Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fig, Just One More Time

Well, he'll be returning to his home in Lower School in a few days. I'd sort of thought that after last week's flurry of activity, my little friend couldn't do much more to surprise me. And I'm sure it won't surprise you to find out I was wrong.
. . . .
I must start out by admitting to a couple of things. First, the "office mate" I'd referred to in my earlier post about Fig is actually the Head of School; I'm employed as his assistant. And second, I subscribe to an email publication designed to improve one's vocabulary. It hasn't been too effective in my case, but that's enough about that. This week the words have all been about poetry types, and you already know where I stand on poetry.
. . . .
Okay, back to Fig. Monday morning I came in and the dear little pet was sprawled out on his flat rock, not moving a muscle. He was a little bit dry. I was alarmed. I took the lid off his habitat and gave him a gentle nudge, thinking perhaps he'd had a big weekend and was sleeping in. No response. I tried again. Nothing. I tried to take his pulse, but failed miserably.
. . . .
With just days to go before returning to Lower School, it appeared he'd passed away on my watch. How inconsiderate could a newt be? (rhetorical question) My friend Polly stopped by and was nearly as aghast as I was, though knowing her as I do, I was surprised she didn't say something about Fig's "croaking." Moments later, her boss, Debbie, having heard the news of our loss, stopped by to offer condolences and then went off to begin the orientation of the new faculty.
. . . .
Polly returned. This is a woman who doesn't give up. She thought tilting the aquarium might be the thing to do. I disagreed. Polly tilted. Fig scrambled wildly! We rejoiced!
. . . .
An hour or two later Debbie returned, with 19 new employees in tow. "This is the Head of School's Office," she began, and then asked if I wanted all 20 of them to come in or if the Head and I would care to step out to greet them. I realized that she didn't know our good news yet, and as I stepped into the lobby exclaimed, "He's alive! He's not dead!" The new employees all perked up in astonishment as the Head of School, looking nothing at all like Lazarus, emerged.
. . . .
The vocabulary word that day was "monody," a poem in which the poet laments someone's death. I marveled at the coincidence and then was thankful I didn't need to practice it. Got to work on the millions of details that need attention before a school opens for the year and have spent most of the week resolving them. Then came today's vocabulary word, "palinode," a poem in which the poet recants a previous poem.
. . . .
What could I do? (another rhetorical question) With encouragement from Frank and apologies to you, I offer the following:
. . . .
Fig, on Monday Morning

The newt was lying awfully still
to live he seemed to have lost the will.

What an awful reflection on me as caretaker
that our salamander had met his maker.

The moments go by.
Something catches my eye.

What gives?
He lives.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Frank and Fig



FRANK (you should be ashamed to say you wrote it) VOLLMER

Thursday, August 24, 2006


He's been my daily companion for about ten weeks now, for better or worse. Neither of us had planned on this relationship, but it's really gone rather well. The Lower School science resource teacher likes to find students whose families are willing to be foster parents for a classroom animal over the summer break. If she doesn't get enough positive responses, she then asks employees.
. . . .
I'd asked her about a turtle. I thought it would be fun to have a turtle as a roommate for a couple of months, and my suite-mate concurred. Alas, the turtle was already spoken for. But she quickly lit up and said, "You could have Fig!" Fig, it turns out, is a fire belly newt. He may be a Chinese fire belly newt or he may be a Japanese fire belly newt; I can't tell one from another and it seems that some herpetologists have the same problem. He came to be with us the day that school let out, occupying an aquarium in my office. We took a bit of a ribbing when he first arrived, most of it around the intended pun of his name. One person thought "Gingrich" would be better. But we all settled in pretty quickly.
. . . .
In many ways, Fig's the ideal pet. He is quiet, doesn't mess on the carpet, and certainly doesn't chew on the furniture. All of this is a euphemistic way of saying, basically, that he's downright dull.
. . . .

Until the past week. He'd spent most of the summer hiding under one or another of his rocks, coming out to eat, apparently, only during the night when I wasn't there. It would be a real occasion to see him out and about. I thought of him as an exceptionally private individual, someone terribly shy, and tried to give him his space. The cleaning of his habitat was stressful for both of us, as he'd need to be exposed for a bit and then re-orient himself to the clean gravel and rearranged rocks. Then all at once, about five days ago, he started coming out in the morning and staying within view much of the day. Poking his head out of the water. Eating in public for the first time. And then one morning he put his little front hands/paws/whatever on the side of the tank and acted as though he were trying to climb!
. . . .
My office mate and I were astonished at this change in behavior. We wondered if after all of this time he had finally become accustomed to us. We considered whether it was the time of year for mating and perhaps that accounted for this reversal. Then we wondered: How would he know? He lives in an environment where the temperature is the same, year in/year out. We have fluorescent lights, not sunlight and moonlight. He doesn't have a calendar in there with him, for crying out loud.
. . . .
Off to the internet we went in search of answers. What a wealth of information! The first site proclaimed, "Fire-bellies are a good first newt, because they're active and playful (not all newts are), and are small, inexpensive, and commonly available." First newt? Oh, dear. I didn't think I was counting on a permanent affiliation with the amphibious world. And "active and playful"? Not until recently. I decided to look elsewhere. "Is the fire-belly newt the right animal companion for you?" queried the next site. Animal companion? My brain conjured up images of Fig wearing a little vest and learning to push the buttons on my phone when I became disabled. This site promised -- or threatened -- a life span of one to sixty years. I hurried to one more site which announced, "They are rarely seen in the open, except during the spring mating seasons." Spring, huh. It is presently late August when all of this new frolicking has occurred.
. . . .
Deciding that Fig is more complex and mysterious than I'd given him credit for, I called it a day for my research. But I began to look at him with new respect. We'd sort of hoped at the start of the summer that if we did a good job foster parenting a newt, perhaps next summer we'd qualify for the coveted turtle. But now I'm not so sure. Do I really want to rebond with an animal that might have an even longer life expectancy? Am I up to getting accustomed to a whole new set of behavioral quirks? Would I be ready to deal with a diet more complicated that packaged newt pellets? Or might it be better to stay with the now familiar, and offer Fig hospitality in our office for a second annual stay? Such a weighty matter to consider.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Adirondack Weekend

A few weekends ago we went up to the Adirondacks. Tom was playing for the ninth consecutive year at Loon Lake Live!, a very small four-week music festival in the quietest place I've ever been. Here's a link that tells much more about the festival:
. . . .
There is a different group of musicians for each of the four weeks and the emphasis is on strings. The founders of the festival, Sarah and Catherine, were Tom's best friends when they all lived in Manhattan. I always said that Catherine was the big sister Tom always needed. Sarah and Catherine have two little ones, Ari and Zoe who are 5 and 3, I believe.
. . . .

Loon Lake is about a half-hour north of Saranac Lake, 45 minutes from Lake Placid, out a long and lonely road. There is no town there, really, just the lake. Years ago there were large hotels with small cottages that were right on the edge of the lake. Over time, the hotels -- being made of wood -- burned down, leaving just the cottages which were purchased by individual families and apparently passed down through generations. There is one bed and breakfast and absolutely nothing else in Loon Lake. It is very pretty: In previous years, when we've gone up there, we've stayed at the B&B, but they couldn't accommodate us this year. Good for them, I suppose, but bad for us!
. . . .

This year, since there was no room at the Inn, we drove up on Saturday and stayed that night at the Keene Valley Lodge. We'd always passed through Keene and Keene Valley on our way to Loon Lake and wanted to spend more time there someday. Sight unseen we'd booked a room at the Lodge. It was very comfortable, very hospitable, and not at all elegant. I'd stay there again in a minute. The room we had was a regular sized bedroom with a queen bed and we had our own private little sitting room. The common living room had a great big fireplace; one could imagine how cozy it would be in winter. Breakfast was ample and yummy. We had a good time on Sunday exploring the few shops in the Valley and doing some Christmas shopping.
. . . .

The Inn had an expansive front porch with, of course, Adirondack chairs. We made ourselves comfortable there for a while. What was interesting about the Inn was that it was so quiet. The guests, by some unspoken agreement, spoke in soft voices and didn't clomp around making noise with their shoes. After the warm weather we'd been having at home, it felt so good to sleep with our windows open and pull up a blanket during the night. There were soft sounds of cricket conversations, and that was all.
. . . .
Many of the people in Keene Valley were backpackers, climbers, general outdoorsy types. The shops were full of things that would appeal to them, including complicated containers to keep food safe from bears! I couldn't identify a single quilter/cook/reader among them. But one never knows.
. . . .
The Inn also boasted some exceedingly tall flowers!
. . . .

Sunday afternoon we headed over to Lake Placid where we had reserved a room at a hotel overlooking the lake. It was awfully nice, too, with a marvelous view off of our patio. We explored all the shops on the strip and had a nice dinner with Tom.
. . . .
The concert on Sunday night was one of the best we've attended. They are held in the Jewish Community Center, a rustic, old, small building, with benches/pews that don't all match and kind of spotty lighting and a miniscule bathroom. Not to worry. The acoustics are fine and one has the experience of being "up close and personal" with the musicians.
. . . .
After the concert we hung out with the musicians back at Sarah and Catherine's place, forgetting that we had a 45-minute drive to our bed. They entertained us with homemade chocolate chip cookies and stories of riding the New York subways, and all to soon we looked and the clock and realized we had to go!
. . . .
Monday we came home, stopping at a nice place Joe knew of for dinner. The only disappointment of the whole trip was that the fabric shop in Saranac Lake had closed.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Civil War Baskets

So my cyber-friend Molly in California, whom I've yet to meet IRL, said one day, "Why don't we swap baskets made out of Civil War Fabric? With muslin or shirting backgrounds? Using blue, purple, and gray fabric?" Why don't we indeed! I set right to work after ordering some beautiferous fabric on line. My baskets are nearly finished, which is a good thing, since they have to go in the mail to Molly in just a couple of weeks. I will end up with 18 different baskets from the swap, if all goes according to plan and no one else drops out. I'll probably add a few more to come up with a good number for rows. This quilt will be a gift for a friend who likes baskets quite a bit. I'm thinking that for some reason this quilt might be a good one to tie rather than quilt, but we'll see once it is together.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Great Cover Up

Been thinking lately about -- of all things -- aprons. It may be that aprons are part of my mother's legacy to me. I remember being a very little girl and being in the kitchen with her and having an adult's half-style apron tied so that it hung from my neck almost like some sort of peculiar bib, and feeling so grown up because I was wearing an apron. I imagine that we were making and decorating Christmas cookies, because that is the only time I was allowed to "cook."
. . . .
By the year of the fateful Christmas gift, I'd grown past the idea that wearing an apron was a cool thing, a badge of honor. I opened a package one December 25 to find two strange things made from fabric. Mystified and tactless as a 9-or-10-year-old would be, I said, "What's this?" In a hurt tone, my mother replied, "They're two nice aprons I made you." I wasn't impressed. But I can still see them in my mind's eye -- they were really very pretty and beautifully made. One was a yellow background with pink flowers and miniscule dots; the other was green with a motif of those kinds of paper dolls that we used to cut out of folded paper, all in a line, holding hands. I wonder if kids still make those?
. . . .
Seventh grade brought junior high and the much anticipated Home Ec class. I'd been looking forward to it so much. But Miss Twining was a critical tyrant, expecting perfection from awkward 12-year-old hands. My first sewing project, the apron, was agonizing. Mother had given me some dark green and white check fabric. The required pattern was a cobbler style apron, with bias binding applied just about everywhere. I thought that the semester would never end, that I'd be sewing on bias binding for the rest of my life. I didn't deserve more than the C- I got for my apron, and the next year when it was time for sewing Miss Twining suggested I make something that doesn't show, "like a slip." She didn't have any confidence in my cooking either, when we got to that, but I digress.
. . . .
I don't remember wearing aprons in the early years of marriage, but I know that by the time we were living at Smitty's and I was very pregnant and that belly sticking out there seemed to be a magnet for everything I was cooking, I started wearing aprons. And have never stopped. Only the ones that start out hanging around the neck and tie at the waist will do; never the topless model. I prefer darker colors, and an apron without at least one pocket is no good at all. I keep two or three of them hanging on hooks in the cellarway. Reaching for one is so reflexive that I can't even empty a clean dishwasher without putting an apron on.
. . . .
My daughter, my daughters-in-law, none of them owns an apron and none seems to think she is missing anything. I like to help in the kitchen when I'm there, and I finally took one to keep at Sherry's. I hung it in her cellarway. I think I'll take and leave aprons the next time I visit Amy and Anastasia so that I don't have to remember to bring one each time I visit. Neither of them has a cellarway, but that's not going to stop me.
. . . .
Lynn, one of the finest cooks I know, doesn't seem to use them. But Sister Bonnie does and I can't imagine that Cousin Lois doesn't (Aunt Helen would roll over). I know the Good Guys, some of them at least, go in for aprons. Carol gave Peggy and Dottie and me some pretty Christmas aprons the year of the great Tom Paul pay-off. I made each of them an apron out of chicken fabric Christmas before last. I THINK Cessie has offered me an apron when I've helped in her kitchen, but I'm not positive. But at church, when working in that great big awkward kitchen, not very many people bring and wear aprons -- is it lack of interest or lack of memory?
. . . .
I've been pondering all of this of late, wondering if it is a familial thing, a cooking style thing, or -- heaven forfend -- a generational thing. Wondering if my readers wear or eschew aprons, and thinking, actually, that when I go to get the ones to take to Alexandria and Richmond, I might just pick up a new one for me!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Newest Pictures of Sam!

Wrapped in Love

Today Desertsky wrote: I had a message from Sue Nebeker at American Hero Quilts this morning. She was talking about the process of making one of these quilts."Each step along the way there is love and caring poured into those quilts. At the end a recipient is wrapped in as much love as can be infused into an inanimate object which provides warmth and comfort."
. . . .
This is exactly right. I couldn't have said it any better. When I make a quilt, I am most content when I know who the recipient of that particular quilt will be. I like to think about her, pray for her, and generally focus on her while I'm making her quilt. Sometimes I make a quilt and don't know who is going to receive it. The process doesn't feel quite right. Something is missing. I can remember so clearly making this quilt for Kelly and Mark for their wedding gift, praying for them, and thinking about them as I pieced the blocks and put them together.
. . . .

This quilt was made as a gift for Laura's baby girl, Taylor. Laura was the first of the Good Guys' offspring to have a baby and we were all quite excited about this new generation. The fabrics I used were all Milly Chirbuck's hand-dyes, and it was wonderful to work with them, all the while imagining the little girl who would snuggle in this quilt.
. . . .

Roberta saw this group of blocks from the "Cool Hearts" swap that Bonnie and I had organized, and when I offered to make a quilt for her and Lloyd, she chose them. It took a long time to make the mosaic blocks that accompany the cool hearts. Throughout the process, I focused on Roberta and on Lloyd and thought about them using the quilt when it was finished.
. . . .
When I make a quilt to donate for a raffle or when I make the quilts for the Pre-K, not knowing who is going to place the winning bid at the auction, the process feels incomplete. So I don't do that kind of quilt-making very often.
. . . .
I really like and identify with Sue's concept of the recipient being wrapped in love. This is especially true when the quilt is for someone who is ill or grieving. Somehow it adds another layer of caring.