I am thinking daily of family and holidays, as are most. And photos surfaced of a wintry walk through Elk Rock at Bishops Close, a place about which I have posted often. It is a delight– the grounds are seamed with trails and rocky steps, shadowed with hideaways, and gentled by trickling water and a small pond or two. My last visit here was shared on WP in July this year.
The Scottish estate house always impresses a bit–it is so stolid and commands a respect. Elk Rock, its garden, is perhaps the oldest and biggest (13 acres) private garden in Oregon. It was managed from 1897 until 1957 by businessman Peter Kerr who developed his estate and grounds. It is now used by the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon.
In summer the air was bright, the plants and flowers waving in warm breezes. This time winter’s veil is lain over all. The quietude of December wandering is deeper. The air sharp, the river that wends it way below a bit more forbidding, birdsongs more silenced. Yet I am drawn to it as much in this season as any other. It is a place to think as one climb’s about and to long pause and admire nature’s work.
These photos date back to 2016, the day of Christmas. Naomi was visiting from S. Carolina where she was/is an art professor; Alexandra was visiting from CA. where she was PR manager at an arts center. And since I appreciate Bishops Close as well as my adult children here is that mosey. (Not all family like personal photos shared so those are discreet.)
On my refrigerator is a sticky note left by Naomi last year before she flew back to S.C. after Thanksgiving. I’d had the luxury of seeing her three times in 2019. On that note she wrote: “Bye, Mom! Love you! See you again before too long. XOXOXO-Na.” I left it there to enjoy looking at– never thinking it would at least a year more. But I’ve not seen her once since, nor another daughter, Cait, in VA., for an even longer period of time.
So it is that we begin a new sort of Christmas or other religious holiday. No doubt you will agree: one primarily of the heart and spirit. We can manage it, though, can’t we. Make sure to get out and take good walks, no matter wintry or other interesting weather. I will be out there with you, as well as right here.
I vowed decades ago to not cook as a general rule again –just a few basic dishes–unless it was crucial to get in there and have at it. Or, too, if I felt deeply moved to cook, say, for a very special occasion. My culinary activity and knowledge are pared way down. I’m talking about chili, spaghetti with sausage plus salad and steamed broccoli; long simmered beef stew; meatloaf with potatoes and green beans plus salad; or a dinner salad with a tuna mixture on top. You get the idea. I guess this is at the core of any cooking ease, but I worked harder at it to feed five kids, a husband and any others who straggled in. But I never liked it much. It was rush rush, get each dish going at the right time, get it on the table, hot, before they are out the door again. But I managed–the kids set the table, cleaned up a bit with me– and we almost always had a sit-down dinner with everyone.
The problem was, I was also reading a book or thinking of a poem or answering a child’s endless questions–I was not attentive in the correct manner. Which made for burned meals more often than I care to admit. It wasn’t so important to me, personally–I wanted the family to get adequate nutrition. My husband liked to cook some but he was often gone on business trips. It was simply get to it, get cooking or starve us all. (And these days if he isn’t here, it’s likely sandwiches, salads, soup, take out.)
My attitude likely has something to do with the fact that food and I have never gotten along so well. I have digestion disorders long treated with many medicines that only partially help. So, I have not craved food like most. A swift amendment: I did (do) crave all kinds of good food, but was/am not excited about eating=pain=suffering that occurs so often. I can’t even describe the heady longings that come over me for spicy Indian food or new Thai dishes or just great fresh salsa piled on a ton of tortilla chips along with a fat bean burrito. But I am cautious; I need to be. So I am used to milder and specific foods and less, not more. Rice and bananas, applesauce and toast are my Plan B pals–sort of like baby food, I know. But a back up that works. Some days a pear seems a rare luxury; I am in heaven as I sink my teeth in. But it’s just how it is, as if someone with a permanent lisp or chronic pain or itchy eyes and terrific sneezes around cats when your spouse adores cats–and you love each other, too. One manages the issue and keeps on living.
In any case–not to put you off, but most folks assume everyone loves to cook and eat during holidays–in any case: today I was in the kitchen, ready to go, despite longing for the woods, which I must have close to me every day.
I baked gingerbread cakes. Two. My plan was four, but after the two took half the afternoon, I said that was enough for one day. I am a tad rusty. I’ll consider more tomorrow. These are to share with our family in the area (to take to them, as they aren’t coming over). For the first half hour I was actually relaxed…even happy, mixing and measuring and greasing the pans. Very unusual to act as if I knew what I was doing and feel it’s true. But wouldn’t you know it, I got distracted by thinking about the amount of ginger the recipe listed, how strong that would be on the tongue, then no cloves anywhere to be found, only cinnamon and ginger. What would be best to do?
I had to research things again. And then got off track. So many options for basic gingerbread. When I got back to measuring and stirring, I looked in the huge bowl with half-blended ingredients. Then at the small amount of flour mixed with spices in a littler bowl. And I was suddenly not sure how much flour I’d already measured or how much had been already mixed in.
Remember, this is double the original recipe. It was a lot of flour and molasses and butter and other stuff. It took work to use the hand mixer, more work to use the wooden spoon. And even more flour had to go in–or was it a lot more?
Then came that seizure of uncertainty, the kind where I just want to run away and cry out. I am a reasonable grandmother; I do not need to panic over any cake. I need to take stock. But this can happen. I’ve been known to even throw in the towel occasionally, as this is what cooking can do: stare me down, threaten to defeat me. Especially if it is to be a special offering. Not born with natural cooking talents, I’m usually determined, organized. So to start like I did, relaxed and waltzing about the kitchen…it was stunning to be stopped by my own neglect/ forgetfulness/interest in research… if not actually baking.
My husband, trying to help (I think), said that next time I ought to measure out all the dry ingredients first and then… I tried to not glare at him. Well, I do know that, didn’t do it, thought all was well. Confidence in the kitchen is a dangerous thing for those like me. I wonder over the fact that so many people feel kitchen creativity is akin to tying nice new shoes with appropriate and attractive shoelaces–and there, good, off we go.
But words–I know how to call up, choose and measure those okay. So I talked to myself more sweetly and thought of my children whom I love beyond any sort of measure. Then looked at the cake batter and let Marc stir it a bit and give his opinion. I decided to go forward in my own way, to get it done. It got poured into pans and cooked in the oven, its spicy fragrance like forgiveness for any mistakes.
I then made the lemon sauce. He wanted to help with lemon peel grating but no, I grated, I squeezed with my bare hands then measured the juice, then stirred the saucepan and said to myself, This lovely, light, partly opaque sauce will be so good on that warm gingerbread. Just like my mother’s always was.
Oh, yes. Like my mother’s always was. Served richly warm with the sweet/tart lemony sauce and a small side of vanilla ice cream on pretty china plates, with water goblets shining in the final afternoon light, and a tablecloth so colorful and smelling of freshness made better with a steaming iron. And I knew she cared for us all; she made the effort, gave us beauty and good food along with good manners and a penchant for laughter and tale telling and so much more.
So that’s why I was in the kitchen today. Why I just stepped out on the balcony for a time, looking into the woods, feeling that magnetic pull to the trails. But then said no, not now. I can walk tomorrow, after I eat a bit of food Marc will mostly make. And in the morning we’ll chat with family over Zoom as so many will. And I’m daily relieved we’re well and doing nicely–no one has lost their mind, no one has died, o thank God…. Some days are much better than okay. Some not so acceptable. I some mornings do not easily rise from the warm covers, that naïve but tempting shelter. Then remember how much I get to learn and write, take pictures and read, and the walks and hikes and people to love. The ineffable mystery of it all which keeps me rising, anyway.
Life seems more moving and wonderful to me, if also more tender, fragile. The days are like a delicate span of a spider’s web strung with drops of shimmering beads of rain, and swaying in sunlight and wind and into a length of darkness. We live it a moment only, then another and another. It can be torn away without mercy. We can repair much of what is ripped or broken. Not all, no, surely not. It is this humanness we share, a clarion bell calling us to action or to repose, to deeper acceptance or to persistent re-creation. To get up, to be. Connect.
Meanwhile, in the coming ordinary day, another gingerbread will be made. Or not. Maybe I will add only scones. They also will go to children and grandchildren. Because I do care to make things in the kitchen for them.
My son and his wife are making turkey dinner to take to the streets, the homeless. That gives me pause. How dare I fuss over gingerbread? Is it shame I feel? No. All of life matters, that’s why I can write about gingerbread. And we do what we can, and do more when we are so moved. It all breaks my heart with its miracles and simplest things, and mends it, too.
Blessings to you and yours. And gratitude for all who have come before us.
Our travelling days are on pause, but we can walk daily into the embrace of nature within our neighborhood. If all trails were completed, we’d knock off a robust 8 miles. This is very hilly country with plenty of steeper ascents and descents. There are also several tributaries of creeks emptying into the Tualatin River and Willamette River and Oswego Lake. Walking carries us around/about an extinct volcano, our old-timer Mt. Sylvania. When we first moved out here, I was amazed every time out I discovered more paths that interconnected and took me pretty places. You can never get lost; the paths intertwine.
As a refresher for older readers and intro to new: Mountain Park is an award winning area of Lake Oswego, OR. designed in mid-to-late ’60s. It covers 200 acres of land–forest, riparian and wetland. And it culminates in the extinct volcano’s summit elevation at 975 ft. with panoramic views walking around the path. Well, that’s isn’t very high….but since Portland metro is in a valley, it is here. (Driving down to city center, my ears actually pop…a swift descent.)
I can’t take you to every park and greenspace today. But I’ve posted often about area trails. The photos here are recent–some taken today–and highlight parts of what I enjoy about living in this emerald paradise, on the volcano’s slopes. (Portland, FYI, has other volcanoes.) A majority of Mountain Park trails are paved and wide so it’s an easier time of it…especially appreciated during sodden winters with near-daily rains through spring–and handy for the mandate of social distancing, even outdoors. Let’s get walking.
Got to keep on moving! I pulled a leg muscle two weeks ago and it’s finally healing! It was tough to sit out the hiking I crave–state parks became more beloved this summer and fall. Now it doesn’t bother me to climb stairs and hills so I at least can relish faster, longer, more challenging walks again. Walking–and hiking– cures almost anything that ails me, keeps me wide awake to mysteries of this earth and the pleasures of movement. Marc caught me, below, as I crossed a favorite bridge.
We were home in an hour, a common walk time. I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of our wintry neighborhood walks. It can seem overfamiliar at times, but I feel fortunate to have easy access to trails/pathways–I walk out our door, go uphill or downhill and take off. My long ago repaired heart has gotten even stronger since, according to my cardiologist, I am completing a kind of circuit training here–and longer, more arduous hikes in the country. Being 70 is pretty good–despite aches and twinges that come and go– as long as I can walk and hike nearly every day! It is that valued.
Looking forward: I hope to have time to write the post on Wednesday, as usual. But that depends on how my baking goes. Since we aren’t gathering our big family for Thanksgiving due to the state lockdown/risk of contracting the virus, I have baking plans to help make up for it. I’ll share the results with my adult children and grandkids on Thursday.
Well, be kind to one another, practice self care. Live in peace as much as possible. I am counting my blessings daily despite challenges. I know you will find yours, too. Despite losses and sorrows we must bear sooner or later, we keep on, kindle hope in any small way. It is better to live in good faith with gratitude–and I thank God for the breath to do it–than to give up and miss all the moments of splendor we can find or create.
PS I have an anniversary today: after ten years of WordPress posts, I still very much appreciate your presence. Thank you for being here, to partake of my life and to let me enjoy some of yours in return.I have gotten through many trying times and celebrated wonders and triumphs while creating and offering these stories of healing and hope. And I have had much fun participating in the blogging world! So many fascinating people living rich lives–and people overcoming huge odds and making the world a better place. From my heart to yours, do take good care. I sincerely hope you can feel the love for life and humanity that I mean to share with you.
An imperturbable demeanor comes from perfect patience. Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace like a clock during a thunderstorm.—Robert Louis Stevenson