Friday, December 7, 2018

Zest for Life

I don't know of anyone who more exemplifies the meaning of gusto di vivere than my baby sister and brother-in-law, shown above in a Christmas card. I admire that in them so much. 

When I grow up I want to be just like them!

When I read this quote below years ago in David Grayson's The Countryman's Year, I immediately thought of them. 

I still do.

We like people who enjoy life...The pale, the faded, the sad are soon rubbed off the printed page: the man of gusto etches himself upon our hearts.
David Grayson

Here's to living with more zest for life, more gusto di vivere!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

St. Nicholas Day

When I found this photo yesterday in our family Christmas scrapbooks I was also watching the memorial service for President George H.W. Bush.

Tears were flowing during the eulogies for the memories of this remarkable man, mixed with smiles as I turned page after page of family Christmases. 

Okay, I admit there were a few mama tears shed as I looked through the scrapbooks too but only happy ones. 

And I even chuckled as I remembered our St. Nicholas Day pancake breakfasts on December 6th, remembering those two above opening small gifts from the pack of St. Nick and how our youngest told me at a later St. Nick breakfast that he got lots of flak from his fellow 5th grade friends for believing in the old gentleman. 

I believe in believing!

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Nicholas, Bishop of Myra's See,
Was holy a saint
As a saint could be;
Saved not a bit
Of his worldly wealth
And love to commit
Good deeds by stealth. (etc.)
           Phyllis McGinley

Sunday, December 2, 2018

First Sunday of Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and the second day of Advent. Even though I no longer make an Advent wreath, I will take time for my own quiet time of Advent devotions. 

I'm sure I will think back to those days when my daughter and I made Advent wreaths, and later on the years when she and her older brother had homes of their own and their little brothers helped me make them.

In November of 1984 when we still had four children at home, I read an article in the December issue of Southern Living magazine about making Advent wreaths.

I simply had to recreate the lovely wreath with purple and white candles set in a bed of pink and purple heather.

That Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which I don't remember being called Black Friday yet, Christy and I drove to the florist with her little brothers. We entered the quaint cottage filled with themed Christmas trees and floral arrangements, scents of cinnamon potpourri in the air, Christmas carols playing.

I felt as much of a child as my two little boys, entranced by the room, but I had little coin of the realm to spend. We circled the display room in pure awe, watching carefully to be sure that three-year-old Defee didn't "flick" any of the ornaments.

You flick something when you use your thumb to launch your pointer finger at it, and Defee was an expert at this, something that strangers standing in department stores could have attested to. Christy and I had learned to be faster than his flicker. Zack walked a few feet in front of us, at the superior age of five trying to distance himself from such juvenile activity.

I asked a saleswoman if they sold heather, wondering if I would have enough money to buy it. We were taken to the walk-in cooler where we breathed in cold scents of lilies and roses and were shown two buckets on the floor that held heather, masses of gorgeous pink and purple heather.

When quoted a ridiculously low price per bunch, I said I would take one bunch of each color, guessing they would be skimpy and our first Advent wreath would be small. To my great joy, she wrapped up two fat bunches in green florist paper, enough for our wreath and several nosegays. Heather, it seemed, was a bargain among flowers. The florist foam I bought cost almost as much.

At a Hallmark store we found three pink tapers, one purple for Christmas Eve, and the fourth pure white for Christmas Day. We found ribbons in my sewing supplies and the container for our wreath in the garden shed, a large plastic saucer.

This picture is from years later, I'm not sure exactly what year because all of our Advent wreaths looked similar.

It's been many years since our children grew up and left home and our Advent devotions ended. I miss those years where we read scripture, sang carols and prayed together. I miss the years of reading Christmas books to them after the last prayer.

RH usually excused himself during story time, but the kids always lay on the floor looking up at the lights of our Christmas tree while I read to them. Some books, like Madeline L'Engles' The Twenty-Four Days Before Christmas, they wanted every year. Some were deemed boring and weren't repeated, such as A Child's Christmas in Wales. The boys howled with laughter but said, "Too weird!" 

Those days of Advent wreaths and family devotions are over but there is still something in me that needs to mark each day of the Advent season. 

I turn on the Christmas tree lights and take out Advent and Christmas: Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton, a book that a blog friend from Devon, England told me about.

Yesterday, Day 1 of Advent, there was a quote from Charles Dickens titled "The Gift of Hope" that I loved and will transfer to one of my many index quote cards.

It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youths its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is pre-eminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until now. It is from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst. 
Charles Dickens: Last of the Great Men

Hey, Mr. Dickens, I love what you wrote but what's with all the gentlemen? I think I feel butterfly wings behind me! 


Friday, November 30, 2018

November Goodbye

The end of the month has come and time to show another soon to be turned page from my kitchen calendar with illustrations by Kevin Dodds.

October is long gone but in a way November seems a continuation of it with the colors that steal my heart every year.

It's strange but I could swear that late October was the time of the most brilliantly colored autumn leaves when I was a teenager, where now they happen in the first two weeks of November instead.

But even when they're gone I still have autumn leaves inside my kitchen, as well as piles of leaves on the ground.

Some things I just want to hold on to and November is one of them, my favorite month of the year.

Everything in November leads up to one day, Thanksgiving Day.

But just like the seasons, Thanksgiving Day eventually changes too. No more for me is the making of multiple pies.

No more three casseroles and a 19 lb. turkey.

No more setting a big table, with a smaller one at the end.

Instead this Thanksgiving Day ended up being one of the ox in the ditch kind of days (Luke 14:5) and instead of even a small turkey, I sliced up some sirloin steak and stir-fried it with peppers, mushrooms and scallions and served it over rice for RH and me after he came home.

There was fresh cranberry sauce and a pecan pie and it was good.

I've had to give up my Gladys Taber ideas of Thanksgiving Days--
Her dream of Thanksgiving was a cross between a Currier and Ives print and a Grandma Moses painting. She saw people skimming up in sleighs, children gamboling in the yard. Fires burning on every hearth, corn popping, apples toasting, turkey crackling outside, moist and tender within.
Gladys Taber in
Mrs. Daffodil 

Times change as the years go by, our family is far flung now. I really do accept the reality of that and that I'm no longer able to produce a big Thanksgiving meal and neither are my small kitchen and fridge. 

Besides, I have Christmas to look forward to where for the first time in years it looks as if every single family member will be here together for an afternoon before Christmas, depending on whether a new great-granddaughter makes her appearance early or late. 

I am looking forward to that so very much!

Still, I think back to when my own mother had to turn over the reins of big family dinners to her daughters. I remember how she still wanted to cook things to contribute to the meal and how we all really wished she wouldn't--both for her own sake and because we all loved to cook. We were, after all, her daughters.

Here she was at 85, if I remember correctly, at my sister Deb's house. It may have been her birthday celebration. She didn't have to lift a finger, just relax and enjoy it all.

She even has her glass of wine by her chair!

She'd earned her right to relax but I wonder, did she miss all the Gladys Taber Thanksgivings that she and my father hosted? 

I bet she did.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Hello Again!

It's already been a week since there's been a post here so I'm leaving a quick one now and will be back for my usual end of the month post. 

Christmas has begun to appear in our home but I do resist showing it at Across the Way until December. But more and more I want to deck the halls early to allow for that goal I have each December, that of taking time to follow the Star.

This old star, above, reminds me daily during December to make time for that. It's over 60 years old and was a part of my Christmas as a child. My mother presented me and my sisters with a few precious objects of our childhood Christmases many years ago and this star became mine.

It's darkened with age and the 1958 silver golf trophy beside it darkens with tarnish constantly. I polished some other pieces of silver the other day and then tackled this big piece and ended up with a painful shoulder ever since then, even with calling upon RH to finish polishing the base.

It simply had to be polished to hold the amaryllis bulb I ordered from White Flower Farm. I've since discarded the ugly Spanish moss that was draped over the bulb, realizing that half of the beauty is seeing the beautiful large green bulb. RH said he will dig up a few patches of green moss to put on the dirt instead. 

An amaryllis bulb from White Flower Farm was always an early Christmas gift from RH each year at Valley View. And I faithfully followed instructions for bringing it back to bloom the following year. At one time I had six amaryllis re-blooming at one time, before Valentine's Day. It's been three years since we've treated ourselves to one from our favorite garden catalogue so I hope this one thrives.

The large south-facing window over our kitchen sink is perfect for plants and I hope it will be sufficient for the large rosemary plant that Zack and Courtney gave me this week. I've wanted one for ages so was excited to get this.

I've never tried to overwinter rosemary so I googled it and think I know how to take care of it, although there were warnings that rosemary grown for the Christmas houseplant market sometimes doesn't do well.

Time to put on some Christmas music, sing along  and get busy. 

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.....🎵

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The yearning never goes away...

The yearning never really goes away.

That yearning for a Thanksgiving Day like when the children were young, and at home.

It was Thanksgiving Day of 1986 and we went around the table to say what we were thankful for.

RH went first...

Then our firstborn and his girlfriend who later on became our daughter-in-law...

Our beautiful daughter went next...

Then her shy little brother spoke, reluctantly...

And last it was our little one's time...

I know what his mama was thankful for.

She still is.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Vinegar Faces

No, his is not the vinegar face I'm speaking of here. This portrait of Richardson Wright, editor in chief of House & Garden from 1914 well into the years of World War II, had to have been the result of photographer Doris Ulmann's coaxing him to look editor-in-chief-ish. 

I love reading anything he has written, from two of his Bed-Books that I own, one original and one reprint, to articles he wrote in my vintage House & Garden magazines. I just ordered another old book of his and will be totally useless for hours when it arrives in the mail.

In her introduction to the reprint of his The Gardener's Bed-Book, Dominique Browning, who claims to have cornered the market on his books, says that "Wright was a gentleman of breeding and discernment. He was worldly, and at the same time he was devoted to the domestic arts. He believed in living well, and thinking large. They don't make too many like him."

Here's what Richardson Wright wrote on his 28th of November entry about Vinegar Faces.

In my Winter tramps hereabout, I have been encountering the dour faces of the natives, the grim look of men and women on isolated farms far back in the hinterlands. And I'm wondering why people must be so grave and sour and vinegary. Certainly our coming into this world is painful enough, and the manner of our leaving it is, in most instances, nothing to boast about. Between these two momentous events, Life spreads no bed of Roses for us. To some it's a springless couch. To most it's a bumpy one. A rare few find it pleasantly circumstanced, like an old bed with curtains to keep out draughts. The best of us seem to lie unprotected, in all the night winds of the world. Since so unfairly does Life deal the cards, let those of us who can, laugh: let girls giggle and boys shout and old men chuckle in their stomachs and old ladies titter behind their fans.

So today I'm sharing this with anyone who needs it--and no one needs it more than I do, especially by around 5:30 p.m. each day.

For those of us who have not lost our homes to voracious wildfires, for those of us who have not lost a beloved person or pet, for those of us not greatly suffering from one of Life's unfairly dealt cards...

Come, would you, and sit by me?

Join me while I titter behind my fan.

5:30 p.m. would be a perfect time.

[I know, I purloined this image with its watermark, but is it not too perfect to pass up? And I love my green dress!]