Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rding Horses Bareback Out In The Country

Did you ever look at a photo and wish you could remember that moment; remember what lead up to it and what everyone was saying and who took the photo and what happened after the photo had been taken and life continued on?
I had all those questions and more after receiving the attached photo from a cousin. That’s me sitting on a horse behind my Uncle Paddy-my cousin’s father. My older brother is sitting on the other horse. I have no recollection of that day. But I do know if my Uncle Paddy was involved, it would have been a fun day. Most in the community knew him as owner of a shoe store. I knew him as an uncle who was a kid at heart.
Uncle Paddy was the one who built us kids rafts out of telephone poles so we could go off on adventures on a creek that ran along behind our homes. Uncle Paddy was the one who helped my cousin and I set up a tent behind his house so we could camp out on occasion over summer vacations. Of course he was also the one who loved to scare us later on and then show up early in the morning for fried eggs and toast cooked over a fire consisting of twigs and creek grass producing lots of smoke that made our eyes water.
Uncle Paddy was the one who spent hours planning what became an annual Easter Treasure Hunt when we all lived out in the country in those four houses in a row. Before we were awake on Easter morning, he’d go about that huge plot of property and hide clues for us to find. The pot of gold was individual brown bags of candy, lots of candy, for each one of us. We worked for that candy. He hid the clues in hard to find places. Some of the clues were near impossible to figure out. A few times over the years we’d ask him for help when we were stumped, but he never said a word. He’d just laugh and tell us to keep looking. He loved watching us running from the creek to the barn to the grain shed to cars and rock walls and everywhere else in between. After we finally found the treasure, we’d hurry inside to discuss the hunt with the treasure hunt creator himself.
Later in life, it was my Uncle Paddy I’d go with to the movies. He’d always buy us popcorn in that downtown theater of long ago. I think Dr. Zhivago was one of our favorites.
I still have so many questions about that photo. I’m thinking my Aunt Claire probably took it with her Brownie camera since we were on our horses right in front of her home and she loved taking photos. The horses probably came from a nearby farm. Of course I’m just guessing.
The one thing I know for sure is my brother and I were having lots of fun and lots of laughs riding horses bareback out in the country with that kid at heart.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Little Valentine Tree

This past December when going to the woods for a Christmas tree, I came back home with two trees. One was for the living room. The other was for the room where Brian and I spend most of our time. We call it the Groove room. It used to be a back porch. Now it’s where it all happens; everything from singing and dancing to TV viewing and CD listening and writing and watching the leaves turn and the snow fall and the garden grow and the deer pass by. It overlooks the back yard and the fields; a rock wall where rabbits live and the old barn with a light in the upstairs window.

I’d thought about putting a small Christmas tree in the Groove room before but I never followed through. Something was telling me to do it this past Christmas. So I did. Once Christmas was over, it didn’t bother me to take down the tree in the front room but that little tree on the old back porch was a different story. Brian and I weren’t ready to say goodbye to what had become our favorite little tree. So we decided to keep it up through January. But by the end of that month, we still weren’t ready to say goodbye to that precious little tree.

Because I love Valentine’s Day for all of its color and warmth in the midst of winter whites and greys and chilly temperatures, I suggested to Brian that we turn the little Christmas tree into the little Valentine Tree. He liked the idea, probably because it meant a few more weeks of having the little tree within view. 

As Valentine’s Day approaches we feel blessed to have our little Valentine tree. And once Valentine’s Day comes and goes, I’ll take that little Valentine tree back outside where the snow will eventually cover it and the wind will blow and the birds will sit on its branches and the seasons will keep changing. 

But the memories of that little Christmas/Valentine tree will remain in our hearts forever.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Winter Suppers

With the snow and the wind and below zero temperatures, I sometimes fix something simple for myself when suppertime comes around. This doesn’t happen every night but when it does happen; whatever I fix not only warms me up but fills me with an even deeper appreciation of winter. I’d never think of having hot cereal for supper in the summertime. But I do during the winter. And I enjoy every spoonful as much as I would enjoy a full-course meal. After the hot dogs and potato salads and the boiled dinners and turkeys, winter offers a time of slowing down and occasionally treating yourself to simple, warm and relaxing suppers.

Besides a bowl of hot cereal, which could be Oatmeal, Corn Meal, or Wheatena with an added treat of dipping a piece of toast into any one of those cereals, my simple winter supper might be buttermilk pancakes with either blueberries or bananas on top. When the kids were little I had a Hello Kitty-shaped pancake skillet. Those pancake suppers were quite popular.

Another simple winter supper—which was sometimes enjoyed for breakfast as well— was a favorite when growing up in the country where I was blessed with having a grandmother living next door. Those of us who gathered around my grandmother’s kitchen table in wait of her serving her quite popular rice croquettes could never get enough of such a simple, yet such a delicious meal. Now looking at her recipe, it’s hard to believe the joy and satisfaction we experienced from rice mixed with 2 beaten eggs, then shaped into croquettes and rolled in flour or bread crumbs and cooked in deep fat until browned. Maybe it was the hot tomato sauce covering the croquettes that we loved. Or, maybe it was because we were gathered around our grandmother’s kitchen table and we would have enjoyed whatever she was cooking.

One of my aunts loved having an egg on toast or chipped beef on toast or creamed peas on toast. They were all simple winter suppers. This aunt also loved going out to a diner for breakfast. She’d come home with more than a few packets of sugar or little creamers in her purse.

Some winter suppers are a little fancier yet remain on the simple end of preparation. Tuna casseroles, creamed tuna on toast (can you tell I love tuna fish), or corn bread served with regular goulash or my grandmother’s French goulash all hit the spot when the snow is swirling and the wind is howling. Homemade soups and shepherd’s pie get a little fancier but worth the effort.

Winter suppers, simple or not quite so simple, are all about being home; being content as the wind howls and the snow falls and you are safe and warm with less dishes to do and more time

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Snowy Day People

The other day as big, fluffy, beautiful January snowflakes fell, Brian started listening to a Gordon Lightfoot CD I'd bought him for Christmas. I bought it for one particular song that he's always liked. After he listened it, I suggested he listen to the other songs, telling him the other Gordon Lightfoot songs were just as good. So he did.
I was in the kitchen when a certain song started playing. It used to be a favorite of mine (still is) so I started singing as I began to gather ingredients to make him an omelet.
"How do you know that song?" he asked.
"I don't remember. I've just always liked it."
"Come sit down and listen to it."
So I did.
It was peaceful sitting there with the snow falling about the fields. I went on a bit about the beauty in winter; the peace I find in the stillness and how absolutely breathtaking it was outside.
Of course Brian has heard me go on and on about winter many times before. This time he laughed, telling me, "You're a Snowy Day person!"
I agreed.
The way the snow was coming down reminded me of the times of long ago when skating with my cousin down at the creek that ran behind our homes. We spent hours at that creek. We'd never get cold. That's probably because we just kept on skating. And sometimes those snowy hours spent on the creek led to a bowl of piping hot cereal at our grandmother's house.
My grandmother-my aunt-my mother all cooked hot cereal. They each had their variations. Some used brown sugar. Some sprinkled cinnamon in the bubbling mix while some served it with cream instead of milk. My grandmother would add a dab of butter as she dished her cereal into a bowl. When making the hot cereal, she'd always use a simple sauce pan with a top that had a dent in it. She used the pan for years. My aunt used it too.
On Sunday mornings in the wintertime, that pan made serving after serving of hot cereal, depending on how many of us were gathered around the table. Besides Oatmeal, favorites included Cream of Wheat and Corn Meal. We weren't picky as long as it was hot and served with buttered toast for dunking. Of course there were no microwave variations-just spoonful after spoonful of creamy, delicious hot cereal cooked in a certain saucepan and served around the table as the snow fell and the wind blew.
So that afternoon as Gordon Lightfoot kept on singing and with hot cereal on my mind, I asked Brian if he'd like a bowl of hot cereal.
"What about my omelet?"
"You could have both if you'd like."
After thinking for a minute with Rainy Day People playing again he replied, "Hot cereal!"
"Wonderful. I'll have a bowl too."
And so as those snowflakes kept swirling outside, inside we sat and enjoyed some piping hot Oatmeal because that's just what Snowy Day people do on a snowy January day.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Marshmallow World

On mornings like this morning when waking up to a breathtaking soft and fluffy snowfall, I think of my mother. Growing up, on days like these, she'd go to our 'entertainment console'-a big, clumsy piece of furniture made for stubbing toes, where inside there was an AM/FM radio which was a big deal, a record player for all of our many 45 records and 331/3 albums (a really big deal) as well as a storage place for the albums-albums including Sonny & Cher, The Beatles, Glen Miller, Perry Como, Simon & Garfunkel, Boston Pops, Frank Sinatra, and So many more.
Of all of her choices on those wintry, snowy mornings, she'd always select a Dean Martin album and when that funny and talented man began singing, "It's a Marshmallow World", she'd sing and dance around the house while dusting, doing dishes, making beds. She'd play that song over and over again. Sometimes, if I was there, I'd pretend to be annoyed-that's just what preteens and teens do sometimes. Other times, I'd sing and dance along as did my siblings.
Looking back, I always loved it when she played that song. It was a happy song. It was fun watching my mother let her hair down and let loose, dancing and singing around the house doing her everyday chores as the snow kept falling.
If it was the weekend or if school was cancelled, I'd end up outside with siblings and cousins playing in the snowdrifts and playing down at the creek for what seemed forever. I don't remember ever getting cold.
Now that I think about it, I bet my mother loved it when we went outside to play. I bet she turned the volume up and kept dancing along with Dean-singing even louder; laughing and carefree on such "a whip cream day."

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Keeping Stuff For Good

When growing up and playing in the dining room of my grandparents’ farmhouse with my cousins, I remember being told to be careful of the china cupboard because it held all of my grandmother’s china, including tea cups with matching saucers and serving dishes, as well as plates and silverware kept in a particular box lined with velvet. We were told most everything in that china cupboard was kept for good.
When I was a little girl I loved sitting in the middle of my parents’ bed and looking through my mother’s jewelry box covered with-yes again, velvet-midnight blue velvet. Everything in that jewelry box seemed to glisten. Gently touching the strands of jewels and stones and rings that glittered, I felt like a princess getting ready for the ball. But there were a few things I’d been told not to touch, like the long, narrow box holding my mother’s pearls and another holding a cameo brooch with matching earrings my father bought for my mother. I’d been told those pieces were kept for good.
When my children and their cousins were newborns-to-toddlers, my mother would go shopping for them at a little boutique in my hometown. It was owned by a wonderful woman with a warm smile. The merchandise equaled any shop in Manhattan. Besides rattles and cuddly blankets and sweaters and soft nightgowns, knitted outfits with little ducks or bears stitched in for accents were available in gentle baby shades as well as snow whites and earth tones. Along with sweater-like tops, the knitted outfits included knitted shorts or long knitted pants. And no matter what you bought, it was wrapped in tissue paper and placed inside a white box with her shop name stamped on top. When you received a gift from that shop, you were aware that what was inside was top quality. So most of the time when one of my children received a gift from my mother wrapped inside one of those boxes, I put that gift aside. I kept it for good. That meant those knitted outfits were hardly ever worn and eventually, they were outgrown.
We all keep stuff for good. We all have our good shoes-a good dress-good tie-good jewelry-good suit-good china-good linens-good blankets-good this-good that. Keeping stuff for good comes with the possibility of putting stuff away and forgetting about it and what good is that?
Wouldn’t it be more fun to bring some of that good stuff out and use it or wear it on a normal, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, no special reason, no special occasion day? When you think about it, every day, despite our problems and worries, is a good day. When you really think about it, we are blessed to be living it.
So maybe—just maybe, once in a while or once a year or just on a Saturday, have your morning coffee in a china cup with a saucer, wear your pearls to breakfast or your cameo brooch to lunch or serve dinner on those china plates kept for good no matter if that dinner is but a hotdog.
After all, stuff is just stuff. Every day is a good day.
(Photo was taken in my grandparents’ farmhouse in the dining room on an Easter Sunday of long ago. Top left you can see a bit of my grandmother’s china cupboard. Sitting around the table: my father, my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my cousin and her mother-my aunt).

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Ballerina with Wings on Ice

Before last week’s mini ice storm I’d put some suet out for the birds in a clustered bunch of bird feeders. A few of the feeders are made of wood that’s now worn with plastic dividers chipped in the corners. One feeder is made of small, colorful pieces resembling stain glass that glitters when the sun is shining. Once the ice storm hit with howling winds and snow falling and ice forming, many of the remaining seeds in the feeders went flying. Many ended up on top of the ice covering the ground while even more of them ended up under the feeders. Seeds just sitting there on the ice and under the feeders attracted a variety of birds but more often than not, only the big birds were able to conquer the slippery ice; then grab some seeds and take off to a nearby tree to enjoy their winter feast.

Of all the birds that were out there, it was one little bird that caught my eye. She was very small but determined. As my son Brian and I watched her fight for a seed, we found ourselves cheering her on. There is a very slight incline in the yard leading to the bird feeders. You probably wouldn’t notice it but if you are a tiny bird with thin little legs and the wind is pushing you and the snowflakes are knocking you and ice wants to trip you up as you try to put one thin little leg in front of the other in order to get under the bird feeders where some prime seeds are resting, you’d notice that giant incline.

I’m sure that’s how the little bird felt as she tried and tried to get under those feeders. Sometimes she’d get part of the way. Then the wind would take her swirling around and around the ice like a beautiful ballerina with wings giving the performance of a life time. On a few occasions, one of her legs ended up in the air as if she was doing an Olympic-style program in the backyard. Once we saw her pushed by the wind so far away that we thought we’d seen the last of her as she crashed into some leaves frozen in the ice. But that never happened. That only spurred her on to victory under the bird feeders. Back she came, stronger than ever and away she flew with a mouth full of prime, delicious seeds.

You see— this little bird was a fighter, conquering blue jays and cardinals and sparrows and robins and mourning doves as well as the ice and snow and wind . She was determined. She was Forrest Gump and the Little Engine Who Could and Dumbo and Cinderella and Susan Boyle and a certain hockey team who beat those Russians and Rosa Parks and Rocky and Rudolph and Stephen Hawking and Andrea Bocelli and so many more. She was anyone who is physically or mentally handicapped who gets up every day and puts one foot in front of the other. She was the underdog who keeps trying; keeps fighting; keeps going. She was akin to those who are bullied by cowards yet  stand their ground and give it right back to the spineless.

There certainly is a lot going on out at the bird feeders. More than I ever realized. And when it rains or snows or the wind blows or the ice falls, some of those birds stand up and fight for what they believe in.

I like that idea.