When the first snow flies, I think of sleds and mittens and long sloping hills. My brothers would take me – Mom said! – up the road and over the train tracks to the golf course. That winding hill off the seventh tee was the best sledding run ever made.
Before we had aluminum “saucer” sleds, we used an old stone boat – a heavy wooden platform with runners underneath. Farmers would hitch one up behind a mule or work horse and go into the fields to clear out field stones before plowing.
Once we had that stone boat heading down hill there was no stopping her until she came to rest at the bottom of the hill, or sometimes, against a big old oak. Steering was out of the question; just hop on and hold tight. The only way to avoid a collision was to roll off into the snow which always worked its way down our backs and up our coat sleeves. The hours of fun, our frozen gloves, cold shivers and sweet memories were a gift from Mr. Cornell, the old farmer who lived across the road.
It seemed like we would sled for hours and I’m sure mom was glad to have her three rambunctious children out of the house, at least for a while.
By the time we had had enough of sledding and were headed home, I was chilled to the bone. My legs, above the tops of my unlined rubber boots were chaffed. Inside my mittens, which were often a pair of dad’s old socks, I would curl my fingers into my palms trying to find some escape from the cold.
I remember my brothers being scolded for keeping me out too long. “She wouldn’t leave,” they said, and they were right. I’d begged for one more run down the hill. But mom made everything better by heating up some Campbell’s tomato soup on the stove while she helped us out of our wet and frozen clothes. Our fingers and toes were red and tingled fiercely as the warmth returned.
We sipped the hot soup out of coffee cups, telling of our sledding adventures, always looking forward to the next new snow.
It’s been twelve years but it is still all I can do to walk through the door. Just pulling into the hospital parking lot makes it hard to breath and gets my heart pounding. My anxiety has grown steadily stronger over the last three weeks as I wait for this day. The specter of cancer doesn’t vanish with the last chemo or radiation treatment.
The emotional and irrational part of me believes it’s the looking for cancer that causes it to be found or not. I’ve studied quantum mechanics over the years and part of the theory states that the physical state/location of such particles as electrons and photons isn’t determined until they are observed. In quantum mechanics such particles are in more than one place and in more than one state at the same time. It’s sort of like Schrodinger’s cat being both alive and dead until the lid of the box is lifted.
So my mind applies this logic to cancer. I know that once the x-rays are read, the die is cast. The part of me that won’t walk under a ladder and throws spilled salt over my left shoulder urges me not to have the x-rays taken, to not open the box.
This year was the closest I’ve come to canceling my mammogram appointment, but I knew if I did, I’d never go back. My rational side won out this time.
The Mayo Clinic’s description of PTSD is: Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. If the symptoms get worse, last for months or even years you may have PTSD.
I was asked one time, after my cancer surgery, if I wanted to talk to a mental health therapist. Mental health problems still carry a stigma so of course I said, “No.” If I’d asked for mental help, it would’ve been in my medical file, possibly effecting future job opportunities, insurance premiums and heaven only knows what else.
I believe mental health should be included in Standard of Care treatment, the same as a physical therapist and a nutritionist are. As the patient; don’t make me choose. Mental health care should be a given, not an option. I’ve found that I’m not alone in choosing not to admit I needed that help – even more so after all the treatments were done and I’m standing in the hospital parking lot wondering Now what? It leaves me each year struggling to make my appointment and hoping when I lift the lid of the box, cancer isn’t inside.
I had one of those days when things began to go wrong, really wrong, but in the end turned out pretty good after all. It started with my lawn. It needed cutting. When it came to mowing, my routine was the same every time. I’d say a little prayer for the mower to start and pull the starter rope. The engine would fire up; I’d give thanks and be on my way. But not this day. Two pulls, three, four, two more pushes on the primer button, I wiggled the spark plug connector and nothing.
The grass was long and needed either cutting or bailing. I imagined the neighbors looking at my yard, muttering and shaking their heads. I’d been in my house two years but was still the new kid on the block.
I got in my car, heading for the local Toro dealer. Maybe they could pick up my mower or make a house call. I pulled out onto the road and noticed my neighbor’s lawn guy standing in their yard, his big zero-turn mower trailered behind his truck. I hit the brakes and turned into their driveway.
“Would he have the time to mow my lawn?”
“Sure, no problem.” He’d have it done today.
I was saved for now at least. The strange thing was, when that testy mower of mine wouldn’t start, he and his machine were the first things I thought of and VOILA there he was. This sort of thing happens to me all of the time. I’ll think that guy’s gonna pull out and sure enough he does. Or the phone will ring and once in a while I know who it is before looking at the number. It doesn’t happen often but enough to make me wonder. I get these little touches of precognition, moments ahead of time. All of this makes me wonder: Is the future set in stone or is life nothing but chaos.
My days tend to lean to the chaos side of the equation but I’ve come to believe life is predetermined for the Big Stuff. For example; when I think about the complex set of events that puts two strangers in the same place at the same time and for them to not pass each other by, it boggles my mind. There has been less than a hand full of people who have come into my life that way and I KNOW each one wasn’t a coincidence.
The chaos comes into play in the small choices. Does what I had for breakfast matter in any cosmic sense? I don’t think it does – but who know for sure?
So every now and then I get a brief peek at what’s to come in the next second or two. I’m glad and relieved it isn’t more. I’ve never had my palm read, tea leaves analyzed or fortune told because I don’t want to know the future. I want to be surprised.
I thank my mom constantly for teaching me what some would call old-fashioned skills.
She taught me how to sew – I don’t remember ever not knowing how. I didn’t have store-bought clothes until the year I went into the 7th grade. I asked her if I could have some ready-made skirts, blouses, dresses and slacks. She was a little surprised but took me into town for a day of shopping. When I grew up, I continued sewing; making my husband’s shirts, my son’s baby clothes and always doing the mending. With the price of fabric today, it is an expensive luxury to hand craft clothing. Although, knowing how to fix a torn seam or sew on a button can save a lot of money.
I’ve been doing some remodeling in my new house, making it mine, so to speak. Knowing how to sew has let me be creative with fabric for window treatments when I couldn’t find anything commercially made that I liked. And I recently made new cushions for two wicker chairs and a love seat. The price was more than the ready-made items would’ve been, but I ended up with the look I wanted. Because I love working with fun and colorful fabrics, I’ve added a line of country aprons to sell along with my cookbooks at farmers markets, craft shows and festivals.
Canning is another skill that is fading away, which surprises me. People are becoming more aware and concerned about the chemicals and preservatives that are in the food they eat. When I preserve my own vegetables and fruits I know what is in the jar along with the food. Fresh produce can be purchased at local farms, roadside stands and farmers markets. Bell’s Blue Book is my go-to reference for “how-to”.
I learned the ins and outs of canning helping my mom. Every year we made applesauce from the fruit that grew on trees in my dad’s small orchard that was out back behind his rose garden. It was a given that the kitchen would be a busy place, full of wonderful smells, once the garden started producing and the fruit on the trees ripened. I’ve continued the tradition in my own home. The smell of a warm bushel of ripe peaches brings back memories of mom’s big country kitchen and still makes me smile. Last December, as I was canning up turkey vegetable soup that I’d make out of the Thanksgiving leftovers, it was as if she was in the kitchen with me.
Now I freeze or can the produce from my much smaller garden plot. Growing and preserving my own food is satisfying and ties me to the women in my family who have done the same. As soon as my zucchini plant starts making zucchinis, I’m going to try my hand at making Zucchini Relish. Here’s the recipe I’m going to use:
10 cup ground unpeeled zucchini
4 cup ground onions
5 Tablespoons canning salt
1 – red bell pepper, sliced
1 – green bell pepper, sliced
2 1/4 cup white vinegar
4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
2 Tablespoons mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 Tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cornstarch
DIRECTIONS: Place zucchini, onion and bell peppers in a large stock pot. Sprinkle with salt. Let stand for at least 3 hours. Drain and rinse with cold water. Place zucchini, onion and bell peppers back in the pot. Mix together vinegar, sugar, nutmeg, dry mustard, mustard seed, black pepper, turmeric and cornstarch together. Pour over vegetables. Stir to mix well. Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching – lower temperature if needed. Bring to a boil, remove from heat then ladle mixture into hot pint jars and seal. Makes 6 to 8 pints.
I am so HAPPY to say that my photo Angelique Tulips took Best of Show in the end of the year competition presented by New Horizons Photo Club. I can’t stop smiling! For my photo to be chosen was an honor – there were so many other amazing pictures. This photo was taken at Hidden Lake Gardens’ spring bulb show. The gardens are located in Tipton, Michigan.
I was reminiscing with my classmate Don at our class reunion a few years back. He mentioned that we were second cousins. His grandma Jessie and my grandpa Paul were siblings.
I was surprised and asked if I’d known that in school and had forgotten over the years. My mom didn’t get along with my dad’s side of the family so it is possible I never knew.
Don’s mother had been going through old family photos, sorting them into boxes by family. He asked, “Do you want your box?” Yes! Yes! Yes!
My first thought was of cousin Paula. She is a first-rate genealogy detective. These pictures would be like buried treasure to her. Once the box of photos arrived, I gave her a call and put on a pot of coffee. We opened the box. A mystery began to appear. We came across the photo of a handsome young man we didn’t recognize. On the back was his name: Homer. Neither Paula nor I had ever heard of any relatives named Homer.
We dug a little deeper and found a picture of Homer sitting on a blanket in the grass with two beautiful blond, little girls and great-aunt Amanda (Paul and Jessie’s baby sister). The children’s names were Helen and Marcia.
Then we came upon a wedding photo. Paula knew that Amanda had married, but the man in the wedding photo I held in my hand wasn’t that man.Paula and I wondered just who was he? We had uncovered a new, to us, chapter in Amanda’s life along with a new uncle and more cousins to boot.
Farther down in the box we came upon a photo with the men of the family, all dressed in suits and sitting on the steps of a church. I recognized my great-grandfather Richard and grandpa Paul. My dad and Uncle Glen were absent. They were somewhere overseas fighting in the war. When I flipped the picture over, our hearts sank. Homer’s memorial was written on the back. Homer had also gone to war but he wasn’t coming home. We sat in silence.
The picture of him in his navy uniform showed a dashing young man, probably in his early twenties. He was slight of build with a great big smile. I did a little research and found he’d been a Soundman, third class in the Navy. I also discovered his first name was Karl, though he went by his middle name.
I knew I had to get these pictures to Helen and Marcia one way or another but I had no idea where they lived. The only clue I had to work with was Aunt Amanda had moved to California years ago. Maybe her daughters were still there. I posted photos of the family on the blanket in the grass and the wedding picture on Facebook asking for them to be shared. I never got a response.
A Google search was inconclusive. I found two women who were the approximate age I guessed the girls to be. But, if they’d married and kept their husbands’ last names, I was lost at how to continue. I was at a standstill.
A couple years passed, the pictures tucked safely away in a drawer. Then last year, Paula sent in her DNA sample to 23andMe. It was fun to see the regions our family came from and we laughed at the amount of Neanderthal DNA she had. We were pretty sure there were other members of the family who had more.
Several months later she received a notice from 23andMe of a family match – a new cousin: Richard. His last name was the same as Aunt Amanda’s second husband. He would be Helen and Marcia’s half-brother.
Paula sent him an email and he responded. She forwarded his message to me. I sent him a message of my own. I told him of the photos and my efforts to find his half-sisters. He hadn’t been in touch with them in a while, but knew where they lived.
The adventure of finding Homer and Amanda’s family started with a casual conversation on a warm summer afternoon. Now the photos and priceless memories they hold have finally found their way back to the little girls that shared a blanket in the grass with their dad so many years ago.
I woke up this morning and it was nineteen degrees outside. It’s mid-March and I shouldn’t be surprised but I really need a touch of spring and I know just where to find it.
After a forty minute drive I am at Hidden Lake Gardens, shivering as I get out of my car but with anticipation in my heart. I stop in at the gift shop then walk over to the conservatory. It is that time of year when they have the Spring Flower Bulb Show. A step through the doors is a step into a world of bright colors and sweet humid smells. SPRING!! Ahhhhh. I close my eyes and breathe.
This year’s show is a bit sparser than previous ones I’ve attended, but with good reason. During the deepest, darkest, coldest day of winter the gas pressure fell to one of the boilers and the safety feature kicked in shutting down the unit. The temperature in the conservatory dropped into the 20’s killing or gravely damaging over fifty percent of the plants. Also destroyed were flats of seedlings being raised for planting outside in the gardens and grounds. More than 1200 plants were lost including 371 different cultivars and species. Diane Faust, the Conservatory Manager, did a great job putting together the Spring Flower Bulb Show under tough circumstances. The flowers are beautiful, fragrant and a balm to my winter-weary soul.
I ask Paul Pfeifer, the Managing Director about his plans for the future. He, Diane and other members of the staff are turning their misfortune around. A good cleaning of the conservatory houses is underway and they are considering new plans and designs to put together dynamic and creative spaces, while maintaining the integrity of the individual environments: arid, tropical and temperate. They are also working with the owners of local nurseries and greenhouses who have offered to donate plants or are making them available at a reduced price.
I always enjoy a trip to Hidden Lake Gardens whether I’m hiking the trails, sitting by the lake or enjoying a picnic and taking in the view. But a visit to the annual Spring Flower Bulb Show is my favorite.
I am just an ordinary woman and if I can make my dreams come true so can you. I reached a point in my life where I was able to quit my forty-hour a week job. That gave me the time to try out some old and new dreams.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a famous pianist. As luck would have it, many years later, the opportunity to purchase an old upright piano showed up. The cost was one dollar and the promise not to give it back. I rounded up my son and a strong friend to get it loaded and brought home. I took piano lessons for the best part of a year. I loved making music but didn’t have the dedication and drive to practice every day. But, I’m glad I gave it a try.
My dad was an intelligent, amazing man. One of his interests was photography. He had a big 8mm camera, a light bar and did his own editing. He gave me my first point-and-shoot camera when I was twelve. Many years later I graduated to a fully manual 35mm Pentax film camera and then on to a digital Nikon with all the bells and whistles. I enrolled in a three year photography course and now instead of taking pictures I take photographs. Some have been accepted into art shows and people who don’t even know me have laid down cold, hard cash and bought a few. It was validating to have someone besides my family appreciate my art.
Another of my long-standing dreams was to be a writer. I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade and over the years, shared long epic poems, essays and more stories with my mom, dad, brothers and anyone else who would take the time to read them. Now I write the newspaper column, The Recipe Exchange, a blog – Food, Fun and More, and am the author of several published stories and essays. This year I reached a milestone; I published my novel Wild Irish Rose. It had sat on my hard drive long enough and it was time to share the story and get my book into people’s hands.
Be brave and give your dreams a try; take singing lessons, learn to knit or buy a kayak. It doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail, the fun is in the doing. You’ll find some dreams aren’t meant to be, as with me and a career as a concert pianist. But there are the others that will take you to amazing places and the people you meet along the way will astound you. The anticipation of trying out new and old dreams makes it easy to jump out of bed in the morning, open the curtains and celebrate the new day.
The dead of winter is dark. The days are short and the temperatures are cold. The potatoes from last summer’s garden have grown strange alien-looking sprouts. That is a sure sign to get out the soup pot. It is a perfect time for a hearty bowl of rich creamy potato chowder.
Sometimes I picture myself as a mad scientist in her lab, but my lab is the kitchen. I like to experiment with different recipes. This week I combined two potato soup recipes and added my own twist. The first recipe I looked at called for a can of cream corn. That sounded interesting. The other recipe added some spices and herbs. I like bacon in my potato soup so I added a few slices to the pot along with some cream cheese I had left over from making frosting.
I’m one of those cooks who look at a recipe as a place to begin. I don’t measure all of the ingredients but add until the amount looks right. It doesn’t matter to me if a pot of soup has four slices of bacon or five. When I was putting together this recipe for Potato Chowder, I measured how much I used of each ingredient so I could share the recipe with you, but often what goes into the pot depends a lot on what I have on hand in the fridge or pantry.
Here is the Potato Chowder recipe I came up with. It is rich, hearty and delicious especially with a slice or two of fresh warm bread from the oven spread with sweet butter.
4 slices of bacon, fried crisp
½ cup diced onion
1 stalk of celery, sliced. Remove and save the leaves
8 medium white potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
3 to 4 cups water
2 cups milk
1-14 ¾ oz. can of cream corn
2 tablespoons butter
4 oz. cream cheese
1 teaspoon salt
½ t pepper
½ t paprika
1 ½ teaspoons dried parsley
2 bay leaves
Green onions, thinly sliced
DIRECTIONS: Fry bacon until crisp. Drain on a paper towel and set aside. Drain off most of the bacon grease, leaving about 2 tablespoons. (I saved the rest of the bacon grease. It lasts a long time in the fridge and is great for sauteing green beans). Sauté onion and sliced celery in the bacon grease until tender. Place diced, unpeeled potatoes in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Add chopped celery leaves and the sautéed vegetables. Cover with water and boil for 15 to 20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Add milk, cream corm, butter, diced cream cheese, crumbled bacon, salt, pepper, paprika, parsley and bay leaves. Heat but DO NOT BOIL. When cream cheese softens, break up pieces with a wooden spoon. I mashed them against the side of the pot. Use a whisk to further incorporate the cream cheese. Let the chowder cook on medium low temperature for about an hour, stirring every now and then and making sure it doesn’t boil. To serve, remove bay leaves and sprinkle each bowl full with green onion slices. Enjoy!