Category Archives: Holiday

Looking Back on our Little Pumpkin

When my daughter and I were choosing our Halloween pumpkins last week at a pleasant local farm market, we were surrounded by parents photographing their little ones among the seasonal displays.  Babies and pumpkins look good together; it’s a natural fit.  Both tend to be round, fat, cute and firm.  Facebook is understandably full of adorable pumpkin/baby duos this time of year.  Our baby is no longer pumpkinesque, which is fortunate, considering she’s nearly fourteen.  But I’m prompted to look back on the years when she was, very much so.


On our first trip to the pumpkin patch with our daughter, the chill of the late afternoon took us by surprise. We had dressed D in soft overalls and a Scandinavian-style fleece jacket, the first of a series that my mother would sew for her over the years.  But either Mama hadn’t yet made the matching fleece hat, or we didn’t think she’d need it.  Her baseball cap clearly didn’t keep her warm, and her lack of mittens didn’t help either.  Her little feet must have been freezing, in lightweight cloth tennies.  In these photos, it’s painfully evident that the kid, not quite ten months old, was borderline miserable but making the best of a bad situation.  She looks as though she’s thinking Where are we? What are these cold round shapes?  Why do they make me sit on such scratchy stuff or on a hard, icy seat?  I do, however, rather enjoy being pulled around on this thing.   


Here, D is wedged in on the Radio Flyer between pumpkins and the bulky camera bag we were never without during those early years.  We had bought our first video camera in anticipation of our new baby, and, like so many new parents, we filmed our growing child during unremarkable moments. Look!  She’s tilting her head!  Look!  She’s blinking her eyes!  She’s lifting her hand!  Amazing!  Marvelous!  No doubt we have extended live footage that documents her discomfort on this outing even more clearly.

2nd Pumpkin patch

The next year, we made sure to choose a warmer day for pumpkin picking.  Here is our girl surrounded by pumpkins on another red wagon.  Despite the more comfortable temperature, she still doesn’t appear to be very happy.   But I’ve never appreciated a photographer’s insistence on BIG SMILES!  I remember this day as being a fun-filled one.  I’m hoping our baby, despite her conspicuous lack of a big smile, nevertheless enjoyed herself.  I resolve to think she did, because in the years to come she would look forward enthusiastically to pumpkin patch visits. 



2nd Pumpkin patch 2

Maybe now she’s really had enough!

Mother’s Day, Part I: Mama the Asthmatic Dynamo



My mother suffered from severe asthma throughout most of this year’s mild winter.   It began when she and my father took a walk in early February. The day was unseasonably warm, even for Atlanta, and evidently the pollen was equally unseasonable. Mama’s allergies were triggered, which soon led to asthma that lingered and developed into pneumonia. While her doctor advised hospitalization, she resisted, knowing that her chances for recovery, if armed with the proper medications, were better at home than at the hospital. She has spent time in the hospital with asthma, and it was an experience she didn’t care to repeat.

In March she was only marginally improved, forcing her to miss a family wedding in Kentucky. For the first time in decades, Daddy made the eight-hour drive to his old hometown by himself. My parents rarely speak during long car trips, since my mother typically sits in the back seat. As a child, she was a passenger in several serious car crashes, and she saw her brothers hospitalized multiple times after accidents. In the back seat, she feels a little less vulnerable, not quite so close to the edge of disaster. Despite the silence that reigns as the miles tick by, Daddy has come, understandably, to count on Mama’s presence in the car. He felt her absence sharply during the drive to his brother’s house in Kentucky, where H, D and I met him. Fortunately, Mama had recovered by late April and was able to be with us for the much-anticipated school musical in which my daughter was performing.

The strides made in treating asthma over the ages have not been particularly dramatic. A sudden attack can still quickly accelerate into a desperate situation, as the death of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anthony Shadid several months ago demonstrates. He was on assignment in Syria, escaping from the war-ravaged country, when his asthma was set off by an allergy to horses. He used his medication, but it wasn’t up to the task. My mother has known this fear all her life.

Mama’s every illness tends to be exacerbated by her asthma. A mild cold, easily shaken by most people, can become a serious concern for her. Exercise and sometimes even routine daily activity can be problematic. Breathing cold air may lead to a sudden, severe attack. She has emerged from two life-saving surgeries only to be set upon by life-threatening asthma.  Mama was frequently sick as a child. Once, after a long absence from elementary school, she returned to find that her desk had been removed from the classroom.

Well into the 1940s, many doctors saw asthma as a psychosomatic condition. Those suffering from it were often considered somehow personally responsible, perhaps due to a general weakness of spirit and body. Anyone who has ever experienced the panic of an asthma attack or the persistent annoyance of mild, chronic asthma knows that, on the contrary, asthmatics require greater strength, determination and coping skills.

During Mama’s childhood, her asthma was combatted with a variety of treatments, most of which had little effect. A common folk remedy prescribed horehound candy (a naturally flavored, sharp-tasting hard candy that was a fixture in old-time general stores but rarely seen now) doused with a small amount of whisky. Although horehound candy continues to be explored as a palliative for respiratory ailments, it merely led to Mama’s lifelong dislike of horehound candy and whisky, served together or separately.

Goat’s milk was widely touted to alleviate asthma. When Mama was twelve, her family bought two goats for the farm. She never acquired a taste for the milk, but she loved the goats. Cute and spunky, they jumped the fence daily to meet her school bus in the afternoons. She had a particular affection for the baby goat born the next year on Washington’s birthday and thus named George.

Like many other asthmatic children, my mother was encouraged to smoke asthma cigarettes made from a mixture of herbs (no tobacco). Breathing the smoke from such herbs is a remedy that dates back to ancient times and may, surprisingly, have some short-term benefit. Mama remembers the cigarettes coming in a round flat tin. They prompted violent coughing fits, and her asthma was not improved.

An elderly neighbor urged a bizarre remedy that he said was sure to work: cut off “a hank of hair” and nail it to a tree. This option was never tried.

The first markedly effective medicine my mother remembers was an adrenaline inhaler, made of glass. This treatment relieved the acute symptoms but worsened Mama’s ever-present insomnia. Weekly allergy shots, which required a drive to Louisville, were of little benefit. Strangely, Mama’s symptoms lessened considerably when she began college at the University of Kentucky and started smoking real tobacco cigarettes.  Her asthma was less pronounced for the next ten years or so. With the move to Atlanta, it worsened again, but she was generally able to manage it with inhaled corticosteroids. (She gave up cigarettes when I was young, and she really doesn’t recommend smoking as an asthma treatment.)

Growing up, I never thought of my mother as weak or sick. Typically, she was, and still is, the opposite, a powerful force of nature.  She requires little sleep.  She doesn’t sit still.  She gets things done.  She takes on tasks that most people wouldn’t consider or would outsource: Time to get to work on reupholstering the antique sofa that’s been in the basement for years.  The porch furniture needs new cushions.  I saw this great dress in Vogue; I’ll combine two patterns and get it done so you can wear it on Sunday.   Let’s rent a sander and refinish this floor.  I’ll repair and gold-leaf these two old frames this afternoon, clean the kitchen floor and then we’ll give the dog a bath.  Her phenomenal energy, a product of a restless temperament, is often heightened by her asthma medication.  It’s only in the last few years that asthma has slowed her down a bit.  Throughout most of my childhood, I awoke to the sound of Mama using her inhaler, and I fell asleep to the whir of the sewing machine in the kitchen.  These were the sounds that told me all was right with the world.  Mama was there, being my Mama, who loved me, unquestionably.


Mama with a younger neighbor, in the 1940s.  Both my parents’ families tended to favor junk heaps as photographic backdrops.
Mama explained this odd assortment of stuff  as being due to  the little girl’s family’s upcoming move.


Mama at Niagra Falls, c. 1955.


Mama & me in St. Augustine, Florida, c. 1970.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!


Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing ye heavens and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

–Christ the Lord is Risen Today
words:  Charles Wesley, 1739
music: Lyra Davidica, 1708


Onion-Skin Eggs

These reddish-brown eggs dyed with onion skins seem appropriately colored for Good Friday.  Simply boil the eggs with lots of skins from ordinary yellow onions.  We cook the eggs at low heat for at least an hour.  The longer the boiling time, the richer and deeper the color.  The low heat helps to seal the yolk in a neat pocket.  If no cracks develop, the eggs may be kept for several years.   To create a print of leaves or flowers, using cheesecloth, wrap the plant tightly against the egg.  Tie the top and bottom ends with cooking twine and add the egg to the pot. 



This egg shows the deep red color possible with a long cooking time.

Our Good Friday God


On Good Friday, we give thanks to a loving, compassionate God who suffers with us.  Our God is not a remote, impassive being who rules from on high.  He came down to our level; he entered into the midst of our messy lives.  Jesus, our brother, gave his own life to save us, his unworthy siblings.  He died for us while we were yet sinners.  He knows our worst pain, because he has endured it first-hand: betrayal, sorrow, humiliation, physical agony, and death.  God the Father knows intimately the terrible reality of losing a child.  Our God continues to suffer as we suffer.   He grieves as we grieve, because we are his.  We are family.  Our God surrounds us with his Holy Spirit, as close as our own breath, to sustain and comfort us.

Good Friday is good because our God is good.  This day commemorates the completion of Jesus’s mission.  From the cross, he cried out, “It is finished.”  The perfect sacrifice has been made, salvation has been accomplished, and we are redeemed.


Easy, Peaceful Marbleized Eggs

An easy, stress-free approach to egg decorating (much appreciated after our Ukrainian conflagration) is this technique for marbleizing eggs.  Having learned a valuable lesson, we began by boiling our eggs.  We used the dye tablets from a typical kids’ egg decorating kit, added a drop or two of olive oil, and immersed the eggs.  The results are pretty, if subtle.  No unusual tools, hot wax or flames required.   


We wanted very pale colors for these eggs.
Darker hues, of course, are possible using longer dyeing times.


A Dangerous Game: Ukrainian-Style Egg-Decorating

One year, Mama sent a kit for decorating eggs in the traditional Ukrainian style. A far more ambitious undertaking than our decoupage eggs, it required actual skill in addition to careful planning and immense reserves of patience.

We knew immediately that the intricate, perfect geometry of the typical Ukrainian patterns were beyond us, so we opted for simplified, free-form designs.  We diligently followed the detailed instructions, using the writing tool called the kistka to draw a design with hot beeswax.  We then immersed the egg in one of the dye colors.  This drawing and dyeing process was repeated several times.  Finally, we removed the wax by holding the egg near a candle flame.  We managed to create some attractive and unique eggs that bore no resemblance at all to those pictured in the kit.

We might have completed the project without incident had the eggs been less fragile.  As instructed, we used raw eggs.  And as we learned, one tends to grip an egg firmly while drawing on it with an unfamiliar, hot-wax dispensing tool.  Sometimes one grips too firmly, resulting in an egg being launched, missile-like, across the room.  The shattered egg stirred up the sudden and fiery wrath of my daughter.  Just as quickly, I was ignited by her anger.  Engulfed in a fit akin to spontaneous combustion, I hurled the egg I was holding onto the kitchen floor. I threw this egg (nearly-completed and painstakingly designed), with considerable force, making the inevitable clean-up all the more painful.  In a household of flammable tempers, holiday decorating has its perils.


The kit, showing some ideal Ukrainian designs.


 Only a few of our Ukrainian-inspired eggs survive.


Egg-Decorating Time

Egg decorating has always been a major concern at our house during the week before Easter.  My mother’s love of Easter crafts is almost as pronounced as her devotion to Christmas decorations.  In order to ensure the continuation of the family tradition, nearly every spring she sends new ideas for egg decorating or a specialty kit.  Several years ago, thanks to Mama, my daughter and I tried our hand at decoupage eggs.  This is a fun and relatively child-friendly approach to egg decorating.  It requires minimal skill, a bit of patience, and a tolerance for sticky fingers.  An appreciation for Mod Podge is a plus. The results can be very charming.   


Some of our favorite decoupage egg designs.



The kit included several blown-out goose eggs, which offer more decorating space.  These eggs adorn our Easter tree each year.


Palm Sunday: Everyone Loves a Winner

On Palm Sunday Jesus was hailed as a celebrity, a military and political hero-to-be.  As he and his disciples entered  the city of Jerusalem, adoring, cheering crowds greeted them.  The news was out: at long last, the King of Israel was here.  He was the chosen one sent by God to restore power to the Jewish nation.  He rode on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9:  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.


It was a time of great rejoicing for the people of Israel.  A new day of freedom and empowerment was dawning, thanks to the advent of the conquering Messiah.  The palm branches they waved were emblems of Israeli nationalism.

In just a few days, though, the tide would turn. The admiring throngs would scatter when it became clear that Jesus was not the kind of king they had desired and expected.  Even his dearest friends would desert him.  He would be betrayed by one of his own, turned over to the Roman authorities and crucified. On Good Friday, it would appear that this man was no winner.


Good Friday, however, is not the end of the story.