They used to say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. However it was Jay who cooked most of our eve-of-Valentine’s Day dinner yesterday. I made dessert and set the table.
One of Jay’s specialties is pork loin roast. First he cuts vegetables into chunks to fill about half the roasting pan. He always includes potatoes, onions, and garlic plus at least one other colorful vegetable we have on hand. Last night he included carrots, but in autumn he might add recently harvested garden beets or winter squash. On occasion he has put in some cabbage, turnips, parsnips, or Brussels sprouts. He tosses the vegetables with olive oil (enough to coat lightly), coarse salt (sea salt or kosher salt), and rosemary leaves. Jay rubs the roast with garlic, coarsely ground black pepper, a little salt, and rosemary before placing it on top of the vegetables. The roast goes into the oven, preheated to 350 degrees F, for about 25-30 minutes per pound.
In the meantime I selected fused glass dishes with lots of red color for the table. Note that the patterns do not match but they complement one another. All the pieces I chose have the same red and amber hues and most also contain sea blue glass. I also selected a four-candle bridge to serve as centerpiece. A candle bridge is an easy centerpiece and looks especially nice with a bit of complementary foliage from the yard. However last night it was too cold (about 5 degrees F with a 20-mile-per-hour wind) to go outside and clip red-twig dogwood branches or anything else I might have found in the snow. All the glass pieces looked good on a white tablecloth, several of which hang in one of our closets but go unused now that we rarely set a large table or spend time at the ironing board. But this was a special occasion: Valentine’s Day is also Jay’s birthday.
Saturday morning we had selected a Pennsylvania Chambourcin wine that goes well with roast pork and vegetables. In the afternoon I baked a pie with the last ground cherries we harvested just before November’s unusually late killing frost. In their papery shells in the cold garage, they had kept fairly well. We didn’t have quite enough fruit for a two-crust pie, but sufficient for an 11″ ground cherry custard pie. Here’s my recipe:
one 9″ pastry shell
3 cups husked ground cherries
1/16 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 Tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
Line pie pan with pastry and fill with ground cherries. Beat eggs with salt and add sugar and flour. Add milk and vanilla; stir well. Pour over cherries. Bake at 425 degrees F for 10 minutes; reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake 25 to 30 minutes longer or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.
The pie was cooling on a rack and the oven was set to time bake the roast when we left for choir practice and Mass. When we got home again, a little after 6 p.m., the fragrance of pork and garlic wafted down the stairs. Jay poured the wine and I poured the water. He took the roast out of the oven and I lit the candles. We dimmed the lights and sat down to savor our delicious dinner. After lingering with music and candle light, we cleared the table and took slices of pie to the library.
Jay and I have been sweethearts for well over four decades. Rarely have we celebrated Valentine’s Day by going out for dinner, preferring to cook for one another and share a cozy evening at home. He wants nothing more for his birthday, and I can’t think of a better gift from my forever Valentine.
The year 2016 is off to a colorful start. During the first week, Jay and I took an Eastern Caribbean cruise. Our first cruise, on the Norwegian Spirit, proved to be very relaxing! Now that we’ve returned to snow country, we are still warmed by the memories, especially recalling the vibrant hues of our ports of call.
The Spirit’s first stop was at Nassau, the Bahamas. Awakening Sunday morning at dawn, I opened our cabin curtains to catch sight of small silver fish jumping out of the water and a bird (a shearwater?) skimming just above them seeking breakfast. Up on the promenade deck we watched the sun rise over Nassau’s harbor and soon after finishing our own breakfast we went ashore. At 8 a.m. the city was still sleepy as we began exploring by walking the streets.
Pink, the color of government buildings, is very prevalent in Nassau, but far from the only striking masonry color. Vibrant yellow and orange walls reflected the tropical sunshine. A green police station set off white uniformed police lined up for morning duty call. Fushia-colored bougainvillea and yellow elder (Alamanda), the Bahamian national flower, bloomed profusely. Ladies in bright dresses and matching hats climbed the steps of a blue Baptist church.
Bahamian people are as friendly as their climate is warm. Almost everyone we met on the street greeted us with a smile and friendly words. After climbing uphill to the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Francis Xavier, we sat down on a courtyard bench to sip water and watch parishioners in their Sunday best depart an earlier Mass. Immediately a smartly dressed woman sat down with us, asking where we’d come from and assuring us the congregation paid no attention to tourist togs. Inside we found an equally enthusiastic welcome, and welcome air conditioning. After a lively 90-minute liturgy, during which the organist seemed to pull out all the stops and the people sang lustily, we were shown to restrooms and given directions for restaurants.
After two more nights being rocked to sleep and a day and a half at sea, we sailed into the harbor of Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Turquoise, sea blue, sapphire, azure, all those shades of blue describe the waters around St Thomas. On land, color galore and chickens everywhere, Danish street names and architectural flourishes. We climbed the 99 Steps, a staircase “street” built by the Danes in the 1700s, and other brick steps past residences and historic hotels. As we approached Blackbeard’s Castle, a US national historic landmark, a black cloud crossed the blue sky. Upon entering the historic landmark’s gates, a tropical storm unleashed torrents of rain and we ducked into the stone lookout tower built in 1698. When the tower became too damp, Jay and I and another tourist found seats in a side building until a staff person offered the three of us a ride back down the hill to town.
Between showers we found the building where Camille Pissaro was born, at 14 Dronningens Gade. The impressionist’s childhood home now houses several shops and an art gallery that has some of his sketchbook pages. We slipped into the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to view ceiling and walls filled with Biblical murals painted by two Belgian artist clerics in 1899. Before returning to the ship, we walked a second time through Emancipation Garden, observing Lignum Vitae and other tropical trees adorned with Christmas ornaments. The park has three bronze monuments: a bust of Denmark’s King Christian, a scale model of the U.S. Liberty Bell, and a bust of a freed slave blowing a conch. Since sheltering during downpours and jumping over deep puddles consumed more than a couple hours, I am surprised at how many photos we have of Charlotte Amalie street scenes.
Tortola, British Virgin Islands, was the Spirit’s final port of call. Our first “find” in Road Town, the capitol, was the Old Government House Museum, not an easy place to find since our guidebook gave no street address and the BVI map carelessly placed symbols. The gracious former official government residence is painted white but certainly has more color than its green shutters. Period furnishings, artifacts from royal visits, paintings, and a display of all the colorful BVI stamps provided only half our pleasure. We took the time to read a fascinating first-person account of the 1924 hurricane that brought down the original house around the author (the Commissioner’s wife) and her family. In the library I found a book of watercolor paintings and memories of 1960s Tortula by Jill Tattersall. In rattan chairs on the second-floor veranda, overlooking turquoise water, I immersed myself in the book for more than an hour while Jay simply rested. After some time we strolled through surrounding gardens that were lush with green palms and tropical flowers.
Walking back toward the center of town, we noticed buildings we had seen in paintings hanging in the Old Government House, casas with bright-colored walls and metal roofs, many with contrasting color shutters and decorative trim. In mid-afternoon we sheltered from the sun in the Mid Town Restaurant. It seemed to be the West Indies version of a diner or cafe, where locals ate large portions of seafood and other local favorites. From a chalk-on-blackboard menu, Jay was pleased to learn that Shepherd’s Pie was a local dish, and I ordered Sea Food Soup after verifying that was the large dish in front of another patron. The bowl arrived brimming with conch along with chunks of fish and root vegetables the server identified for me. Another hand-lettered sign listed “home made juices” and our choices of ginger beer and lemonade turned out to be deliciously refreshing. They were different in flavor than anything we’ve drunk out of a bottle or, in the case of the lemonade, made in our own home.
Looking at our photos makes me want to head down to the fusing studio, pull out jars of our brightest colored frit, and get to work making a bowl. Such work (and the kiln) will warm the rest of the winter.
Like all years 2015 yielded some work we loved creating, some disappointments, and some surprises. Although we are already two months into 2016 and are creating new designs, it is fun (and occasionally instructive) to look back on the past year’s creativity.
Jay got very square. In early spring he designed a pattern based on 1″ squares to create a pair of complementary serving bowls that were to be a wedding gift. We liked the design so much I urged him to create a platter and several small pieces using the same idea. From there he continued the concept using different colors.
In the meantime I completed designs for two window commissions. One was a pair of panels to fill a kitchen window for a lovely Atlantic shore house. Its purpose, besides adding to the owners’ art collection, was to screen an undesirable view and provide privacy for the residents. The other design was for a 6′ high window for an Evangelical Lutheran Church in an Endless Mountains village. I had drafted the design the previous year but waiting for church board approval took us into winter and recurrent snow storms delayed a trip to our mouth-blown glass importer. That window was to fill the second of six plain glass openings and was commissioned in memory of the donor’s deceased husband. Jay spent the late winter months fabricating both windows. During the last week of May we installed the church window at Hopbottom, Pennsylvania. A couple days later we turned over the elegant kitchen window for installation in Longport, New Jersey. While they are very different windows for very different purposes, both lift up the heart.
When a former stained glass and fused glass customer asked us to make a modern version of a Victorian plateau, I had to do an online search to see how plateaus were made and used. For months I experimented with designs that picked up on colors of other glass in her house and suited its eclectic decor. One of my experiments was with a flower bud design. I didn’t even bother to show her that piece, which I slumped into a pasta bowl mold. Jay’s squares inspired another design that I was so sure was right that I made it into a full-size (10″x19″) plateau. We have a red, sea blue, turquoise, and amber plateau that will make your table the talk of the town! Our customer liked it and wanted us to try some variations on the same theme. But in the end an entirely different, more spontaneous design proved to be right for the table and the room.
Sometimes we’re surprised when a design we love doesn’t sell immediately. “Ten Turquoise Squares,” a 10″ platter, is one example. A 12″ serving bowl of the same design won a first-place ribbon for glass in the Pocono Mountain Arts Council’s member show last summer. While our daughter visited in November, she created a wonderful design in a set of coasters. We named it “Hiiragi,” which is Japanese for “tree of winter” (holly). The coasters are so attractive we expected them to sell as soon as we showed them at Skytop Lodge. To our surprise they didn’t sell that weekend nor during the following month in a gift shop. Our grand-daughter Maggie was delighted that both coaster sets she made sold during the Thanksgiving weekend show. However the “Hiragi” set did influence a customer to order a four-candle bridge in the same design.
Throughout 2015 we showed fused glass at B’s Floral Design, Inc., in downtown Scranton, Pennsylvania. In December we participated in the month-long Holiday Gallery at the Endless Mountains Council of the Arts Gallery in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. Jay and I both had fused glass pieces accepted into the inaugural show of the new Dunning Gallery of Northampton Community College’s Monroe campus. We also set up booths and exhibited in May at the American Artisan Showcase at Byers’ Choice workshop; in July at the Festival of the Arts at Chateau Resort on Camelback Mountain; in November at both Art On the Mountain at Shawnee Mountain Ski Area and the Holiday Arts Festival at Skytop Lodge. Our last sales of the year, not surprisingly, were for Christmas gifts.
Now we’re looking forward to 2016 shows (we’re into a few already), creativity, and probably a few surprises.
Wildlife was what most drew us to Sabah, one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, during our March 2014 tour. Upon reaching the Kinabatangan River on a Sunday afternoon, we negotiated a downward sloping gangplank and climbed into a motorboat for a five-minute trip downstream and across to the Bilit Rainforest Lodge. The Bilit is one of several safari launch sites on the Kinabatangan, which flows through the rain forest on its way to the northeast Bornean coast to empty into the Sulu Sea.
We were delighted to find that the lodges had been air-conditioned since the the guidebooks and websites were written. Advised upon arrival to hasten back to the open-air reception/eating area for tea — some Colonial era customs prevail even in the jungle — we joined a Los Angeles man who creates film trailers and two UK women on holiday. A staff member introduced us to another visitor, a small bronze snake, and encouraged us to touch its beautiful skin. After tea long-tailed macaques made known their presence in trees and on roof-tops. Between tea time and dinner we walked the boardwalk connecting the public area, lodges, and a jungle trail; tried out our lodge porch hammocks; and I settled in one of the rattan chairs to write, although flies were bothersome.
Immediately after 7:30 pm dinner (which included large local river prawns), we set off in the dark for our first river cruise with guide Paul. The “captain” (boatman) used a “torch” (flashlight) and very sharp eyes to spot wildlife, then pulled the boat in close so Jay could take photos. It was a thrilling ninety minutes as we spotted a night heron, Buffy Fish Owl, Flying Fox (actually a large bat), a macaque trying to sleep, and two snoozing Stork-billed Kingfishers. That largest species of Bornean kingfisher is gorgeous in yellow breast, blue back, and rosy bill. More menacing were the eyes of a crocodile, a Racer snake on a limb extending over the boat, and a Reticulated Python that got irritated by the light and proximity of our boat. It was going on 10 pm by the time we returned to the Bilit dock, too excited to immediately shower off mosquito repellant and go to bed.
During the night we both awoke several times to the sound of macaques on the roof. When the alarm awoke us at 6 am, we slathered on sunscreen and insect repellant, dressed, and were at the reception area in fifteen minutes. After downing only a protein bar and anti-malarial pill with Sabah tea, we set out on the misty river just after sunrise with guide and captain.
During the 2 1/2 hr cruise we saw a wild orang utan (literally “people of the jungle”) high in a tall tree doing what orang utan do most of the day: create leaf nests in one tree after another. The rest of the time they eat figs and other fruits. Proboscis monkeys showed themselves, as did more macaques.
We also glimpsed a crocodile and saw many birds including two kinds of hornbills, two Crested Serpent Eagles, a pair of Storm Storks, a Green Imperial Pigeon, egrets, three Greater Coucouls (usually very difficult to sight), and Oriental Darter birds. Low tide kept us from proceeding through Oxbow Lake so we had to turn around.
Back to the Bilit there was just enough non-Western breakfast buffet left for those of us on safari, although the roti was a bit tough by then. Our guide let us rest a bit before linking us with a young couple from Leeds, Jordan from LA, and their guide to walk to adjoining property for a home visit. Oreng Sungei (river people) are another of Sabah’s four ethnic groups. All removed shoes to show respect and entered a very large front room. At a low table surrounded by upholstered seating, the women served “tea,” which was sweet coffee with steamed banana leaf-wrapped tapioca and deep-fried tapioca. After eating we were shown the equally large kitchen where food preparation, laundry, and other household tasks are done. Bedrooms were behind closed doors to one side of the main room. As with the Dusun preference for longhouses, Oreng Sungei seem to prefer dwellings that can be expanded to accommodate the next generation as daughters marry. Our young male guides pointed out that advantage over “modern” single-family houses we saw somewhere along the highway.
Our final cruise, late in the afternoon, was best of all. Not far down the river we had the rare good fortune to catch sight of a mated pair of orang utang high in a tree. Further on were a large family of proboscis monkeys in the trees–an alpha male, perhaps a dozen mates, and their young. Suddenly even guide Paul’s excitement rose when I spotted a Bornean Pygmy elephant on the bank, apparently the last of a herd that had swum across the river. The elephant was not happy to see us and disappeared into the bush before any other boats, alert to our movements, could arrive. Paul, who is on the river many times per week, said it was only the second elephant he’d seen that year; some years he sees none. During the rest of the two-hour cruise we saw a Water Monitor lizard, another Oriental Darter, a pair of Oriental Honey Buzzards, a Blue-eared Kingfisher (the smallest Bornean kingfisher) that posed nicely before flashing his iridescent blue back in flight, and lots of playful macaques. Dubbed “cheeky monkeys,” long-taled macaques are bold and team up to take anything and everything that’s left lying around.
Only seven travelers and three guides were left at the Bilit Rainforest Lodge for dinner. We ate together–one of many delicious Malaysian meals I’ll describe in another blog–and sat talking for another hour. Returning to our room Jay and I found not only the 7” or 8” gecko who had moved in that day–now on the wall at my side of the bed–but also ants massing on a plastered wall. A staffer directed us to move with only valuables to the VIP cottage two doors down. There we fell asleep on a bed with a partial canopy of mosquito netting.
The next morning staff found an ant “castle” under our bungalow after we had packed and toted our luggage down the boardwalk in time for breakfast. We boated across the river and boarded a van for the trip to the Gomantong Caves. On the way we stopped to photograph Maroon Langurs (Maroon Leaf Monkeys) swinging in the trees. While Jay photographed langurs, I spotted a Rhinoceros Hornbill after hearing its loud call several times.
Upon arrival at the Gomantong Caves we donned plastic helmets and hiked a short way through jungle to the cave opening. A Chinese family has long owned the caves, hiring multiple generations of a local Malay family to gather the nests of White-nest (Edible-nest) swiftlets. Coveted by the Chinese for birds’ nest soup, scientists have never verified the nests’ purported health benefits despite their expense. The stench was repulsive only at the approach. The sight inside the cavernous room was simultaneously impressive and disgusting: swiftlets and bats overhead, dung and reddish-brown cockroaches underfoot.
From the cave we went on to the Sepilok Orang Utan Sanctuary where we had a close encounter with an orang utan on a boardwalk. At the feeding station we watched a large male, a big female named Michelle with her infant clinging to her, and several smaller orang utans feast on fruit.
That night we stayed in a Sandakan hotel with lush grounds, but biting insects and high heat and humidity limited exploration. Our bed was typical for Malaysian hotels, with only a duvet and no top sheet. By then Jay had figured out how to bunch the duvet so that we could sleep with just the sheet-weight cover over us rather than the too-warm duvet. Next morning after breakfast, we left our suitcases with the bellman and found new guide Lawrence and yesterday’s driver in front of the open-air lobby for a ride to the jetty. After 45 minutes observing wharf life–fishing boats offloading small catch which are turned into chicken feed and fertilizer, passing Philippine traders’ boats, and arriving Turtle Islands Park passengers–we boarded a partially covered speedboat with eight other international travelers and two guides. The first quarter of our 55-minute ride over the Sulu Sea was pleasant but after that, swells made it feel a bit like a roller coaster. The speedboat beached on Pulau Seligaan sand and we toted our bags up to our spartan room–twin beds with a low table between, two towels, soap, toilet paper, and two bottles of water–no chair, hooks, or shower curtain. Air conditioning is the only frill when you go to see sea turtles.
Seligaan Island doesn’t take much time to circumnavigate. In the afternoon we changed to swim suits and walked in the water along the beach where enthusiastic first-time snorkelers urged me to use their gear, showed me sea cucumbers, and guided me to where I could see a few brightly colored fish. It was nothing like the Florida Keys but fun never-the-less. Following our guide’s advice we rested awhile before reporting to the dining room at 6 pm to await turtle arrival while supping, learning history, and chatting. At 8:45 pm the “Turtle time!” cry went up and all scrambled for shoes, “torches” and a ranger’s trail to the right spot on the beach. Over the next hour we watched a Green turtle lay about 125 eggs while a ranger transferred them from the egg chamber to a bucket, saw the ranger place the eggs in an already-prepared sand hole in the nursery, and watched another ranger release fifteen just-hatched turtles on the beach. Then we went to bed. According the rangers in the morning, seven turtles landed but only three nested.
Before 7 am we were back on the boat speeding to the Sandakan jetty, and well before noon we had reclaimed our luggage and arrived at the open-air, sweltering airport. After a four-hour wait we boarded a flight to Kuala Lumpur, now shrouded in smoke from drought-related fires. At the Anggun Boutique Hotel the desk clerk welcomed us with “I’ve been waiting for you.” It was 8 pm when we had regained enough energy to walk over to Jalan Alor and past all the food stalls, deciding to repeat our first night’s traditional meal of Clay Pot chicken and rice. The next day we flew home in complete agreement that our 45th wedding anniversary trip had been wonderfully enriching. We were carrying the friendly people in our hearts, amazing sights and experiences in our memories, and more than 1500 photos to inspire our glass work, writing, and speaking for a long time to come.
To see more of our Malaysia travel photos than I’ve posted on our website, visit our Paulukonis Studio Facebook page by using the link on our Home page or go directly to photos.
Now that National Poetry Month is almost over, it is time I share a couple of my favorite poets and glass works their writing has inspired.
For a 2004 exhibit of our stained glass art at the Afa Gallery in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I created a number of tree designs. At the time I was experimenting with coloring representative forms in unusual ways. A series of four small panels depicted the four seasons as trees, including “Unleaving.” Its title came from a line in “Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I love reading Hopkins’ sprung rhythm aloud, delight in his invented words, and savor his multiple meanings.
Spring and Fall:
to a young child
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why,
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
One of our largest creations for that “solo” show (Jay and I shared the gallery space as an artist team) was “Summer Trees, Days Gone By.” Arts-and-Crafts era ceramics inspired this three-part stained glass window. The title came to me serendipitously while I was thinking of many moments in my life that I connect with trees. Still, the triptych calls to mind the poem by Joyce Kilmer that almost everyone my age memorized in grade school.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
That same year we were commissioned to create a pair of windows for a couple celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary. Orchids, a symbol of love, inspired my design, and a poem by my favorite mystical poet, Jessica Powers, inspired the title: “Blessed Are They Who Stand Upon Their Vow.”
The Flower of Love
Whoever first plants the seed in any soil
and cultivates the shoot with humble toil
near steep or shallow–
They will be first to come upon the flower
whose instant glory
can recreate, in even this trivial hour,
the Eden story.
Blessed are they who stand upon their vow
and are insistent
that love in this bleak here, this barren now
Blessed are they who battle jest and scorn
to keep love growing
from embryo immaculately born
to blossom showing.
Primarily for them will petals part
to draw and win them.
It, when the pollen finds their opened hearts,
will bloom within them.
April 30, 2015, is National Poem in Your Pocket Day. So print one of these poems or one of your own favorites and carry it with you on Thursday.