An I had but one penny in the world,
thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.
~ William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost
An I had but one penny in the world,
thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.
~ William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost
THE ROAD TO BETHLEHEM
If as Herod, we fill our lives with things and again things;
If we consider ourselves so important that we must fill
Every moment of our lives with action;
When will we have the time to make the long slow journey
Across the burning desert as did the Magi;
Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds;
Or to brood over the coming of the Child as did Mary?
For each one of us there is a desert to travel,
A star to discover,
And a being within ourselves to bring to life.
~ Author Unknown
“The Road to Bethlehem” appears on numerous websites. Most attribute the poem to Anonymous. If you know who wrote it, please share the name and, if possible, other documentation in a comment, so I can give the poet credit for his creation and can search for information about copyright. Until I know more, I will assume the poem is in the public domain.
Find “The Road to Bethlehem” on these sites:
The star of Christmas shines for all,
No matter great, no matter small,
No matter spotted, brown or white,
It bids us all to share the light.
In an Atlanta gift shop, on the last road trip my mother and I took together, I bought a packet of Christmas cards designed by a local artist. In the background on the front, there was a star; in the foreground, there were three rabbits–brown, white, and black-and-white. The verse above appeared inside. The design was simple, unsentimental, and touching.
I used all but one of the cards, and kept that one thinking I might be able to find more. But I couldn’t, and sometime over the past twenty-eight years, the last card disappeared. I hope I’ve quoted the verse exactly. The image above doesn’t duplicate the charm of the original, but perhaps it’s close.
I’ve searched the web for the name of the artist-poet but have found nothing. If anyone reading this knows the artist or has seen the card I’ve described, please leave a comment. I would like to give proper attribution. If possible I will contact the author to ask permission to use it; if he wishes, I’ll remove the post. (Note: A friend pointed me to the website of Michael Podesta. I suspect the card might be one of his.)
I don’t usually post anything without getting permission and crediting the author, but I love the card and it seems a shame not to share.
Christmas Day 2015 is the 65th, approximately, anniversary of the day my grandmother burned toast. I wasn’t there, but I heard a lot about it after I arrived.
At the bottom of the page, I’ve added links to posts and to entire blogs about burnt toast. One post instructs how not to burn toast. Another describes what to do when you haven’t followed instructions.
I burn toast.
It’s hereditary. My mother burned toast. My grandmother burned toast.
Once when my grandmother was making cornbread dressing for Christmas dinner, she burned three consecutive baking sheets of toast.
My father, who ambled into the kitchen in time to see the process, drawled, “Mrs. Barrow, you’re a failure.”
While I was thinking about that story this morning, I burned the toast.
David came downstairs to see what the yelling was about. I pointed to the cinders and said, “That was the end of the loaf, so we’ll just have to eat it.”
David is more tactful than my father was. He turned away, but not before I glimpsed the corner of his mouth twitch. He, too, has learned about the family habit.
He’s also learned about some habits that are mine alone.
I lock my car keys inside the car. Sometimes I lock the extra set of keys and the cell phone and my purse in with them.
I use a two-quart saucepan to make four quarts of soup.
I hoard both fat clothes and skinny clothes for the time when they once again, someday, maybe fit.
The list isn’t exhaustive, but today is Christmas Eve and I have to get busy.
Anyway, I used to ask myself, “Why do I do these things?”
Lately, however, I’ve thought, “So what?”
I have a good working relationship with the roadside assistance folks: I send money and they send assistance. I’ve helped people this way. One locksmith, in fact, said I’d just made his day by not acting like it was his fault I’d locked myself out.
Regarding soup, when the fixings reach the brim, I drag out a larger vessel and arrange a transfer.
Some years that gray wool suit fits and some years it doesn’t, but it’s in excellent condition, and there’s always hope.
And it’s not as if I’m completely devoid of talent.
Soup is a challenge, but I can pack the trunk of a car so every suitcase, garment bag, and Christmas present fits without spilling over into the back seat.
I can get pills down cats.
My book talks make sixth-grade boys want to read. And that’s the truth.
I make killer ice cream.
Surely these things count in my favor.
The day of the latest conflagration, I found–serendipitously–the blog Burnt Toast, whose author points out that, while regular toast is boring, burnt toast has “flavor and character.”
I like that. Without burnt toast, I wouldn’t have the story about my father teasing his mother-in-law.
So in 2016, I shall say, “So what?”
I’ll try to keep keys in hand, but when I don’t, I’ll call a locksmith and just make his day.
I’ll take clothes I can’t wear to the Salvation Army, but I’ll keep the gray suit.
I’ll be grateful for soup that expands beyond the bounds of my expectations.
In short, I’ll embrace burnt toast, relishing the flavor and character it brings.
“How to Cook Toast in an Oven,” from Livestrong.com
“Move the top shelf in your oven to the highest it can go.”
The instruction is correct, but it’s also the first step toward having to take the batteries out of the smoke alarm. Moving the shelf to the second highest level affords a better chance of getting the bread out unscathed. I don’t care any more, but other people might.
“If you do not have a baking sheet, or need to toast more pieces than will fit on the baking sheet, you may place the bread directly on the oven shelf.”
This works, too, but only if you don’t care that crumbs will fall to the bottom of the bottom of the oven and turn into tiny flakes of toast, and you’ll have to sweep them out. You don’t have to sweep them out immediately, but if you tarry, they’ll convert to tiny pieces of carbon that will eventually stick in place.
Warning: Always keep your eye on the bread as it toasts. Bread burns easily and quickly and a simple turn of the head can be enough to turn your golden brown toast into a lump of black and burnt bread.
Blogs about burnt toast:
And, finally, a post about what to do with burnt toast when it’s ready to eat:
I wrote this post for Whiskertips in 2009 and recycled it a year later for this blog. I’ve made some changes, but one thing remains the same–the toast is still burnt.
Excerpt from “Hell on Wheels” by Kathy Waller appears in MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 TALES OF CRIME ON THE MOVE, published by Wildside Press, 2015
The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the filling for a lemon meringue pie, I took the bowl away from her and called a family conference. We had to do something before she dispatched some poor, unsuspecting soul to his heavenly rest and got herself thrown so far back into prison she couldn’t see daylight.
The next day, while Mama was down at Essie’s Salon de Beauté, my brothers and sister and I crowded into a booth at the old Dairy Queen, just across the corner from the library where I worked. The DQ was practically empty. The only customers—besides Frank and Lonnie and Bonita and me—were senior citizens, and most of them had their hearing aids turned off.
When the waitress had delivered our orders and retreated behind the counter to her copy of People magazine, I explained why I had called the meeting.
“It hurts me to say it, but the time has come to put Mama out of her misery.”
Lonnie stabbed his straw through the plastic lid on his frosted Coke. “Mama don’t have no misery. I never seen nobody so contented with her lot.”
Bonita poked her pointy elbow into my side and reached across the table to pat Lonnie’s hand. “I think Marva Lu’s talking about a different kind of misery, baby brother. I’ll explain later.”
That was a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Bonita’s explaining was why it took Lonnie till he was twenty-nine to get his GED.
Frank, sitting across the table from me, grabbed a napkin and wriggled his way out of the booth. “Now look what you made me do. Scared me half to death, making such a mean joke about Mama.”
He dabbed at his tie with a napkin. “This necktie is a souvenir from when we took the kids to Disney World. That gravy landed right on Donald Duck’s tail feathers.”
I glanced over my shoulder at the other diners, several of whom were looking our way. “Frank Dewayne Urquhart, stop carrying on and sit back down,” I hissed. “You’re attracting attention.”
Frank unclipped his tie and laid it across the back of the booth. By the time he settled down to finish his steak fingers, the senior citizens had turned back to their burgers.
“Now, quit worrying about that duck’s derriere and look me in the eye,” I said, in the steely tone of voice I used on seventh-grade boys I found hiding in the how-to books, giggling over The Joy of Sex. “I am not joking. This is serious.”
Frank stuffed a couple of napkins into his collar and dunked another steak finger. “Serious?” He leaned toward me, his eyes wide and his voice just a whisper. “You want to … put Mama down … just because you saw her add something to the pie? I bet you didn’t have your contacts in. Might’ve been powdered sugar. She’s probably practicing something new for the Methodist ladies’ fundraiser cook-off.”
“The new bishop’s going to judge the cook-off.” I took a sip of my Diet Dr. Pepper and gave Frank time to think. “I can see the headlines now: ‘Murderous Methodist Does in Bishop with Omelet’. And every penny of our inheritance will go to pay a lawyer to try to keep Mama out of prison. Squeaky Vardaman says defense attorneys charge more when the client’s guilty. And Squeaky’s the district attorney, so he ought to know.”
Bonita stabbed me again with her elbow. “Uh-oh, look who’s coming.” We all followed her gaze.
A bright red Corvette was racing up the street. Ignoring the stop sign, the driver shot through the intersection, just missing a pedestrian, who scrambled onto the high curb and wrapped his arms around a light pole for support.
“There she is, on her way to Essie’s to get her hair screwed up.” Lonnie grinned. “Man, Mama can drive that car, can’t she?”
Frank cleared his throat and wiped his fingers on a napkin. “Yeah, Marva Lu, I see your point.”
Bonita wrinkled her nose and wound a blonde curl around her finger, a habit she’d gotten into when she was five years old and people told her it was cute. “Why don’t we keep a real close watch on Mama and make sure she doesn’t have a chance to put anything bad in the food? I mean, killing her seems a little extreme.”
“Are you volunteering to babysit around the clock?” I said.
Bonita wrinkled her nose again. “Well, what about putting her in the Silver Seniors Retirement home? We could have her committed. Then she couldn’t cook at all.”
“No way,” said Frank. “Old Dr. Briggs is as loony as Mama. He isn’t about to certify her. Hell, there’s not a man, woman, or child in the county, including us, who’d dare to cross her. After all, she owns the bank.” He wadded his napkin into a ball and dropped it into the empty basket. “You going to convince her to move to the home, Bonita?”
Before Bonita could get her nose back in gear, Lonnie finally caught up with the conversation. He sat up straight. “Killing her? What do you mean, killing her? You saying you want to kill Mama?”
“Shhh. Use your library voice, Lonnie.” Bonita patted his hand again. “Kill is just a figure of speech. Like one of those smilies we talked about before your test.”
I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s not a smilie. We’d better make sure right now that everybody understands what we’re doing.”
“I’m not doing anything,” whispered Lonnie. “If you’re going to kill Mama, I’m heading for the sheriff right now. Move, Frank, and let me out of this booth.”
I glared at Frank. He stayed put. I smacked Bonita’s hand off Lonnie’s and closed my hand around his. Poor Lonnie, he’d always been Mama’s favorite, and so softhearted. I should have known our talk would upset him.
I assumed the sympathetic tone I used when citizens called to complain about the library having dirty books. “Lonnie, sweetheart, you heard what I said about Mama’s new recipe. And you remember how Uncle Percy died last month, just hours after Mama cooked him a special birthday lunch.”
“Dr. Briggs said that was Uncle Percy’s ulcer.” Lonnie jerked his hand back. “Frank, let me out.”
I grabbed his hand again and hung on. “Jasper Alonzo, calm down. I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to think about it carefully and then give me an honest answer. After that, Frank will let you out, and you can go to the sheriff or anywhere else you want.
“Now, here’s the question: How would it make you feel if they put Mama on trial for killing Uncle Percy? Or somebody else she fed bad food to? And what if she had to spend the rest of her natural life locked up in the prison at Huntsville?”
Lonnie’s brow wrinkled like it always did when he was turning something over in his mind. One thing about my baby brother, he never made snap decisions. I usually admired him for that. In this case, however, even with the answer so obvious, I threw in some details.
“Think about what prison’s like, Lonnie. There wouldn’t be a soul Mama knows. And most of those inmates are so common, not our kind of people at all. Mama would have to share a room, and you know how she values her privacy. There’d be no more trips up to Neiman Marcus, and she’d have to dress just like everybody else, in horizontal stripes. She’s always been dead-set against horizontal stripes. Essie wouldn’t be there to keep up her weekly White Mink rinse, and without that, her gray hair would get that ugly yellow tinge to it. And how would she survive without her Friday bridge club? Think about it, Lonnie. What kind of life would Mama have?”
By the time I got to “yellow tinge,” all the fight had gone out of Lonnie. His brow unwrinkled. Tears welled up in his soft brown eyes. It was just the saddest expression I’d ever seen on that sweet face. He looked so miserable I was tempted to toss the rest of my chocolate sundae into the big red waste bin and tell my siblings to forget the whole thing.
But I didn’t get to be Director of the Kilburn County Public Library and Archives by caving in to every pathetic face that stared at me across the circulation desk.
“All right, Lonnie,” I said. “What’s your answer?”
He pulled on his straw but got only a gurgle, so he quit stalling. “Mama wouldn’t like prison at all. So I guess I’d feel pretty bad.” He shook his cup and managed to suck up one more taste of frosted Coke. “But I still don’t feel good about planning to kill her.”
I looked out the window. Old Judge Vardaman was shuffling down the sidewalk from the courthouse, heading for the library, where he would spend his usual hour dozing over the Wall Street Journal. On his way out, he would tiptoe into my office and sit down for what he called “a little visit with my sweetie-pie.”
Bonita saw me watching him and smirked. “Well, here comes Big Sister’s gentleman caller. Honestly, Marva Lu, I don’t know how you can stand to have that old goat around. He’s older than God.”
“You should talk,” I said. “The way you drool over the old goat’s son since he got elected D. A. is a disgrace.” I passed the remainder of my sundae across the table to Lonnie and smiled. “Anyway, Bonita, he’s not so bad. Goats can be very useful animals.” I shouldered my purse and stood up to leave. “Don’t worry, Lonnie,” I said. “You won’t have to do a thing. I’ll take care of all the planning myself.”
William bit me at the vet,
Didn’t like the aide’s assistance,
Used his claws and fangs to set
On the path of most resistance.
Say I’m teary, say I’m mad,
Say that pills and needles hit me,
Say my arm’s inflamed, and add,
William bit me.
Jane Carlyle, wife of philosopher Thomas Carlyle, was not a demonstrative woman. When writer Leigh Hunt arrived for a visit, Jane jumped up from her chair, ran across the room, and kissed him. Delighted, Hunt wrote “Jenny Kissed Me.”
Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in;
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I’m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.
My abject apologies to Mr. Hunt and Mrs. Carlyle. I mean no disrespect. I couldn’t have written the parody if I didn’t love the poem.
Today I’m at Writing Wranglers and Warriors with a post about weight management, not really about cats. Unless you’d rather read about cats, and then it’s about them. Either way, there’s something IMPORTANT about midway down, and that’s the truth.
At the outset, this post contains no advice at all, just what I’ve heard, and it will look like it’s about my cat (again), but it’s actually about weight management. But to get to the heart of the matter, we’ll have to go through the cat.
William is on a diet. He’s nine years old and it’s past time for him to take off the weight I’ve allowed him to put on. I want to prevent diabetes and all the ills the older cat is often heir to.
The vet advised me how I might begin, but with two cats, it’s difficult. I can’t isolate him because he wouldn’t eat without Ernest eating first, and isolation brings the risk of his clawing a hole in the door. With cats, you don’t close doors, period. And the last time William and Ernest were separated for any length of time, William stopped…
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