Here is Home: Haibun, NaPoWriMo, Day 12

Here, are two, then three, then four, then two again. Here, atop a settling foundation and slightly slanting floors, are family dinners, friends, love, and tears. Here, the venerable oak tree stands tall, shading and shadowing, though the swing set that stood beside it is long gone–and here, decades-old daffodil bulbs still bloom. Generations of mockingbirds have sung through summer nights perched on the new greenery of aged trees. Here is home, where amidst clutter and dreams, cats gaze from windows–then look within.


blooms and snowflakes fall

drift through Earth’s revolutions–

ghosts sing to living












Today’s NaPoWriMo  prompt was to write a haibun “that takes in the natural landscape of the place you live.”




Happy Holidays

The Pre-Party Phone Calls and Texts

Didn’t you make a frittata last year?

No. Do you mean the quiches Lori and Linda brought?

No. Didn’t you bring a frittata? I thought you made a frittata. Wasn’t it a frittata?

No, it was the non-sausage roll—the pizza dough thing.

 Oh, well we have enough bread with the French Toast casserole and the bagels.

–OK. I’ll bring some kind of egg thing. I’ll figure out something.

Well, we should have plenty of food for “the men.”

Yeah, I think we’ll have more than enough.

…No, don’t worry he’s bringing his own food.  . .But your house might smell like fish.


Hey, it’s me. I was wondering about drinks. Should I get soda? We have wine.  I don’t know. Give me a call.


Yeah, she called me from the liquor store. She sounded really stressed. She thought you wanted cranberry.


Don’t forget to put something under your French Toast before you put it in the oven. Remember last year? And all the smoke in the kitchen?

            Oh yeah. I forgot.

You’re the grownup. Nothing can ever happen to you.

I love you.


What kind of bagels do you want?

I like any kind. Get whatever kind you like.

I like any kind too. . .it is all bread, which means good.


Can I have a bagel?

No, soon.

What are you drinking?

It’s the same as Mom’s, but with cranberry.

Oh, I think I need to try that.

Mom, can I have a bagel?

No, soon.

I love you, but don’t move. Don’t step backwards.

This one doesn’t have nuts. This one has nuts, but I think I screwed up the sauce.  [Singing] Happy Holidays. . .

Can I have a bagel?

In a minute.

What do you have that I can nosh on?

I’ll make you a plate, Mom. Sit down.

I DID put salad dressing on it.

–Well, I can’t find it.

Grandmom, I’ll put some more dressing on it. Do you want anything else?

Everything is delicious.

Yes, I still have this cough.

We have an elf. He watches us. My dad thinks he’s creepy, but I think he’s cute.

Childhood wonder.

Conversations in corners.

Missing those who aren’t with us. Welcoming those joining our family for the first time.

Cuddling on the sofa.

Doggy kisses. Hugs all around.

The love of family.

More wine! More coffee! More food!

I’m stuffed. I might vomit.

Is it time to open presents?

I can’t get this open.

It’s your turn.

Oh. . .thank you.

I need another picture. Sammy, hold up your truck like this.

Wait, get a picture of this.

Oh, could you get a picture?

Am I taking too many pictures?

No, don’t take my picture.

Can I open my last present? I’m bored. I’m going down to the basement for the rest of the afternoon.

Yeah, we’re channeling Martha Stewart.

Sorry, it seems so disorganized. Is it more disorganized this year?

–No, it’s always like this.

Oh. It is?

Who wants coffee?

Are we having dessert?

Oh. .  . the pie’s really not sweet enough. . .

Mr. Penguin has his picture on our family wall.

Yeah, so I’m going to this reunion. There’s a Facebook war going on. The woman is CRAZY!

You look smokin’ hot in those boots.

I don’t think I can walk in them.

Really, even if you only wear them in bed. . .


Oh, look, it’s starting to snow. I guess we should pack up and get ready to go.

Thank you for having us.

I’ll call you.

Mr. Penguin wants to give you a hug!

Holiday Mr. Penguin

Holiday Mr. Penguin

 Wishing all of you hugs, the love and craziness of family and friends, and just a touch of magic during this holiday season. And chocolate, of course.

Thanks for reading!










Deadlines Whooshing By


procrastination (Photo credit: cheerfulmonk)

“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Douglas Adams

Because of both work and some social events the past couple of weeks, I’ve neglected my blog and the reading of other blogs I enjoy.

Like most independent scholars, I work on a number of projects at the same time.  Most probably manage their time better than I do. I have three projects due tomorrow, and they are all in various states of completeness.  By that, I mean, none of them is finished, and one is not even started yet. But hey, the day is just beginning. I also have another project that should be finished by now, but it is not actually due tomorrow.

So last Monday when I realized that I had all this work, I baked two loaves of bread, made a pot of red lentil soup, and baked an apple pie. My family eats well when I procrastinate.

Did I mention I work at my kitchen table? It makes cooking and stress-eating much easier.

So that is why I started working early on this Sunday morning, and I will spend this absolutely beautiful last Sunday in September at my computer.  . .and why you might find me taking a break to bake some mandelbrot and cook a pot of spaghetti sauce.

But for now, back to work!

The Taste of Nostalgia

I’ve been thinking about nostalgia for a few months. (Nostalgiazing over nostalgia?) As a historian, my present—and my future, as far as I can see it—is infused with the past. I don’t have a longing for the false past of mythical “good old days;” I’ve read enough to know that despite my longing for a climate-controlled time machine equipped with full amenities, such as running water, a toilet, hot, brewed coffee, and a supply of good chocolate, I do not want to live in the past–even my own past. I have no desire to relive my youth, although I wouldn’t mind having the energy I had as a teen, and I could do without the vague pains of middle age.

Still . . .nostalgia is pleasant. In fact, I’ve discovered it can be good for you. An article in July in the New York Times discussed the study of nostalgia and its effect on people. Nostalgia comes from Greek words meaning to return home and the pain that comes with it. The term was coined by a 17th century Swiss physician who believed it was a serious mental affliction. Now, researchers—and it is something that is actually being studied—believe nostalgia can be useful. Moreover, nostalgia can be found among people all over the world, from all different cultures and backgrounds, and ages. Even children can feel nostalgic.

“Nostalgia serves a crucial existential function,” says Dr. Routledge, a psychologist at North Dakota State University, “It brings to mind cherished experiences that assure us we are valued people who have meaningful lives. Some of our research shows that people who regularly engage in nostalgia are better at coping with concerns about death.” According to the article, nostalgia can make people feel less anxious, and it can even make us feel warmer in a cold room.

In June, when my husband and I celebrated our 36th wedding anniversary, I went through some of our wedding photos and thought about people who were no longer with us. At the same time, we were making plans to bring my wedding gown to our older daughter, who plans to wear it when she gets married next year. Past and future merged in a kaleidoscope of images in my brain—memories of our wedding and thoughts of a wedding yet to come, a wedding gown connecting the two.

So. . .I was nostalgic, and then I started thinking about nostalgia. Naturally, I thought of food. . .because, well, if you’ve read my blog before you know I always think of food. I wake up planning dinners. That’s true—ask my family.

Anyway, I started wondering what nostalgia would taste like. Not simply comfort food. My ultimate nostalgia meal would probably be Thanksgiving—simply because the scent of the onions, turkey, cinnamon, and everything cooking melds together and elicits from me such a strong sense of home, family, and the past– that even thinking about it now makes me feel warm, cozy, and happy.

But what if I had to narrow it down to one item? So I started thinking sweet, bittersweet, cakey—gotta have those carbs—and I came up with this: A sour cream coffee cake with cinnamon, bittersweet chocolate, and a light glaze. The addition of the chocolate doesn’t make it really taste chocolatey, but it adds a depth to the flavor. It’s not too sweet. It’s comforting, and just right. It smelled good, too, while baking.

I don’t know that this cake is actually the taste of nostalgia, but it’s a good cake. To be perfectly honest, the bottom of the cake stuck to the pan, so the cake was kind of lopsided and crumbled. It was delicious though. Still, isn’t that like life? Sometimes you get stuck, sometimes things don’t work out, but then you look back and remember those sweet, spicy, and bittersweet moments? Perhaps some day, I’ll remember making this cake, and I’ll feel nostalgic.


A little misshapen, but still delicious

A little misshapen, but still delicious


Nostalgia Coffee Cake
(adapted from “Coffee Cake Exceptionale” in Coralie Castle and Jacqueline Killeen, Country Inns Cookery.)

¾ cup butter
1 ½ cups graulate sugar
3 eggs
½ tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
½ tablespoon baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups sour cream

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cups finely chopped walnuts
½ tablespoon cinnamon
finely ground bittersweet chocolate ( I used 2 Ghiradelli squares)

I added a glaze of confectioners sugar, vanilla, and milk

Grease and flour tube pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix butter and sugar until light. One at a time, beat in eggs, then vanilla. Combine dry ingredients, and stir in alternately with sour cream.

Combing filling ingredients. Ladle half of the batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with filling and spread remaining batter over it. Bake 50 minutes, or until cake pulls slightly away from the sides of the pan and tester comes out clean. Cool at least a bit before adding glaze, if you can resist that long.


Planning for Dragons

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

My husband planned to mow the lawn today, but last night this happened.
We were not home at the time, but apparently we missed quite a thunderstorm. Our two cats witnessed the event, but they’re not talking. As we drove home from a fun evening with friends at the Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery, we watched as lightening traveled from cloud to cloud and sometimes from cloud to the ground. We weren’t driving in the rain; it was all in the distance, and it was quite amazing to watch. We were fortunate that there was no damage to our house, cars, or neighbors’ property. As with dragons, when you live near trees, you must consider them in your calculations.


Of course, plans go awry all the time. We encounter traffic delays and arrive late somewhere; we have to move an outdoor event indoors because of rain. And we change what we are writing because of new evidence or a sudden, brilliant idea. OK. I suppose there are some writers who plan everything and never change a word, or bit of punctuation. I’m not one of them.


When I was writing my doctoral dissertation about marital problems in eighteenth and early nineteen-century Pennsylvania, which became Breaking the Bonds, I could not plan the chapters until I had done the research—and, of course, I kept finding new material. At the same time, I searched desperately to find particular court records and other documents that no longer existed. Or to discover more about the men and women I encountered in court dockets and almshouse records, people who were not well known or wealthy, and in fact, were often poor and desperate. I planned and wrote, and planned again, and wrote some more. I had a baby during this process—also planned—but I did not know then how having a baby would change how and when I worked. Writing a dissertation is one big life lesson on planning and re-doing plans.
This has proven true for most of my writing. What I plan to write about in my books and in my blog changes constantly.

As some of you know, I often change a cooking plan in mid-recipe (or more likely mid-non-recipe). A few weeks ago, I had some bananas I wanted to use up, and also a few strawberries. So I made strawberry banana walnut bread. This is my new super-easy and delicious banana bread recipe, adapted from Simply Recipes. My version is mainly banana bread with just a hint of strawberry. Because I think banana bread is kind of naked without walnuts, I also added some ground walnuts to the original recipe.

So here’s the recipe. You might want to plan to make it some time, or not.
Super Easy Banana Strawberry Bread
3 ½ medium bananas
About 4 strawberries
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 ½ cups flour
¼ cup (approximately) ground walnuts
Melt butter. (I use the microwave to melt the butter in the same mixing bowl I’m going to use for the recipe.) Mash bananas and strawberries into the butter with a potato masher or other tool of your choice. Or use your hands if you want to. I don’t care. Mix in the egg—you can use the same potato masher, spoon, hands. . .Stir in the sugar and vanilla with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the salt and baking soda on top, and stir. Add the flour and nuts. Bake in a greased loaf pan for about 1 hr at 350 degrees. Cool. Then remove the bread from the pan. Eat and do a little dance—because it will make you that happy. Plan on it.  Image

For You: Bok Choy and Kale Chips

How do you make the brisket?
Can I have your recipe for Snickerdoodles?
What do you do with bok choy?

baked kale chips

baked kale chips (Photo credit: eraine)

The calls and messages come.
Sometimes they are frequent;

sometimes not often enough.

My friend calls it “the lost years.”

Those years when we were so caught up with our children,
their activities, and work
that we had little time to connect with each other.
It went by in a flash.
I’m past that time now.
My children are young adults.
They do not need me to take them to rehearsals

or lessons.
We talk companionably,
and sometimes with tears,
but more often with laughter.

I cherish every moment.

Your children are still young.
You chase them, and love them,

and take them here
and there
and here again.

“I love your blog posts,” you say,
“Even when they’re not about me.”
You laugh.
So this is for you.

“Make kale chips, “ I say.
“Bake them at three hundred,
but watch them carefully so
they don’t burn.
Maybe you can use the bok choy.”

I know I will not be lost to you.
We’re both amazing women.
But I’m the one with the recipes.