31 October 2013

Well done, Gentlemen

By now the cliche is being embroidered on pillows:
From "worst" to "first"

Mike Napoli, infielder
But the succinct motto couldn't be truer: a 2012 season that had them losing 93 games, followed by a 2013 push to the World Series where they soundly beat the Cardinals in two games on St. Louis turf, and then delivered the coup de grâce during Game Six on the Fenway Lawn.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, catcher
2013 was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and no one really expected much. 

David Ross, catcher
But against the odds, the Red Sox not only became a cohesive team,
but also one to be reckoned with. 

Jonny Gomes, outfielder
This was not a roster of super heroes, but a bunch of scrappy talented players—some very young, some approaching that "past their prime" benchmark—whose combined talents, experience and energy came together in a fashion that was postively alchemical. 

John Lackey, pitcher
Even their new manager, the protective and mannerly John Farrell—baseball's equivalent of the fatherly Claude Julien, for those who know a little about Boston Hockey—had some history he wanted to shake, after a not so wonderful tenure with his previous team.   

Jon Lester, pitcher
But despite their different skill sets and impediments they all had something in common: a love of the game, a quirky commaraderie that had everyone but Farrell looking like an extra on Duck Dynasty, and a desire to prove all the nay-sayers wrong. And prove it, they did. 

Stephen Drew, infielder
Despite loading the bases at least twice during Game 6, the Cardinals were left stranded where they stood as Red Sox starting pitcher, John Lackey, closed one inning after another.  Holding the Cardinals to one run, he was rightly hailed as a hero as he stepped off the mound for the last time in the middle of the 7th inning.

Shane Victorino, outfielder
Making his way to the dugout, he had the class to tip his hat to the appreciative crowd, knowing that some of them were the same fans who had yelled cat-calls and boos at him only two seasons earlier.

Koji Uehara, closer

 Boston is a sports town, no getting around it.  Home of the Bruins, the Celtics, and the hapless Red Sox who either shoot themselves in the foot mid-season or march relentlessly to glory.

David Ortiz, D.H.
This is a glory year. 
And grabbing the brass ring on home soil makes the win even sweeter.

Dustin Pedroia, second baseman
The most recent World Series wins came to them in Missouri (2004) and  Colorado (2007). 

Jacoby Ellsbury, outfielder
 The last time they won the Series in a home game was in 1918.
Needless to say, not one person who saw that game is here to talk about it.

John Farrell, manager
 But now, the citizens of Red Sox Nation have something to talk about.

"Boston Strong"

Not only did our team win, they won at home.
Photos from USAToday, C.H. Monitor, Sports Illustrated, Naples Press, and CNN.

30 October 2013

Play ball!

My home team has a chance to clinch the World Series tonight.
If they do it will be the third time they've done so in 10 years.
And it will be the FIRST time since 1918 that they've done so on home field.
The Green Monster and the Fenway Lawn are ready.
The Fans are ready.
The Red Sox are ready.
Play Ball, Gentlemen!

29 October 2013

Everything Old is New Again

Simon & Schuster 2013
I recently read a newly published work entitled Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity (Emily Matchar, Simon & Schuster 2013).  It concerns the phenomenon of young women 'rediscovering' domesticity and 're-skilling' themselves in the old domestic arts.  This so-called 'unusual rebellion' has resulted in knitting clubs, reading clubs, foodies, bloggers who share decorating or cooking tips, crafters who augment their incomes with hand-wrought items, urban farmers who feed their families and sell the rest at markets in town, and a plethora of television programs reflecting this 'new' domestic lifestyle.

I have always been something of a domestic mouse, feeling slightly out of step with those who wanted a career with a capital "C", but not enough out of step to prevent me from centering my energies and enjoyment on the skills that resonated with me, though some might consider them old-fashioned.  I reasoned that there are those who feel validated when they accomplish things in the world of business, medicine, law, education, retail—and I sincerely admire their energy, drive, and focus—and there are those like me whose hearts sing when they embroider, knit, read, bake, garden, quilt, paint, or sew. And the focus and energy a person brings to those tasks is no less important or satisfying to them.

According to the author of Homeward Bound, folks are 'returning' to skills that were supposedly lost amidst the Mad Men ennui of the 50s or the anger and frustration of the liberation movement in the 60s.  But were they actually lost, or were the people who indulged and enjoyed those activities merely the victims of a low profile? 

Certainly that profile has unintentionally blossomed thanks to the dawn of the internet.  Blogs have made it possible to realize that we are not alone in the way we might feel or think about domesticity, or in the things we enjoy doing in our homes.  Ever since I was in my twenties I have been blessed by a small coterie of friends who enjoy many of the same things I do: a woman who is a wonderful artist, one who is a prolific gardener, another who does exquisite embroidery, knitting, hearth-cooking and weaving, and another who is excellent seamstress. At the time we felt like a bit like a coven, plying our voodoo domestic joys rather than pursuing mainstream corporate rewards. But in those pre-media days what we could not know was that there were countless woman just like us, all across the country, who enjoyed many of the same pastimes as we did, and pursued them with the same passion. They had made a choice: the hearth instead of a time clock.

So I'm not entirely convinced that people are particularly new to this  game or discovering anything... rather, they are merely coming to light and we are able to know one another more easily.

Certainly there were women who grew up differently than I, in families where needlework, home cooking, gardening, and other 'old' domestic chores might not have been indulged, either because there was no time or little interest. And that's okay. After all, if anything good came of the 'liberation' movement, it was that people (men and women both) should be able to spend their lives doing whatever brings them the most pleasure. And if that meant working your way up a corporate ladder, or spinning your own wool—or both!—then go for it, and make no excuses.

And yes, I'm sure there are people who, not having grown up in a household where these skills were taken for granted, are entirely new to the domestic chores mentioned above, thanks to social media, television shows, and word of mouth, and are enjoying the opportunity to learn about and engage in them. Again, this is wonderful!

But to imply that these pastimes were dead throughout the latter half of the 20th c. and no women pursued them—or, if they did, they did it out of a sense of wifely/motherly duty and didn't enjoy them—is simply not true.  Perhap those of us who came of age in the 60s and were unapologetic about needlework, cooking, and gardening were the exception, although I truly doubt this. I'm sure there were many more of us. But because there was no electronic method for touting our interests, and because it wasn't a 'movement' and didn't fall under the ubiquitous heading of 'cottage lifestyle', we simply took it all for granted and went happily on our way.

To those who are just discovering the pleasure and plentitude and economy of those skills?  Welcome aboard!  And to those who have always had a berth on the ship of domesticity, it's been an honor to be on the voyage with you, even if we didn't know we were sharing it at the time.

23 October 2013

Turning Inward

The days are full of bright sun and blue skies, but there is a chill in the air. The gardens are dry and brittle, with fallen seed heads underfoot. Honey colored leaves, and their russet hued cousins, are scattered over the garden beds, forming a gold and persimmon carpet over the wilted greenery. There is still much to do to ready them for winter, with fewer hours each day to accomplish it all.

And so on Saturday and Sunday I shall be collecting sundials and sun catchers and wind chimes and packing them safely away in the garden shed; putting away all the garden chairs and small tables; divesting trellises of their dead vines, and removing frost-bitten annuals from their pots. Occasionally throughout the Autumn a sunny day might find me under the arbor, drinking in the sun along with my tea, wrapped in a sweater as I read. But within the month my time outdoors will most likely end and there will be a turning inward.

Already I feel the call of hearth and reading chair, devouring no fewer than five books within the last two weeks alone: The Rathbones, The Bookman's Tale, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Kashmir Shawl.  And now Remarkable Creatures and a biography of Henry James—nearly triple the size of any of his weighty novels—are near at hand, with bookmarks peering at me seductively from within their pages.

Balls of yarn have been summoned from various drawers, cupboards and baskets. One night soon I will sit and decide on all the socks, hats, scarves, mittens, and shawls I hope to finish for Christmas and winter birthdays. Lists will be made, noting what color is best for each friend or loved one, and which hand wrought gifts they may have received in the past. It will take time to finish them all, but there are many quiet "indoor" weeks ahead in which to labor.

With the onset of cold, the broken tree branches and encroaching saplings have been taken down where needed and sunny days are spent with a saw and clippers, turning them into kindling and firewood.  Potted herbs have come indoors to winter over in the kitchen.  Storm windows have been pulled down, and sheer panels now cover panes that were bare throughout the summer.  Shawls have been drawn from the blanket closet, to place on chairs and sofas. It won't be long, I'm sure, before the first fire will be set on the grate. Scones will be baked, tea will be made, and neighborly conversation will take place in chairs by the hearth, our garden parasol days ended for another year.

Sing a song of seasons.
Something bright in all.
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall.
— Robt. Louis Stevenson

22 October 2013

The Little Ghost


I knew her for a little ghost that in my garden walked;
The wall is high—higher than most—and the green gate was locked.
And yet I did not think of that 'til after she was gone --
I knew her by the broad white hat, all ruffled, she had on.
By the dear ruffles round her feet, by her small hands that hung
In their lace mitts, austere and sweet, her gown's white folds among.
I watched to see if she would stay, what she would do -- and oh!
She looked as if she liked the way I let my garden grow!
She bent above my favourite mint with conscious garden grace,
She smiled and smiled—there was no hint of sadness in her face.
She held her gown on either side to let her slippers show,
And up the walk she went with pride, the way great ladies go,
And where the wall is built in new and is of ivy bare she paused—
then opened and passed through a gate that once was there.

—Edna St. Vincent Millay

09 October 2013

Grasshopper Green

Maria Sibylla Merian early 18th c.
When I was very small there was a field on the corner of a small alleyway several doors down from our house. It wasn't a very large field, thinking back to it now, perhaps no larger than a house lot. But the weeds and grass grew nearly to my chin and at the time it may as well have been 40 acres for the way it seemed to a 5 year old.

Other children and I would walk there with our glass jars to collect grasshoppers, dutifully poking holes in the metal jar lids so they could breath (just barely, I'm sure!) and then placing handfuls of grass inside to make them feel at home. 

They would hop and jump against the glass, panicked no doubt at their new and unfamiliar—and unwanted—home. At the end of the day we would let them out again, watching as they jumped away into the protective fronds of field flowers and tall grass. 
There is a song I remember from those days. I can't recall where or when I learned it. But I think of it every time I see a grasshopper in the garden, which sadly isn't that often.
Grasshopper Green is a comical chap:
He lives on the best of fare.
Bright little trousers, jacket, and cap,
These are his summer wear.
Out in the meadows he loves to go,
Playing away in the sun; 
It's hopperty, skipperty, high and low,
Summers's the time for fun.

04 October 2013

Trains and Lovers

I am reading a wonderful book by Alexander MacCall Smith.

A Novel

He is best known for his delightful series: "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency".
But this book is different, being a series of short stories woven by four people
who find themselves sharing a car on a train. 
"As they journey by rail from Ediburgh to London, the four travelers pass the time by sharing tales of trains that have changed their lives."
Primarily it is a book about love.
"How love touched their lives, in very different ways."
"Love is nothing out of the ordinary, even if we think it is; even if we idealise it, celebrate it in poetry, sentimentalise it in coy valentines. Love happens to just about everyone; it is like measles or the diseases of childhood; it is as predictable as the losing of milk teeth, or the breaking of a boy's voice. It may visit us at any time, in our youth but also when we are much older and believe we are beyond its reach; but we are not."
Smith is a marvelous writer, no matter what he puts his hand to, but this book is special. So endearing and so reminiscent of every rail journey I've ever made. I find myself smiling and wishing I were sitting in the empty seat by the glass door, listening to Andrew, the young Scotsman on his way to a new job in London; and David, the older American just back from a conference; and Kay, the middle-aged Australian woman just finishing a Scottish holiday; and young Hugh, who Smith describes as "tousle-haired and well built—as if he might be good at the playing of a boisterous contact sport."

Trains and Lovers is for anyone who loves trains, and anyone who enjoys eavesdropping on travelers talking about their lives to strangers—fiction though they may be. And it's a charming way to spend time on a bus or trolley in the morning, feeling the same sway of wheels beneath you as you journey along with them on their London-bound travels.
"A friendship may be conceived in four hours;
a short book finished and put away;
a life remembered."
This is a short book that I will be very sad to finish and put away and I can't help wishing this rail journey would never end.

All quotes are from "Trains and Lovers" by Alexander MacCall Smith. (2012 Pantheon Books NY)

02 October 2013

Autumn strolls

I am much more inclined to take long walks in the Spring and Autumn than in the Summer.  The sun isn't set so high in the sky in the transitional seasons. Rather, it hangs off to the side slightly, its warmth and light a comfort after winter's chill or summer's intense humidity.

In Spring and Autumn, the landscape seems less peopled. (One reason why I enjoy it a bit more, surely!) And although there is much color to discover and many things to notice, it takes a more patient pace and unhurried eye to seek out the changes.

There is a marvelous awakening that comes with spring, a sloughing off of winter's pall and venturing outdoors to greet the apple green that appears slowly over a period of weeks until the entire earth looks new again. In March there are the first buds pushing through the soil, their soft fronds seeming like an illusion and easily missed. There is the random clutch of colorful tulips in amidst dried leaves where weeks earlier there was only the dirty remnants of snow. There are fecund buds along branches that seemed like withered near-dead hands throughout the short winter days. There is the promise of unlimited green and soft pinks and brilliant yellows and rich lavenders as one by one the garden residents lift their heads and spread their stems to the sun and slip back into their finery.

Certainly there is always something (or someone) to see on a summer stroll—beautiful gardens, canopy-like trees, rainbow-like prisms as sunlight bounces off the spray from a garden sprinkler, people working on their homes or in their gardens. And there is always a sadness that accompanies summer's end... the packing up of picnic gear, the putting away of garden chairs, replacing voile skirts and straw hats with cotton socks and sweaters, and the hard decisions that come of leaving begonias, coleus and other annuals to their wintry fate.

But this melancholy is balanced by a wonderful nesting instinct that takes over as shawls are brought from cupboards and placed over chair backs, and the oven comes alive again with baking, and firewood is readied by the back doorway, and the afternoon sun is filtered through a golden screen of yellowing maple leaves, embracing each north-facing room with a glimmering warmth.

In October, where once there was a soft green canopy there is now a russet and gold veil overhead, and the rustle it makes in the breeze is more papery.  Brown seedheads and persimmon-like hips appear where Cone Flowers or Roses once bloomed.  Grey and tan sprays of skeletal fronds replace the fleshy green ferns that once nodded in the summer heat.  Houses seem less protected as trees drop their leaves and their verdent canopies thin out overhead.  The crackle underfoot of acorns marks my journey beneath tall Oaks, while the Sycamore trees litter the pavement with bark, like snakes shedding their skin.

And I, too, shed the raiments of summer.... trading sandals for heavier walking boots, wearing felt hats, wrapping scarves around my throat against the occasional morning chill, swapping out cotton dresses for denim pinafores or flannel skirts.

"SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
  Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun."