Just the thing

The past week at work has been crazy with holiday parties, cookies and fattening goodies everywhere you look, and coworkers bearing gifts for one another. In the midst of so many distractions I’ve been trying to get my desk cleaned up so that I can have a week’s vacation without feeling too much anxiety about the state of affairs I will return to after New Year’s. So far I haven’t made very much progress, but I hope at least that my office phone won’t be ringing off the hook the whole time I’m away from my desk.

The small group of people that I work directly with has a gift-giving routine of one sort or another each year. Some years we do a grab bag, but the last few years we’ve been doing a Secret Santa where each person draws a name and buys a gift for a particular person. This year each of us included a wish list to help with purchases and that seemed to make everyone happier about the gifts they received.

Some of us also exchange gifts more privately, and that’s the point of what I want to write about tonight. I bought Julie Zickefoose’s book, Letters from Eden, for two of my coworkers. For Anna, I thought it might be something of a stretch; a gift given more to reflect my interests and share some of the passion that I feel for nature. For Kathy, I knew it was just the thing. Or at least I had hoped so.

I’m really terrible at buying gifts for people and struggle to come up with ideas. But this gift, this book, is perfect for her and I knew it as I watched her flipping through the pages this morning when I gave it to her. She was admiring the artwork and kept returning to this page and the illustration of the bullfrog and hummingbird. That was sort of a surprise because I had expected to see her pouring over the turkey vulture drawings because she thinks of tv’s as her totem, but no; it was this page and an opossum in another essay that caught her eye.

I wish that I knew more people that I could share this book with, it is just so beautiful. I say that without even having really allowed myself to read it yet. The artwork is so wonderful and lovingly drawn. It was just the thing my friend needed this day.

Thank you, Julie, for putting a smile on my friend’s face.

Christmas tree bird count

Birdchick wondered if anyone had any fun bird ornaments, so I thought I’d post a few pics of some of the ones that grace our tree. We used just the glass ornaments to decorate this year, so the really *fun* ones stayed tucked away in the attic. If you’re a bird lover, I’m sure you have lots of *fun* bird ornaments that people have given you over the years. I’m not talking about nice ornaments; I mean the cheesy ones that people grab because they have a bird somewhere on them. I’ve got quite a few of those (that don’t resemble any natural bird I’ve ever seen) – mostly given by my SIL. And Kevin, not your wife, you know which SIL I’m talking about here! The type of ornaments that make you hesitant to admit to a hobby, for fear of what you might find wrapped beneath the tree with your name written on the tag.
Junior wanna-be?
Sometime before Christmas I need to learn how to take in-focus photos of the tree and ornaments.
Had I wanted to be cruel, I’d have posted fuzzy pictures of the not-quite-accurate, but still pretty ornaments and asked you to identify them.
These may be hard enough to ID without a good imagination. In addition to birds on our tree, we have lots of butterflies, dragonflies, and many other insects and animals thanks to the NWF catalog. They make nice sets and have new designs each year. My husband is a good customer.
The last few years they’ve offered lots of owls and herons, but only this eagle and no other hawks. I’d like a red-tail or maybe a handsome kestral.
We have a few ducks, mostly some variety of mallard, but this wood duck is a favorite. What’s on your tree?

First trip to the Adirondacks

My first visit to the Adirondacks was on our honeymoon. We spent most of the week in Lake Placid NY and I fell in love with the mountains and all the trees. It snowed day after day during our stay. Neither of us are skiers, but we took advantage of the weather with lots of snowball fights, ice-skating, and evenings by a warm fire. We moved from one bed and breakfast to another, getting a sampling of what each had to offer. Two were rustic-type ski lodges, and the third was a fancy Victorian style place that made us a fabulous dinner on Christmas Eve.

Being away from home at Christmas was actually really nice because we were removed from all the usual hustle and bustle. Christmas night was a little lonely and we had to struggle to find a place that was open for dinner; if I remember right, I think we found an Italian place and had dinner early – traditional lasagna, of course.

I’ve been back to Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain (pictured at right) many times since, but always in early summer when the fields are covered with blooming orange hawkweed and the sound of a running stream is somewhere in the distance. The Adirondacks are beautiful then, but seeing it for the first time, so stark and white and cold, is something I will always remember. I have dreams of moving there, when we’re old and gray, to live beside some quiet lake in the middle of nowhere. When I imagine that day in the future, it’s always a winter’s day with snow falling and a view of the ice on the lake outside my front window.

Anniversary day

Today is our wedding anniversary – 13 years ago I was at the most expensive party I barely remember! I picked out a few of my favorite photos to share – bear with me as I reminisce. It was so cold on that Friday night when we were married.
I arrived at the church in the traditional way, but my husband and his groomsmen came on the back of a firetruck – too bad there’s no pics of that!
Our church was gorgeous – a friend of mine says that to this day it was the most beautiful wedding she has ever been to. There were candles burning in the windows and the pews were decorated with sprigs of pine and gold bows that a friend from work made for me. We also had the church bell-ringers playing carols while the guests waited for the show to start.
Detail of my flowers (white roses, stephanotis, and holly with just a few red berries) and dress (off the rack on sale!) and beautiful wedding rings. I remember being totally surpised by the cold and people tossing rice at us as we left the church – this is one of my favorite pics of the day.

The Christmas Church

While out and about to do some shopping today, my husband and I visited a church in the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s always been a favorite of mine because of its Christmas ministries and their beautiful candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

I tried getting a nice pic of the poinsettia star in the sanctuary, but even climbing up the stairs to the balcony didn’t help much. The star is about 15 feet across and made up of hundreds of plants – really very pretty. Part of why my husband and I chose Christmastime for our wedding is because churches are so beauitiful at this time of year that we didn’t need to spend any extra money on flowers to decorate with.

The church also has a few displays that tell the story of Christmas and of the life and ministry of Jesus. I wasn’t able to photograph either, but there is a reproduction of Herod’s Temple and a Putz. The Putz is a sound and light show that brings the story of the nativity to life with a 40 foot model of Israel and the three main cities of the Christmas Story.

Outside the church is a creche with donkeys, sheep, and goats – which of course is my favorite of all the displays. The church has been doing this for more than 50 years and it draws a lot of people to the site who then wander inside the church and maybe learn a bit more of the meaning of our Christmas celebration. The creche was what first brought me to visit this church as a teenager, and I have nice memories of attending services on Christmas Eve and then stopping by the creche to see the animals in the quiet after midnight on Christmas Eve.

I was a little bothered by signs on the fence letting the public know that the church has the animals checked out by a veterinarian and the SPCA and reminding us that they are farm animals and able to withstand our *frigid* NJ winters and are well-supplied with food. Apparently they’ve had a hard time with people worrying over the welfare of these animals! That didn’t stop a lady from feeding them two loaves of white bread, despite the signs asking that the public not feed them, never mind the hay strewn about everywhere for the animals to eat. Some people just can’t help being silly, I guess.

I’d rather be…

I gave my final exam last night and am desperate now to get them marked and final grades done. I’d much rather be doing anything else. I’m trying so hard to concentrate, but keep getting distracted by the lights on the tree, the funny stories you all share on your blogs, the bunnies scampering about, you name it!

I’m glad to see this semester coming to an end and will be glad for the break from students until mid-January when I’ll start all over again. This semester has been the least enjoyable and least rewarding in the 5 years I’ve been teaching at the college, mostly due to the change in curriculum that was implemented by my department. It’s not working for my students and their final exams make that fact all too obvious.

Anyway… don’t mean for this to turn into a rant… back to that stack of papers. Have a great night!

12/14/06 Mid-week bunny fix

For the past couple of years I’ve done a Christmas Card Swap with other members of the PetBunny email group; most years there are about 40 people who exchange cards. Most often the cards have *bunnies* as a theme, but as you can imagine these are hard to come by at Christmastime, so instead some people make beautiful handmade cards or send photos. Sometimes people will also send along a little gift with the card.

This year I decided to send refrigerator magnets with my cards. I made the mosaic above from some favorite pics on Flickr and asked a friend of my husband’s (who owns a sign shop) to print up the magnets for me. We got them tonight and they turned out beautifully, plus he did them for free! Now I just need to find some nice bunny cards to mail them in.

The card swap is one of my favorite things about the PetBunny list – most of the members are total strangers to me, but we all share a fondness for pet rabbits. Each Christmas the bunnies here get more cards than my husband and I do!

A story of cedars and flutes

The Eastern Red Cedar is a vital source of shelter for birds and mammals in winter and the popularity of its berries is evidenced by its ability to quickly populate abandoned fields and disturbed areas. Berries are borne on female plants; the males have tiny cones that spread pollen in late winter. Due to its resistance to rot, the wood is often used for fenceposts or in furniture making. American Indians use the wood for flute-making and LauraO at Natural Notes 3 prefers them for her Christmas Tree.

Laura’s mention of flute-making in that post sparked my curiosity and I found this American Indian story to explain why cedars are prized for flute-making. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the sound of one, but this wonderful story gives me an idea of what it might be like. It’s long, but like all good stories, worth the read.

From: http://www.merceronline.com/Native/native06.htm

“The Legend of the Flute “

Well, you know our flutes, you’ve heard their sounds and seen how beautifully they are made. That flute of ours, the siyotanka, is for only one kind of music, love music. In the old days the men would sit by themselves, maybe lean hidden, unseen, against a tree in the dark of night. They would make up their own special tunes, their courting songs.

We Indians are shy. Even if he was a warrior who had already counted coup on a enemy, a young man might hardly screw up courage enough to talk to a nice-looking winchinchala — a girl he was in love with. Also, there was no place where a young man and a girl could be alone inside the village. The family tipi was always crowded with people. And naturally, you couldn’t just walk out of the village hand in hand with your girl, even if hand holding had been one of our customs, which it wasn’t. Out there in the tall grass and sagebrush you could be gored by a buffalo, clawed by a grizzly, or tomahawked by a Pawnee, or you could run into the Mila Hanska, the Long Knives, namely the U.S. Cavalry.

The only chance you had to meet your winchinchala was to wait for her at daybreak when the women went to the river or brook with their skin bags to get water. When that girl you had your eye on finally came down to the water trail, you popped up from behind some bush and stood so she could see you.

And that was about all you could do to show her that you were interested. Standing there grinning, looking at your moccasins, scratching your ear, maybe.

The winchinchala didn’t do much either, except get red in the face, giggle, maybe throw a wild turnip at you. If she liked you, the only way she would let you know was to take her time filling her water bag and peek at you a few times over her shoulder.

So the flutes did all the talking. At night, lying on her buffalo robe in her parents tipi, the girl would hear that moaning, crying sound of the siyotanka. By the way it was played, she would know that it was her lover who was out there someplace. And if the Elk Medicine was very strong in him and her, maybe she would sneak out to follow that sound and meet him without anybody noticing it.

The flute is always made of cedarwood. In the shape it describes the long neck and head of a bird with an open beak. The sound comes out of the beak, and that’s where the legend comes in, the legend of how the Lakota people acquired the flute.

Once many generations ago, the people had drums, gourd rattles, and bull-roarers, but no flutes. At that long-ago time a young man went out to hunt. Meat was scarce, and the people in his camp were hungry. He found the tracks of an Elk and followed them for a long time. The Elk, wise and swift, is the one who owns the love charm. If a man possesses Elk Medicine, the girl he likes can’t help sleeping with him. He will also be a lucky hunter. This young man I’m talking about had no Elk Medicine. After many hours he finally sighted his game. He was skilled with bow and arrows, and had a fine new bow and a quiver full of straight, well-feathered, flint-tipped arrows. Yet the Elk always managed to stay just out of range, leading him on and on. The young man was so intent on following his prey that he hardly noticed where he went.

When night came, he found himself deep inside a thick forest. The tracks had disappeared and so had the Elk, and there was no moon. He realized that he was lost and that it was too dark to find his way out. Luckily he came upon a stream with cool, clear water. And he had been careful enough to bring a hide bag of wasna, dried meat pounded with berries and kidney fat, strong food that will keep a man going for a few days. After he had drunk and eaten, he rolled himself into his fur robe, propped his back against a tree, and tried to rest. But he couldn’t sleep, the forest was full of strange noises, and the cries of night animals, the hooting owls, the groaning of trees in the wind. It was as if he heard these sounds for the first time.

Suddenly there was a entirely new sound, of a kind neither he nor anyone else had ever heard before. It was mournful and ghost like. It made him afraid, so that he drew his robe tightly about himself and reached for his bow to make sure that it was properly strung. On the other hand, the sound was like a song, sad but beautiful, full of love, hope, and yearning. Then before he knew it, he was asleep. He dreamed that the bird called wagnuka, the redheaded woodpecker, appeared singing the strangely beautiful song and telling him, “Follow me and I will teach you.”

When the hunter awoke, the sun was already high. On a branch of the tree against which he was leaning, he saw a redheaded woodpecker. The bird flew away to another tree, and another, but never very far, looking back all the time at the young man as if to say, “Come on!” Then once more he heard that wonderful song, and his heart yearned to find the singer. Flying toward the sound, leading the hunter, the bird flitted through the leaves, while its bright red top made it easy to follow. At last it lighted on a cedar tree and began hammering on a branch, making a noise like the fast beating of a small drum. Suddenly there was a gust of wind, and again the hunter heard that beautiful sound right above him.

Then he discovered that the song came from the dead branch that the woodpecker was tapping his beak. He realized also that it was the wind which made the sound as it whistled through the hole the bird had drilled.

“Kola, friend,” said the hunter, “let me take this branch home. You can make yourself another.”

He took the branch, a hollow piece of wood full of woodpecker holes that was about the length of his forearm. He walked back to his village bringing no meat, but happy all the same.

In his tipi the young man tried to make the branch sing for him. He blew on it, he waves it around, no sound came. It made him sad, he wanted so much to hear that wonderful new sound. He purified himself in the sweat lodge and climbed to the top of a lonely hill. There, resting with his back against a large rock, he fasted, going without food or water for four days and nights, crying for a vision which would tell him how to make the branch sing. In the middle of the fourth night, wagnuka, the bird with the bright red top, appeared, saying, “Watch me,” turning himself into a man, showing the hunter how to make the branch sing, saying again and again, “Watch this, now.” And in his dream the young man watched and observed very carefully.

When he awoke, he found a cedar tree. He broke off a branch and, working many hours, hollowed it out with a bowstring drill, just as he had seen the woodpecker do in his dream. He whittled the branch into the shape of the birds with a long neck and a open beak. He painted the top of the birds head with washasha, the sacred red color. He prayed. He smoked the branch up with incense of burning sage, cedar, and sweet grass. He fingered the holes as he had seen the man-bird do in his vision, meanwhile blowing softly into the mouthpiece. All at once there was the song, ghost like and beautiful beyond words drifting all the way to the village, where the people were astounded and joyful to hear it. With the help of the wind and the woodpecker, the young man had brought them the first flute.

Containers for One Deep Breath

christmas traditions
stashed away in boxes
trinkets of our love

Read more container poems here.

Each year, usually for our wedding anniversary, I can expect to receive a new crop of ornaments for the tree. We favor glass ornaments of all shapes and sizes; the quirkier and more unusual the better. Each is unwrapped from its tissue paper and carefully placed on the tree where it shines briefly before being packed away again in the attic. My husband takes the tree down and puts it away. Left to my own schedule it would still be standing at Easter; I find that job to be too depressing on any but the brightest of Spring days. I love the distinctive glow the tree lends to the house at this season and hate to see it go.

We live with the boxes spread around the living room for a week or so, and decorate the tree a little at a time, beginning with the largest or most treasured ornaments and finally placing the plain colored balls at the last to fill the empty spaces. I’m often surprised to find a particularly beautiful one that I don’t remember buying or being given.


We fly toward Forever on unknowing wings
Our destination hidden in the mists.” – Joan Walsh Anglund

This is my parent’s wedding photo. I wasn’t sure of the year and had to check it on the inscription inside my mother’s wedding band which I wear sometimes. The month and day I know because it is so close to my own wedding anniversary on 12/17.

Although my father probably told the story of their wedding lots of times, I’m beginning to forget many of the details that I’m sure my dad included in his telling of it. He was stationed in France with the Air Force during the Korean War during the time leading up to the wedding. I think my mother may have loaned my father the money to buy the engagement ring and she completed much of the planning via letters to my dad in France. She paid most of the bill for the wedding, with her father throwing in an extra keg of beer for the party afterwards.

Beyond that I don’t know, but like any two young people starting out together, they were hopeful and in love as they said their vows of marriage. The time between then and now: 52 years, 5 children, 2 grandchildren, and countless moments of joy and heartbreak.

*Note: My brother Kevin left his response to the Chrsitmas Meme in the comments on that post. He has a good sense of humor and an interesting perspective as the *big brother*. Have a look and a laugh.