Five Reasons Why February Is Not So Bad

I just noticed my last post was commenting on how warm it was in December.  So much for that!  Now that it’s barely above zero where I live, it feels like a real February.  I’ve found Red_Heart___1.2011this a depressing month since my dad died in February many years ago.  But on this sub-zero Valentine’s Day, I decided there are reasons why February is a good month, too (in addition to my niece Judy’s birthday!)

  1. The days are finally starting to get longer.  When you have a long commute via car or train the late sunrises and early sunsets of winter in the north make each day a little grimmer.  I noticed last week that the sun was up before 7 a.m., hooray!  And the angle of the sun has changed, so there’s a pool of warm sunlight for the cat to lie in by late morning, and again in the afternoon on the other side of the condo.  So he’s happy, too.
  2. Some of us get a long weekend.  Not everyone gets Presidents Day as a holiday, but for those of us who do, it’s a welcome break in the long winter dreariness, without having to use a vacation day.  Any long weekend is a good thing, even if you don’t go anywhere special.
  3. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about romance.   I heard the other day that Valentine’s Day is the most popular day for pet adoption of the whole year!  That’s a great way to show what love really means, by giving a home to a homeless pet. Also, we can all show some love to the other people in our lives who aren’t romantic partners.  When I was younger I was sad if Valentine’s Day didn’t feature a date or a present, but now I like to think of all the kinds of love we give and get.  As the Beatles song says, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
  4. It’s a short month, and it’s almost March.  In the south, spring comes in March.  Up here, not so much–we still have another month of cold and potential snow.  But spring feels a lot closer than it did in December.  I’m dreaming of forsythia and crocuses…
  5. I can’t think of another reason.  But every good blogger knows that “five” and “seven” are magic numbers in blog post titles.  So use your creativity and make up your own fifth reason.  If it’s a good one, I’ll make it public.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Not Very Christmassy

Here  in New York it feels more like L.A., breaking 70 degrees on Christmas Eve!  I’m here instead of with my family because the unseasonable warmth caused thick fog yesterday, which made my flightchristmas-tree-la-quinta-re  be cancelled.  I will travel on Christmas Day instead, so all my plans are out of whack.

The good news is, my friends have stepped in so I won’t spend Christmas Eve alone.  I will see my family tomorrow.  But this unusual warmth reminds of all the places where it’s routinely warm at Christmas.  In Australia, it’s summertime; in Brazil, it never gets cold.  Even in L.A., winter tends to be rainy and gloomy only in January.

Did you know there’s a prelude to “White Christmas?” Irving Berlin wrote the song from the perspective of someone who’s not home for the holidays, and is homesick for a traditional Christmas.  Here’s how it reads:

The sun is shining, the grass is green, The orange and palm trees sway.
There’s never been such a day…in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it’s December, the twenty-fourth,…..
And I am longing to be up North.

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…

It’s the most melancholy of Christmas songs.  It kind of hits that sweet spot of sad, nostalgic, and lovely all at the same time.

So here’s wishing all of you a Merry Christmas, white or not.  May your days be merry and bright…

 

Cowboys in Tuscany

My latest post brought this one to mind. What a great trip that was!

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During the summer of 2001, eight of us friends rented a villa outside Panzano, Italy on a working farm.  The owners lived in the other wing of the house and grew grapes and olives.  They also kept a couple of  horses, Oskar and Luna, for riding. Our group enjoyed looking at the rolling hills,  watching the horses graze while we sat on the flagstone terrace as the sun set,  and talking until late at night under the stars.  The villa was our home base for a week while we explored Siena, Florence (Firenze), Montalcino, Montepulciano, and Panzano itself, which had charming restaurants and a renowned shoe-maker.  We also cooked a lot of our meals and went through a ridiculous amount of the local wine.

One day half the group went to San Gimignano to see the sights.  The rest of us decided to have a lazy day at the villa’s pool.  Sally had broken…

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A Taste of Italian Honey

Do you ever have one of those fits where you have to have something sweet, and there’s nothing in the house?  I try to keep temptation at bay by not buying cookies, candy, ice cream or other treats.  But every once in a while I get desperate, and that means a frantic search through the kitchen for something to satisfy the urge.

A couple of months ago I was rummaging in the cabinet and found a jar of honey which Imonte_oliveto_maggiore had forgotten about.  The label read, “Abbazia Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Monaci Benedettini Olivetani, Miele, Fioritura Prevalente.”  All of a sudden it came back to me.  I bought this jar of honey during a trip to Italy in the summer of 2001.  It had never been opened.  So I opened it and spread some on a piece of bread.  It had darkened a bit, but was not crystallized at all.  I took a bite.

I tasted flowers, and I saw the landscape–rugged, dry, ridges topped with cypress trees.  We were in the “badlands” south of Siena, and I remember feeling we were at a high elevation, even though it wasn’t that high above sea level.  The abbey was completed in the early 16th century, and it is still a monastery to this day.  There were beautiful, richly-colored frescoes which looked as if they had recently been restored.  Despite a few busloads of tourists, the cloisters were peaceful and calm.

A good-natured monk in a white habit was on duty in the gift shop.  They sold a a few things which they produced, like the honey, and I think I remember a few tacky religious souvenirs.    I bought the honey and carried it safely home in my carry-on bag, in those innocent days before 9/11.  When I tasted it 14 years later, I saw wildflowers blowing on those dry ridges and felt the peace of the place again.

Now if I can just stop eating the honey!  Nearly half the jar is gone.  And when it’s gone, the memory may go, too.

The Dog Days of Summer

These hot August days remind me of Chico, the dog we had when I was in college and for several years after.  Chico was a German shepherd mix that I brought home from Knoxville as a tiny puppy.  He lived in a shoe box under my bed in the dorm for a few days, until I

Best friend in college!  Ok, Sallie was too.
Best friend in college! Ok, Sallie was too.

could get him home to the farm.  Despite being so young he didn’t know how to eat food yet, he persevered and grew into a 100-pound dog (with much care from Mother and Daddy).

Although I was away most of the time at school, he seemed to never forget that I was the one who rescued him, and he was devoted to me.  That devotion was tested to the extreme when I tried to get a tan during the summer break.

Tanning was a bad idea from the word go.  I had dark hair, but was very pale and had light hazel eyes, sure signs of a skin cancer magnet.  However, nobody knew about those things back in the day, and every teenage girl had to have a tan.  I would “lay out” on a collapsible chaise lounge on the concrete walkway in front of our house on a hot day, covering myself in SPF8 Coppertone (the highest strength then!) and shaking water on from Mother’s sprinkle bottle to cool off.

Chico was determined to be as close to me as possible, so he would lie in the sun next to my chair, panting.  This made him miserable, so his next move was to get underneath the chair in the small patch of shade.  That made me miserable, having a big, hot dog sweating under the chair, so I made him move.  He retreated to the shade at the side of the house, panting until he cooled down some.  Then the cycle repeated until we were both too hot to bear it, and I went in the air-conditioned house.

To this day, when I hear the drone of cidadas (dry flies, we called them) and the hum of unit air conditioners, I’m carried back to the young, skinny me, resolutely turning pink in pursuit of fashion, and that oversized, black-and-tan German shepherd panting in the sun.  All he ever got out of it besides my company was Nehi Orange, which he learned to drink from the bottle.

The Name on the Diet Coke Bottle

For the second summer in a row, Coca-Cola is putting first names on bottles and cans of Diet Coke, Coke, the boy’s version of Diet Coke whose name I forget (black label), and that odd one with the green label (anybody remember New Coke?)  I’ve been amused by this ed-cc-sq 750xx900-506-0-26and noticing which names I get when I buy a bottle at my local pizza places.  I have yet to see my name, although shareacoke.com says it is in circulation, so to speak.

Most of the names I’ve seen are very millenial or younger, Ashleys and Justins and Maxes and Courtneys, etc.  But last week I saw one that really surprised me.  Everything old–really old–is new again, and I knew Jesse has been a popular name for a while.  Emma is back, Charlotte is back (as a baby princess), and I’m wondering if George will make a comeback now that little Prince George is on the scene.  The name that stopped me was Preston.

My uncle Preston was my dad’s youngest brother.  If he were living he would be over 90 now.   Uncle Preston didn’t farm, unlike most of his family, but owned a garage and worked as a mechanic.  Back in the day, the men would come and hang out at the garage, smoking cigarettes and drinking Cokes.  They had nicknames for each other and told stories about what they’d done and seen.

Beetle was named after Beetle Bailey because he had been in the Army.  A cousin was called Goat for reasons that weren’t clear to me as a child.  My aunt Eunice’s husband was called Tip.  Several went by their initials, a grand old Southern tradition, so I had cousins known as W. P. and W. C.  I have to look them up in another cousin’s geneaology book to find out what their full names were.

It was at Uncle Preston’s garage that Daddy fell off a truck he was working on, and broke his arm.  In the winter it was a cozy hangout despite its concrete walls and floor and tin roof because the wood-burning stove was always fired up.  Winters could be lonely in the country, so the men were happy to have somewhere they could go and gossip besides the country store.

I can see Uncle Preston now and hear Aunt Mary Emma shrieking out the kitchen door, “PRESTOOOON!  DINNER!”  So, thanks, Coca-Cola, for bringing that memory back!

A White Rose on Mother’s Day

I’m sharing this again for Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all, also remembering the mothers we have lost!

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My mother

When I was growing up, Mother’s Day was a big event at the First Baptist Church in Clarksville. Brother Laida always preached about Biblical mothers (with not too much emphasis on Mary, mother of Jesus) and sometimes a segue into Ruth and her loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi.

The most interesting thing to me about the church service, however, was that everyone wore a rose or a carnation to church that day. I asked Mother about it when I was
small. “You wear a red rose or carnation if your mother is alive, and a white one if she’s not,” she said. Mother and Daddy each wore a white carnation and I wore a red one, all bought at the grocery store on Saturday. In later years when we lived on the farm Iwore a red rose pinned to my dress from the old-fashioned rosebush that spilled over…

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