It's a beautiful morning

 

Dwarf iris in my lower backyard garden

My sunrise exercise, I fill two water jugs in the basement washtub, pull on my red chicken boots, and open the sliding door-wall. The hens will be good and thirsty.

Stepping into a sunny, newborn day robust with birdsong, the first white dwarf iris to bloom nestled between boulders, greets me. She’s a luscious contrast before the green and flowering landscape—a gardener’s joyful surprise for accidentally planting her rhizomes in the right place.

            I smile and sing, “It’s a beautiful morning, ooh-ahh,” as I walk downhill to the henhouse.

That’s all I remember of the lyrics and determine to find them on the internet after breakfast. And who wrote and sang this soulful ode to daybreak? The tune vaguely relates to the troubled times of my late teens.

The Isa Browns huddle before the closed chute, squawking for liberation into their pen. “I’d be hollering too,” I say. “It’s a beautiful morning!”

            I sing while turning their straw, refreshing their grain bin and waterer in their roosting room. They’ve left me five eggs in the straw, one in the grain feeder—our first flock in fifteen years to manage such a strange thing.

The seventh hen, a retired Isa Brown, hasn’t produced for months. Yet, the matron’s a good influence on her housemates. And I prefer the number seven to six.

            They’ve tipped their waterer again and wet the straw. I head for the pavilion’s storage room for a low stool to stabilize the waterer and minimize my work.

A mother robin flies from a nest built years ago in a wreath hung on a pavilion post. I see two mouths wide open begging for bugs, and their undeveloped eyes. “It’s a beautiful morning, babies. Mama will be back soon.”

When I enter to the hens’ pen and refill their second waterer, those silly girls drink water I spilled on the ground while cleaning the container’s trough! Why bother? 

Later, after a fresh scrambled egg and asparagus meal, I discover Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati, wrote the song. Both members of the American rock band they dubbed The Rascals, they claim the inspiration for the lyrics came the morning after a successful performance in Honolulu, Hawaii, in June 1968.

Well, isn’t every morning beautiful morning in Hawaii?

According to Wikipedia, personal interviews, and Facebook, Cavliere and Brigati, my seniors, remain active musicians. Perhaps it’s taking in all that fresh air, and “children with robins and flowers, sunshine caresses each new waking hour,” that keeps them ticking.


 In conclusion, dear Reader, “I think I’ll go outside a while and just smile. It’s my chance to wake up and plan another brand new day. Either way, it’s a beautiful morning.”

“Each bird keeps singing his own song. So long, I’ve got to be on my way, now. I’ve got to cover ground.” There’s my first bleeding heart blooms to welcome.

And there’s Cuddles my cat, drinking from the birdbath again.          

Ahh...what a beautiful morning!

             

Cuddles our cat drinks from the birdbath in the lower garden

           


Ain't got time to die

 

Lapeer County Concert Choir presents their 53rd. Season Spring Concert, May 6, 2022

Erna parked in my driveway at 5:45 p.m., fifteen minutes earlier than our take-off time. A good friend who resides in Romeo with her husband, I appreciate Erna’s punctuality.

She wore a pink jacket and black pants, a floral scarf swathed gracefully around her neck. I chose my yellow-flowered spring coat over a blue floral blouse and black pants. Our love of flowers abides within and upon us.

My guest brought a bag of cookies. “From the freezer,” Erna said. Her freezer’s famous in these parts.

                No, that’s not why I offered her the ticket my husband declined for the 53rd Season Spring Concert by the Lapeer County Concert Choir. Erna would’ve been content in her flower and vegetable gardens, so I was grateful she granted me the last few hours of Friday’s daylight. Companionship makes the concert experience more meaningful.

I’d earlier warned Erna of the embarrassing condition of my perennial island, the focal point of our circle drive. Garlic chives invade the garden again. After fighting that hideous plant for years, I’ve not stepped a foot into the ring this spring. Could it be post-traumatic weed syndrome?

Erna shook her head at the troublesome mess. She knows the labor I face.

Sometimes it comes down to this during growing season: a writer has to choose between glorious, colorful blooms, or submitted stories. I don’t have time for both.

Erna drove. I directed. We admired the landscape going north into Metamora—green as I remembered Ireland.

“How old were you when you left Romania for America?” I asked.

“Thirteen.”

“A tender age for such a journey,” I thought out loud.

Erna’s blue eyes sparkled. “I’ll never forget it.”

“How long did it take to cross the Atlantic?”

“Ten days. I was sea-sick seven days.”

“That’s fast for a transcontinental trip,” I said.

“It was war ship.”

“You weren’t frightened?”

“No. We were so thankful to have a family in America sponsor us.”

“What do you remember most about the voyage?”

                “The food. It was delicious. We all ate in a big hall where the sailors ate.” She says discreetly, “And the stench of the latrines.”

I could imagine.

                Erna parked in the Hunters Creek Community Church lot in time to greet my two favorite Lapeer Concert Choir sopranos, Marilyn Buchman and Anne Roszczewski.

Erna and I claimed our programs and seats. The choir proceeded up the aisle to the platform and opened their books in unison. The director lifted his baton.

Throughout the program of Bluegrass gospel songs, Erna and I glanced to one another in agreement, moved by the American spirituals.

The choir concluded with Hall Johnson’s “Ain’t Got Time to Die”, a credo that reminds me to consider whom I serve.

Lord, I keep so busy servin my Master

Keep so busy servin my Master

Ain’t got time to die

Cause when I’m given my all

I’m servin my Master

Ain’t got time to die

Dear Reader, I keep so busy writin my stories, ain’t got time to weed.  


Daughters of the American Revolution bring the house down

 

Connie on far left with other models of 400 years of American fashion show

“I’m gathering proof of my family lineage to apply to the Daughters of the American Revolution,” my friend Connie said a year ago.

                I wasn’t surprised. Throughout our long, intermittent friendship, I’ve observed her zeal for family history and community service. What little I knew of the DAR, the organization seemed a good fit for her.

                Women of like minds, I recalled my McCoy family history, the infamous Hatfield-McCoy Feud—not as honorable as the George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson legacies.

With these national leaders and literature like Andrea Wulf’s “Founding Gardeners,” my interest in the history of the Revolutionary War, Continental Congress, and Constitutional Convention grew.

However, without my forerunners’ birth and marriage certificates, how could I obtain proof of an “ancestor who aided in achieving American independence”? 

I had little time to pursue such documentation. Sustaining my household, writing life, gardens, a few memberships in those categories, and friendships, consumed my personal resources.  

What would I choose to exchange for achieving proof of my lineage for service in the DAR?

None of the above.

                I forgot the Daughters. Months later, opportunity knocked again when Connie emailed.

Second half of Daughters of American Revolution fashion show

“My Nipissing DAR chapter is hosting a fashion show in Metamora’s Historic Town Hall this Saturday. I’ll be modeling my wedding gown. Would you like to join us? The theme is 400 Years of Fashion.”

                 Well, Connie may not enjoy catching and cleaning fish as her husband and boys do, but she delights in baiting me. My Saturday afternoon was free. I’d complete my household chores before I left.

                “I’ll save you a front row seat. Gail’s coming, too,” Connie added.

                Gail, Connie, and I go way back to the Sixties at Redeemer Baptist Church in Warren. Within three years in the early Seventies, we married the man of our life and promptly went our separate ways.

                Until Connie reconnected us last summer.     

Gail sat next to the chair reserved for me. Daughters, Sons, and Children of the American Revolution milled around the room dressed in fashions spanning four centuries. They chatted, laughed.

Gordie Yax wore a Vietnam War military flight suit. His twin, Ethan, represented the Revolutionary period.

Meanwhile, Connie strolled in her bridal attire, held a bouquet of silk flowers, and smiled as wide as the Mackinac Bridge. She posed by her mother’s wedding dress and veil displayed on a form. I remembered her mother’s beautiful red hair.

Berlin Mattila, granddaughter of chapter’s Registrar, Judy Mattila, led us in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of our United States. Veneita Chapin, the chapter’s Regent, offered a prayer of safekeeping for all present.

Judy, also the show’s articulate narrator, began with a women’s garment representing the 1600-1650 Jamestown Settlement. My favorite fashions included the gorgeous Civil War ball gown, the hilarious 1950’s Ladies’ Housedress, and Connie’s 1973 lacy gown.

Marsha Jewett loses her wig and hat

Dear Reader, as if planned to conclude the show, Marsha Jewett tripped and lost her Revolutionary War wig and hat. She plopped both back on her head and brought the house down.

Today, I contacted Judy Mattila.


 


Spaghetti lessons

 

My younger sister Libby (L) and I play in our backyard on Detroit's Yacama Street, circa 1954

Transplanted from eastern Kentucky to Detroit’s Yacama Street the summer of 1954, I scented something like Mom’s canned tomatoes.

“What’s that smell coming from our neighbor’s house?” I asked Mom.

“Why, that’s Italian spaghetti sauce.”

“Does it taste like your stewed tomatoes?”

“Yes, but spicier.”

                I didn’t know what “spicier” meant, but if Italian spaghetti sauce tasted as good as Mom’s stewed tomatoes with elbow macaroni, I’d be happy to try it.

                “Will you cook us spaghetti?” I asked.

Mom frowned. “Your dad won’t eat it.”

A child never forgets such puzzling conversations with grownups. Eventually, I learned the Italian, German, Polish, and Appalachian people on our block wouldn’t eat each other’s food.

            But God is good and grants children the desire of their hearts. The fall of my ninth year, another spaghetti lesson occurred after my family moved to Wagner Street in Warren.

Our elementary school posted the cafeteria’s lunch menu for the week on a wall outside the principal’s office. The word “spaghetti” appeared with the white letters on the black sign. I concentrated to phonetically decipher the “gh” in the word.

Nonetheless, I laughed with everybody else when the boys in my third grade class jumped up and shouted, “Spaghetti! Spaghetti!”

Since Mom packed our lunches with bologna and mustard sandwiches, my sisters and I never ate the cafeteria’s food.

Several years later, Mom befriended Rose Mikla, an Italian neighbor who married an Italian. Rose, a beautician, cooked spaghetti for her five sons and husband.

Mom, an Appalachian who married an Appalachian, fried chicken and breaded pork chops, and baked pot roasts for her five daughters and husband, an Irish barber.

Once a week, Mom walked to Rose’s house for her new hairdo. Spaghetti sauce simmered on Rose’s stove while she washed, set, dried, and styled Mom’s hair.

On Dad’s bowling night, Mom spooned her spaghetti sauce over boiled long, thin noodles. We laughed when our baby sister sucked up the noodles into her mouth, splattering her chubby cheeks with red sauce.

We looked forward to Dad’s bowling night.

The summer of 1970, my father-in-law helped my husband and I move our few earthly possessions from our first apartment to Mom’s house. I smelled her spaghetti sauce before I saw it.

After his second plate, Mr. Underwood said, “Thank you, Sadie, for the delicious meal.”

Several months later, a neighbor in our new apartment building introduced me to garlic’s versatility. Mom’s lack of enthusiasm to my discovery at last revealed she loathed the spice.

But I’d learned this too late.  

When my father showed up hungry on my doorstep one February day in 1995, I served him what  I had—a hot plate of pasta with Bolognese sauce seasoned with onion, garlic, basil, parsley, salt and pepper.

Dear Reader, Dad thanked me and spoke of his forthcoming heart surgery. Several days later, my sisters and I tearfully said our last good-bye to our father.

We never know what meal will be our last. Thank God, the cook, and eat what we don’t like.

               

 


Hope restored

 

My wedding gown and my father's Marine uniform in Mom's hope chest

Dave the plumber arrived at 11:30 a.m. Monday morning and followed my husband to the basement posthaste.

The sounds of drilling and flowing water through pipes from below soon provoked a smile. After the smelly, inconvenient emergency of leaky sewage pipes, the repair progressed.

Within an hour Dave bounded up the steps. Considering my mother’s motto, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” I asked what caused the problem.

“Follow me,” Dave said and returned to his completed project.

He eyed the large pipe along the wall where I’d recently noticed broken plastic brackets that had supported the pipes for thirty-two years. Dave pointed to new metal brackets. That’s what the drilling was about.

“Those supports won’t break,” Dave said. “The pipes are back in position and everything’s good.”

With this assurance, Tuesday morning I returned to our disinfected basement and applied Howard Restore-a-Finish to the exterior of Mom’s cedar chest.

It hurt to see the wood badly abused. Considering the history of my heirloom, the numerous Kentucky and Michigan basements where forgotten, my TLC was decades overdue.

The refinishing application dried while I revisited the chest’s contents—what Mom and I once thought significant to save for posterity. I found the darling yellow crocheted infant sweater and tammy hat on the narrow shelf attached to the underside of the lid.

Everything in my mother’s cedar chest tells a story I well know, except this darling handmade gift that welcomed me into our family.

Three Carter’s baby shirts from 1970, 1975, and 1976 also occupy the upper shelf. Becky, Kelly, and Ruth, my children, wore those teeny “kimonos,” as their Nana called them.

Mom's cedar chest in process of restoration

I dug within the chest and discovered the long, white gloves, muff, and red velvet dress I wore as Maid of Honor for my older sister’s wedding December 28, 1968.

Mom accommodated a houseful of out-of-town guests for her firstborn’s wedding. Her brother wrote a timed schedule for our one bathroom and taped it to the door to ensure we all made it to the church on time, bathed and shaved.

In March of 1946 when my mother wed, how could she imagine such a family celebration when she filled her Lane with linens and other wedding gifts?  

And how could I foresee my wedding gown would occupy the same trousseau with my father’s two Marine informs? One the military brown shirt with blue pants, the other a blue jacket with red piping and brass buttons.

Three generations weave together my family history with the scent of cedar, lavender, and wool. Each item speaks hope restored, even in the deep loneliness of separation and death.

Dear Reader, someday, after I’ve refinished my heirloom to the best of my ability, I will elevate my inherited Lane to my master bedroom. I have more keepsakes to add.

Meanwhile, my treasure chest is safe in the basement. Dave said no more leaky pipes. And I’m taking him at his word.


Giving, the key to happiness

(L) Roland Hermann, assistant, and Sebastian Lombardo, maple syrup maker
I gladly accepted Sebastian’s invitation to participate in this season’s production of maple syrup. A labor intensive and scientific branch of husbandry, I’d heard the sugar shack is congenial ground to gather come March.

 Who could resist the warmth and friendship of a blazing wood fire on a chilly, drizzly afternoon?

Sebastian and our fellow neighbor, Roland, had wrapped up another batch of syrup. A pizza on a platter sat on top of the bottles they’d filled.

“Where do you tap your trees?” I asked.

“Our property on Howard Lake Road in Leonard. Friends help with the main line tubing system with a vacuum pump on the end to increase production. One hundred twenty to one hundred sixty gallons syrup equals about 1,100 – 1,300 taps.” Sebastian grinned. “My buddies are hooked on my maple syrup.”

The expression on Roland’s face indicated he’s amongst that number.

“What do you do with your syrup?” I asked.

“Give most of it away to business associates, friends, and family.” Sebastian flashed another smile. “Giving is the key to happiness.”

I agreed.

The massive, sophisticated equipment demonstrated Sebastian’s experience and skill as a builder. Roland did not exaggerate when he said our neighbor had designed something I had to see.

“What motivated you to make this commitment?” I asked.

“I got itchy fingers several years ago when my neighbor tapped her trees. I like a good hobby, to tinker, and it’s usually nothing small or simple.”

I said a silent “amen” to that.

“There are many facets of making syrup I enjoy,” Sebastian said. “Improving the equipment as I learn, for one. The vacuum filter removes the niter, or impurities, from the sap. I learned to boil the sap to seven degrees above the boiling point for a higher sugar and less water content.”

I admired my neighbor’s determination to relish life while he’s “young and strong,” as he sees it. He’s hunted Montana’s back country with his hunting buddies who consider his maple syrup “their spinach.”

“This is our informal social activity. We unwind,” Sebastian added.

I’m amazed. “Who and what influenced you to work this hard at giving to people?”

“My dad worked with his hands and taught me generosity by example. He grew an apple orchard and gave away apples and cider to his business associates. This had a strong impact on my life. If someone didn’t receive their apples and cider, Dad heard about it.”

A toast to the sweet labor of a sugarhouse 

Sebastian poured us samples of his syrup in small plastic cups. We toasted and tasted.

His father would be proud.

“I remember a teaching moment,” Sebastian said. “Dad insisted my brother and I handle his apples with care. He corrected us when we bruised them. He demanded nothing but top notch for everyone. Those are the best values of our Italian culture.”

Dear Reader, I left with four bottles of maple syrup tapped and made in Leonard, Michigan. That equals about thirty gallons of sap to yield one-half gallon worth of his labor.

Three bottles to share. One to keep. 


Red Raspberries in Ukraine

 

Ukraine, summer 1993, on a mission trip 

Red Raspberries in Ukraine

 

We walk the streets of Borispol and Kiev in 1993,

climb dingy high-rise apartments, find no hot

water or toilet seats—search empty shelves

in grocery stores for soap

to wash dishes, clothes, and floors. 

 

We seek respite from roaches

for our mission team, American teens

eager to share the good news of the Gospel

with those who lost their land and means

to the Communist Manifesto. 

 

We sense the cost of collectivism,

vacant streets a camouflage

to dens where Ukrainian

and Russian mafia plot to rape

the country’s remaining riches.

 

We sing to Ukraine’s children,

hear men speak of decapitating and toppling

Lenin’s statue, and wonder what took

them so long, marvel at their endurance

to suffer bondage and starvation.

 

The team of teens (four leaders in front row), cooks on the left

We befriend a band of women,

cooks who serve us bowls

of Cream of Wheat with red raspberries

fifteen mornings

on white tablecloths.

 

I pray their smiles, sons and daughters, thrive,

wish to compensate their kindness, seat

them around my family table, place bowls

of Cream of Wheat with red raspberries before

them, share our will to work with those who will.


Prune by the Wright book

 

Author's No.1 garden resouce


What a happy coincidence! Ten years ago this month, I spied The Gardener’s Bed-Book upon the “Recommended Reading” table sponsored by the Michigan Horticultural Therapy Association.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of the group, or their annual conference. I hadn’t either until the Conference Chair of 2012 invited me to speak about the therapeutic benefits of growing lavender.

To better illustrate the plant’s versatility, the committee included my lavender products for sale. “And you’re welcome to sit in the workshops,” the Chair said.

I couldn’t have imagined this perfect match! An entire day with people who understand the healing relationship between plants and people.

First, to better represent the MHTAC, here’s their description from their website: “Horticultural Therapy is the participation in horticultural activities facilitated by a registered horticultural therapist to achieve specific goals within an established treatment, rehabilitation, or vocational plan. Horticultural Therapy is an active process which occurs in the context of an established treatment plan where the process itself is considered the therapeutic activity rather than the end product.”

Indeed! That March day within the lobby of Michigan State University’s greenhouse, I discovered one of Richardson Wright’s many books—an author unknown to me (1887-1961).

The subtitle, “short and long pieces to be read in bed by those who love green and growing things” sold me. It seemed the perfect obliging book to nod off at night with my head on the pillow and the light on.   

Surprisingly, when April rolled around, I decided to try Richardson’s witty and wise voice in the morning. The Connecticuter’s final one-liners of garden advice developed into my gardening directive for the day.

Although congenial, Mr. Wright holds a gardener’s shovel to the manure and hands to their secateurs. No matter the weather.

His January 20 bit of advice, for instance. “All tree pruning should be finished before the end of this month.”

I roll my eyes and shiver. “Who’s he kidding? It’s ten degrees out there!”

February 21 he points the procrastinator outdoors. “See that loose bark on fruit trees, where bugs might hide, is now scraped off.”

“Now?! Today?!” I ask. “I love my little fruit trees, but I’m not scraping off loose bark in that icy wind!”

Endearingly, on March 4 Richardson Wright offers me one last nudge. “All pruning of trees, shrubs and vines should be finished before the sap starts to rise.”

             I hear the plea my friend’s voice. On the tenth anniversary of our morning meetings, I know he wrote this book because he desires my garden success.

And it’s up to me, even though I don’t know if the sap’s started to rise. How can I let down my No.1 gardening resource? And my five fruit trees?

Dear Reader, a fair day of sun and no wind, I gather my pruners and pink ladder and walk into my orchard of two apple, two pear, and one peach tree.

Exhilarated, I prune by the Wright book. Don’t worry about the sap rising. And get the job done.



Illuminations

 

Marilyn Buchman (L) and Anne Roszczewski share a sweet Valentine Tea with me

I’ve accumulated a fine assortment of candles—fragrant waxes poured into decorative containers. And honeycomb votives for the proper holders.

Typically hostess gifts I stow away during the long, glorious days of gardening season, I neglect to resurrect them to cheer the tedious, winter months.  

There’s no explaining this forgetfulness other than my life span. For I’m fond of the soft glow of a burning wick. Ask my tea and dinner guests. They’ll avow my admiration for the warmth of heart two lit, slender tapers offer a table.

I first observed this loveliness when my mother crowned her Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day feasts with golden flames from her two candlesticks.

Mom used what she had with flair and flourish, a virtue she passed on to her five daughters. In a rush of recall while decorating this past Christmas, I gathered my stash of scented waxes.

First, I placed on my desk an intentionally dented tin filled with hydrogenated soybean oil. I failed to remember the face and name of the giver and scolded myself for my mistake. Next time a friend carries a gift into my house, I’ll note their name on my handy paper calendar.

My goodness! That small, soy lamp kept me company the month of January. At nightfall, candlelight burned in every room within this house, dispelling wintertime’s darkness.

I recalled a woman long ago in a Bible Study Fellowship group. One particular meeting the lesson led to our challenge as mothers to make mealtime fun and interesting for our children. “At dinnertime, my teenagers take turns lighting the candles on our dining room table,” she said.

 “Sometimes,” she added, “the kids argue about whose turn it is. I point to the kitchen wall where I hang my calendar. I’ve written the initial of the candle-lighter on each day of the month.”

Well, back then I also kept my calendar on the kitchen wall. And my two Dessert Rose taper holders I used for holiday dinners would serve just fine for family supper. So, why not give the woman’s creative idea a shot?

Because my two younger daughters were a few years shy of match-handling accountability. And I didn’t foresee them gladly submitting all the fun to their older sister.

More meaningful, my girls observed candlelight illuminate my mother’s face surrounded by her offspring in another generation of holiday tables.

            Now, nearing the end of these long, dark nights, I’m guessing my gift-givers know what long-term empty nesters need. You see, the majority of my guests boast grandchildren and great-grandchildren—“the light of my life,” they say.

            Dear Reader, I may be wrong, but I think my children and friends buy me candles to light up my life. For they know my one, teenaged grandchild lives in California.

As I sang in Sunday school when a child, I’m singing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. Hide under a bushel? No!

I’m going to let it shine!

Let it shine!

Let it shine!”


Hyperbole

 

My daughter Ruth and her dog Lily visit our neighbor's Panda bears

Leave it to a librarian to expand my vocabulary. “Have a great day, look out for the Snowmageddon!” he wrote in an email yesterday morning.

            Well, considering my childhood—walking almost a mile to elementary school in snowstorms, and rolling snow in our backyard into balls so huge and heavy we kids couldn’t lift them to make snowmen, so we climbed on top of our blobs, beat our chests, and jumped off instead—“snowmageddon” seemed profound hyperbole.

            Furthermore, during the rise of Mary Lou Retton’s stardom and the public high school girls’ gymnastic teams, I drove all over Metro Detroit’s east and west side for almost a decade of winters to judge meets. I cannot recall one cancellation for inclement weather.

            I often turned into our driveway around 11 p.m. with my $30 check to buy another pair of shoes for one of our three daughters.

            With this history in mind, at 2 p.m. yesterday, I didn’t vacillate to zip up my jacket to drive Mittens and Cuddles to their vet appointment.

“I put them in the back of your car. Their kennel’s heavy. Do you want me to go with you?” my husband asked.

“No thanks. I’ve got ‘em,” I said.

Light snow began as I turned onto our road for the 7.9 miles into Oxford. A Michigander from age five, I wondered what was the big deal about one more snowfall. After all, the forecasters were wrong again on February 2.

            True, I’m considerably older, and traffic is heavier than thirty years ago. However, these variables mean I’m a much wiser, experienced driver today. And our County Road Commission has made great improvements on our roads.

            When the vet arrived in the exam room, I pulled Mittens, then Cuddles out of their kennel. After the doctor declared our cats healthy and demonstrated how to apply their deworming medicine, the girls hightailed it back into their cage. I paid the bill and drove into another beautiful winter afternoon.

            To my advantage, a county truck with grader and load of salt cleared my way northeast on Lakeville Road. Before my turn onto our Nature Beauty Road, I hit my right blinker to visit my local library. The lot stood vacant and the library dark.

Snowmageddon?

            This morning I stopped in the henhouse with strawberry hulls and overripe pears, our three hens’ reward for surviving this cooped-up season.

Predictably, the pristine, sparkling ice crystals called me to our former cow path to walk within its blessed atmosphere. I neared our neighbor’s home of twin boys, and smiled again at their panda bears attached to a tree on both sides of their driveway.

I saw the mother shoveling four inches of snow. We waved.

“I like the pandas on your trees,” I said.

“The twins couldn’t let them go.”

“Is everyone well?” I asked.

“Yes. Work called a snow day. And they canceled school.”

            Dear Reader, why weren’t her boys engaged in a good snowball fight, or building a snowman?

            Perpetual media hyperbole?   


Winter recreation

My favorite apple cake recipe


What does a gardener do for recreation when she can’t dig, plant, and prune?

            She roots deep into her spice cabinet for ingredients. She measures, blends, and bakes until the earth thaws.  

            For instance, Regina’s Apple Cake that found my recipe box in October 1980 on Algonac Street in Detroit. The 13”x9” pan served my family of five with leftovers.

In my opinion, my belated friend’s dessert is the most delicious way to use four to five unpeeled Honeycrisps. I prefer the flavors of walnuts and apples baked in a substantial dough and topped with whipped cream any day to a slice of apple pie.

            This in mind, I baked Regina’s legacy dessert for my Bible study group. While the batter rose and blushed golden brown in the oven, I followed my newfound Toffee Squares directions a friend posted online as her “mother’s favorite cookie.”

The dark brown sugar shortbread and melted Hershey milk chocolate bar topping sprinkled with chopped pecans tempted my palate. I sampled a warm, buttery, chocolate Toffee Square. M-m-m. Then another. Oh yes, this cookie deserves its fame and place in my kitchen.

Now, it’s not common for me to bake two desserts in one day, or week, even when snowbound. Yet, I’ve no winter days to waste submitting to dietary precautions. April’s around the corner. I’ll soon resurrect my trowel, shovel, and secateurs.

True to a woman’s infatuation with chocolate, l returned home from my study group with more cake than cookies. My husband and I consumed the few Toffee Squares while several servings of cake waited in the freezer.

Days later, my friend who hosts our Bible lesson said, “I filled up on Toffee Squares last week and didn’t taste that beautiful cake. Would you mind baking another one for our last class?”

What does a gardener who can’t dig, plant, and prune do for a good friend?

She scoops flour and slices apples.

This time I remembered to whip equal parts heavy cream and cream cheese with two tablespoons confectionary sugar and one teaspoon vanilla extract.

With chocolate competition eliminated, we ladies served ourselves a double portion of cake crowned with a healthy dollop of cream sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

You see, these frigid months when I adjust my glasses to better read my scribbling, I recreate my mother standing before her kitchen counter.

A lover of everything dairy, Mom would’ve never forgotten the whipped cream for Regina’s recipe. And my aforementioned sentiment about apple pie would’ve rankled her rolling pin.

Year round Mom produced every pie imaginable. She stirred a mountain of cakes with her spatula. Her banana cake with buttercream frosting one of my favorites.

My mother found great pleasure in placing another pie, cake, pudding, or brownie variation on her table when we visited her for summer vacation. She would’ve loved Toffee Squares.

Dear Reader, what did a gardener do for her mother who preferred to bake than dig, plant, and prune?

She found her mother’s trowel, shovel, and secateurs. 


Enough for now

 

Saint Francis of Assisi stands guard on our backyard terrace garden

Snow fell last November before I seized the opportunity to deadhead my lower, backyard garden—the last on my list of dried stems and seed heads to feed a burn pile.

            Neither did my mate and I carry our weighty statue of St. Francis of Assisi from his post on the terrace to the garage for his winter doze.

            “We’ve done enough work this growing season,” I spoke to my helping hand. “Let the birds eat the seeds. St. Francis will appreciate their company.”

            He agreed.

            Well, a goldfinch, house finch, or cardinal has yet to perch upon St. Francis’ head, or land on seedpods. Whenever in the kitchen, I keep watch from the windows, binoculars and Bird Identifier chart handy in effort to spy more Michigan birds.

            I hope to witness the day wings descend upon my winter offering. The sight and sound are as delightful as a playground of youngsters on a summer day, albeit brief.

            Meanwhile, I admire this month of fondant landscapes on walks and from inside the house. Amongst all this white, I’d welcome the contrast of a crow or two. And their laughter. Any cheerful, living thing.

            No, I don’t suffer cabin fever, anxiety, or fear, for God meets all our needs according to His riches in Glory. And truly, my lower garden is quite content to overwinter wild.

            Which means I’ll have more Rudbeckia, phlox, and Echinacea seedlings to weed and transplant this coming spring.

            What troubles me is a phone conversation with a young mother two days ago. A visitor of my former lavender farm, we reconnected after fourteen years. Her voice sounded tired and discouraged.

            “Are you ill? May I help?” I said.

            She hesitated. “No. Thank you for asking. Work is overwhelming. We’re off today because of the snow, and my son and I dread going back.”

            “Where do you work?”

            “My son’s public school. The administration mandates masks. I’m a kindergarten assistant, and cannot bear what’s happening to the children and my boy. We can’t sleep for worry.”

            My first conversation with a public school teacher regarding this dilemma, I replied with the only response I felt capable to speak. “Would you like a lavender bouquet to help you rest?”

            “How will you do that?”

            “I keep bundles of dried lavender for occasions like this.”

            “Yes, please.”

            That evening I packaged my promise with two lavender sachets. The following morning I woke feeling my love inadequate to encourage this weary mother and her child.

            I recalled my difficult meetings with school administrators, teachers, and coaches who crossed the line of their authority with one of our three girls. Both private and public schools.

            Dear Reader, a neighbor plowed one side of our circle driveway, enough for now. Enough for my husband to drive my package to the post office.

            I pray my gifts are enough to grant my friend and her son a ray of hope. I pray God meets all their needs according to His riches in Glory.