Full of thanks (and full of food)

Today we celebrated Thanksgiving, which is a holiday bound in tradition for me. And much of that tradition involves food. Not just the eating of it, but the preparing of it, the serving of it, and the discussing of it. I love that we have this holiday which centers around spending time with family and friends, and about sharing a meal with them.

Thanksgiving always leaves me full of thanks and of food, but also of nostalgia. More than anything, I think of Thanksgivings past at my grandmother’s house. I remember setting the table with the special china, fancy glasses and candlesticks. I remember being shooed out of the kitchen so my grandmother could manage the entire feat of feast-making in her own way. (Also because her kitchen was tiny, and she didn’t want us in the way.) I remember enjoying so much of the feast when it came time to eat, pretty much loving all of it, except for the dreaded liver lumps in the gravy. (My grandmother would cook up and dice up the giblets, and toss them into the otherwise smooth and tasty gravy.) And I remember the extended time in the kitchen after the meal, typically with one or two other family members, hand-washing and hand-drying all of the dishes from the meal. (Because my grandmother’s house did not have a dishwasher. Also, my grandmother was happy to get out of the kitchen at the end of the day.) I usually got the job of drying. I can still remember the feel of the dishtowels in my hand, typically linen and worn rather thin from years of use, and getting more and more damp until finally you had to get out a fresh dry towel.

I spent much of yesterday and most of today preparing food and preparing the space to eat that food. (Our dining room had gotten rather buried over the past 8 months or so, but I was bound and determined to unearth it.)  We had a few guests (my mother-in-law, and a friend and her 2 kids), so there were eight of us. In spite of the moderate numbers, we had an immoderate number of food items on the menu.

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Some of the dishes I prepared: roasted root vegetables, roasted butternut squash with shallots and cranberries, roasted dijon cauliflower, and vegetarian stuffing.
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My plate. The plate itself is from our good set, a pattern that John and picked out when we had our wedding. I love using the good china for special holiday meals, because that is what we always did at my grandmother’s house. As for the food, the plate holds the 4 dishes listed above, plus green beans, mashed potatoes and vegetarian gravy, and cranberry sauce. 
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Pumpkin pie. The dairy-free version that has become a tradition for me. I had delusions that I would have time to also make something like an apple crisp. Ha.

Now that the day is done, and I’ve turned in for the night, I am still feeling full from the feast (which was blissfully free of liver lumps). I am also feeling full of thanks for the bounty of our feast, for our comfort and safety, and for the people in my life who make my life so full.

lasting impressions and life goals

seagull shadow

In addition to being the 11th anniversary of my blog, yesterday also marked the 10th anniversary of a dear friend’s death.

My friend Elizabeth continues to be one of my personal heroes. She was an extraordinary person, but chose to live an ordinary life. Or at least what might appear from a distance to be an ordinary life. She didn’t seek fame or fortune, but valued the richness of her life, her friends, her family, and the many things in life that brought her joy. She was witty and insightful. She was warm and kind and incredibly supportive, but could show biting sense of humor. She cared deeply and passionately about the world, but also loved to let loose and get silly.

She died far too young, and I feel her loss still. There have been so many things over the past 10 years that I have wanted to share with her. To discuss, to celebrate, to lament.

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I know that I am not the only one who continues to miss her. She had an impact on so many who knew and loved her. Her impact was not from any single great feat or action, but from the sum of countless moments of connection with others.

Her life was indeed extraordinary.

long shadows

election-day-shadowsA year ago today was an intensely emotional day. At this moment, I can’t recall any other comparable days in my life, wherein I felt both joy and despair so close together. The intensity of the emotions I felt that day about public events easily rival any that I have felt with respect to events in my own personal life.

I have thought back many times this past year that I wish I could have bottled the giddiness I felt when I cast my vote, excited about my participation in the historic occasion of electing the first woman president of the United States. I’ve wished that I could tap back into that momentarily unfettered optimism that kept a genuine smile on my face as I stood outside our town’s polling place, holding signs for both local and national candidates, and waving cheerfully at all who passed.

We all know how things turned out that evening. And that day has cast a long shadow across the past year for me. Again, there are few events that have transpired in my lifetime that have so deeply affected me. Not a day has gone by this past year that I have not given my thoughts, and often my time and energy, in big ways and small, into addressing the results of that day.

Death and Taxes

“…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” –Benjamin Franklin, 1726

April 15th is known in the US as tax day, the day when tax returns for individuals are due. It is a date that leads to much crankiness and frustration.

The Boston Marathon is always held on the third Monday of April. Marathon Monday is traditionally festive occasion for the state of Massachusetts. Last year was a year when the two dates coincided: tax day and marathon day.


Flowers in Copley Square, from a late summer day several years ago.

With the anniversary the bombing of last year upon us, I find myself thinking back to that day, and the crazy week that followed. I wasn’t in Boston, but my close ties to the city, updates from my school, my colleagues, and my friends, kept me feeling tethered.

I was out with the kids that Marathon Monday, it being a state holiday and the first day of school vacation. Phoebe was recovering from a stomach bug, so we didn’t go far from home. We were parked at the music school before Phoebe’s and my violin lesson when I got text alerts from BU with notification of the explosions, and warnings to stay away from Copley. I couldn’t really process the news, and didn’t want to worry the kids. As the afternoon and evening wore on, I found more detailed reports of deaths and injuries. Like so many, I worried about the safety of my friends, and realized that my friends and family would worry about the safety of me and my family. It was very unsettling to learn that one of the dead was a BU grad student. (I, too, am a BU grad student.) I found myself wondering about the other BU grad students I know. Were they safe? The news that one of the people killed was a little kid left me feeling shattered. Even though I was many miles away, and my family and I were safe, it all just felt so horribly close and personal.


The view from Storrow Drive at dusk, from 2010.

That week, I remember reflecting on my fondness for the city, and spent probably too much time hunting for photos I’d taken there. (Naturally, I have hundreds of photos of Boston, if not thousands.) I am not a Boston native, but I have lived outside Boston for over 18 years. I spend a lot of time in the city. It feels like home.

Today I got caught up in memories, reading stories and articles of the many lives that were so deeply affected by the bombings. I was distracted and contemplative, and managed to get a time mixed up for something I’d committed to, which made me very cranky and off-kilter.

The day ended up rainy and stormy, which actually quite fit my melancholy mood. And probably also the cranky moods of so many faced with the frustrations of tax day.


Under my umbrella this afternoon, waiting to get the kids off the school bus.

drip, drip, drop

It rained today, a little April shower.

I didn’t get any photos of the rain today, but here is a photo from March. I liked the way the drips lined themselves up. (And now I like the way we no longer have snow on the ground. We were away for the weekend, and the last of the snow had departed by the time we returned.)

The drips and drops remind me of the song “Little April Shower,” which I loved as a little girl. We had the record (it must have been a single) and I used to play it over and over on a little plastic record player. I’d do a little dance (not shown). Here is the clip of the song from the Disney movie:

As an adult I have enjoyed the Natalie Merchant version off the album Stay Awake. I can’t believe that even that album is now over 25 years old.

Fairy impersonator? (friday foto finder: insect)

When I was a sophomore in high school in California, I had a truly excellent biology teacher. The assignments were creative and varied, and the lessons I learned stuck with me long after the class ended. One of the major units we covered in that class was about the insect world. We learned about all of the orders of insects. A major assignment was to collect, identify and classify insects from as many of the orders as we could. For some orders, it was ridiculously easy to find specimens. Hymenoptera (which includes ants, bees & wasps), diptera (including mosquitos and houseflies), coleoptera (beetles), lepidoptera (moths & butterflies) were a dime a dozen, with multiple species of each of those orders crossing our paths regularly. Others required a bit more persistence, hunting through the grass and under rocks, or stalking the porch light at night.

My best friend and I participated in the project with the same competitive/collaborative spirit that drove our academic success, collecting and comparing our insects with interest and enthusiasm. She, who felt revulsion for earwigs, collected her dermaptera specimen with triumph. I, with my aversion to moths, likewise felt satisfaction in including a feathery-antennaed hymenoptera specimen in my own collection. I don’t remember how many orders we each managed to represent in total, but I want to say that it was somewhere around 17 or 18. (I seem to recall that my friend managed to find one that I hadn’t, a fact which she playfully lorded over me.)

That project forever changed how I look at insects.

Living in the woods in rural Massachusetts, we sometimes get wildlife in our yard and around our house. Sometimes, the wildlife makes its way into the house. Once such bit of wildlife was this character, which turned up in our kitchen one June evening in 2010. It had a long segmented body, perhaps 2 and half inches long, and large lacy wings. I was, naturally, fascinated.


Hi.

John and I captured it in a plastic tub with the aim of releasing it. I took a few pictures of it, but sadly, they are blurry in the poor lighting conditions. Also contributing to the blur was the fact that the insect was moving constantly, and I found it hard to get my eyes to focus on it, let alone my camera. The long body and the dramatic wings had an ethereal look to them, and I wondered if sighting of such creatures in the wild, fluttering about in people’s peripheral vision, may have contributed to belief in fairies. (Compare this little guy to the mummified fairy remains highlighted on Raincoaster. If you want to study interesting specimens of humanity, some of whom claim belief in fairies, you might have a look at the comments of that post. 2220 comments to date, many of them very entertaining.)


I’m bigger than your little finger.

Having ruled out that we had captured a fairy, I did wonder what exactly we had caught.

I wondered if it might be a large mayfly, (order ephemeroptera, among the more poetically named orders, reflecting the ephemeral nature of their adults’ lives). However, I think it is too large to be one. Additionally, it is missing the long cerci that mayflies have.

Most likely, it is a kind of fishfly, of the order megaloptera. (Apparently the designation of megaloptera as a separate order from neuroptera is relatively recent–I don’t know when this separation happened, though. It may not have been among the orders I learned about in high school.) Megaloptera, as you might guess from the mega prefix, are known to be large. (They are named for their large wings.)


Can I go now, please?

This week’s friday foto finder challenge was to find photos of insect(s). Unlike urban-dwelling az, who resorted to posting other invertebrates, I have quite a few photos of insects in my archives. (Ah, the perks of rural life.) I even have several posts on different insects. I have two ThThTh lists of moth things and butterfly things (order lepidoptera), plus some posts of my own photos of butterflies (again, lepidoptera) and fireflies (order coleoptera). I’m particularly fond of this one, eat or be eaten, which documents the unlucky encounter of a spider (an arachnid, and not an insect) with a damselfly (order odonata).

fff 200x60To see what other specimens have been caught for this week’s assignment, buzz, flit or crawl over to the friday foto finder blog.

But this method doesn’t work with a tomato.

It was my second year of college, in ’90 or ’91, and I sat at a desk in a classroom with maybe a dozen other students of second-year Japanese. The first year, the class had been much bigger, with a good 30 or 40 students. But the workload was heavy, and the grading tough. The enrollment had been whittled down.

The teaching methods were pretty old-school, with textbooks that were probably from the 50s. We did a lot of in-class drills.

That particular day, we were learning the expression “to use something as something else.” (“X to shite Y o tsukaimasu.”) The instructor gave us some examples. He picked up two pencils, and held them as if they were chopsticks. Hashi to shite empitsu o tsukaimasu, he intoned in his booming fluent-but-American-accented Japanese. “I use pencils as chopsticks.” Then he asked for more examples from the class using the construction.

“Use a rope as a belt,” someone might have said. “I use a book as a tray,” someone else might have offered.

I really can’t remember what examples my classmates came up with. Because as I sat there, I needed all of my concentration to contain the urge to giggle. The one sentence that popped into my head was: Nihon de wa, naihu to shite te o tsukaimasu.¹

In Japan, the hand is used like a knife.²

I’m sad to say that I was not called upon to share my example. I was relieved at the time, as I had not yet released my inner goofball. Also, it’s hard to say how the very serious instructor would have taken my contribution. Especially had it been accompanied by uncontrollable fits of giggling.


¹ Google translate helped me arrive at this:
日本 で は ナイフ として手を使います. There was once a time when I could have written this sentence without looking it up, but that day has long passed. Also, I only wrote Japanese by hand. I would have had no idea how to type any of it!
² The actual wording from the 1978 Ginsu commercial is: “In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife.”

heat (friday foto finder)

This is the gas heater from my grandmother’s house, in the mountains of Colorado.

I took this photo in 2004. (It was years after my grandmother died, when my mother lived in the house. But in my memory, it is always my grandmother’s house.) This visit was in August, so the heat was off.

I wish I had photos of it lit, so I could show you the gas flames.

I wish I could share with you the pictures in my head of my sister and I huddled in front of the heater on cold winter mornings.

The house was an old one, with the merest nods to insulation. It had been originally built as a summer house, and then enlarged to become a year-round home. My memories of the house are warm, but in the winter most of the house was cold. The room my sister and I shared upstairs, on visits to our grandmother and for the one year when we lived with her, had a smaller gas heater in it, a wall unit that connected to our grandmother’s room next door. That heater was rarely lit, though, and mornings (especially mornings) in the bedrooms were cold. Frost-on-the-window-panes cold. I remember getting up out of the cozy double bed my sister and I shared (the bed that had once belonged to my great grandmother), climbing out from under the blankets and heavy comforter, and emerging into the chill of the bedroom. We’d rush downstairs, seeking out the relative warmth (and the house’s only bathroom). We’d sit on the floor in our nightgowns those cold dark mornings right in front of the heater, bathed in its warmth and glow. I remember leaning back against the short hallway wall the heater faced, and stretching out with icy hands or feet to warm my fingers and toes, holding them as close to the heater as I dared, my eyes transfixed by the glowing patterns of the ceramic grates and the dancing blues and oranges of the flickering gas flames.


This rather chilly post was brought to you by this week’s prompt for friday foto finder: heat. Please go see what heat others have to share.

p.s. I just noticed that my post title read “friday foot finder,” thanks to autocorrect. This makes me giggle, but I have changed it anyhow.¹

¹ Really, this needed to be a footnote.

Ce matin, un lapin…

This morning, as I went about my business, which included doing tasks which I shamelessly attributed to an imaginary rabbit, a song popped into my head that I remembered from when I was little. “Ce matin, un lapin…”

I don’t know when the last time I thought of this song was, but there is a good chance it’s been many a year. For one thing, I don’t think I ever googled it before, so that may be an indication.

Back in 1980, I moved to France (along with my mother and sister). My sister and I went to an international school outside of Paris. We weren’t exposed to a huge amount of contemporary popular French culture, as we didn’t have a TV, and went to a school with primarily non-French students. However, at some point in the year, I went on a trip with my class into the French Alps. I don’t remember how long of a trip it was (2 weeks, maybe?), but there was a bit more cultural immersion, staying in a dorm run by French employees. There was certainly more music played than was typical of our regular school. I’m pretty sure this was when I would have heard the song, because those are the memories it triggered.

It probably shouldn’t surprise me that I remembered the lyrics a little wrong, or perhaps that I’d misheard them in the first place. (I was 9, and not a native speaker of French, and I don’t remember how often I would have heard the recorded version of the song, and how often I would have heard it sung by other kids.)

I’d thought it went:
Ce matin, un lapin. Ou tu es un chasseur. Ou tu es un lapin qui avait un fusil.
(“This morning, a rabbit, or you are a hunter. Or you are a rabbit who had a gun.”)

I think 9-year-old me interpreted the song to mean something rather philosophical, and somewhat twisted, along the lines of: “Today, will you be the rabbit, or the hunter? Or will you be a rabbit with a gun?” The tenses don’t really make sense for my interpretation, though.

It turns out the song was much more literal:

Ce matin un lapin a tué un chasseur.
C’était un lapin qui avait un fusil.

“This morning a rabbit killed a hunter. It was a rabbit who had a gun.”

Yes, a perky little kids’ song about a homicidal rabbit.

Happy Easter!