On this bright, calm September 15, America’s grief and loss of September 11, 2001, hovers over me. Born in a country with a Constitution devoted to individual liberty, and men and women who continue to sacrifice their lives to protect these freedoms, I consider the reality of mankind’s capacity to destroy human beings who did them no personal harm.  

     I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Fourteen-years old at the time, the public murder of our President shocked me and my family and our neighbors. In retrospect, this was my first example of the invisible web of politics, greed, and crime. I couldn’t comprehend then that we live in a broken world. But my soul knew it, and I wept for Jacquelyn Kennedy and her children.

     I’ve grown to cherish our freedom of speech and the press, our right to a fair trial in a court of law, land ownership, and without fear of arrest, encouraging my neighbor to trust in God. Yet, I see and hear a growing number of Americans hostile to these principles.    

     The nineteen Al-Qaeda suicide hijackers of four planes who killed 3,000 Americans, are obvious terrorists with intent to kill. One thing I’ve come to observe since our daughter’s and unborn grandchild’s deaths by illicit drugs is this: drug dealers and users live under the radar amongst us as neighbors, co-workers, the young man who dates our daughter. The young woman who dates our son.

     Until his trial, my husband and I had never met the drug dealer who provided our daughter enough alcohol to kill her when combined with cocaine. After eight years of drug use and rehabilitation, our terror reached a climax when the heart of our former track and cross-country champion stopped beating.

     Almost two years later, the judge of his case found the drug dealer guilty with a five-year jail sentence. Without warning, as now, the man’s name comes to mind and the same sense of terror shivers through me as when a sister called with the tragic news.

     So I pray for peace of mind and heart for myself, my husband, and two surviving daughters who also suffer lifelong anguish of losing a daughter and sister. Again, I determine to forgive our misled daughter and the drug dealer for this tragedy, and trust God to convert these losses into gain as only He can do.

     I throw back the covers to this luscious day, dress in comfy writing clothes, and walk downhill to the hens and bees. Hungry for breakfast, I gather six eggs and say, “Thanks, girls! You’re the best!” and turn their straw bedding.

     Then, the bee hive. Oh, I can smell honey! Today’s the day to suit up with Grandpa Floyd’s smoker and open the hive.

     Dear Reader, I find warfare going on between honeybees, yellow jackets, and wasps on the weed-cloth beneath the hive’s entrance. I stomp on several yellow jackets until the invaders disperse.

     Beware, honeybees tolerate no terrorists in their hive. Neither do I.



Learning by example


My granny, circa 1970's

My mother’s intense concentration indicated not to disturb her while she held her icing knife. She smothered the middle and sides of her two-layer cake in either sweet buttercream, chocolate, caramel, or seafoam frosting. Then the top. Delicious perfection!

With each cake Mom baked, iced, and sliced, her patience, discipline, and joy in creating something beautiful and yummy seeped into my taste buds and memory. Sadie Lee O’Brien, my mom, became the first cottage caterer in one of the fastest growing cities in the country. She began with special-order wedding cakes for our neighbors in Warren, and eventually catered dinner parties for our family doctor.

Although I remember Granny took her home-made birthday cakes to her little church to celebrate the children’s birthdays, somehow I don’t recall Granny icing and decorating a cake when I visited her as a child.

I was a young mother the summer day I observed Granny ice a cake. Surrounded by my three daughters and a handful of nieces and nephews younger than my children, all elbows leaned on the table toward the object of temptation.

Well aware of their intent, and with Mom’s engrossed expression on her on face, Granny used a butter knife instead of an icing knife to spread the frosting.

That particular day, we gathered around the same kitchen table where I’d sat every childhood summer vacation. Then, Granny filled my plate with her fried chicken, fresh green beans boiled in bacon and onion, and buttery little new potatoes. And bottomless glasses of iced sweet tea.

Granny turned her back to the cake for a wink. A great-granddaughter swiped her frosting. Then another.

A matriarch with eyes hidden under the bun in the back of her head, Granny turned to the table, hands akimbo and dishtowel on her shoulder. “Now, don’t y’all skin my cake!” she said, belly jiggling under her apron.

Everyone laughed as Granny’s playful grace settled into our family history. To my knowledge, no one breached her trust to leave her cake alone until she sliced and served it to us that night.

There’s no family story of my children swiping my mother’s frosting from her cakes. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, particularly when my middle daughter, age nine, spent a summer month with “Nana” in Kentucky.

For Kelly roamed the McCoy Bottom with her boy cousins, sometimes with dirty fingers in wait to swipe the icing off the cake Nana baked for dinner’s dessert.

You see, as Granny, my mother practiced the same playful grace with her grandchildren when it came to skinning cakes.

Dear Reader, as my daughters now refrain from eating sugar, and so does my only grandchild, I’ve iced one cake in the past year: cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake.

How very thankful I am for friends who appreciate the intense concentration of holding an icing knife while spreading frosting over a cake. For that blessed example of playful grace in Granny’s kitchen.


Anam Cara


One of many gifts from my belated friend, Martha

Several weeks ago, while offering Mitty her morning backrub, I found a lump on her back, close to her curled, Siamese tail. Her beautiful, blue eyes objected to my tick inspection, yet I persisted until she growled and clawed my hand.

“Sorry, Mitts.”

            “Meeeooow!” she repeated, and escaped.

            I would wait to probe the suspicious spot with my husband’s assistance. He’d left the house for another cat food run. Considering Mitty’s healthy appetite (and her sister’s), I determined not to worry about a tick.

            Besides, I had packing to do for my trip with my daughter Kelly to Kentucky and West Virginia. My pets’ timing is much like my children’s when they were babies—just before we stepped out the door for church or family functions, they’d mess their diaper, or spit up on my clothes.

            When Kelly and I returned from Appalachia, the lump remained on Mitty’s back. I called the vet. We scheduled the first available appointment, several days out. “If she’s eating well, don’t worry,” the vet said. “If her behavior changes, call us immediately and we’ll get her in.”

            Yesterday, Mitty submitted to her carrier with little protest. Yet, her pitiful meows broke my heart as I drove several miles to the vet.

I recalled my friend, Martha, who would belt out happy songs like John Denver’s “Country Roads” to herself and whomever would listen. Including Rosebud, her adorable, miniature terrier.

            I do not possess Martha’s singing voice, or care to know the lyrics to every song John Denver sang. However, I learned the words and melodies to my favorite hymns “Blessed Assurance” and “He Lives” at nine years old. This in mind, I sang them to Mitty.

            Her meowing faded into silence. I parked the car. Within ten minutes the vet returned with Mitty and a hairy scab, rather than a swollen tick. “This often happens with indoor/outdoor cats,” he said. “Make sure to keep your cats in at night, safe from coyotes.”

            Relieved, I nodded, paid the bill, and sang to Mitty on the way home.

            I miss Martha, my “anam cara,” soul friend, at times like this. She would celebrate such good news with me, most likely sing a happy song.

Also gifted with needle and thread, throughout our friendship Martha created dozens of cross-stitched and embroidered gifts I display in my house. However, years ago I hung her “Anam Cara” needlework in Happy, my little camper.

At last I removed the little treasure from the camper’s wall, knowing it now belonged where I would see it every day. I carried it uphill, into the house, and upstairs to the wall I face when I awake in the morning.

Dear Reader, as the lyrics to “Country Roads” say, “I hear her voice in the morning hour she calls me, radio reminds me of my home far away, driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday, yesterday.”              

“Martha, I’ve just been home to West Virginia,” I reply.        

Eighth Annual Yule Love It Lavender Farm Poetry Contest Winners



Helen Shuttleworth, Oxford, Mi.


She met him at camp, and everything changed

She hadn’t even wanted to go

She thought she had better things to do

Now that school was finally out


She hadn’t even wanted to go

There were places to be, people to see

Now that school was finally out

But her bags were packed and off she went

There were places to be, people to see


Dares and dates and mischief to make

But her bags were packed and off she went

What lay ahead she could hardly imagine

“We’re here! Farewell!” Then friendly hellos


The city receded and beauty crept in

Hearts were welcoming – Oh what peace

“We’re here! Farewell!” Then friendly hellos

Swept up in the love and the campfire’s glow


Hearts were welcoming – Oh what peace

New place, new people, new thoughts, new hope

Swept up in the love and the campfire’s glow

He reached for her heart and she gave it forever


New place, new people, new thoughts, new hope

She thought she had better things to do

He reached for her heart and she gave it forever

She met him at camp, and everything changed.

Judge's comments: The title is appropriate. The first line drew me in, and I felt engaged throughout. I enjoyed the pantoum form, which is difficult to master. The repetition of the poem's lines, as well as the internal rhyme, did not seem forced, but rather, they reinforced the natural progression of a summer camp romance, and created interest as I wondered about its outcome. Ultimately, the romance became the promise of something more. Delightful images abounded throughout. A heart-warming read.


Colleen Alles, Grand Rapids, Mi.


Late July is a lousy time to tear down a fence

But a pair of shirtless young men take their tools


to the rotting boards anyway, wicking sweat

from their foreheads, spitting intermittently,


blasting country ballads from a boombox

they somehow knew I wouldn’t mind. Yes, I did


watch for time, but I don’t mean it like that.

I waited for a break to bring ice water,


thinking of my husband: how he milked cows

alongside his father at four in the morning—


the most faithless hour. Not hot work like this,

but hard just the same. They thanked me


then piled more fence boards on the flatbed.

That fence should have come down


a decade ago, but we’d always been too polite

to say so. After they left, the dog and I ambled


outside. I pinched a stray nail from the ground.

And here is where I could lie, say


I forgot his weathered leash, but the truth is

I wanted him to run free into this new expanse.

He’s lived all his life with that eyesore. Now

he’s whipping his tail like a metronome, telling me


it’s okay it was long overdue. He’s telling me

it’s never too late for something to become new.

Judge's comments: The apparent simplicity of the poem believes a deeper truth, the wisdom of hope. The rhyming couplets were interesting and created nice visual space. They did not overtake the subject with insistent musicality. The poem flowed easily with nice internal rhyme. I enjoyed the pastoral scenes, the men working the dog whipping his tail, the family's backstory, and especially, "it's never too late for something to become new."


Roger Shuttleworth, Oxford, Mi.


I wake up early in my backyard pup tent

The grass outside is dewy and wet


The sun is just showing as it climbs in the sky

Some birds are singing while others fly by


I sneak into the kitchen for some food and my pack

A note in the house lets them know where I’m at


I ride through the streets on my trusty red bike

It’s a five mile ride, and I meet up with Mike


It’s a short distance now, to get to the lake

Then we get out our poles and put on some bait


We have crickets, red worms, night crawlers and a leach

It’s a great place to fish, but it has no real beach


With no school bells ringing, no papers to be done

We relax by the lake and soak up some sun


We keep some, we release some, we have lunch by the lake

All too soon we head home, we’ve run out of bait


With a stringer of fish, Mike turns at his street

And we both yell to each other, “See you next week!"

Judge's comments: The title anticipates detailing a friendship. Narrative, rhyming couplets highlight an unaffected friendship between two children. The couplets left white space for the reader to further reflect upon the images. I enjoyed the crickets, red worms, night crawlers, and felt myself fishing alongside these children. A joyful rendition of summer days, of recurring happy times. A summer promise indeed. 

What went wrong and right


My first batch of sour cherry and red currant jam

Something went wrong after I planted my coveted Kentucky Wonder green bean seeds. They sprouted but didn’t reach for the sun with their usual zest for life. Then the leaves turned yellow due to what I suspect might be my husband’s zealous watering.

For, from what I’ve read, tender bean roots prefer less water than more. This makes sense because my mother and uncles never watered their Kentucky Wonders, Greasy, or Turkey Craw green bean plants.

My, we’d sit and string beans together for hours. A summer ritual.

Now, after the rainfall the past several days, only a handful of bean plants sent up puny vines above the weeds and twine on the fence. There will be no stringing beans this summer. As my Granny would say, “Huney, I’m heart sick.”

And if that’s not enough regret, some critter found a hole in the overgrown perimeter of our garden fence and ate my cabbages down to the stem. Oh, and the varmint also ate my broccoli.

Last of my vegetable garden sorrows, my beloved sunflowers flopped. Perhaps the same critter who loves cabbage consumed my four sunflower seedlings. After hours of preparing a bed for seventeen foot sunflowers, I could cry.

If it weren’t for the cabana peppers and tomatoes. This morning after hen chores, I picked one plain yellow and a purple variegated pepper. They’re not growing crazy like the tomatoes, yet I’m thankful nonetheless.

Half the variegated pepper and a bit of onion sliced and sautéed in olive oil with chopped leftover chicken breast with a side of cantaloupe makes a perfect lunch. I’m munching while I write.

Afterward, I’ll sterilize canning jars, lids, and rings for my first batch ever of sour cherry and red currant jam. Since I found a recipe on the internet, I can’t be the only woman in the world who’s considered the combination. Furthermore, my mother taught me to use what I have.

Years ago, I planted the cherry tree close by a red and a black currant bush in our backyard. They’ve all flourished, bathed in the rising sun every morning. Each summer since, the black and red currant shrubs bear abundant fruit. Contrariwise, the cherry tree’s fickle. She hadn’t set fruit in years.

Without one thought of the cherry tree this summer, or lifting one finger for her yield when she blossomed from crown to lowest branch, I picked eight cups of her sour cherries this week. I trust the monotonous pitting will be worth spreading a delicious jam on my scones, toast, and meat.

I’d like to know what went right this season with my cherry tree so I might repeat it. Chances are the cause or causes are entirely out of my control like they are with my Kentucky Wonders.

Dear Reader, the harvest of my little sour cherry tree makes my heart glad.

Enough to stand by the stove and “boil hard until the mixture reaches the gel stage, about 20 minutes.” I can hear the lids popping!