Archive for November, 2010


I could only spend about an hour helping with the annual greening of the Elmhurst library this morning, so, I can’t take any credit for all the beauty that emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon, but, I can show you these lovely beauties that flitted in and landed in the children’s section. It was so gratifying to hear the excitement of the children coming in and seeing the trees the Elmhurst Garden Club were decorating. The cranes of last December returned again near the circulation desk. Members of the club have been decorating the library for more than fifty years.

I helped for a short while and then needed to leave for an earlier planned event – tea with three friends from high school!  Eloise, Janet and I met at Phyllis’ charming house where we had an elevenish, which lasted until well after three! It is so much fun to meet up with old friends who share a long ago part of your life and to be able to pick up the next thread of conversation without so much as a lost stitch. I am so grateful for all these women in my life (and a lot of good men as well).

This all just seems to be part of the wondrous way the Advent season of anticipation opens up for me. I hope you are experiencing some of these simple pleasures as well.


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All images are from Google.

I am often hunched over, reading our book discussion book late into the night before, in bits and pieces through the afternoon of, or even in the car minutes before we meet. A nasty habit of putting it off. Not because I don’t want to read the book, rather, because I have so much else I want to read, I don’t want to forget the characters before the discussion or I get busy with other things.

I just finished the December book.

It wasn’t a hard read and I knew I would be especially busy before our mid-December get together, so, I picked it up and was soon immersed in the crime at hand. We usually pick a lighter read for December, most often a Christmas book – a fun read to go along with our yearly book exchange and Christmas culinary delights. This year we picked Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.

I haven’t bit into an Agatha Christie mystery for a long while, though they are always page turners for me. I love any film adaptation, especially on PBS and I eagerly watch Miss Marple or Poirot, portrayed brilliantly by David Suchet, every chance I get.  For some unknown reason, however, I have never seen or read Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. I cannot explain why (the dog ate it?), but, was happy to correct the error of my ways with December’s book group pick.

I won’t ruin it for any of you that haven’t read it, especially my group of “bookies”,  I will just say what a fun read it was. When Simeon Lee is murdered in his room, the door locked from inside, and no one seen leaving it, a horrific scream and loud noise the only warning that something has happened, a crime scene is marked and it just so happens that M Poirot is in the vicinity to help solve the crime. It was a delightful page turner and I honestly didn’t know “who done it” until the villain was finally revealed.

There are so many print editions of  . . . Poirot’s Christmas from Great Britain and the U.S. and Canada, that it was fun to see all the book covers, a few of which I have splattered across this post.

This isn’t the type of holiday read with trees and tinsel and snow and gingerbread cookies that many books with the word Christmas have on the covers, but, it was the start of my yearly yen to read yuletide yarns.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading mysteries or novels or children’s books that evoke the holidays right about now? Do you have a favorite(s), perhaps one you read year after year? Do you have a favorite Agatha Christie mystery? Have you discovered Agatha Raisin? Is there a book you have been wanting to read for a long time – or one you just discovered?

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Still life in the forest

November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.
Elizabeth Coatsworth

There is still life in the forest, though the trees and brush seem barren and the late afternoon is quiet, with only the winsome rustle of the trees and the shadows long. There is still life in the forest.

We took a walk in the late afternoon along our favorite White Oak Trail, the two of us, alone, except for a family with small children, skipping along in the leftover leaves and starting to feel the nip of the air. About half way into our walk, we caught the sun hitting these berries, warming the path with its color.

Further along, we stopped at a dead tree, covered in moss and lichen, and we marveled at its presence so late into November.

I don’t mind November so much. It is a settling in feeling after the flurry of activities, preparing for winter, and a good afternoon walk was just what we needed to be reminded that their was still life in the forest.

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Talk of old movies and holidays tends to remind me of family members, past and present. Right about now, with my birthday fast approaching, I think of Uncle George. The oldest sibling in my father’s family, he was tall, a bit shy, and quite handsome. The legend goes that my cousin Ted and I came running into the kitchen one day to tell whoever was within earshot to come and look at the television set. Uncle George was on! The story of Clark Gable’s resemblance to Uncle George would be, and still is, told around the family table.

Uncle George died on my birthday 23 years ago. This sad event heralded a string of family members passing away on birthdays. It wasn’t until Heather gave birth to Scott on my birthday years later that the cycle was broken, bringing a smile to my heart in so many ways.

In this season of Advent and anticipation, I think frequently of Uncle George. We have to get through my birthday in order to start Christmas. This worked well as our girls were growing up. It gave them a day and a date to look to before our holiday preparations began. It still does. Penny’s birthday followed by St. Nicholas Day, when the decorations would appear, slowly at first, then, with the purchase of a tree, with more zeal. I like that. I like the slow opening of seasons and celebrations. My birthday, that miraculous birth that my mother likened to that of the Christ child, was the starting point of it all . . .  I once again digress and will tell you more about my wondrous birth another time.

I have been, you see, thinking about the joy of anticipation; for celebrations and presents, for decorations and births, and for rites of passage. I was thinking, as well, of Uncle George. Born soon after the dawn of the 20th century, my uncle must have always had a liking for well-cut clothes. He stands as a young lad of about twelve in this picture, my dad to his side, my grandfather seated. George was already a dapper young lad at the time of the portrait and he must have eagerly anticipated the day he would no longer have to wear those cropped breeches.

The story goes, as I recall, that he finally reached the day when he would no longer have to wear knickers – pants young lads wore in the early 1900’s that came to the knee. Now, I know knickers are a name for women’s undergarments in other lands, but, they were the name for boy’s pants (and baseball uniforms) when my uncle was a boy and graduating from knickers to long slacks was an anticipated male rite of passage. Off George went to school his first knickerless morning, probably feeling quite pleased with himself and his newfound station in life.

Newfound stations come and go quickly sometimes. The tracking of information in the close-knit Greek community was like that of so many other ethnic groups of that era. It was as swift as the information highway we now take for granted, and likely more accurate and fact based. A death, a birth, an injustice or offense spread quickly from mouth to ear, from store to church to home.

My grandmother, Yia Yia, was wise and welcoming and truly the salt-of-the-earth sort of woman. At well under 5 feet tall and as round as the powdered sugar cookies she made, she also ruled the roost with good-natured humor coupled with steely determination. Her children were to obey the rules or there would be a price to pay.

With six mouths to feed and shelter and clothe,  every penny counted. My grandfather had a good job, but, the immigrant experience was one of hard work and thriftiness and remembering how far one had come. Clothes were most often hand made, handed down, repaired and restyled. Nothing was wasted.

George returned home that first day of long pants, coming through the door at just the right time, schoolbooks in hand, a jaunt to his step. Yia Yia greeted him with a stern look –  and a pair of scissors. The rest is legend. Family lore. Punishment swift. A cautionary tale for his siblings. A reminder that rules were not to be broken.  My grandmother, already shorter than George, assigned him to the top of a chair and to his horror she started to snip, in a nice straight line, snip, snip, snip – the easier to hem. The long pants fell, right below the knee. George’s knickers reborn. How did she know that this come-of-age boy had skipped school on his very first knickerless day?!  Alas and alack, ach Columbus, etal, after all that anticipation, Uncle George had not yet earned the right to wear long pants.

Anticipation is good. It helps us appreciate what we are given; to savor and treasure and respect it until it is just the right time.

Don’t you agree?

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A brave new day

Tiny slices of rainbows are dancing round about wherever the sun catches a prism on this cold, cold November day.  I’m moving rather slowly today after several days of preparation and a great feast yesterday. There is really nothing quite like the mellow flavors of a turkey dinner; the thyme and sage and rosemary, the cranberries and sweet potatoes, roasted brown with a slight crunch. Sandy and Harvey brought us loaves of Challah bread, plucked from a bakery in New York yesterday morning to grace our meal last night. These tasty loaves were not deterred by airport security. Pies and cake and wine and good conversation flowed and a call from Katy wishing us well was the best desert of all. Heather brought a green tin filled with Crate & Barrel Sea Salt Caramels. Have you every tried one? Caramel, dark chocolate, and a dusting of sea salt. Bliss.  I noticed a few extra pieces missing when I opened the tin just now to click this picture. Aha! Jennifer, you have been discovered.

We have a new grandnephew, born on Wednesday, and, forevermore, our Thanksgiving child. Wondrous thing new babies are. I’m hoping to meet him soon, though pictures have floated my way already. Such a wonderful age we live in where a baby can be born and his picture sent via a cell phone for all the family to see.

I think I’ll eat just this one caramel now and then, fortified, go forth and brave this bright and frigid day.

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. . .  An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving


When Ma and Pa Bassett are suddenly called to Grandmother’s house in the middle of Thanksgiving preparations, the six Bassett children left at home, lead by oldest sister Tilly, decide to make a turkey dinner anyways.

Set in 19th century New Hampshire, this is one of Louisa May Alcott’s short stories that found its way into book form. I discovered it when we visited the river town of Stillwater, MN, home to many used and antiquarian bookstores. This lovely edition  jumped into my hands and followed me home. I like to take it out and read it around Thanksgiving. The illustrations in this edition, by Holly Johnson, are evocative of the Garth Williams pictures in the Little House books and remind me of Tasha Tudor.

In between cleaning and baking a Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaf, I pulled the book off of the shelf and browsed through it once again as the pictures took me away to an 1800’s farm in the east, and I scanned the recipes for Cranberry Sauce with Raisins, Johnny Cake, and Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump that follow the story in the back of the book.

After I set the table for tomorrow’s dinner, cover the pumpkin bread and pull out the big pans for the turkey and sweet potatoes, I think I’ll make a cup of tea, settle into a comfy chair, and read anew this little treasure, written in the 1870’s, not long after Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving. It is a good time to sit and reflect on all the things I have to be thankful for, including you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Festive Cranberry Relish

Years ago, at a PTA luncheon, we were treated to a relish I had never had before. It was fresh and tart and sweet and crunchy and a taste sensation I had not experienced before. I asked if I might have the recipe. It was wonderfully tasty and made me think of something Tom had talked about having as a child. It was late spring and Mary said she would get it to me. Time wandered on and I forgot it. About a month later, in June, when school was out and swimming lessons and picnics were the order of the day, a small envelope arrived in the afternoon mail with a note card inside, inscribed with Mary’s name and initials.  She said I would likely not need the recipe for the Festive Cranberry Relish until Thanksgiving, but, she wanted me to have it and to know she hadn’t forgotten me . . .

. . . and I have never forgotten Mary’s kindness.

I still have the card, folded and creased and cranberry stained for at least 25 Thanksgivings. It did remind Tom of the cranberry relish he had at his grandparent’s in Ohio and the girls loved it then and love it still. It is as much a part of our Thanksgiving meal as the turkey itself. Mary, sadly, passed away a few years ago after a battle with cancer, but, I still have her recipe, written in her own hand on the simple and elegant note card that she remembered and took the time to send to me. I pull it out each year, though I know the recipe by heart, and I feel its folds and, in it between the lines of amounts of fruit and measurements, I remember the many good things Mary did and the quiet ways she touched so many of us. It is a simple recipe and a similar one can be found on the back of packages of cranberries this time of year, but, well, you know, to me it is Mary’s cranberry relish and it will always remain a special, once-a-year treat to be savored at our Thanksgiving table.

I made it earlier this evening, right after dinner. Tom helped cut up the apple and wash the oranges, for the whole orange goes in the relish. We both took a small taste before putting it in the refrigerator, where it will mellow over the next two days. I’ll freeze some for when our Minnesota contingency arrives come Christmas, and I’ll find a pretty glass dish to set some in for our Thanksgiving dinner. I’ll smile just a bit as I set it out and send up a prayer of thanks for Mary and such a simple pleasure and for the many years it has remained an integral part of our celebration. I don’t think Mary would mind if I share the recipe and instructions here with you in her words.

Festive Cranberry Relish

2 medium oranges, unpeeled

1 lb fresh cranberries

1 med. apple, cored but unpeeled

1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Wash fresh fruit. Trim thin slice from both ends of oranges, cut in half lengthwise. Remove center core. Cut into chunks, whirl in covered electric blender until smooth, add cranberries and apple, blending until finely chopped. Stir in sugar, pineapple and nuts. Chill at least 2 hrs. Relish freezes well.

(I use a food processor)

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