It’s Hearty Soup Weather

2014-09-16 15.36.53 During most of history, people ate what they had put away for the winter in their cellars and barns. In Colonial New England, unless someone had a greenhouse a midwinter salad was unheard of. In the Middle Ages in Europe and Russia, fasting during Lent was a necessity because what little food was available to most by late winter had to be hoarded and used carefully. People ate with the seasons. Forty years ago on a late spring trip to Russia with my mother I recall cabbage being served to us daily. It keeps well if properly stored.

Root vegetables can stay fresh for months. Turnips, Carrots, Rutabagas and winter squashes keep when in a cold place. I recall the root cellar in my Great Aunt Alice’s large garden—a deep hole with a wooden cover where vegetables could be safely stored for the winter months. I prefer to eat with the seasons. I feel healthier eating root vegetables often in fall and winter.

One thing special thing about fall is that my appetite returns and I can eat more without gaining weight. Those extra calories burn to keep me warm. However I do not eat more empty calories: i.e. desserts, snacks, sweets. Instead I eat more vegetables and healthy carbohydrates. Soup calories are always good fuel for the body. Hearty fall and winter soups are made with root vegetables, winter squash, beans, and other appropriate ingredients.

Sturdy herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary and tarragon add flavor and food value to these soups as well. I begin most of my soup recipes by sautéing chopped onion, finely chopped celery, and ground garlic (not garlic powder, that has less flavor) in butter and olive oil. The mung beans in this recipe can be found at any health food store if your market does not carry them, and are a nice change from the more commonly used lentils or other kinds of beans.

My mung bean soup is a little different from the average bean soup. For this hearty recipe sauté ½ cup onion and 1 cup celery chopped small in 2 Tbs olive oil and 2 Tbs butter until transparent. Add 1 tsp each of thyme, rosemary, curry powder, and ground garlic . Stir in 2 cups peeled, chopped firm potatoes and 1 cup or more sliced carrots. Add 2 cups beef broth, and 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour or so, until vegetables are tender and soup is tasty.

Cauliflower has become popular lately. I have seen versions of it prepared in many ways. This is my cauliflower soup: Thinly slice ½ to ¾ of a large cauliflower and 1 or 2 large carrots. Simmer in 2 cups water until soft. Meanwhile, Sauté 1 medium onion and 6 cloves garlic chopped, black pepper and your choice of seasonings in olive oil. Mash simmered vegetables and add sautéed ones. Add 2 cups chicken broth. If desired, thicken with leftover mashed potato or a roux made from 2 Tbs butter and 2 Tbs flour stirred over medium heat, with 1 cup added liquid of your choice stirred until smooth and thick.

Agreeing to Disagree

2014-09-16 15.36.53My parents frequently discussed decisions, disagreed often and usually did so at the tops of their voices. They were a fiery couple and yelled their feelings vociferously. We did not have any neighbors nearby and no one could hear them but me. Though there was never any physical violence between them, I do remember the day my mother hurled a plate of scrambled eggs at my father. He ducked and it sailed into the closed window behind him, breaking through it, to land and shatter on the stone terrace beneath, breaking through the wood.

Their fights were scary for me. As a young child I found their loud discussions difficult to bear. I vowed I would never do that to my family. When I married my late first husband it was with that thought in mind. I worked extra hard to keep the peace. I made sure we did not fight or even disagree  in front of or within hearing of our children.  Also, he was not one to express his feelings anyway. Actually, he did not like to discuss them at all. He made the rules. Our marriage did not survive the rough waters of silent dismay and disagreement.

When Stephen and I first got together I told him that if our relationship were to last it must be based on honesty. As I explained it, what that meant was that when one of us had negative feelings to express or was uncomfortable about something, that person must be able to talk about it freely. He agreed to this and our relationship just passed its forty second year.

Very rarely have we had what could be termed a fight. We do bicker, and we do discuss, and sometimes we need to just say, “I hear you,” and let it go.  No matter how much you may love them it is impossible to agree on everything with one’s loved one. For instance, Stephen finds it easy to ignore his piles of various possessions, clothes, papers, etc.. He doesn’t care how much they accumulate and though he may try to be neat, it’s just not one of his priorities.

We differ radically on this. To my way of thinking , insofar as I am able, to arrange it there’s a place for everything and everything goes into its place. This often creates opportunities for discussion between us. However, because frequent communication is the bedrock of a good relationship, this is good. Talking about how we feel keeps the feelings from piling up and becoming negative behavior. Mutual respect keeps conversation civil, and when we agree to disagree, love prevails and so does harmony.

Though you may not agree with everything a loved one says or does, when you love him or her wholeheartedly you can respect his or her opinions enough to allow him or her to keep them. That does not mean there is nothing to discuss. That discussion is the glue that keeps rhe relationship together. It is important to express your own feelings as well as to allow those of your loved one to be heard. Most importantly, it is vital to speak with tact and gentleness rather than sarcasm and bitterness. The eyes and ears of love are kind.

Helping Out Friends and Neighbors

grandmothers 6 cake

 

My father, my grandmother and even my great aunt did a lot of volunteer work. I remember my grandmother telling me about rolling bandages during World War II. My great aunt was a Girl Scout leader. My father volunteered his services to the radio for the blind as well as serving as treasurer to some of the organizations to which he belonged. My mother taught small children in her studio when she lived in the Cayman Islands. Volunteering comes naturally when you grow up with it. Many of us do what we can to be of help.

Some years ago a friend of mine and her mother began making pillowslip dresses for young ladies in third world countries. Made from two lengths of material sewn together and tied at the shoulders, these simple inexpensively produced dresses, have supplied a great many girls and young women with modest colorful clothing. Since then the mother and daughter have had many other people join them in their efforts. It brings all who participate a sense of joy as well as the sense of satisfaction that comes from being of help to others.

There are countless ways to share effort. Most churches, senior organizations and even listserves offer opportunities. Giving rides, doing errands, bringing meals, or just being a friendly person to the aged and housebound is one simple, easily found one. Most soup kitchens welcome your help as often as you can manage. Many organizations look for volunteers to assist staff. Helping out a young mother in your neighborhood with child minding while she goes grocery shopping can be a boon. Even the small act of holding the door for the person coming along behind you can bring a smile to that person.

“It is in giving we receive,” said St. Francis of Assisi in his famous prayer for peace. From the time most of are small we are taught to share, to think of others, perhaps to put them first, and to avoid taking the biggest piece of cake or the last cookie. Because it comes when we are very young, this guidance often becomes part of us. We may thrive on the opportunity to do so. However, if I rely solely on the good feeling I get from helping others and neglect to take care of my own needs, I am apt to feel resentment or even neglect when I do not receive what feels like sufficient gratitude for my help

It is vital not to make sacrifices that I cannot afford, however, I need not expect thanks, nor feel neglected when I remember to acknowledge my own efforts to myself.  I need not depend on anyone else’s gratefulness, because I can feel inner gratitude to have been able to help. The act of giving brings with it a natural source of uplift to the heart. This fountain of joy flows freely when we look into ourselves for the acknowledgement we deserve for our efforts. It is lovely to be thanked, and I try to remember to do it often. It is also good when we feel that as an echo of our own inner sense of gratitude.

 

Small Blessings Bring Joy

Dandelion and pebblesKittens grow up and become cats. They learn to use their claws on the furniture, and then they reach a point where if we do not pay attention, they may produce more kittens. Snow falls, gets turned by snowmen by eager, mittened fingers, and then when the sun comes out and the cold retreats, they melt. I wash the dishes, polish up the burners on the stove and sigh, remembering that there will soon be more dishes to wash and something will fall on the cooking surface and smell of burning if I don’t notice it before I begin to cook again.

It is important to me to take notice of how nice it is to have an empty sink and a clean stove. If all I do is think about doing it over again I will miss the feeling of how nice it is to have done with my small tasks. They can become routine, done without thinking, and without appreciation for the effort as well as for the result. When I take the time to notice, I feel better about myself and about my life in general.

When spring comes and the first bluebells and crocuses poke up through the thawed ground, how wonderful it is. We say, “Spring is here.” And it is. Yet spring turns to summer. Then we rejoice in the longer days and firefly strewn nights, until the hours of daylight begin to shorten again. Fall’s bounty of color comes and then goes.  It is good to appreciate what we have while we have it because as a wise teacher of mine used to say, the only constant is change.

It’s easy to take for granted small blessings that pass quickly. We do it all the time without thinking. We’re actually more likely to take notice of what is wrong than what is right. I’ve read that our brains are wired that way for self-preservation. It’s important to make note of the danger lurking nearby—is that a wild beast? Or see the car coming a little too fast as we are about to cross the street. However, our built in warning system can override our joy.

Just recently the wild roses bloomed. Their sweet smell permeated the air by my back porch. I made sure to take time to enjoy their scent. Now the petals have turned brown and I have to wait until next year to enjoy them again. Still, I do have the memory, and although it does not have an actual scent, it can still bring back the pleasure of what I enjoyed when the petals were fresh.

If I am focused on regret because the roses have passed, it is more difficult for me to remember the joy they brought me. As well, I might not be able to take advantage of some new and pleasant experience that could await my notice. Small blessings do not announce their presence with a shout but rather with a whisper. The bright dandelion by the side of a building might go unseen and unappreciated if I am not aware of its gift. If I am only looking at the trash around it, I might not see it all. Small blessings bring joy.

Lemons are Luscious when Sweetened

Lemons, front and back together.png  There is a wonderful song by the Kingston Trio from the 60’s I believe, about lemons. It contains a real truth concerning them: they must be sweetened to taste good. The chorus goes: “Lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the lemon is impossible to eat. Very true, and it is also true that lemons can do all sorts of things besides make good recipes..

Versatile lemons can serve us in so many ways it is impossible to count them. You can use them to polish your furniture or to soften your elbows.  I found a lot about their uses when I was doing research for my book Up to my Neck in Lemons. In the Middle Ages ladies used a special straw brim with holes in it to lighten their hair. They would pull strands of hair through the holes and bleach them by painting them with lemon juice and sitting in the sun.

According to my research, the origin of lemons seems to be a mystery. They may have originated in India or perhaps China and are probably a hybrid of the sour orange and the citron. They were known in Egypt and the Middle East from 1000 AD.  They were used primarily as medicine or as an ornament. Once sailors learned to carry them on ships they prevented a disease called scurvy that comes from a lack of vitamin C. Christopher Columbus brought the seeds to the United States from Genoa, where they had been cultivated and used, though often as ornaments. When I visited southern Italy I saw lemon trees growing in gardens there.

Though as I discovered they have so many other uses, we usually think of lemons as food. Yet unlike most fruit, they are not meant to be eaten plain–like apples, or even peeled and sectioned like oranges.  Rather they make a fine ingredient or a wonderful seasoning. Life’s lemons are equally useful. They can season or sweeten our experience, helping us to make our best use of it to learn and grow. However it does take experience and tenacity both to learn this and to put it into operation.

The first and most important skill to develop is observation. I must first notice how I am looking at my life lemon. Once I see how I perceive it, I can change my perspective and see it differently. For example if I am feeling frustrated because something isn’t working the way I want it to, I can keep pushing against the difficulty or I can look to see if there is another way to approach it or perhaps even how I can use it to my advantage.

I can choose how to use this particular lemon—as a sour taste or as a reminder that something must change in order for me to succeed. Of course this can take time and effort, but so does any good recipe, whether for happy living or lemon meringue pudding or pie. In my new book, Up To My Neck in Lemons, I have many actual lemon recipes together with poems, and essays that provide examples of how I have dealt with some of my life lemons. If you would like a copy, please contact me. I’ll tell you how to get a personally autographed copy.

The More Things Change…

TashasSpiralGarden          Of a recent Saturday, we were out and about checking the yard sales. While Stephen was perusing the items displayed there, I fell into a conversation with the person in charge. She had grown up in Grafton and spoke of how much had changed in the years she had lived here.  I agreed. Although we have lived here only thirty years as of this year, we too have seen many changes. This got me to thinking about how it was then compared to how it is now.

When we first moved to Grafton the shopping center that is now home to the Stop and Shop had a department store where we found a winter jacket for Stephen. He wore it for many years and finally gave it away, still in useful condition. There was a drug store where the deli and sandwich shop is now, and I remember when the drug store went out of business. I bought a pair of real nylons with seams left over from the fifties or sixties.

Restaurants have come and gone in the building by the lake, and there still is one there. There was a book store and later a market where now other stores are, yet the plaza remains and the stores sell items, just different ones. It is truly said, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

The garden I began at the first home we lived in in Grafton, has with its different owners, undergone many changes, yet it still exists in its current form. I have had many gardens in my life and all of them have evolved in their own ways. Now though I no longer garden, I still in a way tend to one of another kind: my life has become my garden.

Many years ago I had a dream in which in some way I cannot explain I was both a garden and its gardener. This has become a kind of metaphor for how my life has evolved. Those I love and tend could be said to be similar to plants that grow and thrive as I care for them.  Too I am my own garden as I care for this body the best I can, though sometimes I neglect it and then like a garden deprived of proper nourishment, I suffer for it.

As once I studied how to make my garden grow at its best, so now I try to learn what best nurtures me and those I tend with the same love and care I once devoted to my gardens. At times I weed out what no longer belongs in my personal garden, and at times, those I have tended outgrow their place in my garden and transplant themselves elsewhere.

Or like other plants, they outgrow their earthly existence and move on. My life like my garden provides me with wonderful opportunities to learn and grow, and I try to take advantage of them. What matters most to me is that I do whatever I can with whatever resources I have to be a good gardener, and that I stay awake and aware to what works best to make my gardens grow.

 

 

Creating a Memorial to Lost Loved Ones

SimpkinsMy father always made sure to put fresh flowers on the graves of two special friends on Memorial Day. Buried under two pink granite stones, they were an English couple far from home and family. My four year old self remembers them as two elderly people who smiled at me and gave me two porcelain statues of birds. Honoring someone once a year at the site of their grave is a fine act and the traditional way many choose. However, creating an ongoing memorial tribute could be an even better way.

On Memorial Day there is an annual ceremony dedicated to my grandfather in Beverly Farms, the town where he once lived where there is a square named for him. This year will be its hundredth anniversary. As it does every year, the parade will stop there, the band will play, and a wreath will go on the pole with his name. As they always do, my brother and his wife will attend the ceremony. While I once used to go with my dad, and later on with my young children, I no longer live near enough to attend. I am glad he will do the honors for the family.

One day time runs out for each of us. It can’t be helped. It is said there are two sure things in life: Death and Taxes. We come to terms with both as best we can. Memorial Day puts us in mind of the former. While my grandfather perished in World War I, no other members of my family fought and died or had any connection to the military. For me then, Memorial Day is an opportunity to think about my loved ones who have passed out of time and into eternal life. There are more of them each year.

What seems important to me is to create a tangible memorial as a tribute dedicated to the memory of those precious who have passed from this life. It was with the passing of my first son that I initially thought of this. I wanted to honor his life, and because he loved poetry I decided to dedicate my poetry to him. While I’ve always written poetry, my decision then inspired me to look at life with the eyes of a poet and to write about what I see. In the near future I will be bringing out a small book, Poems and Prayers, dedicated to him.

While I wrote an occasional poem prior to his passing, in the nearly thirty years since his death I have written a great number of them, some of which I have published in various newsletters and others in my two books of articles, Heartwings: Love Notes for a Joyous Life and Up to my Neck in Lemons. Writing poetry has become increasingly important to me as an expression of my creativity. I have created other memorials also: My father loved nature, especially trees. My tribute to him is my love of the natural world, often expressed in poetry; mine to my mother is my photography, much of which are also of nature.  I am grateful for the inspiration of the lives of these loved ones, and I honor them as best I can.