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I vacuumed the livingroom rug yesterday, which earned me a thousand billion points of Earthly Worth.

So of course I deserved to fix myself an extra special tea time treat today — that’s QUINCE JELLY on my English muffin, from the Tabora Farm and Orchard in Chalfont, PA. According to new FCC rules, I have to tell you that nobody at Tabora Farms paid me for this shout out although, if they’re reading this at Tabora Farms, I’m available for a celebrity endorsement.

This is the first time I’ve ever had quince jelly and oh my, it is a heavenly taste: a lot like the richest mulberry honey, a little bit like the apricot jam you always get with breakfast croissants in a Paris cafe, a tad like biting into a fresh red apple. I am counting the hours until tomorrow’s tea time — I cleaned out the refrigerator today and earned a month of quince jelly tea times.

The Tabora Farm and Orchard is at 1104 Upper Stump Road (I guess that’s better than being on Lower Stump Road) in Chalfont PA 18914; their phone is 215-249-3016.

Thank you to my Aunt Emily who sent this jelly to me as my reward for being in the right place at the right time and having my camera with me…but that’s tomorrow’s story, about a car ride, backseat drivers, and some really cute dogs.

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trees

In India, the Buddha gained enlightenment under a bodhi tree around 2,500 years ago. for a thousand years, pilgrims to the “Buddha Tree” used to pluck a leaf from it until the tree died; if you go to the Mahabodhi Temple of the Buddha in Bodh Gaya you can now pay your respects to the second propagation of that original bodhi tree .  Fun fact: the last souvenir leaf was picked off the original tree in 1235.

Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine (460 BCE – 370 BCE), taught under a plane tree in Greece — and that very same tree is still there. But it is surrounded by an iron fence, and is available for hugging once a year — and only to women. Superstition is that the tree will give women strength, long life, and WEIGHT.

In England there’s The Royal Oak, where Charles II hid to escape pursuit from Puritan revolutionaries. And of course there’s all those trees in Sherwood Forest where the Merry Men hid from the Sheriff of Nottingham.

In South Africa there is a 6,000 year old baobob tree with a trunk so large that it takes 40 people holding hands to surround the tree and give it a good hug. Inside the trunk, there is a BAR: it’s the world’s only living barroom.

Lennart Meri (1929 – 2006), the first president of Estonia, said that the thousand-year old trees that cover the countryside of his country are “proof that we [the Estonians] have been living here for 500 centuries. It has an effect on your way of thinking, and feeling. You have the same feelings as being married for 5000 years. ”  Now, that’s sweet.

Thank you for all your lovely stories about letters — it is an honor to read about your treasures and your memories of letters sent and received. Great stories.

Now I’m collecting your stories about tree hugging – there’s a lot about tree personalities that I have to learn, especially trees in the West and Northwest. If you can describe your favorite tree in three words (see above, illustration of al my tree buds) please please leave a comment so I can TAKE NOTES!

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leaf

We had to cut down a tree today. It was old, and parts of it were already falling onto the roof when you least expected it, and the tree doctor said it was rotting from the inside. Still, you hate to lose a tree.

This was the tree whose leaves were the first to drop, the one I used as my Real Sign of Fall. By the way, that came on Sept. 29 this year.

I collected some leaves from the ground (above) — I’ve painted so many of these leaves in past years.

leaf 001

My Travel Tip for Staying Put No. 4 is:  “Go Hug a Tree.”  Now, I never hugged this particular tree, but I have hugged plenty of trees, and if you want to be a close-to-home traveler, if you want to discover a wonder of the world right next door (OK, that might be overselling it) you need to know which trees in your neighborhood are huggable.

I will explain this more tomorrow, but for now I’ll leave you with this thought from Blaise Pascal:

“You find yourself in the world only through an infinity of accidents.”

The older I get, the more I understand how accidental all of life is, how slight were the chances that any of this — you, me, us, tigers, pain-in-the-ass sales clerks at Anthropologie, etc. — came to pass. I often start to feel weightless, nothing more than an atom in the mind of the universe.  I need to feel gravity, my feet firmly on this Earth, attached, rooted.  So I hug a tree, and connect with the center of this planet. Trees:  I think of them as extended family.

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Answer: Two too many.

In my case, it’s these two:

bad cats

I was hanging in there with 11 cats, living a reasonably normal life (that is, undetected as a certifiable “Cat Lady”), keeping my two warring factions of indoor cats apart (Belle and Coco can’t stand it that they aren’t the only cats in the house so they live Upstairs separate from the Downstairs cats — I said I had a “reasonably” normal life)…until these two showed up.

Panda there, on the bottom, was a fat little kitten when she appeared two years ago, mewing under the dining room window. We brought her in and discovered that she loves to play fetch with toy mousies.

Cindy Lu, on top, was the saddest little thing I ever saw: 4 months old and weighing only one and a half pounds, she was starving, filthy, sick, cold,  frightened, and alone when she showed up on our doorstep last January, probably days away from death.  She was a very sick little kitty, and we gave up our trip to New Orleans to pay for her hospital bills — she had an extremely rare lung infection that took months to cure.

I named her Cindy Lu the littlest Who in Whoville because the vet said she was probably going to be a very small cat, her growth stunted because of her health problems; but she is a tubby ten-pounder these days and very bossy (not at all like the Who’s in Dr. Suess after all).  It’s that charming butinsky attitude of hers that kept her alive when she was nothing but skin and bones.

And then we got cat # 14:

penny

We call her “The Tipping Point”.  Panda and Cindy Lu call her “the one whose life we have to make miserable”.

You should see the way I live, keeping Penelope (above) out of the reach of the two brats who now rule over the household.  Even I know it’s gone way past normal.  I am undeniably, reality-TV-ily, quintessentially a Cat Lady.

 

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quiche

I’ve spent my day working on this illustration for my France book (the part where I shop at the charcuterie for a picnic lunch) and it’s brought back memories from deep, deep down in my past, those dark years in the late 1970s when quiche first came to America.  I remember it as a dismal time when burnt orange was the color scheme, polyester was the fabric,  Tony Orlando and Dawn were the soundtrack, and Pet Rocks were the “in” joke, but wouldn’t you love to go back to an era when our biggest worry was whether or not real men ate quiche?

What I learned today about living a creative life is that it is very difficult to draw snails in a way that makes them look like they are having fun while looking edible as they bop around the border of a charcuterie illustration.  So if you can possibly avoid having to draw snails in any amusing, light hearted fashion, you should by all means do so.  It’s not a huge life lesson, but that doesn’t make it any less of a life lesson.

Elaine Stritch, the Broadway actress,  once told an interviewer about the one piece of advise that her father ever gave her about life: “Be very careful what you name a horse.”

And don’t try to draw cute snails.

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