Gardening Adjustments

My gardens have been continually changing since I started them over twenty years ago. What began with five spindly plants from one of those ten-dollar-mail-order offers has morphed into a backyard surrounded by perennial beds and ornamental bushes.

Late summer in our garden: perennials, annuals, and–as you will notice from the picture–a few determined weeds.

I didn’t follow any grand plan. I just started buying what I liked–sometimes on clearance at big box stores. Sometimes I set aside enough from our monthly budget that I was able to go to our lovely nursery in town to select a new hydrangea or other foundation-building shrub. And sometimes, my dad would leave a surprise plant or bush on our front porch as he was an avid flower and vegetable gardener. So I would say my love of flower gardening and the various projects grew at a slow pace for about fifteen years.

Here’s another section of the backyard. After this picture was taken, we had the birch tree trimmed , and we re-painted the fence. This summer, this area will receive much more sunlight.

Our garden has grown significantly over the last five years. Our back yard is surrounded by a picket fence, designed and built by my husband. Within the last year, he has moved river rock around the house and is edging the beds with metal. My husband’s involvement in the landscaping and gardening has been a shift for me. By adding his muscle, I have had to adjust to the addition of his opinions. I am used to making most gardening decisions. And while I have been occasionally reluctant, the end result has been very satisfying.

I don’t know how many ton of river rocks my husband has placed around the house. I was skeptical at first, but I now love how tidy everything looks AND we are having fewer problems with mice in the house. Perhaps there is a connection…

After this picture was taken, we trimmed the bushes and repainted the house and fence. We had a wedding in the yard last summer. (that’s a future blog entry…) We are looking forward to this summer when we can just enjoy the yard and gardens.

For the last two summers, this has been Dennis’s special project: a zinnia bed near the road. And again, I wasn’t sure about it. (You would think I’d learn!) Guess what? It is stunning in August.

So, all in all, the change has been worth it: a much improved yard and major projects are completed. And yes, I’m learning to make gardening adjustments!

Coming Home

photo by Seaver Creative

We no longer go to the old farmhouse for holidays—it is too much for my mother and has been for several years. I hosted our immediate family again for Thanksgiving this year, our first major holiday since my dad’s death, and my tears brined our turkey.

I was doing well: setting the tables, preparing the meal, enjoying our home filled with our children and grandchildren, but then I stepped on the cat’s tail, she howled, and I cried.

This grief jumps from around corners and invades the quiet moments of my life. It startles me, catching me without my security system set securely around my heart. Like today—the first delicious snow day of the school year. This gift of eight hours of unscheduled time smiles at me.

The house is mine.

The day is mine.

I sit with my coffee, admiring the beautiful, wet snow smothering the bird feeders, flocking the pines, blanketing the lawn, and I miss my dad.

Continue reading “Coming Home”

The Gift of Tequila Mockingbird

I am a magpie when it comes to drink mixology. My friends think I create our special drinks for our monthly gatherings, but the truth is, I am a shameless copy-cat. If Dennis and I go to a restaurant, for instance, I will usually order the seasonal drink special. I often take pictures of the ingredients, and I’m not above asking the bartender about the liquid ratios. (Flattery can get a gal just about anything she wants…) The part I don’t duplicate is the drink name–I always give my “designer drinks” a signature name: the Spring Fling, Summer’s Last Kiss, and the Snow Day are just a few. It has become a tradition and something my friends look forward to.

(by clicking on the image, you can preview the book on Amazon)
The Hostess Gift

So when my friend Krista gave me Tim Federle’s Tequila Mockingbird last year as a hostess gift, it was very appropriate. (It is not unusual to receive a hostess gift from my girlfriends–I think we were all raised by mothers who read Miss Manners and Heloise’s Helpful Hints.) I thanked her and set the book aside–probably placing it on my bedside nightstand. I had never seen the book before, and it was several weeks before I began reading it. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and have appreciated revisiting it throughout the year. Not only are there some delightful cocktail recipes (“One Flew over the Cosmo’s Nest” is a tasty riff on the classic Cosmo and an easy place to start), but there are witty and smart plot summaries and character discussion. Federle’s writing is full of puns and playful word choice.

I recommend it! It will bring a smile to your face and encourage you to create something special for your glass! And, of course, it makes a fantastic host or hostess gift for a future gathering.

Rooster Conditioning

“Our rooster is havin’ a really great year,” my seven-year-old granddaughter shares late last summer as we weed her herb garden. Her twin brother Caleb is having a playdate with a friend, so we are enjoying some rare one-on-one time together. She converses with me in that delightful way young children do with people they know and trust—completely, openly, sincerely—and she clearly has opinions about their current rooster and his quality of life.

Hmmm.

What constitutes a good year for a rooster?

All his ladies at his disposal?

goat, goat girl, walking with a goat
I love this picture: Chloe, our little goat girl.

A crowd to admire his strut and swag?

We had several chickens who wandered the farm of my childhood. When I was seven, we had a rooster with these feathery bangs we named “Ringo.” The Beatles had just begun their U.S. tour, and my brother and I found the Fab Four’s hairdos both hilarious and amazing. When Ed Sullivan featured the Beatles in 1964, I watched, laughed and danced, shaking my head and playing an air guitar before there was a name for such things.  Our rooster Ringo was king of the barn and certainly wouldn’t have eaten from my hand no matter how patiently and persistently I would have tried. A “great year” for Ringo would have included lots of bugs and corn to eat, as he led the simple life of an under-appreciated bachelor.

Chloe’s rooster doesn’t really have a name. Just “Rooster.” He has free range of everything on their little ten-acre homestead: the woods, the yard, the driveway, even the garage. He has a selection of twelve fine-looking hens—well muscled and productive—and he is ever-vigilant, crowing if concerned by a sudden change or separation of his brood.

So what makes “Rooster” and his year so good?

“Well, Nana, he just knows that brother and I are gentle and kind. Our other rooster didn’t know that. But this rooster doesn’t chase us, so we reward him.”

Hmmm.

How do you reward a rooster?

 A trip to the neighbor’s coop for a little tryst?

 A new perch from which to announce the sunrise?

“So Nana, sometimes when I’m pickin’ berries, I save some an’ he comes to me and eats outta my hand,” she continues.

Wow. Really?

“I’ll show you.” She confidently marches to the nearby blueberry bushes, picks a tiny handful, and crouches low to the ground. She quietly calls to Rooster.

“It’s okay. You’re a good boy. Come here…I have blueberries for you.” She holds her little cupped hands still and continues to talk softly… gently… and sure enough, Rooster slowly approaches her and picks the berries carefully from her hand. He doesn’t hurt her or peck at her when the berries are gone. He simply cocks his head one when and then the other, then scoots off to scratch for bugs near the raspberry canes. Chloe brushes off her hands, stands, and turns to me, proud and satisfied.

Chloe rewarding Rooster.

Here’s what I know: our amazing world will be at this child’s command.

My seven-year-old granddaughter has learned the benefits of giving positive rewards at an early age. Although she doesn’t fully understand the psychology, Chloe is discovering how certain actions can maintain or change a behavior. What power she will have.

My daughter and son-in-law are very involved and committed to their family, but as all parents, they are blissfully oblivious to the tests awaiting them and the quickly developing sophistication of this tiny, expressive redhead.

While Rooster’s time on this earth has come to an end, our dear Chloe’s journey has just begun.

I’m so glad I’m along for the ride.

An Unexpected Gift

The silo was filled, the combine greased and stored for another year, and frost covered the fields around our farmhouse when my Dad left for deer hunting. He would be gone a week, and he assured us he would return “before we knew it.” And he was right, of course, as soon our unshaven father was back, unloading his suitcase and telling us stories about the northern Michigan woods he walked, the animals he saw, and the people he met.

Listening and laughing, we excitedly watched Dad unpack, my youngest brother clinging to Dad’s legs.

“Oh kids, I brought you something,” Dad announced.
Continue reading “An Unexpected Gift”

The Winter of Redford

December through February in Michigan we experience something described by local meteorologists as the perma-cloud. As far as I can tell, this simply means days–sometimes weeks–with no sunshine. Period. It’s hard to imagine if you reside in Arizona, or California, or even New Jersey. Here in the mitten we have become so accustomed to the grayness of these months, that when the clouds do occasionally part, it is like hearing the voices of an angels’ chorus. We stop what we are doing, we pause mid-sentence, we look up from our books or smile from our all-wheel-drive cars and trucks.

Robert Redford, winter story, winter survival,

We Michiganders learn to make our own light during our winters–always seeking a new pastime, a recommended Netflix series, even a new flavor of potato chips.

Continue reading “The Winter of Redford”

Favorite Cocktails: The Staycation


My girlfriends love this summer creation.
Ingredients:
1 Outshine Fruit Bar
2 oz vodka
Sprite or 7up

Cut your favorite frozen fruit bar from the wooden stick.
Place in a martini glass.
Muddle (using the wooden stick) with 2 oz vodka.
Once softened, top with Sprite or 7up.

Best enjoyed with your favorite friends!

Changes

How seasons so swiftly pass.
The cooling nights.
The gathering calls.
The hummingbird’s final flight.

Fall once brimmed with beginnings, with hope.
I donned a starchy, new blouse and wool jumper.
The milk-weed pods launched their fluffy parachutists.
The woolly caterpillars awaited our probing fingers.

Now I grieve the changes.
The children’s empty beds, made up tight.
A knee’s aching stubbornness.
The stillness of the house.

There is comfort in the familiar, a slowing of the routine.
The dog and I watch the stars fade in the morning sky
As my neighbor’s kitchen light warms the yard.
And from the frosted lawn, I heard the timbre of his familiar voice.

I Remember

My mother carries me to the cabin kitchen,

Where my grandmother waits,

Her apron cinched, her sturdy arms welcoming, her smile firm and determined.

Where I become the main event, the centerpiece of their day.

My little red bathing suit—a miniature Marilyn Monroe,

Full of sand, and grit, and a day’s worth of four-year-old play—

Is gently peeled from my exhausted body,

And shaking and shivering and whimpering

I am submerged in an old galvanized tub full of warm water.

I remember

Their calm reassurances

And the gentle hands touching me, pouring warm water over my tiny frame.

I remember

The light of those women—my women—in that tiny kitchen.

My grandmother—the jam maker, the warbly whistler, the grandchildren snuggler

My mother—the schedule arranger, the ache soother, my eternal encourager

Feeders of the world.

The wood cook stove snaps behind me

And I am lifted and wrapped in the clean towel,

Quickly cocooned in the safety and balm of my grandmother’s ample bosom.

I don’t remember

 

My mother’s youth, her beautiful smile, or how she was—briefly—mine alone

Or my grandmother’s predictably musky scent of onions and rising bread.

All gone to me.

The tub still hangs on the porch of the cabin.

The wood stove now a vintage accent in a cousin’s home.

The rest of the tiny kitchen is unchanged, a museum vignette dedicated to early cabin décor.

And above all, I remember

 

The radiance of their love,

And how at that moment, I was the cherished center of their universe.