The View from Mrs. Sundberg’s Window
“This time called life was meant to share.” ― Walter Rinder
I’m a bit of a introvert, I must say, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like people, like being around them, like sitting on the fringe at the party or the corner of the restaurant or the bench at the barn dance and takin’ it all in. It’s been a quiet stretch of weeks here in what feels like a new polar region (not a complaint, but almost) and I got to thinkin’ the other day how much I need people, more than I’d figured. It’s been a bit of a downer of a winter, with one sad thing after another awful thing in the news, and no fire for a while since we ran out of wood, and Mr. S gone more days than not and the kids busy with their unfolding lives. A person can get to feeling sorry for herself and that’s when it’s time to stand on up and give it a shake. Seriously. You get to taking naps when the thought occurs and pretty soon those naps turn into SleepFest 2018 and it would take a mule and a couple hefty ropes to drag your sorry butt out of the knot of quilts you’ve crafted for yourself. Trust me, I know.
So I am taking it upon myself to drag my own sorry patootie not out of bed but up off my chair by the window. I’m done waiting for Spring. Done feeling a bit off. Done wishing for things I can make happen on my own if I simply get a grip. Done thinkin’, “Why shovel? The snow is just gonna melt.” Done eating peanut butter out of the jar with a teaspoon (and dipping it in chocolate chips on the way). Done not cooking because it’s just me this week and why bother. Done procrastinating. Done keeping quiet. Done falling asleep in a tub of hot lavender water and waking up at 2 a.m. from a zombie dream, wondering what century it is and are they really out there, in the backyard, waiting to eat my face? Done eating only edamame for lunch. Done aching to run through a meadow with bare feet, grabbing at wildflowers along the way and tilting my face to the warm sun. Done waiting for something that’s bound to arrive, but why not get out there and meet it halfway?
Lived half my life, dear friends, and the other half ain’t gonna live itself. Time to finish my taxes. Time to bake a loaf of bread, just for me. Time to drive on over and visit my grandbaby and see if I can get her to say “Yappadoo!” Time to clean out the hall closet and shovel the steps and wash the window above the kitchen sink. TIme to buy myself some roses, time to dance awhile in the soft moonlight. Time to sing a waltzing song and get rid of the things piling up and make some bars and visit my neighbor Patsy whom I haven’t seen in a good long while. Time to pull over at the next snow-covered field and run through it anyway, snow and all, and find that sun with my pale, wintered face.
Spring has her own challenges these past few decades, and who are we to complain? No saying we can’t carry on and do our own thing, as we see fit. She’s bound to appear. In the meantime, I plan to wash some curtains this weekend, and bake a coconut cream pie and find a fresh green to paint the bathroom and wander on down to the river. Heck, I might even take off my boots a while and feel the snow between my toes. There’s still a snow angel or two in me, and I imagine there might be one in you. Come join me. Bring some buttered popcorn. I’ll make some hot chocolate or Irish coffee, or both, and we’ll have a time. Perhaps she — Sweet Spring herself — will join us as well. Perhaps She’s been taking her own naps, waiting for us to get things going, a frolicking snow party where She can join in, even if She lingers out there on the fringe of things. Ain’t a bad place to be, out there on the edge. You can see the firelight on everyone’s faces, and with a turn of your head, there they are, up high, all those crazy glimmerin’ stars. Winkin’, I swear. As if they know things we’ve yet to learn, and they do, and learn we will. Long as we have seasons and wood fires, hot coffee and someone to call when the silence of a season leavin’ gets a bit too loud. Long as we get up. Long as we have something giving meaning to “forward.” Come what may. And yes, please. May. Come.
Here’s a salty indulgence for a Friday evening. Serve it during a movie, or a Monopoly game, or while everyone’s sitting around reading and dozing and waiting for a sane bedtime. Or opt for a few mugs of hot chocolate, a bit of crème de menthe mixed in, a Hershey’s kiss hovering at the bottom.
4T cream cheese
1 ½ cups mayo
5 green onions, chopped
8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled
½ cup slivered almonds
1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese
Serve with crackers, or your favorite deli bread
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. I’d spent a good part of the afternoon wandering through the dairy section at the grocery store trying to come up with something to make for my friend Esther, who needs a bit of cheer. I’ve known her for quite a few years now and though she lives only a few miles to the west I don’t see her much. She’s quite a bit older than I, and doesn’t get out real often except for Bingo Night down at the Town Hall and the late service every Sunday. We have the kind of friendship where we check in now and then, and laugh a bit, and share something we learned lately that might help the other, like when she gave me the book on gardening after I managed to kill off a planting of peas and tomatoes. And like how, last summer, I helped plan her trip to Canada to visit her brother.
The truth of the matter is Esther doesn’t have much time left. I don’t recall the doctor’s exact diagnosis, but Esther told me she hopes to see in the New Year and whatever happens after that doesn’t matter much because her life has been one fine trip. So we chat every week or so, and sometimes she calls after the show and asks whether I heard that lovely song about twilight or the monologue about sledding from one county to the next and I say yes and we laugh and I smile for awhile after we hang up and I imagine she does too.
I’ve always had a rough time knowing what to say when people I care about are suffering or grieving or in pain. What I’m thinking, though, is that since death is a part of it all, it makes sense to treat it that way. Not to make light of it, mind you, but carry on with things because days are precious and you wouldn’t want to waste even one of them steeped in melancholy. Oh, no. There are things to be done and misery isn’t all that productive. Which is why I decided to drop in on Esther Sunday afternoon and bring with me a still-warm cream cheese coffeecake. I knocked and Esther hallooed and I let myself in. She was sitting in her kitchen near the window drinking green tea and paying bills.
Brought you something, I said, and her eyes got big when I set the coffeecake on the table. “Why, I’ll never be able to eat all that,” she said, “but I’ll sure give it a go if you help.” I got two plates and a coffee cup for myself down from the cupboard and she pulled a knife from the drawer near the table and there went Sunday afternoon. The sun was low in the sky when I got up to leave. I hugged Esther tight and she hugged back and it occurred to me that one day soon I’ll call and she won’t answer, and that will be the way of it. Mortality gives life its own particular beauty. I have Esther now and she has me. The leaves are nearly gone, and snow is in the forecast, and it’s going to be a fine week.
And here it is once again, the recipe for cream cheese coffeecake, one of my all time favorite things to make for just about any occasion. Even for no reason at all except to make it, and to have a slice while the afternoon rolls on and thoughts of spring come rollin’ along.
Cream Cheese Coffeecake
1 loaf frozen white bread dough, thawed.
Filling: 8 oz. cream cheese, 1/2 c. sugar,
1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla.
Topping: 6 T butter, 1/2 c. sugar, 3/4 c. flour.
Cut with a fork until crumbly.
Quick Icing: mix 1 ½ -2 c. powdered sugar, a bit of milk and
1 T vanilla until smooth and desired consistency.
Let dough rise until nearly double. Press into a greased pizza pan or 9 X 13 cake pan and poke several times with a fork. Cream cheese and sugar; add egg and vanilla and mix well. Pour and spread over dough. Sprinkle topping evenly over the cream cheese mixture. Let rise ten minutes, and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Drizzle icing over. Serve up for breakfast or brunch. Enjoy!
Here’s a post, by request, from back in 2003. More than 15 years ago. Lot has changed since, and so much is still the same. No recipes back then, but I’ll make up for it next time around.
Listened to the show on Saturday and it was not bad. I was really quite taken with Inga Swearingen’s name alone, and kept saying it to myself as I listened from the green armchair in the living room. The kids were playing outside and I had nearly forgotten about them when they came stomping in all covered with snow, peeled off their snowsuits and threw them on the kitchen floor, and ran upstairs to read ghost stories to each other in the big corner bedroom with the door that opens onto a balcony. I’ve told them that balcony is off limits. They may fall through, or at least weaken the ceiling of the sun room below. They’re in a ghost story phase which gives them another excuse to scream.
So they stayed up there a while, reading and eating the popcorn I left for them and I turned down the lights and lit a candle and thought hard about Thanksgiving and how we all got so drowsy after the turkey at the in-laws. Inga sang “My Favorite Things” — a song I know from The Sound of Music and I went and made a mental list of my own: homemade bread pudding served up with green apples, and twilight, and the crackle of burning pine needles. I love my wood rolling pin and how the kids leave their footprints in the bath towels after a shower and how it feels to sleep under heavy quilts. I love to hear Mr. Sundberg laughing somewhere in the house, and I love silence, and those flour sack towels my mother embroiders along the edges with words like “Believe” and “Life isn’t fair and the sooner you realize it, the happier you’ll be.” She buys them in packages of five down at the hardware store. After she stitches the words in, she spray starches and folds a towel and sends it Priority Mail. The last one she sent arrived Saturday morning. It had just two words on it — in a red the color of wintergreen berries — followed by three tiny knots: “Remember when . . .”
It wasn’t until after the show when the kids were in bed and the candle was still lit and Mr. Sundberg had called from Wyoming to say goodnight that I got some of that precious silence. And the answer, Mother, is yes. I do.
February 3, 2018
Made some apple crisp Saturday and it was pretty good. It’s a bit early in the year for apple crisp, I know, but I sometimes cannot wait to try a new recipe and you can always find apples and it seems to me cinnamon – unlike lemon or anise – works all year long. Kinda like garlic and avocado and saffron. Though I confess I have never once USED saffron. I will, though, given time.
It’s been a while since I’ve sat down with enough presence of mind to write something coherent. For all kinds of reasons. This winter has been particularly intense. The cold, of course, is always there, but this year a few layers of ice under the periodic snows have sent cars into the ditch (not mine, yet, mind you) and the dark of the winter has seemed darker. Many people dear to me have been experiencing all manners of pain. A dear friend’s mother passed away last week. Another is struggling with her husband’s raging moods. Another is questioning his purpose in life. Another is with his father in a New Jersey hospital even as I write, the father wrestling in that place between life and death. And then there is the general sense of unease with our country’s shift into the unfamiliar. None of these things are insurmountable. None of them not prone to healing, given time.
But still. Some days are such that rising up out of warm quilts to be productive and do something meaningful seems not impossible, but on the list of questionable. On those polar days, who wants to venture out to sweep the inches of light snow off the walk when there’s a fire going inside, and candles lit, and the option of baking something with cardamom and cream? Thank the Lord for the wind, reminding us that we may take a break now and then, but Nature will not. It’s been a lovely force out there, swirling the snow away, the super blood blue moon rising to its whistling. A song for a moon dance, that wind. Along with the sun, it will clear the snow, that wind, in time.
I’ve been reading, books large and small, some for pleasure, some for answers, some because they were recommended by friends. I re-read “King Lear” just for the heck of it. Someone was talking about Shakespeare over at the post office, and I thought, Hmm, and why not. I read an interesting article on the purification of silver, and am reading now a book titled “A Long Walk To Water” by Linda Sue Park, a short read I would highly recommend if you are lacking any perspective at all on how fortunate we are to turn a knob and have hot or warm or cold water spill out onto our bodies, or into a cooking pot, or into a small glass for the drinking. It’s a take on a way of life so remote from ours, yet most similar in that we humans want, very much, the same things. Something to hope for, good work to do, someone to love. And to love us. And may we each have one of those or all, over time.
It seems only a week or so since I last wrote, and looking now through my notes it’s been more than a month, and I feel like apologizing, but instead, perhaps I will simply carry on and push “send” a bit more often, and share with you things I found, and ask you questions, and answer yours, and simply be here while you are there and we will continue finding each other as we have all along. The way true friends are, given time.
Here’s a recipe I was blessed to sample recently when a friend brought it along to a gathering celebrating January. (Yes, we do that, and why not?) The crisp can be served up in squares, warm, with ice cream (something with caramel or brickle or cinnamon or plain) or simply some cream whipped not stiff but close. Or it works cut into bars as well. Versatility here in the polar region is a mighty fine thing.
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup oatmeal
2 cups flour
2 sticks butter, melted
Mix and press firmly into 9×13 pan.
Bake 10-12 min at 400.
6 cups apple slices (use your favorite pie apple)
1 cup sugar
1 T flour
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
Toss together and spread on crust.
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ cups flour
¾ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ cup melted butter
Mix together and spread on top.
Bake 45 min at 375.
Made some hot pepper jelly dip Saturday and it was pretty dang good. Things have been winding up, slowly, these past few weeks with the cold getting colder and everything in the papers leaving me without words, really; the kids coming home for break, the question of whether the turkey would thaw in time (it did), holiday events popping up left and right, and all those ads for Black Friday this and Cyber Monday that. It’s enough for a relatively sane person to throw his or her arms up and holler, “Whatever!” or “I don’t care” or “It doesn’t matter!” Three phrases I do my best never to utter. They’re so without feeling, so dismissive, and if I’m going to put words out there I’d at least prefer words like, “Really” and “Seriously” and “Well isn’t that a humdinger.” All questions made statements by assumption that with whomever I am speaking would readily agree.
What DOES matter is my concern. When you REALLY think about it. I thought about it, all Thanksgiving Day as I cooked up a serious amount of food. What matters. And then, as I caramelized the onions and cooked the celery for the stuffing, I felt the list coming on. And it ended up sounding like Maslow’s hierarchy. Food. Water. Sleep. Comfort. Acceptance. So on. And so on. And then, I thought, those are NEEDS we have. Of course they matter. But what is at the heart of it all?
By then, I was on to the pie making. I gently rolled the crusts and lay them down in their plates. Then mixed the fillings – apple, pumpkin, blueberry – and poured each in its turn. At last, the top layers: Dutch crumbs for the apple; leaves cut from pastry for the pumpkin; lattice for the blueberry for dear old Uncle Tom. A brush with milk, a sprinkle of sugar, and into the oven they went. An hour later, there they were. Three perfectly imperfect homemade pies. Made with good thoughts and tenderness and spices and hope.
They mattered, those pies. To me, they did. They were one way I might show love on Thanksgiving Day. And Gratitude, too. But mostly love. And when all was said and done, and everyone was asleep on the couch or on the floor or tucked away up in bed, pure love poured out of every open window (got a bit overheated early in the day). And when there’s love, nothing much else matters, and everything does, and that we find ways to show it and share it is our only real purpose in life. Well, mine anyway. What matters to you might be quite a bit different, but I’ll bet love pops up in there somewhere.
On to the next thing! With gratitude, and love. And leftover pie.
Spicy spice. Oh, yes. Here’s an appetizer, the likes of which Great Aunt Wanda called, “an appeteaser.” Mmm Hmm. Yes, honey. Knock yer socks off and then some. And you’re sure to have requests so make some copies, for Pete’s sake.
Hot Pepper Jelly Pecan Dip
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups sliced green onions
2 cups chopped pecans
1/2 to 1 cup mayonnaise
1 jar hot pepper jelly
Mix cheese, onions and nuts in a large bowl. Stir in enough mayonnaise to hold together. Press cheese mixture into a shallow dish or pie plate and chill. Or if desired, press into a round cake pan lined with plastic wrap, chill and unmold onto plate before serving. Top with pepper jelly.
Serve with Wheat Thins or other crackers.