Sunday, May 31, 2009


It’s a sunny, storm-washed day, with nary a cloud in the blue, but last night’s clouds poured forth some damaging hail and a lot of rain. Caro called just as she parked at work. “Can you HEAR THAT?? The rain is blowing sideways in sheets, like when a newscaster is standing out on the seawall, waiting for the hurricane---I keep looking for him to blow sidewise like a flag holding onto a pole.”

I glanced up the stairs and saw a still-light day through the leaves of the big backdoor tree, and it was so absolutely still that I listened carefully to see if I were imagining that not a leaf was moving. Over the phone, it sounded like she was in a ship tossing on stormy seas---all the susssshing and crashing, and even some really loud not-exactly-pings, but thousands of little hits of hail on the car that translated over the speakerphone into foreboding drums.

She said, “It’s coming your way---I’m just waiting for a break in the downpour to get out and go into the building.” And not long later, we heard the first rustlings, the patter and the stir of the leaves, then a louder patter til it was drowning out everything---the rain and the noise of the wind and the leaves as they swayed in the double onslaught.

And then, the streaks of white and the bounce as the hailstones popcorned off the porch steps, scattering like peas on linoleum. I worried about his twelve tomato plants, ranged round the sunniest spot in huge pots, but they seemed to be made of the right stuff to bend and dodge and just limber-spring back from the blows.

Not so the hostas---I didn’t think of their being damaged, since they’re sheltered under an immense tree, with about sixty feet of limb and leaf overhead to break the fall of anything coming from the sky---it hardly ever even RAINS under that tree, and we have to man the hose every Summer just to keep that section of the lawn from becoming an immense sandbox.

But this morning, in the light of day---the big lush leaf-plates had holes and snips and bites taken out---they’re standing proud, with daylight showing through, unbowed and unconquered, but the beds look as if they’re spread with emerald eyelet. I was so pleased with them, and enjoy looking at them so much; this is their sixth year, and every one was a gift from the children, so they mean a lot to me. But I’m carrying on with my “embrace the moments” philosophy, and so I just say, “I LOVE lace, in all its forms from spiderwebs to wedding veils to hail-knit leaves.”

The hail also snipped beejillions of little leaf-clumps off all the trees and bushes, so the yard, patio, cars, driveway are all covered in damp green. Nothing LOOKS too bad, just messy, so I’d say we did OK. And I’ll take that. Chris is pleased that his tomatoes fared well---he’s got little marbles and golf balls just nursing away on the everyday-taller plants, sucking up all that good rain and Miracle-Gro, and we should have quite a nice crop again this year.

Now, we ALWAYS used to put the tomatoes for the next meal into the fridge Down South---whole or already sliced and plated (the horrendous tale of the strawberry cake is a story for another time). And everybody up here says chilling “just ruins them.” Now I go out and get a couple just in time to cut---I LOVE the idea of that stroll out for the salad, picked just minutes before sitting down---but I wash them and stick them in a special little cubby in the freezer, for just five minutes, to let that icy breath just near enough to knock off the sun’s warmth and make them a cool perfect-on-the-tongue sensation. Not equal to or better than the warm ones, wiped down a shirtfront, salted with a sprinkle from a pocket, and eaten right there between the rows, while the sun shines down and you lean WAY forward to keep the juice off your shirt. Maybe it's all in the posture.

Soon. That will be soon. And tomorrow----JUNE!!!!!

Saturday, May 30, 2009


This promises to be a very busy weekend, with gardening and getting some more herbs into the garden and meeting the children for brunch tomorrow. And I've resolved to savor every moment, inspired by a lovely piece written by the lady I mentioned the other day---Tonja at GATHERINGS.

And as we bid adieu to May and step upon the promising cusp of June---I hope we'll all vow to notice and heed and enjoy and take joy from every moment. I look forward to the choosing of the plants, the hug of the green against my shirt as I load the car, the scent and feel of the dirt against my fingers as the bright promise of growth and flavor and bloom goes into the ground.

I'm making it a point to look at things in a different light, to take the hope and the real of them, to snatch them up and inhale and taste and heed; and I hope that it's infectious. Today is the wedding day of a dear online friend I've never met, and I'm sharing her joy and anticipation; it's a sad day for another friend who has expressed her intent to end her blog. And I feel both of their feelings---the bright happiness of one, and the deep searching pain of the other.

I read another blog, by a writer whose words sear the page with imagery and imagination and the most evocative language for the spell she's weaving, with words that cut like razors and send her message in a flash of meaning. I don't think even her vast intelligence lets her comprehend the gift that she bears.

And I want to hug and taste and laugh and run and squat in that age-old posture that bespeaks planting good things in the earth---feeling the sun on my face and the breeze from the honeysuckle and the damp grass through my sandals. And while I go out and embrace all the glories of this day, I'd like to give a gift of this, for it's worth sharing:

I hope we'll all embrace the day with the bright-eyed lusty joy in the newness of the first of things, and the wide-open hearts and eager hands which would surely encompass the last.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Fire and a stick. From that humble beginning, all the utensils and pots and pans and whisks and knives and spoons have sprung, amassing exponentially over the years and centuries to great storage-houses filled with needfuls and shiny temptations and esoteric oddities. I love to cook, and have since I was very young, turning out those meals and parties and picnics with a seemingly effortless hand, though myself cognizant of the toil it takes.

There’s a lot of work involved in cooking, though most of it is pleasureable work---the slicing of crisp bright vegetables, the cutting of lush, juicy fruits, the grinding and mixing of faraway-born spices with the dust-drift rising in a fragrant halo, the afternoon-long braise of a cut of meat, with the scent of onion and herbs and rich meaty goodness filling the house. I LIKE working in the kitchen, even the piles of pots and pans and all the dishes and utensils and glasses which seem to magically spring up in the making of a meal.

I like to take my time with little kitchen chores, setting out the cutting mats, getting out the knives, washing and drying the squash and the cabbage and the tiny lettuce, shaking the chicken in its brown bag of flour and seasonings, lifting a lid and turning the wings and drumsticks so the golden crispness will appear magically in the sizzling oil. I’m fond of working to the sound of a voice reading, for my shelves are filled with books-on-tape---CD’s mostly, with great leanings to Agatha Christie and James Lee Burke and Stuart Woods---I think my best efforts are achieved and the time passed unheedingly to the never-failing precisement of Poirot.

I click the “PLAY” and put on my big yellow gloves, running the water hot-as-hot from the faucet. It cascades into the big yellow plastic bowl, churning the Apple Dawn into a frothy meringue, as I brush and clean each dish and pan and tray in the cleansing depths. Then into the dishwasher---with much of Poirot’s own fussy method---the tall glasses here, the plates turned this way, the platters in this new DW with room to stand on their own in its deeper yawn. The placing and the arrangement fulfils much as circling beautiful canapes upon a doilied tray, just for the beauty of them.

And the sharp knives, contrary to experts’ caution, in the basket at the back, tips down, and any sharpness lost to the sluicing I can replace with my trusty stone.

I wonder what the standards were before germs were invented---did they rinse things, and dry them and put them back before the King? Did the bread-trencher custom last for centuries, and were the people healthier for the disposable tableware?

And how on EARTH did the chuckwagon cooks get those beans soaked enough to set up camp a couple of hours before the trail-gang got there, and get the beans tender enough to eat for supper? I know they were dry beans---pintos or northerns, probably, and it had to be nearly impossible to travel those bumpy miles with a pot of liquid sloshing around. It's not like they could stick them in a Ziploc with some water and snug them in a saddlebag. Or the three or four cowboys making camp in the dry, unforgiving lands, opening those canned beans and scraping their supper out of that tin plate---did they just sand-scrub the plate and settle onto their saddle-pillow?

So much of my life has been spent in the kitchen, feeding family, friends, great hordes and gaggles of guests---thousands not my own. Probably nowhere else save a familiar hug is as comfortable to me as the triangle. And that’s a hug of its own, as the familiar comfort of the kitchen greets me and holds me and lets me know I’m home.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A little bit of a “down” day today---our dear Kitty has been in very bad health for several weeks, and she passed away yesterday. We buried her way out in the back garden, in the hosta bed, with an arborful of birds and the windchimes to sweeten the air. We stopped along I-65 and picked up one large fallen stone in each state we passed through on the way home from Chris’ Dad’s funeral, and made a little memory garden for GrandDaddy out among the hostas. And now Kitty rests there, beneath one of the stones.

She came to us in 2001, just appearing on the patio one day, and gladly accepted the food that we put out for her each day. She slept in the shed for a while, and then on Halloween, the newscasters said to “bring in all your pets---there are crazies out there.”

So she came in, and here she stayed. The vet said at that time that she could be somewhere between twelve and fifteen, so we gave her the benefit, as befits a lady of a certain age---twelve she was. She was a lush smoky gray, like long-cut velvet, with the most intense emerald eyes---even the pupils were a bright green, even in daylight. She loved lying in the sunlight, standing to watch out the screen door, a certain spot on the back of the living room sofa, and our daughter Caro.

Over the years, Kitty lost all her teeth, and became a confirmed Fancy Feast Girl, though some finely minced Sam’s chicken in her dish would bring her from anywhere in the house---the Waltons missed out on their own Morris in not having her as their spokescat.

We don’t know of her life before she appeared on our patio, but she lived a wonderful life---she had two ferrets and a big blue bird as animal companions, as well as a drove of little folks who loved her and gave her all the petting she wanted. She slept where she pleased, took in all the drama of the flora and fauna all around the yard, and had her own private pot of catnip year-round on the sunny windowsill.

She had gotten to be an older, settled lady when she came to us, and I’m glad she found us when she did, to ease her Golden Years.

---------------------------KITTYDEAR 1989? --- 2009--------------------------------

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


This blog was originally named "GATHERINGS," as was the little book I compiled for family a couple of years ago, but though I registered the name with Blogger more than a year before I posted the first post, the name was already taken by a lovely woman whose posts I rarely miss.

So this became "LAWN TEA," for a discussion I'd been having with an online friend, about the charms of a Southern Lawn Tea, with the lawn green and manicured, and the tablecloths crisply pressed, and the guests in languid clothes sandal-stepping from one beautifully-appointed table to the next, for dainty sandwiches and cake and tea (more often punchbowls and pitchers with ice and lemon and other lovely flavors).

And I've planned one for the past two years, mostly to celebrate the birthday of my dear neighbor, a lovely woman who, along with the biggest-best-tree-for-miles, was one of the deciding factors in our buying this house. She and I would talk over the back gate when we came again and again to tour the premises, and I knew, as my Mammaw said of particularly likeable and pleasant people, "I could NEIGHBOR with her."

So, in my innocent ignorance of things-to-come, including a most uncomfortable hospitalization with a kidney stone, I musingly wrote the following post into an online journal in Spring of 2007:

There IS a lawn tea in our future---deciding between the 4th and 11th of August. We have a baby coming the end of August, and house guests for Labor Day, with whom we're going up to Amish Acres for a few days. I prink away my time trying to get this ole knee in shape, writing little lists of chairs and how many per table; when to polish the silver, how many bud vases will be necessary, and should we put one of the new outdoor carpets actually ON the bare ground of the rain-never-falls-there arbor, for nestling a table for four into the whispery shade.

The little arcanities and logistics of so inconsequential a thing occupy my mind as my big yellow gloves sweep dishes through the Dawn, as I fold endless T-shirts smelling of Bounce, as I snip wee dry bits from the already-pruned arbor trees.

I went out there this morning, first cup in hand, intending to sit a languid while in the dancy sunbeams through the leaves, but carried the big brush to do some grooming on the Adirondacks. They'd all been blessed by the busy birds, and a little dry drift of leaves swished gently from the seats as I moved the brush.

On the little table sat the forgotten little pair of secateurs, left out WAY before the days of rain, but dried with no harm. I reached up, snipped a brittle stick or two, then a few more, then pruned ruthlessly around the big bell, freeing it from all the covering leafness, setting its brassy shine into the morning sun. I was stepping carefully, mindful of my creaky knee, spreading those sweepy limbs out on the mossy ground all around my feet.

It went on and on, coffee forgotten, sun moving round to illuminate a set of perfectly-round spiderwebs, three in all, each suspended from a greater netting woven between the leafless branches of a tall fence-shrub, the whole tapestry worthy of the Best-In-Show Purple at the State Fair, prettier than Auntie B's prize tatting. I clipped and dropped and moved back, squinting for a better take on the process, seeking out tiny bits of wispy brown amongst the layers of green. It was the most restful, the most peacefully wonderful meditative time, with hardly a sound to the world save the leaf-rustles and the easy dropping of new-cut twigs.

And as I came in for a second cup, the tiny clusters of wild grapes on the vines climbing all up to the roof of the garage shone purple in the sun. I walked in to be greeted by a smiling Chris: "How 'bout I take you to breakfast?"

I don't know if ANY party gets better than this morning was
x x x
And soon, the pink tablecloths, the silver trays, the Old Family Recipe for Chicken Salad will be brought out and arrayed on the lawn, and friends and family will step happily past the mintbed to the brimming bowls and doilied trays.

It's going to happen. I need this hyacinth for my soul.

Monday, May 25, 2009


It's not quite holiday weather here today, with the heat of the sun and bright skies and the snap of flags in the sunshine, the smoke of a thousand backyard grills raising delicious scents into the Spring air. I awoke to the patter of a soft rain, falling gently onto the shrubbery outside my window, and can still hear the drops cascading from the big old bush over right outside the kitchen, to the homey tempo of Chris cutting corn at the sink.

But weather hasn't much to do with the feelings that surround this special day, this day of remembrance and honoring and taking stock of our nation's blessings. The placing of wreaths, the little flags stuck into the earth of countless graves, the floral tributes, the handful of limp posies clutch-wilted in a child's hand, the tears of remembrance---those are quietly and reverently going on even as the scent of charcoal drifts up and the rain comes down.

I have a deep-imprinted vignette in my memory-collection, of sitting there in a hot scratchy dress, to see my dear Mother-in-Law receive the folded flag "With the thanks of a Grateful Nation." And so we remember GrandDaddy, in all his twenty-something years of service, and I keep a secret, heartfelt gleam of pride for the other servicemen we know, and those we'll never know of as we sleep safely on their watch.

And so I say "Thank you," to each and every one, and give a prayer of thanks for all of our servicepeople, past and present---those standing proud in uniform today, those who have served, no matter what the term, those who have retired from their service, but remain ever soldiers, those lying beneath the brave small flags, and those known only to the angels and remembered in the hearts of those who loved them.

Pictures and music and worthy words:

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Today’s the biggest day of the year for our city, the day of motors and fans and speed-of-sound little cars that can whiz their way into victory or history or glory or fame. And though we’ve lived here for almost twenty years, we’ve never been to The Race. The town is crowded, traffic is unbelievable on the Interstate and streets, and then suddenly, almost all is still. The flocks of fans have made their way into the big bowl and the rest of us enjoy their enjoyment by doing our own thing in other places.

I do always tune in the first few minutes of the race, and have seldom missed hearing Jim Nabors sing Back Home Again, and today I felt a pang of gentle regret for having to miss that moment.

Sometimes we’ve gone out of town on this weekend, to a lovely little hotel on a lake a couple of hours South, with a wonderful rustic restaurant on the grounds, and crickets chirping through the twilight windows. This time, we decided just to have a quiet weekend at home, and went to the early matinee of Terminator (can you say oxymoron?).

After all that rumble and roar, the mayhem and the machines, the dark depths of an apocalyptic, futuristic struggle and angst, we came out to bright skies, a quiet parking lot, and just as we sat down in the car, Chris turned on the radio, fumbled with the dial a bit, and there was Jim, right on cue, as if we’d planned it, by Royal Command and Sovereign Decree. The Serendipity of it was amazing, and we looked at each other and Chris said, “I ordered that just for you.”

We rode with the breeze in our hair, singing along softly, with an iconic moment, a tradition that’s continued since the early Seventies, and we hope every time that this won’t be the last time, that the song will go on and on, in the same place, same voice, same remembered tones.

We’ve adopted this place, and it’s certainly welcomed us, and the words have a sweet comfort and longing that’s more touching each time I hear them. And just hearing them in that dear, familiar voice---this time was like a present, and I’m glad we didn’t miss it.

Back home again in Indiana,
And it seems that I can see
The gleaming candlelight, still shining bright,
Through the sycamores f
or me.
The new-mown hay
sends all its fragrance
From the fields I used to roam.
When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash,

Then I long for my In-di-a-na Home.

Thank you once again, Gomer. And rachel says Hay.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


When I mentioned cooking Family Recipes with my son on his MD visit, I got to thinking about several things that are sort of unusual to most people, and one recipe that I don't believe is made by anyone else---what I dubbed "Redneck Gazpacho" when Kim was coming to visit.

My first MIL made it and it was always called "Stuffed Tomatoes." She said it was from the "Maynard side" and had begun when Mayonnaise was a brand-new invention, and had to be made by hand, way before the family had electricity, or indeed, any appliance to ease the effort. And how on Earth word of such a gourmet preparation reached all the way from Careme to the hills and hollers of rural Mississippi in 1880 is a mystery past my solving.

Maw always hollowed out the prettiest, well-matched tomatoes for her presentation; she'd stuff them just so and round the tops carefully, to make them into perfect orbs balanced amongst the parsley on a pretty plate. They were among the several recipes she referred to as "Preacher Food," and certainly the intent was elegant, if not the title.

And I can remember that teenage SIL and BIL would take several apiece, eat all the contents with a spoon, and leave the forlorn little pink shells for the chickens. And hollowing out all those tomatoes was not really fun work, so I began peeling them, mushing the whole bunch and chopping them with a handy little hand-chopper in a bowl, and going from there---despite my leanings toward gussying up certain dishes, this one just caused too much work and too much waste. Besides, it's really pretty, all pink and creamy in a cut-glass compote.

And last month when I made it as "Gazpacho," it was WAY early in the season, so I threw a couple of boxes of washed grape tomatoes into the blender, one box at a time, with a little mayo, gave them a whirl til pureed, skins and all, and then added the other ingredients. I also halved the amount of crackers to keep the consistency more like soup, and crushed them almost into powder, by putting them in a heavy gallon Ziploc and doing a little dance-and-grind across them with a bottle til they were dust.

So---a simple, old-timey, carbs-and-cholesterol-be-darned recipe, easy to make, and one of the stellar "Things In Dishes" in the Family Repertoire:


Six or eight good-sized tomatoes---shape doesn't matter in this case
A sleeve of saltines, crushed, with lots of small bits, not powder
A good spoon-clop of mayo (Blue Plate or Duke's make it authentic, but NEVER Miracle Whip!!)
1/2 lb. bacon, fried or microwaved---save the drippings
S&P to taste, but AFTER the bacon is added

Peel tomatoes and chop fine as possible, or smush them with your immaculately-sterile fingers, into an almost-puree, with some small bits left for color. Stir in mayo, then start adding crackers; stir well, and watch for consistency---it should be thick, but not dry. You may not need to add all the crackers, depending on size of tomatoes.

Crumble bacon and stir it in, along with however much of the drippings you care to---all is good, if you like a good bacon flavor, but it's to your taste.

Taste, and then salt and pepper to taste. Store in fridge for several hours, then stir well just before serving, or stuffing into a quarter-cut tomato for a salad plate, or put an ice cream scoop onto lettuce or sliced tomatoes.

Once Daddy said, "I'll bet this would REALLY be good if you put in some bell pepper." It wasn't---changed it completely, and totally eclipsed the amalgam of those perfectly-matched flavors.

This recipe has been in the family for more than a hundred years, and tastes like a creamy BLT. Delicious for a Summer Lunch alongside Chicken Salad, or for a dinner side salad, and pretty enough for company.

Anyone else have an odd Family Recipe that nobody else makes? I love hearing about traditions that maybe no one else has.

Friday, May 22, 2009


A whole week come and gone since my last message, as I just paced it gently out in baby steps; Prufrock's coffeespoons measure my days, as the sunlight beckons and the little one urges, "Outtttt!" And so we go.

We climb up and into the GREEN, the splendor of the gold and the wave of the branches and the blossoms and so much lush foliage that the whole yard seems smaller each viewing, as if the plants have just crept their way toward us in the cool of the night, and will be curling tentative fingers of vine round the doors and shutters at any moment.

The honeysuckle is so prevalent and so overborne with yellow blooms that the entire driveway is carpeted in gold shag---something not seen since the Seventies, but still reminiscent of rooms fraught with plaid and macrame. I've been accustomed to the winding tendrils which drape trees and shrubs in the South with garlands like sequined kudzu, taking over buildings and abandoned machinery and fenceposts alike.

But the honeysuckle in this yard---there are whole great TREES of it, round cushiony umbrellas full-to-bending from the weight. They're everywhere, and I'm so accustomed to such verdance in the South, I feel a pang at having to lop a few branches to get into the arbor, to let sun into the compost corner, to bring at least some dapple to the hostas in their deep shade. I carved out a frame around the big old bell in the far backyard, letting the honeysuckle and Rose of Sharon drape it and let its fading who-in-the-world-thought-spraying-this-with-gold-paint-was-a-good-idea? out into the day.

I've brought in great sheaves of the long limber limbs, cramming vases and tickling the chandelier in the low-ceilinged downstairs rooms. I've stood in the sunshine, contemplating the shape and the curve of one bloom, a tiny funnel with its micro-drop of joy secret in the bottom. I hold one to my tongue, and it still tastes of childhood and hot days running in the grass and a cold drink from the flowin' well.

We point out the violets, themselves a bright carpet out in the Fairy Dell, grown magically over the years until it reaches across the lawn in some places. The twelve small clumps of ivy planted in dots down the fenceline have spread and crept slowly out across as well, and it covers a twenty-foot-wide swath all the way from garage to back gate, as well as having snuck through the fence to make quite a nice shade-bed in the neighbors' side garden.

And the dandelion flowers, yellow puffs of punctuation all amongst the purple and green, are a nice contrast, and quite an abundant supply of perfect-sized flowers for grabbing with tiny hands, to be sniffed and clutched warm til they're melty clumps dropped on the way to something more enticing down the path.

There's a lot of quick in the days, with running after a little one---and running after it is---she is just learning the word "Stop," and has to be chased down and grabbed once we walk through the gate to the sidewalk. The pace takes us from arrival to go-home in minutes, it seems, with a cramful life in between.And there's been a lot of healing, as well.

On the day she was born almost two years ago, I limped into the hospital leaning on one of those aluminum canes with the four little feet, and clutching Chris' arm with the other hand, as I and my "bad knee" painfully made my way back to our first meeting with our new Baby Girl. And now, I sprint pretty good for a six-time Grandma, and am thankful for each and every step between the THEN and the NOW, and for all the painless running and walking that we do every day.

I've been improving every day, and am almost past the interminable cough, which interrupted all the fun and meals and conversation with THREE sets of guests in the last month. When they finally figured out it was my new BP pill that was the culprit, I'd already hacked and hee-hawed my way through a visit from the GA clan, with teaparties and parades and all sorts of fun, and our new friends who came at end of April. I'd been looking so forward to their visit, and had "worked toward" it for months, and then the entire visit was a constant soundtrack of my wheezes and coughs and having to leave the table to flee to the Ladies' Room and compose myself. I want a do-over, RIGHT NOW!!

And I'm probably persona non grata in about six nice restaurants, as well.

And though I read the "side effects" on the brochure, I think seeing "heart palpitations" and "blurred vision" sorta blocked out anything so seemingly insignificant as "hacking cough." I will say, though I do not soapbox readily, this IS a quite possible, quite harrowing effect, and I would urge anyone with similar unusual coughing, coupled with BP meds, to ask if they might be the cause.

And then DS#1 drove up and surprised me on Mothers' Day, and ditto the noise and interruption, as we talked and and did a lot of cooking of old family recipes. He requested that we just "get in the kitchen like we used to," and we made my Mother's red gravy, Aunt Helen's Asparagus Casserole, Daddy's special garlic salad, as he wrote down all the steps as we went.

So it's been quite a Spring---I was WAY washed out for a while, but this sunshine and all the energy of a little live-wire and good wishes and prayers of friends and family have brought me back out into the days again. I'm sorry I just left the site to languish, but I had not two thoughts to rub together for a while there, and when I run out of words---that's a scary feeling.

Thank you for your patience and good wishes,


Friday, May 15, 2009


Dearest Readers and Followers,

I DO apologize for the scarcity of postings for the last while---I've had a weird crazy malady that has been consuming my time and attention and interrupting my sleep continuously, so I've not been putting words together very well, in print or in person.

Today was the solving day; all things are much better now, and today was like a breath of fresh air, literally---a great sigh of peace and comfort. Thank you all for your concern and your thoughts and prayers.

Moire non, soon.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I’ve been enjoying looking in on several baking sites, and am amazed at the beautiful and complicated creations on some, the colorful swoops and swags and layers tottery-tall like Dr. Seuss’ sweetest dreams. I love seeing the work of people’s hands, and admire all the different aspects of the work and the imagination and skill of the bakers. I even love a site called “Cake Wrecks,” and am doubly amazed at the awful and funny and sadly optimistic pieces of other folks’ baking craft.

I dropped the top of a wedding cake once, flipped upside down in the trunk of the clean-sheet-lined car, and had to run back in and get out all the icing and tips and bags and refurbish the luckily-unbroken tier. And once as I turned a corner in the long delivery wagon, I heard an ominous thump from the back. A BIG can of pineapple juice intended for the punch had jumped from the top of the bag with its fellows, and landed neatly between Tier 2 and Tier 3, all set out separately for the delivery, and not a scratch or dent on either one. The can was rolling gently back and forth, bumping the cakeboards, never touching the cakes, but it could have had the devastating effect of a Richter 5 on all those tender layers.

And I cannot imagine presenting anything less than a well-made cake to any client.

Way back when I was first getting started in my home kitchen, I had taken an order for one birthday cake, decorated as a baseball diamond. Normally, I did not take orders during the week, as I had another full time job as well. But I was friends with the lady who asked, and liked the little boy who was celebrating his birthday.

But one birthday cake can involve as much mess and confusion and sifting and frosting as would a dozen, especially in a home kitchen with the children doing homework in the breakfast area and helping cook supper, besides. Not to mention the neighbor's child, a forlorn young girl who magically appeared at the door at suppertime, about three days a week.

So the layers were baked, the frosting made, the supper cooked and eaten, and the homework finished. The four teenagers settled at the table for a rousing game of Yahtzee while the frosting and decorating were going on. In order to clean the LOOONNNG kitchen counter properly, and to guard the safety of the finished cake from flying mists of antibacterial sprays, and since the table was occupied, the finished cake was removed to the living room, to the safety of the coffee table.

Had there been a family dog, never would I have put the cake in such a vulnerable spot. Since there was just the one old fat-as-mud ladycat, which seldom emerged from beneath the bed to blink warily in the daylight, and since cats are known for hating sugar, anyway, no thought was given to any danger from that quarter.

During the final counterwipe, a fresh pot of decaf brewing and an easy chair and a nice cozy mystery for resting mind and body in the offing, there was heard in the house an odd sound. Even over the raucous cheers and jeers of the four Yahtzee-heads, came the sounds of "smick-smick-smick" from the living room. All peeked in to see the cat, roused from her hibernation and magically levitated onto the coffeetable, energetically licking second base clean off the field. And a couple of the outfielders hadn't fared too well either, like they'd taken a frantic slide and buried face-deep in mud.

Wide, wary eyes turned toward me. "You ARE going to scrape that off and fix it, aren't you?" in chorus, as if rehearsed.

"No, I am NOT!!" was the emphatic answer, as rattling of cupboards, melting of butter, sifting of flour began afresh at 9 p.m. The table of players erupted in joyous yells, as they scrambled for plates, forks, the jug of cold milk. They incised that yukky section away as skillfully as a surgeon cutting a wart, and shared out great soft slices of the cake---and right at bedtime.

Second Cake was baked, cooled, frosted and decorated, finished about 1 a.m., with a thorough sanitizing cycle in the dishwasher for all the little plastic nine.
My children have told me for years how much they appreciated that I did start over, not just for the unexpected snack, of course, but that I had standards far above foisting damaged goods onto trusting clients. And the kids are the reason that I spent so much time on other people’s parties, sweeping up the midnight rice from weddings not my own.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Our dear Grandtortoise was a handsome fellow, with a big shiny taller-than-a-turtle shell, all squared off with lovely markings in all shades from brown to rust to tan and olive, like a beautiful enameled Japanese box. Sheldon was a tiny baby the size of a silver dollar when our daughter got him, and when they came to live here, he would cover a dinner-plate.

He lived in the utility room downstairs most of the time, settling flat on the floor with his face poked near the flame of the water heater. He’d come when I called, “C’mon, Dolling!” and would saunter out, his tall shell not quite clearing the curtain, making an entrance from the drooping folds. He’d make his way to his little flat plate and settle in to consume whatever green things I’d ground in his little processor---broccoli, grapes, apple, spinach---he ate them all. And a scoop of still-warm rice---he’d dive in with jaws open, and not come up for air til the last soft grain was gone.

Then, he’d get a drink from his bowl, and walk the LONG walk out of the kitchen, through the dining area, past the breakfast table, on past the bathroom and into our bedroom door, where he’d make his way to the far side of our waterbed, snuggling his face into the pillows on the floor, and sleep away the day.

I’d call him again sometimes, and carry him upstairs, where we’d go out for an outing in the grass. He’d make great circles and swoops, munching the fresh green, soaking up the sun. Some days if I had to come in, I’d set a big lacework laundry basket down over him, and he’d just wander around the yard, eating grass and clover and pushing that enormous blue second shell. He was too tall to get under the gate, anyway, but the basket kept him from wandering too far away.

And I DO miss Sheldon---he was a dear creature, just lovely to know. He came to recognize my voice and the call to dinner, and loved his time out on the lawn, just munching his way up one row of grass and down another. The previous owners of this house had put up a rather unfortunate set of tiles behind where I put my big Franklin stove, and Sheldon's food dish went right there at the side of the stove. I don't know if his eyesight was good or not, but occasionally, I would notice him making little neck-bobs toward that wall, and realized that he was trying to nip the little painted-on wisps of grass on the tile pattern. We'd go outside even after dark if I thought he needed his greenery.

We also went for walks down the drive and down to the end of the block. I’d set him on the warm asphalt, and away he’d go, down the sloping drive; I’d nudge him to turn the corner at the front sidewalk, and would walk between him and the grass verge of the street, keeping him on a fairly even course as we strolled. Cars would slow down, sometimes stop, sometimes back up for a better look. He’d occasionally wander to the right, up the hill of the lawn, for a little snack to tide him over, then back onto the sidewalk til we’d made our round.

He lived here for more than a year and a half, and grew considerably bigger during that time. I loved him, fed him, petted him, carried him upstairs and outside, but he was only pretty from the TOP. Any horror-movie producer in need of a good monster closeup could do away with all that computer-mation stuff and get a good shot of Sheldon walking away. From the back, he’s HORRIBLE---all warts and thorns and spurs and knobby legs, but he’s a sweetheart. For a time after they left, I would start to call him, or I’d stumble over AIR, thinking he might be walking beneath my feet as I moved about the kitchen.

I miss him. I’d take him back in a heartbeat.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Welllll-come Sweet Springtime, We greet theeeee in Sonnnnnng!”

I can just hear Barney bleating out the high notes, and Andy’s sure baritone keeping him reasonably on key.

This time of year makes me wish for Mayberry, with the quiet streets and the friendly neighbors, and if crisis has to ripple the waters, then it concerns merely a lost dog happily found, or a misunderstanding remedied in the space of that black-and-white half-hour, with time out for enthusiastic ads for Post Toasties and Sugar Crisp.

I never did get really INTO the color episodes, and they’re not as memorable as the old ones---who really remembers those at the drop of a few words, but just say: Barney thinks Andy proposed to Miss Helen; Opie won’t give to charity; The old lady sells Barney a car----and off we go, our whole family, quoting chapter and verse, knowing the moves, the dialogue, including what Aunt Bee will be putting on the table when all is resolved and they all come home at Suppertime.

We know Barney's silly quips and Andy's solid platitudes and Opie's small realizations as readily as the multiplication table and "Whan that Aprille . . .," and the simple goodness of the lessons is knit into our doings and our manner as deeply as anything we learned on Sunday mornings from Matthew-Mark-Luke-and-John. Though the characters and the dialogue are completely artless and unsophisticated, the kindness of the stories and the values of the people are worth emulating, in any age.

It is a gentle place, a forever-Spring place, where the people say “Hay” and "Ma'am," and everybody knows and helps everybody else---very much like a lot of little towns of those decades ago.

And when the breeze and the leaves and the warm of the sun say SPRING, I can close my eyes and feel the Mayberry Morning. Not a bad place to be, any season.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I'm going to turn today's post over to my dear friend Kim, who was the PERFECT guest, and a wonderful companion last week, as we talked, visited, chatted, cooked, looked at pictures, got to know each other, and had an all-round wonderful time.

She has posted her own chronicle of the events HERE:

I do hope you'll have a look---it was a wonderful visit, and a memorable weekend.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Today is the birthday of someone very dear to me---my little Sis. We've lived far apart for a long time now, and have seldom managed to celebrate any holidays together. So, as always, I wish her a very Happy Birthday---long distance, as usual, but always in my heart.