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!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Post?

This is my 90th day of posting a small blessing every day. It is the last day of my commitment to write every day till the New Year. Sometimes it has been a burden, other times a blessing in itself. It has made me more aware of the abundance of good things around me, the large blessings as well as the small. The discipline has also been worthwhile.

I have five official followers of the blog. I know of perhaps a half dozen more who read without signing up. I wonder if there are many more? It made me smile to hear the passage read about John the Baptist  - "a voice crying in the wilderness".  It feels very empty out there in the internet. Some bloggers have a way of counting visitors, but I don't.

Will I continue writing without the vow. I haven't decided. Maybe I will write intermittently. Will I be lazy and give it up, or will I miss it and make a new promise? Those of you out there, both the known and the  anonymous - care to comment? Has it made any difference to you to be reminded about some of the good things we tend to take for granted? Is it worthwhile?

So today's blessing is you out there. That you would spare a few minutes to read my daily musings gives me a warm feeling of connection. I wish you all love and abundance of blessings in the new year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I have been polishing silver in preparation for our New Year's Day party. I don't do this often, which explains why some of the items have turned black. The blessing part, small as it is, comes from the way the glowing silver blooms out of the tarnish as I work.  I like the patina of old silver - the nooks and crannies where the tarnish remains giving depth to the silversmith's art. I like the white glow of freshly-polished silver.

My father was an ardent polisher of things. It must be, or have been, an English trait, for I have known other Englishmen who liked to polish. My father shined his shoes every Sunday morning before church, while waiting for us womenfolk declare ourselves fully dressed and ready to go. He liked to polish brass doorknobs, the brass parts on his model steamship, any bits of brass he could get his hands on. (I once visited a pub in Yorkshire filled with brass objects, all gleaming. The owner polished every day, working his way from one end to the other, then beginning over.) My father kept silver gleaming.

His biggest polishing project was his telescope mirror. He made it when I was four years old, and let me help. It involved repeatedly pushing one glass disk across another with water and rouge abrasive between. The lower glass disk gradually assumed a parabolic shape. As we worked, he would check the disk periodically on an improvised optical bench, to see how well it was focusing light. When it was finished, he polished the surface to perfection and silvered the back to make it reflective. This involved gently heating the mirror while sluicing it with a silver-nitrate solution. The silver precipitated onto the mirror forming a thin, perfect layer of pure silver. My dad experimented several times with silvering various objects, until he managed to cover the kitchen counter with permanent black blotches. My mother was annoyed and the kitchen was no longer used for chemistry experiments.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stay-at-Home Snow

It wasn't supposed to snow. The first flakes fell like petals - like plum blossom petals - drifting down. We all looked around and thought, "Huh.." Then the flakes began falling in earnest, soft and silent, veiling the scenery. It wasn't supposed to stick, but it did. I made it home and settled down to enjoy. All over the city, autos on their homeward commute slid and jammed, but here it was lovely. Untracked, wet, fluffy snow clung to every twig deepening to about two inches. (I took these photos when it was only a half inch deep.) It stopped this evening, leaving every branch and twig and spray etched in black and white, so graceful and glowing.

It is a blessing to be safe at home, warm and snug, watching the gentle snow outside.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Making Lists

Once upon a time, I remembered everything. I never lost things because I remembered where I left them. Every paper in a stack was retrievable,  names matched up instantly to faces, and birthdays were always noted. Along the way, I think my brain got too full and began closing the doors of its storerooms, tacking up a notice: full, access denied. Gradually the filing system fell into a shambles. Now it is anybody's guess what is in that stack, or what you told me to do five minutes ago. Now the only thing that keeps me on track is lists.

I have always made lists. Now they are essential - shopping lists, packing lists, to-do lists. As we prepare for our annual New Year's Day party, I found I had made an excellent list of what we actually used at our last party along with our favorite punch recipe. This has saved us from overestimating amounts of food or forgetting items. I like lists - they give me a sense of control.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Red Shoes

My friend Barbara suggested I write about my red shoes, since they always lift her spirits. I was wearing them in mild defiance of the severe black and white dress code of my choir. Red shoes make me happy - they always have.

I have had three other pairs of memorable red shoes. First there were the go-go boots. For those who do not remember these calf-fitting shiny plastic boots, feel free to google! Mine were the exact color of cream of tomato soup, and wow, did they ever lift my spirits! The next ones I recall were platform sandals. They had the platform part wrapped with raffia and the tops of red cloth, woven into a sexy knot over the instep. They made me feel like putting fruit on my head and doing the cha cha.  Then there were some wonderful open-toe pumps with little heels and big red leather bows on the front. Oh, those were special. When my podiatrist said, "No more heels for you", I couldn't give them away for two more years. I liked to look at them.

My current red shoes are very sensible in all but color. However, I cannot put them on without feeling light-footed and happy. I may not click my heels together like Dorothy, but I feel like it!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Shadow Box

We have a great many small treasures. Tim likes to arrange them in printers' type drawers to make shadow boxes. This is my favorite. Around a centerpiece of an annunciation angel are nearly fifty objects, natural and man-made.

Of the natural things, there is a small branch of coral and one of bryozoan, and a geode with a geopetal filling (a partial filling of the cavity of a geode that shows how the geode was oriented - mineral-bearing water filled the lower part of the cavity, depositing minerals only there). There is a polished oval of picture jasper, a sample core from a molybdenum mine in Colorado, a perfect pyrite crystal and a pyrite-crusted rock. There are calcite and fluoride crystals, and malachite and tiger eye, a polished half ammonite (see Fossil Seashells Nov. 2). Speaking of seashells, there are many shells throughout the display, including a sand dollar and some very tiny ones.

Crossing the line to man-made is a Chinese jade signature-seal with a leopard on top. Next to it is a brass sealing-wax seal. There is a clay figure of a boy we bought in Mexico at Christmas time - he is intended for use in the elaborate creche scenes we saw. There are two pottery birds from Turkey that Tim's mother gave us. They seemed very poor whistles until I discovered their secret years later - in a book on Armenia I learned that they are supposed to have a little bit of water inside. Then they warble melodiously like birds.

There is a bronze medallion showing Pablo Casals and a bass-playing jeweled cricket. There is a tiny ceramic sea turtle, just emerging from its leathery eggshell and a little shiny quail. There is a blown glass vase and a small golden bottle - one of my learning experiments in gold-leafing.

The fun thing about the shadow box is that it is beautiful from a distance, but rewards close examination.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Among our Christmas gifts today was a lovely wheel of 3-year-old Tillamook cheddar cheese.  This cheese will be crumbly and sharp, no doubt delicious. Cheese is one of my favorite foods. (However, I do not care for moldy cheeses.)  Our oldest son, who now lives in San Francisco enjoys trips to the Rainbow Grocery, a natural-foods heaven in his neighborhood. Since he discovered their cheese counter, he comes home bearing cheesy gifts. He likes cheeses with odd names like Welsh Dragon, Stinking Bishop, or Capricious Goat.

Cheese is a product of obscure origins. There exist ancient Egyptian tomb murals depicting cheese making from 2000 BCE. Odysseus found cheeses in the cave of Cyclops, and Roman legionnaires carried firm molded cheeses among their rations. Cheese must have originated soon after the domestication of hoofed animals.

Years ago Tim and I stayed in a bed and breakfast in Ireland known for its fancy dinners (required of guests). The dinners unfortunately did not commence until 10 o'clock. Leisurely course after course was served, as we tourists began tipping in our chairs from exhaustion. As we ate our desserts, we all felt we were minutes from our beds. Then our hostess announced happily, "And now, the cheese course!" She produced an enormous tray laden with local cheeses in little wooden boxes, crocks and other authentic-looking containers. I am sure they were a gourmet's delight, but we were far too stuffed and tired to take advantage of them. A pity! It was a blessing scorned.

For me, there is little more satisfying than good bread, with cheese and fruit.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sunny Christmas Eve

I am getting to be such a stick-in-the-mud that I am really glad it is clear and dry today. It was last year that cured me of longing for a white Christmas. All of us Portlanders are happier with the idea of snow than the actuality. Last year, the week before Christmas was all about snow, with an ice layer sandwiched in. The scene below is our front walk.

The snow was so deep and impassible (to us Portlanders) that it stayed beautiful, pure, and white all week. We all had a very quiet time, being unable to dash about doing pre-Christmas parties and preparations. I skied around the neighborhood and we trudged up to the Little Store for supplies (see Nov. 11 entry). Neighbors greeted each other cheerfully and commiserated.

I was to sing on Christmas Eve, as usual, but there was no way I would be driving our little car through the deep ruts. Some dear friends had planned a Christmas Eve party and were determined we should be there. Heroically Peter careened across the frozen city to fetch us, took me to sing later on, and brought us home again. It was both a blessing and an adventure.

This year there will be no difficulty getting to church to sing. When I return to my car after midnight, with the bells ringing out over the city, I will not worry about reaching home safe and sound. That will be a blessing!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Sound of Practicing

My husband is an orchestra musician. Fortunately he plays the cello and not the trumpet or piccolo or percussion. When we first married, he would apologize for practicing. I didn't mind; it was nice most of the time. I make exception for very few pieces of music such as his third of the Schoenberg String Trio, which sounded horrible.  Many times, especially if he is practicing chamber music, I become familiar with the music and it becomes a friend, something always nearby. Then after the performance, that music stops and I miss it. But there is always something new.

We will celebrate our twentieth anniversary this month, a very large blessing. The sound of practicing has become such an integral part of life that I associate it with well-being and security. I hear the notes of the cello and all is right with the world.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lace in the Garden

There is not much to write about in the garden these days, especially since the freeze. The annuals are limp rags, the perennials have mostly been cut down. Anything still standing looks pretty ratty, with the exception of the evergreens. Hooray for them! They are still beautiful.

We have an affection for variegated plants. I took some photos to show you. They seem to match the weather with living frost.

Pieris, always tidy and attractive, especially with its buds ready for spring.

This charmer is Lamium.  Its common name is Dead Nettle, which seems so inappropriate.

Variegated boxwood, so much more interesting than plain green.

This Fatsia is one of the newest plants in our garden, eventually to fill up a dark corner with the silver-white sheen of its elegantly-formed leaves.

Monday, December 21, 2009


My neighbor brought over a plate of shortbread this evening. His cheeks were rosy with cold and he is a kindly man, a bit of a Santa without the whiskers tonight. His wife makes shortbread every year and blesses the neighbors with this treat. I love shortbread better than chocolate, by far.

I have a lovely memory from a visit to Scotland nearly 30 years ago. We stayed in a bed and breakfast in Killin. The host was a distinguished looking gentleman of about sixty, who wore a kilt at all times. His guests were all invited to tea in his beautiful library at 10 o'clock in the evening. This seemed rather late for tea, and the tea was strong. I once heard of a Scottish granny who described proper tea as "strong enough to trot a mouse on". This was it. The shortbread was still warm from the oven. To me, a footsore tourist, this was heaven.  Did I sleep after that strong cuppa? You bet!

Our kilted host explained at breakfast that his family eats a somewhat different type of oatmeal from that which he served us. Their Scottish oatmeal was made with a starter, and fermented overnight in a special insulated drawer in the kitchen. It is apparently an acquired taste. I wish I had tried it.

Killin, by the way, had a crumbling church with a tower. An owl was peeping sleepily from the ruined belfry. It was a romantic spot.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hot Laundry

Here is a mini-blessing for my readers. Don't you love to put clean sheets, hot from the dryer, against your face? The only thing better is the smell of sheets dried in the sun and the breeze!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


The winter darkness closes in, earlier and earlier; a friend lies sick in the hospital, a relative with no health coverage and little income works at a lonely job. My mind is not on small blessings - I am so conscious of the great web of civilization that protects me and provides for me. I am thinking of all the farmers, the truckers, the miners, the electricians and plumbers, the doctors, the sanitation workers...  Help! this is too much to comprehend, let alone name. And yet there are those in darkness and uncared for.

It has been a good thing to focus on the small, like beginning a journey with a step. I have less than two weeks more to write, until I will have fulfilled my original intention. What then?

Drawing back from the early darkness of deep winter, I will write a few words about glass. Glass may be a window, through which we see but are protected from the cold and wind. It may be silvered on the back to become a mirror, or beautifully colored to delight our minds, or frosted to transmit light only. It may form a vase or a drinking glass, holding liquids, or be fused and formed into fine art, or made into beads. Precisely curved, it forms lenses. It is used for LEDs and optical fibers and a host of specialized scientific applications. This wonderful substance has been made since the third millennium BC. At its heart, glass is merely melted sand, cooled quickly, but learning to make it clear, flat, and distortion-free was a great undertaking of human technology. What was once a rare and precious substance is now something we take for granted - one of the untold number of small blessings that surround us.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Tim made Sicilian anchovy pasta sauce tonight. It is made with garlic, parsley, lots of anchovy, and tomato, served with a topping of crunchy bread crumbs rather than grated cheese. It is delicious.

I looked up anchovies. They are a group of fish - some 140 kinds of oily little fish. They are in a group called "forage fish", that is, the ones that almost all the predatory fish feed on. The forage fish feed on plankton and newly-hatched fish, which puts them just above the bottom of the ocean food chain. Anchovies range from less than an inch to 16 inches long, greenish with a blue sheen and they congregate in huge schools. They swim about in synchrony with their mouths open, catching plankton. They like waters all over the world that are not too cold or hot, and prefer fairly shallow areas like bays and estuaries.

Netted anchovies are gutted and salted, then matured, then packed in oil or brine. The ancient Romans loved a type of fermented fish sauce made from anchovies, which was considered to have aphrodisiac properties. Many cultures in Asia use anchovy-based fish sauces.

Anchovies have a strong tangy flavor, but in the Sicilian sauce we enjoyed tonight they are mellow and rich. The dish makes me feel happy - perhaps it is the aphrodisiac at work.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Pretty Grandma

My Grandma was always old. She was born in 1894, so when I was born she was 56 years old. Her hair was always grey or the unnatural shade of brown of the moment - she never colored it blue or purple. She was a great walker. I remember fondly are our long walks in Forest Park - the great urban park of St. Louis. It had a fine art museum, a conservatory called The Jewel Box, an outdoor opera house, and a network of lagoons with frogs and waterfalls. Sometimes I stayed in her apartment in downtown St. Louis. It had a Murphy bed - what a marvel to a kid. On the bed was "the eiderdown", a purple silk comforter filled with down. I thought that was marvelous too. And I feared and delighted in the fiery incinerator in the hallway. Grandma was not only old however, she was also cranky and difficult. She was widowed young and raised her two sons in poverty. She found much to resent in life, but was always kind to me.

Some years ago I found a photo of my Grandma as a teen. I think she was dressed for a part in a play, perhaps Ophelia. She is so young and beautiful it is hard to reconcile this image with my memories of my old Grandma.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

High-tech Rain Jacket

Today's blessing is my very waterproof, breathable high-tech rain jacket. After days of clear, dry and cold weather, Portland is back to raining and raining. We here are not known for high fashion, perhaps because we are more interested in staying warm and dry. (I wrote about my boots last month.)

My jacket is sporty-looking but decidedly unchic! It has a deep hood with a bill to keep the rain off my glasses, and the hood can cinch up when the wind blows. The sleeves have velcro tabs to keep the water out and the zipper has a snap-down flap to cover it against the rain. The front zips clear up to my nose if I want, and there are lots of weather-proof pockets. Coupled with rainpants and my boots, it is quite invincible. However, I look like some sort of hazardous-waste worker, but blue with white racing stripes.

When you think of going to the beach, most folks think of swimsuits, colorful towels and sun hats. Not in Oregon! Here, as often as not, the above-described outfit is the only appropriate attire. I have seen people get out of their cars, muffled to the eyebrows, advance within sight of the ocean, bracing against the wind. They stare at the waves for a few minutes, turn and go back to the car. At somewhat better times, a trip to the beach means a bracing walk or even a hike, followed by some hot coffee or tea, or better yet dinner in a nice restaurant. There are idyllic days in summer when it is actually warm, although not in the water. Tim will go play in the waves on these warm days, but not I. Nonetheless, we Oregonians love the wild beauty of our beach, and (for another blessing) it really is OUR beach. There are no private beaches in Oregon. And we love our high-tech jackets.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Unpacking Ornaments

We decorated our tree last evening and enjoyed Hanukkah latkes tonight. Such is our family. To me, one of the keenest pleasures of the season is unpacking the ornaments. Last January I carefully laid them away, wrapping the most fragile. Now one by one they emerge.

Many of them are rich with memories. There is the bride and groom ornament that was given to us as a wedding gift. There are ornaments commemorating the births of our two sons. There is an ornate purple blown-glass one that was chosen for me by my father. There are some feathered birds that I inherited from my mother, that were her favorites. There are many ornaments she gave me, one or more each year when I was in my twenties and early thirties - a skiing polar bear, a mouse in a nightcap in bed with a cheese, a cookoo clock. There is one that is a favorite of my sons; they chose it themselves at a Christmas tree farm. It has a hole to tuck a light inside. There are two elegant blown glass birds given to me by Tim.

The ornaments include many, many musicians; angel musicians, a devil with a banjo, Old King Cole, a pair of child musicians in jesters' caps, and a number of cherubs

There is a blown glass ball with spidery threads of glass inside, given me by a dear friend. There is a lifelike garlic from a former girlfriend of one of my sons, who had a quirky sense of humor. There is a spotted red mushroom, reputed by my sons to be the one that the king of elephants ate - and died of - in Babar. There is an embroidered ornament made by a Danish friend of my parents. There are delicate twisted glass icicles made by a high-school friend of a son. There is a ball from Akumal in Yucatan with a sea turtle on it, and one made from Mt. St. Helen's Ash. They are treasures all, the more so because each year they come from their boxes fresh again after eleven months.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Weather Underground

Today I am writing about my hands-down favorite weather site on the internet. I feel guilty about this subject, as if it is somehow taboo to be calling this a blessing, but it is my blog and this is what I feel like writing about. Weather Underground (wunderground.com) is a site that compiles National Weather Service information in very useful ways. The user may customize the site to show favorite locations and choose the maps and information that appear. I like the hourly information which shows temperatures, conditions, wind speed and direction, likelihood of precipitation, and percent cloud cover expected throughout the day. I like the animated maps like the ones seen on television. But my favorite of all is the "scientific forecaster discussion".

I know I am a hopeless science geek. Perhaps not everyone would enjoy the few paragraphs written by the actual forecasters, reporting, not to the public, but to their colleagues. The discussions require some guesswork to follow because they include discussions of the often-differing outcomes of several computer models used in forecasting. They also use jargon. For instance, a Mr. or Ms. Dalton reported at 2:40 today that "cirrus shield from approaching front has now spread over most of the area this afternoon".  Cirrus shield is a such a nice term for the way the high clouds advance across the sky. After talking about winds at the coast, Dalton goes on into a friendly and idiomatic discussion of factors influencing the amount of snow to forecast for the mountains overnight.

When I read the thoughts of an intelligent professional reconciling the output of different computer models, it makes me more tolerant of the uncertainty of forecasting. I have never been one of the "they are always wrong" school, nor the "why don't they look outside" folks. Will it be 31 degrees or 34 degrees when that band of rainclouds arrives? How quickly will that circling mass of air the size of the Gulf of Alaska move? They cannot tell you exactly and it is always a judgment call for them to issue a storm warning or predict ice - lots of people will be annoyed if it doesn't happen, but lots more will be upset if they don't say it is coming.

I guess today's blog is really a fan letter to meteorologists. Earth's weather is a marvel and I appreciate their efforts to understand it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Lovely little clementines! My favorite tangerines are so easy to peel and section, so sweet and juicy, and seed free, so glossy and so - orange.  They are one of the treats of the holiday season. But on looking them up, I found that they are not a tangerine at all. They are a kind of mandarin orange.

A few odd facts are to be found in wikipedia. One claim is that they are a hybrid of tangerine and Seville orange discovered in the garden of an orphanage in Algeria, but likely they are a much older species from China. They were introduced to California in 1914 and are so valuable a product that a grower recently threatened to sue a bee-keeper. Cross-pollination with other fruit by bees causes the clementines to have seeds, and the grower accused the bee-keeper of allowing his bees to trespass in his grove.

When I was a child, my Christmas stocking was hung on the post of my bed. When I examined the contents on Christmas morning, there was always an orange and some walnuts in their shells. I think these must have been customary English gifts, from my father's childhood. Hearing his stories of growing up in poverty in Northern England, with meager coal fires the only heat, I think sweet oranges must have been a rare and wonderful treat. Although I can buy bags of clementines from any grocery at this time of year, I am taking this time to be thankful for these delightful fruits.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Feel of Damp Air

After a week of dry, clear, cold weather I am all dried out. My hands are so dry they will hardly turn pages. The rain has returned, fortunately without an intervening spell of ice. I welcome the return of rain; I am rejoicing in the softness of the moist air. It feels warm after that cold spell, and caressing (though still a chilly caress!) My skin is already losing the dry scratchiness.

Many of my friends really do not like the grey days, but I feel like a plant stretching itself to collect the life-giving drops. It doesn't make me feel blue at all. Just think of friends and families in much of the country digging out from under heavy snow! A white Christmas has its charms, but for me, let it be grey.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Airlines that Work

Michael came home from college today; he took a very early flight from Los Angeles. I am sure we have all had experiences with grueling lines, delayed planes, and lost luggage. Today NONE of that happened and I am thankful.

Michael got on his flight with a minimum of fuss, and had an interesting person sitting next to him on the plane. It arrived seven minutes ahead of schedule. We got to the airport with alacrity, and walked in the door about the time his plane was landing. In a few minutes he appeared. When we arrived at baggage claim, his duffel was already waltzing around the conveyor. Out the door, into the car, and we were on our way home. I don't believe it has ever gone that smoothly in my experience.

I wish all travelers this holiday an equally pleasant trip!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wrapping Presents

There are those among us, like Tim, who wrap up all their gifts on Christmas Eve. Others, like me, wrap gifts as soon as we bring them home. Instead of a whirlwind of paper, boxes and ribbons, I can spend a quiet quarter of an hour with my mind focused on the intended recipient of the gift, enjoying the texture and colors of the wrapping paper, curling the ribbons or choosing a bow, choosing a gift tag. I fold the paper and watch the gift disappear into mystery.

For many years now, like many of our friends, we have been recycling Christmas wrappings. The same bows go around again and again, ribbons are coiled and put away, and any paper not ripped to shreds is smoothed and folded. No one minds and the gifts are just as pretty. We also try to buy papers that don't have foil or metallic print, so that they can go in recycling when they become too battered to reuse.

I find that over the year that I have become lackadaisical. I used to devote hours to the wrapping, making each parcel a marvel of perfect folding and imaginative decoration. My son David turns each parcel into an anarchical whimsy. Tim makes up for lack of technical expertise with quirky creativity. Nowadays I just wrap the things up in a quite traditional way. I haven't the boundless energy to devote to everything as I once had. They still look delightfully enticing piled under the tree on Christmas morning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Night before last we were heading home late and the moon was rising. It was near the horizon and looked huge. It was a half moon, "on its back", like a big orange slice. The beauty of the phases of the moon is one of the blessings available to every earthling. The cold science of the moon's motion and appearance has nothing to do with aesthetics, but we who live here love the moon. Flowing water, trees, clouds, mountains, moss, desert sunsets - we love it all, and are so often cut off from all this beauty by our houses and electric lights.

Moonlight is silvery. Why? Bright as the full moon looks, it is about 500,000 times fainter than the sun (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_light). Our eyes are cleverly designed to work in both bright light and dim, and all between. Have you ever noticed how, as the light fades, the landscape gradually seems to lose color. Reds fade out first, turning blackish. Then the other warmer colors go, leaving blues and greys. Finally, by moonlight, there is no color we can distinguish - just a scene of shades of grey. This is because our retinas are made up of two different kinds of receptors - the rods and cones. The cone cells are the ones that see color, and they do not function at low light. The rods are very sensitive. They are located near the edges of our retinas and help with peripheral vision, but they don't see color.

So our night vision sees a silvery scene by moonlight - and we find it beautiful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Big Refrigerator

We cooked up a huge pot of beans today, with the intention of making chili later. It turned out to be too large to fit in the refrigerator. What to do? We realized that we could simply put the pot of beans out on the porch to cool till we needed it. Very convenient!

We have used this big refrigerator before. For Thanksgiving we brined our turkey outside in a large cooler. We chill drinks on the back porch for our New Year's open house. We have even made the mistake of buying a pizza from Costco that wouldn't fit in the fridge - so out to the shed it went till needed.

I lived in a dormitory my freshman year of college, in the days before mini-refrigerators. We used to store our supplies precariously balanced on the second-floor window sills to stay cool. Occasionally they toppled overboard. My roommate and I became quite good at cooking all sorts of things in an electric popcorn-popper!

Thinking of the root cellars and ice-houses of past times, I realize there is nothing original about our discovery.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nice Old Sweater

It is weather for woolies, the season when we are grateful that sheep grow such wonderful fur.  Wool in its natural state is rather waterproof and woolen fabric has the property of not losing its insulation when wet. The kinky texture of wool fibers traps lots of air, keeping us lovely and warm. I would never make it through the winter without wool!

Irish fishermen knitted heavy weatherproof  sweaters to keep them warm at sea. Each village had distinctive patterns, which allowed for the identification of poor souls washed overboard. At least their bodies could be returned to the village of origin.

Today I am wearing a natural cream-colored wool pullover with all manner of fancy cable stitches. It has chevrons, split cables and cables with "popcorn" in the places between the cable crossings. My mother knitted it for me when I was in high school and somehow it has lasted out the decades. I think of her when I wear it.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lots of Shelves

This evening the thermometer stands at 27 degrees, on its way down, and the wind is whooshing around the house. I am ever so conscious of the great blessing of a warm and comfortable home. There has been lots of music today, and Tim is at this moment performing with the symphony, so there is another very great blessing in my life. Looking about for a small blessing, I noticed our pantry shelves. Little blessings are very easy to overlook as we touch and see them every day, and one purpose of this blog is to make me more mindful of these everyday good things.

Some years ago we resolved to improve an ancient and leaking corner of our house. A happy result of this remodeling is that we, for the first time, have more than enough shelves. One of Tim's axioms is that you should be able to see your stuff.  Our stores are brightly lit and accessible, quickly grasped by a cook in need of a dash of sherry or smoked paprika or a cup of pasta. There are high-up shelves for the coffee urns, trays and other utensils we use on special occasions. The cookbooks live here. Storage containers have a handy shelf, and farther down near the back door are the garden books and paraphernalia. The pantry shelves are an everyday blessing, indeed.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

In Praise of Soup

Tim is making sausage and lentil soup tonight. It smells delicious and makes me feel very grateful for soup. Hooray for soup! Rich and creamy-smooth or chunky and rustic; redolent with fresh herbs and nourishing roots; satisfying with beans or rice or barley; stocks from bones, from the garden or the simple elegant broth made from shrimp shells; refreshing gazpacho or cold borsch in the summer; spicy chili or turkey noodle in the cold weather; curried soups; soups with dumplings; fish soups....  This is not the soup from cans, made in factories; it is at once the most basic of cooking and the flavorful palette of kitchen artists. It is a food that warms and replenishes us. It comforts the ailing. So give us some crusty bread and bring on the soup!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Shades of Greens

My friend Catherine let me cut greens from her garden for my wreath. Catherine designs gardens and has a huge variety of evergreen plants. They are every shade of green. The wreath has a base of fir with variegated box, camellia, Oregon grape and others. My favorite touches are the magnolia with its brown furry reverse and the fuzzy gray rhododendron. There was enough left to crown our garden statue.

I am distracted as I write by lovely violin and cello playing in the next room, so please excuse my brevity.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas Lights

Should I call them "holiday lights"? Probably, especially given their undoubtedly pagan roots.  One of my recorder-playing friends call them "fairy lights" which also appeals to me. Yet they are still Christmas lights in my mind, glowing with childhood memories. My husband is Jewish, but he has always loved the lights. He has some nifty Hannukah glasses that convert all the lights into little stars of David.

My neighborhood begins to light up by the weekend after Thanksgiving. One by one the houses take on a fairy-tale look, some charming, some in dubious taste. By Christmas the area will be lovely. Some years  ago an entrepreneur  took folks on night-time carriage rides through our streets. In some windows the menorahs will show more and more candles. Ah, the bone-deep ancestral need to light fires as the days become so short! The night deepens and the cold wind blows, but we light the darkness.

When my older son was a toddler, Grandma took him to see the lighting of the Portland State University tree. A newspaper photographer captured his rapt expression. I still feel like this when I see the lovely glowing lights.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Metronomes are the little taskmasters that the undisciplined among us, including me, dislike. We fruitlessly complain that the metronome must be slowing down, not me. It tells us the truth about the bits we haven't really come to grips with, so we fudge the time. If you play or sing by yourself, you can get away with these indiscretions; with a group you eventually have to work to get it right. Here is where the metronome becomes a blessing.

I will soon be performing a choral piece that goes much more quickly than I realized. Suddenly the words and notes are all over the place. What to do? Start slowly with the metronome, and gradually work up to speed. There is no way around it; it is that or be an embarrassment to myself.  The little taskmaster goes bip bup bip bup and allows for no slacking.

I used to have a pretty little mechanical metronome. It was the kind with a weight that slides up and down an arm to set the speed, and the arm ticks back and forth. It was cute and had the reinforcement of the moving arm. However, it was prone to getting tired as its little clockwork spring ran down and, if set on a slant, went tick....tock tick....tock tick. I think I spent more time playing with it than using it. Tim's electronic one will divide up your beats into hysterically complicated subsets if you want - I don't! I have heard that there are even several metronome iphone applications, including one that features a little Asian lady. Tim is very good at using a metronome, as you might imagine, because orchestra music is orders of magnitude more complicated than anything I might undertake. His theory is that practicing makes you enjoy playing more. Hmmm.... not a bad idea that. Back to the metronome!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How the Garden Grows

A mild sunny day called for work in the garden. Today I have been cutting down the tangle of clematis vines and the brown remains of coreopsis. While I worked I was thinking of how our garden has changed in the last ten years.

What has become of the charming border of pinks, lavender, and alyssum we once had? Whither the wisteria and evergreen clematis? What of the frothy shore of maidenhair ferns beneath the rhododendrons? What about the elegantly pruned ivy arches in the front garden?

Growth and simplification are forces that have been shaping the garden. The small magnolia of ten years ago is working hard at becoming a majestic tree, reaching at least 30 feet so far. It began to crowd and overshadow the ivy arches, which were also a great nuisance to keep trimmed. Growth and simplification - out came the ivy. Pruning issues led to the removal of the wisteria and the evergreen clematis. Ours is a small garden and rampant growth overwhelms it. The maidenhair ferns? The neighbors cut down a densely-shading tree, opening that part of the garden to full sun. As they say, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade! The fussy little border of pinks gave way to a more easy-going look, as the focus moved to our rose arbor. The peony whose flowers drooped on weak stems at any rain, the roses that attracted fungus, plants that grew gawky or died, were replaced by new favorites. We moved shrubs and flowers as they outgrew their spot or asked for better light.

Tim and I have learned to welcome the chance of rethinking parts of our garden. Each time, what appeared to be a problem became an opportunity. Some corner of the garden would undergo a renewal or acquire an identity it had lacked. It is a blessing I would do well to remember.