Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tales of November


Wild is the music of autumnal winds amongst the faded woods. ~ William Wordsworth

I love this sweet scene of a young mother reading to her children before a warming fire.  And I love that the calendar on the wall in this illustration says November 10.  But I want to talk about November 11th.  Of course, it was Veteran's Day, a special 24 hours when we honor servicemen for serving.  A few weeks ago, I made a small donation at my grocery store and received a bright poppy in return, a paean to In Flander's Field, the poignant poem by Lt. John McCrae.  I believe McCrae and our servicemen make scenes like the one above possible.  My November 11th tale below, though poignant too, is a childish one and a little sad.  But I don't think you'll mind.  I begin:

I used to accompany my best friend to our church's cemetery so that her mother could plant flowers on their relatives' graves.  I had never been to a cemetery before so I thought it was both eerie and fascinating.  While my friend's mother tended to flowers, we would wander off reading headstones.  Often we would find the names of classmates' grandparents but one day our hearts suddenly stopped cold.  Etched on a large white marble statue of a larger-than-life angel, was my name, Donna Marie.  Buried there was a young girl who died at an age just one year older than I.  My friend and I stared and blinked at one another and being childish and foolish and prone to imaginings, we wondered if this was an omen.  I sensed that whatever had befallen Donna Marie must have been very tragic indeed because her statuary eclipsed all other stones in the cemetery.  I was in deep thought and nearly trembling as we drove home that day and both my friend and I turned to watch the large stone become smaller and smaller in the rear window.  It was almost as though the angel were nodding goodbye to us with its diminishing height.

That was the last visit to the cemetery that summer but my chum and I devised a fanciful tale in our heads.  Perhaps I would die, as Donna Marie did, in my eleventh year, but for me, it would be on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour.  We both knew this was just a fairy tale but we made preparations just the same.

As luck would have it, November 11th that year was on a Saturday and my grandmother would be babysitting me.  My friend tagged along "just to see" and we spent the night waiting for the appointed hour playing games in the family room.  We both tried to be very good, letting one another win at Hearts and Monopoly.  My grandmother never knew what was going on.  We put on our pajamas and tried ever-so-hard to stay awake until 11:00 pm.  But the hour passed with both of us out cold on the sleeper couch from too much popcorn and ice cream and we didn't stir again until 7:00 am.  Barely a word was spoken about our delusion but the following spring when we visited the cemetery again, we went straight to Donna Marie's grave.

But now we felt an unexpected tender thread connecting us to the little girl who had an angel standing solemn over her.  We began to lay wildflowers and found pinecones for her grave.  We marveled at how we didn't recognize the family name and without the internet, we didn't even think about finding out who she was.  But we loved her and took care of her and every time we drove by the cemetery, we both looked over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of her receding angel guardian.

I went back there a few years ago and noticed that Donna Marie's mother had joined her and I felt very comforted about that.  Recently, thanks to the internet, I posted a query to a group of neighbors and friends who still reside in my hometown.  Within a few minutes, Donna Marie's niece responded.  "That is my family", she wrote, "She was my father's younger sister and she was hit by a car after picking apples for her horse one day.  My grandmother missed her until they day she herself died".  I learned a little bit more too.  But it doesn't really matter here... Just know that Donna Marie's niece said her grandmother cursed with tears in her eyes the day she noticed vandals had stolen the angel's hands.  And she told me that her grandmother would have loved knowing that two little girls thought enough of her daughter to glorify her grave and memory will small childish tokens that were given with only the purest reverence.

And so now...on to other November tales. This year more than ever before, I noticed that my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is being shown the door.  With Christmas displays edging out autumnal beauty, it's a case of "Here's your hat - what's your hurry?"  Or, as soon as our chairs are pulled up to our bountiful tables, the cornucopia is whisked away and replaced by a Christmas tree before our very eyes.

A friend seemed sad at work the other day and when I asked her why, she blurt out that Christmas is coming at her full force.  With a mother-in-law living with her and small children, she already feels the thrust of the Christmas train racing down the track toward her. But it doesn't have to be this way. I've turned off the TV and therefore the endlessly looping jewelry store ads.  I also don't listen to commercial radio on the way to work.  Soothing CD's accompany my reveries.  I will let Christmas in when I am ready.  For now, I'm doing November.

As well, it helps to have more moments like the reading mother above.  I'm sure she's not thinking about the color of her Christmas wrapping paper and ribbons yet.  Let's all take a breather and cherish the precious holiday of gratitude first.  I plan on spending it with those who love me, those who know me, those who see me.  My lists will get written I'm sure.  But not in November.  That month is for telling tales of long-gone yet still thought-of little girls, for the soldiers who fought so we could continue to read to our children.  And it's for Thanksgiving...the holiday that reminds us how lucky we really are.

***

~And for your Thanksgiving Table, my favorite side dish for bringing:


Carrot Souffle 

1 pound carrots, sliced and cooked
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup soft butter
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

In blender, combine butter, milk.  Add eggs, sugar.  Blend until smooth.  
Add cooked carrots little by little
Add flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla, cinnamon.  Blend until smooth.

Grease 1-1/2 quart casserole.  Bake 350 degrees F 45 minutes to 1 hour or until no jiggle!


Happy Thanksgiving!

~

PS:  Every comment was read and cherished on my previous post.  I'm grateful for you all.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Cold Comfort Charms




She made a promise to herself to keep her own well-being sacred.

~
A friend passed along that quote to me recently and I've been keeping it under my pillow ever since.  It really says so much about how we must protect our fragile souls from the things that want to steal our peace of mind these days.

So many times this month I wanted to write about my new autumn tablecloth, or tell you about a new fragrance I discovered or a place I visited.  But I held back because of the events that occurred recently, including last week's terror attack, which made me feel that writing about perfume or small domestic details seemed frivolous and silly.  The stuff of ordinary life pales in comparison to the innocent lives lost in horrendous hideous ways for no good reason at all.  And yet, I found the world only paused for a moment...and then marched on.  I even heard a newscaster sum up the week with "It was a good week", after having reported on the NYC attack in detail for two days straight.  "Breaking News" becomes "Old News" as quickly as a coin toss.  I don't get it.

Maybe we are numbed by it to a degree - so many random attacks and yet we are still required to go to work and the Christmas ads still have to roll out on television.  I worry about my upcoming visit to NYC to see the Downton Abbey exhibit but if I don't go then I hear that oft-said refrain over and over, "Then they win".  But carrying on is difficult and I'm more worried than ever about my nephew who lives in Brooklyn and I want to know where everybody is at every single moment.  So I decided that instead of writing about my lovely linen tablecloth, I would write about the things I do that soothe me and take the edge off when I feel unnerved.  But naturally, most of my cold comfort charms do include domesticity, beauty...and of course, perfume.

On the Homefront (it is a war out there)

Keeping my house warm at night is always a comfort.  Boosting the thermostat slightly above where I have it typically set, helps me feel safe by reminding me that I am warm inside despite the cold world we live in.  I will pay the extra expense...it's worth it.

Lighting - being a single mom all my adult life, I learned to be electrically frugal due to necessity.  But having my lights on, not just in the corner where I am perched, gives me a feeling of comfort.  It may be dark outside, but inside it is bright and warm.  I can look down the hall from my bedroom and see the small bathroom light glowing and another one in the hall too.  Ditto, the expense.

Music

I have always enjoyed background music while I am home but now I eschew anything that isn't lilting and soothing.  This often means more Mozart, Vivaldi, and Chopin.  I don't want pounding noise reaching out to grab me or bizarre and strange lyrics calling out my name.  Give me the strains of classical sounds or orchestral pieces by Montovani and Norman Luboff.  Call me a square...don't care.

My Bed

Having a beautiful supportive bed with lovely cozy blankets and pillows can never ever be underestimated.  Falling into your bed's arms every night will help you rest from any worry-overload or sadness that seizes you.  And it shouldn't cost a lot to outfit your bed with fluffy pillows and warm covers.  Home Goods, TJ Maxx, and their ilk offer affordable bed linens with an ever-changing stock.  Keep looking for the right stuff.

Beauty Routines

I step up my beauty action when I am stressed.  It reminds me that no matter what the world is dishing out, I can still take care of me.  This is not the time to stop using that foot smoother in the tub or to skip flossing.  Au contraire....it is actually the perfect time to escalate your routine.  Pick up a few envelopes of mask when you pick up your toothpaste.  Keep your nails polished and pretty with a new upbeat color.  Use your moisturizers and take care of your skin even if you don't feel like it.  Looking after ourselves with exquisite attention is one thing we can control in an upside-down world.

Books

Nothing helps with anxiety like escaping into a good book.  I just re-read Jane of Lantern Hill, an old childhood favorite by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  The story is full of marvelous advice that has stood the test of time and by allowing myself to surrender to the story, my fears and concerns were eased. Libraries are filled with shelves of fiction that nobody reads anymore.  Some of my library's stacks contain real gems and it is where I first became acquainted with Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Gaskell.  Some terrific innocent fiction was written by now-forgotten authors in the 40's and 50's.  Find a novel you can drown in.  At least for a few hours.

Scent

Good smells are mood changers.  Favorite perfumes are comforting, especially if they remind you of someone beloved.  Make sure that your home has a scent imprint.  I like lavender in my upstairs rooms and lemon or oranges in the kitchen.  Bake brownies or make stew.  Fill your house with happy scents.  We need it more than ever.

And finally...my new tablecloth.  Always looking for the Holy Grail, I happened upon a linen embossed cloth for a round table.  Round cloths are very hard to find and to stumble upon such a fine one in a beautiful fall-like color had me handing over my credit card -  I knew I couldn't walk away from it.  Now on  my table, with autumnal candles and a bowl of fruit, the vignette I created has become the sentinel of my fall.  I didn't want to spend the money but it was money well-spent - it is an heirloom.  But more importantly, it is one of those small things that remind me that despite all the vagaries of our world, we just have to continue making our little corners worth coming home to.  We can make ourselves worth coming home to as well.  And in the process, we keep our well-being sacred, despite what's going on out there.

What are your Cold Comfort Charms?


Note:  My tablecloth above (but round).