Advent Day #12 – Taste

Today’s Advent door opens up a world of heaven.  Taste is something that I appreciate with my whole being, like a baby wriggling in delight.  I baked bread twice this week, and made turkey soup and deep dish pizza from scratch.  I am looking for Whole Foods markets within driving distance so that I can taste their Truffle Gouda one more time.  I get really excited about food!  My Christmas magic is gradually boiling down to simply cooking and eating good food.  I’m not decorating or exchanging gifts or going to church or to parties, but I am going to enjoy being busy in my home making tasty things for people I love.  

You’ve Got Taste

And what a gift it is!  Today is the 12th day of appreciating things we often take for granted, and our sense of TASTE is on the docket.  If you can, grab something to snack on while you read.  You might suddenly feel hungry.

Taste and smell go hand in hand, but there are foods that smell better than they taste.  Movie popcorn for instance.  Vanilla extract.  Coffee.  Lavender.  (Steve and I debate whether this can really be a food.  I say it is, and lavender/lemon cookies are delicious.  He thinks they taste like old lady soap.)   Cinnabon rolls.  McDonald’s fries.  Feel free to add from your list.

Last night, Steve & Emily & I ate at an Algerian crepe restaurant.  Oh. My. Goodness.  Flavors exploding all over the place.  Fresh mint tea with honey, served in tiny glass mugs.  Lamb stew with chick peas.  (Lamb fat is a flavor that will always be a comfort from my past.  It is distinct from all other meat flavors and tends to polarize people into two camps.  I’m definitely in the ‘thumbs up’ camp.)  Roast garlic, brie and escargot. (Yes, together in a crepe.  Tres decadent.)  Sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, caramelized onions, olive tapanade, pomegranate seeds.   And strong coffee, poured from a copper pot with a long handle into a demitasse cup that made me think of the film “Notorious” (Alfred Hitchcock).  After sipping my cupful, I found a substance at the bottom that I could have used to make adobe.  It smelled of allspice, I think.


Fried Chicken picnic at Ravinia on my birthday

Taste and texture are also inseparable experiences.  “Mouth feel” seems a totally inelegant way to communicate the pleasure, but it seems to be the term of choice.  Creamy, crunchy, grainy, watery, smooth.  I’m not sure how to characterize ‘fiery’ spice.  Is that a taste or a texture or a mouth feel or a chemical reaction?  “Tastes like burning!” as Ralph says on The Simpsons.  In the documentary “El Bulli” (about the famously avant garde restaurant in Spain), they experimented with serving a cocktail that was simply water with a little hazelnut oil floating on top.  It was all about feeling the smoothness of the oil on your upper lip while the clear, cold water glided below it into your mouth.   Ah, concentrating on a singular sensation.  How wondrous!  How hedonistic!  How delightful!  Why not?  “I’ll have what she’s having!” the old lady says, pointing to Harry & Sally’s table.  Have you ever had a taste experience that bordered on climactic?  I have.  I savor them.  Here’s one that pops in mind: my sister’s homemade Mexican chocolate ice cream.  The first time I ate it, I almost passed out.  Chocolate ice cream has never meant the same thing to me since.   Hungarian fry bread rubbed with a garlic clove at Paprikas Fono in San Francisco.  I was pregnant for the first time and STARVING.  Seriously, I hadn’t been able to keep food down and I was depressed.  I craved that bread with goulash for nine months.

I could probably go on forever, but I won’t.  I am so appreciative of my taste buds and the way they enhance my life every day.  I did know a guy who’d suffered brain damage from 2 car accidents and couldn’t smell or taste much.  I feel much compassion for his predicament.  Not that it is insurmountable, but I’m happy to be able to enjoy the sensations I have.   Thank you, Universe.

Advent Day #9 – Sight

Reblogging my Advent appreciation countdown from 2 years ago: we are rich beyond measure in “ordinary” assets!  Today’s gift is Sight.

The Eyes Have It

I started a little tradition this December as a stand in for the Advent calendar.  I am sending a text message every day to my kids, reminding them of a gift that they have.  The first one was sunshine, the next air, then water, soil, snow, movement, memory, imagination, and today…sight.

I am a very visual person.  I have a visual memory.  A teacher once told me that there is an easy way to assess whether a child is a visual learner.  Ask him to tell you the contents of his closet.  If he looks away from your face and off to a neutral space in order to list things, he’s probably visual.  He’s removing his eyes from distraction so that he can “picture” his closet.  I heard this little trick and remembered all the boring afternoons I spent as a freshman at college picturing every detail of my room at home.  (Yes, I was terribly homesick.  Mostly for my sweetheart.  Finally married that hometown honey on Christmas break my senior year.)  I could still do it 30 years later.  I close my eyes and see my room exactly as it was.  (Where did my mother get that faux velvet wall hanging with the peacock on it?  And why did I bring it to college with me?)

Things I love to see include landscapes, sunshine, animals, trees, the sky…anything natural.  And people.  Faces, bodies, those odd architectural places of form and shadow and contrast that only your intimate loved ones allow you to look at to your satiation.  I can never get enough of staring at people I love.  That’s why I’ve always been fascinated by photography.  My sweetheart bought me a Canon AE-1 camera the second Christmas we were together.  My mother asked me, “Are you going to accept that gift?!”  Hell, yes!  Why wouldn’t I?  Oh, the relationship obligation thing.  No problem; we’re going to be together forever, I told her.  Jim died a year before the camera’s shutter gear got stuck.  So, basically, I partnered both of them for the same amount of time: 30 years.  Now, it’s the digital age, and I can’t afford to get the Canon repaired.  I’m saving for a DSLR.

Visual images are so powerful for me.  I don’t like the rapid, frenetic pace of graphics on TV or in movie ads, though, because they give me a headache.  Fortunately, I don’t own a TV, so I don’t get subjected very often.  We saw the Super Bowl at a sports bar last year and decided that we could make a drinking game based on a few visual cues: something exploding, rotating text graphics, and morphing forms.  Everything was moving.  Whatever happened to the timeless grace of a beautiful still shot?  I get my fix on National Geographic’s website under “The Daily Dozen”.  And I have to say that my sister’s photobucket is also a superb repository of stunning visuals.  Thank you for those “prezzies”, DKK!

Appreciating sight.  What are your spontaneous choices for favorite images?

My sweetheart, courtesy the Canon AE-1, 1980

Advent Day #8 – Imagination

The countdown of free gifts continues – Imagine!

Imagine That!

Do animals have imagination?  Do they think in concepts or toss ideas around?  Or is that strictly a human thing?

Animals have some pretty incredible artistic skills.  I think of weaver birds or bower birds, birds that display their expertise in foiling predators and attracting mates.  Does that indicate imagination?  Cats, chimps, elephants and others have created art with paintbrushes or paws dipped in colors.  Is that imagination?  Maybe.

What good is imagination?  Why is it a useful skill or a precious gift?

It keeps us from getting bored.  It motivates us to engage in possibility.  It fuels hope.  But I suppose it could also be said that it fuels depression or despair.  So, it’s a tool that we have in our skull-shaped kit box.  We can use it however we want.  We get to be creators.  And it’s free.  You don’t need electricity to run it; you don’t have to have an account or a password.  This is one of the greatest gadgets ever!  Do we celebrate it?  Encourage it?  Teach it?  Or do we try to corral it, censor it, mold it, sterilize it?  Well, historically we have done all of these, to be truthful.  What have you done with yours lately?  Do you have a secret place where you put the workings of your imagination?  A journal, a sketchbook, a doodle pad, a workbench, a tape recorder, a music staff, a photo album?  Do you unwrap these presents for yourself sometimes?

When I was in college, I worked summers at a Christian camp.  I was in charge of the arts & crafts area.  It was called “Imagination”.  Over the doorway in blue paint and gold glitter, the name hung like a talisman.  Each day, I wondered which kid was going to come in and blow my mind with something s/he created.  I remember one tall, skinny, shy kid with a speech disorder, named Devin.  He was 14.  He would come in and look bored.  I gave him some clay and googly eyes.  He joked around, embarrassed, and then made a pretty good likeness of E.T. from that summer’s most popular movie.   The next day, five campers came into the shop asking if they could make an E.T. head.  Not that the art was original, it was completely derivative.   But the idea to create something started a fad, like the kids were just waiting for someone to allow them to explore their own imaginations.

Steve came up with a book from his bookstore collection called Artful Jesters by Nicholas Roukes.  “Innovators of Visual Wit and Humor” it says.  Here’s the cover:


The artwork is by Willie Cole; it’s called “Burning Hot I – Sunbeam iron with yellow and red feathers”.  I would love to raid all the recycling containers on my block, set up a workshop in my garage, and make “Imagination” come to life again.  I’d invite all those shy, awkward kids and the ones who pay too much for entertainment, and see if they’d engage in this wonderful ability we humans seem to have inherited from somewhere.  We are co-creators in this world.  It’s a pretty nifty gig.  I appreciate all my blogging friends, my musician friends, artists, knitters, chefs, actors, gardeners, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers…thanks for opening up your shops and showing us it can be done.

About Last Night…

I skipped posting a blog entry yesterday.  We left town at 10:15 in the morning and drove to Chicago for a matinee at the Lyric Opera.  Then we went out to dinner with my newly legal daughter and didn’t return home until midnight.  That is my official factual excuse and reads kind of like the ones my mother used to write to my teachers in elementary school.  “Please excuse Priscilla’s absence from school yesterday.  She had stomach flu.”  The end.  Oh, but last night was wonderful.  I was aware of so much, and now I’m just not sure what to share, where to start, which story to begin.  If I had brought a camera with me, I might just present a series of abstracts and let you fill in the rest.  I didn’t bring a camera; I brought myself.  The data is in me, the images, the sensations, the concepts.  I am full and perhaps trying to stay that way.  If I leak a bit of the experience, will I lose it somehow?  If I try to distill the essence of the evening, will I vaporize much of what I so enjoyed?  Am I allowed to carry my life around like a secret?  Of course, I’m allowed.  The real question is, do I want to?  Why post and share and write and tell?  I sometimes hover between bursting like a pinata and hording like a dragon.  What do you do with the precious value of living?

Smile.  I’ll start with that.

Driving the Interstate with Steve, holding hands and laughing to Garrison Keillor’s radio broadcast “A Prairie Home Companion”.  Finding an alternate route on two-lane highways through the fields when we found the Interstate was closed in one section.  Settling in the upper balcony under a golden ceiling to listen to the virtuosity of a live performance of Baroque music.  Closing my eyes to the modern staging of Handel’s “Rinaldo” and imagining powdered wigs and candlelight.  Imagining what it would feel like to have those glorious high notes, trills, and runs burble out from my own mouth.  Watching my daughter talk about her life, noting her gestures, her warmth, her composure, marveling at her maturity.  Tasting truffle oil, mushrooms, garlic, Sangiovese, gnocchi, gelato – savoring and exclaiming pleasurably to one another in mid sentence.  Talking to the hostess about her Italian family, the recipes, the home country, the history.  Speaking words of love and support and appreciation to my daughter, noticing the shape of the space between us.  Riding home in the dark, so sleepy, so content.

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
― Thornton Wilder

photo from the restaurant's website

Half Way

It occurs to me that I have reached the half way mark in my 50th year blogging project.  This is post #183; I’ve missed two days along the line somewhere, and I may yet miss another, so I probably won’t end up with a perfect 366 by August 20, but I’m calling today the half way point.  Whoo-hoo!  Time to check back on my original intent:

“So this blog is dubbed scillagrace to symbolize ancient elegance of manner, action, form, motion and moral strength.  It is my goal to post entries worthy of the name.  It is my goal to avoid being dogmatic and prissy.  I want to challenge myself to go deeper into subjects that explore the ancient grace of life.   It is a lot of name and a lot of subject, to be sure.  We’ll see how it goes.”

I have also realized that in the adventure of exploring the ancient grace of life, encounters with others are pivotal.  The challenge to go deeper is often voiced not by myself but by those whom I encounter.  The elegance of the dance is significantly effected by those who come alongside to partner me.  So I want to express my deep appreciation for all those who have participated in shaping this blog by liking it and leaving a signature that led me to meet them or commenting and entering into the dance directly.  I appreciate those who were strangers to me and those whom I’ve known in person for some time.   I have truly enjoyed, benefited, woken up, reeled, puzzled, thrilled, anguished, and grown here!  Thank you, one and all.

My gift to y’all today is to share the elegance of the world to which I woke this morning.  My little corner of the globe draped in February’s glory: snow.

Have a grace-filled day, all!

Give Us This Day

The temperature is finally dropping and the snow is falling.  I’m rather in the mood to be snowed in; it’s been a long time coming.  The anticipation of winter without the actual characteristics is a little unsettling.  What would you think if your region just “skipped” a season?  What do the animals think?  “Do we fly north now, or not?”  “Is it time to wake up?”  Migratory animals get confused by light pollution.  I’m sure a host of species are getting confused about climate change.  But then again, they probably don’t worry like us humans.  They adapt.  Or they don’t.  They take it one day at a time, looking for warmth and shelter and food just like every day.

Daily living, daily choices, daily bread.  What do you learn from now?

In the eclectic jumble of my brain, a song is emerging.  “For Now” from the musical, Avenue Q (Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx).

PRINCETON: Why does everything have to be so hard?
GARY COLEMAN: Maybe you’ll never find your purpose.
CHRISTMAS EVE: Lots of people don’t.
PRINCETON: But then- I don’t know why I’m even alive!
KATE MONSTER: Well, who does, really? Everyone’s a little bit unsatisfied.
BRIAN: Everyone goes ’round a little empty inside.
GARY COLEMAN: Take a breath, Look around,
BRIAN: Swallow your pride,
NICKY: Nothing lasts,
ROD: Life goes on,
NICKY: Full of surprises.
ROD: You’ll be faced with problems of all shapes and sizes.
CHRISTMAS EVE: You’re going to have to make a few compromises…For now…
LUCY: For now we’re healthy.
BRIAN: For now we’re employed.
BAD IDEA BEARS: For now we’re happy…
KATE MONSTER: If not overjoyed.
PRINCETON: And we’ll accept the things we cannot avoid, for now…
ALL: But only for now! (For now)…
Only for now! (For now there’s life!)
Only for now! (For now there’s love!)
Only for now! (For now there’s work!)
For now there’s happiness! But only for now!
(For now discomfort!) Only for now!
(For now there’s friendship!) Only for now!

(Sex!) Is only for now!

(Your hair!) Is only for now!

(George Bush!) Is only for now!
Don’t stress, Relax,
Let life roll off your backs
Except for death and paying taxes,
Everything in life is only for now!
NICKY: Each time you smile…
ALL:…Only for now
KATE MONSTER: It’ll only last a while.
ALL:…Only for now
PRINCETON: Life may be scary…
ALL:…Only for now. But it’s only temporary
PRINCETON: Everything in life is only for now.

I saw Buddhists discoursing in a documentary by Werner Herzog once.  Periodically, they would clap their hands together like crashing cymbals.  I was told that was a symbolic gesture aimed at bringing the speaker and listener into the present moment, no matter where the conversation was going.  For NOW!…..and NOW!

This breath…is only for now.  These words…are only for now.  I appreciate now, right now.


“Weasel”ing Out of This One

I enjoy feeling like a little kid.  Doing my training at the Nature Center affords me to opportunity to look wide-eyed and ask questions, blurt out associations that spring to mind, and sometimes just be the smart alec  in the front row.   I find myself pointing at things for the rest of the day, going “Oh!  Look at that!”  The world is amazing.  So, I’m just going to post some photos today as my way of poking you in the shoulder and saying, “Lookee, lookee!”

Guess what we learned about at the Nature Center?  Winter camouflage.  The short-tailed weasel becomes the ermine in winter.  He gets to change his name as well as his coat.

They're smaller than I thought, about 6 inches without the tail.

From my bedroom window, I can watch the sun set at about 5pm each evening.  Last night, we got some intense colors.  I wish I had a better camera.  I’d set up a tripod…maybe on the porch roof, looking west, and do a long exposure.

I found this poor Canada goose just off the sidewalk of a church.  I wonder if he fell from the sky or tried to land on the parking lot.  There’s no open water anywhere in the vicinity.

We ask our 3 year old class what the colors of winter are.  I always think of blue: sky blue, ice blue, pale blue.

And in the “they just don’t make ’em like they used to” category…

I’m going to go take my inner 4-year old outside again.  The sun is still shining, and we have very little snow.  Carpe Diem!