Holidays & Seasons Feed

So soon?

No matter what sort of winter we’ve had, I always find the first warm days a bit of a shock.  Winter is endless, formidable, a bully that stays longer than the three months it's allotted.  It’s supposed to be a  long candle lit and cocoa fueled rest, interrupted by nature’s workout regimen of shoveling and roof raking.  Every year I want it to last a bit longer. Just a bit more time to get indoor projects done without such a pull to be outside; that would be would be wonderful. Like a farmer, all year long I set aside inside tasks that I’ll take on when the garden is hidden by snow and the walkways are coated in ice. When the only reasonable course of action is to stay inside, I’ll be sure to get through the hundreds of photos  waiting to be edited, sorted and labelled. When daylight fails at 4:15, surely then I’ll finish the knit vest I started last winter.  And oh the quilting!  Winter was made for hand quilting.    

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If only the darkness of winter didn’t make me want to curl up and sleep.  If I could slip ahead through time to spring and siphon a bit of that energy to take back to the darkest days, oh what I might do! The To Do list of projects would...

well...

if I’m honest, the list would probably still be just as long since as soon as I knock off one thing I come up with another.  But there would be fresh faces on that list, and new characters to get to know, instead of the glares of long ignored residents.  

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So as much as I enjoy getting to skip a hat, reacquainting my feet with sneakers and an extra hour of sunlight, it all feels like a guest who has arrived early for the party.  I’m happy to see her, just not yet.  


Diptych Project - Week 2

Kristina and I don't consult with each other as we do these diptychs.  We each do our parts independently, then I send my part to her to format (she knows mountains more than I do about such things).   This is why I found the similarity between our photos in week 2 so interesting.  In week 1 we were both all about the snow, winter wonderland, frosted beauty.  Something clicked (or maybe broke) in each of us the next week, and we were both seeking life and color.

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If you'd like to see this larger, just click on it.

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I like how Kristina's haiku paints an image that is so clear, it could be a photograph.  When I'm writing mine I know what image(s) or feeling(s) I'm trying to convey.  I just have no idea if I'm giving enough clues for someone else to see/feel it too.  Haiku writing feels like shorthand to me, but shorthand is useless if the audience can't read it.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

 


What your Shoveling Says about You

My mother's people left Sweden, and settled in an equally wild, coffee adoring, snow filled region -  the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (a.k.a. the U.P.).  

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If you've never visited the U.P., imagine northern Maine with its dense forests, frigid lakes, and tiny towns.  In my mother's stories it was the sort of place where everyone in town went to the Lutheran church on Sunday, and if you got in a scuffle on the playground, your mother and grandmother knew about it before you even got home.

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It was there my mother and uncle learned to always make their walkway two shovel-widths wide.  Anything less was sloth (and reflected badly on the family).  I imagine my grandmother was sensitive to such things as a divorced mother of two in mid-century America.  

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Fast forward 30 years, and my mother is all grown up with two children of her own.  New England may not have lake effect snow, but it has plenty.  My mother, brother and I would shovel a path to the backdoor (in case of fire), to the oil tank (so it could be filled), to the shed (I don't know why since it was full of summer stuff) and to the front door (for obvious reasons).  That front door path always needed to be two-shovel widths wide.  When I'd complain that our actual walkway (a path worn in the grass by our feet) wasn't even that wide, my mother would say there was no way she was going to have people think she was raising us to be lazy.

Fast forward to 2015, I'm "all grown up" and sharing a house with my partner Z.  We've had a fair bit of snow this year (over 100 inches) and I bet you can guess how wide my front walkway is.

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Single wide every time!  Sorry Mom. 


The Diptych Project

It's Lent again.  I say the word and I instantly think of the smell of fish sticks in the cafeteria on Fridays and the Catholic girls at school proudly abstaining from chocolate.  At my house, in my church, we didn't do Lent.  It was just a blank space between Ash Wednesday and the drama of Holy Week. 

So it's been something of a culture shock to become part of a church that sees Lent as a chance to dig in and grapple with what it means to be in a relationship with God. 

That last line is the perfect example.  Where I came from people don't say that sort of thing.  It feels presumptuous and a bit dangerous to talk like that.  I half expected the computer to short out when I wrote it.  And that's what Lent has become for me, a time to be vulnerable, to stretch my faith a little beyond what's comfortable.  In recent years I've tried new forms of prayer, colored mandalas, attended chant groups, meditated, read, read some more and yes given up indulgences like TV and Mt. Dew. 

This year my friend Kristina (check out her blog)invited me to join her in a creative project.  The idea is to build on our church's theme for Lent, Listening to God.  That makes me more than a little uncomfortable, so I've rebranded it as making time to appreciate what's around me.  Ignatius of Loyola (there's evidence of that Lenten reading) said to find God in everything, so I think I'm on solid theological ground.  

We couldn't decide if we wanted to take a photo each week, or write something short, so we decided to do both.  We each take a photo and write a haiku (at least one) each week during Lent.  These are then made into diptychs, her photo with my haiku and vice versa.   

I haven't written a haiku since 6th grade English.  I've never collaborated with anyone on a creative project like this.  Will the results feel jumbled and confused, or will the mishmash make us see our own creations in a new light?  I don't know, but that uncertainty has me really excited to give it a try.  To quote Anna from Frozen "Don't know if I'm elated or gassy/ but I'm somewhere in that zone." 

Without any further ado, here are week 1's diptychs:

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*click on the images to make the diptychs larger


The Winter Hangover

March may be the official start of spring, but at least here in New England it is about as far from all things pastel as a person can get. 

March is the filthy, bleary-eyed morning after a frat party.

The ground squelches and slurps with each moist step.  Viscous fluids slick boots and cuffs.

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People shuffle.  Wary.  Waiting to fall.

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Eyes squint in protest of the unfamiliar brightness of the sun.

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The world is thick with smells both ripe and sour.  Skunk Cabbages unfurl in winter's icy runoff. Furry skunks awake, stumble about in the dark and leave their own particular trail. 

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Items abandoned during the snow drunk days of  winter, now lie scattered across the landscape: an old menu, flattened beer cans, frozen tennis balls, hats hung like Christmas Eve, oh so many widowed gloves, even a slipper that had no call to be out of doors.

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In the months to come we'll remember winter's highlights, its beauty and joys, but right now winter is a party that went on for way too long,  and there's a hell of a lot of cleaning to be done.  

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Before you toss your tree...

Growing up, we always got our Christmas tree on my brother's birthday (Dec. 20) and dragged it out into the woods on Epiphany (13 days after Christmas).  Now that I'm an adult, the tree comes home on MY birthday (Dec. 8) and leaves when I'm feeling tired of all the festiveness and want a return to normal.  No matter how you decide it's time to take out the tree (maybe you use the "I can't take stepping on another *%#@ pine needle" method), why not get a little more use out of it before it goes?

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I usually associate wreaths with the weeks leading up to Christmas, but why should our celebration of winter end there?   The weeks after Christmas can be hard.  For the last month there was so much to look forward to  and so much to get done before Dec. 24th and then splat.  Nothing.  Just cold and dark and chores that were neglected in the preChristmas crunch.   If ever there was a time that needed a little festive cheer, it's now. 

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I'm sure a google search would bring up half a dozen ideas on what to use as the base of the wreath, but I used what I had on hand, the base from my Advent wreath.   A grapevine wreath (the sort you find at craft stores) or a styrofoam ring would work too. 

Then with gardening shears and plastic bag in hand, I headed out for a walk.  Along the way I gathered pine cones, interesting dead flower heads, bittersweet, and assorted greens. 

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Back at the house I turned the shears on my Christmas tree, cutting off branches until I had enough to fill the wreath.  For some reason I felt like I should be careful to cut evenly from all sides of Scrappy (yes I named it) so the tree, which was headed for the curb, wouldn't look funny.  You needn't follow the same "logic". 

Anyway, once the wreath was covered in greens, I added the bits and bobs from my walk.  Then a scrap of ribbon for a bow and it was door ready.  A nice sight to come home to and it didn't cost a thing.

 
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Mapping Home

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The lights are easily one of my favorite things  in the days leading up to Christmas.  Before the Thanksgiving turkey carcas has been made into soup, the first lit up house will appear.  Within 24 hours there are a few more; parents taking advanatge of kids home from college to reach those highest spots.  By the second weekend in December every street has something to show, whether its the classic candles in window or an inflatable Snoopy snow globe.  

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In the evenings, light spotting makes even the most boring of outings a bit more fun.  There's the giant peace sign that appears among a stand of trees on my commute home, or the stone sculptures that have been wrapped in twinkling white on the Lincoln green.  The trees of Burlington are a crazy riot of primary colors, like a giant splashed glowing acryllic paint across the park.  Then the restrained joy of Lexington's wreaths, greens and star-like lights.  One one side of the street a neighbor has made grand loops across her bushes, reminding me of a string of cursive "e's".  Just around the block there's a house where every eave has been traced in glowing icicles, like a giant gingerbread dripping icing.  

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This year I considered making a photo-map of my neighborhood's Christmas lights.  I got the idea from a story I heard on This American Life about Denis Wood.   Mr. Wood has been mapping his neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina since the 70s, but not in the usual ways.  He's made maps of what you would see underground (pipes etc), of who appears in the newspaper, pools of light  cast by the street lamps and my favorite, jack-o-lanterns.  Wood then layers these maps to see what connections he can discern (he shares some of them in the This American Life story).  It got me wondering about the houses I pass each day.  Are the people who decorate with lights the same ones who make jack-o-lanterns?  Do people without kids (at least outdoor evidence of kids)  decorate for the holidays?  Have more people been planting vegetable gardens lately?

I've decided I probably shouldn't do a photo-map.  To shoot in the dark would require setting up a tripod and that simply calls too much attention to myself.  If you saw someone with a tripod in front of your house, wouldn't you wonder what she was up to?  Yeah, that doesn't sound like a fun conversation.  But I do love the lights, and as they start going dark over the next couple weeks, I'll miss them.  Why is it that just as winter gets its nastiest and the dark feels the most foul, we take down our amulets against its depressive influence?   There are always a few folks who don't care ab0ut the expense and keep them lit throughout the deepest winter.  And to them I say a silent "thank you", each time I pass. 

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Photos in this post were taken in York ME, Portsmouth NH, Cambridge MA and Lexington MA.


The Sounds of Christmas

Our little town had its Christmas tree lighting last week.  As I walked along main street, listening to brave carolers striving to sound joyful as the mist turned to freezing rain, and later hail, the sight of the lights instantly filled my mind with scenes from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.   There wasn't anything particularly Victorian about the scene, and it's not as if there were any ghosts or street urchins.  No, last year I'd walked under these very same lights, face frozen but smiling as I listening to Dickens' words on my iPod.  I love it when that happens.  I'll see a curve in a road and instantly know what I was listening to the last time I walked there, or hear a bit of a story and know where I was when I first heard it.   This doesn't happen when I'm driving; it's something particular to walking and the way it makes me engage with the world around me.

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When I hear the first notes of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", I'm instantly transported to the tree lined streets I grew up on.  When my friends had been called in for supper, I would go out walking.  My mother worked, so my brother and I made our own dinner, on our own schedule most nights.  I liked to wander as the sun set, watching the lights come on in neighbors' windows and the sun's last rays stretch over frozen fields.  As I walked I sang aloud; there weren't a lot of people around.  There was one year that I loved "Winter Wonderland" and joyfully sang all the verses as an endless loop.  Another year I loved "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" with its alto friendly notes, but the one that stands out the most is the year of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear".  When I hear that song I can feel the acrylic yarn of long outgrown mittens, hear the crunch of ice and snow underfoot and smell distant wood smoke.  I sang that song like a prayer, full of longing and wonder.

"Still through the cloven skies they come/ With peaceful wings unfurled/ And still their heavenly music floats/O'er all the weary world" 

The bare trees once again sway with the wind overhead and the stars shine painfully bright.   

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Today I rarely sing as I walk; there are just too many people around.  Instead this December I'll be listening to Christmas instead. 

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Do you have any Christmas favorites?  Leave a recommendation in the comments.

 


Thanksgiving Miles

Ever since getting a pedometer, I've had the urge to measure how many steps (or even better miles) go into everyday events.  Last week, as I eagerly anticipated a marathon night of Thanksgiving baking, I wondered just how many steps it takes to make challah, two pies, a cake and braised cabbage.  A tiny part of me wondered if the distance would be enough to counteract all the pie dough and chocolate I was sure to sample in the process. 

It seemed unlikely that the math would come out in my favor, but I liked the idea.  Now I was conducting an experiment, testing a hypothesis to be exact, not just being nerdy with my pedometer. No, no, no.  No nerdy number crunching here.  What made it even better is that I won either way.    If my hypothesis was accurate and I would ingest more calories than I burned while baking, then I'd be right.  And that's winning.  Just ask any five year old.  And if my hypothesis was wrong and I burned more calories than I ate, well then my body would win, ergo I win again.  I liked my odds.

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The Data

Walk to store for ingredients.  Wander store looking for candied yams = 770 steps, 0.25 mile, 90 calories

Walk back and forth from refrigerator, to cutting board on counter, to stove, to cook book and back again for several hours = 1510 steps, 0.58 miles, 738 calories

That's 2,280 steps, 0.83 miles, and 828 calories burned. 

Now to compare that to the tasty nibbles I enjoyed along the way. 

What?  I didn't keep track? 

I guess it's a good thing I'm not a scientist. 

 If you would like to conduct this experiment at home, you can replicate it using the recipes listed below.  All have been thoroughly taste tested and approved.

Braised Cabbage with Apples and Caraway Seeds from Spilled Milk podcast

Gâteau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie,or, Kate's Winning-Hearts-and-Minds Cake from the Orangette blog

Fig Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah from the Smitten Kitchen blog

Silky Smooth Pumpkin Pie from the Smitten Kitchen blog

Apple Pie from The Joy of Cooking