52 Photos ~ The first day of 2014

New Year's tradition

Before

Tabletop Toronto

On New Year’s day, we always do a jigsaw puzzle. We never finish it that day, but we start it soon after we wake up (however late that is) and go all day, snacking on New Year’s Eve leftovers as needed, turning on the lights around 4 so we can continue into the evening.

This year’s puzzle was a doozy: the map of downtown Toronto in three levels – the street grid from the lake shore up to Dundas (and all 640ish pieces, devilishly, the same shape and size); a second layer of just the city streets fashioned out of foam pieces with cutouts for buildings; and then a set of 110 plastic models of the skyscrapers and other historic buildings to be inserted into the proper cutouts in the foam, on the streets where they live.

We started it together, but I finished it alone a couple nights later. All except for two buildings, one which was missing (did I place it in the wrong place?) and one extra, that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to put…

It’s kind of nice to start the year off with a manageable project. The parameters are defined, and we all (M, H, my sister, and I) get to contribute as we like.

For some reason, I usually end up working the puzzle upside down. In this case, it felt particularly apt, taking the view south, from where my grandparents lived, imagining the car, subway, or bus ride from Bathurst to downtown, the walk to the harbor front, the ferry to Centre Island, the view across the choppy lake from the country where I felt at home to the country where I lived.

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These photos and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

52 Photos ~ My choice

Darcy & Doris

Winter break.

Lots of lounging by the fire, lots of staring out the window at the white, lots of opening packages, lots of sliding on the ice on the way down the path.

Lots of snacking.

Including the goats, who make short work of balsam branches sawn from the Christmas tree. And then inquire, with their balsam breath:

Any chance you have some cookies in that coat pocket?

Balsam snacking

Wellesley

Darcy

Doris approves

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These photos and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

52 Photos ~ Holiday traditions

Holiday tradtions

Between an early Hanukkah, a late Thanksgiving, and Christmas arriving spot on time, haven’t we been observing holiday traditions for months now?

So it feels.

We have a handful of holiday traditions, but we’re just as apt to throw tradition out the window, paring the celebration down to a few essentials to mark the day as significant.

For instance, for Hanukkah, we light the menorah every night. Well, most nights. And sometimes more than one menorah, depending on our moods. And we make at least one batch of latkes during the week, sometimes eating most of them just as they come out of the pan, after they’ve cooled slightly on paper towels. Since the days of H’s tiny childhood, every night we hide a blue plastic dreidel (which conceals a few chocolate coins) somewhere in the house for her to find.

Most years for Christmas, we make candied orange peels and beef jerky to give to our friends and family. Some years we make jam, or cajeta, or cookies, or granola, or candy, or bread, or pickles, or applesauce, or membrillo. Some years everyone gets some. Some years, only family.

Without fail, we cut our Christmas tree with old friends every year. Most years we take the dogs. Some years, it seems a bother.

What doesn’t seem to change are the holiday movies. Somewhere in late November, we start singing, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas…” and then we debate if it’s too early to start watching Christmas movies.

Nope. How can be it too early?

We watch a variety every year, but the three that we always seem to return to are the classic, singable “White Christmas,” the gloriously moody (and funny) 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol” (or “Scrooge”), starring Alistair Sim, and the gentle, light-hearted “We’re No Angels” (the original 1955, thank you very much).

Maybe one or all of these are your family’s favorites, too. Just in case you haven’t seen them, here are a couple excerpts to give you a taste.

First, one of our family’s favorite scene from any movie, the part in “We’re No Angels” where Bogart, Ustinov, and Ray debate how and when to tell Cousin Andre that he’s just taken a box with Adolf, the poisonous snake, into his room.

“He knows already.”

That line is like a perfectly baked little cookie we eat only once a year, crisp and full of flavor.

Second, the delightfully fun ending to “Scrooge,” after Ebenezer has been transformed by his visits from the spirits of Christmas. I’m particularly partial to the scene that takes place on the staircase, around 3:40:

If Ebenezer’s rebirth doesn’t bring your heart some holiday cheer, I don’t know what will.

What are your favorite holiday movies (or songs, or books)?

Whatever your traditions, or the holidays you celebrate, the people you are with, or the people you are missing, the foods you eat, the movies you watch, the stories you tell, we wish you all a beautiful week, and if it applies, a very Merry Christmas!

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This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

52 Photos ~ Comfort and joy

Heart

Moon burst

Nextdoor Neighbor

There is comfort in the contours of a dog’s paw. The rough pads, separated by soft tufts of fur, curved to fit each other like matched puzzle pieces or continental plates. The dog flying effortlessly across an ice-glazed trail, the rhythmic clicking of nails on wood floors, the four paws collected in a bouquet bundle when he naps.

The flickery glow of the wood stove is an obvious comfort, both mentally and physically. All day long this week, I’m orbiting around that metal box, sticking as close as I can without scorching myself, feeding it stick after stick. The splinters are less comforting, but the price we pay.

A full hay barn, like a full wood pile, heating oil tank, or bank account, is a comfort. A worry deferred.

The pile of books to read is a comfort. A barrier against the dark and the cold, a plan for the long nights, anticipated escapes to others’ imaginations.

The moon, just beyond arm’s reach, neighborly yet remote, is a great comfort. You know I prefer light and warmth, but all the same, it’s hard to gaze lovingly at the sun. The moon, though, you can take it in, watch its phases, and realize, sometimes gradually, sometimes with a jolt, that you are not alone.

We here, riding this lush rock, are billions among billions, though all we generally see of our nearest neighbors are pinpricks of light on black velvet nights. The moon, though, constant companion, tells us we are in context of something else, and multitudes of something elses in this galaxy and the next and the next and the next.

It’s a comfort to find yourself in company on a long dark night.

And then to realize that all you know and have known, all you have loved, is contained here on this ball of dirt and rock and water. Everything you’ve read or seen. Every hand you’ve held. Every heart that has broken yours. Every note of every song you sang to yourself on your most miserable or most elated days. Everyone you’ve lost. It’s all here, conserved, blue and gauzy when beheld from the moon.

Last week, our friend Clyde made sugar on snow for an audience of children and me. I’d never seen it made before. I’d read about it, so I thought I knew what it was. But as she boiled the maple syrup, then drizzled it, gentle spoonful by gentle spoonful, onto the fresh collected snow, I knew I had no idea about this little alchemy. The way the syrup solidified, filigreed on the snow, the way the children, then I, dipped our forks in, spun them like spaghetti eaters, lifted the golden candy with flecks of snow to the light, swallowed the sweetness.

I have no idea what in the world I don’t know. And this, too, is a comfort.

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These photos and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

52 Photos ~ Polka dots

Polka Dot Restaurant

Dots on edge

Polka Dot Counter

Yellow Beak

A man owns a green parrot with a yellow beak
that he carries on his shoulder each day to work.
He runs a pet shop and the parrot is his trademark.

Each morning the man winds his way from his bus
through the square, four or five blocks. There goes
the parrot, people say. Then at night, he comes back.

The man himself is nondescript—a little overweight,
thinning hair of no color at all. It’s like the parrot owns
the man, not the reverse. Then one day the man dies.

He was old. It was bound to happen. At first people
feel mildly upset. The butcher thinks he has forgotten
a customer who owes him money. The baker thinks

he’s catching a cold. Soon they get it right—the parrot
is gone. Time seems out of sorts, but sets itself straight
as people forget. Then years later the fellow who ran

the diner wakes from a dream where he saw the parrot
flying along all by itself, flapping by in the morning
and cruising back home at night. Those were the years

of the man’s marriage, the start of his family, the years
when the muddle of his life began to work itself out;
and it’s as if the parrot were at the root of it all, linking

the days like pearls on a string. Foolish of course, but
do you see how it might happen? We wake at night
and recall an event that seems to define a fixed period

of time, perhaps the memory of a beat-up bike we had
as a kid, or a particular chair where we sat and laughed
with friends; a house, a book, a piece of music, even

a green parrot winding its way through city streets.
And do you see that bubble of air balanced at the tip
of its yellow beak? That’s the time in which we lived.

–Stephen Dobyns

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These photos and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

52 Photos ~ Dessert

Pumpkin pie shells

Pumpkin pies

Teeny tiny pumpkin pies

Recipe

Declare a day of gluttony.
Chill the Western hemisphere.
Over a base of granite, soil, clay,
wheat and corn fields, drizzle
rivers.
Lay down thick, black ribbons
of tar and concrete
from one ocean to the other.
Reread the recipe.
Assemble all ingredients
in a four-wheeled box.
Agitate steadily for a day.
Liberally distribute
nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs.
Periodically, open the doors,
to allow in the chilled air,
wind, exhaust, light,
sounds of gravel.
Be quiet.
When golden, remove
and let warm in the kitchen.
Share the crumbs, too.

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These photos and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

You can find the recipe for the really delicious molasses-spice pumpkin pie filling I used here.

52 Photos ~ My work

Word by word

When I was child, I never had a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I assume various adults asked me the question, but I don’t remember the asking, and I certainly don’t remember my answers. I wanted to read, and play with animals, and sing songs.

For awhile, when I was still under five feet tall and skinny as stick, I dreamed of being a jockey. Later, I imaginined being a large-animal vet. But I worried if I could pass the required math and science classes, and, more than that, I worried that my empathy for animals would be debilitating when it came to hurting them in order to help them.

For pocket money, I did what many teens do: babysat the neighbors’ children. I never much enjoyed it; I didn’t know how to relate to children until I had my own. For a couple summers, I worked at riding stable, grooming horses, mucking stalls, teaching beginners. I loved that dusty, dirty, horse-smelly job, but I didn’t really see a future in it.

One summer, I worked at our family’s hot dog stand at a marina in northern Ontario. It was fun for a bit (free french fries!) until the rush orders came in and I got behind and mixed up who wanted pickles and who wanted onions. Multi-tasking with mustard.

All along, from the moment in first grade when I made the connection between sounds, words, and reading (and I still remember that thrilling moment, clear as a ringing bell), I’ve been doodling with words. I wrote a lot of short stories as a kid. I had a little typewriter and I clacked away on that. Later, typewriters gave way to computers. I found I had a lot of stories inside, bursting to get out.

None of my teachers ever told me I could be a writer.

My father, seeing my interest in writing but being a practical person, suggested that I be a technical writer. I shunned that idea. No way. Not for me. I told my favorite high school English teacher about the idea. She said, “You know there’s a reason they call computer terminals TERMINAL.”

Enough said.

I entered college as an English major with no real thought in my head of what job that would lead to. I just loved to read and write. And four years of that sounded kind of like I was getting away with something delightful.

In my senior year, I took a class called “Advanced Expository Writing” (these days, I suppose it would be called “Creative Non-Fiction”). The professor was one I adored, and feared. He made me nervous because he knew so much, had such strong opinions, and felt so deeply about the written word. I supposed I feared him because I wanted so much to impress him.

The class required us to write a lot of persuasive and personal essays. I’d never done that before (by then, I was writing a lot of poems, and a lot of research papers). It suited me. I enjoyed that new expository voice I didn’t know I had. Two times that I remember, he singled out sections of my essays to read to the class, in his slow, precise, expressive voice. It set me aglow.

One day, he asked me what I planned to do when I graduated. I said I didn’t know. I was thinking maybe of becoming a technical writer. He paused, looked straight into my eyes, and said “Why?”

Well, the answers were obvious, but I knew what he was asking. The truth is, I didn’t have the faith in myself then to be a writer. A REAL writer. A poet. Or an essayist. A storyteller. I needed an apartment, a job, a bridge from university student to adult, and writing about computers was one way to do it.

That career has served me well. You might say excellently. It made my life. Because of it, I met M, and we had H. Because of it, I could contribute financially to our life in this old farmhouse, get goats, take trips, make life-long friends. All this by stitching words together.

But the story isn’t over yet.

More and more, in the evenings and the mornings, I steal time to write those poems and essays. Someday, when I grow up, I might just be a real writer…

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This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

52 Photos ~ On my way

On my way

Almost every week, this photo project puts a song in my head.

This week’s song is one that parents with children of a certain age will remember from the movie “Ice Age,” which we watched approximately seven billion times when H was small. And which we all loved. And laughed at, especially when Scrat got squeezed between the cliff walls and his eyes filled like two huge balloons that threatened to pop out of his head. Oh, how we howled.

And cried at the goodbye at the end.

Don’t forget about us. We won’t forget about you.

I don’t remember the last time we watched that movie. Or “Finding Nemo,” which we quoted from daily for at least a year.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

Do you have your exit buddy?

No eating here tonight; you’re on a diet.

Or “Toy Story 2,” which H insisted that M tell her the plot of (in its entirety) as a bedtime story. Every night. For months. And so he got terribly good at shortening it, capturing all of the important events, whittling it down to something like 90 seconds. Until, at some point she no longer required that story.

But when was the last time?

We don’t record such things, mostly because we don’t know that it’s the last. I think about that a lot. About last times that I didn’t recognize. The last time I took a walk in the valley with our old dog, Phoebe. The last time I carried H. The last time I looked in my mother’s eyes.

Maybe it’s better that way. Not to have to grieve every last event, knowing it would be the last, but to move blithely on to the next, to firsts that we also don’t recognize as firsts.

That view above is one of many stunning outlooks on the way from our house to H’s school. We get to see it when the morning sun is just cresting the ridge, and in full-sun afternoons, and everything in between. This time of year, the sunlight slants in weakly, under the clouds, to make the mountainsides appear velveted. Hushed. Swept clean and ready for snowfall.

H has seen that view, coming and going, every school day since she was in preschool at the top of Thetford Hill.

“I remember when all this was fields,” she’ll someday tell a friend or a sweetheart, when she returns here from wherever her adult life takes her. Uncounted lasts behind her, glorious firsts ahead.

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This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.

52 Photos ~ Round

Round

Once More, the Round

What’s greater, Pebble or Pond?
What can be known? The Unknown.
My true self runs toward a Hill
More! O More! visible.

Now I adore my life
With the Bird, the abiding Leaf,
With the Fish, the questing Snail,
And the Eye altering All;
And I dance with William Blake
For love, for Love’s sake;

And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on.

–Theodore Roethke

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This photo and post are in response to this week’s theme for the 52 Photos Project. You should participate, too! Read about how it works here. You can see a gallery of everyone’s photos for this week’s theme here. To see a list of all my blog posts for this project, go here.