Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Two Are Better Than One..."

When Terry and I were planning our wedding, we chose this ancient Biblical text as one of the readings at our ceremony:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. 
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

This "better together" theme came to mind again when I was reading Joan Chittister's comments on "community":

"Neither communities nor families exist for themselves alone. They exist to witness to Christ... They exist to be miracle worker to one another. They exist to make the world the family it is meant to be...

... simply living with people does not by itself create community. People live together in armies and prisons and ... hospitals, but they are not communities unless they live out of the same reservoir of values and the same center of love... We have to share a common vision. We have to want good for one another...

... even liking one another is not enough... we have to be committed to the same eternal things together. What we want to live for and how we intend to live out those values are the central questions of community. Without that understanding, communities fail and marriages dissolve... 

Another function of community is to enable us to be about something greater than ourselves..." 

That's the mystery of "synergy" - a law in science that states that the combined efforts of two individuals will accomplish more than two individuals working separately! I find that so amazing!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

One-Bowl Chocolate Fudge Cake

I needed to make a birthday cake, so I hunted in my cookbooks for an easy recipe that wasn't too sweet, as I planned to ice it. And of course, I prefer chocolate - my favorite!

I found this easy chocolate fudge cake recipe in a Betty Crocker cookbook. (It's called "Cocoa Fudge Cake.")  All the ingredients go into the mixing bowl at the same time:

2 cups (500 ml) flour
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) sugar
2/3 cup (150 ml) cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoon (8 ml) baking soda
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) buttermilk or sour milk
1/2 cup (125) butter or shortening
2 eggs
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 40 minutes, or until done.

The only problem I encountered was that the shortening kept sticking to the beaters and didn't want to blend.

So the one thing I'd do differently next time is use a more traditional cake mixing method (blending the sugar, eggs and shortening first - then adding the other ingredients and mixing well). Alternately, I guess, one could melt the butter or shortening.

But the cake was delicious. I highly recommend it: Very chocolatey but not too sweet. (Ours was supposed to look like "Garfield" - the cartoon cat... But from this angle, it reminds me of Ned Flanders, another cartoon character!)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Strawberry Season Is Here!

Strawberry season is one of Terry's favorite seasons of the year. (Maple syrup season is another!)

Every few days we head down to a local strawberry patch - where we could pick our own... but we don't. (We used to!) I have memories of taking all our kids (plus a few of their friends) down to pick strawberries. But these days we buy a four-liter basket every two days... Strawberries go so well on cereal... and ice cream!

In typical Terry-style, we try different berry patches to see which have the best berries. (He does the same for maple syrup - he tries all the vendors!) It's always a sad day when the season is over.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Mother's Garden

I never gave much thought to nursing home gardens until one of my nephews - as a boy scout - told me he was creating a raised bed for a local nursing home. 

Raised? Yes, so that residents don't have to bend down to see the flowers.

Now that my mother is in a nursing home, I realize just how important a nursing home garden is.

My mother loves to sit outside in the garden.

She goes there on her own - to sit in the sun, read and enjoy the beauty of the flowers.

Some of the beds are raised - and there are lots of gazebos and shady spots where families and residents can sit.

(Some of the volunteer gardeners have a sense of humor!)

The garden is one of the most important spots in this home during the summer.

It can be enjoyed through the windows, too!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How Humid Is It?!

On a hot day, condensation forms on the outside of a glass that contains a cold drink and ice.

Recently - after a warm night of thunderstorms - condensation had formed on the outside of our windows. Drips of water were actually running down the window on the outside!

That's how hot and humid it was outside, compared to the relative cool of our indoor air. (And we hadn't been using the air conditioner, either!) On days like that, I prefer to stay indoors!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Learning From Others

Sometimes passers-by compliment us on the flowers at the edge of the road. Most people have lawn - with flowers closer to the house.

Year by year I add more plants. Some survive while others don't. The winter road salt and the shallow soil make this a tough growing environment.

But my roadside bed is nothing compared to this one a few streets away. This one has been my inspiration.

The first time I saw it, I knew that this is what I wanted to do. Every once in a while I slowly walk past - to appreciate... and to learn!

"Each one teach one" is a motto of the Laubach literacy movement. In parts of the world where people didn't all go to school, adults who were learning to read helped each other, each teaching someone else to read as well. This is how literacy spread. But it doesn't stop there: We all have a lot to learn from each other! In my case, I have a lot to learn about gardening. I'm glad I live in a neighborhood of gardeners! I appreciate everyone who teaches me... by word or deed!

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Healthy Snack

I'm not a fan of hot peppers...

But I really enjoy sweet peppers raw...

 ... sliced...

... and spread with peanut butter!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Listening to Our Lives

My father was a reflective person - and my mother was a doer. I think I have inherited these traits from both... (Or perhaps we all become more reflective as we get older and look back on the things we have done.) In any event, I have been pondering the idea of listening to the patterns of our lives. This term - the patterns of our lives - rings true to me, as I see myself drawn to certain things like traveling (my need to see and do new things) and creating (mostly fabric "art"). I have been drawn to these pleasures again and again. There are other patterns I am not as pleased about: my difficulty in sharing my faith story, my natural tendency to criticize.

So I am reflecting on the idea of life patterns as I read: "We have to begin to face what our own life patterns might be saying to us. When we are afraid, what message lurks under the fear: a horror of failure, a rejection of weakness, panic at the thought of public embarrassment, a sense of valuelessness that comes with loss of approval? When we find ourselves in the same struggles over and over again, what does that pattern say: That I always begin a thing with great enthusiasm only to abandon it before it is finished? That I am always reluctant to change, no matter how good the changes might be for me? ...

"Until I learn to listen - to the Scriptures, to those around me, to my own underlying life messages... I will really have nothing to say about life myself.  To live without listening is ... to drift in my own backwater."

(Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, p. 21)

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Back To "The Artist's Way"

The winter I retired from teaching, I was exhausted! The courses I had been teaching had entailed hours of marking daily. (The part of teaching I hated most!) In addition, I was busy taking my mother to medical appointments. She had had breast cancer surgery a few months before and now had numerous follow-up appointments.

Newly retired, I longed to live quietly and creatively. Instead, I was spending my free time in the basement sorting through boxes of stuff I had brought home from my filing cabinets at school.

But somewhere during those uninspiring winter months, I had come across the title of a book, The Artist's Way, a motivational classic by Julia Cameron. I began to write "morning pages" - three pages in longhand every morning exploring my artistic dreams. I had also begun going out on weekly "artist dates" - times away from my humdrum life when I could sit and dream about life the way I would like to be living it.

I don't know what inner transformations occurred as I quietly expressed my artistic self those few hours a week, but I don't think it was a co-incidence that in February, the following winter, I began to blog. (And I've been blogging ever since!)

Eventually I stopped writing my "morning pages" and going out on "artist's dates." (I'm not sure why.)

But now, several years into retirement, I've been going through a "dry" spell creatively. So I've again turned to The Artist's Way.

I hope my summer will allow me time for "artist's dates" again. And I hope that this refresher in The Artist's Way will encourage me to live even more creatively!

Friday, June 21, 2013

One of My Favorite New Inventions

I realize that insects have their place in our environment - so I don't mess with them unnecessarily in my garden. But indoors?! That's another matter!

When a centipede scooted across the bathroom floor early one morning recently, I realized that quick action was needed!

I got some more sticky insect traps - hollow paper boxes with sticky adhesive inside. Bugs adhere to them if they walk through them. Catching them like this interrupts their life cycle indoors.

I like them because they eliminate creepy-crawlies without using pesticides. Since we've begun putting them wherever bugs are a problem, I hardly ever see bugs indoors. (They do have to be replaced every 3 months or so - insects are persistent creatures!)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What's In Bloom in Mid-June?

This year's abundant rain has been great for the flowers - and weeds - in our flower beds. In fact, I often have to do some serious weeding in order to see the flowers!

This lavender was hidden among some tall weeds until my daughter noticed it and together we tugged out the stubborn stalks that were blocking the purple flowers from view.

The day lilies are also blooming - but again I need to get out there and pull out the weeds hiding them.

The peonies are blooming and look gorgeous... until a rainfall "messes" them up.

These carnations were lovely last week - but this week they look like their season is over.

The Persian cornflowers are in bloom.

With all the rain, the some of the irises are (surprisingly) still around.

Amid the gout-weed (also in bloom) are these pretty purple flowers that look blue in the early morning light.

(I still haven't discovered their name.)

The clematis next to the back deck has lovely flowers.

The branches were so dry in early spring that I thought they had died! Fortunately, I was wrong.

In my ruthless weeding, I wonder if I've removed flowers I planted last year. My mother used to say: Weeds are plants in the wrong place. They may have been innocently growing among tall weeds!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Medicinal Marshmallows?!!

I heard today that marshmallows are good for sore throats, my son told me. I have a scratchy throat. Do we have any?

Marshmallows? Really?!

Unfortunately we were out - but I promised to buy some if they had medicinal properties!

So I checked online... (What would we do without the internet?!) There I discovered that a University of Maryland study showed that marshmallows had a gummy substance that coated the throat and other medicinal properties...

That was the GOOD news!

The BAD news is that they weren't studying the sugary candy we eat. They were studying the marshmallow plant! (I didn't know there was a marshmallow plant!!)

Here is an article that tells about them. I discovered that the pretty flowers - which resemble anemones - are indigenous to Africa, so I guess they wouldn't grow in Canada! Too bad! Because the plant would be an amazing addition to a garden... if you lived near a marsh!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Discovering "Tomatillos"

Sometimes I think about the fruit and veggies I grew up eating - so different from the vast array my local supermarket now carries! Bananas, oranges, lemons and grapefruit were the only tropical fruit available in stores when I was a child.

Just last week I discovered a new vegetable: a staple food in Mexico. Tomatillos taste like tomatoes, but according to this article, with their outer skin, they are related to gooseberries.

They are sold at the Sun Tech greenhouse, and I added one to the top of this meatloaf.

They are apparently used in salsa - so next time I make a stew or spaghetti sauce, I'm going to toss one in, all chopped up.

(They look interesting enough to draw as well!)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Perennial Gardening ... and Weeding

Our abundant spring rains have caused lush growth in my flower beds, watering the weeds as well!

So as I enjoy my perennials, my eyes also turn to the flowers I don't want in my garden...

... weeds that have embedded themselves between bunches of irises. They are hard to dig out. When I finally succeed, I can see why!

Their large tap roots have cemented themselves in the soil! Now that I know what I'm dealing with, I'm going to have to dig more deeply - not simply try to pull them out and have the stems break off!

(A perennial garden is a beautiful thing - but weeds are a perennial problem too!)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father's Love

Father's Day brings to mind one of the most famous father-son stories in the New Testament, the story of the prodigal son. It has inspired art... and sermons. It never grows old. This poem-sermon by a minister born a hundred years ago brings the story dramatically to life, so I wanted to share it today, on Father's Day, as an example of a father's love and forgiveness, the ties that bind.

My back is turned to him,
I have been told that he forgives me,
but I will not turn, so
and have the forgiveness,
even though I feel the eyes on my back.
But God does not give up:
for he takes my head between his hands
and turns my face to make me smile at him.

He has taken a pair of human hands
with which to turn our stiff-necked heads,
and bring our eyebeams
into line with his own.

(From a sermon by Austen Farrer, Said or Sung, Quoted in Lost in Wonder, p. 107)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Team Work

Teamwork is encouraged in school these days, though students often protest. Some would rather work on their own - and do it their way. Others complain that, in a group project, some people do all the work while others do nothing... And there is merit to all these complaints.

I'm actually not a teamwork kind of person - not unless the task lends itself to teamwork (like doing housework... or running a school). And - to be honest - I think that some "teamwork" projects assigned by teachers isn't really suited to group work at all.

But whether we like it or not, we are all part of "teams". For many years I was on the staff of a school - which really is a big team, too. Now my "team" is my family - often just Terry and me (a team of two!)

Sometimes - in the busyness of the working world - we don't get a chance to tell our co-workers how wonderful they are to work with...

Recently - at a retirement party at the school I used to teach at - a "team" of teachers entertained us with their songs and poems. These school "Band-itos" (as they call themselves!) were only part of the "team" that put on this memorable event in the school library.

One teacher commented: "Students sometimes thank us for changing their lives. Well, they change ours, too!" So do the people we work with. I salute them here!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Painting Flowers Again!

I haven't been painting much lately. I had hoped to paint all the flowers that bloom in my yard, but I haven't had time. (Taking pictures is much, much easier!)

But going to Loraine's painting group for two hours once a week has motivated me to pull out my watercolors again. Last week I took this iris from my garden and painted it... at least twice its actual size!

I didn't get the color right - but it did change, depending on the lighting.

There is nothing like painting a flower (or anything, else for that matter) to make you really study it. When I got home afterwards, I started looking at all the irises in my garden differently. And I noticed that these large ones that make their stem bend with their weight...

... actually sit upright (not sideways) on the bent stem - a little like two parrots on a branch. I had never noticed that before!

Thursday, June 13, 2013


My father never ate rhubarb. He used to say: Something that sour can't be good for you.

But I love rhubarb! (Though I do add a lot of sugar to make it edible...)

I was delighted to find rhubarb growing in our yard when we moved here 30 years ago. But it was never as big as our neighbors'. I never knew why. I regularly covered it with compost when it died down in July, hoping for a better harvest the following year. One dry year I added Epsom salts to fertilize it when I watered it. (I had read that that helps.) But still no improvement.

This year I read that rhubarb needs to be divided every few years. I've never done that! So I plan to do that when it dies down this year.

In the meantime, I have neighbors with enough rhubarb to share (like my neighbor Mary's above). When I mentioned dividing rhubarb to Mary, she told me she had moved hers several times.

But what a surprise! Once it is chopped up - all the rhubarb pictured in the chair above (taken from my garden and Mary's) only fills three and a half one-liter containers! (Each holds about 4 cups.) I was hoping for twice as much as that! (Another great thing about rhubarb: It can be washed, cut and then frozen for later use without any other preparation.)