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Decking the halls

How would you like to live in a town that decks itself out like this for the holidays? Lucky me, I do! Technically, I live in the next town over, but Red Bank is the place that I consider home. I don’t really feel part of the community in the town where I live, but feel as if I’m among friends when going about my daily grind in Red Bank. There’s always a familiar face and I know the best coffee shops and where to find a good bargain in town.

My husband was born and raised in Red Bank and has worked for the Public Works Department there for most of his adult life. He fixes the police cars and fire trucks (and is a volunteer fireman there), picks up the leaves in fall, and plows the snow off the streets in the wintertime. If you want to know the truth, I think the town would crumble and fall without him, at least judging by the number of calls he gets to go into work at 3 am to fix something.

Another *job* that my DH has is to decorate the town for the holidays; he’s done this for as long as I can remember. During November he works his regular job during the day and then spends a few hours each night and most days on the weekends stringing lights and hanging wreaths around town. By the time Thanksgiving comes and the work is done he’s about had it with decorating, but that is when we start the job of decorating our own home for Christmas. Some years he’s full of energy and goes all out at home, other years we’re lucky to get a tree up and decorated before midnight on Christmas Eve.

This year, my DH decided that he wants a break and won’t be doing the decorating in Red Bank. He says he’s tired of working out in the cold and the rain. It’s strange to have him here now, when he should be out there, making the town light up so pretty. Already tonight, as the deadline nears, the phone calls are coming for him to help, or to fix some machine that’s stuck in the road blocking traffic. I’m sure he won’t be able to resist helping, for long.

The image above is a scan of a Christmas card from a few years ago. A local artist paints beautiful scenes of the town at Christmas and turns some into cards. One day I’d like to be able to afford one of his paintings of a Christmas scene of our hometown as a gift for my husband. Something beautiful to remember all of his hard work by.

Worms before dinner

It dawned on me this afternoon that I haven’t checked on the worms in the basement for a while. I add food to the bin once a week, but lately that’s it. I’ve not been a very good landlord, it seems.

If you need reminding, I keep a worm bin in the basement to compost kitchen scraps. It’s a small tray-type bin and the worms are red wigglers. It’s not nearly as disgusting as it sounds. I collect leftover vegetables and greens, coffee grounds, and eggshells in a small copper composting bucket I keep in the kitchen and once a week empty it into the bin for the worms. I cover the food with a layer of shredded junk mail so there is no smell to attract other insects. Every few months the worms have made enough compost for me have a few cups worth of natural fertilizer for my houseplants. Mostly I save the compost up and use it in the spring when I repot.

If things are working as they should there is no smell or trouble with it at all. I usually add food to the bottom tray until it looks nearly *done* and then add food to the next tray up, with the idea that the worms will move upward to find the food, leaving the compost in the tray below free of worms.. My worms didn’t want to migrate upward like they were supposed to, so this year I’ve been adding food to the bottom tray, hoping that they’ll be willing instead to migrate downward. So far it seems to be working, except for the few worms in the opening photo who look like they’re trying to migrate up and out of the bin! Excess moisture has always been a problem for me and even that top tray of nearly finished compost is wetter than it should be.

I suspect that adding food to the lowest tray, so near to the bottom of the set-up, is what’s causing the backup of excess moisture in the system. There’s a spigot on the bottom to drain away the liquid, so I’ve left it open with my copper bucket beneath it to hopefully dry things out. They say that you should be able to use the liquid that drains out as *compost tea*, but I find it to be so foul-smelling that I would never want it on the houseplants anywhere near where I was sitting! Usually I’ll just dump it outside on the vegetable garden far away from the house.

I decided to try adding some dry leaves as bedding, in addition to the shredded paper and junk mail, for added minerals for the worms. The instructions that came with my bin suggest adding all sorts of oddball things. Every so often I try something new and hope for the best. The worms don’t really eat the garbage; instead they feed on the microorganisms that decay the food – so I won’t add anything that is likely to rot and fester in there for too long – no meat or oil in any form. Once in a while I’ll treat them with some moldy bread or baking yeast sprinkled on top of the working tray, but that’s it. They seem to be happy with old bunny greens. In fact, I see lots of little red worms if anybody wants to give vermicomposting a try!

Honey, I think it’s done

We had my favorite for dinner on Sunday night – Spaghetti! Pasta is more or less a forbidden food here since my husband found out a few years ago that he has diabetes. I love pasta and bread more than anything, except cheese, and miss eating it. I hardly ever get to have it for lunch even, because my lunch-buddy Deb makes me eat healthy salads everyday.

We decided to cheat, just once, because I was craving Spaghetti. I was totally decadent and bought nice Italian bread and whole milk ricotta cheese to mix with the pasta. Heavenly!

The DH ended up in charge of cooking while I wandered off to do something else. While I was cleaning up the dishes and stove I discovered the poor charred houseplants that I had left on top of the stove to drain. The one on the right is more or less okay, just a little singed around the edges, but the other is totally baked. I wonder, do you think it will recover? 😉

If you’re interested, the plant is called a Pin Cushion Plant or Coral Bead Plant (Nertera granadensis) and is a weird little houseplant in the madder family sold around Halloween. I read that it’s native to moist, boggy places in New Zealand and Tasmania. Apparently, it doesn’t do well on the stove, despite all the steam from the boiling pasta.

River of memory

cedar creek
Originally uploaded by

Lene at Whorled Leaves recently prompted readers of Gary Snyder’s “The Practice of the Wild” to share their experience of returning to the place where they grew up.

Snyder says, “The childhood landscape is learned on foot, and a map is inscribed in the mind–trails and pathways and grooves–the mean dog, the cranky old man’s house, the pasture with a bull in it–going out wider and farther. All of us carry within us a picture of the terrain that was learned roughly between the ages of six and nine….Revisualizing that place with its smells and textures, walking through it again in your imagination, has a grounding and settling effect.” (26)

In the crooked sort of way that my mind works, I was reminded of the following introduction to the memoir by Ana Maria Matute that I translated as an undergrad Spanish major. The book is called, “The River” and in it Matute shares childhood memories of the small Spanish village where she grew up. I’ve posted other essays from the project here and here and enjoy the excuse to reread and rework these translations from time to time.

“After eleven years, I have returned to Mansilla de la Sierra, the land of my childhood. The marsh has since enveloped the small old town, and a group of white houses, so new they seem surprised to be there, glisten in the moist foliage of autumn.

Returning to an old place after so much time stirs and revives clouded images we’d thought we had forgotten, that leap before us with a strange new meaning that can be very emotional. But everything is muted, both vibrant and muted beneath this layer of dark green glass that prevents me from walking up the slope toward the forests where the oak and beech trees are that I loved so much. The water now covers what once were beautiful and sweet lowlands bordered by white and black poplars. There on the other side of the marsh are the trees, the leaves that saw us as children, teenagers. The water covers it all; the image of the house, the stone walls, the meadow, the garden, the poplar grove. So many names, so many children’s games now silent.

Any child could have drawn the house: square, simple, with symmetrical windows and a long wrought-iron balcony that crossed the front from side to side. But you wouldn’t know that house unless you were ten years old and had run in the grass of its meadow, not unless you had fallen sweaty and exhausted under the shade of its great walnut trees. You wouldn’t know it if you hadn’t hid yourself, at one time or another, among the garden vines or in the poplar grove, if you didn’t secretly climb to the highest branches of the cherry trees, in search of fruit that had not yet ripened.

And the river, how has it disappeared so strangely? I remember the river bordering the meadow, with its wide stones covered with lichens and moss, the delicate bulrush, the white, royal purple, and yellow flowers, the little bushes, the dragonflies that glowed in the sun, the dark puddles beneath the crooked trees, the wobbly bridges crossing the water. We knew that the river overflowed its banks sometimes in the winter and that it knocked down stretches of the stone wall. But we never saw it like this; overflowed, defeated, almost fearful. I know that the river widens again below. I have read its name, I’ve heard it beneath a bridge on level ground, between the meadows and the fertile land of the Rioja. But it’s not our river, not the one that we knew. It’s not the one that carried our voices and stole from us, more than once, a handkerchief or a sandal. I don’t know where its gold and green water went, its shady ditch, or its banks covered with mint. They say that it’s there, where the water has widened, taking on a dirty tint, the color of fear, and flooding everything. But I don’t understand these things. The river still lives, deep at the bottom of the marsh and, closing my eyes, I see it intact like a miracle. A river of gold that, like life, journeys toward a place from which it does not return.”

Matute writes often of childhood and the influence of nature is strong in the lives of her characters. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to her as an author to translate, well before I recognized the same influence in my own thoughts.

If you’d like to share some memories of your own childhood places and how it feels to return there, please visit this post at Whorled Leaves.

**Posted via Flickr, when Blooger refused to upload a pic. Thanks to Egret’s Nest who helped me figure out how to do this!

Looking back

It’s laughable that I’m feeling so hesitant to make a change of location for this blog. What started a year ago today as a diversion from other things has become something entirely different. The sense of this thing being mine and important is a surprise. Maybe it’s because I’d never before kept a journal, but knowing now that I have a year’s worth of stuff here makes me want to hold on to the record of my thoughts that it represents.

That anyone takes the time to read my ramblings and that some do so each day is a remarkable compliment. Thank you for indulging my whimsy!

There are many readers and bloggers for whose friendship I am grateful. You have all made this blogging thing great fun and I’ve so enjoyed the excuse to ramble on about the things I love with you. That part of yourselves that each of you share via your blogs or comments here is important to me, as I’m sure it is to you. I hope that you will continue to be so generous.

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
“For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned.” And she will.

Let me count the ways….

How convenient that Blogger has gone wonky. I didn’t have much to say anyway. I’ve spent the last hour or two kicking around ideas and probably won’t be able to get even this lame post up tonight.

I’ve been playing around with a WordPress site and so far I’ve found it to be much more manageable. Not quite ready to take the plunge, but may be soon.

Party pics of my handsome relatives

My brother Count Dracula, party host, keeper of backyard chickens. The other brother, trying to be The Fonz, with his buddy the choo-choo train engineer.
The pretty nieces. Anybody care to guess which little girl goes with which big brother? 😉 The in-laws: Devil Lady, Pink Lady and a friend-in-law whose name I should know but don’t.

Halloween is such a non-event when you’re a grown-up. It’s nice to have a party to get dressed up for and be silly. Speaking of non-events (or of being silly), I have not seen a single trick-or-treater all day, except for a few at the office.

Sure, we got a lot done today….

I won ten million dollars!

No, not really. But I thought the DH and I pulled off our Halloween Costume Party ruse pretty well. People who didn’t see us arrive in the Prize Patrol truck or me carrying around the humungous $10 million check and bouquet of roses wondered what I was supposed to be with my bathrobe and hair in curlers.

My husband was perfectly happy to not have to *dress up* – wearing a suit is dressing up enough for him. A friend of ours who owns a sign shop made our props – the check, the balloons, the Prize Patrol signs for my DH’s truck. We even won a contest for the *most unique* costume – not bad considering I had no ideas until a day or two before the party!

Wish I could take credit for the idea, but I found it (and lots of other great ideas) on a site I linked to in the comments on my previous post about the costume party. If anyone is looking for last-minute ideas, that site is worth a look!

I have some more pics to share of the other partygoers, but Blogger is as cranky as ever about loading them. Maybe tomorrow!

Falling back

“When we set the clocks back an hour last night, we told ourselves we were changing time, taking back that hour we spent for longer evenings last April. But the sun rose unchanged this morning, on its own schedule, and the only change was in the position of the hands on those ticking machines by which man meters his own life. We adjusted our own gauge of the hours somehwat closer to the reality of night and day, the sun, the earth and the year.

Time has its own dimensions, and neither the sun nor the clock can emcompass them all. All we can do with the astronomical absolutes of time is note them, divide them as we please, and live by them in our daily routines. Beyond that, our own emotions, our hopes and fears, our worry and our relief, shape not only our days but our hours with only casual regard for absolute or arbitrary time. The busy day can be brief, the suspenseful hour endless. Who can prove, by any clock ever devised, that time on occasion does not stand still? The interval between heartbeats can be a terrifying eternity, and the pause between two spoken words can shape the dimensions of all our tomorrows.

Time is all around us, the time of the hills, the time of the tides, the lifetime of a man or a tree or an insect. We participate in time, try to shape it to our own necessities; but when we change the clocks we aren’t changing time at all. We are playing with figures on a dial that denotes but cannot alter the flow of forever.” – Hal Borland, Sundial of the Seasons

Is everyone feeling as mixed up as I am today? I woke up to a clock that said 11:00 and was pleased that I hadn’t slept all of this blistery Sunday morning away, after all it was actually only 10:00. Stepping into the kitchen and pouring my coffee I was perplexed to see the clock said it was 12:15. Hmmm… the computer and vcr both said 11:15 so my husband must have set some of the clocks back while I slept. Now as I type it’s 6:30 and full dark. All day I’ve felt behind in my routine, but the clock tells me it’s early, there’s still time. So it will be lighter in the morning for a while, but dark so early at the end of the workday. This change is easier for me to adjust to, for some reason, compared with the spring, when I feel cheated of time and groggy for days until I’m used to getting up an hour earlier.

The beanery

I was feeling a little under the weather today (actually I played hookey, but shhhh, my boss sometimes reads this) so I headed to Cape May thinking the salt air might help me feel better. This weekend is NJ Audubon’s Fall Weekend and Bird Show, so there were lots of birders around and lots of birds. I was practically tripping over yellow-rumps and kinglets all afternoon. More than once while walking through the dunes I had to duck from the path of an oncoming sharpie in pursuit of a meal.

I avoided the hoards of birders as I’m prone to do and instead wandered some of my favorite spots alone, but did stop by the convention center to say hi to Amy from Wildbird on the Fly and Sharon the Birdchick. I missed running into Patrick from The Hawk Owl’s Nest. I’m tired now from so much driving, most of it in the rain, but wanted to share just one favorite pic from today.

This was taken at a place birders call “the beanery” – the property is mostly farmland (lima beans, specifically) and woods. Wet woods, as you see here, where prothonotary warblers can be found in the springtime. NJ Audubon has some sort of agreement with the property owners, under which they *lease* birding rights on the property for their membership. Neat idea, I think. It was quiet today, but for the previously mentioned yellow-rumps and kinglets (golden-crowns, specifically). Lovely until it started to rain and I was startled once too often with shotgun fire that sounded too close for comfort. More pics some other day. ‘Night.