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where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Month: October, 2009

sink your teeth in….

let us all kneel down at the altar of george renninger, that long-ago willie wonka who back in philly in the 1880s dreamed up the tri-color corn that, back in milwaukee in the 1970s, fueled many a night’s study in my tucked-away nook in the college library, dotted the trail from my little one’s bed to his pumpkin this morn, and generally suffices for vegetable this time of year.

in fact, in that parade of national days of this-or-that that never seems to cease, today, we are told, is national candy corn day.

so be it.

have a handful.

while you’re letting the orange and the yellow melt in your mouth, whirl over your tongue, get stuck in the tight spots there in your teeth. chew on this:

ol’ george, who was working for the wunderlee candy company at the time, musta been pluckin’ ears off the stalks when suddenly it struck him, oh, jeepers, this might work in high-fructose form.

so he strolled, yes he did, to his candy laboratory and had at it. poured in some straight-up sugar, added corn syrup, and honey to boot.

poured it into itty-bitty teepee-shaped molds, first the globs of yellow, then orange, and finally the tidbit of white (which, for anatomical correctness, i’ll note is actually the bottom not the top of the confectioner’s glob. ahem. apparently i can now add this to the long list of kernels of knowledge i’ve managed to turn on their heads).

the corns, we are told, were a hit. especially with the new england farmers. who likely found it tastier than the stuff straight from the cobs.

over the years, we’ve gone gaga.

i know for a fact (cuz i’ve watched with my very own eyes) i’m not the only one on the planet who cannot stop once i get started. (perhaps it’s genetic since it’s my firstborn who cannot keep from scarfing in fistfuls.)

does it help you to know that there are a mere 3.57 calories per kernel?

or that a cup of candy corn has fewer calories than a cup of good-for-you raisins?

does it matter to you that some 9 BILLION pieces are gobbled up every year, enough to circle the earth 4.25 times, candy corn triangle tucked up to triangle?

perhaps, you’d like to whip up a batch all on your own, brach’s be darned.

well, then, here’s how:

d-i-y candy corns

• 1 cup sugar
• 2/3 cup white corn syrup
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• several drops food coloring (optional)
• 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/3 cup powdered milk
Combine sugar, white corn syrup and butter in pan, bring to boil stirring CONSTANTLY. Turn heat low and boil 5 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and add vanilla and several drops food coloring (optional) Meanwhile, combine powdered sugar, salt and powdered milk Add all at once to mixture in pan. Stir until cool enough to handle. Knead until stiff enough to hold its shape. Shape into triangles, or any shape desired.

i’m dashing right now to a halloween parade, followed by bowling for 8-year-olds, followed by bowl after bowl of that renninger special, the corn that fueled my college diploma.

be back with more substance. for now it’s all fluff.

anyone else as mad for the stuff as i am? if not, what’s your sugary downfall?


i was stumbling out the door, as is often my woopsy-daisy style, when there in front of me i noticed the coil of gray-with-red-stripe. i followed that serpentine thing, traced it along, to see where it snaked, that long-throated gullet of gray.

and that’s when i noticed it limp by the tree.

dripping by the tree.

days and days by the tree.

the little tree. the new-enough tree. the tree just aiming to steady itself, sink in its bearings, there in the earth that was mine to tend, to watch over, to keep from harm’s way.

uh oh.

quick as i could, i flipped back through the hour-by-hour day-keeper that is my life, tried like the dickens to recall just when i’d last put a foot in these parts, all the while lurching like nobody’s business toward that slow-dripping maw, that hose that had been, um, watering my tree since lord only knows when.

oh, dear.

call the flood insurers. call the priest. might it be time for last rites for this poor little crabapple sprout, drowned at the hand of a scatter-brained gardener?

far as i could count, it had been no less than 72 hours of gulping down drink.

poor little tree. somewhere late monday’s eve it must have been starting to slosh, gurgling there in the so-sodden garden, crying out in diluted distress: “yo, wouldya mind corkin’ the tap? gettin’ kinda squishy out here.”

alas, i wasn’t listening. had long forgotten the hose, the tree, the slow-dripping attempt to quench a deep-autumn’s thirst.

had gotten lost in the trials of a high schooler who studies, routinely, till 3 in the morn, and the woes of the third-grader kicked in the groin. and the mate barreling toward a book deadline, all but vanished from our midst. and don’t forget laundry and dinner and life. and taking the train, to and fro work.

by then it was wednesday.

then thursday.

bring on the lifeboats.

yes, indeedy, while i carried on with my days and my ways, that ol’ tree got more and more and more of what maybe, once, long ago, it had lifted a limb and politely asked for, would you, uh, mind sharing a short juiceglass of water, please.

not two bathtubs full.

not enough h-2-o to turn dirt into bubbling brew.


don’t know about you, but i never take kindly, nor gently, to discovering–nay, rediscovering–the soft underbelly of my swiss-cheese cerebrum. my brain with random and occasional holes so roomy a maze-loving mouse could have quite a heyday.

slapped myself upside that noggin. reached for the phone, the confessional of choice in a telecom age. nope, did not call my priest; called my mama, an even better confessor.

when i blurted out that i’d um, left the hose running for days, then asked if maybe i might have killed the poor tree, she wasted no time beating around this wet bush. why, she turned the hose right back at me, and asked, “why would you do that, what with all the rain in the forecast?”

well, thing is, said i in hopes of defending my sorry old self, i, um, obviously haven’t a clue–not a one–as to why in the world i would force-drink my tree, my innocent tree that’s done nothing at all, not a thing, to deserve such an over-drenched fate.

still in search of consolation, i dialed yet another number.

i put in a call to one of my fairy gardenmothers, one who could not have been kinder, nor gentler, nor more forgiving.

“look out the window,” said she, “you might notice that mother nature is doing the same, letting loose gallons and gallons of water, in preparation for a long dry winter. fear not, you merely gave the ol’ girl a head start. all will be well with your tree.”

and so we pray here at the home of the spigot that won’t be quelled.

while musing this waterlogged state of soggy affairs, it got me paying attention to the notion that maybe my tree stands (well now it might be leaning) as testament to the fact that i oughtn’t be galloping quite so breathlessly through my days, panting from weekend to weekend, just praying not to fall flat on my face.

it’s the occupational hazard, i fear, of working so hard to get through the days.

it’s all one big heart-thumping gasp. the trying to not miss a deadline, not starve the children, not overlook a third-grade reading assignment.

to say nothing of remembering the kisses on the forehead at bedtime. the cups of tea delivered to the study carrel at 2 a.m. the lunches packed with love notes.

with all it takes to stay afloat, it’s a darn miracle more trees aren’t drowning just beyond my door.

come to think of it, maybe i oughta look into ark rentals. just in case we stumble on an unbroken wet spell.

for now, i’ll assume my tree will make it through the long dry winter, and come back next spring to teach me more in the slow-it-down department.

if not, i’ll pray for resurrection. a prayer that never dies.

what signs have you stumbled on lately, signaling you might be dashing at break-neck speed? too fast for your own good, or that of those you love?

inviting in the sacred

someone asked me not so long ago why i search so often for the sacred in my every day.

it’s not so much the searching, really, it’s that i often seem to stumble on it.

it’s just there. kaboom.

i find it, often, tucking little ones to bed. or sitting side-by-side, on stools carved by my brother, in that after-school ebb and flow, when the third-grade day comes rushing out in breathless narrative, and, every paragraph or so, in goes bite of apple, or cookie, or glug of chocolate milk.

i do, yes, find the sacred nearly every time i tiptoe out the door. not the times when i’m near a gallop, racing to the station wagon, keys clunking from my fist, nearly always late for where i was supposed to be, a good 10 minutes ago.

but in the tiptoe times, when every pore of me is wide awake and at attention, when i’m in slow gear, trying not to barrel through, disturb the peace, then it’s almost certain that the sacred will alight on me, as a monarch to a black-eyed susan.

i find the holy breath in birdsong, absolutely. and in the streams of light pouring through the pines, or the crack in the fence that runs along my cottage garden.

i find knee-dropping humility when i spy the moon. or when, weeks behind schedule, a vine i thought had died breaks out in bloom, a resurrection lesson every time.

i find God whenever i’m alone. or maybe that’s the time when at last, i feel the rustling by my side, at my elbow, where my heart goes thump. maybe that’s when at last it’s quiet enough, still enough, for me to hear the holy whispers in my ear.

i do know that God spends time aplenty in my kitchen, at my dinner table. i sink my fists into the egg-rich dough of the challah in the making, and i hear the prayers take off. i dump cinnamon and raisins in a pot of bubbling porridge, and well, i am at one with the heartbeat of all the saints and angels who’ve passed this way, who’ve known what it is to be called to care for others as if you were their mother.

at every meal when we join hands, a circle of palms touching palms, fingers wrapped around fingers, i feel a veil of holiness drop down upon us. especially so when we’ve invited in a friend or stranger we’d not known so well before.
oh, Lord, i even find the sacred scrubbing out the tub. not always. but sometimes. folding clothes. turning on the iron, smoothing out the wrinkles.

isn’t that, at the heart of it, what the sacred brings?

an otherworldly way of living on a higher plane?

isn’t this all just molecules and space between if there’s no purpose to the plan? aren’t we merely moving markers round the gameboard, passing through the stations, checking off the list, if there’s no Teacher, no Comforter, no Great Illuminator?

oh, you needn’t call it by a single name. nor pray a certain prayer.

all i’m thinking here is that to tap into the sacred, to invite it in your home, your heart, your rushing to the train, your talking to the grocery checker, is to take it up a notch. to infuse the beautiful and the breathtaking into the simple act of breaking bread and sipping wine. or stirring soup. or whispering in a child’s ear, “don’t be afraid. i’m here.”

isn’t all of life just a long equation of simple addition and subtraction? don’t we make it into poetry, geometry, by seeing it through a lens that understands, at the heart of every breath, every word, every triumphant act of courage, every heart-crushing blow, that we are not here merely by the power of our own two legs.

but that there are wings all around, holding us afloat, wrapping us, taking us on a sacred flight to everlasting truth and holy wisdom.

that’s why i seem to stumble on the sacred.

i don’t think i’d stay upright otherwise.

do you invite in the sacred? how so? why, for goodness sake?

one by one, we all got, er, cozy

so much for that grand notion.

the one that had me climbing, all alone, into bed on a chilly, drizzly autumn’s night. the one that had me hauling along a stack of books, turning pages till well past the midnight hour.


with my night thoughts unbroken.

the big boys, you see, are far away. were rumbling–as i climbed the stairs, climbed into bed–cross the countryside, on the rails, headed off to university, the first of many college visits for my boy who’ll soon be shipping off.

well, summer after next anyway, and in a mother’s heart that is soon all right. sooner than i’d ever thought it would come.

i’d known for weeks that this one rare weeknight would be mine. alone. (or did i already say that?)

had played that most seductive game of duck-duck-will-it-be-a-movie, a weepy girl flick? or will it be a pile of books and magazines?

the latter won, in large part because i’d been feeling achy all day long, hadn’t made it to the little shop where all the films are stored like cracker boxes on a grocery shelf. you walk the aisles, eye the labels, decide which brand makes your tummy growl the loudest. then dash home to swallow whole, fast as you can tear open the wrapper. movie or cracker, it’s often much the same.

and so, in anticipation of this rare bedtime treat, the adventure of keeping the bed lamp burning till i darn well wanted to click it off, not just till i get elbowed in the flank by a grumpy, sleepy fellow with pillow pulled atop his head, i did all that needed to be done:

i scurried the little one up and under the sheets. kissed him twice, once to seal the deal, next to paste him into place, there where he belonged, drifting off to dreamland all on his own.

then i tiptoed back down the stairs, gathered up my night’s diversions, clicked off the lights. bid the quiet house good night.

heard the cat meowing at the door. let him in from all the nasty drizzle.

headed back toward the stairs. brushed my teeth. alone. savored sharing neither sink nor toothpaste.

slid beneath the puffy covers. piled the pillows, all just so.

hauled my books onto my stretched-out, pajama-covered, oh-so-tired legs.

heard the sound of footsteps, padding cross the hall.

saw a little face, smiling, peeking round the corner.

felt my heart go limp, in that way it does when plain old love washes over you.

when the face you see is one you often can’t say no to. certainly can’t turn away, when the words that come from that perfect little mouth are ones that softly plea: “can we have cuddles?”

and so, i made some room. told him he could stay, long as he didn’t mind the sound of me turning pages.

wasn’t long, not a paragraph later, that we then both heard–the midnight cuddler and i–the pit-a-pat of cat paws, coming closer and closer, up the stairs and round the bend, somehow knowing where the cuddling was, in a house with just one light on.

and then the pounce, which made the bedsheets shake.

and suddenly, it seemed, the night alone was lost.

reminded me of some children’s tale, where all the sleepy folk, and barnyard critters too, piled in one bed. until the bed collapsed, and down did crash the whole darn napping house.

if we’d had a cow, i suppose she too would have been mooing right on top of us.

oh, goodness me, i gasped, here in my very own four-poster bed, we had quite a slumber party going on, complete with giggles and meows. and all i’d hoped for was no more ruckus than comes with a mad dash of words inhaled one atop the other.

so much for mama time.

so much for all those minutes spent weighing one morsel or the other.

so much for the unbroken count that now continues, the long, long stretch of nights since i’ve had time alone. (staying up till three, for the mere sake of being the only one awake in a crowded house, certainly doesn’t count, for that is a torturous way to arrive at solitude.)

but i suppose that’s the shift i’ve signed up for here. that unfettered reality of motherhood that time to yourself comes not on your terms, but on rare colliding circumstance that might, maybe, if you’re really really lucky, find you home alone in the middle, perhaps, of a tuesday afternoon. when there’s little chance that you’ll get to make the most of it, because well the dryer is squawking, and the school bus will rumble by any minute, so why plop on the couch because you’ll have to pop back up any nanosecond. why sink into a long and winding sentence because it will end, abruptly, when sneakered feets bound in the door, with plenty to tell you all about the school day.

if there’s any truth here, in the land of motherhood, it’s that selfishness gets shoved aside, nine times outa 10.

because little faces look up at you. arms reach out to you. words come, plain and pure: “can we have cuddles?”

and so, you fling back the covers, you make do with cat hair on your pillow case. (thank God there is no cow.) you drop your pile of books onto the floor, with a declarative thud.

you click out the light.

you wrap your arm round the warm soft little someone curled up beside you.

and you dream the sweetest dreams.

but, before you too slip off to dreamland, perhaps, you console yourself with this scant hope: hmm, there’s one more chance tonight.

that ol’ train won’t rumble back till tomorrow, so perhaps, by the slimmest of possibilities, you might pencil in a date with that ol’ pile of uncracked books. and those thoughts that won’t be broken.

but, of course, you’re smart enough to know: don’t count on it.

how do you steal time for you, and you alone? do you, like me, daydream about the day when what you do from dawn till bedtime will be dictated by nothing other than your very own whims? hmmmm….

stars and wonder

when the sun slips down tonight, and it promises to do just that at precisely half past the hour of six, we too will slip away, slip outside.

we’ll kindle lights, bless the passage of sunbeams giving way to moonbeams, anoint the cusp of sukkot, the jewish festival of joy.

we’ll take to the domed cathedral, the one whose holy sanctum arcs beyond our reach, the one papered every night in stars. itty-bitty, far, far away points of shining light.

it is God’s command, on the 15th day of the seventh month of the hebrew calendar, to take to the world beyond our sturdy shelters, the ones of doors and windows, floor joists and heating vents and taps that spill water with no more than a twist of the wrist.

it is the season of holiness in this house that draws from all the holy wells.

and so, we do as it is written in leviticus, chapter 23.

we take to our dwelling in the harvest field. we take to our rickety, not-so-sturdy shelter, the one meant to remind us that wherever we dwell, God is our shelter.

at our house it means that, for eight nights beginning tonight, we will take our evening meal out in the screened-in porch, tacked onto the garage, tucked beneath the pines.

it’s not quite living up to the levitican prescriptions. not quite roofed with twigs and branches, hung with plants that can’t be eaten.

but then i’m all for extracting the essence, not getting tangled in particulars.

and the essence here is breath-taking, once again.

we are being commanded to step beyond the comfortable, the heated, the not-so-drafty. we are commanded to immerse ourselves in the world of night, and all its bright and shining wonder.

stripped of all that we take for granted the other 357 nights of the year, we carry platters and pitchers out to where the chill autumn air runs shivers down our spine, where we twist our legs one over the other as if braided beeswax and do a little warm-up bounce, where we thank heaven for the invention of knitted socks and levi strauss’ blue jeans.

we watch the flicker of the candle-flame dodge and dart upon our flaky-painted, old-door table. and, come the full moon in just two nights, we’ll indulge in no shortage of moonbeams to light our way.

it is this tight-stitched seam between our own bare selves and the whole of creation that draws me deep and deeper into the hebrew calendar, the calendar of so many of our roots.

i hear its echoes through and through my soul.

i am a child of the earth and heavens. i find myself at once skipping like a schoolgirl full of wonder, and hushed in awe, something like the monks whose vespers follow the unfolding of the holy hours, and the turning of the globe, away and toward the sun.

i am humbled by this call to take in the autumnal majesty. to sit beneath the wind-blown boughs, to listen to the acorns plonking on the roof above my head.

and as the stars come on, as one by one, as if the dimmer switch is turned, or the caretakers of wonder travel through the heavens, sparking all the star-wicks with their long-necked matches, i am rapt.

it is no less than a commandment of sukkot that through the roof–called a skhakh in hebrew–we should be able to see the stars.

the point, i do believe: do not dismiss the divine sparks of light scattered all around, in this case the ones painted on the black cloth of night.

and that’s a point that fills me with wonder.

it’s too easy in a world of megawatts and street lights so bright they wash the city sky in amber glow, to forget to look up. to ignore the constellations, the sky-markers that over the centuries kept sailing ships on course, and that to this day whisper to the flocks of fall’s migration just which way to flap their wings and fly.

yes, i stumbled on that latter bit of holiness just the other day, and it’s one that hinges wholly on the stars that shine above.

i learned, talking to an esteemed author of many books on birds, that scientists have proven the uncanniest of celestial wonders, one that, like october’s winds, gives me the shivers.

it seems that in the springtime and early summer, when the baby birds are still tucked safely in their nests, they awake at night, not unlike the squawking species known as baby humans.

only, bless those feathered things, the baby birds are transfixed by night shadows and the stars above.

they are hard at work, those nestlings, stamping in their mind’s eyes the patterns of the nightsky.

indeed, they memorize the constellations, fix their inner compass to the one lone star that never shifts.

somehow, within their every fiber, they align their position with the northstar, and evermore are guided in their migrations, fall and spring, away or toward that shining beacon.

that’s how a wee bird, just hatched the spring before, can find its way–untried, untested–from the boreal forests of the north, clear down to where the sun shines warm.

all in cloak of night.

all because of one star, fixed at the center of it all. one star guiding the whole rushing river that is the winged migration, flowing north to south and south to north again.

and to think that most nights we don’t even bother glancing much beyond the treetops–if at all.

and so it is that we are commanded, drawn beneath the night sky, instructed to mind the shining stars.

as if a whisper stirring us, reminding: the divine is here and there and everywhere.

sukkot beckons: were we to step into the holiness of bough and birdsong and rushing wind, we stand to be washed over with a saving grace.

and so it will be.

at nightfall, i will leave behind my sturdy house and go to where the winds blow and the starlight flickers on.

i will take a seat at the table in the breezy, chilly place where God, sure and steady, is my shelter, and my peace.

have you stopped to count the stars lately? have you, like the baby birds, memorized the nightsky? could you find your way home, knowing only where the polestar burns?