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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Welcome to Fall

One of the things I have always enjoyed about making a new home feel like "ours" is opening boxes and finding the place where seasonal decorations will fit.  Now that Ben and Kristen's collection of autumn stuff joins with ours, we have even more than usual. This wreath is hung on our front courtyard gate and I smile every time I see it.  I hope it speaks welcome to our new neighborhood and makes our neighbors smile too. Even though we continue to have summertime temperatures here in South Texas, there is a difference in the light filtering through the still green trees. The morning mist seems heavier on the low spots as I look out over the lake behind our house. Houses are further apart, but most yards are beginning to sport some fall color, a pumpkin or two, and wreaths of their own. We are ready for fall - for autumn colors, smells of cinnamon and allspice, autumnal tables offering squashes like butternut and acorn, hot soups, and spicy chili. It is the season of fall gardens, county fairs, football games, pumpkin spice lattes, gingerbread, and apple cider.  Welcome to this season.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Hummingbird Visitors

The last 2 weeks our hummingbird feeders have been in demand. We have 4 feeders in several places in our yard, plus several container plants that have blooms they like,  so dozens of tiny, chattering hummingbirds whirl in at various times during the day to sip, sit, dive and dart, returning again and again for another taste of sweetness. They are quite territorial, claiming their dining rights vigorously. Most of the time we hear them before we see them, almost feeling as if we are in a bee hive.  What a delight!  I hope our guests feel welcome (and full) and mark our place as a place to stop during every fall and spring southerly migration. As we plan and plant in our new garden space, we will be sure to include blooms that attract hummingbirds!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

My Kitchen Table

During the preparation for our recent move, one of the pieces of furniture we chose not to bring with us was this table.  We were moving to share a home with our youngest son and his family. We would be using their furniture in our new dining room, and in the kitchen would be the table long used as our dining table, Grandma Terrell's oak table.  The butcher block parson's table that had graced our kitchens in 9 different homes over more than 40 years would need to go. It was sagging in the middle - showing its age and the number of times it had been moved, not to mention the markings acquired during cooking preparations, meals, snacks, art and sewing productions worked on by our growing family of little boys, and in most recent years, their daughters. There were even spots where glue and glitter and the paint from model airplanes seemed to be ingrained in the wood.  But my oldest son wanted the table. Sean remembered the table as a fixture of his growing up years, a leaning place later.  He was 6 years old when my parents gave us the money to buy a new table because our family had outgrown a table for 4.

So, the table would go to Sean.  But first, I wanted to give it a little help. Joe and I bought the table from Storehouse, a company at the time with a reputation for quality natural wood furniture. We had it made from pecan wood.  The butcher block wood and parson's style made it perfect for a succession of chairs to go around it.  I knew of a local craftsman who makes things from old wood. His artistry is beyond recycling or repurposing. So we loaded the table into my truck, took it to Mr. Hawkins in Rosenberg, and asked him what he could do with it. He loved the table and in spite of the cost he quoted for its restoration, I left it in his hands.  I liked that he loved the table too. Nearly 3 months later, our family table is in another kitchen, and it is still our family table.  we recently had breakfast with Sean and Teion and Skye, along with Ben, Nora, plus Tim and Debi, family friends. It felt right.  On the table, along with the breakfast casserole, they placed a framed poem I wrote many years ago. The following is the copy of the poem I posted once on my "kitchen" blog.                       

It would be a mistake to indicate that the only ingredients in my kitchen required for successfully and joyfully feeding my family were found in my pantry or simmering on the stove.  I will occasionally include table blessings, some “table talk”, and important for the keeper of this kitchen, prayers.  I wrote this one as a prayer poem in 1998.
                                              My Kitchen Table
                      As I open your Word and lean here one more time,
                  Make my table a holy place with your presence, Lord…
                     This table of pecan wood, not hand crafted acacia.
              This table scratched and stained with family years and family tears.
             This table that has been a family gathering place in so many places,
                 A place of offering and receiving nourishment of many kinds.
                     A place of joy and jelly, high chairs, and holding hands.
                   Birthday cakes and boy talks, spilled milk and spilled hearts.
            A place where I have put my head down and wet the wood with tears.
                         A place where your care and feeding of my soul
                            Joined the care and feeding of my family.
                              My heart is seated at this table, Lord.
                                You make this a holy place.
                                   I worship you.
                                                      Mary Ann Parker, March 1, 1998

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Books Read, Books Shared

Last week I said that I had donated a number of the books I have read in the past few years to our public library. Of course, I kept a few of my favorites. Below is a list of a few of the books our reading circle chose to read and discuss in the past year. I read others, because I enjoy mystery, poetry, and spiritual formation books,  but these are among my collection of memoir. I am thankful for books to read, and thankful that I am able to share them with others.

Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith  by Kathleen Norris

Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts

A Bushel's Worth, by Kayann Short

Not the Mother I Remember,  by Amber Starfire

My Life in France, by Julia Child

Dakota, A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris

In Order to Live, by Yeonmi Park

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Reading Circle

For several years I have participated in an online reading circle through my membership in Story Circle, and international group for women writers. In this reading circle, we choose 12 books for the year ahead, and members volunteer for a book for which they would like to lead discussions. In this post and next week, I will focus on some of the books, all of which are women's memoir.  Last year, September's book led to meaningful thoughts and conversation. Written by Nessa Rapaport, House on the River: A Summer Journey, is a book I probably would not have picked to read from a library shelf.  But I liked the author's style of writing and found her poetic in many of her descriptions, poignant in her awareness of herself as a woman and a mother. I recently passed the book on to a young woman who expressed interest in reading about ways we model value, faith, and traditions to our children. I sent the following email during our discussions of the book, changed only for confidentiality of members to whom I refer.

Thanks to all who have commented on the reading this month. D, I particularly like your use of lines from the book which you intend to use for writing prompts.  That is often an enjoyable and productive way for me to continue my appreciation of a book I have finished. I read the book and have been too busy to comment further until now. I found it meaningful that I was finishing the book at Rosh Hoshanah, (Sept. 14-15) which gave extra meaning to her words for me. This past week on the 23rd Yom Kippur was celebrated.  I was once told by a Jewish friend that is the holiest of their celebration days, the day of atonement.   

Responding to the thoughtful questions:

1.  Did you identify with the author in any way?  Did she seem real?  Did you like her? 

As J said, "I identified with that desire to gather loved ones around and take a journey that was meaningful to all of them, celebrating their relationship knowing that it is ending sometime in the near future. "  

I have loved having my sons and their wives and our granddaughters gather around our dining table after fun together in the kitchen making the food we share. 2 of my adult sons and their families live within 15 minutes of us and go to church with us, so we used to have Sunday dinners together here almost every Sunday. Our middle son has lived 4 hours away in the same state for 9 years and although they are here less frequently, make it for family occasions and holidays. They are relocating soon to Reno, Nevada, and our gatherings with everyone here will be fewer. In addition, as families grow and change, and their schedules change, in addition to hospitalizations and health challenges for both my husband and me, our Sunday dinners have "gone away."  There was a time I would look around the table and say a prayer of thanks along with a realization that these changes would inevitably come.  

2.  Can you relate to the importance she places on her faith, or the not quite traditional and accepted ways she and her family practice it?

I liked the author's family ways of making the celebrations their own, and the ways in which the significance of their faith was being passed to generations.  I believe that one of my greatest commitments as well as a joy is the "telling" of our faith story as Christians to my children and grandchildren.
3.  So many of this year’s books referenced place in one way or another.  Do you have a magical childhood place that’s important in your memory?

I think of a number of special places that bring back sweet memories.  Tea cakes at my grandmother's table, the one that is now in my own dining room. Picking blackberries with my grandmother. Playing under our raised back porch with my little sister, using huge hydrangea leaves and blossoms from the bushes by the porch for tea parties and dressup.  Riding with my Daddy in his pickup or on his tractor.  Helping Mother in the kitchen to make a chocolate cake and licking the bowl.  I see that these are all as much people centric as place centric. I still find the relationships and people more important than the "where" in my life. Maybe that is because between 17 and my early 50's I moved so often?

4.  How important is your experience with extended family in your life?  Lots of fun get-togethers? Rarely see them?  Wish you had more family ties or less? 

My family of origin was small, only my sister and me. But we lived only a few miles from both of sets of grandparents and a number of aunts and uncles. I believe extended family has always been important, and that hospitality for helping this to happen is a gift.

5. Please share any special take-aways from this book, and if you liked it or not.

I loved the book, and admired the range of vocabulary!  Words like hegemony, architectonic, inchoate, palimpsest are not ones I regularly use! 
My own list of lines to remember and write from are:

"I am trying to accept that henceforth all joy will be dappled...yet I am pristinely happy."

"fascinated by the way life can circle upon itself...reacquainting (among others) with the place that symbolizes the possibility that we imperfect creatures can find true repose."

among the duties of parenthood she relishes " the cultivation of memory."

"This journey - an experiment in ignoring the taunt of the workday's receding finish line."

her mother's  "no vacation from nutrition"

On page 51 there is a descriptive narrative (more significant in the light of the fact that the Jewish calendar is lunar, so it begins at dusk) that reads like poetry. Much of her writing felt like that for me.

"The trees on the shoreline facing me are black, with only a tincture of green remaining. The sky is bleached of color, pale blue above my head but fading imperceptibly to white over woods. The lake is not transparent but a moire of black, in which the trees are reflected, long and dusky in the rippled water."

"I do not taste my disappointment or anticipate sorrow. Instead, I taste these words: peace, wonder, light, calm, peace."

"the trip is a meditation, not a narrative."

"not matter how much you do, you never think it is enough."

I am grateful for the nudge to read this book. I am grateful for the ways in which reading a book can be a meaningful experience for me.  And I am grateful for my reading circle sisters, who have become friends although I have only met a few of them.  Because of this circle, I acquired several shelves of women's memoir volumes.  Due to our recent move and the necessity to reduce the size of our library by more than half, I recently donated a large box of these books to our public library system in Fort Bend County, hoping to share this experience with many more.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

In the Kitchen with Nora

One of the things I have enjoyed most about being a grandmother is being in the kitchen (my happy place) and welcoming my granddaughters to help. Of course, baking cookies is easy to get help with. Nora is 2 years old, but she is a good helper. This is not limited to tasting the batter, licking the spoon or testing the finished product!  Even she knows that the first step to cooking is to wash your hands. Then we fill the mixing bowl with ingredients from the recipe and 1 step at a time, get the cookie dough ready to spoon onto baking sheets. I learned a long time ago that the secret to enjoying this whole process is having most things out, measured, and ready to add. As she gets older, she can read from the recipe herself and work out the math for measuring ingredients. Working in the kitchen together is one of the best ways I know for beginners to practice not only cooking, but also reading, math, and cleanup skills!

Last week we made chocolate chip cookies from the recipe on the chocolate chip bag, and she mastered mixing butter and sugar, adding egg and vanilla, then the dry ingredients and finally, the chocolate chips (minus a few that went into her mouth!)

She wore herself out, because after 2 hot cookies and a little glass of milk, she crawled on the couch and fell asleep. The main problem with baking cookies is that they disappear so fast!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Joe's Birthday Celebration #79

This year we celebrated Joe's birthday for more than a week!  Our trip to San Francisco, the stay at Cavallo Point (his army base in the early 60's, then called Fort Baker), our visit with Jeremy and his family in Reno, and a family dinner back at home in Texas. I think he felt well celebrated!

While we were in Reno, Jeremy, Michala, Maddie, and Jordann arranged for us to have a dinner cruise on Lake Tahoe. The scenery was breathtaking, the food was excellent, and we enjoyed most of all sharing the special time with our Nevada family who now live so far away that we do not get to see them as much. They liked showing us their new home and surroundings, and we loved being with them and knowing what home looks like to them.  I even learned to say Nevada correctly. Our granddaughters there are growing into beautiful young women.

Joe's birthday cruise dinner.

                                                      Making mousse for Papa's birthday