Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Ice Man Cometh...

The storm started in the night. I could hear the droplets of ice pelting on my roof and on my windows.

Upon waking, I realized the world was encased in such beauty...but beauty always comes with a bit of danger, does it not?

Frozen sidewalks, cars, trees. Limbs and branches tumbling to earth. Walkers tumbling to earth.

This is my best photo from this day of quiet. Day of ice. Day of dreaming.

I took this photo of my crabapple tree in my front yard.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Grandma's Winter Garden (and Nannie's)

Jonah's Photo of my Winter Garden

It was a cold winter’s day in February. The drive to my grandparent’s house in Dunfee was a short drive, but nothing is short when you are six and four. Scraping the frost off the backseat windows was our only occupation unless we wanted to sing a dozen more verses to “She’ll be coming round the mountain…”

Arriving at the farm house on that day, the first thing we saw was the snowman on the front porch. With much laughter and glee, we climbed out of the backseat knowing full well (even at our young ages) that the snowman was our grandpa standing at attention with an old hat on his head and a broom in his gloved hand. We brushed off the snow and followed him into the house. Our grandma was waiting attired in her apron and hair held back in a small hairnet…the two signs of a good cook. She had to “tsk, tsk” our grandpa as we took off our winter coats and old rubber boots and set them on the heater.

Dinner was soon served in the dining room. The dining room was adorned with heavy long curtains to keep out the cold. Jessie sat on the huge phone book so she could reach the table…I was good on my knees. My grandmother was the best cook. There were always pot roasts and mashed potatoes and the typical meat, bread, and potatoes dinners that we were all accustomed to at the time. Sometimes meatloaf would show up full of green and red peppers which we picked out piece by piece.

Desserts were our favorites, especially on those cold winter nights. Everything was homemade…no mixes for our grandma. Brownies. Apple Pie. Oatmeal Cake. I can’t remember my favorite. Maybe there wasn’t one?

After dinner I put on my own apron to help wash and the dry the dishes. There was a small wooden stool in the corner of the kitchen on which to stand so I could reach the sink. Jessie was too little and played around at the back windowsill rearranging the African violets which my grandma called her Winter Garden. I didn’t mind helping with the dishes. The water was warm and full of bubbles and grandma kept my mind busy with stories. When the dishes were dried and put back into the cupboard until morning, I always admired the blue ribbons strung across the garden window. Each ribbon represented her win at the Airstream rally for her baked goods. I knew each ribbon, and I definitely knew each dessert!

After dinner we were allowed to build tents out of blankets in the living room, eat apples in the parlor, read our little white Bibles, or just climb up on the horsehair couch to watch it snow out the window.

Passing on these memories and stories is what is most important to me. Aaron brings his family over for dinner on this cold winter’s night. I make chicken and dumplings, which is one of their favorites. I light candles. I play music. I bring out my own Winter Garden which consists of flowering narcissus paper whites. These I started the first week of January and now they bloom and fill the house with the scent of spring. Jonah takes photos, and they are as beautiful as the blooms itself. The evening is filled with homemade apple pie (my signature dessert), games and a farewell as they all wrap back up in the clothes of winter for a quick walk home.

As I turn back to my kitchen, I see my grandma smiling at me holding out my worn apron. I tidy up, blow out the candles, and go upstairs. Before sleep I pull back the curtains to watch it snow upon my own world.

Grandma Luella’s Prize Winning Oatmeal Cake

(Exactly as she wrote it to me!)

Pour 1 ¼ boiling water over 1 c. quick Quaker rolled oats

Let stand covered for two minutes.

Cream together 1 stick oleo with 1 c.  sugar and 1 c. Br. Sugar

Add 2 whole eggs, 1 t. cinn. And 1 t. vanilla.

Add oat mixture.

Then add 1 1/3 c. flour and 1 t. soda.

Bake for 30 minutes at 350.

When nearly done top with the following:

2/3 c. Br. Sugar, 3 t. oleo, 5 T. cream and 2 egg yolks.

Bring this to a boil first and add chopped pecans and cocoanut.

Spread evening and bake another 15 minutes.

“Prize Winning” (she wrote that!)
Note: This was first published in KPC.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Snow Days make the best memories...

It was quite the week for those of us in northern Indiana. How will we remember it? Cars didn’t start, kids didn’t go to school, and hardships were aplenty! I was one of the lucky ones. I shopped early for the necessities…coffee, milk, good wine. (I did forget the chocolate though!) And I prepared for frozen pipes and drains. When this old house was built, there was, of course, no running water. With all of that added later, it is a bit fragile to the environment and often I lose water or even drains. This year I added a small heater, dripped all the faucets and got up in the dark and dead of night to check everything.
With the house holding up, and everything canceled, what was there to do? I baked bread. I cleaned closets. I wrote stories. I played the ukulele. I did play around with science experiments by tossing boiling water into the air to make clouds and blowing bubbles outside to watch them freeze. I tried to film it, but that was impossible to film and blow bubbles. (I am sure Larry and Cheri wondered about my sanity in the cold as I tried these experiments every few hours!)  But I needed a big project to prove I didn’t sit around and let the cold win.
Come take a journey with me. Come on in. Let’s take a walk down the hallway in the kitchen. This wall became a litany of stories and cards beginning with the day I moved in which was 17 years ago. But the wall was full. The cards were dusty, and it was time for a face lift. I bought a quart of gold paint from Sherman Williams to motivate me. (Okay I bought the paint two months ago, but stay with me now!) With the temperature way below zero and no one to talk to, I decided it was time to take down the cards.
The truth is, I didn’t expect it to take all day, and I didn’t expect to let memories and stories flood my soul, but that is exactly what happened. I pulled down card after card, letter by letter. All were attached by thumb tacks or staples so I had to tug quite hard for some of them! I held each card in my hand, dusted it off and remembered the person, the story, or the event. There were letters from friends and family who have passed on. Letters and funny stories from my dad in his handwriting. My friends, Fred and Midge Munds in Indianapolis who encouraged my work and always laughed at my stories, left me stories and letters.
There were love letters from long ago boyfriends. There were letters from friends who wished me happy birthday, or a welcome card to my new house. Aaron had the most letters to me. Mother’s day cards. Birthday cards and even a postcard from his single days in Alaska. There were notes from my other sons too and their girlfriends and wives. Underneath all of the cards was a card from Randy and Shannon Wallace welcoming me to my new house. I remember coming into this house the day I got the keys. Shannon left this card along with scented soap and a bottle of wine.
As I held each card, I had to decide which ones I should keep and the ones I should toss away. It was an easy choice. Each card which included a note or a letter was put into a large empty box. Those cards with just signatures had to find their way out. By the end of the day, the box was full.
In the afternoon Lee came over to begin the painting. There was a lovely letter from his daughter, Mackenzie. She must have been six or seven. We could not read her words and laughed trying to decipher what she was saying! This year Mackenzie will graduate with her PhD. Time moves on for all of us.
The best part of that day was to remember folks, even though it was only 17 years in the making.
I put a note in the box for my children to find some day. “Please read every card. You will know me a little better when you are finished.” And I put the box away.
Hand-written letters. Let’s not forget how important they are in a world of technology!
Yes, it was quite the week for folks in northern Indiana.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Don't forget to look up tonight!

Tonight's sky is featuring the constellation Cassiopeia. Cassiopeia was an Ethiopian queen in ancient Greek mythology. She boasted of her beauty! (Ha! That will get you every time!) Poseidon became angry so he tied up her daughter, Andromeda, to a rock by the sea, of course! (Play hero music in the background here.) Perseus rescued her and they became stars and lived happily ever after. Tonight. Free. Out your back door. See you there!

Friday, February 01, 2019

Let's Be Known for our Generosity!

I know what it is like to have $1.16 to my name. It was often due to choice (I don’t need money as I am living off the land), but not always. I can remember nights on the farm, after tucking in those three little boys of mine, and heading out to the cornfield and having a good cry. Yet, even on those nights, we had the house and wood to keep us warm, wool from the sheep for mittens and sweaters, milk from the cow, eggs from the chickens, and well, the list goes on.

One time in Pennsylvania, before children, before jobs, we searched our car to find a few coins to make a phone call to Indiana. The coin was found. The call was made. That was a long time ago.

What I want to say is that even if I think I only had $1.16, there was always family, there were always possibilities, even then.

The other night Kathy and I were talking about the government shut down. We are all talking about it. The feeling of helplessness fell over us. We are pretty isolated here in this small bubble of utopia in northern Indiana. But while my refrigerator is full, and my bed is warm, the guilt spreads over me. Have I really ever gone without in a hopeless kind of way? Except for those few nights crying in the cornfield, I have not had that experience.

So how about you? If you are reading this column, then I would guess life is pretty good to you. You either get the paper delivered to your doorstep, as I do, or you are on-line reading this. Either way, you probably have coffee and heat. At least I am assuming that is true.

I made several calls this week seeking out ways to help in our county just because it is January and it is cold outside.  I had a long chat with Josh Hawkins who is the case manager at Turning Point and the pastor of the Fremont Community Church. My question was simple, “How can we help?” I am, of course, interested in helping families who are in need because of the government shutdown, but it appears we do not have a great need here, but let’s talk about giving in January.

As Josh and I discussed, during November and December we are all givers. We give freely to Project Help or Turning Point or food banks or families with names on Christmas trees, but what about now in mid-January? Donations are down, but needs are not.

So, how can we help? I have actually put a short list together for us. None of this is complicated or expensive, and every little bit will help. My list is just a beginning. You can make your own list and give where you see the need.

At this time Turning Point needs donations of consumables such as laundry detergent, diapers, feminine products, toilet paper, soap, etc. I suggest we each buy something extra at the grocery this week, maybe just one or two items and then drop them off anytime Monday-Friday from 9-5. Think what we could do if we all bring a couple of items. Add your own to the list…toothpaste, toothbrushes???

Don’t forget food donations to Project Help. Send your clothes off too! Josh also said his church in Fremont has a food bank which helps over 200 families a month.

I asked Josh how we could help in this cold weather. He sadly told me about folks trying to stay warm in cars at night. I am naïve and saddened, but there are places to call. If you, or someone you know needs help, please call 211 or even on-line at 211.org. They will direct you to help in your own town with a list of programs and shelters. Let me just say the phone wait is long, so please be patient.

I am so proud of all of us in the ways we take care of one another. We just need to know there are great needs out there and that Christmas is not the only time to give.

The moments of giving are still upon us. Donations of cash are always welcome too.

We are known for our beauty of lakes and parks. We are known for our university and hospital. We are known for the sweetness of this town. Let’s also be known for our generous hearts.

I thank you all.
Note: First published in KPC newspapers, January 26, 2019.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Wolf Moon, Super Moon, Total Eclipse and Mary Oliver

When I was a little girl, my grandmother would always say, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.” I am sure there is a scientific reason behind this, but I like thinking my grandmother just knew those kinds of things. It was her main reason for gifting us with woolen underwear and long stockings, both of which we hated to wear.

January. I told my students this week how much I love January, and I truly am in love with January. “And,” I say, “without January, how can we love June?”

This January is full of music and poetry for me. Add that to the whistling tea kettle, winter nights at the campfire, and a house full of folks for dinner, and there is January.

This weekend promises more than the above, however. On Sunday night, January 20tht, we will have the first full moon of 2019. This full moon is a super moon, and if that isn’t enough, there will be a total lunar eclipse visible in North America.

Let’s start with the full moon. January’s full moon is also known as the Wolf Moon. In days past, with snow covering the ground, the wolves would surround the villages as they howled for food. In my imagination, I can hear the wolves on these cold nights. I tell this to my little grandchildren. Last summer, Brianna (age 8) closed her window on a beautiful evening. I asked her why she was closing her window. She looked right at me, “Wolves, Nannie. Remember?” Oops, I should be careful of the stories I tell. “Only in January,” I say to her. She opened her window back up.

There was controversy on which name to give the January moon. Some old-timers thought the Snow Moon was better, but that is now the moon for February.

It is also a Supermoon. This occurs when the moon is both full and reaches the point where it is closest to the Earth. Because of this it appears larger and fuller! Won’t it be stunning?

And yet there is more! There will be a partial eclipse of the moon on Sunday evening. This will begin at 10:33 P.M. our time resulting in a full eclipse beginning at 11:41 P.M. Yes, I have checked the weather forecast. It is to be eleven degrees below zero during the eclipse, but doesn’t that make it a bit more exciting? I would love to have a campfire during that time, but don’t hold me to it. If you want to come to this event and share in my garden space with a campfire, please send me a note. Bring chairs and blankets. I will furnish the tea!

For your information, this is the last lunar eclipse until May 26, 2021. For myself, I don’t want to take any chances of missing it, so I will be out there looking. Maybe you want to share this event with your family and your children. With a little coaxing, you will succeed, and think about the memories you will be making with them.

As you well know, not only do I love poetry, but I live in the middle of it swirling around my brain and spilling into my life.

This week one of my favorite poets died, Mary Oliver. Her poems are taped all over my kitchen cupboards. I read her work daily. She has been compared to Emily Dickinson, William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Oliver left home as a teenager and went to New York where she lived helping Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister help sort out the poems and work of Millay. Perhaps there was the seed of poetry planted. She stayed a dozen years or so and began writing.

Seeing her poetry taped to my cupboards this morning, my guests and I had lengthy conversations on her work. “I always read her poem, Peonies, when mine bloom in the early summer. And just this week send one of her poems to my students.” One of my guests recited, When Death Comes, as we stood in the kitchen drinking coffee looking out at my snow-covered garden.

I want to leave you with this lovely quote from Mary Oliver, “Someone I loved once game me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

Perhaps this cold weekend in January is our own box full of darkness. Take off the lid, my friend, and go find the beauty.

(First published in the Herald-Republican)

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter Solstice

Dear Friends,

Today is the Winter Solstice. I love this day. In fact, I might say, it is my favorite day of the year. Of course, my friend, Mary, says I say that about every day!

Indeed, it is magical. Enjoy the day, the darkness, the peace of this winter's night before we begin heading back towards the long days of summer.

As always,
Lou Ann