Sibling Assignment #175: Winter Grace

I gave the assignment this week. "This assignment is in three parts. First, choose a poem that you feel best exemplifies snow and post it. Second, explain why you chose that particular poem. Third, find photos you have taken that connect in some way with the poem and your own writing about the poem." You can find brother Bill's post written after a blizzard in Maryland here and sister Carol's will be added when complete.

I discovered and rediscovered a large list of poems about snow this week. Often the poems dealt with animals in snow, fun things to do in snow, or simply shoveling snow. I had never read this poem before, but this is what I like about it. With simple examples, the author speaks of the beauty of snow. I love photographing snow and think bare landscapes of snow and sky are simply beautiful.  She focuses on solitude. These is a quiet calm when I carry my camera alone in snow. 

I love the stark contrast of bare branches to white snow. It is easy to capture the truth of snow. It doesn't hide. Nature is always there. In melting snow we see what lies beneath. The garbage along the stream, the muddy creek, a dead bird, animal sign. The world is sleeping.  The world is growing under the ground, inside the branches, and in burrows and caves. Winter is hibernation and I really love her last lines of the poem.as she used the words  slowed-down season, darkness, solitude, cold, and night. Snow is a blanket of winter. It is a blanket that provides rest for the soul, a place to be along, a time for darkness, and pure beauty.   I chose a series of photos I have taken that married well with her words.

Winter Grace
If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.

And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,

how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.

But this is the slowed-down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.

Patricia Fargnoli 


Sibling Assignment #175: The Art of Waxing and Waning

Brother Bill gave the sibling assignment this week. "Write a piece of creative non-fiction that ends with this sentence (or a slight variation): "Suddenly, bittersweet vellichor filled my entire being."
I will post theirs when complete.

 I have a passion for words. I love the placement of words on paper, whether I am reading or writing those words. I love the sound of words from a paragraph of a book, the verse of a poem, or a stanza of a song. I love the mixture of images and sounds of words which create a script for a play, movie, or television show. All of these forms of the written word draw me in, capture my attention, put in a zone where everything else is mute, or keep me fascinated for hours and days, but not on a routine basis.

My passion doesn't follow a set routine. I realize many skilled readers and writers set goals of reading so many pages or writing so many words each day. It it also what I wished for my students and attempted to provide time and structure just for that in the classroom. I also wished it for myself. Being away from daily time with students in the classroom, it has made me realize that just doesn't work for me. I felt like a failure because  I wasn't reading a book or books, writing a blog post each day, keeping up with a journal, and/or watching an important film that everyone was talking about. When there was more time for myself after leaving teaching, I had a vision of doing it all. It hasn't worked that way.

My passion for words is all about waxing and waning. I can sit and never move until I read an entire book. I can then go three weeks without reading another. I can fill up ten pages with prose on a given morning, but not write again for a month. Sometimes all I do is listen to music. Other days I only listen to silence. I can decide I am going to watch all films starring Diane Keaton and do it for weeks. Then there is a dry period.

In our family we joke about our obsessions. I obsess over lists of books I want to read, prose I want to write, titles of films I want to see, music I want to listen to. I obsess to get through the lists, but then may set the lists aside. I immerse myself in my obsessions, then move away. Fortunately during the dry periods I do a lot of thinking and reflecting. Again, it is the art of waxing and waning.

I took a day recently and revisited my bookshelves, boxes of books from the move, stacks of journals, pieces of writing, and films waiting to be watched. I felt comfort in being surrounded by so many words.I found books to give away, others I wanted to share with friends and family.  I listened to music, I read my writing, I revisited my blog. I organized, plotted, planned, and set goals on how I might add more of my passion for words into my days. I also gave myself permission to wax and wane.

As the afternoon sun set behind the mountain out the window on that day, I took a deep breath and slowly scanned the room filled with papers, dusty books, spirals, composition books, file folders, brand new books, pens, an original i Pod, a granola bar wrapper, and a cold cup of coffee. Suddenly, bittersweet vellichor filled my entire being.

from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
n. the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, 
which are somehow infused with the passage of 
time—filled with thousands of old books 
you’ll never have time to read, 
each of which is itself locked 
in its own era, bound and dated and papered over 
like an old room the author abandoned years ago, 
a hidden annex littered with thoughts. 


Sibling Assignment #174: Kellogg: My Hometown

Sister Carol gave the assignment this week:
"Look back over 2015 and write about one of the most memorable things that changed you, and write about the transformation." You can read Bill's about new experiences with his camera here. I will link sister Carol's when it is completed.

2015 was the year that had more changes wrapped up in twelve months than any other to date. Everett and I discussed this exact topic last night and between our two blended lives couldn't come up with another year so full of changes, excitement, work, stress, happiness, support of family, support of friends, and support of each other. 

What changed me the most? My hometown of Kellogg, Idaho.  It was a smart move as we transitioned into a retired life to move to Kellogg. When thinking about this post I was reminded of simple reasons why this town transformed me.

Kellogg reminded me once again of what it is like to live in a town where local businesses provide what you need, are hospitable, will deliver to your house, or drop everything to make sure things are working out. Mom lives next door and has a strong desire to shop local as much as she can . It has paid off for her and for us. When our new fence was being built Mr. Ace himself drove down to check on materials and questions Mom had, since we were putting them fence up between our two yards. When Mom needed a new chair to ease her pain, Mr. Furniture Exchange was there, brought a chair, let her try it out, and then set it up. Putting a new washer and dryer into our basement was a challenge, but Mr. Furniture Exchange had our neighbor and crew moving it in with speed and grace. They removed to old ones and all was done with and efficiency. We had the same experience when we purchased a car locally. Good service, hospitality, and follow-up. Everyone was helpful, friendly, and kind.

Although I don't really need a reminder, every day I marvel in the beauty of my hometown. Growing up under the fog of smelter smoke and brown hills, it is so different now to be greeted by the magnificent Kellogg Peak out my front window, incredible sunsets looking west, fall foliage covers the streets and hills with striking autumn colors, and tree lined streets heading uptown. 

When we were making our plans to return I was excited to reconnect with friends. What a joy it has been to not only reconnect with friends, but also finding people I hadn't seen in many years. The people that surrounded me during my first twenty-five years of life here in Kellogg hold a collective set of memories that include me, my family, and a long stream of memories that now are being revisited over and over. I enjoy having the same neighbors as when I grew up.  It was a good life growing up here, maturing, and beginning a teaching career. I look forward to more lunches, visits, and time spent with many, many lifelong friends.

This is the first time in thirty-five years that I have lived in the same place as my family. It makes it even better when my brother is able to be here for extended visits. Getting reacquainted with my mother as a next door neighbor has been a joy. Having my sister and her husband close by has been fun and I look forward to having more time together as we plan gardens and outside dinners in the spring and summer. When the nieces were home it was special to host everyone here for a dinner after Christmas. We can all help each other with pet care, borrowing food, giving someone a ride, lending the pick up, and supporting Mom. 

I love the things that are familiar. I love to shop at Stein's because I know where everything is. I was filled with happiness the day I got my library card again at the same library I spent so many hours as a child. The HumDinger still has great burgers and fries. Stepping into Kellogg High School brought back a flood of memories. So did walking the area around KHS. It was the same at Sunnyside Drug and the Post Office. I love Teeter's Field

. "For if anything is capable of making a poet of a literary man, it is my hometown love of the human, the living and ordinary."  Joseph Campbell

It is time to create some poetry.


Sibling Assignment #173: Land of Counterpane, Precision Cuts, Where I'm From

I gave the sibling assignment this week.
"Three favorites". Review the archives of our sibling assignments and choose a favorite written by each of us. Link the post and share why it is a favorite.  Brother Bill's choices are here. Sister Carol's will be linked soon.
The three of us have written 519 sibling assignments as a trio. Like brother Bill I didn't read every one, but I first did thinking about ones that stood out to me.  Each of these posts I chose were memoir pieces that captured vivid details, strong emotion, and lasting words for us to reflect on.
In January of 2011 Silver Valley Girl gave us an assignment to write something about Mom. I chose one from my archives entitled "The Land of Counterpane". This is the third time I am posting this. You can find it here. It is one of my favorites because it is timeless. No matter when I read this post it continues to remind me of the comfort my mom has provided me. I remember reading it aloud to her. I think she was a bit surprised. I think it is hard for a mother to reflect on her own acts of comfort as she is living them. Having moved next door to her now the comfort may be working both ways. I have tucked her in a few times in the last year , but didn't read Stevenson's poem.
The writing of brother Bill's I chose went way back to our early blog posts to Sibling Assignment #4 in November of 2006. Silver Valley Girl gave the prompt which was to remember Mom and special Christmas treats. Bill wrote a beautiful tribute to our mom intertwining all she did while we were growing up and how many traditions such as fruitcake, pumpkin bread, and popcorn balls still continue. You can find his post here. Last month while Bill made a visit he was able to participate in the making of the fruitcake. I smiled yesterday while in the kitchen with Mom when she said "I think your brother does a very good job with fruitcake. " I agreed with her. Again, we are watching the traditions we hold dear with Mom doing role switching.
The choice from sister Carol's blog came from an assignment I gave during National Poetry Month in 2008. She composed her version of "Where I'm From" . You can find it here. Images of her childhood are woven into a memoir tapestry that caused me to also return and read all of our poems from this assignment. Again, now that I am spending more time at Mom's house next door, many of these pieces of childhood are still there. I liked this post because even though we have an eight year age difference, many of our images were the same.

(The photo at the top was taken about fifty-five years ago when we traveled to Orofino for Christmas.)


Sibling Assignment #172: The Controversy Surrounding Thanksgiving Dressing

Brother Bill gave the sibling assignment this week after some surprising observations during the planning, preparation, and presentation of dressing for the Thanksgiving Dinner. I will link the sibs' posts when done.

His assignment: "Turkey dressing.. Take this topic any direction you'd like."

As Thanksgiving approaches each year and the meal planning begins, the first question often raised is whether we call the traditional side dish dressing or stuffing. This in turn leads to the question whether a turkey should be stuffed or not. The last few years the most controversial question has been, "Can we try another recipe for dressing that hasn't been used in the past?" Scary territory.

We are a family that does traditional turkey in a roasting pan. No brining, BBQing, deep fat frying, no bag, no smoking. Just Betty Crocker style turkey is all that has been served for almost all Thanksgiving dinners. About ten years ago we went off course and used whole wheat bread for stuffing and served game hens. It was okay, but not the same. Last year Mom and I tried cornbread stuffing. That was quite a departure from tradition, but not "weird" (any time in our house when Raymond Harold "Pert"/Dad Woolum thought we were serving something new or different he called it "weird" or "weird shit food".  Experimenting with cornbread was only the bread, so he may have only said, while grimacing, "This is 'different' sissy." When food went out a window to the bushes or the loaf of white bread and peanut butter came out on the table, I understood I had gone too far on the "weird" scale for Dad. Thus, usually traditional dishes ruled.

This year I volunteered to roast the turkey since I had never done one. As I began planning the dinner I researched a wide variety of recipes for dressing. How daring could I be? Would the rafters fall on the table if I added new ingredients? I decided not to stuff the turkey. If it didn't work out I didn't want to ruin both. I focused on combinations of flavors and textures I thought would work. I am sure Dad was smiling down from heaven , pleased he didn't have to try "this weird shit."I chose Sweet Potato and Cranberry Dressing from a recipe found on a woman's blog. Mom had the dried bread she saves all year, a friend harvested fresh cranberries from a local lake, and I thought sweet potatoes partnered with carrots, onions, and rosemary sounded like a good combination. To add fresh flavor, I added orange juice and orange liqueur. Brother Bill loved it, JEJ was on board also and I liked it. Mom smiled and said, "Well... it is different. " I like weird and different.

Why does dressing only have to be served with turkey? Maybe I should have a dressing bakeoff another time of year and challenge family members to get creative!
You can find the recipe here.