing along a memory-foam pad.

Our resting place on our recent trip was a very nicely appointed condominium - worlds apart from camping. The condo had an enormous and very comfy mattress, the kind that cradles one's joints, not too soft, not too hard - ahhh... just right. As much as I love sleeping with only a layer of nylon between me and all outdoors, on a cold and showery late October night I appreciated a mattress that was - just right.

The Startling Yellow

Imagine the dark, drippy green cloud-festooned beauty of the fir forest of the western Cascades. Then the highway rounds a bend and, like beams of sunlight bursting through cloud, the brilliant yellow alders stand like torches on the mountainside. My heart lifts like a kite. The lemon-yellow larches are fairy flames, so delicate and symetrical is the tracery of their limbs.  And on the eastern side of the mountains the aspen blaze with the most astonishing yellow. I remember first seeing the aspens in their fall clothing on the Colorado Plateau almost thirty years ago - it is an unforgettable color.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Change of Scene

When our sons were little,  travel played an important role in triggering developmental steps. For example, David first began to walk on a trip to Hawaii. Michael learned to swim in the hotel pool on a visit to Disneyland.  As they grew, the steps were smaller and more subtle, but nonetheless observable, often keyed to a change of scene. I am wondering today, whether travel still leads us to developmental steps, however small.

I will be away a few days. The missing posts will be made up from notes I make on my travels.  Will a new setting open my heart to new blessings?  Am I still taking developmental baby steps at almost sixty years old?

And for the small blessing of the day....  how about wheels on suitcases?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hot Buttered Toast

For an Englishman, buttered toast and tea are the ultimate comfort foods. I can imagine the stalwart cavalrymen downing their tea and toast just before charging into the Valley of Death. My only quibble with this wonderful tradition is that they like their toast cold. What a horrible idea! Years ago someone, knowing my British background, gave me a cute little silver-plated rack with a handle on top. I thanked the donor for the pretty letter rack, giving her a hearty laugh at my expense. It was a toast-cooling rack.

My family used hot toast as a medicinal. Sick kids got toast, cut up into little squares if we were having trouble swallowing. (My dad advocated hot lemonade with a shot of whiskey in addition to the toast.) We were given toast when we came dragging home from school, especially if it was damp and cold outside. For a special treat, it was buttered and then topped with cinnamon-sugar, better than cookies by far! Of course in those days, unfortunately, it was margerined, not buttered.

To this day, even the fragrance of buttered toast makes me feel calm and happy.  Add a nice cup of tea and all will be right with the world.

Monday, October 19, 2009

People who will Talk to Strangers in Line

We have all had the experience of standing in line, not knowing what to do with yourself.  There might be a couple in front of me, conversing. The guy behind me is talking on the phone and the woman behind him is texting. I, the lonely line-stander, try nonchalantly to ignore the conversations or appear to ignore them. It is actually impossible.

I look around and amuse myself thinking of my to-do list or plans for the evening, shifting from foot to foot. Blessings on the fellow line-stander who smiles and makes a mild comment on the weather, the movie we are waiting for, or other innocuous opening remark. Their statement really means: "I am willing to chat with you, you kindred being." Suddenly I am not alone.

Many waits have been enriched by chance conversations with strangers. Only last evening, while waiting I fell into conversation with a young tuba player, who told me about the various concertos that have been written for tuba and orchestra. The content of the conversation doesn't really matter. It enlivens an otherwise empty time and creates a brief interlude of fellowship in a world of strangers.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Warm Socks

I am a casual dresser. When I worked as a geologist, I wore jeans and boots to work, accessorized with a hand lens and a rock hammer.  As a mom, my clothes were practical and washable, and now that the nest is empty, my clothing preferences haven't changed a bit. Back in my geology days I learned the value of warm socks, preferably wool, in cool weather. In those days, we didn't know about merino wool; itch-less wool socks didn't exist. Nor did we have high-tech moisture-wicking socks. I am not old enough that my mother knitted my socks, but my English father wore ones his Mum knitted. In fact she knitted all his underwear. Itchy thought that. He was an exchange student during WWII, arriving in Iowa in 1941, in the month of August, all kitted out with woolen underwear. It wasn't good.

Now there are not only extremely comfy warm socks available, they  come in a beguiling array of colors and patterns. Warm and pretty socks are one of my weaknesses - I have a drawer-full. Why have numb icicle-toes when they could be clad in cozyness?

Tim reminds me to mention that there is another blessing to warm socks: taking them off at night, and wiggling bare toes.

I wish you happy feet!

Saturday, October 17, 2009


After the annual Fall gutter-overflow event, I am thinking about what dandy things ladders are . We have three different sizes plus a handy step stool. They wait peacefully collecting dust and leaves, springing to action the moment I need to go UP. Even a smallish person like me can haul one to the site of need and put it in place.

Going up is one of my favorite larger blessings, tied to mountains, cliffs, treehouses, and flying.  I like the change of perspective from up above. From the ladder I can actually see what is clogging my gutter, yes, but what fun to look down at the garden, to see how things are connected, to be nearer the sky. Being up makes me feel tall, as if I could put on seven-league boots and go striding across the landscape.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Looking at Who We Were

When I look back to early childhood, very few true memories exist. I recall the look of tree branches on my bedroom window - it must have frightened me. I also remember the circus-themed linoleum "rug" in my playroom and some low cupboards that fascinated me. I remember the porch and an astronaut toy of some sort (although no real astronauts had left the earth at that time).
My memories are rich with family stories. My Grandma was fond of telling me that my first sentence was "All gone!" as our belongings were taken away to be shipped to America. It appears that I liked playing with the coal by the fireplace in my parent's apartment in Cambridge, a wonderfully messy toy.

Even better than stories are the old photographs. The one above shows my proud parents outside St. John's College Chapel after my christening. I am told I howled during the whole service. I love the photos from the first house I actually remember. There are silly ones of me playing dress-up and riding a real stuffed bucking bronco (right) and hamming for the camera. Mine seems to have been a sunny, happy childhood.

I am one of the principal curators of the family photos. We have dour-looking ancestors ranging back to my father's grandparents and my mother's great grandparents. These photos give me a sense of place in history. I can understand why the old Scots and members of many other cultures introduced themselves with a recital of their family connections. What a sad thing to lose all ones tangible connections to the past in a disaster or war. These photos are treasures to me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I am writing while listening to drilling and hammering overhead. There is so much noise around us. Someone was using a leaf blower across the street and the garbage trucks are coming around today. Cars and trucks are passing. Roaring, clattering, banging - so many things make noise.

There are smaller sounds throughout my house. The computer hums, the furnace whooshes. Clocks tick. The refrigerator makes many strange sounds.

When all these mechanical sounds stop, the silence breaks in. It is not an absolute silence - I have heard that when exploring caves back east.  This silence still has bird cries, wind sounds, trees rustling, gentle creaking of the house itself. These are comfortable sounds, gentle on the ears.

Once I took a five-day backpacking trip. Except for the planes flying overhead, there were few sounds besides those of the mountains - wind, water, birds, trees. When we returned to the trailhead beside a highway, the sound of the cars and trucks seemed very loud. My ears had adjusted to the quieter sounds of nature. Now we only do car-camping. It is harder to get away from machinery in a car, but there are still times of  quietness. I like to sit by a lake watching the sunset, or walk in ancient forest where quietness lies like a blanket.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tree Bark, for Catherine

When I was a little child, I liked to go along touching every tree I passed - an original tree hugger. This must have been tedious for the adult who accompanied me. I also picked up acorns and brought them home. I have a strong memory of my mother's reaction when she discovered that my stash of acorns had produced an army of tiny white caterpillars!

The skin of trees comes in so many colors and textures. Some are smooth like the red satin of the Tibetan cherry tree or the pale grey bark of beech trees, that looks like skin over smooth muscles.

Rough bark has character. I have tried to paint fir bark. The problem with fir bark is that every patch I looked at was different and had a microcosm of detail: lichen and moss, dryness and dampness, light and dark, greens, browns, and greys. This complexity makes rough bark fascinating. Indeed, complexity makes nature fascinating.

In painting a tree, one must make generalizations about it. Indeed, we do this in most encounters with the natural world. We walk in a cloud of abstraction that masks the mind-boggling wonder of it all. See, my blog has once again blundered into a vast, huge blessing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Tim is being measured for new glasses today. I began thinking about what it must have been like before corrective lenses. Would I have survived? My eyes focus best about six inches in front of my nose. That is not much help in spotting sneaky saber-toothed tigers in the woods or avoiding tripping over stones in the path. If I made it to maturity, I would doubtless be hunched over my stitching or cooking pot.

Spectacles worn on the nose were invented in 1284, much earlier than I realized, and people had been using magnifying lenses of various sorts before that. Think of Ben Franklin, who looked so benign with his rectangular-lensed bifocals perched on his nose. He invented bifocals in 1784.  What a treasure those must have been back then. I am also remembering Lord Peter Whimsey, who often whipped out his special monacle, a sneakily-disguised forensic magnifier.

For my senior class photograph, I took off my thick, owly glasses. In the resulting photo I look myopic and empty-headed, likely because I couldn't focus on anything. I got my first contact lenses when I was 20. The boost to my self esteem was huge. Alas, the contacts no longer worked for me in middle age, when I had to keep whipping my reading glasses on and off. Ah, vanity.

The miracle of corrective lenses is a biggish blessing. Today I am not taking them for granted.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Brook Sounds

I have been walking along a path in the wooded canyon at Reed College. It crosses and recrosses a clear, shallow, spring-fed stream. I stopped at one of the low bridges to listen. Poets speak of brooks babbling, but what I heard was certainly not babble; the water continued a large number of distinct conversations with the parts of its bed.

What did these conversations mean? Upsteam from the bridge there was hissing among the trailing twigs and leaves. Closer was a swish where a constriction made the water speed up for an instant. It gurgled over some rocks and produced a pouring sound as it flowed over a mossy tree limb. There were glupping noises, and I am quite certain the stream chuckled. That is another poetic notion, but this brook definitely chuckled. It could have been that the sunbeams embroidering changeable patterns on the surface tickled, or perhaps the brook was simply happy to be going along ... as was I.

A bit farther along, I came upon a small waterfall. Here the haste of the water produced a loud hiss,  with sounds of spray and splash.

I also watched a little woodpecker mining a dead tree for lunch, but that is another story.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Favorite Cooking Pot

I like to cook; my husband likes to cook. Luckily we work well as a team in the kitchen, having lots of fun and rarely squabbling. Like many enthusiastic home cooks, we have an arsenal of pots and pans. I made a count and came up with quite a ridiculous abundance of pots: five frying pans, four saucepans of graduated sizes plus a tall stockpot/pasta cooker and a wide soup pot. Most of these have their own lids. There is also a roaster with cover, a pretty oval "cocotte" or casserole, and a griddle. We have a vertical chicken roaster and perforated wok for the grill. And let's not even get into bakeware.

The best of all is the big braiser (that sounds like a tough guy). Tim gave me this beautiful pot one Christmas and it is definitely the one I would choose if I could have only one pot. It works as a saute pan, but has a snugly fitted domed lid that sends all the nice braising juices back to the pan. It goes happily from the oven to the table. Food doesn't burn in it. We both agree that everything we cook in it turns out well. When we prepare a dish like chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, I like to wait and raise the lid at the table, releasing delicious aroma to the gathered guests.

As Julia would say, "Bon Appetit!"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Autumn Sunshine

We appreciate autumn sunshine when the mornings are chilly and rainy days become more common. Autumn sun is also special because of the slant of the light.

In the autumn I seek out the sunlight, like a cat looking for the best place to snooze. I sigh happily when the sun warms my back. During the hotter season, when the sun beats down with lances of heat, baking the air, I often wanted to sidle into the nearest shade or put on a deep-brimmed hat or grab a tall, icy drink. The sunshine of fall is invigorating.

The light slants dramatically at our latitude. The angle brings the sunbeams into our home showing all the dust on the windows, but it cheers up the rooms and highlights the colors. The slant of light allows it to play dramatically among the tree branches and creat large dapply shadows, unlike the summer sun which pours down more directly, making small dense shadows. The view from my computer is full of side-lit golden-green leaves, shimmering in the light breeze. Spotlights of sun fall on shrubs and ferns.

A drive in the countryside this morning with friends reminded me how the softer autumn light falls beautifully on the fields and forests. The trees join the dance of light with tints of gold and red, and the fields lie yellow-green and shining.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Friendly Face

Lately my potential blogging ideas are all strongly verging on large blessings rather than small. Even when I thought of writing about the way a joyful newly-walking toddler careens of in a random direction, only to sit down suddenly on her bottom, Tim argued that in no way was this a small blessing.

I had lunch yesterday with a friend whom I had not seen for a couple of months. It got me thinking of how we recognize each other. Even in a large crowd, a known face is recognizable. Face recognition is a basic subconscious ability for all of us except those who are "face blind".  As with many animals, being able to recognize our kin and friends has been an important survival skill. Perhaps it still is.

The mutual smile of recognition is a beautiful one, like the sun coming from behind a cloud. It crinkles the eyes, rounds the cheeks and seems even to bring a rosy glow to our faces. I love to watch the people waiting for loved ones at the airport. Their air of anxious expectation breaks suddenly into the full sunshine of a smile.

First seeing a friend after a long absence is a different and interesting experience. At the first glance, we see what has changed about our friend - the graying hair, different whiskers, extra weight or less. But an instant later, with a sort of mental click, that image merges with our memory of the friend and they appear just that - our friend. I haven't read Proust, except for about a third of Swann's Way, but I enjoyed a sort of Cliffs Notes version from my husband. I liked the idea that we bring our entire memory of a person or place to each encounter. That is what makes old friends more precious, like well-aged wine.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Needles and Thread

I have been using needles and thread for about 54 years, since my mother showed me how to sew around paper shapes with a blunt needle and colored yarn. Next came sewing cloth and making clothes for my dolls. A treasured gift from my English grandma was a small draw-string bag with needles, thread, thimble and tape measure. At about eight years old I timidly guided my first wiggly lines of machine stitching. My dad hammered nails around the top of a spool and showed me how to do spool knitting and my mother taught me to use knitting needles.

The left photo shows an excessive array of steel sewing needles, a collection typical of of anyone who sews. There are delicate sharps for fine stitches, large-eyed blunt ones for yarn, long quilting needles, heavy curved ones for upholstery. Needles have been around since the stone age, made from small fibula bones, long thorns, or carved from wood. For pioneer women they were prized items, often in short supply.

Thread is amazing stuff - strong, supple and colorful. My sons took a wilderness survival class, and of all the skills they learned, my favorite was how to make cords. You can take any long fibers such the soft inner bark of cedar, dry grasses, or of course wool, and twist two strands in opposite directions, holding the far end steady. When you release the far end the two strands twist themselves together almost magically. That summer I made many odd and lumpy bits of string. Colorful dyed cords and threads have been found in amazingly ancient archeological sites. With modern dyes we have a rainbow to work with, durable, colorfast and light resistant.

My needlework of choice in recent years is counted cross stitch. In this activity I easily enter the state psychologists call flow. Wikipedia defines it for me as: "the mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity". In other words it is a form of active meditiation. There is joy in the way the image emerges from the separate pixels of thread. This is one of my blessings.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Autumn Flowers

Hooray for the lusty flowers of fall! They aren't shy and dainty like the spring blossoms. They laugh at chilly nights, showers, and wind.

The perennial garden looks like a disaster. The tall lily stalks have dried up and the roses are full of hips. But the autumn beauties are a different breed, in full and buxom display. They strut rather than bending demurely on their stems. There are still red honeysuckle blossoms, intricate toad lilies, Japanese anemones (the white ones shown) and gaudy abutilon lanterns. Some flowers like the amercrinum lilies (pink trumpets) and the dahlias (the pink rosette) will give in to frost at last. Other flowers will laugh at Nature's worst.

Our house has belonged to gardeners for some 70 years. Despite the many changes Tim and I have made in our decade here, there are many plants left by those who preceded us. These past gardeners took care that some plant should be blooming in every season. The camellia sessanqua is already starting its three-month display of white fluffy flowers with yellow centers. When the camellia flowers are gone, the sarcococca will bloom alone, scenting the January air with hope of spring.

Let's raise a toast to the splendor and blessing of the autumn garden.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Light Switches

These autumn days, as night begins to crowd in on dinner time, I am thinking about light switches. How unconsciously we reach for those inconspicuous buttons, levers, and knobs to turn on the reading light or brighten a room. We adjust the dimmer to our satisfaction to set a romantic mood. We set them on timers so that our house will look welcoming or our perimeter well-defended. If a lamp fails to light, our consternation is almost amusing considering what a gift that illumination is.

Each time we operate a light switch, we close an electrical connection. Our humble lamp is connected to large electron factories by wires, hundreds of miles of wires, thousands even. The ever handy Wikipedia tells me that it is not cost-effective to transmit our electricity more than 4000 miles and most lines are much shorter than that. However, in the United States, the wires form an interconnected grid of some 186,000 miles! How mindlessly we operate that giant waterfall of electrons.

When a storm causes the power to go out, then we appreciate how much those clever, now-useless, switches do for us. We fumble about for some candles and light them with matches or a lighter (the modern tinder box), little wonders in their own right. Our computer doesn't work, the stove won't light, the furnace is off. Then suddenly the lights are back! Do we think about the power company linemen who have been out in the storm fixing the wires?

I have met a few people who live off-grid. They understand what a kilowatt is, far better than the rest of us who take for granted an unlimited supply of them.

This evening, when I switch on the lights, I will take a moment to be thankful for this blessing of light at a touch.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Of all comfort foods, those scented with vanilla are the most infallibly calming and pleasing to me. Cookies warm from the oven, cinnamon buns, puddings, pastries - all these flood my brain with endorphins, even just to smell them. Oh, the pleasure of slicing open a vanilla pod and, with the point of a small knife, scraping out the fragrant pulp and minuscule seeds. Put the empty pod in the sugar bowl for vanilla-scented sugar.

I read years ago that vanilla comes from orchids. What a beautiful notion. So I looked it up and found that they are grown commercially in many parts of the tropics and subtropics. Can you imagine a grove?, a field?, a forest of vanilla orchids? Wikipedia says they are mostly sweet smelling, but do they smell of vanilla? What a concept! They are very pretty flowers, too. Think of that when next you take a luscious bite of a vanilla-scented treat.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Flannel sheets

For today's small blessing I choose flannel sheets. Beautiful Oregon fall weather includes crisp, cool nights. The cotton sheets that felt so light and comfortable when it was warm now are chilly to the touch and my grandma's wool blanket leaves us with that just-a-bit-too-cool feeling in the middle of the night. The flannels have had a long vacation in their drawer. They are rested and ready to cuddle and enfold cold toes and shoulders. For an extra benefit I open the fragrant camphor chest, with its deeply carved Chinese junk on the lid to bring out the light quilt. This quilt was made for us by someone who lives only in memory. I think of her as I make the bed.

(please note: the italics indicate "side blessings")

Rules and Reasons

Dear known and unknown readers - In church today we were asked to be mindful of our blessings. Not a bad idea, but I immediately begin thinking of the big stuff: family, health, habitable planet, nifty cosmos that goes round and round while whizzing apart. It is hard to write about this kind of thing without getting very, very heavy. But there are the small blessings, so manifold, sweet and silly.

It seems self-indulgent to write a blog. Yet that statement shows you the sort of self-censorship I would like to shed. The discipline of blogging every day should improve my writing, and thinking of small blessings is bound to be good for the heart.

Here are my rules:
1 Write about a small blessing every day. Lost days (no computer, down with swine flu, etc.) to be made up. I will continue till the New Year, if not longer.
2 Spontaneity is to be valued. Avoid obsessive editing and self-censorship.
3 No complaining.
4 Rules added by Tim: I am not to write about him and don't be maudlin. (That cuts out a whole world of blessings right there - see I broke both rules at once. Ha! OK, I am done with that.)
5 Rule under consideration: No repeating.
6 Finally, I should avoid the connecting blessings. It appears that all the small blessings connect to others, small and eventually large. I think I will italicize the "side blessings" without pursuing them.

I hope, Dear Reader, in my small way to make you smile.