My Grandmother’s Zinnias

Born in 1879, My paternal grandmother’s life was as different from mine as possible. Prior to World War Two she had visited Italy almost annually. She loved it there and even sent money to help out the family of her gondolier—the equivalent of a taxi driver for the canals of Venice. When I was born, she asked that instead of being called “Granny,” she be known as “Nonny,” a variation on Nona, the Italian word for grandmother. She was very fond of me, her first and only grandchild until eight years later when the first of my siblings was born.

She wasn’t a cookie baking, knitting “granny” sort. She was a forceful, energetic, woman whose hair remained a light brown with occasional gray roots between visits to the hairdresser, for all of her eighty years. She enjoyed my youthful company and we spent many afternoons playing card games or going to the various church fairs that occurred all during the summer months while I was growing up. She would give me money to buy pony rides and trinkets from the White Elephant table while she checked out what was being offered to the people attending the fairs.

For her, because she ran our local church fair for most of my childhood, these were a kind of business trip. One year she had a circus theme and hired an elephant. It was brought from upstate New York for the day. I remember riding on its back in a howdah. The elephant spent the night in our garage, though I was not allowed to visit it, I remember hearing i trumpeting. She enjoyed life and participated in it to the fullest. I loved it when she shared bits of her life with me. It was a very different one from the one I knew, as different as mine was from today’s grandchildren.

She was a passionate gardener and grew lots of flowers as well as vegetables in a number of gardens presided over by Mr. Patch, an Irishman with a squeaky voice. I remember that he wore overalls and seemed always to have a gardening implement in his hand. There were two narrow flowerbeds beside the gravel walk that led to her front porch. Each and every year they were lined with Zinnias. I can see them even now, so bright and strong, like her. I never heard her complain or bemoan her condition. She was an inspiring example of strength and fortitude as well as generosity.

While some of her attitudes and opinions were old fashioned—she believed that a “lady” ought not to have a job or work for money, she kept up with current affairs and read three newspapers daily. She also did volunteer work and gave generously to charity. As I advance in age I have grown to appreciate her more than ever. She loved life. Born in a time before automobiles, during the twenties through thirties and forties, she drove her Pontiac through every state in the union. She passed on in 1959. I feel fortunate to have had her in my life for as long as I did. She was a fine example of aging in a positive way, and as I too age, I am even more grateful to her.

Seasonal Eating is a Way to Good Health

colorful paint I love the berries, peaches and plums of summer. I eagerly await and devour local strawberries as they appear at our farmstand. My ‘fridge fills with blueberries and raspberries, then with luscious cherries, peaches and plums as they ripen. Of course I enjoy our special local corn, which reaches it peak as summer wanes. The foods of the local farms are my favorite aspect of summer. What I don’t like about summer is the heat. It discourages my consumption of food and causes me to do as little cooking as possible.

I look forward to asparagus in the spring yet find I don’t wish to eat it at other times. Just so, I prefer to eat what grows in the summer, especially the variety of summer squashes. These have dwindled now locally. Due to our ability to transport food they can be bought all year round from the supermarket, however I feel much less inclined to include them in my diet now that they are out of season for this area.

In the fall is as the weather cools, I regain my appetite as well as my enjoyment of cooking. Today I got out lentils to make a hearty soup and thought about what vegetables I wanted to put in with them. I had bought one of the winter squashes just coming into season. That struck me as a welcome inclusion. For the same reason I have begun to avoid summer squashes I do not eat winter squashes in the summer. They do not taste the same to me then as they do in the fall.

There are many ways to prepare delicious orange winter squash. While I enjoy acorn squash the most, I also like butternut squash for the variety of ways it can be prepared. Acorn squash is simple. Split and baked face down, it can be turned over when done and enhanced with butter and brown sugar or maple syrup. I usually give the baked squash another 5 minutes in the oven until these are melted together in the cavities. When I take the squash from the oven I scrape the soft centers with a fork to distribute the sweetness throughout it.

Butternut squash however can be used in a variety of ways. Sometimes I bake it whole on a cookie sheet for an hour or until the thickest part pierces easily with a fork. I remove it, cool it slightly and remove the seeds, then take off the peel and refrigerate the flesh. When I want to serve it, I reheat it with butter in a cast iron frying pan. This is very helpful when I want to fix a quick meal. Sometimes I blend it with some grated ginger, some cranberry sauce and some grated cheese, turn it into a casserole and bake at 350 for around 20 minutes.

When I peel it and include it in a hearty lentil or other vegetable or even meat based stew, butternut squash provides color as well as good nutrition. It is a fine source of vitamin A, potassium, fiber and healthy carbohydrates. Doubtless you have had squash pie. It is an easy substitute for pumpkin in pies as well as in many other dishes. Eating with the seasons not only provides good nutrition, it also brings our bodies in line with the changes that occur as the seasons revolve, a win/win situation for good health.

Self Respect Helps Us Gain Happiness and Inner Peace.

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A friend of mine recently shared this quote from her late father: “I do not count how far I walk, but the time I spend when walking.” To me this demonstrates a wonderful sense of self-respect. Self-respect can be tricky to acquire. It grows when others say kind words, yet if I feel lacking or insufficient, I will not accept nor believe others when they compliment or praise me. With a greater sense of comfort within myself, I can more easily accept others kudos. It also helps greatly when I am not looking through a veil of worry, guilt, or wanting to please. It takes time to recognize and then dissolve that veil.

Small children have a natural sense of self-respect. They may begin to lose it if they do not get good feedback from the adults around them. On the other hand, with too much praise they can become overly egoic, which is why parents have for ages been chary with or even withheld praise. This attitude of disparagement was practiced for generations by well meaning parents. For example, when I proudly played my mother a song I had just learned on my newly acquired guitar, she responded: “That’s nice, now when will you begin to write your own.”

Fortunately I was used to this kind of ‘praise’ and did not take it to heart. My mother meant well. She was only imitating her parents’ behavior. I tried hard not to act this way with my children. It isn’t easy being a parent. Good or bad, the examples from our own upbringing are hard wired into our consciousness. My mother struggled all her life with almost crippling sense of self consciousness brought about by her stern upbringing. I had to unlearn much of what she had demonstrated to me, and in the process I discovered the essence of respect for others: detachment from rigid ideas concerning how I think others ought to appear or behave.

One day my two girls were small and we were out with a neighbor and her children. She looked at her watch: “We must get back or the children will miss their programs.” I was taken aback. I never thought that children might have a special desire that would transcend parental priorities. I was raised in a time when children had hardly any say in what they did or when they did it. Light dawned and I incorporated this new attitude into my child rearing.

As time went on, I perceived another negative aspect of myself. I noticed how unkindly I reacted to the perceived failures of others. I began to work to develop a stronger sense of compassion as well as respect for the effort rather than criticism of the result. What I have learned is that when I am comfortable with my own sense of self-respect I can see more clearly the results of my actions; I am not looking through a veil of worry, guilt, or wanting to please. I have also recognized how important it is to feel compassion for myself as well as for others, and this is an important aspect of my ongoing learning process.

Keys to Patience

20180828_145205There is a joke I remember hearing some time ago to the effect that when a minister repeatedly prayed to God for patience, God sent him an incompetent secretary. He ought to have known better. Patience training is best experienced when I am in situations requiring patience. How else can I learn? There is no other way I know of.

Motherhood is good for learning to be patient. Certainly patience is needed when caring for small children. They take their time, as they need to do. I still vividly recall my walks with toddlers when they were small. Once they refused to stay in the stroller, I had to move at their pace because there was no way they could walk faster than their short legs could carry them.

Those days are long over. Now it is my turn. I need to walk more slowly because no matter how much I would like them to, my legs simply do not move with the speed they used to. I remember how fast I used to walk at one time. I was even proud of it. When did I begin to slow down? Age creeps up on us when we are not expecting it.

There are lots of books on what to expect when you are expecting a child or when one is born and you need to cope. Someone needs to write a book on what to expect as you age. Perhaps it could be titled Aging for Dummies. There is much more to aging than physically slowing down. While I work at being patient with myself in various situations, it is not easy.

Of course we all age differently. Still, it might be useful to know more about what can happen to the body not to mention the mind. Most of my relatives aged well. That is to say they were vigorous and active while they lived. However, I have passed the age they were they left this life, and I do not remember them ever mentioning how they felt as age advanced upon them.

Because at the time I wasn’t thinking about aging, It did not occur to me to ask them. When we are young or even middle aged, the country of old age is a foreign place. How it feels and how it causes us to act are mysteries we cannot plumb without experiencing aging for ourselves. Still it might be nice to have some guidance. Patience is a high priority.

At least I can contribute things I have learned that may help. Depending on how much patience I have time passes either quickly or slowly. So rather than focus on how I dislike waiting, if I observe my surroundings, it is easier to be patient. I also recognize that the more patience I have with myself the easier it is to be patient with others. One of the secrets to achieving patience is distraction. Another is respect. That respect is usually linked with compassion, something that seems to have come with age and as I have worked for it. When I respect my limitations or those of another, patience comes easy. Above all else what really matters is one simple thing: practice, and aging gives me plenty of that.

Benefits and Liabilities of Aging

Sunfloer bowed downWhen I was little my grandmother used to take me with her to visit her friends. Among them were two sisters who had never married but lived together in a pretty home with a nice porch. They used to give me cookies and cambric tea–milk, sugar and a wisp of tea in a delicate china cup. My own mother was physically strong and after my father passed on lived alone and drove herself between Florida and Maine even in her eighties.

These and many elders of my early years presented an image of healthy, hearty behavior. My grandmother used to do fancy dives into the swimming pool of the beach club she occasionally took me to. My great aunt played golf and tennis and had silver cups to show for it. I had teachers with white hair who were wise and good natured. My life has brought me many examples of vital elders who carried on their lives energetically.

Just recently I attended a small reunion for my high school classmates. I was impressed with their fortitude and vigor. As we visited together I enjoyed renewing my acquaintance with theses women with whom in our teens I had shared time, space, and teachers. It was quite special to be with my contemporaries. I found that even after all these years we still had much in common besides our age and the school we had attended.

The life paths we had taken had varied widely, yet we all shared a dedication to improving the world and being of help when needed. Born when we were, we had grown up with different mores and rules of behavior than those of today. As a result we have had to make many adjustments. When people do not grow with the changes that accumulate around them, they become bitter and crabby. It seemed to me that none of us had.

No doubt we all had our share of aches, pains and limitations. At our age some of that is to be expected. However I didn’t hear anyone complain about their health even though one of us used a walker and another had both vision and auditory issues of a serious nature. One of the blessings of age can be the ability to deal creatively with one’s limitations. Patience can come more easily when one has lived a long time.

The benefits of accumulated years are a kind of grace that can make up for the increasing changes that as we age limit activities, not to mention movement. Speaking for myself, I would say that patience tops the list of these benefits—not only patience with others but also patience with myself. In addition, being able to wait out a difficulty, the knowledge that time helps heal as well as facilitate, and the ability to listen to and soothe those who live with greater immediacy and impatience are some of the benefits I cherish as I grow on in years.

The Mystical, Delicious Peach

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The peach has wonderful mythic associations. It is a Chinese symbol of immortality, and it is often prominently displayed in depictions of the sage Lao Tzu. There is also a legend that a famous Chinese heroine Ho Hsien-Ku who lived in 7th century BC was transformed into a fairy by eating a supernatural peach. They said ever after that she lived on a diet of moonbeams and powdered mother-of-pearl.

According to Paul Beyerl in A Compendium of Herbal Magick, in Shinto legend, Iznagi, a primary male deity, visits the Underworld where he defeats demons pursuing him by throwing peaches from the land of Light and the Land of Darkness at them. Beyerl adds that the peach is considered by the Taoists to be a sacred food.

I have a lovely amethyst carved pendant from China termed a “peach stone.” According to The Magic in Food, by Scott Cunningham carved peach pits are given to Chinese children as amulets against death. Sprays of peach-blossoms are placed over the front door during the Chinese New Year to guard Chinese homes against negativity. Symbolically they bring the blessings of longevity or perhaps confer immortality. He also suggests that as they have been in China for centuries, with appropriate visualization, peaches may be eaten to induce health, happiness and wisdom.

Every Summer I buy my peaches from a nearby farm stand. The owner always has local ones, ripened on the tree in the sun. They taste like heaven to me, and I understand why they might be considered the fruit of immortality. When I feel ambitious, I buy more than I can eat right away, peel and cut them, add a few drops of lemon juice or a sprinkle or two of sugar, and put them in bags in the freezer so we can enjoy them during the winter.

Versatile peaches can be eaten raw or cooked, as a condiment with meat or chicken or as a sauce over muffins or plain cake. Peaches in cobblers or pies, jams, muffins or even peach shortcake are all wonderful ways to enjoy this delicious fruit. Personally I like them best ripe and unadorned with anything more than the sunlight that warms their lovely plumpness.

I can remember my mother putting them up in canning jars. She would pour sugar syrup over them, then lower them into a big kettle of boiling water. Stored in the basement pantry closet, how good those peaches tasted during the long winters of my childhood. They were such a treat, especially when they were served for Sunday dinner over vanilla ice cream

Try this simple peach sorbet. Fill a plastic baggie or pint container with peeled chunked peaches sprinkled with lemon juice or a bit of sugar. Freeze them until solidly frozen. Have ready a simple syrup using two cups of sugar to one cup of water, stirred until melted, cooled and refrigerated. To serve two combine 2 cups frozen peaches with ¼ cup simple syrup, and 1 Tbs lemon juice. Process until you have soft serve ice cream and serve right away.