Thursday, December 11, 2014

Santa Claus

So here is Christmas, and I am recalling a time long ago when we used the broomstick to open the basement storage room door hook and eye closure to explore.  We discovered more than we bargained for in that room.  Under the bed where Dad slept at odd times, probably because he was in the doghouse.  I imagine this, because it could be quite damp down there, and one would otherwise not voluntarily sleep in the room.  We found a treasure trove of gifts, which led me to a single, bittersweet conclusion.  Santa Claus is not real!  He was, in fact, my parents.

At the same time, I was so very pleased to find a cookie book of recipes and a cookie press, a deluxe version of scrabble, a ski hat and gloves, and a rock hammer and bag.  My brothers found treasures on their Christmas lists.  We hurriedly scuffled the booty back under the bed before Mother pulled into the driveway, swung from a rope tied to a rafter on the other side of the room a few times and exited, Lin standing on Dan’s shoulders to replace the hook in the eye, and erasing all evidence that we had ever been there.

My brother Dan has no guile.  He has always been a follower.  A sheep.  So we told him what to say and do.  Until the guilt overcame him.  He cried.  And he told Mother how sorry he was about there being no Santa Claus.

And her fury came down upon me and Lin like a tornado.  She dragged us into that room and watched us wrap those gifts for local homeless children.  She packed us into the car crying and drove us to the shelter where we gave away our precious gifts!  I have never felt so humiliated or confused in my life since.  I am convinced this experience made me disaster proof for later crises.  When bad things happen, my blood pressure drops, my heart rate slows, time moves differently,  and I feel little of anything, thanks to mother and the Santa Claus crisis of years ago.  While others panic, I calmly watch in superior fascination.  I bet I would fail a psychopath test.

We drove home in silence.  Faces crusty and a bit dirty with dried tears.  All the time wondering what would happen on Christmas morning.

We had Christmas Eve with Grandma.  The dinner was marvelous.  And we opened clean new pajamas.  I imagine for the photographs of our sad faces.  In the morning under the tree were three gigantic lumps of coal.  But under the couch cushions were wrapped gifts!  New gifts.  Things not on our lists.  My Dad had convinced Mother that ruining Christmas because we were curious, unsupervised twits was out of the question.  We learned a hard lesson, but a good one.  And somewhere, maybe a girl with no home, was reading cookie recipes and dreaming of making them sometime.  Erstwhile, I was wearing ski mittens, not gloves,  on the slopes with my Dad, who insisted I have fun anyway.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Last year for Thanksgiving our house was full of guests.  I enjoyed every minute of it!  This year we have a smaller guest list, but it will be no less a pleasure for me.

This is my menu plan.  I have a new turkey deep frying device which is more an appliance.  It is used indoors.  I can't wait to try it out.  We'll be smoking the trout outdoors in the smoker of course.  And grilling sweet potatoes with a lime syrup.

Hairston Family Thanksgiving 2014
Cheese straws
Smoked trout with dill crackers and crème fraiche
Cranberry orange mold
Corn pudding
Sausage stuffed mushroom caps
Roasted mélange of root vegetables
Truffle shallot mashed potatoes with gravy
Grilled sweet potato wedges with lime and cayenne
Green bean casserole – with home-made fried onions
Deep fried turkey
Coconut cream pie – Williamsburg style
Homemade vanilla bean ice cream
Chocolate pots de crème
Pumpkin crème brulee
Assorted drinks

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Super Glue and Self Sufficiency

Isn’t it amazing how when you love someone, you depend on that person, even though you are perfectly self sufficient until you start including them in small things?  I have marveled at how doing so has led to some of the most ridiculous errors I’ve committed in my life.  I always look back on them and smile a secret smile in my heart, knowing they make me a little more human.

Once, after repairing some things we broke after tossing them about; I broke the cardinal rule of Super Glue and spilled a drop on my thumb.  Before I could locate the acetone nail polish remover in our bathroom, I had glued the thumb of my left hand to my index finger on the same hand.  I thought it was hilarious of course!  So I decided to include my hubby in the incident.  I picked up the telephone to tell him all about it, knowing it would be a great inside joke between us for quite a while.

Here is important advice:  Never use the telephone during an active Super Glue incident.  We chatted a few minutes, giggled as lovers do, and hung up.  To my utter chagrin, I found my right hand glued to the phone receiver on the wall!  I felt like a bear in a trap.  I had three good fingers on my left hand to get the phone receiver removed from the wall phone (no small feat) and wear it around the house, while I telephoned my sweetheart again from another room,  and requested he bring home a vat of acetone.

I can attest that was the longest wait in my history of impatience.  I tried watching the television.  I read the Smithsonian magazine.  I awkwardly went through recipe cards dreaming of a nice dinner.  I went and found a bucket in which to sacrifice the telephone receiver.  I paced.  I stomped.  I laughed maniacally.  I tried to peel apart my thumb and finger.  Ouch!  No, I could no longer save myself.

If you want to save yourself from this brand of stupidity, call your sweetheart after you have taken care of a problem; unless you absolutely need help.  It will be a great joke between you and the universe.  I promise your love will admire you for your cool brilliance in a crisis.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It is Genetic for Sure

I was talking to my brother the other day.  He lives in Pennsylvania, parts of which are quite rich in certain types of fossils.  He happened to be looking down in the parking lot at the doctor's office and he noticed rocks containing fossils!  He gathered them up and showed his children.  His son became very excited as he scanned the parking lot for more, when he noticed a "blue" rock!  He started hopping up and down and ran to show his Dad the magnificent find.  A blue rock! 

Context is everything...The curbs had just been painted, and apparently the crew got sloppy.  Pre-painted rocks are great, but not geological marvels! 

I happen to know my brother sorted blue pebbles with white lines in them on the car port roof, just so he could make extra wishes, (everyone knows these have magical properties).  He also once dragged a very heavy coral colored salt formation, which turned out to be a salt lick, half a mile cause he didn't know what it was, so he should let a curb rock slide.  All kinds of weird things are still treasure if you are rock crazy.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Riding Games

We had a mini bike.  I’m not certain of its origins.  We had to tinker with it from time to time to keep it running.  The spark plug would foul and have to be cleaned with a sacrificial toothbrush.  We pooled our allowances to buy gas.  And if Mother had known the thrilling, and probably very dangerous games we played on it, she would never have let us ride it in the first place.  Or maybe she would.  She and Dad had matching Husqvarna dirt bikes.  I only ever saw her ride hers once.  After that, my Uncle Bob, her younger brother, rode hers mostly.   But she did it.

My favorite mini bike game required some preparation.  We had to crawl through the ivy that bordered several driveways and gather snails, saving them in a pitcher donated by mother.  Snail ammunition makes an audible and somewhat sickening pop when the shell cracks as it hits you while you speed by on the mini bike.  The rules were simple.  No face shots, and try not to wreck the bike.

Another marauder would stand in the yard with a bb gun as you as you raced down the long driveway when it was your turn.  This person would shoot at you, pelting you with bb’s.  They stung a bit, but bounced off denim.

As long as a snail shell didn’t break your skin, a bb didn’t take your eye out, and you didn’t have a colossal bike wreck, ride into traffic past the end of the driveway, or (Heaven forbid) ride across the street and land in the creek, you were golden!

Once, a snail shell broke the skin on my brother Lin’s elbow.  It was infected for weeks and had to be lanced.  Another time, a bb broke the skin on his scalp at the bottom of his helmet and had to be removed.  It was just rolling around under there at his hairline, but we couldn’t extract it.  We thought it was really cool.  Mother was very skeptical of how a bb aimed at a target hit him while he was riding the opposite direction on the opposite side of the yard.  We were all thick as little thieves.

We also chased the mini bike up and down the driveway on our bicycles if we were not shooters or snail throwers.  It just made it more exciting!

Riding a mini bike is nothing compared to being on the back of Dad’s motorcycle.  Dad would favor us with rides from time to time.  Most of the time they were short rides around the neighborhood after he had been out riding with Uncle Bob all day.  But every year on a birthday or special occasion, or maybe on a Saturday, he would take one of us up the canyon before it got too cold for a long one on one bike ride.  Or maybe out for a high speed,  flat out run by the Great Salt Lake near the Bonneville Salt Flats.  Sometimes it could be to some other special place he had scoped covering a recent news story.  Wherever it was, it was always fascinating, and a special time with him.  One such ride, we stopped to rest and he informed me we would move back to Washington, DC again.  I was ok with it.  I no longer belonged in Utah.

How I loved these rides!  There is a special trust I a girl has for her Dad anyway.  But when you are on a motorcycle behind your Dad, you develop a rhythm with your bodies.  You learn which way to lean, how to center your gravity, and you communicate without words.  I would put my hands inside Dad’s pockets or hook them around his belt and relish the freedom, the wind, the sights and sounds, the vibration.  I would eventually fall asleep, knowing all was right with my universe.  Later I would rock out with my Walkman inside my helmet until I had checked out for a snooze, too still and frozen to move.  Now that is trust.  And I learned something that stuck.  If you don’t feel that way about your lover, your spouse, your  intended; then he is not THE ONE.  No matter what your body says.  No matter what the hormones are screaming at you.  No matter what logic tells you or your heart says.  If you would not get on the back of his bike, and then fall asleep on the back of his bike, then it is all wrong.  A man may feel that way about you, but if your yardstick doesn’t measure him in that way, then he will eventually fail you in the ways that matter most to you.  Believe me, I know.

Now, I ride my own bike.  Spouse number two taught me how.  I relish the freedom.  The speed.  The wind, the sights and sounds, the vibration.  And I like being a cool biker chick.  I will teach my daughter to ride, but first, she will ride on the back of my bike.  There are important lessons there.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Haiku - Write the Book and Puke on It

The other night during dinner I tried to get my daughter to try her hand at poetry.  I think she's ready.  She detests writing.  I think it is good they make them practice writing in school each day.  I would have loved it.  She must have inherited this trait from her father.  He detests writing of all sorts.

I told her about writing limericks, and iambic pentameter.  I tried to get her to do a few "roses are red..." about the beach trip with me to no avail.  But her eyes danced and she asked me to tell her more about my childhood.

I told her she could write a Haiku about the Currituck Lighthouse.  No dice. 

So, I told her about sailing on Dad's hobie cat at Sweetwater in Bear Lake and told her I had written a Haiku about it.

Dad was a news reporter.  His plane crashed in the lake once.  Mother was up all night.  Praying and worrying all night.  The phone rang earlier.  It was the news station telling her the plane was lost and they would call when they found him.  Mother told us nothing.  But I knew she was devastated, and worried.  The energy in the house was all wrong.  I couldn't sleep.  Dad had been gone before, but we could sleep.  Dad would travel on stories.  He would go away for the Navy.  But this was different.

Dad's piper cub went down somewhere over Bear Lake.  The pilot couldn't swim.  He toted that guy all night.  I imagine like all guys who realize they are drowning he fought at first, and then surrendered to his swimming, floating, fighting savior, and just let Dad drag him through the water.  And poor Dad dragged him in the black, swimming all night long toward what he must have thought was the shore.  I know he reached it sometime just before dawn.  Exhausted, cold, and defeated.  He would struggle with the aftermath of the crash for some time afterwards.  I remember hearing him complain as he replaced the contents of his wallet, now at the bottom of the deep blue lake.  No drivers license.  Lost photos and mementos.  All gone.

So it was surprising to me in 1980 to find myself and my brothers and sisters on the mat of a hobie cat, Dad so willing to drop us in that same lake.  Confident we would swim back to the boat and he would fish us out, over and again.

I loved connecting with the wind and the sky, the mountains and the deep blue of the lake.  So I dug up the haiku about it:

Silver sky warm winds
I smile at mother pink and white
Dad spills us in blue

Mountains hulk in black
Sun setting red and orange
Mother finds her top

We race the darkness
Sad to leave the deep Bear Lake
Home again to sleep

And since we were talking about mother stripping off her bikini top in front of all of us, my daughter made a lot of gagging noises over her taco, and said, "You saw Nanny's boobs!  That's just sick."  And the whole time I was thinking, "Like my kid isn't still bathing with me..."

The spousal unit, said, "Just write the book."

And my daughter piped up and said, "Yeah, I'll read it, and then puke on it."

Well, at least she waxes poetic. 

What Tricks Can You Do?

I grew up with a lot of boys.  I learned early how to make nasty sounds with my arm pit, how to belch the alphabet and generally how to horrify Mother.  Two things I never did though.  I never farted outside the bathroom for fear that Mother would beat me.  And I never put my feet on anyone else.  Nasty foot humor was the domain of my brother Dan.

I can turn my eyelids inside out and blink.  Quite terrifying when you are wearing eyeliner and mascara.

Through some genetic accident, I can reach my nose with the tip of my tongue and lick off the ice cream.  I can probably reach inside a nostril if I try really hard, but I have never bothered.  My daughter has been practicing, but is not quite there yet.  Who knows if she has my tongue or not.  She seems to have inherited a blend of parental traits.

My daughter occasionally requests that I perform eye and tongue tricks.  I usually decline, as they are not meant for polite company.  Occasionally, I will favor her with one, or some combination of them.  I have found they are quite effective as motivational tools.

Tonight, my daughter struggled through the last few minutes of a piano lesson.  The teacher was at the end of her rope.  I stepped into the room to lighten the mood and encourage my daughter with my eyelids turned inside out.  The teacher gasped, but my daughter started laughing.  She straightened her back, and said, "Mommy, watch this."  And while she counted the last two measures of her new song and played the notes, she farted.  On purpose!

After she did that, I expressed my grave concern.  I told her girls don't do that.  And she said, "I can probably fart the alphabet."

I was immediately transported back to my own childhood.  I said, "Yeah, well I can burp the alphabet."  Now both she and her teacher were demanding a demonstration of this long-dormant skill.  I politely declined and immediately issued a moratorium on alphabet farting and burping.

There is a word I have always liked, abecedarian.  I have never considered it to be a compliment word particularly.  It connotes one learning the rudiments of something - a beginner.  The implication is that the way of thinking or doing is rudimentary and linear.  I cannot decide if burping and farting the abc's is abecedarian.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

The Power of the Pact

A pact is a powerful thing.  I know that when I decide to do something, I just do.  It has never occurred to me whether I should do it, or even if I can do something.  I just proceed.  I have rarely failed, and when I have failed, I have always learned something and then simply adjusted course in the grand adventure of my life and carried on.

Dad used to swear a lot.  It offended Mother and was a very bad example for all of us children.  We used to snigger, cover our ears, roll our eyes and shake our heads as mother would chide him and remind him that a gentleman simply does not do it. 

But as loving children, we did our duty and came up with suitable substitutions for him.  It became a family joke.  Our favorite was “bug guts”.  He did try.  He said bug guts a lot.  But bug guts was in addition to the eff word and a variety of other epithets.

Once the yelling and swearing commenced, children would scatter.  We would escape to a few hiding places where we could listen to our parents fight.  Or we would simply leave the house until it was over.

During one such escape attempt, Dad standing on the landing in front of the door in the entryway, Mother on the stairs above him, all children in the basement below – we attempted to slip past him and out the door.  He stopped screaming long enough to turn toward us, red faced and shouted, “Can’t you let us fight in peace”?  And then he resumed screaming at Mother.  Sufficiently cowed, we five retreated to the closet under the stairs and cuddled in the sleeping bags stored there until it was over.

After prolonged exposure to this behavior, and no matter our best efforts to avoid it, eventually we all slipped and uttered a swear word.  I still remember the shock I felt when my sister said “shit” for the first time.  And then, feeling defeated, we all had rationalized it into full blown swearing as young adults.

Let me tell you we are a loud bunch.  And we swear in each other’s company.  Dad had a prolonged trip to Bosnia compliments of the US Navy.  While there he and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland became friendly.  They baptized a guy, and they made a pact of sorts.  Dad no longer swears.  So now  of course Dad has progressed beyond us spiritually, and eschews swearing.  Furthermore, he condemns our “choice” to swear.  I have great optimism our own trajectories will be similar.

I recently re-connected with a man whom I have always revered.  He’s been a touchstone of sorts who has jerked me back onto my own path for better than half my life.  No easy task for one such as I.  I never told him really.  And I am probably an idiot for never telling him.  He was my teacher when I was a lost and lonely teen.  And he re-appeared again as my home teacher when I had made mistakes as a young woman.  He just set me aright by giving me the confidence to make counterintuitive choices, while those around me betrayed and attacked my character.  And during the 9-11 attacks he was the only American online who communicated and remained logical and supportive, while I was stuck overseas during a time of international crisis which had huge psychic impacts on one such as I.  And on the eve of my divorce he surfaced and just forced me out of the entropy that had entrapped me.   So whenever he shows up I am pretty well buggered.  When someone has that kind of power in your life, you have to answer them.  You have to adore them.  It is not a choice.  It is a deep accountability.  It defies temporal explanation.

Recently this old friend showed up after a long absence and we made a pact to stop swearing.  Except “ass” is a safeword.  After three weeks, I am confident I have replaced the old habit I inherited from Dad.  I decided not to swear.  I made a pact.  And I haven’t cussed.  I haven’t done it under the most trying of circumstances even though I desperately wanted to.  I simply decided not to because I promised my touchstone I wouldn’t.  That, and I am way better than my Dad.  That’s a fact.

Monday, October 06, 2014


1980 was a weird year.   I was thirteen, Dan was 11, going on 12.   We had a summertime timeshare at Sweetwater resort at Bear Lake, Utah, which I am certain our Grandpa had financed.  Dad had a hobie cat and had learned to sail.  I had used my personal progress to learn to fish and had already experienced some miracles with my own developing gifts over the past year.

That hobie cat was AWESOME!  Dad would take us out into the wind and blue, and we would all just get lost between the mountains and the endless silver of the sky and the deep blue water of bear lake.  Mother would lose her top and we would admire her beauty.  She was hot, lying there on the mat!  We children would muse, “What if her nipples get a sunburn?”  And paroxysms of giggles would explode on the boat.  I am so fair and freckled,  I wear the highest SPF available, a hat, light long sleeves and socks in the sun.  My breasts have never seen the light of day.  Sweetwater is not the French Riviera, but out in the middle of the lake on the mat of a hobie cat, there is not a single austere Mormon of pioneer descent to disapprove, and we’ve all seen mother naked!  Oh, my Mother was so free, and bold, and beautiful! 

Dad would tack and jibe as all good sailors do, and we would cling to that mat like little rats, often ending up in the drink as the hobie tipped up dangerously on one rail, or sped through the water racing for the shore in the beautiful Utah sunsets; dark black mountains hulking behind us.

I checked every night to ensure the closet doors were all closed, and with not a little fear.  I had been doing little things to throw off the daily fears, temptations and otherworldly harassment I was plagued with most nights;  and felt pretty guilty about it.  I might fib a little to my parents.  Dad would say, “Where are you going”?  And I would tell him I was off to ride my bike, when in fact I was just going to walk across the street to dip my toes in the canal.

The “canal” was actually a mountain creek which, depending on the day of the week might be very high with the runoff from the scheduled irrigation water used by local farmers and other subscribers to the irrigation water in the benches and the valley below.  It has been used since the days of the pioneers to manage and conserve the clean water here.  You can catch trout in the canal when the water is high, and because of my American Indian heritage on Mother’s side, I was exempt from a fishing license until they changed the laws.

We had lived in the Washington, DC area a few years, but moved back to Utah.  We didn’t exactly fit in here.  We were too worldly and ahead of our peers in school.  Things had always been awkward for me in Salt Lake socially.  Now they were downright ugly. 

Music had become very important to me and Dan.  From piano and violin I loved all classical music.  I drove my parents crazy listening to the classical station on the radio after dinner.  Beethoven and Vivaldi were favorites, as well as a few operas, which no one could stand but me.  I had checked out the librettos to the Marriage of Figaro, and Lakmè and read them with utter devotion.  Our chorus class had been invited to the Salt Palace on a field trip to see a one-act  English opera called the “Telephone” which I totally loved.  My choir teacher sang with the Mo-tabs, and it was my fondest wish to join them  when I became old enough, and my voice had matured.  I was still singing a very high soprano, sans vibrato.

Beyond the classical, pop and rock were very interesting.  We spent our allowance on forty-fives, and our “playlists” were stacks of them on the record player.  This mix contained AC/DC “Back in Black”, and Van Halen “Welcome to the Good Time”, and Blondie “Rapture”, which may have been the first rap song anyone really ever liked.   Funny thing is, I still love all of them.  It may be eclectic on an iPod today, but they are all still there. 

The other day, I was listening to satellite radio, and I heard an old song that was on the “playlist” which has been missing.  Tears streamed down my cheeks as I reconnected with it, when I remembered how much my brother hated it.  He took that 45 after I had listened to it once too often, and threw it out in the back yard.  In a fit of rage, he shot it with his bb gun, and then he stomped on the shattered pieces.  It is a smooth overly romantic song which I played over and over again, Christopher Cross, “Sailing”.   It won a Grammy that year.  But I didn’t care about that.  What I cared about was how it made me feel.  For a very lonely, often frightened girl, who loved the wind and water this song was “it”.  I didn’t know it at the time, but things that were only just beginning to stir in me, the very things described in this music would continue to gather power.  I already loved wind and water, because they activated all that Chi.  They still do.  Many of my Christian friends have never accepted concepts like Chi, but it is just a different perspective on the energy of your soul, and all your spiritual gifts.

Of course I downloaded it.  Hearing this song, even though it is sandwiched in with Back in Black and Rapture, reminds me that all I need is a bit of water, and a breath of air, a bit of love and intention to connect with my Maker and all that is good about me.  Makes me want to join the local sailing club and get a little pea green boat for E.  How romantic is that?

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Fat Mailboxes

Have you ever just looked at the mailbox and known it was full?  It looks the same on the outside as it always does, except that it seems “fat”, and you know the mailman came while you weren’t looking and filled it.  I enjoy these little clues the universe gives me.  They are like our own private little joke.  Many days, especially close to the end of my cycle, I find myself less focused, more scattered and hypersensitive, and these little things are everywhere.
Just today, a dear friend gave me his text symbol that he was driving.  It is a D.  It is our private shorthand to pause texting .  Today, this D was somehow different.  He was up to something.  He was going somewhere special.  As I was also in the car on a short errand I also replied with a D2.  And then I stopped texting him.  For hours.  Out of respect.  And that was especially hard today.  I missed him.  But I am a big girl, and no mouse.  No small force to be reckoned with, even if I tone it down a notch.  So he can reckon with me or not as he chooses.  Gentleman’s choice today.  Ladies’ choice later.
Today was the black hole of lost things.  My iPad went missing.  My talk on Exodus 11 went missing.  My donut pans were not to be found.  I lost my Starbucks Iced Grande Passion when I left it on the roof of the car.  E, simply said, “maybe birds took it,” when I stopped on the other side of the parking lot to see if it was still there.  She’s adorable!  No matter.  Order will resume very soon.  For now, borrowing a term from E, it is "un-fun".
Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke in General Conference on the slippery slopes of unbelief, disobedience, relativism and following the commandments.  I found it interesting, as I may be the most obedient relativist Mormon on the planet.  How is that for a paradox?  At the bottom of it all I am a pragmatic thinker.  I apply and adapt what works best in my current situation, but my nature at its core has never changed.  I am my own authority, until I give it to one more expert than myself.  Easily that is Heavenly Father and the Savior, Jesus Christ.  This is necessary for anyone whose heart has been broken, you will find.  And the atonement is the great healer of broken hearts.
But once healed, I know we are not meant to be alone.  Even when we feel that we are, actually alone, we’re not.  Ever.  And the Master of contrite spirits lets us know this in myriad ways.  Including pregnant looking mailboxes and fat texted D’s, or ghosts of relatives tossing spices in the kitchen and wafting perfume through the apartment.

Friday, October 03, 2014

A Rhino and A Tomato

Lest we offend Mother with our art projects, she always made sure we had a “kit”.  A kit is a lunchbox filled with art supplies.  Oh, how I adored my kits!  Mother is very, very smart.  Scary smart.  Dad is no slouch either, but he always made a point of admiring Mother’s intellect, and we followed suit.  Of course she has no common sense, but that is another matter. 

Mother started making kits for me sometime before I started attending school.  What a smart move!  They were filled with school supplies as well.  When school started, the smell and feel of a sharp pencil was a fine thing for me.  A 64 box of crayons with the sharpener in the box was pregnant with possibility, so long as there was paper in sight.  And I had just learned to plunge cut with safety scissors.  Paste was mint scented, so a little taste never hurt anyone if you licked it off your fingers.   I could write my name, address and telephone number, the alphabet, and short words to make a sentence or two to form short stories, sans punctuation.  I liked to draw on the hallway wall, so mother taped a roll of butcher paper up each day along the length of the hallway, and I covered it with my art.

Every year after that, we would go to the store and buy school supplies, and we would buy extras for our “kit”.  I felt so special having a kit of my own.

I know exactly how Joe Fox felt in the movie You’ve Got Mail when he said, “Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”

I buy extra school supplies for the inner city children whose parents cannot afford them.  I donate them every Labor Day weekend.  I always throw in extra crayons and markers, secretly wishing and hoping the children will get them just so they can take them home and be creative.  In my heart of hearts, I know some school administrator is taking them to the classroom.  But hope, they say, springs eternal.

Then I buy my daughter extra markers, and crayons, colored paper, glue, glitter, stickers, clay, paints, ink, stamps, ballons, and buttons and ribbon and pipe cleaners, and I make her a “kit”.  We paint rocks.  We cut stuff out.  We talk.  We make snowflakes and hearts, jewelry, hats, bugs, papier mache and anything else we can imagine.  Some of them are not quite right.  No matter.

One year, I found her a giant marker set.  It is bigger than anything I ever had.  She just had to have it!  It was better than a rainbow.  It was the 64 box of crayon in markers!  So I bought it.  I showed it to her.  And wide eyed, she opened it and announced, “I am going to draw a mouse”.  She withdrew a gray marker and started on the blank page, the marker moving, she described each part as she went.  “First the head, then the ears, next the body, then the tail.  IDIOT!” suddenly she shrieked. 

“Eilene,” I said, “that is not a nice word, “We don’t say idiot in this house.  What is wrong with your picture?”

“Oh, it’s a rhinoceros,” she said.  She glared at the marker and tossed it to the floor.

“Try again,” I said. 

She chose a new marker in quite an unfamiliar color.  “What color is it?” she said.

“Rust”, said I.  “It is a reddish brown color.  You’ll like it.”

And so she began drawing.   “I’ll do a mouse this time for sure.  First the head, then the body, then the… IDIOT!”, she screamed, marker quivering next to her face; a wild look in her eyes.

 I put my hand on her shoulder immediately and said, “I told you about that word.  What has happened?”

My daughter leveled me with a weepy look and said, “It’s a tomato.”

We still play with our kits, just not those markers.  Perhaps some markers are just possessed.


Thursday, October 02, 2014

Christmas Chocolates

It is that time of year when my thoughts turn to Christmas truffles.  I have to order chocolate in bulk.  10 kilos each of milk, white and dark.  I have to write my work plan.  I have to comb my recipe database.  I have to inventory and wash my molds, service the guitar cutter and tempering machines.  I have to select new molds, transfer sheets, colored cocoa butter, and other pastry chef supplies and order them.  And the creative process will commence.  I have to come up with a sound packaging concept.  I can use boxes I ordered in bulk and have on hand, or I can comb the packaging company sites for something new and inexpensive.  I just hate it when the package costs more than the gift!  I have to establish my budget.  I will thrash about the kitchen awhile, furiously making lists and badly sketching (I can’t draw) ideas that are meaningful only to me.  I will hit gourmet shops, spice shops, local restaurants, and taste things others would never eat.  I will phone my (chef) brothers and email chefs I know around the world and ask strange questions and await their replies.  And I will emerge a new being.  A Christmas elf with a plan to make over 2,000 truffles, candies, nuts, goodies and delectations for family and friends in just three short days. 

I will shut down my kitchen for at least three days a week or two before Christmas and transform it into a chocolate factory.  I might select an apprentice Oompa Loompa.  They usually get in my way, but I try to love them anyway.  One day I will write about my adventure with apprentice Wendie Webb and the Mother’s Day chocolate extravaganza.  She went so very wrong.  I checked the box “fails to follow instructions”.  I love her anyway.

Unless you are my child or spouse, it is all you will get from me for Christmas.  It comes from a place deep inside.  I MADE it for you.  It is personal.  I created it.  And when I boxed it, I was thinking about you.  If you made my chocolate list, you are in with me for good.  There are a couple people to whom I do not ship them because of expense or extreme conditions, and they know I love them anyway.

I have done studies in nuts, spices, citrus, berries, classic tasting boxes and free-for-alls as I have honed my skills.  Chocolate has graced every holiday, birthday, dessert imaginable.  I have filled notebooks with it.  I have affectionately named my database of chocolate recipes “Oh My Ganache”!  It is not a light thing to be called a Maitre Chocolatier, as it says on my graduation certificate from Ecole du Chocolat.  My too-short apprenticeship at Cocoa West on Bowen Island only taught me the basics.  You must work at it.  A lot. 

Last Christmas, I did a study in spice.  Here is the list:
Christmas 2013 Chocolates – A Study in Spice

Gingembre – French Ginger Ganache

Quatres de Epices (4 spices) – Ecole de Lenotre

Belgian Nutgmeg Truffle from my friend Roger Geert

Spicy Nut Sticks by Ewald Notter

Cinnamon Stacks

Anise Sticks

Exotic Curry Pralines by Ewald Notter

Salted Caramel Pralines with pink Hawaiian Sea Salt

Madras Spice Squares

Gingerbread Squares (butter ganache)

Cinnamon Pralines (almond)

Tahitian Vanilla Swirls (molded)

Pumpkin Spice Truffles

Gingerbread Truffles (hand rolled cream ganache – dark chocolate)

Cinnamon Pecan-duja truffles

Habañero Truffles (made from homemade habañero jelly)

Plum Cake Spice Ganache

Star Anise Truffles

Tangerine Chili Caramels

Apple Cinnamon Caramel Ganache

What shall I do this year?  The search begins.  My thoughts so far:
  • "My Favorite Things" -  in a white box with a blue satin bow.  Filled with my actual favorites.
  • A taste from around the world.  One thing from Famous places around the world.
  • Christmas at Home - the classic Christmas flavors - pumpkin pie, sugar plums, peppermint hot chocolate, plum pudding, and so forth...
  • Classic Tasting box - a fruit paste ganache, a sugar boiling, a candied peel, a caramel, a cream ganache, a butter ganache, praline, giandiua, etc.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Ahh the Limerick

We had a school project on dragons.  Oh my! How we studied them.  I may have loved them for a time even more than dinosaurs, but it didn't last long.  When you are rock crazy, dinosaurs are fossils, which are rocks.  Dragons are mythical creatures which are concepts - perversions of something which might have been real.  There is nothing tangible about them, unless you draw them, and my third grade teacher informed Mother that my handwriting was poor, and I can't draw.  I believed her.  The reason I believed her is because I gave her my authority without question.  I wanted to please her.  It didn't stop me from trying, and I still draw pretty much the same way.  Don't get me wrong.  I ooze creativity.  But I still draw like I'm in grade school. 

A friend of mine about whom I am absolutely crazy in the best ways  has challenged me to overcome this, and I probably will.  Just because he inspires me.  He reminds me of who I really am.  He makes me want to be better in every way.  That is a powerful thing, and quite rare in friends.  So pretty soon I will point that gift I have that decides to do something without a second thought, and fix whatever is wrong that makes me not draw, and I just will.  I no longer give anyone my authority without question, and that is why anything is possible with me.  It is an important thing to know, no matter who you are.

So while I sucked at drawing, I wrote quite well.  Here is my third grade limerick about a dragon, It was so amusing, they published it in the school book of dragons:

There once was a dragon named Rick
He made people utterly sick
He'd barf on their dresses
And make great big messes
And pick his big nose with a stick

No, Mother was not pleased (well, maybe secretly she was, but she never told me).

Mary Poppins Did It

I frequently dream of flying.  It is a wonderful feeling…until I wake up and find myself on terra firma.  I saw Mary Poppins do it with her brolly.  Little did I know as I hummed my way through Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke’s extravaganza,  I would repeat her act in real life soon after; to my utter joy and delight.  I also did not know that my secret wish for years thereafter would be to do it again.  No matter how hard I tried, it would not happen!

Every morning Mother forced us to eat breakfast before we walked to school.  Two of my most hated repasts were, and still are, scorched scrambled eggs and soggy raisin bran.  Mother adds milk to her scramble.  It scalds more quickly than an egg and always tastes burnt.  I loathe it.

I used to love raisins.  That is until I ate my lifetime quota of them in one sitting, and constipated myself beyond recognition.  Now, they just look like bunny turds to me, and I refuse to eat them.  They remain just as offensive as wheat flakes turn to mush in your cereal milk.  No thank you!

After ditching one such foul breakfast and skipping off to school on a blustery mountain morning, I crossed 45th South and fiddled my umbrella open on the sidewalk.  It wasn’t really raining – yet.  But it was threatening rain, and I had 3 more blocks to walk before reaching the edge of the playground of our elementary school.

I have always loved umbrellas.  I love the shape and design of them.  Slickers and galoshes are fine.  But an umbrella is a beautiful thing.  It is like an upside down flower.  With or without a hook, a rain sword.  It is a walking stick for everyone.  And when the wind turns them inside out, I think it is good luck!  And rain looks like glitter instead of rain when there is an umbrella involved.

So I opened my umbrella and proudly carried it over my head on the sidewalk.  The wind picked up a little.  I loved blustery days in a skirt.  It blew my hair wildly and caught my skirt.  The next gust was quite strong, and my umbrella caught it.  I felt myself running with the umbrella.  The next gust was so powerful,  I felt my feet leave the ground from my run and I was up  in the air!  I was looking down on the sidewalk and moving quite fast!  Oh the exhilaration I felt as that umbrella carried me!  I watched the world about 12 feet or so below, the sidewalk sliding by so rapidly beneath me, my skirt whipping in the wind!  And I began to laugh. 

Then, just as suddenly, the wind died.  I fell to the sidewalk below, tumbling to my knees.  My umbrella was bent and slightly broken on the grass a few feet away.  My knees skinned and bleeding, I looked around to see if anyone had seen me take flight.  A car drove by, but I was otherwise alone.  I gathered myself.  Picked up the twisted umbrella and did my best to hold it overhead just as it started to rain!

I limped the last block to school and went directly to the nurse’s office with my bleeding knees for first aid.

I pleaded with Mother for a new umbrella.  She finally relented.  And every day after that for years, I secretly hoped the winds would favor me again.  I was always a small child.  No reason the wind and an umbrella would not fly me a few blocks.  But it never happened again.  My knees still bear the beautiful scars of my flight. 

I promised Dad I would not skydive.  I learned how to hang glide at Kill Devil Hills when I was 18 on a wild date which was half dare with Jimmy Connell.  At first it feels like going up in a swing and not coming back down.  After you flare, you actually are flying.  I have been told hang gliding is probably more dangerous than skydiving.  For Dad’s sake, I hope not!  But it is not even close to umbrella flight.  I fly in my dreams on a disk of gold light.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Love

An Arundel Tomb By Philip Larkin

Side by side, their faces blurred,   
The earl and countess lie in stone,   
Their proper habits vaguely shown   
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,   
And that faint hint of the absurd—   
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque    
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still   
Clasped empty in the other; and   
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,   
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.   
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace   
Thrown off in helping to prolong   
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,   
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths   
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright   
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths   
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.   
Now, helpless in the hollow of   
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins   
Above their scrap of history,   
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into   
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be   
Their final blazon, and to prove   
Our almost-instinct almost true:   
What will survive of us is love.


I adore Thanksgiving.  Great care goes into planning the menu, selecting the guests, organizing the house, charting seating arrangements, and choosing table settings.  The decorations are retrieved from the attic and carefully placed .  Last year, I sewed new table cloths and napkins using my new Babylock serger.  A birthday gift which I am still mastering.  Thanksgiving is how I show  the people who matter to me  that I really love them.  It is the Mt. Everest of my annual self actualization.  It is the way I prove to myself that I am a real girl, and not a sociopath, faking my way through life using my big brain to filter every emotion, and  mirror real feelings when I might not actually care at all.

Besides Christmas chocolates, that’s about it.  There are a few people too far away to participate in either ritual, and they know who they are.  They know me in ways that words, or food, or time, or geography transcend.  I like that.

As I contemplate the 2014 Thanksgiving, here is the 2013 Feast.  I had just inherited my mother-in-law’s cookbooks.  She was an intellectual woman.  I think she would have liked me mostly.  We met socially, but I hardly think it was memorable.  I was just a friend of the bride in her son’s first wedding at the time.  Anyway, I combed through the Williamsburg, Jamestown, Monticello and James River cookbooks.  And I researched every family recipe.  I interviewed  my chef brothers.  I interviewed other chefs I know.  I did what I do.

Hairston Family 2013
A Virginia Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Rosemary Parmesan coins

Smoked Trout

Steel Head Trout roe with crème fraiche and assorted crackers

Pan fried oysters

Dan Hendrix’s Clear Tomato Saffron and leek consomme

Orange Cranberry mold

Orange Date Mint Salad

Cherry  tomatoes stuffed with baby langoustine tails

Carter Mountain Apple Butter Spread with Old Dominion Cinnamon Raisin Bread

James Chiles Sally Lunn Rolls

Patrick O’Connell’s Swiss Chard with Lardons, shallots and sweet balsamic vinegar – The Inn at Little Washington

Roasted Melange of Root Vegetables

Truffle Shallot Mashed Potatoes

Venison Tenderloin Roast {compliments of Laura Kelly}, Chester, VA

Smoked Capicola Roast (smoked by Greg and compliments of the Allen family}, Burkeville, VA

Deep Fried Turkey – Richmond, Virginia

Creamy Turkey Giblet Gravy

Williamsburg Coconut Cream Pie

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Chocolate Pots de Crème

Satsuma Pots de Crème

Hairston Family Maple Pecan  and Pumpkin  “Schizophrenic” Pie – Springfield, Virginia

Assorted Still and Sparkling Drinks

Art Projects

If you need a perfect circle, you can remove one from the bottom of a paper cup.  This is exactly what we did for a project one rainy day.  There was no more paper, so we three were on the hunt for suitable materials.  I had three wire hangers.  We had pulled the triangle shapes at the bottom into large amoebas, approximating circles.  I had cut the feet off two pair of mother’s panty hose and we had stretched them over the hanger frames, tying them near the hook ends of the hangers with red yarn.  They were ready for glue.

Dan cut some things out of the stack of funnies.  Lin had the rabbit from the front of a discarded cereal box.  I was making pom-poms.  Making pom-poms is not hard.  You wind yarn around two discs, cut it in half, tie it off and give it a hair cut.   Some seeds and beans from the pantry make a nice mosaic.

Mother came into the kitchen and dialed the phone.  It was our signal to leave.

We crept into the living room.  This room was not used except for company.  Surely there was nothing in here?  “We’ll just double check”, said Dan.  And so we crept around the room while mother talked, dragging our art kits quietly.

The room had recently been redecorated.  The carpeting was the thickest and softest dark blue plush.  It squished between our toes.  To me, rolling over that soft carpeting was like crossing an ocean.  The sofa was a lighter blue velvet boat floating on that ocean of blue.  At each peak of the dust covers hanging over the legs on the bottom of the couch, there hung a silken blue tassle.  So beautiful!  And in each corner of the room was a raging red raspberry chair.  The armrests on the chairs had coverlets which doubled as hats when we were allowed in the room.  The drapes were Mediterranean blue brocade, and behind them hung the most delicate while sheers.  They were perfectly creased.  I learned many years later that is carefully done with steam.    I had my blunt nosed scissors.  I cut the center blue tassle, so the couch would still look balanced.  Then I climbed behind the couch, gathered those perfect creases the way they taught us in school,  and cut myself a single perfect snowflake from the hem of the white sheers.

All of the booty we gathered was carefully glued to our stocking covered hangers and hung where the projects could be admired.

Mother called us for lunch.  She lined up paper cups on the counter and poured punch into the bottomless cups which simply floated off the counter in a sea of sticky red.  Poor Mother had no idea what was happening!  She had no idea what was happening all day!

I found my project in the bottom of a box of things mother saved a few years back.  Hanger frame, ruined stockings, pom poms, couch tassel, and a frayed white snowflake stuck to it.  The beans fell off long ago.  Who knows, maybe they even sprouted.  I do know it cost her  something and that is why she saved it.

After that she always had a “kit” ready for me.  It was a lunch box filled with art supplies, and I loved it!

I personally keep a load of art supplies for my daughter.  The worst that has happened is pencil on walls.  She knows she has an eraser.  So she writes freely and then erases stuff.  I can live with that.  No so different than life really.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Thirty-Two Lizards in a Pitcher or a Pot

Mother often gave us an empty pitcher for things.  We used it for collecting rocks or fossils.  Sometimes it was used for small bait fish or worms for trout fishing.  But one day, I cannot say how we had such great fortune, but a nest of blue bellied fence lizards must have hatched!  They were everywhere and we just had to go after them!  We asked for the pitcher and mother, without questioning, granted our wish.  She was on the phone and eager to be rid of us for a little while.  We ran outside with the pitcher and began running after the little buggers, careful not to harm them lest they lose their tails.  One after the other, we dropped them inside the large putty colored tupperware and snapped the lid down before they could scramble out!  Before long, there was a great ball of blue bellies clinging together in the bottom of the pitcher.  “Count tails”, said Lin.  “How many do we have?”  Dan said, “More than thirty, thirty-two exactly!”  I couldn’t believe our luck!  Thirty-two lizards holding hands in the bottom of a pitcher.  We could race them!  We could feed them.  Oh I had elaborate plans.

We set the pitcher on the counter and went to get the hot wheels tracks.  Mother hung up the phone, set a glass on the counter, opened the lid and began to pour with hardly a glance.  Never have I heard such a blood curdling scream.  Mother had poured our lizards out of the pitcher.  How could she!  Upon sensing their freedom they skittered over counters, up curtains, under cabinets.  They were everywhere!  I was delighted to see the kitchen decorated with blue bellies!  My mother was horrified and surprised beyond measure.  It is a terribly good thing we counted them.

I have seen no blue bellies lately, but we have five lined skinks with beautiful blue tails that live under our porch.  I see them hanging on the brickwork sunning themselves, and it makes me smile.  We had a beautiful red hibiscus in a large wheeled pot.  It attracted hummingbirds all summer.  It lasted three years and then died.  The pot remained empty on the porch, and eventually the skinks moved in and built their nests inside.  They were not discovered until this summer when I bought a new hibiscus and wanted to plant it in the large pot.  When I saw the parents guarding their eggs, we quickly covered the nest and left the pot undisturbed.  One cannot imagine my joy and excitement when I saw the first teeny skink racing around the inside of that empty pot with no hope of escape!  We built a little "bridge" for the skinks to escape the pot so the cowbirds that attack the reflective material on our windows will not eat them.  It is so tempting to catch one and tell my daughter I don't mind if she brings them in the kitchen for a short visit.  But then again, they are so fragile and beautiful.  I think there are at least thirty-two of them.