This is my first real Autumn in I don’t know how long.
My first, honest-to-goodness, stomping-through-piles-of-leaves kind of Autumn.
It’s not like we didn’t have Autumn in Phoenix, it’s just that we faked it.
In Phoenix you wear sleeveless shirts in fall colors, switch out your flip-flops for brown sandals, and drink iced pumpkin lattes.
And it’s not like I haven’t lived in areas with four seasons before, it’s just I don’t remember being wowed by the colors. When we lived in northern Arizona, the first snow came sudden-like. Shocking the leaves into a quick drop. When we lived in Iowa and Nebraska, there were too few trees to matter.
Clearly, Minnesota is hoarding all the trees.
Real or fake, I love this time of year. In truth, it’s the transition phase between the seasons I love best, and I’m thrilled to be living where it’s so apparent.
I’m not alone in my appreciation; several homes are decorated for Fall. I’m told it’s quite common for Minnesotans to have quirky lawn decorations and from what I’ve seen, it’s true. A home near us has 11 screen doors in front — eleven!
This is a permanent display and I’ve no idea how they mounted them, but I wondered if they’d add anything for the seasons. I’m pleased to report, they do:
Looking forward to seeing their Christmas display.
Our decor is more understated, but not without its admirers.
Last Saturday when our newspaper was delivered, I saw the delivery girl taking a picture of our display. (I wonder if we’re trending on Twitter?)
At the website for Minnesota State Parks, you can enter your email address for “color alerts.” The state park in our town, the Charles A. Lindbergh Park, is currently listed at 25% to 50% color.
I think the Hartwell Maple Tree is nearly 60%:
Neighbor Buddy told me not to worry about raking leaves; he’ll use his leaf blower and take care of them for the whole street. The total number of homes on the street being three. Even so, he’s a nice guy.
(Probably a requirement for anyone named Buddy.)
In my backyard hidden among the leaves is a petunia. I didn’t plant it and there are no petunias in the vicinity. Yet there it is. A petunia.
It’s a Petunia Miracle.
I asked someone how long we’d have the color, she guessed another couple weeks.
Guess we better enjoy it while it’s here.
Something I did in Phoenix to commemorate the seasons is to change my computer’s desktop background. My favorites pictures included curving paths, usually through woodsy areas or by rivers.
Never in my life have I lived in an area with more desktop-worthy scenes:
Question is, which photo do I use? Current contenders are first, second, and last pictures in this post. Your opinions are appreciated.
Meanwhile, if it’s Autumn where you are, find a pile of leaves and stomp through them with abandon.
Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have an apple tree.
Here, look upon my apple tree:
Beautiful, is it not?
Better yet, it provides a marvelous view from my kitchen sink.
Here, look upon the view from my kitchen sink:
The window screen makes it a little fuzzy, but you get the idea. It’s a damn fine view.
For comparison sake, here was the view from my former kitchen sink:
You’re probably wondering why I bothered taking a picture of a brick wall.
About three months ago, give or take a day, I got a wee bit concerned about our move from Arizona to Minnesota.
I started thinking that at some future point — say, in February when it’s 30 below here and 70 in Phoenix — I’ll think to myself, “HOLY FREAKIN’ COW, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!”
So in preparation for that event, I took pictures of all the things in our Phoenix home that drove me nuts. Hence, the picture of a brick wall.
(Just curious, what’s that say about a person who plans ahead for panic attacks?)
I also have shots of my kids’ rooms (cleaning is not their strong suit), our “music room” (it was more a catch-all room), and – my personal favorite — a stack of dirty dishes one of my kids left by the empty sink.
The question is, will looking at a picture of dirty dishes ease the pain of moving away from my kids?
Um… yeah. It has. (I’m a monster.)
Anyway, back to the apples. I’ve no idea what kind they are except they are wonderful for baking. (Score!) Also, I’ve come to a better understanding of why commercial growers use chemicals. Up close and personal, my apples are not pretty.
Tell me, would you pay good money for these apples?
Neither would I. Yet they’re delicious in your morning oatmeal with a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar.
So far I’ve made a couple pies, muffins, several bowls of oatmeal, and a wonderful cake that I will share with you in a moment.
(*gasp* She’s actually sharing a recipe?!)
This weekend I plan on picking the entire tree; I believe it’s time and the bugs have had enough of a feast. I foresee a batch of applesauce and apple butter in my future.
But first, cake!
This cooler weather (54° this morning) put me in the mood for baking. I scoured my cookbooks for recipes using apples and found no less than five for cake, all a tad different. I took what I liked best from each (more apples and spices here, less oil and eggs there, ooh a glaze!) and came up with this one. It turned out marvelous and it works either as a coffee cake or a dessert.
By the way, the town in which I now live has the best coffee. Really! It’s a downtown shop called Reality Roasters. Their beans might cost a little more, but dang, they’re worth it.
Granola or rolled oats for topping (I used Full Circle’s oats & honey granola)
Glaze (see below)
Mix together sugar, oil, eggs and apples. In separate bowl mix together flour, spices, salt, and baking soda. Add to the apple mixture, stir well and pour into a greased 13 x 9″ baking pan. Sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of granola or rolled oats. Bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Prepare glaze while cake cools.
Butterscotch Glaze: In small saucepan over medium heat, stir together 2 Tablespoons butter, 3 Tablespoons brown sugar and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-n-half. Bring to a boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Let cool slightly and drizzle on top of cake.
Can serve warm or cooled. 🍂
*I know it sounds like a lot, but the two teaspoons of baking soda is correct. 🙂
There’s a story of a ceramics teacher (and if I had the gumption I’d find the source for it) that carries a lesson for us all. It goes as follows:
It was the end of the year and the teacher gave the class two options for their final project: they could choose to have their work graded by quantity or quality. Those who chose quantity were challenged to see how many pots they could produce in one week’s time. It didn’t matter what the pots looked like, only that they were completed. The students who chose quality only had to make one pot, but it had to be the best pot they could create.
Half the class chose quantity and began churning out pots right and left. As soon as one was done, another was started. And so on. All week long.
The other half of the class spent their time working out their designs, analyzing their methods, pondering and planning and pouring over every detail, in order to create their one perfect pot.
At the end of the week, the results were graded and an interesting discovery was made. Not only did the “quantity” group produce the most pots, they also produced the best quality pots. Over and above the “quality” group.
Reason being, or so we can infer, they focused on the process rather than the results. And because they kept churning out pot after pot, they were learning and correcting errors as they went.
The article wherein I found this story related it to our own creative endeavors. Whether writing, painting, quilting, woodwork, music — anything we do where we hope to improve — the key is to focus on quantity over quality. Push yourself to produce as much as possible.
Want to improve your writing? Push out story after story. Your drawing? Create five or more drawings every day. Your photography skills? Take pictures everywhere you go. Really annoy the hell out of everyone you know.
You get the idea.
This concept was driven home to me a few days ago. I was working on a project, actually it was the “Bible Stories in Text” project I mentioned before, and I wanted to include some limericks and silly rhymes for it.
How hard could that be?
Turns out pretty hard. I spent one hour alone on Jacob and Esau and still didn’t like it. I was about to give up when I thought of the ceramics story. For the next hour I produced five more rhymes. None of them particularly good, but at least they were done. I shut the laptop and left to run some errands.
I had to go to my credit union because like a dope, I left my debit card in the ATM when I last used it. (No worries, nothing bad happened other than a dent to my ego.) On my way home I decided to stop at the park and sit on my favorite bench, the one under the willow tree. And though I never noticed it before, this time I read the inscription:
There was something about “Tuesday Bridge Club” that tickled my fancy. I grabbed my notebook — another article I read said you should always carry an idea notebook — and jotted down:
Soon 15 more lines appeared under it in some semblance of a poem. (I’m guessing since I spent the morning in rhyme, it just naturally flowed out that way.)
Not knowing anything of Bridge, I googled the rules and added a few references; once I got home I finished it up and within the next hour had that bad boy ready to post.
My point is, I’m fairly certain that had I not spent the morning focused on those silly rhymes, had I not pushed myself to produce several even though I was dissatisfied with them all, Dick’s tribute poem might never have happened.
Of course I can’t prove any of this, but it feels right and I believe it so. Plus I’ve got that ceramics teacher backing me up.
Here, let’s look at the guy again:
Quantity over quality.
Now in truth, none of this is too surprising. If you want to improve at writing, write. If you want to improve your singing, sing.
All together now: Duh.
But the fact is, however much we know this truth we still fail to put it into practice. Or at least, that’s the way it is for me. Maybe you’re self-disciplined to the core, wake every morning at the crack of dawn and write 20 pages before your first cup of coffee. In which case I don’t like you very much and I think you should go away now.
For the rest of us, we need reminders to keep going in spite of the drivel we produce. To push on, produce, finish our stories and trust the process. Let go of our need to produce lovely rhymes or charming stories, to let go of our desire to like everything we’ve written. Eventually — hopefully — we’ll like what we’ve written, but we’ll probably produce plenty of crap before we get there.
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. — Anne Lamott
I have a stack of messes. About five or six unfinished stories I found while unpacking, one of which I barely remember. Each one began in a fever of creativity, that much I remember, but as soon as the going got rough they came to a screeching halt. As I look at them now… well, they’re not horrible. Some spots are quite good, others maybe not so much, but overall they don’t suck.
So here’s the thing: I’ve decided I’m going to dig them out, one by one, and give myself a timeline for finishing them. Let’s say one story per week.
They may appear in this blog — that part I haven’t decided yet. I’m not in the habit of printing much fiction here, so I’ll give it some thought.
(Okay, technically, I suppose there’s fiction here. For instance, I have no idea if Dick liked white wine or if he was a bourbon man.)
Mainly I thought that if I told others what I was doing — Hey guys! I’m spending the next 6 weeks writing 6 stories! — I stand a better chance of actually doing it.
The key is, and golly I sure hope I remember it, is to finish them even if I don’t like them. Because maybe by the sixth one I will.
By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever shown you the cover of my idea notebook:
I’m not expecting too much here, believe me. I just want to get the stories finished. And if you’re reading this, I expect you have something unfinished to work on as well, or some skill you wish to improve?
He was a good man, was Dick Heinrich,
He played a fine hand; he took many a trick.
He never bid short when he should have bid long,
He never lost his cool when his partner bid wrong.
Every Tuesday night from six until nine
The four met at Patty’s for cards and white wine.
Besides Patty and Dick, there was Jack and Simone,
None of them married, they all lived alone.
But on Tuesday nights they played in pairs
Every week sitting in different chairs.
Jack would bring cheese and Simone would bring bread
(Good crusty bread, it ought to be said).
Patty made her dip, leaving Dick to bring wine
And he never complained though he brought it every time.
It’s no wonder they liked him, he was always so giving;
It hit them all hard when he was no longer living.
In memory they established this bench and this tree
And they’re seeking a new partner to bring Riesling or Chablis;
So if you like Bridge and you know something of wine,
It’s Tuesdays at Patty’s — Mind your bidding and you’ll be fine.
My Ideal Bookshelf — I found at the library. It’s a collection of writers, actors, musicians, artists — cultural movers and shakers — talking about their favorite books.
As I read it, I was struck by a couple thoughts. For one, I’m woefully under-read. Not only have I not read most of the books listed, many I’ve never heard of. It’s shameful, really.
Another thought: this book is strangely voyeuristic. Like you’re peeking into their personal lives and getting a sense of what makes them tick.
But really, isn’t that what our bookshelves do? They tell a story of our interests and hobbies, our upbringing and education level, even our fears or obsessions.
And tell the truth, when visiting someone’s home, don’t you look at the titles on their bookshelves and judge them just a little, based on what you find? (Yeah, me too.)
Knowing full well you’ll probably judge me for this, I’m going to pull out a few of the titles on my shelf that I think describe me best. These are the ones I either read over and over again, or I’m deeply sentimental about them. So much so, that moving them from Phoenix to Minnesota was a no-brainer.
(Note: Nearly all links lead to abebooks.com, my favorite site for buying used books.)
On the far right is my Betty Crocker’s Boys & Girls Cookbook. I think it was a gift when I was in the fourth grade and I credit it for igniting my love of cooking. Right next to it are Anderson’s Fairy Tales and Blackbeard’s Ghost. I read those two over and over again all through my youth, and to this day have a strong preference for fantasy. Oh, and that fat book toward the left without a binding or cover? That’s a book of poetry, both silly and serious, that my dad often read or quoted from. I believe it explains my penchant for dark humor:
Willie saw some dynamite, Couldn’t understand it quite; Curiosity seldom pays: It rained Willie seven days.
Next up, let’s consider my teen years: That Certain Something, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and way over on the left, Dr. Zhivago. Probably the weirdest collection for a teenage girl to be found. That Certain Something is a book on developing charm, of all things. You might say it was the first self-help book I ever read. It even has a quiz at the end to see how charming you are. (Note: for those of a certain age, the author was Arlene Francis — she of game show fame.)
As for Jonathan LS … well, as a matter of fact, yes. I was one of those teenage girls who thought Jonathan was deep. Truly deep, man.
Dr. Zhivago is when my serious reading began. It took three attempts and a course in Russian history before I finally understood the novel was waaaay more than a love story. I felt oh-so-smart when I figured it out, and in the process learned some books are worth a second (or third) try.
From there it was an easy jump to other classics, my favorites being The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice. And then there’s Giants in the Earth, by O.E. Rölvaag.
Never heard of it? Neither did I until I heard a portion of it on the radio. I immediately ordered two copies, one for me and one for my dad. Reason being, the book is about Norwegian immigrants to the Dakota territories and it opens with a man walking ahead of their ox-pulled wagon — the same story my dad told about his grandfather.
Later when my dad was hospitalized with congestive heart failure, I visited him. He brought up the novel and I found out things I never knew — like how his dad would tell him stories of trolls and other folk tales, and I learned more details about his mom’s depression after his dad died (in the book, the main character’s wife suffers from mental illness). My dad passed away a few months after our impromptu book discussion. Some books you enjoy, some you recommend, others hold treasured memories. Giants in the Earth is all of those things for me.
Closing in on our Final Five, you’ll see there’s Lanterns & Lances by James Thurber. I’ve mentioned before this served as inspiration for the Feeding on Folly moniker, and as I said in my ‘about me’ page, I’m a huge Thurber fan. This book doesn’t include his most well-known writings, but it’s about 60 years old and it smells lovely.
As I Live and Breathe, A Sense of the Morning, and Here Be Dragons were all accidental discoveries. Either found in used bookstores or at a “friends of the library” sale, they weren’t my usual choices of reading but became instant favorites. As I Live and Breathe is a sweet, humorous tale of the author and his wife in the ’40s and ’50s. A Sense of the Morning contains essays on nature, but it’s so much more than that. This book reminds me how to look at the world with a sense of wonder. And Here Be Dragons… well, that book taught me way more about the world than any science class did. If you have any interest in evolution or plate tectonics, or even if you don’t have interest, read this book. It explains things better than anything else I’ve read.
That leaves us with Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Hands down, my favorite book on writing. Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself and thinking I’ll never write anything good, it helps to think of this book and picture Lamott whispering over my shoulder, “go ahead, get that shitty first draft done.” (Hmm. Might be time to reread this one.)
And there you have it, 15 of the books from my shelves. I could have shown you more, but these are the ones I feel influenced me the most – either as a writer, a reader, or simply as a human being (if being human were so simple).
And now it’s your turn. Think about the books you’ve read that made you who you are today. They might be ones you prominently display on your bookshelf, or it may be you read it once and can’t get out of your head.
List them in the comments below or, if you have a blog, write about them on your site and link it here. I’d love to get more book recommendations. After all, I’ve got some extra space on my bookshelves just aching to be filled.
What with one thing and another, mostly another, I found I was without a blog post for today.
I mean, sure, I wrote things. A feeble response to an online article I read, the beginnings of a short story that went nowhere, and a silly thing about the Biblical character Job calling Heaven’s customer complaint line. Funny, but too long for a blog post and I wasn’t sure how well people knew the story of Job.
Anyway, rather than skipping this week and ruining my record of posting in a timely manner two weeks in a row, I’m going to toss out some random thoughts that were cluttering up my brain.
I wore boots yesterday and it’s still August. What’s more, I’ll probably wear boots again today. Ain’t life grand?
There was a squashed snake on the side of the road the other day. I saw it while walking to the post office. It was a pretty one, slender and long with bright yellow stripes. No idea what kind it was, but it looked like it nearly made it across the street before it was squashed. Poor guy.
I need to buy a rake. It’s not for leaves, though we know they’re coming. It’s for all the acorns. Our yard is full of them. So many that when you walk in the backyard, you don’t walk so much as roll. And I think the squirrels here are lazy. They don’t seem to be working very hard at storing food for winter. (Maybe they know something?)
So this is how it is. You write something funny about the Book of Job and think, gosh this is great. This is worthy of publishing. And so you check the submission guidelines for humor sites and magazines. That’s when you discover there just isn’t the market for snarky humor pieces about the Book of Job like there used to be.
I need more boots. I only have two, both black, one short and one tall. These were the ones I thought worthy enough to pack and able to withstand Minnesota weather. I’m thinking I need multiple types. Money is no object! (Who needs food?)
Back to the squashed snake. Why was he crossing the street? The side he left was woodsy and green. The side he was heading toward was rocky. Had he been satisfied where he was, he might still be alive today. What possessed him to leave his happy home? Was he unfulfilled as a snake? Was the weight of his responsibilities too much to bear? (*Gasp!* Did he, like our squirrels, foresee the future and found no reason to carry on?!)
Maybe what I should is bundle together my Bible stories in text, Samson’s online dating snafu, and the piece on Job — add a few more texts and alternate stories — then self-publish the whole lot of them. Hmm. It might work. I’ll have to think about it.
If the squirrels and snake are onto something, if we have but a limited time on this earth — okay, I guess we always knew our time was limited, but let’s say it’s more limited than we thought — does that change anything? Does it change how we live, how we act, or how soon we snatch up boots on sale?
Or work on the book we have percolating in our head? Hmm.
Excuse me. I should get back to work.
What does the Teacher require, but to sit still, do your work, and keep your eyes on your own paper?
Bring me a student who desires knowledge and I will fill her up.
But yea, the students of Babylon do not study.
The Snapchat and the Tumblr, they cry out to them.
They hear not my voice,
I weep for this generation.
Thus says the Teacher:
There shall be no cellphones in this classroom. No cellphone shall be on your desk, nor in your hand. Nay, I do not wish to see it. Put it away, for it displeases me.
It shall make no sound and neither shall you text. Not to your friend nor your mother shall you text.
Laws Pertaining to Food and Drink
You shall not have snacks in the Classroom; the eating of food is strictly forbidden. You shall not bring in bags of potato chips and open them, neither shall you eat them, for I hate the crunching noise.
Of crunching you shall not do.
Of drink, you may have bottled water. No soda may you drink, neither shall you have anything with a straw, for then you make that slurping sound when it is almost gone and push the straw up and down so it makes that squeaky noise.
There shall be no squeaky noise.
And when your bottle of water you have emptied, you shall not squeeze the bottle in your hand and make the crinkly sound.
Lo, how I detest the crinkly sound.
Of Tardies and Absences
For the first two days, of these you may be late, but after these two days you shall not be late. No, never shall you be late.
Why are you late? No, do not speak. I turn my ear from your excuses; they displease me. You shall be thrown into detention, where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth.
I say it again: do not be late.
Of absences, there shall be none. But if you are absent, your parent or guardian must call, or else there shall be no makeup work. You will fail, and oh, how great your failure!
Woe to the student who does not do their homework, for they shall lose points.
Of Extra Credit, there is no Extra Credit. O Foolish one, why do you ask?
Do the work, and no Extra Credit do you require.
Limitations of Teacher Authority
There are no limitations of Teacher authority. Nay, I say it again, there are none.
Do not question my authority, for the one who questions my authority will be thrown into detention, where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth.
I, the Teacher, have spoken.
Sharpen your pencils! Grab your notebook!
For I shall put you to the test!
It shall be multiple choice and short essay.
Blessed are they who listen, for they shall find wisdom.
Their grade point average shall not falter, forevermore.
O Legislature! O Destroyer!
You cut funding and raise up standardized tests against me!
But I, the Teacher, shall not fail,
Neither shall I surrender; nay, never shall I surrender.
Though one day, maybe next year, I shall retire.
A condo by the lake would be nice.
How pleasing it is when a child learns,
It is like honey on the lips and lovely to my sight.
I, the Teacher, have spoken.
Here’s wishing all my teacher friends their best year EVER! ❤️
It’s their first visit since we moved here, the first they saw our new place, the first time they’ve been in Minnesota.
Before they arrived, I told Husband how strange it felt. It was like I wanted to show off the place, impress them a little. He agreed.
We wanted them to understand why we abandoned them in Arizona.
Now let’s be clear, we knew we didn’t really abandon them. They are in their early 20s, old enough to be on their own. They have jobs, they have an apartment, they have family and friends nearby.
Why do these images persist? My daughter is at an intersection with a cardboard sign: “Hungry, Motherless, Please Help”
Son is on a street downtown, playing his keyboard. He’s got a hat in front of him and he’s singing…
When you comin’ home dad? I don’t know when. But we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.
We parents love riding that old guilt train, don’t we? If there isn’t enough to feel guilty about, we’ll make something up to fill the void. (One mother told me she felt guilty her daughter had to wear glasses. If she had eaten better when she was pregnant, maybe her daughter’s vision would be better.)
So it was good for us to see they were doing fine. Somehow for these last six weeks, they managed to keep themselves fed, clothed and sheltered.
They liked our new house, agreed the area was pretty. They seemed to enjoy Minnesota but thought our evenings were a little cold (HA HA, wimpy Arizonans!).
Still, I wondered what they thought of our moving. Did they understand? Did they think we were nuts?
It was a short trip as they had to get back for work, but before we dropped them off at the airport, we walked around Mall of America. We discovered it is one FREAKIN’ big mall. It has its own amusement park, for cryin’ out loud.
Husband and Son went on Ghost Blasters, Daughter and I did our roller coaster thing.
At some point (it may have been on the plunge down), a thought occurred to me: Our kids aren’t thinking about us.
Do you remember back when you were young and out on your own? When we’re trying to figure out the whole adult thing and find our way in the cold, cruel world? The one thing we weren’t doing at the time was sitting around wondering what our parents were up to. We had our own concerns and our parents didn’t enter into it.
Which is how it should be. Right?
They left the nest and are doing their thing, and now mama and papa bird have to figure out their thing.