Keeping warm

He got one nearly every Christmas. In our family, this was as predictable as the oyster stew, divinity, and rice mush my grandmother served on Christmas Eve.

It was always wool, with two pockets that buttoned, and it was always, always, plaid.

It is hard to shop for older men. What they really want – their youth…more strength… bones that don’t ache…money can’t buy. This is why they generally end up with Pendleton shirts on Christmas Eve.

A week before Christmas, their wives or daughters (because, let’s be honest, it’s always their wives or daughters) rush to the only clothing store left within sixty miles that still sells quality clothing for men and pick out a shirt. Then, they have it wrapped in heavy, foil paper and a plaid bow, go home, and place it beneath the tree.

The fact that my grandfather received a plaid shirt every Christmas became a running  joke with his grandchildren. Every year, as he opened the box he would look in our direction, eyes twinkling, and yell “Oh! A Pendleton shirt! How did you know? It is JUST what I needed!” then throw his head back and laugh as only he could. But he wore every one, and sometimes until there were holes in the sleeves at the elbows.

I remember my favorites. One was navy and deep forest green. Another was tan and teal. After decades without him, all the rest have faded from my memory but one.

I’m wearing that shirt right now.  It is a rich plaid of brown, gray, black, and red. There are patches on the elbows. I had the shirt tails cut off years ago because there were burn holes left from too many years of too many cigar and pipe ashes.

Each December, I take the shirt out and toss it over a turtleneck on the days when I need a little extra warmth and encouragement to get All the Things done. I remember how the wool scratched my cheek when I hugged him hard and how the smell of Old Spice and pipe tobacco lingered in the wool for at least a year after he wore the shirt for the last time.

The shirt that warmed him decades ago still warms his grand-daughter. Isn’t it amazing how long a good wool shirt can last? How long a memory does? And don’t even get me started on love. We’ll be here all day.

Remarkable, really, when you think about it.

How long some things last.



Parchment paper mothers

I had one job. One.

The Girl came home last weekend armed with a caramel recipe. She needed a bigger kitchen, all the ingredients, and possibly even a couple of days with her folks. Or maybe she was just hungry for a good caramel.

She has tried to get a decent one out of me her entire life.  Most of the time when she asks me if I can do something, my answer is, “Yes, I think I can do that.” For example, I learned how to do a ballet bun when she was five years old. And against my better judgment, I let her talk me into painting her bedroom the color of stomach flu medicine when she was ten. When she wanted a custom sewn prom dress, I drew it with colored pencils so the seamstress knew what we were talking about. Her first apartment is decorated with painted thrift store furniture and hand-stitched curtains that I made. She asks. I get to work. That’s how it has always been. That’s what moms do.

But when it comes to cooking, the six most dreaded words out of her mouth during the holidays are “We should try to make caramels.” This year, instead of asking, she took matters into her own hands. First, she bought a fancy candy thermometer. Then, she tested its accuracy. Who knew that testing a candy thermometer was a thing? Not me, obviously. Then, she got after me because I was not measuring the salt correctly and she made me do it over. She melted and dumped and stirred. The goo began to change color and the temperature began to rise. She stirred some more. The molten goo began to bubble dangerously close to the top of the pot. In horror, we watched as it burped once very loudly and began to overflow all over my cook top. At this point, I may have uttered a not very Christmas-y word or two as I transferred it to a larger pot. Grim-faced and resolute, the Girl continued to stir. She was going to get her caramels with or without me.

While she stirred, I prepared the pan in which to cool the goo. The recipe called for buttered parchment paper. I am not a parchment paper type of mother. In my 40 plus years of cooking and baking, not once have I ever looked into my pantry and thought, “Yikes! I am out of parchment paper! Better put it on the list!” If you are a parchment paper mother, good for you. I’ll bet you make great caramels, too, don’t you?

Trying to cool a batch of caramels on waxed paper instead of parchment paper is a really bad idea. When it comes to caramels, the only thing waxed paper is good for is wrapping the darned things. The next hour was spent surgically removing shreds and wisps of waxed paper from the bottom of the cooled slab. The good news is that despite the fact that her dopey, caramel challenged mother very nearly ruined the whole batch because she did not have parchment paper, the candy turned out perfectly.

She got her caramels. My stove top is cleaned up. We have decided that caramel making will be her job from now on. She will bring the parchment paper. I will just watch. Maybe if I’m good, she’ll let me lick the spoon.

Joy to the World.


I am currently tethered to an electrical outlet in order to write this piece because a week ago, my laptop battery gave up the ghost. This has thrown me into a tizzy because I am used to moving to the sofa in the living room to write.  There’s an outlet behind the sofa, but in order to get to it, I have to contort myself in ways I no longer contort very well. And so, until my new battery arrives, I’m stuck in my office near the closest wall outlet.

I am wondering if my iPad battery is going to be the next one to go because it sure seems to drain down awfully fast.  To charge that little technological time-waster, I need to plug it in.  If I want to use it while it’s charging, I have to dangle the top half of my body over the arm of the love seat because the cord is too darn short. This makes all the blood rush to my head and my eyes all wonky.

My phone battery is fine. However, since things always seem to go to pot in triplicate around here, I give it about a week. That’s just how it goes around here. Don’t ask me why. It’s a mystery.

In other news, I had lunch with a group of old friends today. We shared happy things and a few sad things, too. Mostly, we laughed and filled in the blanks for each other. There seem to be more blanks to fill in all the time. It is good to have friends. It is better to have old ones. Old friends know which blanks to fill.

In the two hours we visited, none of us checked our phones. Nobody wasted a single minute on Facebook. Other restaurant diners may have seen us and thought we were just a group of older women having lunch. They didn’t know that what we were really doing was re-charging. They could not know that when we said our goodbyes, our batteries were full.

The cord of friendship tethers us, one to the other.

It stretches, but never breaks.




They always say they want pumpkin. I fall for it every year. On Thanksgiving, as I served pie, my sweet sister was the ONLY one who wanted pumpkin. I should have sent the rest of it with her because the rest of the weekend I was a Pumpkin Pie Pusher.

The cookie pie was the first to go. It was delicious. This proves once again that I’m not always right when it comes to pie or much else in life. The pecan and blueberry are gone, too, so all that remains is the pumpkin. I ate a piece for breakfast. It was okay.

The kids went out for dinner on Friday. My partner and I put on our PJ’s and ate a pepperoni pizza. You can only push leftovers so many times before there’s a revolt. I saw the pained expressions when I offered up turkey and stuffing (and pumpkin pie) for meals. I happily ate turkey sandwiches while the others turned up their noses and stared longingly into the fridge hoping for, oh, I don’t know…maybe a Thanksgiving miracle? Someone should really produce a turkey the size of Cornish game hen. Single size turkeys would be just the ticket.

It’s hard to be the only person in the family who truly doesn’t care what she eats.

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. The kids, too. The house is quiet and the turkey carcass is boiling on the stove. If I’m smart, I will get a Christmas tree this week while the weather is still nice. If real trees are your thing and you’re smart, so will you.  I missed having a big one last year more than I thought I would. Our two birds will be home again for Christmas and while they say they don’t care about things like big Christmas trees now that they’re grown, I have a hunch that there are some leftover memories of Christmases past that I can still tease out of them if I hang just the right ornaments and the house smells like cardamom and sugar cookies when they arrive. Maybe, just maybe, they can forget for just a bit that they are Adulting. I understand it is harder than they thought it was going to be. Really? I had no idea.

And so, Christmas is on the list.

Well that, and eating the rest of the pumpkin pie, of course.


Making room

So… I have this system. I make lists. Lots of them. You should see my office. Index cards everywhere.

Today, I am in manic list-making mode. Any Mom who has started with a clean kitchen and frozen turkey the weekend before Thanksgiving knows that a bird with all the trimmings doesn’t just magically make it to the table. A turkey is a commitment. It moves in five days in advance. Before the bird shows up, the first thing Moms have to do is make room.

And so, in preparation for Big Bird’s arrival, I am wildly tossing half-empty containers of leftovers and rearranging shelves for the rest of the ingredients I need to make some Thanksgiving magic.

After that, I’m making room for one more chair in the living room so that the cousins can waddle in pain from the dining room and flop down after they have stuffed themselves silly. I am also making room in both adult kids’ bedroom closets for a few extra hangers knowing full well that they will probably go unused all weekend. The trail of belongings will not bother me nearly as much as it used to. Orderly empty nests are highly overrated.

I will expand my great-aunt’s round oak table and add all the leaves for another Thanksgiving around it with the people I love. There will be room for the ones who prefer white meat over dark and the ones who like instant mashed potatoes better than real ones. There will be wine for the wine drinkers and sparkling cider for the others.

And there will be pie. Wild blueberry, for sure. A cream pie of some sort, too. There will be pumpkin and pecan, and a request for something called a “Cookie Pie” from the Girl’s Significant Other whose taste in women may be better than his taste in pies. I’ll be sure to let you know.

All I know for sure is that Moms always make room. In fridges and closets. At the table, in our living rooms, and in our hearts.

Especially there.

Happy Pie Day!


“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

-Willie Nelson

Three bald eagles hovering above a stand of spruce just west of Ball Club. I watched as the majestic birds swooped low to the ground before quickly changing course and gaining altitude like fighter jets. I remember a childhood when seeing even one bald eagle in the Chippewa was a rare treat. Now, they are everywhere. A little closer to Cass Lake, one fed on the carcass of a large, glassy-eyed doe sprawled on the side of road. The eagle kept to his meal without flinching as my car sped past.

Nineteen white tail deer in groups of two or three along a tree line between Lake George and the first entrance to Itasca State Park. That is the number I actually saw. I am wondering how many I missed. They looked unfazed as they pawed at dry tufts of grass, grazing in the November sun.

Eight huge, snow-white swans in a slough surrounded by fields full of corn stubble a few miles south. No skim of ice on the water yet so they will hang out a bit longer before making their way to wherever it is they will spend the winter. Can swans see their reflections, I wonder?

A cloud of geese near Detroit Lakes. Five wild turkeys wandering aimlessly as only wild turkeys can wander. Three rooster escapees with bright red combs who must have decided to take a chance and live a little on Highway 34.

Driving three hours between the woods and the prairie gets a little lonely sometimes.  I have made this trip more times than I can count  and know exactly how many miles it is between one highway and the next.  I know where it is safe to push the speed limit and where I am likely to get a ticket if my foot gets too heavy.  This time of year, I know that there are icy patches where the snow blows across the road from one field to the other  so I slow down and pay attention. I could practically make the trip with my eyes closed in May or even September.

But November trips are different.  November is the time for slowing down and counting things like blessings, certainly. Always blessings.

And in November, all the creatures, too.

So count, I do.


“You’d corner me in your conformity but even in dormancy i’m sleeping with enormity, stretching the belly of the earth & everything i was born to be.”
― Curtis Tyrone Jones

It will be dark by 4:30 this afternoon.  Yay.

There is supposed to be a logical reason for the time change. Personally, I have never heard one that actually made any sense to me. Where does that hour go during the months we curl inward like hedgehogs and put on another layer of clothes? Who decides when we get that hour of sunlight back?

My African violets seem to sense that it’s time to take a little snooze. This morning, when I gave them a drink, only one brave one was still showing off. Too soon, she will give up the ghost and spend her time wintering over with all her relations. The geranium in the dining room is still alive and when I brush past her, her pungent leaves remind me of warm, summer evenings.

The little Norfolk pine I had all but given up on last Spring seems to have a new lease on life after spending the summer outdoors in a planter with purple pansies for neighbors. She grew at least four inches and is putting out soft, light green, needles. My tiny tree will see another Christmas, after all. Thank goodness for evergreens in November.

I will celebrate my 58th birthday this week by counting my blessings. A really good man and the two spectacular people who call me Mom. A large, loving, slightly nuts, extended family that I hope to be able to discuss politics with again eventually. The dear, brave, beautiful friends who have always made me better than I would have been otherwise. Wool socks and down jackets and bifocals and strong coffee. The laugh lines around my eyes and two frown lines between them that my grandmother always warned me I’d get if I didn’t lighten up. The gray hair on my head that makes me appear to have lived long enough to know one or two things. All blessings.

And finally, a fat, sassy, little beagle who eats each meal and lives each day like it’s the last one she’s going to get. Who has the good sense to snuggle up to her humans when she’s cold and go to sleep when it’s dark.

A pup who pays no mind to time changes, wrinkles, or birthdays and just sees every day as a treat to be savored and embraced.