Thursday, December 8, 2016

To ornament ...

is to embellish, enhance, enrich, and grace. These are the words that immediately came to mind when I considered the Think Write Thursday topic of writing about my favorite holiday tradition. For me, the holiday is Christmas, and the tradition, while not terribly original, is hanging two very cherished ornaments on the tree. Many of our ornaments are special and have stories behind them, but these two always crown the tree.

I've written about my first grade teacher, Mrs. Neusch before, but I'm not sure that she knew back in 1963 that she was beginning a Christmas tradition. She put up a tree in the classroom and our homework one weekend early in December was to make an ornament for it. I remember bursting in the back door after school and telling my mother about the assignment and all the ideas I had come up with on the bus ride home. My ornament was going to be pink, with sequins, glitter, and diamonds, and be the best ornament ever.

I don't remember the actual making of the ornament at all, but it's pretty clear that it is my mother's handiwork. No first grader could blow out an egg, dye it pink, and glue on felt holly leaves, sequins, glitter, and diamonds, but my mother did. It seemed wondrous to me that she had created the ornament of my dreams, and I thought (and pretty much still do!) it was the best ornament ever. Part of the Christmas miracle of this ornament is that is has survived, uncracked and undamaged, for 53 years.

The second ornament is the one that Mrs. Neusch gave me as a gift that Christmas. She chose a different one for each of her students, and she said that this one reminded her of me because the angel had blonde hair and open arms, and was reaching for the stars.

These ornaments are important to me because they are reminders of people that loved me, listened to me, and believed in me. They are also important reminders that people are always more important than things. My own sons know how special these ornaments are to me, but I may have stressed that too much when one Christmas Ryan told Justin to be careful because I might love these ornaments more than anything. That was terrible to hear, but a perfect opportunity to hug both of them tightly and tell them that I would always love them most of all. Someday the egg will break, and all the glitter will fall off the moon, but I will always have lovely memories of loving people.

Read other Think ... Write ... Thursday! posts here, and sign up for Carole and Kat's great idea here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Today is my grandmother's birthday. It's an easy date for me to remember as she always joked that it was "a date which will live in infamy". I don't know what year the picture above was taken, but that is how I often think of her. A kind and gentle woman, but photos don't show that she was also independent, creative, and even rebellious if it meant doing what she believed was right.

Born in 1904, she became a schoolteacher as many women did then. She met my grandfather, but didn't let the fact that Ohio schoolteachers weren't allowed to be married in 1927 deter her. They ran away to West Virginia, got married in secret, and kept that secret for a year by living apart. I marvel at the courage it would have taken to defy her parents, society, and jeopardize a job she loved and needed. She told me, "It isn't fair that a woman should have to give up everything of herself when she marries."

I was the oldest grandchild of five, and while she always made me feel as if I was special, I think my sister and cousins would all say the same thing. Even though we lived more than 400 miles away, my grandparents came to visit us at least four times a year and we spent two weeks with them every summer. Those were glorious days when she taught me to knit, sew, crochet, garden, and cook. On walks through the woods she showed me how to identify trillium, bloodroot, and dig sassafras roots for a spring tonic. I'm not sure when we started calling her G'ma, but she loved it and it stuck.

G'ma was an excellent seamstress, sewing dresses for us for every occasion. This is my sister and me in new dresses, with our mouths and hands full of the licorice and gumdrops G'ma kept in the canister in the kitchen, just because she knew we loved them. Her sewing abilities extended to drapes and slip covers, almost always without a pattern, but fitting perfectly.

G'ma excelled at traditional "women's work", but didn't think twice about doing "men's work", too. This is the cabin that she and my grandfather built, and the outhouse that she dug a six-foot deep pit for. I wish I had a photo of the wood-burning stove inside where she cooked meals, and baked bread and cakes, after she had chopped wood for it.

Because I know how much G'ma loved me and appreciate everything she taught me, I think of her almost every day. Sometimes it's when I'm making dinner (city chicken because cubes of pork and veal on skewers used to be cheaper than chicken). Other times it's when I'm thinking about taking some half-assed shortcut and hearing G'ma's voice saying, "That's not how we do things, Bonny!" But it's always with love because I would not be the person I am without G'ma.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Is anyone else decompressing from NaBloPoMo? Trying to come up with a blog post every day in November caused me to start viewing everything in "blog mode". If I found myself doing anything that could even possibly provide blog fodder, I took photos, jotted down a few thoughts, and sometimes started a draft post. While going through the photos on my phone, it became clear why I never used some of these ideas.

All of the Christmas catalogs I received in just one day.

The cranberry pie I baked after cleaning out the freezer and finding six bags of frozen cranberries.

My results after Justin told me he microwaved an egg in a round Tupperware container to make a breakfast sandwich. 
Good idea, but I should have added cheese and bacon.

An odd (but interesting) heavy hunk of stainless steel that I found in the street during a walk. 

A broken-striped newt picture that Justin drew for my sister-in-law probably 15 years ago that she framed and still displays.

Yesterday I was baking cookies to send to Justin and realized while I was taking photos
 that most of you had probably made cookies before;
 I no longer had to write a post every day, and this was not a blog-worthy event.

Living in blog mode is interfering with my being present in the moment, so I'm going to decompress a bit, quit thinking about NaBloPoMo, and post when I have something worthwhile to say, while hopefully remembering to still take photos occasionally.

All right everyone, back to your knitting. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Think ... Write ... Thursday! Hello, December

Hello, December,

You snuck up on me, just like every year. One moment it's Thanksgiving, with too much delicious food and not quite enough time with family, but as soon as I finish washing the Thanksgiving china and vacuuming the crumbs from under the table, I turn around and you are knocking at the door. Your stress-filled days of Christmas shopping, crowds, cleaning, decorating, attending work parties when I'd rather stay home and knit just wear me out. You've given me too many instances in which I desperately miss my far-away sons, and then have to pretend that I'm not sad so I don't spend our video chat time with tears in my eyes, making all of us sadder. Thoughts of what lies ahead when you whisper that this is most likely the last Christmas for several ill family members are almost too much to bear.

But ... you've also got some warm moments in your cold days. An empathetic, understanding, and pragmatic oncologist that I love and just want to hug (and I might even do that tomorrow). Cookie Day with all the women in my family is a real highlight. Enjoying the fact that Ryan is becoming a creative cook, who is able to use his chemistry and math backgrounds to come up with a delicious new quiche that I am taking to John's boss' party. Appreciating that Justin is an incredibly responsible and forward-looking young man, working long and hard towards a permanent position so he doesn't have to be an intern forever.

December, your gift of Christmas is what usually comes to my mind first when I think of you, but this year you are presenting me with something I will appreciate even more - your solstice. That day with the fewest hours of daylight reminds me that yes, there is plenty of darkness, but minute by minute, more light is returning with every new day.

So hello December, with your good and bad, light and dark, happiness and sadness, but always love.

Yours in warmth,

Read other Think ... Write ... Thursday! posts here, and sign up for Carole and Kat's great idea here

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


As I reflect on NaBloPoMo 2016, I'm so very grateful that you have taken the time to read my ramblings. Time is an incredibly valuable commodity for all of us, so I truly value that you have used some of it to read what I've written, and maybe even comment. I started writing as a way to record my thoughts when my life changed with my oldest son moving to Colorado from home here in New Jersey, and while my blog still serves that purpose for me (especially with my youngest son now living in Texas), I'm also astounded and gratified by the wonderful people I've met. Readers have provided me with support, humor, affirmation, knitting help, book recommendations, opportunities to learn, and just plain friendship, and I'm thankful for each one of you.

So with this last post of NaBloPoMo 2016, I say congratulations to everyone that managed to post daily; congratulations to everyone that posted at all, and a gigantic thank you to all the readers and commenters.

See you sometime in December, but after 30 consecutive posts, probably not tomorrow.

(Whoops. I forgot about Think Write Thursday, so I guess I will be back tomorrow!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tree ID

Last Wednesday I was returning from the grocery store after picking up the final few things I always seem to forget for Thanksgiving and I took the scenic way home. I drove by some trees that were so interesting I had to turn around, park, and get out to take a better look.

It was the incredible bark that attracted me.

They were growing in clumps of two, three, and four in front of a doctor's office building.

Most of them had brown, horizontally peeling bark, and then I saw this most intriguing one at the end of the row.

This clump of three brown-barked trees and one white-barked really captivated me, so I gathered a few leaves to try and identify them. That one white tree looks exactly like chocolate crinkle cookies, but I resisted heading back to the grocery store for those ingredients. 

The leaves I collected along with the Trees of North America told me that the trees were most likely yellow birches. There was just one more piece of information that I needed; how did the twigs taste? My trusty tree guide said that "slender twigs have a wintergreen flavor", so I went back to taste a few twigs. Sure enough, they did have a faint but distinct wintergreen taste. I even found out that I could make wintergreen extract, but since they aren't my trees, I don't think I'll be snapping off twigs to try this. (I'll just drink the called-for vodka instead.)

I still can't explain the chocolate crinkle tree (maybe a regular paper or white birch?) growing in the same clump with three yellow birches, but a little tree mystery doesn't make them any less beautiful. I think I'll go back in the spring to get a better look when they have new green leaves and maybe even taste a few more twigs.

Monday, November 28, 2016

I Wonder ...

Why Turkey Trotters can't walk from the town's huge municipal parking lot but instead choose to block my driveway (every year, for 27 years)? It's a Thanksgiving tradition! My thought is that if you're running 5K, you can also manage an extra 528 feet.

Why a Turkey Trotter left us a snow shovel? I saw a runner remove it from his trunk before the race, and it's been leaning against our wall for three days, so I guess it's ours now.

What to say to the women behind me in line at the post office wondering "why they have to sell Diwali stamps? It's not even an American holiday!" Their conversation went downhill, and I never did call them on their prejudice, mainly because I didn't know what to say. I'm only good at thinking of things to say hours or days afterwards, so next time I'm going to be ready and say that even though I'm not Hindu, I welcome anything that celebrates "the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair."

And on a lighter note, I wonder why Christmas cactuses bloom at such different times and in so many ways? I have a large plant with only one lonely bud, one that started blooming around Halloween and still has a few blossoms left, another hanging one that seems to be blooming all at once, and yet another that is just developing buds. I do love the flowers and am quite happy to see them bloom any way they want to, at any time of year.