Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Music of the Past

I don't know when I first heard it, but I know when I last heard it: just now on PBS, thanks to The New York Philharmonic, live. Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring is for me the rare musical composition that takes my attention, fully. So beautiful, so evocative, I can smell the mildewy rain of the undergrowth in North Carolina. You will too.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Something Beautiful

In her picture book Something Beautiful, Sharon Dennis Wyeth celebrates minor miracles of visual and spiritual perspective. After seeing the word "beautiful" on the classroom blackboard, the child looks for something beautiful in her graffiti- and trash-strewn urban neighborhood. Neighbors tell her about their beautiful things; she eats a beautiful sandwich; she sees beautiful broken glass in the dirt. She discovers beauty everywhere once she learns to look.

On her website, Wyeth writes, "I have a special object at home. I call it my something beautiful. It's a pitcher that used to belong to my mother. She gave it to me when I was a child. When I look at this object, it makes me think of my mom and how much she loved me. It also makes me remember growing up in my old neighborhood. My something beautiful object gave me the idea for my picture book Something Beautiful. In the book, everyone has something beautiful in his or her life."

When Eliska and I walked after Christmas, she with her sister's camera and I with mine, we searched out somethings beautiful -- berries on the mailbox, ivy, camellias, rose buds, leaves, a
stained blass butterfly in a triangular window, two gentle dogs, Eliska and her sister Virginia, who joined us. All the things we snapped were beautiful, but for me one is particularly memorable: a water meter cover.

When Eliska and Virginia asked why I was bending over, shooting and shooting, I answered, "The patterns! I love the patterns! Look!" and they did. I pointed out each of the patterns thrown into light and shadow, as were they and I, and we all made a special pattern of concentration.

That was beautiful, too.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter's Bloom

The camellia struts its stuff in December, daring the season's celebrations in outrageous size, color, and bravado. This one -- more gaudy than any yard's Christmas lights and more genuine -- bursts from the cold darkness of winter, bearing brilliant light.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Country" Cousins

Sometimes an email arrives unexpectedly with the sudden tangibility of loved memory -- like the message today from Elizabeth, one of my "country" first cousins. Pictured here with Ruth, I'd know them anywhere even though I haven't seen them in years. "Twin," I used to call each of them, to needle them despite always being able to tell one from the other. Now Ruth looks so much like our mothers' families that I see her mother and mine and our mothers' mother in her face.

In childhood, their parents moved the family clan to Eutaw, Alabama, where, on occasion, we visited. I remember the circular pebble drive; the brick-and-white-columned, central-hall house; the high ceilings and black-dirt heat; the pecan trees (how delicious the big bag was at Christmas) and old chicken coops; and the tales of cows and hunting and trucks, such romantic mysteries to me. The sleepy town square and the antebellum homes, some grand and others failing, the unrest between white and black citizens in the era of the Civil Rights struggle -- all were part of my imagined "country cousin" life. I remember as well my Aunt Ellen's deep voice and rolling laugh, my Uncle Mack's freckled crown and red-brown eyes, the kids everywhere (there were six in their family). I loved going to visit and play with my exotic kin raised far away from the big city suburban life I knew.

How welcome Elizabeth's email with her references to Roanoke where our grandparents began and ended their lives and to my father's Christmas-time Santa Claus. How beautiful she and Ruth are. How strong are the memories and the family bond still. How healing and joyous the Internet can be.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


It's easy to lose focus when concentrating on the wrong thing.

Take this picture, for instance: I kept looking at the light beyond the camera rather than at the camera's settings. Sometimes I can't enjoy both the real thing and the photographed thing at the same time.

Lived experience deserves its own special concentration; so too relived experience, its own.
Learning when and how to focus on what: that's the trick.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


The impulse to build things runs in the family. Witness, the Lego ice cream store my nephew and his 6-year-old daughter constructed while my niece-in-law and I went for a walk.

I wish I had been given a manipulable construction toy in my childhood. A brother in my family received an Erector set one Christmas, and my father made a short wave radio from a set. The closest I ever got to something similar was a chemistry set so basic that I couldn't even make an explosion, try as I did.

How lucky The Greats are to live when gender need not determine interest in creating things requiring an engineer's mind. The granddaughter of two engineers and great-granddaughter of another may have made an ice cream store instead of a Star Wars ship, but the point is that she made it with her father.

Who knows what's next?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Cheer

Sometimes Christmas cheer means celebrating with the familiar, not just the new. Old gifts of sisterhood and swings are mighty good still.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Paper Tree

Who says the tree has to be fresh? What is "fresh" anyway? Is a tree cut, trucked from Michigan or Minnesota, and purchased at a Christmas lot "fresh"? Betsy's gift of a paper tree is perfect for my modest celebration at home prior to a children-filled one starting today. This tree keeps on giving pleasure.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Turkey

The box says it all: a famous smoked turkey.

Even though the Joneses have sent me one for several years now, somehow I forgot, so its arrival took me by surprise. It's a famous turkey -- or, at least, the folks who smoked it are.

But I didn't know that the first year I received one. I took it to Birmingham for Christmas, to share with the family, celebrating their first Christmas without my sister-in-law. My nephew-in-law was so delighted he could hardly contain himself. Impressively, he got every single bit of meat off the bone, and I mean every single bit, with a knife.
I didn't do so well. I dismembered it as best I could (I love the direction: have your butcher . . . -- oh, if only there were a butcher up here), stored the parts wrapped in toil foil and placed in freezer bags. One sandwich today, happily, and then lovely turkey after the 26th.

The best part of the treat is the friendship of the family who gifted me. Three daughters -- all of whom I taught, all of whom love books and reading as much as their parents, all of them gifted themselves; one "little" brother now at a rival college as kicker on the football (which should bring parents here next season for the game); and one set of parents, both smart and funny and kind.

To them all, I say only what I can, Thank you for your kindness over these many years and for your continuing friendship.

Oh! And for the famous turkey!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Trees

The tall green-lit tree in front of Hallelujah Pottery shoots upward like a welcoming arrow anchored to earth but pointing heavenward to sky splattered with stars. I cannot capture its glory. I cannot name the joy it gives me. I cannot thank Shawnee and Gip enough for their Christmas gift to our small community.

Each year, their green tree roots me here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The First Christmas Book

sits open on my mantel once a year for about two weeks around Christmas.

When my oldest great-niece, who is now 6, was a year old, I wrote, illustrated, designed, and made a book for her to celebrate the tradition of Christmas in my family. I have written about that tradition before -- my father playing Santa and my mother's painting of Christmas cookies. I didn't know that book was only the first. I have created a new tradition of bookbinding for the four children, each of whom likes one book better than another.

When I look at the fireplace now, I see me at the youngest Great's age -- 3 -- and I see their parents as children and I see the four Greats. I remember my mother and father and marvel that they were children, too, once, and I am dumbstruck that my nephew is 40 already. As I have aged and as people I love have died -- some in old age and some too young -- I have held on to memories of youth.

I celebrate them in my books for the Greats, but perhaps even more so for me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

More on Beasties

I let the video speak for itself: these are the forebears of Ratz!

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Animalia addition: Ratz!

Julie's gift for smaller living sits comfortably in semi-dark as if listening or waiting. Just look at him: confident and cheerful, filled animated, gentle, humorous, curious. The tilt of his tiny head, the perky ears, the lifted tail -- all personalize him with the spirit that makes his maker so lovely.

The tilt of his tiny head, the perky ears, the lifted tail -- all personalize him with the spirit that makes his maker so lovely. He makes me smile. Does he make you smile, too?

Thank you, Julie, for inviting the community to make tiny creatures as a fund raiser for Heifer International, for giving me a little something because I could not be there, and for counting me a friend.

Merry Ratz Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Let It Snow!

We had rain today, lots of it, quickly.

But just east of us, my niece and her family had snow, lots of it, quickly. Twelve inches now and maybe three or four more tonight.

Where would I rather be? In Brevard, in the snow, with the Greats under their light-strung tree on the way to their neighbors' gingerbread party, then later at home, warming before a wood fire, cuddling, giggling, yawning, and reading.

I love the cold of snow and the heat of family.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Little Carolers

entered the shop, gathered round the counter, and sang "Jingle Bells," loud and proud as a teacher-friend once said. Their evident joy charmed me and the two young men waiting to complete their purchases. The girls and boys and their teacher Beth were happy to sing for us, happy to Ho-Ho-Ho on their way out the door, happy Santa is coming soon.

They made me happy, too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


A gift from Gay, the glass beads sparkle like hard candy Santa left at Christmas, swirled and dotted and bowed in primary colors.

"What are you going to do with them?" she asked, amused by my delight.

"Use them -- on books!" I answered.

I imagine cheerful closures, ribbons held in place by free beads, lozenges and orbs and cones against satin and paper, shimmering like Christmas lights and ornaments -- oh, the beads beg use.

Soon, soon.

Meanwhile, their cheery convocation smiles from the jar in my kitchen window.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Creature Comfort

A new pair of flannel pants makes my legs smile.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Romance of Fog

About fog:

glow chiaroscuro --

a Durer etching

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Wintry Day

Driving home from a warm visit with good friends in Bell Buckle, I feel winter set it: the chill, the wind, the spitting rain, the gray sky.

Turning to take the slow road through Roark's Cove, I glimpse Sewanee in what a brother calls the "saddle" atop the plateau. There I know my warm house, hot tea, bath, and flannel pants wait.

On this wintry day, I am glad to head home.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


from California!

Mandarins -- seedless, juicy, and sweet.

Even the labels stuck to their skin are cute. One says, Cuties: Seedless! Another says: Root for the Cute!

I'm rooting, all right, cutie juice running down my chin.

I pop a wedge in and wonder, What's the difference between a Mandarin and a Clementine? None as far as size and taste are concerned. At least none according to my palate.

Happily, I can look them up, so I do.

What I discover confirms what I taste: there are two varities -- Clementine mandarins and Murcott mandarins.

One of the websites says:

Cuties® are great because…
  • Seedless
  • Excellent quality
  • Easy to peel (zipper skin)
  • Super Sweet
  • Excellent source of Vitamin C
  • Naturally fat, cholesterol, sodium and trans fat free. Check out our nutrition label.
  • Snack-sized and portable
Another tells me, happily, that there are 143 days remaining in the Cutie season.

Hopeless Cutie fan: that's me!

Now if I can just figure out how to word-process and zip the skin at the same time . . . .

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An Unexpected Keepsake

I never knew my grandfather, the man for whom I named, and I barely knew my cousin Carl as an adult. The two now meld together in an unexpected gift from Carl's sister, my cousin Donald. The silver cigarette case says, "First Annual Jefferson County Golf Championship, Birmingham Country Club, Sept 1925, Runner Up 1st Flight, Robley C. Munger."

With all the scratch marks of use for almost 85 years, the case links me to blood-kin and over-the-sheets-family and to Donald, whose thoughtfulness in giving me something Carl enjoyed makes me love her anew.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Blaze of Trees

Several years ago, I read a poem with one memorable image -- fall trees blazing like matchsticks, flaming upwards rather than down.

I have no idea where I read the poem or who wrote it or what its title is. I have only this bit of memory.

But the image lives: I see flaming trees in fall and winter and feel the poem in my bones. How could I not when, making tea, I glimpse a poem blazing beyond the kitchen window?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mementos of Tradition

A short visit with a childhood friend, like snow on Saturday, offers a bracing change of weather.

For years, Betsy baked Christmas cookies, which she secretly delivered to friends' houses in round Christmas tins: stars, trees, bells -- all familiar shapes -- generously sprinkled with nonpareils, baked to a sugary snap better than any other's cookies. Even after we all left homes for other places, she always gifted my father with a tin, squirreled away inside the basement door on his workbench or at the foot of the steps. He loved those cookies.

So when I opened her present last night, it was with surprise. "This is like my father's horse-shoe-nail art," I exclaimed. She said, "It is!" The earrings, little splats of brass, daubs of metal with clips no woman would wear, and the decorative cross welded and buffed in that same basement where cookies waited each Christmas -- both make beautiful gifts. Like her visit and our conversation, they take me back to family connections, a kind of permanency now of mind rather than matter.

What lovely gifts, all the way round.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Studio Tour

Beth, a colleague and friend, visited for the annual Studio Tour today.

She arrived with an eco-sack of goodies -- a book on digital art, a crate of canned tomatoes, a bag of coffee, a pack of peppermint sticks, a packet of hot chocolate, an article about bookbinding, and a fabric card.

It sits now to my left, under the tensor light, reminding me of why I blog.

Thank you, Beth, for the reminder, and the gifts.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Heat Wave

Snow outside. Heat flickers up the gallery blocks, a warm wave lapping edges of shadow.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Making Things Others Probably Won't Buy

is not futile.

There is this joy: remembering the picture-taking; centering and affixing the photographs on the cards; folding and creasing them; aligning them along my dining table. Should no one want the cards, I will use them myself and enjoy them over and over and over again.Meanwhile, like all good company, they converse and entertain, shining in lamplit dark.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Welcome Visit

An eighth-grader when I taught her, Amelie is a professional woman now, just as lovely and lovable as she was that long time ago when we shared a classroom. Over eggs and coffee, we chatted easily about books and the news, her classmates and family, her professional and personal life.

Once I taught in a girls' school, and the girls return to memory often and sometimes in person. Their visits are always welcome.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Images, Technology, and Music: The Ballets Suedois and Les maries ...Robley Munger Hood's dissertation, "The Ballets Su├ędois: Modernism and the Painterly Stage," convincingly argues that the company was a "kind of ...

Searching the Internet for something quite different the other day, I came upon the above reference.
The shock of recognition was immediate, and my surprise even greater. Someone has actually read my dissertation and apparently had something complimentary to say about it. When I followed the link above, I discovered that the writer's article was published in The Musical Quarterly, for which I'd have to pay a fee if I wanted to read the rest of her comment.

Over the past several days, I have had other Internet lagniappes: communication with a distant over-the-sheets cousin about our ancestors and emails with another person who shares my unusual first name. I have enjoyed both virtual connections more than I might have expected and look forward to more of the same.

Plenty of folks complain about the depersonalization and isolation brought on by the Internet. My experience has been the opposite. I have been connected to relatives and possible relatives (a descendant of slaves with a family name), to former students in their 50s and still in their teens, and to friendly (carefully selected) strangers. Now, I have even been reconnected -- however marginally -- to the persona and scholar I once was.

How these unexpected miracles cheer me!

Image to follow when Blogger is working correctly.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Joe Obama

Though not usually a fan of lap dogs, I am smitten with Joe, the wiggle-worm, who squirms and shakes and scampers his way up the steps each day at The Lemon Fair when he and his human companion replace me for the afternoon. Who wouldn't be charmed by this enthusiastic bundle of fur with happy smile, sharp underbite, pink tongue, long silky hair, and trusting eyes?

Friday, November 20, 2009

That Light

is magic.

It's not Oxford, but on a late fall afternoon, it'll do.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Gossips in the Corner

look friendly from a distance but stink up close. Familiarity, even with ladybugs, breeds contempt.
Tomorrow, they're taking a little trip.

Outside, in dustbin.

Then let them do their deeds all they want -- somewhere else.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The True Bug

"What is that?" she said, entering the shop.

"A bug," her granddaughter responded.

I had to look.

Sure enough: a true bug.Armored, triangular-headed, leaf-footed, his wings camouflaged and folded tightly along the back, this prehistoric monster of a bug (at least an inch and a half long) almost sprinted up the screen to the top of the door. Before I could get a well focused shot, he shot straight up like a helicopter or the golden snitch in quidditch. I watched him soar across the street, gaining altitutude, until finally losing him as he buzzed above the bank. I found him online: species Acanthocephala declivis.

I read what I found, but I prefer what my entomologist friend emailed:

They are true bugs. Hemipterans (which means that 1/2 of their wings are sclerotized, and half membranous), and subgroup Coreidae. They have sucking mouthparts. All those homologous mouthparts that you saw in the grasshopper are modified in these bugs to make a straw-like mouth for piercing and sucking. Incomplete metamorphosis, because the young nymphs look like miniature adults, without wings.

I call them leaf-footed bugs, but they are surely close to the photo you sent.

Assassin bugs are in this group. Also kissing bugs. Kissing bugs carry Chagas' disease, a blood parasite that lodges in the heart. Darwin described being bitten by a kissing bug (so-called because they bite around the lips and nose), and some medical historians think that he had Chagas' disease. Kissing bugs live as commensals in wood-rat nests. As a graduate student, I excavated wood rat nests and found quite a few. Darwin or wood rat, it doesn't matter.

Who wouldn't love the ugly bug!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

After Grading

I need this. The loud silence of water, breeze, birds.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Ginkgo

is so old that dinosaurs knew them and they're so long lived 40 generations of one family might not outlive one specimen. Some call it a maidenhair tree, says the "Ancient Chinese . . . describe[d] the tree as ya-chio-tu , meaning a tree with leaves like a duck's foot," and Buddhists believe it's sacred. As for me, the splayed and split leaf looks like a pleated fabric fan, yellowed with age and gentle use, strewn or dropped on purpose for another to pick up and admire.
And today, that's eactly what I did.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Floor Dance

Lagniappe = crystals, late afternoon, old wooden floor, walking = dance.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lunch and Laughter

Some days, it's possible to need something without knowing it's needed it till you get it.

Like today, for instance.

Friends Jay and Sandy drove up for lunch and laughter. Camera-shy, they let me snap their feet.
Notice where their toes meet: a heart-shaped leaf, vibrant like their visit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


In Fackler, Alabama, Crow Mountain Orchard grows all kinds of wonderful fruit, including apples. A Sunday drive with Boo past the Walls of Jericho and through miles of beautiful forest culminated in a sip of delicious cider, a pleasurable browse of apples (Fuji, Mutsu, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Winesap), and two half pecks -- one of Jonathans and the other of Cumberland Spurs, their own original apple.Not satisfied with just eating the fruit, I decided to make my first-ever apple pie. Well, I tried. Much of it spilled over the cookie sheet onto the bottom of the over or onto the sheet. I let it get too brown, but I shall eat it anyway. The point is that I scouted out the apples; peeled, cored, and sliced them; and attempted the pie.Next time, I'll know better, and there will definitely be a next time.Maybe . . . tomorrow?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Another Birthday

As a boy, my nephew, the live wire, squiggled and wiggled, tackled and ran, butted and spun. Even when he "read," he turned the book round and round and round. He called it "turning the pages." Today, on turning 40, he stills flicks pages when he reads. Otherwise he channels his energy into family, work, friends, and bicycling or running.

It's hard to believe the boy with the large head and flailing hair is the man who can now call himself middle-aged.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Emily Dickinson

On the website of the American Academy of Poets, Emily Dickinson's biography includes this: "Upon her death, Dickinson's family discovered 40 handbound volumes of nearly 1800 of her poems, or 'fascicles' as they are sometimes called. These booklets were made by folding and sewing five or six sheets of stationery paper and copying what seem to be final versions of poems in an order that many critics believe to be more than chronological."How fitting, then, the folded muslin arms of the found sculpture in a Cowan storefront. This Dickinson -- mesh, metal, and cloth -- stares out of the empty shop window, a study in plainness and loneliness, like the real one holed up in near silence in her father's house, where she wrote and stored away her poems.

Instead of storing poems in a trunk, this Emily writes them in the viewer's eyes.