A Season of Gratitude


It started Thursday with the Winter Solstice and the full moon:  the love, the presents, my astonishment.  You cannot go wrong with moonlight hanging over a canyon.  It never disappoints.

Then on Friday, astonishment.  Teachers never expect what I received.  I expect excellence and hope most learn something new, learn that books they will like exist, that they can do more than they ever dreamed.  We do not expect presents.

By ten on Friday, my classroom was covered with gifts and food.  Here is a list of some of the presents I received from my students:

frankincense and myrrh soap

a book about wine–yes, it seems they know me

a 4 by 4 black block that says Love, Smile, Enjoy, Laugh, Sing, Live

two gifts cards from a brother and sister for renting movies along with popcorn

a Picasso scarf

a thermal cup full of almonds–I received lots of almonds

all sorts of homemade candies, cookies, and other goodies

To top it all off, a mother walked into my room and handed me a bottle of red wine with this written on it:  “Our child might be the reason you drink so enjoy this bottle on us, Merry Christmas.”  I am still chuckling about this one.

My daughter and grandson are on a cruise and will get to see several ancient Mayan temples, my son is on his way here and will arrive around noon or early afternoon, I attended a beautiful Christmas Eve service last night, then came home and continued reading a fascinating book until late, and shortly I will make pumpkin bread using Mom’s old recipe.

The moon still shines, hanging in the Western horizon.  I feel grateful.

Happy Holidays to everyone.

Juliana

 

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Note:  The Christmas tree my parents gave me decades ago with a skirt, simple fabric brought from Africa many years ago.

 

The Christmas Tree


In childhood, no fake tree for us.

Just after Thanksgiving, the family search transpired.

Mom and Dad preferred Douglas fir, six feet tall.

Dutifully, we kept the tree holder filled with water,

never used real candles.  We put on lights, big ones,

blue, green, red, an inch long, then carefully hung on delicate,

colorful, round balls.  The most difficult task: the icicles,

long, silver, reflective.  They had to go on just so.

Years later, children gone, Mom and Dad bought an

artificial tree, fake Douglas fir, incredibly real in appearance.

 

When they left Missouri for Arizona every winter after harvest,

they abandoned Christmas trees, gave me the fake Douglas fir.

I still have it.  How long?  Decades, several at least.  State of the art

when they bought it, it requires work, assembly, strings of lights.

Every year, I tell myself it is time to get one of those new trees with lights

already installed, so much easier to take up and down.  I never buy one.

I cannot bear to part with Mom and Dad’s tree.  One year, annoyed with

putting on lights, I decorated it lightless.  I missed the lights.  Now every year,

decades later, I assemble it, take the time to string the lights.  Some of the lower

branches no longer stay, but I work around that, hang the colorful, delicate

Christmas ornaments I love, collected over years and years, wrap the base in

the red and white cloth given to me from Africa. On cold evenings, like this one,

I turn off the other lights, drink tea like my mother did, and remember my

childhood.

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Athena


Most of my posts are poems, things I have learned, travel adventures, or serious comments about the world. This one is more of a personal sharing post.  Here are three photos of my dog, Athena.  She is a standard poodle and quite fearless and territorial.  She will even stand off coyotes.  Sometimes this makes me sad because I do enjoy the wide variety of wildlife where I live.  However, I like the idea that she is fearless and protective and warns me about anything unusual.  Nothing escapes her notice.

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When I took this, she had just demolished a bone and fragments appear on her left leg.

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She and my grandson playing.

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Inspecting her territory in her short summer haircut taken last summer.

I just finished the book “American Wolf”.  Most people do not associate their dogs with big predators. Poodles were originally bred to hunt.  When I watch her roam the wild around my house, hunter, predator comes to mind.  I have watched her chase foxes, coyotes, skunks, you name it.  She is clever enough to never get too close to the skunk.  The coyote and she had a stand off. Eventually, Athena won.  I have not seen a coyote since and that was months ago.

 

September 1, on the Rim of Wonder


Sunrise

Dappled clouds

Owl hooting

Wren climbing

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Later, I graded papers and watched part of John McCain’s funeral, some of which almost brought me to tears.  I often disagreed with him but never did I question his passionate love of country, his courage, his willingness to buck the norm, to defy convention when he thought it was the right thing to do.  I think he and I shared certain values on which this country is based even if the country as a whole rarely lives up to them.  These include the conviction that all people are equal, that everyone deserves justice, and each person carries the right to find his or her own share of happiness without judgment and condemnation from others who may think differently.

Later, while working on the latest book I am writing, I found handwritten recipes written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Nellie Narcissus Duke (Kaiser),whose father came here from Switzerland as a child.  One, for dumplings, remains readable.  The other written in pencil on the front and back of thin paper is fragile.  It is for Strawberry Shortcake.  If Grandmother Duke ever made dumplings, I do not remember it.  Mother did–chicken and dumplings.  I wonder if she used this recipe.  I do remember conversations about the shortcake because Dad did not like strawberry shortcake even though he liked strawberries.  I took photos of these two recipes written decades ago in my grandmother’s handwriting.

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Black Raspberries


Mom filled the white bowl with black raspberries.

I pour Bossie’s white milk over them,

watched it form a pattern,

flowing around the raspberries–

a design in deep purple and white.

I thought it almost too beautiful to eat.

I was seven.

Now I rarely find black raspberries.  Red ones won’t do.  They lack intensity, the beauty.  Every year we went to Hunt’s Orchard north of Amazonia, Missouri, to buy black raspberries, took them home, sorted to discard the imperfect ones, then threw them way behind the garden next to the timber–huge trees, oak and hickory.  Eventually, these imperfections transformed into thriving black raspberry bushes.  We had our own patch, created from the discarded, the imperfect.

Mom fed us fresh raspberries for a few days.  The rest she used to create her famous pies, froze a freezer full.  Baked, they transformed a winter kitchen into the warmth and sweetness of my mother’s family devotion.

I bake pies, many kinds of pies.  I have never made a black raspberry pie.

 

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Note:  this will be published in an upcoming publication by the Story Circle Network.  In July my daughter, grandson, and I went to Hunt’s Orchard–yes, it still exists.  I asked about black raspberries.  We were too late; the season was over.  The timber behind the garden area was to the right in this photo.  The person who bought the land years later bulldozed down all the big trees.

Cutting Yucca


Yucca will take over if you let it.

 

Every summer after the blooms dry, I tackle them with long,

red-handled clippers and cut off  long stalks.

Not bothering to put on boots, I set out in black and grey Chacos,

cutting stalks in places unreachable by tractor.

 

I climb down to a rough area, open these long, red-handled clippers,

chop off the dead blossoms, then look down.

She lies there, her body slightly bigger than the size of my upper arm,

fat, not long.

A snake stretched out, only 1/8 inch from the front of my Chacos.

 

I look again.  Crap.  She’s a rattlesnake, one of those short,

stout prairie rattlers, perfectly blending with the grey and brown

rocks and soil.

 

Slowly, I inch backward, taking care not to fall on the steep slope.

When several feet away, I run to the barn, grab two shovels off their hooks,

run back.  She’s gone.  I search everywhere around.

 

I never find her.

 

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The Clerk


He’s gorgeous!

 

I walk into the department store,

plan to pay a bill, order a griddle for the new stove,

see a bald headed 30 something with a big, brown beard.

He is not what I get.

 

A younger man walks up, “Can I help you?”

Explaining what I want, I look.

Wow.

Caramel skin, five inches taller than I,

obsidian ringlets falling, not long,

cut short to a form a big ball, a glossy poof.

 

He’s not too thin, not too chubby.

Just right.

Straight nose, not too long, not too short.

Just right.

Arched eyebrows, oval face.

Just right.

 

He’s drool worthy.

It’s ridiculous.  I’m old enough to be his grandmother,

maybe older.

 

Do we ever get too old to look, to appreciate?