Well, I did it! I was shooting for 100 posts in 2010, and this is the one that hits the mark. It seems fitting. (How the hell did I do 171 the first year!? No wonder I slipped to 71 my second year. Evidently consistency is not my strong point in these matters.) I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who ever visits my blog, jots me thoughtful comments, or just reads these goofy posts in the first place. The internet truly is a strange and wondrous place. I have many friends who've encouraged me, made me smile, and commiserated with me over these many months, and it really does touch my heart. When I started this blog a few years ago, I did so because I wanted to push myself to paint more, and I have to admit that it always amazes me that anyone has actually come along for the ride! Thank you for all your kindness. I really do appreciate it. Here's wishing us ALL a beautiful, magical 2011. Last year, I posted Mairi Campbell's beautiful version of Auld Lang Syne, and this year, it's Dougie Maclean (in honor of my mom and my Scottish grandparents):
It's good to be back in North Carolina, after a snowy drive home from Georgia. What a winter wonderland out there! Christmas with family was all too brief, but we talked, ate good food, saw movies, played games, took walks, partied with neighbors, and in general enjoyed each other's company.
I talked to my other siblings and my son on the phone, since I didn't get the chance to see them all.
The other day, I was watching a mother and small child, and it reminded me of my own son to hear this child talk: this little boy was at that age where--when he spoke, only his mom could really understand what he was saying, but he was definitely communicating! He was very sweet.
Eric used to talk up a storm as a wee one: he'd always want me to repeat whatever it was he was trying to say, so that he knew I'd understood his meaning. I can remember him toddling around the house, and I would hear him say this same thing, over and over: "Oooooooh-Day-Ahhhhhh...." I used to wonder what the heck he was trying to say, because he'd repeat it quite often. One day, when I was tearing around, flustered that I'd lost my keys yet again, I finally found them, and exclaimed, "Here they are!" Eric immediately looked happily at me and repeated, in much the same tone, "Ooooooooh-Day-Ahhhhhhh!"
(Evidently I lost things quite often.)
Another day, he kept saying the same phrase over and over again. It was: "Bah Dinny, ma!" I had no idea what he was trying to tell me, and he was becoming quite agitated, because he knew I wasn't repeating it, and so he knew I wasn't understanding him. I tried saying it myself, out loud, to see if I could figure out what he meant. "Bah Dinny, Bah Dinny." He stood there with those famous little tear drops squeezing out of his eyes onto his little cheeks, making me feel awful that I had no idea what he was saying. I told him "I'm sorry, Eric, I just don't know what 'Bah Dinny' is." He kept at it: "Bah Dinny, Bah Dinny, ma!!" I was exasperated myself, but suddenly, my turntable (yes, this was years ago) stopped, and the record was over, and it occurred to me that it was a Bob Dylan album I'd been playing.
Eric's teary little face quickly turned to sunshine and he danced around in front of me, happy as a clam, hugging my legs, and saying "Bah Dinny, Bah Dinny!" He was happy to know I was with the program again.
Must've been hard having me for a mother. I was a little slow on the uptake...
In Nature's poem flowers have each their word The rose of love and beauty sings alone; The violet's soul exhales in tenderest tone; The lily's one pure simple note is heard. The cold Camellia only, stiff and white, Rose without perfume, Lily without grace, When chilling winter shows his icy face, Blooms for a world that vainly seeks delight. Yet, in a theatre, or ballroom light, With alabaster petals opening fair, I gladly see Camellias shining bright Above some stately woman's raven hair, Whose noble form fulfills the heart's desire, Like Grecian marbles warmed by Phidian's fire.
(--Honore de Balzac)
The camellias are blooming here at my sister's in Georgia, and looking good, despite the snow that's here today! (very unusual for this part of southeastern Georgia.) As for Joe and me, we're deciding when it's smart to head home...not today!
Hope everyone had a beautiful Christmas holiday!
Stay toasty, everyone! (and as always, sorry for the poor photo quality without my scanner)
I have one more day at work, and then we are heading to Georgia to see my older sister Mary Kate and her family, as well as my dad, who lives with them, on Thursday. We're looking forward to a relaxing, quiet visit, and wish you all a peaceful holiday!
"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful" (--Norman Vincent Peale)
This year, we made gingersnaps, and Cappuccino Love Bites. Some years, it's chocolate shortbread logs and cranberry-orange biscotti, or chocolate truffles...
...but for us, we always have the annual making of the toffee.*
Joe gets into the act, and I put him to work spreading the chocolate over the hot toffee right out of the oven. He's quite good at this. I tell him he's very "trainable."
He's also a really good slicer. I can never make them uniform, so if it were up to me alone, I would just bag up the broken bits, but he does an awesome job, so he's hired. His greatest skill is probably his taste-testing expertise, and I rely heavily on his skills in these matters.
Last night, we boxed up cookies for the neighbors. We like to let them know we're thinking of them. Now, for years, I did this alone, when it was just me. I was a single parent for 20-some years, and I guess it was important to me to create memories for my son Eric of things we did together.
I suppose it's silly, but we hold to our traditions. It's just one more of the things that gets us working together and creating and building memories.
*The toffee recipe:
2 sticks (1 cup) butter ( has to be real butter) 1 cup brown sugar 1 stack of saltine crackers 1 bag of chocolate chips (we use Ghirardelli or any kind--Nestle etc) chopped pecans
*Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. *Line a jelly roll pan with foil, and spray with Pam. Lay the saltine crackers in a single layer in the pan to cover it up. *In a large pot, combine butter and brown sugar. Heat 'til the butter melts, and then the mix starts to boil, and let boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour this mix over all the saltine crackers in the pan. *Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
*Remove from oven, and place the toffee on a cooling rack. Immediately, pour the bag of chocolates over the toffee. Let it sit for a minute or so until it softens; then spread the chocolate with a spatula to cover. Immediately, pour the chopped nuts over the chocolate and let the whole thing cool for several hours. Then, simply cut or break into pieces and enjoy. Freezes for 3 months in an air-tight container, but ours never last that long!
This evening, I did some holiday baking, and made these "Cappuccino Love Bites." They're laced with Kahlua and rolled in coffee crystals for extra flavor. Not half bad, and kind of festive.
I spent part of the day writing out Christmas cards today, because...well, because I still like sending and receiving cards and letters in the mail, so I guess I'm just old-school when it comes to things like that.
No more ice or sleet, and the sun was out today, so it's back to work Monday.
In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok you would never see him doing such a thing, tossing the dry snow over a mountain of his bare, round shoulder, his hair tied in a knot, a model of concentration.
Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word for what he does, or does not do.
Even the season is wrong for him. In all his manifestations, is it not warm or slightly humid? Is this not implied by his serene expression, that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?
But here we are, working our way down the driveway, one shovelful at a time. We toss the light powder into the clear air. We feel the cold mist on our faces. And with every heave we disappear and become lost to each other in these sudden clouds of our own making, these fountain-bursts of snow.
This is so much better than a sermon in church, I say, out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling. This is the true religion, the religion of snow, and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky, I say, but he is too busy to hear me.
He has thrown himself into shoveling snow as if it were the purpose of existence, as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway you could back the car down easily and drive off into the vanities of the world with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.
All morning long we work side by side, me with my commentary and he inside his generous pocket of silence, until the hour is nearly noon and the snow is piled high all around us; then, I hear him speak.
After this, he asks can we go inside and play cards?
Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table while you shuffle the deck and our boots stand dripping by the door.
Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes and leaning for a moment on his shovel before he drives the thin blade again deep into the glittering white snow.
Over the years, like so many families, when we were growing up, we endured the tortuous ritual of trying to come up with a photo for the annual family Christmas card. My parents were never in the card themselves; it was always "us." Initially, I suppose it was just Mary Kate. Then, Mary Kate and Sue. For quite some time, it was MK, Sue and Claudia.
Eddie came along 5 years later, and things were never quite the same ever again. (Above are Mary Kate and Sue, "the early years.") This wasn't an actual card, I'd venture to guess, but it was obviously the beginning,...at least for me.
We have lots of stray photos of the "rejects," which I actually enjoy more than the ones that were ultimately selected to grace cards. Judging from our sizes, and the attempts at decorations artfully surrounding us, I think the photo above and below here were during the same session, which means, brave parents that they were, that it also involved a changing of the clothes.
How my parents dealt with the frustrations of trying to capture all of us actually looking into the camera, with our eyes open, and not eating objects, in a pose that wasn't just god-awful to begin with, all in one photo, is beyond me.
As kids, we dreaded it each year: we knew it was going to take a substantial amount of time posing, and at that age, kids can't fathom time anyway, so it seemed to go on ad infinitum.
I'm still in awe that we ever came up with photos of us smiling at all, and without red eyes from the ordeal. The photo below, which I think I've posted before, (sorry!) was the year Eddie arrived. I distinctly remember my Scottish grandmother teaching us all to stand around the bassinet when he was born, and announce, "Welcome to your new home, Edward Anthony Schmidt." Yes, we actually practiced that.
One year, when he was very small, I can remember my parents giving Eddie a cookie to hold in a desperate attempt to engage his attention for the duration. Somewhere, there exist many pictures of him and his smeary hands and cheeks as he sort of mushed the cookie until it dissolved into oblivion.
I was reminded of all this impertinent tomfoolery last night, when Joe announced that "we have to take our Christmas photo of the two of us by the tree."
When I was a small child, I remember one Christmas, before my brother was born, when my sisters and I were invited to create a gingerbread house with Mrs. Louzac, a kind and energetic neighbor who lived down the street from us. We only lived in this neighborhood until I was 7 years old, but I have vivid memories of some of our neighbors to this day.
Mrs. Louzac was the same woman who let us wear her old high-heeled shoes that were miles too big for our feet, both in length and width, when we played dress-up in the neighborhood.
Unlike my own mother, she would let us teeter about on her shoes, imagining we were glamourous grown-ups as we hobbled in them with our ankle socks, navigating down the tilted, slate gray sidewalks that buckled over the roots of aging trees on our block. (Our normal shoes were clumsy, wine-colored, lace-up, "corrective" shoes, for some obscure manner of strange foot ailments: pigeon toes, bow-leggedness, or what have you.) So sneaking about in stilettos was daring for us; we certainly didn't want our mother to catch us, or to have her discover that we were temporarily abandoning her proactive measures to assure our proper foot growth.)
But at Christmas time, I vividly remember walking tentatively for the first time up the steep steps to Mrs. Louzac's kitchen, and watching, in awe, as a magical house began to emerge from the rubble of baked gingerbread sheets she deftly placed together on her table. She had obviously done this before. I remember her joy and laughter as she busied herself with all the bits and bobs that such an undertaking necessitated.
There were ribbon candies for us to use for fences around the property, and a white marshmallowy substance for a blanket of snow. M&M's lined up like so many little soldiers, ready to serve as a rooftop; lollipops became trees; and gumdrops magically transformed into shrubs by the front door.
Our grandmothers had both contributed to our sweet teeth with their respective Oatmeal and Toll House cookie offerings over the years, and we were literally kids in a candy store, transported by all the paraphernalia available before us for the purposes of this grand estate we were creating.
I do recall, however, being very disappointed when I ultimately learned that all these goodies would wind up being exclusively for display, but not consumption.
"Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us." (--Oscar Wilde)
Every Christmas, I read it again: the language is so rich, and it always reminds me of conversations with her. It also calls to mind my own childhood, listening to my extremely loquacious Scottish grandmother's elaborate stories. So here are a few lines from it for my mom. I know she'd be smiling:
"Always on Christmas night there was music. An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang "Cherry Ripe," and another uncle sang "Drake's Drum." It was very warm in the little house. Auntie Hannah, who had got onto the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird's Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed. Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights of the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept."
Well, Joe and I decided that tonight was the night for our annual "go look at the Christmas lights" foray into the cold night, when we bundle up and head out with camera to hand, and capture the holiday lights in the surrounding 'hood.
Traditionalist that I evidently am, I love the house above, with all its wreaths and simple spotlights. It's one of my favorite houses. Here's another shot that shows where it has an additional section to the left of this photo, with a big tree all lit up in the front window:
Many of the homes are as tasteful and lovely as this...
...but while I really like that house, I have to admit, for sheer entertainment, I find it irresistible when we look directly across from a house like that one and see this:
One can only ponder what these neighbors must think of each other with such vastly different tastes, eh? These folks went to the Chevy Chase "Christmas Vacation" school of decorating, I think.
(I noticed a few vacant spots there...one can only hope that next year, they'll fill those in and take care of that!)
And for some folks, it's absolutely de rigeur to have palm trees out front when the temps are in the teens:
I always enjoy our jaunts out to catch the holiday displays throughout the town. One man who met us outside his neon-lights-are-bright explosion of color said, ever so seriously, "I don't want to go overboard or anything like that."
Seriously, some of these places look like they might as well put "Budweiser" signs out front. Why the hell not?
One home even had a lake, with trees reflecting on the water, which was actually kind of pretty:
And a few just couldn't get enough strands of lights on every one of their trees:
It's one of my favorite things to do this time of year, as we drank mugs of hot cider and enjoyed the tour. I took lots of photos of the elegant, stately homes, like the ones below, that are also pretty spectactular, but I had to include some of these others as well--you just wouldn't have believed me otherwise...
Another holiday season's lights captured for posterity.
The entire time I was on the road for this last trip, I worried that I'd run into snow up in Massachusetts.
Lo and behold, it wasn't until my plane hovered over RTP that I wound up seeing any of the white stuff. We were almost re-routed to Nashville because the pilot couldn't see the runway. I'm glad he finally saw it.
I had to get a photo of this little bird as I was coming in the door at our front step last night. (see above)
This morning, I awoke, and looked out at the back deck to see my little friends greeting me...
...our violas are happily nestled in the snow, still perky and happy...and the bluebirds, welcoming me back home to the quiet and peace that a snowfall always seems to bring...
It's good to be home. Happy Weekend, folks!
(You must be so tired of my bluebirds, but I never tire of them!)
Aaaaah...the last night of the last day of the last recruiting trip for this fall: "It's a good thing." Calls for Room Service, oui? A hummus wrap with grilled asparagus, shredded carrots, jicama, baby spinach, spinach tortilla, and a navy bean salad. Hit the spot...
...and then, "just for ducks," a sweet little spray of flowers to celebrate. (How'd they know?!)
With the holidays approaching, there are different pieces of music that I habitually gravitate towards that have become traditions for me. My sister-in-law has given me several CD's of holiday mixes over the years, too, and they're fabulous--very eclectic mixes that just make me happy.
But some years ago, I was very fortunate to have the chance to hear Yo Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin in concert at North Carolina State University, and then, I got to see Bobby again a few years later, at the University of North Carolina. One of the pieces I heard these two collaborate on is "Ave Maria."
If you've ever had the opportunity to see McFerrin, you'll know what I mean when I say that he is incredibly talented, but he's just the essence of cool, too. No one else does what Bobby does: He often sings, a cappella,--but he doesn't sing the traditional melody itself; rather, he sings the instrumental portion of the piece he's presenting to you. In this instance, these two reversed the normal way of things: Yo Yo Ma played on his cello, what is traditionally the melody, and Bobby sang the instrumental portion of it: in other words, his voice becomes the cello, or the violin, or the flute, etc. His voice is the instrument.
A Bobby McFerrin concert always involves audience participation, as you'll see in this clip below. I was in an audience that sang Ave Maria right along with his solo accompaniment, and, like the rest of the audience, I don't even really know Ave Maria, to sing it on my own, but our combined efforts sounded beautiful under his tutelage. He divided us, with waving hands, into broad, sweeping sections, assigning each section a task, on the spot, and we obediently went right along with his direction. All I can say is: it was magical to be a part of it!
I couldn't find a good YouTube version of Yo Yo Ma/McFerrin together, but I am including one of McFerrin with a rapt audience. I wish the sound in this clip was better, because in concert, you hear McFerrin more clearly, but you get a pretty good idea of what he does, just the same.
So, if you've never heard Bobby do his thing, I really hope you take a few minutes to see him in action. And if you ever get a chance to hear him in person, DO IT! You will not regret it, trust me.