Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. –Norman Vincent Peale
More than these greens tossed with toasted pecans,
I want to serve you the hymn I sang into the wooden bowl
as I blended the oil and white vinegar.
More than honey ice cream
beside the warm pie, I want to serve you the bliss in the apples’ flesh,
how it gathered the sun and carried its luminousness to this table.
More than the popovers, the risen ecstasy of wheat, milk and eggs,
I want to serve you the warmth that urged the tranformation to bread.
Blessings, I want to serve you full choruses of hallelujah, oh so wholly
here in this moment. Oh so holy here in this world.
This beautiful poem, Thanksgiving, was penned by Rosemerry Wahtola Trimmer. All photographs courtesy of my dear friend, Donna Sullivan.
I’m forever grateful for this opportunity to sing at Sunday Brunch with the Harlem Gospel Choir. I’m not a culinary expert by any means, nor am I a professional singer. But I do rattle around in the kitchen some, and I’m all about making a joyful noise!
I suspect that’s why this poem really resonates with me. It speaks to the savory-sweet truths about Thanksgiving. A tasty meal doesn’t require perfect recipes and the just-right serving dishes. It’s all about serving others–meeting your beloveds’ needs with compassion and grace. Abundance is sometimes equated with heaping plates and that uncomfortable, overstuffed feeling that follows. But in fact, a bountiful life is more accurately measured by our generosity of spirit. And here’s the essence of the poem, as I read it: When we prepare food with a song in our hearts, it nourishes everyone who gathers around our tables. And when we are “wholly here in the moment,” we give and receive a gracious plenty.
A well-tended garden is the sign of a happy heart. That’s what I think, anyway.
It welcomes visitors of all kinds,
and swings wide the gate to our most delicious memories. Juicy secrets, too.
It heralds Spring’s arrival, and the turn of every season.
It’s where the seeds of our wildest dream take root, burrowing deep before they flower.
My own garden isn’t tightly curated, as you might guess. It’s a quasi-random blend of colors and textures–a joyful noise, like this blog, where order and chaos co-exist.
It’s at once a playground and a sanctuary–
home, at the intersection of Elegant,
It makes my heart sing, when you drop by for a virtual visit! If it shows signs of neglect sometimes, it’s not because I’ve forgotten it–or you.
We’re sometimes called to tend a different garden for a while–it’s the rhythm of life, isn’t it? In this case, I was temporarily sidelined by an injury. I can’t wait to feel the grass underneath my feet again! But even from this distance, I can watch the hummingbirds feed their hatchlings. And as the milkweed sprouts new leaves, I can recreate, in my mind’s eye, the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly, from caterpillar to chrysalis.
I wanted to plant bulbs and flowers on Easter weekend, and to gather the first rosebuds of the season.
“Not yet,” my doctor said. So I’m resurrecting my blog instead. Moving ever forward, in joy and without judgment …It’s the gardener’s way.
So tell me: how does your garden grow?
“As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful.
They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness —
Just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breathe it;
Just warmth and shelter and home folks;
Just plain food that gives us strength;
The bright sunshine on a cold day;
And a cool breeze when the day is warm.”
(Words of wisdom by Laura Ingalls Wilder, photographs from my grateful heart.)
Meet Melody Ellison, a 9-year-old African-American girl who loves gardening, singing in the church choir, and listening to Motown music. Her story, No Ordinary Sound, is set in 1960s Detroit during the height of the Civil Rights movement. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches about equality, American Girl’s newest BeForever™ character picks “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for her very first solo performance. Change is in the air, and when the unspeakable happens in the Deep South, Melody’s voice is silenced. Can she recover it before her upcoming solo? Enter the book giveaway at the end of this blog post, and be among first to find out!
Most girls choose dolls that look like them. They want dolls that spark their imagination and inspire them in some way. Melody and I aren’t twinsies, but then again, I didn’t look like my beloved clothespin doll (Miss No Name), either. But we share the same name, and our stories are similar. Best of all, Melody Ellison’s built for adventures, just like me.
She arrived in her “meet” dress, accessorized here with a pillbox hat, cat-eye sunglasses, and a patent leather handbag.* Motown all the way, but ready for her adventures in La La Land.
We took a quick tour of my backyard first, because that’s what gardeners do. So flattering, the California sunshine on her beautiful hair and skin! I tucked some flowers into her handbag and then we headed to the beach.
Lovely view, don’t you think?
Melody opted quickly for a more casual look, ditching the handbag and slipping out of her patent leather flats.
She scrambled up the lifeguard stand…
…and splashed in frothy waves.**
Salty breezes tousled her hair, and her sunglasses slipped down her nose.
We explored the tide pools together, collecting sea glass and ocean-smoothed rocks.
Then we leaned against this outcropping, watching the surfers and listening to the seagulls.
Melody didn’t bring a beach hat, but she protected her curls with this fetching little number. A passerby pivoted, called over his shoulder: “Hey, isn’t that the doll I saw on the news? She smiled and waved, like the celebrity she is.
It was a memorable day, start to finish–lots to write and talk about when we got home!
We had so much fun on our beach adventure, and I can’t help but think that girls of all ages will fall in love with Melody Ellison.
Kudos to American Girl for designing this beautiful doll, who reflects so well the changing face of history. Author Denise Lewis Patrick should be congratulated, as well, for adding No Ordinary Sound to the growing collection of diverse books. Melody isn’t just a doll–she’s a phenomenon. In lifting her voice for positive change, she’ll inspire girls of all ages to do the same.
*American Girl collaborated with a six-member advisory board that provided input on all aspects of Melody’s appearance and storyline, including her outfits, accessories, hairstyle, historical events and settings.
And now for the book giveaway contest! You have until Labor Day to enter–good luck!
In the gauzy hour before sunrise, our shuttle pulls into the circular driveway of Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Streetlamps twinkle on shiny poles, and polished travertine gleams in our headlights. My husband collects his pre-op instructions; I give his hand a gentle squeeze. Sirens wail. Paramedics lower a gurney from an ambulance, and the hospital doors whoosh open, bathing everyone in light.
Here, staff members treat surgical patients with the same accord as trauma patients, who get the same level of care as celebrities who roll up to the entrance in chauffer-driven Bentleys. Stretched by limited space and overwhelming demand, staff members nevertheless find a way to share a deep appreciation for the human beings that occupy their beds. “What’s your story?” finds its harmony in the oft-repeated, “How can I help you?”
Several hours later, I find myself pacing the length of the recovery unit. A grizzled man clings to an IV pole, winces as he shuffles past me, pivots, and matches his steps to mine. “Way to go,” I say, and he gives me a wan smile.
“I was born in the original UCLA hospital,” I say.
“Don’t date yourself,” he warns.
We walk together in silence, but before long, he’s describing for me a harrowing tour of duty in Vietnam. He’d signed up for the military after high school—same as his daddy, and his granddaddy before him. But while he didn’t expect a hero’s welcome when he returned home as a decorated paratrooper, neither did he expect to be pelted with glass bottles, verbal expletives, and spit. He shrugs, scratches the tattoos that span the length of his arms, says his heart transplant was probably caused by stress. But he is quick to reassure me that the protesters hadn’t broken his spirit. He is proud of his children, and several grandchildren look up to him, now.
We linger in my husband’s doorway, talking softly while he emerges from his anesthesia haze. A nurse swoops in, repositions the cotton gown around his shoulders, offers him water, and fluffs his pillows. Eric opens his eyes, gives me a weak smile that says, roughly translated: “I love you. We made it.”
They are worlds apart, my husband and this wounded veteran. Their paths converged in this hospital because of health concerns, nothing more. Their prognoses are good. They have everything in the world to live for, and they know it.
Believe it or not, the same can be said for the people who huddle inside these temporary quarters, parallel-parked on a road less travelled.
You’ve perhaps seen this kind of encampment on your way to work: a derelict dwelling that afflicts the comfortable. Most people avert their eyes as they hurry past…but I don’t.
What I’m about to tell you might come as a surprise to some, given that I most often blog about hummingbirds and butterflies, wonders of nature and writerly stuff.
As the daughter of an itinerant preacher, I’m intimately familiar with the musky odors of makeshift quarters like these. I’ve experienced poverty so severe that it creeps into your psyche, have endured hunger pangs so severe that they feel like a shank to the belly. I spent a good portion of my childhood in the margins, wholly dependent on the kindnesses of strangers. Despite–or maybe because of all this–I cling to the comforting words of my Nana: “In the darkest nights of winter, watch the skies and listen for the robins.”
Nana taught me to lean in the direction of things that are “lovely, honest, and true,” to believe, without wavering, that “joy cometh in the morning.” She never stood in the pulpit, but by her example, I learned the simple elegance of the Golden Rule. It’s the gold standard, when it comes to taking the measure of your life.
I’m not afraid to venture into neighborhoods best known for crumbling sidewalks, ghost signs and hazard cones, and curbs so steeped in garbage that you turn your ankle when you step into the street against the light. Call me reckless if you will, but I’m not afraid to venture into darkness to serve “the least of these.” I love the whirr of iridescent wings, but this is the pulse of my life.
Rarely has any of this made its way into my blog–not explicitly, anyway–for reasons I’d rather not go into right now. Mary Oliver once said: “Write for whatever holy things you believe in.” I’ve always done that, sometimes in broader strokes than others. But the events of this past weekend have inspired me to put a finer point on things this morning.
All that to say: when I sprinkle candies over a swirl of frozen yogurt (to celebrate my husband’s homecoming), I also toss a large wedge of gourmet Swiss cheese into the grocery cart. An impulse buy, for total strangers.
I keep a respectful distance, smiled as I peer into the shadows. “Hi, my name is Melodye,” I say, “Do either of you like cheese?”
Four hands, light and dark, stretch beyond the portal of the tent. A wordless answer, easily translated.
We exchange names, share a few pleasantries, and then I retreat to the warmth of my car. New friendships need oxygen, and grace.
Storm clouds cover the sun with a wooly-gray blanket. Heavy winds lift the edges of the tarp. My husband’s discharge process takes longer than expected, and as I tap-tap-tap my fingers on the steering wheel, my heart tugs me in the direction of their curbside home. Again. I cut the engine, shove my keys into my purse, grab my camera, and cross the street.
“May I sit with you for a while?” I ask. The answer is yes!
We warm ourselves around a makeshift grill, spin yarns about our childhoods, and muse about the events that brought us all together. They’d met two years ago, Starr tells me, at a bus stop in Hollywood. Inky gives her shoulders an affectionate squeeze, “I’ve been looking for her for all my life,” he says, “and we’ll be together for always.”
“Would you mind if I take your picture?” I ask. “And maybe take a short video, so I can share your story with my friends?”
Inky flings his arms open, fingers splayed, and flashes an open-mouthed grin. “Sure,” he says. Starr nods, with no hesitation whatsoever. So I switch my camera to video mode, and press the shutter button. The result is this unedited clip–not inclusive of everything we covered in our earlier conversation, but enough for you to get better acquainted. Roll straight through to the end, and you might learn something new about me, too. I’ve never fielded this question publicly, but his curiosity was genuine, and disarming…
Call them serendipitous, call them happenstance or good luck. But the truth is, these seemingly random encounters occur more often than anyone (aside from my closest friends and family members) might guess. My husband calls them “a Melodye thing.” I call them shivery magic–miracles that come of flinging your heart’s door wide open, and basking in the light.
Meet Aryana, the beautiful hummingbird that built her nest in our front yard fuchsia. Here, the stuff of magic: spider silk, cotton batting, and iridescent feathers. Other stories, too, if you examine it closely.
Right before Christmas, Aryana set about building this nest. She pressed nesting materials into the bottom with her tiny feet, and used her torso to help give it a cup-like shape.
It took mama hummingbird ten days to construct her walnut-sized nest. Soon after, two tiny eggs appeared.
I like to think Aryana nests here because Chez Shore is peaceful, and because our gardens are filled with nectar plants and flowers. But the truth is more nuanced, and likely more practical. Instinct no doubt led her (and previous mama hummingbirds) to this very spot because it blends in with the foliage and flowers, and the roof overhang helps shelter her from predators, heavy winds and rain.
It’s not easy to snap photos into that dark corner –and through the kitchen window, at that. But the opportunity to witness firsthand this unfolding wonder, well. The payoff is huge. I’m learning to rely less on my camera’s Auto Mode, to angle the camera just so and wait patiently for her visits.
Earlier this week, Aryana’s babies broke free of their shells.
Wendy hatched on Sunday; Peter showed up on the scene a day later. I only know this because, while she was foraging for food in one of our flowerbeds, I stretched myself across the top rung of a 6-foot ladder and zoomed in.
Click, click. I pressed the shutter button a couple of times, and then clambered down. I never, ever touch Aryana’s hatchlings, never disturb her nesting habits.
“Miracles on a cloud,” someone called Aryana’s newborns. I can’t remember who, or I’d give them credit. But it sounds about right to me–you, too?
I know it won’t surprise you to hear that I love talking about these winged beauties. I point out the nest to visitors, post hatchling updates on Facebook, Instagram and (less often) Twitter. So indulge me a little while longer, please, while I tell you a related story.
When the dishwasher repairman showed up on Monday, he’d already spotted the little hummingbird nest, camouflaged as it is in that dark, leafy corner.
When I expressed surprise; his smile reached from the corner of his mouth to his eyes. “I always pause to pray before I knock on a client’s door,” Mr. Nguyen told me. “I pray for peace. I pray for my client’s happiness, and for my own.” He went on to say that his customers are sometimes very angry when he first arrives: about being inconvenienced; about the news of the day; about the fact that he’s running behind schedule because he’s spent “too much time” helping another customer. “If I find something beautiful in nature before my clients open the door, I am happy. My smile is God’s smile, and that encourages them be happy, too.”
So magical, the ways in which we’re introduced to kindred spirits. New friendships are carried to us on iridescent wings, and nestle into the cushy-soft spaces of our hearts.
Another turn of the calendar page, and here we are, standing at the threshold of 2016. We had a quiet celebration, here at Chez Shore. No fireworks, no champagne flutes at midnight…we just reveled in each other’s company, and that of longtime friends. After dinner, we hiked to a beautiful vantage point, not far from our home. We watched in awe as the sun extinguished its fire in the Pacific Ocean, but not before putting its final punctuation mark on the year.
I’ve been reflecting today on the highlights of 2015, while also imagining the possibilities for 2016. No, I’m not planning to write a formal list of New Year’s resolutions–an illustrated journal page is more my style. In 2015, for instance, I created a collage of sorts for the word SUSTAIN, a multi-faceted theme that I oftentimes referenced.
I haven’t yet settled on a word for this year, but from my 2015 catalog of pictures and blogs, I pulled together a brief retrospective. Here, some of the myriad people and events that sustained me last year. I invite you to revisit those special moments with me, and to consider how we might respond this year to Mary Oliver’s question:
What is it you plan to do…
With your one…
Wishing you a joyful 2016, in which your relationships nurture and inspire you, and every day’s a grand adventure.
(Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? was excerpted from Mary Oliver’s hugely popular poem, A Summer Day. )
Baking sugar cookies on a rainy day…
Wholly present in the here and now.
Flattened cookies can’t dampen our spirits…
We’ll smear them with frosting, add jimmies and sprinkles!
Elves in the kitchen, working their magic…
Licking their fingers when no one’s watching.
Sweet as nectar, this special day…
Behold! The stuff of Christmas memories.