Category Archives: Cooking

Christmas Past

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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!

Beauty

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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!

Here is Fall

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“Time is a storm in which we are all lost.”

~ William Carlos Williams

Finally, here is fall.

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.

Can I Ever Catch Up?

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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?!

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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.

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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!

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a sunset shared with my sisters

Monday, Monday…

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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!

Dear Mom…

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When my mother was alive, I missed a thousand opportunities to have a chat with her. I could have easily picked up the telephone, but didn’t. My letter writing was pretty hit or miss: I’d write pretty regularly for a while, then neglect the practice for months at a time. I am ashamed to admit that sometimes, arriving in my home town, I’d deliberately drive past my parent’s house, waiting until I felt “more prepared” for a visit.

In the last few months of Mom’s life, when I knew the end was imminent, I regretted each one of those missed opportunities, and cherished every chance I had to speak with her. Though she’s been gone almost nine years now, there are still things I wish I could talk to her about.

Dear Mom, the pussy willows are blooming, now, off the King’s Highway. They always make me think of you. I first noticed them growing there more than thirty years ago, when I saw Madonna McCafferty, parked at the side of the road and trying to navigate the ditch to cut some of them. You always had a big bouquet of pussy willows every spring. I wish I knew where you got them. You put them in a glossy, mottled gray ceramic vase. The vase sat in the back room, on top of the clothes dryer. The blossoms seemed to last for months.

The few times I’ve followed in Madonna’s path and waded into the ditch to cut them, they seemed hardly worth the effort. After only a few days, each gray fluff would  send out a myriad of tiny threads with yellow ends, that would drop in a powdery mess all over the table. How did you make yours last so long? How did you keep them from going to seed?

Dear Mom, the snowball bush is in bloom in my front flower bed. Mine is much more upright in habit than the one that grew beside the cinder driveway in your parent’s yard, but the blossoms are the same. Their’s grew rounded, like an igloo, with each of the branches tipping over to the ground. It left a hollow space underneath. You’d walk us on the path from our house to theirs, then go inside to visit with Grandma, while Brenda, Ted and I, tiny children, played in the cool shade under the snowball bush. I wonder if Grandpa Ted pruned it to make it grow that way. I wish I’d thought to ask you.

Dear Mom, after working in the yard and garden for most of yesterday afternoon, I was ready for a simple summer supper. Grilled kielbasa and potato salad was my plan. I always use your recipe for potato salad: potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, radishes and cucumber. Cooking for your big family, you always made two large dishes of potato salad: one with onion; one without. Most of the time, I don’t bother with the onion, though I like it both ways. The dressing is mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. I’m a little more generous with the mustard, but otherwise, just like yours.

When making pasta or potato salad, I always make a big batch so that I can eat it all week. Not a “big batch” by your standards, mind you, but enough to fill my two-quart covered bowl. So, I set the potatoes and eggs to boil while I cleaned up and changed out of my gardening clothes. Then, as you well know, it took a concentrated effort to drain, cool, peel, slice and dice all the ingredients. By the time I mixed it all together and put in in the refrigerator while I grilled the meat, it was almost 7:30! Not such an “easy summer supper,” after all! I blame you for that, Mom. You always made it seem so effortless.

Dear Mom, my rhubarb is doing well this year. I’ve given quite a bit of it away and, three times this spring, pulled out your recipe for rhubarb crisp. It’s a nice dessert when it’s warm, fresh out of oven and topped with milk, the way you used to serve it to us. After that, I’ll eat it for breakfast, cold, until it’s gone. I was still in high school when you gave me the recipe. I wrote it right inside the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook that you’d gotten me for Christmas, on the contents page for the chapter on desserts.

Rhubarb Crisp

1 cup flour, 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 stick of butter

Mix together until crumbly. Put half of mixture in a buttered 13 x 9 inch pan. Top with three cups of diced rhubarb. Cover with remaining crumble. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and two tablespoons of water. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.

The ingredients were written at a forward slant; I hadn’t yet gotten in the habit of writing with the upright letters that I was certain looked more creative. Oh, and that reminds me, your beautiful handwriting…

I could go on and on.

 

 

 

That’s One Good Thing!

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My friend, Linda, who puts out a wonderful food blog (https://mrsportlyskitchen.com/) from her home in England, wrote today about frustrations of this situation we’re in. Lock-down, isolation, quarantine: by any name, it is frustrating. Different for each one of us, I’m sure.

The “normal life” things that I miss are based on what I’m used to; I suppose that’s true for each of us. Also, like me, many may be finding things they like very much about this slower world. It’s an opportunity to experience a whole different lifestyle. Though I feel guilty acknowledging benefits to a crisis that has caused so much pain, and even death, there are good things going on.

Likewise, I hate to grumble. There are things that I miss, and things that are more difficult now, at least for the time being. Like Linda, I feel like I should just be quiet about inconveniences, and disruptions of normal activities. Many folks are enduring much worse. This is serious stuff. We all know that.

Still, it’s human nature, isn’t it, to make comparisons, for better or worse? So I appreciate the almost total lack of traffic as I walk my dogs down the Fox Lake Road; I worry that I’m down to three rolls of toilet paper; and I whine to myself about changes in my routine. Sometimes, I’m bored.

These are things I was thinking about while mulling over Linda’s [much more articulate] blog on this topic. She mentioned the urge to fall back on dinners of beans on toast when cooking for just herself and her husband. Then the realization struck me: I don’t have a husband!

Right away, I felt a wave of relief that I am not contending with relationship issues, or even simple “man-in-the-house” issues during this time. Now, I know nothing about Linda’s husband; I’m sure he’s a very nice man. I can, however, conjure up extremely clear images of my own ex-husband, and a few other men that I kept company with over the years. They all had their good points. Being confined in quarantine with any one of them? A nightmare!

Terry hated to play games. He despised being stuck at home. He would have broken quarantine, I’m sure, just to get away from me. Or, he would be sleeping. He slept when he was bored; he snored when he slept. Others watched too much TV, or cheated at games, or talked too much, or never wanted to talk. It’s clear that, if I had company here, I’d be miserable

Hearing about efforts at home-schooling, I already thought to be glad that I no longer have small children at home. Until today, I hadn’t thought to be grateful that I am single! In all of this madness, that’s one good thing!

Yeast

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Yesterday was cool and drizzly. Today, it rained. All day. It was a day for fleecy, warm pajamas, a comfortable chair and a good book. Not for me, though.

Yesterday, for my first trip to town in fourteen days, I dressed up: nice jeans, a clean shirt, leather shoes, and a knit blazer. Nothing too fancy, except in comparison to my in-house wardrobe. Today, I pulled warm sweats on over my pajamas, slid into canvas shoes, and threw on my parka to pull it all together.

After walking the dogs through the pouring rain, I made several trips to the car. I loaded one large bag of trash, and several smaller bags of recyclables, into the back seat. It had been collected over the last two weeks, and was more than due to be taken to the transfer station.

Besides the transfer station, I had to make stops at the Post Office and the hardware store. By the time I got home, I was damp, tired, and cranky. I had letters to write, and phone calls to make. The dogs needed another walk before I could stay in. At some point, I decided that the comfort I was craving would take some effort.

I decided that stew would be a good meal for a wet day. And, to go with it, yeast bread! I chose the recipe for french loaves from my Mediterranean Heart Diet cookbook. Three risings give this bread a wonderful texture. The ball of dough expanding in its bowl, and scent of yeast filled my afternoon with promise.

Sometimes, the best thing to do is tend to something else. It takes my mind away from my own worries or discomfort. When homemade bread is what I choose to tend to, there is a big reward at the end!

Some Days

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Some days, the sun shining through the windows lets me know it’s time to get up. Other mornings, I don’t know the time until I check the clock. In the winter, when days are short here in northern Michigan, I get up in the dark. Even this time of year, clouds sometimes darken the sky.

Some days, I feel strong and capable. I stick to my routines, and take pride in what I accomplish. Other days, I look at all the things that I haven’t gotten done. I see the clutter, and the unfinished projects. I dwell on all the things I want to do, that I haven’t even started yet.

Some days, I congratulate myself for my stamina, my positive attitude, and my perseverance. Other days, I chastise myself for my procrastination and neglect. I call myself lazy.

Some days, I walk with enthusiasm, and fit other exercise into my day. I put good meals together. I make smoothies; I eat salads, and lots of vegetables. Other days, I begrudgingly set out for my walk; my slow pace reflects my mindset. Some days, it is cookies for breakfast, and popovers for a midnight snack.

Some days, I know that I am healthy, and I’m proud of myself for the care that I have taken. Other days, I interpret every crick, throb or tingle as a dread disease. And, since I traveled to Hawaii even after the corona virus made the news, of course I could only blame myself if I were sick. Sometimes, I take my temperature several times throughout the day.

Some days, I just feel like crying. Other days, most days, I am content, even happy. I have time and privilege to pick up a book, or head into the studio, or dig in to any number of other projects.

Most days, I’m able to laugh at myself. I see the humor in my hypochondria, dietary indulgences and lethargy. Every day, I know how lucky I am. And, when the sun is shining, it’s always a wonderful day!

Lifelong Learning

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I remember trying to read when I was five years old. I couldn’t wait to learn! One after another, I figured out the sounds of the letters. I begged for information, and received it from anyone that would offer it: parents, grandparents, and my sister, Brenda, who was just one year older than me. Once, my mother found me weeping in frustration as I struggled through a book. “This doesn’t make any sense,” I told her. I was sounding out the word K-N-E-W, and it sounded, to me, like “canoe.” I knew what a canoe was, at whatever young age I was, but I did not understand how it fit in that sentence!

I have almost always loved to learn. I went through just a moment in kindergarten when I deliberately colored outside of the lines, as that’s what the little girl sitting next to me was doing. There were a few of my teen years when it was much more fun to make trouble than to make good grades. It seemed appropriate, at that time, to “play dumb” in front of boys. And I have to admit, by the time I got out of high school, I thought I’d learned all I wanted or needed to.

That didn’t last long. When school learning bored me, I read. When I’d gone through all of our bookshelves, and didn’t have a library book at hand, I’d page through the encyclopedias, and the annual editions that came as a bonus with the set of encyclopedias, and Mom’s old collection of Books of Knowledge.

I taught myself to knit and crochet. I made crude attempts at quilting and embroidery. I learned several card and board games. I wrote [bad] poetry. I drew. As a young mother, I often had craft projects going. I learned to cook. I took a vegetarian cooking class with my mother-in-law. Then, a girlfriend and I took an evening art class at the high school.

When my second daughter was four months old, I enrolled at the junior college. That did it! College was a thousand times better than high school. I loved it! I studied Art, but also Literature, Poetry, and Writing. I took a few swimming classes, then a self defense class and a circuit training class. I studied Geology, Biology, Astronomy and Physical Science. I loved Art History. Never again did I think I’d had my fill of learning.

Raising a family, starting a business, several moves…these things sometimes slowed me down, but never stopped me. I earned an Associate’s Degree, then a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and, when I was forty years old, a Master of Fine Arts Degree. I had a minor in English Literature, a certificate in Women’s Studies and another in Creative Writing. I was done with school, but I wasn’t finished learning. I don’t think I ever will be!

It was never about the credentials, or the degrees. It was the knowledge I was after. I still prefer books, whether fiction or non-fiction, that have something to teach me. I am still hungry for new ideas, and new ways of doing things. I’ve become a [slightly] better quilter; I love trying out new crochet patterns. I am continually trying out new methods of art-making.

I have, sometimes, a hard time sticking with a project, and I get easily bored. I’ve figured out that I like the learning much better than the follow-through. I’ve resigned myself to that, just as I’ve accepted the boxes and totes filled with unfinished projects

Most recently, I filled several pages with notes on the Hawaiian language. I’ve become familiar with their alphabet, and how words are divided into syllables, which is key to correct pronunciation. That might be enough; it’s not as enticing when I’m not presented with road signs to practice on. That’s okay. There will always be something else I can learn.