A Walk in the Fog

The hens came running for their spinach and bread. No tail feathers missing. “Good girls,” I said and stepped inside their house for my water, feed, and possum check.
When the temps dipped to 10 degrees while ago, a young possum found a hole in the pen’s chicken wire before we did. The critter waddled up the hen’s ramp, through the chute and hid in the house.
The nerve.
My husband saw the intruder hiding under the feeder and sent it home to Mama. He repaired the fence and closed the chute at night. Two days later I spied its black beady eyes in the straw and pushed the rascal out the back door. Entirely ungrateful for the night’s lodging, the varmint turned and hissed. We repaired the pen again.
Chores done, I climbed the hill to our muddy road. Fog fell in drops from dried oak leaves. The milky atmosphere tugged at a memory I couldn’t place.
Although walking on a winding road in thick fog is dangerous, it’s also illuminating. With the air at 54 degrees, I recalled the contrasting Januarys of my childhood and child rearing.
Growing up, January meant holding a hot water bottle to my ear while my sisters played outside in the snow. As a young mother, January meant my turn to be homebound with sick kids. January of 1977 and 1978 were bitter cold with record-breaking snowfall. The temps didn’t reach above 20 degrees. The snow remained three feet deep.
In March 1977, our four-month old baby, now forty-years old, was hospitalized in intensive care for two weeks. A glorious Easter followed her discharge and recovery from surgery. She nursed, the sun upon my face and green grass under my bare feet a blessed resurrection of life.
After more than twenty years an empty nester, my maternal instinct still abides and guides my life. That’s why I yearn for my dearly departed—why I love and need to care for our hens and cat. And why my mother held onto her lap cat in her last years.
It was dusk when I walked into my kitchen and cooked chicken lemon rice soup, waited for faithful memory to speak. And she did.
I stood on the hump of the backseat floorboard. Dad hovered over his steering wheel in tense caution, billows of white clouds swallowing our windshield. Mom held his coffee thermos, speechless. I was not afraid. Dad knew his mountains.
As he drove onto a farm’s rolling landscape, the sun burned off the last swaths of fog. Our southern kinfolk were happy to see us safe and sound. And we were glad to see them—to have our feet on the ground.
Dear Reader, God’s presence envelopes me when I remember Dad driving into clouds. God knows my roads and mountains better than I.
“Do not be afraid,” He says.
In trust, I take one step forward in the fog. Then another. That’s all I need to do to reach my destination. His loving arms enfolding me with sunshine. 

A Novel Story

My husband and I were young and naïve city folk when we built our house in the country. How were we to know teenage boys waited until dark to christen our new mailbox with beer and bats? Their pastime seemed more annoying and expensive than harmful—until one winter thaw.
Beneath the mailbox I found soggy envelopes amongst empty beer cans and liquor bottles. Overdue bills and missing paychecks amended our perspective of this federal offense. We discussed adding a post office box to our budget.
            Inexplicably, the phantom bashers have granted us a prolonged dispensation. We’ve not replaced our mailbox for several years now.
So when the long-awaited day came to mail a copy of my first novel to an editor out of state, our missing mail never came to mind. Nor did I visualize the volume of envelopes my epic was about to generate in our mailbox.
            I was swept away in the grand occasion. After countless rejections and revisions, I printed and bound my story with the editor’s fee tucked under twine with a few lavender sprigs. I addressed the box—a turning point that smarts a writer’s eyes.
            My husband was washing breakfast dishes as I opened the door to leave for the post office.
Don’t you want a picture? my Heavenly Muse whispered in my ear.
            I pulled my camera from my purse.
“Good thinking,” Mel said and took two shots.
He knows I would’ve kicked myself to kingdom come if I hadn’t captured that moment.
            The weather was mild on Saturday, October 29, 2016, Halloween Eve. I took the sunshine personally. And the smiling faces of Trick-or-Treaters in downtown Romeo seemed to know exactly what I carried under my right arm.
            I reached my heavy parcel over the post office counter to a clerk. A twinge of separation anxiety surprised me as she set it on a scale. “The manuscript of my first novel is in that box,” I blurted.
            “Congratulations!” Debbie said. “Would you like to take a picture of it with the postmark?”
Obviously, she’s had experience with self-absorbed writers letting their stories go.
“Thanks for asking, but I left my camera at home.” (No, I don’t own a smart phone.)
            A week later, I received a Hallmark card repeating Debbie’s sentiments with two pictures of the box postmarked priority mail with tracking number. I taped the corresponding USPS receipt of $10.60 inside the card and filed it with other novel documents.
            Over two months later, after delivery of a dozen envelopes stuffed with my editor’s colorful corrections and notes of approval, his last two envelope remain AWOL. The final 128 pages. After all his meticulous work, my editor is furious. “This has never happened before,” he said.
            Without a tracking number, there’s nothing the postal service can do to find the editor’s missing pages. Another lesson learned for my next book.
            Dear Reader, I’m not as young and naïve as I was twenty-seven years ago. I've saved my novel in several places. If I need those 128 missing pages, they’ll show up, just as those overdue bills and paychecks.

Song of the Open Road

Young Woman with a Violin by Orazio Gentileschi of the Detroit Institute of Arts

Oh, January! You open new roads before us, lead us forth into familiar and unknown paths. Heavenly bodies shift above us. The scent and chill of winter’s wind call us to rest and read by a fire—to bundle up and venture out in Earth’s frozen season.
Cherish what we have while we’re healthy. For everything has a life span.
In his poem Song of the Open Road, Walt Whitman says, “I whimper no more, postpone no more.” He’s “done with indoor complaints and querulous criticisms.”
In this spirit, I drove south on I75 to volunteer in Gallery Service for the Detroit Institute of Arts. No backups from crashes. An open road relaxes the human mind and spirit.
I walked into an uproarious volunteer room and hugged my Art Buddy, Carol. I recognized a few other folk from previous volunteer shifts. Carol and I soon learned the regular Wednesday morning group is a band of retirees who share a common definition of fun. Art, food, and friendship.
“Would you like to join us for lunch afterward in the café?” one of the volunteers asked. “We’ll be discussing a book.”
Carol and I regretfully declined. We had a luncheon date in Kresge Court to celebrate our postponed Christmas and discuss our November book pick.
“Some other time,” our fellow volunteer said. “We’re here every Wednesday morning.”
Thankfully, our shift captain assigned Carol and me to European Art. We walked through quiet galleries for hours, circling past the little chapel and our favorite spiral staircase in the Medieval Gallery.  
If once, we stepped ten times into the spacious hall where the Young Woman With a Violin looks upward, mouth parted. She listens, bow resting on a shoulder.
“This painting rekindles my desire to learn the violin,” Carol said.
I nodded. It’s as if the Young Woman with the Violin heard Carol and replied with inspiration.
We strolled to the opposite side of the gallery to the grisly Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes. The candlelit drama of this Biblical story is stunning.
At the end of our shift, Carol and I met our captain in the spine leading to the beautiful Wisteria Gates. A visitor inquired about a painting by Artemisia. Our captain hailed Bill, one of the Wednesday morning team who walked toward us. “Bill will help you,” our captain said.
We followed Bill to Judith and Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes. He pointed to the wall plaque identifying the painting. “Artemisia Gentileschi is the artist,” he said. He led us to the Young Woman with a Violin and read the name of the artist. “Orazio Gentileschi, now that’s a name to be proud of,” Bill quipped. “He was Artemisia’s father. Legend has it he used Artemisia as his model for the painting.”
Carol and I stood in the afterglow of our art lesson, Artemisia’s violin resounding in our souls. What a privilege to follow the song of the open road that leads to the DIA.

What We Want

Homegrown food at its best—double yolk green egg.
My husband and I wanted to celebrate the New Year with a local Mulefoot meal. I’d heard good reviews of the restaurant’s new venue in downtown Imlay City and invited old friends to join us.
            Yolanda called New Year’s Eve morning. “I’m sorry,” she croaked, “but we can’t make dinner tonight. We’ll take a rain check for when I’m feeling better.”           
            We were sorry, too. Yolanda and Art are fun people, perfect companions for dining out. But Mel and I had waited two years for another Mulefoot experience. After my efforts to find alternates failed, I called the restaurant and amended our reservation to two.
            The hostess led our hearty appetites to a little table at 4:30 p.m. sharp. “Your server will be right with you.”
We took in the simple ambience of the high tin ceiling, mammoth artwork hung on painted brick walls, and an open kitchen where the chef and sous chefs prepared orders in discreet seamless motion. Mike, the owner and chef, served plates to folk at the bar.
It was good to be back to homegrown.
Logan introduced herself and explained our menu options. I was relieved to see the Mulefoot Gastropub retained the First, Second, and Third Course model.
“May I suggest the Oxtail Poutine for your first course? Our guests love it,” Logan said.
Our tableside culinary lessons began. Oxtail Poutine is far from Mom’s oxtail soup. It combines braised oxtail with roasted onions and pickled scapes poured over hand-cut French fries. Mom would’ve loved it.
We consumed every crunchy scape. I shall pickle and serve my garlic scapes on French fries this summer. Thanks, Mike.
With the second course we learned Logan comes from a farm family near Emmet and studies at U of M Flint. Mel’s filet mignon with Bourbon vanilla sweet potatoes was cooked to perfection. We’d never tasted a sweet potato that divine. Now he believes in the yam’s potential.
My fried rabbit surprised me. I didn’t expect bones. The crispy breading and succulent pink meat were worth the knife work. Truly, dinner at The Mulefoot is a rustic and artistic feast.
            Dessert lovers, Mel and I mused over our four options. He ordered the apple cobbler with warm butterscotch. An exquisite floral note in the butterscotch sauce provoked regret for the goat cheese cheesecake plated before me. Sometimes ordering bold backfires.
            I didn’t mention this to Logan when she returned with our coffee: medium roast for Mel, dark for me. By then she had become our friend, a young girl devoted to earning her Physician’s Assistant degree by the want within her soul.  
Dear Reader, Logan’s sublime cup of coffee crowned our meal as none other I’ve ever sipped. Perhaps it was her conscientious service, her patience with two gray-headed mates who crave pure food and congenial company.
This I know. If Michael Romine had not wanted to be a chef, if he did not pay the price everyday to operate The Mulefoot Gastropub, we would not have met Logan. We would not dine in Imlay City like a king and queen.

Mystery, Love, Friendship

Yule Love It Lavender Chicks tour Trinity Lutheran Church in Detroit
As the Advent season closes upon us, I hear three voices of Christmas tradition: mystery, God’s love, and friendship. After two thousand years, we still gather to grasp the incarnation—God with us. We are drawn unawares by the power of our Father’s love to worship His Son. That we do in many fashions.
My earliest memory of mystery is Christmas Eve. My father convinced my sisters and me that he saw Santa and his reindeer flying over the housetops across the street. We hurried off to bed in our new pajamas so Santa could land on our rooftop with gifts.
Did I feel betrayed when I discovered differently? No. I knew my father loved me. Rather, his sense of imagination and mystery ignited mine. As I matured and learned the Gospel, the Santa mystery gave way to believe the mystery of Christ’s birth.
When I was twelve-years-old, a week before Christmas, Mom led me into the bedroom where my newborn sister slept in her crib. I knew my mother’s tender love for me and her baby was God’s love. 
            Granny had come from Kentucky to help Mom with household chores. That Christmas my new sister and grandmother’s kinship planted a life-long hunger for fellowship at Christmastime.
Accordingly, my husband and I raised our children in the Christmas traditions of our blended childhoods. I added my own ideas, one being a Christmas mystery drive downtown Detroit or someplace else to see the lights.
            This tradition lay fallow too long after my children left the nest. Then came the friendship of my farm advisors and staff, two remarkable tribes of women who also love a good mystery. I resurrected the Christmas Mystery Trip in 2008 and eventually blended the two groups into one.
This December our Yule Love It Christmas Mystery Trip began with breakfast and poetry at the farm. Then we boarded a passenger van for a city tour of Detroit: the Trinity Lutheran Church on Gratiot, River Walk, Belle Isle Conservatory, Guardian Building, Traffic Jam for lunch, and the Historic Saint Anne de Detroit Church.
Dear Reader, it is the incense of mystery, God’s love, and friendship that arise from this tradition. They are the same three voices that speak in the following poems.         
On this cold yet clear Thursday morn
I hear a rap on the glass
She explained that she was torn
As she stood there, this lady with class

She said on this day 
so cold and hard
I can't rent this van, by the way
without a credit card

At the counter she stood
Wondering what to do
So she pulled up her hood
And said . . . I will stop and see Sue

The spirit of Christmas shows 
Through in the end
It just made me glow 
To help a dear friend
By Susan Balabuch 

He always wanted one color lights
My friends’ trees were Christmasy bright
Our tree was blue
Daddy I miss you
By Marilyn Dean

I'm a chocolate girl
so t'was a surprise
falling in love with mother's 
butterscotch pie.
By Diana Dinverno

Steaming cup of Earl Grey slips
Through tired hands onto chair and lap
Begets a scarlet stomach map
But, ice and cold return Christmas cheer.
By Debbi Forbes

For her Christmas was mostly a chore
she bought obligatory gifts, we'd sign the tags
she wrapped 'til wee hours, the last a dash
to get a tree, often scraggly, always real
lights untangled, ornaments hung, tinsel placed
not tossed, then, with all other lights off
color and shadows came and filled the quiet
with our Christmas.
By Kim Geralds

A star over Bethlehem
announced the Light of the world.
A season of lights
applauds the Hope of the world.
By MaryEllen Hammarland

Little Elke, three, standing by the Christmas tree
Dress in red, bow in hair, poem said,
But nervous hands rolling up and down dress’ hem
Showing white tights, what a sight
Applause, applause, relieved, curtsied, face smiling with glee.
By Erna Hermann 

Ten hour work day, but,
His promise he keeps.
Christmas tree goes up,
Below it Dad sleeps.
By Sharlene Innes 

Christmas cards with Oplateki from Poland
White wafer for breaking
White wafer for sharing
Christmas tradition of family and spirit.
 By Yolanda Kaminski