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Monday, July 21, 2014

Singing the Blues



It’s funny how traditions get made.  My next-door-neighbor-sister-in-law and I used to bring our kids blueberry picking, mostly for the distraction.  The farm was ten minutes away, the kids would run around the high bushes, pick a few, spill their cans, eat a few more and the adventure would be over.  At home, I’d get the handful of berries we salvaged, and the responsibility of making something out of them to share, most times an Amish Blueberry Cake.*  That would be it for the season.

As our kids got older, they decided procuring the fruit was more work than adventure, and about that time, blueberry picking morphed into my thing.  In late summer, I’d drive past the farm scanning for the handmade sign at the bottom a dirt road, telling me the fields were ripe.  When it appeared, off I’d go.  Over the next fifteen or so years, things didn't change much other than I’m on an email list now, and I don’t even have to drive to the farm to know when the crop is ripe. This year, the berries came early.
  
Saturday, I arrived early in the morning and for the first half hour, it was me, the bushes and the birds.  They squawked as I approached too near their perches, feathers rustled as they lit off over my head.  A hawk scree-screed in the high pines overlooking the bushes.  A single propeller plane lumbered overhead and  across the cranberry bogs, someone tried to start a chain saw, but it coughed out, leaving me and the birds again.   I moved from bush to bush, reaching up, pulling down berry-laden branches, and dropping the little orbs, thunk, thunk, thunk into the plastic container hanging around my neck. The whole thing is on the honor system.  Pick as many as you want, put them in quart containers and place your cash in a box on the wall of a dilapidated shed at the edge of the fields.  In less than two hours, I had serenity, five quarts of blueberries and a plan. 
   
In all the best ways, everything is “farm to table” these days, and Saturday it was my turn.  I called next door, then to my husband’s mother a mile away, invited everyone to a blueberry-themed dinner, and started cooking.  Over the next few hours, I buzzed around the kitchen making a syrup for blueberry cordials, a blueberry spread to go with cheese, a spicy compote to accompany grilled pork, a wheat berry salad with fresh blueberries, blueberry vinaigrette with which to toss mixed greens, and, of course, blueberry pie.

Every once in a while, you have one of those days when everything comes together, a day you will hold in your mind and savor, well, like a ripe fruit.  I’m not sure what was best, the picking, the cooking, or simply sitting around my kitchen table with people I love, enjoying, ahem, the fruits of my labors. 

Then again, maybe it was the leftover blueberry pie I had Sunday morning for breakfast.


* Amish Blueberry Cake

½ cup room temperature butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of cloves, nutmeg or other spice to your taste.  


Cream the butter, then add the sugar a little at a time and cream it again.  Add the eggs and some of the flour, sifted with the salt and baking powder.  Blend this slowly, adding the milk and then the rest of the flour.  Wash the berries, dry them on a towel, and then dust them with some flour.  Add them to the batter just before baking.  Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9x13 inch pan.  Sprinkle the batter with the cinnamon sugar spice mix.  Bake at 325 for 45 minutes. 



Monday, July 14, 2014

The Sound of Silence



So, yes.   

We went away for more than an overnight for the first time in five years.  Away, away.  With my husband's brother and his wife.  Into the woods, by a lake, twenty-five minutes to the nearest town, many, many minutes from anywhere else.  No TV.  Spotty Internet.  Cell service touchy.  We slept in a cabin, searched out moose and found four, climbed to a ninety-foot waterfall an hour’s hike deep into the forest.  We kayaked for a couple of miles and returned with the wind dead in our faces. We tooled around in a tin motor boat.  We watched a mother duck go after a mink that was threatening one of her babies.  We chased away a red-tailed squirrel that hopped through a hole in the porch door and charged the table where we’d been eating peanuts. We drove twelve miles up a twisting incline, got out to eyes tearing in the wind, to see a 360 degree view.  Mountains.  Lakes.  More trees then we’ve seen in our lifetime. The skeletons of twisted  trees.  Cairns stacked three stones high. Anything higher would blow over.

A week of quiet.  A week of still.

Crackers and cheese with wine out of plastic cups, on a dock overlooking the lake.  Sticky finger S’mores in front of the camp fire. Weather too cool for the katydid’s we’d hear at home.  Even the birds spoke in whispers. 

All the clatter, the beeps, pings, ringtone, cars, trucks, airplanes.  Gone.

Awake by an open window in the middle of the night, I listened to the cry of the loons, convinced the mournful call was nature’s way of feeding our hearts. I got up at five and walked through the dew to catch the sunrise on two mornings so cool, mist rose from the lake.

So quiet.

So still.

A week to last a lifetime.

Home now, we just have to hold on to it.



Monday, July 7, 2014

Taking a Break

It's time recharge the old brain juices.  I'll be back mid-July.  Best to you all.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Thank you. IWSG - July, 2014




This is my IWSG post for July.  IWSG is Alex Cavanaugh's brainchild where writers help and support other writers.  To read more posts, click here.

When blogger had its hiccup recently and blog rolls failed to populate, I had a bit of a come to Jesus moment.
 
For over five years, I’ve ranged from diligent, to consistent in my posts, but what has never changed is how much I have treasured every comment received here at Middle Passages.  It is news to no one that our craft can be a lonely one, and the virtual world makes it less so. Each comment means someone is reading…ME.   Last week, Blogger blew up our reading pages and I had to click one-by-one through my blog roll to read the bloggers I follow.  Pretty quickly, I realized as hard as it was for me, it would be just as difficult for my followers to find me.  If this thing didn't get fixed fast, well, gosh.  Maybe they’d stop coming.  The thought made me feel a little sick. Bereft, even.

And so, the aha.  I realized, as much as I love it, I don’t just write for myself.  I want, and crave readers. During Blogger’s issue, I investigated Feedly and other options, and would probably have ended up subscribing there.  But would other folks have done that?  Would it have been important to them to find me?  The idea made me harken back to those pre-Internet days.  What if the only way for folks read my stuff was to keep submitting it to a traditional, competitive publishing world, knowing that most of it would have returned to me with a great, big R for rejection (if even that).

That’s when I knew, I’d fail without a writing community.  To all of you out there, I want you to know how important you are to me.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Getting (M)Bugged



The stars were aligned Friday. Our daughter had a hardly-ever-happens night off, no one had plans, and the weather was New England June, high blue and stunning.  So, the three of us decided to go out for a casual supper.  We tried for a place on the water, but half of Massachusetts had the same idea and after looking for a parking space in vain, we headed inland a bit to a burger joint we favor.   There, although there were plenty of open seats, the waitress couldn’t feed us fast enough, and barely three quarters of an hour later,  the check was on the table. I for one, wasn’t ready for the outing to end.
   
Thankfully, for us, inland is relative term.  We were about a quarter of a mile from a salt-marsh, where the river winds through from the ocean to a deep water marina.  I’d strolled the paths there once, my husband and daughter never, so as the sun dropped, we decided to explore.  I had in mind this blog post, and the thought that I’d display some pictures. 
 
Enter the midges.  Anyone who lives near the shore knows that without a breeze, sundown on the marshes can be lethal.  Husband and daughter high-tailed it toward the car.  But I wanted to capture it.  Click, click as the sun dropped.  Cough, cough as I swallowed a bug.  Then I hit the end of my memory card.  I wasn’t done yet and I had to be careful…there were pictures on it I hadn’t saved yet.  Desperate to capture the reflection of the rotting pilings on the still water, I deleted, swatted, clicked, deleted, swatted, clicked.  Not the best way to frame a great shot.  

Twelve hours later, I still feel like things are crawling on me.  But I got myself a blog post.  That's all I was asking for.