Wondrous Grace

Mitty (Mittens, Mitts) naps with PJ, our belated and beloved tomcat
Barely a year old, Mitty loves books.
She jumps upon my bed every morning, rubs her cheeks on the edge of my journal and chews its ribbon glued to the binding. She paws my pen.
“Okay, Mitts, I get the message.”
I scratch her back from tail to head and hold her face in my hands. She closes her Siamese blue eyes and drools. I kiss her nose. “You’re beautiful.”
She flops onto her side for a tummy rub, then rolls over again. It’s what kittens do because they’re created with a playful genetic code.
If I have no early meeting, I’ll tease Mitty with moving my feet under the covers. I permit a few pounces and bites on my toes—otherwise Mitty loses interest and cleans her paws. 
Lick. Lick. Lick.
If she’s not distracted by some exciting sound downstairs, Mitts may curl up at my side and nap while I read. I love when that happens.
Mitty’s sister, Cuddles, loves books too. She was the first to find my journal and me when my husband and I allowed upstairs privileges. She trained me well for Mitty’s visits.
 Our two beloved and belated tomcats didn’t touch a book. P.J. and Mo never opened a paw and picked up my pen like Cuddles. Even Mitty doesn’t.
For some feline reason, Cuddles submitted her morning visits to Mitty months ago. Our tortoiseshell kitten prefers after dinner lap time to paw and chew the corner of my book in hand.
Cuddles (Cuddy, Cudds) naps on the kitchen's rocking chair
Cuddles is the gracious one of the pair. She’ll wait for Mitty to choose a bowl of yummy, stinky food before she consumes the other.
Of course there’s always an exception. When we replaced the chicken chair in the kitchen with the rocking chair from the basement, Cuddles claimed it. Never do we find Mitty on the rocker.
The girls take every chance to sneak into the guest room where they claw the chicken chair in revenge. One more door to keep closed. One more thing to remember.          
The kittens can sense when my husband and I are preparing to leave the house. Cuddles hides under the guest bed with visions of clawing the chicken chair to shreds. Otherwise, she’s compliant. She doesn’t chase deer like Mitty, the adventurous sister.
Mitts follows me on farm inspections: fruit trees, hen house, beehive, vegetable garden, compost bin, flowerpots and window boxes, raspberry patch.
The kittens know our little place now. The place knows them. They know to meow at the sliding screen door and we will open it. Cuddles knows chipmunks inhabit the sandstone border surrounding my perennial island. The chipmunks know that Cuddles knows.
Dear Reader, today Cudds curled up for a nap in my laundry basket full of fresh and folded towels and sheets. I understand her attraction to the scent and softness of warm towels.
Well read, fed, and loved, that little creature has learned a few things about God’s wondrous grace.

A writer, before and after all

Catherine Minolli (on right), my former editor, and me celebrating her retirement

In Granny’s latter years, we’d sit at her kitchen table as night fell upon the mountains. There, in those hallowed moments, she unlocked the chambers of her large heart and granted me her most precious joys and sorrows.
She spoke of her two newborn sons Grandpa buried within a year of each other. “When I see’d the second baby’s diaper soaked in blood, I knew Paul wasn’t borned for this earth.”
Once, long after midnight, I dared ask Granny about Aunt Sarah. As a child, I’d overheard my mother speak in hushed tones about Aunt Sarah to her cousin Ada.
“I’ll never forgive myself for leaving home and sister Sarah,” Mom said.
Decades later, my granny wiped her tears with a dishtowel and solved the mystery. “I’ll never forget my phone call to your mommy in Kansas City. I had to tell her that her only sister passed.”
Before daybreak, my grandmother knitted me into her confidence and life. Unawares, she anointed me with her mantle of the storyteller.
My mother and granny didn’t write Sarah’s story. My folk are oral historians. Other than a few miraculously preserved letters and birthday cards, they left this world without leaving handwritten evidence of their love and remarkable achievements.
If someone didn’t tell it, no one would know my granny once said, “Now don’t skin my cake,” when a granddaughter swiped a finger of frosting off the top layer. One of my favorite Grannyisms.
No one would know the joy she carried in her 250 pounds if someone didn’t tell it.
Thus, my quest to speak on behalf of my people lest the times and places in which they lived be forgotten.
I see this calling clear as the fragrant white stars of Sweet Autumn Clematis blooming in my perennial island. I see my circuitous path to Borders stores, libraries, and women’s groups where strangers dared pour forth their stories on paper.
I see the day I followed Catherine Minolli into her office where she hired me to freelance. Years later, after my departure from the Tri-City Times to fulfill another calling, Catherine welcomed me back.
By her column, I know Catherine’s father loved his daughters and motorcycle—her mother dressed her for Easter as my mother dressed me.
I relate to Catherine’s tenacious love for her Italian heritage, and admire her grace and integrity in the loss of her parents.
Her little piece of paradise with pond and ducks are embedded in my imagination. She’s a friend and mentor, encouraged my professional growth and adventures in the publication industry. She's one of my people.
It’s sad to arrive at the week of Catherine’s retirement. My regard for her editorial leadership runs deep.
Dear Catherine, it’s time to let you go to fulfill another calling. Please accept my heartfelt gratitude for the chance to tell stories to your readers.
I’ll be listening for your voice—your poetry and other literary works as you devote your resources to the benefits of practicing yoga. 
You’re a writer, before and after all.


Fall 1968, Central Michigan University
Who couldn’t love newborn autumn in Michigan? With summer vacations archived in photos and memories, we flock again to high school and college football fields to cheer our team to victory.
Alumni, students, and parents clap to the beat of marching bands. In small to large towns, we celebrate homecoming in a place where we prepared our minds and bodies to greet our future with knowledge, skill, and confidence.
           And what reasonable person would drive by a cider mill pressing the sweet goodness out of Honey Crisps and Northern Spies without stopping in for a sip and doughnut?
Doesn’t every Michigander have a favorite doughnut?
For instance, check out Yate’s Cider Mill at 23 Mile and Dequindre Roads before 11 a.m. on a Friday and you’ll find folk lined up, waiting for the doughnut door to open.
“What’s the big attraction?” I asked the gray-headed guy behind me.
“Apple fritters! I hope they don’t run out before I get mine.”
“Me too,” said the man before me.  
Both men boasted the girth of life-long apple fritter fans.
“As a kid, I rode my bike here from Hazel Park every fall,” said the man behind. “I’ve come every year since.”
“Yeah, I’ve waited in this line for fifty-five years,” replied the other guy. “Our parents brought us here and waited in line.”
“That apple fritter kept me out of trouble and Mom’s hair all day long,” the guy behind added. “I made it home for dinner before the street lights came on. If I didn’t, she’d take my bike away.”
“Did she ever claim it?” I asked.
I dared ask what makes the apple fritter worth the wait.
“Lots of apples, spices, and glaze. And it’s huge,” said the man behind. “The best flavor and bargain around.”
“It’s a family tradition,” said the other man.
Another homecoming—powerful and delicious.
We walked inside the building where the men pointed to a counter loaded with their knotty, glazed favorite.
“There they are, and there’s plenty left.”
The fritter lovers relaxed.  
“So, what brought you here?” asked the guy who grew up in Hazel Park.
“I guess to reminisce,” I said. “My senior year in high school my boyfriend and I double dated with another couple here. I’ve not been back since.”
“It’s a lot different now,” the man in front said.
I nodded. “I’d never visited a cider mill back then. The day was beautiful, just like today. We walked the trails. But I can’t remember the taste of cider and doughnuts.”
“Well, now you can make up for it. I highly recommend the apple fritter,” said the man who rode his bike to Yate’s.
Dear Reader, I avoided the bodily damage of the fritter, sat with a nutty doughnut, and recalled the days I escaped the house on my bike and soared in toe jumps before bleachers filled with fans.  
Then I boasted the limp of an old cheerleader and took a stroll along the river. Who couldn’t linger in such a lovely homecoming?

Simple Abundance

My favorite pail holds last year's grape harvest
Years ago I spied my favorite pail at the Armada Flea Market. Light gray enamel with a graceful mouth wider than the bottom, it called my name.
             More a large bowl than a bucket, the utilitarian design includes two handles. The lathed, wood grip in the middle of the long metal handle fits my hand perfectly. The pail swings and sings when carried.
The other handle is welded to the rim, I presume for hanging on a wall to keep the inside dry and rust free. The person who created my garden friend knew a thing or two about conservation and thrift.
Speaking of, I can’t remember the cost. But I’ll tell you right now, no amount of money can tempt me to sell her.
Yes, my pail’s an indispensible she.
I’ve not yet named her. She’ll tell me when she’s in the mood.
My marvelous find has served many purposes in her years of service here. She held all manner of lavender products in our farm’s gift shop. I could’ve sold her a hundred times.
After I liquidated the store, that trusty handle lay untouched until I went searching for the perfect sized container to carry our grape harvest into the kitchen. Our four champagne grape vines produce enough to fill her to the brim and yield twenty pints of grape lavender jelly.
Incidentally, my farm companion is also a heart and back saver since I carry our load below my waist.

Be it beets, onions, garlic, or tomatoes, my Armada Flea Market treasure holds up without a sign of resigning. She now waits in the garage beside the remnants of our peach harvest for our pears to ripen—a meager crop, but enough to risk for a pear cake recipe that caught my eye.
There’s still cabbage, squash, and some beans to carry up to the house in my bargain castaway. Through the years, I’ve wondered where this humble and purposeful item came from, and what will happen to her when I pass to Glory. I visualize her crammed in some storage unit, her handle resting on the rim.
Or worse, left at the end or our driveway in the rain.
In the scope of eternity, this year’s harvest and the implements we use to ease our labor are insignificant matters. However, today, and until our last breath, we must grow and eat food. And it’s most enjoyable and beneficial if we perceive and appreciate our provisions and health in doing so, particularly in the presence of family and friends.
Perhaps this is one reason why Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book, Simple Abundance, sold seven million copies since published in 1995. Could she imagine cell phones would become America’s most abundant and omnipresent tool?
  Dear Reader, considering this distraction from the simple abundance of the natural world and family life, this makes my peach harvest and favorite pail all the more meaningful and dear to me.
            It’s these simple things that build my abundant life.