Remembering Lady

Today we walked the ski-hill trail at the state park. We’ve walked this trail dozens of times with Lady, and today was no exception. However, today she was with us in spirit only, and this was a memorial trek.

Lady died yesterday. Those are some of the hardest words to type, to say, to accept. I keep repeating them, and each time I feel the same lurch of my heart, the same gut-wrenching sense of loss. For six years she has been the third member of our family, the one who kept us faithful to daily walks, who accompanied us to concerts and on vacations, on picnics and photo treks, who shared snack time in the evening and our bed at night.

Six years doesn’t seem like a long time, but we got a late start.

mlboardwalk-manistique

Lady and I in Manistique, Mich., on vacation.

The humane society said Lady was 5-7 years old when we got her in May, 2010. We hoped she fell at the lowest end of that range. When we accidentally met her former owners, we discovered she exceeded it altogether. She was 9 when we got her, and 15-1/2 when she died.

The humane society described Lady as being true to her name, and as being confident. That’s pretty good for a beagle whose former owner said, “she isn’t good for anything because she won’t hunt.” We discovered Lady loved sniffing out rabbits, and even following them, but she was afraid of gunshots and thunder and other loud noises. The first part of her life was

sweet-lady

Our sweet Lady, who loved her walks, and who believed only in continuing forward, never going back. This was at Potawatomi State Park fall 2015, when I suspected it would be her last fall.

spent on a chain near an outdoor doghouse in the company of other dogs, and her skittishness around hand movements suggests she may have been hit. When we got her, she wasn’t used to living in the house, and didn’t know how to ask to go outside.

We solved the resulting potty problem by taking her out on a rigid schedule–and almost came to regret it, because Lady loved that schedule. She had no problem with potty outside, as long as it was accompanied by a walk–and where SHE wanted to go. We’re still amazed at how a 30-pound dog could become a boat anchor, with one leg braced firmly against leash tugs, when she had her own destination in mind. As often as not, we capitulated, because after all, the walks were for her. If we had to say no, she graciously accepted the verdict and never held it against us. Mostly, she just wanted to walk and sniff things. With Lady, there was no such thing as a brisk walk. There were far too many sniff stops for that.

Lady had her own corner of the couch, and was

dsc_4785christmasphoto-for-blog

George, Lady and I at the old ski hill, scene of our yearly Christmas photo. This was last year’s–and the last one ever.

beside herself with frustration if company dared to sit in her spot. She’d pace the floor, and stare at me, and if the person dared to leave the room, they found a beagle in their place when they returned.

She had her own bed in the bedroom, too, but was more likely to sleep with us, sprawled sideways so that neither of us had much leg room. And we let her. “After all, she IS the dog,” George would say. It became our mantra any time we gave in to her. Giving in never seemed to spoil her, which is why another mantra developed: “She is the BEST dog.”

If she had her own ideas about things, she was also patient with ours. She’d lie curled up near the kitchen table no matter how long or how late our meal was–because she knew

treats

Lady waiting for treats.

the walk came after the dishes were done. The other day, I saw her suddenly sit up expectantly when I took off my apron and hung it up, and realized she knew that’s when the work was done and the fun would begin.

Lady was a Mama’s dog–no need to apologize to George, because he told me that all the time. When I left the room, she’d wait a bit to see if I’d return. If I didn’t, I’d hear the jingle of her collar as she searched me out. The mornings were the most amusing.

snow-run

Lady always loved running in the snow. Last winter she preferred to walk.

She’d lie by the table while we ate breakfast, then follow me from room to room as I put things away, checked email in the office, made the bed, maybe threw in a load of wash–and finally I’d go sit in my recliner for Morning Prayer. I’d look up, and there Lady stood, in the kitchen, waiting for the signal. As soon as the chair’s foot rest went up, over she’d come, then jump up onto her corner of the couch where she’d curl up with a sigh. She knew I’d be there for a while.

She also knew that around 7:30 or so every

couch-corner

Lady on her favorite corner of the couch.

evening, George and I had a little snack and got something for her, too. Occasionally we ran late, or maybe forgot altogether. Lady didn’t. If nothing good to eat was forthcoming by 8 p.m., she’d hoist herself up from her comfy couch spot, wander over to my chair, and stare. Do you have any idea how loud a dog stare is? If I arranged myself so I couldn’t see her, she’d move so I’d have to.  And she’d continue to stare until one of us got up and headed for the pantry.

Unlike a lot of beagles, Lady was quiet and laid back. She never barked when company arrived and she paid no attention to other dogs (she’d had enough of them as a pack member, I think). Only two things induced her to let loose with that typical bark-howl we loved: our arrival home when she’d been left behind (we’d hear her through the window), and mealtime. “Are you a hungry girl?” always brought the familiar yodel, while she pranced at our feet, toenails clicking on the floor in eager excitement. Like all beagles she was a chow hound, so her food had to be strictly regulated.

In order to prevent separation anxiety when we first got her,

My honey and my dog...

George and Lady in the state park last fall.

we gave her treats whenever we’d come home. It took her only once or twice to figure out that routine! She’d meet us at the door, prancing and dancing and finally howling if we didn’t produce a treat fast enough. We became experts at finding low-cal treats to keep her healthy.

In the last year or so, the howling had all but stopped. Now and then a renewed burst of energy would bring it on, to our delight. Lady took a blood pressure pill, eventually another to keep her continent, an eye drop twice a day for a chronic eye condition, and most recently, her heart rate had slowed from 120 to 60 beats per minute. Then she developed a chronic nose congestion that could be very messy and off-putting. Considering her age, her heart condition and the high cost, we opted not to take strenuous and invasive measures to discover the cause. She still loved her walks, but now we strolled, slowly.

Thus we came to yesterday morning, after a night full of sneezes, snotting, breathing struggles, no sleep–and not for the first time. We made the hard choice, despite her bright-eyed appearance of well-being in so many other ways.

Today the house seems unusually quiet, except for the

taking-a-rest

Sitting in the shade on a hot day during a walk.

phantom jingling of her collar. I washed her bedding and her dishes, but can’t bare to remove the couch cover just yet. Her absence doesn’t seem quite real, and George and I both tear up at unexpected moments. We took our walk on the ski hill trail, talking about Lady most of the time, remembering her love of forging ahead until the day we noticed she was lagging behind–the beginning of the end. We laughed, we cried, we took pictures as always–but it seemed strange not to hand off the leash back and forth to each other in order to get our shots.

goodbye-lady

Her passing was peaceful, as you can see. (Photo by George Sawyn)

Tomorrow, we may take the loop walk, or skirt the bay on the Ice Age Trail. We may wander through the Habitat Park and into the neighborhood beyond–and wonder if anyone will notice we walk alone.

But we WILL walk. Twice a day, we’ve decided, we’ll head for the routes Lady loved. And always, I firmly believe, though no one will see, a little spirit beagle will trot along beside us, keeping us company as she always did. Rest in peace, dear sweet Lady.

Posted in Animal antics, beagles, Living with a dog, Memories | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

A stranger’s gift

Today I prayed for someone I’ve never met.

I’m almost certain she’s no longer living, but I don’t know whether she died young or old. I picture her old, maybe older than my grandmother would be, which means she was born in the 1800s.

And while I picture her, I finger the beads of the rosary she once prayed on, and I wonder what her life was like.

I say “her,” because the rosary is white pearl, definitely a woman’s choice. I found it back in the late ‘60s when I was browsing through an antique store that also sold ordinary used items. Old jewelry was pinned to one wall, and hanging among the necklaces and bracelets was this sad-looking rosary, its circle broken at the third decade.

It seemed disrespectful, somehow. I know it had been blessed once, probably used often, and should have been passed along lovingly to another generation when its owner died. Instead, it had been tossed aside, unwanted, unappreciated, unused. I knew I had to rescue it.

I took it home and carefully fitted the broken sections together–not perfectly,

 

The flaw

The third decade flaw. The links look rusty in this photo, but it’s just the reflection of the counter on their very shiny surface.

because I didn’t have the little connecting ring. But it worked. I always look for that little flaw as I pray, and it always reminds me of my mystery lady. I wondered how it was broken in the first place. Only a hard yank could have severed the link of this sturdy circlet of beads. Who would be playing tug-of-war with a rosary? What could have entangled it that fiercely? Was it treated carelessly as handsful of “junk” were cleaned out after the funeral?

Once broken, a rosary should be reblessed, I was always taught by the sisters at my Catholic school. And what could it hurt? So, newly blessed, it was tucked into my purse and taken out regularly for prayer. As I prayed for my own intentions, I wondered about hers. Was she concerned about her health as she aged? Did she pray for children and grandchildren, for their spiritual and physical needs? Did she pray alone, or with a husband? Did it bring her peace and comfort?

Maybe she prayed for those she had lost, for the repose of their souls. I do. And I include her, maybe the only person left in the world who does. I feel a kinship, knowing she knows, and that she’s even grateful. As I run the beads through my fingers, I picture her hands doing the same, holding those same beads, whispering those same prayers. I kiss the crucifix at the end, an ancient and pious gesture, pressing my lips where hers undoubtedly brushed against the silver. Is there some little part of her that lingers, not totally erased by my fingers, even after these many years?

I wonder how she came to have the rosary in the first place.

Rosary

My rescued rosary. I added the medal on the right, attached to the crucifix.

Was it something she carried at her wedding? Perhaps a gift from her husband, or later from one of her children? Or did she buy it for herself, to have something beautiful on which to string her prayers?

Most of all, I wonder if she held it as she lay dying, finding comfort in its physical presence even as, perhaps, the words became harder to say, her thoughts harder to hold together. Did it accompany her to the threshold of that door to eternity? Was it wound around her hands in death and then removed as the cover was closed and the Requiem Mass began?

She couldn’t take it with her, but it’s been passed on to me as a sort of legacy, and I continue on those beads what she began. I pray for the world, our country, my kids and those who have died–and I pray for a nameless, faceless woman whom I know I’ll recognize someday when we meet on the other side.

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Gourmet masquerade

I’m not a gourmet cook. I don’t use exotic ingredients or fancy presentations. I don’t use obscure cooking methods, or dabble in recipes that require anything more than the basic kinds of utensils.

No, I’m more of an ordinary-food-with-an-extra-kick cook. (Hmm. That sounded a bit like kick the cook. Don’t you dare.) I’m a woman who has raised a family on a small budget and still lives on a small budget, so what I come up with has to be down-home cooking.

But don’t be fooled. “Down home” doesn’t have to mean plain. It doesn’t have to be smothered in fat, drowning in sugar, or come out of a box. It can be ordinary food that’s been prepared just a little bit different from what’s expected–like adding garlic salt to scrambled eggs, or almond flavoring to French toast.

All this is being said to give me an excuse to write about the rather ordinary meal I fixed today that was good enough for me to still be thinking about it. And planning to do it again.

This meal had to be worthy of Sunday dinner, but quick to fix, since we were just getting home from Mass and George had to leave fairly soon for an afternoon and evening of music gigs. So, this is how it went.

First, when I got up this morning I sliced half of a big boneless,

Chicken cooking

Monica Sawyn photo

skinless chicken breast into one-inch strips, then buried them in a a shallow dish of marinade. The marinade was, roughly (since I never measure) 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon of tumeric, 1/8 cup of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Covered with plastic wrap, the bowl stayed in the fridge until  was ready to start cooking. This could have been done the night before, too.

Since it was a warm day and George was in a hurry, we decided against grilling outside. Instead, I heated my grill pan that I’d coated with a little grape seed oil (which tolerates higher temps than olive oil does) and laid the strips of chicken on that. I plucked them out of the marinade and was careful that a good amount of the yogurt mixture remained on the chicken.

While those were cooking–I turned them a couple times–I cut up a couple medium-sized potatoes into bite-sized chunks, put them into a bowl, drizzled them with olive oil, covered the bowl and microwaved it for 4 minutes. Then I sprinkled garlic, salt and pepper (or lot of chili powder, for another kind of flavor), mixed it well, and microwaved them for 4 more minutes. When they were done, I let them sit until the rest of the meal was ready.

Meanwhile, I took the one shortcut I seldom take:

Plated

The turmeric gives the chicken a pretty yellow color. Monica Sawyn photo

I used frozen peas instead of some kind of fresh veggie. But, like I said, time was an issue. So, I prepared those on the stove top, and then topped the peas with sliced almonds.

And that was it. That meal, followed by fresh, locally grown cantaloupe for dessert, used basic ingredients most of us keep in our kitchens. But by using a few spices and an easy marinade for a little zip, every mouthful was savory and far from being bland or plain.

The key is experimentation. If you can bring yourself to do that, cooking–and eating–will seem gourmet even when it’s not.

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Switch-up enchiladas

It’s fun to try new recipes–and it’s fun to vary them. It’s the varying that inexperienced cooks are often afraid of. I know I used to be.

Back in my early days, I’d find something that looked really good, but if I didn’t have every single ingredient, I either put off making it,

enchiladas

Not mine. We ate them too fast and I never photographed them. But they looked much like this.

or dashed off to the store. That can get tiring, and it’s so unnecessary. One of the first things a new cook should learn is how to mix things up a bit.

Yesterday, for instance. I had some meat that needed to be used up, and I was in the mood for Mexican. So, I dug out one of my favorite Mexican recipe books.  I had bought some flour tortilla shells at the grocery store, but I discovered that was about all of the required ingredients I had on hand.

The recipe called for cream of chicken soup, sour cream, picante sauce, cooked chicken, and Monterey Jack cheese. I had none of those things. So, I used what I had, and the result was better than I remember that original recipe being.

Here’s the recipe, as I tweaked it:

1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz. plain Greek yogurt
1 cup black bean salsa (Mrs. Renfrew’s. I like it because it doesn’t have sugar in it.)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 pound of ground chuck, browned
1 cup shredded garlic-and-herb cheddar
6 flour tortillas

1. Mix the soup, yogurt,  salsa and chili powder. Reserve 1 cup.
2. Brown the ground chuck, seasoned with homemade taco seasoning. (I make my own because I don’t like the unpronounceable ingredients in the packaged stuff. But go ahead and use it if you prefer.)
3. Mix 1 cup of the salsa mixture,  ground beef and cheese.
4. Spread about 1/3 cup of the meat mixture down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place seam-side down in a 3-quart shallow baking dish.
5. Pour the remaining salsa mixture over the enchiladas. Cover and baked at 350° for 40 minutes.

It could be there’s a recipe just like that somewhere, but the point is, I didn’t know that. I substituted our of necessity. Back in my younger days, it would never have occurred to me to take such liberties; now I realize that’s what makes cooking fun. Most experienced cooks discovered that long ago. If you haven’t, try it!

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It’s all about the socks

I walk a little more carefully these days, and I’ve been blaming it on my cranky knees. Now I know better. I’m wearing the wrong socks.

The revelation came to me during a moment of silence at the vet’s office. The overhead television, sound off, was flickering for those waiting for their pet’s appointments. I glanced at it casually to see a woman stroking her legs sensuously, a man tackling a treadmill with supernatural vim, and a 70-year-old jumping a hurdle as though he had springs in his feet.

They were all wearing white, knee-high socks. Exercise socks, according to the closed caption. And not your common or garden variety white athletic sock, either. These had magic fibers, or a magic weave, or something new and revolutionary enough that none of those people minded looking like total nerds with their knobby knees protruding from the top of the tight white casings.

One man looked into the camera, the very picture of sincerity.

“I was amazed at the difference these make,” the caption said. “They really do work.”

I sat there, staring guiltily at my knees, blamed for all manner of crabbed, mincing or measured steps on my part. I glanced down at my sandaled feet, bare toes visible, nary an exercise sock in sight. The trouble, I realized, is my muddled thinking. I thought eating right, taking glucosamine-chondroitin supplements and hitting the NuStep three times a week were all the tools available to keep me mobile. Little did I know it’s all about socks.

I know there are people out there who wear support hose, and

socks

Tres chic, eh?

I have no intention of doing that. I know there are support socks, and compression socks, and something called nurse mates. They all fit into the “squeezer” category, and that rhymes with geezer and who wants to admit to that?

Exercise socks, now, those will catch on. Those hint at fit, trim, active, even athletic people. Take a look around you. That senior jogging down the road? I bet he’s wearing white, knee-high exercise socks. How about that gray-haired guy trying to get on the high school track team? Pay no attention to his bony knees; focus instead on those classy white socks, the ones with the death grip on his legs.

I’m sold. I’m going to run out and get me a pair of those wonderful socks just as soon as I can convince my knees they’re not done for the day. If I’m lucky, by the time I find some, they’ll have come out with full body apparel in the same fabric. This gal is ready to be renovated.

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Fifty years from a distance

George just left for a gig with the Peninsula Players,  Lady and I are sitting on the deck in the cool of the evening, and I’m basking in the nostalgia of my 50th class reunion–the one I didn’t attend.

There are some who live right on top of the old home town who couldn’t be bothered to book a dance with nostalgia. Others will drag themselves across half the country to quench their thirst with a glass of classmate camaraderie. I fall somewhere in between: too far, with too many obligations, to make it easily, but delighting in the idea of staying in touch with the people who are part of my roots.

for blog

Myself at age 14, with my dog Cindy.

Thank goodness for Facebook. My Catholic Central High School has its own page, and I’ve been reconnected with many of the 300-plus I graduated with. And thank goodness for friends with cameras, who took me to the reunion through their lenses and showed me smiles I haven’t seen in 50 years.

Yes, they were all smiling. No wallflowers in that group, no separation into this clique or that group. They’ve all grown up and grown beyond those sorts of insecurities. Now, they’re just people who developed careers, got married (or not), raised families, carved niches into new terrain, and can count themselves blessed for still being here 50 years later, as some of us, alas, are not.

Only those from a Catholic high school might have realized that the reunion was held on the Feast of the Transfiguration. It proved to be prophetic, because I saw transfigurations in each of the photos that were posted. Some of the high school heart throbs would hardly keep a heart beating now, while many of the plain janes

MTallShip

Myself last week, armed with a camera, as always.

blossomed and, like that cliched fine wine, only got better with time. Some of the chunky ones lost weight, the slim ones added a bit of girth, and a few of the boys lived up to their parents’ promise that their growth spurt would come eventually. All of them looked confident and comfortable in their own skin.

Some I recognized immediately; some I would never have known. But since they all wore name tags, and the women’s included maiden names, I suspect it was the same for everyone. Some, thanks again to Facebook, I now know better than when I was in school, while a few, just a few, have disappeared completely from everyone’s radar.

I may not have been able to be there, but it was fun to peek into others’ photographic mementos.  And I can assure you that I carry each of you in my prayers.

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The weekend–still special

Despite the fact that I’m retired, the weekend is still a special part of my week.

You might think that since I no longer punch a time clock, each day is pretty much like any other, always with the option to stay up late or go to bed early, rise with the sun or sleep in until noon, do the yard work or the shopping or just sit and read.

time clock

Via Bing Images

I suppose that would be true, if I’d allowed it to be.

But even a retired person needs a balance and rhythm to life, a structure that includes highs and lows, busy times and relaxing ones. It takes deliberate choices to see that that happens. And maybe it takes having been a Benedictine oblate for nearly 40 years, living a rule of life that encourages a balance between work and play, between productivity and prayer.

Even now, sitting here on a Friday night, I’m anticipating the Saturday and Sunday before me.  Some of the excitement is probably a holdover from my working days when the weekend meant respite–but not entirely, because the weekend still means true respite.

shortcakeSaturday starts special with a special breakfast. It’s the day we break our healthy food regimen and feast–in moderation–on bacon and pancakes or waffles. Tomorrow, since it’s strawberry season, it will be strawberry shortcake with the bacon. Dessert for breakfast! I feel like a kid, getting away with something.

There will be no interviews for freelance articles; no major housework since I make sure it’s pretty much done during the week; no meetings, no obligations. I might putz in the garden, or spend some time in the sewing room. I might do some baking–because I like to, not because I have to. Sometimes George has a gig, and I might go if it’s a public event. If not, I enjoy the solitude and the silence.

Sunday is Sabbath, with all the reverence and separateness that concept implies. On Sunday we go to 10:30 Mass, so the morning is a buildup to that main event. MassBreakfast is simple, Morning Prayer is leisurely, “nice” clothes have been laid out to mark the solemnity of the day, and we go together to church to offer our past week as our gift, to give thanks in the best way possible for gifts and blessings received, to be part of a worshiping community, just as God is part of a community of Three.

Sunday is our day of rest. Even retired people need that both mentally and physically, as well as spiritually. On Sunday we don’t do laundry, buy groceries, clean the house, wash the car, go shopping or “catch up” on the things we forgot to do the rest of the week. On Sunday we let it all go, and we re-create ourselves.

There was a time when Mass was followed by lunch out someplace–and that still happens occasionally–but we figured that if Sunday is a day of rest for us, we shouldn’t contribute to a system that doesn’t allow it to be a day of rest for others. Does our effort make a difference in the lives of sales clerks and waitresses for whom Sunday must be just another workday? No, but it makes a difference to me that I haven’t practiced a double standard.

So instead of eating out, we plan something especially tasty for our meal at home. Maybe a steak on the grill, or a roast in the crock-pot, or a new recipe that tempted both of us. Then, if the weather cooperates, we might walk Lady in a “special place,” somewhere different from her usual jaunts. We might spend the afternoon on our personal fun projects–sewing or reading or catching up on Catholic newspapers for me, perhaps; music undoubtedly for George, or a few games of M.U.L.E. on the iPad.

readingIt’s a free day, a break from obligations that’s savored with a kind of joyful glee. It’s a day to notice that the floor needs vacuuming, and to feel not one bit guilty about ignoring it. A day when the myriad things involved in running a home can just get in line for Monday, or Tuesday or the days that follow. It’s a day where I can spend hours just reading if I want to–and anyone who really knows me, knows I often want to.

Our weekend ends with one last, simple splurge: ice cream! We’re fairly health conscious, but it’s the occasional treats we allow ourselves that help us stay on the straight and narrow the rest of the time. Two quarts of ice cream wait ice creamin our freezer at all times; one is my pick, one is George’s. Like two kids, at some point during any given Sunday, one of us will announce to the other, “It’s ice cream day!” I like mine in a cone, George wants his in a dish. Yum.

St. BenThen Monday arrives, and the rest of the week follows, and although we don’t go to work, little obligations rear their heads here and there. Always, though, the weekend lies ahead, two days that we’ve chosen to make special. Rhythm and balance. St. Benedict would approve.

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How’s YOUR back?

Gardening has taught me patience. Not because I have to wait for plants to grow, but because I have to deal with myself.

Or maybe it’s just that with age has come a bit of wisdom. All I know is that now, in my retirement years, I’ve learned that yard work doesn’t have to be done all at once, and I’m trying to carry that new awareness into the rest of my life.

When I was much younger, spring to me meant backbreaking bingesLadder in the yard, pulling weeds, planting flowers, mowing, trimming, clipping, digging, in all the flower beds, on the same day. Even if I managed to get everything done that one day, just the idea of the maintenance required to keep things looking nice produced weed-inducing procrastination. In those days, gardening was an all-or-nothing proposition.

It’s not like that any more. It CAN’T be like that any more. With age may come wisdom where gardens are concerned, but that’s because age also brings gratzy knees and a twingy back. Overdoing means being overdone and a trip to the chiropractor where I spend money I could have spent on flowers.

So now, I take an hour  here and an hour there, pulling a few weeds, removing old growth and stopping now and then to listen to the birds or feed the chipmunks who like to eat out Gardensof my hand. The next day I may take another hour. I work on cloudy days when it’s not too hot, or when there’s shade and a nice breeze. After all, I’m retired. I should enjoy being able to pick and choose and follow no schedule but my own.

I use a garden bench to avoid back-killing stooping, dragging it along with me as I move, foot by foot, through the garden. I use a wheelbarrow to lug dirt-filled pots. I’ve been been known to let the weeds lie in a pile overnight, and pick them up the next day. I bet no one even notices.

I don’t even buy my annuals at the same time. I used to arrive at the greenhouse with a long list, and Stoolby the time I carried several flats of flowers to the car I was already too tired to even think of gardening. Now, I get the ones for the pots I like best, bring them home, leave them on the deck, and then, when it suits me, I plant a few. When those are planted, I get more if I need them, and repeat the process.

Today, when I got home from an errand and was heading for the house, I stopped to pull a few weeds that were in my line of sight. Next time I’m outside I’ll pull a few more. I’ll grab some as I take Lady for a walk, or before I settle down for Morning Prayer. There will be others waiting, and I WILL get to them–tomorrow.

SeagullTo some people, this would sound like procrastination. But this is where the wisdom comes in. It has taught me that slow but sure still gets the job done. I didn’t rush, hurry, knock myself out or work until I dropped, but my veggies are in, my pots are full, and it’s a pleasure to just sit on the deck and enjoy.

Best of all, my back doesn’t hurt, and my knees aren’t  complaining. THAT’S the way gardening should be done. All it takes is a little patience.

 

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Waiting for the rain

All the elements came together at just the right time today.

The newsletter that’s due Friday is far enough along that I could set it aside for the day. The rhubarb cake for tonight’s St. Ann’s meeting is in the oven. George is at rehearsal, so I have the house to myself. And the rain came.

We’ve had gloriously sunny days for weeks, it seems. Too much sun, maybe, for the things that are trying to grow. But now, in typical northern fashion, we have rain on the agenda for many days ahead. And it began half an hour ago.

I wished out loud when George and I were walking our dog after lunch.

“I’m looking forward to a rainy day when I have nothing to do,” I said.

Sherbet

Tulips like this always remind me of a tasty dessert.

I was visualizing that close darkness that presses against the windows when storm clouds roll overhead, the plinking sounds of rain on our metal roof, a comfy chair and a good book.

I didn’t get the whole day with nothing to do, but I’ll a take couple good hours over nothing at all. It started when the wind picked up, just before George left.

“The rain is coming,” I said, not trying to sound prophetic, just recognizing the portents of restless trees, moving like spooked horses against their tethers.

I saved and closed the newsletter, quickly assembled the cake ingredients and slid it in the oven, then grabbed my camera and headed outside. Gray clouds hovered overhead, darker ones were moving in from the west. I had just enough time, maybe the last time, to snap a few tulip photos.

No longer young

No longer young, but still dancing.

I’ve been taking as many as I can, trying to capture and preserve their stained-glass brilliance in my garden. But their season is ending, their colors are fading, petals are twisted and drooped, some stems already stand naked. The wind and the rain, I figured, would finish the disrobing.

I got back in the house just in time. Rain’s forward scouts left crosshatching on the windows, and I settled in to enjoy, putting “all sensors on maximum,” as they say in the sci-fi movies. Now, it wasn’t just lilacs scents wafting through the open windows, it was that incomparable smell of rain, of wet earth and wet dust. The ping of rain on roof and skylights replaced birdsong. The atmosphere invited prayer.

“You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary land.” (Psalm 68:9)
“He gives rain on the earth And sends water on the fields.” (Job 5:10)
“The heavens dropped rain at the presence of God.” (Psalm 68:8)
“He covers the heavens with clouds, He provides rain for the earth, He makes grass to grow on the mountains (and on the crops in Door County).” (Psalm 147:8)

Peace, contentment, soft satisfaction and even the presence of God appear on no sensor sweep. But, after all, they do have the sound, and the smell, and the feel of a gentle spring rain.

Posted in contemplation, Faith-filled living, nature, Reflection | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Guilt-free banana bread

Food that’s healthy doesn’t have to taste like cardboard. I recently tried a recipe where the chef obviously didn’t get the memo.

It was billed as “healthy banana bread,” and had whole wheat flour, honey instead of sugar and unsweetened applesauce instead of shortening, among the other ingredients. So far so good. However, I should have realized that a recipe that also had no flavorings or spices would be pretty uninteresting. I tried it, and was overwhelmingly unimpressed. It was dry and tasteless.

For some reason, I didn’t just trash the recipe. I decided to tweak it instead. What I ended up with is practically a new recipe altogether, so I can safely say the result isn’t plagiarized.

I decided to use whole wheat pastry flour for a nice texture, and I made sure the honey was raw, which is SO much better tasting than processed honey. It also contains more vitamins and minerals. (And keep in mind that much store-bought honey is imported from other countries and is actually flavored corn syrup!)

The last change I made was to use grape-seed oil instead of applesauce. Most people now admit that fat doesn’t have to be eliminated altogether in order to have “healthy”; you just have to use the right kind of fat. Grape-seed oil doesn’t have a flavor of its own, which can be a plus, and it’s high in healthy omega 6 oils. I could also have used coconut oil, another healthy fat, and its coconut flavor would blend well with bananas for a tropical taste. Next time, I just might do that.

Anyway, here’s the final recipe–so far. Tweaking is never entirely done!

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup grape-seed oil
3/4 cups raw honey
2 eggs, beaten slightly
3 mashed overripe bananas
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp orange flavoring
1 tsp rum flavoring
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3-1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350° and lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Banana breadIn a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt and dry spices. In a separate bowl, mix together oil and honey. Stir in eggs, mashed bananas, and liquid flavorings until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture just until moistened, and mix in raisins. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 50-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

The results isn’t just banana bread, it’s more like a spice cake. You can adjust the amounts of the spices to favor the ones you like the best. I like to slice the bread, wrap each piece in waxed paper, and freeze it, taking out only a slice or two at a time. That way, there’s always a healthy, tasty treat on hand for visitors, or when you get the munchies.

Posted in Food, healthy eating, recipes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments