THE SECRET LIFE OF DAISIES


garden gate 3

When I heard that daisies have a secret life, I decided to set out immediately to discover what it is. How dare this common garden dweller have a “secret life”? I soon found out that daisies never tell. Not to be discouraged, I proceeded at once to retrace my steps and lift a few stones along the way.

Through the garden gate to the little haus in the bottom of the garden, I peeked inside to see if there were any trace of a daisy. On my way I found marigolds, geraniums, pelargoniums, roses both prim and not, but not a daisy.

Little House

Painters, sculptors, poets and writers from all over the world have celebrated the garden’s beauty, mystery and frustration it can bring.
red winged blackbird 2
The robin’s song at daybreak
Is a clarion call to me. Get up and get out in the garden
For the morning hours flee.

I cannot resist the summons,
What earnest gardener could?
For the golden hours of morning
Get into the gardener’s blood.

The magic spell is upon me,
I’m glad that I did not wait;
For life’s at its best in the morning,
As you pass through the garden gate.

I peeked inside and found sunflowers, pots of ivy, mementos from a misspent youth, a few ragtag animal pictures, but not a daisy in sight.

little haus2
This little corner of pleasure bringing comfort to a tired gardener is where I ponder the important chores of my day.

little haus

Out the door, I see the trees are budding, and Spring is nearly upon us. Charlie lounges comfortably on the warm brick, unaware of daisies and their secrets.

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Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom, they just open up and turn toward the light, and that makes them beautiful. Jim Carrey

Gardens heighten nature’s wild language by simplifying it, by sieving its complex messages to extract a choice kernel; a subtle flow of time; a boundary that is and yet isn’t; a balance born of imbalances. We amplify natures messages when we build a garden and in turn the garden awakens us with those thoughts. Sitting and reflecting, drawn into the garden and out of ourselves, we find we are aware of familiar things in ways we weren’t before, granted, if only for a brief moment.

A pleasant hour spent in this garden with its scent of sweet alyssum and roses, laughing at the flight of angry hummingbirds fighting over a single feeder and at the end, not a daisy in sight. Daisies really DO have a secret life.

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THE TOBERMORY CATS


black cat

I have often suspected that if the power of speech were given to the family cat, it would not go well with us. Their cavalier attitude gives it away every time. The problem arises when we realize that they just don’t care what we think. It is important for us to be in command at all times, if not over our husbands, then at least over our cats.

Saki’s famous talking cat, Tobermory disclosed for all time what might happen should that enigmatic creature begin spilling the beans.

In his delightful tale Tobermory, Hector Munro brings his chatty cat Tobermory to life as he tears up an upper class Victorian house party. His truthful disclosures about each of the guests private thoughts are unnerving and frequently embarrassing.

Major Barfield questioned Tobermory; “How about your carryings-on with the tortoise-shell puss up at the stables, eh?”

Everyone recognized the blunder as Tobermory tossed his head and replied frigidly “I imagine you’d find it inconvenient if I were to shift the conversation to your own little affairs.”

The panic which ensued was not confined to the Major.

“Why did I ever come down here?” asked Agnes Resker.

Tobermory immediately accepted the opening.

“Judging by what you said to Mrs. Cornett on the croquet-lawn yesterday, you were out of food. You described the Blemleys as the dullest people to stay with that you knew, but said they were clever enough to employ a first-rate cook; otherwise they’d find it difficult to get any one to come down a second time.”

After an afternoon of similar exchanges, Mrs. Cornett said “Tobermory may be a valuable cat and a great pet; but I’m sure you’ll agree that both he and the stable cat must be done away with without delay.”

I do not wish to spoil the story by giving away more of the plot. I don’t think there is a cat lover who will not be glad they read it.

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tobermory scotland
Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland

red cat

While I see Saki’s cat as being black, Scottish artist Angus Stewart’s Tobermory cat is of ginger color.

Angus Stewart is the creator of the children’s book Distillery Cats”.

The Distillery Cats” originally lived at the Tobermory Distillery in Tobermory on Mull, Scotland. The two ginger cats were named Tobermory and Ledaig after two whiskies produced at the Tobermory Distillery. The cat named Tobermory remained at the distillery, Ledaig later moved to Browns Hardware Shop. A third ginger cat known as the Mishnish Cat lived at the Mishnish Hotel. Together these three similar cats became a single fictional cat character named Tobermory Cat created by Angus Stewart in a Facebook page. He later published a book, Tobermory Cat subtitled famous for being famous. It explores the nature of the ciontruct of celebrity through a fictional cat who is simply “famous for being famous.”

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~Pineapple Pork Sweet and Sour


GUNG HAY FAT CHOY!!~ Happy Year of the Goatgoat

We went to our favorite local Chinese restaurant, only to find its doors locked and the restaurant idling away in sublime emptiness. The very nice gift card Dr. A had given me for Christmas sadly was now of use only to light the firecracker for Chinese New Year.

There are many good and some great Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and further north in Seattle and in Vancouver. One small restaurant in Vancouver had perfected Lemon Chicken to the extent that we often drove there from Seattle just to eat it. I have never been able to duplicate it, and possibly it now remains divine only in memory.

When growing up we made the mistake of believing that chop suey was an exotic Chinese dinner. Chinese cooking is not simple; but when the Chinese first came to this country they cooked peasant food–“chop-chop, eat it up.” Toss it around then became sweet and sour to give more flavor. Chinese restaurant cooking is quick, high heat cooking but not necessarily simple. Tiger shrimp braised in a clay pot, asparagus and taro, steamed Dover sole draped over cabbage, shreds of scallion and wisps of fried turnip or soft crumblings of pork, are the ingredients of fine Chinese cooking. Just to read the menu at a good Chinese restaurant makes one’s mouth water in anticipation.

My Tai Chi class used to meet each morning at Lake Elizabeth and I was the only Caucasian among people from both Taiwan and mainland China. Once a month we had a potluck luncheon under the trees where each of us brought a special dish. There I tasted chicken feet, many kinds of stuffed buns and jook, for which I inexplicably have the recipe someone kindly offered me. Tea was brought in huge containers with all the tea leaves floating in it. I usually took my famous chocolate cake back home with one piece missing—mine.

When we found our restaurant out of business, I came home and cooked an Anerican-Chinese style dinner. We drank cups of tea without leaves and wished each other Happy Chinese New Year.

Pineapple pork sweet and sour

PINEAPPLE PORK SWEET AND SOUR

1 pound raw lean pork cut into 3/4″ squares
1 egg, beaten
Coat pork by dipping in beaten egg.
In a pan or ziplock bag, place 1 cup flour. 1/2 tsp salt and the egg-coated pork. Toss it around.

In deep pan heat a couple cups of oil, not olive, to 350 degrees
Drop in pork a little at a time and fry 6-8 minutes or until browned and done.
Remove and keep warm.

Also have prepared 1 cup pineapple chunks, drained (reserve juice)
1 medium green pepper, cut in 1/2 inch pieces

In a wok or deep skillet place
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/c sugar
1/3 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup catsup
1/2 cup cider vinegar
Blend all the ingredients well and bring to a boil.
Make a paste of 2 Tbs corn starch and 2 Tbs water, add gradually until sauce thickens
Add Pork, green pepper and pineapple.
Turn and mix rapidly for abut 5 minutes or until very hot. Serve with steamed rice.

A nice dish of steamed stir-fried vegetables would make a good meal. Don’t serve chocolate cake for dessert!

50+ LIVE BETTER, LONGER


As the Mills Brothers said years ago “No one wants to be old at thirty-three”. But some people really Are old at that age. A friend asked me how we were handling the aging process, and I realized what a great question that was for ANY age you might be. No one wants to be considered OLD, but as the joke goes: think of the alternative.

In Nora Ephron’s best-selling book, “I Feel Bad About My Neck”, she laments about the sorry state of her 60-something neck. “Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth.” Well, it’s true I’m sorry to say. You can only get so much “stretch” out of skin, and unless you have a long neck, what’s the point? Face lifts are great and I know a lot people who have them. One doctor friend came to a function of ours, looked at another guest and stated “Face lift and nose job”. And he was right. Another friend approaching her second or third marriage had a lift so that she would knock the socks off the groom. Unfortunately it turned out badly, so she postponed the wedding until things calmed down.

We do spend a lot of time and money trying to reverse the signs of aging. We need to get over our stereotypes about growing older and the loss of our beauty. But it’s going, so do what you can and forget it. It’s even bad to refinish antique furniture because you greatly diminish its value.

The change of decades in our lives brings many different reactions. Long ago, a friend asked if he might spend the evening with us as it was his wife’s 30th birthday and she was feeling testy. I began asking people how these changes affected them. Several men seemed to feel anxious at forty, feeling they had not accomplished what they had hoped by that age. It’s different for everyone. Dr. Advice seems to take a great deal of pride in informing people that he will soon be 89. Women, while not exactly hiding their age, do not broadcast it so readily.

Don’t get bogged down in all the hype about aging. There’s nothing you can do; the clock is going to tick away.

Your life won’t stay the same, aging changes everyone. Our frame of reference changes. Our bodies change, and ill health sometimes puts us out of commission. A dose of healthy denial can improve your attitude. The people who do that aren’t thinking that much about getting older. They have accepted the changes and are aging gracefully.

If you live to be 95 years old you’re a survivor. You probably are not going to be living in a big house and driving your car to the grocery store and walking a mile for exercise. Life grows smaller, we get slower, and our steps get shorter. But if you know that ahead of time, it’s much easier to manage it.

But is it possible? Of course it’s possible. It may take a little more effort than you have become used to, but we all have to accept the challenge and learn the new “language”. You don’t REALLY want to be younger again no matter what your age. You simply want to fit in with whatever age group you are with.

One of the best parts of growing older is you have so much more to remember, but you need to keep making those memories all along. Keep learning new things; remember that people are learning from you. The GenFab (those in their 80’s) have no role models; they just have to keep making it up as they go along.

50th Anniv

AMAZING GRAZING~~~~~~~ Cannellini Beans with Sausage


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I’m not sure why I planted all these small Japanese boxwoods around the birdbath. I saw them in an English garden and thought they would lend an air of civility to my casual backyard. The only thing they added was frequent trimming to keep them round. This meant lying on the ground with clippers and scooting along on hands and knees and bottom to keep them even. Then the struggle to get back up, and of course, the cleanup. It wasn’t long before the newness wore off, and I convinced Dr. A. to replace the brick in the patio, which he had removed to plant them in the first place. When our lives become busy with many things, it’s time to simplify.

The heart warming dinner we had last night is as simple as you can get, and simply delicious. The choice of sausage is up to you. Italian sausages come in three strengths of spicy. A friend of mine bought a sausage stuffing attachment for his processor, and turns out some amazing sausages. I have been told a grandfather of mine whom I never met, was a sausage maker in Grants Pass, Oregon, where he was the only butcher. I promise myself now and then to make some of my own. Maybe I got the sausage gene.

Sausage and beans

CANNELLINI BEANS WITH SAUSAGE

Remove the skin from about three Italian sausages, crumble them and brown in large pan with about 1 Tbs. olive oil. While that is browning, wash and slice the leaves of a couple pounds of Swiss Chard and cook for about 15 minutes till tender, then drain.
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil and add 4 cloves garlic sliced thin, cook until sizzling and add one Tbs. tomato paste and a pinch of pepperoncino, or to taste, depending upon how tough your tastebuds are. Pour in one cup of crushed tomatoes (San Marzano is best, crushed with your hands). Mix in with the sausage and stir well.
Bring to a boil and spill in three cans of drained cannellini beans. Season well with salt and pepper. Add drained chard and cook rapidly over high heat. Cook for a couple of minutes to reduce the liquid, tossing over and over. As the juices thicken, drizzle a couple more tablespoons of olive oil.

(This is also very good without the sausage if you would like to make it vegetarian.

LET’S EAT!!

JUST DIRECT YOUR FEET


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Alvin Ailey Dancer, stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Dancing has always been a part of my life, from childhood when a fond grandma hoped my tap shoes would lead to fame and family fortune. It’s obvious that never happened, but I kept dancing anyway.

I heard of a Modern Dance class starting in the City when my children were small and I needed exercise. Any new mother can interpret that to mean, “Shape up!” The instructor floated into the room and I felt myself sinking into my body and thinking there was no hope for me. A gorgeous African-American, she was about 5’10” with extremely short hair and a body to make an artist dream of painting her. I knew immediately that if I were to come back some day as African-American, I would look like her plus with large earrings. She put us through all sorts of strenuous stretches and odd positions until my bones felt they could never have been meant to go there. But I kept dancing anyway.

Last week we went to a friend’s 90th birthday party. About twenty years ago we joined a dance group in town which performed at schools, old age homes and any place anyone would have us. Once while practicing, we asked my Dad for his opinion, his answer “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” In our initial public performance, our husbands embarrassed us by clapping and cheering loudly in the audience. But we kept dancing anyway.

betty ricker
We are second and third from the right in the chorus line. I don’t know if the others are still dancing.

I was impressed by her ability to “get things done” while her husband was on a business trip. They had discussed and he had disregarded the case for new carpeting, but once when he returned after a week away, he had to agree that the new carpet looked much better than the old.

I met this lady about 55 years ago when I interrupted her gardening by inquiring if she were the mother of a little girl with the same name as one of mine. We then discovered that our husbands had gone all through school together. In was enough to ensure a long friendship. And we’re still dancing in our own way.

AMAZING GRAZING 2


soup2

Driving the backroads of Italy on a cold and overcast day with cold feet and an empty stomach was not an idea we originally planned on, but following a friend’s suggestion, we were headed for a tiny restaurant tucked away in the countryside. We came upon it late in the afternoon, in a stand of bare oak trees, beside a small family owned winery. Rows of gnarled old grape vines bordered the road and a shepherd herded his flock through an adjoining field, closely followed by his faithful sheepdog. If hunger had not given me a push, I could have happily watched this rustic scene until the sun went down.

The

low ceilinged room was floored in ancient terra cotta tiles, worn in the traffic spots. A couple of hanging light fixtures illuminated the space, and small ceramic pots with a sprig or two of lavender were on the cloth covered tables. No sooner were we seated when the smiling owner brought a basket of home-baked crusty bread and a bowl of olive oil, and a bottle of house wine. Somewhere in the back we could hear the clatter of pots and pans and a wonderful smell told us we were in the right place.

We both opted for the soup of the day, which arrived in large ceramic bowls and a promise of seconds if we wished. The scent was addictive, with just a hint of garlic and parmigiano.

After this warming and satisfying meal, we asked who the talented chef was, and it turned out to be her son that day. Oh for a son like that in my kitchen!

ZUPPA TOSCANA

A cup each of chopped carrots, celery and onion, sauteed in a little olive oil. Add a clove or 2 of garlic and a diced potato. Saute for about 5 more minutes, and add about 3 cans of chicken broth (or vegetable broth) Meanwhile, brown 2-3 Italian sausages and a few slices of bacon chopped. Drain the fat and add to vegetables. Add a couple large handfuls of chopped kale or chard to the pot. At this point if desired, you can also add a can of cannelini beans. (As you can see, you can take this soup in many different directions.) Add 1 cup of heavy cream. Throw in a couple Tbs. olive oil, a generous handful of bread crumbs, and a handful of parmigiano or pecorino cheese.
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Now, about those bread crumbs. We always have leftover bread around, and I never throw anything away. (Depression baby.) We grind them and use them in many things. Toasted they are great sprinkled over a pasta dish or a cup of soup, but included IN the soup they serve to thicken it. Just keep them in a ziplock bag in the freezer and they reward you. Cut into 1/2 cubes, tossed in a little olive oil and garlic powder, they toast up nicely in a 325 over for about 10-12 min. and are good on salad or on top of soup.

LET’S EAT!