I attended the early service, today, – the last Saturday in January. The morning was cold and still, but a mockingbird sang, anyway. For a little while, the woods at the back of the field, looked aflame. Then, the light changed from a bold amber to a soft yellow . . . and so the day was born, in this manner. I watched through the window, by the “morning table”, while my boxer, Cash and my cat, Christopher Robin, slept. It was Saturday, after all, and no one was rushing about-in all the world, as far as I could tell.
The coldest days of my life, happened in January. We had snow twice-and so we had snow cream. . . and Lyla built her first snowman. School was cancelled on a good many days. The Christmas tree was taken down along with the vases of fresh pine. . and the Christmas closet holds very few secrets now. . . and Jenny had a birthday. The remnants of January are upon us and it to seemed to me, that January, like the snow, was a brief affair.
I haven’t any lofty plans this week end. There is housekeeping and the territory, I call the rabbit patch, is showing signs of neglect. I am quite concerned for the “running periwinkle”as it looks badly burned from the sub zero temperatures, we had. I must encourage some of the rose bushes too. Besides that, there are small branches hither and yonder. I , also will hopefully cook a Sunday dinner and make a bread pudding stuffed with apples, for dessert.
The Afternoon, on Saturday
I did get the house mostly in order. Afterwards, I went out to a fair day -unseasonably warm, and set about to clean up the yard. I picked up sycamore branches and gathered enough to make a good sized pile. The sunlight was too faint to cast even the slightest shadow. It wasn’t long before, I reached the young woods, in the far corner of the territory. In the absence of rabbits and birds, the woods were silent. The air was so still, that the pine trees did not whisper. The muted gray and silver bark on the trees, the soft brown carpet of resting grasses and the russet pine straw were fitting hues for that moment. . .and so I lingered in the young woods, as if I was under some sort of spell and hadn’t a thing else to do.
I remembered not so long ago, the boys had forts in the woods and “property disputes” with one another. My little goats and chickens foraged there and the the woods were the place for the best Easter egg hunts. Then, we had evening fires that burned while marshmallows toasted on long sticks. Once, when my niece, Hayley was a child, we took an actual “midnight stroll” through the woods.
There is also a grave, of a beloved collie on the edge of the woods. It has a small foot stone .”Miss Sylvia” remembered the dog and the family that loved him. Hence, I have tended the grave of a dog that died, before I was born, for over a decade and named that place, “Collie Corner” . Now, irises, calla Lilies and a butterfly bush bloom with the wild honeysuckle, in “Collie Corner”.
Whenever, I visit with woods or fields, it has the effect of a tonic, on me. . .and today was no different. On the way back to the farmhouse, I stopped by the running periwinkle and found a few green sprouts, under the mulch. Maybe all is not lost, for the flowers started with cuttings, from my grandmother. This further renewed my spirit and by the time I came in the kitchen , I was humming.
To stand in the shadow of Greatness, does wonders for the soul and things growing wild lend a peace to the heart without worldly rival. Mankind can not take credit for such places nor claim any status. Nature does not show favoritism nor rank us according to appearance or ability. . .yet, I felt like an honored guest and privileged , while I stood in the midst of the woods in winter. . .where the robins nest . . .and “silence is golden”.
Some of my favorite hours have always been in the kitchen. As a small child, I spent a good deal of my childhood in fields and woods. If I wasn’t there, I was probably playing in a barn . . .If I was in the house, I was most likely in the kitchen.
The women in my family cooked. In those days, processed food was in its’ early stages. I never saw things like “instant potatoes”, cake mixes and “Hamburger Helper”. Of course, this meant someone was usually in the kitchen . . . peeling potatoes, often.
The yellow and chrome kitchen table, in my grandmamas’ house, was the best place I knew of to tell secrets or to solve a mystery. I also could count on someone being in the kitchen, in the circumstances of bee stings and skinned knees-or when I couldn’t button a dolls’ dress. “The heart of the home”-was always in the kitchen. Maybe my love affair with kitchens spawned from those days. . . when Mama, Grandmama, and Aunt Josie were making things like banana pudding or rolling out dough for chicken and pastry.
Why cookies, of all things, have remained such a plight for me, is beyond me, but for the love of a grandchild, I will not give up. I can at least say now, I can bake “tea cakes” . . .and Lyla loves them.
“Tea cakes” are a shortbread type of cookie, but more “cake like” in texture. They are often paired with iced tea, in the south, but they go very well with coffee, too. They are a simple concoction of a very few ingredients, unlike “store bought” cookies, that lists dozens of artificial substances, and do not lend the heavenly aroma to the kitchen, as the tea cakes do.
1 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cup of sugar ( I tend to spill just a little sugar more, in the bowl)
1 tsp vanilla ( I spill vanilla too)
1/4 cup of milk
3 cups self-rising flour
Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla together. Add flour and milk, slowly. Form dough into 2 loaves, and chill in freezer for about 20 minutes. By hand, form the chilled dough into small balls. Bake at 375 degrees, on a lightly floured cookie sheet-(I use a pizza stone), for ten minutes. Do not brown the cookies. This will make about forty cookies. I have halved the recipe, successfully. The cookies keep well for several days.
You will not need to ring a dinner bell, when tea cakes are cooking.
My early service was void of seeing the sun rise. I first woke, before light came to the world. I went out and was greeted by the cold dark remnants of a January night. I decided to go back to the warmth of a soft blanket, and there in lies the culprit. I got up again later and by then, the sun was up and shining. The cardinals were “on the wing” and so were some little chickadees. There was no snow left, anywhere to hinder their search for breakfast.
Jennys’ birthday lasted all week end, and I am not sure it is over yet. Yesterday afternoon, five young couples came over with all sorts of “party food”. These young women, are already experts at preparing fancy foods. They brought things like fancy vegetable sandwiches, and meatballs smothered in sauce. There were roasted peppers piled high with cheese , besides dips and nuts. Mandy, who has made quite a reputation for herself in flower arranging (and her business, Pansy & Ivy, is proof of that), brought a centerpiece and the birthday cake! It was a “made from scratch” strawberry cream cheese pound cake, and people left, talking about it. . . So now, Mandy is known for flowers –and cake.
Since, our school had a teacher work day, and Jenny had to attend her internship, I took the day off. Who could have known, that the day would be so mild and perfect weather, for strolling by the “laughing river” ?
Lyla and I strolled in the afternoon, under the faint January sun. We did hear the river laugh, lazily. The only other sound was a dog barking somewhere faraway. . and he only did so occasionally. It was a mostly silent venture, which seemed especially fitting for a walk in winter, when trees are bare and gardens lay barren.
Lyla counted four squirrels and two cats, before she fell asleep. And so, an hour slipped pleasantly by in a delightful way. I was not inclined to wish for the time of daffodils and tulips. I did not mourn for Christmas, but instead, I felt content with this day . . . with this season . . .with this hour. It was like “going to Church” , just to pray.
Supper was started, not long after we got back. Afterwards, I went out to see the “fingernail” moon and stars that looked like “silver dollars” in the winter sky. It made me want to sing a lovely benediction. . . for “my eyes had seen such glory” . . .and I was glad.
Jennys’ birthday, dawned bright and clear, much like the day she was born. Lyla and I sang “Happy Birthday” several times before breakfast. Lyla wanted a cake and party hats to confirm the occasion, at breakfast.
At the early service, while robins sang morning music, I thought how glad I was to have a daughter, especially like my Jenny. Several squirrels were hurriedly burying acorns. Snow was still lying in shade and a cardinal looked as red as he ever had, when he stopped to watch the squirrels scampering wildly. It was a beautiful day for a birthday.
Jenny is my only daughter,born a few years after Brant. Three other brothers followed, til a decade has passed. Jenny seemed born with a maternal instinct. She was also quite domestic, and baked pies most every day. Her worst habit was drawing on walls. She grew up climbing trees and rambling in the woods. She also loved her dolls-one in particular, “Lady Jane”, that just happened to be a black rabbit, that wore a dress. Lady Jane was her constant companion and accompanied us most everywhere we went . . until, Jenny announced, one day, that Lady Jane had gotten married. After that, Lady Jane had a lot of housekeeping and children that needed tending ( some were kittens) -and so was mostly left at home.
Jenny as a child was very imaginative and talked to her shadow and her imaginary friend “Bo”, who was a little pretend girl, that liked to bake pies, too. The further away, the years became to her childhood, the more Jenny became my saving grace, as she was so very helpful in the care of her youngest brothers. It does not surprise me one bit, that she turned out to be a truly wonderful mother.
Lyla and I made brownies for Jennys’ birthday. We wore birthday hats as Lyla was sure that we were supposed to, given the occasion. Of course Jenny wanted a healthy version. Lyla cried when we added avocados . The brownies turned out especially moist and no one could have guessed they were at least a little healthier than the average brownie.
For dinner, Will took Jenny to a fancy restaurant in Virginia, which is just about thirty minutes, from Elizabeth City. Lyla and I took a walk by the “laughing river”, as the weather was so mild. Snow lined the village streets like strands of lace. The river was as smooth as glass and the sky above it was cloudless. The thought crossed my mind again that it really was a beautiful day for a birthday.
Thursday, Another Day of Snow!
It started snowing in the late evening, yesterday. Today, when light came to the rabbit patch, the territory looked like a post card from a place like “New England” or my friend “Fayes’ Iowa”. What an unfamiliar winter !
This time, the temperature makes sense and there is no fierce wind blowing either. Still, I do not have snow boots- or gloves, that would be of any use, in snow. . .so I must be content to enjoy from a far, the wondrous beauty of snow. As I watch the sun come up, through the window by the “morning table”, shining brightly, it does not seem “second fiddle” at all, to do so.
Kyle and Christian are both home this time and I am so glad of that. “Misery may love company”, but so does happiness. I am making pancakes , on a weekday morning-to celebrate! Kyle will not start his day with an egg sandwich -and no oatmeal for me this day! It feels like “a red letter day” and so I will act accordingly.
After the breakfast, I went to thinking of tasks, I may have had to put off, in the absence of snow. I remembered I had meant to make labels for some glass canisters, I had bought months ago. I had previously stored all of my spices in “mason jars” (since I buy in buy in bulk ) and made labels, adorned with sweet rabbit images, for each one. The effect is charming. The large glass canisters, which held flours and sugar sat there void of any embellishment for a long while. I set about the pleasant chore of labeling them and hopefully eliminated the chances of cakes that won’t rise or “hard cookies”.
That was as about eventful as my day got. . . and that was fine by me. I did get packed to go to Elizabeth City tomorrow-of course this depends on the conditions of the highway. Jenny has a birthday on Saturday and I am so hoping to spend it with her. If we ever got snow, it was always on her birthday or close to it. I used to call her “snowbird” because of that, so many years ago.
I started Christmas shopping today. It is quite a new experience, for me, to shop on line, but so easy and I was quite pleased with the prices. I bought three small gifts only, still it is a start. I hope to never abandon browsing in small shops that sell french milled soaps or fine coffee shops, for that would be a shame. There is something so charming about such places and our lives needs some charm, I think.
I made a big pot of soup in the afternoon with intentions to feed Jennys’ family and Miss Thelma too. There is also a batch of “tea cakes” in the oven, now and I am hoping, I will be able to brag a little about them, though the odds may not be so favorable.
The contents of a day, can be of great variation. Sometimes, days are memorable and seem to have a permanent residence in our heart . . most are not so remarkable and pass without much ado. I like them all. There are a lot of ways to spend a day-and for me, I am content to have a day when snow lies in heaps around the territory and the kitchen smells like tea cakes.
Dear Diary, I am glad for winter with its’ bright, white snow. I am glad for hours, not spent in haste . . .and birthdays. I am glad for watching the light change on the rabbit patch . . .and the chances a day brings to love this world, all over again.
Very far away from me,
across the wild and open sea,
A brave little daffodil blooms,- I know,
because a fairy told me so.
He asked the rose to come along-
and the coral bells to sing their song-
But only the brave little daffodil.
had the courage and the will.
And so one cold and dreary day,
when springtime seemed so far away,
The fairy spied his gift of gold-
blooming, in the world so cold-
and so she did , what we all should-
she shared, when she found something good.