Wednesday’s Passing Fancy/Nonfiction: In the Kitchen…and Dreaming of the Woods

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.

Monday’s Meanders: Walking an Aged (Suburban) Volcano/Giving Thanks

One view from Nansen Summit, Mt. Sylvania

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.

I love the mossy rock walls along many paths.
This shot and the one below…show a part of
…the neighborhood’s largest greenspace, undergoing restoration and storm water management.
This view of another portion was taken a couple wks. ago–leaves were still hanging on more. Like taking a break here on a bench, wandering along the narrow tributary behind greenery.
Note the well-fed squirrel on the right of the wood pile. He looks…utterly stuffed.
The ubiquitous but pretty ivy…cannot keep it at bay for long.
A lovely park for dogs with their people. It is actually downhill to this fairly flat spot.
People leave painted rocks along the path for all to enjoy.
Glimpses of the Coast Mountains beyond foothills–1.5 hours from us is the Pacific Ocean.

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 have several tunnels under streets for safe passage. Marc is making his way through one.
The other side–one for each direction.
I paused and considered this path. We like this climb up but it gets very muddy. Since it becomes quite steep, it is easy to slide back in spots . Waiting until it stops raining a couple days!
The view of the sunset beyond the living room window when we got back.

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.

Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Playing for One

If she loved you once, she might love you twice

but this is her game, it is played as solitaire.

No fine king of diamonds, no mad jack of spades;

no fancy club for the lovelorn where you

can outmaneuver with a winsome grace.

This is not the game where anyone wins.

It is one heart played and nothing more to spare.

Like a dreamy master game, one step forward,

crisscross, slide three over but the window will close.

Set a table as if waiting for two– although

no service is forthcoming, no challenge of wits;

not even remembrances served with an aperitif.

After a cleansing fast, she may even return;

but this is her game and still true to one heart

it is played alone, remains a lively solitaire,

a long running, loss-defying life of solitaire.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Small Meditation on Winter’s Wishes

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

The rain drums, a powerful watery background chorus. It is snowing in nearby Cascade Mountains, and this makes me as happy as the rain music. I am warm and dry. At my feet, a tumbling stack of magazines and catalogs. Mug of tea at hand, I sort them into save/toss piles. The magazines once read must go. I hold back on catalogs. They are an invitation to good cheer and I will sit down with a few later.

They’ve been daily stuffed into the mailbox for weeks, then made the rounds from hands to a spot along a living room wall for leisurely browsing, in good company with a select group of nonfiction books on healing and travel, brushes with death and our wilder (nature-freed) selves. By now, just over a month before Christmas, companies have launched an all-out appeal to our vulnerable selves and skimpy wallets, hoping against hope that businesses will yet profit. Online, too, they try casting the spell. We’re held captive indoors again by threat of illness–and perhaps inclement weather– so we nestle into greater security of home. We wish for something that may comfort and reassure, I’d guess. So it is alright by me that I have one more vividly colored vehicle of wishfulness in my hands. (Except for paper waste, but I recycle them all).

The fact is, I’ve a long habit of delving into catalogs and for more time than sensible. It began in childhood, as it does with many. I took them aside– usually it was J.C. Penny or Sears–kept them unmarred for the moment when I’d thumb through each page, check off items I liked best with pencil or pen, turn down each requisite corner a tidy triangle to note their placement. And then a repeat until all my hopes were noted–despite knowing that Santa Claus or family would not be indulging me much. My parent’s were thrifty to the point of penny pinching, reflecting their generation’s trauma from the Depression again.

In any case, the looking gave rise to pleasure. (I liked all the details about colors, sizes, materials, usages–it appealed to my dream of becoming a reporter, I think, like Brenda Starr in the comics; it satisfied my need for specificity.) I felt something different from greed, though as a kid I wanted that blue Schwinn bike more than anything, new white leather figure skates–such extravagances– or more Nancy Drew books plus a clean new notebook and pencil. It was a simpler thing than desire that I felt. Magic. It was being transported into a realm other than the usual, a free jaunt through a quasi-fantasy land where everyone was smiling, all seemed unbreakable and guaranteed fun. I was a kid so I could afford time away from banality of chores and pressures of life. Catalogs, then, could be gateways to possibilities.

I kept getting them in the mail as I grew up, different ones reflecting my age added to the usual family types. I’d suspected after the internet there’d cease to be “wish books” printed for customers, but no, they kept coming. And decades later I look and wonder: would those narrow-wale, pewter-colored corduroy jeans hold up several years? The teal sweater be good from fall to spring? What about that unusual woven wild grass wreath with a straw bow? And the front outdoor mat is wearing out…perhaps an abstract design in warm hues? The things that are for sale out there astonish me. How can we want or need so much? Most of it appears irrelevant to me. I glance, move on to items that hold my attention well. T-shirts. Jewelry. Art. Good cotton socks. Books.

Still, catalogs have provided a practical means to an ends. I’ve tended to shop online part of the time for Christmas in addition to perusing tons of glossy pages, and shopping in-store the other part, often at small businesses. With five children and seven grandchildren to carefully consider, I need all the help I can get. Despite being a creative person and taking pleasure in giving, I’m not the most original gift chooser. I fuss over each, hoping it’s worth the money and will give the receiver enough satisfaction. We all hope for that…nothing worse than opening a gift one doesn’t need or like. I value unique ideas from shopkeepers as well as sources like Etsy, for example, or art galleries and independent booksellers– and occasionally big box stores with dependable varieties.

But then came 2020.

As the temperature lowers, I realize more each day it’s different this year, and not only because shopping in person will be tough at best, nonexistent at worst as the virus spirals out of control. Everything has begun to feel upside down this pre-holiday season. Things have also altered since my husband’s position was scrubbed from the company hierarchy in spring; a brutal streamlining due to decrease in business. Gift shopping, then, is not a high priority. Or maybe not even on the list.

Still, I gather catalogs at the dining table or easy chair or at bedtime bed—turn pages slowly, pen in hand to mark away. This lifetime habit is not going away easily. It doesn’t seem to bother me that I can’t enjoy a little extravagance. I still study interesting options, ruffle the paper and inhale its distinctive scent, hear the light, dry whisper of pages turning, feel its cool slickness–all part of an easy congeniality that’s become harder to find. It may even be more pleasant than other years. I don’t need to worry about appropriate gifts yet still enjoy the displays, and think of each family member fondly. Okay, I do love to buy things for people. Just…Not. Right. Now.

One yearly obsession is the Harry & David catalog. I usually order with some glee. An Oregon-based business, they offer healthier if traditional snack options (good cheeses, crackers, nut mixes) and sweet indulgences. But mainly it’s their beautiful, luscious fruit. Oh, those H & D pears– unlike any other I’ve tasted, sweet and juicy, velvety to tongue. It’s been a tradition to buy a pear box for everyone–and they’re always delighted.

But the next magnetic pull is to the toddler gifts. We have a Portland store called Finnegan’s, a very good toy store. My, our girl power twins are getting big and smart. I can nearly ditch common sense trying to not buy them goodies. Especially this year. I must use my restraint; they are not even two yet.

However, it’s not just holiday shopping that lures me. It’s the weather and how it turns. From six months of bright warm days to six of darkened, chilled, sodden ones, one starts to bundle up some. Farewell, capris and sandals and filmy tops. I love my jeans and black ankle boots, the worn waterproof trail shoes (I think the soles carry a little dirt from last year).

My Michigan childhood pointed the way to the lifelong plan: the temp goes down and the hunt was on for itchy woolen school attire. Multiple layers. And boots, mittens/gloves, hats, scarves: snow gear. A new toboggan would have made me more happy. I eagerly anticipated building snow forts in high drifts, and trudging through uninhabited Stark’s Nursery behind our house with my trusty sled in tow, setting out on an Arctic exploration…how far to the ice floe? Anyway, I’d begin perusing the pages, narrowing down the best options, then (as I got bigger) my mother and I often embarked on shopping trips to bigger cities,. Another pleasant diversion from the usual daily regimen, and studying, practicing my cello and working on figures for my skating class, and doing chores. Like shoveling heavy snow.

Preparation for changes of seasonal clothing happened four times a year, more or less into my twenties. Thus, this past September when I spotted an L.L.Bean hooded Primaloft jacket slashed from $189 to $29.99, I jumped on it. (Maybe it was last year’s color or there was a slight alteration in design.) Our winters are mild compared to those in my Michigan youth–almost no snow at 800 feet–but that doesn’t mean it’s ever balmy. It hit 39 degrees once already. So I pictured myself wearing the jacket instead at the wind-howling coast or on forest hikes half the year…and gifted myself. I was so excited to wear it at the beach, I basically advertised it on social media–despite it being a basic, warm jacket…well, simple things excite me.

That’s how it happened growing up. I’ve had to alter the habit. This year, only fabulous wool felt slippers to defend my feet against this west-facing place in the trees (by Glerups)–last year my toes fought against potential frostbite by nightfall– and then that jacket. I have other jackets. But this one was better. (I am not being paid to promote anything despite how it may look….that cheesy smile and all) I was trying to say in the pictures: Enjoy what’s good for you–nature, exercise! Get outdoors and love life now! while showing off my new jacket. Not as stylish as they come, but snuggly. Since I can get cold fast, this is a primo review.

Alas, I’ve long had a small addiction to certain outdoor or sports wear brands–so, too, catalogs. L.L.Bean, Land’s End, REI, Cabela’s, Columbia Sportswear. Thank goodness for sales. And pages to study, finding anticipation for more adventures. Some day. Any pleasant image can help these days.

It may seem superficial but it’s relaxing to browse catalogs. Kids’ educational games and toys; tools; electronics of many sorts; books/book lovers’ curios; home goods (ah, good linens and towels); food goodies; flowers in bunches; spring seed packets (dreams begin with small seeds); music and movies; Vermont old country store stuff (random); varieties of flours for baking; arts and crafts supplies; sports equipment; papers and pens; art prints; clothing–so on and so forth.

And it can fuel my curiosity, especially those from, say, the Museum of Modern Art or National Geographic Society. I may discover new things such as how a rechargeable tool is multiple-use, or a newly-spotted squid moving among enchanting undersea forms and colors. Or, too, that some youth-touting facial serum made from seaweed and other “organics” can lower my precious cash reserves by $250–give me splashes of cold spring water. I admit to an interest, however, in perfumes. The unusual olfactory-awakening combinations; scents created with all natural ingredients, and how they’re described so poetically: who wouldn’t want to wear “Dance of the Moonlit Sea”? Only, in Italian. Smells that much better in my mind. (And how can I get a job making up those names?)

By far the best are book catalogs which have me riveted for several sittings. A new book by an unknown but intriguing author. Look–a whole new genre! Dare I order this or that? I dare not. I have access to a free library; we can put things on hold now and pick them up… But I can look and consider. I make a wish list, file it in a notebook for safekeeping for the day when I can wander for hours in the intoxicating maze of Powell’s Bookstore downtown again.

I admit holiday catalogs impact me in a less festive manner now. I know I won’t be ordering much. I get excited for one person or another, then remember this year is a lean one. An isolated one. But I am not that crafts-y, so what next? Local nurseries for…something pretty…I was considering a lovely birch/pine centerpiece for a daughter (or us) when it hit me harder: no one will see it in person but Marc and me this year. Well, it’s still attractive. It still would smell woodsy-delicious.

I may get it for daughter, Aimee, anyway. Family love comes to us at no price; we still can share it one way or another. But, too, the new jacket will be donned in chilly dampness for years. My new slippers will do the job. I maintain that it’s good to have catalogs for occasional supplemental semi-reading. These are neutral or amusing moments we can spend that offer us choices. They bring back a wistfulness for what we want to believe were kinder days, perhaps. It’s healthy to daydream some. And it’s a bonus to find a great sale, no matter the time of year.

Back in the day…

Monday’s Meanders: River Magic/Dusk, Twilight

I’ve walked later in the day recently, mostly to avoid heavy rainfalls, and find the river more beautiful than ever as the winter sun begins to set. These are taken at stretches of path along Foothills Park, an apt name. A section closed during summer for updating reopened; it has been a pleasure to enjoy it again. I hope you like these peaceful offerings.

May peace and beauty comfort you in your daily labors, and amidst these tumultuous times.