Monday, December 29, 2008

bubble lights

This year I was late getting to the all important task of putting up the Christmas tree. Even during the really bad times of life, this task has always been accomplished. The second week of December, while searching for the tree holder and decorations, I came across a box with decorations I did not recognize. Were these from my sister who died in 2004, my neighbor who died over ten years ago or left by one of the kids? In the box were gold tinsel, older strings of large bulb lights, glass ornaments - and a string of bubble lights!

The bubble lights just had to go on this tree. One of them ended up next to an ornament made by sister Jane - a sweet cross stitch sampler in a heart shape with criss-crossing messages about "glory to god" and "lamb of god" made in 1988.

As John saw the tree for the first time, he immediately noticed the lights. In a rather subdued way he let me know that the ornaments and lights had been boxed up since a last futile and painful attempt to share Christmas with his sons. Christmas had been a big celebration when he was home with his kids, and feasts and carols abounded.

Slowly, the feasts and carols return. Some of the ancient winter carols are the most haunting wails of loss and redemption. But others are rollicking wassail songs!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

persimmons redux

This past Friday I became a woman possessed. I looked out of the dining room window and noticed a large mockingbird eating the persimmon at the left of the picture. While I have been willing to share the bounty of the fig tree, and did not hoist a net over the tree this summer, I have only these 7 lovely persimmons on the newly planted young tree. The weight of the fruit is so great that it bent the main stem (it can hardly be called a trunk).

I shrieked and called Jasmine (the perfect dog) to help me roust the mockingbird from his perch on the wobbly branch. Jasmine ran down the stairs and eagerly chased the bird.

The persimmons were carefully harvested and brought inside to finish ripening in the dining room in a place of honor. The cake plate is a "Fire and Light" Mother's Day present from Anna.

I left the half eaten one for the mockingbird...

"Fire and Light" is a recycled glass manufacturing company in Arcata, CA. They make lovely things out of a now abundant resource. Unfortunately, the store selling these pretty and useful things has been affected by the recession.

But here in Napa, perhaps they will be a persimmon pudding. Perhaps they will be a persimmon frozen yogurt.

In our women's chorus for the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma we just sang our Christmas concert. One of the songs was a Randall Thompson setting for the Robert Frost poem - "Come In". The mockingbird was not invited in, though he sought to "better his perch"...

As I came to the edge of the woods,
Thrush music -- hark!
Now if it was dusk outside,
Inside it was dark.

Too dark in the woods for a bird
By sleight of wing
To better its perch for the night,
Though it still could sing.

The last of the light of the sun
That had died in the west
Still lived for one song more
In a thrush's breast.

Far in the pillared dark
Thrush music went --
Almost like a call to come in
To the dark and lament.

But no, I was out for stars;
I would not come in.
I meant not even if asked;
And I hadn't been.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dancin' brides



I flew from California to Atlanta for my nephew's wedding - with some uneasiness about the prospect. One of our brothers was not going to attend, and I felt that somehow the family circle would not be complete. It turned out that several close relatives were not there, but the party must go on.

The wedding was in the old First Presbyterian Church in downtown Atlanta. It was a dignified, serious, proper sort of wedding, followed by an equally rowdy and exuberant reception. I took some pictures of "unusual" wedding attire on my brother John's camera. We shall see if I ever get a copy of his wife Patti in narrow dark glasses saying "We are not men, we are Devo". (Patti is the elegant blond beauty above.)

The bride, Corrie, is the dancin' one in the white dress and veil!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

wedding bell blues

Atlanta, home of the southern wedding... 11 bridesmaids and not so many groomsmen. I don't think the young men are as enthusiastic about renting the tux, paying for travel, doing the formal and semi-formal events, and following the strict wedding protocol.

My nephew Craig is getting married today at the First Presbyterian Church, which is a lovely dark red sandstone structure in downtown Atlanta next to the High Museum.

These are two of my nieces, Kate and Sally, with Sally's boyfriend Jonathan. Of course they are bridesmaids. Talking with my brother Joe (father of the groom) and Jonathan about the number of bridesmaids - Joe said "You know how girls are about bridesmaids..." Ummmm, I'm a girl and I don't get it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Green, green, green

This evening at the Napa City Council a green "grassroots" wave took over the room. It was quite an experience to listen to 37 speakers (each allotted 5 minutes) ask, plead and demand adoption of a green building ordinance with LEED silver as the standard for large new commercial buildings.

The Terra Verde club from New Technology High School had three representatives speak - which is remarkable. High school students tend to shy away from public speaking, but they felt so passionate about this issue that they girded their loins and entered the lion's den. I think there were so many green fuzzy feelings in the council chamber that they felt right at home.

I remember my passions from age 19-20, and surprisingly, they are not so different from today. Is character and life time arc established so early? I cried over building demolitions, then got mad, then got into gear. I designed an all natural material "rammed earth" group of buildings in my senior year - and still recall the crisp feel of the vellum, the dashed contour lines, the sinuous curves (aahh the french curves!), working through the night on a model for final presentation. I imagined this place so thoroughly that it was real to me and is as fresh in my minds' eye as it was then.

Engineering students never seemed to work all night, but we seemed to be unable to stay away from the studio as a deadline approached. The comraderie was addictive. The conversations were inane, imaginative, silly, provocative - sometimes important. If there were no donuts and coffee to go get in the middle of the night, perhaps we would not have been so eager to stay.

Three and a half decades later, I feel like I made a bit of a difference in making this a more healthy and sustainable community.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays - with the focus on food, family and friends. There are no gifts to buy, nothing to decorate, no special toasts, religious observations or patriotic events to celebrate - simply food, family and friends. These are things we can all be thankful for - and thankful for the opportunity to spend time together.

The high school band decided to sell organic free range Willie Bird turkeys as a fund-raiser. What could be better? Willie (or Wilhelmina) roasted perfectly in the Wedgewood, while other dishes and "butter bombs" warmed in the second oven.

Late roses and fruits from the backyard decorated the room, and votive candles made a "ring of fire" on the late afternoon table.

After dinner, as dark descended we walked in the quiet neighborhood. Then the fire beckoned for a rousing game of Fictionary. Mythical druid priests won out every time over more prosaic pseudo-definitions - or so it seemed. Mysterious sailing knots seemed to win also.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Men at work

Men who cook - a new phenomenon in my life.

John is a very fine cook - and we discovered that Anna's new boyfriend is also a cook! Anna and I found ourselves in supporting roles this Thanksgiving as the men wielding sharp knives went about their business of cutting, chopping, slicing, mixing, proofing, baking, stuffing, churning, mashing - even running through a french food mill - all the ingredients for the Thanksgiving feast.

I was allowed to make gravy, salad and set the table, and Anna was allowed to mash the potatoes. It was a heavenly treat for us all! I made the wine also, but back in 2002 - so the work was done some time ago.

Guests also brought orange shells stuffed with sweet potatoes, roasted root vegetables, buttermilk pies (a special southern recipe), pumpkin pie and apple pie. John whipped up a batch of his homemade vanilla ice cream as part of the dessert.

These are some happy girls with a big Wedgewood stove in the background. Mission "how to move a stove" was accomplished before Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How to Move a Stove

...where there's a wheel...

Some of the same principles used to move a house seem to work to move a stove. First, someone has to want to move a stove. In this case, John really, really wants his 6 burner Wedgewood stove with two ovens in and operational before Thanksgiving. That is "Wedgewood" with an "e" to distinguish it from Wedgwood pottery in England. My 4 burner, one griddle, one oven O'Keefe and Merritt just will no longer do. So the will is there. I graciously volunteer to assist and to clean behind the O'K&M before the even larger but just as antique W moves in.

Second - a clear path from B to K (barn to kitchen) and K to C (kitchen to cottage next door) must be found. Ok - got that taken care of. Lot's and lots of steps though...

Third - an appliance dolly. Large appliances built in the 1950's need a very up to date appliance dolly with good straps and step rollers above the dolly wheels. No problem, John takes care of that while I do the dirty work.

Fourth - heavy duty "simple green" solution to clean behind a stove so heavy it is only moved when it leaves the house. It takes longer than the dolly errand, so there is a bit of stand around time. As a supervisor John could lean on his shovel, but instead he makes sure the parts of each appliance are grouped together - they look so similar...

Fifth - dit dit dit dah - as Beethoven said - the dolly wheels O'K&M from K to C, then W from B to K. One step at a time, very carefully and slowly, John on one end and me on the other. Amazing the power of lever, fulcrum, wheel, and will.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Birthday crabs

It's time! Even though a bad year already, with high prices and a short season, it is Dungeness crab season - just in time for John's birthday. Dungeness crabs are the most meaty, succulent, delicate and sweet crabs available.

Notice the persimmons awaiting their transformation into flaming persimmon pudding. This year they might also make their way into persimmon frozen yogurt, persimmon ice cream, or persimmon cake.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie

This past summer we made several trips to the Sierra Nevada mountains to visit and hike near some of the historic mountain passes. This began as a short visit to Lake Tahoe to see brother John and his wife Patti Inman. We returned again and again to seek out the high alpine lakes, find the Pacific Crest Trail, and see the treacherous precipices that were crossed by 19th century pioneers.

Since my passion for the past four decades has been historic preservation, I wanted to see the ghost town of Bodie. Bodie is a mining boom and bust town nestled in the mountains near the great Owens River valley. The climate is severe, but the photos from mid-summer don't show that. In its heyday it was infamous for lawlessness. It was so bad that a small girl is reputed to have written this in her diary when told they were moving to Bodie-- "Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie".

Now this little "chimney" structure is quite charming - and is a vent cap. I suppose the snow is so deep in the winter that it was a way to assure airflow for this:

No waiting!

The weathered wood has been stabilized, but buildings are not restored. The place is stark and beautiful in summer. A friend went to Bodie a couple of months later, and snows had already begun.

These vestiges of the town are more evocative than a sign stating that "here at this spot stood the mining town of Bodie". The remaining buildings and artifacts link us to the past through their physical presence.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Ultimate Frisbee, also known as just "Ultimate" is a growing youth sport. Many colleges and universities have teams that compete nationally (and vigorously). There is a wild form of democracy involved - and as in golf, self-policing of infractions. I have witnessed disagreements on a call resolved with "rock, paper, scissors". As a local elected official, I can think of situations where this might come in handy.

Anna has become a member of the women's Humboldt State University Ultimate Frisbee Team - and the team name is "The Hags". Anna is a "dirty lefty" - which of course is a good thing. Something else I noticed is that the team seems to always play in skirts. Wispy or flirty kilts of a sort. (Photo by John Poole)

Monday, November 17, 2008

How to Move a House's sort of like giving a mouse a cookie...

First, you get divorced. Then you see a camper parked in the middle of about the only vacant lot in Old Town Napa. Then you recall that two Victorians on the other side of Clay Street need new homes. Then you decide to "move down" and move one of the Victorians to the vacant lot. Then you buy the lot. Then the housing market starts crashing. Then you get married and decide to stay where you are. Then your dear friends Cynthia and Jim say they would like to move a house. Then they buy your lot. Then they spend a lot of money and time to get permits to move a house. Then on Sunday morning at dawn - you move a house. Voila!

Friday, November 14, 2008

To Reach a Goal

My long time friend Missy (notice I did not say "old"- we do not say that nowadays) has a blog called Friends and Family in Italy

Missy moved to Italy for three years, complete with aging dog and a zest for Italian sagras (festivals, I think). She has kept a large email group entertained with regular messages and photographs, and finally decided to transfer the effort to a blog. It is easier with slow dial-up connection to work that way.

Missy and I go so far back, that we spent some of those young and heedless years together in the 1970's. She sent a query out from Italy about repairing a porch swing - knowing I might be able to help from our experiences over 30 years ago - however, I did not weigh-in. By the time I "got in gear", she had fixed it herself. A veritable "Little Red Hen"! Her house in those days was painted red and green. She had a dog named "Contessa" - for a character in a movie that was so bad, we were helpless with laughter.

For Missy - here's a picture of Joe at work!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bolgia Book Club

Most towns have book clubs. Many of my friends are in book clubs. I found a group that is notable for its size (17), breadth of interests, and gender balance. Many of my women friends seem to be in women only groups. I think it is odd, but they think it is just great.

We have an arbitrary group in that the host picks the book. There is no voting - so we do not end up with mediocre fare. We also have some spirited discussions since books can be wildly idiosyncratic.

The group formed several years before I joined, and an early book was Dante's "Inferno". The Bolgia name comes from the levels of Hell - called "bolgias" or pouches.

Book Club activities have also included field trips for cooking fare, dinners out, concerts, weekends away, art shows, plays and lectures. We always bring food and beverages - but finally had to institute some rules so that socializing does not take over the evening.

"Catfish and Mandala" by Andrew Pham was a selection we read before a beach weekend away in Gualala, CA. I was taken with the purity and precision of the writing and the total lack of references to other works. The author was an engineering student whose family immigrated from Vietnam after the end of the war. He was raised in two cultures, and returned to his homeland to make peace with the past and his roots by bicycling through the countryside. All thumbs up from the whole Bolgia Book Club.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bite a Blue Apple

An obituary arrived in the email inbox today for Claude McKinney, former Dean of the School of Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Dean McKinney (as I still think of him) came to the School of Design in 1973 - replacing Dean Henry Kamphoefner, who had lead the school since1948.

This quote - "A 2000 recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award, presented by then-Gov. James B. Hunt Jr." - started me on a mini treasure hunt. For many years I've had hanging on the wall my Order of the Long Leaf Pine awarded by Governor Robert W. Scott in about 1970. This was for work done as part of a student group promoting the establishment of a natural Zoological Park for the State of North Carolina.

Dean McKinney spoke at our commencement in 1974. One of my other college treasures is a small metal lapel pin with a bitten blue apple. These were passed out at the very small commencement gathering and pre-date Apple computers, but not Apple records. The title of the commencement address was "Bite a Blue Apple".

I must admit that I don't recall the text of the speech, and probably questioned the whole development of the theme as I was prone to do in those days. However, I kept the pin through all these years. I also kept the Order of the Long Leaf Pine granting me the unique post of Ambassador Extraordinary entitled to give the official State of North Carolina toast in select company anywhere in the free world.

I wonder if that is why I memorized the toast in Jr. High School?

So in memory of Dean Claude McKinney please raise your glass-

Here's to the land
of the long leaf pine,
The summer land
where the sun doth shine,
Where the weak grow strong
and the strong grow great,
Here's to "down home"
the old North State!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Travertine Springs

Some California hot springs are well hidden. Fourth of July weekend we explored some of the Sierra passes and the eastern valleys draining to the Owens River. Beyond the Sierras, near Bridgeport, up an unmarked dirt road we found this place. It is cared for by its regular visitors. There are no signs showing the way - and the maps are all wrong. Nevertheless, we persevered and arrived in time to see the sunset from the top of the rise.

In the valley is the small farming/tourist town serving campers, wayfarers and cowboys. Mosquitoes grow to enormous size. No mosquitoes tortured the Travertine Springs visitors - but by the time we went back to town to watch fireworks, they were feasting greedily. Hundreds of fireworks enthusiasts did not satisfy the horde.

Bridgeport was a symphony in red, white and blue.

...but the ghost town of Bodie beckoned....

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Of Politics and Persimmons

It occurs to me that there is a synchronicity of timing in the national elections and the ripening of persimmons. Persimmons seem to hang on the tree for many months - first as small and insignificant green nubbins about the size of a cherry (but they are not sweet or edible yet), gradually growing to the size of a small green apple (but still not sweet or edible). The persimmon persists through the fruiting season of the stone fruits, then pears and apples gradually growing larger but remaining green, hard and inedible. This also coincides with the election cycle of the primary (cherry season), general election campaigning of the summer and fall, then November election day. Still the persimmon waits for the hard, harsh first frost as it gradually blushes with color. Finally, just in time for Thanksgiving, and in appreciation for a conclusion to the long and drawn out election contest, the persimmon is ready.

John planted a young persimmon tree near the dining room window. Its orange fruit with still green caps droop patiently. The tree is too young to have such heavy fruit, but I could not bear denuding it last summer.

I guess a politician should have such a tree.

Last night, for the first time we both saw the movie "All the Kings Men" starring Broderick Crawford. This morning I looked up Huey Long in Wikipedia and wondered the fate of our new president elect, Barack Obama. At the outset of his political career the character Willie Stark was that rare phenomenon - an honest man.

Abraham Lincoln was an honest man who came to the presidency in a time of national crisis. Will Barack Obama be more like Abraham Lincoln or the fictional character Willie Stark?

In the spring when these persimmons were little nubbins and the young tree still lived in a plastic tub, we did not know who the Democratic nominee for president would be. Now let's eat persimmon pudding this Thanksgiving Day and give thanks for such sweet and complex fruit!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Piano Magic

My husband John Poole and I hosted our first eight hands piano salon on Sunday, October 26, 2008.

When John began moving into our home late last fall, his two lovely grand pianos came as part of the package. I discovered early in our relationship that he not only plays piano, but publishes works for eight hands. Many of these works are 19th century symphonic transcriptions - and if you can imagine a symphony score and translating that into 40 fingers on 2 pianos - you start to get the picture. Two pianists on each of two pianos playing piano ensemble... I will set up a link to "Editions Poole" in a future post.

There were 7 pianists (I don't count as I am not in the same league) - John, Jeremy, Ann, Melissa, Mary Kay, George, and Matthew. Four of them at a time played all afternoon and several friends stopped by to see and hear something they had never experienced before.

In honor of the occasion, I fixed some southern comfort food - with John's help. Corn muffins, cabernet jelly (southern Napa county), Brunswick stew, deviled eggs, fresh vegetables, carrot cake with freshly made double vanilla ice cream, iced tea and home made Napa wine from Leap of Faith...

Here is a picture of the pianists in fuzzy action, with John on the left: