How Quickly We Learn

Even when we’re young we pick up clues pretty swiftly regarding what sort of behavior and attitude is expected of us in our interactions with others. As a child, I learned ever so quickly that I am not the boss of anyone else and practically everyone else is the boss of me, and not much has ever changed in that department. Whether happily or unfortunately, depending entirely on your point of view, I also figured out as speedily as most kids do that as long as I behaved in the expected manner when anyone was watching I could get away with a fair amount of far more self-indulgent–if not subversive–ways. Sure does simplify my life!graphite drawingShow of Proper Respect

The Mistress in her jewelry and finery and furs

Thinks everyone should bow and kiss the ground—that’s also hers—

And genuflect before her grand tiara and her mace,

So that is what we tend to do—at least do to her face.digital illustration from a graphite drawingAll frivolous jocularity on the topic aside, however, getting trained by our elders and betters, in particular our mothers, is both more complicated and more happily meaningful for those of us who are blessed with great moms. Me, I’ve got two. The mother who gave birth to me and raised me from my days as an only mildly subversive little sprout into the silly but exceedingly happy big kid you see before you today is worthy of recognition as one of the great teachers not only for giving me a framework on which to hang my sense of right and wrong and general grasp of manners but also the education and freedom and knowledge of being unconditionally loved that enabled me to choose how to build on those foundations as I grew. My second Mom, brought to me courtesy of (her son) my beloved husband, gets credit for instilling the same curiosity and drive in her children and, in turn, for reinforcing in me through her example what it means to be a lively and lovely person who is good company, an active part of the household and community at every turn, and a tireless learner and adventurer who earns her place in those settings with remarkable grace. Whether I can live up to the standards set by either of my Moms remains to be seen, but they certainly give me the tools that should make it possible if anything can.

If it can’t, I guess I’ll have to fall back on my naturally ridiculous ways and just pretend to be better than I am for as long as I can keep up the front. Those of you who are looking for reliably good, sound company, go see Mom W and Mom S. And also my sisters and my sister-in-law, great mothers to their children, and all of those other mothers, who by birth, adoption, random acquisition and teaching, raise better people, who in turn make the world a better place altogether. All of whom I thank profusely not only on Mother’s Day but every day for being such great examples even for those of us who are a little too childish to be motherly examples ourselves. Go ahead, you can say it right in front of me. I’ve learned that much, at least!

Foodie Tuesday: Season’s Eatings

Up on the roof there arose such a clatter! Nothing like a good dawn thunderstorm to ring in Christmas Day. No, really. Great rain falling here is an excellent present, and the drum rolls and fireworks that introduced it just made its entrance the grander. It’s not exactly the fabled White Christmas for which so many yearn, but I’ll take a good Texas rainstorm as a true gift all the same. Somehow it makes the need for cozy nesting seem all the more apropos and real in a place where I’ve yet to fully adapt to the concept of a two-week-long winter season. So, Merry Christmas to me.

photoIt also heightens and enhances the glow of our seasonal lights–the few white sparklers on the front porch, the reflection off the shiny little red Texas star ornaments I hung from the dining room light fixture, and the candles glowing warmly at table, as well as the flickering fire in the living room fireplace. Whether it’s for Christmas or it’s my gentile substitute for a menorah, or it’s simply a sign of the inner warmth to be cultivated when all of the world’s holidays converge at this time of year, the beauty and comfort and symbolism of both candlelight and firelight is a gift too.

photoThen again, a White Christmas really is an extraordinary thing in Texas–northern or not–and at about 1:45 pm local time our lovely rain actually turned into an even more lovely snowfall. First the smattering of sleet that intermixed with the raindrops began to look ever so slightly whiter, and gradually it transformed into genuine flakes falling, even sticking, on the trees, the roof, the yard, the path. Quite a pretty sight, and one that will continue to water the thirsty ground but also look grand in the meantime.

photoSo I can greet you all with a completely sincere sense of winter, Christmastime, and the holidays in general and wish you the same glorious warmth and sweetness my husband and I are enjoying here, hunkered down in our cozy home with my dear mother and father in law [who road-tripped down here from Seattle for the occasion], and sending thoughts of love and peace and hope and joy to all of our family and friends around the globe. Some of the Norwegian contingent (my youngest sister and her husband and daughter) are with the Washingtonian bunch, celebrating the holidays in the cool and rainy Northwest, while the rest of the Norwegians are back in Scandinavia, some nephews and their families in the Oslo area and the youngest nephew having a quick break with the family but back to the recording studio in Stockholm with his band shortly after the holidays, if I remember right. Loved ones all around the world, whether related by blood or marriage or by the strong bonds of friendship and collegiality and camaraderie are all held especially tightly in our hearts at this time of year, adding to the warmth and glow of the candlelit house battened down cheerily against the light crisp cold of the snow.

photoIn my typical fashion, I celebrated the day by sleeping late, and we all snagged Christmas breakfast in bits and bobs–coffee here, toast there, cereal for another, and so forth–while sitting around the kitchen table chattering about everything and nothing. The later meals in the day are more significant times to set the table a tiny bit more formally, but we’re not much for standing on ceremony in our clan on either side, so the food is unfussy so that we can enjoy the company rather than slaving over the cookery. Lunch was pot roast, made a while ago and frozen and then simply heated in the oven, with roasted potatoes and carrots and some buttery green beans, accompanied with Pinotage for the red wine drinkers and hard apple cider for the others, and for dessert, glasses of eggnog and pieces of my homemade fudge with lots of mixed nuts (previously soaked walnuts, homemade candied/spiced almonds, and salted pecans and macadamia nuts) chopped in it so rampantly as to make it fall apart. Not very decorative, but not too bad to eat all the same. Simplicity trumps presentation nearly every time in my kitchen.photo

Supper will be even less glamorous and perhaps equally quirky for holiday feasting by the popular standards, yet equally edible. We’re having homemade macaroni and cheese with champagne. I think that pairing pretty much says it all for how I operate as a hostess and as an eater, and the tolerance with which family and friends treat me when they spend time in my company. And that, of course, is the acme of celebrating, to my taste: surround yourself with the best and dearest of people who will love you no matter what you do or don’t do, and sit back with them and enjoy it. I wish each and every one of you the same privilege and pleasure, whether you’re celebrating any holidays yourself or not, and to all the world, I send my hopes for peace and comfort and hope for all the days ahead.photo

Mothering Sunday

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So there we were with a couple of bashful vergers posted with their baskets full of lovely handmade nosegays meant to recognize mothers, whether present among us or not. This is the pretty little presentation the Bishop's wife kindly took out and handed to me to honor my two mothers and their mothers, too, as well I would.

If you have any affiliation with things or persons British, you likely know that today is Mothering Sunday. As the Bishop informed the attendees this morning at the Anglican parish where my husband choir-conducts, it matters not that there is an American counterpart holiday–by the time that President Woodrow Wilson got around to declaring such a thing official in 1914, this congregation had already been celebrating Mothering Sunday for a good 35 years thanks to its British roots, and Texas-located or not, they sure as shootin’ weren’t going to stop recognizing mothers on this official day right along with the president’s little add-on festivity.

Anglophilic as I am, I’m hardly one to balk at keeping the faith with the old holiday myself, whether for stubbornness’ sake or for tradition, or for the beautiful British-ness of it all–though it originated as a Christian holiday, surprisingly, falling on the Sunday when one of the traditional texts began with a paean to Jerusalem, the ‘mother of us all’. But better than that, I happen to think that there are excellent reasons for celebrating mothers and motherhood as often and as publicly and resolutely as possible–two supremely excellent reasons to begin with: Elisabeth, who gave birth to me, and Joyce, who gave birth to my husband. I have two of the best mothers in the whole wide world. You can look it up; in any sensible encyclopedia or dictionary it will have a picture of the two of them in the entry explicating the heart and soul of the concept known as ‘Mom‘.

photo       photoYou could be forgiven if you thought from the accompanying photos of them that they had their work cut out for them with these two little melancholy looking shrimps of theirs but I assure you we, and our respective siblings, were all a supernal joy to raise from first to last. Okay, that part is pure baloney and bilge-water–but the point of course is how outstanding our moms were at mothering, and that part is utterly true. We were and are two incredibly fortunate humans, and we know it. No amount of roses and posies could possibly reflect the full spectrum of gifts that Joyce and Elisabeth have brought to both of our lives. But a sweet little nosegay with a brilliant deep pink rose is hardly amiss in the attempt.photoI made my own little corsage, of course, as a drawing of exotic (i.e., nonexistent inventions representing) flowers, because mere effusions in prose can never say how deeply grateful I am to have two such dear and devoted mothers to love. I am particularly and acutely aware of this when both, who have had their own adventures of survival and not just in spouse-training and child-raising over the years, are currently recovering from surgeries. Nothing like having one’s mom undergo surgery, especially as both are doing, surgeries that are not their first, to remind us of how fragile life and wholeness can be and how desperately we hope for our chance of having them back ‘better than new’ and with long and healthy and happy years ahead of them. The signs are good, despite the inevitable miseries of recovering bit by bit, with the expected setbacks, that our hopes will be fulfilled. The only medicine I can offer is love, and that I do send them in unspeakable abundance, but since my mother had spinal surgery I’m pretty sure a big hug is not the most desired form of cure even if I were 2000 miles closer to her, and since my other mom is probably still bandaged up here and there a bit herself, the same 2000 miles nearer-my-mom-to-thee might just prove a little too abrasive as well. So from this safe distance I send e-hugs, ethereal kisses and two-dimensional bouquets and eagerly hope to see both of our mothers springing with good health in June.

graphite drawing

I wish and hope that both of our beloved mothers will last even longer than a little drawing of a bouquet can before it fades like live flowers.

If you are a mother yourself–biologically or by adoption–or act as a nurturer and sheltering presence for anyone, I wish you endless bouquets as well. Without all of you, none of us would be here. Literally, of course. But in the wider sense, we owe an immense debt to the caregiving and protective and human-betterment instincts so often attributed to mothers and grandmothers and godmothers and aunts, and rightly so, but also gracefully and beautifully practiced by teachers and community builders and cooks and nurses and companions and shelter-builders of every age and nature who have the desire to make the world better for those who might not be able to make it sufficiently so for themselves. Thank you. Especially you, Elisabeth and Joyce. You are treasures beyond invention. I can think of no higher aspiration than that others should take their example from you.photo