“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!
2020 has been a year like no other. We learned to wear a mask everywhere we go. New phrases such as “COVID-19”, “social distancing”, & “social bubble” have become commonplace. Teddy bears line our living room window to remind our neighbors love resides. Our living room has been “the office” since mid-March. I am on my work computer undertaking county government employee programs & benefits while Dean researches files & tags old photos for the National Archives. We try to time our Zoom staff meetings & webinars to not conflict with each other, or Dean wears his earplugs. I return to the Clayton office once a week for a couple of early morning hours to retrieve my mail and file papers. I brought home my comfy office chair and bought a narrow table to fit at the one of the living room windows for my make-shift desk. We have found solace at our small cottage as our home & workplace during the COVID pandemic, racial discord, stormy election, & natural catastrophes. Birds, blooms, blogging,“ bear chairs”, “brinner”, beverage breaks, the aroma of freshly baked goodies; these are a few of our favorite things in 2020.
The start of 2020 before the news of COVID, we met up with Dean’s cousins in Eureka Springs, AR for a long weekend. Those long weekends became fewer after the CDC announced the pandemic. Home bound we were and still are. I never dreamt I would be working from home, and for this long. I rather love it as an introvert. That time I normally would be commuting to work, my early mornings are greeted with the sunrise or the kiss of the last sunrays at dusk while I walk most days of my week. This is an opportune time with the challenge of a speed walking program. I continue into this colder season, but I have shortened that time and venture out mid-day. My allergy to the cold keeps me indoors with my perennials, crafts, reading, writing, cooking, baking, & antiques. Dean with his extra time has taken to his “man cave” (the basement) tinkering & plane model building after seeing the real ones. Our entertainment is the livestreamed Opry from Nashville, Turner Classic movies, and The Big 550 KTRS catching the Farmer Dave and McGraw talk shows. Dean & I turned 60 this year, me in late August & he on Thanksgiving Day. We both are healthy. The worst of our complaints have been the shortage of toilet paper & antibacterial hand soap at the stores, and the body aches from sitting at our work computers all day then becoming weekend warriors with our yard projects. We count our blessings.
Every year we enjoy feeding the neighborhood songbirds. Early spring Dean & I added a bird bath/fountain we found “on sale”. Funny how “a bargain” multiplies 1 major project x 5. Dean resurrected nearly buried rocks from the alley area out back to create a rock garden for under the bird feeders & fountain nearby our living room window. It took us 8 hours to piece together the puzzle of mossy rocks & purchased flat stones. We also built our pebble patio in the front situated under the dogwood tree. For our outdoor seating pleasure Dean assembled & painted 2 wooden Adirondack chairs dubbed “the bear chairs” as they are made by The Bear Company. The chairs’ color nicely matches our “nifty turquoise” front door. It is such a peaceful sanctuary under that dogwood tree. Well, until the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk comes for a visit. The birds chatter & squawk until the bigger bird of prey flies away with or without lunch. We finished out our warm season projects with a new retaining wall between our house & the church next door, then mulched between the flowering hydrangeas & peonies.
The green thumb report … Lettuces & greens grew prolifically at our screen house at Boone Hollow Farm, and our potted herbs & perennials here at Deanna’s Cottage. Such a truly gorgeous spring & mild enough summer we had here in our parts of Missouri. In 2021 we may grow birdhouse gourds, which need at least 180 days of frost-free days & plenty of climbing space. Here at the cottage, my garden projects will be to prep & stain a vintage cart, potting table, & garden bench as well as grow old-fashion flowers to attract more bees & butterflies. I was inspired by the colonial-style garden seen while on vacation. For our big backyard Dean will build a new deck/porch & replace our fencing. We will hire for tree removal while others need trimming. The shade of our grove of trees provides a refuge for our feathered & human friends alike.
Summer into autumn was bittersweet. Sweet was the week with granddaughter Elise at our home, a weekend with my grandkids exploring Meramec Caverns, and our 10th wedding anniversary travels to Williamsburg, Virginia. We drove to avoid the close confines of an airplane, besides we like the journey along the way. Multiple masks and hand sanitizer packed. Also, we welcomed 2 new grandbabies, Jefferson Dean & Clara Jean, one living in St. Louis & the other in Lee’s Summit. In October we had a long weekend at a cabin in remote Kentucky with Dean’s brothers. We played hooky & snuck in a brief couple of uncrowded weekdays in New Orleans. We drove once again. The bitter part, my mother became ill during late summer into autumn, but not from COVID. Mom was very cautious, staying home away from people during the pandemic. My brothers, sister-in-law, Dean, & I were gradually allowed in her “bubble”. I would bring Mom library books & comically brought her a box of 48 rolls of commercial-grade TP. We all would share photos & stories about the kids & grandkids. By the time she braved going to the doctor, it was too late. After 3 weeks of medical tests Mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung & lymph node cancers. Hospice care was arranged. My sister & nephews made their way home for their last visits with her. Exactly 1 week after that diagnosis, Mom passed away at her home. My mother was a tough yet classy lady, & loved her family. Today I had the notion to call her & check if she would like to bake Christmas cookies this weekend. I miss her. Mom is Home now with our Lord, my Dad, grandparents, & many other loved ones who have gone before her.
The Christmas tree is decorated, adorned with a new “mask-wearing” Santa ornament. Holiday shopping is limited to uncrowded local boutiques or ordered on online & waiting for the packages to arrive on our front porch. Gifts are coming together nicely in the guest bedroom. Homemade goodies fill the cookie jar. Old-fashion Christmas carols stream from the TV. For us holiday parties, extended family gatherings, & Advent church services are virtual. Quaint gatherings are planned. Distractions have lessen considerably by being at home, allowing quiet reflections to abound. Authors Ann Voskamp, Matthew Kelly, and Rick Warren continue to inspire me. The Word of God is full of wisdom. This winter more frequent blogging will fill my hours. God loves you & I. He is still in control even though the outside world seems chaotic. “Wasn’t He awakening me to Beauty everywhere, because beauty is the way of the inner eye?” Ann Voskamp questions in her One Thousand Gifts book. “Beauty was all around … I sat very still, taking in the spirit of the night, until I felt that I was in a place as holy as a church. And I was ready to be home”, author Dominique Browning once wrote. I am ready to be snug at home this holiday season. Are you? Make home your most favorite place to be until you are called Home as the old hymn goes …
Come home! come home!
Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!
We have had such a wonderful spring for the garden greens, a full 3 months worth of mild temperatures and salads for at least 3 families. The summer heat cranked up this past 2 weeks, and the arugula bolted. Last week I pinched a few of the flowering buds, but as the temperatures increased so did the flowers on arugula. We finally cut the longer stemmed arugula and gathered enough stems for two vases. The fragrance was pleasantly earthy in the cottage for a couple days. The arugula gets bitter after bolting, so we say goodbye to our spring crop, and hope for a mild autumn to plant more. The lettuces loved the shade of the arugula, but will soon cease to produce due to the hot summer heat. That, too, will be an autumn crop if the weather permits.
This week the tropical storm brought Missouri cooler air. The windows are open for a welcoming breeze inside the cottage. The mustard & ketchup roses and yellow lilies grace our table and kitchen window. The herbs flourish to my delight, flavor enhancements and more nutrients to my dishes and drinks. What tops a glass of iced mint tea on a summer evening on the patio? The pleasures of gardening are many. And there is the more cynical view of gardening I had to laugh at. The other day I found this on a t-shirt online ad, “I garden so I don’t choke people. Save a life, send mulch.” With today’s societal woos, no wonder more people are picking up the hobby, rather I should say “the therapy of gardening”. The climates, weather and society, change from day to day, as author Madeliene L’Engle has been quoted, “If there is to be any peace or reason, we have create it in our own hearts and homes.” Have your heart and mind at peace and it will protect you and those around you.
Dean and I have been living in this WWII era small home in historic St. Charles, Missouri for just under 2 years. It is Dean’s dream home, and becoming mine. Deanna’s Cottage is the name we give this home. In 2019 the cottage had been rented out via Airbnb for 7 festival weekends. It has such an ideal location, just 6 blocks from Historic Main Street. Each of our cottage guests have rated our little place 5-stars. Thus far this year, the pandemic has kept us from renting Deanna’s Cottage. It will be the second half of 2020 before we will accept reservations again on Airbnb, provided the threat of COVID-19 has subsided significantly. Those weekends when the guests come stay at Deanna’s Cottage, we stay at our previous residence. Our old house is rented to my daughter and son-in-law, a family of four. There is our old bedroom we invade for 2 nights at a time with our feline friend, Celine who has taken permanent residence there.
With the social distancing for 6 weeks now in the state of Missouri, we have more time on our hands. We would rather be visiting with our kids, grandkids, parents, siblings, and friends on the weekends. Sure understand why, and respect the rules set in order for this invasive virus to die down, but it is hard not to be with everyone. Our two youngest grandkids have April birthdays. We left the fixings for a birthday party on the porch and did a drive-by birthday greeting for the 10-year grandson earlier this month. But our 4-year granddaughter will not understand why Grandpa and Grandma cannot stop to visit. So birthday presents were sent in the mail to the other side of Missouri for our granddaughter to open on her birthday this Sunday. May be able a Facetime event.
So what else to do with all this time, especially on the weekends? We gained 2 hours every weekday with telecommuting, and little prep for work. So one project after another runs in Dean and I’s heads separately and collectively with conversations and plans to follow. We have plans to take out the carpeting in the living room, hallway, and master bedroom to get to the bare wooden floors. We are not sure what we will find, so we have put that off for awhile. We think it will take old-fashion time and elbow-grease with refinishing the floors. And what to do with the furniture while we work on it? With the lovely spring weather, outdoor projects have taken priority. Off and on since last autumn Dean has worked on the windows, scrapping, glazing, priming, and painting. That project is weather dependent. The awning over the front porch needs repainting. The back awnings just need to be removed. The back porch/deck needs to be replaced. Fencing replaced, too. And then there is the landscaping. This includes a huge tree removal, resetting a small retention wall on one side of the house, and putting in a pebble patio in the front with a small fountain. I love this project as it means a lawn chair to sit in at the end of a long day to relax under the dogwood tree sipping on iced tea or a cup of hot tea. The weather temperature tells me which.
I have many longer-term plans in my mind for Deanna’s Cottage. Did you ever hear of the book A Place Of My Own: The Architecture Of Daydreams by healthy food activist and author, Michael Pollan? He dreams of a small structure, then he builds it himself, and uses as his writing studio. A quiet space, purposeful place. I found this cute place online used as a small venue for parties, showers, rehearsal dinner, and luncheons. I could see Deanna’s Cottage used as a small gathering place such as this. I can also see a quainter dwelling, maybe about 500 square-foot to be built in the big back yard within the next 5 years used as an atelier for reading, writing and art projects, but also for periodic guests and gatherings. My flower, herb, and vegetable gardens surrounding the dwelling. But what does God purpose for Dean and I at Deanna’s Cottage, and this smaller structure I dream about?
No winter-like simulation now, it is the real deal. The winter weather seems to be sticking around for more than a few days. Icy, sleety, and snowy last week, and again this week dipping into the teens overnight and staying below or close to freezing during the day. Due to budget constraints our winter vacation week was decidedly best to stay in our home state of Missouri this year. No expensive sandy beaches to sunbathe on. Making the most of our budget and what our state has to offer during this winter season, Dean and I chose to visit our state’s Ozark Mountains. Most of our vacation budget is for a lovely lodge in the woods, the journey there only a 5-hour drive from home. Home-cooked meals prepared in a well-stocked kitchenette, and an occasional meal out satisfy us both. Every night a vignette of soft lights dot the mountain sides from the valley we are nestled in.
Dean and I venture out on half-day trips for a couple of days, visiting small towns and cousins. We went target shooting at an outdoor range one afternoon. We meander into northern Arkansas part of the week. Naked hardwood trees, pines, and cedars clothe the mountains along with icicled cliffs and crags much like glittered ornaments. Flowing valley streams, swooping birds of prey, and cattle feeding in the fields are the only movement around. Dormancy is what we experience, and what we need. Oxford’s online dictionary defines dormancy … “the state in which a plant is alive but not actively growing” and with this sentence example “dormancy allows woody plants to survive these unfavorable conditions”.
The quiet, unassuming beauty of the woods in dormancy stills my busy body, mind, and soul. Very present moment several times each day, a retreat without structure. Just being, breathing in and out, and audibly awake. It is not necessary to block out the static and noise of my job, the house, and almost no obligations as I am far enough away from these occupations. Words come in and out on occasion, Dean and I relating this quiet vacation week to our retirement years. Some words make a page in my journal, and others are just thoughts in dormancy for a later writing in favorable conditions and more life lived.
This year I am ending the summer season of my wellness career. The autumn season of my career follows, short and sweet like Missouri’s autumns with the winter season close behind. The dormant season always emerges into a glorious spring song. A book of collected letters, Letters To A Young Poet, poet Rainer Maria Rilke urges the young budding poet, Franz Xavier Kappus to look inward and know what motivates his own writing. Rilke encourages the development of a rich inner life which is the process of creative art. “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet. In today’s words, live today, be present moment. Some answers come eventually.
New Year’s Day it is! Morning is trying to wake up this first day of 2020. Slow, or it seems. A cup of hot chocolate and whipped cream awaken all my senses, warm me along with my Life Is Good long-sleeve t-shirt and leggings. I cannot sleep this weekday holiday. I awoke at 4:30am like it was a work day. The sun finally peers above the two-story houses across the street while sitting in our small cottage’s living room. My blogging urge comes. Reflection of 2019 was last night before I fell asleep on the couch. This morning it is looking forward.
What is to be my occupation in 2020 beside getting through this predicted long winter? Last week I came across this Sinclair Lewis quote, “Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.” For those who live in the cold regions, or have cold-induced angioedema like myself, this rings true. Reading, researching, journaling, writing, blogging, bookkeeping, and filing will be my occupation the next 3 months before the growing season. I may work on a jigsaw puzzle for a change. Maybe this mindless occupation will bring clarity and direction. All are warm indoor activities.
Dean and I are looking to our retirement years, how soon is the big question. I have exhausted my energy and drive at my government job. Too many politics and bosses to please, and why? I just want to focus on the holistic well-being of those people God has or will place in my life, my purpose in living. I will retire this autumn, with plans to find more enjoyable employment using my organizational skills for another 10 years, retire fully at age 70. My thoughts are I will probably use my human resources management, non-profit, and/or hospitality experiences in a combination of occupations. Desired is a Masters in Creative Non-Fiction Writing at my alma mater, Lindenwood University. This can be obtained with classroom or online courses. There is a 50% discount for students age 60 or over. My 60th comes in August.
The other question is whether to move south to at least a little warmer area after my retirement, and how far south to reside. Dean and I love our home state of Missouri, lived here all our lives. Maybe southern Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, or Texas will be where we will find our new home, in a less populated area? We are reading about and visiting various locations in 2020. My current read is the The Body Keeps Score, authored by world-renown Bessel Van der Kolk, MD. This book addresses the physical and psychological aspects of trauma. This is helping me understand my own past trauma and the trauma of others as well as the hope of healing. The book I started writing this past summer has come to a halt while I work through this healing. With our travels, I hope to occupy a writer’s retreat in the spring to continue this work.
What direction are you going in 2020 and into this decade? What will occupy your time and energy? Are you living your life with purpose? I ask for God’s light to guide you.
I love the life and sustainability that an organic garden brings. Health, wellness, goodness, and beauty prevail! As the autumn mornings get crisper, my herbs and tomatoes still produce. My garden plants will thrive until old man frost appears. Deanna Greens and Garden Art has been existence for over 7 years now. Some of Dean and I’s dreams have come true. The love of the earth and gardening came alive in me. “It takes some presumption to cut into the earth and to reshape and redefine – to alter the natural course of things, to commit to having planted a seed, to start a path with no idea, really, where it will lead,” writes Dominique Browning. More dreams opened up. This author continues “Gardening has to be as much about contemplation as it is about tilling and toiling. Mental toiling, perhaps…turning things over, quietly thinking, in a place that gives you a peaceful corner for just a moment or two.” Gardening has brought a peace to my heart. And “It dawned on me: I had tended that garden in great, lavish, loving strokes. It had given me quiet, steady, demanding, and undemanding seasons of pleasure. I took care of the garden, then the garden took care of me.” ~ Dominique Browning.
My garden has taken care of heart matters as well as health matters. I received the most interesting report from my eye physician this week. He said he could tell I eat lots of green, leafy veggies by the photo taken of the inside of my eyes. Doc says my peepers are in excellent health, just the lens are getting older with age. A stronger lens for my glasses are ordered. According to https://yoursightmatters.com/greens-such-as-kale-good-for-eyesight/ “Green, leafy vegetables, such as kale and spinach, are good for eyesight and preventing age-related eye diseases, including cataracts and macular degeneration. Greens contain cartenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote vision and the health of the retina.” Whatever I do not grow, I buy organic wherever able. Just eating as much leafy greens and veggies as possible, which means adding to the smoothies and omelets, using veggie-based pasta and riced cauliflower, and spooning fresh and dried herbs into my recipes. Yes, my garden sustains me.
The summer solstice came and went without my celebration. I am sure the earth still celebrated! Too busy I would say. Yes, I need to slow down. Family engagements and work obligations continue to press me of my time, focus, and energy. Simply watering the potted plants or making a light, summer dinner is a chore. I have not stopped long enough to smell the roses or savor the flavors of summer. I took the day off today. Had to get some reprieve from the madness, gather my thoughts. Nothing like an upset stomach and headache to slow you down. Every year it is like this just before vacation finishing up projects at work, home and yard chores, making sure all the travel details are together. The air was unsettled this morning when I went out to water the potted perennials in the back yard. Something brewing. The clouds kept rolling in. Kind of like my recent hectic days building up.
I had no groceries in the house as we have been house and pet sitting this past week for two vacationing family households. I thought I would beat the eminent storm. It was like night by the time I gathered my $30 worth of protein and veggies into the Jeep. Big wet drops started to hit the pavement and my bare arms and sandaled feet. I managed to get to the cottage before the dark clouds totally let loose. Our first summer storm. How refreshing. I read Ann Voskamp’s timely words, “A soul does not work without a sabbath…Be still and know God…and not forget who you are.” There was a time in my life when I forgot who I was. And these memories too have preyed my mind these recent days. This vacation will be good for me. For Dean, too. Different scenery, a fresh view. I think a month-long vacation or sabbatical will be in 2020. Brewing for my next season in life …
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 …
“There are some things we can never really possess; we simply take our brief turn at tending them,” writes author Dominique Browning about relationships, homes, and gardens. Our children are with us for a short time. Then gone from our homes tending to own adventures in life. Remember they belong to our heavenly Father from conception on. Our homes whether you reside for 5 or 50 years are molded to suit your needs. Then you move to establish another residence elsewhere based on new needs and desires, and for some people multiple times in your lifetime. “Summer set lip to earth’s bosom bare, and left the flushed print in a poppy there,” poet Francis Thompson writes. Gardens differ from the voluntary poppy blooming on the lakeside, a potted geranium, trays of microgreens, elaborate rows of organic beans in raised beds, to the caged tomato plants. All tended with care by the gardener and mother nature.
Jane Lewis’ song Tend Me Like a Garden defines “tending” well …
I wish you would tend me like I was a garden. Start me from scratch, babe, right from seed. You could plant me with your bare hands in the springtime. And bring me water whenever I had the need. Tend me, tend me like a garden. Love me, love me like the rain. I will give you all that you can harvest. ‘Til the first frost steals me away. Oh won’t you take me into your garden. Lie with me on this fertile ground. I will feed you with my body. And bathe you in the sunshine coming down. Tend me, tend me like a garden. Love me, love me like the rain. I will give you all that you can harvest. ‘Til the first frost steals me away. I will love you through all of the seasons. I’ll weather what the fall and summer bring. I may lie fallow in the winter. But I swear that I’ll remember you in spring. Tend me, tend me like a garden. Love me, love me like the rain. I will give you all that you can harvest. ‘Til the first frost steals me away I swear that I’ll remember you…
What relationship in your life needs tending today?