Red fox

A frosty Monday morning. I’m sitting at the table by the picture window, feeling sleepy, sipping coffee, eating toast—the weekday morning ritual. The slight bitterness of coffee, the sweet honey on the toast. I’m waking slowly, glancing at the online newspaper and alternately checking what’s happening in the yard. I put bird feeders up last week and birds are swooping in, nibbling, swooping away again.

The world is brown and green and grey. I look for beauty in the bare branches against the sky, which is gradually getting light. I’m brought out of my half awake revery by the sight of a red fox emerging from the trees at the back of the yard and trotting across the yard, pausing periodically to look toward the house—does it hear me moving or is it simply checking out the bird activity? Its coat is thick and glossy, tail bushy. It disappears into the trees again and I begin my day.

Fiction on Friday

I have a lot of snippets of fiction stashed in my computer or in notebooks–beginnings of stories or simply stand alones where I’ve played with voice or character. So, from time to time I’ll post a short piece. For today, meet Gladys–a woman of a certain age.


A morning when I sleep until 6 is a luxury for me. 4, 4:30, 5–I’m awake so why not just get up and get going? What do I do so early? Well, there’s always something to do isn’t there? I sometimes hear people talk about being bored. Just the other day, in fact, I was in the checkout line at Stop and Shop and this woman behind me was talking on her phone–one of those little flippy things– my niece wants me to get one–for safety she says.

Anyway, there I was, using my time in line to try to remember the lines of a poem I’d memorized earlier–I do that to keep my brain agile–so I’m running the lines in my mind but I keep getting distracted by this one way chatter about nothing. What brand of tomato soup she was buying, what she’d done over the weekend or hadn’t done and how boring it all was. Well, I thought, you just lack imagination. No excuse to ever be bored.

This morning I got up at 4:30. It was just starting to get light so I made my tea and sat on the back porch watching the sun come up. I can just see it off to the right through some trees–not as nice as watching it come up over the ocean–oh that’s a treat–but still it’s nice to punctuate the day with a sunrise.

There were lots of birds around. I took a class once to learn bird calls but I got them all mixed up so I just listen and don’t worry about who’s saying what to whom. It’s all just mating anyway isn’t it? Hey chickie chickie look at me!

I made a little breakfast–a piece of toast–and then I went for a walk–a slow walk these days–just around the block but I’ve got to keep the joints moving. My niece worries about me. “Gladys,” she says, “someday you’re going to go out for that morning walk and it will be dark and you’ll fall and then what?”  So I’m supposed to stay inside for the remainder of my days? I don’t think so. If I fall and break a hip, so be it.

At 6 I went to Susan’s place down the road to have my hair done. Every Thursday she fits me in early like that before her family gets up and gets her going. Susan does it nice–simple, not a lot of goop–just the way I like it. Course the hair is getting kinda thin these days–if I live to be a really old lady I’ll be bald! Imagine that!

By 7 I was at the diner for a real breakfast with my friends Hannah and Marie–the biddy’s breakfast we call it. Twice a week. The waitress knows our orders–a poached egg for me and more tea. We like her because she treats us like friends not wrinkled up babies.

There’s a lot I still want to do. My great niece is learning to play the guitar and I thought that looks like fun, playing an instrument. But not the guitar. I want something peppier.

I thought maybe the accordion but that would be too big–I’ve shrunk you know–happens when you get older–all your body parts just start to shrivel up. I went to the music store down on Spruce Street and asked to try an accordion on for size. Ha! Should have seen the look on that fellow’s face. “This is for you?” Well, who else?

But soon as I put those straps over my shoulders I knew it would be too big. “Don’t you have something smaller?” I asked. So he showed me something called a concertina–just the ticket–but it sure does cost a lot.

I let my niece know that if she’s looking for a birthday present for me, well maybe my birthday could come a little early and everyone could chip in. She thinks I’m nuts. I think I’m a good role model. That’s what I tell her. You’re middle aged now, I say, but pay attention–old age is just around the corner.

“Can you bring winter slaws?”

“Can you bring winter slaws again?” Sure I said, slaws it is. Food assignments for the annual Thanksgiving get together have gone out. For over 30 years a group of friends has gathered at Beth’s house for Thanksgiving. In the beginning it was a group of young adults, then children arrived, and grandparents joined in, and then parents became grandparents themselves. One year there were four generations present.

In recent years it’s an older, smaller gathering—10 of us rather than 25—as adult children have established their own family Thanksgiving rituals and there have been a couple of deaths and illness that makes travel difficult for some. But still there will be hugs and catching up and laughter and some sadness as we toast those who are absent. And food—lots of good food.

The hostess provides the turkey, which she buys from a local farmer. Applesauce, made with apples from her trees. She also bakes pies—pumpkin, walnut, apple. One couple brings the winter squash dish—fragrant with ginger. Someone else is on mashed potato and gravy duty.

Winter slaws have been my assignment for several years, ever since the year I was assigned “salad” and made a citrusy, cabbagy slaw in addition to the standard mixed greens. For many years my assignment was green beans and I’d spend a couple of hours on Thanksgiving morning watching the Macy’s parade and prepping green beans.

This year I’ll do a lot of the slaw prep the night before—the slicing and dicing—so that all I need to do on the day is make the dressing and mix it all up.

One recipe I got from a friend—I think she clipped it out of the paper—cabbage and nuts and dried fruit with a lemony dressing. The other recipe I got from one of my favorite food blogs, Cookie and Kate. Its base is sliced up Brussel sprouts (and thanks to Trader Joe’s shredded sprouts all I have to do is open a bag or two), mixed with nuts and dried fruit and a honey mustard dressing. Both are light and tangy and a perfect complement to some of the heavier fare of Thanksgiving.

This is one of my favorite holidays, with its good companionship (and good food). And I know how fortunate I am to have an abundance of both. We had our monthly staff meeting at work last week—over 30 of us sitting in a circle. We always begin with a structured greeting of some sort and this month we went around the circle, greeting our neighbor and saying something we were thankful for. The room filled with gratitude for family, health, the basics of shelter and food, safe neighborhoods that we live in, meaningful work we do. I echoed all of that and added that I was grateful for the continuity of long term friendships.

November musing

“Are you embracing the time change?” a friend asked me teasingly when we turned the clocks back. Well, embracing is probably too strong a word but I am working on letting go of grumpiness. I find it so easy as the dark season approaches to sink into complaint, to moan about the early darkness and the cold temperatures to come, the snow, the ice. 

I’m trying to center down into the moment. To find small quiet islands to rest on when things feel tumultuous, serendipitous moments. I was driving to work the other morning–an overcast day and a sleepy brain that was skittering around through a litany of “things to do” and “things to fret about.” It was a typical November landscape with trees mostly bare except for oaks with their browned leaves when all of a sudden I noticed on a hillside one bright yellow-leafed tree and for that moment I was just…there, not planning, not fretting, just noticing. 

Although I’m not religious I sometimes stand in awe, feel a need to praise. Here’s a poem by Barbara Crooker that speaks to that need:


Cold morning, November, taking a walk,
when suddenly, up ahead, the trees unleave,
and thousands of starlings lift off, an immense
river of noise; they braid and unbraid themselves
over my head, the gray silk sky embroidered
with black kisses, the whoosh of their wings,
their chattering clatter, patterns broken/formed/
reformed, a scarf of ragged ribbons. Dumb-
struck, mouth open, I say holy and I say moly.
And then, they’re gone.