Mise en place

“Decorate your home. It gives the illusion that your life is more interesting than it really is.” Charles M. Schulz

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(one batch of the boxes of fall decorations / Julie Cook / 2014)

Is that what all this is about? Ill fated attempts at making our lives, our homes, more interesting than they are??

Actually this is more of a tale about a boat load of crap, uh, I mean, gourds, pumpkins, colorful leaves, acorns, straw, nuts, etc. . .anything and everything to do with Fall, Autumn, the season of Harvest. . . or whatever you may wish to call the 3rd season of the calendar.

I like to call it my favorite time of year–and no, that is not Christmas as Christmas is just another word for consumerism chaos but that’s for another day.

The Thermometer is currently registering 90ᵒ–it’s not yet noon. The news is telling me it feels more like 96ᵒ as our high today will be 95ᵒ, meaning it will feel like 110ᵒ –give or take–but I’m sure it will be more like give, with the humidity ringing in around 87% currently–higher later–ugh—-and whereas this is Labor day weekend, Summer’s grand final hoorah, I, for one, choose to look ahead—as to something, say, a little more comfortable and inviting. As in I don’t wish to remain naked when venturing out of doors because I am tired of my clothes sticking to my body —picture flies stuck to fly tape and that’s me with my clothes.

Nothing is flattering about this time of year. Hair, no matter how hard a woman may attempt taming her coiffure–and trust me, I try awfully damn hard–digressing, it will either wilt, explode with puffiness or revert back to its natural wavy state the minute it is introduced to the out of doors.
Humidity + hair = disaster.
And of course any and all freshly applied makeup will soon be oozing down a sweaty oh I forgot, we women of the South do not sweat—we glisten— glisteny faces which are responding to the 87% humidity.

A friend of mine in Texas, sweet Natalie, replying to a blog post, told me how she sings daily praises to the man whoever invented air-conditioning. I must second that praise. Which brings me to an interesting observation— the Italians do not like air-conditioning. They fear it produces “bad air” which equates to respiratory maladies—things like the croop, pneumonia, Legionnaire’s Disease. . . you name it and they think it will pour out of an air conditioning unit waiting to strike down any and all, exposed to such air, with immediate illness and death.

The Italians are fretful when it comes to health. They take great precautions to stay well. So this is why, if you ever go on Holiday to Italy say in July or August. . . why you would do this I am uncertain as anyone can tell you that these are the two months you do not wish to visit Italy as the entire country shuts down and heads to the shore or high up in the alps seeking respite form the heat and the malaria (I’m telling you, über health conscious). . .I know this as I have made such a fatal mistake, but again, I digress. . .you will suddenly go into apoplexy upon entering your hotel room, say in Rome, when you find your windows wide open with nary a breeze and nary an AC unit in sight and it’s 100ᵒ out with 97% humidity.

Which brings me full circle back around to my picture of all of the Fall crap, uh, decorations sitting in the middle of the floor on a soon to be 98ᵒ day.
Rather than venturing outside today to enjoy the sun soaked (hot as hell day) Labor Day weekend, I’m preferring to say inside like anyone with any sense. . .yet my husband is currently attempting to plow his deer land on a hot tractor in the middle of nowhere in 102ᵒ, which in my opinion is asinine, but again I digress. . .I am opting to decorate my house with a more Fall-like theme—of which I am hoping will have a psychological effect, making me feel much cooler than I am in my tank top, shorts and bare feet. Surely twig pumpkins, fake squirrels, dried nuts, a bunch of gourds and colorful faux leaves will make me feel cooler, almost chilly, right??

Which brings my thoughts, as I schlepp this crap , these boxes of decorations down from the 150ᵒ inferno, aka attic and up the steps from the dungeon, aka, basement, as to why it is, why in the heck, do we, I, feel the need to decorate, seasonally, in the first place?! It must go back to some paganesque ancient druid need hiding in our / my roots. Lest we forget, I am indeed adopted and as I fear, there must some druids hiding in my background someplace—and no offense to any druids currently reading this —I’m just saying.

Perhaps it is our consumer driven economy and lifestyle. . .
The stores are, as I type, filling their shelves with boxes of fake colorful leaves, fallesque wreathes, cute fake little squirrels, dried gourds, indian corn, acorns, dried straws and sticks that we buy by the boat loads in order to “decorate” our homes and even workplaces—we set the mood so to speak. In my case, the mood to cool!!

And let’s not talk about how next month we will be riding the Halloween bandwagon. What was once a fun little excuse for young children to dress-up, going door to door trick or treating for candy has morphed into a really scary time which calls on us to lock up our cats–lest some cult out there decides to have a little sacrifice session, as we scan and have our children’s candy bags x-rayed at local hospitals for any signs of sickos who sadisticly and maliciously may have put razor blades in apples or cyanid in Reeses cups, to those who protest trick or treat all together because it is no longer politically correct as all the witches and satanist out there take offense (no offense witches and satanists), or the fundamentalists who fear it will turn our children literally into withes and satanists, which has all actually lead to this little “holiday” being the largest and biggest sales event excuse out there for adults to throw a party—hence why that diva of domesticity, who will remain nameless as I don’t want to get sued, is set to sell a myriad of magazines giving her, at the ripe old age of 73, an excuse to dress up in elaborate costume hawking her blood red punch and eyeball deviled egg recipes. . .yes, we’ve lost our collective minds. . .

Which brings me back to the boat load of crap , decorations sitting on the floor and of my having to now “put away” Summer, making way for Fall. . .and could someone please remind me as to why I waste, spend my time doing this. . .

Oh yeah, that’s right, because it’s 103ᵒ outside in the shade and I want to psyche myself into thinking I’m feeling cooler, much cooler—like Fall cooler—not that the Fall cool temperatures will arrive here, before, say Thanksgiving. . .which means it’ll just be time to schlepp out all the turkey and Thanksgiving crap decorations down from the attic and up from the basement. . .as the never ending saga of decorations and decorating, putting crap in its place, never ends. . .

A visual tale of contrast

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck

The sun is brightly shining, as the frigid bitterness of the days prior, tempers to a delightful and balmy 45ᵒ
I’m on a mission.
A mission to find life amongst the frozen tundra known as the land I call home.
The ground still hard and frozen under foot, the bright winter sun brilliantly warming while accented by a cloudless azure sea of sky.
There is the scent of smoke in the air.
I have shed my heavy coat.
The nuthatches and chickadees chirp merrily as they poke and prod the hard ground for seed.
Nestled near a walkway cowers a small ancient birdbath now sadly frozen.

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Amazingly just a few short steps beyond the solid frozen mass of water, leaves and straw lie tucked sweetly among the rocks, a tiny beautiful carpet of soft chartreuse moss begging to be rubbed. Is there any better feeling on a hot summer day, barefoot, finding a cool patch of moss. . .

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All of the bushes and shrubs are now barren clumps of twisted sticks and twigs. Odd thing it seems now to have merely a garden of sticks verses the usual lush plump green leaves and vines which typically call this place home. Upon a close inspection of the gnarly twig clumps dotting the now leaf covered bank–there oddly remains a few shriveled grey masses protruding along the quince bushes. These alien nodules resemble some sort of grotesque growth rather than the usual crunchy yellow green orbs which typically adorn these showy asian orientals.

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And just as Mother Nature, who seems to relish in her relentless taunting of our tender senses, would have this winter world of cold appear hopelessly void of any semblance of colorful life, I spy a tenacious little champion of all that screams LIFE.
It is the lowly, albeit stubborn, bane of any gardener. . .the hardy and nearly indestructible dandelion.

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The ground a hard frozen mass, the winds and temperatures so brutal that almost all vegetation has either perished or will surly be stunted come the growing season, and yet, this most noxious of garden foes not only maintains its place in the pecking order of nature, but appears to thrive—-providing any and all who happen to pass by a bit of colorful joy in a bleak and oh so cold world.

So yes Mr. Steinbeck, it is to this winter that we must acknowledge there is indeed a sweetness to be had—in just about 5 months or so we will have all but forgotten these current cold long shadowed days. This barren world will no longer exist. Our seemingly long deprived senses will be filled and overflowing—

Yet until those long warmer days arrive, I shall continue my quest, my mission—and that is to find those hidden breadcrumbs which a previous season has strewn along its departure– leaving behind a tantalizing trail to remind me that better days are indeed ahead!

A season of texture and tones

The true worth of a man is not to be found in man himself, but in the colours and textures that come alive in others.”
Albert Schweitzer

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(Pinecones from Dad’s yard, along with a fungus covered dead branch, Julie Cook 2013)

With the rapidly approaching official arrival of winter we are, no doubt, beginning to feel as if we are spiraling into a type of color withdrawal. Gone are the beautiful scarlets, golds and burnt oranges of Autumn; gone are the golden swaying wheat fields and the intoxicatingly beautiful jasmine and honeysuckle of Summer; gone are the vibrant explosives reds, blues, greens and lavenders, of Spring. For in this deep slumbering shadow of the calendar, we are left with an empty void of nothingness, or for some, a giant blanket of white encasing every living and non-living thing as far as the eye can see.

Yet in this perceived void of lacking and emptiness, there remains a very important component to our field of vision, for suddenly open for the entire world to view, the earth lies naked before both creature and man— exposed, unprotected and vulnerable. Gone are the colorful coverings of flowers and leaves which act as accessorizing baubles and wrappings. Gone are the tall grasses and heavy ladened branches bearing fruit and flower. What remains is an intricately woven skeletal system, the undercarriage of our natural world.

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Cautiously, and a bit weary, we peer out upon this barren landscape, sad and forlorn, fearing that we are doomed to grey gloomy skies, long dark nights and a lack of visual stimulation. But thankfully a slow hesitant joy begins to claim our mood, for upon closer inspection we realize that we are not the helpless victims of Loss and Void, but rather we discover that we have been granted a tiny treasured lagniappe, a treat for all of our senses, for spread out majestically before us is a different type of visual splendor—one which appears more delicate and almost fragile than what had departed–for here, in what we now find at our grasp, is beauty in its most basic simplicity.

Branches, limbs, sticks, stones, straw, bark, cones and moss—these are the bare essentials which Nature generously offers to our visually weary senses. Wonderfully we rejoice for we now know that we have not been flung out helplessly to fester in a world of monotones and dull eyed death. Here in this seemingly cold and barren world– beauty is to be had, to be seen and to be touched. The visual wonders still abound.

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These visual treasures are not the garish over the top harlots of those previous seasons, but rather these beauties remain understated, subtle and quiet. They speak of structure, shape, texture and tone offering us a tactile reminder that our visual needs have not been forgotten. Old man Winter may be hard and harsh, but he is not unkind. As you fight the deep calling to venture outside to a world of cold wind, freezing rain and gloomy grays, do not be discouraged—Nature knows your need and she has provided.

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