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Altars, shrines, and quiet places

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After reading Tara Austen Weaver's account, on Tea & Cookies, of her walk through the labyrinth on Lummi Island and the small pile of little things (stones and shells, mostly) that she found there, I started thinking of a similar walk I took a couple of years ago.

Sunset Shadow 2

In early fall of 2010, my boyfriend and I bicycled out to Governor's Island, on the northern edge of Lake Mendota. We spent a golden afternoon wandering around the edge of the island, and exploring the small trails through the little woods. In one shaded area, I found a small shrine or altar. It was very crude, made of things that one would find on hand there in the woods, but it was still quite recognizable. Sitting on top were a number of small objects, including several dollar coins.

I didn't take any photos, because by that point the late afternoon light was too dim under the cover of the trees, though I wish I could have. I don't know who made the altar, nor for what specific purpose. I certainly didn't touch the objects on the altar, particularly the coins. I figured that, sooner or later, someone would come along, disturb the altar and pocket the coins. But I was not going to be that person.

It isn't uncommon to see roadside shrines: crosses, flowers, maybe balloons or stuffed animals, marking the scene of a fatal accident. It is also pretty common to come across places like the Dickeyville Grotto, which are built with genuine love and respect, but are also pretty public. Something like this, in such a quiet place, stumbled-upon, rather than displayed, seems unique. Yet there are probably just as many quiet, out-of-the-way little altars and shrines as there are in full view. You just have to be there to find them.



Canning for a New Generation

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Since this spring, I have been working my way through Liana Krissoff's Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry. So far, I have made rhubarb and orange jam, pickled asparagus, kohlrabi and radish refrigerator pickles, brandied cherries with red wine, and peach jam. Everything has been extremely tasty and surprisingly easy.

Krissoff's writing style is clear and easy to follow, infusing a touch of gentle humor with understandable descriptions and directions. Rinne Allen's gorgeous photography also goes a long way towards making the book a delight to hold and read.

One truly wonderful thing about the book is that the recipes are geared towards small batches, which work well for the modern pantry. Most of the preserved fruits I have made have been in quantities about about six half-pint jars. This allows me to make a variety of recipes without becoming overwhelmed by a wall of canned goods.

The book is divided into Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, and then subdivided into Fruits and Vegetables for each section. Along with the pickles and preserves, Krissoff includes a few recipes that incorporate the things you have canned. I am particularly looking forward to trying her "Perfect Sidecar" with my brandied cherries.

One cruel thing about summer canning (particularly this summer) is that you end up spending time with a lot of boiling water during the hottest part of the year. (It was in the high 90's when I made my rhubarb orange that point, I figured I would hardly even notice the extra heat.) However, the occasional cool evening is the perfect time to hit the kitchen.

I don't think I will make every recipe in the book, but I do have hopes for at least one fruit and one vegetable from each seasonal section. I may even start freestyling as my CSA bounty comes in. I do remember having some success with dill pickled summer squash and zucchini a few years back.

The book may be "For a New Generation", but I come from a long line of canners. Shortly after I began my canning journey, in June, my Grandmother died. She was my Dad's mother and, at 92, she was my last remaining grandparent. One of the things I brought back with me from her house after the funeral was the jar lifter that she and Grandpa had used in their canning. It was a step up from my clumsy rubberband-wrapped tongs, and I think of my heritage every time I use it. I have a feeling that, at some point, canning jars from my grandparents (and great-grandparents) may make their way into my kitchen. It turns out that we aren't just preserving produce when we do this.



Sometime around 2000, I heard, in error, that Maurice Sendak had died. I was sad about this, but did not discover that it was a false report until years later, in 2006. I wept Tuesday morning when I heard, once more, that he had died. I knew that this time, I wouldn't be getting him back. I wasn't as heartbroken as I was when Jim Henson died, but Henson died well before he should have. I knew from recent interviews with Sendak that, at age 83, he was starting to get pissed out about still being alive. He seemed ready to go.

Maurice Sendak, like Henson, had a strong hand in shaping my childhood landscape. Where the Wild Things Are became a favorite of mine very early on, and it remains so to this day. I am not alone in this by any means.) I did find the movie version to be enchanting, but I'd probably rather watch the Scholastic Storybook Treasures version.

However, it wasn't just Wild Things. My sister and I had a cassette of the Off-Broadway production of Really Rosie that we played over and over, memorized, and performed on our own. (I was particularly fond of "The Awful Truth.") We had copies of Pierre and Chicken Soup With Rice that got their share of wear. We also loved listening to Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or, There Must Be More to Life on tape, as read by Tammy Grimes.

Like Trina Schart Hyman, he was one of the illustrators whose work I have most admired. I was tremendously excited to find the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of "Nutcracker", with set a costume designs from Maurice Sendak on VHS in the late 80s. It was a wonder and a delight.

Unsurprisingly, this week I have spent a great deal of time reading other people's memories of Sendak and revisiting my own. We remember and we carry on.



In The New Yorker,Nick Paumgarten describes the fascinating process by which the names were arranged for the The National September 11 Memorial in New York:

Arad arranged the requests using index cards. Each pairing set off a chain reaction, the strings of connection growing ever more tangled and frayed. There were two thousand nine hundred and eighty-two names. The deeper he and his staff got into this puzzle, the more complex it became, especially in light of the aesthetic requirements: for example, he didn't want names lining up evenly atop each other, lest there be gutters between them. He had to factor in the number of letters in each name. He had to consider the leading.

Even if you are not a typography nerd, it is a pretty good read.



The Work Shall Live On

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I started out my Sunday morning with the sad news that Diana Wynne Jones died at the age of 76, from cancer. It was not unexpected. She stopped chemo last August, as it was only making her more ill, rather than helping.

Expected or not, it was still an unhappy piece of news. As is often the case when a famous artist (actor, musician, writer, etc) dies...there is a twinge of selfish regret for the work that they won't be able to create from this point forth. The books that will never be written. So it was important for me to stop and consider her amazing biobliography. She wrote so many stories, and just about every one of them is one of my favorites. Some are more favorite than others, but they are all gems to be treasured.

As is the case for many of her fans, she was one of my very first favorites. I still remember picking up Witch Week, Charmed Life, and A Tale of Time City from the paperback spinner in the children's section of the East Library on North Avenue in Milwaukee. I read through them on a tear, and was delighted to discover that there were more. I've continued to be delighted by them ever since.

I am now feeling that over the next few months, I am going to have to embark on a massive Diana Wynne Jones re-read, and get my hands on as many of her books as I can.She will be greatly missed.



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