Category Archives: Cooking

Looking Ahead

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Events of the past couple weeks – some joyful, some tragic – have served to open up large blocks of time in my life. Now, with the last of my visiting family and friends waved off on the ferry boat to get back to their own lives, and with my birthday just around the corner, it’s time to start looking ahead.

My birthday competes with the New Year as a time to assess accomplishments and failures (including failed New Year’s resolutions!), and to resolve to do better. Saying good-bye to my Aunt Katie, whose long life was an inspiration and an outstanding example of living well, has directed my thought process. In setting my goals for the next year, I look to joy.

Rather than lay down plans and aspirations as if they are chores to be dutifully completed, I want to keep my eye on happiness. The list may look the same. To be better organized, healthier in habit and weight, to grow my food, take care of my dogs, expand my knowledge and spend quality time making art are constant self-improvement goals. It is the strategy that I am changing.

Rather than look forward to the time when I will be happier because I am better organized…or slimmer…or more on top of other duties and obligations, I intend to find joy in the process. Instead of keeping my eye on the “finish line,” and my distance from it determining my success or failure, I want to enjoy this walk through life, every step of it. I want to (even!!!) take note of flowers along the way. Maybe it will feel the same. Right now, looking ahead, it seems like just the attitude-shift I need.

 

What I Remember

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On my mother’s birthday, my thoughts go to memories of her. Mom would have turned eight-five years old today. If we were still blessed with her presence, I can imagine a lively, strong woman with a twinkle in her eye, who would probably still enjoy going out for a nice dinner. Maybe followed by a night of “Bingo.” Finished off with a cup of tea and a good book. Unfortunately, she died nearly six years ago.

Mom’s seventy-ninth birthday was the last one she celebrated. Though she was gravely ill, she did celebrate. Many of her children and grandchildren were with her; her walker was decorated with balloons, tied on with curling ribbon. Photos show her smiling as she opened presents and marveled over each one.

She was my own very special mother, and it’s nearly impossible to separate that from everything else I know about her. With her own large brood, and many other children welcome to participate in our crazy family activities, with grandchildren adding to the flock, motherhood and nurturing was a big part of Mom’s identity. Not all, though. She had an eventful and challenging life before she had children, and plenty of exciting adventures after we were grown. Today I am remembering the things that made her the unique and wonderful person that she was.

Red was her favorite color. With her dark hair and fair skin, she could wear it well, too. As a young woman, bright red lipstick accented her perfect smile. That, and a touch of rouge on her cheeks was all the adornment she needed. Her strong brows and long, dark eyelashes stood on their own. As her hair changed to salt and pepper and finally silver, the reds in her wardrobe gave way to softer tones of rose and pink.

Mom loved to read, and she raised a family of readers. As a child, she read adventure stories about animals: Black Beauty, White Fang, Lassie Come Home, My Friend, Flicka. Later, she favored good mysteries. After working her way through all the works of Agatha Christie, she found others she liked. Mom favored gritty, tough-guy, detectives with a soft heart.

Shopping was one of mom’s passions. Weekly trips to the grocery store were prepared for with lists, clipped coupons and meal plans, and anticipated with pleasure. Outings with girlfriends to visit the shopping malls in Flint, or to wander through the shops downtown were highlights for Mom.

She’d come home with bags and packages to be hidden away for Christmas, or revealed to us children as new school clothes or the fabric for sewing them. She’d draw us in to her thought processes and her excitement:

“When I saw this color, I just knew I had to get it…imagine how pretty this will look on Cheryl!”

“Cindy, this is almost just exactly like the dress you picked out from the J.C.Penney catalog…and look at this price!”

“I loved this flannel as soon as I saw it. I bought enough to make nightgowns for all the little girls.”

Mom and Dad shared a love of dogs. They would tolerate cats, but dogs were a beloved part of the family. Mom could name her childhood pets, and every dog we’d had growing up, where we got them, and how they died. Her last dog was terribly spoiled with bits of cheese and meat chunks for treats.

Mom liked games and puzzles, and taught us all to like them, too. After we grew up, she often bowed out of participating, though. I think it wasn’t the games, but her raucous family that deterred her. She still enjoyed putting together a jig-saw puzzle, and often had one going on a card table on the porch. When I was young, Mom and Dad occasionally had friends over to play Pinochle or Michigan Rummy. Later, Mom took to the Bingo halls, and even went to the casino once or twice each year.

My mother liked the World War II era movie stars; Judy Garland was one of her favorites. Katherine Hepburn, too. She was crazy about Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Paul Anka. One of her favorite songs was “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.” Mom and I shared a love of Danny Kaye. Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and Kenny Rogers all gained Mom’s approval, too.

Mom loved roses. She would usually receive a bouquet or two for birthdays and other special occasions. As children, we’d call Perkin’s Flower Shop to order them, and have them billed to the family account. Seems that bill never came due, as Mom quietly paid it when it came in the mail. That never dulled her enthusiasm over the next bouquet to arrive that way!

This is just a small sample of the many characteristics that made Mom special. If she were here today, I’d deliver flowers. Since she’s not, I’m letting memories of her enrich my day.

Nothing’s Lost In God’s Kingdom

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I have a co-worker who insists that, to find anything, one must state – out loud and with confidence – “There’s nothing lost in God’s kingdom.” I have to admit, it has proven to be a pretty reliable method when I can’t remember where I left my coffee cup or when one of us has misplaced the hand-held computer. It’s not working so well at my house.

Losing things is easy for me. I spend far too much time looking for stuff. To compensate, I try to have a place for everything, and stick to it. In an extra file drawer, there is a slot specifically for tape, another for tape measures, and a third for staples and staple guns. Pens and pencils always belong in a cup on the desk; the dogs leashes go in a basket by the back door; my purse always hangs on the back of my desk chair. Those designated spots have added hours to my life, that otherwise would be spent searching.

It’s a good system, but there are flaws. Sometimes, that’s because an item is unusual or new, and doesn’t have a designated place. Most often, it’s because I neglect to enforce my own rule about putting things where they belong…or, I get scatter-brained. Lately, I’ve been doing lots of talking out loud about nothing lost in God’s kingdom while tearing around looking whenever a new possibility crosses my mind…and – so far – to no avail.

First, I lost an envelope. A customer handed it to me while I was working at the hardware store. It was addressed to the Beaver Beacon, and I believe it held a check for three subscriptions. I didn’t open it, but folded it twice, and tucked it into the left front pocket of my blue jeans. Then, I continued my work day. When I got home, I worked out in the garden for a couple hours. Later, I showered, put on pajamas, and dropped my clothes into the laundry basket.

I woke up the next morning with a start, having remembered the envelope. It was not where I expected to find it, in the pocket of my jeans. Then the search began. Could it have fallen out in the garden? In the car on the way home? At work? Might I have shifted it to another pocket? In my jacket, maybe? Or tucked it into my purse? Could I have accidentally thrown it away, with stickers, tags and other detritus that I pick up at work and carefully only put in my right-hand pocket?

You can see where this is going. For three days now, I have been looking for the missing envelope. I have searched the house, yard, garden, car, and the hardware store. I have gone through all pockets and every trash receptacle. I have gone through every pile of papers, every nook and cranny. The envelope is lost.

Yesterday, in an amazingly productive day, I finished mulching the raspberries, put up tomato cages, fenced in the garden, and finally completed the mowing of the back yard. At one point I brought the camera out, to document my progress.

I photographed the lawnmower, nearly invisible in the last patch of really tall grass. I took pictures of the garden, the flowers, and the finished lawn, complete with towels hanging on the clothesline in the background. I photographed one hundred feet of deer fence rolled out over the grass in my front yard while I trimmed twelve inches off, so that it would be the right height. I documented the tangled snarl of deer fence after it was dragged to the back, and as I fought to wrangle it around the posts that border the garden. I took one final picture of the fence, finally in place.

In between pictures, I was careful to put the camera on the potter’s wheel, along with other necessities I had brought outside. When I was done for the day, I gathered up scissors, pruning shears, staple gun, two boxes of staples, graph paper tablet, pencil, camera and coffee cup, and carried it all inside.

It was after my shower, while the dogs were having their dinner and mine was cooking, when I went to download the pictures from my camera. Where was the camera?  Scissors and pruning shears were in the basket by the back door; the tablet and pencil had been deposited on the dining room table; staples and staple gun were in their proper file; my coffee cup was in the sink. No camera!

I checked outside. I retraced my steps inside. Then I did it again…and again. I tried bribing the dogs, “Find the camera, and I’ll give you a treat!” I chanted “There is nothing lost in God’s kingdom” while continuing to search. Is it sitting in plain sight, and I’m just overlooking it?

Disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to post photos of my productive day, I decided, instead, to share photos of my “reward.” On the day that I got such a huge list of things accomplished, I was treating myself to a T-bone steak dinner with asparagus spears and sauteed mushrooms on the side. I’m not big on photographing food, but it would be compensation for not being able to show the other pictures. Then, it struck me. Without a camera, I can’t photograph my meal or anything else. The camera is lost!

Tuesday, Already

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Today is Tuesday. Tomorrow, it’s back to the hardware store, for another five-day run of long, busy days, with only bits of remaining energy left for my own stuff, crowded into the fringes of the days. So, I always have big plans for my “weekend,” which this week included Sunday as well as the usual Monday and Tuesday. Plenty of time, right? As always, my list of things to accomplish was much longer than the hours available.

Sunday, a friend was coming over to help me level and set the posts around my garden. I’d offered him dinner, in exchange for his help. I started my day catching up on the news, then my writing. After that, there was some necessary house-keeping to do, so that a guest would not be shocked, or have qualms about having a meal here. I cleaned the bathroom, and swept a mound of sand and dog hair from my floors. I cleared the mountain of bills and other paperwork from my dining room table, and put a fresh tablecloth on it.

I put dinner together, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with food after working in the garden. I boiled eggs and potatoes in separate pans and put together a potato salad. I made a side salad of romaine, peppers and carrots. I floured and browned chicken thighs, then put them in a baking pan on top of a layer of sliced red peppers, and smothered with barbecue sauce. I assembled a rhubarb crisp, to be baked at the same time as the chicken, then covered and refrigerated all of the dishes.

By that time, I had a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. I tackled those, and moved a load of laundry through the system. I doused up, then, with mosquito repellent, and headed outside. I took the dogs for a short walk, then moved a bail of straw and mulched around a row of plants. I pulled some weeds, picked some berries, and debated whether the “field” that is my back lawn would be dry enough for Monday mowing.

When my friend arrived, we spent a good two hours getting my garden posts lined up correctly, and set firmly in place. I was hoping to get the tops lopped off level, too but, it turned out, the one job took long enough. We were stepping and digging where I had newly-sprouted seeds; I was nervous and testy. He was critical of the posts I had chosen, and my alignment. Several holes had to be re-dug, to move the post two inches in one direction or another. I had put the chicken and dessert in the oven halfway through our project, so dinner was ready when we finished. A good meal and some relaxed conversation was – I hope – enough to show gratitude for his help, and a little remorse for my crankiness.

He left right after dinner. I spent another hour outside pulling weeds and moving straw, until it started to rain, foiling my plans to finish mowing on Monday. The evening was – I thought – well spent, laying out plans for all I intended to accomplish the next day. “A good list is half the battle,” I told myself. I plotted a whole series of chores and stops in town, so that today – Tuesday – I could stay right at home, to concentrate on writing for the next issue of the magazine, that is coming up close on deadline.

Monday was productive but, just like the day before, each task took longer than expected, complications and diversions got in the way, and I accomplished much less than I intended. I had four people to track down about past-due accounts; I managed to catch up with only one of them. In my pathetic attempt at bill-collecting, I devolved into a hard-luck story and tears, which threw my mood into a downward spiral for the whole day. There was a long wait at the bank. I got side-tracked at the hardware store. Another stop was at my aunt’s house, to clean her floors. As I was leaving, she asked if I would come back tomorrow (Tuesday) to help her with another project. Of course.

So, here is Tuesday, already, and I still have a long list of things I have yet to get done, on a day that I can’t, after all, spend exclusively at home. Not only that, but it’s already 10:30 in the morning! If there is going to be any hope, I’d better get busy!

 

Only Tuesday

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Mary has suspended the memoir-writing workshop that I was devoting my Tuesday writing to, in order to finish another book. So, I’m going to give it up for a while, too. It’s spring, after all; there is much to do.

The other night, while in the middle of a telephone conversation, I happened to notice a rhododendron – under the big maple tree – had burst into bloom. I grabbed my camera and ran outside. From the house, the flowers looked watermelon red. On camera, they are a milder color. Still, it was worth the trip.

This time of year, when mosquitoes are in a biting frenzy, “no-see-ums” and other biting gnats and flies abound, and a tick has been known to find its way from tall grass to tender skin, a trip outside has to be “worth it.” I make my way from home to car and back again without a pause. If I plan to stay longer in the out-of-doors, I prepare for it.

First a good spray around my ankles of tick repellent. Then an all-over spray of a good, Deet-based insect repellent. I spritz my hands, next, with a milder, oily concoction, and rub it onto my face, around my ears, and into my scalp. If it’s a very bad day for bugs, I may add a head net.

The price of gas here on Beaver Island causes me to make every trip to town really “count,” with visits to post office, bank and grocery store combined. Likewise, the amount of preparation to spend time in the yard causes me to do everything possible to make it worthwhile. Are there clothes to be hung on the line? That should be first, before I get my hands in the dirt. Are my tools all ready? And where – once again – is the tape measure? There must be gas for the lawn mower, in case I tire of gardening. A walk or a trip to Fox Lake with the dogs can be wedged in somewhere, too.

Once I’m inside, showered and changed, trips outside are rare. It has to be for something really special. A few days ago, I decided – after dark – that I was in the mood for a rhubarb crisp. Nothing else would satisfy. I had all the ingredients on hand…except for the rhubarb, which was growing in the back yard, just behind my garden spot.

I was clean, and in my pajamas. I didn’t want to cover myself again in insect-repelling chemicals. I just made a run for it. My big dog, Darla, came along for the adventure. We blasted across the yard to the rhubarb patch, my arms flailing to shoo the bugs away. “Run! Run! Run! Run,” I called out in time to my footfalls. No time to waste! I twisted off a couple dozen stalks of the pink and green fruit, and beat a path right back to the house.

I cut off the big leafy tops and the tough bases. I chopped the rest, and put it in the colander for a good rinse. I combined flour, brown sugar, oatmeal and butter into a nice crumble. I put half of it in the pan, sprinkled it with cinnamon, and spread the rhubarb over it. I covered it with the rest of the crumble. Another dusting of cinnamon, a few dots of butter and one tablespoon of water sprinkled over the top, and it was ready for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

I served it, when it was done, the way I used to give it to my daughters for breakfast: piping hot, in a bowl, with milk. It was a perfect spring supper! Just like the rhododendron photo, it was worth the trip!

 

 

 

A Day Turns Around

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I won’t go into the many and varied elements that contributed to the end result, but I was bone-tired, grouchy, and on the verge of tears by the time I got home last evening.

I have been determinedly forcing myself, no matter how tired from my day at work, to get in an hour or two of garden work every day, digging, weeding and planting, before I come inside. Even with that, my progress is slow, and the summer will quickly be upon us. There are days when I’m stymied by rain. There is no time to waste!

Last evening, I let the garden go. I quickly unloaded the groceries from car to house. I refrigerated what needed it, and put my precious pint of special ice cream in the freezer. I loaded the dogs in the car, rolled down the windows, and headed for Fox Lake. There, a couple geese with a half-dozen goslings swam leisurely just off-shore. The dogs wandered, and waded, and played. I updated my planner, took a few photographs, and relaxed. A walk through the woods along the shoreline completed our excursion, and we headed for home.

It had started sprinkling by the time we got there. Inside, then! While feeding the dogs and putting my own dinner together, I called my sister Brenda. There was a bonus: my sister Robin was there, too! I spoke to both of them, told them about all the worries and conflict playing around in my head, listened to good advice and welcome empathy, heard about their day, and even found plenty to laugh about. It was a long, good conversation that ended with “I love you”s all around, and improved my mood tremendously.

Off the phone, I sat down to a dinner that included potato salad made to my Mom’s recipe and standards. I mixed it up and served it from the sunshine yellow ceramic bowl Aunt Katie gave me. For dessert, a wedge of rhubarb crisp, from the first rhubarb picking of the year. Again, Mom’s recipe. Later, one small waffle cone filled with raspberry-cheesecake gelato. None of these foods are good for my diet. All were worth it for the good they did for my state of mind!

Finally, I eschewed “cleaning time” and laundry waiting to be moved along in the never-ending cycle. I poured a glass of wine. I used a special hand blown wineglass in swirling blaze colors that was a gift from my daughter Kate. I ran a hot bath, and added scented oil that I’d purchased on a trip with my sisters. I lit a candle. I gathered up a fluffy towel, my good book, and the wineglass. A long soak in the tub, then early to bed.

Not every bad day can be turned around; yesterday, I managed it.

 

 

 

Artifacts to Memories: Things I Can’t Let Go

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There is a lot of stuff in my life. I was hoping for a more delicate term, but “stuff” seems apt. Gifts, purchases, hand-me-downs and inheritances. Sixty-four years worth of accumulated belongings. Enough to divide into several categories.

There are the things I hold on to for their sentimental value. Ranging from drawings and cards that my young daughters made more than thirty years ago, to photographs, to little gifts from friends and family, to my very first hard-cover chapter book, to my dining room table. The table was a junk store find that my Dad brought home, that was used as our clothes-folding table and extra-seating-at-holiday-time table for most of my life. Then, moved out to the garage, it was my brother David’s work and party table (the surface gained a few cigarette burns and saw marks from that phase), my sister Sheila’s table to relax with a book and a beverage…and finally my dining room table.

There are things I keep because they are necessary, or because they seem necessary to me. Most of my clothing fits this category…but so do many books, plants, baskets, candles, art supplies, art work, and a large collection of flat, round stones. I know there is too much. I go through periods of purging and paring down. These “necessities” are spared, because the thought of losing them gives me heart palpitations.

Then, there are the items I hold on to, because of an – often unrealistic – idea of the person I would like to be. A collection of beautiful yarn waits, in a basket with crochet hooks and scissors, for the day when I am transformed back into the woman I used to be: a young mother, making gifts and treasures from bits of yarn. Other baskets, boxes and suitcases hold fabrics, embroidery floss, needlepoint canvas, rug-making tools and accessories, and quilt squares. My life doesn’t have room for the activities associated with all of this “stuff,” but I can’t give up on the idea that it will.

That young woman that I was, along with a Katherine Hepburn/Jo March/Martha Stewart-esque vision of a person I would like to be are evident in excesses throughout my house, from bookshelves to closets to kitchen cupboards. I would like to be someone who drinks tea, does yoga, listens to cool jazz, wears hats, raises chickens, grows all of her own food, reads the classics, and hosts lovely dinner parties…including trifle for dessert. I am not, but many of my belonging would lead one to think so.

That is the crux of the problem, when faced with getting rid of things I don’t use. I love that young woman that I used to be, with a dozen projects going and a whole lifetime ahead to finish them. I can’t seem to let go of her, yet. I still picture myself with chickens and a big garden, doing yoga, jazz music coming from the stereo, James Joyce on my nightstand. Until I give up on the person I was, and the person I want to be, I can hardly give up her accessories!