Wednesday, February 26

The Sunrise

 I’ll tell you how the sun rose, -
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.
The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
"That must have been the sun!"

A Day by Emily Dickinson

I must say, we've had more than our fair share of breathtaking sunrises this winter!

I experienced my first sunrise just a few years ago when my son started school.  As a night owl by nature, I rarely, if ever, saw the sunrise.  Sure, I must have seen it.  Perhaps in my college days, stumbling home from a night-long party.  Or maybe on a long, red-eye flight to London, trying to snuggle into a stiff airline seat to catch a few moments of sleep.  But had I ever actually experienced a sunrise in all its splendor?  On that day, when Connor started kindergarten, I rose early, before the sun and, by chance, found myself standing at the kitchen door as the sun was just beginning to rise.  It was still and very dark; the moon was a fine crescent hanging low over the mountains in the west.  Across the sky I watched as ribbons of violet, magenta, orange and amber slowly pushed away the darkness.  It was then that I realized, in sudden horror, what I had been missing.   Funny, but I always imagined that the sunrise would look much like the sunset - pastel hues of pink and orange that slowly fade to grey -  but this was entirely different.  Untamed, raw and powerful.  In that moment I thought, What have I missed all these years?!  Perhaps dawn is the one time when mere humans can catch a small glimpse of the sheer radiance of God. 

These days I have a favourite morning ritual.  I rise before the break of dawn, wrap my warm robe around my shoulders and slide into my slippers.  In the kitchen I put the kettle on for coffee, being very quiet so as not to wake the kids.  This is my time, not to be interrupted.  I pour coffee into my favourite mug with just a splash of cream and stand in the kitchen doorway.  The steam rises from the mug in my hands as I let the warm, gemstone colors of dawn wash over me until, at last, the sun breaks the horizon with such brilliance I have to turn away.  Then I can start my day.

Sunday, February 16

Of War and Cabbage Leaves

There once was a young man who went off to war.  At just 20 years old, with tears in his eyes, he kissed the girl he loved and left Chicago, destined for the shores of Europe and a battle so fierce it left him with wounds that cut to the bone and scars that forever changed his life.  He spoke fluent German and was made an officer, leading his troops through tangled webs of barbed wire and across the dark and desolate battlefields, sodden with the blood of fallen soldiers.  Whether from friend or foe, blood is blood.  It congeals just the same, oozing into the muddy ground only to be picked up by the boots of the living, marching steadily toward their own graves.

So is the saga of war.  Menacing, like the black storm clouds that roll in quickly over the mountains.  Suffocating, like the fog that envelopes the trees leaving only vague impressions of branches that sway in an unseen wind.  In Italy, near the shores of Lago di Bolsena, he was captured.  A prisoner for years, he was transferred from camp to camp across Europe, until, in Poland, he escaped.  He traveled through the night, and desperately sought refuge with a sympathetic Polish farmer and his wife during day.  He hid among the turnips and carrots in their root cellar as enemy soldiers searched the farm house for escaped prisoners.  One day they found him, beat him, and left him in a prison cell to die.

But, lest you think this just a tragic tale of war, let me assure you that it is so much more.  It's a story of courage and survival and of the food that connects the two.  You see, human kindness stretches far beyond political ties, and this man was strong.  Stronger than anyone imagined.  He didn't die.  And as the years stretched on, he befriended the prison guards, speaking to them in their native language and repairing their watches when they stopped working.  In return, they brought him cigarettes and covertly slipped parcels of cabbage leaves tied with string through the cell bars.  Like little presents, these cabbage leaves held a sweet surprise.  Tiny bits of dark chocolate were hidden inside!  On these he survived, and eventually the war came to an end.  He was shipped back to America where he received a hero's welcome and a purple heart for his injuries.  His wounds began to heal, but the scars ran deep, as all scars of war do.  He was deaf in one ear from a muzzle blast that killed the man next to him, and the shrapnel in his leg was encased in bone, forever sealing it in a tomb of his own flesh and blood.  He married that girl he loved.  And life went on much as it did before the war.

Like all soldiers, he carried the horrors deep within, though his gentle hands and soft voice concealed the constant pain.  I never knew his story.  He spoke of it to no one.   Instead he made jewelry.  Elaborate pieces of twisted metal and stone.  Broaches, and pendants, and rings, engraved by hand in script so beautiful that you'd swear it was etched by the hands of angels.  He liked his mashed potatoes lumpy and his coffee black.  He made his own horseradish, so spicy it burned your sinuses and made you cry in both pleasure and pain.  In the summer he'd tend his garden where, in neat rows grew cabbage, turnips, carrots, onions, and corn, so high we kids would get lost among the leafy stalks.  On rainy days he'd pretend to be a pony, and hoist me onto his strong back, galloping on all fours around the house.  He drove fast, smoked cigarettes behind the house, and was always one for a good joke.  He'd slap his knee as he laughed and his eyes crinkled almost shut.  Some called him "Hero," others called him "Sir," many called him "Lieutenant," I liked to call him "Grandpa."

Thursday, February 6

Winter boots and a hat in the snow

Don't try to buy snow boots in February ... when it's snowing ... in Colorado.  Don't even go looking for rain boots.  You won't find any.  We're caught in the midst of a relentless winter, yet all anyone wants are strappy sandals and flip-flops.  At least that's what you'd think if you visited one of the many shoe stores that I did last Monday, in search of some kind (any kind) of warm boots for my kids.  Like little lumps of bread dough rising in a hot kitchen, I swear their feet have doubled in size over the weekend!

We did finally discover some cold weather boots tucked in the back clearance section of one store.  In tattered boxes with missing lids, we found exactly two pairs.

"Do these look cowgirl-ish?" Eve asked, admiring her feet in the mirror.

"Umm..." I hesitated, "are they supposed to look cowgirl-ish?"

"Yes!" she replied.  I was becoming frazzled.

"Then, yes."  I assured her.  "They look just like what a cowgirl would wear in the winter - a princess cowgirl." I added just in case.

"Then let's get them!"   She jumped up and down in excitement.  Guess she takes after me.

They're not what I would have chosen if I'd had a choice, but I was happy we found some at all. Just in time, too, as another wave of snow arrived early Tuesday morning, and it hasn't stopped since.

The schools are closed and Eve would love nothing more than to gallop through the back yard in her new boots on her hobby horse named Chocolat, but her breath freezes in the icy air and the fierce wind blows her hat into the snow, and she begins to cry.