Thursday, November 25, 2010

Home from Rehab with New Equipment and New Skills

It turned out that all of my "amateur" efforts to resolve my pain were not enough. On Oct 30 I could not stand up to get out of bed. On Oct 31, with the help of very dear and kind friends who are like a second family to me, I went to the ER at Stanford University Hospital. There I was "admitted for observation" and a team of experts determined that I should go to the Spinal Cord Injury, Rehabilitation Unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center--also known as Rehab 1.

While most of the patients who come there do have spinal cord injuries, some do not. Some have broken bones that are mending, and some like me, are "old polios", with post-polio syndrome. (It is a premier center for the treatment of "post--polio syndrome" as well as spinal cord injuries; it is in fact, where my "post polio syndrome" was first diagnosed over twenty years ago.)

It is questionable whether I will walk again, partly because it was deemed that it wasn't (and isn't) safe for me to be doing it especially since I live alone, and partly because the pain was caused by the spinal stenosis creating enough nerve damage that it may not be possible for me to walk again. Of course, I hope that with time the nerves will heal. On the other hand, my parents probably hoped that for a good part of late 1953 and much of 1954......

Needless to say, there are grief issues surrounding this. (And that is probably an understatement.) There is also good news. I came home in a power chair (on loan until my own is delivered) I have a new haircut--from a mandatory recreational therapy outing--in the power chair--to the little hair salon across the street from the rehab center. I went out to lunch--another outing--something that I haven't done for so long that I can't remember how long.

I was cared for with such gentle kindness and marvelous competency that I miss everyone enormously. The nurses are the best. They come from all over the world. I fell in love with them and will remember them for a very long time. (The nurse assistants also.)

The PT's (Physical Therapists) are the best I have ever had except for one young woman who worked with me in Chicago in my halycon graduate school days. They are in the same league. I miss working with them six days a week! I miss the gym equipment and I am doing the exercises that they taught me. I do not want this body to become "deconditioned" again!

The best OT (Occupational Therapist) and one of the finest people I have ever met brought me home within the first three days of my admission to see whether the house was suitable for me to continue to live in. (It was, thank God!) She determined what changes I should make and friends pitched in to accomplish the heroic task of moving things around so that a hospital bed could be delivered. (Power up, power down makes transfers easier.)

Then she taught me how to transfer with a slide board, use various new equipment for (ahem) various daily tasks. Then she brought me home again to make sure everything was in place. It was--almost. The hospital bed people had delivered the wrong bed. She quickly got it sorted out and they--just as quickly corrected their error.

I am now sleeping in the "pretty room", that I blogged about so many, many posts ago when my young friend, now about to graduate from college, painted it that summer after her high school graduation. It is satisfying to fall asleep and wake-up to the color scheme I chose and the rose curtains that my sister made that year.

If there are any typos here, please blame them on the squirrels--they have been distracting me for at least the last hour with their antics in my trees where they are finding a Thanksgiving feast of their own.

I have so much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. I have always thought of the old Beatles song, "We get by with a little help from our friends." I have gotten by and am getting by with a great deal of help from my friends, old friends and new ones. Thank you everyone!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Heat Waves, House Guests and Chronic Pain

I see that it has been a long time since I posted. The weeks flew by, punctuated by heat waves during which I mostly stay away from my computer. The house heats and heats and finally feels like it is going to explode. Then it cools. Relief that I can almost feel in the rafters.

My family visited briefly. The visit was marred by a heat wave! We are just finishing one now. The days are shorter, so the heat is not so oppressive and the fall light and colors give the experience a different quality from the high heat of summer. Somehow, with the knowledge that winter is coming, the heat is not so difficult to bear or so oppressive.

This morning as I looked out of my bedroom window I saw a trio of great red globes hanging low on my neighbor's pomegranate tree. Beautiful, beautiful fruit of fall.

Chronic pain has been plaguing me for month. A combination of sciatica, spinal stenosis and arthritis. I think that, with the help of the web, I am finally getting the positioning of pillows and bolsters arranged just so and the morning pain is lessening. The web has also yielded information about herbal and homeopathic remedies that are helping somewhat.

I am waiting for a package that contains a bottle of MSM, a supplement that I wish I had known about earlier. It will be interesting to see if it lives up to its reputation.

Gratitude filled my heart this morning when the pain on arising was not so bad. It is a beautiful day and the hummingbirds are feeding on the pineapple sage. My favorite time of the year. So I will hang on the gratitude and let it carry the day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Remembering Mama

Today, if she were still alive, my mother would be 100 years old. I am glad that she is no longer struggling in her body, as she surely would be if she had lived this long. But I do miss her. I wonder what she would make of the Internet and Facebook. Had that come along in her lifetime, I am sure she would have used it well to connect with the women whom she had gone to high school and then nursing school with in the 1920's and 1930's.

She lived through the watersheds of the Great War (World War I), World War II, the Great Depression and Vatican II. She knew food shortages and rationing--I remember her stories about adding food coloring to the margarine to make it look like butter and the shortage of sugar during World War II. I am sure that she and her mother must have planted a Victory Garden.

She loved pretty things--I still have a plum-velvet gown that she wore to go dancing and several vintage bags that speak "roaring twenties" when I take them out of my drawers now and hold them in my hands.

Mama made the best lemon-meringue pie that I have ever eaten. So much so that neither of her daughters even try to replicate it. She also made stuffed cabbage and apple dumplings, good German dishes that filled a cold winter's day kitchen with warmth and wonderful smells.

I remember "helping" her to make a meatloaf when I was about four. Her patience was amazing. I also remember wanting to imitate her by ironing--I was allowed to start with the dish towels, pillow cases and Papa's handkerchiefs and work up gradually to more complicated items. Eventually, I was accomplished enough to use the Mangle not only for flat things but even for my father's dress shirts.

Mama was an accomplished musician, singing in the church choir and playing the piano. The piano has not been played for many years, but will move to Phoenix soon, I hope, there to be played by her great-grandchildren.

She would have loved the picture-sharing of digital photography and the Internet that makes it possible to see a new-born baby or the Christmas celebration almost immediately. Her daughters have not learned how to use Skype yet, but I think she would be using it.

I live in the house she lived in. I cook with her pots and pans, bread pan and tools. While I have added some things of my own, there is a continuity here that I love. I love picking up tools that either of my parents used and having a sense of connection of my hands to their hands. I still have the yellow Pyrex bowl that Mama used to mix that meatloaf in that I helped to make when I was four.

The furniture in the living room is the same--some of it belonged to my Grandmother. It has become "antique", simply by lasting for so long. I like thinking about Mama and her Mama when I go into my living room.

When my mother was a child, Gregorian Chant was the norm for the liturgy of the Catholic church. The school, St. Mary's, that Mama attended as a child, had its own prayer book for the children. I have that book. I also have her beautiful First Communion prayer book and a collection of missals that she treasured. She and Papa were both grateful to find a Gregorian Mass in the seventies, and I am grateful that community is still here.

I wonder what she would make of today's culture, all the media blur, the noise and distractions and especially the incivility. I remember both of my parents for their courtesy and kindness.

So I remember you my dear, today. One hundred years is a long time indeed. I am grateful for this lady who was my mother. Grateful to be alive to remember her, too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Plenitude of Apples

A dear friend has a magnificent apple tree in his backyard. He has been bringing me the bounty of this tree in large bags for the last several weeks. I think I have received at least a peck of beautiful, wonderful and very yummy fruit. We think they are Gravensteins, a variety that has a short season and a short shelf life and may be particular to California. They are slightly tart.

Here is a picture of some in a bucket.



I also have two drawers full in the refrigerator, but wouldn't dare to take pictures! The state of my refrigerator is not publishable.

Sunday afternoon a friend made apple sauce and apple chunks that are frozen in my freezer, waiting for cooler weather and company to make a pie.

Last week, we had a truly killer heat wave for several days. I had forgotten how miserable I could be in my un-air-conditioned house! So I have not fulfilled my intentions for this blog, or for much of anything else. Hopefully, this week's heat wave will not be so bad and next week things will be better.

I am grateful for the apples, for the kindness of friends and for the respite that cooler weather brought.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dream Pillows



I have begun making dream pillows to add to my herbal products line.Dream pillows have a long history of use for soothing and helping people to sleep. Small sachets or pillows that can be placed inside the pillow case of one's regular pillow. When I first tried this I was skeptical, but I found immediately that it worked. The herbs really did soothe and I dropped off to sleep more quickly and slept more soundly than I had before. That was with a pillow of mixed herbs, that like most of my mixtures is fairly complicated.

Then I added a hops pillow. Hops flowers are a pale green and smelly beery. (Funny about that, since hops dried in a different way to a different stage are an integral part of beer making.) I didn't think that I could sleep with them in my pillow. But they did not distract as I had thought that they would, but simply worked their magic.

Dream pillows have no bad side effects, are non-addicting, have no calories and are inexpensive compared to the drugs that are sold as "sleep aids". (Notice the drug companies no longer call them "sleeping pills".)

Our foremothers knew so much about herbs and grew them and prepared them annually for use by their families. It is a joy to be part of this tradition.

I will be posting my dream pillows for sale on Etsy soon. In the meantime, here are pictures.




I liked the rather "tweedy" effect of the lavender and buckwheat hulls in the bowl. Buckwheat hulls help to keep the herbs from being too overpowering.

I am grateful for the herbs, for the lore that dates back centuries and for the connection that they give me to the "wise-woman" traditions of my ancestors. Grateful too for the technology that allows me to find and buy the supplies and materials, blog about them and offer them for sale. How different my prospects are now than they were twenty years ago.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Createability Team on Etsy

Shortly after I wrote the post last week on the ADA, I joined the Creatability Team on Etsy. Very supportive and creative group of people that I am glad to belong to, it is comprised of people with disabilities or people who care for others with disabilities.

The products range from those specifically intended for disabled users, such as an ingenious and patented, cane-catcher to items intended for medical professionals such as stethoscope covers, something that would, I think make a much nicer present for a nurse or nurse assistant than the usual candy.

Artists, photographers, knitters, soap makers and jewelry makers abound in the group. So many, many pretty things--makes me wish I could win the lottery so that I could buy them all and bestow them as presents on all of my friends!

I have posted the link to the group's blog in my blog links to the right and hope that anyone who reads my blog will go read and follow the Createability Blog as well.

I have not felt so excited or hopeful or focused in a very long time. Being welcomed by people in the group made me smile and feel comforted and included.

Only modern technology could make this possible. I am so grateful for the group and for the Internet.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary

All this week I have been seeing and hearing that July 26, Monday was the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA by President Bush, senior. I had not realized that it was that long ago.

I have not seen much in the way of results from this act, actually. I know, from reading on the web, that my old dormitory in Graduate School, International House at the University of Chicago has finally been retrofitted for wheelchair access. Decades after I lived there. Still it is good to see.

Ramps still seem to be constructed at too high a pitch for many people with manual wheelchairs to use independently. I have often thought that the people who use them ought to be consulted, rather than merely putting able-bodied architects to work on them.

Physical access isn't really the primary issue, though, in my opinion. Financial access is the primary issue. In a world in which able-bodied people work at home from their computers, this functionality should be available to the disabled as well.

Micro-entrepreneurship should be encouraged as well. The Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration and even the Social Security Administration all comment on their web-sites that disabled people have a higher success rate than non-disabled people in starting our own businesses and making them succeed.

Barriers exist here, however, and I think that it is important to bring them down. The greatest barrier is the paternalism of the culture of disability benefits that has been set by the Social Security Administration itself. For years I have called this the "institutionalized poverty of disability benefits."

The amount that people can earn while still receiving benefits needs to be set higher. The discrimination against the "non-blind" disabled (SSA's designation) in favor of the "blind" disabled needs to be set right. Specifically the earning formula for the "non-blind" needs to be raised to that of the "blind" category. Or, better yet, people need to be allowed to work half-time at whatever is customary and usual for their field in their area (or half the median income in their area, if they are self-employed.) If this were done, there would be a greater incentive for many people to earn. The reason that it is so important to maintain the benefits is that if the cash benefit goes away so does medical care and that is so necessary that many people trade trying to get out of poverty for not living in fear of no medical care.

Greater earning power on the part of the disabled would decrease the need for ancillary services such as In-Home Support services that are constantly endangered by budget cuts. Greater earning power on the part of the disabled would increase the tax revenue bases from the federal down to the local level.

Another barrier for micro-entrepreneurs is the lack of capital and the lack of marketing and networking skills. I think that local communities could do a great deal to help by setting up grant programs and mentoring and networking help. Local Chambers of Commerce could do a great deal here by establishing memberships at no cost for the first year or two for small businesses owned by disabled entrepreneurs who can show that they are at a cash disadvantage. Community service organizations could join in as well, providing, along with the Chambers, mentoring and networking help.

Individuals, neighbors and friends, church members could help too by patronizing such small businesses and thereby giving the best encouragement that there is--increase in cash-flow.

Poverty does not exist only in the Third World; it is here in our local communities. Many of the poorest members of our communities are disabled--disabled by poverty as well as by the physical bodies which do not function as well as others do. Lets change this and make the disabled fully economically empowered as the ADA originally intended.

Look for and support the businesses of your disabled friends and neighbors. Please. Thank you.

I am grateful for being able to make this message available and I hope that it helps others as well as myself.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Garbling Herbs

Saturday I spent a delightful two hours garbling peppermint. Garbling is the old-fashioned and technical term used by herbalists to denote the process of stripping dried herb leaves from their stems. When I was finished I had a quart bag of the most beautiful, delicious smelling peppermint leaves and a pile of equally aromatic stems.

The peppermint was organically grown and then dried by my friend, G, who has a magnificent garden in the hills above Silicon Valley. She generously shared her harvest with me.

I love the word, "garbling". Like a little kid with a new word, I have been repeating it every chance I get over the last week.

The weather has returned to normal for us. Cool in the mornings and warm but not hot in the afternoons. A blessed and beautiful sea breeze comforts us and makes it possible to enjoy the long days, rather than trying to hide from the light, which also means heat.

Last night as I opened the curtain in one room, to let this delicious air through, I noticed that my neighbor's pomegranate tree still has flowers on it. I have been wondering for several weeks how much longer the flowers would last and when the fruit would show. It is there now. Small, shiny red balls set just above the flowers look like Christmas ornaments. So beautiful and so promising!

Another friend brought me a peck of Gravenstein apples yesterday. I should freeze apple slices for later, but will probably share them instead. Peeling is one of the small hand tasks my hands no longer like to do and I prefer to comfort them with easy tasks rather than push them in frustration.

Gratitude is large in my mind this morning. Gratitude for beautiful things from friends' gardens, for the climate that I live in and for the gift of electricity. The house fan is running in the background, for the house is still stuffy. Without electricity none of the fans would work; the computer could never have even been imagined, let alone become so ubiquitous in our lives. Our lives would not be the same at all.

Still, while we depend on technology, we also do what our ancestors did, harvesting fruit and garbling herbs. I like the connections and am glad to be alive at this time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Notes

I seem to have taken an unintentional vacation from blogging! Summer's pace has quickened. More visits from friends, truly one of the best parts of this season. More decluttering of my house--will this never end? More product planning and product making. (A friend told me just this week that with one of my lavender sachets tucked into the pillowcase, she took the most refreshing nap she had ever had. I am pleased!)

I am weathering a heat wave, not my favorite part of summer. New, strong fans help a great deal. As I type, windows are open and fans are pulling cool air into the house. Soon it will be time to put the computer to sleep for the day, shut all the windows, pull all the blinds and curtains and hunker down for the long hours of daylight. It will be hot today and the cooling dark is a long way away. I am telling myself that it will come.

I am reading another Susan Wittig Albert book, one of her Beatrix Potter series. Very different voice, style and characters from her China Bayles series, which I absolutely love.

Need to do some research into the old USDA calorie counting book. Portions commonly used or something like that. Quite a few of the brand names have changed; the culprits remain the same--too many calories from carbs and fats.

Have noticed that consumption of too much soluble fiber increases chronic lower back pain. But what is called a "low-residue" diet, according to my Internet searches, is ghastly both from the standpoint of taste and nutrition. Where is the midway point? That always is the question.

The plumbing in the house was sluggish. Neighbors suggested, after plunging for me two times in three days, that the addition of a biodegradable micro-organism product for drains put into my "clean-out" drain might help. It did! Hurrah!

So today will be a day for fans, and a wet towel around my neck. I found the ice cap last night and was pleased--now do I have ice in the freezer? A friend will bring lunch, Safeway will deliver and maybe I can take a nap this afternoon. Then there will be one more day of this particular heat-wave and it should break. When it does, the feel of the air-flow off the ocean, the Bay Area's "natural air-conditioning" will be a benediction, reminding me that what one friend said recently, "Trust in God. God does always hear our prayers", will be true.

I am grateful for the cool air, the electricity that powers my fans and for survival. Hot weather always makes me think of the pioneers and reminds me that we are not in charge of the universe.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lavender

Lavender is one of the most beautiful herbs that can be planted in a garden. In a Mediterranean climate the plants will last a very long time. Mine is over twenty years old. Even when it is not blooming, it is a lovely plant and while the flowers are used for culinary, medicinal, decorative and personal care products, the leaves are also fragrant.

Here is my one remaining lavender plant in bloom



I believe that this particular lavender plant is English lavender. My favorite, Hidcote, which was a deeper, bluer color, died out a few years ago. It was planted too close to the edge of the planting bed and did not have enough room. After a decade, lavender will be a big plant, so give it plenty of room.

Culinary uses include Lavender Sugar (see the link to the Spice House at the right), Lavender Chocolate cupcakes, lavender syrup (think addition to lemonade), and all kinds of scones, cupcakes and cookies. Lavender sugar is delicious on toast as a lovely way to start off the day.

Medicinal uses include headache remedies and little dream pillows to aid in sleep. Lavender has such a strong fragrance though, that many people find it overwhelming. It can make a headache worse if you are one of the people who has a sensitivity to it.

Decorative uses include bouquets, both fresh and dried, and wreaths. Lavender sachets can fill a bowl and will make a much nicer air freshener than anything manufactured in a spray can or plug-in. Lavender sachets have long been used in linen chests and closets with stored clothes and shoes. Nice in suitcases too!

Lavender soap is beautiful and lavender is used in fragrances as well.

Here is a big bowl of my lavender sachets. The day that I was working on them, I found them to be so pretty that I had to bring them altogether.



I love the charm squares, small squares of fabric that are pre-cut as part of the quilting industry and the pretty ribbons. Making these brings together my love of plants and my love of fabric and color. The sachets would be pretty on a wreath, too.

I am grateful for the fine old plant that still graces my garden and for the lovely fabrics that I am finding from other Etsy sellers. Grateful, too, for the beautiful, fine weather we are enjoying now that summer is here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Remembering

Today, I have been remembering my father, who died eleven years ago today. He was the soul of patience and kindness and one of the most devout (although private about it) Catholics I have ever known. I still miss him, although I think it is fair to say that I no longer grieve except in the general sense perhaps, that grieving, like original sin, is a part of the human condition.

I lit a candle for him on Gratefulness.org http://bit.ly/9e9ZxN Gratefulness is one of my all time favorite web sites. I was intrigued the very first time that I found it that it is possible to light the candle by clicking on the link--and then the flame flickers! It is lovely.

Papa was a handsome man, with the good looks known as "black Irish"--dark, dark brown hair with red and gold highlights, thick, curly hair and green eyes. He also had long, dark eyelashes. Mama commented on both the hair and the eyelashes in a kind of sighing, life-isn't-fair-tone, that men had all the luck. (Of course, I am sure that both attributes had helped attract her to him in the first place!)

He was not tall, but he was strong. Working after school and on weekends while he was young unloading groceries at the store's dock and stocking shelves had done for him what gym workouts do for young men today. Shoveling snow and using a push mower on the lawns of our houses as well as walking the dog kept him in shape until emphysema began to assert itself when he was in his sixties.

Shortly before I had polio, Papa was teaching me to ride a two-wheeled bike, with the "training wheels" gradually being raised on the back of it and I remember that Fall that he was teaching me to roller skate as well. He walked backwards, gently holding my hands, while I skated towards him until I could let go and then he was simply there to lend me confidence that he would catch me if I fell.

"Confidence that he would catch me if I fell", that sums up a lot about the the good fatherly relationship that he had with both his daughters. He was there for us in so many ways that we didn't even realize then, for we took it as normal that both parents would be there, but that now we look back from the vantage point of aging and see it for the tremendous gift that it was.

He took me to the airport with all my trunks and suitcases and just plain stuff when I left home for graduate school in Chicago. A few years earlier he had proudly walked my sister down the aisle of the little church we loved so much in Palo Alto, watching a few days later as her new husband's car and the u-haul it pulled rounded the corner and they drove out of sight, beginning the journey of their new life together in Ohio.

So many years later, eleven years ago this week, we all came together again as the choir he loved, and that I had once sung with, sang him home to his new life after death. I do not believe in eternal "rest", since I think it is too passive. I do hope for eternal rejoicing and I hope that includes a good bit of remembrance and reminiscing. (Papa was also blessed with the Irish gift of gab and a great story-teller.)

I don't believe that our culture values fatherhood enough, and I think that I have written about that before, here in this blog. I can remember that Papa did not like the sit-coms that were popular in the late 50's and early 60's because they made the fathers look like such dummies--or even fall-guys for the patient and always right wife, or the too smart kid. He most certainly did not fit that model!

I am grateful today for the life of this good man and the great gift of family life that I was given as a child. Grateful too for the way in which my parents instilled the old-fashioned virtues by living them every day in their marriage and their relationship to us.

It is good to have had such a father.

Frederick James Manor

February 16, 1920-June 8, 1999

Requiescat in Pace

Rejoice with the angels forever.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Blooming Now, Poppies in My Garden

Poppies, pink, coral and red have been putting on a show for most of the last month. For a time they were joined by delicate, pale blue love-in-mist. The effect was quite pretty. For the last week the poppies have made me think of Flanders Field--"the poppies blow, between the crosses row on row." It is so appropriate that the bloom around the time of Memorial Day. Here are a friend took yesterday with my camera when he joined me for lunch.





According to various seed sources I have consulted, poppies come in red, pink, lavender, coral, gold, purple and even white. I would like to see the whole array of colors planted and blooming somewhere.

Summer has come. The weather is warm, highs in the seventies. The windows are open letting in the most delicious breezes as well as the sounds of suburban life--doves cooing mixed with leaf blowers. Ah, well! The house is a bit stuffy in the evenings, but fairly comfortable. The transition from winter habits to summer ones goes gently, although I fear the time is coming for ice water, wet cloths around my neck and fans going to a noise level that makes me feel I will lose my mind. I hope not and am determined to enjoy this respite of near perfection for the time it lasts.

I am grateful for the poppies, the friend who planted them, who is now sailing down the coast of Ecuador to Peru with her husband on their boat. (See the link to the blog Sea of Change, if you would like to follow this adventure.) I think of her when I watch the poppies waving in the breeze.

I am thankful too, for trees, which lend their shade and soughing sound as the wind passes through to the ambiance of gentle summer days.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hawthorn, Hope and Pentecost

Several years ago my friend who is studying to be an herbal practitioner told me that Hawthorn is an ancient healing tree: the berries, leaves and flowers can be brewed as tea and used as a tonic for heart problems. I have begun drinking a tea of Hawthorn berries and olive leaves and it is quite good. A few weeks ago I decided to search for the meaning of Hawthorn in the language of flowers and was rewarded in my search for it symbolizes hope.

It is so fitting to me that this tree would have this meaning for outside my house in the front patio is a fifty plus year old Hawthorn tree. Shortly after we moved into the house Papa cut the tree back to its stump, because he did not want a tree, which he was sure would become quite large, growing so close to the house. He did not, however, grind out the stump. Next spring a flurry of little saplings sprung up from the mother stump, like baby birds in a nest. He thought the tree would not survive that way, or at the very least, the saplings would not become very tall. Over the years the little forest of treelets has become quite tall and shades the corner of the house in much the same way that the mother tree would have done. It also shades my neighbor's yard, and that is why, I think, her dog likes that spot so well. (The dog "announcement barks" all the guests who come into my patio as well as those who come to her door.)

The tree, cut down once, harbinger of hope has survived to grace my life. She reminds me not to give up.

Here is a picture taken outside



Here is a picture of the flowers.



Hawthorn trees abound in Ireland and bloom with red or white flowers. (The red is really dark pink.) While the pictures here show the red flowers, my tree is neatly divided, with one side blooming in each of the two colors. It has been home to many birds and fed many squirrels through its half century and will have pride of place in my yard for as long as I can remain in this house.

Today is the feast of Pentecost. One of the great feasts of the Christian calendar, Pentecost in its turn is integrally tied to the great theological virtue of hope. For after our Lord's ascension the disciples, forlorn, retired to the upper room and pondered how they were to go on. In a sense, they had lost him, this most beloved teacher, leader and friend twice. The first loss was his death on the Cross and they remembered that he said he would come again but it was not until the stone was rolled away from the empty tomb that they realized he really meant it. It was not until they recognized him on the road to Emmaus that they really knew it. Rejoicing that he had returned, they had only a short while before they would lose him again.

So they waited, forlorn, for the Comforter that Jesus promised to send them. Forlorn, but not without hope. Hope never left them and it was fulfilled on Pentecost.

An eminent British psychiatrist, Frank Lake said in his monumental book something like, Hope delayed too long becomes an illness in itself. (I don't have the exact quote.) Depression, even despair are the other side of hope. Last night as I googled for references to Pentecost and Hope, I found this excellent blog, sacradoctrina http://bit.ly/bofkqy in which the author discusses the Thomistic references to hope and Pentecost.

For St. Thomas, hope is eschatological, looking to the future good of the soul's salvation and eternal life in heaven. Hope is not trivial or silly, a goofy smile in all travails, but rather hope is in it for the long haul, recognizing that the road isn't easy but we have to keep walking it. Hope will come along for the journey. The reward will be at the end.

(I think it not unfair, though to comment that along his own journey, like most of us, St. Thomas hoped there would be a good meal and a warm bed and that he was rewarded much of the time.)

Hope, according to sacradoctrina, takes action and that action is communal. I see that it was so for the disciples first in waiting and then in ministry. Perseverance kept hope alive and kept the disciples going. Hope kept the waiting possible and the ministry doable.

Sacradoctrina states it better than I, for it is a longer post. But it is good, I think, to remember this Pentecost Sunday the virtue of hope. That while we live in a depressing era because the very technology that allows us to be "always on" ever ready and to communicate so seamlessly and non-invasively with one another as I am doing right now with this blog post, at the same time we see the ills of all the world before us, not merely those that afflict our little corner.

It is tempting to give up, to shout in anger and then subside into gloom, because not only can we not turn off the oil spilling into the Gulf, but it seems those in charge, who should be able to, can't do it either. Hope requires us to do otherwise and to remember, months from now when the oil flow is turned off, that legislation may still be required to fix how such a thing is handled in the future.

Hope, because it is communal, also requires that we build community face to face as well as online. Church is particularly foundational here, I believe, for it is the community of faith from which our actions spring forth into the larger community around us. It is not enough to meet online, we must meet face to face and break bread together.

I am grateful for my Hawthorn tree, for it's perseverance, for its healing qualities and for leading me to think of hope and not to give up. Grateful too for the feast of Pentecost. even though I cannot go and join in singing, "Lauda Sion salvatorem", I know that it is being sung, and that, too, gives me reason for hope.

The blessings of Pentecost to you. I wish I could send Hawthorn flowers your way or share a cup of Hawthorn tea with you.

(Sorry about the changes that I just made for anyone who might get this twice. I had muddled sacradoctrina and my own reflection, and so want to clarify. Do read that post.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Murky May

Today is as cold, cloudy and murky as a day in March, even though it is nearly the end of May. Today would also be my parents wedding anniversary, if they were still alive. I remember them with love.

Today I was treated to a delicious lunch by a young friend who is now half way through college at UC Berkeley. She has matured into a young woman and looks so professional. She also sounds so professional. It was a joy to share time with her.

I realized that I haven't blogged recently even though I have taken pictures and planned posts. A combination of excessive arthritis pain and reading too much is part of my excuse.

Reading posts on Facebook is a time-consumer. Still, I learn quite a bit from what my friends post and then go dive into Internet research to learn more. Maybe some of those planned posts will materialize here, after all.

Reading novels is also time-consuming. I have just finished the best-selling tome, Roses. Not sure I can honestly say that I liked it, but I was certainly drawn into it and heartened to see that the author is seventy-one and that it is pretty much her first novel. This gives me hope that I might finish something yet.

Lately, with the monthly gift of a bag full of library books arriving like clockwork, I have been finding myself asking writer's questions about the the books I read. Does a series grow from one book or is it planned to begin with? Maybe it will work out better as a series if it is planned that way from the beginning and I have one manuscript that, with a great deal of revision, might become the first book in a series.

Readers seem to like multi-generational sagas. I am one of them. I have a multi-generational saga to finish. Reading Leila Meacham's story of how she started Roses only to put it away and pull it out again then repeat that cycle until she sat down to finish it, I am heartened. Maybe today will be the beginning of the end of writer's block for me and the start of starting over.

Certainly today is a good one to plan for a nice cup of hot chocolate later to take the chill off of me. It will feel good all the way from the tip of my nose to the tip of my oh so cold toes to warm up.

I am grateful for the day and for the roses blooming outside my office window.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mountain Rose Herbs Recipe Contest

Mountain Rose Herbs is one of my favorite sources for spices, herbs and oils for my own personal consumption and herbs and essential oils for my business as well. They are having a recipe contest, which requires the contestant to post the recipe entry on the web. (Blogs count.) The recipe will then be linked to their Facebook contest page. Here is mine. It is intended as an entry in the Culinary Recipe Category.

Several months ago I discovered Mountain Rose Herb's Pumpkin Seed Oil. A rich, thick, dark oil it stands up well to the addition of strong spices and garlic. It has ant-inflammatory properties, which was what drew me to it.

For some time I have been cooking with a spice mixture of turmeric, ginger, chipotle powder and celery seed powder. All of these also have anti-inflammatory properties, as does cinnamon, which I have recently included in the mix. Here are the ingredients (not including the cinnamon, but I also have that from Mountain Rose Herbs.)



The recipe for the spice powder mix is equal amounts of the five spices. I could call this Peggy's Five Spice Powder. For a single serving of salad dressing use about 1/8 teaspoon each of the spices or 1/2 teaspoon of the combined spices. (Measure about a tablespoon of each into a small jar that will give you enough room to stir and shake the mixture to combine them well. Then you won't have to open and shut all the bags so frequently, which will save time and help to keep the spices fresh longer.)

For the dressing, measure out the spice mixture as described above, 1 tablespoon pumpkin seed oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese and one or two cloves garlic, slivered or minced as you prefer. The ingredients, in their little prep bowls, are shown below. For the purpose of illustration, I set the ingredients out separately, but it is quicker and more efficient for clean-up to use just one small bowl.



Combine the ingredients in a small bowl, set aside. Assemble your salad using layers of greens, vegetables and fruits of your choice. Arrange the protein for the salad such as tuna, chicken, hard cooked eggs or sliced or shredded cheese on top of the greens and other ingredients. Sprinkle croutons, nuts or pumpkin seeds on top of the protein, if you wish. Drizzle the dressing over the plated salad.

I have used poached eggs for the protein on a chilly day and the warm eggs and rich yolks add to the salad and combine nicely with the dressing.

This dressing is also delicious drizzled over a plate of pasta with protein and veggies mixed in. Yummy.

Anti-inflammatory foods are of particular interest to me since I have post-polio syndrome and arthritis. A salad, as either my lunch or dinner, is a very healthy, low-cal meal. The pasta is an occasional treat because of its higher carbohydrate content.

Simple, nutritious meals that can be prepared easily and are attractive as well as delicious are also of interest, since I navigate my kitchen in a wheel chair. On the days when I do prepare pasta, I forego the large pot of boiling water, for a smaller quantity in a smaller pan. With a bit of stirring as it cooks, the pasta will not stick together. This makes it safe for me to handle by myself and also conserves water.

I am grateful for these lovely ingredients that make cooking for one person less of a chore. My affiliate link to Mountain Rose Herbs is to the right in my links section. Please do explore it for wonderful ingredients for your own healthy cooking.

My contest link to Mountain Rose Herbs Facebook contest page is http://bit.ly/9zCDlg

Thursday, May 6, 2010

So My Garden Grows

Amaryllis, left out this year instead of being brought in to be forced in the winter, are blooming now.





The last of the Iris, a beautiful white was blooming against the fence, here


The white iris always makes me think of Victorian ladies at Garden parties trailing their frills and twirling their parasols. Last evening as I went looking for yet more information on the language of flowers, I discovered that the Iris is one of Mary's flowers and it is also the fleur-de-lis, symbol of France. The blue iris in particular symbolize Mary's fidelity.

I have also recently discovered that Hawthorne, a healing herb that is beneficial in its leaves, flowers and berries and is actually a tree, symbolizes hope in the language of flowers. I hope to use some of the dried leaves and flowers from my own Hawthorne tree along with myrtle leaves and berries from bushes that I grew from seed over twenty years ago in wedding potpourri. Probably I will use them in peace potpourri as well.



Years ago, when my family first moved into this house, my father cut down our Hawthorne tree. He was not familiar with what it was and felt that it was planted too close to the house. It is too close to the house, but it grew back in a forest of little shoots. He did not have the heart to kill it out completely and there it stands, this curious tree that grows as though it were split in two with one side flowering pink and the other white. It was only in the last six years or so that my friend who is a master gardener and herbalist identified it for me. It provides life-giving shade in summer's heat and a tonic for me. I have come to love it so!

Finally, the shamrock continues to bloom. Never mind that many would consider them a weed, I consider them a plant promising good luck, because of their association with Ireland and St. Patrick. I always feel blessed when they are blooming.



Gratitude is with me tonight for these joys of my garden. Spring always makes me feel as though a little taste of heaven has come my way, especially when I look out my back windows and see the pink roses blooming along the fence and the poppies now making their color splashes in the planter box.

My apologies to anyone who got the pre-proofread version without the last photo and the corrections that I could not help myself from making. I am more tired tonight than I realized.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Day After Earth Day

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day and much was said about it in the news. I deliberately watched part of Oprah, something that I don't normally do.

The sight of the Pacific Garbage Gyre was ghastly and disgusting. I have been recycling for years, sometimes grudgingly, I admit, because of the time that it takes to sort everything into separate bags and bins. Sometimes, I am tempted to just pitch it. Lately I have been more careful. The clutter that it makes in the house to have more sorting stations is one my annoyances with recycling. (Not that my house is pristine, in any case.) I think I will learn to live with the annoyance.

I have resisted reusing plastic bags until this year, figuring that it uses water and soap to wash them. I do re-use one bag for dry things over and over until the crumbs get too crumby or there is too much build-up of flour or almond meal or whatever I am putting in its "store" bag into my zippered bag. Switching to cloth bags would not work well, since the contents would not be visible. Switching to hard containers might help but they would be more awkward to handle.

This winter I have saved my plastic bags and now that the weather is warming a bit, I am washing and drying them. Trying to swish the soapy water from one to the next to conserve it is messy, but somehow satisfying. Turning the bag inside out to rinse the interior takes less water--and time--than filling and pouring, especially when I remember to turn the faucet off while I turn. So perhaps it doesn't waste too much water.

I started saving the bags because of the cost. Now I will think of the Garbage Gyres--all five of them, the one I knew about and the other four as I do so. I do think that the problem isn't just re-use and recycle, though. I think it is more fundamental than that.

We need to pick up after ourselves. Dispose of things properly instead of just casting them aside. (I suppose that is recycling, really.) Plastic bottles and bags didn't exist when I was a child. They can be re-used and then recycled to make other things.

That was part of Earth Day coverage too. The things made with plastic bottles. A boat named "Plastiki"; a school in Guatamala. Knitters have used strips of plastic bags for knitting sturdy totes for sometime, although that was not mentioned. I love the fleece fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles. Turning trash into treasure.

We also do need to use less. According to World News last night Americans are consuming less than we did forty years ago. About fifty percent less. But is that because of recycling or merely a result of the recession?

A few years ago, I was pretty cynical about Earth Day, "green solutions" because it seemed as though new companies were simply being started to make the same items that we probably need to use less only out of "green" materials and manufacturing processes.

What if we went back to using thermoses for our coffee and tea? Brought our sandwiches from home in wax paper or re-usable containers, ate in sit down restaurants with re-usable instead of disposable plates and utensils? Turning the clock back to the fifties, I guess, and that is not possible.

While I still refuse to subscribe to the pseudo-religious aspects of recycling, I will grumble less, organize a little more and think of that whale that was beached--dead with plastic items and a golf ball in it's stomach. Not a very good diet for any creature on our small planet.

I am grateful for ways to make my imprint on our planet lighter. Stewardship of the earth is, after all, a way to practice the virtue of humility and any practice of virtue is a good thing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blue Iris

Another flower that was truly spectacular in my garden yesterday was a pale blue Iris. These flowers are almost a bouquet in themselves and put on such a show! I have been trying to take the "perfect" Iris photo for about five years now and am nowhere close, but hope to live long enough to persevere some more. I have put a few of my shots on cards and will undoubtedly make some more.

The light yesterday was somewhat flat and dull, as rain clouds gathered. The color of the flowers was more uniform as a result. I would like to try again with bright light to see if the petals are translucent, but that light might just wash out for the camera.

Here are the photos.











The poppies have not "popped" yet and the roses in the backyard are blooming from the top down, but too far away for me to photograph them.

I am grateful for the garden and the camera.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Today's Garden

Today as I opened the front door to put something out for the mailman, I spotted the first big red rose of the year. Up high and so beautiful. It is now on my kitchen counter. It does not seem to have the perfume that earlier roses have had--I think it is telling me to feed it.



It drew me back, camera at the ready and garden scissors tucked into my pocket, as surely as if it were calling to me. I took the first photo to document it in place. The second is close-up indoors.



Finally, a close-up on the kitchen counter.



Next I noticed the purple shamrock--oxalis.



Another



and finally



The purple leaves amaze and delight me, since I grew up thinking that leaves should be green.

Last, just because it is so happy there is the "regular" shamrock--green leaves with white flowers.



For a plant that came home from the grocery store several years ago, it's not doing too badly. An amaryllis that was about to flower probably won't, since it has been seriously chewed.

Still, I am grateful for things that are blooming and for the chance to poke my nose out into fresh air and some sunshine before the gathering clouds bring rain tomorrow and keep me indoors. Happy Spring!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Biggest Strawberries Ever

Friday, my friend who joins me for lunch on Fridays, brought these giant berries. We meant to weight them as well as take their pictures, but got caught up in conversation.




Each of them was equal to four or five ordinary berries. What was truly amazing was that they were delicious and juicy.

Today was a day of true rain, not drizzles but downpours. Perhaps the drought really is truly over.

I am grateful for these remarkable berries and for the rain. Most especially grateful for my friend who shares lunch with me weekly. We have known each other since we were in our twenties--longer now than we have not known each other and he is truly my brother in spirit. Grateful tonight for life.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Roses

As the first week of Easter progresses, I am celebrating with roses roses brought by a friend. My own rose bushes have buds, so I know there will be flowers soon. (High up on the backyard bush the first roses are blooming.)









There is a sweet, faint odor of roses in the dining room that proclaims Spring is here! I have truly the worst case of cabin fever/spring fever that I have had in years. (I almost typed Spring fervor, and I think that would be a fortuitous typo. It has been cold, dank and dreary for too long--even though we did need the rain.)

I am grateful for Spring and for roses.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Flowers

It is hard to believe that it is already Holy Week. Perhaps the return of winter weather after sufficient sunshine and warmth over the past weekend add to my disbelief! (I am ready to be warm again!)

My friend C, with whom I share coffee most Monday afternoons, brought me a gift of orchids from her yard this week. They are one of the most stunning plants I have ever seen. She said that they are lymbidiums. Here they are







At the same time, she also cut two of my Iris, which are just beginning to bloom. Not as big as last year's flowers, they are still pretty.



While they are not typical Easter flowers it is good to have something fresh blooming in the house for Holy Week.

Tonight the choir will sing Tenebrae, tomorrow Holy Thursday and then Good Friday. Saturday, the Easter Vigil, and then Sunday. I remember snippets from each service, which I have not been able to attend for many years. EWTN will give me the services from the Vatican, if I can just remember to look up the schedule. Wishing seriously for podcasts here, and I suppose that I should go look for some!

I am grateful for the time that I spent singing this music when I was young, for it shaped so much of who I am and my adult life. Very grateful too, for my friend who brought flowers and for other friends who brought palms on Palm Sunday.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day, 2010

The day is being celebrated here with Irish Soda Bread, thanks to a friend, who thought of me when she went shopping. I do wish that bakeries would have it year round; it being one of my favorite things.

In addition, I made Chocolate Stout Cupcakes Sunday and they carry the theme and taste of Guinness. No green beer here, thank you!

Over twenty years ago I bought this lovely set of Irish dolls at our church bazaar. I do not know the name of the person who made them, so cannot credit the artist, but I do dearly love them and think of that time as well as my Irish roots when I look at them. This year I finally made time to take some pictures. Here they are.



A happy and blessed day to you all! I am grateful for my Irish ancestors today.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Connections

Today spring shone through. The day was delightful, friends came visiting I got a minimal amount of work done. It is time to fit writing into the schedule again, but before I do that I have been indulging in playing on Facebook. In the process of seeing what friends are doing, I discovered a fantastic blog, The Lighthouse Keeper. The writer, a friend from my graduate school days, who is choosing to be anonymous in her blog, writes of an ancestor who was the last lighthouse keeper in Sandusky, Ohio. Sandusky is not too far from Toledo, where I grew up and where family and friends still live.

It is beautifully written, this blog that gives me dual connections--to the area that I grew up in and to a friend whom I haven't seen in so many years and whom I had lost touch with until the Internet brought us together again.

I love the powerful connections of history, having majored in the subject myself in college so many years ago that I can now properly speak of decades ago. My friend writes powerfully of history, research and genealogy--of connections. I highly recommend this blog. She has a compelling voice, one that I hope will be in print. It is thrilling to read such beautiful and powerful writing and know that I know the person behind it.

I am grateful today for pausing to read. Her blog is noted in my blog links to the right. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sunshine and Pictures

Today the sun shone long enough to take decent pictures. First I took the baby sachet that I kept when I sent the package off to my sister earlier in the week. Here it is.



My sister called just as I was beginning to write this post and she was so excited that her package arrived today! (I love priority mail.) We have a ritual that when I send a package, she opens it while we talk on the phone. I could hear her excitement and feel it too! She loved the sachets.

The last picture that I took was of these white and purple mitts. I can even type with them on my hands.



Several years ago I was experimenting with making triangle scarves and seeing how much I could make with one skein. For some reason, I made two of these in ribbing, which made them long and narrow and not very useful as scarves. They sat and were about to hit a give away bag a few weeks ago when I thought, "Wait a minute, the yarn is perfectly good and it is one of my favorite discontinued yarns." (Lion Brand, Wool Ease, Sport Weight) I had discovered that I particularly liked to combine two strands for a tweedy effect. So these mitts or wristers quickly materialized.

I am so grateful that the package reached Toledo safely and that the sachets are so pretty and so well-loved. Grateful for today's sunshine, too. More rain is on the way.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Roses in the Midst of Winter

Not really the midst of winter, but the end--and in my part of the country, from a weather calendar viewpoint it is already spring, but today my house smelled beautifully of roses.

Some months ago, my sister sent me a bag of flowers from her garden. A preponderance of gorgeous, dark red roses along with pansies and a few black-eyed Susans along with other roses. She had carefully dried them, for like me, she can't bear to throw them out. Then the problem was what to do with them. I suggested she send them to me and I would add them to my potpourri ingredients.

In a few weeks she will be giving a baby shower for her second grandchild (first granddaughter) so she commissioned me to make her a sachet for the favor for the guests to take home. Using her flowers was a natural!

In addition, I have accumulated a nice supply of herbs that have meanings appropriate to wishing the young lady well and oils to enhance the fragrances of the flowers and bring them back to their summer glory. Tea rose, old rose and rose garden fragrance oils joined violet and honeysuckle and finally a dash of clove and a liberal amount of patchouli.

The flowers, mixed with the oils nearly fill one bag and the herbs that I mixed on Sunday partially fill another. The dining room smells of roses and so do I, for at one point I wiped oil off my hands unto my clothes. I expect to dream of roses tonight. (Pictures will follow in another post. The light was too gloomy today to take good pictures.)

The library volunteer brought me two Mary Stewart novels, which I am sure that I read in my youth. I am enjoying This Rough Magic and just read all about the fabulous old rose garden in the early part of the book before I fell asleep last night. I dream of such a garden. When I first read the book forty or so years ago, I did not recognize the names of any of the roses. Now, after having a passion for gardening for the last twenty or so years, I do. (My passion is usually as an armchair gardener, but there was a time when I read gardening books as avidly as novels.)

The search for the fragrance oils led me to the website of the Rosemary House, an almost legendary herb business, that I bought many of my supplies from when I had an herbal craft business some twenty years ago. It is good to see they are still there and to be connected again.

I am grateful tonight for the rain that we have been blessed with in abundance this week, for the delightful fragrance of roses filling my house, for my sister's sweet generosity as she draws me in to be included in a family activity that I am too far away from and for the connection to a business that I had so long ago. Grateful too to be reviving my own.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Grateful for Being Where I Am

It rained a good deal this week in my part of the world and all of us who live here are glad. We need the water. It is still snowing in the mountains and that is good too. Good for the people who live there and need the snow to attract the skiers. Good for the rest of us who depend on that snowpack for our summer water needs. Maybe it will be possible to have a garden this year. I missed my basil and tomato plants last summer. I long to be at least partly food self-sufficient.

As I watched the news reports of snow in the East, I was glad that I don't live there. Prayers, especially for all those who have no power. Spring cannot come soon enough, I am sure.

The news report about the humongous earthquake off the coast of Chile, also made be glad that I don't live there either. More prayers. Earthquakes scare the bejabbers out of me. 2010 seems to have had enough already. I start thinking of moving back to Toledo, Ohio--my real hometown, where my family still live, when I get scared about earthquakes.

Transporting about 25,000 pounds of furniture and household stuff 2500 miles would not be a minor task. Since we had 10,000 pounds when we moved out here, the amount is a guesstimate. I keep weeding out things that I don't need, but somehow the weeding isn't going fast enough! If I could just clap my hands together (since I can't click my heels.)

Better, for now at least, to work on being grateful for where I am. Daffodils are blooming. There may be enough water for basil plants. Oatmeal buckwheat muffins sit in the oven waiting to be consumed over the next few days as my bread. (I nearly said "scarfed" instead of consumed. They are so yummy that they do tend to disappear rather quickly.)

My dining room is full of the lovely smell of herbs since I "booked in" some of the new herbs that came this week. More to do tomorrow. This consists of emptying each bag into a big aluminum bowl and then measuring the contents back into the bag it came in to see how many cups each bag contains. The herbs are sold by weight. I concoct my potpourris by measure. Having the measure is essential, both to know how much I can make before I will need to buy more, as well as the all important cost factor that is at the foundation of every small business and pricing decision.

I am grateful to be where I am tonight and hope that tomorrow will be a good day. Prayers for healing and sustenance go out to all those in danger from the weather. Prayers always go out for my family and friends. Thank you to you all, those who read my blog, those who befriend me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reflections on Week Just Past

The fragrance of daffodils fresh cut from the yard filled my house with a delicate and delicious perfume. I think of the neighbor who shared the King Alfred bulbs with me when she bought a huge bag from Costco one year. She is gone, but her memory lingers in the beauty of the daffodils and in the knowledge that I gained from her sharing. They are fragrant, even being grown especially for the perfume industry and they are an ancient symbol of the Resurrection.


The photo shows some of the daffodils as they appear outside this year. It has either been too wet or too murky to take good pictures this year, so they will not be as well documented as they have in the past.

The next day the heady fragrance of lavender filled my dining room while I worked on lavender sachets and dream pillows for my herbal craft business. More about that after the items are posted on Etsy. The lavender did not quite overpower the daffodils, but they did not exactly blend either. Probably not compatible ingredients for the same perfume or potpourri.

Monday saw a furry visitor to my Pyracantha as well. One squirrel firmly planted herself and ate and ate and ate of the red berries. The next day robins filled the bush. The squirrel slipped in at the back and later a squirrel (perhaps the same one) appeared in the rose bush eating the rose hips. Poor baby, there are almost no berries left now and the robins, after stripping the bushes, have moved on in their migration.

Tuesday, February 16. would have been Papa's 90th birthday, if he were still alive. I wondered what he would be like if he were still alive. Wiser and just as full of intelligence and humor. A little more wizened too.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This year is going by too quickly already. Time doesn't fly, it flees! Easter is just around the corner.

Thursday my sewing machine and I actually cooperated to get an hour's worth of work done. So often we fight. It was nice to go to it and be able to just do the tasks. Of course, setting it up properly does help! For me, this means reading the book that came with it every time I re-do anything. (Putting the bobbin in and putting the needle in are two of the pitfalls. Threading the needle is another.) Reading the book and checking the diagrams takes so much less time and energy than cussing and screaming, that it is amazing that it took me so long to realize that was the way to go. (Better for the blood pressure too.)

Now it is Saturday already. Time to bake bread and do laundry and clean the kitchen. I am grateful for the show of nature (glad I was inside when all those birds were outside) and grateful for simple weekend chores. If the sun actually shines that will be cause for gratitude too.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Word Should Come with a Warning

Yesterday I spent hours to layout and print four pages in Microsoft word. Two sheets, both sides on business card stock. Word supposedly has a template for this under envelopes and labels. Trouble is, it doesn't work very well. After screaming, yelling, coughing and using quite a bit of creative but very loud swearing I was ready to abandon not only the project but all hope and any attempt to do anything. I wanted comfort food, a hot bath and a novel. I settled for the novel--after finally getting my pages done and broken up into tags. Tomorrow, if all goes well, I will have some pictures of the products.

The warning, "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here", ought to flash on the screen whenever one attempts to do any kind of layout in Word. To be absolutely fair, of course, I am using Office 2000 with WindowsXP. Maybe that is the problem.

I do fairly well with most layout in Publisher. Publisher is looked down upon by my acquaintances in the Desktop publishing world, but it serves most of my needs nicely. It massacres business cards. It too has a template that isn't a template.

At one point, when my frustration level had mounted and my sense of anguish over waste time had risen, I opened Adobe's InDesign and found, as I had in the past, that it simply seems so complicated that I can't navigate it. I tried in Photoshop and then gave that up and went back and finally conquered Word.

I think my next product is going to have to be something that doesn't fit with a business card size tag. Sigh.

Life is complicated! It seems that the more that I try to simplify it, the more complicated I make it. (That could be the underlying problem with Word too.)
My products are coming along nicely. I am recreating a line that I made twenty years ago and I am excited. The new line has variations, of course, and even the variations please me. I will write about this in another post, soon, I hope.

The complication is that the design process doesn't stop with the product, but must include the packaging and labeling. Sometimes this design process can be fun, too, but not when the software, which is supposed to make our lives easier, makes the completion so difficult that much of the creativity is subsumed in exhaustion.

At one moment yesterday, I was just grateful to get the thing done. Grateful to put the new little products in their neat little bags with their pretty tags on business cards. They look nice and professional, the way I want them to.

I am grateful too, for electricity that makes it possible to sit here at my computer with a light on and my space heater running. So many folks have been without power in the blizzards, that I am simply glad to live here and think of them and send up a prayer that they too will be restored to comfort and heat and light--and even to struggling with their computers.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Remembering my Godmother

My godmother, Mary Catherine (Mertes) Walker, died Jan 23, 2010. She was born August 31, 1917. World War I had less than three months to run its course in Armistice in November. She was twelve years old, not quite ready for high school when the stock market crashed in 1929. When it came time for High School, Mary Kate, as she was known throughout her lifetime, attended Notre Dame, the same school that her first-cousin, Helen Rose (Mertes) Manor had attended before her. (Decades later, my niece Jennifer also attended that high school and took great pride in looking up her predecessors in the archives of the school newspaper.)

I seem to remember that Mary Kate took a secretarial course after High School and she was able to find work in spite of the depression and the advent of World War II. Shortly after the war she married Charles Walker, "Charlie" and they settled down to the tasks of raising a family--six children, five girls and one boy.

I remember this family well from my own childhood in Toledo and the time that my sister and I spent several days with them while our parents supervised the loading of all our belongings unto a moving van and the cleaning and closing of our little house prior to our own great trek across the continent in the 1955 Chevy Bel Air sedan that I sold a few years ago to someone who was eager to restore it.

I have been thinking of Mary Kate for the last ten days. How many loads of laundry did it take, hauled up and down flights of stairs to keep a family of eight clean and dressed with towels and bedding to boot? Please remember that in those days most of the clothes and all of the linen--even the kitchen dish towels --needed ironing. (And on Saturdays, my godmother took her turn bringing the church linens she had also found the time to launder to the church where she joined several other women in cleaning the sacristy and setting out the linen for Masses the next day.)

How many pounds of potatoes did she peel and cakes did she bake in the years that it took to raise a family of six children? Not to mention the children and grandchildren. In addition, like the church laundry, there would have also been baking for the church bake sales and cooking for the potlucks, spaghetti dinners and fish frys that every church holds to raise funds. That doesn't include the casseroles delivered to people in the parish when illness or death struck a house.

Over the last decade Mary Kate and I talked on the phone occasionally, not frequently enough. I drew on her deep faith and quiet strength to go forward with my own life. She told me, "If you fall asleep while you are saying your prayers, your guardian Angel finishes them for you." (Does it count if you meant to say your prayers, but fall asleep reading yet another mystery novel from the library, because you have to get them all finished before the library volunteer brings some more?)

Like my father, she never had an unkind word to say about anyone or anything. "If you can't say something good about someone, don't say anything," was a watch word that she lived by. Like my parents, too, she lived the everyday virtue of charity in her kindness, courtesy and service to others.

Last week, partly out of necessity, and partly, I think because I was remembering Mary Kate and my mother too and pondering how much work these women quietly did everyday to make our lives glad, I found myself in a frenzy of "multi-tasking" household chores. One afternoon I had bread in the bread machine (no bread machine in the 1950's), laundry in both the washer and the dryer (no dryer until the mid-1950's) and muffins in the oven. At one point I almost muffed the muffins--forgot they were in the oven and they nearly burned. In between, I washed dishes. Nothing compared to the dishes Mary Kate, with eight people in the house, washed everyday.

By the time I ate my supper that night, I had appetite, felt that I had earned it and savored it, simple as it was. (Tomato soup and muffins.) I thought about housework, including cooking, as I have for the past year or so, as the foundation to the practice of the virtue of humility. Just as kindness and courtesy are the foundation of the virtue of charity.

Most of us are not called upon to practice heroic virtue. Still finding the virtue in homely things may keep us well enough in body and in spirit to live a long and happy life. Saying the rosary every day, (or a comparable practice) as I suspect my godmother did isn't a bad idea either.

I am grateful for the life of my godmother and the lives of my parents and others whom I miss who have gone before me. I miss her and I will continue to miss her along with Mama and Papa. It was a simpler life in someways; I have nostalgia for those long gone days, partly because I was a child then. (Perhaps that is another blog post.) Remembering Mary Kate and my parents will give me the foundation for continuing my own life in this all too modern century that I live in.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rainy Day Fits and Starts

After three days of storms, complete with thunder and lightening, the rain has tapered off to gentle and dreary. The light in the house is gray and cold, like the weather outside and makes me glad that I live in modern times, with heat and electricity. Put down the blind (battery operated), close the drapes (hand-operated still) and turn on the lights and music. Cozy. So much so that I feel sleepy and sluggish--not at all like writing.

The big grocery store chain that I frequently order groceries from for delivery does not have an ingredient I want to bake with. Almond paste. Neither does the small organic delivery service. (Granted, that was a long shot.) Google tells me that Amazon has almond paste and Amazon itself has marzipan as well. Probably enough for two batches of the cookies that I want to make, one shaped like tiny hearts for Valentine's Day and one like shamrocks for St Patrick's Day.

Trouble is I don't really want to order it shipped. It should be available locally. In the past, I made my marzipan from scratch, first making almond paste from scratch. I know where the book is and I am sure that blanched almonds are available locally, but I don't think I am going to do this from scratch.

Second trouble is that if I buy the marzipan, I am then committing myself to doing this rather elaborate baking. So I will keep thinking about it while I go and do something else.

Friends brought lunch today and that was delightful. (May be part of the reason that I am sleepy, too. It was a biggish lunch.)

The Christmas decorations are almost put away. Another hour of effort and organizing and I would be there with the job all done. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe on Saturday. It's really sounding like a procrastinating sort of a day!

Today is the feast of St. Agnes--one of my patron saints. I was named for my grandmothers, my mother's mother was Agnes Elizabeth. So Agnes is my middle name. Sometimes I have wished that my parents had chosen Elizabeth for my middle name, but that would have been long. Often, I wish I had chosen Rose for my confirmation name because there were so many Roses in my family tree--but I didn't know that then and Mary was a popular choice.

I am grateful for the rain and that it is tapering off! Grateful that perhaps the drought will end and I can grow basil plants again. I will pick a project and go do it.