Beautiful Lights & Jolly Ginger Folk
Recently I introduced my grandkids to the magic of origami and now we’re all hooked. In amongst the boxes of holiday decorations was an old copy of an origami book with patterns for making holiday ornaments. It also has patterns for making lots of animals, notably chickens and ducks, which have been transformed by the advanced magic of childhood imagination into all kinds of beautiful birds. There are also now many fish, folded and painted and taped with tiny bags of treats from our kitty advent calendar. The kiddos made woven paper heart baskets for each of the family cats and filled them with origami cat toys.
The most poignant is one made for a dearly beloved black cat who never came back home one day. After a few months, the kids stopped talking about Monk but recently the five year old has become interested in death and decay. Since I turned 70 a few weeks ago, she asks me often about getting older, and what that feels like. She looks closely at the wrinkles on my hands and face and wonders if they hurt. She even asked me to record the slow rot of our pumpkins in pictures so she can observe the changes. Right now she’s writing a series of letters to Monk which she’s putting in a heart basket to hang outside their backdoor, in case he comes back for the holidays.
Love Is Never Wasted
Writing love letters to our lost ones can be a healing process, even though-or maybe because-they aren’t deliverable in any sense we know about. My granddaughter’s letters reminded me of a very young friend who asked his parents to help him write one to my husband, who had recently died. Little Owen was fascinated by Bud, especially intrigued by Bud’s big hands as he played his tall stand-up bass. In his letter, Owen said he missed Bud and hoped he was feeling better now. Then he asked his dad to put it on the roof so Bud could see it as he flew by, singing with the angels (which of course made every adult in range tear up). Similarly, my granddaughter wants Monk to know he is still loved and I think part of her is hoping that maybe he’s still alive somewhere and wanting to come home.
We decided that love can cross any distance of time and place and no matter where Monk is, his spirit will receive the loving spirit of her words. A friend once told me in a time of deep distress that love is never wasted, whether it feels received or reciprocated or not. Then I wasn’t so convinced, but these days, I think it’s true. It also feels true that home is where you feel it. Thinking about what makes a place home, I was trying to count all the places I’ve lived and lost track after 20-some. Same for cats, who have always been important family members for me, from Sneakers, the big old tom I dressed in doll clothes as a toddler to my beautiful, wise and kind Sophie, who sleeps on my feet at night. Twenty cats? Oh, many more than that, all dearly loved companions.
My childhood home was sold long ago and my family is scattered across the country. and rarely communicates. Even so, I’ve never felt so at home as I do now, snug in this charming vintage mobile home with my daughter and our cats and a craft room and 18 tall bookshelves crammed with our top favorites. We both feel happily at home in our little community of 50 homes; it’s a true neighborhood and it’s heartening to see my neighbors daily, whether stopping for a chat or offering a friendly wave as we collect our mail from the community mailboxes. The neighborhood has a tradition of illuminating porches and windows with holiday lights and we’ve jumped right in, stringing garlands of colorful lights inside and out. The origami I’m most obsessed with right now is a simple balloon shape, one of the easiest patterns to learn. Basically you fold and tuck a little box, then blow into it to inflate the balloon, which can be slipped over an LED bulb (they don’t get hot).
My goal was to have 100 paper balloons to stick on strings of 50 lights for holiday gifts, but discovered that due to those global supply chain issues, all holiday lights have been in short supply this year, especially LED lights. After chasing all over town, I finally found a few strings of LED lights, only to realize that the bulbs were too small for the paper balloons. I tried folding tinier balloons but they’re trickier to fold and the holes are so small that they are seriously hard to inflate. Fortunately I found a few strings of plain white LED lights with the right-sized bulbs, but each string has 100 bulbs. Alrighty then, back to the folding table!
Playful Gingerbread Cookies
One thing that makes me feel like I’m at home for the holidays is making gingerbread folks with kids. These are tasty enough for adults to enjoy eating and fun to make for anyone of any age. The dough is very forgiving and never gets tough no matter how much it’s handled. It can be molded like play-doh or rolled and cut out with cookie cutters, and of course the decoration possibilities are endless. My original recipe used soft butter, but since my granddaughter is dairy sensitive, I swapped for avocado oil, which has a subtly buttery flavor.
Favorite Ginger Folks
1-3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1-3/4 cups unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon each ground ginger, cinnamon and coriander
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup avocado or any cooking oil
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
Preheat oven to 350 degree F. Sift dry ingredients together, set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine oil, brown sugar and molasses with 1/4 cup boiling water. Add flour in 3 parts, adding a little more water 1 teaspoon at a time as needed to make a firm dough. Roll into a ball and lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet. Divide dough into 10-12 pieces, then use each piece to shape a ginger-person or snow-person. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes; when done, cookies will feel slightly springy to the touch. Cool on a rack before frosting. Makes 10-12 ginger folks.