Cataloguing a Life

 

sears 1957
1957

 

When I was a child, the thick Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog was a staple in most homes. It contained sections for just about everything you could ever want to buy, it seemed, and offered another option for families who lived in more rural areas, like ours, with limited choices for shopping.

The large catalog came in handy for other things, too, like a “booster seat” for the tots who had outgrown their high chairs, but couldn’t quite reach the dinner table on their own. I remember a particular “snow day” from school when my sister and I had fun making “paper dolls” out of the previous season’s catalog. We carefully cut out the main figures and then found clothing on other pages that could be trimmed to fit. The joys of a simple childhood.

Years later, as a young mother with a child of my own, I saved “trading stamps,” which were given out by many of the grocery stores according to how much you spent. I pasted them into small booklets and watched the stack grow. Top Value was the main type I saved, and I spent considerable time perusing their mail order catalog to decide on the wonderful “premiums” that would be my goals. One of my older daughter’s first dolls, a sweet Kewpie in one-piece pajamas, came to live with us, thanks to Top Value stamps.

Penney's
1972

 

Around Thanksgiving, the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog was always a welcome sight in the mail. I spent hours poring over the pages to decide which gifts my daughters just couldn’t do without. This was also a great way to get ideas for grandmas and grandpas! Even though we had a few stores in our small town that carried toys, it seemed that the Penney’s catalog offered a much wider selection of brands, such as Playskool and Fisher Price. Playtime was better than ever with the likes of Happy Apple, Milk Wagon, and Chatter Phone. Our small house became a virtual village of Little People homes, schools, and farms. Pleasant memories.

Time marched on, and my children were nearly grown. By then, I’d finally earned my teacher certification and would have the opportunity to help other people’s youngsters learn and develop. I remember the excitement of securing my first teaching position and having the secretary hand me Lakeshore and ReallyGoodStuff catalogs to order materials for my new classroom, since we were located hours away from the nearest teacher supply store. It seemed too good to be true after all those years of study. I did, in fact, order some “really good stuff.”

Over the years, it seemed that I always ended up back in a remote area with very limited shopping. Fall typically brought the new catalogs from L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. Buying that new winter jacket at the END of the season when it was on sale was a much better plan, of course, but it was still great fun to look. The most welcomed catalogs in our part of Upper Michigan were the early spring arrivals from plant and flower companies like Gurney’s, Burpee, and Michigan Bulb. Those indicated that we WOULD, indeed, make it through another winter! I spent a great deal of time sketching ideas for our flower beds based on choices made for the local growing zone. Sometimes we bought through mail order, and other times we visited our local nursery. Either way, having those catalogs for handy visuals and information was priceless.

Life has a strange way of leading where we don’t expect. A few years ago, I found myself living on my own in a more populated area with every type of store you can imagine in close range. One rainy afternoon I was retrieving my umbrella from the floor on the passenger side of the car and noticed some papers under the seat. Pulling them out, I saw a grocery store flyer from my previous life, along with a Plow & Hearth catalog sporting my former husband’s name. I then remembered leaving for what ended up being our last road trip together. We had stopped for the mail on our way out, and I just shoved it under the seat to be forgotten. My only “hearth” nowadays is artificial, and I have no garden to dig in, much less “plow.” Quite the reminder about the changes in the fabric of my days.

The holidays have now passed for another year. Several weeks ago, I was surprised when I visited the bank of mailboxes in my apartment building lobby to find a Burpee spring catalog mixed in with the rest of my mail. It was actually addressed to me and not just to “current resident.” They found me! Guess the nice folks at Burpee don’t know, or care, that I currently have no need for plants and seeds, or any of the related supplies. I’m hanging onto it, though, and won’t admit just how many times I’ve peeked at its pages. Who knows what the future may bring.

chipmunk garden flowers

 

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A Day for Prayer

 

okra
Okra

 

I didn’t really consider going to church, today, but did feel an essence of spirituality while I spent some time at the community garden. I was all “alone,” surrounded by the noise of buzzing bees, chirping birds, and tall plants of okra brushing against each other in the breeze.

          How can we be certain this lovely planet will be preserved?

All the sights, sounds and smells seemed magnified. Being in the outdoors has that effect on me, even more so, since I no longer own a personal piece of nature. My back had really started to tighten up by the time I finished some watering and weeding, though it has been feeling much better, most days.

          Thankful I can still manage doing so many things.

A train rumbled past, just beyond the black, wrought-iron fence. I remember reading that when a tornado is headed towards you, it sounds just like a freight train. The thought gave me a cold chill, in spite of the hot sun beating down on me.

          Grateful I haven’t seen any of those since moving to Texas.

What horror so many Texans must have recently suffered when Hurricane Harvey was upon them. And now to live with the destruction that’s been left behind.

          Please don’t give them more than they can bear.

Back in the apartment, I worked at my computer for most of the day and ventured outdoors for a walk before dark. It was another beautiful evening, although warmer than this ‘northern girl’ prefers in September. Gentle wind all around, pink sun going down in the west, full moon rising in the east. People out strolling, alone or in couples, and some exercising their dogs on leashes. I felt the absence of mine. Person and dog.

          Relieved I am learning to make peace with my loss.

As I drew near to the parking garage, I wondered if I would catch any of the ghostly saxophone sounds. No such luck, although I have heard the music on two separate occasions. Coming into the open, there was a full view of the setting sun on the horizon and a beautiful scene with the church silhouetted against the orb’s bright light. My heart felt full.

          Please keep my loved ones safe.

Just as I finished that thought, the outdoor electric sconces of the church flickered on to begin their nightly vigil. Completing my route past the church, around the library, and skirting the burbling fountain, I experienced a dawning realization.

          I’ve been praying all day.

 

 

 

 

Memoir Publication and Garden Update

UP Reader

The U.P. Reader, which includes my memoir piece, “Lonely Road,” is now available in print and e-book! This literary magazine is published by Modern History Press in conjunction with the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association (UPPAA). The publication also contains fiction, humor, poetry, history, and more.

When I read the call for submissions, my first instinct was to write a fictional story set in Michigan’s U.P., where I lived for many years. What about my own, personal tales, just waiting to be told? I decided that memoir was the way to go.

As Barbra Streisand sang in one of my favorite movies, “The Way We Were,” memories really can “light the corners” of our minds. But, when too much pain is caused by remembering, we often choose to ignore and wall-off those sections of our brains. Writing memoir can be like taking the partitions down and letting the light shine, once again, onto those remembrances. The act can bring questions, heartache, revelations and healing.

Lonely Road” relates an evocative experience during my wintertime move to the Upper Peninsula, with the purpose of giving a faltering marriage one more try. The story is also a metaphor for the journey of life, with its pleasant surprises, difficult challenges, and safe havens. That “one more try” to stay together spanned several additional decades. Success or failure? Guess it depends on how you look at it. This was a very difficult piece for me to write because of all the emotions to which it gave rise. I would like to say that I felt better once I had it down. Saying it well and true did give me a sense of satisfaction. The sadness over our loss still remains.

I hope that you’ll consider reading about my experience, along with sampling contributions from other writers with connections to the Upper Peninsula, in the beautiful state of Michigan. The book is available from the publisher, through Amazon, and at several retailers in the U.P.  Reviews are welcomed!

                                                                                                                    butterfly-55049__340

GARDEN UPDATE

The Community Garden is looking quite bountiful these days! Cucumbers and zucchini are already producing. Today, I also spotted tiny green peppers and tomatoes. Giant sunflowers provide a lovely backdrop. My little plot contains huge marigolds and abundant basil. I’ve already taken several bags of the herb over to the food pantry. Basil is great in curries and salads. Pesto, anyone?

The rosemary is a bit on the small side, and I’m afraid the watering that’s helping the basil thrive may be somewhat of a negative for those plants, which often prefer drier conditions. They’re growing, though, and I snipped the ends to encourage even more growth. Did my molasses and orange oil concoction succeed in the fight against the fire ants? Yes and no. It worked well enough to drive them over to the other side of the little garden bed. At least they stay off the plants!

Community Gardening: waiting for my “real life” to resume?

 

grape arbor

Meandering garden paths formed the outline of my pleasant childhood. In dreams, I see the grape arbor that separated our manicured yard from the large garden and offered sustenance for the birds. As summers wore on, rows of vegetables and flowers blurred and overran with plenty. Standing out in memory are crisp cucumbers, tart rhubarb and stately iris. I realized later in life that I should have paid more attention to my parents’ gardening techniques. Very little had stuck with me, except a love of that entity called “garden.”

Lack of knowledge, funds and assistance thwarted my early attempts at gardening as an adult. I still loved the idea of growing things, however, and did manage to nurture some healthy annuals, daylilies and rhubarb.

beans cropped

As life unfolded, I had the opportunity to experience gardening in various climates. Azalea and camellia in the south. Daffodils, iris and clematis in the north. Most recently, I accepted the challenge to grow vegetables in northern Michigan, planting tomatoes, bell peppers, leaf lettuce and pole beans. My efforts met varied success. Critters liked the tomatoes, so very few made it to the kitchen. Lettuce was plentiful, and regrowth was almost instantaneous after harvest. The pole beans took a while getting started, but a wooden teepee-like form covered with the slim green darlings was my crowning achievement for several summers until I moved.

When sleep is difficult to find, these nights, I sometimes walk through that northern yard in my mind, smelling the lilacs, touching the rubbery hosta leaves, checking to see if tender plants need water. How is it possible that my life offers no personal outdoor space and only windows to sun my numerous houseplants? Yes, there is natural beauty and plenty all around, but none of it is “mine.”

Of late, a search led me to the nearby community garden where citizens plant and tend crops for donation to the local food pantry. Because I’ve never done much gardening in this hot and dry Texas climate, I decided to ease into it by adopting a small plot. A volunteer had planted my rectangle of earth with herbs, since the season was already in full swing. Enough space remained to add some marigolds, theoretically to inhibit rabbits from stopping by for dinner.

basil-1638474__340                                  

As it turns out, I also “adopted” a nest of fire ants, and I’ve been battling them with a safe mixture of citrus compost tea, orange oil, natural dish soap and molasses. Either I’m winning the fight, or they have burrowed farther into the earth. I certainly won’t dig any deeper to find them! (Please see additional ideas, below.)

Rabbits ignored the marigolds to feast on my rosemary and English thyme. The pungent basil remained intact, however. I purchased an organic mixture to spray around plant bases, which involved some type of animal urine and promised to ward off both rabbits and deer. Last time I watered, I saw some growth, so that may be a success. Larger plots at the community garden boast squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and tomatoes, just to name a few.

butterfly-55049__340

Not sure what the future holds. Will I ever again have my own yard? Should I adopt a larger plot next year to contribute in a more meaningful manner? Could I actually have both? Only time will tell…

Anti-Fire Ant: non-toxic ideas

Compost tea (citrus peels simmered in water)

Molasses

Orange oil (essential oil, not cleaning oil)

Liquid dish soap (natural/non-toxic)

(Use about a cup of the above in a gallon of water, to be poured down into the center of ant hill.)

Add citrus compost tea when watering at any time.

Pour plain boiling water into the center of hill when ants are “at rest.”

Leave citrus peels in/near ant hill and throughout garden.

 

 

 

 

The Chartreuse Thumb

nature-chartreuse-pixabay

Gardens have surrounded me for most of my life. The yard of my Michigan childhood was a fairytale hide-and-seek mixture of giant lilac trees and gnarly grape vines, along with bounteous flower and vegetable beds. My parents were avid gardeners, and I learned a great deal from watching them over the years.

As an adult, I struggled to come into my own by fighting bleak, sandy soil to produce healthy annuals, thick day lilies, and mammoth rhubarb. The years that followed sent me in many different directions, to the heat of Texas and North Carolina, then the short and bittersweet growing seasons of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Azalea, camellia, clematis, Rudbeckia, delphinium…lovely names for even lovelier blooms. As my stack of gardening books and catalogs grew, so did my knowledge of all the little tricks. Prevent slugs from hatching in hostas before the tender leaves unfurl? Had it covered. Make sure the clematis actually climb up the arbor? No problem.

Recent winds of change have carried me back toward my children and their families in Texas. Temperate conditions offer beautiful gardens for most months of the year. Only problem is, none of them are mine. For the first time in decades, my garden fix must come from visiting those owned and tended by others. Quite an adjustment.

Indoor gardening has always been a challenge for me, which I’ve met with varying results. Winning this quest has now become even more crucial. My large windows offer profuse light, and the multi-tiered plant stand is full. All of my original selections haven’t flourished, I admit, and some have already taken the slide of shame down the garbage chute.

Fault lies in the choices or the tending, and the blame is all mine. The trick is finding exactly what works in this third-story substitute for a garden, among traditional houseplants and bedding varieties that can be fooled to grow and bloom for a season.

Relieved that the temperatures are now lower, my screens can finally allow the cooler breezes in to ruffle the leaves. On other positive notes, this is the longest I’ve ever managed to keep chives or mint alive, inside, and I’m experiencing the joys of cacti and aloe for the very first time.

Perhaps I can put some of those random bits of knowledge stored in my head to use. Could trial-sized soapettes be wedged into pots to prevent those pesky little flies? Might be easier than bathing the plants in that insecticidal soap every few weeks. Maybe some of you have hints to share, as to what works best in homes with certain conditions of light, temperature, humidity and four-legged friends.

Who knows how long my red-tipped, yellow chrysanthemum will survive. For now, it serves as a beautiful alternative to the multi-colored maple leaves of my youth. Nothing stays the same, which gets me back to the chartreuse thumb. It’s not worse or better than the green… just different.

 

 

Outdoor Gardening in the Winter: Juxtaposition as a Handy Writing Tool

jasmine
Jasmine

~Hot sun formed a cap for my bare head. Warm, rich earth felt heavenly, flowing between my fingers like coins of gold. As I plucked a catnip plant from the basket, the citrus odor pleasantly tickled my nose. After deciding on its resting place near the brightly blooming yellow jasmine, I turned to my favorite, the mint. Probably my herb of choice because I could usually coax it to grow anywhere, I imagined how its refreshing aroma would deliciously waft in through the open window. As I reached for the next plant, I felt a bead of sweat break free on my back and begin its trickle downward. How many months had it been since I’d experienced that not-unpleasant sensation?

Movement caught my eye, and I worried for a second that Mildred had made a successful escape. In relief, I discovered the merrily blinking pink lights snaking around the stair railing and the sleek tortoiseshell safely perched on the other side of the window screen, happily batting at red and white, heart-shaped decorations.

“How in the heck did I end up here this winter?” I thought for the thousandth time, feeling that familiar, magnetic pull back toward the north.~

 Readers on the west coast or in southern locations wouldn’t see the weather described in February from this opening scene as juxtaposition, but many of us hailing from colder climes certainly would. Setting up this type of contrast is a handy strategy for grabbing the attention of readers from the beginning. Try it, in your next piece! Meanwhile, since this snippet is from my own personal journey, I’ll be adding to the story as my life unfolds…

Winter Gardening for the Soul and Writing Inspiration

flowers and computer

Very few of us are lucky enough to live in a climate sufficiently mild on a consistent basis to grow flowers and tender plants outside year ‘round. Even here in Texas, where I’m visiting my daughters and their families for the holidays, blooms are quite limited. The constantly rising and falling temperatures are certainly a challenge to gardening. I’ve already watched my daughter and son-in-law drag their potted plants into and back out of the garage, where they gained added protection from the frost. Tonight’s plummeting predictions probably point to a repeat performance, as well!

What’s an avid “grow-seeker” to do, to get that gardening fix during the long winter months? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Buy a new and unusual flowering houseplant
  • Invest in grow-light shelves for plants needing more light than your windows offer
  • Force bulbs for spring blossoms all winter long
  • Grow something edible, like sprouts, leaf lettuce, or herbs, in a sunny window or under your grow light
  • Explore the fun of tending a dish garden
  • Check out some gardening books from the library and plan a new garden area for next spring
  • Buy a beautiful bouquet of flowers and meet the challenge of seeing how long you can keep them fresh

I imagine that many fellow writers out there also use growing things, indoors and out, as inspiration in their writing. If the view out your window right now is sadly lacking (I’m lucky to be looking at a blooming rosebush, but the rest is quite bleak), it’s up to you to remedy that situation.

Just the act of writing about this today reminds me that I need to “keep growing”. Besides that, I surprisingly came up with a fun idea for a kids’ book as this piece evolved. I’m keeping that topic a secret for now, but you’ll probably find out more in future posts.