Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Back at It

The holiday hoopla threw my writing routine out of whack, but this first week of February, I'm finally settling back into one.  This is how dreams live or die, it seems:  A few days of not working toward a goal turn into weeks of not working toward it, and then a couple months have passed, and then a whole half-year, and then the dream becomes something one was involved in in once years ago. . . .I return to this, though, and I will keep returning to it:  to my seat at this table and to these stacks and bags of index cards and diaries and family photos, and to the belief that this matters.  Onward.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Love Actually

The cemetery I walked in today is three-hundred acres, but I only managed two and a half miles before declaring that part of my walk done.  It was twenty-something degrees here this afternoon but felt much colder, and even with my coat's hood up most of the walk, I returned home with my hair half-pulled out of its top bun by the wind.  Tomorrow and Sunday will be much warmer--we're supposed to hit a downright balmy fifty-six degrees this weekend--so I'll enjoy longer walks then. 
The headstone above that memorializes "happy hours, days, weeks. . . ." with a loved one reminded me of the opening lines of Love Actually:

"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow airport.   General opinion started to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that.  Seems to me that love is everywhere.  Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there.  Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.  When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate and revenge, they were all messages of love.  If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling, you'll find that love actually is all around." 

Yes, for final words in final phone calls and for remembrances in cemeteries, love is the word, as one is reminded while walking past monument-after-monument and stone-after-stone that pay tribute to the loving and the beloved.  We worry about so many petty things in this lifetime, we hold on to hurts too long, and we get so mired in the muck (and often a muck of our own making), it is good to remember what we will take with us--and leave behind us--when we go.  During my summer 2007 health scare, love was all I thought about while I thought I was dying.  I hoped my niece and nephew would somehow remember me enough when they were older to know that I had loved them, I wished my ex-boyfriend well and hoped he remembered that I loved him and that he held on to that and didn't beat himself up, I prayed that I'd been loving enough to my brothers and parents, I even thought of a couple people I hadn't even really liked all that much and I just wished them love.  Had I loved everyone enough, did they know how much I loved them, would the rest of their lives would be full of love?  I wanted so much love for everyone.  And if my own lifetime's worth of opportunities to give that love was over--no more conversations or cookies or letters or care packages--well, maybe I would still have ways to give love after I had passed?  I prayed so.  Love love, love.  I believed I was dying, and love was all I could think about.  That night's experiences have informed the way I've lived since, and I'm grateful. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

My Ballet Teacher Wrote Back!

"I do remember you with your beautiful hair bouncing until your mother pulled it back."  So funny.  How in the world would she remember such a thing?!  She just retired from teaching in December after having taught dance for fifty years, she reported.  And she signed her letter, "Love, Miss Karen."  Surely, we must have called her that in class instead of just "Karen" as I had been recalling.  My mom will probably remember.  She filled an entire note-card and it is all so sweet.  Oh my goodness, I will treasure this. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Baby-in-Snowsuit Cookies, 11 Years Ago Today

Eleven years ago today, I made these nephew-in-his-snowsuit sugar cookies for my family.  Little Dylan was then the bundled-up dumpling below, so you can see why I just had to. 
At that time, I was in my last push toward finishing graduate school and the baking and cake/cookie-decorating were huge parts of my stress-relief that winter, as gardening was in the warmer months.  My family and I ate more than our fair share of buttercream back in those days, let's just say. 
And now this pudgy baby who inspired his own sugar cookie is heading to middle school next year.  But still:  So sweet. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekend Walks: 27 Pictures (or A Pig, a Snowman, a Shadow, Some Hearts. . . .)

That pig just spoke to me.  :)  Fourteen miles walked this weekend and so much beauty seen.  Sunsets this time of year are glorious.  Flowers are crisp and snow-capped and bent in the most striking postures.  Tree branches are black silhouettes against sun and sky.  Snow sparkles and icicles glow warm in the cold sunsets.  If fall walks are my favorites, winter walks are a close second.  While I was taking a picture outside  a local school Friday afternoon, a man sarcastically yelled across the street to me, "Nice weather for that, huh?!" and I called back, "It is, though!  It's so pretty!"  I couldn't help but laugh when he responded, "Yeah, if you're a polar bear!"  I like coming home to the warm apartment, yes, but truly, it is nice weather for this:  Walking with my camera forces me to focus on looking for the good and the beautiful, taking the time to look at--to really see--the good and beautiful, and saying thank You for the good and beautiful.  Anyone can see the beauty in spring or summer or autumn leaves, but to be able to enjoy the brilliance of winter is almost a skill that needs to be learned and relearned for most of us.  Walking in winter when--let's face it--I'd rather be curled up in a chair with a book stretches me in all senses of the word.  Ohh, this is just good for me, body and soul. 
The art on a local shop's side made me smileI'd walked past this flock of birds so many times before, but this weekend, against all the snow, it was such an appreciated burst of color.
This card was in a stationery store window.  I'll be going back to buy this one for my parents, who are suffering extreme cabin fever already this winter. 
Hearts appeared in the snow throughout the weekend.
The snowman below, with his eyes at his feet, made me laugh.  
The takeout bag below made me smile too, and its yellow face was a fun burst of color against the snow and pavement.  My personal walker-code dictates that if I take a picture of litter, I throw out the litter too, though, so this smiling face is now in a trash can. 
It was dark by the time I turned around and headed home this evening, and the streetlamps cast such a pretty light onto the sidewalks, as warm and soft as candle-glow. 
Enough light for even a somewhat murky shadow-picture, and I was soon setting my shoes onto newspaper to dry back inside the apartment.  Chili for supper and a night off-work tonight.  "Downton Abbey" tonight too, and a new book to begin.  And another walk tomorrow.  All kinds of winter bliss. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Return of the Three-Eye Pie

Until last night, it had been twenty years since I first made a cranberry-apple pie, and if Mom and Aunt Laurie could be beside you as you read this, they would fall over themselves laughing as they explained why.  Their memories of my first attempt have grown more exaggerated with each retelling, and now, my poor 1996 effort is simply referred to as "Val's Three-Eye Pie." 
I had saved this recipe from a Good Housekeeping magazine and told Mom I wanted to try it while Aunt Laurie was visiting that fall.  I'd been baking alone since I was ten--and I was nineteen at the time--but this pie foiled me.  And I didn't make the beautiful leaf-crust pictured below.  (How gorgeous is this!) 
For me, it was the pie filling that went awry.  The pie filling!  In the words of Paul Simon, "there were incidents and accidents."  And for someone who hadn't yet made many pies, I learned the hard way how not to make this particular one.  The recipe now strikes me as straightforward, and surely, if I had actually followed it, the pie would have turned out.  It called for the juice of "1 large lemon," but I (apparently hadn't bought or asked for the groceries I needed to make this pie?!  Ah, nineteen-year-old Val!) didn't have any lemons so decided I would instead throw in some lemon extract from the back of Mom's baking cupboard.  When I use the word "throw" to describe how I "measured" the lemon extract. . .yessssssss.  Not knowing anything about the extract-to-real-thing ratio/conversion, I must have used the whole bottle.  And I have still never in my life seen Mom use lemon extract for anything, so who knows where the extract had even come from, let alone how very old it was.  Only two teaspoons of vanilla extract are mentioned in the recipe, and that I had on-hand, but I am now-infamous for assuming that if a little vanilla-flavor is good, a lot must be great!  (That logic became part of my defense soon enough.)  Who knows how much of that went into this pie, as well, then.  Raisins, I see are in the recipe too, but I highly doubt I used any, since I've never liked them.  The pie that went into the oven that afternoon was mostly apples, cranberries, and a huge amount of alcohol-filled extracts.  Alcohol bakes-off, it is said, but when probably a bottle and a half of two different flavors are in one pie and that pie is likely already missing one of its called-for fruits, the baker must be prepared for whatever reaction comes. 
And reaction was swift, but the stories have been exaggerated, I tell you!  Mom still likes to imitate how my cousin Amy mysteriously began hiccuping after soldiering through her slice of the finished pie.  She always includes the part about how "poor Amy" soon thereafter bid us all an early goodnight and elaborated that she didn't feel so good.  Aunt Laurie's favorite part of the Three-Eye Pie story--besides the fact that "Three-Eye Pie" immediately became the name for her niece's dessert--is how Uncle Warren's eyebrows instantly shot way up onto the top of his forehead upon tasting his first bite.  On and on the stories go.  We all laughed so much during that visit over that pie.  ("Of course we did," Mom would point out if she were reading over your shoulder right now.  "Val's pie got us all drunk.")  In 2011, a full fifteen years after I had made the pie, Mom included the note and drawing below in a recipe book she gave me for Christmas.  She has drawn that three-eyed girl a few other times over the years too, I should add.  Oh, the hilarity.  :) 
And just last month when I unwrapped my Christmas presents from Aunt Laurie, I oohed and ahhed over a tiny green bag inside which my name was peeking out on a slip of paper.  I tugged out a box of bottled vanilla, momentarily--and naively--thinking she had simply sent me vanilla as a baking supply, since she tends to give me muffin papers, pot holders, and other baking-related gifts at Christmas, but then I read the note that accompanied it.  And notice the three-eyed snowman underneath!  Comediennes, these two.  :) 
I've baked enough now to have a better idea of what I can and can't substitute and how much of what I can add or take away from a pie, and last night's was just fine, thank you, and I even added snowflake-shaped pie crust pieces to the edge and to the streusel topping, so there.  ;)  There is no point telling my mom or aunt, though.  The Three-Eye Pie story has become one of their favorite family classics, and they're still just having waaaaay too much with it. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Wednesday's Walk

What began as a walk in flurries today ended in a slippery trek home in actual snow, and I'd have worn shoes with better traction had I expected it.  But oh! The woods were so blissfully silent and still in the snow, with only a woman crunching her way over half-frozen leaves as she ran past when I first started out and a man walking with his dog at another point.  We exchanged hellos and continued on, and the dog didn't even bark:  An unspoken understanding between us all, I always think when I encounter other solitary walkers and runners, of the value of this peace and quiet.