April Showers and May Flowers

Maple blooming 17 2The forsythia is blooming. Its golden flowers brighten the landscape and provide a kind of sunshine even during April showers. Gardening is present in the thoughts of those who do and in the stores as well. Pansies and other colorful flowers decorate the entrances of supermarkets and other stores that sell them. Gardening supplies are piled up ready to purchase. Even though it’s not yet time to be planting, these and other signs of spring hearten those of us who are weary of winter’s drab browns and blacks, bare limbs and withered weeds.

Gardening runs in my family and in my blood. I wish I could yet I can’t claim the green thumb of my ancestors. My great grandfather planted an orchard of flourishing fruit trees. His apple trees blossomed and bore from the onset of spring until deep into fall. His quince trees produced fuzzy hard fruit that with my mother’s diligent efforts became jelly and preserves. In her garden she grew a variety of vegetables. I can see her still working away in it, her tanned back brown in the sun.

My grandmother had a gardener named Mr. Patch. He was Irish. I remember his nut brown face and his wonderful brogue as he discussed with my grandmother what he needed for the garden. She did some work also, principally with her pruning shears as she picked her magnificent roses. She grew both flowers and vegetables, harvesting and eating from her garden all summer long. What I remember most clearly were her glorious gladiolas, the saucer plate dahlias ranging from deep red to bright orange and yellow, and the colorful zinnias that lined the gravel path leading from her driveway to her door, bounded by a white picket fence and two strips of green grass turf.

My father too grew roses and later brought back some young peach and plum trees from a horticultural show, planted them and then harvested the fruit when they grew old enough to produce it. I did have one experience with a fruit tree. Back when I had my spiral garden I had bought what I thought was a white forsythia to plant there. After three years it hadn’t flowered. Reluctant to discard it, I dug it up, replanted it at the edge and forgot about it. To my great surprise and delight, though now in the shadow of a large spruce, it grew into a white peach tree that produced three peaches its first year and many more after that.

These days my gardening is limited to a few potted plants. Perhaps one day I will have a small garden again, however I couldn’t manage anything very much more than the original three by five foot plot I was given as a child for my own. I grew flowers there, and then weeds by the time August rolled around. But it got me started on many years of garden tending. These days I write poetry about gardens together with other aspects of nature and the world I live in. My gardens have become metaphysical rather than physical, and truth to tell my back is grateful.

Spring Is Making Its Way

Blue flowers and stone wallWhen spring comes, like the creatures in the woods and fields, I feel as though I am beginning to wake up after a time of hibernation. I want to get out doors and spend more time in the light. I welcome the brightness that comes in through the windows even though it also shows the accumulation of dust that is so easy to miss in the dimmer light of winter. I get out of bed more eagerly, most likely because the sky is brighter when I do. Spring also brings me memories of what it was like for me when I was a child and the seasons were more defined by what we ate as well as what we did.

Growing up I spent much of my time out of doors. My mother believed the fresh air was good for me. As well she wanted me to be active rather than sit with my nose in a book. Whenever the weather was relatively decent, neither raining, snowing nor windy and cold, I was sent out doors to play. I grew up in the country on a property that belonged to my great aunt Alice, with a good bit of land to it. Thus I could wander to my heart’s content in the fields and marshes that surrounded her large house and our cottage.

When the spring came and the ice receded from the marsh, I would trek about looking for interesting objects that the sea might have delivered during a winter storm. Once I discovered a large log, perhaps three feet or more in diameter that formed an interesting place to play. Another time I found a pane of glass with a lovely blue design on it that was yellow on the underneath. Thinking back I can see it still. It was probably once part of a picture frame. Sadly one day it disappeared, as did the log I liked so much.

Spring also meant there was more daylight time after school to play out of doors. As I wandered around, I made up all sorts of stories in which I imagined myself having some kind of an adventurous part. Although I had no one to play with I was good company for myself, and my active imagination helped me to create all sorts of fun. I was alone but never lonely. Being on our own property I was completely safe as well. It seemed to me that I had a little kingdom all my own to enjoy. Spring brought new opportunities for adventures as well as the chance to be by myself with no one to tell me what to do.

My brother lives in the house we grew up in and whenever I visit with him I marvel at how much smaller the property seems to me now. Too, the days seem far shorter than they did when I was a child, when Saturdays especially seemed to hold endless hours in which to enjoy myself. I greeted the advent of spring with joy because it meant I could get out and explore the surrounding fields and marsh in search not only of adventure but also of signs of the new growth that spring would bring to share with me.

An Unanticipated Adventure

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Growing up I preferred tales of adventure to almost any other kind of book with the exception of fairy stories. Biographies bored me as did many of the titles on the summer reading list. Give me a book by Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne or Alexander Dumas and I was content to curl up in a comfortable spot and plunge myself into the wondrous world the author created. My own adventures were often something I got scolded or even punished for. Being a girl I was not encouraged to be adventuresome.

Recently, without meaning to, I did create myself an adventure. If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have put the new scissors I’d found in the storage unit into the suitcase I was taking with me on my return flight. If I had put them into the checked luggage, I wouldn’t have been stopped and had my carryon opened and examined. When the security guard measured the scissors and put them back in the old red nylon suitcase that had belonged to my mother, I breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to gather my belongings. Then he took a bit of white material and ran it around the inside near the zipper.

Suddenly I was asked to take off my shoes and told I would be patted down. A female guard went over my body, informing me each time what she would be doing. Knowing I had nothing to fear, I simply allowed the experience to unfold. My daughter was worried, however we had arrived early so were in no danger of missing our flight. At one level I was laughing inside at the thought that an elderly great grandmother could be considered dangerous. However, I remained calm, knowing that giggling might not be regarded as appropriate.

Finding nothing, they asked me if I took any medication. I said no, but the suitcase had belonged to my mother. Then they mentioned nitroglycerine. I remembered that my mother had told me she took something for her heart. That cleared it all up. I got to put on my shoes and collect my belongings. Feeling relieved, I left the security area behind. Apparently even after many years in storage an old suitcase could carry traces of heart medicine and in these days of terrorist precautions come across as a threat.

My daughter and I had just spent almost two whole days processing the contents of a storage unit that had been unopened for twelve years. It contained the contents of my late mother’s art studio. We separated out a considerable amount of material that will form the basis for a retrospective exhibit to be curated by my youngest daughter, herself an artist. My mother was a professional with much art and many exhibits to her credit. If she had not shunned the limelight she might be a household word. I wondered if from her perch in heaven she looked down at my dilemma and giggled. I think it would have amused her that her adventuresome daughter had though unwittingly, created herself an adventure.

Summer Through the Years

Diana's Pond ReflectionsAs a child I so looked forward to school vacation and the freedom it brought from discipline, homework and schedules. Whenever weather permitted, my time was spent out doors wandering around the rather large property where my parents and I lived. It belonged to my Great Aunt Alice, whose father had built the grand house she lived in now, as well as the cottage originally intended for the gardener. That was where I, and later on my brothers and sister lived. There was a broad, open field to roam in, trees to climb, and a small marsh bounded by a dyke that kept out most of the distant seawater.

Wildflowers grew in abundance, insects buzzed and birds called. There were trees to climb, and I also spent time high in their branches, reading. I called it my tree house and brought pillows to the platform I had wedged into my favorite tree, a big beech. Summer was a time to play. The property held plenty of room for my imagination to conjure up all kinds of adventures like the ones in the stories I read: Tarzan, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales, and the legends of Greek heroes.

Time passed and I was a young mother. Summer meant days at a nearby beach watching my children play in the sand and splash in the waves. Fortunate to be able to stay home with my children, I hung the laundry in the sun, worked on my tan, and took the them to the local church fairs, the annual carnival, and whatever other amusement the season offered. We had picnics and explored the highways and byways of surrounding towns. Later there were softball and then baseball games they played in to attend. The work of motherhood became a kind of play in summer.

Fast-forward to a different kind of summer life, with a swimming pool to clean and care for and a large garden that took me almost as much time to look after as the children did. Still it was a delight to share the pool as well as the garden with visitors. I didn’t mind the weeding too much, or pruning the shrubs. It was an adventure to tackle the wild rose vine I planted for its delicious scent, without realizing the consequences of its rampant growth. I never knew how many would be sitting down to any meal, because people came and went as I practiced my hospitality. Summer held a different kind of play.

My summers have changed again. With age comes less tolerance for extreme conditions. My bones enjoy my home’s warmth in the cold but not its heat in the muggy weather. I appreciate air conditioning far more than I used to, and I spend much more time indoors than I did in the past. While the long summer hours of light are enjoyable, the effect of the heat on my mind is not. Labor Day signals summer’s closing. Once I welcomed its beginning with open arms, now each year I am more appreciative of summer’s end.

Acceptance of What Is Can Be Learned

Cabbage with holes           I began at an early age to learn my role as a would be peacemaker. My parents were both very special and wonderful people, yet they had a lot of differences and often had trouble bridging them. As the eldest and only child by a number of years I had a good deal of practice as a kind of go between for them when there were difficulties to be dealt with. In addition I often found myself with my hands over my ears while my parents attempted to resolve their differences at the top of their lungs. Loving both of them dearly, I was often at a loss as to how to make things better. Most of all I had to deal with my desire for things to be different, and my inability to make this happen.

Fast forward to the present. I recently found myself in the midst of a situation that was very uncomfortable, yet that I could nothing to change. Like all the other times in my life going back to when I was a small child and this was the case, it felt very similar. So in addition I had to deal with these echoes from the past as well as the experience of the present. My nature as a peacemaker, has always made it difficult for me to deal with conflict. This time, as I often do, instead of facing the situation that I was confronted with squarely, I kept wishing things were different.

To be sure that is a natural reaction. Few among us are willing to face a difficult situation without feeling regret as well as the desire to change it in some way to make things easier on everyone. Yet sometimes even with the best of intentions from all concerned, whatever is going on will continue. If I could have accepted this, I would have been better able to come to terms with what was happening. As it was, I had to work hard just to stay calm and keep from trying to help. I have been reflecting on this ever since.

The best that anyone can gain from dealing with a situation where one can do nothing is to allow for a greater sense of compassion to emerge in the heart. A wise woman once quoted me this ancient Hebrew saying: “If there were no grief to hollow out our hearts, where would there be room for joy?” As I have grown older and experienced more grief as well as regret, which is a precursor to grief, I have recognized that there is a treasure to be gained from it. Yet the treasure must be dug out from beneath the stubborn, unyielding crust of denial.

The denial can only be dealt with by my conscious acceptance of my inability to make anything different. As I accept what is and interweave it with threads of compassion, I can come to terms with my own sense of powerlessness, as well as with the pride that weeps over that, and the need to simply let go. The road cannot always be smooth. If there is no grit under the wheals, they will slip and slide without progress. The sandpaper that smooths the rough wood brings out the beauty of the grain. As I allow it to my heart can surely learn to grow.

Recipes for Summer Celebration

Beach Reflections

While I was growing up, I don’t remember my dad cooking out or grilling food. It wasn’t as popular when I was growing up as it is today. One reason may have been that the average husband usually didn’t cook anything. It is also true at least according to my mother that my father burnt everything he tried to cook. Having grown up in post World War I Germany when food was scarce and precious, she was rather fierce about not wasting food.

While I appreciate others’ barbecues, I am not one to cook out. My parents didn’t go camping, and I was never part of any organization that did so I didn’t grow up with it. When I had one, I used to make hamburgers on the outdoor grill but then I read that charred meat wasn’t all that healthy, so I bought an indoor grill and have been perfectly satisfied to use it.

The 4th of July and other summer celebrations are traditionally organized around salads, grilled meats or fish and fruit, baked, or frozen desserts. Central to many of these feasts are potato salad and coleslaw. While it is easy to purchase these from the deli counter, it is also quite simple to make them. I enjoy preparing my own food, and it is my pleasure to create meals for friends. Also I confess to being fond of my own cooking. Over time, I have perfected certain useful recipes.

One of these is an easy to make dressing that is a wonderful substitute for mayonnaise. Not only tasty, it is also, for those of us who are watching them, lower in calories. The recipe, adapted from my 1945 Fanny Farmer Cookbook’ Boiled Dressing, is simple. I call it Instead of Mayonnaise. Mix these dry ingredients: 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 Tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Combine and beat together these liquid ingredients: 1 egg, 2 Tablespoons (good) olive oil, 3/4 cup dairy or non dairy milk, 2 Tablespoons vinegar or lemon juice.

Combine everything in a small pot and stir together, then whisk until well blended without lumps. Cook and stir over medium heat until it thickens nicely. This should take about 5 to 8 minutes at most. Cool before using. If stored for any length of time it may separate. Simply stir well and it will be fine. It is excellent with coleslaw. My recipe to serve 4 to 6 is 6 cups shredded cabbage, 1 1/2 cups shredded carrot, 1/4 minced or shredded medium onion, and if you want a colorful salad, add 1 or two cups shredded red cabbage.

Mix all together well, add salt, pepper, and either stop there or add any of these: 2 Tablespoons poppy seeds, 1/2 to 1 cup white or dark raisins, 1/2 cup dried or fresh or canned pineapple, 2 Tablespoons caraway seeds, 1 Tablespoon or more fresh dill 1 Tablespoon ground garlic. Mix with sufficient dressing and serve. I usually add 2 Tablespoons honey mustard dressing and 1 Tablespoon horseradish sauce. This dressing also works well for potato salad, in which case combine with chopped cooked potato, freshly chopped celery and onion, and chopped parsley. Potato salad is also tasty combined warm with olive oil and vinegar and your choice of the above. Serve warm or cold. Bon Appetite!

Tasha Halpert

 

 

The Wisdom of Waiting

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Children are notoriously impatient. I was no exception. The car ride into Boston for holidays was excruciating, especially as dad had to take traffic ridden Route One and what was then the Sumner Tunnel. Sitting still for any length of time whether in a car or on a couch was difficult for me. Today, given the current parenting advice I might be labeled with some alphabet letters and perhaps given medicine. However in those days life was simpler and that kind of behavior wasn’t considered abnormal.

Because of this my most disliked punishment was not a spanking but being made to sit on the piano stool for fifteen or more long minutes. In addition I would be, “put on silence,” Which meant no conversation with anyone. It was difficult for me to learn to sit still. Once I when I was the only child at a very tedious adult afternoon tea I manufactured a case of hiccups so as to get some attention. My parents caught on to what I was doing and put a quick stop to it. Patience training begins early.

Fast forward to today: On Friday a few weeks ago, a big cardboard box appeared in the hall. Despite its weight, I lugged it in. “I think our exercise machine has come,” I told Stephen. “Good,” he said, “lets open it later.” He was busy as was I. Saturday and Sunday came and went. There were things to do and places to go. Occasionally one of us would say perhaps we might open it, yet it was never quite the right time.

On Monday a dear friend came for lunch. I mentioned the arrival of the exercise machine. “Can I see it?” she asked. “Sure,” I said, “no time like the present.” I opened the cardboard carton and started to lift out the machine. It wasn’t completely assembled. “Oh, let me help,” said our kind friend. She looked it over, lined up the parts, followed the instructions, and in very little time had it all done and in good working order.

How glad I was that we had waited. I’m sure we would have had to spend most of a day figuring out what went with what, where, and how. My clever friend had it put together in no time. There is wisdom in waiting for the correct moment, for that is when success is attained. The moment itself cannot be hurried, nor can its arrival be predicted. No amount of wishing or searching can affect this. Sometimes patience practice can be frustrating.

For example, no matter how hard we looked, Stephen and I found every place we’ve lived in Grafton by stumbling over it. Because none of our deliberate searches brought good results, we were forced to be patient. The practice of patience, like the practice of a musician, needs to be lifelong. Eventually it can be seen simply as a challenge rather than as a tedious bore. However, one must be patient because that ability comes only with plenty of practice.