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Copy Cats

Children are natural copy cats. They want to do what the grown-ups do.
Kathy in 1952 or 53. Tammie in 1984.

I glanced around at the cluttered kitchen and leaned against the counter dejectedly, feeling tired and depressed. Making meals should be so much easier now that the kitchen remodeling was finally finished. I had double the cupboard space and countertops. This is what I had wanted and waited for. What was wrong with me that I felt so unexcited about my good fortune? Was the summer heat getting to me?

Making meals and cleaning up after them had been hard for the last several weeks. The stove was disconnected. The sink had no running water. All the things I normally kept in the kitchen were stacked higgeledy-piggledy in the dining room. Until a few weeks ago, the prospect of finding places to put everything in the new cupboards sounded like fun. Now I felt I lacked the energy to do the job.

My husband Arnie walked into the kitchen just then and saw me leaning on the counter looking miserable. He asked, “What’s wrong? I thought you’d have half the kitchen put to order by now.”

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Frozen Heart

I forcefully jammed the blade of my shovel into the pine needles. Ground frozen solid under the light snow cover, stopped the metal tool from going any deeper. Spotting a pine branch that had broken off the tree during a fall storm, I sadly told my daughter Tammie, “Maybe the ground under the branch isn’t frozen.”

My guess was correct. After moving the branch aside, the shovel bit into the earth. This time large tree roots three inches under the surface stopped me from digging any deeper.

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Leaning Back

A cold, ice-particle-laden gust of wind swirled down the face of the hospital building, pushing so hard against my body I had to lean forward to make headway. Walking at my side was a coworker, Barb. She commented jokingly, “Here we are, walking through the tundra again.” Some of the ice particles melted on my face while others found their way under my neck scarf. I shivered and put my mitten-clad hand to my frosted forehead, wondering if it was possible to experience brain-freeze from a cold wind.

Barb complained, “Why in the world was this hospital built with a north-facing entrance? We always get a big downdraft in our face just as we get close to entering.”

Through gritted teeth I answered, “I don’t know what the engineers were thinking. But, at least on hot summer days, we get a welcome cool breeze.”

As Barb and I silently walked to the unit where we worked, I thought about Christmas, only two weeks away. I still had some Christmas cards to send, presents to wrap and cookies to bake. Our tree, usually put up a few days before Christmas, wasn’t even bought!

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Leftover Summer

I placed a garden stool next to a tomato plant. Although some of its leaves were crisp from recent frosty nights, I spotted a few yellow blossoms deep within the plant. A few big tomatoes on the plant were faintly tinged red. Knowing they would finish ripening in the house, I put them in a box before cutting the plant down to a stump. Methodically, I processed each plant in the row, enjoying the beautiful, earthy scent of my garden.

Finally the only tomatoes I had left in the garden were the cherry tomato plants a few rows away. Less affected by the past few cold nights, each plant bore many clusters of perfect, but still green cherry tomatoes. I knew they would slowly ripen in the house so I put them put in a box, too.

As I worked, my daughter Tammie entered the greenhouse. She excitedly informed me, “The apple tree behind the greenhouse is covered with hundreds of beautiful red apples.”

With a smile I playfully questioned, “Guess who’s going to help me pick them?”

Loving to do things with me after her workhours are finished, Tammie enthusiastically responded, “I’m looking forward to doing that but will the apples be okay? We had a killing frost the other night.”

“They will be fine,” I assured her. “These are late apples and I always pick them after the first frosts in the fall. They’re like these last tomatoes in the garden. All the summer’s warmth turned into plant sugars for us to enjoy after the growing season is over.”

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Hot Vinaigrette

I stepped out onto my back deck and admired how nice my yard looked this spring. New blades of grass glittered in the sunshine as a gentle breeze lovingly caressed them. Tree branches that had been winter-bound for so many months were finally beginning to unfurl their pink and green buds. Bright, yellow daffodils gracefully swayed in the new flowerbed by the driveway.

My loving scan of the crescent-shaped flowerbed came to an abrupt halt when I spotted what remained of the four hosta plants planted there. I’d been enthusiastically watching them grow new leaves for the last several days. My daughter Tammie joined me on the back deck just as I let out a squawk of protest and stamped my foot.

Turning to look in the same direction as I, she inquired, “What do you see that’s making you so upset?”

My response was more of a yelp, “My hostas! Look at them!”

After staring at the new flowerbed for a moment, Tammie asked, “Where did they go? Just yesterday afternoon they each had a nice cluster of new leaves.”

I said, sighing wearily, “The deer were here last night. Does are especially hungry now that winter is over and they have fawns to nurse. Besides that, I’ve heard people describe hostas as “deer candy”. It’s their preferred treat to eat when foraging a landscaped yard.”

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God’s Time

The radio in Mom’s kitchen was tuned to a music station, just as it had always been from morning to night during my growing up years. Although in my early fifties, when I visited Mom, I still felt like I was a child, cradled in a time capsule. The many years which had passed since my childhood had taken their toll on her, though. Mom’s vision was gone and she needed my help to bathe, change her bedding and pay bills.

After I had washed and set Mom’s hair that afternoon, she settled down in her rocking chair. I sat nearby at the dining room table to pay her bills. With soft music playing in the background, Mom suddenly commented, “Tonight…we switch back to God’s time.”  

I looked up from the check I was writing. The dour manner in which she’d pronounced, ‘God’s time’ made me want to laugh.

A number of questions swarmed through my mind. Was Mom biblically opposed to day light savings time? I’d never gotten that impression as a child. Maybe Mom was repeating something she’d heard her own mother once say. My stern grandmother Franzeska, had been born in 1867. Although I’d never met her, things I’d heard made me wonder if she was a rather humorless person.

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Quarantine Bucket List

I mounted the bike Arnie had bought for himself 15 years ago. Tammie got on the one he’d bought for me at the same time. Seeing no approaching cars on the road, we peddled out the driveway. My entire yard slopes toward the river, so it follows the road in front of my place does the same. Enjoying the cool evening breeze, we coasted downhill across the Little Eau Pleine River bridge.

My daughter and I peddled the next quarter mile in companionable silence. Two deer stepped out onto the road and stood gawking at us. I said, “They won’t survive long if they stop and stare at approaching cars like this!”

Tammie called out, “Go back where you came from.” As if heeding her words, the two animals leapt gracefully off the road to disappear into the dense roadside growth. Turning to me, my daughter said, “By the way, I’ve decided to return to my home in Saint Paul next week.”

From the beginning of our quarantine, I knew Tammie would eventually go back to her own home. The irony, of course, is COVID 19 hasn’t gone away, but spread to even more places now, than at the beginning. The new normal is masks, social distancing and chapped hands from frequent washing. Continue reading

A Big Deal

Several tall trees shaded the picnic table where my high school friends and I were sitting. Hot rays of sunshine baked the nearby sidewalk, but a cool breeze playfully ruffled our hair. One of the girls took a drink from her can of pop. The minute she set it back on the table, an insect appeared and hovered over the can. She screamed and all three girls who were with me jumped to their feet. Staying where I was, I calmly reminded them, “The bee is after the sugar, not us.”

One girl exclaimed, “If a bee goes into the pop can and we take a big drink, we could accidentally swallow one!”

Another girl asked with a shudder, “Would it sting us on the insides?”

Bees and wasps never frightened me. I had the benign belief that if you leave them alone, they would leave you alone. My wry quip always was, “Panic makes them see you as a pincushion.”

Although there are many wasp nests in my yard, deck and buildings, before the year 2013 I can only remember two times that wasps stung anyone in my family. The first time was on a Sunday afternoon when Niki and Tammie were small. A nest in the garage was disturbed when we arrived home from a picnic. A wasp stung Arnie on his left ear. It hurt so badly he laid on the sofa for an hour or two with an ice pack. The second time was when ten-year-old Niki disturbed a nest behind the garage. The two stings on her leg were very painful, but by evening, only showed as slightly red, irritated spots. I concluded that wasps were unpleasant, but no big deal. Continue reading

The Path Best Not Taken

Sun-dappled shade blanketed the woodland floor. Green ferns peeked through last year’s papery fallen leaves. We heard the rustle of small feet scampering and the sleepy call of a bird in the tree tops. Along the trail, ferns stood guard over a slumbering, moss-covered log.

Ahead of us, we saw a sun-filled clearing. Stepping into the sun made me squint. Cleared by man, the woodland corridor allowed poles topped with electrical wires to march through the property. The path diverged at this point. A map mounted on a post showed different route options.

The path to the left would take us directly back to The Clearing’s campus schoolhouse. The path to the right would meander further from the campus, but eventually bring us back to the schoolhouse, too. Glancing at Tammie, I asked, “Which path do you want to take?”

My daughter stated, “I want to take the one to the left.”

When my daughter Tammie and I visit The Clearing for a vacation, we take classes to learn new crafts or perfect crafts familiar to us. This year, because of COVID 19, classes were canceled, but the venue remained open for self-directed retreats. We decided to go. A handful of other people had done the same. Consequentially, the campus was strangely empty and quiet. Following the hiking paths on the 128-acre campus, we found the less traveled paths were not as trampled or easy to follow. Continue reading

Lactose Intolerance

The meal looked beautiful. My guests were in for a treat. I’d prepared everything I love to eat. A salad with liberal amounts of feta cheese and walnuts would start the meal. Moistly tender chicken breasts wrapped in bacon and smothered in a mixture of mushroom soup and sour cream was next. Our desert to end this delectable meal was cheese cake with a graham cracker crust, covered with a generous scoop of glazed fresh blueberries and whipped cream.

My tummy rumbled. I glanced at the clock. Even though I hadn’t eaten since an early lunch, I wasn’t hungry. My tummy felt as though I’d just finished drinking a gallon of water.

I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Intermittently I’d felt sick for most of the past year. Did I have cancer? My imagination ran wild with other dreaded possibilities.

Frowning, I wondered why some days I felt fine and other days not. Last Friday morning I was very sick. By three in the afternoon I felt much better. Since I hadn’t eaten anything since my breakfast cereal, the rumble in my belly indicated hunger. My daughter was home for the weekend. She suggested, “Since you’re feeling better, what do you say we go out to eat?” Continue reading