“Sitting inside the warm, pleasant kitchen while icy rain beat against the window, I felt the wordless contentment of a horse in a stable or a wren in a birdhouse,” author Gretchen Rubin wrote. I can so relate. And of course while in the kitchen I cooked and baked this long weekend. Some for Dean and I, and some for others needing an extra dose of love. “The people who give you their food, give you their heart,” Latino civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez once shared. “Cooking has nothing to do with the ingredients, but everything to do with love,” author Dominique Browning commented. I make-do with the ingredients in my well-stocked kitchen, but I beg to differ with Dominique that the right ingredients can make foods taste better. Muir Glen’s organic tomato sauce is the best for a rich red sauce contrasted with a from-scratch white sauce for spinach cannelloni. I happen to pick up a couple of cans last week. Of course, everything is done with love when it comes to cooking, even the acquiring of ingredients. That’s where my organic gardening comes in. Slow cooking, fresh, from-scratch and homemade reigns. “Through cooking, touching, feeling, preparing, and savoring good, real food made from real ingredients, I get to fully inhibit my kitchen; heal my body; connect with friends, family, the Earth, and the larger community where I live,” quoting Mark Hyman, MD. I had a fun weekend in my warm kitchen!
This summer continues to bring us more opportunities for projects at Deanna’s Cottage. Dean and I put in new retaining walls between our house and the church next door. Dean did most of the labor as the blocks were much too heavy for me. But I was able to handle the capstones and raking of the weeds and sparse grass. We will cover the space with landscape fabric and mulch another weekend. There are three hydrangeas not blooming because they are under the humongous tulip poplar tree in the backyard not getting enough sunlight. So later this summer when it cools a bit we will transplant them to this new south-side space, where it is evenly sun and shade throughout the day.
The last harvest of our spring crop of arugula went into this crustless quiche. Much like wilted spinach, I sauteed the chopped arugula with chopped shallots in bacon bits and drippings before folding into the egg and gouda cheese mixture. I removed the tough stems in the bigger leaves before chopping, so this becomes a labor of love. Similarly, the lemon herb tea bread I made included fresh sprigs of my potted lemon basil and lemon thyme steeped in steamed milk. Then, the herbs, lemon juice, and lemon zest were folded into the dough. Oh, so lemony! A luscious summer bread for breakfast. I made cake muffins with this batch. If topped with sliced strawberries and dollop of whipped cream or yogurt, it is a delightful summer dessert. What are you making with your garden goodies?
This COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing mandates have everyone’s routines turned upside down. Offices, schools, businesses, and now restaurant closings. Remote work and make-shift offices and classrooms at home. Priorities change, refocus on what is paramount, safety. As we as a world make improvising arrangements with our employment, schooling, medical care, dental care, traveling, vacationing, shopping, dining, banking, faith-based activities, entertainment, and list goes on. Cyberhackers take advantage, and magic potion con artists try their tactics. But such heart-warming people and their actions shine brighter. Did you see the California choir and their remote, online rendition of Over the Rainbow? How about those Christmas lights and décor shining bright, and the Christmas carols over the radio? The celebrities’ videos that keep us singing, laughing and smiling. Hotels opening their empty rooms to paramedics and medical staff for COVID-19 testing and quarantine stations. Neighbors helping each other with meals and errands. Have you sat quietly and prayed? I hope so. The world could use your prayers.
So after all the readjustments and new routines established, what are you doing with all the free time with no commutes or engagements? Cannot go out to the movies, ball game, concert, winery, coffee shop, or vacation destination. Please don’t turn to binge eating, drinking, or drugs. Keep yourself healthy and safe. Projects like deep cleaning, decluttering, home repairs, and yardwork are suggestions, maybe not so appealing to some. Indoor hobbies like scrapbooking, journaling, reading, painting, building a model, cooking, baking, making a music video, and blogging might be of interests. FaceTime, telephone, or do the old-fashion writing a letter to your friend or loved ones. How about going outdoors, while keeping your distance from others? Long walks on the paved sidewalk or trail in the woods, bird watch, shoot some hoops in your driveway court, or paint your front door a fresh color. Then there is gardening! I purchased my organic greens and herbs seeds, and will sow them in the warming organic soil at the screenhouse this week. My office plants came home with me, and I will attend to them under the plant lights of our basement. The Spring Equinox came yesterday evening, so perennial plants are closer to going outdoors each day. This season we will always remember. Make it a lemonade-out-of-lemons season. Just sweeten it up with your love, God’s love.
The snow storm has all the schools closed as well as many offices closed or on a shorten day. Dean’s office closed for the whole day and my office closed before lunch. Fortunately our Jeep gets us through everything thus far that Missouri’s winters have dished out. Don’t know what we will do when that vehicle dies. Dependable. It has almost 300,000 miles on it. My Prince Charming came and swooped me up at the end of the sidewalk next to my Clayton office, onward to our cottage home in our blue metal carriage.
I came home to a bottle of Irish cream on the dining table and the Christmas tree set up, ready for the ornaments and trimmings. A festive afternoon it is to be. What a thoughtful hubby! The cottage is small, and as well as our tree. We always wait about a week before Christmas to decorate our tree. Boxes of our holiday trimmings were brought up from the basement. We had such a cozy day into the evening with the snow falling outside the window, Christmas carols playing, hanging the ornaments, decking the rooms, the warmth of the smooth spirits, butter cookies, and snuggles.
Our European friends create this atmosphere naturally through their traditions. “Koselig is a feeling: that of coziness, intimacy, warmth, happiness, being content. To achieve the feeling of koselig, you need koselig things. In darker months, cafes provide blankets on their outdoor chairs, and shops light their entrances with candles,” written in Living In Norway by David Nikel. “You could roughly translate koselig (pronounced “koosh-lee”), as ‘coziness,’ but that leaves out crucial components of it, like enjoying the company of others and a connection with nature. There’s no direct English translation, but there are regional equivalents such as the Swedish ‘mys,’ the Dutch ‘gezelligheid’ and the most well-known of these, the Danish ‘hygge’,” writes David G. Allan in is CNN health and wellness column “The Wisdom Project”. “Basically anything can (and should) be koselig: a house, a conversation, a dinner, a person. It defines something/someone /an atmosphere that makes you feel a sense of warmth very deep inside in a way that all things should be: simple and comforting… a single word to express all at once love, friendship, comfort, trust, and most of all happiness” author, Lorelou Desjardins describes “koselig” in her blog Frog in the Fjord.
So what makes you feel love, friendship, comfort, trust, and happiness all at once? Could it be hot chocolate with home-baked cookies, sipping spirits, fire in the fireplace, candles lit, warm socks, cozy blankets, homemade jam made with local berries, snug long johns, soft flannel, oversized sweaters, scarves, slow & soft music, nature brought indoors, vegetation draped on a table top, and a communal encounter with a Christmas carol? I wish you koselig this holiday season and into the New Year.
Bit by bit we are making headway on the entryways to our 1940’s home. Last month it was our front door. It is a nifty turquoise color, a welcome to anyone in our St. Charles, Missouri neighborhood. This afternoon my hubby, Dean was scrapping, glazing, and priming one of the windows in the living room of Deanna’s Cottage. He will paint the frame white next week. And we have 8 more windows to go. It is a labor of love!
Along with cherry tomatoes I picked my Genovese and Tai basils on Friday evening at the screenhouse/greenhouse located on Boone Hollow Farm in Defiance. On Sunday the Genovese variety made some delicious pesto. I learned if you blanch the basil in boiling water for 5 seconds and immediately put into an ice bath it seals the bright green color. Drain and squeeze the water from the basil and add to the food processor with olive oil, walnuts, garlic, and parmesan cheese. For two half- pint jars of pesto, I used 8 cups of basil leaves. The Tai basil will be used for seasoning a chicken-veggie stir fry and riced cauliflower bowl this week. Again, a labor of love!
Ice hit the concrete sidewalks and streets last Sunday morning, like many other wintry mornings in Missouri. Looking outside the red twig dogwood glistened. Dean and I waited a bit for temperatures to increase, and then managed to get to church. It is an oxymoron, winter’s warmth. It is what winter does for us. Brings us indoors after weathering the cold, ice, and snow. Much like life. The warmth of home lures us back to comfort and simplicity. “Sitting inside the warm, pleasant kitchen while icy rain beat against the window, I felt the wordless contentment of a horse in a stable or a wren in a birdhouse,” Gretchen Rubin writes. Another author Dominique Browning contemplates, “the banal moments of the day are the most seductive to me. It is in the lighting of a fire on a cold morning, or in the pouring of wine and the pulling up of chairs to read together at the end of an afternoon of errands, that love really exerts its magic.”
I miss a fireplace or wood stove to snuggle to in our little cottage, but have little niches in every room of our 4-room dwelling that seduce me. My favorite room is the kitchen. “So let’s dish out saucy praise for the place of crazy salads, spicy endearments, whispering souffles, sweetmeats, tender loins, and sticky fingers. That whirring, blending, mixed-up, soul-stirring, juice-dripping, hot-hearted room (the kitchen),” Dominique Browning writes in her book Slow Love. Kind of spicy, you say. That is what cooking in the kitchen does for my heart. Another weekend snow has developed this afternoon. Mini cheese-stuffed meatloaves, sweet potatoes, and banana-oat bread will grace our table this evening. Tomorrow I will chop fresh veggies to saute with Italian sausage for Italian stone soup accompanied with fresh-from-the-oven bread sticks. A casserole dish of homemade mac & cheese with a bowl of buttered edamame will be Sunday’s dinner.
I have plenty of library books to peruse and a jigsaw puzzle to piece together for this long weekend of winter warmth. Besides Dean and I have each other to keep the fire going …
What makes leaves turn different colors in autumn? According to the College of Environmental Science and Forestry: http://www.esf.edu/pubprog/brochure/leaves/leaves.htm … “During the spring and summer the leaves have served as factories where most of the foods necessary for the tree’s growth are manufactured. This food-making process takes place in the leaf in numerous cells containing chlorophyll, which gives the leaf its green color. This extraordinary chemical absorbs from sunlight the energy that is used in transforming carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch. Along with the green pigment are yellow to orange pigments, carotenes and xanthophyll pigments which, for example, give the orange color to a carrot. Most of the year these colors are masked by great amounts of green coloring. Chlorophyll breaks down. But in the fall, because of changes in the length of daylight and changes in temperature, the leaves stop their food-making process. The chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible and give the leaves part of their fall splendor.”
So there is the scientific explanation for the color changes in a leaf. I have a seasonal love that by-passes all the science stuff … oh, autumn! These cooler days and color-bursting leaves bring me outdoors at every opportunity. This past Saturday Dean and I watched bright orange pumpkins drop from the blue sky while small engine and military war planes whirl above with the leaves and birds. Sunday afternoon gave us another chance to enjoy the vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows at Boone Hollow Farm while picking the last of our ripened cherry tomatoes and all the green tomatoes still on the vines which succumbed to the first killing frost this past week. This Monday’s lunch hour was spent walking at the park relishing more color and sunshine. Tuesday promises even more golden sunshine and warmth. And on a rainy, colder Wednesday the trick or treaters will come out in their costumes. Some will be dressed in black and gruesome red, black, and green makeup, but I particularly like the happy get-ups in bright colors and smiles. Our 2-year old granddaughter, Elise is dressed as a monarch butterfly!
Our Midnight. Midnight was the extended Bates and Gall family pet and everyone’s friend. His vivacious, contagious spirit made you laugh and love life. Midnight loved his Dean, and the special attention Dean gave him. He loved people. He loved our kids and grandkids, “his kids”. He loved the many friends and family who visited our home. Whined and cried with happiness when any one came to visit “him”, of course. He loved his Elisabeth, stayed at her side after every chemo treatment until she was back on her feet. He loved the morning ritual of seeing Libby and Brendan onto the school bus. He loved crockpot dinner and Chinese carry-out nights. He loved his evening walks especially those that included a DQ ice cream cup. He loved going out to “the farm”. Midnight loved lakes and creeks, and chasing after all the waterfowl that lived in them. But he hated thunderstorms. Major anxiety raced his pounding heart except oddly for those he embraced outside. One of my fondest memories was being on the boat dock of cabin #2 at Valhalla Resort on Island Lake in Minnesota. The thunderheads rolled in above the lake so abruptly like the cap-size waves that July evening. Midnight and I faced the storm together while missing our Dad who passed away too soon to enjoy that evening with us. We ran together for shelter once the lightning strikes began. And that story reminds me of the time Dean, Midnight, and I ran for the shelter from a tornado overhead while at the farm and greenhouse. The whirling winds rocked our van just inches from the creek. I think all three of us had a few more gray hairs after that adventure!
Our Midnight passed away on Monday, June 11. And yes, this is our Midnight’s eulogy. Our 13-1/2 year old Labrador-flat coat retriever mix was 115 years old in human years. It came suddenly, the vet said his body gave way to old age. Midnight lived and loved 5 generations of the Bates/Gall family. He was given to my Grandpa Earl and Grandma Paula as a Christmas gift in 2004. Puppy love with huge paws. Grew into a 90-lb adult dog, too much for my elderly grandparents to handle. In turn my Dad adopted Midnight, trained him to be an excellent waterfowl retriever. This pet came to live at the 99 Jane house with Dean and I after my father passed away 5-1/2 years ago. Sometimes a crowded house, but always had room for our Midnight. For a few days Midnight lived with Dean’s parents when we all were displaced from our home after the main water line flood. One night our dog stayed with a kind family after he wandered off through an unlatched gate, no thanks to the contractor during our house addition. Oddly enough, this family lived one field over from where I grew up on the tree farm in St. Peters. Our handsome Midnight had been dubbed “Nerm” and “Hercules”, and I cannot explain why. Our easygoing dog co-existed with 5 different house cats during his time with us. Beyond tolerable, he was sociable to his feline companions especially during the late evening cat treat time all gathered in Dean and I’s bedroom every night. He made a few doggy friends … Nasa, Mokie, Jesse, Bleu, Beatrice, Barry, Daisy, Gus, Molly, Parker, Roman, another Molly, Shawnee, Peyton, Ellie, Eddie, Max … learned to accept or avoid the young whipper-snappers as he became an old man dog.
Midnight is greatly missed, our hearts feel an emptiness yet privileged to have known him and feel his love. Our Midnight. We will always love you.
Outdoor gardening seized late October. My perennials appear to be in dormancy under the plant lights in the garage. Such a cold winter, the little heater is keeping the garage just above freezing. Sometimes life’s circumstances appear to keep us in dormancy like the season of winter. But winter is just one season, there are those three others. And really underneath it all, life is emerging from the roots, bulbs are multiplying, and green growth will reappear in just weeks. Valentine’s Day red comes in the midst of the bleak cold winter in this part of the world. We just celebrated National Wear Red Day, comes the first Friday in February each year, with women sporting red dresses and men vivid red ties which reminds us to take care of our hearts with healthy foods and ample physical activity. Valentine trinkets, cards, and boxes of chocolates are given with red cupids and hearts on February 14.
This winter holiday warms hearts for some, and leaves others wondering if they will ever find true love. The history of this holiday evolved like so many other holidays from Christian roots. Wikipedia tells us “St. Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, Saint Valentine healed the daughter of his jailer, Asterius, and before his execution, he wrote her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine’ as a farewell.” A original European tradition is to give St. Valentine’s keys to show love and with that goes the lore that these keys keep epilepsy away from your children. Now the golden key is gifted as a romantic symbol and an invitation to “unlock the giver’s heart”. Wow, what an invitation!
With Jesus you do not have to unlock the Giver’s heart. He gave all His love on the Cross. True love does come in Jesus! He is there for each of us. His love is perfect … it is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, or rude, and is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not like evil, and rejoices in the truth. His love always protects, hopes, perseveres, and never fails!
As I center my thoughts on this new year, I think about the doors and keys to life. You know those doors of opportunity to knock on, doors to walk through, and finding that prize on the other side of the door. Scriptures tell us“knock, seek, and you will find”. At times it feels like multiple knocks before someone slowly creaks the door open with a mutter of a greeting. Other times you barely get a knock in, and “HELLO, HERE I AM!” like a bright red door. And then there are those times, and no one answers. Maybe I need to move onto a new address, new door, new opportunity? “When one door closes, another opens” as the saying goes. There can be a reward for those who are persistent.
Then there are the keys to life. Author Alex Morritt writes, “Owning fewer keys opens more doors.” Was he speaking about property ownership, or more about simplifying your life in general? Maybe both. In 2016 my quest to simplify and pare down was energizing. I was able to see my immediate surroundings in a new light. In 2017, it will be more in the area of my thoughts and words. Simplify my thoughts, less analyzing. Simplify my communiques with fewer words, use more effective ones. Loving words. Encouragement. God holds “the key to my heart”. He knows all my thoughts and cares of this life before I even pray them.
What door are you knocking on? What key will open the door, your life this very day?