Thursday, May 17, 2018


[This came about because I couldn't come up with a great topic to entertain you with. Some weeks are just like that. But people all around me are working in their yards and some are planting things, so, here are some thoughts on gardens that I wrote a couple of years ago.]

What happens when you don’t have any idea what you’re going to write about?
Some folks just start typing and see what develops.

Some ask their friends and family for suggestions for a topic to write about.
Others look up things on the Internet, browse through a book of quotations, look for words of wisdom in quotes by famous people . . . .

Today I’m not very inspired by what I see in my neighborhood, or know is coming up on my calendar. I mean, I’m having green grass, bloomin’ flowers, and singing birds. Lots of folks are having the same. A couple of days ago I had dental work done. Are you interested in hearing about that? No, me neither.
So, let’s think about something current and nice to contemplate—gardens and gardening. Here are some pithy thoughts to stir your brain:

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
[Can’t argue with that one.]

 A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.
Liberty Hyde Bailey
[Hmm, effort. Yes, indeed.]

We must cultivate our own garden. When man was put in the garden of Eden he was put there so that he should work, which proves that man was not born to rest.
[Yeah, but sometimes I need to rest, a lot. Sorry, Voltaire.]

 I don't like formal gardens. I like wild nature. It's just the wilderness instinct in me, I guess.
Walt Disney
[Wilderness is fine, but there better not be any snakes and big bears.]

 The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.
George Bernard Shaw
[Good one, George.]

 Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
May Sarton
[Maybe I better rethink this gardening thing.]

 Help us to be ever faithful gardeners of the spirit, who know that without darkness nothing comes to birth, and without light nothing flowers.
May Sarton
[Ah, gardening as metaphor—now I can get into that.]

When I googled “gardening” I discovered mostly info about flower gardens and what I call English gardens—not a kitchen garden that feeds the manor but cultivated and high-maintenance beauties.

Pole beans make hiding places by August.
Then I thought about gardens in my life, and I time-traveled back to childhood—Grandpa Jenkins was the first gardener I remember. When we went to visit him and Grandma at the edge of their little town, there beside the house was a HUGE garden—what I’d call a couple of acres now that I know what that looks like—where Grandpa tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested every kind of vegetable. I remember especially the tee-pees he made to encourage the beans to vine up. Those made wonderful hiding places in summer if I wanted to get away from my irritating (male) cousins.
We kids often pulled and ate radishes and carrots right out in the garden. Dirt? Well, yeah, there was dirt on them; they grew in the dirt. We wiped it off on our slacks or on the grass, and chomped away.

By August there was always something to can. My mother and her sisters and sisters-in-law came to help Grandma “put up” pints and quarts of beautiful food. Some of the jars went home with the helpers, some stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. My job was washing the jars, because my hands were smaller than those of my mom and aunts. (And also less swollen because I was too young to have arthritis, a family hand-me-down.)
My own adult experiences with gardening have no romance about them, not even in memory—I recall back-breaking work, sweat, mosquitoes (try picking cucumbers at dawn to take to the local pickle factory), more sweat during canning. But for me, it was an eye-opener: my parents and grandparents went to a lot of trouble and toil to provide meals for their tables. Nothing like an aching back and some itchy mosquito bites to drive home a lesson about how food gets to the mouths of our children.

At my time in life, firmly established in retirement, I enjoy the produce grown by others: my daughter and son who are the gardeners in the family; folks who offer their wares at the Farmer’s Market; neighbors and friends with surplus tomatoes/squash/cucumbers on their half-dozen plants that all produced at the same time.
When I miss the camaraderie of the kitchen at harvest time, I go to my daughter’s in Ohio and cut up, slice, or clean whatever’s going; wash dishes, and jars and lids and rings; stir a pot of something that needs to cook a little before being canned (jelly and pasta sauce); rest my weary back and legs for a while and eat a quick lunch; then back to the jar-filling before I head home. Come winter, I’ll spread jam on toast and utter an “ummmm.” And when I can’t think of anything to cook, there’s a jar of pasta sauce on the pantry shelf waiting for my gluten-free pasta to join it for a filling dish. Tomato juice? V-4 juice? Just right for soup. Get out the slow cooker and start putting things in.

Nowadays I’m more of an appreciator than a gardener. But I celebrate and salute all those who really dig gardening. J

Thursday, May 10, 2018


What did you learn at your mother's knee?

One thing I learned was how to swear. Fluently.

My mother had four older brothers and three older sisters. No matter how vigilant Grandma and Grandpa were, older siblings will be older siblings. I suspect the boys were the more accomplished swearers, though.

And it didn't take me long to learn where and when swearing was tolerated--not many places and not often.

But the best thing I learned from my mom was how to be a Positive Person.

Not a family pic--but this is how women
looked in the 1940s.

I knew all six of the Jenkins girls: Dessie, Grace, Sarah, Mom (Doris), Dorothy (Mom's twin), Virginia. It was a rare moment when all six happened to be together, so I got to know them in smaller groups when they met at Grandma's house to can green beans or help clean house or just because they wanted to visit and Grandma's house was central for most of them.

Picture this: Grandma sitting at her big round kitchen table, waited on by whichever daughters showed up. A pie is cut and served. The coffee pot is never allowed to go dry. Voices mix and mingle and soar. The decibel level rises to ever greater heights.

What did they talk about? Everything. And I learned a lot from the corner where I sat and listened (they thought I was reading--well, I was, but I was listening, too). What I learned was this: There was nothing too big or too personal or too sad or too upsetting that it couldn't be laid on the table, commented on, hashed out, maybe even solved.

These women faced the problems in their lives.

They acknowledged the problems.

They shared them with each other.

Then they got on with life.

And always, they laughed. By the end of the pie and coffee and the afternoon, someone's burden was lighter.

When I think about my mother and her sisters, I realize they taught me many useful approaches to life. Such as:

-- Stand up to adversity.

-- Share your burden.

-- Laugh if you can.

-- Cry if you can't laugh.

-- Be honest; don't say it's worse than it is; don't lie; give the benefit of the doubt, if you can.

-- Walk away, if you have to (though I don't remember much of that, not permanent leaving).

-- Apologize if necessary.

-- And a very practical lesson: Clean the house--it's great for anger management. (Not to mention you'll have a cleaner house.)

As you can imagine, the above lessons were the ones I caught by example. No one gave me instructions or a list called How to Live as an Adult. I suspect most of us learn by the examples we were given.

Which makes me wonder what my children would write, if they were asked what they learned at their mother's knee. I grow faint just thinking about it.

Whether or not you have children, you were once a child yourself, so you had a mother. If she's still on this planet, wish her a happy day, and thank her, if you can, for what you learned from her example. If she has passed on to another place, salute her for the lessons she gave you.

Mine showed me how to be positive, even when life gives you lemons and you don't have a pitcher or enough sugar to make lemonade. Her smile, even when she was dying of cancer, was genuine; she wasn't trying to deny death. She was still saying "yes!" to life.

Thursday, May 3, 2018


[Sometimes I feel dis-connected from life. This is not a psychotic state, merely a time in which many of my scheduled events have slid off the calendar for one reason or another. People have sudden and unexpected changes in their lives that impact mine as well. So today I wanted to think about connections--and remembered I'd been there/done that a couple of years ago. Part II of this little series speaks to me today. Hope you find it gives you something to ease any dis-connectedness in your life.]

Today I want to consider connections through music, art, literature, and popular culture—ways of connecting ourselves to people long gone from planet Earth, to their creativity, their world view, their time and mores. In a sense, seeing with their eyes.

I used to feel a deep sadness when I thought about Beethoven’s deafness robbing him of his ability to hear the grand and glorious music he composed in later years. One source reported that he was unable to hear either the orchestra playing his Ninth Symphony or the great applause that greeted its premiere.

After reading several articles about Beethoven, I no longer feel sad, because I’ve heard music inside my head, as he must have also heard what he was working on. What he missed was the orchestra’s interpretation of his symphony. What he always possessed was the way it was supposed to sound because he’d heard it first inside himself.

I have no training in art appreciation, so I bring very little knowledge to the viewing of a painting. What I can do, as I gaze upon the work of the Old Masters, is enter into their vision—see with their eyes for a short time. Was that man’s nose really that long? Was the woman’s chin so pointy?


What draws me most, connects me strongly, is the written word. From my earliest reading on my own, I could see inwardly the scene unfolding in the story. Only black marks on white paper, but, oh--! People doing things—racing to catch a crook; dashing about the country roads with the top down on the convertible, dust billowing behind; creeping through the trees at dusk to spy on the inhabitants of the old abandoned mansion . . . . People saying things: dialogue to help the reader follow the sleuth’s thinking, or show character strength, or make the transition from one scene to another; dialogue to stimulate the mind.

Description also sucked me in—but only if it was good description. Long before I attempted to write stories, I “osmosed” the need for all five senses to make a scene “real”—to make a book live in memory.

Early in my life I was allowed to stay up to listen to radio serials. The Lone Ranger was a favorite. Yes, I was one of the kids who lay on my tummy in front of the radio and “saw” the action in the cloth-covered speakers. Several years later, television appeared, but it never won me over the way the radio shows did. The stories about the Wild West appealed to me because my father had lived in Colorado in the 1920s and worked on a ranch as a young man. Whether he experienced any of the wildness of the time, I never knew. But I liked trying to picture him in that setting.

Movies are a category of their own. I wasn’t crazy about historical novels, but movies set in old times, far-off places, could transport me immediately. Again, it was the visual detail that captured me. I was taken to see Gone With the Wind long before I could appreciate it, but later viewings gave me a taste of what it was like to live and struggle in the South during The War Between the States. Though I never knew my Great-grandfather Cather, I knew he fought in that war on the Union side. That knowledge gave me a different sense of what the war meant to people like me.

Historical shows are still popular: Downton Abbey, Foyle’s WarGrantchester, to name a few. They're set in the 1940s and 1950s--historicals? I remember those times! Does that mean I'm old? (Hmm, something to ponder.)

My examples in this post come from times gone by. I've lived through many decades, so I know what the feelings were during those days, how we dressed, what was available in the grocery store. Connecting to someone who lived in my parents' or grandparents' time helps me understand them as young families--what they lived with, and through--and so my own ancestors become more alive to me.

You'll find connections everywhere. You don’t even have to look for them—just recognize them when they occur.

They may be as near as your mailbox, when you get a letter from an old friend. Or as close as the movie theater or video rental store. Libraries offer such a broad range of subject matter, settings, and time periods that you can lose yourself in any era you select. Or, people you meet may open a window onto a time or place or way of life you never experienced.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


My laughter tank has been running low lately. When I began looking for quotations to illustrate this post, I discovered what I've always known (how's that for logic?)--laughter and pain are considered by many, many people to be two sides of the same coin.

Okay, I can work with that. I don't laugh when things are going badly. Say, for example, my car doesn't start, or the garage door spring won't lift the door when I push the button, or I slip on the front steps and skin my knee (if I'm lucky and don't go into sprain/broken bone country) . . . none of those qualified for the slightest chuckle. Not even in retrospect.

But I do know that when I'm feeling low, when my emotions have managed to delude me into thinking nothing good will ever happen again (rare, but it has happened), then I'm ready for relief. I've been known to watch a TV series that used to send me into gales of laughter, but if I'm in that low-down place, nothing sounds or looks funny.

I love Erma Bombeck for her home-grown humor. She saved my bacon on more than one occasion when I had a houseful of little kids all needing something different, and I just needed a little peace and quiet. She could laugh at herself and her situation--somewhat like mine--and I was eased.

This past winter I had a long spell of nothing-funny-about-anything. In those periods I can't read, I don't want to write, knitting/sewing/cooking don't interest or distract me. 

To have some voices in the house, I put on a DVD--TV series, movie, whatever; I don't remember just what it was. And within 20 minutes I had laughed out loud twice. Twice!

Those moments of laughter brought me back into the human race.

(Thank you, Mark Twain--for reminding me that I do have "one really effective weapon" in my personal arsenal.)


Why would we waste any of our days mired in sadness or anger or fear? Well, apparently we can't banish them entirely. Can you imagine day after day after day of laughter? Important to have a balance. Sadness is a natural thing to happen to us--we all lose something or someone. Anger rises when we least expect it. Fear? Oh, yeah, fear is always around waiting to pounce.

So a little laughter each day may save it from being wasted? Hmm. Need to think about that for a while. But I'm 99.44% sure I can live with it.


Do you have someone you can laugh with? My closest friends are people who smile or giggle or chortle or double over with mirth at the same things that hit me that way. Doesn't have to be trading one-liners. Think about it. 

As time passes, I'm learning to let go of more and more things that used to get under my skin and keep me in a constant state of irritation. More things strike me as funny. Or nutty. Or absurd.

Smiling comes easier. (Remember the old joke? "Smile! People will wonder what you're up to.") I smile a lot. People at the grocery store and Walmart smile back. Maybe they wonder what I'm up to. Or, maybe, they know.

Have a blessed week . . . filled with laughter, and joy.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Back in the 1950s we began seeing the word enriched added to our foods. Enriched flour (with niacin, a B vitamin, and a number of other enrichments). Enriched flour, we were encouraged to believe, was superior to the plain old flour our mothers and grandmothers and aunts and neighbors had always used to make award-winning pie crusts, fabulous cakes, melt-in-your-mouth shortbread, and anything you care to name that uses flour. (Think: gravy, white sauce, biscuits/cornbread/muffins. . . .)

Before long, we were assured that our lives would be much better if we took supplements

Now those words--enriched and supplement--are old school. Today it's add-ons.

I looked up some words--one of my very favorite pastimes, as you may have gathered--to see if I could learn something about adding stuff to other stuff. Here's a sample of what I found:

In my Super Thesaurus, the word enrich listed the following synonyms:

(verb) enhance; add; upgrade; improve; endow; cultivate; embellish; sweeten; refine; beef up.

My Merriam Webster 10th Edition says a supplement is something that completes or makes an addition.

Fine, you say, so what's my problem?

Have you looked at something as everyday, taken for granted, as toothpaste lately? Do you know how many kinds there are?

Toothpaste isn't just regular or mint flavored. Oh, no. It's for super-sensitive teeth. It's for cavity control. It's for enamel health. Or enamel repair. It's for whitening. It has fluoride protection, or it doesn't. Or it's specially made for kids. (Why is that?)

Or let's consider water. Plain old water is darn near as difficult to find an unenriched flour. Water isn't just water any more. It's flavored, with zero calories. It's colored, for some reason. It's enhanced to give you and me electrolytes, and minerals. (Do I want electrolytes? Do I need them?) Water has become a Life Source, which, in my ignorance, I thought it always was, water being necessary for the continued good health and well-bring of mammals and other flora and fauna. 

Those are just two of the everyday things I've encountered that Mad Ave has enhanced, upgraded, refined, beefed up, and, in my opinion, ruined. But don't forget, I'm definitely old school.

I can live with the toothpaste and the water. There are still options that don't send me into orbit when I'm shopping.

But my phone? My once-a-luxury cell phone, now my absolutely-necessary mobile?

They've gone and added stuff to it. They tell me so every other day. Fortunately they also give me the chance to accept or reject whatever enhancement they're offering; but if I don't make a choice, the same message returns day after day. Apparently "We won't take no for an answer" is the attitude of the phone company vis-`a-vis add-ons.

The computer people have been doing that for decades, but they're a little more considerate--when I say no, thank you, they accept that. Well, sometimes they ask if I'm sure, but eventually a repeated no is accepted. I'm a little cozier with my computer than with my phone, for obvious reasons.

Why am I getting wound up about this? I'm glad you asked.

I'm wondering what it would feel like to live an unenhanced, unenriched, un-beefed up life.

What would happen if I peeled away all the supplements and enhancements and add-ons? What would I be left with? 

I'd use plain toothpaste. I'd drink plain water. 

I suspect I'd have plain food--fresh veggies from the Farmer's Market on Wednesday and Saturday. I'd eat meat, poultry, and fish processed minimally. And I'm sure I'd be preparing all my meals from scratch. My recycling bin would weigh less because the bottles, tins, and cardboard would be missing.

Is this all just nostalgia for a simpler time? I don't think so. It strikes me that enhanced/enriched life is about living at one remove from The Authentic Thing. Whatever that Thing is.

We have many good products in our lives. We have access to health aids that can help us have better life quality. We can buy pre-made meals or partially prepared meals to free up time we can use differently. 

I'd love to see us enrich our lives in other ways--with people; with continued learning; with simple things, like walks in our neighborhoods, or planting a small garden, or teaching a kid to fish.

And even though I recognize the safety measure of kids having cell phones (parents can track where the children are quite easily; kids can get emergency help on their own), I smile when I see kids and parents enjoying each other's company. And kids playing ball with other kids, or chasing each other around the farm in a game of tag. No phones in evidence.

As Spring unfolds, we think of new beginnings--after all, Nature is sighing and singing and bursting with color and scent. We can begin again--with natural enrichment.

Have a rich week!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

In Just-

[Another re-posting . . . going through a rough patch at present and I'm a little distracted because a good friend is very ill. Also, April is the month my mother died, and to this day, 62 years later, I live through those last days and weeks all over again. Re-reading this post has helped me--I can now celebrate the opening-up of another spring.]

This is what I call the e e cummings season, "mud-luscious" and "puddle-wonderful." Today’s forecast calls for light rain, which begins any time now; my guess is that it’s holding off till I go out to run errands and will let go the minute I open my car door. But that’s just a guess.

Just-spring here in Northeast Indiana comes with a full basket of tulips and dandelions, mowed yards, birds courting, bushes in red and green and yellow, trees in pink and white and magenta and yellow-green.

Landscaping is newly mulched. Gardeners grow antsy waiting for the frost-warnings to lift so they can be the first kid on their block with annuals shoving each other aside in hanging baskets and flower boxes and any little patch of soil that doesn’t have anything in it.


Spring returns every year (March 21st in the northern hemisphere), with new growth in the earth; with hope for new beginnings (Easter is a spring festival, you know); with beauty so abundant you feel it will run right over you.

It’s overflowing and everywhere. And it’s for everyone.

Spring (with apologies to Janne Robinson for her lovely poem) doesn’t care: whether you’re black, white, Hispanic, or other. If you’re super-sensitive to pollen or criticism or penicillin. If you’re grieving or rejoicing. If you’re too old to, too young to, or don’t give a damn. If your income exceeds your outgo or you have no income worth talking about. Spring breathes on us, whether we like it or not.

All the therapy in the world won’t take away Spring. All the fervent prayers, tears, threats, tantrums—no effect on Spring.

We’ll have to deal with Spring--endure it, embrace it; enjoy it, avoid it. Spring doesn’t care.

If you see a white-haired woman in a black sweatshirt and New Balance walking shoes, carrying a box of Kleenex, that’s probably me. I’ll sneeze my way around the block, or the Y track on rainy days.

Spring doesn’t care.

But I do.

Celebrate Spring! And I hope you enjoy what She has to offer.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


[This post was first published two years ago. When I reread it, I knew its message was still alive and well in my life. We are all in the process of becoming . . . and I pray we might be for all of the days and years we are given.]

When I was young, I envied other kids—their houses, their parents together, their siblings. I wanted the same clothes other girls had—or their looks—or their confidence. They knew when to speak up, they knew their place in the world.

I was stuck in my own growth because I looked at other people and saw what I was not, what I had not.

Later, I discovered other young moms lived in nicer houses than ours. Their children always wore pretty clothes. The family car was newer, or classier.

Many years afterward, I learned a valuable piece of advice at a Weight Watchers meeting: “Don’t compare your inside to their outside.” What I saw in others wasn’t, necessarily, the whole truth.

Over time I began to learn a few things by observing the lives of others:
  •      Some young couples had huge debt to help them look good: big house, new car, pretty clothes.
  •      Some confident people were, in fact, pushy; some had no compassion for people in pain; some never saw below the surface in people.
  •      Some very talented people have unpleasant side effects--lacking in good sense, unloving to their children, gossipy and back-biting.

True, not all young people or confident people or talented people were like the examples I cite here. That’s one of the challenges of life—just when you think you’ve got it figured out, somebody comes along and makes you do a 180 in your preconceptions.

Little by little I learned the nature of Envy, and why it is harmful. I read books, I listened to sermons, I began to ponder the details of other people’s lives.

The people I was drawn to most, the ones who remained friends for many years, were people who enjoyed the same things I did: a walk through the meadow at the farm where I used to live here in Northeast Indiana; or sitting and talking about literature, music, or art, while sipping herbal tea; or drinking wine and listening to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. (My first experience of Beethoven’s Seventh had me in tears.)

These lovely people took me out of myself. And by that simple, compassionate, caring act, they helped me banish Envy. Over time I began to be the person I wanted to be. Or, perhaps a better way of saying it is: I began to love the person I was becoming.

I say becoming because there is no closure to this process of growing.

So I can say, with some regret, that the Envy I now harbor—I think it’s the only one—is the envy of people who are allowed to cry. To express their pain, their sorrow, their grief, their anguish.

From my earliest memories I was admonished not to cry. Not even when I got hurt. Not even—God forgive me—when my mother died. (My father couldn’t express his grief, therefore I shouldn’t grieve either.)

So as a young child I began to hide my tears, my feelings.

One of the first people to help me become a feeling person was Vira Marner Palmer. She was an outspoken, feeling woman who often voiced her opinion. When I married into the Palmer family, I gained a new mother.

More than anyone in my life, she knew what it was to be an only child whose mother had died too young. She was not a pleaser. I don’t recall seeing her cry, but I’ve seen her angry and heaping abuse on a man who was publically harassing her husband.

Before her death when I was 28, she urged me to go back to college and finish my degree. She had graduated from high school, and she was married to a college professor; her sons were in college pursuing advanced degrees. Vira recognized the importance of education.

Learning goes on forever . . . and I’m still learning about Envy, among other things.

One important thing I know is this: No one has all the gifts/luck/possessions/talents. Each of us has some. And what we have is important.

Do not envy.

(That is my goal.)

Celebrate the good others do, or have.

(I try to do that.)

Becoming. That’s what it’s all about.