Light in Dark Places

photoWhat possible purpose can Daylight Savings Time serve in this day and age except perhaps the most mercenary sort? I really dislike the artificial shifting of the daily schedule (time itself being quite independent of our constructs meant to explain and regulate it), with one small but significant exception. That little thing?

Knowledge of the power of the tiniest speck of light against the dark.

When the days become naturally short, night long, because of the turning of the earth on its axis and the change of the seasons, the sense of being trapped in almost-perpetual darkness inevitably begins to creep upon me; add to that the government-mandated spin of the clock to steal yet another hour of sunlight, and I begin to wither and feel a little like sorrow and solemnity, gravity and groaning will also steal my sense of belonging to the day at all. This spell of coldness and heartless eternal night could certainly drive a person mad.

And yet, the smallest spark renews my will and hope. One little star piercing the indigo sky becomes a beacon bright and powerful enough to pull me from the dark and back to day. That winter’s also the season when so many cultures, faiths and kinds of people find new reason to light more than a candle, more than a fire, and call upon the grandest graces of their inner best is no mistake or accident. The contrast with that terrible beauty that is felt and seen in lightless space is something far beyond the sun of day–against the coal mine dark, a pinpoint is all it takes to seem a seam has opened into warmth and goodness once again. And in my little heart, I do believe that any one of us determined enough can learn to be that tiny, so-essential fleck of light.photo

Luminosity

To my beloved youngest sister on her birthday:

Taking life from the real to the magical and from drabness to brilliance, luminosity is the agent of glorious change. Little Sister is such an agent in many lives as well, bringing beauty and joy to us solely by existing, let alone having the sweetness and humor and wisdom that fill her with the warm inner light I so treasure. Simply, my world would be far smaller and more limited to the dull version of reality if it weren’t for the presence of her gracious illumination!

With that in mind, here is a series of illustrations of that progression of luminosity to celebrate the gifts of sisterly love.

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Windows into the Heart

photoConservatories

Shells of glass to shield from winter

Leaf and flower, root and seed

Give the tender lives inside them

Shelter that they crave and need

In the warming arms of friendship

We in kind find safety, grace,

Shelter from the world’s hard trials

In that other shielding placephoto

Seasonal Happiness

photoFarm Land

Few things can match the beauty of

Black soil that’s newly tilled

And redolent of things to come

As soon as March’s chilled

Cold heart has given up his hold

And April’s warmth begun

To set the life-renewing pulse

Of earth under her sun.photo montage

Foodie Tuesday: Hospitality as Apotheosis

photoBeing good and doing well make us just a little bit more like angels. Making good food and treating guests well is just that much better. It’s a feeding not just of the stomach but also of the spirit. It puts one in a state of grace that can be earned, but at the same time is the richer for being given without thought of such recompense. A simple cup of hot coffee proffered with kindness becomes through this transubstantiation the elixir of joy.

Today I woke up thinking of such hospitality as I was remembering a time thirty years ago when I was the fortunate beneficiary of it. I was a recent college graduate, working for my uncle’s construction company while I paid off undergraduate loans and contemplated the prospect of taking out more for grad school, and I was sent out with a couple of fellow workers to spend a few days laboring on the repair and renovation of a hundred year old farmhouse out in the country. The weather was pleasantly warm and the house only moderately shaggy for its vintage, and the owners were friendly on our arrival.photoThe work, still, was dirty enough–removal of and repair from exterior dry rot and moss that was encroaching on the northerly upper story window frames and trim, and some interior rebuilding that the lead carpenter on the team would start framing in as a new arch between living and dining spaces as soon as the group effort of tear-out was finished on the second story outside. It was a pretty and classic old farmhouse, with a wraparound porch hugging it so that we were able to set up on the porch roof’s venerable cedar shakes to do our second-story work without having to run our ladders the full height from the ground. But therein lay the problem: by the end of the first day of demolition, the aforementioned carpenter was almost demolished too when the footing he’d installed on the roof for his ladder gave way, the ladder went flat with its top end spearing through an upstairs window and its base making a perfect slide for said gentleman to go shooting straight, if uncomfortably, off the roof.

The other guy and I were close by on either side of Chuck, but neither Jake nor I could, in the split second it took for this to happen, stop the ladder or him from going straight down into the gloom below. There was a terrible moment of near-silence while we scrambled over to the gutter to see whether we could get to him; the first thing we could see was the steel post of the truck bed spearing upward menacingly right about where he’d fallen, so we were breathless with horror as we peered over the edge into the dusk. To our immense relief, Chuck was lying in the spiny shrub next to the truck bed, where he’d slid instead, and though he had some impressive bruises afterward, he’d neither been impaled nor broken a single bone. Needless to say, there was a different wrap-up to the day than we’d planned, what with boarding up a broken window for the night and assuring the owners of the house, who’d come running at the crash, that all was going to be fine. No deaths, no lawsuits from either side, and an even better-repaired window, since we’d now rebuild the thing and re-glaze it rather than just scraping and painting.

Perhaps it was a bit of bonding brought about by the emergency that made them adopt us afterward, the homeowners, but whatever the cause, our next few days were among the most pleasant I ever spent on the job (along with those spent working in the house of the lady who afterward became another uncle’s life partner!), and the sweetness of it lingers in my memory. The second day was such a benevolent spring day that I opted to stay on the roof and eat my lunch while reading an Agatha Christie novel. That worked out remarkably well, for when the man of the house came out to see why I hadn’t come down with the others, he chatted me up about my enjoyment of British mysteries, disappeared, and reappeared later with a grocery bag crammed with said delicacies. It turned out that he was an English professor at the University and taught a course in this very topic, and that along with the house’s ‘issues’ for which we’d been hired there was one of steadily decreasing bookshelf space thanks to his and his wife’s reading habits.

The next day, there was to be no reading on the roof. All three of us workers were summoned into the house at lunchtime and seated at table. While the Professor expressed his kindliness in the gift of books, his wife expressed hers in culinary largesse. I had already thought her a very beautiful woman, with her elegant and mysteriously foreign-looking features, deep-set warm black eyes and smooth brown skin and all, her patrician carriage that belied a gentleness of manner, and her sleek black hair, but I think I fell in love with her more than a little when she put the food in front of us. It wasn’t terribly complex, perhaps, this meal, but it was heavenly. She served us robust bowls of satin-smooth potato-leek soup with slices of dark pumpernickel bread covered in rich Brie. When we thought we might be entirely filled up, we made room for more, because she came back to the table with a freshly baked, perfectly spiced apple pie.

It may be that these things have long since disappeared from the minds of all of the other players (though I find it hard to imagine Chuck has forgotten his scary adventure entirely), but the beauty of that meal so suffused me with happiness that I find it coming to me intermittently still, after all these years. I have no idea who the Lady and the Professor were and don’t even know precisely what became of Jake and Chuck, so I can’t check my facts let alone repay the kindness. I can only hope to pay it forward. I do have some of my home-brewed chicken broth in the fridge; might have to fix someone some soup soon.

Potato-Leek Soup (as remembered)

Boil a few medium-sized potatoes in enough well-seasoned chicken broth [vegetable broth, if you’re not a meat-eater] to cover them fully. While the potatoes are cooking, saute a bunch of sliced leeks in butter with a little bit of salt until melted. Deglaze the pan with a hearty splash of dry Sherry or brandy or whatever dry white wine happens to be handy.

(If you have to open the bottle for the occasion, why then you’ll probably have to have a sip whilst you cook. This is all the better if you have a friend or acquaintance standing by for the meal; you’ll enjoy the visiting all the more.)

When the potatoes are cooked and softened through, add the leeks to the pot, along with (optionally or–if you ask me–optimally) a splash of cream. Using a stick blender, puree the lot until as smooth as possible, adjusting the thickness with any of the three previously introduced liquids as desired, and tasting for seasoning. If you don’t have a stick blender, a regular blender will do as long as you take the necessary precautions against blending hot foods–or just use a potato masher and have a more rustic soup. This soup won’t lend itself perfectly to chilling like a Vichyssoise, because the butter and cream can curdle or separate, but warm or hot it should certainly be filling and definitely warm the spirits.

Cook. Share. Polish your halo. Enjoy.photo

 

I Mean It. Don’t be a Meanie!

Ebenezer Scrooge was far from alone. And the holidays are certainly not the only time when Scrooge and his ilk get wound up. Still, big events and celebrations are and always have been pretty predictable catalysts and triggers for bad moods and attitudes of any sort. If we aren’t happy, we’re remarkably good at being as far opposite to it as we can figure out how to make ourselves. High horses are not so high that people don’t try to climb aboard them mighty often. High dudgeons are terribly popular dwellings with the general citizenry, who move into them and dig in our heels as though to that manor born.

Add to this our natural gifts for finding clouds obliterating every one of our silver linings, and t’s not much of a stretch to think that many of us are in a cynical competition to see who can be the snarliest, gnarliest meanie in existence. We’re always looking for the way to shoehorn yet more nasty junk and grim excuses for hideous horripilation into the darkest corners of ourselves and the universe. And when one looks for something hard enough, one almost always finds it. We may be a crotchety breed but we’re still good at some things. The latest news reports are always brimming over with greed and violence and hate. We make the news and we eat it up, too. More’s the pity.

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Captain Crankypants, the Crabbiest Creature in Creation

Why even mention it? Because we have choices. And now, in the shadow of the latest awful tales of murder and depravity and betrayal and any sort of human ugliness you can (or maybe can’t) imagine, it’s holiday time once again. Christmas, yes, and Hanukkah, Ramadan, the New Year (westerners and the Chinese, for example, celebrating it in full gear), Kwanzaa, Tet, a birthday or two zillion. So many opportunities for blow-ups and melt-downs and general cussedness. And we don’t have to succumb to any of them. We can be better than that.

And we should. We should, most of all, when it’s time for all that holiday innocence-wisdom-love-light-and-warmth, stuff that can both exacerbate and offset darker things, choose to enhance it rather than the opposite. The greatest possible gift we can give to others and ourselves for any celebration is to be agents of innocence, wisdom, love, light and warmth instead of any passing urge to give in to crass or cranky behavior. Hugs and kisses are the order of the day. Make peace; be nice–it’s a holiday. Give in to it!

Wordless Wednesday with Wiggles, Wags & Warmth*

*(Dog & cat friends from the last week)

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The venerable Tyree

 

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Puppy Milo, a.k.a. Milo Minute

 

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Ruffian, doing what she does best–lounging languidly

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Mercer, ruling from on high (where he can be both imperious and safely out of reach of all scary things)

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