Mrs. Kuntzman’s Kitchen

In the Christmastime series, Mrs. Kuntzman, the elderly babysitter for Tommy and Gabriel, plays a role from beginning to end. Her presence and her cooking infuse the books with a sense of holiday coziness and warmth.

They saw [Mrs. Kuntzman] standing at the door of her brownstone, waiting to welcome them. She was in her late sixties, gray-haired and a bit stooped, and utterly grandmotherly in her affection for Tommy and Gabriel. Even though Lillian had told her it wasn’t necessary, she often had pancakes or cobbler…freshly made for the boys. (Christmastime 1940)

“And,” said Mrs. Kuntzman, holding up a finger – she went to the kitchen and returned with a plate covered with a red and white checked napkin – “I have extra strudel for youse. Still warm. I always make too much.” (Christmastime 1940)

“We brought apples for you from my sister’s orchard. And some cherry preserves.”

“Ach, good! I make cherry krapfen for Tommy and Gabriel. Those boys love donuts best of all.” (Christmastime 1941)

“[Mrs. Kuntzman’s] been supplying me with strudel and cherry krapfen for the spotters all week.” She dropped her voice to add, “Though we’ve renamed them Yankee Cobbler and Allied Donuts. In the same way the restaurants have renamed spaghetti – Liberty Noodles, they call them.’”

“Yes, I’ve seen that,” laughed Lillian.

“And she’s promised one of her famous Christollens. Hmm. I’ll have to come up with another name for it.” (Christmastime 1941)

stollen

Lillian looked at [Mrs. Kuntzman’s] knobby hand against the flour-dusted red apron, the smiling eyes and nearly white hair, and felt a rush of affection for this woman who had become like a grandmother to Tommy and Gabriel – watching over them before and after school, baking treats for them, praising their schoolwork, offering words of comfort.

“And the soup will help,” Mrs. Kuntzman added. “Love in a jar. I don’t want our Tommy sad.”(Christmastime 1942)

Mrs. Kuntzman opened the door, wearing a red Christmas apron with a pattern of poinsettias. The smell of butter and cinnamon and cloves greeted them. (Christmastime 1943)

When Lillian knocked at the babysitter’s door, Mrs. Kuntzman greeted her with a tin of freshly baked cookies.

“These are ones we didn’t eat,” she said, laughing along with Tommy and Gabriel. (Christmastime 1943)

Mrs. Kuntzman opened her door to the young playwrights, and they were greeted by her smiling face, her flour-dusted green apron, and a warm waft of cinnamon and apples.

“Come in, come in! I have apple strudel for youse all, fresh from the oven!” (Christmastime 1944)

Annette’s orchard — seasonal charm

orchard dinner

In the Christmastime series, Lillian Hapsey visits her sister, Annette, in upstate New York, close to where they grew up. Annette and her family live on an orchard, which provides Lillian a welcome change from the bustle of Manhattan. Though Lillian only visits once or twice a year, the orchard offers her a wider scope of seasonal beauty and an opportunity to be with family.

Lillian and her boys, Tommy and Gabriel, have fond memories of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas at Annette’s. Depending on the weather, they take hikes through the woods, sometimes taking the logging roads. The boys and their cousins explore the woods and run wild through the orchard, and with the help of their Uncle Bernie, they gather firewood to make bonfires at night, sometimes roasting marshmallows. If there is snow, they go sledding and take sleigh rides.

When the sisters are together, they take long walks along the country roads, gathering bunches of bittersweet and pine cones. At night, they fix a cup of tea and stay up late talking in front of a crackling fire.

One of the things Lillian most looks forward to is preparing wonderful meals with Annette. Part of their tradition is to make dishes that their mother used to make when they were girls.

To the delight of the children, they also make special seasonal treats — apple cider donuts and caramel apples, holiday cookies, and snow ice cream.

And every time Lillian visits, Annette packs a basket for her to take back home with her, full of wholesome goodness from the orchard: honey and beeswax candles, maple syrup and jars of apple butter, bottled pears, jellies and jams — and apples.

When Lillian returns home to Manhattan, she often adds Annette’s orchard gifts to her breakfast and dinner table — besides being a tasty addition, they serve as a reminder of their days up at the orchard.

Annette’s orchard is a haven for Lillian and her boys — a cozy, welcoming place, full of good food and adventures. For Lillian, it gives her a sense of stepping back into her beloved girlhood days, and is a lovely way for her to enjoy the seasons.

(Photos from Pinterest. You can visit my book boards at: https://www.pinterest.com/lindamahkovec/)

Bookstores

bookstore

The longer nights and cooler temperatures of autumn are perfect for browsing through a good bookstore — and leaving with an armful of books.

Bookshop 4

“There were fewer finer things in life … than spending time perusing the shelves of a good bookshop.” ― George Mann

bookstore

“The truly wide taste in reading is that which enables a man to find something for his needs on the sixpenny tray outside any secondhand bookshop.” ― C.S. Lewis

Bookshop 1

“To my mind there is nothing so beautiful or so provocative as a secondhand bookstore.”
―Lionel Barrymore

 

“Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive.” ― Jen Campbell

Bookshop 5 window

“Books are an escape route. A refuge…. a tunnel to the outside world. A glimmer of something beyond.”―Chloe Coles

 

“Reality doesn’t always give us the life that we desire, but we can always find what we desire between the pages of books.”― Adelise M. Cullens

porch books

Happy reading!

 

 

The Garden House — in winter (images from Pinterest)

gardenhouse_kindle_hiThough the story of The Garden House opens in late spring and closes in the fall, I made a Pinterest board called “The Garden House – winter.” The main character, Miranda, lives in Seattle and has a beautiful garden that’s an integral part of her life. I imagine her loving her garden in all seasons, including the rain and occasional snow of winter.

In The Garden House, Miranda’s garden becomes a  metaphor for life, with themes of family, change, memories, home, and the search for meaning. When all else goes wrong, Miranda retreats to her garden, with a cup of tea in hand, and finds solace.

Surrounded by the beauty of her garden, she allows herself to be captivated and inspired by the mysteries of life.

I imagine Miranda enjoying her garden in January, curled up in her window seat and watching the falling snow cover the birdhouses, birdbaths, and terra cotta pots.

I see her strolling through her garden, delighting in the vestiges of summer and fall — frost-covered roses, hydrangeas, and Queen Anne’s Lace.

In every season, Miranda fills her home with cuttings from her garden. I imagine her gathering branches of winter berries and greenery to make bouquets for her dining table and to set among the plants of the greenhouse window in her kitchen.

Perhaps she even brushes off the snow from a deck chair, and sipping a cup of hot chocolate, enjoys the tranquility and quiet of her winter garden.

table deck snow

 

 

Late September — Central Park

1 trees yellow

Yellow. The color of late September. Faded gold, gilded green, amber. In Central Park today, even the air appeared yellow as sunlight filtered through the thinning leaves. Throughout the park, yellow leaves lay scattered beneath the trees, on the roads, sidewalks, and grass. The day was unusually warm and the bright sun brought out the golden hues.

blog header September CP

I strolled through one of my favorite walkways, a short path alongside a fence covered in a tangle of morning glories. The vines still showed pink and purple, with yellowed leaves mixed among the green.

yellow lane

Something caught my attention in the distance, and I had to stop and stare, puzzling out what I was seeing. A patch of air glittered among the yellow trees. I realized it was a shaft of sunlight shining on a spray of water from a sprinkler. Shadows boxed it in so that it looked like a square patch of sparkles hovering in the air.

Straggly clusters of flowers still showed a bit of color, as in the clouds of white that surrounded the elms.

flowers elms

And though most flowers now have woody stems and drooping leaves, there are still vibrant patches of color to be found, soaking up the warmth of late September.

colored flowers

The weather will change soon and cooler temperatures will bring about the more dramatic colors of autumn. Who knows? By next week touches of orange and red might tinge the trees. And September’s soft yellow will shift to the sharper, more vibrant yellow of October.

leaf

 

September

2 -By all these lovely tokensSeptember days are here.--- Helen Hunt Jackson

Back to school. Yellow leaves. Sunny days and chill nights.

back to school

Apples and cider. Sweaters and boots. Chrysanthemums, dahlias, and asters.

Frosty mornings. Acorns and buckeyes. Leisurely walks. The last of the garden tomatoes.

autumn walk

Curling up with a good book. Hot chocolate. Tartans and flannel. Shawls.

autumn cocoa and book

 Curling up with a good book.

book autumn leaf

 

April Rain – Thursday morning

entrance 3

An early morning rain intensifies the colors in Central Park. The green becomes a vivid emerald. The azalea, a dazzling pink.

azalea

The stones and tree trunks turn rich gray and black, and the lamplight lingers, dotting the park with touches of gold.

Bride lamp rain

The soft patter muffles the din of the city, and the rain on the lake makes the most tranquil of sounds.

lake white tree rain

White blossoms lay scattered on the rain-dark pathways, and fall softly on the textured water of the lake. A quiet beauty suffuses the morning; the air is cool and fragrant.

Only a few feet away the city swirls in traffic, pedestrians rushing to work, horns blaring, stop lights and tail lights reflecting on the wet surfaces.

An old stone wall separates 59th Street from Central Park. On one side, the hustle and bustle of New York City. On the other, the serenity of the park, the beauty of nature.

bush tree rain

And spring is just beginning.

 

 

 

The Wake

swan heading crop

The Wake

A little death entered us when you went ahead.

So great was the love that tethered us to you,

we would have gladly followed;

Like little cygnets straining to keep up,

their eyes fixed on the beautiful white swan ahead.

The rippling wake, the path to you.

*

But you, nurturing mother,

Said no – the wake is the path you created for us;

The wondrous wake is life itself.

Your wish – for us to embrace it, as you did,

 with love and laughter and joy.

*

You, beautiful swan,

turned your head to us, as if gently saying,

this was not our time, but yours;

For us, now, to delight in the beauty around us,

to splash in the waters of life!

Time enough for the later journey.

*

Your gift to us, your legacy:

To live first fully in the wake.

 

swan sunset 2

World War II Veterans

Tinton Falls 1

I traveled to Tinton Falls, New Jersey over the weekend in order to interview my friend’s father, a WWII veteran who served in the Pacific from 1943 to 1946. I wanted some details for the next book in my WWII series, Christmastime 1944.

Tom had a modest, understated manner when describing his time in the war, a trait so common in that generation: you did your duty to the best of your ability, and didn’t complain about it. (He also talked a bit about his years as a NYC policeman – which included delivering four babies!)

With an occasional reference to the album on his lap, full of photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, and mementos, he described boot camp and then leaving from the Brooklyn Naval Yard on the U.S.S. Bennington, an aircraft carrier.

Bennington (1)

They sailed through Panama and stopped at Hawaii. In the album were the now classic WWII images of Hawaii: women in grass skirts dancing the hula, sailors with leis around

their necks posing against a tropical backdrop – just young boys, seemingly far too young to be in uniform. Then on to the Pacific.

Tom described being stationed at the gunnery, and how the kamikazes would often attack four at a time, two flying low, just above the water, two up high; one came so close that they saw the pilot’s face. “He came out of the clouds. If he had emerged another fifteen or twenty feet closer, I wouldn’t be here today.” And there were photographs in his album of night time kamikazes taking fire.

He described the typhoon off Okinawa in June, 1945 that snapped off the prow of their aircraft carrier, “bent it like a pretzel.”

typhoon final (1)

Miraculously, no lives were lost. Besides the euphoria of having survived the typhoon, a surge of happiness filled the seamen– surely the battered ship meant they were going home!

But no. The ship was patched in the Philippines and continued on towards Japan.

After about two hours of reminiscing, it was time to let Tom take a rest. We would come back later to take a closer look at the photo albums.

close-up-tom

At dinner that night, overlooking beautiful Tinton Falls,  my friend and I wondered: what was it about WWII that so defined our parents’ generation? Why was that the topic of conversation they always wanted to talk about? After all, three years out of ninety-one years in her father’s long life seems a very short time.

For my father, it was his time in the Army Airforce, as it was called back then, that was his favorite storytelling topic. We grew up with his tales of WWII, and now that I think of it, I don’t really have a clear idea of his life before or after the war. As with Tom, it’s as if those war years remained in color and sharp focus, fresh in detail and charged with emotion.

Was it because it was a pivotal point in their lives, the transition between boyhood and manhood? The jarring experience of being a 17- or 18-year old boy with his eye on the future, college, the girl next door, suddenly pulled into a cause larger than his dreams, into a world-wide conflict? Was it the strong camaraderie in life and death situations? The pride of having served a purpose higher than the one they might have chosen for themselves? An unspoken: I was there. I was part of something great. In a war of values, I fought on the side of good. And won.

Before leaving Tom and the assisted living place, my friend and I stopped by its library libraryto drop off a set of my books. We noticed that there were several shelves reserved for books about WWII.

My friend recognized one of her father’s dining buddies, Eric, and introduced me to him. There he was, well into his nineties, with an atlas opened before him, the seat of his walker serving as a table. He was intently poring over a map of Italy, his finger slowly traveling up the map. He was British and I thought perhaps he had vacationed there, or maybe he was checking a fact from a book or conversation. We asked about his interest in Italy.

With a twinkle of pride in his eye, he looked up and smiled. “I was stationed in Italy, during the war.”

Of course.