“Winter and Wet Wool”

51AF46A0-7233-4C3F-9E95-1534183FB153It snowed four inches last night and my husband came in after a couple of hours of clearing snow from our home, our daughter’s and our neighbors. As usual he draped his wet clothes over radiators in the dining room and living room. The sight took me back to grade school and wet wool.

My elementary school was heated by radiators warmed by a giant furnace fed with sawdust. Long radiators spanned the length of each classroom, providing great ledges for wet clothing. We covered them with wet wool hats, wet wool mittens, wet wool gloves and wet wool jackets when we arrived at school. Today few winter clothes are made of wool, having been replaced with all sorts of polyester fleece and down alternative fillings. But any readers of my age can easily summon the very particular smell of wet wool on a radiator. Not as unpleasant as wet dog, but equally distinct.

Sawdust as fuel for a furnace was fairly normal in the 1950’s in Oregon. Timber was the biggest industry, and sawdust from the lumber mills was abundant and cheap. Our odd school janitor took care of the furnace, surfacing only to clean up when a student “lost his lunch.” One day in fourth grade in fact, Jim stood up to start the Pledge of Allegiance and promptly was sick. The janitor hurried in and sprinkled the mess with—sawdust!

Coal, sawdust, oil, and natural gas have all been used to fuel furnaces throughout my life. But radiators have been a constant. Here’s to the smells of winter, not just of Christmas cookies and pine trees. Let’s pause a minute to remember wet wool drying on a radiator.

“Back At You”

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In the car we were all swapping retorts that we had learned at some point. I was most amused to learn that some that I learned sixty years ago were still in use among kids. Our joint list included:

  • “I know you are but what am I?”
  • “It takes one to know one.”
  • “So funny I forgot to laugh so I think I will now…Hardee har har”
  • “A skunk smells its own stink first.”

What I enjoyed most was that none of these were particularly cruel, malicious or shaming. Rather they turned the insult back on the one giving it. I welcome any mild examples to add to our very short list. But these have clearly stood the test of time.

 

“Learning to Share”

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Wherever we have worshiped, each Christmas there is an opportunity to share by giving to others. At one church we purchased and wrapped gifts for children of men and women in prison. A volunteer had received a specific request from each parent for each child, and the child who received the present got a card from the parent, not the church purchaser. I loved being the facilitator for this gift exchange while remaining anonymous.

This year, as in the years we have attended this church, a Christmas tree is hung with gift tags, three of which are pictured above. Each tag has a specific request for an individual person. Codes on the cards allow us to know if the recipient is in a shelter, in a hospital, is a refugee learning English, or is in a tutoring program. We learn the age and wish of each person and can choose cards that connect with us somehow.

My grandchildren have purchased gifts with me for the past several years. This year I chose cards requesting a pair of dressy boots for a 18 year old girl, a jacket for an 11 year old boy and a coat and pants for an 18 month old girl. My granddaughter informed me that none of the boots were fashionable, so we will have to find another store. My grandson picked an ideal jacket for a boy nearly his age, and assured me that it was “in style.” Together my granddaughter and I picked an “aw,so cute!!!” outfit for the toddler.

We will wrap these gifts and deliver them to church where they will join hundreds of others. I am thankful for all the effort that has gone into this ministry, and I am grateful that my family gets to gift others as we have been so richly gifted.

“In Due Time”

28D7F1D9-F842-47EA-BD79-E43470A656EAI have read each of Allen Eskens books, and I as pleased to find his newest, Nothing More Dangerous, at the library this week. The book makes a significant departure from his earlier books; it’s less a mystery and more a coming of age story with mystery elements.

Intrigued by this change, I returned to the author’s note at the start of the book. Here Eskens had written: “I began this novel in 1991 as a way to explore my own failings regarding notions of prejudice and racism. The characters and story line intrigued me, and I worked on the novel for twenty years before setting it aside. It wasn’t ready, and I knew it.”

I found this honesty refreshing and encouraging. Years ago a winemaker had a slogan “we will sell no wine before its time.” Eskens was echoing the sentiment as he discussed his writing. Too often I have started to write a long essay and realized that I was not ready. I have often attributed this to many factors including writer’s block, lack of discipline and various other self-condemning terms. I had never thought to have the compassionate approach to the task that Eskens stated here.

I will remain open to the wisdom that there is a due time for each piece of writing. I needed that concept and I will try to remember it the next time the gremlins of self-criticism descend.

“Snowbirds”

BC8EDBC2-EF40-4A72-8636-8176EB152EFA.jpegEach winter numbers of Connecticut residents head south to Florida for the winter avoiding the snow and ice. On the other coast Oregon residents flee to Arizona for the winter to get out of the relentless dark cold rain. Each group is known as “snowbirds.” Here we are visited by snowbirds of a different sort. In the last couple of weeks one of my favorite birds, the dark-eyed juncos, arrived for the winter. Apparently we are enough warmer than the Arctic to entice them south. They don’t like to pose for photographs, but I managed to catch one in the middle of picking through the discarded seeds from the feeders. Mourning doves and juncos love to eat on the ground, and the sparrows and finches leave plenty of uneaten bits for them.

Fortunately I filled the feeders before the “light dusting” of snow turned into seven inches on Monday. We have been visited by goldfinches, sparrows, nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, mourning doves and these lovely juncos. They seem to get along all right, though I noticed everyone scattered when the blue jay arrived.

Meanwhile the squirrels are having planning meetings, sharing their tips for getting seed out of “squirrel-proof” feeders. Yesterday I watched one try to figure a way to prevent the weight sensitive device from preventing his reaching the seed. In the end, he lay on top of the feeder, rested just a bit of his head on the perch and scooped out seed with one paw. He had outwitted another feeder. Well at least I am keeping the feeder manufacturers in business!

“Reviewing Books”

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Here I am sitting on an outdoor throne reading a book and contemplating my review. It looks as if the book is passing muster and I will recommend it to other three year olds. I occasionally receive advance reader’s copies of books and write reviews about them. Reviewing books challenges any writer to try to be fair, concise, and to not spoil the book for the reader by divulging too many plot details. Similarly it helps if enough details are provided to let the reader decide for herself whether the book looks worth reading. A totally scathing review, too colored by the viewpoint of the critic, can make that decision difficult.

I had finished reading the 2019 Frank Lloyd Wright biography, Plagued By Fire by Paul Hendrickson last week. That had led me to explore the Oak Park neighborhood where he lived and realize he was  my grandmother’ neighbor. The book was reviewed in yesterday’s  New York Times book section and I was eager to see the critic’s view on the book. The same aspects of the writing that I had enjoyed were roundly panned by the reviewer. The complexity I found showing that Wright was, like the rest of us, sometimes a cad and sometimes empathic, was disregarded. Instead the reviewer believed the entire book was an attempt to redeem Lloyd’s reputation by showing him to be compassionate.

The book is very long and takes many–to me–delightful side tracks as it unfolds. Those same discursive sections were seen as unnecessary, while I found them enlightening. In the end, I was glad that I had already finished the book. It’s possible that the review would have kept me away from it. I was reminded that I should take all reviews with more than a grain of salt. I need to let reviews alert me to books I might otherwise miss, but I shouldn’t let them keep me from books altogether.

“First Snowflakes”

Many of you get to see it snowing on a regular basis, but some of you live where it never or rarely comes down. You can enjoy 10 seconds of snow on video. Today, on the first of December, we are having our first dusting. Despite the hysteria about Thanksgiving travel, people should be able to return to New England homes with little difficulty.

The snowblower has gas. The refrigerator holds milk. I can always bake bread. A lovely evening at home waiting to see how much or how little snow actually falls tonight.