Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Return of Brunhilde


There is one four-letter word that I have begun to loathe. I was never fond of it anyway, but in the last weeks I have grown to dislike it even more. The word is WAIT.

Even its letters spell trouble: W for wasted time, A for anxiety, I for growing irritability and, I am afraid, T for temper tantrums. Yes, it has been known to provoke those, too.

Of course I agree that there are pleasurable interpretations of the word. Children wait with anticipation for Christmas, and for other celebratory occasions. The birth of a baby is something for which we willingly, joyously wait (though perhaps not so much the mother in her 9th month plus two weeks). But wait has a difficult time proving itself to me. It reminds me of interminable hours at the airport awaiting delayed or cancelled planes. It evokes memories of  lengthy waits at the dentist, the doctor and, worst of all… the DMV. And how could I forget the long hours—hours of clenched teeth and spiking blood pressure— spent waiting in vain for the repairman!

The sun shines brightly

The birds are singing with joy…

While I sit and fume!

Freely do I admit that patience is a virtue and that it is the least of my small store of virtues. And any tiny amount of patience I possess has run thin and jangly these days, for Brunhilde has returned! Anyone unfortunate enough to meet Brunhilde can never forget the large pothole that has reappeared at the end of our street. She began as a modest depression in the asphalt, and since no one checked her progress, she took courage and expanded. Now the thing is a good two feet in diameter and several inches deep. Since she  is usually camouflaged by water or by dead leaves, Brunhilde gleefully dispenses  flat tires, unhappy transitions, and injuries to unwary pedestrians.

We  took action! As soon as Brunhilde  began her career, we telephoned the  DPW. A very nice lady there promised us that our problem would be dealt with. We believed. We had faith.

A week went by—two—then, three. Yesterday a telephone call left on the answering machine informed us that we had appealed to the wrong people. “We aren’t responsible for your road,” the voice informed us. “If you need service,” said the disembodied voice on the other end of the line, “You need to call this number.”

We phoned and were put on hold so that a cheery voice could ask us to please wait because our call was very important to them. When, after several tries and untold hours of waiting we were connected to an actual person, he explained why our original request had gone awry. “You called the city office,” we were told.  “You don’t belong to the city.” Ah… say what? “Your area is part of the state and  serviced by the state. Didn’t you know that?” A pause. “I’ll put you on the list.”

We didn’t dare ask how long the list was, but one thing’s certain….it’s going to require a wait. Brunhilde is pretty happy about it.

Gingerly we tread

Around the cavernous maw

Of huge Brunhilde.



The Hawk Returns


The hush around the bird feeder should have alerted me, but I am trapped in my own thoughts this morning and notice nothing until I see the sweeping darkness of the hawk’s great wings.

Now he sits there in the oak tree, careless in all his arrogant beauty,  brown and gold plumage glistening in the sunlight.  Negligently he preens himself while the world around him holds its breath.

I stand in my silent kitchen and gaze out at the predator who is surveying his kingdom. He has not returned to my garden for more than six months. How odd, I think, that he should come today. I haven’t slept well, and the dream that awakened me at four this morning still haunts. So do the worries which, on the heels of that dream, wormed their way into my thoughts. Worries usually pushed aside during the busy daylight hours—some have relevance, many not. Some are about things I need to do, others about tasks left too long undone. And some—the worst—are nameless, shapeless shadows that whisper, “What if…?” and cling even to my waking mind.

Sibilant whispers

Ask questions without answers

In the silent night.

And now… the hawk is here. A few moments ago the bird feeders were bursting with color and movement and song. Now the only sound comes from dead, rustling leaves on the ground. And in that silence, the hawk watches… and waits.

Just so come the night worries. Out of nowhere on dark wings they swoop down and render silent all the goodness and happiness in our lives. I watch the bird of prey knowing how it feels to be cowering under the leaves or in the fragile shelter of the trees, afraid and waiting.

The hawk is waiting, too. He has stopped preening and is turning his head slowly, scanning. The small hidden creatures hold their breath, and I do, too. Then I see the sudden sharp turn of the head, the fixed stare. The hawk has found his prey.

And he strikes! Swooping down into the dead leaves he pounces. Gripe, gripe, go those deadly talons, and there is a rustling commotion. Then he flies away with his victim tight clenched. I know that it is the law of nature, I understand that hawks, too, needed to eat, and yet my heart aches for the wretched, doomed creature.

The hawk settles nearby and begins to hit one talon against the hardness of the branch. In that talon he holds, I know, some small creature that had been hidden in the leaves. I want to turn away from the window but can’t move.

For I, too, am caught

In great talons of fear

Wishing to escape.

And then the hawk’s talon open, and a drift of dead leaves shower down. He really hasn’t caught anything! The predator has missed!

I’m relieved. I feel suddenly lighter, as if all my worries are sloughing off like unwanted skin. They are only shadows, after all, born of darkness, unsubstantial, unreal. They have no power over me unless I give them power. Meanwhile, the hawk sits there shaking leaves from his talon.

And then, with a lift of wings, the great raptor flies, and it is as if he is carrying away with him all the worries of the night.

How bright the sunshine

Now that the shadow has gone

And the world is whole.

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Replenishing That Inner Fire


There’s a poster with a wonderful quote by Albert Schweitzer. “In everyone’s life,” it says, “at some point our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being, We should be grateful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

There really are people who are filled with so much warmth and vitality that it flows out to enfold any they meet. How fortunate I was to know one such bright and beautiful lady long ago in Sharon, Massachusetts. To be near Tina was to be filled with her enthusiasm, to laugh with her over her comical misadventures, and to leave her company enthralled, exalted, and full of new thoughts. She had traveled the world, and her home was filled with all she had collected—not expensive antiques or art treasures, but things that meant much more. A clumsy little tripod made of sticks sold to her by a ragged urchin in South America now held aloft a lovely bowl fashioned by an old lady in Mexico. A small brass bell  had  hung in China and was given to her by a schoolboy on her visit there—long before those borders were opened to the West. So many stories…

And as she told them

I felt as if I had met

All the world as friends.

We have all met someone like Tina. Perhaps there is a truly special editor, a colleague with whom to brainstorm and share, and friends whose presence is exciting and exhilarating or simply as warm and as comforting as sunshine. But there are other ways to rekindle that inner spark. A visit to a school is one such way—I always come away renewed by the kinetic energy of young people and with ears full of new dialogue and such possibilities!

There are museums where paintings offer color, movement, and beauty, but more inspiring for me is the work of people I know.  I have a photographer friend who rises before dawn to catch the right light, who patiently waits for the absolutely perfect moment, and then! When I stand in front of Martha’s photographs, I feel the cool the iridescence of a dewdrop or feel the flutter-beat of a wildfowl’s wings. And I understand what Blake meant when he spoke of heaven in a wildflower and eternity in a grain of sand.

And if all else fails, there is always the sure-fire remedy of the natural world. Quenched, banked or dulled into cold ashes, the flame within has no chance against a spectacular sunset that paints the sky in crimson and gold. A walk along the beach has its own magic, for with the sound of waves and sea-birds and the gift of shells scattered on the sand, there comes a peaceful rhythm like another heartbeat, a rhythm that allows thoughts and dreams to mingle into something new. These are so many treasures around us free for the taking. Only this morning as I clambered up Everest (who seems a bit tamer these days), I saw how a pine tree spread its dark fingers wide, and how from each slender needle bright raindrops sparkled. And then—and then I saw that the branch tips of a tree in my own garden were showing red—a sign that in some weeks Spring would come. Certainly, there would be winter yet and cold and frost and maybe even snow, but spring would surely come with all her riches!

New shoots on branches

Long bare and winter barren…

My spirit dances!



There’s Something about a Quilt


Perhaps you have a beloved quilt that reminds you of a grandmother, an aunt, or a wonderful event in your life?  My friend Linda Anderson says that the best Christmas present she ever received was the hand made quilt her husband gave her.  One of my nicest surprises last year came in the form of an e-letter with photos of three children perched on crib quilts. They had outgrown the quilts, the letter-writer told me, but they still loved them. “They are,” she said, “an important part of their childhood.”

So what makes quilts—and doesn’t the word itself flow mellifluously from the tongue—so special? Perhaps, it is their composition, the way they can offer warmth and comfort.  Perhaps they convey the message that as each piece of fabric finds its place, a quilter sews into her (or his!) work thoughts and hopes; the love for a grandchild, a wish for a sick friend’s recovery, a celebration of weddings and anniversaries and glorious vacations, or a memorial quilt which is made with sorrow for a loved one and a heartfelt appreciation of that beloved life.

Quilts come into being for warmth and also for beauty, and nowadays there are art quilts and crib quilts, prayer quilts and quilts made especially for our wounded soldiers.  There are quilts for special causes—just think of the Aids quilt which now has 48,000 hand-sewn panels within it! Quilts, too, have been created to commemorate loved ones in the grip of Alzheimer’s disease, and these beautiful, heartbreaking works of art convey both love and a great loss.

Quilts are also presented to nursing homes or hospitals and emergency wards for sick children or for premature babies. I vividly remember the young mother who once stood before our guild with her beautiful, healthy child—and a quilt. This quilt, she told us, had been given to her when her daughter was so prematurely born that it was feared she would not survive. The quilt comforted the mother during those dark days, and the thought that strangers cared enough to give her this gift gave her courage and hope.

Isn’t that a wonderful story? But sometimes an event so catastrophic occurs, and the quilter can only express her emotions with fabric. Many such were created to commemorate and mourn 911 and to somehow reach from desolation to hope. For me, personally, there was a journey to Japan shortly after the terrible Kansai earthquake of 1995. Dispossessed by the earthquake as were so many thousands of others, my Aunt Juliette was in her nineties and for many reasons could not come with us to the States. In the pleasant and caring nursing home where she now lived, she was ailing and not expected to live long.

This was the aunt who had taught me to sew, to embroider, to observe with mind and spirit the glory of the natural world. I was here to bid her a final good bye, and to say that I was broken hearted doesn’t even begin to touch what I felt. Afterwards I took a solitary walk through the town, hardly seeing where I was going until I found myself in front of a Quilt Store.

Perhaps it was habit that led me inside. There, the pleasant store owner greeted me, and for want of something to say I admired the huge, dramatic quilt she had hung on the wall. Worked in darkest grays, purples and blacks, it was scored with crimson slashes and appliquéd with silk teardrops. With tears in her eyes she explained that after the great earthquake she had been so disconsolate that she had had to create something… and so this quilt came to be. We spoke quietly together of our own quilts, of sorrow and loss, and I told her some part of the reason why I was in Japan.

When she heard that we were flying home on the morrow, she stopped me.  “You have come such a long, sad way,” she said. “Now I want you to take something home with you, something I have been working on.” She went into the back room and emerged with a bundle of cloth. I offered to pay, but she smiled and shook her head. “No, No,” she said. “It’s something from quilter to quilter. Maybe when you look at it you will smile and remember your Aunty.”

I carried the bundle back to our hotel and, spreading it on the bed, found that it was a cotton kimono in prime condition. Later I found that it very old, dating back at least a hundred years .

It hangs on my sewing room wall now, a reminder that we do not prize quilts  only for their beauty or for their skill or artistry but for that ineffable something that creates a bond of caring and love between those who give and those who receive, between friends and strangers alike.

The hand that stitches

A beloved offering

Gives more than mere cloth.

Partial view of the kimono


New Year Traditions… and Sneaky Salad


Happy New Year—and I hope that it will be a happy year for all.

Celebrations around the world express this wish along with a huge dash of optimism. Of course, not everyone greets the New Year on the first of January, for many nations turn their calendars around in February, April or October. Among those who do welcome the New Year on the first of January, though, customs show that hopes for wealth and comfort abound. If we were in Portugal, we’d eat twelve grapes as the clock struck midnight—thus ensuring good luck during the next twelve months. In Switzerland, so I’m told, we’d lay down a dab of cream on the floor to beckon abundance. In Brazil, we’d snack on rice and lentils—signifying wealth—on the first of January. Should we be a Belgian farmer, we’d thank our animals for the coming year’s blessing. And since we are in North Carolina, we would make haste to eat black eyed peas and collards—sure signals that the wealth of the world would this year be ours!

When I was growing up in Japan, Oshogatsu was a very big deal. Not much partying was to be had on the 31st of December because everybody was busy cleaning and cooking yummy dishes for the morrow. Later, when I went to bed at night, I could hear  temple bells all over the country ringing in the brand new year. The far off bells would sound so faint that I could hardly hear it, but even from a distance the great bell of Tennoji boomed out a deep baritone. I would drift off to sleep listening to these sonorous sounds.

On New Year’s day, Japan emphases family and good food including toshikoshi soba, a dish of noodles which traditionally augurs long life and literally means ‘crossing over the year.’ There are also many traditions to observe. When I was growing up, I was informed that the first dream of the New Year was an indication of how the year would go, and that in fact every day of the first week in January offered portents that signified a good, a mediocre, or a  not so terrific year. I must admit that none of these signs and omens were any use to me since nothing ever came true, but they were fun to play with.

One good custom we have kept is celebrating our New Year’s day with our family, and I always serve toshikoshi soba. But when I tried to honor the traditions of our southern home, I ran into difficulties. The collards were  greeted with a lack of enthusiasm ranging from the polite, “Not right now, thanks,” to the less socially correct, “What the heck is this stuff?” and the grandchildren eyed the black eyed peas with suspicion.

Not one to be discouraged, this year I invented Sneaky Salad which is served with a distinctive Asian dressing.

Sneaky Salad (serves 6—9)


Scant ¼ cup olive oil

Two teaspoons soy sauce*

Three tsp. sugar

Three tsp rice vinegar

Chopped ginger (optional)

Chopped cloves of garlic (very optional)

Salad fixings:

Sliced thin: a cucumber, a carrot, several lettuce leaves, radishes

Three or four tender collard leaves sliced VERY (very) thin

Handful of black eyed peas

  • Don’t use soy sauce if diners have celiac disease.

Let dressing sit overnight or, if in a hurry, warm in micro for 30 minutes to

mix flavors. A short while before serving mix everything together and let the whole thing catch its breath for another half hour.

This concoction I presented this year in pretty bowls and…yes? really? aha!

Perhaps Sneaky Salad may yet become a new tradition.

Through many long years

            I remember loved faces

            And joyous laughter.