Z is for Zaengle

At Christmas I made place-cards for everyone. They stood on little easels at the table. They were place-cards without names, just funny little pictures that made me think of each person.

Each member of the family is unique — just like everyone else.

I wish I had taken a better picture of the collection, but here’s who each one represents.

Row 1 (left to right): Mary — a little Richard Scarry bunny writing at a desk. Bud had just painted her walls of her bedroom lavender, the very color I had wanted the walls of my bedroom when I was a child (but it didn’t happen).

“Fred” — he’s the photographer at family events, so I found a little man taking pictures. He’s snapping a shot of a dwarf crossing a bridge.

Philip — an army man at a Sandra Boynton nativity. Philip played with those green plastic army men at my parents’ house as a little boy.  Years later, we would find a sniper hiding in a plant, or a radio guy behind a lamp.

Owen — a Richard Scarry cat catching a fish from Tikki-Tikki-Tembo water. Owen loves to fish. A dog would have been more appropriate for him because he loves dogs too — but Richard Scarry didn’t have a dog fishing picture.

My brother, Jim — he raised sheep, and may even still have a few.

Row 2: Karl — Grumpy Santa (Sandra Boynton)  standing on the porch of a house. It just made me laugh. Karl does that.

Henry, my grandson — loves Curious George.

Emily, Owen’s wife — the only one with a name on it. I knew she had to have it.

Sharon, Jim’s wife — a dragonfly because I know she likes them.

Laurel — Pooh and Piglet and a goose. Laurel wanted Winnie the Pooh in hers. I liked the way they were leaning back to look up at the goose.

Row 3: Donna, Sam’s wife — I read somewhere that a cardinal represents lost loved ones. Her mother passed away while she and Sam were dating. Plus snow because British Columbia and snow.

Bud — Bud loves building fires and sitting and staring into them. It’s a Zaengle thing. Zaengle gatherings with his siblings almost always include bonfires and just sitting around the fire talking.

My dad — he was a doctor so I found a little doctor for him.

Helen — she has always loved the beach. I even sprinkled a little sand and put some real tiny shells on hers.

Amanda, Philip’s wife — She’s Henry’s mother, and it seemed appropriate to give her a mother and child.

Row 4: My brother, Peter — he teaches science. I’ve gone with him several times in the summer when he takes kids to the biological field station on the lake where the kids look at all sorts of life under microscopes.

My nephew, Ben — he’s very musical and had just starred in his school’s middle school musical.

Sam — like hiking, works at an outdoorsy store, and the boots made me think of him.

Me — the only one I didn’t make. Mary made mine for me. I love how she put a little rabbit comforting/encouraging the tired housewife. This is my life.

Diana, Peter’s wife — two literary rabbits. She’s an English teacher and loves books as much as I do. I thought she would appreciate these two classic characters meeting each other.

And to finish it off, here’s a family photo of my family taken this Christmas. I am incredibly blessed with a wonderful family.

Bud said to me, as we were driving home from the Albany bus station after dropping Sam and Donna off so they could fly back west, “We did a good job, didn’t we?”

So far, so good.

Christmas 2016
Starting on the top step — Amanda and Philip
Owen and Emily
Sam and Donna
Me and Bud
“Fred”, Helen, and Laurel
Karl, Henry, and Mary

I love these people.

V is for Vocabulary

Even though they were very wise, the owls had a limited vocabulary.

I often walk into the living room these days and find my father with the dictionary in his lap.

He still does word puzzles — the daily Jumble and crossword — every day, although he comments often that they’re making them harder.

He needs help with them — sometimes (often) by asking me or anyone in the room, and sometimes by trying to look words up in the dictionary.

As a kid, I can remember asking how to spell a word, and he would say, “Look it up in the dictionary.” Of course, that didn’t make total sense to me because I needed to know how to spell it to look it up. Somehow it worked though.

Dictionaries have always been important to my father.

When he left for college, he was given a dictionary that he still has today. It’s tattered and worn and not the dictionary I find on his lap.

He gave me a dictionary when I went to college. I still have it.

I gave one of my sons a dictionary when he went to college — not an electronic one, but a heavy hardcover one, where he could feel the weight of all those words.

Dictionaries were a fertilizer that fed my roots.

Having a good vocabulary is a gift from my parents, one for which I am continually thankful.

Teacher from A Boy Who Wants a Dinosaur by Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura
Fence from Catch Me, Catch Me! A Thomas the Tank Engine Story illustrated by Owain Bell
Owls from Mother Goose Treasury, 2009 Publications International — it has a long list of illustrators and I don’t know which one did the owls

Easter Egg Hunt in the Orchard

1968? or 1969?

I was insistent that we have our Easter egg hunt in the orchard… because of this picture

Not quite 50 years ago, in that same exact spot, we hunted for Easter eggs — my brothers and sister and I. I don’t think we called it the orchard in those days because it was almost inconceivable that those saplings would actually grow into trees that would bear fruit.

My mother stood in the middle and watched us race around looking for eggs — real eggs, hardboiled and dyed, not plastic and filled with candy.

This year, we filled plastic eggs for Henry. Mary and Laurel hid them in the orchard and on the way to the orchard.

the stone wall on the way to the orchard

Some were placed high in the trees. Henry isn’t up to climbing yet, so his uncle “Fred” helped him reach them.

Getting an egg out of a tree

Dropping eggs in the basket

I know Easter isn’t about the eggs and the egg hunts, but there’s something deeply satisfying about so many generations doing the same activity on the same piece of land.

J is for Journey

“I ran away once and you didn’t even notice,” one of my children told me accusingly.

It brought back a flood of memories.

I ran away once. Slighted once too often by my siblings, unappreciated by my parents — I knew it was the only thing I could do. So I put a loaf of bread in my backpack, along with a flashlight, a jacket, and a pack of matches, and headed up the hill behind our house.

The first bit was steep and prickly with wild raspberry bushes. I huffed with exertion and didn’t stop to enjoy a single berry.

I hiked past the little spring-house that had been the source of water for the house before my parents dug a well.

Finally I reached a grassy knoll and sat down to rest.

I waited for someone to come looking for me. Surely someone would notice I was gone.

I waited, imagining the shock and the worry. My mother would ask each sibling, “Have you seen Sally?” and the worry would grow.

They would look all around the house and the barns. She’d probably make Peter or Jimmy climb into the hayloft to see if I was there.

But they wouldn’t find me.

The tall grass on the hill was perfect for putting between my thumbs and whistling — but I stopped myself. Someone would hear it. Then they would know where I was.

The grassy knoll, it turned out, was also an ant hill so I moved to a little mossy spot near a tree.

I pulled out my loaf of bread and ate a slice — not because I was hungry, but because I was bored. Plain bread is also boring, I discovered. I wished I had brought a jar of peanut butter. I put the bread away because I knew it would have to last me at least a week.

As I started to stretch out in the moss for a little rest, I nearly placed my hand in a pile of animal droppings. Abruptly I sat up again. Hugging my knees, I started to cry. Surely I was the most unloved child ever.

House with the garden behind it

But down the hill was my house.

And my family.

And my dog.

And our passel of cats.

I climbed to my feet and headed back.

My mother was working in the garden, picking beans or peas.

“I ran away,” I announced to her as I got closer, “and you didn’t even notice.”

She straightened up and looked at me. “You need to be gone more than 20 minutes if you want me to notice,” she said.

And she went back to work.

All that passed through my mind when my own child told me about running away.

I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t repeat my mother’s words.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Child with suitcase and backpack from Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch, illustrated by Jack E. Davis

Plants from a broken pop-up book

H is for Helping

Laurel sat next to me on the couch last night when I started this post by writing the title and inserting the picture I planned to use.

“Are you going to write about me?” she asked. “I help.”

Indeed she does. Laurel is an outstanding sous chef. She is often with me in the kitchen at dinner time helping with meal prep. She scours the internet for healthy recipes and sometimes volunteers to make dinner, on which occasions I am her sous chef. I think that’s pretty remarkable for a 13-year-old.

Mary helps, too, in her own way. She empties the dishwasher, unasked and often unseen. She brings my father his nightly beer. She makes sure he has the baseball game or Wheel of Fortune on after dinner. She has fixed him lunch on days when I’m not available. My father will say, “Mary is solid,” which I think may be cringe-worthy words for a 17-year-old to hear, but by which he means that he can count on her, a high compliment.

And the truth is, all my kids are great helpers. They have acted as gardeners and landscapers around my parents’ property, mowing the lawn, weeding the myrtle, cleaning up sticks and debris. They have chauffeured, accompanied, and assisted, attending to their elderly grandparents in so many ways.

Lately, some of my adult children have been caregivers, staying with my father over weekends when I need to be away. It’s a huge help to me.

I’m quite sure they inherited the helping gene from their father. Bud is one of the hardest-working, most generous people I know.

So thank you to all my helpers. You know who you are. I see what you’re doing and I appreciate it.

This picture is very early in my whole cutting-up-books-to-make-cards adventure.

The tree is from Garth Williams’ beautiful book, The Rabbits’ Wedding, the book that started it all. I picked it up at a yard sale, a gorgeous oversized picture book that had sat in the rain. It was starting to mold and smell — but the illustrations were so beautiful that I couldn’t stand the thought of it going to the dump. So, blindly, I paid a ridiculous amount of money for a soggy moldy book — 50¢ — and brought it home not knowing what I would do with it.

The girl is from Sarah’s Unicorn by Bruce and Katherine Coville. The illustrations in the book were all black-and-white, so I watercolored her, as well as the background.

I don’t know where the bird and nest are from.