I never think about ice cream in the wintertime. In my drafty house, when it’s freezing outside, I rarely want something cold. Maybe, if I’m having chocolate cookies or gingersnaps, I’ll drink a glass of cold milk, but that’s it. Usually, after dinner, I’ll sip a cup of hot tea. Now and then, I have popcorn and cocoa. Occasionally, a glass of red wine. Not chilled.
When the weather gets warm, though, I think of ice cream. I picked up a half gallon of it about a month ago. Double-Chocolate Almond. That’s my very favorite. Unless the market has Raspberry Cheesecake Gelato, which is both addictive and expensive…and worth every penny! Plain old Strawberry is fine, if it’s one of the brands that has real bits of berry swirled through, and Butter Pecan is always a satisfactory choice. In the hot, hot days of summer, sometimes a sherbet is refreshing.
For my first ice cream of the season, though, I went for the chocolate. I had to rearrange the freezer to make room for it. I stacked a couple pint-sized freezer containers, pushed a bag of broccoli to the back, and moved a package of meat to the drawer in the refrigerator section. I removed three votive candle holders that were only in there so that I could snap the last of the wax out of them. Then, finally, if I stood it on its side, the ice cream fit just inside the door.
Then, I forgot about it. I didn’t have another reason to open the freezer door and, despite the deceptive sunshine, it wasn’t really all that warm. When I felt like a little dessert, as I often do after dinner, I’d have a dish of cottage cheese topped with a spoonful of crushed pineapple. Or, a bowl of cereal with fruit. Or, just fruit. If I happened to actually have a real dessert, cookies or cake or – for one fortunate week – an apple pie, of course, I’d have that.
The ice cream stood, forgotten, just inside the freezer door. Until last week, when I remembered it there. Eureka! I mixed two tablespoons of sugar, and one tablespoon each of cocoa powder, butter, and water all together in a saucepan; I warmed it over medium heat until it was bubbly. I sliced a whole banana into a bowl. Topped it with three small scoops of delicious Double Chocolate Almond ice cream. Poured the hot chocolate sauce over it. Added a dollop of whipped cream. That was my first ice cream of the season. And it was perfect!
Today, C is the letter dictating my topic in this A to Z challenge, and Easter is right around the corner, bringing thoughts of all kinds of sweets. So, it’s a good time to write about chocolate.
I’ve always had a weakness for chocolate. I don’t remember ever not liking it. My mother, raising her family in the 1950s, thought dessert should be offered after supper at least a few times each week. Often, because she was busy, it was something simple. Chocolate pudding was my favorite. Brownies were another treat. Chocolate cake was always my choice for my birthday.
In the summertime, we older children were allowed to walk to the store, herding several of the younger ones with us. In the quarter mile between our house and the store, there was a lakeside tavern and a boat launch. That contributed to quite a few beverage bottles tossed on the roadside. We collected the discarded bottles as we walked. The deposit in those days was 2 cents each; by the time we reached the little country grocery, we had enough to buy treats.
The ice cream freezer was favored, despite the dripping mess that would ensue on the way home. Sometimes the “nutty buddy” ice cream cone with the chocolate and nut topping would be my choice. The sugar cone held the melting ice cream, sometimes long enough to finish it. My most frequent pick, though, was the “fudgsicle.” It was a rectangular block of frozen, fudgy chocolate on a stick. Though it was delicious, I never made it all the way home without having chocolate dripping down my arms. Then I, along with all the younger kids, covered with their own sticky choices, would find the garden hose, to clean up before we went inside.
In the fall and winter, my mother attended meetings of the St. Jude Circle at our church. My father was in charge, then. Often, to entertain the children, he’d make fudge. He didn’t use a candy thermometer. I don’t think he even measured the ingredients. He seemed to work by instinct and habit. It always turned out perfectly! He gave us the credit.
Many times, as Dad stood stirring the bubbling mixture in the heavy pan, he’d spoon out a sample onto a saucer. One of us older kids was responsible, then, for carrying it over to share with the rest, making sure it was cooled enough before letting anyone dip their fingers in, seeing that everyone got a taste, and then reporting back to Dad how good it was. He was watching, as he spooned it out, for it to have reached the right temperature. Then, he’d pour it into a buttered cake pan, and we’d wait for it to set. Which it always did.
I’ve tried, over the years, to recreate Dad’s delicious fudge, always without success. Even when carefully measuring ingredients, following instructions, and using a candy thermometer to bring the mixture to precisely the right temperature, I have failed. Sometimes it’s under-done, resulting in a tar-like mixture that refuses to set up and is impossible to cut. Other times it is over-done, crumbly and gray. I finally gave up on it.
When I am craving chocolate, or nostalgic for Dad’s alchemic ritual, I make quick cookies. This is my mother-in-law’s recipe, and – as long as I keep an eye on the clock – it never fails.
In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups of sugar, one-third cup of butter, one-third cup of cocoa, and one-half cup of milk. Mix, and warm over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for exactly one minute. That is crucial. It’s worth having a clock or a watch with a second-hand for timing it. Then, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in about one-quarter cup of peanut butter, and 3 cups of oatmeal. Drop by the spoonful onto parchment paper or foil, and give them a few minutes to set up. That’s it!
P.S. to my brother and sisters: Before adding peanut butter and oatmeal to the mixture, spoon out a small portion onto a saucer. Eat it by licking it off your fingers while you’re waiting for your cookies to set up. It will propel you back more than fifty years, to the long table in Mom and Dad’s red and white kitchen, surrounded by smiling children, with Dad at the stove!
My Dad used to recite a little rhyme: “Beans, beans, the musical fruit/ The more you eat, the more you toot/ The more you toot, the better you feel/ So let’s eat beans for every meal!” As children, we giggled over the ditty, and over the predictable side effects of the food. Though canned Pork & Beans was a fairly common side dish when I was growing up, my Mom used dried beans infrequently. Homemade bean soup or, more often, split-pea soup were rare treats reserved for those days when Mom had a good, meaty hambone for flavor.
Bean soup is common in my household. From the first cool days of autumn until late in the spring, I make bean soup every other week, usually on the same day that I bake bread. It’s always different, depending on whim, and what I have on hand. It is mostly vegetarian, though I’m not against adding bits of meat for extra flavor if I happen to have it. Italian sausage, ground beef, chicken, or even a hambone have found their way into my kettle of soup at different times.
My recipe varies, but the strategy remains the same. My method speeds up the process, and eliminates the unfortunate side effects that my Dad sang about. I start with about a cup of dried beans. I buy mine at the Co-op in Petoskey, and store them in jars on my kitchen shelves. Sometimes it’s all one type of bean, but more often, I mix them up: a handful of Great Northern beans; a handful of Lima beans; a scattering of Black-Eyed peas for good luck. A portion of lentils or split peas will break down more readily, and provide a thicker broth.
I put my chosen combination in a pan, cover the legumes with water, and add a pinch of baking soda. When the water boils, reduce the heat and let the pot simmer for about ten minutes, then turn off the burner and let it cool. This eliminates the need for soaking the beans overnight; the baking soda gets rid of the bean’s gas-producing properties. After about an hour, I pour the mixture through a colander, give the beans a quick rinse, and return them to the pan.
Next, I add a quart of stewed tomatoes, two quarts of fresh water, and about two cups of vegetables. This usually consists of diced onion and celery. If I have some green pepper, I add that. I always save the tough stems of broccoli, and the core of cabbage or cauliflower for soup; cut into small pieces, they add a great flavor. After this mixture has simmered for a couple hours, I may add chopped spinach or kale, and carrots. Then, I add a handful of grain. Barley is my favorite, but rice, corn meal, or steel-cut oats will thicken and flavor a soup. too. If I have wild rice on hand, it’s a welcome addition. If I’m going to add cooked meat, now is the time.
This mixture will simmer for another hour or so, until dinnertime. If the broth seems too thin, I remove about a cup of soup, whirl it in the blender, then return it to the kettle. If it’s too thick, I add tomato juice or more water. It’s a cheap meal that provides one hearty dinner and a week of lunches afterward. Inexpensive, easy, and impossible to mess up. And how nice to have a kettle simmering on the stove! That combines to make bean soup a standard in my house!
Last year, when I started the “April A to Z Challenge,” I was in Hawaii, and my title was “Aloha.” I was, in fact, stranded in Hawaii by shut-downs associated with the – then brand new – Corona Virus. What a year it has been! What a time we have all been through! Today, beginning on this first day of April, I feel that this last year has got to take center stage.
First of all, let me remind you what the April A to Z challenge is. Through this month, I’ll post one blog every day except Sunday, based on the letters of the alphabet. I don’t have a particular theme in mind; maybe one will develop as I move through the letters. For now, it’s just the commitment. During this month, I am setting aside the list of blog topics that I’ve been writing about on Sundays, based on David Whyte’s book, Consolations. I plan to take Sundays off from blogging in April; I’ll pick that up again in May. I’m also changing my “Timeout for Art” blog. I’ve been working my way through the alphabet with that, too, and had just gotten to those difficult few letters at the end…I’m happy for the interruption there! Though art will still turn up as a topic, this month it will have to fall in to whatever letters turn up mid-week..
I should clarify that “stranded in Hawaii” sounds a lot more dire than it actually was. My older daughter and I had travelled together for a visit to my younger daughter and her family. Our one week planned vacation was extended to almost a month. Truly, it was quite wonderful! The weather, of course, was fabulous. We always felt safe. We were comfortable and well taken care of in my daughters house. Until last spring, I hadn’t had more than a couple days at a time with my two daughters together in at least thirty years. So, though there were concerns about our jobs and pets, and our lives were put on hold, I feel blessed to have experienced that special time.
By the time I got home, and finished my mandatory self-quarantine, I had been replaced in my job at the hardware store. That was, without a doubt, challenging in many ways. Still, it offered me several weeks OFF, in the spring and summer, on Beaver Island, for the very first time since I moved here in 1978! My vegetable and flower beds were never so well-tended. My lawn got mowed before it looked like a field. My dogs basked in the attention. And I loved it!
Since last year at this time, I started a new, seasonal job at the Beaver Island Golf Course. I began volunteering at the Island Treasures Resale Shop. I worked out the details for an art show next October. I read at least one book each week. I continued and expanded on a rewarding morning routine. I took care of several long-neglected medical procedures. I found and enjoyed quite a few new recipes. I walked almost every day.
It’s not possible, though, to look back on this year without acknowledging the tremendous devastation caused by Covid-19. How many lives have changed? How many jobs have been lost? How many businesses have closed? How many have died? Everyone knows someone lost to the disease. Everyone has been affected by it. This virus has touched all of us, in the entire world, in one way or another. We are experiencing trepidation and fear, trauma, and grief on a scale never experienced in my lifetime. This year has altered our thinking, and our behavior. I think, as humans, we are forever changed.
That’s the crux of it, I guess. This last year has been defined by the ways that the virus has changed our lives. Everything else seems unimportant in comparison. That makes it all the more necessary, I think, to continue to notice all the little pleasures along the way. As long as I’m here to appreciate them, they still matter!
The more I think about it, the more it seems that disappointment is a pretty common emotion in my household. I’m surprised at how often it comes up!
I was planning to write about a job I recently applied for, and did not get. With help from my sweet daughter, Kate, I updated my resume. I filled out the application form and read through the job description. Then I debated about whether I really wanted the position or not. At the eleventh hour, I turned in the paperwork. An interview was scheduled. I anticipated topics and prepared possible responses. I also wrote out several questions about the job requirements. I had a long conversation via “zoom” with Kate and her family, to make myself comfortable with the on-line meeting format, and to make sure the screen was placed so that I was not looking ghoulish, or like I had a double chin.
The only glitch, on the day of the scheduled meeting, was several inches of fresh snow. While I was waiting for the interview to start, the road truck went down the road, throwing all of my dogs into fits of barking. They had just calmed down when the other participants showed up on screen. I started right out with a warning that, if the young man showed up to plow my driveway, I’d have to interrupt the interview to put at least one dog (Rosa Parks is the instigator) into “time-out.” It’s good that I warned them, because that exact thing happened!
Beyond that, though, the interview went well, in my opinion. I was able to communicate my abilities, voice my concerns, and address their questions confidently. I know all of the other participants, and they were each as friendly, kind and generous as I expected they would be. The next day, I got a call letting me know I did not get the position.
I felt a little twinge of disappointment, sure. It would have been nice to be working at something challenging like that. It would be a chance to use my abilities and education; I’d be learning new skills, increasing my knowledge and stretching my boundaries. The money would be helpful.
If I had gotten the position, though, I’m sure I would have felt an equal amount of disappointment. I’d had so many concerns. Did I really want to take on a third part-time job? The hours to fulfill the requirements of the position would not, I’m sure, include the self-training I’d need to update my computer skills. Would I be a failure? Was I trying to do too much? When would I find time to make art? To walk the dogs?
So, that’s one example, in my life, of “Disappointment-No-Matter-What.” It’s a fairly regular occurrence. I walked, penguin-like, to the end of my icy driveway yesterday, only to find the entire length of Fox Lake Road to be equally as icy. Too slippery to take a long walk. That’s a disappointment. The day before, the road to the north was nearly clear, and the dogs and I went for a good long walk…which eliminated time to get in the studio before dinner. That was disappointing.
It’s kind of a trade-off. I’m always a tiny bit disappointed when I finish a good book, but I’m excited, in equal measure, to begin a new one. Every page that I turn in my journal gives me a wisp of disappointment at the lack of accomplishment and the too-swift passage of time. Yet every new page is a fresh start, with new promise and possibility. Disappointment at not being able to travel means, at the same time, no guilt and turmoil over leaving the dogs at the kennel. Disappointment over not being able to eat out is accompanied by the comfortable pleasure of enjoying my own cooking at home, with book in hand, and three dogs waiting for leftovers.
Disappointments are just little bumps along the road that remind me to take notice. They aren’t devastating; they don’t lead to despair. They are part of the juggling act in my life, where there are many good things that cannot all be acted upon at once. That kind of disappointment, I can live with!
In my long life, there have been many good Christmases, and it has always been my favorite holiday. Too often, though, anticipation leads to disappointment, when the holiday falls short of my expectations. Or, there’s a big let-down when it’s over. One Christmas, though, lives in my memory as just about perfect.
That fall, my husband and I had sold our small, drafty, badly-in-need-of-repair house on Lake Pleasant, and moved in to a brand new townhouse just outside of the downtown area of Lapeer. We were in our early 20s, and had been married not quite four years. Our daughter, Jennifer, would turn three in January; our second child was due in December. Loving my beautiful new home, and experiencing the “nesting” instinct often associated with pregnancy, I embraced Christmas decorating.
Over the chair in the living room, I hung a bright green wreath my mother-in-law made for me, of painted and folded computer punch cards. Bells on ribbons were draped over every door knob. I had three ceramic angels, each dressed in gold and each holding a musical instrument, standing on the end of the counter that divided the kitchen from the dining room. On the wall above them, I hung a slab of old barn wood on which I’d fashioned a Christmas tree.
The tree was made of bits of green florist’s foam and scraps of torn tissue paper glued on to the surface. The “ornaments” were buttons, tiny beads, and earrings that had lost their mate. Chains from old jewelry formed the garland, and a folded tin foil star topped it off. I’d fastened everything in place, then given it several coats of shiny varnish.
Our Christmas stockings were hanging on the half wall that faced the entry door, including a small one for the baby, not yet arrived. Our Christmas tree waited outside on the patio, until the holiday got a little closer, but the music of the season played in my house all day long.
My daughter, Katherine, was born on the eleventh of December. She started off with a bit of jaundice, and had to stay longer in the hospital. When we brought her home, just a few days before Christmas, my heart was full, and the holiday spirit was strong.
My sister-in-law, Dena, came over with her new baby, and the two tiny infants napped on the sofa while Jennifer helped us bake cookies. That evening we brought in the tree, set it up and decorated it. The year before, Jennifer and I had made ornaments from baker’s clay: the characters from The Nutcracker, sweet angels, the three kings, and a few cute elves. Homemade Chicken and stars soup simmered on the stove; Christmas songs filled the air.
When my daughters were asleep, I got back to the on-going task of wrapping presents. That’s how the days went by: cooking, baking, making gifts, wrapping presents, and loving my little family.
Christmas Eve was when my husband’s parents celebrated the holiday, so we went to their house for dinner, and gift exchange. It was always a big feast, with lots of appetizers and lots of desserts. Because my in-laws both worked, they relished time off around the holidays. The family gathering was always fun. We then went home for our own preparations.
On Christmas Eve, Jennifer told us, “I know Santa Claus is getting me a train for Christmas! It’s what I want more than everything!” She had neglected to actually mention that train to anyone, even Santa Claus when she went to sit on his lap in the mall, or in the letter she dictated for him. So, her Dad set out late on Christmas Eve night, through a raging snowstorm, to find a train.
He found one, finally, at Perry Drug Store. It was smaller than we’d have liked, but the price was right. Mainly, it was available! Relieved, we set it up under the tree. Jennifer’s face reflected her joy when she saw it, “I knew he’d remember,” she announced happily. I don’t think she ever played with her train after Christmas morning!
On Christmas Eve, all the thoughtful gifts that had been purchased over the previous months were placed under the tree. The stockings were filled. The red-and-white striped “Santa’s wrapping paper” presents were added. The unwrapped balls, stuffed animals and the train were spread around. With a picture of the “ideal” Christmas tree embedded in my mind from my childhood, when gifts for nine children competed for space, I thought, “it’s not enough!”
So, with my baby sleeping in the bassinet beside me, and my little girl asleep in her cozy bed upstairs, with my husband dozing on the sofa while A Christmas Carol played on the TV, I crocheted through the night. A hat for Jennifer, dark blue, with double-thick earmuffs and a multi-color ruffled brim. A foot-long clown for baby Katey, and a bigger one for Jenny. Because I hadn’t planned for this, the only stuffing I had was old nylon stockings. Finally, long after midnight, I relented and got a few hours of sleep.
Christmas morning! I made coffee and baked sweet rolls first. With Katey in my arms, I watched as Jenny investigated the contents of her stocking. She found the unwrapped gifts and toys, and showed Katey the ones that were hers. When my in-laws stopped in, the rest of the presents. Then, there was time to relax for a bit.
Later, after baths and showers, dressed in our best Christmas finery we went to my parents house. There, I showed off my new baby, and helped finish the meal preparation, that my Mom had been working at for days. Dad grinned as he helped his guests to the bar, set up on the side table. We gathered around the long table, with another table in the back room for the overflow. We exchanged gifts, told stories, exchanged news and played games.
Maybe there was tension in the air, at my in-laws house, or at my family home. Sometimes that happened, over the holidays. Maybe my husband drank too much. It’s possible that the children – there were plenty of them – were grouchy or noisy. There could have been disappointments. If so, I don’t remember any of it. This Christmas lives in my memory as the perfect holiday, and that’s exactly how I want to remember it!
I love the topic of “beauty” for the opportunity to tell one of my favorite memories.
It happened a long time ago. I was not yet thirty years old, married, with two children. We were living at Corner #16, in North Branch, in the back apartment of a duplex, in a building that had once been the Deerfield Township Hall.
My husband was on his way home from work; I was getting dinner ready. My daughters, aged four and seven, were playing in the next room. They had their dolls spread out over the carpet, and were dressing them in one fancy gown after another.
Barbie dolls, when I was young, were the -very unrealistic and completely unattainable – ideal of feminine beauty. Though my daughters grew up in a more enlightened age, and were exposed to a much broader definition of what it meant to be a girl, Barbie, unfortunately, still held her place.
When I was a child, and well into my teen years, “playing with Barbie dolls” involved long, continuing, soap-opera style story-lines, and entire sections of the bedroom converted into Barbie doll homes, job sites and town. For my little girls, it was mostly just changing their clothes.
One stunning outfit after another would be put on and stripped off the dolls. Any imaginary dialogue was usually just commentary on the outfits. “Oh, Barbie, that looks really beautiful on you!” “Oh, Ken, thank you!”
I casually listened to the girls chattering back and forth as I diced vegetables and put a casserole together. Suddenly Jennifer, the seven-year-old, let out a big sigh. “Katey,” she addressed her little sister wistfully, “Don’t you wish our Mom was beautiful?”
Little Katey, barely four-years-old, and still unable to pronounce the letter V, was thrilled to be included in such a grown-up discussion. She sat up, and slowly nodded.
“Yeeaaah…” came her thoughtful reply, “eben if she’d wear her wedding dress around, it wouldn’t be sooooo bad!”
I imagined the scene: I, with a body that showed the wear of two pregnancies, and my choppy, DIY haircut, would stand at the kitchen door to call my family in to supper. Just for emphasis, I picture myself scratching, Ma Kettle style, at crotch or armpit.
I’d use the sing-song, stretched-out call that my mother taught us to call our brothers and sisters from the far reaches of the yard, garden, orchard or field: “Cooome and Eeeeeeeaaaaaat!!” My daughters would come around the corner of the house from the back yard. They’d stop in their tracks, mouths falling open in awe and admiration.
Because there I would be…with “the gown” on.
Over forty years have passed, and the image still makes me laugh!
Not that I’ve been trying to rush the season. No…summer, could have stayed awhile. I am not yet tired of long, warm and sunshiny days. I could stand several more weeks of it, without complaint.
Still, this year more than others in recent memory, fall started announcing its pending arrival early. Chilly nights brought out the blankets, and warned that cold weather was coming. First, it was acknowledged as a relief:
“Great sleeping weather!”
“I’m loving these cool nights!”
Warm days at the beach followed by nights nestled under heavy quilts is how I remember August on childhood vacations on Beaver Island. Wonderful! “Chilly,” though, gave way to downright cold this year. Almost a month ago, I went around and closed every window, stored the box fan in the attic, and carried the portable heater downstairs.
For weeks, conversations have turned toward all the signs that warn of a hard winter coming. The days, which lengthen by such slow increments in the spring, seem to shorten rapidly this time of year. “Dark, already,” I observe with surprise day after day. The activity of deer and squirrels; the gathering of birds; the behavior of small rodents are all signals to watch.
The mice are unquestionably moving inside. At the hardware store, the section of the store that holds rodent-control products is depleted weekly. I’ve heard many stories of mice showing up in homes and in places where they’ve never been seen before. Too many apples? Too few coyotes? We can only speculate on the reasons.
“Are the leaves changing yet?” The questions come from other locations, from people who would happily travel north for the glory of fall colors. We watch closely, as that is another signal that fall is coming. First it’s just one branch showing red, on a whole tree of green leaves. Or one single golden leaf. Then, just overnight, it seems, the King’s highway is ablaze with color!
The cold weather continued, through August and into September. Cool night temperatures dipped to cold, and stretched into the daylight hours. We compared the readings on indoor and outdoor thermometers. We asked each other, “how cold did it get?” The farther you live from the Lake Michigan, the more vulnerable you are to early frost. When Doug Tilley reported he’d had to scrape ice from his windshield, I knew my garden was on borrowed time.
On the last day of summer, I filled one basket with spinach leaves, and another with kale. I pulled up the basil, and plucked every precious green leaf off the stems. I picked all of the tomatoes. I was merciless in discarding those with blemishes and bruises. I threw away the ones that were too immature to hold any hope of ripening, and filled one bowl with perfect green tomatoes. The red ones, I lined up on the counter near the sink.
I stacked and stored the metal tomato cages, then filled the wheelbarrow with the vines. I pulled up the cucumber plants, harvesting four that were hiding in the greenery. Squash was next. I saved every blossom. I tossed two tiny butternut squash that had no hope of ripening. The zucchini and other summer squash, which has produced spottily all summer long, served up more than a dozen new fruit, no bigger than my index finger.
I dug the shovel into the ground where my potato plants had been, then pushed my hands into the loosened soil. I was rewarded with a half dozen fist-sized potatoes. I pulled up all the bush beans plants, then yanked out the branches that formed the pole bean teepees. The tall vines yielded a handful of overripe beans that I’d missed when I last gathered them. Everything harvested at this late date seems dear: the last the garden has to offer.
On the last day of summer, I simmered peppers, basil and tomatoes with salt, pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar to make a fresh sauce that seemed to capture the essence of the season. I spooned it over diced and roasted potatoes for dinner. Before I went to bed, I put a handful each of dried black beans and great northern beans in a pot. I carefully peeled back the pods of my own pole beans, and added each bean seed to the mix, then added water to let them soak.
On the first day of fall, I made end-of-summer soup. I put the teakettle on to boil, then sliced an X into the top of each ripe tomato, and set them into the sink. When the water boiled, I poured it over the tomatoes to loosen their skins. I drained the soaking water from the bean pot and set it on the stove. As I peeled and rough chopped the tomatoes, I added them to the softened beans, and brought them to a simmer.
As the day progressed, the dry beans softened and took on the flavor of the tomatoes they were stewing in. I cut up the spinach, kale and squash blossoms, and added them to the pot. I chopped up a green pepper, a half head of cauliflower, two stalks of celery and three carrots that were in the vegetable compartment of my refrigerator. I diced an onion, and the last of the potatoes. I washed and sliced each tiny, seedless zucchini, letting their fluted edges dress up the mixture. To finish, I tossed in a slight handful of barley, and sprinkled some salt and pepper.
When it was done, I filled a bowl with soup. I carried it outside into a day – the first day in more than a week – that felt like summer. Warm enough to sit outside without a sweater. Warm enough to think, if it weren’t for the calendar, and the fall colors, and the now barren garden spot, that summer was still with us.
We all mark the changing seasons in ways large and small. In my house, warm soup made from the last of the garden’s offerings is a good way to welcome the beginning of fall.
Two weeks ago, I was on top of things. At least that’s how it seems, looking back from my present situation, which is polar opposite of “on top of things.” Today, it seems like I’m on the bottom of a very large pile of things, scrambling to get my footing. What happened?
It was just about two weeks ago when my sisters started arriving for their week-long Beaver Island vacation. I’d had a good summer up to that point, both relaxing and productive. My garden was doing well, the house was in order, and work was progressing nicely in the studio. I was working a few days a week, but was looking forward to more time than usual with my family.
Cheryl arrived on Saturday. I stopped at the family farmhouse after work to say hello. We made plans to meet later for dinner and a trip to the cemetery to plant flowers, and I went home to take care of my dogs. They met me at the kitchen door. I gave them a good greeting, and we went for a long walk. I wandered through the garden to pull a few weeds and pick what was ripe. Inside, I packaged up my contribution to dinner, and started to fill the dog’s dishes for their evening meal.
It was only then that I glanced into the front room. What in the world?!
My bookshelves had given way, spilling their contents all over the room. My little television was dangling by its electrical cord. The stereo was face down on the floor. Books were strewn over every surface. Baskets, once filled with yarn, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs and assorted on-going projects, had been relieved of their contents, too. I was thankful that the dogs, often sleeping right in the path of all of the destruction, had not been hurt. I assessed the damage, made a few necessary adjustments, fed the dogs, and went out the door to keep my plans.
So, it was several hours later when I sifted through the mess to make some sense of it, and cleared enough of a path through the room to make it usable. Cheryl had offered several times to come and help me, but I declined. The room is small, and the mess was huge. Even alone, I often had difficulty finding a place to step; there was no room for a second person.
Books had to be picked from the shelves before the shelves could be moved. Sometimes, removing the books caused a shelf to slide away in an unexpected direction. It was a long, tedious process. By the time I went to bed, I had a huge pile of books in a corner, and a stack of shelves against one wall. The supports were in a mound on the dining room floor, and the TV was on the table. And, my back was out.
And, two weeks later, that’s exactly where everything still is. Because, the next day, I worked eight hours. And my back was still causing problems. And, three more sisters arrived, along with husbands, friends and one niece. My brother-in-law, Keith, brought up my shelves more than once; if I’d asked, I’m sure he would have helped me tackle the project. I didn’t ask. One week is a short time to visit with loved ones that I see only a few times in an entire year. That was my priority.
Meals together; game nights; beach time; catching up on family happenings, mutual acquaintances, general news and health updates after months apart: that was most important to me. That’s how my time was best spent, and I don’t regret it a bit. I took time away from work last Sunday to – sadly – see the last of my family off on the ferry boat.
Monday, I went back to work at the hardware store, after a four-month hiatus. Many of the summer workers my boss had hired are going back to college, so my job was available again. Continuing to honor commitments I took on in the meantime, I am now suddenly working six days a week. And, boy, am I out of practice! This is exhausting! In addition, over the course of the last two weeks, weeds have taken over my garden and the grass needs to be mowed.
Today is my only day off. The electric screwdriver is on the charger; if it charges, I’ll be able to tackle the bookshelves. I bought gas for the lawnmower. Bed linens are in the washer; I plan to hang them on the line to dry. I’m going to take all the rugs outside to shake them, and sweep through the house. I intend to make some salads to carry for my lunches this week. Big plans…if I ever find the energy to get out of this chair!
We are awfully close to halfway through summer. In some ways, it seems to be flying by. In others, this has been the summer of my dreams, and distant memories. I’ve probably already mentioned that I haven’t had a summer off, on Beaver Island, since I first moved here in 1978, until now. I always worked hard, too: busy days; long hours. Summers are the busiest season here.
This year, though, Covid-19 has wreaked havoc everywhere. Though this island remains, at this time, free of the virus, we still have all the usual misgivings about how to stay safe. We need the business, but it’s scary to think of crowds of people coming here from areas where the virus is prevalent. Fortunately or not, many usual summer visitors have not come. The Corona Virus has taken a big bite out of our tourist industry, and left me temporarily out of work.
I watch with sadness and horror as other communities deal with overwhelming sickness and death. I’m very aware that my age puts in in a “high risk” group. There is still some trepidation whenever I have to be in public. I cancelled a planned trip to attend my grandson’s high school graduation party downstate, due to fears about being exposed. And I’m still second guessing myself over that decision. I don’t want to be ruled by fear, but I absolutely want to be safe.
Beyond all that, though, I’m having a wonderful time! I am kind of a loner, and definitely an introvert. I have house, garden and studio to keep me busy, dogs to keep me entertained, and a regular routine to provide some structure to my days. I have a little one-day-a-week volunteer position, and a new part-time job on the week-ends. I get a little Social Security check each month, and a little unemployment to supplement that. This is a lovely summer!
Mondays, though! When I worked at the hardware store, and before that when I worked at the Shamrock Restaurant and Pub, I almost always worked Saturday and Sunday. My “week-end” is Monday and Tuesday. So, even now when I mostly don’t work, I wake up on Monday with a sense of urgency, a feeling of near panic, at all the things I need to do. Today was no different.
I got up early and got going right away. First my morning routine: meditate; write; draw; yoga. Then I spent about an hour studying. I am working my way through an embarrassingly large collection of self-help books, with topics ranging from art techniques to exercise to how to stop procrastinating or become a better listener, writer, cook or general human being. If nothing else comes of this time off, I will have at the very least made every effort to better myself!
I took a shower and dressed, then took the dogs on their first walk of the day. Garden, next, to water and weed. Then on to one of the flower beds It’s hot out there, though! Especially in that flower bed, against the south wall of my house. There was no breeze, and the heat was magnified by the white siding. When I was driven inside, I’d start a load of wash, dust a surface, or sweep something. Then back at it. When I cleaned up for lunch, I made a pot of chicken soup. Always, with the idea that I’d better keep busy. No time to waste. Lots of things to get done.
As I was working at filling the wheelbarrow with crab grass and bladder wort that has taken over among the day lilies, my mind was racing ahead to the next thing to do. The rugs need to be shaken out and washed. I have two paintings underway in the studio. Windows show patterns of dog nose and dog paw. Before long, the yard will need to be mowed again.
After my third long bout of weeding, while wiping the sweat from my brow, it occurred to me: what I don’t get done today, I can do tomorrow. Or the next day,Or the day after that! I broke into a big grin. I love this summer! Mondays do not have to be filled to the brim with urgent tasks. Mondays can be just another normal day. As long as I remember!