Archive for December, 2011

The Mad Hatter said, “You might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!”

“You might just as well say,” added the March Hare, “that ‘I like what I get’ is the same thing as ‘I get what I like’!”

– Lewis Carroll,  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Two days after Christmas Ernesto and I took a short road trip to Jefferson City, Missouri. We have lived here nearly five years and haven’t seen our capital city, and it seemed like a good idea to check it out. We woke up Tuesday morning to find a healthy dusting of snow on everything, but the temperature was rising and the sun shone brightly, so we headed west.

As we crossed the river and entered Jefferson City, we saw the capitol building right away. We began with a visit to the capitol museum. We naturally parked across the street from one of the building’s non-functioning entrances, and had to circle the building to get in. We walked up the stairs to a sort of portico, and I applied a lip salve as we walked. Ernesto lamented not having his chapstick. “You can use this,” I said. “It’s for girls, but it doesn’t really have any color to it.”  He applied my lip stuff liberally, not bothering to stay within the lines.

“You know what?” I said, digging in my purse for a mirror, “it’s actually got more color to it than I thought.” I held the mirror while he checked himself out, and soon he was scraping off the lip gloss with the same facial expression as a little boy who has just received an unwelcome kiss from a whiskery old lady. He wiped his finger on the white marble of the portico, leaving pale rosy smears behind. I’m sure it’s all on a security camera.

I liked the capitol itself very much; the rotunda was beautiful, rich with blues and heavy with carved-in-stone scripture (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof”). We wandered through the museum’s exhibits on the history of Missouri and a special Civil War exhibit, and then headed out. We saw the beautiful, gingerbready governor’s mansion multiple times as we drove around trying to find an on-ramp to 54 westbound. We finally found our way and drove to Lake of the Ozarks.

By the time we were in the little village of Lake Ozark it was quite dark. Neither of us has decent vision in low light, so we are no good to anyone after night falls.  But we did manage to see a sign for the Lodge of Four Seasons. I knew from my visitor’s guide that it was located on the lake and was in our price range during the low season, so we followed the signs to the Lodge. I loved it as soon as we walked in. A cozy fire burned in the center of the lobby, and we received a special rate with free breakfast. The Lodge even had a steakhouse called HK’s on site, meaning that we wouldn’t have to drive around in the dark anymore. We decided to eat.

Here’s the thing: The Lodge was really not expecting many people to show up, apparently, but several of us did, and the result was a sort of minor traffic jam in HK’s.  I didn’t quite catch the reason–something about a problem in the kitchen, insufficient staff–it was all a bit of a mystery. We were invited to wait at the bar.  Instead, we took our luggage up to the room and got settled. When we returned we only had to wait about 5 minutes to be seated, but the service was amazingly slow. Fortunately, we were in a mood to be more entertained than irritated.

I wish I had kept track of how long it did take between ordering and receiving our meals, but I didn’t. It was a mighty long time, that’s all I know. Some tables received baskets of bread; we received none. I suppose we should have asked for bread, but it was as if we were in a dream and could only watch in amused bewilderment at what went on around us. Our waiter was enthusiastic over every item we ordered, and when he finally, finally delivered our meals he set the dishes down with a flourish and said, “You’re in for a real treat.”  We were. I had flat iron steak and Anson Mill grits, and the combination was fantastic. I loved every bite and even shared a slice or two of my fabulous beef with Ernesto, who had ordered lamb shanks. We split a delicious warm chocolate cake with ice cream for dessert.

The next morning, we watched the sunrise from our lakeview room (see photo), and then enjoyed a free breakfast. “And the chronic under-staffing continues,” Ernesto remarked. It did. The wait wasn’t as long as it had been at dinner the previous evening, but we had trouble getting the food we ordered. Ernesto said, “After all, they ask the customer, ‘What would you like?’ We tell them what we would like, but then we must eat what is set before us.”  I ordered orange juice and received milk. Ernesto ordered a side of French toast which never appeared.  We had to inquire about my bacon, and something had gone wrong with the toaster which meant that part of Ernesto’s whole wheat toast came a bit behind the rest of our food. It felt Alice-in-Wonderlandish, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you’re in the right mood. And we were. We decided it was like Alice in Wonderland even before we got back home and I found the quote above, which is a nearly perfect transcription of our breakfast conversation.

I hope that 2012 is filled with a similar magic.


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Christmas 1928

This is the Christmas postcard that my grandfather sent to my grandmother when they were courting. The card is postmarked December 22, 1928, so they were both 18 at the time. I expressed surprise that he would mail her a card, since they lived so close to one another. My uncle said, “He lived two-and-a-half miles away. They probably only saw each other at church.”

And here’s the message side of the card. Merry Christmas to you and all the ones you love!

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Little red velvet cakes

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable—not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid. “Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”

The person to whom she is speaking is myself. I am seven; she is sixty-something, We are cousins, very distant ones, and we have lived together—well, as long as I can remember. Other people inhabit the house, relatives; and though they have power over us, and frequently make us cry, we are not, on the whole, too much aware of them. We are each other’s best friend. She calls me Buddy, in memory of a boy who was formerly her best friend. The other Buddy died in the 1880’s, when she was still a child. She is still a child.

“I knew it before I got out of bed,” she says, turning away from the window with a purposeful excitement in her eyes. “The courthouse bell sounded so cold and clear. And there were no birds singing; they’ve gone to warmer country, yes indeed. Oh, Buddy, stop stuffing biscuit and fetch our buggy. Help me find my hat. We’ve thirty cakes to bake.”

That passage from “A Christmas Memory,” by Truman Capote, is offered in place of something original because I have had no time to write, having spent so much time in the kitchen. Last weekend it was Rocky Road fudge, Nutella cookies, wreath cookies, and helping Ernesto make our first batch of homemade sausage. This weekend it was spiced nuts, more sausage, and red velvet cake in 8-ounce Kerr jars. Cute? I’m here to tell you. But slightly exhausting, and every surface in three rooms is sticky from flying powdered sugar.

I can’t imagine making 30 full-sized fruitcakes, and if I did I would have nowhere to send them because I don’t know 30 people who like fruitcake (or need bookends). But because it is, indeed, fruitcake weather and the giving season, we have worked hard to create a plethora of treats. A 10-pound box went to Miami this past week to be divided among 15 people, and a significantly lighter box went to North Carolina yesterday for two.

My red velvet jarcakes are going to the office with me. Want to make your own? My adventure began with Not Martha. And if you’d like to read all of “A Christmas Memory,” it is available as a pdf here. I hope you love it as much as I do.

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I quoted Thomas Merton in my last post, and now it seems as if I’m running across his writings everywhere. My friend Wendy in Jacksonville forwarded his poem “Song: If You Seek” to me awhile back; I’m including it below. When she sent it, she wrote that she knew a man who had been a friend of Merton’s, and the friend told her, “Merton was a writer. He could not scratch his nose without writing about it.” Wendy added:

And, just yesterday, it came to me that a reason I like Merton so much is that he wrote his life out for all to see, sort of mapping human thought, human expression.  And the message is: I am human, an aspect of All That Is; no thought is alien to me.

Sometimes I worry that most of the writing I do is altogether too human, filled with more nose-scratching than could possibly be healthy. As evidence, I give you two actual journal entries from 2002:

I ordered pizza for supper and only ate three small slices, so maybe I am sick and don’t know it. I took sinus med again this evening, because my face-ache started up again.

I had to take two Benadryl to combat stuffy nose/headache symptoms, and that of course meant I had to go to bed straight away. I slept for two solid hours, then got up and read, made some notes on my story (very few), and ate a bowl of cereal. Later I had popcorn.

Now, there are much more interesting entries in my journals, but I am singling out the everyday, plodding-along sort of writing that feels like old chewing gum. This is the sort of writing in which it is clear that the writer has nothing to say, really, but knows that she must keep writing. Well, I maintain—and I believe that Merton would agree—that even the dreariest, most self-involved of this everyday writing has a certain power: The power to evoke something better. Everyday writing keeps a door propped open, so even as a parade of ills, errands, and grievances marches past on the page, a real insight may suddenly emerge and surprise us all.

Not today, you understand, but possibly soon.


Song: If You Seek

If you seek a heavenly light
I, Solitude, am your professor!

I go before you into emptiness,
Raise strange suns for your new mornings,
Opening the windows
Of your innermost apartment.

When I, loneliness, give my special signal
Follow my silence, follow where I beckon!
Fear not, little beast, little spirit
(Thou word and animal)
I, Solitude, am angel
And have prayed in your name.

Look at the empty, wealthy night
The pilgrim moon!
I am the appointed hour,
The “now” that cuts
Time like a blade.

I am the unexpected flash
Beyond “yes,” beyond “no,”
The forerunner of the Word of God.

Follow my ways and I will lead you
To golden-haired suns,
Logos and music, blameless joys,
Innocent of questions
And beyond answers:
For I, Solitude, am thine own self:
I, Nothingness, am thy All.
I, Silence, am thy Amen!

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