My grandfather, William H. Hall. Army Private, 1943-46. European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Ribbon, WWII Victory Medal.
My grandfather, William H. Hall. Army Private, 1943-46. European African Middle Eastern Theater Campaign Ribbon, WWII Victory Medal.
“We shall never go hungry now that we know how to make soup from stones.”
~from a tale of Stone Soup
Summer presents the perfect opportunity to make a Stone Soup kind of meal. Stone Soup is an old folktale in which hungry strangers enter a town and cleverly convince the fearful townsfolk to share what they have, creating an impromptu feast for everyone. As friends and family offer us their unique gifts of the garden, late summer dinners can be an opportunity to collaborate efforts as well.
Last year our own garden was sparse. By the time school finally got out at the end of June here in the Northeast (thanks a lot, snow days) and family vacation was over, summer was also half over, and we didn’t have a garden. My mother-in-law brought us a handful of plants: beets, kale, chard, lettuce, parsley, tomatoes. I stuck them in the ground more out of a sense of duty than my usual hope, wonder, and anticipation, and that was that. No fanfare. No planning, weeding, or watering. An afterthought, really.
The result? Well, you reap what you sow. Although there were slim pickings, and the tomatoes were an embarrassment, what we did harvest was delightful. Then an amazing thing happened–friends showed up and filled in the garden gaps. One friend brought us an abundance of tomatoes, large and small, green and purple bell peppers, and even an eggplant. Not only have I never grown eggplant, I’ve never cooked one either. But it was gorgeous, and I was up for the challenge. Surely my Fannie Farmer Cookbook could help.
Another friend, a science teacher, offered us a unique gift–”black trumpet” chanterelle mushrooms he found growing in his yard. (With all the rain we’d had, it would behoove us to learn mushroom identification!) The mushrooms are slightly salty and meaty.
I chopped up those gorgeous greens from my own garden along with the veggies and black trumpets, sautéed them in my trusty cast iron skillet with garlic and onions, added some of Mom’s basil at the last minute, and we had a lovely primavera for pasta. Proving once again that it takes a village to raise the taste buds. Aren’t we better people when we work together?
This makes sense to me. We need each other. I recall a couple years ago when my parents had a bumper crop of cucumbers, but their beets didn’t produce. I had the opposite scenario. So we shared what we had with each other. I find this is often the case. Maybe that should remind us that we rely on our neighbors, even if it’s only to add variety to our salad. We can share our bounty, too–whatever it is.
(First published in Plymouth Connection, July, 2019.)
On Sunday, July 14, my husband and I celebrated our dating anniversary. Thirty-two years ago we went on our first date. Way back on July 14, 1987 we went to the movies, got an ice cream, and looked at the stars through a telescope in an open field. That night was pretty much where our story began.
Now we have been married twenty-five years. We have three awesome kids. We’ve been through a lot together–good and bad. Sometimes we look around and wonder How did we get here?
One day at a time.
Life is made up of moments.
How did we get here?
I got up and made him coffee and packed his lunch. He kissed me and went to work. One hundred eighty-one days every year. One day at a time.
He built the boy’s rooms, one piece of drywall at a time, one nail at a time.
The money goes in the bank. One paycheck at a time.
We walked around the track together this morning. One step at a time.
Not every step is easy. Some are downright unbearable. But it’s the steps that finish the race.
And I’m happy, blessed, honored to be walking with him.
Thanks for walking with me, Deej. Love you.
We recently had friends from another part of the country visit us. They had never been here before and were amazed at how beautiful it was. I was glad they enjoyed it so much, but I was also a little perplexed.
What was so special?
Yes, I know it’s a pretty place to live, but I don’t revel in it as often as I could. (Should?) Especially in the summer. Maybe I take it for granted because I live here. Seeing it every day dulls the luster. With obligations and work to attend to, who has time to admire the scenery?
I tried to see the landscape through my visitors’ eyes, to view the native trees, hilly surroundings, and the pond across the street as if for the first time. The brilliance of my familiar surroundings began to return. I could appreciate my visitors’ perspective.
I’ve never been to the Midwest where they live. They tell me they find it a bit boring. I’m sure I’d find it lovely. Even if only because it’s someplace other than home, someplace new. I manage to see beauty wherever I go.
I hope when I do go, I can help them appreciate the beauty in their own backyard the way they did for me.
I just finished reading Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead. Wow! Although I am a newer fan of Brown, I find myself quoting her A LOT. Her research on shame which began twenty years ago with her doctoral thesis is relevant and meaningful to anyone who deals with people in their work, in their life. In other words, all of us.
One of the things she does in Lead is list 117 values and asks the reader to choose two values that they live by. Included in the list are things like faith, family, love, career. It is tempting to choose ten or fifteen, but she quotes Jim Collins as saying, “If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities.”
It’s true, when you think about it.
What really motivates the things we do and say everyday?
But it’s difficult to narrow down the list. So Brown suggests circling fifteen to start with and then narrowing that list down to two.
I did it.
I identified two values that drive every decision I make and everything I do. They even affect how I treat people and what I think about myself.
It’s a powerful exercise. I recommend it.
It’s a worthy thing to learn what you’re all about.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
I accomplished something new today.
I promised myself I would run as many days as I can this summer. The thing is, I’m not a runner. It doesn’t come easily to me, and I don’t particularly enjoy it.
But a promise is a promise. And a promise to yourself, well, that’s pretty important.
I go to the track and do eight laps. That’s two miles altogether. The first lap I walk as a warm-up. The last lap I walk as a cool down. The six in the middle I try to run as much as possible. Which usually isn’t much. But I run until either my lungs run out or my legs do. Usually it’s my lungs. Then I walk until I feel I can run again.
Usually, I can run about a half lap before I am out of air. Yesterday, I was proud of myself because I ran three quarters of a lap before stopping.
But today was amazing!
I ran a little over a lap and a half without stopping. I couldn’t believe it!
I wanted to tell someone, but there were only two people there having a conversation, and I didn’t want to disturb them. I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing, though.
Suddenly, the empty, foggy track wasn’t so dismal anymore. I was smiling about this new thing I’d done.
And it occurred to me that the hardest part wasn’t the running part.
The hardest part was dragging myself to the track.
It’s summer. Hubby and I are teachers, so we don’t work our regular jobs over the summer. Our kids are out of school. It’s a cloudy, misty day. It would be so much easier to stay in bed, play a game on my phone, read a book, throw in some laundry, anything but run around and around an empty track. How boring is that. But
When you follow through on a promise to yourself, you give yourself the respect you deserve.
It’s about resolve. It’s about overcoming that voice in your head that tries to tempt you with ease and comfort and prevent you from achieving those goals and dreams you know will be difficult, but you resolve to achieve. No matter what it is. You go from not doing something to doing it. So, yes. The first step is the most difficult.
Yeah, I know it’s hard, dear heart.
Lace up and do it anyway.
“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”
~from Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
There’s empowerment in doing things yourself.
Last Saturday, I lined up the machines outside the garage. Weed whacker, leaf blower, power washer. Except for the lawnmower, I rarely use machines in the yard. I find them difficult to use and, in my hands, they are always temperamental. For years, it’s been a battle. But Saturday I had a goal. My mother-in-law had brought me vegetable seedlings to plant in the garden. (There’s nothing like fresh plants from your mother-in-law to create a sense of urgency.) My main goal was to get those tender seedlings into the ground before they dried up. The machines were going to help me attain my goal.
The raised beds weren’t ready for the season. There were weeds and leaves and dead stems from last year’s oregano bushes to clear before I could plant anything. Autumn leaves always congregate in a corner of the yard between the beds and the fence, making it difficult to rake. The leaf blower would be just the thing. Also, since the grass always grows the tallest closest to the wood frames around the beds and the space between the beds is too narrow to pass through with the mower, I would employ the weed whacker. Although it was true, this particular machine had proven itself my arch-nemesis in my past attempts to use it, I was feeling a little feisty myself; I was up for the challenge. And while I was at it and was going to be saving so much time, I figured I’d probably be able to power wash the vinyl siding at least on the porch.
I had looked forward to it all week. Knowing my husband and the kids would be busy, I was determined to do it all myself. I filled each with the appropriate gas and reviewed the steps with my husband. I know these are not complex machines, but because I never use them, I needed the tutorials again. Equipped with machines and directions, I confidently waved good-bye to everyone and set to work.
One by one, I tried them. I was careful to turn the right knobs the right way, in the right sequence, and then came the pull start. Grasp the handle, yank the cord, quick so the machine knows I mean business. My ears perk for the sound of the engine coming to life so I can be on my way cutting and zipping along to make my yard match the image in my mind. Nothing. No hum. I try again and again, each time more earnestly than the last, picturing the ease with which my husband manages to pull this same cord. Can I acquire that facility? I’ve been attempting it at least once every year. It doesn’t seem it will ever work for me. The motors and, consequently my dream of a tidy yard, remain dormant. I nearly throw my shoulder out. I picture myself in a sling.
Granted, I manage to get the power washer going, and it cooperates with me long enough to get the siding on the porch washed. But when I go around to wash the siding on the back of the house, the engine gives me the cold shoulder. Fine, I’ll try the other machines again. After all, my goal was to get the plants into the garden. I attempt the weed whacker again. Nothing.
What will become of us? Will the yard be overrun with vines, poison ivy, tick-laden grass?
I had wanted to achieve my goal on my own so badly. I don’t strive for absolute independence, but I had hoped to be able to reign victorious at least in the front yard so I could get those vulnerable veggies in the ground.
Independence is held in such high regard in our society.
Do we forget that we need each other?
My husband came home to find the familiar exasperated look on my face, the defeated slump of my posture. What happened? He calls out as he approaches from the pick-up truck. As if he didn’t know. This happens to me all the time. He was giving me the benefit of the doubt. Sweet man.
He gets his earplugs and gloves, grabs the blasted weed whacker, pulls the cord. It roars to life on the first try. I have been blessed with a strong, smart, handy husband who knows how to run these machines and is strong enough to do so. He casts me a furtive glance. I shrug my shoulders and say, See why I need you! Zip, zip. He trims while I pull weeds and prune roses.
Maybe some people find they can indeed accomplish every aspect of their projects by themselves. Perhaps they even enjoy it. I do not. I cannot easily work these machines on my own. And I guess I don’t really want to. After my quarrels with the pull starts, I settled into my low tech gardening with rakes, pruning shears, and my own two hands. There was something so peaceful about spending time in the yard together with my husband. Working towards a common goal.
Several years ago when he was in the Navy Reserves, very often he would be away from home. He told me I didn’t need him to be home because I was competent, capable of running the house and caring for the kids while he was away. I’m sure he said this to set us both at ease and help us not miss the other so much. I managed, but I would rather have had him home. I know I was glad he was there to help Saturday.
At the end of the day, we looked out on our little yard we had worked on together. We admired the sunset on the pond, clinked our glasses, and toasted our success. It takes both my handy, mechanical and a little less-than-patient husband and me who is definitely not as strong or mechanically-inclined, but more patient to make things run smoothly around here. Machines don’t always work, but cooperation always gets the job done.
(first published in The Plymouth Connection, June, 2019.)