Friday, October 25, 2013

First Frost

We had our first hard frost last night.

Sitting at breakfast, I could see that the mums on the back deck were frosted. Grabbing the camera, I went outside to inspect.

Indeed, the mums had been etched in frost.

So had the marigolds that have stood guard over the garden all summer.

As well as the blanket flowers that the bees were still hovering in just last weekend.

I just finished reading The Outermost House by Henry Beston. Beston wrote about living in a small, primitive cottage on the easternmost portion of Cape Cod before roads or any development had come to that part of the cape. The book, published in 1929, captures his full year of observations about the landscape, the weather, the oceans, and the seasons. He gently encourages the reader to honor and love the earth and to take part in the "tremendous ritual" of the seasons.

As I glance out the window at the morning sun, I understand what he meant. The frost is melting, the sky is brightening, and the tremendous ritual of autumn is well underway.

Monday, October 21, 2013


A few posts ago, I mentioned that I had pending posts that I hoped to bring to the light of day soon. Well, several weeks later, they are still in my head and not down on paper. Recently I realized the best thing to do would put these thoughts down in the form of shorts and clear my mental mailbox for more writing.

Short #1: Blown Away (Again) To Oz
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the MGM "The Wizard of Oz." You know, that one. As part of the 75th anniversary observances, MGM released a 3D/IMAX version of the film to be shown in IMAX theatres for one week only in mid-September.

Of course I bought tickets. While not a huge fan of 3D films (they are a pain to watch when you wear glasses), I was not about to miss out on seeing my all-time favorite film on a really big, BIG screen.

I was not disappointed. Watching the film in 3D and that big, I saw details I had never seen before. (I didn't know the Scarecrow carried a gun when they went hunting the Wicked Witch.)  Warren, for his part, finally got the full impact of the "Over the Rainbow" sequence with Judy Garland.

It was "The Wizard of Oz" as I have never seen it before and will never see it again.

As we drove home that night and hashed over the film, I was hit with a sudden pang remembering a high school classmate, Geoff. Geoff and I shared a fascination with "The Wizard of Oz" back when you only saw it on television once a year and before videos came along (in short, a long, long time ago). We would write each other letters with new observations about the movie; I particularly remember my calling attention to the shoe polish glossy hair on the male citizens of the Emerald City.

Geoff died in a plane crash over seventeen years ago, so he wasn't around for this 75th anniversary release. I thought of him that night: how he would have enjoyed the film, how he would have loved all the new details that popped to life in the 3D/IMAX format.

I am quite sure Geoff would have been blown away to Oz, just like I was.

Short #2: A Wedding
Stephanie got married in mid-September.

I have known Stephanie since she was in second grade. She has always been one of my special girls. And now she was getting married.

When Ben and Alise got married, I had a brief teary moment at the start of the wedding, then finished the occasion dry-eyed. It was not for lack of love or emotion; I think I was so happy to see them together that the joy I was feeling crowded out any further tears.

Seeing Stephanie marry was an entirely different event. I had a lump in my throat from the moment I walked into the church, and the tears spilled when I saw Stephanie—beautiful, glowing Stephanie—float down the aisle on the arm of her father.

I wore the same outfit to Stephanie's wedding that I was married in five years ago. For the record, the skirt of the ensemble also saw duty at Ben's wedding, so it is my official wedding skirt. I hope my wearing it is a good omen for Stephanie and Jason's wedding: I certainly feel that way about Ben and Alise's wedding and my own. 

All brides are beautiful on their wedding day. This one certainly was. 

Short #3: Sourdough
As of late, I have been living in the land of sourdough. As I had surmised, the glop of "Amish Friendship Bread" turned out to be a decent starter. Over the past four weeks, I have been experimenting and getting comfortable with making bread from a starter instead of yeast.

No surprise, there was (still is, for that matter) a learning curve. No surprise, it turns out working with starter is far easier and less exacting than I had feared. It was about the second week of baking when a basic truth hit me. This method has been around for centuries. It has to be simple to have survived so long. Stop hyperventilating over the process.

It was not unlike my learning experience with growing a garden. The first year I fussed and worried over my plants, even while I knew in my head that the seeds would grow without my overanxious ministrations. Four years later, I am considerably more unwound and relaxed.

So it has become with baking with starter, albeit in a much shorter time frame. Recently I accidentally reversed the order of the steps in preparing the dough. I did not panic; I did not throw out the dough and resume feeding the starter for a new batch. I instead shrugged and told Warren that it would probably turn out fine. And it did.

I have had a lot of other obligations and concerns on my plate as of late, from far-flung children to nearby elderly relatives to my own handful of issues. Making bread from starter is a long process, but very little of that time actively involves me. There is something peaceful in that rhythm, knowing that the starter and, eventually, the dough, can work away independent of me.

The act of baking bread is timeless. And with my newfound pastime, I step even deeper into that timelessness. Like Thoreau, I am "a-fishing" in the stream, ever conscious of the current sliding away, but away that eternity remains.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Bees Are Still Lingering

Fall is deepening around here. Most days are crisp, most nights are chill. We may have a frost this week, there may even be a little snow. Yesterday it rained for several hours, a cold, chilling autumnal rain.

Today, however, is bright and sunny. This morning I pulled up the tomato stakes in the garden and started the pre-winter cleanup. I managed to snag a few tomatoes; I picked half a dozen peppers that will be turned into relish shortly.

And I watched the bees.

I have started planting native perennials and the blanket flowers (Gaillardia) did amazingly well in the back of the garden. We may move them in the spring, but I have enjoyed their bright colors against the white wall of the garage this year.

Apparently the bees have enjoyed them also. While I worked nearby on the tomatoes, several of them plied their trade in pollen.

I wrote about the bees earlier this summer, when the zucchini blossoms and rudbeckia drew them to our yard. It is good to see them, knowing that they will soon be gone.

E. B. White, in his introduction to his wife Katherine's work, Onward and Upward in the Garden, wrote of watching her plan and direct the planting of her spring garden in the late fall. He captured her as "oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection."

I feel the same way about the bees as I watch them wrap up the season. I am already planning on the spring, already anticipating the resurrection.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Long-Distance Grandmother

The Symphony opened its 35th season last night in a most spectacular fashion, but that is not what this post is about. Saturday was also the semi-annual book sale at our local library. Warren had dropped me off there on his way to open up the concert hall for the soloist to practice. After picking up a reserved book, I wandered back to the bookmobile garage, which was serving as the bookstore for the sale.
The Amazing Ramona

I bought three children's books with Ramona in mind, adding to the collection at home. As I sat in the sun and waited to Warren to swing back around for me, I wondered about the books I had just purchased and when to send them out west. If I bought all the children's books that caught my eye, I would be bankrupt. If I shipped all of the children's books I already have, Ben and Alise would have to jettison furniture to make room for them.

It has been eight months since we have held Ramona: that baby is long gone. We have been Skyping regularly as of late, and I marvel at the child Ramona has become. She blows kisses (smacking her hand to her lips and shouting "mmm-WAH!"), flails a hand (sometimes two) in hello or goodbye, and occasionally leans in startlingly close ("My, what BIG eyes you have, Ramona!") while bustling in and out of the camera range. It is always highly entertaining.

It's not the same as being there, wonderful as modern technology is. I hope that when we are finally all together again, Ramona will recognize our voices and make the connection between Grandma April and Grandpa Warren on the computer screen and Grandma April and Grandpa Warren in real life.

Alise's mother Mona (aka Grandma Mona) is a frequent visitor to Portland and is headed back there for Halloween. I'm grateful Mona is in Portland so often. She provides parenting (and mothering) to Ben and Alise and deeply devoted grandmothering (i.e., adoration) to Ramona. But I'd be less than honest if I said I wasn't a wee bit envious of her frequent trips.

It's hard to be a long-distance grandmother. As I pick books to send out, I sigh, wishing I could settle Ramona on my lap and we could turn the pages together. I just sent out a footed sleeper printed with dinosaurs and I want to be the one tucking her toes into the footies and zipping it up to her chin.

The last time we Skyped, Ben and I talked about the blocks. These are the wooden building blocks Ben and Sam played with, including the same ones my brothers and I played with and some of the same ones that my  mother played with when she was little. Ramona will be the fourth generation to play with these blocks and I know it is time to pack some up and ship them out. But it's hard: I want to see Ramona play with the blocks at my house.

In the spring or early summer, my Portland three will be coming east for a visit. There is a lot of family here who have not met Ramona, and many who have not seen Ben and Alise for many years (seven come this Christmas, but who's counting?). Do I need to add that I am looking forward eagerly to that visit?

Between now and then, it is a long, slow walk to the future. I know there will be more books; there is already a growing stack in the closet for Christmas. And the candy corn socks at the grocery today? (I went in for fruit and dish soap, really.) Well, they are already in a sealed envelope with Ramona's name and address on it.

And I will be living on furious waves and a big "mmm-WAH!" tossed to the sky, waiting for the future.