Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thank you, Apple & Almonds

What satisfactions in simple sufficiency
Since the surfeit of this season's seasonings -
Superabundance of cinnamon, savory,
Sweeties and salties all sizzling and sparkling -
But ah! apple (one) and almonds (ten)
An easy handful raw, unsalted and unadorned
Nutty bite balancing bursting bite of fruit
Tantalizing tasty, tangy-sweet, crisply tart -
Simply sumptuous, sensuously simple,
I sing you soaringly in shadow and sharp sun!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Thank you, Forgotten Photos

Look at you, Forgotten Photos, you who have been keeping yourself to yourself in a camera tucked at the back of a drawer.

Like finding five dollars in the pocket of an old coat - that same sizzle of pleasure unlooked-for.

You've been saving all this time morning light waiting to re-dawn.

You've been keeping bright a brilliance of leaves still unfallen in the stillness of your focused view . . .

fiery leaves from your silent and everlasting now that for me in this roaring parallel Now have faded and drifted down and been trampled and blown into dust and mud.

You've kept still even the momentary arabesque of clouds.

Written (graphein) in light (photos), you've saved for me a golden afternoon.

You've saved a moment of reflection as I sat aside from my family's grief at their grandpa's passing . . .

and a moment where nothing really happened, a moment I only remember the sweetness of now.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thank you, Wooden Hangers

Though you've done nothing more than hang around in your wooden and well-spaced sort of way. 

I can't even say it was you who inspired the vehement closet-cleaning, the fanatic bagging up, the merciless depositions and dispersals.  That would be thank you, the Miseries - but that was one thank-you just too hard a stretch for my gratitude. 

Thank you, Miseries - for leaving, I could say that.  Thank you for slinking out of the house along with the few-to-dozens of bags of  that materiality which oppresses [see "The Tyranny of Things" by Elisabeth Morris nearly a century ago - coming to us now by way of Patrick Madden's Quotidiana by way of Dinty Moore's Brevity - both of whom I am shockingly often grateful for]. 

But you, Wooden Hangers, you I can thank wholeheartedly for just being you - which in your case means smoothly sanded and appealingly variable in grain and color.  Thank you for campaigning in your quiet way for spareness and choice in our tiny closet, for rewarding us now with yourselves ranged all along the length of the closet rod, making space around only the things we use and like - and good riddance to all those maybe-sometime-might-come-in-handy obstructions to a simpler life, that load of excess materiality that went out with the Miseries.

Monday, December 27, 2010

guest post: Thank you, Small Things

posted by Middlest

This year has held a lot of big things for me. Some good and some bad.

Christmas Eve was full of small things. All good.

Thank you red pepper full of small white seeds on a green cutting board. A reminder to have faith. "Faith is like a little seed. If planted it will grow . . ."

Thank you small vegetables being sauteed to be placed on pizza. Thank you for sizzling and sending off sweet and slightly spicy smells. Cooking peppers always makes me think of family. Maybe because the sound of the vegetables is cozy and everyone stops by the stove top to see what's cooking. Thank you for family.

And in the background, Taylor Swift singing about looking past the tinsel of Christmas and what would be left?
         "Something holy and not superficial
               So here's to the birthday boy who saved our lives - "

Thank you for Christmas. Thank you for this holy holiday that was spent with family. Thank you for the reason we have this holiday. Thank you Jesus, for giving your life for me.

posted by Middlest

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thank you, Owl and Pussycat

"So talk to me.  Tell me something lightsome."

"Okay," says Middlest. 

We continue on in silence.  Companionable.  Not unhappy. We've spent many hours this autumn-into-winter, side by side here as she gets in her driving hours.

Out of this silence (for which I am also thankful, but it would be a profanation to insist too loudly on such a quiet thing) I sigh, gustily, clowningly,  "Too bad we don't live in an Age of Poetry.  You could recite poetry to me -  calm this restless feeling and banish the thoughts of day?"

"I know poetry," says this endlessly surprising being.

"That's right." How could I have forgotten?

And she begins,
"The owl and the pussycat went to sea
     in a bYOOtiful pea green boat. 
They took some honey and PLENTY of money
     tied up in a five pound note . . . "
from stanza to stanza, faultlessly, until my memory of her high-pitched high-speed four-year-old voice and my laughter now at this elegant fowl she's grown into are also dancing hand in hand at the edge of the sand by the light of the moon, the moon . . .

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thank you, Light in Darkness

Nativity, detail, Kershisnik

Friday, December 24, 2010

Thank you, Morning Light

And please let your friend Morning Mist know how much we appreciate her, too.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thank you, Aspiration

I love you, Basketball Dreams, Designing-Flying-Machine Dreams, Writing-Novel-of-Solving-the-Blowing-Up-the-Lincoln-Memorial-starring-Inspectors-Clouseau-and-Mom-what-was-the-other-guy's-name Dreams.

I love you Hopeful Hours spent shooting hoops, drawing and doodling, typing away - What! It can't be that long, I've only got two lines written!

I love the stars in your eyes, Aspiration.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thank you, Singing Sister

You know how much I love to hear you - that full-color, fathoms deep, mountain high and wide, open-throated voice of yours - but since you are leaving tomorrow and the singing will not be filling my house and heart for another year - six months - too long however long it is - I had to say thank you to you, Amazing Sister, for the singing.

 O come Desire of Nations and bind
In one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease
And be Thyself our Prince of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall come again, O Israel.

Thank you for knowing all the verses and singing all of them for me, even though the vagaries of my camera  allow only a snippet to be recorded.  Thank you for putting the heartache you've lived through into something so beautiful as this.

Oh, won't you go and tell my baby sister,
Don't do as I have done,
But shun that house in New Orleans
They call the Risin' Sun.

When I am very old, or very sad, or just whenever next you can, please come sing to me again.

If like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
Darkness be over me,
My rest a stone.
Still in my dreams I'll be,
Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer my God to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

 . . .  thank you, s'vester.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Thank you, Siam Village Thai

Because how on a cold cold night can you argue with all the spice and reflected light and not to mention Holy Basil, Swimming Rama, Crying Tiger (is not Tiger Woods), Jungle Curry, Golden Cashew, and several entrees called Yum?

Even Fritz' mom thought so.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Thank you, Anything

I didn't think this would be so difficult - these daily gratitudes. 

I find myself more and more uncomfortable with the piling up of evidence how lucky I am - the small blisses, the huge blessings. I'm more and more ashamed of the abundance that more and more begins to feel like it's weighing me down - the intangibles as much as the plenitude of material goods.  

 (thank you, Roof's Safe Shelter - thank you, Patient Fritz - thank you, Democracy - thank you, Flowered Wallpaper - thank you, CD Player - thank you, Curiosity - thank you, Opportunity - thank you, Daughter Friend - thank you, Great-Grandma's Recipes - thank you, Trunks of Trees - thank you, Wonderstruck Ten-Year-Old - thank you, Health - thank you, Health Insurance - thank you, Hope in Christ)

All the goodness so unstintingly showered down on me.  So undeservedly that I feel ashamed rather than grateful.

I can hear you already, jumping in to set me straight.  Bear with me.  I know I'm wrong, I know I've got this tangled, but I want to figure out why. 

Last week at the food bank (I had biked in that morning composing in my head an exuberant Ode to Joy - thank you, Sunshine; thank you, Muscles; thank you, Thoughtful Driver; thank you, Flutter of Birds), I scrubbed down walls and sanitized freezers and fridge for the quarterly inspection in between waiting on a regular stream of the needy.  We had the radio on, playing happy Christmas music. 

"Bah, humbug," said a woman not much older than I.  "Not much to be merry about when you don't have any money and can't buy anything to give your kids."

I could have said . . . or I could have pointed out . . . but I didn't. 

I believe she'd have felt happier if she'd looked around right there and been glad for this clean, well-lighted place that existed just to help her, the loaves of bread on the shelves, the cheese sticks in the fridge, the sign-up for the hot dinner and gift for each child the local Boy Scout troop would deliver to her house (or other central location if she didn't have a house) on Christmas Eve.  She would've felt more fortunate if she'd let her thoughts dwell on all the people who donated cans to feed her, the hours volunteering, fund-raising, the local gardeners who planted extra so we could offer her more.

But was it for me to tell her? 

Maybe.  Maybe it would've helped.  I've heard other people make the point and make it effectively, compassionately.  But I didn't.  I felt I couldn't. Because she was right. It's hard to be merry in the face of poverty and hunger.  If I'd been facing what she was facing I'm not sure I wouldn't have been bah-humbugging myself.  Why not allow her bah humbugging space as a valid response to this world, this time of the year?

Before she came in I'd been humming inside with pleasure at the bike ride, the vigorously effective scrubbing, the music playing.  After she spoke I stopped my silent happy humming.  Which did her no good but allowed me to listen a little better to what she was saying.

I looked at her, beheld her, the sad skin beneath her eyes, the angry tightness around her mouth, the bad luck that hung about her like a cloud.  I nodded and made a sympathetic sound and then fetched the frozen green beans and plastic-wrapped tube of ground beef that we give everyone. 

Later, this weekend, we drove down to see my brother's new baby.  Along the way, at the rest stop, we saw a family - man, woman, two children - camped out with a sign asking for money to buy more gas for their bus.

It might have been a scam.  They sometimes are.  None of them - children, woman, man - might have even been actually related - except in the way we all are.

Waiting for my sister and my daughter,  I watched a slim well-groomed woman jump out of her shining white SUV, cradling a fluffy white lapdog.  She strode into the rest stop. On her way back, she stopped to say something to the woman holding the sign asking for money, then Ms. Fortunate in her scarf and tasteful beads trotted back to her car, looking pleased.  Her Fluffy gave a quick happy bark.

"Did you hear what that lady said?" my sister asked me a few minutes later when she herself had returned.

"No, but she seemed happy to have said it."

My sister huffed "She asked the other woman where she lived and the woman pointed to her sign - Homeless - and then lady said, Why are you here?  She told her she should be in the city where there are jobs, she shouldn't be here."

I had seen others - mostly truck drivers, men in rough jackets - quietly slip a bill or two into the man's or the woman's hands.  And because I wanted a picture of their bus I had gotten out while waiting for my passengers, given $5, and asked if the bus was theirs, if they'd mind if I took a picture.

"Yes," she had looked at me a little strangely, "Yes, you may.  And thank you for asking first."  She lifted her chin, looking out at the world with dignity.

I have to make it plain that it had not been compassion that had moved me.  Not compassion that actually moved me up and out of my car.  If they hadn't had something I wanted, something I would have been ashamed to take without giving them something I had that they wanted in return, I would have stayed snug and warm in my car.  I say that without shame or guilt or apology.  Perhaps there should be shame, but there it is.  

It wasn't pity, or acting Lady Bountiful.  It was a trade between citizens. 

When I was young, home for the summer between semesters at school, a girl I knew, visiting at my house to talk her troubles over with my mother, had accused me - "You've had everything handed to you on a silver platter."

I was tired. It was late in the evening. I'd been gone since 5 a.m., driving my dad's little truck over to the neighboring town, working 10 hours at the foundry, then another 4 hours copy-editing for the local Shopper-Advertiser newspaper.  I was working long days to pay my way through college - though even there I had the help of a handful of scholarships. 

I felt more tired still, looking up from the cold dinner my mom had set aside for me, looking up into this young woman's unhappy face.  Because she was right.

Everything had been handed me.  All I'd done was reach out and take it.  Which is something - we all know that. 

Nevertheless, I looked at this girl, felt myself torn with self-justifying irritation and grudging acknowledgement that she was right.  My father hadn't abandoned us when I was a baby, my mother wasn't sickly, I hadn't been date-raped, no one had pressured me into getting a degree in elementary education when I disliked children, I wasn't stuck cleaning bathrooms at the Lake Geneva Lake Lodge.  Health, height, metabolism, opportunity, web of support. Life had been unfair to her. 

And yes, she had been unfair to Life.  I knew there were gifts she couldn't bring herself to reach out for, blisses and blessings she had refused.  There always are.  For all of us.

What I was grateful for, what I am grateful for today is that I could see that.  How she was wrong and right, how I was deserving and undeserving. 

I don't know the name for that.

I am grateful to be the watcher from the car.  Not Fluffy nor Fluffy's dog.

And I don't want to refuse the gifts I know thanksgiving gives back again to me. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thank you, Baby Born

Thank you for this baby in particular, son of my friend (also sister) Jackie, son also of my brother (also friend) Rob.  For what the sight of you spells out in me about hope and optimism.  For your tiny hands and the warm burden of you against my heart. 

And thank you for every baby born.  For the smallness that will grow large and strong;  vulnerability that will ripen into ability; this limited present that will reach into a wider future.  For the need in you that calls forth courage in us older ones to make safe, to make right, to make needed changes in the world you will grow up in.

And thank you to that other Baby, born in the middle of time, son of Mary and Son of God.

Thank You for being born in weakness, in an oppressed nation, in need.  For growing into the Man who walked among fishermen and prostitutes, who healed many kinds of blindness and helped the lame walk back into the light.  Thank You for carrying me and them and all of us against your heart, for changing us, for giving us courage to change.  For reaching out to me and this baby and all babies born here, now, then, there, newly young and increasingly old.  Thank You for offering us all the fullest gift of strength in weakness, safety in danger, and an ever widening future.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thank you, Swift Couriers

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night
stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds

Firstly, you are open in the morning early.
Secondly, you are also open into the evening late.
Thirdly, you have little works of art for sale for under 50 cents.
Fourthly, you have flat rate boxes.
Fifthly, your crowd today is cheery, even merry -
"Have to get back in line?" says the tall man at the end.  I've been sizing out the flat rate boxes.
"Looks like it."
"Why don't you go ahead of me."
"Eh, it's okay.  Guess I need to stop for a minute anyway.  Guess I need some peace."
"All the bustle," he nods.
He makes a point to squeeze up so there's room for more of us in the latter half of the line to slip into the warmth of the heated front office.
When we come to the front of the line, he insists I go first.
"No, I couldn't do that to you. I'm going to be quite a while."
"I've got all the time in the world this afternoon.  Go ahead." and he waves me ahead.  And I am grateful.
Sixthly, your desk clerks weigh everything for me and enter our best guesses at zipcodes to help estimate costs and suggest box sizes for the cheapest rates and are sweet and smiling the whole time.
Seventhly, you promise delivery before Christmas  . . .

What can I say to all that but - Thank you.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thank you, Canned Soup

C you are so convenient - so canned, so close at hand, so canny a choice before one of the too-many carb-loaded festivities of the season.
A you are so all the time available - and at short notice. 
N you are so nutritious - compared to the peanut brittle and Christmas cookies and chocolate-covered pretzels I could have filled up on instead - but you have spinach! and carrot juice concentrate! and 4% of the Recommended Daily Allowance for Calcium, 10% of the Vitamin A!!
N you are so natural (you say)- 100% Natural, in fact and, No MSG added*  (*Except for the small amount naturally occurring in yeast extract). And Real (!) Parmesan Cheese!!
E you are so effervescent - not really and not a good sign if you were, but it was too easy to say you are so easy, though you are - something hot in the tummy on a cold night in less than five minutes -- no wonder we're so under your thumb, Sir and/or Madam Campbell.
D you are so dang convenient.  Did I say that already?  Ditto, then.  

S you are so satisfaction guaranteed - how many other things in life can make that kind of promise?
O you are so obvious - CAUTION, you say, Metal edges are sharpAnd "Real ingredients" are ingredients you understand. I appreciate that kind of clarity on a day like today.  And also how you explain:
Potassium Chloride is a type of salt that adds flavor.
Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate that comes from potato or corn starch.
Xanthan Gum and Locust Bean Gum are ingredients that provide texture. (Yum.   Yum.)
U you are so up-to-the-minute.  You have your own website:  www(dot)selectharvest(dot)com.  You are cooked with care in the USA keeping our fellow citizens employed and helping lift the trade deficit.  And moreover your label is printed with SOY INK.
P you have a pop-top lid - which is just another way of saying: you are so very, very convenient.  Who cares if your meatballs look like kibble floating at the top of the thermos? You are warm and better than nothing and come Ready to Serve.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thank you, Hydrangea

Thank you, Hydrangea, for being so lovely, so simply four-petalled in your robust panicles, so soft-colored.

I like the story you tell me every time I see you on my kitchen counter, whispering now and faded.

A month ago you were brighter, but already retelling your story every time I passed you in your vase.

Two months ago you were fresher still, still part of the whole, and growing along the road that takes us to the high school and the grocery store.

A hundred times I've passed you this year, growing creamy white until the first frost when you blushed and reddened more and more each colder day. But one day - you remind me - a month ago or so I was not driving past, locked up in my car, but bicycling up towards you during the last week of hollyhocks, the first week of winter gloves.

You were a reason to stop - if I needed a reason to stop - and I was grateful for your graceful excuse, halfway up that long slow climb.  And while I stood beneath your hometree's branches, breathing deeply, admiring you and all your sisters, the old woman who has tended you for years came home.  I'd never talked to her before.

She rolled down her window, grinning so the gold teeth in the back got sunlight. 

"They're so pretty," I said, hefting my camera by way of apology and explanation. "Had to stop."

And your little old lady nodded in complete agreement, "A fellow used to buy them at 10 cents a sprig - I'd mail a big box of them to him in New York City.  For hats, you know?  But I haven't gotten out to trim them back this year.  So take as many as you want."

"Oh, thanks, but I can just enjoy the pictures."

But your little old lady was like you, eager to share her beauties, and soon hobbled back out with garden shears, "Take as many as you like.  Fill up your basket," she said.

And so I did - choosing you four sprigs because you were the prettiest of all those pretty branches.  When I offered your lady the dimes I had in my coin purse, she said, "Piff!" and waved my money away.  You are, after all, priceless.

"I'll think of you every time I look at them," I called to her as I perched back up on the saddle, beaming over my bike basket mounded over with your rosy blossoms.

And your little old lady stood smiling with a golden glint and waving until I was out of sight.

And faithfully you've told me this story over and over, as I moved you from room to room so I could have you by me, so you could whisper your story to me.

And I'm still not tired of it.
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