Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Perfect Breakfast

On a cold windy morning (or any morning), the perfect breakfast is porridge or oatmeal. (I love two kinds: Quaker and McCann's Irish Oatmeal). Tasting of the earth from which the grain grew, oatmeal is sort of like a favorite family blanket for the palate: familiar and new all at once. And when this guy serves it up, there's nothing on earth like it.

Note the huge 9-pound box, compliments of friends and Costco.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Korean Kindness

Today, I received a touching surprise in the mail: a package from a former student from Seoul, Republic of Korea, a kind and thoughtful young man.

The package itself was so beautiful and so well wrapped for its journey that I took pictures of each stage of opening: first the outer paper and tape; then bubble wrap; then beautiful gold and green silk with two sets of bows; then a traditional card; then paper with Korean language, old and new, tied with twine tipped with what looked like seed pods; then a lovely textured box; and finally a tea set in bubble wrap and fitted box.

I shall make green tea later this afternoon and think of gentle Hojin and his simple kindness, with love.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Healing Value of Art

Today, I tried to help a student with the draft of a college admissions essay. She had written the thoughts that spring to mind from observing a woman with a dog on a city street. She wrote about the Big Bang, chemistry, human thought and feelings, existence . . . all the biggies.

I couldn't help but be reminded of a painting in my living room, hanging directly over my most precious photographs of my parents, my brothers, my deceased sister-in-law, and my nephew's and my niece's families. The painting was created by an artist who lives here in Sewanee, a retired
lawyer and cotton farmer and dedicated tennis player. He paints nature and words.When I saw this painting on the Internet, I connected with it so powerfully that I drove to Nashville and bought it the next day. I believe, as did Pascal, that "Earth is but an atom in nature." I would add that I am but an atom on Earth.

Last night my friend Boo and I watched a remarkable, life-affirming film called Beyond Belief. Two 9.11 widows decided to abandon hate and embraced love instead. They raised money for Afghan widows and travel to Afghanistan to meet the women they helped. Those women, desperately poor in a society that offers women no freedom, were not only grateful but moved by the Americans' suffering. Suddenly, warring nations disappeared in the sympathies of loving individuals.

If only we could all remember that we are atoms connected by our nature. How much better each of us -- and the Earth -- would be.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Friendship, Family, Tradition, and Cookies

It's a good Christmas when the cookies are homemade. I had two kinds this Christmas.

First, my niece, two of my great-nieces, and I made Christmas cookies with my mother's red HRM plastic cutters. (I've blogged about these before, so I won't again.) My niece Jen made the dough and helped us cut out the cookies. Then she baked them. The next day, E and I painted some
cookies in the morning, and after lunch V and I decorated some more. V loved painting with the brushes, bright colors, and confectioner's sugar and cream. When studying the cookie cutters, she announced that she was afraid of the witch (there are a gingerbread house, witch, and Gretel; Hansel disappeared years ago). However, when we cut the cookies, she made two witches, and when we decorated, she insisted that she paint both witches, which she left for Santa before going to bed.
Christmas Eve afternoon, I visited my friend Betsy, her sister Mary, and their father. Just about Every Christmas I can remember, at least from 10th grade on, Betsy sneaked into the basement of my childhood home when no one was there and left a tin of homemade, decorated sugar cookies. Even after every one had grown and gone, she continued the tradition until my father and his second wife moved elsewhere. Hers was a true gift of friendship, a sign of which was evident in two of her gifts this year: one to E and V about cookies and one to me, Robert Sabuda's pop-up book, Cookie Count: A Tasty Pop-Up.A surprisingly sweet holiday, indeed, thanks to friendship, family, tradition, and cookies.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Fashionable Family

It's hard not to impressed by a child's fashion, fashion-sense, and clothing confidence.

This is my three-year-old grand-niece, V.
As V enjoys her dinner of pasta, peas, and milk, she studies a children's clothing catalog as would any retailer, designer, or wealthy young woman in search of the latest and hottest new thing. V's concentration is as intense as my peers' was during our doctoral examinations.

This is my grand-niece E, V's five-year-old sister.
Her apparel displays such invention and flair in its happy combination of reds and pinks, textures and patterns that one suspects E could easily appear in the New York Times column "On the Street."

I give these girls props!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Letterpress Cards

Just the other day I encountered an editorial by someone criticizing folks for using Christmas cards without religious scenes and messages. The speaker said it was a recent phenomenon and blamed the "secularization" of the culture for this breach of religious faith.

I found the comment an odd one, given that my parents made our Christmas cards, beginning in the early 1940s. Good Episcopalians both, their cards featured the family, even our pets. The oldest card I have shows my brothers in a small boat, fishing. Some time ago, I wrote about another showing my brothers and me dressed as angelic choir members.

Among the cards I've received this year is a beautiful one from a good friend who enclosed tiny notes made by Yee-Haw Industries. Cathy knows that I love design, paper, and letterpress, and she knows that I appreciate her thoughtfully selected remembrance.

Surely hers is a message filled with the spirit of the season.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Yard

Each Christmas, a fellow on Kennerly decorates his yard with numerous plastic figures and lights. (He does the same at Halloween, as an earlier post demonstrates.) Today I drove by just to look and snap a few pictures. As I took the third photograph, he came down to the street, crossed it, introduced himself, shook my hand, and asked if I could send him a picture. I wish I could, but I don't print: I just shoot and upload.
Perhaps this year, I can.

I think I will.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Sunday Drive

This afternoon, I joined my friend Jill on a drive to pick up some of her quilts from a lady with a long-arm sewing machine. We drove into the country, along roads I'd never seen. If we'd not had a purpose for the drive, my father and mother would have called it "hilling and daling," a Sunday drive to take in the sights. And take them in we did. The drive was absolutely beautiful: woods and farms and the entrance to The Walls of Jericho and an apple orchard and deer processing homes and lakes like pock marks in blowing dry grass the color of honey.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


My hands, at times, are not my hands: they are my mother's hands and my father's hands and my brothers' hands. Sewing a book, I study simultaneously the page and the thread and my hands, freckled, aging, winter-crackled, scarred, the tiny triangular striations of what Annie Dillard called the topopgraphy of her then much-younger mother, the family fingers -- sturdy and short -- and the hint of an age spot surfacing, and I wonder, How have I grown so old?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fog Happens and So Does Chili

An acquaintance said yesterday that there can be too much fog, or as a college t-shirt says, "Fog Happens." Often, it seems, in Sewanee.

For more days than I can count, fog has happened. Personally, I love it, and I also love the opportunities it affords for comfort -- tea and scones, a good book and quilt, a long nap, some quiet time spent bookbinding, taking photographs for a neighbor (who refers to me as her "spy"), a good Netflix movie during the day, and making a sustaining dish.

That's what I did: I made chicken white bean chili from an Internet recipe. Sustaining it is, and warm with jalapenos, and pleasing to the eye as well as the palate.
Here's to the fog and the lovely things it inspires.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Book Browsing

Far more enjoyable than fancy store window shopping is bookstore browsing, a hobby in which I've indulged for years.

When I was a child, my mother took me to two small bookstores, one in Five Points South (Mrs. Agee's?) in one of the old Munger buildings next to a bakery (where the Munger home had been) and the other in Mountain Brook Village (Book Keepers). In either place, I sat happily on the floor with words and images while my mother shopped herself.

As a teen, I preferred Smith and Hardwick downtown, where the Misses Praytor held court. (Secretly, I harbored an ambition: I wanted to be a Miss Praytor!) A dark, dingy bookstore with a shaky loft accessible up narrow metal steps, the shop had serious literature. I looked through many Modern Library editions of William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe (whose mother's boarding house and whose angel I saw each summer in Asheville) and Eudora Welty's short stories. There I fell hard for Evelyn Waugh and for the romance of owning a bookstore. I read bits of plays by Shakespeare and Moliere, and I listened to overheard conversations between the two ladies and their customers.

In Denver, I loved study breaks spent at The Tattered Cover, where I especially enjoyed fingering through the huge drama/theatre and travel sections. I also spent time with the children's books, especially picture books.

In New Orleans, I spent whole Saturdays visiting bookstores. I'd begin at Mary Price's store on Magazine, Beaucoup Books, with selections by writers who were new and literally foreign. She sold an especially strong selection of travel and nature literature. Then I'd make my way to Garden District Book Shop, where art books ruled, along with Anne Rice's fiction. If I had the energy, I'd head downtown to the large chain bookstore just uptown of Jackson Square, one of the first chain stores featuring music as well as books. It was so large that it took a couple of hours to wander through before heading again uptown to Rhoda's Maple Street Book Shop and the separate children's book shop next door. Rhoda's store, with its wacky off-level floors and shelves, held more paperbacks crammed floor to ceiling, door-to-door than I'd ever seen before or I've ever seen since. Tulane professors and uptown readers mingled and sat. I always began in the same section in the back with travel books and slowly made my way up front before heading next door.

Finally, I'd drag home.

Now I have one local bookstore for browsing -- a Barnes and Noble college store with a terrific selection of literature, many college-emblem gifts, and textbooks. The store isn't as grand as some I've enjoyed in the past, but it's still a satisfying jaunt, especially on a rainy day like this one. Sections that beckon are the children's books in the left corner, fiction and poetry from the middle to the left where mystery, sci-fi and nonfiction take over, and just left of middle along the back wall, books by local authors -- ranging from college histories to academic treatises to children's books. It's a friendly store where Harry Potter celebrations are held and local celebrity authors mingle equally comfortably.

The long and short of it is this: I'm a bookstore junkie and always have been. There are worse addictions.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Christmas Book, Part II

In an earlier post, I described my Christmas book tradition. Starting with the first of the "great", the oldest of whom is now five, I have made a special illustrated book each year for Christmas. It's the big present for the greats. I have now finished making the books and am sewing them.

There is such satisfaction from a project of the head and hands. First, I must think of something to write about that I think family will want
forever. Then I have to draft and revise, draft and revise, . . . until I have a felt sense that I'm on to something. Then I plan the book pages (size and contents and basic design with font, colors, and the like), make images (this year I'm using photographs, maps, and some Internet sources), create pages, lay them out, print, and revise, print, and revise . . . again and again until I have that satisfying felt sense. Then I hand-tear the pages to size and print the final pages, finally folding them together and nesting them into signatures.

Next, I cut the boards, making sure to change blades often so I don't strain in the cutting and snaggle the edges. Then I select the papers (inside and out, including end papers) and book cloth, cut all to size, glue, and lie them down flat under uniform weight till all covers are dry (usually overnight). Meantime, I make a template for poking holes in the signatures (sets of pages) and then use a sewing cradle and awl to make the holes.

Once the boards are flat and dry, I must make the sewing holes in those as well. Using the same template I used for the pages (I've labeled the inside with "T" for top), I mark the front spine about 1/4" in from the edge. I use an awl to mark the placement of each sewing hole. I break out my trusty Dremel tool with which I drill holes in the cover and then, using the cover as a template, drill through those holes into the back cover.

Finally, I sew. I try to choose a contrasting thread that complements the book cloth and covers. This year, I've used red, green, and blue as the recurring cover colors because they match the print of the pages themselves. I also made a decision to match the end papers, using a beautiful green crinkly paper with gold pattern.

The making of these books is a bit like meditation, nourishing in much the same way, and the giving is equally so. At a quiet time on Christmas morning, when the children have opened and played with their toys and begin to settle from the Santa rush, I hand-deliver the books to all at once and sit back for the real pleasure: I watch my beloved niece and husband and beloved nephew and wife cuddle their children and read the books to all.

And sometimes, I cry.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Bridge

In an earlier post about the tiny white lights on my house, I mentioned the living room fireplace of my childhood. Around it were white tiles with green family scenes my mother painted and then fired in small basement kiln. I also mentioned the heavy table my father made for me, the top of which features six of those tiles. I love one of them in particular. My great-niece E is just about the age I was when my mother made this tile.If I wanted to wander, I was free to roam the woods behind the house or the creek running along the front of the property and streaming below the bridge, but I was never to go beyond the bridge. It was more than a limit, however: it was a kind of window on the world.

In second grade, when I had chickenpox, I sat on the bridge for hours and wrote down every license tag number of a passing car. I still don't know why, but I was fascinated that so many people passed during the day and I wondered where they were going and where they had gone, and why.

At Christmas, I stood on the bridge and helped my mother usher children into the light so they could call to Santa. Sometimes, I stood on the steps of the glassed-in porch and gazed at the white lights of the Christmas tree and the white lights beyond, strung along the bridge rails, and unfocused my eyes, imagining myself afloat among stars like The Little Prince.

After my mother read me the Winnie-the-Pooh books, I played Poohsticks, sometimes with a neighbor friend, sometimes alone.

I always liked leaning and looking, at first through the rails and then slowly over them. Looking up the creek from the vantage point of the bridge, I could see the Santa rock and the house out of the corner of my right eye, the lip of the landing before Mother's grotto garden and my whale rock across the creek, and the tree canopy shading both.

I loved the noting, the leaning and the looking, and still do.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Perfect Vegetable

The butter bean (or lima bean) is the perfect vegetable: a sinously curved green packet of buttery beauty for the eye and palate. Perfectly cooked, they offer softness but not smushiness, so that I must bite through thin skin to soft inside. A little salt and more pepper and a dot of butter complement the beany flavor, both sweet and earthy.

The butter bean reminds me of sitting with Lucille, the woman who worked for my family for more than 25 years, on the back stoop, slitting their pods with fingernails and popping out the little suitcases, their plopping into a large metal bowl promising deliciousness at dinner.

As a meal into themselves, their soft greeness bordering on pale yellow, they heap comfortably on a white plate. When I eat butter beans with a slice of buttered white bread as their complement, the child in me re-emerges and I taste home.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Creative Energy

Yesterday, I spent all morning and early afternoon with Greg, a new friend and photographer. We talked about faith and feminism, art and creativity, old lives and new beginnings.

Curiously, his enjoyable visit provided the exact spark I needed to complete my annual Christmas book for "The Greats" -- three great-nieces and one great-nephew. (Purists might insist on saying grand-niece and so on, but grand sounds presumptuous and great is what each child is.)

Yesterday, I worked from 1 pm till 7:15 pm, when my friend Boo and I watched a movie. Home again, I continued working from about 10:30 pm to 1:00 am. Today, I worked from 9 am to 7 pm. Some of the evidence of my efforts flow over the lip of my study trash bin. I like seeing the evidence from the corner of my eye, and I like the slight ache in my hands and back.
These little signs point to the creative energy I embrace.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Moon Splash

Tonight, the moon knifes through leafless branches, splashing flat white light on frozen ground and stars (really do) burn silver in a black sky. I walk outside, drawn by the light, brighter than dawn's this morning, and look up, the branches fingering sky, twisting in ghostly shadows like El Greco's flaming brush strokes.

Sewanee flames black, white, silver.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Christmas Book

For five years now, I've made a book for my great-nieces' and nephew's Christmas present. Of the four books I've made so far, two are family stories and two are about animals (cats in New Orleans and wild animals in Sewanee).

This year's book focuses on their names and their family histories. As a result, I've done a lot of research, especially about the Coulbourns (also spelled Coulbourne) of the Delmarva Peninsula on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. My mother's mother was a Coulbourn, a descendent of a long line of Anglican Marylanders tracing their family back to the first William Coulbourn who came to America in the early 17th century. She was even born in the Coulbourn(e) family 1820 house (it still stands) on 400+ acres of the original 1400+ acre property (on which an earlier house stood) deeded to William after he left Virginia, having been found guilty of consorting with Quakers.

Among many online documents are William Coulbourn's 1689 will and estate inventory, listing three shirts, three pairs of drawers, two pairs of britches, three pairs of stockings, two pairs of shoes, three swords, two guns, six books, a looking glass, six oxen, eleven cows and calves, two horses, two sows, six hogs, twelve ewes, thirteen lambs, five feather beds and two blankets, two sets of window curtains, and other household goods. In his will, he bequeaths five slaves to various family members. Even though his inventory seems meager by today's material standards, when he died he was among the richest men in Somerset County. His wealth, valued at 255 pounds sterling, was higher than that of all but two other men.

What I have discovered, beyond the things of his life, are these revealing and contradictory details: he was a Quaker sympathizer who freely broke religious laws but supported the king and owned slaves; he was a sheriff
who signed one of the first peace treaties with the Nanticoke Indians; he was a self-made man who died wealthy; and his name lives on in hundreds of families along the Eastern Shore and throughout the United States.
As I read about him, I think about my grandmother Dear, who told me her family stories about the Coulbourns and the Roaches (another Eastern Shore family from whom she descended), the family homes Pomfret and Makepeace, and her forebears and cousins (including Margaret Mitchell of Gone with the Wind fame). I find myself wishing I had listened more carefully, but children rarely do. That's why I decided to give family history to the children for Christmas. Some day they will have what I don't: a gift of memory.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wonder Cave

After lunch in Manchester with a friend, I drove home the long way, only because I had the time and needed the space.

Following, at a distance, the line of the plateau, I drove through farms
and what-used-to-be communities like Valley Home, where the abandoned school sits still along the old Highway. Nearby is Wonder Cave, now locked tight, too, its wonders hidden behind an intimidating metal gate with large locks.
I remember going to Wonder Cave, once, with my family when I was a little girl. I remember only a few things: the darkness when the light went off, the damp cool, the strange formations. I went to other commercial caves as well -- Dixie Caverns in Virginia and Ruby Falls in Chattanooga. But somehow it's Wonder Cave I think about, maybe because of the name, maybe because I see the sign in passing, maybe because I only think I remember it, maybe because it points to hidden treasures always just out of sight.

A website called Images from Nostalgiaville: Tennessee -- Grundy County says this about Wonder Cave:

Pelham TN 37366
Located in Pelham Valley at foot of Monteagle Mountain on Hwy 41
Discovered by three Vanderbilt University students in 1897
R M Payne purchased property in early 1900’s
Helped pass a law making it illegal to deface cave formations, 1909
Early visitors entered cave in flat bottom boats
A large entrance hole was blasted in rock face in early 1900’s
Boat trips were abandoned, 1917
River that runs through cave called Mystic, because its source has not been
River is blocked by an ancient rock fall nine miles into the cave
Only one mile of the cave’s 15 mile length is open to the public
Over two million visitors have seen cave since 1897
Temperature in cave is a constant 56 degrees F
Know for its onyx formations
Listed as a Tennessee Backroads Heritage site

Now my niece is married to man (is he my nephew-in-law?) who is a dedicated and daring spelunker, the kind who "opens" new caves by exploring what has hitherto been unknown. He repels into darkness without knowing what's there. His daring is a kind of courage, I suppose, that can serve as a metaphor for daily living.

Me, I'd rather see wonders whose safety I don't question. I'm just sorry that this cave's wonders are now permanently off-limits.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The In-Between Season

Every season has its own beauty, especially the in-between ones. We're in an in-between season now: it's not really fall, although most of the leaves have fallen, and it's not really winter yet, although it has already snowed twice, once even enough to blanket everything and stay put for two days. This is like limbo, a waiting season before hibernation, when trees and plants and animals and sometimes even people retreat and anticipate the warmth and renewal of spring.

Instead of anticipating what's to come, I revel in what's here now and what I remember of other in-between seasons years ago.

As a child, I leapt into leaves raked by my father into large piles, covered myself with them, lay back and inhaled their woodsy-chipped aroma, their brittle crunch making a kind of brittle ear pillow. I walked through the woods behind our house, rat-a-tat-tatting the leaf-strewn ground, chirruping a response. I wandered the creek where leaves stuffed what might have been waterfalls and eddies. I encouraged my cat Friday, a marmalade stripe, to jump into the leaves so deeply that only her ears gave her away. I picked at the leaf-bits clinging to my dungarees, charmed by the sharpness of mere flakes.

Today, on my way home from village errands, I remembered my leaf joy and marveled at the browning landscape and the play of sunlight darting among resting trees.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Different Drummer

One of my favorite books is Walden by Henry David Thoreau, a strange man from all accounts. A New Englander by birth and a difficult person by nature, Thoreau wrote beautifully about the physical environment without and the mental/spiritual environment within, two subjects that fascinate me (and always have). Among many other things he wrote in his famous book is this: "If a man does not keep with the pace of his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

It's not easy being a different drummer, but people need to hear a different drummer's music even if they don't or can't step to it.

My friend Mike is such a drummer. An art teacher (and former science teacher) at a conservative private school, he visited today and gifted me with a PVC flute and a sheet of directions. He has crafted more than 300 of these instruments for a Chapel talk tomorrow morning, in which he intends to wax eloquent about his Burning Man (he's going to wear a lit candle on his head) this past summer and about his belief that there's more than the One Truth to which many of his students and fellow faculty adhere. When he opens his long white robe, 300+ flutes will fall out, so everyone will leave with one means of making his or her own music.

Mike certainly makes his own music: he wears a long ponytail most men shaved off before the '70s ended and sports beautifully complicated Saipan tatoos from hips to ankles, compliments of his own tatooing. He likes to push buttons. He used to make clay dinosaurs, and before that he played Professor P. T. Pickens on a children's TV show called Mrs. Cabobble's Caboose. Now he just clowns around for real.

Sometimes I worry that one of his pushed buttons will explode a bomb, but he never has that worry.

And that's a music I suspect I'll never be able to hear.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sewanee Studio Tour

Every year, during the college's Lessons and Carols weekend, some local artists/craftspeople open their studios to the public. This is my fourth year on the tour, and the work prior to the weekend is always involved -- in making books, in cleaning the house, and in setting up my wares. At about five till eleven this morning, I was worried that the crowd would be thin: I had not had a single visitor. At 11:00 folks wandered in and kept wandering in till my last guest, Laura, arrived around quarter of four.

I sold some books, and I talked to some friends, and I met and spoke with some strangers, all of whom I enjoyed. With one, I talked about cats and moving, with another (a neighbor up the street) about the albino goat she saw one night crossing my street in a heavy fog, with another about their daughter and my former student who loves Hollins and is taking a bookbinding course this January, with others -- two men -- the pleasures of living in the country (one in south Alabama and the other in upstate New York), with three women from Huntsville the challenges of teaching as a profession, with another about my oldest brother who had been her high school friend, and with Laura a conversation that ranged from our job searches to a wonderful outsider artist living here in Sewanee to the challenges of special children to her book about hunger and spirituality and to artists' trading cards.

Even had I not sold a single book, it has been a banner day, with open hearts and open hands. Thanks to my guests, all.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas Present

My first Christmas card has arrived: E and V with a Happy Holidays wish. Life is grand for five-year-old and three-year-old girls, whose genuine smiles and loving hearts and sisterhood shine in the photograph.
I look at them and see their father and his sister when they were children, and in them I see their Pops, my brother, and in him I see my father.

The Lion King animals celebrate the circle of life, and I suppose I do, too, though it's strange now to be a member of the oldest generation. Not frightening exactly, but discomfiting at the least.

Looking at these faces, I envy the living-in-the-minute experience of these two girls, one of whom wrote that "God is all the people who love me." I'm one of them, and that makes me part of God. E's is truly an awesome Christmas gift.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Past

Christmas is a complicated time, shadowed by joy and tradition and death and mourning.

In childhood, it was a magical time of Christmas cookies iced at the breakfast room table and of Daddy playing Santa. It was also Christmas
Eve service at 11 pm, for which it was difficult to stay awake, and Great Aunt Tante (who ate more slowly than anyone I've ever know) and Geat Uncle Harry (who unwrapped presents without ever tearing the paper) and the Andersons and a lovely party at the Hendons' house next door, at which every person, adult and child, received a special gift.

When I was sixteen, Christmas became forever fixed to my mother's death just three weeks earlier. I remember that day only vaguely, but I do remember this: Lucille Wynne, who worked for my family as a
housekeeper for many many years, came to be with us all day. She joined us on the glassed-in front porch when we opened presents and she baked our turkey. She became my surrogate mother who taught me about dignity and racial equality and compassion.

Later still, Christmas was filled with my brother's children: Davies, who pulled down the tree and who wore Eatherley's tutu and twirled in the living room on Sterling Road and who once ate nine helpings of lamb, and
Eatherley who charmed all the men and women alike with her glorious, flirtatious smile and gleeful pleasure in her toys (I especially remember her making designs with colored balls on a board that then lit up; I think it was called Lite Brite). I was there when Santa visited their house in the night and there when D&E awoke and we all ate "pinch cake." (Years later, as an adult, my niece said, "It's not Christmas unless you're here when we wake up!" This year, my great niece asked, "Can we make Christmas cookies?")

Four years ago, Christmas brought my father to a nursing home after a legal fight for custody, which my brother won. On Christmas Day, all of the family --
except my oldest brother who was not in Birmingham -- visited Daddy at St. Martin's. Although he had scored zero on a cognition test with a highest score of thirty, we all believed he recognized us -- David, Eatherley (pregnant with C), Jen with E, Brenda, Davies, Owen, me, and Daddy. It was a bittersweet visit. Only a few weeks later, Daddy died in his sleep.

And now, another loss marks Christmas with Brenda's death in late October last year. Forty-one years married to my brother, she was an anchor in our family whose sudden death shocked us all and palled last year's holidays.

This year, my brother has a new wife and a new house underway and there are now four family children for Santa to visit.

I look at this picture and I see the history of a family and an emblem of the season: the promise of new life and the certainty of its end, not necessarily a sad realization but a melancholic one indeed.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What To Do in Snow

1. Open the front door and admire. Take a picture.2. Open the back door and admire. Take a picture.
3. Grind the beans and make coffee.

4. Take pills.

5. Turn on the computer.

6. Look for the cat. Find her under a quilt. Admire her intelligence.
7. Download photos.

8. Compose blog and upload pictures.

9. Pour the coffee.

10. Sit in the living room, gaze out the windows, and admire.