By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

I rarely venture into political territory in my posts, but I asked my friend, Helen Delaney, for permission to repost her recent blog.  Her family history is exactly the immigrant diversity we want and need in our country. I, too, thought there was a sea change when Obama was elected. I also wept with joy at what we thought was a healing in out country. Our current president has given permission for hate and bigotry and I am saddened that  there are still many who embrace those darker angels of our nature.

This is Helen’s post. She titled it Unfriend Me, Unfollow Me.

“Just three days ago, a friend asked me why I stopped writing my blog. One of the reasons, I told him, was that I just didn’t believe in talking unless I had something to say. I told him that I had run out of things to say, and that I just couldn’t bore my friends for the sake of maintaining a blog. Besides, I wanted to turn my energy toward my second book. That was three days ago. That was before my ancestors came into my consciousness and nudged me in their ever-so-gentle way. The way spirits do.

I have never expressed my personal political views on this blog or any public media outlet because I saw no value in it. My position was that people will believe what they want to believe, and that my political views, no matter what they were, would attract anonymous, angry people with nothing better to do than to sling mud from behind the safety of their darkened rooms and backlit computer screens.  I don’t enjoy conflict, online or off, and so I kept my views to myself. But now, I’m done. I’m done, because I am here, alive in my body, in this country, on this tortured night, representing my ancestors.

Let me introduce them: My maternal grandmother: Her name was Sarah. Her father was German, her mother African American. Her husband’s mother, my great grandmother: Her name was Elizabeth, and she came to this country from Syria. I’m sure that wasn’t her name when she stepped up to the immigration official to be registered. Then, there is my paternal grandfather. His name was Edward and he was all or part Native American. Cherokee. His wife, Helen, came from a family of Irish indentured slaves. My parents were the “mixed blood” children of those I have named. They lived in South Carolina before and at the turn of the last century. In this country, they were all either indentured whites (in our case dis-owned by their families), or Negroes. I’ve seen the census reports.

I cannot imagine the bravery, courage, or the depth and breadth of love it must have taken for them to raise families of seven, eight children. Or just to stay alive. I also represent their children, uncles who fought in both World Wars, my father, who wore a policeman’s badge in Philadelphia for 35 years, a man of color who could not rise in the ranks but who nevertheless served and protected all the citizens of that city, my mother, who broke ranks with her family to come North with my father so that I and my brothers could live a life that was free of harassment, degradation, fear, and sorrow. Or so they thought.

When a black man was elected President of the United States, my husband and I sat before the television set and watched Barack Obama and his family write a chapter in history unlike any before it, except, perhaps, the one written by Abraham Lincoln.  At last, I told my husband, the tears running down my face, our country has become what it said it would. It has marched steadily toward its own ideals. It has kept its promise. My husband, who was Irish American, nodded, tears blinding his own eyes. We were proud of our country. We were proud that the idea of freedom, that the experiment in equality, the stumbling, difficult climb into a true democracy, and the repudiation of all things indecent, had made us the most powerful, important nation on the planet. We were not to know, on that night, that it was only a moment in time.

We have taken a step backward to a place my ancestors would recognize. My tears tonight are ones of grief. I am not proud. I am ashamed. I am ashamed that I must accept sympathy from my friends around the world. I am ashamed that our doors are slamming shut against people like my ancestors, and that all sense of generosity, compassion, and conscience seem to be absent from the hearts of those who could make it different. I am ashamed that once again, my ancestors are the subjects of hate and derision. No wonder they won’t let me alone.

And now, I’m done. I can no longer be quiet. I speak for those who came before me, those who gave me life, and for my children and my grandchildren. Today and ever after, I disavow the indecent, hateful bigotry that is despoiling my country and the man who is the face and the voice of it.

And I say to you, whoever may be reading this blog – if, after what has happened in the past two days, indeed in the past year, you can still support the man in the White House, his ideas, his language, and behavior, you support everything I, as an American, as an African American, as an Irish American, as a German American, as the great granddaughter of a Syrian woman, and the granddaughter of a Native American man, abhor, and I ask you to unfollow me. If you are a “friend” on Facebook, I ask you to unfriend me now.

This is the time to take a stand. It is time to speak clearly. No more excuses, no more mealy-mouthed explanations. No more burying heads in the sand. It’s over. The President of the United States is a racist. I repudiate that hateful concept, and I repudiate him.

Matthew said it: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Choose your camp.”

When It’s Too Cold to Go Outside

We’ve had some really cold weather lately. Much colder than normal for the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The kind of cold that required dripping the pipes at night. The kind of cold that makes going outside for any reason painful. The temperatures are supposed to moderate for the next few days and some predicted precipitation will be rain instead of snow.

My husband builds a fire in the fireplace every night.  On these very cold days we light it around 3:30 in the afternoon. By that point I’m ready to leave my office and sit and knit and watch something mindless on TV. Thank you Amazon (The White Queen) and Netflix (Hart of Dixie).

I’ve blogged before that I knit sweaters for kids using the Guideposts Knit for Kids pattern. I love the mindless knitting but hate sewing the front and back together. So my friend Mary Ann Hillier volunteered to sew up five sweaters that had been in a bag for a year. Only a good friend would do that for you. Once before I had a friend who got a bag of sweaters to sew for me. Soon after they moved away and I never heard from her again. That won’t happen with Mary Ann. She’s a member of our What-we-just-finished -reading Book Club and will be a beta reader for my third novel.

Mary Ann is a generous soul. She started a non-profit to supply backpacks full of school supplies to underfunded schools in Mississippi. Their mission: Paper and Pencils, Inc. is a non-profit organization providing school supplies to children in the Mississippi Delta because we believe education is the one true way out of poverty. Learn more about Paper and Pencils.  You might be motivated to make a donation.

A couple of times my husband and I have helped Mary Ann fill the backpacks and prepare them for shipping. When I think of the advantages our four children had, it just doesn’t seem fair.  These Mississippi kids don’t have the basics, so Mary Ann’s non-profit gets a check every year. I wish it could be more.

But, back to knitting. It seems I never have quite enough yarn for one of these Knit for Kids sweaters (they can be knit in various sizes), so many are often striped or color blocked, using leftover bits of yarn. Yarn that people give me or I find at thrift stores. Because I had bags of yarn in various places in the house, I had to pull everything out to try to find what I needed every time I wanted to start a new sweater. It took time away from mindless television watching.

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That led me to think about organizing my yarn stash by color families which led to a trip to Lowe’s for plastic bins. In one of the closets I found a box of art supplies that had been put there when we moved into this house eleven years ago. The art supplies belonged to my mother. Bottles of Acrylic Polymer Medium. Does that stuff go bad? I emailed an artist friend to see if she could use it. An upright vacuum cleaner that I never use will go to the thrift shop. And three slender black metal poles that have threaded ends. I have no idea what they could possibly be. I suppose since they have been at the back of that closet for eleven years, they can go in the trash. Or, perhaps I will move them to the garage. They might be good garden poles.

My yarn goal is to use up what I have before I buy more. If you’re interested in knitting sweaters to keep children warm, here’s the link to more information.and patterns.

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If it had been warmer this week I might have spent some time in the garage inventorying leftover seeds. Maybe next week. The seed catalogues are arriving daily.

 

In the Rearview Mirror

We had a postponed Christmas dinner last night with Laura and her family.

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It was lovely. We toasted with blue champagne, had oysters and shrimp from the grill, country ham on country biscuits and my excellent curried cheese ball while we stood and chatted in Laura’s kitchen.

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I don’t know where Laura was in this photo. On the far right hand side, I think, behind her husband in the Santa hat. Then we made room for tenderloin, potatoes and fresh asparagus sitting at the beautiful dining room table. Laura loves to make a festive table.

I made the desserts. Two Key lime pies at Laura’s request and an apple pie. And because I had eight egg whites left from making the Key lime pies, I made chocolate espresso meringues. I don’t have a pastry bag so dropped the whipped mixture from spoons. They were beautiful and delicious.

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I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I suppose I used to and they always seemed to be about losing weight. But 2017 was a year when I made a concious decision to step away from many volunteer activities. 2018 is going to be a significant birthday for me and I have a third novel to finish. It’s been marinating in my brain for ten years. That’s long enough. I’m getting close to the end of the first draft, but some of my characters seem intent on following roads I didn’t see, and I have to take the time to see what they want to do. They usually turn out to be right.

I suppose part of my decision in 2017 was because of volunteer fatigue. People come to assume that you will keep doing what you’ve always done. But I knew I was putting my own projects on hold and I didn’t want to do that anymore. The other thing is that I am making enjoyment a priority. If I raise my hand to volunteer, is it something I’ll enjoy doing? There are a lot of things in life that just have to be done, but I want to enjoy the things I choose to do.

Writing is one of those things. I find writing to often be an unconcious process. I get centered at my computer, sometimes using a dowsing crystal to help open my brain to the “movie” of my book. Then I write what I see. My friend, Helen, says I’m channeling and I won’t go quite that far. But I do enjoy the process!

In March of 2018 the Bay to Ocean Writing Conference will happen without me being part of the planning. For the past ten years I’ve been on the planning committee doing a variety of year-long tasks. By the time we’d get to conference day I was too tired to attend sessions. In 2018 I will enjoy attending.

Eastern Shore Writers Association is also going on without me. I’ll just be a paid member. Those almost daily hours spent keeping track of membership are now spent writing. I found some membership software to take over for me and the board agreed to the change. It was time that the organization moved in that direction and I gave them a push.

I stepped aside from my role as co-chair of Green Thumb, the St. Michaels Woman’s Club gardening interest group. It was time for new ideas, and there have been some splendid ones.

I did raise my hand to help at the St. Michaels Farmers Market last summer but it was just for an hour or so on Saturdays and an hour to send out a weekly market update. The market is undergoing a restructuring. I don’t know if I’ll raise my hand in 2018. I want to see what’s going to happen to the market before I volunteer.

And last year I was still involved in the organization of the St. Michaels Community Garden. A friend and I have been sharing the responsibilities for about five years. It’s time to pass the torch. We sent out an email asking for volunteers and got radio silence. The next step is to itemize what we do and send that out. Maybe if people see the discrete chunks, some will raise their hands. If people want a community garden it will survive.

I’ll stay connected with my Working Writers Forum. They’ve been reading what I’m working on for eleven years, and they always give me good advice.

Laura and I are hard at work for the Christmas play we’ve been commissioned to write for The Merlin Players in Faribault, Minnesota.  Collaborating with Laura is a priority for me. We both enjoy the process. It’s FUN!

It is now a little after 8 o’clock in the morning on the first day of 2018 and I’ve been up for several hours. I am at my desk and have just pulled up the file of my novel. I can’t wait to see where the story goes this morning.

I’m going to enjoy 2018. #enjoymylife

 

 

 

Working My Way toward Christmas

On Sunday Carpe Diem Arts* (in conjuction with the St. Michaels Community Center) presented A Winter’s Eve of Revelry at the St. Michaels High School auditorium and my younger brother, Ross, and his wife, Linda, performed a Scandinavian dance.

I’d made Ross and Linda a batch of Mala’s Crack Pecans and Walnuts but forgot to take them to the school. My husband went back to get them while Ross told me this story when I asked him about the vest he was wearing.

The Stewart tartan made it’s way into Norwegian history this way. Apparently some Scots were hired as mercenaries to attack the Norwegians — probably by those dastardly Swedes. The wiley Norwegians caught them in a valley and rolled huge logs down the hills mowing them as flat as scythed wheat. The local women collected the fabric from the fallen and the Stewart tartan made it’s way into Norwegian history. Sounds like a plot line from The Vikings! (Ross, this is quite possibly a totally wrong version of what you told me. If so, correct the tale in a comment.)

Family lore on our mother’s side is that we are descended from Harald Fairhair, the king who unified Norway. He was also a total badass. He’s the one who brought his enemies to a peace confab, locked them in a log long house and set it on fire. The Fairhair dynasty includes Eric Bloodaxe, Halfdan the Black (father of Harald Fairhair) and Haakon the Good.  I’d like to think that I have more genes from Haakon the Good. The tv show, The Vikings mashes different historical events into the same time period. There is now a Harald in the cast of characters. I wonder when he will lock up his enemies and set them on fire.

Also performing at Sunday’s event were Grammy nominated Andrea Hoag who played the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and Meliss Running, one of a very few masters of the incredible nyckelharpa from Sweden. I had never seen this instrument before. There were Ukrainian and Balkan singers and dancers, all in traditional costume. People who keep these traditions alive are saving history in a very personal way. It was another step on our way toward Christmas.

We are staying home this year. It was our year to go to Montana, but our granddaughters are young adults with complicated lives. We decided to see them last May and not in December. Last year I sent them kransekakke form pans so they can carry on the tradition even if I’m not there.

The local shops and our small-town main street are festive with decorations. Attending Sunday’s concert got me humming the Carol of the Bells which originated as a Ukranian carol. My only attempt at decorating this year was putting lights on a potted tree on the deck and redoing arrangements on the mantelpiece. The photo was taken when we had snow the day of the St. Michaels Christmas parade. The tree is small, but we can see it outside while we sit by a warming fire.

Merry Christmas to all. May you connect with friends and family and be grateful for all your blessings. God Jul.

 

*Carpe Diem Arts is a non-profit organization founded by an Eastern Shore treasure, Busy Graham who lives just down the road in Royal Oak.Here’s what their website says about their mission.  “Carpe Diem Arts presents multi-generational and multi-cultural community events, concerts, summer arts camps, after-school programs, workshops and residencies, creating opportunities for all ages to participate in the visual, literary and performing arts, while also partnering with other arts and social service organizations to facilitate outreach to under-served audiences, positive youth development programs, and arts integration in education.  In addition to benefiting thousands of children and teachers, at-risk youth, special needs populations, families and seniors, Carpe Diem Arts supports the livelihood of master teaching and performing artists by providing meaningful and impactful work in our schools and communities.”

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Parade Memories

“Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!”

–Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

The Christmas’s I really remember are those from my childhood in South Bend, Indiana.  We moved there from Bryan, Texas when I was five. My father had left his teaching post at Texas A & M for a teaching position at Notre Dame. South Bend gave me my first experience of snow and all Christmas seasons ever after have needed snow. Even just the couple of inches we got last night transport me into the spirit of the season.

Young people today don’t realize that the Christmas season didn’t use to start until after Thanksgiving. And on Thanksgiving, in South Bend, it usually snowed. By the time we were finished with turkey and dressing, we were bundled up and took our sleds to the slopes of a nearby area the neighborhood kids called The Trails. It was where we played ball and hide and seek in the summer and built pirate forts year round. When it snowed, several small hills were perfect for our Radio Flyers. At least that’s the way I remember it. I can’t imagine it always snowed on Thanksgiving, but in my childhood recollections, it did. And that’s when the countdown to Christmas began.

It might not be correct that on Thanksgiving weekend there was a Christmas parade in downtown South Bend, but that’s the way I remember it.  Overnight Christmas displays appeared in store windows, and at our Swedish Lutheran church the children’s choir began practicing songs for the Christmas Eve service.  It was an eternal month of anticipation. Would Christmas never come?

Living in a small town brings back those memories. On Saturday we went to St. Michaels main street to watch the annual Christmas parade. Three small children next to us were bundled into blankets as they waited for the parade to begin. It was snowing and I remembered the wonder of being that age.

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What I don’t remember about past Christmas’s in the snow is my hands and feet turning to ice. On Saturday I was trying to take photos for my blog. My gloves got wet and by the time we left, my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them.  I wasn’t feeling joyful, I was freezing.  That’s me with my own Santa.

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The parade had everything. Marching bands, dogs,  floats, fire trucks and llamas. And because we live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, there were quite a few boats.

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We waited for Tom Campi, St. Michaels perennial Santa Claus, who had a special bay built into his garage for his sleigh. Tom is the inspiration for the Christmas play Laura Ambler and I wrote. The year it premiered at the Avalon Theatre, Laura and I walked in the St. Michaels Christmas Parade with some of the cast. It wasn’t as cold given how people are dressed and it wasn’t snowing.

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Apparently Tom’s Santa Claus was the last float in Saturday’s parade but we were standing much further down the parade route and thought the parade had ended. Everyone left. Someone later told me there was a big gap in the parade before Santa’s float. I was worried that something had happened to Tom, but he was okay and spent the rest of the day with kids whispering Christmas wishes in his ear.

This is a photo from a previous year’s parade. This Santa is the real deal!

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After the parade, my husband and I went home to our own fire-side and thawed out.

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Shirley’s Magic Wreath Machine

As my blog readers know, I’ve been involved in planning meetings for the St. Michaels Woman’s Club garden group, Green Thumb. This year my task was to coordinate an annual wreath making event. Shirley Windsor of Seasonal Flowers comes to the St. Michaels Woman’s Club clubhouse with her magic wreath making machine and all participants go home with a beautiful wreath.

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Each year Laura Ambler, my writing partner,  allows me to cut greens from her property.  And each year she gets a wreath I make. I took this one to her office and she hung it on the front door. It would be way to big for my front door. Some years I make a big one and a smaller one for myself.

These wreaths take a lot of material and we all bring our own bags of greens. And we share. Each large wreath needs 18 bundles of greens (each with 10-12 stems). A small wreath takes 14. The ends of the bundles are wrapped with a rubber band. Each bundle is inserted between two prongs on the wreath frame and when Shirley presses on the foot lever, the two prongs are pushed flat over the end of the bundle. You can see the lever on the bottom of this photo. It’s really quite amazing. I found this company online with what looks like the guts of Shirley’s machine.

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The workshop is messy and we had put down tarps the day before. I had to be in Annapolis so my friend Carol and her husband Jim got all the tarps down and taped and the tables set up. I was so grateful for their help.

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Making bundles takes time, but everyone goes home with a wreath they can be proud of and every single one is different and beautiful.

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This was Leslye’s first wreath. Spectacular!

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Jennifer’s first wreath. She told me she was going to highlight the magnolia leaves with some gold paint. She was one of the last ones to get her bundles put on a frame and the rest of us were sweeping up and removing tarps around her. The clubhouse had to be left spotless as a crew setting up for the Christmas in St. Michaels’ Gingerbread House Contest was coming in early the follwing day. The preview party was Saturday night. There is lots to do in St. Michaels this time of year.

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Christmas in St. Michaels is in its 36th year and raises money for charities in the Bay Hundred area. It’s a spectacular event and the result in a year-long planning effort. It starts next Saturday with the best small-town Christmas parade in America.

 

 

 

Mala’s Crack Pecans

These are supposed to be called Cinnamon Sugared Pecans, but they are totally addictive. I made a batch because I was supposed to take tossed salads to two events. I put the nuts I needed in two baggies, but there were delicious leftovers. I should have thrown them out or put them in the trunk of my car where they would be too much trouble to get to. There should be step meetings for these pecans.

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My husband got a few.

Then one of the dinner events was cancelled at the last minute. So that baggie came into play.  As I sat in my office I could hear them faintly calling my name. mala mala mala mala mala  You just have to answer after awhile.

The second dinner is tonight. I am exercising self-control. The pecans are safe for the moment. I have blueberries and sliced strawberries to go into this salad and a lovely, light lemon and honey dressing. It’s going to be delicious.

Here’s the recipe for Crack Pecans. These make lovely hostess gifts. Be advised that checking for crunch in the final stages is where the addiction begins. Consider yourself warned.

Mala’s Crack Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com where I made tweaks)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes

You can double this recipe you could keep the cinnamon sugar amounts the same. It’s plenty of sweet. If you do this, make it in two batches using two sheet pans. Four cups is just the right amount for one sheet pan.

I use sheet pans with a silpat liner.  You can also use parchment paper.The sheet pan has sides so the nuts don’t fall out.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is crucial to make them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky. They may need a little additional time in the oven. Just keep checking for crunch. I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add more salt as well.