Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Catalogues

Sears Wish Book 2007
~ Good Old Days meet New Age

60th Anniversary Issue from 2012

and most recently:

Talk about custom and ceremony, and annual tradition! I don't remember my family referring to it as the "Wish Book," but I well recall the excitement of marking all of our favorite pages in the Sears Christmas Catalog every year. For a more in - depth look at Christmas / Catalog Season, see my latest post:
"Wish Book"
The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
A fortnightly [every 14th & 28th]
literary blog of connection & coincidence; custom & ceremony

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Happy Boxing Day

December by Kate Greenaway

Somehow this year, I started falling behind right around Thanksgiving time, and here I am, the day after Christmas, still trying to catch up. I almost started to worry about how many ornaments are still in the boxes instead of on the trees and how many cards are still stacked on the kitchen counter instead of winging their way to you -- not to mention that I never even got around to making the Christmas Pudding! But then I happened to recall the important lesson learned by the Grinch Who Stole Christmas: Christmas will come, no matter what! It will come, and it will be happy, even if the cards are late:

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,
Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

. . . It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
"It came without packages, boxes or bags!"
. . . Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas--perhaps--means a little bit more!"

from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
by Dr. Seuss

So -- somehow or other, even without the pudding -- Christmas came!

We were not, however, without . . .

Gerry's specialty ~ Christmas Cake!

Cut - out Cookies from Katy

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve ~ So Fair a Fancy

Christmas Pageant 1966 ~ Us Four Little Kids*
in our house at 704 Baxter Street Road ~ Neosho, Missouri
With me as Bath Towel Madonna,
my younger sister Diane as the Angel ~
and her doll Floppy as Baby Jesus;
my twin brother Bruce as Joseph;
my younger brother Aaron as Shepherd ~
and Big Doggy as sheep.
[Don't ask me why, but we had a way back then of describing our toys
rather than actually naming them, as with my Boy Doll;
and Aaron's Tractor - Boy and Blue - Eyed Bear.]

The Oxen
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Thomas Hardy, 1840 - 1928
English novelist, poet, and Victorian realist

* Look closely and you can see photos of older sibs Peg (10th grade) & Dave (Vietnam) on mantelpiece.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

O Christmas Tree O Lantern


"Look around you, look up here
Take time to make time, make time to be there
Look around, be a part
Feel for the winter, but don't have a cold heart"

lyrics from "Lady"
by The Little River Band*

We observed the Solstice by laying our three large outside pumpkins to rest on the compost heap. They had graced the back doorway since Halloween but, having lasted handsomely through the long season, were at last falling in on themselves after several freeze / thaw cycles! Still, we had three more inside that had escaped Halloween carving and Thanksgiving pie - baking. We broke one down for pie puree and seed roasting, carved the second into the Christmas Tree O' Lantern that you see above, and, hopefully, will create a Happy New Year O'Lantern with the one remaining. (Not forgetting Superbowl - o - Lantern!)

Processing homegrown pumpkins,
roasting seeds, making pies from scratch,
and baking pumpkin bread with chocolate chips:
Sam and Ben have been doing it since childhood!
Here they are in our big kitchen on 48th Street
Philadelphia ~ 1997

*See also my previous references to this romantic, wintry tune:
"Cold Morning Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye"
& "Don't Have a Cold Heart"

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Ephemera

Years ago, my younger son Sam looked long and hard at the above vintage Christmas images, which appear on the top of our British cookie tin, and asked, "Mommy, was that you when you were a little girl?" I just had to say, "Yes." Then after studying the little guardian angels, on a page in our Victorian sound board book, for a minute, he pondered, "I wonder when I'll have boots like that?"

Monday, December 16, 2013

Making a List, Checking it Twice

It's definitely the season for lists -- presents to buy, cards to send, movies to watch, parties to attend, menus to organize, groceries to pick - up, chores to complete. In the course of my general, random reading over the weekend, I came across several lists that went way beyond the usual "ten ways to prepare for the holidays" or "ten tips for winterizing your beauty routine."

These insightful, memorable lists are more about winterizing (or summer - izing) your heart and soul. Allow me to summarize:

My friend Meta suggested:

Eight things cultured people do differently, according to Chekhov


Six Life Lessons from Tolstoy

Liz posted

a Three - point formula for happiness


Five tips for emotional wellness

thanks to Ann Dibble for this helpful list of

why not to criticize

and to Patricia Henley for

"Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid"

Lots of excellent advice here for the upcoming New Year!

Friday, December 13, 2013


Sugar Cookie Kitten & Play - Doh Santa

A fun and delicious custom for St. Lucia Day is baking Luciakatter ~ St. Lucy's Cats. The traditional recipe is a saffron yeast dough, twisted to resemble a cat. I like to make my cats out of gingerbread or sugar cookie dough. If you make some extras and add some hooks, you can hang your Luciakatter on the tree!

Catching the Light

A Chubby Luciakat

Cookie Cat & Lacing Card Cat

For more Lucia Day customs, see my previous posts:
Santa Lucia & Day of Light
& Tiffany's post at A Stranger Here~ "Lucia"

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Burning Bush

First Snow Flakes, 11 November 2013
"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God . . . "

from the poem "Aurora Lee"
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"So the poet's habit of living should be set
on a key so low and plain,
that the common influences should delight . . . "

from the essay "The Poet"
Ralph Waldo Emerson


I also like the way that in this photograph
the entire heavens are afire with God!
Photo of Dickinson's House by Stan Lichens

In honor of Emily Dickinson's birthday:
Born this day in 1830
[died May 15, 1886]

I posted a few days early this week on
The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
A fortnightly [every 14th & 28th]
literary blog of connection & coincidence; custom & ceremony

Hope you will enjoy my essay

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Color Just Invented

Taken from my deck, last December 2012

Journal entry from Jan Donley, two years ago:
winter / 7 December 11

Winter is funny, the way it happens gradually—just like aging—it startles you one day. The texture of the air changes. Shadows appear where before there was light. And when the snows come, the branches sag closer and closer to the frozen ground. The trees go gray, the sky goes gray, even the dirt, the walkways, the streets—all gray. And when a cardinal or a blue jay appears, you feel such deep joy, as if color were just invented.

Previous Jan Donley Posts on my blogs:
Lucky Rock
Lost & Found
9 / 11 Retrospective [also on Quotidian Kit]
Dagmar's Birthday [also on Quotidian Kit]
Everyone Loves Stories
There On the Edge of Autumn

Sleight of Hand
The Little Door
Savor September!
Happy Birthday Coyote!

The House You're Standing In . . . or Holding in the Palm of Your Hand

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

December Trees: A Way of Seeing

Backyard Sunset ~ Lambent Sky

Not long ago, a dear friend wrote to say
"We need a poem -- but would prefer a miracle."
I sent her this poem, which is as close
to a miracle as anything I can think of:

Between You and Me

Don't you love that breathlessness before dusk
when trees are crisp and black against December?
Less a fragment of late afternoon
than a way of seeing, each roof and branch
pressed flat against lambent sky.

I used to believe I knew myself.
I used to believe I was separate
from what broke in waves around me.
Lately, I have sensed a different way
of moving through days --
something softer and slower, like pushing gently
through clouds and water, only you, too,
are the clouds and the water,
the green memory of someone you loved
and the distance and the grief.

It's all right if you don't understand.
It's all right if you want a life
as polished and precise
as one of those twigs stenciled on twilight.

But have you ever walked home at noon or at dusk,
in winter or in summer, and not remembered
how you found your way back?
And when you realized you had not been
you, but all that you walked on, and by,
and through, weren't you happier for it?
Couldn't you almost name who you were?

by Francine Marie Tolf, contemporary American poet
found in her book Prodigal

I couldn't get the audio on the this interview to work,
but I enjoyed reading it all the same.
See also my earlier post "Love Me Love My Cats"

Thanks again to Francine for her generosity
in sharing her work and her beautiful poetry.
The December sky means even more to me each evening,
now that I have the words of this poem
to carry around inside my head!

Sunday, December 1, 2013


After reading my recent Fortnightly post

"The House You're Standing In . . .
or Holding in the Palm of Your Hand"

my friend Burnetta added the following intriguing comment:

"Kitti, I remember being in elementary school and loving the whatnots that came my way, putting them up on a shelf and carressing them with my eyes everyday. They meant something, something I still can't describe, but you come close to it in this essay. Interiority. I look at my shelves and see odds and ends, all valuable to me and no one else, even if a few are rare or valuable in dollars and cents. Thanks for the gingerbread house essay. I have never made one, but I can understand the art in it, and now the mystery as well, a little bit anyway. Love your essays."

Her reference to "whatnots"
reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut's clever observation that

“Like so many Americans, she was trying
to construct a life that made sense
from things she found in gift shops.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Slaughterhouse-Five, 39

Though I will always have the greatest respect for Vonnegut as one of the wisest writers I've ever read, I wonder if in this case he was underrating the validity of such a construct. Perhaps truth can be found in a gift shop. One just never knows where the meaning of life may be discovered, and a gift shop is certainly not the most unlikely place. It just might work, or at least help, or at least not hurt.

I understand that Vonnegut is warning us not to look for depth in the trivial; but it's equally important not to overlook the magic of interiority! Speaking of things found in gift shops, I was mesmerized by what my friend Jan Donley wrote in her journal and think you will be too:

House / 13 January 2012

You received it as a gift—a ceramic house to set on your mantle or on a shelf or on a table. You hold the house in the palm of your hand—a triangle roof and a square base. No windows. No doors. Just the shape. Simple. The house a child would draw if you said, “Draw a house.” Or the house in a dream with no entrance and no exit. You’re just suddenly there. In the box of it, or you’re looking at it from a distance. Or there it is in a coloring book. You color it blue or brown. Maybe you add windows and doors. Even a dormer. And then the house starts getting complicated, and you can no longer hold it in your hand or remember your childhood or even dream it. Suddenly the house becomes a cape or a colonial or a bungalow. And there are too many words to remember, and too many memories to hold onto, and too much loss. The world is no longer the world you knew, and houses stretch for miles: triangles atop boxes. And you want to hold one in your hand. More than anything, you want to hold a house in your hand. . . . [Click here to read more.]

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Meta - Gingerbread House

"Shop Around the Corner"
Gingerbread bookstore created a few years ago
by my friend Professor Kathleen O'Gorman

Look closely and you'll see that this Gingerbread House has its own Gingerbread House! When I praised Kathie for the charm of this particular design feature, she said, "Ah, the meta-gingerbread house! The measure of how desperately I didn't want to grade papers that year!"

In practice, that is.

In theory, it's the measure of "interiorty":

"A house within a house, the dollhouse not only presents the house's articulation of the tension between inner and outer spheres of exteriority and interiority -- it also represents the tension between two modes of interiority. Occupying a space within an enclosed space, the dollhouse's aptest analogy is the locket or the secret recesses of the heart: center within center, within within within. The dollhouse is a materialized secret: what we look for is the dollhouse within the dollhouse and its promise of an infinitely profound interiority."

from On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic,
the Souvenir, the Collection
(p 61)
by Susan Stewart ~ poet, professor, academic folklorist

For a more in - depth look at this and other fascinating examples of "gingerbread house theory," see my latest post:

The House You're Standing In
. . . or Holding in the Palm of Your Hand

The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
A fortnightly [every 14th & 28th]
literary blog of connection & coincidence; custom & ceremony

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Week of Thanks At Least

Denver, Colorado ~ City County Building


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

~ W.S. Merwin (1927 - 2019)
Author of The Shadow of Sirius
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, 2009
Poet Laureate of the United States, 2010 - 2011

Thanksgiving 2018
See also: Laden With Fruit

Friday, November 22, 2013

Denver Idyll

A beautiful November twilight!
A definite sense that the holidays are near.
Warm enough for sandals, cool enough for a jacket.
Of course, the next morning it snowed
and took an hour getting to the airport,
and another two hours getting off the ground!
Oh well, it was lovely while it lasted.

Earlier in the day,
I visited the Molly Brown House:

And the Byers - Evans House:

And discovered another Bourguereau
at the Denver Art Museum:
A Childhood Idyll, 1900
by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
{To learn more, see Artsy's William Adolphe Bouguereau Page}

"You're Welcome!"

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November's Gold

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

by Robert Frost , 1874 - 1963
Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner
Well - loved American poet

Frost says that "Nature's first green is gold," but guess what? Nature's last green is gold also! Look and see:

Good Bye Golden Flowers

Golden Tree

Golden Stairs

Golden Sky

#52 (in 73 poems)

who are you,little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window;at the gold

of november*

(and feeling: that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)

by E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962
Very popular American poet
Somewhat unconventional,
sometimes eccentric

*emphasis added

And the ginkgo tree!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Little Lamp

artwork by Jan Donley

The rain fell on yellow leaves / 14 November 12

She remembered a place. It might have been a place in a dream. There were there no trees, and there was no sky. She had looked out of eyes that did not belong to her. And then she remembered, there was no ground either. No dirt. No grass. No branches or trunks or leaves. Just air. There may have been light. Yes. She remembered light coming from some distance—maybe a star or a moon or a lamp. She wanted it to be a lamp. And she heard a voice—a voice that whispered and whistled. That was the language of this place: whispers and whistles. [emphasis added]

This excerpt from my friend Jan's journal entry provided an immediate connection to one of my favorite stories by Katherine Mansfield (1888 - 1923), "The Doll's House," in which the two little poor sisters, Lil and Else Kelvey, are lucky enough to get a quick look at the elaborate dollhouse of the wealthy Burnell sisters, Isabel, Lottie, and Kezia. But their viewing lasts only for a few seconds, before the prejudiced cranky aunt shoos them away. Instead of being embarrassed by their poverty or disappointed in not getting to admire the dollhouse, the younger sister internalizes the reward of her adventure: "I seen the little lamp!" That was enough for her! A sign of comfort, hope, stability -- the same reasons that Jan's dream girl in "yellow leaves" hopes that the distant light is coming from a lamp!

I seen the little lamp!
To see many more miniature lamps, go to Ruby Lane,
where they also have a stunning collection of big lamps
and a vast collection of dolls!

For more fiction by Jan Donley & Katherine Mansfield

see my latest post: "I Seen the Little Lamp"

The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker
A fortnightly [every 14th & 28th]
literary blog of connection & coincidence; custom & ceremony

Another Lovely Little Lamp by Jan ~ January 2014

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not in Kansas Anymore!

The Reichstag Building
Technically in West Berlin, but near the Wall

A few years ago, one of my uncles got the whole family together via email and said, "Why don't we practice our creative writing and all compose something using the word audacious. Write about a time it felt pretty good to go a little crazy! Why did it feel so good?"

Early on in my blog, I shared what my younger sister Di wrote about her childhood trip to the Pacific Ocean in 1964. And today, in honor of the birthday of my older sister Peg, I thought I'd post her narrative of traveling in Germany in 1984, back before the Wall came down:

It was the winter of 1984 and we were living in Heidelberg, Germany. I was a stay-at-home mom and living on base so while we were in Germany, we actually lived kind of in a little U.S. because everyone spoke English and we all had the same customs. However, I did happen to have a friend who was the total opposite of me. Jeanne Labrecque was an elementary school teacher and she was always doing something crazy. So on Thursday before a long weekend, Jeanne suggested we take a trip to East Berlin which at the time was still Soviet controlled.

Since I was the stay-at-home mom, I spent all day Friday making the preparations, which included getting our border crossing orders, making arrangements to spend one night with a close acquaintance (she wasn’t even really a friend) who lived in West Berlin with her military husband, and getting our brand-new Volvo ready for the trip. On Friday evening, Jeanne, another friend (can't remember her name right now) and I took off from our house for the long drive to West Berlin.

Now, to get to West Berlin, you had to travel through East Germany which meant checkpoints along the way, and it was snowing. At each checkpoint, we would go through first a West German checkpoint, where we all got out and our papers had to be checked to make sure everything was in order (sounds like a bad spy movie, huh?). There were also strict instructions of what we could and could not do along the way. We were not allowed to divert from the main road, we had a set time limit to get from one checkpoint to the next and we could not arrive too late or too early, we were not to stop for anyone except at the checkpoints, and we were to salute the Soviet officers. So off we go and a little distance away we come to the first Soviet checkpoint.

We stopped and the Soviet soldier/conscript took our papers, examined them very thoroughly, and then instructed us that one of us had to go into a little nondescript building with all of our papers. Our friend said she would go and so off she went. She was in the building for what seemed a very long time before she came out. We saluted the Soviet officer and were on our way once again. When we asked our friend what happened, she told us that she went into the building and there was a wall with a little slot where she was instructed (verbally only since no one else was in the room with her) to put our papers through the slot. She did this and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited before the papers were shoved back through the slot and she was told that she could leave.

I drove on very deliberately to make sure I didn’t go too fast or too slow. It was pitch dark and snowing the whole way. It was eerie because usually when you drive down a highway you see lights from nearby towns and homes but there were no such lights anywhere along the drive or lights on the highway itself. Finally, we reached the next checkpoint, which was again the Soviet checkpoint (we haven’t even gotten to the famous "Checkpoint Charlie" yet; and I’ll tell that story another time or you’ll be reading this for hours).

Once again, there was the Soviet soldier/conscript standing stoically in the snow in his big, heavy wool coat and the big fur hat. We did the same thing as the last Soviet checkpoint. Our friend got out, went into a nondescript building and waited, and waited, and waited for our papers to be shoved back through the slot before coming out and saluting the soldier and then driving off.
Billboard at the border,
featuring a young Soviet Soldier

and the message (to the right in the above photo):


I have to mention one very disturbing point from both checkpoints. At both checkpoints the Soviet soldier/conscript was extremely young (probably about 17 years old) and yet, he spoke perfect American English. If I had met him on the street in Caney, Kansas, in regular street clothes, I would have never known he spoke anything but American English. I stress American English as opposed to the Queen’s English.

But back to the road trip. We drove a little way further, finally arriving at the American checkpoint, where we all went inside were given a mini-debriefing of how the drive went: did we see anything worth reporting, did we speak to anyone, did we divert from the main road, etc. And there I was -- the little stay-at-home mom from Caney, Kansas, who always dreamed of seeing the world -- in West Berlin. What a magnificent city. But as we drove around (we got a little lost but didn’t really mind) we could see the wall that surrounded the city, and I realized that I was most definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Someday I’ll write about the rest of this adventure because it was definitely one of the most exciting adventures I’ve ever had . . . so far!

by guest blogger, Peggy Carriker Rosenbluth

Thanks Peg . . .
and Happy Birthday!

My trip nineteen years later was not as harrowing as Peg's!
Here I am in 2003 at the Checkpoint Charlie Internet Cafe,
just inside the former Soviet Sector in East Berlin,
where the billboard features an American Soldier

and the sign -- now an artifact rather than an injunction -- says:
As you can see on the second sign
(immediately behind the first, to the right) it is now a museum,
where all are welcome to visit without showing passports,
travel documents, or crossing orders.