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By degrees

In spite of the frigid temperatures, the sun is out and warming the house. The snow is glistening and I can hear the finch, quarreling over whose turn is next at the feeder. It is February – that time of year when the sun is so welcome after gloomy days, snow, and more snow, icy temperatures and grey skies. It is also the time of year when we know we are on the other side of winter, the days lengthen, and before long the bulbs will begin to emerge from their long winter’s sleep.

For us, here on the Cutoff, it is the time of year when the morning sun slips gently in through our dining room windows and touches furniture and pictures and books, if for just a few brief moments. It’s rays glance around corners, ever-so-shyly, staying just long enough to remind us that it is still there.

It happened this morning.

As I came down our long flight of stairs, I could see an angel ray coming straight from the east, past the dining room’s threshold, across the span of the living room, and landing, in a far away corner – a sunbeam lighting a candle.

A welcome guest when the temperature is hovering at 1° Farenheit.

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Unfurling

Mrs. Robin sits patiently on her nest these day. We can see her tail from out of the back door. It is only a matter of time before the eggs hatch and one of is, shall we say christened as we try to get the key in the door without disturbing her. Right now we have a sign on the door, warning visitors, and mainly us, to tread softly. She flew away before I could get her picture today.

Woody the Woodchuck was sighted again just this morning, rooting around the back lawn. He’s rather shy, though when provoked sets off a shrill warning whistle.  A rather rotund raccoon waddled around the front, then meandered across the street with nary a care in the world. I suspect a family will soon arrive. The chippies scampered about, looking for seeds and such after a long winter of resting. One likes to sit on a tree stump right outside the dining room window. If I’m quiet, he sits, nibbling on his latest discovery, his tail curled around his striped little body. Eventually, no matter how still I am, he will sense my presence inside, and start chattering before running to his hole and disappearing. A few horses with riders draw past on the road and I hear an oriole, but haven’t yet seen it.

It is all somewhat comforting. A new season has arrived and with it renewed hope. The spring bulbs continue their show and the summer perennials emerge with more confidence each day, like these ferns that are just beginning their alluring act of unfurling, ready to strike a pose.

One of the few plants the deer have not nibbled on.

Today, it rained. That’s okay. We needed it. I love to walk around the garden right after a rain. Even in early spring, the air smells fresh and you can almost feel the growth around you.

Last year we had the most magnificent blossoms on the tree peonies. Some of them were the size of dinner plates. I took some great pictures, which was fortunate, for I don’t think there will be as many this year, thanks to a late night raid late last fall by the roaming gang of deer. For now, I’m content to walk around and count the meager blossoms, let out a sigh, and shed a few tears on the leaves.

Only kidding. I'm fascinated with raindrops clinging to leaves. This is one of the tree peonies after Friday's shower.

How about you?  What is happening in your garden or on your daily walks?

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Fishin’Pals

http://www.cksinfo.com/ sports/fishing/index.html

Don’t you just love to hear where an interesting idea goes – how it starts swimming around like a fish just under the water, making little circles on top as it floats around, just waiting for the right moment for you to reel it in. A good ol’ fishin’ story to catch in your net.

Fishin’Pals is one such story. I remember first hearing about it from my very dear friend, Janet. She and her husband, Jim, were starting a ministry in Virginia. Virginia, Illinois, that is. It involved fishing and fellowship and was geared toward giving children a place to have fun while enjoying God’s good earth.

When asked about the history of Fishin’Pals, founder Jim Dillow states that

“FishinPals began back in 2002 with the idea of taking the church outside the walls. The ministry had been forming in my heart for some time and had been talked about for a year before it actually came into existence.  Right from the beginning the Lord moved individuals into the ministry that shared the same vision of using fishing as a way to reach people for Him and to let the world see that believers do more than attend church, read the Bible, and listen to Christian radio. So much fellowship seems to take place in a church basement or fellowship hall with only other believers seeing what takes place.”

I like the idea  of “taking the church outside the walls“.  I like the idea of inviting children to a wholesome activity where they can interact with each other, with adults, and with nature. I like the idea of Fishin’Pals and all it has brought in the past 10 or so years to the mostly rural area surrounding Virginia, Illinois.

Fishin’Pals holds free events and competitions at area lakes and ponds where children and adults alike can fish, enjoy nature, and each other in a safe environment.  Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult sponsor and there is fishing equipment on loan for those who don’t have their own – free of charge. Events involve fishing and fellowship, intergenerational interactions and building friendships.

All good fishing seems to include food. So it is with Fishin’Pal events. Hot dogs, fish, or barbecue with plenty of “dishes to pass” brought by participants, surely make for hearty noontime eating after devotions.  Yep! I like the notion of taking the church outside the walls.

When asked if one had to be a Christian to participate, Jim readily replied “NO!!  FishinPals is open to all who has an interest in fishing or just getting together with others.” An inclusive invitation that goes to the heart of this ministry.

Fishin’Pals has gained worldwide interest, though they have maintained a non-denominational, grass roots commitment. Their roots are in the ponds and lakes and people that surround them. Participants come from about a 40 mile radius, though visitors have travelled 200 miles or more to see what Fishin’Pals is all about.

The furthest visit came from across the internet after a marine sergeant, stationed in Iraq, signed the site’s guestbook.  States Jim , “After several correspondences with him, I mentioned that I thought we could get some tackle together to send to his outfit if he was interested and he said sure. We were able to send his guys several hundred dollars worth of rod/reels and misc. tackle. ” Yep! I like the idea of taking the church outside the walls.

This photo was taken from the Fishin’Pals website. I wish I could write more, but my day wanes. Instead, I encourage you to go to the Fishin’Pal website, read a bit more about their mission of fishing, friendship and fellowship. Of memory building and “good plain fun” and of youth and adult interaction and building relationships. There are links to fishing history and an inspiring video of of Clay Dyer, born with only a right stump for a limb, who is a master bass fisherman. Or, if so inclined, learn how to fillet and clean fish along with some kids out for a day of fishing and fun.   www.fishinpals.net (that net part is neat, don’t you agree?)

One of many photos from the Fishin'Pal website of their donation of fishing equipment to soldiers in Iraq. www.fishinpals.net/Pictures_From_Iraq.php

Photo of soldiers in Iraq, fishing with equipment donated by Fishin'Pals. http://www.fishinpals.net

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The Grapevine, Part II

The kitchen table was covered with newspapers to keep it protected and to help absorb the moisture from the grape leaves. The leaves had to washed and then picked through as we looked for little green worms that had to be discarded or a leaf that had been chewed on by some creature from the woods. The stems had to be pinched off at just the right spot. We would wash and pick and snap and inspect until every leaf passed inspection. The leaves were then placed in neat piles, temples to our gastronomical delights.

After the leaves were sorted, they needed to be sewn together. Only Yia Yia and Another One did the sewing. Inexperienced or clumsy hands might tear the delicate leaves. They would thread the needles and start sewing, one-by-one, in and out, fingers working quickly, efficiently, nimbly, until all of the leaves were on long and magnificent and fragrant garlands.

At this point, we could go out and play, but I liked to sit and watch and listen to these two women, whom I adored. I knew enough Greek to know they were talking about food; who was the better cook or who in other parts of the family were the worst, what spices enhanced what dish, when Louis might bring over the must from making wine so a pudding, mustalevria, could be made. I loved listening to their banter and feeling the security of family as they worked for what seemed like hours stringing the leaves in with a time worn rhythm for future meals.

Once the leaves were strung, they would be gingerly taken down to the basement, where nails were hammered into the studs. The leaves, you see, needed to be hung to dry. All summer long we children would bask in the fruity fragrance of drying grape leaves. We would go downstairs and play house or school or pretend it was Christmas. To this day, if I smell a certain muskiness of drying leaves, I am transported to my childhood home and the garlands of grape leaves.

I’m telling you, we had the best summer decorations on the whole block. Sometimes friends would come over to play and we would try to explain what these strange garlands were. Our friends, who didn’t know how to eat as well as our family  did, I am sure, would remark “You eat these? Really?”.  Oh, yes, we did.

 

greekfood.about.com

 

Long, long after our springtime excursion into the deep woods, when frost covered the windows and smoke curled out of the chimney, we would watch, expectantly, as a few strings of leaves were pulled down from the ceiling. The leaves were gingerly removed from the thread, boiled ever-so-gently to soften and rehydrate, wrapped around a delectable meat mixture, and simmered in an egg/lemon sauce. Our plates would be piled high as we grandchildren held little contests to see who could eat the most, while the tartness of the lemons and the fruitiness of the leaves would pinch our tongues as we sated our senses with this savory meal of dolmathes.

I would sit for a few moments longer and remember the wonder of it all.

The hiking and picking and toting the leaves home.

There are some wild  grape vines nearby and they will be leafing out soon with tender young leaves.

Dolmathes . . .

.   .   .   and hunting for leaves in the green, green woods.

Have you ever gathered your food? How did you do it? Who showed you how?


 

 

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I don’t know how she knew. She just did, though no vines grew in our yard or anywhere near us. My Aunt Christina would be dispatched from next door as my mother gathered shopping bags and newspapers, and the telephone would be dialed to Another One Yia Yia’s house.

The next day my great-aunt would arrive early, chattering over a cup of coffee and something sweet until we would see my aunt pulling her black and white Plymouth out of the garage.  It looked like a squad car to me. My mother, sister, grandmother, great-aunt and I would all pile in with Aunt Christian and off we would go in search of the wild grape leaves that grew in the forest preserve.

Grape leaves are used in a delectable dish called Dolmathes. Leaves are wrapped around a tasty meat and rice filling, much like stuffed cabbage rolls, and topped with a tangy, frothy lemon sauce. It is a favored dish in many Greek homes and the house specialty in Greek and other ethnic restaurants. Today, the leaves can be purchased in any Mediterranean specialty store and in many supermarkets, preserved in jars or cans. In my youth, however, there was only one way to get these leaves, and that involved a yearly trek into the green, green woods early in the summer.

The car would wend its way up Thatcher Avenue, slowly, purposefully, looking for the parking entrance to the forest preserve. My aunt would park the car near a picnic grove and we would slowly emerge, two older, diminutive ladies, sweaters on, even in the emerging heat, scarves on their heads, shopping bags over their wrists, my mother and aunt, my sister and me, a plump testament to the good food served at our kitchen table. Folks would be setting up for a picnic lunch, young lads playing softball, maybe a Girl Scout troop working on badges . . . and us. Spring explorers from another land in search of the perfect vine.

The woods were close to the local high school. The one I would someday attend. I would secretly send up a prayer for anonymity, hoping no one would recognize me, or worse. Then, as now, it is illegal to pick from forest preserves and I knew I would be mortified if we were spotted by police. Scandal, jail, reform school for my sister and I, headlines in the Maywood Herald. My active imagination held no rest. How to explain this?

Off we would trudge, down a path, as conspicuous as we tried not to be, until the chattering would start anew as vines were found.

Yia Yia would show us what to pick. Only the tender, young leaves were plucked and she would show us how; quickly, with a flick of the fingers, so that the vines weren’t damaged and the leaf remained whole. We were doing our own pruning. Long before ecology became a common word on most lips, my immigrant grandmother knew to take only what was needed and to do it with care. If we were caught pulling other leaves or taking anything else, we were given a stern tongue lashing not soon forgotten.

We would pick and bag, pick and bag, until our fingers were stained green and our skin itched from twigs and bugs. By then, our criminal activity no longer matter, for I felt a part of an ancient ritual of women gathering food in the woods, tending to their clan, and I felt a part of a larger circle of survival.

We would gather up our shopping bags, their strong, twisted handles holding them up, as we headed back to the car. Yia Yia and Another One Yia Yia would twitter away like the birds in the trees, who were twittering as well, happy to reclaim their forest, cheering our departure.  I would settle down and listen to the euphonious sounds of elderly voices mixed in with my mother’s and aunt’s English sounding tongue, several languages floating out the car windows as we headed on home.

Hot, sweaty and thirsty, there was still much work to do once we got home. A glass of water and a little treat would hold us over and new work began in earnest to preserve our day’s bounty for the long winter days ahead, when snow covered the ground and the green, green woods were but a sweet scented memore.

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I Heard it Through the Grapevine

May I introduce the warm-up act to a later performance of Into the Woods; or Five Females, Four Grocery Bags, and Leaf Picking.

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Sisterhood

karenharveycox.blogspot.com

I had a busy weekend, meeting friends for breakfast Saturday. The kind of friends’ breakfast that took three hours and lots of laughs. There was church and chores and then a bridal shower on Sunday. All good things. Very good things.

I saw this picture and it made me think about spring and summer and the trees leafing out and flowering and of the earth swelling in new growth.

It made me think of my many dear friends and what we share and how we help each other through life’s ups and downs.

It made me think of my daughters, grown women now with lives of their own.

It made me think of my sister, who I saw today.

We didn’t get to talk at the shower we attended. Well, not much more than to say hello. We were seated at separate tables and engrossed in lively conversations with those around us.  I had my Jennifer by my side, she coming off of a busy few weeks, yet taking time to honor the bride-to-be. I felt fortunate to have her there with me; each of us having our own conversations; each of us turning to talk to each other as well.  There was a brief moment in between my bits of conversations and bites of food, that I looked, instinctively, to the next table and there was my little sister waving at me, a few fingers, just under her chin and in the air, as if to say “hi Penny, I’m here, don’t go away and leave until we are through”, she looking the eight year old to my ten as I waved back in reply.

This picture made me think of my sister when I saw it early Sunday morning. I don’t know why. I don’t really remember sitting this way, in the grass and reading with her as a child. We weren’t allowed on the grass, let alone sitting in it! It was something in the girls themselves. They seem to have the same age span as my sister and I. They seem to me to have different personalities, as we do, but, there is so much that they seem to have in common that is unsaid. They seem to know each other as only sisters can.

My dad always told us, especially if we were having a spat (what, you say?, sisters having a spat?), that we were closer to each other than anyone else on earth. We shared the same blood, he said. Blood that was even closer than that of our parents. He was trying to make us realize that no matter how upset or angry or hurt one of us may have made the other, we were sisters. There is nothing closer than sisters. A bond that is special.

I felt it today with a bit of a pang. My sister walked in slowly and she seemed to be in pain. I couldn’t get to her to help her, though someone else did, and she made it over to say hello before each of us were interrupted and separated.

Maybe it is because our mother would have turned 89 on Sunday, or that her own birthday is rapidly approaching, or that I am feeling the passage of time more acutely these days. Maybe it is that we are older and resembling our mother more and more in the process of aging. We are grandmothers ourselves now, these two sisters who once shared a small bedroom and had a common bond. Who argued passionately – and then defended each other. Who went to Greek school, who walked in the same patrol lines to grade school and who learned to dance the kalamatiano on Saturday mornings and showed off their footwork for the visiting relatives on Saturday evenings.  Who rushed to the front door one day after school, hearing a crash, only to turn around to see our television screen shattered into thousands of tiny pieces – the casualty of a sonic boom. Who cried when we buried our parents and who laugh and argue when we reminisce.

I don’t know. Maybe it is because I am reading Little Women in which sisters are so much the theme. Maybe the picture was placed in my way just at this time to give me pause to reflect on my own yia yia sisterhood with my sibling.

It is just a picture and I’m a sentimental type;  or maybe I was just meant to see it today, to remind me of so many things and to say them aloud and to keep them real.

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Rockin’ Robin

There is absolutely no reason for this posting, except that I have finally been able to put a video right onto the post! Thanks to Katy and to Janet for coaching me on this.

Ever since Mrs. Robin has taken up homemaking in the backdoor wreath,  the song Rockin’ Robin has been twittering through my head. I wasn’t able to upload (download? overload?) Bobby Day’s original version, but, a young Michael Jackson should have you ready for a little rockin’ and a rollin’ tonight!

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Nesting 101 . . .

.      .     .   or why you should take down your Christmas wreaths before March 1!

Something kept shooting past Tom’s head while we were eating dinner. It happened one night, then the next. From where I sit at the dinner table I could see it. Fast as lightning. At first, I thought birds were just landing on the overhang to our back door. Then, while walking back to house from inspecting the bluebird house, where no action was taking place, I saw a bird flying out from under the eave.

I sat on one of the arbor benches, a great little roosting spot for this old bird, and the activity continued. A bird was going into the wreath. In and out. In and out it flittered, strings and strays of this and that held tightly in its beak. I could see it purposefully knitting up among the artificial pine needles.

We watched as we worked outside, brought in groceries, came back from a walk. The busy business of nesting went on for what seemed like a week or so until we saw the finished product as we went out our back door one fine morning.

Can you see the robin's tail in the nest? If you click on the picture you may be able to get a better look.

We now are careful to walk around from either side of the wreathed overhang to go into the back door. We enter and exit cautiously, taking care to catch the screen door so it doesn’t slam. So far, Mrs. Robin is tolerant of our presence. I’m not sure what will happen when the eggs hatch.  It doesn’t matter. We may be inconvenienced for a while when there are nestlings, but, hey, we’ve been inconvenienced for other things, why not a new little family at our doorstep?

Mrs. Robin is sitting on the left, watching us watching her. Click!

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Sheds and shards

The other day we were clearing some leaves out of the flower beds. This takes several days to do. The beds are large, as are the leaves. We have three sycamore trees and I am certain that some of the leaves on our property were from the very tree Zacchaeus climbed on! They take forever to decompose.

Anyway, there we were, raking and leaf blowing and uncovering all the leaves that fell too late last Autumn to rake up and all the leaves we left on the ground to give winter protection and to hide tender shoots from the deer. I’d make a messy pile and Tom would put it in a can and haul it over to the compost pile. In between, we would make a pile of pick up sticks and he would arrange them handily and take them out to the curb for brush pickup.

I happened to look up as the renowned deer whisperer came back from one such trip. He was smiling.”What do you always call me?”. Hmmm. 37 years of marriage makes many pet names a wife might call her husband. The grin, however, said it all. Antler Man!

Tom is a tease and at first I thought he was pulling my leg.

There are four points on this antler shed and you can see where another is started and will grow this year to new heights. It is smooth, so smooth, and you can see the end where it was shed. Tom found it, of all places, near the road. A place where we have seen bucks cross.

The same day, earlier, I discovered a favorite saucer broken. Shards of brown. I have a set of six Royal Staffordshire cups and saucers by Clarice Cliff. The pattern is Tonquin and I spent four years collecting them. Finds at local antique shops and one at Ebay. Transferware. Nothing fancy – just my own fanciful desires. I have my morning tea out of them and they are to me evocative of another time . . .

. . . and so it is, here on the cutoff. Things we collect. Things that are shed – sometimes for the better, like this antler, making room for a new rack and a new year of growth.

I rather like that thought. Besides, I still have six cups!

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