Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On the Fridge

My almost-eight-year-old niece is going through a butterfly-drawing phase.  Before butterflies, it was cats--each one neatly labeled "HELLO KITTY."
And before the cats were the adorable bats with their crazed pin-prick eyes. 
Insects and mammals all share the same smile in Alyssa's world, and her drawings of them never fail to make me laugh.  The butterfly drawing now on the fridge is sweet, and the one she presented to my St. Louis Cardinals-fan younger brother the last time I was home is also a keeper.  "I love you!  To:  Uncle Brian, Love:  Alyssa," it reads.  And directly underneath the heart-shaped butterfly and pleasant greeting, in our pistol of a niece's careful printing:  "P.S.  The Cardinals stink."  Ha!   

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving Fudge and Frogs

The sore throat I dodged a few weeks ago has returned, so the Thanksgiving mail I'd hoped to send out this week remains a stack of blank cards and unaddressed envelopes while I laze about trying to nurse myself back to better health.  We'll see how tomorrow looks.  Tonight I'm remembering this package of maple-walnut fudge I mailed to Aunt Laurie a few Thanksgivings ago.  (I think this was the recipe I used.  The fudge was quite rich, but good.)   My sweet aunt is not really a frog-collector, or to be more accurate, she is not really a frog-collector of her own volition.  As a kid, I told my mom that since her older sister's favorite color was green, we should start her a collection of something that color, and frogs were what I came up with--!?--so for about thirty years now, long-suffering Aunt Laurie has received frog-themed nonsense from me.    In 2011, I taped this Kermit inside the turquoise pencil case I filled with the fudge, and one Thanksgiving, a magazine clipping of a photo of Kermit-as-a-Macy's-Parade-Float adorned her card's envelope.  Fudge-making likely won't be happening here this week, but I hope to mail out a Thanksgiving sticker-ed card or two--and at least one bit of mail with some smiling green silliness for my dear aunt.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


I didn't understand when I was a kid that Dad called his grandfather Nonno because it is the Italian word for that family member.  I thought he was saying "No-No," and I just assumed his grandfather had earned that nickname by always telling his grandchildren "No" to this and "No" to that.  It is so funny how children come up with their own explanations for things.  Dad remembers his dear Nonno as a quiet man who loved his family, his garden, his grape arbors, his walks in the woods, his honey bees, and all the animals on his and my great-grandmother's small property.  They had goats, cows, horses, rabbits, ducks, and I don't remember what-else.  I remember Great-Grandma, I remember the house and yard and apple tree and back porch and part of the barn, and I still vaguely remember the rabbits--I have a vague memory of being held up by someone so I could reach into their wired hutch--but Dad's Nonno died three years before I was born. 

Nonno had been an Italian Prisoner of War during WWI, and I never think of him without remembering family lore that this man who had loved to hunt from the time he was a child could never touch a gun again after his time in the army.  His wartime experiences left him both hard-of-hearing and gun-shy.  He was shaken by loud noises in general as a result of his service, which makes the few photos I have of him--Nonno and Great-Grandma outside their barn with one of their horses, Nonno and Great-Grandma sitting together in the kitchen, Nonno with the rest of the family at Christmas dinner, Nonno and Dad together outside--all the more poignant to me.  There is some satisfaction in seeing that although most of this man's life was not what anyone would consider easy, he enjoyed years of needed peace and of good company--company who would speak as loudly as necessary, in English and Italian--and simple meals and vegetable gardens and playful goats and grandchildren.  Veterans Day is an American holiday, and Nonno was an Italian service member, but I think of him on this day every year, and his story, with its silences both inflicted and restorative, reminds me of the sacrifices made by so many.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Autumn Awe

After going out for breakfast-for-him/lunch-for-me and a movie this afternoon, Mike and I walked home on a hilly cobblestone road that I would reside on in a heartbeat if I could afford it.  Author Willa Cather lived in a home on this hill in her pre-O Pioneers! years while she was teaching at local schools.  It is heavenly, especially in the fall.  The leaves' colors are so vibrant this year, they almost don't seem real.  I annoyed Mike by stopping to take picture after picture, settling myself onto the grass or pavement for some shots with my shoulder bag beside me.  Someday when I'm 100, I'll be glad I got these shots, I say.  :)  I could have taken a million more pictures and still barely have captured today's walk, though.  This was one of the most beautiful afternoons I've ever seen, and the leaves were pink! scarlet! gold! green! violet! rust! orange! peach! amazing!  It is all truly a wonder--And that this happens every year! And is free!  Bliss.  
All that beauty on just one little road!    And before arriving back at the apartment, we passed a church's local pumpkin sale.  The display is so striking every year, and I hadn't expected it to be set-up still, but there it was, a sweet end to a sweet afternoon.
As an aside:  Marie, Monique, and my other artistic readers, you may be amused to learn how much the pumpkin picture above amuses me--because one of my small goals for this fall was to draw better pumpkins, and this picture captures exactly what it was I'd been missing/somehow not really seeing before:  The top of a pumpkin isn't really the stem; some pumpkin appears above/behind the stem too.  :)  I doodle on the pages of my journal, and my pumpkin doodles finally improved a couple weeks ago when I figured that out. It is the little things, indeed.  :)
Ahhh, Winter!  Take your time coming this year, please!  I know each season has its charms and beauties, but I just don't want this fall to end.  This year, especially, the colors are a balm for the soul. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Now November

This has been one of the most gorgeous autumns of my life.  If this fall could only last right up until Christmas Eve. . . !  I just don't want it to end.  My throat was sore all day yesterday, and I finally gave up after supper and just went to bed early--dishes unwashed, and even left on the table--thinking I'd wake from my nap a few hours later, clean up, then go to bed "for real."  My nap was more than "real" enough, though:  Mike woke me up this morning to tell me he was leaving for work and to have a good day.  Work?  Day?  I was still in yesterday's outfit when he woke me a couple hours ago.  Tuesday is beginning, then, with dish-washing and wits-gathering but without a sore throat, and for someone who is seemingly always coming down with something or recovering from something, that is no small blessing.  And if I have to pack of a thermos of hot tea for my walk this afternoon, I will do it: The world is sunny and glittering outside again today, and I don't want to miss it.  But dishes first. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mail for Mr. V

I am not quite on the ball with Halloween card-mailing this year, but I have a few things ready to send out.  I'll be getting just a few cards mailed today, I have a tiny box of cards and candy ready for my older niece and my nephew, and I had the book Where Is Baby's Pumpkin?  shipped to little niece Bianca a couple days ago to mark her first Halloween.  (The online book preview showed the baby peeking around an orange gingham curtain--
--and how could I have resisted?!)  Today's outgoing mail also includes a combination Halloween-thank you card for Mr. V, one of my fifth and sixth grade teachers.  He was one of my favorites and one of the best.  I've found what I'm hoping is really his address and have now offered my long-overdue thanks, which makes me happy.  

Mr. V was a sharp dresser and loved dogs and baseball--this was the era of the mid-late 1980s New York Mets and Darryl Strawberry, of whom there was a poster on one of Mr. V's classroom walls--and if I'm remembering correctly, the snazzy red car in the teachers' parking lot was his--but we students loved him because he cared about us, enjoyed us, and was simply one of the good ones.  He was the first teacher who really encouraged my art skills.  I painted or drew a picture of my Beagle in his class one day, and he not only praised it, but also took it over to a teacher who was visiting his room at the time--the equally wonderful Mr. M--and showed it off to him too.  Tradition at our elementary school was that each year, a couple of the sixth grade students were selected to illustrate the cover of the yearbook.  Instead of simply telling me in class the next day that I had been one of the two chosen student-artists, he knocked on the door of the other teacher's classroom I was in at the time--this time, dear Mr. G's--and asked if he could speak to me for a moment--He wants to talk to me?!  In the hall?!?  What did I do?!  I didn't do anything!  When I stepped into the hall, I found my best friend standing beside him, adding to the pure thrill seconds later when Mr. V announced that she and I would be the ones designing the yearbook cover.  He could have just waited to tell us in class, of course, just as he could have notified us separately, but no:  Instead he created a moment, and it was, clearly, a memorable one.  It is that kind of "small" kindness that stays with a person.  
Fifth grade was the year of our using microscopes for the first time too, and he shared our excitement as we saw insects and who-knows-what-else up-close for the very first time.  When I asked him after class one day where he bought the tiny lights for the microscopes we used in class, he answered at-length, but all I remember now is that he said that even the little Christmas tree string lights' bulbs would work.  That was the first year science ever interested me:  I asked my parents for both a cookbook and a microscope that Christmas.  There remains the feeling, almost thirty years later, that we all went through the fifth grade together:  He experienced it right along with us, as it should be.  And my gratitude is much bigger than I could ever express in a greeting card, but he'll be getting one in the mail this week anyway, and I hope it brightens his day as he brightened so many of mine.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

And Stuffed in October

It is sixty-two degrees here, and the trees are all glittering jewels outside our windows.  This dear little soul hopped down from his bathroom window perch after just a few seconds this afternoon, though, and Mike and I both feel too sluggish and too maybe-this-is-the-start-of-a-cold-or-maybe-we're-just-tired-and-need-more-sleep-ish to enjoy The Great Outdoors today either.  It is an indoor day for all of us, then:  Stuffed is now settled on Mike's leg while Mike reads the paper, and I will soon be heading back to bed with my journal and Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies.  Glittering Tree Time tomorrow.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wing Chair in October

The wing chair project goes on and on.  The latest addition to it when I left off months ago was this section of leftover green floral trim from my wedding suit jacket.     (Yikes, my stitches look messy up-close.  We'll say that just adds to the chair's charm.  Goodness, though!  My mother would shake her head here and say, "Vally, really, it wouldn't take much to clean that up a bit. . . . "  It's FINE, Mom.  :)  )  The seamstress had extra trim after she'd finished alterations, so she gave that back to me with the suit.  I like how it looks on the chair, breaking up a couple of the straight lines of the patchwork squares. 
And now that I look at the picture below, I see that the patchwork could stand to be broken up by curves and frills a bit more, especially toward the bottom, so I will have to think about what other meaningful-to-me trims I've saved over the years.
 One step closer to a finished chair, though, and I'm still loving this project.