While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.


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Did I mention it was cold?

My family takes a yearly winter vacation to someplace colder, snowier, and brighter than here in western Washington.  Favorite areas are the Methow Valley, Leavenworth, and Vancouver B.C.  These vacations have involved snow-shoeing, tubing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, star gazing, deep forest hiking, night swimming in a luxuriously heated outdoor pool covered by a plexiglas dome, gondola rides through a frost-covered forest canopy, and, of course, beautiful holiday light displays.  Each vacation, though short, has given us treasured memories.  Once, in Winthrop, after a long and very cold day of hiking and cross-country skiing, we returned to our cabin which overlooked a river.  We snuggled into the warmth of fleece blankets and a roaring fire.  With lights off, the room illuminated only by a full moon, we sat on the couch and watched as night spread evenly over the last of the day.  Before long, deer wandered through the grounds of our cabin area and under the sparse canopy of snow-covered Ponderosa Pines.  A memorable way to end a day.

There is one vacation that stands out and is my favorite.  During a beautifully snowy and cold week in January, we went to Leavenworth for a post-holiday vacation.  Our daughter was about 5 years old at the time and filled with the energy, enthusiasm, and joy that a week of playing in snow brings.  We had rented a cabin at the very end of town for this vacation.  The cabin was perched on a gentle hill overlooking an ice-covered pond fed by a small river, and was equipped with a wood-burning stove, a full kitchen, and a small balcony. During that week our days were spent outside in fresh air shopping, hiking, and playing in the snow, and our evenings were filled with star-gazing.  We marveled at an expansive Milky Way that arched across a deep black sky spattered with stars.  On our last evening of vacation, and after a particularly active and very cold day spent under a bright blue cloudless sky, we returned to the cabin for dinner and videos.  Around 11pm, just before bed, my spouse decided we should go outside and watch for shooting stars.  As we were in our pajamas, warm robes, and slippers and didn’t want to get back into day-clothes, we decided to watch from the balcony.  He led the way.  No sooner did we step outside then we saw stars sailing across the sky.  Too numerous to count, too exciting to ignore.  Our breath made frosty clouds that dissipated like fading fog.  I held my daughter and she snuggled inside my robe.  The night was icy.  It was cold.  So cold our skin tingled.  So cold that icicles decorated gutters and tree limbs with translucent blue reflections from town lights.  It was a distractingly beautiful night, quiet and still.  No one outside but us.  No voices, no car sounds.  All that filled the night was the icy, ancient beauty of stars.

Before long, our daughter began to shiver.  “We’re going back inside now”, I said to my spouse.  I walked to the door, put my hand on the icy door knob, and found it wouldn’t turn.  Hmm.  I tried again to turn it and it wouldn’t budge.  Stuck, I wondered?  My daughter said “I’m really cold, Mom.”  Me, too.  I held her tighter.  I turned to my spouse and said “You may have forgotten to unlock the door before closing it.”  He looked at me with surprise and said, “I think I unlocked it.”  He tried the door knob and sure enough, it was locked.  I looked at him – I was beginning to warm up at that point – and asked him if he had his room key with him.  Nope.  “I’m cold!  Are we locked out??” our daughter asked.  No, no, not at all my spouse and I answered in unison.  “I can fix this”, he said.  “Dad will fix this”, I said – with The Look – for added emphasis.

After almost 20 minutes of multiple attempts and ideas to force the door open, my spouse found a way to remove a small glass panel from the bottom of the window next to the door, slide his arm through the opening, and unlock the door.  All without breaking the lock, the window, his arm, or getting cut on the glass.  Once inside, he was able to reset the small glass panel back into the window.  Other than being covered in finger prints, the window looked unscathed.  In little time we were warming up and laughing.  Hot apple cider helped to diminish the chill.  We slept well that night, dreaming of stars and icicles.

And, did I mention it was cold?


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A serving of gratitude.

This Thanksgiving will be a small gathering around our table.  Small, but deeply loved, appreciated, and treasured.  And profound gratitude will be present.

Gratitude for the people we love and who reciprocate our love.  Gratitude for kindness, support, understanding, and friendship.  Gratitude for wisdom acquired and hard lessons learned with grace and acceptance.  Gratitude for the bottomless comfort of trusting those who sit with us.  Gratitude for the realization that no matter how enormous the loss, how vast the betrayal, and how intense the pain, each moment becomes a bit brighter.  Gratitude for the knowledge that each minute is new and every hour offers peace to all who welcome it.

I wish you a joyful Thanksgiving filled with love, hope, and friendship.  And great food!


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Family Favorites: Honey Bread

This recipe does equally well with gluten-free flour – just add an extra 1/4 tsp of baking powder.

2 cups flour, sifted

1 tsp baking powder (add 1/4 tsp more if using gluten-free flour)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp (ground) ginger

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup honey

1 egg, slightly beaten

1 cup milk (best flavor with whole milk)

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  When thoroughly mixed, add the honey, egg, and milk.  Beat thoroughly with an electric mixer (medium speed) for 20 minutes – really!  A minimum of 15 minutes of mixing is required to achieve the fine, smooth texture that defines this bread.  Pour into a buttered loaf pan and bake at 350F for 45 – 55 minutes.  Let the bread cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

 


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When a bully wins.

Like millions of people in this country, I stayed up into the early morning hours of November 9 to watch election returns.  The most frequent descriptions I’ve heard in response to the results of this presidential election: shock, stunning loss, despondency, frightened, heartbroken, confused, angry, disbelief, tragic.  From the victor’s side, a great victory for the forgotten man and woman, a vindication of beliefs, the first step in making America great again.

During his campaign, our president-elect has promised to do the following: gut regulations in the business sphere, repeal the Affordable Care Act, dismantle the EPA, cut federal funding for education, deport millions of illegal immigrants, build a wall between our country and our neighbor Mexico, defund Planned Parenthood, place a temporary ban on Muslims (from specific countries) on entering the US, create a database of Syrian refugees, watch and monitor mosques, plus a host of other harmful and unconstitutional acts.  This is whom we have elected to lead our country for the next 4 years.  He did not win the popular vote, but he did win the Electoral College vote.

Where do we go from here?  How do we, as people of a large and diverse nation, proceed?  If our beliefs differ from the president-elect, as so many of ours do, how do we respond to the threatened/promised attacks that our country and its citizens may soon face from its newly elected leader?

The optimistic view:  Give him a chance.  Some of his campaign staff have said that most or all of his histrionic statements, threats, and promises were nothing more than bluster and ‘campaign talk’; the implication being that he will not act upon them.  There is, also, a chance that he is unable to engage his Republican opponents in support of his ideas.  If the congress and senate dissolve into fighting and continued inaction, some of the progress we have made during President Obama’s 2 terms will stand.   If our president-elect is unable to act on his threats and promises (as often happens with bullies), he will be ineffective and voted out of office at the end of his first term.

A more realistic view: he will succeed.  He will proceed to dismantle environmental protections and regulations put in place over many decades to protect our shared public lands, and open these lands to mining, development, and destruction on an unprecedented scale.  He will repeal, bit by bit, the health care of millions of Americans who had no health insurance before the Affordable Care Act and put in its place a system designed to enhance and increase the profits of insurance and pharmaceutical companies.  He will seek to elect to the US Supreme Court a judge intent on overturning Roe v. Wade, and other progressive rulings from decades past.  He will cut federal funding to education and place the responsibility of educating our country’s children directly in the hands of each state.  This is just a very small sample of what he has promised to do.  All of his promises are available to anyone who cares to read them.

All of the above are bad enough.  But most harmful, most damaging (in my mind) is what he will do to our national personality, to our collective attitude towards our fellow citizens.  During the preceding 8 years, we have seen hateful attitudes come to prominence that minorities have lived with on a daily basis, but that a large number of Americans had refused to acknowledge.  Now to the existing racism is added sexism, xenophobia, making fun of people with disabilities, and general mocking of attitudes different from his.  In short, the attitudes of a bully.  Most of us have had at least one experience with a bully, and we know the damage this particular form of cowardice can cause.  A common tactic a bully uses is to pit one person (or group) against another.  This causes distrust and erodes common ground among people quickly and efficiently before the parties involved realize what has happened.  It is more effective than most other tactics a bully may use.  This is one of the tactics our president-elect has used during the campaign, and I would be surprised to see it stop now that he has achieved his goal.  But it can be overcome.

Often I have advocated walking away from a bully and letting him/her burn out on their own.  This time, however, I will not walk away.  I promise to fight back using every legal, moral, and ethical means available to me as a citizen:  write letters to representatives, join demonstrations, work for candidates who have our country’s best interests at heart, volunteer on a greater level than I do now.  But most of all, I will speak up and speak out at every opportunity that comes my way.

This is not the country we want our children to inherit.  This is not the country we want immigrants to see when they arrive.  This is not the country I want to grow old in.  This is not the country I want America to become.

We can do better than this.  We are kin – all of us.  And we can stand up to a bully by using grace, intelligence, and compassion.

And we will win.

 


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Pumpkin Pudding: a family favorite!

This dessert is the best substitute for pumpkin pie that I’ve encountered to date.

1 large can organic pumpkin

6 eggs

1 ¾ cups sugar

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp nutmeg

1 can evaporated milk

1 box white or yellow cake mix

1 cup butter

Beat the first 7 ingredients together in a large bowl, then pour into a 9 x 12 baking dish.

Combine the cake mix and butter to make a crumbly mixture.

Sprinkle the cake/butter mixture on top of the pudding, cut it in with a knife, but leave the majority of the mixture on top.  This will create a tasty browned crust.

Bake at 350 – 375˚ for approximately 1 hour.  Check the pudding every 5 minutes during the last 15 minutes of baking to ensure that the topping doesn’t burn.

The secret to this recipe is to use freshly ground spices.  It makes a difference!

Enjoy!

 


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Something that must be said.

Before I write about the fun stuff – recipes and memories from wonderful family holidays – I would like to share a few thoughts about gossip.  This post is prompted and inspired by the current political campaign for the presidency, and from personal experience of being a recipient of harmful gossip.

In a post from June 17, 2015, I wrote about the dynamics of gossip and the damage malicious gossip causes.  In my personal experience, I have been the subject of harmful gossip from a relative for many years; most of that time I was completely unaware of the gossip.  Approximately 9 years ago I was told about this on-going gossip by the other relative involved in the gossip.  She decided to act upon some of what she had been told.  Make no mistake, she knew what she was doing.  The subsequent damage was so extensive and encompassing that permanent estrangement has resulted.

This years’ political season has resulted in the most mean-spirited, manipulative, and dishonest rumors and gossip I can remember.  Regardless of who wins the presidency, the damage to our country’s sense of dignity, unity, and integrity has been severely harmed.  It is painful to hear the profoundly dishonest gossip and rumors being spread by one candidate.  Make no mistake, he knows what he is doing.

Even if you are not a religious person, you probably understand the reasons why gossip is considered a sin.  The reasons are intuitive.  When we gossip, we know exactly what we are doing – and that is a large part of the damage.

If I have learned anything from this political season, and from my own experiences with gossip, it is that we alone are responsible for our thoughts, actions, and intentions.  Think before you speak.  If you can’t control yourself, if you feel you really must say something harmful about a person, at least be choosy with whom you gossip.  But before you start to speak, think about how you would feel hearing something harmful said about you – especially when it is a lie.

Think before you speak.  It isn’t difficult.