Monday, February 06, 2023

The miracle of spring...

 




The text from Nate Simons came late last week. His words were simple but powerful. “It is time to tap our trees, what day is good for everyone?” Does this mean spring is coming or that winter is ending soon? (Forget about that groundhog!) We send our messages back and decide on Sunday afternoon at 2:00.

My neighborhood is just the best, the very best. We do neighborhood parties almost every month, spend a full day in the Autumn making cider and apple dumplings, bring the sprinklers and picnic baskets out for the summer events, and now back to collecting sap for our maple syrup.

To be honest (very honest), making maple syrup, at least for me, is not a way to save any money. Oh, not at all. By the time I burn my favorite pots (yes, I have done that), and boil and boil sap for days and days, there is no money to be saved. I do not collect sap to help out my bank account, but I do it for the fun of it (what’s that boiling on your stove, guests ask!), and because I am part of this wonderful neighborhood.

We gather on Sunday at 2:00. I have my two buckets washed and ready to go, and my wagon is cleared of the Autumn debris! I use my wagon to carry my buckets up and down the street. We gather in Nate’s backyard where he also has twenty or more buckets washed and ready to go. The spiles are in containers and the tubing has already been cut to the right size. We gather and laugh and joke around and then Nate welcomes us. We have questions as this winter has been quite strange, weather wise. He tells us that they were tapping in LaGrange county in January. He thought we should wait, though, and we did. He asks if any of us have any syrup from last year. Only a few hands go up. I put my hand up halfway as I am really stingy with my syrup. It still sits in the back of my refrigerator. It is beautiful to look at…golden yellow. Yes, I will share, but for now I just want to look at my jars from last year. The very first jar I ever made is sealed and sits in the cupboard with a note, “Do not use.” I read a poem once about that very same thing. The poem, by Donald Hall, talks about his grandfather’s maple syrup and finding jars in the cellar after his death. My kids will have to fight over that one jar of syrup!!

Nate gives the preliminary chat about the sap. Forty gallons of sap to one gallon of syrup. After the talk, we follow behind Nate. Ginger pulls her wagon with all the buckets loaded into it. Ginger has a bigger wagon than mine. My wagon is that old-fashioned metal one, but Ginger’s is big and holds all twenty buckets and lids. We walk down the middle of West Street, like a parade or a little like the Pied Piper. Our first stop is the Wyatt’s house. They have two beautiful trees for tapping. We all gather around for the first tree. Lee has his drill with him on his tool belt so he brings it out for the drilling of the holes. Nate carefully looks over the tree to make sure the holes are in different locations. He cautiously drills two holes and we get to take turns hammering in the spiles. The sap is already running with first a small drip and then a small stream of beautiful clear sap. It is the miracle of spring. We head over to Lee’s to tap his two trees. Again, we take turns putting the spiles into the trees and watch the sap drip into the bucket.

My two trees are next. Since I do not have a sugar maple tree at my house, I borrow a couple of trees from neighbors down the street. They are always fine with me borrowing their two trees for a month or so. My trees are beautiful. I even name them, Millie and Molly. The holes are drilled, and I put in the spiles for my trees and hang the buckets.

The work is finally completed. Our neighborhood is full of buckets. The texting begins right away as we gather our sap. I had two and a half gallons this morning!

Cheers to our amazing neighborhood!


Monday, January 30, 2023

Snow!

 

And just like that, it snowed. And just like that, our world shut down for just a few hours, but wasn’t it lovely? Waiting for winter took a bit of patience this year as the snow and cold took its time to get here. I know you are not all fans of winter, and I am sorry if I am just gushing on and on, but here it is.

Sitting in my old house during a snowstorm is such a pleasure. My hobbies take over and I spend the time moving from project to project with no real plan because it is snowing! Once in a while, I go outside with my shovel or my broom and clear a path. I go outside to fill the bird feeder or even recover it from the snow as the squirrels always find a way to get to my feeders and often knock them down.

This week I am even planning on making a snow cloud. It is easy to do (with adult supervision, I might add!) When it is bitterly cold, boil water in a pan on the stove. I always add some food coloring to make the cloud quite beautiful! When the water is boiling, take it outside and toss the water (not the pan) into the air. Make sure someone is there with a camera to photograph your cloud! It might take a few tries, but it is certainly worth it when you get a perfect cloud.

This past week, not only brought a lovely snowstorm, but a county full of snowmen. Everywhere I look there are snowmen peering out at us with coal eyes, button noses and carrots for buttons! These snowmen are everywhere, and I can’t get enough of them! Aaron and Rachel and the boys built a giant snowman which has begun to tilt a bit. Graham ran over to get me to bring the camera over to get a photo. I love that they took the time as a family to build this snowman.

It is easy for me to get carried away by this beauty, but I decided to go to the BBC website to find some snow information! In 2008 the folks of Bethel, Maine built a community snowman. It took a month to complete and it stood 122 feet tall! That record was broken in 2020 by a group in Austria who built a 125-foot snowman.

What else did I learn, you ask? All snowflakes have six sides and fall at an average of two to five feet per hour. It takes one snowflake one hour to reach the ground. In my opinion, that is a lot of perseverance for that one tiny snowflake to spend an hour finding its way to the ground.  Here is something else I did not know! Snow is not white, but is translucent. The reflecting light makes it white! Fresh snow also absorbs sounds. That is why during a snowstorm the world is perfectly quiet!

The Scots have 421 words for snow. (Yes, I was amazed at that fact also!) According to research done by the University of Glasgow, they found the 421 words.  A few samples of these words include “skelf” which mean a large snowflake, “spitters” means small drops of snow, and “unbrak” makes the beginning of a thaw. I love adding these words to my own vocabulary; I just need to find the other 418 words!

Maybe after reading some of these facts you have a new appreciation for snow. I do feel sorry for children who never heard the magic words, “snow day,” whispered to them in the early morning. I do realize text messages are now sent, but not to young children. I remember those magical days when my mom whispered those words to me. I whispered those same words to my children! Even though I am no longer in a public school or have children going to school, I watch the TV crawls and am so happy when kids get a snow day. By the way, I want to congratulate the Fremont School District for giving children a real snow day! Bravo to you folks.

Winter is here. This week all eyes will be on Punxsutawny Phil on Groundhog Day. Will he see his shadow or not? No matter what he sees or doesn’t see, we will have six more weeks of winter!

As author Rick Bass says, “Be loyal to winter, all the way through-all the way and with sincerity.”

Monday, January 23, 2023

Robert Burns Celebration!

 



Once, in Scotland, I took the Robert Burns walking tour. Actually, I took two guided tours when in Edinburgh. One was a nighttime walking tour focusing on all the macabre stories in Edinburgh. It rained during the nighttime tour which made it all the creepier. I looked over my shoulder the whole time carrying my umbrella.

Up the close, down the stair,

Here’s the story of Burke and Hare.

The story of Burke and Hare is very creepy, and a true story. And, oh, there were so many more. Of course, walking tours are based on history with a few ghosts tossed in to make it scary and fun.

I took the second tour the next day which turned out to be bright and sunny, which is unusual for Scotland! There were twenty of us in the group, laughing and chatting as we waited for our tour guide. When he arrived, I think he took our breath away! He was a large man wearing an even larger cape lined in red silk. I knew we were in for a great afternoon. He began with a history of Robert Burns, and then as we walked, he stopped at small pubs, churches, and back alleys to recite poetry. Inside one of the cathedrals, he recited My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose. It was stunning and we all just stood there in awe after he finished.

I think I was a Burns fan long before my trips to Edinburgh, but after that tour I was hooked on his life and his poetry. All across Scotland there are statues of the Burns the Bard. In Celtic countries, like England and Scotland, a Bard is a well-known storyteller. Shakespeare and Burns fall into this category.

He certainly didn’t start out like that. When his father died young, it was Robert who had to take over the farm for the family. It was a chore that he did not enjoy, yet he felt responsible to his family. He worked hard at it for several years all the while writing poetry on the side. He wrote poetry for his own use as he played around with language. His own education was very limited even though he did yearn to go to school. He tried to learn French and Latin on his own, but failed at that.

In his young years, he also became a rebel to the politics of Scotland and organized religion. He was out-spoken to anyone who would listen to him, but he did it all best with his writings. In the summer of 1786, he published his first book of poems, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. He carefully hand-picked the poetry to go into this book. One of my very favorite poems, To a Mouse, is in that collection. His poetry appealed to all classes in Scotland and was well received.

Burns continued to farm and write poetry. He often took no money for his poetry as he regarded his poetry to be a gift to Scotland. When he died at the young age of 37, he left a full body of poetry and songs to his beloved country.

To this day, we celebrate the poetry of Burns. Most of us know how to recite, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, and we all certainly know the words and tune to Auld Lang Syne.

We also celebrate his poetry with a yearly tribute to him known as Burns Night. The Burns supper is celebrated from Tokyo to New Deli, from St. Petersburg to London. In the United States alone there are over 150 Burns Night festivities.

Well, we are not a registered Burns Night, but for our celebration in this small town, I think we are forgiven. Once again (as I have for many, many years) Burns Night will be celebrated in my town. This year we are celebrating at the Caleo Café on Wednesday evening from 4-6. This includes an open mic which is available to anyone wishing to read a poem, sing a song, tell a story. This can be a tribute to Burns, or in our case, anything you would like to read would be just wonderful. If you own a kilt or a bagpipe, now would be the time to bring it along.

I will also bring a collection of Burns’ poetry, so you could always peruse the poems, and choose one to read. My first poem? My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Compassion

 

I want to write about the waning crescent moon because that is what I usually do. We missed the beauty of the full moon in northern Indiana because of cloud cover and rain, but a few nights ago, that moon shone bright in the middle of the night. There will be another full moon next month, so we must just be patient.

Yes, I want to write about all of that including poetry, but it just doesn’t seem right to focus that when we have a community and families grieving over the Fremont fire this weekend. I knew Rebecca, but only in the slightest of ways. We became Facebook pals (after we met) at the birth of her first child. Every once in a while, I would send a note of encouragement. I absolutely knew what it was like to have three little ones under five. Even though that was the extent of our remote friendship, I grieve her death along with her children.

I know that all of us in this small community, tucked into the rolling hills of northern Indiana, share the grief over this story. It doesn’t even make any difference whether we knew them or not. Grief is grief. Sadness is sadness. Compassion is compassion. How do we cope and what, if anything, do we learn from this? I have said this so many times over the past years in my column that, even though I try and I am aware, I fail at this. I get wrapped up in my own world, and go about my life.

So, let’s talk. On Friday night I went to The Brokaw Movie House (buy local!) to see the new film, A Man Called Otto. I did read the book, A Man Called Ove, a few years ago and I loved the book. But let me tell you, I loved the film. Of course, I am a Tom Hanks fan, and he does everything with perfection. If you have not seen the film, or read the book, I certainly am not going to give anything away. It is about a neighborhood, a very small neighborhood coming together to take care of one another and how it did, indeed, change the “grumpy old man.” Don’t let the reviews scare you away. Now, more than ever is the time to see this film. Take your hankies with you as you will cry and laugh throughout the entire film. By the way, there is a northeastern Indiana connection to the movie so stay for the credits!!

There is an old folk tale that goes like this: “Once upon a time there was a poor farmer. Every day he would sit at his kitchen table and look out at his land. His wife watched him day after day until one day she said that he should go out and take a walk around his land. So, he did. He did this every day. One day he saw a small flower blooming. He ran home to tell his wife. Each day he watered and cared for the one small flower. While he was doing that, he noticed a nice patch of green grass. With a little care he thought, maybe something else would grow there and so he planted a small garden. It did grow. He continued this until one day his farm was flourishing. A miracle, he thought? Oh, not really. He just finally took the time to notice the small things and how he could make them better.”

I tell you this story because it doesn’t take too much. A nod. A smile. I have a neighbor, Nate Simons, who walks our block early in the morning. When it snows, he walks with his shovel and shovels all of our walks. What about the Blessing Boxes? We need to keep them filled. They are all over town, and it takes just a few extra items on our own grocery lists to add to the larder of these boxes. My personal favorite one is over at the Episcopal Church on Darling Street, but you can find them anywhere.

Small things make a difference to everyone. During this week of grief for our neighbors in Fremont, let’s all make a personal plan to add that kindness to our friends and neighbors. Simply take a stroll and see what needs to be done.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

Monday, January 09, 2023

Epiphany

 


Mark Wilson is crowning Tom Adamson as king for the year!


Epiphany is over. The tree is down. The baubles and bangles are wrapped in December pages of the Herald Republican. It is always fun to unwrap these treasures each year in last year’s newspapers. I did, however, leave up my outside lights to cheer the neighborhood and all my snowman pillows and dishes. I mean, it might snow again. Maybe?

Before it was all dismantled this weekend, I had one last event, the12th Night party. The band, Above the Fold, came over and used the party as their practice! For most of the evening (after the potluck) we sat in the dining room and sang all our favorite songs with the band. My friend, Micky, from France was visiting, and she whispered to me, “If only my children could see me now!” It was so great having her here. We became pen pals on Facebook and finally met at one of my campfires a couple of years ago. Now, as she was back visiting, she could come to one of my get-togethers, meet lots of folks, and see for herself what I am always talking about!! Micky wrote a lovely piece on my wall to document her visit!

During the course of the evening, I served my world-famous (in these here parts) coconut cake with a small blue glass stone baked inside of it. Whoever would get the pretty stone would become the king or queen of my get-togethers for the entire year. Of course, everyone was cautious to eat the cake so they would not swallow the stone! Some went right for it as they wanted to be the king of queen. Others shied away until someone got the stone. It wasn’t long until Tom Adamson got he stone!! He was knighted by the current reigning king, Mark Wilson. It was with much joy that Mark handed the reigns over to Tom. Tom, the great sport that he is, continued to play in the band wearing his crown. In case you are wondering, Burger King supplied the crown! I decorated it with lots of purple bling. I hope Tom realizes the importance of his role as king for a year. We shall see how that goes!!

We concluded the evening with the last lighting of the tree and the singing of Auld Lang Syne. And now it is over, and the January sun streams through the window once again. I do think that dismantling Christmas goes much quicker than putting it all up! So, farewell.

Looking ahead, there are many events in our town! On January 25th, I am hosting a late afternoon poetry celebration. My annual Burns Night will actually be at Caleo this year from 4-6 on January 25th. This is open to the public…students, parents, educators, poetry lovers and anyone else you can think of to ask or invite. The forum will be an open mic so everyone will have a chance to read a poem of their choosing. You can read a Burns poem, which would be delightful, or you can actually read any poem you want! One of my new students from this semester’s classes will emcee the afternoon tossing around bits of information on the life of Robert Burns.

In case you are wondering, or new to my column (I do talk about poetry…a lot), Robert Burns was the famous Scottish bard. Since 1801 folks have been celebrating his birthday around the world. His poetry has been used in so many ways besides just reciting and reading it! John Steinbeck used Burns’ line, “Of Mice and Men” for a title. And, of course, I mentioned “Auld Lang Syne” already which was written by Burns.

It all started in 1801 when nine of Burns’ closest friends decided to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his death. During that time, haggis was served in a sheep’s head and then a performance of his poetry.

Burns died tragically at the age of 37, on the day his son, Maxwell, was born. It is amazing that in his short life, he produced over 700 poems.

On the 25th, we won’t be having haggis or even Scotch whiskey, but Caleo does serve up the best coffee and tea. We will be joining with thousands of folks around the world reading poetry and spending a lovely afternoon together.

So, from “Auld Lang Syne” with my Christmas tree to Burns Night, the fun just doesn’t end.

Until then, brush up on your poetry reading. Burns Night is right around the corner!


Thursday, January 05, 2023

January Thaw

 

January arrives wearing galoshes and a buttoned-up raincoat. Not a speck of snow remains from last week’s blizzard and the cold and snow. I am thinking of pulling the bike back out of the garage, and hanging laundry on the line. Aside of abnormally warm temperatures and a neighborhood that looks a lot like March, what else is happening?

Thank you for asking. First of all, I was fortunate to spend New Year’s Eve with lovely friends in Indianapolis. We celebrated with a Hogmanay theme which is how this night is celebrated in Scotland. The origin or Hogmanay is thought to have come when the Vikings invaded Scotland in the early 8th Century These Norsemen always paid attention to the Solstice and celebrated the arrival of that event! There are so many traditions with Hogmanay. It is always time to clean out the ashes in the fireplace, and always clear all your debts before midnight. (That might be a bit late for some of you!) We also opened all the doors at midnight to let out the old and let in the new. And, of course, we sang “Auld Lang Syne.”

There are two wonderful events this week which coincide with the first week of January. The first full moon of January will happen at 6:09 on Friday evening. This full moon is labeled as a Micromoon which means it is at its farthest point from Earth. This is completely opposite of the Supermoon. January’s moon is known as the Wolf Moon. During the month of January, the wolves begin to get hungry and circle the villages waiting for food. Another name for this moon is the Center Moon. This moon was aptly named by the Assiniboine people. Supposedly the Center Moon is half way through the cold season. Of course, traditionally, January was the cold month so the other names such as Freeze Up Moon, Severe Moon, Canada Goose Moon and Spirit Moon have also been noted. Of course, it is hard to believe we have such cold names for the moon this week as I see my laundry fluttering on the clothesline.

This warm spring like weather has me a bit worried about early buds on trees or the fact that the crocuses might be betrayed. So now you know. Whatever you want to call this full moon, make sure you do not miss it, and if you feel a bit chilly while watching, remember it is January. My grandmother used to say, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.”

The other event which I celebrate is the ending of Christmas. On Friday, the same day as the full moon, we celebrate Epiphany which is the 12th day of Christmas. This day marks the visit to the Christ Child by the Magi, or the three kings. During the Epiphany, the three kings brought gifts to the Christ Child. However, some scholars now believe they were actually early astronomers who followed the Star of Bethlehem. In December of 2020, the star was visible. Unfortunately for some of us, the next Star of Bethlehem will not be seen again until 2080. I guess I will just have to be glad I saw it in 2020!

I do celebrate Epiphany by inviting friends over to eat the king cake. Well, actually it is a coconut cake in which I have placed a token. Whoever, gets the token will be the reigning king or queen whenever they visit my house! Friday night will be the last night I light my tree. One more time to enjoy the beauty of a candlelight filled house. I shut off every light in the house to enjoy the candles. Such beauty only exists in fairy tales or in my pretty little storyteller’s cottage. After I blow out all the candles, it is time to take the tree down. Sigh. This year’s tree was absolutely the most beautiful of all. Maybe I say that every year, but this year I mean it. It has been enchanting, and I will miss it.

But then again time to move on. So many other wonderful events coming up this winter. Burns Night. Chinese New Year. Valentine’s Day. So, there is every reason to embrace the winter, especially these temperatures.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti

“In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone:

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter.”






Monday, December 26, 2022

Happy Boxing Day

 



If you weren’t visited by three ghosts, then I think it is safe to say you made it through another Christmas. I do think I was visited by the ghost of Christmas past in my dream on Christmas Eve. I am going to owe this visit to my ornery grandsons, Graham and Jonah, who let me talk about the mysteries of this old house and the creepy skeleton key which hangs upstairs on a nail…never to be touched. I do believe they have all touched it and waited for a ghost to appear. Alas, alas. No ghost.

Aside of being visited by the ghost of Christmas past, all is well in this old house. No broken pipes. No caved in roofs. I do have a few cute little outside pillows that have completely disappeared. If anyone in town finds them, please return! This so-called blizzard did wreck havoc with many plans, I know. It was (I really shouldn’t say this) a bit disappointing in the snow amounts, but the wind reports were spot on! It was Friday night during the worst of the wind that the family came for an old-fashioned Christmas party which led to the ghosts which led to the dream.

We had English poppers and supper and lit the tree letting the candlelight fill all the dark spaces. It was a magical evening, and always my favorite. I always wish my others sons and their families could join us, but distance and time keeps them all in their own towns.

Christmas Eve was brutal with the cold and wind, but my friends, Jan and Carole, managed to make their way to this old house stamping off the snow and bringing Christmas cheer. I made my special Gluhwein which I learned to make in Prague and is now my official winter drink. And, yes, I made it from scratch although Aldi’s has a nice substitute. (Let me know if you want the recipe!)  The three of us sat at the table sharing stories of raising our own children knowing they now have their own lives and celebrate Christmas Eve in their own homes. I love passing on the traditions to my family and know it is their turn to blend their traditions and raise their families.

Christmas Day morning is quiet for me. With Caleo coffee in hand, I open gifts from Carolyn and Elten who always make sure there is something under the tree for me on Christmas morning. I have learned over the years to come to peace with this and now embrace the solitude. Back into the kitchen I go to make food for the day with Aaron and Rachel and Rachel’s family. Gavin is a bit of a jokester, and my Christmas gift was hilarious. Thank you, Gavin.

Moving on with the Christmas spirit, several friends and I visited dear friends on Boxing Day taking them small tokens. We spilled into the house trekking in snow and the cold, but cheerful greetings took us into the house. Stephen and Kathy Rowe moved to this lovely old historic house in Auburn two years ago and have made it home. Across the street is the library, and who doesn’t want to live next door to the library? We leave with more stories than we started with and, after lunch at Mad Anthony’s, we head to Fort Wayne to see a magnificent display of lights by my nephew. It is a winter wonderland which definitely takes my breath away. This display will be up for some time so if you want the address, let me know, and I will send it to you!

Today is the third day of Christmas. The first day of Christmas is actually on Christmas day. It ends on Epiphany, the day the Magi reached the Christ Child.  I do love celebrating the 12 days. I always leave my tree up until the Twelfth Night of Christmas, January 6. Even then, I am so sad to finally take it down.

Christmas Day is officially over. Returns have been made. Movies have been watched. Stories have been told. Yet, the dark days of winter still surround us. I do say, make the most of them. It is a great time for dinner parties, and late-night campfires. It is also the time to learn the new hobby, read your stack of books, and always, my friend, to share the Christmas spirit.

The New Year soon approaches. Let’s make the most of it!

Happy New Year!


The miracle of spring...

  The text from Nate Simons came late last week. His words were simple but powerful. “It is time to tap our trees, what day is good for ever...