Monday, October 27, 2008


"...morning is my favorite time of day. On that rare day when I sleep in, I awake with a start, feeling as if something has been stolen from me, and I mourn the morning I could have had.

"What I love about mornings is the sense of possibility. I often lay in bed at night, the weight of what's been left undone on top of me like a lead blanket, but I awaken to find that I've thrown that blanket aside. The night has erased my failures, my inadequacies, my mistakes. Today will be the day. My mornings are not idyllic. As a mother, my actions are dictated by the needs of others as soon as I awake. There are breakfasts to be made, lunches to be packed, lost shoes to be found, tangles to be tamed, schedules to be coordinated with my husband. But still, in all these actions, these endless repetitive preparations (of which I am quite often resentful), there is that sense of possibility. We all have morning rituals that give us the comfort of familiarity even if our days are unknowns. My son spilling his milk in the same spot every day is both aggravation and inspiration. That spots says here we are again; we're going to try to have a good day."

~from Stephanie Congdon Barnes' part of the introduction in A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart, written by both Barnes and Maria Alexandra Vettese

I love morning, as I'm sure you know well by now (and I'm also sure you'll hear about it many more times). It's always been my favorite time of day. And like Stephanie Congdon Barnes, if I wake late, I wake with a strong sense of disappointment, knowing I've missed the best part of the day.

My morning love started, I think, when I was a young girl and would spend the night at my grandparents' house. Grampy was always up by 5:30 a.m., and he'd immediately build a fire in the woodstove. Then I could hear him puttering and humming around the kitchen as he'd cook himself some breakfast. It was always a hearty breakfast, befitting a man who had spent his life doing the hard work of a logger in the woods, and, later, working in other areas of the lumber industry. He'd cook pancakes, bacon, eggs, and, often, potatoes. And maybe his wonderful sourdough biscuits topped with the jam Grammy had made with berries from Grampy's garden. And coffee.

I liked waking in the early morning dark to hear Grampy moving cheerfully around. It felt secure, safe, and cosy. And I liked seeing the sun begin to lighten the sky and bring color to the grey world. I realized even then that many people never care to see the early morning light, and I felt like I was in on some kind of big, happy secret. That mornings are lovely. I'm sure the compelling morning atmosphere was helped by a Grandpa who was always quite pleasant in the morning and pleased to welcome anyone into his day.

My mom was a cheerful morning person, too, and she is also part of what makes mornings seem lovely to me. I'd hear her up and moving around way before she'd let the rest of us know it was time to get up and get ready for school. She'd start a fire in the woodstove, but because our house took a while to heat, she'd hang a curtain over the kitchen doorway and set up a heater in there so we'd be warm at the breakfast table. Mom was always up early enough to pray in the quiet. I saw her on her knees many times. And often, before she'd come to rouse us, she'd put an album of hymns on the record player. It was a nice way to start the morning.

And, since Mom absolutely did not allow us to be grumpy in the morning, we learned not to be. No matter how we felt. I'm grateful for that. Still, there have been times in my life when rising early didn't feel particularly pleasant. Sometimes morning didn't feel like a gift at all. A teenager needs a lot of sleep, and it seems that however much one got, it was always nice to get some more. And in college, particularly on finals week, bedtime often came late, and mornings came very, very quickly. Way too quickly.

Later in life, when I was up all night with little ones and bone tired during the day, facing the morning did not always fill me with wild, unfettered joy. Even later, when the kids were old enough to fend for themselves, I had some off and on health troubles that wore me down and made my body require extra rest. Mornings, through some of these times, weren't always smooth and easy or a source of pure delight. But, still, even through all of that, I loved morning, and I've never wanted to miss it. There is such a peace and quiet about it. A sense of newness, of starting again. To me, early morning light has always felt like hope rising.

Today's morning light just starting to brighten the kitchen.

I love how the morning sun filters through the trees behind our house, creating pretty lines of light and shadow in the air and across the ground. I love how the light creeps into the southeast corner of the house in the morning, bit by bit, across the floor, then onto the table and up the kitchen counters, warming everything it touches in its glow.

Today's early morning found me crawling out of bed when I really thought it might be nice to stay right where I was. But up I got, made my way to the kitchen area, and immediately began going through the familiar motions-- almost mechanically-- of making a fire in the woodstove. As soon as the first crackles of the fire sounded, I'd lost all temptation to climb back into my warm blankets, and I began to feel glad to be up and about.

Melissa likes morning, too. She was out of bed a full two and a half hours before she had to leave for work, not because it takes her long to be ready to leave, but because, she said, she doesn't like to hurry in the morning. She likes to move slowly and enjoy it. I think all of my kids are this way.

While Melissa showered and got ready for work, I moved through my quiet morning routine, and then I sat in my chair across from the woodstove, happily surrounded by a stack of cookbooks. I read about French gardens and Thai curries and various chutneys and the shrimp-red curry soup Melissa and I will have for dinner tonight. I read a selection or two from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries-- the part where October is ending, fall seems established, and cooking is getting cosier. I love Slater's way with food.

The stack of books I perused this morning. Only they were all over and around me, many of them open at once.

I wasn't going to have coffee this morning because I'm trying to cut back, thinking I'd drink it only a couple of times a week. But then I remembered the following (from Mollie Katzen's book, Sunlight Cafe), and I suddenly felt quite justified and cheerful about getting out the French press:

What Do Nobel Prize Winners Eat for Breakfast?

The Nobel laureates at MIT report beginning the day with the following:

~David Baltimore (Physiology/Medicine, 1975): Half a bagel with a couple of slices of Swedish farmer cheese, black coffee, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

~Philip Shart (Physiology/Medicine, 1993): A glass or orange juice, a grapefruit half or half of a melon, a muffin with jelly, and two cups of black coffee.

~Clifford Shull (Physics, 1994): Corn flakes with milk, a melange of peaches, bananas, blueberries, and/or strawberries, black coffee, and an occasional English muffin or roll with butter.

What common thread do we see in all the above? They all drink black coffee... Hmmm... could this be the true brain food?

Yes, Mollie, I think it is! And so I'd better keep my French press busy brewing my morning coffee. I notice, too, that these Nobel prize winners all eat fruit for breakfast. And some raw foodists would say that raw fruit (and nothing else) is the perfect way to eat in the morning. They might say that fresh fruit is the true brain food. As one who brews coffee in my press and a whizzes a fresh fruit smoothie in the blender almost every morning, I say it's both-- black coffee and fruit!

So, I should be winning my Nobel prize any day now... any day...