Busy, Busy . . . Happy

Autumn is always this way.

We realize that time’s a’wastin’, that soon we’ll be hunkering down for winter, and we try to pack a lot of living into these perfect days.

Chores abound. The perennials are being cut back. The outdoor furniture needs to be stored.

A quilt is basted, waiting to be finished this winter. The yoyos are almost, almost, sewn together and finished. Two other quilt projects wait in the wings.

The looms are momentarily naked but plans have been planned and one warp has been wound, a yummy wool for fall.

It’s time for chocolate, a new and different venture on Etsy, and, always, vintage linens.

It’s the time for spending quality hours with family snowbirds who are ready to fly away and it’s time for a little travel of our own, to enjoy autumn in New England.

Busy, busy. Happy, happy. And you?

 

A Day to Remember . . .

Let’s take a poll:

What’s nicer?

Young love? Or mature love?

Certainly love is always lovely, at any age.

But my vote in the poll goes to mature love, the love that two people find when they least expect it, maybe when they stopped hoping for it at all.

Young love is sweet but anticipated. We all expect our young friends and relatives to find love. We expect to go to an exquisite, big wedding and we hope that the love, and the marriage, lasts.

There’s something richer, deeper, more poignant and thrilling, to me, about mature love, though. Love between two people who know themselves well and have known love before, and who are lucky enough to find someone else who carries the same knowledge and is ready and enthusiastic for another ride on the merry-go-round.

Exhibit A:

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Today, August 2nd, is the fifth wedding anniversary of my mother, Evelyn, and her husband, John.

My mother had been a widow for 30-plus years and John a widower for long enough to begin to be able to consider another relationship.

They had known each other, as passing acquaintances, for some time.

One day, their paths crossed on a walk and he got his courage up and asked, “Do you play bridge?”

How lucky for us all that my mom could say, “Yes”! It’s enough to make a person take up bridge, just in case . . .

They married on our lawn at camp, with just immediate family, and the cats, present.

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Photos were taken, champagne was sipped, a tear or two flowed.

Our very small family expanded by one and there could be no more natural and wonderful fit than welcoming John into the fold. We now cannot imagine our lives without him.

Evelyn and John, realizing that they would never achieve big, impressive anniversary numbers, decided to count anniversary months instead. We recently celebrated their 50th!

And tonight we will celebrate their fifth. We have another perfect day to enjoy.

We will go to the same restaurant we visited the night of the wedding.

We will celebrate 5 years together but also what an anniversary always stands for—the confidence to believe that life with that other person is better than life alone, that a good marriage exceeds the sum of its parts, and that, at any age, love can come again.

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Loving Hands and A Birthday to Remember

IMG_7907How would you celebrate your 90th birthday?

My aunt is coming up to that milestone and she chose to throw herself a birthday bash with bonfire this past weekend.IMG_7843

This party had it all. Her guests came from many circles—colleagues from her years as a teacher, church members, people from her swim class, family, and many, many neighbors.

One of my aunt’s long-time friends traveled from England. Her oldest friend was there—they’ve known each other for almost every minute of their lives. Almost 90 years—astounding!

The party was at my aunt’s rural home, on a hill overlooking the Champlain Valley of upstate New York, about a mile from the farm where I grew up. That meant I saw some of the people I grew up with but haven’t seen in forever—my sister’s first puppy love, members of the family with whom my family was closest and with whom I share wonderful childhood memories, kids for whom I used to babysit and who are now growing gray.

The party had a definite “loving hands at home” quality, in the best sense of that phrase. Many people chipped in, to make it happen. Daughters made snacks and worried about the details, a son-in-law chopped veggies and arranged food to perfection.

There was plenty of homemade music—we sang “Happy Birthday” to a bagpipe accompaniment and “Auld Lang Syne” to guitar. The birthday girl was serenaded to Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”IMG_7853

Because an enormous bonfire was the focal point of the evening, the campfire theme prevailed. The ladies from my aunt’s church made cupcakes with a campfire motif and a neighbor friend contributed floral centerpieces in campfire colors.11728979_10153592498309901_5267262041501630761_o (1) 11845088_10153592321439901_4960895211403482030_o (1)

The weather was perfect. The evening ended with the enormous, rip-roaring bonfire. Smaller fires provided toasted marshmallows for s’mores. Falling stars streaked across the sky, offering opportunities for wishes made upon them.

Friends. Family. Warmth. Wishes on stars.

How will you celebrate your 90th birthday, should you be lucky enough to reach it?


Forever Young, by Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

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A Blur of Summer

IMG_7471It went by in a blur, faster than the speed of camera, fueled by s’mores and ice cream. The photos aren’t good but the summer visit was!IMG_7407

Two small boys and their mother. Playgrounds and beaches and music. Long walks, badminton on the lawn, grilled food, the first local corn of the season.

Chasing cats.

Time on the water, and in it.

And quiet moments to replenish energy.

Summer Abecedary: Ps and Quiet

This summer has been brought to me by the letter P.

Piquant: As always, summer is the season of grilling and barbecue. My husband has taken to making his own barbecue sauces—my favorite has 25 ingredients. And there’s the piquancy of knowing that so many summer flavors, and experiences, are available only briefly, and more beloved because we wait all year for them.

Pesky: For all the perks of summer, we still have Japanese beetles, red lily beetles, crabgrass, chickweed and . . .

Poison ivy: The peskiest of pests, brought home as oil on the fur of cats I love to cuddle.

Predictable: Summer in our neck of the woods and lake means certain obligatory outdoor décor—Adirondack chairs, lighthouses, and day lilies. Being over-achievers and highly competitive, we have all three.

Pellucid: Summer is the only time of year I use this word. And it is the only word that really describes the satiny smoothness of the water ripples, on certain summer evenings.

Pellucid waters

Pellucid waters

Poignant: Summer is a time of so many cherished traditions, involving family and friends. Sometimes I can’t help but think, how long can this last? Can I just freeze this moment in time, with these people, forever? Please?

This photo I took several years ago sums up “poignant” for me—it captures a perfect summer moment.2008 em tess-05

But the ball dropped and splashed. The dog has since passed on, to the big lake in the sky. The girl has grown and is heading to a new stage in her life. The sun set.

The moment passed.

Yet summers continue to roll over us, and catch us up in their charms. We turn our thoughts to new moments to be lived and memories to be made . . .

. . . periods of perfection to be pondered, and exulted in.

That’s my summer—pretty and perfect and Ps-full peaceful.

Has your current (or most recent!) summer been sponsored by a specific letter? Here’s hoping you’ve found it letter perfect!

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My Little Town

IMG_3934The popular saying is that it takes a village to raise a child. This is the village that raised my sister and me and left its imprint on everything we are today.

My little town is a mix of reality and nostalgia. It is inhabited by our family members, the people who lived on the farm and in the surrounding community, and who lived their lives in particular ways.

Walk down the street with me, and I’ll introduce you. As we walk, keep your eyes open to the beauty here, the details of architecture, and the lovely flowers and trees. As well as being a pretty town, this is a tour de force of stitching ability!

We come to my sister first—the flower stall is hers.

IMG_3947It’s good we start with her, since she is the person who stitched this lovely scene. She made it many years ago and when I look at it now, I’m amazed at the detail! The time and energy that went into this boggles my mind. She worked in crewel embroidery and customized this kit to reflect our family and the work we do.

My sister has never sold flowers but I think she’s always had a fantasy about doing so, having a small friendly business in a small friendly town. Her adult life went a very different direction—she has worked for years, on Wall Street and beyond, in the financial field. A small town girl, she learned to negotiate, and succeed in, one of the biggest cities in the world. And she raised one great daughter—talk about the important work of loving hands at home!

Behind her, at Wright’s Craftsman, we meet my maternal grandfather.

IMG_3940I’ve said before that he was a serial craftsman. He would choose a hobby and put all his considerable energy into mastering it, and then he would move on. He was a photographer and developed his own photos. He was a rock hound and collected rocks and gems. He built houses with his own two hands, raised tropical fish, painted in oils. And he made exquisite furniture.

Beyond the craftsman’s shop is Banker’s Orchards.

IMG_3944The Bankers are my paternal grandmother’s family and their apple orchard was in the family for years. The Bankers were farmers and the family had deep Dutch roots. The Bankers have now mostly moved away, some very far away as missionaries and college professors, but the orchard still bears their name and the descendants are all still farm kids at heart.

Next along the street is Evelyn’s.

IMG_3948Evelyn is our mother and, although she appears to have a shop front, that’s really a schoolroom. She taught generations of North Country kids to read and write, laying a foundation in first grade that provided them the chance to succeed. I regularly meet people who hear my name and tell me they had my mother as a first-grade teacher. Evelyn inherited the serial craftsman gene from her father and has always been a maker, too.

Evelyn’s schoolroom is right next door to Bowen’s.

IMG_3920Lydia Bowen was my mother’s mother and you can’t tell it from the storefront but Lydia would be busy inside, always busy, with her books. She was a meticulous bookkeeper for her young family during the Great Depression, making note of every penny earned and every penny spent. Later she turned that energy to genealogy and traced her family back to the Puritans. The inside of her shop would smell of old paper and books.

Next along the street of my little town is my father’s place–he really was the town supervisor for a few years.

IMG_3945He was also a dairy farmer, drove a school bus and then became the head bus driver and, ultimately, the business manager of our school system. He only lived to be 43 but he packed a lot into his years. My sister and I wouldn’t drink milk in restaurants for years because it didn’t come from Dad’s cows and didn’t taste right.

My small art gallery is the last shop on the street.

IMG_3943Although she stitched this piece when I was in grad school, getting a Ph.D. to teach in a field far removed from art, my sister knew that having a creative outlet and making were of central importance in my life. If you were to peek inside my gallery, you’d see an eclectic mix! You’d see drawings and some pretty amateurish paintings. You’d see handwrought jewelry, handmade chocolates, quilts, embroidery, weaving . . . and who knows what will be added next?

The stroll through town is a short one, although we could add a few more names now. The town itself remains sort of old-fashioned, quite small, attractive enough but not fashionable, much like the family. It’s a quiet place, filled with hard-working people who valued education and family and who made things, created things, and shared those values with each other.

What sort of village raised you? Was the “town” primarily your close family or was the broader community instrumental? Can you see the influences of that town in the person you are today?

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Friends, Indeed: Kit, Liz, Jan

IMG_2963Have you ever been in a place where kindness means a whole lot to you, more so than usual? Feeling a little overwhelmed, a little harried, but then shored up by someone else and their kindness to you?

I have been on the receiving end of a lot of kindness lately. For starters, while I was off selling candy at holiday boutiques this past week, my husband cleaned the entire house, from top to bottom! How’s that for nice?!

I can, and have, thanked him in person but I want to thank three other kind people more publicly.

First I need to mention my totally cool sister, Kit, who was my right-hand gal, yet again, while I sold candy at the boutiques. She helped last year and I will not EVER accept an invitation to one of these boutiques if she is unavailable or unwilling to help. My sister is mellow, even-tempered, and methodical about helping so I can just flap around and talk to customers! It doesn’t come as any surprise that I depend on her for this sort of help—she has been by my side, often literally but always figuratively, my entire life.

I knew I could count on my sister’s kindness this past week but I was blind-sided by kindness from two other people, too—the antidote to feeling stressed and exhausted is nice people!

Let’s take the kindness of a blog friend, Liz, who writes the blog, “food for fun.” Not only did Liz, a professional foodie, give me some great business and buy lots of candy from me, she wrote a really, REALLY nice blog post about the candy and shared some of her stash with others in the food industry. It is so reassuring to hear this kind of feedback from someone who is truly knowledgeable about food and the fact that she gave me the kind feedback so publicly . . . well, it doesn’t get any better than that!

I saw Liz’s blog post at the end of a long and intense day of selling at one of the holiday boutiques. Those events are fun but exhausting for a hard-core introvert like me. However, when I saw what Liz had written I felt new again and ready to go back the next day, for the second boutique, with a spring in my step!

I know you’d enjoy Liz’s blog as much as I do. It does what you’d expect a food blog to do—provide recipes and talk about food trends—but Liz writes with an honesty and humor that I find lacking in so many food blogs. Other food bloggers can make me feel like a schmo in the kitchen but Liz keeps it real and really fun. Plus she writes frequently about bourbon . . . and that means a lot to me!

Liz had me flying pretty high but then I had another long day of selling and a five-hour drive home. Another low-energy period, begging to be buoyed by kindness! I got home to an envelope from Jan, the author of “The Snail of Happiness.”

Jan is interested in sustainability—with a Ph.D. in ecology, I guess that’s not surprising. She recently finished an advanced program in permaculture and, as part of that process, made a masterpiece blanket that included her own crochet work, as well as crocheted and knitted blocks from blog friends around the world. When I whined to Jan that her mailbox must be a lot more fun than mine, she took it upon herself to change that! This is her modus operandi it seems . . . .

When I returned home from my downstate selling extravaganza yesterday, I had an envelope from Wales waiting for me. Jan had crocheted me a cotton ray of sunshine, some ever-blooming roses, and a big and beautiful cloth that she says is a dishcloth but that I can’t imagine ever using on dishes! I am pondering some ideas about how to use it, even as I write.

Jan’s blog is another I’m confident you’ll love—in fact, I know many of you do follow it and are contributors to her masterpiece! If you haven’t checked The Snail of Happiness out yet, do so—Jan loves that which is handmade and she brings an intelligent, down-to-earth voice to her blog.

All of this is an excellent reminder, at this time of year when we’re urged to buy big to show people we love them, that it is often the small, unexpected gestures that really matter and will brighten a day, lighten a load. I’ve been reminded of this important lesson by Kit and Liz and Jan, by being on the receiving end of their kindness.

And I resolve to do more on the giving end as well.