August 14, 2009

Tree irony

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.
William Blake, 1799, The Letters

Poets inspire me, but that idea must be saved for another time. But they do. Words remind me of feelings and experiences. And I'm always astonished at how someone else's thoughts can tap so neatly on my ear and touch my heart.


Recently, I sat in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater. While everyone was chatting in the filling arena, looking at the moving crowd and anticipating the music of the night, I caught sight of the trees. They must be very old. They are very beautiful and stately. The theater was built in 1929 and in old pictures I've seen, there were trees pushing out of the hills then, preceding the seats.

Up they go. Skyward. Pines especially, with their reaching limbs and pointing faces. The layers of green color were lovely, no two colors or shapes really alike. Lights were trained on some of them for effect and offered an autumnal glow.

Reminded that these were the trees which held the "tree people" in the long ago Hot August Nights concert, I leaned to my husband who'd told me the story of his adventure that night. With the wisp of romance this idea held, I asked him which tree he sat in. He spun around to look, then caught my eyes: "Orchestra seats, 3rd row." With that, the lights went down and the trees became the standards. Catching sound. The observers of the evening.

August 13, 2009

Considering the lemon

It's a lovely thought: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Take life's tartness, use it to your advantage. I myself, become distracted at the first mention of the word. Lemon. The useful, giving, perfectly colored fruit. When I get my hands on the smooth, deeply rich yellow variety, my first thought is to get it onto a periwinkle or cobalt blue plate. Just enjoy the color. But then ideas begin to roil. Into a tart? A little lighter on the sugar so the nature of the fruit sings into the taste buds? Over the tender piece of slightly breaded chicken? Just the juice trickling over the savory bird. I was recently delighted by a drip of lemon juice squeezed over a piece of Japanese Red Snapper for sushi. Delight the lemon.
Occasionally though, inspiration comes from the literal. So in my house of lemonade lovers we've tried our hand at perfecting the perfect glass of lemonade. This, of course, begins with kids (or their kid predecessors) making lemonade-in-a-restaurant while w-a-i-t-i-n-g for the server to take the order or to finally bring the food. It's much more interesting than coloring the provided pages and requires just the glass of water you requested, along with some lemon slices, "please," ostensibly for iced water and that little box of sweet packages already on the table. Squeeze the lemon. Add the sugar, "is three packets enough?" and voila. A glass of water with lemon and sugar.
At home we've dabbled with a stand up simple syrup, or superfine sugar, different varieties of lemons and enjoyed the results but never quiet reached the ah ha! until we learned to muddle.
As it turns out, lemons really do wish to become a fine lemonade and one made not by a packaging plant bearing the name of a fabulous actor, but by the rest of us, in the kitchen.
Our first attempt at muddling brought wondrous squeals of surprise. Tart, yummy, real lemonade. The best, if you're a twelve year old boy. And there's fun in the making. Lemons are washed thoroughly because the skin is part of the secret. Ends are cut and dismissed. Lemons are sliced in their standing on end fabulous oval shape and everything goes in a flattish bowl except the seeds. We add regular old table sugar (and no hfcs) then mash away with a potato masher until the resulting liquid is thickish as well as juicy. The smashed lemons are removed and pushed through a sieve, water is added and there you have it: a glass of pure delight. The frangrance and the taste of summer.

Lemonade at our house

8-12 lemons based on size (you'll be working to your taste)
1 1/4 cups sugar
4-6 cups water (four is tart and allows for melting ice cubes, six is a milder lemonade, five might just be perfect)
Muddle to your delight. (Smash the lemons with a potato masher, mixing the juicings with the sugar) 4-5 minutes.
In two or three steps, remove the lemon rinds to a sieve or china cap. Press juices through. Dispose of rinds and seeds.
Finally, run remaining juice through the sieve if you like pulp free, or simply remove seeds.
Add water and, if you like, just a pinch of sea salt.
Stir.
Pour.
Breathe in.
Enjoy.

August 10, 2009

The Squirrel Feeder


Birds, happily chirping in my yard were, for a while the music of the afternoon. My good friend, Carlos, had given me western birdseed and a copper bird feeder. And his lovely wife, Lori, my pal, knew I'd love the birdies and their sounds in my tree among the garden stalks and stems. It took a few days for the birds to notice the seed. And then, they were there with great gusto in big bunches.
My husband was none too thrilled about the feeder. He'd heard and read about how bird feeders can become vermin feeders and was no fan of the prospect of neighborhood squirrels or worse, the possums finding joy in the crunchy delight hanger.
I took care in hanging the feeder away from the trunk but the Red Bud is young and the branches still fine so, not too far out. I came home from one of my morning walks to the cheers of three kids who'd captured, digitally, and for all time, this plucky squirrel who was thrilled at the breakfast offering. He'd been hanging, feet on the trunk, paws on the food tray, from the tree. Before I could say a word about, shhh!, my son's best friend had posted the pic on his facebook account. And the word was out.
I walked out into the yard, certain that the squirrel would depart with haste at the sight of me. Instead, he sat there, having come down from his feet on the trunk position. I made noise. I walked closer. Nothing. He stood and looked at me like a defiant teenager.
Of course, I have the secret weapon. A big squirrel hating monster of a German Shepherd. He was more than happy to work for food, so he walked into the yard, and took quick note of the squirrel which caused the big fracas I'd hoped for. Up the tree, over the branches to the umbrella and then the roof of the house. Squirrel scolding. Dog barking. The jig was up.
At some point, the joyous sounds of the wildlife diner, the working dog working and the "you were right
Dad, there really was a squirrel in Mom's bird feeder!" brought response and the well-considered gift was removed.
This did not daunt the squirrel however, or the dog. The squirrel regularly revisits the scene of the crime and, was recently seen up on the divider fence a mere two feet from my kitchen door. Still not afraid of me.
The dog doesn't go into the yard without checking the tree. Because it's summer and he gets to spend more time out in the yard he actually sits watch for hours on end.
After all of it, there a few beautiful birdies who come and sing for a supper that won't be appearing any time soon.
We move on, determined. I admire that determination.

A new iron



Inspired by an iron. Really.
I grew up with a couple of powerhouse grandmothers. Grandma Edith came to live with us during the summer of 6th grade. She was a force to be reckoned with. Through her eyes, she executed her responsibility to me, by passing on the details of good housekeeping. (Be 12 with this gift.) Beyond the proud scrubbing and waxing of floors, furniture polishing and window washing, was ironing.

Grandma took the time to teach the details. Start with the collar of the shirt and finish there too. Be sure the iron is hot. Rub it, quickly, against wax paper if it sticks and if it really sticks, skid across a piece of beeswax. Iron the damask linen tablecloth and the embroidered pillowcases upside down, into a turkish towel to bring out the detail. And then there were the sheets. Folded in 4 and turned as I went.
Grueling? Some days. But other days, it was brilliant. Time alone. Time to think. And a small accomplishment. I do like the small accomplishments.
(The Yellow Door Paperie, a great blog, shares a quote by Vincent Van Gogh I've always loved: Great things are not done by impulse, but a series of small things brought together. )
So, though I'm surrounded by plenty of dryer-to-hanger clothes, I'm (gratefully) accompanied by the few pieces that call for the iron. My son enjoys wearing a dress shirt once in a while, and cloth napkins are on our table each day.
My grandmother's iron is long gone. And when it went, the black and white fabric cord, and heavy metal wonder went with it. For our wedding, someone gave us the modern, lightweight, plasticized version. New, white, and really, really light. I've used it for the last minute finish on something that stayed in the dryer too long. Or my favorite linen shirt. But, truly, found no joy in the finish.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a new Rowenta. Highly recommended, heavy in hand, metal on the face, and steam from tapwater. I bought it with the zest that one might save for a the perfect pair of shoes or a new leather wallet.
Home it came with all it's weight and promise. I spent an hour or so, going over a couple of the boy's just-a bit-wrinkly shirts, ironed the couple of tablecloths resignedly folded in the drawer and then, with great enthusiasm went for the napkins.
Maybe it's the enjoyment of fabric. The layers on the rose red damask napkins. Or the lay of the vintage Robin's Egg linen tablecloth. The touch of the Ralph Lauren floral chintz napkins that seem 100 years old. The polish on the periwinkle cotton shirt.
Or perhaps it's the job-well-done echoing from years ago in my mother's kitchen at the ironing board with the beeswax.
But in many ways, the iron seems to have given rise to a crisp awareness of both color and order. Corners meeting. Books on a shelf. Flatware neatly framing the dishes on the table.
And a movement toward the pleasure of that which is regular and orderly.
Really, an iron.

August 09, 2009

Tie dye and plaid hats


I am often surprised and quite thrilled by what comes out of my girlie's bedroom. Today, with the honor of reading the scripture passage at church, she's wearing the tie dye shirt she was given yesterday at her new friend's birthday party. With a plaid chapeau. Oh, and ballet slipper shoes.

Color is everywhere. And not to be missed.

Inspiration is right there.

It occurred to me while reading my friend Karla's blog, that we find inspiration in many places. Karla created a beautiful card after a shopping trip to Pier 1. Apparently, an apron inspired her. An apron.
Her blog got me thinking:
Inspiration is around at almost every turn.
Perhaps we should mark the moments.

Birds on the telephone wire inspire me greatly.

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Original text and images sole property of BirdandSeashells. If you wish to use something, please ask or quote me.