this morning, i make sand tarts. or at least i try to make sand tarts. i've tried them before, over several christmas seasons, and i can never quite get them right. but this time, it's important.
at christmas, a long time friend always made sand tarts and gave boxes of them as presents. thin and crisp, light and buttery, they fast became my family's favorite. come december, we would anticipate their arrival and then save them for christmas eve with eggnog; they were that special.
in the last weeks, she has gone, my friend, moving far, far away to begin a new adventure. this is the week she travels to her new home, solo and by car. while i am so excited for her, and i admire her bravery, i also miss her already and am sad that our friendship will be different now.
so this morning while she completes the last leg of her journey, i am with her as i make her sand tarts. i quickly roll the dough and cut it with my tiniest cooky cutters, trying to replicate the ones she's made for me in the past. remembering not to re-roll the dough, i cut the trimmings into rectangles with a knife. as i fill the parchment covered baking sheet with stars, hearts, and snowmen, i wonder where she is, and when she will arrive. i wash the cookies with egg white, i dust them with cinnamon and sugars, and i think about snow and pray she doesn't encounter any. while the sand tarts bake in the oven behind me, i stare out the window and let thirty years of memories wash over me.
the timer goes off. the sand tarts look good. as i move them to a cooling rack, her message comes. she has arrived, and safely. i can read the joy and excitement in her words. i catch myself smiling as i finish baking the cookies and, when i'm done, i sit for a few minutes with a cup of tea, sending good thoughts and best wishes to my far-away friend, and enjoying an almost perfect sand tart.
the weeks since thanksgiving have flown. i find myself with too much to do yet i'm unable to get out of my own way. as much as i don't like winter, i'm almost looking forward to the calm that is january! but life is good - and so am i.
at the end of november, every year, i give the little girl an advent calendar, as i did her mother before her. she takes it home, hangs it in her kitchen, and opens a window each december morning, counting the days until christmas. it's tradition.
our other december tradition is observing the little girl's half-birthday. in the past, i've just mention it to her, but this year, given her increasing knowledge of fractions, i mailed her half of a birthday card. she thought it was funny.
early on the morning of her half-birthday, after i sent a happy half-birthday text, the girl sent me this photo of the image behind the advent calendar window for that day. again, the little girl thinks it's some sort of grandmother-magic.
over the weekend, the little girl was here, helping to decorate the christmas tree. although there are many, many ornaments to choose from, she chose every single one that her mother had made in school or admired years ago as a child. this christmas, the tree borders on tacky, but i like it.
as i was rearranging a few tonight (to make room for the ornaments i like!) i noticed these three red birds, neatly arranged on the bottom branches. i called the little girl to ask about it. she told me yes, she put them together on purpose, because she thought it looked nice. kind of like a flock, she said.
this week, i've been away, at an event connecting with former colleagues and distant friends. a few folks pointed out that i'd made no mention of thanksgiving here and they are right. this is the closest i'll get - to the photo i uploaded, then forgot about...packing away all things fall before i left, so i'd be free to bring on christmas when i returned.
the older i get, the more thanksgiving becomes my favorite holiday. it's about family and gratitude, a quiet pause before changing seasons. this year, it was an especially emotional one for me and i'm not sure why. i missed my parents, gone now for many years, more than i usually do. as the little girl and i shared our traditional thanksgiving preparations, i found myself so aware of the fact that she's growing up too quickly for me and our special times are likely to change in the next years. later i watched in awe and admiration as friends and neighbors lost power in an awful snowstorm, drove for hours on horrible roads to be with their loved ones, and found celebratory ways to give thanks anyway. i laid awake at night and wondered why i've been so damned lucky my whole life.
and on a brighter note, i sprung for a fresh turkey. i brined it. and it was fantastic.
walking up from the mailbox this frosty morning, i stop to marvel at an oak leaf standing upright in the grass, backlit by the sun. and i'm delighted when it doesn't topple over as i hurry inside to fetch my camera.
yesterday, i bought this tiny-but-tall bottle for a dollar at a goodwill store. a matching one in my kitchen is filled with dried orange peel. even if there hadn't been a mysterious folded paper inside, i still would have bought it - for lemon peel, and a matching set!
this morning, i fished the paper out and read it. and i've been thinking about the message ever since... well done, perfect stranger.
(and you, reader, will need to click on the picture to see it for yourself.)
driving the long way last evening, marvelling at the browns and russets and golds of the late october landscape. more rain, wind, and cold will drop these remaining leaves to the ground very soon. right now, though, late fall is still distracting enough to make me pull over to the side of the road for a while.
red sunrise early this morning confirms what the forecast says: storms are coming and it's going to rain. this rain will quickly end our foliage season for good.
already, the end has begun, though. driving the back roads, leaves surge wildly through the air as the car passes through tunnels of trees. when i walk in the morning, i try to catch one before it hits the ground - for good luck, as told to me by savvy six year-olds. there have been several half-hearted attempts at raking, mostly just to make piles to jump into, throwing leaves into the air, and shrieking. but the heavy duty raking will be next weekend, after this rain, after all the maple and oak and birch leaves are down and the trees are winter bare.
my newest interesting word: abscission. the botanical term for leaves and other parts falling from a plant. it's what happens to deciduous trees in the fall. who knew there was such a fancy word for such a bittersweet ending?
there's no better place to live in the fall than in new england. it's been beautiful here - although difficult for me to capture with the camera. i think i've been more content to just gaze and marvel at the beauty around me. today, it actually moved me to tears a bit - and that surprised me, a lot!
overnight, it's gotten cold and i wake to an early, spotty frost. even though it seems too soon in the season, i know it's time to go collect bittersweet for fall decorating. if i wait, cold will cause the golden casing on the berries to split and eventually fall off, and the remaining orange fruit inside will freeze and thaw continuously until it too drops. if i cut it now and bring the vines inside, the berries will pop in place, remain intact, and look colorful throughout the winter.
so i bring tea and off i go, wearing muck boots and flannel and my gardening gloves. for the first time this year, i can see my breath as i walk. the early morning is quiet with occasional blue jay shrill and solitary cricket song. already it's sounding like fall, feeling like fall.
i know just where the bittersweet is - i can see it from the road, its vibrant green leaves a dead giveaway even in this early light. i walk to the patch, balance my tea on a mossy spot, and i begin to cut.
i reach as far into the tangle as i can in order to get the longest vines. my clippers are newly sharpened, ready for the season's work, and they easily bite through the twists of vine. my sleeves catch on nearby rose hips, so i clip some of those, too, for the basket by the back door. i work silently, with last night's bothersome earworm, a children's song, my only distraction. as i cut, i gently pile the vines in an open spot so as not to disturb the precious berries. when i think i have enough, i pocket my clippers and stoop down next to the pile to begin the tedious job of stripping the leaves from the vines.
even though i'm good at this and can work quickly, it's still the most time-consuming part of the picking. bittersweet leaves are huge in comparison to the fruit. they dry brown and crumpled and look unsightly. so i begin pulling the stems from the vine, one leaf at a time, leaving only a few small ones to yellow and dry in place. slowly, the leaf pile grows and the vines become lost in it. i am at it for so long, i can feel the sun start to warm the back of my neck. i silently pray i'll be able to stand without support after stooping down for so long.
in the distance i think i hear the honk of geese. i look up and am disappointed to see no flying, no V formation. perhaps they are over the river, not yet ready to go. maybe this chill is just reminding them that their leaving time will come too soon.
finally, the stripping is done and i carefully bring the vines home. i lay them on an old bedsheet in the grass to contain stray berries lest they make their way into the soil around the house. i love bittersweet, but it's invasive and could climb and eventually overtake trees that i love more. best to leave bittersweet to the woods.
i lift the big trencher down from the top of the living room cupboard, carry it out into the bright morning light, and begin to load it with the prized vines. once i'm satisfied with the arrangement, it will be put back on the fireplace wall, high up near the beams. this time tomorrow, the berries will have popped and the brilliant gold and orange display will brightened this dark corner of the room. it will remain there, undisturbed, through the next chill weeks of autumn and the long, bleak, cold months of a winter yet to come.
despite my best efforts at attracting them, again this summer i have had no evidence of monarch caterpillars or butterflies, nor have i seen any in my travels. so imagine my joy at spotting this one this afternoon, flitting among the zinnias in the cutting garden at a neighborhood farm stand. and she even had a few siblings with her!
for several mornings this week, the little girl and i spent some time organizing her bedroom, a rather large space with lots of nooks and crannies. after breakfast we'd turn on the radio and start where we had left off the day before. as we worked we'd reminisce about toys and books she'd outgrown. we chose stuffed animals to donate to the thrift store. we made piles of action figures, legos, and plastic dinosaurs and found and labeled containers for each. sometimes we'd get sidetracked and have to snuggle on the bed to read parts of a book or get up and dance to a favorite tune. but we'd soon be back to sorting out broken crayons from the whole ones and tossing piles of old greeting cards and first grade artwork. we organized a desk space for homework with sharpened pencils, a ruler, post-it notes, and a few erasers - the best part of the room, she says! we set up a science center with her rock collection and a reading corner with some comfy pillows. it was a lot of work, but we both agreed it was fun and productive and she loves the grown-up space. when will we have to do this again, she asked. never? i replied.
after we'd finished, i brought home the bag of toys to donate and two bags of trash to take to the dump. tonight i was going through them both, just to be sure i wasn't throwing away some important part to a game or a landmark piece of first grade work. and deep inside a box of puzzle pieces, i found this. it's the lyrics to a silly song we made up and recorded one night after dinner years ago. i'm guessing she wrote this note two years ago. i have no idea why she chose to write down these lyrics. all i know is, finding it touched my heart so. and it came this close to going to the dump.
here's the song, as we recorded it that winter night long ago as we had ice cream for dessert.
earlier this month, there was a hawk hanging around the fringes of the woods. at first, i was excited and thought he was just passing through. but he stayed. sometimes i could see him but always, always, i could hear him. all day long. i thought he would drive me crazy with his constant shrill sounds. and then one day, it was too quiet, too still, and he was gone. and i actually missed him, worried about him a little bit. he probably just moved on to someone who appreciated him as much as i should have.
playing catch-up tonight with blog posts from this month. photos uploaded here, notes made there, but nothing cohesive until i took the time to pull it all together tonight. i have one more post in process, one that's important to me and from june, actually. i've worked hard on half of it - i hope i can get the rest done as well. perhaps this is a new way to blog for me...catch (up) as catch can...
i'm a pocket person but i'm picky about what i keep in them. a beach rock, lip balm, a token from a friend, a flash drive. bills, neatly tucked up in a colorful paperclip. but seldom do i carry coins. it's just too much jingle. so, like many others, i toss them in a container and there they sit until they fill the thing up. for a while now, i've transferred the contents to a bigger container as i fill the smaller one. finally this week, the little girl and i decided to take them to the change machine at the bank.
what a wonderful opportunity for a lesson in estimation, thought the teacher in me. so we brainstormed ways to go about doing that. we decided to start by counting the change in one fistful of money. then she counted the number of additional fistfuls from the container. pencil and paper multiplying that was a bit beyond her abilities came last. we estimated that there was roughly $125 in change.
on the way to the bank, the little girl reminded me that the counting machine wouldn't take foreign coins. we decided there had to be some in our stash since we live so close to Canada, but we weren't worried.
at the bank, we dumped all the coins into the machine. we watched in awe as the coins dropped in and the displayed total grew larger. as the noise started to slow and the display finally stopped, we looked at each other in disbelief. $124.69. and in the coin return, a single shiny Canadian quarter. i was so dumbstruck, i didn't even think to take a picture of it!
this has been a good summer. there have been warm days and comfortable nights, enough rain (i think), good beach days and lots of time to enjoy being outside. a few hot spells but not much humidity. it's been wonderful, but just not right. no monarch caterpillars or butterflies. crickets chirping since early summer when they usually chorus in august. early summer flowers blooming late and late summer ones blooming early. and now, shocking signs of autumn, earlier than i have ever noticed. and it's not even september yet.
after a fitful night's sleep, the day dawns clear and brilliant. the wind still howls and the weather vanes on cottages can't seem to make up their minds. down the street, the wind fights with a sheer curtain through the open window. the surf is pounding on the rocks. wild weather still!
storms like last night's have such an effect on the beaches and the shore. at the sandy beach, lifeguards will not allow children to go into the water past their knees. the high tide is super high, it tries to take my shoes and it forces us and our blankets into the sand dune! but at the small rocky beach, it's a seaglass bonanza! never have we collected so much; never have i seen such a beautiful blue as this piece!
Wild weather this afternoon with driving, windswept rain. even soaked to the bone, i stood at the rocks in awe of the color of the ocean, the power of the surf. tonight the wind howls so loudly through closed up windows, i must open them enough to quiet the noise so i can sleep.
recently, i took a day trip to maine with a friend. a lovely day - and i'm so glad i brought my camera...
we visited an apple orchard to buy native blueberries. the apples there are already turning red!
a beautiful wall display of the old brass stencils they used to mark the apple crates for shipping.
all manner of interesting things hanging from the beams in the barn.
cutest little outhouse i've ever seen.
i have been obsessed this summer with top story windows, especially those that are in the peaks of roofs. they're always a little different than all the other windows in the building. and they're often beautiful, like this one.
the sweetest little secret garden, with a twig fence and thyme-laced stepping stones up to the old grinding wheel. that gorgeous latch is on the outhouse.
we passed this old, neglected church on our way out of town. green corrugated metal covers up the steeple windows. i thought the building was sad and just wanted a shot of it.
i live & take pictures & attempt to write here in northern new england, usa. if the pictures are too small for you, just click on them and they'll show bigger. and if the writing is too cheesy or mundane for you, just move on and find yourself another blog to read. i won't mind. no hard feelings. truly.