For Guiding Us All

We learn how to live, in many ways, mostly by accident. But those of us who learn to live well, whether as better scholars, more skilled laborers or artisans, or simply as more loving and kind and generous and good-hearted people—that growth and knowledge is gained best of all through the care and guidance of those who serve as our teachers and mentors. Parents and relatives can do this, friends and neighbors and co-workers. We who are most fortunate of all have many such positive influences come into our lives and help to shape us and bring forth our best selves.

And those who are best at being this sort of careful, patient, challenging, and giving tutors in one other person’s life tend to be so naturally inclined to raise up the best in anyone within their reach that they serve as mentors to many, regardless of any plan or intention. We who have been the beneficiaries of this largesse owe a debt of gratitude, and perhaps too, our own best efforts to pass the gifts along to another circle of influence in the great, rippling pond of our connectedness, to a further acre or two of young and beautiful growth that waits between today and our own eventual horizons. Life is brief, and best enriched in its short seasons by propagating mutual help and guidance. I am thankful to have been gifted with a number of superb guides and examples, friends and mentors, in my own life. May you all be as well.Photo: A Dahlia for Neil

Bright Dahlias

The autumn came too soon, and left a pallor on the pretty paint

of those tall dahlias that you had nurtured faithfully, their saint;

It turned them into shadows of

themselves too soon, shadows of love…

Frost cut them down and took them in its bony hands to steal their dance

the graces you had tended there so tenderly, by circumstance,

From shoot to bud to blooming beds,

by stealthy ice that bowed their heads…

And you saw early autumn, too, too soon—were bit untimely by

the frost and plucked from gardening, the sun still in your sky-blue eye

Made winter’s sparkling snowy air

of beauties we were loath to spare…

Yet all this theft you had foreseen, and readied us to stay and tend

bright dahlias, each, our own; to go on gardening, and so amend

Our sorrows in your still-wide gaze

by passing on your gentle ways…

The rich inheritance you gave still grows like dahlias among

us all, your heirs, and in their turn, those we raise up as happy young

New imitators of your gift

for singing to give hearts a lift…

In loving memory of Neil Lieurance, and with deep and abiding gratitude for the treasure that is a true mentor in any life.

 

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Cake for a Peach of a Guy!

Photo: Birthday Cake for a Peach of a GuyDad, who celebrated his eightieth birthday last week, is a peach of a guy. His uncle was fond of using that phrase to extol the sweetness and excellence of anybody he liked and admired greatly, including his own nephew David, and Uncle Lloyd himself was special, as the only person in the known universe (other than us kids, who imitated him with a certain amount of childish glee when we heard it) who ever called my dad Davy. But he was fond and proud, too, of his nephew—enough to include him in the Peachy category. So to my father David, and to my late great-uncle Lloyd, and to all of the other ‘guys’ (male, female, or other) worthy of the title, I dedicate this birthday treat that I made in honor of their being truly swell human beings.

It’s a gluten-free pound cake recipe, essentially (as long as you check that the individual ingredients meet that requirement in their production, should you be truly gluten sensitive); I only went GF because I happened to find several GF pound cake recipes that piqued my interest and I also happened to have the necessary ingredients for this variant of them on hand. I made it with cardamom both because I think that a grand companion flavor for peaches and because, being of Norwegian descent, I believe there may be at least a hint of cardamom in my bloodstream. In any case, I love the stuff. Almond flavors, too, and what better flour to use in the cake than almond flour, then?

The topping, which of course one can eliminate if it’s too much for the occasion—not that I know any people who absolutely adore sliced, toasted day-old pound cake for breakfast, preferably with yet more butter melted on top—is less Norwegian in its overall flavor profile, perhaps. It is somewhat like a peach sangria, I suppose. But maybe I can pass it off as “Scan-gria,” if pressed for a commitment. No matter; it’s a bit peachy, zippy, happy, has a lot of color and flavor, and is pretty sweet. All kind of like Dad and Uncle Lloyd, come to think of it. PS—no law against using the icing for the breakfast version of this, either.

Cardamom-Almond Cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F/ca. 177°C. In a mixing bowl, whisk together 2-1/4 cups almond flour/meal, 1/4 cup coconut flour (I ground some from toasted coconut flakes), 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground cardamom, and 1 tsp baking soda. In another container (I like to use a spouted measuring pitcher for prepping liquids so I can easily pour them up when ready), blend 2/3 cup melted butter or oil (I used clarified browned butter), 2/3 cup raw honey, 1/2 cup + 3 Tablespoons full-fat coconut milk, 2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp almond extract, and beat in 4 large eggs until all is blended thoroughly. Pour the mix into the dry ingredients and gently blend everything together. The batter fits into a standard 9×9″ baking pan or, as I used, a round casserole of about the same capacity, and goes into the oven for about 25-35 minutes.

My famously unreliable oven temperatures make me distrust giving anything other than approximate times and temps, and I just watch every individual dish, as I did this time. It’s a gooey cake, not light and fluffy, but I’d rather err on the moist side than otherwise. Just my thing. Meanwhile, I had prepared and refrigerated the icing earlier.

Tipsy Peaches & Cream Icing

Simmer together 2 ounces sliced freeze-dried peaches, 1/2 tsp rosewater, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 2 tsp vanilla, a pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp cardamom, 3/4 cup red wine, and 1 cup brown sugar until the sugar melts and the peaches are well rehydrated. [I warmed this mix in the evening until it was close to ready and then just left the pot sitting, covered, until the morning, so there was no question everything was well soaked and softened, but that was just because I was too tired after a long day of work to do it all that night.] Then, using a stick blender, puree the mix fully, adding 3/4 cup coconut oil (melted or room temp), 1 cup marshmallow fluff, and 1 cup cream cheese (or labneh). I threw in about 1/4 tsp silver edible glitter, just for fun. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Photomontage: Cake-WreckingI will confess to going a little further over the top this time, since I was in the mood to play with my food and it was for a good person’s cause. So I sliced a “lid” from the cake, carved out its middle, crumbled the interior hunk, blended it with a bunch of the icing stuff (reserving enough icing to drizzle over the exterior), packed the icing/cake crumb mix into the crater of the cake, closed the lid and covered up my tracks with a slathering of the remaining icing before putting peach (canned—it’s winter, y’all) and toasted almond slices on top of it all. I pinned the toppings together before sticking it in the refrigerator to chill out and set without sliding into oblivion. But it’s messy enough that it just might end up being a trifle or a bombe (possibly even a bomb) instead of a cake this way. And that’s okay. If I learned nothing else from my father, I did see in him a fine example of both how to make any situation work as well as possible—and how to play with my food.Photo: Squishy Cake

A Place Full of Love

Photo: Timeless ITimeless I

Great friendship leads to kindling of a kind

Unknown to lovers who have never spent

Nights they devoted purely to content

Intimate intercourse strictly of mind—

Love is expansion, at its best, of souls’

Learned connectivity in friendship first,

And then the cultivating of the thirst,

Pursuing stronger wine, and then the coals—

Embers long banked as friendship had begun—

Light into fire new brilliance from a spark

Lifting great stars from the eternal dark,

Exquisite as a newly blazing sun—

Rich is the love that from such friendship springs,

Kisses of wine—and of more stellar things.Photo: Timeless II

Timeless II

In morning light, the palest leafy shade

Of birches’ green is cast upon the wall

Where portraits hang, ancestral friends who all

Keep silent watch on what the years have made

Of their descendants and their memories;

The secretary, small and staunch, remains,

And in its graceful curving shape contains

What documents can speak these histories;

Oft, in this room, the whisper of that sense

Of timeless care embracing present love

Reaches so gently from its great remove

That love fills up the room itself, immense.

When I am here, I know love so begun

Will flourish to the final setting sun.Photo: Timeless III

Revival

My subject in today’s poem is identified as a woman, but mainly because the pronoun ‘her’ fit the text that was already emerging in the sonnet. In my heart, the subject is meant to honor all of my friends and acquaintances [regardless of persuasion] who have battled, or are still battling, their way up from the abysses of fear, anxiety, depression, abuse, or any form of personal darkness, whether inwardly generated or externally imposed. What you have done, and are doing, is powerful. What you can do may be more than you, or I, or anyone can possibly yet imagine. Continue your journeys upward, my friends. Sing from the branches of the Tree of Life for a change. Newness can be a beautiful thing!

From Her Grave

Arising from the heart of silent night,

the poignant voice of one whose singular

accomp’niment was always, only, her

own shadow, takes the unaccustomed flight—

Ascending, she now meets the morning sun

and hears at last a sound she’d never heard;

the brilliant singing of a splendid bird,

a song that chases shadows, ev’ry one—

And hers, along with all the shadows, flies;

now wakened, she is free to wholly shed

her residence in shade among the dead

and fly up, singing gladly, to the skies—

So freed, she dares to trust her new-fledged wing

to raise up others from their dark to sing.Digital illustration: Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life

A happy, healthy and hopeful New Year to everyone!

Be Very Afraid. If You Really Like that Sort of Thing.

I have neither the knowhow nor the tangible resources for filmmaking, but if I did, I think my concept of the perfect horror movie subject would be the infamous occasion of Black Friday. As we Americans approach the national holiday I like the most of them all, Thanksgiving, I think with a shudder that Black Friday’s grim shadow lurks just behind it.
For if I have a tender feeling for the holiday that not only marks the anniversary of my first date with my soon-thereafter life partner and makes me immensely thankful for that gift but also marks the national celebration of gratitude in general, I have an almost antithetical feeling about the retail frenzy that follows it. The former only throws the latter into higher, less flattering relief.

I love shopping, don’t get me wrong, but I hate being told how and when to do it, and what or whom for, and to what magnificent extents. I dislike being so easily manipulated by commercial ploys and plugs as it is, and the stink of desperation mixed with hyperbolic greed on Black Friday becomes overwhelmingly off-putting to me.

Digital illustration

What makes us turn into beasts when we get a whiff of the hunt? When a crazy sale is advertised, do I become predator or prey? Or should I just pray?!

There are obviously large numbers of people who are not only comfortable with the event but energized and entertained by the spectacle and Olympian scaled enthusiasm packed into the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza. I wish them all happiness and success in it. For myself, the greatest pleasure will derive from managing as successfully as I can to not even know it’s happening and staying immersed in the afterglow of my most overtly grateful time of year. Accomplishing that will be yet another reason for me to give thanks.
If I need any diversions during my quiet hideout from Black Friday, I can always work on a script for a rollicking thriller film with plenty of retail rowdiness and gruesome greed. Coming soon to a theatre near you!

Uncertainty and Hope

Beloved, let us sit down together in the shadow of the oaks; let us take deep draughts of fresh water from the clear, swift stream. In the scorching heat of the middle of day, let us take refreshment like the dragonflies that skim the water’s edge, and be restored by the caroling of birds in the distant shade.Digital illustration from a photo: By the Cooling Stream

The days are long and our work makes wearying and seemingly infinite demands, and we know that this will not soon change. There is change of many sorts ahead, this we know too, but what it will be is yet beyond our imagining. Thus it has been, and so shall it ever be: we travel our paths, seldom knowing quite where they lead, and we labor in darkness the while. Some days, the destination is sparkling joy, and on others it is marred by sorrow and strife; at times, the mists of uncertainty part and the way ahead becomes clear, and at others it remains quite fully obscure.

Photo montage: Beloved, Let Us Sit

What I know, Beloved, is this—that no matter how hard or easeful is the road and no matter what the destination holds for us, we walk our way together, you and I. We may long for clarity and even for the strength to wait for it, but in the meantime we will take our stops for breath along the way, sitting in shade when we may and drinking deeply from the icy stream, traveling always hand in hand no matter what the journey brings.

To My Mother on Her Birthday

Photo: Under the Willow Tree 1Under the Willow Tree

Under the willow tree, her shade my calm,

I see so bent by storms her trunk, how far

The winds have twisted every limb, each scar

Where lightning struck; yet there’s a quiet psalm

Of gratitude that whispers in her leaves

Each time another rainfall comes to spend

Its quenching kindness on her and to send

New hope down deep—for anyone who grieves

Or wonders how to pass through life’s travail

Finds shelter in her shadow—knows the limbs

That seem to weep are only singing hymns,

Embracing in their gentle sway the frail.

                    So one fine sapling, tended with such care,

                    Becomes the home for all who shelter there.

And now her roots are deep, her branches wide

Enough to draw more birds to them to nest,

Assured, secure and loved, and full at rest,

No matter what the world is like outside—

Just as I am, beneath the willow’s arm

Of graceful comfort, grateful for her wise,

Kind lesson to look upward to the skies

For blessed rain, and sun to keep us warm,

For sweet reminders of the Gardener

Who made the willow grow, and gave her strength

To nurture others in her shade, at length,

Upon the graces planted there in her:

                    So one fine sapling, tended with such care,

                    Becomes the home for all who shelter there.

Photo: Under the Willow Tree 2Thank you, Mom, for the nurturing, the love, and the will to live as an example of bending but not breaking in the storms. Happy 80th Birthday!