Category Archives: family

Christmas bees and their honey.

glc-p1060392

I opened a gift from my daughter Pearl on Christmas Eve, an apron that she thought appropriate for me as The Queen Bee. It was a surprising metaphor, but I can see how the whole week that is just past was a picture of busy bees using the minutes and days to create sweet nourishment for all.

When my children and their families started arriving on Christmas Eve Day, you could say that I fell easily into the role of a contented queen surrounded by a humming swarm of people whose chatter and activities were endlessly fascinating. I could hardly believe my good fortune to have them all under my roof.

I will try to build this post around the activities that we engaged in for the six days that they were coming and going, sleeping here in varying numbers or coming just for a day at a time.

glc-p1060287
The Littles like big cousins and uncles.

During the week or two beforehand I had worked like a beaver — I should say, a worker bee — to get ready. Decorating, making up beds, shopping for several meals and 25 people, wrapping scores of presents, baking more cookies.

My own master bedroom that has over the last year and a half become an untidy catch-all, staging and storage area also needed to be thoroughly dusted up and set in order for some of my guests. I would sleep in Kit’s twin bed for a few days.

On the 23rd I fell into bed aching all over, partly from a sneezy and headachey cold. And when I woke the next day (the head cold and pain had vanished!), Kate and Tom had completed a grueling journey from D.C. and arrived while I slept (almost like Santa, eh?). The cheerful hubbub quickly expanded when Soldier’s and Pippin’s and Pearl’s families pulled in over the course of the next few hours and began cooking for us all.

p1060391
Garden decor gift – made by Haitians from oil drums

WE ATE: For breakfast that first morning it was Baked Oatmeal with Cranberries and Apples and Nuts with Vanilla Yogurt on top, cooked by Pippin.

p1060403
We ate candy.
p1060385
owl ornament from Pippin

Only a week before, I’d wondered via email to them all what I might cook on Christmas Eve that would be simple enough to allow us plenty of time for more than eating and clean-up — time to sing carols and open presents while the children were still awake enough to avoid meltdowns.

My colony rallied and came up with a plan whereby I would cook nothing! I could be as spacey and distracted as I wanted, play with the grandchildren or chat with the men about books and politics, while everyone else would get dinner on the table.

It was not a simple meal, but the true and traditional-for-us feast that they wanted, starting with oyster stew and finishing with cookies.

 

glc-p1060217

 

 

WE MADE MUSIC and SANG CAROLS… with more musicians than ever, partly because three grandchildren accompanied us this year! A violin, ukulele, two guitars, and piano. The four-year-olds danced — that is what they would call galloping around the room.

 

glc-p1060236

glc-p1060407 Over five days I refilled the cookie platter a couple of times per day, which was very gratifying – all those boys and men might have eaten every last cookie if I hadn’t saved some back for the one grandson who wasn’t able to be with us. By the time I took a picture the only thing left was my two favorite Trader Joe’s varieties: Chocolate Shortbread Stars and Pfeffernüsse.

glc-p1060411
Food for the birds.

 

WE GAVE GIFTS – And yes, we received gifts! I was given earrings and ornaments and books, a family tree chart, garden decor and an olivewood cheese board and a suet wreath for my wild birds.

The youngest grandchildren made gifts for everyone. This year they were very nicely crafted ornaments for the tree. And Pippin and Kate gave me bird ornaments, too, including a triplet of very furry owls.

glc-p1060424-ornament-scout-ivy
Beaded ornament by Scout and Ivy
glc-p1060395
My haul of book gifts!

p1060397

I must tell you that the subtitle of the middle book in the stack is: “And Other Myths about Language Explained.” I was flattered by the gift-givers who thought me a worthy recipient of big books such as two of these are — certainly I am interested in them, but… Good King Wenceslas feels more my speed at this time, and I right away perused the wonderful illustrations.

WE WORSHIPED: Tom and Kate went to church with me on Christmas morning, where Tom hit it off with my little goddaughter Mary, and we admired all the shiny matching-sister dresses among the congregation. Kate took a video of the chandeliers swinging during a hymn commemorating the Incarnation. We sang “God is with us!” and afterward feasted on cheesecake and extravagant mounds of truffles in the church hall.

Mrs. Bread was there to give me a hug, and this darling brooch that confirmed the week’s theme. I happened to be wearing my black wool coat, which I do every two or three years, so she pinned it right on.

glc-p1060413-bee-brooch

glc-p1060242
pakora prep

 

WE COOKED INDIAN FOOD: Tom and Kate and I started right in cooking after church: pakoras, curried lamb, roti bread, vegetable curry and basmati rice. Piles of spices and vegetables went into the curries. We all chop-chop-chopped and I made the roti dough and rolled it out, leaving Kate and Tom to figure out the most effective way to get the thin pancakes to puff up like balloons.

glc-img_3995
Tom’s amazing onion-chopping

glc-p1060259

WE HIKED: Two hikes were taken, but I joined only the second one, after half of the houseful  had gone home. My boys and their wives were on this hike, several grandchildren, plus Tom. Kate had to stay home and study Hindi. Liam marched energetically up hills while singing lustily “Joy to the world!” And “Go tell it on the mountain….” He knows the first verse of at least six carols now. I tried to sing with him through my panting.

glc-p1060331

 

 

 

The picture is of four people trying to get two-yr-old Laddie into the fancy new backpack. His mom is helping partly by being something for Soldier to hold on to while he squats, even while she is carrying Brodie in a front pack.

 

glc-p1060343

glc-p1060348

glc-p1060359

We came to a lake at the end of our hike, and sat around  on benches for a half hour before starting back. On the way out we saw these berries which I think are toyon.

glc-p1060376-toyon

WE BUILT FIRES in the woodstove against the cold. It froze every morning of our Christmas week, but starting on Christmas Eve the ban on burning was lifted. Maybe it was a present from the Air Quality Board? Usually it’s on the coldest days that the prohibition is in effect. I had lots of help building and tending fires, and bringing in wood.

WE ATE MORE: Naturally, when you have all those children from 0-7, six teenagers, adult men, nursing mothers, etc., in cold weather, we go on eating. One morning Tom fried three pounds of bacon while Joy baked tender buttermilk biscuits. For dinner one night Pathfinder and Iris made their famous posole for everyone and served it with Iris’s famous cornbread.

glc-img_4012

 

WE PLAYED VONNIS, a cross between volleyball and tennis. Even I played! A large number of us — maybe 18? — walked a few blocks to the tennis courts where we played with a volleyball. At first the younger kids tried to participate, but they gradually trailed off to the playground with a couple of the moms; we still had two teams with many true athletes in the 13-45-yr age range. I managed to return the ball successfully a couple of times. It looked like they were trying not to serve to my area of the court, and once I heard a grandson on the opposite team instructing, “Protect Grandma!”

WE REPAIRED THINGS: Not everyone went to the park for vonnis. Soldier stayed home to work on my playhouse, whose door was coming apart. I didn’t even realize this until we got home and he was still at it. I promised him that in the spring I will put some wood preservative on the whole house.

glc-img_4013

Scout and Liam found the little rakes I’d given them in the fall, and all on their own started raking up pine needles for me. (photo credit: Pippin) In the photo above you can see the frozen jade plant, and in the one below, the lemon tree with its frost protection.

glc-2016dec-283

WE MOVED ROCKS: A son-in-law and a grandson worked with me for an hour on the landscape art project of placing my favorite rocks all over the new front yard so as to look as natural as possible. A couple of these were huge and required their manly brawn, but I also wanted their creative input. It was fun – and I was ever so thankful! They went on to do some other yard cleanup and tool organizing before they were done. glc-p1060421-rocks

WE TALKED: Of course I could not overhear even a fraction of the conversations that happened while all these relations were together, people who rarely see each other and had a lot of catching up to do. It was lovely that they could use my house as a meeting place.

glc-p1060298
inflatable solar lanterns

Annie and Maggie are 14 and 13 now — When I passed Annie’s bedroom I saw their heads together. And as I roamed upstairs and down I could hear my people discussing everything from baby care to Indian politics, from university life to cars.

After the Oregon contingent had arrived and eaten a late Christmas dinner of our Indian fare, all but three of us had gone to bed. Tom and my youngest Oregon grandson started talking about their Toyota trucks. They even showed me the Top Gear video that is famous if you know about such things, and I have to say that if I ever need a small truck, I will try to find a Toyota like one of theirs.

From the movie: planks that will become skis

On the last day of our Christmas reunion, when I got home from taking Tom and Kate to the airport, I showed the OR grandsons the video I am currently renting from Netflix, “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.” I thought that as they are outdoorsmen and skiers and builders, they would like watching the men cut down trees and make their own skis and traps and everything. As it turned out, we ended up talking more about Werner Herzog who co-directed and narrated the film, and about how he has written books and made many movies. That led us to the topic of other books that we have liked or want to read. One of my favorite things ever is getting book ideas from my grandsons!glc-p1060208

Soon their father was directing them to take leaves out of the tables and help in various ways to set things back to pre-feast mode. They said good-bye, and I waved as they drove away. I was not the queen bee anymore, and I was not a worker bee…

Now I am a bee sleepy with winter and cold and fatigued by so much buzzing in my hive… sitting by the fire I built myself, with visions of dear people and memories of their hugs to sustain me.

My cup is running over with honey!

 

 

Christmas trees and Christmas now.

gretchens-1st-xmas-marysville-50This was my first Christmas, in Marysville, California. I seem to be more interested in my toys than in the tree, but with the decided lack of bling on that scrawny evergreen I guess it’s no wonder. Now, though, the strings of popcorn please me very much. After that year, our trees were always decorated with tinsel in typical 50’s fashion, and sometimes plastic icicles.

Amazing, to see three dolls under that tree! All these things make me think that my First Christmas may have been more formative than one would imagine.

This year I put up my faux tree for the second time. Who would have dreamed, even three years ago, that I would ever have a faux, (a.k.a. fake), tree for any reason? (When I mentioned my faux tree to friend Mr. Bread, he burst out laughing.) But while we were shopping during my late husband’s last Christmas season, he looked at the faux trees on display and said, “Gretchen, next year you should get one of these.” I brushed him off and never gave it another thought until the following November when I realized I couldn’t manage getting a cut tree home, not to mention setting it up, and taking it down again in January.Christmas tree 2015

If you didn’t read the poem by Robert Frost about the Christmas trees he didn’t know he had, I put it up last year Here.

This year I decorated my tree all by myself one day when I was alone in the house. That was also a totally new experience for me, and I enjoyed it so much! I should not be surprised about that, either, knowing how I’m never at my best doing group projects.  In the past our whole family would take an evening to decorate while we drank eggnog and hot cider, and many times listened to a recording of “A Christmas Carol.” Seven people decorating one tree is a challenging group project, but it was our tradition that we loved.

I’m pretty sure that introverted decorating will be my new tradition. I will listen to carols while I make the tree into a work of art. As I try to remember who gave me which beloved ornament, I will thank God for Christmas Past and Christmas Now.

Christmas Joy by Soldier and Joy 14

I take control with sentences.

I’m having that feeling of Too Muchness. I’m trying to reject it – it’s only a feeling. What is truly required of me? Jesus told Martha that only one thing is needful, and that her sister Mary had chosen that “better part.” What was Mary doing? Listening to her Lord.

gl12-img_3922

I can’t listen to Him and entertain these depressing thoughts at the same time. If hear Him correctly this afternoon, He is telling me to play Bing Crosby singing “Silent Night” and “Frosty the Snowman,” and to write down some of the things in my life that are threatening to overwhelm me. It seems to calm me to take control by putting all the craziness into sentences and paragraphs, where it doesn’t loom so vague and impossible.

Also, writing it down shows me that in the balance the crazy aspect weighs a lot less than the obviously good and wholesome, the things that are easy to be grateful for and happy about. I took some pictures of the garden and grandchildren and such beautiful things to intersperse among my sad tales. That way you have the option to just scroll through the pictures — if you even have time to be here this Month of Too Much. 🙂

gl129-church

 

 

The first photos are of my church at night, when a performance of choral Christmas music was performed here and special lighting was set up outside. Inside, also , we had all the electric lights turned on before the candlelight performance began, and I was wearing my glasses, so everything looked very bright and clear! Normally for evening services we only have candlelight.

gl129-p1060143
abutilon

I had returned from my travels in time for Thanksgiving, but because it took me so long to finish my travelogue, I failed to show you any pictures of our festivities.

We feasted at Pearl’s in Davis, but the next day all the littlest grandchildren were here with their parents, and the weather permitted them to play out in the garden and to make gourmet salads and casseroles using various approved cuttings from various plants including cherry tomatoes, yarrow and nasturtiums.

gl129-p1060072I had bought junior-size lawn rakes which Scout and Liam were eager to use to help rake up the pine needles that continually blanket the ground. Ivy and Laddie enjoyed using the heavy equipment in the gravel utility yard. And Ivy took her alligator on a culinary tour to feed it different flavors of leaves.

gl129-p1060093

gl129-p1060088gl129-p1060081

gl129-p1060132
Everyone loves our vintage Playmobil with its detailed parts.

gl129-p1060127

While both families were packing up to go home, Jamie was sitting in the entryway in this sweater I had just given him. It was knitted by his great-grandmother for her first granddaughter Phoebe. Then my children wore it – at least a few of them – a lot before I accidentally shrank it and made it into this boiled-wool sweater that actually fits, and complements Jamie’s fair coloring. Perhaps he has made use of it this month in their snowy weather.

At the end of November asparagus crowns arrived in the local nursery, so I took a couple of days to prepare the two areas in my front yard that had been reserved for this one vegetable crop. Preparation means, in this case, digging out a foot of dirt. It was loose, imported loam, but it was wet, and represented a lot of shoveling.

gl129-hole

I started to carry the dirt in buckets to the other side of the driveway but quickly realized that I’d never get the job done that way, so I hopped in the car to drive to the hardware store to buy a wheelbarrow. It didn’t make the job much easier at first, because the tire was too low on air. My bicycle pump wouldn’t work. So I plugged away, on the lookout for my neighbor Dennis to come home from work, and as soon as I saw his truck I was over there begging for help. Whoosh, his airless pump did the trick.

After two days I wasn’t quite finished with two beds of similar size. I knew I needed to take a day off, though, because my back was tired. Turned out it was more than tired – it was truly “out,” and I was laid up for several days and missed church and a St. Nicholas Faire and baptisms and a special dinner. Kit finished the last of the preparation for me, and I ordered a kneeling chair such as I used to sit/kneel on 15 years ago to spare my spine.

gl129-img_3935

Then Monday my back was 90% better! I put the asparagus crowns in the bottoms of the holes, and covered them with a couple of inches of dirt. Maybe it was because I was racing against the coming rain that I forgot to take a snapshot of the stages of planting. Here is a photo from online showing how they look just before being covered with soil. I planted 35 crowns.

gl129-asparagus

Now that bed looks like this:

gl129-p1060140Those brown hoses are the irrigation lines that will lie on top of the soil, under the mulch, when I am all through putting the dirt back. Most people fill it back in gradually, but one expert gardener I saw online seemed to think it didn’t matter and he replaced it all at once.

Here is a sort of blank place in the front garden, where I plan to put a bench under the osmanthus. Maybe I need to cut out some more low branches first. I will sit there in nice weather when I’m feeling friendly, and call to the neighbors who walk past.

gl129-p1060155

gl129-p1060149
hellebores

My kneeling chair arrived, and I managed to assemble it by myself. That’s the secondgl129-p1060158 item I have put together now! But the replacement casters I bought to protect my wood floors didn’t work, because they needed to have threaded stems. So I boxed them back up and took them to the UPS store, and today the next set of casters arrived and they did work. Here is my chair, which I quickly amended by putting a memory foam pillow on the kneeling pad, and even that is not friendly enough to my shins – so I am working on my technique for kneeling on this thing, even as I type. I was not so delicate 15 years ago!

After I plantgl-129-img_3928ed the asparagus it still hadn’t started to rain, so I reorganized the woodpile. I have eucalyptus and oak now, in different stacks. I got them separated more cleanly from one another and filled my firewood rack in the garage with both kinds, and I covered the rest completely with tarps. In the course of this work I found where the rats (before I got rid of them) had made nests reminiscent of Brambly Hedge in a sort of multi-level apartment arrangement. They had chewed up some of the old tarp for their nest.

gl129-img_3937

This morning when I was lifting a bag from the coat rack on the wall, the whole thing started coming off and one screw came out of the wall. I tried and tried to put in a new drywall screw, but nothing worked; the hole got bigger and bigger. I watched some YouTube videos on different types of fixes using even more types of screws I didn’t have. I decided to make new holes just above the present ones, but I didn’t have two of the best kind of screw anymore, because I had wrecked them. After spending an hour on this unexpected project I had to admit to myself that I needed to hire a handyman to do the job for me. I don’t really have anyone I’m used to calling, and I dreaded making the arrangements.

But I had to postpone thinking about that – I must run some errands. I left the mess on the table, and went out the front door. At the same time my new neighbor went out to his car a few feet away, and I remembered that he is a handyman, and he has been very friendly to me, so I asked him if I could hire him to fix this little problem. He said sure! And he will come tomorrow. I argued with him when he said it is such a little job he won’t charge me. I told him I will be home all day because my daughter and granddaughter are coming to bake cookies, and his face lit up. “Cookies? You can pay me with cookies! Seriously.”

So that tale ofgl129-img_3934 woe has turned into a happy thing, a chance to get to know my neighbor, and even feed him! I was able to feed more people this week: First, DIL Joy’s mother, whom I took out for her birthday; she grows micro greens and petite greens to sell to fancy restaurants, and she gave me a pot of petite kale greens for salad snipping.

Pathfinder was on a business trip that brought him into town on his very birthday, so we went out this week, too. The year he was born he was my best Christmas present by far.  And I’ll get to see him and his whole family in just a fortnight, for Christmas. It looks likely that all five of my children will be here then! The first time since their father’s funeral – It makes me cry to think about it. I wonder if we can manage a thing where they all gather me in a multi-hug?

Yesterday my friend Tim, who was a pallbearer at Mr. Glad’s funeral, came over for along-overdue visit. I fed him soup and fried bread, and strong coffee. We sat by the fire, the first one I’d made this season, and talked and talked. Now that felt very normal and necessary. I’ve been working so long on this post, I didn’t make a fire this afternoon, and I’m getting chilly here in my corner.

Though I haven’t got my tree up, or added more strings for the peas to grow higher on, or written many Christmas cards, I did put a big wreath on the front door. One step at a time, and one word at a time, I’ll do all that’s necessary. And Christmas will come. O Come, O come, Emmanuel!

gl129-p1060156

 

Found Cousins and Founding Fathers

These men were the reason that Philadelphia became a place we visit for historic tours, and their life-size statues made me really glad I had come. However, if it weren’t for the fact that my cousins live here, I wouldn’t have made the trip.

2016-11-14-12-09-24

It was less than four years ago that I “found” my Pennsylvania cousins after losing contact with them for most of our lives. They were on the east coast, our family was on the west, and when we were children our parents didn’t have the means to get us all together. When my aunt died, I had the time and money to go to her memorial, and since then her three daughters and I have been getting to know each other.

Grace picked me up at the Philadelphia airport; we had made plans to visit some historic sites, so we did that right away. It was still less than one week since the national election, so our government and constitution and the events of our country’s founding were pertinent to all that was on our minds and hearts.

At the National Constitution Center we sat in a theater-in-the-round for a show called “We, the People,” which had rousing recorded music and multimedia images, but was focused on the live performance of a real human with a pleasant voice dramatizing the story of the Constitution of our nation. It was short enough for the shortest attention span, I think, and went by too fast, but I loved the presence and speech of that woman and was glad that our admission fee was contributing to a quality presentation about something fundamental and important to us all.2016-11-14-12-10-29

My favorite part of this place was the bronze statues. Being able to walk so intimately among them and look in their faces was very affecting. I admire those signers of the Constitution, and others of the Founding Fathers who weren’t there at the time, so much! I know, one isn’t supposed to say things like that without mentioning sins that we moderns judge them for. But I don’t think many of us could hold a candle to their bravery and principles, their intelligence, and the hard work they did to hash out the Constitution. I am supremely grateful to them, and I loved this exhibit for reminding me of that.

I like that they have Benjamin Franklin sitting down; he was over 80 at the time and it is said that “though he did not approve of many aspects of the finished document and was hampered by his age and ill-health, he missed few if any sessions, lent his prestige, soothed passions, and compromised disputes.

gle-img_3775

Alexander Hamilton’s statue is standing alone, not in conversation with anyone. I would like to read more about the man and find out if there was an artistic reason for that attribution of body language in the placement of him. A day or two after this my cousin Renée played some music from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” for me, and I liked it a lot. If any of my readers has a book about Hamilton that you would recommend, please tell me.

Grace and I went next to Independence Hall, where the Constitution was actually signed, a 250-yr old building whose exterior is largely intact. It was built as the state house for the colony of Pennsylvania, the main part of the building completed in 1748.

gle-img_3781

 

 

The furniture in the Assembly Room where the signers met is mostly not the original pieces — in fact, the interior of the building itself is nearly all reconstructed/restored — except for two items: 1) the inkstand  used to sign the Declaration of Independence, and 2) the chair that George Washington sat in to preside over the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

“At the successful conclusion of the convention, Benjamin Franklin stated that he had looked at the carved sun at the top of the chair many times, but had never known whether it was rising or setting. With agreement on the Constitution, he announced that it was a rising sun, symbolic of the promising future of the United States.” That is why it is called The Rising Sun Chair (picture below).

gle-p1050970

Benjamin Franklin’s house used to stand a short walk from Independence Hall. Now its site is a historic exhibit; you can look down into a hole and see some of the brick of the original house, which was Franklin’s Philadelphia residence in the last decades of his life, and you can walk among the rooms that are no longer there.

I liked this exhibit, because of the quotes from his letters printed on floor plaques in the various “ghost rooms,” evidence that he was away a lot in those years. His wife had moved into the house in 1765, but he left for England that year and didn’t even see it until ten years later. He wrote lots of instructions about what he wanted done in and to it, though, plans for curtains and dishes and things. He wrote about his friends, and about building his library:

gle-quote-ed-franklin-better

 

Years ago I had turned down an offer from my husband to visit Philadelphia for a day; I told him I’d rather wait until we could stay three nights in the city, so that we’d have two whole days for touring places like this, and more. But now that I’ve had my brief walk-around, I feel satisfied for the time being. Maybe if I spent more time reading about the people and events who are memorialized here, I’d want to come back for longer. But on this trip I was ready to go home with the cousins, and for the remainder of my stay, to live in the present.